By Andrew Ross
Jared moved his hands to tap its antenna, the ant’s unpronounceable name, to get its attention.
It fixed its eerily expressionless eyes on him as it stood up on its hind legs. The insect’s eyesight was poor, but Jared felt a bit unsettled as the man-sized insect stood before him with its powerful jaws at an arm’s length distance. He knew this pair of ants and they knew him, yet it was kind of creepy. He never knew what they were thinking.
Despite the human need for personal space, those jaws were only a lunge away from removing Jared’s head.
He spoke to the ant, as the student listened. I have a job for you. “Oh?” The ant signaled. “What do you need?” Ants could understand spoken words while being incapable of responding verbally. All they could do was click their jaws in emphasis, but that made humans nervous so they rarely did it. Antenna tapping was how they communicated. Ants were very particular about how they were addressed; humans learned quickly to never call them by a human nickname.
Telling individuals apart was difficult, they had shiny textured black exoskeletons with bumps and sharp hair-like sprouts, L-shaped antenna, and glassy eyes. Some of the elderly two-year-olds had damage which helped, but the newly hatched ones were exactly the same in appearance.
I need a large load of wood moved from the truck to the side of the barn and the wood stacked.
You will be in charge of the project and you will choose the spot for the stacks, and, (hand tapping on antenna,) the student ant being tutored, will organize a crew to get the job done quickly.
“We get paid in the same way as last time?” The new project manager signaled.
Yes, this time. I will have a different means of paying you the next time however.
Jared could smell the pheromones being released between the two and heard their noises, but could not interpret them. The younger ant quickly took off to find help.
The sudden rise of the giant ants after the Great War had caused the humans to react violently at first and the two species had fought to a standstill. Now accommodations and understanding had taken the place of warfare. The two species realized that they each had talents that were useful to the other and so they had learned to cooperate. The ants were disciplined and overnight the battle grounds were always picked clean; the dead ants and humans disappeared. The humans were creative and effective killers and they used technology. But mostly they all wanted to live out their lives in peace.
Still … There were incidents and a human did not like to be isolated in a group of ants and the ants respected the human’s killing abilities when pushed. Still, the ants were much more talented and effective than the robots and it cost far less to hire a small swarm of man-sized creatures.
Speaking of swarms; there they were, and they immediately set to work unloading the flatbed truck and then followed the scent trail laid out by the leader. The full load that would have taken humans hours to unload and stack was finished in 15 minutes. It was an amazing show of efficiency.
The ants gathered up and the leader requested payment from Jared.
Jared hesitated; he didn’t like it, but it was the new world order and it did make sense in its own way.
He said, Grandpa’s body is in the barn.
Andrew C. Ross was born in Toronto, Canada, resided in Santa Barbara County for 56 years, and is currently living in Orcutt. He has one self-published book, two novels in process, and about 27 short stories. Andrew is a member of SLO NightWriters, for writers at all levels in all genres. Find them online at slonightwriters.org.