With my delivery done I head back to the nest to await the looming emergence of my finest creations.
These ants could change many things. For one it would be nice to have more options for conversation. Vibrant talks, probably too much for my comfort, and mother has many responsibilities, not to mention many children, so I can't exactly monopolise her time, in good conscience.
Tiny and Crinis aren't the best conversationalists either. Tiny barely has the brain capacity to speak and Crinis has a few hang ups that make talking to her, somewhat difficult. Perhaps if I ever work out a way to free them for their pet status they might be a little more engaged, and not quite so respectful.
Obviously having a decent chat isn't the reason why I embarked on this project. I wanted to fill the colony with smarter, deadlier workers. Ants with the capacity to reason, to communicate, to think cooperatively and most of all, to fight strategically and tactically. No more suicidal charges, no more throwing their lives away. Instead, teamwork, some self-preservation instinct, planning and loss minimisation.
An ant colony that is capable of all the tactical thinking of a nation. That is what I wanted. And now, here I stand, on the dawn of a glorious new ant era!
My new siblings will soon be born and I'm willing to bet this world has never seen anything quite like them. Smart monsters exist, sure, but not like this. Ants are different, ants are special. They cover the earth, the combined mass of ants is estimated to be the same that of humans, assuming one million ants weighs the same as one person. That's seven quadrillion ants. On Earth, ants were tiny little insects, unable to increase too much in size as their bodies are unable to support that kind of mass.
Here on Pangera? This world has magic and all sorts of crazy stuff. Ants the size of large dogs? Sure why not? What if we get seven quadrillion ants the size of large dogs? What if we get that many and all of them are as intelligent as a human?
We'd be unstoppable!
I have to admit though, as I crawl into the nesting chamber where the twenty pupae are resting against the wall, tended to by a small team of workers, that I also have some worries. Fundamentally, what makes an ant colony so successful is the cooperation between each individual member, to the point where the colony can be considered one creature, each ant a single cell of something greater than itself.
Where humanity on earth is riven by strife, within nations, within cities and within families, an ant colony is unified, singular in mind and purpose.
By elevating their intelligence to that of a human, have I introduced those chaotic impulses? Will the new workers exercise free will? Tearing the colony apart from within?
Once I give space to doubts they begin to scale out of control. Will there be civil war? Will ant fight against ant within the colony, pitting sibling against sibling? Will a tearful Queen be forced to put down an uprising of her own children?
That would be horrific!
It isn't as if I HAD to cooperate with the colony. I, as a human reborn as monster, could have chosen to do whatever I wanted. I decided to embrace the colony, to support and help it, to depend on it and thrive alongside it. Someone else might have chosen differently. Perhaps they would instead feast on the colony, killing workers who wouldn't fight back, harvesting them for experience and Biomass, growing fat on their supposed family before moving on in the Dungeon as an independent monster, leaving behind a destroyed colony in their wake.
Is that the kind of thing we'll have to deal with now? Selfish ants? Who ever heard of selfish ants?! Such a thing doesn't even make sense! It's not a concept that should exist in this world or any other. It goes against the very nature of ant kind! Ants are selfless! I mean, they are also mostly brainless, but that's beside the point!
My mind is filled with the tragic image of my siblings ripping each other apart in the tunnels of our nest over a stupid and petty justification. Will the unity of the colony be destroyed by the new generation?
Have I undone the very fabric of ant society with my evil experimentation?!
WHAT HAVE I DONE?!
I heard something.
I'm sure that I heard it. It was the pupae!
I rush closer to the cocoons, pushing my way amongst the suddenly buzzing workers. Yes! There is sound coming from within.
They're breaking out!
The newly formed ants within are starting to break out of their cocoons and the workers on the outside move to assist, peeling away the layers with their mandibles and helping to free the emerging workers.
Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy, oh boy.
I'm excited, but also nervous! Making intelligent ants, was it a mistake? Will this be a moment of triumph? Or of failure?
It's too late for regret now, the fruits of my labour are being released into the world before my very eyes!
I almost feel like a mad scientist watching his creation come to life. I played with these ants when they were grubs but it's often hard to put them together in my mind as the same creatures. Looking at the vague shapes pushing against the inside of their cocoons, I feel as if I'm seeing them for the first time.
My heart is pounding within my chest. I'm light headed. I need to breathe. In, out, in, out. Relax Anthony, its fine. You've either elevated your colony to the peak of the world or doomed them to collapse is savage internal strife that pits sibling against sibling.
So no stress.
MAH GAWD I CAN'T TAKE IT!
The workers swarm over the pupae now, cutting into the fibres of the cocoons and tearing them open, gradually the still soft and pale workers within are being revealed. They are smaller than normal hatchlings. Hatchlings were already quite small but these are noticeably smaller. I had to sacrifice a lot to get their Cunning and Will stats up and their bodies are even weaker than mine was when I was born on this world.
That'll change once they start to evolve though. The early part of their lives will be tougher, sure, but the payoff will be there after a few evolutions and they start to specialise.
The other thing I gave them is a fully developed Language Pheromone Gland. These little workers are able to talk the moment they are born. I wonder what they'll say? A declaration of war against the Queen?!
Surely too soon for that.
Perhaps they'll declare their independence? Will they complain? Protest? Will the anguished cries from their very souls will resound throughout the chamber any moment?
Just how much of their nature is inherently ant? How much of it depends on the mind they are born with? This is a whole lot of questions I should have answered before I embarked on this project…
I have a deep seated fear that these ants are going to do something one day that I'm going to regret.
Oh! That one is almost free!
So is that one!
The workers make faster progress as the outer layers peel away and the ants inside start to be able to move more, their new bodies stiff and unresponsive. Soon the cocoons are torn open and the twenty members of the new generation are lying on the chamber floor, slowly becoming accustomed to their new forms.
I watch apprehensively. I've worked myself up too much, I don't know what to expect.
Then one of them speaks.
"M… mah…. My death."
You want to die already?! Are you like Frankenstein's monster?! Do you yearn to be free of your tormented existence?!
The worker in question wiggles its limbs more vigorously, growing in strength with each passing moment.
It speaks again.
"My death…. For… the colony!"
Then another speaks.
"My … life… for … the colony!"
"My …. Existence…. for the colony!"
As the workers gradually put their feet under themselves and stand, they all begin to cry out, their voices weak at first but growing stronger each second.
"I will give my life in the service of the Colony!"
"For the Queen I shall die!"
"I will be the first to sacrifice myself my the glory of the colony!"
"I will be the one to throw myself upon our enemies, letting myself be torn apart for the colony!"
"For the colony!"
"For the colony!"
"FOR THE COLONY!"
The small ants begin roaring as one, the fervour in their voices matching the burning fire in their eyes. I've seen it before, this passionate heat that seems to radiate out of them, filling the air of the chamber. I've seen it in the eyes of my sibling, the workers, as they throw themselves into battle.
Now I can hear what it was they were thinking.
The new generation might have the intelligence of people, but they are ants through and through.