We Are Here To Heal You

  “We are here to heal you.”
     The voice was loud enough to make the windows shake, but they didn’t. Still, the noise woke up Mary Whitlow. It was just dawn, Mary saw, and she wondered if she’d dreamed it. She hadn’t been sleeping very well since the accident that had killed her husband and hurt little Ricky so badly.
     “We are here to heal you,” the voice shouted again.
     Mary heard Ricky say, “Mommy, what is it?” Ricky couldn’t walk, and he couldn’t see. It was a blessing that Ricky couldn’t see himself in the mirror; four years after the accident he was still undergoing corrective and restorative surgery. Mary put on a robe and went outside to see where the sound was coming from.
     The voice came again, from above, “We are here to heal you,” and she looked up and saw a huge sphere in the sky, ten times as wide as the full moon. It was a pearlescent white, except for two intersecting red stripes. One ran around the equator, the other from pole to pole.
     Mary stood speechless as the voice spoke again. “We are here to heal you.” The sphere was moving across the sky toward the west, and she saw that her neighbors were standing in their yards staring up, too. But the dogs seemed unaware of the voice, and paid no attention to the sphere.
     “Mommy, what is it, what is it?” She heard Ricky yelling but she stayed and stared at the sphere.
     “We are here to heal you.” The voice was not human, but it didn’t sound machinelike, either. The sphere spoke three more times before passing out of view below the northwestern horizon.
     Mary stood in the silence. Then she heard the strangest sound: thousands of her neighbors in suburban Chicago shouting in amazement to their neighbors. In the still and quiet dawn, the roar of human babble was loud all around.
     “What was it? What was it?” Mary yelled to her neighbor, old Sam, who yelled the same thing back to her. She ran into the house and dialed 911, but she couldn’t get a dial tone; the phone was dead in her hand. The TV had only the normal Saturday morning cartoons, and even CNN showed only Showbiz This Week.
     She turned on the radio and a local station leaped into life. “–so please hang up your phones, the system is overloaded. I went to the roof of the radio station when I heard it, and I saw the same thing as you, folks, a big white sphere with a red cross on it. ‘We are here to heal you.’ I brought a tape recorder but the voice didn’t record, I couldn’t get any reading on it on the vu-meter. Now here’s the funny thing–the janitor was there on the roof with me, and he insisted the sphere spoke in Spanish.”
     A few minutes later the sphere was seen approaching Minneapolis/St. Paul. By this time a full network alert was in progress and when the white sphere came into view on the southeastern horizon, the TV cameras of WMSP were aimed and ready, and the news crews heard (and everybody else in Minneapolis/St. Paul heard) the same message: “We are here to heal you.”
     The flat voice produced no flicker on the sound man’s meters, and viewers on network feed didn’t hear a thing. But the cameras clearly showed the inexorable passage of the white sphere.
     And the cameras showed the thousands of people streaming outside to look up at the sky, for the sphere’s voice dominated all human activity. Surgeons rushed away from their incisions, lovers broke their embrace, all who were physically capable to do so went out to look up.
     The story drove all other programming off the airwaves. Mary cooked breakfast and watched the coverage on CNN. By the time the sphere had spread its message over Montana and North Dakota, astronomers were able to determine that the sphere was ten miles in diameter and was in a low-earth 90-minute polar orbit, passing over the north pole and south pole on each orbit.
     The Pentagon was on alert, because polar orbits are of military concern: they cover the entire surface of the earth.
     “We are here to heal you.” The voice bathed Edmonton with its thunder and proceeded northwest across the tundra. The westward motion was an illusion caused by the turning of the earth under it; the sphere remained over the sunrise line, orbiting from pole to pole. Later it was determined that the message was heard in a swath 15 degrees wide on the face of the Earth under the sphere.
     The sphere’s voice was heard in the native language of each human in the path. The sphere spoke in Ojibwa, Inuit and Aleut.
     As the sphere passed the North Pole and began streaking across the ice cap toward Moscow and Kiev, a flight of missiles rose from Russian silos and pummeled into the sphere and exploded with huge bursts of light in the twilight sky of eastern Europe. U.S. surveillance satellites showed breathtaking video coverage as Mary was vacuuming the house–she wanted to take advantage of the unexpected day off to get some housework done.
     The sphere continued to call out, “We are here to heal you,” and the H-bombs left not a mark on the sphere’s surface.
     Down through Yugoslavia, past Rome, across the Mediterranean, over Tunisia and down through the jungles of Mali and Guinea and Nigeria, speaking the message every sixty seconds. The sphere dominated all human activity when it was heard.
     Then the sphere was across the south Atlantic, and there were few people to hear the message. Except for the island dwellers of Tristan de Cunha and South Georgia, three commercial container boats, and a few isolated bases in Antarctica, the sphere’s path didn’t cross inhabited land again until it was rising north over the Gulf of California.
     By that time the sphere was being tracked by ultra-fast United States intelligence planes. As the sphere approached the U.S. border, the President appeared on TV and told Mary about the threat, and promised that the intruding sphere would now be removed.
     Ground-based cameras showed the launching of hundreds of missiles, but unlike the Russian barrage, not one U.S. nuke exploded. The President had no further word that day for his fellow Americans.
     Almost every person on Earth heard the message with his own ears within two days: “We are here to heal you.” Mary happened to be in the path where the message was first heard; over the next couple of days the sphere passed over Chicago three more times, and she heard the voice each time, twice at sunset and once again at dawn: WE ARE HERE TO HEAL YOU.
     Then the voice stopped. The sphere was still orbiting overhead, but the voice had stopped. And people began stirring out again as the world revived after 48 hours of paralysis.
     Humanity waited, wondering, hoping, talking about the sphere in hushed terms. The Christians claimed it as a sign from God because of the pattern, the two red stripes which met to form a kind of a cross. In the United States, it was an election year and every candidate attempted to give the impression that the Appearance was due to that candidate’s dedication and commitment to the welfare and progress of the nation. That is, unless he blasted the Appearance as another ploy by the opposition.
     Many attempts were made to communicate with the Sphere, and much was made of the fact that the existence of the sphere demonstrated the existence of a far larger intellectual community in the universe, a community moved by compassion to aid humanity. Yet why would they not communicate?
     Then the voice returned with a new message: “The treatment has begun.” This time the voice was accompanied by a diffuse pink ray that bathed the surface of the Earth directly under the sphere’s orbit.
     And under that pink ray, people began to heal.
     In Florida, the family sitting vigil at the deathbed of Enrique delRey, their patriarch, saw a rosy flush return to his cheeks despite his hopelessly advanced case of congestive heart failure.
     In Rwanda, suppurating sores covering the legs of 5-year-old M’shing Ktuma began to close.
     In Chicago, Ricky Whitlow flexed his legs and stood up, and Mary wept with joy. But then Ricky opened his eyes and was able to see in the mirror the hideous thing that was himself, and Ricky wept.
     It was unlike anything that had happened in the three and a half billion year history of life on Earth. Amputees felt a strange itchiness in their stumps, and limbs began to regenerate. Quadriplegics began wriggling their toes and fingers, testing long-unused muscles.
     For two days the pink healing rays bathed the Earth; then the rays flickered out and the voice ceased, but the healing continued. The Sphere swung silently in its orbit while humans began a new life.
     The rays were not all-powerful. Some people were already in their death throes when the rays began, and those who had massive blood loss from severed arteries or internal injuries could not be saved.
     But all others were saved. Even the elderly found a return of vigor, a new spring in their movements. Toothless folk worldwide felt stirrings of new molars and incisors in their jaws.
     The Sphere could not cure famine: despite the healing rays, a human body would run down and die in a couple of months without food. But it cured deformity and injury as well as disease, and Mary Whitlow was pleased to see Ricky’s scars fading, replaced by normal tissue.
     She should have been very happy, and she was, at least about Ricky. But she lost her job as a receptionist at the medical testing lab within a week after the Appearance. Overnight a recession had begun, a recession that did not end. Life insurance companies vanished in the blink of an eye, along with hospitals and mortuaries. The economy of the industrialized world depended on death and it tripped and fell face first when death and sickness were ended.
     Battles broke out around the world as various faiths proclaimed the Appearance of the Sphere as the confirmation of their own particular deity’s power, an omen of the return of their messiah, and rejected the argument of the despicable infidels that it was a manifestation of their own god. Iran and Iraq poured new resources into their war, the Steppes ran red with blood, south Africa exploded into destruction. Soldiers became more and more reckless, knowing that any injury short of total obliteration was certain to heal.
     The death toll was enormous. It wasn’t for several months that another effect of the Sphere’s rays became evident: no woman in the world had become pregnant since the healing began.
     No other animals seemed to be affected–monkeys and marmots and parrots and perch all reproduced as usual as the weeks and months went by. Only the human race appeared to be affected, and most nations ignored the problem. There were enough problems in the world; six billion people seemed more than enough, and the lack of babies was a blessing, especially since the old folks no longer were dying.
     Some people praised the Sphere for its foresight. “All humans are immortal now,” they said, “and we shall populate the Earth until the final days, and it is only fitting that no more join us, for we would overfill the Earth.”
     Fat melted off the bodies of the obese as the rays of the Sphere apparently tinkered with the individual’s metabolism rate.
     Even genetic defects were repaired, and every human’s body mutated toward the optimum configuration. There was enough trouble finding enough food to feed the oldsters who refused to die, who refused to allow the next generation to take over. After two years a cult of ancestor-killing began in Asia.
     In Russia the Appearance was explained as a natural outgrowth of the theories of Marx and Lenin, and as a slap in the face to the capitalist imperialists, for it granted equal health to all. Unfortunately it also sparked in each peasant’s breast an unwillingness to spend eternity shackled to the Soviet machine; they took the Appearance to mean a commandment to return to the old village ways. Troops were dispatched to control them.
     In America the borders were now guarded by miles of barbed wire and machine gun posts. There would be no equality of materialism here, no matter if there were equality of health. The economy sagged even further as the years began to pass and the diaper business, the children’s clothing business, and the school system vanished.
     The Sphere became a curse as the factories ground to a halt, the wandering hordes of the unemployed began to get more and more unruly– after all, nobody could really get hurt–and the cities shrank into themselves, armed camps against the seething starving masses. In the Third World, more and more people were being killed as huge armies of immortals marched and swarmed and looted. The ancient generals knew that plague is the true enemy of the large army, and for the modern generals there no longer were plagues of dysentery or cholera; even the wounds of the footsoldier were no longer fatal. Usually.
     Twenty years after the Appearance there was an uprising among the youth in every developed country. They were the final ones, the last ones to join society, the last ones to have to pay the dues, to pass the tests, to suffer the hazing of their elders, and they would never have a younger generation to get even with. They rioted and demolished cities all over the world.
     There was discontent among the middle aged, also, because their elders had not passed the reins of control down–they kept them, and were not getting older, but instead more active. As time passed all people no matter how old were returning to the vigor and appearance of the middle 20s.
     The Sphere continued to orbit as the decades peeled away. People gradually became accustomed to their immortality; more and more of them in the industrialized nations were becoming cautious, afraid to go outside or to take any kind of chance for fear of being killed.
     But in the developed nations a new resurgence began. The intelligent and the creative maintained their equilibrium while society was dissolving. New discoveries flew around the infonet as vast new resources became available with the decline of population pressure in the Third World, and as the abandoned slums of the cities decayed into the biosphere.
     For the population was dwindling rapidly. There still were four and a half billion people, but that meant a billion and a half immortals had died in only 25 years. The fitful little atomic wars had stopped–Argentina had obliterated Chile, for instance, for reasons known best to itself and based on an obscure point of Catholic theology, and Israel, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Iran had engaged in a merry dust-up of nuke-tipped missiles because each felt the other was undeserving of eternal life. The Mideast was now a desert of glass.
     After a hundred years the essential skills were beginning to leak away from the race. The cities gradually fragmented and withered away as commerce died; people became content to live closer to the Earth, to raise their own food and eat it–for there was no longer an organized system of trade in the United States, let alone the rest of the world.
     A hundred years after the Appearance there were still two billion people left on Earth, living in the best health in history. Living long lives of contentment? Apparently not. Suicide was becoming a fashion–throw a big party and kill yourself at the end. There no longer seemed a point to life.
     The ecology of the Earth changed as people gradually became less and less common. The acreage in cultivation dwindled and natural forest and grassland moved in. The herds of domestic animals became smaller–animals are unpredictable and dangerous–as people became less and less anxious to expose themselves to dangerous situations.
     A rage against technology spread around the earth, a rumbling subconscious belief that the Sphere was brought by meddling with machines and science, and the rabble worldwide stormed the surviving cities and sacked them, killing all who seemed to have technical knowledge, all who seemed to think they knew something more than the proletariat.
     Communications broke down. The change in ecological structure caused violent extremes in weather patterns, and by 150 years after the Appearance humans survived mostly in huddled tents in small enclaves; perhaps five hundred million still lived.
     The numbers dwindled inexorably. Each day there were accidents, each day there were feuds, and as the weather worsened, there were more deaths from starvation, from freezing, from drowning and exhaustion, and there were fewer and fewer people of learning left, and there were no young to re-learn.
     For a century the survivors muttered along, cooking their scanty daily meals, occasionally succumbing to cannibalism, but the numbers still dropped, a hundred million, twenty million, six hundred thousand, a hundred and twenty thousand, fifty eight thousand, twelve thousand…
     Twelve thousand. Some remained in towns, but the result over the years was murder and theft. When there were only 600 people left, they were all hermits with sizable food caches; but those caches eventually ran out.
     Mary Whitlow cackled to herself about her situation–enough food stocked in for a century, a million videocassettes, all the power she needed (from a vast solar array), and enough liquor to float a battleship. She was sitting alone, watching videos, drinking vodka, thinking about poor lost Ricky, and she had to go to the bathroom. On the way back to her chair she stumbled drunkenly and fell and hit her head on the corner of the coffee table. It didn’t hurt much, but when she got up she noticed she was bleeding from her scalp. Sigh. She pressed a paper towel to her head and sat down and watched the movie. She poured another glass of vodka and by the time she finished it, she noticed the paper towel was soaked with blood. Sigh. She went to the linen closet and got a bath towel, then picked up another bottle of vodka from the pantry.
     She sat back down and blearily watched the movie, refilling her glass every fifteen minutes. Around one in the morning she passed out and the blood-soaked towel slipped off her head.
     Her blood, thinned by the alcohol, failed to clot, and she bled to death before dawn.
     The last human was dead.
     Moments later the Sphere stirred in its orbit and spoke for the first time in three hundred years, speaking this time in a language that caused all animals on earth to look into the sky; even the bacteria and the plants seemed to stir as it spoke: “The treatment is complete. Your infection is healed.” The sphere orbited two more days covering the Earth with this message, and then vanished from the sky.

Originally appeared in
Swagazine, 1994