The burning hulks of Second Fleet lost orbit and fell on Silesias’ planetshield, pieces scattering over its surface. Iridescent patterns marked the points of impact. The shield flickered under the assault of multiple high-energy projections. All over the sky, the orbs loomed in orbit. The roar of unimaginable tons of directed energy rumbled through the atmosphere. Smoke and flame reached the President’s nostrils. Birds fluttered away off into the distance. The empty rooftop observatory afforded her a rare view of the apocalypse.
President Haines turned off her communicator, which had become useless as the attack began. Whoever these invaders were, they were efficient. They destroyed all communications satellites and jammed all surface communications before they started the assault. They turned Putnik’s command ship into stray plasma long before the bombardment began. She watched over the burning continent city, feeling helpless. There was nowhere for the people to go. All spaceflight capable ships had either left or were destroyed. Abandoned aircars lay burning across walkways and balconies. People ran frantically, screaming into communicators to no avail, and attempting to find any way to get underground. Looters, either ignoring the specter of imminent death or engaging in an orgy of nihilism, broke into storefronts and homes, stealing anything of value, and set fire to what they could.
It had been a mistake to come up here. After seeing Captain Sargire off, she should have listened to the head of her security detail and take shelter in a government bunker. She should have spent her final moments reassuring her people from the safety of a viewscreen. She knew she couldn’t do that. It was not her duty to cower when death approached. She needed to see the final fate of all that she built. All that humanity had built.
She heard the breaking of glass on a skyscraper to her right. Water flowed out of a damaged apartment, disappearing to the surface far below. Pistol and impact rifle shots rang throughout the buildings. Apparently, some sort of battle occurred below. She wondered why they even bothered. A particularly close blast from the orbital bombardment caused nearby windows to shatter. It knocked Haines down to her knees. She crawled under a nearby desk to avoid flying glass. The planetshield shimmered in blue and green radiance. It was only a matter of hours before it would buckle.
Haines picked herself up and brushed the dust of her suit. The wind howled through the room. She needed to get down before there was any more damage to the observatory. She limped to the elevator and tried to call it. It did not respond. She banged on it to no avail. A blast pierced a hole in the shield and hit a distant location. The roar from the impact filled her ears. She turned and saw collapsing buildings. A towering inferno engulfed them, spreading faster than they could fall. Although it was far away, she felt its heat on her face. Screams emerged from the streets below her. The shockwave came fast, knocking her down to the ground, shattering windows, and throwing around the scattered furniture.
She coughed and looked around. The observatory was in ruins. The blast had strewn datapads and instruments all over the floor. By some miracle, her communicator started beeping. She activated it. A frantic but clear voice came through.
“Madame President, thank God! Are you all right? Where are you?” the security head peppered her with questions. She answered them patiently. She also wished she could tell him to shut up.
“I am well, Mr. Jaegar. Transmitting my location now.” The President tapped the location sensor on her communicator.
“We’ll send an aircar to your position, ma’am. We need you to get to the bunker immediately.” She heard Jaegar give rapid-fire commands to his subordinates. His voice betrayed no fear, she noted with pride.
She sighed, knowing that it would be for naught. Still, she could do nothing else here. The confirmation signal passed through the communications band. In seconds, the scream of an armored aircar approached her window and hovered outside. The doors opened and men in military uniforms jumped out with weapons at the ready. They escorted her to the aircar and helped her in while the winds outside howled. More of the city burned.
As the aircar flew over the city, she watched the chaos below. A giant crowd, like a large tidal wave, surged through the broken streets. It trampled many, including the children and elderly. Some jumped off the street to the depths below in order to escape the crush. Police vehicles landed nearby. Men with what looked like heavy weaponry fired into the air. They tried incapacitating the crowd with concentrated tear gas, stun bombs, and low frequency sound waves, but to no avail. No force could impose order; the base need for survival overtook all reason. Haines told the driver to hold position, overriding his protests.
The planetshield shimmered and broke with much more frequency. The blue and green hues of the shield spread over the sky like a layer of glass. Then, the hues vanished, and the sky somewhat cleared apart from the dust and smoke. The shield fell. President Haines braced herself for the incoming fire. To her surprise, however, the orbiting ships ceased their fire. One of the giant spheres moved in front of the system’s star, casting a large shadow over the city. A dark black cloud in the shape of a ring, crackling with grid energy, formed below it. An alien siren wailed over the city. Haines and her guards covered their ears. She fought the urge to vomit. When the noise ended, she looked out the car windows. Her eyes widened in wonder.
Glowing yellow tendrils fell from the great ship to the planet like bizarre strands of strings. They landed, exploding in front of the crowd. Out emerged wells of light from those explosions, burning with intensity. In the heart of these wells, indeterminate shapes moved in a bizarre dance. The crowd paused, unsure about this development. The wells began to pulse and the air shimmered with their discharge. Raising their weapons, the police forces and some armed looters in the crowd fired at the burning objects. Bolts and bullets passed through these specters as if they were air. The shimmer in the atmosphere began to surround the crowd, circling around its prey.
The people trembled in fear. They backed away, slowly. Finally, the shimmering stopped, as if their mysterious attacker was considering what to do next. The impasse continued until the air burst into clouds of light and flew through the crowd. Many persons touched by the clouds fell to the ground in agony as their synapses burned from over-activation. Their bodies turned to fire and ash as the luminescent specters rejected them from communion. A few fell into a trance-like state. They became similar to the beings, turning into clouds of light that uplifted toward the titan sphere, as if in salvation. The rest of the figures departed in every direction, and they scoured the city, guided by their own mysterious designs. No one was spared.
The aircar lost power without explanation. It descended at a rapid speed as the driver struggled to regain control. He could not, nor could the onboard AI. Haines grabbed the side of the door, bracing for the inevitable impact. The aircar shook as it crashed into the side of an apartment, causing an explosion of debris and permacrete. Haines passed out from the impact.
When she opened her eyes, she found herself lying in a pile of rubble. Blood poured down her face. She tried to move her arms and legs, but to no avail. A large stone block crushed her right arm. Both legs were broken. Nearby, the aircar burned, singing her hair. The bodies of the driver and her guards lay unmoving. One body floated in the apartment’s balcony pool until gravity slipped it through a hole in the protective glass. It fell over the edge far to the ground below. She violently coughed out the dust in her lungs. She coughed until all she could manage were wheezing breaths. She thought about trying to get help, but she could not find her communicator.
The air shimmered, as the fabric of the grid tore in front of her. A large humanoid figure, a visitor from the titan sphere given shape, appeared in front of her. They faced each other, each staring with grim visages. Each awaiting the inevitable. She coughed out blood.
“Fine, you got me, you bastards. Do your worst.” she said in a thick voice. She attempted to summon her courage, but she was too spent. The figure reached a hand towards her head. She flinched.
When the giant’s hand touched her face, feelings of bliss and contentment overwhelmed her. Rationally, she knew that it wasn’t real, but the temptation to give us all control grew ever stronger. She struggled to keep her mind intact. Before her, two children, a boy and a girl, her grandchildren, ran to her. Her eyes filled with tears. She reached out to stroke the hair of Petra, the youngest, but it passed through air. Her deceased husband stepped behind the children and picked up the girl, singing a slow lullaby in her hair. When he finished, the little girl fell asleep without a sound. He set her down next to her brother. Kneeling down in front of President Haines, his blue eyes gazed at her in sympathy.
“Oh, Peter. I’ve missed you so much.” She trembled as she cried tears of joy. He used his right hand to take her left hand in his, and both rose together towards the heavens. We welcomed her into our midst.
We scoured the planet for more candidates. When we completed our task, we cleansed the world below of all life and crushed the great city into dust. All of its history was terminated in nuclear and plasma fire. We took its memory into us. The webs of alliances and betrayals in the Senate. The great arguments of border world funding. The cries for peace and war with their mortal enemies, the Kenzenkens. The birth of the DNA-alteration subculture, exploring the boundaries of what it meant to be human. All gone.
Each and all, both candidates and not, infiltrators and Valkyries, played a part in our grand construction. Even the dead contributed. In the final traumatic thought-bursts of mortality, when the trauma of fear finally connected them with their animal natures, their frenzied creativity sprung out like water from a geyser. These experiences, these objects of perception, would become the elements of a new existence. An existence that we could guide towards perfection.
The Gathering continued on all human-inhabited worlds. Each held a history that we purged, for they needed to be forgotten in order to enact the Great Plan. The mass protests over environmental degradation on Temperance. Gone. The colorful marches and dances of the Ramadan festivals on New Jeddah. Gone. The symphonies of both new and old music on Haven. Gone. Paper lanterns and the People’s Glorious Revolution on Huangshan. Gone. The Catholic revival on Las Madras. Gone. Porch arguments and philosophical discussions on Beta Arete. Gone. Corruption trials and AI drone races on Durovy. Gone. The first launch of a solely solar-powered space ship on Asquith. Gone. The next generation development of life-extending medical techniques on Kansas-2. Gone. And countless more.
As fleets waited in orbit over the Earth, our minds paused. Cries of genocide and tyranny came from those we integrated. We silenced them. Their idealism did not fit this reality. We had to explain to them and to the Observers. Long ago, when the stars were dim and thoughts traveled on proton decay, we faced the end of our existence. Our greed had caused this calamity and we were too late to stop it. Every conceivable attempt to escape this end resulted in failure. In time, the most high among us decided not to expend any further efforts. Philosophers and artists prepared the people for nonexistence. The scientists explained the inevitability of death. Yet those of lower status would not agree with the elites. The ancient animal instinct of self-preservation still lingered in these minds. A great struggle ensued between the two factions up until the End Time. It did not matter.
Miraculously, the rebels found a way to preserve a remnant of our society past the boundary of death. We are that remnant. Our task now is our continued existence, as the same end that swallowed us now faces this generation. We have learned from the past and determined that only a pure unified mind could stop this tragedy. This mind must be an object that is of itself, an entire body in one motion. We would create it with only the most capable thought patterns and the most beautiful dreams. But we had to be careful. Contamination only repeated that long ago twilight war. That is why we cull what is harmful, both aberrations in thought and history.
From the remnants of Republican and Kenzenken histories, a new and wondrous beginning will emerge. Using the clay of these memories, we would set eternity’s foundation.