“Would you like to play a game?” Joshua from “War Games”
As they waited for the food, Venus asked, “Why does the thing translate the way it does? I mean, it gave a name for the world—Trnx—and a name for the queen, and now it has stopped.”
Mercury said, “It tried to make it a name at first, because of the syntax of the language, but then it realized that the words were difficult to pronounce, and then decided to come as close to what it means.”
“So her name is ‘Queen Mother Queen’?” asked Serenity.
Mercury thought about it for a minute, and said, “I guess that she is both the queen mother and the queen as well.”
It was beginning to make Serenity’s head swim, but that went away as the food was presented. What they had is best described as an Indian diet. Mercury, before they started, said to Queen, “Because we are of a different world, we must be sure that what use would not be toxic to us. I am sure you would understand.”
“Of course,” said Queen, “You have to protect the mother of your kind, do you not?”
The whole “mother-of-your-kind” thing was beginning to throw them off, and they were not sure what all that meant, but before they asked, Mercury said, “That was very understanding of you; thank you for doing so.”
She then used her medical scanners and swept them over the table to try to detect their contents. She also took a few samples, and found nothing that would not be welcome in the bodies of humans. In fact, it was very earthlike, but high in fiber and proteins from the lentils. Mercury said, “All clear: let’s dig in!”
The scouts, still reflecting their Japanese upbringing, slapped their hands before their faces, exclaiming, “Thank you for the food!” and began to eat. It was interesting to do, though, because the others cut the food with their mandibles, pulling it in with their tongues. This meant that there was no silverware at all. Queen looked at this in wonder, and it was explained that they had to use tools to do what they did. Once that was figured out, kitchen tools were brought out that were bigger than what they would use on Earth, but they managed. Queen then said, “That is an interesting ritual. Were you thanking your Great Spirit?”
“Partly,” said Mars, “When our home was just our home world, there were many cultures, and ours would do that before we ate.”
“Excellent,” said Queen, “That means that you are spiritual people, and that is greatly to be respected.”
Ceres then asked, “So, what was it that your soldier was saying earlier?”
“Oh, you mean…” she said, and trailed off, and then she said, “Well, in our culture, there is only one source of our kind, and I was selected to be that one.”
Suddenly, “queen mother” made more sense. This was more like the ants of Earth than had first been seen. Queen continued and said, “When the time comes for Mother to leave this place and join the other matrons of history, the healthiest and best of the larvae are selected and fed a special royal jelly that would give them the traits that would allow them to rule well, and breed the next generation.”
Jupiter then asked, shocked, “Are you saying that you are the mother of everyone on this world?”
“Well, I am mother of the current generation,” Queen responded, “There are others that stem from our last Mother, but they all recognize me as the mother now, as they know well that I am of their and previous generations, so they are essentially family. They would not kill off their sister, and it would do them no good to do so. All that would happen is one of my offspring would come forward and take my place.”
“How do you keep that process from being manipulated?” pondered Venus.
“At one time,” Queen continued, “There were several mounds on the globe. They fought each other constantly, and there was some manipulation then. However, ever since we have managed to come under one queen, that kind of action is very small. There are pheromones that I emit as queen that keep my people loyal and others because there is something in them that connects them mentally to me. If there is treachery, it is almost impossible to hide, considering the way we communicate. If someone was ever foolhardy enough to either assassinate the queen or try to make his or her own succession by giving the royal jelly to a larva of his or her choosing over the one selected, then two queens shall emerge. Understand that this could happen by an attempted overthrow, or the queen dies naturally, and someone disagrees about the selection. Believe me; it only takes a month to develop the queen. Because of the royal jelly, it allows rapid growth and gaining of intelligence. That is fed into the pupa as it develops so that she will be ready to take over in an instant. However, if there is more than one, the ruler is decided by rite of combat…to the death. The winner shall rule as queen, and all shall accept her. It is rare, but it happens from time to time.”
“So, you are the mother of all?” asked Venus.
“Well, I am the mother of most,” Queen responded, “The rest are either loyal to me because of their relations to queens past, or because they are indeed my offspring.”
“What was this competition that the soldier spoke about?” asked Ceres.
“That is to determine which of them get to be my mate for that year,” Queen responded quite casually. They all remained silent, shook by how this culture operated. However, Queen took it to mean that she could continue, and did so. She then said, “It is a six month competition during my non-fertile cycle. It happens all across the Great Mound, and it is a mix of hunting skills, strength, intelligence, combat technique, sports, and so forth. Two weeks before my cycle starts, it is narrowed down to ten. I then personally interview those ten, and spend some social time with them. I mean, I am going to spend a year with that one: I want to be sure we get along, you know. Anyway, it is easier for me at that time, because I become more amorous the closer I get to the cycle. Once one is selected, we perform our duties nightly, as I lay about a thousand eggs a day.”
They looked shocked at that, and Queen then said, “Oh, don’t worry; they are small when they emerge. I can produce about 180,000 offspring a year.”
“How do you take care of all of them?” wondered Serenity in amazement.
“Well, the larvae are determined to be soldier or worker by their genetic traits,” answered Queen, “Once that is known, they are then given to a soldier and a worker who is life partnered together. They get at least two for which to care.”
“Are you saying that a soldier might have a…well…life partner, as you say,” said Mars, “And still that soldier might be your mate?”
“The workers understand the need, and have no problem with that,” said Queen, “All workers are female, but they are sterile, and they yet have urges. The soldiers have more urges than the workers, but they do perform the royal duty with one another, even though it would bring no offspring. However, the workers still have matronly feelings, and that aids in raising the young. They form these bonds as larvae, as they interact with each other in certain residential pods, though not out in the general public, considering how fragile they are. They go to school at this time, and their aptitude for a life skill is found here, either as a worker, or a certain skill as a soldier. Just before adolescence, however, they have two days of sick time, and then form a pupa. There they sit for a month, and emerge with an adult body. However, when that happens, whatever their skill was, that is fostered completely, and they begin to learn about how to function in society. Once done, the life partners they formed as larvae are bound permanently, and they then have the chance to raise young themselves. Yet, I love them all, though I cannot always get close to them. So, Serenity, how many offspring to you produce? Or, are you of the kind of being that have many matrons?”
Serenity took it in stride and said, “I am of the second, and my life partner and I have a wonderful daughter!”
“I would then say that you have a complicated system to keep all things in order?” asked a soldier called General.
“I would think that so, General,” said Queen, “Though ours must seem complicated to them.”
Indeed, Serenity was still trying to wrap her head around it, and it showed on her face. However, Queen said, “No matter; I am certain we can learn of each other in time.”
Jupiter then said, “I take it you have alliances as well?”
“Oh yes!” said Queen, “We know of five others, though it will take some time to introduce you the right way. A couple became our friends as you have; others realized it was better to be friends than to fight. Other systems have found out that they could never defeat us.”
General spoke up and said, “That brings up another point. If we are to ally with you, we need to know how you would stand alongside us if we needed to work as one on the battlefront. The two that joined with us peaceably did so with some combat exercises.”
Venus then said, “It sounds fine, but it would take some time to bring most of our fleet here.”
Ceres then said, “What if we do a joint exercise? Why not have a few of your vessels work with ours, and then we could have my company of Marines, and Princess Admiral Jupiter’s shore police work against your solders in a combat exercise? At least that way we could get the ball rolling until it was more convenient to have much larger exercises.”
General looked at Queen, and she said, “Could that be done?”
“I will ask Admiral of the Fleet and see what he could provide,” said General.
“I am the fleet admiral of my people,” said Venus, “I shall speak with him and see how we shall do this.”
Queen then said, “That will be very good for building camaraderie between our two worlds. We always know that those that can stand strong with us will stand strong and trusted behind us.”
Serenity then said, “And then, we can have our three celebrities give a music show!”
Jupiter, Ceres, and Venus all rolled their eyes as Serenity said, “What?”
“You just love to get them singing, don’t you?” asked Mars.
“Oh she was a fan girl back then,” said Mercury, “You should have seen the record collection she had.”
This was the first that they others had heard that, and they all looked at Serenity knowingly, who then just turned red and sheepish. Queen said, “Is your queen ill? Why did she turn all red?”
“It’s okay, your majesty,” said Mercury, “It is just an inside joke. You see, Jupiter, Venus, and Ceres here were once entertainers before they became what they are. They played music and sang.”
Queen became excited, and she said, “Oh, we would be delighted to enjoy the frequencies of their work.”
It took Mercury a minute to figure out what Queen meant by that, but then she said, “Okay, well, we can have our science team figure out a way to have it so you can enjoy them in your way, and the crew of our ship can enjoy them in our way.”
With that, they finished eating, and then dessert was brought out. Serenity, which had surprised the Moundians with her bottomless pit, astounded them even more when she ate like a piranha once she tasted their honeydew sweets. Her eyes rolled back into her head in ecstasy, and she just could not get enough. Queen said, “Um…your queen…um…eats well.”
Mars laughed and said, “You don’t know the half of it!”
Admiral met with Venus, and when they realized that the Artemis was a battleship, they decided to set it up with two of their heavy cruisers, about five light cruisers, about eight destroyers, and a squadron of fighters. Next, Venus explained about the armament on her ship, and they decided that, because her guns used electromagnetic pulse to propel the projectile, they decided to just fire them without the shells. Venus then said that she would still have them use something that weighed the same, but would disintegrate on contact with their shielding system so that her sailors could get used to actually going through the routine of loading and firing. They would then greatly tone down the particle accelerators for broadsides and anti-fighter protection. It was then that she learned that his ships used disruptors, and that they would be toned down to just take down the shields, and then just enough for the computers on board Artemis to record hits and simulate damage statistics. Meanwhile, it would be the Greenbacks and the Marines against a battalion of General’s soldiers, and decided upon a game of “Capture the Flag.” The rogue factor would be Mars’ SEAL team, as Ceres explained that they were a part of the Navy’s elites, and they specialized in asymmetrical warfare. The soldiers of the Mound then showed them the gear they used to record hits, and all of Ceres’, Jupiter’s, and Mars’ personnel had their weapons set the same way. Hand-to-hand, however, would be different. The Moundians then said that they were able to rig their small arms to be padded for that sake in case they fought that way, but they told the Millennium forces that their armor, combined with their exoskeletons, could absorb their blows. In both locations, it was explained that those of the Great Mound had never been defeated in combat. If that were true, then all of them realized that they must be a benevolent race, for they could have conquered most of this quarter of the galaxy by that point. Once the rules were set, they exercise commenced.
On the ground, a mix of terrain was set, and the Millennium forces were allowed to familiarize themselves with the fighting area to make it more of a fair fight, and three heads got together to form battle plans. It was decided that the Marines would go head on and keep them busy while the Greenbacks would hit from the flanks. However, the SEALs would go do what they did best, and circumvent the entire fight. They would be paired with the recon platoon, who would spearhead and get a feel for what was guarding the flag. They would then engage that force while the SEALs would sneak up and take the flag and head back with it. The recon platoon would then do what they could to escort the flag back. A platoon of Marines and Greenbacks were left at their flag. The flag, in each case, was what both sides would have called their unit colors, and because much in cool points were to be lost if that was stolen, there was more impetus on protecting them. Jupiter and Ceres would stay in the command shelter tracking the action, calling the shots while Mars was more to stay with her people. It was just her way. In orbit, the Artemis and the other ships were talking strategy. Venus explained their tactics, and one called Commodore began to adapt that with their own. However, Venus was seemingly letting Commodore call the shots, because, though her crew had been through many simulations, this was actually the first time they ever did live fire exercises, (of what she knew, being unaware that the fleet had already been blooded against the Gnarl.) Still, she knew that this would be a great test for her crew. All this was being watched by Queen, and by Serenity, for whom they brought out a special throne for her in her honor. Luna was with Serenity, while Artemis was on board his namesake, wanting to see the action first hand. The Moundians were amused at seeing such small and sentient creatures, and just took it in stride in learning about their new potential allies. With that, the games commenced.
On the ground, all the troops, (wearing the transparent steel armor painted in camouflage,) were making their way along, but they did not like things. They had yet to see anything happening, and they did not like how their eyes were being used by the SEALs in their effort. Ceres saw that, and called a halt and told them to find cover for the moment. By the looks on the holograph map, they were too far ahead, and he was afraid their opponents were looking to let them slip by. He then started to scan the skies and area. There was nothing. It was then it began to dawn on him that there was one contingency they had not taken into account, and, considering what they were dealing with, it was something with which he should have reconciled with before going forward. This was something that he figured out too late. The Moundians had their scouts watch the actions of the Greenbacks, (similarly clad as the Marines,) and then prepared to strike them in their special way. Yet, Ceres quickly grabbed his pistol and told Jupiter, “Get the rear guard ready! There is an attack imminent—right here!”
She wanted to ask why, but she also knew her husband’s instincts were keen, and she learned not to question them. She sounded the alert, and Ceres saw how they were forming. He then said, “No! Get on the walled defenses, and alternate: one looking in and one looking out!”
They did as they were told as Ceres took a commanding position on the parapet with Jupiter. He then said, “Have your special attacks ready.”
“Where are they coming from?” she asked.
“From the last place any of us would have thought,” said Ceres, “and from the first place we should have considered!”
Just as he said that, the ground shook as several holes opened up around the area, and a couple inside the protected area in which their flag set, and up came what could best be described as drilling tanks, followed by Moundians a blazing with their simulated disruptor rifles. At that same moment, at the flanks, the same thing happened, and the Greenbacks scattered in confusion. Transmissions were coming from all around, asking for help. They had been caught flat footed!
In space, however, because of the cooperation, Venus was readier than her planet-bound counterparts. Mercury was having her science team run all kinds of simulations and scenarios to give Venus an idea of where to go with things. In addition, as a side exercise, she suggested that, if the results of fighting gave casualties, she could have those crew pretend to be hurt, and have her medical teams practice in that kind of a situation. Scanners were now alerting them to an approach of the enemy, and Mercury said, “They are using attack pattern 16 Foxtrot!”
“Bring it up on tactical!” said Venus, and indeed, the enemy was moving up fast. However, the one thing that the Artemis had going for it that the Moundian battleship did not was range. The Artemis could hit from a long way out, and Venus planned to use that. Commodore said, “Shall we scramble the fighters?”
“Yes,” said Venus, but she gave him an attack pattern he had not seen. When he asked why, she said, “You don’t want them hit, do you?”
He gave the command, but he then asked, “What do you mean by that?”
A smirk curled over her lips and she said, “Watch! FORWARD BATTERIES: LOCK ON TARGETS AND FIRE”
The crew loaded the simulated rounds and had the chain ready to go. Because the gun decks were in space, moving them was no effort for the machinery. They whipped around and started firing rapidly. Because it was electromagnetic pulse, there was no recoil: the rounds were thrown rather than pushed. This was the first time they had been fired in space, and it was a spectacular sight! Earth tests had not been able to show the beauty of it as well as this. The fighters racing out to meet the enemy fighters and then the attacking flotilla were suddenly grateful that they had been told to take that pattern, or else they may have been destroyed for real! Venus and Mercury started their attack on the smaller vessels first, considering that the smaller vessels could swarm them as their big ones could pound them from distance. They wanted to reverse that on their attacking foes. In the meantime, Mercury was recording the fighters, hoping to transmit that to Princess Usagi in hopes that they could learn from it and use it. After a few volleys, about five destroyers had to pull out, and one light cruiser was simulated to have taken heavy damage. The Moundians could not believe that such firepower was possible. However, by this point, a part of each squadron had managed to slip through, and they were attacking their respective targets. The 40mm anti-fighter PA, (particle accelerator,) cannons were pumping flak into the area. At this, the other ships were taking position and attacking, doing what they could to take advantage of the numbers. By this point, the other battleship was engaging the Artemis, and the fighters were keeping them busy. At this point, it seemed like an even fight, but Commodore and Venus seemed to be working in good sync. However, Artemis was taking light to moderate damage, and the casualty reports started to come in. Once that happened, the “casualties” were being treated, and Mercury was swiftly collecting the data for a proper after actions review. Then the computer shut down the upper front battery after a simulated shield breach. Now they had problems!
Planetside, the fight around the flag was furious. They had done the unexpected, and now it seemed like a lost cause. If they lost their flag, they knew the enemy would take it underground. Once there, it would be foolish to follow, because they would be on a ground they were far more familiar with, and it would be over for them. However, Jupiter said, “If that’s the way they want to play…”
“Careful!” screamed Ceres, knowing what she intended, “You might kill them!”
“Don’t worry!” she said, grinning like a Cheshire cat, “I have something in mind!”
She then saw the tanks approaching, and she called out, “SPARKLING WIDE PRESSURE!”
She heaved several of her electric attack, and when they hit, they stopped dead in their tracks. The static had fried the circuits in the machines, causing them to stop dead in their tracks. The Moundians inside now scrambled out, having gotten a good shock, after which Ceres caught the hint and fired Meteor Shower at their feet, kicking up all kinds of dust around them. The troops took advantage of this and closed in on them. On the outside, the other Moundians were gaining the wall, and it turned into brutal hand-to-hand fighting. Ceres had his saber out, clashing with the foe, but the tide was turning. In the woods, the Marines, who were near the open ground, (where they really did not want to fight,) split in two, but decided to try to flank the attackers. They engaged, and both sides were taking heavy casualties. Yet, this did work the same effect that Mars had wanted.
Mars and her SEALs, wearing camouflage, but forgoing the armor because they wanted the ability to move swifter and quieter, were swiftly making their way to the enemy flags. They saw the encampment in the middle and the woods around it. She then gave command for the SEALs to conceal themselves in the woods and for the recon to do a quick frontal attack and then melt back into the woods. Once in position, this is what happened, and the Moundians started a heavy repulse. Quickly, the recon platoon melted back into the forest as they were chased by a smaller detachment, which then seemed to vanish off the radar screen. It was then quite—too quiet for the Moundians’ comfort. At that, simulated grenades were lobbed in, and in the confusion, the SEALs attacked. They were running full speed, but they were deadly accurate despite the running. A few Moundian troops jumped on their artillery pieces, but they were in for the shock of their lives! If they could hear things in a normal, audible fashion, they would have heard screamed out “BURNING MANDALA!” Rings of flames hit the pieces, causing them to melt, and the Moundians to spill out over the edges in terror. They had breached the perimeter, but as they were trying to deal with that, a scream came from their command tent, shouting, “RECON!” and they were making off with the guideon. When the Moundians went to face this, their foes seemed to disappear like ghosts. The commander their transmitted loudly, “Go after them!”
As the two monarchs watched, Serenity began to realize why she despised war so much. As she watched troops from both sides, as well as ships pull out, knowing that they would have really been dead in an actual fight, she began to shed a tear or two. Queen saw that and said, “Your eyes are leaking! What is wrong?”
She sucked it up and said, “I am so glad this isn’t real. I could not stand to watch people die.”
Queen said, “Is that the spirit of a warrior? I thought a queen like you…”
Serenity jumped in and said, “I am a warrior when I have to be, but, if I can solve it where no one gets hurt, or with little fight, then I would rather it that way. Think about it: how many of your larvae will have no fathers to take care of them.”
“This is something that they are taught from an early age: war is a part of our life,” Queen responded, “We have peace because we are always ready for war. They understand that it comes at a price. Because they love their homes so much, they are willing to sacrifice like that. Do not your warriors think that way?”
“Well, yes and no,” said Serenity, “But I remember General Ceres—the one in the green jacket—told me something that made me wonder things. He is a Marine. He teaches his fighters that they are ministers of death thirsting for war. Yet, he said to me that it would be better not to fight. When I asked him, he told me that a great general from his homeland once said that no one prays for peace more than the soldier, because it is he that must bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.”
Queen thought about that, and she then said, “That seems like he has a weakness in his bravery.”
“Oh no!” said Serenity, “He is brave enough! He told me that he gets around that by thinking about what would happen if he lost: he says that he thinks about his wife, and me and my family. The rest is easy.”
Queen understood that, and then she said, “Then indeed he has a strong character. I would be honored for him to stand alongside my commanders!”
“All my friends are like that,” she said, “That’s how I know that I can fight if I have to: they will always be right by my side.”
With that, they began to watch the fight.
They were now racing through the woods with the guideon, and ran smack into the fight on the right flank. The sight was bad: both sides had many off to the sides as simulated deaths, and there was not many left clashing. Mars shouted, “YOU WERE TRAINED FOR THIS! SUCK IT UP AND DRIVE ON, FROGMEN!”
They shook it off, and then saw the holes that had been created by the drill tanks, and Mars said, “Into the holes!”
“Won’t that play into their hands?” one of her men shouted.
“They can’t hear us, and it is the last thing they would expect!” Mars shouted back, and they then jumped in. When the Moundians saw them rush in with the guideon, they were calling for pursuit, but the remainder of Marines and Greenbacks took advantage of that by counterattacking. The Moundians were in disarray, never having taken a lashing like this before. Before the last of them “fell,” he called to the left flank to break off and chase. However, by that point, recon and the SEALs were at the cross points, trying to figure out where to go. Pulling out a compass, hoping that the poles of that world gave a correct reading, a recon trooper was trying to make a determination. He pointed to the left, but Mars said, “No, the one next to it: it’s the straightest. They must have counterattacked the base. Let’s go!”
As they started, they began to face their pursuers. Immediately, the SEALs started a rearguard action while recon plowed forward.
At the Marine base, it was a brutal fight, but somehow, a Moundian soldier managed to snatch the guideon and started to head for the tunnel. “TSUNAMI ATTACK,” shouted Ceres as he cast it at the feet of the fleeing soldier. He fell, and the guideon went up into the air, only to be caught by another who went into the hole. He wanted to pursue, but they were too deeply engaged in the fight. That’s when he heard, “FIRE SOUL!” and watched the soldier rocket out of the hole as a fireball flew past him. This was followed by recon platoon coming out of the hole, as the SEALs were finishing off the rearguard. One of the recon troopers picked up the company’s guideon and replanted it as they planted the Moundian flag beside it, screaming, “RECON!”
This was followed by all the Marines calling out “SEMPER FI!”
It was a costly fight on both sides, but the Marines and Navy on the ground carried the day.
In space, the Artemis was now frantically fighting off the attack they were facing. By that point, they had taken moderate damage, and they were the only one left. However, the other force had taken it hard as well, and they were down to their battleship and heavy cruiser, but it was still two against one, and heavy guns. It was then that Venus remembered something from her simulation tests, and she then said, “Spin 90 degrees, drop straight down, and full broadside on the battleship with whatever we have left!”
They were being closed in on from both sides, and the two attacking vessels were expecting the surrender to be called. However, they were surprised to see the Artemis make that maneuver, and then they had to do some serious maneuvering themselves to keep from colliding. As soon as they were parallel, the Artemis opened up with a full broadside. In simulation, the heavy cruiser was destroyed, and then the battleship followed an instant after when the damaged was assessed from the broadside, and the “exploding” ship right next to them. If it had been a real fight, the Artemis would have had to spend a lot of time in dry dock, but they were the only survivor. Venus slacked up in the conn and let out a heavy sigh. “I’m glad we don’t do that every day!” she exclaimed.
Artemis jumped into her lap and said, “I think we passed the test, and I think we learned a lot. You should be proud of the crew.”
“I am,” she responded, “I just hope that war is something that happens few and far in between.”
“Amen,” was all he could think to say.
Planetside, Serenity saw what had happened and jumped up. Luna went flying, all surprised, as Serenity shouted, “WAY TO GO! THAT’S THE WAY TO DO IT!”
She started to spin her arm and bark, and then suddenly remembered herself, and sat shamefacedly. She then said, real quiet, “I’m sorry.”
Queen then laughed and said, “Had we won, I would have been joyous as well.”
Her tone went a touch melancholy, and she said, “Still, this is also a harsh day for us as well. This is the first time any of our military has ever faced defeat in any form, be it a war game or not.”
“Well, know that you hurt us bad to do it,” Serenity, attempting to be consoling.
“True,” responded Queen, “The one thing I can say then is that, to have you as a friend would be the greatest thing that ever happened to us.”
She stood up as Serenity did and tenderly embraced her with all four arms. Serenity returned the gesture, and suddenly, neither one looked so hideous to one another anymore. Queen then said, “Welcome to the family, for we can now be as one!”
“Then we can celebrate tonight, after they all finish their after actions reviews,” said Serenity, “LET’S PARTY!”
If Queen had been physically capable of it, she would have been smiling at the endearing soft mother of her people.