PLEASE NOTE: This is part two of the story. If you're coming in in the middle, part one can be found here http://www.republibot.com/content/original-fiction-draconian-sunset-part-1
The Nex crashed.
It later turned out that some fundamentalist Earth Firsters had blown the rectenna in Veracruz, claiming that even taking energy from space was a sin. This collapsed every power grid tied into it. From Acapulco to San Francisco, the entire west coast of the United States went black.
For three days Jean Paul and his family became increasingly twitchy and paranoid as they suffered from Simstim withdrawal. The entire world did, really.
And still the people in the habitats did nothing. Inasmuch as he could think straight at all, Jean Paul was more or less at the point of believing they really were incapable of striking back, yet still the more suspicious parts of his mind wondered how this could be possible. They were on top of the gravity well, and earth was at the bottom. Winning was as simple as dropping rocks down a hole, and yet the didn’t attack.
His next door neighbor said it was because the League only had the capability to fight an Air-Force styled war. They lacked the capability to put troops on the ground, to actually occupy the world. How many people were there in orbit? A few hundred million? Compared to the twelve billion on earth, that was nothing. There was no way they could hope to establish a beachhead, let alone take over the world. Jean Paul realized there was some truth in this.
A week later, the Nex came back up, though it was much smaller and more limited, the senses limited to sight and sound only, with far, far fewer nodes and very limited translation abilities. Text was substituted for full-body simulations in many cases. It was a bad time to be unable to read, but reading was something of a dying art. Who needed it in a world where everything can be fed directly into your head in your own preferred format? Better than nothing, though. Meanwhile, in thirty American states, people were reduced to getting around on bicycles.
He was in his office, but like a billion other people he was also virtually in Pearl Harbor, at the UN Headquarters, experiencing a painfully erratic feed of the unveiling of a huge statue of former Secretary General Lester Percival Winans. The man had died like sixty years ago, but the current Sec. Gen. claimed that their current strategy was called “The Winans Plan,” and had been laid down by him, a secret orchestration of national, educational, media, and terrorist resources that had been followed for decades, all having things in place for the first attack, a hundred years to the day after the first starship had returned. Winans had been part of the crew of that starship. The voyage had changed him in some way. Turned him against his people, and towards the earth. Whatever he’d seen out there had convinced him space was fundamentally wrong, and environmentalism was fundamentally right. He’d spent his life working towards that end.
And then suddenly, the sun went out.
At first he thought it had been a software malfunction. The sun had winked out like a lamp switched off. Then he noticed the Secretary General and his entourage seemed startled and were looking at the sky.
You mean they see it too? He thought. That meant it was real A collective gasp went through the crowd, as everyone realized they could see stars, but not the sun. It had just instantly changed from day to night. The Nex went extra-wonky and slowed down. The virtual world started to roll like an old movie when the frames get out of time with the projector. Rattled, he pulled out his connection.
He was back in his office. It had been gloomy since the power outages, but now it was dark as night. Darker, with no streetlights. He looked out the window - the sky was every bit as black and primeval as it had been in Hawaii. He blinked repeatedly, trying to will it to go away.
“Could it be an eclipse,” Lynn asked.
“I don’t think so,” he said, “It’s already gone on like ten minutes. This is…this is something far worse,” he said, his voice trailing off.
Obviously frightened, Lynn plugged back in and her eyes went glassy.
“It’s dark in Greece,” she said. “Dark in Moscow, too” she added a moment later.
“Nah, nah,” he said, “that’s the night side of the world, it’d be dark there anyway. Try somewhere in daylight - Tokyo or Sydney…”
A flashing display on the back of his modem informed him signal strength was very low, and interpolation time was very high. As he was adjusting the setting to strip out most of the sensory filters, he notice Lynne’s head tilted to one side, and she was drooling a bit. He pulled out her modem. She looked startled, then scared.
“Thanks,” she said, “It looks like Australia is offline. I went to the main communications node and just got a blank void. I must have gone alpha state and zoned…”
“All of Australia is down? All of it? How is that even possible?”
“I dunno. I’m not going back to check it out.”
They both jacked back in, their senses transported rapid-fire from city to city as they surfed the feeds.
“Tokyo is dark,” he said, and jumped away.
“So is Juno,” she said, and jumped away.
“Manila is dark,” he said, and jumped away again.
“Christchurch is…” her voice trailed off.
“Looks like Tahiti is black, too,” he said, then noticed she’d zoned off again. He again unplugged her.
“Thank you,” she said, “I was in New Zealand when the whole country went offline.”
They surfed around for another ten minutes: Guam, dark. Portland, Dark. Boise, Dark. Vancouver, Seoul, the Galapagos, dark, dark, dark. Across the entire hemisphere, every city, town, country, and region was under a moonless, black night sky, the only lights were the stars and hundreds of tiny glowing pinpoints that were the space cities in one of the LaGrange points. As they surfed, they saw more and more signs of panic: People running through the streets screaming, people rioting, beating each other, buildings on fire. Granted, the world wasn’t exactly in its prime, and there’d been a lot of mob violence lately, but Jean Paul was still amazed to see how quickly social order had completely broken down.
When the man in black appeared, Jean Paul felt his bowels clench in terror, and he didn’t know why. He instantly had the sense that something fundamental had just changed, as though he was a kid again, and his mom had walked in on Dean and him doing some forbidden thing with her favorite silverware or something like that. He instinctively knew the something bad was going to happen.
He was a handsome black man in late middle age, with long dreads that were mostly grey along half their length. They were pulled back behind his head and cinched together in a kind of pony tail. Jean Paul found the mans hands compelling for some reason. Large, with long fingers, but probably natural. In fact, there were no obvious body modifications of any sort, no facial hair, his genitalia were covered. Only a provincial from the habitats would dress like that. He wore a black uniform with a high collar, and lots of red piping. Service ribbons, a cord on one shoulder, a few large indistinguishable patches on the shoulders showing unit identification or something. He stood at a sort of modified parade rest, his hat under one arm, his other folded behind his back.
“Pearl. Now.” he said in a very controlled and commanding voice that held no menace, and was all the more frightening for it.
Suddenly he was back at the UN Headquarters in Pearl Harbor. Suddenly everyone in the world who was online was there, dragged without permission. The place looked trashed. There were troops everywhere, buildings were obviously burning in the distance. There were screams and gunshots.
And the man in black was there, through the miracle of Nex technology, looking every single person in the eye, speaking to each one of them directly.
“I am Area Marshal Sim Cummings,” he said, “Following the destruction of Caspian Station, I am the ranking League military officer left in the solar system. After extensively conferring with the new provisional LaGrange government, we have decided to take away the sun.“
“We have built a huge shield and placed it in between earth and the sun. It is blocking all sunlight, and will continue to do so until we decide to remove it. We will not remove it until you comply with our demands.
“Since our people first left earth a hundred and twenty-five years ago, we have met with nothing but constant abuse from you. You have accused us of innumerable sins that you, yourselves are guilty of. Ever virtue we display you claim is vice. We have generally ignored this, since all we wanted in the first place was to leave the world and make new lives for ourselves. We have repeatedly offered to share this with you, but you have always turned us down for reasons that probably make sense in your little piggy philistine minds, but are nonsensical to us. Perhaps you viewed us as a threat to the status quo, perhaps you felt we were trying to force something on you, perhaps you are such a fundamentally broken, jagged, guilt-ridden people that you’re incapable of doing anything apart from hating. Whatever the reason, we were disappointed, but we ignored it."
“You attacked us once, a hundred years ago. We defeated you effortlessly, going out of our way to limit the loss of life on your end, while you showed no such restraint. You surrendered. All of your nations voluntarily signed treaties with us pledging eternal faith and friendship, trust and alliance. The ink wasn’t dry on these before you started legal interpretation and re-interpretation to get out of things you’d freely agreed to, and which were more to your advantage than to ours. We could have contested this, but disappointed we decided to ignore it."
“Blocked from helping your nations colonize the stars, and usher in a new golden age on earth, we opened our worlds up to unlimited emigration by anyone who wanted to go. You blocked this, or attempted to, though you were never able to police your own people’s comings and goings to the extent you wanted to. Why? You have given thousands of reasons, all of them disingenuous, all of them straw man arguments. We assumed at first that these were hiding some ulterior motive, striving for some political gain at our expense, but ultimately we concluded that you, yourselves didn’t know, you were simply lashing out spastically at anything that changed your pathetic, wildly errant world view. You became Pharisees, guarding the keys to heaven. You wouldn’t enter yourselves, nor would you allow anyone else to enter. Shameful, but what could we do about it? We took those who figured out ways to come to us, and otherwise we ignored it."
Overcome by fear, Jean Paul broke the connection, but he could still hear the man speaking. How was that possible? He looked around for a speaker, but there was nothing operating. He went out the front door and looked around. The sound was coming from the sky itself. Somehow they were managing to project sound through the atmosphere itself. It was loud, but understandable, it echoed off of buildings and the ground itself, it muffled slightly in places where it passed through clouds. It was forceful, invulnerable, relentless, completely in control, completely terrifying. It was as the voice of God, seemingly. He looked around for Lynn, but she was gone. He never saw her again. He climbed into the bathroom, wrapped his head in towels, tried to shut the sound out, but he couldn’t.
“We offered to help you colonize your own solar system, which you couldn’t very well forbid since that had been your false justification for opposing interstellar colonization. ‘We must think about things that are at hand, rather than things far away,’ was your slogan. You allowed it because you couldn’t think of a way to stop it. Eventually you gave up pretence and just stopped it anyway, but by then tens of millions of people had escaped to the habitats, and you were powerless to drag them back in the mud with you. How that must have gnawed at your tiny little minds! All those people up there in plain view, but forever out of your grasp! We could have taken ten times more, easily, but you stopped us. We ignored it."
Jean Paul realized he’d soiled himself in panic. He fished out his modem and fumblingly switched the filters to shut down his auditory inputs, and dialed up the happyjuicer app to keep him from going over the edge into a full panic attack. He slid the modem back in the slot in his skull…
…and was instantly back in Pearl Harbor. He screamed, pulled it out, reset, and was there again. He tried again and again, but evidently the Nex itself had been completely overridden. Any attempt to use it instantly dragged the user back here.
“We have given you pollution-free power from space, sold at a rate less than what it costs us to collect it. You claim that we are robbing you, or that the power broadcasters are actually death rays. We offer to help you clean up your world, and you claim that we are trying to tell you what to do with your own lives, or that we’re trying to take control. You have no will to explore, to expand, and you blame that on us. You fight wars amongst yourselves, and claim it is because of our behind-the-scenes manipulation. Your economy crashes, and you blame that on us. Your economy rebounds because of massive investment and loans we’ve given you, and you claim that it has recovered in spite of us. We ignore it."
Jean Paul broke into a run, setting the filters so he could see the Hawaii image and the real world at the same time. Picture quality was terrible. Not only had the feed from Pearl Harbor reverted to two-dimensional images, but the data stream was so weak it was in black and white.
“You claim our very existence is evil, and yet you insist on tourism of our cities, on business with us, on watching our entertainment. You simultaneously take all we have to give, crying for more, and preach against us. We ignore it.”
“You lie constantly. To us, to yourselves, frequently for no reason whatsoever. Do you know how many of your missiles managed to get through to our habitats? None. None of them even got close. We picked them off easily, and yet your governments and media claim to have destroyed dozens of our cities, in addition to the three you really did destroy in your unprovoked attack. This has gone on for three generations. We ignore it."
The city had erupted, rioting, murder, buildings on fire, looting. He scrambled through a parking lot barely before a wall of fire set by panicky looters overtook it.
“You have engaged in all manner of acts against us: Petty vandalism, sabotage, open terrorism. The Gabri'El incident could easily have ended all human life on Gagarin had it not gone off prematurely. The La Paz murders. There have been twelve terrorist attacks on shuttle launches in the last ten years. In each case, we investigated. In each case we found clear evidence to link terrorists and certain governments. In each case the people in Caspian decided to look the other way. We ignored it."
The Nex crashed completely, but of course it was superfluous at this point. He yanked the modem out of his head, and kept on running, scrambling over the collapsed rubble of the train station. He sprinted down the tracks towards home while the voice from the skies continued.
“But of course you blew up, Caspian, didn’t you? After all you’ve done to us, Caspian still looked out for you, still protected you. In killing them, you’ve killed the only people left who gave a damn about you and your puny lives. You’ve freed us up to take whatever action we see fit."
He ran until he saw an angry mob with lit torches. He jumped into a ditch and hid in a sewer culvert until they’d passed. Then he climbed back on the tracks and ran some more.
“In one day, with three bombs, you managed to kill more people than died in all of World War II, and God alone knows how many more on Venus. Of those that died up here, seven million were minors and children. Of those, four-hundred thousand were under the age of two.”
“Well, by God, we’re not going to ignore it any more!”
He ran sopping wet until he couldn’t run anymore, and then he walked, his side aching, capable of little more than a stagger. He saw a dozen people staring blankly, possibly locked in an alpha state from the Nex crash. He saw a dozen more clawing at themselves, trying to escape from the static.
“You are solipsistic. You look at yourselves in the mirror and assume what you see is all there is to see, that the universe looks just like you, and anything beyond that is meaningless. In fact, you are superfluous, and you have been since the first successful offworld colony was established. There are - or were - two hundred million people living in the habitats and Venus. Perhaps half as many living on the colony worlds. We’re self-sufficient. We don’t need you. We’ve suffered your abuse out of fealty to our ancestral homeworld, out of a kind of pity, out of the fact that we’re fundamentally better people than you, out of hope that you’d eventually grow out of this phase. But no: you grow more and more vicious as your world sinks into irrelevancy. Your Secretary General has just admitted you’ve been conspiring towards this war for, what, sixty years? More? Look at how you’ve reveled in the deaths of our children. Look how you celebrate in the streets, curse us, and praise your own cleverness."
He’d gone a block or two, past people clawing at themselves before he realized he could help them by simply pulling out their modems. He didn’t do it, though. The realization came in a theoretical part of his brain, the one that analyzed questions and puzzles, but not his moral center. In any event, his survival instinct was all that was operating now. He lurched on.
“It has been nearly four generations since our ancestors left, and for most of us, earth isn’t home anymore; just a fetid, vile little ball of mud full of sanctimonious monsters. I reiterate: We do not need you. We’ve explored every star within fifty light years of earth, we’ve colonized twenty-four worlds just as hospitable as earth. You imagine that you are the indispensable center of the universe, but in fact, we can get along just fine without you.
“And now we intend to.”
There were bodies raining from the taller buildings, people killing themselves by jumping, many simply wounding themselves in the process. The streets were incommoded with gore and the screams of people not yet dead. He had to skirt away from the taller buildings.
“We have taken away your sun. Without it, your world will die fairly quickly. Your whole hateful little world will be as cold as winter in less than two weeks. Crops will fail, animals will die, people will starve. Within a few months after that, crop failures won’t matter because your whole atmosphere will have condensed to liquid and frozen solid. Earth will be a dead world. We will see to it that none of you survive."
He didn’t even know where he was going, just running, just saturated with fear. Where could he go, anyway? The whole world was ending? A second wave of adrenaline hit him and cleared his mind enough to realize he was near his home. Very close. That seemed as good a place as any.
“Do not think that you have anything of value to us that might save you from this fate. Any plants or animals of interest have already been exported to the colonies en masse. Any object d’art we may like can be easily picked from the frozen ruins after you’ve died. You really will all die, and we really don’t care. You’ve left us no choice. What can we do? We can’t allow things to go on as they have. We certainly can’t allow monsters like yourselves to get out of the cave and prey upon good people elsewhere. So we do the only thing we can: we exterminate you, once and for all. You are vicious, horrible, evil people and you deserve to die."
He found a tire jack abandoned in an alleyway, and threw it at a man tearing past on a bicycle. The man went down. Jean Paul grabbed the bike and set off for home.
His neighborhood was burning, but the flames hadn’t hit his house yet. He’d forgotten his keys back at the office, or lost them in the mad dash here. He pounded on the door, but no one answered. Could they even hear him over that maddening, accusing voice from the sky?
“We give you one final chance: Every nation on earth must unconditionally and formally surrender to us immediately, and agree to anything we dictate afterwards forever. If any single country in the world does not agree to this, we will keep the sun hidden. If any single country ever tries to renege on this agreement, we will take the sun away again and never bring it back. You will do what we say now and forever without question, or you will die. There is no other option."
He smashed a glass door on the side of the house and went in. He wasn’t lucid enough to know what he expected to find, but neither was he lucid enough to be shocked by his wives bodies lying dead on the floor. One of them had shot the other, then herself. Two bullets. It looked like one had struggled. He collapsed on the floor, too spent to even register pain from the broken glass that cut into his hands.
“As a show of good faith on your part, we want you to find and kill the following people immediately…” Here the Marshal rattled off a list of presidents, priests, potentates politicians, kings, caliphs, con men, commentators, arch-terrorists, lawyers, justices, businessmen, a hundred names in all.
The gun was lying on the floor, just out of his reach. His back against the wall, he leaned over to one side, reached over, and teased the thing into his grasp using his fingertips. There was nothing left. He put the gun to his head, his finger on the trigger, he closed his eyes…
“We don’t care who does it, or how, but we want them dead immediately. You may do whatever you want with their bodies, but we want their heads intact and identifiable. These are to be loaded on a shuttle at the Cape Korou spaceport, and set up to us. Once we verify we have all the heads, we’ll accept your surrender and move the mirror. Fail to deliver any of them, and you all die. Your whole world dies."
…and he opened them again. He recognized one of the names on the list, a local PeTA organizer. He lived in a ritzy subdivision on the beach, a mile west of here. They shopped at the same grocery store, he’d recognized him there several times.
Jean Paul lowered the gun, and felt its weight against his palm, weighing it, pensively. He put it to his head experimentally, then lowered it again. He had a decision to make. He stared at the gun until his eyes blurred.
“Is this draconian? Certainly, but you have forced our hand. We will have peace. It can be the peace of subservience or the peace of a dead world littered with twelve billion frozen corpses. It is your choice."
He got fitfully to his feet, and limped to the shattered glass door, getting blood everywhere. He stepped through…
Copyright 2011, Republibot 3.0
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