This is the story of fractals and power currents, the woman who could walk past security cameras without her image being rendered, and a pet store clerk who became the ruler of the 10,000 worlds.

「Like ballerinas in a complex dance」 Felix said, 「like the interdependent machinations of cells in a complex body, the bee-hive possesses a collective identity, a swarm intelligence. Obsessed as we are by the philosophical trappings of individuality, this concept might seem a little hard to swallow.」

There might have been bars on the door and a screw for every test-tube, but Redemption's central lab was better equipped than most American universities. There were computer workstations which would have been put to use at the Pentagon, a whole room full of microscopes, nano-scalpels and the VR technology necessary to handle them. His fifth day inside, still reeling from the culture shock of a toilet in his bedroom, Croon buried himself in a HMD and zoomed in on a strand of African bee DNA. He twisted the double helix this way and that using a kinesthetic glove, switched polynucleotides on and off, basically screwed around with the building blocks of hymenopterous life.

「Have you had some experience in this?」 Felix asked. He was a veteran of the genetic undermarket, having started his career in Dr Seed's infamous human cloning experiments in the early 00s. He was busted in Baja California with a freezer full of mutant embryos, and sentenced to life. Nowdays he was making as much as he ever did mutating bees for dodgy developing world governments. Justice! 「You seem to know your way around this bee's DNA like the streets of LA」 he said.

「I'm okay.」 Croon took off his helmet, flashed a smile which only he and Burt himself could engineer. 「Atlanta, Georgia - I was involved in a project over there. We were... er, we were trying to design a temperate alligator.」

「Kind of a contradiction in terms, isn't it?」 Felix said. 「You know, a temperate alligator!」

「That's temperate climate, buddy, not temperate in behaviour. We wanted an alligator that you could farm in the northern states, and we would have made a killing if we didn't get caught.」

Felix whistled, thinking about the copyright issues. 「That's a heavy offence, man. Even by today's standards.

「That's why I'm inside」 Croon said. 「And that's why they transferred me here, because they know I'm good and they're hungry for talent. I heard you've got about 100 gene bandits in here. Not even Auschwitz had such a skilled slave labour force!」

「The difference is, in Auschwitz they didn't pay you for overtime. I guess that's user-pay for you.」

「There's another difference」 Croon said. 「In Auschwitz the prisoners were the guinea pigs, here they're the ones with the scalpels in their hands.」

Felix laughed before he remembered what this was all about, and suddenly his face turned stern. 「All right, if you're so shit-hot, why don't you prove it to me now? Here's the challenge: you've just been offered a contract by the ruling junta of Nigeria to design a warrior bee, a bee so savage that a single swarm can wipe out an entire city. The bees are to be packed into shells and fired on neighbouring countries as part of Nigeria's expansionist aims. So, how do you do it?」

「Give me a sec」 Croon said, quickly refitting his HMD. A three-dimensional map of the bee's DNA surrounded him, chaining and unchaining into almost Escherlike eternity. Croon felt like he was hanging in space, with neverending canyons spiralling on either side. 「Shit」 he said at length. 「This could take some time.」

「You've got six months」 Felix said. 「Because that's when our Nigerian friends make their beeline for Liberia.」

CASSIUS CROON and other characters copyright Rob Sullivan 1996-2001.

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