In the distant future, a savage trained only to kill finds a way into the community of bored immortals that alone preserves humanity's achievements.

[the gigantic Stone Head hovers before the worshipful horde of Exterminators]
Zardoz: Zardoz speaks to you, His chosen ones.
Exterminators: We are the chosen ones!
Zardoz: You have been raised up from Brutality, to kill the Brutals who multiply, and are legion. To this end, Zardoz your God gave you the gift of the Gun. The Gun is good!
Exterminators: The Gun is good!
Zardoz: The Penis is evil! The Penis shoots Seeds, and makes new Life to poison the Earth with a plague of men, as once it was. But the Gun shoots Death and purifies the Earth of the filth of Brutals. Go forth, and kill! Zardoz has spoken.
[first lines]
Arthur Frayn: I am Arthur Frayn, and I am Zardoz. I have lived three hundred years, and I long to die. But death is no longer possible. I am immortal. I present now my story, full of mystery and intrigue - rich in irony, and most satirical. It is set deep in a possible future, so none of these events have yet occurred, but they *may.* Be warned, lest you end as I. In this tale, I am a fake god by occupation - and a magician, by inclination. Merlin is *my* hero! I am the puppet master. I manipulate many of the characters and events you will see. But *I* am invented, too, for your entertainment - and amusement. And you, poor creatures, who conjured *you* out of the clay? Is God in show business too?
Zed: [speaking into the crystal ring on his left hand] Tabernacle - what are you?
The Tabernacle: Not permitted.
Zed: Where are you?
The Tabernacle: Not permitted.
Zed: Do you know me?
The Tabernacle: I have your voice-print, Zed - and your genetic code, but only memory fragments.
Zed: [gazing into the diamond he holds in his other hand] Tell me about the crystal transmitter.
The Tabernacle: I cannot give information which may threaten my own security.
Zed: Brain emissions refract low wavelength laser light, passing through the crystal in the brain. They're a code sent to you for interpretation and storage. Yes or no?
The Tabernacle: Not permitted.
Zed: A receiver must be like a transmitter. I think you're a crystal - in fact this one! This diamond! In here, there is infinite storage space for refracted light patterns. Yes or no?
The Tabernacle: You have me in the palm of your hand!
Friend: I will not go to second level with you!
Zed: Stay close to me - inside my aura!
Consuella: Penic erection was one of the many unsolved evolutionary mysteries surrounding sexuality. Every society had an elaborate subculture devoted to erotic stimulation. But nobody could quite determine how this...
[Consuella points to a diagram of a flaccid male penis and scrotum]
Consuella: ...becomes this.
[Consuella points to a diagram of an erect penis and scrotum]
Consuella: Of course, we all know the physical process involved, but not the link between stimulus and response. There seems to be a correlation with violence, with fear. Many hanged men died with an erection. You are all more or less aware of our intensive researches into this subject. Sexuality declined probably because we no longer needed to procreate. Eternals soon discovered that erection was impossible to achieve. And we are no longer victims of this violent, convulsive act which so debased women and betrayed men. This Brutal...
[Consuella indicates Zed]
Consuella: other primates living unselfconscious lives, is capable of spontaneous and reflexive erection. As part of May's studies of this creature, we're trying to find, once again, the link between erotic stimulation and erection. This experiment will measure autoerotic stimulation of the cortex, leading to erection.
The Tabernacle: You are asked to vote at the termination of the trial of George Saden. Final statement from the accused begins.
George Saden: I confess to the charges, but plead mitigation. These thoughts are constructive criticisms. Pyramidical. I try to suppress these thoughts, but they leak out in Second Level through the head-wound of my third death. I was imperfectly repaired. No. That is not true. I think what I think!
Friend: [murmuring] That's more like it! I'm with you, George.
George Saden: I hate you all. I hate you all. I hate you all. Especially me.
[the Tabernacle chimes]
The Tabernacle: Vote, please. Vote, please.
Friend: [to Zed] I'm voting for him, Monster. It won't do any good. Nothing ever does.
[Friend speaks into his ring]
Friend: Absolute acquittal!
The Tabernacle: Sleep was necessary for man when his waking and unconscious lives were separated. As Eternals achieved total consciousness. Sleep became obsolete and Second Level meditation took its place.
Consuella: [speaking into her ring as she observes Zed asleep in his cage] The Brutal is now in fourth hour of unconscious sleep. It's astonishing that Homo Sapiens spends so much time in this vulnerable condition at the mercy of its enemies. Is there any data on the sleeping-patterns of primitive people?
The Tabernacle: Is that a priority request?
Consuella: Yes. I am now going to test its waking response to dangerous stimuli.
[She reaches inside the cage toward Zed. With unexpected speed, he seizes her wrist even as he wakes. He holds her for a moment, glaring at her before releasing her. Slowly, she recovers composure and speaks to him]
Consuella: Does it please you to sleep?
Zed: Yes.
Consuella: Why?
Zed: I have dreams.
The Tabernacle: Sleep was necessary for Man when his waking and unconscious lives were separated. As Eternals achieved total consciousness, sleep became obsolete, and Second-Level meditation took its place. Sleep was closely connected with death.
Arthur Frayn: You see, our death-wish was devious, and deep. As Zardoz, Zed, I was able to choose your forefathers! It was careful genetic breeding that produced this mutant - this slave who could free his masters! And Friend was my accomplice! Don't you remember the man in the library, Zed?
[a chime is heard]
Arthur Frayn: It was I who led you to the 'Wizard of Oz' book! Ha-hah, it was I who gave you access to the Stone! It was I!
[a chime is heard]
Arthur Frayn: I bred you! I led you!
Zed: And I have looked into the face of the force that put the idea in your mind. You are bred, and led, yourself.
[He strides away, and Friend advances to join Arthur]
Friend: Arthur! We've all been used!
Arthur Frayn: And re-used.
Friend: And abused!
Arthur Frayn: And amused!
Consuella: In hunting you, I have become you. I've destroyed what I set out to defend.
Zed: "He who fights too long against dragons, becomes a dragon himself."... Nietzsche.
Zardoz: Zardoz is pleased.
May: Friend, I cannot sanction this violence and destruction.
Friend: It's too late, May. There's no going back.
May: Don't destroy the Vortex! Let us renew it. A better breed could prosper here. Given time...
Friend: Time? Wasn't eternity enough?
Zed: [enters suddenly; May wheels to face him] This place is against life. It must die.
[Zed gently grasps May's pistol hand and raises it so that the weapon points right between his eyes]
May: I have my followers. Inseminate us all, and we'll teach you all we know, give you all we have. Perhaps you can break the Tabernacle. Or be broken.
[Friend advances to place his hand on the others', in a triple pact]
Friend: An end to eternity.
May: A higher form.
Zed: Revenge.
The Tabernacle: [perpetually repeating] Caution: You are approaching the periphery shield of Vortex Four. Caution: You are approaching the periphery shield of Vortex Four.
The Tabernacle: You have destroyed us. You found the flaw in the crystal. We are gone. You are alone.
[Zed confronts May in the weaving-house; she is partially hidden beneath a diaphanous patterned sheet]
Zed: May? I want your help!
May: You want to destroy us... the Tabernacle.
Zed: I want the truth.
May: You must give the truth, if you wish to receive it.
Zed: I'm ready.
[She flings the sheet up to enfold him beneath it with her]
May: It'll burn you!
Zed: Then burn me.
The Tabernacle: You have penetrated me. There is no escape. You are within me. Come into my center. Come into the center of the crystal!
Zed: [watching his memory-scan video of hunting down Brutals] I love to see them running. I love the moments of their deaths - when I am one with Zardoz.
[Zed stands before a giant screen swarming with microscopic infusoria]
May: Look at it. It's you.
[Zed looks behind him, but May does not see him do so]
May: Your genetic structure, your life chart. Look.
[Obligingly, Zed does so again]
May: You are a mutant, second, maybe third generation - therefore genetically stable. Enlarged brain, total recall. Your potential is... Your breeding potential!
Zed: Breeding?
May: Frayn!
[May spins around to confront Zed]
May: How did you get into the Vortex? What is your purpose?
Zed: I'm just an Exterminator. I know nothing.
May: You must know that you're mentally and physically vastly superior to me, or to anyone else here. You could be anything, could *do* anything. You must be destroyed.
Zed: Why?
May: Because you could destroy us!
Zed: As *you* destroyed the rest of life? Can you un-know what you know now about me?
May: For the sake of science, I will keep this knowledge from the others, for the time being. But you must follow me, obey me, be circumspect, make no disruption, quietly do whatever work is given you. I will watch over you.
Avalow: [addressing the populace of the Vortex] Death approaches! We are all mortal again! Now we can say 'yes' to death, but never again 'no'. Now, we must make our farewells: to each other, to the sun and moon, trees and sky, earth and rock, the landscape of our long waking-dream.
[Avalow turns to Zed]
Avalow: Zed - the Liberator - liberate me now, according to your promise!
[Zed readily raises his pistol. Avalow stretches in anticipation. The seconds pass, but no shot rings out]
Consuella: [urgently, to Zed, while focusing on Avalow] Do it! Do it!
Zed: [slowly lowering his pistol] All that I was, is gone.
[There is the bark of a shot, red spurts from Avalow's neck, and she collapses into the fountain's pool as the people moan in passion. Zed looks behind him - his fellow Exterminators have arrived]
Zed: What is it you want?
Friend: Sweet death. Oblivion.
Zed: For yourself, or for the whole Vortex?
Friend: For Everybody. An end to the human race. It has plagued this pretty planet for far too long.
Zed: You stink of despair. Fight back! Fight for death, if that's what you want.
Friend: I thought at first you were the one to help. But it's hopeless. All my powers have gone.
Zed: Where is it? The Tabernacle?
Friend: The Tabernacle... is... I can't remember!
Zed: Who made it? Someone must know how to break it.
Friend: Yes, but you can meet him for yourself! One of our founders, one of the geniuses who discovered immortality.
[Friend goes to the bed of the Old Scientist and, rousing him noisily, shouts]
Friend: We want to die! Hm? What - what's the trick?
Old Scientist: [feebly] Death... death... Talk to May! May!
Consuella: [Last line] Zed!

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