The Queen was troubled; change was always troubling. Events were moving quickly and She must adapt quickly to face them. Huddling in the vast darkness of the transport's interior, She paused and settled herself. Her attendants swarmed over Her, caressing Her delicately with their feelers. Tenderly they groomed Her and probed the jagged bullet and shrapnel wounds that pocked Her body.
The term 'queen' was one She could not know, would not understand. She did not have a name. She didn't need one. She just was. Yet in Her presence, one could not escape the feeling of majesty and yes, royalty. She was immense, nearly twenty meters tall. Like a samurai chieftain, Her head was adorned with a huge plate-like crest decorated with intricate involutions and embellished with a formidable pair of horns. Beneath this royal flourish was Her head, a chitinous helmet that drew to a sharp proboscis in the front. Fluttering beneath Her head were dozens of specialized mouthparts, tiny appendages She would use to guide food into Her delicate mouth. She had no powerful jaws for hunting or defense; She had no need of them. Her attendants had such tools and they were ever at Her disposal. From Her thorax arose four pairs of legs. Two pairs were small and used only for mating; one pair, larger in size, was for movement and grasping; the final pair, hugely oversized, was for a special purpose known only to Her. They were her emblems as Queen, her scepter and signifier. Like the antlers on a male antelope, these huge legs would only be used to defend herself against another queen. Behind the thorax, dwarfing the rest of Her body was Her abdomen, a massive sphere, thinly clad in armored plates and nearly twelve meters in diameter. Sprouting like an afterthought from the bloated abdomen were three more pairs of legs, insubstantial in appearance and yet they bore the weight of Her monstrous bulk. With these tools She could manage her needs and move with remarkable speed and agility.
She was an impressive creation, but her most magnificent attributes could not be appreciated with a superficial examination. She had three treasures, three Gifts that had enabled her to survive the millennia. The first was Her Hive, the tens of millions of bugs that encircled Her and fanned out across the heavens like a vast, living corona. She enveloped whole star systems, hundreds of light years distant. Her warriors scuttled across the surfaces of uncounted worlds, while Her tankers probed their mantles, and Her fliers darkened their skies. The power that would bind these many parts to the whole was the Second Gift. Inside the armored carapace of Her head resided a brain and a Mind that could reach across the light years to control Her vast armies and receive information from them. It was not communication, as her enemies understood it. No, it was something deeper. Her thoughts moved instantaneously first through Her brain bugs, the waystations and distribution nodes of Her neural net. From there Her will would fan out to her legions, which at Her slightest whim would die in the millions.
Her greatest treasure was neither brain nor bug. Those Gifts were Her present. In the huge sphere of Her belly slept the future, the Third Gift; the eggs and egg-producing machinery that every hour, every minute provided new subjects for Her empire.
These Gifts had always served Her in the past. With them She had crushed or incorporated hundreds of the hives of Her enemies over the centuries. But this war was different. When She first confronted the new enemy hive, She had engaged it as she had countless others before. Their stings were formidable and their shells hard, but these things had not concerned Her. It was when the brain bug was killed that things began to change. Her brain bugs were on the subjugated worlds and well-protected, but in any war some were expected to die. But this death had been different. This bug had been ripped from the Mind, Her Mind. The Mindkiller, as She called it, was a single enemy that had dared to challenge Her and had torn away a part of Her like hacking off an arm. The memory was horrifying. The Queen's attendants, sensing Her alarm, paused in their ministrations, then quietly resumed. It had not ended there. The Mindkiller had found Her and dared to enter Her chambers! It had penetrated the concentric rings of warriors, ripplers, and tigers. The stings from the Mindkiller's attendants had torn Her flesh and penetrated Her body, but these injuries were of little concern. They could be easily healed. It was the Mindkiller who had again challenged Her, destroying Her royal guard from within. She'd had the Mindkiller in Her grasp. She would have killed It; but even in Her clutches, He stopped Her, held Her at bay. The match had been a draw and the Queen had withdrawn.
The enemies had stolen Her home, but She was alive. She would strike the enemy that had struck at Her. She would kill the Mindkiller. She had a weapon Her enemies did not imagine. When She had the greatest enemy in Her grasp, She had tasted him. Tiny bits of its shell, a trace of its life water was still on her palps. Like Her nurse children, She could command the Life Code. Deep in Her body the traces of the Mindkiller were being absorbed, assimilated. In time She would pass the Code to an egg deep in Her body. The Code of Her enemy would mix with the Code of the egg and produce a new and powerful weapon for Her use.
She pondered Her schemes as her transport sped silently to the homeworld of the enemy. It was there that the great battle would be waged. But it would not be the final battle. The Queen could not lose. The future of the Hive, the Mind, and the Unborn was too important. For like Her millions of subjects, the Queen was also a slave to the Three Gifts. They would survive, no matter how the battle fared. They would continue even if She did not. It had all been arranged. If She had known what laughter was, She would have laughed.