“You are so interesting,” the Visitor said, tilting his head, watching Investigator Roberts with an eerie calm. “You have a body designed for motion and yet, so many of you rarely use it to capacity. In fact, physical challenge stimulates your biology to produce chemicals that cure your maladies. And you wonder why you’re unhappy.”
Investigator Roberts raised his eyebrows, patiently waiting for the Visitor to continue.
“You don’t deserve the body you have,” the Visitor said, as if issuing a decree. “You hold onto fear — especially fear of pain — in the hope you won’t feel it again. As if pain were something you could avoid with all those pain receptors in your body.”
The Visitor grinned. It was disquieting, but Investigator Roberts managed to keep his poker face.
“Coveting your fear prevents growth,” the Visitor said, shifting slightly.
Investigator Roberts shifted, too. His hand slipped beneath the table to rest on the butt of his revolver at his hip.
The room was quiet.
The Visitor noticed the Investigator’s protective movement. “Even now you fear,” he said. “It disgusts me. Do you know it’s a reaction to keep your little…emotional territorial boundary? A reassertion of your Id in the face of an unknown threat.
“Right now, you realize there is something unnatural about me, and a very primitive part of you wishes me destroyed. Isn’t that interesting? Can you see the truth of it? Are you able to detach from your fear long enough to gain enlightenment?”
Investigator Roberts considered the possibility that the Visitor was working him into relaxing his posture so that he could attack. But something, some gutsy part of him that had gotten him into many unnecessary fights growing up, made him relax. If the Visitor was going to attack, he could handle himself. And well at that.
“False bravado in the face of uncertainty doesn’t extend to you the right to live,” the Visitor said, leaning back in his hard, metal chair. “Your fear, in particular, is suppressed by a neatly culled lifetime of experience. Quite primitive, actually. A great many of you are not far above your dogs with their pack mentality and desire to chase the tail of the ego in front of them.
“How many of you can’t or won’t take that step over your fear to walk in wonder?”
“You are that ego, Investigator Roberts. Did you know there are many who would follow you wherever you would take them? You just have to spark the right triggers. Have to do the thinking for them and be strong, be an ideal. It’s not flattery I speak, just another observation of your hierarchical pandering and lap-dogging.” The Visitor almost chuckled. “And you hold me, against my will, because I frighten you. You should imprison the rest of them.”
“You said you wanted to make a statement,” Investigator Roberts said, after a moment. “Are you done?”
The Visitor moved in closer to the table. “Hit the mark there, did I? Not something you want to consider for the advanced people you think you are. Where do you draw that line, oh civilized one? Let me tell you: on paper, not with your bare hands, with your money. That thing that distances you from personally experiencing the atrocities of human vs. human in your ‘civilized’ world. Honestly, you have a greater personal investment in your television and movies. Who speaks for those without rights because they were born in a community with cultural holdovers against their freedom? Or for those under the brutal rule of a despot?
“I have walked the earth. Where are you in all this? What resources do you apply to the true infringement of basic human rights? What is the minimum atrocity, the maximum amount of capital you’ll expend? What will you go through to mete out justice for the child in a foreign country who is mutilated simply to change the vote of a parent? Where is your bravado against the movement that does this?”
The Visitor turned his palm up on the table. “I’m merely someone who’ll bring an upheaval to your religious base and to your sense of arrogance. And look what forces you bring against me. Such a danger am I?”
“That’s not for me to determine,” Investigator Roberts replied.
“It’s above my pay grade. I extract the information. Others decide what to do with it. And you.”
“And what if the information you extract would destroy the world? What then? My presence only shapes the world. Frees it. But then I know the outcome.”
“As I said, that’s not for me to determine,” Investigator Roberts said.
“When does it become yours to determine? When do you stop being the unthinking soldier following the framework laid down well before you were born?” The Visitor flicked his gaze to the ceiling corner and the camera there. “They tell you what to believe, and you fall right in line with it because you know little else. Oh, you’re intelligent. Physically gifted. But you’re still following the leader, aren’t you? Where’s the intelligence in that? No, I don’t mean you aren’t capable of making choices. But do you realize how limited your choices became the moment you accepted the path of another as your own?”
Investigator Roberts turned a deadpan gaze on the Visitor. It was his best poker face. But there had been something in the Visitor’s words that sparked an emotional trigger of sorts. Investigator Roberts remained silent.
“Isn’t that a problem with your species? One of your problems, but a very important one. You are actually following a path made by an ego, or egos, thousands of years ago. It’s the same ego today, just slightly different data and reach. For a species of individuals, each with a unique presence and expression, this makes little sense. It’s understandable though, with regard to your attachment to fear. You are afraid to step where you are the free and full navigator of your destiny.
“The dominant egos of your world take advantage of that fear, increasing it when they have an agenda. This is the world over, so don’t just think I’m referring to your nation alone. Like a species of infants, you all hold onto that need of wanting to be protected. Fear is a perfect motivator, teacher, conditioner.
“Looking back on your life, did you ever think to count up all the times where fear was used to train you? To condition you into a specific mindset? Please, take a moment to recall.”
An image came into Investigator Robert’s mind from when he was a child. He was at the kitchen table with his mother. She was drilling him and going on about getting good grades so that later in life he could have a good job. Be a productive member of society. Stand out.
So he could fall in line.
Investigator Roberts mentally shook away the last thought. He chose his life. He chose to take the path that led him here. His mother just understood the pathway for better opportunities.
There was nothing wrong with that.
And deep down, Investigator Roberts knew there was something indeed wrong with that.
It was her path.
He took a measured breath to help get himself back in control. He looked at the Visitor. The man was compelling, intuitive, charismatic, intelligent…and manipulative.
He’s playing with your head, Roberts, he told himself. Stay focused.
The Visitor gave a sad smile. “I see that you know exactly what I’m talking about. Do you realize you’re living another’s fear? Shaping your life against that person’s predictive dreadful outcome?”
The Visitor shifted in his posture, becoming more relaxed, disapproving. Even disgusted. “Maybe you do deserve the body you have. Deserve your maladies of the mind and spirit if you can’t break that patterning. Patterns. It is about patterns. That’s how you fall into step. You can’t even help it, and most of you aren’t even aware of it. Genetic. It’s the way your species expresses continuity with only slight variations on a theme. You will always — always — follow your primitive tendencies lest you lose that continuity to the origin. And what if you didn’t follow? Would you step off the edge of the earth?” The Visitor leveled a challenging glare at him and emphasized his next word to full effect. “Grow?”
The Visitor placed his hands palms down on the metal table. “Mr. Roberts. If you were to walk out of this room, leave the building without saying a word to anyone, what would happen?”
Investigator Roberts lowered his eyebrows slightly, thinking. It was an interesting thought. He certainly wasn’t going to do it, but he also wasn’t the locked down, predictable mechanism the Visitor was implying he was. At least not in his thoughts.
In his thoughts he was free to think anything he wished. And it just so happened he wished to entertain the scenario the Visitor presented to him. There was no harm in it. If anything, it might help this interrogation.
“I would be followed by up to three agents,” Investigator Roberts replied without emotion. “One would engage me to react verbally; the other two would call ahead for the exits to be blocked. They would sight me with their firearms. Several agents would also enter this room to engage you, thinking you had somehow found a way to control me. They would not be kind to you.”
The smallest of smiles came to the Visitor’s face. “All for fear. You realize that, don’t you? Fear without proof is the worst kind. You’re an imaginative species when it comes to fear. Your biology has forced that as a matter of survival — the many ways to visualize death. The many ways to visualize things being taken from you. So you react to preserve that continuity of DNA and gene expression laid down when your species was created. Just like in our scenario here. Your agents would react without knowing the facts. Their fear would most likely cause them to inflict pain on you. Pain on me. And for what? Fear. They don’t know something, so they lash out.
“Isn’t it time to leave those origins? To leave that dullard ancestry that had you running into caves at the slightest unknown? You’ve clothed yourself now, at least. You’re actually able to fracture foundational particles in miles-long colliders. Isn’t it about time for the next step in your evolution? Time to silence the unthinking, beastly urges to commit violence based on fear? Time to do away with what has come before so that you can see beyond it?”
The Visitor tilted his head, looking at Investigator Roberts as if just seeing him for the first time. “But I don’t think you would, would you? Cause pain based on an unknown. You wouldn’t let fear take away your rationale. You wouldn’t let it keep you in a mindset laid down by those before you. By those who are no different than if they held clubs in their hands and dragged women off to caves. You won’t harm me. I can see that.” He leaned back, his hands still on the table. “Now, Mr. Roberts, you have a question for me.”
Investigator Roberts gave a slight smile of his own. This man, this “Visitor,” was nothing to fear. The Visitor was right; his coworkers feared him. Superiors too. The Visitor was to be processed for all the information they could get from him. Roberts was a part in that chain. He had a calm demeanor and ease that elicited trust in his subjects so that harsher methods wouldn’t have to be used. Barbaric methods that allowed no creative manipulation of thoughts. Rather, they would use chemistry to bypass the thinking, rational mind this man has. It was a good mind. Well-structured.
There was nothing to fear, Investigator Roberts thought. The Visitor shouldn’t be harmed. He appeared to have no religious ideology that spurred violence, subverted people’s wills or caused them to leave their loved ones. His followers were never held in secret locations, tortured or restricted in their diets to aid manipulation — lengthy surveillance had proven this. His only crime to date had been his ideas: creating a movement that threatened those in power because they simply didn’t take the time to know the man. To understand him.
And he was simple to understand. There was nothing to fear here.
Investigator Roberts rested his hands palms down on the table, identically mimicking the Visitor. “Why?” Investigator Roberts asked.
“Why make reference that you’re not from this planet?”
“I didn’t. I merely didn’t counter what others have voiced.”
“That voice is what impelled violence from the other religious organizations,” Investigator Roberts said. “And deep concern from organizations like this government.”
“If it is true that I am alien, they fear the instability my presence represents. The known is no longer known. They walk along the edge of a new forest and feel they are being forced through it. They fear all they currently know will have no meaning.”
“You directly threatened this government.”
“They manipulated the meaning of my words. It wasn’t a threat.”
Investigator Roberts didn’t quite know how to take that answer. It didn’t sit well with him. He was also intrigued by the power in it, that bold-faced ‘and I have the ability to do it, too’ quality that wasn’t just posturing. The Visitor, sitting calm before him, exuded a confidence that Investigator Roberts enjoyed. “I must say — I like you.”
The Visitor smiled kindly.
They looked at each other a moment. The Visitor tilted his head forward. “What would happen if I left this room? Walked out the same door through which I was brought?”
Investigator Roberts thought about it a second, then said, “I wouldn’t stop you, but the others would. If you are from some other place and can do the things others have claimed you can, then I don’t really think they would be able to stop you either. Would they?”
“What do you believe?” the Visitor asked.
Investigator Roberts folded his fingers before him, subtly, but protectively, closing himself off. “I don’t speculate. Belief requires faith. I distance myself from that as much as possible. I could project based on what others believe, though.”
“Please do,” the Visitor prodded.
Investigator Roberts took a breath. “With the world the way it is now, people are grasping at anything to assuage their fears. A great many have given up logic and rational thought because with that comes responsibility. People don’t care for responsibility. They’re tired of it. Most wish to stay children. So they create you and your extraordinary abilities. I’m not saying you don’t have gifts. You particularly have a way of speaking that cuts through people’s current agenda, making them consider your perspective — almost against their will.” He tilted his head, probing. “I suspect your speech to me was somewhat intuited to relate directly to me. I find that interesting. You touched on subjects that have crossed my mind in great detail. You read a person well.” He sat back, crossing his hands at his lap. “I think this tends to impress people enough to have them invest in you, to give up their responsibility. You become their avatar, and, as we have seen over time, their savior.”
The Visitor kept still, focused. Investigator Roberts continued.
“Saviors often come with extraordinary abilities. Again, to invest in you to the degree of giving up their responsibility, people require that you are above them in a powerful way. They may see things that aren’t there. Little things get exaggerated, and over time — through the mouths of many people — those little things become great. You become great. It’s easy to follow one who is great. And that’s where we come in. Your threats, veiled or not, concern us. You have a large following of people who view you as great, and that means you have power. The leaders I am an extension of feel threatened, with good reason. We are reacting to the fear of someone in command. And as such, in many hierarchical organizations, that fear is picked up, propagated, and becomes a belief. Truth gets muddled with every telling, and thus my organization responds to you with ignorance and fear. The very same things to which your followers have responded — only they have rid themselves of their fear by investing in you. We invest in the effort to control you, and by extension, to control the fear. We use exaggerated methods because a great many of us also believe in your supernatural, or otherworldly, abilities. I don’t.
“I don’t believe in that which the rational mind relinquishes. What is not known is not known, and that’s that. It doesn’t mean it can’t be known, but, until the facts are in, I choose to withhold my belief. I hope you aren’t offended.”
The Visitor gave a knowing smile and then it faded. He leaned in. “I came here for you.”
Investigator Roberts squinted at the Visitor a moment. “Hmm. That’s an interesting statement, since it’s doubtful you knew anything about me or that I was even here. Perhaps you’re speaking in generalities? Wanted someone like me?”
“James Orwell Roberts, thirty-eight years old. Father to one child out of wedlock and that, to this day, still bothers you.”
Investigator Roberts took this in with great focus. The pathways to finding his name weren’t impossible to breach, especially with the vast resources of the people under the Visitor’s leadership. Difficult, but not impossible. Age, and that he reared a son out of wedlock, again, not beyond the realm of possibility. That it still bothers him was a logical progression from a very good ability to read another person.
“You hoped that you would be able to invest in your son as much as you have your job,” The Visitor said.
Again, nothing extraordinary.
“And I know your secret.”
Investigator Roberts froze a little inside, just before his training kicked in: the ultimate poker face. “And what secret would that be?”
The Visitor leaned in and lowered his voice. “You don’t want me to tell that to the camera microphone.” He paused and extended one hand, touching Investigator Roberts fingers briefly. “James…it’s time.”
Investigator Roberts sighed against his will at the Visitor’s touch. He fought the flood of emotion threatening threatening to break his control. He pulled back, adjusted in his seat, and coughed, feeling his eyes moisten. He tried to regulate his breathing, but the damage had been done. All he could do at this point was to continue to shore up his reserves against making a weeping ass of himself in front of everyone. He looked into the eyes of the Visitor and knew with his entire being it was true: they were not alone.
Investigator Roberts shook his head. The logical part of his mind fought for dominance against the relief sweeping through him, the desire to allow the flood of emotion to carry him away. To reveal what he secretly wished to voice, but could not. Ever.
It’s time. The understatement of millennia.
Investigator Roberts looked anew at the Visitor. Fresh details came out. The form the Visitor was using. The room. The building around the room. The culture men created around that. One of secrecy and control. Always control. Control of the unknown lest it break open their comfortable box of compliance. A rigid conformity to cut down on variables. Cut down on the possibility of losing sight of the dullard biological imperative: to reproduce.
Outside the box we are blind, he thought. We want desperately to overlay our culture on it, our beliefs and our consistent antiquity, rather than to accept that our understanding is, quite possibly, woefully inadequate. That we are inadequate.
What is to come now? Investigator Roberts thought, glancing quickly at the camera and then back at the Visitor. Humans want to know not what was just in front of them but what will be around the corner of tomorrow.
He took a deep breath.
The unknown was a threatening blindness. The unknown was in his very hands, on the other side of the table before him. He wanted to close the page on this one. He wanted to walk out and claim to his superiors the Visitor should be detained indefinitely. That would keep his fear — his, and their evolved fear — in check. They would all be able to go home tonight, watch television, call a friend, live their life with knowledge there was terrifyingly more to this life — but that more wouldn’t be affecting them today. Wouldn’t be bringing a threat from which the world may never recover. Their world. What they had created. What they fought hard to maintain with their lives.
“It won’t be your decision soon,” the Visitor said. “More are ready than you think. Many know, and that knowledge can’t be undone. Will you be able to live with yourself, with this revelation, and quietly ease back into your life knowing I’m out here?” The Visitor looked at the camera and the walls. “They won’t be able to hold me. At all. They’re not capable of that, though they think they are.” He gave a small grin. “I choose this path because it leads to less unnecessary violence.”
“Why me? Why here? There had to be thousands of others you could’ve chosen,” Investigator Roberts said. Gone was the poker face he had used since the start of the interview.
The Visitor closed his eyes, made a slight movement of his head toward the camera and then opened them. Investigator Roberts imagined he felt a small electrical charge hit the camera.
“It wasn’t a dream, James,” The Visitor replied.
An image immediately came to Investigator Roberts’ mind. A dream that was the base of his secret. He was five years old and in bed, watching himself from outside his body. Shapes moved outside the house walls, and an indescribable whispering filled his head. It was calming. A glow filled his mind, growing with such intensity that it became painful. And then it was over. He woke, lying completely still in the dark, sweating.
“We chose those whose minds are not only easily able to accept this coming change, but who are also closely aligned with our genetic relevancy. You are one of the most adaptable and closely aligned we have found, though you hold some states of mind that are irrelevant. That day we nudged you — your genetic potential — to help guide your life here. Where I would find you.”
Investigator Roberts drew his brows together and sat up straighter. His path was laid down that many years ago? “You spoke of the overlay of fear used to guide me in life, in my decisions. I agree with that. We, as a species, are probably too often guided in that manner. We accept our fear because it has helped us survive and have a difficult time separating from that — if at all. And now you’re telling me that you used genetic manipulation to what? Guide my life to this point? I’m to believe that what you did is any better than what I went through from the primitive species into which I was born? That your manipulation is better?”
“We increased tendencies toward action,” the Visitor interjected. “Not interfered with your ability to make your own choices. We didn’t create an insubstantial fear — as they have, prodding your genetic base so that your choice was made for you. So that another’s history must be your history. That continuity is preserved. Your species contained. Limited. Pathetic. How many more thousands of years do you continue like this? Until some great catastrophe makes you realize all your pettiness? By then it will be too late. I can assure you. You have the ability right here, right now, to make a decision not just for you to free yourself but to free the rest of humanity.”
“And what happens to those who don’t wish to change?” Investigator Roberts asked. “Those who want to keep what they’ve only ever known? Do you merely dismiss them as pathetic? Leave them to die off gradually? Or do you manipulate them as you did me?”
“They will be allowed to live their lives as they see fit,” the Visitor replied. “As the rest of us move on without them. Most of our manipulation of you only went to strengthen what was already expressed by your genes.”
They were both silent as the door to the room unlocked and opened. Another agent stepped in and whispered briefly to Investigator Robert. The agent left, closing and locking the door.
“They’re having trouble getting the audio from the camera and are working on the problem.” Investigator Roberts said. “They’d prefer I don’t get to you reveal anything damaging until it’s fixed.”
“We’ve gone beyond that, haven’t we?” the Visitor said, giving Investigator Roberts a moment to speak if he wished. When nothing came forth, he continued. “You spoke earlier of the people following me wanting an avatar, that they’ve invested in me to that degree. What if I tell you that we seek you as the avatar for this species?”
The room was intensely quiet.
“What?” Investigator Roberts replied, incredulous.
“You. That’s why you were chosen so long ago. Your biological adaptability allowed for certain other relevant markers to be expressed in you. It would’ve happened naturally in four more generations, but there is an imminent need that forced us to act for your species now.”
Investigator Roberts could barely think of how to respond.
“My mild diatribe earlier was for them,” the Visitor said, nodding to the camera and the door. “Certain structure of words and ideas cues biological triggers to activate internal motivations. Helps stir an internal pharmacology that expresses genetics to change and accept change. You think I read people well, when, in fact, it isn’t hard to read your species at all. Your motivations are quite transparent, especially when you try to distance yourselves from them or to deny them. They are like some deep relief map one can follow with fingers alone. You will soon be able to read them quite easily. The process is already beginning in you, something my touch helped activate. Your unassuming nature and innate listening ability will allow you to gain trust quickly. In the weeks ahead, you’ll start dreaming of what is to come and what to do to prepare your people.”
“They’re not my people,” Investigator Roberts said. “They’re yours. Your people. Your agenda.” He stood up, pushing his chair back from the table, placing his hands on his hips and exposing his sidearm.
“Uncharacteristic for you, isn’t that?” The Visitor asked. “What are you going to do next, threaten me? Kill me? If I’m that much of a threat to you and your species. I’m sure no one would bother prosecuting you, especially since very few people even know that I’m here. You could claim you were acting in self-defense, and who would question? You would have taken care of your fear, just like the unenlightened primitives around you have done for millennia. Kill it; it’ll go away. The only problem is, this won’t go away. Your species will soon be visited in force. My movement, soon to be yours, prepares the way for it. Those who are not moved toward understanding will revert back to their primitive, animal mentality. Do you know what happens to a species that loses direction, loses faith?” The Visitor looked high, recalling. “Your Sodom and Gomorrah sums it up nicely.”
Investigator Roberts slowly lowered his hands from his hips, his eyes serious. “Visited in force?”
“Not insubstantial, I assure you,” the Visitor said, becoming more at ease, almost resigned. “I have now created a real fear for you. As I said, the choice would no longer be yours.” The Visitor stared at the detective.
Investigator Roberts felt a tugging at his right arm just then. It went numb. He watched in horror as his hand was guided to his hip where his fingers pulled off the outer buckle and pressed the holster release, freeing the gun. In a second, he had withdrawn it and leveled it at the Visitor. Part of him tried yelling out, tried to move to stop the action, but it was impossible. He immediately recalled the feeling from his childhood that night. His fingers pulled the hammer back, the cylinder rotated into place.
“This choice isn’t yours…what you do after this is,” the Visitor said calmly.
The door to the room burst open as he fired a round into the head of the Visitor. Dark spray erupted from the back of his skull, coating the wall in a lopsided pattern.
Time slowed. Investigator Roberts was finally able to scream as two agents slammed him forward onto the table, one controlling his gun hand, the other his head and neck, forcing it down and moving to control his other arm. He continued to scream out, to cry for what he had done, what he had been made to do against his will. The dreams and desire of his childhood died watching the limp form of the Visitor collapse to the side and fall off the chair. He continued crying as the agents released him, freed of his weapon, and stood next to him, unsure what to do.
This choice isn’t yours…
Three weeks later.
“Is everything okay, James?” Syritta asked. She was a fine woman with dark cocoa skin, a woman he relied on more than he wished. She held a clipboard in her hands clutched to her chest. She was the organizer, top tier, and from his mouth she would filter his words, his directives, down to the rest. She was trusted. She was a believer.
Investigator Roberts, James now, smiled sadly at her. He looked past her to the waiting thousands who gathered for him to speak, to guide them. “Just thinking. Tell me…do you believe in free will?”
Syritta was taken aback some. “Yes. Undoubtably. It’s one of the reasons I’m here. Why do you ask?”
James thought about it for a second. In his mind he saw the images from the new dreams, the ones that told of the future to come, the struggles, the violence as the world either rejected or acquiesced to the wave of Visitors to come. The harsh choices so many would soon have to make against their will. As he had.
James smiled warmly for her. “No reason. No reason at all.”
James gently took her arm and walked out among the crowd to cheers.