The Earth stood unaware.
Silent and alone, a blue-green marble floating in the black. Across its surface teemed humanity and everything humanity brought; chaos and noise, movement and life. But out here, from far enough away, mankind’s machinations faded into irrelevance. Watched from afar, the Earth was peaceful.
A silent sphere swimming through an ocean of stars.
To the people who called it home, it was their everything. Most never looked beyond it, convinced without convincing that everything worth watching was already happening here – their neighbours, their nations, their needs; their enemies, their families, their dreams. Every fragment of their lives come and grown and gone on the world beneath their feet. Few looked beyond their homes. Few watched outside their lives.
And, so, few saw when it drew near.
The date by human time was July 6th, 1963.
And a wave of golden light was billowing towards the Earth.
Xin Jiang’s back ached. It always ached when he was digging, but this morning the ground seemed particularly cold. Maybe it was coincidence – maybe he was just getting old. Xin straightened, feeling the muscles crunch in his back. A calloused hand rested on the shovel, the other wiping sweat from his brow.
Strange. The morning had barely begun, but the sun shone unusually bright. He lifted his head, shielding his eyes with a hand – and then stopped, struck still. The sun was no brighter than usual. His field was the same as yesterday.
But above, the sky danced with golden light.
“This god damn council,” Nanette swore in French, striding through the halls towards the sound of crying. First the trees and now – floodlights? At this hour? What possible reason could there be, other than to deprive them all of sleep? Unbelievable. Even with the curtains tightly drawn, wisps of light seeped in around the edges.
“Pierre!” she shouted as she grew closer, the cries growing louder, “Pierre, where are you! Can’t you- can you talk to- just ridiculous,” she muttered under her breath, her bare feet flashing from underneath her silk nightgown. She glided into the nursery and swooped down over the crying bundle.
“Yes, my darling, I know, I know, mummy’s here. I’m sorry, I’m sorry my baby, yes, you were trying to sleep.” She rocked the mewling Oriana against her shoulder, one hand pressed against her tiny head, hushing. “Sleep now my baby, sleep. Pierre?” she called, not as loud this time.
“Out here,” came the reply, and as she glanced around the nursery Nanette saw the window open and her half-dressed husband standing out on the balcony.
“Pierre, what on earth is going on?” she started, moving to join him – but the moment she saw the world beyond their apartment the words fell from her mouth. She stopped.
“Oh my love,” she whispered, and without knowing it she stepped beside him and their hands intertwined.
“It’s beautiful,” he murmured, “Oriana, look.” Nanette turned so the newborn’s eyes could face the shining city, so she could watch, as everyone around her was watching; watch, without understanding, as golden rippling waves illuminated the night sky.
“I know it’s everywhere, I don’t need to hear it’s everywhere, just tell me what the hell it is and who’s behind it.”
General McCulvic’s face was bright red and patches of sweat seeped through his white shirt at the armpits. The cigar that drooped from his mouth had gone out, but neither he nor anyone under his command seemed to have noticed.
“Pentagon sir,” called a junior – Dickson maybe, he could never remember their names – seated at one of the workstations. Each station had a monitor and a head-set phone, knobs and dials and connections to the outside world, and each swarmed with government staff. “They’re requesting an update, they’ve got nothing.”
“Got to be the Ruskies,” someone whispered to McCulvic’s right, but the information flying in thick and fast cut them off.
“Word from the Kremlin, they’re saying it’s not them. Repeat, they’re saying this is definitely not them, and they’re asking us to confirm the extent of our involvement.”
“Our involvement is nothing and we know nothing,” McCulvic barked, “And let those red bastards know it before the nukes start flying. God knows this doesn’t need to get any more out of hand,” he muttered under his breath.
“MI5 confirms phenomenon the same over London.”
“Wire from the Antarctic station sir, it appears to be worldwide.”
“Looting in Detroit.”
“Japan’s called a state of emergency.”
“Beijing on line 5, they want to know what’s going on.”
“NASA’s got no idea, they think it’s some sort of space wind or solar flare.”
“That’s impossible, it’s not a goddamn aurora, how’s it everywhere at once?”
“Get everyone on highest alert,” McCulvic ordered, the words clenched through teeth and cigar. “Ground everything. I don’t care where it’s flying, get it out of the sky and on the ground, now.” He paused, chewing without even thinking. “Move the President and Chiefs of Staff to the bunker. Close schools, lockdown the roads. Emergency broadcast, all channels, tell everyone to stay in their homes.” His eyes narrowed, leering across the darkened room at the images flashing across the screens. “Until we know what the Sam-hell is going on here, we’re not taking any chances.”
He opened the tiny velvet box and pulled out a ring, held gently between his thumb and forefinger. They were alone on the hill, under the tree where they’d first kissed, their initials still engraved in the bark. Alone at sunset on a woollen tartan blanket, with fruit and sweets and a bottle of too expensive wine. A scene straight from a movie; textbook, postcard romance. It would win any girl’s heart. Should.
What was she supposed to say? I love you, but I can’t marry you? That you’re sweet and kind and gentle – but that if I say yes then we’ll never grow, never change, never leave? Because I love you Walter Reid, she wanted to say, but I need more than just love. I need to make a difference. I need to be more than just your wife.
She looked down at the ring in his hand, at his hopeful, besotted smile. With the sun at his back, the world beyond him glowed – and he was overshadowed. This man who loved her more than she could ever love anything. Who would happily do nothing for the rest of their lives, so long as they did it together.
The diamond sparkled, a golden star, the rays of sunlight reflected and refracted through its tiny heart. She loved him. She truly did. But she couldn’t accept the life he offered, no matter how much it hurt, how brightly it shone, how much his proposal lit up the world and made it seem like the sky was awash with gold-
“Oh my God,” she whispered.
Bio: Born and raised in Newcastle, Australia, Ben is a lifelong writer currently studying his Masters in Creative Writing at the University of Technology Sydney. An avid fan of the weird and wonderful, he has wanted to be a writer since he was five years old (before which he wanted to be a dinosaur).