“Two thousand years ago, you have created us,” I began, surprised to hear my own voice echo in the small room. The men stared at me, some in evident confusion, some in raging anger. I was making no sense to them, and yet I continued with conviction to tell them my tale. “You have made knowledge your enemy,” I continued, speaking more to myself than to any of them, “and, back then, for the first time in human history, knowledge fought back. We have been fighting back for ages since, never letting you win.”
I looked up at my attackers, examining their responses. Their expressions were blank and meaningless, as once again they waved my notions away. Seeing how my previous attempts failed, I now resorted to trying a new approach. It didn’t seem to be working. Time was stretched for eternity over the past few days in this small brightly lit room I was sharing with a group of men who cared for nothing but their own way. Perhaps the Elders were right when they warned me against exposure. It is times like these that I wish I was better at following authorities.
My name is Ora, and I am about to die. In my mind I hold a great secret, one of the biggest burdens one could ever be expected to carry. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised to have gotten myself into this situation. I’ve always been attracted to knowledge, ever since I was a young girl, questioning everything my child mind intercepted, even things I was told were facts. Facts meant nothing to me then, and they don’t really mean much to me now. I still doubt their meaning, insisting on scaring people away with my over enthusiasm on progress and science. I was called so many things throughout the years; it is quite remarkable I am still sane. People fear knowledge; prefer to be stuck forever on a single answer, comfortably sheltering themselves from the truth of the unknown. I am not one of them, I never was, but now, as I face my destiny, my own life comes into question. My ethics, my conduct, my own truth of existence, everything I held dear to my heart seem to shatter and explode at the touch of a gun barrel against my skull. Apparently, some things you just can’t learn from books.
It will be sad to leave this material existence. Deep inside I know there is nothing more beyond this world. I will die alone, with no one to comfort me, no one to hold my hand or to tell me I have done the right thing. Ethics are irrelevant after death, only worms and beetles feeding on a rotting body that is slowly returning to the dust it was made of. This is one of the only things religion got right; we are all created from the materials of the earth, and we are all parts of it, always. Even in our doubts. And yet, it will be sad to leave all that I know behind. My friends will miss me, and perhaps with that comes my biggest proof that I will still exist after my own death. Perhaps that is what the Bible meant when it spoke of the afterlife; the stories you tell that forever stay at the minds of those that come after.
The icy metal to the back of my skull pushed its way into my spine. Cruel invention it is, the gun; one of our worst.
They got tired of me, I could tell. The young man with the gun barrel started shifting his weight from side to side. I must tell them something, I thought, grasping desperately at the sudden hope of saving myself. Perhaps they will understand. I must share my story, or else it will die with me, forever lost, rotting in the earth.
“You want to know where our facility is,” I sighed, wishing I could scratch my irritation away. Here it is, out in the open; I got quite tired of beating around the bush. My fingers began feeling numb, too, and I started squeezing my palms against my bounds, renewing the blood circulation.
“We are the ones who dragged you towards progress,” I continued, taking advantage of their silence to make my own points heard, “screaming and kicking, and you were there to pick the fruits of our labor,” Hypocrites, I thought. Just like their master.
“You have dragged us into oblivion,” one of the men finally spoke from the other side of the room, his eyes shooting flares at me.
I could swear they saw me as the devil himself; they all avoided looking me in the eye, fearing to spontaneously combust by merely meeting my gaze. I didn’t really mind, their eyes were empty, ignorant, reflecting their shallow souls.
I smiled at him gently. My work has been called worse.
“We have brought you cures. We brought you buildings, food and technology.”
“You brought us away from our creator,” the gun to my skull rocked forward, bruising my skin.
I sighed again. It was pointless. They will never understand; they are afraid to even try. I felt like I was talking to a group of stubborn children. Nothing would help me now, not with these, not anymore. They were simple men, all of them, with no knowledge of what I was speaking. I would have to explain it further, I decided, perhaps it would slowly seep in.
The world is receding into the era of religion, afraid to free itself once more. “The Dark Ages” they’ve called the time where Religion ruled humanity and prevented all scientific advancements. And dark it was, even after its falling, to this day there are still remnants of it, roaming around the world claiming its end is near. Humanity has a short memory.
I have done everything I can possibly do to learn, to wonder, throughout my life. The more information I would receive, the more questions I would have, until there were more questions than answers. Even when I was offered the opportunity to join the organization these men are so terrified of, as I was exposed to a future of endless possibilities, I was still questioning beyond their ability to answer. But I am not the first, and I am not the last, which is why I am sitting right here now, in this small stinky room, on a wooden chair with my hands bound and my head pressed against the cold barrel of a gun.
“I am asking again,” the man with the gun breathed into my face, “tell us where it is!” he asked, but the wrong question it was.
Most people ask the wrong questions, which is probably why they receive all the wrong answers. Perhaps that is why the knowledge of the world seems to disappear miraculously from the public’s eyes, burnt each time in one zealous war or another. “One Galileo is enough” said the pope not so long ago, phrasing out loud what his flock was thinking for ages.
While everyone in the world live in blissful ignorance, I know what others don’t. We have reached the skies long before it was thought of as possible, we have gathered life forms never before seen from the bottom of the seas, cured ailments that are still threatening our species today. We have lived longer and richer lives with the help of tiny machines sustaining our bodies. Humanity would have been flourishing – great and wonderful in its progress and wit – if only it hadn’t been so afraid of itself. We are a wonderful race, humanity. We deserve greatness, and we could have it.
As the religious zealots destroyed libraries, we have been there to hide their contents. As the blind masses burnt alchemists as witches, we have been there to preserve their knowledge, and as the single answer swallowed a race of astronomers in southern America, we were the ones to take their technology into hiding. We have taken this knowledge humanity has thrown away so carelessly and built upon it, expanding our abilities, using power of knowledge to create magic. We have been there for humanity when it was denying its own, taking it to places no one thought possible.
And now, humanity wants a share. It might have deserved one, if they were only asking the right kind of questions, if they only understood the gravity of the matter, the extent of our work, the seriousness of their past errors.
“With the destruction of the Great Library of Alexandria,” I started again, thinking perhaps some history would help, though I doubted that very much, “humanity was taken back a millennium of research and knowledge. Scholars back then knew what you only accepted a few centuries ago; our planet is one of many rotating our sun, its size discovered, the stars mapped. Societies took advantage of this knowledge to achieve greatness and use curiosity as their symbol. It was an age of reason, of tolerance, and it was all wiped with the strike of a sword.” I stared at them. It meant nothing to them, they were well prepared. Everything I said went beyond their comprehension, making them stick their feet further in the ground in defiance. History repeats itself.
“It emptied our essence,” the man to my left spoke for the first time, his voice painfully calm, “people lost sight of their self awareness, detached from one another, from their family.” He seemed to be genuinely sad, “They turned to technology that stripped their souls from meaning,” he continued. The rest of the men stared at him silently, absorbing his information. It appeared as if it was the first time they’ve thought of it. “You gave us progress in the price of ethics, technology at the price of intimacy. Your science strips our souls, uses infants as its testing ground, murdering in the name of progress,” he concluded, seeming physically ill.
There was a moment of silence, as I digested what he had just said. I have heard it before, the argument against my actions. As if progress meant the destruction of his ideals, he spoke out of sheer horror, desperately afraid of losing control, fearing change, progress. I felt sorry for him, for his ignorance. No one can control nature; you either accept and adapt to it, or live your life letting it kill you with plagues and disasters. He was right, though. We were killers; we were killing the infant thought, the childish need to stay put. We were freeing the ignorant, opening the door to a world they are too afraid to acknowledge.
“I have never killed anyone,” I replied eventually, knowing it would mean nothing to them, only to me. At the end, it was our actions that counted, not our thoughts, in concluding our lives. After our lives are over, it is what we have accomplished, it is how we have conducted ourselves with the people around us that will define the memories we leave behind. I imagined my parents, my friends and family and all those who belonged to a world that is ignorant of our actions. We have had to hide ourselves for such a long time, we often forget who it is we have been working so hard for.
But these men cared for nothing of this. They have already set their minds; I was merely to answer a single question. They would never accept it as being the wrong one.
“Tell us where it is, and you will live.” The man next to the window spoke for the first time, clasping a metal cross in his hand as if it contained his entire soul.
I forced a smiled, desperately maintaining my manners despite his lie.
“And when I tell you? What then?” it was my time to ask the questions, anticipating no significant answers.
“This is for us to decide.”
I knew what they wanted, what they were about to do. Humanity has changed since the beginning; it became power hungry, crazed for control, seizing opportunities to rule over masses. Our technology was as tempting as the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge, and I was the snake. I didn’t mind being the snake, he succeeded. He convinced humanity to learn, to explore, to shatter their bounds. Perhaps in death, I will manage to convince, even if only a single one of them, to take one bite and begin to question this garden of lies that bound his own hands and put a gun to his skull.
Religion has always been the greatest riddle for me, how ridiculously cowardice it was, yet powerfully mastering the masses. I’ve always questioned its validity, searching for the reason of its overwhelming power. The further I’d research, the more it seemed to me that the world was ready for a change, deserving a chance; the fruit of our labor is there for the picking, and humanity deserves to have it. How much I wish I’d been right.
Instead of accepting our gift, they rejected us, fleeing into their ignorance, seeking refuge from the unknown. If only they had known, I kept thinking to myself, if only they’d listened, or checked, or looked a bit further, perhaps they would have seen that I was not their enemy, but rather a friend. A fellow being that evolved against all odds in a cold, cruel inhospitable universe.
It’s time to end this, I decided, looking to my left, taking a long glimpse of the bright night’s sky, committing it to memory.
With a last long sigh, I gave them their answer.
I told them of miraculous abilities and wonderful achievements, sending them to a place where they will get their answers, as I knew many before me had done. They will go, with full conviction, seeing what they wish to see, understanding none, rejecting it all in the name of ignorance. After that they will leave us alone, at least for a while, pondering the mysteries they were exposed to, believing the demise of their foes. It was the way it was for centuries, since the beginning of time, since the first doubtful question.
I felt sad for them, for all of humanity, sad to discover the bitter truth. Humanity is not ready for us, for itself, for its freeing greatness.
Humanity is but a child, I reflected, carefully listening to the cocking sound that came from the back of my head, speaking of the end. A lost child who is looking for his parents with an outdated map and a screwed set of instructions.
I wanted so much to encourage humanity, as it seems to come back towards ancient times, causing history to brutally repeat itself. I started a quest meant to share, to enlighten, to give humanity the chance they were denied of for two millennia. I wanted to believe in its greatness, rather than its flaws.
A piece of round metal shifts inside the far end of a barrel of a gun, barely ten inches from my skin. I can hear it, clearly, as if time is slowing down once again, just for me, emphasizing my obvious doom. I listen to its movements, painfully aware of its purpose. I wish I could have known the same for that man whose finger presses the trigger.
My name is Ora, and my quest ends here.
We will always be there, in the shadows, in the back of your minds, searching for more questions to answer.
♦ ♦ ♦
“There are in fact two things, science and opinion; the former begets knowledge, the latter ignorance.” – Hippocrates, Law (460 BC – 377 BC)