Consciousness. Crisis. Awareness. Anxiety. Existence. Fear.
They were all one and the same. It did not think about such things. It hardly thought at all. There was no time. There was no margin. All was anxiety. All was stress. If one felt the ground beneath to be secure, if one’s stock were producing then the need to keep producing, keep on top, keep up was a crushing weight from above. If one’s share from collective was favorable then one felt held out over a pit. One could fail. One could fall. One’s stock could be increased or decreased, stock could be injured, fail or cease to produce. Nothing done before mattered. There would be no credit. All was now. And now was a fine time to fail. Fear could also come from the side. Rival factors might take one’s stock. Take one’s share. Take one’s very being. Nothing was secure. All was negotiable. All was capricious. All one had to count on was one. And one was never sure if one was enough. There were a million ways to fail and one had to anticipate them all. If one had nothing else to do, one could be very busy trying to anticipate the next crisis.
It had not anticipated this crisis.
It had not even been sure there was a crisis. The stock were still harvesting. The share was delivered on time. And that was the first worrying sign. The harvesters were becoming regular, as if not having to search far for food. As if something or someone was feeding them. It sensed a rival. There as a stench on the returning stock, almost familiar. Yet there was something of the foreign about it too. And foreign was crisis. Another collective? It should alert it’s own factor. But only when it was sure. A false report was worse than no report. It would get surety. It had waited by the aperture for its stock to return. It chose one, not at random, a poor performer typically, it had quickly risen to equal the factor’s best harvesters. Another ill omen. It looked positively sleek, its crop full. The factor had pounced on it, encircling it, squeezing it till its eye shutters bulged. It had cast anger at the rest, paralyzing them and forcing them back against the wall of the tunnel.
“Where?” It was a typical cast, a typical question of the hive, where O harvester, did one find this food? At times a celebration, a reason for the collective to rejoice, to do a joy dance. Here, in this tunnel nearly hot with rage and quivering with fear, the victim bursting and cracking in the Factor’s crushing grip, it was an accusation. One, amazingly, frighteningly, not answered at first. How far had they been turned? Were they already in the employ of the foreign factor? Were they spies?
Traitors? The stakes must be raised. The fear must be real. It raised a feeding tentacle, let it hover in the face of the victim for all to see and poked it through the eye socket of the chosen sacrifice. Gore and bile burst around it as the pressure was somewhat relieved. It drank. It took its time. First the victim’s own innards, then down into the cavity, into its crop. The others watched and shrank back even more. “Where?” this time it did not bellow. This time it purred.
Then they told. They told everything. And the Factor had made its plan.