The report from Blue's infiltration adviser was long winded, though it does helps a drone's ability to report when it doesn't have to breathe. In summary, Queen Blue Sun and Queen Catalyst were now aware that something was wrong in the human side of the camp that caused Colonel Bunker to worry a great deal. The Hive Adviser had gone out of their way to build the hive as efficiently as possible for Blue Sun, which she appreciated greatly. Her friends had yet to be seen in the few hours since the base evacuation, though a single drone was missing from the hive's role call as well and it may simply be observing them. Additionally, a group of humans had ventured into the hive in search of information and found one of their friends in the 'hospital' section of the hive.
Taking the queens through a tour of the hive, they were made aware of four separate spires designed to each house a different sub-group of changeling within the hive. Warrior, Infiltrator, Tunneler and Caretaker each had their own place to sleep. The spire that the humans had taken to calling a 'hospital' turned out to be the Caretaker's spire, and it was where the group of humans currently waited. In the center of the hive between the four spires was a large statue of Queen Blue Sun serving as a gift to the drones' queen agreed upon by all three advisers.
On the outskirts of the hive, however, sat the human encampment. Chest high walls of cautiously placed sandbags and routinely refreshed soldiers guarded the perimeter of their hastily constructed tents and shade-screens, with a large tent dominating the center complete with air conditioning. Power cables weaved their way through the entire encampment linking with boxes and other things that the Adviser had no clue as to their purpose, and reported that the humans seemed very uneasy about the rapid expansion of their hive.
"The decisions of how to run your hive are yours alone Blue Sun," Queen Catalyst reminded her, "I suggest you deal with the humans before things get out of control, and to ensure your Hive Adviser doesn't go on a building spree and waste more of the hive's love storage."
"Where is the love storage, by the way?" Blue Sun asked, earning a deadpan stare from Catalyst.
"You're joking," Catalyst sighed. "You used to be a drone, idiot. Where was it in your hive?"
"Uh... Queen Chrysalis rationed the love, so we didn't have one." Blue explained naturally, causing Queen Catalyst to bristle with anger, her head frills raising in the same moment her expression soured.
"Of course that selfish waste of life would hoard it all for herself!" Catalyst spat in angry buzzing. "It's no wonder her hive was always starving," Catalyst added, walking off in an angry rant, "The stupid scum-bubbler attacks Canterlot with the excuse that her 'hive is starving' when she's the one that caused their hive to starve! When I get my hooves on her.."
Catalyst soon stormed out of earshot, still rambling and muttering to herself as a very bright glowing orange light before disappearing into the Warrior's Spire. Blue Sun and her drones shared an uncomfortable look before continuing on with their discussion.
"So..." A caretaker drone spoke up after a long pause, "The love storage is in the Caretaker Spire, my Queen."
Blue smiled, nodding to the drone. "Thank you! Now we just have to talk with the humans that came into the hive. Are they still waiting in the spire?"
"Yes, my queen. They haven't left since the tremors." The drone reported.
"What has the rest of the hive been doing? I'm very proud of all of you for the hive that was built while I was away and that nothing horrible has happened with the humans, but are you all well?" Blue questioned, giving the drone beside her a concerned and inquisitive look.
The drone then went into lengthy detail about the roles each of the advisers had played in the hours of the queen's absence. The evacuation of the base had lead to some casualties amongst the humans, and all the wounded that were within a large perimeter of the hive designated by the Warrior adviser were taken to the caretaker's spire in order to be healed. Various low ranking soldiers, cleaning staff, medical personnel and a few pets had all taken up residence in the various floors that dominated the spire and most were still unconscious. All of the patients had been dutifully restored to the best of the caretakers' ability, of course, but it still left most of the hive with a sense of uneasiness about their overall relationship with the humans nearby.
They were confusing, the drone explained. All with similar coloration and slight variation in clothing, all stern and serious with sparse laughter away from certain individuals that seemed to hold power amongst their group. The human warriors, as the adviser put it, shared a sense of fear for the unfamiliar and uncertainty about how they would actually 'deal' with the threat that the hive presented to them. From the drone's understanding, the humans had their own queen that needed protection along with a similar amount of advisers that ran operations that couldn't be micromanaged by the queen of the humans alone.
Blue tried to explain that there was no queen in the human's encampment, only a leader named Colonel Bunker and her two subordinate advisers referred to as Shen and Vahlen. The hive's infiltrators had noted regular reference to 'The White House' and the 'United Nations Security Council', along with the grumbling that came from soldiers being forced to sit and stare at the hive. The persons referred to as Vahlen and Shen wanted to learn more about changeling biology and architecture, respectively. The drone explained the reactions of the advisers upon hearing the reports from various infiltrators as being very defensive, neither the Hive adviser nor the Warrior adviser wanting to allow the humans a single step on the territory of the hive, while the Infiltrator adviser had reminded the two other advisers of Blue's command to not upset the humans. Instead, the hive was advised to be as vague and uninformative about the specifics of the hive as possible in order to confuse or disinterest the humans in the hope that they would get bored and leave.
"How much have the humans asked about?" Blue Sun asked, approaching the Caretaker's Spire. "Has there been anything the advisers think they shouldn't know?"
The Infiltrator adviser explained their encounter with the humans in the spire and their interest in their love storage. The drone explained it away as 'healing goop' along with a fancy mist that keeps patients calm, though the drone was uncertain if the humans accepted it as fact.
"Queen Chrysalis never allowed a love storage." Blue pointed out, "Would you explain to me what it does?"
The drone happily obliged. "Love is stored in the center of the Caretaker's Spire. As we gain more of a reserve, more energy is spent to raise the pool's outer walls vertically in order to store more love. As it is right now, we had only enough left over from building the few sections of the hive necessary to house the few hundred drones that were hatched along with a very basic flooring. We told the humans that their contributions of affection from being healed were more than enough, but it was on recommendation of the Warrior adviser to not give signs of want or weakness to the humans," With the final bit of the drone's explanation, it grew more worried, "In truth, we could use far more love than we have, and we are draining our reserves steadily enough that our Hive adviser states we will be depleted within the remainder of the day."
"All of the love is nearly gone already?" Blue replied with surprise. "How many humans do you think the hive would need to sustain itself at the current number?"
"From the huge amount of emotion that these humans give out, the Hive Adviser calculates that about one human per one hundred changelings should be enough, should nothing strenuous happen." The drone explained while adding, "The warriors use more love than any other changeling from their patrolling and heavier bodies, and the Warrior adviser seems very eager to rid the hive of the few humans within it."
"We're on our way to speak with them, aren't we?" Blue smiled along with a reassuring pat on the drone's head. "I'll take care of it. Go and tell the other advisers that I've returned along with Queen Catalyst, and not to harm Catalyst or any human that's around. If you find one that looks suspicious, take them to the Caretaker's Spire to meet with me."
The changeling bowed. "Yes my queen, right away!"
"Getting anything on the radio?" Muldaney asked, "This place is starting to lose what little friendly vibes it had the longer we wait here in silence."
The few soldiers along with the away team had begun to set up a perimeter with the scientists either in the middle of their circle or very slightly apart from it and collecting samples to place in glass vials. The pool of 'healing goop' as it was called had slowly been drained by passing changelings and unconsciously reminded the group of a ticking clock.
"I'm certain the Colonel will get through," Lieutenant Olive replied while checking his shoulder radio, "Her signal got through the walls last time, so there's no reason to assume it would stop working suddenly now."
One soldier was unconvinced. "If the ground outside's been shakin' that long, I don't think there's a base to go back to at this point. What's it been, ten minutes?"
Muldaney raised a flat palm to the fellow away team member, taking it away from his rifle. "Cool it. It's not gonna be that bad."
"How do you know? Nobody's gotten a single glance outside since their weird doors all shut." He countered. "What if-"
The soldier was interrupted as part of the wall rippled open, allowing some of the strange fog that engulfed the bottom floor of the 'hospital' to vent out from it. In the doorway stood a comparatively large yet familiar sight.
"Lieutenant Olive!" Blue Sun cheered, her fangs and sharp teeth being unsettling to the away team. "I'm glad to see you again."
"Blue Sun?" Olive asked with some surprise, lowering his rifle and allowing it to hang by its strap. "You've gotten shorter since I've last seen you."
The tall queen approached the group steadily, her worrying smile still presenting itself to the increasingly nervous team. "Don't fear, everyone." Blue announced, "Olive and I know each other, and I'm the Queen! You're all welcome to stay here so long as no harm comes to my drones or hive."
"Somehow I don't buy that." Muldaney grumbled, lowering his own rifle but keeping his hands on it all the same.
"What happened in the base?" Olive asked as Queen Blue Sun arrived within conversational distance. "We hadn't heard anything for a few hours and Colonel Bunker had me lead this away team to figure out what was going on."
"Oh, nothing too dramatic," Blue Sun replied with a dismissive wave of her hoof. "I chased after Queen Catalyst to save one of my drones, ended up melting a room, getting lost in the base, and now here I am!"
"You melted a room?" Olive asked, crossing his arms over his protective vest with interest. "How'd that happen?"
"Oh," Blue Sun nervously chuckled, "Well, Queen Catalyst got bored with wandering around lost in the base, so she created a magic shield around the three of us and we melted our way outside."
"You..." Muldaney questioned, before shaking his head and deciding it was better for the Lieutenant to deal with this craziness than himself.
"What about Colonel Bunker?" Blue Sun inquired, "Did she make it safely away from the mountain? I know you stated that she gave orders, but it's also possible to give instructions while wounded."
"The colonel is fine, Blue." Olive reassured her, "So is Vahlen, Shen and your friends as well."
"Have my friends been worried?" Blue wondered. "Do they have somewhere to sleep in your encampment?"
"From what I've been told, they've been slinking around the base looking for a way out. They keep running into perimeter patrols and we're keeping track of their progress. They probably just want to make sure you're alright." Olive explained, "By the way, we can't get any radio signals out of this hospital. Would you mind if we all walked back to the command tent and debriefed the colonel?"
"It would be no problem at all," Blue applied with hasty agreeableness. "I think that Doctors Vahlen and Shen have a lot of questions to ask me about the hive and the wonderful work of my drones."
"They're pretty eager, I gathered that much." Olive replied, giving a hand signal to the rest of the away team to ready for movement. "Shen was practically drooling when he saw your drones raising these spires in such a short time. Vahlen has been asking the perimeter patrols non-stop about your location and the effects of your absence as well."
"I'd be more than happy to answer their questions, though I'll be bringing along my advisers." Blue replied with another of her unsettling smiles. "They would probably have just as many questions for Doctors Shen and Vahlen, and I wouldn't want to disappoint them."
With the group now ready to move, Olive motioned towards a nearby wall. "So, how do the doors work in this place?"
Blue Sun raised a brow. "The doors?" Looking to the wall, the realization came quickly. "Oh! A changeling simply walks toward where they need to go, and a hole opens for them."
The actual mechanics of how the hive worked was more complicated than that, but Blue reasoned that if her advisers had told her drones to not give away anything about how the hive really worked, she should probably be following the same advice. Blue Sun stood next to the wall, and when everyone was ready she opened a hole and stood by as the away team exited with an uneasy rush through to the other side. She felt each of the humans she was unfamiliar with emit a sense of fear and repulsion as they drew closer to her, and that it was mostly based on her appearance.
"Ah well, more to work on, I suppose." Blue cheerfully muttered to herself. "Lieutenant Olive! I will gather my advisers and meet you outside of your encampment's territory."
Olive gave a quick salute and lead his group away from the hive, checking his shoulder radio for signal as they proceeded down the artificial hill that the hive rested upon.
"Base, this is Lieutenant Olive, come in, over."
A nearby communications soldier lunged for his headset, quickly putting it on. "Roger that, away team. We hear you, over."
The attentions of Colonel Bunker, Doctor Shen and Doctor Vahlen all turned to the sudden commotion from the radio. Shen and Vahlen set down their unsweetened dirty bean water, an instantly made poor substitute for coffee, and listened in.
"Queens Blue Sun and Catalyst have returned from the base unharmed. Queen Blue Sun is interested in meeting with command and is bringing over her advisers," The scratchy radio voice of Olive relayed,"We're approaching the perimeter now and can confirm the missing wounded personnel are being administered by the changeling hive in their hospital, over."
Colonel Bunker took up a spare headset and placed it on her head. "Away team, this is Colonel Bunker. Any signs of hostility to your presence? Over."
"Negative, command. The drones were peaceful and gave us a tour of their hive. They seem insistent or almost religious on following their commands from Queen Blue Sun." A short pause from Olive's radio, and he spoke again. "The Warrior drones seemed the most suspicious of us and the caretakers were the most helpful. I'll give a debrief when the team returns, over."
"Interesting..." Vahlen hummed, taking another sip of the blackened MRE powder that attempted to pass for coffee, her face scrunching with bitterness. "Their reactions are better than I had expected."
"Understood, away team. We'll await your arrival. Out." Colonel Bunker replied, setting the headset down on the desk and turning to Vahlen and Shen. "So, what do we think so far?"
Shen was scratching his chin. "The fact that our radio signals couldn't pierce the walls of their hive is interesting. I wonder if it is their biology or architecture that interferes with the equipment, and if there is a way to counter the effects."
"The behavior of the drones suggest at least some form of limited free will among them." Vahlen added, "They follow the spoken orders of their queen, and that order is quickly communicated through the rest of the hive with speed. Perhaps suggesting some kind of biological signaling. Pheromones, perhaps?"
"From the perimeter reports there haven't been any negative incursions," Colonel Bunker added, "Warrior drones standing in towers or flying next to the camp are common, but only their infiltrators attempt to move past the patrols. It seems odd that China would have any issue dealing with the changelings, considering we haven't seen a single vehicle."
"Perhaps the changelings don't have enough resources to develop them?" Vahlen suggested. "Or they have some other form of defense that renders large vehicles obsolete or inefficient."
"Didn't the reports state something about shielding?" Shen pointed out, his arms crossed with interest. "Perhaps the warriors are capable of the same barrier that we witnessed Queen Catalyst use to escape the mountain."
Vahlen shook her head. "The amount of energy that would require would be unsustainable in larger amounts. There have only been scattered reports of a changeling fitting the description of a queen, and she hasn't been in every engagement. There is simply too many unknowns to guess at without proper study of these changelings in more detail."
"We're not going to damage relations with the only friendly queens we've seen so far, Doctor Vahlen." Colonel Bunker mandated. "Maybe if they can kill one of the ones in China and they send it our way you can take a poke at it, but we're certainly not starting an incident on our home-front out of curiosity."
The interest of the radio operator was peaked once again as a new message came through. "Base, this is watchtower six. Sighting matching the description of Queen Blue Sun and three changelings has been spotted. Recommended action? Over."
"That must be her already." Colonel Bunker muttered, moving to the headset and placing it on her head once again. "We copy, Watchtower Six. Direct the queen to the command post, over."
"Copy that, base. Out." The soldier replied, standing to the side and allowing Blue Sun to pass, pointing with a vertical and flat hand towards a tent in the distance. "Just follow along that path and take a right. Look for the tent with a bunch of equipment and antennae sticking out of it."
"We know the way already," the Infiltrator adviser smiled, "But thank you for the help regardless."
"No anger, nice." the Hive adviser replied, bumping the Infiltrator.
"Complacency will only weaken our hive. The less the humans know about us, the better. Keep conversation with their warriors to a minimum." The Warrior adviser warned. "My Queen, I must insist that this idea of cooperation can only backfire."
"The humans haven't endangered our hive even once, Warrior adviser. What makes you so certain that they would change their minds so suddenly?" Blue Sun questioned, leading the group towards the command tent. "Besides, you've all met my friends before and they found you cute."
"One of them did." the Infiltrator adviser pointed out. "The others were not so enamored."
"One is all it takes for a hundred of us, remember?" Blue pointed out. "We don't need as many humans to love us as we would with ponies. They are as unknown to us as we are to them for the time being, and I'm certain that we have nothing to fear from them."
"My Queen," the Warrior adviser pointed out, "the only thing we can be certain of is that we do not know enough about the humans to be certain of anything."
Blue hummed in agreement. "I suppose you're right. It's your duty to look after the security of our hive, after all. Perhaps I've been too close to the humans to be suspicious of them?"
"Queen know best," the Hive adviser stated, "Queen final say."
"We all know that, Hive adviser." The Infiltrator grumbled. "We're simply stating the fact that not everything is as peaceful as it may seem at any given time, and we want our queen to be aware of it."
"Yes." The Hive adviser simply replied.
Approaching the command tent, a soldier called in through the tent flaps about the changeling's approach. They had been steadily monitored throughout their slow walk through the camp with many soldiers and personnel seeing a changeling up close for the first time. Their presence in the base had been largely kept secret, as most other things had been, and Queen Blue Sun could sense the fear and uneasiness surrounding them.
The Queen and her advisers now stood outside of the tent, smiling with their sharp teeth and glowing eyes at the door soldier. Seeing him tense up and his hair stand on end with worry, Blue Sun decided to stay put with a passive expression instead, her drones following her example.
"Come in!" Colonel Bunker called from inside of the tent. The door soldier gladly pulled the tent's door flap away from the center, allowing him more room to stand farther back from the aliens that stood too close in his opinion.
The tent was well air conditioned despite the electronic equipment in the room that constantly hummed or scratched with purpose. Doctor Vahlen was once again standing at the ready with a pen and clipboard in hand and Doctor Shen stood with equal interest with a mug of coffee. Colonel Bunker was taking up the center of the room behind a folding table, her hands behind her back at ease and awaiting a reply from Queen Blue Sun.
"Cold," the Hive adviser commented, "small."
"Is something wrong?" Colonel Bunker asked, "We could have the discussion outside, if that would be more comfortable."
"We are simply taking notes, Colonel Bunker," the Infiltrator adviser replied smoothly, "Much as you are doing the same."
Bunker was a bit unsettled that the changelings had already discovered her name, considering the fact they had hatched not a few hours ago and held a single conversation with their queen before Blue Sun went into the base. They could have been informed on their walk over, of course, but the chance was slim.
"Your warriors seem few, Colonel Bunker." The Warrior Adviser pointed out, "You are not an army here to contain us, then?"
Bunker shook her head, relaxing her stance to one more informal. "No, we're not. What are your names? You already know mine is Colonel Bunker, and I suppose you know Doctors Shen and Vahlen. It would be rude of me to call you drones for our conversation, wouldn't it?"
"No name. Honor not given." the Hive adviser replied immediately, earning a stern look from the Infiltrator adviser.
"What he means to say is that our culture is different." Blue Sun explained. "I hadn't received a name until Maria, Rickey and Karol gave me one when I was a drone."
"Strange name for queens." the Hive adviser wondered aloud.
"They're my friends." Blue Sun explained further. "The point is, until my advisers are given a name, they are referred to by title."
"Would it be a terrible thing to name them now?" Doctor Vahlen asked, scribbling away in shorthand notes as the conversation continued. "It would be far simpler to communicate if they had some unique identity to refer to them as."
The advisers all shared an uncertain look of worry and confusion as Blue Sun pondered the question.
"Perhaps a working title, for our records?" Shen suggested. "If a name is too much to ask, then a nick-name might be enough?"
The drone's eyes went wide. "A nick-name! A second name!" They blurted in awed unison. "Such honor!"
"Eh... I suppose that might not work, then." Shen quickly backpedaled, rubbing his chin in thought.
"Do you have everything you need for the continued health of your hive?" Vahlen asked, looking up from her clip board.
That comment drew the attention of the advisers once again, the drones becoming serious and focused while looking to their queen.
"Being honest, we are in need of love." Blue Sun stated simply. The Warrior and Hive advisers chittered with annoyance in reply, but the Infiltrator was curious. "I haven't seen my friends since Catalyst and I escaped the remains of Cheyenne Mountain and I'd like to meet with them again."
"I'm certain we can arrange that, Queen Blue Sun." Colonel Bunker quickly replied with good will. "They've been poking at our perimeter trying to get into your hive for the past hour now."
"We were watching." The Infiltrator adviser noted. "They are not successful with stealth."
"How did you manage to construct such tall structures in a short amount of time?" Shen asked, his hands now moving to his hips after setting down his coffee. "I've never seen anything like that. Of course, I doubt any human has seen changelings at work, but the speed is just unprecedented."
"Carefully." The Hive adviser replied ominously. Receiving a nudge from Blue Sun and a slight look of disappointment, the adviser continued. "Use love, make dursine. Dursine make spire. Many spire hold drone. Hive."
"That... doesn't really answer my question, but thank you for the information anyway." Shen smiled, still caught off guard by the advisor's clipped speech.
"Why the sudden interest?" Queen Blue Sun asked.
Colonel Bunker shared a look with Vahlen and Shen before producing a red colored folder and placing it open on the table. The Infiltrator adviser was the first to leap onto the table with their wings, getting quick and informative glances at the information and documentation.
"Changeling Queen... a great many hives working in unison... but only one queen?" The Infiltrator chittered. "Not possible... something missing."
"This queen showed up while you were in the mountain. Most of China and Korea have gone dark and the rest of the world is gearing up for a war," Colonel Bunker explained, "We could use all the information you can provide on how to defeat this queen, seeing as she doesn't share the same positive outlook about humanity that you do."
"That's Queen Chrysalis..." Blue Sun announced with open mouth. The gesture was more of a reflex that she had seen humans do, and Blue hoped that it would convey her astonishment well enough. "What is she doing here on Earth?"
"Apparently her plan is world domination," Vahlen summarized. "Chinese forces have been over run by some kind of energy shield that is immune to our weaponry and we could use any information you are willing to give us to avoid more bloodshed."
"My queen, if I may?" The Warrior adviser asked, gaining a nod of permission. "It is standard tactics for the warriors of a hive to form a many layered shield in front of their formations to deflect projectiles. From these photos, they are following that tactic."
"Like a shield wall?" Shen asked.
"I think a closer representation would be a Testudo." Colonel Bunker guessed, her expression becoming grim. "The drones in the front create a shield that deflects fire, and the ones in the back cover the ones in front of them. Using their dome shields, I suppose that it would be like trying to fire through a hundred tank hulls at the same time. Any drone that falls can simply be replaced by the rest of the swarm, and bullets would be useless against it. We probably couldn't figure it out until now, seeing as the shields overlap to appear as one giant barrier."
"Would we be able to train our soldiers against such a tactic?" Valhen asked. "With your assistance, Queen Blue Sun, any breakthroughs in tactics would greatly help with the conflict in China and abroad."
"That would place our own hive in danger." The Warrior Adviser quickly pointed out. "At any point that you discovered a weakness, our hive would be much easier for you to defeat."
"There is also the problem of love, Warrior Adviser." Queen Blue Sun pointed out. "They don't have to attack our hive if they want us gone. They simply have to wait us out." Blue Sun smiled at Colonel Bunker, "Not that you would harm my drones, of course."
The sweet chittering of Blue's voice was offset somewhat dramatically by a flash of menacing purple and blue in her eyes, immediately seen as a guarantee that she would never accept any harm done to her hive as a queen.
"Of course, Queen Blue Sun." Colonel Bunker replied a bit uneasily, seeing the slight shift in Blue's personality. "We mean your hive no harm."
"Good." Blue Sun replied. "How can we help?"