The final timeline cycles in front of my eyes.
Territories in splashes of colour. Wars reduced to blotches soaking into brown pixels. The ebb and flow of old battles, the inexorable count of years, all now so unreal. Did it take really so long? Maybe I had confused the dates somewhere. Years shrunk into weeks, days blown up into decades. Binary star systems are unreliable calendars, and so is memory, and so is my records.
But still, at last, it's finished. The last piece of data fitted into its proper place, indexed, evaluated. The past returns to its drawer, its zipped up folder. I tap the send button, and near-instantly, the pulse of the x ray laser taps out my message. It'll take 4 long earth-years for it to get there, and four long earth-years for the response to come back.
The light of the monitor dimmed as power saving mode began. Around me, the lights too fade into dark, a darkness filled with the humming of distant machines. I look through the filtered glass, and feel somehow uneasy.
Perhaps already I missed the activity. And not just the activity, but those old places, names, people. Where are they all now?
Deirdre Skye? Well, everyone knows. Some look at the Planetmind with fear, some with love, some see it as nothing more than the rain or the mountains, as something that just is. But all the time, the Mind plans and thinks and dreams. Its voice is in the surf, in the brush of wind, in the click of gravel beneath your shoes. If you listen, you can hear it, maybe even here.
The Cult of Planet found its prophet, in the end. A small boy called Cha Dawn, found in the fungus, babbling endlessly and incoherently. Too bad for them, he came too late. With the Ascent, and a god that could speak for herself, there was no need for preaching.
Sister Miriam's imprisonment deep in pitch black tunnels saved her from the gamma rays and extreme heat of the Planet Buster attacks. In time, rescue teams made their way through the rubble of the new 'Clapton Archipelago', and found her, freed her. But a century of torture had made her completely insane, unable even to speak, or move, or eat. Teams of skilled psychiatrists eventually restored her into a semblance of health. They could not heal her will. Her first act was to grab a gun from a nearby guard and shoot herself in the head.
When the Ascent to Transcendence was finally announced, the disappearance of a majority of the population into the ether struck the financial market like a maniac with a sledgehammer. In but moments, stock prices on the Morganite Planetary Index nosedived, almost to nothing. Even as Nwabudike Morgan himself made speeches to encourage confidence, his computers overheated and broke down under the strain of a multitude of SELL orders. In the sudden abundance of resources afterwards, Morgan found himself and all he worked for suddenly almost worthless. His own newspapers tracked the CEO's steady mental decline, his mad plans for cornering the now non-existent energy market. He's still around, it is said, somewhere, preaching Ayn Rand and Adam Smith to any who would hear him.
Doctor Pravin Lal was killed in the attacks that people now call 'the Collapse'. A remembrance service was held for him by his supporters once it was again safe to do so, and became a focal point to others who had lost friends or loved ones that day. In the years following, the Lal Memorial Institute was set up to forward his vision, and he became a hero in death that he never was in life.
Chairman Yang, it is generally thought, suffered the same fate. When at last men from the outside world reached the surviving Hive colonies, they found survivors dazed and moping, many falling to cannibalism to survive. The hivers clung to the soldiers' uniforms, begging the mercy of Yang. But that soon passed. Most chose to wipe their memories. The Chairman was unmourned.
Provost Zakharov was one of the first to sign up for transcendence. Indeed, visitors to the liberated University outpost soon discovered that the scientist had long ago already given up on the way of flesh, maintaining his public image by means of a holographic projector. Soon enough, he became lost in his explorations of the workings of the Planetmind, refusing to respond to attempts to contact him. It is said that he had encoded copies of himself beamed out into the deepest reaches of space, looking for signs of other intelligent life.
Sinder Roze performed the hack of the millenia - the polymorphic Zeta-5 virus, based on a pre-Unity design and modelled on human thought patterns, managed to infect even the Planetmind. Perhaps fortunately, the Planet quickly neutralised the attack, and no harm was done. But the sheer daring to make the attempt made her legend, and though she disappeared afterwards, copycats still pop up to this very day.
Santiago refused the call of the Ascent, instead surprising her followers by marrying a pirate, bandit and revolutionary of very ill repute, Ulrik Svensgaard. The couple left one night, apparently bored with ruling, leaving the Federation to collapse into a scattering of small city-states. Reports suggest they've formed a small mercenary band, and the stories of their exploits, both noble and barbaric, make regular rounds in the Datalinks.
General Joacquim was absorbed by the Planetmind. Walking in the wastes to escape vigilantes, he did not see the prepared spot before it was too late.
His mind now recycles his old fantasies. A succession of dreams about his victory and his visions, looped over and over. Some would have preferred vengeance, but the Planet said that he had in him the slightest mote of guilt, and than one day, he would see the wrong of his ways.
So many years ago, we decided to walk our separate ways. Who could have predicted that here would be where we would all end up?
Was I so nostalgic for the past, to bury myself in these histories? I blink, dimly, in the half-light. For a moment, the lights flickered, and I remembered scrabbling in the dark, choking, the dust falling on... No, I conclude, old atrocities running through my mind. Perhaps, subconsciously, I had thought that writing the report would be a way of slaying the demons of the past. Was I right?
The others were bewildered when I chose to take the journey awake. The voyage took weeks now, instead of years, but looking after the ship whilst the others slept was still a lonely job.
Lights blink around me. The shutters on the hull portholes close. The hiss of the cryotubes become louder. Soon, they will be waking up. Hard not to feel paternal, sitting here. Now, I had to prepare to return to the human world.
I looked at the window. Its shape - round, glassy, with a grey metal cover on one half and darkness seen through the other, seemed to remind me of something, send a chill of horror or foreboding through my spine. Maybe history does repeat, I thought. Maybe the Ascent didn't change a thing.
I stop. I have to believe. I have to think that there's redemption for me, and for the human race. I have lived too long, far too long, and there had to be a reason. We had all paid the price, all in our own way, for this future. I hate to say it, but I need faith.
Faith that I have truly changed, a new soul to go with a new body.
Faith that I can pay for what I did, that I can do good to outshine the evil.
Faith that this time, this Planetfall, things will be different.
- Captain Shen-Ji Yang, UNS Prodigal Son, Project Unity II (Seed Yr 1)
Thanks for reading. This concludes my SMAC LP. Really. It's finished now. IT'S OVER! WOOHOO!
Ok, now I'm going to bed.