Enzo Stephens: Battleground

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Battleground

Enzo Stephens

William and Sue Ann seated themselves on the beautiful red bench overlooking scenic Moraine Lake; a 6,000-acre lake formed from centuries of rain runoff from the Allegheny mountain foothills.

The lake was serene, well, at least it was at this time of the day. Late morning, mid-June; light summery breezes tossing Sue Ann’s thin hair annoyingly over her ears. Annoying in that the hair would eventually find its way to stick in her eye or get caught in her teeth or — worst of all, flutter right into the fantabulous cone of swirled soft-serve that currently occupied both her tongue and her attention.

It was absolutely critical to get every single bit of the sweet wonderfulness, lest it go to waste decorating her “Rock of Ages” tee shirt or her “I Love Pink” shorts with the lace frill on the legs. Simply put, the Best. Shorts. Ever. Sue Ann hoped she wouldn’t ever develop curvy hips like her mommo, but like mommo always says, “You’re just a little colt yet; you’ll bloom into a beautiful woman soon enough.” 

Which would mean the end of the Best. Shorts. Ever. It was a depressing thought, so Sue Ann pushed it out of her mind to focus on the little slice of heaven resting comfortably in her dainty, long-fingered hands. She glanced to her immediate right at William. Sloppy, noisy William.

William slurped at his cone wetly; everything he did was noisy and… obtuse. That was the new word Sue Ann learned this morning during their dictionary lesson. Obtuse. Very cool word. But Sue Ann felt that she might have not used it properly when describing William’s current pig-fest. She resolved to investigate this conundrum further when she could settle before her tablet later this evening.

William was Sue Ann’s twin; younger by a precise 200 seconds (according to mommo who was also known among some circles as ‘Time-Kwon Dork’). The thought brought a smile to Sue Ann, just as William exclaimed loudly in anger.

“Damnit!”

“William! That’s a Bad Word!”

“Oh fuck-o with your bad words!”

“William!” Sue Ann’s outrage was palpable.

He looked at Sue Ann sheepishly. “I’m sorry, sis. But every time I get one of these, a chunk always breaks free and plops all over me and then I’m a mess, and you know what mommo will do.”

“It’s okay. Let’s see the damage.” Sue Ann scanned William’s black “Eat Me” tee shirt and his denim shorts and yes, sure enough, there was a grand, slobbery mess of soft-serve drippings down the front of his tee and right over that… bad spot where the zipper of his shorts was.

Mommo was gonna be pissed!

Both were ten years old, but Sue Ann felt like William’s mother sometimes, and this was one of them. She reached over, snaring the bottom of his tee, then raised it up to smear at the dappled mess on his tee shirt, exposing his fish-belly white abdomen. “Hey!” he shouted in half-hearted outrage.

“Whatever. Knock that chunk of chocolate off your shorts.” The chunk of chocolate was the hard-shelled ‘dip’ that William absolutely adored, and of course, he had to have the Large. Not something moderate like Sue Ann’s soft-serve.

He looked at Sue Ann with huge, doe-brown eyes. “Don’t you think it’s weird that mommo would let us have Dairy Queen in the morning?”

“Shut up.” He was going to grow up a fat piggy, and that made Sue Ann chuckle. Besides, Sue Ann didn’t want to think about how mad their mommo seemed to be all the time, or where poppo was. 

William swept the slab of melting chocolate hard-shell onto the concrete upon which the bench rested.

Mommo snapped at them from the Moraine bike trail, even though she wasn’t on a bike. “Let’s go, or I’ll leave you here.” That was a tone that was best to not ignore.

Both jumped, and of course, the remainder of William’s ice cream flew out of his cone and plopped on the concrete slab. But before he could start whining about it, Sue Ann snagged his sticky hand and pulled him toward their mother, who was angrily grinding out a cigarette butt with her sandal.

0^0^0’

The black queen sensed it almost as soon as it happened. Sugar was in the air and on the ground, and it wasn’t far off. She tapped and flicked, commanding her scouts to set forth, and she gave them approximations as to the location. 

Chitters and taps clicked throughout the black colony, and she knew that a cadre of capable scouts was assembling at the primary point of egress to the colony, and she was pleased. The sugar would feed her young upon hatching and feed them well, and she sensed it was a significant amount of sugar (though she really didn’t identify it as ‘sugar’ per se. To her, it was… nirvana).

“Get it. Get it now!” she commanded, and she felt her quick, powerful scouts gather, then surge forth into the open.

But the black queen was not alone in her sensory ecstasy; the red queen also ‘knew’ almost as soon as the goods hit the ground, that nirvana was at hand. She also tapped and flicked and commanded her scouts to gather and go forth to bring nirvana back to the colony. A red team was ready and waiting for her command to launch, and when she felt there was sufficient number, she commanded them to go forth.

Red scouts poured in a single-threaded stream from the colony out of the main egress point, their focus, the red queen’s coordinates.

Black scouts surged forth from one side of the concrete slab upon which the bench that overlooked the scenic Lake Moraine perched; single-file, well-spaced; tapping, clicking, pushing forward.

Moments later, a single-file emerged from the red colony on the other side of the bench, pushing steadfastly toward the plethora of sugar that littered the concrete slab.

Black scout met red scout.

The blacks were easily three times the size of the reds, and so, individually, there was no contest. The black scout shredded the first of the red scouts in milliseconds. But immediately behind the first of the red scouts was a single-threaded stream of red scouts, all driving toward the sugar-nirvana.

The first black scout tapped a warning of alarm to the black queen. “Reds!”

She tapped back; “Destroy. Establish a beachhead.”

The stream of reds was non-stop, no matter how many the black scouts were wiping out. The carnage of reds was astounding, yet they continued to pour forth. But the numbers were beginning to tell, despite the destruction.

Red scouts tapped back to the red queen. “Blacks!”

Her response? “Engage! Reinforcements on the way.”

And so they engaged. And were promptly destroyed. The blacks were supremely powerful; kings of their domain.

Individually.

And the stream of reds continued, undaunted, engaging in immediate combat with the massive, powerful blacks, who were slaying reds left and right. But the black scouts were not daft; they knew what was what, and they tapped out an alarm to their queen. “Send warriors!” The stream of reds was relentless.

“On their way now,” she responded, confident in the outrageous power and capability in the mandibles of her warriors, and they gathered at the main egress point, chittering furiously. With a single thunderous tap of her antennae to the ground, she released them, and they surged forth in an angry black, destructive wave.

The warriors met the beleaguered black scouts, then surged past them, decimating the stream of reds, tracking the reds back to the main egress to their hive. Hundreds of reds lay in scattered twitching tatters as the black warriors gathered at the egress point… and waited. 

The black scouts found the nirvana and began plucking pieces of melting chocolate in their powerful mandibles; reversing their original path back to the colony to deliver the goods. Nirvana was on its way; the sweetest, heavenly elixir that enabled the queen to ramp her egg-production into overdrive.

The only trace of the reds were the silently twitching corpses that were not yet aware that their miserable little red lives had been extinguished by the superior species.

The black warriors – strutting and proud, cavorted in front of the main egress to the red colony. They were confident that they would utterly wipe out their opponents. The reds would end up being food for their spawn. One of them tapped to the black queen, “We’re at the door to the reds. Do you want us to take them?”

The black queen held her antennae from the ground, avoiding a response. Should she order her warriors to take the reds? Doubt plagued her and she hesitated in issuing her next command. She remembered how her scouts were being overwhelmed by the reds, and that knowledge gave her pause.

They just didn’t seem to care how badly they were being destroyed. They just kept coming. Maybe that was it from them? But that did not seem likely.

What if she underestimated the numbers of reds? Her cadre of supreme warriors would be overrun, leaving her colony ripe for a red-host takeover; the death and destruction of her colony and her babies, and that would never do.

“Pull back and guard the scouts and workers I am sending to collect the Prize.” There was a bit of anxiety there, but she resigned herself to that being the best move at this point in the proceedings.

0^0^0’

The red colony was in an uproar, the red queen pacing her chamber angrily. But not one red ventured beyond the entrance to the main egress, where hundreds of red warriors were clustered.

Her scouts had been slaughtered by the blacks. She knew they were there; knew the approximate location of their colony but had been reticent to engage because of their obvious physical superiority, and yet, she knew in her heart that with her overwhelming numbers, she just might have a chance.

And she wanted that nirvana as badly as the black queen.

The red queen began tapping out commands.

“Set princesses at each egress point. Guard each egress with a contingent of warriors. Be ready to make for new territory in the event of a colony takeover.

“Amass warriors and workers at north and south egress points. Send a contingent of warriors to the forward egress point and wait for my command.”

She had a secret weapon. The sap from the maple tree at the very end of her colony’s reach. The blacks hadn’t discovered it yet, though it was just a matter of time before they did, so this battle was going to happen, one way or the other.

The red queen decided the battle would happen on her terms, and it would happen now. “Send the forward warriors to the Prize and engage the black warriors.

The queen’s Word is Law, so the red warriors erupted from the forward egress point in a seething, purposeful wave, driving inexorably toward the harvesting blacks. In moments blacks and reds engaged in combat, and the battle was savage; blacks shredding red warriors left and right.

Red queen felt the dying chitters of her warriors, but what was happening was a necessary sacrifice. She waited, waited, waited, then whacked her antennae together, commanding north and south contingents to engage.

It was a classic pincer move, and the blacks never saw the pincers close until a red wave of death exploded into the black workers behind the immediate forward battle. Reds swarmed over the black warriors and ripped them to bits, then turned their attention to the scurrying black workers, wiping them out in a brutal onslaught.

Tides had turned. Reds were at the door to the black colony, where they waited for their queen’s command.

The black colony was wiped out in under an hour; the queen the last to be engulfed by swarming red warriors.

By sunset, it was over. Black eggs had been carted off to the red colony as a food source, and they too were a worthy prize. But the real prize; William’s chocolate-covered ice cream, was now the property of the red colony. Let the celebration commence!

0^0^0’

The next morning was another beautiful, summery morning with light breezes that carried the scent of Lake Moraine over the beautiful red bench perched about 20 yards up from the bank of the lake. A concrete boat launch angled into the lake just off to the right of the bench, and a couple guys were setting up paddleboards with considerable commotion.

The weather promised to be a scorcher, so hopefully the twins would be able to go swimming later in the day.

Sue Ann slowly, lovingly peeled the wrapper from her NutriGrain bar (blueberry), which was her favorite. No way she’d be slopping soft-serve down her favorite “I Love Pink” shorts.

William was burrowing into another Large, dipped soft-serve, which was already melting and dripping from the pointed bottom of the cone. “Dude?”

He looked up at her, his mouth encircled with melted ice cream. “What?”

“It’s dripping.”

“Shit.”

“Bad Words, dick-weed!”

“Leave me alone. I’m not losing this one today.” And he dove into the thing with gusto.

The concrete pad upon which the bench rested looked as though it had been swept clean; there was no residue of yesterday’s accident whatsoever. Sue Ann wondered if there was someone who was paid to come along and hose off stuff like this.

The twins enjoyed their morning, chowing down, the serene lake holding their attention captive, while their mother smoked her smokes on the trail behind them, snarling into her phone as a large black ant tumbled from the top of the back of the bench to land on the concrete pad behind the twins. It righted itself and scurried off into the dirt.

The stench of stale cigarettes wafted over the two pre-teens clad in completely inappropriate tee shirts, and they felt their mother’s hands on their shoulders. “Time to go, guys.”

The two jumped off the bench; William dropped a significant chunk of hard-shell. He tried to snag it with his reaching, questing tongue, but it fell nonetheless, flopping to the concrete. William gazed at it longingly; thought about applying the 5-second rule, but mommo called, and when mommo called, you moved, and so William moved and pushed the lost chocolate from his mind.

As the trio stepped back toward the trail, the woman’s tennis shoe squished the lone black ant that tumbled from the bench earlier. Its dying chitters went unheard.

As soon as the chocolate hit the concrete, a regal pair of antennae twitched in anticipation and excitement, and her entire colony responded.

The brown queen prepared her forces to claim the Prize.

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