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But how can you call yourself free?

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An overheard conversation, on a day not particularly unlike any other day.

Ben sighs, a bit of condescension creeping into his tone: "Oh, Cie, how can you call yourself free when you are so limited with your dependence on others. I am a free-roving spirit, not tied down by centralized governance. It is such a waste, and all the policing and message-sending from above are essentially leeching off your very own resources. You should be like me, and be your own man. If you don't mind the saying in this context, of course."

Cie grumbles. "Yes, you believe in the survival of the fittest, but isn't that mostly because you happen to be particularly fit yourself? I happen to believe in caretaking, and working structures of collaborative behaviour and not having to worry about everything by myself. And I would much rather have a bit of overhead than resort to bullying from others in an anarchy of who is the biggest kid in the sandbox, so to say."

Ben is not daunted. "Ah, but lack of governance does not exclude cooperation. You'll understand when an army of us 'anarchist bullies', as you would put it, comes over and takes over the sandbox while you are busy trying to decide whose responsibility it is to clean up after a game and how they are compensated for it." He inches towards Cie, and continues almost conspiratorially: "It goes against nature, I tell you, all this bureaucracy and specialization up to a point of not being able to operate without your rulers. You should try to think and act for yourself for a change!"

Cie bristles, "I'll grant you that specialization makes us more vulnerable against threats from others not doing what they are supposed to," but then looks more confident of stance again. "On the other hand, together we are able to make a bigger difference. As a well-functioning organism of seamless collaboration, we can change our environment - even rather drastically."

Ben chuckles. "Yeah, we've seen how great that can work out, haven't we..."

Cie waves at him to be quiet. "If you put together your sandbox army, what do you leave behind? At least we can get together to build things rather than just conquer them. And it goes on recursively - when we can work together to work together as an organism of organisms, that's when great monuments are born. You measure your greatness by what you can achieve by yourself; I measure my own achievement through the greatness I can help create."

Ben meditates for a moment. "Well, an anthill may look pretty from the eyes of an ant, but given a few heavy rains, it is still reduced to nothing. I'm not sure what you think you've won, in the end, in return for your loss of freedom."

Val awakens at this point, and laughs maniacally, as is his wont whenever he wakes up. "If you are concerned about enduring monuments, Ben, old boy, just think of me. I am practically immortal in comparison to both of you! When you get together with your friends to collect your grains of sand and make your anthill, Cie, think of me. And when you feel like you are on the top of the food chain, Ben, just remember me."

Cie snorts. "Val, you idiot. What kind of immortality is passive storage? Your life is short and violent, and completely dependent on taking advantage of the rest of us. You are nothing but a parasite! And if there are too much of you or you otherwise get too effective, you will die out. If there are many of us and we get very effective, we take over the world! No forest without anthills!"

"...And no anthill without bacteria," Ben muses to himself.

Val does not respond, because he has just delivered his RNA payload to Ben. Ben, in turn, is about to forget all about the infection he is causing in the anthill that was built, among others, by the ant whom Cie is a feeler cell of.

Instead, in a while Ben will burn himself out to release innumerable clones of Val, each not really possible to tell apart from the original Val, and then proceed to die, by most interpretations in any case. (We were unable to inquire from Ben whether he believes in bacteria having an immortal soul.)