The sun was normally a blessing. Loitus remembered the few times she could actually be in it when taking the compost out to be buried. She would spend a few extra minutes out there with Julius out in the warm air, taking in the non-garbage smell before returning to the disgusting workplace. Thankfully, the supervisor hated her job as much as they did, so as long as their work for the day got done, she didn’t really care how they did it.
But today, the sun was a curse. She had no shade to retreat to, or home to go back to. She sighed, thinking of everything she left behind and trudged along. She wasn’t sure where she would go; she’d lived in Hive city all her life. She trudged along, heading west toward the capitol as she’d been instructed, but she had no motivation to rush.
She’d gotten tired of flying about an hour back, having never had much expierence in it. They weren’t permitted to fly up to the ceiling, so there wasn’t much opportunity to flex her wings anyway.
Why did this happen to me, she asked herself, mentally crying out to Melifera. What have I done wrong, great goddess?
She passed by a fruit stand that sat in front of a small farm house. A few Corona seemed to be enjoying a well-deserved break from the grind of their duties, eating a peach or apple and sitting on a bench made from empty fruit crates. A few of them loaded full crates onto a cart hitched to a large beetle-creature.
Loitus sighed again. Maybe this was a good place to rest. She didn’t have much money, but a few Combs would be enough. Julius had assured her there would be plenty, but she doubted it.
“Hello, little lady,” the Rhoda woman said with a grin. “Would you like some fruit to cheer you up?”
“How do you know I feel bad?” Loitus asked.
“Anyone from near five miles away could tell you got a heavy burden on yeh shoulders,” she said. “Let Haniwa get you a plum. They’re sweet and fresh.”
Loitus looked at all the fruit on display. There were peaches, apples, grapes, bananas, and vegetables, too. It seemed this was a well-known farm stand.
“Aren’t Rhodas usually nomadic?” she asked, picking up a strawberry and looking at it.
“Try it,” Haniwa offered.
Loitus took a bit and was surprised how good it was. “They don’t have these at Hive City,” she said, finishing the berry off.
“As for your question, yes we are. But after my tribe found this land to be more fertile than they’d ever imagined, we decided to settle here.”
“Isn’t it weird for you, though?” Loitus asked, eyeing the other berries. “How much for a handful?”
“It was at first,” the woman said, filling a small basket with strawberries and a few blueberries, “but we found it to be a much more comfortable life. My tribe is spread all in this area in houses, and we still make room for our traditions.” She handed the basket to Loitus. “Just give me two Combs.”
“That’s it? You sure?” Loitus was surprised. Fruit this quality was a rarity in Hive City. A basket even this size would be worth at least 25 Combs.
“That’s it. Now go enjoy. I’d be happy enough to see a smile.”
Loitus didn’t know what to say as she handed the two golden honey-comb-shaped coins over. She looked at the basket, not realizing how hungry she was.
The Corona were on their way out, so the seats were free. She took one nearby the stand in the shade of a large maple tree and began to nibble her purchase. She slipped her bag off her shoulders and it landed with a strange sound on the grass.
She raised an eyebrow, but paid the sound no mind. Enjoying the berries, she watched the clouds roll by as she went over a plan of action in her head. What would happen when she made it to the capitol? Would there be someone there to help?
The bag made a strange cracking noise, almost as if it was breaking. Or was something inside of it breaking? She stopped, mid-chew, and watched as the bag began to rock.
“What?” she said, swallowing a rather large strawberry, which she instantly regretted. Pounding a fist against her chest to move the berry down, she put the basket beside her on the grass. The bag unzipped almost by itself and a head popped out.
Haniwa watched, and realizing what had happened, she grinned.
“How precious!” she exclaimed, clapping her hands together.
The larvae made a cooing-gurgling sound as Loitus extracted it from her bag.
“What am I supposed to do with this?” she said.
The fruit stand lady came over with a small bottle with a nipple on it and handed. It was filled with fresh honey juice.
“What is her name?” she asked.
“Her name?” Loitus said, looking at the woman. “I-I don’t know. She apparently was just born.”
“Congradulations!” Haniwa said happily. “A new mother!”
Oh, Melifera, Loitus thought, holding the larvae in front of her. It had already grabbed the bottle and was sucking it dry like a hungry mosquito.
“Where the heck did this come from?” Loitus asked no one in particular. The larvae gurgled, finishing up her drink.
“Are you a first time mother?” the Rhoda woman asked.
“I’m not even a mother!” Loitus exclaimed. “What is this doing in my bag?”
“So you have a baby and no knowlege of how to care for her?” Haniwa asked.
“I’m only 16,” Loitus said, handing the larvae to Haniwa, who’s arms were outstretched. “This isn’t my larvae at all.”
“Well, let old Haniwa give you some tips then.”
Searching through her bag for the shell of the egg, Loitus spoke again. “What I want to know is why there was an egg in my-” she paused, here eyes widening as she extracted the pieces of the shell. It was iridescent, almost glowing in the sunlight. “This is the Queens Jewel,” she breathed. “How did this get in here?”
Rocking the larvae to calm her, Haniwa glanced at the egg shell piece. “That’s a beautiful egg. She must be a very special baby.”
“How am I supposed to take care of a baby?” Loitus groaned.
“Let me help you out,” the older woman said with a smile.
A few barfed on rags and two diaper changes later, Loitus had at least a little bit of knowledge on caring for a baby. But when asked what her name was, Loitus had no guesses.
“If she is to travel with me, I should let her chose her own name,” she said.
“Now that is a good idea,” Haniwa said with a nod. “There’s a Corona monestery just down the road a few miles. They would be able to provide a place for you two for a few weeks. When she’s grown enough to walk on her own, they can help direct you toward your destination.”
Loitus was glad she didn’t have to care for a larvae for more than that time frame. All residents of the Terrasect planet still grew much faster than the humans they left behind on Earth.
Loitus bowed low to thank Haniwa. “I appreciate everything you’ve done for me.” She looked at the sleeping larvae in her arms and added “and this one, too.”
“If you ever need anything else, just ask for old Haniwa,” the Rhoda woman said with a wink, putting her hands on her hips.
And with that, the newly-made party of two made their way to the Corona monestary, hoping to find at least a temporary home.
The next few weeks started out difficult for Loitus, but soon, a routine set in. In the morning, she would take the young queen to the nursery where a kindly Corona named Bartholomew would care for her along with a few other young ones. She would then head to the fields or the stables, depending on where they needed assistance to at least earn her keep somewhat.
Loitus preferred the stables, where the stag beetles rested. Unlike their evolved cousins, these enourmous beetles never gained the ability to speak. However, they were still somewhat intelligent, and most of them are kindly and giving if they are taken care of well enough.
When she started in the stables, however, she was greeted by a not-so-friendly member of the species.
“Don’t mind old Podger there,” the Corona nun stable hand, Murna, explained. “He’s always been a bit cranky. But once he gets to know you, he’s more than friendly.”
But, no matter how long Loitus tried, she couldn’t get Podger to like her.
It didn’t really matter much, though, she reasoned. As soon as the queen was old enough to walk on her own, they would be leaving. She had to return the queen to the hive.
Another week passed, and the larvae became a pupa. Loitus felt bad leaving a lifeless-looking thing with Bartholomew, but he assured her that it was more than fine. He’d seen his share of growing Apis and Atta in his life, so even the baby queen was nothing new.
Glad to have such a service available, Loitus now had time to think while she worked, shoveling out Podger’s stall. The old beetle grumbled, but Loitus just slapped his behind and told him to be quiet.
If she brought the queen back to Hive City, there was basically a one-hundred-percent chance that it would be enough to sentence her to death. It would serve as proof that she stole the Queen’s Jewel in the first place, and it would be enough to send her to the gallows.
There was only one other option, and that was to follow what the Wings had told her: go to the capitol and find assistance.
Finally, the joyous day came. It happened in the middle of the day after Loitus’ third trip to the compost pile. A young Corona monk raced over and said something about her baby. Feeling an intense worry, Loitus raced to the nursery, only to find that the young queen had hatched out of her pupa.
“She is a beautiful child,” Bartholomew said, holding the young queen on his lap. She bounced about, giggling incessantly. “I believe she is due a name now.”
“She will choose one herself, I believe,” Loitus said. “I thank you for everything.”
“Momma,” the young queen said, reaching her arms out to Loitus.
The older Apis frowned. She was about to explain that she wasn’t her mom, but decided it best to wait and explain everything.
“Let’s go, little one,” she said, taking one of the young queen’s hands. “I have a story to tell you.”