A Bug’s Death

“Psst! Come here!”
“I keep telling you, I need to go forage! The dry season is coming soon-”
“Yes and why do you do that?”
“What?”
“Come here!”

She relented. Whatever, might as well get it over with, she thought.

“Do you ever wonder why you work for the queen?”
“I just do, I was born and made to do so.”
“What if you weren’t? What if you’re meant to be one with nature?”
“I’m not though.”
“Here, have some of this, it’ll change your life!”

The crazed worker handed some dust to her with their mandibles.

“Eat it!”
“What? I don’t want to.”
“Just try it and I’ll leave you alone! Trust me, it’ll blow your mind!”

She consumed some of the dust. It was completely tasteless. She looked back, but the crazed worker had run off towards the outer branches. She shook her head and went back to the trail to join the other workers.

The day was good – the trail managed to find a moulting cricket which they quickly dismembered, and she set about taking a leg back to base. However, the encounter stayed with her. Why was she so devoted to the queen? This question became deeply entrenched in her mind by the time she got back to the nest.

“You’re alright, you’re alright, you- oh hey there, why the long face? You wish you were born a guard ant? I mean, I guess it would suck being significantly smaller, weaker and generally less important than me.”

She hated the guards. They were invariably power-tripping whenever a large number of workers were entering the nest.

“Hey, have you ever wondered why we work for the queen?”

The guard turned her head sharply. Other guards were also taking notice.

“What did you say?”
“Well it’s just th-”
“Listen here you insignificant little nothing, we work for the queen. We live for the queen, we die for the queen. She’s the one that gave us life, she’s the one that will continue giving life. Don’t ever let me catch you spouting this independent reproductionist garbage ever again.”
“I didn’t want to reproduce, I just meant-”
“Shut up! You take that back or I’ll cut your head off.”

She’d seen one of the guards completely dismember another worker the other day because it’d been crawling through a trail of another ant colony, so she decided not to take her chances.

“Sorry, I was getting ahead of myself. I won’t question the queen again.”
“That’s better. You can go in now.”

She quickly ferried the leg to the nursery and started chewing it up to feed to the larvae. However, she couldn’t stop thinking about her loyalty. Why was she doing this? And why are the guards, usually so self-absorbed, so sensitive about the queen being disrespected? What if it wasn’t for the best that they were serving the queen? But what else could they be doing it for?

She pondered the possibilities, before it hit her. They were building an army.

But what for? No, that didn’t matter, the important thing was that she needed to get out of there. She didn’t want to be a soldier, and soon it would be too late! All of a sudden, the workers looked alien to her, as she finally saw the truth. She dropped the leg she was chewing and ran out of the nest, and immediately headed for the branches. When she was close enough to the outer branches, she left the trail kicking up bark behind her. Another worker looked on in bewilderment. She turned around. She had to at least try to save one of them!

“Do you ever wonder why you work for the queen?”

But this worker was not as receptive as her. As soon as she asked the question, they ran off. She looked around in panic. The world looked bleak, and a burning pain began in her head. She scratched it, and was shocked to find dust, the very same dust which she had eaten earlier. She was fast losing control. All she knew was that she needed to get to the leaves. She kept following the branch, further out than she had ever been, until she reached a leaf. The leaf looked so clean, so pure, unlike the chaos within the nest. She embraced the middle of the leaf tightly with her mandibles, and looked around. The sun was bright, the world was clear. She closed her eyes, and smiled. She was safe.

Epilogue

Alright, it’s your first day of being a worker, so I’ll show you the ropes. The first thing you need to learn is that the outside world is far more dangerous than the nest. Buddies will die. Eventually you will die too. But, with luck, you’ll make a lasting difference to our community.”

She listened with trepidation, but also excitement. She wanted to be a worker, like the others.

“Hey, what’s that up there, hugging that leaf? Is that one of us?”

Her guide’s voice turned dark.

“That’s what happens when you take shrooms.”

-Z

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