30 Stories in 30 Days #14 – “Talking With Ants”
Talking With Ants
With the arrival of warmer weather, the end of the school year, and the fact that the grades were already in the system, the attendance in Jason Cole’s senior class had plummeted. Today, only three students had showed up. There was Andrea Winters, the class salutatorian who hadn’t missed a day in five years, and her boyfriend Chris Chamberlain who never left her shadow. The third was Patricia Wasser, the class misfit, who was probably the smartest one in the class, but who never put in effort to do well in school.
“What movie do you have for us today, Mister Cole?” Chris asked. In the past two days he had showed them All Quiet on the Western Front because it was a fantastic movie, and also most kids ran away from black and white movies.
“I was thinking of doing something a little different today,” Jason replied. He pulled an empty desk around and sat down facing the three. “I know the three of you are probably tired of school and looking forward to a break from having to learn stuff, but I’m a teacher. I went into this hoping to open up your fertile minds to new ideas, not just teach you what you need to know to pass the standardized tests. But since all the testing is done, I thought we could just … talk about stuff.”
“What sort of stuff?” Patricia asked.
“I figured we’d start with something big. It’s something that I have a hard time wrapping my head around, and I was just curious to see what you would make of it. Basically, I figure there is a very good chance that there are aliens out there, somewhere. Before you ask, I don’t believe they’re already here mutilating cows or anything. I just believe they exist. And there is also a very good change that they are … a billion years ahead of us. What I have a problem wrapping my head around is, would it even be possible for us to communicate with them?”
Patricia answered by asking, “Why would they want to communicate with us? They would be farther above us than we are above ants.”
“But there are people who study ants,” Andrea pointed out. She drummed her fingers on her desk. “I think I read that word when I was study for my SATs. I think it’s mymecology, or something.”
“They study ants,” Patricia replied, “but do they try to communicate with them?”
“I think it was years ago,” Chris said, “probably in Eighth Grade Biology with Mrs. Apoian, she showed us some show about the jungles, and I don’t remember if it’s all ants or just this one species, but they have like these scouts that lay down a trail of pheromones, and all the other ants just follow it. And the narrator said something like, if you put a trail of pheromones in a circle, these ants would just follow it until they died. I remember that, because I think that’s … cool, in a weird way. Like, I’d almost like to watch that.”
Jason chuckled. “I guess that’s a little less psychopathic than using a magnifying glass. But do you think these – hypothetical – aliens would play similar pranks on us?”
“What would be the equivalent to making us going in circles?” Andrea asked.
Patricia shrugged. “Watching reality TV.”
All of them laughed.
“I always thought,” Jason said, “those reality shows were a step backward, not going in circles. But I see your point.”
“If these aliens are super advanced, then they could do whatever they wanted to do,” Chris pointed out. “I mean, they wouldn’t have the Force, but they could, like, beam the electrical signals to your brain so you would do whatever they wanted you to do.”
“But would that be communication?” Andrea asked.
“Well, they could probably read our thoughts and learn our languages, then beam the answers back to us,” Chris answered.
“Okay,” Andrea said, “but the question is would they still want to talk to … ants?”
“The Once and Future King,” Patricia said.
“I was just going to say that,” Jason added.
Andrea looked back and forth between the two, then said, “I’ve heard of it, haven’t read it though.”
“It’s about King Arthur,” Jason explained. “When he was a kid, Merlin changed him into various animals: a fish, a bird of some sort, and an ant. With each change he learned something, a different way of looking at things. As an ant, Arthur was exposed to this mindless obedience to authority.” He was silent for a moment, then continued, “I rather like the idea of these super powerful aliens transforming themselves into humans to learn humility.” Glancing at the three of them, he asked, “So are any of you aliens?”
Andrea and Chris both laughed, but Patricia slowly raised her hand.
The laughter died away as the three turned to look at her. “Don’t worry,” she said, “I’ll just wipe your memories of this later.” She then smiled.