A Bug's Life 2: Out from Ant Island
"She's down here – I'm going in!"
A little girl came sliding into the hollow clover stalk-turned-clubhouse, nearly landing on Sinny who had been crouching near the entrance. Sinny dropped her notes in surprise.
"This is our clubhouse, you know," said the girl. As she did, Dot slid in, followed by several young ants Sinny recognized as the Blueberry troop her aunt led. Sinny hurried to gather up her leaf-parchments as the girls giggled and stumbled into each other.
"Found you," Dot said, smiling.
"I was just, uh, borrowing your clubhouse," said Sinny. "I swear I'm not playing hooky, I already finished my work today. Please don't tell my mom she'll just find something else for me to do -"
"It's okay, Sin," said Dot. "I'm not gonna tell. You're not as stealthy as you think you are, though – Bramble noticed you sneak away." The girl who was the first to burst in on Sinny looked very pleased with herself, putting her tiny fists on her hips.
"I told Princess Dot you were probably going to our clubhouse again," said Bramble. "Like you usually do."
Sinny frowned. "I just wanted somewhere private to look at my notes."
One of the girls picked up a stray parchment. "Look, she's building weird things again. Is this one supposed to fly, too?"
A second girl snatched the diagram, turning it up side down.
"My mom said Princess Sinny's machines don't fly, they fall – they just take a long time doing it."
Sinny felt like clutching her diagrams to her chest and crying. Dot took the stray parchment and handed it back to her niece. "I hate to break it to you, Sin, but Atta's been looking for you. If you don't get back soon, she'll know something's up."
Taking Sinny's hand, Dot led her out of the stalk, the Blueberries on their heels. Sinny rolled up her parchments and stuffed them into her tool bag. As she had been for the past several weeks, Sinny'd spent the day working – tutoring other students immediately after class ended, and repairing harvesters until early evening. Most of these activities constituted her 'grounding-for-life,' as her mom still called it. Today the harvesters were especially cooperative, and she'd finished sooner than expected, although her little break to work on her own projects hadn't gone as planned. After learning about the airships she'd invented, not to mention the glider she wasn't supposed to have built, her mother was increasingly more adamant about Sinny not working on projects without her parents' approval – and preferably ones that didn't fly. That hadn't stopped Flik from taking her out one night to experiment with floating lanterns, of course.
Their harvesting done for the day, workers were milling around the anthill in the fading light – a few torches were lit, as though the workers expected to make a night of it, which was common this close to the rainy season. As it was, the rainy season seemed to be making a late appearance this year – a few workers were in conversation with Flik near the anthill, and Sinny overheard them discussing whether it was worth it to even continue harvesting, as it was too dry for the newly planted stalks to grow.
"Sinny, you're late," Lily said in a singsong voice as she appeared at her sister's side.
"She's right on time," Dot supplanted. The Blueberries looked at one another, acting very much like they were in on a secret. Lily stuck her thumb towards Atta, who even at a distance looked suspicious.
"I'm tired of being in trouble," said Sinny. "Lily, it's your turn to be in trouble."
"That would require actually being troublesome," Lily said, waving her finger in her sister's face.
"Ha. If only mom knew." Sinny snatched Lily's finger and was about to bite it when Dot cleared her throat. Both sisters looked up to find their mother had snuck up while they were unawares.
"The girls are behaving, I hope?" Atta squinted one eye at them, not bothering to hide her annoyance. Sinny and Lily had been getting the squinty one eye look from their mother since they returned from their escapades. "Where's Sinnia been? The workers lost track of her."
"That's my fault," said Dot, linking her arm with Sinny's. "I asked for her help with the Blueberries. Girls, what do you think about Princess Sinny helping us with the campout?" The reply was a chorus of, "Yeah!" with a few less enthusiastic mumblings. Sinny froze, horrified.
"Hm," said Atta. "Well, I guess that'd be okay. She's a little late, but she'll finally get her Blueberry experience." As Atta spoke, Sinny leaned to one side to look at Flik in the distance, pleading telepathically for him to come save her. Atta slowly shifted, placing herself back in Sinny's line of vision. "You'll be a good influence on these girls, I hope?"
"Aren't I always?" Sinny said, awkwardly.
"You can help them with their build-gliders-and-crash-them badge," said Lily. She began hovering in time to avoid getting her foot stepped on by Sinny. "Or the catch-lanterns-on-fire badge?"
"How about the light-your-sister-on-fire-while-she's-sleeping badge?" Sinny replied.
"Oo, I want that one!" Bramble said. A smaller Blueberry who resembled Bramble looked appalled.
"These two," Atta muttered, mostly to herself. "Lily, leave your sister alone. Sinnia, help your aunt get ready for this campout. And don't cause the Blueberries too much trouble."
"We'll make sure the Princess behaves," said the littlest Blueberry.
Sinny groaned and followed Dot back towards the anthill. She took the opportunity to stomp up to her father, who was currently looking out at the colony by himself.
"Dad, they're going to make me camp," Sinny said. "I don't know how to camp."
"Don't know how to camp?" said Flik. "Didn't you spend several nights in the woods by yourself?"
"Yeah, but that's not, you know, the same." She gestured to the Blueberries who were milling around not far off, and to Dot, who waved. "I have to sleep outside, with them."
"I see." Flik crossed his arms in front of his chest. "The 'ole camp fire, huh? Singing songs, roasting grain…"
"I'm not allowed near fire anymore," said Sinny, glumly. Admittedly, being around large flames still made her nervous.
"Alright, you'll be a ways back from the campfire, supervising." Flik gestured towards Dot. "I'm sure your aunt knows exactly what she's doing."
"But, I don't know anything about this Blueberry stuff," Sinny muttered. "Or, you know, kid stuff. Stuff normal kids do."
Flik gave her a pat on the shoulder. "I'm sorry you never got to do normal kid stuff when you were little, but, well… it, uh, couldn't be helped. You'll figure out how to be a Blueberry in no time. Right, Dot?"
"Is she stalling?" said Dot, approaching them. "Come on, Sin, it'll be fun! Flik, can she borrow your gear? We'll head out once she's ready."
"Right now?" said Sinny, appalled.
"When did you think?"
They made camp far enough into the clover stalks that the anthill was no longer visible, but still within the protective overhang of the tree. Each Blueberry was responsible for pitching her own tent – surprisingly, they all did so with swift accuracy. Then the girls persuaded Sinny to climb to the top of a clover with them, and as a telescope was passed around between them, Sinny told the girls about what she'd seen outside the island. They were particularly interested in what kind of giant creatures had tried to eat her, so she played up those encounters for their benefit. By the time they climbed back down the stalk, the girls seemed a bit more in awe of her, all of their saucy disdain vanished.
"You're quite a story teller," Dot told Sinny, feeding more kindling into their small campfire.
"Can I be an explorer like Princess Sinny when I grow up?" Bramble asked. "I bet I could go twice as far!"
"But what about the monsters?" asked the littlest Blueberry.
"If you hide, they won't notice you," said another. "You just have to be very, very quiet."
"Then Bramble won't make a good explorer," said the Blueberry who was possibly Bramble's sister. Sinny sat next to Dot as the girls bickered – the fire was small enough that she felt comfortable sitting before it. Dot took the piece of grain she'd been roasting off her twig, blew on it, and offered it to Sinny.
"You keep telling tall enough tales, the colony's going to start believing them," said Dot. "There are already exaggerated stories about your little adventure going around."
"As long as I'm the hero," Sinny said around a mouthful of grain. Dot rolled her eyes. She seemed about to say something else, but instead she stared behind Sinny for a moment. Sinny whipped her head around, her mind suddenly filled with her exaggerated monsters lurking in the dark. The shadow emerging from the forest eventually took the shape of Lily. "Oh," said Sinny. "It's you."
"Yes, it's me," said Lily, plopping herself down next to Sinny. She held out a canister. "Dad said you forgot this."
"Oh." Sinny took it. Unhelpfully, it was empty. "Thanks?"
"It's getting late, girls," Dot told the Blueberries as she stood up. "Better get in your tents for the night."
The girls moaned about it, but eventually they all disappeared into their respective pyramid shaped leaf flaps held up by sticks. A few girls snuck into each other's tents, thinking Dot wouldn't notice. The ones who'd brought their own small, phosphorescent mushrooms took them into their tents – this caused the interiors of the leafy structures to glow a blue-green, casting distorted shadows of the occupants.
"I'm going to keep watch until they've tired themselves out," said Dot. "You two staying out here for a bit?"
Sinny shrugged noncommittally.
"Actually, I wanted to talk to you," Lily whispered to Sinny, although she didn't seem to mind Dot overhearing them.
"What did I do now?" said Sinny, but Lily shook her head.
"It's mom and dad," said Lily. "I overheard them talking. In the sitting room."
"And...?" Sinny prompted when Lily hesitated.
"I think they're… well, they sounded like they were getting back together."
Sinny choked on a stray grain fragment in her throat. "Don't even joke about that, Lily, I'm serious."
"I'm not joking." Lily put on her most sober expression. "Aunt Dot, do you know anything about this?"
Dot looked startled at being addressed. "I really shouldn't say."
"What?" Sinny almost forgot to keep her voice down. "You do know something!"
"Aunt Dot!" Lily said, and Dot put her hands up apologetically.
"Well, they didn't tell me exactly what was going on," said Dot. "They just, you know – after you two disappeared, I overheard them arguing. A lot. And then, one day… they weren't arguing. You two've been back for a few weeks, you didn't notice?"
Sinny and Lily froze in surprise.
"But, they seemed the same," said Lily. "Never really in the same place at the same time. Only talking when there was a reason to, or when there was an issue with us." She looked at Sinny for confirmation – Sinny took a moment to scour every last observation stored away in her mind. What had she missed? Not for the first time in her young life, Sinny had to admit to herself that she was incredibly self-centered.
"I don't…" Sinny began. "I don't know. Maybe they were acting that way for show? So we wouldn't think something was up?"
Dot shrugged. "Maybe I'm not the one you should be asking."
Wary of the outdoors after dark, Lily retreated back to the anthill for the night. Sinny slept on the ground, looking up at the canopy of clovers, and the stars beyond them. She mentally cursed Lily for giving her this information now instead of in the morning – she felt nauseous with the possibilities, most of all the possibility that Lily had gotten it wrong, or that it was an idea her parents were only discussing, with no plan to follow through. Why was this all so complicated?
She didn't feel quite here nor there in the morning, and she went through the motions of helping the Blueberries with breakfast and clean up without really paying attention. The girls didn't seem to notice either way, packing up their tents and heading back to the anthill ahead of their leader.
Lily was waiting for Sinny at the base of the anthill when they arrived. She motioned frantically for her sister to join her.
"They're talking," Lily whispered, as though they were still at the campsite. She pointed to Flik and Atta, who were in conversation near the offering stone. When Sinny shrugged, Lily huffed in agitation and took her sister's arm to pull her along with her. They approached their parents reverently.
"Oh, looks like the camper's back," said Atta, one hand on her hip. "Did the girls keep you up all night?"
"Not really," said Sinny, suddenly forgetting everything she was going to ask her parents. She looked at Lily, who frowned back questioningly.
"What's up, you two?" Flik asked when neither spoke.
"Can we ask you… something?" said Lily.
Just as Atta was answering, "Of course," Sinny blurted out: "Are you two getting back together?"
Flik and Atta exchanged a look, with just enough of an awkward pause that Sinny thought her heart was going to stop.
"Well, we haven't decided anything officially," said Atta. "But, your father and I have been discussing it for a while and… we're going to give us another try."
"Uh, yeah, it's in the works," said Flik, who suddenly looked as surprised by the idea as Sinny felt. The look softened after a moment as he put his thumb under his chin in consideration – from the way he looked at Atta, it seemed like his adoration had never waned. Maybe, Sinny thought, he'd only been waiting for Atta to change her mind after all these seasons.
"What happened?" Lily asked. "Why now?"
"We decided maybe our differences weren't really worth it," said Flik. "We both care a lot about you two, and this colony, and, uh, we could do a lot more good together than apart."
"And when were you planning on telling us?" said Sinny.
"We didn't want to say anything until we were absolutely sure," said Atta. "Although I should've guessed you two would rat us out before then."
"Can't get anything past these two," Flik said. His eyes suddenly widened. "Should we tell them the other good news?"
Sinny wondered if she could get away with bolting from the scene; she wasn't sure if she could handle any other news. "What sort of news. Wait, are you - oh no! No no no!"
Lily looked at her. "What?"
Atta laughed. "Maybe we shouldn't tell them. I don't think Sinny can handle much more."
Sinny hid behind her sister, hugging her from behind in desperation. "Mom's going to have a baby!"
"What? Really?" said Lily. "We're going to have a new sibling?"
"As soon as we were gone they tried to make new kids to replace us!" said Sinny.
Atta groaned. "No, that's not true." She shot a look at Flik, who was laughing at the idea.
"It does sound suspicious," Flik admitted.
"You're not even officially back together, yet!" said Sinny.
"These things happen," said Atta. "I don't have to explain how it works, do I?"
"No!" Sinny and Lily both replied.
"We shouldn't have asked!" said Sinny. "Why did we ask?" Now she really did try to bolt from the scene, but Lily grabbed her arm and then hovered, dangling Sinny in the air so she couldn't get away. Flik stepped forward to help Sinny back to the ground.
"What're you going to do to celebrate?" Lily asked.
"Oh, I don't think-" Atta began.
"Sinny and I will plan something," said Lily. She looked expectantly at her sister, who was still being held in Flik's arms, hugging his neck for fear of being made airborne against her will again.
"This close to the rainy season?" Sinny said. "I'm sure mom and dad have enough to do without more interruptions."
"Sinny," Lily shot at her. "It's not up for debate. We're celebrating."
"Whatever you kids want," said Flik, shrugging, although he looked pleased at the suggestion. Atta leaned over to kiss him, and Sinny squeezed her eyes shut.
"I'm gonna go tell Aunt Dot," Lily said, taking off from the scene. Sinny tumbled out of her father's arms and fled, calling after her sister.
Flik and Atta were left to themselves, too caught up in each other to notice.
Author's note: And that's it! Thanks to everyone who stuck around this long - I hope you all enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. As I mentioned last chapter, any news I have about the possible sequel in progress will be updated in my profile.