"Ok. Let's try this again. The enemy is down there. We can see them, we are in a superior position where they cannot fight back. All of the advantages are ours. So, what are you going to do? What is your strategy?"
The twenty hatchlings and I are positioned in one of the original four farms, clinging to the ceiling out of harm's way. I lured a monster out of the towards the edge of the open space and tied it down with a gravity bolt. The poor creature is labouring on the ground beneath us, barely able to move, whilst I try to teach these hatchlings how to fight.
The particular young worker I've been trying to teach twitches a little as I focus on my attention on them fully. I'm not sure exactly why but these workers seem a little cowed by me. Perhaps it's just that I'm older and larger.
"Well, I see the monster down there."
"I know that I have numerical superiority."
Maybe this time I'm getting through to them.
"I also know that we have a positional advantage here, and the ability to attack our opponent when they can't fight back."
Here we go!
"So, I will charge down to engage the enemy, forcing myself into its jaws so that by my sacrifice my fellow workers will be able to attack without being harmed!"
Immediately the rest of the hatchlings respond positively.
"Ooo, that's a good idea!"
"Curses! I should have thought of that."
"That has to be the right answer. It's flawless."
The worker who suggested it is now staring at me like a puppy waiting to be praised. Almost wiggling with joy as the praise of his fellow hatchlings rings in his ears.
Ugh. This again.
Swinging an antennae down hard I slap the worker on the head.
"How many times do I have to say this?! You. Are. Not. To. Die!"
"Ohhh right" the workers chorus.
I feel a splitting headache coming on.
"In none of the plans that you put forward are you allowed to act in a suicidal way. You should always act to minimise the loss to the colony to as great an extent as possible. It is possible for you to resolve this situation without any losing any workers, easily! So you should!"
The hatchlings look at me as if I'm speaking a different language.
This is infuriating. It's almost as if any plan in which they don't die is in some way unsatisfactory. I've been trying for thirty minutes to get them to value their own lives, to think of own safety as something that is important, but it just isn't getting through.
Not only do they not care about their own lives, not dying seems to be like a personal failure on their part. They burn to sacrifice themselves for the colony, to win something in the exchange and go down in a blaze of glory.
Maybe I'm thinking about this the wrong way. It's clear that they aren't going to value themselves for their own sake, but perhaps I get them to value it for another reason.
"Listen to me, all of you!" I declare.
Twenty sets of eyes and antennae focus on me with laser like focus.
They're so earnest, it's quite cute.
"Do you wish to serve the colony?" I ask.
"I'll die before this day is done for the colony!"
"Ok whoa, slow down there. So I take it, you also wish to serve the Queen?"
"Mother is the heart of the colony!"
"I will throw my life for the Queen before wakes!"
"Alright, you there, to the side, just chill out there. Sheesh!"
I take a moment to compose myself.
"Now answer this question for me. Can you do more to benefit the colony, can you do more to serve the Queen, when you are alive, as opposed to dead?"
They are thinking. They are seriously thinking. In any other situation this would be ridiculous but the fact that they are thinking at all is a massive win!
"What if…." one of the hatchlings pipes up dubiously, "we were to serve the colony for a time, and then die in dutiful service to the colony?"
"Would you be able to do more for the colony whilst still alive? Especially after you've taken Biomass and experience that could have gone to others? Are you selfish?"
I say the word selfish as if throwing up vile poison and the hatchlings with respond with horror and disgust.
"Be accused of selfishness?! I would rather die! Unselfishly … "
I nod sagely.
"That's right. If the colony has invested resources in you, it is your duty to repay the colony with dutiful service, NOT pointless death."
I lean closer to them.
"Not to mention, the other thing to consider. Which colony is better, one with one hundred workers, or one with two hundred workers?"
They think and mutter amongst themselves for a moment before deciding that yes, more workers is clearly superior to less workers. The ant logic of strength in numbers is strong with these ones.
"Exactly. Now how is the colony supposed to increase its numbers if you die so easily?"
Oooh that hit them hard. Time for the final strike!
"In fact, to strengthen the colony, isn't it your duty to stay alive as long as possible? Wouldn't throwing your life away for personal glory actually be an act of … SELFISHNESS?!"
Their faces are pure masks of shock. Glorious sacrifice for the colony? Selfish?! It sounds like madness, but the logic is so clear! It sounds like heresy to them, but I've laid out a strong case. The war of ideas in playing out on their faces as I watch them.
Maybe I have them now. Please, let me have them. I really didn't think that the first order of business I would have when trying to teach these hatchlings would be to convince them not to throw their lives away at the first opportunity.
I put so much work into getting to this point. Did they really think I'd let them waste it all?!
I really hope we don't have to do this with every new worker that hatches, seriously.
Slowly, the light of understanding has begun to dawn amongst a few of the hatchlings. I decide that there is a slight chance that some of them may be able to give me a non-stupid answer so I indicate one of the quicker ants to come forward.
"OK. Let's try again. Your foe is there below us, we are here. How do you approach the situation?"
The hatchling considers the question seriously. I can see the cogs turning as it thinks about what I've said, what it's instincts say, and tries to resolve the two.
"So … I don't … Throw myself at it and …. Die?" it says hesitantly.
"It's so simple! Get your hunting party together and attack with acid from range! You can damage your target without it being able to threaten you. With enough acid being applied, you might even defeat the enemy without them coming close enough to hurt you! See?! Then all of the workers survive, the hunt is successful and the colony benefits! HOW CAN YOU NOT UNDERSTAND THIS?!"
They all nod and exclaim "Oooh!", as if they've finally understood. These damn idiots!
Finally, I snap.
"RIGHT! Line up! Two rows of ten. I said ten! Now on my signal you will begin firing acid at the target until you run out. NO QUESTIONS, put that antenna DOWN. Make every shot count and focus on your skills? Ready? FIRE!"
They watch me.
I watch them.
Slowly I bring my antennae forward to rub at my temples.
"The signal to shoot is when I say 'fire'. Ok?"
I'm dying here. I'm seriously dying.