Queen Bee

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?”

For the Common Good

Author: Rick Tobin

Officer Timothy Jeffreys flicked a puffy, trembling hand over his holstered pistol, while staring into and then away from Edward Andrews’ glare. Timothy had rookie bloating from devouring Sheriff’s station sweets. Donut dust still mingled with dripping sweat on his emerging, scraggly mustache. In contrast, Andrews was a generation older, still favoring full black hair while looming a head above his unwanted visitor and his companion, a squirrel-faced public health manager squeezing his lips tight like a beaver preparing to gnaw tough timber.

“Tim, you bring this medical misfit into my home by force, without a warrant, and threaten us if we don’t submit to an untested vaccine that is probably dangerous?” Andrews held his hands on his hips in an aggressive pose toward his trespassers.

“Look,” Jeffreys replied, meekly. “Mr. Andrews, I have to enforce this order from the Governor, for the common good. This outbreak is serious business.”

Andrews drew back, relaxing his hands, his frown melting into calm.

“You’ve invaded my privacy with this incompetent fraud, under my roof–someone who barely graduated medical school and was licensed because of his influential father.” Andrews paused as the medical officer’s face reddened. “You’ve ignored all the gifts we gave your community, for your good. Would your grandmother be alive today without the herbal remedies we gave your mother, without cost or question? Would your dog be hunting today without our aid? Remember the children we treated when this plague started, when this poisoner’s pills failed after he foisted them on local physicians? Meanwhile, this fakir took pharma kickbacks to build his slush fund in Ecuador.” Andrews pointed his finger into the troll-like official’s growing bluster.

“Arrest them all, officer,” demanded the official. “Drag them out in handcuffs if you have to. I’ll vaccinate them outside.”

“That won’t be necessary, Tim,” Andrews interrupted. “We’ve watched over your race for eons, hoping the release of technology and medicine would help you evolve, but you have disappointed, once again.”

“You what?” Tim blurted, as the health officer hid behind him, waiting for a scuffle.

“We watch. That is what we do. However, when your kind turns away from our gifts, and against us, though we stay distant, outside your towns and cities…then we withdraw…withdraw all.”

“Look, Mr. Andrews, I hate to do this, but you gave me no choice.” Tim pulled black zip ties from the back of his belt and moved towards Andrews’ hands, but not fast enough. His target hopped backward. Andrews raised his hands as his eyes glowed golden.

“We will return again, in time, to bring such wonders as might have protected your race in times of disease and disruption, but for now, all is recalled.” Andrews circled his hands, producing a pulse rolling through all matter around him in waves, rippling flesh of his attackers, the floor and walls of the house and beyond, through everything across the horizon. The county health officer’s mouth opened, without sound, as his body began to fade out of sight.

“What is happening?” Tim asked, in shock.

“Your gifts are reclaimed by those who watch. All is renewed on the timeline. That dark soul secretly took our compounds, while prohibiting it from others. He did not survive, just as your mother, grandmother, dog and so many others who are now adjusted. Unfortunately, your mother secretly put the compounds in your sandwiches, without you knowing. Goodbye, Tim.”

With that, Timothy Jeffreys noiselessly vaporized.

“And so it is, dear Tim,” Andrews whispered. “We must protect the common good.”

Final Rest

Author: Rick Tobin

“Would you finish the ceremonies, please?” The Prime, the sanctuary’s leader in white robes with gold armbands, stood over the clear casing where the body of an honored captain lay in state, waiting for family and friends to attend.

“Yes, thank you for this tribute opportunity,” the assistant responded, proceeding to read standard litany, as his master licked his tongues across the corpse’s imperceptible containment:

Sky onward, dark or light, though
I cast the shadow of my way
Let all who touch this hallowed space
Renew all memories of my place
That I spared not my regard
To travel far
Anew
To open pathways for my race

“Have any arrived yet to touch his crystal?” asked the Prime. His assistant searched a monitor behind the preservation casings for news.

“None, sir,” he replied. Full red robes draped over the attention prelate, slightly drifting over dark stone floors. Endless rows of embalmed pilots stretched beyond the cave’s light, miles beyond to other caverns.

“I have savored in his travels, by licking his casing. How wonderful to have genetic memories transmitted simply through taste. What marvel to know his life and its burdens, successes, and wonders. May the tongue always know the tale.”

“May the tongue always know the tale,” repeated the prelate.

A shudder struck the cave walls for a moment.

“We were safe here, once,” the Prime stated, coldly. “And yet they come again, drilling down into this deep sanctuary. For millions of years, we promised those who traveled and explored space’s farthest regions this blue oasis for eternal memory and blessed rest. We have hidden away in such inaccessible corners, beneath this world’s most inhospitable lands of desert, snow, jungle…and far underneath the deepest surfaces of sea and rock. Still, these intruders come, to defile sanctified places for our dead.”

“Can we preserve our beloved wanderers?”

“Yes,” the Prime replied. “We have interfered far too long by stabilizing this planet’s atmosphere while diverting enormous numbers of rocky intruders from this solar system as these hairy beings evolved. No more. We have tried to sit with their leaders…tried to warn them away by establishing our mausoleums in dreadful locations, too dangerous for their travel, so our resting places became feared as evil and haunted. These two-legged ones have no respect for consecrated ground…not even their own.”

“Then we must move from this promised place?”

“No, the changes will come soon. The Council has withdrawn its protective fields. After the planet’s surface renews we will continue our work without interruption.”

“And the furry ones’ space voyagers? No use for a place here to honor their brave travelers when their species is gone?”

“That opportunity has long passed. The Russians considered our offer once but withdrew, but the others…they are not ready for such admiration. They deny we exist. They deny we visit or have worked diligently to prevent harmful impacts on their genetic growth, withholding our advanced influence. In due course, we must return that favor of apartheid by ignoring their existence. Now, let us go to our latest arrival and lick to her memory of glory.”

The two ancient Earth beings slid slowly to a newly opened section of the cavern beneath Mount Shasta as the previous pilot’s family circled through California airspace, waiting to penetrate the primordial volcano’s landing-bay entrance.

Portmanteau

Author: Rick Tobin

Sanders’ trembling hand hovered over an ejection hatch separating him from interstellar vacuum. He paused, chest heaving, fighting his ending as if a stealthy gorilla was reaching through cage bars, catching him staring too closely.

“Always heard suicides happened on port side. I thought docs didn’t go for that–some oath thing.”

Sanders pulled back swiftly from a woman’s voice. He was the only surviving crew member. Evil spread through air ducts–a chimera virus destroying internal organs of a starship’s complement. He hid inside a secure drug bunker after angry victims turned against him for failing to stop their carnage. Sanders, a cursed shaman, represented false medical gods withholding salvation.

“Disease–it’s consuming me. I’m the last. Hallucinations are a final punishment.”

April Davers kicked his shin hard enough to wind Sanders. His right hand struck the wall, nearly activating the operation switch. April pushed him away to prevent their expulsion.

“Real enough, idiot! You think you could save them? This crap spread everywhere in our solar system, from inside Mercury to minefields on Pluto. It’s a wonder we got outside the Oort before it hit. Ever wonder who carried it past security? Secret credits brought rich losers escaping onboard. Lucky me, I have value. I maintain ventilation systems. That’s where I hid while mobs tore themselves apart. I watched friends get shredded by stragglers. Where were you, Doc?”

“After attacks in sick bay, I hunkered down in a storage cavity just for emergency medical supplies–bolted from inside. When screams quit, bulkhead pounding stopped, I came out to their remains. God, how I failed them!” He paused to collect himself. “Just two of us immune? Ironic–you twenty something and I’m dried up. Pointless me staying. We’d have a few years to chat and then you’d have to toss me out this chute.” His head drooped. There was no joy meeting another survivor. They might still succumb to the ‘Blood Beast,’ as it was christened on Jupiter.

“Hold on, gray head. You still have some miles. Two women on deck five made it. You’re the only man. You’ll have to do.” April pressed her hand against Sander’s bicep, raising her eyebrows in surprise, finding he was fit for an oldster.

“According to your name tag, April, that shaggy red hair might contain a volcano under your jumpsuit, but I’m spent. Hell, I’ve got shoes older than you. Besides, I’m a throwback about morals. I’m not about to play out Lot and his daughters with you three. We had over twelve hundred onboard, ensuring a healthy variety of gene matches during this voyage. If we make Proxima Centauri b, with just us four procreating, this ship would land with inbred drooling imbeciles.”

“Maybe. You’re the science whiz. What about that freezer with frozen sperm and eggs for restarting, in case of crew irradiation? You could use those, right? They’re virus free.”

“Huh. A smarty. Long shot, but the others?” He thought about the chances of artificial fertilization saving humanity. Might work. The ship’s automated tutors could train new crews for generations.

“We talked it over, but we needed a man. You’ve still got some skills.” She looked down at his crotch while pushing a sneer. “Even if your plumbing is rusty. Give it a try for NJ-1. You ever wonder about the ship’s name?”

“No. Maybe for New Jersey…the one on Earth and on Mars. Why?”

“Figures. You being a faith guy and still missed it. This is the Promised Land, pal: New Jerusalem. Time to go wander in the wilderness.” April pulled him toward the cryolab.

Root Cause

Author: Rick Tobin

Pressing slick walls within Perri’s briefing center opened gigantic multi-verse mapping systems across a great briefing hall aboard Haven’s interstellar spacecraft. The Order’s enclosure pulsated with its anthem, rising to crescendos oscillating beneath gathered crews’ blue slippers. White-robed acolytes raised covered heads to view Perri’s guidance for their next voyage.

“We will traverse Channel Aluhayo near Braxis Egua. It is tricky, but our passenger has little time. It is the essence of our charge to bring each seeker to final rest. We must submit ourselves to any challenge to support their trust in Haven.”

“May Haven await us all,” a confirmation returned in one voice from the Order, resting in their robes upon red floor cushions.

“With our pilot’s blessing, may we bring this being to ultimate contentment and joy. Mahuya Ho.”

“Mahuya Ho,” echoed the audience, just before standing and leaving for assigned posts. One remained to address Perri privately.

“You are Jardin Co, are you not?” Perri asked, surprised at an unscheduled conversation.

“Yes, Father, I have that honor of my House.” Jardin Co bowed in respect before speaking.

“Proceed.” Perri waved one of his many arms indicating consent.

“May Haven find us all, dear Father…but I have concerns about repercussions for returning Crax to Haven when its planet’s government warned us away. If Crax is a terrorist, do we risk initiating a conflict on this world? Does that create an imbalance in our core belief in Haven?”

“Your youth speaks loudly, Jardin Co. Let me explain.” Perri displayed no facial indications of anger or retribution. His golden robes continued to glisten under lights above the dais where he stood elevated over Jardin Co.

“I did not mean to offend,” Jardin Co replied, flustered.

“It’s a fair question for one new to our Order. Let my experience provide evidence that we are honorable in our cause. Every being has an inherent right to pass to their judgment while in the Haven of their home world– to touch their native soil, drink liquids of their home and dine on foods that return memories of youth long forgotten. Their passing, through our provision, prepares them for the greater journey beyond. It is our deepest calling to bring them to Haven.”

“But threats of war…the balance of our creed?” Jardin Co stared down as he dared question.

“Surprising… such considerations from youth. But, you have asked, and we maintain that all your questions be addressed. Crax is near death, posing no threat to this colony. War has been their way for millennia. Its presence will not change their ill-tempered breed. Our only focus is for a creature’s soul to journey peacefully beyond. We offer a bridge, no matter a species history, to their origination before ending life’s moments. Nothing is more frightening than taking one’s first step from the physical world while exploring voids of space, away from one’s like species and familiar surroundings. The Order has existed beyond time to serve all requests to seek Haven when nearing transition, especially for those at untold distances from their roots. Haven means something to them all, no matter their faults or glory, so we submit to this quest, regardless of threats from those who misunderstand this primal derivation of existence.”

“Have I acted poorly in my concern, Father?”

“No, Jardin Co. All who serve Haven are free to know by asking…and blessed to serve in trust. Our only continuance price is a client offering one offspring to our order. Your previous father’s house honored us with you. You will now serve honorably with the issue of Crax.”