Izzaiah woke to the feel of Lyra touching his face and antennae.
“Good morning,” he whispered.
“Good morning.” Her hand continued to caress his face, and he pulled her closer. “I didn’t even hear you come back last night.”
His chest vibrated with a deep buzz. “You were sound asleep. I did not want to wake you. I believe we came up with a solution to the food issue. Though, it is risky. I spoke with Nova and she said to do it.”
Lyra rubbed her head against his shoulder in a yes motion. His arms drew her tight against him. His entire body vibrated, and she felt it clear to her toes. She gasped when she felt what was sure was his erection against her abdomen.
Nova was right, he wanted to make love to her. She stopped stroking his face and wrapped her arm around him as he continued to hold her. She thought she heard him whisper her name just before the lights came on.
They both reluctantly left the mattress and started their day.
Lyra and Nova stood outside, their gazes seemingly locked on the swarm of males.
“That doesn’t look good, Nova. Those clouds are building up fast. I thought they said the rains didn’t come until the end of this season? That’s still almost two months away.”
“That’s what they said,” Nova answered distractedly. “I think it’s time to bump up the timeline a little. We both know weather can be finicky and we need to be able to bolt at the first opportunity.”
They moved back under the petal-less trees and sat down.
Safia? Misako? Has either of you made any headway with the VI reboot procedure?
A little. At least the initial starting sequence. Why?
Nova looked back at the sky in the ship's direction and sent the image of the enormous dark blue clouds blotting out the pale orange sky.
Shit. So not good. I’ll allocate more processing power.
Izzaiah picked up the loaded crate of full food jars and flew through the open airlock. Once it closed, he picked up the sprayer and the piece of cloth draped over it and sprayed himself down while holding the cloth over his eyes with the other hand.
Lyra? He did it. I found the crate where I told him to hide it, and there are ten more jars of food and five water.
Great. Let him know he did a good job. Get all of it put away or made as quickly as you can. There are storm clouds gathering near the ship. Is that normal or is it unusual?
The clouds will thicken the rest of this month. Next month, the sun becomes weaker and weaker until the last few days. The mating flight takes place three days before the end of the month. Then it gets darker still until the last day, then the clouds blot out the last bit of sun and the rains begin until the next planting season starts.
Do the rains ever start early?
Not that I am aware. At least not in any quantity. A little here and there for a quick burst, but that’s rare.
Lyra passed on the information. Nova nodded but didn’t take her eyes off the sky the rest of the time they were outside.
Izzaiah jerked awake when he heard the buzzing again.
“Hey? You awake down there?”
He turned over and looked toward the ceiling. The small male’s face peered down at him.
“Yes,” he buzzed softly and rolled away from Lyra as best he could without waking her.
“I’ve packed up another ten jars. I heard something earlier that you and the others need to know about.”
Izzaiah gently nudged Lyra. “Wake up, Lyra.”
She burrowed deeper into his body heat.
“Lyra, there is news.”
“What is it?”
The small male hid his shock as the female and Izzaiah spoke together in the female’s language.
Lyra glanced up but saw nothing. “What?”
“The smaller male is up there and brings news.”
“Today, I cleaned the vents above the Queen’s egg chamber. The Seventh and Tenth Advisor entered the room and spoke to the guards. They are planning on releasing the hatched Queens and informed the guards they are to remain with the survivor. This means they are setting up for an extended purge of the males.”
“What does that mean?” Lyra asked.
“It means, they are planning to purge all the males of mating age after this flight. The Advisors will remove Queen Syrianix and the survivor will become the new Queen. Guards will escort her away from the dome before the flight begins and taken to a different dome where she will mate with the males there, then brought back here after the dome’s mating flight finishes. They will destroy the rest of Syrianix’s eggs and the new Queen will lay fresh eggs at the start of the new year until there are enough males to replenish the ones killed and several fertile female eggs to hatch future Queens. The workers will take over the nursing of the new children, maintain the hive, and the young males will take over the planting,” Izzaiah said.
“When the males learn of this, it will cause chaos and panic. They will attempt to flee and the guards will be everywhere and more vigilant than what they normally would be,” the smaller male said from his position in the vent above them.
“What does that mean for the plan?” Lyra whispered.
“I think you should wake Nova and the others and let them know not to make any sounds. I think they need to hear this.”
The smaller male said he’d take the crate of food to the vehicle. Izzaiah reminded him to bring the crate piled with the empties back to the hive. The small male paused before saying he would. He wanted to ask what he did with all the food, but thought better of it. He hurried away, but not before seeing the pair lay back down and move as close together as they could.
The others listened to Izzaiah as he explained the situation. There was a few minutes’ pause.
What do you suggest we do? He asked.
Is there any way all of us could get out of here early? We can hold up in the ship and work on it even now. Maddy suggested.
That will not work, Nova said. The males in your rooms would know something was up the minute we all disappeared in the middle of the night and would call the guards. We can’t escape during the day because there are guards watching all of us. It has to be when there’s too much going on for them to keep track of everything at once. It’s got to be during the flight. And the males need more time to gather food. They’ve got enough to make it through the rainy season now, but not enough for the rest of the time. The smaller one needs as much time as we can give him to make it happen.
What about the repairs? Safia asked.
What about them? We’ve done as much as we can until we make a break for it.
Not everything, Safia said. What about having Izzaiah try rebooting the VI while he’s there? He can’t do any type of voice commands, but we’ve got the start-up and diagnostic command codes figured out. We can use the sharebeam link and walk him through typing out the codes.
Nova hummed. No, I don’t think that’s such a good idea. He knows nothing about the systems, and if something should happen, he won’t even be able to use voice commands to deactivate it as we can. Let’s just let him help with the stockpiling of food and making sure the solar panels stay clear to catch every ray of light they can.
Once the others agreed, Lyra and Izzaiah settled down to get a few more hours of sleep.
He woke to Lyra once again stroking the side of his face. He let out a contented sigh and held her closer. For the past two weeks, they woke the same way. Her hand gently stroking his face, touching his antennae or neck. This extra hour before the lights came on was the best part of his day, next to joining her on the mattress and having her move close to him so he could hold her as they fell asleep.
He had taken to stroking his fingers along her arm and even dared to move his hand along her waist several times as he drew her closer. He felt her heartbeat speed up against his chest each time he did so.
He sighed in delight again as she used her thumb under his eye and gently brushed against the short, soft setae there.
She had no idea why she did it. When he gave that heartfelt sigh and stroked her arm and waist, something came over her and she leaned toward him. Her lips brushed against his thinner ones and pressed. She felt him jerk.
“Sorry. I don’t know why I did that.” She started to pull away.
He panicked and fumbled with trying to get the neural-net to search for what just happened. He pulled her in close again and pressed his own lips against hers to give him time to filter the responses back from the search.
After the whirlwind of information flitted through his brain and settled on the word “kiss” and meant as a sign of affection, he drew back a little.
“I liked the kiss very much,” he whispered. “Do not be sorry you did so. Please. I would also like to do so again if you wouldn’t mind.”
Lyra swallowed as she stared into his jet-black compound eyes. She touched his face again with a shaky hand and brushed her fingers against his lips before deciding.
She leaned toward him and kissed him gently. She coaxed his lips open and slid her tongue carefully along his partially opened mouth before slipping inside to search for his own.
She felt his heart give a hard thud against her chest as his hand on her waist gripped and pulled her flush against him. She heard him nearly gasp at the first stroke of her tongue against his rougher one.
As her tongue curled around his, she pressed her body tighter still against his aroused one and he groaned. Sensory information flooded him as she continued to kiss him and run her hands over his neck, shoulders, and chest.
When the lights flicked on, she moved a fraction of an inch away from him. Their rapid breaths intermingled and their hearts raced.
“Lyra,” he whispered to her and dipped in for another kiss.
After only a few brief seconds, she pulled back again. “The others will be awake. We need to stop and get ready. We have only a single month left now.”
His reluctance to release her was more evident than usual, but he took a deep breath and eased himself onto his back as he moved away.
She flicked a glance over his body and saw his erection throbbing against his black suit. A small wet spot expanded near the engorged head. She swallowed and hurried to shower.
“Izzaiah,” the food storage room tender whispered in a low buzz as he packed the food jars into the crate. “The small one asked me to pass on a message. He said they are planning on releasing the hatched Queens in four days’ time. The guard’s attention will be elsewhere when they do. He says it will be the perfect time for us to get as much food as possible and get it to the vehicle. He’s got a plan and wants a meeting tonight.”
Izzaiah buzzed his understanding and gave a time he and Aziel would be there.
Keep your sharebeam open tonight, Izzaiah, so all of us can hear as well, Nova said to him.
While Izzaiah cleaned off the solar panels, then converted more of his food, Nova and Lyra huddled together under the now leafless flower tree.
“What do you think the plan is going to be?” Lyra asked.
“I don’t know, but I hope it’s a good one. He’s been able to add substantially to their food reserves, anything more is a definite bonus for them. They should stockpile as much as they can get away with,” Nova said as she rubbed her arms, trying to bring a little heat to her skin. “Damn, it’s getting cold. I’m not used to this cooler weather. I grew up on a tropical island, never even saw snow in real life until the transport shuttle landed at the base in the Arctic Circle. Talk about a crazy day that was.”
Lyra nodded. “All I can even remember growing up, was the red sand and sky of Mars outside our habitat dome. I have no firsthand memories of snow.”
Pfft. You guys missed out on making snow angels, snowball fights, skiing and sledding. All the good stuff about winter.
You can keep all the winter stuff. I’d much prefer the sun and sand of my island.
The others laughed at Nova’s response to Maddy.
“Maybe we should tell him to grab a couple of those open thermal blankets.”
Nova shook her head. “No. If Izzaiah brings anything but his jars back, they’ll know he went inside the ship.”
Nova slowed the rubbing of her hands. “But… I just thought of something which might be pretty useful. A way for us to get out of the watchful gazes of those other males and get the stuff I saved from the Advisor’s hands back to the ship.”
“You remember how Izzaiah told us the males keep the place warm in the winter while the females sleep the season away?”
“What if all of us gather in your room? Bring our mattresses, the box of food, and the stuff we kept. We can see if the smaller male will smuggle a few things out each night, and the Advisors and those nosy males won’t be able to tell anything is missing. We can pretend to be going into hibernation mode. Act sleepy and sluggish over the next few days, then pile up into your room.”
Won’t they get suspicious if we don’t bring those other males, too? Mia asked.
Doubtful, since none of you pay any attention to them. If they try to follow, I’ll toss them out. Maybe it will get them completely out of our hair so Izzaiah and Aziel won’t have to hide they can talk to us.
When were you planning on doing this? Won’t it look strange if suddenly we go from scrubbing the floors to acting all sleepy and out of it?
Soon. Maybe a week? Over the next few days get slower, yawn more, and drag your feet. That should give us enough time to talk to them and get things ready to go.
When Izzaiah returned from the ship, Lyra gave him a brief rundown on what they had planned. He tilted his head in acknowledgment and sat with his back toward the transparent area into Maddy’s room as he drank from the cup she handed to him.
“There are now four full cupboards stocked with the cups of powder and several jars still in the cooling unit. I left the recycler working on the empty cups gathered from all of you. They should be finished by tomorrow so I can refill them.”
“Perfect. How’s everything else look with the ship? Any additional damage?”
“No. I flew around and over the ship again, removing any debris from the panels as you asked. Nothing seems any different. The shelter, however, is about to collapse. I pulled everything left from inside and took it into the hold of the ship, stuffed it into one of the empty crates for you to go through later.”
“Thanks. You better eat and rest until it’s time for you to talk with the others.”
Izzaiah and Aziel slipped into the darkened room in the male’s area of the tunnels later that night.
“What is it? Why did you want to see us?” he whispered to the others.
The smaller male slipped from the tiny nook in the wall and knelt on the floor, quickly followed by the others. “I think I know a way to get more than a single crate of food to the ship, maybe even get all of us out of here early.”
“What do you mean?”
“I overheard the Advisors telling the guards that when they release the barriers to the virgin queen’s rooms, all the males will be locked in the tunnels. They are to guard the inner ward and keep the females from leaving the area or getting into the tunnels or outside before the winner is declared and escorted to the safe area. There won’t be any guards outside at all, only on the inner ward areas. That leaves the prison cells they are holding the strange females in unguarded except for the outer door into the main dome.
“We can get out of here unseen with crates full of food. Each of us takes as much as we can carry and move as fast as possible, we can get to their vehicle while the queens fight and kill each other with no one the wiser.”
Izzaiah looked at the others who stared back at him, waiting to see what he thought of the plan.
They will figure it out and come after us. There is too much time between when they release the queens and when the meteor storm ends. We won’t be able to go outside to repair the ship as the Advisors will know what happened by the end of the day or maybe even before then and come after us. It’s riskier than waiting until the day of the flight.
But the idea of getting more crates of food out that day is a good one, Safia added.
Yeah. See if the others will risk going with you to the ship that day with a crate of food each. You can put it in the tent and come back. Maybe grab another load and get it there and back before they realize the group left the dome. Do not, however, attempt to get into the ship with them there and without us.
Izzaiah sighed and tipped his head to the left. “The Advisors will quickly learn we fled, and the females went with us. They will know where to go. The sky storm prevents their vehicle from leaving or getting a help message out. We will be trapped inside of it until after the season of rain starts, and that means any increase of food we might have added will be used sooner than necessary. Instead, the six of us will sneak out as soon as they lock the doors to the tunnels. Each of us with a crate stocked as full as possible, we’ll drop it off and return for another one. Which means, you must have them ready to go the night before and hidden somewhere none of the others can find them,” he said as he looked at the smaller one.
The other’s shoulders drooped.
“Do not get discouraged. It was a good plan and the news you brought will let us get more food prepared. The more we have ready, the better off we’ll be on the day we can flee to safety.”
The others sat quietly for several minutes.
“Alright. I found several crates in the woods outside the vehicle. Those came from inside?”
“Yes. I left them there to make more room.”
“If we meet up under the vent opening outside the storage room, I can hand small sacks down filled with jars. There are several carts inside the empty jar storage area. If we load one of those up with empties, while you take the food to the vehicle, I can fill the holes in the racks. If I have enough time and no one comes looking, I can probably load up the cart with good jars for a second run. No one will be going into the room until the morning, so it will give me plenty of time to get more from the storage room to hide the theft. You can hide the jars in those crates instead of in the cloth shelter I’ve been putting them in.”
“You’re not worried they will check and find so many of the jars missing their seals and realize what’s going on? Or what about the males starving during the rains?”
“There will be less than half the current number left for the season. Just enough to keep the one area warm for the remaining guards, Advisors, and the new Queen. Even if we take all but the one rack, there will still be enough left for all of them well into spring,” the male in charge of the food storage area said.
“You know there is more than one storage area, right?” the smaller one said and it drew the attention of the others.
“There are at least four of them. All stocked to the ceiling with food. I’ve been taking them from one of the other rooms instead of the current one. They won’t know exactly when the food went missing. There’s enough for several years stockpiled further underground. Same with the seeds and even rooms filled with filtered water.”
The seeds? Lyra said over the sharebeam. Can he get us more of them?
“Can you get into the seed areas?”
“Of course. But it’s a bit trickier, as there are several of the males staying in the rooms along the corridor. They moved the younger ones there the day after the Advisors decided to initiate the extended purge. Not to mention it’s a bit colder in those rooms than I like.”
How are they stored? In jars? Bags?
Izzaiah relayed Lyra’s question to the others.
“We put them in ceramic jars. Larger than the ones for the food. Depending on the seed and how well the harvest went, it could take two of us to lift a single jar.”
You said there is a room full of clean, empty jars?
Yes. After they’re cleaned and readied to be filled with our food, workers move them into a different room. When needed they are taken to a different room where they are filled with the food, sealed, and brought to the food storage room.
See if he’s willing to fill some of those food jars with seeds. Ask him to label each one and seal them with whatever wax they use to keep the lids tight and protected.
After a few minutes, he beamed the smaller one’s reply back.
What does his call signal sound like? Safia asked.
Izzaiah paused as he tried to come up with a way to send the sound back to them.
Sounds like Saucy.
No. I don’t think so. More like Posy?
That’s not right. Cozy?
Jeez. You guys are all tone deaf, Mia added with a bit of a huff in her voice. It’s Ozzy.
The women argued a few minutes over what they perceived it sounded like before they gave up and went with Mia’s suggestion.
We’ll call him Ozzy. She beamed to Izzaiah.
He tipped his head side to side a few times before standing up. “They would like for you to package up as many seeds in those jars as you can as well. Clearly marked and taken to the ship. Also, once everything settles back down, they want you to smuggle a few items the Queen’s guards stole from them back to the ship and hide it for me to retrieve.”
The other bees rose and walked back to their niches in the walls. “And they would like me to thank you, Ozzy, for all the help you are providing us.”
The smaller male stopped and turned around. His own head tipping to the side. “Ozzy?”
“Yes. That is the name they have given you.”
Izzaiah and Aziel hurried back to the women’s cells and laid down to get a few hours of sleep as the others spent a restless night in their cubbyholes.
“How does he know what they are talking about? How does he talk to them?” a few whispered.
“How does he talk to them when they aren’t even in the same room?” Ozzy whispered, and they all quieted down to think and wonder.