Alexandria Burning
rating: +350+x

An Ending

The end began with the supervolcano.

The Eastern Isles were a tropical paradise and a thriving nation before the eruption. Then, after a few weeks of tremors, the largest volcanic eruption in over two million years launched thousands of cubic kilometers of molten earth, ash and dust into the atmosphere, and rained hellfire upon a terrified population. Within days, the former paradise was an ash-ridden wasteland. Within weeks, hundreds of millions would choke or starve to death.

The Organisation ignored this. While the event had been catastrophic, they dealt solely in unnatural matters. And while millions had died, billions needed to be threatened before they would lift a finger. But they did watch the superpowers. The Eastern Isles had been a superpower, and a nuclear one at that. There were also others. Avalon. The Tundra States. The Western Republic. Atlantis. Each of whom offered support, while secretly expressing relief as their stricken rival slowly collapsed and died.

The ash cloud spread over weeks, bringing with it an unnatural winter. What crippled one nation would cripple the rest. It became clear very quickly that agriculture was a pointless affair in these conditions, and that food reserves were going to run thin.

The Organisation ignored this. Truth be told, the superpowers were an inconvenience that they had to negotiate with over too many petty details. They had their own methods of resource acquisition, and besides, this was not an unnatural matter.

International tensions ran high. Border skirmishes occurred, first against allied states, and then against the superpowers themselves. Soldiers clashed as each state scrambled to acquire the resources it needed to protect its population. People died in agony while seeking to acquire the most basic of necessities.

The Organisation ignored this. At least, officially.

While the Organisation as a whole had formally distanced themselves from the rest of humanity's plight, individual researchers and staff were concerned. Their families had been provided for, but their safety was still in question. More than one high ranking researcher had made a proposal to the Council requesting intervention.

Silver Rain de Atlanti, Chief Archivist of the Archive Eternal had made her arguments clear.

From where I stand, the impact upon humanity has never been clearer. It is not something that I can see with my own eyes, nor touch with my hands, but something I can hear as clear as day. The very rhythm of humanity has been changed.

I am used to the sound of new lives entering the Archives. A steady rhythmic drumming of sorts, a thrumming thump resulting from the echoes and geometry of the archives. The sound of new books dropping onto shelves, as sure as a heartbeat. I am sure that the Archive itself smiles to hear the steady sound, and to personally manage the flow that a smooth tune is maintained.

I now hear the arrhythmia of humanity. What was once a steady heartbeat is now a sputtering and uneven sequence of thuds. It sounds sick. It sounds ill.

Such a drop in birthrate is a sign that humanity needs our intervention, now more than ever. We exist to protect humanity from the supernatural, from the arcane, and from the unreal. But our duties are not set in stone, and our failure to respond to this threat, a threat from the system itself, will doom us all.

Chief Archivist de Atlanti, Watcher of the Archive Eternal

She was not pleased by the lack of response.

She was awakened a few days later by the blaring of a klaxon. Down in the Archives, a regular day-night cycle was seldom adhered to, since the permanent twilight and reclusive tendency of the archivists meant that people tended to keep to a schedule that favoured them personally. She rolled over from her bed, slipped on a robe, and stepped from her small quarters into the hub that was Home Base. As Chief Archivist (and Watcher), she had managed to convince the Organisation to construct a small living quarters for her within the Archives. Not that modesty was needed; she was the only personnel down here, and well past the point of caring. Most people were by the time they reached their second century.

The klaxon blared from a humanoid figure made of plastic and titanium- one of the Organisation's AI constructs, given a physical form so that it could assist the archivists more directly. Silver Rain walked up to it and smacked a button on it for attention.

"Scouter, cease the alarm. What's happening?'

[An XK-class event is imminent, Chief Archivist. All sites are entering lockdown. Personnel are advised to seek shelter.]

"XK? How? What breached containment?"

[All containment is currently secure. However, the scanners have detected a large amount of high-altitude low-orbit activity. It appears that the automated response systems have been triggered.]

"Automated response systems? In response to what?"

[Nuclear launches.]

Silver Rain paled. "Scouter, how many HALO objects have been detected?"

[Nine thousand, two hundred and twelve at last count.]

Silver Rain forced the panic to subside. She could freak out later. "Where are the other archivists?"

[Currently in the bunker on the surface.]

"Tell them to come down here."

[That will not achieve anything, Chief Archivist. All sites are in lockdown, including this one. The way is shut. The Archives cannot be accessed.]

She ran for the stairs, feet pounding up them two at a time. She wasn't exactly sprightly anymore, and she felt a lot older than she looked, but she could still manage a quick pace. Knees aching, she hammered on the locked steel door, mashed the buttons, and shouted for her people.

A knock came back, and a muffled voice. Logic kicked in, and she ran back down the stairs to the Hub.

"Scouter, patch me through. Now."

The AI opened a video channel. On the viewscreen, she could see the faces of her archivists. Falling Star, with his pale hair and wrinkled skin. Northern Wind with her pale skin and straight hair. Dawn Dew, with her dark complexion and patient eyes. They looked as worried and scared as she knew she did. She forced herself to be calm.

"Falling Star, situation report."

His voice came through clearly, and she could hear it breaking.

"We're stuck here with the lockdown. The bombs are falling. The Western Capital is gone, as is the bulk of the Republic. The Southern Monarchy has been wiped out." He paused. "Atlantis is gone. We saw the blast over the sea from the window."

Silver Rain forced herself not to cry.

"From what we can tell, the satellite system is going to fail soon. Too much interference."

"Have the Council sent orders for a response?"

"The Council is gone."

"What? How?"

"Spite, we think. One of the superpowers included us in their targeting. They're hitting our sites. Most have gone dark."

"Is the contingency secure?"

Falling Star looked stricken. Dawn Dew stepped into the centre of the camera. "It got hit by one of the bombs. It's gone too."

Silver Rain felt another stab of panic in her chest. "Look, just stay under cover out there. We'll wait this out. Once the lockdown finishes, we can find a way to fix this."

In the background, another alarm blared.

"Scouter, what is that?"

[The proximity alert for an airborne threat.]

Her archivists looked through at her. Falling Star was close to tears, and Northern Wind had already succumbed. Dawn Dew forced a smile.

"Don't worry Chief. You've got the Archives. You'll find an answer." She leaned in close. "Remember Chief, we all l-"

The sky split, the ground rumbled, and the solid steel door buckled.

Silver Rain paused for a moment in shock. Numb, she sank to her knees.

Behind, she heard a single thump of the last new book, and then utter silence.

She filled the silence with her sobs.

She read the new book. It was painfully short. As were the rest.

She trawled deeper into the archives, picking out books at random, desperately searching for a book which continued to update. Searching in vain for a book which didn't end abruptly and pointlessly.

Vaporised instantly by atomic blast.

Died agonisingly from radiation poisoning.

Vaporised abruptly by atomic blast.

Shattered pointlessly by atomic shockwave.

Crushed painfully beneath collapsing fallout bunker.

Dead. Dead. Dead. Dead.

She made a decision. "Scouter, collect my book."

The AI paused to access its internal map, then broke off at an inhuman sprint between the shelves. It returned half an hour later, cradling the book in its arms. It passed it to her.

[I do hope you are not considering anything rash, Chief Archivist.]

"No. Not yet, Scouter. I'm just going to need this."

She knew that her basic idea was probably crazy. It was based solely upon rumours based from Watcher to Watcher. She instructed Scouter to wait well away from her, and wandered into a dark part of the Archives.

She remembered the first lessons she had received during her initiation here, almost a century ago, fresh out of the academy. They were very similar to the last lesson she had received from the previous Watcher almost forty years ago, before his retirement. The Archives were alive. That much was clear. There was a vast consciousness in there somewhere, and it had a moral compass of sorts. As such, each archivist was taught to respect and care for the Archive Eternal, and it wasn't uncommon for archivists to speak openly to the shelves and books.

What they didn't teach you on your first day was that sometimes the shelves spoke back. If you went into the darkness, and waited and listened, then you could hear whispers. Whispers so faint as to be incomprehensible to the ear, but there were other ways of deciphering their meaning.

She sat down to meditate. Her glasses could enable her to read the texts even in the lowest of light if necessary, and it was never cold, so she felt almost comfortable for the first time in days. She spoke into the darkness. Her voice was hesitant; almost a whisper.

"I don't know what to do."

She felt a wave of emotions hit her. It was a painful thing to admit.

"Am I… the last one left? Am I alone?"

There was silence for a long time. She sat patiently, fighting the urge to fidget, knowing that there was no other option ahead for her.

She was almost dozing off to sleep when she heard the sound of wind. On the wind, the hints of a voice. It was slow, and soothing, and motherly. She could hear what almost sounded like words, but either too soft for her ears, or in no language she could decipher.

She opened her book and turned to the last page. The last few lines painted a stark picture of her current mental state. She ignored it, and focussed on the line that mattered.

In the darkness, she heard a voice speak: 'You are the last. You are almost alone.'

"What do I do? How can I fix this?"

Another whisper on the wind.

In the darkness, she heard a voice speak: 'It can not be fixed. It can not be repaired.'

"Can't I find the person who started this all and try to undo it?"

There was a long wait. Minutes, then hours.

In the darkness, she heard a voice speak: 'The weight of history is heavy. It is too late. Too many consequences have fallen. The dead have gone to death.'

"Can I create more people?"

In the darkness, she heard a voice speak: 'You are a woman.'

A yes, then. But…

"Can life recover from this?"

In the darkness, she heard a voice speak: 'Not to its former grandeur. Besides, those you have kept caged are no longer so.'

She felt despair fall. It was over. They'd done it. The world had ended on their watch, and it wasn't even a monster or a curse or an angry god, just the monstrosity of humanity. And done so in a way which couldn't be fixed. No amount of science or magic could repair the devasting amount of radiation which now permeated the atmosphere, and the ground. Nor could a ragtag bunch of survivors possibly manage to recontain the evils that now wandered the ravaged globe.

It couldn't be repaired…

"Could it be undone?"

There was only silence, and it did not answer.

She returned to her room the next day and slept. And woke, and read, and slept. Over and over.

Her rations began to dwindle. She would have lost track of time if not for Scouter. He tended to her needs as best he could, but the subtleties of human despair were lost on him.

And then, after seven days, a whisper. Silver Rain quickly opened her book.

In the darkness, she heard a voice speak: 'Yes. There is a way to undo history.'

"How? What have you thought of?"

The voice on the wind was but a sigh.

In the darkness, she heard a voice speak: 'The unthinkable.'

She understood. Barely. It went against everything she had ever learned, and everything she had ever valued. It was heresy, pure and simple. But the object of her devotion was telling her this…

"I would have to… break history? How large a retrocausal event would we need?"

In the darkness, she heard a voice speak: 'The only way to save the world from the failures of your species is to extinguish all trace of them.'

She went to say 'I can't', but the words caught in her throat. There was no choice here. She could, and she would.

"What will you do without us?"

In the darkness, she heard a voice speak: 'Start anew. Write a brighter future.'

That would do. She could trust the Archive Eternal to know the answer, even if she didn't.


[Yes, Chief Archivist?]

"Bring me the fuel from the generator. All of it."

[Chief Archivist, what do you plan to do?]

"What is necessary, Scouter. Security override. Shut down all Ethics and Personality Protocols. Authorisation Camper-Actor-Stand-Richter-9091."

Scouter stood up a little straighter, and the usual cadences of his voice were muted into a monotone.

[As you instruct, Chief Archivist.] He walked away, and began to gather the fuel reserves.

"I'm sorry Scouter. But you won't like this."

She poured the gasoline across the shelves, and ran lines of it up through the corridors. She thoroughly doused the first and oldest shelf. Most books here were nameless. A few bore titles, evidence of an exemplary individual. She stroked her hands fondly along the ancient shelves.

She took a piece of wood from her bed, splintered it, and dipped it in gasoline. She ordered Scouter to dismantle his arm, and use it to generate a spark. Holding the burning torch in one hand, and her open book in the other, she stepped into the shelves.

"I wish there was a better way than this. I wish we had done better."

A whisper, almost familiar this time.

In the darkness, she heard a voice speak: 'I know. But you know better than to wish.'

"Will it hurt?"

In the darkness, she heard a voice speak: 'Briefly. It will not take long.'

"I meant for you."

There was a brief but noticeable pause.

In the darkness, she heard a voice speak: 'Yes. Yes it will.'

In the darkness, she heard a voice speak: 'Thank you, Watcher, for your care, and your devotion, and your concern. I will require but one last service of you.'

Tears filled her eyes. She had to be strong now. "We… will you remember us?"

There was a pause, then the last whisper could be heard on the wind. It was barely audible, and it was naught but loving.

In the darkness, she heard a voice speak: 'No. But I will remember you.'

She placed her book upon the gasoline soaked shelves, and touched the flame to it. There was a burst of heat and light, and then a burst of pain, and then… nothing.

The end of Homo nobilis took both mere seconds and many long millenia, and when history stopped screaming in pain, they had never existed.

A Beginning

There was smoke on the horizon. A lot of smoke.

Smoke meant fire. Fire meant warmth, and safety.

The female carefully climbed to the top of the hill, gathering scraps of reeds and grasses as she went. Short and stocky, she was nonetheless an excellent scout. Besides, most of the males had died on a recent hunting trip after a clash with another tribe, and their tribe had been forced to move to survive, leaving behind many of their tools, and their campfire.

She wound the thick clump of grasses around a thick branch, and tied them on with reeds. While crude, the torch would serve for her to bring the fire back to the rest of the tribe, where it could be nurtured and kept.

Crouching from her viewpoint, she could see the waters of the sea far beneath her, and the source of the smoke. It seemed to originate from a cave, high above the sea. The previously thick clouds were dying down to a small trickle of smoke. She considered her options. They needed fire, and she might need to move quickly to get it, but if it was another tribe she could be in serious danger.

The need to provide for her family overrode her other instincts. She couldn't see any signs of another tribe down there, nor anywhere else. She gathered her spear in one hand, makeshift torch in the other, and set off down the hill.

The cave was deeper than she had first thought. She had half expected a pile of burning wood to be sitting in the mouth of the cave. Instead, the smoke curled up from deep within. She pushed deeper in, ducking low to avoid breathing the smoke. She passed carefully and silently through a narrow passage, and stepped into a large chamber.

It was vast, so vast she could not see the far walls, and it felt wrong. Nothing in particular stood out, but she felt uneasy. If she could articulate so, she would describe it as a room filled with pain. She only could see smoke all around her. The whole place seemed to be smouldering, and a thick layer of ash coated the floor. Here and there, she could see thin fragments of a white material, with black marks on it. It seemed to burn well, so she quickly used it to light her torch. The flame took a little coaxing and care, but soon sputtered to life.

There was a rumble near her. A stone pillar rose from the floor, brushing aside layers of ash. She instinctively recoiled in fear, and brandished her spear. The pillar stopped rising once it was a little taller than her, and the room was silent again. The feelings of pain seemed to have subsided, replaced with… care? Comfort?

She approached it carefully. There were markings all over the pillar.

She leaned in closer to see more clearly, and held up the torch. A thought arose. Not markings. Pictures. She could see the outlines of her kind, standing upright. She could see images of them gathered around, doing different things. She saw images of a baby near the bottom of a pillar, and those of an adult as she studied it up from the floor. She somehow had the understanding that many of these images were of the same figure.

There was a flicker of movement in the corner of her vision. A new image had appeared near the top of the pillar.

An image of a figure holding a torch before a stone pillar, crouched in caution and curiosity. Next to it, there was the outline of a handprint. She raised her hand to place hers within the space and found it a perfect fit.

Language was not something she had experienced, nor much in the way of cognitive thought, but an idea as clear as the blue sky entered her head. This is me.

A spark of inspiration struck her. She reached down to the ash, coating her finger in it, and began to draw. Crudely, with indistinguishable stick figures in a childish manner. But the meaning behind it was clear. She drew figures in a circle, and food around them, and other figures fleeing from them.

Satisfied that her work was done, the Firebringer left the cave, and stepped into a brighter future.

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