1 | Stranger in a Strange Land Thirteen hours late, my cross-galaxy voyage to the All-Souls Transit Center ends in a puff of soft lunar dirt on Mare Tranquillitatis. I expect to meet the legendary God of planet Earth in his office, but as I deplane he’s shuffling down the concourse toward his departure gate. He’s easy to spot—inside this small, sparse four-gate terminal we are the only life forms in sight.
With his stooped posture and unkempt shoulder-length gray hair, God reminds me of the mythical Atlas. His tremors underscore the physical and emotional toll he has had to bear. Did his mental state also degrade? He spent two millennia managing a planet populated by quarrelsome headstrong terrestrials. Over that much time any deity posted to such a world would succumb to the effects of prolonged stress.
I quicken my pace, catch up to him and extend a hand. “Good day, Lord.”
“This is how you address your superiors?” The decibel level of his gruff voice implies impaired hearing. “Where are your manners?
A bow is in order.”
Though I have not yet fully adapted to the musculature of this adult male body I inhabit, my flawless execution of a deep obeisance brings a quick smile to my face.
God gives me a brusque signal to rise. “You’re my replacement, are you?”
· 11 ·
“Correct, Lord. I am humbled and honored to take your place.”
I bow again, less fully.
“Call me NTG if you wish. I prefer answering to that nickname.”
So the rumor is true. That he calls himself the New Testament God instead of his given name means he has indeed gone native.
This explains a lot.
We sink into a ‘maximum comfort’ couch—or so the attached tag boasts—stuffed full of condensed nimbostratus cloud threads imported from Earth. An ugly green tarp spread over the cushions prevents our clothes from getting soaked by residual moisture.
God adjusts his overcoat and leans toward me. “I trust you had an enjoyable flight?”
“I would like to say yes, but what a hellacious trip.” That’s an understatement. “We flew through several cosmic storms, circum-vented an unmapped black hole and limped here on back-up power after the anti-matter fuel engine failed. I will never fly by chartered spaceship again.”
“Now that you’ve arrived, what makes you think you can take on a tough job like this?”
“This is my fourth assignment, though the first for Milky Way Galaxy, Inc.” I place my carry-on bag on the tan moonrock table and open a side pocket. “I have a résumé, if you want to peruse it. In each previous posting, the planets I shepherded returned to optimal status.
Whilst this assignment is more complex, I assure you my record shall remain unsullied.”
“Humph.” He spits into the thin puddle created by the leaky couch and waves off my résumé. “I thought those spineless MWGI decision-makers would send a rank amateur. After only three postings, you expect to fix this mess? You’re still wet around the ears, sonny.
Have you even hung your precious university degrees on a wall yet?”
He points at the nearby picture window. “On Earth they say you learn more through failure than success.”
“Elder, I did not travel here to fail. MWGI reached out because of my extensive training as a planetary turnaround specialist. They
· 12 ·
“And you agree with that assessment, do you?” He fidgets, as though trying to stand and walk away, but can’t get off the couch.
“I would not otherwise have taken the job, Lord. Once I did, I undertook considerable research. The travel delays afforded me extra preparation time. I have learned everything a new deity should know about Earth and its inhabitants. I am ready to take the reins.”
“Your extensive reading helped you form opinions regarding the humans, did it?”
I disregard the sarcasm implicit in the question. If I ever reach his wizened old age, young deities will receive better treatment from me than this. His attitude is understandable, though. Forced retire-ment is a difficult pill for anyone to swallow, supreme beings included.
“Lord, these sentient beings do have many laudable qualities.
However, whilst I prefer not to focus on the negative, on the whole humans strike me as a rather unpredictable species.”
NTG spits again and rummages through the pockets of his black overcoat, pants and vest. “Where’s the damn thing? Did I forget it?
Ah, here. Since you’re not dead, you’ll need this to get into heaven.”
He hands me a Holyday Inn card key with “NTG” stenciled on the back side. I stare at the card whilst mulling over my research, which characterized heaven as an imaginary afterlife sanctuary. With a shrug, I deposit the card in the pocket of my blue denim shirt.
“Many humans call it heaven, but I consider it home.” God’s melancholic smile comes and goes in seconds. “Souls get over the false advertising once they adjust to their newly deceased status. Follow the overhead signs to the tram that’ll take you to the complex. My office is by the main gate so I can greet arrivals on St. Peter’s days off.
Ask for Angie, my chief of staff. She’s a real angel in every sense of the word.”
“Thank you, I will.” With time short before his departure I move our conversation in a more substantive direction. “Lord, you know Earth is noncompliant with many MWGI planetary operating standards. For example, the rate of climate change is too rapid. Air
· 13 ·
and water pollution levels far exceed maximum allowable limits. The ratio of species extinction to species creation is inverted. Over-population and starvation quotas have blown past permissible quotas.”
Although the list goes on, I stop to avoid rubbing it in.
NTG opens his overcoat, extracts a thick booklet and slams it onto the table. “This is for you, sonny. Study it. The dossier contains a thorough assessment of the noncompliance situation and numerous other issues you’ll need to address. If you wish, we can take a few minutes to discuss the gravity of Earth’s circumstances.”
“No doubt this will help me acclimate.” I move the study, entitled Homo-sapiens: An Advanced Sentient Species Plagued by Primitive Morality, to my lap. “The title reminds me that before I do anything else, I must decide whether to keep this troublesome species around.”
“This will answer your questions,” NTG says, tapping the cover flap. “Once you absorb the content, I’m sure you’ll accept my conclusion and recommendations. Although clearing the planet of humans is an expedient option, give them a chance. They can perplex at times, but you’ll come to enjoy them despite their many weaknesses and limitations. I’ve found it best to indulge them as though they’re adult children.”
That is why someone with my training is needed. “Allow me a moment to digest your dossier.” I read all 1,029 pages in 10.3
seconds and place the binder on my lap. “Is the present state of affairs truly this grim?”
“You think I’d lie?” Agitated, NTG shifts forward and nearly slides off the tarp.
“Of course not.” As one might expect given his advanced age, over the last few centuries he has let a lot slip. “You did not prioritize. Which problems require my immediate attention?”
“All of them.” He grabs the dossier from me and opens it to a chart listing the global issues. “The terrestrials will self-destruct if you let them. Unleashed, their sophisticated weaponry will render
· 14 ·
“A prolonged ‘dumb man epoch’ is not my style, Lord. A passive Supreme Being would wait for evolution to create new ecosystems. I take immediate action, meet or exceed my goals and proceed to the next assignment.” In fairness, I cannot relegate the humans to extinction without affording them one chance to prove they are worthy of survival.
NTG hands me the binder again. “If you choose to intervene, start by weaning mankind off its love of weaponry. After that, address climate change. Both are immediate threats to the sanctity and functionality of the planet and all its inhabitants.”
Earth spins into view in the picture window. Beguiled by my first viewing, I watch the American continents rotate from west to east. “From this distance I see only the beauty of this world, not its myriad problems.” I turn to face NTG. “I have another question for you.”
“I have time for one more. Make it good.” God wiggles to the edge of the couch, preparing to stand.
“The case study identifies two humans you recommend as my assistants—Ram Forrester and Brendali Santamaria. Have they been fully vetted?”
God spits on my pants leg by mistake. “Before MWGI terminated my employment, I planned to appear on a live television program, harness the earthlings’ global communication networks and give the terrestrials a stern warning. My staff investigated the potential hosts and put these two at the top of the list. Angie has their files ready for your review. Give them some form of motivation and they’ll serve you well once they accept you.”
NTG motions for help to get off the couch. I pull him up by the arm. “Don’t feel compelled to keep me informed of your progress, or the lack of it.” He trudges away to catch his plane without apologizing for the atrocious shape he has left this planet in.
At the window I focus again on the majestic spectacle that is
· 15 ·
planet Earth. Humans, a new era is underway. I shall hold you accountable for your foibles. Prepare to shape up or face dire consequences.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish