Worming my way into favor…..

I made it to mount Planet under my own steam, or slither, as the case might be. Sarita's instructions had been clear, and they lingered in my mind. **Capture first, but kill to survive**. This was easy for her to say, she was not killing her brothers.

Or was she. I knew enough now about the human equation to realize in my budding sentience that Sarita's people, the Peacekeepers as they styled themselves, believed in the unity of purpose and nobility of mankind, and held that all men were brothers. Yet why were her people's needlejets and shard copters pounding Yang's bases? Why were many of the Peacekeeper bases in full military production? Why at this very moment were there young operatives with eyes glued to the monitor relays coming from their orbital defense satellites in the space above us and fingers poised on the trigger, ready for the first sign of a hive satellite being launched to shoot it from the sky?

I faced a similar ethical dilemma. Now co-opted into the Peacekeeper forces, under Sarita's command, I was the first fighting unit of the Mindworm Army, and me just a pre-boil adolescent mindworm. And it was intended that I capture and recruit for this army from among the wild mindworms roving Planet. That I had no problem with. It was the killing if they resisted that I wrestled with. They were my kind, and the fact that they chose a different way of life than collaboration with aliens didn't warrant the death sentence.

I had shared these worrisome thoughts with Sarita. Her response was considered, and could have come from Planet herself.

**Little Hatchling** she began, overlaying in my mind a sense of serenity and wisdom that made me think of Planet, **you are now thinking deep thoughts. So bear with me, and think this through. Death is not the end, but just a stepping stone on the journey, for us as well as you, but moreso for you. Your lifecycle is short - yes we can prolong it through the Pholus Mutagen Project our scientists are talking about - but you are brought into being, you live, you breed and you die, in a few short turns of this Planet. Yet you live on, collectively in the planetary web, to be reborn, to die again and so on. This is true of all Planet's manifestations of herself.**

**Is this so, Planet?** I asked the consciousness around me.

**Hush, Little One, listen and learn.** whispered Planet into my mind.

Sarita continued: ** So when one defies your attempts to capture it, let it go, unless it threatens you or any of your charges. You have a higher calling, and I sense that Planet is willing you on to its success. For we are committed to building a planetary habitat for the Peacekeepers that will be Green - no boreholes or mines on the land, only forests. We want to be at one with Planet. There are those however that are out to despoil Planet, to exploit every ounce of wealth, and in doing so are not afraid to leave a scarred and barren landscape behind. I am charged with working in conjunction with our Gaian pactsister to rectify this wrong, this affront to Planet. You and your army of volunteers and press ganged recruits will be at the forefront of this struggle. Ask Planet, she will confirm everything I say is true.**

I didn't have to. I sensed Planet's affirmation in everything Sarita said.

**So let them go if they are not threatening you. But terminate this lifecycle of theirs if they try to resist. They will arise again, but to a better life if you and your recruits are allowed to pursue your calling.**

I pondered those words, and gained comfort from the assent that Planet gave me.

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I lay in the fungus patch, pulsing with psi-energy and anticipation and using every skill I possessed to dampen it, not to give my position away. I had sensed the confused and infantile gibberish that passed for thought in the consciousness of the wild mindworm as it approached. I pounced and quickly subdued it, melding its will to mine and transferring to its neural net a truncated version of own experiential wisdom, leaving the full exposure to Planet's to a later stage.

It's mate was nearby, and I sensed its psi-energy flaring. This would not be a capture, nor a dismissal with the wave of a tendril.

As I readied for battle, I sensed Planet in my mind. **You realize I cannot take sides** she said. **I wish you strength and conquest, but I cannot intervene.**

I reared and struck, willing my opponent to give ground. It resisted strongly, and I had to strengthen my own resolve. I drew on my experiences with the Hive garrison, and narrowly focussed my psi-energy. My opponent was a worthy adversary, as we met, tendrils intertwining, and psi defences active. As the battle continued, I felt the now familiar sensation of the cell split. Oh, not now, I implored I knew not whom. The struggle continued, but as my opponent grew weaker I grew stronger, and again the metamorphosis was sudden when it came, and I progressed to Boil status. This was too much for my opponent, who perished from my attack.

As I calmed down, I was aware of Sarita in the background of my thoughts. I sensed her commendation over the many clicks distance, and shivered slightly as I imagined her hand ruffling through my tendrils with that gentle touch so full of empathy and understanding.

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The next few turns of planet were uneventful. I added to my army, and fought three or four times, a couple of these producing the by now half expected metamorphosis into an upper form. I was now Great Boil status. I had paraded the army through one of the monoliths, with the same effect on all as it originally had with me.

Our firepower was truly awesome, as we numbered around 20 in our brigade. Mostly now I left the fighting to others, to help progress their status level, but I knew now that there was one more metamorphosis I had to undergo to achieve great boil status. I would need to fight again.

In our quiet times I linked with the great Locusts of Chiron that Sarita's team had bred in captivity and was envious of their coordinated attacks with our needlejet and copter squadrons as they marched across Yang's territory, capturing base after base. It was the locusts job to be the first into a defeated base, and hold it until garrison troops could be recruited locally or dropped in from the space elevator. Patrolling Mount Planet seemed tame compared to the excitement they had.

We were patient, understanding the implications of the long term strategy. At this moment, formers were constructing a land bridge to Yang's territory, just a couple of clicks long. When completed it was our mission to storm over and start terrorizing his bases. We rested in eager anticipation.

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The pain nearly killed me outright, and my entire army. We writhed on the ground in agony as our neural systems overloaded, each contributing to the other's distress, as we lay powerless to understand what was happening.

Sarita's mental shriek, from halfway across Planet **LITTLE HATCHLING, HELP**


To be continued……….