Every major religion on Earth was rocked to its core. Dozens of new belief systems sprang up overnight, most of them based on the tenets of the Interventionary Evolutionists, who zealously proclaimed the discovery as proof that all human history had been directed and controlled by alien forces. Many existing faiths tried to incorporate the reality of alien species into their existing mythologies, others scrambled to rewrite their history, creeds, and beliefs in light of the new discovery. A stubborn few refused to acknowledge the truth, proclaiming the Mars bunker a secular hoax intended to deceive and mislead believers from the true path. Even now, nearly a decade later, most religions were still trying to reassemble the pieces.
The intercom crackled again, interrupting Grissom's thoughts and drawing his focus away from the offending viewport and back to the shipboard speaker in the ceiling. "We are cleared for docking at Arcturus. ETA approximately twelve minutes."
It had taken them nearly six hours to travel from Earth to Arcturus, the largest Alliance base outside humanity's own solar system. Grissom had spent most of that time hunched over a data screen, looking through status reports and reviewing personnel files.
The journey had been planned months ago as a public relations event. The Alliance wanted Grissom to address the first class of recruits to graduate from the Academy at Arcturus, a symbolic passing of the torch from a legend of the past to the leaders of the future. But a few hours before they were about to depart, the message from Shanxi had radically altered the primary purpose of his trip.
The last decade had been a golden age for humanity, like some glorious dream. Now he was about to bring a grim reality crashing down on them.
The New Delhi was almost at its destination; it was time for him to leave the peace and solitude of the private cabin. He transferred the personnel files from the data terminal to a tiny optical storage disk, which he slipped into the breast pocket of his Alliance uniform. Then he logged off, pushing himself away from his chair and stiffly standing up.
His quarters were small and cramped, and the data station he'd been working at was far from comfortable. Space on Alliance vessels was limited, private cabins were typically reserved exclusively for the commanding officer of the ship. On most missions even VIPs were expected to use the common mess or the communal sleeping pods. But Grissom was a living legend, and for him exceptions could be made. In this case the captain had generously offered his own quarters for the relatively short trip to Arcturus.
Grissom stretched, trying to work the knots out of his neck and shoulders. The admiral rolled his head from side to side until he was rewarded with a satisfying crack of the vertebrae. He made a quick check of his uniform in the mirror-keeping up appearances was one of the burdens of fame-before stepping out the door to make his way to the bridge in the bow of the starship.
Various members of the crew paused in their duties to stand at attention and salute as he marched past their stations. He responded in kind, barely aware that he was doing so. In the eight years since he had become a hero of the human race, he'd developed an instinctive ability to acknowledge the gestures of respect and admiration without any conscious awareness.