Why is everyone shooting?

“But why is everyone going round shooting each other? This is a major scientific discovery. We should be reading about it in Nature, not running from the police.”

“Oh don’t be such a baby,” chided Seraphina with a laugh. “Isn’t it obvious that this is way too big for regular academic research? Look what happened to Ian – he was too focussed on the pure science angle to see that a fully working alien probe was going to attract a big pile of commercial and military interest. That’s what got him killed.”

“I thought that you were supposed to be guarding him.”

“Hey, if I hadn’t been guarding him he would have been killed a long time ago. Ian wasn’t really into conspiracies, he believed in the nobility of science like you.”

“I don’t believe in the nobility of science,” I protested. “I don’t even know what the nobility of science is.”

“Don’t you? How disappointing,” Seraphina said teasingly. I felt hot and embarrassed. I was struggling to break out of this parent-child interaction we were having.

“What do you believe in then?” I managed at last. It came out more accusatory than I had intended.

“I believe in fallen angels,” she said distractedly as she hastily changed lanes and pulled off the roundabout at junction 16 and onto the start of the Great Western Way spine road that ran right through to the north-eastern side of Swindon.

“Only fallen ones?” I said, determined not to be out-weirded by this song-lyric philosophising.

Seraphina looked at me and, with a gravity that I found very annoying, intoned “They are the only ones we ever see.”

“Oh fine,” I thought to myself. “That clears it up then. I am being protected from two homicidal psychopaths by a paranoid schizophrenic.”

When I didn’t say anything, Seraphina looked at me and asked “Are you religious?”

“Not specifically,” I replied guardedly. “I mean, I’m prepared to believe that there is something out there more intelligent than us. Whether it is actually infinitely intelligent and whether it takes very much interest in what happens to us is another matter.”

“Have you ever wondered why all religions regard God as living in the sky?”

“I’m not sure that they all do,” I said, still slightly annoyed. “There are plenty of shamanistic religions that worship deities in trees, animals, mountains and stuff. I suppose the sky variants have more longevity in a developed society because things on Earth have lost some of their mystery nowadays. Anyway, wasn’t the Christian heaven originally the Garden of Eden? That doesn’t sound much like the sky to me. I think you’ve been reading too much Von Daniken and you’re looking for some kind of religious interpretation for these spaceships or rocks or whatever they are.”

“You’ve read Von Daniken?” asked Seraphina, her eyes shining with excitement.

“Sure, when I was about thirteen – ‘Chariots of the Gods’, alien landing strips in the desert, Egyptian pharaohs wearing vac-suits. Everyone goes through that stage don’t they? It’s like Nostradamus; total crap but you want it to be true.”

“You’re wrong. It’s all completely true and the Rocks prove it,” said Seraphina emphatically.

“What, Nostradamus or Von Daniken?” I asked, taken aback.

Seraphina pounded her palm on the rim of the steering wheel. “Von Daniken, you idiot!” she shouted “Alien spaceships have been visiting our planet for thousands of years and it doesn’t matter how much evidence we see because we’re all so scared of the truth that we wrap it up in myth and legend and conspiracy and try to pretend that it isn’t real. That Rock in the boot is part of a robotic probe that was sent to explore our planet by a civilisation with technology so advanced that it makes the Apollo moon shot look like an ant crossing a stream on a floating leaf.”

I was horrified. “But Von Daniken has been completely debunked! He doesn’t have any credibility anymore even in UFO circles. Look, I agree that this Rock business is really weird and I’m warming to the idea of it being extraterrestrial but please don’t start telling me all about how the Freemasons and the CIA have been keeping the invasion plans secret for the last four thousand years.”

“Just turn that on its head for a minute. What are the odds that aliens would happen to visit Earth for the first time right now, just as our civilisation has advanced to the point where we are aware of other planets in the galaxy and where we have a word for UFO? Life has existed on this planet for nearly four billion years but a visiting spaceship would only be recognised as a spaceship for maybe the last one hundred and fifty. Given that you accept they have visited us now, do you really think it is plausible that no one has been before?”

“Maybe they’ve been watching us until we evolve far enough or something,” I countered.

“Exactly! But in the meantime they have been surveying the planet and discretely landing here and there to take samples. And if a first century BC shepherd sees a dozen reconnaissance probes landing in the field one night in December – what is he likely to think?”

“Angels,” I breathed, suddenly caught by the romance of the argument. “So do you think that all religions are actually Cargo Cults worshipping extraterrestrial visitors?”

“Probably not all of them,” said Seraphina. “Like you said, there are plenty of shamanistic religions that could have sprung up independently – the need to create a higher authority seems to be universal in humans. But the reason for the persistence of the Judaeo-Christian and Islamic religions is mostly due to the fact that they have been worshipping real miracles, in the form of UFO encounters.”

“So the afterlife is…”

“Just a sop to the dying,” agreed Seraphina, “although stories of prophets ascending into heaven may be related to UFO abductions.”

I watched the distorted orange radii from the streetlights arc up and across the rain-smeared windscreen as we executed a complicated slingshot manoeuvre around the cluster of four roundabouts at Barnfield.

“So where do you come into all this?” I asked at last. “What’s your take?”

“I’m going to catch me an angel and use it to find God,” said Seraphina.

A Jar of Wasps by Luis Villazon