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    Cia
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Ancalagon - 61. Chapter 61

Bouncer growled, but the large creature ignored his threat display. It blinked slowly, shuttering those glowing yellow eyes before it opened them again and twisted back around. Delicate feelers extended from the thick mandibles protruding below those large eyes and swept across Swintik’s hand, tasting the acoji nuts before it scooped them up. It tilted its head and swallowed the entire handful.

“Yes, you like that, don’t you?” Swintik chuckled when the segmented insect vibrated under his touch, clacking its mandibles together.

I really didn’t like insects. Usually they didn’t grow too large; their numbers were so great that they’d consume a planet’s resources if they were to grow oversized. Natural law prevented humongous bugs.

Usually. This thing was right there beside legless animals for sheer creepiness, and I didn’t like to picture it traveling with us in these dark tunnels with that flexible body and those thick mandibles that looked capable of shearing off a whole hand if it wanted to.

The way Bouncer was digging at the ground beneath his feet, he was picturing taking his own bite out of it.

“No.” I stroked his head but grabbed a good hold on the back of his neck at the base of one of his ears. “You will not try to eat that bug. It’s not food.” Not with the way Swintik was feeding and touching it.

“The althea dig pits underground and secrete a substance that masks their dens from all sensors to protect their young; this works for predators of their kind as well as for our technology surprisingly well. I didn’t think it was possible to train them to allow humans to be near their larvae without inducing an attack from the entire colony.”

“There’s a colony of those things?” I glanced behind me and then shifted so my back was to the wall. “Where are they?”

So far it had been silent, just the shiver of its body under Swintik responding to the food and his touch. This tunnel had a colony of giant, silent segmented bugs with huge mandibles. Great.

Chaintrik shrugged. “The colony lives in the opposite direction we will go. We can use these tunnels because the queen was rescued by one of ours and given refuge in a bolt hole built beneath his house; she quickly created a colony of servant althea and then laid another queen egg. She’s been curled around that for a very long time, waiting for it to mature and being tended to by the others. She doesn’t see us as a threat, so neither do they. We found out early she has a weakness for acoji nuts, so they are a favorite to treat her.”

Swintik snorted, looking at Chaintrik. “You’re too modest. You are the one who saved the queen and gave us these bolt holes, and you’re the one she allows to bring her a personal offering of acoji nuts. Only you.”

“The others like everyone enough.”

“If we bribe them.” Swintik shrugged and gave them an amused look. “It’s one of the reasons acoji nuts are part of the entrance price. We cannot buy too many without gaining suspicions, but newcomers are fine.”

“Why? Who is tracking what you buy or don’t buy?” I asked. The market hadn’t seemed like there were guards or anything watching the transactions that closely.

“Everyone. Anyone. The Kardoval have made sure of that; it’s nearly impossible to tell who might be innocent of machinations, complicit, or downright deceptively supportive of their plans and against ours.”

So they did have some sort of a plan.

“We hope that you can help us with that, make it safer for us to operate.” Swintik looked at Garjah. “As head of security, you have to have information we lack.”

I snorted. Treason would never be safe.

“Are you all right, Essell?” Garjah stroked my back.

“Sure.”

I was better after the althea left and we started moving toward their meeting place. Chaintrik lead the way and Garjah stayed between me and Swintik who brought up the rear. I didn’t expect the opening to be quite so large or for there to be so many in the room waiting for us.

Bouncer crowded into me, and I leaned into Garjah. Sandwiched between them I felt a tiny bit better, but I couldn’t watch everyone. We were lead to a slightly raised portion of the room and flanked by our hosts.

“All of you will recognize Garjah. He is the leader of security, and he has had some dealings with our group before, turning a blind eye if no one was harmed. He is a male of his word.”

“He is a sycophant of the Kardoval.”

“I am not. They have proven they are willing to endanger not only the best course for the whole planet, but the personal freedoms and safety of individuals I hold dear to remain in power and control.” Garjah combined our fingers. “I have joined with a human, though he has been changed, and his people look for him. He has a family. They are scientists, learners. I had hope to reveal ourselves in stages, first with people Essell trusts, then to the wider universe.”

“And you would help with that?” Someone from the back spoke up, and I couldn’t see them clearly in the dim light.

“I would. You deserve the freedom to grow as a people, and the universe is a vast place full of space and ready for anyone willing and able to learn how to cooperate to create a better life for all. You have much to learn, but you also have much to offer.” First contact specialists would have a field day with the entire race.

I blanched.

Garjah’s hold on me tightened. “What is it?” he asked quietly.

“I just realized, my mom is going to scrutinize every single thing I’ve done.” My mouth watered and the nut milk threatened to make a reappearance.

Copyright © 2020 Cia; All Rights Reserved.
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Essell does encounter interesting insects.  Garjah's association with the rebels is long term. Interesting.  It just supports the idea that the Kardoval has set him up to test his loyalty.  However, I still think there are some Kardoval members also supporting the idea of making contact with other planets.  It would be beneficial for all.  It is fun to see Essell's fear of his mother's opinion about his first contact.  He didn't seem to fear her when he decided to explore Ardra on his own.

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