The Ship arrived on the first Tuesday of the month. A silver spheroid of exotic metal, it hovered a half mile above the ruffled waters of Boston harbour. It was invisible to radar, and it did not affect radio or television reception (it was claimed by many that cellular reception actually improved, though the sudden spike in breathless calls crashed the system nonetheless). White-winged seabirds gave the Ship wide berth.
Given the proximity of MIT and Harvard, the scientists were the first to arrive.
(It is pointless to say that the three women (miles of bad road, each) sneaking a ciggy break behind the fish-packing plant counted for anything, but in all truth they were actually the first to arrive. But the galactic importance of the Ship was lost on them, and thus we pass them by.)
The military was close behind, those not out spreading democracy and cutting brush. It was with remarkable restraint that it took them nearly two weeks before firing the first missile.
It did not explode, and the Ship did not react.
The fifty-second one did not explode either, but Raytheon got a new contract and some Senators got to go golfing while their wives shopped.
A structure reminiscent of three oil rigs strung together with enclosed walkways and dotted with helipads and boat moorings sprung up over the course of the next year.
Along the shore, several makeshift tents filled with cults and doomsayers went up, supplementing the mobiles homes and RVs of the Scientologists, the Muslims, Buddhists, Christians, and Mormons; all claimed that the Ship at once confirmed their creed and threatened the souls of the unsaved. The new Church of the Ship, like its God Above, said nothing.
Immense banks of high-wattage speakers were constructed beneath the Ship, with nearly the entire library of digitized sound queued up in stacks of hard drives. An accelerated barrage of music and narrative crashed against the indifferent Ship, in the vain hope of finding some sonic key or inciting some response from those inside.
The Ship, perhaps deaf, remained silent.
Grown bored, the scientists returned to the classroom, the priests and imams found new sins to condemn, and the military found new targets for their missiles.
The Ship did nothing.
Of course, the major nations soon found their civilian space programs reinvigorated, and their military space programs sucked at the teat of GDP with vigour and glee. Domes dotted the lunar landscape, and blinking skeletal shipyards orbited the equatorial elevators. In mere decades, seven bulky yet majestic craft plodded toward the edge of the solar system, each inspired by the search for the creators of the Ship.
Each of the seven was destroyed before reaching Uranus. One fell to saboteurs, another to a religious coup among the crew, a third was scuttled by a fist of space junk, and the fourth was blamed on a mathematical error due to an engineer’s lifelong distaste for the metric system. As each country watched their national pride founder between planets, trigger fingers grew itchy.
An experimental nine-stage semi-sentient missile atomized the fifth ship.
The sixth ship was ordered to crash into the seventh.
It was the second World Government that finally managed to corral the national interests of its constituents into a rather more coherent space plan. Self-perpetuating wombships were created in the thousands and shot at random to the stars, each pregnant with blueprints, genetics, and poetry.
The Ship hung quiet in the sky.
Humanity had settled into different corners of the galaxy, tweaking and twisting himself until he resembled nothing before seen. She became the solar drifters, dreaming long, intricate philosophies in the wild heat of stars. He became the baryonic gimps huddled in the icy abysses between. She shunted her intelligence into chips and crystals and quantum foam. He became the Quo, who folded galaxies like origami, and then folded themselves.
But they would never go beyond that, would they? They could never truly let go. How many times has it been that an Expansion or a Scattering or a Digital Exodus has come crawling back to Earth? How many times had they quailed at how far from humanity they had gone and turned back and followed the star trail back to the first one, this old, pitiful Sun, and the Ship that hovered above the third planet?
The gaseous Pontiff of the Strentaniam Miasma turned to his Coevals.
++We see here a blatant attempt at deception.++
His filaments indicated the Ship that hung in the sky above them.
++Imagine the gall to claim that this small planetoid gave birth to the race of Man++
The Pontiff gestured and mounds of dirt arose around them, exploding into clouds of brown earth.
++Mere dirt! Pah! Certainly, Man came from the Clouds++
The inhabitants of the gas giant Pulversity 6, ensconced in their Perfectglass shells, laughed and burped naughty limericks about dirt and the Ship.
The Ship did not stir.
The quantum pilgrims popped into existence on the hillside beneath the Ship, beneath them a rusty beach of silica and asphalt stretched to the horizon. The ocean that had once covered the lands around had long ago poured into chasms in the crust, to spill and steam out many miles away.
The pilgrims regarded the Ship. Their U-ghz minds collated bits of information: the number of photons reflected by the exotic metal, the motion of air molecules as sour winds caressed the quiet Ship, the composition of the planet beneath them (ancient cities worn away to grit and powder), the ingredients of atmosphere, the perturbations at the quantum level.
In the long five seconds of their pilgrimage, nothing novel was discovered.
The Ship maintained its secrets.
As one, the quantum pilgrims popped out of existence.
The tattered remnants of Man returned to the Earth, hoping to elude the impossible reach of the Adversary. Whether spawned in quantum pools of AI thought or in unguessable broths of exalted genes, the Adversary of Man was implacable. In the quickest of centuries, it had decimated the myriad bastions of all manner of humanity that had flourished across a thousand galaxies.
As they fled, the remnants of Man peppered the cosmos with sentry beacons to monitor the encroachment of the Adversary and its implacable machines of metal and bone.
Gathered in their settlements around the Ship, the sole rallying point on the desiccate world, the remnants of Man settled in and waited.
The Ship waited, too.
The Shaman rode a worn wagon of wood and steel, leading his people through the trees. The Ship hung in the sky before them, tangible proof of the Star Gods’ powers. The Chosen had come to the Place of Revelation at last.
That rickety wagon became the cornerstone of the Tower to Heaven that quickly arose. Tattooed backs and calloused hands felled great swaths of forest and shattered great mountains of stone with a singular purpose, the industry of thousands united in the building of the Tower.
It rose with a slow, but certain, elegance, until that fated day when it reached the Ship.
The Shaman gathered his people around, men, women, sexless. All wore adoring faces, their eyes glinting with wonder. He spoke to them of the Old Gods, and of the Gods Older Still, and the New Gods that lay quietly in their Ship above them now.
Only the faithful would be welcome.
Only the few would be saved.
The Shaman suffered one broken leg and an even dozen broken ribs as the crowd surged forward, the heated mass making its ungainly way to the Tower. A small gold-skinned hermaphrodite was the first to reach the Tower, and it quickly began its mad scramble up the tall Tower. It was followed by men, women, children and drones, all seeking the blessing of the New Gods.
The Shaman, in agony, had an ideal vantage point from which to watch the Fall of the Tower. The wooden structure didn’t merely topple; it imploded in a dusty cloud of stone, wood, flesh and dried mud. It formed an impromptu cairn beneath the silent Ship.
The Shaman laid back and waited as the Little Gods within his blood soothed his pain and mended his bones. As night fell around him, the Shaman stood, whole again, and made his way inland alone, toward the Heart of Merica.
The Last Man stepped from the worldforest into the clearing, the vast silver of the Ship visible through the opening in the hypertrees.
He could not believe his quest was at an end.
From what he could puzzle together from the sung histories, the Ship had stood silent watch over a dying Earth for millennia. Never once did the occupants communicate with Man. Never once did they make their intentions known.
The Last Man would learn why.
He strode toward the Ship. Several of the greatest hypertrees brushed against its silvery hull.
Finding a suitable tree, the Last Man began his ascent. It took him four days, pausing occasionally to sleep among the giant branches and murmur the required words.
His climbing spikes were worn down and his hands bled when he clambered off the tree and onto the smooth hull. He stood gingerly and made his way toward the top of the seamless Ship.
He knocked his hand against the cool metal, saying all the right words. Surely, they would understand.
After waiting for a few moments, he slammed his hands against the exotic metal. The sound was of meat slapping against stone.
The rage of righteousness filled him and he struck the metal yet again. His finger bones shattered, yet he did not relent. His continued assault only served to have slivers of bone pierce the flesh of his knuckles, and soon his hands and forearm were sodden with blood. He slammed again and again until exhaustion overtook him and darkness fell.
He awoke with the light of the morning sun reflecting off the silent metal.
His hands were new.
He slammed them again into a red ruin again. And again, he slept.
The Last Man continued this ritual for almost two weeks.
He then felt hungry. It was a feeling he actually had forgotten to recognize. His Little Gods were now angry and demanded sacrifice. He had no elixir. He had no tongues of the wildebeests. He had no water. One by one, the Little Gods stopped their sacred dance. He felt forgotten pain as he fell forward, sliding toward the edge of the Ship, and then over.
The Last Man was dead before he hit the ground.
The Ship rose toward the stars. ∎
Roby Davies writes weird fiction. His stories have appeared in The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror, Borderlands 7, Weird Tales, Black Static, Interzone, Mythic Delirium, Pseudopod, Murky Depths, and elsewhere. He lives in New Orleans, where the streets are named for Muses and lizards scatter at your feet. His novelette ‘The Clockwork Heart of Heaven’ is set to appear in a future issue of Interzone.
IZ Digital is Interzone’s online sister zine. Become a member of the IZD Ko-fi for a euro a month to get EPUB editions of stories. Or just buy IZ a digital coffee/tea/raktajino – it is hugely appreciated and helps a lot.
You can also start a 6-issue EPUB subscription to Interzone and get even more amazing writing delivered electronically, bimonthly.
Reader memberships and subscriptions are the lifeblood of zines like IZ Digital and Interzone – thanks for reading, and supporting!