Dies Irae

Somewhere near the edge of a spiral galaxy in the prime of its life of billions of years, a star system with a medium-sized yellow star was suddenly no longer isolated as it had once been, as a flash of plasma announced the arrival of an intelligence more advanced than perhaps anything this system had seen. A brick-shaped mass approximately one Terran kilometer in length appeared on the edge of the system, and if an advanced species had been anywhere nearby, they could have seen this object and surmised that it was a starship of some kind. However, knowledge of superluminal travel was millennia in advance of the intelligent beings on the second planet from the sun.

The intelligence aboard the craft diverted power from its weapons systems to the long-range scanning and propulsion systems. As it passed through the cloud of comets that surrounded the system, and then the gas giants on the outer edge, it found that no advanced civilizations or their artifacts were within at least 4 light-years of the system, which it decided was acceptable. The second planet, it decided, looked potentially habitable by life, so it began toward the second planet with the intention of entering orbit. For its own purposes, it designated the yellow star Serpens and the second planet that it was now orbiting Serpens II. It began to simultaneously scan the system, map and scan Serpens II, and analyze the data accumulated from these scans.

Pethronos was the priest, and therefore sky-watcher, for Pherlos, an isolated village of the Inocsyr. He had watched the skies for some twenty winters and had records of the skies for several generations of priests before that. Thus, his surprise was great one night when the full moon disappeared. As the sun had disappeared from the sky, he had prepared to go to sleep. Before he turned to enter his hut on the periphery of the village, he had taken a last look at the sky when he noticed that a patch of stars had disappeared. There was no noticeable wind, and yet the black patch of sky was moving as if a strong wind was blowing. He watched as the dark patch of sky blocked the moon and stood there in the dark quiet murmuring a prayer to the god of wisdom, desiring enlightenment (in both senses of the term). After his prayer had ended, it seemed that his prayer had been answered, as the moon reappeared. The mysterious dark patch of sky continued to move across the sky and Pethronos watched it until it disappeared over the horizon, deciding to perhaps speak to the village headman in the morning. As Pethronos entered his hut, his acolyte Nemo made some noise in his sleep and rolled over on his bedroll.

NO POWER EMISSIONS DETECTED

INFRARED SCANS SHOW ANIMAL AND PLANT LIFE, PRIMITIVE INTELLIGENT LIFE ALSO DETECTED.

A short time later, wise and learned men all over the planet from the major civilizations would note falling stars out of season. In most of the societies that passed for civilization on the planet, starfalls (or meteor showers) were on or around specific dates. These starfalls, however, seemed to be at least a moon before the next major starfall was supposed to occur.

Isthanelle was in the woods when she heard thunder and a nearby tree fell with only a flash of light and the cracking of the truck as it fell. This silent lightning, as it seemed to be, terrified her and in bafflement, she looked up at the sky, confirming her fears that there were no storm clouds in the sky. The dull thunder continued and she cautiously stepped over the fallen tree. She saw A large object that she presumed was some kind of animal suddenly turned toward her. She stepped back, tripped over the fallen tree trunk, and pulled herself up and ran towards the basket of herbs she had been gathering. Suddenly, everything went black. Her disappearance would be noted when she didn't return from the forest as the sun set. Of course, by then, the malevolent spirits that were believed to roam at night would be out in force, and it would be too dangerous to venture out into the darkness. The primitives would have been at a disadvantage anyway.

"O Holy One?"

Pethronos opened the door to his house. At the door were several males of the village, ranging in age from middle adolescence to perhaps 30 or 35 winters at the eldest.

The father of that young woman that disappeared – ah, her name had been Isthanelle – was standing at the head of the group, holding a stout tree branch.

"Yes?"

"We seek your aid in our search for Isthanelle."

"How so?"

"She had been told to gather herbs in the forest to the north of our village. Our searches have found several fallen trees, including one that looks like it had been struck by lightning."

"There haven't been any storms for several days," said the priest.

"Yes, and this tree was still green as if it had fallen yesterday. We thought that maybe you could come with us-"

"I'm sure that you men accurately judged the situation, and I would go along except my knee is hurting and I think Nemo needs experience with reading the signs that tell us the thoughts and sayings of the gods. Would it be acceptable if he accompanied you to this tree of which you speak?"

The search party discussed it for a few moments amongst themselves, and decided that this was acceptable and the priest summoned the acolyte, instructed him on what to do, and watched the group walk down the path. Several hours later, shortly after dark, Nemo stole into the hut he shared with Pethronos and made his report.

"Holy One, the tree was severed smoothly about one handspan from the ground."
"Smoothly? What do you mean by this?"

"The surface of the tree was blackened as if burnt, but there were no jagged splinters."

"Ah. Anything else?"

"There were marks as if the grass had been burning nearby, but no fuel, as there would have been in a human fire."

"Is that all?"

"Yes, that is all that I know, Holy One. The forest was quiet as we got closer to

the tree, and eventually Horth thought we should leave and head back to the village, in case it was a trap set by some demon to capture the village while the men were away."

"That's what he said?"

"Yes, Holy One."

Pethronos chuckled and bade his apprentice to go and sleep. Nemo went to his bedroll and laid down. Once he was asleep a short time later, Pethronos decided to look into the fire to see if he could divine anything about the strange happenings lately. Pethronos, however, did not notice the eyes watching from the window…

PRIMITIVES HAVE DEVELOPED SEVERAL INDEPENDENT CULTURES. SAMPLES FROM THESE CULTURES HAVE BEEN GATHERED AND ANALYSIS IS UNDERWAY. CENTERS OF THESE CULTURES AS DETERMINED BY PROBES HAVE BEEN MARKED ON ATTACHED MAP OF SERPENS II

Nemo was walking through the forest when he smelled smoke from burning wood. Remembering the recent bizarre events, he stepped forward cautiously and he stumbled over the body of what appeared to be a Colberun warrior. Nemo bent down and looked over the dull-colored wool tunic that covered most of the man's body. In spots it was nothing more than ashes, and near these patches the Colberun was burnt as if he had been struck by lightning several times without the lightning burning most of his body. Whatever had happened, Nemo was puzzled and no blood was present. A somewhat sickening smell of burnt hair and flesh was also present, so Nemo stepped around the body and wondered why it was many days' journey from the Colberun border and decided that either a god was angry at the village or, as Pethronos seemed to suspect, a demon or some other malevolent spirit was vexing the village. The smoke that he had smelt earlier before he had stumbled over the Colberun's body seemed to be getting stronger as he turned and approached a nearby clearing.

Nemo started to hear a humming noise, like far-off thunder, as he approached the clearing and was met with the sight of what appeared to be a monster with skin of metal, as if straight out of some legend or some fearsome bedtime story intended to scare children into going to bed. The monster turned to face him and he stood frozen until he thought he remembered something from his mentor and began to follow what he thought was the correct protocol for greeting a beast of potentially divine origin. In a wavering voice, he began to recite the greeting:

"Greetings to you, O Behemoth,

meeting in peace, as allies

and not enemies. Your radiant visage blinds your foes,

your glorious and most beautiful skin protects you from their blows,

watch as the sun shines on it!"

The beast began to move towards him and he dropped prostrate to the ground to demonstrate his inferiority, if this was indeed the manifestation of some higher being. The beast came to a halt and continued to hum a short distance from him. Nemo raised his head from the dirt and noticed the beast had no legs or wings, yet appeared to move around about one handspan above the ground. Nemo was unsure what to do in the presence of a being that was like this, since there were never any examples in the legends. He waited for a signal of some kind from the metal beast that he could arise, but after some time he began to rise to his feet when he heard what sounded like lightning. He rolled to the side, out of the middle of the clearing and once he was on his back noticed that his ankle appeared to be red and sun burnt. A nearby rock found its way to his hand and he tossed it at the beast, thinking it would kill him before the rock reached it with whatever supernatural powers it possessed, but instead the rock hit, bounced off its thick skin, and it began to slowly circle him. Nemo panicked, looked at the ground near his feet, and saw a hefty branch and another rock. He stepped toward the rock and grabbed the branch all in one motion, wanting to gauge the reaction of the strange beast, when it spat lightning in his direction. Wanting to avoid death, he threw the rock and stick at the creature and ran. He heard something hit the skin of the beast when something hit Nemo and all he saw was darkness…

UNITS ATTACKED BY PRIMITIVES AT MARKED LOCATIONS …

RECOMMEND WITHDRAWAL OF UNITS TO FOLLOWING COORDINATES…

INSUFFICIENT COUNTERMEASURES RECOMMENDED.

ALL UNITS: WITHDRAW TO LANDING CRAFT. BEZOAR, RELEASE SPECIMEN M-47 NEAR COLLECTION POINT ON SIGNAL, AND NOT BEFORE. ALL UNITS AWAIT FURTHER ORDERS.

HEFTING THE HAMMER…

All across the planet small craft began to lift off and head towards the brick-shaped craft in orbit. Generally these craft lifted off from isolated areas with few inhabitants, but some brazenly flew over major cities, which baffled the inhabitants.

RELEASE M-47.

NOW I TRULY AM BECOME DEATH, DESTROYER OF WORLDS.

Scattered new suns bloomed all over the planet as major accumulations of the primitive inhabitants were wiped off the face of the universe by the strongest forces yet seen in this system since the large impacts of several millennia before the arrival of the strange craft. If somebody had been around for both events, they might even have noticed a similar origin.

Perhaps the natives would self-destruct in internecine wars over the cause of the annihilation of their cities, what part their gods played in the destruction, and what benefits one religion supposedly had over the other. At least, so thought the intelligence aboard the starship that had launched the fission bombs as it began preparations for leaving the system. After several rotations of the planet and a few more orbits of the planet, the kilometer-long craft moved out of orbit and began moving out into the outer reaches of the system – past the asteroids, past the gas giants, and out into the comet cloud where Serpens had a negligible effect on the fabric of space-time. Suddenly it disappeared in a flash of light with only a trail of charged particles to mark its passage from Serpens II to its departure point.