The world ended four months ago.
You wouldn’t know it for looking. Walk into the streets of my district as I write this and you’ll see children playing, people ambling to work with briefcases in hand, dogs being walked by carefree owners. But like I said, the world has already ended, and these people are all dead. So am I, by the way, I’m no different to anyone else here.
The thing is, the end came to Cassiopeia I slowly. So slowly, most of us haven’t even been touched by it yet. We will, that’s for sure, but not yet.
Maybe I should explain. Cassiopeia I is the last surviving world of my people, the Shen. A world that shines like a diamond when seen from the stars; we were the home of our species, or so say the historians. Once our people began to dance among the stars, this planet of ours became a shining city of culture and enterprise.
A planet, or a city, I hope you ask. If I could see you, dear reader, I’d smile as I told you that our planet, the last gleaming bastion of our kind, is a single, impossibly large city. Long gone are the days of war and poverty, and so we looked to industry to answer all our wants. Our planet is a single forest of towering skyscrapers and metal monuments to our progress. A single mechanical heart, for our once-empire.
But then war found us once again. No outer race came to end us; no, we have never met another race of minds quite like ours, in all our explorations. No, be it jealousy, want, or change; our colony planets splintered endlessly into smaller and smaller factions. We watched in dismay as our children across the stars erased themselves in fruitless wars. We were so sure we were safe. We were always so far ahead of them; our defences were impenetrable. Against direct attacks, at least.
There lies our end, dear reader. In an unlikely innovation, our ruin was found. One of the last surviving colonies invented a chemical substance; an unstoppable reaction. The people called it digital fire. It’s not hard to see why; once this chemical touches against any metal it ignites into beautiful blue tongues of unbearably hot fire. This fire does not seek wood, or other organic fuel sources; no, digital fire catches along all metals, spreading itself across our shining city-world.
As the fire burns, it releases tiny spores; packets of that same base chemical, ready to catch against other metals. Our child colonies needed only sneak a few such spores onto a world; the unending reaction has done the rest.
They tried so many things to stop it, at first. Water quenches the fire, but leaves the spores unharmed. As soon as it dries, the metal reignites. They discussed blasting away strips of our world, to leave segments unharmed; but these spores are light and are carried hither and thither with the wind. Should we have decided to burn away massive stretches of our own home we would have given ourselves days, if that.
So our world is aflame. A wildfire that cannot be stopped, controlled, or contained. At least a quarter of our world has burned away to pockmarked slag and bare dirt now. Dirt; I’ve never seen the stuff in its natural home. My life has been metal walls and paved floors.
The digital fire is accelerating; burning faster as more material makes itself available, and more spores are released. They estimate it will be a few months at most before all is consumed. The thin façade of normalcy will fade long before then.
I do so hope someone, one day, is able to read this. My own kind never will; our politicians turned our grand weapons toward our last splinter children; we are the last of our kind. I have no doubt that my species is ended. I refuse to believe we are unique though; I refuse to believe it is impossible for other minds to prosper.
I am a geneticist. My name is not important; I have no desire to be remembered anyway. I just hope someone is able to read this; so my people may live on in memory. Perhaps we don’t deserve even that honour; but I can’t help but try. Written in the simplest of languages available to me, the structure of the most common atoms, I have written the story of my people’s end, our last story, into the genetic code of one of the hardiest trees I have ever known. This story will be written into hundreds of seeds, waiting for fertile soil.
There is earth beneath the metal and stone of our world. I will never feel its warmth, but perhaps these seeds can. I will scatter them to the wind; high into the air, where they may fly and scatter along the burning air currents until the last fires go out and our planet cools.
I cannot harbour the idea that our planet will lie lifeless forever. That we, the smartest beings known, were foolish enough to end all life in our petty struggles. Perhaps; with the seeds of life and enough time, some new intelligent thing will come to be. Perhaps, one day, they will find my story.