Premiered June 24, 2003
Woody was deliciously happy. He skipped along, hummed a tune of happiness, and with gay abandon doffed his cap at every passerby. The fact he wore no cap, didn’t seem to phase him. His love was contagious and knew no bounds. Everyone could share in his love for Dawn. And those who saw him could not help themselves but smile and share in his joy, if only for the moment.
As he skipped along, no thought of his destination ever occurred to him. He simply wandered, letting the pathways take him wherever they might choose. Then the sound of ship's recall seeped through his euphoria. Almost casually he noted the fact that he should now return. Answering the insistent beeper, he began to think about returning. He continued to dance and shuffle along, but then he began to choose those paths which would eventually lead him back to the Intrepid. He was not looking for the quickest way, just a way. There was no hurry; time was on his side now.
Eventually he arrived at Intrepid. Shari Ryerson was also heading home, but with obviously more concern at arriving there in a reasonable length of time. Woody called to her. Then as she waited for him, clearly amused by his gaiety, he ran up to her and gave her a big hug. Woody, brimming with affection, could only muster, "Shari, Shari, Shari. Good to see you, Shari."
Ryerson laughed. "And you too, Woody." She was fascinated by Woody's delirious joy, and then amazed as he gave her a kiss on the cheek. Her surprise surged, mixing with her amusement.
"Gee Shari, you're looking good today."
Shari could only shake her head. "You're looking pretty good yourself, Woody. But tell me, what's been happening. Did you win a kewpie doll or something?"
Woody smiled broadly and slyly. "Better than that, Shari. Better than that."
With his arm around her, he escorted her to the ship's main lock. His bubbling amusement was not even deterred when he saw Michaels' scowl, framing the entrance. In fact, Woody was even more amused by the grim growl of this man he so admired, knowing his countenance was one that was perpetually grim.
Michaels felt his emotions raging about him. But then, by using Woody's attitude as an excuse, ordered, "Ryerson, give your friend here a complete physical. And check for drugs!"
Woody laughed, "Hey Shari, you got an antidote for love?"
Shari laughed, "Not for you Woody. You're too far gone."
Woody gave her one more hug. "You're right, Shari. It has to be terminal." Then smiling even more, he added, "Nevertheless, duty calls." Then he sauntered off toward the Intrepid's medical center.
Shari still amused, said "Can you believe that guy? He really is in another plane."
Michaels did not share her smile. Grimly he ordered, "Commander, give him a complete physical. Check for drugs. And! In the process, administer a mild sedative, something to slow him down. I don't want him knocked out, or incoherent; but I want him back with his feet firmly on the ground. Report the results to me immediately. I want a full Round Table the moment you can check him out and get his motor back to idle. Do you understand?"
Ryerson was shocked by Michaels' intensity. Suddenly aware that things were very serious, she answered. "Yes sir. May I ask why the sedative?"
"You'll find out soon enough. Just be sure he's got one. And have a knock out backup when the two of you show up for Round Table. Got it?"
"Aye, aye, Sir." Shari watched Michaels turn and head back to control. She had never seen Michaels in such a state. But it was clear things were very serious, and it was time for her to get up to speed. Quickly she headed toward the medical center.
When Ryerson entered the Control room, she noticed everyone was already there except for Woody. Worse yet, everyone looked like hell. Quickly she reported to the Captain that there were no apparent physical problems other than the trace of a slight aphrodisiac. Woody was still dressing and she had given him a mild sedative without his really being aware of it. Then with Michaels' acknowledgement, she took her place at the Round Table.
When Woody entered the control room, he was still cheerful and happy; although clearly more subdued. Michaels on the other hand was stern and uncompromising. "Let's get to it. There are some critical issues to discuss!"
Woody was the only one to answer, "Yes sir." It was a bit too enthusiastic.
"Woodward, this in particular concerns you. You will sit down and you will listen carefully. Understand?"
Woody only slightly daunted, sat down and faced Michaels. "Yes sir."
Quietly Woody watched the Captain as his commanding officer began to speak. Without outwardly showing it, Woody smiled to himself, amused by Michaels' seriousness. But he was nevertheless attentive. Obviously the problem was Michaels had learned more about the Chosen, and figured Woody needed to know. But then again, Woody thought, all you need do is ask me. I can tell you a lot about the Chosen. Woody was still quite secure in his own mind.
Michaels asked Woody what he knew about the Day of Renewal. Woody answered in an off hand fashion, not really convinced the subject deserved all the seriousness it seemed to be generating. Clearly Dawn was in charge of the Day of Renewal. What could be the harm in that? Would Woody and Dawn have to stay apart that day? What was the big deal?
Then a small surprise. What was this about Dawn offering up her life for the Gods? Did Dawn intend to become some sort of high priestess? Why hadn't she told him? But the console monitor gained his attention, as the scene between Kat Stevens and the priest again unfolded. Slowly the scene progressed, and Woody began to sense the hint of a shadowy fear. What was Dawn giving up? What did he mean by Dawn saying good bye to all her friends?
Abruptly the idea of human sacrifice hit Woody like a hammer in the stomach. All the possible horrors imaginable began to do battle in an attempt to acquire his mental recognition. His mind staggered at the information feeding into it. He began to struggle with the incredible truth, the horror, the ecstasy of his love for Dawn, and the sedative. Slowly, oblivious to the gasps from the other officers around him, he finally made the connection between Dawn and the giving up of the Chosen's very life. His mind was now raging, struggling to cope with the unimaginable. He never noticed as Kat broke down and left the control room. Nothing else could grasp his attention for even a moment.
His mind still struggling for a way out of the impossible dilemma, Woody reached for the idea of going to Dawn and confronting her. She had to tell them they were wrong, that there had been a mistake. Woody shook his head to rid himself of the sedative's fog, and became more and more fanatic with the idea of finding Dawn. The truth was unacceptable! Dawn would have to explain. She could not be leaving Woody now. She had to clear up this horror, before it devoured him.
Slowly, struggling with every word, he stuttered out his request. "I've got to see her, to ask her, to have her explain. This can't be right. She would have told me. She has to tell me."
Michaels did not want to even consider letting Woody see her in his present state, but Moltz seemed to think it was best if they could clear it up immediately. Rip could not believe what they had seen was true. It was inhuman!
Michaels was ready to dismiss Rip's opinion, but then realized if he did so Woody would be on his knees begging him. That Michaels could not possibly accept. Michaels could never allow Woody to demean himself, no matter what the price. So rather than take the chance, he relented. But he added a stipulation: Ryerson, Sorrenson and Thomas would accompany Woody. He would not go alone.
There was not a second's hesitation as Woody accepted the charge. Nothing mattered but to clear up this horror. He must find Dawn and remove the doubts. She could change her mind! The others going along with him did not matter.
As they began to leave the control room, Michaels grabbed Max by the arm, and gave him his instructions. "Your primary task is to ensure Woody does not go off the deep end on this thing. Understand? You need to be ready to clamp down on him in a second. Have Ryerson cut him down with a knock-out if necessary, but don't let Woody trip off!"
Max shaking his head affirmatively, kept repeating, "Yes sir." Then he quickly followed the others out of the control room.
Michaels watched them go, the pain in his gut intensifying. He suddenly knew the greatest agony of a helpless parent: Unable to control what was ripping away at his offspring, having only to bear it, avoiding the almost insatiable desire to strike back, to drive his fist into whatever evil would present itself. But he could do nothing. He could only stare and watch the open hatch, and pray for some sort of divine intervention; intervention he knew would never come.
Woody led the others as he retraced his steps back to the garden. Before he had covered half the distance, he saw a priest. Quickly he rushed up to him, the others having to run to catch up with him.
"Sir," Woody said, breathlessly, "You must tell me where Dawn is."
The priest was clearly offended. "Sir, that is not your right to ask. No one demands to see the Chosen!"
Sorrenson stepped up quickly to intercede. "Sir, I apologize for my friend's rashness, but we believe the Chosen wishes to see my friend urgently. We would not wish for you to violate the Chosen's wishes by not knowing.
The logic reached past the priest's outrage and partially mollified his position. "Very well, I will attempt to bring you together, but only if you assure me that none of you will speak first or otherwise infringe upon the Chosen's time without first being addressed by the Chosen."
"Yes of course," Max quickly agreed.
"Do each of you agree," the priest asked, looking directly at Woody? Woody and the others quickly agreed.
The priest began to look introspective, as if in deep thought. For a moment he meditated, trying to fathom where Dawn might be. Then as if answered, he led off with the four space travelers in close pursuit. Within a few minutes they came to a small plaza, where several Riwanians were clustered in small groups, talking and doing a modicum of trading. The area had the feel of a market place on an off day. The priest pulled up short and turned to the others. "You are to wait here. The Chosen will shortly approach. I warn you again: You are not to dare to infringe upon her time without her specific request. Do you agree?"
"Yes, of course." Each of them looked at each other and at Woody. No one could guess what would happen next.
As they looked around the plaza, they realized none of the other Riwanians had taken notice of their arrival. No one gave the slightest hint that today might be any different from any other day. There was not even the suggestion any of the others expected the imminent arrival of the Chosen.
But then she did arrive, entering the plaza area across the courtyard from Woody and the others. She walked with her head lowered, as if in thought, listening to another Riwanian who was quietly talking earnestly to her. Her interest seemed intent upon the ground. The other Riwanians quickly stopped their conversations and straightened slightly as they became aware of her presence. The effect was quiet, but noticeable.
Then as if suddenly sensing the presence of Woody or the mounting tenseness surrounding the earthmen and the priest, Dawn looked up and around her. Then her eyes lighted on Woody and she started to smile. But her smile never fully materialized as she saw Woody's agonized face and the others grouped tensely about him. The grim expression on the priest's face caused her even more concern.
Quickly she turned to her sole companion who had stopped talking, and excused herself. Approaching Woody and the others, Dawn became more noticeably anxious as if already sensing the threat or disturbance. Then directly to Woody, she asked, "What is wrong? Are you distressed?"
"I'm not sure. Yes, I think so." Shaking his head as if to clear it, he asked, "Can we talk for a few moments? Alone?"
"Of course. You need not have asked." She took his arm and together they walked away to a corner of the plaza. The priest and the others, still nervous and very concerned, kept the couple under close scrutiny. Then Max, murmured, "Stay close by, Woody."
Woody glanced back, acknowledging the order, while the priest glared at Max, outraged at the unwarranted and implied restriction on the movements of the Chosen. Dawn looked first at Woody, then quickly back toward Sorrenson. Recognizing the real authority to which Woody must yield, she looked down and for just a moment, considered the implications. If Woody was bound by certain duties and limits, then so she would be. Without another thought, she guided Woody to a small bench and together they set down. The others remained where they were, within quick reach of the bench, but sufficiently out of earshot to make Woody and Dawn's conversation moderately private.
Woody's mind was already beginning to admit to the truth. All the pieces were falling into place. Hope was evaporating before he had the chance to utter his first word. For a moment they simply sat there while Woody tried to draw enough strength to ask the question for which he did not want an answer. Dawn ran her hand over his while her other hand came up to cradle it. Calmly but tenderly she watched his face, waiting for him to speak.
Slowly and painfully Woody asked about the Day of Renewal. Dawn smiled slightly as if surprised and started to begin. Suddenly in a flash she sensed the dreaded concern. It had not occurred to her he had not known. But now the concern was very real. Slowly and quietly, with a great deal of love and gentleness, she began to tell him of her last moments, when she would say good bye to her friends, relatives, and Woody, and then go to the Temple of Renewal. She told him as well of her entering the temple for the test of the 'Fourth Act of Faith'. That she would arrive at the top of the temple, drink the nectar of The Gods, and lay down to sleep, to become one with The Gods.
The truth could not be denied in Woody's expression. His anxiety, the tears in his eyes, the horror on his face quickly told her he had not known, he had not understood. Quietly she murmured, "But my darling, I thought you knew!"
Woody could only shake. As she reached for him, to hold him, to comfort him, he shrugged her off. "How can you do this to me? How can you leave me? I thought you loved me."
Dawn, genuinely horrified by his sudden questions, answered, pleadingly, "But I do love you. And I love my people. I love my Gods. Nothing is changed. I will always love you. In the next days, I will love you with all my heart. I cannot grieve for the fact that within a few days we will separate. It is my love for you that makes my gift to The Gods all the more precious."
"My God, Dawn. A human sacrifice!"
"Woody, I freely give my life to The Gods; they do not take it. It is on my own authority I do this. I answer to myself, and to no one else."
Woody grimaced even more at the hard reality. "But I love you."
"And I love you. The greater my love for you, the greater is my love for all. Love begets love. Love is a state of being. It is not a property or possession. It cannot be directed or aimed, or shielded. It radiates in all directions with ever increasing intensity. I can no more direct my love only to you, than I can cause the sun to direct all of its light to a single spot."
"But why must it be put to the test?"
"What greater demonstration of love is there than in giving of one's own life? How can I give myself to you, unless I can also give myself to my people and The Gods? The Gods must know that the people love them, and that their love is true. There are things in this world which are more important than the doing of one's own desires."
For a moment Woody merely looked at her. His torment seemed to abate as he loved Dawn even more. But still, "I just don't know if I can bear to lose you."
"Woody my darling," Dawn said, grabbing his arms. "That can be your gift. Love is for the giving, not for the taking." Then abruptly she fell silent. In her mind she recognized the futility of a gift not consummated. Perhaps Woody's love was that of possession – not truly a gift. Still she could not love him more. "Woody, my love for you would be worth nothing, if I could but give it only with conditions."
For Woody the rational thought began to lose all meaning. He was possessed by his love for Dawn. He loved her with every fiber of his being, and now he must lose her. It made no sense.
But Dawn was clear in her mind. She could not love Woody under the condition of his faithfulness, or his tenure on Riwan, or anything else. She had wanted so much for him to see that she must consummate her gift to The Gods. She had accepted Woody as a very special gift from The Gods for the joy of her last days on Riwan. And now her gift was even greater. Her love for Woody had increased without bound, and she had loved him with an intensity she had never imagined before.
Nevertheless, she must complete her act of love for her Gods, her people, and her Woody. Her love would be meaningless if she could not offer it without the 'string' that said she could change her mind, or if someone else came along. They still had four days to share their love. Many would experience far less.
Woody could only shake his head. The sedative dulled part of his senses, but his mounting rage ignored the drug-induced sense of calm. There was no way he could accept this. He was losing the greatest love of his life at the very moment of its first inception, and he was powerless to prevent it.
Well… perhaps not powerless. "You cannot go through with it. I won't have it."
Shock swept across her face, until love reasserted itself. "My darling, there is no choice to be made."
"But it's not necessary. The Gods will not demand it. You can refuse."
"Of course I can refuse. Otherwise the act would have no meaning. But to refuse is to negate my love, to cast aside my love for you, for my people, and for The Gods."
Woody felt his gut wrench at her words. She was cheerfully and with great expectation ready to sacrifice everything for a hideous religion. For just a fleeting second the story of Ruth crossed his mind, hinting at a possible, desperate solution. With a desperate rage boiling in his mind, he turned and slapped her with all his might across her cheek, the idea screaming in his mind to somehow stop her. Dawn took the full blow, stunned for just a second as she reeled back against a tree. Then as quickly she was back to him, dropping on her knees to hold him and control the anguish that would consume him.
The others were less understanding. The priest, the bystanders, and Woody’s shipmates, all converged on them. Woody stood up, trying to shed Dawn, to deny the truth of her profound love. Two of the bystanders grabbed his arms roughly, ready to break his back if necessary. The priest shoved one arm against Woody, to push him away from Dawn, and with the other reached for her. Max grabbed Woody, while Shari injected a knock out sedative. All Woody could do was to cry, "No!"
Woody tried to shed the effects of the drug, even as Dawn was helped to her feet. The Riwanians continued to hold a struggling Woody. Shari watched him with incredulity as the drug hardly seemed to effect him. Quickly she checked the dosage to see if it was enough. Looking back at Woody she continued to marvel at his endurance, knowing the drug should have been more than enough.
Very slowly the drug began to tear away his defenses and Woody began to slide into unconsciousness. As the drug started to realize its victory, Woody looked again at the tear stained face of Dawn who had only wanted to love him. As he began to slump, she was at his side, holding him and supporting him. Slowly she began to ask for help, to carry him gently back to the Intrepid. The others clustered about, trying to anticipate her wishes, all trying to assist in carrying the very nearly inert body of Woody.
For a moment his head rested against her breast. Quietly she whispered to him that she only wanted to love him, to live her remaining days with him, in the height of their love. Then turning to the others, she told them she only wanted to love him. Nothing more.
Shari watched the tears in Dawn's eyes begin to stream over the bruised cheek. Already it was turning into a massive black and blue discoloration. For just a moment, Woody’s thought occurred to her as well. Turning to the priest, she asked, "The bruise on her cheek; is it important? Will it make a difference?"
The priest only looked at her for a moment, questioningly. "I don’t understand."
"Would such a thing offend The Gods? Would the existence of the bruise have any effect on the Day of Renewal?"
The priest, still wondering about the legitimacy of the questions, answered only, "It is the act of love the Gods desire, not the physical condition of the one who gives. A bruise or blemish would mean… nothing."
Copyright 1983, 1996, 2003 Dan Sewell Ward
Chapter Eleven -- Rendezvous
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