Enoch decided he wanted to put some distance between himself and whatever officials tried to look into the cure, so he headed immediately for the highway. Besides, he was not yet ready to talk to Lazir about the implications of what had just happened. He just drove.
He pulled off at the same truck stop near Oklahoma City for gas. It was already well after noon, and his stomach was grumbling. They were selling pizza by the slice and hot dogs rolling on some hot rollers to cook. They also had some pre-made sandwiches that looked nasty. He bought a slice of pepperoni pizza and another large drink. The pizza was messy enough, he decided to eat it before getting in the car. He dumped the trash and drove back onto the highway going west.
Unlike the trip out, the miles flew by. Gas in Amarillo. He was home before midnight. He still didn't know what to think.
He lugged the converter into the house, flipped open his laptop and powered it up. Time to face the music. He wondered where that phrase came from. He didn't know what he was facing, but he suspected it wasn't musical.
Lazir's scratchy voice came through, "I see you are home again. You didn't spend much time visiting, did you?"
"No, I didn't want to answer questions about how he got healed. Are you up to talking?"
"I'll be right there."
Enoch paused to look at the logs. There were several hundred megabytes of data to analyze. It would take some time. If he succeeded at all.
Lazir came in and climbed up on a chair. "What's up doc?" It didn't have Bugs Bunny's nasal twang, but Lazir obviously must have expanded his internet surfing.
"I have some questions..." Enoch didn't know exactly where to begin.
"First off, do you know how long the medication I gave my grandfather lasts? I mean, do we -- I -- need to go back from time to time and give him additional doses?"
Lazir hesitated a few seconds. "Rafile thinks Alzheimers is an acquired genetic problem. This particular medication repaired the faulty genes, so it shouldn't come back in his lifetime. We're not sure, however. It's a situation the Damic people of Ghadon encountered and found a cure for; we just used their formula. It wasn't clear which of several conditions your grandfather had, so we just threw in the cures for all of them. We got lucky. We don't think it's likely to recur, however."
"Will he live forever now?"
"Not hardly. He could get cancer or a heart attack or diabetes. Not to mention accidents and just plain cussedness. He just won't die from dementia."
"But you have cures for all those other things too?" Enoch could believe anything now.
"The Living Tree foliage is a very powerful medication. We've only used a few extracts. However, it will not cure accidents and evil intentions. Accidents can largely be prevented by care and common sense, but evil can only be cured by the Ancient One, and then only if you want to. Unfortunately, unlike diseases, evil harms people around the evil-doer. Fixing it in one person does not protect him from evil in other people. If anything it makes him more vulnerable."
Enoch didn't know where this was going, but it wasn't making much sense. "Yesterday you offered me the opportunity to live forever. I think those were your words. You demonstrated that you can cure disease. I agree that accidents can mostly be prevented. But how would I be able to live forever if that makes more vulnerable to evil people out to get me? I don't get it."
"My offer included removing you from an environment of evil. We could take you to Ghadon to live with the Damic people. They are just like you, but there is no evil there, and no death."
"Of course not. They invented the cure, remember?"
"Do they have your energy converter? And computers?"
"Everybody has those. Except your people, of course. There is full commerce between all the races in the universe, except here. It's too dangerous to bring people here from other planets."
"What's the catch?"
"I don't understand. What kind of 'catch' are you talking about?"
"TANSTAAFL. There's no such thing as a free lunch. What do I lose in order to get this benefit?"
"Nothing. Well, you must want it. You must agree to give up being evil."
Enoch was incensed. "I'm not evil."
"You already told me you don't follow all the rules, all the time. Accidents happen because people don't follow all the rules all the time. People get hurt. That's evil. Don't you agree that getting hurt when it's not your fault is evil?"
Enoch didn't want to answer that one. He tried another tack. "What about earthquakes and tornados? People get hurt from natural disasters, too."
"Yes, sometimes the rules are inadequate. If you don't build a skyscraper in a fault zone, it won't fall down in an earthquake. That should be a common-sense rule. As I recall, earthquakes and disaster-level winds here are a consequence of the Great Flood. The entire eco-system needs to be restored or rebuilt to prevent them here. They tell me that's planned for the future. Ghadon does not have such problems today. Neither does my home planet."
"Really? No natural disasters at all?"
"If people died in such accidents, we wouldn't be living forever, would we?"
The logic was irrefutable. "But you've only had -- what did you tell me -- some 5,000 years of history? How do you know what will happen in a million years?"
"Good question. Do you know how many earthquakes happen around the earth in a single day? Measurable, feel-the-earth-jiggle earthquakes? We found the number on the internet. I think it's somewhere between ten and a couple hundred. Every day. Do you know how many we have felt on my home planet in the last thousand years, since we began measuring that stuff? None. That doesn't count artifacts like intentional earth-moving explosions. Are you worried about the future? I'm not."
"Let me get this straight," Enoch thought this was getting dangerously close to the previous discussions about religion, but he wanted to know. "The earth here has earthquakes and tornados and floods and volcanos, where people get hurt, because of Noah's Flood some five thousand years ago, and that was somehow our fault because we are 'evil', and you guys never had any of that because you are not evil. Is that what you are saying?"
"That's not the whole story, but it's pretty close, as far as it goes."
"And you are offering to take me out of this dangerous world, and put me on a safe planet, where none of these natural disasters ever happen, and everybody is careful and sweet and loving, so no harmful accidents ever happen, and everybody lives happily ever after? Literally."
"Is that a problem for you? Would you like your family to come too?"
"And all I have to do is stop being this mild form of evil which you describe me to be, and become more like my parents and follow all the rules all the time and never have any fun."
"I seem to have missed something. Where did this 'never have any fun' part come from? Do your parents never have any fun? What is 'fun' that it requires being evil?"
"Um, um, ..." Enoch didn't have an answer. He wasn't even sure he knew why some things are fun and some things are not. "Let me think about that a while, maybe sleep on it." He wanted to change the subject, and wondered if he could hang onto the energy converter overnight.
Lazir beat him to it. He slid off the chair and headed to the converter. "I guess you're done with this," he said.
Disapointed is probably not a strong enough word to describe Enoch's feelings at that moment, but he decided he didn't want to tip his hand just yet. "Yeah, I guess so," he said glumly. He still had the email logs, but they wouldn't be much value without the converter to practice on. Maybe it wouldn't matter if he decided to take up Lazir's offer. That definitely needed more thought.
Lazir headed out the door, dragging the converter behind him. "See you in the morning? Ten again?"
"Yes, that will be good." Enoch wasn't sure, but it would give him some time to think over Lazir's offer. And maybe reverse-engineer the email logs, too.
He spent the next three hours poring over the email log data, then gave up, figuring it must be encrypted or compressed by some obscure algorithm. He couldn't even decode the obvious voice transmissions.
He suddenly realized he was ravenous. He had not eaten all day. The chips were still on the kitchen counter, but no longer crisp. There's nothing worse than stale, wilting chips. No, there is something worse, but stale chips were not going to cure the confusion in his thinking. He pulled a random TV dinner from the freezer, slashed the film cover without reading the directions, and popped it into the microwave. A quick glance at the instructions showed a large "3:00" so he set the timer for three minutes. The potato soup they typically pass off as mashed potatoes was still a frozen block, but he didn't much care at the moment. The meat patty was only lukewarm, however, so he put it back in for another minute and a half. The instructions always tell you to leave it in the oven for another two mintues. He figured it was to distribute the heat, and didn't want to wait. He cut the patty into smaller pieces and stirred it around in the chemical gravy to spread the heat. Then ate it.
Chemical gravy, he thought with a grimace. We have energy converters, too, just not as efficient. He wondered if the -- what did Lazir call them? -- Damic people ate TV dinners. Or even meat? If everybody lived forever, did that include the animals? Or were they still lunch? Enoch wasn't sure he wanted to become a vegetarian. Their life is so boring. Of course the TV dinners were mostly chemicals and soy protein, so maybe, with their energy converter, that wasn't such a big problem.
Lazir was going to be back at ten, so Enoch set his alarm again, but it turned out to be unnecessary. He was wide awake at six. He showered and dressed, then went into the kitchen for a cold drink. No beer this time, he wanted all his faculties working on The Problem.
Fact: Lazir had aparently made a good-faith offer. They had the technology to back it up. Enoch could accept it and live forever.
Fact: He would need to change religion to accept this offer. Lazir had not put it that way, but that's what it came down to.
Back to his musings on the way back from Arkansas yesterday, religion tells you facts about the universe and yourself, but most important, it tells you what you can do and not do. Lazir was definitely telling him that to accept this offer, he would need to adopt the Ancient One's ethics. They weren't bad ethics, no rape, murder, nor stealing -- in fact just the opposite -- but it would be a change.
Why is that? Enoch wondered. Why is doing only Good always, why is that necessarily a change for Enoch? It shouldn't be, not if his (Enoch's) religion is true, and the Bible of his parents false. There is something wrong here, something doesn't compute. It was like a bug in one of his programs, causing it to fail in subtle ways, but not catastrophically. Lazir had proved that Enoch's religion did not succeed in getting him to do Good, but what if Lazir's religion didn't work either? That might be the show-stopper question.
There was still this "fun" question. Programming is fun. Enoch couldn't see any problem with that. But sex is fun too. Would he have to get married? What if he got tired of the next Diane? Or, closer to real life, she got tired of him? Or even worse, what if there wasn't any chick willing to be a part of his life? Like maybe the Damic people did sex some other way, so he couldn't enjoy it?
Then there were jokes. Joking around was fun, but sometimes people didn't like being the butt of somebody's joke. Enoch thought about it for a while, and couldn't think of a single joke, not one prank, not even a funny story, that didn't ridicule or inconvenience somebody. Suppose they weren't in a joking mood that day? It happens. Usually we tell the guy to "Lighten up," but that's because we want to laugh at him, not because we want him to enjoy it. Enoch remembered the awesome prank he pulled on his sister when they were teens. It was great fun, and she even laughed too, but he had to be very careful for the next two weeks, knowing that payback was coming. Why, if it's so much fun, should he worry about evading her retaliation? Would that kind of fun be forbidden in this new life Lazir was offering? Maybe that was another question to ask.
Enoch decided to write these down.
1. Jokes, are they forbidden?The enforcement question carried all kinds of subtle side isues. Enoch was born and raised American. He believed in Freedom, with a capital "F". Everybody should be free to do whatever they wanted, so long as it didn't hurt somebody else. The religionists -- including his parents -- were much more restrictive. They had all these do's and don'ts. Did the Ancient One have a bunch of do's and don'ts too? Maybe this was related to #1 on his list. Also #2.
2. What about sex?
3. How is this goodness enforced?
Enoch started to feel confused again. He got up and went for another
soda pop. He took a big swallow, then realized he needed something more
envigorating, and decided to go for a walk. He set the alarm on his cell
phone for one hour, time to get back from anywhere he had walked to by
then, then set out the back door.
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