through his broodmale’s tunnel. His Slash First, Four-Three of Eight-One,
smaller and more compact than he, scuttled along behind him, giving an
occasional playful tug on his right tail, which was swelling and throbbing from
the attention. He clicked at her and wove a message of patience with his left
tail. She hissed a laugh.
The tunnel seemed
to come to an end. Was the broodmale unhappy with his Slash First and Slash
Second? But no – he felt air moving and looked up. A new obstacle: the tunnel went
straight up above him. He hissed in amusement.
“She wonders what
entertains him,” Four-Three said.
makes new obstacles,” he replied. “The tunnel opens upward. More stamina is
again. “It will be a large brood.”
“If they arrive
in their broodmale’s chamber with ability left.”
“It has been a
long run. She believes the chamber must be close.”
onto his back and began the slow process of wriggling around the turn upward.
When he was straight in the tunnel, he found it turned again… but he could
see the broodmale’s chamber through the opening at the end of this one.
“He sees the
chamber,” Two-Five announced, and began slowly squirming into this last tunnel.
Behind and beneath him, Four-Three began clicking with excitement.
“A good run,” she
a little further around the last corner before he answered. “A most excellent
run. They have an incomparable broodmale.”
“They have a most
excellent broodmale indeed.”
Once in the final
tunnel, Two-Five crawled as quickly as he could through its length and into the
broodmale’s chamber, Four-Three just behind. One after the other, they dropped
into the chamber.
It was oblong,
with a large bed of mud at one end and warm nesting sands at the other. Past
offerings of beauty festooned the walls: gems and jewelry, graceful pottery,
stunning paintings and sculptures, anything beautiful that the Slash First and
Slash Second thought would make the broodmale happy, because happy broodmales
produced more young.
He lay buried up
to his nostrils in the bed of mud. Two-Three of Three was well-known for his
care, and the mud was immaculate. Two-Five and Four-Three approached the bed,
taking the faintly glowing epsilon ruby out of Two-Five’s pouch. Four-Three discarded
the pouch and laid the ruby on the offering table beside the bed.
widened. He clicked. “He is very
pleased with his Slash First and Slash Second.”
Four-Three twined their tails and stepped into the mud.