We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
The Trailhead Queen was dead. At first, there was no overt sign that her long life was ending: no fever, no spasms, no farewells. She simply sat on the floor of the royal chamber and died. As in life, her body was prone and immobile, her legs and antennae relaxed. Her stillness alone failed to give warning to her daughters that a catastrophe had occurred for all of them. She lay there, in fact, as though nothing had happened. She had become a perfect statue of herself. While humans and other vertebrates have an internal skeleton surrounded by soft tissue that quickly rots away, ants are encased in an external skeleton; their soft tissues shrivel into dry threads and lumps, but their exoskeletons remain, a knight’s armor fully intact long after the knight is gone. Hence the workers were at first unaware of their mother’s death. Her quietude said nothing, and the odors of her life, still rising from her, signalled, I remain among you. She smelled alive.
The deception was made easier by the fact that in life she had never given orders or led them in activities of any kind—even though she could have performed all their tasks if she chose. She had taken the only initiatives she ever took all in a burst, at the beginning of her adult life, when she had abandoned the colony of her birth and, along with it, her mother and her sisters. First, she had spread her four membranous wings and flown into the air. There, she’d joined a swarm of flying males and other virgin queens. One of the males had caught her. He’d clamped his legs around her body, and the couple had spiralled down to the ground. On landing, he had used the large claspers at the rear end of his body to hold their genitalia together as he completed the insemination. Within five minutes, the act was finished, and the queen shook the male loose. All the sperm she had received flowed up into a special bag-shaped organ in her abdomen, where it would stay until called on to fertilize her eggs. It might last for years into the future. Each sperm was endowed with a potential life span equal to her own.
In contrast, the father of all her children was programmed to die almost immediately after the mating. The only thing that he had ever done was accept meals regurgitated to him by his sisters, as if he were a nestling bird, and wait, and wait some more, and finally take the one short flight from his home, followed by five minutes of copulation. In other words, the male was no more than a guided missile loaded with sperm, his life’s work a single ejaculation. Afterward, he was left with only one instruction, to be enforced if necessary by his sisters: Don’t come back. He had been issued a one-way ticket. He had no chance at all of survival. A delicate creature, he could not find food, or feed himself if he stumbled across some. He would die by dehydration, or crushed in the beak of a bird, or chopped into pieces by the jaws of an enemy ant, or, less quickly, pierced by the bloodsucking proboscis of an assassin bug.
To escape the same fate, the newly mated future Queen of the Trailhead Colony, full-brained and powerfully muscled, hurried to find shelter. She had to get back underground as quickly as possible. First, however, she had to take a few minutes to shed her wings. To do that, she simply bent her middle legs forward, pressed them against the base of the wings, and snapped them off. This mutilation caused no injury to the rest of her body; it caused no pain. The Queen was a parachutist who slipped her harness upon landing. Now she could move more quickly to avoid the ants, spiders, and other predators hunting around her in the grassroots jungle.
Soon she came upon an open space between grass clumps, a small clearing at the Lake Nokobee trailhead. By luck she had found an ideal site to build a nest. She began at once to dig a vertical tunnel in the sandy clay soil. Her movements were swift and precise, and within minutes she had deepened the shaft to more than her body length. This provided her some degree of protection, but she needed to proceed as quickly as possible. Her life remained in constant danger.