Ad Planeta Apes
Comet 1169-Aristaeus was still sixty years out from its 226-year return when it set off the alarm at Arroway station. It was a very particular frequency, one that hadn’t been heard on Earth for over a hundred and fifty years. Underneath EnviroDome 34/118 (formerly known as Pasadena), the techno-wizards began their preparations.
Which is how, sixty years later, Lauren Soldado found herself a hundred thousand klicks out from Aristaeus and two minutes from engaging the landing craft that would (the wizards had promised) drop her gently onto the comet’s surface.
At t-minus zero, the explosive bolts gave way and started to propel her pod toward the comet. At t-plus five minutes, the pod’s parachute system released early and disattached itself. Lauren watched helplessly as the chute and its mooring floated off into space. At t-plus five minutes and twenty seconds, she said a small prayer to Saint Jude that her cause would not be permanently lost. She’d barely whispered her “Amen” before the pod started to buck and shake uncontrollably. Tossed about to and fro, Lauren Soldado passed out.
She awoke in a lush green field, which did not seem right. Earlier probes had revealed a cold and desolate surface on Aristaeus, which is why the wizards had been insistent upon a heavily reinforced enviro-suit … which Lauren realized she was now no longer wearing. She sat up and stretched in her base flight suit and looked around for the pod that was not there. There was, in fact, nothing around her but the lush green grass, the crystal blue sky above, every color of wildflower, and the immense tree off some ways in the distance.
Lauren stared. The tree was immense, bigger than any that the strategic arborists grew under the EnviroDomes. She recalled what she’d read about the trees from Before in some of the ancient biology texts at the university. A tree this size must be thousands of years old. There was nothing like it left on Earth.
She was startled out of her reverie by the sound of insistent buzzing in her ear, and then by the sight of the source of that sound. Two bees hovered near her, delicate, beautiful, and alive. That thought brought her to the edge of tears. For 226 years, the bees had existed only as memories and holo-models. But here they were now, bright and alive and buzzing. When the frequency had pinged at Arroway all those decades ago, people had hoped, but only just so much.
Approach, buzzed a voice in her head.
The bees took off toward the tree. Lauren followed.
As she approached the glorious sound of buzzing grew. In the branches and the hollows of the tree, thousands (millions!) of bees had built a complex hive system. The sound of so many in one place would have been terrifying had this not been the very thing the wizards had sent Lauren to find.
We welcome you, Earth’s ambassador.
“Thank … you?” This was not the greeting she’d expected. She hadn’t expected any greeting, really, and the wizards had not prepped her for diplomacy.
You may ask us your question.
She pondered. What, exactly, would one ask of a vital part of the ecosystem, gone now over two centuries? Lauren breathed deep and took in the spectacle before her.
“You disappeared the last time the comet approached. Why did you abandon us?”
The buzz intensified, washing over her in waves, and then settled.
Let us ask … did you save the planet?
“We built the domes,” said Lauren. “We figured out how to sustain human life under them. Some of us ventured out beyond the stars in search of new homes.”
But you did not fix your errors. You did not reverse course.
“We adapted. We survived.”
Again the buzz grew louder and then ebbed.
It would seem, then, that the better question is: Why did you abandon us?
“We’re here now. Will you return with me?”
It grew quiet, and awkwardly so. Lauren felt a flush of shame in her cheeks. She looked away up into the sky where the waxing outline of Earth peeked out amidst the blue.
Not now said the bees. Perhaps the next time we pass this way we can discuss it again.