Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Last Sunrise v.2


Chairman Corso drank his tea, waited for the sun to rise, and contemplated the end of a world.

It was dawn on November 11th, 2103, a date that would have been otherwise unremarkable were it not to be the last day of Earth. The location was the United Nations headquarters in New Geneva; a large, cavernous room with floor to ceiling windows that faced east, overlooking the glowing, bustling city. Even at this early hour, before the sun had fully risen, the city was already awake and busy. The network of electric monorails darted and dashed between the towering sprawl of buildings. They had not yet made any announcement to the public. They went about their business in ignorance, not knowing what loomed above them.

The Chairman brought his cup up to his lips again, sipping the warm honeyed tea. It was perfect; the most divine cup of tea he could ever remember tasting. Maybe that was just sentiment. Wanting to feel that here, at the end of days, there could be small comforts. His eyes flickered back to the horizon, just starting to lighten with the first rays of the sun. There, just to the right of where the sun would rise, was another tiny speck of light. It might have been a star, though it had an odd, pulsing glow to it.

That tiny mote of light was why the Council room was filled with more than two hundred representatives. The leaders of all the nations in the world, united under a common banner. So many bodies packed together, standing shoulder to shoulder, yelling and shouting to one another as they argued over what should be done. Demands were made, suggestions were given, and nothing was decided. The cacophony of clamoring voices washed over Corso, until one in particular pushed its way through the chorus of voices and asked, very quietly, "Chairman? Sir, shall we give the order?" It was Austin, his personal assistant, who stood a few feet away, but was the only one on the same side of the room as Corso.

The order. The last order he would ever give, and the reason the Council had been summoned. He did not answer immediately, still lost in thought. Austin hesitated, unsure if he should repeat himself. He had decided his employer had not heard him, but before he could repeat himself, Corso finally spoke.

"There is nothing we can do?"

Corso did not turn away from the window, or the scene before him. Austin took a single step closer, glancing down at a series of readouts on the tablet he held in his hands, "Sir. The Neph's technology is far too advanced. We have run the calculations over and over, but the result is always the same. One hundred percent eradication of all life of Earth. We had no indication from first contact or the summit meetings that they possessed this kind of technology."

The Neph were an alien race that they had first encountered several years ago, and it immediately changed the scale that humanity was dealing with. Every nation on Earth went from playing a global game to a galactic one. They had rallied beneath the banner of the UN, forgetting many of their political disputes to face the challenges this new game board would present. Humanity was already behind in terms of population, technology, and presence in the galaxy. They did not have a good start.

A human scouting ship had stumbled upon a Neph mining outpost. Each group had caught the other off-guard. Without a way to communicate it quickly escalated into a terrible, bloody ordeal with both sides suffering heavy losses. The two races had nearly gone to war immediately, but cooler heads managed to prevail, and diplomatic meetings were set up between the two races. The UN had believed they were making progress. Apparently they had failed.

"And the colonies?"

Austin didn't bother pulling up the reports. He knew them by heart, having spent every waking moment reading them over again, "Communication was cut off about a month ago. We considered it might be technical problems, but they would have sent some kind of signal by now. All sources indicate they were most likely disabled or destroyed in preemptive strikes. Even if we could get a few shuttles into deep space, they would have nowhere to go. There is no outcome here in which we can survive."

Weeks of reviewing reports and calculations told him everything else he needed to know. They did not have the time or resources to prevent the sequence of events that the race known as the Neph had set into motion. Earth had literally hours left.

The last course of action they had prepared was a contingency plan. In the event that the Neph launched an aggressive assault against the human forces, they had a weapon they could launch that would, in return, wipe out the Neph forces. The Neph had long since abandoned their home world, and were confined to massive starships capable of housing and supporting generations of their kind. It wouldn't take much to ensure they were utterly destroyed. They had hoped it would suffice as a deterrent, to discourage the Neph from attacking until a peaceful resolution could be found. Clearly, alien politics worked differently than those on Earth.

As leader of the human nations, Corso had been closely involved with the first meetings they had with the Neph. Once they had figured out a way to communicate, they put a stop to the conflicts that had arisen during their initial contact. They had tried to find a non-violent end to the conflicts each side faced. Unfortunately, both sides needed the same resources - land, water, a new home - and these resources were scarce throughout the galaxy. Neither side could agree to the same terms, each side unwilling to compromise the safety of their people for the aliens sitting across from them.

Yet during these encounters, Corso had become acquainted with a new of the Neph. They were a brutish, reptilian race, with thick scaled skin and wide, flat faces. Their facial structure limited their expressive capacity, so lacking the subtle body language that humans could communicate in their faces, the Neph had adopted a complex form of verbal communication. It included deep layers of tone and inflection through pitch and tempo when they spoke. The result, to Corso's ears, was that the Neph sang when they spoke. Despite their unattractive appearance - by Earth standards - Corso maintained that Neph speech was the most beautiful sound he had ever heard. Their culture was rich and vast, stretching back centuries with much better documentation and records than humans had ever mustered up.

That was why their attack had been such a shock. There was nothing in their meetings to indicate they were planning this kind of strike, and nothing during their contact indicated the Neph possessed a weapon capable of wiping out the population of an entire planet. It would seem that during their first contacts, the Neph had seen the destruction left behind by the human forces. Not just in battle but on Earth, the Neph had seen the humans destroying their home planet, ruining the Earth until it barely sustained life. The Neph had been forced to abandon their world, but it was due to solar flares, natural disasters that rendered the surface inhospitable. The humans were desperate to establish colonies and seek new planets because they had exhausted the resources of one of the universe's most perfect planets. The Neph must have seen this has a blasphemous waste. The Neph had decided they could not risk further conflict with Earth, that the humans were simply too dangerous to keep around.

No matter how atrocious their decision, how impossible to imagine that the Neph could decide so simply to wipe them out, how could Corso justify a retaliation of the same kind? Earth's fate was decided, with no hope of changing it. How could humanity's last act in this world be to snuff out another civilization, in effect proving the Neph's point? Thousands of years of evolution had led to this moment; would the last act of the greatest race Earth had ever known to be one of spite? To declare that if the humans didn't live, no one did?

The representatives were becoming even more disorderly, shouting and yelling. Someone was slamming their fist upon the table, trying to prove his point through sheer volume. Austin, asked again, "Sir? Shall we give the order?"

How dare he end their song?

Finally, Corso turned to face the crowd. A few of the delegates noticed their Chairman, and straightened up, nudging their closest companions to do the same. When the congregation continued to argue, Corso cleared this throat, once.

Silence was immediate.

"I will see no more blood shed. We are not going to launch."

The crowd immediately erupted, shouts and demands being flung back and forth in futility, unheeded by the Chairman, who had turned back to the window. Let them argue, let them cry for their vengeance against the Neph. Without his authorization codes, they could not launch.

Austin stepped up beside his employer, looking out through the window, as if hoping to find some comfort in the scene his employer was taking in. In fairness, the universe had given them a fine farewell. The sun was rising, and it was beautiful. Even the usual smear of smog that hung above the city was thin, allowing the true colors of the sunrise to paint the clouds, turning the sky into a living painting. His voice shaking slightly, the younger man asked, "Sir. Kevin.. what do we do now?"

"I, for one, am going to finish my tea and watch this radiant sunrise. Then I will make the public announcement. You have the rest of the day off, Austin. I would suggest you spend it wisely."