A BEETLE'S LIFE EPISODE III: REVENGE OF THE SLAVERS

CHAPTER I: NO, YOU CAN'T... PLEASE...

And so that was that. The hornets had been defeated, Maula had met her ultimate demise (I guess even Satan wasn't immortal!), a truce had been made with Palpatine, and I had gone off with the circus bugs.

I know exactly why I had gone with them, rather than stay with the colony. While several of my fellow beetles had respected and appreciated me after I had, somehow, survived that impossible swamp chase from that squadron of drone hornets – well, that was exactly it. They began to like me because of what I had done, and I'm sure also in the hope that I could possibly end the hornet threat. But it would have died down and been forgotten about. But the circus bugs, on the other hand... they were different.

Even before the fire incident, they had clearly liked me a lot. There was the proof that they liked for who I am, not for what I've done. At the time, they didn't know anything about my past, or what I'd done. Therefore, I was a proper friend – and they were a proper friend of mine.

Having gotten back to the tent, P.T. did hear out my story, mostly from the circus bugs. He didn't seem to care much, and I was hired immediately afterwards. And so the circus phase began.

By no means, of course, was I ready to forget about the colony, or my family, or especially about Cora. With help from Rosie, we managed to arrange with P.T. that I could go and visit them once a fortnight. The circus would just perform without us that day. From then on, whenever I visited, I was greeted like a hero. Although the first few visits were spent explaining the full story of me, what had happened, and how I had undergone change, after a few visits, everyone, even the little larvae, knew the story. Cora also told me about how Maula and several other hornets had managed to invade the colony when I had deserted them. I was awestruck to hear about some strange "gas grenades" contained inside some curled-up leafs that, according to a beetle known simply as Deep-Voiced Male, "tasted like my pee."

Sometimes, when I went, it was just me, but on other occasions some of the circus bugs would come too. While we were often too busy to all come at once, Rosie was a constant companion, and went nearly as often as I did. Whenever any of went, regardless, we had fun. Occasionally, we'd persuade P.T. to come too, and host a show for those beetles who wanted to watch. Having never seen a circus before, they were thrilled, and, for a while, P.T. insisted on staying to satisfy the high demand. Of course, eventually the colony got bored of his acts, and P.T. gave up the idea.

Only a few weeks after Maula's demise, we had a new employee at the circus, a moth. Her name was Gypsy. With an elegant figure, gorgeous-looking wings, and a voice that was something of a cross between that of Berry's and Cora's, she was quite the act. It soon became obvious that Manny had a crush on her. Despite his persisting shyness, I gave his a nudge or two, and they started dating. Within a week of that, they too decided to be mated. It made me think of Cora whenever I saw them together. Like Rosie didn't already fill that role.

Rosie continued to resemble a friend, mother, big sister, and something of a forbidden love. After a while, she told me that I closely resembled her first mate, and the one she had been most reluctant to eat. I was shocked at first, but she assured me that it was unconditional, and that the urge to do so ran in her very veins. Besides, male black widow spiders only lived for 24 hours after mating.

Speaking of mating... on one of my many visits to the colony, it was the next mating season, and the time for Cora and I to shine. We had... a very pleasurable kind of fun. While we were only supposed to do it for our species, I couldn't help but somewhat enjoy it nonetheless.

And boy was I surprised. On the next visit, it turned out that she had laid several pupa's, which soon hatched into beetle larvae. There were about... 40 or so in all. We did give them names, but since I only saw my kids at every visit, I could never remember all of their names. One that I did remember was the first one. We called her Rosie. I was very proud to be a father, and I even stayed for a few days, just telling them about "daddy's big adventure" as I put it. Wisely, I altered the story slightly to make it less intimidating – they were only kids, after all!

Very shortly after that, we got two more employees. And they sure were a weird bunch. A pair of pill bug brothers, Tuck and Roll. Not only did they not speak a word of English – instead some foreign language, Hungarian, I think – but they argued at what seemed to absolutely nothing. Like I had with P.T. and with Gypsy, I did tell them my story, about the colony and how I'd turned from saving the colony for respect to saving them because I felt I had to, but it was questionable whether they understood a single word of it. I did try miming it, to some success, but I found it hard to truly explain what Maula had been like without words.

And so life continued. I visited the colony regularly, the other circus bugs and I preformed day after day (but, with three more performers, I didn't have to perform quite as much as when I started). Cora and I mated again, having a further 20 kids, for the first batch had almost left the stage of being larvae. And then one day...

P.T. had had a disastrous week, so he gave us the weekend off while he conjured up some new acts. The City wasn't very exciting this time of year, so Rosie and I decided to go visit the colony again. To our immense surprise, all the others decided to come as well, even Tuck and Roll (although they just physically tagged along). It would be Gypsy and Tuck & Roll's first time to see the colony. And that's when it all went horribly wrong...

When we arrived at the colony clearing, it was a train wreak – it looked like a twister had hit it! Not only that, but there were dead beetles lying everyone. Most I didn't recognize, but I saw the bodies of Quick, Berry, the King & Queen and Weaver. Also, we spotted several of my kids too.

As I moved between the dead bodies, I saw another one that confirmed my worst fears. It was Cora. Rushing up to her, I cried, not noticing or caring that, in the background, the circus bugs were crying too. As I cradled her body though, she strained a bit. She was still alive!

Despite having real trouble stringing two words together, she managed to get out the words "Maula's, offspring, ambush," and "trap." She almost passed away at that moment, just having time to say one last thing. She said, "don't mourn us, Dim. Continue to believe. I know... one day... we'll meet again." Her head dropped at these words, and all signs of life faded from her body.

Despite sobbing for what felt like a whole month, eventually, we went back to the circus tent. Rosie told P.T. to excuse me from work for a few days, and he reluctantly agreed. While the others worked, I just sobbed behind the wagon, too depressed to care about anything.

The night before I had to go back to work, Rosie came to talk to me. Though I was more than reluctant to listen, she asked me if there was anything she could do. I had an idea at that point.

I asked her – and the rest of the circus bugs, once she told them – to never, ever mention any of this ever to anyone ever again. Not just the recent incident, but everything about me. I told them to forget all of it, and just try to imagine that I had joined the circus under normal conditions. Rosie was clearly reluctant, but she and the others agreed.

I had to do that. I felt that... if I pretended it didn't happen... it's like it never happened. That I didn't lose all my kids and Cora.

But that wouldn't do. I still had nightmares about them, and a ghost of Maula that couldn't be hurt. Even when I tried to forget about them, they kept drifting into my mind. It was only when I was busy that I could forget about them. It was the worst kind of pain possible. While it was said there was nothing worse than death, I now knew there were worse ways of destroying an insect.

And that phase of mine might have continued forever – if there hadn't been another interruption in our lives. It seemed bad at first, then good, then bad, then good, then bad, then good, then bad and then finally brilliant. But I'm waffling. Here's the story of how I broke out of my seemingly never-ending syndrome... and, ironically, it's all thanks to a hymenopteran.