To the world...
Note: The chapter enumeration corresponds to their chronological order in the story.
There once was a child.
There once was a book.
The child opened the book and read its pages. It was a book on birds.
One day the child read:
“Humans will never be able to fly with the help of their muscles alone. To lift their own weight they would need wings thirty feet long and thoracic muscles six feet thick, in order to move them. Even so, they would only be able to take off aided by strong winds.”
Once an oath was taken:
“One day I will fly.
I will fly.”
“I greet you with respect, all of you who are here and all those listening from a distance. I ventured to invite you because a dream has been haunting me for years and along with a hope I wish to share it with you.”
At twelve years old he tried to stay in the air.
He made a simple frame and covered it with cloth. It might have been a parachute. He hung a basket underneath.
For the trial he carried stones – equal to his own weight – onto the roof of his house. He began to load them into the basket. At the fourth stone he stopped. He emptied the basket, climbed in and gave a push with his hands.
Next came fifteen feet of hard fall.
At the end there was pain and disappointment and bitterness. But mostly pain.
“For centuries, mankind has walked aimlessly upon the Earth. Everyone comes here to live and to die and nobody has ever escaped this rule.
And whether you believe in God or fate or fortune or anything else, you know that some day our species will disappear, replaced by something else or by Nothing.
And what have we done for all this?
We have increased our life expectancy and defeated all diseases and since death now comes only from deterioration, we are now straining for immortality.
And we have multiplied our knowledge of life manifold, so that today we can intervene to it. And we have learned how to transform all creatures as well as determine the form of their children before they are born.”
He found plans of flying machines and he himself designed others. The function of all aimed at motion and at delaying the fall which always came about.
“The falling point.
The point where dreams are extinguished.
You foresee it looking down from the tree or the rock or the summit you are on. You say “it will be from there to there”.
Then you jump and only then, like lightning, you perception clears and the point is known.
If you are tied to a machine you try to surpass it, to break the limits of the forecasts.
And in less time than a complete idea you arrive. You gather your legs, your body, your thought, your entire being, trying to remain in the air, in freedom, not touching the ground where all walkers tread.
And then comes the contact. The contact is the end. Whether rough or soft, the contact is always the end.”
“And we dreamt.
Since the dawn of history we dreamt of flight. We created our gods devils with wings, we observed the creatures of the air and strove to raise ourselves to the skies.
With machines we obtained a substitute for natural flight, with drugs we idealized it paying a high price and with modern bioelectronics we experienced the feelings of the birds, unbalancing our brains.
And we tried other methods, some better and some worse.”
He flew in an airplane before he gave his oath and many times afterwards. But it was ever a disappointment. Imprisoned, he had to bear the weight on his chest, then the dullness of the flight and lastly the pain in his ears.
And later he flew in a helicopter and a biplane, with a glider and other devices.
He was glad when he could conduct himself and see the earth and delighted when there was no protective shell and the wind froze his face and dried his mouth.
He never forgot true flight.
“But the innate ability, although lesser in achievements compared to the artificial, is incomparable, because it pertains completely to the individual who exercises it and the individual needs no training and can exercise it at any time alone, without aid.
Moreover, it is equal for all individuals.”
He flew for the first time when virus “0” was still a dream.
He was asleep.
He went out of his body and traveled.
Over land and sea, over fields and forests, over mountains and gorges. Falling and rising, gliding and flying.
Close to the ground without crashing into other beings or at enormous heights without feeling giddy.
And he was free. He was freer than he could imagine or desire. He felt such pleasure as no other experience ever granted him.
He woke believing he remembered all. And never in all his life did he ask for a pleasure greater than that, because he thought it presumptuous. On a piece of paper he wrote:
“I, too, dreamt that I flew. And wished to offer this gift to mankind.
I worked much on the power of mutations and with my Disciple we prepared a line of viruses. And now I can make a proposition to you saying that if we so wish, in a few years our descendants will have wings and be able to fly.
Please, listen to me.”
There was a simple ceremony in a university hall.
He held a paper roll in his hand. The paper certified that he had excelled in his studies, that now he was a scientist, a geneticist. His teachers foresaw that he would become a major biotechnologist.
Two gentle eyes looked fixedly at the world beyond the window.
Two lips whispered mechanically:
Then the research began.
It lasted long.
It lasted so long, that before it was over he saw cities erased from the map and other cities born.
It lasted so long, that at its eve his hair had turned gray.
And all these years he worked at other projects as well. For he could not tell the administrators “I am seeking the virus that shall cause men to give birth to birds”.
“The change I am proposing is great, but it is merely corporeal; as far as we can tell, we will remain mentally unaffected. But our mentality will change.”
There was a group of small white mice with gentle black eyes, nestling in the warm comfort of their glass cage. The scientist was looking at the mice.
“I apologize to you for what I am about to do.
I apologize to Life, to nature, to Balance, to God – if there is one – and to the Universe itself – if it makes sense.
If on the whole I am going to cause harm at any level, I prefer to fail.”
There where female and male mice. The scientist gave an injection to each animal.
He was the first man to see mice with wings.
And it was on a cold winter dawn that the new species greeted the Earth.
Inside the glass cage the newborns were nursing quietly.
Outside the laboratory people where coming and going.
The man was staring.
“Until now we made wars and each war was more cruel than the one before.
And we created societies intending to work together within them for progress and common welfare, but they all came to a bad end.”
A few days later, the mothers-mice stopped nursing.
When the babies came close they bit them.
The man fed them with a dropper.
“And we attributed the wars and our failures to necessity, to our impulses, to our greed, to natural and supernatural laws, to our estrangement from nature, to overpopulation another causes.
And no education, no religion or philosophy, no scientific project was able to conquer our passions.
Against Madness, against legislators and destinies we did not understand, we have proved powerless.”
The winged mice lived and were able to fly.
When they grew up they mated between them.
The second generation was accepted by its parents. All mothers nursed their infants.
“I believe that we failed because we never strove united for a common purpose. One group contended another, considering its system best, and the world revolved ever around the same point.
But if my proposition is accepted, I believe that mankind will act as one, since all of us sill be facing the same fact a fact surpassing in magnitude every other problem and dispute.”
The experiment was successful.
The scientist was thinking. He felt both like a God and a Devil. He realized that mankind had for centuries been approaching both those positions in leaps.
He decided to continue.
“The new creature will belong to both skies and earth and maybe by flying it will learn anew to love nature.
Habits and civilization will change; cities and objects will be designed afresh, to serve new ends.
The transitional era will last a few generations and during that time a golden society may tower high.
Yet even if none of this ever happens and we bequeath Madness to the new species, it will have changed in nothing but a pair of wings; and I think our descendants will be grateful to us, just like we would be grateful to our forerunners if they had in a similar way given us our legs.”
There once was a young man.
The young man was a disciple.
His teacher had a strange idea. It was a romantic and frightening idea. He wanted to plant wings on the backs of humans.
The Teacher asked for his Disciple’s help. The Disciple thought long. One day he stood with his arms spread and whispered:
“Onto this earth, onto this ground that I tread I have been brought only to live and die, to be and be forgotten. Onto this earth I have come only to do Nothing.
I take the right given to me by my mind and my senses and I decide for better or for worse to try and alter mankind, for I need to do Something.
Let any intellect that may exist and watch me, for better or for worse, attempt to destroy me if it deems it right.”
The young man became the Teacher’s assistant.
“Now I wish to inform you of the manner of the Change.
We have learned to create viruses and load them with genes. We call them controlled because they cannot be transferred but only implanted and they enter selectively in the tissues we desire. There, in each cell, only one of them can invade, not to destroy but to add or to inactivate genetic material, namely features. And by sending the viruses to the reproductive cells we do not transform the person itself but we predestine the transformation in his or her children.
When I began the research, I knew that some would want the Change and others not.
If, however, our species were divided, I feared that the two sides would be in permanent conflict. That is why we ought to be transformed wither all together or none at all. We could not, however, force anyone to be transformed against his or her will. Yet maybe it would be permitted to demand it for their children – since they would be members of the future world.
But even if we all wished to change, we might have to wrap ourselves in cocoons and there melt and be rewoven, as caterpillars do to become mature insects. This, however, is not yet possible.
For all these reasons I studied the second way and now I say that if we decide for the Change, it must begin with our children.”
The Teacher and the Disciple worked for years.
Outside the laboratory winters and summers came and went, leaves withered and flowers bloomed.
They studied for hours the human body and brain. The tried to foresee the reaction to every alteration they would provoke.
They created and cultivated thousands of cell and tissue cultures.
And one day they were finished.
“And since children born different in appearance from their species are often considered alien and turned out, my Disciple and I have distributed the transformation in five generations. We hope that in this way each generation will adjust smoothly to the previous and accept smoothly the next. The price will be sterility between the five generations.”
“Let me now show you the form of the new creature.”
“The Teacher was silent and with him the hall and all the wide world.
The Disciple rose, stepped on the pedestal and began projecting the slides.
It was as if nature’s images had intermingled in the head of an insane designer.
The body was small and vaguely resembles an upside-down pear. The limbs were thin, the legs shorter and ending in hands. The neck was longer and folded and the eyes were obliquely placed.
The wings were immense.
The spread in two large triangles and from the edges there continued two long rectangles and then, at an angle, another two. And the triangle apexes and the rectangles were covered in feathers and further down the wings were bare and the rest of the body covered in fur. And of course there was the tail; a large tail, thick and bushy like a squirrel’s.
The world stood still.
The Teacher went on:
“We designed the human being all over. We removed much and added more. The final form is the most approximate to our species.
The average height will range from 1.10 to 1.20 meters; the average weight from 37 to 42 kilograms and the full wingspan will surpass 5.50 meters. Inside the body we created space for the air sacks, we added a second heart and brain nerves for coordinating the six extremities.
The creature will not be able to fly fast, nor for long; but it will be able to fly.
And since it will no longer be human nor a true bird nor a true mammal, but it will be intelligent, we named it Fictum sapiens.”
There once was a man.
The man was a scientist.
The man, the scientist, had just finished a research. The research was successful.
For many, many years, the greatest part of my time on earth, I struggled for mankind to be able to fly. I wanted to have wings myself, but I have always believed that I ought to show the way to my people. I had to choose between the path of the individual and that of the whole. I chose the second because it was easiest, because it would cause less pain.
I broke my oath and I denied myself the chance to be a bird, I denied the chance to any individual to become a bird if he so wished. Now, only if we all wish it, we can turn our children into birds.”
“Yet you ask me if we have the right to change the shape of our descendants.
As far as they are concerned, I believe we do, since the new shape will be superior to ours.
Again: do we have the right to change the shape of our species?
Again I think we do. Whatever powers are given unto us, it is our duty to use in order to evolve. That is what the Universe commands.
If human beings exist due to evolution, we know now that they are no longer governed by natural selection. The only selection is the one exercised by societies and civilization, but it is blind. Our evolution is now our responsibility, we have to assume it ourselves.”
“My God, I feel too tired to follow the first path from the beginning.
And even if I could make it, I no longer have the courage to me transformed. And I don’t feel that I have the right to transform what has been born, and I don’t yet know if I have the right to transform what will be born.”
“And if human beings exist because a Creator made them, we believe He gave them power enough in order to evolve. And He commanded them to do so.
That is what most religions teach.”
“If mankind accepts, I may just have time to see the first link between the Wise Man and the Wise Creature, in the face of the next generation.
The Judges will accuse me of removing the consequences of my acts from my own life. They will be right. I may be a fugitive of justice, I may be a coward, yet with such self-knowledge as I possess, I say that I have kept my conscience clean, although full of doubt. And I say that my doubt is not the result of panic or blindness, but fruit of my inability to decide for the entire world.”
“What if this concerns only the evolution of the spirit?
Whether yes or no, if the world we have built is a measure of our spirit, I believe that we have failed. Therefore we are obliged to try something else. Otherwise I foresee that we will soon cease to exist along with many other things or, by modern standards, existence will no longer be worth anything.
Besides, I believe that the care of the body is equally important to that of the spirit, at least inasmuch as the spirit needs the experience of the body in order to develop.
Maybe in the far future our descendants will eliminate the body and later on the brain itself, giving to Sense and Mind possibilities we cannot imagine now.
But for the time being the change that I propose is enough.”
And I will always have these doubts whether the answer is “Yes” or “No”, until I die.
Yet I have decided to fight for a “Yes” because I think it is right.
God, help me, if you will.”
The Man asked to speak before the world parliament.
“Of course, many similar changes can be designed. And maybe you will be frightened and say that the creature that once was human may end up a spoilt child, senselessly playing with its shape.
It may be so. Maybe in every planet where the Child arrives it will take the form best suited to survival. Some forms may be destructive. Some may be brilliant. It was always so.
We here, now, ought to begin. Maybe we here, now, will fail. We still have to try.”
The large hall was full.
There were leaders of nations and religions, philosophers and scientists, journalists and artists. There were idealists and skeptics, conservatives and revolutionists.
And there was he and near him the Disciple, two people in front of mankind.
He took a deep breath. He started to speak.
“So let us hold a world referendum for a “Yes” or a “No”. And until the decision is taken, let us respect the greatness of deciding.
I know that afterward, if the answer is affirmative, no conduct can any longer be considered unjustified. Instincts stronger than reason will then guide our acts. We will have to accept that.
I now take my leave of you and I wish that whatever is done shall bring good, so that the future beings will be able to say one day that we did our best.
He had entered the hall a mature, gray-haired man. He left a few hours later, much older, white-haired, but upright, eyes looking high.
A year went by. The Researchers were examining the Scientist’s work. They said that they could find no fault, but neither could they guarantee it was correct.
Another year went by till the people’s leaders accepted that the referendum had to be held.
And a third year went by till the referendum was organized. And it was decided that mankind would change if two thirds of the people voted for “Yes”.
“President”, asked the Teacher, “will you support my proposition?”
“No”, said the President.
“Because your proposition makes my greatest dream come true. If it comes true, I will no longer have anything to dream. And then I will die.
I fear that the same will happen to mankind.”
“What about you, my great friend?” asked the Man of the Tree in his dream.
It took long to answer. At last it spread its large, green palm onto the Man’s chest.
“Your wings are here”, it said. “If you love, in time you will find peace and then you will fly, with wings or without.”
If you do not love, even with wings you will never fly well.”
It was so important that it fought for itself; nothing could stop it. The referendum was decided. And until this was universally accepted, states were blackmailed and governments fell and revolutions rose and wars were fought.
For three years people lived in the Dark Ages. Messiahs appear and religions were born, saviors foretold the end of the world and visionaries promised its future. Legends and prophecies came to light, magicians claimed powers they had not and demagogues declared themselves exorcists of the oncoming curse.
And in three years mankind aged more than it had aged in tree millennia. And blood was spilt on the streets and in the people’s eyes terror lurked. And the hearts were heavy, for both supporters and accusers knew that if the Proposition were accepted, it would mean the end of humans.
“Do you know the result, Teacher?” asked the Disciple before the vote began.
“Of course I do… and you?”
“I don’t want to know. I want to hope.”
The ballots were sent all over the world.
And the people of Earth, ten day before the Day, were sleepless.
The referendum took three days and three nights. Throngs of people paraded before the wooden boxes and billions of hands dropped billions of papers on the first universal decision for the future.
In the great hall the world rulers were seated once more. And the Teacher and the Disciple were present. Neither of them had voted.
The count lasted four days and then the result was engraved into stone and turned into a monument.
“NO” : a few billion counts
“BLANK” : a few thousand counts
“YES” : one count
A child, who had become a young man and was now old, spoke for the last time to the World.
“I thank all those who voted for “No”, for they have shown that Mankind belongs to nature, since Nature imposes on all species the desire to live.
I thank all those who dropped a blank; for they have shown that Mankind has doubts and has conquered Seeking, even if it does not always find answers. Therefore, Mankind belongs to itself.
I thank the one who voted for “Yes”, for he has shown that Mankind wants to evolve and may yet find the strength to do it; therefore Mankind belongs to God.
I thank Nature, Mankind and God for permitting me to arrive to the end. May human beings find happiness.
Outside, in the street, the people came out on by one, as if after a storm.
A stooped, tired figure walked slowly. Nobody could recognize it. The Old man who was also Wise, looked peacefully at the sky. Now he could live in happiness the few years he had left.
“O birds, earth fliers, air travelers, when I decided to send humans near you I did not ask your leave. I did not ask anybody’s leave to infect the air with our heavy, hairy bodies. I did not beg of you to accept us unto your home, I did not even explain to you what I was trying to do.
How humbly and irrevocably I now beg your pardon and mercy and compassion.
I did not wish to diminish you to my size, but to raise mankind to your heights.
And believe me, believe me, if I love and admire anything at all in its wonderful and absolute uniqueness, you are it.”
Mankind still remained speechless.
It had been shown that it was not immortal and it was considering the responsibility arising from this.
For the time being, exhaustion reigned. Little by little men would recover and if they wanted to they would also grow.
A young man who was now also a Teacher entered the laboratory. His eyes were red and his breath hot. For a few moments he stayed still, as if praying. Then, without doubting his motion, he opened a thick journal. At the first blank page he wrote:
Research for virus “0”.
One day, the day that men breathed deeply again after long years, one voice cried soundlessly:
“I will fly.
I will fly.”