TUESDAY: Beatrix’s Mistake

BY KAI RAINE

Copyright is held by the author.

SHE HAD no name because she was one of many. But she stood — hovered, to be more precise — at the center of the incident. For convenience’s sake, let us call her Beatrix.

Beatrix came into adulthood with pride, as just about everyone does. It didn’t even bother her that some of her sisters seemed to deliberately leave trails of grime when it was her turn to be cleaning. She was an adult, and she was helping her family.

There was nothing she liked more than caring for her sweet little sisters, waiting in their little cells for the day when they too would reach adulthood and come crawling out into the world. She was ever watchful and attentive as she fed them, and if any of them seemed to want more, she made sure that they got it.

If there was anything that set Beatrix apart from the others in the beginning, perhaps it was the depth of her love for the little ones. It did not bother her that feeding and cleaning were the lowest jobs. She never joined the others who clamored eagerly to be assigned to better jobs. No — Beatrix could spend hours watching the little ones squirm and twist as they waited to grow.

So perhaps it is not fair to blame her for what happened. She loved her sisters, and they were hungry. She fed them but still they were hungry. So she filled their cells with the thick liquid that they ate, and gave a content buzz when she saw that they were happy.

Beatrix was happy too.

***

The cells had been capped, so Beatrix got assigned to the duty of receiving the food that was brought in. She was a little surprised — wasn’t it a little soon? — but she accepted it.

The others working with her admired the foragers who passed them the food and dreamed of the day when they could be foragers and fly across the world. Beatrix only sighed and thought of her sweet little sisters in their capped cells. Foraging would be well and good, Beatrix told one of her sisters when the matter came up, but it wasn’t as satisfying as caring for the little children who would soon be adults.

It was about time that the caps would be being removed from the cells, but Beatrix was too busy to see them. She slumped a little and her wings drooped. Someone buzzed at her furiously — she was slowing everyone down—and she determinedly applied herself to her work.

There were whispers about the little ones that Beatrix had looked after. Whispers that they were not quite right. Whispers that a great many cells had had to be enlarged because the little ones had been far too big. The implications were chilling but also impossible. It was amusing to gossip of such things while working. No one took it seriously.

Days passed and Beatrix was promoted again to the duty of carrying the dead bodies out whenever a worker keeled over and died of exhaustion. It was a busy job. Yet she was also expected to keep guard duty, which meant hovering outside without going far. She would hover about and intimidate any unfortunate creature that tried to wander into their home.

She still missed the little ones but it had been over a week since she’d last seen them. Her memory of them was little more than a shadow. The pain of parting had receded to a light ache.

A furious buzzing alerted her to something important, but the commotion was inside rather than outside. Hesitant to leave her post but concerned for her family, she returned and peered inside . . . just in time to be vaulted back into the air as a cloud of her sisters came rushing out. It took a moment for Beatrix to realize that it was the Queen — their mother — leading the rapid escape from their home.

“Wait, what’s happening?” she buzzed after them, but no one replied. She debated whether to follow them or see what was happening inside. Beatrix was just about to follow them when she heard more commotion from inside, and realized that not everyone had left.

She peered inside more cautiously than before. Nothing came catapulting at her this time, and she buzzed inside.

It was chaos itself.

Scores of Queens flew about in the place that had been her home, buzzing angrily at one another. Beatrix looked about at the sheer abundance of Queens — how had this happened? As a pair of furious Queens rushed by her, circling one another with the intent to kill, she realized that these were not mothering, nurturing Queens as their mother was — these were ruthless, power-hungry Virgin Queens who could think of nothing but to find a mate.

A glance about revealed that the drones were still inside. They cowered in a corner, confused. There were more Queens than drones and the urge to kill was overriding the urge to mate for the girls. The mates were confounded by the sheer number of possible Queens surrounding them. They could only cower and wait for the girls to decide who would mate and who would die.

Beatrix clung to an empty cell and watched as the Queens thrust and parried their poison blades at one another in a battle that ranged all around. She watched as the Queens fell out of the sky one by one. It seemed that as each one fell she could recall what she had looked like when she had been a newly hatched young one, innocent and dependent.

The murder ended and there was only one. She flew about triumphantly over the dead bodies scattered all around. The drones replied with satisfied buzzes as they spread their wings to follow their Queen in her flight.

Beatrix carefully carried the bodies that had been her sweet charges away from the home one by one. It was painstaking work, though she had done this often before. It was not the weight of the bodies. It was the weight of wondering if it was she who had caused this slaughter of the ones she had loved.

“Only feed them as much as they need,” she remembered one of the older ones saying. “No more.”

But they had seemed so hungry . . .

No, of course that wasn’t important anymore. Beatrix chastised herself as she deposited the last body outside. Her home was empty now. She had no doubt that she would not be welcome if she remained. Yet she couldn’t go back to her own Queen; not after what she had done.

Beatrix looked down at the pile of bodies of little sisters that should have become workers at her side; little sisters who had become Virgin Queens, compelled to kill mercilessly, each one of them mad with the need to mate and start her own hive.

It took her no longer than a moment to make her decision. She settled herself at the center of the pile of bodies. She folded her wings delicately and was still. Her body grew colder and stiffer. She could smell none of the sweetness that had defined her life; only death all around. But she was with her sisters at last, where she would remain forever more.

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