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Tree of Life

The Day of Renewal

Premiered June 24, 2003

Chapter Twelve



The first bright rays of the Riwanian sun struck the upper most leaves of the trees where below Woody slept blissfully, covered only by a thin satin like sheet. As the diffuse light slowly brightened, he began to stir, to snuggle down, and then to try for a few more moments of unawareness.

As the sun climbed even higher in the sky, it soon found the figure of Woody, hidden only by a scattering of leaves hanging from a small stand of aspen like trees. As the direct rays gained his attention, Woody became half awake. The effect of the drugs maintained its hold, making his awakening even more sluggish.

Then his mind reached out beyond the drug-induced sleep to find his Chosen. Almost casually his mind admitted to her absence -- but tended to disregard the fact as the sleep of early morning clung to his consciousness. His mind continued to dwell on the continuation of sleep, while at the same time an alarm seemed to be sounding. Suddenly the onset of panic overrode the effect of the drugs.

Abruptly Woody was upright, searching for something. Still not sure of what was missing or what was wrong, he glanced around for some clue to the reason for panic. Then an all powerful sense of great danger manifested itself, as Dawn's absence began to assert itself.

At first, the wrongness of her absence was dismissed by all manner of rational explanations. Worry was replaced with concern as Woody reached for his pants and began to dress. Occasionally he shook his head trying to clear the cobwebs. He glanced around again, still looking for something indefinable. For a fleeting moment he thought to call her name, but a self protective instinct dismissed it even before it was fully considered. As he put on the last of his clothes, he rose and started to walk.

As he moved without clear direction, searching for something, he came to a point where he expected to see the cloak. It was missing. At first he did not quite appreciate the point. He shook his head again and assumed his thinking was still slow.  He instinctively knew his thoughts were still dulled. He shook his head again and looked back to where the cloak had been, his thoughts trying to recall the exact details of the moment when Dawn had dropped it to the ground.

The moment had been crystallized in his mind, not likely to be altered or diminished. Slowly he realized with greater clarity the cloak was in fact missing. Not simply a matter of confusing its last resting place, but the sense of its having been retrieved.  The truth began to form itself all too clearly: Dawn was missing, the cloak was gone, and today was the Day of Renewal. As his mind tried to maintain a logical consideration of the facts and their consequences, at the same time it searched for other possibilities. Some of her words came back to him; only to turn against him as he recognized the words of farewell, of inevitability.

Abruptly one thought formed in his mind, a thought that shattered all others: Dawn loved Woody, but she also loved her people. And it was the latter love that today would be consummated.

Woody felt the edge of panic, blunted by the drugs, as it swept over him. But in the same moment his rational mind was already grasping for action. With no clear destination or plan in mind, he began to run from the garden. He stumbled and fell head long into the flowers. The drugs were loath to release their hold.  He staggered back to his feet, still trying to clear his thinking. But with the urgency of the moment his body began to nullify the effects of the drugs and set them aside during the emergency.

He began to run again toward the garden's gate. There Max Sorrenson and Shari Ryerson had returned to stand their vigils, the others having left hours ago. Both were quietly waiting when suddenly looking up they saw Woody running toward them. As he reached the gate, he stopped, looking at both of them for some sort of reason.

Shari, swallowed hard and answered, "Your lady asked us to wait here for you."

"Where is she?" It was a simple question.

Shari searched Woody's eyes for a hint of understanding. Quietly she answered, "She's gone, Woody. She's gone."

"Where," Woody yelled? He grabbed Shari by the shoulders, even as Max reached for Woody to slow him down. When Shari could only look at him with tears in her eyes, Woody suddenly knew. "She's going to the temple?"

Shari cringed. "Yes. But Woody," she quickly added, "She did not want you to go there. She asked us..." But Woody was no longer listening.  He was looking off, thinking on how to get to the temple.

"Woody," Sorrenson added, "Give it up."

Woody, without looking at his superior, could only answer, "Sure.  And you give up Shari." Both Shari and Max mentally stepped back at the thought.

Max relented, "Okay, Woody. We'll go along with you. But make no mistake. You will not interfere!  I swear to heaven I will gun you down if necessary."

Woody then looked at Max, considering the directive. Not quite acknowledging the order, but not dismissing it either, he seemed to relent. Interference was after all a gray area. One's very presence could often be interference enough.

Abruptly the sheer terror of what was about to happen shocked Woody. He staggered, stunned and horrified, as he foresaw the worst of his dreams coming true. Shari grasped Woody, trying to gauge his reaction. She glanced at Max, to tell him Woody was in need of more help than command directives. But the moment passed, and all three began to walk rapidly away from the gate.

Before they reached the temple proper, they could see the people clustering around the rising mound of green grass encircling the temple area. As they approached with obvious purpose, the Riwanians began to take notice of them. Those closest to their path hesitated as if thinking that perhaps the three should be stopped. But no one took any overt action. As Woody and his companions reached the top of the near-circular rise of ground surrounding the temple, Max reached out to touch Woody's sleeve and remind him of his presence. Woody slowed and glanced back in Max's direction. Together the three stopped, in full view of the proceedings below them.

The temple was fashioned after a step pyramid, such that anyone could proceed up any side with fair ease. Nevertheless no one ever did, except theoretically for a Riwanian priest on the Day of Renewal. Toward the bottom of the pyramid, a stone portal dominated the surrounding area, complete with intricate and hieroglyphic-like carvings. At the top of the pyramid, a similar portal capped the top of the structure. The rise of ground on which Woody and the others stood, was at very nearly the same height as the top of the pyramid. From where they stood the ground dropped off gently until it formed a level plateau surrounding the base of the structure. The sum total was a natural amphitheater with the temple as the center of attraction.

Riwanians covered the whole of the surroundings around the amphitheater, including the lower plateau and the area adjacent to the pyramid itself. The only clear area was a cleanly defined path, slowly shortening itself as a lone figure moved slowly and gracefully to the lower portal. As she moved, Dawn acknowledged the attentions of the crowd, occasionally taking special notice of a friend or acquaintance. When one Riwanian made a slight gesture to Woody's presence at the top of the rise, Dawn's turned her head and glanced upward to where the far-travelers were standing.

Immediately recognizing Woody, she abruptly stopped in her tracks. Several Riwanians near Woody moved slightly in his direction, watching him very carefully on the expectation he might attempt to disrupt the informal ceremonies. For just a moment Max glanced at them, trying to will them into the knowledge that all was well. They seemed to relent, as Woody made no movement other than to gaze down on his love.

Silence prevailed as Dawn and Woody stood and looked each other. After a moment, Dawn smiled a radiant smile, her eyes full of tears, and whispered some words to Woody. They were words he couldn’t hear but would sense nonetheless. For long moments she continued to look lovingly at him, while he could only hope the moment would never end. As the tears continued down her cheek, she maintained a bitter sweet smile.  She kissed him in a gesture and turned her face away. Seemingly no longer aware of the other Riwanians, she moved quickly to the portal.

Woody called out in a low plaintive voice, "Dawn?" The other Riwanians were shocked by the outrage, but then were quieted as Dawn turned one last time toward Woody. She smiled at him with a loving intensity. Then, with the resolve clear in her mind, she turned back to the door of the portal. In a clear voice she said, "It is I, Dawn, the Chosen. I have come for the Day of Renewal."

As a small bell sounded, the door opened quietly to admit her. The Riwanians began to sing in a low but clear voice, a song of love for Dawn, the Chosen. With immaculate pride, Dawn walked through the doorway. Quietly the door closed behind her, even as the Riwanians continued to sing.

Woody suddenly felt the cold hand of the drugs as they reasserted their hold on his psyche.  It was almost as if he had just returned from hyperspace. Struggling to stand his ground, he began to realize the futility of it, the seemingly inevitable tragedy. He no longer had the fortitude to struggle against the fates, and could only sorrow at the whims of destiny. His conscious mind hardly noticed as Shari and Max moved closer to his side in order to support him.

The singing continued for what Woody began to realize was a very long time. He began to look around, wondering. Shari seemed to speak his own thoughts as she noted, "It's been nearly twenty minutes. Do you know what is supposed to happen next?"

Before anyone could answer, she recognized the sudden hostility of the nearby Riwanians at her breach. The singing continued; no one thought to speak again. Shari glanced around and then saw Marie Thomas, who was apparently video taping the entire proceedings with an unobtrusive, highly sophisticated camera. Marie silently told Shari to be quiet, and then turned back to her taping.

Suddenly the singing quieted. A deep silence occurred. The sound of the breeze made itself known while at the same time no one dared even to cough. The door at the top of the temple opened. Woody and the others could at first see no sign of movement.

With a total lack of fanfare, there was a flash of green and Dawn exited from the portal onto the top of the temple. She moved stiffly with a directed and simple motion toward the other end of the flat area at the top of the pyramid. Woody watched her intently, stunned by her apparent lack of emotion. Dawn took no notice of any of the others around her, seemingly oblivious to her surroundings. She approached the priest who awaited her on one knee, his head bowed, not willing to look into her eyes. Above his head he held a silver and gold, shining wine glass, presenting it to the Chosen. Dawn took the goblet a trifle awkwardly, and drank from it. Turning slowly she placed the goblet on a small stand by her side. Slowly she moved to a long pedestal and sat down upon the marble like surface.  With a practiced movement, she twisted and laid down on the alter.

Woody watched every movement, searching for some sort of sign, some recognition that he still existed for her. But he saw nothing. 'Could she care so little?' he thought. 'Did they do something to her in the temple? Doesn't he even deserve at least a glance?'

After a few moments, the priest moved over to the bier and with some sort of object, laid it near Dawn's head. Apparently satisfied as to his mission, he recovered the object and moved back to where the goblet rested on its obelisk shaped stand. The priest kneeled and clasped the obelisk with both hands. As he did so, flames sprang up around Dawn's body. The cloak she wore caught fire with a shower of colors. A beautiful sparkling dominated the top of the pyramid, even as the flames consumed her body. Slowly the Riwanians began to sing again, and with reverent gestures of farewell, began to drift away. Woody and his friends could only stand and stare, torn between the beauty of the sight and the horror in their minds.

Woody was stunned by the finality, by the coldness of the actions at the end. Outrage welled up, as he saw for the first time the departure of the Riwanians. Even the priest was walking down the side of the pyramid, with no apparent grief or thought. Then Woody caught sight of Marie, still making her video recording of the entire ceremony. Woody was suddenly enraged at the thought of Marie's apparent coldness at this moment of his grief. The thought of the 'data' being relayed back to the Intrepid and stored in its computer banks seemed to make a mockery out of his love. Purposefully he strode toward Marie, hate in his eyes, infuriated beyond reason. With heavy sarcasm, he asked, "Did you get it all, Commander? Was there any data missing? I'm sure they’d be happy to do another if you missed anything!"

Marie turned to Woody in total shock. She wilted under his barrage of undisguised rage. Shocked and out of character, she lowered her head. "Oh my God, Woody, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to..." Her words trailed off.

For a moment they both stood there, Marie in torment while Woody's climax of emotion began to wane under the effect of the drugs still in his system. Then Marie, awkwardly, like a young school girl, reached into the video camera and pulled out the sequence code marker which listed the film's location in the computer. Her voice cracking, she said, "Here's the code marker. Take it. No one need ever see this tape."

Woody hesitated, then silently took the chip and looked at it. His resolve of hate was crumbling at her reverse act of kindness. Still sullen, he stuffed the chip into a pocket. He could still find no words.

Quietly, Marie, for the first time looked at his face, and said, "If you ask me, I'll agree to help you erase the tape from the computer." It was a significant gesture.

Finally the force of her act enjoined Woody. "I'm sorry, Marie." He started to add something but couldn't. All efforts at redirecting his hate and fury at the fates of his life seem finally to crumble. The drugs finally claimed their prize, and Woody slumped. Ryerson and Sorrenson supported him quickly to prevent his falling. Suddenly several Riwanians were at their side with a stretcher. Together they eased him on to it, and promptly picked him up. Max and Shari, still surprised at the sudden help, directed them all back to the Intrepid. Marie stood still, watching the others walk away.

Van Lantz had watched the entire proceedings from a few feet further away. He continued to watch Marie, more interested in her actions than Woody's. Alone on the hill, Marie became aware of his stare, and turned to him, questioningly.

Van Lantz, sympathetically, said, "Marie, that was very kind of you."

For a moment, Marie did not understand. "What?"

"Your promising Woody the exclusive right to your video tape."

Marie frowned at the apparent insubordination. "Why? Were you planning to review it?"

Shocked, he answered, "No. Of course not."

"I'm sure you can find it, even without the sequence code marker. Provided of course, you look hard enough. Of course you may have to go through the entire computer data banks."

"I'm sorry, Marie. That's not what I meant."

For a moment Marie sensed his true intentions. Lowering her head, she said, "I'm sorry too."

After a moment, Larry added, "You realize of course that back on earth they will go through everything?"

Marie looked back at him, her eyes seeming to say she didn't completely agree with him, that there was a loophole. Larry, watching her, realized her thought. Woody and Marie were both command officers. And two command officers, acting in conjunction, did have the authority to erase material from the computer. It was not a routine event, but it could be done. The computer would note the fact of the erasure, and the authority by which it was erased, but the tape itself would be gone. It was not an act a command officer with ambition would likely take without considerable thought. The action was contemplated only under emergency or critical conditions. It would be difficult to support the action under the present circumstances.

Larry could hardly believe her intent. "Would you really help him erase it?"

Marie considered the idea carefully, struggling with her emotions as well as her logic. "It doesn't really hurt to tell Woody I would, irrespective of whether or not I would actually go through with it. Right now I really don't know for sure."

With that she turned and started back toward the Intrepid.

Larry watched her, surprised at the thought that Lieutenant Commander Marie would even consider the possibility. He could only stare at this revelation in her character, as he watched her walk away.


Copyright 1983, 1996, 2003 Dan Sewell Ward

Chapter Eleven -- Rendezvous

Forward to:

Chapter Thirteen -- The Bruise



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