Category Archives: The Colony

The Colony part 7

Throughout dinner, Nauqenet’s attention was most focused on the largest human, the one who had saved her before.  She wanted to know more about him.  She wanted to talk to him, if that was possible.  Suddenly, the sound of wind came from a few feet away, and a gust of strangely cold air blew the ant queen off the ceiling.  She waved her wings madly, ending up on her savior’s shoulder.  The other humans looked right at her and began to make even louder noises than before.  The second largest one handed the one on whose shoulder she landed what looked like a broad, white, rectangular leaf.  In a panic, Nauqenet crawled to the large human’s neck, touched her antennae to it, and pleaded with him, “Don’t kill me!”

The human paused at that instant.  Surely he didn’t understand her.  That was impossible, right?  He put down the leaf, much to the objections of his family and replied, “Did you just talk?”

He made his reply verbally, which the ant queen could not understand, but the thoughts behind it traveled into her antennae in the same way that communication between ants worked  Nauqenet didn’t know what to say.  She didn’t expect to actually be able to communicate with a being so different from herself.  She had no idea their minds could be that complex.

After the human made his reply to Nauqnet, the other humans fell silent.  The two larvae looked at Nauqenet while the other adult trained her eyes on the largest human.  What were they thinking?

“Our minds are compatible,” the ant queen said.  “My name is… Nauqenet.  You saved me once in the forest.  I know you did it on purpose.  I can’t believe I get to thank you for it.”

The other adult made some noise, and the one the queen was talking to replied to it, “She’s thanking me for not stepping on her a few days ago.  I’m going to go let her out in the backyard.”

He stood up, opened a flap in the wall, and stepped outside.  Once the flap was closed, he said, “My name is Josh.  How are we talking like this?”

“All ants communicate this way,” Nauqenet told him.  “We connect our minds and think to each other.  Are you a queen?”

Josh laughed.  “I’m a man, so I’m more of a king, but don’t tell my wife.”

“Wife?”

“She’s like a partner.  We live together and raise kids, kinda like what you do, except on a much smaller scale.”

“You work with your queen as an equal and have only a few children?”

“Yeah, it’s how all human families work.  Well, most of them.  Instead of just one woman giving birth to thousands of babies, we have an equal number of men and women.  That way, each woman only has to have a few kids to keep the species going.”

“Does ever human have a mind of its own?”

Josh wasn’t sure what she meant by that.  As he hesitated and tried to understand the question, his wife came out.  She made some sounds at him, and he replied to her, “I know it seems crazy.  Let her talk to you, and you’ll see that I’m right.  Nauqenet, show her.”

The ant queen looked at the woman and didn’t like her expression as she looked back.  Josh’s wife was afraid of insects, no matter how small they were, especially winged ones.  Still, she put her hand down near her so that she could crawl on.  She didn’t want to believe her husband was crazy.

The Colony part 6

The thunder came from a different chamber in the mound, but it sounded like it was coming closer.  Nauqenet didn’t want to be caught, so she flew as quickly as she could toward the smell of food, which was coming from yet another chamber.  Nauqenet envisioned the dwelling to be the home of really huge ants.  She made it to a wall when a gigantic being with a pink exoskeleton wrapped in multicolored sheets of cloth came into view.

“BWAAAAUUUUGH RAUFFLE SLOOP GAMMA SIM STOPPA KEEEAAA!” it bellowed.

At least that’s how it sounded to the young ant queen.  It shook her antennae horribly.  She crawled as quickly as she could through a large rectangular crack in the wall that nearly reached to the ceiling.  On a huge, four-legged, wooden platform there sat the largest collection of food Nauqenet had ever seen.  There were no giant pink monsters in sight, so she flew quickly to the corpse of a bird that had been cooked somehow, pulled off a piece twice as large as she was, and began to eat.

As she ate, Nauqenet looked around the room, and she froze when her eyes reached the floor near a rectangular crack in the wall that led back outside.  Next to the rectangle was a vaguely elliptical pair of objects with a strangely uniform pattern on one side that she knew she had seen before.  As she looked at it, her head tingled before a torrent of memories came exploding to the surface from wherever they had been hiding.

When Queen Blix examined the larva she requested to be brought to her and raised to be a queen, she had switched minds with it just as she had done with Ninn.  Nauqenet was Blix.  Putting her memories into such an underdeveloped brain must have caused them to get lost.  She was lucky they weren’t lost for good.  The memories, having previously occupied a gallon jug, could have easily just flowed over the edges into oblivion when they were poured into an eight ounce glass.

The human from before lives here! she thought.  It looks like he’s not the only human who lives here though.  I’d better hide.  This food is probably for them.

Blix II flew up to the ceiling and looked down at the table, anticipating the arrival of the human family.  She had never seen one before.  As she waited, she realized that she was free.  It was such a wonderful feeling, especially since she knew that her children were well taken care of by the blind instincts in her old brain directed by the mind of a larva.  She was starting over and living an adventure no other ant had ever even imagined.  She was a pioneer.

The human family entered the room after a little while.  The man who avoided stepping on her was there along with another human nearly his size, and there were also two much smaller humans who could have been larvae except that they looked like smaller versions of the adults.  Maybe they were just small adults.  The thunderous noises they made came from their mouths, and everyone made a horrible racket.  Blix II had to set her antennae down against her head to keep the vibrations from hurting her.  She named the largest human Klogg, the slightly smaller one Noot, and the two larvae Srid and Ipsy.

From the racket, it seemed like they were all fighting, but nobody struck out with their awkwardly long limbs or bit each other with their inset mandibles.  Their everyday communication simply consisted of violent noise.  Their faces changed shape often due to the fact that their exoskeletons were soft and moist.  Blix II concluded that they wore coverings over them for the protection that their exoskeletons lacked, and their bodies kept their forms due to some bony internal structure.  What they lacked in protection they made up for in flexibility.

The free queen watched the humans with intense fascination, hoping she would remember all the details while wishing she could record them somehow.

The Colony part 5

The queen-to-be was named Nauqenet.  Since her birth, Queen Blix didn’t say anything to anyone.  She simply did what a queen was expected to do, and nobody found it strange that her behavior changed so much.  The drones were glad to have things running smoothly and quietly again.

Nauqenet grew quickly to maturity but behaved in a manor very similar to her mother, which did not surprise anyone.  She spoke many thoughts and ideas to those around her despite the fact that nobody ever added to the conversation or encouraged her to share with them.  They disliked her tendencies, but they still loved her as a sister and member of the colony.  They also gave her the respect any drone was expected to show a queen.  After all, she was their physical superior, and she would presumably one day start her own colony.

Outwardly, Nauqenet seemed very sure of herself, which nobody had any idea was actually very unusual for a young ant of any class, but inside, she was conflicted.  She felt like there was something very important she had forgotten.  She had a drive to leave the colony and be on her own, but she somehow understood on a deep level that there were many dangers on the surface.  Nobody could give her any advice, and it was that that proved to be what convinced her to leave.  She entered the queen’s chamber before she left, feeling like she owed her a goodbye.

“I’m leaving now, mother,” she said.  The queen nodded in acknowledgment.  “I don’t suppose there’s anything about the surface that you know that might help me to survive.  You’ve been up there, haven’t you?”

Queen Blix didn’t seem to understand the request.  Giving up, Nauqenet turned and left.  She crawled through the tunnels she had come to know so well over the weeks of her life and stepped carefully out to the surface.  It was almost as dark out there as it was under ground because it was night.  Nauqenet had never seen the sky.  Dotted with little white points of light, it was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen.  There was a much larger light up there as well shaped like a crescent.

That must be their queen, she thought.

Nauqenet wiggled her wings a little to make sure they worked and then beat them as quickly as she could, lifting off into the air.  Everything below her looked so much smaller.  The grass jungle stretched out and stopped at a row of smooth, rectangular mounds in many different colors.  There were also much larger blades of grass that were brown except for leaves growing on top.  Nauqenet flew toward one of them and landed on it.  She had flown for only a few minutes, but she was tired and hoped to find some food.  There was something else she wanted, but when she thought about it, it felt wrong.  She wanted to find a mate, but she also didn’t want that.

That’s what all the other queens do.  I don’t want to be like them.  Mother is just as mindless as everyone else.  If I start a colony, I’ll become like that too.  I’d rather be dead.

She decided to explore instead.  Once she had regained some energy, she flew toward one of the colored mounds.  Light came out of it somehow, and Nauqenet found that there was an opening in the side.  She landed on the side of the mound and crawled inside.  The mound was hollow inside, filled with piles of wood, stone, and cloth.  It smelled like food.  Taking again to the air, Nauqenet ventured further in but was startled to the ground when she heard what sounded like semi-melodic thunder.

The Colony part 4

Who am I? Queen Blix wondered.

Suddenly, the chamber where she gave birth to her children seemed to be shrinking on her.  It was dark, and her eyes hungered for light.  It was cold, and her body hungered for warmth.

“Scout 111548!” she called, sensing the presence of that particular scout nearby.  She knew all of her children as well as a mother should.  The scout entered without delay.  “I need to get out of here,” she told the scout.  “Get a digging team to widen the tunnel so I can get through.”

“Your majesty, I would do anything you asked except for that,” Scout 111548 replied.  “The colony needs you where you are.”

No drone had ever refused to follow an order before.  Queen Blix was truly taken aback.

“You don’t understand,” she said.  “I have to get out of here.  I’m not leaving the colony.  I just need to see the sun again.  I need to be outside for a little while.

“I’m truly sorry, my queen, but I cannot obey.  You have to stay here.”

Blix couldn’t believe it.  She had lived her whole life thinking she was in charge, but she was a prisoner all along – a prisoner of her role in society as dictated by nature.  She didn’t want to do it any more.  She wanted out.

“I am your mother!” she shouted.  “You will do as I say!  Dig me out right now!”

“We need you too much,” replied 111548.  She would have left, but she had not been ordered to leave, so she stayed.

The queen’s resentment of her children’s mindless acceptance of their lots in life resurfaced.  They all thought the same way.  They were all like the same ant.  Why was she different then?  She was even different from the other queens, who were content to sit in a dark room giving birth, forgetting the adventures they had while they searched for a mate so they could start a colony.  Had they even been paying attention during that time?  Were the wonders of the world lost on all other ants?  Was the desire for freedom unique to Blix?

Blix dismissed Scout 111548 and thought for a long time about a possible solution to her problem.  Three sets of new children were added to the colony’s population before she had an idea.  She called in a nearby drone and told her to pay special attention to one particular larva.  After she examined it for a few seconds, the drone took it away and relayed the queen’s orders to the ants in charge of feeding the young.  The drones didn’t realize that when an ant grows up having been fed well enough, it becomes a queen capable of reproduction and, more importantly, flight.

The Colony part 3

Back in her own body, Blix fulfilled her promise to drone 52789 and gave her the name Ninn.  Blix said it was a beautiful name, and Ninn agreed.  She was ecstatic to have the approval of her queen.  Any name would have pleased her, even Canq, a name generally regarded by ants as ugly.

Blix didn’t send Ninn back to work right away.  She wanted to talk to someone about what happened outside, and since Ninn had no memory of it, she was as good of a sounding board as any.

“A human was about to step on your body and another gatherer, but he stopped his foot from coming down until it was clear of us,” she told her.  “He had to know we were there.  He purposely avoided killing us.”

“That’s amazing!” Ninn exclaimed, adding nothing else.  She was simply mirroring the queen’s sentiment.

“It is!  We have to rethink everything we thought we knew about humans.  They aren’t clumsy, murderous brutes.  Not all of them anyway.  They’re actually quite graceful.  The move the human I saw made took great nimbleness.”

“If you say it, it must be true, your majesty,” Ninn concurred, sending a wave of disdain through the queen’s abdomen up to her eyes, which twitched.

“Ninn, tell me about your experiences with humans while gathering,” Blix asked, attempting to turn the conversation into something useful.

“They’re big,” Ninn said.  “They make a lot of noise when they walk, and they crush the grass.  Sometimes they make sounds with their mouths.”

“Sounds?” Blix asked, intrigued.  “What kind of sounds?”

“Like thunder, not like a boulder falling.  Sometimes they sound like birds.  They move really fast too, especially when they move with little hops.  They can’t jump like grasshoppers or crickets though.  When there is more than one, they make sounds at each other.”

“That must be how they communicate!  They must not be able to connect their minds.  Do you think they’re capable of telepathy at all?”

“I have no idea, your highness.”

“That’s all right.  You’ve been very helpful, Ninn.  Do you enjoy gathering?”

Ninn was confused.  She never thought of her job as something enjoyment applied to.  In fact, she had no idea what it meant to enjoy something.  She had felt very few emotions in her life, and they were not strong ones.

Sensing her confusion, Blix tried to clarify.  “If you could, would you change your job from a gatherer to something else?”

“I will do whatever you require of me,” Ninn answered.  “It doesn’t matter to me what I do as long as it serves the colony.”

“Even if it means risking getting stepped on?”

“Yes.  If my life is required to help you and my sisters, I will not hesitate to give it up.”

Blix couldn’t believe what she was hearing.  She felt like a fool for thinking so lowly of her children simply because they had no opinions of their own.  They had no fear, pride, or ego.  They lived for everyone else.  That was not something Blix could understand.  It explained why Queen Aaq’s attitude was what it was, but why did Blix care?  If Queen Blix didn’t think the way she did because she was a queen rather than a drone, then why did she?

The Colony part 2

A few days had passed since drone 997754810’s death.  Queen Blix hadn’t completely gotten over it, but outward signs of her grief were no longer showing, and she had resumed ordering scouts and gatherers out of the colony.  Her willingness to send her children out again was in large part due to the decision to use a trick she learned about from her own mother, who heard about it from her mother and so on for countless generations.  It hadn’t been used in the memory of any living ant, but Blix thought it was time to try it if she could.  Ants communicated telepathically by sharing a link when their antennae touched.  At some point, one ant queen in ancient times figured out how to transfer her will and consciousness into one of her drones.  In essence, she temporarily “became” that drone.  What rare qualities could that queen have had to even conceive of such a thing?  Was she as caring of her children as Blix, or was she manipulative?

Queen Blix called in drone 52789, a gatherer from one of her first birthgivings, and told her to join antennae with her.  Without question or hesitation, 52789 obeyed.  Blix felt a twinge of guilt for what she was about to do, because she had no way of knowing what would happen or if the drone would recover.  She just had to know what dangers stomped around on the surface.  It had been so long since she took her nuptial flight, she had forgotten.  She did the meditation exercise she was taught, and then she reached into 52789’s mind in search of the control and sensory centers.  They were remarkably easy to find.  In seconds, Blix was looking at herself through the eyes of her daughter.

“I’m sorry I have to do this, 52789,” she said to ‘herself’.  “When this is over, I’ll give you a real name like mine.”

Blix crawled out of her chamber for the first time in a long time and followed another gatherer through a maze of tunnels all the way up to the surface, where the warm sunlight fell directly down on her child’s black exoskeleton.  The sight of the jungle of grasses and flowers reminded her of her youth, and in that much more youthful body, she almost forgot she was a well aged queen.  She almost expected to feel wings on her back, but when she tried to stretch them out, she was reminded that the body she was in was not her own and never had wings.

Using the sharp senses of her daughter’s body, Blix picked up the pheromone trail of another member of her colony.  A scout had found something big and established a trail to claim it and carry it back home.  She followed it closely behind the gatherer she had followed out of the tunnels, and after a long walk, they came upon a dead baby bird.  An adult bird was a terrifying sight for any insect, but a corpse was cause for celebration if ants did that kind of thing.  Baby birds were an especially good find because they lacked feathers and so were much easier to pick meat from.

Blix stepped to the side, off the trail, to take in the scene.  Dozens of her children were busy tearing chunks of flesh from the corpse.  They all knew how to do their job, and they did it without complaint.  They had to.  It was their way.  Only their queen was capable of the level of thought that caused her to deviate from the job of the body she was in and examine the situation mentally.  There had been no danger.  No giant feet had come down from the sky.  No beaks of death fell upon them from the heavens.  Perhaps the death of 997754810 was a fluke.  A pure accident.  There certainly did not seem to be a reason to fear it happening again any time soon.  Relieved, Blix turned without pitching in to the food gathering effort and started to make her way back.  She walked beside another gatherer, one who had left earlier and carried a piece of bird big enough to shade them both from the sun’s light.

Suddenly, the shade grew much darker.  Blix looked up and noticed a strangely uniform pattern on the surface of something very large coming down toward them.

‘Not again!  I knew this would happen!  It’s the human from before!  He wants to kill all of my babies!’

Blix braced herself for death.  She didn’t know if she would pop back into her own mind if the body she was using was killed.  It didn’t matter because surely she would find out soon.  But wait.  The patterned surface ceased its descent and darted forward, making landfall a long way ahead of the two ants on their way back home.  The next few seconds revealed that the surface had indeed been the foot of a human.  The rest of its form tore its way through the grass jungle at a speed Blix couldn’t have even flown in her youth, not easily anyway.  She had never seen a human before, but she couldn’t deny that there was a certain grace to its form and movement.  It was not the monster she had thought it was.  In fact, it seemed to purposely avoid stepping on her.  Why?  It didn’t make any sense.  Blix was grateful, but she was very confused.  She wanted to hurry back to the colony and return to her body so she could reflect on what happened.

The Colony part 1

Queen Blix always took the deaths of her children hard. They were more than her offspring. They were a part of her. When they died, she died a little as well. A scout had just come in and reported that a human stepped on Drone 997754810 while she was out on food patrol.

“No!” the queen sobbed.  “She was new to the job.  She didn’t deserve that!”

“She certainly didn’t,” the scout concurred.

“Humans are a menace!  I wish I could wipe them all out.  All they do is lumber around without any regard for where they’re walking.  We’re not invisible!  Look down!”

“I couldn’t agree more, your highness.”

Queen Blix glared at her subordinate.  Sometimes she hated it when they agreed with her without thinking for themselves, but it was part of their way of life.  Colonies survived on drones following orders even when those orders got them killed.  Nobody would feel what Blix felt when a drone died.  Nobody would question her decisions when they got ants killed.  They would go on doing what they were born to do, and the queen would wallow in her grief all alone among her thousands of daughters.

“I want to talk to Queen Aaq,” Queen Blix said.

“I’ll summon the transmitters,” the scout replied, turning to leave.

“Wait!”  The scout stopped to listen to her queen and mother.  “Thank you for bringing me this message.  You are a valued member of this colony.”

“Yes, your majesty.”

The scout didn’t understand.  Queen Blix wanted to express her gratitude for her subordinate’s excellent service, but the sentiment was wasted on someone unable to understand the concept or the emotion.  It was so frustrating to love her children so much but for them to not know it.  They followed her every order without question or delay, but they could not love her back.  They were like machines.

A few seconds after the scout left, three communication drones entered single file.  The opening to the queen’s chamber was too small to allow more than one drone to pass through it at a time, which meant that the much larger queen was trapped in there.  She could have had them dig it larger, but why would she leave?  The drones stood in front of the queen in a circle, touching their antennae to form a circuit.  Queen Blix concentrated on sending a message to the queen of a neighboring colony with whom she was friends in her youth before she had children.

“Blix!” exclaimed Aaq mentally.  “It’s so good to hear from you!  It’s been too long.  How are things?”

“The colony is running fine, Aaq,” Blix replied.  “I just wanted to talk to somebody with thoughts of her own, you know?  It gets lonely in here.”

“Whatever do you mean, dear Blixie?  You have your children to keep you company.”

“It’s not the same.  All they do is agree with me and do what I tell them.”

“What’s wrong with that?  Colonies owe their survival to the willingness of the drones to blindly obey orders.”

“I just… I don’t know.  997754810 was stepped on today.  She was one of my favorites.”

“Favorites?  Blix, you never cease to perplex me.  I think it’s what I love most about  you.  One drone is as good as another.  They’re all the same – disposable.”

“My children are NOT disposable!  I can’t believe you think that about yours!”  Blix remembered why it had been so long since she last talked to Aaq.  She severed the link be pulling her head back and breaking the circuit.  “Thank you, 7898511, 7898510, and 7898508.  I will call on you the next time I feel like talking to someone, though I don’t know who else is out there.”

“Would you like to send a scouting party?” asked drone 7898510.

“No!”  Blix protested so strongly because she was still grieving for 997754810.  7898510 wasn’t taken aback by her reaction.  She just stood there and accepted the answer.  “I’m sorry,” Blix apologized uselessly.  “You all did a fine job.  You can go back to what you were doing.”

As the communication drones left, Blix’s antennae shook.  That was how she cried.  She mourned the loss of drone 997754810 the same way she dealt with everything else, completely alone.