Thursday, March 02, 2006

A tall story

Robert L. Fielding

  The last load was put on the pile, and the Leaf Army rested.  The Command-ant spoke to his troops.  The Leaf Army rose as one and formed the Transport Module.  Every ant knew its position, and they quickly joined together without the need for further orders.  Particip-ant 2578 linked with Particip-ant 2579, who in turn linked with the next Particip-ant, to support the weight of the Adjut-ants, who supported the weight of Gi-ant 9.  Gi-ant 9 gave the Command-ant the orders for the rest of the hour and the Transport Module began to move.
  The Transport Module moved swiftly over the debris.  Apples had fallen last night, and the Dispers-ants had been unable to move all the wreckage.  Apples always fell at this time in their lives, and always would.  First they grew big, then they fell,sometimes wreaking havoc below.
  At such times as these the Gi-ants encouraged the workers to think only pleas-ant thoughts, but the workers often found it difficult when their dead comrades were lying all around them as they carried out the unpleas-ant work of clearing up after an apple had fallen.  Most of the workers in the bottom layer of the Transport Module carried on without complaining, but Particip-ant 2578 and Particip-ant 2579 grumbled as they worked.  They were both well known throughout the bottom layer as Irrit-ants who asked too many questions, and some even suspected them of being Milit-ants.  Particip-ant 2578 and Particip-ant 2579 both dreamed of the hour when the other Particip-ants would join them and leave the Gi-ants to struggle with their ungainly bodies.  Particip-ant 2578 and Particip-ant 2579 worked hard at their task of seeing their dreams fulfilled, and hoped that they would live to see such an hour.  Every minute now the number of Irrit-ants grew.
  One hour something happened.  A Transport Module met with an accident.  An apple had fallen, and many were killed and injured and the Transport Module fell into disarray.  Eventually it became re-organised but Gi-ant 9 had to be left until replacement Particip-ants could be found to carry the him.  Eighty Particip-ants lay dead or dying, and there were too few remaining to support the weight of Gi-ant 9.  The Gi-ant was angry but there was nothing to be done.  Nobody was to blame.  The apples fell every hour now, it wasn't any ant's fault.  Gi-ant 9 lay on his back helpless.  In his rage he shouted at the Particip-ants to hurry.  The Adjut-ants in their confusion, yelled at the Particip-ants, and they hurried back to the pile to re-group.
  On the way back Particip-ant 2578 and Particip-ant 2579 both realised that something was happening.  Some of the younger Particip-ants, particularly those from the centre of the bottom layer where the work was heaviest, were leaping about, apparently mad with the joy of their new found, if short lived freedom.  They were suddenly freed of the nauseating weight of the upper layers of Adjut-ants and the hated Gi-ant itself.  The weight that had always dulled their senses, was suddenly removed.  Their drudgery was over, for the time being at any rate.  The drudgery that is believed to be inescapable, thought to be part of one's lot in life, and passively accepted, comes to be easier to bear.  
The body and the mind become accustomed to it and it is forgotten, or if it is remembered, one becomes reconciled to it as one's lot.  Unrest comes with the knowledge or the realisation that there might just be an alternative.  Freedom from choice is an underestimated freedom.  The Particip-ants from the centre of the Transport Module, suddenly freed of the upper layers, realised that there was indeed an alternative, and this had an incredible effect.  First they started dancing wildly among the debris.  Then, as they grew breathless from the mad flurry of activity, they sat and talked.  They laughed and joked.  When they had calmed down, the talk became earnest.  It became heady and full of passion.  Particip-ant 2578 and Particip-ant 2579 listened with baited breath.  The talk turned from the new found freedom that they were enjoying to talk of not going back just yet, of prolonging this state of weightlessness a little while longer.  True, there would be recriminations when they eventually returned, but the general feeling was that it would be worth it.  At this point, Particip-ant 2579 was quick to point out that their lot could hardly be worsened.  Their working hour could not be lengthened, their food could not be rationed, for they needed every ounce of it to muster enough energy to carry out their work.  The only punishment that could be inflicted, short of death, was that of having to work in the tunnels below the surface, but since every Particip-ant began his life there, this was hardly a punishment anyway.  Particip-ant 2578 and Particip-ant 2579 looked knowingly at each other.  Both were thinking the same thing, of rebellious workers in the tunnels with the young, inexperienced workers.  It was a possibility which neither had considered before, but but which excited them.  The thought of rebels coming straight from the tunnels, instead of the naive, almost servile novices that presently emerged into the cold light, entered into the minds of both the Milit-ants.  Meanwhile the talk was beginning to flag.  The limited imagination of the other Particip-ants was dulling the flame of conversation.  Particip-ant 2578 and Particip-ant 2579 quickly jolted them with fresh ideas and suggestions.  The Particip-ants were slow to respond.  An expected lifetime of unabaited drudgery made them unwilling to believe that such things could or ever would change.  Particip-ant 2578 realised that something was needed if the original impetus was to be maintained.  He quickly suggested that they should return to where the hated Gi-ant was lying hopelessly stranded and kill him.  He shouted at them.  He ordered them to do it, and being used to taking orders and acting in unison, and without thought or question, they stood up and moved to where the Gi-ant lay.
  One by one the Particip-ants got up.  First, the ones sat at the back started to move, then the movement spread like fire until the whole of what remained of Leaf Army was on its feet, led by Particip-ant 2578 and Particip-ant 2579.
  As they marched forward, for they could not get out of the habit of walking together in lines, the Irrit-ants amongst them started  to hum forbidden songs.  These were songs that every ant knew, but which were rarely sung aloud, although some of the workers hummed them as they went about their work in the centre of the Transport Module.  As the humming spread some of the Particip-ants mouthed the words of the forbidden songs until the Particip-ants became bold in their numbers and started to sing the songs aloud.  The noise grew and grew until the air was filled with the words of the song.
  "Ants can walk.  Ants can sing.  Ants are free."
  They marched into the clearing still singing.  As soon as the Gi-ant realised which songs the Particip-ants were singing he raged and shouted at them.
  "Forbidden, forbidden.  Stop singing.  Singing is forbidden, Stop singing immediately."  The front row stopped quickly, but the Particip-ants at the back kept up the rhythm of the song.  The Gi-ant shouted again.
  "Stop singing.  Songs are forbidden."  The words of the song that the ants were singing became jumbled and incoherent as successive ranks lost the will to sing.  The front ranks started to disintegrate in disarray.  Particip-ant 2578 and Particip-ant 2579 both knew that something had to be done.  Particip-ant 2578 rushed forward and shouted at the Gi-ant.
  "We can sing.  We can all sing."  He turned to his comrades and shouted at them to sing.  The workers started to sing, but were still uncertain whether to obey the Gi-ant or this Particip-ant from the underbelly of the Transport Module.
  "You heard him," shouted Particip-ant 2579, and stood at his comrades side.
  "Sing, sing," he shouted.  The singing grew stronger and more confident.  Suddenly another sound halted the singing.  It was a high pitched whine that seemed to come from somewhere behind the two Irrit-ants.  The Gi-ant was turning away from the rows of workers in front of him, and he was roaring skywards with all his might.  Particip-ant 2578 and Particip-ant 2579 stood dumbstruck.  The crowd of workers were puzzled by this sound that they had never heard before.  They fell silent, their mouths agape, listening to the strange sound coming from above.  
As they stood wondering and staring upwards another sound reached their ears.  This new sound grew and grew in volume until it drowned the bellowing of the Gi-ant.  The new sound had a rhythm and the rhythm grew steadier and louder.  Particip-ant 2578 and Particip-ant 2579 both knew what the new sound was but stood firm, facing the Gi-ant.  The workers were frightened and confused, and started to run about wildly.  Still the new sound grew in volume, and the rhythm intensified until nothing else could be heard.  Some of the Particip-ants fled in terror, while others blinked uncomprehendingly.  The ground shook.  The foliage of the surrounding trees and bushes suddenly parted and revealed rank upon rank of stern faced Combat-ants.  The sound and the shaking stopped, and was replaced by a buzzing noise which came from the tops of the trees above them.  The swarm reached the clearing.  It hovered overhead.  The Gi-ant scraped his way to where the two Irrit-ants stood.  The nearest Particip-ants instinctively withdrew from their comrades'side.  The Irrit-ants were easily identifiable.  The Gi-ant pointed at them.  The swarm fell from the sky in a black cloud, covering Particip-ant 2578 and Particip-ant 2579.
  "Watch, watch," shouted the Gi-ant above the din of the swarm as they devoured the two ants.  The swarm divided.  Some of the bees continued to devour the two ants, while some moved towards the Gi-ant.  The workers retreated in fear.  Gi-ant 9 was surrounded by the swarm.  The workers watched.  Quickly, as if the force of gravity had suddenly been reversed Gi-ant 9 left the ground, supported by the thousands of furry bodied bees.  The buzzing sound that had momentarily ceased, resumed its monotone as Gi-ant 9 was transported away from the clearing.  The Particip-ants, still shocked by what they had witnessed, trudged back to the piles of leaves and their life of drudgery, most of them utterly convinced of the folly of trying to go against the natural order of things.  The Combat-ants, still stern faced, for that was their habitual expression, followed behind in ranks, thankful for not having had to attack their unarmed comrades.  The daily routine of drudgery continued unabaited, with the majority of the Particip-ants being thankful that they need not become involved in the upheaval to life that must necessarily result from an overturning of the normal order of things.  They nodded their heads knowingly and reassured themselves with the comfort that they were acting wisely in doing nothing.  This sagacity was confined mostly to the older element of the Transport Module.  The younger workes secretly nurtured a dream, seldom expressed openly, that the martyrdom of Particip-ant 2578 and Particip-ant 2579 would not be in vain and, that the actions of that hour would be avenged.  The germ of discontent had been sown in the minds of the young, impressionable, idealistic Particip-ants who had not yet fully accepted their role as workhorses.  Every hour now, snatches of songs could be heard, sang in the anonymity of the Transport Module as it went about its irksome task.  These songs had rousing words about freedom, dignity and right.  Seemingly impenetrable cliques were formed, full of stern faced Particip-ants who addressed their comrades vociferously, but who quickly fell silent when one of the Adjut-ants approached.  The rumblings among these young Particip-ants grew stronger daily.  A vague awareness of this discontent reached the Gi-ants ears, and tainted their conversations.  Some of them talked about it with an air of disbelief and indifference, whilst others, taking the rumours more seriously, promised to punish any offending worker who spoke out openly against the status quo.  However, as yet they did nothing, except rely on the daily edicts that were shouted by the Adjut-ants and the Command-ants to the workers of the Transport Module as they worked.
  Those workers that had been most affected by the killing of the two Particip-ants in the clearing, went about their work in the same desultory way, but now, instead of complying obediently with the wishes of the Adjut-ants and the Command-ants, they began to ignore the orders and sometimes quite openly, to go against those in command.  These ants who were somewhat less than obedient, became known in the ranks of the Module as Obstin-ants, and a new word was used to describe the way they behaved.  This word was Obstinance, and those that practised it were quite different from the others, who had been given the diparaging label of Compli-ants living their lives, hour in and hour out in Compliance.  The older, former rebels, that had become either too tired or too old to resist, and who had once earned the name of Resist-ants living their lives in Resistance, became known as Recalcitr-ants and lived and worked in a state of Recalcitrance.  There were some workers who were thought to watch the to-ings and fro-ings of the of the Obstin-ants, and these were euphemistically known as Observ-ants, and were jeered at and called Serv-ants by the others, who in their turn were labelled Miscre-ants by those workers of varying persuasions.  The Adjut-ants and the Command-ants knew of the factions within the Transport Module, but appeared to turn a blind eye to them.  In fact they actively encouraged this factionalism.  It had been mentioned to them that while the Particip-ants continued arguing between themselves, they no longer presented a strong, or indeed a serious threat to the Gi-ants and their Queen.
  The intentions of the Obstin-ants seemed in danger of becoming both reviled by their own kind, as well as vilified by the Gi-ants and their kind.  The Obstin-ants were starting to be known as  Ped-ant, and were ridiculed as Pedantic by the Gi-ants and the Command-ants.  Those who favoured change and those who favoured things staying the way they were, became known as Ped-ants and Obscur-ants respectively, although both terms had come from the mouths of the Gi-ants.  Those who were known as Obscur-ants called the other Particip-ants, Ped-ants, and they in turn called the others Obscur-ants, though perhaps neither group really understood the names by which they had come to be known.  The major trouble with these names was that it seemed impossible to belong to any other grouping once it was seen that you were fraternising with one group or the other.  Workers who were not interested in either group or their thoughts and beliefs, felt in a real dilemma, for although they did not want to side with either, they felt almost duty bound to join either one side or the other.  The Gi-ants did nothing, but were told what was going on by the Observ-ants and their accomplices, the Inform-ants.  The Ped-ants felt strongly as one ant that something had to be done if their cause was not to be considered valueless, with the consequent loss of support from the ants in the rest of Leaf Army.  Within the Ped-ants, a small number formed a sort of elite known as Resolut-ants, and these ants passed Resolutions in which each ant promised to accomplish an act that would further the aims of the Ped-ants.
  Although it was generally agreed at the meetings in the very heart of the Transport Module as it went about its daily work of keeping the clearings clear, that an act such as killing one of the Gi-ants was more or less out of the question for the time being, it was agreed that an act that would disrupt the daily routine of hated drudgery and servile toil would not only be feasible, but very welcome.  Anything that would halt, however momentarily, the work that killed numbers of workers every single hour, would be progress indeed,and may be just the thing needed to increase the numbers of their group within the middle of the Transport Module.
  The question was, what would accomplish that result.  What could they do without getting themselves and their innocent comrades killed and mutillated in the process?  As is always the case in such matters, or at any rate seems to be, there were those hot headed individuals who were all for going forbroke and risking everything in a desperate attempt to be done with the Gi-ants and their Queen for good and all.  There were also those in the group who wanted change right enough, but who were for gradual change rather than cataclysmic change that would destroy more than it created or changed for the better.
  Among these more sensible ants, were the articulate ants who could always be relied upon to win the day where arguments of this sort were concerned.  After much argument, and much manoevring between the members of the bottom layer, the young Irrit-ants decided on a plan of action.  They had decided to disrupt the order of things.  They were going to surprise a few of their old comrades and perhaps bring some of them back into the old groupings of Irrit-ants and Milit-ants.  It was generally agreed that if they could throw the system into chaos, and recruit some new Particip-ants, it would be a good hour indeed, and even something worth celebrating in song.
  There was to be a gathering, and all the Gi-ants, and the Queen herself, were coming together in a clearing, beneath the trees, below the apples.  The big day was near, and the workers, the Leaf Army, under orders from a Gi-ant, had cleared an area big enough to seat the Queen, and her entourage, the Gi-ants, and the favoured ranks of Adjut-ants,Command-ants, and Dispers-ants.  The workers despised these higher ups, and many of them secretly hoped something would go disastrously wrong.  Some even spoke of a plot to make something go wrong, which was being hatched in the lower layers of the Transport Module.  There the work was heaviest, and the discontent strongest.  In the underbody, the ants were not climbers, they had become accustomed to a life of drudgery and pain and suffering, but they had not resigned themselves to it.  They hated every minute of it, and every hour spent at the numbing work fuelled their anger.  Something had to be done to change things.  The lower orders had to come out on top eventually.  It was the law of nature.  It had to be.
  One night, before the big event, hundreds of workers, under cover of darkness, had swarmed up into the trees, and had attacked the stalks which held the apples to the branches.  By doing this, they had in effect, moved nature on a epoch or two.  They had brought forward the time when the apples were due to fall.  The Gi-ants had assured their Queen that the time was safely an epoch away, that no apples would fall to wreak their usual havoc on the Leaf Army, that was the Leaf Army's hazard, which only they had to face.  The Queen was safe.  The time was right. Everything would go as planned on the big day.
  As the day approached, the workers who had been up into the trees, constantly glanced upwards at their handiwork, wondering if what they had planned would work.  It was planned for a gang of workers, the fittest and the strongest, to go up into the trees the night before the big event, in readiness for the arrival of the Queen and the hated Gi-ants.  Then, when the Queen and her entourage, hangers on they were called by the workers, when the hangers on arrived, the workers up in the trees would attack what was left of the apple stalks, and down would come the apples, wreaking devastation on those below.
  The Queen was magnificent.  Even if you hated her, as most of the workers did, you still had to concede that she was magnificent, and her majesty, and her magnificence, and the grandeur and the ceremony all contributed to a feeling that life was great, everything was good, it couldn't be better.  The obedient workers among the onlookers, and that was most of them, saw the Queen and her entourage, and got a lump in their throats, swallowed hard, and hoped that the plan would fail.  Nothing was said, no opinions expressed, but in the heady air of the event, each worker had the same thoughts.  Of course, the Milit-ants, the Irrit-ants, and all the other discontented workers among the onlookers, had anticipated the jingoistic nature of the day, and had prepared themselves.  They had quickly gone around the crowd of workers, and handed out song sheets, with orders that the songs be sung at a signal given by one of their number. The individual workers had very little will power, and none of them could resist the entreaties of the bolder workers who had organised and planned for this day.  As the Queen, surrounded by her party of Gi-ants, the hated hangers on, a signal was given to those above, gnawing at the stalks in the branches above, and the apples fell.  
The first one to fall landed in the middle of a crowd of workers, and scores were killed and maimed.  The second, third, fourth, and fifth, however, made their mark.
  The Queen was dead, and the funny thing was that no ant said,Long live the Queen.  The Gi-ants were in total dissaray, and could not prevent the disaster from escalating.  Hundreds, perhaps thousands of workers had seen the Queen die, and now the Gi-ants were dying right in front of them.  It was over, no interregnum, no status quo, everything was done,and the sound of forbidden songs filled the air in a glorious litany to a new beginning.  Every ant felt special, that they had had a hand in the overthrow of the tyranny which had enslaved generations of ants.  If every ant was blissful to be  alive, the young were in heaven.  The old names were banned.  No more Irrit-ants, no more Milit-ants, Dispers-ants, Particip-ants, Combat-ants, Command-ants, Compli-ants, Recalcitr-ants, Obstin-ants, Ped-ants, Resolut-ants, Observ-ants, and above all, no more Gi-ants and no more Queen.  A new word was coined that day, a word that summed everything up in a nutshell.  That word was Antidisestablishmentarianism, and that word meant the whole world.  It meant no more being trampled underfoot, no more antidemocratic organising.  It put the word 'ant' first.  It meant that ants could walk, ants could sing, and it meant that ants were free.



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