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Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Microstory 1888: Dead Army of Ants

I once worked in a cave. It was there that companies kept a great deal of their legacy parts and equipment. This was for when they couldn’t sell them, couldn’t reuse them, or just didn’t know how to get rid of them. It was a convenient way to hold onto these things without them clogging up their normal warehouses. Very, very occasionally, one of our clients would send a request for a part to be picked, and it was my job to go do that. It was an entirely different team that stored them on the racks in the first place, but honestly, I don’t know why my specific job existed. Most of the time, I just sat in the office, reading a good book. It was the easiest job I had, comparatively speaking, and I only quit, because I needed to start a family and the pay wasn’t enough to support this goal. It was perfect for me alone, but not me with children. Besides, there were other reasons for me to seriously consider a career. One day, I was finished with the only book I brought with me that day, so I decided to go on a walk. It was surprisingly clean for a cave, and set to a comfortable temperature, unlike what you may be imagining. I ended up in a corner that I didn’t go to very often, because the client who rented out that space didn’t ever need anything. I looked down at my feet and saw an anthill in the crack of the cement. I looked over a little, and saw another. And another, and another. The place was littered with anthills, and rivers of ants traveling between them. I wanted to leave them there, but taking care of the grounds was technically part of the job description, so I had to report it. An exterminator came out to kill everything, but what we learned he didn’t do was clean them up. So those ant rivers were still there, they just weren’t moving. It was an army of dead ants, and seeing their lifeless bodies lying there felt like an appropriate metaphor for life. We were the ants.

They didn’t know that they were going to be wiped out, but they had a concept for death. Or at least they had a concept for failure, or otherwise, they would not have pursued their goals. When the spray came for them, they didn’t scurry into their tunnels, or hold a conference about what to do. They didn’t study the spray, or try to clean it off. They just kept going until they succumbed to the toxin. I guess I don’t know that, I don’t know how fast the spray worked. I just remember it being so surreal, staring at that pile of death. Combined, the ants wouldn’t even make up the mass of a single person, but from their perspective, it was a slaughter. It was genocide. I started thinking about what sorts of things could come for the human race. What kind of proverbial spray could wipe us out? Climate change? Maybe. An asteroid, sure. Then I realized that the spray was a disease, which could probably pretty easily spread from an infected ant to one which had originally escaped the wrath of the nozzle. That could happen to us, godlike exterminator not required. A pathogen could destroy us all, and while doing it, leave everything we created intact. Even our bodies would still be there, littering the streets, and our homes. So I went back to school to ultimately seek a degree in epidemiology, so I could do everything I could to prevent this eventuality. Though it started as a desperate whim, it was the best decision I ever made. It’s where I met my future wife, and an army of colleagues who all wanted the same thing. Once we graduated, we went off to fight against what we believed to be the greatest threat our species faced. Because we didn’t want to not see it coming. We didn’t want to be ants anymore.

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