Premiered June 24, 2003
Dawn walked along the path, her thoughts in a whirl. She was happier than she had ever been before, happier than she had ever imagined was possible. Her love for Woody was without precedence, without any prior hint as to the depth of feeling she was now experiencing. None of the fables, the legends, the tales of old Riwan, nor the stories of love of her own time had ever even suggested the love between a man and a woman could be as over powering as she felt their love was. It was not merely a heightened feeling, but a radically different set of emotions, alien to everything she had ever known.
She walked, almost oblivious to the world, struggling to comprehend something she had never before imagined. But then an intruding thought intruded. Dawn abruptly looked around, suddenly back on Riwan. She smiled as she realized what had caught her attention. A very old friend and beloved teacher, was intently watching her, as if unable to believe Dawn had nearly walked past her without the slightest acknowledgement. But as Dawn smiled glowingly at her, the teacher's face brightened.
"Mylan, my dearest friend, how are you?"
"I am well, Dawn. Thank you for your thought."
Dawn moved closer, and gently embraced the older woman. Slowly the teacher's reserves broke down and she hugged Dawn with a special emphasis. Dawn sensed Mylan's need and murmured, "It's been awhile, hasn't it?"
They broke apart slightly, as Mylan answered simply, "Yes, it has."
"Stay awhile with me. I am very much in need of your wisdom and friendship."
Mylan smiled with genuine sincerity. "It is my honor."
"But dear one," Dawn quickly added, her gaze stern and forceful, "What I need is the advice from a friend; not the obedience of a passerby to one who is Chosen. You must be honest with me, ignoring for the moment any thought of rank or obligation. Do you understand?"
Mylan smiled broadly, "You make it too easy for me."
Sobering slightly, "I will, of course, do as you bid. But be warned! I still know how to guide a student toward the proper paths."
"I am counting on that gift, for I do in fact need some guidance."
Mylan's smile grew more sober still, as she saw the intensity of Dawn's feelings. "Let us walk together. And you tell me of your feelings."
They turned and started down a little used path, their arms interlocked. For a short while Dawn said nothing, marshalling her thoughts. Then, as Mylan's comforting presence made itself felt, Dawn began, "I've met one of the far travelers, and he and I have been intimate."
Mylan only smiled, awaiting a revelation of more substance. Dawn continued, "But somehow we're much more than lovers. There is a depth of feeling for him I have never experienced nor even contemplated. Our love is in a new dimension, where my whole being is consumed by my thoughts for him."
Mylan's smile darkened as she began to feel Dawn's intensity. With their arms interlocked she sensed Dawn's rapidly increasing heart rate as Dawn rushed headlong into her confession.
"It is a passion, a singular passion such that I have never known. It's such a totally new experience."
Finally Mylan interjected, "A new experience, yes, but not necessarily a better one. Surely your intellect can tell you that."
"But the passion is so strong, so very strong!"
Mylan stopped walking and gently turned Dawn to her. "My dear Dawn, love is perhaps the greatest gift of The Gods. But there is a higher calling for love than mere passion. Emotions cannot run rampant; we're not animals!"
Dawn smiled. "I know. But I've never had such an experience. The emotion is so overwhelming. I hardly know how to deal with it."
Then Mylan's tone became even more sober, reflecting her concern. "But you will deal with it. I know you well enough to know that. You have duties, and emotion cannot be allowed to alter that fact, nor interfere."
Dawn looked suddenly surprised. "But Mylan, there's no conflict! I'm still me. I know my duties."
"Of course, Dawn," Mylan quickly answered. "I only remind you that while uniqueness and individuality are to be prized, they must also be tempered with social responsibilities. After all we are blessed by The Gods with a great joy and fullness of life. Not all are so honored."
Dawn smiled at her teacher's words. A momentary sense of peace and well being came over her, as she quietly replied, "You are right, Mylan. As always."
Captain Michaels sat alone in the Intrepid's control room. Occasional beads of sweat marred his face while his reddened eyes refused to focus on anything within the room. His anxiety and agitation were further displayed by the fingers of his right hand as it massaged his chin with occasional brushes of his cheek and the hair around his right ear. His mind concentrated with an obvious intensity, clearly absorbed with some internal conflict.
It had started as a nebulous concern of something hidden in the body of the Riwanian language. Then slowly the utopia's black side had begun to emerge -- never clear, never definitive -- merely a dull ache of pain trying to gain his attention. Slowly it had gained his attention. He had delved further into the possibilities, only to be further confused by the total lack of substantive evidence. But the suspicion had lingered on.
It became critical they learn the truth quickly. There loomed the potential for disaster, where much like the classic tragedy, everything was already fixed. If his suspicions were even remotely correct, there would be nothing he or anyone else could do. But still he had to know one way or the other. The very lack of clear understanding was perhaps worse than the facts themselves.
For just a brief moment Michaels began to wonder why things like this happened. Why was he so unable to prevent the evils of life from reaching him and his? But then, his will reasserted itself, and he merely wondered where the hell Stevens was.
His youngest officer had been sent to obtain definitive proof of what Michaels hoped was only his hypothetical theory. She had yet to return. A feeling of helplessness swept over him, a feeling common to any Commanding Officer who must send a junior officer on a mission where the outcome of the mission may very well rest entirely with the younger officer. In the final analysis the officer would be on his or her own, while the Commander would be unable to do anything, other than accept the responsibility for the success or failure of the mission.
Still consumed by his thoughts, he was unaware of Thomas, as she walked into control. Then without really noticing Michaels' mood, Thomas greeted him, "Good afternoon, Captain." There was no response, but Thomas paid it no heed as she was not really thinking about pleasantries. Thomas was much more interested in when she would be allowed to go on her proposed foray to the 'industrial center'. Her impatience was barely transparent, as she asked, "Captain, when do you think that I should be traveling to our suspected 'industrial center'? I'm sure the trip would be very worthwhile."
When Michaels still did not respond, Thomas, with genuine surprise on her face, turned to him. "Captain?"
Michaels only barely acknowledged her. "Not now Thomas!"
Marie felt the flush rush to her face. She was very surprised, with just a hint of anger at being ignored. She watched the Captain for a moment, half expecting him to look up and apologize. But he continued to ignore her. Finally, her dander now well up, she sat down at her console. Half heartedly she began to reorganize some of the recently acquired data in her specialties, while another part of her energies was divided into being angry with Michaels' apparent coolness. She was also taking the effort to maintain control of herself so as not to object too strongly to a superior officer.
After a moment, she felt in better control and she glanced over at Michaels. She was frowning; her subtle way of telling him that he owed her an apology. Then her frown vanished and turned to a look of bewilderment -- for she could now see the sweat, the apparent anguish, and the anxiety on Michaels' face. From long experience she knew that Michaels did not sweat under any circumstances. But now he was. Thomas was suddenly very puzzled and concerned.
She was distracted momentarily as the console signified the arrival of someone at Intrepid's main lock. Thomas saw that it was Kat Stevens, and started to dismiss the incident as irrelevant, when Michaels asked, "Is that Lieutenant Stevens?"
Surprised, Thomas answered, "Yes sir." Her surprise increased as she noticed Michaels straighten and mentally prepare himself for Stevens' arrival. Obviously Michaels was expecting Stevens and perhaps more. The whole idea was fairly astounding to Thomas inasmuch as she had never considered Kat Stevens to be important enough to deserve such attention from Michaels. Then all thoughts of the apparent puzzle dissolved as she saw Stevens enter control.
Never before had Thomas seen the junior officer in such a state. Obviously distraught, the constantly cheerful optimist was fairly shaking with tears and grief. Her eyes were red, with streaks of tears down her face. Her normal enthusiasm was gone, replaced with a burden of bad news weighing on her shoulders. She was apparently struggling to maintain her composure, but was clearly losing the battle. When she walked up and stopped in front of Michaels, her attention entirely on him, Thomas wondered if she might collapse.
With a horror in her voice, Stevens shakily acknowledged, "You were right!"
Bitterness tinged her voice. With an equal horror, Michaels collapsed back in his chair, as if told of the death of a best friend. With his mind firmly clamped down to control the bursting emotions, he asked for the slightest hope. "You're sure?"
Kat shook her head affirmatively, then letting it fall as if no longer sure she could face anyone.
Thomas, still watching in total amazement, asked, "What's happened?"
Kat looked over at Thomas, as if to explain. But she could not find the words. She looked back at Michaels, to see if he would answer. But when Michaels continued to stare at the floor as if he had just seen death ride by, Stevens slowly turned her eyes back toward Thomas. Thomas repeated her question with her eyes. Kat could only swallow hard, as she moved toward one of the consoles, and pulling it out of her pocket, inserted a recording record into the console. With a sudden anger, she announced, "Let the bastards tell you themselves!" Abruptly she turned and left the room.
Thomas watched her go, her mind in turmoil. She then turned back to the console where the picture showed the local priest talking directly to Stevens. "But of course, Kat. I will be more than happy to explain about the Chosen. To put it simply, the Chosen is one whom The Gods have selected."
"That I understand. But can you tell me more? How is the Chosen selected? What are the duties of the Chosen? What happens during the Day of Renewal?"
"Well if you like, I suppose I could start at the beginning."
The priest smiled. Then, "The people become aware of the Chosen first, when a God-imposed glow comes over the person. Normally it happens when the person is among others, and usually the others become aware of the glow before the Chosen. Then the Gods will speak directly to the mind of the Chosen, telling him or her that they have been Chosen by The Gods."
"The Gods speak directly? How?"
The priest shrugged. "The Gods have their ways."
Kat looked perplexed. "Then what?"
"Naturally the person must decide whether or not to accept the honor. As expected, almost all do. I have never known someone to refuse. Then upon accepting the honor, they leave their home immediately without any preparations and walk into the wilderness. This is ‘The First Act of Faith’: A demonstration of their faith that The Gods will provide for them.
"The Chosen is usually a young male or female, generally between the ages of 20 and 40. But of course, The Gods sometime choose someone older."
"But the Chosen can refuse?" Kat asked.
"Of course. Once Chosen, or having received the God-imposed glow, the person may accept or refuse. There is no dishonor in not accepting. The role of the Chosen is strictly voluntary. The whole concept of the Chosen would lose all of its meaning, if it were not."
"When the Chosen arrives in the wilderness, all others who may be there depart immediately. There must be no distractions so that the Chosen may have the opportunity for meditation, self awareness and thought. At the appropriate time and if The Gods so choose, the Chosen then completes 'The Wilderness Covenant'. This is also known as 'The Second Act of Faith', after which the Chosen will find a 'Robe'. The Robe is on loan from The Gods, and tells all others the Chosen is now 'Robed'.
"The Robe is totally original or unique in its magnificence and style. Else, how could it have value? The Chosen wears the Robe until the 'Day of Renewal'."
"Does anyone not pass 'The Wilderness Covenant'?"
"Sometimes it may become apparent the Chosen is not ready. This may be a decision by The Gods or by the Chosen. In any case, they would then return to their homes and thereafter continue their lives as before. They would of course, return 'Unrobed'.
“But note that there is great honor in being Chosen regardless of whether or not the person is eventually Robed. The greater honor is, of course, to be Robed. But there is no shame in returning Unrobed. Sometimes The Gods wish the Unrobed to return to the others, to act as an example of humility and humanity.
"Upon return from the Wilderness Covenant, the Robed Chosen thereafter refers to themselves and The Gods as 'We'. The Chosen also sets a date for the 'Day of Renewal'. It is entirely their choice, and is typically three to six months in the future.
"Gifts of the Chosen's time can only be bestowed and cannot be requested. Requests from the one who is Chosen takes all precedence over requests from others, including priests and educators. And because there is almost never two Chosen at anyone time, there is never a conflict.
"The Chosen also has priority over the use of any and all things on Riwan. Others must give way to the Chosen and allow them to do as they will. If requested, they must accede to the Chosen's requests in all respects. The only restriction upon the requests of the Chosen are imposed by The Gods. In this case, the Chosen must be careful not to overindulge or misuse their 'Precedence of Requests', a factor which constitutes "The Third Act of Faith'."
Kat asked, "Do the Chosen ever change their minds at this point, and wish to become 'Unrobed'?"
"It is of course possible. The Chosen's Robed status is at all times, strictly voluntary. They can change their minds at any time, up to the day before 'The Day of Renewal'. They need only indicate they are no longer Robed by the simple act of 'Disrobing' and returning the Robe to any priest. There is no disgrace, there is no dishonor. If their status as Chosen is not as a freely given gift, it has no value. There can never be any sort of coercion."
Kat swallowed hard, and asked, "What happens on the Day of Renewal?"
The priest smiled. "It is a beautiful time. The Chosen will begin the day by saying 'good-bye' to their friends and relatives."
"Of course. Then at the Chosen's leisure he or she will go to the Temple of Renewal. All the Riwanians of the surrounding area take a holiday and remain vigilant for any request of the Chosen. In this way they give a day of their lives to The Chosen and to The Gods.
"As the Chosen approaches the temple, leading a procession of the Riwanians, the followers will begin to sing songs in honor of the Chosen. At the Temple of Renewal, the Chosen enters through the Sacred Door near the base of the temple. Once inside the temple and apart from all of the others, The Gods present a final test of the Chosen's intentions, "The Fourth Act of Faith'."
"Has anyone ever failed this last test?"
"None to my knowledge. It seems almost inconceivable."
"And then what?"
"At the completion of the test, the Chosen will exit at the top of the temple and walk directly to the Altar of Renewal.
"Does anyone accompany the Chosen into the temple?"
"Oh no. That is forbidden. The interior, the Altar of Renewal, and the topmost portion of the temple are never to be walked upon except by the Chosen on the Day of Renewal. The priest may climb to the top of the temple along the exterior steps, but only after the Chosen has come out of the door at the top. However, all Riwanians may witness the moments of renewal easily, because the top of the temple is on the same level as the surrounding area. By placing the temple into the hollow cavity of ground, The Gods have ensured that the temple never becomes inaccessible to the eyes of the people."
"And when the Chosen arrives at the top?"
“Then the priest takes the Nectar of the Gods to the Chosen. The Chosen drinks the Nectar from the Chalice of The Gods, and then lies down upon the Altar of Renewal. All of this is done in full view of the people, and there is much singing and rejoicing. After a few moments, the priest will perform the 'Last Request of the Chosen', and ensure that the Chosen is asleep. It is truly a beautiful ceremony. At its conclusion, the priest will announce that the Chosen is 'One with The Gods'. The Altar of Renewal is then consumed in flames as the Chosen's former body is cleansed of all worldly cares."
"Burned?" Kat asked, her throat almost too dry to form the word.
"The Chosen give up their life?"
"Beautiful, is it not? The Chosen are those fortunate ones whom The Gods choose to receive as the renewal of the people's faith. Clearly it is the only manner in which The Gods can be certain of the people's devotion. I believe your people have a phrase which says it all: 'Greater love hath no man, than that he lay down his life for his friends.' Here, the Chosen has made the rest of their life, the full remaining time on Riwan, as their greatest gift. And in this way the gift of life by the Chosen constitutes the Renewal of the People's Covenant with The Gods."
Kat was now breaking down. Tears mixed with a sudden anger at the thought of the sacrifice. Her voice only barely under control, she asked one last question, "Your Gods take the lives of the Chosen?"
The priest now visibly aware of Kat's change in attitude, quickly answered, "Oh no -- The Gods do not take a life. The Chosen give their life to The Gods."
Abruptly the recording ended.
Thomas was stunned by the revelation. Her hands gripped the console, trying to maintain her balance in a suddenly chaotic world. Looking at Michaels, she asked, "The Riwanians are practicing human sacrifices?"
Michaels only slowly turned to look at her. His face was drawn even more as all hope had fled. Almost in a daze, he answered simply, "Yes." For a moment neither said anything. Then Michaels coughed, and ordered, "Commence ship's recall." With that he struggled to his feet and walked out of control. On his back he carried the heaviest weight of his command.
As Marie started to initiate the ship's recall, the tears began to stream down her cheeks. Silently she called out, "Woody?" In her mind, her thoughts flew into turmoil, as she searched for the words of comfort and consolation. Her mind tried to find ways to ease the inevitable hurt of this person to whom she had been so very close. Suddenly she must somehow find a way to cope with the idea of her dear friend's tragedy.
Abruptly, she began to see the inevitability of failure. For Marie realized she had not the capacity for help, her heart could not avert the horror nor really help Woody. It was beyond her ability and beyond anything she might have ever imagined she would want to do. Her utter failure to provide an essential love to someone for whom she had cared began to gnaw at her being and she began to weep uncontrollably. Her way of life, the life she had freely chosen, did not include such capabilities. And now she had begun to realize the depth of the void in her life.
Copyright 1983, 1996, 2003 Dan Sewell Ward
Chapter Eight -- The Garden
Chapter Ten -- Confrontation
2003© Copyright Dan Sewell Ward, All Rights Reserved [Feedback]