by Mary E. Lowd
Originally published in Theme of Absence, July 2018
Marga held her broad paw up to the star-studded window, lining it up so a single spark of light tipped each of her blunted claws. Her own constellation. She wondered if any of those stars had habitable worlds circling them. She knew none of them was New Sholara. Not from this window. Not from this side of the ship.
A purple-and-amber-striped worker bee buzzed down and landed on the thick brown fur of Marga’s shoulder, reminding her that life support was limited. She left the window behind and moved from one cryonics pod to the next, starting their rejuv cycles. Bees followed her, buzzing in the air.
“How many Honey Feasts are left?” Marga rumbled.
The electronic voice of the ship’s computer answered, “Thirty, maybe forty.”
“And how many generations of queens have passed since the last feast?”
“My great-great-great-grandmother was the last queen who had the honor of awakening you,” the ship’s computer answered. It was a hybrid brain — part computer, part hive — with the reigning bee queen at its heart.
The blue lights on the cryonics pods flashed and turned green, one at a time, and sleepy ursines emerged, fur rumpled and jaws wide with yawns. The elders woke first; Marga saved the rows and rows of cubs for last.
Some of the cubs were young enough they’d known nothing but Honey Feasts. Day after day of Honey Feasts, each one followed by a long nap, many light-years long, as the sleeper ship hurtled through the universe, bringing them all closer to their new home.
The cubs roared and scuffled and chased the busy bees while the older ursines laid silky sheets over the emptied cryonics pods, turning them into picnic tables. Worker bees carried dripping, golden chunks of honey comb through the air and set them on the tables. All the extra honey they’d made during their last five generations, carefully saved for this Honey Feast.
For the first fifty Honey Feasts, the supper tables had been filled with boisterous conversation, excited speculation, and so much planning. After a hundred or so — Marga had lost count — the adults mostly ate their nutrient-enriched honey in silence, except for the occasional, nearly ritual, exchange:
“The stars look different.”
“We haven’t flown far enough for them to be different; these are the same constellations we saw on Old Sholara.”
“Maybe it’s just the weight of experience, changing my eyes.”
“The cubs don’t appreciate what we’re doing for them.”
“They don’t remember the arachnoid wars.”
“Would you want them to?”
After all the bellies were full, maws and paws sticky, the ursines felt a restless stirring, but there was no way to spend the energy here. There was only time for bedtime stories for the cubs — half their lives had been bedtime stories — and the sense of relief when their boundless energy was again bottled in cryonics pods, cradled through the eons that passed on this ship of buzzing halls.
Marga was the last ursine awake, as always. She climbed into her cryonics pod, but before lying down, she said, “Tell me again, how many Honey Feasts to go?”
The amber and purple striped bees swarmed around her pod, working together to lift the hinged lid and close her in safely for her hibernation. Through their roaring buzz, Marga heard the computer-queen tell her the same thing she said every time, “It won’t be long now. Hush now, dear, and go to sleep.”
“Can you see New Sholara? Does it look bigger?” Marga asked the question too late, already sealed in her somnolent shell, but she dreamed of a yellow sun and a blue-green world, glittering with water and land, ready for cub paws to dance on its virgin dirt.