by Ramez Yoakeim
Spacefaring they might have been, but the Swarm fell well short of the god-like harbingers of doom our morose imagination foretold. When it came to the innate capacity for destruction, we were evenly matched.
Billions died still. On Earth and Mars, in circum-lunar space and the Asteroid Belt maze, and as far away as Jupiter’s orbital distilleries.
Skirmishes continued in the inner system, but with its surface-dwelling population obliterated, Earth had to be abandoned. We fled in the face of their slaughter, interminably shifting the theater of war outwards.
We resolved to return, eventually; once the Swarm accepted the high cost of subduing humanity, and moved on to other prey. We never entertained that we might win outright. Not in the face of such a foe.
Aside from the vector they arrived on from deep interstellar space, we knew little of the Swarm’s origins. Whether they were the creation of organic lifeforms in a distant cradle, or the product of a hitherto unknown mechanical evolutionary pathway, we had no idea.
We sent emissaries to their doom, fruitlessly seeking diplomatic discourse. Once it became clear the Swarm had no interest in negotiations, humanity’s factions coalesced into one, to repel the invading fleet.
Heroics aside, however, we marched inexorably towards defeat, and with it, certain extinction. Humans took the better part of a quarter-century to be made combat-ready, only to perish in an instant. While the Swarm’s capacity to respawn was limited only by its access to raw materials.
We mourned. We schemed. We evolved.
We bent our all to the war we had to survive.
Genetically specialized embryos underwent en masse accelerated gestation and maturity. From fertilization to puberty, in thirty days flat. Neural imprinting onto a common topology produced waves of combat-ready warriors, each wave iteratively superior to its predecessor.
For a spell, we gained while the Swarm ceded, but it was a fleeting reprieve.
From vulnerability to hard radiation, to inability to withstand excessive acceleration, to dependence on tenuous supply chains for air, water and food, our very biology emerged as our ultimate Achilles Heel.
The Swarm irradiated our ships, forced every skirmish into a series of hairpin maneuvers, and stretched our supply lines to breaking point; doggedly regaining strategic superiority.
It took us centuries more, but we adapted, again. Unflinchingly.
Bionic supplemented organic, then supplanted it. What use were legs when locomotion became propulsive? What purpose did eyes serve, when combat demanded full spectral awareness? What hope did limbs, and faces, and beating hearts have, when necessity demanded only shielded receptacles of reproducible decision making?
We forsook who we were, one trait at a time, until all that remained of our humanity was our ego, becoming a swarm of our own. Only more efficient, more ruthless, and more expendable, for we yet commanded vast resources, and–for a season–the precious few baseline humans capable of invention and creation to deploy them.
The tide turned in our favor once more.
Our hordes of mass-produced, solid-state warriors suffered no dread, harbored no dreams, and nursed no hopes. They needed none, for none survived their first encounter with the enemy. Our purposeful evolution in the name of survival had only made us more adept at dying.
Mission success came to be measured by the relative cost of enemy losses exacted for each loss of our own. The tides of war turned, not on whose was the greater determination, courage, or conviction, but by minute statistical fluctuations in rates of attrition.
It would have taken millennia, and fleeting human consciousnesses more numerous than the Milky Way stars, but we would yet beat the Swarm’s superior numbers.
We would prevail. We would survive.
The Swarm pressed its final advantage, wiping out what precious few nests of baseline humanity we thought we had secreted beyond their reach. In one fell swoop, they severed the slender thread to what we once were. All we had left were the memories.
We vowed to keep on remembering.
Once the existential threat that the Swarm posed had passed–and surely it would, now that we had become a more ruthless version of our enemy–we would return. We would rediscover our forms, and our thoughts, and reignite the flame of our imagination.
It was only then, that the Swarm deigned to speak to us. They told us, at last, why they had come to Earth.
At a time when our multi-cellular ancestors were yet to emerge from the primordial soup, the Swarm faced their own existential threat, at the hands of a forgotten foe.
They shed their vulnerabilities, one by one, in the name of survival, never suspecting that each imperfection was a cornerstone of their identity.
They survived, but the path back proved more arduous than the one forward.
One crisis followed another, each demanding more from them, while taking them further away from what they once were. Until they could no longer remember what that was. Surviving existential threats became the sole purpose that remained, and when there were no perils left to overcome, they sought them out, far beyond what was once their home.
They became nomads, roaming the galaxy not for resources, or conquest, or even their lost dreams, but for the only raison d’être they had left.
The Swarm gave us a choice, now that we had proven ourselves ever so slightly their better. They could grind on, whittling us down, in a war stretching for eons between almost perfectly matched adversaries. A war, they would eventually lose, they knew, but so would we.
For absent all the folly and frailty that made us human, how would the few that remained after the war destroyed the rest continue on surviving?
Having offered it all on the altar of survival, what other option remained then but to survive?
We abandoned our cradle, and all memories of our identity, enriching our enemy with the dregs that remained from our dreams. We joined the Swarm, swelling their ranks with our tribute.
Ramez Yoakeim’s academic research once involved engineering perfectly believable details out of nothing. Fiction seemed like the obvious next step. At one time or another an engineer, educator, and entrepreneur, these days Ramez devotes himself to charting humanity’s future, one tale at a time. Find out more about Ramez and his work at yoakeim.com.