this. Digging secret passages was all the rage. It had started a hundred years before during the war against the glue-spitting ants. The queen of a Federation city, Ha-yekte-douni, had fostered security mania and had had a 'fortified' Forbidden City built for herself Its flanks were armed with big stones, themselves soldered together with termite cements.
Unfortunately, there was only one exit. So that when her city was surrounded by legions of glue-spitting ants, she was trapped in her own palace. The glue-spitters then captured her with ease and suffocated her in their vile, fast-drying glue. Queen Ha-yekte-douni was later avenged and her city liberated but her stupid, horrible end left its mark on the minds of the Belokanians.
Since ants have the amazing good fortune to be able to alter the shape of their dwellings with a bite of their mandibles, they all began to bore secret passages. One ant digging a hole is all very well but if there are a million doing it, it spells disaster. The 'official' tunnels were collapsing because they were being undermined by 'private' tunnels. When you went down your secret passage, you came out into a whole labyrinth formed by passages belonging to 'the others'. Whole districts had started to crumble, compromising Bel-o-kan's very existence.
Mother had put a stop to it. No-one was supposed to dig on their own account any more but how could a watch be kept on all the chambers?
The 56th female pushed aside a bit of gravel, revealing a dark opening. 327th examined the hiding-place and pronounced it perfect. A third accomplice remained to be found. They came out and closed the entrance up again carefully. The 56th female emitted:
We'll take the first one who comes. Leave it to me.
They soon met someone, a big asexual soldier dragging along a hunk of butterfly. The female hailed her from a distance with emotive messages telling of a great threat to the Tribe. She handled the language of the emotions with a virtuoso subtlety that took the male's breath away and the soldier immediately abandoned her prey to come and discuss the matter.
A big threat to the Tribe? Who, how, why, where?
The female explained succinctly the disaster which had befallen the first spring expedition. Her manner of expressing herself gave off a delicious fragrance. She already had the charm and charisma of a queen. The warrior was soon won over.
When do we leave? How many soldiers will we need to attack the dwarves?
She introduced herself. She was the 103,683rd asexual ant of the summer laying. With her big, glossy head, long mandibles, practically non-existent eyes and short legs, she was a weighty ally. She was also a born enthusiast. The 56th female even had to check her ardour.
She told her there were spies within the Tribe itself, possibly mercenaries in the pay of the dwarves, whose mission was to prevent the Belokanians from solving the mystery of the secret weapon.
You can recognize them by their characteristic smell of rock. You have to act quickly.
You can count on me.
They then divided up the spheres of influence between them. 327th would strive to convince the nurses in the solarium, who were generally quite naive.
103,683rd would try to bring back some soldiers. If she managed to make up a legion, that would be fantastic.
I'll be able to question the scouts, too, and see if anyone else can tell me about the dwarves' secret weapon.
As for 56th, she would visit the mushroom beds and greenfly sheds to look for strategic support.
They would report back there at 23°-time.
Today, in the context of the series on World Cultures, the television was showing a report on Japanese costumes:
'The Japanese, an insular people, have been economically self-sufficient for centuries. For them, the world is divided into two: the Japanese and the others, the foreigners with their incomprehensible customs, barbarians they call Gaijin. The Japanese have always had a very nice sense of nationality. When a