This was originally written for /r/HFY. I’d been trying to write a story like this for HFY for years, but had never gotten far - writing it from an alien’s perspective just didn’t seem to work. So, I finally decided to try writing it from a different point of view.
It musta been three in the morning when it woke us all up, landing about a quarter mile off the road (back then, the truck bypass hadn’t been built, so there was only “the road”). 1951 had an early Lent, and so it was pretty chilly, but back then, a flying machine was something you didn’t see up close every day, so nigh-on a quarter of Winifred - a good fifty people, at least - had gotten out of bed and were standing all through the field, trying to get a good look. The plane looked odd, since it didn’t have any propellers in it and it was shaped like a big hubcap, but Frank’s kid read Popular Science and said someday planes wouldn’t need propellers, so we figured that this thing must be brand new, out of one of the Air Force bases down south that did the really high-tech work. Maybe it was so new that the steering wasn’t quite right and whoever was inside had made a wrong turn. Hardly any other reason people come to this part of Montana.
Well, I suppose that since I had my service rifle with me, and had drank enough on the way over to be brave but not enough to fall over, that it made sense for me to go up to it. I don’t even remember agreeing - just remember knocking on what looked like the door on one side. It opened up right away, and after few moments of my eyes gettin’ all blurry and shapes dancing around at me, I saw a guy standing inside, a bit shorter than me and maybe a shade less tan, but somebody who’d look right at home in Winifred - even wearing the same kind of clothes I was. And that was weird. The getup I wore was real good for shoveling muck, but never would the Army let us wear stuff like it on duty during the war. And from what I’d heard, I couldn’t imagine the Air Force being less fancy than the Army.
“Jim Lewis. Welcome to Montana.”
The guy opened his mouth, and this time my hearing went all blurry for a moment or two, and I heard the weirdest sorts of voices out of his mouth. If he was saying his name, I missed it. And then it all sounded normal. I started thinking that I’d drank more than I recalled on the way over.
“I greet you, Jim Lewis, and I thank you for your welcome. Are you a representative of the local hegemony?”
“I beg your pardon. I merely mean religious and governmental structure of power.”
That got me worried. If this guy wasn’t from around here, where was he from? “I think I speak for our little hegemminny here until the sheriff comes up from Lewiston, and you’re gonna have to leave right now if you’re with the commies. You ain’t flyin’ a Soviet plane, are you?”
“I have no Soviet affiliation of any kind.”
“So not a commie?”
“‘Commie’ meaning that my primary motivation is that of enforced economic equity? I am not. I represent the Holy Itzcali Empire, and all economic and material considerations are secondary to the eternal.”
And here I was thinking I’d finally got the hang of European geography. He had to be European, if the guy was that pale. Or maybe not; could be a split-off colony of Britain or France in some weird part of the world, but the name stumped me. “Now where in the Sam Hill is that?”
“It is very distant. I can show you if you have a star map.”
I knew what kind he meant – a map of the world with a little star on top of each capital city – but I didn’t have one on me, and I supposed it could wait. My other question was getting the better of me. “So what brings you out here in the middle of the night?”
Oh yeah. He’d called it the Holy Itzcali Empire, not the Regular Itzcali Empire. “What, you’re here for church?” I didn’t know any military had chaplains be pilots. “You’re in the backyard of a Catholic church, and we got Methodist and Lutheran right next door to it.”
“I’m not a member any of those three religions, but a representative of the true faith of which all others are imperfect simulacra. All races know in their hearts that there must be a purpose in the universe, something greater than the material. Most think that the purpose exists in the past, in some paradise to be remembered and mourned, or in the future, as a goal to strive for, but we alone know that the time is now! We know our Creator, and He is our Divine King Azotl, establishing an empire in this life so strong the gods themselves bow to it in the next!”
“You ain’t from around here, so I’ll let that preachin’ slide, but be glad Father Leo’s not here for Mass yet. He’d have your hide, speaking like that on Good Friday.”
“‘Have my hide’ meaning to castigate me? Good Friday must be a very important day for your people, to be defended in person by an upper caste.”
“Uh, yeah. It’s one of the holiest days of the year.”
“And why is it called Good?”
I supposed I’d better try to remember my old catechism. “Well, here. Follow me and I’ll show you the church. It’ll make a bit more sense in there.”
I walked with the stranger over to Holy Family. Everybody wanted to know what we’d been talkin’ about, but I sure didn’t want some of the older ladies there hearing the stuff this guy was saying about Divine King Azotl because they’d throw a fit, so I gave everybody the short version: he was here from pretty far away, he was stopping by to go to church, and that he’d be happy to talk after he’d had a few minutes in there of peace and quiet. What was weird was when Rich Davis went to shake the guy’s hand and welcome him to Winifred, and the stranger just recoiled before Rich could so much as touch him. The look the stranger got…it was the kind of look I give a pig that just knocked me into the manure heap. I wasn’t sure I liked that. But then, this guy wasn’t from around here. You had to make allowances.
When we got in, only the one red light by the altar rail was burning, but when I pointed to the where the Stations started on the wall, he looked at all of them around the church like it was broad daylight. His night vision must have been amazing. But then, it makes sense that pilots would have pretty good eyesight.
“I believe your religion reflects much of the true one - this is splendid news, and makes conversion all the easier. These plaques you indicate are images of stylized violence, spread throughout your temple. These are representations of your rituals?”
“Uh, yeah. They’re what Good Friday is all about. This all happened on the first Good Friday, almost two thousand years ago. Same with the cross that’s on the roof, and in front of the altar there.”
“The cross is a method of extended execution for the man stuck upon it, I assume?”
What part of the world was the Holy Itzcali Empire from if this guy didn’t recognize a cross? “Yep. They made him carry it, too. Like making a man dig his own grave. But you gotta have suffering if you’re gonna get forgiveness.”
“Of course. Your faith is admirably close to the truth. So for two thousand years, like us, you have found people who carry the evils of the world within them and must be sacrificed for the forgiveness of all, beginning with this man, the first instance of evil incarnate that you identified.”
Ok, I’d heard a lot today, and as somebody up late drinking on Holy Thursday I couldn’t claim to be a great Christian, but even I couldn’t let blasphemy like that slide. “Of course not!” I half-shouted. “You can’t say that sort of thing in a church! That man is God Almighty! He was the best man who ever lived!”
“I…I don’t understand. You call this Good Friday because it’s the day you killed a good man, not an evil one?”
“Well, yeah. Evil people dying happens all the time. They deserve it. It doesn’t fix much. A good person dying is where redemption comes from. And all the saints and martyrs who came afterwards did the same thing.”
“The holy men, who die for the faith. There’ve been thousands and thousands of ‘em.”
The man sputtered, and my ears actually went blurry again. I couldn’t understand what he said for a second or two. “To eliminate evil, you…you kill the holiest people on your world? You believe that you killed God, and you CELEBRATE that?”
“Well, the holy people tend to piss off the sinners, and there’s a lot more sinners than saints. But that’s life. And I suppose it’s all for the best.”
“And this ritual of killing holy men, and killing God? This is what you reenact on Good Friday?”
Was ‘reenact’ the right word? I knew the bread at Mass is the Body of Christ, and the priest was supposed to be imitating the Lord during the Last Supper, so I guessed it was as good a word as any. We were talking in simple terms anyhow.
“Yeah. We’ll reenact it today, and we do it on every Sunday throughout the whole year.” And then I felt bad for yelling at him. This guy didn’t know any better, and if I were representing old Mother Church, I ought to be more welcoming than this. “I know I was cross with you earlier, and I really am sorry, because I shouldn’t be talking that way to a preacher of any stripe. If you’re interested, you’d be welcome to see all this for yourself, and then it’ll make more sense. Would you like to stick around for our service today?”
To this day I don’t know what it was I said, but at hearing this, the man got up and sprinted for the door. My eyes went all blurry, and the people huddled just outside the door said the same thing happened to them, because nobody could see him or stop him from getting to his hubcap-shaped plane and taking off like the Devil himself was after him. When the sheriff arrived, there was nothing to be seen but a faint bit of light in the sky and a whole bunch of confused people starin’ up at it. And I was as baffled as anyone.
It was the talk of the town for a good month, and none of us could quite make hide nor hair out of who that was, where he was from, or what kind of religion he was preaching. We got out the big star map that the local bar had (there’s never been more than one bar at a time, not in Winifred), but we couldn’t find a trace of the Holy Itzcali Empire anywhere, even in the places with the really weird names down in India and the South Pacific. But our map was made before the war, and the war changed a whole lot of places. We figured maybe the next map would have it.