Part 12

Doctor, how did you help out Ava, Melanie, whoever, I said. Tell us that and we’ll be on our way.

The little woman had fixed directly on Três’s path and was instantly in that special kind of trance that only the very devoted have to their craft.

A common Acromyrmex Atta, the leafcutter, but why is it by itself? We cleared this ground well enough, they insisted on making a diatomaceous border against the poor things. I have not noticed the lanes and alleys they make, we have not been retaken by them yet. Let me get a closer look.

Três wisely tried to hand her magnifier over, but was waved off. She ran a hand through her now matted but still springy hair and started to talk to Lena. I think he may have come with me, Três said. I noticed bites yesterday. Maybe he can find a new, um, colony.

The frenchwoman stared at her, then back down. Not likely. Well, c’est possible. Just not how you think. There are usually thousands. Millions. Eat us alive they would, if only to protect their own wonderful farms.

At that, Três coaxed her some more to explain. They went on like that for a little while, a mini-lesson on our most swarmy of six-legged friends.

Graham stood next to me and said, It sure would be nice to know what kind of mess we could walk into. Numbers, structure, arms, you know, things that might help me help us not die. At least not right away. (I swear this was his first attempt at humour, even though he had been even-tempered about most everything so far. Maybe he was being serious).

A few minutes later and Três was asking if she could see the other leafcutters in her (quote unquote) lab. She looked back at me and bared her teeth quick, that uncertain grimace where your jaw tenses as you second-guess yourself.

Yeah, I’d like to see aussi. Do you have any colonies with actual farms? I joined in.

Lena said, Oh I see what you are doing… but come, at least the girl was sincere.

Back in the bug haven, I noticed how hot it had gotten, or at least how much more humid (which was a feat in itself).

Lena gave us quite the tour and lecture series, even though I had to almost drag Graham through it. By the end of the endless-seeming talk, Três had massaged her enough to get back to the other doctor, Manocarci.

Ah oui, I sometimes go talk with him if I am in the field collecting. He has been here very long. Hairy like the Italians, but his family went to England long ago. Still, a nice man. A bit crazy, she said, miming the universal cuckoo gesture.

I cut off Graham before he could react, shaking my head no, my eyes trying to say Oh, really.

And you told Ava and Wilson to go see him, because he has contact with some of the natives? I asked.

No, said Lena, wiping her brow from under the helmet. I took them there. Mel, or Ava, listened to me very well, and they would have been eaten alive otherwise. Brush the wrong tree, cross the wrong lane, and Aïe! tout est finis.

Graham rubbed at his arms and grumbled, Yeah, ants, definitely the worst.