Chapter 11 (part 1 of 2)

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Chapter 11

That night, Gallen could not sleep. All night long he lay in a fever, waking in a sweat. For a time he worried about his health, but then he lay back calmly, realizing that the mantle had begun its instruction. He had been dreaming, and the dreams were memories of things that had happened to Veriasse.

He dreamed first of Fale. He had been escorting Semarritte on this world when the dronon warships fell from the sky in dark clouds. The dronon came in vast numbers, sealing off Guianne so that its residents were trapped in tunnels beneath the ocean. Guardians tried to fend them off, but the dronon were too numerous; like dark grains of sand they swept over the land.

Veriasse and Semarritte had become trapped here in Semarritte's judgment hall. Dronon by the hundreds of thousands had surrounded the building, a black wave of warriors clambering over one another's bodies, until at last they cleared a path so that and her Lord Escort could enter.

In his dream, Gallen struggled fiercely with the Lord Escort—landing blows on the beast's chitinous body, ripping off one of its feelers, smashing eyes with a leaping kick. But in time he wearied, and the Lord Escort lashed forward a wing—an unprecedented move that would have availed the creature nothing in a battle with one of its own kind. But the dronon's wing slashed through Veriasse's belly like a saber, and suddenly he was reeling away from the battle, his entrails spilling across the floor.

The Lord Escort then rattled its wings in a thunderous roar, leapt into the air, and in one swift kick disemboweled Semarritte while Veriasse watched. The dronon vanquishers who encircled the room raised a rattling howl of congratulations. Then the Lord Escort cried to his people that Tlitkani of the dronon had become the new Lord of the Swarm, queen over all peoples both human and dronon.

Afterward, a dronon vanquisher rushed forward with an incendiary rifle, firing into Semarritte's body. Smoke and the scent of chemical fire rose through the building. Veriasse pulled his intestines in as the world faded to gray, pinching the skin closed, unsure whether the nanodocs in his body could heal such a massive wound.

In the dream, Gallen could not feel Veriasse's pain. He could discern the man's thoughts, observe his actions. But the dream carried no emotional weight.

Gallen woke and thought long about the dream, wondered if there were any way that Veriasse could have defeated the dronon, and suddenly images of the planet Dronon filled his mind. He saw a brown world filled with odd plants, where insects had developed interior lungs that allowed them to grow in size far beyond anything on Earth. Dronon was a vast world, and it orbited its sun once each four Earth years. Its axis tilted at a forty-two degree angle, with the result that each year, each polar icecap would melt. During a summer, one hemisphere would bathe in perpetual daylight while the other suffered perpetual night.

As a result, the dronon were forced to migrate over vast continents with each changing season, foraging for shrublike fungi. Each hive continually competed with others for food and space, for the finest nesting sites, for water that became scarce during the dry seasons. The order of their universe was clear: expand your territory or die.

In each hive, as the first few females hatched, they would battle among themselves, fighting in order to remove the exterior ovaries from one another. The female who managed to keep her ovaries established her dominance as a future queen, and soon the others recognized her authority as a princess. She would bide her time until a Lord Escort flew in from another hive, one who would kill the reigning Lord Escort and queen, making the princess the new queen of the hive.

Those poor females who were spayed could never form the secondary sexual characteristics of a queen. They grew only to a small size, and their color remained as white as that of any grublike larvae. Their boundless energy was channeled into work, rather than procreation, and they became the most menial servants of the hive.

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