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What the Aliens Learnt at the Bingo Hall

by crazyforeigner 

Posted: 06 December 2006
Word Count: 2923
Summary: Humorous Story with Science Fiction elements

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While we were most fascinated by their advanced technology, the Chiaphenn, or butterfly aliens (as we nicknamed them), were most fascinated by our way of life. The politicos and military men of the hastily created United Communities of the Planet Earth were delighted. They had expected to give up vast reserves of raw materials in return for technological know-how. Either that, or they had feared the butterfly aliens would refuse to share knowledge altogether. Instead, all that the visitors wanted were answers to questions about our customs.
Quite wisely, Musa Nxumalo, chairperson of the UCPE, decided to ration cultural information. And so it came to pass that when the leader of the butterfly alien delegation asked about something it had heard on an intercepted radio transmission called ‘Bingo’, Musa smiled enigmatically. “Bingo,” he said. “That is one of humanity’s oldest and most sacrosanct traditions. We will give you extensive information about the history and rules of Bingo in return for a design schematic of that fabulous needle-shaped space ship of yours.”
The aliens conferred in their language of clicks, whoops and flapping wings then their leader spoke. “We will give you this you ask for, but we wish not just knowledge. We wish to see this Bingo.”
“You drive a hard bargain,” replied Musa. He and the other diplomats made a grand show of discussing the proposal before conceding. “We agree to your terms and as an act of good faith we shall not only allow you to see Bingo, but you will be able to play Bingo as well.”
The nations of the UCPE argued for hours about which of them would get to host the aliens. The Italian Prime Minister won the debate after pointing out that while the Deluxe Bingo Hall in Nevada was the largest, the game had evolved from the 16th Century Italian game of ‘Lotto’.
The next day, three of the butterfly aliens were escorted to Rome’s most popular Bingo Hall and provided with score cards and ingeniously manufactured pencils that they would be able to hold in their beak like hands.
In truth, the Bingo game the aliens participated in was not as accurate a representation of the Homo Sapiens pastime as they would have wanted. The results had been rigged. Musa Nxumalo had decided it would be best for future diplomatic relations if the butterfly aliens won more often than they lost.
He needn’t have bothered. Winning meant nothing to them. They were more interested in watching the human players. They were so intent on their observation that they were not paying adequate attention to their cards. The aliens missed two opportunities to win because of negligence. The first winner of the night was Sian Chapel, an elderly Welsh lady who got up and yelled, “Bingo, Bingo, thank you Jesus. Bingo!”
The elaborate patterns on the large wings of the aliens began to scintillate (later we would find out this happened whenever they were excited.) “Yeeesus?” the lead alien asked. “We heard this word much in the radio transmissions. Is it a Bingo word?”
Jane Goodall was the aliens’ guide by virtue of having written a doctorate titled ‘Bingo, Lottery and Casinos: The Importance of Games of Chance in British Culture.’ “Jesus,” she explained, “is the son of God.”
The butterfly aliens’ wings now began to flap as well as scintillate. “We heard this ‘God’ many times also.”
“God is the creator of all things,” she began. In the next few minutes Jane Goodall gave the aliens a brief summary of the Christian faith. The aliens listened intently as she talked of Jesus dying for our sins and so forth. At one point in her explanation she said, “…and in this way we learn what the creator wants from us.”
After she said this, the aliens’ wings suddenly stopped flapping and all the color in them leached away until they were transparent. One of the aliens made two gurgles followed by a sharp click with its mouth. The other two aliens did the same and then, without as much as an explanation, they got up and left the Bingo Hall. (Later we would learn that the draining of pigment from their wings happened only when they were terrified).


Gurgle, gurgle, sharp click is a difficult Chiaphenn word to translate. A good start would be to explain that the butterfly aliens analyzed every action in terms of its practicality. They had one hundred and ninety six words describing each different level of practicality. Flap, flap, click, high pitched whine was the lowest level of practicality. Scratching an itchy spot on one’s carapace would be an example of an action of a flap, flap, click, high pitched whine action. An essential action like breathing was click, whistle, and jiggle your mandibles. Even it was not at the top of the hierarchy because one could stop breathing for a while and still continue living.
Gurgle, gurgle, sharp click was the word that would be used to describe the most fundamental, essential and practical of all actions. As yet, in Chiaphenn society, gurgle, gurgle, sharp click had not been applied to any action. It was discussed solely as a philosophical concept. Indeed, many Chiaphenn argued no action could truly be gurgle, gurgle, sharp click.
And then they met the humans.
At first, the human race perplexed the Chiaphenn for, as far as they could see, most of our actions were below even flap, flap, click, high pitched whine importance. Going to the cinema, line dancing, playing tennis… There was no logic the butterfly aliens could see in the things we spent so much of our time on.
And then they met Jane Goodall.
At first, Christian religious practices sounded as eccentric and pointless as playing Bingo. When Jane mentioned how numerous humans had great anxiety about whether or not there was a creator, all three aliens thought to themselves yet again how silly humans were. It would never occur to a Chiaphenn to wonder whether or not there was a creator. However, when Jane Goodall added “…and in this way we learn what the creator wants from us” she took them by surprise.
Simultaneously, the three butterfly aliens realized that the in-all-other-ways ridiculous humans may have hit upon something that had eluded generations of Chiaphenn. Gurgle, gurgle, sharp click. If there was a creator, that creator must have created everything for a practical purpose. Ergo, if there was a creator, fulfilling that purpose was gurgle, gurgle, sharp click.


The next day Musa Nxumalo brought a large brief case with him. Inside it he had photographs of a game of cricket, children blowing bubbles and several other leisure activities. He hoped one of them would catch the aliens’ fancy and he could use it to procure samples of the elements that made up the aliens’ space ship. Even with the design schematics, our scientists could not figure out how the Chiaphenn ship could travel at such impossible speeds with no apparent means of propulsion.
Musa was taken aback when the aliens brushed away his enticing photographs and demanded to know more about ‘Yeeesus’ and ‘God Almighty.’
“I’m not the one to answer that,” he replied, “I’m a Hindu.”
“What is that?” The lead alien asked.
Musa explained and every word he said drove the butterfly aliens into a greater state of agitation.
“The other human said the Yeesus and the God was the truth. How can this you say be true?”
“The human race has at least thirty major religions and that’s not counting all the different denominations and movements. Every single one of these faiths is convinced that theirs is the one and only truth. There are also people who are agnostics and atheists and others who mix and match. It’s not worth your time to try and wade through. You’ll find the game of cricket far more engaging. Just you wait till I tell you about golden ducks.”
The lead butterfly alien shrieked in response. “How can there be many truths? One is true, others not true.” Its wings began to flap rapidly, and it advanced on Musa.
Backing away, Musa tried to reason with the creature. “There’s no way to be sure. God’s ways are mysterious, he’s invisible and all that. The religious books are full of historical accounts of what this or that prophet said and did but they are impossible to verify because we can’t travel in time.”
The lead butterfly alien’s wings went bright blue (we would later learn this was the Chiaphenn equivalent of smiling.) “You have asked over and over for one item of our technology after another. This is what you want from us. Why not be more practical? Here.” The lead butterfly alien gestured at one of its companions who pulled out a stack of discs. “We have converted all of our scientific knowledge into your language and placed it on some of your digital metal circles. We will give you this if you give us access to every book of your Christians, Hindus, Atheists and every other one you said. Give us access also to all your wise knowledge people. You may be unable to prove which is…[gurgle, gurgle, sharp click]… but we can. We can travel in time.”
Musa Nxumalo hesitated. If the aliens could prove one religion right over the others, he could not see that leading to anything but a whole lot of bother. Still, he was all but salivating over the discs containing the amassed knowledge of the Chiaphenn. The deal was struck.


The Chiaphenn discovered how to travel in time two hundred and thirty earth years earlier. They had not used the technology since as they had disovered time travel was less practical than flap, flap, click, high pitched whine. The past could be observed but nothing could be altered. Catastrophes could not be averted; the long dead could not be Asked questions. Now however, the technology had a practical purpose.
Once they had all of the planet earth’s religious theories in hand, the butterfly aliens began a process of elimination. A team of 1500 Chiaphenn assigned with reading through the stacks of human theology made a list of events and facts that could be verified and several other Chiaphenn had the job of manning timeships and checking whether the events had happened as described.
Off they went, traveling to the Galilees, Bombays, and Mozambiques of the distant past. They did not stop there. They traveled thousands upon thousands of years backward. Their investigators made detailed reports of all they saw and compared it to the words of every religious text they had been given. Their endeavor was Herculean in proportions as Musa Nxumalo had ensured that they be provided the texts of every religion that was currently practiced on the planet and those that were extinct. The poor Chiaphenn assigned with the investigation had to check up on whether Thor was really outwitted by King Utgaroa-Loki and whether Ogoun really appeared before Haitan slaves in 1804. The religious texts rarely provided exact dates either so their needle shaped timeships had to literally sift through a haystack.
But the Chiaphenn are nothing if not persistent. To the dismay of the butterfly aliens on earth, the reports began to come back showing that religious text after religious text was full of errors. They did see some marvels that defied logic such as a body of water parting after being hit with a piece of wood and the transformation of a meditating monk into pure energy, but that was beside the point. Every time they got excited because they had found a few accurate reports in a religious text, it quickly proved itself to be a pile of manure at another point.
Even belief structures that were not called religions were scrutinized and thrown out after the Chiaphenn observed oddities such as a big squelch rather than a big bang and a series of glowing creatures that coexisted with, and controlled, the dinosaurs.
After 7 weeks and two days of study (in linear time – much more time was spent by the time traveling Chiaphenn on their excursions to the past) the Chiaphenn had found errors in every single system of human belief but one. Only one religion had a text that was 100% accurate, the Church of Papilio.
The church of Papilio was exactly 62 days old. It had begun shortly after the butterfly aliens had first contacted earth. It had a little over four thousand followers who recorded and worshipped the butterfly aliens every word and action. Every word inscribed in The Book of Big Wings was a verbatim quote.
“This is it,” said one of the Chiaphenn. “The truth.”
“But it does not tell us who created us and what the creator wishes of us.”
The lead butterfly alien held up The Book of Big Wings. “Who wrote this? The wise human of this must know.”


The founder of the Papilio faith was Anna Nguyen, a reclusive woman who never brushed her teeth. She lived in a house on stilts in Bangkok that she shared with two cats and a chameleon. She spent her days watching newscasts about the butterfly aliens, and corresponding with others who believed as she did – six months ago she had been dismissed as a conspiracy theorist; now she was adulated as a high priestess. Not by everybody mind you, her many applications to be allowed to speak with the Chiaphenn had all been rejected by the UCPE.
Anna was unsurprised by the treatment. In her life she had been ostracized, demonized and laughed at. She had even been incarcerated in a lunatic asylum for two years. Through it all, she had never doubted that the suffering she endured had a purpose. Never once had she doubted her steadfast resolve would be rewarded.
On that Monday morning when she opened her door to find a trio of butterfly aliens at her door she did not faint or scream. She curtsied. “Welcome,” she said. “Come right in.”
The three aliens walked into her apartment.
“Could I offer you anything? Green tea perhaps?”
“No thank you,” said the lead butterfly alien. “But we would like some fruit if you have any.”
Anna Nguyen Tang served the aliens some mango slices.
“Who created us?” The lead butterfly alien asked. “And what do they want of us?”
“You test me?” Anna replied, confident. “I expected that. No-one created you. You are the butterfly gods. All that matters is what you want of us humans.”
The Chiaphenn were stunned and a little relieved. Their time ships’ travels into their own past had not revealed any creator but the possibility of an invisible creator had worried them. The Chiaphenn had technology that could make their ships invisible and they had been afraid the creator employed similar stealth technology.
The second part of Anna’s statement made one of the other butterfly aliens curious. “You said that all that matters is what we want from you? What do we want from you?”
Anna laughed. She had honestly expected the gods to test her more severely. These were such simple questions. “You have come to judge the sinners. You have watched the way the populace of earth waste their time on idle practices like playing Bingo.”
“We did watch them,” screeched the lead butterfly alien, his wings a bright purple. “She is right.”
“And then…”
“And then,” Anna pointed to newspaper articles covering the Chiapenn’s search for the one true religion. “You began to search for the faithful. You saw to your dismay that the world was full of idolaters and followers of false faiths.”
“You speak true again wise human.”
“And now you will judge the sinners.”
The butterfly aliens exchanged perplexed glances. They actually had not yet made any concrete plans for the human race but this Anna Nguyen had been right about everything else so they asked. “How will we judge them?”
Her voice trembled with fiery passion as she declared, “The unbelievers will be sent to a hell of fire and sulfur and made to pay for their sins. Some of the most sinful such as Bingo players and nurses of mental hospitals will be subjected to an even more severe punishment. The world will be cleansed of sin and then we, your faithful followers, will be taken to the heavens to live with you.
The butterfly aliens listened intently and deliberated. Anna had surprised them. Her sentence for the rest of humanity struck them as rather harsh but then again, she was the priestess of the religion without errors so she must be right.
The next day 847 other needle shaped space ships arrived in earth orbit and the judgment of humanity began. What little resistance the human military attempted to mount was crushed effortlessly; even though humanity now had access to the total knowledge of the butterfly aliens, implementing it would have taken decades.
Billions of humans were transported to their deaths on the fiery surface of the planet mercury. All the mental hospital nurses and bingo players the Chiaphenn found were given a shot of regenerative fluids before being sent to mercury so that they would not die instantly like the rest, but roast in agony for months before succumbing.
Anna Nguyen and the four thousand or so members of the Church of Papilio were taken back to the home world of the butterfly aliens where we have lived ever since.
This is the truth.

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Comments by other Members

toshi at 14:11 on 08 December 2006  Report this post
Hi Daliso

I loved the story. You put so many ideas into it. I especially liked the Butterfly aliens language and what it meant to them and the way you put in sentences like this just as an aside

"such as a big squelch rather than a big bang and a series of glowing creatures that coexisted with, and controlled, the dinosaurs."

which just get you wondering about everything that's ever happened in the universe.

And then in the end the human race gets pretty much wiped out because the aliens chose to believe one (mad but not untypical?) woman! Excellent twist, and also depressingly believable.

I haven't anything much to say on content except that I couldn't quite work out why "nurses of mental hospitals" were so much demonised. I could understand "Bingo players" as following on in the story ,but I couldn't anything logical in mental health nurses. Please explain?

Also Mercury does not conjure up somewhere hot and hellish to me - its only hot on the side facing the sun-otherwise it is a barren rock. If it were me I'd have chosen to send everyone to Venus.

That aside, it is a great story. Here are a couple of typos I noticed in case you're planning to send it for publication:

"While we were most fascinated by their advanced technology, the Chiaphenn, or butterfly aliens (as we nicknamed them), were most fascinated by our way of life."

I wondered if it would be helpful to have "advanced technology" and "way of life" in italics here, to make them the focus of the sentence. I know it's difficult to do italics on this site - I've never managed it myself, but that's just a thought.

"(later we would find out this happened whenever they were excited.)"
I think in these circumstances the bracket should come before the full stop - although maybe that's an american style of punctuation?

"in-all-other-ways ridiculous humans may have hit upon something that had eluded generations of Chiaphenn."
I thought it should be "humans might have hit"?

"Their endeavor was Herculean in proportions as Musa Nxumalo had ensured that they be provided the texts of every religion that was currently practiced on the planet and those that were extinct."

This did not read quite right. Here is my suggestion as it could be written:

"Their endeavor was Herculean in proportions. Musa Nxumalo had ensured they were provided with the texts of every religion currently practiced on the planet and those that were extinct."

"so their needle shaped timeships had to literally sift through a haystack."

Here is a split infinitive. Should it be?

"so their needle shaped timeships literally had to sift through a haystack."

"Anna Nguyen and the four thousand or so members of the Church of Papilio were taken back to the home world of the butterfly aliens where we have lived ever since."

I wondered if it would make the shift of perspective in this sentence read better if there was a hyphen before "where we have lived ever since"?

Anyway those are just suggestions, so feel free to ignore them! I'll look forward to reading more of your stories in the future.

Best wishes

Patsy at 21:02 on 11 December 2006  Report this post
Hi Daliso,

I must say I really enjoyed this -- you kept us guessing right up to the very end.

Toshi did a great read, so I won't add too much :)

Things to consider:

I'd cut the last sentence: "This is the truth." As I don't think you need it.

It might be interesting to see the entire story from Anna's viewpoint alone -- like she's telling it from the alien homeworld, but you don't have to give anything away about the ending. Just give it her voice. It would allow you to add a bit more funny details as see from the view of a crazy woman.

Just a thought :)

hmaster at 20:59 on 16 January 2007  Report this post
Good evening Crazyforeigner.

I loved your story, ridiculous played with a straight face, something of Hitchhiker's/Discworld about it. They were plenty of moments that brought a smile to my face (I think the needle-ship sifting a haystack was my favourite) and I can't really think up too many suggestions for improvement. And the ending of the story is in not predictable, simply coming out of leftfield with comic timing.

So what can comments can I make, hmmm....

Brackets brackets brackets. I do think that the brackets could do with some pulling back, or complete annihilation if possible. Brackets can usually be dispensed with by swapping them for a humdrum commas or sometimes a pair of snazzy dashes. It's possible you intended the brackets to be a humorous factor in their own right, but I found they stood out in a bad way, but it's possible I just suffer from bracketophobia.

all the color in them leached away
Color, if published in the UK, should be colour. I don't actually know how sensitive magazines are to British/American spellings, but I don't think they're color/colour blind.

(Later we would learn that the draining of pigment from their wings happened only when they were terrified)
I'm not sure if this line is entirely necessary - the draining of the colour is reminiscent of blood draining from the face. However, if you want to keep it in, I'd try to suppress your narrator from being so visible because he/she isn't that visible most of the time. Something like "No one was to know that the Chiaphenn's wings drained of colour when they were terrified." rather than the use of "we". This happens a number of times and I also think it would be good to pull out the "we" where you can as it jars the flow of the story a little.

that was 100% accurate
Not sure I liked the use of the percentage in the middle of the text, but I'm not sure of an appropriate replacement other than something like "completely accurate".

and worshipped the butterfly aliens every word
apostrophe on the end: aliens'

"And then..."
Reading forwards its not clear who is saying this. Reading retrospectively, its clear that its another alien - but the obvious speaker suggested by the alternation in your text is Anna.

I think this is another British/American English thing. I would have expected sulphur.

To counter Toshi's point on the mental hospital nurses, I understood that was because she'd been in mental hospital and thus wanted to settle a vendetta against her "captors".

As for Patsy's comment relating to the final line, I didn't notice that, but it's a good point. It is a little weak, but I understand its reflecting what the Chiaphenn said about the Book of Papilio - this is it, the truth.

Anyway, thanks for sharing, I think it's a great piece.

- HM

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