Sisters were marshalling themselves and herding a group of young drones towards the hive entrance. Curly and Twirly, were still asleep and had somehow managed to avoid the bee dragnet closing in around the other drones. Burly, half awake and still too tired to argue, was on the wrong side of the line. Messages flooding his senses muddled and tangled as other drones, bumped and pushed and loud worker bees thrust them ever forwards. Burly shook himself awake and looked around him in search of his bothers, but he couldn’t see them and in the shoving confusion lost his footing, falling between two frames and missing the outstretched grapple one of the herding sisters offered. He landed with a bump on the hive floor, alone no longer in the herd. From his secluded position he could see the group of other drone bees being ushered out onto the landing board of the hive. He could see shafts and shadows of light crossing the entrance to his home. And he could hear some of his sisters calling harshly to the drone bees to hurry up and to follow the scents in the sky. “Head for the Drone Congregation Area as fast as you can, now, get moving” he heard the ugly tones of one of the uber worker bees, a bee whose prowess with propolis and pollen collection was legendary. She was elegant, powerful, slightly larger than most of the other girls, and she was a special confidant of Mother. It might have been the other way round Curly had once told Burly, but no one was really sure. Even if it wasn’t her idea, the Queen must have issued instructions to gather up so many drones to send them out into the morning air. “And don’t come back too soon!” she yelled, adding, “if you come back at all” to the general amusement of her sniggering fellows.
Burly didn’t know what was going on and Curly wasn’t there to explain everything, so Burly kept very still. He sucked at some stray drops of nectar dripped to the floor of the hive by hurrying foragers. Soon he was feeling better, enjoying the morning air, rising, dewdropped and scented through the gaps in the floor. He could see bees flying around under the hive, before heading off into the morning, or returning to the landing board to deliver their loads. There is nothing quite so restful as watching others work, he pondered. He thought about getting back to Curly and Twirly, but it was so early and it was only by mistake he had ended up in that crowd. His brothers were probably still asleep anyways. With a full belly and an exciting story to tell, Burly was tempted to make his way back up and across the frames of honey and brood and eggs to share the excitement of his morning. But there was something else calling him. “They’ll still be asleep,” he said to himself, before getting another whiff of wild outside air, heavy with the scents of his fellow drones, lumbering their way up and away into the sky, in search of wherever that place was. “Drone Congregation Area” Burly repeated to himself, adding with a bit of bee bluster and a puff of his chest, “I like the sound of that”. So instead of clambering back up to the top of the frame and struggling past all the busy bees to his brothers, Burly took the most important decision of his young life.
With the morning air gently lifting and tickling his underbelly, Burly angled his antennae and raised his bee chin just a little bit higher. He dragged his forearms over his face, cleaning his sticky mandibles and straightening as many of his body hairs he could reach. He had noticed in the general roundup that a lot of sister bees were grooming their brothers ready for the excursion. Burly knew he was amongst the handsomest of drones in the colony for as well as being slightly bigger than pretty much all of his brothers, he also made a point of keeping himself in good trim. Yes, he slept a lot but he also traipsed about the hive a lot in search of the tastiest food, and then he always went back and got Twirly and Curly, making sure to take the shortest route back to the food and to help Twirly when he got panicked in the crowds. It meant he daily crossed many more frames and comb than his brothers and he was quietly pleased that he was so athletic and strong compared to them. Actually he wasn’t at all quietly pleased about it, only in front of Twirly and Curly. To the rest of the hive Burly was known to be excessively full of himself, so apart from a couple of naive nursing bees, the girls and other drones tended to ignore him.
His vanity was to be Burly’s undoing. He decided that he needed to redeem yesterday’s failure to do the unknown job he was meant to do on the outside, out in the light, high in the sky. Despite feeling a little tired following yesterday’s fruitless exertions Burly decided to make his way to the hive entrance, get a little additional preening and fly out into the light once more. He was pleased at the stir he caused amongst the remaining workers who were being fed and watered by some incoming bees. They paused and looked as one as Burly stepped onto the landing board wondering why he was late, not particularly at his glorious beauty. The sun shone bright and strong on his huge shiny eyes, and Burly could feel their gaze, puffing himself up a little bit more, basking, proud. A light breeze was tickling at the hairs on his head. His wings were trembling daintily in the air as a couple of workers added the finishing touches to his toilette. “Of you go, my lad” the brash uber worker growled as she shoved his attendants aside. “Out and up and away” pushing with her head as Burly’s wings flicked and vibrated, and carried him suddenly upward with unexpected speed. Then he was alone high in the air, vaguely aware of a message that he should keep going high and straight until he could feel the mysterious call of other drones and a virgin queen.
The morning was lengthening and Burly was glad of his strength and power as he slid across the sky, antennae alert and all five openings to his heart beating a new and urgent rhythm. Light flooded his massive eyes, he was breathing new fresh air and could scent neither his brothers, nor his sisters. He had forgotten the warm cosy stink of the colony, the mix of propolis, pollen, baby bees, honey capped and uncapped. Mother. All of it was gone and only one message came floating to call him on and on and on. The scent of a virgin queen bee somewhere in the sky. An intoxicating scent, beautiful, peculiar, alien and intense. It drew him on, closer and closer.
Gradually there were no other sensations for Burly, no sounds, no tiredness. There was no ache in his wings, no messages hitting his antennae. There were no thoughts of Curly and Twirly or of his home. Burly was utterly alone, suspended in the heavens, caught in a euphoria he had never before known. He was aware only of a single constant, something pulling every part of him closer and closer. As all thoughts and volition left his small bee brain, Burly saw in the near distance a magical creature, a bee bigger even than him. Bouncing black and gold against radiant blue, Burly was getting closer and closer to her. This was the virgin queen he had heard about, this was the bee who would be his own, his queen. Burly watched as she rejected an unworthy suitor, thrusting him suddenly out and away from her. Burly sneered seeing the drone’s pathetic, inadequate body, wretched and torn, wing beats slowing, head drooping.
Burly watched as the unworthy one spiralled listless and slowly down towards the ground. He watched as a passing swallow gobbled up the unworthy one. He watched as the swallow spun slicing perfect arcs through the hovering drones to send them wheeling away, but ever far from the virgin queen. “Poor chap” Burly said to himself as he cruised into range of the luscious deliciousness calling him. He knew he had to move fast, before some other wannabee paramour got to his love first.
As he approached her, the young queen raised her antennae straight above her beautiful head, which she dipped in what Burly took for coy acquiescence. But if she’d been human she’d have been checking her watch. Shirley was much larger than Burly, with a tiny waist and a long abdomen tapering to an elegant point. Her colours were bright, radiant black and yellow bands, her hair stood straight and golden around her lovely eyes. Her iridescent wings were long and elegant. But her massive eyes saw nothing, lost as she was in a curious state of ecstasy. Burly understood that it was this ecstasy calling him, drawing him in closer and closer. He was upon her now and the air between them slid away as he climbed onto her back and felt a strange part of his body push out to join with his beloved. His antennae caressed his queen’s gently up and down, his legs stroked hers, up and down, up and down in step with the motions of his body. And his legs clasped her beauty tighter and tighter to him. There were no more signals only this union, euphoric, joyful, soundless and full of light. And they two danced across the glowing sky in perfect motion, a rhythm shared, a rhythm deadly. She lifted her legs high and as Burly thrust forwards he felt himself turned inside out with delirious joy, he felt himself a creature of heaven.
But the light shining on Burly was about to fade. As his love rose and his rhythm slowed he felt a new ecstasy moving through his body, fiery, uncontrolled, a shimmering electricity exploding out of him and turning him into a quicksilver version of himself. Burly was aware that every atom in his beautiful drone body was a whelm of rapturous bliss. He was unaware that most of his abdomen was in shreds, and that she had cast him off, or that he was dying. As he floated down and away and into the open jaws of a hungry swallow, Burly’s fickle queen welcomed her 26th drone of the day.
When Curly found out that Burly had once again gone out into the light, he kept his misgivings to himself. Twirly was already struggling to recover from Burly’s tales of yesterday’s excursion. He was especially worried that so few drones came back with Burly yesterday, but Twirly was unaware that his fear was not misplaced. All of the returning drones had the same story of confusion and bafflement. Not a one could explain or even share any idea of what they were supposed to do. And many were too exhausted after a full day’s flying to even speak.
When darkness fell Curly told Twirly to settle down and get some sleep, “I’ll keep watch” he said and crept to the hive entrance. Nodding to some sleepy guards Curly snuggled amongst them to stare out at the blackness. He heard owls and nightingales calling in the night, saw stars shining sharp and high in the sky, and he understood that the turning of the day would see no return of his brother. Curly wiped away a little tear and ambled back to Twirly pondering how to explain that Burly was gone. As he pondered Curly drifted gently to sleep, close and safe zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.