Okay, first thing you gotta do is go read The Bug In Winter if you haven't already. I'll wait.
Welcome back. :) Now, the first thing I'm gonna show you is the first version of the beginning of the story I had written, back when I was originally going to write a story entirely about Molt and how he came to join the Circus. (I for one am glad I decided to make it more about everyone.) The opening scene starts the same, as you can see, with a few minor differences, until the Queen says "Usually our Winters are horribly dull, sitting around underground with nothing to do." After that line it's an entirely different version of how Molt comes to break his wing and is forced to stay in the Anthill. He does not learn what had happened to Hopper here; that happens instead in the following scene, which starts out the same as the one in the final story where Blip, Flash, and Ymri go to visit Molt in the Infirmary.
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 anyways.
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 - except for Dr. Flora, who was underground preparing the Infirmary for those inevetable flu cases the winter would bring - 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 souvinirs, 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 take care of the millipedes - "
"All right," interrupted P.T. sourly. "I'll think about it."
"Mother," said Atta quickly, changing the subject, "shouldn't we…" She raised an eyebrow 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 terriffic!" 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 underground," broke in Flik, frowing at the sky, "but I think we should move this indoors. The wind's picking up."
"Dot! Dot!" chorused half a dozen voices from nearby.
Dot spied her friends waving to her from the top of a blade of grass. "Mom, can I go play?"
"It is getting kind of windy, Dot," said Atta. "We should all go inside - kids!" she shouted to the little girls. "Time to go in now!"
The girls awwed in disappointment.
"Come on, girls," pressed Atta, flying to hover near the children. "The wind's getting - Oh!" she cried as a sudden gust blew her offbalance and she tumbled end over end past the blade of grass and against another.
"Atta!" shouted the Queen. "Get down here quickly."
"I'm trying!" insisted the Princess, fighting the wind.
Screaming, Dot's friends slid down to the ground and the Queen ushered them and Dot towards the Hill.
"Hang on, Atta!" Flik ran towards the blade Atta was clinging to. "Don't let go - No! Atta!"
But it was too late. The wind had torn Atta from the grass and she went sailing through the air, completely out of control.
"Someone has to go after her!" insisted Gypsy.
"The wind is too strong!" Manny put his arms around his wife to protect her delicate wings from tearing.
Francis started forward, but Slim held him back. "The wind is too strong!" he repeated. "You'd be no better off than Atta!"
"Dim go," announced the rhinocerous beetle, opening his wing coverts. Flik jumped onto his back, but when Dim tried to take off, he was immediately flung tail over head and nearly crushed the ant.
"Whatever shall we do?" moaned Heimlich.
Molt landed heavily on a cloverleaf. After waiting out the rain the night before, he alone had returned to Ant Island to look for Hopper - only he hadn't found anything, and he was well worn out, not to mention hoarse from shouting.
The grasshopper distractedly scratched an elbow, and proceeded pacing back and forth, muttering to himself.
"Hopper's gonna kill me…flyin' away like that…he's probably just waitin' for me to show up and then am I gonna get it…But I've looked everywhere already…Unless - " here Molt gripped the leaf's stem as the wind suddenly picked up with a roar - "Unless he isn't here, and he's waitin' for me somewhere else…and when I don't show up…Oh boy, this is bad…So should I go, or keep lookin'? Gee I hate makin' decisions…"
Molt's train of thought derailed violently as he looked around for the source of that terrified voice. Then he saw, clinging desperately to a cloverleaf somewhat below him, a purple figure.
"Help me! Somebody! Please help me!"
Molt stared in surprise. It was Princess Atta - and she obviously stood no chance against such a strong wind. As the grasshopper watched, Atta lost her grip on the stem of the leaf she was clinging to and slid down to the very end.
To say Atta was panicking would be terribly accurate, and as the ant tried desperately to maintain the grip she had on the tip of the brittle leaf, she couldn't help remembering the first - and last - time she had been snatched away by a gust. She had nearly been blown off the Island. The memory of that incedent had kept her feet firmly on the ground in windy weather since. But now…Atta was simply terrorstruck. Finally, she lost her hold, and the wind pulled her along yet again. She turned over in the air, and got an upside-down view of the River, swollen from last night's cloudburst.
She had forgotten about the River! Being almost blown off the Island into the dry riverbed was one thing, but to be blown into the raging river was quite another, and Atta shrieked.
Then the wind turned her back around, and she saw something possibly even more frightening than the River: there was a huge grasshopper coming right for her. She considered shrieking again, but before she could, the grasshopper had grabbed her by the wrist.
Still surprised at the fact that he had jumped out into the wind after an ant at all, Molt pulled Atta towards him, getting a firm grip on her arms and waist with all four hands. He fought against the wind, straining with his wings to slow down.
Suddenly another gust came along, which sent them both spinning towards the edge of the Island - and the beginning of the river.
Atta cried out and, wrenching her wrists free, flung her arms around the grasshopper. "Pull up, pull up!" she ordered.
"I'm…pullin'!" Molt told her. He righted himself and buzzed his wings furiously. They started over the river, heading for the opposite bank.
"Higher! You have to go higher!" cried Atta, kicking and squirming in her panic. They were flying so close to the surface of the water that the ant's ankles were getting wet.
"I'm tryin' to go - Ow! Quit kickin'!" It was all Molt could do to keep them upright in the first place. He had never been a strong flier, and he was already tired from searching for Hopper all morning. The strain of trying to keep out of the water was beginning to get to him, and he lost his grip on Atta. She made a quick grab at his upper right arm just as the wind hurled him face first into a root sticking up out of the opposite bank. The halted momentum sent Atta into an ungraceful heap on the muddy ground.
"Ooh - ooooh." Atta rolled over and at first, saw nothing but sky. Confused, she sat up quickly and looked around. No, she was on the ground - muddy, but otherwise unscathed.
The grasshopper who had - well, she had to admit it - rescued her was painfully disengaging himself from the root. Atta carefully stood up. Apparently the wind had died down. She wobbled over to the grasshopper, who seemed a bit dazed.
"Um...are you...all right?" she asked him hesitantly.
The grasshopper rubbed his forehead and looked at her blearily. "I...think so," he answered, "...but were there always two of you?"
Not wanting to take a chance that the wind might come back or that the river might wash up dangerously close, Atta took the grasshopper by the arm and led him into the vegetation further up the bank.
After instructing the grasshopper to sit down on a rock so his head could clear, Atta took a better look at him.
"I know you," she said after a moment. "Your name is Molt, right?"
Sure he was steady again, Molt stood up. "Yeah, that's me," he said. "...You know," he added, "you really shouldn't go flyin' in windy weather. It's dangerous. One time, I met this cockroach, and he had gone flyin' once when - "
Atta was familiar with Molt's inclination to tell lengthy stories, so she interrupted him swiftly by commenting: "I wonder where we are." She walked to a stalk of vegetation and put a hand on it. She peered upwards at its leaves. "I've never seen a plant like this before."
Molt barely glanced at it. "You've never seen a strawberry plant before?" he asked. "Boy, you ants sure don't get out much. It's too bad, though. Strawberries are great. There's a whole patch of - "
When Molt shut up all by himself and went pale, Atta knew something was wrong. "What's the matter?" she urged.
The grasshopper seized her by the elbow and pulled her after him as he started to half fly, half scramble up the plant. "We gotta get off the ground right now," was all he said.
Atta resisted a little. "But why?" she pressed, turning away and attempting to fly back down.
Then she saw something move slightly out of the corner of her eye. She turned to look.
"A lizard! There's a lizard!" She lunged back down to the ground, nearly pulling Molt down on top of her. He landed in a heap next to her instead.
The lizard, which had blended perfectly with the mottled vegetation, stepped forward, and its tongue tasted the air carefully.
Atta and Molt yelled and clung to eachother.
"Okay, okay, I got it, okay," rattled Atta, disengaging herself from the panicked grasshopper's grasp. "Lizards like things that are moving, right? Right? Okay. And, I'm sure this thing would rather have a big grasshopper than a puny ant. So..." She took a wobbly step away from Molt. "So I'll have to lead it away from you."
Molt's mouth hung open. "Are you insane?" he demanded.
"We'll discuss my psychiatric past later." Atta edged carefully farther away from the grasshopper, not taking her eyes off of the lizard, which had become motionless yet again as it attempted to relocate its meal. "Okay," she whispered out of the corner of her mouth, "I'm going to start flying. As soon as the lizard has turned away from you, you get the heck up to the top of one of these plants. Okay?"
"Okay...now!" Atta flung herself into the air and buzzed quickly to the right.
The lizard noticed her, and snapped to attention, following her every movement with its entire head and neck. "Come on, come on.." muttered Atta, hovering to the right a few more inches.
The lizard finally turned its body to follow Atta, and the ant screamed, "Go!"
Frightened comepletely out of his wits, Molt sprang in the general direction of a strawberry plant stalk, and by some miracle managed to actually grab it, winding up about halfway to the top in the single leap. The lizard however had caught sight of him, and also sprang at the plant, but with much greater accuracy. The impact cost Molt his already weak grip on the stalk and he fell off, landing squarely between the lizard's eyes.
Atta shrieked in horror. "Look out! Let go! Hang on!" she shouted.
Molt was too busy trying to preserve his own life to even hear Atta's useless orders. The lizard reared its head back, and Molt went tumbling down over its shoulder before falling to the ground next to the lizard's foreleg. The reptile snapped at him, and he jumped. Unfortunately it was in entirely the wrong direction, and he wound up travelling under the lizard's belly and arriving simply next to its other foreleg. The lizard was startled by this and stumbled, crashing down right on top of Molt, whose surprised yell was cut off by the creature's entire bulk.
Atta was so engrossed in watching this scene that she didn't even notice the loud chopchopchop sound of a large beetle approaching - until she heard Flik's voice.
The Princess looked over her shoulder. "Dim!" she cried, completely ignoring the other ant in her fright. "The lizard! It's crushing him!"
Although he didn't know who he was rescuing, Dim knew that there was someone who needed rescuing, so he flew straight for the confused lizard's head, roaring as loud as he could.
The reptile, deciding it could find an easier meal somewhere else, regained its feet and scurried off into the vegetation.
Atta zipped down and landed next to the motionless Molt, who had all four arms wrapped over his head and eyes. Dim landed with a thump nearby, and Flik hopped down off of his back.
"It's a grasshopper!" the ant cried, pointing.
"Very good, Flik," deadpanned Atta, glowering at him. "Now would you like to recite the alphabet for the class?"
Flik blinked at her, then approached Molt. "Gee, is he..." he trailed off.
"Molt!" said Atta, shaking the grasshopper. "...Molt?"
Molt uncovered one eye and looked at Atta, then he slowly uncovered his head completely and pushed himself up.
Flik frowned. It was Molt, Hopper's slow-thinking brother. Flik had always considered Molt to be the least dangerous of Hopper's gang, mainly because he never shut up long enough to cause any real damage.
"I guess I messed up your plan," the grasshopper sheepishly remarked to Atta.
Atta shook her head. "No, no," she said. "It was a stupid plan. You could have been killed."
Flik was still frowning. "Atta," he began, "what exactly - "
A shadow fell over Molt, and he looked over his shoulder to see Dim, who had approached the group curiously. The grasshopper yelped in terror and, fluttering his wings, scrambled around to cower behind Atta.
"No, its all right!" insisted Atta. "Its only Dim, he chased off the lizard and - Oh! Oh no!"
Atta put a hand on Molt's right wing. It was snapped cleanly at its leading edge, although the membrane was intact. "Your wing - its broken."
"Huh?" Molt carefully extended the broken wing to look at it. "Oh gee - I didn't even feel it," he said.
"This is terrible," said Atta, wringing her hands. "This is my fault. I'm sorry."
Flik was still confused. "What's your fault? What is going on?"
"That lizard was not your fault," insisted Molt. "I've seen plenty of lizards in that strawberry patch - "
"Well after you saved my life and everything - "
"There's always been lizards there, makes it kind of hard to get the strawberries but if you're careful and stay off of the ground - "
"I would have gone right into the river if you hadn't of - "
"Of course, Hopper always hated it when I wanted to stop and pick berries, even if I offered to get him one - "
"And sure I got a little muddy but you got smothered by a reptile and - "
"All right!" hollered Flik, whose neck was beginning to hurt from looking back and forth between the Princess and the grasshopper. "Would someone mind telling me what just happened?"
Molt frowned at him. "Weren't you listenin'?" he asked.
"Yeah Flik, " said Atta, putting her hands on her hips. "It should be obvious to anyone."
"Dim knows what happened," supplied the rhino beetle cheerfully.
Flik frowned at Dim. "Swell," he said. "Then you can tell me on the way back. Atta, we'd better get back to the Anthill - everyone is worried."
Atta hesitated. "Then," she said, "we have to bring Molt with us."
"What?" shouted Molt and Flik together.
"No way I'm going back there," said Molt.
"Yeah, come on, Atta," agreed Flik. "We can't bring a grasshopper back to the Colony!"
"But Flik, his wing is broken!" Atta implored, taking hold of one of Molt's forearms. "Winter is practically on top of us! There are lizards everywhere! Now what exactly do you expect him to do?"
Flik narrowed his eyes. "How about fend for himself?" he sneered.
Atta was shocked. "Flik!"
"No." Molt pulled free of Atta's gentle grip. "I can't go with you guys anyways," he said. "I have to catch up with my brother. Do either of you know which way he went?"
At that, Flik and Atta's breaths caught in their throats.
"...Didn't you see which way he flew?"
Flik, Atta, and Dim glanced at eachother.
"He did leave...didn't he?" When the ants and beetle dropped their gaze, Molt sighed. "So you didn't see where he went," he surmised. "All right well, I guess I can find him by myself then. I'll be goin'. Thanks for getting' that lizard offa my back," he told Dim, then he turned and started off away from the Island into the vegetation.
Flik couldn't stand it. "Wait!" he shouted, hurrying forward. "Ahh...what was I thinking? You should come back with us! I mean, a broken wing and all..."
Molt stopped in his tracks and turned to looked curiously at Flik.
"…And winter - winter, yeah - and…and there's all sorts of lizards and snakes and bir - Agh! I mean, big - yes, big things, out...there..."
Molt frowned. "You sure are a weird little bug," he commented, scratching his head.
Atta rushed to Flik's side. "Oh yes, that's Flik, the weirdest bug I know," she said as cheerfully as possible. She sobered up instantly. "Please," she said. "You have to come with us. You won't survive if you don't."
Molt sighed again. "How can I go back there?" he asked plaintively.
Atta glanced at the ground. "Look," she said at last. "You saved my life. Me: you know, the future Queen of the Colony. You didn't even have to."
"Come on, big guy," pressed Flik. "You're a hero. Besides…you won't make it out there."
Molt looked over his shoulder at the dense growth of strawberry plants. He knew they were right, but the thought of going back to the Anthill - especially without Hopper - was a frightening prospect, and he didn't handle complicated situations like that with any degree of success. Still…
Molt finally sighed, throwing his arms wide. "I guess I have to," he admitted.
As the grasshopper was climbing up onto Dim's back, Atta pulled Flik aside.
"What are we going to tell him?" she fretted. "I feel terrible."
"I know," Flik told her. "I do too. Let's just get him back and have Dr. Flora look at that wing...and then well, I guess we'll just have to tell him, is all."
Atta nodded. "I'll fly ahead and tell everyone he's coming so nobody...overreacts."
"Atta, thank goodness you're safe." The Queen put Aphie down hastily and greeted her eldest daughter as Atta fluttered to the ground.
"Mother, I have to tell you something," replied Atta, glancing around at the Colony, which was beginning to gather around.
"Everything's all right now!" the Queen addressed the Colony, ignoring Atta's attempts to interrupt. "Princess Atta wasn't hurt!" The Colony cheered.
"But Mother - "
"Here comes Flik!" announced Dot, pointing to the sky.
"That's it - I've changed my mind. I'm getting off."
Flik grabbed one of Molt's arms before the latter could dive off Dim's back into the grass below. "Just relax," the ant said. "It'll be fine. I'm sure."
"Yeah?" The grasshopper looked suspicious. "Then why don't you sound sure?"
Flik sighed. "Okay so I'm not sure, happy now? - Sit down!" He grabbed the grasshopper's arm as Molt attempted another bailout.
Below them, Dim felt his cargo shifting around dangerously, so he decided he needed to land quickly. He dove straight for the ground, causing Molt to quit struggling to get off and start struggling to stay on. Flik meanwhile, did fall off, but managed to grab one of Dim's legs quickly enough to keep from hitting the ground.
"Dim!" shouted Flik. "Slow down!"
"Sorry," replied the beetle, but it was too late to pull back up. He landed with a jolt next to the Anthill, sending Flik tumbling.
"Dim!" chided Rosie, scuttling forward. "You know better than to plow into the ground like that!"
"Hey!" Francis shielded his eyes from the sun and frowned at the beetle. "It's a grasshopper!"
Atta just rolled her eyes. Another astute observation.
"A grasshopper!" cried the Queen. Aphie yapped in excitement.
The Colony stepped forward angrily, and Molt dove off Dim's back to duck behind the beetle, who hadn't yet moved from his landing spot.
Flik jumped up. "No, wait!" he shouted to the crowd.
"I got it, Flik," said Atta, flying to land on Dim's back. She addressed the Colony. "Everyone stay calm," she said. "This grasshopper is my guest…Get Dr. Flora," she whispered to Flik, who nodded and ran off.
"Atta, you have some explaining to do." The Queen approached the beetle. "Come down off of there."
"But Mother," returned Atta, not moving. "He's hurt and it's my fault."
"That wasn't an explaination," Cornelius pointed out.
"Oh dear, what's the trouble?" wondered Dr. Flora, following Flik out of the Anthill. She caught sight of the crowd. "My goodness," she remarked. "It must have been quite an accident." The doctor pushed her way through the ants. "Excuse me - coming through!"
Only then did Atta leave Dim's back. "Dr. Flora!" she exclaimed, jumping to the ground. "Wait here." She ran behind the beetle.
The doctor frowned. "Your Majesty, your daughter is acting strange again."
"I know, I know."
"Come...on." Atta pulled Molt around Dim while Flik pushed the reluctant grasshopper from behind.
"Oh…my," was all Dr. Flora could say.
"Dr. Flora," Atta began, letting go of her charge. "He broke his wing after saving me from the wind. Can you fix it?"
The Queen frowned. "This grasshopper saved you?"
"Its true," affirmed Flik, who was still pushing Molt to keep him from darting back around behind Dim.
"This one is Hopper's brother," stated the Queen after scrutinizing the grasshopper for a moment. "Does he know?"
Atta and Flik made several throat - slashing motions frantically to the Queen.
"Cut what out?" her mother wanted to know.
"Oh, I see the problem," Dr. Flora spoke up. She was examining Molt's damaged wing. "This needs a splint. You were very lucky the whole wing didn't tear," she told the grasshopper. "How on Earth did you manage to do this?"
"Well..." Molt thought about it. "A lizard kind of...fell on me."
"A lizard!" The Queen planted her hands on her hips and looked at Atta. "You are definitely going to explain this one right away." Then she turned to the crowd. "All right," she said. "There's no danger here. Go on back to your jobs."
The Colony reluctantly resumed working on waterproofing the Anthill.
"Go on and take him to the Infirmary," the Queen told Dr. Flora, then turned to Flik and Atta. "Well?" she prompted.
"Well?" parroted Cornelius. The circus bugs, Dot, Dr. Soil and Thorny stepped closer to hear better as Dr. Flora and Molt disappeared into the Anthill.
Atta sighed and pressed her fingers together. "Well," she began tentatively. "It was the wind. I nearly fell into the River. The grasshopper - Molt - he appeared out of nowhere and grabbed me. Then we crashed into the the bank on the other side of the River."
"You were on the other side of the River?" gasped Cornelius.
"The Royal Family of this island," stated Mr. Soil authoratatively, "has never set foot on the other side of the River."
"Well they must have sometime," Flik pointed out. "They had to have come from somewhere - "
"That's beside the point, and not in the history books," replied Thorny smoothly.
The Queen still wasn't satisfied. "Well what's all this about a lizard?" she demanded.
Atta began to rub her hands together. "Well, this lizard just...popped out of the grass. It tried to eat Molt but well...kinda fell on him instead."
"Ouch," remarked Francis.
"Then Dim here chased it away," Flik finished.
Dim chuckled modestly.
"All right then," Cornelius huffed. "We fix his wing and he leaves! We can't have a grasshopper here."
"But he wouldn't be able to fly for weeks," said Gypsy. "Do you remember dear, the time you broke your wing?"
"Ah yes," mused Manny thoughtfully. "The Amazing Submersible Capsule Disappearing Act. I was merely distracted that performance."
"That's because you were about to propose to me."
"But of course."
Thorny frowned. "It will be the dead of winter in a few weeks."
Cornelius sputtered. "We must get rid of him somehow!" he insisted.
Atta was offended. "How can you say that, Corny?" she challenged the elderly head of the Agriculture Department. "He did save my life."
"After helping to nearly kill us all!" went on Cornelius, waving his cane like a flag.
"All right, all right," cut in the Queen. "After Dr. Flora takes care of his wing, we'll have a private hearing tonight in the Colony Courtroom. We'll decide then what to do."
"There's one more thing." Atta fidgeted. "He doesn't exactly know yet that Hopper was killed."
"He doesn't know?" sputtered Francis. "Shouldn't someone tell him?"
Thorny frowned. "More importantly, shouldn't someone tell Dr. Flora not to mention it? You know how...questionable her bedside manners can be."
"Oh yes," mused the Queen. "She's as blunt as a stone. All right, we'll send a messenger...Quick!" she shouted.
A nearby female worker, thin as a twig, darted over.
"Yes your Majesty," she deadpanned.
"Quick," said the Queen again, "I want you to go to the Infirmary and tell Dr. Flora not to converse with that grasshopper about anything - just to be safe. Tell her there will be a hearing later tonight."
"Yes your Majesty." Quick disappeared into the Anthill like a shot.
"Speedy little lady," remarked P.T.
"And a bundle of joy to boot," added Thorny sarcastically, rolling his eyes.
P.T. frowned at the sun. "Hm," he mused. "It's time to water the millipedes...all right, which one of you clowns wants to volunteer? Come on, don't make me choose," he added as Heimlich, Slim and Francis began kicking the ground and looking at the sky.
Rosie grunted in disgust. "I still say you need to hire someone to do that," she pointed out.
"Not this flea," replied P.T. "Why hire new bozos when I've got some perfectly good ones right here? All right, fine - I'll get one of the crew to do it, then."
Slim frowned. "Where is the crew? I haven't seen them all morning."
"I don't know where they are," answered Francis, "but I lent them my deck of cards and they'd better not wreck 'em."
"Oops - I bent one of the cards."
"Butterfingers," replied Blip. "You should oughta be more careful with them cards, they's Francis'. You know how he gets."
"Yeah, yeah, I know." Flash examined his hand. "Um...I'll hit," he said.
Ymri passed the firefly a card.
"D'oh!" exclaimed Flash.
"Hah!" taunted the other firefly. "You busted. Hit me too, Ymri."
The spider passed Blip a card.
"Heh heh - D'oh!"
"Twenty," announced Ymri quietly, laying down his hand.
"Yeah, yeah," grunted Flash as the wolf spider gathered up the pot of grain. "You're the big winner. Is it my turn to deal yet or what?"
Ymri quietly collected cards from the fireflies and passed the deck to Flash.
"Now," said Flash smugly. "I'll show yous how a real classy dealer shuffles. Watch this."
Blip rolled his eyes. "Just don't hurt yourself."
"Me? Ha!" Flash began shuffling the cards quickly. "I never - Ow! I hurt myself!"
Ymri sighed and Blip grinned.
"What're ya grinnin' at, ya feeb?" demanded Flash sorely. "I'm bleedin' over here!"
"Well don't bleed on Francis' cards!" cried Blip, snatching the deck away.
"Thanks for your support," grumbled Flash, putting his cut finger into his mouth and sucking on it.
"Perhaps we should find our friend some first aid," said Ymri, standing up.
Blip put the deck down and stood up too. "Yeah, where's that lady doctor at? I'm sure she can kiss your boo-boo and make it all better."
Flash scowled but did not remove his finger from his mouth.
The fireflies followed Ymri down a mushroom-lit passage to the Medical Wing, where they were nearly run over by Quick, who was on her way out. The skinny ant merely grunted something at them which may have been or may not have been an apology and hurried on. Before any of the crew could comment on her rudeness however, they came across Dr. Flora, also on her way out. Blip asked her for a bandage.
"Oh yes," nodded Dr. Flora, a bit distractedly. "There's plenty of bandages in the Infirmary - help yourselves." Then she headed down the passage.
Following the signs, the crew managed to locate the Infirmary, where they found Molt, with his newly-splinted wing, pacing and looking rather frustrated.
The spider and fireflies were surprised to see a grasshopper in the Anthill, having missed all the excitement above ground earlier that morning. Blip, ever the obtrusive one, decided to ask Molt what he was doing there.
"It's obvious, you knucklehead," interrupted Flash before Molt could reply. "His wing is broken, see?"
Blip glowered. "I just meant, why did the ants let him in?"
Molt shrugged. "I dunno," he said. "I didn't want to. I'm outta here as soon as insectly possible. If I don't find Hopper soon I'll be in big trouble."
Blip scratched his head. "Hopper?" he repeated. "Hey, isn't he the one who was offed by that bird last night?"
Molt frowned. "Bird?"
"Yeah," agreed Flash as Ymri began to look concerned. "That was his name. Flik and Princess Atta told everyone a bird got him."
Molt's legs became a bit wobbly and he had to sit down. "A bird got him?" he managed.
"I apologize for my companions," said Ymri quickly, scutting to the grasshopper's side and putting a hand on his shoulder. "They did not mean to be so abrupt." The spider shot a chastising look at the fireflies.
"Er, yeah," Blip relented. "That was kinda harsh. I'm sorry."
"Me too, man," agreed Flash. "You kinda liked your boss, eh?"
Molt shook his head. "He's - was my brother," he corrected the firefly. Then he looked up at Ymri. "Are you sure a bird got him?" he pleaded.
"I'm afraid so, my friend."
Blip quietly took a seat on the grasshopper's other side and Flash - his cut forgotten - joined him. The four sat in silence.