Muhammad Ali and The Tree Readers

I was deeply saddened to hear about Muhammad Ali’s passing this morning. He was one of my childhood idols, and while it was startling to watch him weaken and grow frail over the years because of Parkinson’s disease, it still leaves you wounded to know that not even Ali could conquer death.

Some of you may remember that I have been writing a Science Fiction novel called Tree Readers for some time now (well over 7 years). It’s my passion project that I pull out whenever I feel the need to escape. While I don’t have time to go into the details of the plot, I will just say that it is essentially about our alien overlords finally deciding they’ve had enough of humans, and they are going to wipe out the entire species. There is one champion of humans among the aliens named Mr. Marduk.  I bring this up because in explaining his affinity for humans, Mr. Marduk uses the Thrilla in Manila as an example of why humans are so complicated and interesting and worthy of saving.

The following is that chapter (typos and all):

Mr. Marduk sat on the bed in his quarters going through his notes, video records and books on humans. He was a student of Homo sapiens. That was his job, and that was his passion. That’s why he was included in the first wave.

In all his lifetimes, he had never been to Earth. He gleaned all his knowledge from the translucent screen of his personal reader and from various professors throughout the Alliance. Everything he was presented had a very definite slant, humans were supremely inferior to virtually every other sentient beings in the universe.

But Marduk believed differently. It was clear there was an agenda among most members of the Alliance to paint the humans as more than disposable. They were considered a cancer by most.

He came to the photograph of Jeanne d’Arc, a female warrior in the Earth’s 14th century. Human history would credit her with saving her homeland from invasion from a superior force, a victory so resounding the invaders would never return. What they wouldn’t record is that Jeanne d’Arc was a Tree Reader.

Marduk examined her hand. The skin over the knuckle stretched tautly over the bones and turned a shade of white as she wielded a sword above her head, seconds away from slicing a man twice her size across the jaw. He created a fist with his own hand and marveled at the similarities. His knuckles turned almost the identical shade of white.

The door to his quarters opened, and Ensign Lilith entered. She was tall and slender and as perfect as any other Anunnaki woman in the universe. On Earth, she would be worshiped by most the males and reviled by most the females.

“Studying your humans, again?” She asked.

“It’s my job,” Marduk said.

She raised an eyebrow. “Such a shame that you’ll be out of a job in a few… What are the time cycles the humans use?”

Marduk sneered. “Does no one pay attention to my briefings? I believe the word you’re looking for is months.” He added, “And, I wouldn’t be too sure about that if I were you.”

She unbuttoned the top button of her uniform and massaged her neck. “You overestimate your pets,” she said. “Their weaponry is so pathetic it’s a stretch to call them primitive. Their propulsion systems are practically useless. They are not even united. They are broken up into factions.”

He smiled. “They have… Heart.”

She laughed. “You’re kidding, right?”

He sat back. “I’m not.”

She sat down and patted his leg. “We’ve advanced beyond the frailties of a heart, Mr. Marduk.”

“And that is our biggest failing,” he said. “Besides I’m not talking about a heart, not the organ. I’m talking about heart, the feeling, the drive, the will. Compassion.”

She leaned back and sat shoulder to shoulder with him. “Explain.”

He considered her request and searched through his memories for a good example. He smiled when one came to him. “The Thrilla in Manila,” he said.

“And that is?” she asked.

“A fight, boxing they call it. The pugilistic arts.”

“A fight? A military battle?”

“No, it’s a sport. Two athletes stand on a platform outlined by a fence of ropes and fight each other.”

“For what purpose?”

Marduk shrugged. “Monetary gain.”

“Ridiculous,” Lilith huffed. “What are their weapons?”

He held up his hands and balled them into fists. “These.”

“They stand on a platform and strike each other with their fists to gain wealth?” She sounded outraged.

“They do.”

“And this goes on all the time?”

“It does, but never so beautifully executed as the Thrilla in Manila.”

She looked at him disgusted but also curious. “Tell me about it.”

“The fight was between one called Muhammad Ali and one called Joe Frazier. It was their third fight. They had split the two previous bouts. These two athletes hated each other. The one called Ali was favored to win the third fight easily. They stepped onto the platform and proceeded to fight.” Marduk extended his fists in front of him as he talked and boxed the air. “Ali started as most predicted. He threw punch after punch, confusing Frazier and keeping him off balance. Round one… They fight in separate segments of time called rounds. Round one went to Ali and then round two and then three and then four and five. It looked as if all was lost for the one called Frazier. Then in round six he found his heart. His will. He hit Ali with a punch that startled both fighters. Neither of them seemed to know Frazier had it in him. Ali was now confused, and Frazier kept him off balance for the next six rounds. The crowd who attended the match gasped and groaned with each punch thrown. They cheered for Frazier. They cheered for Ali. They found their heart, as well.” He paused and played the fight in his mind as he had seen it dozens of times before in the visual records.

“And?” Lilith asked, grabbing his arm.


She rolled her eyes. “Only by its depth of stupidity.”

He chuckled because he knew she was lying. “Rounds 11 through 14 were a back and forth battle. One athlete would throw a flurry of punches and then the other would come back with his own flurry. Frazier’s vision became impaired, and he fought virtually blind in the latter rounds while Ali’s internal organs were battered and not functioning properly. The crowd was amazed that either man could remain standing. They sat with their supporters before the start of the final round. The one called Ali instructed his men that he wanted to quit. He felt himself dying. His legs were shot. He was bleeding internally. The one called Frazier informed his men that he would never quit, and they were not to stop the fight under any circumstances.”

“So the Frazier human won,” Lilith said.

Marduk held up a finger. “That is where another form a heart comes into play. A man in charge of Frazier’s wellbeing by the name of Futch would not let his boxer continue the fight.”

Lilith’s mouth dropped open. “But the other human wanted to quit.”

“Futch did not know this. He was concerned for his human. He was afraid that Frazier would die in the final round. Futch found his heart. His love for another human being.”
Lilith sat up. “I can see why you like that story, but it does demonstrate why humans could not win this war even if they matched us in weaponry.”

“How so?”

“Their fear of death. It is the downfall of all mortal beings.”

Marduk put his hand behind his head and stretched out. “You miss the point of the story. Humans fear death only because they value life so much. They always find the will to preserve it.”

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