I have pleasure in offering below, the full text of my short story, “When It Happened”. I hope you enjoy it.
No-one could say when it happened. Or, more exactly, when it started. Even now, after all this time and with the luxury of who knows how much hindsight, the origins are still unclear. And in simply asking the question – “When did it start?” – you have also to ask when they started to arrive. Another imponderable.
We know now – or at least we think we do! – that they are very much like us; perhaps just a little taller, that’s all. And certainly not obese. They would have blended in right away, without causing any kind of stir or alarm; modest, quiet, softly spoken, polite. Thinking about it, there were probably some places, some cultures, where they most certainly would have stood out; remarkable for being unobtrusive, passive, demanding no attention.
After ‘the Crash’ in 2008, a recovery was always inevitable. It is always thus in the cycle of things. And whilst, at the time, it seemed as if things would never get better and would always be desperate, deep down everyone believed in ‘recovery’ – the word at least, even if we didn’t truly know what it meant.
Of course the politicians and the economists took all the credit. Things had improved because of their actions, their prudence. There had been prolonged debates about Growth versus Austerity until the meanings of those two words faded into nothingness. And actually no-one really cared what it was called – or, in spite of what they may have said, how we got there – we just wanted things to be better, to feel better. And soon enough (at least measured against the history of the world!) it did. In spite of economic close calls in countries like Greece, Ireland and Portugal, eventually a new equilibrium prevailed, and people began to get used to low interest rates, higher levels of employment, optimism, stability.
We still do not know how they helped, or how many of them helped, or what they did, but we are certain – a few of us in our global band of brothers – that they did. How else could we have dug ourselves out of the mire?
And then their influence grew. Or perhaps it all happened in parallel. There are various theories. But other, smaller things started to change. Bizarre things. For example, the trains started to run on time – just about everywhere. The excuses of ‘leaves on the line’ or ‘the wrong kind of snow’ were relegated to an ancient lexicon, as much in the present as “Beowulf”. And when this started happening, more people started using them, more trains were provided, some old lines were reinstated, prices fell. When the number of cars on the road began to level out and then fall, the politicians took centre stage again to claim victory, testifying to their skill and expertise, pointing to agreements at climate change summits, decisive action. And then one year the ice caps started growing again.
It was probably convenient that there was someone willing to take the credit; it stopped difficult questions being asked, impossible theories being posited. There are some who believe that governments were infiltrated in order to affect policy and to get things done, but there is no evidence either way really. Some of those in power seemed too good to be true on occasion, too lucky; and their proposals seemed suddenly radical, simple, full of common sense. Changes were given labels, and labels mantra, and the world became obsessed with nebulous notions and an undefinable sense of ‘doing what was right’. Not everyone subscribed of course, and not everyone benefitted from all their changes. When the Internet started to become somehow self-policing, with a gradual reduction in the ‘less desirable’, some commercial interests were impacted but no-one seemed to suffer in any profound or meaningful sense.
But it was with war where the most important metamorphosis occurred.
At first it seemed like failure; a plague of gremlins. On bombing raids in the Middle East, rockets would jam or, if fired, miss their intended target and explode harmlessly in the desert; bombs would fail to detonate and simply embed themselves in the earth. Then the planes themselves started to malfunction. Not disastrously so – non-one died – but they developed faults, had to return to base early, even failed to take-off. There were calls for more spares to be sent to the Theatres of War, commitments were made to greater build quality. But things simply got worse.
Long-range missiles ceased to be long-range, and then ceased to have any range at all. Waging war became difficult for governments; it was something that was getting harder and harder to do from a distance. All protagonists were affected. Suicide bombers found themselves with vests packed with inert material, or – if the explosive was still viable – with timers and triggers that proved faulty and unreliable. Bullets became blanks. To fight on any scale became difficult, and war impossible. And with remote attack options off the table, the only way to engage in combat reverted to the medieval and intensely personal. For a few, it was a massive step backwards. Even in the age of the Internet, sophisticated computers, vast investment budgets, if you wanted to fight with someone you had to do so face-to-face, mano-a-mano. To threaten someone many hundreds of miles away, you now had to go to where they were in order to do so – and when military transport started to misbehave too…
Everyone was confused. The politicians could not explain the faults, the defects. After a while, however, the aborted bombing run or failed mission ceased to be newsworthy. Stories of suicide bombings dissolved. Gradually people simply stopped fighting; war became like an old photographic negative losing its image. At one point a Cardinal from South America suggested that the very atoms of war, the building blocks of explosives and metals, had been granted a sense of morality, a code by which to work. How else could you explain why commercial flights flew without any trouble and yet war planes could not? Gods were invoked.
Unable to contest boundaries or ideologies through trials of strength, and unwilling to best your neighbour by physically killing him yourself – by really spilling his blood – people were forced to talk, to negotiate, to arrive at practicable and workable solutions. And as the wars stopped, the rebuilding started, and people began to go home. Borders became meaningless. This time the politicians were joined by the clergy in claiming victory, and even as they did so the notion of supremacy, of any supremacy – political or religious – was starting to fade as well.
I met one of them once – or at least I think I did. She had an aura about her; calm, precise, quiet, likeable. But above all, profoundly wise. She wasn’t in a position of power, and simply went about her day-to-day business in much the same way as the rest of us; how else could you avoid attention whilst doing great things? I wanted to challenge her, but refrained from doing so. After all, what could I have said that would have made any sense at all?! And she just seemed to know.
In truth though, I don’t believe any of us has actually met one of them, not for certain. So we can’t say exactly what they look like, or where they are from. We can’t know how long they have been with us, nor how long they are staying. But we believe in them totally. Economic stability, the end of global warming, no more wars. How could we not?
And the fact that the trains now run on time…
This is included in my collection “Secrets & Wisdom”