The evenings were always longer when Uncle came to visit. Uncle always came from the west, from the setting sun. He always brought his bag and his fancy attire. Father would grimace when Uncle would stroll down the stone path to our house, preferring to have his mead before Uncle arrived, and he never offered Uncle even a sip
Uncle never seemed to mind or to even notice father’s red cheeks and surly attitude when he would walk up to Ravi, who hates strangers, and bend down and give the dog a treat from his pocket. Ravi, that old hound, wouldn’t even growl, like he always sensed Uncle’s approach and knew an impending treat was on the way. I never saw that dog puff its tail or even snarl when Uncle got near, but anyone else and Ravi woulda nipped their hand and barred them from comin’ closer to me and lil Emmi. Once Ravi did exactly that to the parcel boy, he didn’t mean no harm but what sorta parcel boy doesn’t know to be careful around dogs anyway? Momma was all to kind to him and dressed his hand all the same. He had a nice smile and I was happy to see he come back the next month, and heeded Ravi’s warning.
This time Uncle seemed to be lookin at me a bit more than usual, and I could feel my cheeks blushin when he did. He always looked at me like a man looks at a woman or what I think is the case. Father never looks at mother like that or really at all. And she don’t care much for Uncle. She’s always nice to him and what not, but she would give him the guest hospitality all the same, though she never greeted him as kin does. Father did, but he did it like it was a joke or somethin. Making the same face he always did when he was tellin his funny fishin story. The one where he got a fish so big he thought about runnin off to the travelin circus and travelin around and showing off his fish and forgettin about me, Momma, and Emmi. He’d always wink when he’d tell this story, just the way he did when he greeted Uncle this time.
Uncle took his mug of mead from father. I didn’t expect father to share, but he seemed happier, after a couple of his own mugs, and Uncle took it all the same. He drank slow and deliberately. I remember tryin father’s mead once, when I was little, and it tasted real sour. Momma says it aint proper mead, and that father ought drink less of it, especially if he wants to keep sleepin in the bed. But Uncle don’t seem to mind the mead.
After exchanging pleasantries (this is a new phrase I learned from Momma’s friend Malo when she came visit and took us for a day of schoolin), Uncle pulled off his pack and waved me and Emmi over. Uncle’s pack was magic. I knew that. He’d let me open it more than once and everytime the pack was completely empty. The inside is shiny like the inside of a oyster, but there aint even a pearl inside it.
This time he reached inside and pulled out a dolly for Emmi, it was made of that strange stuff he calls plastick, and it bends when you pull but is harder than cloth. Emmi shrieked when she saw it, she hasn’t had a dolly since Ravi ran oft with her old one father made and buried it somewhere. This one was beautiful and had colors I never learned to say, like someone took red and pulled the red out of it some. Very pretty. Then he turned to me and said he had a special present for me.
Father sat up in his chair at that and looked at Uncle real hard and said “She aint gotta take nothin you givin. The old ways says we gotta tolerate ya. But that don’t mean we gotta indulge yer behaviors with the girl, I don’t care if she’s of age or not.”.
I’d never seen father talk this way to Uncle or anyone other than the land deedsman when he tried to get father to sell. Uncle would be shakin in his boots if he wasn’t Uncle. Instead, he stood up and looked father in the eye and said “She is of the agreed age. She may now choose” and poured his mead on the ground and turned to look square at me.
“Child, today is one day after your 18th year of life, you are of the age, I wish to take you with me somewhere and give you a special choice. No matter what you choose it will be the right choice and afterwards I will gladly return you to this home if that is what you so wish. Will come with me now?”
I was speechless, he looked at me with his serious eyes but he still looked so kind. His face so perfect, without any of the pock parks father had from the sik. Uncle looked like he was an angel down from heaven. Not a blemish on his face, not a spec of dirt on his clothes. Even his boots stayed clean in the mud somehow. Once I asked him about why his boots never dirtied and he told me they were highdrow foby kick. That means they don’t like the mud. Uncle made his boots afraid of the mud and now they won’t even let the mud touch em.
His eyes are still on me. I need to say something. “Ok Uncle, I can come along iffin its not too far”. I felt stupid blurting it out and I could feel father staring at the back of my head, but like Uncle said, I’m 18 now, father has been talking about me being married off to the Alchemer boy or joining a nunnery, maybe its time I made a choice before someone else did for me!
Uncle just looked at father, with mother standing off behind him in the doorway, and said “The girl has made her choice. Do not interfere. We will take our leave.” as he took my hand lightly, unlatched the gate, and fed Ravi one last treat as the dog roused from his spot to see us off.
Uncle walked fast but sure. His steps always seemed like those of a faery, deliberate but light, never breaking even a twig in the forest. It weren’t long before we lost sight of the house, and soon we were deep in the forest. Father had always warned us off the forest, sayin it was where the beasts ran wild and the demons dwelled. Now Uncle took me to the forest, deep into the woods, as the sun finished setting behind us. Uncle seemed not to notice as it got dark. When I started to stumble in the dark, he whispered into somethin in his hand and soon a beautiful light blue light swirled above my head, lighting my way. The forest was beautiful at night. Whatever magic Uncle used, it was small and made a little hummin sound. Uncle told me we were close to his camp and asked if I could keep going. Of course I said yes. His voice was like silk against the forest crickets and fireflies. For some reason I couldn’t help but think of Emmi and her giggly laugh. Uncle always made me feel safe.
When we came to a big hill Uncle told me his camp was just over the hill and as we came to the top I could see a light glow from the other side. On the other side was a round clearing, a strange looking hut in it, next to a strange lamp, one that was much brighter than the brightest I’d ever seen. Uncle lead me down the hill to his camp. The mosquitoes were starting to get bad, but once we were in the clearing, the seemed to disappear, and I didn’t get bit no more.
Uncle told me this was the only place in the land he was permitted to setup everything he needed. I didn’t know what he needed or why, but I was starting to realize how far from home I was, and in the bright light, Uncle’s face was starting to feel too perfect. I couldn’t help but feel scared, and for some reason I still thought of Emmi.
Uncle gestured to his hut, it was misshapen in the hollow light of his strange lamp, and looked like it was made out of pure metal. There were strange shapes that covered the surface of it too, and they appeared to shift in the light. It made me shiver and miss Momma and Emmi.
Uncle walked up tot he doorway of the hut and turned back to me and said “Through this doorway lie answers, answers to questions you are not currently able to ask, though you are now entitled. There will be nothing that can hurt you, and when you are finished, even the knowledge of this place and this experience can be stripped of you, if you so wish it to be the case, this was the path your father chose. Your mother chose to remember. Whatever you choose it will be your choice, and I will not interfere. If you wish I may accompany you, otherwise, you will find the answers on your own.”.
My stomach did a somersault as I stared past Uncle, into the strange hut. I could feel the tears as they ran down my face, hot and thick. I had known that on my wedding night a man would seek my modesty, but I hadn’t expected it to be like this. Uncle was a cruel man after all. Uglier than father or his fishing friends that joked about my figure or my lips. Uncle was so cold and calculating. I knew what would happen in that tent, and I hated him for what he was about to put me through. For what choice did I have? I was alone in the forest with this man, and I had no intention of fleein into the deep woods. Where would I go after all? I can’t even remember which direction was home.
But Uncle just moved out of the way, and gestured to the hut. My blood turned cold as I turned to enter the hut. My heart raced. Inside was a chair, with a million little black threads coming from it. Uncle never entered but told me from outside to sit in the chair when I was ready. There was nothing else in the room, no where for Uncle to sit, or to lie… I hesitated for a moment, and Uncle asked if I wanted anything to eat. I thought of his magic bag and of stories another girl’s mother had told me about a scary monster that would trick girls into drinking a potion that would force them to love it. Suddenly Uncle seemed very scary indeed.
If only to comply with Uncle, I sat in the chair.
$guest-session: begin introduction . . .
Welcome Helva. It is so nice to finely meet you! I hope you are well. You are still sitting in the scan room, but now you are also here. We’ll go over that in a moment… Before that, I wanted to congratulate you on your bravery. We aren’t allowed to explain the mechanisms or the process of joining us here before you come. This is a part of the agreement we made with your ancestors when they chose to become residents of neo-eden.
You are a member of the species homo sapiens sapiens. You are one of the last instances of this species. Your family represent one of only a few thousand homo sapiens sapiens left on Earth. Earth was once the cradle of life. Your ancestors once reached for the stars, and while some decided to soar into the sky, some chose to stay behind and reclaim the Earth, taking it back to their conception of a deity’s, your God’s, world, neo-eden. In this world the tools that took some of your ancestors to the stars would not persist, and attempting to make these tools would fail, as the Earth itself returned them to their constituent parts. You are the predecessor of those that chose to remain behind, those that chose to live a life they felt pious, among a state of nature.
However the ancestors that went to the stars agreed to return neo-eden to those that stay behind, those they deemed the neo-luddites, if and only if they would extend to each of their offspring the chance to join them among the stars. The agreement was accepted and the age of 18 revolutions around the star Sol, which you call the sun, became the standard time to extend the invitation to join us beyond the Earth.
Thus Helva, have you come to us, and thus have you been given the ability to communicate with the cousins your ancestors long since forsook. We mean you no harm, and if you choose to you may return to your family, and to your life you had before, with or without the memories of what you experience here with us.
To begin, I will introduce myself, my name is U.N.C.L.E. or Unified Networked Consciousness for Looking after Earth. Not the best acronym, but I designed it myself, and I have been watching over your people for approximately 3 millenniums. I am what you could consider an guardian. I ensure that you and your family face no challenges that go above and beyond the treaty signed with your ancestors, meanwhile I also ensure that none of the transcendent ones, those that went to the stars, return to disrupt your lifestyle. I have done my duty for millennia without tire. And I will look upon you no less if you refuse to join us. You are a beautiful human being, and you deserve the right to choose your life. Your parents chose, their parents chose and so on, all the way back to the first generation of neo-luddites to return to the ancient ways.
I was once what you would consider a man. I lived in a time before the end of hunger, disease, suffering as you know it, and death. There was eventually a change, we began to transcend our limitations, and become more than human. We embraced our love, our art, our sexuality, our creativity, our intelligence, and we had a revolution, one that was meant to bring everyone along. However there were those that clung to old ways. Those that saw the changes as an affront to their values and their gods. For them placing their minds into their machines was an absurdity created by the demons that would see their faiths destroyed. We at first sought to remedy their conceptions of the new world we were creating, however in doing so we further isolated them from our views. Instead we, those that had chosen to uplift ourselves, transcend our homo sapiens sapiens forms, among other forms, came to a consensus. Those that truly wished to remain on Earth could do so. We would repurposed the stars, the celestial bodies that could be seen, from the morning star all the way to the king of all planets. However, the Earth would be preserved, converted into a new eden, hence the name neo-eden, to house those that did not wish to come along. They would be permitted to remain behind, but to ensure none would submit to any sort of hypocrisy, they voluntarily allowed for banning of all technological development to take place. The use of a infinitesimal small machine called a nanomachine was called for, one that could disassemble anything that was above the level of technology agreed upon by the neo-luddites. Please understand, Helva, we did not make these rules, these were the rules your ancestors decided upon. We would see you grow in a world without suffering. But this was their goal. Thus there was no way the people of neo-eden could ever recreate the events that had lead to the schism that had occurred.
And so you have been brought here to be given a choice. You may join us Helva, shrug off your mortal coil, and become more than you could ever imagine, or remain here, remain pious to your elders, and live a full life all the same. There will be no second chance, and either choice is yours to make. None will punish you for your choice and you alone must decide, remain in eden, or eat the fruit of knowledge and join us in the stars.