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Denizens: 36 - Destiny

...And there was one other effect that became noticeable even before any of these others, one that was the most fabulous of all. Virtually from day one, the obituary columns in the newspapers emptied. People simply stopped dying. Hospitals all over the world reported that their patients, even the terminally ill in the final stages of the most ravaging of diseases, began to improve, their cancers disappearing, their tumors shrinking to nothing...

The longest and fastest human journey through time and space undertaken by the crew of the paceship Hermes has resulted in a "new'' Earth.

Brian William Neal's sci-fi epic is a thrilling read and deeply satisfying.

For earlier chapters please click on Denizens in the menu on this page.

The magnitude of the gifts bequeathed to the earth by the lost alien world began to become apparent soon afterwards. Slowly at first, then more rapidly in a snowballing effect, reports began to surface, telling of strange phenomena. Every news item reported the same things were happening everywhere, and it quickly became obvious that the world would never be the same place again. By the time the colors in the sky began to fade, the results of the fusing of the alien ship and the creatures were evident all over the world.

Firstly, it was confirmed by dozens of countries that the level of the earthís oceans was dropping; in many cases, by as much as fifty feet in the first few days. Harbors had become canyons, and bays had turned into plains as the waters receded. And the sea level was not the only thing that was falling.

In every city in the world, the level of air pollution was dropping as, inexplicably, the atmosphere of planet earth was becoming cleaner. Harmful gases were disappearing, being absorbed into the strange, colored skies and dissipating. Carcinogens were being rendered harmless, and the carbon dioxide level was falling. At the same time, the oxygen level was rising.

And there was one other effect that became noticeable even before any of these others, one that was the most fabulous of all. Virtually from day one, the obituary columns in the newspapers emptied. People simply stopped dying. Hospitals all over the world reported that their patients, even the terminally ill in the final stages of the most ravaging of diseases, began to improve, their cancers disappearing, their tumors shrinking to nothing.

Hearts began to beat more strongly, clogged arteries cleared themselves, and lungs began to breathe again as the chronically ill, the infirm, the aged and young alike began to become well. Elderly people began to regress in age, looking younger by the day, and the wheelchair-bound began to feel long forgotten sensations in their hitherto useless limbs as their spinal cords incredibly, miraculously, re-connected. People who had entered hospital expecting never to leave began discharging themselves over the objections of their doctors, and to the delight of their loved ones.

Not everyone was happy at this turn of events, of course. Apart from the medical profession, which looked like becoming a largely redundant vocation, there were those who were suspicious of this largesse from another world. Cults sprang up, headed by fanatics who would rather die, and see their followers die, than accept the gift and lose their power over others. After a few mass suicides, wiser heads prevailed, and the world began to acknowledge the miracle granted it by the aliens. Then human scientific curiosity took over, and the scientists began to look for the cause, to find out how and why it had occurred.

Exploratory scientific vessels returned to the site of the incredible fusion, but found no trace of the alien ship or the marvelous creatures. After much pontificating by various uninformed individuals, it was finally realized that the alien technology had succeeded in doing that which earthly science had been unable to do. It had turned the alien metal within the creatures into a gas, and it was that gas, mixing with earthís atmosphere, that had wrought the changes in the environment and the people.

New-found vitality of its people aside, the changes in the earthís environment were also far-reaching and profound. Land bridges appeared between countries where previously there had been only ocean. Between Britain and Europe, the North sea virtually disappeared, and a huge plain was left in its place, making it possible to walk to France, The Netherlands and Scandinavia. Alaska and Russia, and many of the Pacific archipelagoes; all were linked, and still the oceans continued to fall.

When the fall in sea level finally bottomed out at an average of three hundred and twenty feet, everyone breathed a collective sigh of relief. The atmosphere, however, continued to clear.
The large industries at first refused to install the necessary pollution reducing measures they had known about for so long. But after a few of their plants were razed to the ground by angry citizens, they quickly came around, eventually reducing the level of pollution to a tiny fraction of what it was, a level the earth could cope with and absorb.

All over the world, people wondered at the bequest they had been granted by the alien world. Predictably, organized religion called it a boon from God and, just as predictably, tried to take the credit, even after the full story became known. With not a single exception, everyone over the age of twenty or so had their aging process arrested, and slowed to an almost imperceptible rate. In older people, those over about forty or so, the physical signs of age were disappearing. Hair color returned, wrinkled skin smoothed out and became more elastic, and hearing and eyesight aids became redundant. All over the world, the blind could see, the deaf could hear, and the lame, including those with hitherto incurable paralyses, could walk.

Testing revealed that inhaling the alien gas had activated the long theorized-about human gene that controlled the aging process. Scientists had, for decades, been attempting to isolate this gene; now, it seemed, they had been beaten to the punch. But just how the gas cured humankind of its ills remained a mystery for medical people to ponder in the decades and centuries ahead.

Not all creatures were affected by the gas, however. Some domestic and domesticated animals achieved longevity, such as horses, dogs and cats. But insects did not. Nor did birds. Neither, oddly, did most farm animals, such as cows, sheep, pigs and goats. Not deer, nor vermin such as rabbits, rats and mice. It was postulated that any creature except man that already bred prolifically was unaffected; so far, the only explanation put forward was that the gas followed the laws of natural selection.

Subsequent tests showed that peopleís DNA had also been altered; this meant that humankindís new longevity would be passed on to future generations, and that in turn raised several interesting points, such as the problem of future over-population. Despite the extra land area that the lowering of the sea level had produced, mankind would eventually run out of room. Fortunately, later advances in space flight technology made it possible to colonize other worlds, and so rendered the matter moot.

The period for several years after the Event, as it came to be known, was a hectic time for the two surviving travelers and the members of the undersea team that had found them. General Calvin Tiberius Ferguson married Doctor Karen Eleanor Stark in a private ceremony at their home in Phoenix, Arizona. After a brief honeymoon in England, they fulfilled their promise to Jonathan regarding the delivery of his letter to Father Sean Driscoll. The priest preferred to keep most of the contents of the letter to himself, saying only that it was a very private communication. However, he did divulge the last line, which read simply:

N-KB5 mate

It was, Sean said, Jonathanís last mating chess move in the game they had not finished before Jonathan had left earth, and the cleric received it with much amusement.

Then Cal and Karen flew to the small New Zealand city of Nelson to attend the wedding of Tom Stoddard and Jennifer Peel. Arnold Katzmeyer and Julia Sears, who were both very much in demand on the American talk show circuit, also attended both weddings. John Peel served as Tomís best man, while Joe McCulloch, in the full ceremonial regalia of a Navajo chief, stood up for Cal.


*

Over the years, decades and centuries that followed, all of the participants remained close friends, and if a few years were to pass without word from one or another, then it did not matter as much as it once might have. Humankindís long life span meant that the passage of time had less significance than before. However, they all had to admit that it took some time before they got used to the sight of the new Arnold, with his thick black hair, and his apparent age of about thirty-five.

After a short courtship, he and Julia also married, and Arnold amused everyone by declaring that he was going to do something he had always wanted to do: he was going to learn to fly an airplane.

Cal and Karen elected to remain on earth. However, the worldís physicists soon worked out Jonathanís theories regarding faster-than-light travel, and calibrated the length of time necessary to stay just under the speed of light before passing through the barrier in order to be able to emerge still in oneís own time. With this breakthrough, the way was open to the stars, and several expeditions were mounted to different parts of the galaxy.

Several earth-like planets were discovered (there seemed to be a lot of them); one in particular orbiting the star Procyon A, eleven light-years from earth was found to be mostly ocean, with only ten percent of the land mass of earth. Its waters contained an abundance of alien marine life which Tom and Jennifer immediately set out to catalogue, announcing that they intended to settle there.

And so the decades, then the centuries, passed, and all of the friends met regularly, as often as they could, somewhere in the galaxy. The last occasion they were all together was at the home of Arnold and Julia in southern California, just to the south of what had once been the city of Los Angeles, but was now, almost five hundred years on, just a large tranquil bay. People had left earth in their billions, and most of the cities had collapsed, except for the administration centers. Earthís population had been decimated, inadvertently creating a similar situation to that which had existed on the alien world, as described by their friend, ítau. The resources of an entire planet were available to only a fraction of the population.

And so the survival of the human race was assured.


***

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