Home > The Swarm (The Second Formic War #1)

The Swarm (The Second Formic War #1)
Author: Orson Scott Card



CHAPTER 1

Copernicus

The First Formic War was a close-fought thing. The Formic invaders had the capacity to destroy all life that was based on our particular array of amino acids, which, being indigestible to them, was not worth preserving. The Hive Queen did not view her actions as an attack, but rather as a leisurely beginning to the formification of Earth.

We eked out our victory against an enemy whose commander—whose mind—was millions of kilometers away. Later we would learn that the Hive Queen commanded her workers through philotic connections that seemed not to attenuate or slow down with distance; signals from the human brain take longer to reach our fingers than it took the Hive Queen to receive sensory information from her workers, learn that the pesky native life-form was resisting the advance ship’s ministrations, and repurpose those workers as soldiers.

Then the humans blew out the interior of the advance ship and killed every last one of her workers. Not only would she arrive at this new planet without the native biota already having been replaced by compatible life-forms, but she would also be forced to approach it with an effective military strategy. She immediately conferred with her sisters on all the other populated planets, showing them how the humans had behaved, the structure of their bodies, the weapons they had used.

Colonization of new worlds always brought challenges that required improvisation, but now for the first time a Formic colony was encountering friction that was intelligent, organized, and effective. However, if there was one thing the Hive Queens were experts at, it was war.

She had come in search of a place to spawn another iteration of the Formic civilization, a peaceful, domestic mission, or so she supposed. Now, she and her sisters could reach back into their not-so-very-ancient memory of brutal wars between Hive Queens, which had spawned a sophisticated military technology.

With the approval of her sisters, she dismantled almost the entire apparatus of colonization and converted the materials of the vast mothership into the requisite number of invasion craft. She had intended to wield only her delicate, sacred ovipositor, but finding the way blocked, she drew her sword.

 

—Demosthenes, A History of the Formic Wars, Vol. 3

Mazer Rackham drifted away from the space station, sealed inside a capsule no bigger than a coffin, his weapons and gear pressed tight against him. The capsule tumbled end over end, spinning in three dimensions through zero gravity. Mazer’s equilibrium was gone in an instant. Up and down no longer had meaning. All he could do now was close his eyes, concentrate, and try to find the pattern in his rotations.

The speed and spin of the capsule changed with every test flight, and so Mazer never knew how fast or in what manner the capsule was going to rotate until the sling mechanism inside the space station’s launch bay had tossed him out into the blackness of space.

This spin wasn’t bad, he realized. He had done plenty of test flights far worse than this one, with the rotations so fast and uneven that it was all he could do to keep from vomiting. This, by comparison, was a Sunday stroll. A lazy spin, at a negligible speed. Like a discarded piece of space debris casually drifting through the Black—which of course was the intent.

The capsule was a tactical trick. A work of camouflage made to resemble a twisted hunk of ship debris, charred and jagged at the edges as if it had been torn from a ship in a violent explosion. A whole team of artists from the International Fleet had worked on its design for weeks, meticulously painting and bending every square inch of the metal exterior until it looked like space junk. Barely worth anyone’s notice except as a possible collision threat. The Formics would see it, dismiss it as harmless, and the marine concealed inside could float right up to the Formic ship and cut his way inside.

A nice idea. But Mazer had his doubts. Doubts he had expressed in every test-flight report. Whether anyone actually read the reports and paid him any attention he couldn’t tell.

He cleared his mind and focused on the task at hand: finding the pattern in the capsule’s spin.

Mazer let his body go limp, feeling the centripetal forces pulling at him from multiple directions.

The spin was a sequence repeating itself again and again. An object in motion remained in motion. If Mazer could identify that sequence, if he could anticipate how the capsule would spin next, he could prepare himself properly to exit the capsule when he reached his target.

Our brains weren’t programmed for this, he thought. A lifetime of living in a gravitational environment has trained us to process trajectories completely differently.

He wondered if he would ever get used to zero G. Even after years of training in space he still felt like an awkward novice, not because his movements were clumsy but because he was nowhere near as agile out here as he had once been on Earth.

If I had started out here as a child, he thought, or if I had begun training as a tween, this would all be second nature by now.

He envied the free-miner recruits for this very reason. Most of them were born in space on asteroid-mining vessels throughout the Kuiper or Asteroid belts. Zero G was their home. Flight came easily. Spinning, launching, mapping a trajectory. They didn’t have to think about it; they just moved.

Of course the bureaucracy at the IF kept free miners from reaching any legitimate position of influence within the Fleet. Those positions were held by experienced soldiers from Earth, the career officers who had clawed their way to the top and weren’t about to let blue-collar rock diggers give them any orders. That left free miners with the remedial jobs within the Fleet: mechanics, load operators, shipbuilders, cooks. Critical entities, to be sure. But why not train them for combat? They had more experience with the environment. Teaching them to handle a weapon seemed easier than teaching Earth-grown soldiers to think in zero G.

Or why not pair free miners with soldiers? Mazer had made the suggestion to a dozen different commanders. Have the free miner teach the marine how to fly and have the marine teach the free miner the essentials of combat. Unify the cultures. Share information and expertise. Break down the barriers and integrate the personnel to produce soldiers more capable in every way.

Oh, how Mazer’s commanding officers had laughed at that. Silly, silly Mazer. Don’t you get it? Don’t you understand your place? There are soldiers and there are worker bees, and the uneducated rock diggers will always be the bees.

Free miners saved us, Mazer had countered. If not for their help we would’ve lost the war.

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