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That Corpse You Planted Last Year in Your Garden

Stacey Berg is the author of the novels Dissension and Regeneration. Her work as a physician-scientist provides the inspiration for much of her speculative fiction. She lives with her wife in Houston and is a member of the Writers' League of Texas. When she's not writing, she practices kung fu and runs half marathons. She is represented by Mary C. Moore of Kimberley Cameron & Associates. You can visit her at staceyberg.com and follow her on Twitter @slbscifi.

Plants comb the dirt in rows, sparser than Damek had hoped. The greenhouse windows sweat, dripping clear trails against the fogged glass. There's a fog outside too, the light dispersed so evenly it looks opaque. Behind the clouds an occasional brighter light flashes. The low rumble rattles the panes. Moving away, Damek tries to tell himself. He doesn't count the intervals, not wanting to know otherwise.
He wipes moisture from his scalp, fingers drawing a few hairs across the barren patch. The vanity, so absurd in the face of this madness, shames him. He glances at Mbali, but she hasn't noticed; she's watching the bees. The calm on her face shames him too; he knows he looks the way he feels.
Shame flickers into anger, comes out as accusation in his voice. "It has to work this time. It's our last chance."
She doesn't look at him. "We still have the sequences."
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We don't have any more eggs to put them in, he starts to say, but she knows that already. She stands bent a little, one hand resting low against her belly, where fresh red stains her shift.
Wings hum, the frequency rising and falling as the bees drone through their programmed dance. All the flowers have blossomed that are going to. Thumbnail-sized fruits hang fleshy and pink against the white petals; the stems sag under their slight weight. A meager harvest, measured against the coming winter.
Damek, feeling that long chill despite the greenhouse heat, shivers.
"I saw real bees once," Mbali says. "My parents took me to an exhibit at the museum, before."
Damek can hardly remember before. For an instant he hates her for reminding him. Then he notices. Beneath the calm, her dark skin has turned sallow. She's breathing wetly, as if the rain has gotten into her lungs, and her teeth chatter despite the sweat beading on her face. "I'll just sit down for a minute," she says, and her legs fold beneath her.
He helps her settle against the glass wall. She squeezes his hand once with burning fingers, then lets go. A bee crawls across her face. The tiny bots were his creation; he designed them to feed, clean, protect, and they persist as if those tasks have meaning still. The hive is buried, the queen code running on its own. Enough energy sealed in tiny cells to feed it forever.
The world won't last that long.
After a little while he turns back to the garden.
The leaves have changed already, the plant cells dissolved, the cellulose scaffold turned into skin, veins, arteries; the woody stems transformed to bone. Once parts and organs were farmed for transplant. Now there's no one to receive them. No one at all, if this crop fails.
Windows rattle again. The bees' drone sharpens into an angry buzz. There, midway along one row, worker bots swarm around a fruit shaken loose. Damek swats them away. A needle-sharp antenna pricks his thumb; he sucks at the sting. The bees stream away through a crack into the underworld. With his heel he scrapes a depression in the dirt, then toes the fallen fruit into it.
The rest of them will fall too, yesterday or tomorrow. It is programmed into them, like the bees' code. Like his own corruption. Once, in his vanity, he imagined if and then, the return of his flesh to its elements, endless cycle of scattering and taking up again. Now there is only when, which is now.
He sinks into the dirt alongside them.
All the tiny perfect humans languishing on the stalks, bending towards the dust like tears dropping from a blind white eye.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, July 23rd, 2019

Author Comments

In this story I wanted to create a feeling of the end of the world by using imagery that invokes an anti-Garden of Eden.

- Stacey Berg
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