Construction Literary Magazine

January 2017 Writers Respond

Termite Facts

Termite Facts
Photograph via Flickr by Community History SA‬‬‬


One

Termites received their name from the ancient Romans when the bugs first started eating their books during the Second Punic War. In those times the word “termite” wasn’t the insult that it is known as today. The bugs, however, coming to Rome via a thumbed ride in the Macedonian Library, and following in the footsteps of Lucius Aemilius Paullus on his way back to the imperial capital after he had conquered Persia, did take offense to the name.

Back in Rome, the termites gobbled up the sages’ texts that suggested, in order to disorient the Vassals and other enemies, that there might be only one single and indescribable God. Soon thereafter the bugs started eating the library that Asinius Pollio installed in the atrium libertatis of Monte Aventino: the well-respected collection of Sila and Varrón ground to paste in the bugs’ bellies. It wasn’t until then that the first war was declared against the grubby little buggers. And yet after Augustus built two giant libraries and filled them with Greek literature, the termites got busy right away, and the Romans had to strike back by torching the whole thing. It was the first major defeat for the termites.

So it was for a time that the termites left behind their love for books and returned to the maternal seat where their ancestors had been developing for the last two hundred million years: the belly of the earth.

But in later days, when the imperial decadence declined and the libraries were closed up like tombs and the parchment rolls sealed in wooden chests and catalogued according to content, the termites instinctively reemerged, coming in huge waves. It was in these days when Constantine, to his great astonishment, saw with his own eyes that his Roman forebears had mysteriously sealed and shelved thousands of chests full of nothing but insects under the watchful guard of beautifully columned buildings.

Constantine carefully transferred the chests and kept the little worms under constant vigilance, that is, until he and Theodosius figured out what they were good for and stuffed them with all the pagan literature that would fit in their bellies. Later, when Rome was sacked by the Vandals and the libraries were all either torched, looted or rampaged, a few of the young termites were saved, along with their chests, surviving unscathed into the Middle Ages when they were utilized to help succesfully found the Benedictine Order throughout Europe. The Augustines, the Franciscans, and the Dominicans were all indeed deeply grateful to posess these bibliophilic tribes.

The Imperium of the Termites reached its apogee with the arrival of Saint Patrick in Ireland. Monks from his order proceeded to influence the continent with their termite mounds in the new form of the book. It was these same nests that forced the High Authority of The Inquisition to perform the holy rite of burning to ash any other library that didn’t have its stamp of holy approval.

 

Two

Today, despite all of our modern infrastructure, the termites have built up a formidable and even enviable organization, their voracity continuing to set new standards of overwhelming destruction.

An evolutionary process enriched by thousands of generations has given the termite the incredible ability to create a special armed division in their ranks with powerful mandibles and a rectangular armored head, along with another tank division and even an artillery force whose members have a perforating point on their helmets from which they secrete a viscous liquid that paralyzes any enemy that might get in the way.

When the bugs are locked in battle, sometimes in the plain light of day, there sometimes comes another group of mysterious soldiers, part of an elite unit, with jaws designed to shred their victims. While not engaged in battle, members of this elite group will relax, hanging out for long periods of time upside down from the ceiling of special chambers while worker termites will bring them their grub.

Termites do, however, have powerful enemies. Other ironclad insects with stronger and more potent munitions, including venemous needles coming straight out of their abdomens.

There are also the slave ants, those that rob and incubate the eggs of aphids so that two and three generations of the little bugs are born into slavery and understand it as the status quo. These enslaved bugs will be raised and fattened and then sucked clean of their insides—food for their masters—until nothing remains but their transparent shell of skin.

These slaves, who in Latin American are referred to as “sanguinaries,” have been trained to perform various special ops by the white ants of the “superior race” so that they can rule the earth as well as control the raw mateiral used by all the other insects.

Thus has formed a natural hierarchy in the world of invaders: ants whose internal organization and scientific methods of oppression have earned them the label of “vulgur earth-eaters” and “blind book-imbibers”—large foreign invaders who force other species into internecine fighting while they patiently wait for a significantly weakened victor to emerge, who they then have no problem at all in controlling.

 

Three

When the sanguinaries depolyed a combat mission into an enemy territory, the following is what took place:

First of all they tried to surround the termite mound that they had selected as their target strike. Then the covert-ops vanguard surprised and eliminated the isolated termites that stood as border guards. Despite their best efforts, the alarm sounded and sparked instinctive waves of termites to flood the mound’s epicenter. Everything turned into a frenzy. The disciplined order that the termites exhibited in the pagan libraries turned into a whirlwind of confusion. The invaders hit hard at the frightened ranks of termites and proved overwhelming to their enemies.

In the entranceways of the termite mound, the killing continued. Heads rolled and the chitinous helmets of the defenders bounced along the floor after being decapitated by the giant mandibles of the rural or “ranger” legions, while the crematogáster aimed its venom at the defenders from the safety of the infantry ranks, using deadly-perfect marksmanship.

The noise of the annihilation continued to hum, sounding like an asthmatic wheezing, which slowed, decrescendoing dramatically, and then picked up pace again. In every room of the mound the fighting surged once more in the dense darkness. The mandibles opened and closed viciously, the stingers thrusting into the black space, searching for another victim. The only way the fighters found each other is by smell. Each little battling bug wearing the scent of its loyalty like a uniform. The rank and file battled blindly on for this patriotic smell. Finally, the fighting reaching a pitch, the stink of the attackers working deeper into the mound and inundating the central corridors, the termites pulled together to make a last stand.

The termites’ last guards were falling fast, but they wouldn’t go without a fight.

Behind them, the egg-bearers and the nymphs, the future of their nation, were whisked, by panic-stricken nannies, down the last exit that hadn’t fallen to the mercy of the pincers or tanks.

Before the last door, another group of soldiers squeezed into a sort of plug, tightening and shattering their armored bodies without the least sense of pain, the nannies stampeding instinctively, streaming towards liberty. Finally, the madcap dash for freedom broke through the sanguinaries’ ranks, which proved incapable of holding back against the suicidal force of the besieged nannies.

All of the mound’s defenders, however, would perish.

Up above, on earth, in search of other lands and apparently without trace, the workers and the nannies fled with their weakened mandibles carrying the few treasures and babies that they could escape with.

The survivors would soon organize another caste; soon the government would once again be run by the army. The moment when civil and military insects worked together was brief, and only long enough to sustain an existential threat. Once again society was made up of masters and slaves. In the end, the surviving termites and the sanguinaries would soon return to dining on our libraries.

Some scientists hope to discover the details of the intricate organization of these bugs so that they can use them to model a perfect society that mankind might emulate. Other scientists recommend spraying pentachlorophenol, arsenic or creosote in the corners of bookshelves to keep the little pests at bay.

 

Fin.