The Gaia Principle.
“It’s strange; I really haven’t ever seen anything like this. Their behaviour is incredible, united on one focus, a single entity without individual thought-stream, simply understanding.” The scientists stood in a brightly lit, brilliantly white lab. Their spotless jackets stretched down to their ankles, eyes screwed up against the bright light. The tank they were staring at was enormous, a wall of glass behind which tunnels and caves of every shape and size created a vertical labyrinth. Hoards of insects occupied the tunnels and chambers, insects of every type and nature. There was even 3ft of space atop the maze to allow flying insects to move around freely. “Notice how the Solenopsis Invicta work so effectively with the Atrax Robustus, using its size to block off the mice, and then swarming over them! They are incredible; this truly is a miraculous discovery.”
The scientist remarking in such a surprised tone was Dr Stuart, an acclaimed researcher in to animal behaviour. His speciality was insects, with particular attention to the way in which ants work as a whole unit, as a colony, instead of working individually. His protégé, Dr Golding, was young, handsome and intelligent. He had, over the past five years poured hours of research in to a thesis entitled “The Gaia Principle”.
“What we have proved here is that the nervous system style structure of an ant colony, in which without any direct communication an entire army can work in sync, with complete cohesion and complete effectiveness, is a much smaller realisation of the apparent nervous system that runs through the metaphorical backbones of every insect on this planet, allowing them to also act in complete unison, co-ordinated and coherent.” The young man’s voice brimmed with confidence, he was a visionary in his mind, this was the discovery of a lifetime, it was science and religion mixed, a supernatural. He thought back to his school days, studying myth; this was a Gaia like entity that allowed a connection between insects, and allowed them to be a unit, move as a single being. “Yes, Dr, you are right, you have proved it though my boy, not me. I am old, and I have had my success, this work is yours and I will accept no credit for the hours you slaved over this. Return to your farm, enjoy the sun, I will arrange for a press release in a few weeks, and there we will show the earth your genius.”
“I heard his body was really badly rotted.” The whispers glided to her ears, she was no longer soft enough to let them affect her mind. Cecilia was still in mourning, the body of her late husband had been found many weeks previous, but she could not move on, not here with all the gossip. “Yeah, insects got to him apparently”. She couldn’t stand it; wandering through the morning’s crisp air she stopped and sat down. The bench was cold, but she was numb with icy thoughts running through her head. So the body had been a mess, they all end up that way, the Lord has a purpose for everything. His death was unexplained, and no evident meaning had become apparent to her, but she was sure that God had a divine purpose, a reason for his actions. Her husband’s soul must have been needed for some greater purpose. God had taken him. She watched the world go by for a few moments, alone in her thoughts, until a handsome young man sat down next to her.
“Hello there madam, you are Cecilia Davis, I believe?”
“Yes young man, and who are you?” She looked at him in surprise, unsure what to make of his smart suit and immaculate appearance.
“I am Dr Golding madam, and I am also your new neighbour. I bought the farm across from you, I was hoping to make your acquaintance more formally but as I saw you here I thought I would introduce myself.”
“Such manners in a man are rare these days, thank you, it’s a pleasure I am sure” She felt flustered, it had been a while since she had been so properly greeted, with such good class and standing. “For now I must be on my way, but do pop by and say hello when you are free sir. God bless you” She walked away, smiling, having seen nothing but a good and kind nature in that man’s eyes.
Dr Golding walked away down the street with the coolest of expressions, never betraying the vicious tangle of emotions that swept through his body. He could not stand religion, no matter how hard he tried to be sympathetic, how much understanding he gave, he could not abide it. And now he had proof, word against the Christian fallacy of the “Mighty Lord Above!” The Gaia principle would show these pompous, self-righteous ignorant fools some reality. He braced himself as a cold wind blew straight through his jacket, tilting his head against the stinging air. Below him he saw something strangely familiar, but somewhat surprising. Spiders, walking together and in file, purposeful and united. Spiders, as he very well knew, are solitary creatures, except on very rare occasions, and never associate in such a way as this. In fact he could only remember one occasion when he had seen this replicated, and that memory worried him greatly.
“I heard he had beetles and such crawling out of his mouth, and his flesh had been devoured by the insects”
Dr Golding listened to the two women beside him. They were middle aged, middle class and the height of gossip, but he knew exactly what they were talking about. Cecilia Davis’ dead husband. He struggled to catch his breath, bracing himself against the cold stone wall. Surely it was just coincidence. Bodies decay, they rot with the help of insects and bacteria, this was a fact that even elementary school children could understand. But seeing this behaviour, outside of the lab, without coaxing or specialist set ups. He was concerned, and as he rushed away to investigate further he grabbed his mobile, typing in a number with the utmost urgency.
The forest at the back of his farm was cold and dark. Dr Golding had never been afraid of darkness; it comforted him sometimes to be in a natural gloom. He spent his life in synthetic dark rooms, analysing insects in their perfectly manufactured habitats, and to be out here, in nature, a part of an ecological system that stretched around the world, he felt content. He ventured deeper, checking every step. The intelligence required to re-create a computer system that could mimic the actions of an ant colony is, even with computer advances being made every day, impossible. That being said, to create an infrastructure that would incorporate more creatures, different species with different needs and different abilities, is truly beyond human capabilities. So how could the insects be conforming to this evolutionary theory? How could it be that the Gaia principle, a thesis he himself had invented, using generations of breeding and evolutionary exploitation, be a reality in a far from perfect habitat with no coaxing or aid what so ever. He thought he had played God, manipulating evolution in a way that was impossible in the real world. But here he saw it happening, or he saw the beginnings of an evolutionary procedure he never expected to witness. Dr Golding’s night vision was surprisingly good, a benefit of his research, and he opted to keep his torch off as he wandered through the forest. He hoped to find more evidence, something decisive. Although he was afraid of the ramifications of this find, he was excited. Adrenaline rushed through his body at the thought of the fame this could bring him. He was going to be a star, a genius, creator of a thesis that was then proven to be real, and could be watched unravelling in the natural world.
He found a place he felt suitable and stopped, looking around the clearing in which he stood. The trees on either side rustled with the gentle wind, but other than that there was complete silence. He sat on a tree stump, conveniently located in the centre of the clearing, and turned on his high power torch, hoping to see something incredible over the next few hours. But what he saw was more than incredible, it was terrifying. His torch was aimed upwards, against the leaves of the trees, in the hope that he would see something moving on the trunks, but he saw nothing, no movement but the wind. As he lowered the torch he felt a cold, tingling sensation running down his spine, a primitive sense of fear that’s cause he could not place, but as the light struck the ground he realised what he sensed. Silence, not the quiet of a wood at night, with only the faint sounds of bats and birds and bugs, but true silence. Nothing but the wind, when there should be noises. And the floor showed him something which chilled his blood, freezing it in his veins as a sharp pain shot through his chest with the panic that was rising through his body. On the ground in front of him lay many creatures; birds, rabbits, bats, mice, all dead, and all being tended too. The creatures that dealt with the bodies, and the creatures that he could only assume committed this natural genocide, were insects. Thousands of them, every type and every size, any insect that he would have associated with the forest was present. They were regimented, and they were effective, stripping the carcasses and carrying parts away, with smaller, sharper mouthed insects biting through decaying flesh as larger creatures carried parts to piles, which were in turn attended too by different species. Dr Golding stared in amazement, each pile was a breeding ground, with flies silently spawning maggots in each. He waved the torch around frantically, noticing that even where he had stepped the creatures had not ceased or stopped, even now they were dealing with their dead, giving them the same treatment as the dead animals.
Dr Golding could see no method of communication, the insects worked as a unit, and as he stood again he saw that more and more creatures were being carried, dead and rotting, out of the forest to the clearing. His torch finally reached his own feet, where only a few paces away he saw the nearest groups of insects. But their actions troubled him further; they were not participating in the gathering of food, as all the other insects were. Instead they all stood, lacking any animation what so ever, like statues. They stood, and as far as he could tell, they faced him. Not a single insect within a five foot radius of him moved, and as he stared closer and closer, looking at the inanimate beasts, he saw a movement, out of the corner of his eyes, in the trees above him. It was at that point that he realised his mistake. The thing he hadn’t noticed, that had been clawing away at his mind, the thing that felt least right about this situation, above all the strangeness he had already seen. The lack of spiders and no wasps. There were insects of every kind, but here he could see neither spiders nor wasps. And as he turned his torch towards the sky once more he realised why. The branches were lined with arachnids, of every type. They all stood, for just a second, and then they jumped, in complete unison, towards the ground. He had never seen such huge acts of suicide in an insect species before, but as they all fell to their deaths he realised he was wrong. Each spider had a strand of web flowing behind it, which it used to swing to the next tree. This was repeated again and again as Dr Golding watched in awe, the silvery threads creating a thick net between each tree which shined in the pale moonlight. As he span on the point, watching the trees begin to glisten with the fine webs, seeing the spiders weave their webs, he heard a noise, a buzzing, “the absent wasps” he thought as he carried on staring, stupefied. He saw that only one gap was left between the trees, and saw the first black and yellow wasp fly through and begin to circle. More and more came and he began to realise their intent. The creatures on the floor were workers, they build and they breed, but these flying, stinging monsters that were swarming in a cyclone around the clearing were soldiers, designed to hunt and kill. He glanced at the less decomposed creatures and saw white threads stuck to their feathers or fur, and raw stings covering their bodies. He gasped, finally realising that he was being hunted, and turned to run.