One day the world awoke to see a giant Hand in the sky. Thousands of kilometres long and half as much wide, the uncanny white object loomed over a terrified planet. No one had seen the Hand arrive from space, if indeed it had come from there. It simply came into being 9.01am eastern daylight savings time.
Hovering in the air at a height of some 5,000 feet, suspended by forces none could comprehend, it seemed as if at any moment the Hand would descend from above and squash the planet’s inhabitants to dust.
Just as terrifying was the fact that the Hand cast no shadow.
Was the Hand a giant alien mothership? Was its appearance a prelude to invasion? Were there little green men inside, peering out of unseen windows at the planet’s scared inhabitants?
No one knew.
Around the world states of emergency were declared. Authorities warned civilians to stay in their homes. Billions cowered in their living rooms, filled with a powerful sense of dread as governments tried to deal with the situation.
At first, aircraft were sent to approach the Hand. Yet whenever one came within 300 metres of the Hand’s long fingers, its controls malfunctioned, sending its hapless pilots to their deaths below.
The Americans tried to parachute scientists and soldiers onto the Hand’s surface. All died within seconds of landing, as if the Hand’s surface was dangerously radioactive.
The Americans were outraged by the seeming “hostility” of the Hand. Why, if it wasn’t with them – “them” being humanity – perhaps it was against them?
Cooler heads at the UN talked the enraged Americans out of trying to shoot the Hand down with rockets, bullets or nukes – would that even work? – in preference of attempting to open a dialogue with the Hand.
After all, this could be Earth’s first contact with extra-terrestrial life. And who knew what the Hand wanted? Or what powers it might possess? Perhaps it came in peace:it had taken the form of a human appendage, surely an encouraging sign.
Thus the aerial behemoth was bombarded with radio waves, sound and light in an effort to gauge its intent. Scientists from the Search For Extra-terrestrial Life were brought in to communicate with the Hand.
There was no reply to any of these attempts.
Left with little or no information to go on, the public entered into its own dialogue with the being in the sky. Some shouted at the Hand until they were hoarse. Men fired guns, knowing that the bullets wouldn’t even come close but keen to register their defiance. The curious stared through powerful telescopes, watching for the tiniest sign of movement.
Each morning the world hoped and prayed that this would be the day that the Hand was gone. And each morning it was disappointed.
And still the Hand remained in place.
Everyone was left to adjust to the giant Hand’s presence the best they could. Aircraft both military and civilian were forced to perform delicate manoeuvres to avoid the Hand. Indeed, flying became a luxury indulged in only by the rich, the fearless and the mad.
The Russians asked their cosmonauts for a description of what the Hand looked like from space. The resulting images sent back were even more terrifying than expected: the Hand looked like an immense claw wrapped around the earth, poised to snuff out humanity with a single squeeze.
Naturally this fact was kept secret from the public.
Weeks passed. Humans reluctantly emerged from their homes to go about their daily business. Life, if one could call it that, went on. Everyone did their best not to think about the Hand or even glance up at the sky. Yet it was futile. No one thought about anything else. Conversations became elaborate dances where one spoke about anything else except for the Hand, merely underlining what in fact everyone was thinking about.
The animal world was just as traumatised by the Hand’s mute presence. Cows miscarried. Birds fell from the sky. Dolphins shunned the surface. Whales beached themselves en masse on coastlines. Family pets hid under beds, refusing to come out, or ran around in circles as if driven insane.
After the shock of the Hand’s arrival, then came the next stage: the attempt to process and “normalise” its presence.
Late-night talk-show hosts made jokes about the Hand in a feeble attempt to distract from its horror. Audience members laughed hysterically, eyes wide and voices shrill, in a vain attempt to fool themselves that anything to do with the Hand could be amusing.
Politicians promised that the world had seen worst times and that humanity would pull through as always.
Few believed them.
The strain on the world’s collective consciousness was immense. Murder and suicide skyrocketed. Marriages collapsed. Patriarchies faltered. Criminals stood their ground against the police, realising that government – even humanity itself – was no longer the most power force in the universe. Heart attacks upon first sight of the Hand in the morning were common. Many turned to drink, drugs or sex.
Those of a religious bent became even more devout. Atheists fell to their knees, praying to whatever sky god would listen that they would be humble and pure – if only the Hand went away.
Some countries thought the Hand was an American trick. The Hand was, indeed, white, as smooth and bright as a giant ivory tusk. Why was it not black, brown or yellow? Perhaps it was a giant symbol of Western white dominance. The Americans replied that the Hand was just as inconvenient to them as everyone else.
Entire industries sprang up to analyse and explain away the Hand. Psychiatrists claimed the Hand wasn’t even there and was, in fact, a mass hallucination, a figment of our darkest fears. Then there were the civilian pundits, the water-cooler prognosticators, who said the Hand was some gigantic alien being eager to communicate with us … if we only knew how.
The established church believed the Hand was an imminent sign of the Rapture.
Others thought more darkly that Ragnarok, hell on earth or total destruction were imminent.
Months passed. Sleep, if anyone could manage it, was broken and haunted: lying in bed, one could still sense if not see the oppressive presence of the Hand, pulsating with dark energy. The world’s economy was in Depression. If a planet could be on the verge of a nervous breakdown, then Earth was a prime candidate.
“Do something!” the world screamed at the Hand. “Do anything! Curse us, bless us, destroy us, reward us with strange, alien gifts, but for God’s sake, do something!”
Still the Hand refused to move or even flex a finger.
As science and politics had failed, humans turned to what they had turned to for millennia for explanation: religion.
New prophets sprang up, particularly in America. “Obey the Hand,” they said.
The leaders of the Hand cult – as it came to be known – believed they knew exactly what the Hand wanted. Specifically, it wanted them to lead mankind. It was a message they spread to their followers through speeches, the internet and a strange form of sign language considered the most holy of languages.
At first the devotees of the Hand were dismissed as mere cranks. Yet more and more people chose to wear the red robes of the cult, a white hand emblazoned on their chests.
The longer the Hand stayed in the heavens, the more the cult’s numbers grew.
Celebrities began to join the holy bandwagon. Fringe politicians were next, sensing votes. Religious types disenchanted by their previous faith were attracted by the vigour and energy of this new faith. Businessmen followed, chasing new entrepreneurial sectors populated by those who were vitalised rather than paralysed by the Hand.
As its numbers grew, the Hand cult grew bolder. It fashioned its own “bible”. In its version of Genesis, the Hand was sent from “God” to remind mankind of its own impiety. Yet salvation was at “hand” – if only humanity had ears to receive the message. The fact that the Hand refused to speak was interpreted as a twist on the old Christian form of faith.
And who knew what the Hand had commanded? Why, its high priests, men and women from all walks of life (but mostly the poor and uneducated) who had one thing in common: they heard the message first.
Six months on, the UN finally succumbed to pressure from the United States and agreed to tactical nuclear strikes on the Hand. The sky was lit up as missiles thousands of times more powerful than those that devastated Hiroshima struck all over the Hand’s surface.
When the onslaught was finished, the world held its breath to find out the result.
The TV cameras told the story first. The nukes had had no effect.
The cult of the Hand regarded the nuclear strike as the worst form of blasphemy. The United States became the Great Satan in their eyes. Their members prayed that the Hand would smite America for its wickedness.
Still, the Hand did nothing.
One year later, and with no sign of the Hand disappearing, the forces of the Hand numbered in the hundreds of millions. Elections swept many of their members and supporters into power. With their numbers came audacity.
“Destroy anyone and everyone who goes against the Hand,” they said.
The Hand cult had turned into a Fist.
Vulnerable countries were overthrown in deadly coups. Large parts of Europe were now under the sway of the Hand cult. Several Asian nations – including Japan – sided with the Hand’s forces. Russia joined them after the cult leaders promised the Russians restoration of their Cold War territory.
China sided with no one, promising to remain neutral.
South America swore loyalty to the Hand’s forces, seeking the address of historical grievances against the United States.
Everyone wondered exactly when the nukes were about to fly. Yet few outside the Pentagon and White House knew that America’s nuclear stockpile had crumbled to ashes seconds after the US had launched its nuclear strike at the Hand. As had missiles belonging to the rest of the world.
It seemed as if the hovering being did possess some kind of power after all. It had communicated its distaste for the world’s most deadly weapons. This fact was also kept secret from the public.
Few were surprised when World War III came. Like rats in a cage, subject to random, electric shocks over which it had no control, humanity turned on each other instead.
Armies and navies battled each other around the globe. Millions died. Major cities were destroyed. Neighbourhoods were torn apart, split down the middle by belief.
“To kill a man with one’s bare Hands is glorious,” claimed the Hand cult.
If the Hand was on anyone’s side, it didn’t say.
The war dragged on for months. The death toll was now in the billions. Even China had been forced into the conflict when North Korea – now siding with the Hand cult – launched chemical weapons against the unbelievers in China. The PRC pulverised North Korea as firmly as if the Hand had done it itself.
And then, just when the war was reaching a critical mass, when it seemed as if no one would survive, or indeed keep their sanity, the Hand vanished. Without warning. Without a sound. Like it had never been there in the first place.
Stunned, both sides stopped fighting. Opposing soldiers stared at each other, wondering what all the fighting had been about. There was a joyous sense of release. The Hand was gone. The sky was clear. The world could sleep at last.
The leaders of the cult of the Hand felt the vanishing of their “God” deep in their souls, even as they were being led to the execution chambers. Why had the Hand forsaken them? Had they not been devout? Had they not suffered, fought, bled for the Hand?
Now came the post-mortem.
What had been the Hand’s purpose? To expose how fragile the peace was between humanity? To warn the world that it was being watched by powerful, unknown beings? That mankind was being judged on a galactic scale?
Or … even worse … that there had been no meaning at all?
Only the Hand knew the answers to those questions.
And wherever it was, it wasn’t saying anything.
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