Because I often write nature essays, my writing partners thought for sure I’d go with the insect for this prompt. But I want to stretch my science fiction muscles. There isn’t much to this—we only have 20 or so minutes to write, then countless minutes getting the Zoom connection up for the meeting portion of our group. It’s a bare beginning and I’m thinking of expanding it. We’ll see. But for now, here’s the original:
The Yellow Jackets were once an elite unit of the Space Force. Back when the Force was part of the then-U.S. government. Typical for a military unit, they specialized in attack. Swarms of drones all guided by dudes in easy chairs buried deep underground—like real yellow jacket nests, but not really like them at all. Why they kept the name, I don’t know. By the time I joined, the U.S. was a fragment of history, self-immolated from hubris.
I’m Specialist Aurora Parula. The name yellow jackets stuck because of the jackets we wear. Pure visibility. Our mission is, much like the insect’s, to protect the nest. Protect our queen. In this case, President of the North American Alliance Myrtle Woltman.
After the war, to the extent there can be an after, my home, my family, my town were devastated. A microcosm of what the entire planet looked like. When the bombs fell and the ash rained, we had mere seconds to get into the shelter. If you could call it that. A hole dug hastily into the hillside. But it worked. We survived. But when we crawled out of our hole, we wondered why. Why bother surviving? Mom, Dad, me. Our house was gone. You wouldn’t even have known it existed. The woods, what had been left of them after the drought and fires, looked the same. Like a huge plow had crisscrossed the land, leaving gray ash behind.
I don’t know how long we sat there, stunned. It had only been two days in the hole and everything was gone. But we’d been lucky. Billions around the world had been through this years earlier. Some more than once.
What a word.
I was twelve then. The first sign of hope came with a shout. We couldn’t believe it. Someone else was out there. Good guys or bad guys we didn’t care. Dad shouted back. “Here!”
Then, through the fog of ash a glimpse of yellow. We’d heard about the Yellow Jackets. They modeled themselves after the White Helmets in Syria. Crazy ass volunteers who went into bombed buildings to rescue people while bombs still dropped. These were the good guys now. The Space Force dudes were long gone.
As that yellow jacket morphed into a human walking across what had once been our yard, and we saw more yellow behind, coming to help, I knew right then I was going to one day wear that jacket.
And now I do.
Photo credit: Алексей Филатов
A note about the photo: I want to pay for images (when I don’t use my own) so went to iStock. I used that in my work, so was somewhat familiar with it. Relatively affordable and the photographer gets something. Problem is, when I searched for a yellow jacket, and specifically a woman and jacket, I got hundreds of fashion shoots with overwhelmingly white women. It was the whiteness of the selection that struck me. If we want to achieve racial equity, that needs to include the images we see in publications and online. Shutterstock seems to be more diverse, but I noticed the women in jackets were much more fashion focused than the men in jackets. And though limited in content, here are some sites worth checking out: https://www.prichardcommunications.com/inclusive-stock-images/ So I ended up with the insect, which I’m sure won’t play nearly as well as the female “firefighter” (clearly posed) I was tempted by.