Drop A Rock On It

The commander clacked its jaws for attention, then assumed the Posture Of Authority, Mild, and waited for two slow pulse-beats while everyone in attendance swivelled their resting-platforms and focused attention.

“The purpose of the meeting is the decision regarding the nitrogen world we have been observing. To discuss: do we wish to make closer contact? We are prepared to hear all sides. Proceed.” Still maintaining the Posture Of Authority, the commander folded slowly onto its platform, transitioning to the Posture Of Courteous Attentiveness.

It was the armsmaster who spoke first, “I see nothing we cannot easily handle. There might be good sport-killing.”

“The Secondary Directive says we are only to kill in self-defense!” Interjected the medical team-lead, then scooted back from the edge of its platform as the armsmaster swelled up and opened jaws wide, sucking in atmosphere to make either an astonishingly long utterance, or a very brief but loud one.

“If permitted…,” lowest of the science section, assuming the Posture Of Awkward Revelation, manipulated the controls of the zoorb-focuser and over the center of the conference platform materialized a slowly-rotating image of a large, shiny, armored battle-droid. The armsmaster froze inadvertently into the Posture Of Surprised By Foe. Even the commander froze posture but elegantly maintained Courteous Attentiveness.

“Proceed, lowest.” The image continued its slow rotation, as everyone assembled noted the massive serrated jaws, the huge light-gathering optical sensors, and the cleverly-armored joint-points with their protruding shields that overlapped weak spots to protect them. The battle-droid had relatively few moving parts, the commander thought, they were probably reliable and inexpensive.

Lowest of the science section adopted the Formal Posture Of Delivering Information Upsetting To Authority and began, “This is an ‘ant’. The dominant life-form on the nitrogen world. There are larger life-forms, of course, which have apparently developed technology in attempt to displace the ants…”

Armsmaster shifted posture again, “it looks like a worthy foe!”

“If it were large enough for you to challenge it, armsmaster, it would be devastatingly powerful,” continued lowest. “The real problem with ants is that they are plentiful, indestructible in their numbers, and they do not negotiate. In fact they are harder to reason with than our armsmaster. The nitrogen planet is home to an uncountably large army of them. Respectfully, they might consider you to be food – not foe.”

Commander adopted the Posture of Incredulity, “we  thought the defenders – the ‘Humans’ – were the threat! A species capable of triggering fusion is the dominant life-form on any planet.”

“They probably think that, too. But we cannot explore closer,” continued lowest, “there are these …” A swipe on the zoorb-focuser brought up another image, “A ‘tardigrade’.   They have already colonized planet four.”


My fiction-writing skills are poor (assumes the Posture of Regretful Self-Awareness) but I’ve wanted to play with this idea for years.

We humans appear to be so full of ourselves, and are trapped operating at our scale of perception. Many of us don’t realize that the masters of the planet are the ones that don’t build collapsible civilizations, or that are going to laugh off climate change because they can live in boiling water. There is a chance that we’ve already sent Earth life to Mars – the decontamination of Curiousity rover was apparently breached before its launch (and, besides: tardigrades!) the earthlings that fantasize about aliens grabbing them and exploring their anal cavities don’t realize that the E. Coli in there are much scarier (and more interesting) than the human.

The idea of interstellar travel appears to be absurd, anyway,* and human ideas of aliens travelling around exploring owes more to The Voyage Of The Beagle than to any remotely likely future. Pace Captain Kirk and his quest to meet green-painted bikini aliens, any planet that could support ALIEN style xenomorphs could also support their gut bacteria. You don’t even want to think what kind of gut bacteria live in those.


(* and that is an answer to Fermi’s paradox)


  1. says

    I’ve had in mind a story involving a similar discussion, about the risks of the dominant species of an otherwise insignificant planet. They had watched in horror as it slipped from its home planet to invade other local worlds, adapting to new environments, colonizing, and wiping out native species in their monomaniacal need to be the only form of life in the universe. What would happen if such a lifeform figured out interstellar travel?

    They were talking about DNA, of course.

  2. says

    Gregory In Seattle@#1:
    You went even lower in scale than I did! From “the selfish gene” to “the aggro gene”
    It invented tardigrades to facilitate its diaspora!

  3. Crimson Clupeidae says

    There was a recent compilation of similar stories I saw on FB recently (sorry, you weren’t the first to think of this). Let me see if I can dig up a link.

  4. says

    Crimson Clupeidae@#4:
    Those stories are great!! Hippos FTW.

    I guess after H. G. Wells cold virus killing off the martian invasion, the ants are not such a fascinating enemy. But, as anyone who has ever planted their picnic on an ant’s nest (and pretty much every square meter seems to have at least one!) ants do not negotiate. They have no memory but they do not forgive, or care, or know mercy.

  5. John Morales says

    To be pedantic, it’s not appropriate to talk of “ants” as an enemy — you should speak of ant colonies.

    Ant colonies form a collective intelligence; ants themselves are only its agents.

    (We speak of people, not of their cells)

  6. brucegee1962 says

    If you can find the 1997 book “Black Swan, White Raven,” edited by Terri Windling and Ellen Datlow, there’s a story called “True Thomas” where aliens come to earth and mostly overlook the humans because they’re really interested in our beetles.

    Ok, full confession — it’s my story. And I’ve had people criticize it because, surely, we’re the most interesting thing on earth, right?

    I stand by my story. From an evolutionary standpoint, chitin is amazing stuff.

  7. springa73 says

    I’m a humanist, so I naturally find humans and their traits to be exceptionally interesting, but I realize that’s just my personal preference. If some kind of extraterrestrial life does come to earth, there’s no guarantee that it would be interested primarily in humans.