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A Bug's Life: Work, Work,Work,
Posted by Randoclese, Jan 20, 2010. 1212 views. ID = 3119

A Bug's Life

Posted by Randoclese, Jan 20, 2010. 1212 views. ID = 3119
This post was written in 139 minutes.
OK so I spent way more than fifteen minutes - more like two hours, but honestly the phone rang and I am at work after all.
This post has been awarded 12 stars by 3 readers.

I'd lead them a long way, this morning. Far from the warm buzzing of the nest that some of the younger ones are unfamiliar being without. Out here, the voices are faint, the landscape rugged and filled with dangers. The path marked with glowing dabs of pheremone winds sinuously over the flats and is easy to follow up to this point. Looking back, only a few of the least experienced have wandered from the formation more than a few strides, but they quickly reorient after raising their antenna high and fanning them in the air, smelling for the next scent mark, and resumed a steady march after me. I can see their following carapaces, smooth and shining in the polarized daylight from my perch atop the first high rock. This is where I wait for them to approach within visual distance of me, closing the ranks. The path ahead through the boulder field twists over, among, through, and under the rocky clefts and it is easy for them to become lost in this last stretch to the harvest site.

Here is where I followed my tutor, a time ravaged hulk, pulling himself clumsily along the difficult path. I followed closely that first time, anxious not to wander off into the unknown, relying on his knowledge and experience to guide me safely. Since then, I had learned the way myself, and now led this troop of fresh smelling workers along the same route.

The team approached almost silently, keeping their chatter to a minimum, and dodging among the vegetation to avoid detection. As I proceeded down the first steep face I noticed the audible clanking of my tarsal joints and the light wheezing of air leaking inward through loosened gaps in my thorax, in places where it ought not. I had passed this way 472 times over the last two weeks of the campaign that will be the defining contribution of my life toward the survival of my kind. The rugged route and heavy loads were wearing my joints, scarring my carapace with deep furrows. There was other damage too. Several antennae filaments were worn off, parasistic mites had left my surface pocked, and there was a sharp splinter embedded in my right antennal fossa.

I could not complete the route as fast as before. The youngers in their shiny undamaged armor could easily outpace me, and they sensed it, but they dared not, compelled for their own sake and success of their mission to follow. I scrabbled down the rough rock, to the litter zone, squeezed between two stones scraping my body along both sides, then squatted and scuttled into the dark gap beneath a perched boulder, turned right, climbed again, and veered left. I stopped to refresh a marker that had become faint with age and could hear them all struggling along behind me, sharp claw tips scratching the hard surfaces. I used the tell function of my sensor to count 172 of them following behind. Only two were missing so far, an acceptable loss. They might rejoin later, if they were lucky.

The sun reached its apex before we arrived at the site and my troop immediately began stripping protein from the aging carcass with strong, sweeping motions of their mandibles. Soon we turned back along the path, through the rockfield toward home, clasping heavy chunks of meat. It was satisfying to see that several led off on their own, confident of their return route and the freshly remarked trail. Others, the youngest and least sure, fell in behind me. At one approach to a deep cleft that required a leap to the next rock face, the loose tarsal claw joints of my anterior legs wobbled, I lost balance and the heavy load in my jaws pulled me forward, down into abyss. I became wedged in the crack, four legs dangling uselessly below and my head jammed painfully upward. Above, I could see the rest of the troop approach the gap, one by one. Often they would scan downward toward my difficult position, before leaping forward across the void, backlit against the sky.

They carried on, oblivious to my plight, single minded of mission. They would continue back to the nest, deploy their paylods, eat, rest and resume the task again at daylight tomorrow. They would proceed in that manner until the resource was depleted or another found. Scouting parties were already at the dangerous work of finding the next treasure; a fallen creature, pod of mushrooms, or an enemy nest of cousins to attack and plunder. None would ever miss me, my work would be carried on by another, our nest and queen fed and nurtured, assurring our genes would be launched into the future.

I let my prize fall from my mandibles into the blackness below in order to use them for leverage. After many hours, the stream of workers passing overhead was absent and the sky grew darker. I struggled to wrench around and bring two more limbs into useful position and finally freed myself. I climbed slowly back atop the boulder and surveyed myself for damage in the failing light. The full length of my foreleg femur was cracked and weeping fluid. My breathing was ragged and whistled through me as a result of fluid loss. No doubt, there was other damage to parts of my body that I was incapable of seeing. The entire troop had long since passed, before I was able to regain the trail and proceed back to the nest. I struggled on five legs through the rest of the boulder field, limped across the flats and finally approached the nest perimeter. It smelled fresher than before, newer somehow than when I'd left it.

A patrol stood guard and they lowered their antennae in menace as I approached. It was then I knew why new smell seemed odd. It was I that exhaled the smell of old and worn. Battered and broken, limping in after dark without a payload it was clear to me then that the guards would not allow me to pass. Still, there was no other option than to return to the nest. There was no where else that mattered. No other purpose than to support it until death. I approached the stationed guards. They were many, heavily mantled, and their sharp mandibles glinted in the infrared.

Copyright 2010 Randoclese. All rights reserved. has been granted non-exclusive rights to display this work. For permission to reprint this item, please contact the author.

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This post has been awarded 12 stars by 3 readers.
This post is part of a writing prompt: A Bug's Life

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