This is part of a much larger story that’s slowly jelling in my brain.
Set recording, 127.893 Chela-Sei Karden, on my mark…
We were betrayed from within.
In the end, it matters little that we never discovered who, or how, or even truly why- other than the usual reasons for war; fear, jealousy and greed. What matters is that in one moment our people were going about the daily tasks of hearth and hive, and in the next there was fire and death and terror.
They knew it must be betrayal, even as they scrambled to find system failures, even before they heard the first shots and screams. How else would defense systems be overridden, weaponry fail, even the boundaries to the hive chambers fall throughout the colony, all at once?
Karden was lucky, if you can call it that. While the other hives were being slaughtered, we had warning, and time to prepare. Our hive was new enough that we’d not been integrated into the full security database- we still ran independent, and our location wasn’t widely known. So we had a chance to reconfigure shields and change codes, a chance to take in a few terrified refugees and fleeing battalions through the transfer chamber before we went into lockdown.
They would find us soon enough, we knew…and from the few reports getting through to us, we knew we were now the last of the Alai-sehar and our two Queens and their eggs, the hope of the species…
Despite being deep within the mountain, the Transfer Center rocked with the force of the bombardment above. A lone figure bent over a console, fingers in frenetic motion over the controls, watching data fly over the floor-to-ceiling panels in front of him. Over and over the panels displayed start charts, a cursor identifying and then rejecting hundreds of potential planets in seconds. He muttered curses and imprecations each time there was a flash of red, and finally rested his head in his hands.
He may have dozed for a moment, exhaustion finally winning out over vigilance, when the console started chiming insistently. He jerked awake, the wings that had hung limply over his shoulders snapping upright and buzzing irritatedly
“Right, right, sorry, didn’t meant to startle you.”
The wings settled across his back, as he slapped a button on the console to stop the chiming. Then he stared at the screen, his tired brain not really comprehending what he was seeing- There, in the upper left of the current chart, the cursor flashed green. He blinked, stared, and then gave a gasping inhale as his mind grasped the implications of that small green beacon. A few taps brought up statistics, details, probabilities… He stared again, and then spun around in his chair and let out a whoop that set his wings to buzzing again.
“We did it! By the silk we did it! Tell Chela-Sei! Get them down here fast!”
When the door opened to let someone in, he realized the sounds of the battle were much closer, much more immediate than he’d assumed from the rumbles in the stone above, and he watched his hive partner, Chela, stagger through the door and slump against the wall. Hearing angry voices in the distance, he scrambled to shut the door and engage the emergency security protocol. Then he knelt by her side and took her hand.
She was battered and bloody, her breath coming in short gasps. As he brushed her hair from her face, he saw that one wing was ripped in two, the usual iridescent stained with blue ichor. She opened her eyes and irritatedly waved his hand away. “I’m fine, Denet. Just tired. And there’s more of their blood than mine.” She let out a weak laugh that became a cough, blood trickling from her mouth putting the lie to her being ‘fine’.
“You’re not fine, and neither is Sei. Hold on, I’ve got some jelar here somewhere.” Denet went into a side room to rummage around, when he came back, she was standing at the console, staring at the screen.
“Would you sit down? Torn silk you are stubborn.” He shoved a flask into her hand “Drink this.”
Chela drank, coughed, drank again, smirked at him. “Medical grade jelar. You’ve been raiding Hawla’s infirmary again, haven’t you?”
He sat next to her, angling so that his wings could caress her tattered ones. “I grabbed it from the supplies in the transfer chamber. I figured it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have some on hand before we left.”
She pointed at the blinking green icon on the screen. “You found us something. You finally found something.”
“I did! Now we just need to get the team in here, and we can start the transfers- the system’s already identified an appropriate hive chamber, and we can…”
Her hand rested on his shoulder, and his excited ramble trailed off. “There’s no team, Denet.” She struggled to meet his blank stare. “They hit the Great Hall with a plasma charge. They’re all gone. The Counselors, the Queens, the control teams. You’re the only systems tech left.”
Denet’s mouth opened to argue, tried to deny what he was hearing, but no sound came out. He sat in aching silence and then said “Why didn’t you tell me? You could have had Sei send to Buw, at least.”
“You were working. You were focused. The cocoons had already been moved, the supplies already loaded. You were the last chance we had…and you found it.”
“But without a team…how…” His brow furrowed and one wing started to twitch. “How much time do we have?”
Chela caressed one tattered wing, listening. “Elloet-Alv says that they can hold them of for an hour, maybe a bit more. Not two.”
A brusque nod, and he turned back to the console. “What are you…” she started to ask, but he cut her off “Shh, let me work…no, wait, go grab a couple of beacons from storage, and slot them in one and two…”
Bemused, she did what he asked. Between the effects of the jelar, and watching him in one of his so very normal working moods, she could almost forget that she was broken inside, and that her Alai was dying.
As Denet plugged in calculations and coordinates, fiddled with statistics and settings, he explained the plan to her.
“Like I said, there’s a stable cavern we can form into a hatching chamber and core of a hive- that’s where you’ll be. I have to go and deal with the one hitch in the plan.”
“The orbital period of this planet is much faster than ours, so the lifespans of the sentients there are adapted to that. To them, it’ll be generations before the cocoons are ready to open. ”
“So you’ll need to prepare them for the process.”
“Right. I’ve identified a population center I can use as a base. My lifespan will seem functionally immortal to them. Hopefully I can keep them from making me a deity. That’s always so inconvenient when some group tries to worship us.”
Chela came up beside him and put a hand on his arm. “There’s another hitch, Denet…I’m…”
He took a deep breath and looked her in the eyes. “Dying. I know. Buw could tell.” He gathered her up in his arms and held her. “You can do this, I know you can. You know enough to set the beacon, and activate the chamber sequence. The automated systems will do everything else. Record me a message, so when I bring the candidates, I can see you one last time. You and Sei can rest with the cocoons.”
A quiet sob shook her shoulders, but she smiled at him and nodded. “You’ll go through after me, then?”
“Mmmhmmm… I’ll reset the coordinates, and activate a dest…”
An explosion outside the room buckled the door, and sent down a shower of debris from the ceiling.
“No more time! You’ve got to go!” Denet pushed her towards the door of the transfer chamber and she settled in among the boxes of gear, and the carefully wrapped Alai cocoons that were their future. Denet gave her a solemn salute, and activated the transfer. As the air around her thickened and glowed she saw the door start to give way, and a bolt of fire take Denet square in the shoulder. She cried out, tried to reach for him as he slumped forward- but she couldn’t see through the brightness, and then there was nothing.