Chapter Five: Convincing aliens
Valerie was fast becoming convinced of Acin-om's sincerity. One of the biggest barriers to her own acceptance of the Balazons had been understanding the reasons why the aliens attacked her husband and others, and why the aliens had caused the disappearance of so many people. Now that she understood the details about Xsalma's motivations, her apprehension was beginning to melt away like butter on warm toast. However, when she looked at Stephanie, she saw a little girl who seemed frightened. Valerie reached for her daughter's hand, held it, and smiled comfortingly at her.
Stephanie was rigid.
"Would we really have destroyed ourselves in a nuclear world war three without your help?" Nick asked.
"We think so," Acin-om said. "Our forecasts aren't perfect, as the future is always changing and hard to predict, but the odds didn't look good. Now that we are out in the open, we can do more to help mankind, but if the world rejects our aid and forces us to leave, the odds won't be much better than to have just let the nuclear war go forward."
"Why would anyone want you to leave?" Nick asked.
"Some people will not trust us," Acin-om said. "Many fear what they don't understand."
Nick shrugged his shoulders indifferently as if to say he didn't care what other small minded people did. Then a new thought seemed to hit him, and he said excitedly, "You mentioned something earlier about not being male or female. Then why do you look like a female?"
"Before I entered the exultation stage I, too, was a simple physical creature such as you. In that primitive form, I was a female. When one changes from mortal to immortal, one retains some of the external characteristics of their former life."
"Wow," Nick said slowly. "It must be wonderful."
"How long has mankind been in the dark stage?" Valerie asked.
"Since shortly after humans reached sentient status--approximately six thousand years ago."
"How long does it last?" Valerie asked.
"Millions of years."
"Oh," Valerie said and looked again towards her daughter, noticing a more frazzled look than before; no mere hand holding would suffice this time. She reached over and pulled her daughter in close. "What's wrong, sweetheart? You haven't said anything the whole time. There's no need to be afraid. Ask Acin-om any questions you wish--it's like having God in your living room. Anything you could possibly desire to know, she will have the answer."
Valerie looked at Acin-om and said," I hope you don't mind if I call you by a female pronoun. I know it's not totally accurate, but that's how I see you."
"Not at all," Acin-om said.
"She's not God!" Stephanie said, pointing an accusing finger at the alien. She looked up at her mom. "What about all those Sunday school lessons? What about everything I've been taught? You told me we were going to live forever in heaven when we died. How do I know what's true anymore!?"
Valerie thought about this carefully for several seconds, understanding and regretting the disservice she may have done her children by not expressing her own doubts about religion a little more forcefully as they were growing up. She felt guilt start to creep over her, but forced it back with the fact Nick had turned out different. He seemed to adjust instantly to the Balazons' presence, so it couldn't be all her fault.
Nick had never cared much about religion. He seemed to emulate some of Valerie's skepticism. He used to tease Stephanie with some of the difficult philosophical questions like how it doesn't make sense that a loving God would torture people in hell forever. It just seemed to make Stephanie stronger in the end though. She developed a good relationship with her youth pastor, who helped ground her with answers to these difficult questions. It wasn't long before Stephanie could skillfully defend herself against Nick's attacks and quote more of the Bible than either one of them.
"Give it up, sis," Nick said. "Reality is sitting right in front of you. We can finally get some intelligent answers to the really big questions of life without having to listen to you quote scripture all the time."
Stephanie's face visibly soured, but she ignored Nick's insult. "How can you be the perfect God that I worship?" Stephanie asked. "You admit to making mistakes and Xsalma started a rebellion of sorts. That is not my idea of perfection."
"It depends on how one perceives 'perfect'," Acin-om said. "Yes our kind makes mistakes and has conflicts occasionally, but our motivations and heart attitudes are pure love: that is perfection. We don't have to be motivated by ideas of rewards and punishments, but are self-motivated by love always, even if we disagree sometimes on how best to express it. It will always be difficult for you to fully comprehend our existence until you share it. It is pure joy, but you must experience it to fully understand."
"Yeah, Stephanie's idea of perfect is primitive and influenced by religious dogma," Nick said. "Your conscience-bubble mind implant has done a really good job brainwashing her."
"It affects you too, Nick. You are just not consciously aware of it. It exerts a very subtle yet powerful effect on every human being, mostly on a deep subconscious level. You have to understand that the conscience-bubble broadcasts a certain standard message to every person's mind, but we have to inject specific messages into each individual's thoughts to optimize influence over that person's actions. We've known everyone intimately who has ever lived, and we have always customized our hidden interactions with people on an individual basis to moderate their actions."
Nick's left eyebrow crocked into an inquisitive gesture. "Give us an example of how you might use these techniques to prevent a rapist from hurting someone."
"Well, we can't always prevent it because people choose to go against our influence all the time. It pains us to see you hurt one another, and we feel terrible manipulating people, but we mostly have to let bad things happen for the greater good of the survival of your species. But to answer your question, we would typically try to induce fear of temporal consequences like getting caught and going to jail. This is the conscious influence. Then we would subliminally suggest to his subconscious that if he can be brought to justice in this life, it follows that God will justly punish him in the afterlife, and therefore he is in danger of eternal damnation. If he's familiar with the Bible, we'll try to use hellfire verses to enhance this fear of punishment. Then we might try to instill a reward thought to the subconscious by suggesting developing a consensual love relationship instead, and that this good behavior would produce more happiness in this life and lead to obtaining the reward of eternal life in heaven. We can do all this almost instantaneously, and you sense our influence more on an instinctive and intuitive level."
Nick's lower jaw dropped open and his eyes widened, as he shook his head. "I'm beginning to understand the depth of the mind-fuck you guys have been putting over on humanity for thousands of years."
"I'm not sure I approve either," Valerie said. "And watch the foul language, mister, or I'll take your video games away for a week."
"Fine," Nick said. "But then I'll just point out that you have no right to object to the Balazons. Threatening to take away my video game system is no different than what the Balazons do. You're using the same primitive reward and punishment techniques to manipulate my actions."
Suddenly Valerie felt as if Nick's words were a baseball bat and he'd just reached over and smacked her upside the head. He was right! What a terrible mother she must be to manipulate her son and interfere with his freedom of speech. She felt her face flush and her cheeks got hot, and she felt as if something like a hot dagger stabbed her mind. She felt terribly guilty, just terribly so.
Wait a minute. All parents have to set limits and teach right from wrong. She had punished Nick in much more severe ways over the years. This shouldn't bother her so much. She pushed the thought away as ridiculous, and suddenly felt normal, as if a weight had been lifted from her shoulders. "Hey, what just happened to me? You made me feel guilty, didn't you?"
Acin-om nodded. "Yes, I intensified my influence, just to give a demonstration of how we use the implant."
"I felt terrible too," Nick said, "for swearing and back talking. But then it went away."
"Notice how you both rejected the thoughts," Acin-om said. "I quickly pushed your consciousnesses to the limit so you would instinctively push back and reject the thoughts. I wanted to show you how we can only exert influence. You make all your own choices. Your own strong opinions and emotions often negate our efforts. But we still try to do the best we can."
Valerie frowned. She was annoyed. This felt like a type of mental rape, a violation of her most private inner thoughts.
"I'm sorry if you feel violated," Acin-om said. "But I know you understand our good intentions."
Valerie suddenly felt embarrassed, as she realized Acin-om was monitoring her every thought. But this kind of thing had been going on her whole life anyway, and she never knew it. There was no use trying to hide, and no use feeling ashamed about the reality that just was. Nonetheless, she couldn't help feeling exposed and naked, and like she couldn't trust her thinking now, as there was no way to really know which thoughts were exclusively her own anymore. "Are you influencing me even now to accept the things you are saying?"
"Of course, we love the entire human race and will always, in love, continue to do everything we can to help you. We make no apologies for that. The only difference between what we were doing yesterday, and what we are doing today, is that we are now visibly showing ourselves and plainly explaining all the reasons behind our mysterious workings with you humans."
Valerie thought again of her own methods in raising her kids over the years. She loved them dearly and did her best for them always, which entailed some encouragement and rewards for good behavior at times, and many instances of threats of punishment or actual disciplining. At times, her own children had accused her of trying to control them too much. She had felt so hurt that her own children had viewed her actions as manipulation, devoid of any love. But they had eventually matured enough to understand, and she hoped the same would prove true for humanity.
Raising children was not easy at all, and she realized in a deeper way now how the whole human race was evolutionary children to these beings. She totally understood now how love was motivating the Balazons to do anything and everything they could, even seemingly manipulative mind games, to ensure the survival of their "children", the entire human race. She would expect no less commitment from herself or any good parent.
"Then we're just like animals!" Stephanie suddenly said, voice quaking and almost breaking out into a sob. Valerie could tell from the tone of Stephanie's voice that her resistance was fading. "There's no God, no heaven. When we die, we just die. Never to think or feel again!"
Acin-om leaned forward and reached out a long skinny hand to Stephanie. "It's not as bad as you think, dear child. Take my hand and I will telepathically project images into your mind of what might be. I think you will be pleasantly surprised."
Stephanie recoiled with disgust and fell out of her mother's arms. "Stay away from me! Don't touch me! Don't even come near me!"
Stephanie picked herself up as Acin-om moved in closer, ignoring her commands. With the fierce determination of a child refusing to give up her belief in Santa Claus or the Easter bunny once she had learned the truth, she ran past Acin-om and bolted for the front door of the house.
She was halfway down the main hall when Valerie stood up to chase her. "Stephanie! Get back here this minute!" Valerie almost added, "And apologize to Acin-om," but stopped herself. That would be expecting too much, too soon. If she could just get Stephanie to listen, it would be enough.
Stephanie was blindly hurtling for the door. It seemed as if she was choking on the thick air of shattered dreams and to breathe a whiff of the outdoors might revive her. Her single-minded obsession drove her forward without thinking, brain apparently incapable of handling its own struggles and coordinating movement at the same time, for she tripped at the top of the stairs.
"Oh God!" Valerie said with alarm, and then realized the irony. It almost sounded as if she were praying to a being she no longer believed even existed. She witnessed her daughter fall headfirst down the long flight of stairs, several feet away from being able to pull her to safety. Valerie lost sight of her for several seconds, but thumping noises filled her mind with horrible images. She reached the top of the stairs in time to see Stephanie crack her head on the hard unforgiving linoleum floor. She was powerless to do anything except stand there.
"Oh my God!" she said again as she raised her hands to her cheeks and felt them hot against the palms of her hands.
Valerie ran down the stairs. Stephanie was out cold, and her head had a huge bloody gash on the side. She didn't try to move her, but felt for an evasive pulse which, once found, was frighteningly low. Valerie looked up at Nick at the top of the stairs. Acin-om was beside him.
"Call an ambulance," she said.
Nick, wide-eyed and unable to move for several seconds, eventually nodded his head in agreement and started for the kitchen phone. Acin-om held out her skinny arm and blocked Nick's progress. As Nick looked up with eyes that asked for an explanation, Acin-om gently shook her head.
"There is no need," she said calmly.
"What do you mean?" Nick asked.
Acin-om didn't reply, instead went downstairs and knelt at Stephanie's side. Valerie didn't say anything, but watched in amazement. Acin-om rested her hands on Stephanie's head, closed her huge alien eyes, and tilted her narrow bald head up to the ceiling. Soon Stephanie's gash disappeared from her head and reappeared on the same spot on Acin-om. The Balazon winced for a few seconds as if in pain, and the gash disappeared from her own narrow head as well.
"Stephanie will be all right in a few hours," she said. "She needs to rest now."
Valerie checked her daughter's pulse again. This time it was strong and healthy. She thanked Acin-om profusely as she picked up Stephanie in her loving arms, took her upstairs to her bedroom, and tucked her under the quilt. Valerie spent a few minutes holding Stephanie's hand and stroking her hair, thinking how grateful she was to Acin-om for the miracle healing but worrying about how she could help Stephanie upon awakening.
When Valerie finally came back downstairs, Acin-om and Nick were sitting on the couch. The alien said, "I was just telling your son about the very thing I had planned on telepathically communicating to Stephanie before she ran off. I was explaining that no humans born since sentient status have ever really died. They physically die of course, but we preserve their essences, storing them inside other humans." Acin-om looked at Valerie hopefully, as if unsure of how Valerie might react.
"Reincarnation," she said slowly, fascinated at the mere idea, and sat across in the love seat.
"Not quite," Acin-om said. "At the moment of death, an individual's basic essence--their spirit, or soul if you will--is released into the atmosphere, where it's drawn to the strongest natural radiation source, the sun. If allowed to reach there, it would quickly burn up, except we have this entire planet encased in an invisible containment shield. A team of Balazons is solely dedicated to collecting these souls and depositing them in host bodies.
"You see, though we are very powerful, there are certain things we cannot do: we cannot create higher forms of self-conscious life. That is something the universal force of nature must do over a slow process of millions of years, but we can preserve life's higher essence once it has sprung forth. Perhaps now you can understand a little better how Xsalma's misplaced love for humanity drove him to do what he did. He knew a few deaths now would make no difference in the end, for everyone is really alive."
Nick said, "That's also why some have had near death experiences."
Acin-om nodded. "To humans, death resembles being pulled through a tunnel towards a bright light. In the past, we sometimes deposited people back into the same physical body they had come from so they could come 'back from the dead' and reinforce the belief in an afterlife to others. But for those allowed to completely expire, we immediately deposit their human essence into another person. Anyone will do. We have found similar species' essences are so compatible that one human could potentially hold trillions of individuals."
"Then why don't I remember those past lives," Valerie asked, bewildered.
"You don't fully understand," Acin-om said patiently, as if she were a teacher explaining a difficult concept to a student. "Every human is a distinct and separate individual, but he or she can also serve as a storage tank, so to speak, for many more individuals. The dead are dormant, lifeless, and unconscious inside their human hosts. You won't even be aware they're there."
"Unless you hypnotize yourself," Nick added.
"True. Sometimes, in a deeply relaxed or meditative state, one can reach inside their mind and vicariously live the experiences of the other individuals inside them, but mostly they lie dormant until the exultation stage. As humans evolve to become like us, the many individuals within also evolve, eventually emerging to become many separate exultation entities. If even one human can be alive at the moment the transformation takes place, that human will contain more than enough storage space to birth every human born since sentient status. Think of it. One single human being, an egg if you will, bursting forth to release untold trillions of life forms.
"Once you die, this transformation will seem to take place immediately. You won't be aware of the passing of time, even billions of years, while you are dead. So from your perspective, you will indeed 'go to heaven' immediately after you physically die. Your next conscious awareness will be as if you have just awakened from a restful sleep to a new and wonderful life. For instance, the baser side of your human nature--the so-called evil side of hate, lust, selfishness, desire for power and the like--will no longer influence you, but you will be full of love, joy, peace and contentment. And you will desire, like us, to help other races in the universe attain the same ultimate potential you will have achieved."
"That's so wonderful," Valerie said. "So everybody goes to 'heaven' in the end, regardless of anything 'good' or 'evil' they have done."
"Well, yes and no," Acin-om said. "There is still a danger. We've seen it happen on other planets before, even after a fairly successful unveiling. This revelation does not positively motivate everyone, but rather some become emboldened to start actively resisting their conscience-bubbles because they no longer fear death. They choose to live lives of selfish, passionate, hedonism, which can eventually destroy the implant. Over time, this attitude slowly spreads to others, who do likewise. And the more we try to reassert influence and control over people, the more resentment and rebellion against us grows. Eventually, we are totally rejected and have no choice but to abandon the planet. Left to your own devices and without the implant, self-extinction usually soon follows. Of course, if this happens, then nobody is going to 'heaven'. Everything is a delicate balancing act, and we cannot do it without your support. We need your help in order to help you."
Acin-om took a deep breath and motioned with her hands, as if she were gearing up to tackle another difficult subject. She started a sentence, stopped as if searching for the words to communicate, and then started again. "You asked me earlier why anyone would want us to leave. In addition to the dangers I've already outlined, what happened with Stephanie is a graphic answer to that question. Many humans find it difficult to give up their belief systems in favor of new understanding and will bitterly oppose us, even to their deaths, all in the name of religion. Religions we, ourselves, had inspired as a temporary preserving influence until full knowledge could be openly shared."
Valerie nodded. "I believe it." When she thought of the horrible wars and atrocities done through the centuries in the name of religion, she knew the Balazon spoke the truth. Fanaticism would always be alive and well on planet earth. All she could do was choose to react positively and hope enough others would do the same. She wondered how her husband would react when he found out.
She suddenly looked at her watch and realized it was almost six. She leapt from the love seat and raced for the kitchen phone. "I think I'd better call the police," she said. "Jeff should have been home by now."
Acin-om immediately jumped up and followed behind. By the time Valerie had grabbed the handset, Acin-om gently reached over, took it from her hand, and hung it up.
"I already know where he is," Acin-om said. "After Xsalma's people attacked him last, I sent him to Darryl's place for help. Jeff is fine and will be home shortly."