By: Winluck Wong
I should’ve known this was coming! Mother Apha fussed over her daughter’s armour. The moment Aphazet told me she thought she’d heard flutters in the leaves up top, I should’ve given the order right away.
“Are the Myrmics going to help us, Mother?” Aphazet asked.
“No, dear, they won’t.” Mother Apha sighed as she spotted a gap in Aphazet’s armour that left part of her abdomen exposed. “Zet, you can’t be so careless with your armour. How many times do I have to tell you? You remember our drills, don’t you?”
“Yeah, I know, I know. But everyone’s running around, yelling at me to be faster. I can’t if I have to be super careful about everything.“
“This is one thing you can’t be too careful about, okay? This is the only thing that’ll keep you safe if I’m not there. Understand?” Mother Apha locked her stern gaze on Aphazet until she nodded meekly. “Now, cover that gap up with more of the wax. Don’t run off just yet! Wait for it to harden.”
Aphazet let Mother Apha hold her in place. “Mother, why won’t the Myrmics help us?” Aphazet asked, fidgeting. “I thought they’re our friends.”
“Not this time.”
“But why – “
“Zet, please,” Mother Apha cut in. She polished the newly hardened wax until it glinted in the waning sunlight. “I really want to tell you everything, Zet, but I just can’t right now. I have to check on your sisters and get the whole colony moving before sunset. But I’ll tell you after we get to our new home, okay? I promise.”
She nudged Aphazet towards the rally point and rushed off, anxious to find Aphazet’s older sisters and praying that they’re old enough to know how to take care of themselves.
“I cannot accept standing idly by while our allies get slaughtered!”
A chilled silence flooded through the Council Chamber, freezing whispered conversations and guarded expressions in place before pouring through the surrounding walls of packed earth. All eyes tracked the bold figure making his way to the centre of the Chamber.
“Are we so callous as to turn our backs on them while their lives are at stake when they never hesitated to aid us in our hour of need?” the figure continued, gnashing his mandibles.
“Restrain yourself, Councillor Krikkaw. There is no evidence at all that suggests their lives are in danger,” rasped a voice from the left side of the Chamber. The owner of the voice limped forward, his bent body looking deceptively weak while his true strength flashed in his calculating eyes. He carefully picked dirt off his front leg claws and waved them beseechingly to the Chamber audience, many of whom have resumed their whisperings. “In fact, I believe that our dear friends are overreacting to a harmless situation.”
“A harmless situation, Councillor Tlaktiv?” snarled Krikkaw, whirling to face the old councillor. “You know as well as I and everyone on the Council what will happen to them as soon as the Gosswings’ brood start hatching.”
“Yes, yes, we’ve all heard your ramblings on the Gosswings’…fabled…habits,” Tlaktiv replied dismissively. “But that’s precisely it – they’re fables. Stuff of tales we tell our larvae to make them behave. Never in our scentorical records have there ever been documented proof that the Gosswings actually commit such barbaric acts as you seem to believe from these larval tales.”
“Omissions can occur in the Scentory, which is an issue I’m sure you are quite familiar with, Councillor,” spat Krikkaw.
“Ah, ah, ah…you are treading on dangerous grounds, Councillor Krikkaw,” hissed Tlaktiv, narrowing his eyes. He took a deep breath, smoothed his antennae, and turned to the Council. “The fact of the matter is: we Myrmics have a long-standing treaty with the Gosswings and it is in our best interests to honour it. We care for the Gosswings’ brood and in return, we receive enough food to sustain us for the rest of the season. I really don’t see why we would object to this arrangement at all.”
“I move to support Councillor Tlaktiv’s proposal to uphold the Gosswing treaty,” announced a pudgy Myrmic sidling up to Tlaktiv.
“I second,” another Myrmic called out, nervously clicking his leg claws.
“Thank you, Councillors. I am honoured by your support,” beamed Tlaktiv. He spread his antennae to include the rest of the Council. “All in favour?”
One by one, the remaining councillors stepped forward to proclaim their support. Tlaktiv rose on his hind legs and straightened his bent back as he turned around to loom over Krikkaw. “Well, Councillor Krikkaw, I believe that’s a quorum.”
Antennae bristling, Krikkaw also rose on his hind legs and brandished his front leg claws. “Must I remind you, Tlaktiv, that as a senior councillor, I have an obligation to make an appeal to the Queen should I feel the moral integrity of a Council decision has been compromised.”
Tlaktiv’s lazily swishing antennae stopped mid-motion. He snapped his mandibles and then relaxed, backing off from Krikkaw. “Of course, Councillor Krikkaw. By all means, proceed.”
Krikkaw brushed past Tlaktiv and strode towards the Queen’s pavilion at the end of the Chamber, feeling the weight of the entire Council’s wary gaze and especially Tlaktiv’s smoldering glare searing his back. He shook them off and forced himself to focus only on the Queen.
Queen Sraklat has ruled the Myrmic Colony for countless of generations, firmly but always justly. But the seasons have taken their toll on the Queen, painfully obvious in the cloudy white encroaching into her eyes while her drooping antennae trail limply on the ground. Lately, she has been relying more and more on the Council to make ruling decisions on her behalf. Despite her age, she still made a point of observing every Council meeting. As Krikkaw approached her pavilion, Queen Sraklat inclined her head and all of a sudden, everyone caught a glimpse of the fiery constitution that once fuelled her legendary power.
Krikkaw bowed deeply, pressing body and antennae into the ground. “Your Majesty.”
“Rise,” whispered Queen Sraklat, reaching out with her antennae to touch Krikkaw on his head.
“Thank you, Your Majesty,” Krikkaw breathed reverently. He brushed the dirt from his body and antennae, taking a moment to compose himself. “Your Majesty, I humbly request that we be granted the permission to renegotiate our treaty with the Gosswings; specifically, to include a new protection clause in it to guarantee that no members of the Aphidoid Colony may be harmed by the Gosswings. I urge Your Majesty to remember that it was the Aphidoids who saved us from starvation when we first established our colony here. Every other colony turned their back on us. Mother Apha herself led her entire colony to provide us with food and to show us how our two colonies could work together.”
“I remember well, Councillor Krikkaw. No one is refuting the generosity of the Aphidoids. Yet as much as we cherish our relations with the Aphidoids, they are irrelevant to our treaty with the Gosswings.”
“Pardon me, Your Majesty, I beg to differ.”
Queen Sraklat stiffened. She straightened her front legs from under her and reared up, antennae almost brushing against the Chamber ceiling. “I trust you have a solid reason for such a bold statement, Councillor?”
Krikkaw hurriedly bowed his head, eyes downcast. There’s no going back now. He strained to keep his voice steady. “Your Majesty, I have received reports confirming the Gosswings’ true intentions with the Aphidoids,” said Krikkaw. He raised his voice so everyone in the Chamber could hear his next words. “They will be slaughtered to feed the Gosswing young.”
Taking advantage of the sudden hush in the Chamber, Krikkaw pressed on. “For far too long, this horror has been irresponsibly dismissed as a mere larval tale that metamorphosed into a cheap thrill for sensationalist rumour-mongers. But every tale carries a grain of truth. And when there is a possibility that grain of truth could grow to end the very lives of our friends and allies, it deserves our utmost attention. Your Majesty, I beseech you to reconsider and humbly await your decision.” Krikkaw bowed as Queen Sraklat inclined her head in consent.
Krikkaw withdrew a few steps back. Out of the corner of his sight, he spotted Tlaktiv watching the Queen intently, his antennae practically vibrating with nervous tension. This is beyond your claw clutches now, Tlaktiv.
“Thank you for your…candor, Councillor,” intoned Queen Sraklat. “The colony is fortunate to have a Myrmic of your integrity in its service.”
Krikkaw pressed his forehead into the ground. “Your Majesty is most gracious.”
“I will consider the points put forward by Councillor Krikkaw and Councillor Tlaktiv. In the meantime, Council is recessed.”
Everyone bowed at the Queen’s dismissal. As Krikkaw and the rest of the Council filed out the Chamber, Tlaktiv lingered a moment longer to catch the downward swish of Queen Sraklat’s right antenna. With a nod, he stalked out after the Council.
Krikkaw made his way straight to his personal quarters. Rolling the entry rock into place to seal his privacy, he finally let out the breath he didn’t realise he had been holding. He paced back and forth in his quarters as he went over the events of the Council meeting in his head. The Queen will right matters. She must. An image of Tlaktiv’s boldly sneering face and the ease with which he roped in the rest of the Council slithered into his thoughts. He resumed pacing.
He finally shook himself from his circular reverie and made up his mind. Crossing to a section of the far wall, he began tapping around it with his antennae until he felt the right vibrations. He pressed against that section of the wall with all his might and it collapsed, revealing a passageway to the topside. He hurried out into the night.
“All our sap reservoirs are filled to the brim. We’re ready to move out at your command, Mother,” reported an Aphidoid soldier, snapping her mandibles shut and lowering them in salute.
“Thank you. Any sign of Councillor Krikkaw?” Mother Apha asked anxiously, her antennae unconsciously stretching towards the direction of the Myrmic colony.
“Negative, Mother. But it’s not the appointed time yet. He’s probably on his way now.”
“Let’s hope so. For all our sakes.”
Krikkaw spotted the boulder up the hill where he had arranged to meet Mother Apha and sped up his pace. A shadow suddenly unfurled itself from the darkness and stepped in front of his path. Behind him, more shadows flowed to cut off his escape.
“Good evening, Councillor Krikkaw,” rasped the shadow in front of Krikkaw. “Please come with us.”
“If you know who I am, then you would be wise to step aside or face the consequences of obstructing Council business,” said Krikkaw, drawing up to his full height.
“It’s funny you should mention Council business as that is what we’re also here about,” chuckled the shadow dryly. “What’s your business?”
“That is classified information beyond your security clearance,” snapped Krikkaw. “Stand down! Your insolence will be noted in my report to the Council.” He tried to barrel forward, but the shadows surged to encircle him even more closely. Two of them pinned him down to the ground.
“You have been charged with high treason against Her Majesty, Queen Sraklat, and are hereby stripped of your title and honour of existence in the Scentory,” snarled the shadow. Moonlight glinted off multiple mandibles raised to the night sky before they all struck downward.
“The appointed time has past, Mother. Shall I send out scouts?”
Mother Apha shook her head. “Councillor Krikkaw specifically instructed us to wait at this location and not to look for him.” Her antennae twitched in the cooling night air and she shook her head again. “Something’s not right. Return to the colony and give the orders to move out this instant.”
The Aphidoid soldier saluted and rushed off. Mother Apha turned her gaze in the direction of the Myrmic colony once again. Suddenly, the leaves above began to tremble, some of them snapping off to crash into the ground around her. She whirled and ran as fast as she could back to her colony.
Councillor Tlaktiv was reclining in the Scentory, housed in the central halls of the Myrmic colony nest, when a Myrmic entered. Tlaktiv listened to the Myrmic’s frantic whispers, all the while motionless. Finally, he raised an antenna towards the Myrmic.
“And his scent packet?” he murmured. The Myrmic passed a murky globe to Tlaktiv before quietly exiting. Tlaktiv gently rolled the globe between his leg claws and antennae. He strode towards one end of the Scentory and gingerly plucked out a matching globe from a recess in the wall. Holding the globes up to his antennae, he closed his eyes to relish the moment. Then he dropped the globes onto the ground and crushed them with his leg claws. The outer membranes of the globes crumpled. their contents spilling out to disappear into the black soil.
“Goodbye, Krikkaw,” whispered Tlaktiv, his voice dripping with satisfaction.
The lengthening dawn sunlight warmed the backs of a long, weary line of Aphidoids. Mother Apha stood by watching them all, reassuringly caressing every Aphidoid who trudged past. It was clear that they drew strength from the warmth of her care as they straightened their backs in her presence.
Mother Apha silently wept for all those who did not make it through the night’s harrowing migration march. But mixed in with the pain of the loss was the ache of a renewed hope for the colony. She looked up at the new home that her colony is already preparing for settlement. She had never seen a lusher shade of green than that of the leaves above.
“Mother, what are we going to call our new home?”
Mother Apha lovingly nuzzled her daughter. “Well, Zet, I was thinking that Krikkaw would be a good name.”
Copyright © 2014 Winluck Wong
(Photo courtesy of: Jenn Forman Orth)