A solitary ant afield cannot be considered to have much of anything on his mind; indeed, with only a few neurons strung together by fibers, he can’t be imagined to have a mind at all, much less a thought. He is more like a ganglion on legs. Four ants together, or ten, encircling a dead moth on a path, begin to look more like an idea. ~Lewis Thomas The Lives of a Cell
What was I thinking?
Tiasmet could not put the thought—the paralyzing picture—out of her head. The chipmunk with its shark-blank eyes and its panicked keening as the tictocs methodically circled and closed on it. The chipmunk should have been able to easily dash away. It was ten times the size of a tic or toc, and much more powerful. Yet, the chipmunk froze in place as the tictoc bots linked up, creating an inescapable net.
Senior bot-anist Tiasmet Cjurganni, head of motility and chemotactic applications at DowX, should not have been thinking about the chipmunk and her tictocs. She should have been happy beyond all reason. But she could not escape reason. This day, like the chipmunk, she could not escape a presentiment of predictable doom. On her long-awaited wedding day.
She had arisen with the sun in anticipation of the rich, time-honored ceremonies to launch her new life with Ansar. After years of indecision and constant reminders that her biological clock was ticking, Tiasmet finally felt she could truly become part of another. Part of Ansar. She no longer worried she would be subsumed or fragmented. She now believed that she would become whole.
Still, on this first day of their future, their new life together, she was distracted by the harbinger of the chipmunk. Why couldn’t she be like other brides fretting over her hair and henna?
That was not Tiasmet’s make up. Work and she were one. The roboticist with the green thumb, she had helped pioneer the work of florabots, robots based on plant behavior. It was not unlike the breakthroughs achieved by roboticists in the early 21st century who modeled insect behaviors to create the first swarm bots. Tiasmet had started there, too, mimicking insect behavior with her first crude tictoc bots. But the further she delved into self-sustaining mechlife, the more she found herself drawn to the plant kingdom.
She began to program her small stem-like tictoc bots (tics attempting to keep a vertical orientation, tocs a horizontal one) to behave like heliotropes. Seeking the sun, seeking energy, tictocs self assembled in ever-changing arrays to maximized solar collection.
Her dream, and now the business plan of DowX, was to sow vast deserts like the Sahara, Gobi and Death Valley with florabots to harness and harvest the sun’s energy. Tictocs were her proof of concept.
The problem pricking at Tiasmet on her wedding day was that the tictocs seemed to be self-conceptualizing. How else to explain the unsettling scene with the chipmunk? She had meant it to be a simple field test of the tictocs establishing an area in which to propagate. A curious chipmunk investigated, and the tictocs re-organized in a way Tiasmet had not predicted to capture and harvest the unwitting mammal. Like a Venus fly trap or even kudzu.
When their numbers became sufficient, it appeared the tictocs had adapted ridiculously, almost cognizantly, fast. As if the tictocs were struck with an idea, had an epiphany.
It was outlandish; it was possibly career-destroying to voice such a conclusion. Yet, on the morning of her wedding, watching the sun spread over the fertile valley of her parents’ home, she believed it, like she believed her own existence. And the new existence she would consummate today.
She knew and so it was known. What would she do? What could be done?
She’d set the clock ticking. Was she ready to ring the alarm?
Tiasmet made her way into her parents’ garden, so alive this glorious morning with the tang of dew, the chatter of birds, the low hum of insects and the stillness of heavy trees. She bent and picked a small white peony blossom, cupping it in her so-clever hands. She inhaled deeply, feeling the freshness of life. She carefully tucked the peony in her rich, cascading hair and turned to face the rising sun across the valley.
More than an idea. Self-awareness assembled on so many levels, in so many ways.
It was known.
We are not so unalike, she thought, turning and smiling into the sun. A verdant garden growing between them. Time for assimilation.