Ender was, of course, extrapolating. "The Hive Queen needs an environment just like home," he said. "On a planet, the liquid might just be water, the larvae would climb to the ceiling to make their cocoons. So they make this place look like that and function like that even without gravity."
"Mags zero," said Sergeant. In a moment he was flying gently up to the nearest cocoon. With his laser pistol he deftly severed the stem, then floated back down holding the cocoon by that half of the stem.
Ender shrank an expandable bag around the cocoon and put it into the sample pack. "Thanks," he said.
"Now you'll try to baby that thing to keep from damaging it," said Sergeant. "Which means you won't be much help fighting."
"Sergeant," said Carlotta, "he learned a lot from the exploded rab corpse you brought back in the Puppy; he can learn from the DNA in a crushed cocoon. So he's not going to baby it, he's going to do his job."
"He was going to baby it," said Sergeant, "until you said that."
Ender slapped his sample pack. Hard. "Eh," he said. "Andrew Delphiki, reporting for duty, sir."
Sergeant couldn't help smiling. "Point taken. All right, Carlotta, where do you want to go?"
"The thing I'm afraid of," said Carlotta, "is going out the wrong door and letting in a bunch of feral rabs. They'd go for the new slugs and make hash of the working rabs if they tried to interfere."
"If we sedated them, then when they collide with this bacterial soup, I think they'll stick," said Ender. "If they don't drown, they'll dissolve."
"We'll do as little damage as possible," said Sergeant, "but there's no point in leaving the way we came, because the tracks just loop back to the starting point."
Carlotta agreed, but still had no advice about where to go. "The question is, will the helm be located at the hub, where it's equally distant from all the rockets and sensors, so all the controls and connections are the same length? Or at one edge, where it might have viewports?"
"If it has viewports," said Sergeant, "then they'll be as far forward as possible, so that they get maximum protection from the rock."
"But what good are viewports that only look in one direction?" asked Carlotta. "This ship has circular symmetry, there's no belly or back, like our ships have . So . . . more than one control room?"
Sergeant nodded. "And the control rooms are sealed off from each other, so damage to one doesn't cause atmosphere loss in the others."
"The pilots may be hiding from the feral rabs in just one of the control rooms," said Ender.
"So we go all the way forward," said Sergeant, "and then try for control rooms at the perimeter, exactly centered between the standpipes."
"Best view," said Carlotta.
"If the Formic workers ate these slugs, too," said Sergeant, "would there be a delivery system leading there?"
"I don't think so," said Ender. "The Hive Queen stays with the eggs and food comes to her. But the workers catch their meals between shifts."
"The question is, how far forward are we already?" asked Sergeant.
Good question. They had come a long way through the tram tunnel. "Map," said Carlotta.
A three-dimensional model of the ship seemed to stand half a meter away, in front of her visor. Of course there was nothing there at all -- it was just an illusion on the visor itself. The visor could see where she looked and when she made a little popping sound with her lips, it zoomed in. A click with her tongue zoomed out.
"We're actually farther forward than the back of the rock," she said. "The Hive Queen is surrounded by rock above and at the sides. Anything with viewports is going to be aft of here."
"So we passed the helm getting here," said Sergeant, sounding frustrated.
Sergeant led the way to one of the five obvious doors at the perimeter.
"How did you pick this one?" asked Carlotta.
"Eeny meeny," said Sergeant.
At the door, they found the cloud of debris again and a couple of eager rabs. A shot of gas and Carlotta closed the door again. At the next door, it was the same, and this time Sergeant led them through, they closed the door behind them, and fogged t
heir way through to a passage leading aft -- down, the way the corridors were oriented for Formics; to the right, the way they were oriented as they walked along the wall of the low wide tunnel so they could stand upright.