By Alex J. Barrio
We called them “Crowns.” Massive rings thousands of miles in diameter, perfectly smooth except for a raised square section one-hundred miles wide that we nicknamed “The Head”. A spiral of multicolored lights like jewels ran a ring around them in a single stripe.
We spotted the first Crown traveling at near the speed of light as it raced past Uranus and Neptune before decelerating and settling over Saturn’s moon Enceladus.
As it hovered like a halo over that frozen world, we shared excited messages with them-
“Greetings to our friends in the stars. We hope to meet you someday.”
“Hello from the children of Planet Earth.”
“We in this world send you our goodwill.”
-but received no response.
Satellite photos and video over the next five years showed enormous electrical charges, lightning bolts like comets, shot down at the planet from the Crown. Enceladus cracked, sending frozen chunks of its planetwide ocean to dissolve into Saturn’s rings. When the flashes of energy ended and the moon was a cracked vase, tremendous tentacles launched from the Crown. They pulled hunks of the breaking rocky core, miles-wide asteroids with the power to destroy the Earth via flyby, into the bottom end of the Crown. Those pieces were ejected on the opposite side as building blocks. Dozens of skyscraper-sized arms reassembled them into another identical Crown.
We refused to believe our eyes at first. It was inconceivable that a machine capable of destroying an entire world could exist. That it used the remains to multiply itself was unfathomable. When all that was left was the glowing molten core, we watched the first Crown, now dubbed Crown 1, use its appendages to move that core into the Jewel of Crown 2. Subsequently, the gargantuan pair raced to Jupiter.
We had only confusion to meet their silence and destructive power. We did not want to live in a universe where monsters of iron pulled from celestial cores traveled the universe on a path of devastation, yet here we were. Millions of people deluded themselves with the thought their alien silence meant they were shy explorers, quietly moving about the universe, multiplying without intention to kill other sentient creatures. Naïve hope emerged that because the behemoth had now reproduced, as we dubbed its self-replication, our visitors would be more eager to chat, like a person who can only socially engage after they have their morning coffee.
Unfortunately, the hunger of these creatures was not so easily satiated. The Crowns split at Jupiter. Crown 2 settled over Io and, like its mother, began to work: lightning that shattered the celestial body followed by limbs snatching boulders as big as cities to consume and regurgitate for another clone.
Crown 1 settled over Ganymede. It looked tiny relative to that prodigious moon. Overly optimistic scientists on television assured us that based on what Crown 1 had done with Enceladus it was possible the extraterrestrial colossus might not be powerful enough to destroy a moon as large as Ganymede.
They were incorrect.
Five years later both Io and Ganymede were dust, their molten cores now batteries plugged into the Jewels of two new uninvited cosmic guests.
A decade into our existential crisis, with messages whose tone shifted from friendly to fearful to fearsome, we were now saddled with four Crowns. Four unfriendly visitors hungry to consume our entire solar system.
We settled into rage. Cities crumbled. Scientists saw their best and brightest minds splattered across brick walls before their own brains joined the mess. Politicians burned at stakes. Astronauts met the gallows. The lack of answers coming from the aliens resulted in a lack of answers on the part of those desperately trying to communicate with them. So much ignorance and fear could only lead to an Earth as lifeless as the worlds the monsters destroyed on their way.
The Crowns soared oblivious and apathetic toward our self-immolation. As they drew closer to the center of our solar system, the flock separated like vultures over a family of pioneers in the desert. Ganymede’s Crown 3 raced to Venus. Crown 2 settled over Mars. Crown 4 drifted off into the great unknown beyond our solar system. The mother of them all, Crown 1, made a beeline direct to Earth.
As the hours passed, we knew what was coming and started to act accordingly with the End Times. Millions sat outside their houses on their hands and knees begging for mercy. Millions promised eternal servitude in exchange for sanctuary from oblivion. Millions more did as they had always done, eating breakfast and commuting to a job that no longer existed, as if the sun would rise the following day as it had always done.
When our coronet of doom was close enough to be clearly visible by the naked eye, a wave of melancholy swept across the Earth. Prayers stopped. Questions ended. Pleas trailed off. Millions coped with drugs and alcohol and leaps off the tallest buildings available. Millions turned to each other, mixing tears and saliva and blood and sweat as they yearned for anything but the inevitable.
The Crown slowed to a halt over the South Pole, casting a great shadow over the planet. Tides rose hundreds of feet in the air and drowned what remained of our greatest cities. Earthquakes cracked what were once our great centers of power. The monuments we erected for ourselves collapsed into ever-growing crevices. Those of us left climbed on top of our vehicles and houses and shops and mountains and we held our hands up to the sky with our eyes closed. We smiled, embracing the loss of control. We smiled as the heat and light collided around us, annihilating all we knew, all we would ever know.
We smiled because it was over. No more dread, no more fear, no more violence. In the darkness of the depths of space, we were liberated from our feelings of grief for our dead loved ones, our dead homes, our dead societies, our dead lives, and our dead Gods. Powerlessness in the face of an unfathomable force we could not hope to halt, we peacefully embraced our final moments. No more war, no more pain, no more sadness, no more disease. Take me, take me, take me, we implored with our final thoughts. Take me.
Alex J. Barrio is a political consultant and progressive advocate living in Washington, D.C. He is a Cuban-American who grew up in New Jersey and spent most of his adult life in Florida. He can be found onTwitter for poetry (@1001Tanka) and fiction (@AlexJBarrio). He has a short story in "Desire to Escape" from Four Palaces Press and links to other published works can be found at www.AlexJBarrioWrites.Blogspot.com.