on their own to find food like they would have done on earth, because they kept getting lost and dying in the wilderness. Beekeeping, then, consisted of keeping the bees near home, in violation of their natural habits, and making sure they were well fed. Hence honey and beeswax were super-rare on Gagarin, and pricey enough to keep both the Monastery and Saint Salome’s running.
The documentarians left.
“Know this,” the handsome man said, “you could just walk away. You’re dying.”
The dreams were still waking me up, but I’d stopped wondering about them. Theo assured me that particular tooth would pull itself when the time came. Irritating, just the same.
Dan and I slipped into the library, and then he ran off. It was an actual, physical library with books and everything, and reminded me of my childhood. There’s something about that musty book smell, you know? Well, no, I guess you probably wouldn’t, having never been around such things. They had a computer terminal here, which was off-limits, but I’m an engineer, which means no machine is ever really truly off-limits to me.
Man, a lot of files! Who new Monks kept such meticulous records? It would take me days to get through all this. I did find some stuff to whet my appetite, though: Beekeeping wasn’t the original source of income for the monastery, and while I couldn’t figure out what actually had been, I found a locked subdirectory entitled “SD Bioproject Files” that looked promising.
Dan returned with some shrink-wrapped instaburgers as I was scribbling down some off-the-top-of-my-head code for an antiencryption program on the inside cover of a hymnal. He’d generally scuttle off to bring me a snack during our nightly missions. I didn’t know where he was getting it from. I didn’t mind. Monk’s gruel was by definition bland, and the burgers tasted great by comparison.
Brother Theo burst in, surprising us both, and blustering about how we weren’t supposed to be here, kicking us out, and sentencing me to six weeks of penance scrubbing toilets, “Until your new hand matches your old hand,” he said, which I thought was rather uncalled for, and unexpectedly racist.
“Some guard dog you turned out to be,” I said to Dan. He looked chagrinned, as only a freakishly intelligent dog can.
One of the lines holding my parachute/wing in place had torn free, and I was spiraling out of control. As I spun, I could see a trail of smoke.
To the southeast of the beekeeping area was a ruined dome a thousand feet across. All that remained were two arches, with a large house hanging on cables from the point where they intersected. I’d seen a few things like these when I’d initially been flying over the desert. Zadok informed me they were prefab ranches. A dome covered a hundred and sixty-two acres of cropland, keeping it safe from predators and well-hydrated, and the family home hung above, keeping it safe from harmadillo stampedes, as well as Kirbys and Jumprats and other things that might somehow get through the dome.
“We used to keep the bees in there,” he said, “But the domes aren’t very reliable. Ours collapsed during a Kirby Swarm a few years back.”
“Yeah, that one when I got here was pretty intense,” I said.
Zadok snorted, “Pfeh, that was nothing. You ain’t seen a real swarm yet. In the one that collapsed that dome, we lost all but one queen.”
“Two,” O’Neil corrected, “Father Guo survived as well.” They both laughed uproariously at that while I spluttered in surprise.
“Ah, that’ll be five or six Hail Marys,” he said, “But it was worth it.”
“So what was up top?” I asked later, “Beekeeping stuff?” Zadok said nothing, just coughed and walked off.
I was dying because of what I did to him, because of what my kind did to the earth.
I wondered, for the hundredth time, who “Him” was.
Penance meant putting an alarm on my door, and as I had no windows, my nocturnal gadding about was curtailed for a while. One night, Dan was happy as a toddler, sitting in the corner playing with his blocks, and eating something he’d managed to kill and bring back to the room earlier in the day. From the pleasant smell, I was pretty sure it was a landclam, but I didn’t actually go look.
I was thinking about code. Occasionally I’d scribble something down on a pad of paper, but mostly I was just absently bouncing a ball