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It wasn’t until the first few weeks had gone by that my suspicions started to grow.
About the comm system?
No, about the zerg. Why would I be suspicious about the comm? I’m no techie. It was the constant and utterly fruitless zerg attacks that got me thinking.
I was reminded of an argument I’d had with my father after his lecture one day. We had been focused on evolutionary theory, and I made the mistake of complaining about one of his tenets – something about instances of mutation occurring more frequently in populations that suffered from drastically diminished numbers. I thought it was ridiculous to consider a population of organisms as some sort of collective unconsciousness that could react to threats with a gestalt reasoning apart from the whole.
“Gestalt reasoning”? Private, I’ll give you high marks for vocabulary, but you’ve just used a lot of fancy words to describe the widely accepted zerg cerebrate concept. It’s certainly nothing new or groundbreaking.
Pardon me, Doc, but I don’t think you understand. That’s not what he was proposing. He claimed that a separate population of individuals within a species could have a group-wide increase in its offspring’s mutation frequency due to severely dropping numbers. This supposes that some sort of biochemical communication exists at the genetic level for all species. Even my damn fruit flies.
So… you’re saying that an isolated group can mutate to deal with unexpected situations. This is nature slipping out the back door with your wallet, right?
Well, you’re getting warmer.
The theory was stupid, I thought. It didn’t follow any formulas, algorithms, or predictable patterns. Most of science is like a pistol, right? You load it, pull the trigger, and it fires a slug. Once you understand the mechanism, you can predict it every time. Why do you think I joined the marines? Daddy issues aside, I mean. Fire guns; patch the holes they make; and win the battle. Simple, clean, and easy. My father hated my hunger for that simplicity, an unrealistic black-and-white universe that he called “a foolish binary fantasy.”
“Maren,” he’d say, “sometimes A plus B doesn’t equal C. Sometimes it equals M; sometimes it equals 42; and sometimes it responds in the form of an essay. You have to accept the fact that the most important questions have too many facets for you to count. You have to step back and be content with the fuzzy big picture.”
He failed me that semester in spite of perfect test scores. Said I just didn’t get the most important part.
So Cask had you rethinking your father’s theories?
Yeah. It burns me to say it, but yeah. Something about being stranded on a desolate rock, being surrounded by homicidal cockroaches, and eating alien mold. I finally started to see the big picture. Father would be so proud of his little girl.
First of all, why would supposedly intelligent spacefaring aliens deliberately and systematically throw their forces at an impenetrable target? And why do so at such a constant, methodical rate? Cask certainly didn’t hold any position of strategic importance. Neither did Sorona, for that matter.
My studies in xenobiology had never gone too deep; I was out of school, out from under my father’s thumb, before zerg physiology was really taught at a scholastic level. From what I’d been able to piece together from the dumbed-down boot-camp vids, the zerg Overmind used an adaptive form of DNA to incorporate other useful bits from distinct, unrelated organisms into its own genetic palette. This made my fruit fly gene sculpting look like child’s play.
What if whatever consciousness was controlling this population had recognized a unique dilemma in this terran holdout on Sorona? What if my father’s theory was true? What if the inverse relationship between a population’s survival rate and random mutations was a concept not only understood by this consciousness, but also used to overcome obstacles when all other tactics proved useless? Was our desperate holdout providing a damn testing ground for the enemy?
I’m impressed, Private. I can’t go into detail here, but your field analysis syncs up with much of the data our tactical team has been running through. What was your conclusion?
I had to know. Had to know if we were being used, even helping the zerg by playing into a forced mutation strategy. We had to seek out the hive responsible for this population of xenos. We had to destroy it.
The lieutenant laughed at me. I tried explaining it to him again, and he cut me off; this time his expression was stern. He told me that he had no idea how long we were going to be stuck on this rock and that, through the grace of whatever god looked out for atheist marines, he had found a way to keep his platoon alive in the midst of a zerg assault. He was going to sit tight and wait for the cavalry. “Leave the science to the scientists, Private.”
That stung. Believe it or not, it stung. I’d been trying to distance myself from my father and his world of intellectual vagaries for years, and now I ached for that understanding. That perspective. Here I was literally stuck in the center of what was potentially the next evolutionary step of an entire species, and I lacked the tools, training, and support to do anything about it.
So what did you do?
I did what I could. I waited until the next attack had petered out, and I climbed over the barricade.
A little field research?