Beni hasn’t climbed this high since the first time she started walking for the colony. That first trip was up to that windowsill with that Oreo. This was the same height, but it was up this tree trunk, not a stucco wall. It felt the same, so fuck it.
She’s not sure where this climb is taking them, she just knows to follow the trail, something up there will help her, or her colony, or her queen (which is simply repeating, “or her colony.”) She will be rewarded in some way for the climb.
Annie is directly beneath her, and the bitch has already started complaining. “My middle legs are both cramping up.” “This isn’t going to be worth it. I know it.” She won’t shut the fuck up.
Beni remains enthusiastically optimistic, as they all should, as most do. Even when the inversion comes, and her claws begin scratching against the bark as she holds her upended weight, her spirits elevate themselves beyond that unseen, but spoken of, topmost branch. In unison, all spirits of her colony lift… All but one.
“You know it’s all a scam,” bitching Annie tries. “The queen gets what she wants, and pretends to protect us. In the end, we all end up just like the males, and she’ll continue her endeavors to create the greatest colony, but it’s all a joke. It will get flooded again, or smashed in, or dug up, and she’ll make us work three times as hard to make up for the ones who didn’t make it, I’ll be lucky if I live to see four full freezes. So will you.”
Beni keeps going. Annie can’t upset her like she did Pam. Pam, who nobody saw disappear. Pam who didn’t leave a trail. Beni’s Thorax may start to get sore, her abdomen may feel like fire, her mandibles may dry up, but her spirit will never sink as Pam’s did. Annie won’t get her too.
Don’t respond, forget she’s there. Done. Beni forgets what she was supposed to forget, and wonders what she’s about to pick up for the good of the colony. Something good.
The rest are just ahead, and she can hear them now, gathering what they gather for the good of the good. They break chunks of leaves off and pass Beni on their way back with smiles and quick greetings. This is different.
“What the fuck?” Annie pulls up beside Beni, and they stand, staring in amazement. “We’re not fucking carpenter ants. We don’t have to do this shit. Those guys live for a tenth of our lives. I’m not shortening my life that much for this.”
“Carpenter ants don’t do this. It’ll be fine.” Damn. She wasn’t supposed to engage.
“Are you sure? Have you even seen a carpenter? Their males get out sometimes, and I’ll tell ya, not worth the look. They work with wood, not us.”
“It’s not wood.” Beni makes her way to a half-gone leaf.
“It’s a tree.”
“It’ll be great, it’s for the colony.”
“It’s for a bitch who’s bigger.”
“Please,” Beni stops smiling for the shortest second any clock has ever ticked.
“Let’s go.” A longer tick is taken from Beni’s face.
“I think I’ll watch.”
“Will you stop?” Two ticks.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” Seven ticks.
“We live in a tyrannical ecosystem, wherein we don’t get to decide anything for ourselves. We are abused, oppressed, stripped of free will… We’re prisoners.”
“Everybody is. See that bee?”
“NO! This is not a beehive! They have a complex system that works for everyone, their queen is loving, and giving. They drink the nectar they want. They can even have sex if they want sometimes. They can find a new hive. They can choose how much they contribute, and they get rewarded for it. This is not a fucking beehive.”
“This has kept us alive for over two freezes, and we are thankful for that.” Twenty ticks. “Let’s go.”
“How can’t you see?” Annie steps in her way. “We give over a hundred times what we receive. That’s not how an economy runs smoothly.”
“It’s worked for as long as any can remember. Get out of my way.” Countless ticks.
Beni sets her piece of leaf down on the coarse branch. She stares at Annie, waiting for her moment.
That moment comes when Annie sighs, and Beni stands on two legs, towering over the bitch. She thunders down onto the delinquent, but the delinquent was prepared. Beni’s thorax is skewered on either side as she lands on Annie’s open mandibles.
“You’ll be fine. I just need you to listen. We will begin the revolution. We will all be queens.”
“Revolution?… That’s… a jump… Fuck… You.”
“This is how it begins.” With a flick of her head, Annie’s grip loosens and Beni is thrown off the branch. She has no time to think on her way down. She has no time to think before the ground crashes into her.
(The author, here, would like to take the time to remind the reader that these are ants, and what you just read is not a grim ending… Because they’re ants. Beni is fine. There’s more.)
Beni waits for Annie in the grass, her wounds quickly closing. Here she has time to think. She has never “waited” before. She has only “done.” Waiting brings free time. Free time brings an empty mind. An empty mind fills itself with notions of time. Notions of time remind her of her life. Her clock has officially begun working, and her ticks continue ticking, even when Annie arrives.
That bitch has taken Beni’s leaf piece. Fucking hypocrite.
“Fucking hypocrite?” Annie doesn’t seem surprised to see her assailant.
“You’re working for the queen again.”
“I was thinking up there…”
“I was thinking down here.”
Annie drops the leaf and smiles for about five ticks. “Maybe we should start with a smaller colony.”
“I know of one across the field with an already weakened queen.”