I missed the bees the most when we went on lock down. Oh, they weren’t real bees, of course. The elders forbid those because no one could survive their stings. Good thing they weren’t usually able to fly to our altitude. Occasionally we’d hear a tale of a child in some obscure sector who dangled a lure off the airship. When he reeled it in, he got the shock of his life, literally, as in anaphylactic shock. Mother said those were only urban legends though.
Our bees were carefully designed robots whose sole purpose was to pollinate the hydroponic flowers grown in the elite sector seven. I lived in neighboring sector six, not nearly so elite nor as pretty but we were fortunate enough to capture the wonky bee for the occasional entertainment. They were kind of cute but annoying after a while because they buzzed nonstop. The Code required us to surrender any rogue bees within forty-eight hours but we found it easier to simply stomp them and toss them overboard. The robotics shop in sector five needed the work. We did what we could to help them out, Code be damned.
I found one outside my cabin one day and at first thought it a new model. The colors were all wrong and it was much larger than the ones sector five usually cranked out. Space here was a luxury. Small was prized; large was cursed. This applied to robots, machinery, food and people. If a woman weighed more than fifty kilos or a man more than seventy-five kilos, they’d be thrown in the brig and “downsized” then put on reduced rations for the next six months.
The bee I caught was at least fifty percent larger than normal. I ran in my cabin and found a small box with which to capture it. Sluggish and flightless, it didn’t resist me, not unusual since they’d programmed the bees to return to the hive with three short blasts of a whistle. I sealed the top with a thin sheet of clear plexiglass then knocked on Melita’s door.
“Ruey, what’s up, girl? It’s kind of early ain’t it?”
“I caught a bee only it must be a new model or something. Look.”
Melita rolled her eyes but leaned over to look inside the small box I held. Two parallel grooves chiseled themselves in her forehead. “That don’t look like no bee I’ve ever seen. Look how big it is.”
“I know! Must be a new model or something. Maybe they need fewer of them if they’re larger?” I shook the box and the bee inside buzzed in response. “Hmm, that’s odd. Did you hear that noise it made?”
Melita perched her hands on her hips. “It buzzed. It’s what they’re programmed to do.”
“Yeah, but this one wasn’t buzzing when I caught it. Now it is.”
“You must have jiggled the gears when you shook it then.” She leaned in closer to have another look. The bee flew up and into the plexiglass cover. Melita jumped back with a gasp. It rammed the lid in silence then repeated, buzzing after each collision.
“See? Don’t you think that’s weird? Can I borrow your tweezers? I want to have a closer look.”
With a sigh, Melita turned and retrieved the tool I needed. “Maybe you should just turn it over to the Enforcers and let them deal with it, Ruey. If it’s a new model they’re testing out, they might come looking for it.”
Tweezers in hand, my attention on the bee, I shook my head. “Let’s see what makes you tick, little guy.”
I seized the bee by its back leg and withdrew it for a closer look then caught my breath. “It shouldn’t have a stinger should it?” My hand began to tremble. Melita’s face grew ashen.
“No. Why would it need one? Do you think it’s a real bee?” She backed up a few steps.
Wide-eyed, I shrugged. “I don’t see how one could get up this high. That’s what they always told us.”
The bee twitched and buzzed and wiggled free of my tweezers. Melita screamed and ran inside her cabin. The bee followed her.
She slammed the door before I could get any more words out. I tried to open it but she’d locked it. “Melita! The bee! It followed–”
Melita’s terrified shriek cut me off. I heard her yelling, “Get away! Get away!” Her screams pitched to blood-curdling.
“Melita! Open the door!”
I could hear her panicked footfall inside her small cabin and a whooshing sound. Another shriek attracted two Enforcers who eyed me suspiciously before pounding on her door.
“It’s a bee. A real bee. Trapped inside…”
The Enforcer with blond hair pulled out a whistle and blew four times. A loud thud came the answering response as he found a master key and unlocked the door.
Inside Melita lay crumpled in a heap on the floor, her face and arms ballooned to twice their normal size. The other Enforcer withdrew from his rucksack a small mesh cage. He slipped on a pair of heavy gloves then pushed past his fellow officer.
A whistle between his lips, he blew one long blast followed by two short ones. The bee buzzed in response then flew inside the mesh cage. He turned to his companion and said, “Go tell Captain we can lift the lock down. The prototype has been secured. I’ll take care of wrapping up the experiment.”
I gaped at the emotionless face of the man holding the bee cage as the blond man trotted off. “Prototype? Experiment? What the–”
“You will come with me. I have something I need to show you.” He snapped a pair of restraints around my wrists before I could even register his actions. He shoved me inside Melita’s cabin, shutting and locking the door behind him.
“But, but Melita…” That was all I got out before I felt a sting on my neck.
The man held the now empty mesh cage in front of my face and grinned as he shook it, whistle in his mouth. He blew once then two more times in quick succession.