Read Empire of the Ants Online

Authors: Bernard Werber

Tags: #Novel

Empire of the Ants

BOOK: Empire of the Ants
6.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
Empire of the Ants
Bernard Werber
New York, N.Y. : Bantam Books, 1998. (1998)

Here is the stunning international bestseller in the tradition ofWatership Downbut with a dark, original twist. Unique, daring, and unforgettable, it tells the story of an ordinary family who accidentally threaten the security of a hidden civilization as intelligent as our own--a colony of ants determined to survive at any cost.... Jonathan Wells and his young family have come to the Paris flat at 3, rue des Sybarites through the bequest of his eccentric late uncle Edmond. Inheriting the dusty apartment, the Wells family are left with only one warning:Never go down into the cellar. But when the family dog disappears down the basement steps, Jonathan follows--and soon his wife, his son, and various would-be rescuers vanish into its mysterious depths. Meanwhile, in a pine stump in a nearby park, a vast civilization is in turmoil. Here a young female from the russet ant nation of Bel-o-kan learns that a strange new weapon has been killing off her comrades. To find out why, she enlists the help of a warrior ant, and the two set off on separate journeys into a harsh and violent world. It is a world where death takes many forms--savage birds and voracious lizards, warlike dwarf ants and rapacious termites, poisonous beetles and, most bizarre of all, the swift, murderous, giant guardians of the edge of the world: cars. Yet the end of the female's desperate quest will be the eerie secret in the cellar at 3, rue des Sybarites--a mystery she must solve in order to fulfill her special destiny as the new queen of her own great empire. But to do so she must first make unthinkable communion with the most barbaric creatures of all. Empire of the Antsis a brilliant evocation of a hidden civilization as complex as our own and far more ancient. It is a fascinating realm where boats are built of leaves and greenflies are domesticated and milked like cows, where citizens lock antennae in "absolute communication" and fight wars with precisely coordinated armies using sprays of glue and acids that can dissolve a snail. Not sinceWatership Downhas a novel so vividly captured the lives and struggles of a fellow species and the valuable lessons they have to teach us.

SUMMARY:Here is the stunning international bestseller in the tradition ofWatership Downbut with a dark, original twist. Unique, daring, and unforgettable, it tells the story of an ordinary family who accidentally threaten the security of a hidden civiliza










Translated by Margaret Rocques




TRANSWORLD PUBLISHERS LTD 61-63 Uxbridge Road, London W5 5SA

TRANSWORLD PUBLISERS (AUSTRALIA) PTY LTD 15-25 Helles Avenue, Moorebank, NSW 2170

TRANSWORLD PUBLISHERS (NZ) LTD 3 William Pickering Drive, Albany, Auckland

This novel was originally published as
Les Fourmis
by Albin Michel in 1991

This edition published in 1996 by Bantam Press

a division of Transworld Publishers Ltd Copyright © Editions Albin Michel S.A., 1991 English language translation © Margaret Rocques 1996

The rights of Bernard Werber to be identified as the author of this work and Margaret Rocques to be identified as the translator have been asserted in accordance with Sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988.

All of the characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

ISBN 0593 03385X

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publishers.

Typeset in Be
mbo by Falcon Oast Graphic Art Printed in Great Britain by Clays Ltd, St Ives pic


To my parents


And to all my friends and fellow researchers who have helped build this edifice


In the few seconds it will take you to read these 4 lines:

40 human beings and 700
million ants will have been born
on Earth.

30 human beings and 500 million ants will have died on Earth.


human being
: A mammal between 1 and 2 metres in height, weighing between 30 and 100 kilos. Gestation period: 9 months. Mode of nutrition: omnivore. Estimated population: over 5 billion individuals.

An insect between 0.01 and 3 centimetres in length, weighing between 1 and 150 milligrams. Egg laying capacity limited only by sperm stock. Mode of nutrition: omnivore. Likely population: over a million trillion individuals.

Encyclopedia of Relative and Absolute Knowledge





'I'm afraid it isn't at all what you expected.'

The solicitor explained that the building was listed and that some old Renaissance scholars had lived there, though he couldn't remember who.

They went downstairs and emerged into a dark corridor. The solicitor groped about for a switch, then tried to turn on the light. 'Damn, it isn't working.'

They plunged into the shadows, feeling their way noisily along the walls. By the time the solicitor had found the door, opened it and turned on the light, he could see that his client was upset.

'Are you all right, Mr Wells?'

'I've got a thing about the dark. It's nothing, really'

'You mean a phobia?'

'I'm afraid so. I feel better already, though.'

They looked the place over. It was a large basement flat. Jonathan liked it even though the only openings to the outside were a few small windows at ceiling level. The walls were all papered a uniform grey and there was dust everywhere. But he could not afford to be fussy.

His present flat was about a fifth of the size of this one. Besides, he could no longer afford the rent. The locksmith he worked for had recently seen fit to dispense with his services.

It meant Uncle Edmonds inheritance was a real godsend.


Two days later, he moved into number three, rue des Sybarites, with his wife Lucie, their son Nicolas and their dog Ouarzazate, a clipped toy poodle.

'I don't mind all these grey walls,' announced Lucie, pushing back her thick red hair. 'We'll be able to decorate it any way we like.

Everything needs doing. It'll be like turning a prison into a hotel.' 'Where's my room?' asked Nicolas. 'At the far end on the right.'

The dog barked a couple of times, and started worrying Lucie's calves, totally disregarding the fact that she was carrying a dinner service that had been a wedding present.

He was promptly shut in the lavatory and the door locked to stop him opening it by jumping up to the handle.

'Did you know your prodigal uncle well?' went on Lucie.

'Uncle Edmond? The only thing I can really remember about him is that he played aeroplanes with me when I was very small. I was so frightened once I wet all over him.'

They laughed.

'Bit of a hero already, were you?' teased Lucie. Jonathan pretended not to have heard.

'He didn't mind. He just remarked to my mother: "Well, now we know we'll never make a pilot of him." Later on, my mother told me he kept track of me but I never saw him again.'

'What did he do for a living?'

'He was a scientist. A biologist, I think.' Jonathan looked thoughtful. In point of fact, he didn't even know his benefactor.


6 kilometres away:


1 metre high.

50 floors below the ground.

50 floors above the ground.

The biggest city in the region. Estimated population: 18 million inhabitants.

Annual production:

50 litres of greenfly honey dew.

10 litres of ladybird honey dew.

- 4 kilos of agaric mushrooms.

- Gravel expelled: 1 tonne. Kilometres of practicable corridors: 120. Surface area at ground level: 2 square metres.



A ray of sunlight passed over. A leg stirred, the first thing to move since the start of hibernation three months earlier. Another leg moved slowly forward, the two claws in which it ended gradually opening. A third leg stretched. Then a thorax. Then a whole individual. Then twelve individuals. They trembled to help their transparent blood circulate through the networks of arteries, thinning as it went from
paste to liquor to liquid. Littl
e by little, their hearts started to beat again, pumping the life-giving fluid to their extremities. Their biomechanisms warmed up. The hyper-complex joints pivoted. All around, the ball and socket joints, covered in protective plates, twisted and turned to their full extent.

They stood up. Their bodies started to breathe again, moving in an uncoordinated slow-motion dance. They shook themselves slightly. Their forelegs met in front of their mouths as if in prayer but they were only wetting their claws to polish their antennae.

The twelve who were awake massaged one another, then tried to wake their neighbours. But they scarcely had the strength to move their own bodies and had no energy to offer. They gave up.

Then they moved with difficulty between the statue-like bodies of their sisters, making their way towards the Great Outside. Their cold-blooded organisms needed to absorb calories from the sun.


They went on, harassed, ever
y step painful. They longed to le
e down again and rest in peace like all the millions of others. But it was impossible. They were the first to wake. Now they must bring the whole city to life again.

They crossed the fabric of the city. The sunlight blinded them but the touch of pure energy was so comforting.

Enter our empty bodies, sun,

Move our aching muscles

And assemble our divided thoughts.

This old dawn chorus had been sung by the russet ants ever since the hundredth millennium. Even then, there had been a singing in their brains when they first felt the warmth of the sun.

Once outside, they started to wash methodically
They secreted white saliva and smeared it over their jaws and legs.

Their wash and brush-up followed an unchanging ritual. First, the eyes. The one thousand three hundred little portholes which made up each spherical eye were dusted, moistened and dried. Then the antennae, lower limbs, mid-limbs and upper limbs received the same treatment. Finally, they polished their beautiful russet shells until they sparkled like drops of fire.


Among the twelve ants who were awake was a reproductive male. He was a little smaller than average for the Belokanian population. He had narrow mandibles and was programmed to live no more than a few months but he had advantages unshared by others of his kind.

The first privilege of his royal caste was to possess five eyes, two big globular eyes which gave him a 180° field of vision plus three small simple eyes set in a triangle on his forehead. These additional eyes were actually infrared receivers which allowed him to detect any source of heat from a distance, even in pitch darkness.

This was a particularly valuable characteristic since most of the inhabitants of the big cities of the hundred thousandth millennium were completely blind, having spent their whole lives underground.

But this was not the only thing that was different about him. Like the females, he also had wings which would one day allow him to make love in flight.

His thorax was protected by a s
pecial shield plate, the mesono

His antennae were longer and more sensitive than those of the other inhabitants.

This young reproductive male remained on the dome for a long time, gorging himself on the sun. Then, when he was nice and warm again, he went back into the city. He temporarily belonged to the 'thermal messenger' caste of ants.

He moved along the corridors of the lower third floor. Everyone there was still sound asleep, their frozen bodies transfixed, their antennae abandoned.

The ants were still dreaming.

The young male stretched out his leg towards a young worker he wanted to wake with his body heat. His warm touch gave her a pleasant electric shock.


The patter of feet could be heard after he had rung the doorbell twice. The door opened, with a pause while Grandmother Augusta removed the safety chain.

Since the death of her two children, she had lived alone in the two-roomed flat, going over old memories. It could not have been good for her but had in no way diminished her kindness.

'Mind you don't slip now. I've just polished the floor.'

Jonathan promised to be careful. She trotted ahead of him and showed him into a living room full of furniture shrouded in dust-sheets. Jonathan perched on the edge of the big sofa but it creaked anyway when he sat down.

'I'm so glad you've come. You may not believe it but I've been meaning to call you for the last few days.'


'Believe it or not, Edmond gave me something for you. A letter. He said: "If I die, it's vital you give Jonathan this letter." ' 'A letter?'

'Yes, a letter. Now, where did I put it? Let me see. He gave me the letter, I told him I'd put it away and I put it in a box. It must have been one of the tin boxes in the big cupboard.'

She started to go over to the cupboard but stopped after a few steps.

'Really, how silly of me! What a way to welcome you! How would you like a nice cup of herb tea?' 'That'd be lovely'

She disappeared into the kitchen and put the kettle on. 'How're things with you, Jonathan?' she called. 'Not that fantastic. I've lost my job.'

Grandmother poked her little white head round the door for a second, then reappeared fully, wrapped in a long blue apron and looking serious.

'Did they fire you?'

'Yes. It's a funny sort of a job,
being a locksmith. Our company,
SOS Locks, operates twenty-four hours a day all over Paris. Well, ever since one of my colleagues got mugged, I've refused to go into the rough districts so they sacked me.'

'You did the right thing. It's better to be out of work and in one piece than the other way round.'

'I didn't get on very well with my boss, either.'

'How did you get on in those communes of yours? In my day, we called them New Age communes.' She turned her head away to hide a smile.

'I gave all that up when the farm in the Pyrenees folded. Lucie had had enough of cooking and washing-up for everyone. Some people were only out for a free ride. We fell out. It's just Lucie, Nicolas and me, now. How about you, Gran, how are you?'

'Me? I'm alive. It's a full-time occupation at my age.'

'I envy you. You were around for the millennium.'

'Oh, that. What's really surprising is that nothing has changed. When I was a girl, we thought something wonderful would happen but nothing's really changed, you know. Old people still live alone, plenty of people are still out of work and cars still give off toxic fumes. We even have the same old ideas. Last year, for example, surrealism was rediscovered, the year before, it was rock 'n' roll and the newspapers have already announced that miniskirts will be in again this summer. If we carry on like this, the old ideas from early last century will be coming back: communism, psychoanalysis and relativity'

BOOK: Empire of the Ants
6.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Birthday by Alan Sillitoe
Dreamscape Saga Part 1: Project Falcon by D. L. Sorrells, K. W. Matthews
La esquina del infierno by David Baldacci
Pursued by Him by Ellie Danes
Werewolf Me by Amarinda Jones
The Resilient One: A Billionaire Bride Pact Romance by Checketts, Cami, Lewis, Jeanette
Knight by RA. Gil