The priestess walked swiftly through the pale corridors of the Arrivals Hall. Flora followed closely, her brain recording all the sounds and scents as different kin broke free of their emergence chambers. Many more dark sanitation workers moved along the gutters with bundles of soiled wax. Noting their sharp, distinctive odor and how other bees avoided any contact with them, Flora drew closer to Sister Sage and her fragrant wake.
The priestess paused, antennae raised. They had come to the edge of the Arrivals Hall, where the countless rows of emergence cells ended and a large hexagonal doorway led into a smaller chamber. A burst of applause from within carried out a thrilling new odor. Flora looked up at Sister Sage.
"Unfortunate timing," said the priestess. "But I must pay my respects." They went inside, where she put Flora to wait by the wall and then went to the front of a large crowd of bees. Flora watched as once again they burst out clapping, standing around the front of a still-closed emergence cell.
Flora stared around this beautiful room. It was obviously an Arrivals Hall for more favored bees, for it was spaciously arranged around two rows of central cells, each one made of six large and beautifully carved individual compartments. Sister Sage stood in the welcoming committee before one of them, where many bees held platters of pastries and pitchers of nectared water. The delicious smells sharpened Flora's own hunger and thirst.
Muffled curses and thuds came from within the decorated walls of the compartment, as if the occupant was leaping and jumping. At the sound of breaking wax, the assembled sisters redoubled their applause and their kinscents flowed stronger with excitement. Flora detected a molecule of a different scent, and her brain knew its pheromone signal: A male A male arrives
"Worship to His Maleness!" cried several feminine voices as a carved piece of wax fell out, followed by screams of delight as through the hole came the large, plumed head of a brand- new drone.
"Worship to His Maleness!" the sisters cheered again, and they rushed to help him out, pulling the wax free themselves and making a staircase of their bodies.
"Quite high," he said as he walked down on top of them. "And quite tiring."
He puffed his dronely scent around himself and roused more sighs and applause.
"Welcome and worship to His Maleness." Sister Sage curtsied low. As all the other bees graciously did the same, Flora stared in admiration and tried to copy the movement. "Honor to our hive," said Sister Sage as she rose.
"Too kind." But his smile had charm, and all the sisters returned it, gazing at him avidly. He was rumpled but elegant, and very concerned with the exact set of his neck ruff . When he had finally arranged it to his liking he bowed with a great flourish. Then, to the sisters' fervent applause, he showed himself off from many angles, stretching out his legs in pairs, puffing his plume, and even treating them to a sudden roar of his engine. They screamed in delight and fanned each other, and some scrambled to offer him pastries and water.
Flora watched him eat and drink, her own mouth dry and her hunger keen.
"Greed is a sin, 717." Sister Sage was beside her again. "Take care."
She walked on, and before Flora could look again at the drone, her antennae tugged sharply from the line of scent the priestess had attached without her knowledge. She ran to catch up.
As she followed, the vibrations in the comb floor became more insistent, stronger and stronger, as if it were a living thing beneath her, energy running in all directions. With a buzzing sensation through all her six feet, a torrent of information rushed up into her body and her brain. Overwhelmed, Flora stopped in the middle of a large lobby. Under her feet spread a vast mosaic of hexagonal floor tiles, the patterns scrolling across the lobby and down the corridors. Endless streams of bees crisscrossed all around them, and the air was thick with scent broadcasting.
From The Bees by Laline Paull. Copyright 2014 Laline Paull. Excerpted by permission of Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.
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