• Published 17th Jul 2017
  • 3,976 Views, 829 Comments

An Exercise In Management - Nameless Narrator



A simple drone "accidentally" failed to leave the Badlands hive for the invasion to Canterlot. He was only two weeks old, one of the clutch specifically created to break through the protective shield. Now starving, he's just trying to survive.

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31: Into restful sleep!

A lot of things happened since we got the changeling prisoners out of the dungeons, and thankfully very little from the side of the Royal Guards.

So, day six.

Our priority was to hunt for love this time, and Four has been doing an excellent job. A bit too good, to be honest, barely spending any time in our hideout other than to empty herself. Eight didn’t want to leave me alone with a bunch of unknown and potentially hostile hungry changelings. However, One intervened, saying we needed all the energy resources we could get, and that she herself could very easily protect me from a whole army of changelings this weak, suppressor or not.

By day three, I realized we weren’t getting enough. If all of us were healthy, Four’s efforts would keep us hungry but stable. Unfortunately, the wounds on nearly everyone drained our resources far too fast. I wanted to send Ten out as well, but One dragged him into the mines and told me to keep out both physically and mentally.

What surprised me the most was Eight’s failure. Hunting alone, the little scraps of love she could get were next to nothing. Strange, she can go out and seduce like an infiltrator, but real affection avoids her when she’s disguised. In Wet Soil it was different. Ponies admired her despite being afraid, and in the end genuinely liked her. In Canterlot on another lockdown? No chance. After an evening of furious grumbling, she grabbed Three without explanation, and they went outside together.

You can guess it, they did return with a bit more that day. With Eight’s instincts and caution to avoid the Royal Guards, and Three’s interest in ponies, those two supplementing Four have been harvesting enough to stop us from starving to death. Or would have been, because the previously mentioned health situation is still putting us on a timer.

However, what surprised me the most was a request from One to send Eight out in order to harvest as much lust as she could. She should be here shortly, and then I’ll get to see One’s big project.

Damn it, I hate not being able to help.

“Boss... can we talk?”

I open my eyes and peek from behind a wall of backpacks now marking what One calls my “executive corner”. Four is looking at me, head hung low, and ears splayed back

“Sure. I can’t do much to help right now anyway, so if you need to to talk then I’m all ears.”

”Thanks,” she steps over the bags, huddling to my side. I put my foreleg around her shoulders.

I haven’t realized it until now, I really haven’t. She’s… tiny. Compared to me, One, Eight… she’s just a small grey and black changeling. Yet, she knows more about the world than I do by now. Granted, I sort of “know” her experience thanks to my link even from times when I wasn’t directly inside her, but that’s different.

We sit there like that for a while.

”Boss, are we evil?”

Considering what the survivors told me about the invasion, about putting ponies into cocoons in front of their loved ones, about imprisoning one pony princess and attacking another…

To ponies, we are evil in the purest form. The thing is that when I think about Three who is now playing with few foals in some lower Canterlot public park under the supervision of Eight posing as a sexy single mom, or when I look at Four barely breathing while waiting for my answer… or even myself.

Ponies are similar to us with the added benefit of being food.

“You know, One might be,” I admit, hesitating, “She might easily hurt others for her own benefit. Even Eight, I guess, wouldn’t think twice about breaking some legs if it would make things easier for her. You and Three? No. I can’t imagine either of you finding a pony, getting rid of them, and taking their lover. Hurting others just for fun or going over corpses towards your goal? Never.”

”Boss, I killed a pony. I know so much about his life. I know what I ended.”

“Yes,” I admit, making her twitch and whimper, “Accidents happen,” I immediately hate myself for saying it so easily, “Four, I don’t want to stoke hatred, but look what they did to the changelings they caught. They were so close to going insane or dying from starvation.”

”Boss, they don’t know what to do with us. They are terrified of us. Yes, some hate us, but mostly due to that fear. They weren’t torturing the changelings, they just had no idea how to feed us. They can’t love on command.”

Damn…

“Look, Four, you aren’t evil. I know how you’ve been hunting for love, and you barely need venom to make the ponies whose lovers you replace for a single evening feed you. You keep them happy, and you return their partners unharmed. In few cases, I noticed you doing things your victims wanted that their partners wouldn’t do for them even when it threatened your disguise. Remember the unicorn mare who wanted to go to the art gallery for the first time, but didn’t want to go alone and her earthpony coltfriend was too stubborn? She got pretty suspicious when you didn’t recognize princess Luna.”

”Well, yeah…” Four breathes out, ”How do I avoid… more accidents, boss?”

HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO KNOW? I’M JUST A DUMB DRONE WHO SITS INSIDE ALL DAY AND WATCHES OTHERS GO ON WITH THEIR LIVES!

I wish I could say that, I wish I could let it out, but I can’t. She needs leadership, not my problems on top of her own.

“By getting better, Four. If you learn as much as you can from One, you’ll think of plans that won’t involve killing even on accident. She was the best for a reason, I believe. In the hive, you got nothing for free, and if she reached the top rank, then she must know her infiltration well enough to avoid bloodshed, make ponies really love her, and protect her own kind,” it sounds so hollow, and I have trouble believing it myself, especially the parts about One’s nobility. It seems to be enough for Four, though, “If you combine her skill with your heart… well, I can’t say everything will be okay or easy, or even that you won’t have to kill anyone ever again, but you’ll make things better than they would be otherwise.”

I can’t tell her the truth. I can’t tell her that after my incompetence gets most of us killed her best option will be to snap a pony’s neck, bury them in the woods, and steal their lover for the rest of their life, or until guards start hunting her.

”Thanks, boss,” she stands up, smiling, and stretches her neck to nuzzle my nose, ”I won’t fail you again.”

I boop her.

“See that you don’t, because I’m a cruel changeling king who doesn’t tolerate failure, raaawr!” I boop her, grinning.

Giggling, she runs off upstairs.

As I lean against the wall, and close my eyes, I hear One’s voice. Looking around in panic, I realize it’s only inside my head. With my link growing stronger or something, I can’t make out the difference between words and thoughts anymore.

”Hey, Chrysalis, I’m done with my surprise. When Eight arrives, tell her to bring all the changelings down here, especially the ones who can’t move.”

I receive a flash of the mine map with directions. She and Ten are in a cavern only a minute or two away from the cellar entrance.

”Will do.”

Experimentally, I try to visit Ten’s head, and I’m immediately blocked off. A smart changeling would be suspicious by now. I don’t have much choice, though, unless I want to walk outside with a cardboard ‘Will carry egs 4 luv’ sign, and hope for the best.

Eventually, I sense a commotion between the changeling upstairs. It’s getting more and more difficult to follow the passage of time. A quick peek through Four’s eyes reveals Eight and Three coming back. Three’s got the faint scent of love around him while Eight is practically brimming with lust. What was she doing? Nevermind, no time for prying.

”Eight, Three. One and Ten are done with whatever they were doing in the mines. They want everyone to gather in a nearby cavern.”

Eight’s annoyance practically drips through the link.

”Great, now we’re trusting TWO hive-wrecking infiltrators. Well, Four’s gone anyway, so at least she’ll survive the inevitable betrayal. What do you suppose is waiting down there? Hungry Chrysalis who needs to recover her energy reserves?”

”I’ll go first so that you and Three have time to turn and get out.”

”OVER MY DRAINED CORPSE!”

Heh. Glad to know that even though she’s mad as hole at me, this is her instinctive reaction.

***

I enter the previously unremarkable cavern which now bears pony-tall green crystals scattered all over the floor, and some growing from the walls.

Aaand that’s pretty much it. While this place looks far more hive-y now, I don’t see why it was necessary for me to keep out, or even what this is for. I recall seeing these crystals back inside the hive a lot, though.

“Uh, pretty,” I raise an eyebrow when faced with beaming One and Ten who looks extremely harrassed in contrast, “Did you do this so that we had a place like home?” I hazard a guess.

”Do you really believe I would be stealing love from starving changelings for interior decorating?” One rolls her eyes.

Okay, breathe in, breathe out. I was wondering why we always had less love than I thought. I just thought someone was more hurt than I could see.

“I’m going to assume you wouldn’t risk other changelings dying for no reason, but I want an explanation fast,” I look around at entering changelings, and at Eight who is standing right behind me and staring One down, “What did you do?”

”She gooped me...” grumbles Ten.

”Oh don’t be a big larva,” One pats Ten’s head before giving me a smug smile, ”Glad you finally realized that there’s a method to my madness, Chrysalis. To show you, however, I need proper lust. I suppose my dear Eight has some.”

To my surprise, Eight obeys without comment. One’s horn flashes, and a slow golden shockwave of energy spreads through the cavern, each green crystal lighting up when touched by it.

I feel… love? All around us? No, not pure love, a mix.

Changelings lie down wherever there’s free space, basking in the energy permeating the returning darkness.

Now I understand how I used to be getting enough energy to work back in the hive without anyone feeding me directly. These things hold love, and…?

“One, do these crystals… no, goo blobs… generate love?” I ask, poking the closest love glowing thing and realizing it’s soft.

”To a degree,” One runs her hoof over my muzzle, ”Love breeds more love, and resonates. These love banks provide ambient energy, changelings who know how can tap into them directly so that you don’t have to feed them on your own, and they combine love and lust if crafted properly into good old nourishing mix,” she boops my nose with hers, ”Although I’d go for some one on one feeding any day.”

She suddenly disappears from my field of view.

”Alright, that’s enough,” Eight is still shoving One away, ”The King needs to decide on our next course of action. Stop distracting him.”

Eight’s warrior chitin can’t be offering enough protection against One’s laser glare as she’s being pushed sideways.

Having nothing smarter to do, I poke the goo “crystal” again.

“I had no idea that’s what the things did. I just thought they were there for lighting.”

”Obviously,” One answers after finally being far enough away from me for Eight’s liking, ”Why would anyone without the queen’s complete trust need to know the logistics of building a hive? The last thing changelings need in the current situation is a war between hives. Oh,” she beams at Eight, ”And only infiltrators have the know-how, of course. Lesser changelings like warriors don’t need and often can’t even process such complex knowledge.”

That actually makes sense. The infighting part, not the lesser changelings one.

To my surprise, Eight smiles back.

”You will slip up at some point, traitor, and then the King will order your death. I will make it painful and public.”

One waves her hoof.

”Oh pleeeease, with some love I’ll tie your hooves behind your back-”

“Stop,” I raise my voice just a little.

To my complete astonishment, both of them go quiet, simply looking around and avoiding each other’s eyes.

“How long are these things going to last?” I ask.

”With this little flow in and out? Two months give or take. If you’re talking about how much energy is there in them,” One thinks for a moment, ”Four days together without any explicit draining, just ambient expulsion. The more real love we get, the better resonance we’ll be getting, but it will degrade the crystals faster. I made them in a way which required the least amount of resources, which of course means they aren’t of the highest quality.”

“Great job. Now, whoever needs rest, go to sleep here. I have a request for whomever wants to help. I’m not going to force anyone, but it would help if some of you had the experience to go outside and help gather whatever lust, love, or information about what the guards are doing you can get. Anyone?”

Only three hesitant forelegs rise up.

I nod.

“Alright, Eight and Four will give you instructions. Return with whatever little you can get, just keep the risk at minimum. When others are back in some reasonable shape, we’ll consider our next step.”

Everyone goes off on their respective assignments, and I’m left with twenty sleeping or unconscious changelings, all bathing in the warm glow of the crystals. And One, of course, who starts noiselessly walking between them, tapping every single one’s forehead once. They all react by curling up and stopping all movement. I feel their faint mental presence, though, so I just ask:

“One?”

”I’m forcing them to hibernate. That will allow their bodies to focus everything on recovery without wasting energy on thinking, involuntary movements, and so on. Hmm,” she circles one heavily wounded bulky warrior, ”It looks like whoever survived until now is going to live. I am genuinely surprised. Twenty-three out of thirty-two. Not bad, not bad at all.”

“I… I think I owe you this,” I walk over to One who raises an eyebrow when I put my horn to hers. I could just transfer whatever little raw love I got from Four now, but she likes the physical contact or something. I’m not entirely sure about her. I keep only a little, and in the end I sit down by the nearest crystal, and close my eyes.

”Mmmm, delicious,” One licks her muzzle, ”but not enough. I think I’ll go ask little Four for seconds. Don’t worry,” she adds when I take a breath, ”By now, I’m well aware of how far I can push her.”

She leaves.

Next step, next step…

First, we heal everyone into walking condition, then our job in Canterlot is done. While a big city like this is great for love hunting, the threat of being found out is too high. We need a big city, but without the military presence, so somewhere without pony royalty. I’ll have to ask someone who knows at least something about the world. When we’re out, I intend to give the rescued changelings a choice to either leave or… damn, the hive mind has recently been suspiciously quiet. However, their hunger must be growing. I’m going to need all the mental power to resist their draining attempts.

I don’t want to force the rescued changelings to serve me, but…

...do I have to?

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