My mind sprung to alertness and the first thing I noticed was that the pain inside me had eased a minute amount. JOY! The pain was still intense, to be sure, I felt a like a giant roll of cracked toffee, but the simple fact that I could expect the pain to reduce over time was such a relief that I could weep except that I can't.
I stretched my legs gingerly, allowing the ache to settle into each of them in turn before looking around the room. The obvious thing to check on was the hatchlings. I wonder how their evolutions are progressing?
Oh Ho?! Looking good!
It would appear I didn't wake too late. The hatchlings are well into the evolution process, their sizes and forms changing to take on the different castes that they have selected. Tiny and Crinis are tip-toeing amongst them, swatting monsters as they attempt to burst out and attack whatever is near them. I should have let them evolve above ground, now that I think of it. Ah well, my pets had it all in hand.
I can already make out the choices of a few of the ants, several of the casts look distinctly different after all. This mostly has to do with size. The soldiers put on a fair bit of size after their first evolution, not quite enough to match me in size but that's mainly because they increase the muscle density just as much as bulk and a fair chunk of energy is spent on defensive glands. They'll receive a regeneration gland as well as the inner carapace plating at this point, vastly increasing their survivability.
Others will take the leader path, giving over sheer size and defence for a bit more smarts and buffing auras to push their pure combat brethren to greater heights. For the soldiers there is also the scout path, smaller but faster, better able to stealth and with enhanced endurance and sensory organs, these ants will be the far ranging eyes and ears of the colony, their enhanced acid attacks will ensure they can contribute to any fight from range.
The specialised workers are certainly smaller, their energy going to enhanced minds and more delicate control of their extremities. These will be the workers who tend the brood, enhancing the growth of the hatchlings through aura effects and expediting their hatching, as well as the artisan caste who I hope will turn into the ant builders and shapers.
The Juvenile Queens, contrary to expectations, actually put on the most size, huge chunks of energy going to increasing their raw mass as well as laying the foundation for their egg production system. Even after this evolution they won't be able to produce young, having to wait one more evolution for their full capacity to come online. In the meantime they can support hunting expeditions with their bulk and healing mana glands.
Yeah I modelled them on the existing Queen, she's perfect, so why not?!
This does mean that any egg producing Queen will be difficult for the colony to produce, since they'll be tier four monsters, going all the way from hatchling, to juvenile worker, to juvenile Queen, to Young Queen. Just another reason why the Queen's must be protected at all costs!
Seeing the young ants begin to stir, my heart swells with pride. This has been a heck of a long project. The first seeds of this idea were planted after the first war of the hill, so long ago. Seeing the ants throwing their lives away so wastefully, I knew that if I could I would change that, give them the ability to reason and plan. Turns out I still had to thwack the suicidal impulses out of their heads but it'll be worth it in the end. Now the colony will grow and I won't have to worry about protecting the workers from themselves. Not as much, anyway.
The ants are waking up now, beginning to move themselves and adapt to their new bodies. I can see them curiously turning to examine the rest of their siblings, wondering what each ant picked. Looking at them I can see that they've almost perfectly distributed themselves across the roles I had envisioned. I'd be shocked if they hadn't coordinated themselves after looking at the menu. Sneaky little buggers.
"Gather around me young ones."
At the sound of my voice, the young ants turn towards me and drew closer.
"You have taken the first step and chosen the method by which you will grow the colony. Well done all of you. As a sign of my benediction, and in recognition of your status as the first of a new generation, I will give each of you a name."
I pause for dramatic effect.
"What's a name, Senior?"
They're ants. Of course they have no idea what a name is. They barely have a concept of what an individual is, why would they have any idea of names.
"A name is like a personal title that belongs only to you. It allows people to remember you and associate your actions to you, even without having seen or met you."
They still look confused. I guess it doesn't really matter if they understand it or not. I'm giving them names more for me that I am for them.
"Can the two Juvenile Queens step closer."
Yes indeed, not one, but two new Queens. One more evolution for these two and the egg production in the colony could triple. Not that the Queen is really running at full capacity right now, but as the workforce expands, the rate that food comes in will very quickly rise. Not to mention the aphid strategy.
The two ants before me now where very placid as hatchlings. Attentive and looking out for their siblings they were perfect to take on the mothering role of Queens.
"Hmm. As the prospective Queens of the colony, I shall give you suitably royal names. You will be known as Antionette, and you will be Victoriant."
The two Juvenile Queens are almost the same size as I am and other than looking mildly confused, they seem pleased enough and retreat to make room for the next ants.
"Can the Carver Ants come forward."
The specialised crafters, two of them, step forward. Not much larger than before but with enhanced minds and their front legs ending in the special articulate claws with an opposable digit that will be the calling card of their caste.
"As the future crafters and smiths of ant kind, I'll name you Cobalt, and you Tungstant."
Receiving their names the two ants make space for the next to be summoned.
"Core Shapers, step forward."
Two more Artisans step forward, small, quick and clever. These are the caste that will be dedicated to exploring the ant of creating custom pets, seeking the heights achieved by the Sophos. The two ants move with an easy grace and confidence that can't help but influence my choice of name.
"I shall name you Ellie (sort for elegant) and you shall be Bella."
Receiving their names, the two Core Shapers step back smoothly.
"Can the two generals step forward."
The two ants who selected to become the leadership variety of the soldier caste step forward. Somewhat bulky but surrounded with empowering auras, these two give an air of determination and solidity.
"I shall you name you Sloan, and you Victor."
Then it was time for the Brood Tenders.
"You will be known as Theresant, and you shall be Florence."
Next was the ant mages.
"Hmm. What sort of magic are you thinking of specialising in?" I say to the first one.
"Ice magic, Senior."
"Very well, you shall be Coolant. What about you?" I say to the second.
"Fire magic Senior."
"Understood. You shall be Propellant."
Next was the scouts.
"You will be Burke, and you shall be Wills."
Then the two healers.
"You shall be Mendant, and you shall be Frances."
Finally it was time for the two soldiers. Larger than all of their siblings but the Queens, looking potent and dangerous they stepped forward as a unit.
The first one I remember well. Constantly declaring that they would be dead before the day was done, it took a lot of effort to keep this one alive.
"Firstly, I shall call you Leeroy. Then you shall be Grant."
With that, my work is done.
"Go forth! Soon there will be another two hundred of you to take care of, then another two hundred after that. You'll be plenty busy! I'm going back to sleep."