Art by Chris Herron.
From the author: A message from the Chosen is sent back to their hive, telling the brethren of the wonders that await them on the completion of their Pilgrimage.
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Siblings, hatchlings, juveniles, we, your brood mates, send filial greetings and news of the successful completion of our sacred journey. These returners who carry our message back to you will guide you on the Pilgrimage next season.
Well can we remember our parting from the warmth and light of our home colony. How your good wishes and scintillating coruscations encouraged us as we set off across the cold and barren lands. Led by the steady lights of our guides we left the comforts of home and began our long and hungry passage through the darkness. We flashed and glimmered to each other to help keep our spirits up.
There were those that lost faith part way and turned back, but we had traveled far, and they had no one to guide them. I weep at the thought of these poor souls floundering helplessly through the blackness, their lights and signals flashing feebly and to no avail, finally to be extinguished as they succumbed to the dark and loneliness. I pray that they stayed together and could give each other some consolation at their ending.
The rest of us kept the faith and pushed on. After long journeying and many trials, we arrived, hungry, cold and exhausted. We fell into the welcoming arms of the Guardians of the Perimeter of the fabled City. Strong and armed though they were, they took us to the House of Healing. There they comforted us, stroked us, gave us food, watched over us as we rested and regained our strength. Once we had all recovered, we were ready to observe the rituals and complete our Pilgrimage.
Guides came and led us to a cliff overlooking the City of the Queen. How can I describe its beauty? The fragile splendor of the towers shedding light and warmth from above. The beautiful curves of the streets and plazas, the parklands and buildings and, at its center, the ring wall of the Queen’s Palace.
Our guides took us to see the first ritual, the Parade of Strength, in the central plaza. We watched as our soldiers displayed themselves in red and black, silver highlights shining as they moved in geometric patterns, their actions jerky and synchronized. Each squad performing their own fighting routine, some with weapons, others without. How we gasped and quivered, our colors reflecting those of the warriors as we were drawn into their display. Several of our party were so affected by the sight that their colors became fixed and, after much twining and caressing, they left us to join the soldiers. We respect their choice in giving up the Pilgrimage for the greater good.
The guides led us on to the Palace of Tears. Words fail me as I try to tell you of the pathetic sights we saw within its smooth and graceful interior: the twisted limbs and bodies, the monsters with several heads, the giants, the dwarfs, the imbeciles. How we wept in the presence of these poor benighted, malformed creatures, our brothers, members of the Chosen. We showed our sympathy, adopting the restful blues and greens of the carers. With their colors flowing gently up and down their limbs, some of our number elected to stay and help these unfortunates. We writhed and flashed goodbyes to our brood mates and wished them well.
It was a great relief to enter the Theater of Laughter. There were creatures of all types, including the Chosen. They performed tricks and stunts, and made garish, seemingly impossible - and sometimes highly inappropriate - combinations of colors. Several members of the group were shocked but others mirrored their displays and, with reassuring movements, they left to join the Theater's company while we continued the Pilgrimage.
Our guides led us to the Arena of Light, where all the remaining pilgrims, from all the colonies, gathered to share the Miracle of Choosing. We drifted high towards the dazzling illumination of the upper reaches, and some were taken but most were not. We hid our disappointment with shows of fluorescence and blushes of many hues. Then, after dallying as long as our guides allowed us, we moved on to the next ritual, flashing and blinking our gossip as we followed them.
They led us to the Museum of Mysteries where there were displays of strange, metallic artifacts, their forms were regular and unnatural: straight edges, cylinders, spheres. Some reflective, others not, some generated heat or light from within, others were cold and lifeless. They had been found and transported across the dark and barren lands to the City. We could only guess at their provenance and functions.
What a relief it was to enter the Library of Smiles. Here we could examine the shapes and colors left behind by earlier pilgrims. Our guides encouraged us to leave messages of goodwill and happiness. They gave us food, and we rested before the culmination of our Pilgrimage: The Dance of Love and Light. Suddenly our guides became agitated, they had received word. She was ready. With flashes of excitement and arousal, they herded us to the Palace of the Queen.
We approached the walls of obsidian and began the circular dance. Hundreds of pilgrims, thousands, joined in from all directions, flashing and sparkling dazzling displays of color combinations never expressed until now. We soared and looped in our rapture, becoming creatures of light and flight and weightlessness. We drifted above the perimeter wall through milky clouds as the Queen released her eggs and we gave ourselves to her. Millions and millions of glistening opalescent pearls rose, combining and clumping into groups, drifting away to form colonies of their own, if conditions favored them. How we flashed and scintillated our encouragement to them, knowing most would be lost in the dark lands. Only those that found an empty colony with its towers of light and warmth would prosper.
Soon, the Dance was over and we drifted, our displays dim and subdued, a numbness, a lassitude suffused us all. Our guides led us to the Well of Endings where, waiting on its rim, before we began our spiral descent, we chose the strongest pilgrims to return to the home colony with this, our message of hope.
‘Siblings, we have completed the Pilgrimage, served our purpose, stayed strong and delivered our precious contribution to the Queen. Pray that you too will have success in your turn when you follow us. Now we will descend into the dark and warmth, hoping only for rest and tranquility, peace and forgetfulness. Our journey is over, yours yet to begin. May Fate and Circumstance smile upon you.
Remember that more is expected of you than of most, for you are the Chosen. We salute you.’
This story originally appeared in Writers of the Future.
Artificial Intelligences, Space Elevators, Time Travel, Robots, Fantasy, Horror and Romance. The stories in this book were published and podcast in various e-zines internationally during the years 2018 to 2020. A number were also broadcast and podcast.
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