CHAPTER 21

More than two months had passed since the aliens had arrived. The days were shorter and the nights much colder and longer now. The sun seemed to rarely show its face, hidden almost permanently behind a layer of heavy grey cloud. Dense fogs frequently blew in off the sea, often so impenetrable that Tom could barely see anything from the windows of his home. Sometimes it was easy to believe that the village and everything else had completely disappeared, leaving just the bungalow on the hill.

But it wasn’t just the physical appearance of the world which had continued to change. The influence of the aliens was far reaching, so much so that it was difficult now to remember what life had been like before they’d arrived. The visitors seemed to have skewed all perspectives. On one hand, the Earth now felt like just one small speck of dust amongst billions: fragile and insignificant. On the other, the aliens appeared to be giving the human race a ‘bunk up’, their influence having substantially increased mankind’s reach and ambition. Tom thought it felt as if the physical size of the human race had been diminished, but at the same time the volume of its collective voice had been cranked up to previously unheard levels.

Tom found it easier to accept the aliens now that he could see tangible benefits starting to appear. Last week, the first manned expedition to Mars had been announced. It was due to launch mid-April. Gone were the days when years of planning, selection, research and training were necessary. The farmers in the former deserts were preparing to harvest their crops, grown in previously lifeless dustbowls. Just last week a massive earthquake in the Pacific Ocean had, with alien help, been predicted, then prevented. Had they not been here, thousands of people, maybe even tens or hundreds of thousands, would have lost their lives or at the very least their homes as a result of the quake and subsequent tsunami and aftershocks.

In the short time they’d been here, the aliens had changed the face of the planet at a faster rate than humans had ever managed. They never gave the impression of taking over or preaching, rather they were careful to offer their help when appropriate and point out things which could be done better, or things which were being done wrong.

But Tom still didn’t feel entirely comfortable.

He lay in bed next to Siobhan, unable to sleep. The numbers on the alarm clock glowed in the dark. Half-four. He’d been watching the clock since just after two when he’d first woken up. Siobhan rolled over, turning her back on him, and he put his arm around her and edged closer, hoping she’d wake up. Back in those first frantic days and weeks of their relationship, it wouldn’t have taken much to start something at moments like this, no matter how tired they were. The first rush of passion which accompanied their love affair was definitely beginning to fade. She grumbled something, half-asleep, but otherwise didn’t respond. Maybe she’s just cold, he thought. It could just be the time of year, or the time of the month. Or the fact she’s got to go to work in the morning. Then again, it might just be me.

He held her tightly, not wanting to let go.

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