Author: Rick Tobin

“Don’t feel threatened, Melissa.” A squat, balding officer faced off a bewildered woman in a beekeeper’s outfit, shackled to an interrogation desk.

“Threatened? Your armed thugs dragged me inside for just crawling ten feet over your fence. What the hell…who the hell are you? This isn’t a USDA bee research lab.” She pulled back away from him as he leaned forward.

“Obvious, I’m sure, after we escorted you through our main laboratory. You saw what we wanted you to, enough to pique your curiosity.” He leaned back relaxed, hands locked behind his head.

“I know bees, mister…whatever your rank…”

“Captain, but just Brian is fine. We hoped you would track your missing swarms, wondering where they disappeared. I’m sorry we tricked you, but you’re dearly needed.”

“Needed? You’re kidding, after you arrest me like a common criminal!” Melissa surged forward to choke him, but shackles restrained her fury.

“That redhead spirit, too. Fits your profile folder.” Brian leaned forward, outside her reach. “Probably another reason Northern California beekeepers don’t like you, especially after your illegal breeding program using Alpine bumblebees smuggled from Tibet. Brilliant. Your successful combination of alleles produced a new species. That shock spurred our program to make bees thriving in limited atmospheres. You’re amazing.”

“I’m happy for you, creepo,” Melissa responded, slamming back in her steel chair. “Just what I need–my government spying on me. I mind my business. This is what I get?”

“Melissa, you propelled our program ten years. You deserve a medal, but there’s more to do for your…no, for your world. Bees are dying. You know that…even the bumblebees. Your mutants could turn that around, but we’re looking for even more. You saw the springbank clover in lab salt tanks. Surely, you wondered about that and the algae ponds. We also took you through the robotics center. You dragged your feet, taking a hard gander at electronic bees. No one sees those experiments unless they’re carefully screened. You are, dear lady, the most perfect candidate on Earth.”

“For what? Hey, if this is a sex-slave trafficking thing, forget it. I won’t put up with any shenanigans.” She bit her lip and then crossed her legs.

“You misunderstand. We need a tough, brilliant person to lead the next step. The algae fields are already growing in brine water from near the pools we identified. Our modified clover was planted by algae growths last spring. It’s taken off, but needs regular pollination to thrive. It’s a beginning. Now, we need a beekeeper for the next evolution to prepare our new home–someone with no family and only bees for companions.”

“What? I’m confused. Where is this all going down…in those salt marshes in the Delta, near Stockton?

“No. I’m afraid not. We’re asking you to volunteer as the pioneer with our new hives. They are part bee, but they don’t breathe oxygen. They survive on carbon dioxide. Our algae and clover are producing oxygen and nitrogen soils. But, we need our new insects to spread the growth. You could be critical for establishing a new home for all Earthers…as the first Terra-former.”

“No bee can live in carbon dioxide. Can’t happen. Terra-forming what?”

“You see, we merged your new bee’s DNA with a tardigrade, the only animal we know can survive freely in space. Took years, but now we have living specimens that can fly, pollinate, and build hives. That’s why you’re here, Melissa. You can be the first queen bee on Mars. Interested?”