The main thing that everyone realized by the end was this: even if they had known sooner, there was no way they could have stopped what was about to happen.
Astronomers in the southern hemisphere were, simply by virtue of economics and land mass, less common than those in the north. Even so, if the great vessels of the Galactic Overlord P’thn’aar had approached the planet from the north rather than the south, all that humanity would have achieved would have been a few more weeks to come to grips with their impending annihilation. As it was, researchers at the South African Astronomical Observatory were the first to notice something new in the southern skies. It confounded the astronomers at first. Its brightness far exceeded any asteroid they had cataloged thus far, and it appeared to be stationary in the sky. Telescopes across the hemisphere were trained on it, and most were better able to figure out what it wasn’t, rather than what it was.
It wasn’t a star, that much was certain. Its spectral profile suggested that it was reflecting sunlight, rather than emitting light of its own, but opinions differed on what kind of material could throw back that much light. Blogs erupted with the news, opinions raging from UFOs to rogue stars to comets of doom that would most certainly smash into the fragile Earth, rendering it unfit for life of any kind. It was not until simultaneous observations were made from every possible observation point that the true scope of the incoming object was revealed.
The primary ship of the Galactic Overlord P’thn’aar was massive, possibly three to four times the size of Earth itself. Frantic recalculations made the scenario even worse. Given its size, and the increase in its brightness over the weeks, its speed could be determined. The ships would reach the Earth in less than three weeks.
Panic gripped some nations tightly. New York, London, Berlin, Sydney – they were all in flames within days of the announcement. There was a surge in suicides across the planet, and bank collapses as loans stopped being repaid while credit lines were maxed out. Families were broken up, entire economies collapsed as people stopped going to work, and the death of humanity seemed more and more certain as astronomers gathered data on the incoming object. The world faced an event unprecedented in human history, and humans were not handling it well.
When the news was released, two weeks after the discovery of the object, that it appeared to be slowing down, there was a brief period of celebration. It appeared that the hand of God had been outstretched to protect His fragile world and deliver His beloved creation from almost certain death. The celebration lasted until the first good pictures from Hubble were released, and the reason for the object’s slowdown became clear.
The ship was made of metal. Its leading face was caked in accumulated space dust and debris, but the rest of it was gleaming and clean. The surface was smooth, marred only by long, straight lines that were spread out evenly from pole to pole. It had no lights, no windows, it was sending no signals. As it approached Earth, it slowed, and the planet came to the realization that their doom was even more terrible than they had thought.
By the time it stopped, the great ship was close enough that the moon’s orbit was being affected – it was pulled into a long ellipse, destroying the night sky that had been familiar to mankind for centuries. But other than that, the ship did nothing. It filled the sky, bright and gleaming, but it sent no signals, it destroyed no cities. Governments from around the world attempted communication, guaranteeing peace if only their new guests would also do so. An attempt was made in the United States to revive its shuttle program for one last mission, but the Senate voted against the funding, and any chance of sending humans to visit the ship were lost.
Exactly three days after the ship arrived, the broadcast was made. It would be the last signal broadcast on Earth, and it was humanity’s final confirmation of its fate.
There was no video to the broadcast, simply a static picture of an alien sigil, white against a black background. The voice that spoke was flat and cold and businesslike.
“Earth is to be commended for producing intelligences in quantity. Intelligences will be harvested for analysis and computational upgrade. Earth will be exploited for all resources. Hail Galactic Overlord P’thn’aar.”
Those who had not panicked before took the opportunity to do so now. There was no news, because the radio and television stations broadcast only static. Cell phone service was gone, and land lines had been disabled. The internet, for all intents and purposes, had ceased to exist. With no place to turn for opinions and information, many people descended into the madness of not knowing.
Their only respite from their own thoughts came when the probes descended from the ship.
They were small silver disks, about the size of a truck tire and trailing thin, metallic tentacles behind them. To everyone’s horror, they spared no time completing their duties.
A probe would seize a person by the head and hold them close. One of their tentacles would slice through the skull, tearing it off and throwing it to the ground. The brain would then be scooped out and the lifeless corpse dropped unceremoniously to the ground. The brain itself hovered in a force field, dragged behind the probe. It was swift and brutal. Moments after one brain was harvested, another would be found. Tens of millions of these probes launched from the main ship towards the Earth, and each of them wanted only one thing: brains.
The vast majority of probes hunted humans, and they were unstoppable. They were shot at by weapons large and small. They were hit with rocks and beaten with sticks, and none of it mattered. They harvested a brain, dropped the body and then went on to the next, and none were spared their attention. When a probe reached its limit, it streaked back up to the main ship to unload its precious cargo.
Some probes, however, went after animals. People saw them taking the brains from elephants and chimpanzees, dolphins and whales, even cats and dogs. Animal harvesting was the minority of operations, however. Humans were their primary target.
Within days, the planet was empty of thinking beings. Cities were empty. The seas were quiet. On the great ship, the harvest was networked together, brain by brain, until the intelligences of Earth, tightly packed and networked, were allowed to see what the ship could see: the ravaging of their home.
Great machines had been unleashed from the main ship to disassemble the Earth. Some came back with ore and rock, others soaked up the oceans into great, continent-sized bags. Specialized ships bored all the way into the mantle and began to harvest the glowing minerals that had lain under the planet’s crust for billions of years. Smaller ships scoured the planet, spraying a solvent that reduced all life forms to a homogeneous organic slurry. Like the water, that was bagged up and transported to the ship.
In the end, all that was left was a hot, spinning iron core. Specialized craft descended upon it, landed gently, and fired great rockets to counteract its spin. When the core stopped, the craft latched onto it and towed it into the main ship as well, leaving no trace of the planet Earth but a smattering of debris.
An order was sent through the great processor that was the last true remnant of Earth. The billions of brains screamed and convulsed, but they complied. Overlord P’thn’aar’s mining ship had to move to the next world, far, far away.