Faith in wings
Falfurth arched his back, his hands firmly grasping his hips as he felt his vertebra slowly ease. He hated the long journeys on the sleeper train. The beds were hard and uncomfortable and the lack of overhead room always ensured he had to lie flat rather than prop up his back with a pillow, as he usually did. Why did they need to talk to him today? If they’d given him more time he could have waited for the biweekly shuttle to take him to the capital, but they had insisted he arrive as soon as possible.So he had jumped on the first express train he could and had spent the night lying awake in the unforgiving little cubbyhole the train operators had the gall to call a bed.
A man in his position forced to travel with lesser people, it was almost too much to bare. Of course, things had been different lately, the classes were forever getting blurred. Movements such as the ‘pro rights for ground dwellers’ had been causing unrest on the political scene. Apparently, according to their propaganda, it wasn’t enough to be born better than everyone else these days, you had to earn your rightful place instead.
Falfurth looked at himself in the tiny circular mirror in the shared bathroom. His pointed mouth and sharp nose glinted with smooth stretched skin. His small eyes blinked back at him. He looked a mess. That was what spending a night on the express train did to you, it started turning you into one of them, you would soon forget your heritage and start living on the ground. It was unhealthy to expect him to travel like this.
In a search for reassurance that his reasoning was just, Falfurth turned his shoulders slightly and gazed down his naked back. The two large lumps of evolutions forgotten wings sat proudly out of his back like two large eggs. They had a light blue sheen and were occasionally speckled with tiny brown feathers. Falfurth sighed as his body relaxed. Everything would be all right, he’d soon be off this ghastly vehicle and back amongst his own kind.
As promised a private car was waiting for him when he reached the terminal and he gratefully sank into the padded back seat, buckling the harness tightly across his chest. The driver didn’t speak a word, he was one of the few who still respected his betters and knew his job was to drive and not to make idle chitchat. The car sped along the short stretch of ground outside the terminal building then violently tilted upwards, soaring vertically into the air.
The engine roared as the car made its way up between four towering buildings, cutting to one side of the monoliths as paths between them started to branch out in ways that seemed to defy natural physics. The the base of the buildings were dirty and soiled with excrement and rubbish but soon the car was leaping up to the smaller but more refined branches of the city.
Falfurth stared out in wonder as the car swooped higher and higher, the dank vertical streets of down-town blossoming into a maze of smaller but far more elegant roads. Green lit windows flashed past all four sides of the car like glittering green stars. As the car reached higher, the natural light increased too. Thousands of shafts of gold came down each street and flashed onto the speeding vehicle.
Finally the car reached a tiny, bright lit lane and sharply pulled up into it. The vehicle popped out into broad daylight. Below the city, a dome of green and brown, stood proudly. Nearby other domes bristled in the sky. All of them built in the same vain, with strong, dark brown trunks and bright green domes.
Falfurth could see in the distance the small stump of his own homeland, tiny on the horizon, nothing but sandy desert between the cluster of cities here and his distant metropolis. With his mind still clustered with questions, however, he didn’t feel he had time to linger on the vista and he turned his attention back to what was at hand.
Sat on top of this city was a large brown circular structure, that stood proud with authority, and it was to this building that the car steadily approached, eventually entering with an austere swoop. Metal doors closed behind the car as it settled in the parking bay among many other, far more ornate, vehicles.
Alpha was perched on a plain wooden chair in the large council room. His guard of honour flanked him on both sides in red feather capes and helmets topped with large red plumes. Falfurth had only been in the council room two times before in his life and the first time had been with his father. Yet he strutted into the room, with the knowledge that he had a right to be there, his backside swaying with his natural waddle. The bumps on his back twitched slightly and he knelt down in front of Alpha, bowing his head.
“No need to stand on ceremony Falfurth” said Alpha in a high pitched sing song voice that carried the weight of authority with it. “This is urgent. I understand that you have been working for the university in your city, teaching mathematics to the young, bright fledglings of tomorrow?” Falfurth nodded solemnly and was just about to speak when Alpha held up his hand to keep him silent. “I am sure you are aware, then, that scientists in the university here have been working on a computer system designed to track back our history. Using…” Alpha paused, apparently to get his own words in order but the whole room pretended it was for dramatic effect and waited with baited breath. “complex algorithms and statistics?”
“I have been following their reports closely your highness.”
“Good. Good. Unfortunately, they have hit a slight… issue. I need you to have a look at their data set and see where they have gone wrong? I’m sure it is just a minor calculation error but it does need to be fixed immediately.”
“Without delay, your highness.”
The university, due to it’s importance to the state, was nested in the grand administration building. The computer labs were in the heart of the structure and this was where Falfurth sat with the senior technician. He still didn’t understand why he was needed. Surely a simple calculation issue could be done by any number of professors. It was hardly important enough to drag him here with such urgency and secrecy. At least if he could fix it by tomorrow he could take the shuttle back home.
“So, Falfurth, how much do you know of our work?” Asked the technician. He was very pointy, every part of him that Falfurth looked at seemed to be a corner.
“As I understand it, you have been tracing back our evolution using a complex system of algorithms designed to replicate the evolutionary pressures. You looked at our current physical state and, going backwards in time, you have been trying to work out in what sequence we evolved and what pressures on our species were most important or potent.”
“Indeed, although I would have to correct you here, we have not been trying, we have succeeded.” Said the technician with a glint in his eyes. “last week we managed to map our development not just back to when we soared on bright coloured wings but even further back to when we were still barbarians, wandering on the ground in the dirt.”
“So why I have been called here.”
“Well it has long been understood, has it not, that true progress was motion upwards?”
“A species progresses by getting higher, by getting closer to the heavens and that our species biggest ever achievement was to break from the shackles of the ground and take to the bosom of the sky.” Falfurth nodded, this was preschool science teachings.
“Has it not troubled you then that, for the last few hundred thousand years our species seems to have abandoned the sky and once again turned to walking upon its feet?”
“Well no. Around that time a meteor hit the earth, did it not? The sky became thick with dust and temperatures dropped. Animals had to survive by staying close to ground for its warmth because the sun could not get through. Our species was forced to regress to an inferior state to survive.”
“Indeed. So the story goes.”
“Well as we ran our programme backwards we had a startling discovery. Everything seemed to be predicting accurately. All the way back, as I said, to before we first took to the air. However, a slight anomaly appeared around the time of the meteor. According to our calculations, our species had already abandoned the heavens for the ground before it hit.”
“Impossible” Shouted Falfurth with sudden astonishment. “Why would our species regress like that? For no reason?”
“Well the pressures that our computer seemed to predict…” The technician paused, unwilling to lose Falfurth’s attention to anger too soon, before he could explain everything. “…Well that is not important. Let us just say that the algorithms still seem to be doing their job. In an effort to understand this, we decided to turn the system round. Instead of going through the history of our species and working out how we evolved, we played it forward. We got the system to predict how we would evolve in the future. This is less accurate, of course, as pressures have to be predicted on probability rather than known factors, but what we found was even more shocking.”
“What?” Asked Falfurth, wondering if anything could be more shocking then the revelation his species had given up its proximity of the heavens to live amongst the dirt of it’s own free will and not because of a natural disaster that had forced their wing.
“Let me show you.” The technician waddled over to a screen and flicked it on. “We have designed the programme to output an image of how our species will look as the changes take place, it changes at about 2,000 years a second.” Falfurth stared at the screen, an image of an unremarkable member of their species stood on a black background staring blankly back at him. The technician hit a button and a small clock started ticking up in the corner of the screen and the image started to very slowly move. Falfurth’s nose went white with shock.
“This is blasphemy. You must have made a mistake. This cannot be seen by anyone. You need to destroy it before anyone else knows about it. That thing is… where are it’s wings? It’s hunched and stooped over, it has longer bigger legs its like… its like…”
“It’s a lot like the ground dwellers who already live in some of our cities isn’t it.” Said the Technician sadly.
“That is disgusting. This system is…” Trailed off Falfurth.
“You have not been brought here to pass judgement on our findings Falfurth, that is Alpha’s job. Your job is to check that our system is not making mistakes.”
“You don’t need me here for that. Clearly it’s making mistakes. Why would we become even more stuck to the ground than we already are? That is not progress. Why would we keep regressing?”
“Evolution, despite what we like to tell our fledglings, does not think of progress. It is simply a process that effects all species to ensure their survival to ever changing conditions.”
“If… if, and its clearly not, but if this system is working correctly. Could we not stop it? Could we not stop our species regressing?” Chirped Falfurth, panic edging his thin lips.
“Perhaps,” said the technician, “but I think we have to face something even more challenging. We have built our philosophy, our very society, on the premise that the heavens are perfect, the earth is tainted. The higher we are able to go, the more perfect we are as a species. This premise in itself was determined by our state of being, by the fact that we could once fly and we were once in the heavens ourselves. We have built up a myth of a tragic accident that led to us being chained to the ground once more.”
“It is not a myth, there is evidence of…”
“Now we also have evidence that it was not the meteorite that led to us losing our ability to fly. “
“But…” Tried Falfurth but the technician cut him off abruptly. Falfurth’s head was spinning and he was finding the scientist’s words difficult to cling on to.
“There is now the possibility that we have been wrong.”
“This is just ridiculous.” croaked Falfurth.
“If our species joined the earth because of evolutionary pressures before the devastating event; if our our species is continuing to create a greater bond with the ground, then maybe we need to rethink what we consider progress to be. Maybe we should not be aiming to return to the heavens. Our reason for doing so, is based on the same reasoning that says the right direction is down. Think about it. We think the heavens are the right place to be because we believe that is where our species, by its physical make-up, should be. But here we have a system that says our physical make-up wants to be on the ground and it will do better on the ground, it will flourish better down there.” said the Technician sagely.
“If that were true then… then Alpha would have no claim to rule. He sits on the perch of governance because he is the most like our former glory. He is closest to the pure. If this nonsense is true, would you have one of those filthy creatures from the lower levels take command?”
“Tell me why they should not. Why should Alpha rule us? Why is our former state pure?”
“Because that is who we are! We are birds. We will always be birds and birds belong in the sky!”
“Yet we have no wings. What we call wings these days a little more than forgotten stumps.”
“That does not stop us being birds. I don’t need wings to be a bird.”
“But you need to fly? You need to be close to the heavens?”
“No… well yes, but… it is just the way things should be.” Falfurth concluded, his face dropping to the floor sullenly.”
“Alpha called you here because, understandably, he thinks we have made a mistake. I want you to go through everything and check the system but I can guarantee that you will find no mistakes. I personally have been through every line of code and I know that this system speaks the truth. We shall soon all be flat backed and long legged. We are living in the past, thinking it is the future. It’s not just the fact that we idolise a state that our species was hundreds of thousands of years ago, it is the fact that we base our society on our image of the species at all. To reverse our society and give authority to the ground walkers would not be any more just than then the system is now.
We cannot use our physical state to judge who we are or who we should be. We are not one thing, we are an ever changing creature, like all creatures. We change over time, neither getting better nor worse, we just change to fit in with the world as it is then. Maybe the Heavens still are pure, maybe they are where we should be, but the reason for that will not be because of our bodies. Maybe, for thousands of years, our species has been held back by our old ways of thinking, maybe this is the dawning of a new era for us. I do not know. All I do know is my computer system has not made a mistake, but it has opened my eyes to the greatest mistake our species has ever made. Faith in wings will not not see us soar, Falfurth, it will see us stagnate.”
“I will find the mistake. There will be a mistake and, then, I am sure Alpha will want your neck on the chopping block. Your words may be bewitching but the facts will show for themselves. We shall be great once again, we shall soar amongst the heavens and be pure.”