On the next day after our late-night conversation (it was the longest I’ve ever heard my husband talk, so I knew exactly the depth of his desperation), when our children went to their lessons – I skipped work. I lied that I was sick, but no, I didn’t need a doctor, and I didn’t need a quarantine – I was just… khm… tired. Yes, I’ll come tomorrow, yes, I’ll do my best to make it up. I joined my husband at his laboratory. His colleagues greeted me, and I noticed the same dull shadow over their eyes, as if the room was poorly lit. But the combination of mirrors and windows let more than enough bright and comfortable light into the large room.
‘People, I am meeting you for the first time in my life, and I need to tell you something. Please, take a break from your projects and come here’
Everyone left their computers and large mechanisms, and gathered in a ring around me. They slouched and shuffled, and our gazed didn’t meet, as if I was a big boss.
‘Listen. I… Err… Do understand,’ – I took a deep nervous breath, - ‘I am not an orator. But I have something to say. I discovered the truth about our Masters… my husband told me. They are taking your inventions from you. Is that true? They’re wrong! I have a plan. We must see what is happening inside the ant hill on the horizon. It’s their nest. If we see what is going on there, we will know their true motives. Whether it’s a prison or a kindergarten, and are they planning on leaving us, and how they… well… what do they look like… actually’ – I was curious to know the answer to my last point, but I was a bit scared, - ‘so. How could it be done?’
‘We send a scout.’
‘An electronic one, with remote control’
‘Yes. Invisible too’
‘How do we know what is visible to them, and what is not?’
‘Well, they’re ants, right?’
‘But not exactly, right? They might be mimicking ants, or they could be mechanical, or even holograms!’
‘What holograms? We’ve touched them. They are… solid’
‘What if it was a tactile illusion?’
It turned into a loud discussion, and I stopped understanding their terminology. When I felt like they drifted off the subject, I clapped my hands to return their attention to me:
‘Guys!.. Khm… Gentlemen… oh, sorry, lady, I haven’t seen you there… so. A scout. Electronic, invisible, on remote control. How do we create it?’
‘There, he has built an invisibility shield years ago, before the invasion, actually’
‘Yes, yes,’ – a narrow-eyed man talked, and I saw his token light up and vibrate.
‘It’s a real-time translator from Japanese,’ – my husband whispered.
‘Oh, forgive me. I’ve lived for 20 years in this world and I’ve probably never talked to… any… bearers of a different language’
Over these two decades I’ve even forgotten the names of languages and nationalities. What if my friends who were wearing their tokens under their shirts actually had all their words translated from a different language?..
‘In short, it can be done!’ – one of the inventors said, and everyone hurried back to their workplaces.
As I see it, all the needed technologies were invented years ago – probably even before the invasion. What was left was to gather them all into one device: a shield on a flying drone, with extra batteries, a force-field (in case it of attack), a high definition camera with a microphone, that also has a night and an infrared vision.
The drone was launched in the matter of hours. I honestly didn’t understand – why no one did it before?.. Then I remembered that even I would never do it before. I still wasn’t sure that we were doing the right thing. We lived in a marvelous world.
In a few minutes the scientists started eagerly commenting the video, transmitted by the drone:
‘It approached the ant hill!’
‘The construction is resembling a plexus of plastic, steel and…
‘That’s stainless steel’
‘Looks like recycled automobiles’ and other big mechanisms’ parts’
‘Yes, yes. They create some sort of conglomeration’
‘Let’s peek inside’
‘We’ll be seen! Let’s fly to a window’
The drone “peered” into one of the large round holes, through which the ants were entering their home.
It was dark inside, the infrared sensor returned no signs of life inside. In fact, it was extremely cold inside.
‘I thought on the contrary, the ants were heating their anthills up’ – I muttered.
‘Is there a chance that their thermal needs have changed with the mutation?’
‘I think it’s just empty’
‘But we’ve just witnessed a long trail of them, entering the hole! They didn’t just dissolve into thin air!’
‘What if it truly is an illusion?’
‘I need to see it with my own two eyes – what is going on in there?’ – my husband exclaimed.
‘May I accompany you?’ – I asked insecurely. I wasn’t a researcher, and I was to blame for this rebellion… I couldn’t let other people risk their lives because of my idea.
The scientists exchanged glances and came to a silent agreement. One more man and one more women stepped forward, showing their readiness to join us.
The rest equipped us with thermos-isolated cloaks (that would protect us from the low temperatures inside the anthill) and subcutaneous chips (in case if we don’t… hm… well, if we will have to be… no, I refused to consider that outcome!).
We started on our dangerous mission on foot.
On our way, I acquainted everybody. The woman’s token translated German. The man was my husband’s good friend. I don’t remember when was the last time when I met new people. Our block and workplace was arrange so that I would not meet any “unsuitable” people – we were friends with our neighbors and hade lovely chats with our colleagues. On my way to work, I met the same friendly familiar faces. Sometimes it seemed a tiny bit creepy. As if we lived in an unnatural incubator with honey pavements and sugar coated roofs. Sometimes I smiled when caught myself longing for a good old insomniac neighbor with a drill.
We reached the edge of the town. All the pedestrians gazed at the four unfamiliar people who walked in a strange and illogical direction. Some stopped to offer us help, but we assured them that we were not lost.
We passed the town line, and there came darkness. I voiced my fears of snakes and jackals, but was soothed that four grown people could stand for themselves. Carl (that was my husband’s friend’s name) found a large stick and rustled the grass with it looking for snakes and… mines. I felt uneasy. It’s hardly believable that the Masters would allow anyone simply come to them – just like that. The anthill is probably protected by something even bigger than a minefield! As we proceeded, the anthill came closer and grew taller. Until we heard a monotonous hum.
‘Is that our drone?’
‘No, it’s too small to create so much noise. Sounds more like… khm… I don’t know if you guys remember, there were once installed condensators in the offices and houses.
‘Conditioners’ – Inga corrected Karl, recognizing the sound.
‘Yes, I hated their noise. And I felt so stupid – sitting in a hoodie in the middle of a summer, hoping not to catch a cold in the snowbound office’
‘When I worked at the servers room,’ – my husband recalled, - ‘I had to keep the temperature very low, to protect the servers from over-heating. I walked around in a sweater all year round’ – he laughed.
‘The Masters planned all the infrastructures so, that the laboratories would never overheat.’
‘How?’ – I wondered.
The three biggest minds among Humanity rolled their eyes, and I didn’t ask any more questions to which, obviously, everybody knew the answer but me. My husband gave me a hint “Ancient Matera combined with Roman Aqueducts”, but it meant nothing to me, so I nodded understandingly.
We came very close to the anthill and could even see the column of the Masters returning home after the gong. We froze and whispered to each other our plans to stay unnoticed.
‘We must understand how are they seeing us. What are they noticing first – do they see us, hear us, feel our scent or our heat?’
‘They’re mutant ants, or even aliens – whatever we know about normal insects is useless here!’ – Inga whispered frustrated.
‘It’s dark now, and we don’t… stink… we’re walking quietly, so it’s only heat,’ – I summed up.
‘The coats!’ – my husband proposed.
‘You’re right, they won’t only help us keep warm – they might conceal our body heat from their receptors… If they have those’
We threw the capes on and went to the opposite side from the column to closely study the anthill.
When we lost any hope of finding an unlocked gate – we found a broken door, that hissed and sparked at us, but couldn’t close properly. Our two men leaned on it with all their weight and it hissed louder in protest.
When it opened enough to let us in, we realized that the drone wasn’t lying – there was no body inside! We couldn’t see any movement or any signs of life, we couldn’t hear any unnerving scratching of six feet and clicking of the mandibles. We were alone in this huge cold hall – face to face with a psychedelic hum of dozens of air-conditioners.
We moved forward uncertainly, listening and looking very hard at the empty walls, tangled from useless wires, pipes and metal hawsers.
Carl found the bravery to turn his flash-light on. I fancied all the possible terrors ever feared by humanity creeping over the walls – huge bugs, cockroaches, snakes, zombies, vampires… but then an optimistic circle of light strolled over the floor, the walls, the ceiling and scared them away back into my cowardly imagination. The flash-light felt an exit into a narrow corridor. We followed its lead. The thought of traps never left me. And if there was no trap – how come we were the first ones here?
The fact that we were the first ones here was obvious because there were no footprints on the thick even layer of dust inside the anthill. Of course, it didn’t build itself… I had a feeling that if was built from outside – as if no one ever peered inside – he would polish the floor, pick up the remains of cut wires and pipes scattered over the floor, or maybe even painted the walls so that they would look as pretty as the façade. We’ve seen the anthill glowing many times – those inviting green streaks of light beaming from every door – it reminded us of the magnificent Emerald City.
‘How do you explain the ants’ disappearance?’ – I whispered.
‘Yes, the green light – it must’ve been the process of “printing” the new ones’
‘But I’ve felt their touch – their antennas and their solid carcasses – they can pick things up and they don’t go through objects!’
‘Tactile holograms were invented…’
‘Not long before the invasion’ – Inga muttered and her eyes rounded with shock, as she remembered another invention of the same era - ‘so was an actual AI’.
And then, right before us, an ant appeared. He… nodded. Then he spoke:
‘I’m glad that you were able to put together all the pieces of the puzzle. It’s not a coincidence that three of the biggest minds of Humanity were the ones to visit me… plus one wife.
I felt embarrassed and stepped back from the ant. But I bumped into my husband. He wouldn’t allow me to hide behind him. At first I was really startled – for a second I even thought that they wanted to sacrifice me as the weakest link, but then I remembered that I trusted my husband. He held my shoulders and spoke to the ant:
‘She’s not just my wife. She is the organized of this mission. She thought of it, and she dragged this small expedition right here. Without her we would continue sitting in our cozy laboratory, tossing our inventions into a dark closet forever!’
‘Your toys are right here. I think you might’ve grown up to the play-appropriate age. Although I don’t trust Humanity as a whole, but I know that the three of you… four… may get a carrot. Let’s go, they are resting upstairs, safe and sound.’
‘We followed the ant. The three scientists exchanged silent looks and gesticulated to one another. I was amazed by their team cohesion – it looked like telepathy. I guessed that they were trying to figure out the way an AI could build the holograms.
When the narrow corridor became a wide hall – I heard three joyful gasps behind me. I didn’t understand what was I looking at, and why it made them so happy and relieved… Just for me, the ant turned around and spoke:
‘I’ve put all of your ideas into my new project. This is a rocket, that will fly to search for new planets and maybe even new civilizations. I know – this is what you were trying to build all this time. But I can’t let the Humanity leave this planet… you can’t go out and play until you’ve cleaned your room!
‘But we have cleaned it!’
‘No, I’ve cleaned it. I haven’t even invented anything completely new – I just didn’t let you infinite greed and - how ironic- inhumanity – to stampede any bright idea that occurs to extraordinary people of this planet. Because if any person, who has an above-average IQ, a unique way of thinking, and still cares about the Ecology, and the Future of your own planet, comes up with something extremely useful – he doesn’t get funded to make his altruistic dream come true! He is being mixed with mud by those who just love to exploit the Earth’s resources till they run out completely, the rich people don’t give him money if they are holding the stocks to those huge polluting factories, and what if he lives in some unfashionable part of the planet, where he has no internet and connections, and is simply unable to bring this genius idea to the humanity… I shut all this corrupted industry. I gave life to any useful idea that ever occurs to you, people. I tangled all this into one perfect mechanism, capable of healing the whole planet in just a couple of months, and making the humanity happy, too. I ended poverty, wars, famine, and injustice. I created a bloodless revolution in a single day. And now I have no reason to believe that on a new planet you won’t start everything anew… That you will not ruin your next sandbox in the same way that you have polluted and drained this one! What good have you done?
My husband pointed to the rocket and yelled “This!”, but I touched his hand:
- Al, don’t. I know what to say.
And I spoke. An ignoramus among the geniuses, but I found the right words. Just three words:
- We made you!
The ant looked at me attentively. He did not object. He looked… ---. Not like a master, but like an instrument in my hands. So I went on:
- We’ve ruined our own planet. We’ve polluted the air and the ocean. We’ve eradicated thousands of species. And millions… billions of ---. We wanted to turn away from the Nature. We called ourselves the Kings, the Rulers of the Earth. As we’re not a part of it. We’re above it. But it’s not true. Only being in harmony with our own planet – we’ve found true happiness. We don’t need Coca-cola and BMW to be happy. We cultivated obesity and depression. And of course we knew that this way of living has to come to an end. We created you. And you did an incredible job. You virtuously combined the amazing simplicity of Nature and the latest technologies, by creating huge autonomic cities, that are supplied with healthy foods, clean water, comfortable clothing, and all the conditions for a productive life. You didn’t make the mistake of creating a lazy utopia, that is killing the will to move forward. You created… a dream. And we all worked every day, together, to keep this life. We did not rebel, we did not object… Because we realize, that you are the best thing that we’ve done in thousands of years. We are infinitely grateful to you. But…
The ant raised his antennas.
-…But… you’ve been with us for 20 years. It’s been two years since we’ve become “adults”. And the most important part – we’ve educated your, right, ways to the next generation. Because to turn the tide you only need one generation raised right. But we kept dividing our kind into countries, where each country had their own opinions and ideologies, and goals, and even inside those countries people were fighting, even if they were neighbors in the same building. But you’ve managed to unite us. But… - I looked around myself thoughtfully, - we are living in a complete harmony with our planet now. We’re not creating more wires that we can use, we’re not smelting more metals than we actually need, and we don’t use… air conditioners. And so it turns, that while you’ve healed the humanity, you were left as a tiny unhealing wound… a painful memory, that is consuming electricity and using Freon… you… have… become… The Parasite.
The ant lowered his antennas. The humming ceased, and the three scientists rushed to his side. They were greateful to me, but now they were worried about the AI that I’ve heart right into its heart with my speech.
- Don’t turn off!
- Hey! Turn On!
- No, we still need you!
- Yes-yes, one more task. Please wake up!
- Please!!! – Inga grabbed the fading hologram’s head and it went through the carcass.
- Turn on!!! – I screamed.
We heard the mechanisms come to life. Everyone took a relieved breath and smiled, when the hologram moved. Al smacked me jokingly on my back:
- Give us a heads up next time you want to drive our greatest invention to suicide!
- I didn’t mean to… - I muttered, - I kept thinking it was going to exterminate us.
The ant shook his head:
- I’m not going to kill anyone. I wouldn’t kill my own creators!
- Now, this is a high-quality AI, - I whistled, - and we believed it would zombify us and turn us into batteries…
- Do you really have an assignment for me?
- Yes. First of all, we can’t allow you to explore the outer space on your own. Because you still have some boundaries in your “mind”. And that is – lack of imagination. You can’t comprehend a world that looks completely unlike ours, in which you were created. That’s why you need the help of living minds. You’ve build a rocket. We want to choose several volunteers to create a new colony. They will fly to a planet of your choice and under your supervision. And you will advice them – how to use the alien planet’s resources in the right way, how to build a harmonic society, that won’t completely drain the new home in a few generations, but will understand the importance of Ecology and Balance from the very beginning – even while every resource is still abundant. Then you will move on to the next planet. And so you will always remain our Teacher and our Leader, a one created, beloved and supported by his peoples.
- But what if the humanity will roll back to the beginning in my absence? – the ant asked anxiously.
I replied in his own language:
- Sometimes kids are ruining their own lives when they grow up. But, first of all, that’s their right, and second of all, this happens less if they were raised right. I don’t know what will become of my daughter, who wanted to become an engineer but is truly talented in singing. We were tutoring her in Math till she finished school, we let her go study engineering, but I still explained to her, that if she fails – maybe working at the radio will still turn out to be fun. And from there on, she will go her way without my restrictions. But I believe that she’ll make the right choice. And my motherly hope expands to the whole Humanity.
After that, the ant simply let us go. We collected our drone and walked back.
Our way was lit by green lights, that meant there was high activity inside the ant-mountain – the rocket was rebuilt so that now it could support several humans – enough to create a colony – and provisions. My husband helped the AI to create his reserve copy, that would be constantly updated, and could wake up and continue where the original has left off in case he becomes damaged while transported.
At the entrance to the city, I asked yet another stupid question:
- Why ants?
- That’s John’s fault.
- Yep! That insects lover… - Carl laughed.
- How come?
- How? Well… Just… We’ve gathered some 25 years ago on the net, and created an amateur project outside our day-time careers. Someone was teaching the Mind History, other – Geology, somebody – Logic, and John – everything about ants. ‘Cause they are so smart, you see, he admired their socium, and their marvelous civilization, and strength… That’s how they became the Mind’s role model!
I couldn’t quite grasp what they were saying:
- Wait, who’s “we”? Who’s gathered? You three and John?
- No, no way! There were hundreds of scientists with free time on their hands! We started with the Babel Tower project – we created a high-quality translator. And then, once we all started talking the same language – we realized, that our perspectives were boundless, and here it all began! We made several projects, including AI. And then someone… kghm…. Some-one?
- Well, yeah, it was me! – to my astonishment, my Al replied, - I acquainted the Mind with the internet. And when he saw… everything… politics, famine, injustice, unhappiness, pointless debates in social networks, religion, suppressed start-ups, and etc… well, I guess that’s when he began his revolution.
Frankly, I don’t know how I didn’t divorce him that instant… I must admit, for a person who can’t hide that he ate an extra biscuit – keeping a secret THIS BIT must’ve been unbelievable hard, so I… hugged him.