They’re a lot like us. The Promethians. That’s not what they call themselves, but I could never really pronounce (or spell) the proper word, so I call them the Promethians. And others started calling them that too. Because after all, they gave us fire.
They woke us up.
The Promethians hadn’t been studying us, not particularly. But they spent some time observing us whenever their people happened by this edge of the galaxy. I’ve wondered at their motives. For in the context of the human way of life, there must have been some reason for their deciding to help us, some gain they would make in befriending us and guiding us. I’ve often wondered, naturally, if their motivation was political. Perhaps the Promethians were the leaders of a faction who needed our support to oppose their appointed rulers. Perhaps they hoped to recruit humanity’s help and support. Then again, that is a vain thought. Maybe they saw us the way we see some animals on our planet, as beings who need help to survive and thrive. And their motives were—to put it in human terms—humanitarian. Or maybe they thought, as I often thought, that we were just spinning our wheels.
There were five of them. They proposed to their leaders that they come down to Earth and guide us into the next stage in our development as their people had been guided by another race long ago. Their leaders denied their proposal. We were not ready. So they judged.
The five disobeyed. They intervened on humanity’s behalf.
They gave us fire. And though many of us were skeptical of their intentions, their gift proved genuine. It was not the element of fire, of course, that we had mastered ages ago, along with all other elements. We had even made our own elements, ephemeral overstuffed blobs of neutrons, protons, and electrons. We had discovered and put to work sub-atomic particles in all their various flavors.
It was not material fire they brought us. It was spirit. They taught us how to tap into our spirits and use them to guide our destinies as we used our minds to think, our voices to speak, our hands to touch, and our hearts to feel. A few human beings had learned on their own—the most sincere and good among the religious faithful. But most never even scratched the surface of true spirituality. Most remained in darkness. Until the Promethians lit the way.
They woke us up.
They taught us about themselves and a little about the race who had guided them. And it was a tough lesson to learn that we were not the strongest and the smartest beings in the universe. We were not the apex of creation. Nor were the Promethians. They knew their natural appearance would frighten us. They look like us in many ways. Two arms and two legs. Five digits on their hands and feet just like us. No tails or horns or pointed ears. But they are maybe twice as big as we are on average. And their eyes are—well, it’s a good thing they hid that from us for a good long while. Even after they came out to the world, they wore those split visors that the young people were so charmed by it became a momentary fashion craze.
They knew we would fear them, mistrust them, that some of us would hate them. And that others might love them with the false, desperate love of those who are disappointed, dissatisfied, disenfranchised.
That’s probably why they started with the members of our society who were least likely to act like idiots upon seeing an alien. Kids.
Just the right amount of caution, kids had. But also a fair measure of acceptance and reason. What do they want? Are they friendly? Are they here to conquer us? Are they here to take Earth from us? Children have no political or financial power. They have no military might. And yet, even the gentlest among us would react fiercely and brutally toward any threat to our children. So it was a risky move. But it worked and how it worked is another story.
Suffice it to say, these five were and are our friends. They are my friends. They are like us, gendered, though unlike us they choose their gender when they are ready to nest, or when they feel like choosing. All five had chosen when they came to Earth. There was the one who called himself John, the youngest and most serious of the bunch. He wore a beard, because he found beards to be his favorite thing about Earth. There was Mala, their leader, who was easygoing and mellow, and slow to anger. I have only ever seen her wrath when her leaders returned to Earth and it was a terrible thing to see and feel her spirit rage. Zin and Sal seemed so alike in appearance, I called them the twins. They were unrelated, but best friends, and former soldiers. They were the tallest and strongest and gentlest of the five and had not yet picked a gender, but of course, in our human bias, we called them male. And my favorite was Terra, who named herself for the earth. She marveled at and loved our physical books. She said Earth was the most extraordinary and beautiful planet she had ever known from the hundreds she had visited. She scolded me for not being a strong enough leader to force my people to protect my planet. She praised me for having the courage to accept her and the others. And for having the humility to learn from the young. Suffice it to say that it is humbling to be taught how to tap into your spirit by a three-year-old. My daughter. Today, she is older than I was when the Promethians came.
It’s been over three decades. That’s all it took. I had my doubts about humanity. I professed a faith to all my constituents, a faith in a god that most of them claimed to pray to and a faith in them. And I wanted to believe that we were capable of becoming a truly great race, but I had my doubts. Presiding over one of the greatest nations ever to endure in the history of humanity was a humbling, hopeful, and troubling task. Doing so during an “alien invasion” was even more…challenging.
I’ve been told I should write a book about my terms. Maybe I should, if I survive what I hope will be my greatest accomplishment.
About five years ago, the leaders of the people we call Promethians, became aware of what had happened here. These particular aliens live deep in the heart of our own galaxy. And despite their far advanced technology, it still takes time for them to survey the whole galaxy, which they do every so often, as we do with our various censuses of our own people and our own world. They were never aware of what the five Promethians were doing on Earth. And it was too late to undo it and leave humanity in ignorance of the heat and light of our own spirits.
I had retired from politics by then, joined our revitalized space program in hopes of being an explorer, though it was more likely that my grandkids would be the explorers. The Promethians had shared their knowledge of how to reach into our own spirits, but not how to build interstellar spaceships and the like. That was up to us, for we could do it if we summoned our will and were united in our efforts. That much our own history could tell us.
We had not come so far as we thought. Some of our own leaders conspired with the alien leaders to hunt down and capture the Promethians. When we asked what was to become of the Promethians, we were told that they were to be judged for their crime of disobedience. There was ample evidence, a planet full of evidence in fact, and so they were judged guilty. And their punishment so far as we knew then was incarceration for life in orbit around the planet they so loved enough to defy their own leaders and their most sacred of laws.
We were told by the alien leaders that it was a mistake what the Promethians did, but now that they had done it, that we should make good use of the gift and maintain relations with the aliens. One of their number would return each year to meet with our chosen rulers, the Lead President of Earth and his or her council of advisors chosen from the leaders of the world. The LP, to his credit, made appeals on behalf of the Promethians. They fell on deaf ears.
We accepted that the five were merely imprisoned. Millions of letters were sent up into Earth’s orbit. We did not know they never reached their destination.
They left, not knowing that we were dissatisfied with their answers, with the silence from the Promethians, and that we wanted to find the answers to our questions for ourselves. After the alien leaders departed, leaving behind a small envoy that lived in the Earth’s orbit, we found those answers. And how we found them is another story.
What we found is that the alien leaders had devised a punishment to fit the crime. The Promethians had helped us learn how to free our spirits. Their punishment was to have their own spirits trapped within their bodies, bodies that suffered pain, bodies that would be eternally devoured and eternally regenerated.
It was my fault. I gave their leaders the idea. They learned of my name for the five. They learned of the myth. The ancient Greek myth of the titan Prometheus, who stole fire from the gods and gave it to mankind, so that we would not live in ignorance, so that we would have light and warmth. So we could cook our food to make it safer and more savory. So we could forge tools, and yes, weapons. Prometheus was punished by the gods, chained to a rock for all eternity. A great eagle was set upon him to eat his liver. But as he was an immortal, his liver would regenerate over the night, only to be eaten again the next day.
Likewise, creatures were set upon the bodies of the Promethians, to devour some part of each alien’s body. Machines would regenerate what was devoured, and the punishment started anew. To keep the Promethians from retreating into their minds into some spiritual sanctuary, to keep them present and conscious and sensitive to the pain, they were housed in some kind of quantum field. A technology we do not yet understand.
In the myth, Prometheus did not suffer for all eternity. For a hero came along to save him.
Mythology, it would seem, is repeating itself.
I would have it be so. That the Promethians, like the titan for whom they were named, do not suffer their punishment for all eternity. There is a group of us. We seek to repay the Promethians for their sacrifice by testing our newfound spirits to free them. I did not start the task. I joined it because of my part in their punishment, because of my guilt. And because I believe the Promethians, whatever their ultimate motive, are our friends and champions.
The myth guides us, but we must do the rest. The hero who saved Prometheus was half-human and half-god. He killed the eagle and freed Prometheus. He was spared the wrath of the gods because the king of the gods was his father. We have no such advantage. If we do what we are planning, we will suffer the wrath of the alien leaders. We will suffer the wrath of our own leaders. We risk the lives of our families and friends.
We risk the entire Earth. But it must be done.
Just as the gift of fire came at the cost of all the wicked uses we might put it to, so did the gift of spirit. I see now that we had no true peace before. There will always be those who seek dominion over others, who seek to have more, when what we all should seek is to be more. They should be restrained by their own people, by humanity. But such folk only hid their true sentiments because they were cowed by the presence of the Promethians. They were only biding their time, waiting until they surpassed their teachers and grew powerful enough to bring down the Promethians. Such folk can never hope to master their own spirits. But they could do much damage with what little they can manage to learn.
So maybe the alien leaders were right after all. We weren’t ready for the gift. Some of us would use it as we use fire to warm and to lighten. Others would use it to burn and ruin.
We ready ourselves. We have been preparing for almost five years now. There are dozens of us from as many countries around the world. We have, we think, managed to hide our plan, by breaking it into pieces. We have pushed our spirits to their limits. We never did learn how to leave our bodies the way the Promethians and their people can do. It is the last lesson after all. We all do it, though unwillingly, upon the deaths of our material bodies. But we have learned enough, I hope.
If we succeed, we won’t have the help of the Promethians anymore. We will have to figure out our own business. We will have to figure out how to rise or fall together. We will have to prove to ourselves whether or not we deserve to endure as a people. Whether or not we are only capable of surviving, or if we are capable or thriving. For the Promethians will have to flee. They will have to be exiles from their own people and from us. But at least we will end their suffering. At least we will have given them a gift in return for the one they gave us.
They brought us fire. Now we bring them freedom.
Copyright © 2014 by Nila L. Patel.