"...mankind is ever going over a mountain." -Henry David Thoreau
The Last GardenerEdit
Some people say that the city pyrotorium is built over a lava tube and that everyone's ashes fall down into the same dark hole, no matter which Henge you have selected. Of course, another legend says that there is a frozen cometary nucleus down below the city foundation where there is what remains of a great glob of water, carbon dioxide, methane and ammonia that was used to blast out the cavity within which the city dome was constructed. I don't mind the idea that a little bit of Torkten will now be sucked up every time someone needs to tap that store of light atoms. I wish the mere fact of his atoms finding their way into our brains could make people aware of the lessons that can be learned from his life...and his death.
There was no crowd on hand when Torkten went down to whatever is down there. If there is ever some future age when people care, let it be known that the Skydisk Cult's Henge was used. I've always liked the dramatic burst of radiance emitted by that Henge. Me and two robots were the only ones there to see that last spark of Torkten. Our people had long since forgotten about the entire Earth Garden project, so nobody outside of the rather insular Observer corps even cared when it came to an end.
In any case, I'm sure Torkten would have complained bitterly had he known that his bones would some day be dug up and brought back to his birth place. He certainly thought of himself as an earthling. His family was dismayed that his wishes were not respected and none of them came to the pyrotorium to see Torkten off. So, you ask, how did it come about that his last wishes were not respected? Okay, I owe an accounting of my actions.
My name is Ornay Whestik, usually known as Observer Whestik to anyone outside of the ranks we Observers hold. My fellow Observers just call me Ornay. I've been in charge of the Earthside Division for the past twenty five years and I imagine that I'll hold onto the job for a couple more decades. There is no competition for my job; the tide is now firmly turned against using on-Earth Observers. You can blame that on Torkten, I certainly do.
I first knew Torkten before he ever went to Earth. His parents named him Nerel and I'll not mention his family name since Nerel's family is still an important clan. I still remember the first time I heard mention of Nerel. I was in training to become an Observer and my mentor showed me the list of all on-Earth Observers. At the bottom of the list was Nerel's name and an asterisk. It was noted that Nerel was not actually an Observer. He was listed as "the last gardener".
I had to ask what was meant by "gardener". Everyone is familiar with gardens around the city, but I could not imagine why there would be a garden on Earth. My mentor muttered some lies about the need to clean up observation posts after they were no longer in use. I was young and naive, so I never questioned what I was told. I did not think about Nerel again until I met him many years later on Earth.
Before I went to Earth on my first mission I was trained for a specific task. The last Observer of the Aklamaka had died on Earth. I was to bring her body back to the Moon and close out the Aklamaka observation post. By then, it was a near certainty that the Aklamaka branch of the human evolutionary tree was extinct, but there was still debate about the possibility of past gene flow to neighboring populations. Of course, after much effort no evidence was found to support that hypothesis. Now it is taken for granted that the Aklamakas were essentially a distinct species.
I had been trained to make what would be a many-year tour of the final Aklamaka territorial range, using drones to collect one more comprehensive set of genetic samples. That would be a long and involved process but the first part of the assignment, collecting the body and effects of a dead Observer seemed simple and boring. Then I walked into the observation post.
Its hidden entrance was above the tree line and I was suffering when I got there, my body still adapting to Earth gravity and the low oxygen at that altitude. My training had not prepared me for what I saw. I had expected to find an easy to disassemble work station inside the cave, but it soon became clear that the back of the cave was anything but standard Observer requisition. I spent my second day on Earth exploring a labyrinth of chambers and wondering if I was hallucinating. Finally I made an emergency call to my Earthside supervisor and explained that I had been misinformed about the nature of the outpost. I was told to just do my job and expect help from Torkten, who would deal with the cave itself.
It wasn't until ten days later that Torkten showed up and I was expecting my ride out in just two more days. The first thing said was, "You still here?" No hello. No introduction.
He looked like a native, and when I first saw him in the cave I thought a native had slipped inside. Of course, that would have been impossible. When I realized who he was I told him that I would be departing soon. He said, "Good," and shuffled past me into the depths of the cave. I followed along, asking questions. It was a painful process getting him to tell me anything. He clearly wanted me to just leave and let him get on with his work, but he finally explained why the rules of observation had been violated at this outpost.
"No!" His shout echoed in the cave. "This was not built by Observers."
Disbelieving, I asked, "Natives made these chambers?"
He looked at me like I was crazy then asked, "By natives you mean the current natives?"
Of course, that is exactly what I meant. I had no idea how old that cave was. The walls looked fairly new and I had assumed that they had been carved recently. Torkten set me straight, "This is left over from the Gu-Hoya civilization."
Of course, I had heard of the Hoya. They were an extinct human subspecies from about half a million years previously. They had spread out from the Origin Continent, so it was possible that they had lived in these mountains, but how could they have cut these chambers into the mountain? And what did Torkten mean by Gu-Hoya? And why was the fool using the word "civilization"?
He finally started talking. Once he got going, he seemed to take some pleasure in trying to crush my simple-minded conceptualization of human history. Of course, I did not believe the story he told: During the interglacial period about 400,000 years ago the Gu-Hoya evolved as sophisticated tool makers on the Large Continent. They developed a technologically advanced civilization and spacecraft. They believed that Earth should be a garden and a cradle for natural species evolution so they went off into space and abandoned Earth to the Neanderthals and other hominids. They set up the Earth Garden Project and administered it from Moon Base. Torkten said that he was the last Gardener, cleaning up any remains of the Gu-Hoya civilization that Observers came across.
I told him that he scared me, that I thought he was insane. He asked me how I thought humans had reached the Moon. Of course, I could only say that was a mystery. Surely if anything he had told me about the Gu-Hoya civilization was true then I would have heard about it all before then. He said, "No, they purposefully tried to erase all evidence of their existence. They moved on, into space and left Earth to itself, and a few representatives of the remaining hominid species on the Moon, trained to finish the job of erasing all signs of the Gu-Hoya civilization from the face of Earth and the memory of humanity. They wanted Earth to be a pristine garden where the web of life could continue to evolve."
The next day I was taken away, along with the all of the standard Observer equipment and the body of the last Observer who had worked that outpost. When I completed my first assignment on Earth and returned to the Moon I looked, but found no evidence to support Torkten's wild story. The few mentions of "gardening" in Observer archives made no mention of the Hoya. My friends laughed at me and talked about mountain sickness. I went into training for my next mission and stopped thinking about Torkten...by then his story about space traveling Hoya seemed like a bad dream.
The Lonar ArcologyEdit
The next time I heard about Torkten was many years later. By that time I was retired from taking part in missions to Earth and was working my way up the seniority ladder at Observer Base. I was called to the Overseer Quarter. I'm reluctant to mention the name of the man who I met with since it is almost certain that the name he gave me was a false name. Of course, I did not know that, then. All that matters is that he wanted we to join him on a special mission to Earth. Anyhow, he told me that his name was Mughroe and he told me why he wanted me to go back to Earth.
At first I was only wondering, "Why me?" and I did not recognize the name "Nerel" or connect it to Torkten, but the more I heard from Mughroe about our mission the more I thought about Torkten. It was like remembering a dream from long ago, but my memory was strong enough that I wondered why I had so easily forgotten about Torkten and that strange cave on Earth.
Mughroe finished explaining the mission and asked, "Are you ready to go?"
For a moment I sat there in shock. I'd never heard of the type of criminal activity that Mughroe was attributing to Nerel. I wanted to ask, "How is it that you Overseers allowed this to go on?"
Mughroe drummed his fingers on the desk that stood between us. He looked at me and narrowed his eyes. His eyes were rather small and dark, set back in deep sockets. I was unable to read anything in those eyes and his face only showed a small grimace of annoyance. "Don't you remember anything that Nerel told you?"
Somehow I knew that "Nerel" was another name for Torkten, but how did I know that? I stammered, "I once met a man on Earth who called himself the last gardener. He told me that his name was Torkten."
Mughroe nodded, "Exactly! Don't you even read your own history? Nerel is his official name, in your records. So, are you ready to go to Earth?"
I could not believe that he expected me to jump on a spaceship at that moment. At that time, I had two young children at home. "I don't think I understand what you have in mind. There are six hundred people to be evacuated from Earth?"
He shrugged, "Well, that is my best estimate. Many of them are hidden inside the Arcology. Well get a head count when we load them on the transport."
I could not hold it back any longer. "Why me? I'm retired! I have children. I don't even believe your story about all these 'gardeners' being hidden on Earth."
Mughroe sighed deeply and turned away from me. He gazed at the projected image of space on the wall screen. He spoke to the wall. "Look, Whestik, in my estimation you are the best person for the job. And anyhow, they are not gardeners. Nerel was the last gardener and he is dead. That's the extent of your responsibility. I'll take care of the Hoya. All you need to do is bring Nerel back here. I'll drop you off on my way out of the System. What could be easier?"
By that point he'd pushed me past my limit. "All I want to do is walk out of here, but I suppose that is not an option. If any of this were legal then it would have gone through standard Observer channels."
Mughroe popped out of his chair and flashed a conspiratorial smile at me. "Don't fret. Do this small favor for me and I guarantee that you'll come out of this without a single smudge on your pristine duty log. Even better, most of the dead weight above you on the seniority scale will probably get the boot once the existence of Lonar becomes public." Then his smile was gone and he threatened me, "If you don't take this assignment then I can make no promise for your future. Almost certainly your past contact with Nerel will be revealed and you'll be listed among the incompetents who allowed the Lonar Arcology to persist for so long."
So we went to Earth and I got to explore the Lonar Arcology. It was mostly underground, so it was almost believable that it had escaped notice for so long. Still, it became clear that Lonar had been the home base for Torkten and other gardeners. That first day back on Earth I demanded of Mughroe, "How was all this kept secret for so long?"
He was leading me through the Arcology, occasionally nodding to the Hoya who we passed. They all seemed to be coming out to see us pass by. They stared at us and chattered amongst themselves in their mysterious language. "I suppose it hurts your vanity to admit that another species could have more advanced technology than you do, but back when most of the Hoya left Earth a deal was made allowing this Arcology to persist until the gardeners were done. Really, it was not hard to keep this one small Hoya city a secret."
The underground Arcology of the Hoya did not have a single large dome. It was a complex collection of tunnels and chambers like some kind of termite mound. The living conditions down there seemed pleasant and the walls were beautifully decorated to resemble a densely forest environment.
After winding through the maxe of the Arcology we finally reached the home of the Hoyan who Mughroe wanted to speak to. They spoke briefly in the Hoya language and then we were led back to the surface. We set out across the dusty hills and Mughroe continued to talk to the Hoyan, occasionally pointing off into the distance. Once the Hoyan glanced back at me with a clear look of distaste on her face. Finally Mughroe fell in beside me and said, "There is a village about six hours walk from here. We might have to make a deal with the natives."
I asked, "What kind of deal? I hope you are not planning on letting the natives see this Hoyan."
"Our guide will only take us to the village. Apparently Nerel had a close relationship with these villagers. They don't want us disturbing the remains of someone who they view as an honored member of their tribe."
I could sense that Mughroe was not telling me everything. I'd assumed that the earthlings Torkten has interacted with for decades were the Hoya, but now I realized that there was yet another group of culturally contaminated humans to be dealt with. "The only way this could get worse is if you tell me that Torkten had children among these villagers."
Mughroe was silent for about ten minutes while we trudged along. Finally he said, "Your expectations do not apply here. Nerel had very little work to do. In fact, twenty years had to pass without any work for him to do. His clean up of that cave where you met him was his last 'gardening'. You would have forced him to return to the Moon, I suppose."
"Of course, if his work here was completed. I've seen today that his "gardening" was not completed. Even if you take these Hoya off of Earth, who is going to clean up after them? And what of the Moon? Will the Observer corps survive these revelations?"
"First, Nerel did not want to go to the Moon. Second, nothing here will significantly change the course of events on the Moon. Anyhow, it does not matter, one way or the other. Actually, it is a good test of your leadership skills. What is your opinion? Should we evacuate these villagers along with the Hoya or just forget about them?"
I could not imagine how the truth about the Hoya and the last gardener would not matter: we were dealing with crimes of unprecedented magnitude. Then I briefly wondered if everyone would be made to forget the truth, just as I has forgotten about Torkten and the cave. I stated what was, to me, the obvious, "If there has been cultural or genetic transfer to this village natives then this is going to be a big mess."
"Not all that big. The Hoya never let the gardeners maintain a very large community here."
I burned with fury at Mughroe. It had become clear to me that he knew about these villagers all along and had kept their existence secret from me until we were walking towards them. I demanded, "How long has this been going on?"
"It has always been going on. It used to be a bigger community, but there have been very few gardeners in recent centuries. There's only about forty villagers left."
"I suppose we'll have to genotype them all. A study of cultural diffusion will take time."
"Time that we do not have. We need to be away from here within two days."
I had been hoping for a quick return to the Moon, but Mughroe had not previously mentioned a deadline. I asked, "What's the rush?"
He changed the subject then, pointing out a large owl circling above a hill to our left. Only in hindsight can I now recognize the times when I was made to forget or ignore obvious topics that should have occupied my thoughts. I'm now certain that Mughroe could direct my thoughts as easily as any parent can distract a one year old child.
It was early evening when we reached the village. My feet were sore and my legs were tired. I asked, "Where is everyone?"
Mughroe gestured towards the small collection of stick and grass huts and replied, "This is just the door mat." A young man crawled out of one of the huts. "There! They've been expecting us."
I'd been trained to never approach natives, but Mughroe showed no fear. As we drew near, I could tell that the native was quite calm and then he spoke. By then I should not have been surprised that I was able to understand his speech. He seemed puzzled and asked, "You are Hoya?" His dialect was not what is spoken on the Moon, but it was quite similar.
I was staring at the native, trying to guess just how deep the cultural contamination was. I noticed a look of startlement come to his face and I reflexively followed his gaze to Mughroe. Mughroe's face had changed. He now looked like a Hoyan. I only had a glimpse of his true face, then his features shifted back to the form that mimicked that of my own species.
The native said, "I should not have doubted my father."
Mughroe nodded, "I showed Torkten my true face twenty years ago. I expected him to still be here when I returned."
Torkten's son looked at me and asked, "What of her?"
I replied, "I've come to return Torkten to...his place of birth."
"The Moon?" He dismissed me with contempt and turned back to Mughroe, "That is why he did not wait for your return. His home is here."
We were led into the hut and down into the village which was hidden under ground. Down there, in the real village, the walls glowed and the living conditions were far from primitive. That must have been a frustrating evening for Mughroe. I would not stop asking questions about how so much cultural contamination of Earth had been possible. Mughroe only wanted to know the location of Torkten's remains, but none of the villagers wanted to tell that secret. Finally we were allowed the use of a room for the night.
That little village was not as technologically advanced as the Hoya Arcology. The living conditions were an interesting mix of the primitive and the modern.
Now alone with Mughroe I asked him why he had hidden his true identity from me.
He chuckled and said, "I'd never have gotten you down here quickly enough if I had explained everything to you."
"It was all wasted effort. These people are not going to tell you where Torkten is. Torkten wanted his bones to become part of the Earth."
"Well, yes, but Torkten should have known better. He had a very good idea of the forces that he was dealing with. Try to get some sleep. Well collect the bones before dawn."
"You know where Torkten is?"
"Of course. It was not hard to locate his burial site."
"What about these villagers?"
Mughroe shrugged, "I'll leave that up to you. I really do not care."
I was ready to scream at Mughroe, but I did not want to alarm the "villagers". There was only a blanket hanging at the entrance to our room. I demanded, "How can you not care? You've told me that this is all part of a plan by your people. Wasn't there a place in your plan for these villagers?"
"No plan is perfect. Look, the whole plan was to minimize Hoyan involvement with Earth. We've worked hard to turn Earth over to your branch of the human tree. Our time for responsibility is long past. Tomorrow I'm taking all the Hoya off of Earth. There is room in the transport for these villagers. Just decide if you want them taken to the Moon or left here."
"How can I make that decision? This problem should be studied carefully."
"There's no time for that."
"This nonsense has gone on for thousands of years. How can we suddenly not have time?"
"I'd rather not say."
"How can you expect me to make such a decision when you won't even be open with me and tell me what is going on?"
"Look, Ornay, we Hoya are flying away tomorrow. I'm offering you a ride home. By your own rules of observation, Nerel should not have been fathering children on Earth and giving them the chance to live as they do in this village. Why are you pretending that this is a hard decision?"
The truth was, I was embarrassed that through the ineptitude of Observers like myself a village like the one we were in could have been allowed to exist. I was fantasizing that these villagers could just be left to fade back into Earth's web of life. With the Hoya and the gardeners gone...well, I did not want to admit what I was thinking. It was clear that Mughroe would look the other way if I decided to let these villagers remain on Earth with all of the advanced knowledge that they had gained from the gardeners. I was free to violate the Riles of Observation...if I wanted to do so.
Or was I? Mughroe had hinted that the Observer corps would soon learn about the Lonar Arcology. I decided that I had to be prepared to live with my decision.
Before dawn we pulled the bones of Torkten out of the pile of rocks that had been stacked upon the ashes of his funeral pyre. There was not much left to take back to the moon. The Hoya space transport arrived and was loaded. The Hoya walked aboard, but the villagers were carried in by the robots who were the crew of the spaceship. I did not want to know how the villagers had been rendered unconscious or think about what they would say when they woke up on the Moon.
The only remaining surprise was the asteroid impact that a day later obliterated the Lonar Arcology. I should have known that the Hoya had a plan to erase the last remaining evidence of Gu-Hoya civilization.
With time, the villagers integrated successfully into our culture on the Moon. They despised me for ignoring Torkten's wish to have his remains stay on Earth. They still call me "Gu-Whestik" and eventually I learned the meaning of "Gu-Hoya". The Hoya had developed their technologically advanced civilization by using my subspecies of humans as slaves. The Hoya name for my species was "Gu", a name based on our pre-linguistic vocalizations. We were always little more than pets and laborers for the Hoya. They came to hate the way they had built their civilization on the backs of their slaves. Now they've left the planet in our care. Will our subspecies do any better?
In the years after the Lomar asteroid impact we dismantled the Earth Observer Program, but it is starting again from scratch. The next generation is already forgetting the lesson of the Hoya and there are new volunteers for duty on Earth. I leave behind this account of the last gardener with the hope that we might not walk the same path as the Hoya.