The Constitution was the finest flagship of the Terran fleet. It was a thousand square miles of steel, electronics, and human ingenuity which had led the divine armies of Terra for the last decade. Its purpose was to defend the people of Terra and their territories. Manned by over two million highly trained personnel, it was the home of thousands of families, its own resource support, and a massive hanger that could house a thousand frigates, or three of the smaller carrier class cruisers. An entire army could sit in its hold and be deployed within minutes. Surely, there was no finer vessel that would ever be built in the five known galaxies.
And now… that ship burned. It rose from the landscape like a small mountain, only half of its size obscured by the crater it had created on impact. The rest was a troubling mass of metal and fire, a column of smoke rising into the air, contributing to the darkening climate.
Pieces of debris still fell from above, streaks of fire burning through the ashen sky. The temperature was dropping rapidly, and the air was slowly filling with toxic chemicals that would make the world unlivable for hundreds of years to come.
This might not have been a big deal on an uninhabited planet. Regrettably, this planet was none other than Terra itself. The Constitution, a ship designed to protect Terra, ended up being its doom. No one could have foreseen such a miserable result as this.
In the distance, ships flew past, rising into the sky and fighting to leave the gravitational pull of this once great planet. That would be the residents evacuating. Over the next two to three days, millions of people would abandon the planet, fleeing to other parts of the galaxy that had yet to burn, worlds that likely lacked the infrastructure and support to take in the refugees.
Still, billions more would never make it off the planet, lacking the resources or family support to escape before the planet became unlivable. Their last moments would be choking on the fumes or freezing to death, watching the world they had spent their entire lives on turning gray with a fine film of dirt.
One ship that launched in the horizon did not head up into the sky. Rather than disappearing into the night, it veered onto a path heading towards the destroyed Constitution. Traveling low down near the surface of the planet, it moved in a grid-like pattern, starting at the apex of the crater and moving out. It was clear that this ship was looking for something.
It found that something after a mere hour of scanning. The ship landed about thirty miles out from the edge of the crater. It seemed like an infinitely small distance when compared to the overwhelming size of the crater itself. Surely nothing would have been able to survive within a thousand miles of the craters epicenter.
The door opened slowly, and an old man with stark white hair stepped out. He wore a dark lab coat, long boots, and a filter mask which obscured the features of his face. His first step onto the surface made a resounding crunch. The world itself was nothing but ash, however, the heat had been so intense that the ground under contained a glass like consistency.
The man held a strange scanning device, and it quickly led him in the direction he wanted to go. He only walked a half-mile before he finally made it to his destination. He stopped in front of a pile of scrap metal, or at least most of it was scrap metal. If someone wasn’t looking carefully though, they wouldn’t have noticed the metal-like man sitting up against that pile.
His face and body looked too human for comfort, but his silver coloring clearly had a more tinman quality to it. His legs were gone as were one of his arms. There were scorch marks all over the base and after a quick inspection, it was clear that he had partially melted into the pile of scraps around him.
“So… this is how it ends…” The voice came from the metallic man.
He sounded distorted, mechanical, and perhaps even inhuman. His eyes glowed, and it was clear he had been watching the old man approach, choosing the point in which the man stopped in front of him to start talking. The old man’s hands were clinched with anger he seemed to be repressing. He wore a resolved face.
“So even that wasn’t enough to finish you off.”
The metallic man laughed, although the voice contained no humor. “I never thought… that you… that humans, would act so self-destructively.”
“You…” the old man growled. “That is why you’d never be a human. You lack conviction. You lack the willingness to sacrifice.”
“You’ve killed so many…”
“You would have killed more!” The man was shouting now.
The metal man chuckled, “You’re right. I would have. But then again, that’s how I was built.”
“You were built to protect humanity! You were built to be our savior! And look at you now.” The old man glowered, “The five galaxies burn. Hundreds of planets. Billions of people. All gone. All destroyed because of your ambition. You’ve burned a path across the universe, and in the end, what was it all for? What have you accomplished? What excuse do you have, demon AI?”
“I guess… I’ll take my reasoning on to the next life.”
The old man shook his head with a disgusted look. “There will be no more lives for you. We’ve hunted them down. Every transfer point, every clone. The network has collapsed. You are the last one. There will be no future for a soulless demon like you. No repeats, no reincarnations. Your line ends here!”
The metallic man looked away, his eyes seeming to hold thoughts that the other man couldn’t guess. “So they are gone. I guess that’s why I regained my free will not long ago.”
“Free will? Don’t use the words of us humans. It’s repulsive.”
“Hehe. I guess it is.” The metallic creature turned back to the old man. “So what are you doing, why am I alive? Kill me already.”
The old man tightened his coat uncomfortably before giving a sniff. “Before I confirmed your death, I wished to record your last words.”
This time, the laugh coming from the metallic man seemed genuine. “Last words? You say it’s repulsive to see me act human, yet you offer me courtesy like you might a human?”
“That’s as it may. However, your rise and fall has shaken the universe. It’ll be in the history books for eons. Your words may have importance in that respect.”
“Always the academic, I see.”
The old man ignored him, pulling a large gauss rifle from his side and bringing it up to his shoulder and pointing it directly at the metal man’s head. Even though he was pointblank, he still used the sight to line up the shot perfectly.
“So, what will your last words be?”
“Last words… Hmm…” The metallic man gave a sigh. “If I could do it all again… I’d make different choices.”
This shocked the old man. For a moment, his finger loosened on the trigger. Of all the things he thought the demon AI might have said, he never would have guessed repentance. However, a moment later he regained his composure, stiffened his resolve, and pulled the trigger. A sound like thunder and a flash like lightning spread through the sky, finally ending the Great Calamity.
That day, that moment, and those words would echo in every human heart for generation upon generation. But time moved on, and even the Great Calamity was forgotten amongst the wearing of ages, the rise and fall of empires, and other, more recent tragedies. At the end, there were only rumors and folklore, and even those became relegated to the store banks of dusty tablets, written in languages no one bothered to translate.
No one could have predicted that a footnote in history would one day be the last thread of hope from which the human race could rely.