The meeting place was dim with only a few candles burning. The members were all cloaked as well, just in case there were people watching.
"With that telescope technique, we have to be very careful to give him no sense of what to look for," a voice from one of the cloaked figures said.
"It's not just that either, he's the most powerful sensor in the village. If he senses our manipulation before we're ready-"
"Yes, yes, you've said so a hundred times. That's exactly why we have to maneuver him into the right position with his own puppets. He doesn't have our eyes; he has to go with whatever chakra he can see directly."
"But with the telescope technique, that could be anywhere."
"Telescopes are only useful if you know what to point them at," The other voice said. "Why do you think we haven't been found out yet?"
"But the more we wait, the more likely it is that we will be found out. Shouldn't we act before it's too late?"
"How many times must I repeat myself? He's too strong. You remember what happened last time. Only my cunning saved us. It's all that is saving us now."
"Surely he is old enough that his power is ebbing-"
"You want to rely on that? Risk everything upon it? Even you must suspect by now that he has allies within our own ranks, watching for any sign of deception, any sign that we've found a way around The Capitulation."
There was no response.
"No, we must find a way to maneuver him and the village where we want it. Either by force or by manipulation. For this, it's likely we will need external allies."
"But why? Are you saying we aren't enough on our own? That others are better than us? That's completely-"
"Of course not. We're just in a bad position. Our kind has been oppressed within the village since time immemorial. We've always been in bad position in juxtaposition to the Senju and their ilk. In fact, that's how the village was created in the first place. Are we not those that possesses the best perception? Their champions are renowned for their physical prowess. Well then, we must use our superior powers of perception to outwit them. We are being watched, our actions are still limited even after we freed ourselves of the Capitulation Oath."
"But will we be able to control any allies that we get from the outside? And how will we contact them?"
"We have friends within the village that our watchers don't know about yet. We've been careful about contacting them. And they have contacts themselves. Our immediate friend has enlisted our help recently in assisting a project of one of these secondary contacts that promises to create a power unlike anything we've ever seen. We can call in a favor with them, however. It's only through the proxy of a proxy that we can safely contact potential external allies."
He paused for a moment, scanning the faces of the crowd.
"Are we all agreed then?"
There were nods around the room, and even the dissenting voice was uncharacteristically quiet.
"Good. Make the arrangements to establish contact and subsequent communication safely. With their help, we can end the subjugation of the Senju.
Zabuza and Haku hurried to catch up with their quarry, walking along the stone path cutting through the woods.
"What's our mission this time, Zabuza?" Haku asked.
Zabuza released his Mist Clone, instantly gaining its knowledge after giving it enough time to do recon. The party they were pursuing was still well ahead of them, beyond visual and hearing range by a good amount, so he didn't think that they'd been detected yet.
"Our employer hasn't told us much, just that we have to follow our current quarry, the group ahead of us, and that we'll receive more instructions when the next phase of the mission is up. For now we have to just keep following them and make sure that they don't notice that this is what we're doing."
Zabuza's words were a bit muffled as always since they were coming through his bandaged face. He had brown hair, a headband with the sign for Kiragakure, the Hidden Mist on his head though it had a slash through it, and a huge sword on his back.
"OK," Haku said with a nod that shook long hair.
"You said that a secondary objective involved getting a scroll from someone? When does that happen? Which of that group do we have to steal it from?"
Zabuza shook his head, some of the bandages on his face fluttering a bit in the wind.
After a moment, it was clear the bandages were loosening because he was jeering with an open mouth and his jagged teeth were partially showing through.
"Sounds fun, but no. Someone from among the people we may be fighting later are apparently going to hand us a scroll without the rest in the group noticing."
"And the rest of them?"
"Have to wait on our employer on that. Be ready."
Haku simply nodded as Zabuza wove signs and sent another mist clone out to report on any changes in their quarry's movements. Haku tried to focus more on his feet as he walked along the stone path, which felt like it had become strangely bumpy.
Or maybe he was just too distracted to follow the winding path. He wondered what sort of people were in the group ahead of them?
"I think I've figured out what's happening with the power you showed me, Shino," Shikamaru said. "But I would prefer if you didn't overly judge me if I have some details wrong.
Shino frowned. Or at least, Shikamaru thought that he frowned. It was a bit hard to tell with that high-collared trench coat. Both teams were walking along a stone path, following the old guy, Tazuna, who was way out ahead in the lead.
Someone should probably reign him in case he runs into bandits, Shikamaru thought. But then his next thought was that he was too lazy to do it, and someone else should instead.
Shino frowned. Or at least, Shikamaru thought that he frowned. It was a bit hard to tell with that high-collared trench coat.
They were walking along a stone path
"Isn't the solution to my problem obvious though? For someone with your claimed perception?"
"Exactly," Shikamaru said
"I see, then why-"
"Exactly wrong," He elaborated. "But this is the problem. And it's not just you, believe me, I do it all the time too. It's just an easy thing to do. Obvious is a moving target. Obvious is a dangerous game to play. Obvious is often only that way because of your perspective. The wolf is obvious for one person because they don't have a giant rock in front of them. It's an important thing to remember, that there are always rocks obscuring your vision and those of other people around you. Best not to make assumptions about who has which rocks where. Especially when it comes to yourself. Absolutely anything that seems "obvious" could be proven wrong at any moment."
"If you don't know, simply say so," Shino said. "We will then take that into account when you make suggestions from here on out."
Shikamaru took a breath, gathering his thoughts and looking around before continuing.
They were in a wooded area, and the usual sandy road had turned to stone steps some time ago. The area had become hilly and the leafy trees were closing in overhead. Shino and Shikamaru walked together, with Kakashi and Asuma behind them. Choji brought up all the way in the rear, appearing to be in his own little world though actually Shikamaru had given him the task of keeping an eye on certain things.
Ahead on the path, Sasuke walked with a dour expression and his hands in his pockets, and Ino was all but buzzing around him in a planetary orbit trying to get his attention. Tazuna was far ahead down the path.
Naruto was nowhere to be seen, but no one seemed to notice yet, which was good.
Shikamaru took steps in silence for a while, trying to gather everything that had been brewing in his mind up to this point about Shino.
What explained strange movement, clouds of insects, and nearly prescient observational abilities? Could he have the ability to see the future? It seemed unlikely, but this was apparently a magical universe, after all. But no, there were no insects that could see the future, as far as he knew.
What abilities did they have then? That were related to the other things that Shikamaru had to explain? And how could Shino make use of them?
Was there anything that any insect Shikamaru had heard of that was instead –similar- to seeing the future, from Shikamaru's perspective?
As it turned out, Shikamaru had taken some biology classes recently.
Some insects could perceive things completely differently than humans in terms of the passage of time. That could look prescient to Shikamaru's eyes, But then again, how did Shino make use of that ability? And what of his other behavior? Moving in strange patterns, or maybe, acting all stand-offish?
Well, since he didn't move that way normally, but Shikamaru had always observed him act distantly, it could be that only the odd movement was an ability. Was it related to insects? Could a hive explain that?
Shikamaru nodded to himself. He had everything in place.
Finally, Shikamaru did his best to describe to Shino how, through some means, he surmised that Shino had given his body over to the control of an insect hive. It explained the insects everywhere, the fast reaction times, and the independent movement of Shino's limbs since the insect hive would see them much the same way that it saw individual members.
"Correct," Shino said though you wouldn't know that he was actually applauding Shikamaru's reasoning from his body language which was rock steady and hadn't moved an inch.
"You figured it out quickly and with little prompting though some details aren't quite right."
"I could discern them given more initial data," Shikamaru said defensively.
"No need," Shino said. "I acknowledge that you have skill in this area and I'm content to let you create battle plans. I observe now, upon further reflection, that perfect comprehension based on what available data you had would not be as obvious as I thought previously." Insects swarmed around Shino's head, but he didn't seem to really notice at all. They came and went and Shikamaru couldn't imagine just what they were doing.
"Insects think faster than humans," Shino began.
Shikamaru found himself nodding immediately.
"Yes, considerably faster," Shikamaru said. " In fact, I read a paper from Fire University recently that claimed that insects may actually experience time differently than we do. It's because their metabolic processes are much faster so their brains are moving much more quickly. There's also much less distance between their eyes and their brains than in humans. The current thinking is that they can perceive light and images up to 4 times more quickly."
"Incorrect," Shino said.
Shikamaru just stared at him, but before he could ask a follow-up question, Shino was already holding out his hand and pointing at an insect that immediately landed on it.
"My insects aren't just any flies," He said. "I've been breeding them specifically for this ability, unlike others of my clan who breed more for chakra voraciousness. My insects have even higher metabolisms than what you describe in order to facilitate even faster thinking in the hive. They are an order of magnitude faster than humans in their thinking."
Shikamaru repressed the urge to whistle since Shino would probably think he was signaling the insects or something. No wonder they were constantly coming and going, they needed food much more than other insects. Ten times more speed would consume a lot of resources.
"This is also because they are likely even smaller than the insects your scientists study. And it's all enhanced with the chakra they take in from me and other sources."
This is an intelligence enhancing ability that almost rivals Naruto's, Shikamaru thought.
"Beyond chakra, though, they also need more conventional nutrition, which I keep for them in my pocket," He said. "But they also go out on their own to find sources we have trouble growing ourselves."
He turned to look at Shikamaru pointedly.
"People don't realize that humans aren't the only ones who have passed down knowledge, though the knowledge of the hive is much more instinctual. But just last year I was burned in a mission and insects brought back bits of leaves from the aloe plant. The symbiosis of our insects and the Aburrame clan goes back further than any of you can imagine."
"I can imagine it," Shikamaru said.
Aloe plants wouldn't help burned insects as far as Shikamaru knew, only humans. They must have co-evolved over hundreds of thousands of years or even millions at the least. The skill to control them with ninjutsu and chakra is probably what's recent. It seems like the bugs don't always even need prompting to help. They seem to think of his body as their home anyway. They're just repairing it just like they would replace grains of sand that had scattered the top walls of a nest in the ground.
"But what I saw earlier," Shikamaru said, pressing on. "Back at the village. It wasn't just suggestions you were getting from them, was it? Not at the end?"
"Yes that is right," Shino said. "In the beginning, when Naruto's attacks were fewer, they simply warned me in our shared mind, or else buzzed near me to indicate where an attack was coming, but later on, when the air filled with missiles like rain, I let them take control of my body within a few given parameters."
Wow. Letting an insect hive control your body: that was hard-core.
"They can perceive attacks much faster than me, and it would take too long for them to communicate the ways in which I should move," He said. "I instructed them to only avoid attacks, something they are very used to doing anyway. So, using our shared psychic bond through my chakra, they used their much faster perception to directly move my body out of the way."
Shino looked up at the trees as if he were somewhere else.
"For them, the dance of humans is like the lumbering of slow giants through quicksand. Since they are buzzing in the air and at all angles, and because of the way missiles move the air-" Shino began.
Shikamaru snapped his fingers.
"That's right, they have hairs on their legs that can detect change in air pressure instantly. They can even detect that in absolute darkness."
"The hard part is directing me," Shino said as if Shikamaru hadn't even spoken. "When I first gave them leave to control my movements through our bond, I would be hit with practice balls thrown by Asuma constantly as the hive didn't seem to understand why I was moving so slowly and with so little fluidity. They are constantly making improvements to my body to allow me to move as fluidly as they do in ways I'm not sure I yet understand," Shino said.
"They think so fast that they can communicate it back through the chakra network and into the neural network in my mind and have me moving before the kunai has even fully left someone's hand."
"So that's why you kept insects around each of the clones, not just to distract Naruto," Shikamaru said.
"Yes," Shino said. "They also spread out into the local area as I told them to find other clones that looked like Naruto. They could tell the real one no matter where he went via his scent."
"Wait, you knew about the Naruto clones hiding in the houses?"
"Not all of them," Shino said. "But the hive's perception was able to compensate for them as soon as they showed themselves, and thereafter insects were sent to keep tabs on them, increasing the warning abilities of the hive."
"Also, please cease interrupting me, if you would," Shino said, turning to look at Shikamaru in what was obviously meant to be something of a light rebuke.
Shikamaru just nodded, eager to learn more.
"Considering how slowly humans move, all of this battlefield-spanning data is needed to get me out of the way of attacks. Slowly, over time, the insects are learning from my own thought patterns, and I've now taught them to have some minor ability to think slightly more strategically. They've learned to anticipate how slowly and badly I move, and to start my movement well before anything would hit me."
Shikamaru imagined having the combination of thinking ten times faster than everyone else, but having the job of moving a slow giant around in order to keep him, their hive's home, out of harm's way. The implications of Shino's revelations were staggering. Was this hive mind learning from Shino how to be sapient? This would never happen with a normal insect hive to Shikamaru's knowledge. It must be a unique property of if it started thinking entirely for itself? Should it be treated like its own person? The strangest and newest Konoha shinobi?
It may have difficulty wearing a headband.
"I'm continuing to encourage them you know," Shino said. "I encourage mating between those that think the fastest and best in the hive. I encourage the hive in its curiosity even if there is no immediate purpose to it."
Shino threw out a hand to point in Shikamaru's direction even while Shino himself was looking elsewhere.
"Even now, you have three hive members on you, merely out of curiosity."
Shikamaru was just trying to repress the urge to swat at every area of his body and roll around on the ground to kill them all when he noticed three bodies already fluttering away from him.
Ahead of me in every way, he thought. Imagine if a hive that can think that fast could achieve a complexity of thought even remotely approaching that of a human? It was terrifying enough directed as it was by Shino, but the possibilities of that alien mind continuing to evolve are practically beyond the pale.
"Does that explain it enough for you to strategize?" Shino asked, still not looking in his direction.
"Yes, Shino," Shikamaru said, swallowing.
He was totally not imagining an insect hive supermind taking over the world.
At least it's just curious and not necessarily nefarious. Yet, he thought. Would Shino remain in control no matter how much smarter it got?
Again I find I should just post this even if I was hoping to make it prettier first. My timidity will make me never finish anything otherwise. I went back and fixed some of the last chapter in terms of awful spelling errors and such. I'll try to keep doing that to get the worst of it. I'm impressed that you guys didn't complain about that more (beyond the whole Hidan/Hidon thing which I'm currently too lazy to fix). must be the only place on the Internet that doesn't lose its mind over spelling errors. I'm going to try for a monthly thing here I think.
Fanfic bias keeps urging me away from the story, but my nerdiness plus my observation that plenty of these fallacies are relevant to my own non-fanfic life keeps bringing me back.
Also, I realize the explanation was probably a bit long, but I was trying to do the whole "show your work" thing for the rational fic ideal. I may need to tweak that later. And add more descriptions. The plot is pulling me along in my performance art approach.