It was a delicate operation, critical to the success of the overall mission. I don’t think you quite grasp just how important it was — how important they were.
Take a deep breath. Smell that? The clean air with just a hint of rich dirt. The flowers, some sweet, some tangy, some with no words yet to describe them. The young trees, just beginning to take root, and the fields of crops. We owe that all to the bees.
The terraformation of Mars was nearly a failure, you know. They teach you that in school, don’t they? Good. You should understand how close you came to not being here, and not take it for granted.
We had the soil. Tons upon tons upon tons of the stuff, all pulverized asteroids. Mixed that in with the native Martian dirt. Crashed a few more into the surface to get water vapor into the atmosphere and thicken the air. All worked according to plan.
Then the seeds, genetically modified — we hoped — to grow in this new environment. Scattered tons of them with drones and planes. Then waited. A few took, but not many, and they died quick. Tried again. The third time — well, it looked like we might all be going home, back to Earth, or living inside our prefab huts and eating greenhouse food for the rest of our lives.
None of us wanted that.
Then your great-grandfather spoke up. Always with the crazy ideas, beyond left field. He said, “We should invite the bees.” He read it in a book. A real book, one he paid extra to have shipped from Earth. An old one full of old stories. And in that story he read, these colonists had sailed from Greece to some island out in the Mediterranean, but none of their crops would grow. So they went to this grove of old oak trees that were filled, just filled, with bee hives. And they said hi to the bees, introduced themselves, gave the bees some wine and fruit and said can we be friends? If you make our crops grow, we’ll protect your hives from bears and birds and whatever else might cause harm. And the bees agreed and after that the crops thrived and the colony prospered.
Lots of people thought that was a crazy idea. But not your great-grandfather. Well, he was stubborn. And charming. Eventually, he convinced enough of the right people, and he got on a ship and headed back to Earth.
I didn’t see him again for two years. Gave birth to your grandmother without him here to hold my hand.
But when he came back …. oh, you should have seen it. The belly of that ship smelled like Earth. Rich black soil deeper than I was tall, and trees soaring, just soaring towards the ceiling. A whole forest of oak trees, their branches rustling even though there was no breeze.
And the bees. Hundreds and hundreds of them. So loud. Flying so thick they were like solid clouds.
We landed the ship and stripped it down around the oak trees, bit by bit, opening it up for the bees to explore. We made one last pass with the drones, stirring the seeds into the soil.
And we waited.
While we waited, your great-grandfather told me another story. He told me that the oak trees he brought back from Earth were the same trees as in his book. He told me that he found them, and said hello to the bees, and introduced himself, and gave them some wine and fruit. And then he told them about the colony and how there was a whole wide world where they could fly free and build as many hives as they wanted — but only if they helped to make the flowers and trees grow.
And then he told me something amazing.
He told me that the oak trees and the bees answered him. And they said yes.
I didn’t believe him. Not at first.
I do now. I only have to look around. I only have to see the fields upon fields of flowers stretching all the way to the horizon, the orchards of young apple and plum and sweetgum and tupelo, the forests of oak and maple and linden and magnolia, the farmlands rich with blueberries and cherries and almonds and melons and broccoli and so many wonderful, delicious things.
Oh, I believe him now.
And that is why I come to this spot every day, this forest of ancient trees and ancient hives with the little plaque that proclaims “this was the spot.” I come here every day to say hello. I brought your grandmother here, and I brought your father here, and now I bring you here, too.
Chin up. Here’s the wine. It’s important to make a good first impression, so be polite. Don’t drop the fruit. Remember: without them, you wouldn’t be here.
Now say hello.
[Rebecca Buchanan is the editor of the Pagan literary ezine, Eternal Haunted Summer. Her fantasy, mystery, romance, and science fiction stories have been published in a variety of venues, a complete list of which can be found on EHS.]