"You're telling me that you are the only actual telepathic beings in the universe?" Justin couldn't open his eyes to look around, but the voices in his mind were very clear and distinct. "Actually, when you contacted me I thought I was finally going crazy, hearing a thought that wasn't my own. By all rights I should think that I am crazy. But the fact that I am able to follow that line of reasoning, whether I am going nuts or not, proves to me that I'm not. How do I know that you are the only telepaths? Exactly how many of you are there and why are you here to see me?"
"One question at a time, please. I/we will start by answering your last first. You have eidetic memory."
Each word was an individual bell note, a pulse of thought that was translated somehow into something Justin could understand. Communicating at this level was not using the English language or any language Justin could recognize, but his comprehension was unaffected.
"So? Other people do, as well. As a matter of fact, a few years back I made friends with Tom Morrison. His memory is as good as mine."
"No. Your memory is perfect; his is not."
"I thought 'eidetic' was the meaning of perfect memory. And how do you know, anyway?"
"It is precisely because I/we are telepathic and capable of accessing your memories from the time of birth until now that we do know. In the entire universe, of all organisms ever conceived, built or otherwise produced, you are the only being with absolutely perfect memory."
"Your sarcasm is uncalled for. You questioned, we/I merely answered."
"I'm beginning to think I'm crazy after all. Maybe having a memory like mine, remembering everything as it happens, all of it every minute of every day, has finally driven me over the edge. There are echoes of echoes in my mind. I can't block anything out. And as I talk with you now, my mind remembers every word and detail of the conversation we had leading up to this point. My memory is not selective. It is total, unrelenting and unforgiving."
"You are by far the sanest human being on Earth. From the dawn of time itself the genes in your forefathers have been arranging themselves in the format that gives you your ability. It would only defeat the purpose to have you driven insane. Your body protects you using your metabolism, glandular secretions, hormonal balance and other mechanisms to insure your sanity."
"How do you know all of this? And you still haven't told me who you are or what you want with me."
"As telepaths we have the ability to view the history of your species through the minds of the people of Earth. However, these memories are clouded by emotions, opinions and false data. As you are the only being with perfect memory, I/we want to view your memories. We/I could take without asking but it is required that we/I have your permission. That way total access can be achieved. If you were fighting us/me, then we/I might not receive a piece of data. Any information, no matter how small or seemingly unimportant, may have some significance."
"Very well, human. If you persist in questioning you will be told the answers. I/we are a very curious race. As you have already guessed, we/I did not originate from your world. As your planet has not had contact with any other sentient beings in the galaxy, I/we are not with you in person. We/I are beyond the range of your planet's sensing devices. I/We don't know if we would register on them but we don't want to experiment. Your species' ego will not accept other life forms at this time as you consider yourselves the only beings of intellect/life in the universe. We/I are aware that your literature and movies are relatively soaked with extraterrestrial material, but your imaginings have not even begun to approach the reality of what lives in the depths of space. We/I see your minds and you do not believe in the possibility of beings other than yourselves. "As a race, we/I have always been. We/I do not remember an era when we/I were not. We/I are spacefaring, requiring no vehicles to travel the universe."
"Stop it! Stop it! Say either 'we' or 'I.' It's too hard to me to follow as it is."
"Very well. We/I ... we have no individual mind. We are privy to the thoughts of all in our race at every moment."
"Even when separated by vast reaches of space?"
"Time and distance have no meaning for us so we remain unaffected by it."
Justin thought about this for a moment. "It doesn't work that way! Just because you disregard time or how far you are from something doesn't mean that it doesn't affect you. The rules of physics are rigid in ..."
"Who defined the rules of time and space?"
"I guess, from our viewpoint, it would have to be the human race when we set about discovering our surroundings and ... wait a minute! Are you trying to tell me that because man has defined rules on the order of things, how reactions take place and why they do, he has imposed restrictions on himself in regard to limiting himself to those selfsame rules?"
"Exactly. Your limitless memory has not clouded your ability to logically come to a correct conclusion. Obviously, there are some stipulations that cannot be overcome, but your species has defined a set of rules that is only a narrow band in the spectrum of reality. Therefore you have limited yourselves. I have answered all questions to your understanding but one, the reason we have contacted you."
"Well, I can guess that there's something I hold in my memory that interests you. You said as much. But what? Other than how I retain sensory information, I am an ordinary human being with the same desires and experiences of any other human being."
"Your species has no bearing on what we require. It could have been any of the other three intelligent organisms that inhabit your planet."
"Three? All we know about are water mammals such as whales and dolphins, and land animals, you know, like monkeys, chimpanzees, gorillas."
"I/we have committed an error in divulging information for which your species is not yet prepared."
"I am hardly in a position to tell anyone about it, am I? And you didn't exactly tell me what species."
"The point is moot. The knowledge will be gained from experience. I am not at liberty to speak of this information."
"It doesn't matter. It would do me no good to know. I am so weak I cannot speak or even open my eyes. You are conversing with me on a level at or close to subconsciousness. I doubt I will ever again regain consciousness before I die."
"We are aware that you are in a hospital and that you are close to the end of your lifespan. Unfortunately, we did not become aware of this until recently or we would have contacted you sooner. Our need requires a little time -- time which you may not have."
Even in coma, Justin's body could swallow reflexively. He grasped the significance of what he was being told and felt an emptiness well up inside him.
"Then I don't have long to live?"
The voice didn't answer at once. Justin didn't know whether it was out of sympathy for his impending death or because the entities were merely calculating the time left to him.
"The typical symptoms of death due to aging indicate you have approximately an hour before your body fails. Ad you see, there is very little time remaining. I implore you, Earth being. Grant this request. It will do you no harm and it will help our race come to ultimate understanding."
Justin was still concentrating on the alien's diagnosis. To be told with such certainty almost exactly when you are to die didn't do a lot to bolster his feelings. He understood that at some point in his future everyone will be faced with the fact of death. However, it was an unknown, something which was disregarded because no definite time or schedule existed for it.
He knew, also, that when a loved one died, that's when a man came close to realizing that he, too, was mortal, that one day he would be silent and still in a satin lined interior of a box. But until it actually happened to him, he would go on believing that he was immortal and as unremovable from life as a mountain was likely to fly up in the air and hover above its base. Now Justin had finally reached a point where he was facing his own mortality.
"Human, I see and feel your distress. But you must face this fact. If you help us now, you will complete the objective of our race. If you do not, we will spend eternity not knowing and waiting for another to come into existence with perfect memory. I may be able to momentarily help your plight."
Justin felt a twist inside his head. Peace and well-being overwhelmed him. "What did you do? How?"
"Because of our telepathic abilities we are able to affect the pleasure and relaxation centers of your brain. We cannot harm you but we can 'turn off' your fears. Now, to use human phrasing: 'Please?'"
"If all you require is my permission, then examine my memories. What is there in particular that you would like to view?"
Justin was suddenly mentally wrenched to one side. His memories, which had been a part of him all his life, receded and quieted. He could still remember anything he wished but his memories were no longer clamoring for equal attention. Somehow, by reaching into his mind, the aliens had given him selectiveness in what he wanted to remember.
"You will be our guide. Take us to the time of your birth, and all that you remember before."
It was as if Justin had no control over his own mind. Seemingly of his own volition he reached back in time, past his adult life, before the beginning of his childhood and into his mother's womb. Surprisingly, he discovered something he had not remembered. Light. Never changing, steady, bright; originating from nowhere but coming from everywhere. It was neither warm nor cold, comforting nor discomforting; he couldn't tell because at this point he had not yet been conceived. Justin couldn't understand how he could have these memories with no body, but they were there all the same.
After an indefinite period of time, a moment or a century, something happened. The light winked out and something grabbed him and threw him forward. He could feel no wind or sense any movement, but he somehow knew that he was traveling an immense distance at a speed beyond description. It went on forever. Time became meaningless. Still, his memory told him that he could feel nothing, think nothing, understand nothing. The only way he knew he existed was the fact that he was aware. He had no perception of sight or sound, not even when he had been amidst the light. He had just known of the light, just as he now knew it was dark.
What came after forever?
He halted suddenly and an explosion rocked his entire body. Something had brought him up short. His body? Up until now, he had existed merely as thought. A thumping began, steadily, rhythmically. He suddenly knew what it was. It was his heart beating for the first time. He became aware of warmth all around him, wet and wonderful. The pleasure was so intense that his infant brain, then only just developing, decided to block out the memory of anything prior to this moment.
Justin relived his entire tenure in the house of the unborn. When he was forced out into the world of air that was so cold it shocked him into crying, he felt the tight control of his memory loosen, and he rushed headlong into the present, skipping past his youth and adulthood as if they were mere inconveniences in his hurry to get back to his hospital bed.
"Thank you, human, for your assistance. You have less than ten minutes before ..."
"Will you stop doing a damned countdown! I know how much time I have left. I can feel it."
"Would you like me to quell ..."
"No! No more parlor tricks. Let me meet death as every human does, facing the pain and the fear."
"What was the purpose?"
"Why did you need to know of the time before I was born, aside from the implications?" Justin was now aware that there was more than one plane to existence, more than life and death. His memory was proof. He had existed before he was born, somewhere. Was it a holding area for souls? He didn't know. He thought, however, that the aliens who had invaded his mind sought proof of this as well.
"You are correct. Again, even this close to death, your reasoning powers are formidable. I will explain. "We are a race who came into being not knowing a history. There was nothing before us to tell us who we were. We did not know how we were created. You humans only have to deal with not knowing how the universe came to be. You can trace your ancestors right back to the primordial sludge from where you originated. We came into being aeons ago in the form we now occupy. We have no world, no bodies in any way that would make sense to you. We have nothing. We are a race without beginning and now it seems without end."
"What do you mean? How old are you?"
"We are older than this universe."
"What do you mean 'this' universe?"
The universe, as you know it, started in a very compact form. It was highly unstable, needing only some sort of stimulus to cause an explosion of such force and energy that it compares only to itself. Before the explosion, what surrounded this form was nothingness. The entire mass of the universe was compacted into a small sphere of energy/matter/plasmic force -- we could not tell. We did became aware of stimulus. From where we do not know. We watched as this energy expanded and coalesced into suns and worlds. And as we have watched this birth three times before, we know that in the center of this universe a nothingness is growing. When this nothingness expands to a certain point, it begins to exert an opposite pull of a force I cannot explain and the entire process reverses itself. This is cyclical, and when stimulus is again applied, again the universe is born."
"Then how can you exist when the universe does not?"
"We do not understand that any more than you. When the universe is non-existent we are present in the nothingness which surrounds the 'Cosmic Egg' as it is sometimes described by your Earth scientists. We have never been harmed by its birth. We can be harmed by nothing of a physical or mental nature. I/we could pass through the core of a star and take no notice of its presence. We exist as we exist. When we travel, the thought of where we wish to be is enough and we are there. We can take physical form if the desire is enough. Our only desire is learning, a compulsion built into us by our creator, whom we do not know. If we wish to learn something that has to be sensed, we can assume any form. A creature of flight is sometimes the best vehicle as it enables us to travel swiftly on atmospheric worlds."
Justin could hardly understand that the alien was saying. His mind was deteriorating rapidly and much was an incoherent jumble.
May we join you on your journey to the end?"
The last was just barely understood and Justin automatically gave his assent. He was rushing along a dark tunnel, no longer a thinking being. It was a similar experience to his birth in that he just had awareness. Eternity stretched before him and at some moment out of that eternity, a pinpoint of light emerged. It grew slowly, then widened in an ever expanding sphere of light, developing more quickly the closer he came to it.
"At last!" said the alien voice. "As a being who cannot die and has never been born, my curiosity will be quenched at both ends of life's spectrum."
Justin could not understand what was happening. He could hear but he could not think. Complacently, with no thought, no emotion, his awareness streaked toward the light with the presence tagging close behind. Then, the light somehow changed. Where it had been just light it suddenly developed an aura. It became something negative that rebuked him and refused his entrance. A voice called out, a voice that was not the one he had been used to hearing. It came into existence and spoke just five words.
Justin was thrown back into the darkness, his companion with him. He realized he was beginning to think again and he understood at some basic level that it was the alien's fault that he could not reach that light, the light that had beckoned and pulled at him irresistibly.
Again, he saw light, but this was the light of day. He glimpsed it as his awareness dived towards the body on the bed. His heart began to beat, lungs began to draw air. As he looked into the startled nurse's face he recalled the words he had heard in that warm/chill light: "No. This is not allowed."
"So, how are you feeling, Justin?"
"Spry as a billy goat. I don't understand why you're so perplexed, doctor. I just got better."
"I would deem it more a miracle than just getting better. You were in a coma, Justin. To be blunt, it was a death coma. There was no sign of heartbeat and your breathing had stopped. We pumped resuscitation drugs into your system but they had no effect. After ten minutes I gave up and pronounced you dead. There is no logical reason I can sit here now an talk to you, if you'll excuse my saying so." The doctor gave an embarrassed cough.
"No offence taken," Justin said lightly. "Just let me have my things and I'll be on my way home."
"You can't go just yet. You'll be here a few more days until I decide you've recovered enough. Then we'll talk about physiotherapy. I have to test you, check your body for ..."
"Actually, Dr. Harrison, I do feel kind of peaked. Do you mind if we discuss this later? After all, I am an old man and I just came out of a coma. I'm feeling very tired all of a sudden."
The doctor blinked. "Sure, sure. Rest as much as you want. I'll come back when you are rested."
Justin was glad when the doctor exited. An abnormal feeling was growing inside him. Something was going to happen and he knew he didn't want Dr. Harrison around when it did. He could feel himself starting to dissolve. With sudden nervousness, he saw his body fade from view. Then, an insight told him what was going on. And he knew where he had to go.
"Hi, guys." Justin's voice sounded like the pure bell tones the aliens had for voices. "I guess I've been banned from the light, just like you."
"We do not understand what happened."
"I guess I've been converted to your species. Whoever is running this show has decided that you're not going to get a second chance on hitching a ride with me to the light, and I don't think you should try it again. Something has a definite plan for you fellows and death is not on the agenda. By the way, could one of you convert to your avian form for a moment? I've got a suspicion."
Something manifested in front of him. It glowed gently and its silvery wings spread wide in space. It was the loveliest female form he had ever seen.
"I thought so," he said. "When you visit Earth in that form, I bet that's the time that reports of angels skyrocket."
Justin concentrated and in a moment, his form resembled a male with wings. He looked around with eyes that pierced the distance, looked past the moon that shrouded Earth half in darkness, and focused on the star centering the solar system.
"Think I'll try some sun sailing," he projected. As he started toward the sun he sent a question to his new family. "By the way, what is the other intelligence on Earth?"
The answer caught him totally by surprise.
"You're kidding! And all this time, we thought we were the masters."
Justin's wings unfolded to the golden glow of Sol. His graceful form streamed forward and accelerated to light speed. He could feel photons impacting his wings and adding to his velocity as he spun around the small yellow star, and if sound could carry in space, his delighted laughter would have been heard echoing as far out as the rings of Saturn.
Darin Roy Park was born in Newfoundland. Transplanted to mainland Nova Scotia at the tender age of 11, he took root and flourished in the England-like climate. His interest in fantasy began with the Brothers Grimm while he was an adolescent, and escalated into SF and F upon procuring a library card in his early teens.
He works at home as a court transcriptionist and divides his time between listening to the legal manipulations of solicitors, and writing fantasy stories that often contain a comical twist or satirical view.
As well as having stories accepted from Anotherealm, his comedic piece, "The Devil, You Say?" was to be spotlighted in the the print magazine, Silicon Sorcery in its debut issue, August, 1999.
You can direct any comments to Darin at: email@example.com