945,446,440,289 antennae lengths. 433,833,825 kilometers. 269,571,841 miles. That short distance was all that separated the Hive from Earth.
After decades of interstellar travel, the errant colony was nearly within reach. The invasion would be brief, and the occupation permanent.
A dull thud reverberated through the massive brood ship’s hull as it collided with the asteroid Ceres, pulverizing the dwarf planet.
The Hive’s enormous space pyramid was slowly grinding through the asteroid belt. Earth was still just a bright dot in the inky void.
Within the ship, Insekts scurried about, each one completely consumed by a single task. There were many preparations to complete.
Workers tended to the larvae, carefully feeding the wriggling white masses that would become the principal invasion force.
Others tended to livestock, harvesting toxins from alien species captured on other colonies or prepping them for use as incubators.
Overseeing all of this was Mantis. Though usually reclusive, as the ship neared Earth she took a more active role in the Hive’s activity.
She stood on a small platform perched above the writhing mass of laboring Insekts, her awareness coursing through the Hive Mind.
Her antennae twitched—here was an aberration. The signal was faint, but in the stream Mantis felt a ripple that did not belong: Meat.
She recognized it. The one called Mila, the one she’d exiled, was trying to communicate. She listened, her mandibles moving slowly.
The signal, so faint. Mila must have found an Insekt on Earth, but only one. Were Mantis not so close, the message never would have reached.
The human was pathetic, desperate. Mantis was about to turn her mind away when a phrase caught her attention: “The Order.”
The Green Mother’s head cocked to one side. How would Mila know of the Hive’s nemesis? She sent out a wave of affection to coax Mila on.
Far away, Mila sat cross-legged on the floor, eyes closed, with a cockroach inside her mouth. Its twitching legs tickled her tongue.
She felt the Queen’s reply, and a tear ran down her cheek. How she’d missed the Hive’s embrace! How lonely she’d been!
Mantis felt Mila’s message more clearly than she’d expected. The meat creature had summoned a significant amount of emotion to send it.
Mila was a prisoner of the Order, caged and being tortured. She begged the Green Mother for forgiveness, and pleaded for rescue.
Then she sent the Hive Mind her memories of the maps Takei had left in her bedroom—the alpine sea, with a castle deep below its surface.
In an instant, Mantis had viewed the maps and sent them to the Brood ship’s navigators. “We are coming for you, Little One,” she projected.
Mila spit out the roach in her mouth and stomped on it. A twisted smile spread across her face: It felt good to deceive the Green Mother.