Chapter 9 (part 3 of 3)

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Maggie tried to sleep, but after Avik left her, her lust kept her awake. Near dawn, her Guide quit stimulating her sexual appetites, and Maggie was free to dream: she dreamed of Tlitkani, of the dronon, and in her dream Maggie's heart stirred with passion. The queen walked across a plaza of white stone, and her chitin flashed gold in the sunlight. She was perfect in every respect—without a flaw or blemish, not so much as a nick in her exoskeleton, and all around her was a great celebration. Dronon warriors with their heavy front battle arms knelt at her feet, battle arms crossed and extended in a sign of reverence. Tan dronon technicians with thin little segmented hands stood by to adore her, too, along with the small white workers. But among the insect hordes were many humans in all manner of clothing and attire, worlds of them, dancing and capering about, gazing at with adoration shining from their eyes. Little human children had made garlands of flowers and strewn them at her feet, and a song rose up from humans and dronons alike, their voices raspy with fervor, praising the Golden Queen.

In her dream, Maggie felt such a profound respect for the golden one that tears streamed from her eyes. To simply gaze upon her caused a height of religious feeling unparalleled in all Maggie's life.

Maggie woke, eyes still streaming with tears, and her Guide whispered to her, "This is a vision I have given you of the future you shall help bring to pass. When a dronon looks upon its Golden Queen, it feels the ineffable sense of awe and wonder I have shared with you. We shall insert the genes that cause this condition into the fetuses of your children, so that they will no longer view the dronon as aliens, but will see them as brothers. Today you begin laboring within the inner sanctum of our compound, and you will help in the great work of bringing to pass the Adoration."

Having said this, the Guide had Maggie rise from bed, shower, and go down to eat. She was dead on her feet with fatigue, and after breakfast, the Guide had her walk into a part of the aberlains' working compound that she had not visited before. On her previous days, Maggie had worked only at the reproduction labs, but far more of the aberlains' labors were spent here in the research department, the inner sanctum of the aberlains' lair.

Here, she joined Avik's research team, which was supervised directly by Lord Karthenor. Here, Karthenor engaged in decoding dronon DNA so that the genes that carried Adoration might be discovered. To work here was a great honor, and the Guide stimulated Maggie's emotions so that she approached her task with a proper sense of reverence.

The research department was dark and warm, with dim red lights to simulate conditions on the planet Dronon itself. Black-carapaced dronon vanquishers patrolled the corridors while dronon technicians worked side by side with humans in their sterile white coats.

Maggie was put to work on a gene scanner, dyeing and scrutinizing dronon DNA. Thousands of healthy dronon specimens had given tissue samples over the past six years, and all of these were well catalogued. Now, Maggie and the aberlains studied samples from unhealthy dronon.

So it was that Maggie spent her day encoding the DNA of dronons who were born with lung defects. Genetic aberrations that led to weaknesses were never tolerated in dronon society. The congenitally insane, retarded, and deformed were always killed when their abnormalities were discovered. So Maggie found herself working with tissue from dronon infants. The workers who had shipped the specimens from Dronon had not taken great care to clean and prepare the tissues. Instead, they had shipped crates filled with pieces of the dead. The whiplike sensors had been ripped off the young dronon mouths. The feelers were then placed in refrigerated boxes and labeled according to deformity.

Maggie's job was to carefully unwrap the feelers, remove small samples from each and label them according to specimen, then place each in a gene decoder. Computers would then store information on the mutant DNA, match identical genetic structures from different samples of mutants, and thus by defining the areas of aberration, learn which genes controlled which functions.

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