Xilam ushered Alex from the dorm, before lessons were to begin. “Come Alex, we are going to take a trip,” she said without explaining further.
“You will spend a day at a Tell village,” she said, glancing over her shoulder.
They were walking toward a pod on the other side of the garden and he had a difficult time keeping up with her. “What’s the hurry Xilam? Can you slow down?”
She waved her hand, motioning for him to keep up. “You should be in better physical condition. Just as you exercise your mind, you should exercise your body.”
He picked up the pace, trotting alongside her. “That explanation might work if you didn’t have much longer legs and a longer stride than mine. For christ’s sake, I’m eleven years old.”
She stopped and looked at him. “Don’t you speak to me like that Alexander Newson. You will not use expletives in my presence. Do you understand?”
Out of breath, but embarrassed, Alex looked down at the ground. “Yes, I understand Xilam.” His face burned. “Sometimes you seem to only think of your own agenda. It’s as if you don’t care about us Children of Earth much, except for what you want to accomplish.”
He paused for a moment to get his breath. One hand went to the stitch in his side. “That’s true isn’t it?” Squinting into the sun against which she was standing, he couldn’t make out her expression.
“Alex, that is not true. I will explain something to you. The Great Law–“
“Oh The Great Law, the great law. Quit doing that Xilam. Don’t quote the great law to me anymore okay? I already know what it means. I want to know if you care about us as individuals. I want to know that we matter outside of all this.”
He bent over, breathing hard.
“Alex, are you okay?” She sounded concerned now.
He nodded. “I’m okay, but I hyperventilate when I get upset. It’s an Earth thing. It’s followed me here I guess.”
“Alex I am sorry, but I don’t know how to explain things outside the Great Law. It is difficult, because this is what we are raised with.”
He glanced up at her, saw that she looked distressed now. One hand on her forehead. “I will try.”
He nodded, stood up straight and raised his arm above his head, stretching. “That’s all I’m asking Xilam. Explain how everything is more important than us as individuals without invoking the Great Law.”
She made a sound and Alex saw she was shaking her head. “You’re attempting to be difficult today?”
“No I’m not trying to be difficult. I’m trying to be real.”
She motioned for him to continue their journey to the pod. “This is what I will tell you. I liked you the moment I saw you. When I first spied you sleeping in that cot of yours on Earth. You were so small and innocent, but so intelligent.”
She smiled wide, glancing sideways at him as they walked side-by-side now. “Do you remember Alex? The first time we met?”
He nodded. “Yes. I remember.”
“I watched you often after that. I knew you would be number one. That you would lead the others. But there was more than that. There was a need in you and perhaps I needed to see that in a child.”
She paused as they came upon the pod and she swiped her hand across a small node extruding from the side of it. The top opened instantly, allowing them access.
Alex moved to the rear position and Xilam shut the top and they began their ascent.
“I’ve always had an affinity for you Alex, but the reason I met you was because of our mission to save your species. If we terminate the experiment, we will be breaking the Great Law and I could not allow this.”
“Why is it your job to stop people from breaking the Great Law?”
Xilam was silent for several moments. Long enough that he thought she hadn’t heard him. “Xilam?”
“Alex, that is my ‘job’. I’m not the same as a law giver in your society, but I am an enforcer. I enforce the Law. I illustrate when people are in question about the Law and show them the results of their actions so they can choose correctly.”
She continued, “Saving your species is my mission. I will perish if needed to save your people, but yes I do have a care for you Alex. But I am also Tell-Herac.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means that the individual is not more important than the whole. I would sacrifice you to save your people.”
They rode the rest of the way in silence, each lost in their own thoughts. Then Alex heard a small beep that signified their descent and Xilam warned him, “Hold on to your stomach.”
Before opening the pod, she turned toward him, “Alex, you will meet what we call a ‘Bright.’ He is very special in our culture. You will spend time with him, because you need to learn some about Tell village culture, but also he will teach you something about yourself. Okay?”
Alex nodded, but did not look at her. He felt hurt by some of what she had told him; even though he understood it, it did not stop the ache.