• Published 12th Dec 2018
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Child of the Invasion - Starscribe

The changeling army has taken control of Canterlot. While their queen secures her grip over this newly captured territory, what happens to the drones who made up her army?

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Chapter 27: Induction

Harlequin froze completely still as the guard met her eyes; horror plastered all over her face. They found us. She hadn’t been in this colony one day and Equestria had found them.

This is when we get shut down and we all starve, just like before. It was like the voice said. They weren’t part of a story, so they were destined to lose. Every single thing they tried…

“You, uh… I kind of expected you to be more charming than this, if I’m being honest.” The guard walked slowly up to her, apparently ignoring Codex completely. Or… no, Codex hadn’t climbed in. His head poked briefly through the entrance, then he dropped back down over the surface.

Please don’t fall off, you big idiot.

The pony pressed right up beside her suddenly, a stallion much taller and stronger than she was. “I hear you can be anything I want,” he said, voice low. “Anypony I want, even. Is that true?”

She nodded weakly, realization dawning on her. You’re not attacking. There isn’t even a sword in your belt. This guard was here to give love in exchange for metal. Or… no, that wasn’t quite right. Hydrus’s discussion of “worth” was still a little hard on her brain.

But one glance down the hall told her nopony else was coming. Had they forgotten this guard? “Yeah,” she answered. “I’m… I don’t do the harvesting. I just got here, uh—”

The stallion cut her off, lifting one hoof from below her mouth and closing it gently. “That’s more like it. Helpless, confused, afraid. Now ditch the costume. You’re disgusting like this. How about… a pegasus. Something soft, with lots of fluff up front. Birds make the best sounds when you pull their feathers just right.”

Harlequin tried to back away from him—unsuccessfully. The more she moved, the more forceful he got. “Go on, bug. That’s what you’re good for, right? So long as those soldiers up there keep you all in your prison… might as well get some use out of you.”

Harlequin thought about trying to fight him. He’d made a mistake exposing his neck to her like this—she could probably crush his windpipe and escape with a good kick at just the right angle.

And what happens to the colony if I do? If a guard goes missing down here, we won’t be able to get food anymore. How did you let this happen to me, Hydrus?

She glanced to the door leading down to his office one last time, but still nothing. No help, not even from Thorax. “I’m not one of them,” she said again, her voice a reedy squeak. “Other bugs need the love more than I do. I’m a soldier.”

“That’s cute,” he said, closing her mouth again. “But less amusing the longer you keep it up. I want to see a transformation, or I’m going to get annoyed.”

She changed. She didn’t have a blueprint like her last time, not when he wanted a pegasus. But she’d seen plenty of them in the city while she was a guard, and she could pick one of them. Harlequin got much taller, and her wings transformed into white feathers. Her whole body went white, except for a few darker patches on her underbelly and her face. She wasn’t sure what extra fluff up front meant, but it was a pegasus anyway.

“Well buck me sideways,” the guard said. “It is real. You were wasted as invaders.” He leaned closer to her again, sniffing her, touching her back with his nose. Her wings spread involuntarily, and she squeaked faintly in surprise. “Realistic, too. Just like the real thing.”

He finally let her go, looking around. “Well, where do we go for this? I assume we don’t just… right in the open like this? Do we? I guess there are ponies into that.”

At least this time she had an answer for him, thanks to the tour Thorax had given her. She led him up the stairs to the tiny rooms, and found one with an open door.

There were a few armed changelings in the hallway up there, though they only had clubs, and no armor at all.

“Let me… ask which room…” she muttered, hurrying over to one before the pony could stop her. She dropped her voice to a whisper. “I came to meet with Hydrus, I shouldn’t be up here.”

The bug met her eyes without sympathy. “You’re saying you aren’t hungry? He put you at the top of the list. First time clients always give the best.”

Harlequin stopped dead, confused. Everything she’d learned from ponies was horrified by this encounter. But what was she thinking? There was food right behind her. Food that Hydrus had apparently prepared especially for her.

“Just pick one!” said the guard from behind her. “I don’t need the deluxe suite. You’re what I’m really here for.”

The armed bug gave her one last confused look, then pointed with his club towards an open door. “There, sir.”

“What I thought,” he said. “We want wine, too. In twenty… no, an hour.”

This should be good, right? He’s coming to me! But why do I feel so trapped?

Harlequin had never harvested lust before. The pony seemed to enjoy it, though for her she was mostly trying to keep herself from breaking down. When it was done, she felt full—but much less satisfied than she had working with the Guard. It was love, but… hollow, somehow. That pony hadn’t even asked her name, or given his.

When he was gone, she lay on the bed, looking back at her reflection in the magical pony mirror. She hadn’t changed back yet, so she still looked like a pegasus. A blue one this time, with stubby wings. The pony hadn’t been able to make up his mind.

I miss Apple Cinnamon, she thought, finally rising to her hooves.

One of the changeling guards was waiting just outside, with a tiny glass levitated in front of him, with a thin wax top. “Fill this,” he ordered. “The rest is yours.”

Harlequin stared down at the container in disbelief, though only for a few seconds. If she’d been planning on asking whether or not it was possible to put love into an object, obviously it was. She lifted it up to her fangs, then bit down.

Instead of the rewarding feeling of offering love to another bug, and strengthening their bond, she felt only emptiness as she filled the container with glowing magic. Obviously there was some kind of enchantment involved to keep it intact—but that was beyond her power. She held it out, shuddering slightly. The majority of the love she’d just harvested was gone now, a bright green glow in the jar.

“Hydrus wants to see you,” the guard said, once she’d let go of the container. “You can wash down the hall if you like, then go talk to him.”

She nodded, and hurried quickly down the hall in the indicated direction. Getting clean would be good. She was rewarded with a pony-style shower instead of something bugs might use, and she made ample use of hot water, returning to herself and getting all the smells off of her. Why didn’t I enjoy that? Food came right to me. It’s everything a bug would hope for.

It was even easier than what Chrysalis had created in Canterlot, where bugs had to take ponies and force them to obey. It was the perfect hive, and she hated it without even understanding why.

“Harlequin!” Hydrus called from behind his desk, gesturing for her to join him. Codex was already here, apparently not squished to death from a high fall. She could sense the relief when he finally saw her, settling back into his seat. “I have to say, Harlequin, your recruit is more loyal to you than any I’ve ever seen. He was unwilling, yet… he marches in here demanding you get released. He hasn’t left my office.”

“It’s unacceptable,” Codex said, unafraid. A glass of fancy pony liquid sat in front of him, untouched. “Forcing us into that entrance, then not helping you escape.”

“I didn’t force anything,” Hydrus said, exasperated. “This isn’t unusual for recruits, unfortunately. They don’t understand our ways. Even one who studies us specifically is ignorant.”

“It’s not wrong to be worried,” Codex insisted. He rose to meet her, touching her lightly on the side and looking her over. But whatever he was searching for, he didn’t find. “These places shouldn’t exist in a respectable world. Ponies should be better than patronizing you.”

“Should be,” Hydrus said. “Spoken like a pony. We don’t deal in the world as we believe it should or shouldn’t be, pony. We only live in what is. We need love, ponies have it, and they want to come give it to us. This is the tamest colony we’ve ever built. Aside from… missing a queen. But one problem at a time.”

Hydrus gestured to her, more urgently. “Harlequin, you were one of my own bugs. I can see to it that you have a chance to feed once every week… that’s twice as often as many other bugs.”

“I think there are drones not getting enough,” she said, coming out in a sudden rush. “Down in the bottom of the colony, they were clearly starving. Some of those bugs looked like they were going to collapse.”

Hydrus’s good humor vanished, like she’d just let loose a disgusting fart. “Those are drones, Harlequin. That’s always what we’ve used them for. If you give them too much love, they’ll start to think. Then they need more and more, like you did. Look around, we already have enough labor. Besides, most of those drones are damaged from the invasion. Feeding them too much would mean a bug would have to know how broken they were.”

Just like S. She was one of Hydrus’s bugs all along.

A plan formed in her mind before Hydrus even said his next sentence.

“Anyway, more important matters. I used my, uh… extra time with Codex here to learn a little about what you’ve been up to. Apparently you were so good at passing among them you actually got in to guard the prison.” He grinned proudly. “That’s why all those other bugs are in that buzzing prison and I’m here, Harlequin. Eye for talent.”

“It’s true,” she said. “I was part of the Guard. Codex, uh…” Did she want to reveal how she’d ended up here? “I saw Codex in the prison.”

“Whatever.” Hydrus rose. “Do you think you could do it again? I need bugs for that kind of work, and… I don’t know if you’ve seen the louts here, but most of them are pretty clueless. Equestria is keeping all our leaders locked up in the prison, so only the dregs were left to me. You’re one of the smartest bugs I have.”

“I could help her,” Codex said. “Whatever you’re thinking. I was actually a pony; I can pass perfectly. So long as you aren’t doing anything that might be damaging to Equestria…”

Hydrus shook his head. “I need you teaching. I can use my hooves to count all the bugs I have smart enough for that job, and one of them is me. Trouble is…”

He lowered his voice, leaning in. “We’re having clients complain. The guests don’t think we’re real enough. Ponies sometimes want other kinds of love—conversation, friendship, whatever. But when you grew up in a cave, you can’t really hold a conversation with some rich scholar or a frustrated noble wife, can you? I have a list of the best harvesters, and I’m going to need you to train them.” He gestured to the stairs. “Thorax is waiting upstairs, he’ll introduce you. Harlequin and I would come with you, but we have to be somewhere. We’re meeting a pony on the surface.”

Do I really want to be part of this? Harlequin didn’t know yet, but she didn’t argue. She was just a bug, a single part of a complex machine. She followed Hydrus up the stairs and didn’t complain.

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