When I was just a grub, still slick from my last metamorphosis, I remember the hivemaster saying to me, “Don’t reject your enemies as unfit for consumption just because they fell to you. They might have resisted your mandibles if only they’d received enough royal jelly in the nesting chamber.”
I think on that often now as I look back to how it all started. The galactic center had lured me to seek my fortune selling asteroid insurance to mutants in the reactor cores and plutonium tunnels. It was a high-margin business—explosive decompression tended to destroy the credit chits next-of-mutates needed to collect. But half the universe had wised on to the hustle, meaning everything was a flurry of argon jets and oath bracelets as we newcomers competed for commissions.
In the midst of that go-go mindset, I happened to run into some former hivemates from the homeworld. Tmmm and Dzzzy were doing better for themselves than I was. They lived off photosynthesis dividends from three dwarf suns in his family’s solar portfolio. They had a full estate on the terrestrial surface, complete with natural gravity and millions of third-instar grubs in the nesting chamber, each with its own nanny.
Me, I was commuting to work from a converted escape pod in low planetary orbit. Sure, I had to travel through the debris cloud left over by the great satellite war, but the location was great. I was wedged in between a bunch of new-money garden domes, each striving to outdo the others in conspicuous nutrient consumption.
When Gtzzby found out that Dzzzy and I shared three percent autosomal DNA, he turned to me for an introduction.
It was around this time I met my neighbor, Gtzzby. He was a mysterious sort—they said all records on him had been lost in the great data purge following Rigel Seven’s solar eruption. Be that as it may, he threw one hell of an oxygen party. He spared no expense in simulating planetary life, whether it was injecting syntha-food rations with rare trace minerals or configuring his waste recirculator to produce an open pool of potable water, complete with massaging jets.
As it turned out, all this extravagance occurred in perfect geostationary orbit over Tmmm and Dzzzy’s estate. I discovered that by coincidence one evening when a peek through Gtzzby’s spacescope revealed the couple’s gardens below, their green light offering a decadent contrast to the teeming planet’s gun-metal surface.
But while Tmmm and Gtzzby were both rich, they couldn’t have been more different. Tmmm was your traditional gentleman. He’d transported his team of riding beetles across 12 systems, harnessing them for elaborate mutant hunts in the tunnels, all-day affairs that ended with him crushing his quarry with a single squeeze of his mighty pincer.
Gtzzby only used his pincers to scissor corks out of pricey bottles of space champagne. Which was really space sparkling wine, since it wasn’t produced in the space-champagne region, but it was really just as good.
Different as they were, though, it turned out the two tycoons shared a connection: Dzzzy. Apparently Gtzzby and Dzzzy had exchanged pheromones when he was part of the war swarm pacifying our sector. Even after all these years, her chemical signature was still bound to Gtzzby’s odorant receptor, prompting him to peer down hopelessly from his observatory above.
When Gtzzby found out that Dzzzy and I shared three percent autosomal DNA, he turned to me for an introduction. What could I do? I was consumed with my own reproductive issues, having only narrowly escaped courting a mate that turned out to be the planet’s second sun. But I consented. When the time came, I drifted outside my pod in a spacesuit to offer the pair some privacy as they exchanged scents within.
Before I knew it, Gtzzby and Dzzzy were spending all their time together. He was dreaming big, talking openly about devouring Dzzzy’s current offspring to restart her royal jelly cycle.
The results were compatible. Very compatible. Before I knew it, Gtzzby and Dzzzy were spending all their time together. He was dreaming big, talking openly about devouring Dzzzy’s current offspring to restart her royal jelly cycle. Meanwhile, in a bid for secrecy, he’d given over the management of his terrarium to a bunch of no-good mutants, several of whom mutie-rigged a tubing system to funnel Gtzzby’s oxygen back to their slums.
It couldn’t last, though. Tmmm got wind of the affair and did some digging into Gtzzby’s background. He discovered Gtzzby had made his fortune in the black-market pheromone trade…including the batch he’d wooed Dzzzy with in the first place. Distraught, she stole Gtzzby’s battle cruiser and fled. But, careless with the controls, she exited hyperdrive too close to the atmosphere, vaporizing the mutant slums in the process. Even worse, God witnessed the whole thing from that billboard he’d put up over the causeway a few millennia back.
There was only one survivor. Tracing the ship’s energy signature back to Gtzzby’s terrarium, the mutant snuck inside and stepped on the heartbroken Gtzzby. The murderer then stepped on himself, ending the whole tawdry saga.
Ah Gtzzby. No one even showed up for the ritual devouring. All these hangers-on had processed his nutrients, metabolized his oxygen, and they couldn’t even bother to take down one bit of Gtzzby’s chitin. The hivemaster and I had to tackle it ourselves, head to abdomen.
That’s pretty much it. Dzzzy and Tmmm patched things back up and decided to make a fresh start in a distant star system his family owned. As for me, I figured I’d had enough of the asteroid-insurance business and decided to pack it in to return to my homeworld.
You see, Gtzzby had believed it was only a matter of time before he landed on that Class M planet, flooding his spiracles with the oxygen produced by its sweet, green vegetation. Sure, he hadn’t reached escape velocity yet, but tomorrow would bring a little more thrust to the engines, more plutonium for the core.
And so we “fire” again and again, achieving liftoff for one transitory moment before gravity intervenes, crashing us inevitably back onto the launchpad.