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Unkind Feet
by Leslie Johnson

The sun beat down out of a blazing red Motavian sky. Any being unaccustomed with the hierarchy of our order would see lazy creatures basking in the blazing heat. This watch had been quiet, thankfully. Not so much as a desert worm had disturbed us, and a peaceful hazy repose had settled over our guard's front line. I sank back into the sand a bit, feeling my exoskeleton absorbing the heat and in turn radiating it outwards. A stir in the dirt next to me attracted my attention and I experimentally gnashed my pinchers, preparing to crush whatever reared its ugly head.


"Callan! Don't sneak up on me like that fool! I almost snapped you off at the thorax!" Callan had been my companion since we were both fledglings. We had joined the Queen's Guard at the same time and he was now like a brother to me. "The Queen wishes to see you Sinjun. She says there's bad news from the west." "What?!" Callan flicked an antenna at me. "I'm a messenger, not a martyr. Godspeed Sinjun. I'll take your post." Nodding, I burrowed downward, feeling the baking sand close over my head.

As I navigated the tunnels to the Queen's Chamber, I reflected on my existence as I often had. We antlions were the most misunderstood race of Algo without question. I remembered one day in particular when I was on my usual guard. A woman and her child had just exited the gates of the city called Paseo. After living on Motavia for an age and a day, I had picked up some of the language of these human creatures. I felt it had been my duty: sharing the planet with these humans dictated to me that through common civility I should make an effort to understand them. The child had grabbed her mother's sleeve and cried, "Look at the monsters, Mommy!" The woman's face went white and she scooped the child up to her bosom and fled back through the gates of town. After a while, I discovered that because we were not created like them, these humans regarded us as monsters.

I was relieved of my quiet reverie as I reached the Queen's Chamber. "Captain Sinjun," the Queen said in her usual cordial voice. "Hail Queen!" I replied, reflexively inclining my head in respect. "Captain, my Western intelligence has brought me disquieting news. Twelve antlions were killed by a party of humans...and they are now coming this way." Shivering involuntarily I asked, "Shall I prepare an assault squad, my Queen?" She inclined an antenna towards me before stating, "Captain Sinjun, when have we ever resorted to violence? That is something that is reserved for beings who have no other way to vent their anger. We will rationally forgive the humans and grant them safe passage through our land. Perhaps they will learn from our example." She finished her sentence with that unquestionable finality that she was so fond of. The Queen had spoken true. War had never been the way of our people. We held all beings we shared the planet with in the highest regard. Our intelligence lines were more for defense and information more than anything. Starting back down the tunnel my thoughts continued. 'Even if we DID attack the humans, not even our full numbers would be powerful enough to quell their attacks, if they are as mighty as my Queen says.' Resurfacing next to Callan I imparted the situation to him. "Very well," he said with a decisive calmness, "We shall wait together."

And so Callan and I began our watch. The sun had just reached the zenith of its arc and my eyes were becoming heavy when four hazy shapes appeared on the horizon. Their forms were distorted by the heat waves rising off the sand. A girl with midnight hair, a fair haired man holding a gun, a figure robed and hooded in white of undeterminable sex, and a Musk Cat approached us. "Look at the antlions Odin...we'll never make it through," said the girl with the midnight hair. "We can try, Alis," Odin said patting his gun. Raising my head up I addressed the one called Alis. "We mean to offer you peaceful passage through this land, travelers." They all looked taken aback and Alis began to draw her sword. "We mean you no harm!" I repeated in a louder voice. It was then I realized that they did not know our language: to them it was merely a series of clicks and foreign squeals. I understood the human speech, but I had no gift to speak it. Suddenly, Callan raised himself up on his backmost set of legs, his antennae flaying emphatically. "Please understand us! We come to you peacefully!" Things seemed to slow down then...or perhaps speed up. I remember Odin yelling, "It's attacking!" and a blinding shot from his gun...and Callan's smoking corpse. "It doesn't hurt at all, Sinjun," he reassured me. That was because the laser pulse had cauterized the wound it made clean through his exoskeleton, making a gaping hole through either side of his body. Suddenly, Callan began twitching, his legs flaying helplessly before they curled up beneath him like fragile paper. Beside Callan's body, the Musk Cat engaged one of my companions. "Protect the Queen!" I cried, as our world came crashing down about us.

The sun beat down from a bloody Motavian sky. The red of the setting sun may as well have been the blood of my kin, spilled upon the clean white sand of the Motavian desert. Those not destroyed in the immediate battle were crushed when Alis and her friends returned in their land rover. Our tunnels collapsed beneath the weight of the treads, and our kingdom lay decimated. The souls of two hundred restless and emaciated antlions are bound here. And I am one of them. I do not hate you, Alis Landale, for hate is an emotion given to those with narrow understanding. The truth, be it told, I pity you. Had you but taken time to give us a chance to build a friendship you may have discovered a race who could teach you much, and who we could learn much from in return. Towns will be built in your name, Alis Landale, and you will be worshipped as the heroine of Algo, through deeds I know not of. Years from now, when your fame is cliche, a monument will be built here, saying "Here Alis Landale, Odin, Noah, and Myau vanquished the Antlion Hoard." The unkind feet of humans who called us monsters will tread where we laughed, loved, lived, and breathed our last.

And the world will champion those who destroyed an empire.


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