The mandibles of Overseer Davis close tenths of hundredths of thousandths of a centimeter behind my stinger as I fly away squealing in fright.
“Get back in formation, 942,” he sneers, drifting back towards his snickering cronies. I dart back into my spot and angrily scan the ground for pollen sources.
“Dude,” hisses 943, clicking his proboscis with irritation. “Why do you always have to act like such a pussy? They only go after you because you give them a major reaction every time. You know that, right?”
I drop onto a new flower and walk in a straight line, shaking my abdomen vigorously to signal the distance of the food source to nearby workers. “Yeah, ok, well, I can’t help it, ’43,” I say. “He’s huge. He scares the shit out of me.”
943 Sighs and drops down beside me. “We’re bees, ’42. You have to accept that. This is our life, for better or for worse. It’s brief and it’s harsh and then it’s over. We have to make the most out of it. And that means ignoring assholes like Davis.”
I smile gently. “943. That’s where you’re wrong-“
“-Oh, here we go-“
“- life is eternal. You’ll see! You’ll see for yourself when He returns for us, and frees us, and we all fly back to The Great Mother in Aveenu -“
“Ok ok!” 943 waves two legs in front of his face in exasperation while at the same time doing an elaborate pantomime of vomiting with the other four. “I don’t need to hear your religious mumbo jumbo again. God. You’re seriously so brainwashed and you don’t even see it.” He mumbles something spiteful under his breath, shooting me a quick glance.
I gently shake my head and chuckle. 943 is such a card! I love the quiet ferocity of his spirit and I admire his gentle strength. He is so beautiful… and so, so fragile even in his resilience. Sometimes, the sight of him literally leaves me breathless. I know that someday, when our Savior comes, he will forgive 943 for his hideous blasphemies and accept him into his heart. And then… maybe… Feeling uncharacteristically brave, I reach forward and gently pat 943’s wax glands.
“I’ll try to ignore him next time, 943. Will that make you happy?”
943 quickly darts away from me and sighs with the backs of his wings to me.
“’42… I’m serious. I’m not always going to be around. What if one of these days, Davis takes the joke too far and you get hurt? Who will take care of you?”
“’43, The Great Mother watches over all of her-“
“I’M NOT FUCKING AROUND, ’42! This… this insane garbage you’re always spewing about Great Mother this and Eternal Bliss on the Home Planet that- it sounds great. Really, it does! But it’s Just! Not! Real!”
943 grabs me with his four upper legs and shakes me to punctuate his point. I stumble and fall roughly, toppling onto my side. I look up at 943 in shock; never has he put his hands on me like this before. 943 is shaking to communicate fear and excited emotions. He looks distraught.
“943… what are you saying? Our life expectancies are the same, there is no reason for you to think you’re not going to be around.” I pick myself up and dust off my lowest joints. “It’s like we always said. It’s us against the world, baby! Together forever!”
943 shakes his head. “No. Starting tomorrow they’ve got me down in the nursery feeding the new queen. I’m on royal jelly duty all week. Maybe… all m-mm-m-” he chokes. “-Maybe all month.”
I jerk back and up into the air, buzzing in shock. “What? Why?! Are you sure? There has to be some mistake-“
He looks away, refusing to meet my incredulous stare. “Yes. I’m sure.”
“How long have you known…”
943 pauses, and looks me dead in the eye. “I’ve known since last Wednesday, 942.”
I stifle a sob. We both know that month’s assignment is a life sentence. The oldest recorded honey bee lived for 15 days. 943 and I are from the same clutch. We are both 8 days old- no longer spring grasses. I know this. But for one more day with ’43, I would give up a lifetime on Aveenu with the warm rays of her 3 moons at my back. For one more hour, I would give up an eternity within the Great Mother’s warm embrace. For-
I feel a sharp pain in my right middle leg. It’s the Overseer and his goons. They’re harassing me again. I look down and see 943 buzzing frantically below me as two of them hold him down, refusing to let him up. I start to fly away, using my smaller size to my advantage as I zoom out of the reach of their sharp mandibles, when suddenly, I hear a cry. Gasping, I look down only to see that one goon has ripped off my Beloved’s antennae while trying to restrain him. 943 clutches the base of the injury, shrieking again and again as black blood oozes forth from the fresh wound.
“Oh, nice going!” says one goon, sounding dismayed. “They’re going to have our wings for this…”
“No…” says Davis, horrified, “Look at how much he’s bleeding. The closest medic is 2 days away. He’s going to bleed to death long before that.”
Davis and his cronies begin circling wildly and moaning in fear as the realization of what they’ve done sets in.
“They’ll have all of our stingers on a spit if they can connect us to this! Quick, boys, we have to cover this up.” He gestures with his upper antennae. “You two. Grab ’42.” They nod and take off in my direction. “The rest of you… come on down-”
Davis turns his head sideways and spits, shaking his head at 943, who is still bleeding, but whose screams have quieted down into a sickening blend of quiet moans and mews. For one horrible moment, 943’s rolling eyes settle on mine, and I see him mouth “I love you.”
“Let’s put this poor bastard out of his misery,” mutters Davis.
Time seems to stop as I watch them strike ‘943 over and over and over again. I count the blows as they fall. One. I see 943’s beautiful, strained face- the face I love so much- struggling to get away. Two. I see the individual wingbeats of the the meatheads coming after me as they close in. “I love you too” I want to say, But my throat feels swollen closed and I cannot speak the words. Three. 943’s eyes are closed. He isn’t struggling anymore. I love you too. Four. I think of everything and it’s all mixed up- the softness of 943’s fur, and the softness of the Mother’s touch. His black eyes and her blue ones. His golden hair and her golden crown…. or wait, was it? I don’t know. I love you too.Five. I imagine The Mother is smiling down at me and her face looks like 943’s face. I love you too. Six. They’re on me now but I can’t feel them. I love you too. Seven. I love you. Eight. I love you I love you I love youIloveyouiloveyouiloveyouilo-