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Alien Walkers (short story)

All the ones who had survived had learned to incarnate. There was no other way to relay the information back – the signal wouldn’t cross the membrane barrier. It was sink or swim as best you could. It was a sure way to weed out the ones who couldn’t adapt quickly.
It was an ugly way to go for those who couldn’t shift, who wouldn’t, who didn’t know how or didn’t think to. Their thin gray bodies desiccated in the Terran environment, reducing them to a wrinkled mass of flexible chiton in a matter of hours. Or the crushing gravity pulled Them down, rendering Them unable to move, unable to find enough nutrients to support Their hummingbird-like metabolism. Their silica-based skeletal structure was far too flimsy for this planet, so much larger than Their own, with so much more gravity. Or Their eyes, large and round like ostrich eggs, black as a waterless well, were quickly blinded by the intense rays of a sun three times larger than Their own. The natives who saw one of Them as They truly appeared were either seeing one who’d just arrived or as a thought hologram.
They’d had some preliminary forays the safest way possible (for Them) over the years using that technology. Why bother with a true hologram which required a transmitter to be physically present, when the same information could be simply beamed directly into the brains of the intended audience? Getting the signal right had taken quite some time. Too many otherwise sane people had been reduced to drooling idiots after they saw one of Them this way. They all had to be institutionalized, blathering on about aliens contacting them. These were the ones who had money, or relatives with money, of course. The rest shuffled off the chains of modern life and took to living in shacks they made out of cardboard and adopting rats as pets. Fortunately, they didn’t know the difference. To them, the rats looked like the pets they had abandoned when they went walkabout.
Some of the early visitors to Earth chose to “walk” into those unfortunates after the fact. They were like abandoned cars – all shell and no spark. The visitors were taking advantage of their loss. Best not to leave a good vessel to waste, they thought. Sure, the person was alive, after a fashion, but it was no life worth living. There was no return trip from the place their mind had gone. Back where the visitors came from it was considered a mercy to not let a friend or family member continue on with such an empty existence. There, early termination was normal. Perhaps the soul / body match was off. Perhaps it was the wrong timeline to incarnate in. Better to nip it in the bud before it grew into an ugly weed with thorns and rotting fruit. There just wasn’t space, money, or time for that kind of indulgence in their homeworld.
As a result, there was no homelessness, no poverty, no addictions of any kind where They came from. There was no pandering, no excuses, and certainly no jails. One example of self-or-other harm was enough. There was never a second. If the citizen didn’t realize their misalignment, others close to them did and took care of matters for them. There were EVAC tubes in every town hall for just such occasions. The soul was released, the body pulverized and scattered, returning the elements to the soil from whence they came. Prayers were said, rituals performed. Within a month and a half the soul had found another body to incarnate in to try again. During that time between incarnations the souls attended a sort of rehabilitation school. This school had no breaks because they didn’t have to sleep, eat, or exercise to keep their incarnate forms from falling apart.
Everyone on the planet had been through this process countless times. It was what you did. Rather than suffer through an ill-fitting soul / body match for the duration of the life expectancy of the body, just try again.
After the first few visitors traveled bodily to Earth and had such difficult transitions, They learned. The ones who survived took the closest body They could, be it eagle, skunk, or human. It didn’t matter as long as it was mobile. A few had “walked” into cacti or trees and found they were stuck. Not only could They not locate others (either of Their kind or indigenous), but They also couldn’t leave Their new vessels like They were used to. There were no EVAC units here, and once They tapped into the collective unconsciousness of Their hosts, They learned it wouldn’t ever be likely to be an option here. Locals preferred to tough it out or make the best of a bad situation. They held on for the sake of holding on, not realizing that path was full of unnecessary suffering.
The visitors soon learned the religious stories of the objects of Their study. Several had discussed reincarnation. One even had as a central figure a man who had reincarnated in an unbelievably fast three days – but he had said that he was the heir of the sovereign deity of that region. They guessed that perhaps he was more advanced due to his lineage and didn’t need as much rehabilitation as Their souls did. It had long been suspected that certain bloodlines ran more true, but on Their planet, admission to these families was by merit, not by luck like all the rest.
They developed star travel because Their planet had started to get full. There weren’t enough new bodies being created to fill the need for souls to inhabit. As a collective, the citizens had finally realized the need to maintain green space. For a long time They had treated undeveloped land as “scrub”, not understanding that the plants cooled the planet and made it possible for them to breathe. Once they understood, they intentionally chose to limit how many citizens could reside in an area and also required everyone to plant a garden to produce their own food.
Once they all realized the dire dilemma that was facing them, all citizens chose to limit themselves to only one offspring per couple. Singles who were already celibate remained so, and partners negotiated who was going to be sterilized if they’d already reached their quota. It was simple, really, and it made sense. Rather, it made sense until there was no place for the spirits to return to.
Some started beaming directly to earth to incarnate. Very few souls wanted to stay in the null-space that was the existence after being dis-incarnated. They learned from their research that the Catholic Church referred to that space as purgatory. It wasn’t quite enough of a word to describe what it was like for Them, but it was close. It wasn’t “nirvana” as the Buddhists called the next level on, the one where you had learned all you wanted to learn and became one with the All That Is. Nor was it as milquetoast as “limbo”. It was a bit like reform school, or rehab, or where you took your car to get the dents hammered out after an accident. It wasn’t a place where you wanted to stay for long.
There were difficulties with the first downloads, as would be expected. The natives had to invent new words to express what was going on. The Germans came up with “doppelgänger”, and before that the Vikings used “berserker” when adults were taken over. In England the word “changeling” was used to indicate a child who had been swapped. Perhaps “possessed” was the right word in all these cases, as the soul of the original occupant of the body remained but was suppressed. It was as if They were carjackers, who instead of stealing the car while it was parked outside of Walmart, took it over at a stoplight and threw the driver in the trunk. It wasn’t ideal, and many of Them hesitated to do it, but They overcame Their reticence once They saw how backwards and unevolved the earthlings were. It was exactly the same as how the Europeans could justify the murder and eviction of the Native Americans. They were seen as less than animals, or not even as animate beings. It is easy to oppress others when you don’t think of them as people, or even alive. They thought they were doing the inhabitants of favor.
But then there were individuals on Earth who were able to coexist with the visitors, those whose spirits were strong enough due to their own unique soul-work they had (fortuitously) done before the unexpected occupation of the “walk-ins”, or those who were naturally blessed with flexible minds. Rigidity of thought was a certain predictor of the occupation not going well for the original soul. Trying to maintain a sense of normalcy while suddenly living in a vastly more-dimensional world was tenuous at best for those who had never contemplated anything more involved than who to vote for on American Idol.
In times past these people who adapted to an extra presence and sensory experience would have been called seers or prophets, but in a world suspicious of anything even seeming to refer to religion, they chose to remain quiet about it. Some would read the works of mystics from the past to develop words for their own understanding of what was happening to them. Some read science fiction for the same purpose, while some wrote it. It was an odd awareness, this other knowing, this extra way of feeling and seeing before and between and beyond. It was precognition, to be sure, but it was so much more. It was like hearing sound after a lifetime of deafness. It was like seeing a rainbow after being born colorblind. It was everything all at once and with no warning.
Most native souls retreated during the onslaught of sensation that was the norm for the visitors, the aliens, the occupiers, making it easy for them to control the body-vessel. Enough random access memory remained after the upgrade for the visitor to integrate almost seamlessly. Passwords were remembered, along with names of pets and friends and where their house was located. The more adept “walkers” made it seem like nothing had changed it all. The moment of the possession had seemed as unremarkable as the lights flickering when a storm was in the area. Out for a second while the transfer overlay happened, and then back to business as usual.
It was discovered that those unwilling body donors who were able to not only endure but thrive during the overlay experience either had a lot of gold in them or on them. In some cases they had gold rings on their fingers or crowns on their teeth. Some naturally had gold in their bodies, the same as most people had copper or zinc. But gold, unlike those metals, wasn’t something you’d find in a multivitamin. Some had unknowingly obtained it by walking barefoot in the forest, while others had consumed an airplane bottle of Goldschlager schnapps on a dare in college. However the reason, the gold worked as a conductor and a buffer, retaining the best of both personalities and enabling both to work peaceably together.

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