"Somebody piloted this ship," said Carlotta, "and she wasn't there to control them. What if some of the Formic workers survived her death? If she wasn't controlling every though
t in their heads, if they had the independence to learn their job and do it even when the Queen wasn't paying attention, then when she died, they could go on."
"No," said Sergeant. "It makes sense, but we know that every Formic worker died when the Hive Queens died. There were assault teams on some of the Formic planets when Wiggin killed the Hive Queens, and the human soldier reported that all the Formics stopped fighting at once. Stopped running, stopped doing anything. They lay down and died."
"But they lay down," said Carlotta.
"Dropped," said Sergeant.
"I read the same reports," said Ender. "They lay down. Some of them had vital signs for as long as half an hour. So Carlotta's right. There were at least some body systems in the workers that kept going for at least a little while after the Hive Queens died."
"What if this Hive Queen, knowing she was going to die, gave some of her workers instructions to keep piloting the ship?" asked Carlotta.
The others nodded. "We can't know what mechanism makes the Formics die when the Queen does," said Ender. "Maybe there's an exception."
"Let's find the helm and see," said Sergeant.
Carlotta looked out over the sea of rot that surrounded her. "Home sweet home," she said. "I'm trying to see this the way she did, when she was alive. All these little holes were like wombs for her eggs. All these slugs were being herded here to feed her and feed her babies."
Ender pointed up. "Don't forget the ceiling."
Carlotta looked up. Lots of stringy protuberances hung down from the highest points. A few of them had melon-sized balls hanging from them.
"What's that?" Carlotta asked.
"Cocoons. I'm sure they're all dead, but I'm going to want to take one back to the lab to study, if I can," said Ender. "Everything that's on the floor has been contaminated with that bacterial soup of decay. But larvae that cocooned themselves might still have clean genetic material I can study."
"Not our highest priority," said Sergeant.
"But not our lowest, either," said Ender. "We obviously have time to stop and chat. So let's collect a sample or two before we leave the Room of Goo."
"You going to take a slug back? And the bacteria?" asked Sergeant.
"Already collected samples of those on the way in."
"You were supposed to be our rear guard, not a prancing naturalist," said Sergeant.
"Nothing attacked us from behind," said Ender. "Hive Queens aren't the only ones who can multitask."
"Boys," said Carlotta. "Is this how our whole lives are going to be? The two of you sniping at each other?"
"Let's get one thing clear," said Ender. "Only one person has been sniping and it wasn't me. I've followed every order without complaint; I've criticized nothing. It's Sergeant who's determined to catch me doing something wrong. But I'm not. Carlotta said it -- the Hive Queens were expert geneticists, and they worked on their own genome to create the rabs. So what I collect here might teach us science that the human race hasn't developed on its own. It might save our lives."
"And here's where you're both so stupid it hurts," said Carlotta. "The illusion in here is so good that it fooled you both."
"What illusion?" asked Sergeant.
"The illusion of gravity," said Carlotta.
She watched in triumph as they realized: The cocoon wasn't going to drop when they cut it loose.
"But the other cocoons fell," said Ender lamely.
"During deceleration," said Carlotta. "The ship turned around and the rockets pushed upward to slow this big rock down. That's when the cocoons dropped."
"But all this liquid," said Sergeant. "It clings to the floor."
"It clings to the egg holes," said Carlotta. "It's not liquid, it's goo. Most of the voyage is in zero-gee. If the eggs and larvae need liquid to grow in, it has to be gelatinous so it stays put, or the Queen would be drowning in it."