I spent about an hour writing the first part of this story; at this rate, I think it will unfold over 2 or 3 parts, so I’m just going to release this part today. I’m making it up as I type incorporating the 9 elements that were submitted by readers Last Tuesday.
I did spend about an hour thinking about the elements and how they’d link together, but whatever comes out is going to surprise me just as much as it surprises anyone else. This is “straight through” writing; I will not go back and edit previous sentences unless it’s a grammatical problem. I think the raw dump might be interesting to look at in itself.
Commentary is welcome…the way the story ends is not set. I am not going to publically respond to any commentary until the whole story is over, so just talk amongst yourselves.
Enjoy! Or not :-)
Ulrick the Bee, as was noted in his annual Hive Review, was “a solid but eccentric performer.” If he had been born a human instead of a bee, he would have been a test fighter pilot; while other bees tended to stay close to the hive, Ulrick was an explorer. There was no raindrop that could fell him, no flower too far to collect nectar from. He had flown further and higher than any bee in the hive, a true maverick that was particularly well-suited for scouting missions.
In other words, he didn’t really fit in.
Being part of a Hive was about conformity, doing what you were told, and keeping to the Schedule. Ulrick hated schedules, preferring to take leave when the wind happened to catch the underside of his wings. Invariably, he would find some rich pocket of flower pollen and dance out its location. The Ancient Bee Code, of course, was what he danced. This is a series of repetitions of turns and wing movements that detail, with remarkable accuracy, the precise direction and distance relative to the hive by using the position of the sun as a reference. The Bee Code was highly effective, and could be communicated back down to the rank and file without having to actually talk; the Hive is way too loud to have even a shouted conversation in. You might as well try getting nectar out of a rock.
Ulrick was having a particularly bad day. He liked being away from the Hive far more than being in it, and during moments of solitude he caught himself thinking dark thoughts about his coworkers. “Drones, all of them”, he thought. “Doing what they’re told. There’s got to be more to Life than collecting Nectar.” He had once asked this very question of his supervisor, back when he was less cynical about such things: “Sir, what more is there after collecting Nectar? What is it all for?” His supervisor had just gaped at him for a moment, then explained in a very slow and careful voice just in case Ulrick was an exceptionally stupid bee, that Nectar was Life. Life was Nectar. This was the Great Bee Cycle, perhaps even older than the Ancient Bee Code itself. What else could there be for a bee? The Flight Deck had even grown a tad quieter, as the other bees paused to stare at the young bee who somehow didn’t understand the Great Bee Cycle. “He must have grown up on the Fringe”, he heard one bee whisper (or what passes for whispering in a noisy hive, which is basically yelling). Another bee had nodded sagely, “Yes, all that exposure to the weather will addle a young bee’s mental development; he probably should have been kept closer to Hive Central where it’s warmer. What a shame. What a shame.” After that, the other bees started treating him with the formal courtesy that people sometimes offer to children who can’t go swimming because they are susceptible to ear infections: kindly and with understanding, tinged with a slight veneer of caution in case the infections were somehow communicable.
The incident had irritated Ulrick in ways that he hadn’t known was possible, and after that he kept his questions to himself. Determined to prove himself a strong bee, he developed his flight technique to go faster and higher than any bee he had met. He had subsequently developed a reputation for being a great asset to the Hive, but how was the Hive an asset to himself?
His reverie was interrupted by his supervising flight deck officer, a stolid drone responsible for dispatching the morning’s nectar seeking squadron from the Hive to the wide world outside. The season was starting to change, which called for a wider search pattern than normal. Ulrick would probably be flying an extended patrol to tag his flowers quota for the day.
“Top of the morning, Ulrick”, said his supervisor.
“Whatever”, grumbled Ulrick, “Show me which direction to scout.”
The supervisor started dancing out the Bee Code. Ulrick, despite his bad temper, was drawn into it. Unlike the normal unimaginative dancing he’d come to expect from his supervisor, this one was a bit different. It was clumsily executed, with the poor leg extension and awkward wing gestures that belied the non-flying status of the deck supervisor, but it clearly was different. Ulrick was intrigued.
“I’ve never seen you dance one like that before,” commented Ulrick. “I’m not even sure I got it the first time through. You better dance it again.”
“It’s correct,” said his supervisor. “It got danced in just a while ago by the Dawn Squadron. I have duplicated it in exact detail.” His supervisor had a habit of assuming that Ulrick was a bit slow on the uptake, ever since he’d asked that question about there being more to Life than Nectar. Ulrick bristled internally at the perceived slight.
“Do you want me to dance it again, more slowly?” asked the supervisor, helpfully but still annoyingly.
“No, I got it. It was just…different.”
“Yeah, I know. It’s a WEIRD one alright, but sometimes it’s the weird ones that are the biggest scores. Ready?”
Ulrick hopped to the Hive entrance. “Ready.”
“SCOUT ULRICK IS ON DECK. FLIGHT DECK CLEAR FOR LAUNCH… CONFIRM?.”
“SCOUT ULRICK, DECK LAUNCH POSITION CONFIRM ACKNOWLEDGE!”
“Safe flying, Ulrick”
And with that, Ulrick launched himself out of the Hive, rushing the sky in a steep vertical climb. It felt good to be free of the Hive, alone with his thoughts. His automatic bee autopilot had already started adjusting his flight path based on the unusual instructions he’d gotten from his supervisor, using the position of the sun to calculate the distance and direction that he was to scout. It would have been a pretty easy flight for Ulrick, if there hadn’t been more than one sun in the sky this day, playing tricks on his bee senses.
It was not a good day for safe flying.