Then he felt himself become one of the drones. Again the image of her feeding him, but as she lowered the slug toward his mouth, she let go of it. The slug dropped away out of reach.
The world seemed to sway; it was the Queen swaying. Then she lay down, half coiling within the circle of her private zone. Even as she pulled herself downward, she made sure not to crush any of her males. She was protecting them, loving them till the end.
Then Ender felt something vital go out of his mind. He realized that the warmth and light he had felt when he was one of the attached drones was the mind of the Hive Queen. And now it was gone.
The males, one by one, detached. As one of them, Ender understood that it was time for them to look for a new queen. She hadn't eaten them, so they were valued highly and allowed to help a new queen seed the hive.
They rose into the air and flew. Around them was the constant pushing and shepherding of the slugs, the rabs, coming up all the ramps.
Something else, though. Formic workers, becoming limp. Unlike the Queen, they didn't pull themselves down to the ground. They drifted, floated, rose, fell, depending on the eddies of air in the Hive Queen's chamber.
All these images of dying Formics came as still pictures, one after another -- it was a change from when he was an attached drone, then a flying one.
There was no Queen. Nothing but Formic workers, and they were all dying. All dead.
Now a single drone was putting images into his mind. But since he had experienced the desperate search for a new queen, each drone pressing imagesinto the minds of the others, that was now what he gave to Ender.
Again Ender tried to freeze the image, but instead the drone moved on. He felt a sense of loss, emptiness. It wasn't just the death of the Queen. The drones had images of every part of the ship, many of which Ender recognized from his travels. But each view ended abruptly; he was momentarily blind.
He realized what they were saying in this image-language. The drones had shared in the Queen's connection with all the Formic workers. They were the minds most closely bound with hers, and she shared everything with them.
They understood the whole ship. They were used to being able to watch any part of the ship at any time. When she died, they might have continued to connect with the Formic workers. But they died with the Queen. All that remained to the drones was each other's vision, and since they were all in the same room, they were all seeing the same thing. Dead Queen. Rabs herding the slugs up the ramps. Dead Formic workers.
They went to a door. They had never opened one with their own limbs. But they all had the memory of being inside the mind of a worker when she opened the door. They knew exactly where the lever was and how it felt to work it. Only it was hard. The drone's hand slipped off the lever twice -- and to Ender, as if in a nightmare, it felt as if his own hand had slipped off.
But the door opened eventually and they flew outside. One of them stopped to close the door. Ender was that one for a moment; then he was a different one.
They all had the same destination: the helm. Ender knew what the place felt like to the drones. It was the most vital work of the whole colony. No matter what the Queen had been doing at any given moment, one or another of the drones always looked out through the eyes of the worker who was sitting at the helm, watching her choices, her actions. The guidance of the ship, the health of the ship, always there was a drone involved.
Then a realization swept over Ender and made him shudder. Just as the drones each had their own mind, separate from the Queen's, no matter how tightly they were linked, so also the Formic at the controls had had her own mind, her own will. She was piloting the ship. The Hive Queen had given an order -- an image of what was wanted -- but the worker was carrying out the labor herself. The worker understood the task. The drones didn't control her; they sat inside her mind and observed, prompting her now and then, but she was doing it.
If the Formic workers had minds of their own, perhaps there were occasional individuals who could resist the power of the Queen's mind. Perhaps there were free workers.
Thinking of free workers made him realize that the workers who obeyed the Hive Queen as perfectly as they could, they were slaves. They were her daughters, but she refused to let them have minds of their own.
Yet the worker had piloted a starship. It hadn't understood the astrophysics, the mathematics, but it understood the Hive Queen's plans and orders, and it carried them out using its own mind, its own skills and habits and experience.
We misunderstood them completely, thought Ender. We thought the Hive Queen was the mind of the whole colony. But she was not. They had their own wills, just like humans, but she had the power to force obedience. And when she wasn't checking on them, the drones were.
There was nothing subtle about the Hive Queen's control of her worker-daughters. She was overwhelming. They were swallowed up. And even when only the drones remained in a worker's mind, watching, they overwhelmed the worker. In some ways, because their whole attention was devoted to the immediate task, the drones had a stronger presence in the workers' minds.
When the workers died, the drones were left to themselves, to each other. They had lost the Queen. Unlike the workers, they experienced her, not as a suffocating force, but rather as a being of light, an angel in their minds. She loved them and they never forgot it for an instant. But besides losing the Queen, they had also lost the workers. They had lost their vision of the whole ship.
That's why they went to the helm. It was the most important job of all. They could no longer see what was happening. But they had to see, and since there was no daughter queen to attach to, to restore the network of visio
n, the drones went to the helm themselves.
Once they got there -- here, Ender realized -- they pulled the workers' bodies off their perches and set them adrift. The drones remembered all the tasks that the workers had done while the drones were inside their minds; now they carried out those tasks. Checking the instruments. Looking through the viewports.
For the rabs assigned to cleanup work were going feral. Their job was to eat anything spilled or dead in the corridors. When the Queen and all the workers died, they had an enormous feast of dead Formics throughout the ship. It was their job. The drones even let them into the helm to take apart and consume the bodies of the Formics.
With the overabundance of food, the rab population grew; then all the dead Formics they could find were eaten, and the rabs were still there. When the last dead Formics were consumed, they found that their population had expanded too fast. There wasn't enough to eat. They were starving.
So the rabs went wild. Or rather a few of them went wild, but within a few generations, those wild ones were the only ones still reproducing in the corridors of the ship.
The drones realized what was happening in time to seal off the Hive Queen's chamber and their own helm. They also sealed off the doors leading "outside," or into the ecotat.
This drove the rabs insane. Cut off not only from a supply of corpses but also from any access to the slugs, they went crazy, eating each other, eating their mates, their own young.