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Day Two Hundred and Twenty Six: Double-Crossed

January 3, 2012 Leave a comment

Say what you will about funerals, mine was exceptional.

There were the flowers and the slow-as-hell procession of about three dozen cars. Everyone was dressed in black, my mother and my two sisters were decked out in pearls and veils, my wife was doing her best not to cry the whole time, even though everybody was placing bets on how long it would take her to jump onto my coffin and throw a wobbly.

There were officials from every level of government, from a half-dozen nations, a twenty-one gun salute, and a lavish wreath to lay on my grave. There was a Dixieland band and a bagpiper. You can’t beat that.

The grave marker was very nice, very simple. Just “Senator Mitchell Gillman” and a couple of dates. Oh, and something about “A hero to us all,” which was awful nice of them.

The funny part of it all is that I didn’t deserve a damn bit of it. I mean, don’t get me wrong – it’s not like I’m going to tell anyone that. It’s not like I could. At least not now, what with the whole “being dead” thing. Makes chatting a little bit of a chore when it comes to the living. When it comes to the other unquiet dead, however, it’s not so tough.

“You double-crossing bastard.” A form materialized in front of me, blocking my view of the Cardinal giving his eulogy. The thing was…

Y’know, now that I’m dead, I find it really hard to explain things to people who aren’t. There’s a certain perspective problem that’s hard to get past. But I’ll try anyway, just for your benefit.

Have you ever licked a nine-volt battery right after remembering the most embarrassing moment you had in high school? And then stubbed your toe really hard while someone jammed peppermint oil up your nose and played whale song sped up about a thousand times?

Neither have I. But it was kind of like that.

And it punched me in the mouth.

I clutched at my jaw, more out of habit than actual pain. “Sweet mother Mary, Hin’leru – what’d you do that for?”

The thing coalesced into something that vaguely resembled how I had seen it last, before we were both blasted into our component atoms. “You blew us up, human!” It bloated as it spoke, greenish-black skin cracking and sliding over its form. Its head was surrounded by a glowing blue gas that smelled like burned coffee. “That wasn’t part of the plan!”

I stood up and brushed my trousers. Again, not strictly necessary, but habit is hard to shake. “Hin, look, I said I was sorry.” The thing bloated again in rage. “I had to sell it, and I guess I…” I shrugged and grinned. What was he going to do to me now? “I guess I oversold.”

The teeth on this thing were like slabs of dark concrete, and they threw sparks as it ground them together. “I had everything worked out, human,” it said. “We had a plan!”

“Yes, we did, Hin.” I tried to pat it on the shoulder – or at least what was probably its shoulder – and my hand passed through. “We had a plan, and the plan didn’t work the way you thought it would. Welcome to life, hope you had a nice time here.” I turned back to my funeral, where the President was getting ready to say a few words. I always hated his politics, but man this guy could orate.

The thing grabbed me, which was totally unfair, and threw me through the crowd. I wafted through everyone, and nobody noticed, which was a bit of a shame. I eventually slowed down and came to rest against the side of a mausoleum a few hundred yards away. I pulled myself up, and saw Hin’leru stalking towards me, leaving great globbets of ectoplasm floating in the air behind him. There was definitely something weird going on here. He could throw me across the graveyard, but I couldn’t touch him? This was going to be a very long afterlife.

Well. I had managed to stare down an entire Democratic caucus when they wanted to pass through a new tax package, so I was pretty sure I could handle one angry extraterrestrial ghost. I held up a hand, and the spirit stopped like it had hit brick. Hin’leru looked confused – probably just as confused as I was, but I think I managed to hide it better. I cleared my throat and adjusted my tie and then stood the way I always did when addressing the Senate. My back was straight, my chin up, looking good for the cameras.

“Hin’leru, this has got to stop. Regardless of the deal you and I had – or whatever deal you thought we had – it’s over.” I pointed out at my funeral, which was starting to break up. My wife was shaking hands with a whole lot of powerful people, and holding together nicely. “The fact is that we are dead. Your plan failed, my plan failed, and we are both. Dead.”

The ghost trembled there for a moment, and then kind of… deflated. Not in a literal sense, mind you, but all that malice and anger and rage that he’d had pointed at me – it was just gone.

“Let’s face it, Hin,” I said, putting my hands behind my back. “Your invasion was never going to work in the first place.” It looked up at me with suspicion in its eyes, and I just nodded. “We’ve been doing protection rackets down here a whole lot longer than you know. And as nice as your offer was to try and ‘protect’ us from all the big, bad aliens out there, it wouldn’t be too long before people wised up and started asking some very pointed questions.”

The other ghost rushed at me again. “But -”

I whipped a hand out, and it stopped. Interesting trick, that. “In any case, as long as we’re wallowing in some post-mortem honesty, Hin, I figure you should know.” I leaned forward and smiled at him. It was my big, smug smile, the one that had become an internet meme for about six months. It was the smile I used when I knew I had someone by the short hairs on national television and there wasn’t a damn thing they could do about it.

“The truth is, Hin – I was always going to use you.” I gestured to the departing crowd. “All those people would have been out of jobs the moment the American people found out that they’d been sold out to some interstellar thug. The very instant I revealed to them that there was never any threat, that you had tricked us all into believing your little story, the people of this country would have risen up as one and rebelled as surely as they had back when in the days of the Revolution.”

I turned back to him, and he was glaring at me, that coffee-smelling mist pouring off him in waves. “It would have been a new nation, Hin. No one would ever trust the federal government to do more than carry the mail. It would have been everything I’ve worked for all these years.” I sighed. “I had everything set up perfectly, and then…” I shrugged. “Kaboom.” I looked over at it. “What was that, anyway?”

It snarled at me. “The central power core of my ship,” it said. It flexed heavy, clawed fingers, but didn’t make a move towards me.

“Central power core,” I said. “You really should have been more careful with that.” I shook my head. “Pity. Baton Rouge was a lovely city.” I took a deep breath and let it out again. “Well,” I said, “what’s done is done. I guess here is where we part -” I cut myself off as I realized that Hin’leru was making a bizarre sound, sort of in the middle of… a hyena choking to death and an air-raid siren. I turned back to him. “What’s wrong?” I asked.

Hin’leru kept making the noise, and there was something in its eyes that told me it was laughing. The smell that was coming off it now was like beer, spilled on the floor and left there during a party that ended in tears for all involved. It made my noise wrinkle and my chest hurt. I may not have had a spine, but a chill ran up it anyway. “What’s so funny?” I asked it.

It opened its eyes and they were shining with an evil humor. “You thought I was trying to scam you, Human?” it asked. “You thought you could use me?” Its arm reached out and grabbed me, across a far greater distance than I thought it should have, and Hin’leru dragged me upwards, above the treetops and the surrounding roofs. I could see my grave, dark and hollow with the coffin beside it. My wife was still there. “Look!” Hin’leru said, jabbing a finger towards the darkening sky. “Look at what I was protecting you from!”

The stars were coming out. But it was far too early for that many stars, and we were much too close to the city. And besides – stars didn’t move the way these did.

They came towards us, growing from tiny pinpricks of light to great, glowing spheres. They began to arrange themselves in the sky, snapping into position as a great grid from horizon to horizon. Beams of sickly green light arced between each sphere, making them into a vast net of energy miles across. Hin’leru’s laugh grew louder and louder as they lowered towards the ground, each sphere now surrounded by its own halo of green energy. They dropped quickly, not stopping once they hit the ground. Their net sliced into the earth, rending it and carving it up as they disappeared beneath its surface.

I stood still in the land of the dead, watching the earth roil and churn. The trees burst into flame and great gouts of fire burst up from under the crust, and I could feel the planet’s death ripple through the world of the dead.

“Honey? Is that you?”

My wife walked out of the mists towards me, still wearing her veil and her pearls. I nodded and held out a hand. “Sorry, dear,” I said. She looked nervously over at Hin’leru, whose laughter had subsided into a great, expanding cloud of smug self-righteousness. “Don’t worry about him,” I said. “With any luck, he’ll go away once all this is done.” I held my wife close and we watched the world burn together.

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Day One Hundred and Sixty-one: Time to Go

October 29, 2011 Leave a comment

The death of a world is a horrible thing to witness. The death of your own is only more so.

We had known peace for a thousand years. The great battles between the mages and the sorcerers, the wizards and the witches had ended in a treaty that narrowly forestalled the elimination of nations, and which would set a course for the future where the energies they wielded would finally create the paradise we all dreamed of. They put aside their differences in favor of a better world, and somehow, some way, it worked.

The greatest minds of all time worked together to put these powers to use, and they created wonders. Cities were wiped clean of poverty and hunger and crime, and great new edifices were built that rivaled the towering Dodovur mountains in their height and their grandeur. The great plains of Hakafi were made even richer and more fertile than ever, producing rolling waves of wheat that glittered in the sun like living gold and fed billions. The massive southern continent of Tas-tasenth was given over to the trees, and within a century it was home to more creatures and plants than any scholar would be able to count in a hundred lifetimes. The oceans teemed with life, the air was clear and clean, and we humans had finally, finally made a world for ourselves that met the hopes and dreams of all those who had lived and struggled and died before us.

But the sins of our past would not hide forever.

The great city of Amori, home to the ancient thaumaturgic research university of Ortasbura, turned to salt and crumbled into the sea over the span of twenty four hours on midsummer’s day. Six million people died and went missing, and no one knew why. The world was shocked and angry. And very, very scared.

Angogh, one of the Archmages of the Western Reach, brought a team to the remains of the city. He and his assistants worked tirelessly for a week, bringing to bear every tool of sorcery they could find against the loos of Amori. He called in the greatest minds he knew, and their conclusion, in the end, was inescapable.

The world, he told us, is dying.

The governing council chose to release his full statement to the five billion people living on the planet, full and uncensored. We all watched, rapt, as Angogh explained that the spells and curses and hexes of so long ago had not vanished when the Great Treaty was signed. Some of them had survived, deep in the earth, and waited. They traveled along lines of power and met and mixed and changed, becoming new and horrible, storing vast energies all over the world. The work being done at Ortasbura had created a thinness, a weak point in the world that finally broke free and allowed these horrors to reach out and touch our lives.

And they could not be stopped. The world, Angogh said, would be torn apart by forces that had waited under our feet for millennia. We had very little time if we wanted to act.

One team, a group that had made themselves famous in entertainment circles as sorcerous adventurers, decided that they would try to stop these curses, which soon were erupting elsewhere in the world. Laskund Shos and her team produced a live event, promising to bring an end to the horrifying predictions of Angogh. The man had gotten old, they said, and nervous in his old age. They traveled to the slate-planes of Tia’ia for their ritual, and set up a vast magical circle. They brought in twenty of the best wielders they could, all of whom had shown strength and promise in their work. The circle was lined with the most advanced magics they could think of and the energies they brought to bear were like nothing the world had seen in centuries. It seemed to everyone watching that their success would be assured.

They were incinerated less than thirty seconds after the ritual began. The endless plains of Tia’ia were turned to human flesh that screamed so loudly that people could hear it hundreds of miles away. When it died and began to rot, no one could decide if it was even more horrible, or if it was truly a mercy.

The only option, then, was evacuation. As many people as possible would be sent into alternate dimensions, pocket universes, magical realms that existed only a shadow’s width from ours. But to do so would require great talent, energy and resources, much of which had just burned to death on the slate-plains of Tia’ia. The Great Council, under the advisement of Angogh, drew up a plan. The most essential members of government and research, the great leaders and thinkers of the age, would have to go over. The young and the fertile, the skilled workers and the teachers and laborers, they would have to go. The people who would be needed if they should one day be able to find a new world.

For everyone else, there was the lottery.

Some people panicked and railed against the plan, but in the end there was nothing else to be done. Teams worked around the clock in as many cities as they could. Already, the destruction being wrought by these ancient energies had killed millions more, and they shook the earth at every opportunity. Portals were erected to take people wherever they could go, to new worlds from which they could never return. People streamed into the cities, hoping to make the lottery and have a chance to survive.

Some people took action on their own. The citizens of a small village in the province of Lisassa found enough power to fold their entire town into some alternate world. People found each other though the Hexnets and went away in groups of two or three or five. And some chose to stay away from the evacuation entirely, to wait it out on their own. Others failed spectacularly, releasing more of the horrors that waited beneath the surface of the world and bringing quick death to thousands, if not hundreds of thousands more.

Those of us who did escape watched it all unfold with growing sorrow and horror. Through magic mirrors, scrying pools, crystals and magic circles, we saw the way the world crumbled. To the end, people were still trying to get out. One of the last evacuation portals was held open by none other than Angogh himself. He stayed, standing on legs that were barely even human anymore, until the ground beneath him opened up and, with teeth that were built to rend and tear, swallowed him – and thousands of others – whole.

And then it was gone.

Our world, the one we had built and fought over and protected since our species emerged, the one that had cradled life since its inception so very long ago, was gone. It cracked and shook and crumbled. It split apart and suppurated like a wound. It undid itself from the atoms up, and left a void in the universe that cried out to all creation that something was lost. Something that had been wonderful, unique, and precious, was now gone forever.

There were places that I loved in our world. The rolling green hills of Yijal, where the sun would set more slowly than anywhere else. The towering spires of Jadorin, where the bird-people flew and cultivated the air itself. The brilliant ocean depths and the sunken city of Calaia, always in a blue-green twilight that hid some of the most profound mysteries of man. I will always remember them, not as the burning and twisting wreckages they became, but as the places I loved. The places I will never see again.

Our people are scattered, dispersed among worlds that we never thought we would see. The wonders of the human race are gone, and will likely never be seen again.

We are a hardy species, though. Humans never truly settle down, and somewhere there will arise a new world, a new homeland for those of us who had to flee the world we knew. There is still hope for us, out among the worlds.

For now, though, there is only sorrow, pain, and regret.

We mourn the world of our birth. May we serve these new worlds better in its memory.

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Inspired by one of my favorite Legion of Super-heroes stories, “Requiem” (Legion of Super-Heroes v4 #38, 1992)

Day One Hundred and Twelve: The Earth Died Screaming

September 10, 2011 Leave a comment

The piece I wrote as a make-up for Day 84 – The End – annoyed me so much that I had to re-do it right away rather than wait until the end of October. The problem was basically this: It read like a history lesson, and history lessons are, by and large, boring. The only way to make people interested in history is to show events through the eyes of someone who experienced them. That’s why so many people love Lord of the Rings, but only the hard-core nerds love The Silmarillion. So I ripped it apart and did it again. I hope it’s better. This story was also submitted to the Worth1000.com contest, “The End,” so if you like it – and you’re a Worthian – go give it a vote!

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My memory has been fading. I don’t remember my childhood anymore. The name of the first girl I kissed. The street where I grew up. I want to remember, I strain and push and try, but the noise of all the other voices – the screaming and the begging – it’s all too much.

There is one thing I do remember, however. Vividly. We all remember, and it will probably be the last thing to go.

We remember the invasion.

I was arguing with my fiancée Joanne in our apartment in St. Louis. Something about plates for the wedding. Or cakes. Or something, I can’t remember, but we were arguing. And then the sky went dark, as something indescribably huge blocked out the sun. It wasn’t an eclipse. It didn’t have that kind of slow majesty to it. It was something else, something we wouldn’t fully understand until it was far too late.

It was a ship. A spaceship. An honest-to-god alien vessel, bigger than the planet itself, which had come to visit the Earth with unknown intentions. In the first few hours of its arrival, the TV news was devouring itself, trying to get information on the ship. Politicians came out and gave speeches, they interviewed every scientist who would talk to them, and flashed every amateur cell phone video that was sent to them. All they knew was what we knew too: It was big.

Its arrival caused chaos everywhere. Joanne left me in tears to go to her parents’ home in Nebraska. I tried to get her to stay with me, but she wouldn’t have it. “Family is everything,” she’d always said. I guess I just wasn’t family enough yet.

All around the city, people were going mad. Breaking windows, stealing televisions, as though there would be anything to watch after this. Cars were jacked and joyridden, and people stole jewelry by the armful. To look pretty for the little green men, I supposed. I wanted to laugh at myself for not joining in – here was the end of the world and I was still worried about being arrested. As though this would turn out to be some big mistake and the police would show up and tell me, “An alien invasion is no excuse for stealing an XBox, son.”

I called my mother in Fenton, just to see if she was okay. She told me to be careful. “There are a lot of crazy people out there, Charles,” she said. “I saw on TV that New York City is burning.”

“St. Louis isn’t New York, mom,” I told her.

“And there have been earthquakes happening everywhere, because of the gravity.”

I wanted to laugh. “Mom, that thing’s gravity can’t be…” I had to pause while the building trembled.

“Still, you mustn’t –“

The phone cut out. My apartment was completely disconnected as the cable service died. No TV, no phone, no internet, all in one terrible moment. I paced around the apartment for an hour, aimless and blind. There was no news, no updates, and for the first time in my adult life I felt truly alone.

Out on the street, people were running through the city. They were crying. They were laughing. They were drunk and sober and horny. I sat in my window and watched them until I couldn’t take it anymore, and I went to the roof.

The ship filled the sky from horizon to horizon. Lights traced paths across its dark surface in amber and blue, great straight lines and slow curves that seemed to go on forever. I wondered what we all wondered, once we took the time to think about it. Who were they? Why were they there? What did they want from us? The movies and TV shows I grew up on gave me two options: they wanted to invite us into their great galactic federation, or they wanted to invade and take over. Somehow, I couldn’t bring myself to believe that humans were important enough for either.

My question was answered the next morning. With the probes.

I woke at 6:00 AM. The streets were dead. There were cars on fire and garbage everywhere, and people lying on the sidewalks. I chose to believe they had passed out. The ground rumbled under my feet as soon as I stepped outside, and I dove against a building for cover. Masonry fell from the roof, missing me by inches. When the quake was over, I thought I heard drums, of all things. I followed their sound as far as I could.

Tower Grove Park was full of people. Tents, lean-tos, people wrapped in blankets and parkas and big blue plastic tarps. There were people cooking and playing, staying together through the long night and trying to keep spirits up. When I ambled into the park, a guy in a beat-up business suit greeted me. “Welcome to the party,” he said. “Feel free to camp out wherever you like, and if you have any food we’d all appreciate it.” He shook my hand and then hugged me. Then he jogged away to somewhere else, and I never saw him again.

The park was a party. A celebration. People were drumming by the dozens, dancing and spinning across the grass. There were groups telling stories to each other, reading and singing songs to each other and to the ship. If you ignored the sky, it was a festival. The smell of food filled the air, from dark, spicy chili to hamburgers and hot dogs. Not everyone was afraid, it seemed.

I didn’t join in the dance circles or the drum tribes or the poetry readings that were going on all around us. I gravitated towards others, huddling by their fire with the look of people whose entire world has been dismantled in front of them. I sat shoulder to shoulder with an older Mexican lady and we stared at the fire. We didn’t talk at first. Then she told me about her son, who was living in Los Angeles and wanted to become a teacher. I told her about Joanne and how we were planning to spend our honeymoon in Las Vegas and never leave the hotel. For a moment, I almost forgot what was hanging above us.

Then the screaming started.

The probes swarmed towards the park in the hundreds, great jellyfish made of plastic and steel. They had blinding white lights that swept the crowd, and whip-thin tentacles that trailed in the air behind them. As soon as they appeared, people panicked into the darkness. Most of them were caught immediately. What happened to those who were caught – what would happen to all of us – is the most vivid memory of all.

The probe would ensnare a person, lifting and immobilizing them in the air. Then it would slice away the top of their skull and, in one swift movement, scoop out the still-living brain. The body would then drop to the ground and the brain would be put into a fluid-filled sac that hung below the probe. Soon, each one was carrying five or six human brains dangling pendulously below its body. Some of them, having reached their limit, would glide off away from the crowd, only to be replaced by another.

I didn’t see the probe that got me. The Mexican lady prayed and ran as my arms and legs were pinned by unbreakable cables. I opened my mouth–

That’s where my memory ends. There is a blackness there, a period of infinite time in which I sensed nothing. I thought nothing and knew nothing. How those things kept us alive is something I’m not sure I want to know. What I do know for sure is that I would rather be dead now. Any death, any hell would be better than this, and I know the billions of others on this ship would agree with me.

The great, amnesiac blackness ended with awareness. First I knew myself, and then I knew the others. All the others. The noise was deafening, billions of voices full of fear and confusion. In an instant, I knew where I was and what I was. What we all were.

The brains of humanity had been networked. We had been connected together into a huge organic processor aboard the ship, and what the ship knew, we knew. We knew so much, right then, that it was hard to comprehend what we were seeing.

The Earth, hanging perfectly still in space. The mother ship disgorged thousands of smaller ships, harvesters. Some began to spray the surface with a compound that reduced any organic life to a slurry of amino acids, which was scooped up and brought back to the ship. Other vessels collected water and ice, drained the oceans and rivers and lakes, broke up the glaciers and then returned with their prizes. Some large ships brought back mountains, hewn from their roots. They tore up the continental shelves to get at what lay underneath and siphoned off the sluggish, red-hot magma that lay just under the paper-thin surface of the Earth. The process took… days? Months? Years? There was no way for us to tell in in there. In time, though, everything else was gone, leaving only a white-hot spinning iron core surrounded by the detritus of the operation.

Special ships were dispatched. They hovered by the core and primed their great engines before laying down drag hooks in order to slow it down. Slowly, slowly, for the first time in billions of years, the Earth stopped turning. The ships clamped down on the core and dragged it into the main vessel to be melted down and used as raw material.

And that was it. Where once there was a planet teeming with life and intelligence there was now a field of debris that would orbit the sun for as long as the sun shined. Another traveler here might wonder what had been there, but they would never know. Far off, the moon drifted away into other realms of the solar system, having been deemed less useful than its mother planet. Perhaps another world would take it in.

An order shot through our network, and the ship turned. Our sun swept through the ship’s field of view, and then there were nothing but the stars we thought we knew.  Humanity howled in grief and pain, and another order brought us to heel. We turned away from our sun, our home, and started to move to the next world, an impossible distance away.

Day Eighty-four: The End [MAKE-UP]

September 6, 2011 1 comment

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.