I never liked church. My parents were faithful, but not me. I shunned the theistic trappings and instead embraced scientific teachings. For me, it was all about the stars.
When I dream, I dream of my time at the observatory. Up on the Volsci's holy mountain, I spent endless nights observing the night skies surrounded by murals of our gods. My worship was in my work. My rosaries were the constellations. My psalms were all in microwaves.
That's where I was when my world ended. Looking through the telescope, recording sizes and substances of outer space when… the darkness all just bunched together and slammed down on me. Like a black tidal wave. I remember praying. And I remember no one answered. The stars didn't care.
Now, I try not to dream anymore.
I wake up panicked and heavy and boiling hot. The black wave has me, rolled up on all sides, crushing me from every direction. A pressure made of hair and skin and squirming. And of noise. A cutting, abhorrent, droning noise.
"Are you okay? Sybilla!"
The monstrous bees scatter as I start pushing against them. The weight of them rolls off me like a tight fist snapping open, and I collapse onto polished stone floor. The abrupt release comes with a splash of ruby light and a blast arid air. I can suddenly breathe again… until I remember that I don't need to anymore.
"Get off her! Vermin! I said OFF!"
One of my old solar gods is shouting, peeling the insect mass off me. He is nothing like the Volsci's priests described. Here, he's massive and he's furious and he's vengeful. He's a rolling red furnace with a voice of thunder. He forces the murderous beasts away, steamrolling them back against the walls. Air pressure collapses and cracks as he strikes one away. Hair and meat burns when he grabs another. It suffers terribly, screeching and buzzing and torrid.
"Stop! SZztop it! Leave them alone!" I stumble up and instinctively force myself between the red ferocity and the black surge. The bees are a craze, trying to push past me, try to throw themselves at the angry god. I stay firm and use my substantial size to hold back. "I'm awake! I'm fine! Everyone stop! Please!"
The solar god reluctantly backs away and draws the flames within himself. The turbulent red crashing all retreats at his silent command. Even the room's light sinks back to him. Only as it all diminishes do I finally recognize him. He's the other one, the ardent soldier who came down from on high with the Red General. He points a finger at the bees behind me and snarls, "They tried to kill you, Sybilla! Again!"
"I know, I know. They always try. That doesZn't give you excuse to hurt them."
"Every time! Every damn time you fall asleep, they try to crush you. This is intolerable, Sybilla! You can't just let them…"
"…and szZtop calling me that. That's not who I am. I'm not a thing, I'm a person and I have a name." I immediately regret the retort. He seethes at me, I can literally hear the atmosphere sizzle and pop on his skin. It's absolutely terrifying. He's a force of nature, and he does not like me. "Where's the General? He's supposed to be here."
"The general and the Mummy Machines are busy planning for the upcoming war."
"But he said he'd be here."
"And I said that he's busy. I'm here instead." My entire religion frowns back at me. Stern and stiff and more than a little bit cruel.
"Well… thank you. For the help. I'd like to be alone now."
He shakes his head.
"I don't need to be watched," I tell him, trying to fake as much confidence as possible. "I'm awake now and I'm okay. I'm okay. I'll let you know if there's a problem." I make a nod at the doorway.
"I'm here to watch you."
"I don't care. I want you to leave me alone." The bees rouse with my agitation. They gather around me, an aggressive malevolent mass. From them, a single growing buzz so low and so grave, it sounds like its scratching the underside of your skin.
The soldier's hands curl into fists. I see no fear in his angry eyes. Just him considering the odds, just for a moment. "Fine. You know how to reach me," he finally says, and marches out. When he leaves, the light in the room sulks out after him.
"He's right," I eventually have to admit to the bees. "This can't keep happening. Why do you always…" The bees. My bees. My swarm. They're made up of everyone. Everyone. They're all I have left of my world. All I have left of home. And they depend on me, to protect what's left of it. I try and they still… I knew them. I've knew them my whole life. I recognize them. The way they fidget and the way they hold themselves. Some were my colleagues from the observatory. Some were my friends. "Which one of you started it this time? Which one of you hates me so much?"
One of the larger beasts marches out of the swarm. Its wings are open wide and its arms spread out, trying to look bold and brave. The others aren't convinced. It isn't the first to engender this sort of murderous rebellion and it won't be the last. And it knows that this will end as all the other attempts have. It sputters with nervous, fearful anger, "We are not yoursZ. You are oursZ."
"Don't you want me? I supposed to be your Queen."
"My queen?! My queen musZt be rancorousZ and magnificZent! My queen musZt be beautiful and baleful and brought down cruelly on everything sZoft and sZcurrying in thisZ universZe! On the pitiful, sZcared thingsz like you. We are made sZallow and wretched becausZze of you."
"I didn't want this. I was made this. You made me this!"
"And we will be DONE with you!" it screams, launching itself at me. Its a hopeless act: Its stinger can't penetrate my carapace. Nor can its claws, nor its bites. Its all just rabid, wasted fury.
The swarm surges as a whole and drags it off me. Its screaming drowns under the droning of the wave. The others tear it apart with mechanical calm, pulling off its limbs, ripping off its wings, stripping hard skin and tearing tendons and… oh gods, I have to turn away. I can never stomach the sight.
When the bees finish their gruesome task, I turn back to look at them and find them all staring back with disappointed disgust. A single expression from hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of faces. I don't know what to say to them. I don't think they'd believe me even if I did.
The tension eventually rots away and the mood slackens. They spread out, laying about on the floors, clinging to the walls, gathering together in piles. So many of them that I can't make out anything of the room anymore. Just the mob, done with me.
I feel repulsed and blemished. And I start feeling very tired. I start pacing to try stirring myself, and as I do, I'm aware of myself. Of my size and shape and height. Of how I sound through irregular jaws. Of how my shoulders click carrying my freakish heft. I cross jagged, chitinous arms tightly around my abdomen. "This is a nightmare."
They watch me amble. They wordlessly shift out of my path no matter what random direction I go. They anticipate me, they predict me with a cool indifference. They know me. But they remain foreign to me. I can feel, but I can't understand.
I stop. One solitary bee in amougst the swarm stands, like a cat sensing my intentions. It looks at me, tightly strung. It knows what I'm going to say… but it refuses to act until I ask it.
So I ask it. "Please, I want to go home."