The Bug In Winter

a Bug's Life fanfic
by Sparky

Chapter I

The account of Hopper's demise spread throughout the Colony rapidly, and by the time the circus bugs had been invited to spend the night within the shelter of the Anthill, everyone had heard at least one version of it. The more popular versions featured Flik as some kind of superhero, literally tossing the big grasshopper to a flock of ravenous birds - but Flik's friends knew that Princess Atta's more modest version was probably more accurate. Bulging biceps or not, however, everyone accepted that Flik was one exceptional ant, and the whole Colony took his words about not being weak to heart. Everyone knew that from that day on, the citizens of Ant Island would be respected as well as respecting themselves, which was probably the more important factor anyway.

In the morning, the circus bugs were invited to share breakfast with Flik and the Royal Family. As the rain had stopped and the sun had come out with the vengeance of a Summer day, everyone met outside under the Tree. Around them, the rest of the Colony was hard at work waterproofing the Anthill. The patch of ground where the grasshoppers had burst through earlier that Spring, while reinforced with leaves, wouldn't hold under the weight of the mud the ground would become during the Winter rains. More soil had to be brought in from the outer portions of the Island and layered very carefully to avoid erosion, a process routinely performed around the Anthill every Summer - only the Colony hadn't had time this year to adequately prepare. Now it was a rush job. Not to mention that the Anthill's back exits still had to be sealed with flat rocks, and that required the strength of the entire Colony.

This made Atta very nervous. She sat very stiffly at the breakfast table, looking around anxiously at the workers as they scuttled back and forth. She felt that she should be doing something, but the Queen had told her repeatedly that the Royal Council had everything under control.

Next to Atta, Flik watched the Princess fidget. He put a hand on hers, and squeezed it. She glanced at him and he smiled.

"Don't worry," he whispered. "Your mother is right - it's under control. Our troubles are over. Try to enjoy yourself."

Atta nodded and smiled back. She'd try - but she couldn't guarantee anything. In any case, the ants had other news for their guests this morning.

"Now, I'm not knocking your midways," P.T. was explaining to the Queen as Tuck and Roll erupted into a noisy squabble over a droplet of nectar. "But the real excitement is in the travelling circus. Now there's a place where you can take the whole family. You find a seat that isn't sticky, you cringe at the incredibly dangerous death-defying routines, you spend a mint on refreshments and souvenirs, and then you leave. Nothing fancy, no one discussing the best way to breed tubifex worms, none of that. Just a day of fun."

Slim rolled his eyes. "Sure, fun for the audience," he remarked. "While we have to not only perform, but set everything up, and take it back down again..."

"...And clean up after every disgusting fly that comes through the place," supplied Francis around a bite of food.

P.T. threw his arms wide. "Well who do you expect to do that?" he demanded. "Not me - I'm too busy with the paperwork. Besides, what do you want to do, get OSHA on us? That would be the last thing we need."

Rosie pointed an accusing finger at the flea. "You should hire someone to manage the props," she said. "And to help us put up the tent, and do repairs - "

"All right," interrupted P.T. sourly. "I'll think about it."

"Mother," said Atta quickly, changing the subject, "shouldn't we..." She raised an eyeridge at the Queen.

"Oh, of course," replied the Queen, and gave Aphie one more scrap of food. She put the aphid on the ground and stood up. "You have all," she began, addressing the circus bugs, "made quite an impression on the Colony. You have aided us in solving a problem that has plagued us for years, and in return, we would like to repay you. With Winter practically on top of us - despite the sunny day we have now - we would be honored if you all chose to stay here, on the Island, with us until Spring."

The circus bugs were flattered. "We couldn't possibly intrude - "

"You have to say yes," smiled Atta, interrupting Manny. "We insist."

"Well isn't - isn't there a food shortage?" Gypsy wondered.

Flik shook his head. "No," he answered. "We have enough food underground for the Colony to last the winter, plus what was picked at the last minute for the grasshoppers. That's everything, all the food on the entire Island."

"We've never had to pick everything before," the Queen went on, sitting back down. "So, essentially, if you don't stay, we'll be wasting food."

At that, the circus bugs had to accept.

"Yay!" shouted Dot, who had been quietly eating up until this time. "Can you put on shows for us?"

"Dot!" exclaimed Atta. "They're our guests, they don't have to work."

Rosie waved her hands. "Oh, no, no," she said, backed up by the others. "We'd love to perform for you - besides, we have to keep in practice." The circus bugs all nodded at that.

"Well that's terrific!" beamed the Queen. "It'll be quite a change for us. Usually our Winters are horribly dull, sitting around underground with nothing to do."

"Speaking of sitting around doing nothing," broke in P.T., putting down the bead of dew he was about to drink, "where's that lazy crew of mine? All they ever do is sit around, playing those stupid games of theirs."

"Give them a break," Slim told the flea. "You got yourself a real bargain with those three. Blip and Flash double as both spotlights and Concessions, and Ymri does the work of an entire band all by himself!"

"Ja," agreed Heimlich. "So what if they are antisocial?"

P.T. harrumphed. "I still say they're lazy bums."

o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o

Flash yawned. "I'm tired," he complained.

Blip elbowed him. "Snap outta it," he told the other firefly. "It's your turn."

"Oh all right." Flash rolled a fourteen-sided die. He drew a card from the purple pile. "Hah!" he crowed, waving the card over his head like a banner. "I get twenty extra round tokens! Okay, I attack Ymri's squadron with my backup swarm and take his Hexagonal Hideout!"

"You can't," Blip pointed out. "Ymri's got a Poison Ivy Barrier around his Hideout. Besides, you need three more square tokens to attack his Squadron. You forfeit your turn."

"What?" Flash was indignant. "Gimme the Rulebook!"

Ymri obediently handed Flash the Rulebook - an impressive tome about two-thirds of an inch thick. Flash staggered a bit under its weight, but managed to open it.

"When I find the right page you gotta give me half of your green cards, ya feeb!" Flash told Blip smugly.

"Forget it, you forfeit. Ymri, your turn."

"Hey! That's not fair!"

"You wanna be here all mornin'?" snapped Blip. "If we're not outta this tree by noon, P.T.'ll have our heads for dessert!"

"Fine." Flash closed the book and dropped it onto the web Ymri had constructed for them to use as a playing surface. The web bounced, sending the book, all the piles of cards, the dozens of multi-sided dice, the tokens of all shapes, and all three boards flying.

Several yards below, P.T. screamed as the Rulebook flattened him.

"Hey!" yelped Blip, but it was too late - the game pieces had scattered in all directions. "Now see what you done?"

"Oh gee, I'm sorry," said Flash sheepishly. "I didn't mean it. I told yous I was tired."

Ymri merely sighed. "It does no matter," he told the fireflies. "Is only the seventh Hive Wars set we lose this month."

"Yeah," Blip had to agree as the wolf spider picked up the single blue card which remained on the web and dropped it casually over the edge. "We're doing much better than last month."

"Well," said Flash, looking back and forth between his companions. "Anyone up for Lizard Encounter?"