Carnivores of Darkness and Light: Journeys of the Catechist, Book 1 by Alan Dean Foster

Scouts duly communicated this information to the Queen and her personal attendants and advisers. It was a matter of some interest, but hardly a profound imposition on the daily routine of the colony, until Imit took an interest. I have mentioned Imit the Unique before. A most unusual ant, he had an exceptionally large head, bigger even than a soldier’s but without the soldier’s great scything jaws. Most remarkable of all, he was a drone who did not die subsequent to the annual mating flight.

Yes, I know that sounds impossible, but it is the truth. Anyone in the colony can attest to it. He did not succeed in mating with the chosen Queen, he shed his wings as was normal, but he did not wither and expire. Instead, he was made a special adviser to the Queen, as befitted his truly singular status within the colony. When I was but newly emerged, I myself waited on him in the royal chamber.

It transpired that Imit had a plan, which he proceeded to communicate to the Queen and to her other advisers. As to its efficacy, the most enthusiastic were dubious at best, while those who were skeptical bordered on the contemptuous. But seeing little risk to any but a few expendable workers and Imit himself, the Queen bade him to proceed, in the hopes that where incredulity prevailed, a benevolent destiny might intervene.

So it was that Imit requisitioned a column of workers who loaded themselves down with supplies from the colony’s storage chambers and proceeded southward toward the reclining visitant. It was there that the drone proceeded to embark upon an enterprise so bold, so daring, so un-myrmecological, that those who attended him could scarce believe it. That it was accomplished through the inculcation of the black arts no one could doubt, for it was whispered often and openly that Imit had the command of forces and resources denied even to long-lived Queens.

Without knowing how it was done, all present were able to swear that the thing happened. Somehow, despite the impossible disparity in sizes, Imit succeeded in attracting the attention of the visitant. And not only did he attract it, but a rudimentary form of communication, or at least of mutual understanding, was established. It is, and was, beyond the comprehension of common workers like me and thee, but although I was not present for the momentous happenstance, I was able to talk later with those who were, and they assured me that there was no mistaking what had occurred.

After establishing contact, Imit made obeisance to the visitant, subsequent to which the gifts of sugar carried by the column were presented as offerings. No one was more surprised than the workers who had done the carrying when the visitant responded. Not only responded, but consumed the gifts with apparent enjoyment. When the last of the presents had been handed over, Imit boldly approached the visitant itself, thus demonstrating either remarkable courage or blind stupidity. To this day, not one of those who was present for the encounter is prepared to say which description would be appropriate. Myself, I tend to think a little of both.

Those proximate were able to understand nothing of the exchange that took place, but when it had concluded, Imit related to them all that had transpired, thus explaining both his purpose and his intent. He aimed to enlist the visitant as an ally in the war against the Reds, utilizing not only its immense physicality, so far beyond that of even thousands of ants as not to be believed, but the shock value of its mere presence, to deal our enemies such a blow as they would never recover from. It was a notion as radical as it was daring, beyond the conceiving of anyone but an ant as peculiar as Imit.

Returning to the colony, the details of this incredible encounter were related to the Queen. Though wary and incredulous, she and her advisers were unable to dismiss the reports of both Imit and the workers who had witnessed the historic encounter. Furthermore, the temptation was too great, the opportunity too exceptional to be dismissed out of hand. It was resolved to proceed, but with as much caution as possible.

Imit was authorized to return to the visitant with a much larger gift of sugar, with the promise of at least half the colony’s stores if it would consent to the alliance. Much pleased with himself, Imit set off at the head of a multiple column of workers, carrying the finest, most completely refined sugar the colony could produce. They were escorted on both sides by grim soldiers prepared to give their lives to fend off any attack. The presence of so much sugar was, after all, a temptation not only to enemy ants but to a great many of the forest’s inhabitants.

They reached the rock without incident, the visitant seated thereon becoming visible long before the rock itself. Imit stated later that it appeared bemused, though how he could interpret such an entirely alien expression was and is the subject of much derision. Regardless, the column approached, intending to deliver its presents with as much fanfare and ceremony as Imit could muster. It was only when they began to mount the rock that they found themselves shocked into immobility.

Arrayed on the far side of the outcropping were several brigades of Reds, drawn up in neat columns opposite the visitant’s enormous foot. When Imit and his troop arrived, these representatives of our sworn enemy were in the process of divesting themselves of a great load of processed sugar, which they placed in an ever-growing pile at the foot of the visitant. Directing them in this farcical protocol was a Red ant with a strangely swollen head and oddly deformed antennae.

It seems that the Reds, too, had among them a male anomaly who had mastered the arcane, and who had independently and coincidentally hit upon the same notion of making an ally of the visitant as had Imit.

As for the visitant itself, it clearly made no distinction between Red ant or All-black, and was content and no doubt even delighted to receive free sugar from both of them. Certainly it consumed the sweets offered up to it by the Reds with as much gusto and enthusiasm as it had those presented by us. No doubt the same thoughts were occurring to Imit’s crimson equivalent, for it is reported that he looked every bit as startled as Imit by the unexpected confrontation.

One thing that all who survived can agree upon without dissention is that which happened next. Espying the obtruding Reds, Imit immediately gave the order to attack. Internal commands among the Reds followed at approximately the same time, with the result that the lower portion of the rock was soon engulfed in hostilities. Sugar was forgotten, as was their purpose in going to that place, as old enmities rose to the fore.

The trouble was, that in their haste to attack and dismember their enemies, everyone forgot that the visitant was not merely an available agent of change, but one with a purpose and mind of its own. As All-black and Red alike swarmed over its feet and possessions, the visitant reacted with the energy and fury that each side had hoped to procure for their own. Only instead of displaying an affinity for the members of either colony, the visitant proceeded to look solely and actively after its own intrinsic interests.

Rising not to the height of a tree but exhibiting considerably more mobility, the visitant proceeded to hop about, flailing away with its gigantic upper legs at any ant unlucky enough to come within reach. When it landed, its weight shook the earth and dozens of Reds and All-blacks died beneath its immense feet. It continued to dance about in this manner, indifferent now to the precious, scattered stocks of sugar, intent only on ridding its own colossal form and the rock on which it had been sitting of all intruders regardless of color or allegiance.

Many hundreds died that morning, smashed by huge hands or stomped to death beneath feet each of which weighed more than most of the colony. Only a few on either side survived the carnage and returned to their respective colony to relate what had happened. Imit was among them. You all know what happened to him.

After offering explanations as best he could, and apologizing for stepping beyond the bounds of what an ant ought to do when confronting the rest of the world, he was ordered ritually dismembered by the Queen and her advisers, a task that watching soldiers attended to with considerable enthusiasm. One might suppose that the same fate befell his Red counterpart, assuming that he survived.

As for the visitant, it was observed not long thereafter gathering up its exotic belongings and departing to the north. There followed the Second Battle of the Rock, but this time the objectives were clear to all who participated. Perhaps out of indifference, perhaps as a gesture of contempt, the visitant had left behind the sugar that both sides had offered up as bribe and tribute. No one could say, no one knew, because the only one among the All-blacks who might have been able to find out had been slain by order of the Queen.

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Categories: Alan Dean Foster