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Faith

Mario Milosevic's stories and poems have appeared in Asimov's, F&SF, Interzone, and many others. He lives in the Pacific Northwest of the United States with his wife, fellow writer Kim Antieau. He maintains a website at http://mariowrites.com.
Alpha had an immigrant's soul.
That's the best way I can describe him to you, who have known him all his life. Alpha was quick to accept blame, easily persuaded by those who are merely sure of themselves, and deeply fearful of authority. None of these things rendered him unfit to be a friend, but they did necessitate a certain awareness of his predicament which I was unaccustomed to assuming.
You have asked me to tell you his story, but I only know the end of it. You are much more conversant with the details of his life. Which is as it should be, of course. In truth, I can be a witness only to his death. If this is what you wish. I am here to offer it to you, with the understanding that his story comes filtered through my mind, now much changed by the upheaval he has wrought on our world.
Pardon me for my impertinence. I do not wish to impugn or malign anyone on this committee. I appreciate your considerable hospitality towards me and my family. How are they, by the way?
I see. As I am sure you are aware, I have not seen them in several days.
Yes, I understand your situation. It is simply that the people of my world often crave proximity with their mates and offspring.
Yes, even after the eradication of our religions. Perhaps, in point of fact, even more so.
No, I do not require any food or drink at this time.
No, just to know that they are safe. Can you do this for me?
Very well. I suppose I will have to be content with your assurances for now. Tell me, does the committee have any understanding of the concept of justice or fair play?
I see. Yes, there are certain "modes of thought" as you put it, to which me and my kind are especially prone, too. Do you wish to eradicate all of those as well?
Yes, I know you have said often that it was all an accident. And why should I believe you?
Well, these documents certainly support your case, but they could be forged.
No, frankly, I have no reason to believe you. I have every reason to distrust you.
Alpha has nothing to do with our time here. He was a friend, it is true, but he was also responsible for a particularly destructive episode in the history of our world.
Yes, I grant you, it was probably an accident, as has already been stated. Nevertheless, the committee has asked me to speak. You want my story. Will you now listen to it?
I called him Alpha because I could not pronounce his name. He arrived at my door dressed in brown. Yes, disguised as a UPS delivery person. A joke on your parts? I was not amused at the time since I was not expecting a package on that particular day. He wanted to talk to me. Which was odd. He said his name was--well, I already told you I couldn't pronounce it. I said "Alpha? Did you say your name was Alpha?" He nodded and that worked for us. Of course, later, I would understand this name as something entirely different from what I thought of it at the time. Alpha did have a package for me. I was wary, but he handed me the package and then he stepped inside. Right around me, into my house. I was so shocked by this clear violation of societal protocol that my defensive instincts were momentarily disabled and I did not stop him. He turned to me and said he was the emissary from a foreign world. He had chosen my house as his base of operations and he hoped I would not mind. I suppose I thought it was all a joke of some kind. "Very funny," I said. "Ha ha." Then he did a peculiar thing. He looked around at the pictures on my wall and said that he and his people were prepared to help us. I didn't know what he meant by "help." Or by "us." Me and my family? The world? By this time I had recovered my composure and I inflated myself to my full stature and told him in no uncertain terms that he was to leave. Immediately. He just laughed and sat on the couch. The package he had delivered felt awkward in my hands. I looked at the return address. I did not recognize it and I am sure the color drained from my cheeks. I was now faced with an unknown package and an odd stranger in my house who was not inclined to leave. And may I say here to the committee that there must be better ways to conduct a first contact.
You're looking into it? I'm glad to hear it. So, anyway, I went to the phone with the intention of calling the police. Alpha held up his hand. The very peculiar thing about him was that he was timid as a person, yet, on a one-to-one basis, he was very much in charge. I put down the phone receiver. He told me the package I held in my hand would eliminate a scourge on this planet. It contained a virus that would infect people's brains and relieve them of the disease of religion or religious thoughts. He explained how the impulse to believe and religious matters was an artifact of our silly brains. Now this was news to me. I was not a religious person. Neither was my family. I told him so. He laughed and told me that of course I was religious. All of our people were religious. All I had to do was open this box, take out the vial, unscrew the top, and the virus inside it would spread around the world and cure us all of this disease of religious thought. I thought he was crazy and I told him so.
Pardon me?
Ah. Crazy. Insane. Not right in the head. It's--how can I describe this?--it's like he had a screw loose. He was defective mentally.
You're welcome. To continue. Alpha seemed curiously hurt by my comment. I found I was, against my will, feeling sorry for him. He remained in my house for the rest of the day. When my children and wife returned home that afternoon, my children from school, my wife from work, Alpha was still there. They liked him right away. In a peculiar way, so did I. I told them he was staying for dinner. He did. We all got along very well. The package was in a corner, waiting. I did not know what to do with it. Alpha moved in. We had a spare room in the basement. Did you all know this from the beginning?
I thought so. I had faith. Please excuse the expression.
Yes, I was trying to be funny.
Fine. I will reign in my natural tendency towards mirth. Now here you should know that I had no idea this was a test. I had no way of understanding that I was chosen to make a decision for the rest of humanity. The great wash of humanity, as it were, who have always been enamored of otherness. Our minds partake of other dimensions. Is that what it is? No religious inclinations for me, exactly, but there was the thought that something existed beyond me. Sure, that was normal. Brains are made that way, aren't they? And that is what you were trying to eradicate. Very well. But you would not do it. You had scruples. You wanted one of us to unleash it all.
Pardon me? You are saying my wife is telling her story as well. That should be interesting. To another committee?
I see. And the point of all this testimony and information gathering?
Oh. Well. You're saying secrets of this magnitude must be kept from me.
No I do not approve. You take many liberties with me and my kind.
I see.
Fine.
Very well, I will go on. Alpha was a wonderful boarder. Quiet, polite, interesting. We thought his insistence that he was an alien was simply a charming eccentricity. The package he had brought that first day collected dust in a corner of my office. Periodically I would pick it up, shake it a little, then put it back. Away. It scared me more than a little. Did I tell you we had a dog? Mac. Yes. Alpha loved Mac. They got along very well. Mac was a terrific dog and very well behaved. But one day she pissed on the package. No reason that I could determine. It was very odd behavior for Mac. Once that happened, I could not simply keep the package. I opened it. Inside was packing material and a glass vial, exactly as Alpha had stated. I put the box and packing material, stained with Mac's urine, into a plastic garbage bag while Mac looked on with interest.
Yes, that's right, I said with interest.
No, I couldn't explain it. I can't explain it to this day.
Then I was left holding the vial. It was not much bigger than a medicine bottle. The liquid inside was pink and viscous. You know, I will say to the committee right here and now that faith is a peculiar thing. I had come to trust Alpha, and reasoned that he would not have brought something into my house that could harm me or anyone else.
Nevertheless, that is what I thought at the time.
Well, yes, we are a peculiar people. Most biological beings are. Haven't you noticed? For example, the members of the committee.
Oh. That hurt did it? A little too close to home.
Fine.
Yes, I opened the vial. As I was about to tell you.
Yes.
I am only too happy to go on if the members of the committee would please stop interrupting me.
Thank you. I opened the vial and held it to the air. The liquid began to evaporate immediately and before long the vial was empty. The room was suffused with a kind of faint glow. And an odor as of spring blossoms. It was all very intoxicating. And frightening. I began to feel in my soul a fright I could not quell. I feared for the entire world and my first impulse was to find my wife. I ran to the bedroom where she was asleep and told her I had done a terrible thing. She was confused. My only relief was to hold her. My only comfort was her skin on mine. Alpha entered the room at that moment and said only one syllable, a long, extended short A.
Obviously, he knew what I would eventually do. You all did.
The committee is being unfair. We lost the impulse to faith, but we found each other. And now you want more from us. What is it? Why are we here?
Why no answer to my questions?
My daughters? Yes, I would like to see them, as I have told you. Where are they? Where are they?
Lori? Crystal?
Yes, I see them. Will the committee release me now? I have told you everything I know.
Well, I suppose you're right. I haven't told you quite everything.
Yes, yes, you want to know about Alpha's death.
Very well. When I saw him draw close, my faith in him was destroyed. I saw him as the peculiar and dangerous intruder I now believe he was all along.
Yes, it was my gun, by the bed, in the table. I had trained myself to protect my family. I had been to the firing range. I had taken safety courses. I am unable to say exactly why my hand went to the security of that weapon at that moment, but the result is that Alpha lay bleeding on my hall carpet. Perhaps it had something to do with the vial, with the death of religion.
I know I saw I didn't have any religion, but something made me want to kill Alpha, didn't it?
Again, no answer to my question. You ask everything of me, and give me nothing in return.
I can tell you more details if that is what you want, but I am conscious that the committee regarded Alpha as a friend. I am aware that you, like us, are made of living matter. You feel. You have lost faith exactly as we have. You don't need this.
I don't want to trouble you with the sordid detail of his final minutes.
Of course we did not eat him.
Of course we did not feed him to the dog.
I don't know where he went. Truly, it is beyond my understanding. He simply--disappeared.
Yes, I see the document.
Yes, I am studying it.
So, you suggest that he turned into an angel, is that it?
Well, perhaps. How could I possibly know that? You took away whatever faith I might have harbored, remember?
Oh. We are finished then?
I'm glad to hear it.
My wife. Yes I see her. I see my family. Will you now release me to them? Will you now find other worlds to torment? Will you allow me the comfort of my kind?
The End
This story was first published on Monday, November 1st, 2010


About "Faith," Mario writes: "A friend once told me that I was on a constant search for God. I thought this amusing because I had decided long ago that God, if she/he existed, (which I doubted), was essentially unknowable. My friend's comment, however, got me to thinking about the nature of religion and how important it is in people's lives. For me, this sort of thinking usually leads to the making of a poem or a story. "Faith" came to me in a rush. I wrote it in an afternoon. I don't believe it provides any definitive answers, but instead poses some interesting questions. Storytelling, must, first and foremost, be entertaining. I hope "Faith" gives readers a few enjoyable moments. Beyond that, this story (or any story), is also a way to explore what it means to be a human being. This, I believe, is the point of literature in general, and of the speculative literature genre in particular. "

- Mario Milosevic

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