A Bug's Life 2: Out from Ant Island
Sinny pushed the boy ant in front of her aside, ignoring his outraged cries. She apologized briefly, but she was too excited to care – her class's annual tour of the colony's origin murals was her absolute favorite event. Her sister Lily, who was a constant and very pink presence on the edge of her vision, sighed in disgust at Sinny's behavior and continued looking bored.
"They're just some dumb drawings, Sinny, do you really have to freak out about them?"
"They're not dumb," Sinny protested over her shoulder. "And, yes, I do have to freak out."
The murals spanned a good length of the nest's spiral center root, beginning with the story of their ancestors' arrival on the island – basic drawings of ants on crude leaf-boats, braving the waters – through an outline of historic events, most recently up to the colony reasserting its independence from the grasshopper menace. Curiously, any indication of how the colony became oppressed in the first place was missing; when Sinny voiced this anomaly in the past, she'd only been hushed or out-right ignored, so she stopped asking.
Because the group consisted of upper grade students, their teacher, Mr. Linseed, only gave them a brief review of the murals, mainly asking questions to see how much the students remembered. When they came to the colony's construction of the Bird, Sinny raised her hand as high as she possibly could – Mr. Linseed seemed to keep her in suspense for a moment, before finally pointing to her.
"Yes, Sinny," he said, "and what happened next?"
The students around her tittered quietly, as though her name was some kind of joke, but Sinny ignored them.
"When the grasshoppers arrived on the island, Flik and Princess Dot launched the Bird, and Hopper and his grasshopper gang were fooled by it, at first; but, then it caught on fire and crashed-"
"The short version," Lily hissed in her ear.
"And-and, uh, then the grasshoppers flew away," Sinny finished.
"Forever ridding our colony of their injustice," said Mr. Linseed. "This is why you've all grown up in a society of peace and prosperity. Now, when we get back to class, I want everyone to write fifty characters on how the colony has improved since the grasshoppers were banished."
The students groaned in unison at the suggestion, and reluctantly began to follow their teacher back up the spiral root towards the classroom levels. Sinny lingered for a moment in front of the second to last mural, where an ant representing Flik was overseeing the Bird's construction. More than anything, she wanted her own depiction on the root, of something great she did for the colony – just like her dad. She put her hand over the carving of Flik, briefly, before rushing after her class.
Backpack slung over her shoulder, Sinny ran head first into the workshop, only to be hit by a cloud of dust. She jerked back and coughed, waving at the air around her.
"Dad!" she called. She couldn't quite make out anything in the gloom, besides the glow of a few mushrooms and Flik's artificial lighting hanging from the ceiling.
"Sinny?" Flik finally answered, his voice muffled. "Uh, h-hold on, honey, you better wait out-"
Something fell over and crashed to the floor; a shiny disk of some sort, balancing on its edge, rolled out of the dust and spun circles around Sinny's feet before finally falling to one side, clanging to a stop. When she looked up, her dad had appeared out of the gloom, wearing large goggles and a woven leaf mask over his mouth; he also held a slightly menacing tool in one hand. A coating of dust had dulled his exoskeleton to a grey-blue.
"Hey, kiddo, how was school?" Flik asked, pulling the mask down.
"Um, dad, have you considered digging a few more holes for ventilation?" said Sinny, looking behind Flik at the still lingering cloud. Flik glanced back at his workshop.
"Oh, uh, that – that's nothing to worry about, I was just doing a little sawing and, uh, it's going to kick up some dust-"
Sinny went over to a rope hanging nearby and pulled it, activating the fans. The haze slowly began to filter out. "Next time, turn the fans on before you saw," said Sinny, swinging her backpack onto the nearest workbench.
"Right, yeah, I tend to forget about those." He gave his daughter a knowing smile as she grabbed her own pair of goggles hanging on the wall; she was immediately drawn to what he'd been working on. "So: school."
"What about it?" Sinny asked, as she fished around for tools and turned on extra work lights.
"You're home a little early, aren't you?"
"We went to see the mural today, so Mr. Linseed let us skip our last lesson." She held up the wooden pipe her father had been working on, getting a better look at it. "I don't think these things are water-tight, dad."
"I know," he sighed, taking the pipe from her and inspecting it himself. "I thought reinforcing the seals would help, but it just doesn't seem to do much."
"The wood needs a coating," said Sinny. "I just know it does."
"Yeah, but, what kind?" Flik looked around at the various buckets lining the walls of his workshop, each one filled with different liquids and mixes of solutions. They were in an order, from least sticky to most, although one wouldn't know it from looking at them. "I'm ready to throw these pipes in one of those vats and leave them there-"
"You'll figure it out, and it'll totally be worth it." Sinny took the pipe from her father and set it down before he became too frustrated with it. "Just think, water running anywhere we want it, throughout the entire nest! That would be the coolest thing ever."
"Yeah, well, your mother doesn't think so; her and the council are worried that these pipes will be a disaster and flood the nest. Which, I mean, they could, but not if we install them correctly. I think."
"The council's a bunch of worry-warts," said Sinny, crossing her arms in front of her chest and leaning back against the worktable. "They never make any real decisions, they just keep things the same as much as possible."
"Well, you're part of the council, too, Princess," Flik said, flashing her a grin, and Sinny sighed.
"Yeah, barely," she grumbled. "I'm not a real princess, so it doesn't matter."
"Now, don't talk like that." Flik pushed his goggles up and gave his daughter a serious look. "You're as much a princess as your sister is – you know that."
Sinny shrugged. "I don't have wings, I'm not pink-" She held up a finger for each fault. "As far as I've heard, every queen of our colony has had these traits, ever since our ancestors came to this island."
"Maybe there was a queen before we came to this island who was blue and didn't have wings," said Flik. "And, I don't know, maybe these special traits come out in the royal lineage every hundred years or so."
"Yeah, I don't think so, dad," said Sinny. "I think those are the princesses who are sent to work in the tunnels and never spoken of again."
"Well, we considered that," said Flik, and he scratched his chin as though seriously contemplating the idea. "But, your mother thought we'd better keep an eye on you – you'd do too much damage in the tunnels."
"Dad," Sinny said, although she smiled despite herself. "Can I go work on my project now?"
"Um, I guess." Flik glanced over at Sinny's corner of the workshop, most of which was covered with leaf-tarps. "Just don't make too much noise – I promised your mother I'd dissuade you from your project."
"No one will ever know," Sinny said, readjusting her goggles with a determined twitch of her antennae.
Flik kicked her out of the workshop after only an hour – far too little time for Sinny's taste. She needed to be out in the fresh air and sunshine, he told her, and socialize with other ants her age. Sinny thought that's what school was for, but she didn't say as much.
The workshop was on the nest's first level, not far from the anthill entrance, although it also had several back exits closer to the tree, for emergencies. Sinny left through the main entrance today, falling in line with the constant streams of ants traveling both up and down the center spiral root. She deftly joined the right hand stream, ducking under the occasional grain carrier, as the path curled up and out of the anthill entrance.
The sky was blue and clear today, with only the occasional white wisp of cloud, and the light was just on the verge of fading – from the top of the anthill, Sinny could see a hint of orange in the sky, off to the west. She hadn't completely missed the day then; it was still bright enough to look up at the clovers and see the leaf veins through their nearly translucent yellow glow.
In the distance, buzz saws were still whirling away, and the worker ants called to each other over the din, mostly to warn of falling stalks. The lateness of the season was apparent from the workers' migration and the harvesters' paths – they typically started on the east end of the island, and worked their way west, while a second group of ants followed behind them and replanted grain where stalks had become too sparse.
Now, the harvesters' were fast approaching the island's western cliffs, and the tree's orange and yellow leaves were beginning to cover the area around the anthill faster than they could be cleared away. Sinny also heard the occasional low buzz of wings, and she looked out to see her sister and Aunt Dot flitting from clover-top to clover-top, perhaps helping the workers from their elevated view, or just watching. From a distance, the two looked very similar; both had the same slender build, pink exoskeleton, curled antennae, and, of course, translucent wings.
Sinny wrung her hands at the visual reminder and began walking down the anthill's slope. Some of the ants she passed by smiled and nodded at her; occasionally someone would greet her by name, or simply her title. More often still, they would look past her or stare at her blankly, acknowledging her not in the least. She did, after all, look like an average worker ant at a glance.
Her mother was occupying her usual spot atop the great rock, the one that was once the base of the offering stone before Sinny's birth, but of which now there was no indication. Queen Atta was deep in conversation with Thorny and Dr. Flora, and Sinny considered veering off into the clovers to avoid being spotted, but they called out to her faster than she could put her idea into action. She smiled at them and waved, until her mother made some annoyed gestures amounting to, 'Yes, come over here,' and she hurried to join them at the top of the rock.
"Actually, Sinny had some good ideas-" were the first words she caught as she approached them, and she nearly stopped in her tracks.
"Princess, we were just talking about you," Thorny said, with something close to approval on his gruff countenance. "Those tips you gave us on grain rotation worked like a charm – we're going to have twice as many stalks growing this time next season. Who knew dirt could be so picky about what you plant in it?"
"Well, we live in dirt, we should know something about it," Sinny said good-naturedly, and she felt herself glow a bit when everyone was amused by the comment.
"And here I thought she was crazy when she wanted to take all those dirt samples," said Atta. "I mean, what's there to know about dirt? Boy, was I wrong. What are you working on now, honey? Something about grafting?"
"Oh, uh, I'm just trying to combine grain species a bit, to see if I can make some hybrids," said Sinny, attempting to hand gesture about the idea. "Since, uh, some of the grain species across the river bed are different than those on the island, and I thought it'd be interesting to create some new types. You know, for variety."
During her explanation, Lily and Dot touched down on the rock behind the group, diverting the adults' attention immediately. Dot approached Atta to greet her, while Lily headed for Sinny, although her greeting wasn't as pleasant.
"I didn't see you this afternoon, Sinny," said Lily, with more than a hint of accusation. "You didn't go back to the workshop again, did you?"
"Who, me? Why, uh, why would I do that?" She knew her smile wasn't very convincing, but she wanted the annoyed look in her eyes to be very clear to Lily.
"You know you're not allowed to anymore-"
Atta stepped between her daughters. "All right you two, let's keep the bickering to a minimum," she said, her voice level and pleasant; her queen voice. They wouldn't get the mom voice until later, in private. Atta placed one hand on Sinny's shoulder, gentle but restraining, as she shooed Lily back towards Aunt Dot. Sinny narrowed her eyes at her sister, and got the same look in return, as well as an angry wing twitch. "These two just have such strong personalities," Atta continued for the benefit of Thorny and Dr. Flora, although the older ants still looked worried. "They're always disagreeing about something, but they're still friends at the end of the day. Right?"
Sinny and Lily both shrugged and muttered noncommittally – their mother flashed them a look, but continued to smile. "That's my girls," said Atta. "We're getting ready to finish up for the day – how about you two help your aunt with the grain tallies?"
Sinny stiffened at the suggestion; she was rarely asked to help her sister and Aunt with anything resembling royal duties, if only because she couldn't keep up with them without assistance. As she grew older, her mother was willing to be more 'accommodating,' as she put it, and usually let Sinny choose her own duties, to be done alone or with other workers. Atta sensed her daughter's hesitation, or else she read it plainly on Sinny's face, and gave her a little push to get her started following Lily and Dot.
The tallies usually involved lining up the overseers of each harvesting group, taking their numbers for grain collected, and then comparing the numbers with those estimated by the charges down in grain storage. Sinny took her clipboard and tally leaves, and indicated that she was going to start with the closest group of harvesters. She heard one set of wings fly off, but before she could leave she felt a hand on her shoulder.
"Hey," said Dot, turning her niece around to face her. "You okay, Sin?"
"Yeah, why?" said Sinny, looking down at her tally sheets. Dot sighed slowly through her mouth for a moment, hands on her hips. Then she beckoned Sinny to follow her through the clovers, as though they were going to start the tallies, but not quite.
"Atta wanted me to talk to you," Dot finally blurted out, and Sinny stopped mid-stride. She tried to reply with either, 'Oh, yeah?' or, 'Please don't,' and it ended up sounding like neither. "She says she hasn't been able to get through to you or Lily," Dot continued. "And I agree, you two have been acting… weird." She gave Sinny a Look, and Sinny gave one back, and they continued to glare at each other until Dot broke it off in agitation.
"Why are you talking to me about this?" said Sinny, when Dot didn't continue her lecture. "What about Lily?"
"I already talked to her," said Dot, and she held up a finger to stop Sinny from replying immediately, "and that's between me and her. Just like this is between me and you." Dot crossed her arms in front of her chest and watched Sinny expectantly; Sinny paused to consider the situation, and the torrent of thoughts going through her mind, pacing under the shade of the clovers for a while. She considered abandoning the situation completely by claiming she didn't have any issues, but then she realized her involuntary pacing and clipboard clutching had already admitted she had something to say.
Off in the distance, someone was still revving a single buzz saw.
"You were there," Sinny began, "the first thing Lily says to me is an accusation of what I shouldn't be doing; what does she know about it, anyway? Everything I say she has some snarky remark back to me. I can't talk to her anymore about anything, and she always acts like it's my fault."
"Have you told her?" Dot asked.
"No," said Sinny. "She'll hardly look at me, let alone stand to be in the same room with me for more than two seconds. How am I supposed to talk to her?"
"What if, I don't know, we set up a little session or something, get you two to talk openly-"
"What's the point?" Sinny said. "Anyways, what does it matter if we argue?"
"What does it matter if you two act like children in front of the whole colony?" said Dot, looking outraged. "Maybe because it makes Atta look bad, and it makes me look bad, and it makes the council look bad if this colony's future leadership can't work together. Everyone knows you two hate each other, it's not some big secret. Our colony is about unity, Sinny – and I know you're really good at the whole independent, free-thinking, go-against-the-traditions thing, and that's great, but it only goes so far." Sinny looked down at the ground, just to have something to stare at, and didn't reply. "Atta and I fight sometimes, too," Dot continued. "We always have, but our mother never let it go too far, and for good reason. The colony looks to us; everything we do is for their benefit. It's not about what we want, it's about what's best for them."
Dot made a sweeping gesture that included the anthill, beyond the clovers, where workers milled around after ending their shifts, meeting up with their families and getting ready to go back to the nest. Sinny looked down at her clipboard, and realized she wasn't going to be doing any tallying today.
"It's not like we're going to destroy the 'peace and prosperity' if we don't get along," said Sinny, although she regretted it as soon as she said it.
"You don't understand at all, do you?" Dot replied. "You don't know what life was like before – you never had to grow up with that fear of someone coming to our island and harming a loved one as an example, taking our food, or invading the colony just because they felt like it. You have so much freedom, and you don't care at all. How selfish can you get?"
"Selfish?" said Sinny. "I spend all of my free time helping this colony, building or researching, or in the greenhouse. Everything I do is to benefit everyone else."
"But you're never out here, getting to know your people. How are they supposed to know you care if they never see you? They don't even ask about you anymore, they just assume me or Lily or Atta will be out in the field."
"Of course they do! How am I supposed to do what you three do, when I can't-" But Sinny stopped mid-sentence, realizing what she almost admitted, and she looked away from Dot.
"You're jealous, aren't you?" Dot said, and then took a sharp breath, as though gasping at what she'd just said. Sinny threw her clipboard to the ground, hard, scattering sand, and quickly turned and left. She couldn't get far from Dot, of course, who flew ahead of her, landing directly in front of Sinny. "Look, I'm sorry, I didn't mean that-"
"Leave me alone," Sinny said, pushing her aunt aside. Dot backed off, hovering in mid-air as she watched her niece stalk deeper into the clovers.
"Sinny, come back here!" she called. "Don't make me drag you back to the anthill."
"Leave me alone!" Sinny repeated, louder, and continued walking. The buzzing of her aunt's wings grew more distant and soon disappeared; Dot must've flown off. Sinny was relieved that she was being given some space to cool off. She felt stupid and embarrassed, and wanted to find a clover stalk to hide in. Not that that would do much good; Dot was going to tell Atta what happened, and then someone was going to come find her and fly her back to the anthill before nightfall.
If she went back now, maybe she wouldn't be in quite as much trouble, but she couldn't stop walking, and just continued through the stalks. They were glowing a mellow orange now, as was the light, casting long shadows across the ground.
She soon reached the edge of the island, and looked out over the dry river canyon. It was mostly dark now, with just enough of a glow to make out the canyon's gullies. Sinny sat down, hugging her knees to her chest, listening as the night came alive; in the distance, other insects were chirping to one another. Sinny didn't know what it all meant, or who was doing the chirping, but it was another interesting mystery. If all these insects were so near the island during the night, where were they during the day? She rarely saw anyone traveling by the island, except for the occasional sales beetle or passing butterfly who would hardly deign to glance at an ant below.
As she watched the forest of grass across the canyon, she realized something was moving in the shadows. She waited quietly to see if she'd catch a glimpse, although it was probably another roach selling cast-offs, or a haberdasher weevil, but – no, it was someone much smaller.
Sinny leapt to her feet, ran to stick a dewdrop in a rolled up leaf, and then ran back to the cliff edge. She scanned the forest frantically through her telescope, before finding them: yes, it was an ant! They were hard to see at this distance, but when they came out of the shadows, Sinny could tell that they were dark blue, and carrying a walking stick as though they'd been traveling. They didn't look like any ant Sinny had seen around here, did that mean-?
"There you are, young lady."
Sinny dropped her telescope in surprise, and it rolled over the edge, making soft smooshing sounds as it bounced down the cliff side. "Mom!" she cried, turning to find Atta behind her, tapping an annoyed foot. Sinny looked at the ground and hugged herself, suddenly remembering why she was out here in the first place. "Hi."
"You shouldn't run away from your aunt like that," said Atta. "She was just trying to help."
"You should go apologize."
Atta sighed. "Will you come back to the anthill, now? It's not safe out here, and your father and I want to talk to you." Sinny widened her eyes in terror, so Atta quickly added: "You're not in trouble; it's just a family discussion."
That was still horrifying, but Sinny let out the breath she'd been holding and nodded. Then she turned and looked out over the canyon again, but she couldn't spot the ant she'd seen before.
Author's note: Yes, another Bug's Life sequel fic. However, I promise I've already finished writing it - after some editing, new chapters will be posted once a week.
A Bug's Life is my favorite Pixar movie, and has been since I first saw it in theaters. It's pretty clear by now that it's the forgotten Pixar movie, and the least likely to get a sequel; after half-heartedly playing around with the idea for quite some time, I've finally gotten around to concocting my own idea of the kind of sequel I'd like to see. Hopefully someone else gets a kick out of it.
Also, the 'origin mural' opening borrows heavily from the original opening of A Bug's Life - the 'museum opening,' as seen in the movie's Blu-ray and DVD extras. Although the scene was cut, you can still make out images depicting the colony's history on the root during the movie.