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Glooscap's Plan - Engineer Ants

Ants were known to be a dependent people and so it was no surprise that when they came to see Glooscap they arrived as a group. At first, to someone who didn't know them, it would have seemed like an invasion, but it was merely the base amount needed to provide quorum in any ant gathering. Alone they were liable to be silly and unpredictable, and had been seen diving into drinks just for a joke. In small groups they could become bullying and dangerous, but in the large packs that gave them the comfort of conformity, they relaxed into the mechanical precision that almost anyone would recognize as ant form.

The delegation that came to see Glooscap was unusual in that it represented two different clans of ants, for they were famous for their intolerance. That was the first sign that this was to be a special meeting. Even the crow who loved eating them limited himself to a few stragglers that were better off not in the gene pool anyway, he had decided. He only pecked at those who diverged from the main pack.

The ant conference with Glooscap was brief, for ants were nothing if not efficient, and before long they were leading Glooscap to the growing pile of leaf litter many had noticed at the rear of the camp. The deer momentarily felt a qualm about where she had chosen to relieve herself, but then reasoned that it wasn't her fault and who could really tell where the ants were anyway. They could be anywhere.

Many had seen the steady stream of ants carrying mouldy leaves and sticks, which although tiny were a hundred times the ant's size, but few had made anything of it. Ants were cryptic animals and although they may have a highly intricate plan, it was often obscure to others. As well, questioning individual ants, which the crow always claimed to be doing, was a fruitless enterprise. An ant alone knew as much about the overall work as the hunter from the city knew about where he lived. The bear had questioned many hunters and although they immediately began to stutter meaningless platitudes and apologies, not a single one seemed to know anything about the purpose of cities, or the eventual plan. The bear wanted to know if the cities were going to spread forever, or whether there was a planned limit. Often he would scratch the hunters in frustration at their stupidity when they could not answer these simple questions.

The ants had in fact been uncovering an anthill, which until this point they had kept carefully hidden. This was their grand display. Here they had worked for four days, which was many years in the time of others. Glooscap and his followers halted in the tiny space between the white pine and the struggling fir, just where the alders from the swamp could find no purchase in the sandy soil, and they were amazed at what the ants had accomplished. Everyone knew ants were industrious, and most knew they were imitative, but the full extent of what they could achieve given their organizational aptitude hadn't really occurred to anyone. If Glooscap knew differently he did not betray it. He appeared to be as surprised as anyone, if running his hands through his hair was any indication.

The ants had entirely replicated, down to the smallest detail, Glooscap's camp. The only missing features were the hunched forms of the animals and Glooscap himself, although it was obvious where they were meant to be placed. Glooscap's shelter, and the cedar under which it sat, was mimicked in its tiny way, and when the muskrat leaned in closer to look, she gasped that even the wood in the miniscule fire had been cut and placed in exactly the same way as its larger counterpart in the clearing behind them. "I placed that log myself," she said in wonderment. The larger carpenter ants explained that they had smoothed the forest floor and built the more massive superstructures. The use of the word massive struck many as funny, but they politely kept it to themselves, although the snake, disrespectfully, had a brief coughing fit. The smaller red ants were the artists and detail workers; they ensured that every aspect was identical to its much larger original.

The moment of awe was broken by the crow's irreverence, finally, as it had been so many times before. The crow hopped forward, in that casual way that he had, and pecked at the minute trees placed around the clearing. "This might be my only chance to eat a bear," he said as he leaned forward. He found himself picked up and placed on Glooscap's shoulder, which was normally intended to be an honour.

At first few could see the purpose of the ants' work, but most were content to let Glooscap work out the exact details. The rest of the afternoon was spent looking over the shoulder of one of Saul's cousins who'd brought his laptop into the bush. He looked up the ant colonies of northern Spain to southern Italy, where 6000 kilometres of cooperative ants were engaged in construction mega projects. Likewise, Melbourne Australia was in the papers bemoaning a new ant super colony. How any of this related to their own imitative ants few could say, but when a few weeks later the ants visited again, it became clearer.

The ants had been busy for a few weeks outside of New Bedford, a Halifax suburb and when they climbed onto Glooscap's lap for the sake of convenience rather than seeking favour they were almost dizzying in their excitement. Even the most stolid ant of them, an older marcher who nothing fazed, was perturbed to the point of distraction. One old timer fell from Glooscap's lap three times before he disappeared into the crow's quick bill. Such was the attention on the ants' message that no one noticed, and the crow would have undertaken a wholesale slaughter if he hadn't seen a warning look from Glooscap himself.

The ants had, they claimed, replicated Halifax. Everyone trouped off to look, although for some it was a considerable journey. The worm was carried by the mole, although the robin, crouched on the deer's back, had volunteered. In this way all managed the speed of Glooscap who covered the kilometres to northern Halifax quickly in his excitement. The metropolis that spread before them had little meaning to most, but the eagle could see the breadth of the ant achievement. The bird's eye view that the tiny town gave was exclaimed over by the gull and the pigeon, for they had decorated many of the public buildings with their feces. Now that they saw it before them in miniature, they saw towers and churches they had ignored. The pigeon in particular found the site too stirring and she flew away into the trees for a few moments, lest she despoil what the ants had obviously put a lot of work into. The gull restrained himself, and like the others who knew Halifax, marvelled at the ants' construction.

When everyone went towards home they were pensive, and the mole, with her burden of worm, almost slipped off the back of the deer. She claimed she was tired from a long day and the unaccustomed trip, but most recognized she felt as they did, slightly overwhelmed at what the ants could put together, and slightly uncertain about where it would all end.

Glooscap was optimistic, and true to his suspicion, the amazing sight was picked up by the Halifax Chronicle Herald and then the tabloids, thus reversing the typical trend. "Ants build Halifax in the Suburbs," proclaimed the headlines, and paper sales soared to new heights as every citizen rushed to read the story. Illiterate politicians had the story read to them, and even catholic priests had it translated to Latin so that they might understand it more clearly. Thanks to the White Girl, every toilet stall was decorated with the story, glued in auspicious and difficult to ignore spots, and downtown businesses were starting to use the tiny Halifax in their advertising. "Clothes appropriate in both Halifaxes," proclaimed one ad, while a brewery said that their beer was better than the tiny drafts of their competitor.

Saul's internet sources were the first to note the new tourist site, and by both supporting and declaiming the importance of the discovery, his experts generated huge interest in the ant colony. People who were prone to killing ants in their homes, claimed Saul's panel of experts, were now hesitating and laws were being passed in faraway Papua New Guinea that prevented the dismantling of any insect structure. It booted nothing that Saul's claims were a fabrication, for the protests of the Papua New Guinea government in the United Nations were overlooked. Saul had picked his country well. True to his suspicion, it was a country many expected to be unusual, and Saul's claim was so bizarre that it captured the public imagination far more than Papua New Guinea's detraction.

The rush to New Bedford meant that the freeway expansion, planned for forty years hence, had to be finished immediately; the normally lax construction workers leaning away their shifts on their shovels found themselves being unfavourably compared to ants. One foreman said he would rather hire ants and soon that refrain was repeated along the construction site, and quoted in the news. This made him feel that he was a celebrity so he left his secure government job to pound the boards of Halifax's downtown Neptune Theatre to unfavourable reviews.

The amount of traffic increased into New Bedford until traffic crawled to a stop, and tollbooths were set up to make money from the flow. Such was the excitement over "Seeing Halifax from the Air," as one ad called it, or "Walk Across Town in Moments," as another said, that the tolls did not slow traffic at all. The municipality of New Bedford, which had finally seen a way to rationalize its existence, charged outrageous fees for a view of the marvel, but the crowds continued to come. Americans flooded across the borders, going back to Boston and Los Angeles with secretive grins on their faces and ants in their pockets.

With the invasion, the fees went up accordingly, until a typical Halifax tourist could not afford the several thousand the day's excursion demanded. Gas along the ant-town corridor, as it came to be called, was tripled, and the tolls were over two hundred. The extra charges were masked by a new ant currency, but the token economy fooled no one. The smaller municipalities, along the easily ignored back roads, set up their own tolls, benefiting for once from their so-called scenic routes. The entrance fees to glimpse this smaller Halifax were themselves astronomical and even sight of the town from a distance of twenty metres was four hundred dollars. To get to the site the resolute tourist needed to fight through the crowded stalls and venues that had sprung up. They inevitably arrived broke and worn out at their destination, having been cajoled, pinched, and robbed along the way. Fewer and fewer locals went to see tiny Halifax, and after they had been, they began to complain, as they always do, about the increased traffic and noise.

Such was the excitement that few realized that there was no need to see a tiny Halifax, since it was entirely replicated in the city itself. Although the original was more suited for human visitors than the ants' replica, it now lay as silent as a ghost town. Ants had moved into most of the buildings in the rich areas near the university and enrolled in courses that without their presence would have been cancelled. The professors, finding themselves in the unique position of instructing insects, were happy that their new charges were diligent and hardworking. Although a few of the rowdy black ants might slip away for a pint, most spent hours studying. The university library opened one floor to tiny carrels, and businesses began to carry sugar water.

The landlords, seeing their human tenants fleeing to the now busy suburbs, sensed an opportunity, and so they let apartments to as many as a million ants, charging each one forty dollars. Storage rooms were hastily called apartments and, as if the Olympics or World Expo were in town, even closets were being rented as rooms. The avaricious landlords were so excited by the windfall that they never noticed that the ants paid their rent by moving cash in storage rooms to the front of the apartment where they handed it to their eager landlord. They were thus duplicating, in miniature of course, the capitalist system. Money was continually in circulation, they had learned in their economics courses, and they took the dictate literally.

The ants did much better in engineering and the hard sciences, although a few took up the arts and enrolled in the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. They constructed masterpieces that brought fame to the school and the associated higher tuition fees, until only the wealthiest humans could attend.

Although the tourist season was at its peak when the ants changed their construction techniques, it was a few weeks before anyone noticed. The tiny Halifax, seen as it was by so many strangers who knew nothing of the original, and by ticket-takers intent on their income, didn't have the most astute audience. It was an engineer from Boston's big dig, on an imposed holiday after several people had been killed in one of the tunnels, who noticed the, at first rather subtle changes. His speciality was tunnelling, and he had often visited Halifax, so when the ants began to connect downtown buildings by tunnels he was intrigued. They were changing the plan of Halifax. This project was no longer about mere imitation, and to the horror of the city designers and even some of the spectators, the ants slowly began to improve the city's planning.

The first reaction was outrage, and vandals from city departments crept into the site and tried to destroy the entire city, just by jumping a few times in their boots. But forewarned by some of the art college ants, new security measures were in effect. Any ant could come and go as they pleased, even with an attendant human, but any city official was at first scrutinized and then humiliatingly searched, until they left in pain and embarrassment.

After the municipal officials were mostly incarcerated and some of their posts had been filled by more dependable ants, the media began to praise the ants as master engineers. Like claims made about the beaver for centuries-that a beaver could build a biodegradable dam that could withstand the strongest spring flood-people began to realize they could learn from ants. "We have mastered the burdock," one of the most vocal spokesmen said, even while tearing open his velcro-fastened shirt and showing off the patches of manly hair pasted to his chest. "We have traveled to the far jungles of Brazil and Uganda where we have patented the medical knowledge of the locals. We are sitting on a gold mine."

The entrance of bio-piracy into the discussion alerted the lamprey, who was making up for his lack of legal knowledge by many late nights studying at the Misty Moon, a well-known downtown bar. He met with his fellow justices and they began to work through legislation that soon had the legal world sitting up to take notice. It was the first of its type. Unbeknownst to the general public, laws began to be passed that limited imitation by humans, although neatly avoiding mentioning any other forms of copying. The butterfly patterns could no longer appear on shirts and hats, and the frog's coat was forever protected from duplication in children's toys. The stores were either emptied of their imitative wares, or money was demanded by a trust the ants had set up for legal counsel. The producers of the teddy bear were made to pay thousands, and even the World Wildlife Fund was told to pay a nominal fee or remove the panda from its logo.

Greenpeace responded by backing the legislation, and accordingly, helped by the White Girl's firm prodding, paid for their presentation of seal pups and whales. Disney almost lost their corporate place in the sun, and would be many years recovering the billions demanded by Maritime law, and the owners of the Toronto Blue Jays took on a lengthy court battle which found them facing an outraged blue jay. All films and shows featuring unpaid animal actors had to pay huge licensing fees and reruns of Lassie and Benji the Wonder Dog were cancelled, since subscribers could not afford the extra charges for such suddenly ostracized shows. Squirrel Park, Saskatchewan and Rat River, Northwest Territories scrambled to change their names in order to avoid what seemed to be inevitable court cases. Even the popular shoe company, Hush Puppies, found themselves under scrutiny, and the Szechwan dish, Ants Climbing a Tree, was banned outright.

The effect that these laws had on engineers was profound. Legislation was applied in such a way that it prevented human engineers from using the ants' ideas. These constraints were put in place even while city planners and urban engineers were rushing from all over the world, displacing the desultory tourists who had drifted away now that Halifax didn't look like Halifax.

The engineers wanted to use the ants' ideas, and they watched avidly as ants prevented traffic in their tiny downtown, built postage stamp-sized parking lots in the outskirts, and encouraged commuters to use public buses by high tolls and accessibility. Likewise, skyscrapers were gradually trimmed down and huge boulevards, now unnecessary, were replaced with parks and walkways. The harbour front was cleared up and ants sat there on Saturday afternoons ostensibly fishing, although even plankton was too small for their microscopic hooks.

Perhaps the most sweeping changes, although few saw the implications at the time, were those that affected who lived in the city. Human-centred housing was replaced by anthills and deer parks, and raccoons flourished in the eaves of human houses which were expressly built for that purpose. Public buildings were stripped of preventative measures meant to keep away birds and skateboarders, and the spikes were replaced with ramps and perches. Public money was set aside for the clearing of guano and candy wrappers that the birds and the skateboarders inadvertently left behind, and panhandlers were encouraged to come back into the city. Soon the pigeons and their imitative cousins human panhandlers were seen around the downtown vying for their similar treats, change and thrown grain.

Limited by the lamprey's new laws, the engineers could only watch as true city planning evolved before their eyes. Some carried the ideas back home and implemented them, only to be caught up in months of legal battles. The humiliating fines they had to pay were enough to make others reconsider their impulse to steal from animals, and soon they were paying copyright fees just to build a walkway or an ant-designed bridge. Cities were being redesigned over the entire world along ant blueprints and ants were making even more elaborate plans. They stalked along the blueprint paper, to all appearances aimlessnessly, even while they laid down a chemical trace of blue ink for humans to follow. They redesigned Tokyo and Paris, Cairo and Calcutta, although they left London and Rome to fester. Some claimed that was because those two cities had an ancient oppressive history, but the ants were silent on the topic.

Since tourism had trailed off to a trickle, and many of the ants had moved to the city where they were reworking Halifax into a vital downtown and working port, Halifax's tiny duplicate was demolished. This left a flood of humans in the suburbs, eager to move back to town now that they'd been abandoned by the wealthy tourists. Unfortunately for the humans, housing was at a premium and many of them had to be put on ant waiting lists where they anxiously squandered their savings for several months until they were allowed to move into ant-designed low income housing.

Some questioned what the ants did with all of their income, but after some months, when real-estate prices soared all over the Maritimes, a few began to suspect. Even the most decrepit farm was purchased by secret buyers through representatives, and while the humans marched happily away to settle in an overcrowded Vancouver, ecstatic at the fortune they had gotten from their worthless land, those left behind began to grumble. Die hard farmers and settled old money in the cities and towns, were at first annoyed and then angry that prices had soared so drastically. They blamed it on the excitement over the ant Halifax colony, but when that colony was demolished to make way for a park, they paused to reconsider.

The vacant land around them was not filled with tenants, as a rich human would do if they were to buy it, and instead the land, to all appearances, lay fallow. The Moose was seen on the outskirts of marshes were he had not been sighted for years and the partridge was constantly ducking across the main roads from one fallow field to another. Roadways had been demolished and were never replaced, the humans complained. They never noticed that the trails and pathways that paralleled the roads could be used for walking and transport of goods, as long as your mode of transport was your back or, as humans were prone to using, someone else's.

Legislative changes had made much of the human complaints impossible or at least negligible. The lamprey had pushed through legislation, with the advocacy among of white environmental groups with the White Girl at their head, which prevented public land from falling into private hands. Likewise, parks were declared a trust in perpetuity; it became much easier to make a park and impossible to dismantle one. Government officials found their greedy hands tied. When they were approached by corporations with bribes in hand petty bureaucrats could only complain that they had no power to make Sable Island a temporary oil platform rather than a preserve of a unique ecosystem of wild horses. The corporations were livid and went to court to force the government, which had traditionally been so compliant, to cave to their demands, but when they found themselves regarded by the lamprey's cold legalistic eye, they retreated in fear.

The rest of the world was watching the Maritimes continually now that it was more than just a place for unique species. Now Halifax was exporting city planning workshops and internet courses, where ants on tiny keyboards typed out messages and graded the papers of thousands of foreign students. The world was partially in fear. Those with money and influence saw the ants on the wall, although the dispossessed throughout the world were exhilarated. These greedy humans had overlooked a single most important fact, however. The revolution sweeping the Maritimes was not merely a revolution for the downtrodden urban dweller, but rather it was meant to ensure all beings had a place and future. This meant that if these policies were to be adopted elsewhere, some would have to move aside. Each country's dominant groups would need to acknowledge the place of others, and both of those human groups would have to make space for the other beings by whom they were surrounded. The Maritimes, although few realized it at the time, was exporting some of the most radical revisioning of humanity on the planet, and the outcome of that change to the archaic ways of being could not be foreseen.

From their glade in the forest, Glooscap and his supporters were more than a little surprised by the far-reaching effects of the ants' simple imitation of Halifax. Even the crow, usually loath to support another's enterprise if it didn't involve personal gain, was loud in his praise. It was still dangerous for an ant to be near his complimentary beak, but his change in attitude exemplified a whole-hearted optimism that had come over Glooscap's project. Everyone had been able to see the progress of his plan, but until now few could see how easy it could be once it had been set in motion.


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