by Jay Faulkner
The end of the World didn’t happen all at once; we had time to prepare for it. At least, some of us did. The majority of Earth’s population never knew what was coming. Not until it was too late. It was decided, by those who could make those decisions, that four months notice would cause nothing but panic, horror, and devastation. So out of seven billion people on our planet, only a few hundred actually knew what was happening – the rest got to go on, blindly living their mundane lives. When they looked up at the night sky they saw only stars, never seeing the approaching Armageddon, never realising that they were already dead.
They were the lucky ones.
We – the power-makers, the politicians, the scientists, and the rich – knew what was coming. When the transmissions were first discovered by SETI, we thought that there was some mistake. Then the second transmission arrived. And then the third and final broadcast was deciphered, and we knew that the world – that humanity itself – had run out of time.
The power-makers – the kings, queens, and presidents of the world – gave their orders; the politicians passed them on; the rich threw their money at every project that had even a chance of success: planet wide evacuation, orbiting space stations, underground cities near the centre of the Earth and even cryogenically freezing a sample of every living creature to repopulate when – if – the time ever came.
Of course the scientists, myself among them, raged in impotence as everything that could be done, was. And it wasn’t enough. There simply wasn’t enough time to bring even the most sensible of ideas to fruition, let alone the science fiction at which despair was forcing us to clutching at.
Four months was not enough time to save the human race. Or the planet. It was simply enough time to let us reflect on what we had done.
On what I had done.
Not alone, of course, and definitely not with malice or intent, but I was the last surviving member of the team that had put Voyager I into space back in the twentieth century. Five months ago, I was still lauded as one of the ‘Grand Old Men’ of NASA, despite having been retired for over a decade. A Professor Emeritus status with them, of course, meant that I was never fully retired, never fully out of the loop.
And when the first broadcast came, when it was deciphered and the message became clear, I was brought right back in again. I’m not really sure what they thought that I could do that wasn’t already being done, but as the originator – so to speak – I was asked to be involved. I sat there, with the rest of the men and women who had been blessed – or cursed – with being allowed to know the truth and wept as I watched the static filled screen come to life.
They were so like us. The quality of the image was poor, like something out of the old silver screen vaults, and they spoke with an accent that was so thick as to be nearly impenetrable. But they were so like us. At that moment, when proof of intelligent life was given to me – to us – I became a believer. I knew that there had to be a God and that we must have been created in His image; on a dark night, from a distance, they could have passed for us. Two hundred, trillion miles away, on a planet orbiting a red Dwarf star, and they were just like us.
And we had killed them.
Their first message made it clear that they had picked up the looping frequency from our probe – and that they were advanced. Very advanced. They had been able to translate our message of welcome enough to learn a modicum of English. They were transmitting a message of welcome and of caution. Their first message told us that our probe was moving too fast for them stop and that we needed to abort.
We knew by their second message that they had figured out that the Voyager probe was unmanned and so their please – more urgent, now – were sent out into open space, hoping beyond hope that someone would be listening. That someone would be able to help them. We were listening, of course, but it was too late.
For them and for us.
Their final message came through about four months ago. At least that’s when it arrived. It was sent about thirty-two years ago, of course, aimed directly at us. They had somehow salvaged the golden plaque from the remains of Voyager, and from it they had learned who had sent the means of their destruction. They told us, these people so like us, that Voyager had hit their planet and gone through the fragile crust like a missile; a whole continent was instantly wiped out, and the chain reaction meant that their planet – always geologically unstable, we were told – was doomed. There was only a matter of weeks, maybe days, before their planet would crumble inwards and implode into nothing, taking them with it.
My eyes still burn with tears and memories of the final images that they sent us. Weapons, awesome and terrible in their might, dormant and forgotten for generations before they heard of us, were rebuilt; if they’d had the weapons at the start, they would have been able to take Voyager down, before any harm was done. They were too peaceful, though, too trusting. They were too late in realising that we had killed them. Just as we were too late in realising that they had killed us.
Voyager had been sent on a mission of peace and exploration, so many years before. It had been destined to bring humanity to the stars and, one day, bring the stars to us. Instead, no matter our intent, it rained down fire and destruction on our cousins so far away and, in return, they brought about the end of the world.
That last message showed us the warheads – missiles larger than any seen on Earth – leaving their planet’s orbit and heading out into space; heading, we knew, for us. Four months ago we got their final message and we knew – I knew – that the planet we had killed was now destined to bring about our doom thirty-two years after the last of them had died. Voyager’s destiny had been perverted with the genocide of an entire race, and now destiny’s voyage had come to an end with them.
They were already dead and, now, so were we.