54: Normal Relations
Daisy: Flying isn't as easy as I thought it would be. These wings are designed for hovering, and short distances, and very heavy lifting. They're designed for a Queen Bee whose body is swollen with eggs and... more. Now, my tail weighs next to nothing, so balance is difficult, altitude control is difficult, keeping a constant speed is difficult.
At least this won't be for much longer, and I have a bit of a preview of what's to come as Brad is well ahead of me in his own transformation. Mine is only just starting: a little tingle in my skin but nothing visible yet. Brad's tail is nearly gone and I see some of the little "spines" that will be feathers before too much longer.
It's a beautiful, but rather warm day. Good news is that the warmth vanishes quickly with altitude: you don't have to get very far up for the air to feel much cooler. I don't think I'd have made it to the edge of the bee-girls' territory otherwise.
Stacy, having less of a change to make, is an even better preview for me. Her wings are getting longer, her colors changing to the ones we came up with. I can see where her muscles are getting stronger. Her legs will be stronger too, more like feathered human legs than the skinnier appendages we had before as a weight-saving compromise. My own legs are tucked up against my tail section, and I kind of have to hold them up there to keep the wind resistance down.. They're human legs too: designed to be sexy, part of a curvaceous, seductive woman that just happens to have wings and antennae (I don't) and a bee's tail, to disarm her prey using her looks.
Once we're out of sight of the Hive, Stacy, pulled out her phone to call the lamia. The last thing the lamia need to see is a pair of bee-girls descending upon them unannounced. It takes her a few minutes to make that connection: they've gotten rid of their one-time landline and she had to look up Zoe's number but, at last found it and got through.
"Here," Stacy says. "Zoe wants to talk to you." I almost dropped Stacy's phone on the transfer and I was wondering if any of us could possibly dive fast enough to catch it. Maybe Stacy could.
"Is that really you? Daisy?" Zoe asked.
"Hi, Zoe. I'm so sorry it's been a while."
"We have quite a bit to talk about, I think."
"Yes, I'm quite aware of that. That's why I'm on my way. I'm not really a bee-girl anymore, but you need to know that I still look like one. As does Amanda."
"Brad. Sorry. You'll remember him as Brad. Still kind of looks like a girl but is transitioning to a-- oh, never mind."
"Daisy, you, Stacy, and Brad are welcome here anytime, no matter what you look like."
"Thank you. Zoe, I'm really, really sorry for what happened. If I'd become Queen, I had plans for a much gentler presence overall. I think the nightmare is over, though."
Silence for several seconds. I turn up the volume: it's hard to hear a phone over the whoosh of these wings, even though I'm not "buzzing" in the least.
"I don't think it was a nightmare, Daisy. Just... life. It's going to be interesting times, that's for sure."
"Hey, that's what I was going for. Interesting."
Zoe laughed. She sounded pleasantly content.
"How are Francesca? And Laurie?"
"Francesca's amazing. You'll have a lot to talk about. And Laurie... well... she misses you. Look, we'll talk when you get here. You can eat now? We're making a great lunch today. And can you sit at a table? I'll reserve one for the six of us."
"I can't eat yet but that doesn't stop me from sitting with you, as long as there's some room for this tail. I'd love something to drink. It's pretty dry up here today."
"God, there are times when I wish I could fly."
“I’m sure it’s possible. I’m constantly surprised at just how large some things are that fly. Queen Bee, Sphinx…” I elected to omit Clarisse, my sister, from that inventory. “There’s probably an upper limit to the length of your tail unless you have some other set of wings, but… put your people on it. You could do it.”
"Tempting. We’re not ready for it, though, not yet. I should go get ready for your arrival. How long until you're here?
I relayed the inquiry to Stacy, I looked over at Stacy, who made fingers at me: "fourteen minutes."
"Alright. Land by the barn and I'll meet you at the door. See you soon."
As we descended toward the gleaming, new, white "barn" with the solar-panel roof, back into that warmer air, I could see Zoe and Laurie just outside the door, with one other lamia between them: a raven-haired snake-woman with her tail coiled neatly behind herself. Francesca.
I said it aloud. A man so very close to his own extinction, mere moments from it, at long last has substance, a body of her own. She'd made some modest changes to the design Rob and I had worked out, or perhaps Laurie had: but her appearance was close enough to her original design that there was no mistaking her.
There didn't seem to be many more lamia about than there were before. Except there was one major difference: These three, and every other one I could see in the distance were very much pregnant. You could see it in their tails; the swollen sections higher up. Each of those lumps... a former bee-girl, in some stage of digestion and transformation. And although the lamia were scattered, I knew the statistics: The lamia held somewhere around one thousand former bee-girls within those tails: many of my former sisters, coworkers, hive-mates.
My landing was miserably awkward because I stupidly tried to keep up with Stacy, who just effortlessly swooped in and pulled off a nice smooth landing. Perhaps I just wished I had that body already and forgot that I didn't. Or I was thinking about the lamia and not about getting myself down safely.
At least it was an opportunity for a introductory comment, a little self-deprecation: "Ugh! I've forgotten how to land this thing. Miserable, unbalanced...!"
The joke didn't quite inspire even a smile from the lamia, which preyed on my worst fear: these things had just battled a horde of attacking bee girls that look, unfortunately, just like me. I look back at the tail I'd rather forget: even though my transition plan should result in me losing my stinger soon, that hasn't happened yet. It's still there, all its deadly sharpness.
"I apologize for my appearance," I said.
"Come on," Zoe said, opening the door. "It's hot outside. You're hot. Come in." The lamia glided through the door and we had to wait a moment for their tails to get out of the way, Laurie circling around to close the door behind us.
More shock. Again, everyone here was very pregnant. The lamia moved slowly, conscious of their own size, careful with the occupants inside themselves.
My eyes met Laurie's. "You have a beautiful daughter," I said, as a way of introducing myself to Francesca.
"We have a beautiful daughter." Laurie corrected. "Thank you. She... saved us all with her bravery."
Francesca looked down and blushed. If anything, she seemed abashed at the sudden attention, and not all that used to it. Somehow, beneath the layers of scales and lamia confidence, that little bit of social awkwardness seemed to remain.
But then Francesca, with her perfect, raven hair and strong, sleek body, seemed to suddenly grow in that confidence. She eyed me, looked me over and I couldn't have felt more self-conscious. "Hello, Daisy."
Her next words were a little less certain.
"How are you-- I thought you were going to the Sphinx."
"We did," Stacy confirmed, backing me up. Across the large, very clean floor there was indeed an area set up like a restaurant: counters, tables, all with this soft, green, textured flooring that the lamia could glide across easily. Many were watching and as we walked across the expanse I saw there was a table set with three stools, away from the others.
Right. Lamia don't use chairs or stools. Usually a bee-girl would just flip her tail under and sit on that, but that doesn't work at a table with others seated there.
"Thank you so much for inviting us," I said. "So much better to do this in person. Stacy and I did indeed visit the Sphinx. She... invited us inside. It's as amazing as you've heard, possibly more so. We'd barely begun to explore when... the Sphinx picked up the bees' warning of the attack. She released us so we could intervene, but... it was... too late. I picked up the bees' distress signals and we rerouted but by the time I could reach the hive the battle was already over."
"Francesca led the attack on the Hive," Laurie said, quite proudly. I could see instantly that neither Zoe, nor Francesca, were quite ready for that revelation, especially when lunch hadn't even been brought to us yet. Francesca, in particular looked a little uncomfortable before speaking.
"I'm sorry, Daisy, that it had to happen how it did," she said quietly. "But I'm not sorry about it having to be done. You know my opinion on Bambi and the bee girls, you've known all along, and you saw what she intended. I had inside knowledge and needed to use it - the whole of the lamia were under threat. But... you should have been nowhere near - how did that result in you -- you weren't a bee. How did you end up--"
As I looked at her, playing through her likely actions in my head, something clicked together so suddenly that I just blurted it out, with no less tact than Laurie's revelation.
"You were the one who poisoned Bambi." It was patently obvious: she led the attack and was the only one with direct knowledge of how to reach the Queen's Chambers.
"Yes, that was me. She was too big to--"
The last thing I wanted to be was upset with Francesca but I couldn't help it.
"There were forty-four innocent human souls inside her. Another half hour, two hours at most, and all of them would have died once Bambi's human body failed completely."
Francesca went a little pale. It was obvious that she didn't know about the eggs within Bambi, and had chosen not to ask. "I assume you...took over for her somehow?"
"They made Daisy do it," Stacy said. "I was there. The Queen's Guard-- they forced Daisy to--"
"Nobody forced me. The situation did. So, yes. I took over for her. We almost didn't make it. I just finished laying forty-eight eggs, including Bambi and three human volunteers that saved us all from starving to death until we could eat solid food."
Zoe turned on Francesca. "You never mentioned that there were other humans still--"
"I had no idea they were there," rebutted Francesca, trying to keep her voice calm. "And even if I did we had no -- Daisy, Bambi... she's still alive??"
"You left forty-four innocent humans to die??", insisted Zoe.
Now Francesca's voice took on a tone both of muted anger and fright, seemingly uninterested in the other part of the conversation happening concerning herself. "Bambi's there with right now with forty-four brand new bee-girls?? Daisy, are you telling me that you've just unwound everything that we've done-- started the entire cycle over again? After all that we--"
I had to interrupt. "Bambi's barely into the larval stage right now. And she'll be no threat to you. She's so docile now, has so much self-regret, that she'd never think of hurting everyone. I freed them, Francesca, Zoe. They have their memories back, aren't bound to the Queen or the Hive or even to remaining as bee-girls, and in fact many aren't going to. But forty-four would have died if I hadn't gotten there when I did."
Francesca fiery eyes were stunning under that hair: she didn't hold back. "Again, I knew nothing about that, and I wouldn't have believed Bambi had she told me and even if I had - what time did I have to do anything about it?"
Her voice then dropped to a harsh whisper.
"And one thing, even more important: you know very well, that those forty-four would have been converted to deadly bee-girls if I hadn't gotten there when I did. And both of those things would have been the fault of Bambi and her bee girls. No one else's."
Silence again. Lunch came, brought by two very friendly lamia who scooted over very smoothly with two huge platters. A rather uncomfortable silence.
I was still fuming. I found myself staring, rather unabashedly, at Francesca's chest. She wore a teal halter top at the moment, but it did nothing to conceal the presence of the two mammary glands that I now easily imagined pressing against me, delivering their twin loads of powerful poisons which she intended to kill both me and the forty-four bee-girls I was developing within myself. I imagined myself suddenly spewing those forty-four vicious bee-girls from myself and watching as they descended, stinger-first, upon the one who tried to kill them.
It took some work to shake myself free of that. Brad and Stacy touched me: and then one squeezed that elbow, cautioning me and, thankfully, disrupting that train of thought.
I looked up and counted to ten. I could tell that Francesca wasn't convinced: I'd resurrected the hive's reproduction machine, at least in her head: soon the Hive would be churning out bee-girls again and thus I'd sentenced Francesca to having to lead another attack, and...
"Francesca is right. She had no choice."
"That's what I've been trying to tell you," she said, still indignant.
I caught my breath. "There are more humans left around here than I thought, and Bambi planned to hunt them to extinction if she had to. She would have turned those forty-four humans, and perhaps thousands more like them, into deadly warriors. She was going to be devious, sneaky, whatever she needed to be to make you pay. Francesca is correct. She had to stop Bambi despite the cost. And if she hadn't... I wouldn't have been able to save them."
I turned instantly to Stacy. "The Sphinx..."
"What?" Stacy asked.
"Do you think she delayed our intervention on purpose?"
"What do you mean, delayed?" Zoe asked, trying to get in on the conversation.
"We didn't get released from the Sphinx' control until... it was too late. A six hour flight, which we pushed as hard as we could, but still too late. She had to have known we wouldn't make it, that the battle would be over. But... if we'd gotten there earlier..."
"We would have attacked you, Brad said. "I like to think that 'I' wouldn't have, of course, but..."
"Right. Neither Stacy nor I had any defenses. The only modification to my body that the Sphinx let me have was the one that let me pick up the bees' distress signal. We arrived at the hive when it was defenseless but with enough time to save Bambi's "offspring". And for that to happen the hive had to have me take over as Queen, and once I was Queen I could..."
"Free them all", Stacy said.
I looked up, and then met Francesca's gaze. Thirty seconds of silence passed while I worked things out in my head. Finally: "This couldn't have happened in any other sequence. Together, we saved the forty-four humans and freed every bee-girl in the hive."
Francesca seemed to be lost in thought for a moment, before giving a nod. "Yes. I think that makes sense. There was no other time that this could have worked. You had to let us reduce the colony to almost nothing, and that allowed you to do what you did - that was the only way to save as many lives as you did." She turned to Zoe and Laurie. "If she'd been too early... she wouldn't be here talking to us now."
I gasped. "She's brilliant, the Sphinx. I had no idea, but... she must have known."
Francesca then let out a long, low breath. "I'm sorry you still had to go in and do that, Daisy, I really am. But it seems like it had to be this way. And your friend the Sphinx knew that all along."
I nodded. "I completely agree." I looked to my sides and got agreement from Stacy and Brad too. Does Brad look a little more like a guy now? Perhaps.
I watched as the others finished up their lunch, and probed my own body to see how close I was to having a normal human digestive system: not close enough yet, sadly. Nobody came to take the plates away: as I looked around I realized that this wasn't so much a restaurant as a communal eating area and kitchen. When Laurie got up to clear the table, Stacy went with her, and nobody objected: this was proper etiquette here. Of course, I watched across the expanse of green to the kitchen area and saw Stacy, who'd help to wash the dishes, fighting to reach a cabinet clearly built for lamia as it was way too high for anyone of human stature. Laurie took the clean dishes from her and effortlessly stretched herself upwards to put them away.
"So... what happens now?" Zoe asked. "The bee-girls... still alive? Do they even have a Queen, now that you're here?"
Stacy returned to my side. Laurie moved a bit closer.
I looked at Francesca. "Yes. Do you remember Lisa?"
Francesca nodded. "How could I ever forget?" For the others' benefit, Francesca relayed the story of the frightened orphan girl. Laurie already knew the story, of course, but it hadn't made it to Zoe, who was rightfully shocked.
"I left her in charge," I continued. "Though nobody has to listen to her, I suspect they will. Her mother, who was merged with her father, is here, somewhere, supposedly."
"I don't have the complete roster in my head but I can ask," Zoe said. "I'm sure we can find who's got her. Then we can get that message back to Lisa, somehow...?"
"Yes. We can spend some time and get those communications established."
"But-- Daisy," Zoe continued, "This is... only one colony. There must be... hundreds."
"She must know how many... I mean he," pointing at Brad.
"I don't know the exact number. There's not too much communications between hives except just before and after a swarm, during the siting process. But some of the bees work to keep track of such things and at the last count it was officially three hundred and seventy one, adding about two per day."
I nodded, having precisely the same information.
"And we only took care of one?" Zoe asked, rhetorically. "Okay, we've won this battle but I think we've lost the war." She put her head in her hands.
"Not at all," I said. "Most hives aren't like this one. One of my friends... she became Queen right before I almost did, had her own swarm before the one that attacked you... she said she was making changes, now that she could. Her hive was going to protect a wildlife refuge, and other than zapping poachers or trespassers, the only humans she was going to take would be those who asked to join. If she did was she said she was going to do, her hive has has a full-blown kitchen and cafeteria and her workers can eat solid foods like Brad can now. I modeled those changes in this hive on Jillian's idea. I guess another way to put this is-- that aggressiveness is getting diluted as they spread. You just happened to have the most aggressive hive in your neighborhood precisely because it was the first."
Francesca looked a little askance at me. "I'm still not totally convinced about that, Daisy, but I hope you're right."
"But what's to stop some other megalomaniac from starting her own hive and doing the same thing?" asked Laurie.
"Nothing, I'm afraid."
"Yes. Something," Stacy said. "Us."
"Yeah," Brad chimed in, and Francesca said the same.
"I started this," I corrected. "It's my responsibility to do what I can to keep it from getting out of hand."
"I'll disagree," Francesca said. "You can't do this alone. And you don't have to. You said it yourself: Look what we just did together. I'll pledge right now to keep doing it. What they did to you was unforgivable - and they paid for that. I, myself, would dearly like and work to see every bee girl who does similarly pay similarly."
"She's right," Stacy said. "This isn't your issue. Brad and I were a part of it as much as you were, and we-- you-- have friends. If we did this here, together, we can do it again if the need arises. Right?"
"I think most, if not all of the lamia would agree. I mean--" Zoe patted her swollen tail-- "Look at us."
Zoe raised her water glass to us. "To cooperation, then."
. . .
To free the table for other diners, we wandered together. The lamia were still in something of a building frenzy, within days of building sufficient accommodations for their soon-to-be burgeoning number. It was all quite impressive.
"We have no delusions that all of them will remain lamia for too long," Zoe said. "Mine have all decided to give it a try. But they all have your 6.0 abilities, of course," she explained. "So my goal is to make this life as positive and as comfortable as we can: to welcome each new arrival... because... well, we really feel that way. As bee-girls, all these women had to endure pretty rigourous schedules, training, all the hunting, I mean... they all claim to like it, of course, but now that they're free I want to give them all something worthwhile. Stacy, you're the one who told me: In this world, the best to increase your number is by making your life so appealing that others want to join you. So that's exactly what we're trying to do. The right mix of nature and technology, a supportive environment, you get the picture."
"It seems wonderful," Stacy said. "The bee-girls have grown their numbers through predation, mostly... but this works... just as well."
"Well, we don't have three hundred and seventy one colonies with thousands of individuals each, so... the jury is still 'out' there, Stacy, but I like to think it'll work in the long run. As for the bee-girls... The woman who started it all... I'd very much like to meet her," Zoe said.
"Yes. Speaking of megalomaniacs," Francesca interjected. "This all started with her."
"It was two of them," I answered. "The woman whose idea it was is named Mary and I think she's still Queen of one of the hives. Her best friend, Aeris, helped implement it and got that original hive started."
"They should both be locked up, or worse," Francesca mused, partially to herself.
"Then let's make that a mission," Stacy volunteered. "I'd like for Brad and Daisy here to get through her transformations first," Stacy said, "...but I bet we could find Mary and arrange an... interview."
Francesca smiled. "I would very much like to be there when that happens."
Another lamia glided up, a little slowly thanks to her pregnancy, and whispered in Zoe's ears.
"Human laws have more or less completely failed us here," Francesca said. "When Daisy...started the 6.0 revolution, there were supposed to be some kind of Protective Services. Daisy's sister is part of it. Keeping humans safe from the other 6.0 developments if needed, and making sure that everyone coexists peacefully. But some have said they're just as bad, just another human organization trying to give an edge to humans because they're humans. And from what I heard from Alicia herself, the humans also passed some ridiculous legislation at some point in the last year which means they can't interfere now at all. They've pretty much washed their hands of the whole thing, from what I can tell. They don't care if humans get taken, as long as it's not folks close to them."
"Well, that's fortuitous timing," Zoe explained. "Because, Daisy, it seems that you have three visitors that have just arrived at our property. Were you expecting your sister?"
I shot a look, immediately, at Francesca. Alicia.