5. Murmuration

ARE YOU LIVING IN A COMPUTER SIMULATION?
BY NICK BOSTROM Faculty of Philosophy, Oxford University 
Published in Philosophical Quarterly (2003) 
Vol. 53, No. 211, pp. 243-255. 
[www.simulation-argument.com] 

ABSTRACT
This paper argues that at least one of the following propositions 
is true: (1) the human species is very likely to go extinct before 
reaching a “posthuman” stage; (2) any posthuman civilization is 
extremely unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of 
their evolutionary history (or variations thereof); (3) we are 
almost certainly living in a computer simulation. It follows that 
the belief that there is a significant chance that we will one 
day become posthumans who run ancestor-simulations is false, 
unless we are currently living in a simulation. A number of 
other consequences of this result are also discussed.

God’s a kid with an ant farm, lady. He’s not planning anything.
   – John Constantine

You are all stardust. You couldn’t be here if stars hadn’t 
exploded, because the elements - the carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, 
iron, all the things that matter for evolution and for life - 
weren’t created at the beginning of time. They were created 
in the nuclear furnaces of stars, and the only way for them 
to get into your body is if those stars were kind enough to 
explode. So, forget Jesus. Stars died so that you could be 
here today.
   - Lawrence M. Krauss

That night none of the Expectant dreamed of the Flock.  Most of them slept fitfully, if at all.  Those that didn’t slept like the dead, a sleep that held no dreams, just darkness. Simon lay beside Ellen and thought about lasts:  Last broadcast, last day, last dawn, last upon last.  It seemed to him that everything was trailing off, winding down ultimately to nothing.

Finally, a little before dawn, he rose and dressed in the dark; then he went to get the streaming setup ready for broadcast.  It was cool and beautiful and dark outside; people were sleeping all along the hillside, some in tents, some on the ground.  He looked up at the ancient sky.  The stars were held poised over his head, frozen in time above him, while the gibbous moon held her sway.  Then Simon went to work; he worked quickly and double-checked everything, and everything seemed fine.  Then he checked it all again.  When he was done and he was absolutely certain that everything was ready, the sun was rising like a red boil in the east.

Simon put his head down and went back inside for coffee.

His heart felt like cold lead.


(An hour before dawn.
He lays down to wait.)

“Mr. President,” The CIA director said.  “We have a solid solution to the MP problem that we think we can have ready in time for that maniac’s final broadcast tonight.”

The president looked at him above steepled fingers.  “Do tell,” he said.

“We insert a small team of infiltration experts –  men who served in Afghanistan or Iraq in various military capacities – into the crowd just before the broadcast, disguised as followers.  On your signal, they rush the stage and assassinate him using small arms.”

“You’re going to do a Sadat on this guy?” The President was incredulous.  “In front of 100,000 of his zealots?  I don’t care how tough these guys are, John, that crowd will rip them apart.”

“The men know the risks,” the director said, being deliberately evasive.  “And there is an exit strategy, but I would prefer to leave that…unspoken,” the director looked meaningfully at the president, who stared back for a long moment and then nodded his consent to the plan.

“I’ll alert General Hawkins,” the director said, and took his leave.


With the growing new day, the Expectant awoke and continued the oldest human song, the hum and buzz of countless quiet conversations, which rose from small knots into tendrils of the sound forming and reforming in an endless, undulating pattern that strengthened with the sunlight.

When the bloody red sun was completely over the horizon, Simon and Ellen knocked on Michael’s door.

“Come in,” he said softly.

They entered to find him fully dressed and sitting on the edge of his bed, which was freshly made, as if unslept in.  “It’s time, Michael,” Simon said, and his heart twisted painfully in his chest as he said it. “Are you ready?”

Michael stood and nodded.  “Yes.”

They led him downstairs to where Bethany was waiting with Evie, freshly scrubbed and  bright-eyed. Michael took her hand, looked questioningly at Evie.  “No, I can’t,” she said simply, and Michael nodded, then he and the child walked together to the dais.  There was a low, droning cheer of greeting from the Expectant when they saw him there, holding the little girl’s hand on the dais, with Simon and Ellen off to one side, applauding.

Michael clipped on his microphone, and attached another to Bethany’s shirt collar.  “Good morning, everyone,” he said.  “Is this thing on?”

The Expectant made a general sound of affirmation.

Simon, who’s hearing seemed especially acute this morning, heard right away that there was a small, tonal hole in that affirmation:  An absence of voice, small and focused.  He looked for where the hole was and saw the man sitting there, almost directly in front of the dais, bundled up in the morning chill with a ratty old blanket that completely covered him to the neck.  His eyes were hidden behind dark wrap-around sunglasses. His face was vacant, expressionless and somehow, it now seemed to Simon, dead.

Blanketman, Simon thought for no reason.  He is not supposed to be here.

Simon began stepping backwards, away from the dais.  Then he worked carefully around the far western side of the slope, moving slowly and cautiously, slipping through the entranced followers of Michael Profit, as he tried to flank Blanketman.  Ellen saw him and frowned; she didn’t understand what he was doing.  Her brow furrowed a little as she asked him (instinct-quick) in their silent, still language, but he didn’t answer.  He was focused on something else

Someone else, Ellen realized, panic banging in her chest like a sudden drumbeat, and began scanning the crowd.


Bethany put her forefinger to her lips in a gesture requesting quiet, and was amused when the Expectant grew completely still at the gesture.  Then, Michael spoke:

“You all may think you have been waiting for this day for a long time.  For all your lives, some of you, most of you.  Even if you didn’t realize it.  For years, for decades…”

Bethany sat down cross-legged on the dais and looked up at Michael.  He winked at her and continued:

“But this all began a very, very long time ago,  hundreds of millennia ago, entire civilizations ago, and yet the path back to that distant past is just an eye-blink compared to how long our story will continue, and how far It will travel.  And what It will see.  What we will see, for you will all be witnesses,” Michael said softly, his amplified voice washing over the hillside.

The Expectant sighed like a soothed animal.

Michael smiled broadly and clenched his fists over his head in one of the oldest human gestures:  Victory.  Grinning, he continued:  “Today is the Rapture!  The hour of the most Sacred Awakening has nearly arrived!   Hallelujah!”

Shouts and cheers.


Simon was almost directly behind Blanketman now, approaching slowly and steadily, which was made more difficult as he had to maneuver around a great many bodies.  But Blanketman never moved; he was stone-still.


Evie was tugging at Ellen’s hand.  “Ellen, please come back inside for a minute.”

Ellen, looking over the crowd for the tenth time and unable to pick out Simon, much less anyone else, was distracted.  “What?  Why?”

“In the kitchen, you need to see in the kitchen.  Now,” Evie said urgently.


Under the blanket, Miller brought the sub-machine gun hanging from its strap across his back down and forward under the blanket, aiming it approximately at the dais.  He couldn’t be certain without seeing his hands, but it felt right.  Behind his sunglasses, he was watching the little girl as she kept bouncing around the set, on the anti-christ’s lap one minute, jumping up and clapping and horsing around the next.

He didn’t want to hit the little girl.

So he waited.


Simon was three steps from Blanketman when he realized he had no clear idea of exactly what he was going to do when he got there.  He himself wasn’t armed, and he knew that he wasn’t physically imposing enough to make anyone do anything.  But he did have his trusty Swiss Army knife.  He took it out of his pocket and held it tightly in his right hand with all the blades and utensils still folded away.

Simon stepped forward.


“Do my parents get to come with us all?” Bethany asked Michael.

“Only if they took the Elixir,” Michael answered.  “Our God the Eschaton told everyone to take the Elixir!  If they didn’t, well, that’s on them; they made their choice, Bethany!”

“Aw shit,” Bethany said, momentarily downcast.  Michael shook his head like a tolerant older brother, and said:  “But enough of that:  Bethany, do you remember when I told you how important you were, and that nobody knew but me?”

“Uh huh,” Bethany responded, going still.

“Do you know why you’re so special, Bethany?”  Michael said slowly.  “Because I think that you’re pretty smart, and you may have figured it out.”

Bethany nodded.  “Yeah.  You really want me to say?”  She asked, a little shyly.

“Go ahead,” Michael prompted her.


Ellen followed Evie into the kitchen.  There was a bad smell, like rotting garbage, pervading the room.  “Ugh!” Ellen said.  “What the hell is that stink?”

Evie pointed to the counter.  Ellen’s eyes followed her finger and saw that the c-machine was slowly dissolving into the counter, and that a bluish pink gel was oozing out of the sunken remains and was running down the counter’s side.

“What is it doing?” Ellen asked.


Simon pushed the blunt end of the knife firmly against the back of Blanketman’s head and kept steady pressure there.

Reflexively, the head started to turn.

“Don’t you fucking move, asshole,” Simon said in a voice he hoped sounded mean and not just scared.  “I don’t want to, but I will blow your useless brains all over these good people.  Now stand up.  Slow.  Do not turn around.”


Bethany looked evenly at Michael.  “It’s because you and I are really the same person, just at different times.  That’s how come I get to see you when I fly in my dreams.  Only I can see you. No one else gets too, right?  Just me?”

“That’s right, Bethany,” Michael said, very serious.  “You are me before the Awakening.  I am you after the Awakening. But we are in fact the same person, the same pattern.” Michael tapped his temple.  “I can talk to you in our dreams because we share the same mind.”

The Expectant rose to their feet in a confused wave of revelation, and Simon slowly walked Blanketman back to the parking lot, through the surging humanity, like he was leading livestock to slaughter.


At Camp David, Hawkins and the director were once again before the acting president’s desk.  “He is broadcasting right now, sir,” the director intoned.  “He apparently changed the broadcast time at the last minute.”

“And your team isn’t in place yet?”  The president said sardonically.

“Uh…no sir.  We’ve missed that opportunity, but the mission is still a go.  They will be there at 1800 tonight–”

“But he won’t be broadcasting!  He won’t be out in the open!  You don’t even know if he’ll still be at the damn place!  And he could be any one of a hundred thousand random people!”  The President’s disgust made the director examine his shoes.

“Wasn’t this his professed last sermon?”  The president asked.  “How do you know he’ll pop his head up again?”

“They’ll move directly to the farm house and take him in there.  We don’t think he’ll be leaving the compound,” Hawkins stated.

“Fuck me,” the president said, nauseated by the whole mess.  “Does anything ever go right any more?”


Simon and Miller stood in the parking lot, front to back.

“Drop the blanket,” Simon said.  His arm was getting tired from holding the pocket knife to the back of Blanketman’s head.   “Slowly.

Miller did as ordered, but as he let the blanket fall, he spun around with stunning grace and swiftness, his left hand holding the tactical knife in a reversed, edge-out grip style.  It flashed under Simon’s chin before he could react, severing both carotid and jugular, as well as Simon’s windpipe, which, except for one truncated gasp, rendered him suddenly mute.  An instant later, a great pulsing wave of rich black-red blood burst out of the razor cut across Simon’s throat, pumped out by Simon’s thundering heart, and spritzing Miller with hot dark red drops, before Simon fell face-first into the dust.

Miller smiled grimly and sheathed his knife.  “That’s for my wife, you son-of-a-bitch,” he said softly.  He pulled the MP7 around and switched the safety off.  Then he began walking back across the parking lot, headed directly for the dais.


In the kitchen, Ellen suddenly screamed out in terror and pain, her hands flying to her throat.  After a second, eyes staring wide in disbelief and shock, she bolted back outside.

“Ellen, what is it? Are you gonna barf?” Evie called, following after her, but lost her sister in the press of bodies.

Ellen simply ran through them, shoving her way to the parking lot, and then she saw him there, face down in the dust, and she felt her world crumble.   As if sensing her distress, the crowd parted for her and she dashed to him.  She raced past Miller without even seeing him, or what he held.  All she saw was Simon’s still form, and as she ran “No! No! No!” was all she could say.  Her mind was blank with terror.  She dropped to her knees beside him. “Simon?  Si?” she said softly, and turned him over with a nurse’s firm-handedness.  When his head came around, he met her with with the doll-eyed stare of the dead.  The cut in his neck lolled open obscenely, still vomiting blood in little spurts, each spurt weaker than the last.

“Simon, no.  No, Simon, no,” Ellen said, tears blinding her.


Evie saw Ellen then, kneeling oddly in the parking lot, and then saw Simon in her sister’s lap.  Horror washed over her and pointed and screamed, a wordless cry of outrage. Heads turned toward her, and then to the parking lot, away from the dais.

“Evie?” Bethany said, hearing the pure animal grief in Eve’s wail, and knew something was wrong.

She let go of Michael’s hand and ran to Evie.


Michael watched her go.

So be it,” he said softly.

Proceeded by a wave of people backing away in fear, Miller walked to the front of the dais and calmly raised the machine gun, causing cries of confused shock, an unprepared, pathetic kind of music.  He took careful aim at Michael.

“Lieutenant Miller, so good to see you,” Michael said evenly, looking down at him, completely unperturbed.  “Where’s your wife?”

“She’s rotting in the ground,” Miller said, tasting Simon’s blood in his mouth, and squeezed the trigger.


Three shots – clat! clat!…clat! – rang out over the Orchard.  The first two struck Michael in the sternum and just to the left of it, making small quarter-sized holes, but the rounds mushroomed on impact, shattering his ribs into splinters that shredded Michael’s lungs and heart; the third round, delivered a well-trained instant later, hit Michael above his right eye.  Michael’s head jerked back and to the left, and the entire anterior section of his skill burst outward, throwing a dark red and white spatter behind him.

Somewhere far away, Ellen shrieked.

Miller lowered and then dropped his weapon, then put his hands behind his head in submission, and waited.

As fear calcified to rage, there arose a multi-headed cry of pure mammalian vengeance, and the Expectant fell on Lieutenant Christopher Miller, and they devoured him.  The sounds the Expectant made as they pulled Miller apart – the sickening grinding and popping of gristle and bone and Miller’s own ungodly screams – made Bethany stop in her charge toward Evie.  In confusion, Bethany turned back and looked at the dais, not understanding what was happening.

And Michael – who had fallen flat on his back, legs out straight and limp, adopting the universal posture of the dead – sat suddenly and sickeningly bolt upright, as if someone had pulled on an invisible thread running vertically up his spine and out through the top of his head, like he was some kind of cyber-marionette.

Those closest to the dais could see that Michael’s right eye was completely gone, as was most of that side of his skull, and exposed grey brain tissue was visible through a thick gore of tissue and bone fragments.

The speaker system that Simon had prepared began to issue a low growl as a subsonic drone entered the human audible range, increasing rapidly in volume and power, forcing everyone to cover their ears.

Even the raucous sounds of dismemberment coming from the Expectant were truncated.

The drone, an impossible deep thrumming, continued to increase in volume, becoming physically painful, blocking all thought, throbbing with resonance in the skulls of the Expectant, and they were all forced down to their knees, their arms wrapped about their heads in terror and pain, forced to listen to that awesome birth-cry:

LO!

Silence.

They all looked up, the Expectant now simian in their postures, crouching in holy dread, in fear and pain, staring upward at Michael, their dead prophet.   Then Michael’s intact left eye rolled slowly up and up until only white showed.  His jaw dropped open with a wet phlock! sound, his tongue grey and lolling, and a deep bass voice thundered both from Michael’s open mouth and from the speakers, the words emitted like an hi-wattage transmission:

BOOT SEQUENCE INITIATED

The Voice came from that horrible open mouth, but Michael’s jaw never moved.  Then a short spasmodic quiver ran through Michael’s entire body, head to toe, and he pitched face-forward to the floor.

Ellen screamed:  Still, again and forever, rocking Simon in her arms and then, rocking, chanted: “My God.  My God. My God,” over and over again.  She rocked that way for a moment or two more, and – most strangely – as she did a great calm flowed over her.  With each rock, the world felt increasingly washed out and small and somehow grey and increasingly unimportant to her, now here at the end of everything.

Then she looked down again at Simon, and she saw light coming from behind his eyes.


Bethany was frozen in shock, locked in place.  Then her heartbeat slowed, and then slowed again, and everything got very, very quiet, like the volume for the whole world was slowly getting turned down for her.  Her vision seemed to tunnel down to a point. Everything faded to black and white…

– And there was an urgent tugging
on the top of her head,
firm but not painful.  
Insistent though and strong –

And then Bethany was suddenly Free.


And so it came to pass that on that dawning, on that most blessed day of the Rapture, that the minimum necessary energy density was finally achieved, and the divine bootstrap sequence began.  Within a few seconds, the Expectant all felt the same strong pull from within their own skulls, along with a growing sense of calm, and then they were painlessly torn Free, and were loosed from their flesh.

On that day, one hundred and forty-four thousand disembodied minds swirled above the New England forests, forming the kernel of a new meta-consciousness.   Throughout the world, all the others who had drunk the Elixir – totaling more than a billion human minds – no matter where they were, nor what they were doing, experienced the Rapture, carried to the skies in an exultation unparalleled in human experience.

What those who had not taken the Elixir experienced was quite different:

A strange, blue-white light shone with great and growing intensity from behind each person’s eyes, their body going limp and then twitching spasmodically in rapture; then an otherworldly blue and pink and somehow translucent goo flowed out from behind those eyes, from the nostrils, the ears, the mouth. This substance, this almost-magical spore, this Elixir, was in fact a kind of quantum entangled gel, a dense molecular network designed by a mind thousands of orders of magnitude more intelligent than the smartest human being that ever lived, and it was capable of perfectly reproducing all forms and states of matter, as well as adapting to nearly any energy level, and – most critically – of learning and replicating any pattern, and in particular those patterns associated with the thinking human brain.

The Elixir, delivered into the human system via the c-machines, a divine offering in a silver chalice, was in reality a new medium for human consciousness, a new and better substrate for accelerating and purifying the essence of the human mind.  These minds, now unconstrained, did not answer the call of gravity; they needed only sunlight to rise.

The Elixir now rose from a billion corpses – from Simon and Ellen slumped together in the dust, from the shells of Evie and Bethany, from the sea of corpses draped across the twenty-six acres of the Orchard of Shen, and even from the lonely, shallow grave of poor Erica Miller (and the wall and carpet of her apartment) who was not damned – the Elixir issued forth, coalesced and lifted, rising and rising in spiral ascension, where it joined with other buoyant translucent tendrils, and mingled, spinning, diving, soaring, always rising, over all the cities and towns on the planet Earth.

They were the Great Human Flock, and they let the wind carry them in their soul ballet, a pure human dance, ever higher.


General Hawkins looked around him in terror.

The president’s lifeless body slumped behind his desk, the Elixir transporting his disembodied consciousness away just seconds before.

Right in front of Hawkins’ eyes.

He looked to his left and the CIA director was now gone too; Hawkins caught a flicker of movement out of one eye and turned to look in time to see the last of that bluish flying shit float right through the fucking wall.

“You goddamn cowardly double-dealing bastards,” Hawkins said, his voice flat with shock, contempt and outrage.  “You miserable pigs.”

And then he had a thought, and got out the football.


From low earth orbit, at approximately the altitude that the International Space Station once orbited, the first tentative strands of the Flock extended, stretched, compressed, then bloomed and began to grow and amass and aglutenate, growing in size and in shape, roughly spherical, very slowly at first.

The Chrysalis was a full day forming.  The Flock was always arriving, homing in on a great chorus of linked minds, the tremendous murmuration of a billion mingled human souls, overwhelmingly complex and staggeringly beautiful.  An orchestration that simply coursed with energy.  The Chrysalis pulsed and glowed its strange, somehow viscous, blue-pink light. As it grew, it brightened as more and more energy was packed into the same space, so that by the time the sun set that evening over the east coast of the United States, the Chrysalis was visible to the naked eye, glowing a fierce blue-white light more brightly than the full moon with which it shared the sky.


“–uge number of people just suddenly fell dead today across the world.  It’s impossible to count just how many–”

Click.

“–This is it, baby!  The End Times!!!  WOO-HOO!–”

Click.

“Churches and temples and mosques across the world are overflowing with people today. Everyone is convinced this is the Apocalypse, and who knows?  It just mi-”

Click.

“–today was unavailable for comment.  This new object in the sky appeared this evening, and we don’t know what it is or how it got there, but I’m here with–”

Click.

“–nomine patris, et filii and spiritus santi–”

Click.


“Don’t fuckin’ argue with me, Captain,” Hawkins growled into the phone, the nuclear code card on the desk in front of him. “For the last goddamn time:  The president is dead.  I’m in charge now.  Is that clear?”

“Crystal, sir,” said the voice, coming over the line from SAC-NORAD.

“Outstanding,” Hawkins growled.  “Now, can you retarget the warheads or not?”

“Of course we can sir.  It’s trivial.  I was only trying to point out that whatever we set off up there is going to fall back down somewhere, and we can’t predict where-”

“When I want an opinion from you, Captain, I’ll give it to you.  This isn’t an order you should feel the need to question:  Target a full spread of tactical nukes at the glowing evil egg in the sky!  Whatever it is, it is directly responsible for the deaths of millions of Americans!”

“Sir I–” a pause.  “Yes, sir.  Sir, my coordinates have been updated.  We are ready to launch.”

Hawkins held the receiver away from his ear for a moment, stopping to think, which was hard for him to do, standing in a room with two rotting, dead men all day as he cajoled, ordered and finally screamed at the phone.  He was nearly at the end of his rope, but he was surprised at just how quickly these two corpses had begun to stink.  He looked absently at the credenza against the opposite wall.  There was just a thick puddle of pink and blue sludge dripping down the credenza’s side.

The thing fucking melted, he thought.

“Sir, awaiting launch command,” the telephone said.

Looking at the sludge, Hawkins had a single moment of fear and doubt. What does that mean…?  Nah, fuck it.

“Launch.  I repeat:  Launch now.”


LOW EARTH ORBIT
THE CHRYSALIS

The Chrysalis completed formation precisely 43,210 seconds from bootstrap.  More than a billion human minds were now clustered together in space, becoming more than just a new species. They were a new kind of life, still young and immature, but very much alive, so when it detected an imminent threat from the world below, it responded as any living creature would:  It defended Itself.

At once, certain chemical transformations began to occur deep inside the Chrysalis.  Its surface seemed to vibrate with tremendous hidden energy and then, all at once, as if a switch had been thrown, the surfaced darkened, first dull grey and then to a deep matte black which reflected less than one percent of the sunlight that hit it; the absorbed solar energy was used to trigger the manufacture of a new kind of material which quickly flowed over the outside of the Chrysalis, in a still-darker black:  An exotic new form of matter, best explained as a hyper-diamondized carbon lattice that was harder than steel and had no reachable melting point.

Once the surface of the Chrysalis was covered in impossible blackness, manufacture stopped.


A moment later, six Minuteman-III inter-continental ballistic missiles were launched from their silos located near Cheyenne, Wyoming, leaving behind them huge, angry towers of thick smoke as they arced upward, pushing their way free of the atmosphere.

It took the ICBMs a little over ten minutes to achieve orbit and to approach to within five kilometers of the Chrysalis, now virtually invisible.

When the on-board guidance system determined that the proximity to target was within nominal parameters, it detonated its plutonium base charge and a fraction of a fraction of a second later, a nuclear explosion equivalent to 170 thousand tons of TNT – one of six nearly simultaneous nuclear detonations – filled space with light and heat.


“General, we have detonation.  Looks like all six nukes,” the captain said primly.

“Is it gone?” Hawkins said to the speakerphone on the president’s desk.  While he was waiting, Hawkins had shoved the president’s body out of the chair and sat in it himself. Why not? he thought wryly.  Nobody else is left!

“Sir, as I feared, the electromagnetic pulse generated by the detonation has killed all our recon satellites, so we cannot tell for certain, but the upper atmosphere is literally glowing from the explosion.  Nothing could have survived.  It’s gone.”

“Outstanding.  Continue to monitor, but go ahead and stand down on a second launch wave,” Hawkins ordered and hung up.


The nuclear blast, expanding in space at terrific speed, hit the Chrysalis with apocalyptic force and carried it furiously along, much like a ping-pong ball on the crest of an ocean wave, driving it away from the blast radius with an acceleration that would have liquefied a living being, and whisking it into a gravity-assisted “slingshot” trajectory around the night side of Earth.

The Chrysalis came around the far side of the planet minutes later, Earth’s gravity adding even more acceleration, and the extra energy tossed the Chrysalis – now travelling at some 21 kilometers per second (or three times escape velocity) – directly at the moon.


Hawkins finished the last of the whisky he had poured himself and turned off the desk lamp.  Then he stepped over the president’s body and left to go home, his work done for the day.

Outside, he looked up at the night sky, and saw it glowing a nasty, dull red.  There was lightning somewhere beneath it in the distance and a warm, copperish smell he associated with summer rain showers.

Too late now, he thought.  Then he got in his car and drove away.


The next morning, the new acting president, the old acting president’s brother-in-law, he of the wrinkled pink brow, decided that he ought to address the nation, but could find no one at Camp David who knew how to activate or use the emergency broadcast system. There was simply no one left to ask, as most of the people who had left during the night had not returned.  Of the sparse remaining staff, none knew the various passwords, codes and keys to activate the E.B.S., so instead he just sat behind the presidential desk, wondering what to do about this brother-in-law’s corpse, which was starting to decay and stink.

And there are a billion others too, he thought slowly.  Rotting in the sun.

An aide came in, ashen-faced.  “Mr. President?” She asked.

“There,” he pointed at his brother’s body.

She looked, closed her eyes, then looked firmly back at him.  “Sir, you are my president today,” she said bravely.  “I have important information.  You need to hear it now.”

“Yes?” he asked her.

“Mr. President, a radiation cloud the size of Nebraska will reach the Pacific coast of the United States in two-to-three hours,” she said  “As this cloud moves from south-west to north-east, it will pass over much of the U.S. mainland, dropping highly radioactive rain and dust along its path as it moves.”  She got it all out in one breath (which was no easy feat).

“What can we do to stop it?” The President asked her.

“Nothing, sir.”


The Chrysalis impacted the lunar surface less than thirty hours after leaving earth orbit. It was travelling at more than 40 kilometers per second when it hit.  Since much of the moon’s internal structure is hollow, due to the great many worm-like tunnels left by long dissipated lava and ice flows, the impact injected the Chrysalis deep below the moon’s surface, finally stopping at a depth of more than a kilometer.

Nestled safely inside its gigantic ball of raw materials, the Chrysalis promptly cracked and opened itself, and a great consumption began as the Flock exited its shell and, working at an exponential rate, prepared for the Awakening.


The poisoned rain and dust would kill tens of millions before it dissipated.  It particularly decimated America’s farm lands, once the richest in the world, where it manifested as radioactive dust storms which sterilized entire states.  Within days, all societal structure collapsed.  The dead littered the streets and still the black rains poured down death and the dark grey ash covered the Miserable Remnant as they wasted and died.

Elsewhere, lightning strikes started fires in the southeast, as well as in Europe and southern Asia.  These fires then bloomed, whole and terrible, with no one to fight them, and, in time, much of the world burned.


The next day, at his home in Arlington, Virginia, General Hawkins listened with a strange, detached calm to the radio reports of fallout decimating California, Idaho and Nevada.  He might have been listening to a baseball game in which he had no stake in either team.

At noon, his wife, plump and matronly, entered his study, carrying a sandwich and a glass of milk.  “Here you go.  You should eat some lunch.”

She placed it in front of him.  Her smile was fragile.

The general looked at the sandwich, then at his wife.  “Thank  you, my love,” he said tenderly, deeply moved at this most basic human expression of love:  The giving of food.

She smiled and kissed him on his temple, then left him with his thoughts and his sandwich.

The general waited a moment, then took his service weapon from the desk drawer, flipped the safety off, put the gun to his temple, and pulled the trigger.


Less than two week after lunar impact, the consumption and reorganization phases were complete.  The Flock was now trying for nucleosynthesis, as it needed a sustained power source.  Manipulating gravity in ways undiscovered by human beings, the Flock finally coaxed a small amount of hydrogen into an isotope of helium and released enormous energy in the process.  The entire moon trembled violently at its very core, and then began to glow.

The Miserable Remnant who were outside that day saw the moon grow momentarily brighter than the sun, a stunning blue-white light that grew increasingly more painful to look at.

Then the moon ruptured.

It blasted off its outer layer of rock and dust with the excess energy produced by the ignition of the massive fusion reactor it now had at its core.  Dust would obscure the moon for days, but Something else was there in the moon’s place, something that was built, something that was architected, something that was unerringly human, and then –

It was gone.

On to Ave Atque Vale.

2 thoughts on “5. Murmuration

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