The Endless Reproduction Vat hums. It spits out six creatures. They are oddly cute. They are very human. They proceed from the Birthing Chamber to the Indoctrination Chamber, and now they know the purpose of their lives.
“Messages,” says Four in wonder.
“Messages,” Two confirms.
The next room is the garden of poles. They live there for one year. The poles are bamboo. The poles are very tall. They sway in the breeze. There are gaps between them. The creatures balance atop the poles. It is a long way down. Four cannot see the ground. It might be water, or padding. It might be acid.
“Look!” shouts Six. “I can stand on one foot!”
Six balances on one foot. Six hops from pole to pole. It’s a stunning display of agility. Four applauds. Three looks sour. One, Two, and Five are too busy learning their own balance.
“Thank you, thank you.” Six bows to Four. Six wobbles. Six hops again, lands on a bamboo pole, and reasserts equilibrium.
Six is always taking risks like that. That’s why Four is in love. Four has balance, but not daring. She’s not at any risk of falling. But to stand on one foot—that’s beyond her. So she finds herself covertly watching Six as he capers. One day, she says to him, “I like you.”
He winks at her. “Later,” he says. “We have to finish training!”
In the fifth month, Two falls, and is gone. He does not return.
In the tenth month, it is Six who falls.
“Congratulations,” barks the loudspeaker, at the end of the year. “You may now move on to the Tactics Room.”
The Tactics Room is full of lasers. Not even these creatures can dodge lasers. But everything has a pattern. Even lasers. If you know the pattern, then you won’t get hit!
“The pattern changed,” says Three, anguished, on the fourth day. Then she dies. Half of the creatures are dead. The other half practice more assiduously.
“I liked Three,” Four says, after a while. A laser shoots over her left shoulder; she ignores it.
“She was sour,” One points out. “I like you better.”
Four blushes a little. “I think she just didn’t see the point of all this training.”
“We have a holy mission!”
“That’s true,” Four agrees. She takes three steps to the side. It’s not quite enough; there’s a searing pain in her leg, and she drops to one knee.
“You’re bleeding,” says One. He goes to help her.
The loudspeaker snaps, “Back!”
There’s a wall of light between them. One watches helplessly as Four rips off part of her shirt and binds her wound. He cannot reach her. For days, she is slowed, and he is distracted. She recovers. He does not. In the Agility Room, where the lasers are much faster but give a second’s warning before firing, his distraction kills him.
“I don’t know much about you,” Four says to Five.
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“Enigmatic!” she exclaims. “Like a ninja.”
He smirks. A laser fires at him. He vanishes in a cloud of blue smoke, and reappears on the other side of the room.
There are no more rooms. After six weeks in the Agility Room, they arrive at the Presentation Chamber. They don the Sorting Hat.
“You’ll be delivering a message to 1948 La Theine,” says the sorting hat, and imprints the message on Four’s brain.
“1948 La Theine?” she says, honored. She passes the Sorting Hat to Five. Then she pumps her fist in the air. “I got La Theine!”
Five looks at her. He listens to the hat. He tosses it aside and sulks.
“It’s okay,” she says. “Let’s both do our best!”
Then they’re out the door.
The world is dangerous for creatures like them. There are pits of snakes, and guided missiles, and swarms of robotic bees. There’s even mecha-anthrax, its virus-enhancing battlesuits blasting away at her body’s defenses; and the greatest challenge of all is the magical dachshund, trained—some say—by Merlin himself, whose manipulation of the weave of fate and mysterious power thwarts her at every turn. But too many people have died. She can’t stop now!
In the end, she floats over the pits like a feather, and loses the guided missiles behind building walls, and turns the bees against one another with poisoned words. The viral particles of mecha-anthrax prove too big to infect her cells, and the dachshund, betrayed by a cat named Nimue, is locked in a crystal cave to bother her no more.
She reaches 1948 La Theine. The people who live there turn, and scowl at her, although their daughter cannot help but think, “How cute!”
“Please,” Four says. “I have an important message!”
The matriarch of La Theine walks over to the wall. She takes down a shotgun. She levels it at Four.
“Cheap Viagra,” shouts Four. “And other drugs such as Soma, Lipitor, Celebrex, Valium, Xanax, and more! No doctor consultation needed!”
The gun goes off. Four sinks to the ground.
At least I told them, she thinks. At least now they know. The long purpose of my life has been fulfilled.
“I wish they wouldn’t make them so . . . intelligent,” says the matriarch.
“Fuzzy spam lady died,” the daughter whimpers.
Four’s world goes white.
Four’s world goes black.
Four’s world goes a color that she could not describe. Five might have words for this, she thinks.
Then there is only Heaven.