Midnight had come, and the day that was now beginning would be unlike any that the human race had ever known, in the many thousands of years of its existence. A great invisible boundary was being crossed between the old world and the new. Jonathan Doors met the tremendous transformation standing on the flagstoned rear patio of his mansion in the hills of central California, with his wife beside him reclining in her wheelchair. For the past hour their two sets of eyes had been searching the starry sky for some sign of the eagerly awaited new arrivals, the unknown and mysterious entities who called themselves Taelon, or the Companions.
For nearly a year now, Taelon messages had filled the media around the world, but their senders were still virtually unknown to the native inhabitants of planet Earth.
When first received, those incoming radio and television signals, the soft voices speaking in flawless English and half a dozen of the most widely spoken other earthly tongues, had been almost universally assumed to be some kind of elaborate prank. But not for long. In a matter of days, scientific observers, using Earth’s finest radio telescopes, had proven with mathematical certainty that the sources of those signals were in the outer reaches of the solar system. They were out there on the fringe of truly interstellar space, but they were moving very swiftly in the direction of the inner, minor planets, at diminishing velocities calculated to match the speed and—location of the moving Earth. And that correspondence was calculated to take place on the very day that the soft voices themselves predicted their arrival.
And the messages promised many wondrous things.
Their authors proclaimed that they were coming across the immense gulfs of space in peace and brotherhood, and that they intended from now on to be Companions to the people of Earth.
They asked no permission for their planned landings. They ignored the warnings and threats beamed out to them by the militant leaders of some smaller nations. They simply spelled out the symbolic pattern in which they intended to alight upon our world. The first Companion ships were to touch down just west of the International Date Line, and just past the hour of local midnight. From there the pattern would march on west around the Earth, so that the new day and the Taelon presence would arrive together in every city and every nation.
As Doors and his wife intently scanned the skies, looking for the first sign of a Companion presence in California, television and radio reported that Vladivostok and Tokyo were already engaged in a mild verbal feud as to which of them had been first to welcome the newcomers.
It seemed there were going to be between fifty and a hundred landings altogether. Australia and Asia, Africa and Europe, had entirely entered the new world, and the front of transformation had now swept completely across the Americas, except for Alaska. Now, at midnight in California, the great event was about three-fourths accomplished.
Doors, a stocky, powerfully built man in his mid-fifties, stood leaning his thick, well-kept hands on the stone balustrade of his enormous house. He was conservatively, casually dressed, in a turtleneck pullover and dark slacks. His beloved wife Amanda, her brown hair neatly styled, was almost fully reclined in her motorized wheelchair, wearing warm slippers and a quilted dressing gown against the coolness of the night. She was dying slowly, of cystic fibrosis, and at the moment a nasal tube was feeding bottled oxygen into her ravaged lungs. Most people would have thought her a few years older than her husband, though in fact he was ten years her senior.
Here at the dawn of the Third Millennium, earthly medicine could do very little for her beyond making her somewhat more comfortable.
Beginning with their very first messages, the Taelons had been promising that the wonderful gifts they were bringing Earth included very powerful help in humanity’s endless war against disease and death. Doors, like everyone else on earth with a loved one blind, or crippled, or visibly in danger of death, had known a sudden fierce pang of new hope.
A chill breeze, born over the Pacific miles away, wandered over the patio, and Doors reached to pull up a blanket around Amanda’s shoulders. Her eyes opened in her pain-worn face.
Doors said to her gently, “I thought you’d fallen asleep on me, lover.”
“Who can sleep at a time like this?” Once Amanda had been widely considered a great beauty; now perhaps there was only one man left on earth who would have judged her so. She showed her husband a wan ghost of a smile.
“Want a pill?” he asked, concern showing in his voice.
“No, not yet. Not just now. I want to keep my mind clear for a little longer.”
“I understand. Let me know when you’re ready.”
Light from the bright interior of the house shone out through the open French doors, onto the flagstone pavement of the dark patio. A babble of excited voices spilled out too. A small crew of Doors’s most trusted aides, his close business assistants and associates, were in there, keeping watch on the elaborate communications gear that never slept, connecting the far-flung components of his multibillion dollar empire. A few minutes ago, Doors himself had suddenly felt tired of looking at familiar screens and the new holographic presentations, and had stepped out of doors to take a look at the universe for himself.
Now the dark silhouette of a young man, one of his employees, appeared in the lighted doorway. “We should start seeing landings in our longitude any time now, chief,” the man said.
“Thanks.” Except to glance now and then at his wife, Doors could hardly tear his eyes from the clear sky. A great fever of excitement had been gradually growing in him for weeks, and over the past few hours the fever had risen toward climactic intensity.
As if by reflex, Doors unhooked his personal communicator from his belt and checked its tiny screen. Now, for half a day and half a night, the news reports from around the world had concentrated entirely on a story unprecedented in human history. They were chronicling an event that could never be repeated, even if the human race endured for another million years.
As the Companions’ ships approached the inner reaches of the solar system—such radar measurements as could be taken put them all now within the Moon’s orbit—the dominant mood of humanity in most of the nations of the earth had been one of celebration, though some people and a few governments were preparing as for a hostile invasion. Scientists observing the ships’ progress from the destination world could only speculate as to what kind of propulsion could produce the kind of flight that they were watching.
In the Middle East, still ravaged, still literally smoking in places from the latest war, one or two ground-to-air missiles had been launched, with no discernible effect on the darting, blue-white ships that served as the vehicles of the Arrival. If any manned interceptor aircraft had left their runways, no one was talking about it in open communications. Nowhere, so far, were there any reports of armed conflict, once the Taelons and humans had actually come face to face. Once on the ground, the peaceful visitors were everywhere being greeted peacefully, most often actively welcomed, if usually not without some suspicion.
Doors had his own cynical doubts about the public picture thus presented. Surely, among Earth’s uncountable madmen, at least a good handful must already have launched themselves, or ordered their fanatical supporters, in one violent effort or another at this target more tempting than any president or monarch could ever be. But any such attempts that might have been made so far had evidently been suppressed by other humans, with quiet and possibly ruthless efficiency.
“Is it going to work, Johnny?” Amanda asked. She made a feeble attempt to take her husband’s hand.
He reached out and squeezed hers as firmly as he dared. After thirty years, he had no need to ask what she meant. “It damn well better work. One or two more wars like the last one, and…” He let the sentence trail off. The latest computer simulations indicated that nuclear winter, the fatal blocking of sunlight by explosion-raised dust clouds, would not be as hard to achieve as had been thought.
“Yes, it had better,” Amanda added softly. “For Joshua. And for those grandkids you and I look forward to being able to spoil some day.”
Doors nodded his agreement. Months ago, he had gone public with his personal opinion regarding the Companions, had expressed his own cautious optimism about the whole tremendous happening. He dared to hope it possible that at least some of the glorious Taelon promises to humanity might be fulfilled in real accomplishment.
“Is there a risk in taking these aliens’ promises at face value?” he had asked rhetorically, in a famous interview only a few days ago. “Sure, there’s a risk But there’s a damn sight greater risk in turning this into a hostile confrontation. We’re already pretty good at making war, and what we need to learn above all is how to make peace. Our new millennium has become a new era of nuclear war. Humanity on this planet may not be given many more chances to survive.”