It was the last honeybee, a sickly man-made clone descended from a tragically short line of sickly man-made clones. Its stunted wings were translucent and crisscrossed with veins. The blackish yellow fur on its thorax reminded me of the ducklings I saw at the zoo when I went with my mom.
This bee was the last attempt at bees. Scientists experimented with other technologies — pollination drones to preserve essential plants, nanotech cooling panels to decrease global warming, and time travel to fix the environment before it was destroyed. Bees became one extinct species among many.
After my mother died, my son and I cleaned out her kitchen. He was five, and bored. He dumped a box of alphabetized recipe cards onto the kitchen floor. The recipes were handwritten on oversized index cards, with pictures printed off the internet and stapled to each one. I’d asked her once why she didn’t print the recipes and she’d answered that food from a handwritten recipe tasted better.
“What’s this one?” my son asked. The card was yellow with age and had a smear of red on one corner where I’d grabbed it with jam-covered fingers.
“Almond raspberry thumbprint cookies.”
“Will Grandma make them for me?”
I couldn’t answer. Mom was gone, and the ingredients for her cookies no longer existed. Pollination drones had saved some foods, but neither almonds nor raspberries had survived. My inability to make the cookies drove home the realization that my mother was gone, so far beyond my reach that I couldn’t use her recipes. I stood in the kitchen, tears streaming down my cheeks.
“I’ll make them for you someday,” I told my son.
A honeybee fluttered its wings for the last time.
That memory was my test of whether our manipulations to the timeline worked. No matter what we did, within the strict rules of the Historical Compliance Committee, my memory was never altered. The bees died, the ecosystem collapsed, and there were no raspberries and almonds to make cookies for my son.
Our petition to perform Category 2 actions was denied. Non-essential plants weren’t important enough to offset the risk of major changes to the timeline. We had tried to save the honeybees, and we had failed. Others had tried to save the whales, or the butterflies, or the temperate rainforests. They too had failed. We would never fix the past. We would have to find another way.
My son came to visit on my sixty-fifth birthday, with his wife and their three kids. The kitchen smelled of almond cookies, baking in my oven, each one pressed with my thumb and filled with raspberry jam. The ingredients for the cookies were stolen from the past, raided from a San Francisco condo that would be destroyed an hour later in an earthquake. No one would miss jam and almonds amidst the rubble.
“Mom,” my son said sternly, “Did you have approval to get this stuff?”
“I was on an approved plant recovery mission.” Technically I was only approved for the potted blueberry bush on the balcony, but our HCC rep was known to look the other way in exchange for a good bottle of cabernet. Before my son could ask any more questions, I added, “besides, we have something very important to celebrate today. We got approval to bring animals forward. I will finally have my bees.”
He smiled. “That’s great, Mom. You’ve been working towards that for decades, and I’m glad you get to see it happen.”
I snorted. “I’m sixty-five, not ninety. Stop making it sound like I could die at any minute. I’m not going to see it happen, I’m going to make it happen.”
Our discussion distracted me from the cookies, and I pulled them out of the oven a couple minutes late. The grandkids liked them, but they were dry and crunchy, and my son refused to eat them because I hadn’t gotten permission for the almonds and the jam.
Stolen cookies didn’t count.
A honeybee fluttered its wings for the last time.
We never solved the problems of the past, but age and the passage of time have stolen the once-clear image. What remained was the memory of a memory. Vein-crossed wings that were an amalgam of my memory with the countless pictures I’ve looked at since. Soft fuzz the color of ducklings, but was the color in my mind the same color that I saw?
I traveled to the summer of 1993, to an abandoned field overgrown with grass and barley and wildflowers. I spotted a honeybee on a blue cornflower blossom, and had the foolish urge to try and catch it. That was how we’d collected plants — thousands of plants, but only a few from any given place and time. Bees were not like plants. We couldn’t take a random sample of bees and hope to make a hive.
At the edge of the field were stacks of rainbow-colored wooden boxes. Hives. I unloaded my pack, lit my smoker, and pulled five empty frames from my collection box. When everything was ready, I flooded the hive with smoke. I took three brood frames, their wax cells filled with eggs and larva tended by nurse bees. I took two frames of honey, too, so the hive wouldn’t starve when I brought it forward. I replaced all five frames with empty ones, and reassembled the hive.
I brought my stolen bees to the lab and set the collection box at the edge of our reconstructed garden. For a moment, nothing stirred. I worried that bringing the bees forward in time had damaged them. A single bee emerged from the corner of my collection box. Dazed from the smoke, the bee crawled across the surface of the box, from one corner to the other. Then, in a future built from stolen pieces of the past, a wondrous thing happened.
A honeybee fluttered its wings.
Caroline M. Yoachim lives in Seattle and loves cold cloudy weather. She is the author of over two dozen short stories, appearing in Lightspeed, Asimov’s, and Clarkesworld, among other places. For more about Caroline, check out her website at http://carolineyoachim.com
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