What looked like a human was seen flying through the skies of Tuscany. Local vintners battening down for the season witnessed the phenomenon up close as the suspect wantonly scoured through the vineyards before taking off into a steep trajectory. Baffled, they swore it was a prepubescent youth shouting with glee as he yawed through the snowclad fields.
Young Niccolo Sabbatani ran down the narrow steps stripped with a rug that dampened the hardwood reverb. It was Christmas morning, and the sun was barely making its appearance over the eastern horizon. First light sifted through the windows and filled the Italian villette with a pinkish haze. The tree was aglitter with tinsel reflecting the colors of the fairy lights wrapped around it and the bright yellow star atop. Beneath the evergreen splendor was the end of the rainbow for Niccolo’s journey. Side by side with his sister, Julia, he joyfully opened the presents. His parents, roused by the rustling of wrapping paper, snuck downstairs hoping the creaking in the floor wouldn’t betray their presence. Watching their children shout in exhilaration, they turned toward one another and smiled.
Coming upon a box that was lighter than air, Niccolo stopped in his tracks. An awkward silence followed. Staring inquisitively, he shook it, curious as to what could be inside. He even questioned if he grabbed the wrong present in his unbridled excitement. The proof was in the little tag on top that had his name etched in a calligraphic style only the finest of craftsmen could have recreated by hand. He gave a spritely shrug and proceeded to open it. Just as he suspected, the box was empty. He was more confused than frustrated, and it showed in the way he knitted his brow. His parents gave Julia the stink eye as she laughed at Niccolo’s dilemma, but upon denying her role in pranking her younger brother, they asked to see the box. Besides containing a personalized card, there was nothing else to indicate who the sender was. However, in the following moments, their son had already forgotten the whole ordeal when the shredding of paper and shouts started all over.
Later on that morning, Niccolo ran outside to play in the streets after assuring his parents that he would be mindful of the patches of ice still glistening under an early sun. The streets were mostly empty from everyone having the day off and it gave him free range. Giving himself a quick run, he jettisoned himself off the ground and into the icy air. The experience was euphoric as he skittered through patches of wind rippling his hair and scouring his face. Craning down, he overlooked the snowcapped rooflines of his hometown receding into a checkerboard. The last house gave way to fields of greenery dusted with the flurries from the past week. He even spotted a deer scampering through the openings in the trees and what looked like a toy truck crawling along the strata.
Niccolo banked like an airplane, shifting his course and watching the ebbing and flowing of the topography below. The horizon wobbled from his vantage point. Dead ahead at 3 o’clock was a fuzzy dark splotch rapidly approaching that soon resolved into a flock of migrating starlings. Niccolo cackled and picked up speed, playfully scattering the little birds as they whizzed by in a frightful blur. Knowing he was the cause for provocation, he eluded their wrath by divebombing into a yaw and skimmed across a straight shot of trellis posts. They looked like telephone poles flicking by at high speed. A dusty trail of snow sifted through the vineyards and tapered up into the air as he lifted into a near-vertical rebound.
Niccolo never lost speed. He needed no engine to propel himself as he meandered through glades and gaps of cypresses separating property lines, whooping and hollering in holiday mirth. Several villas and farmhouses passed under. Seizing the opportunity, he flew straight for the chimney of a cascine and dispersed a column of smoke as if cutting a ribbon for a new ship. Dog pens full of foxhounds erupted in yelps and barks as Niccolo waved them a friendly visit before bolting back into the wintry skies. At the apex of his steep ascent, he banked into a hairpin turn and, having enough fun for the morning, flew back to his hometown.
Alighting into an alleyway, he peered out into the street and looked both ways. The coast was clear, and he returned home without his family knowing of the strange gift he received. Niccolo skipped in contentment before entering the front door.
A roadside witness reporting of a Kazakhstani youth’s tour de force was condemned for pandering to fringe logic. No one had the ability to lift a motorcycle and toss it aside as if he would styrofoam, especially an eight-year-old!
The cold winds whipped downtown Astana the day after Christmas. Andrei Chugunov was fearless for someone of his developing stature, spitting in the face of overwhelming odds as he walked the streets alone. A casual glance in a passing mirror of a department store showcase made him feel bigger and older with the burly parka he proudly donned. The faux fur collar made him look like a tank, ready to take on anyone who crossed his path. But his show of virility was not without its merit. His family was poor and relatively uneducated, so his father ended up with low-paying menial positions all his life, which put young Andrei on the receiving end of his in-school profile. Just the year before, he took on a senior, but wound up suffering public humiliation when he was dragged through a patch of mud left over from an early morning rainstorm.
That would be the end of that, and he refused to look back at his shortcomings.
He was fond of his parents and siblings, singing carols with them the day before along with a few relatives visiting their humble apartment. Money was scarce this year, and he had to make do with his family’s affection as his only Christmas present no material offering could replace. However, on returning home, Andrei saw a package in the mail that didn’t have a return address. A tiny placard was attached to it, wishing him a Merry Christmas and that his name was worth its weight in gold. It certainly felt that way when he lifted the package a few times. Being independent-minded, he went ahead and unwrapped the gift before telling his folks. The box flopped onto his palm as he held it by the lid. It turned out to be empty, to his bemusement. All the heaviness was owed to the package itself with nothing of tangible value. Someone’s idea of a joke? It might have been something he would have imputed to one of his unsavory classmates, yet he never actively announced his place of residence to anyone. However, it was not an issue to begrudge or bear shame over, and he shrugged it off before heading back inside.
Within the hour, he was back marching along the sidewalk when he heard a deep thunk and the sound of metal grating on a rough surface. He ran to a side street and saw someone pinned under a motorcycle along the gutter. Adrenalin ran faster than his feet. Grabbing the frame, he yanked it away, flinging the entire vessel several yards down the curb. The man was unconscious, though he still had a pulse. Shouts echoed through the narrow thoroughfare and the wailing of a siren grew louder until an ambulance pulled up and bucked to a stop. Minutes ticked by under the blips of the cardiograph, and finally, after deep prayers, the man’s eyes blinked open. Andrei even overheard one of the paramedics assure the patient that he would pull through. The gratitude Andrei bore held no equity of favor to whom he prayed but continued his practice of loyalty and service to his fellow men and women.
No one bothered to ask him anything other than what he saw. He refused to mention his part in saving the man’s life, but he was still wracked by the augmentation of his own physical prowess. In the corner of his sight, a squat portly fellow was peering through the entryway of an apartment complex, staring directly at him. When they made eye contact, the other man, clearly a middle-aged adult, quietly retreated back through the entry. Wondering if his miraculous feat was seen, Andrei glanced in both directions down each end of the street before leaving for home, still thankful another man could live.
He never saw that strange onlooker across the street again.
“What the hell are we dealing with?” the investigator from Criminal Investigative Command demanded.
“Sir,” the soldier replied with marked hesitancy. “I only know as much as you do under the present documentation of evidence.”
“This happened out of the blue, and right after a fine job of sweeping the enemy!”
“We heard voices in our heads.”
“Voices?” the investigator shot back.
“Yes. And they were telling us…”
There was a momentary pause.
“Telling you what, soldier?”
“They were compelling us to fire upon one another.”
“Yet you were the only lucky one, huh. Did you happen to see anyone suspicious in the vicinity, besides yourself?”
“No one that I could have seen. Except I remember this toddler standing there, beaming me down like a predator.”
Bap! Bap! Bap!
Karla Montesino heard the racket outside her window. Peering over the sill, she made out several figures donned in military garb storming through the streets of LaPlata. The paramilitary detachments came, and with a vengeance. She knew nothing of power politics and everything that led up to the present conditions. All she knew was that her home was under fire, and that she was told to keep her head down at all costs. But for conflict to happen on Christmas was the worst omen of all. She was terrified, buried in a corner with arms wrapped around her knees. Several hours had passed and her parents never came home. Even though she was only five and too innocent to be dragged through hell, she assumed the worst, and flinched at the idea of being alone when facing down the barrel of a machine gun. However, the strain of the overwhelming circumstances forced her into a state of composure she never experienced before, especially for her age.
She jumped at the eruption of gunfire. Sticking the top of her head back up over the sill, she witnessed several pedestrians who moments ago were up and about now lying prostrate on the ground. The troops were sscattering into position with every shout from their commander. They must be everywhere! She inherently knew there was more than one ground force mobilizing through Argentina, possibly all of South America. Helpless, her only hope lay in remaining hidden, praying she would be lucky enough to wait out the conflict before she was caught.
Her body was fetal, the cold wood floor pressing against her cheek. With the waning sun, she stayed awake, her eyes stolidly open and wincing at every rapping of a carbine. Who fell down this time? She wished she didn’t have to think about it. With the passing hours, the clattering waned, the paramilitary forces moved on like marauding hordes of barbarians. Then there was a lapse of time.
She awakened. Sitting right in front of her eyes was a box that wasn’t there before. It was wrapped in paper with roses dappled over it and topped with a little red bow. Lifting up the tag, she saw that it was addressed to her, and a burst of elation took hold. Grabbing the present, she ran through the house calling for her parents to thank them. The only answer she got was the whistling of the wind through the gaps in the windows. She slowed her pace, her excitement bleeding out like the dead just outside the walls of her home. With tears turning into rivulets over the round contours of her face, she looked down at the present.
Far too burdened with grief, she opened it like she was diffusing a bomb. Looking inside, she saw nothing but a card with a brief message that said, ‘Don’t give up!’ She wondered why anyone would bother wrapping up a card with a couple of words on it. Most of all, who sent it? But she didn’t fret. Instead, she felt a sense of hope well up deep inside her, a sudden leap in maturity that would have come a decade later under normal conditions.
Not long after, it sounded like people were talking to her, but she never saw them in person, and they were certainly not in her house. They could have been the sender of the gift for all she knew. They must have found a way inside. She searched everywhere, but no one was home. Yet, the talking returned, coming in periodic intervals. Curious, she looked out the window again. The only people seen were down the street at the far end of the block, too far away to hear what they were saying, especially when she was behind closed doors. She sat down on the floor, back against the wall with legs splayed out.
Her next move was in question, spurious at her own decisions, but her thoughts were interrupted when the voices inside her head grew louder. She carefully looked out the window, hoping no one would see her. Her intuition proved correct; the troops had returned with two others in cuffs and bags over their heads being dragged out into the public square. Something in her snapped, and she broke out of her fear. Dashing out the front door, she sprinted toward the square just a block up from her house where, to her horror, several bodies were mounted like grizzly cairns. Flies were swarming everywhere, but she was not deterred. The soldiers approached, and she ducked behind a car peppered from bullet holes. They tied both prisoners up to two poles, backed up and cocked their carbines. In an instant, Karla shot out from behind the car. A massive wave of dark emotion was unleashed in a blast of energy that could have come from a star. The soldiers noticed, surprised by the boldness of a girl so young, when soon after they averted their attention at one another and began firing. Riddling themselves with the spray of .30 machine gun fire, they dropped instantly in a pool of their own ichor, joining the others whom they had shot hours before.
Disregarding the repulsive sight of the fallen enemies, Karla bolted up to both prisoners and removed the bags covering their faces. Her heart leaped. Without knowing who would have been another number lying in the dirt, she had serendipitously saved her parents. It was the only Christmas wish she would have asked for!
A beam of light came to a stop in cis-Lunar orbit, waiting for the long evanescent trail behind to catch up with itself. It began shifting in protean displays of expressions looking like a three-dimensional kaleidoscope. There was intelligence to its mode of behavior, a semantic display of visual communication relaying the day's information abroad. From an outside observer, there was little to distinguish between a star-faring craft or some kind of alien entity or being of light…perhaps artificial sentience, or even an angel. Regardless, its message was loud and clear:
To those who are loyal to their kith and kin; to those who would put their welfare beneath that of a stranger; to those whose familial bonds remain unbreakable; to those who seek justice over self-preservation…may you receive the gifts from the heavens to secure the powers thereof. We have appointed you as guardians, to be the new vanguard in the service of mankind and to render his salvation as a prominent species through governance, providence and discernment.
Thus far, three of you have been deemed worthy enough in light of the fallen nature of your co-equals to be chosen as the first line of defense on Earth. As guardians, you are incorruptible of heart and mind and humble enough not to boast of your augmentation, moral assets that are strictly required in advancing our celestial crusade to rescue and elevate civilizations throughout the galaxy, as rare as they come. Without your protection and guidance, your species will doom itself into extinction, thus falling into the cosmic void where the loss of life is a loss for the universe.
Your powers will grow as you mature, and you must assume the mantle of responsibility and peace within you in order to secure the peace around you. So, for now, I leave you with these parting gifts. For the record, we programmed the submicroscopics to dissemble from the packages they originally comprised and merge with your biological forms, thus granting you the uplifts. Use them wisely. Support others, but not to the point of helplessness. Work to advance your species, not coddle it into a useless cargo cult. Become model examples for the young, but never indoctrinate. Most of all, however, avoid every fleshy temptation that could lead you astray of your mission. Isolate if you have to, but always have each others' backs, and the backs of all those dwelling on the Earth.
With this message, I wish you a Merry Christmas and a new supernal rotation! Watch for the guiding stars of Prophecy in the times to come!