My name is Troma. I am a commanding queen of this year’s crusaders of Brood II periodical cicadas. To the untrained eye, I look just like my countless minions. But if you ever see me up close, you will notice that I have striking red wings. When fluttering, they look like splattering blood.
For my minions, digging their way up through the ground and becoming airborne has been a fairytale. After seventeen years of subterranean living, dreaming the same dream every day, they finally got to see it come true. They went into their molting as mere ugly crawling bugs but come out as truly hideous flying cicadas.
For me, it had to be done with flair. I crawled onto a snarly branch of a tall tree, wove myself an orange cocoon, invited my childhood friend Popo inside and sealed the cocoon. Then I metamorphosed.
When I awoke, my cocoon was a translucent globe, basking in the warm sun. Every inch of my exoskeleton felt vibrant and elastic. Instead of those embarrassingly chubby diggers, I now had three pairs of elegant legs. And the sense of levitation was surreal. But for the feathery touch between my virgin feet and the silky inside of my cocoon, there was hardly any reminder of gravity.
My body had acquired a shiny patina. What had been my bumpy scapulae were now crisp wings. By my feet, as I had suspected, laid the carcass of Popo, mummified. Her beady red eyes had lost their glistening glamour. She had been my last meal. I had sucked every last bit of her hemolymph with abandon, slurping loudly as a great queen nymph should.
It had to be done. It’s been done that way for thousands of years and will continue to be done that way for thousands more. A queen nymph must feed on a seventeen-year-old female nymph, to mark her metamorphosis.
God created periodical cicadas as an ascetic species. As nymphs, our tubular bodies are decorated with annuli that mark the shell stretching we have to endure in our subterranean years. When a nymph has acquired seventeen rings on his or her body, he or she is ready to dig upward and follow the cicada dream.
I had seventeen rings. But unlike the nondescript amber rings ubiquitous on cicada nymphs, mine were exquisitely green, like tomato vines. That rare hue was my badge of honor for cannibalism.
I was not born a cannibal. If I were, would I ever have had a childhood friend? I can’t fully explain how I had managed to keep my sucker off Popo for seventeen long years. But I was a queen nymph, poised to become a cicada queen and to command a million-cicada army. Following the example of my fellow great rulers in the animal kingdom, I sometimes behave unpredictably on purpose, just to inspire fear in my subjects. I kept Popo alive because I wanted to be unpredictable. Also, I had always wondered how she would taste when she was seventeen.
I am named Troma after the deadly venom that invaded and commandeered me when I was a baby nymph. The cicada in me and the venom in me have since thrived in symbiosis. All queen nymphs are chosen by Troma.
The venom comes to possess a chosen female nymph by way of a fungal spore. I do not know where I came into bodily contact with a Troma fungus. There was no sting. No pain. No lesion. Not even a visible patch of moisture or slime. But the tenacious fungal virus infected my body one day.
I felt it the next day. I was ravenously hungry, but I had no more appetite for tree milk. When the soil cooled down at night, a sharp itch shot through me, head to tail. And it would repeat throughout the night.
The itch would turn into a subtle pain and, as the days went by, into a sharp one. I was starved and terrified as I witnessed my shell hardening into armor and my sucker sharpening into a dagger.
Then I came to terms with Troma when she became my brain, and I her soil. I realized that I would simply die if I went on fasting.
From then on, I burrowed around and hunted for the most odorous female nymphs. I feasted on their gooey innards and slept with their corpses. A piece of advice from Troma: To learn to rule is to learn to kill.
All male nymphs will become male cicadas one day. The moment they crawl out of their nymph shells after molting and start to fly, there will be only one thing on their mind: Mating. They will rush toward where there is female scent, in the most reckless fashion.
With the behemoth female scent I possess, I have begotten myself an army of shrieking, sex-crazed kamakazes.
Through the hole I licked to escape my cocoon, I hear the buzzing of male cicadas already swarming in heat. Obviously, the intensity of my scent drives them insane. The smellier a female cicada, the more desirable she is.
As I dive into the open air, dazzled by the sun and chased by an army of brilliantly winged male cicadas, I realize that I have truly become the mythical cicada queen.
I beguile my army of suitors along an uncharted path, bouncing through rays of sunlight in the forest.
It is all part of the deal, I think to myself. At a pit stop atop a tree, I let the winner of the long chase rest upon me and fertilize the first batch of eggs in my belly. Every cicada queen before me has left a long trail of dead female nymphs.
I dive into the sky again. This time, I lead the my army into a low cruise just above the ground. Such a stunt invites cicadas in the nearby trees to join, male and female alike. If my fleet has started as a flying carpet in the sky, now it looks like a black tornado twister menacing the land.
Straight ahead, a honeycomb-shaped human abode stands taller than the tallest tree, and wide as a hill. I lead my army in a reconnaissance circle around it. When we try to approach the humans, I see them react with melodramatic facial expressions and wild gesticulations. And many of my suitors crash into the invisible shields the humans have placed in the shell of their abode.
But I find an opening near the ground in the shell. Hundreds of thousands of cicadas faithfully follow me into a long, dark tunnel.
This is a gamble. But there is a great chance that we can come in contact with the humans.
Once we get inside, we need to find our way up. All the humans we have seen seem to be perched on higher levels of the abode.
To trust myself is to trust Troma.