It took a while for everyone to realize what it was, and what had happened. After all, the event didn't come with any announcement; it just happened quietly. Everyone, all of humanity, was left to gather the data points as they could and string them together. A full month that had gone by before the first intelligent theory surfaced. When everyone heard it they instinctively knew it was right. It fit, and it wasn't good news either.
It started with what was first thought to be a meteorite crashing to earth. It was somewhat large, meaning it didn't disintegrate and burn up in the atmosphere on the way down. It was duly noted and logged and promptly forgotten. A week passed. Then, in an unrelated event, some analyst was going over satellite photos of suspected terrorist camps in remote areas of the world. The algorithm for selecting and taking these photos had long ago been programmed into the system. It had been tuned and refined and over all was very accurate. There were times though, when it would simply turn up photos of natural geologic phenomena. It was the job of the analyst to determine this had in fact happened, and instruct the system to remove this site from its log until additional criteria were met.
This evening, the analyst was reviewing all the false positives before clocking out for the night. The last picture was on screen, the one between him and a Guinness masterfully drawn by Dennis down at Charlie Brown's. It looked like an outcropping of rock, but something caught his eye. It didn't have a man made look about it, but it looked, what was the word ... organized. He zoomed in on it. Definitely not manmade, and most likely not natural either. Curiosity had been raised just enough to put this on the regular circuit and flag this for nightly review. It was no where near more exciting than the Guinness that was waiting for him, though.
He looked at it for three successive nights before doing anything about it. In retrospect he knew he should have done something on the second night, but would it really have mattered anyway? What happened was that the object was growing in size. The second night it had almost doubled, and the third and fourth nights the rate of growth had decreased, but looked constant. Even when he zoomed in on it, it looked not too much different than rock, volcanic rock actually. He wouldn't have thought this except for the trip he took as a child to Hawaii and to the active volcanoes. He flagged it for a low level fly by.
It took a couple days for this to happen. By now two weeks had passed, and the object had continued to grow. The officer assigned to the fly by had a live video and audio feed going that recorded him flying to the object and vanishing. That's all, one moment he was there, the next he wasn't.
Significant attention mounted then. Multiple camps sprung up around the object. They were camps on wheels because the object continued to grow. Through hard experience the following additional data points were gathered. If anyone got within a half mile of the object they died, vaporized. The object was believed to be a living organism. All the readings indicated this was organic, though not a carbon-based life form. At three weeks the "Outer Shell" disappeared. By that time the object was five miles across and what was uncovered was hard to grasp. Visually it was beautiful, but it was most obviously an organized life form and one that was highly advanced, intelligent, and it was artificial.
At exactly four weeks from the initial landing the nightly news carried a spot towards the end of the show where yet another local expert voiced his opinion. "Gentlemen," he said to a room full of reporters, "We are looking at the singularity. This is an artificial life form that is more intelligent than we." Pandemonium erupted.
Nobody really remembered much after that. I think the guy was on television a couple more times but his fifteen seconds of fame were over and he faded into the crowds. If this were a Hollywood movie he no doubt would have been the starring character. This wasn't a movie though, and from the start the outcome was anything but certain.
Scientists set up a moving camp around this phenomenon. It was studied exhaustively even as it continued to grow. The rate of growth was measured and seen to be a constant measured rate. Intense efforts to communicate with it were undertaken. All radio bands were monitored and greetings were sent out. The people on the edge of society, those that were sure this was a sign of the end being near were there too. They had posters and signs offering greetings. They knelt and prayed to the object, and some ever sacrificed people, by having them walk into the object, where they were promptly vaporized.
Nothing mattered. The object -- whatever it was -- completely ignored all efforts to communicate with it. There was one result of the study of this object. It was indeed seen to be highly intelligent, and artificial. Rather than thrill everyone, that intelligent life had finally been discovered, as time went on it became more and more unsettling. Why wouldn't this thing communicate with them? If it meant no harm, why didn't it at least say hello? The only comfort that people could take was that the thing, whatever it was, had chosen to land in the middle of one of the largest deserts on the planet. After about a month of intense press coverage the majority of the planet lost interest.
Yes, an alien artificial life form now shared the planet with them, and as long as it stayed in the desert, then who really cared.
A year went by. The object continued its inexorable growth. It became visible from space as an ever growing dark spot on the face of the desert. Every so often you would hear about it on the nightly news. Measured progress of growth and so on. Websites sprung up than had live video feeds with real time statistics on growth progress. Forecasts of future growth were shown too. One rather chilling statistic was how long it would take the object at its ever constant rate of growth to reach the nearest edge of the desert. The number was a never-moving two years three hundred days. Each day the number decreased by one.
The truly amazing thing here is that during this time no military action was taken. As a species we tend to attack those things we cannot understand that we perceive a threat. Oh, the military was intimately involved in this to be sure, but the fact that the object didn't land on American soil, or near any American interests was clearly a mitigating feature. No, a year had passed, and while much had been learned about the object no communication had been exchanged with it.
At this point two things happened. Someone dug up the video footage of the guy who proclaimed, "The Singularity." They showed the following footage where he said one of three things would happen. The object would wipe us off the face of the planet, it would domesticate us, or we would simply be irrelevant. In any case the earth would be remade to suit its needs and we would never really be able to stop it. There was more, but it seemed obvious that after a year it was door number three. It was not a comforting thought. The second thing that happened was more chilling. One year to the day from the time the thing landed, exactly twenty five large objects lifted up from the center and began moving to different parts of the planet.
At this point action erupted all over the world simultaneously. One of the objects landed in the middle of a Mid East oil-rich country. A radical religious government was in power and the speculation that they had been working on developing their own nuclear weapons was finally put to rest when they detonated not one but three such bombs on the offending object. Nothing happened. Not to the object at any rate. All three of the bombs detonated above the object which had come to rest upon their soil. The object was completely unharmed, and paid no attention to the offending explosions. The prevailing winds carried the fallout into neighboring countries to the east. Objects that were headed for the North and South American continent were intercepted by the US Air force. They threw everything they had at them with no more visible results than the rogue Middle East nation. All twenty-five objects landed and began the same process of replication and growth.
Further attacks were made with no visible results. The scientists tasked with studying the objects had no idea, no clue how the objects operated. One of them summed their feelings up in saying, "For all we know it is black magic." This was to say that we couldn't understand. The words of our original scientist on his fifteen seconds of fame were resurrected at this point. As before, they were not comforting. "We can no more understand what a superhuman intelligence would do than our pets can understand what we do when we go to work in the morning."
An atmosphere of doom began to settle in from this time forth. Most of the attention began to be focused on trying to figure out how to survive. There was even some hope in this as all twenty-five of the objects had landed in arid climes. If these things had decided to occupy the deserts, then, well, there was still plenty of land left for humanity, right? Yes, there was the question of the oil-rich Mid East to deal with, along with many other serious issues, but most felt they really weren't looking at the end of humanity. Hope sprang from these meager roots and everyone's attention was focused on relocating large numbers of humanity.
This went on for a little over another year until the announcement was made that now that an ever larger percentage of the earths landmass was inhabited by an alien life form, the entire climate of the earth was beginning to change. More and more of the planet's surface was turning arid. Everyone knew the alien life form was responsible even if they couldn't figure out how.
Humanity split into three distinct groups. One group wanted to attack the object, even though they knew it was pointless. Still they did so, and I suppose it made them feel better to die in what they termed battle. Another group gave up and prepared to die. Some few committed suicide, while others tried to achieve some peace before they went. The last group, by no means the smallest, set about trying to figure out how to survive. Interplanetary travel, leaving the earth was still something that only existed on the Scifi channel. Many theories were put forth and debated and discarded. In the end the best idea to come forth was to move to the oceans. It seemed certain that all the land on the planet would eventually be within the domain of this life form, or at least enough of it to make what was left entirely uninhabitable.
Work was begun in open and in secret. In secret because at some level everyone knew it was simply not possible to move all of humanity into ocean dwelling habitation in the time remaining, which was projected to be exactly three years.
Society collapsed. Wars, and riots over dwindling food supplies erupted all over the globe. Everyone knew just how bad things would get when the first major city on the planet was taken over. As luck would have it the city was Jerusalem, the 4000-year-old city. This wasn't any H. G. Wells 'war of the world' type of occurrence, either. Hollywood would have been singularly unimpressed. There were no attacks, no battles of men against alien war ships. The alien mass just silently and efficiently engulfed the city. If anything the assimilation was even more rapid than the overtaking of the land outside the city. Buildings, people, cars, food, everything were silently engulfed. It was as if the paved city streets and buildings provided better raw material than the desert that surrounded it. The eternal struggle for who would possess Jerusalem was at last settled. It would be neither side.
Other cities fell in rapid succession as more and more of the earth's surface was inhabited by the alien mass. Before the major communications networks were taken down, never to come up again, it was noted that the Singularity was communicating, if you could call it that, with off-world counterparts. A similar base was noted on the surface of the moon, and interplanetary traffic was visible on a daily basis. It was not comforting to know we weren't alone in this takeover.
Two bases sprang up, underwater communities. One was in the south Pacific and one was in the Caribbean. Both were secret because it had been found out that to make them public was to invite mass hysteria of the kind that ended in the destruction of the planned places of refuge. The future was just too brutal for every one to contemplate. Everyone knew their days were numbered.
The end happened right on schedule. The two communities noted it dispassionately. It was thought, hoped that pockets of survivors were holding out somewhere on the planet's surface, somewhere in those places not yet reached by the mass. These were mostly the heretofore uninhabitable areas of the planet. If they were surviving, it wouldn't be under favorable existence, and in a few years they would be reduced to a very primitive level of existence.
Four thousand people watched the end. Seventeen hundred from the Caribbean, and Twenty three hundred from the Pacific. The total takeover had taken less than five years. Over six billion people died, and the face of the planet and the entire ecosystem had been destroyed, made over into a different image to suit its new inhabitant. They had never even been able to even have a conversation with it. No one expected this would have been the outcome of meeting a highly intelligent species. They had from the start been treated as completely irrelevant.
This is where the story ends, or perhaps begins.
-- Chas Wallace