June 23, 2061.
In those first few days, when humanity sprinted out of the shadows, there had been a kind of spiritual awakening. Some hunger, buried deep inside the soul, had finally stirred. People were eager to try something new.
By all accounts, The Last War had been a grubby little affair. Human ingenuity had outdone itself with dazzling brilliance. Successive generations of cheaper and more effective weaponry had bred the ultimate death machines. These were no simple killing tools.
The Weeping One-Hundred, they called it. One-hundred wonderfully creative machines with exotic names like Continent Busters and Sun Killers. In a world where a dirty bomb cost the same as a loaf of bread, humanity had lost the luxury of fighting it out.
On a cold day in August, nuclear ash fell like dirty snowflakes. Bruised and battered souls in their millions finally came together for the peace. Humanity had stared extinction in the face and lived to tell about it. Grievances past, present and future were now void.
Sergeant Whisky Mills flipped through the contents of the manilla envelope. He pushed his glasses to the tip of his nose. The blurry photograph remained out of focus.
“You want me to what?”
First Minister Newman leaned forward from behind his large wooden desk. Humanity may have eradicated war but politicians were politicians. Newman paused before responding, flashing a broad toothy smile. Newman had manufactured bullets during the war but now presided over the direction of the human race.
“To be immortal,” said Newman.
“Immortal means forever, right?”
“The Aliens are coming,” said Newman, pointing to the photos in Mills’ hands. Orbital weapon platforms had been easily converted into deep-space telescopes. The Aliens may be far away but they were coming. Newman’s smile faded.
It was one of The Universe’s great ironies. Humans were extremely clever at killing each other. Untold millennia of war and Aliens announce themselves the moment humans no longer have the stomach for it. PREPARE TO DIE. A message in a bottle from the vastness of space.
“For God’s sake, why?”
Mills thought he could detect a struggle behind the politician’s eyes. It was as if he had to seek out thoughts rarely used. Newman leaned forward, responding in almost a whisper. “You know why,” he said.
And he did. For people like Mills, no amount of ticker tape parade could wash away the bloodied history. He had seen too much. He had done even more. He, like a few others, were walking relics from the old world order.
“There are… others.”
All it would take was an unguarded look or maybe a small gesture. It gave them away every time. “You’re pretending just like me,” he would think, and then they would share a look. They were thinking the same thing.
Newman thrust a second manilla envelope across the desk. He wiped his fingers on his fine cotton jacket. It was as if the envelope was dirty. Mills opened it to reveal photos of people, all dead, suicide. “You’re the last,” said Newman, leaning away from the envelope.
December 7, 2071.
A German doctor warned him that the first ten years of immortality would be the longest. It had been a joke. Something to relieve the stress of the moment. With all the world watching, a little humour helped push things along.
Damn him, he’d been right.
Four-hundred million people had tuned into watch Sargent Mills enter the Immortality Crypt, the sum total of all humans that remained after The Last War. Four-hundred million people who only wanted peace, an end to the threat of Alien Invasion.
The historian waved his hands, the semi-transparent video of him entering the crypt paused. At the time there had been no thought to the history of the moment. Ten years later, people where getting nostalgic. “When you entered the crypt, did they tell you what would happen?” asked the historian.
Mills had endured the first ten years of immortality, and already this interview felt like forever. He tapped his foot.
Automated pods buzzed around him like flies. His every breath was being recorded. The crypt had infused Mills with billions of semi-organic auto repair crystalline nannies. Another one of the converted Weeping One-hundred weapons. Apparently keeping a person alive indefinitely is every bit as easy as killing them. “Itsy-bitsy machines that make you not die,” the doctor had explained. Mills hadn’t been sure that that was a joke or not.
“Yes they explained.”
Mills swotted a pod that flew too close. Wobbling for a moment, the machine almost righted itself before dropping to the floor like a stone. The historian adjusted some unseen controls, the pods extended their distance.
“What did they tell you?” he asked.
Being infused with itsy-bitsy machines was not unlike having every cell sliced off with a meat cleaver. Colourful beams of agony had drilled through flesh and bone, scorching whatever embers of a soul that Mills possessed. The doctors had left that part out.
“Don’t make me show you,” Mills growled.
He wasn’t a threat. Mild irritation, nothing more. The historian took a few step back. There would probably be a meeting about this. Some unknown functionary would ask, “Dear God, what have we done?” only to be shushed by the others as being too late now. The Aliens were coming.
Mills was the first and only Immortal Human. Living forever didn’t come cheap. Nanites had consumed almost a half the world’s resources to grant him forever. The Last War had been greedy, consuming metric gigatones of everything. Oil, gas, diamonds, gold, it all fed the great and glorious war. Any scraps that remained had been equally divided: half for Mills and half for everyone else.
“And did they give you the weapons before or after?” asked the historian, raising his voice a little to account for the distance.
He had almost forgotten about the weapons. Not just the Weeping One-hundred but every nasty little idea that humanity ever had was now locked up in a secret location.
If being immortal hadn’t been enough to make Mills unique, then being able to reign down fire and brimstone ought to do it. It was tied into his nanites. All it would take was to think of a simple code word. No wonder the historian was treating him softly.
“During,” sighed Mills.
Forever was feeling a lot longer right now.
December 25, 2161.
A dozen sleeping bodies intertwined on his bedroom floor. It had been a kind of celebration. One-hundred years of immortality had blown by like the wind. Probably because of all the sex.
A blond head stirred. Her name was Orca, like the whale, not that whales existed anymore. Less than five thousand species had managed to survive. Enough to sustain Earth’s biosphere, more or less.
Orca stepped her way around the sleeping bodies. He couldn’t remember where he’d met her. Maybe she was an aide to someone he knew. Mills had spent the last one-hundred years watching humanity stumble through ending hunger and some diseases. Despite keeping out of the way, he’d met more people than he could remember. Everyone looked familiar now.
“Tell me about the aliens,” she whispered. “How close are they?” Orca took a seat on the edge of the bed beside Mills. She threaded her arm through his, giving an innocent look that suggested anything but.
A bald head popped up from the crowd. Mills would not have remembered his name were it not tattooed across his buttocks. “Jacob, shhhh, careful,” said Mills. He was taller than Mills and had patterns carved into the stubble on both cheeks. Jacob threaded his way through the sleeping crowd, kissing Mills on the cheek before taking the other side on the bed.
“Da, Aliens,” said Jacob, his thick Germanic accent slurring his words. At least, it sounded German. It was getting difficult to tell. Accents no longer belonged to borders; the notion of nation state having long since ended.
“Space is vast,” said Mills. “They’re coming but slowly.”
“Fear,” smiled Jacob.
“Oh yes, very afraid,” smiled Orca.
“You’re both clearly terrified,” Mills drolled. “Perhaps I can help.”
The trio lounged backwards onto the bed, being careful not to wake the others.
January 1, 3401.
They had built a Peace Memorial on the ruins of New Wellington. Mills had been only a child when Old Wellington fell, an early causality of the Last War. In those long since forgotten days, most cities had been sitting ducks. Not that New Wellington had fared much better.
Mills had built a small cabin on where he figured his childhood home had stood. The world was filled with ghosts now. Not literally of course. Memories mixed with the present so often that it was often difficult to stay in the moment. Everything triggered a hundred memories, some good, others not so.
English was a ghost too. The language had evolved, beyond what Mills expected. Words themselves hovered like ghosts of their former selves. If Mills closed his eyes, he could almost imagine their meaning. There was always more time. If he didn’t learn New English now then he could learn it later. Immortality had its privileges.
Mills scanned the sky. A simple thought invoked the ancient weaponry that scanned deep space.
The Aliens were closer.
The Day of The Dog, 9,042.
Mills emerged from his mountain cave to find villages presenting him with a puppy. Humanity was going through a renewed agricultural phase. They had been living in megacities for a few thousand years but had now rediscovered the simpler life.
The dog wasn’t any breed Mills recognized. She was stripped like a Zebra but retained many of the familiar canine hallmarks. With a final push from the villages, the puppy bounded over to Mills. She took one look of him and headed straight into his cave. She made herself quite at home.
The villagers had been gifting him dogs for a while now. Whenever one died, either by old age or accident, the villagers replaced it with a clone. Mills wasn’t sure how long dogs were supposed to live, but he was pretty sure it wasn’t fifty years.
“Get off my mountain,” called out Mills.
The villagers cheered.
Mills was there to watch the last ephemeral human be subsumed by the God Machine. Whatever humanity now spoke, Mills could no longer learn it beyond elementary phrases. Language had evolved beyond a common frame of reference. For a hundred years, people had been coming to Mills, pointing to themselves, then to a towering glowing orb, then to the Sun.
Mills gave up long before they did. He called the orb the God Machine because only God knows what it was supposed to do. People entered the inscrutable device, sometimes one by one, sometimes in crowds, but they never came out again.
Again and again they entered, until the day only one ephemeral human was left. On all of The Earth, only two people remained. It was a woman, Mills thought, but he wasn’t sure. Humanity had long since entered an androgynous age. Like so many others, the woman pointed to herself, to the orb, then to the Sun.
“No,” said Mills.
She had been insistant, almost frantic that Mills understand her. She had drawn complex mathematical equations into the dirt, hoping to convince him. Her words were a mystery but her meaning clear: she wanted him to follow her into the orb.
“No,” Mills had said. “My place is here. The Aliens are coming but slowly.”
The woman had sighed, then smiled. She had understood. And with that the last ephemeral human turned, waved, then entered the glowing orb. The God Machine shone a translucent hue and then disappeared.
Humanity had done.
Still no sign of the aliens.
Alien ships filled half of the sky. Mills didn’t need the ancient weaponry to get a good look at them anymore, they were visible with the naked eye. There were five of them, each larger than Jupiter. One even had an asteroid ring.
Gravity forces from the alien ships were already pulling at the Earth’s tides. Several volcanoes around the equator had erupted, spewing lava. Super tides changed the Earth’s landscape in a hundred different ways.
It was time. Mills fired up the Weeping One-hundred, powering up those long since sleeping machines. The secret weapons base in the dark side of the moon spluttered its way to life.
After so many years, Mills had been pleased to find the ancient weapons still worked.
Mills concentrated, reaching back through the layers of memory and history to the day the weapons link was installed. He closed in on the code word to make everything right again.
“Ahh, yes,” thought Mills. “There you are. I’d almost forgotten.”
Mills uploaded the code word. PEACEMAKER. After a brief pause, the self-destruct routines engaged. There would be no explosion down here on Earth, of course, but Mills thought he could see a slight judder on the surface of the moon.
His job done. Mills had stood guard for humanity for over two-hundred thousand years, longer than was needed, but that didn’t matter. It had given his life meaning. It had never been about the killing bad guys; there had been enough death already. And yet another war would have dragged humans back into the long, empty shadows.
Taking the weapons had always granted humanity the luxury of another option. Humanity could not trust itself with weapons of mass destruction; and neither could it afford to give them up. Yet still, neither could it ever use those same weapons, even under the threat of annihilation. “The threat of alien invasion speaks to the fear in us all”, argued First Minister Newman. “Peace will fail in less than a single generation, unless there exists the counterbalance of hope.”
Mills looked up into the looming Alien ships.
“Checkmate, suckers!” he called out.