Premiered June 24, 2003
The room was pleasant enough. It had a small comfortable bed with clean, colored sheets and a soft pillow. A kind of wallpaper covered four of the five walls. The fifth wall of the pentagonal room provided most every other requirement, including bath facilities. There was a section of the wall where apparently the electronics had been removed, but this seemed a reasonable act inasmuch as Woody was a prisoner. All in all, the cell was pleasant enough.
Naturally Woody was ready to climb said walls. For the first six hours of his captivity, he had silently raged and railed at the walls. Clearly, he thought, Dawn was alive and well and without any question within his reach. It was also abundantly clear the lack of her presence was by the choice of the Riwanians who had 'detained' him.
Eventually Woody had settled down to wait. The manner of his abduction had convinced him 'The Gods' were basically humane and unlikely to harm him, except possibly in extremis. It was also unlikely they had ever required human sacrifice. So why didn't they allow Dawn to see him, or vice versa? Better yet, why didn't they even bother to talk to him?
His abductors had been crystal clear in one respect: They had steadfastly refused to utter a word. Every direction had been by simple hand motion. Woody had been amazed at his own docility. For a moment he wondered if perhaps he had been too docile. Perhaps he should have blasted away, just to show the extent to which he was really rather annoyed. But he no longer had that option. He had now to await their convenience.
Just when he was beginning to feel completely frustrated and foolish, the room's single door slid open and Dawn walked into the room with a noted hesitation. Woody had glanced up, only mildly interested, until he saw her. Then his heart racing ahead of everything else, he slowly rose and turned to face her.
Her expression was one of total amazement, much like meeting your next door neighbor in Madagascar, when in fact neither of you had intended to go to Madagascar.
But any awkward hesitation was only temporary, and without a word they moved together and embraced. Neither said a word, merely pressing against the other, letting the sense of touch reassure themselves that their eyes had not lied. For a few moments they were alone, embracing in a way only lovers can.
Finally Dawn, subdued by the sheer incredibility of it all, murmured, "You're here. I can't believe it, but you're here."
Woody answered, sheepishly, "Sometimes I surprise even me."
Slowly Dawn leaned back to look into his face. Her optimism seemed to regain its hold. "It is a wonderful surprise. The prospect of a few more moments together makes me very happy."
"A few more moments," Woody hesitatingly asked?
Quickly Dawn put a finger to his lips. "Wait but a moment. Your questions will all be answered in time. For now let it be enough that we are together." As he began to smile, she held him again, breathing kisses and words of love. Woody found himself back in paradise.
Slowly they became aware of another person in the small room. He had arrived without notice, and was now observing them in only a mildly interested way, as if patiently waiting for their notice. As Woody became aware of him, he stood a bit straighter. Dawn, sensing the difference, reluctantly broke the embrace and turned slightly in order to face the man. Quite properly she introduced them, referring to the man only as 'The Caretaker'.
Woody immediately noticed the man wore the same type of uniform as the others, but in this case his uniform had two vertical stripes on his left arm and chest with some sort of emblem overlaying the stripes. Like all of the others Woody had seen, the Caretaker's uniform was a gentle green -- only Dawn's clothing was different, being a light colored orange.
The man smiled at the introduction and then motioned for the two to sit. When they were sitting on the edge of the bed, the man sat in the room's only chair and faced them directly. "It is time we talked. You will undoubtedly have questions, and I will try to answer them as I am able. Patience on your part will be required.”
Woody interrupted, "If I may make one point before you begin. If we are using the Intrepid's computer to translate… the Intrepid will be recording this conversation."
The Caretaker gently smiled. "We appreciate your concern. However, your fellow travelers are no longer aware of your presence here nor are they in any way in communications with you. We have our own facilities." When Woody had smiled his acknowledgement, the man continued, "This event is without precedence. Therefore we must improvise. For the moment we will treat you as a novice, even though your method of arrival precludes such a rank. But for now it will suffice."
The Caretaker took a deep breath, and began a narrative he had delivered on many previous occasions. "The Gods are no more. Only the Caretakers remain. The history of The Gods and their people is the history of a worldwide, highly developed, technological civilization, one which had passed beyond the breaking point. After the horror of the wars, the technological and economic collapse, and the subsequent, tremendous anti-technological feelings that were generated, a group of great scientists quite literally went underground. They brought with them great wisdom and understanding, and their total commitment to bring peace and joy to the people of their war weary planet.
"Over the generations they rebuilt the society using a base of savagery and superstition. Their technology expanded and surpassed even that which was known in the greatest days of the previous civilizations. Soon their technology was to the uneducated masses of the planet, akin to magic. They had become, quite inadvertently, The Gods.
"Slowly the idea evolved that they could continue as The Gods, preserving the beauty and glory of their world. But this required a total and uncompromising secrecy. The people of Riwan could always believe in The Gods, and The Gods could always be there to care for them -- provided that the people never suspect The Gods were merely people like themselves. As long as the secret of The Gods remained, prosperity could remain. It was a highly desirable solution.
"But the laws of the universe are adverse to such stability. The first and clearest problem is that The Gods are not immortal. In fact they are but people. And in time the descendants of gods might become very lacking in godlike qualities. The inherent problem of nepotism, in any of its numerous forms, could eventually overcome the best of intentions. Good intentions would yield nothing if the secret of The Gods became known. A new civilization without gods would have to evolve, and it was far too early for that.
"Then the Caretakers, as they came to be known among themselves, came upon the idea of the Chosen. Those who would carry on the work of the Caretakers in succeeding generations would be selected from the populace. Thereby the Caretakers would be able to perpetuate their own by the Chosen. The lack of continuing their line by having children of their own would be of little concern, since as Caretakers they would have the prayers and love of all the small fry of Riwan in their keeping. With the help of an immense computer network, they could continue for all time the work of the first Gods, to 'love and protect their world'. This is something the Caretakers and their novices, the Chosen, have now done for countless ages.
"The idea and selection of the Chosen is absolutely crucial. It ensures that every new Caretaker works for the good of their people. Only the best motivated and most loving of the people of Riwan are Chosen. Were the Caretakers to have children of their own, there could be no valid test of a child's suitability to become a Caretaker inasmuch as it would not be possible for the child to fail and thereby return to the community of the people. The love between a parent and child would ultimately conflict with the critical need for total impartiality in the selection of the Chosen. Similarly the Caretakers cannot take a single partner as in marriage, but must maintain a level of love for every one of their compatriots and race.
"The Chosen are carefully watched before their Choosing. They are also tested in a variety of ways while they wear the Robe. Then when they enter into the temple, they undergo a last minute psycho scan. Their feelings at the height of that moment will invariably indicate whether or not the Chosen does the act only for self glory, or for the love of The Gods and the people. The indication is very strong. The true Chosen go with faint heart, knowing above all what they are giving up. The false look forward to a great moment of glory.
"Should the person be doing it only for self glory, they are allowed to go to the altar, take the poison, and die. It is, in effect, death by their own wish for immortal vain-glory.
"If, on the other hand, the Chosen have come to their end for the love of their people, and they therefore pass the final test, they become a novice Caretaker and a pre-readied robot takes their place at the altar of fire."
Woody stirred uneasily. "Perhaps I should not be told of these secrets." For a moment he struggled for the words. "Clearly I cannot be Chosen. I know the secret."
The Caretaker nodded. "Unfortunately, yes. Even suspecting the existence of an alternative to death, would nullify the proof of your good intentions. But there is more."
Dawn turned slightly to Woody. "How did you suspect?"
"In a word… or two: Optical magnification. The entire ceremony was filmed and then magnified tremendously. The discrepancy was your bruise." Woody glanced at the bruise on Dawn's cheek, now considerably lessened. For a moment Woody took great comfort in the sight, as if it verified the truth of their reunion.
The Caretaker looked thoughtful. "Generally the robot, when it moved within the flowing robe and at such a distance from the people, was not required to be as realistic as perhaps it should have been. There was never before much of a chance of discovery. We must take additional precautions in the future."
Woody looked a bit surprised. "Has not some enterprising soul invented a telescope and discovered the truth before now?"
"Two have, but in both cases, they were ideal choices for being selected as Chosen. There have been no others. The key has always been the individualistic nature of 'research'. Technological development without teamwork is severely limited, especially when previously gained knowledge is not always available to the young. There is a great deal of lost art on the surface of Riwan. Thus all progress is individual progress. Only in cases of great genius, will the Caretakers prompt the individual, in order to allow the person to go as far as his talents permit. But even then the work of such a great genius is carefully removed from the common knowledge."
"Has a great genius ever been Chosen?"
"Yes. But they were not allowed to become Caretakers. They were usually more in love with their science and accordingly were allowed to work with their love for the remainder of their lives. On the other hand, they met all of the essential requirements for being Chosen."
For a moment Woody watched the man, thinking about the clear limitations and fragility of The Gods. On the one hand, their society had all the requirements of a technological utopia with sufficient comfort and total stability. There was the necessary input of energy and thought in order to maintain the structure of their society. But as the Caretaker had emphasized, the critical factor for success was the need for absolute secrecy.
Then he asked, "Has no one ever questioned the mystery of The Gods?"
"There have been some. But they have been diverted. Always the problem has been solved without any breach of security. Our problem, on the other hand, is unique. And to solve it, you must understand everything. In this way you can also understand our subsequent actions, whatever they may be, and realize both the necessity and justice of them."
Woody shook his head in agreement.
The Caretaker folded his hands and summed it up. "The main problem is what to do with you." When there was no immediate answer, he continued, "On the one hand, you cannot be returned. It appears inevitable that should you be allowed back on Riwan eventually the truth would come out -- with or without your consent."
Woody reluctantly agreed.
"The second alternative is for you to stay among us. But as I have said: you cannot be Chosen. There are no certain checks on your motivation for staying; a psycho scan would mean nothing because of your knowledge. In addition, your motives are already suspect. You came here because of a 'selfish love'. You wanted to possess your love, to take love, and not to give it. Your love of Dawn, however romantic, is not a love of value. Someone who truly loved Dawn would not have demanded possession, but would have allowed her to do what she felt was right, without interference, and would have been happy for her happiness. Your grief at her loss was selfish, since your sorrow was for your loss, not hers. Grief is typically a selfish act.
"We also recognize the necessity for interstellar relations. A missing or dead space traveler would perpetuate all manner of investigations, and with a very significant probability of the truth being found out. This would lead to the destruction of the work of countless ages. The Caretakers have no faith in the action or the decisions that might be made on Earth. All the available information indicates severe problems in that regard.
"Finally it is unlikely the Caretakers are capable of homicide. It's been far too long. To kill another intelligent being might lead to insanity for the murderer and perhaps for those in complicity as well. It is only barely conceivable. And of course, returning you in a coffin would not help interstellar relations."
For a moment no one said anything. Then Woody asked, "I can't stay here?"
"No. Your friends would eventually demand an explanation, and we cannot so much as even show our face. Secondly, you are not Chosen, and cannot be, because of what you have learned."
"If I were returned, could I tell others I became lost in an underground labyrinth?"
"I fear you would find yourself in the quandary referred to by one of your poets: 'Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive'. But more importantly, how can we trust you? Can you absolutely guarantee your silence, despite any and all actions by others?"
Woody's 'no' was barely heard. More aggressively, he added, "But then what is the answer?"
"We don't know. As I said before, this sort of thing has not happened before. The idea of an alien committing a breach of our security had not even been considered. For the moment we are in a quandary."
"I don't suppose it would do any good to say I'm sorry."
The Caretaker could only shake his head. "It is the Law of the Arrow of Time. No act may be undone. You may always have the right to believe as you will, but not necessarily to act. Actions are permanent, beliefs are inevitably not."
For a moment Woody thought about the insolvable. He could not stay (that was certain). He could not go if there was the slightest chance he might give the secret away. And finally the Caretakers were probably not capable of disposing of him without committing themselves to insanity.
When everyone had sat quietly for several moments trying to think, the Caretaker rose. "We will continue to think about it. In the meantime you and Dawn will be left together." He smiled gently, "We do not frown on love in any of its forms."
Quietly the man left. For Dawn, who had always lived in the present, the condition was lovely. Thus with the departure of the Caretaker and his concerns, she was ready to again love Woody with all of her attention and heart. It was essential to remind him that he was, above all worries and concerns, very much loved. No matter what was to happen, he could always carry the certain knowledge of being loved in its greatest form.
For Woody this had always been an essential requirement, whether or not he knew it. His life had demanded love and affection and constant assurance. Even as he had grown with the revelations of the past moments, he was still clinging to the need for a totally committed love.
Hesitant at first, Woody soon succumbed to Dawn's adoration. Once again they made love in a moment of timelessness where only they existed and where all other aspects failed in comparison.
For three days they were together. They made love, talked, shared each other's presence, and ate together. Occasionally their privacy was interrupted when the Caretaker and two of his associates took Woody aside for tests and examinations. But the interruptions were short and few and neither Dawn nor Woody felt them to be difficult. For in sum they had each other.
Relaxing, with each touching the other in myriad ways, they would talk about their lives and dreams – even while avoiding any thought of the future. In Dawn's mind nothing had changed. There was no thought of escape, no thought to do anything wrong. She would have preferred death to betrayal. Woody quickly understood she was committed to staying and obeying the will of the Caretakers. At the same time, Woody was becoming increasingly committed to ensuring Dawn would never be hurt by a forced betrayal. The idea of somehow taking her away with him slowly dissolved and passed from his mind. At the same measured pace, Woody began to understand the depth and nature of her love. As he bathed in the presence of her immense affections, he began to accept it without any pain of his losing her. It was no longer a question of her loving them or him. The 'or' had been supplanted with 'and'. Dawn's love for Woody slowly became less of a quantity, and more of a state of perpetual being.
His only concern was that somehow he might hurt her, that in fact he had already caused her grief and sadness. To harm her again would be unbearable. Better he live without her than bring pain to her. His very life became secondary to her joy or pleasure.
As his own love grew and matured and changed from taking to giving, Woody began to realize he could now live his life without her, merely from knowing she continued and continued to love him. He no longer needed the reassurances, but was content with the moments they now shared. For the first time in his life, he felt at peace.
But the days of his transfiguration soon came to an end. It was time to rectify his wrong.
Copyright 1983, 1996, 2003 Dan Sewell Ward
Chapter Fourteen -- The Rescue
Chapter Sixteen -- The Gift
2003© Copyright Dan Sewell Ward, All Rights Reserved [Feedback]