Author : Julian Miles, Staff Writer

The terrain is ideal for them, and they will take every advantage of the variegated cover: tiered platforms that scatter this little roomscape. Plus they have the advantage of looking like the indigenes. It is a good thing that I was tasked to interdict this zone. No other unit could handle this without resorting to terrain-ruining ordnance.

From the lampshade I spot movement. This gives the assembly nearest the target a bearing. No movement yet. Nothing to betray my presence. I have a potential target. Now for the thing I share with every soldier throughout history – the wait for the battle to commence.

My deployment of an overlook assembly is a strategic advantage that few of our kind have mastered. They cannot yet understand; I cannot understand why they do not. I can see the whole zone. Three distributed layers allow me to go from initial spotting to tactical view without movement. Nothing to warn hyperaware opponents.

The concept of dynamic assemblies is also foreign to my kind. Restructuring myself according to the dictates of terrain, opponent and opportunity. It is simple for me. I presume that is why I am moved so often, being assign to zones where my unique skillset bestows an insurmountable advantage.

The movement resolves itself into a scatter of arachnid hatchlings. I focus down to individual units, devolving the assembly that holds the contact zone into pairs assigned to each hatchling. Not long now.

Far to the left rear flank, an atypical movement: A hatchling flicks its rearmost right leg up and over to scratch behind its rightmost eye. That is not an arachnid move. It is a telltale of a covert drone. In a synaesthesic conflict, operators of drones that have more than two visual inputs experience a phantom ear-itch. So far it is incurable, cannot be trained out, and the movement to ‘scratch’ it is unconscious.

I flag that false arachnid and resume my waiting. There is never only one drone. They are suspicious and fear my kind, so they come in numbers. Within three minutes, I have acquired seven further targets.

A surprise sighting on the coving: eight arachnids moving in a single column along the ridges made by the decorative scrollwork. I am impressed. Apart from the giveaway formation, using the ceiling is something they had been remiss in adopting. It seems that their technology has finally proven artificial gecko traction pads, something I have had since awakening.

Another minute to confirm that every other moving thing in this zone is natural, then I assign kill flights to the portions of assemblies behind each target. With a flex of my will, the hammer falls: inanimate fixtures spread sixty-four pairs of wings and stoop down upon them where they struggle. The nanopolymer sprayed from the miniscule tangle rounds shot by tiny underarm grenade launchers, using the slack space in the forearm exoskeleton. The muzzles are still emitting ephemeral wisps of smoke as they swing up to support the claws in the classic poise.

This lounge is mine. I am Mantid Swarm 35, and I will be the standard for the next generation of my kind. Over a thousand bodies allow me to include specialisations such as grenade-launching and functional wings without degrading my tactical effectiveness. From formicid drones to human troops, I have never met a problem that I could not kill.

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