Collective Downfall

This week we played the setup of Downfall by Caroline Hobbs. Using the words swarm, steam, and salt, we created a fantastic world where insectoids harvest salt from natural saltwater hot springs to build their nests and interlocking units. We call our haven the Saline Swarm. Our society depends on each individual showing loyalty to their station, to the collective, and to our traditions.

Like many entomons, we each serve a specialized function in the life of the colony. Each mating pair provides eggs to the Collectors who come each cycle gathering our spawn to sustain our communal endeavor. When a particular cohort hatches, the hatchlings are put into a family under a single Carer, each brood distinguished from others by the colors splashed across the hatchlings’ carapaces. Although each brood is intended for a particular function after their molting comes, before an individual joins a functional unit by performing the ritual signal dance for that profession. If someone insists on learning the dance of a different function, there is nothing to be done but welcome them into the new function with the appropriate professional stamp upon their foreheads.

Each function and each structure in our nest is built from the salt that Harvesters bring from the salt plains. We use interlocking structures shaped like blown-glass, with curved interiors coming to a point at each end. The Architects long ago determined this was the strongest and most efficient structures to be erected with the salts. The guild hall for each professional function is stamped with the interlocking shape for that function. Our relationships vary just as in any other civilization, but we are careful to reserve specific greetings for only our most intimate companions. The interlocking of the forelegs creates varied patterns that show the nature and closeness of each relationship. When a particular cohort comes to the end of their cycle, they go together to a specific place in the salt plains and splay as one upon the ground and fade away while the salt-crystal lamps burn in their honor.

We don’t know it yet, but our colony is destined for collapse. The head of each guild sits upon the ruling council, and our cast consists of three Elders on this council. Drax the Pairings Master, who arranges the mating pairs that will produce the broods the colony needs, has been fighting against the council’s loyalty to the old ways. He insists that we need new professions to address the diminishing returns from the salt harvests—explorers or hunters to find new salt deposits or venture beyond the salt plains. If the deposits and yield continue to diminish, our entire civilization will falter. Opposed to Drax is their old friend Lapida the Harvester, who objects to the implication against the harvesting guild and believes we should just put our heads down and continue the work rather than creating fanciful new functions. Asima the Lamp Crafter, who grew up with Drax in the same brood, feels both of them are too worked up. Asima knows Drax isn’t insulting the Harvesters but also that they worry too much. Surely everything will end as it should.

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