The archivist cracked the door and peeked in for a brief moment. He didn’t want to disturb the chancellor, but he had to report his most recent finding. It had been weighing on him, and he was glad to pass the burden. The chancellor looked up from his oversized desk.
“Enter Mr. Roth.”
“Oh, yes sir. I didn’t want to-” Mr Roth trailed off as he had a habit of doing. He looked a mess, but the chancellor seemed not to mind his disheveled state of appearance.
“I trust the archive survey is going smoothly?” Chancellor Zathrion said. Roth had worked under the chancellor for over twenty seven years but it never got easier to address him. He tried to calm his breathing and still his jittery hands.
“That is just the thing, Sir. It’s just that I’ve found something in sector C147. The boys and I call it the old archives,” Roth said. He let Zathrion finish reading the block of text that was hovering over his desk. Roth could tell that the chancellor was completely unconcerned, which made total sense. What concern should an archivist pose to the daily progress of civil affairs? Zathrion looked up.
“Well, Archivist, don’t keep me in such suspense,” Zathrion said with a sarcastic tone. “What have you found with such urgency that you felt the need to climb up here to the top floor.”
Roth pulled a small item from a fold in his robes. Zathrion watched impatiently as the archivist handled the small cylinder with delicate care. He gripped one end and twisted. Holding his hand under the opening, he upended the tube and something fell out.
“What is that?” the chancellor asked.
“It’s paper. In the old days everything was done on paper,” Roth said. He could tell he had the chancellor’s attention now. Zathrion’s eyes were wide with anticipation. He glanced from the contents of Roth’s hand up to his eyes expectantly.
“Wow, that is truly remarkable,” Zathrion said. The sarcasm was gone from his voice. The chancellor was enchanted with the ancient scrap. Roth regretted that his trip did not bear better news.
“It’s not so much the paper that is important, Sir, but what is written upon it,” Roth said.
“Ahh, a paper is to be written upon?” Zathrion sang with enjoyment. “So what is written upon this one.” Roth unrolled the coiled sheet carefully. He knew the delicate nature of artifacts from antiquity. His dextrous fingers straightened the small piece of paper before his eyes. With a tremble in his voice he began to orate the ancient text.
“To the chancellor of the ninth realm, Patrious The Seventh. The interplanetary war that your esteemed cabinet so dubiously embarked upon has cost both of our worlds much. Although I think the unfortunate burden of royalty, wealth, and prestige has been thrust upon your realm. We hope that the crown that was stolen from our world does not weigh too heavy on your surely worthy head. Your quenchless conquest of our star system has left us beggars and you kings. You may well expect tribute from such a vassal state as ours. However, we have one and only one gift for his majesty, The Great Chancellor Of The Ninth Realm. It has been sent, and should arrive within three thousand cycles. Look to the sky for a blast. Signed, The Defeated Former Chancellor Of The Fourth Realm. Dexter the first.”
Roth finished the reading and lifted his eyes to the chancellor. Zathrion stared for a long moment before he closed his mouth. From the look of things, it had certainly sparked his imagination. Roth wasn’t sure if the man had breathed once since he began to read.
“When was that written?” He asked.
“Close to three thousand years. We looked up the chancellor it was written to. Patrious the Seventh lived in the year iSD-6498. He was engaged in the Outer Belt War for most of his career. Dexter The First, who wrote the letter, was the chancellor of the fourth realm until Patious deposed him. It all checks out to be authentic,” Roth said, almost breathless.
“Well, this has been quite educational. I should think we must find a premium place in the Museum Galactica for this fine artifact that you have unearthed,” the chancellor said. He obviously wasn’t getting the point. Roth had to remind himself to be less subtle.
“That’s not all sir. Note the last line. We have only one gift for his majesty… and it should arrive within three thousand cycles.” Roth paused to let it sink in. When it did not, Roth explained further. “It’s been nearly three thousand cycles, Sir. This gift that Dexter spoke of in his letter, it should be nearly arrived. At that time, only relativistic rocketry was available. They had to send their so-called gift on a sloth-rocket. It’s been in transit all this time.”
The chancellor looked absolutely overjoyed at this. He stood in excitement, but then sat back down and began to tap at the air where his screen hovered. He grinned ear to ear.
“This is fantastic. The treasury will be pleased. Who knows, maybe we will be able to commission the new capitol building. This is truly exquisite news Archivist. Thank you so much for your information. I will contact our best astronomers. They can chart the trajectory of this gift. We shall prepare a welcoming party for this great treasure from among the stars.” Zathrion was still talking when Roth cut him off.
“I took the liberty of contacting an astronomer, three in fact. I also committed a team of scopeographers to site and chart the objects,” Roth said. The chancellor still wasn’t getting it.
“Objects?” Zathrion asked. “There is more than one?’
“Yes, Sir. There are thousands. Thousands upon thousands in fact,” Roth said. The chancellor giggled with giddy enjoyment. He could barely contain himself. He added, “well do we know what the rockets contain?” Roth dropped his stare and eyed the floor. Finally the moment had come.
“Yes, Sir.” He tried to say it, but it was almost impossible to open his mouth. He glanced at the chancellor briefly as he continued. “The rockets contain nuclear warheads.” Roth wanted to be clear so he added. “Thousands of fission bombs.”
The chancellor gasped and then leaned back in his chair. He could not believe what he had just heard. He tried to speak but nothing came out. Zathrion leaned forward and put his elbows on his desk.
“But we are at peace with the fourth realm, why are they doing this?” Zathrion said.
“They are not doing this. It was done thousands of years ago before the peace was made. The fourth realm probably doesn’t even know about the rockets. The administration that sent them is long gone,” Roth said.
Zathrion eyeballed the archivist. Roth’s mind filled with black clouds. He knew the diar situation that they faced, but until that very moment it had not quite been real. Seeing the reaction of the Chancellor Of The Ninth Realm helped it sink in. The chancellor finally looked up to Roth and spoke in a weak whisper.
“So what do we do?”
“Is it possible to detonate the rockets before they arrive?” The council member asked. A chilling silence filled the room where the council, the chancellor, and an expectant audience was gathered. The cameras were live and the crowd was eager.
“Yes, they can be detonated,” Dr. Idomia said. An audible whisper began to rise from the crowd. The doctor of astrophysics put his finger in the air to signal that his statement was not complete.
“However, It wouldn’t matter. Even if we could explode every bomb right at this moment, it would create an enormous cloud of radiation. The resulting nebula of radioactivity would continue along the trajectory that the rockets are currently on. It would still wipe out every living thing on this planet for ten thousand years.”
“Is it possible to redirect the rockets?” Another council member asked. A pregnant pause followed the question as Dr. Idomia pressed his thumb and first finger into the bridge of his nose. He spoke slow and deliberate as if speaking with a child.
“Gentlemen, you have to understand that those rockets have been accelerating for over twenty-eight hundred years. They are moving at thirty six percent of the speed of light. We have made great strides in relativistic locomotion, but no ship in the realm could accelerate to that speed in the amount of time we have,” Dr. Idomia said.
“What about a ship with port-drive. If we can jump from world to world in less than two weeks then certainly we could…” The councilmen trailed off. It was clear he didn’t know how to form an intelligent question.
Idomia felt belligerent now. He was tired. He had a splitting headache. He had spent weeks looking at the problem from every angle. It insulted his intelligence that this council member assumed he would not have thought of using a port-drive ship. Idomia almost growled now.
“You are missing the point. A port-drive ship, uses space distortion. It is not actually moving. Instead, it moves space around itself much like a swimmer moves water in a river as he swims upstream, but stays motionless relative to the shore. So once it comes out of port-drive at the designated location, it would still has the problem of acceleration. It would be a motionless object trying to intersect with an array of rockets moving at thirty six percent of the speed of light.”
The doctor slammed his fist into his open palm to illustrate the impact. He stood motionless in front of the council for another few seconds before he started to step away from the podium. He noticed out of the corner of his eye that someone stood. He glanced over and saw that it was Chancellor Zathrion. The old man spoke with concern in his voice.
“So Doctor, what are you saying we should do about it?”
Dr. Idomia looked around the room. He beheld the massive crowd. He looked at the gathered cameras. He scanned the council members. Idomia was softer now. He felt old. After a deep breath he spoke with less boldness than before.
“My friends, we have been given a mighty prophecy that rides the winds of heaven. The hour and time is set. There is no evading the coming fire on the sky. Most citizens of the multi-realm have no idea when their last breath will be drawn. In some twisted form of fate, we have been given a great gift.
We know without a shadow of a doubt, when we will die. You ask me, Chancellor Zathrion, what should we do? Those who have the means should evacuate as soon as possible. For the rest of us, we should be with families. We should drink deep the last days of our existence. There is no doubt that we are facing the end of the ninth realm. This world will melt with tremendous fire. It will be a wasteland for ten centuries to come.”
The doctor stepped away from the podium and walked toward the exit. Every eye in the room was on him. His head was stooped and he walked slow. The bags beneath his eyes were dark with the evidence of many sleepless nights. Oddly, he was excited for what was ahead.
Chancellor Zathrion sat in the tall chair behind his desk. He had been preparing his speech for two days. Now that the time had come for the intra-realm broadcast he felt numb.
He had been surprised by the reaction of the people of the ninth realm. News commentators from every corner of the galaxy had weighed in on the issue. Most had predicted that the world would quickly descend into chaos. The so-called experts expected the people of Realm Nine to revert to lascivious barbarism as its finally days drew in near.
The chancellor was proud to note that the anarchy had never come. The looters and rapists were apparently absent for the end of the world. Close to three million people had evacuated the planet as soon as was physically possible. Every ship, short range and long had been employed in the mass migration, but there were not nearly enough seats to accommodate the other four and a half billion.
The chancellor reviewed his notes one last time mindlessly. His thoughts were elsewhere. He felt like proud father who had witnessed his own children rise above the basest of natures.
“We’re on in five, four, three,” a young man was saying. He motioned with his hand for the last two numbers. The chancellor watched the prompter in front of him waiting for the words to flow. His speech began to scroll down the length of the hovering translucent screen.
“My fellow citizens. As most of you are aware, the implement of the extinction of my people is hurtling toward us at impossible speed. Through the cold elastic tindrel of space a fire from a long dead war stretches out of the past to melt the present age.
Let it be remembered by the historians that annihilation is a heavy burden. However, we of the Ninth have discovered that even the annihilation of a world can be born with a certain kind of grace when it is born together. When one faces death it is a cold and lonesome thing. Though, there is solace knowing that we all go into the night together.
The death that we face is a long owed debt which was never paid by our fathers until now. War should have been a forgotten art for centuries. With all of our advancements, where is our ability to cease fighting? Why must we continue to kill and destroy? The universe is a weary mother watching her children bicker, bite, and claw until each is extinguished.
The waves from ancient conflict have rippled through the ocean of space like a tidal wave. It will reach us soon with unforgettable finality. Our great grandfathers were greedy, even evil. They took what was not theirs and called it providence. They conquested and conquered. We call the men of former generations foolish for their backward ways. We laugh at their bombs and weapons. Our war is civil. Our war is economic. Yet, our war is double damned as theirs. They did in the light what we hide in dark corridors to do.
No man escapes a fate known or unknown when that fate has been set in stone. Our world was destined to die with fire from the time of my many-great grandfathers birth. Because we did not know it, we lived in the light of bliss and ignorance. Is this not how all live, spending day after day as in the pretendings of a child.
We live as if death will never come, and mourn the ones who were touched by its cold hand too soon. I beg you, do not mourn for us. Mourn the generations that are not spared from war. Mourn the survivors who live to fight another day, year, or lifetime. Mourn yourselves, who even though you have seen this great tutor, will inevitably fall back into war time and time again.
Every debt must be paid. Every evil visited, if not on the fathers, on the sons and grandsons. We face a consequence, inescapable. We face that consequence without fear, knowing that this lesson will not soon be forgotten. We soon will be freed from the worlds of death and pain. Feel jealous for our release.
You, of the multiple realms, take from this visage of fire, and learn from it. Tell it to your children. Teach them to tell it to their children’s children. This is the day that fire came from the sky. This is the day that vengeance was finally paid.”
The words scrolled off the screen as the chancellor finished his speech. He sat for a long moment as the crew signaled that the broadcast was finished. The activity continued around him as he stood. He wanted to be alone.
He walked through the parting crowd of crew and press as he stepped slowly into his personal chambers. Gently pulling at the door, it clicked behind him. He gripped the edge of the curtain and pulled it back to reveal a scene that he had stared down on many times.
He wasn’t sure how long he stood there before it started to happen. He watched as red and orange began to paint the sky with flashes of brilliant domed color. The horizon skewed as violent wisps of blazing flames fell from the sky. It wouldn’t be long now.