I. Uninvited Guests
It was a columnist who had made the most apt comparison: he’d compared the flying saucers’ visit to a simultaneous police operation. Indeed, how else could you describe the spaceships’ perfectly choreographed appearance in the skies of eight cities at exactly the same moment? These cities were Mecca, Rome, Jerusalem, Lumbini, Varanasi, San Francisco, Tai’an and Birmingham, England. There must have been a reason for choosing precisely them.
Before long, journalists had managed to find out what six of them had in common: they were all religious centres. Mecca was the holy city of Islam, the Vatican, the centre of Catholicism, and Jerusalem, the holy city of Judaism. They were the easy ones. The other three were more difficult. Lumbini, as the birthplace of the Buddha, was regarded as the beating heart of Buddhism. Varanasi was one the holiest cities for Hindus, while just outside Tai’an was Mount Tai, the principal place of worship for Taoism.
Fine, but what did San Francisco and Birmingham have to do with these holy places? That was solved by a cinema writer and a music critic: San Francisco was where Lucasfilm, the company that had produced Star Wars, had its headquarters, in the exact area where the flying saucers appeared, while Birmingham was where Black Sabbath and Judas Priest, the founding groups of heavy metal, hailed from. Recently, surveys listing the percentages of different religions in the population of the world showed Jediism, the belief system from the Star Wars universe, and heavy metal as being among the most popular religions. Our visitors from outer space must have taken these survey results too seriously.
The flying saucers weren’t as big as they are in films. They resembled white American footballs and were the size of a swimming pool. There were two in each city and they were hovering side by side a short distance from each other, two ovals with a luminous orb right in the middle. Seen from afar, they looked like a pair of eyes floating in the air.
For two days, these eyes peeped at humanity from their place in the sky without so much as blinking.
There was another way in which the comparison with a simultaneous police operation perfectly corresponded with what was going on. When the intelligent lifeforms’ conspicuous spaceships started watching people with their giant eyes, the initial feelings of surprise, fear and awe soon gave way to shame. People turned as crimson as a politician caught half naked in a prostitution raid. And that was no figure of speech: when you looked at people, you really could see the scarlet shadow of shame on their cheeks. The unidentified flying objects had caused an all too identifiable shame that wasn’t flying off anywhere. Like a visitor showing up out of the blue and putting the host in an awkward situation because the living room is untidy, the aliens’ surprise visit had lain bare all the dirt, dust and grime in the living room of humanity. It was the TV programmes that had the biggest field day with this period of self-questioning and navel gazing, of course. The foundations upon which the life of the world rested, such as national policies, forms of government, religions, social order, the economic system, education and the family were the centrepiece of discussion programmes for once; maybe it was the first time on prime time TV that humanity was questioning the choices that it had made.