And found only skin and bones where he once left a crowd"
You, an unimportant background character, need something delivered to or across a barren wasteland, deadly jungle, or simply a dangerous urban environment. The Internet, phone, or regular mail service isn't going to cut it. You're going to need something special. And what is that something special?
Why, it's the local Courier! A Courier is essentially a mercantile mailman/woman, delivering messages through cities and towns on foot or other single-person conveyance. In fiction this often comes with some level of danger involved, either from the environment the Courier crosses, the package they're delivering, people who may be after the package they're delivering, or simply through the Courier's own recklessness. Even if there's not an element of danger, there will usually be a tight deadline the parcel must be delivered by, forcing the Courier to bust their hump getting it there on time. Le Parkour or other fancy tricks may be employed to get safely from Point A to Point B (the words parkour and courier both derive from the French for "to run").
Since it's a romantic spy type of job that still allows cynicism with money, combined with the fact that it's an easy way to bring characters to new places or into contact with interesting people, it's ripe for protagonist-hood, but this is not always the case. Can often turn up even in futuristic settings where you'd imagine advanced technology would make human Couriers obsolete, generally as a form of commentary on the presence of a Shadow Dictator in the setting.
See Pony Express Rider for the mounted variety and Unstoppable Mailman for the government-employee version. May involve Deadly Delivery, Shoot the Messenger or You Got Murder. A Venturous Smuggler specializes in illegal deliveries.
- The crew of the Black Lagoon call themselves couriers. Smugglers, pirates, and mercenaries would also fit.
- This is basically Celty's job on Durarara!!.
- Get Backers mixes in super powers and takes it to the logical extreme.
- The entire point of Tegami Bachi: Letter Bee
- The Gunsmith Cats manga has Bean Bandit (from spiritual predecessor Riding Bean). His line of work in general is getting things to their destination: guaranteed, almost no questions asked. His reputation comes from Combat Pragmatism as well as being a Badass Driver.
- A filler episode of Naruto introduced courier ninjas, shinobi trained to deliver their packages and defend them against any ninja who might attempt to steal it.
- In Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet, this is what Amy and her friends do for a living. They make heavy use of gliders in order to get around the fleet in good time. It's also portrayed as completely normal and non-dangerous (though Amy's sometimes reckless use of said gliders might prove otherwise).
- In Cells at Work! and its spinoffs such as Cells at Work! CODE BLACK, which is about a human body depicted as a city populated by anthropomorphized cells, red blood cells are depicted as workers in a package delivery service. They deliver oxygen and nutrients to various parts of the body and then carbon dioxide to the lungs.
- The subject of the story "The Courier" in Flight volume five, by Kazu Kibuishi.
- Ramona Flowers' job in Scott Pilgrim. The fact that she has the ability to open subspace tunnels to use as shortcuts comes in handy for this job.
- The profession of the central characters in Brian Wood's series The Couriers.
- In Drowntown, Gina Cassel works as an aqua-courier in flooded London. This can be dangerous when we first see her, she's being chased by a gang of thugs. (She's rather annoyed at the end of it when the supposedly important package is just a rich guy's clothes which he could easily have waited for or replaced.)
- Paul and George get thrust into this role by the Guardians in The Keys Stand Alone: The Soft World. After the debacle by George and John the previous day, the only mission that the Guardians will give them is a boring courier mission to a distant coastal town. (Though things get a lot livelier when the recipient of their delivery turns out to have been missing for several days.)
- The four find being couriers desperately boring and pointless, and they make it clear later on that they will not accept such missions any longer.
- Cloud becomes one in Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children under the business Strife Delivery Service. He delivers the items while Tifa manages client calls.
- The protagonist of the The Transporter series of films.
- Premium Rush with Joseph Gordon-Levitt is all about bike couriers, and the rush of navigating a busy city like New York.
- Johnny Mnemonic is about a digital information courier who is pursued by the Yakuza.
- William Gibson's works:
- Snow Crash's Y.T., although she often delivers through
- Lina Mayfleet who is excited about being a messenger in The City of Ember.
- In the Vorkosigan Saga, a courier position is the cover story for Miles Vorkosigan as opposed to his real job as head of the Dendarii. A mistake during the rescue of a real courier is what eventually ends his military career.
- In Umberto Eco's Loana, the protagonist remembers reading a fascist children's book about a hero trying to smuggle an important message to Italy's then-colony Abyssinia (Ethiopia). This being a serial novel, in Real Life Abyssinia is liberated from the Italian fascists long before the story ends. And at the end, the oh so secret message delivered essentially boils down to: "Hold out!"
- Matty from Messenger by Lois Lowry pretty much embodies this trope, minus the money-making aspect (though he does crave the admiration and prestige that comes with doing a dangerous job).
- In The Company Novels book Black Projects, White Knights, Kalugin has a run-in with a brain-damaged immortal literally named Courier, who goes berserk if he spends the night in one place for more than one night in a row.
- In Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman's book Good Omens, a courier is tasked with informing the Horsemen of the Apocalypse that Armageddon is imminent. He tracks down all of them including Death, despite having no apparent powers of his own.
- In the Warrior Cats series, apprentices play this role during the battle against the Dark Forest cats - traveling through a battle-filled forest where any enemy will kill them on sight so that the Clans can send messages to each other on the status of their warriors.
- In the Honor Harrington universe, there are no Subspace Ansibles, so messages are instead run between starsystems via specially designed Courier Boats, which are basically some cramped living spaces and a very powerful hyperdrive crammed into a hull with not much else. Occasionally, characters will hitch rides on these as the most expeditious way to get to a location quickly.
- "The Ultimate Rush" by Joe Quirk: Protagonist Chet Griffin is the only rollerblading messenger at a San Francisco courier service.
- Several secondary characters in the Temeraire series:
- In Europe, Couriers hold the rank of captain, because they each have their own dragon. But they're low-status captains, because their dragons are of the smallest breeds and they don't have a crew to manage.
- The Chinese Jade Dragons are a breed so small they cannot hope to take off with an adult human, but their great speed and endurance means a network of them are employed for high priority correspondence. Since the series avoids Easy Logistics, the Jade Dragons are a huge tactical advantage.
- In Guns of the Dawn, Penny Belchere is an official military courier for the kingdom of Lascanne, and is the first woman most of the characters have seen in army uniform. It's an early sign that Lascanne is running out of male conscripts and is thinking about how women can be put in military roles, which presages Emily's own conscription. (Penny Belchere herself shows up again a number of times, including once when her supposedly non-front-line role doesn't stop her getting captured.)
- The Wandering Inn: Being a courier is a very prestigious and well-paid job, as only few meet the requirements to become one. The setting is much bigger than our world and is inhabited by countless monsters, so a courier has to be strong to make their deliveries.
- In Ranger's Apprentice, Couriers are a mixture of Ambadassadors and Badass Bureaucrats, with a healthy dose of Silk Hiding Steel. They bring important messages around the nobles of the Kingdom of Araulen and work on treaties with other nations. Though not warriors, they're definitely not weaklings to be pushed around, either. Especially since both of the ones we see end up married to Rangers.
- The Two-Headed Eagle by John Biggins. The Chief of Staff of the Austrian military gets Otto Prohaska to transport a package of top secret documents in his aircraft. Otto is proud to be selected for such an important mission, but his airplane crashes in a storm and his pilot is seriously injured; Otto has the chance to save him if he surrenders to Italian troops, but realises they will find the secret documents and evades them instead, losing his direction and any chance of leading a rescue party to the crash site. Turns out it was All for Nothing as the 'top secret documents' were just love letters the Chief of Staff was delivering to his wife by airplane as a Grand Romantic Gesture.
- The job of half the cast of Dark Angel. It's a bike messaging service called Jam Pony that pays minimum wage and has high turnover. Max and Alec particularly like the free sector passes and opportunity to case joints.
- While it's just a throwaway gag, Vince in The Mighty Boosh subscribes to hyper-cutting-edge fashion magazine Cheekbone, which has to be delivered by ninjas to avoid being obsolete by the time it's read.
- Because of the way Faster-Than-Light Travel works in Andromeda, messages have to be relayed by couriers, so courier ships are a common sight.
- On Babylon 5, this is one of the roles taken on by the Anla'Shok, also known as the Rangers. Due to the density of conspiracies that happen to pass through Babylon 5, a wide variety of one-off (and often killed-off) minor characters will also fill this role for various parties.
- New Horizon: While all the major cities have communication links to each other as well as railroads and ports, smaller towns need couriers to deliver goods and messages, and sometimes, it's better to send someone to ensure the package arrives. Also, this is a background that can be selected, allowing the player to smuggle and depending on the type of courier, better movement in areas or the ability to operate certain vehicles with ease.
- Shadowrun: Runners sometimes get hired to do a courier job. One memorable one was to deliver a dragon's egg. Some characters can even be specialized in the job, with headware designed to carry data that can only be extracted by someone with the proper key.
- I.C.E.'s Cyberspace: The Skateboys is a gang that carries messages and packages while riding motorized skateboards.
- Dying Earth RPG supplement Scaum Valley Gazetteer. The River Skaters use ice skates to carry messages along the frozen Scaum River during winter.
- Traveller: Justified in that FTL communications are not possible so messages have to be carried through jump space on a starship before being transmitted.
- Likewise seen in the BattleTech setting. Here, FTL communications do exist... but they do so primarily in the form of large stationary installations called Hyperpulse Generators (or HPGs for short) run by the same ostensibly neutral monopolist throughout the Inner Sphere, so all the alternatives remain alive and well. After Grey Monday, when most of the HPG network went permanently offline and started the Dark Age, "pony express" style courier services became the primary means of getting information between star systems.
- Mirror's Edge: Runners, including the player character, have a valuable job for La Résistance 20 Minutes into the Future, because it's virtually impossible to send secure messages over the net. Thus, they give physical packages to fearless parkour runners.
- inFAMOUS: Cole is couriering the Ray Sphere when it activates.
- There are also side missions in which Cole must spy on enemy couriers.
- Mega Man ZX: Vent and Aile are couriering the Biometals when they activate. In ZX Advent, it depends on which main character you choose: Grey meets Model A because he's delivering it to Legion, while Ashe meets it because she's trying to steal it.
- Fallout: New Vegas:
- The protagonist is The Courier, with the default name being simply "Courier". Some refer to them as Courier Six. The plot revolves around the package they're carrying, over which they were shot in the head at the start.
- Ulysses, the Big Bad of Lonesome Road and a major player in the other three DLCs (and several major events in the game) is another courier. It's later revealed that the reason he became one is after witnessing the Courier unwittingly delivered a package that ended up destroying Ulysses' adopted homeland, showing him the effect that one individual can have on the world.
- It seems that being incredibly badass is one of the job requirements for being a courier, since their job requires them to travel across the post-apocalyptic wastelands, often by themselves. Seemingly reinforced by Cass' comment:
Cass: Caravan code of the wastes is you don't fuck with the one who brings you your mail...
- Fallout 4 has the entire Cabot House questline fired off by one of their couriers being killed and his package stolen. You are sent to retrieve that package and deliver it to the Cabots.
- Unlimited Saga has the Carriers' Guild, which Ventus joins at the start of his scenario. Parts of his quest involve him making deliveries; in addition, he can take several optional Side Quests of this nature. While other characters can recruit him during their stories, they still can't access these special quests themselves.
- The game Courier Crisis has you playing as a bicycle courier, delivering packages through multiple levels, dealing with angry dogs, traffic, and the occasional gunshot on the bad side of town...all while being berated and insulted by your boss.
- Couriers are absolutely critical in Dota 2, typically being animals who deliver items from the shop to heroes across the map. Using couriers is the more efficient play instead of returning to the shop each time, and professional games have been won or lost on sniping enemy couriers carrying valuable items.
- In Red Dead Redemption the series of hidden missions at the end of the game has John Marston Junior pretending to be one.
- In the upcoming MMO Star Citizen, information runners are basically couriers in space and functioning part of a vital line of communication that keeps the Human civilizations together in an universe where Faster-Than-Light travel is hazardous and/or unstable. There are ships either dedicated or better-equipped out of the factory for this role although many plain-vanilla civilian ship models with sufficient internal capacity can presumably be configured for info runner duties as well.
- In Transformers: War for Cybertron Bumblebee is acting as a courier because the communications in Iacon City aren't safe from the Decepticons. Ironically, the one he's trying to get a message to (Optimus Prime) is the one that saves him from a Deception ambush. The message he's delivering (that Zeta Prime is assumed dead) is disturbing enough that Optimus decides to step up and take "temporary" command of the Autobots.
- Jake Armitage in the SNES Shadowrun game is almost killed on a delivery run in the intro of the game and part of the plot revolves around the information he's supposed to deliver.
- Keith can take on quite a few courier or passenger transport missions in Galaxy on Fire. Often the better paying gigs have him traveling far and into dangerous pirate infested places.
- The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim: Letters and packages are delivered across the province of Skyrim by a network of couriers. Amusingly, since the couriers are randomly spawned in when conditions are ready for you to receive a package, a bug in some versions of the game could cause the couriers to turn up deep in zombie-infested tombs, ancient Dwemer ruins, or even the planes of Oblivion. Occasionally, due to an unrelated bug, they would do so wearing nothing but a loincloth. This has led to Skyrim's couriers achieving Memetic Badass status.
- Sam Porter Bridges, your player character in Death Stranding, has this for a job, and also ends up inspiring some Loony Fans of his to do the same, albeit unintentionally.
- In Yokoka's Quest, Vivi is the cute critter who delivers the mail in Betel's Forest.
- Get Ed is about a whole team of these.
- On one episode of The Simpsons, Bart and his friends get stranded halfway across the country, so he gets a job as a courier in an attempt to get back home.
- Donald Duck plays a courier in the cartoon "Donald's Lucky Day", in which he unwittingly carries a Time Bomb - on Friday 13th, no less.
- "Yay, I'm a delivery boy!"
- Phineas and Ferb have an episode starring Paul the Delivery Guy, the guy who always delivers Phineas and Ferb's supplies.
- Postmen are basically Government Couriers. The existence of laws specifically against Mail Tampering are there to deter people from interfering in these couriers job.