The Beginning Of The World As You Know It
Before: I’m not one to engage in dream recounting. This one, however, was beyond hyper-realistic. I woke up and expected to be in the world and The Event precisely as I dreamt it. I sat down shortly after waking up and wrote it feverishly, without edit.
I derived the title after hearing Justice Carradine singing “How It Ends.” The melodic syncopation strikes a literal chord in my head and heart.
Here’s the story, unchanged from when I sat and wrote it…
I’m not sure why I’m writing this. You were there the day it happened. That Tuesday started like any other. We all started our day drinking coffee, working, or taking care of our kids. At 10:03, everything changed forever. The news started trickling in that navigation systems were malfunctioning. Planes scrambled to make emergency landings all over the world. Scientists believed that the sun emitted a massive electromagnetic flare that interrupted communications. The military went to DEFCON 1. Every talking head with an opinion emerged from their lairs to spout a theory.
By noon, most major communication networks, except the rudimentary ones, failed. No internet, no radio, no cellphones. Covid had amplified the paranoia of so many. Even the worst conspiracists felt like something significant was happening. No one could explain it, though.
Fifteen minutes later, vehicles stopped working.
We didn’t know at the time that all these things transpired to keep us safe.
At 12:46 p.m., an odd feeling of fatigue washed over me. I sat down on the floor at work. Within a minute, I was almost catatonic. Flickers of indistinct images began to fill my head. Galaxies, models of atoms, time-shifting rainbows of complicated mathematic formulas. It didn’t alarm me. I felt peaceful. This was followed by a voice in my head, a melodic androgynous voice, lulling me into calm.
“We’ve done this a million times. Don’t be afraid. We have perfected our first contact. You’re safe, all eight billion of you. It’s time you joined us if you wish. You will experience a flood of images and information. After which, the choice is yours.”
The images were dozens a second. Yet, I felt my brain envelop them without effort—exotic planets, technology, art, languages that required no voice, faster-than-light travel. Finally, images of alien races, some of which no longer required bodies. I’m not sure how long this really lasted. Some people later said it only lasted a few seconds.
At 12:50 p.m., I woke up, my legs crossed on the floor. I felt full of energy and enthusiasm. I did not doubt that an unseen alien presence offered us a gift, forever telling us that we weren’t alone in the universe.
All communications were restored. Vehicles and navigation systems worked perfectly again. My co-workers joined me in the upstairs conference room to watch the network news channels scramble to explain what every living human had just experienced coherently. It was chaos.
We all held our breath, assuming that whatever had just contacted us would do so immediately. It didn’t, though. You were there.
Within minutes, several world powers began to threaten military action against one another. We watched as Russia and China fired nuclear ballistic missiles. The United States launched almost all of its missiles in response. The news host shouted in disbelief, warning us to take cover.
“From what?” we all whispered. We were in shock. Most of us felt as if we’d just experienced a whisper of the meaning of life. Seeing our militaries respond in a way that might end all of our lives didn’t feel real.
We waited. Nothing happened. None of these missiles exploded or made contact. It was as if they had disappeared. News reports came in that the missiles went off the radar—all of them. Most countries began firing any available hardware they had remaining. None exploded.
Within two minutes, the President of the United States pre-empted the news channel. Joe Biden was obviously inside a bunker below the White House.
He immediately began to speak.
“We don’t know what has happened. All of our defense systems are down. You must prepare for further attack. Effective immediately, martial law is being declared.” As he cleared his throat, the monitor went blank.
A blue square filled the screen.
Words began to cycle across it in large indistinct letters.
It started with the word “No,” in multiple languages.
Images of entire fields of corn and oats and clear streams filled the monitor. They were followed by the same photos with towering alien structures behind them. We somehow knew that those same images had been transmitted to us while we were almost catatonic. Those structures were solar and wind generators, desalinators, and communication hubs.
“You failed the first phase,” the monitor said, again in multiple languages.
“We assume control of all threats against one another for the entire planet. No military can harm another. Any country trespassing its borders will be rendered incapable of action. We wish you could have figured this out for yourselves in the last hundred years. Humanity is a collective. Life will never be the same as you know it. We mean you no harm. We are not gods. We were once like you. We owe our origins to a common ancestor. Please go about your lives without fear.”
The screen went blue and then returned to the President. He was standing slack-jawed and in shock.
The screen went dark.
I stood with a dozen co-workers, trying to grasp what had just happened. It felt like God had finally intervened in our lives.
When the network news channel returned, it was chaos. Nothing similar had ever happened. The younger news anchor motioned for the camera to focus on him, and he began to speak.
“I don’t know what each of you experienced this morning. I feel like the meaning and purpose of life were just handed to me. I’m glad that whatever is doing this took control of the world’s military forces. We can’t trust people with power to make good choices. I ask that each of you take a moment and wonder if the future we glimpsed is worthy and attainable. For the first time, we don’t have control. I don’t think we ever did, frankly. Be calm if you can, and take a minute to hug and talk to the people around you. If you…”
The station cut to a digestive health commercial.
We turned to one another in the conference room and hugged one another. It was eerily silent except for the blare of the monitor on the wall.
“We have to go back to work. That hasn’t changed.” I don’t know who said it, but his voice propelled us to walk out and quietly back downstairs to our department. Nothing seemed important. Oddly, everything seemed monumental. You were there and might understand what I mean. The minutes and hours passed in a blur.
By the time I finished work, people were coming out of their shock. Almost all the major churches in the world were reacting to the morning. The Vatican issued a statement indicating that whatever was communicated this morning wasn’t godly and that such interpretation violated the church’s canons. Most of us felt like it had been, though. Whatever it was that had talked to us individually in our heads felt like a universal presence. Church attendance increased dramatically in the first week. By the second week, it dropped constantly. Within a month, it had fallen to less than 10% of what it had been before The Event.
In the following weeks, there was no more overt communication from whatever had contacted us. Reports began trickling in of scientists, engineers, botanists, and doctors having sudden breakthroughs in their fields. An engineer from NASA figured out a way to increase solar energy generation by using living organisms as a living battery. The same batteries could power vehicles and homes with no emissions and harmful byproducts. A doctor in Mexico City researching viruses discovered that most cancers were caused by previously undetected DNA structures hidden inside cells. A graduate student in Oregon invented a desalination system using no outside energy, which returned the extracted salt to the ocean without affecting the environment. Linguists in Japan wrote an AI that could learn and translate any known spoken or written language to any other almost in real-time.
World governments continued to bicker and argue over laws and resolutions. Canada proposed a new direct democratic system that required no governmental body, using a new AI that allowed every citizen to formulate ideas and submit them. China and Russia attempted to invade several countries. All involved equipment became inoperable.
One morning, I realized I was only sleeping about two hours a night. Many of us gradually began to sleep less, thinking it only affected us. We found ourselves with more free time and energy. Most of us read more, exercised more, and spent more time with friends and family. Though the world seemed to be in turmoil, the truth is that most of us were slowly becoming happier and at peace.
Unfinished… because something stirred me into wakefulness.