The others were less than impressed, and I’m pretty sure Graham was squirming in his shoes, even if he played it off as nothing.
We went over to Lena, who finally put down one of the biggest soldier caste ants I’d ever seen, all glistening black with giant icepick-like mandibles.
Eciton Burchelli, said the Frenchwoman, beaming. Not really that rare in this parts, but a fine specimen . I nodded along, actually curious to get down close.
Like an army ant on steroids, I said.
She puffed out a short burst of air and flung her hand at the air. Yes, she said. Like. Or is. Who are you? You don’t have an interest in formicids, what do you want with me?
I looked at my companions and say, maybe we can talk about this somewhere else.
Clearly I am an amazing diplomat, because as I said it, the lady frowned, pushed back from her stool, and crossed her arms, the universal symbol for agreement.
I’m not a scientist, I said, and I do wish I was here to take a look at all these neat little things, but I’m not. I have read Wilson and Hulld, Hollda, Ho, the German guy’s “Journey to the Ants”, though.
That did it, if only for a second. Her eyes flared a little and then the hand was back up in the air. Hölldobler, she said, with a little less annoyance. The only two good men in the past century, she said. Maybe this one aussi.
Smiling a bit, I motioned to everyone to the two whole seats plus empty crates. We’ve come looking for someone, I said. Before she could brush us off anymore, I laid out what we knew, who was involved.
As I finished, she was turning the printed photo in her fingers, over and over. She looked around at her cases and half-finished mounting boards. Trying to decide if she her level of disinterest.
And there was supposed to be someone with her, an Australian guy? I prompted.
Yes, they came by here. As you see, most of the workers here don’t like outsider. Tourists like yourself, or at least no one with serious business (and oh it was so hard to say that yes, we were serious, no one in their right mind would come all this way). So when she said she wrote for the internet, but for no science journal or as some big magasin story, everyone went back to being drones. She looked over at her work at that.
And yes, she continued, Wilson, that was his name, he came with her. Wilson Bunyap or Bunyeep, something like that. (I choked on a laugh at that. I’ll tell you later.) He was trouble. He was the devil, because he was so sweet, but he only wanted something like fame, fortune, and to step over people to get it.
She stopped there and got up to pace, surrounded by the crawling, trapped creatures she wanted to get back to. There was more to it, but she didn’t know what to say, or so I thought.