The queerat suddenly started speaking in a high squeaky voice. I froze in surprise.
“It’s talking…” Maria murmured.
The other three were dumbfounded.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“§@★＃◎＆∈∂Å♪” it chirped in a sing-song voice. Spit frothed at the corners of its mouth.
I knew it was saying its name, but there’s no way to write it out in Japanese, not that I even remember what it was.
“Well it looks like we won’t have to worry about them ratting us out,” Satoru said, sounding relieved. “It’s not like anyone will understand what they say.”
Our anxiety gone, we started laughing. But for some reason, a chill ran up my spine as I looked at the queerats.
It felt like I had touched on something taboo that was hidden deep in my heart.
“Although we can’t use their names, there should be some other way to tell them apart,” Shun mused.
“You can tell by their tattoos.”
Surprisingly, it was Mamoru who had spoken.
“Somewhere on their forehead. It should have their colony and identification number,” Mamoru said, his back still turned.
I put my hand tentatively on the queerat’s head and lifted its hood. It stayed docile like a trained dog.
“There it is.”
Down the length of its forehead, the words “Goat 619” were tattooed in blue ink.
“What do these words mean?”
“It has to be the colony’s emblem,” Shun said.
Queerats have three characteristics that are unlike most other animals.
The first is their appearance which is the basis for their name. Queerats resemble hairless rats and are around sixty centimeters to a meter in length. Standing upright, they’re between 1.2 and 1.4 meters. In some cases they can be as tall as an average human.
Second, even though they are very clearly mammals, they are eusocial, like ants or bees, and live in colonies with a queen. This is a trait that comes from their ancestor, the east African naked mole rat. Small colonies have only around two or three hundred workers, but large ones can have thousands, even up to ten thousand, workers.
Third, queerats are far more intelligent than dolphins or chimpanzees. Some would even say they are as intelligent as humans. Those who pledge allegiance to humans and become “civilized colonies” are given protection in return for their tribute and labors. The colonies are named after various insects.
For example, the colony with the greatest strength and most often recruited for public works operations is the Giant Hornet colony. Other colonies dotted around Kamisu 66 are the Wood Ant, Deerfly, Dragonfly, Spider Wasp, Robber Fly, Giant Stag Beetle, Cave Cricket, Paper Wasp, Ground Beetle, Tiger Beetle, Goat Moth, Diving Beetle, Cricket, Blue Centipede, Plant Hopper, Pyraloid Moth, Garden Tiger Moth, Tachina Fly, Millipede, Orb Spider, Cricket, and more.
“The ‘Goat’ probably stands for the Goat Moth colony,” Shun said.
“They’re probably all tattooed, since there are so many of them you can’t recognize them just by sight.”
“Then this guy is a worker of the Goat Moth Colony.”
Goat Moth was a small colony with only two hundred workers.
“Goa★moth. Goat Moth. Chichichi. Co★ney…Grrrrr,” it said, shivering.
“It looks cold.”
“It’s completely soaked. And since queerats live in burrows, I imagine their body temperatures are naturally lower,” Shun said.
We let the queerats go. The two of them bowed low as we left. No matter how many times I looked back as we walked away, they remained bowed.