We Are Not a Colony of Ants

One by one, she watched the dark lines wriggle up and down, to and from the tunnel entrance in the center. Following foot to feeler, ant after ant after ant wrapped in random yet neat patterns like a spirograph inside the tiny formicarium. She watched for another minute, breathing evenly, and thinking about what life meant to the tiny creepy crawlers.

“Dad?”

“Yes, Adala.”

“Do ants go into stasis the same as us?”

“Ants are insects. They aren’t warm-blooded mammals like us, so it’s different.”

Adala poised her finger to tap on the plastic frame of the ants’ home but restrained herself. She and her father were in the Nark (Noah’s Ark) part of the ship, making final checks on the animals already in stasis. There was something eerie about the sleeping food chain all next to each other unmoving.

“They don’t have blood, right?”

“They sort of do. It’s called hemolymph.”

“And the hemo… hemo-limp-ff. It means they don’t hibernate?”

“No, Adala. Or not the same way a bear does,” her father flicked at the screen he was using against the back wall. She knew he was tallying sperm and egg counts in the other sleeping animals. He did it every day. She wondered if he would tally sperm and egg counts in his dreams while in stasis too.

“Safety checks complete. Booster system initializing.” The computerized voice of the ship broadcasted. Her mother was at the helm, readying their final punch before they all went into stasis. Everyone was doing their part to get ready.

Finishing his report, he came to stand next to her at the formicarium. “They go into a natural stasis called diapause. They usually do that when it’s too cold to move and they shut down. Some insects even freeze their bodies.”

“And when it’s warm again they know to wake up?”

“Yes. Even years later,” he squeezed her shoulders with his big hands, but it didn’t make her feel better. The ants’ bodies were prepared for this. She wasn’t.

They stood in silence a bit longer, her triangle frame with broad shoulders was more than a foot shorter than her pale father. They both had shaved heads, and in their matching jumpsuits, socked feet, and big noses, their height was almost the only difference between them. Together they watched one of the ant trails bend around a tiny dirt mound and straighten again. She was jealous of how fast they could move, in their tiny world of dirt.

“It’s almost time. Want to go gather your sister?” She nodded in agreement, taking her father’s hand, and letting him lead her out of the room. Her older sister, Colleen, was working in the seed vault, down two levels. Adala and her father took the long way. Adala was glad because she wanted to use her legs as much as she could while she could still move them.

“Booster system checks complete. Final telemetry alignment initiated.” The update announcement from the ship was flat and factual.

“Are you still nervous?” Her father could always read her feelings, even if she didn’t want to admit it aloud. “Because you’re gripping my hand pretty tight.”

Reactively, Adala dropped her hand from his and held it herself instead. Wringing her hands, she nodded at her feet still moving. She didn’t like the idea of going into stasis and waking up in a different place and a different time. It seemed different than sleep, even though it was kind of was the same. Time passed. The ship moved. She woke up closer to Proxima Centauri and further from Earth every day.

Her father let her brood as they walked down the spiraled ramp, wide enough for a forklift for loading animal cages, stasis chambers, and heavy machinery. They passed the hydroponic garden center on deck seven, the UV lights reflecting a metallic blue on the metal grates and walls.

“Do you think the plants will survive that long?” she asked to break the silence.

“We have many systems in place to handle our food and water,” he answered.

“But–“

“Still researching survival tactics are we?”

“A human can only survive for four days without water.”

“I know you know, Adala. The automated hydroponics is nice, but not necessary. It will make things easier when we reach Proxima Centauri if we have mature plants, but it’s not all we have. And much of the water is frozen for transport so it’s not going to evaporate or get contaminated.”

“I wish I was an aloe plant.” That made her father chuckle. She was glad to hear his laugh, scooping up his gentleness and trying to use it to fill her uneasiness at the pit of her stomach.

“Final telemetry alignment complete. Propulsion systems ready for punch.” The ship stated again.

“An aloe plant? Because they retain water?” He smiled at her.

“For months!” she affirmed.

They reached the seed vault which was already cold. Colleen joined them, jotting on her touchpad as they walked back up to the fifth level. The fifth level where the human statis pods were, including hers. Her other sisters were already getting ready, inserting IVs and attaching straps and monitoring sensors. Adala frowned but complied with the procedure anyways, not wanting to be last.

“Punch complete,” the robotic voice announced.

She climbed into her stasis chamber, entered her information into the touchpad, and attached the ankle straps first. Then she wrapped the Velcro around her wrists and didn’t cringe with the needle into her vein. Her father stepped over to help with the final neck piece. Laying down, she shuffled pretending to get comfy.

“Do you think someone will beat us there?” she asked, her father looking down on her from above. He paused.

“What? You mean aliens? The planet was chosen for us because the scientists went over it with a fine-tooth comb. There are no aliens there.”

“I know that. I mean, will other humans beat us there.”

“What do you mean? We’re the pioneers.”

“I mean…” Adala’s voice trailed off with her thoughts, the scrunch between her eyes working like a kid poking an anthill with a stick. He waited patiently, knowing that the question would settle or explode. She needed to let everything out. She couldn’t put these thoughts in stasis too.

“Moore’s law,” she spat out. “Moore’s law. The exponential growth of technology. Moore’s law says that every year computers double their operations per second. And if computers get faster, and robots get smarter, and humans use them to make faster and smarter ships then, well, then wouldn’t they send another ship? Another ship with smarter humans that get to Proxima Centauri faster than us?”

The hairs on her arms were standing up not just from the growing cold of the ship, but from the anxiety building under her skin.

“Adala,” her mother said. “You are overreacting. Even if over the next century, humans become cyborgs interfacing with technology in ways that we can’t comprehend now, history knows that they sent us first. They won’t forget us.”

“That will just mean less work for us when we get there!” said Colleen, far too cheerfully.

Her father bent and kissed her forehead. “Moore’s law isn’t true for human curiosity. Our desire to go where no one has gone before, our drive to know the unknown has always stayed the same. So, if someone else gets there first, they will be curious to find us too!”

That did make her feel better. Being dead wasn’t scary but being alive and lost was. In a hundred years, if someone would be looking for them, out of curiosity or otherwise, then their chances were better than none wherever they ended up. Other animals and insects, like ants, weren’t curious about the blood from which they came from. The genetics of her family would be interesting to anyone alive in a hundred years.

Her father cocked his head over her face and raised his eyebrows, wondering if there was more.

“Ready,” Adala said. Her father nodded, attached the safety neck assembly, and connected it to the stasis chamber. Her brain calmed as the drugs kicked in. A hundred years, she thought. In a hundred years I’ll have more questions.

Written for October 2020 Prompt at Reedsy.com

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