She wasn't sure who began it, but the new hatchling was only too willing to join in the cry along with her siblings.
"FOR THE COLONY!"
"FOR THE COLONY!"
"MY LIFE FOR THE COLONY!" She poured her heart and soul into her pheromones as she declared her willingness to sacrifice for her family.
As each ant emerged, fully formed from their cocoons they joined the roar until the brood chamber was flooded with the scent of insect determination. It was rousing stuff, and she felt her heart pound with excitement. The long days and weeks as a larvae and then a cocoon were fuzzy memories for her, but the impatience to contribute had existed even then. Now at last she could run, and chomp, and die!
Seemingly oblivious to the righteous fury burning in the hearts of their charges, the brood tenders continued to pick over the new ants, ensuring that they were clean and helping to cut free any that were still struggling with their string cocoons. When they were all loose the hatchlings continued to vent their excitement and dedication for some time. It was much later when the air was finally clear enough for the tenders to announce what would happen next.
One of the brood tenders crawled to the centre of the chamber and loudly clacked her mandibles to draw the new hatchlings attention.
"Welcome to the Colony, new hatchlings! You are all now precious members of our family. In accordance to the will of the Eldest, you will now be taken to the academy to be taught and trained, so that you may contribute as best you can."
The new hatchling wiggled with glee at the thought of contributing to the Colony. She had to go to this 'academy' place first? Not a problem! She would tear down all obstacles that would keep her from the glorious destiny that awaited. Following the announcement, the team of brood tenders began to shepherd the hatchlings as a group out of the chamber and into the tunnels. The hatchling saw a few brood tenders remain behind and begin cleaning up the broken cocoons, probably preparing the space for the next wave of pupae to arrive.
So it was within the Colony, her instincts told her. Each generation should sacrifice for the next! The new hatchlings chattered amongst themselves as they moved through the tunnels and gaped at the larger, more powerful ants that passed them on the way.
"New hatchlings eh?" One passing ant called, a huge and bulky specimen of an ant with powerful mandibles. "Work hard for the Colony!"
"So," drawled another ant, this one a touch smaller, with a smooth, sloped carapace, "who's going to die first for the colony!"
"ME! ME!" She yelled along with the rest of her siblings as one of the tenders marched over to the small ant and thwacked him sharply on the head with an antenna.
"Enough of that," the tender called back, "let's keep marching! We don't want to be late, they'll call us lazy!"
Lazy?! NEVER! The new hatchling was determined that she would never be called lazy in her entire life! Such a thing was unthinkable! She rushed to the front and started pushing her siblings along.
"Hurry up, you!" She hassled them. "Do you WANT to be called lazy?"
"NO!" They roared and matched her pace, forcing the tenders to pick up their own speed as they chuckled at their new charges' enthusiasm.
After a few more minutes they were guided into a small chamber that smelled different, wild and exciting. There were other scents in here, smells that were not of the Colony. Would they be asked to fight? To kill?! How exciting! The brood tenders ushered them in and directed the hatchlings to settle on one side of the room which sloped down to face a small flat space at the front. In that area a large, powerful ant sat, watching them. Not as large as the ant they saw earlier, but still impressive, this ant gave off a feeling of control and command. Each of the hatchlings felt energised and full of strength in their presence.
The hatchling was almost bursting with excitement now. Surely now they would be led into glorious battle! Any moment now!
"Right!" The large ant roared suddenly, their pheromones flooding the room and battered against her antennae. "What have we got here then?"
"Hatchling class two hundred and sixteen. Twenty students await instruction, general," replied one of the tenders around the outside of the room.
"Good," the 'general' replied. "Bright eager young ants I see. The Colony will have a sure future with this lot."
She preened with pride at the words of the general. She was a good hatchling!
"BUT NOT YET!" Came another roar and she was smacked back into reality. "Right now, YOU ARE WEAK. STUPID. AND UNFIT TO SERVE!"
So domineering were those pheromones that she wasn't able to muster any sort of reply and the rest of her siblings cowered as well.
"Let me tell you what is going to happen," the general began to march back and forth in front of them, poking any hatchling within reach with an antenna to prod them into better posture. "We are going to teach you how to fight. We are going to teach you how to work as a team and achieve maximum efficiency in battle. We'll teach you how to secure food, how to recognise danger, we'll teach you about the threats that abound in this place and how to keep your Colony thriving!"
She nodded, eagerly. This was all great stuff!
"MORE THAN THAT! We are going to make you useful! We'll feed you Biomass, get you mutations, help you form your core and evolve. Not once, BUT TWICE. Only then, has the Eldest deemed you fit to serve!"
The hatchlings shifted uncomfortably at that. Soaking up resources they didn't earn? That Biomass could be used to raise the next generation Why waste it on them?
"AFTER the colony has done all that, and we've poured all this effort into you, you will have the opportunity to join a caste and begin to work!"
What?! But she was ready to work right now!
"Please," she raised an antenna, "is there no work for a hatchling?"
"NO! These are the arrangements the Eldest has decreed will best serve the colony! Are you going to argue with the Eldest? With the Queen?!"
"No," she shrank back from the omni-directional death stare of the general.
She wouldn't dare argue against such luminaries of the colony, but at the same time it didn't feel right. Her instincts told her this was all wrong!
"Good," the general snapped. "Once you've evolved you'll be able to join in battle. What are you going to do then?"
They all knew the answer to this!
"DIE FOR THE COLONY!"
"SILENCE, HATCHLINGS!" The general roared.
She stared in stunned silence along with the rest of the newborn ants. What did they say wrong?
"After we pour in our effort, pour in Biomass and experience, you'll die? You'll WASTE our efforts? Are you going to bring this level of INEFFICIENCY into the colony!? No! The only way an ant can work, is if they are alive! Dying when you can live is nothing but skipping out on work, WHICH WILL NOT BE TOLERATED!"
It was hard to argue with that, but somehow, the hatchling still felt that it was wrong She was to prioritise her own life?
"But Isn't that selfish?" She protested. "How can keeping myself alive be worth it for the Colony?"
"Because " the general loomed over her, "when you die you rob the Colony of the labour you would be able to provide for the rest of your life! We ants operate more efficiently in greater numbers. More numbers, more efficiency! If our colony members keep dying by being stupid, then we have less numbers! Less numbers is less efficiency! AM I GETTING THROUGH TO YOU HATCHLING?!"
She stood firm in the face of the general's overwhelming scent but could no longer muster the will to argue with her elders.
"GOOD!" The general turned around and marched back to the front of the chamber. "Below us is the farm! A controlled series of chambers that host several spawn points of monsters common to the first strata of our Dungeon home. We will analyse their characteristics and discuss tactics for the next two hours. Be sure to memorise every word as you will then break into teams of five under the guidance of the brood tenders to secure your first round of Biomass and experience. Then we return here to review. Let's get started"