by Peter J. Rosado
forum: Ballots
speculative fiction for the internet generation.

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        The day they came, they came with a bargain, and a contract for us to sign. The aliens had arrived one summer afternoon, pompous, gallant and eccentric, their golden ships shining with the light of our sun. They were all over the news, for no one could miss their presence. We were confused at first, at their intentions, but later grew curious. Our people had never seen men from outer space, only in science fiction films and books about the matter. This was an odd invasion, if one could have called it that. They stood silent over our cities, as if expecting us to invite them in. So we did.

        We communicated with them, even offered them houses as guests of our planet. We were so cheerful of having visitors from outer space at last. We had always expected them to come, but not this way. We had been trained to Hollywood's view of an alien invasion. We were trained to see aliens coming from their ships and wreaking havoc upon mankind, putting man's arrogance to its knees and having us as slaves. But these were different, these walked down the ramps of their oval shaped and unmarked ships a week later after we communicated with them, they walked down the ramps wearing white robes, long hairs spiked noses and thin faces, very white skinned in complexion and deep golden eyes. And they offered their excuses to the crew that awaited them on the ground, the reporters, the President, many religious authorities and even many of the rich and famous corporate administrators of that time:

        "We are so sorry we didn't commune before, but we are not a race that intrudes upon the privacy of other races without asking for permission to enter," the eldest looking one had said and signaled for the others to walk down next to him, two more. The bystanders were shocked and in awe at the majesty and simple ness of the beings. Several started to press their camera tickers, but the leader of the men in charge (the President) raised a hand for them to stop.

        "Ah, take our picture. We are very, as you say… photogenic," the eldest said with a smile.

        And they did. The infinite array of camera flashes could be seen from atop the mountain I was on. The hundreds that were at the private landing zone were getting their story after all, and pretty soon the world would know and feel different knowing the identities of their visitors.

        "I am Kalheel. Leader of Ballesta, a small planet a ways off from your galaxy," their leader had said in a very omnipotent voice. This enamored the present and caused confusion in the smart.

        "Feel not afraid, for there is nothing to fear, we are a variant of your species… It is true that we possess a somewhat superior complexity and illumination, but you as our brothers will too soon, if you listen to us."

        The then President of the United States walked forward and faced the man. They both quarreled in size, the alien being a bit taller than the human. The President smiled eagerly, as presidents do, and shook his hand. But from where I was I could see that deep inside that emotive complexion he was worried. He was worried about what would happen, and he felt like a child facing his father, or a student his professor. We all felt like that when they came.

        The aliens wasted no time in saying what they wanted. The world news shows all tuned to the President's office to see the meeting.

        Kalheel was accompanied by two of his finest crew members and the President was fully body guarded. Kalheel sat twelve feet across from him and chewed happily on the Earth food that had been served for both, a simple basket of fruits. And the President wore a nervous look, he looked at the stern and serious faces of Kalheel's men and worried and Kalheel saw this and worried too.

        "I'll say something Mr. President, why don't we invite our bodyguards to serve themselves some food, instead of standing there like mindless drones… They must be tired from all the working and you and me are grown men."

        The President nodded at the request and the bodyguards sat down next to the men silently and unmoving.

        "It was time we talked, as we didn't come here to enjoy the marvelous views the planet has to offer—beautiful as they are—we came here to do business." Kalheel said, his voice being sympathetic and calm. The President raised one of his brows in confusion and leaned forward to listen.

        "You see Mr. President, there is a law that pertains your side of the galaxy." He said this smiling and flicked his fingers; one of the bodyguards brought a small yellow envelope. Kalheel took the envelope in his hands and opened it with ease, taking out a single sheet of paper and placing it in front of the President.

        "A contract?"

        "Yes, a contract… I will explain while you read," he cleared his throat, and with a handkerchief wiped the corners of his mouth. "The law says that your planet is to participate once a year in the Galactic Lottery. Your planet is currently not inscribed. It is required by the Standards of the Universe that all planets with intelligent races participate. That is why we came; we need to inscribe your race in the Lottery."

        The President took the sheet of paper in one hand and put on his reading glasses. The bald man mouthed the words that were written in the paper silently, while Kalheel waited with both of his hands encroached on one another. The men around them, the bodyguards, sat unmoving—the alien ones of course, for I could see sweat forming on the human ones' foreheads—and it was then that I asked myself what was this "Lottery". It was at that moment that I and the other several billions that watched had their answers.

        "The Lottery is basically that: a lottery. In this lottery, everyone gets to participate. The prizes for your race are great and abundant, beneficent one might say for the development of your society," Kalheel explained. The President raised his hand.

        "Explain in clearer terms, Mr. Kalheel," he said, carefully, calculated, sternly but in fear. "Leave out any ambiguity. What do we win? And why must everyone participate? Are there prizes for everyone or just the whole race?"

        It was the first time any earthling had seen Kalheel bite his bottom lip. The man was so mysterious and yet so familiar in nature that one might go mad at the pondering, but we saw him. Kalheel grew nervous, I saw that, but he offered answers.

        "The members of your race that win the Lottery will find part in our galactic… voyage," he finally said, stressing the word "voyage". I swear I could hear the gasps of the millions that were watching at the time, but there was no silence at all in the meeting room, just a President in awe and confusion.

        "A galactic voyage? Do you mean you are to take several members of our race in your travels? Serve as cabin boys, perhaps?"

        "Yes," Kalheel said and added sharply, "precisely that."

        That would explain why we haven't seen only but three of his race, I thought. The other crew members must be composed of a myriad of races. How much would one give for such an opportunity to socialize and learn! I leaned close to my television set.

        The President smiled at Kalheel's comment and Kalheel smiled back.

        "And for that, we get what?"

        "Prizes… technologies, the secrets of the universe, you name it… All for a few members of your race," Kalheel said, his voice poetically infused and enamored with passion. The President cleared his throat as if in doubt. He raised his voice to say something but Kalheel interrupted:

        "No race has ever failed to comply with the Lottery. The benefits are great, Mr. President. But it's your choice. Accept and we will inscribe your race; deny and we will leave your planet and never return."

        "Then, Mr. Kalheel, I will run a voting campaign, a ballot, perhaps… Those in favor and those against the Lottery. It is called democracy and it is what we do best on this planet."

        He lied, of course. Democracy was but a word. But I heard nevertheless. And I grew anxious.

        Kalheel sighed loud enough to be heard, his men unmoving, the President's men shifting in their seats.

        "The contract stands, then. Have your decision within a week, please, Mr. President. The Lottery is a great opportunity for growth."

        They both nodded at one another and shook hands smiling, then Kalheel rose from his seat—his white robe fleeting in the air—and left the office. Then the transmission ended and all was silent.

        The next day the voting had started.

        "…Those against and those in favor was the call of the day for Kalheel's Lottery…"

        "…South America stands with the Lottery, leaders of third world countries stand with the Lottery…"

        "…Several members of several religious groups voted 'No' against the Lottery, for they fear the coming of the anti-Christ through it and the damnation of the human race. They are a minority among favorers…"

        "The Catholic Church has declared that the Lottery is a premonition of the end of times, as said in the Bible quote that no man shall play with their destiny as their destiny is set upon by God. A quickly done world census has thought this to be another way for the church to control our lives…"

        I voted yes. We all voted yes. Actually, 90% of us did, and as we all know, the majority wins over the minority. This pleased Kalheel, for the next transmission from the President's office was that of the signing. They both bore a smile upon their faces. There were no bodyguards to be seen.

        "I agree with the Lottery, Mr. Kalheel, and expect to participate in it soon," the President said, his hand working his way, his signature on paper.

        "I too look forward to your participation, Mr. President. This is the first time humans will join our… ranks." With this, he shook the President's hand and took away the contract. Humanity's fate was sealed in just a scribble of a name.

        A week went by and no one spoke of the Lottery until it hit us. The Lottery had been decided several days before and letters had arrived at our mailboxes.

        I had won along with one hundred thousand others. The President had lost. All of Earth's leaders had lost, in fact… It all seemed strange, as Kalheel had said everyone had an equal opportunity of winning.

        I saw the third transmission while packing for my long trip.

        This time Kalheel had entered the President's office a bit commanding, a stern look upon his golden face.

        "The winners shall assemble in small groups. Family members are allowed at the landing sites for final goodbyes, but they are not allowed inside the ships. Nor are they allowed at the ramps… for safety measures. Oh, and we will release the cure for cancer, AIDS, and the ability of interstellar travel for your help."

        He said this and smiled. The President nodded, awestruck. They shook hands and the transmission ended with the United States Hymn.

        I packed my stuff tightly and headed for the landing site.

        The landing site was fully prepared. An oval ship, golden, the sun shining on its hull, was parked in the middle of a fenced field.

        "That's the ship we are going to take," I said to myself. There were women and children, old men and young men, artists, poets, famous singers, confirmed bums, doctors and lawyers, members from every race and every nation there. Family members hugged parents, grandparents, sisters, sons and daughters, giving them a last goodbye between shed tears and screams of pain and agony. The Lottery was fair, but it was also unfair for the ones who stayed behind. All as me, waiting for the unknown to have a look at us, and trusting the goodwill of an alien. The Ballestians had released wonders to mankind though; it was now known that there were at least one thousand different intelligent races in the vicinity of our solar system and coordinates to their planets. It was know known that the universe indeed had no end. Cancer was curable and AIDS was no longer feared. Interstellar travel was underway and mankind would soon lift their views towards the stars, all for the sake of a handful… one hundred thousand beings.

        Too bad we were not going to see this at all, but maybe we were going to see other things that would interest us, and if we ever did return once more to our planet, we would tell our stories to the ancestors of these men and women that stayed behind. My turn had come quickly; I walked up the ramp and saw my first Ballestian. He asked me my name, my age, my social security number, any allergies or diseases. I provided the information, but then curiosity hit me and I found myself holding the line to ask:

        "What happens if I don't want the prize?"

        The man at the door very sternly bit his bottom lip, nodded his head negatively.

        "No one refuses the prize," he said and added, "please do not hold the line."

        "No, answer, what happens if I ever refuse the prize? What happens if the prize is refused?" I kept on sharply, stabbing him.

        The man sighed.

        "If that ever happens, the directive says that we will be forced to exterminate the race in question." He said casually, a bit annoyed perhaps, but strong words. My eyes opened wide and I was left speechless. The others at the line were shouting at me to move on and I did with a surprised visage upon me, not because of the extermination, but because of what the alien said next:

        "Welcome to the greatest Intergalactic Zoo, Specimen 23132b."



copyright 2006 Peter J. Rosado.

Peter J. Rosado has been writing for many years now in both Spanish and English. His favorite genres dwelve between surrealist fiction/fantasy/science fiction and speculative fiction. He is the editor of a small Spanish Science Fiction/Fantasy magazine called "SupernovaCF".