Author : Pete Hayward

Wading through the long grass, her eyes and nose prickled by pollen, Erin could hear the thrum of helicopters in the distance. She knew they would soon catch her. As she approached the wire fence, she knew there was no escape; that she had lead them to her hideout.

Reaching the gate, she quickly turned the key and unhooked the padlock. She pushed the gate open and left it to swing behind her. She carried the padlock with her, the weight in her left hand some small comfort. Hideout, she thought to herself. Bunker, compound, whatever she called it, it was really just a wooden shed surrounded by a flimsy fence and some barbed wire. At least, that was all that was visible. She crossed the yard briskly, and pushed open the wooden door with a rusty whine into a dusty hallway.

Her stride unbroken, she dropped the padlock with a hefty clonk. She scooped up a brown paper package from a shelf to her left and continued to march. At the end of the hallway, a creaking wooden staircase led her underground. Above the soft foot-thumps of her sneakers on the steps, she could hear the rapidly approaching helicopters.

Reaching the bottom of the stairs, Erin tapped in her keycode to unlock the enormous steel doors there. As the mechanism clanked and swhooshed, she idly slid a fingernail under one of the folded corners of the paper-wrapped oblong she held in her hands.

How could she have been so careless?

Honey was big money on the black market. The bee trade was perhaps now the most illegal global market. It was certainly the most dangerous and expensive. Due to their near extinction some eighty years previous, and the threat this had posed to mankind, live bees had been replaced by tiny, sophisticated robots, for the sole purpose of pollenation. Private ownership of bees was criminalised, and, as the years turned into decades, honey and beeswax became the forbidden luxuries of the wildly decadent über-elite.

Erin allowed the paper wrapping to fall to the ground and stared at the waxy block in her hands. A comb like this would be worth seven grand. The cost of constructing and maintaining vast underground gardens in secret, and the expenses involved in smuggling produce and livestock, meant bee traders needed to mark their products up significantly to make anything like a profit. The sorts of people that bought honey didn’t care. The higher the price, the better; they were buying a golden spoonful of status.

Erin’s mother had been a canny trader, but one thing she had that Erin lacked was a deep and murky reservoir of paranoia. She reflected on this as the commotion of barked orders and heavy bootstomps filled the shack above her. Erin held the comb to her mouth and inhaled deeply. Her resolve momentarily strengthened, she tightened a fist around the waxy block, and entered the apiary.

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