The hatchlings are herded into my chamber where Tiny is instructed to keep a keen eye on the situation whilst I go to find Vibrant and see what the situation with the workers is like. I find Vibrant hovering around the two hundred larvae that recently hatched, fetching chunks of food that my class had brought in and just dumping it close to the grubs as she races back and forth, trying to make sure the ravenous little things get fed.
The workers tending to the grubs are so omnipresent that I didn’t even think to make sure they were getting fed! Thank goodness Vibrant was on the job. They wouldn’t have starved to death in such a short time by any means, but their development would have been delayed if they went too long between meals. The larval stage of an ants development is primarily for them to stack on mass. They have nothing to do but eat, eat and eat some more. The faster they bulk up the faster they are ready to go into their cocoons and take shape as proper workers of the colony.
“Vibrant! How are things with the workers?”
“Hold on a sec, Senior! I need to feed these grubs!” she yells as she rushes past me at a full dash.
“Aren’t they all fed?”
Dangit. No point being lazy, I’ll pitch in and help. The bulk of the food was stacked in the Queen’s chamber and it doesn’t take us long to deliver it to the remaining grubs who immediately wiggle their ungainly bodies to a position in which they can munch at it. They don’t exactly have the best mouthparts for this but they are giving it a red hot go!
As we worked, I asked Vibrant again what was going on.
“I’ve started to see a little movement amongst the workers. The higher evolved ones and the workers I was leading were the first to start moving” she announces cheerfully.
“Where are they?” I ask.
Turns out they are scattered all over the nest in various chambers. After rushing here and there I eventually find a worker showing signs of life. This fellow looks like he might’ve been on his second evolution, an advanced worker of some kind. Impressive! I do have the distinct impression that they should have been a bit larger than they currently are though…
“Haaa …. Hrrrrr”
Whoa! The ant is talking! He’s developed the Pheromone Language gland whilst sleeping?!
“Hey there buddy. How are you doing? You sleep ok?” I ask.
“Hen, han … ” as movement slowly returns to the worker, they continue to try and speak using this new mutation.
“Take your time champ. No need to rush.”
“Harr…. Havvv. Have.”
“Have? Have what?”
“Have … I … died… for the colony?”
Do I have to deal with this again?!
Over the next hour, more and more workers wake up and I direct them to the Queen for a quick debrief before they go back to their duties. After speaking to both me and the Queen, and a few workers who had cores being inspected by me, I was able to piece together what had happened to them as they’d slept.
Not only had the system changed their species, it had also brought them as close in line with the generic template of the new species as it could. The workers haven’t completely changed to match the new hatchlings, but they are close. They all have the Pheromone Language gland and all of them have sacrificed size and lost mutations in order to fuel their brain development. They aren’t as smart as the hatchlings are, but they are a heck of a lot smarter than they were before.
After a few evolutions, I suspect the difference between the old workers and the hatchlings yet to be born will disappear entirely. The first twenty are going to get an extra kick to start off their lives, the hatchlings born after this won’t be getting this sort of VIP treatment.
I emphasise to each worker, and I have the Queen double down for me to hammer the point home, that each worker is far more valuable to the colony alive than they are dead. I’m not sure if the new wave of sacrifice minded workers have heeded the message or not, but hopefully it sunk in enough that by the time I get the first twenty out there to help manage things there won’t be any damage.
Speaking of the twenty.
With the workers slowly going back into action it’s time for their first evolution. I head back down into my chamber and recall Crinis to meet up with us. When she arrives the twenty hatchlings are arranged in a half circle before me in the chamber, Tiny backing me up like a half asleep bouncer.
“Hatchlings. You are about to embark on the first step of the long road to ant greatness. This evolution will help lay the groundwork for your future progression. It is my aim that in time, you will grow to become the foundations of this colony as it grows and expands. It isn’t feasible for every hatchling to receive the same start in life that you have, the resources required are too great.”
The ants listen to my great spiel with focused eyes. My rambling seems to be resonating in some way. In fact, the spirit in their gaze is starting to make me a little nervous. No need to be quite so serious guys!
“Ahh. *Cough*. For you first evolution you’ll choose the Superior Hatchling option and I want you to be sure to select a stomach as your organ. This will help hasten your future development of mutations and decrease the demand on the resources of the colony. Beyond that, you can do whatever you want with your stats. From your second evolution onwards you’ll be able to choose a caste and decide how you’ll contribute to the colony from there. Are we … good?”
“Yes Senior!” they shout in unison, causing me to jump.
“Okay! Get to it then, I guess?”
At that weak instruction the ants quickly cluster in one corner of the chamber and immediately grow still as they begin to interface with the evolution menu.
After some research it was determined that only by purchasing a stomach upgrade during evolution would the ants begin to mutate their stomach. Some of the mutation advancements are especially appealing and I’ve provided some advice to the hatchling in that regard. Having core surgery is a little bit of a hack in some regards. I can’t see the whole evolution menu when I’m in there but I can look at options that are within reach of the core I’m looking at.
With all of them choosing a stomach and then mutating it, getting them to +10 for another perfect evolution will be a piece of cake. I’ve done the maths on my cores and I think I only just have enough to max out the cores of all twenty for the next evolution. Five cores each means one hundred cores straight up and then another sixty or so to form the special cores through fusion. I don’t imagine that the royal family of Liria ever imagined their amassed wealth in cores would be wasted in just a few short weeks in this way.
It’s enough to bring a smile to my heart.
Not long now and I’ll be able to turn over the bulk of the thinking in the colony to these hatchlings. Once I get them through the second evolution, it’s going to be on them. Then I’ll be a little more free.
For now though, whilst they are busy evolving I should use my time somewhat productively. The Queen wants me to take on the rare core so I might as well try and start absorbing it.
Feeling nervous, I dig it out of the wall and the powerful gem rolls onto the dusty earth of my chamber before me. This is one honking big core. I can’t help but feel an internal sting as I contemplate trying to absorb this thing.
This ones gonna hurt.