The Damocles Legacy - a short story by author Neal James

The first arrival had appeared as a steadily brightening light in the eastern sky, and had approached with an increasing intensity over a period of almost two weeks. To the general population it had seemed at first nothing more than the usual amount of activity within the solar system, caused by space debris which would inevitably burn out in the upper atmosphere as it approached. There would be a brief and spectacular light show, and then everyone would go back to whatever it was that they had been doing before its arrival. This time however, it was different.
The object slowed its rate of approach, and came to rest at a distance of about one thousand miles from the surface. It was still too far away for the amateur astrologists amongst the population to make out any details, but all governments’ resources had been trained upon it since surveillance satellites orbiting the planet had detected its signature more than a month earlier. At a hastily convened conference, leaders of the major powers met to decide upon the best means of approach to an alien vessel which had clearly come in response to a variety of mechanised probes launched throughout the previous millennium.
Amidst growing concern, and a disturbingly agitated set of demands from the hawks amongst the gathering, a decision was taken to step up the global security level to 4, one mark short of a war footing alert. Those members with positions on the Security Council were more cautious in their approach, and a proposal was carried at full meeting to step up communication attempts on all of their known channels to the ‘visitor’. Initial radio messages had gone unanswered, but experts in universal language techniques had been working night and day to refine all programs in order to widen the range. For the moment, all inter-racial disputes were forgotten, and weaponry of every kind was on the move to positions of maximum effect should they be required. There was no doubt that these manoeuvres would not have gone unnoticed by whatever populated the craft now stationary over the largest continental block on the planet’s surface.
As more and more attempts at reaching out were seemingly ignored, a sense of panic began to spread invidiously. Like some airborne viral infection, it afflicted everyone but the fanatically religious within days. Those sects took to the mountains in celebration of the fulfilment of ancient prophesies laid down in all of the sacred texts. All differences now forgotten, they proclaimed the return of the messianic being promised to them millennia before.
Secular authorities chose quite a different path. With all armaments now trained in the same direction, and the multiplicity of communication attempts redundant, the first belligerent actions were taken. In response to intercontinental rivalry, satellite laser weapons had been deployed many centuries before. A prolonged stand-off, fuelled by ever increasing expenditure on maintenance and development, had almost brought the entire planet to the brink of an Armageddon, and this had only been averted by a strategic arms limitation treaty signed even as weapons were being primed for use. This arsenal was now reconfigured and retargeted in the same direction. All that was needed was a single word of command.
The disappearance of the vessel was sudden and completely unexpected. One moment it was there, exactly where it had been stationed for the past few weeks, the next it was gone. The initial outpouring of general relief amongst the global population was shared by neither those of a religious persuasion, who saw it as nothing more than a delay in the inevitable, nor the government leaders attending the initial conference. Amidst all the general rejoicing there was an ominous calm along the planet-wide corridors of power, and despite repeated media requests for comment, no leader could be persuaded to voice an opinion. All global satellite surveillance equipment remained on full alert and focussed in the same direction as the first approach. They waited...
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A published collection of short stories by Neal James is titled 'Short Stories - Volume One'
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