The Big Visit
By David Castlewitz
Prompted by the comment from the man beside him at the bar, Sam Spears turned to his right and looked at the front page of the stranger's newspaper with its two-inch high headline concerning the West German chancellor's visit to the USSR.
"The war's been over for ten years," Sam said. "I guess we can trust Germany now."
"The Russians? They were our allies during the war, but -- "
"Not the Commies. These guys." The stranger set the open newspaper flat on the bar. A circle of water seeped into the newsprint. He jabbed a finger at a column of black type.
"Astronomers?" Sam said.
"Can we trust them to tell us what they know?"
Sam scanned the story, a report by several major observatories about a large object headed for Earth. An asteroid, they surmised, and predicted a near collision. The military promised to stop it with its latest Atlas rockets if "near" was too close.
If it hits, Sam thought, I can stop looking for a job. He'd spent the summer pounding the streets, sitting through interviews in hot offices barely cooled by whirling electric fans, and now he faced autumn with little to show for half-a-year's effort to change his life. Taking advantage of the GI Bill, he'd studied bookkeeping to raise himself up a notch from messenger and sweeper and delivery man.
He'd finished trade school last June and, with certificate in hand and a typed resume light on experience, spent two months chasing every job ad in the newspaper.
"I don't trust any of them," the stranger said, and slipped off the barstool, the newspaper under one arm as he walked out of the bar.
The weeks passed. News about the space visitor moved to page three and above the fold. Prominent enough for casual readers to see. Radio and TV newsmen featured a minute's worth of information on a daily basis. When the asteroid suddenly changed course, scientists speculated that it hit a tiny space rock, and predicted it would miss Earth by more than a million miles.
A feeling of disappointment fell over Sam when he heard the news. The TV commentator sounded just as disheartened, like a kid who's told that Santa made a detour and wouldn't visit this year. Sam had hoped the panic caused by the oncoming piece of space rock -- said to be as big as the Queen Mary -- would keep his landlord from demanding rent, the electric company from dunning him, and Ma Bell from turning off his telephone. Who'd want to pursue such mundane matters as money and bills with the end of the world encroaching?
Sam continued looking for work and visiting the usual bar where he sat on his usual stool and drank the usual ten-cent glass of beer with a shot of rye. That's where he heard the TV news report that the space object had again changed course. Now it hurtled towards Earth on a collision course at a rate of speed no one in the scientific community could explain.
The army vowed to be ready. Sam laughed, imagining soldiers lined up in rows aiming their M1 rifles at the sky.
The UN convened a meeting of the world's scientists.
Religion played its part. TV showed throngs of men and women and children walking to various holy sites, sitting in vast cathedrals, with chants and song and prayer, the mainstays irrespective of any specific belief.
Soon, just to the right of the full moon, a white blob appeared. City lights obscured it, but Sam took a trolley car to the countryside and watched with thousands of others gathered in the dark, pointing and speculating.
The blob grew so big after the Winter Solstice that it dwarfed the moon and Sam didn't need to leave the city to get a good look. Even during daylight hours, the visitor loomed in the sky. Soon, its elongated shape became clear. Red and blue and white lights blinked along its sides. Antennae-like projections sprang from its top. Silvery fins extended from its underside.
Scientists reported, the object had moved into orbit around the Earth, with 12 revolutions every day. Without a doubt, it was under intelligent and alien control and everyone voiced speculations as to their origin. The military prepared to meet the visitors. Politicians spoke of peaceful intent. Religious leaders looked for portents in scripture and other writings.
The world stopped worrying about German-Soviet strife, NATO, quarrels in the Middle East, rumblings from Southeast Asia, anti-colonial yearnings in Africa.
The world waited for the aliens to land.
And then the object shrank in size. The moon dwarfed it. The visitors left the sky.
Speculations buzzed everywhere, from radio and TV, the pulpits of the world's holy men, the gathering scientists at the UN, and the huddled generals and admirals of every country's military.
They'd come, whoever they were. They'd looked at the world and then left, like tourists too disinterested to get off the boat when passing some decrepit seaside community.
They'd come, but they didn't stay.
Most everyone spoke with certainty that they'd be back, whoever or whatever "they" were. Perhaps they'd wanted to be invited to land. Perhaps the bellowing military frightened them off. Perhaps, Sam thought as he continued to look for a job, Earth just wasn't good enough to warrant their time.
He pounded the streets during the winter months, galoshes on his feet, his body wrapped in a cloth coat, his collar turned up to shelter his face, his dark hair a bit longer than it should be if he wanted to impress a future employer.
- - -
I've enjoyed an exciting career as a software developer, but my true love is SF and Fantasy. I live in a suburb north of Chicago, listen to Country music as well as Classical, ride a bicycle, and can sometimes be a TV junkie. I've published several short stories over the years. Visit my website to learn more: www.davidsjournal.com
Thursday, March 24, 2016
The Big Visit
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