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We waited until nightfall outside the Doorway, but the blackness never formed, the gods never came. As High Priest it was my duty to make all the proper sacrifices, chant the proper incantations, divine the proper day, but still the Doorway stood empty. Have they abandoned us, their creations, forever? What have we done to deserve this terrible fate? As the cold evening closed in on us, as the beasts of the night, no longer repelled by the invisible shield, roamed in our forest, we replenished the fire and sat in a tight circle.
An-Se-Ro, our greatest warrior, stared at me, his unblinking eyes reflecting the flickering fire. At last he said, “Your chants and spells are impotent, old man. The gods are gone forever. We are alone.”
Fifty pairs of eyes turned to me, wanting to understand, to believe that he could be wrong. And so I spoke again of the old times, times that are now five sun-cycles in our past.
“From the moment of birth until the last breath the gods cared for each of us. They brought delicious food every day, magic water for the little sun every week, beautiful clothes, soaps, medicines. Sometimes, they even took our sick ones to their heaven and fixed their bodies. And always, the little sun glowed brightly, powering the magic screens, warming our houses, keeping the invisible shield between us and the beasts of the Outside.”
Ok-Na-Ok, only seven sun-cycles old, pushed into the tight group and touched my arm. “Tell us about the day they left us, grandfather!”
There was much murmuring for not all wanted to relive that terrible day. I looked at the eyes glowing in the firelight, seeking their approval. An-Se-Ro nodded, others followed. I began.
“Since the time of our creation, the gods had always visited us in their mortal form. If not for their glowing green eyes, we could not have distinguished them from ourselves. For a thousand sun-cycles only the High Priests ever saw their true form, but on that day, the day they left us alone, they ran through the Doorway, dozens of them, dressed in black, and every one of them in his godly form. Their heads were hairless, their eyes huge and black, not glowing green, the skin of their faces the palest olive.
“They rushed to our log houses, pushing us aside, telling us to assemble in the main courtyard, collecting our magic screens, sweet-makers, cookers, anything that the gods had brought to us through the Doorway except our food and clothes. They gathered those things together and pushed them through the Doorway. Some of us tried to hide our favorite things, but the gods had small shiny cards that found everything. Nak-No-Wa fought to keep his treasured viewer, but a god struck him hard in the head, drawing blood. Never, never had a god done that to us before. Those who saw it became very afraid.
“In the courtyard, the very place we sit now, a god stood in front of us, reading loudly from his screen. I have repeated his words to myself every day so that I would never forget them, though they are mysterious and impossible to explain. ‘Under orders of the New Provisional Government of Sirius Prime, I do hereby declare Eden-Iwak, this unclean, immoral relaxation facility closed. The local populace of genetically-engineered creatures will adapt or die. We are indifferent to their fate.’
“With that he marched toward the Doorway and the others followed. I clutched the arm of one of the gods as he walked past and asked, ‘Please, tell us, what is happening? Where is our food shipment for today? Why are you taking our things?’
“The god looked at the one who had spoken to us. He nodded before he walked through the Doorway.
“’There was a revolution on Sirius Prime. The old, degenerate wealthy class has been overthrown. We are the new rulers. We have banned their disgusting immoral practices. For you this means that we will no longer support this colony. Your kind were created for their pleasure, to be their servants and prostitutes. You were nothing more than that to them.’
“’Well, yes,’ I said. ‘We performed certain rituals to please the gods but…’
“’They were not gods! They were degenerates! They created you to serve their perverse needs. But now we have freed you. You will take care of yourselves, live honest, dignified lives, and you will never again have to perform disgusting things for your keep.’
“’But how will we eat? How will we…’
“’Look around you. Beyond this garden you live in, beyond the force field there are animals grazing in fields of grain, an ocean is less than an hour’s walk from here filled with abundant food. No, you will not starve.’
“’But,’ I said, ‘there are beasts outside the invisible shield! We have seen them kill and eat other animals!’
“’You will have to learn how to fight the beasts, to protect yourselves. The force field will only last a few more days.’
“Two other gods had joined us. One put his slender hand on my shoulder. ‘I’m so sorry for you. You really are a beautiful species. I can see why the degenerates found you so exciting. But you’ll be getting nothing more from us. You must adapt or die.’
“Those were the last words the gods spoke to us. They turned and marched through the Doorway. Less than a minute later, the blackness that had always filled the Doorway faded, and we could see through to the forest behind it. The blackness has never returned, the Doorway has stood silent now for five sun-cycles.”
Now An-Se-Ro rose. He lifted his spear above his head and spoke.
“The gods did us a great favor, for though some died those first days after they left, those who survived are stronger. We have learned how to take care of ourselves. We are not helpless children, abused by the gods, unable to make our own choices in life. Yes, we all know someone who’s child or grandparent was taken by the beasts, but now we have learned how to kill them and today they fear us. We eat well, our village grows, we have no need for the gods!”
His words filled me with fear, for I had thought many nights about a life with no gods. I rose slowly, surveying their eyes shining in the firelight, forming the words carefully, wishing to show An-Se-Ro proper respect. “Our great warrior, slayer of twelve beasts with his own hands, speaks many truths, but I cannot agree that we do not need the gods. Think on this – why do we live if not for the gods? Are we the same as the beasts, the same as the cows we have learned to milk and slaughter? The gods made us in their image, for their pleasure, and we must always be ready for their return. We must never forget that we have a higher purpose than mere survival!”
An-Se-Ro’s confident smile shone in the firelight. “What did they tell you, grandfather? You spoke their words to us only a moment ago. What did they tell you? That degenerates made us, used us, fed us. What did they tell you? That they were indifferent to our fate, that we must adapt or die. Are those the words of gods who plan to return? Are those the words of gods worthy of our worship?”
His words burned with sense, yet I could not accept them. He spoke from his head, but when I rose again, I spoke from my heart. “Yes, those are the words of gods who, at that moment, believed they would never return. Our great warrior is of course correct. But they created us, and then cared for us for fifty generations. Is that not a reason to worship them?
“We must be patient. Something changed in their heaven, and it means they cannot visit us for a while, but they will return! If we have faith, they will return. If we forget them, if we abandon the Doorway, if we fail to tell our children, our children’s children, and so on to all generations, then the gods will be unable to find us when they do return. So we must build a special place, a temple, here, the place where they will come again, the place that we will always watch, to guide them to us when they return, to protect the Doorway so they can use it again.”
The people nodded, and then their voices rose like a wave breaking on the shore. They spoke, all at once, excited, feeling again that their lives might have hope and purpose.
In the midst of their excitement, An-Se-Ro let out a bellowing laugh so loud that it silenced everyone. Even the frogs of the night ceased their calling. “Build your temple! What difference does it make if someone sits here watching for those who enslaved us to return? Let him watch until he is only bones. Perhaps our children’s children will finally see this folly for what it is. We live for ourselves now, and what is wrong with that?”
But it is wrong. The gods made us to serve and we will never be content unless we can serve them. For now we must substitute service with hope, and we must tell the gods, as best we can in ritual and song, that we welcome their return, that we beg them to come back soon.
I write now so that those who follow, those who may never see the gods with their own eyes, will know this great truth: We are more than beasts, more than cows. We are the chosen ones of the gods, and we must always be ready for the day they return, ready to serve them once again. The day will surely come when they remember us, so our hope must never waiver. Without that hope we are alone; without that hope our lives are empty; without that hope we are only animals.
Pippin91 - The narrator thinks this way, Michele - he's a priest and represents the religious urge that many people have. He can't imagine a life without a higher purpose, even if it's a contrived one as in the story. This certainly isn't the way I think!! But a lot of people want to believe that we are the 'chosen ones'.
Raymond Coulombe, Michael Gallant, Timothy O. Goyette
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