"Is this all there is to life, Claudia? Are we truly destined to no more?"
Rufus bumbled along their path and sighed. She was always distracted, a troubled, thinking child. They say it was her eyes: when she was born, her eyes were so large that one of the newer workers thought she was a male. That's how she got the name, you see. She was also littler than the other workers, which with her timid demeanour was rarely of any help.
"What do you mean?" asked Claudia. She was one of the older bees, a rare survivor of the Great Hornet Charlie Fox from the previous year, and knew better than to alienate anyone while the colony was still gathering strength. "The world gives us flowers and light. We eat of the flowers, and drink of the light, and we go home sated until the drive comes upon us to eat and drink again. I am happy." And indeed, the golden red of the blazing sun seemed then to smile empathetically.
"I don't know. I just feel like there should be more somehow."
"The flowers have been a bit thin this year, I'm afraid. Perhaps we should pick up the pace, so we can achieve more."
"I..." but Rufus knew not how to respond to this. It made eminently reasonable sense to all who heard, and Claudia, though still young, was wise in her years. They picked up their pace, visited a beautiful hyacinth patch, shining in the sun from a recent hit with the park's sprinklers, and returned home laden with delicious pollen.
Rufus retired to a corner in one of the panels that she claimed for her own, munching on a honeyed pollen cake. Claudia had given her her blessings to retire for a bit, and she had been out for much of the day - but, as it always was when bees took breaks, at every other turn Rufus would find that vague nagging guilt always trailing behind her, that her sense of self would begin to diminish if she didn't do something soon.
Halfway through her cake she walked over to a cluster of bees drinking from a cell. They waggled and fidgeted about, always buzzing in chatter about this flower or that patch, or who took more pollen last run and who took less, what happened with Angela and Mike (or whoever it was this time) on that soap opera they would watch when it played on that television by that window in that house on the other side of the field.
"Oh hi Rufus, what's up? We were just talking about you!" Gloria was always happy to see Rufus, but she was always happy to see everyone. This made the others happy to see Rufus too, which was a pleasant side effect she hardly objected to.
"Not much, just you know, getting ready for the next run!" Of course she couldn't talk about whether the sun was sad to set as it turned orange, or what grave pact of secrecy and denial drove the humans to tacitly forbid themselves from mentioning any of the beautiful, psychedelic patterns on the flowers they planted that the bees all but took for granted, or whether what captive #2425 had said in her dying breath was evidence that wasps were sentient and experienced things like bees did. Especially not that last one, it would be a disgrace to the memory of all those who helped bring her down.
"Cool. I just ran three flowers in Delta Quadrant 5. Kinda smoky with the cars--"
"Cars! Those things terrify me! I've heard Melia got squashed--"
"That was totally a bird that got Melia, guys. I'm sure--"
"So what's up with Delta Quadrant 4 anyway? I heard the gardeners were having a strike and--"
"I remember when Delta Quadrant 5 was crap. Margo pointed it to us last--"
"Anyone been to Beta Quadrant 8 lately? Lovely dandelion patch there."
"I'll see you guys around."
"Oh, dandelions? I love dandelions! One time me and Trina--bye Rufus!--were going across the hyacinths when--"
Rufus couldn't share her thoughts, so she needed time alone with them. She bumbled back into the atrium to see if anyone was dancing any leads - not because she felt the drive again, but because she hoped to clear her mind with the fresh air.
Why on earth was Mick dancing? She approached him.
"What the hell are you doing?"
"I found some wild roses in Alpha." Hardly anyone went to Alpha Quadrant anymore since the construction started.
"You're a drone, Mick. Go back up to topside and do... whatever it is drones do!"
He stopped dancing and sighed. "That's it. That's it right there, Rufus. We don't do anything. I thought you of all people would understand."
"It's not a bad life. You don't have to go out and risk the traffic, you get to sleep in on Mondays, what are you looking so sad about?"
Mick danced one more loop to emphasize his point. "Don't you get it, Rufus? We're stuck like this. You guys do all the work, see all the wonderful things outside, fly all over the park... during that time you're in control. Don't you realize we get the drive too? Most of us suck it down and tell ourselves we're happy, but don't you think, deep down, when the workers aren't around... we talk about these things? And dream?"
"Fresh wild rose patch, Alpha Quadrant 9. A little outside our usual range this time of year, but I know you like roses." He danced another loop, and for the first time while watching him Rufus appreciated just how precise and nuanced his movements were.
"You know me too well. Can't get that savour from anything nearby." She went off in that direction, and Mick followed her since no one else would have followed his dance anyway.
When they got there, Mick tried to have sex with her and was killed by a wasp.
The wasp sat down next to Rufus and cracked Mick's head open. "I don't know why you guys are bringing drones out here, but thanks, I guess. Don't mind me, just take the yellow and go, I won't stop you."
"You know I'm not stupid enough to just lead you back to our nest." Rufus climbed into the flower anyway.
"I won't follow. Scout's honour."
"A Boy Scout's honour is to be trusted." She munched on some pollen on her way in. "A wasp scout's honour is a fiduciary duty to alert her colony of all confirmed food sources forthwith."
"How did you know that?" She was quite graphically squeezing out Mick's brains and eye fluid such that Rufus could see every little detail as the wasp ate. Probably not on purpose, though it wouldn't have surprised Rufus otherwise.
"The last one of you that attacked our nest told me." Rufus was gulping down whole drops of nectar. She wondered how the humans could bear those long, unsettling forced silences imposed on them when they were eating, having to speak out of their mouths.
"You conversed wtih her? While she was eating your grubs?"
"Oh, no, she'd already been stung five or six times. I was just there."
"She was moving and you didn't sting? Must have never heard the end of it."
Rufus poked her head out from the rose. "They don't expect much of me."
The wasp nearly dropped Mick as a look of understanding came to her eyes. "I was wondering why you were out here with the drone!"
She sighed. "No, I was not banished along with the drones! It's just that Mick--"
"You don't address my food by name, I don't start comparing flowers to human body parts."
"--the drone found this patch and led me out here."
The wasp crunched on the stump of Mick's neck thoughtfully. "Scouting drones. Scouting drones..."
"I don't see why not myself."
The wasp flapped her wings in amusement. "I like that. Open. Experimental. Adaptative. You're almost like a wasp! What's your name, worker?"
"I thought you--"
"If this drone is taking so long to chew I don't want to even try you."
"Name's Rufus, then."
"Nice to meet you, Cam. I guess." Rufus fidgeted. "I should be going." She did not move.
"I won't follow."
"But your duty--"
But Rufus only saw Mick's headless remains resting on the leaf. Cam was stalking a caterpillar.
"Those are poisonous."
"I'll take it back to Sienna, she knows what to do."
"I'm pretty sure those ones are poisonous all the way through."
Cam fluttered irritatedly. "Just go."
"Thank you." And Rufus buzzed off into the setting sun.