It took a long time before she spoke, but he felt certain that she had
had her attention on him all the time. She let him sit with his own
thoughts, until he had adjusted to the sounds of Akorn. Here in her
hall they were like the muffled reverberation of a distant source, but
he was amazed at how much he could hear. She knew everything - although
he didn't understand how one could sense the very pulse of Akorn’s life
blood, here in the hall of The Honorable Mother. Suddenly he heard a
new sound. A sound that he had never heard before. He raised his head
and turned towards the source of the sound. At that moment the
Honorable Mother addressed him for the first time.
"One becomes so happy to live, that one at all costs wishes to avoid death", she said. She had a sharp, wheezing voice. Her body rocked back and forth in heaving movements. She spewed slimy eggs out in an endless stream. The drones waited around her and eagerly carried the eggs away as soon as they came out.
"I keep a sharp lookout, Zip promised. "Nothing escapes my attention".
"What the eyes don't see the ears reveal", his mother wheezed.
Again the sharp noise caught his ear. It was a call, an alluring, inciting call from some place near. It excited him quite intensely, this call. He started preening his antennae so as not to reveal it.
It is the call of Death that you are hearing". She had lowered her voice to a whisper. "But who's?"
Zip looked up at her enormous body. The eggs continued to pump out as she spoke.
"I want you to do something for me", she continued.
"If there is anything at all I may do for you, it will be an.."
She sighed and interrupted him. "I want you to collect as many as you need. You can do as you please. But you must do it soon - preferably right away. For every moment you wait, life is endangered"
"Whose life?", Zip asked, not quite understanding.
"Mine!" she said sharply.
He sensed fear in her voice. A slight tremor that lifted a corner of the veil that covered her innermost thoughts.
"Go by the sound, the alluring call. In the chamber that it comes from is what may cause my death. You must tear down the wall and kill whatever is in there. Do not forget a single one, not one - do you understand me?"
He felt her with the antennas to calm her. She sighed softly.
"Not all of them wish me ill" she continued. "But one of them does, I just don't know which". She breathed heavily. "Therefore they must all die!". The faint calling reached his thoughts, and threatened to rob him of his concentration.
"Who are they?" he asked.
"Queens!" she whispered. "Honorable Mothers!"
It stunned him. It was a ghastly thought. And yet he realized now that he had known it all along. The excitement, the fear and the anxiety at the same time. He tried to collect his thoughts. She observed him through the little eyes in the enormous, swaying body.
"We could use another nest in the forest", he started carefully. "As it is now everything stands and falls with Akorn".
She did not answer him. Her silence was almost worse to him than if she had expressed displeasure with his opinions.
"I'll do my best" he finally whispered and withdrew. He chose his escort among the guards. The alluring voice was still calling. Zip listened and realized that there were now two. While he considered this new situation, a third voice began calling him.
They sought out the queen chambers - one by one. Their voices could be heard everywhere in the great labyrinth that was Akorn. Everywhere their calls inspired a sense of urgency and expectation. As if the voices were sending invisible threads through the corridors - threads that made their way to the deepest recesses of all wasps' minds. Zip discovered that a great number of wasps were preparing to leave. There was something strange about their excitement, something that told him that they were ready to leave. But he was guessing as he had never been in a situation like it before. He watched two wasps that had fallen into position side by side. They were moving their abdomen up and down in rhythmical movements. Every time an alluring call reverberated in the corridors, they excitedly nodded their heads in time.
"What is going on?" Zip asked.
"I don't know" one of the wasps replied out of breath.
"But then why are you standing like this?"
"It's the voice" they replied in unison. Zip discovered that he too was rocking his body. The warrior wasps had fallen into position in the corridors. The were facing the chamber awaiting his signal. They too were moving their abdomens up and down in rhythmical movements - and were obviously having trouble concentrating. He looked at the shadows of the arched vaults. He fought the intoxicating feeling that threatened to overwhelm him and waited until he could think clearly.
"Tear down the wall" he commanded. They cut the wall down with their mandibles. As they pushed the rubble away, the chamber became quiet for a moment. Then the luring call began again. It was much more distinct now that they had broken through the wall. They looked at her through the hole. The young queen almost filled the room that was her cell. She was smaller than The Honorable Mother - but she was young and beautiful. She still glistened like a grub. Her high-pitched call had ceased. Zip edged half way through the opening and felt her with the antennas. The warriors stayed outside in the hall, undecided. She rocked back and forth with enticing movements.
"Who are you" Zip asked, excitement running through his body.
"I am The Honorable Mother" she sighed. He knew that it was true.
"But we already have one Honorable Mother" he objected.
"Take me to her" she purred. "Then we will see..."
Zip retreated to the corridor. The guards were excited. "If they meet they will fight until death", he yelled. "If they both die Akorn will die. Kill her!"
They swarmed in past him. They hurried ahead as if in ecstasy and tore her body. He remained in the corridor and watched them separate her head from her body. It almost seemed as if she had expected this to happen. There was no regret in her voice - no begging for mercy. But if she had known, then why had she been calling them? He was already busy with taking a bearing on the direction of the next queen. There were more voices now, too many for him to fathom. He tried to separate them from each other to count them. He wasn't sure whether there were seven or eight. They continued as they had begun. They killed the first five without running into difficulties. But there was one problem - time. The young queens weren't so big that they couldn’t move around in the corridors of Akorn with some difficulty. Only when they started laying eggs would they grow large and heavy. When they reached the sixth chamber they discovered that the wall to the chamber had been broken down from the inside. The slimy track on the floor told them that she was already on her way towards the center of Akorn.
"She is moving towards The Honorable Mother!" one yelled.
"One might be as good as the other", another answered.
"Stop her!" Zip commanded and rushed forward. The others followed him as fast as their six legs could carry them. They caught up with her in the deep corridors near the center. They reached her just outside the passage to The Honorable Mothers hall. Zip put his head back and threatened her with his mandibles.
She stopped and looked at him. "Surely that is no way to treat an Honorable Mother", she said reproachfully.
"Where are you going?" Zip asked.
"I am leaving" she said with conviction. "I will fly towards the sun, which I have never seen, soar away between the trees which I haven't seen either, to found a nest that will grow large - and in time become much larger than this Akorn!"
"Then you are heading in the wrong direction" he replied and remembered that she was a queen.
"I merely wanted to pay our Honorable Mother my last respects" she said apologetically. "I wanted to inform her about my plans and listen to her wise advice - I have so much to thank her for".
"We all do", Zip answered hesitant.
Another voice reached him. It was a whisper, as quiet as a mere thought, and only he could hear it.
"Don't let it happen. Don't let her reach me. She is the one I feared, she is the most treacherous of them all".
"If you let me pass, I will make you captain of the Wasp-squadron", she lured.
"But I already am" Zip mumbled confused. A seed of anxiety grew large in his mind.
"One of them I will allow to leave" the voice whispered from the great hall. "But first you must kill the one that stands before you now - she is the one who wants to stay."
"Take me to my mother", the young queen begged. "Let me see her one last time".
They killed her right there in the corridor - only a cocoon’s length from the passage to the sacred hall. The Honorable Mother lay in the dim halls and heard it happen. She didn't reveal what she was thinking, but it must have made a deep impression on her, for as they fought with the young queen the Mother laid no eggs.
They broke through the wall of the last chamber. All of Akorn knew what was about to happen - and what had already happened. The rumor spread like wildfire through the nest. Almost before an event had happened all of the wasps in the hundreds of corridors knew. There was a feverish atmosphere all over. A joyous excitement without limits. When the wall fell down her calls ceased.
"What do you intend to do?" Zip asked.
"Surely that is no way to address an Honorable Mother", she rebuked him.
"There is already one Honorable Mother here in Akorn" Zip answered. He was one experience wiser.
She considered briefly, and then said "I will leave".
"When?" he asked.
She noticed his doubtful tone and answered accordingly, for she had been taught by the others bitter experience.
"We will take you to the flight field" Zip said. "Many are already waiting in the air above Akorn to leave with you. In your new world you will become an Honorable Mother. When I visit you there, I will address you as it is appropriate to address Honorable Mothers.
"That sounds reasonable" she answered relieved.
"You will be accompanied by workers and warriors. Enough to ensure the existence of the nest." He scrutinized her and thought. She was very beautiful. Something about her told him that she was very fertile.
"One last thing".
"Yes?" she whispered.
"You will never see our Honorable Mother!"
"Of course not," she answered. "But bring her my regards with thanks for the life that she bestowed on me. I shall know my obligations and ensure the survival of the species".
They agreed. A sigh of relief spread through the corridors.
They escorted her through Akorn’s labyrinth of passages and alleys. Everywhere she created a stir. Those who were destined to leave with her already waited in the air above the flight field. As she placed herself by the edge, the guards blocked the entrance to Akorn behind her. There was no going back for her.
Before she took off she turned around and looked at Zip.
"Thank you for everything. You will be my friend for ever, as I hope that I will be yours."
He touched her lightly with his antennae, and felt a slight excitement. For a second he was overwhelmed by a violent desire to leave with here and dedicate his life to her. She was so young and beautiful and had such a compelling effect on everything in her surroundings. She watched him closely without speaking. He fought the urges of his mind and dismissed the idea.
"I will watch over your nest and defend it with everything I have to give", he whispered breathlessly.
She seemed happy and confident. But then again, she didn't have the bitter experience of age. She took off with a buzz and rose in the middle of the tens of thousands of wasps that were ready to depart. They formed a circle round her, a living shield, as they swarmed through the forest. A moment later they were gone. Only their vicious drone could be heard long after in the distance. Zip waited until the last fiery buzz had ceased and the forest radiated peace. Then he withdrew to the interior of Akorn to rest after the mornings hardships.
Later he went to see The Honorable Mother. He had his reasons. He wanted to understand the game that he was a part of. She received him with warmth and respect, for he had done well.
"There is something that I don't understand", he began carefully, as he was watching the working drones.
"Speak", she answered. "I will answer to the best of my ability".
"How could you know what was happening?"
She was silent for a while. She laid thirty eggs while she pondered upon her response. "Before I became an Honorable Mother," she said "I myself was a young queen. I learned much from the moment where I myself became a part of the world".
"That was before you went out into the world to found Akorn?", he suggested/tried.
This time she laid a hundred eggs before she answered.
"Akorn is an old nest", she began. "So old that no one knows the exact year it was founded. Through time there have been many Honorable Mothers. I am but one in a long line.
Zip felt dizzy. It was as if something was slowly pulling the sense of security and faith away from beneath him. But still he could not even imagine the truth of the matter.
"When I became a queen nobody broke down my wall. The old Mother didn't lay many eggs - no one defended her. I called out like the others, well aware that I was summoning my own destruction. That is the way things are - no one knows why. We were five who broke out at the same time". She fell into reverie.
"But..." Zip exclaimed and fell silent.
"The others left - I stayed!" Her voice was harsh and implacable. There was a glistening severe gleam in her eyes as she looked at him. Zip shuddered. He had always looked upon her as something sublime, someone he would always defend. She represented fertility, yes life itself to him. He had never known that anything could kill an Honorable Mother.
" What about..." he whispered coarsely.
"I killed her," she interrupted him coldly. "She wasn't laying many eggs. She had become a threat to Akorn’s existence. I came just in time. No one defended her, it was just time for someone new".
Zip tried to swallow his spittle.
"One day in the future I will need you again," she said. Her tone of voice had changed. The harsh gleam in her eyes had disappeared. "When the time arrives I will ask you to come as fast as you came today".
He watched her closely. He gave up counting the eggs that gushed from her abdomen, glistening and white.
"I will reward your loyalty by laying many eggs," she whispered. He listened and heard it clearly. Her fear of the day when she could no longer manage what she managed today. But it could be a long time before that happened. Maybe not until my time has come, Zip thought.
"I will come at your command, Honorable Mother," he answered.
She sighed relieved. She had bought herself some time, and they both knew it.