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 We find that we have much in common with the Colonies. Symbiosis and eusociality are very different, but all-of-us are more akin to a eusocial collective than we are to a solitary Sentient, who to us seem always rather lonely.

Yet the Colony is a hard creature to the eyes: a mass of smooth, featureless worms strung together to form a bipedal, two-armed glistening mass with a narrow torso and a strange protruding bulge at the top where several worms have evolved into eyes, ears, and a tremoring thing that the Colony uses to make sounds and communicate with. It is no surprise that most Sentients resent them, despite their calm demeanor.

We sit down in a dark corner of an inner city Lounge, a place where Sentients pay to be lulled into a psionically induced dream; a place where everyone is too busy fulfilling their deepest desires to care about what goes on around them. Perfect for a meeting such as this one.

A robotic servant hovers towards our table and offers us the services of one of the local Psions, refreshments, or both. We decline the illusion and order a local beverage, while the Colony orders some ice. Its voice is a deep tremor that sounds surprisingly musical for a creature of such disturbing appearance. It then focuses its oval white eyes on us, and waits for us to speak.

‘We have spoken to the Committee,’ we say. The translator changes my words into trembling, musical tones. ‘We believe the Chairmen can be convinced to respond to the Mass shoal you have created.’

The Colony nods slowly. ‘We must be sure,’ it says.

‘The Committee gathers again in two solar days,’ we say. Our left head writhes free and turns to keep an eye on the Lounge. ‘We believe that if the shoal will still be there by that time, we can convince the Chairmen it is a serious threat, and that all-of-us must act.’

We are silent as the robot serves our refreshments. As the Colony dips its hand in the ice, the ends of the individual worms that make up its fingers unfold and start sucking on the ice, consuming it at an amazing speed.

‘It is a huge effort to maintain the shoal,’ the Colony says once the robot is gone.

‘We know it is. Freedom comes at a cost. But if you wish to call it off, there is still time to do so.’

As the Colony thinks, it hums a tune that sounds familiar to us. It then holds our eyes for a moment, uncertain of which pupil to stare into, and finally shakes its head-like bulge. ‘We will maintain the illusion for another five solar days,’ it says. ‘Once the Bound decide to respond to the distraction, we will give the signal for the uprising.’

We nod our right head, while the left still scours the lounge. ‘When you give the signal, we shall let you into the tower, so you can take the Chairmen hostage. Chairmen Erroo are heroes to the Bound, all-of-them will negotiate with you for their lives.’

‘It is a desperate thing to do. . . ’

‘Freedom is worth any sacrifice,’ we say.

The Colony nods, rises slowly, and turns.

We smile as it shambles out of the Lounge. Chairmen Erroo’s cycle has been nothing but a rapid succession of demonstrations in incompetence. Whether or not they survive the uprising is of no consequence; their failure will not be tolerated by the Supreme Command and the only possible successors to his post are Speakers Tanna or we.

And we doubt Supreme Command will suffer Chairmen who prioritize microbes above hostile shoals.



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