This is a short story that appeared in a collection. Two genetically-modified humans (corporate anthropologists, basically) travel to a planetoid inhabited by an insect race that is mining the planet in order to study the race. While there, they are practically ignored, as the individual members of the race lack consciousness. The humans determine a type of pheromone is used to control the worker caste, and co-opt several members to create a living area. They make plans to put the mining towards human ends, but before that can happen they are discovered. The presence of the artificial pheromones wakes up a hive-mind, super-intelligent bug, who then bargains with the surviving member of the team (the man) after killing and taking over the female member of the team.

The collection was read at some point between 2000-2005.


1 Answer 1


Your description fits Bruce Sterling's 1982 short story Swarm almost exactly. The story can be found in his collections Crystal Express and Schismatrix Plus.

From the Wikipedia entry for Swarm :

The Shaper Captain-Doctor Simon Afriel arrives on an asteroid in another solar system to study a colony of a non-intelligent species known as the Swarm. Their society has an insect-like hierarchy with a queen and different castes, and also hosts some degenerated alien species known with a common name as symbiotes which lives as parasites or in commensal relationships with the others.
Afriel plans to stay for two years and study it, together with another Shaper called Galina Mirny who was already there. Their intentions is partly to prevent the Mechanists to benefit from it, and partly to find a way to use the hive pheromones to control and manipulate the species, so they can establish a colony in their own solar system and make them work for them.
Once on-board the hive seems to take no notice of the visitors. But when they start to experiment with artificial pheromones and create a chemical imbalance it triggers the colony's instinctive mechanisms, who recognize it as a sign of the presence of intelligence.

From Bruce Sterling's Swarm, near the end:

“I find myself awakened again,” Swarm said dreamily. “I am pleased to see that there is no major emergency to concern me. Instead it is a threat that has become almost routine.” It hesitated delicately. Mirny’s body moved slightly in midair; her breathing was inhumanly regular. The eyes opened and closed. “Another young race.”
“What are you?”
“I am the Swarm. That is, I am one of its castes. I am a tool, an adaptation; my specialty is intelligence. I am not often needed. It is good to be needed again.”

  • The story can also be found in "Schizmatrix Plus". a collection of Sterling's Shaper/Mechanist stories. Feb 11, 2015 at 4:44
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    @WhatRoughBeast It can be found in a couple other places too. Why do you people hate the ISFDB?
    – user14111
    Feb 11, 2015 at 5:03
  • By the way, Wikipedia has a plot synopsis for "Swarm".
    – user14111
    Feb 11, 2015 at 5:07
  • Pretty sure that is it. I've read it in Schismatrix Plus.
    – SQB
    Feb 11, 2015 at 8:20
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    @user14111: I don't hate the ISFDB, but the lack of detailed information (like descriptions and synopses) puts it low on my list of go-to resources.
    – Joe L.
    Feb 11, 2015 at 15:34

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