Gumal landed on the asteroid, planted the cloak, and pushed – just slightly. Just enough so it would make one more transit around the “big star”, the Earth's star, before the gigantic thing smacked into the Earth.
By the ancient calendar it would strike in 347 AB; three hundred forty seven years after the first nuclear explosion on the Earth's surface.
The protohumans had seemed hell-bent on destroying themselves. In 20 AB, give or take a few years, they had nearly had an atomic apocalypse that they'd called the “Bay of Pigs Invasion”, and then again in 40 or 50 AB when the heads of two superpowers sat in their respective offices across the globe, both drunk, and both ready to unleash atomic hell on each other. The dates were uncertain; the time was ten million years in the past.
Now they were flirting with disaster again, with East Pakindia and West Pakindia at each other's throats. At one time the two rivals had merged into a single country, but a civil war which was thankfully non-nuclear had split the two into separate nations again.
Both had atomic weapons.
Gumal was bringing real apocalypse. The Hindus and Buddhists called him “Shiva.” The Christians, Jews, and Muslims called him “Gabriel”.
His good friend and partner Rority called him “Asshole”.
Rority was in his own ship, having undergone the nobotic genetic manipulations that made him almost a protohuman. He called Gumal on his timeceiver. “Did you move that rock, Gumal?”
“Yep. Are you in position?”
“Both space and time, asshole. You should be ashamed of yourself, killing all those helpless animals.”
“You know good and damned well this has to happen or even viruses will be extinct. Yeah, I don't like doing it, but it has to be done.”
Gumal was a little annoyed at Rority's jab. He knew full well what would happen if the rock didn't land, but he knew that Rority wasn't fully sentient right then, a hundred years future from Gumal's present, ten million years earlier than when they'd lived.
But it still annoyed him. He didn't want to do this, but it had to be done. Like he'd told Rority.
Ten minutes after the conversation, from Rority's perspective, the rock swooped past the sun and straight toward the Earth. They never saw it coming, thanks to the cloak, even though they had been watching for something like it for over three hundred years.
The cloak was a sheath of nobots that absorbed light and other electromagnetic waves on one side, then re-transmitted the signals to the opposite side, rendering it completely invisible to any electromagnetic wavelength. It shut down as it passed the sun, reassembled into a whole, and continued in a more or less parallel path with the gigantic mountain flying towards the Earth.
When they finally saw it, they freaked out, of course. Protohumans are panicky animals.
President Rodriguez of the Hundred States of America screamed at the governor of Chihuahua. “God damn it, your state's in charge of the space program. Now launch something to deflect that asteroid, or blow it up, or something!”
Like the conversations between Gumal and Rority, this, too is a translation, an approximation, as language had changed so much in three hundred years that we in the 21st century (by our quaint calendar) might catch a little of the meaning, if we were fluent in English, Spanish, Japanese, Mandarin, Arabic, Hindi; all six languages, plus parts and pieces of a few more languages that had morphed into the language that was spoken world wide by then.
Governor McDaniel sighed. Rodriguez was a moron, he thought to himself. How can I explain to this stupid idiot that the damned rock was just too big and too close to deflect? But he knew it wouldn't matter – they were all doomed.
“Sir,” he said, “it's useless. It's too close, there's absolutely nothing we can do! We have to get off the planet!”
Ten billion people and countless animals were going to die, and the only ones that had a chance of survival were the very rich and powerful on their way off of the planet, and the parasites that lived off of these parasites.
Jim heard the horn blow; at least, it sure sounded like a horn. An incredibly big horn.
The sound was actually the asteroid whistling through the Earth's atmosphere. He got on his knees and prayed. “Our father in heaven, hallowed be thy name, please God forgive me my si...”
BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM! The earth shook; even the Japanese had never experienced such a quake. He finished his prayer and headed to church; he knew what day it was.
Judgment day. Jesus was coming, and he was going to be taken to heaven. At least, he hoped and prayed he would; nobody sane wants to die, or worse, go to hell. He couldn't know that the only two fates for anybody were death, or hell. The ones who survived would live in hell, only the hell would be on Earth.
The flames rained from the sky later that day.
Gumal felt sick. Those poor, barely sentient protohumans. And the other animals as well – they had feelings, too. He wished he'd never let himself be transformed into one of them. He hated pain, even though he really couldn't understand it as a human, pain having been engineered out of humans millions of years earlier. But after you were a protohuman, you remembered. Sort of. Like a protohuman having come down from an LSD trip remembered the trip. Sort of. The brain wasn't the same.
Rority felt a great sadness; he liked protohumans. Some were like his pets, and he loved that protohuman beer. “Rority, are you receiving?” his timeceiver squawked.
“Yeah, Gumal, warping to four years from now in a minute or two. You OK? You don't sound OK.”
“I'm not, Rority. I feel really bad – all those poor animals dead, and in pain.” Gumal had been transformed into a pseudo-protohuman only a few times, and refused to do it again except for the most serious of circumstances, like when it was necessary because he wouldn't have been born if he didn't.
“They have feelings,” he said, “and the protohumans are almost sentient.”
“Yeah,” said Rority, “they were smart enough to invent nuclear bombs and stupid enough to invent nuclear bombs. But look, dude, the ones who don't survive are going to live, and the ones who survive are not only going to die, but are going to be dead forever, with no chance of ever being resurrected.”
“But only a few billion that were alive will be unaffected by the Grabonic radiation, which only affects certain types of people, and most of them will be sterile. No chance for the rest of them, they're dead forever.”
“They didn't deserve a chance. You did your job well, Gabriel.”
“Don't call me that, you son of a bitch!”
“Sorry, Gumal. Bad joke. Look, I'm warping, so you'll have to change freqordinates to pick me up. But dude, cheer up. It's a good thing you did.”
Rority, having made sure the asteroid had hit the right spot on Earth, prepared for his trip forward.
Ten minutes later for Rority and four years later for the survivors of the catastrophe, President Rodriguez and Governor McDaniel and the rest of the United World council, as well as the glitterati and corporati and the other monied people who had survived the apocalypse were meeting in Jiplon; a town that had formerly been known as Joplin.
“This meeting will come to order,” Secretary M'bago thundered.
“We're dying,” he announced. “We, a few cats and dogs and rodents and some insects are all that survived,” he said, “and we won't live much longer. I hereby...”
A robed man with brown eyes, a prominent nose, long black hair, and a beard shimmered into view facing him. Their jaws all dropped. “Wha... where... how... who are you?” M'bago demanded.
“I am your judge and executioner,” Rority replied sternly. “You will answer for your sins.”
“Bailiff, Arrest that man!” M'bago demanded.
“You must not touch me, lest you turn to stone,” Rority replied sadly, wishing he had his stratodoober so he could get stoned.
He quickly programmed the nobots that constituted his shield to change the tissues of the attackers' flesh to calcium; not the amounts needed for muscles to work, but solid calcium. Skin as well as muscle. The bailiffs reached out to grab him, and at the first touch of the nobots that ensheathed Rority they apparently became clothed statues, their brains unchanged but dying from lack of oxygen. It would not have been a pleasant death.
“Serves the bastards right”, Rority thought. But he had to stay true to character.
“You have had pestilence, violence, famine, and death these past four years. You have been visited by those four horses, and are paying and will continue pay for your sins for the rest of your natural lives. You will then die, dead forever, and the dead shall live.”
“Bullshit!” shouted one man. “Four horses, God, resurrection, it's all bullshit. There is no god, God damn it!”
“Please forgive us!” screamed another man, falling on his knees.
“It is too late. You have already been judged” Rority replied sadly.
“But I was a Catholic! I went to church every Sunday! I went to confession!” the man on his knees pleaded.
“The sins you confessed to were not the sins you were judged for. The sins all of you committed were the same sin – the sin of blasphemy. All of you worshiped false gods.”
“No! I never...”
“The god you worshiped, what you loved more than your family, even more than God, more than anything else, was money and power over your fellow man. You bribed judges, policemen, government officials. You threw innocent people out of their homes, let them go hungry and without medical care, all so you could live lavish lifestyles.
“Men like you put people in prison for growing a plant, and by the way one of my favorite plants, too.” Rority's research into why the simulated policeman had tried to arrest him at the simulated D'Arcy's had pissed him off. He'd accepted this assignment gleefully, Gumal with the greatest reluctance.
“You executed men for murders that you knew they were framed for, just to obtain advancement in your occupations. You waged terrible wars in the name of God for your own selfish ends.”
One of the bailiffs pulled out his pistol and shot at Rority. The bullet ricocheted off of his nobotic shield, although it did smart a little. Those damned bullets were hot!
The bailiff's mouth sagged open, he looked around, pointed the gun at his own head and fired, blood and tissue spraying everywhere, and he collapsed on the floor.
Rority touched the still profusely bleeding wound, and the nobots entered and repaired the damage. He touched the other two dead bailiffs, who collapsed as well. All three were breathing again, but unconscious.
“You shall seek death, but shall not find it,” Rority said.
“You will spend the rest of your lives serving those who were formerly poor. The tattoos you put on your own foreheads and hands are the sign of the wicked, and men will be commanded to stay away from you.” By then the assembled group were sobbing uncontrollably.
Well, he didn't vanish really, he simply activated his nobot cloak to become invisible and walked out through the door toward the church.
The nobots had landed and started working right after the asteroid had hit, producing more nobots by the quintillions. They had been repairing the dead tissues of the plants, and they were already producing fruit.
The decayed corpse that had been laying in the dust for years began looking more and more human as the nobots repaired the dead tissue. It fluttered its eyes and sat up.
“Are you... are you Christ?” the man asked.
Rority just smiled and said “What did you do in life?”
“My name's Jim Hanson. I was a coal miner.”
“Not any more,” Rority told him.
“Then what am I to do?”
“Whatever you want.”
“Then this is... is this heaven?”
Rority smiled. “I guess it is, Jim!” he said.
“What about my brother?” Hanson asked, worried.
“What did he do, Jim?”
“He was an astronomer.”
“That's good! He'll be up in a while. Were you married, Jim?”
“Yes,” he replied, “she was a waitress. But she died ten years ago.”
Rority smiled. “She'll be here soon, too. You're going to be together.”
This trip had turned out well.
On his way back to ten million years into the future, or what was the future from when he left, Rority stopped off earlier in 50 AB for a few cases of Guinness as the nobots worked to return him to human form again.
The clerk looked up as the automatic door to the convenience store he worked in opened. Nobody was there, why did the door open?
As he was putting his headphones on to listen to music, he saw a cooler door open. Was someone in here? He walked toward the cooler, and the automatic door opened again.
It happened several times.
Odd. He'd have to tell his boss about the door malfunction... nah. That's his problem. As to the cooler door, well, maybe he shouldn't be smoking pot at work. At least not so much.
He put his headphones on and cranked the Zeppelin.
After returning, Gumal dropped by Rority's place, saying “I guess this is cause for celebration. We're still here!”
“You knew we would be, or we'd never have existed. Here, have a beer,” he said, and handed Gumal a Guinness.
Rority took a toke off his stratodoober, and Gumal sipped his beer, which promptly slipped out of his hand and broke on the ground.
“God damn it!” Gumal exclaimed.
“Uh, you already did, didn't you?”
|8 - Spies
|10 - Blood on the Plow