Chapter 0 - The Mail

    Artie hated his job. Immensely.

    Being a postman wasn’t all that bad, he supposed. You do get to go to interesting places, meet interesting characters, and overall be productive in the name of the common good.

    If only he were a postman.

    Artie yearned his whole life to be one, and when he saw that the local branch of the Intergalactic Messenger System had a "Help Wanted" sign in the window, he couldn’t help but take the job. He dreamed that, if not a postman, he could perhaps be the man behind the counter who takes the mail from the customers. Then at least he’d get SOME interaction, especially from people he’d never met before, seeing species he had never seen before, and learning stories from systems parsecs away. Yep, working in a post office was absolutely great for the curious mind.

    Unless you worked in the back, sorting the mail. If that were your job, then you’d only see one person, being your boss. And you’d only get to see him when he’s on his break, trying to ignore you. Or when he came back to yell at you. That too.

    You never got to see the clerks that hand you the mail either. After a new piece of mail came in, it would come down the conveyor belt to you, and you would dump it on your ever-growing pile of mail.

    Artie could think of some people he knew who would enjoy this job. Several of his friends would enjoy the alone time and monotonous work. In fact, he could count them. He started doing so on his fingers, and after raising the 4th finger, he struggled to think of any more. He thought of three more. There, enough friends to fill a hand.

    He was depressed that not a single one of his fingers represented him.

    He looked at the clock. Work had only started 25 minutes ago, and he was already bored. At least there wasn’t a lot of business in the morning. He started working on the pile left over from the day before.

    In the effort of becoming a postman, you must fulfill two requirements, bare minimum: You must be multilingual, and you have to be a shape-shifter. Artie fulfilled the first; being a college graduate in Postal Sciences, he learned the most popular languages in the universe. He graduated at the top of his class for learning more languages than anyone, and he became the first at his university to become octingentiquadragintiseptilingual in one semester. He also naturally fulfilled the second one; being a Lepidolarvae, he could naturally change into whatever organic form he so chose.

    In their natural state, Lepidolarvae have scarlet to maroon skin, which coats their long and plump body. In most cases, they resemble a large caterpillar, with the exception of having a humanoid torso, and a very large pair of white, feathered wings on their back. They are very well known for being the best shape-shifters in the universe, and thus almost exclusively run the Intergalactic Messenger System.

    Noontime. The 59-hour workdays were killer, and he was glad that it was half over. He read yet another envelope, entered the address into his computer, and printed out the sticker marking where in the universe it was headed. He put it in his outbox, and moved to the next one. This was seriously his job. Doing this all day. Everyday. For his whole life.

    He put aside his hatred for a moment when he stumbled across an odd letter. The parcel itself was completely ordinary, but the literal letters written on it were extraordinary. It was from some writing system that he had never even seen before. He didn’t come across many languages he didn’t know, and he figured he’d have to go to Harold to see where it was from.

    Harold was a grumpy old man, so Artie tried to avoid him as much as possible. However, being a coworker, he was the absolute best person to ask questions, assuming they were about work. He had been in the business longer than anyone else in the office.

    Artie knocked on Harold’s door.

    "What in the name of the Hiss," he hollered, "do you want?"

    "Sir, I’ve come across a language I can’t understand."

    Silence. Then, grumbling, he got up, and unlocked the 4 locks on his door. He opened it slightly, letting the door get caught on the chain.

    "Give me the letter."

    Artie held it out, and Harold snatched it out of his hand. He squinted at it for a moment, trying to focus through his bifocals. Then his face assumed an emotion Artie had never seen on Harold – surprise.

    He took a gasp of air, and whispered to himself.