Chapter Eight: Aliens come down to our level and do "good"
Jeff slammed the front door and raced upstairs to find Valerie exiting the main bathroom, holding one pink towel around her limp wet hair, another wrapped around her body. Jeff almost mowed her over in his haste to get into the shower.
"What's your hurry?" she asked.
Jeff stopped and stared at his wife. The upper left corner of his lip rose in a snarl. "I've been away all night and that's all you can say? There were riots going on. I could have been killed! I'm sure you wouldn't have minded, though. Then you could marry your sweetheart Acin-om."
Valerie's hands dropped from her head, taking the towel with them. "What?" She rolled her eyes, threw her arms in the air, and headed for the bedroom. "You're being ridiculous. I knew exactly what happened to you. The police stunned you last night and took you into custody. You were being held in a make-shift jail cell in Star City High School for rioting."
"I wasn't rioting! How did you know anyway?"
"Acin-om told me."
"Of course. I should have known. And here I thought you'd be worried because they wouldn't let me call."
Valerie allowed the towel covering her body to drop to the floor and ignored his comment, while selecting a comfortable pair of jeans and sweatshirt from her closet. "Acin-om is a really nice person. I wish you'd realize that. She's even helping out your boss at your work."
"She doesn't know anything about pharmacy. Allan wouldn't allow it."
"I'm afraid he already has. It's not just you. They're helping people all over--at work, home, play--"
"I'm calling the police. She can't do that." Jeff raced for the phone and started dialing.
"Don't even bother," she told him. "The government has already passed emergency legislation that allows the Balazons to do whatever benevolent miracles they wish. You see, this is the time they prove their sincerity. Besides, the police have better things to do, such as patrolling the streets for more fanatical rioters." She emphasized her last two words, but Jeff restrained his anger.
"They've also set up a special twenty-four hour information channel dedicated to the Balazons and the things they're doing. If you want to read about them, books and magazines are expected to flood the market in about one week, mostly written by scientists and top government officials. They wish to educate us, Jeff, about themselves and so many more things we can't even begin to imagine."
Jeff didn't respond. Lost in thought, he trudged into the shower, adjusted the water temperature, and pulled the handle to redirect it through the nozzle. He found the water warm and inviting, and wished he could stay there for quite some time. Soon, however, the water became cool, despite repeated attempts at turning it up.
Jeff got out of the shower, dressed, and went downstairs. Valerie had already set the table for breakfast. Even before he had reached the last step, he smelled the delectable aroma of bacon and eggs. His mouth started to salivate.
"Good morning," Valerie said cheerfully.
Jeff frowned and sat down. "What is Acin-om doing at work?"
"Are you still worrying about that? Acin-om isn't out to steal your job. Go to work if you want or stay home. I don't think it matters today. Eventually, though, you'll have to go because you have to be retrained."
"But who gets paid for the hours she's worked?"
"I'm sure Mr. Armstrong will pay you. If not, Acin-om can miraculously supply all our needs. Acin-om says eventually--thousands of years from now, in the new world--people won't use money. Won't even need to work for a living. We'll be able to spend our time on pleasant, fulfilling, and exciting tasks instead of the hum-drum jobs we do now."
"I don't plan on being around in thousands of years."
"So you're saying you want to get all you can right now?"
"That's not what I meant," Jeff said, voice rising.
"Oh, forget about it. Let's not argue." After a moment's pause, she said, "Your friend Darryl called this morning. He's very excited about the Balazons and wanted to talk to you."
"Yeah, I believe it. I could see he was going to fall for all this crap the other day."
"You'll come around eventually too. You're just confused right now."
Jeff's lips puckered up as if he had swallowed alum or sour orange juice. "If anyone is confused, it's you."
Valerie shrugged as she stuffed a bite-full of egg into her mouth, and didn't say much for the next ten minutes. Valerie never had been one to argue, usually went out of her way to avoid it. When they had finished, she started to clear the table.
Jeff grabbed his keys and coat and opened the front door, determined to carry on with life as usual. He wasn't going to avoid work simply because Acin-om was there. Besides, if he did go, he might be able to find out something to confirm his gut feeling.
"Please don't let the kids talk to Acin-om while I'm gone," he said. "I want to minimize our contact with them as much as possible, until I know more about them. OK?"
Valerie didn't answer, just kept doing the dishes. Jeff figured that that was about as good a response as he could expect and left it alone.
On the drive to work, he listened to the radio.
"An independent poll shows forty-two percent of Americans are still distrustful of the Balazons. Another forty-seven percent believe them and eleven percent are undecided. When asked how it affected their moral perceptions, the forty-seven percent category almost unanimously agreed conventional morals are now obsolete and expressed a desire to remove their conscience-bubbles.
"American Balazon spokesperson Mordak said it might be possible to remove the implant at some time in the future, but refused to comment on how long that might be, stating it depended on the human response to their presence and other factors beyond their control. Mordak said their primary focus is to help humans become accustomed to their existence and the future would, hopefully, take care of itself.
"In other parts of the world, the Balazons have received a more favorable response. In Africa, approximately eighty percent have accepted the aliens and their commitment for aid. By the end of the day, it is estimated the Balazons will have fed and clothed thirty percent of the poor and prevented the spread of most communicable diseases. Apparently the Balazons could do more, but are cautious about initiating changes too quickly, claiming people need time to adjust. When asked what their ultimate goal was for the continent, African Balazon spokesperson, Esta, commented they hope to fully end racial discrimination and provide full and equal access to improved education.
"In a special announcement this morning, Khur-ak indicated a group of Balazons are presently combining their mental energies to affect the world ecological system, hoping to restore it to the tropical paradise it was before the dark stage. Over time they will repair the ozone layer, regenerate desert lands, and affect the climate to become more moderate."
Jeff clicked off the radio. It was starting to irritate him.
When he arrived at work and parked in his usual spot, his car started to glow brightly.
"What the heck," Jeff said as he leapt out, fearful of what might happen should he stay. When he took a few steps back, he got his answer. "What are you doing?"
"I am Talazon," the Balazon said. "I am designated for this area of space. To help people whenever possible. I have repaired your car."
"Oh," Jeff said. "But there was nothing wrong with it."
"There were several small dents in the exterior, a minor oil leak, and your right front wheel CV joint needed repair. Is there anything else I can do for you?"
"Yeah," Jeff said with a resolve to test Talazon's limits. Give me a million dollars."
"I am sorry but I am not authorized to grant that request."
Jeff snorted and walked away, berating himself for liking the special treatment. He heard a man drop a grocery bag and curse; Talazon jumped to his aid.
The entrance to Armstrong's pharmacy was lined up with people, so Jeff entered through the back. Betty noticed Jeff and said, "Wow, it's incredible. When I saw them on TV last night, I never dreamed they could do so much. It started with just a small group watching, but soon crowds came. And before you knew it, we couldn't beat them away with a stick."
"What do you mean?"
"Go into the dispensary and see for yourself." Betty pointed at the swinging door.
"I think I will, thank you."
There were scores of people crowded around the dispensary, some even had prescriptions. The owner, Allan Armstrong, was in the corner, sipping coffee, smiling, and watching everything happening with obvious unbridled joy. Acin-om was spending most of her time with the people, answering questions about herself and patient counseling, while another Balazon seemed to be mentally directing the dispensing operations.
When someone would hand Acin-om a prescription, she would set it on the counter. The other Balazon would just glance at it and move the script aside. Then the computer would type automatically, print off labels, and the stock bottle would float off the shelf as if a ghost were directing it; the bottle would unscrew its lid, pour the exact amount of medication into a prescription vial, and the label would attach itself. Acin-om would then motion with her long skinny fingers and the vial would float into her glowing hands. The alien pharmacist didn't seem to frighten the customers either, who were mostly curious or amazed.
"There you are Mrs. Reichston," Acin-om said and handed the old lady her medication. "Take one tablet per day and it should completely clear up all symptoms of your arthritis. There are absolutely no side effects."
This was the kind of incompetence Jeff was afraid of. Patient response to medication varied. There was no way she could make such a claim. He pushed his way through some people and into the dispensary.
"Good morning, Jeff," Acin-om said, but the other didn't reply.
Jeff immediately brushed by the other Balazon too and grabbed the stock bottle that had been used. The label read Zanthatar. He had never heard of it. The bottle didn't yield any clues about its identity either, as there was no other writing such as therapeutic classification, generic name, manufacturer, or dosing directions: nothing except the name Zanthatar in big black letters on a white bottle. He turned to Mr. Armstrong.
"What's going on here?" he asked.
"She's been creating new drugs for everybody."
"What? Untested drugs? She can't do that."
Mr. Armstrong crinkled his nose up slightly, and waved his hand nonchalantly. "Don't worry about it, Jeff. I trust the Balazons. Besides, this morning's legislation approves it."
"But it doesn't seem right. I mean what... what. "
Mr. Armstrong smiled knowingly. "Don't worry, Jeff. I know what you're thinking and there is no need for concern. The Balazons are here to help, not destroy our economy and way of life overnight. You will notice we are charging a reasonable fee for every prescription, certainly no more than the price of medicines already on the market. She assures me she could simply heal everyone and I believe her. But that's not the way the Balazons do business. Our society requires time to adjust. The Balazons don't intend to do away with every pharmacist, doctor, lawyer, judge, or police officer immediately. It will happen eventually but that's many years into the future. In the meantime, I think your livelihood is safe. Accept the artificially engineered environment they create and go with the flow."
"I don't want to go with the flow. I'd rather get there myself, thank you very much."
Mr. Armstrong's expression became hard. "As long as you work in my store, you'll do things my way. I like what we're doing here. I feel good about it. You can adjust or get out." Allan Armstrong left.
Jeff stood in the center of the dispensary, bombarded on all sides by the activity. Bottles flew around his head like angry bees, and computer keys rattled off, sounding like machine gun fire, while new stock bottles were constantly materializing out of nowhere.
"I'm going for a coffee break," he mumbled and stormed out, feet clicking hard on the tile floor. He swung the staff room door open hard enough to make a loud thud as it rebounded off the wall.
Nobody was in the small room.
Jeff poured himself a cup of freshly brewed coffee and sat down, noticing a discarded newspaper on the table.
The first page read "Aliens-Friends or Foes?" The article described how one person had been abducted and taken on board a space vessel and tortured. Another person had objects in her house fly around at random, sometimes hitting her. In another family, a five year old had cursed her parents with the foulest of words before attacking them with a steak knife.
Further down the page Jeff read that Mordak had an explanation for each incident. The story went into great depth about Xsalma and his reasons for doing what he did, but Jeff skimmed it quickly as he'd heard it all already.
Jeff took a sip of coffee and flipped through the paper. One article was titled "Xsalma--Sorry for Millions of deaths." It explained how Xsalma now regretted his decision to oppose Khur- ak, and believed he should have waited for the wisdom of the Council to decide the matter. The article ended on a positive note, promising those millions would live again if humanity could somehow see fit to forgive the Balazons, accept their aid, and survive until the exultation stage.
Jeff read another article by several prominent scientists, who detailed and summarized vast amounts of technological data on the aliens. Basic to their research, the scientists studied several Balazon volunteers to learn about the source of their power, a plentiful energy reservoir called Forsacon. The Balazons had the ability to mentally harness this raw power source that surrounded all organic and inorganic substances in the universe, enabling them to do seemingly miraculous things. The reason humans had never discovered Forsacon before was because its vibratory signature phase shifts it into the seventh dimension, making it undetectable by mankind's primitive science. The scientists went on to conclude that this energy was more powerful than nuclear, and easily manipulated by highly evolved minds, but only highly intricate and complex machines--currently beyond human technology--would ever be able to harness it.
The editorial section talked about the continued need for moral constraint. The writer pointed out humans should still try to act as if there was a God who assigns people to heaven or hell. Humanity was still in a precarious position and shouldn't take their new found freedom too far.
Jeff sighed and took another sip of coffee. The world he'd always known was dissolving around him, being replaced by the new information flooding the earth every second the Balazons remained visible. He felt a nagging fear sear his brain like a hot iron, as if a sixth sense was warning him of danger.
"I won't trust them, no matter what others think or do," Jeff whispered.
Don't let fear rule you, his inner voice said. Open up to new possibilities. They are who they say they are. What other explanation could there be?
No, it was impossible!
Men used to think it was impossible to run the mile in under four minutes, fly, harness nuclear energy, break the sound barrier, or go to the moon. Change your way of thinking and admit the possibility and you will see.
No! Jeff frantically flipped the newspaper, eyes and hands working in perfect unison. He was searching for something, not sure what, but he'd know when he found it.
"There!" Jeff said out loud as he pointed to the headline, giving more force to his words. "There is your proof. For every expert who says one thing, I can find another who will say the exact opposite."
The headline read "Michigan Scientist explains the real truth about the Balazons." Jeff quickly devoured the article. The scientist's name was Tim Forger, and he'd worked in a top security chemical weapons division of the Armed Forces before retirement. He theorized the whole Balazon controversy could be due to a leak of powerful hallucinatory chemicals they'd been working on for use in combat. One part per several trillion could induce massive hallucinations to the population of an average sized state.
If a small amount of the gas had escaped, light winds could have conceivably spread it across the entire North American continent. In reality, people were most likely sitting or standing in one spot with their eyes half-closed, looking like drugged out hippies from the sixties. The rest of the world was probably wondering why Canada, the United States, and Mexico had stopped working and were babbling gibberish about Balazons.
It was no more a far out suggestion than omnipotent beings pretending to be God.
The sound of the staff-room door opening snapped Jeff to attention. It was Kim and Gabriella, cashier and merchandiser respectively. They both poured some coffee and sat down.
"So what do you think about the universe today, Jeff," Kim asked cheerfully as she took a sip of the hot liquid.
"I'm really not sure yet," he replied. "How about you?"
"Oh, I think it's wonderful. I've been watching Acin-om and her friend all day and I'm amazed at what they can do. Imagine the benefits of learning from them."
Jeff crinkled his eyebrows up in a thoughtful pose. "You accept them then?"
"Oh, yes, definitely."
"How can you? You know what they did. I was one who survived their attacks. Believe me, they are capable of much cruelty."
Kim's look hardened a little. "I've been attacked too, Jeff. My physical life wasn't in danger, but my beliefs and everything I held dear to me was assaulted. You see, I have been a Christian since I was twelve, and had believed the Bible to be the inspired Word of God--up until last night. The Balazons have helped to re-focus my understanding of reality. Quite frankly, I feel much freer now, as if a burden has been lifted from my shoulders. Religion can be quite restrictive. I don't harbor any grudge against them for being slightly dishonest. They love us so much, after all."
"Slightly dishonest?" Jeff shot back. "Love? I don't consider blatant deception for six thousand years slightly dishonest. Any creatures who truly loved us wouldn't have done that."
Kim lightly pounded her fists on the tabletop. "I have feelings too, and believe me, they're as real to me as yours are to you. But I know emotions can be deceptive. My Balazon representative explained it to me last night. When I first became a Christian, I felt very 'spiritual'--but this was really just psychological rewards offered by the conscience-bubble because I heeded its moral message to my heart.
"Why, I even prayed for my big brother who was in a wheelchair, paralyzed since a car accident when he was ten. He was healed instantly and jumped up! Boy, the whole house was so excited we told everyone about it. I prayed for many others in those days too, strangers even, and a lot of them were healed. Now I find out the Balazons had performed these 'miracles' as a confirmation to others of the validity of my message. I brought many people to Christ in those days, or should I say Khur-ak. I did my part to be a positive influence in the world. Like the Scriptures say, be the salt of the earth to keep it from being destroyed in the dark stage."
Jeff snorted. "Show me where it says that. I'm not an expert in theology, but I don't think it does."
"That's what it means. You shouldn't automatically disregard everything they say because you had one bad experience."
Jeff looked at Gabriella. "What do you think?"
"I'm not getting in the middle of this argument. I haven't been terrorized or threatened in any way."
"You don't have to have been to be affected."
Then Gabriella seemed to relent. "Well, I'm still undecided. I do think extra-terrestrial life is possible, and I can't deny their powers, but as to their motives..."
She tilted her head to the ceiling and said slowly, "W-e-l-l it might be like a friend told me. Perhaps they're inter-galactic scientists doing one big psychology experiment. They take a belief we have about God, and create all the necessary alibis to work themselves into that role to see how far we'll believe them. Then maybe they'll tell us the truth to see how we'll react. However, I don't think they're out to harm us; if they were, they could have done it before now. They certainly have the power to do so."
Jeff turned to Kim again. "Well at least they haven't taken away your job."
Kim shrugged her shoulders. "They're not here to steal anyone's job, just to help. Once today, I had a lineup of five customers. Before I could call for another till, a Balazon popped out of nowhere, waved her hands over the top of the keypad, and the buttons started beeping. Soon, the sales total had rung up and the customer's items floated over to me. All I had to do was hold the bag and in they went. Wow! Nobody seemed to mind either. I think seeing them in a store grants them credibility they wouldn't find elsewhere. She disappeared for the rest of the day, but it was nice to know she cared and was there to help me when I needed it." Her tone became somewhat chiding. "They're here to help, Jeff. They're sacrificing their time and energy to lift us up, not bring us down."
"I had a similar experience," Gabriella said. "I was upstairs trying to find some facial tissue but couldn't. I was getting pretty frustrated when one popped out of nowhere and told me to look under a pile of boxes in the corner. It actually gave me a weird feeling to realize these things are watching us all the time, waiting to materialize and do some good deeds. Why, I bet there's several in this room right now. Ask them to show themselves and they probably will."
Jeff shook his head. "Let's not, OK?"
She was right, though. It was eerie to think the Balazons had watched not only his own life, and all humans' lives since the beginning of time--every private act, crime, or indecency has been open to the Balazons. No one was exempt. The Balazons were everywhere, like the air, invisible, but sometimes exhibiting a definite effect when it decided to blow. The reason more didn't show themselves, he supposed, was humans were still a little uneasy. In time, that would change too.
Jeff got up to leave. "I suppose I should go do some work."
He felt calmer now, as he gently opened the door and walked past the vitamin display. Everything seemed so orderly, as if nothing unusual was happening.
The pharmacy was still quite busy, but Acin-om was resting in the corner with her eyes closed. "Hello," she said without opening her eyes, as Jeff approached. "Don't mind me. I'm renewing my mental energy. The amount required to restructure random atmospheric matter into specific molecular designs is enormous." She opened her eyes. "But I'm glad you're back now so I can bring you up to date."
Jeff's grimace showed he was sure. "I wouldn't even be listening to you if Allan wasn't forcing me to."
"I know. But I'm willing to carry your disdain now in the hope you will someday carry my joy."
"That's not going to happen."
"Perhaps, but that's not what we're here to discuss." Acin-om briefly introduced her companion, Parfon; Jeff grunted a non-polite response. Then she turned to face the cupboards and opened one at center chest level. The shelves revealed a whole array of new drugs. "The system is very simple. There is one drug for every major therapeutic classification. By the end of the day, I will create about two thousand new drugs to cover the less common disorders."
Jeff's eyes trailed across the shelves. The products were lined up alphabetically from Albathem in the top left corner to Xtantor on the bottom right--all boring white bottles with their names in big black letters. Dromolin floated off the middle shelf and glided over to the other Balazon dispenser.
Acin-om said, "At this very moment, Balazons are equitably distributing to drug companies all necessary information to make these drugs themselves. We are simply creating them as a short term solution."
"We need difficulties and trials to overcome ourselves," Jeff said. "You can't hand everything to us on a silver platter. Humans aren't built to work that way."
Acin-om calmly raised her hand in a gesture that said relax. "You're still thinking in the old pattern. You will understand one day."
Jeff's eyebrows rose in astonishment and suspicion. "What do you mean?"
"I'm not at liberty to say. There is much you must learn and embrace beforehand. But believe me, it will be beyond your wildest dreams." Jeff's upper lip curled in disgust as he prepared to let loose a verbal assault, but Acin-om abruptly left to help Parfon.
Jeff took a prescription for Cardizem from a lady and started to fill it. But he couldn't decide which of the new heart drugs he should use, as they weren't labeled properly. All they had were their stupid names in big black letters.
"Having trouble?" Acin-om suddenly asked, peering over his shoulder.
Jeff thought she almost sounded arrogant. "I'm not having more difficulty than any normal human would have. You haven't labeled these bottles properly."
"Oh," Acin-om said with a smile. She waved her hand and all the bottles instantly became labeled with therapeutic classification. She also created a list of the new drug names cross-referenced against their human counterparts. "This should help you too."
Jeff snorted as he grabbed the bottle marked Antihypertensive. The word above this classification read Potatal. "Who makes up these stupid names anyway?"
Acin-om seemed unmoved by the comment as she said, "The group of Balazons in charge of medical advancement."
"You Balazons think you're so great," Jeff said as he counted out the Potatal. "Your wonderful plans are probably as stupid as these drug names."
Acin-om ignored Jeff's snide comment and calmly kept working. The vial Jeff had filled suddenly leapt from his hand. A label attached itself, and it floated over to Parfon.
As Parfon counseled the person, an elderly man came to the counter with a new prescription, and Jeff went to take it. The script was for Voltaren, a drug for arthritis. "It'll be about ten minutes."
The elderly man nodded. "I've been hearing lots about how you're handing out alien medication. I want you to know right now I don't want none. I'm not going to let you use me as a guinea pig. I know Voltaren has worked before, and I don't want to try anything else." The man leaned forward and motioned to Jeff with his finger for emphasis. "You understand me?"
Jeff nodded. He didn't have any qualms about sticking to the old methods. He was looking forward to telling Acin-om what to do with her version of Voltaren. If she protested, too bad. Patient's request after all. Even Allan wouldn't refute that one.
Acin-om came over to Jeff's side. "I overheard your request," she said smoothly. "I assure you our drugs are completely safe and effective."
"No way," the man responded. "I don't trust your alien potions any more than I trust you."
Jeff smiled. This was his kind of customer.
"But you will get total relief from any inflammation and--"
"I said no and that's final!"
Acin-om closed her eyes, as though she were concentrating on something. "I can sense you are upset. You are currently experiencing a great deal of pain."
"Way to go Einstein," the man said. "How did you figure that one out?"
Acin-om quickly opened her eyes and reached out with her long skinny hand. The man recoiled, but was not fast enough. Acin-om had touched him before he could step back.
"What do you think you're doing?" he asked.
"I decided to make an exception."
"An exception? What do you mean?" Then, after a few seconds, comprehension shone on the man's face. "Hey, my pain is gone! It was aching to beat the band when I came in, but now it's gone."
"Yes," Acin-om assured him. "For the rest of your life, arthritis will never again haunt you."
Tears started to appear in the corner of the man's eyes. "I've suffered for years. Used to take almost an hour to get out of bed in the morning because I was so stiff. I think the pain made me a little miserable. I was wrong about you. How can I thank you?"
"By not telling anybody what I did," Acin-om said.
The man looked puzzled, but didn't argue. "No problem. Your secret is safe with me." He turned and walked away.
Jeff understood. Acin-om probably didn't want people to know, or there would be even bigger crowds around the pharmacy. Nobody would want to buy drugs if they could get a complete healing.
The rest of the day seemed to pass rather quickly. Jeff mastered the new "system" rather easily. Other than in name, they were all very similar: one drug for each disease state--one tablet taken per day, no side effects. He was never able to get a rise out of Acin-om either, despite repeated insults; she remained very clinical and detached for the rest of the day.
At five o'clock, Jeff took off immediately, while Acin-om stayed behind to show the night pharmacist a few things. He wanted to get home before Acin-om went to his house and Valerie let her in to start infecting the kids again. If Jeff got there before her, he would carry more weight in preventing it.