Jella and Jobie couldn't believe their good fortune when they were awarded their diamond passes.
Few people had the chance to travel on the cruiser which carried the elite Explorer Corps across the galaxy to the mysterious worlds on its perimeter arms. Out towards the void the skies were dark, spangled by distant stars, not ablaze with the suns clustered near its centre.
Jella and Jobie would return to a different home world, but that was expected. Everything changed sooner or later... into what was a matter of choice. Jella had chosen wings and Jobie wanted to communicate with the minds of other creatures, however alien. When they came out of stasis after the long flight, the transformations would be complete. No longer hatchlings barely out of their eggs, the companions would be mature enough to explore the weird and wonderful Cosmos. Educational mind transfer was all very well, but there was nothing like the reality in all its unlikely manifestations encountered by the Explorer Corps.
Jella and Jobie belonged to a species who saw their destiny amongst the stars. The idea of conquest was incomprehensible to them. They were driven by the need to find other people inhabiting the galaxy, preferably the friendlier ones, though the chance of encountering those that weren't made belonging to the Explorer Corps all the more exciting, if not dangerous.
Jella and Jobie performed the ritual of parting, an acknowledgement that they would never meet up with those they knew in the same time cycle again.
Deep inside the star cruiser’s stasis chamber the young travellers entered their cubicles, thrilled to know that they would shed their juvenile bodies to emerge as different people. While time virtually stood still for them, life on their home world would proceed at its normal pace. Those they were leaving behind would soon be greeting explorers who left thousands of years before, bringing back knowledge of other worlds, many with populations now extinct.
When Jella and Jobie reached their destination, a fraction of the age of their companion hatchlings, they were trainee explorers with remarkable powers. Jella was much taller to accommodate the large wings which lay folded against their long back. With one flick they opened into gossamer curtains strong enough to fly through a gale. Jobie was not so large, but with a brain many times its original size and eyes radiating the ability to see into the thoughts of others.
Before disembarking the companions were given their first comprehensive examination to test their suitability for the Explorer Corps.
They easily passed.
The Universe now lay before them, or at least that small solar system protected by a mysterious shell of cosmic matter. At its centre was a pretty planet illuminated by a yellow sun. The world moved inside the orbit of three stately gaseous giants, the largest banded and patterned by atmospheric storms.
This mission would decide whether Jella and Jobie were true explorers.
Before leaving they were required to recite the main principles of the Explorer Corps.
First rule: - Do not reveal your true nature to less evolved species.
Second rule: - If you do, ensure whoever sees you isn't believed. Take on a different form if necessary. (To do this, refer to emergency manual.)
Third rule: - If you aren't able to prevent a conflict - don't start one!
Being inexperienced, Jella and Jobie were accompanied by a senior explorer, Collis, who had the ability to become invisible, an invaluable asset to the Explorer Corps.
Other space travellers had visited this world, provoking endless conspiracy theories about aliens amongst its inhabitants - most of them true. But, being an easily alarmed species, their governments endeavoured to suppress the truth. This evolving planet already had enough unrest and climate problems to deal with.
Some intergalactic tourists who had attempted to make contact came to a sticky end, so Collis decided to take Jella and Jobie to an island where a small religious community had isolated themselves from this busy, easily panicked, world. Their modest lives of contemplation and lack of electronic communication meant the explorers would be safe enough if the recruits encountered a problem.
Collis had already engaged in interesting conversations with their abbot whose meditative state of mind accepted that he was talking to an invisible angel, perhaps even the Metatron, the voice of God.
Despite the environment of quiet contemplation there was malice in this place of devotion. The old abbot had been overheard in conversation with Collis by a man determined to usurp his position. He did not believe in angels and came to the right conclusion.
The monastery’s revered leader was communicating with a being from another world, one who was not part of their God's creation. This senior monk contacted the mainland authorities with a mobile phone secreted it in the niche of his cell.
When Collis arrived with Jella and Jobie to see the abbot, the trap had already been set.
Before they levitated down to the monastery's courtyard where the abbot sat in contemplation, Collis extended his cloak of invisibility to conceal his companions. The holy man was delighted to have two more visitors, albeit invisible, and conversed enthusiastically with them about planets he could only imagine. The abbot was explaining how his benign view of existence shaped his world when Jobie's empathic senses detected that something was wrong.
“We must go now!” the young explorer warned.
But it was too late.
The monastery was already being overflown by fighter planes, cutting off escape to the explorers' shuttle. The mother ship waiting for them above the atmosphere, shielded from detection, could have easily swatted the primitive machines from the sky, yet did not do so.
They were the intruders.
The senior monk who had alerted the authorities summoned the others of the order to the courtyard. They surrounded the abbot and his visitors as troops landed outside the monastery walls.
The old man was devastated by this act of treachery by someone he had always trusted. Jobie knew that it was pointless to try and remonstrate with the traitor and instead planted a disturbing thought in the back of his mind, where it would lay dormant to only betray itself at a crucial moment.
The fighters overhead had broken the beam the explorers depended on to levitate them back up to their shuttle, and it was too risky to bring the small craft down.
There was no escape.
“Drop the invisibility shield,” said Jella.
Collis was apprehensive, but obeyed.
The courtyard was suddenly filled with the glory of a magnificent angel. The astounded monks were dazzled by the huge, shimmering wings filling the courtyard and reaching the chapel's roof.
They watched in holy ecstasy as the heavenly visitor lifted its companions and carried them heavenwards. As they ascended, Jobie infiltrated the thoughts of the pilots in the fighter planes. They all felt unaccountably compelled to return to base without seeing the miracle ascending towards them or launching one missile.
The beam was restored just in time, as the weight of Jella’s companions started to pull them back to the ground.
Jella and Jobie's resourceful thinking qualified them as full members of the Explorer Corps.
After the visitation of the angel the island became a place of pilgrimage, and the ambitious senior monk who had betrayed the abbot left the order to take up politics. As he stood on the verge of success, that thought Jobie had planted in the back of his mind was triggered.
One day he looked in the mirror and saw himself for what he really was.