Chapter One

Reno Citadel, Agriculture Sector
First Season, 14th; 2135

Asha Feral waited patiently in the garden. High above, along the ceiling, the full spectrum lighting hummed mildly while the hanging troughs of hydroponic plants comforted her with the scent of earth. Altogether a very comforting place to patiently wait for something.

But she had been waiting a long time and her parents were still talking to the Noorums.

So she was beginning to grow bored.

And so it was that a buzzing sound zipping past her shoulder immediately distracted her, drawing her attention to the bee that landed on the trough hanging beside her. It had obviously wandered too far from its area, seeking plants to pollinate. Or whatever it was exactly that bees did here.

She turned to consider it. Just enough that she would not too terribly abandon the proper, patient attendance that she should be presenting now. To wait for her parents to come and bring her forward to meet her betrothed.

Or soon to be betrothed, more accurately. They would not be officially betrothed until they had at least met, of course. And she wouldn't turn fourteen for another month, whether she'd technically begun her pubescent development period or not.

But the bee. That was interesting.

If she understood their purpose correctly, there would be nothing beneficial to the garden for it to be doing here. This area was set aside for tubers. There was no pollen to cultivate nor to carry to other plants. And so the bee was being extremely unproductive.

She watched it for a time, though. Watched as it moved along the edge of the plastic trough. Not in the dirt, nor among the leaves and stems of the plants within. Rather, it moved as if searching for something. Or perhaps following a scent along the trough. The scent of pollen, perhaps? Or a false trail that it had mistaken for such? She wasn't sure whether bees could smell, for that matter, but this one certainly seemed to be tracking something by scent.

Obviously it had made a mistake and had been led astray. Abandoning its duties to chase a false trail which it wrongly believed served its purpose here. And so not intentionally unproductive, but simply mistaken.

She considered reaching out to capture it, to relocate it to its area so that it could continue with its work. But it occurred to her that this particular insect kind was a stinging sort of insect. At least…she was fairly sure that it was. And so that might prove troublesome, should she attempt to relocate it by hand and was stung in the process.

This would not offer an acceptable first impression to her proposed mate and his family, of course. To abandon her duty to wait here until summoned, proceeding instead to relocate insects in the garden. Not to mention being stung for her efforts. That seemed somehow to threaten her making a good first impression at all.

Still, the project presented an interesting distraction for consideration. Her data pad case, for example, could easily be used to capture the insect, if she were careful. That would minimize the risk of being stung, if she were correct about it being a stinging sort of insect…

"What is it doing?"

She blinked, looking quickly to her right to find a boy standing there. She hadn't heard him approach or sensed him in any other way, being distracted by the bee.

He was perhaps only an inch taller than her and his hair was cut short, nearly shaven in fact, as was the current style among boys. His skin was jet black, of course…but with a subtle hint of dark brown indicating he shared a noble ancestry somewhere along the line. That was rather rare and therefore interesting.

He had bright irises, though. And not the shining golden yellow, as hers were, but rather nearly orange. Almost reddish-orange, in fact. Which, entirely in contradiction to the subtle brown hue of nobility, spoke to a low and common ancestry. Which was all the more interesting.

But all those things spoke only to his heredity. His school uniform, grey with blue shoulders, that indicated a study focus on the sciences. While her own white shoulder patches indicated she'd yet to specialize. So she immediately liked him, because he might have insights to offer concerning her considerations regarding the bee that she did not possess herself.

"I think it is lost." She said, folding her hands properly at her waist. "Have you studied bees and pollinating insects? Perhaps you have some insight."

The boy watched her as she spoke, listening carefully. Then turned his attention to the bee, cocking his head to the side slightly to indicate thoughtful consideration.

"Bees are flying insects, closely related to wasps and ants." He said, considering the wandering bee on the trough. "They feed on nectar and pollen, with most of the pollen being used to feed larvae. And so they are used here to pollinate certain plant types and to produce honey for sweeteners in the food factories."

"So would you say that I am correct?" She asked. "In that it is lost? I have been considering relocating it to a more proper area, so that it could attend to it's duties again. Here it seems to have abandoned them, though I cannot say if this is intentional or not."

The boy was listening to her again. And he considered that.

"It is not likely intentional." He decided. "I think insects of this sort do not possess the will to make decisions of that sort. At worst, I would suggest it is simply lost or misled."

She nodded immediately.

"This was my thought as well." She said. "And so my considering whether to relocate it. However…I know little of bees. Their psychology and behavior. So I must concede there may well be a purpose to its behavior. That it is productive in some manner which I cannot discern and so by interfering I may in fact disrupt its attendance to duty out of my own ignorance."

"I believe I may not be as familiar with bees as I should be then." The boy admitted. "Perhaps we should research the matter to best determine what course of action to take?"

"That seems the proper thing to do." She agreed, nodding.

And so they both produced data pads, to begin their research. Sharing information they uncovered concerning bee behavior, pollination and the use of bees in the garden.

For several minutes. Long after the bee had already flown off to its own concerns.

Until Asha frowned a little after a while.

"I believe we may have gathered enough information." She said. "Enough at least to recognize we may not be able to make a determination here."

"Yes, I agree." The boy said, equally disappointed. "I think in this instance it would be best not to interfere. I suspect there are deeper intricacies of bee behavior that we are unable to perceive."

Asha simply nodded.

"Still," She said. "It was a interesting exercise and very educational. I feel satisfied with my efforts here. Do you?"

"I do." He agreed. "And I appreciate sharing this with you. I think it is good that I stopped here to inquire about your fascination with the bee."

He smiled once, politely. And Asha saw that his canines were not overly sharp, as far too many boys typically possessed. She preferred that, for reasons that were entirely private.

As it happened, she had considered that earlier and so it came to mind now. To make a point of smiling at her proposed mate when they met, so that he would be compelled to return the polite gesture. And then, when he did so, to get a quick look at his teeth.

She'd seen her sister exchange intimacies with her mate several times. And her parents as well. That often involved nibbling and small, gentle bites to the chin and cheek. Often on the lips, in the course of kissing.

She had been concerned at that, fearing that if her mate were overeager or unfamiliar with that form of intimate behavior, it might prove all the more uncomfortable if his teeth were too sharp. This boy's teeth seemed roughly approximate to what she would find acceptable. Sharp enough to indicate virility, but not so much as to threaten unnecessary discomfort. And so she had something to compare to.

"I am Asha Feral." She said, presenting her hand in greeting. "I should have introduced myself before, but I admit I was distracted with my interest in the bee."

The boy just stared though.

Long enough to make her wonder if she'd said something wrong…

"Excuse me." He said, blinking. "My hesitation was impolite, but I was surprised. I am Herris Noorum."

And he touched her hand, placing his fingers just so that their hands met for only a brief moment, and only by the tips of their fingers. As was proper.

While she stood surprised now. Because this boy was apparently the one she was to be betrothed to today.