A/N: This started off as a little vignette for Valentine's day, hence the double scoops of fluff in the resulting short story. It is a relatively gentle tale for spring, with a touch of foreshadowing for Jo's upcoming changes in her next trip out toward Wales.
"So here's the problem in a nutshell," Jo was saying, reading over the papers they'd been given that morning and trying to find a way to summarize. She looked over at where the Doctor was tinkering with one of the obscure pieces he as forever pulling out of his box, his morning tea untouched. "Are you listening?"
"Of course I'm listening," he grumbled softly without lifting his head from his work. "I'm trying to line up these circuits on a sub-micronic level so don't expect me to be jumping up to applaud the Brigadier's brilliant ideas this time around."
She was intrigued. "Have you ever really done that?"
"Maybe, but I sincerely hope not."
Jo picked up her own tea to sip at and turned the first page over. "All over Britain, apiaries are reporting bee hive boxes going missing. They then turn back up again, sometimes at another part of the country entirely and they're nearly entirely emptied."
"They return them," the Doctor echoed in an undertone to prove he was listening.
"With or without bees?"
"Um, the bees are still there."
"So they've a problem with honey-thieves who don't want to raise bees themselves," the Doctor said, glancing over at her. "I fail to see why that would involve UNIT." He fished among the tiny jeweler's tools he had scattered over the workbench and selecting one, submerged into his project again.
"It says some beekeepers and their neighbors have reported a humming and strange lights at night that correspond with the boxes being taken. There's a map showing all the wheres and whens, it looks a bit like a big zig-zaggy figure eight going around the island."
"What sort of strange lights?" He dropped the tool back into the pile and chose a different one. "Does it say what makes them think they're strange?"
She frowned at the paper. "It just says 'strange' here. Oh, wait," she flipped another page over and ran a finger down it. "Here we go…one witness said it was kind of purple and in a circle in the air. Another saying purple essentially, lavender anyway, and up at the top of the trees. The third says it was blinking blue and kept interrupting him."
"Oh, nevermind, missed the little asterisk; he'd been into their homemade mead just before that. But they did have their beehive go missing and someone else's box show up instead. You must admit all those lights in the sky sounds like something for us."
"I suppose. Shouldn't be too difficult an investigation if there's already a pattern. The boxes are obviously lifted to remove the honey, but then they're in too much of a hurry to just stay there and get the job done …"
"So they drop them off at the next stop," Jo agreed. "Which is why they're all scattered."
"Hm." He set aside his project and stood up, straightening his back. "Let me look something up," he said and disappeared into the blue box that waited patiently in the corner.
At the sound of a rapping on the door frame, Jo turned to find the friendly face of Sergeant Benton peeking in the doorway. He gave her a little hat-tipping gesture. "Good morning, Miss. The Brigadier wanted me to check in with you and see if the Doctor's read this morning's report yet. I think he wants to know when he'll be heading out to investigate."
"We just finished reading it," Jo said, gesturing towards the TARDIS. "He's looking something up. I think. That's if he doesn't get distracted with something else in there and disappear for the rest of the day."
"Why would I do that?" the Doctor asked dryly, stepping back into the lab. "Running errands for the Brigadier is so much more interesting, of course."
"Oh come now," Jo chided. "You were saying just yesterday that we ought to go out for a drive or something."
"I was talking about out of this solar system."
"Well, this is kind of like that. Only smaller."
"Looking up something about those bees?" Benton nudged, still waiting for his answer.
"Honey," the Doctor said.
"Yes, darling?" Jo grinned. At his blank look she added, "Never mind, it's an old joke. What did you find?"
"The TARDIS had some information that might be pertinent. Bee's honey is somewhat unique. There are other creatures that produce similar useful substances but few so perfected as the Earth honeybee. The application varies according to what species is using it, of course."
"What species?" Benton asked. "You mean," he said, waving a couple fingers in vaguely orbiting patterns, "Other things out there are using our honey?"
"Not always for eating, but yes," the Doctor nodded.
"I have a shampoo that has honey in it," Jo nodded in understanding. "Though it just smells like soap to me. You mean like that?"
He smiled at her. "Good enough. Now, some Earth originated honeybees have been successfully cultivated on other planets in modified greenhouse situations. The cost is, as you can well imagine, sometimes prohibitive."
"And therefore the honey…"
"Has been equated with various golden coloured valuable substances, yes. Exotic, rare and so on."
"I kind of like that idea," she said cheerfully. "It's nice to hear our dear old Earth is good for something out there."
"So they're after contraband?" Benton put in. "If it's so valuable, why don't we see bee boxes going missing all the time?"
The Doctor shook his head. "It's illegal," he pronounced seriously. "The Earth honeybee is a protected species, much too important for the ecosystem."
"So it's a bit like a zoo?" Jo said, warming to the subject. "Where they can, you know, breed lions and monkeys and things, but you aren't supposed to go fetch them from the wild because there's not enough of them."
"A very good analogy. No one's taken fresh 'wild' bees for centuries except by very rare limited permit."
Benton leaned back against the doorframe. "Could this be one of those permits, then?"
"No. According to the TARDIS' records, the one for this bicentennial was used up as soon as it was valid. That was part of the decline in the honeybees in the early part of the century, you know, overharvesting. Thankfully, the bees did recover. Whomever is behind what we're seeing here would be 130-odd years too early even if they were legitimate, which I find highly unlikely."
"But why Britain?" Jo wondered. "There's no mention of this happening in other countries."
Benton nodded in agreement. "That's right. We've had a couple lads calling about to research. It's only here."
The Doctor shrugged and picked up the electronic piece he'd been working on before he'd been interrupted, examining it in the light before blowing on it and tucking it into a box of similar bits he'd been accumulating on the table. "From a planetary viewpoint, Britain is quite small. They may have simply made the mistake of assuming a small country wouldn't have the resources to realize anything was wrong or to track what was happening."
"So you'll go?" Benton persisted.
"You're very single-minded this morning, Sergeant," the Doctor noted.
Benton shrugged apologetically. "My tea is getting cold."
"Ah, positively catastrophic consequences if we delay, Jo."
"Then we'll have to leave straightaway," she agreed with mock seriousness. "In a car."
"A car?" the Doctor said with exaggerated disappointment. "All right, Miss Grant, if you insist."
"All right then, off I go. Just don't make a liar of me this time," Benton said good-humouredly, pulling the lab door shut with a parting wave.
"Let me see that map, Jo." The Doctor took the papers and pored over them as she went to dump the rest of their morning pot of tea into a thermos and fetch coats. She came back, dropping his driving cloak around his shoulders where he sat scribbling something. He absently poked his arms though the armholes and jotted a couple more notes. "Whoever it is has been quite predictable," he said. "If they continue in the same pattern, here's their next stop." He tapped the map. "And better yet, it's been hit before so there might be evidence we could gather ahead of time.
"Why, that's clear out past Birmingham, practically to Wales," Jo said. "Why don't we wait a day or two until they swing around to our end?"
"You said you wanted a drive," the Doctor pointed out. "And we did promise Sergeant Benton."
"Well, yes, all right," she acceded, glancing out the window. "At least the weather is nice. I like it better with the top down."
"Good. Have someone call this apiary to let them know we're coming. I'll get Bessie warmed up."
. . .
"You've been quiet," the Doctor noted. While he tended to be preoccupied when driving and didn't necessarily give Jo's chatter a lot of attention, he had noticed it was subdued that morning.
She turned from where she'd been watching the countryside going past and brushed her windblown hair out of her eyes. "Sorry. I was just thinking. You know that factory we passed a while back?"
"I was just watching all that horrid smoke going up into the air, and I couldn't help wondering if there isn't any way I ought to be helping with it. With stopping it, I mean. What kind of future can we humans have if we can't even keep our own planet clean? I mean, there're chemicals in just everything anymore. It just seems…evil, somehow."
"That's overstating a bit, I think," he noted. "Most chemicals are naturally occurring in one form or another. It's the misapplication that causes harm."
"Or overapplication," Jo said. "I think there's just too much of it. They should be banned."
"With judicious care," he said. "Some of the current agricultural advances keep people from starvation. And as I said, they aren't all unnatural, many are merely being applied with new knowledge."
"All right then, we should keep the natural ones, but there's got to be ways to feed people without all these artificial… things being put in." She looked back out at the rows of houses going by then turned back again. "I know I haven't been much help with the scientific side of things, but I'm trying to learn. If anyone was doing research on how to make more natural food, I wish I could help."
She was quiet again for a few minutes then suddenly asked. "Honey is about as natural as it gets, isn't it?"
"Yes, I should think it qualifies," he guided the car around a bend and glanced back over at her. "And you are helping, Jo. Right now you're helping assure that this country's supply of honey isn't being artificially depleted, for instance."
"I guess so," she said with a small smile. "You've already seen so many things people have tried out there. I wish you would just tell us what we need to do to get it right."
"I can't," he said shortly, and abruptly sped up, passing a short line of cars and the trundling lorry that had been slowing them all down.
She glanced back as the lorry and its frustrated train were left behind them. "I know, I know. We humans have to figure it out for ourselves, and so on and so on," she sighed in resignation. "I know."