Chapter One- Out with the Old.
If anything qualified as a bad year, then this had to be it. What else do you call it when you lose your job, your wife, your house, your car, most of your belongings and (totally unrelated at least) aliens invade the Earth? Invade, perhaps, was too strong a word, but it would be certainly be understatement to call it a visit. Christopher Palmer was glued to the holoview in the hotel lobby, just like probably nearly everyone else in the world. The room was full of business types, befitting a solid 3-star business hotel in London. Everyone seemed to be congregating in order to derive some comfort and normality amidst all the chaos. Besides, their were only 2Ds to watch in the rooms.
Not much had changed, he noted, in the news coverage of the visitors since the previous evening. Chris began interspersing people watching between the repeating cycle of expert analysis on the news. At 9:30 am, surely most of these people had places where they were supposed to be. They were dressed for it, at least, in the smart business attire for which London was now known. London was now the fashion capital of Free Europe, ever since France had voted to join the New Caliphate some 60 years ago, sparking the great Paris exodus. Chris generally preferred dressing up a bit himself. Given his current circumstances though, he was dressed today instead in the tourist du jour of synth-jeans, t-shirt and a practical light jacket appropriate for the unpredictable weather of England in the Spring.
He noticed, offhandedly, that most of his fellow guests did not look nearly as on edge as they had yesterday morning. He wasn’t sure really that this was the same group, of course. They were all really just a blob of humanity that he was somehow disconnected from, as far as he was concerned. He had been considerably more alarmed yesterday, as well, of course. The first reports of the visitors had focused on the military response. This was not surprising, really. The visitors had, for some hitherto unknown reason, chosen to make their first appearance two days ago in probably the most dramatically dangerous fashion possible. Their sudden appearance in Sino-Asian airspace had been met with a furious response. The Chinese Airforce, the most formidable in the world, had summarily greeted their arrival as an invasion. Predictably, perhaps, given the last 3 decades of growing isolation and institutional paranoia, they had not reacted calmly. The Chinese had thrown everything short of nuclear weapons at the small-city sized lander that had unexpectedly descended from the sky a few scant miles outside the Hong Kong Harbor.
The visitors had not responded in-kind, of course, but even their passive defenses had taken a destructive toll. Over-zealous drone pilots continually strayed into its curious field of exaggerated gravity, plummeting from the sky and crashing violently into the sea. The myriad missiles that had salvoed uselessly for hours on end had met roughly the same fate. Even the blazing strikes appearing to come from orbit had warped their trajectory as they approached the ship, like magnets avoiding their like pole. Their energy weapons were similarly useless. They, at least, were simply absorbed without violent explosions or fiery crashes.
At some point during that first evening, their point made perhaps, or occupants simply annoyed or bored, the lander had quietly zipped away from Hong Kong. The ship had taken up residence next near a densely populated region in the free territory of Japan. It now hovered mostly undisturbed above a large lake near the coast, 40 miles northeast of Tokyo. Whether this was diplomatic patience, or a grudging acceptance of the futility of the Chinese military reaction, Christopher Palmer had no idea. The Free Asian States were not nearly so well equipped to respond similarly, in any case.
Dozens of news-hovers now swirled around the ship. They had not experienced the same fantastically destructive gravity fields. The visitors, it seemed, valued good press as much as anybody else. The hovers now fed a constant 3-dimensional feed back to a curious world. Experts pontificated sagely about the significance of the locations the visitors had chosen to visit, the significance of twice choosing to hover over water rather than land, about what the aliens might look like and everything else which they had no idea but speculated about anyway. The sheer amount of pontificating, in fact, was breathtaking.
No communication with the aliens had been confirmed. The silence was fueling a predictable array of responses. The typical 2% of conspiracy theorists were decrying the obvious hoax. A growing minority were heralding the arrival as the return of various Messiah figures or heavenly kingdoms. UFO groups were suddenly in great demand on popular news networks to fill the lull hours between government announcements. The government announcements were predictable. “Don’t worry. Stay calm.”, repeated in a thousand languages, to a population that was going to be worried anyway. The world was anything but calm.
Christopher Palmer hadn’t been frightened by the visitors. He’d been intrigued at first, and blissfully distracted from his own problems. He had a lot of problems. Alternatively, he had virtually no problems at all. It was all a matter of perspective, really. He was a spry 59, and thanks to the best medical care and regenerative therapies that the 23rd century could offer, all available to him until very recently, due to the very deep pockets of his wife’s family, he could easily pass for an athletic 39 year old. His split with his wife, just 3 months previously, had certainly meant a number of changes. He’d worked for her family trust, directing the acquisition and maintenance of a vast collection of antiquities. Just days after their split, the trust had politely but firmly requested his resignation, and promised a suitable allowance to ease his transition to a new situation, as they’d described it. So, here he was, living on another continent, relying upon that comfortable allowance. He had fallen from the heights, but there were certainly worse fates. So he’d thought a few days ago, at least.
Christopher Palmer was childless. He was an only child of only children, and his parents had not had access to the same kind of life and youth extending care that he had stumbled upon by marriage into old money. They’d both passed just a few years before he’d started dating June Cavendahl. The night of the alien arrival, Chris had tried calling his wife. It was not so much a desire to reconcile on his part, but a reflex. Who else would he reach out to, when the end of the world seemed nigh? She had not accepted the call.
She’d been a flirtatious and attentive student in his Ancient Cultures course at Amherst College when they’d met 15 years ago. He was a young unmarried Professor. The amorous attention of his students was not unusual. Just weeks after finishing his class, she’d offered to show him her family’s collection. It was almost a sad cliche, as awkward pick-up lines often are, and he’d almost demurred. “But where’s that wiseman, that would not be I”, he’d quoted Donne to himself, “If she would not deny?” It had not been the money that swayed him, though his colleagues all assumed it. It had been the collection. He’d truly fallen in love with that glorious collection at first sight.
Before the arrival of the visitors, all that remained of that life was the still flowing allowance, the looming finality of a divorce agreement, and a dwindling pool of fair weather friends. He’d eventually be able to find another faculty position, perhaps. He didn’t care about teaching, though. He still lusted for the great collections. As the curator of the Cavendahl collection, he’d had access to virtually anything. His collection, as he still thought of it, was not the largest or best. It was, however, part of the club. It had trade and loan agreements with virtually every collection in Free Asia and the Americas. All of that was gone now. Closed to him forever. When he’d first realized that loss, it had seemed unbearable.
That was how he’d ended up in London. Europe still had extensive collections of antiquities, but it was not in its prime. Legacies of a colonial past two hundred years past, the museums of Europe were still amazing, but much had been lost (or perhaps merely obscured, he hoped) in the rise of the Islamic Europe states. The British Isles, parts of Northern Europe, the Baltic States and parts of Russia had rejected joining in the New Caliphate that had swept southern Europe and much of Germany in the wake of the protracted collapse of the European Union. Honoring the wishes of their powerful neighbors, however, they’d done the unforgivable. Just twenty years prior they’d honored an Islamic court decree and shipped an extensive collection of pre-Islamic Egyptian art, on loan from the Metropolitan, to Spain (the western capital of the Islamic states). This had severed all the European Museum collections from the museum networks of the Free States of Asia and the Americas. He knew exactly how it felt to be severed like that, and he hoped to start anew here.
As he sat in the lobby of his adequate London hotel and watched the droning coverage of the Alien arrival, however, all his hopes began to seem so distant. Maybe the world was ending. Maybe a new world was beginning. Whatever was happening, he didn’t see where he’d fit anywhere into it. He’d been having only limited success in his efforts to find a suitable situation before the visitors’ arrival. It was not the sort of job that was posted on a job board. His few acquaintances in Europe were mostly former students who only seemed to remember him vaguely. There was no hope of contacting them in the midst of all this. None of the museums had any interest in discussing hiring right now, either. “How could he think of that right now?”, he pictured them saying. He could only image what they were saying, however, because absolutely no one was taking his calls.