Drones

It began in the night. The south wall collapsed and the water came rushing in. It was caused by one of the small limbs from a sky-toucher. It took five Hundred of us to move it. We lost almost two hundred to high wind and the water pounding all around. Once it was pulled free we retreated and internal repair swarmed in around us. They climbed single file all the way around the opening. Wind and water ripped through the hole but they held fast. Internal repair always took the largest and strongest from birth. The ones on the ground began to harvest dirt clods from the surrounding walls and pass them up the line. It was all done with amazing precision and speed. Watching them gave me the truest sense of my position in the colony. As drones, we would always be drones. In battle, structural repair, or any other job; we’re always in front, we’re expendable.

Once the repairs were well underway and the commotion had died down, one of the commanders finally seemed to realize we were still in formation and dismissed us. We trudged back to the sleeping compartment. All of us exhausted and knowing it wouldn’t be long until morning work began.

It seemed I had barely fallen asleep when I woke to the morning Foreman announcing our groups work assignment. If the night hadn’t been bad enough, I found we had rotated to perimeter scout duty. This was the most dangerous of all drone assignments. It wasn’t uncommon for entire regiments to be lost without a trace. I couldn’t understand how, with all the losses, we could have drawn it. One-Forty-Two explained, we had shared the same hatching chamber and so had always been close, our regiment was being joined to another and our regiment commander, Seventy-Four was being put under Thirty-Two. That still wasn’t much comfort. Thirty-Two’s regiment had been with us repairing the collapse. They hadn’t suffered losses, but they were just as exhausted as us. This assignment left no room for error.

We joined with them in the tunnels and made our way up to the surface exit. Near the top, Thirty-Two halted the march and turned to us. He rose on his back limbs and used his other three sets to gesticulate as he spoke.

“This is for all the new folks who just joined us from Seventy-Four’s Regiment. My boys know the drill. We’ve come through an outside patrol with only ten losses, a colony record. Keep your heads, stick close to us, and everything should be fine.” With that, he turned and continued up the tunnel. The rest of us followed.

When I first stepped out I thought I had been blinded. I could see nothing and I heard others calling out with the same surprised anguish I felt.

Thirty-Two barked “Quit whining, it’ll pass.”

In a few moments it did, and after the dark tunnels, I had known my whole life this perfusion of color seemed almost too strange to bear. Once everyone had recovered we moved out. We crossed the clearing and reaching the tall swaying wall at the edge of the perimeter. Fifty-Four, one of Thirty-Two’s drones, said they were called “wavers”. We walked in their shadow for a while until we came to a clearing similar to the one around the colony. Seventy-Four and some of the other officers tried to get Thirty-Two to go around, but he decided speed was more important.

The huge dark rock came out of the sky and landed so quickly we could barely react. The only thing that saved me was my position on the edge. I jumped away but those in the middle weren’t so lucky. I heard their cries, a sickening crunch, and then silence. It was the strangest rock I had ever seen. It had an elongated shape and some marking on the side. There was a crossing pattern on the top and as my eyes rose it continued up and up until it was lost from sight. The full realization hit me then. It was a giant’s Foot.

I remembered from when I was still in the development room, hundreds of larvae around me. The tenders would tell us the stories of the ancient times after the colony was first built, many generations before. Giants had threatened often in those days and had been driven off by force of numbers. The stories also told of a weakness that could stop them.

The giant was moving again. Across the clearing, I could see what was left of my regiment stealthy moving around toward me. The giant had taken no further notice, so I moved slowly into the shade of the wavers and met up with the others. They wanted to go back to the colony but I told them we couldn’t.

“We should send back Five-Seventy-Three to warn them, he’s the fastest. The rest of us have to attack.” at that, they all began to argue. I held up one limb and they quieted. “The colony is all that matters. We have to stop it.” They all agreed though they weren’t happy about it. I gave Five-Seventy-Three a message for the elders, He saluted and scurried back to the colony. I took a head count, only sixty-four. It seemed pointless to attack something so large but there was no one else.

We had to time it just right. The giant’s huge limb came down and we all leaped on. The bottom had many edges. It was easy to climb and the next part wasn’t much harder. But once we got higher the surface became strange. It was soft like the underside of a larva’s carapace. This is where we would strike. I got everyone up and into position. On my cue, sixty-four pairs of pincers sunk in. The first result was that the constant movement stopped. I turned my head around and saw it, but there was nothing I could do. I wanted to call out to the others but my voice was frozen with terror. The massive shape blotted out the sun. It struck with such speed I doubt a warning would have done much good. The end of whatever it was, pinned two of my limbs and tore them off. I held on with the others for a while but I slipped and fell to what I thought was my death.

The wind lashed at my face. The ground came closer and closer. I closed my eyes and accepted this as my end, so I was all the more surprised when I landed on something soft and flexible. I open my eyes and was rolling down a long green tongue. I rolled off the end and experienced another moment of free fall, followed by the hard ground I had been expecting. Another agony flared up that almost matched the pain from my empty arm sockets. I turned and realized one of my back limbs was gone. Movement with the others would be slow but better than nothing. I looked up at the waver that had saved my life and laughed, I should have been dead twice. My happiness lasted a few moments, then I remembered the giant. My only hope was Five-Seventy-Three would get back in time.

Making it to the Colony was the hardest journey of my life. All but one of my four limbs on the right side were gone. I had to drag myself back one agonized pull at a time. The sun was high when I started and was setting on the horizon when I could see the colony. Its outline against the sky confirmed my worst fears. Half of the hill was gone, but the giant was nowhere to be seen. I was exhausted but seeing home made me work harder. When I reached the hill night had fully set in. There were still some Drones working by the light bug’s dim glow. I called out, my voice was weak but one of them heard me. When he saw my condition he called for the others.

He got closer to me and said “Eighty-Eight you’re alive!”

I said “One-Forty-Two ?”

One-Forty-Two replied “Yeah, I got thrown by the giant’s limb and knocked unconscious. When I woke I realized I had to warn the colony. When I got back, Five-Seventy-Three had already told the elders of the giant and of your attempt to stop it. The damage is bad but the colony is alive because of you.”

They lifted and carried me inside. The last thing I heard before passing out was them chanting.

“Eighty-Eight, Eighty-Eight, Eighty-Eight .”

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