Back in the day, Fat Fairy’s life was an unmitigated misery; at least during the episodes not involving jam sponge or double cheese pizza. She was surrounded by gaggles of thin, twinkly fairies who flitted and flounced through the air on gossamer wings, while her wings were more like the carapace of a large bug. Hence, she didn’t so much flit as lumber into the air in the manner of a VW Beetle being hand-winched upwards by a bunch of inebriated undergraduates. Fat Fairy had no friends and never got invited to star in pantomime, except as a joke when, quite often, she was also required to pretend to be a man in drag.
Then, at about half past seven on a Monday morning (Greenwich Meantime, naturally), a huge invisible energy net, formed of particles so exotic they hadn’t even been assigned their own letter of the Greek alphabet, swept around the world, gathering up large moving objects and scanning them as it went, as if they all had bar codes. It dropped most of them pretty quickly back where they came from – minus a bit of memory for the event – but Fat Fairy stayed trapped. It turned out she really did have a bar code of sorts which the net had locked onto, the way a male moth locks onto his mate’s pheromones although mercifully with not quite the same outcome. The net swished around several times, making Fat Fairy dizzy so that she curled into a ball, closed her eyes, and concentrated on holding onto her lunch. She had already stowed her wings safely and sealed them in, although she wasn’t sure how she came to think of doing that and really it felt rather peculiar.
Suddenly, everything began to shake, like a deep fat fryer draining chips. Then it turned upside down and Fat Fairy was dislodged from her position, dropping like a stone, down and down until she hit the ground. She stood up and looked about her. This was nowhere she recognised but she did notice that she was not alone: a gaggle of around a dozen or so similarly bemused fat fairies stood nearby, scratching their heads or their abdomens in bafflement. Fat Fairy was about to ask if this was some sort of bizarre audition call when a voice interrupted.
‘Welcome,’ it said, coming from everywhere and nowhere all at once. ‘Please locate the position of your bottom left rib and press it now.’
Nobody moved, beyond pulling WTF faces at each other and shrugging.
‘Come on, come on – we haven’t got all day.’ The voice seemed to boom this time, and was that lightning? Reluctantly, fat fingers fiddled with tight bodices and probed deep into soft flesh. Then, as each found the place and pressed down, a thumping, pumping sound arose, making everyone reach for their ears with their hands. This action released their stowed wings, which then expanded upwards and outwards with each thump, and caused everyone to lift off the ground ever so slightly.
The voice continued, ‘Your life cycle is designed to comprise three phases: the first larval, the second pupiform, and the third mature adult. You are about to be fast-tracked through phase two.’
There was a moment of silence, and then:
‘Larva? That’s grubs, right?’
‘Are you calling us maggots?’
‘Please, there is very little time,’ the voice rumbled on; edgy now, like a teacher who has had just about enough of Year Nine’s shenanigans. ‘Pupation normally takes some while – reabsorption, assimilation of old structures, construction of new ones and so forth – but, due to certain lapses of focus in your world’s primary species, we no longer have that luxury.’
Everyone fidgeted, what with the pumping, thumping sounds getting louder and making rational thought even more difficult. Very little time for what? Fat Fairy was almost hankering after getting her old life back. To be described as a grub was bad enough, but this fast-tracking pupa business didn’t sound at all attractive. A small contingent nearby seemed to be of a similar view, and was starting to mutter and rev up its wings until there was a whole new racket going on. Others though were exploring; taking in the drab grey rock, the black sky, and then themselves. One of them noticed she had acquired some new physical features: the fingers on her left hand had elongated and webbed together like a frog’s foot, while a suite of aerials had sprung up on her head, displacing the admittedly silly crown of flowers she had been wearing.
‘Hey,’ she hollered, ‘look at this!’ She raised her long, spindly hand and rattled her new talons over the criss-cross forehead array, which got everyone else checking their own bodies for new attributes. Some found they had lost feet and gained paddles; others had small satellite dishes where their ears had been. One fairy’s set of pumped up leathery wings suddenly hardened into steel and rows of tiny blue lights popped out from underneath.
‘Over the next while,’ said the voice, ‘all of you will undergo extreme metamorphosis –’
‘You will find modifications with which you will need to familiarise yourselves. You will not be identical; you are designed to be complementary and to operate as a team.’ There was a pause and a hint of a cough, ‘Hive communication may initially be a little confusing. Sorry.’
And so Fat Fairy and her companions were stowed in a range of brightly coloured pods lined up like beach huts on a psychedelic seafront while they grew and discovered in practical terms what metamorphosing meant – in between listening to thrash metal and downloading video clips of cats beating up dogs. Suddenly, after a time that might have been five minutes or five millennia, the pods split open and everyone fell out – some face forwards but others right onto their backsides with more appendages in the air than they’d started out with. There were new discoveries and new functions to try out; they hovered and hopped, zipped backwards instead of forwards, collided with each other, and fired off explosive darts and hooks unexpectedly until they got used to their new morphologies. Then they organised into competitive teams; hunting, netting, and corralling the herds of small chattering mechanoids that had suddenly appeared.
Soon they grew too big for the grey rock and moved out into the black sky. It was airless but not still – they rode the solar winds and swam with the currents of dark matter; diving and leaping, chasing each other in a ferment of discovery. Fat Fairy, sleek as an otter with an abundance of fuel stored over the years of not being Tinkerbell, hung silent as a bat while she listened to the hive and watched the group as it wheeled and soared as one. They were ready to go.
On her count, each one radiated a thin energy beam side to side, fore and aft, forming a vast net. They calibrated intercept velocities and trajectories. They adjusted tensile equivalents and inertias. They took up position.
Then the Fat Fairies swooped out into deep space to intercept an incoming ball of rock the size of Wales that no one had noticed (apart from a fourteen year old in Australia whose mother had finally locked his telescope in the garage to shut him up) due to being too preoccupied with parochial arguments about whose god was best in a punch up. The fourteen year old went on to become a moderately successful but inexplicably wistful accountant.