Mike had wanted to see the Arabian Desert ever since he saw Lawrence of Arabia as a kid. Eventually he managed to save enough money to go on a trip there. After flying to Iraq (which he called Mesopotamia,) he rented a car and started driving. The road he chose was S-shaped, and he saw that there was an oasis in the first curve from where he started; so he could drive to the halfway point of the bend and walk to the oasis. When he thought that he was at the right spot, he stopped the car and took a backpack full of food and water and started walking.
Needless to say, he got lost. In just two days he had run out of food, and a day later he was out of water, too. On the fourth day he knew that he didn't have much time - nowhere near enough to even comprehend, let alone come to terms with, the stupidity of his decision to go on a walk through the desert. By the sixth day he was reduced to dragging himself forward, and it took all the power he had in his heart to drag him from one dune to the next - he wanted to see as far as he could, or to be seen.
After a particularly high dune he found that he could go on no longer. But then he got a sudden rush of power from some untapped reserve, as he has something shining in the distance. He managed to get up and slowly make his way towards that strange glimmer. He finally reached it; a disk of some strange metal that felt cool despite the desert sun. The disk was big enough that an average-sized adult man could lie down on the edge and reach towards the centre without quite managing to reach it. Speaking of the centre of the disk, it had something quite interesting, too. A stick was pointing directly up from it, and wound around the stick there was a snake.
"My name isssss Nate," said the snake. Mike was too delirious to even wonder if the snake had actually talked or if he had lost his sanity. "Hello," he said to the snake, "I'm Mike." Nate unwound himself from the stick and said: "I can sssssave your life, Mike. But you'll have to trussst me. Do you trussst me, Mike?" Mike said "yes," and suddenly Nate sprung at him and bit him on the arm. Instead of a venom, he had injected some magical life force into Mike's veins, and Mike realised that he was no longer hungry or thirsty - or even tired. His muscles were no longer hurting. He was feeling just about as good as he had ever felt.
"Thank you," said Mike. "How can I ever repay you?" "There issss sssomething, actually," said Nate. "You'll have to trusssst me ssssome more. I can bite you again and make it sssso that you'll live for more than a hundred yearssss - and in that time you'll never get ssssick. You'll be able to absssorb nutrientss and water directly from the air and ground, ssso you won't have to eat or drink anything unlessss you want to. If you get hurt, your woundssss and bruissesss will heal almossst insstantly. But you'll have to promisssse that you will carry out a missssion for me, which I'll speccccify after I've bitten you."
Mike thought about this for a while and decided to accept the offer. Nate bit him again, and the unbelievable sensations that started running through his body immediately convinced Mike that everything would be as Nate had said. "What will be my mission?" he asked.
"I wasss wound around thisss lever when you came," said Nate. He wound himself again on the lever (which Mike had previously thought of as a stick) and continued: "Thisss isss a very peculiar lever. If it isss pulled, life on Earth ends inssstantly. Your missssion, Mike, isss to go and obsssserve the world and your ssspeciesss. If ever you feel that humanity no longer desservesss to live, you mussst come here and pull thisss lever. You mussst not show mercccy, but rely on your intuition. You musssst be absssolutely honessst. Many have had thissss job before you, and when they died, a new persssson wasss alwaysss brought here. Your arrival tellsss me that my good friend Andrei hasss passsed away. Now it'ssss your turn."
Mike immediately understood the gravity of his new position, but he knew that he could not refuse it after everything Nate had done for him. Besides, he realised that he had already come to like this snake. He accepted the mission. They spent a few weeks getting to know each other. Then Mike left the Middle East and returned to his home in Cardiff.
Mike saw most of the countries of the world in the next decades of his life. He became proficient in many fields, spending his time studying all the categories of human endeavour. He spent about equal time in poor and rich regions, paying close attention to the causes of human suffering as well as the efforts that were made to alleviate it.
Sometimes he saw great tragedies that could easily have been prevented if only people had cared enough. But whenever he was nearing a degree of despair that would have driven him to that supernatural lever that reached some unnatural machinery, he saw some act of good that turned him around.
In India he saw the arrival of a charity funded by people who weren't much wealthier than the ones they were saving into a village that was suffering drought and famine. The charity built a well and planted thousands of seeds that brought the village out of the darkest depths of poverty into a sustainable lifestyle without crisis.
In Somalia he saw a civil war that went on for decades. Almost no one outside the region cared, but eventually the conflict ended and the country started a slow climb towards stability and prosperity. In the Balkan peninsula he witnessed an attempted genocide, but it was partially prevented by an international intervention.
In Japan he visited a university where plants were being cultivated to survive in conditions where yields were insufficient. These plants were sent around the world without charge. In Europe he visited a particle accelerator that was advancing human understanding of the very fabric of the universe that had given rise to life.
He witnessed the constant advances of science, art, philosophy and culture. He also saw the rise of inequality, climate destruction and political and religious radicalism.
During his journeys, he made sure to visit Nate at least once a year. He always enjoyed the discussions he had with Nate, and Nate was always very interested in the things Mike had seen. Sometimes he'd ask what had become of a situation that Mike had explained to him previously, and Mike would tell him how the situation had developed.
Many years after Mike had started his mission, when he was visiting Nate again, the snake told him that he had a surprise for him. A slightly smaller snake came from behind a dune. "Thisss isss my daughter, Kate," Nate said. "I will retire sssoon, and ssshe will replacccce me. Ssssshe hassss my powersss already. But before sssshe sssstartss her long and ssssolitary life in thissss dissssk, I want her to ssssee the world, ssssomething that I never had. Will you take her on a journey around the world?" Mike agreed, and a week or so later he left the desert with Kate.
They toured all the continents except Antarctica extensively. Mike enjoyed Kate's company very much, so he took his time before he'd return to Nate. The art galleries and architectural treasures of France and Italy, the museums of Britain and the United States, the historic sites of Egypt and China - they went to all of them. They had the traditional foods and drinks of every country in the world, they saw the most important sporting events, they went to concerts and theatre performances of classic works that would surely be counted among the heritage of mankind. They witnessed the most surprising wonders of nature. Neither Mike not Kate wanted it to end, but when they had been gone for a decade they eventually decided that it was time to finally grant old Nate his retirement.
Once again Mike travelled to Iraq. He and Kate visited the most important museums and archaeological sites of the cradle of civilisation before arriving at the edge of the desert. Mike rented a car that could handle the desert, and off they went towards the mystical place that had by then become very familiar to Mike - no other place on Earth was as close to a home for him than this disk near an almost forgotten oasis and a nearly equally obscure road.
When they were approaching the disk, they went over a dune and something in the car broke. Mike found that he could not brake, and he could not stop the car. Instead, it started accelerating all by itself. They went over yet another dune, and Mike saw something horrible: they were going to hit the lever. The terrain in front of him was such that he could not avoid the lever except by turning the car at a certain point just before a bump on the ground. But he saw that Nate was lying there, exactly where the car would land if he were to save the lever and thus the world from his out-of-control vehicle.
"Fuck it," he said; "Better Nate than lever!"
edited 22nd Aug '12 10:17:51 AM by BestOf
Quod gratis asseritur, gratis negatur.