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Queen Bea

by Elissa Dawson 11 months ago in Short Story

After the pollinators

Bea stopped on the sand coloured path and watched the tiny bee as it crawled inside the passionflower. The heat of the midday sun was bearing down through the glass above and, at the sides of her vision, Bea could sense the humming wonder of rainforest life all around her. Intuitively, she raised her hand to her throat, finding with her thumb, the smooth silver underside of the heart locket that lay there. As if summoned, the familiar wave of nausea swept over her. How little they had appreciated the miracle of those little creatures until it was too late. She closed her eyes, drew a deep breath and exhaled heavily as she walked on.

It happened so slowly at first that nobody really noticed it. In their ignorance, humans actually enjoyed their last few summers with the pollinators. In every park and garden, lunches went unspoiled, drinks were undisturbed and the same phrase reverberated, ‘There aren’t many bees and wasps around this year – isn’t it great!’

The stories in the press became more commonplace; beekeepers reporting higher numbers of Colony Collapse Disorder than ever before and farmers warning of their worst ever harvests. The scientific community made appeals for action, but governments and the people muted them, not ready to believe. Bea was aware of the conversations buzzing around her, but was soothed all too easily when her teachers told her they had time to reverse it and she didn’t need to worry. Bea found it hard not to when the bodies started to show up.

Weakened by years of industrial pesticide use, the pollinators lacked the strength, numbers or resilience to fight when mysterious parasites began to overcome them. Dead and dying insects were found littering every street and garden, little black snowdrops scattered across the ground. Food exports and international travel facilitated the quick and deadly spread of the parasite across the globe and news stories in every language reported the new and terrifying phenomenon.

At home, Bea had watched her parent’s dismay as the supermarket shelves began to empty. Apples, melons and cherries all disappeared and never came back. Everyone complained but they thought it was temporary. More fruit and veg followed and beef and dairy went next, the cows starving with too little food to sustain them. Bea’s parents, alongside most, hoarded tins of fruit, jars of coffee and long-life milk. The government encouraged a programme of hand-pollination, but most people lacked the knowledge, space or skill to gain any meaningful results. Once the supermarkets were dry, the rioting swept from the city centres to the suburbs and people found anything they had tried to grow or save stolen from beneath them. Depraved and driven to the edge by hunger, people were literally killing each other for food. Pretty soon it became a commodity, only for the super rich. The last fresh cucumber sold for over $3 million. Bea’s parents woke her one night and they fled to her Aunt’s farm in the Cornish countryside.

From the temporary safety of the farm, they watched the TV in horror as unspeakable events took place. Cities crumbled and rumours of cannibalism were rife. All the while, the land rotted, decayed. Meadows turned barren and there was widespread desertification. People who had laughed at the demise of the bees, jeering, ‘Good riddance!’ were now pictured on TV, pallid and begging on the street.

So the old World fell and a new order took hold. Now, a semblance of normality only exists in sterile labs and experimental facilities. Like this one. The Eden Project.

The project was, for over 20 years, pitched publically as an English visitor attraction and experiment on how we could create a better future. The site was also used as a base for monitoring climate change and bee populations worldwide. But the site concealed another, more secretive use. A protective underground hive, a world within a bubble should the outside one fail, equipped with everything needed to sustain life for five hundred people.

Bea and her Aunt were the ‘lucky ones’. Selected due to her Aunt’s scientific background and rare-breeding record on the farm, they were visited by officials one evening and issued with two lockets. Secret passes containing microchips, which would allow her Aunt and one relative to enter the project. They were meant to save humanity by locking themselves away and trying to preserve the plants and pollinators that were left. After hours of furtive conversations between her parents and her Aunt and bouts of sobbing from her Mother, Bea screamed as they forced her into the armoured vehicle, slamming her hands against the glass as they drove her away. She was just fourteen.

When they first arrived, the Eden project had felt like a prison to Bea. Appearances to begin with were normal. A slightly offish, professional atmosphere prevailed. Bea was given quarters to live in and manual work to keep her busy and allow her to ‘earn her keep’. They had free reign of both biomes, as well as the communal areas of the underground ‘hive’. But then the attacks from outside started. The starving, desperate to enter, began to flock from miles around, overwhelming the security posted outside. Soldiers were drafted in. The day a mob attacked the Mediterranean biome, smashing the glass and destroying a multitude of remaining life, they retreated to the Rainforest side, sealing the link tunnel between the two and building an inner wall of reinforcement.

That was when Dr Herrero started to exert his control. The lead scientist on site, he convinced everyone who mattered that if they continued to broadcast information, they were only giving away their location and making themselves more vulnerable. There had been no contact with the outside World for eighteen months now. There were no police inside the Eden project, no judges, only the guards reporting to Dr Herrero. For anyone causing trouble, or speaking out against him, the consequences were swift and severe. For those who were with him, anything was allowed. Bea’s Aunt had challenged his more controversial experiments and she hadn’t seen her since.

Bea paused again on the path and stroked her stomach absentmindedly. Her anonymity had vanished when Dr Herrero sat down next to her in the common room on her sixteenth birthday. The hustle and bustle of the room silenced as anyone sitting around her at the time hurriedly scarpered.

‘Sweet Bea!’ he exclaimed, draping his arm around her, ‘Do you know what is at the very heart of every hive?’ Bea suppressed a shudder, but he continued. ‘It’s the queen bee. She is the most important creature of all, with the greatest purpose. Without her, there would be no future for life in any form. She serves as the giver of life and the continuator of her species.’ He lifted his hand to Bea’s chin and turned her face to meet his own. ‘You have a great purpose you know. You are one of our Queen Bees. It will be your job to repopulate our Eden and ensure the continuation of humanity. What a great destiny you have.’

He stood abruptly and made to leave, turning only to add, ‘It’s a huge honour you know, not everybody gets to save the human race.’

After that, Bea was expected to report to the labs weekly. She was not alone in her visits and she found a good friend in Jenna, a girl of seventeen who was already heavily pregnant. They were subjected to new procedures every week; made to be injected, scanned, poked and prodded. Some sessions hurt more than others. One day, Jenna whispered to her in the waiting room that she was going to get out of there, Bea just nodded and smiled. There was no ‘out there’ to escape to.

Bea was startled back from her reflections by the loud wuppa wuppa noise of a helicopter overhead. She crouched instinctively as a claxon began to sound and an announcement advised everyone to move underground and stay away from the outer walls. Crawling on her hands and knees, Bea made her way towards the stairwell. She saw Jenna hiding in the undergrowth and jumped underneath to join her as several guards ran past.

‘We have to move.’ Bea whispered, but then felt a cramp in her stomach and froze. They overheard the full exchange of the loudhailers.

‘What do you want?’ shouted Dr Herrero angrily into the microphone.

‘We’re friends! We bring good news from Norway!’ proclaimed the visitors in broken English, ‘Life is returning there!’

‘Liars! If we let you in, you’ll steal everything we have and jeopardise everything we’ve done here!’

‘It’s true! We have evidence. We’re here to show you.’

Much whispering between the Scientists ensued and eventually, the airlock was opened. Once inside, the Norwegians smiled and held up a briefcase to Dr Herrero. They were hurried away out of sight.

Two weeks later, there had been no further sightings of the Norwegians. Bea and Jenna were sat in the waiting room, dreading their weekly regime.

‘They’re saying he’s killed them you know,’ Jenna whispered, eyeing the door, ‘He makes these big speeches about us being the future of the world and everyone being here by choice. He tells us the outside world is dead, but those guys, the Norwegians said it’s coming back. Now they’ve vanished.’

‘Ssh!’ hushed Bea.

‘I think it’s true. The incinerator’s been running overtime. They were trying to liberate us, so Dr Herrero eliminated them.’

‘Bea!’ the shrill voice of Dr Vine called from the next room. She hurried through to her appointment. Half way through, Dr Herrero appeared.

‘How are we getting on Bea?’ he questioned, peering over her notes, ‘Ah, good progress I see! Great! We’ll need to think about how we extract this little one when the time’s right and the team that will look after him or her.’

‘The team?’ Bea’s brow furrowed.

‘Yes! We are talking about the future of humanity, we can’t be too careful.’

‘But I thought I’d...’ Bea trailed off, nausea rising.

‘No,’ he smiled.

That night Bea lay staring at the ceiling, her blood cold. What if Jenna was right and there was life outside again? If there was even a small chance...

At first light, she rose quickly and made her way to the tunnel that used to connect their biome with the Mediterranean one. It had long been sealed, with huge boards and furniture stacked up against it. She carefully peeled them away until she reached the door, then checking behind her, lifted a chair and smashed through it.

‘Bea!’ a voice called out to her right. It was Jenna.

‘Come, help me.’ Bea cried urgently. Together, they worked to clear a path through to the end of the tunnel until only a thin barrier remained.

‘Ready?’ Bea asked. Jenna nodded.

They reached forward together to topple the last bit of hoarding.

‘Stop!’ boomed the voice of Dr Herrero behind them, ‘Have you lost your minds? What are you doing?’

‘Life is coming back, we know it!’ cried Bea, defiantly.

‘Ah, there’s nothing but death and decay!’ he insisted, edging towards her. He grabbed at her wrist, sinking his fingers in and pulling her towards him. Bea screamed and tried to pull away, but he squeezed tighter, wrapping his other arm around her neck.

Bea, struggling for breath wheezed, ‘Stop! I can’t...’

Dr Herrero loosened his grip suddenly. She looked at him, puzzled. He dropped to the floor. Jenna was stood behind him with a plank of wood.

Shaking, Bea turned back to the hoarding and slowly pulled it down. They blinked at the morning sun and took in the magnificence of the plants sprouting through across the vast Mediterranean terrain. Life had recovered after all. Bea opened the door and took a step out into the glorious sun. A bee bumbled past them.

Short Story

About the author

Elissa Dawson

UK based writer and avid reader who aspires to create work that is both beautiful and meaningful.

Sustainability advocate and green ally.

I am working on a children’s novel.

Find me on Twitter: @WriterElissa

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