“The road that is built in hope is more pleasant to the traveler than the road built in despair, even though they both lead to the same destination.”
— Marion Zimmer Bradley
It is inevitable for a father who has been present in his children’s lives, to know without conscious thought when a child nearby slumbers. As you slipped into a deep and peaceful rest, I drew my pipe and pouch from my messenger’s bag. Carefully I filled the bowl with a portion of my remaining supply. Fishing a branch end from the nearly dead coals, blowing gently on it, I brought it to the tobacco, and drew in the cherry-rich smoke I had come to… appreciate; that would be the word… over my years here.
Around us the voices of the night whispered. I heard the barred owl call out, and thought how rare that riddle-filled call must have been in the city just three years before. Nature was overtaking the habitation of your kind. I looked up into the open sky fringed by the lush canopy of the park’s oak trees, and listened to the chatter of the universe.
“Why didn’t you attack?” I addressed that which inhabited you.
(Would you not have killed her along with me?)
I considered the Fell’s question. The deeper meaning being not “you would have killed me,” but “you would have killed her.”
(Why didn’t you kill?)
This required another draw on my pipe. And another. “I didn’t sense you were a threat.”
(Yet, you sensed me.)
“Long before you arrived.”
We remained quiet for a long time.
“Why aren’t she and you both dead? In three years’ –”
I waited for the Fell to explain. The Reveal happened just over three years before, as you would remember. But this one was saying you had been… infested… for six years. So I waited out the answers to my many sudden questions.
(I came earlier. As a scout. No, that’s not totally accurate. I came pretending to be a scout — took the place of a scout. One who I… decommissioned.)
Decommissioned. I worked with words for most of my time on this earth; I can sense implied meanings. I waited, working the pipe.
(Because of the girl.)
I considered you as you lay, curled on the grass. Too many questions presented themselves. My mind pressed the necessity to start small, progress slowly. “Why isn’t she a dead shell? Your kind–”
(Only the pre-invasion forces. I’m not one of them. I am a… thinker.)
“A philosopher?” I offered.
(Um… no. A teacher. Although that’s not exact, either.)
“So you are able to inhabit without eating the host?”
(Yes. I am not… a parasite.)
I was back to looking at the stars. My pipe was finished. “Why her? Why did you come for her?”
It was a long time before the Fell answered. (Have you ever been led… somewhere… to do a thing…? Something you don’t fully comprehend? And you don’t know why… or how you are being led?)
As the Fell asked me this, I found myself seeking a particular star — tiny and scarlet among the multitude. Finding it, I sighed, “You have no idea.”
(Then listen. And please try to believe what I am going to tell you. We came tonight because we have been watching for you. Some things I do not know, except that you are part of a plan. Perhaps to save her. More probably, if you will believe my extrapolation, to attempt to save this… ) he paused, (her word is ‘planet.’)
“It is the word. But your kind has already–”
(The infestation was only the first wave. The invasion is coming soon. They are more powerful. They will clean the planet of extraneous life.)
I was sitting up now. “What do you expect me to do?”
(I brought her because I was certain you would know.)
* * *
For the March Speculative Fiction Challenge, at D. Wallace Peach / Myths of the Mirror.