The ship came thundering out of the darkness of deep space, decelerating past the big outer gas giants to swing into orbit above a green and blue marble, streaked with white. The crew of the interstellar ship was alien to the star system, and had eagerly crossed the shoreless expanses of space to meet a fellow sentient race in a lonely universe. Unfortunately, before they had even crossed half the gulf, the planet went dark – no communication interceptions, no energy read-outs, nothing to give any evidence that the planet was inhabited or inhabitable.
The first team to descend to the surface returned in dismay. The people of the planet had destroyed themselves in the last thousand years. The cities were in ruins, and even the plant and animal life on the planet was reduced to a subsisting minority of the planet’s rich past. Saddened, the mission changed from one of first contact, to one recording for posterity the cousins they would never meet.
It was during the first few months of research into the planets demise that a surface team returned from the radioactive slag heaps of a major metropolis with a find of enormous importance. They were tracking down the few erratic energy sources still functioning in hopes of finding some remnant of survivors, when they discovered a functioning reaction generator in the cellar of what was once a medical facility.
The alien known as The Instructor strode forward with a wide smile on his face. Pinched between his digits was a small glass tube, shimmering opalescent with a stasis field. He held it up for The Councilor, the nominal commander of the mission, to inspect. “We have found a frozen embryo, viable and untouched by the apocalypse that devastated the race.”
“Yes,” the Councilor hissed, his eyes widening in surprise as he gazed into the yellowish fluid. “Our mission has changed once again, Instructor.“
He was speechless with shock, and a momentous weight seemed to settle on him. Three times in his life had he felt this way: the first, when grainy transmissions from halfway across the galaxy were first detected. The second feeling of destiny struck him as he surveyed the burned out husk of a once thriving alien world. Now this. It was almost too much to bear, if the news wasn’t so unbelievably wonderful. One way or another, they were going to meet a sentient alien race.
The team of medical technicians worked feverishly to bring the embryo to fruition, while the cultural liaisons spent every moment scouring the blasted lands for authentic components for the habitation sphere they were building. Coordinating the efforts were the Instructor and the Councilor, who learned all they could of alien society and physiology. The Instructor took charge of the embryo, while the Councilor oversaw the creation of the habitat in the least damaged region of the planet, on the edge of a vast desert.
It was important that the alien maintained cultural and societal ties to its species, and in the beginning, the two devised a wild plan to use artificial simulacrums to raise the offspring in an imitation of the ruined civilization they found on arrival. Enough records remained to paint an accurate picture of domesticity for the strange suicidal people, and when the babe was brought forth squalling, a warm-skinned mother was there to comfort her new son.
Within months, the simulation began to show weaknesses and the Instructor was amazed that such a youngling could be so perceptive. It had seemed in the beginning that creating a “mother” for the child would be easy – they had an entire world’s history of a people to draw upon, and their technology was advanced to the point where few boundaries remained uncrossed for long. Nonetheless, by six months old, the infant would begin wailing, and no amount of robotic motherly cooing could calm the child. In the end, the Instructor himself donned the garb of the aliens and took charge of the babe personally.
The habitat was based on an immense garden uncovered by the cultural liasions. With brooks of fresh water, walking paths, and colorful birds in the trees, animals in the grass. It was domed, and large enough that when the growing boy was old enough to walk and play on his own, he would spend hours going from one end to the other. The walls were made to look like impassable terrain, except for the access to the visitor’s Land Station, where the boy would come every day to listen and learn from the Instructor or the Councilor. The great data handling machines of the visitors had devised a language that was a microcosm of all known languages, and it was this they taught.
For many years the boy learned and grew, and was content. The visitors learned much about the world, and much about its destruction by mapping the psychology of the living specimen. On one point the Councilor was clear: no mention should ever be made to the boy about the fate of his species. The consequences of learning this knowledge were unknown and based on temperamental studies, could well be dire.
The boy however, was not so easily dissuaded from asking difficult questions, and from the time he entered puberty, he asked why he was always alone, and if he could ever have any companion besides the Councilor and the Instructor. In the beginning they demurred, but the Councillor knew that he was dealing with a social species, and studies showed that without companionship, the species tended to underperform, or even work against the greater good of society. When the Instructor came down in favor of a companion, the Councilor acquiesced, though he had doubts, and there was a nagging sensation, that another toll of the bell that rung for destiny sounded at the decision.
A sample of the boy’s genetics were taken, and they were manipulated to create a female embryo, which came to term and spent its first six months with the lonely mothering robot before being taken to the garden. The boy was elated and instantly took to the baby girl. He spent his every waking moment with her, and when she was old enough to walk, they would spend hours walking around the garden, pointing out the sights. They gave names to each of the wondrous birds and other animals they came across, and the Councilor came to call them by the same names.
The pair continued to grow, and early on the girl showed a wilder streak than the boy. Eventually she came to adolescence, and like the boy before, her body underwent changes and the two marveled at how alike, yet how different each were. The girl asked if all people showed such divergence, but the Instructor was quick to point out that while each person was unique, they all shared traits with one of two sub-types, male and female. But whenever the conversation came too close to the apocalyptic end of the species, the Councilor would always interject that there would be a time for that instruction later, but now was not the time.
One day, when both the boy and girl were well into their young adulthood, they were playing games near the visitor’s access. For a long time, they had tried to catch glimpses of what lay beyond the door, but the Councilor was adamant that they may never leave the garden. To leave meant to know death, and here was a new concept for them to contemplate.
The Councilor was away much of the time and it fell more and more on the Instructor to educate the wards. He was more lenient with information, and part of him believed they should be told the truth. The Councilor continued to decline. The visitors were learning more and more about this world and its erstwhile masters every day, and no mistakes must be made.
Meanwhile, the girl was in a wild mood and demanded more and more questions from the Instructor. She asked him about death, about birth, about other of her people. He declined to answer, but acknowledged they were worthy questions. This filled her with wrath, and she pointed to the door and asked what was beyond. He told her she could not know, but admitted it was right for her to wonder.
In anger, she demanded to know why they could not leave the garden, was this all the world? He admitted it was not, but that the wide world was barred to them at this time. She asked why, and he could not give her an answer, though he tried. She became merciless in her inquiry, rushing through a litany of questions that had gone unanswered over the years.
Finally, she asked the question that had been on her mind the whole time. “Do you know why my stomach is bulging, just so?” And the Instructor looked on aghast. The fifth moment of destiny tolled, and he saw then a future stretched long and far from this moment, ending perhaps in a world again wreathed in flames. He lurched forward, unstable, to clutch at her alabaster shoulders. He was falling and could not stand. She backed up instinctively, raising her hands to protect herself.
The boy, looking on with dull eyes, suddenly sprang to action. He scooped up a rock and brained the Instructor with it. Where the rock struck, the flesh tore away, and underneath was a hard yet flexible gray shell. The girl screeched and dug into the visitor with her claw-like nails, gouging great handfuls of flesh that parted to show something strange under a skin like their own.
The boy and girl bled when they were cut. But the flesh of the visitors sloughed away to reveal a chitinous insectoid body. It had two sets of eyes, one above the other. The upper eyes could gaze out long distances, but the smaller lower eyes were positioned just above a mouth surrounded by waving tendrils, for detailed scrutiny of close up objects. As the Instructor revealed his true form, the youths were spurred to ever greater violence, and the girl picked up a rock and together they beat the instructor into the ground.
Soon the Councilor arrived, and hurried to intervene, beseeching his children for calm. He too was struck down and revealed to be a vile alien. They made short work of him, and when it was done, the boy took the girl’s hand and led them from the garden, into the great old world. On the edge of a lonely desert they made their home, and never saw another living being until their first child was born.