We certainly didn’t know that we were losing.
Those Bugs lay eggs. They not only lay them, they hold them in reserve, hatch them as needed. If we killed a warrior—or a thousand, or ten thousand—his or their replacements were hatched and on duty almost before we could get back to base. You can imagine, if you like, some Bug supervisor of population flashing a phone to somewhere down inside and saying, «Joe, warm up ten thousand warriors and have ‘em ready by Wednesday… and tell engineering to activate reserve incubators N, O, P, Q, and R; the demand is picking up.»
I don’t say they did exactly that, but those were the results. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that they acted purely from instinct, like termites or ants; their actions were as intelligent as ours (stupid races don’t build spaceships!) and were much better co-ordinated. It takes a minimum of a year to train a private to fight and to mesh his fighting in with his mates; a Bug warrior is hatched able to do this.
Every time we killed a thousand Bugs at a cost of one M.I. it was a net victory for the Bugs. We were learning, expensively, just how efficient a total communism can be when used by a people actually adapted to it by evolution; the Bug commissars didn’t care any more about expending soldiers than we cared about expending ammo. Perhaps we could have figured this out about the Bugs by noting the grief the Chinese Hegemony gave the Russo-Anglo-American Alliance; however the trouble with «lessons from history» is that we usually read them best after falling flat on our chins.
But we were learning. Technical instructions and tactical doctrine orders resulted from every brush with them, spread through the Fleet. We learned to tell the workers from the warriors—if you had time, you could tell from the shape of the carapace, but the quick rule of thumb was: If he comes at you, he’s a warrior; if he runs, you can turn your back on him. We learned not to waste ammo even on warriors except in self-protection; instead we went after their lairs. Find a hole, drop down it first a gas bomb which explodes gently a few seconds later, releasing an oily liquid which evaporates as a nerve gas tailored to Bugs (it is harmless to us) and which is heavier than air and keeps on going down—then you use a second grenade of H. E. to seal the hole.
We still didn’t know whether we were getting deep enough to kill the queens—but we did know that the Bugs didn’t like these tactics; our intelligence through the Skinnies and on back into the Bugs themselves was definite on this point. Besides, we cleaned their colony off Sheol completely this way. Maybe they managed to evacuate the queens and the brains… but at least we were learning to hurt them.
But so far as the Roughnecks were concerned, these gas bombings were simply another drill, to be done according to orders, by the numbers, and on the bounce.