By Mike Ackerman
I’m a freshman in a military prep school. But I’m not your average buzz cut kid who dreams of toting an M-16 around. No, I’m just a bee larva named Joseph.
And oh, yeah—I can’t stand Bible thumpers.
Mark, the warrior bee who pastors the congregation in our colony, says the honey we get is the manna God provides for us flower dancers. But I’m not much on Bible symbolism. I just can’t find the faith to believe without visible evidence, even though Pastor Mark says we don’t need to see miraculous wonders in this age because we have God’s Word.
You might think it strange that we bees can talk, but we do our little jigs and flap our wings just so, and it’s every bit as effective as sign language. We are able to convey the writings of the holy-scriptures or any other book in the same manner.
I worry about my hive’s future, though. Queen Elizabeth hasn’t been feeling well, and some say she is much sicker than she portrays herself to be.
If she dies, our colony is doomed.
I shook the hazy cobweb of dreams from my mind as I came to. My stomach cried for fresh honey, but I was also eager to hear what Rory had to say.
Though Rory was an antagonistic sort of fellow, I still considered him my best friend. I suppose that for what he wanted to do, his bravado wasn’t such a bad trait. His great ambition was to be a scouting officer for the Air Guard, and strong character was a necessary prerequisite for anyone who wanted to fill that slot.
“What’s up, Rory?”
Rory’s taut, young face gleamed with a mixture of angst and excitement. His prominent jaw (which I was quite jealous of) gave him a tough, handsome look. I’d be lucky to rouse half as many prospects in my prime as Rory would on his worst day.
“Have you heard the latest about that earthquake off the coast of Japan? It was literally off the Richter Scale.”
“I missed school yesterday because I was a bit under the weather. What about it, though?” I said.
Just then, Jim arose from his slumber. A tad older than Rory, everyone called him “Preacher Jim.” Jim planned to continue his education in religious studies under the tutelage of Pastor Mark when he came of age. Theological Seminary, I guess they call it. Then he’d be able to lead his own congregation.
I’ve never cared much for Jim. He’s always trying to bring Jesus into the conversation, and he’s got this brainwashed glow on his face all the time. Once, I actually told him that I thought he would end up leading a cult, and he just smiled. Then he’d said, “A cult can generally be defined as ‘a group of people who follow after one individual,’ and as Christians, we do that. We follow Jesus. So yeah, I guess you could say we Christians are a cult.”
Jim is weird.
But Jim dived right into our conversation, however unwelcome his comments may have been. “Jesus said there would be an increase in rumors of war, famines, and earthquakes in the final days…”
Brother. It was too early in the morning for any of my mean spiritedness, but Rory had always been an early riser, and his passionate disdain for Jim would surely be unleashed after such a comment. My heart danced with glee when Rory gave me that wicked grin he always wears when he’s about to thrash someone.
“You know what my plan of salvation is, Jimbo? Eating honey and wild locusts and then getting my head lopped off for the glory of God,” Rory said.
Jim was smart in the bookish sense, but he wasn’t a witty come back artist. I couldn’t help but chuckle at the soured expression on his face.
Solemnly, Jim said, “Pastor Mark and I will keep praying for both of you. Much prayer is much power, you know.”
“So say you, Jimbo. So say you,” Rory said as he wiggled in a violent fashion within his chamber.
Rory slinked just above his chamber, then, and huffed himself up like a cobra. Jim’s permanently glazed eyes grew into slits as Rory swayed in a cocky, swaggering manner. Then Rory lowered his head and bopped Jim across the face. It was a light tap meant to incite Jim to fight, but Jim only backed further into his honeycomb.
“You see this, Joseph?” Rory said as he flit his tail toward Jim. “Kind of pathetic, isn’t it?”
I don’t know what possessed me, but I said, “Leave him alone, Rory. He ain’t done nothing to us.”
Rory frowned. “What’s got into you?”
“I don’t know. I’m just not out for blood, I guess. He’s harmless enough.”
“Whatever,” Rory said with a shrug of his tail.
Rory glanced in my direction. I suspected that he was about to ask me why I was being such a pansy, but I knew I’d never hear the end of it if I told him the truth about why I had chastened him.
The truth was really quite simple. There was a tiny sliver of hope in me that believed Jim’s faith would one day be my saving grace. That he might somehow convince me his beliefs were real. And I felt compelled to tell Rory this factual statement even though it might cause strife.
Thankfully, though, the circumstances that came about sidetracked both of us.
Pastor Mark was escorting Queen Elizabeth to our sector of the colony. On an occasion as grand as this, no childish behavior of any sort would be tolerated.
Pastor Mark was a markedly splendorous warrior bee. The Death Angels, an elite special forces squad who served high ranking dignitaries, had sought to recruit Pastor Mark long ago, but he considered the “spiritual warfare” he was involved with in his congregation more of a priority. Regardless of what anyone might say, though, Pastor Mark wasn’t the sort to be satisfied with quietly dying in his sleep. No, he would rather die a violent but valiant death.
Queen Elizabeth, once an illustrious beauty, made her way toward our section of the colony with Pastor Mark. She didn’t seem capable of moving with the same elegance that she once had, nor could she direct the citizens with the same poise. No, Queen Elizabeth looked pale and haggard, as if she were ready to resign from life. When she drew in front of my honeycomb, she shuddered and stopped where she was.
Pastor Mark bowed to Queen Elizabeth and signaled for the warrior bees to set a perimeter so she could address all of us. I was in a state of shock because she was so near to me.
The queen hesitated. Sadly, she looked as though she might retch. It wasn’t her nerves, though. Rather, it was the sickness she was fighting.
As the queen scanned the audience chambers, the Captain of the Air Guard, Wolfstein, saluted Queen Elizabeth in a brisk manner. She bowed her head in respect, and a faint smile tugged at the captain’s otherwise stoic face.
Captain Wolfstein snapped his orders to the Air Guard in a brisk manner: “All hale the queen!” General York issued the same command to the ground troops.
Finally, the queen reared up, and amidst her heaving gasps, everyone bowed in reverence. She began her address from her high vantage point, though she swayed frequently with weakness in maintaining her upright position.
“My dear citizens… the time has come for you to know the truth. I am sickly beyond measure, and there isn’t much else that Dr. Bernhagen can do. I may not live to see this spring’s end. But please know this: all of you are my beloved children, and I will never forget any one of you. I can only hope that you will hold me in enough esteem to remember me as a Queen who stood behind your valiant efforts. My love and adoration go out to all of you.
“We must take aggressive action to cease the decimation of all we know and hold dear. There can be no compromise. We are no more than a synthetic society on this manmade farm; granted, we have fresh foliage nearby, protection from wild animals, and sturdy hives provided for us, but we are completely reliant on the humans who take advantage of our labors. This has degraded our society, made us into little more than lackeys at best, and slaves at worst. This, my friends, I cannot tolerate. The final impetus which prompted this rather striking call for action was my viral infection. Those who do not leave this hive may very well die. My illness, according to Dr. Bernhagen, is contagious. It is what the humans refer to as Colony Collapse Disease, or CCD. Therefore, I am seeking a fresh, young crew of scouts to—“
“We’ll never leave you, Queen Elizabeth!” shouted one of the warrior bees.
“Aye! To Queen Elizabeth!” one of the battalions cried out in agreement.
“Silence!” Captain Wolfstein said.
For a few awkward moments, no one spoke. Finally, Queen Elizabeth continued.
“You must leave. Not only because you will die if you don’t, but because it is a direct order. This order will be strictly enforced. Please, don’t make me use brutal tactics. Rather, do it out of love for me, as your good Queen Mother. Do it because you know in your heart that it is the only right thing to do. Do it out of a sense of duty and purpose, to fulfill your role as the propagators of the first colony free from man’s clutches in this bloodline for many, many generations. Do it so you can be called your own.
“Now, I am looking for scouting officers and recruits. And mind, we need the best of the best. This will be no easy task. You will face perils of wind and storm, brushfire and hail, predatory birds and lizards and preying mantis’, extreme heat and humidity, deadly plants and swatting human hands, and the possibility of getting lost deep in the wood or flying to the point of exhaustion and even death. Yes, there will be all of these things and many more, some so terrible that they are near to being unspeakable. But we must face them if we are to survive. We must face them.
“I implore you, then: if you think you have what it takes to make a good scout, come see Sergeant Hacker at the recruiting office. The time is upon us, and we truly are in need.”
Pastor Mark’s follow-up statement was brief. “Queen Elizabeth will now take questions. Make them pertinent, and no sassing around!”
A flurry of queries were pelted out, but I paid them little mind. I was sick with worry over my queen. Her love for all her children was so immense, so unconditional. This made it all the harder to see her in the state she was in. Too, if we found a place and migrated before she died, Queen Elizabeth would have no means of survival. Her only thanks would be a long, drawn out death.
Suddenly, amidst the hubbub of questions, a scout bee came into sight. He was careening through the air toward our hive, his yellowish torso streaking across the skyline like a child’s kite caught in a strong gale of wind. The scout bashed into the honeycombs with the force of a meteor striking the ground (or so it seemed) and lay limp on the hive’s surface. His wings torn and tattered, his legs twitching where he lay, he still somehow managed to salute the queen.
“My God in heaven, someone help him!” exclaimed Queen Elizabeth.
It was only after Captain Wolfstein gently turned the scout onto his back that I came to know why the valiant warrior bee wouldn’t survive.
His stinger had been used.
While warrior bees have a powerful, poisonous stinger which will fend off some of the most ferocious animals, there is a very grave consequence to using that stinger. A warrior can only use it once, and then he dies.
Captain Wolfstein hunched over the scout. “You’ve done well, airmen. You’ve carried out your duty. But you have one final calling. What sent you back to us in such disarray? Are we in danger?”
The scout didn’t reply. Captain Wolfstein shook him, but he still got no response.
Dr. Bernhagen drew up to the scout and felt his pulse. The brave bee was dead. Dr. Bernhagen drew back after examining the wounds of the deceased.
Then he said one word: “Wasps.”
“What!? Did you say wasps?” Captain Wolfstein said.
“His wounds are consistent with multiple wasp stings,” Dr. Bernhagen began, “Check them if you would like. By the looks of the piercing on the back and abdomen, there were probably at least two or three of them who attacked him.”
Captain Wolfstein frowned. “They might be on their way here to assess our numbers. We have to prevent them from relaying any information back to their hive, or they may prepare a major offensive.”
Dr. Bernhagen shook his head. “That would be suicide for them, though. If they overtake our hive, the humans will just kill them with insecticides.”
“Aye. By then, however, it would be too late. The insecticides, if the humans opted to use them, would likely kill a majority of us no matter how careful the humans were. Too, the wasps are quick, vicious predators. Their aim would be to slaughter us, loot our honey and be gone before the humans have a chance to help us. But we can defeat them. After all, with God for us, who can be against us?”
Dr. Bernhagen snarled, and in a sultry tone, said, “If they really are coming for us, your warriors stand no chance against them. You’ve seen what happened to this one. We should just abandon the hive and—“
Just then, Queen Elizabeth slapped Dr. Bernhagen. The force of the blow whipped his weak chin to the side. As his head snapped back into place, his jaw dropped open in shock.
“Well, well,” began Queen Elizabeth, “we might as well ‘be as grasshoppers in their sight,’ eh Dr. Bernhagen? Under whose authority do you seek to undermine the morale of my warriors!? They can hold their own against anything, whether man or beast, but with pundits like you around, we might as well begin our forty years death march in the wilderness. Now, you see to taking care of this fallen scout and get out of my sight!”
Dr. Bernhagen slinked off with the scout’s body as Captain Wolfstein called the troops to arms. “Rally the Home Guard! Set the watch on high! I want every able bodied warrior set to go on the front lines as of yesterday and the day before!”
There was a great hustling all about the colony as troop movements were made. The larvae were instructed to shut themselves into their honeycombs, but Rory and me didn’t comply. We wanted to see the battle.
In the haze of the morning sun, then, I saw the terror of the earth. I could hear the intense power of their buzzing wings cutting through the air like lumber mill saws. Each one of the monstrosities was at least twice the size of our largest warriors. They were in a massive scouting party—at least thirty wasps set to test our strength.
Our lieutenants of the Air Guard were lined up with their regiments in the hive, patiently awaiting Captain Wolfstein’s command to take flight. General York lined up the Home Guard in a star-like pattern around Queen Elizabeth and Pastor Mark. Every bee’s stinger was at the ready.
Commander Wiersbe stood rigidly beside Captain Wolfstein. Both leaders wore stern expressions filled with a barely concealed rage.
“They draw near, sir. Perhaps now?” Commander Wiersbe said.
Captain Wolfstein’s response was steely and without doubt. “No. None can escape. Not until they are right upon us. On my signal now… steady… steady…”
Just then, the wasps switched languages. I have no idea how, (perhaps they had taken a bee captive before, or overcome other colonies?) but they knew how to speak our way. And they were chanting one thing, over and over and over, again and again:
Kill. Kill. Kill…
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