This is an interesting variation on one of Simak’s favorite themes: first contact. However, the contact isn’t with aliens but with our children’s children from 500 years in our future.
All over the world, doorways opened and hundreds, then thousands, finally millions of them just starting walking calmly out, four or five abreast; carrying nothing but the clothes they wore and maybe a small bag. They were calm and friendly but there were so many of them…
Molly worked for a news service and being one of the first reporters on the scene actually met with one who appeared to be a representative for the refugees. The government reacted by sending out all the uniformed forces they could find in an attempt to corral the refuges until something could be made of the situation. It was a bit challenging with millions of people just wandering around; complicated by the good Samaritan nature of people who just opened their homes to their descendants. The refugees didn’t seem to have a Leader or even a spokesperson, at first. Conversations with them produced confused reactions to the news that humanity not only gave up on central governments but religion, as well. While everyone felt it to be right to provide for these people, it was becoming abundantly clear that doing so would probably bankrupt countries. And then a door opened and grain started pouring out all the grain there was from 500 years in the future. It was their attempt to pay for their keep. But it wasn’t until Molly brought her new friend, Gale, to the White House, that the true scope of the problem was understood.
Every single soul from the future earth was trying to leave to the past escaping a truly hideous alien invasion. The aliens were the most perfect creature, evolutionarily speaking. While most species discard features that are no longer desirable while acquiring new ones that are; this species never discarded a single appendage, sense or characteristic they were the most efficient killing machines imaginable.
And while the refugees attempted to bring food with them, they were completely aware of the impact they would have on the world’s economy; so, they didn’t intend to stay for long. They just needed to build a new set of gates to continue their journey even further into the past: to the Miocene.
And then someone at the other end of the gates failed in their duty first one and then another monster breached the gate. In addition to being efficient killing machines, they were also amazingly prolific and it was quite likely that each of the escaped monsters were already breeding hundreds more of their kind which would reach maturity very rapidly.
Simak wanted to examine what the response would be to such an invasion both of our children’s children but also an unstoppable alien monster. Much of the story is caught up in the political discussions of how to care for the refugees and whether it was possible to assist them in continuing their journey. It was estimated that the effort would also possibly bankrupt countries. But it was argued that they brought with them more sophisticated technology that would benefit the world. It is an interesting question but I found the story to be ultimately unsatisfying. He just allowed the characters to talk and talk with nothing definitive ever being accomplished. Some progress was made at the end towards a solution for the refugees but not for stopping the monsters that might make an end to this generation, as well. He left questions hanging open at the end. Not one of his better ones, in my opinion. Maybe I’ll have better luck next month. ~~ Catherine Book