**Note: Although the following is part of a previously self-published eBook, portions have been modified. However, it has not been professionally edited and likely contains typos and other errors. It is offered as an example of raw science fiction storytelling.**
Cristina did not know why she was nervous. She had met important people before. She was a professional performer. From time to time she had been introduced to actors, actresses, media celebrities, artists, businessmen and politicians. She understood it was about the performance and often very little of lasting substance.
She was used to being in front of thousands of people. It was just that it felt different being home in her apartment and waiting for a couple of people that she was welcoming into her private world. Each of them was a Courier, but they were the leaders of the clandestine group. She knew very little about them, only that Chase was the contact serving as a link. She trusted Chase, but she remembered meeting Raven and how that experience disturbed her.
The meeting in Star City unnerved her as much as anything she had ever experienced. He was nice to her but intimidating at the same time. He had an intensity that she had seen in other people, mainly other gifted artists. Whether it was true or not, she felt he might know everything she had wanted to know about her differences. What’s more, by any normal human scale he was ancient. Sparrow and Hummingbird were leaders. How old were they?
When the doorbell rang her heart leapt into her throat. She went to the door and peered through the peephole into the corridor. There were two well-dressed, distinguished-looking gentlemen, neither of whom appeared to be all that old. Tentatively she clicked on the intercom. She was not certain these were the men she had been expecting.
“Yes,” she replied.
“I believe you are expecting us. I’m Hummingbird and this is Sparrow.”
She disengaged the security protocols and opened the door for them, “I’m sorry I guess I was expecting…”
“I assure you that we are much older than we appear to be.”
“Raven chooses to look his age at times – well, at least more of his age, anyway. I think most Couriers do,” Hummingbird said.
“It’s probably about half and half,” Sparrow corrected. “It varies from colony to colony.”
“There are Couriers in all the colony worlds?” Cristina asked.
“Of course there are. Otherwise our mission would be pointless,” Sparrow said.
Cristina ignored the inherent insult in Sparrow’s retort. “Where are my manners?” she asked rhetorically. “Come in, sit down. Are you thirsty? Can I get you anything?”
“Water will be fine for us both,” Hummingbird responded. “We will sit at the table if you don’t mind.”
“Please, make yourselves at home.”
When she returned from fetching glasses of ice water she set them on coasters at the table across from Hummingbird. Sparrow had taken his place at the head of the table. Upon her sitting adjacent to him, he smiled at her. Then, lifting the glass of water to his lips he immediately consumed half of the contents. “Thank you for your hospitality,” he said as he returned the glass to the coaster. “I get very thirsty traveling in these controlled environmental containments.”
“You are not resident to this world, then?”
“I am,” Hummingbird said. “At least I have been for the past two local years. Sparrow is spoiled. He dwells on a world where the terraforming project was completed several years ago.”
“All except for the correction of our common reproductive problems,” Sparrow modified.
“Of course,” Hummingbird said. “That is the real issue before us all.”
“Which of you is in charge?” Cristina asked.
“According the naming conventions, I suppose I am,” Hummingbird said.
“The smaller the bird the higher the rank?”
“It started out to be something like that, but by now that has become archaic and a gross oversimplification of our organizational structure. As there were a number of birds between the hummingbird and the sparrow there are also a number of others in the colonies who run things.”
“You see really all of the Couriers are coequal in so many ways that the point of any true leadership is rendered moot. There are some administrative functions requiring coordination and so this is the purpose that we have served for all others. We too are Couriers, but we have not yet found the ones who will bear our burdens.”
She reached into her pocket and produced the small white orb.
“Yes,” Hummingbird said. “No doubt you have questions about the device.”
“What does it do?”
“It does nothing and everything,” Sparrow said somewhat evasively. “Eventually you will come to appreciate how that statement is not really double talk.”
“With all due respect, it’s still not much of an answer.”
Hummingbird said, “I appreciate your blunt candor. No, you’re quite right in your assessment. At this point, it is not an answer at all. It facilitates and accommodates. Technically, it does nothing that you do not intend it to do. That’s what my colleague meant.”
“Okay,” she responded.
“Allow me to demonstrate one of the orb’s many properties for you so that you may begin your journey of discovery. Hold it out at arm’s length in your palm, and then without holding onto the orb very slowly turn your hand over.”
When she did exactly as instructed the orb rolled with the movement of her hand so that when she stopped it came to rest on the back of her hand.
“Now very quickly, pull your hand away.”
As she did she sat in stunned amazement as the orb remained precisely where it had been, not falling to the tabletop as she might have expected. Yet, it was not hovering or floating. Instead it remained rigidly where it had been as if her hand was still beneath it.
“It seems a very good trick as you don’t understand the principle behind it,” Sparrow began, but then he paused in response to Hummingbird’s raised hand.
“Tell me,” Hummingbird began. “What has just happened?”
“I tricked it. It thinks my hand is there.”
“You have determined that the orb has a certain measure of intelligence, then.”
“It can find others like me and draw them toward me.”
“Well, that’s some of it, to be sure.”
“It does other things like –”
“It’s intended for your training,” Hummingbird interrupted his colleague.
“So it’s resisting gravity?” she asked.
“Perhaps that would be a valid assessment if in fact you could prove to me that gravity has any effect on it,” he said, slightly amused. “Of course, your hand might still be there and you are deceiving yourself that you actually have your hand in your lap. Maybe you don’t know where you hand is at all but through the deception of my persuasion, you have convinced yourself the orb is still where it was.”
“I know where my hand is,” she responded with a touch of anger, staring at first one and then the other of them.
“Then look in your hand,” Sparrow challenged.
She looked down as she opened her palm and the orb was there. She quickly looked up to where the orb had been, but it was no longer there.
She shook her head in disbelief.
“What just happened?”
“You tell me,” Cristina responded.
“No, I know what happened. It is for you to tell me what you reason and what you believe.”
“The orb was always in my hand.”
“Then the orb appearing to be suspended about the table was the illusion?”
“The only other alternative is that the orb is still above the table and its being in my hand is the illusion.”
Hummingbird laughed. “You are progressing very well.”
“Am I? It’s confusing me.”
“Suspect the rational for there are no rational processes involved.”
“What is that supposed to mean? Is the world irrational?”
“The orb has already taught you one very important lesson. Never believe anything you perceive. Your senses are bound to you human limitations and range. Unfortunately, the first generation was females who needed a human male to fulfill their destinies. That breeding taints the attributes. Fortunately, there are ways to obviate those differences. The orbs serve their portion of that purpose.”
“Raven said it would draw others toward me.”
“Yes, it can and certainly will do that. But as Couriers our objective is to ensure that everyone possesses an orb. Then finding one another will be a relatively easy thing for anyone to do.”
“Alix is one of us,” she revealed. “He’s in my band.”
“Very good. It seems to be working already. There’s a Courier in this city. His name is Blackbird. You will direct Alix to seek him,” he reached into the inner pocket of his suit coat and fished out an address book. “Do you have a tabcorder?”
“Sure,” she got up and went to the kitchen and opened a drawer obtaining a small pressure sensitive recording device for taking notes with a stylus or scanning objects. She offered it to Hummingbird upon returning to the table.
Having highlighted the proper address, he pressed the book to the tabcorder and then handed it back to her. “Have him go to this address. I have sent an alert to Blackbird. He will be expecting him.”
“Is that all I need to tell him?”
“Your obligation for him will be fulfilled, for that purpose anyway. There are other purposes ahead and you will need to do to be prepared. Playing with the orb to get comfortable with it is absolutely essential. It can teach you more about yourself and your relationship in the universe than I or anyone else could ever teach you in a lifetime. That’s its purpose.”
“Where does it come from?”
“The Architects gave them to the Couriers.”
“The Architects as in the people who designed the colonies?”
“No, no,” Hummingbird said as he smiled. “I suppose there would be confusion in the terminology for you. The Architects that you know of are humans. The Architects I speak of created the plans for the universe.”
“You mean like deities?”
Sparrow chuckled. “As fanciful and bizarre as the human imagination has proven to be, no one could ever imagine the truth about the Architects.”
“You have met them?”
Sparrow fell silent, but then looked at Hummingbird for concurrence.
“Personally, I believe in her,” Hummingbird said. “She may be ready to know at least part of that truth.”
Sparrow reached into his inner coat pocket and produced a device that resembled the remote controls that operated almost every appliance in any residence. He pressed a few buttons. Then, as if the sun had instantly fallen from the sky it became abjectly dark. “Are you still there?”
“Startled, but yes, I am comfortable.”
“Good,” Sparrow said. “This is what exists. It is the only thing that we are positive exists because it is the absence of everything else.”
“We have somehow stepped outside the universe?”
“She is very astute,” Hummingbird said.
“That would be a rational guess but as I said before there is nothing rational about any of this. We are still sitting at your dinette table in your apartment in New Milan. One interpretation of what you perceive is that it might be a simulation, another layer of the illusion.”
“This is a convincing simulation,” she replied.
“It’s interactive. You can use the orb here to be creative.”
As she withdrew the orb from her pocket its faint glow became immediately obvious and illuminated their faces. “So, now we exist.”
“Do we or is that a projection of the orb?” Sparrow asked.
“I know I exist,” she said.
“How do you know?” Hummingbird asked.
“I just know.”
“Maybe she was not ready after all,” Sparrow said.
“It’s because I can sense things even in the darkness. I can bring up memories of where I have been and what I have done and even think of things that have never been along with things that I have not yet done.”
“So it’s because you can think about all of that, that is why you have decided that you exist?” Sparrow asked.
“Or is it because you exist that you think?” Hummingbird twisted the question.
“I know I exist.”
“Because… I am… the universe,” she said haltingly as the words had oddly occurred to her very slowly.
Hummingbird observed as Sparrow ended the simulation. “My, but how wonderful it is to finally find someone who gets to the point of it all on the first try!”
Sparrow wiped a tear from his cheek. “Four thousand three hundred sixty nine humanoids with the attributes. Of all of them, you alone have offered that as the answer in the first lesson.”
Hummingbird reached over and gently patted the back of her hand. “You are as amazingly intuitive as you are beautiful.”
“So the simulation was intended as some sort of test?”
“It was an open book test if you will. We would have eventually given you the answer, but we always try to have you arrive at it on your own. It has a way of fixating the concept in the synapses and neural pathways of your humanoid brain in a way that makes it much harder for you to ever doubt the reality of it in the future. It is frequently easier to acquire something you have come up with on your own than to comprehend what seems to be the baffling bullshit of others.”
“Even if my theories prove to be wrong?” she asked.
“Who decides what is and what is not wrong? Humans are very easily deceived but have an even greater propensity to be self-deceived. Great wars have been fought over the fruit and consequences of self-delusion,” Sparrow said. “But if you doubt everything you will filter out what is not real. Whatever persists against all disbelief will be the truth.”
“You called me humanoid.”
“It is the appropriate terminology. You are like a human in many ways but unlike any human in other, very significant ways.”
“I have four ovaries.”
Hummingbird looked at Sparrow. “You are amazingly self-aware and adjusted, my dear.”
“Someone told me that was one difference.”
“But there are other differences that you are aware of.”
“I have a very efficient metabolism.”
“Yes, that is usually the first thing that anyone with the attributes notices. You require less food because you digest the food you eat more completely and therefore you also produce minimal waste.”
“I’m strong relative to my size.”
“I’m unafraid of the dark.”
“But overly sensitive to light,” Hummingbird pointed out. “We have not quite understood that last one, except that maybe it will aid in colonizing worlds with dimmer or more distant suns.”
“That is what we are intended to do, colonize other worlds.”
“I suppose that as a sort of reward for your accomplishments thus far, maybe we can skip a little bit ahead.”
“You mean there are going to be further sessions?”
“Self-administered, just you and the orb,” Sparrow said.
Hummingbird took a long draft of water then cleared his throat. “I have a story to tell to you, one that I doubt you have ever heard in the fullness of detail because it began in the most distant past when the Architects designed the pattern for constructing all life in the universe.”
“Okay,” she permitted but then met his eyes wanting to ascertain the level of truth and conviction in what he said to her.
“It is said that into that pattern everything that would ever come into being anywhere in the universe was established and cast adrift to seek its proper place to commence. Most of the Architects believed that their pattern was incorruptible. But one of them arrogantly took up the challenge to find a way to corrupt the pattern and in a very short order succeeded. Although the pattern was intended to be perfect, ever expanding and growing, the corruption introduced what humans have always referred to as evil. In fact human concepts of death, disease, destruction and devastation, most negative aspects of existence have always been associated with evil. Nothing in the universe is without compromise. The tyranny of the unity is the true evil in the universe. It is that tyranny that misled mankind into destroying one another and their once pristine world. Humans have not evolved because they were not prepared for the ramifications of knowing the truth.”
“Mankind acquired a mutation of a virus that was dormant in domesticated animals and some species of apes,” Sparrow continued the explanation. “It plagued mankind on Earth for decades seeming that the nature of the very world had again turned again them. Then, at great expense and after research conducted on many people over many, many years, it was brought under control. It was not cured but controlled. With treatment and necessary precautions, the virus would no longer spread to uninfected humans. Still, after decades of fearing the disease, there was a social stigma that the plague still carried. Those who were identified as having the virus were shunned even though it was under control. They could not infect others directly without unprotected sexual intercourse. Then after several years another even more pervasive virus appeared. It was a variant of the first that likewise attacked the immune system of those who it infected, but its major distinction was that it could be transmitted without sexual intercourse. Those that had been treated for the previous plague were easily infected by the new virus and actually spread it widely throughout all of mankind, except they had an antibody that allowed them to recover from the new viral infection. Then once recovered they also had a native immunity to the older plague and could no longer spread it through sexual intercourse or by any other means.”
“It baffled and befuddled researchers,” Hummingbird proceeded. “But anyone who had received medication and had the previously ‘incurable’ virus under control was highly susceptible to the new virus, but once they had recovered from it, they had immunity to both viruses.”
“Hundreds of thousands of people refused to accept what they were being told and needlessly died because they did not want the stigma of having the plague,” Sparrow said. “It is the same sort of ignorance that has ensured the ultimate demise of mankind. They saw the immunization as if they were acquiring the diseases. They feared infections but moreover they shunned the stigma. They would not listen to their own researchers who told them what was necessary for mankind to survive.”
“You are part of a new species,” Hummingbird said. “That is why we refer to you as humanoid. You can mate with humans and even produce viable offspring that may possess the gene that will permit them to survive. Yet, it’s not definite that the gene would prevail in each successive generation. Therefore why bother? Mating with others of your species will ensure the survival of your newly evolved humanoids. Humans will merely fade into memory, as one of the steps in the evolution of a higher race, a new being.”
“But we could save mankind,” Cristina suggested. “We could spread our difference.”
“In our opinion it is a waste of time,” Hummingbird said. “It will dilute the gene and perhaps even lead to the eventual end of both species, extending the inevitable perhaps a few more generations. The progression of the new DNA pattern must advance in a relatively pure manner until there are sufficient numbers of humanoids with the pattern to proliferate the new species. By then mankind as we have previously know it will be no more.”
“Fifty years,” Cristina said.
Hummingbird sighed. “It is estimated that the last human will die in about 150 years. Even if every human mated with someone possessing the attributes, their species would only extend for another three hundred years at most.”
“It is the progression of the attributes that needs to be fostered until they flourish and predominate in the billions,” Sparrow said. “Mankind has carried the spark and has passed it on to you and your kind. It has merely to be reawakened for the fullness of that potential to be realized.”
“Earth was not the product of ancient terraforming, then?” she asked.
“I think you have enough to dwell upon for the time being. You will learn the truth through your own searches and queries not the speculations of old men or others who are still engaged in quests similar to yours.”
Sparrow took his cue to stand and Hummingbird joined him.
“Will I see you again?” Cristina asked.
“Perhaps soon or never,” Hummingbird said. “I will say that your intuitive powers are highly advanced for someone who has had an orb for merely a few days.”
“I’m not sure I want to know the truth.”
“The truth will seek you even if you do not seek it, but the accidental discovery of the truth will always be a painful experience,” Sparrow said.
“It is better to seek out one’s destiny than to just wait for it to happen,” Hummingbird added.
“Perhaps you do not sense the extent of the sacrifices that were made that you might live, but it is why these colonies exist and why your mother and father decided to give you life. It is what you were born to do,” Sparrow said.
“Countless people have lived entire lifetimes wondering why they were born. It is within your ability to know and grasp your purpose. That is what makes you and others like you remarkable,” Hummingbird concluded.