Chapter One: Crisis
The digital readout on the DVD player indicated 3:55PM, only five more minutes before the time scheduled for the special telecast. Valerie Saunderson and her children, Nick and Stephanie, clung to each other on the living room sofa and watched the TV. They were as still as statues, as their senses of sight and hearing strained to funnel every bit of information into their minds and make sense of it, as if they tried hard enough they'd come up with an answer for all of this madness.
When Valerie had first heard the news several hours ago, she had doubled over from the shock of the words, her head spun, her heart pounded. She'd since reclaimed some composure for the sake of the children but didn't feel much better. The knot in her stomach clenched tighter. She tried to be strong and reassured Nick and Stephanie with words of comfort but all the while struggled to control her own emotions.
Reports had poured in all day about unprovoked attacks on individuals worldwide by close associates and family members or sometimes complete strangers. The attackers had no coherent explanation for their actions and it was mostly being written off as stress. And then suddenly people just disappeared! The latest count put the number of people who had vanished in the millions. Some experts were speculating a time distortion might have flung people into a different space-time continuum. Some had other theories but nobody knew for sure. The affected people were from every country on earth--young, old, rich, poor, famous, unknown, black, white. The reports kept pouring in so fast they couldn't tally accurate figures fast enough. One reporter speculated that by the time they were done counting the world's population, perhaps as many as a half a billion would be reported as missing.
The reporter also speculated that perhaps the disappearances were due to some new secret weapon that had malfunctioned in the growing tensions in the Middle East. It had only been several years since Iran had proven to the world that they had the nuclear bomb by a test detonation on their own soil. The United States had immediately tried to push a resolution through the United Nations and called for severe sanctions and threatened force if noncompliant, but Russia and China had vetoed the resolution, tabling a motion instead for an intensive diplomatic effort and tough sanctions, though far less crippling to Iran than what America had wanted. At this the U.S. had threatened unilateral invasion of the Muslim country, but Russia and China had boldly sided with Iran, promising full-scale war if she tried, gambling the U.S. would back down--which she did. Israel was similarly constrained by the same bellicose retaliatory war talk from the two communist nuclear powers.
So years dragged by peppered with talks, sanctions, periodic threats of war from the United States and Israel, more talks, U.N. resolutions...but no real action. America's colossal failure in the war on terror, especially the debacle known as the Iraq war, pretty much guaranteed that the world no longer trusted America's leadership on the international scene and the U.S. was pretty much hated universally, exceptions only amongst most of her English speaking brother-nations and Israel. The rest of the world seemed determined to band together to prevent another Iraq situation, and the U.S. just couldn't muster enough support to risk lone military action against Iran, which only served to embolden the Muslim country into openly continuing nuclear tests.
Now, just last week, Iran announced that it was finally ready to use the arsenal of nuclear weapons that it had been stockpiling. Iran held the world hostage, as it set a one week deadline for Israel to agree in principle to vacate the Holy Land and relocate elsewhere or face nuclear annihilation. Most of the Arab countries quickly united around Iran's leadership and formed a fragile coalition, but Israel refused to be intimidated, openly admitting what the world always suspected. The Jewish nation also had an arsenal of nuclear weapons and would fully retaliate against any strike. The rest of the world tried to mediate through the United Nations, but as Iran's one week ultimatum neared without even a hint of resolution, the situation seemed to quickly spiral out of control, as the major world powers took sides.
The U.S., Britain, Canada and most other English-speaking nations stood firm behind Israel while Russia, China, and Europe sided with the Arab coalition. The U.S. increased military alertness to Defcon One, Maximum Force Readiness, and Russia countered. Both nations promised full release of their nuclear arsenals in support of their respective partners in the Middle East and in defense of their homelands.
People all over the world started to panic and Marshall law had to be implemented virtually worldwide. Even Valerie's hometown of Star City, Louisiana had seen an increase in some looting and a strict curfew had been implemented. The town's population was only about seven thousand, mostly employed in the oil and gas industry, usually a docile town of mostly middle class working families where everybody knew each other, reasonable average people trying to deal with the sudden stress of the world situation.
Valerie's husband, Jeff Saunderson, a pharmacist at one of the local drugstores, had told her of the massive increase in use of anti-anxiety medication and anti-depressants over the past week. Valerie had also eventually succumbed to the pressure to medicate and suddenly felt the need to do so again. She rose from the sofa and went to the washroom.
She opened the cabinet and retrieved the prescription vial from Armstrong's Pharmacy for the anti-anxiety medication Valium 10mg. The doctor had initially given her Ativan but it hadn't been potent enough. She went back and insisted on something stronger and longer acting. The directions said three times a day as needed, but she found herself taking as much as six a day. As she opened the vial and put the round blue pill in her hand, she recoiled a bit from her frazzled look in the mirror, bags under her deep blue eyes, shoulder length flame red hair matted and sticking to the sides of her head from nervous sweat, looking more like the unkempt mane of a wild lion than the hair of a late thirties mother of two. She poured a glass of water and swallowed the pill before trying to put on a comforting face for the kids and returning to the sofa.
Pressure had seemed to lift somewhat when all of the leaders in the growing world conflict suddenly inexplicably agreed to a meeting at a secret locale for discussions. But it was several days past Iran's deadline and the tension in the world was palpable. Everybody felt like something was going to happen soon, but nobody expected that that something would be millions suddenly disappearing worldwide. Valerie agreed the most likely explanation was that some new secret U.S. or Russian weapon had misfired. They were likely the only two powers with the capability to make such a device. Otherwise a targeted strike would have only affected one country or group of countries in the conflict. But the disappearances seemed to be totally random.
So far only a handful of people from Star City were unaccounted for. Word had been leaked to the press that the special telecast from the world leaders would explain everything. Valerie had grabbed the first opportunity she could to check with her husband, Jeff. She called the drugstore and was very glad to hear his voice, quaking though it was. She learned that he had been one of the victims of an unprovoked attack by a longtime customer. Jeff said he was coming home early to be with them, and she hoped he'd make it in time for the telecast from the leaders of the world.
Valerie held her children tightly, not saying much, waiting. She clenched her teeth in a vain attempt to remain patient and willed the time to pass quicker. Stay calm, she reminded herself. All her questions would soon be answered. They'd promised.
It was all she could do to contain herself, but finally it occurred.
The TV screen suddenly went blank.
After a few seconds the picture came back. It showed the president sitting at a long table with various world leaders. Valerie recognized leaders from Canada, Russia, Europe, and several other nations. A tall handsome man with short black hair sat in the center. He was wearing a sharp looking gray suit.
Mesmerized by the TV screen, they watched the President of the United States get up and stand behind a podium filled with clusters of microphones and wires. The camera zoomed in on him.
"Good evening ladies and gentlemen of the world," the president said. Flashes of light and clicking noises danced around his head as reporters took pictures. "While I speak, this message is being simultaneously broadcast world-wide on all channels and translated into all languages." There was a slight pause before he continued. "As most of you undoubtedly know, we are here to discuss the world situation and very strange events that have occurred lately. We won't explain it ourselves, for our special guest is far more capable. We only ask that you try to listen to everything with an open mind before you react."
There were several seconds of silence as he looked at his prepared speech, presumably reading a line or two, and shuffled some papers around. Then he looked up. "Ladies and gentlemen of the world, for many years mankind has seriously pondered the possibility of intelligent beings, other than humans, in the universe. But today we have undeniable proof of the existence of extraterrestrial life."
The president turned slightly and faced the man at the center of the table. "I--along with the rest of these world leaders as representatives of the governments of earth and the human race--would like to formally introduce you, the citizens of the world, to Khur-ak, the Balazon, and leader of the Balazon race of beings."
A stunned moment of silence fell over the press room.
"Is he serious?" Nick asked. "Is our president really that brain dead that he thinks a man in a gray suit is alien?"
A gasp of incredulity filled the press room, as crowds of reporters jockeyed for position in front of Khur-ak. Random clicking noises filled the air as camera flashes streaked across Khur-ak's face like strobe-lights.
"Just wait and see what they say," Valerie said.
At fourteen years of age, Nick liked calling everybody brain dead. But Valerie couldn't help worrying that this was real and that the aliens were intent on conquering the world. The president wouldn't say something like that if he couldn't prove it. Perhaps the broadcast was to formally declare earth's surrender. On the other hand, the president didn't seem to be apprehensive about Khur-ak's presence. His speech, tone of voice, and manner seemed to convey a positive outlook.
The president began again after a suitable moment of silence. He explained that the aliens had a message to bring humans about God many might not welcome--perhaps even causing world-wide uncertainty about everything people thought they had known to the point where humans might collapse as a race of intelligent beings.
However after much deliberation, the leaders had decided the world needed to know, as the world situation was becoming untenable anyway. He also tried to reassure the viewers with the revelation that the aliens had helped all parties in the nuclear showdown to agree to an immediate stand down of all military readiness and that further help would be forthcoming. He then talked for a few minutes about the Balazons and the benefits to mankind of contact with them, such as enormous leaps forward in science, technology, and medicine. As he started to close, a reporter jumped in with a question.
"We will answer all questions in due time," the president said. "Please be patient. There are many things we would like to say, but we have agreed to limit ourselves so Khur-ak himself can give a special introduction. I would like to close by assuring everyone listening that the Balazons are a benevolent race of beings who have my utmost trust. They are not--I repeat--are not out to harm anyone and there is absolutely no reason to fear or mistrust them. Please stay calm. We will soon address all of your questions."
When it looked as if the president were about to sit down, another reporter started to ask questions but the president insisted on patience until the end of the session. He sat down and for the next forty minutes each member of the international delegation got up and said a few words at the podium. Mostly they expressed their appreciation of the aliens' help and affirmed their belief in the goodwill of the Balazons.
"This is boring," Nick sighed as he rolled his eyes. "I want to see this guy prove he really is an ET. How much longer are these politicians gonna keep babbling?"
Valerie wasn't so eager. The longer the leaders talked the safer she felt. As long as humans directed and controlled the program, the aliens could not be thought of as bad. If the creatures willingly submitted to a well-controlled, well-thought-out human plan of revealing themselves on a familiar household device, she figured they must be courteous enough to allow humans freedom in other areas of life.
Stephanie didn't seem too optimistic either. She turned to her mother and asked, "Mom, are the aliens friendly?"
Valerie imagined her face must be pale; she sweat and licked her lips. She hoped her physical appearance didn't give away her true feelings. After she paused for a moment, Valerie took a deep breath and tried to talk in a soothing voice but it still sounded shaky. "It appears they are friendly."
It was the best she could do. She wanted to comfort her children but didn't want to lie either. When it looked as if Stephanie might ask some more difficult questions, Valerie said, "Khur-ak is going to talk now. Let's see what he has to say."
Stephanie reluctantly turned her head to see more.
"It's about time," Nick blurted out. "I was beginning to wonder how much longer we had to listen to this stupid preamble."
The camera zoomed in on Khur-ak's face as reporters snapped photos. "People of earth, I bid you greetings in the name of the Balazon race."
"He speaks English!" Valerie said with amazement.
"I am communicating to you telepathically. My thoughts can travel the wavelengths of the transmission you are receiving and your mind can interpret them as verbal communication. My mouth movements will even appear to coincide with the words of your native tongue."
"Cool," Nick said.
"Quiet!" Valerie commanded. "I don't want to miss anything."
Nick defiantly huffed once and then made sure he kept silent.
"I come from a planet called Nerovan, many light years away. I am the leader of an innumerable multitude of beings like myself. We have many natural abilities humans do not possess. At will, we can selectively bend light rays and phase shift our bodies' molecules to become invisible and untouchable. We have an existence that never ceases--what you call immortality--and have been influential on earth in our wraith-like forms for millions of years: studying, observing, and guiding mankind's development as best we could.
"We can also assume human form, which I am doing now so as not to unduly frighten you. But in order to prove my legitimacy, I will now cause some objects in your vicinity to levitate."
The unoccupied love seat in the corner of the room started to rise. Stephanie screamed and Valerie had to grab her and hold her tight.
"Ok," Nick said. "I'll accept that as proof."
Khur-ak took a deep breath as if he intended to ramble off a whole list of statistics but abruptly stopped short and closed his eyes for several seconds. "I am sensing a massive tide of thought-fear pulsating throughout my body. Please, we mean you no harm. Though we are highly evolved compared to yourselves, you need not fear us. Our minds are so advanced we could destroy this planet with a mere thought if we so desired but we will not. Does this not demonstrate we are sincere? Why would a superior enemy come to you peacefully?"
Khur-ak closed his eyes again, took a deep breath and held it, as if analyzing the aroma of some fine fragrance. Then he opened his eyes. "I can sense many are still suspicious. Let me tell you more about ourselves. Without need of mechanical devices, we travel the universe in search of life with the potential to evolve into higher forms such as ourselves. Once found, we help such life overcome the obstacles to their development so they can ultimately reach their objective--total freedom from physical constraints, what you call a spiritual existence or immortality. This is the highest form to which any race can evolve. With the attainment of such development came freedom, peace, and joy I can't even begin to express."
Khur-ak stopped speaking and his face took on a contorted expression. "Oh, how I wish I could make you fully understand the joy we too experience helping other life-forms attain their awesome potential. You see, we discovered your planet millions of years ago when the dinosaurs reigned supreme. Upon using our abilities to look into the future, we predicted a ninety-six percent chance the dinosaurs would continue to dominate the planet and cause the extinction of many species, including the rudimentary beginnings of man--the ape. But the dinosaurs had no evolutionary potential and wouldn't develop higher consciousness. So we destroyed them by redirecting a large meteorite to hit the earth, which hurled dirt and debris into the upper atmosphere, blocked the sun, destroyed plant and animal life, and lowered the global temperature. But as we predicted, numerous warm-blooded mammals, including the ape, survived the harsh climate. Many eons later, you evolved sentience and entered the dark stage."
Khur-ak turned his face violently to his left side as if some invisible foe had struck him. "I have just felt the pain of your rejection. In time I hope to make you understand. The dark stage is that evolutionary period which we have found intelligent beings inevitably go through as they slowly evolve beyond their bestial natures and progress towards the fullness of virtual godhood. But they must battle against their animalistic tendencies during this time, a predisposition towards violence, selfishness, intolerance, and hatred. It is a time marked by wars, lying, stealing, cruelty, greed, and many other forms of what is generally termed 'evil.' The conduct of the evolving race becomes so reprehensible that in virtually all cases they eventually destroy themselves. My people, the Balazons, were a rare exception to survive."
Khur-ak stared into the camera and shifted his eyes back and forth as if searching for some understanding from his viewers. "One of the principal ways we helped you was to implant a conscience-bubble into every human born, a type of mind implant that tries to make one believe in 'God,' right and wrong, and life after death in a good place such as 'heaven' or a bad place such as 'hell,' based upon one's behavior in this present life. Many humans believe they have no religious tendencies whatsoever, as the implant exerts a very subtle effect on their minds; yet it is usually a sufficient hindrance, for most evolving beings, to inhibit unrestrained reprobate actions."
Khur-ak stopped talking and stared at the camera hopefully. Then he added softly, "Now do you understand? We chose not to openly reveal ourselves to mankind at large until humans had progressed intellectually to the point you have. Most will soon be ready to accept that there is no such thing as God. We are, in fact, the closest thing you will find in the universe to the Almighty."
Khur-ak gasped and jerked backwards in his chair. After a few seconds, he regained his composure. "Unfortunately, many people are presently unable to accept this. I sense many are hurt, confused, and feel betrayed by their belief systems. But I hope the majority will accept us in time. Please let us help you. We have prepared a way to make this possible."
Khur-ak leaned forward and, with as much earnestness as he could muster, said, "We are prepared to counsel privately each and every individual on the face of this planet. This is not difficult for us to do, for our kind count in the billions. If you are living in one of the poorer countries of the world, starving and diseased, we can help with that too. At this very moment, Balazon representatives are amongst all individuals on the face of the earth--cloaked and phased, of course."
Valerie slowly turned her head right and left but didn't see anything out of the ordinary. A cold shiver crawled up her spine, and her stomach started to ache. She didn't like the thought of one of them in her house.
"Neat, man," Nick said and jumped up. "Show yourself, spaceman! I want to get a better look at you!" He ran excitedly around the living room, as if he hoped to get the first glimpse of the Balazon if he decided to show himself.
"Sit down!" Valerie commanded and grabbed her son.
"Don't you dare show yourself either," she said to the empty air. "I don't even want you in my house! Get out of here! Now!"
Nick, Stephanie, and Valerie froze, senses of sight and sound straining above the TV, searching for any sign of a Balazon. After a few minutes, Valerie looked at Nick. "Don't do that again."
"Aw, mom. Why can't we? We might as well talk to one. They're here anyway."
Valerie didn't care. She might not be able to make them leave her house, but she certainly didn't want to talk to one personally.
They took their places in front of the TV and continued to listen.
"Our representatives will not show themselves if you don't wish to see them. If you feel more comfortable with the TV, I will continue to inform you about us through this medium alone. However, I can sense innumerable specific questions from your minds. I cannot possibly answer them all on air. I encourage you to simply ask the Balazon to show himself and he can give you the individual attention you need. At any point in the discussion, you can ask him to leave and he will obey your request immediately."
He continued to talk, explaining more about themselves and their reasons for unveiling to the world.
Valerie began to feel rather silly. Nick and Khur-ak were right. The Balazon was in their midst anyway, so she might as well talk to him. If the Balazon had wanted to do her family any harm, he certainly could have done it by now, and she had many questions she wanted answered; they still hadn't explained why so many people had disappeared. She couldn't totally shake the nagging fears from her mind, but after several more minutes of deep contemplation, she decided to do it. She was working up her nerve when Nick turned and pleadingly looked at her.
"Please can we talk to one, mom?" he begged. "What harm could it do?"
"OK?" Nick said as he raised his eyebrows. He looked surprised but certainly didn't argue.
"I don't think I want to," Stephanie said. "I'm scared."
Valerie had to hold Nick's younger sister and comfort her. "It's going to be fine. I'll make sure nothing bad happens." They sat on the couch, Valerie in the middle, children on either side. They held the remote control together and pushed the Off button, a symbolic gesture of their unanimous decision to initiate personal communication. Then Valerie gave the invitation.