This was my entry into the Escape Pod Flash Fiction 2018 contest. I wrote it specifically for the contest with its 500 word count limit. Since it was rejected, I still hold the rights. However, it is posted on the Escape Pod forums and that’s enough to disqualify it as an original work for other publications, so I can’t really do anything new with this story. So here it is.
Disclaimer: I know the title is cheeky. I know the transitions are rough.
Beep-beep-beep. “ATENCIÓN. Brecha en el sector 5. Las muestras 28-2 y 28-7.” The waystation warning system sent adrenaline rushing through Sofie. The specimens in Group 28 emerged early; this would be her first capture. She squinted, searching for signs of 28-2 and 28-7. She saw a flash of orange and drew her snare from its holster–they had taken flight. The two monarch butterflies hovered just out of reach. Sofie gingerly stretched out her net but lost her balance and fell. Laughter rang out from a crowd of braceros watching nearby. She huffed and pushed herself back to her feet. The insects hadn’t moved. Embarrassed, she stuck out her arm, flicked her wrist and caught them. The crowd cheered.
Sofie started working at the Phoenix Waystation when Group 28 had been caterpillars. Now they were in chrysalids, basking in the sunlight from the open roof. The Great Famine had devastated agricultural hubs like Sofie’s hometown of Delicia, killing tens of thousands of people along with all North American bee populations. When the U.S. and Mexican governments revived a century-old guest worker initiative, Sofie jumped at the chance. She laughed aloud in orientation when she learned that the bracero program was designed to support monarchs, the last major pollinator in the hemisphere, in their migration to Michoacan. She had left behind everything she knew and crossed the border to help a bunch of bugs cross back.
Another beep-beep-beep. “ATENCIÓN. Una tormenta de polvo se acerca. El techo está cerrando.” Lights flashed as the automated roof began to close. Sofie frowned. This was the third storm in two days and the winds were increasingly brutal. Suddenly, someone cried out; the ceiling over Sector 5 was not moving. The braceros raced to the controls to see what was wrong. Sofie started to follow but the sound of scraping metal from above stopped her. One of the aluminum joists had snapped. Sofie looked around frantically and her eyes landed on 28-2 and 28-7. She thought of the others in their chrysalids preparing to fly to Michoacan. She thought of her parents, of Delicia. Bracing herself, Sofie ran up the emergency stairs to the waystation catwalk. She stood on her tiptoes and pulled herself onto the lowest ceiling beam. At that moment, the storm engulfed her with wailing gusts of dirt. Dangling not unlike a caterpillar, she crawled from beam to beam until she reached the broken joist. She stretched out her hand but missed. She grasped blindly for her net. Clutching it in her hand, she reached once more. The net caught hold and she heaved. The roar of the storm was silenced as the roof slid shut, only to be replaced seconds later by a chorus of gritos rocketing from the braceros below. Trembling, Sofie allowed herself a smile.
A week later, all butterfly groups in the Phoenix Waystation had emerged. Sofie watched wistfully as a cloud of black and orange wings drifted through the open roof, fellow migrants beginning their journey home.