This story was first serialized in 30 daily parts during April 2022 via the @InternetofWords Twitter feed @ 9am. It is now reproduced in this complete form, with a number of small edits and corrections made to improve narrative flow and maintain correct continuity.
I produce fiction bi-weekly on Ko-Fi: this includes flash fiction (250 words) which is being put together to form a long-form narrative, plus a bi-weekly full novel presented in episodic format. I also record weekly videos.
There are rules for everything. Even chaos holds a predictable order, when you know where to look. Every species assumes they’re above chaos, of course, because their notional idea of kind, caring and empathic is clearly more significant. Most mammals require constant assessment. Mammals love to run. I like to believe it is because they survived the First Great Dark, when my brethren were summarily reduced to a footnote. Their arrogance is rooted in their size, and that ability to run the fuck away from anything mildly dangerous without a second thought.
These particular apes have made it into an art form.
“The thing about humans is… no, it’s not just one. All of them are bad, so selfishly, arrogantly lame. They’re a waste of time and effort.”
“If that is the case, why do we keep going back there?”
“Because they’re tasty.”
“There are far better food sources available, yet we keep going back there… shouldn’t we set an example?”
“This is penance: there are none of them left in our dimension, and they were stupid enough to create their portal here. Why shouldn’t we exploit what they gave to us?”
“Doesn’t that make us as bad as them…?”
“But are we really? Taking advantage of an intellectually inferior species, after they’ve destroyed countless realities through avarice and greed, grants us the right to sit on a superiority perch with some measure of actual confidence.”
Being a Senior Handler is at turns depressing and frightening. We all live so close here to the point of extinction: only six working eyries on this continent, less than thirty across the planet. Without fresh genetic input, our time soon ends, and it will be the least we deserve. Nothing else survives either, no more vibrancy in diversity. The apes were one of the last species to vanish, having done so much of the early damage themselves. That destruction, key ecosystems was simply too comprehensive for our ancestors to reverse, so we pared back to basics.
Those few avian species that remained should have also perished: we owe our lives, in the end, to the mammals that thought they knew more than the Chaos that spawned them. Without their obsession with genetic modification, especially in grain, regression would not have occurred. De-evolution gave a lifeline: over millions of planetary rotations, we learnt that it was the isotopes that poisoned the flowing ecosystem which jump started our development of wings into their current feather-scale hybridity. We survived as plant eaters, but began to stagnate.
What the Humans called iron, a key constituent in mammalian blood, became the crux of this slow demise. Without it, it was impossible to successfully reproduce. Just as we accepted that the end was coming, a lifeline was thrown, from the most unexpected of sources; a World beyond. A routine scientific patrol reported organic regeneration, on the southern continent, where grain not indigenous to our own world was growing. On closer inspection, a distortion was identified, large enough for a single Pterrann to move through easily with their wingspan closed.
What we discovered on the other side is a planet where humans have not yet developed the scientific abilities that have condemned us here. For several thousand glorious rotations, we thought this would be our salvation, but the truth remains inescapable. It is still not enough. We do not possess the means to modify ourselves to alter these failing, degradative bloodlines. Without this, all the human blood in the Universe will not sustain us. That is why today we hope to make contact with those responsible for setting a distortion less than a flight away.
The Hunter pair behind me are still bickering. Perhaps finally there will be something to silence their condemnation. I am also glad to be charged with this task alone. No-one must know the truth of this discovery until we are certain of the reasoning behind the Mirror placement. That word was unknown to us until very recently: as it is of human origin, there is considerable interest in whoever is responsible for this new entry point. That is all we have seen thus far; a distortion functioning only in one plane, allowing messages to be received, not sent.
Once it was apparent the parcels were meant to attract attention, filled as they were with portions of animal flesh, a plan to present our current situation was formulated. Using our own language and an equivalent in what we believe is Generic Ape, a nest was built and furnished.
It is time to see if our attempts at communication have been successful.
The cat stands, staggered at the stupidity it sees presented. These bird/lizard hybrids are clearly both blind and ignorant, which is really no help right now to anyone: the Mirror is not just one way. It is not as if they are unaware of the concept of the gateways, either, having been exploiting one for their own bloodthirsty ends for several years. Only then does it occur to the Courier that it is the position of this one that could be confusing. A smart mammal knows better.
This had been an exploratory mission, first and foremost, to see how far the Generating Nexus could project, once an initial tear had been created. Once it was apparent someone else had gotten here first, with superior Mirror technology, it became about exploiting an advantage. There will be a Hybrid here shortly, keen to see if their rudimentary attempts at communication have been successful. The cat experiences a brief moment of remorse at what it is about to do in the name of furthering its race’s dominance, but that guilt does not linger for long.
These things are as dumb as the humans. An increasingly complex food chain, that places them in total opposition, is completely irrelevant: the cat does not care. It doesn’t need nutrition, but to fly, and if that means the hostile takeover of a susceptible brain, then so be it. Except this particular Hybrid is anything but ignorant. It is circling cautiously above the nest, aware for the first time it could use this Mirror to escape. It is also very much aware that the cat is not simply a mammal, presenting an interesting opportunity to communicate…
“You can understand me, Hybrid?”
“In the same way, I know you wish to use me, yes. You could ask permission instead, and be surprised at an unexpected outcome.”
“I have already been amazed. I also have friends who will be extremely interested in meeting you.”
“Then we shall.”
The Hybrid’s desperation not to be here, followed by a sudden hope of individual salvation, are emotions that the cat knows are potentially volatile, but they are confident could be suppressed if a problem arose. This creature is an outlier amongst its own kind, unexpected indeed. If the cat were as predisposed to prediction as its peers, they might see this as an omen, one of many on their journey. Instead, it’s a combination of luck and enlightened self-interest, neither of which can be trusted to reoccur in the near future. This plan must be followed…
“You think I would oppose your ideas, mammal?”
“My name is Bastet. I am dedicated from an ancient god.”
“You are still marked and named by humans, who we despise. I am Cayrion, our word for death… and yet this name too is from the species who destroyed both us and this home.
We hold a common enemy, and are both trapped in dying versions of the same moment. This is why you came, yes? You arrived here to see the Mirror we have used as a gateway to another version of this world…”
Bastet cannot fault Cayrion’s understanding, and is suitably impressed.
The arrangement is concluded, as two disparate lifeforms meet face to face. The Hybrid carries a container, meant to collect new samples expected from the portal. It is a perfect fit for the cat, who is confident its new partner will not be missed until both Mirrors have closed. It is remarkably simple to establish a psychic link between them both as Cayrion flies them to the main Mirror site, which is useful as Bastet has been put on alert. Their incursions here have been monitored: there is a good chance other beings are seeking the Generating Nexus.
Both cat and Hybrid sense a third presence as their destination approaches. It is not human, feline, avian or lizard… nor is it aware of them. As they descent from the afternoon sky, its shape retreats to the Mirror, before consuming it and summarily vanishing.
This is concerning.