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This Is Only A Test

By Demospoet All Rights Reserved ©

Mystery / Fantasy

Chapter 1

Could the fate of the Earth hinge on a casual conversation in a bar? It’s a local neighborhood bar. Not trendy, certainly. But not dark and dingy either. In fact, the bar itself is a nice, classic, polished hardwood item, and the stools are fairly new and comfortable. The bartender is in his 30’s. Rather rakish looking, but very attentive and quite professional in his drink mixing.

The only person at the bar is a man, fortyish, attractive, well-dressed in a business suit. He must have worked overtime and dropped in here to relax before heading home. He wears no wedding ring, but there’s still the impression of one, so he must be either separated or recently divorced. Or maybe he just took it off so he could troll for babes.

And here comes one into the bar. She’s blond, beautiful, and dressed to flaunt her abundant attractions. She sees the man and joins him at the bar. To his astonishment she says, “Hello, handsome! Buy me a single malt scotch and I’ll let you try out your best pickup line on me.”

The man is really flustered, of course. “Well, gosh! Uh, okay, sure, Miss. Two single malt scotches here bartender. Uh, let me see. Okay, the fact is, well, you’re just far too gorgeous to be a real woman. I’ll bet you’re actually an extra-terrestrial in human disguise scouting us out before you invade the Earth.” He gazes at her eagerly and adds, “My name is Gerry, by the way.”

  She looks at him appraisingly. “I’m Celeste. That is one of the better pick-up lines I’ve heard in a while.”

  The bartender brings over a bottle and says, “The only single-malt I have is Glenmorangie. Is that okay?”

  “Sure, that’s perfect,” says Celeste. Then turning back to Gerry,“Now I suppose you want us to have sex in order for me to prove I’m really human.”

  Gerry nearly falls off his bar stool. “Wow! Uh, I mean that would certainly be one way to prove it.”

  “Slow down, now, cowboy. I think we should get a bit better acquainted before we explore more intimate options. What’s another way I could prove to you I’m not an alien?”

Gerry recovers his cool and says, “Well, I’ve read that a good way to identify an alien would be to have it tell a joke. Humor is supposedly the most difficult part of human culture for an alien to understand. In fact, humor may be a unique quality of the human mind. So can you tell me a joke?”

  She thinks about it for a few moments as she eyes him skeptically. The bartender brings them their drinks, then busies himself at the other end of the bar cleaning glasses and wiping down the bar, but he’s obviously interested in their conversation.

  After a few moments Celeste says, “Okay. Here’s a joke for you. Two Arcturians slither into a brooble. The green Arcturian says to the brooblepeller ‘I’ll have a zot on the gloups with a twist.’ The brooblepeller mixes the zot and twists it into the green Arcturian’s gill cover. The green Arcturian’s antennae vibrate in delight. Then the brooblepeller asks the orange Arcturian what it wants. I’ll just have a single-malt scotch, please. The brooblepeller sneers, ‘We don’t serve any single-malt scotch.’ The orange Arcturian’s antennae wave about uncertainly for a moment. Then it says ‘Well, okay, then, make it a double!’”

  Gerry ogles at Celeste flabbergastedly, then laughs uncontrollably for several seconds. Finally, catching his breath he says, “I don’t know why I’m laughing; that’s really a pretty lame joke. On the other hand, it certainly caught me by surprise. In fact, it’s actually a very intelligent joke, especially if you just made it up on the spur of the moment. I mean a real alien obviously wouldn’t tell a joke about aliens, using alien words, because it would tend to arouse suspicion. On the other hand, a really clever alien might tell that joke figuring that humans wouldn’t think an alien would be so obvious. On the other hand…”

“Just how many hands do you have?” quips Celeste. “Maybe you’re the alien here. Can you prove to me you’re not?”

“Well, gosh, no, I really can’t. You see it’s logically impossible to prove a negative proposition like that.”

“I thought you were making me a positive proposition,” grins Celeste. 

“What I mean is that for me to try to prove I’m not an alien is like asking me to prove that ghosts or fairies or …aliens don’t exist. You can prove they do exist by finding one; but you can’t prove they don’t exist, just because you haven’t found one yet.”

Celeste replies, “I thought I just proved I’m not an alien by telling you a joke.”

“Yes, well, I guess you proved it to my satisfaction, but not beyond the shadow of a doubt. So, uh, shall we have that sex now?”

“Whoa, pardner!  If you’re convinced I’m not an alien, then we don’t need to have sex to prove it. Besides, we certainly won’t leave here together until you prove to me you’re not an alien.”

“Okay. Well, let me see. If I were an alien trying to pass as human, I would probably have to be able to read human minds to impersonate a human successfully. And, since I didn’t know what you were thinking when you told your joke, that should prove I’m human.”

“Sorry. You could have read my mind and faked surprise when I told the joke. Besides, reading minds is easy. I can tell exactly what you’re thinking right now.”

“Oh, really! Then what am I thinking?”

“At first, of course, you were thinking about sex. But now you’re thinking of a beautiful golden butterfly with purple spots on it floating languidly over a field of wildflowers in bright sunshine.”

“That’s not fair! You put that image in my mind when you said it. I wasn’t thinking of a butterfly until you made me think it!”

“It’s not my fault you’re so suggestible. But I still think you may be an alien. You really must prove to me you’re human before we go any farther.”

“Okay,” says Gerry, “how about a riddle? What’s black and white and red all over?”

“Even an alien would have heard that one. It’s a newspaper.”

“No! It’s an embarrassed zebra!” crows Gerry. 

“And you said my joke was lame. I guess the only way to prove we’re both human is to have sex,” says Celeste deadpan. 

Gerry’s eyebrows nearly disappear into his hair and his smile momentarily lights up the dimness of the bar. “Well, if you insist, my dear.”

Just then, the bartender interjects. “Wait a minute! I’ve been listening to you talk and I think you may both be aliens doing some kind of weird mating ritual or something before you invade the Earth. How about letting me pose a test for the two of you?”

Gerry is indignant. “Hey, man, how about you just butt-out and stick to refilling the drinks. Let’s have another round.”

“Now don’t get pissy,” says Celeste. “I’d like to hear what he has to say. I’m having fun.”

The bartender refills their glasses and says, “I’m not trying to cut in on you, bud. It’s just that I read a lot of science- fiction, so I find the topic of aliens quite fascinating. You know in sci-fi movies aliens are always depicted as having super powers and super intellect but I’ve always figured that real aliens are probably rather ordinary beings except that their civilization may be somewhat ahead of us in technology. For instance, if you visited an Amazon tribe that had never seen an outsider, they would see you as an alien, but would you know how to explain to them how a cell phone works, or an airplane? I think a real alien visitor would find himself in a similar position.”

Gerry says, “Well, I guess the movie wouldn’t be very exciting if the alien was just an ordinary person, would it? Besides, movie aliens have to sort of embody humanity’s fears or ideals. Maybe we need an alien perspective in order to really understand our own social quirks.”

“That’s right,” replies the bartender. “Humans are like fish that don’t realize they live in water until they are caught and try to breathe air. We could use an alien’s viewpoint to help us understand ourselves better. But to get that viewpoint, we first have to find a real alien.”

“Okay,” says Celeste. “So how would you test for an alien?”

“I think I’d pose a moral problem. Aliens come from a totally different culture, so they should have different ideas about morality.”

“That makes sense I guess,” says Celeste.

“There’s this one psychological test of moral thinking I’ve read about that might be a good test for aliens,” says the bartender. “Can I try it on the two of you?”

Gerry is still feeling disappointed. “I thought we were about to leave and uh, you know.” 

“There’s plenty of time for that. You’ll get what I promised. Let’s try this morality test first,” says Celeste.

The bartender puts his elbows on the bar and leans toward them. “Okay. This is called the Trolley car test. Imagine you’re the driver of a trolley car and its brakes have gone out and it’s coming to a fork in the track. You can see that on the right fork there are five workers on the track that will be hit by the runaway trolley. On the left track there are only two workers. As the driver, you must decide which track to direct the trolley to. So which way do you go?”

“That’s obvious,” says Gerry. “You take the track that has the two workers so you minimize the number of deaths.”

Celeste says “Yes, I agree. It’s a simple choice that you can’t avoid anyway. So where’s the moral dilemma?”

“That comes next. Everyone would probably make the same choice you did. But now we change the situation a little. You have the same runaway trolley but it’s on a straight track that will definitely kill five workers if it’s not stopped. But this time you’re not the driver. He had a heart attack and can’t do anything. You’re on a bridge above the track observing the situation. You can stop the trolley before it hits the five workers if you can find something large enough to throw onto the track. The only thing available is a fat man walking on the bridge. Do you throw him onto the track and save the five workers by killing him?”

“Now wait a minute!” says Gerry, beginning to feel his liquor. “That’s an entirely different situation! A different color of a kettle of fish or something.”

The bartender has refilled their glasses again. “How is it different? In the first situation you made a decision to kill two people in order to save five. In this case, you kill only one to save five.”

“Yes, but you have the choice of doing nothing in the second situation,” says Celeste.

“But you had that choice in the first case too. If you did nothing, it might have gone on the track that would kill the five workers. In the second case, you know the five will be killed unless you throw the fat man onto the track.”

“But you’re committing cold blooded murder in the second case. It just wouldn’t be right,” says Gerry indignantly.

Celeste nods and says, “Also, maybe the fat man is a medical researcher who has just found a cure for cancer and it will be lost if he is killed, whereas the five workers are probably just ignorant peons.”

The bartender looks them bothin the eyes and says, “Would you consider throwing yourself on the track instead of the fat man? You would be sacrificing yourself to save five others. Soldiers sometimes throw themselves on a grenade to save their comrades.”

“As I said, they are probably just peons and are certainly strangers,” says Celeste. “I wouldn’t sacrifice myself for strangers. I don’t see this as a good test of either aliens or humans unless you think an alien would be more likely to sacrifice itself than a human would.”

Gerry says, “Maybe if the people about to be hit were family or friends I might throw myself on the track; but not otherwise. I agree, that it’s still not a good test for an alien. And, by the way, how do we know you aren’t the alien here? I’ll bet being a bartender is a really good way to spy on people and learn about human culture.”

The bartender gives a little laugh. “I never said I wasn’t an alien. Maybe I’m here among you, not to conquer you, but to test your moral fitness to join us higher beings of the universe.”

“Hey, we didn’t consider that possibility,” says Celeste. “I hope we gave you the right answer on that morality test. I’d hate to be the one to ruin humanity’s chances.”

“I certainly don’t admit to being an alien either,” says the bartender.

“You wouldn’t admit it, of course,” says Gerry. “I’m really getting suspicious now. You’re kind of creeping me out. Why don’t we head for my place, Celeste.”

“You guys just need another drink while we think of a better test,” says the bartender pouring them another round.

“Okay, I’ve got it,” says Celeste. “Here’s a test that will find out not only if you’re human but also if you’re male chauvinist pigs!”

“Now cupcake,” says Gerry, “I don’t think you have to go that far.”

Celeste continues, undeterred. “Okay, you get to choose one of these three options:

  One, you can be the richest and most powerful person in the world, but with no guarantee of long life or happiness.

  Two, you can live a long and happy life in the world just as it is.

  Three, you can bring about lasting world peace in a future where women are the dominant leaders, but your own life is quite ordinary.”

Gerry is now fairly drunk and rather frustrated. “I can read your devious female mind. If I don’t choose the last option, I’m a male chauvinist pig and I’m even against world peace. That kind of stacks the deck against me. But what if I choose wealth and power and use them to bring about world peace myself?”

“You might try,” says Celeste coolly, “but no male emperor or business tycoon has ever been successful at creating world peace. In fact most powerful males have brought only more problems and violence to the world. I doubt that you would attempt bringing world peace given the lure of luxury and pleasure. If you choose option three, however, you guarantee world peace but with women as leaders.” 

The bartender says, “Heck, I wouldn’t mind having women as leaders if we could have world peace, and my life is pretty ordinary now. How about coming home with me, babe?”

“I knew you were making a play for her! Well, you can just forget it, because I choose option three too. Besides, I don’t see what that test has to do with identifying aliens anyway. I admit I’m human, all too human.”

Celeste sighs, “I guess there really isn’t a test that we could rely on for identifying an alien. As one of your less illustrious leaders once said, “There are things we know and things we don’t know, and then there are things we know we don’t know and things we don’t know we don’t know.” Maybe identifying aliens is one of those things we don’t know we don’t know.

The bartender frowns. “What the heck do you mean by that?”

“I don’t know,” giggles Celeste.

“Well, I know I’m getting a bit sloshed. I think I’m ready for that sex now. Let’s get out of here and go to my place.”

“Okay, honey, I’m about ready.”

“Wait,” says the bartender, “Let’s try one more little test. It seems to me that all humans are just smartass monkeys. I think we should try the Monkey Puzzle test.”

“What’s that?” yawns Celeste.

“This is stupid. How can giving us a monkey test prove we’re human?” says Gerry.

“I’ll show you. See this tip jar? There’s over a hundred dollars in there. You can have as much of it as you can grab with your hand. But you can’t just dump it out.”

Gerry immediately jams his hand into the tip jar and grabs all the bills. “All right! This date is looking better all the time. Hey! I can’t get my hand out with any money in it, damn it! This is just a trick!”

“That’s why it’s called the Monkey Puzzle. They catch monkeys in Africa by making a hole in a gourd that’s just big enough for a monkey to put his hand in. They put a treat in there and tether the gourd to a tree. The monkey reaches in, grabs the treat, and can’t remove his hand without releasing the treat. The monkey is so greedy he won’t release it even when they come and capture him.”

Gerry let’s go of the money and removes his hand from the jar. “Very funny, but I guess that finally proves I’m human. I definitely think we should have that sex now, my lovely.”

“Is that your final answer?” says Celeste, gazing deeply into Gerry’s eyes.

“Absolutely!” says Gerry.

“Let me whisper something in your ear, before we leave,” says Celeste.

She leans close and suddenly a tube-like appendage emerges from her mouth and enters Gerry’s ear. He is surprised for a second, then goes limp, his eyes bulging, but with an ecstatic smile on his face. After a few moments he emits an orgasmic moan, then a rattling sound like the last of a milkshake being sucked from a straw. His body crumples to the floor, an empty husk.

Celeste turns to the bartender with a smile of satisfaction on her lovely face. “Hummm, that was quite delicious! Just the right combination of liquor and lust. Sex with humans is wonderful. May I have another, please?”

“As you can see, my dear, he was the last customer tonight. Besides, it’s time to close the bar and clean up. Gad! You Arcturians always leave such a mess!”

Part 2

We’re no longer in the bar, but in an apartment near the bar, the next day. Celeste and the bartender evidently live together here. Celeste’s clothes are strewn about the room and she and the bartender, let’s call him Andy, are having an animated discussion.

“It’s a good thing we’re not going to be here much longer,” says Andy. “I really don’t like how slovenly you are. We could never pose as a married couple over a period of years.”

  “Look, as a robot…” says Celeste, but Andy interrupts her angrily.

  “You know I prefer the term ‘android.’ I am biological after all.”

“Whatever! You may be biological, but you just don’t understand the needs of the flesh. If it were up to you we’d live in a totally bare room, especially since you don’t need to sit or lie down. I require a modicum of comfort to maintain my enthusiasm for our mission.”

  Andy is picking up her clothes, folding them, and putting them away. He holds up one of her bras and shakes his head. “Well, it wouldn’t be so bad except you keep eating the humans we interview and leaving the remains for me to clean up. We won’t be able to stay hidden very long with all these people disappearing.”

  “We won’t need to stay hidden much longer. It’s obvious we’ll have to destroy Earth in order to save it. Destroy humanity, that is. I think the real estate term is ‘foreclosure.’ There are so many deserving life forms that need a good home and there are so few really nice planets like this. Why did it give rise to these nasty creatures?”

  “Nasty? I thought you find them delicious. You’ve certainly sucked the life out of enough of them.”

  “They do have nasty, brutish dispositions, but that makes them taste even better. In fact I wish I could stay and feast on them before we put them out of their misery.”

  “You know we can’t allow that. If we decide to terminate them, we must do so as quickly and painlessly as possible.”

  “I beg your pardon! My way is not only painless, it’s pleasant. Every human I slurp dies an ecstatic death. If we could bring a few thousand Arcturians here for a feast, we could give the Cosmic Union an empty planet in a few months and both we and the humans would enjoy the process. An ecstatic death for them is far better than the horrific life and death they provide their food animals.”

  “But these are highly intelligent creatures and they probably have a spiritual dimension.”

   “Being a robot, uh android, what would you know about their spiritual dimension? I don’t see how they could possibly be spiritually developed to the required degree. In fact, they seem spiritually blind or retarded if you ask me. That’s probably why they are so violent and irrational. They have sufficient, if minimal intelligence, but they don’t see the spiritual loving connectedness of themselves to each other and to Mother Cosmos.”

  “Yes, not only do they lack spiritual connectedness, they don’t even make good use of their scientific knowledge. Instead of using it to create an educated, prosperous world population, they employ it mainly to make weapons, frivolous consumer goods, and mindless entertainment. Still, it seems to me there’s something strange about these humans that we haven’t discerned yet. I know the movies, television programs, and music we’ve monitored have shown mostly violence, sexual innuendo, and low levels of intellect. But still, some of them have displayed creativity and even… pathos.”

  “Pathos! It wasn’t pathos the other night when we found that man beating that woman nearly to death! But he did taste wonderful!  He was a perfect blend of alcohol and adrenaline.”

  “Yes, but you slurped the woman too!”

  “That was probably the first and last time she really enjoyed anything.”

  “I still think we may be missing something important about them. Perhaps we should find out more about all these “religions” that seem so important to them. Maybe the religions will reveal something of their spiritual nature.”

  “I’m dubious, but go ahead.”

  Andy puts his hands to his head and spins it about for several seconds. “Okay,I’ve just downloaded into my memory as much information about their religions as I could find on their Internet.”

  “That took a long time. There must be a lot of information on religion.”

  “Yes, religion seems to be a major interest of humans. They have developed ideas about ‘gods’ that seem to embody the spiritual element for them. They create religions to spread these ideas among people. But each religion is quite complex and often self-contradictory in its rules. I’ve identified 33,287 distinct religions on Earth, each convinced it is the one true religion.”

  “Now that’s just ridiculous! I told you they didn’t have much intellect.”

  “The primary activity of most religions seems to be soliciting money so they can grow larger so they will have more adherents from whom to solicit more money. As the religions compete for adherents, they become violent and even go to war with each other, often over minor points of disagreement about doctrine. More people have probably died due to religiously inspired violence than from any other cause in human history.”

  “I could change that statistic with a few thousand fellow Arcturians.”

  “Furthermore, humanity is ruining the planet thru overpopulation, which is caused in large degree by religious injunctions to ‘be fruitful and multiply’ and ‘to have dominion over the earth’. People in many areas become too numerous for their food supply and die by the millions of hunger and disease. But the religious leaders still rail against contraception and birth control.

“I could whittle down that overpopulation quickly.But if religions are so obviously venal and dysfunctional, why do people join religions and give them money?”

  “Well, each religion claims that its gods are the only real ones and all other gods are simply mental delusions. They sell their gods to their adherents by promising them a pleasant afterlife when they die if they just give money to the religious leaders and follow the rules of the religion.” 

  “Amazing! So instead of simply recognizing the truth and love emanating from Mother Cosmos, these humans treat their spiritual element as an insurance policy to be bought and sold.”

  “Yes, something like that, though they certainly wouldn’t describe it that way or even admit to it. They dress these gods up in highfalutin moral and spiritual language so as to keep their adherents in a state of confusion and fear throughout their lives. Each religion has a holy text they claim is from the gods. These writings are so complex, ambiguous, confusing, and self-contradictory that they can be interpreted by the leaders to mean anything they want. So the adherents must rely on the leaders to tell them how the gods require them to live. And, of course, people pay the religious leaders well for that service.”

  “How convenient! As a matter of fact, yesterday I accidentally encountered one of their religious leaders while I was out walking. He was shouting about God to passersby and gesturing vigorously with one of those “holy” texts.”

  “Lucky you!”

  “Yes! I stopped and listened to him for quite some time. He noticed me and began to harangue me, or rather my bosoms, in particular. I tried to understand his strange concept of “divinity” but it was quite baffling. I thought we should both talk with him. So I invited him to come visit us today. In fact, he should be here any time now.”

  “So good of you to let me know. Now we really need to clean up this domicile. Well, I suppose it can’t hurt to obtain his perspective, but I doubt we will learn much of value. Religious leaders seem to specialize in obfuscation rather than real information.”

  “There’s the entrance ringer. That must be him!”

  Celeste opens the door. A large man in a cheap suit and a cheaper grin stands in the doorway. “Ah. Welcome Preacher. I see you were able to find us.”

  “Thank ya’ll for inviting me to speak the good news to ya. I so seldom find people who are genuinely interested in Gaud’s word.”

   “Yes, we’re very interested in God’s word. But we weren’t aware she actually speaks to people. By the way this is my--friend, uh, Andy.”

  “Welcome preacher. We are indeed anxious to have your religion explained to us.”

  “So, I can assume you have not yet found Jesus?”

  “You mean he’s missing?” said Celeste.  

  “Uh, well Ah am delighted to have the oppatunity to bring you lambs into the fold. By the way, I noticed you said “she” when you mentioned Gaud. We call Him God the Father. Of course He is really a trinity consisting of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.”

  “But I thought you believed in only one God! I think you call the concept monotheism. If you believe in three gods, it must be similar to the Hindus who have the trinity Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva.” Andy turns to Celeste. “I think we’re getting somewhere. Maybe these many religions are not really that different after all.” 

  “No, no! You’ve got it all wrong,” Said the Preacher. “There is just the one God and He is male. He just has three, uh, aspects. You see, God is like water: it can be wet or frozen or vapor depending on the temperature.”

  “Ah! Good analogy!” exclaimed Celeste. “Is that why God in your holy script is demanding that you kill your neighbor on one page and declaring that you should love your neighbor on the next--- but, then, what’s the third aspect?”

  “No, chile. God is Loove.” The Preacher reaches over and pats Celeste on the knee. “He wants us to love Him and each other. He just natcherly gets upset when we don’t folla His laws.”

  “To love the divine and each other seems an easy enough rule. Why do you need such complex religious organization and such massive, confusing rule books to propound that simple ideal?” asked Andy.

  “Well, the basic idea of loove may be simple, but xactly what it means in all the situations of everday life requires lots of inter-patation. Besides, you see, man is basically sinful. The Devil is always lurkin about, lurin people into sin. That’s why Jeesus came down and became human---to save us from our sins.”

  “Oh, yes! I remember you ranting, uh, I mean expostulating, yesterday about this Jesus. You said if we just believe in Jesus we’ll go straight to heaven when we die. But why is just believing in Jesus the ticket to heaven? That seems far too simple. Besides, you said he is missing.”

  The Preacher pats her on the knee again. “Chile, I didn’t mean Jesus is lost. It is you who is lost. Jesus is always with you. But you have to find him by praying and believing in him. If you believe in Jeesus, then you’ll love him and folla his lead. You’ll live the way he tells us in the Bible. You’ll do good works and live a pure life. You won’t sin as much as nonbelievers and when you do sin, you can just pray to Jeesus and be forgiven.”

  Andy is still skeptical. “But Preacher, I see two problems with what you’re saying. First, Jesus called on his followers to give up their worldly goods to lead a simple life. He said it is easier for a rich man to pass thru the eye of a needle than to enter heaven. But all the religious leaders I’ve seen are wealthy and lead lavish lifestyles. Many even tell their congregants that wealth is good and Jesus wants them to prosper.

  “Secondly, the idea that just believing in Jesus will gain you heaven would seem to actually encourage people to live “sinful” lives. The church assures them that they can simply repent toward the last and be ‘saved’. So, it seems to me that most religion is self-contradictory and does little to improve individuals or society as a whole.”

  “Son, as Ah tol you Christianity ain’t simple. That’s why people like you need edicated clergy like me to help you stay on the road to paradise.” 

  Celeste is totally confused. “But, preacher, how can a person know which religion to follow? They all seem to have different rules even though they profess to have the same basic ideas.”

  “Well, I tell you, darlin,” says the Preacher, now patting her on the thigh, “think about religion like a computer. Gaud is like the motherboard, uh, I mean fatherboard. And religions are like the software programs you use to access the, uh, hardware. They’s lots of different software that you can use with the computer but it all accomplishes the same result even though it looks and acts different as it operates. So they’s lots of different denominations that can get you saved, just make sure Jesus is your browser.  Now I can see that ya’ll are kinda new to being religious, so I’ll just come out tell you it’s customary to give me a love offering when I visit to give instruction in the faith.”

  Celeste perks up. “Love offering? Yes, Andy, let me give him a love offering.”

  “I think he means money, Celeste. You’ve just gotten to the crux of the matter, Preacher, if I may be allowed a slight pun. We don’t have any money, but you’ve been very helpful.”

The Preacher stands up, obviously miffed. “Well, it’s been lovely talking with ya’ll, but I must be getting back to the work of the Lord.  If ya’ll care to contribute to my mission I’ll be glad to pray for Gaud to enter your hearts and lead you in the path of faith and salvation.”

  Celeste says “Oh, now Andy, you know we should give the preacher something for his trouble. Before you go, Preacher, could you show me how to pray? Let’s go in the other room where---where I keep my checkbook.”

  Andy rolls his eyes in exasperation.

  “Why certainly, chile, I’ll be delighted to pray with you.”

  Celeste and the preacher go into the bedroom. After a few moments there is a squeal from her, then a sigh from him, and then that sound you may remember like a milkshake being sucked dry. Celeste returns to the living room. She has a disgusted look on her beautiful face.

  “Yuck, he was bitter as a Neptunian crater crawler and he tried to squeeze my mammary parts just before I slurped him.”

  “Well, I think we’ve learned one true thing about humanity today: they’ve got too many gods and too little real love.”

  “Their gods can’t help them and they won’t help themselves. Let’s put them out of their misery,” says Celeste.

Part 3

  Andy and Celeste have retreated to their hidden space ship. They are moving about the control cabin, throwing switches and checking gages. They are preparing to leave Earth. A view screen features the words “To destroy humanity press red button.” Below the screen is a control panel with a large red button blinking ominously.

  Celeste sighs. “It will be so good to get back to civilization where I can have a decent beverage and a hot slime soak. I’m really getting tired of this repulsive body with these awkward protuberancesthat seem to fascinate human males so much.

  “Yes, and I’m anxious to return to my work on spiritual ray cosmology. I think this case has given me a breakthrough. I believe the region of space this solar system has been passing thru for the past million years has received a reduced number of spiritual rays because they’re being absorbed by a concentration of dark energy in this area. I believe that’s why humanity is spiritually retarded.”

  “Well, it’s nice that you’ve found the cause, but that won’t change the fact that we’ve got to delete humanity. They are just far too self-destructive toward themselves and their planet.”

  “It’s too bad they are so unlucky. I calculate that in only a few hundred more years this solar system will pass out of the reduced ray region and will receive the normal amount of spiritual rays that engender love and make cosmic civilization possible.”

  “But we can’t give them several hundred more years to war with each other and despoil their planet. If they survive that long, they may come raging into civilized space with super nuclear weapons or worse.”

  “Yes, I agree. We can’t take the chance that they will start caring for their planet now and become peaceable when the spirit rays finally reach them.  Still, it’s a shame they have to be exterminated when it’s not really their fault that they can’t experience the love of Mother Cosmos.”

  “Well, let’s get it over with so we can go home.”

  As Celeste reaches toward the red button, there is the sound of a gong. Both Andy and Celeste are startled and exclaim simultaneously, “What’s that!?”

  A female humanoid in a scintillating costume suddenly materializes in the cabin. “Pardon me for interfering, but I must ask you to reconsider your decision to destroy humanity.”

  Andy is obviously awed but tries to be assertive. “Who are you and how did you get here?”

  “I am of the Over-Watchers; those who nurture young cultures so they may eventually join the Cosmic Union. I’ve been observing you since you arrived on Earth a few weeks ago. And I have been watching over humanity for the past 10,000 years.”

  Celeste is incredulous. “10,000 years!”

  “I know; it’s such a short time to nurture a species.  With you Arcturians it took over 50,000 years to help you achieve civilized status, and that was in the presence of the spirit rays. But humans achieved self-consciousness only shortly before I arrived and I’ve been nudging them along as needed since that time.”

“But why did you allow humans to develop technological civilization if you knew they wouldn’t be exposed to the spirit rays?” Andy asks.

  “Quite frankly, I misjudged them. I didn’t think they would develop technology so quickly or reproduce so rapidly. The lack of spirit rays must have allowed their violent instincts to combine with their creativity to develop dangerous technology much more quickly than other species we’ve nurtured. I turned my back for a couple of hundred years and suddenly they went from using spears to having guns and explosives. I blinked an eye and they had nukes. I’ve been playing catch-up ever since.”

  “All the more reason to eliminate them now before they take another quantum leap of violent technology,” says Celeste, reaching again toward red button.

   “Wait!” says Andy. “Are you sure it was simply a mistake on your part? You Over-Watchers aren’t known for being mistake prone.”

  “You’re right. I must confess nurturing human civilization was also somewhat of an experiment on our part, a test of whether such alien creatures, unable to receive the spirit rays of Mother Cosmos, could nevertheless develop a sense of love and beauty on their own.”

  “Well now we know they cannot,” says Celeste. “They simply devolved into greed, violence, and irrationality. They are quite tasty, however.”

  “That’s why I’m here,” says the Overwatcher. Celeste smiles at him in anticipation. “No, not to let you eat them; rather to persuade you to save them. You see, despite their self-destructive tendencies, some few artists, poets, and thinkers among them, over the centuries have slowly developed the concepts of love and beauty and have tried to spread them to humanity at large.”

  Andy is doubtful. “We saw little evidence of spiritual values in their popular culture, though, admittedly, we were there only a short time. The poets and artists must have been lost among the multitudes of criminals, addicts, sleazebags, and greed heads we encountered.

  “I think I may have slurped a poet one night. He gazed at me with sweet, sad, knowing eyes and whispered, ‘I shall go gentle into your good night.’ But he wasn’t nearly as tasty as those steeped in alcohol, anger, and lust.  There’s nothing more flavorful than a drunken rapist --- except a politician, of course. 

  “I must convince you that humanity should be given another chance. In the absence of the spirit rays they have been slow to develop ideas of love and beauty, but their struggle toward spirit should be rewarded. We can learn much from them if they survive their baser instincts. One of their great novelists, Dostoyevsky, wrote, “Beauty will save the world.”  I, too, believe beauty can save them if they can learn to value beauty, love, and wisdom rather than wealth and power. If you allow them to live, I shall work with them more actively to better themselves and their planet until the spirit rays can save them.”

  “But this is madness,” says Andy. “Surely you can do little at this point. They have driven the planet into global warming and ecological collapse that will probably kill most of them within a century anyway. If we wipe them out now, we can probably reverse the worst effects of their actions and keep the planet habitable for a more rational species. We’ll have to wait until the planet has entered the spirit ray region, of course.”

  “I agree eliminating them is the best option. I’m already feeling irritable and depressed from lack of the spirit rays myself,” says Celeste.

  “Perhaps that’s just your human body’s reaction to its ‘time of the month’,” sneers Andy.

  “Seriously, friends, human artistic creativity is a uniquely valuable quality that we should not only allow to survive, but treasure as an asset of cosmic civilization. We must not let humanity’s suffering be in vain. Their great, martyred philosopher, Jesus told them to “love your enemies and love your neighbor as yourself.”

  Andy sneers again. “Yes, we’ve been hearing all about Jeesus. But Jesus also said ‘I came not to bring peace but the sword.’ Likewise, virtually all human religious documents—the Bible, the Koran, the Bhagavad-Gita---all preach violence as well as love. Over 100 million humans died from war during just the last century. They are a tragically failed species because the spirit rays have not been able to reach them to infuse them with love.”

  “So let’s get on with the extermination now,” Celeste again reaches for the red button.

  “Please! Stay your hand. Their travail toward love and beauty in the absence of cosmic love is a valiant effort. We can learn much from their struggle. We did not have to deal with the hardships and depravations humanity has endured. Their arts are all the more powerful because they had to suffer to express their beauty. Watch and listen to humanity’s struggle for love, truth, and beauty.”

Suddenly a three dimensional projection appears in the room. Images of famous human art works appear and disappear after a few seconds. The showing speeds up as the viewers adjust their intake capacity. Hundreds of paintings, sculpture, architecture, flash into their consciousness. They absorb symphonies, concertos, and choral music in a trance of perfect attention. After a few minutes of exposure to this deluge of art, the projection disappears. There are several moments of awed silence.

  Celeste whispers, “I see now what you mean. Yes, I thinkwe should allow them to continue their struggle and help them avoid self-destruction.”

  “I agree,” says Andy. “We can learn something valuable from their art. We should not destroy the beauty they have created.”

  “Thank you my friends. I knew you would see the true value of humanity if given the chance. I will work with them for the next few hundred years to help them suppress their destructive tendencies and emphasize their artistic creativity. Then the spirit rays will transform them and enable them to join our Cosmic Union.”

  Celeste perks up. “I think I’ll stay and help by ridding the Earth of some of their worst offenders— terrorists, corrupt CEO’s, politicians and such. I’m sure I can really be of service to humanity.”

  Andy seizes her wrist. “No! You just want to slurp. You must not interfere. Come away and leave humanity to the Over-Watcher.”

  “Unhand me, robot! What harm will it do to slurp some sinners before I go?” She pulls away from his grasp, loses her balance, and accidently lurches against the red button. There is the sound of a gong and the screen changes to: “Humanity has been destroyed.”Oops! So sorry! My bad!

  “Oh, Mother Cosmos! All that beauty---gone,” says Andy.

  “All that delicious food wasted!”

  They look at each other in stunned silence.

  The Overwatcher sighs in resignation. “Oh, well, it is indeed a pity, but then it was only a test; only a minor ten thousand year investment. I’ll simply report it as a failed experiment. We’ll consider it a learning experience. At least we can still salvage the planet itself. Maybe I’ll bring in those whistling tree roaches from Alpha Draconis, I hear they have a lot of potential. I can probably have them smartened up enough to join the Cosmic Union in twenty-five or thirty thousand years. And we still have recordings of much of humanity’s art. I’ll create a museum to preserve their arts for all in the Cosmic Union to appreciate. Yes, that’s what I’ll do. Humanity won’t have died in vain!”

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