Emerson was half awake in his greenhouse one Martian morning, when he felt something crawling on his eyelid. The fluttering of his rapid eyeball movement curtailed as his right eye complained itself in to something like being awake. His iris darted about to his forehead where the trespasser had vacated to, a place where his pupil couldn’t focus. He felt its six tiny legs peddaling over and between his eyebrow hairs, deftly, with the ease of an Olympic hurdler, in an impossible percussive meter; 3-2-3-1-1, 3-2-3-1-2, 3-2-3-1-1, 3-2-3-1-2.
Yep. It was a bug all right. What the fuck?
He slapped at his forehead and squashed it flat, snuffing out the tiny little spark of it’s life, but, ow! Not before it had bitten him. He scraped his hand off his brow to inspect his kill. Even though it was all smushed up, he could make out legs jutting out of what once was the main body of the creature’s segmented thorax and crooked feelers coming out of what was left of it’s head. It was an ant.
But, what the fuck? How did an ant end up here with him on the planet Mars? What the Hell. This was not the way to wake up in the morning, or whenever the Hell this was. There was no coffee sent with his rations. Mornings without coffee are the worst kind of hell. Emerson rubbed his eyes and rummaged through his equiptment for a microscope slide and a magnifying glass to make sure it was what he thought it was. Then he triple checked it with his microscope, taking pictures of it with his webcam, making sure to make several poses of it’s mangled little body with a pair of tweezers. He then sent the images through the sattelite uplink to Earth on it’s four minute voyage to Mission Control in Houston. What do you make of this?
About ten minutes later, Emerson received a reply. Processing, please stand by.
Great! They were processing. Wasn’t that fucking special! In the meantime, he had counted three more ants crawling around his habitat. He tried to catch them in his fingers, but ants, it turns out are surprisingly slippery little creatures. You either squash them or they end up crawling on your finger, and Emerson was stung on his knuckle figuring this out. He finally caught one with his tweezers and was able to imprison one in a petry dish. He took some more photos and sent them through the uplink. Look, there are more. This is a live one! Right after he sent it a message came in. Yep. It looks like some kind of ant. Need a live sample to identify it.
No shit sherlock. Tell Jodi Foster I made contact and go fuck yourself. This was America’s best and brightest. Emerson was not amused.
After about ten more minutes there was another reply. Good. Stand by. Then another reply came over the satellite. Subject Identified as Solenopsis Invicta. Hybrid South American Fire Ant. Check your onions.
Emerson made his way to the 3’x10′ rows of sweet onions he so proudly cultivated in the delicate Martian dirt and combed through the pulpy green knee high stalks. It didn’t take long to find the colony, a lightly perforated mound of soil about the size of a popcorn bucket. Out of the little tiny holes, hundreds of little workers went back and forth in slavish subservience to their Martian Queen. This wasn’t what Edgar Rice Burroughs had in mind, but still, it was the first city on Mars.
The story of these ants was altogether more impressive than Emerson’s. They survived much worse things to establish this colony on Mars. Their journey started in an Andean rain forest valley of Peru, on the edge of the Amazon river. Their habitat slash burned and bulldozed for farming, their home bombarded with chemical weapons, a small enclave of refugees made their way to a Costa Rica, thousands of miles away. There they faced a similar ordeal at a coffee plantation, before migrating to Honduras, where one of their queens and a small entourage of workers found their way to Mobile, Alabama with the dim-witted trophy wife of a NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab scientist. There, her spoiled brat five year old distracted the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Beagle Brigade with a slice of Carnival Cruise Lines’ pepperoni pizza and a perfectly timed temper tantrum. There, it made it’s way with him to work in the back of his jeep, as part of his daily lunch. There they hitched a ride on some onion bulbs and made they’re way 140 million miles in refrigerated hibernation to Mars. Here, within a matter of months, these vagrants built a small, vibrant metropolis with little more than the single minded will of their hive. By comparison to Emerson, the distance they travelled would have been to Proxima Centauri, 4.22 Light Years away.