art by Ron Sanders
Swarm, the Queen Commanded
by K. A. Gillett
Taja's seven fingers worked quickly, efficiently. The tiny brushes at the end of each digit distributed yellow pollen from flower to flower. She worked her way up the branch, pollinating--as directed by the chief of the ag station--every fifth flower. The tree limb, cool under the touch of her real hand, swayed as she shifted her weight to reach the farthest apple blossoms, those closest to the sky.
Wide-based wooden ladders leaned against old, gnarled apple trunks as her team climbed into the trees beside hers. In most orchards, the trees were dwarf with the horizontal branches low so that even a pollinator as short as Taja had no need to stand on tiptoes. But in this orchard, which stretched for kilometers to the horizon, the government was trying to preserve the old varieties, and some trees had branches six times her height.
In the morning's quiet, Levela in the next tree began to hum. Baytl, his older brother, and then Taja joined in. Six more voices added depth and harmony. It was her team's way of greeting the day and making sure that everything was right. One missing voice and someone in the group would check to see if anything was wrong.
Here at the ag station in the far north, the season had just begun. Today they started pollinating the early blooming Gravenstein and would finish with the Northern Spys. Two months of labor from beginning to end. Two months at home, for the ag station was the place where she had been abandoned, the place where her body--and those of her team--had been transformed. They were the lucky children, the ones whose parents cared enough to travel north, away from the cities and the pollution, to leave their deformed children at a place where they could be enhanced.
She had spent her early years roaming through these orchards, learning everything there was to know about apples and the other crops she would be called on to pollinate. It was here she met the children who became the members of her team. And it was here that she had met Jothan.
"Taja," Baytl called, "is everything all right?"
"I'm fine," she replied, realizing that she had stopped humming. "Just thinking."
Levela laughed. "She's thinking about Jothan. He's handsome enough to stop any song in its tracks."
Taja's blush was lost behind the blossoms. But Levela spoke the truth. During the last ten months, while the team had traveled the pollination circuit, Jothan had become a man, in voice, in stature, and in maturity. He even had his own lab, or so he had told her last night when they met at dinner. And he said he had a surprise for her. Just her.