Another short piece within the First Contact universe, “Ruination”. Enjoy!
Vaering turned his eyes outward, over the crowds, and felt a swell of pride. So many people had come out to see the completion of the project. So many others had actually contributed their time and efforts to see the project realized; Like his friend Skjord. His eyes moved to observe the hulk of a Narelhen and then noticed that Skjord, along with the other Order leaders, had focused on a small group of people. As if snapping out of a dream, Vaering realized that the constant drone of hundreds of thousands of people had ceased. An eerie silence had fallen over them and as he searched for the cause his eyes again fell on the small group of people.
It was the Council! He, like the rest of The Order, snapped to attention as they approached the small dais that had been constructed at the base of the tower. But he only counted five among them. Where were the other two? The lead member rose a hand, a hand that shone as brightly as the spire behind them. He, like so many of the subspecies of Narelhen, was cybernetically enhanced. The Order troops relaxed, and the Council turned to face the throngs of people who had gathered.
The lead Council member stepped forward to lean against the small Dais, his robes falling over his hands before he reached up to pull the hood back. More metal shone in the warm sunlight, and a grin had crossed his face.
“Brothers! Sisters!” His voice boomed, with no apparent aid from an outside source, echoing over the crowds. “It warms my heart to see so many of you gathered here on this great day!” With the last few words, his hands spread wide, the robe sleeves sliding up his arms. Most would now have a clear view of Innealis, the head of the Council that ruled over the Narelhen. His hands were armored, augmented for detailed work. He was a machinist by trade, and often worked on small inventions in his free time. Scars, in intricate and often ornate patterns, tracked their way up his arms, showing that the augments ran far deeper than just on the skin. The left side of his head was armored as well, as many of his implants involved his nervous system.
“Soon, the second part of this great undertaking will be in place!” He raised an arm towards the sky, emphasizing the word ‘great’, and Vaering suddenly realized that he’d drifted off into his own thoughts. Skjord had caught him, and elbowed him gently. He immediately turned back to listening. “Our Civilization will enter a new Energy Age! The Spire will envelop the world in its protective bubble, providing power for all of our needs! So long as the Winged One remains above the Spire,” his raised arm formed into a finger pointing towards the heavens. Everyone’s eyes were drawn up at the great object that now appeared in the sky. Its shadow was cast over the ocean to the West of the island, causing a great darkness to cover the waters. It hadn’t been noticed previously because of its location and the clouds rolling through the area, “our future is assured!” Cheers rose from the crowd and Innealis stood to bask in the praise. One of the other Council members stepped forward to place a hand on his shoulder, soliciting a laugh from Innealis.
“My apologies.” He whispered behind him. He turned his head to look out at the crowd once more. “Now, for what you all have been waiting for.” He turned around, looking up and pointing once more to the great obelisk in the sky. “The Winged One shall open, and our new Age shall begin!” More cheering. Vaering stepped away from The Order’s place on the dais and looked up at the sky, shielding his eyes with his forearm. The Winged One had begun to expand, eight lines slowly spreading away from the center circle. The cheering died down as others turned their eyes skyward, watching the blocks grow into arms as the satellite fully extended itself.
The entire process took about twenty minutes to complete and when it was done, one of the arms cast its shadow over the assembled masses of Narelhen. Still they were silent, and the Council turned to the tower, each bowing their head as if in prayer. A hum began to fill the air, faint but present. Machinery began moving within the Spire, and the dark, wide lines that ran along the sides of the tower began to glow. It started as a deep red before shifting up through the spectrum into a brilliant white. As it continued to gather power, several tiny beams began to rise slowly, as if ghosts from a grave, before firing skyward in a brilliant display of light.
Vaering continued to watch the satellite as the tiny beams grew in intensity, forming a single beam in a matter of seconds. This link of power between the Spire and the Winged One was the basis for the bubble. Soon, the energy would envelop the entire planet. As enthralled as he was by the spectacle, the accomplishment of his species, he suddenly felt something was wrong. As he, as well as the other Narelhen, basked in the glow of the Spire’s energy, the hum from the tower suddenly came from within. He held a hand out, feeling fuzzy, attempting to locate the source of the feeling. He was momentarily distracted by a bright light as the Spire discharged a burst of energy towards the Winged One. Lightning crawled along the clouds at a frenzied pace, radiating outwards with the Spire as their epicenter. A clap of thunder accompanied the burst, earning a cry of delight from some of the onlookers. A small wave of energy spread from the satellite.
He turned to look at Skjord, who returned the gaze with a barely-masked fear. Skjord was never afraid. He felt this, too, and he knew it was wrong. Vaering looked to the Council, who were still deep in prayer. Frantically, he looked for answers as the hum intensified, radiating a warmth from within. He passed his eyes over the crowd and noticed that it had thinned. Had some run from the burst? His mind found amusement at that before he watched someone simply vanish. His eyes widened. What was going on!?
Another clap of thunder caused him to cringe and look quickly towards the tower. Another burst had left the Spire and was already radiating from the Satellite. This time, the wave was strong enough to reach the surface, and more Narelhen simply faded from existence, including Skjord! Others finally realized what was going on, and had begun to run. Sadly, Vaering knew that would not save them. The project that they had put so much effort into, taken so much pride, had doomed them all to some unknown fate. Another burst from the Spire, more intense than the last two, hit him with enough percussive force to nearly knock him from his feet.
As he looked around one final time, he saw that he was one of the few that still remained on the surface. The hum had grown to a pain, radiating from what felt like deep within his bones. One of the Council members was still standing near the dais, and his fear was mirrored in her eyes as he looked upon her. A vibration that rattled his bones signaled another, much more powerful burst was to come. They both looked to the tower as a bright flash of white light erupted from the Spire. It obliterated the clouds that had surrounded it, and the last image that Vaering remembered was the sight of the twin suns before his world, too, faded to black…
…Legions of people and watercraft had gathered around the small island that supported the gleaming spire stretching to the heavens. The suns poured warming, blue-white light over the scene. People streamed through the streets of the small city that had grown up around the base of the spire, that they might get closer to it. From a balcony on the second story of a residential building, two Narelhen watched the crowds in amusement.
“How long has this been going on?” One turned to the other after looking to the sky, admiring the sight of the two suns, clearly of smaller stature.
“Since early this morning. You certainly took your time in getting here.” The larger one leaned up against the railing to look down. The smaller let out a laugh.
“Well, the boat I secured passage on was one of the first off the mainlands. The Captain simply gave way to some civilian ships.” He shifted uncomfortably in his armor. “I’m just glad I was on-world for this.” The larger nodded. “What about you, Skjord, how long have you been living out here?” Skjord sighed, turning his head to look down toward the other.
“Several months, by this time, I guess.” He shrugged. “I’ve honestly lost track of time, there’s been so much work going on.”
“Your people certainly are adept at building. To have completed the project in two short years.” He looked down at the people, stretching his arms out in front of him and leaning against the railing.
“Well, thank you.” He reached over and clapped his short friend on the shoulder with a massive hand, jarring him forward. “And what of you, Vaering? What brought you on-world? I thought The Order was moving to inspect some new worlds on the Edge?”
“Implant adjustments. Cybernetic, not Biogenetic, remember?” His eyes flashed for a moment as he focused on his friend. “They sent a majority of the forces ahead already. There’s only a few of us here. Maybe a single Platoon.” Skjord nodded.
“Something the Nanites couldn’t take care of?” Nanites were tiny machines that existed within all Narelhen, and were responsible for maintaining the health of both the Narelhen and any implants they possessed. Vaering shook his head.
“No, the Nanites can do fine-tuning just fine. Some of it is new elements being installed and the Nanites can’t fabricate parts. Yet.”
“Just be careful you don’t lose yourself, my friend.” Vaering laughed, pushing back from the railing.
“Not everyone has your natural strength, Skjord. If the Narelhen are to continue growing the Empire, all members must be as strong as possible. No matter the cost to the individual.” He glanced once more to the people below. “Now come, let us go find a place among the populace that we may witness the grand spectacle first-hand.”
The two friends left the balcony of the building, and slowly began making their way to the base of the tower. It took them another hour to navigate the crowds, but Vaering had arranged for them to join the rest of the Order troops among the closest to the tower. After greeting several of the soldiers – Vaering was a Captain of The Order, and wanted to keep up relations with potential squad members – the two took their places among the leadership, and awaited the Council. Vaering took this opportunity to get a good look at the Spire.
As he looked up, it stretched high – almost impossibly, he thought – into the sky, piercing the clouds that began to gather overhead. It’s silver-white reflective surface was given a bluish gleam in the fading light of the suns. Near the top, nearly out of his sight, were four oblong domes of colored glass. As far as he could tell, these were just for show. However, they gave the tower a pleasing aesthetic and they appeared as great gems as the light caught them. The Spire tapered sharply to a circular base that kept it stable, part of which he was standing on now.
Vaering turned his eyes outward, over the crowds, and felt a swell of pride…