INVASION OF THE COMMON SENSE ALIENS
T. D. Edge
The rasp of the doorbell slices through my brain like a guillotine. Okay, it could be just the Jehovah’s Witnesses making a rare evening call. But I know it isn’t. It’s my interview, my life or death quiz.
Besides, the Jehovah’s Witnesses no longer exist.
I take what could be a last look out over the Thames, through the floor-to-ceiling windows of my loft apartment. Directly below is the green scraggle of the ecology park and pond; bulrushes nodding sagely in the summer breeze; moorhens scooting around like miniature masked bandidos. I wish I could grow a beak and feathers and just swallow bugs for the rest of my life. Or leap into the brown river and escape to the North Sea. Except there is no escape. They’d just turn up next to me on my floating log and conduct the damn interview anyway.
God, I used to feel so comfortable in my own skin.
There’s no point in not answering the door because they can walk through them if necessary. The bell is a politeness. So I open it, smile in the vague British way and say, “You’d better come in.”
“Thank you,” he says, in the same well-educated tone as I, rounded by the remnants of a humbler childhood. Across the country, of course, their tones differ according to who opens the door.
He looks a little like an older John, my childhood best friend, lost to me years ago in the swell of more important things to do. But that’s no surprise. They have the ability to adjust their images around our memories.
“What should I call you?” I say.
“Better not give me a name,” he says. “Do you mind if I sit?”
I wave him toward my white leather sofa. I take an armchair opposite, next to the window where I can see the pond outside. “Do I need to take notes?” I say.
He laughs softly. “Did you take notes the first time you fell in love?”
“No, but I wrote it up in my diary later.”
“Your published diaries?”
This reminds me that he is linked to my brain. He may not have an actual physical presence here but he can switch off my nervous systems in an instant.
“Nice place,” he says, looking around. “You must make a good living.”
“I’m a thriller writer.”
“Yes: 62 years old, divorced; one daughter, living in France, doesn’t adore you quite as much as you’d like. Shall we begin?”
It took the Earth a few weeks to admit we’d been invaded. After all, there were no space ships, no death rays, no aliens, at least not physically. Stories had been appearing in the press and on the internet about the rising number of bloody deaths of some powerful people around the globe, each with no clue as to who did the murdering.
The penny really dropped when the aliens – or rather the alien mass mind projections – started to use our broadcast signals to record and transmit their interviews with our various religious leaders.
In the first broadcast, we saw the alien project himself directly into the Pope’s private living quarters, sit down on a plush red chair and greet his Holiness in Latin (the aliens thoughtfully provided sub-titles). How cool was that?
The Pope, dressed at the time in what looked like a plain white nightgown, clutched at his chest upon seeing a stranger suddenly materialise, and reached for a bell-cord by his side. Clearly, he wasn’t expecting the return of Jesus or even a humble angel. Almost immediately, a couple of bodyguards ran in and tried to pick up the alien. Of course they failed, their hands just passing through him.
The alien looked a little like John the Baptist, or at least how Christian romantics might think he looked: black, bushy beard and wild hair, although somewhat incongruously dressed in modern black slacks and black shirt.
Eventually, the Pope realised he was in the middle of something truly weird, if not actually spiritual, and waved away his guards.
He sipped what looked like brandy from a crystal tumbler and admirably recovered an expression of slightly amused authority.
“Who are you?” he said.
“I’m a common sense traveller,” was the reply. “We’re here in big numbers to sort out your dung heap of a world.”
The Pope frowned, trying to make it look intelligent but only really managing to come across as somewhat confused. “I don’t agree with your assessment of this world, but—”
“It doesn’t matter whether or not you agree. I am going to interview you to find out if you possess common sense, and can act upon it. If you do, you will continue to live. If you don’t, I will transmit a neural exponential disruption signal into your brain and kill you.”
The Pope didn’t reply immediately. We could almost see him thinking: on the one hand, he was threatened by something that couldn’t even make a shallow dent in the cushion under it. On the other, the fact the interloper could be seen and heard without the need of a body might mean he really could stick an invisible fist inside one’s head and rip out the wires.
But then the Pope clearly stopped thinking anyway, as he violently jerked in his chair, spilling brandy on to his lap like virgin’s blood, grabbing at his head, obviously in great pain.
“I’ve curtailed it now,” said the common sense alien. And indeed the Pope ceased jerking, although he still looked mighty rattled.
“Explain, please,” the alien went on, “how your position and religion reflect common sense.”
Ah-hah, I thought, watching from the safety of my apartment; that was exactly the question I’d always wanted to ask a religious leader.
“Well,” said the Pope, “I was elected by my peers, the cardinals.”
“Shouldn’t you have been elected by God?”
“We believe God’s will manifests itself in my thoughts and edicts.”
The alien said, “Where’s your proof?”
The Pope smiled briefly – a practised, ‘well, that’s really a young man’s kind of question’ smile – but quickly swapped it for something closer to stark fear, no doubt recalling what the alien just did to the inside of his head.
For a moment, I wondered what common sense actually represented for the Pope. He could of course just shrug, chuckle and say, ‘Fair cop: I’m obviously not really on speaking terms with the Almighty. Can I go now?’ But that would dismantle his grip on the souls of a billion or more of the faithful around the world. Besides, he probably really did believe his election to office was sanctioned by God. How could he do the job if he didn’t?
Before the Pope replied, the alien asked an ancillary question. “What exactly is the soul?”
The Pope gave it a good shot. He talked about how God creates the soul immediately; that it’s not produced by the parents; that it’s immortal; that the human body is animated by it and the whole person is intended to become, in the body of Christ, a temple of the spirit, and so on. He actually sounded pretty convincing. Even I, a life-long atheist, began to wonder if some of those unexplained nerve trillings I’d experienced in my life – like the time I saw John’s sister, Pauline, become a woman on her sixteenth birthday, standing at the top of the stairs, wearing instead of jeans and baggy T-shirt a white silk dress, hair piled on top of her head, mascara shyly shading her eyes – weren’t actually the stirrings of my inner Christ. But then I guess we thriller writers always have a tendency to throw too much into the plot pot.
The alien held up a hand, quietening the Pope. “Wrong answer,” he said. “The correct response is: ‘I have no way of knowing for sure’.”
Then the Pope’s head exploded. Literally. Grey brains and red blood splattered themselves all over the gold drapes and pure white carpet.
Whatever schadenfreude the leaders of Islam, other forms of Christianity, the Druids, Satanists and last but certainly not least the Scientologists, felt at the extermination of His Holiness, they didn’t have long to enjoy it. Soon, TV showed the similar demise of all the main religious leaders.
And whatever sense of triumph, tempered by a little frustration at no longer having any barrelled fish to shoot at, the evolutionists might have felt at this mass murder of the logically-challenged, it didn’t last long because they were next.
Rodney Dorkings was a leading evolutionary biologist. In his televised interview, his normal, challenging if somewhat gargoylistic self-justifying stare bore into the alien’s personal if not physically occupied space, as he verbally ticked off an impressive list of hard scientific facts in support of evolution.
When he’d finished, the alien, who looked alarmingly like Moses in Cecil B. Demille’s The Ten Commandments, said, “If this is all true, why is it that every aspect of your own life works in completely the opposite direction to evolutionary theory?”
Dorking’s very white face appeared to crack a little, like a river bed that hasn’t seen water for several years, and he uttered a phrase that I don’t suppose he’d spoken since his parents first told him about the birds and the bees (and not in the evolutionary sense): “I don’t understand.”
“You say evolution is about adaption, change, refinement, better survival. But you haven’t personally changed or adapted or refined in over forty years. You hold fixed, unchanging views about the nature of life. You spend most of your free time reading books and papers that support your professional views; you seek out television opportunities to bore the rest of the world into submitting to these views; and where others are concerned . . . oh, let’s just keep this simple: when did you last listen to someone else without mentally working out whether or not what they’re saying contradicts your beliefs? When did you last give anyone the benefit of the doubt?”
Dorkings risked a little satire at this point, which was probably not advisable. “I thought you were actually going to ask me that old chestnut,” he said; “do I love my wife; and if so, how do I measure it?”
“Well, do you?”
Dorkings, wisely, didn’t answer this time. Instead, perhaps his child-like curiosity did then return, at the end.
“So, is evolution true?” he said.
“It isn’t relevant,” replied the alien.
And that’s when Dorking’s head, at least, stopped evolving.
The slaughter continued, some of it televised, most of it not. Unsurprisingly, politicians fell as in a fairground coconut shy where their nuts are not as tightly screwed down by an inherently corrupt system as they believed. Celebrities exploded too, unable to a man, woman or something in-between, to raise even a whisper of justification for their socially elevated positions.
From pieces of dialogue and perhaps hints the aliens dropped, we began to see that they’d come now because humanity was heading in the direction of producing a similar level of technology to theirs. In the frantic, desperate TV discussions amongst experts that had replaced nearly all the usual tat, it was noted that scientists had recently succeeded in transmitting impulses, via the internet, from one person’s nervous system to another’s, even when several thousand miles apart. Instantly. We guessed the aliens did something similar, and were able to travel at the speed of thought from wherever they actually lived.
In which case, they’d probably been visiting here for some time, monitoring our progress. Clearly, they didn’t relish an invasion by aliens they regarded as on the whole dangerously non-commonsensical.
Further speculation was that the aliens could mentally absorb a human’s mind-field – language, history, everything. Also, that a single alien could replicate his/her mind to tackle hundreds, thousands of humans instantaneously, like a computer virus.
But it didn’t matter how they did it, because after a couple of weeks of culling, only two facts were important to us common people: first, that the subjects for testing were becoming less well-known, and second, that while the aliens assured us plenty of people, not just young kids, had been passing the test, they didn’t tell us how.
“How is Caroline?” I say. “I mean, you must know what’s really going on in her mind.”
He smiles, no doubt noting the desperate flush of hope this fires across my face. “Your daughter blames you for a lot of failures in her life. Some of that is justified, some not, but it’s all irrelevant.”
“You, or your colleague, told Dorkings that evolutionary theory wasn’t relevant, too. So, what is relevant?”
“You’re trying to buy more time,” he says. “But my question is why you haven’t ever done so before. Like everyone else, you’ve always known you were going to die eventually.”
I glance outside. Ducks still flicker and peck at the water, bobbing around their designed island in their sculpted pond, all their movements relevant.
Caroline was raised by parents who didn’t want to grow up. Judith and I had vague ideas about freedom and letting kids do anything they felt like. We assumed the default for this was kindness. Maybe our daughter needed something more – real attention, resistance, challenge – but we didn’t have the backbone to find out.
“You know,” I say, “I realise now that I’ve just assumed she’d forgive me on my death bed.”
For some reason, I recall the Isle of Wight festival in 1970, where I saw the Doors play live; music of a rich darkness I’d never heard before. I still play their albums but it’s clear to me now that such music was produced by ruptured children, the singer of course never finally growing up, still revered today by ruptured adults.
“Please don’t,” he says, “sing, ‘This is the end, beautiful friend’.”
We both laugh.
It strikes me then that he seems unusually patient. The treatment of others in the TV broadcasts had been more brutal.
“I don’t think you can get there,” he says.
Without quite seeing it clearly, I know the shape of ‘there’.
“Letting go of me?” I say.
“Yes, your all-conquering ‘me’ that we had to stop, before it got out into the rest of the universe and tipped all your ego-crap into the spiritual cogs. Beam me up, Scotty, indeed.”
“I almost understand.”
“But you can’t completely, usefully, until you let it go.”
He laughs again, this time at me. I can read it in his eyes: he sees me, moments from annihilation, still trying to impress him, to have him think I’m smart, worth saving.
“Do you know,” I say, “I actually thought you’d come through that door and congratulate me on being different. One of the few. Then you’d invite me to join you on your world, to meet up with all the other specials.”
“Sorry to disappoint you, but you’re no different to the rest.”
“I guess I should take some comfort from that.”
“It’s worse than you think. Outside of this planet, people live on immortal timelines; their bodies end, but their spirits continue. Here, your ‘me’ locks you in to just the one life span, and so you’re forced to produce millions more than are needed, just to make up the spiritual shortfall. With all those surplus resources, you build huge, cripplingly expensive rockets that you believe will get you to where we are. But they never will.”
I could ask him to explain further but it just doesn’t seem important right now. Instead I say, “So, do I have to basically convince you I’m a good person?”
He shrugs. “How much did you give to charity last year?”
He doesn’t look like he’s joking – gaze neutral, body language giving nothing away.
“Surely, common sense means different things to different people; so, it isn’t common as such . . . ”
Crap. Why don’t I know?
He frowns slightly, impatient at last. Not much time left, then.
Maybe some more honest part of myself had actually been close to suicide just before he came. My daughter doesn’t love me, not fully anyway; my wife left me, and all I have to look forward to is a long, slow drift into addled oblivion, if I’m honest. And why be anything else with my head about to explode?
Whatever. Somehow I relax into the certainty he’s going to kill me, almost enjoying the release at last from the screaming panic to survive.
I smile, genuinely it feels. “Do you know, I’ve never done a single thing that really counted. Every act I’ve ever performed was a basic reaction, usually the easiest one. I’ve never made or even said anything that wasn’t already made or said a million times over, even with my family, my friends . . . It was always really me, as you say: me first and last and always.”
He says nothing, letting time slip by a little more, and for a moment, I begin to hope it might actually be all right after all.
Then he says, “Nice try.”
“What comes after you realise you’re nothing?”
And there it is. I don’t know. Because I’ve never cared. Doing just enough has been my creed.
Coldly, clearly, I see this was no different for the Pope. He’d risen to the top by never doing more than was required.
So, common sense is—
“Yes?” he says, apparently reading my thoughts.
“Never being the same.”
He just watches me. There is no artifice on his face. He isn’t interested in impressing me. He’s just looking straight into my deepest self.
“If this was the climax of one of your thrillers,” he says eventually, “and you were the hero staring down the barrel of the villain’s gun, how would you have him escape?”
“Usually,” I say, “you have to cheat.” I know he knows this. “You write the villain talking too much, when in real life, he’d just shoot the hero instantly.”
We’ve been talking too much.
“And as he talks,” I continue, “the hero inches closer. It’s harder to get away with in a movie because the viewer can see he’d never really close the gap enough.”
“Enough to what?”
Grab the gun.
I have to grab the gun.
“I don’t believe you!” I shout.
“That I can kill you? You’ve seen what we did to the others.”
“No, I don’t believe you know what common sense really is. You just know what it isn’t.”
When he doesn’t reply, just turns his head slightly to one side, humouring me, I get really angry.
“Who the hell do you people think you are? You come here – project here – and slaughter us just because you don’t like our me-me-me attitude. But you don’t really know any better yourselves, do you? You just have a different kind of ego to us: an eternal one, apparently. Yours is worse, in fact, because it’s so bloody sanctimonious.”
He isn’t writhing in moral agony at my jibes like he should be and my self-doubt threatens to return. I mean, hasn’t he sort of answered all this earlier anyway, with that stuff about how we’ve anally retented our spirits and souls here on Earth?
What the hell. “Why don’t you just virtually sod off back to the Cosmic Crapheads Confederation or wherever your actual arse is parked right now, and concentrate on inserting a spiritual enema up it, before you—”
Just like that. No ‘Well done, you’re not going to die’, no ‘Goodbye’, not even a ‘Screw you’.
I stand. Pace around the apartment for a few minutes, shaking, trying to recapture the anger that had apparently saved my life.
Then I stop, look out at the pond and the river.
I realise that I want the resolution, the post-climax tidy-up of all these flapping plot ends.
But the fact is my wife is still not with me, my daughter doesn’t love me; both of them might not even survive their interviews.
It wasn’t anger that saved me.
I think it’s the case that something in my soul, despite the apparent lack of previous evidence, actually wants to go through with all the hard work we’re going to have to do. The survivors.
Because the fact is, he was right. We humans are full of crap and we don’t do enough.
I see a moorhen pecking at its nest. He’s not like a masked bandido. He’s just a moorhen doing what a moorhen does.
I know the eco park wardens tell us it’s wrong, but I don’t care. I’ve never done it and now I’m going to.
Go feed bread to the damn ducks.
Food for Thought
Do you think modern humans’ concentration on technological expansion, e.g. when exploring space, is at the cost of the development of better awareness and will?
Do you agree or disagree with the suggestion in the story that the development (or not) of better awareness and will has little if anything to do with one’s social, political or religious status?
If, like the character in the story, you were asked to explain why you deserved to live, what would you say?
About the Author
T.D. Edge ran away from home to travel around Britain, becoming a street theatre performer, props maker for the Welsh Opera, sign writer, schools caretaker, soft toys salesman, and professional palm-reader at Pink Floyd gigs. This gave him plenty of stuff to write about. His children’s novels have been published by Random House, Scholastic, Hutchinson and others. His adult short fiction has appeared in numerous places. In 2012, he won the New Scientist/Arc Magazine SF short fiction competition. Terry is also a creative writing teacher, working with groups and individuals, also tutoring with government departments and Denman College. More information at: www.td-edge.com.
EPUB MOBI PDF