An arc burned itself across the sky. Sensor drones followed the object as it fell from orbit and tracked it to a densely forested area. The object fell into a very lightly populated area, so there was no alarm raised.

Spectrometric analysis indicated titanium alloy. One of our ships coming home, then! But profiles matched nothing in the last century or two. If there were anyone alive aboard that ship – the probability of which being far below the realm of possibility – they would receive quite the surprise if any contact was made in the next decade or two. But, then again, that possibility was slim: humanity was defined now by the Families that ruled the nation-states, the legions that served them, and the billion-odd survivors trying to scratch a basic subsistence from the desolation in which they squatted. A billion-odd survivors with no say in the new world order and no hope, unless they were elevated to the servant class, still with no say, but at least they would be fed and clothed and sheltered, and even allowed to participate as productive citizens. Servants? Slaves? At least they weren't human waste.

Earth was now empty and barren: not a desert, just wilderness. The human population was hit by diseases, finishing off in heavily populated areas what wars had decimated.

And the lightly populated areas? You took your chances, living in the bad-lands. One of most dangerous killers of men was other men.

But what of space? People escaped to other stellar systems in the galaxy, but space was a cold, lonely place. Ships went out, but they never came back.

That is to say, most of them never did.

Except this one. Its mass was way too small for a human colony ship, so ... science vessel? With technology hundreds of years old? What possible impact, besides one tiny, little crater on the Earth – invisible from space – would this vessel have?

An ancient hulk returning to a home where nobody cared. Why worry about a spaceship when there were enough worries just scratching out a living here on good, old, tired Earth.

...

She ran.

This was her purpose, this is what she was meant to do! Her very being sang: run!

So she ran.

The wind whistled past her flanks, thirty, no, forty, no, fifty kilometers per hour, and the low-hanging branches and leaves whipped passed her cranial exo-armor, but did not touch her!

And the sticks and water snapped and splashed under her talons.

And she felt it all, and gloried in it, but let none of it touch her self.

She is the fourth of only four of her kind, four to survive this planetfall. She was alive, and free, and this whole measly little backwater planet was hers for the taking.

And take it, she would.

That is, if she didn't have her cursed, superior, overbearing, overcautious, over-worrying ... ninnies of sisters-not-sisters that she would gladly rip apart with just one more sly check from them.

'Runt.'
'Child.'
'Little one.'

The teasing she suffered from her elders, just because she was ship-born and hadn't seen any real combat, and had lost every fight with her sisters-not-sisters, every single fight, just because she was smaller and slower and much, much less experienced ...

She swore to herself. She would show the other two. She would ... do something on this planet, and please the Queen, and her sisters would have to grovel before her, and then would she lord it over them, would she?

Oh, yes! Yes, she would!

At just over two meters, and more than a year old, she was a fully mature worker/warrior of the hive – what was left of it – and there were hosts, living hosts, on that cramped little vessel that could in no way support a full hive, but could incubate one, oh, yes, if only the Queen would let her do something, anything, but would her queen allow her?

No.

She was ready to gnaw her own arm off in frustration! They had been on this planet for days under this bright yellow star with a thick, rich nitrogen-oxygen atmosphere, but had they struck out, and killed, and taken new hosts?

No.

So, instead of punching holes in bulkheads, she ran. Sixty kilometers per hour now, channelling her fury and impatience into a mere fraction of effort of her hind legs as the forest blurred past her, as she could not see it, for she did not have eyes to see, ...

... as the hosts did.

Useless things: eyes. You cut off power in their vessel, and the hosts were so easily corralled and slaughtered.

Or so she liked to think. With solid exo-armor skeletal plating, and a circulatory acid that could burn a hole through the outer hull of their puny interstellar vessels, there was no being in the galaxy that was a match for her.

What did the hosts have to their credit, besides lots of meat to incubate larval forms? Nothing! Eyes: useless. Large frontal lobs that housed soft, fatty tissue that served no purpose (it was called 'brain'), and an internal skeletal structure that was as brittle and delicate. You touch them, they break, you move into their ocular range, they scream, some of them simply die, just from that, you drop them more than a couple meters, they make a wet mess on the deck plating.

It's like they were bred to be raw material for the hive.

Speaking of which: did they ever breed!

Can you imagine? They had only two sexes with an equal distribution of females to males! They formed small breeding units! How was that even genetically possible? What was the point of having more than one breeding male in a hive?

Not only that, but they breed all the time! Like: all the time, not just once in the male's lifetime (because, of course, the queen eats the male to sustain her egg-production). It was simply staggering to her that they ate, excreted and bred every single cycle! How could a planet full of that species maintain itself for more than an age?

It seemed counterproductive, but these hosts were engineered differently than what sense dictated, it seemed to her.

The Hive had one Queen, one male which the Queen ate as soon as it mated with her, a host of warrior/workers. The hive made sense. The hosts as incubators made sense.

But the Queen ... what the Queen was doing with the surviving hosts ...

She ran even faster in her fury, and dared not even think on the insanity of what she saw her Queen doing. She couldn't: it was genetically impossible to call into question anything the Queen said or did or desired. It was genetically impossible for a worker/warrior to even think the thought 'insanity' or even to consider the word regicide.

So she ran, establishing an ever expanding perimeter around the ship, assessing every gully and outcropping, ignoring the harmless local fauna, both prey and predator, that ran to the safety of hiding (they thought) of her approach. Her razor-sharp senses told her everything of her surroundings, her genetically-crafted hunting skills made her nearly invisible to any and all she approached, ... until it was just too late.

She had been given particular orders not to engage with any hosts she might find. She found none.

Lucky for them.

She was in a rotten mood, spoiling for a fight, spoiling to kill, but this patrol was a bust. There was nothing and more nothing.

Stupid, harmless planet! she thought, letting the bile of her hatred poison her thoughts.

Well, this planet was ... mostly harmless.

Or, ... not so much.

She finished up the last leg of her perimeter-check and headed back to the ship at a full clip. A scolding from her elders would be just such a wonderful way to end this cycle! She had spent an excessive amount of time on patrol, and she was going to get it.

Nothing for it.

"Fucking planet!" she hissed to herself as she approached the ship's hull. If she could, she would take out all her anger and frustration on this tiny, little dirtball and make every one of its inhabitants suffer an extremely agonizing death for how she felt right now.

If she could.

Second was waiting for her at the entrance, of course.

"Fuck," she hissed into the ground, head bowed in submission to her superior.

But her blood was boiling in an acid-fueled rage.

She needed to kill something. She really needed to kill something.

'One of most dangerous killers of men was other men'?

That was true, right up until planetfall.

Planet Earth had no idea what had come to it in this ancient hulk of a spaceship.

The aliens had arrived, but they did not come in peace. Not at all.