While her little human slept, the Queen mulled over the state of the Hive.

This new worker was trouble, and there was no doubt about it. The Queen could crush her into the deck plating, squash her with her claw like a hammer would crush a beetle, but then what? Then they would have to forage for a host, because the humans here were bonded now. The warriors, Second and Eighth (whom the runt knew as One Arm), were bonded, now, too, to their respective humans, just as the Queen was bonded to her human. Did it make the Queen and the bonded workers weaker?

Well, yes! Obviously!

But did it make them stronger somehow?

That remained to be seen. Obviously, this was an entirely new development for the hive, when they had to be selective with humans: bonding with them or using them as hosts. Was the Queen's decision-making clouded? She thought not. They had, after all, commandeered a ship and crashed onto the hosts' home world. What other hive had done that? What other hive had survived an encounter with these supposedly weak humans?

The Queen had observed first-hand how a hive fared against these creatures when she felt the tactical nukes take out the hive she, herself, was planning to overthrow.

More than one hundred of her sisters, atomized or blown to bits in seconds.

Well, that problem was solved. New objective: the enemy's ship.

And that object was very easily accomplished. While the bulk the humans – their warrior class – exited the ship to assess the damage they inflicted on the target hive, she and her sisters blitzed the ship's airlock when one exited to do something external. Maintenance? Who cares! The point was, the ship was theirs! When the boarding party returned, in force, forewarned and armed, it was a fierce battle, with heavy casualties on both sides, but the objective remained hers.

The ship. And three of its crew. Now: two, because the sole-surviving male was used to produce the runt.

The recalcitrant runt.

But if the Queen had crushed the runt, she would be in a particularly unpleasant bind. She could not use either of the other two hosts. Were Second and Eighth loyal to the Queen? Absolutely. No question there. Even as this one here was loyal. Surly, yes, but still loyal. But if the Queen implanted Second's bonded human, she would lose Second to grief. The Queen knew this just as if she would know what losing her little Newt would do to her.

The Queen knew this because her grief would rip this local star from the sky. And even that would not be enough to assuage her. Nothing ever would.

Bonding. It was a horrible, wonderful, terrifying, ... inexplicable experience. It wasn't mating. The Queen had experienced that with a male they had procured and once was enough for a lifetime ... or more. She couldn't wait to dismember and devour that ... thing! wings and all!

The bonding was something much deeper. The connection was like unto a chemical bond: two elements, so different in their chemical properties, when bonded, formed something entirely different... but something useful?

This, the Queen would have to wait to find out. Her senses were sharp – fine-tuned, in fact – but now was a waiting-time. When the time came to act, she would act decisively for the good of the hive. She knew this in her very being. If the humans, if Newt, had to be destroyed, she would have them destroyed without a second's hesitation, and if that meant the bonded workers needed to be disposed of, she would do that, too, even Second, without a second's hesitation. New workers could be produced from the eggs she had yet to generate. That wasn't a problem.

The problem was that this was a waiting-time, an in-between time, and the Queen hated this. Fighting, killing, conquering, subduing: these were in her being, just like the little runt, wanting so badly to do something. But waiting ...

A hive had hundreds of workers, all spawned ready to fight, kill or capture hosts.

Her hive had been reduced from the twelve she had started with before that one little skirmish with seven humans had reduced it down to now three workers... two, actually, had survived that skirmish. And herself.

That ... could be enough to conquer a world, if prudently managed. In fact, even just one was enough to. She knew this, because she had done this herself.

Second was called 'Second' because she was the second spawned of only two.

For a time it was just First.

Her, alone on a hostile moon, hatched when a foolish human went exploring their little planetoid, ... that had never come back.

Then a new Queen. Then, just like that, more than one hundred worker/warriors from one hundred hosts captured and killed in a matter of weeks on that little moon, LV-426.

But now, just three workers, one on shaky ground, ... Was it because she was not bonded yet? The runt was unstable from day one, and only seemed to be getting more so.

If the Queen destroyed this runt, would the next one be better or worse? In a hive with one hundred workers, one, more or less, didn't make a difference. In hive of just three workers, one made all the difference, affecting the other two to a great degree.

And then there was the troubling absence in the scouting patrols of any contact with hosts whatsoever after days of patrolling an ever-expanding perimeter around the crash-site.

Thirty-one light years from LV-426 in the ζ Reticuli system to here was a long way to travel, particularly at relativistic speeds. How many years, how many centuries, had passed? Had humanity wiped itself out on its own home world? But there were populated areas! The dark side of the planet had some illuminated areas. It did.

Or were those fires, unchecked, burning across the barren planet?

What if there were no sightings of hosts because ... because there were no hosts left?

And this Hive, crashed on this planet, power cut from the ship to disable it, heavy structural damage anyway from the planet fall, ... what if they were marooned here, forever, with only three workers?

Crushing the runt would be mildly satisfying, but an imprudent course of action for the Queen to take with so many unknowns at present.

So the Queen could wait.

She hated waiting, but she had to.

For the good of the Hive.

A/N: So the preliminaries are out of the way, yes?

Yes and no. The next chapters coming up treats people as things: hosts and bonding-pairs. If you are at all a bit squeamish, you may wish to turn to something milder as this story will not shy what happens to humans who fall into clutches of the hive.

You have been warned. Turn ye away, for here be dragons.