The bar was set high. Six feet. That was the height he had to clear to make it to the final round. He didn’t hear cheers from the crowd looking on as he stepped into his run and prepared to leap. There was only the sound of air as he neared the point where he would soar.
His family line was ancient. It had been known of and talked about for centuries. Virtually every human in the world had been touched by his ancestors at some point in their lives. For there had been times in the past when his forebears had literally swept through the world, bringing death to the new lands they conquered, forcing inhabitants to adapt to new realities.
Now, after a long hiatus in which his family had been largely relegated to the background, they were back on top. Firmly in control. By succeeding in his jump, he’d help to ensure they stayed there, continuing their spread and domination.
He and his team had arrived in Toronto early, well in advance of the games, to get acclimatized. To get the feel of the place before the competition got underway and the media circus began. By doing so, they’d have a chance to get established and gather strength before people realized just how strong they were. It was part of the strategy. By the time the world realized they were the team to beat, they’d be too powerful to stop.
They’d been at this point once before. Just over 100 years ago. But they hadn’t been quite ready then. Not quite strong enough, or perhaps not quite smart enough. The leaders in the communities they swept through were able to hang on, adapting to the new reality and implementing strong measures to survive the onslaught.
For three years, fear had gripped mankind as a new kind of war that they could scarcely contemplate was waged all around them by his ancestors. There had been a clear path to victory for them back then. To achieving the fine balance that would allow for sustainability, as new generations of people were born to serve the needs of his kind and older generations died off. Only his ancestors had not remained faithful to the tenets of their grand purpose. Some of them had varied from the true path. Gone their separate ways. That, plus the willingness of humans to follow the rules imposed by government in the public interest, and the trust mankind placed in their scientists, had turned the tide.
The invasion stalled, then lost its momentum entirely and was halted. Over the years that followed, his ancestors tried and tried again to regain their strength. Seasonal forays in nations around the world became the norm, but almost all were short lived. With spring, when warmer temperatures brought those countries’ people back into the field in strength, his ancestors were beaten back.
Oh, there were moments. Years when a particular branch of his family had upped their game to a new level. When they once again sowed fear into the hearts and minds of people around the world. But those moments had been short lived.
Now that was about to change. He could feel it. The conditions were right.
For the world’s people had forgotten the lessons they’d learned from the great war fought at the outset of the 20th century. Populist governments, a few of them bona fide autocracies ruled by would-be dictators, were back in vogue. Science had lost its lustre. Research funding had dried up as countries focussed on balancing their budgets and reducing their debt load. Tax breaks for large corporations became the cornerstone on which western nations tried to kick start the economic recovery needed to overcome the impacts of the 2008 recession.
In turn, the world’s corporations narrowed their own focus. Profit, resulting in ever larger dividends for investors and high stock values, become their primary measure of success. As the drive for increased profit took hold, the concept of social responsibility was lost. A me-first approach to life became the norm across generations and societies. Basic courtesy, good manners and caring were shelved, as elders were moved into long-term-care facilities to be looked after by strangers. The gap between the rich and the poor widened, as the so-called middle class struggled to make ends meet.
Perhaps it was the magnitude of the threats facing people and their leaders – from climate change, the emergence of armed racist militias in the U.S., the rise of nationalism and trade wars, and the interference of totalitarian countries in the democratic electoral processes of their rivals – that blinded governments and people to the risk. Possibly it was because governments were too focussed on the perceived threats to the global economy and supply chain.
Whatever the reason, the warnings of the world’s top scientists were largely ignored. And almost without exception, world leaders refused to consider that a new invasion force might be taking shape and could soon be sweeping the globe. In some nations, vital equipment needed to fight such a force was destroyed because it was past its best-before date, and not replaced. Some leaders even cut government spending on research and science because of the clear disconnect between what they wanted to do and what the scientific community believed should be done.
At virtually the same time, a technological and communications revolution spearheaded by large for-profit corporations was underway around the world. Facebook, Twitter, Google and other platforms were rapidly changing the way people connected with one another and accessed information. Traditional news media was in decline, as more and more people turned to online sources for their daily news fix. Fake news, bias news and downright propaganda proliferated on the internet, along with conspiracy theories. At least one world leader embraced the new communications technology to spread his own brand of misinformation and hate.
Coron was born into a world in which many people no longer trusted science or scientists, where the internet gave them access to a daily dose of misinformation and lies, and many chose to believe that fake news as near gospel truth. Public trust in government, politicians and traditional news media was at an all-time low.
In contrast, his ancestors had been smart and effective in their time out of power. They’d learned to use animals to their advantage (both as incubators, and as laboratories for the development of mutants). Plus they’d launched a few trial invasions to test the opposition’s defences, learned from their mistakes, then waited until the most opportune moment to strike.
Coron was in the vanguard of the new invasion force. From his birth until the moment he stood centre stadium in Canada, he had been raised and nurtured with a single purpose. To reproduce and survive. To create new warriors who would carry on the fight. He’d been bred for that reason and that reason alone. It was in his DNA. All his training, everything he knew, focussed solely on that.
His life began in China, although there would be some debate among the world’s scientific community later on about where his parents originated. Some suggested that they may have come from France or Italy. That Coron’s parents had been born in Europe before being allowed into China where they eventually found a suitable host to house them and reproduced. It might have been fake news, it may be true. There was no consensus.
Coron has no memories of his birth. He has a vague recollection of waking up in a nursery that was full with thousands of new arrivals, all of them looking exactly like him. Of the walls of that nursery being broken down as it became too crowded. Followed by a journey down a red passageway.
There were things in the passageway. Nasty things. He saw them surround, then kill and eat, several of his fellow travellers. The nasty things followed him all down the passageway, trying to close in on him. As he travelled the temperature rose. It made the journey more difficult. Made him feel sluggish and weak. But his spikey armour protected him, and he persisted.
The passage way opened into a large chamber. Its walls were coated with a fibrous substance that offered places to hide from the nasty things. Places where he could settle in, meet a mate and reproduce. The deeper he went into the chamber, the better the potential hiding places seemed to get.
Coron had kept the nasty things at bay so far. Plus, they seemed to be losing their strength as he continued moving down into the far reaches of the chamber. The fibrous substance on the chamber’s walls at this depth was virtually perfect. He could latch onto it, burrow in, and get established. The nasty things wouldn’t be able to get at him down here.
As Coron settled into his new digs, a storm seemed to be coming. On his way down the passageway, there had been brief periods of turbulence – medium-strength wind gusts. Now the chamber walls had begun to contract suddenly and violently, again and again. Still, he was safe enough in the domicile he’d found, latched onto and entered at the side of the chamber. And so he reproduced, creating thousands of little Coron’s exactly like him and a few that were a bit different – seemingly stronger and more aggressive. Not quite a chip off the old block.
As Coron reproduced and his offspring reproduced, his domicile became overcrowded. The family was bursting out at the seams, which soon gave way, releasing Coron and his brood back into the large chamber. It seemed like a lifetime ago that he’d travelled deep down into the chamber, and in some ways it was, although it had only been a week in human time.
Suddenly, Coron found himself and his family being expelled out of the chamber when its walls violently contracted, sending a rush of air and vapour droplets upwards and through the passageway that he’d followed to reach his temporary home. They came to rest embedded in a droplet, along with hundreds of his kind. The droplet was suspended on tissue at the rear of a small cavern. It was different than the larger chamber he’d been forced to leave just moments before. Much of it was surrounded by a white picket fence, with narrow gaps between the planks, and its floor was very different from the ceiling. The ceiling was smooth and hard, while the floor was made from a softer tissue that had little buds protruding from it. And that tissue seemed to have a life of its own. It moved up and down in the cavern, often in sync with a procedure that cleared the moisture dripping from its walls and ceiling away, forcibly sending it back down a passageway that ran parallel to the one Coron had emerged from.
But the biggest difference was that the small cavern opened and closed, and when it opened, there was light. It was in that light that Coron knew the time had come for him to achieve the destiny his ancestors had set out for him.
The bar was set at six feet. That was the distance the two nostril holes he had to reach and get into was from the mouth where he waited in his vapour droplet for his moment of glory. If he made his leap successfully, and enough of his compatriots were able to make it with him, his mission in life would be achieved. He’d travel up the nasal passage of the rotund man standing across from him, and travel down into the man’s throat. There he’d pause, using his armour spikes to attach himself to and pierce a cell. He’d send his essence into it, then reproduce. When his temporary home became too crowded with his offspring, and its walls burst, he’d travel down through the man’s trachea and deep into his lungs, then repeat the process.
That was his mission. His sole purpose. Survival and reproduction. The continuation of his kind. It was irrelevant to him if the human hosts he and his kind occupied suffered or died from the havoc his takeover of their respiratory systems might cause, or if mankind and the nations they’d created felt as if they were under siege, fighting a war against an elusive, unseen enemy. All that mattered was that there continued to be enough unprotected human hosts available to take him and his kind in and nurture them. That mankind continued to fail in its attempts, whether through protective measures or vaccination, to stop the spread of the invasion force and buildup a herd immunity to keep it at bay over the long term.
So far, that didn’t look like it would be a problem. Not when the rotund man with the yellow hair had reached up to his face and pulled off his protective mask as he walked up to a microphone. Not when that man had leaned forward as he reached the hand holding the mask down toward his pocket. Not when the unmasked man whose mouth Coron was waiting in chose that exact moment to cough, expelling Coron and his family out into the open air that separated him from the man at the microphone.
Coron didn’t make it. He came to rest on a plastic sign attached to the front of the lectern at which the rotund man had begun to speak. The sign read “Open for Business.”
Although he’d failed in his first attempt, Coron was not about to give up. He’d wait for someone to handle the sign, and transfer from it to that person’s skin or glove. Then all he’d need to begin his second attempt at six feet would be for that person to touch their lips, nose or eyes.
And all was not lost regardless of what happened to Coron. Several of the variants in Coron’s family, the ones that hadn’t been created as an exact chip off the old block, had made the leap successfully and even now were beginning their journey down the rotund man’s nasal passages. In a day or two, he would start to sneeze, then cough.