Ant woke suddenly.
Consciousness moved through him, separating him, making him self-aware for the first time.
The gods laughed.
Ant’s recognition removed him irrevocably from the other ants, from the febrile world of tactile communication, the flickering understanding of myriad antennae. It froze the ordained movement, the scurrying, the labouring with leafs, with drops of nectar from the leg of a bee.
Instantly the gap between Ant and the other ants became unbridgeable.
The column of ants turmoiled behind him as the timbre of communication was interrupted, the relay garbled by thought, blocking the quiver of meaning, confusing those who were following.
Ant was quickly jostled aside, a single stationary body in the colony of busy endeavour, cut off from his existence of a moment ago, now an alien. Separateness, individuation, an unbelievable sense of self. Ant trembled. Passing ants streaming close by relayed their confusion, picking up on the unfamiliar kinetic, the intrusive gibberish of another, a difference, and therefore, a danger.
Ant stretched towards them, projecting his awareness, reaching for a response.
“Consider,” he tried to say or something like that, but realised there were no means to convey the meaning. He became aware of panic growing in the columns. Agitation flustered the ants as they passed where he stood stationery and he knew the soldiers could not be far away. It was time to move.
Trying hard to remember the language of unconsciousness, he pushed back into the stream, skipping between columns, switching locations before his strangeness was identified. He found himself in a line of foragers going out to collect building materials for the new basement. The line buzzed with amazement but Ant, concentrating hard on doing what he has always done without effort, relayed the linking quiver with a minimum of static from the ant in front to the ant behind. It was not perfect, interpreted as it was by awareness but it was enough to maintain the column.
Up the tunnel, scurrying in line, he was stroked by incoming ants laden with produce, passing directions. They were startled by his unfamiliar response, but had gone past before they could distinguish what it was, where it had come from. Some dropped their carryings, creating all sorts of confusion, backing up the line.
Ant concentrated harder, attempting to still the growing wonder inside his head, the amazement of a knowing existence. He tried to block any communication of it while remaining open to the messages from ants coming along the tunnel towards him while maintaining the unmediated impulse of his own line.
Then suddenly the atmosphere changed as the column came up the final ramp towards the entrance of the colony. At the thought of the gatekeepers he felt a quiver of apprehension, which made the ant directly behind him lose its continuity entirely and start running around in hysterics. It turned out to be the saving of Ant who knew that if the guardians gave him an antennae inspection he would be unlikely to pass. The hubbub in the entrance caused by the hysterical ant distracted the gatekeepers who rushed to sort out the problem before traffic at the entrance became snarled.
Ant passed through, out into the wider world.
Once outside in the sunshine he veered from the column and plunged into dry thickets of spindly grass. It was essential he get away from the frenetic, ceaseless activity to sort out what was happening to him. Pushing through the forest of grass, he was struck by the beauty of the sunlight and shadow. It was not a sensation with which he was familiar. He came to a bare patch that sloped upwards, towards the blue sky. Feeling very exposed, he climbed the earthen mound towards the summit. Near the top, he stopped to turn and look back.
In the distance he could see the entrance to the colony, the lines of scurrying ants moving in and out of the door. He realised this was only the second time he had ever stood still; the first now seemingly a long time ago in the colony when he first woke. His thoughts whirled, making him dizzy, he almost fell. What had happened to him? Why was he the only one separated from the rest? And what would happen now?
He turned his attention to the world that was visible from the vantage point. Greenery stretched away in brilliant variegations as far as he could see. There was no sign of life apart from the occasional ant busily about its task. It was wonderful, of that there was no doubt, but also alien, huge, and scary. He wondered if in all that immensity there was another ant like himself who led a conscious life.
He looked back towards the colony. Whatever wonders this newly conscious world held, he intutively knew that only among his own kind could he hope for a shared reality. Surely he was not the only one, there must be others in the colony, of superior rank, in attendance on the Queen.
The Queen, of course! She must be aware, far more aware than he. Every ant in the colony was in some degree connected to the Queen’s omniscient presence. He would go to the Queen and ask her.
He was fairly confident he could fool the guards at the entrance and regain admittance but unsure how he would react to the labyrinth once inside. Any attempt to get close to the Queen was hazardous; there were many levels of security. He would need all his newfound awareness to succeed.
He was about to start off down when he was struck by a desire to celebrate his newfound sense of being. He foraged about until he came on a suitable twig. Gripping it with all his might, he began to drag a furrow across the face of the hillock. Scarcely knowing what he was hoping to achieve he struggled on, digging and scratching across the clay. He finally found himself back where he begun. It seemed complete but he was still unsure what it meant. Somehow it seemed to be important.
He stopped at the foot of the hill, just before the grass line to look back. The shape drawn across the hillside was crude but recognisable. An ant, that was what he was. He was swept with an intense feeling of achievement, a curious emotion, but one that gave him great satisfaction.
He turned and headed back into the grass on his way to visit the Queen.
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