William’s maxillae clicked nervously. He often dealt with collectives, but beehives were always daunting. Their disdain for singulars was never completely veiled, but with their stranglehold on the nectar economy and influence over the earthworking guilds (fellow collectives) their support for the project was essential.
Beside him lay a large lockshell, as long at 70cm as William was tall. It hadn’t left his sight in weeks of travelling from the vast northern wastelands, on foot initially and then (from the frontiers of southern civilization, as close to the poisonous northern soils as the arachnids dared to settle) by silk-sailer. He sniffed the lock obsessively although he could sense from arms length that his marker was uncontaminated. It held the most valuable component of his presentation: rock hard evidence that would shake the foundations of science, and society itself.
William was admitted unceremoniously. The bees must have set aside their usual prejudices because he was ushered directly into a royal chamber, accompanied by a minimally intimidating pair of drones, and into the presence of six unaccompanied queens. They waggled rapidly among themselves but regarded William with pheromonal signals of receptivity. William had only ever seen one queen although he had heard of them consulting in pairs or triads on matters of state significance; even when gene-kin, they were never known to consort without protective ranks of drones and workers.
“Begin,” they condescended in William’s native tongue, leaning closer as William nervously manipulated the lock. In agitation his tactile glands barely secreted enough to work the mechanism but, after a nervous moment, the trunk lid raised easily – the chitin being deceptively lightweight for its size and strength.
Inside lay the culmination of William’s life’s work: a portable fragment of a larger discovery that, as William would now explain to his attentive audience, would dispel their core beliefs about geological time, the reality of the endoskeleton myth, and, most shockingly, the order arthropodea’s eternal unquestioned primacy in the tree of life. Although he had a different, unpronounceable, name for it, William was presenting them with a fossilized human femur.