The personal blog of the cultural ambassador to the newly discovered planet of the Ant-people (the Myrmeiods).

Monday, January 9, 2012


So, I’m sitting here in my hammock with my spider, Jim, on my knee, and it occurs to me that you don’t know anything about my daily life.

I’ll start with Jim, as he’s on my knee. As I explained last time, Jim is not actually a spider, he’s a jumper. Like Myrmeoids, jumpers are part of a group of arthropods with an insect-like shape but mammal-like brains. They have three body-parts and six legs, each leg tipped with two claws they can grasp things with. The reason jumpers look like very large tarantulas is that their necks and waists are short and broad and their legs are very long and thick. Yes, it gives me the heebie-jeebies to have a pet that looks like a spider, but he eats real spiders—and yesterday he broke out of his crate and went after a big one right over my hammock. I had just fed Jim. He didn’t do it because he was hungry, he did it because I’m afraid of them—maybe he even knew the big spiders are dangerous to us. Either way, Jim gets to sit on my knee now, any time he likes.

I live in a sort of a tent. The basic construction is the same as the La’heli’s house, though the interior is different. Picture a tipi, except with one central pole rather than multiple poles around the side. The walls are not leather or cloth but strips of light brown paper laid on cables strung from the central pole; it’s like paper-mache, except the “glue” they used was a synthetic polymer that made the paper translucent and waterproof. There’s a thing like a wagon wheel around the center pole about ten feet up that spreads the cables and makes the lower walls nearly vertical. I store extra clothing up there, like on a shelf, and I hang my kitchen implements from it on hooks.

Normally, a house like this would have several of the wagon-wheel things, and each would be papered over to make a floor; a house of this size could have four or five stories, plus generous attic and cellar space. The wheels are anchored to both the central pole and the cables, which are pulled bar-hard and anchored to hooks set in concrete, so they’re relatively strong and stable floors.

Inside the tent is a circular pit ten feet across and four feet deep. There’s an inner pit four feet across and two feet deep in the center. This way the house is eight feet tall on the outside and fifteen feet tall on the inside. Both are lined with concrete and, in my house, carpeted with the pelts of some large legless animal with feathers—something like a pale blue shag carpet. Normally, the inner pit would be space for a cistern and also a composting unit for food and bodily waste—it’s aerobic, so there is no bad scent. I have separate privy and water storage, so the inner pit is simply floor space for me, surrounded by a bench. I cook outdoors on a wood-burning stove, and I sleep in a hammock strung across the one room of my house—that way, I can take down my hammock and stow it when I want more space.

It sounds primitive…and I’m not sure there is anything wrong with primitive. Dan would say (actually, has said) that only a fool would abandon a design that works. But the physical artifacts of my current life are very carefully designed and built—I don’t think it is primitive so much as advanced in a different direction, and of course my being human does play a role; a house like the one I live in back home would cost a fortune to build here, because of its size, and it would have to be custom-built for me.

They did build my house for me, actually; a local construction company did it in only three days, and they did it without robots, motors, or even any machines, unless you count the burner of the hot-air balloon that brought in the building supplies. They built everything by hand, through team-work and various pulleys and leavers—there must have been two hundred of them here, all working together. Scurrying soundlessly around the building site, stopping occasionally to cross antennae, carrying proportionately huge bales of cable or paper in the jaws, they looked…like ants. Except, ants don’t use synthetic chemicals or hot-air balloons.

It was really amazing to watch—they all worked so fast! And they wouldn’t let me help. Team-work is such a refined art, here, and they had no idea how to work me into their choreography.

Watching gave me an idea, though, and I ended up asking the foreman for a job. Our money can’t convert into theirs, because our worlds do not trade with each other; I stayed initially as a guest of the government, but as a good-will gesture I wanted to earn my keep. So now I’m a construction worker. Two to four times a month, now, I go to dig the foundation-hole of a new house or barn. The others do everything else the next day or two. Of course, I had to have my pick-mattock and shovel custom-made. The foreman insists on paying me as much as the workers I replace would earn, so that I can’t compete unfairly with native workers for work, and it’s just as well, as my living expenses are very high.

More recently, I’ve gotten a second job as a delivery-man. There’s a great demand for this because transportation is very expensive here. Everything has to be carried by hand-cart cart or by balloon, and the loads are never very heavy, since Myrmeoids are so small. I can carry sixty pounds in my pack and I can cover a route of ten to twenty miles four days a week. A cartload is twenty pounds, by contrast. It keeps me in shape and gives me a reason to get to know the neighbors.

I’m going out today, just as soon as I send this to the spraft for relay. I’m going to start out with the fifty pounds of urdle jerky the La’heli’s made over the past week, plus ten pounds of dried egg. I’ll take both the five miles into town to the dealer for sale, then do a little shopping for the family—a pound of copper wire, half a dozen chemicals I don’t understand (I have a list to give to the store clerk, like a little illiterate kid) and a few ounces of bedding. Then, I pick up orders for my clients—bags of toasted grain, pet food, salt, and sugar, bottles of soap, fruit juice, alcohol, vinegar, oil, packages of dried fish, rolls of paper, and packets of seed. There’s a number of tools I need to pick up, too; the Haneni’s, who raise far more urdles than we do, want to get back into crab-apples, and need to prune their trees. I’ll take the long way back so I can hit all my stops, and hopefully I’ll get back before dark.

When I get back late, Jim starts to worry. I’ll bring him some dried fish, if I can find a good price.

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