"Oh! Hello there Mother… I, uh, didn't expect to see you here!"
"In the brood chambers, child? Where else would I be?"
I can almost sense another thwack coming… The first one really hurt! She's had a serious increase to her physical stats since her evolution. I rub the top of my head with an antenna as I quickly ponder my response.
"Wherever you want to be, Mother?"
"You wouldn't be suggesting I would skip out on my duty to the Colony, would you?"
"Of course not! Who would ever think of such a thing?!"
Dangit, Mother! My poor head! What did I even do? Turning around to face my overbearing parent, I take a chance to see how she's been faring. She looks fine, no wounds or scarring to mar her carapace. That ever-present twinkle in her eye is still apparent, as is the unusual level of force she's able to generate with her antennae. There must be a 'mother' perk buried in the system somewhere that grants bonus damage when disciplining children, otherwise it just doesn't make sense.
"If you're mad at me, Mother, then please just tell me what I've done," I capitulate.
I don't have the heart to try and get out of my well-earned 'thwacks'. I've once again evaded my responsibilities and brought danger down on the Colony. A few knocks on the head are the least of what I deserve. Instead, the Queen just looks down at me, curious.
"I am not mad at you, child. I am pleased to see you."
"Got a funny way of showing it…" I mutter.
"What was that? I didn't quite catch the scent."
"Ah, nothing! Well, uh. It's nice to see you in such good health! Managing to get out much?"
"Why yes. I leave the Colony for a daily hunt in order to secure my own Biomass. The prey in the nearby tunnels is becoming rather thin, however. I may need to start ranging further…"
They actually let the Queen out for hunts? Not that they could stop her, I suppose, but yikes. I'd love to have seen the council members' faces when they realised the Queen was going to leave their fortress of a nest and run around in the tunnels.
"I'm going to assume you have an escort?"
The Queen sighs.
"Yes. They insist and I don't really want to say no, even if I do think it's a bit of a waste. Those children could all be contributing in a more meaningful way. I feel bad for them."
"Mother, I think if you were to ask, you'd find that every member of your escort is more than happy to be there. I'm sure of it, in fact."
The honour of guarding the Queen? Almost every ant in the Colony would be delighted to have the chance. I've no doubt that every member of her guards was carefully chosen to be the best at what they do. No way the council would leave the health of their Mother to chance.
This chamber really is packed with brood. Dozens of brood tenders pick amongst the little grubs, ensuring that each is fed and cleaned, ready to take on the next step in their lifecycle and become a pupa. Pretty clear that the Queens have been busy down here.
"Looks like the rate of growth has exploded," I tip an antenna at the young, "are we still making sure each hatchling is educated properly?"
"Yes," she assures me. "Although the majority of the brood are born in this nest, they are transported to the first nest during the pupal stage. When they emerge they are taken through the training program before they enter service. I try to keep up with what is being done with the new children, just so I know they're being taken care of."
"Well, that's good. I was a bit worried that they'd get slack once the population started to explode. Must be hard for them to rustle up enough Biomass and XP for this many hatchlings though…"
There really are a lot. I don't even know how many eggs are being laid each day right now, could it be as many as a thousand a day?! That would be insane…
"This was mentioned to me once," the Queen informs me, "I believe that the creation of two new nests is being planned in order to extend the hunting grounds."
TWO more nests? Already?! When I left, this one hadn't even been started?! Things are really accelerating now… Things will spiral out of control pretty darn fast soon. I don't want to pretend I'll be able to manage this Colony once the population hits the millions. If we keep expanding at this rate, that'll be sooner rather than later. And what sort of effect will the Vestibule have on me with that many little voices whispering in the back of my mind? They're already so insistent, I can feel them tugging at my awareness, nudging me in different directions than I would otherwise take. The Collective Will Vestibule does exactly what it says on the tin, it feeds me the Will of all of the ants within range, telling me what they want, driving me to act as the agent of that super-mind.
And they are implacable. They want me to hunt, to battle, to dig, to build, to seek and destroy our enemies and tend the young. They want all of those with an intensity that is beyond anything a human could achieve. Even as familiar with ants as I am, even I'm a little shocked that I never seem to detect the slightest ripple of selfish desire. Always the collective, putting the Colony above themselves, never a solitary thought of indulgence or relaxation. At this point, I don't even know what I would do if one did start to think that way. Punish them? Celebrate them? Perhaps as we expand, it's only inevitable that such an individual will be born.
As I ponder the inevitable future of the Colony, the Queen looks down on me patiently.
"What are you pondering, child? Don't you have important work to be about? I know that many are waiting to speak with you."
Her words shake me out of my contemplation. I have a massive list of jobs to get done. I need to share the things I've learned about spell casting with the Mages, I have to talk to the Core Shapers and pass on the techniques and strategies I learned from the Sophos. Then I should meet with the council about our planning in regards to the coming conflict. Not to mention the expansion of our territory and how I might help with that. I should probably pay a visit to the surface (if I even can) and check in with the humans and the upper nest, just to make sure things are still peaceful up there. So much to do!
"Yes that's true," I nod my antennae, "there's a huge list of things I have to get done. Thanks for the reminder."
I turn and march toward the nearest grub.
"What are you doing, child?" The Queen asks, confused.
"I decided to start with the most important job first. Grub tickling!"