One must confess that Mrs. Sickles, in her anxiety to shield her daughter from her mother's acid tongue, had described a Sharing fête in terms that, while broadly accurate, were rather more innocuous than the institution merited. Indeed, the institution of the fête was perhaps the most curious aspect of the whole Sharing phenomenon; long after the war's end, ex-hosts and ex-Controllers alike were wont to recall it with genuine puzzlement, as though even they couldn't guess what the Visserarchy had hoped to gain from it.
Yet its origins were straightforward enough. The first Sharing fête had been held on New Year's Day of 1994, shortly after the Yeerk invasion of Earth had begun in earnest. At that time, the Sharing, being still under the leadership of Edriss Five-Six-Two, still bore the character of a self-help group with cultic aspirations; social commentators, particularly in the national media, were wont to refer to it, with varying degrees of irony, as "Altmanism". The fête was an innovation entirely in accord with this spirit; those who participated in it were met with attendants in brightly colored cloaks, songs composed for the occasion, "testimonies" straight out of Baptist worship services, and even a concluding ceremony in which all were invited to stand and face east – "the direction of hope" – while the attendants marked their right hands with cassia. It was, quite bluntly, Edriss's first attempt to create an Altmanist liturgy.
Had the future Visser One been in charge of the Sharing much longer, it is likely enough that it would have developed into a sort of poor man's Freemasonry, and Teresa Sickles would never have dreamed of joining. But certain aspects of Lawrence Alter's pre-infestation life were already beginning to come to light, and Edriss judged it judicious, a few months after the New Year's fête, to change personas and focus on her political ambitions within the Visserarchy. Accordingly, the Sharing was informed of its founder's untimely demise, and was placed under the oversight of one Flammet Nought-Five-Two, newly the Controller of Altman's assistant, Sarah Valerio.
This caused a distinct change in the Sharing's strategy, for Flammet, being relatively new to Earth and far less ambitious than Edriss (she never achieved more than a modest Sub-Visserial rank, for all her contributions to the war), was disinclined to pursue an invasion plan that seemed to her to stem less from sober military calculation than from her predecessor's desire to play the demagogue. She did not find that her own host (who, significantly, more nearly approximated the middle-class American mainstream than anyone Edriss had ever infested) greatly desired to hand over her personhood to the first persuasive speaker who came along – but neither did she find that that host desired personal liberty above all things, as the Andalites, for instance, professed to do. So far as her Controller could discover, the principal desire in Sarah Valerio's mind was for what she called "a better world for her children" – and Flammet, reflecting on this desire, gradually devised a means by which she could turn it to the Empire's use.
Thus did the Sharing metamorphose, during the years 1994 and 1995, into a secular non-profit with a professed zeal for social justice. It shed the cultic trappings of the Altman years, and began to ally itself with real church and synagogue groups; it dedicated itself to keeping youth off the streets, and reaching out a hand to the poor and marginalized; it was praised in the National Review as a force for traditional values, and in the Atlantic Monthly as a model of community activism. In short, it became all things to all men, that it might doom some – and, so doing, it flourished beyond the Visserarchy's wildest expectations. By the end of 1995, the Sharing was a nationwide concern, with chapters (and Yeerk pools) in 21 states; the merely local phenomenon of two years before, in which Lore David Altman had perorated to down-and-out Californians about their untapped potentialities, had been swept away and forgotten.
Yet it had left one curious legacy – for Flammet, while ruthlessly expunging everything else about the Sharing that smelled of Jonestown, had retained, and even expanded, the role of the fêtes. Perhaps this was done as a sop to Edriss, who still considered the Sharing her brainchild, or perhaps she had hoped to capitalize on the human fondness for annual traditions; perhaps both motivations played a part. In any case, the fêtes remained; a typical chapter had three each year, at Christmas, the Fourth of July, and the beginning of spring. (The latter was never referred to as an Easter fête, since it had been found difficult to interest Jews in such an event – and a Passover fête, of course, was out of the question. A vaguely solemn acknowledgment that the U.S.'s hemisphere was tilting towards the Sun again seemed much the safest course.)
To be sure, the more obviously ceremonial trappings had been abandoned. There was no longer any cassia or orientation, and the cloaks had been replaced by an open-ended requirement that the Inner members all appear in some form of distinctive costume, the nature of which was left to the discretion of the local chapter head. But plucking a chicken doesn't make it a man, and the fêtes, denuded of their neo-Masonic finery and never imbued with any coherent secular purpose, ended up being little more, in essence, than free lunches out for the families of Sharing members. (The catering was typically the one great strong point of a Sharing fête, as of most other Sharing events. Yeerks, with their tradition of Esiln Kalkat gustatory revels, fully understood the human emphasis on good food at celebrations.)
Had this been straightforwardly acknowledged, it is possible that the fêtes might have come to be regarded fondly, and even become useful host-recruitment tools. An organization, after all, in which all the members dress up in matching costumes three times a year and then go out to lunch would seem charming and whimsical to many – and humans, even more than most sentients, are readily won over by charm and whimsy. This, however, would have required a leadership that understood the value of charm and whimsy, which the Yeerk Empire rather dramatically failed to have at this time. The Sharing chapter heads were far more practical souls, and they saw in the fêtes an opportunity, not for host recruitment, but for their own advancement. If, they reasoned, they could impose a sufficiently novel and complex form on the loose framework of songs and testimonies, and then realize this form smoothly and efficiently, it would argue both vision and command ability in them; the Council's agents on Earth would take notice, and they would be that much closer to the Visserarchical positions they all so desperately coveted.
There was, in truth, a measure of reality in this reasoning. (Toloth Two-Nine-Four's superior, for instance, had become Sub-Visser One Hundred and Sixty-Three largely on the basis of a particularly well-executed Fourth of July fête – hence his already-noted estimate of himself as a distinguished aesthetician.) But this was small consolation to the rank-and-file Sharing members who, three times a year, found themselves caught in the midst of small-town attempts to outdo the Olympic torch-lighting ceremonies. Because, of course, there was a ratchet effect involved: each fête, in order to catch the Council's eye, had to be more elaborate and distinctive than any previous fête, and so, by 1999, no self-respecting chapter head would settle for anything less than a full-blown extravaganza using all the available community resources, and resembling, as often as not, the delirium of an oatmeal addict given a seasonal theme. Just so, on the Yeerk homeworld, had the understated and elegant phosphor-shows of Generation 78 become the all-out retinal assaults of Generation 79.
Most ordinary Controllers accepted this with resignation, and sometimes even a touch of malicious pleasure in the cravenness of the heads' self-promotion – for there is always something satisfying, for the citizen of a despotic oligarchy, in watching one of his minor overlords make a public spectacle of himself. To the graver-minded among them, though – such persons as, for instance, Malcar Seven-Four-Five – the tradition was simply an outrage; not only did it squander resources that might have been used to bring more humans to the pier, but it made the Sharing itself, that noble instrument of racial conquest, into a ludicrous burlesque. (The uninfested family members of Sharing hosts, meanwhile, mostly just enjoyed the food and shrugged off the accouterments. Humans, as has often been noted, have remarkable powers of adaptation.)
Such, then, was the Sharing fête: a defanged liturgical parody converted into a razzle-dazzle campaign advertisement for aspiring sub-vissers. A more implausible occasion of grace would, perhaps, be difficult to imagine – and yet, on December 22, 1999, Toloth Two-Nine-Four of the Sulp Niar pool experienced his first moment of true compunction while assisting at the Christmas fête of the Oceanside, California, chapter. Let them hear and be heartened, whom the spiritual poverty of their culture tempts to despair.