I don’t know if this is going to reach anyone.
It took me days to get to the datacenter I’m in now. Fighting through waves of enemies, hoping I had decontaminated well enough through the one-person airlock. It all took so long. But I had to try. There was no guarantee anyone knew what we were up against, and I had to warn someone.
It all started with a simple email that almost got binned by my spam filter.
It had the requisite “LOOK AT THIS!!!” subject line like so many others trying to sell pills or camgirl sessions, the only saving grace is it had a domain I’d white-listed before. This put it on the other side of my filter.
Curious, I opened the email and found a cryptic sentence about some kind of phylum classification and a picture. It seemed to have been taken by a researcher under a electron microscope, it had that alien monochromatic look of small scales blown up to human perception.
The focus was on the abdomen of an insect, with chitinous plates running horizontally to the longer axis of the body. Peering closer, I could see… well, its hard to describe it any other way, but it looked like photographs of circuit boards, etched traces on semi-transparent resin. That greenish depth full of ninety degree turns and soldered pins sticking through.
Pushing back from my desk, I wondered if someone was just playing a practical joke on me. The internet is full of people with spare time and the ability to swirl pixels into any configuration, so I wasn’t about to run a story based on something that could be complete fiction. Looking up the email contact, I punched the number into my handset and leaned back, switching to speaker phone mode.
“PNP Research, how can I help you?”
“Yes, I’m writing a story and I’d like to talk to one of your researchers. His extension is 1193.”
“Certainly, I’ll connect you.”
A few digital tones and some elevator music later, the line picked up.
“Yeah? Who is this?”, he sounded a bit tired and more than just a little wary of outside callers.
“This is Macx, from Technology Daily News. You sent me an email and I’m not sure what to make of it–“
“Look, get off this line. I’ll contact you.”, hanging up the phone abruptly, garbled static crackle capping the exchange.
Oh. That’s interesting. Wonder what he was on about–
The green indicator light on my phone pulsed, showing a incoming text message with a location and time.
Okay, I’ll bite.
“What the hell is this all about?”, I pulled on my coat to shield my neck from the biting wind. We were on the upper deck of a largely abandoned building project, one that I’ve used to meet other contacts before.
“Do you know anything about ants? Specifically, Nylanderia Fulva?”
I wrinkled my brow a bit. I had heard the name before, but wasn’t sure.
“Okay, I’ll spell it out for you. Sorry, used to reading journals all the time, forget that people don’t know the phylum as well.”, he was wearing a cheap windbreaker with a brand-name sports store silk-screened on the front.
I nodded, and moved into the leeward shelter of a nearby column.
“They’re called ‘crazy ants’ or ‘raspberry ants’. They’re an invasive species that have spread throughout most of Texas and beyond. The funny thing about these guys is they seem to like electrical equipment. Anything that has a running wire or circuit boards, transformers and the like.”
I recalled a few stories about that earlier, how prolific they were. You could have mounds of them outside of your house and you’d mistake them for clumps of dirt.
“Anyway, there’s been a bit of cross-pollination from the advanced biology section in research on how to use their abilities to home into electrical currents. We’re not entirely convinced that they’re just influenced by electrical eddy currents. There’s some indication that something more subtle is at work here.”, darting glances at the nearby office buildings, like he was afraid of being caught.
“My team was tasked to gain more insight from an engineering perspective, so we worked with the bio guys to see if we could isolate how they do what they do.”
“Okay, sounds like standard stuff. You try to reverse engineer something in nature and apply it to technology.”, I turned slightly, trying to keep my face out of the wind. I really should’ve suggested to meet somewhere else, it was damned cold.
“Yeah, seemed that way to me too. Until I got those pictures I sent you. Want to know where I got them?”, he was sweating a bit, even though it was freezing outside.
I nodded, and he continued,”They were from a sample population that we staked out in northeast Texas, just outside of New Boston. We hadn’t done anything to them, just set out some bait and let them bite.”
“So, you’re telling me you found a bunch of ants running around that had… wires in them?”
“Yeah, that isn’t the craziest thing either. We dissected a few, and it seems they’ve got some kind of interconnect happening with their exoskeleton that we don’t understand. Anyway, it scared the crap out of me, because I’ve never seen anything alive running around with what amounts to minature circuits inside.”, he backed into the shadows, lowering his voice.
“Thing is, I checked around, you know – just using unofficial channels – and it seems to go all the way to the “dark” labs. Those labs deal with large defense contracts.”, he trailed off into silence, both of us thinking about the implications.
“I’ve said enough, I’ve got to go”, and before I could stop him, he stepped briskly down the stairwell towards the street level exit below.
Damn. I don’t like this.
A few months went by after that, and I couldn’t get that scared look out of my head. He looked like someone who had seen a ghost, and honestly I couldn’t blame him.
I was sitting in the office, late at night.
Only desk lamp on amid rows of open cubicles, boxes piled up at the edges of new things we were going to review before shipping them to the teardown guys, who would meticulously document their repairability and other internal features.
The next item for my review was an expensive diving suit called “The Nemo” among the staff. It was a large composite conveyance that could fit one man. Fitted with the best bells and whistles that a spoiled technologist would expect, including active sonar and a near-surface passive radar system for maximum enjoyment. Small thrusters were on spherical pods attached to the back and sides, to help movement while submerged. I was looking forward to taking it down to the pool for a tryout.
I’ve always had the large LED display panel on the wall on tech news, but sometimes I skipped over to the main cable news channel. It was on now, with the volume down. I hate having to think of something to write when there’s too much babble going on. Taking a sip of soda, I rubbed my eyes, thinking of the introduction to my latest review. That’s when I saw the lower banner stream by on the display, large block capitals that said – “CITIES UNDER SIEGE – IS AMERICA UNDER ATTACK?”
That got my attention.
I turned up the volume, catching the reporter mid-sentence,”–on. Again, if you are anywhere near the cities of.. Dallas, Longview and Texarkana, please do not attempt to use highways, take only what you can carry to the designated emergency shelters shown on the map..”, the report intercut to footage taken from what looked to be a smartphone, streaming video to a popular online sharing service.
There were people, or at least they seemed to be people, crawling along the ground with brown dirt on their backs and legs, shedding clumps that met similar patches on the ground. Looking closer, I saw the leading edge of the dirt start to move towards the person holding the phone. The video went sideways and topsy-turvy. They were running. Running from something. And then, a fall, street lights streaking vertical lines and then the edge of the sidewalk.
Blades of grass were poking out near the lens as the hand next to the phone camera twitched and went still, the brown wave resolving into the antennae of thousands of ants, one pushing its head into the camera lens, mandibles stretched wide to attack. The video cut and went back to the newscaster.
Stunned, I shut the TV off.
I looked at the clock, it was 3:15 am.
I was only five miles from Texarkana. Looking at the Nemo Suit, I hatched a plan.