This ritual, known as supercedure, will not play out in every colony. The reasons for it are known only to the bees. By instinct they gauge the state of the colony, weighing its growth rate, health, stores and a thousand other factors. If the queen is well, if the colony is healthy and the growth is solid, the drama ends.
If the colony is stunted by disease, parasites, weather or other factors, the blame falls first on the queen. This vote of no confidence will be fatal to her, as the writing is in the wax. She has been measured and found wanting. The workers craft queen cups from the wax, oval balls that protrude from the cell face like a tiny hollow marble. Unlike the queen cells prepared for swarming these are high in the broodnest, safe and warm. The wax is smoothed, polished, worked over and over, until the queen approaches. She will lay a single fertilized egg in each queen cup and then the workers take over. They cling to them fiercely, vibrating their wings to keep the egg and larva that hatches soon warm. The larvae inside will eat a special diet of royal jelly, far more than the peasant sisters who raise them were fed. They are princesses, though fat, slick slimy princesses unlike any fairy tale.
Even as they act for the good of the colony the bees are also working for the good of the species. This mass creation is an act of genetic roulette. The current queen mated with up to ten drones so the probability is high that the princesses are half sisters. These different fathers have endowed their daughters with genes selected for quick birth. If the colony were preparing an emergency queen, she would hatch as soon as possible. The virgin queen who bursts from her cell first rests a moment. Then amid the buzz and the hum of the hive a sound enraptures her. It is a sound like the quack of a duck, the piping of another virgin. It awakens a royal bloodlust and she quickly searches out her rivals. To find them, she pips, a sound produced by vibrating against the wax. Instinct demands of the unhatched queens that they pip back, playing a deadly game of marco polo with their soon to be murderer. She rips into their cells from the side so that they are helpless, turning their wax beds into wax tombs. With the time of her birth the princess claims her queen right. With the blood of her sisters she seals it. The workers will drag their bodies from the hive and cast them aside.
She will rest in the darkness of the hive, hiding in the corners and the sides. She is torn between two instincts. One whispers that she is safest when she runs. The other drives her to pip from time to time to assure herself that she is alone. With the passage of a few more days her wings harden and her hairs stiffen. The sunlight that strikes the entrance of the hive is no longer so frightening. It beckons to her and she approaches the entrance. She takes ever widening flights, assuring herself that she can find her way back. Then she returns, waiting for the next urge to drive her on.
When it comes she leaves the hive. She is only twenty one days old. Other eggs laid at the same time as her will barely hatch today, on the day she changes her role forever. The other foragers are weeks older. She flies out with them, then leaves the forage paths to follow a map no other can see. It leads over the local Drone Congregation Area, where drones from all neighboring colonies have gathered to wait.
The virgin queen bears the combined sex drive of twenty thousand sisters, so on this flight she will mate with ten to fifteen drones before she touches the earth again. This isn't the head cheerleader dating the quarterback. This is the head cheeleader dating the entire football team. Like some b grade horror movie, when the homecoming queen returns, her suitors are dead. The same aparatus that forms a worker's stinger forms a drone's genitals. After mating he literally pulls them out of his body, and falls to the ground, a look of rapture on his tiny face.
She leaves the hive as princess. She returns as queen.
Safe again in the living city of wax, a new desire consumes her. It is a call her worker sisters can never hear, a command so strong and loud that it drowns all other instincts. She will not fight. She will not clean. She cannot even remember how to feed herself. She knows only to answer this new command, Lay. She does. She may lay unevenly at first, perhaps two eggs to a cell, but quickly she finds the ancient rhythm like the heartbeat of the hive. Around her a court of workers grows, dispersing her scent, her pheromone, her voice to the hive.
She may lay side by side with her mother or never encounter her on the wax plains. In time her "voice" will be so strong that she is the queen; the only queen. The old queen may be crushed by the workers. She may be thrust from the hive entrance to the night chill. She may simply be ignored, till she weakens and falls to the hive floor. Thrive is no kinder than Survive. Sister against sister, daughter against mother, for the good of the Colony it will be done.