Izan Deans

Commissioned Interlude 8 – The Bees And The Termites (Summus Proelium)

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At one time, a road had led all the way into Merit, Kansas. Back when there had been an actual Merit, Kansas. Before a series of mistakes, overreactions, and bonehead decisions by relatively few people had doomed not only the first contact between humans and an intelligent hive of Touched-Termites. A few paranoid, drunk types who happened to be the first people the termites attempted to contact. They, of course, lashed out and killed a lot of them. Then they went to get their friends to chase down more, trying to wipe out the ‘monsters.’ By the time anyone with actual authority (or simply a brain between their ears) knew anything about what was going on, the war had already begun. And it was a war the human citizens of Merit lost, as soon as the termites began to melt down every material object in the city with that fog stuff they could project.

It was Mayor Gilbert Sullivan (yes, he had heard all the jokes) who had made the decision to evacuate. Many in the town had wanted to stay. Now that the fighting had started in earnest, they figured it wouldn’t be hard to stomp on, poison, or otherwise kill the termites if they just stuck it out. But Gilbert, a very young mayor in his mid-twenties, had insisted that the point wasn’t whether they could wipe out the termites, but whether they should. And in his mind, there had been too much death already. Against the advice of several on the city council and his own police chief, Mayor Sullivan had the town evacuated, ordering everyone to take anything they could carry and escape. They’d had fire engines, garbage trucks, police cruisers, every vehicle either owned by the town or capable of being commandeered loaded down with everything and everyone they could carry. And then they had simply left. 

Once the place was evacuated, the military had been called in, and since that day no one had gone within several miles of the town. All access points were blocked off, and the grounds in between were patrolled both on foot and by drones. Until they had some idea of how to settle things with the termites properly, the citizens of Merit had been compensated for their losses out of the funds set up to handle large-scale Touched damages (commonly used to aid neighborhoods and cities in recovering from Collision Points), which itself was funded through a mixture of taxes and merchandise sales across every country who contributed a member to Armistice. For one year, those blockades had stood. After the first couple humans attempting to negotiate had failed to convince the now-rightfully paranoid termites of their peaceful intentions, things had been locked behind politicians debating the situation at the state and national level. 

Finally, one pencil-pusher at a desk somewhere had managed to state an obvious idea to the exact right person at the exact right time. It wasn’t the first time that idea had been bandied about, but in this as in so many other cases, it was about who heard the idea and when. 

In this particular case, the idea was heard and pushed along by the right person, until FBI Agent Izan Deans was finally appointed to follow through. Following through, in that situation, meant traveling to Eastland (soon to be Honeyland), Oregon in order to contact a hive of Touched-Insects that humans actually had pleasant contact with, to ask for their help in negotiating with the Termite hive in order to bring a fully peaceful resolution to the entire messed up scenario everyone had found themselves in. 

His trip to Oregon was successful, and now Izan himself (a Latino man in his early-to-mid thirties with crew-cut black hair and a clean-shaven face) had returned with a few friends in tow in order to have the negotiations with the termites. At least, that was the idea, anyway. In practice, things were a little more complicated. Because of course they were. 

“You need an escort, Agent Deans. I don’t know how to put it any simpler than that.” The man talking wore national guard fatigues and wore rank insignia marking him as a colonel. He was clearly close to retirement, or should have been, with a very balding head and the barest wispy hint of white hair. His pale skin was marked by several old scars, while his eyes were sharp, glaring intently at the man in front of him. “No one goes in that town without a squad of my men walking you through. I don’t care what sort of diplomatic namby pamby hakuna matata mission you’re on. You ain’t getting in there without the help of my men.” 

“Would that be the men with the flamethrowers, Colonel Rodon?” Izan asked, his eyes hidden behind mirrored sunglasses so the man in front of him couldn’t see them roll. “Somehow, I think that might give the locals in there the idea that we’re not serious about this being a peaceful talk.” 

Straightening up to his full, still less-than-impressive height of five feet, seven inches, Colonel Rodon gave Izan an even harder stare. “And if something happens to you and your little… friends while you’re in there, we end up in an even worse situation. I’m not saying I want to send a whole battalion in there with you. Just a little protection in case things go sideways. Cuz if they do, and those friendly insects you’ve got end up dying, we could go from having a hostile situation with one hive to a hostile situation with two of them. Diplomacy ain’t about looking or being weak.” 

“If we may, Colonel.” Those words were projected, in perfect chorus, from a small swarm of thirty bees that had flown up in formation together directly to the side of Izan’s head so they could look at Rodon. Their voices were projected from tiny speakers on the bottom of their abdomens that were connected through their brains to a chip on the back of their thoraxes. 

The colonel, for his part, still looked a little disconcerted. But he kept it together and gave a slight nod. “Yeah, what is it, ahhh, what do I call you all anyway?” 

“We are Diplomatic Swarm Alpha,” came the chorused response from all thirty. “And it would be our pleasure to explain, you would not be at war with our hive-queen should the worst happen due to our choices. We understand this is a dangerous situation, and have all volunteered for this service knowing the risks. The only thing that could lead to a strained relationship would be your refusal to abide by our requests, or those of Agent Deans, causing our deaths.” 

“Yeah, and I’d be pretty ticked off too,” Deans himself put in casually. “Now, you know what the guy who managed to set this whole thing up said. He got those termites to agree to a meeting with the bees and one human. That’s me. Not one human and a squad with flamethrowers. Not even one human with a flamethrower, before you even suggest it. Me and the bees. The bees and me.” Turning his head slightly to look at the insects hovering beside him, he added, “Which of those sounds like the better band name?” 

“The Bees And Me,” came the immediate response from all thirty insects. “Definitely that one.” 

With a nod, the agent turned back toward Rodon. “Look, if you prefer, we can take this up the line and some pencil-pusher behind a desk, or some guy just looking to get re-elected, can tell you what I already said. The risk is mine and theirs to take.” He gestured to the bees. “We know what’s at stake here, believe me, Colonel. Let us go in there and see what we can do. I’d say something stupid about the worst thing that could happen, but, I think we both know this whole situation could legitimately get a lot worse. That’s why we’re all here. You’ve been here on guard duty around this town long enough. Let us go in there, talk to these termites, and see if we can get you and your men assigned somewhere else. I’m sure you’d all like to go home and be done with this whole thing.” 

There was a long, silent pause while the man stared at him indecisively. Finally, Colonel Rodon heaved a long, heavy sigh. It sounded as though he was going against his better instinct. “Yeah, if I give up this shot at getting out of here, my husband might just kill me himself. Fine. You go in there with the bees. But if you have to come running out again without any clothes cuz those termites went and melted them off your naked tookus, don’t cry to me about it. You understand me, son?” 

“Completely, sir,” came the response. “No crying about my potentially-naked tookus to you.” 

As one, the hovering bees turned in the air to look at their companion. Their combined voices were curious. “Isn’t any body part that is not already literally naked, potentially so?” 

“Any body part that is not already naked is potentially naked.” Saying that out loud, Deans added, “And with that, you have summed up at least half of the thought process for every teenager between the ages of about thirteen to seventeen.” 

“Oh yes,” the bees droned, “puberty.” 

 On that note, the group was waved past the barricade and proceeded to move along the road. Well, for as long as the road lasted. It only went on, pavement wise, for another hundred yards. Then the concrete ended, where the termites have finished stripping it. In its place was a wide dirt path with a single narrow stone walkway that had clearly been recently added. According to the message that Deans had received, going anywhere except on that narrow path would be a bad idea. It would be seen as hostile, and there were members of the termite colony who were watching for just such a betrayal. 

So, he stayed on the path, while his companions flew, mostly silently, beside him. They continued on for another mile or so before reaching the very outskirts of the place that had once been Merit. 

At the end of that mile, a very… interesting sight waited for them. Spaced a couple feet apart all along the remains of the former road were a dozen dogs with wagons hooked to them by harnesses. In the back of each of those wagons was what looked like a small ballistae, complete with a loaded spear. A small glass orb, about five or six inches across, sat at the front of each wagon, and they could see a termite in each. They were clearly the drivers of the dog-powered wagons, waiting right there for the new arrivals.

We will have your names. 

He had been warned about the telepathic voices, but it still made Deans jump slightly. An act he regretted, but apparently the termites were either cooler headed than the humans they had first met, or they were under very strict orders not to fire unless there was a truly hostile act. Either way, he exhaled and started with, “Agent Izan Deans, with the FBI. You should be expecting me. And this… well, they speak better for themselves.” He had intended to introduce them himself, but in that moment, the man had a flash of inspiration that it might go over better if he treated his companions like equals. 

“We are Diplomatic Swarm Alpha,” the bees chorused. As a group, they flew ahead of Deans, splitting into two smaller, fifteen-member-sized swarms a moment later. One such group stayed just a few feet in front of him, while the other flew about half the distance closer to the termite-driven wagons. 

It was that second, closer group that spoke next. “It would be our pleasure to speak with you and yours about the troubles you have had with humans.” 

Troubles. That single word was filled with a mix of scorn and sorrow. Regret. There was regret there. How much of it was regret that things had gone poorly, and how much was regret that they had even tried, Deans wasn’t sure. All he knew was that this was a chance to fix that. 

Yes, we have had troubles. Those of us who were most excited to speak with humans, those who loved them the most, were slaughtered. Massacred with no mercy or thought. Those are the troubles we have had. 

“Yeah, my people can be real stupid sometimes,” Deans announced. “I know you’ve rejected everyone else who’s tried to say it, but there are plenty of us who are horrified by what happened. But then, I think you know that. That’s why you’ve let a few negotiators in now and then. You even trade with a couple people. You haven’t given up entirely. That’s why you agreed to this meeting.” 

There was no response to his words. At least, none that he heard. Instead, silence filled the air for a few long seconds before the two bee swarms, which had rejoined one another, simply said, “Yes.” At first, he thought they were agreeing with him belatedly. Then there was silence once more before they said, “No. Many people. Yes. Because they are our friends. Yes, we were fortunate.” 

He was only hearing one side of the conversation, the man realized. So, he stood silently and waited for another minute of that before a few chimes filled the air and several of the dogs abruptly began to move forward, turning in a wide circle to leave a path open. 

You will all come this way, the voice in his head instructed. Our spokesman awaits. He speaks for the queen. There was a deliberate pause, then, You will never see the queen. 

Yeah, that was fair. Especially after what had happened. Exchanging a look with the bees, Deans began to walk that way. They, or rather he, was escorted on all sides by those ballistae-armed wagons. Which made him nervous, but he kept it in check and just walked. 

There were no houses left in town, nothing the termites could have stripped down and used for their constructions. Practically all he saw that indicated where the town’s buildings had been were a few foundations here and there. 

Eventually they reached what his own studies had said was once where the city hall had stood. Now, like everything else, it was a vacant lot. In the middle was a tree stump that stood about four feet high. Under escort by the dog wagons, he approached that way before coming to a stop directly in front of it. Only then did he see the tiny figure waiting on that stump. It was another termite, though this one was different from the others. Larger than the others, with wings. Not a queen, of course. An alate, if he had the word right. Either way, it perched there, waiting for his approach. 

Agent Deans, Diplomatic Swarm Alpha, the alate’s telepathic voice spoke. Somehow, it ‘sounded’ different from the one that had been speaking in his head before. I am Horse-Spoon-Eleven. I will be speaking the negotiations on behalf of our queen. Rest assured, she is aware of all that occurs and is said here today. I speak her words. You have been escorted here today by the lead of Bird-Chair-One. 

With a simple nod, Deans replied, “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Horse-Spoon-Eleven. And you too, Bird-Chair-One.” He was assuming that was the one who had been speaking before, though that didn’t really answer which wagon had held the one in question. Either way, he continued. “It was my original belief that an actual diplomat would be talking to you with my friends here today. But I was told you refused to talk to anyone except the FBI agent who brought the bees to begin with. Which is funny, because up to that point, we weren’t aware that you knew that an FBI agent was the one bringing them at all.” 

We have learned to seek out and treasure intelligence about what our… There was a brief pause before Horse-Spoon-Eleven amended, About what others whose actions may affect us are doing. And we have no desire to entertain the platitudes of those paid to argue for a living. Queen Lion-Sapphire-Zero wishes to speak to you and the emissaries from the Oregon hive. No others. 

“Okay, well–” Deans started, only to be interrupted. 

Not yet, Agent Deans. Apologies, but we are not prepared to speak with you until we hear directly from the representatives of Apis mellifera. We wish to know… why they work so closely with their own humans. And how.

Thus began another conversation the man himself was not a part of. This time, however, he was at least able to hear all of it. Standing quietly, he listened as the termite and his bee companions went back and forth about what exactly had led the Honeyland Hive to their current peaceful conditions with the humans there. Once in awhile, another termite approached and demanded to know if the bees wouldn’t be better off on their own rather than relying on ‘undependable humans.’ But the Diplomatic Swarm insisted that the benefits of cooperation outweighed the risks, and that the humans of the town were their friends. 

Finally, Horse-Spoon-Eleven summed it up as, To our queen, it is seeming that the path to peace is one of usefulness. And yet, we do not believe any level of use would make those of this place wish for our presence. Nor would we feel safe. 

After a brief pause at that until it was clear they were waiting for him, Deans managed a slow nod. “Yeah, we sort of figured that. We don’t see a peaceful resolution coming from you staying here.” 

Do tell us, Agent Deans, came the response, how do the humans see this ending? 

Oh boy was this far beyond his pay grade. With a sigh, Deans hesitated before deciding to go all in. “Well, I think it’s safe to say that nobody wins when it comes to our current situation. We know you’ve been building up a bunker, and that it would probably take a hell of a lot to punch through it if the more… trigger-happy among us ever get their way. And we know that you’ve probably got some of your own people spread out anywhere they could get to so they can do a hell of a lot of damage elsewhere if it goes that way. This whole thing goes violent and both our sides are gonna end up losing a lot. Thing is, there’s a lot more people on our side and a lot more stuff. More than you can break. You’d do a lot of damage, but you wouldn’t win. Not in the end. And us? We’re not exactly the good guys any way you slice it. Losing everything your people would wipe out just so we can kill off an intelligent species? Like I said, nobody wins in this situation. Just losers all the way around.”

Yes, that is our estimation too. The termite representative was staring intently at him, which was a disconcerting feeling. At best, such a conflict would be a matter of doing as much damage as possible before your people destroyed us. There was a long pause then, before Horse-Spoon-Eleven added, I was one of those who was most excited to meet the humans before, Agent Deans. I had many friends who were killed by the intolerant among you. A hard lesson to learn, but an important one. There are humans who will never accept us. And yet, as we have both said, this conflict will only end poorly. 

“Then let’s change it,” Deans put in. “You’re right, the Honeyland bees have a great relationship with the humans there. Those people are already accustomed to living with Touched-Insects, and they know how useful that can be. I’m sure you can all help each other out.” 

You would have us leave the place we have spent all of our time and effort to fortify, to go somewhere new? The tone of the termite’s response wasn’t exactly a refusal, more curiosity. 

Deans, in turn, nodded. “Look, I know you got burned really bad on that leap of faith before. But I don’t think you really have another option here. We’ve already been over it. If this keeps up, everyone loses. At least if you go to Honeyland, your colony has a chance of surviving.” 

The response that came was silence. The termite turned away from him, seeming to look off at nothing. He had the impression that it was conferring with others, before finally turning to the bees. Would you trust this man in our situation? 

“Agent Deans has proven himself an honorable human and worthy of respect,” Diplomatic Swarm Alpha chorused. “And the humans we live and work alongside would be happy to have a second hive–pardon, colony to work with. We believe that bees and termites could do much good together, for all of our peoples.” 

Again, there was silence for awhile as the termites conferred, before Horse-Spoon-Eleven eventually announced, We would have one request. The work that we have put into our bunker cannot be ignored or dismissed. If we are to travel to this Oregon, we would have the bunker extracted and taken with. And we would have you along for every step of that journey, Agent Deans. To avoid any… mistakes. 

Exhaling in relief, Deans gave a short nod. “Of course. Whatever it takes, I’m sure we can work up something. Especially with help from your new partners here.” He gestured to the bees. “But I’m going to have to bring some other people in and hammer out the full details.” 

One of the dog-pulled carts approached, and Horse-Spoon-Eleven seemed to gesture with one hand. Go with Bird-Chair-One to… hammer these details, as you say. We will await hearing more. 

The winged termite then sat silently upon the stump while the human and his bee companions moved off with their designated escort. Only once they were out of earshot did another voice speak. Another human voice. 

“Does this mean our deal is off?” 

Horse-Spoon-Eleven turned to where two human figures in metal armor had appeared from seemingly thin air. No. It is as I believe you humans say, do not put all of your eggs in one basket. We will send half of our colony to this Honeyland to see what the humans there have to offer. The other half will fulfill our agreement with you. We will come to your city and work as you would like, in exchange for your protection and aid. 

“Excellent,” the male figure murmured. “That’s excellent news, isn’t it, White?” 

“Indeed, Gold,” the female figure agreed. “And have no fear, Horse-Spoon-Eleven. 

“The Ministry will take very good care of you and yours. We keep our deals.”

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Commissioned Interlude 5 – Eastland, Oregon (Summus Proelium)

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A/N: This is a commissioned interlude, connected to the Termite interlude posted a couple weeks ago. The next regular chapter will be posted tomorrow as scheduled.

The town was (for the moment) named Eastland, located about fifty miles southwest of Portland, Oregon and a bit north of McMinnville, the seat of Yamhill County, which Eastland was part of. A little over a year earlier, its population had been around nine thousand and rapidly dropping as older citizens passed away and those who were younger moved on to towns with better prospects. In the thirteen months since, that had ballooned out to about sixteen thousand. Construction projects and new jobs abounded in the area, as multiple companies flocked to build, bringing a flood of people and resources. 

There were plenty who objected to so many changes and new arrivals of course. Many town meetings had been held where new demands and rules for what these incoming companies were allowed to do, where they were allowed to build, what sort of businesses could be there, and more were argued over and either adopted or rejected. For the most part, the town accepted the new arrivals and embraced just how much their town’s fortunes had been reversed. After all, not so long ago, there had been very little in the way of new jobs and steady income. The population had been sliding for years, even decades, with no indication of anything new arriving to stabilize their prospects. Entire families disappeared from the town, heading off to bigger cities. Cities with jobs to offer. 

But then something had arrived. Something that had changed the town and its inhabitants forever, and had triggered this year of mounting prosperity and growth. And that prosperity and growth showed no signs of abating any time soon. Particularly given the town’s full embrace of their new situation, to the extent of already unofficially adopting a new name. A name that would become official once it made its way onto the ballot in the next year. 

Once it did, and passed, Eastland, Oregon would become Honeyland. 

At a small diner in the middle of town, a diner that had stood and been owned by the same family for well over sixty years despite some recent efforts to buy them out, a Latino man in a suit sat on a stool at the counter with the latest copy of the town’s paper held in front of him. He wasn’t from Eastland (or Honeyland, as many had already taken to calling this place), but the man was curious about local events. And besides, he had time to kill before his guide arrived. Humming softly to himself, he glanced over the headlines, his eyes scanning idly across stories about the local high school baseball scores. As he did so, a small insect buzzed near the paper in front of him, and the man absently drew a hand back to swat it away. 

His hand never made it that far. Just as it started to move down, the man’s wrist was caught in an iron grip that was almost, yet not quite, painful. He looked up to see the older, gray-haired guy next to him, who had been engrossed in his own coffee, holding his arm. “Around here,” the elderly man informed him in a low voice that bordered right on the edge of being threatening, “we don’t look kindly on people hurting our friends like that.” 

Hurting their–only then, as he looked back to see the yellow and black insect hovering in front of him, did the Latino newcomer realize what he’d almost done with that unthinking swat. Eyes widening, he shook his head. “Oh–oh, damn. I’m sorry. It wasn’t–I was just–” 

Another hand, belonging to the young, dark-haired waitress behind the counter, was extended to gently pry the old-timer’s grip away. “Thanks, Karl, but I think it’s probably safe to let him go now. You didn’t mean any harm, did you, Mister…?” 

“Deans,” came the easy response. “Agent Deans, Miss, ahhh… Hayley.” As he answered (taking a glance at the nametag she wore) the man flipped open the wallet that sat on the counter in front of him to reveal the FBI badge there. “And no, I didn’t mean any harm. Force of habit, I’m afraid.” 

“You make it a habit to crush people who were just trying to check the baseball scores?” 

The new voice, or rather, voices, came from Deans’ right. He turned toward that way to find not just the single bee he had almost swatted, but a small swarm of them. Fifteen, to be exact. Each of them spoke as one, forming a perfect chorus. “Our deepest apologies in that case. We will make certain to ask your permission next time.” 

For a moment, the only thing the man could do was stare, struggling not to gape open-mouthed. His words finally emerged after a few seconds of that. “I–they’re right, you do talk.” 

“Not in the same way that you do, Agent Deans,” came the fifteen-voiced response. “We are implanted with what you would consider a chip in the back of our thoraxes and connected to our brains. A small, quite powerful speaker extends from the chip and out the underside of our abdomen, producing the sound you can hear.” 

Taking that in, Deans slowly shook his head. “Sorry, I just–I’ve never actually had a face-to-face with insect-Touched. You’re not exactly common, especially with–” Cutting himself off at the thought, he grimaced. “Sorry. I should’ve been paying more attention to what I was doing.” 

Again, fifteen voices spoke as one. “The fault is partly ours, Agent Deans. We forget that not everyone who might happen to be in town is entirely accustomed to our presence. Don’t fear, we will not hold it against you during our tour.” 

“Oh, I’m supposed to meet…” the man trailed off upon realizing the truth. “Ah, you’re who I’m supposed to meet here, aren’t you?” 

Fifteen bees flew down, then up in a perfectly coordinated maneuver that he took to be their version of a nod. “Yes, we are here to answer questions and take you to see the town on behalf of the hive-queen. But you should eat your breakfast before we go. It is the most important meal of the day.”

Sure enough, as the man glanced to the counter, he saw that the toast and eggs he had ordered had been neatly placed in front of him during his distraction. “Oh, thank you, Miss Hayley. And thank you, Karl.” He added with a look toward the man who had stopped him from swatting the bee in the first place. 

From there, he ate his breakfast, including (at the urgent suggestion of both the bees and humans), putting honey on his toast. It was local honey, grown and provided by the very hive that the swarm in front of him were representing. And the moment he did, biting into the honey-covered bread, the man’s eyes closed with a murmur of pleasure. “My God,” he managed after a long moment of simply absorbing the taste, “it’s even better than what you get in the store.” 

Hayley grinned, winking at the bees who hovered nearby. “It’s fresh,” she reminded him. “Right out of the hive, practically. The stuff we send to the stores is pretty great, but nothing compares to what you can get right here. Right, guys?” 

There was an almost melodious buzzing sound that was apparently their version of a chuckle, before those fifteen voices replied together, “We do endeavor to provide excellent honey for our friends and fellow citizens of Eastland. And, of course, an excellent product for others to buy.” 

“How do you do it though?” Agent Deans asked curiously after taking another amazing bite. “I mean, you’re just one hive. No offense at all, but your honey is sold all over the country. They’ve built an entire factory to help process it. You’ve got multiple shipping companies moving in to take it everywhere. How can you possibly produce that much? I looked it up, and a hive should only produce about a hundred pounds a year, maximum. You’ve been producing a lot more than that.” 

That buzzing chuckle came back once more, before the bees assured him, “We will get into all of that and more. For now, enjoy your meal, Agent Deans. When you’re finished, we will take you on a tour, and answer any of your questions that we are able to.” 

They really didn’t have to tell him twice. Deans ate all of the toast, then got seconds to put a bit more of that incredible honey on. He could see exactly why the town’s fortune had turned around so thoroughly, with their ability to ship that stuff all over the country. However they managed to produce so much of it, the fact was that they did produce it. And having that product had been one of the primary catalysts that had begun to bring Eastland (soon to be Honeyland) back to life. It wasn’t the only thing, of course. But it was the first, and arguably the biggest, factor in the town’s new prosperity. It was the main catalyst from which everything else had grown.

Eventually, after finishing and paying for his breakfast, Agent Deans left the diner. The small swarm of bees flew ahead, guiding him out to the street. On the way, he briefly wondered what the flying insects did when someone wasn’t there to open the door. His answer came when they flew, one at a time, through a tiny hole in the wall next to the door itself (he supposed it was there rather than actually in the door so that someone opening it wouldn’t end in tragedy for the bee trying to go through the hole). 

Either way, once out on the streets, the swarm hovered in the air in front of him. That chorus of joined voices asked, “Would you like to take your car, Agent, or walk so that we might show you around? If you are not pressed for time.” 

The man shook his head. “No, I ahh, I’d like to see whatever you can show me. That’s my job, actually. There are a lot of… curious people back at the agency who want to know how all this works.” 

Again, that buzzing chuckle followed by the chorus of, “That is not surprising, Agent Deans. Come, we will tell you what we can. And answer any of your questions. Surely you have many.” 

They began to fly down the sidewalk, with Deans following. Before saying anything else, the man glanced around. There were people, obviously locals, walking everywhere. And more than that, there were other small swarms of bees right alongside them. They were everywhere, working right alongside the humans. He saw one man in a delivery uniform standing outside a van, holding the back door open while a swarm of bees landed on several large boxes that were stacked outside of it. Three or four bees per box landed, then rose into the air again with the boxes coming with them. 

Tactile telekinesis, Deans knew. That was one of the Touched-bees powers. Just by touching something, they could lift incredibly heavy objects (particularly given their relative size and strength) and fly around with them. It was one of the things that allowed the hive to be so helpful to their human allies. Not to mention how much they used it to build their own devices. 

Yes, build their own devices. Because beyond their greatly enhanced intelligence/sapience and the Field-touched power of the tactile telekinesis, the bees were also Tech-Touched. Hence the communication devices that had been implanted in all of them that allowed the bees to talk as they had been. 

From the briefing he’d received before coming here, Agent Deans understood that the bees were specifically focused on creating devices that, as the eggheads had put it, ‘enhanced cooperation and benefited the group as a whole.’ That was their Tech-Touched specialty, as it were. They specialized in designing and building inventions that would help groups work together. So, ‘devices that allowed them to communicate with humans’ definitely fit within that.

“I do have a few questions, actually,” the man managed after trailing after his escorts for a minute as he took in the sight of so many humans and bees working together. “I’m not sure how to ask this without being, ahhh, rude. But the way you all speak together, knowing… uhh, the way your people–insects–the way hives generally–” 

“You wish to know if we are individuals,” came the chorus of responses as one, “or a single hivemind.” From the way they said it, the question was clearly one that they were accustomed to. 

Pausing briefly to watch a handful of bees who seemed to be serving as crossing guards (complete with keeping a hand-held stop sign suspended in the air) to help a group of children cross the street toward an elementary school, Deans slowly nodded. “Yeah. Yeah, sorry, I don’t know how else to put that except, are you individuals, or one big collective?” 

“The answer is yes,” came what seemed to be the teasing response. All fifteen bees flew up directly in front of his face, hovering there for a moment. Then, apparently to make a point, seven of the bees flew to the left, while the remaining eight flew to the right. 

The eight bees to the right, without the seven to the left, continued with, “We are a collective.” 

The seven bees to the left, without the eight to the right, added, “But that collective may be of any size. Even one, though that is rare and frightening.” 

With that, the eight bees split once more, becoming two separate groups of four. The first four announced, “There are three levels of our minds. The small, the large, the whole.” 

The other four further clarified, “The small is our own individual minds. What you would call your own thoughts. They are small, and do not say much on their own. It is lonely in the small mind. We don’t like it.” 

The group of seven then added, “You might think of it as being somewhat asleep. A brain that is half-conscious, and feels… sluggish, or trapped. It is claustrophobic and lonely.” 

“Lonely,” all fifteen bees chorused together as they flew back into one group again, continuing with, “The large mind is us. Any group together may swarm and become a large mind. That is less lonely. We think better, we think stronger, we are more than we are as small. It is the large mind that we use in most interactions.” 

“And the whole mind, that’s what you called the last one, right?” Deans guessed. “That must be the entire hive.” 

Sure enough, the fifteen bees flew up, then down, their version of a nod again. “Correct, Agent Deans,” came the response. “We are always connected to the whole mind. Think of it as your internet, as we all access it and may see and interact with each small and large group as needed no matter how far we are from one another. But it is more than that. It is a personality, the full collection of our small and large minds. The hive-queen directs this whole mind, yet we are all a part of it. This is hard for human individuals to understand, which is not intended as an insult. You simply do not have the proper frame of reference. We as the hive are one mind. We as the large minds are one mind. We as the small minds are one mind. All are true. We are whole and we are pieces. We are one mind fractured into as many parts as necessary to do our work.” 

“I ahhh… I think I understand,” Deans slowly replied after thinking about that for a minute. “I mean, I think I get what you mean in general, even if I don’t have the right frame of reference, as you said. It’s kind of like having one mind that’s really good at multitasking.”

There was a brief pause before the swarm of fifteen carefully agreed, “It is something like that.” 

With that much explained, at least as much as the bees are able to, the group continued onward. Deans was led through the town. He saw even more examples of how the hive and humans were working together. The bees used their telekinesis and their inventions to help their human allies put buildings up quickly and far more easily than the humans could do alone. That was how this town was able to expand so quickly. Houses and other buildings were much easier to build when you had a fleet of flying insects that could land on large materials and fly them exactly where they needed to go. 

Eventually, they came to the main plant where honey was sorted, packaged, and shipped. Watching pallet after pallet of barrels being loaded into the back of several large trucks with the town’s soon-to-be official moniker on the sides, Deans slowly asked, “Okay, what about the honey? You said you’d explain how it’s possible to have so much of it.” 

“The simplest explanation,” the bees informed him, “is that we have created machines which do the same work we would do, but far more efficiently. Flowers are grown within a greenhouse in the center of the facility. Everything from nectar extraction all the way through the rest of the… process is performed by our machines, supervised by parts of the hive. Rather than acting as the individual workers to create very tiny amounts of honey, each of our small and large minds in the factory supervise the production of much larger amounts. That, and the aid of our human allies and friends, allows the level of production that you see.” 

“Well, it’s working for you, whatever the specifics,” Deans murmured. “I heard the FDA reps were impressed by your set-up.” 

Again, that up-down hovering nod. “They visit quite often, to ensure our work remains impeccable. We are told there is some pressure from outside forces to declare the factory unsanitary. But we take great pains to ensure that it is safe at all levels.” 

They were right, Deans knew. With a grimace, he nodded. “Yes, well, there’s a few people out there who don’t exactly like the idea of insect-Touched. Actually, that’s part of–” 

“You wish to speak with the hive about the Merit termites,” the swarm finished for him. “Before the situation escalates further.” 

There was no sense in beating around the bush, so Deans simply nodded. “Yeah, pretty much. The… first contact with the Merit termites didn’t exactly go very well. Not like it did here when you and the people of Eastland started working together. What was that–a kid you talked to first?” 

“Phoebe Burton,” they confirmed. “Nine years old. We prevented her abduction by a stranger, a member of one of the so-called Abyssal cults, and ensured his capture. Her mother and law enforcement were grateful. This eased our introduction to human society and allowed us to set the groundwork for the alliance that exists today.” 

Deans exhaled long and slowly. “Yeah, well, things were different in Merit. A few… overly-excited individuals down there made things a hell of a lot more complicated.” 

“They tried to kill the hive,” his escorts pointed out bluntly. “Townspeople there worked very hard to kill those intelligent termites.” 

“Not all the townspeople,” Deans protested. “Believe me, a lot of them–most of them tried to stop it. Things just got really bad really fast, before anyone realized just how far south it was going. Now we’ve got the military keeping people out and we’ve tried to send some people in to talk, but there’s a lot of… distrust. And from what we’ve been able to see, things in Merit could blow up even worse. The termites are working on their own countermeasures. If we’re not careful, those people who want the full-on war, who want to genocide the hive, are gonna get what they want. But I– some of us thought that it might be easier to communicate with the termites and come to a mutual understanding if we had a go-between that was more on their level.” 

For a moment, there was no response. The bees simply hovered there in front of him. He had the feeling there was some bit of conversation or consideration (probably both) going on, and remained silent rather than interrupt. 

Finally, the bees moved, hovering up a bit closer as they answered together. “Yes, Agent Deans. We believe that would be for the betterment of all, hive and humans alike. Allow us some time to prepare a group of ourselves to send a large mind with you to speak with the termites of Merit. We will invite them to join us here, in the safety of our home-hive, where we all may work together.

The agreement seemed to take a weight from the FBI agent’s shoulders, as he straightened a little bit. “Yeah? Good. Well, thanks. Thanks a lot, seriously. You have no idea how helpful that’ll be.” 

“We believe we do have some idea,” the bees corrected. “We are well-aware of how badly our own introduction and integration to society could have gone. It is our duty and our honor to be able to help others in such a position.

“We only hope that we are not too late to help calm this situation, before it escalates into something far worse.”

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