Righteousness…seems but an unrealized ideal, after all; and those maxims which, in the hope of bringing about a Millennium, we busily teach to the heathen, we Christians ourselves disregard. – Herman Melville, White-Jacket
It was the day for which humanity had been waiting for so long: the Millennium, the arrival of the Kingdom, the day religions had awaited for half of recorded history. But when the saviors arrived to usher in a Golden Age of peace and prosperity, they were neither gods nor angels nor prophets, nor even the odd fetus-like entities so many movies and books had depicted for decades; they were people, very much like ourselves. Oh, there were some obvious differences; they were taller, and more symmetrical, and their skins were as white as alabaster, and there was not a sign of disease or deformity or developmental difficulty amongst them: in more primitive times they would most certainly have been taken for gods. But, they hastened to assure us, they were as mortal as we, and really not very different except for being more technologically advanced. Furthermore, they had come to share their wisdom and technology with us so that we, too, might achieve the level of perfection and happiness they had achieved.
At first, people had thought the video was a clever fake, a hoax that was sure to go viral and thereby promote some new Hollywood film. But as the weeks went by and no trickster appeared, and the free goods people sent for via their website were revealed by scientists as having no earthly origin, the truth began to dawn: this time it was real. Later, the Visitors explained that because they had no wish to frighten us by a sudden arrival, they had observed us for some time and decided that this was the best way to introduce themselves. It also, some pointed out, conveniently bypassed the possibility that governments approached via diplomatic channels might deny them permission to contact the citizenry, or even hide the fact that they existed, and thereby keep all the goodies the Visitors had to offer for themselves.
And what goodies they were! Little sticks that plugged into computers or phones and protected them from all hazards, from viruses to surveillance to power surges. Easily-installed devices that allowed a car to get 100 km per liter of gasoline without producing any hazardous emissions. Keychain-attachable “panic buttons” that rendered the user impervious to unwanted physical contact. Filters that silently scrubbed the air in a building of all known pollutants without rendering it stale. Stylish clothing that fit anyone and never got dirty or wore out. Nonstick cookware whose surfaces couldn’t be scratched by utensils or eroded by washing. Everlasting batteries for low-power devices. And many, many more, all for the asking. Once they had established their goodwill, they announced that these “trinkets” (their word) represented just the tip of the iceberg, those aspects of their technology which we could use directly and without special instruction; there was plenty more which their trained personnel would be happy to use on our behalf, and to teach our professionals to use also: weather control. Super-light, super-strong materials. Anti-gravity. Ways to boost immune response so the body could fight off any infection, and a means of healing any injury. Teleportation. Synthesis of any substance, no matter how rare.
Of course, there were objections from those whose businesses were undercut or even eliminated by the alien’s gifts, but they responded by launching a program to retrain professionals and give grants to convert factories into producing the new goods…all for free. As you might expect, some people objected to that as well; they hinted darkly at devil’s bargains, hidden price tags and bills mankind might be loath to pay when they came due. But there was no enslavement, no cookbook, no looting of Earth’s resources; the Visitors explained that their religion taught them to help others, and that the payment for which they hoped was spiritual, not economic. That announcement was the tipping point; most of the remaining resistance evaporated afterward, and most of those who still grumbled were atheists and clergymen who were unhappy with the throngs converting to the alien’s religion (for which temples were springing up like mushrooms). Them, and the people who profit from human misery: with both want and mental illness eradicated, cops and prosecutors had at first turned toward enforcing victimless crimes with a vengeance, only to find the new technology made that nearly impossible; the Visitors offered them pensions under their “displaced professions” program.
My first glimpse of the big picture came less than two years after they arrived; it started with my skipping a period, and learning to my chagrin that I was pregnant despite having been on the pill since high school. My gynecologist knew better than to suggest that I had done something wrong, so she wrote it off as “one of those things” and directed me to her new partner, who was handling the obstetrical side of the practice now. It was the first time I had been in a room with one of them alone; she was as tall as any man I ever dated, and though her voice was gentle and her mouth smiling, her golden eyes pierced me and I was seized by a fear I could not explain.
“So, the nurse tells me congratulations are in order!” she beamed.
“Congratulations? How do you get that? I didn’t exactly plan this, you know.”
“Life is full of happy surprises; your people didn’t know we were coming until we arrived, either!”
Under the circumstances, that statement seemed vaguely menacing. “Yeah, well, that would be fine if I wanted a baby right now, but I don’t.”
“Oh, don’t worry; we have a program to support mothers-to-be with financial difficulties.” I tried not to recoil from the hand she had placed on my arm; its cool, pale, long fingers made me feel as though some sort of reptile had climbed up on me.
“It’s not that; I have a good job. It’s just that I’m only twenty-five; I’m not ready to settle down with a baby yet.”
“Oh, but you’re at almost the ideal age!” she cooed reassuringly.
“I would think your science would make considerations like that moot.”
Was that a flicker of hostility in her eyes? “Well, of course, but isn’t it better to have fewer complications even if those complications can be corrected?”
“You’re changing the subject. I’m not worried about complications; I’m just not ready to be a mother yet.”
“I understand. Well, don’t worry, we have an adoption program, too.”
“No, you clearly don’t understand. I don’t want to go through a pregnancy and then endure the emotional wrench of giving it away; I just want an abortion.”
The eyes registered horror, but just for a moment. “Oh, well, we don’t do those here.”
“Yes, I know that, but I thought you could recommend a good facility.”
“Well, there aren’t as many of them as there used to be, you know; now that we can save babies down to sixteen weeks, a lot of women are just opting for fetal adoption instead of abortion.” In response to my “What the hell?” look she continued, “at sixteen weeks we schedule an appointment to transfer the fetus to an artificial womb, from which it can be adopted either immediately or after birth. Here, you can read up on it,” she said, pressing a pamphlet into my hand; “we’ll schedule a follow-up for next week so you can have time to think.”
From there, I went straight to the lab where my friend George works, and handed him a package from my purse. “Can you test these and tell me what’s in them?”
“They’re birth control pills; I don’t have to test them. We can just look it up.”
He looked exasperated for a second, then suddenly brightened. “Hey, I can use this new analyzer we just got from the Visitors; it’ll give us their exact composition in seconds!” He put one of the pills into the analysis chamber, followed the menus to set everything up, and then frowned again as the results came up. “Damn, I must’ve done something wrong. Cholecalciferol, pyridoxine hydrochloride, cyanocobalamin, calcium pantothenate, ascorbic acid…this is the formula for a multi-vitamin, not a hormonal contraceptive.”
“A prenatal vitamin, I’ll bet.”
“Nothing. You didn’t do anything wrong. But tell me, could these have been manufactured by the Visitors?”
“Well, in a plant using their machines and personnel, very likely.”
“Thanks, you’re a doll.”
“What’s this about?”
“Later,” I whispered. “The walls have ears.”
I was able to take care of my problem without the doctor’s help, but it wasn’t easy; in fact, the nearest open clinic I could find was three hours away. And then I started investigating, and though what I found did not really surprise me, it certainly scared me. Pregnancies in most of the world way up, but those in certain areas way down; I couldn’t see what the low-birthrate areas had in common, but I suspect it’s a high prevalence of some bad genetic trait. Same-sex marriages down, same sex divorces way up. Occupancy in psychiatric hospitals and substance abuse programs dramatically down…as are sales of beer, liquor, tobacco and cannabis. And fast food. And sweets, pastries, potato chips, ice cream and everything else Puritans had long condemned as “unhealthy”. Movie and fiction sales way down, self-help book sales way up. Attendance at the Visitor temples way, way, way up. And so on, and so forth; the world is turning into a prohibitionist’s idea of paradise.
How are they doing it? My guess is that if they’re willing to give women placebo birth control, they’re not above slipping mind-altering chemicals into food, water or whatever else they can get their sterile white hands on. And if they can turn people off to booze, weed and chocolate, they can probably shape the human mind any way they like; I’m sure those who remain unmoved can be “cured” by more intensive therapy, just like they’re “curing” gay people and women who didn’t want children. As for why, well, isn’t it obvious? They’re more like us than we imagined. The word for someone who crosses vast distances to help and enlighten primitives is “missionary”; the Visitors have come to save our souls, whether we like it or not.