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The Nineteenth Hour

Connor Smith is a freelance writer and Chemical Engineering student based in Long Beach, California. This story marks his first (but far from last) foray into speculative short fiction.

A suited figure careens past the observation deck and slams onto the main galley, hydraulic joints hissing and buckling as they absorb several kiloNewtons of force. Mag-boots allow the creature to walk at an angle parallel to the horizon, like some cosmic deity. Light blooms behind it, and small, dark silhouettes reveal the outlines of the final evacuation shuttles.
The huddled passengers look past it in horror. Numbering less than two thousand, pathetic, confused, and reeling in shock, they take no notice of the approaching figure, their eyes instead affixed to the conflagration below that marks the death of everything they have ever hated or loved.
It is the nineteenth hour, and the last of the humans stand witness as the Earth begins to fold in on itself.
The first hour was heralded by innocuous tremors that rattled silverware and startled infants. Schoolchildren squealed in terrified delight.
Panic arrived with the third hour, as images of the impact were broadcast across nations. Anxious politicians met in stuffy rooms, pursed their lips with worry.
At the sixth hour, the earth's crust rippled like water.
By the seventh hour, 2 billion were dead.
The eighth hour was accompanied by sleek, silver ships and a message: "You have been struck by a world-eater probe. Your planet is lost. We can save some. Not many." A silence. "We grieve with you."
It was the eleventh hour, and survivors jostled and jabbered in the orbiting ship. Irate voices demanded explanation, men clenched impotent fists, and children's heads swiveled as they adjusted to the foreign environment. The humans' panic wove dissonant waves through the air. Drab metal walls retracted to reveal the dying Earth beneath them. Orange light bathed their faces. The humans fell silent and did not speak again until the nineteenth hour.
At the twelfth hour, oceans boiled and veins of molten rock lanced through continents, burning their afterimage into the retinas of those who stood witness. Some buried their face in their hands or began to turn away.
A modulated voice blared from the ship's intercom.
"Bear witness. This is the death of your species. The death of the planet that birthed you. You are all that remain. Do not turn away. You must remember." The voice sounded like it was pleading. "Our home was taken from us as well. Do not forget what you see. Bear witness. You are the anger that persists, you are their memory and love."
"You are the enemy in the dark."
"You are their vengeance."
It is the nineteenth hour, and not a single survivor turns away as the Earth fractures and begins to fall in on itself.
A young boy clutches a worn blanket to his chest, and his face contorts with an emotion unfamiliar to him. His mother holds his right shoulder in a white-knuckled grip, and her face is twisted into the same shape. She forces a whisper past clenched teeth.
"We are their vengeance."
Between the ragged refugees a gleam of fury leaps, from eye to eye, until the gaze of every man, woman, and child is alight with an eerie fervor.
"We are the enemy in the dark."
The ship is called Spear in Shadow. It is silver, and sharp. Its caretakers shudder in anticipation as they see the fierce transformation that passes over the posture and faces of the surviving humans.
Intonations of savage satisfaction keen through sloping ridges of bone, through the spiraled passages of airways evolved somewhere not-Earth. The aliens wonder if perhaps this species will accomplish what they could not, bring to fruition that barbaric destiny so contrary to their own gentle predisposition.
After all, this was a species of unparalleled violence, of unmatched cruelty. This was a species of excess and passion. This was a species of retribution.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, November 18th, 2019

Author Comments

"The Nineteenth Hour" is a result of my desire to condense a species-psychology altering event into the time frame of a single day, with key events denoted by the hour in which they occur. I wanted to create a situation where the leftovers of the human race acted similarly; in near total accord, like a colony of shapeshifting fire ants. Like a singleminded organism. Inspirations for this story include authors Liu Cixin, Greg Bear, and that YouTube video on fire ants I watched last year.

- Connor R. Smith
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