Warning: This poem contains some intense and controversial topics. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It includes Thor being rambunctious, Loki being elusive, AI ants, Odin's A+ parenting, anxiety, shyness, and other challenges. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.
"No Quarrel with a Boot"
While Thor bounded about the Tower
like a large dog jumping on people,
Loki ghosted through it like an alley cat.
No matter how much Phil tried
to keep an eye on Loki, he slipped
though the shadows and out of view --
unless Phil resorted to actual surveillance,
which rather defeated the purpose of
helping Loki feel more at home here.
As hard as it was to find him on purpose,
sometimes Phil stumbled across Loki
while not even looking for him.
Today Phil found Loki in
the common room, holding
a holo of something in his hands
and peering intently at the image.
"Good morning, Loki," said Phil
as he came into the common room.
Loki whirled around at the sound,
banishing the holo as he put
his hands behind his back.
Well, that was concerning.
"Were you just looking at
Tony's ant farm?" Phil asked.
"I wasn't doing -- I wouldn't
hurt them, they're just ants,
they -- they weren't bothering
anything, don't -- just don't --"
Loki's protests choked off.
An ant has no quarrel with
a boot, Phil recalled, with
a sudden queasy suspicion
about Loki's curiosity and
Odin's response to insect life.
"It's quite a nice ant farm,"
Phil said mildly. "I enjoy
watching it myself sometimes.
Would you like to see me feed them?"
"They are constructs, not actual insects,"
Loki said dryly. "They do not require food."
"Sure they do," Phil said. "Usually
JARVIS takes care of them, but
I learned how to do it too."
In fact, they were quicklife ants,
artificial life generated by a program
that Tony had written in grade school,
then later refined and expanded before
moving on to artificial intelligence.
So the ants had survival needs
just like ordinary ones did,
only in a different form.
Phil swept a hand across
the coffee table, summoning
a luminous blue keyboard.
Carefully, his right hand
tapped out the command
for the 'breadcrumbs' routine,
while his left set the intensity.
JARVIS displayed the ant farm,
sprinkling bright green crumbs of
energy along one edge of the screen.
The amber ants quickly discovered
the motes of food and formed lines
to transport them back home.
"Fascinating," Loki breathed.
He leaned forward until his nose
nearly touched the display.
"Would you like to water them?"
Phil offered, waving at the keyboard.
Loki gazed at him for a long moment,
then gave a hesitant nod. "How?"
Phil typed another command to set up
the routine, then said, "First touch
this key here. Then touch the place
where you want to put the water."
Loki obeyed, and a dripping blue sponge
appeared at the far end of the ant colony.
"It will take a while for them to find it
all the way out there," Phil pointed out.
"I know," Loki said as he rested his chin
in his hand, settling down to wait.
Maybe that was what he needed,
peace and quiet to sit and watch
the ants, without worrying that
anyone would take a boot to them.
"Do you mind if I sit with you and
watch the ants too?" Phil asked.
Loki peeked at him through
a curtain of long dark hair.
"I quite like ants," Phil said.
"I used to watch them as a boy.
They're curious, and diligent,
and their teamwork is amazing."
Maybe he should set up exercises
for the Avengers or the SHEILD agents
that would require similar coordination
to move heavy or bulky objects.
There was that embarrassing clip
from early on when Captain America
and Iron Man had tried to move
an empty bus to clear a bridge but
wound up dropping it in the Hudson.
"... you may stay," Loki said.
Phil felt like the ant who
discovered the ice cream cone.
* * *
Artificial life, sometimes called quicklife, includes ants and other evolutionary models.
Harming animals often coincides with other forms of domestic violence. Witnessing animal abuse undermines the mental health of children.