Daniel stood outside the Lab, looking out across the silvery grasslands and the endless bowl of the night. On the horizon was a frozen burst of stars, sparkling as they shifted and turned. They were so pretty, like a shattered crystal flower...
He wasn't crying, not even now. He just couldn't absorb what had happened enough to feel anything. It was too big. But his heart was a cave, empty, black and cold.
How could even God forgive them this? How will they ever forgive themselves?
We won't, Daniel knew. There was no forgiveness possible, not for this. It was over. Everything was over. Mankind deserved no hope, and no future.
They had foolishly thought, had hoped, that they had left the armageddon behind, but in truth it hadn't even begun. They had carried it with them and now God help the Natives who had been caught up in it. Two billion were already dead. Lost in a single moment of vaporous fire. Here. Gone. Just like that.
It was worse that anything they had done before. The four billion survivors who had been left to die on old Terra had been guilty in some way. Humanity had brought that on themselves, they had all shared the blame, but this...
These people were innocent, and far nicer than humanity's own vicious, misguided race. They were good people, caring.
In spite of all the tears and all the promises, despite the lessons from China, Africa, Australia and America, they had subjugated the natives as they always had, and then destroyed them in a unforgivable over reaction to a small group who had asked the wrong questions and fought to keep their race alive.
Daniel felt the wind change around him, warming him. He didn't want it.
Gaila had been... originally had been a science station, to be placed on the edge of the system, but they had needed a third relay, and no one had thought...
Only the Noah had a more powerful power core.
So many fail-safes, so many precautions. Who would have thought Mother Brain could bypass them all. Who would have thought, even yesterday, that she would.
Containment must have failed as the station slowly vaporised from the friction of the air, and the energy would have burst out whilst still high above the planet. Not that it mattered. The reaction would still have - had been enough to crack the crustial shell, punch a massive hole into the planet, sending cracks across the entire surface. By then...
Two. Billion. Innocent. People.
He still couldn't accept it, still couldn't believe. Chris had rescued the four from Gaila, but as yet even that pathetic victory was a hollow one. They were variously suffering from exposure, asphyxiation, radiation poisoning, and one with burns, all from when Gaila's shell was ruptured from the engineered explosion in the containment systems. They probably wouldn't make it.
Four left, all dying. A number of other ships had also made it off planet, but many had been destroyed by the random surge of rock and fire. Perhaps a few thousand Palmans survived.
"Daniel, the shockwave is due in four minutes. You must come inside."
Oh, yes. The first wave of radioactive dust particles. There would be some lovely auroras, but also quite a few mutants in the next generation. Never mind. We only wanted to help you, give you the technology we vaporised your planet with, ruined our own. Don't you want it? Too bad.
"Daniel, if you do not come inside, I will send a security droid to fetch you."
Daniel had to swallow to reply, but the lump remained anyway.
Daniel knew enough to know it wasn't over. The gravity of the system had been upset. Time would tell if the other planets were affected. Climates would change, perhaps too much for the Natives and the animals, perhaps the planets would drift free of their star-tied tethers. Meteors, escaped from the reaction as the planet's cohesion was lost and it became merely a collection of spinning pieces of rock, they would certainly colour the sky for a while, dragging radioactive dust in their wake. Some would impact, perhaps, a thousand Hiroshemas to add to our conscience.
We haven't even begun yet. Two planets down, two to go. We are...
We are... What was that phrase?
We are become death, destroyer of worlds. Damn us, but that is all we are. Gaia's wrath was nothing, a mere precursor. The last living anger of an entire planet could not compete, could not even begin to compete with our own acts, our own destructive arrogant godhood.
Daniel turned to go back in, taking one last look at the starburst that had been Palma, his eyes hot, but dry.
Daniel had nothing to do. Nothing with any point. Nothing but guilt.
So he wandered through the lab, looking only at his feet and the grey floor, his thoughts in black circles in his mind, whirling slowly like vultures, as the rest of the planet stood in awe of the pretty sky lights and their evolution was slowly unwound with corrupted genetics.
His face was blank, his heart had been shattered - frozen and then dropped - but he relished the pain, as he deserved. As they all did. They had never learnt. They had thought they had, but they never did. Gaia had been right. Her rage, merely surgery, to cut out the cancer which had sickened her to near death.
Destroyers of worlds.
He found himself by their room, regarding the closed door blankly, feeling faint and distant thoughts about Alina. He had almost forgotten she existed, that there was even a world beyond his mind and his heart. Neither did he much care, but he thumbed the switch to open the door, because it was the thing to do. It was automatic.
Air drifted past his face as the door brushed it aside. Cool, and refreshing. Daniel didn't want it, and ignored it, knowing it would be gone in a moment and that he could deny even that small sensation of the real world, of life, from his mind.
Alina was lying on the bed, curled up, trails of salt on her cheeks where she had cried herself to sleep. A container of medication lay on the floor beside her.
Time froze around it. It caught and held Daniel's attention, and his mind struggled up from its hole, desperately trying to reach Daniel in a second of frantic conflicting thought streams. It was almost schizophrenia. Both halves knew, but one resisted, and one tried to reveal.
The moment ended, and the two pieces collapsed back into being Daniel, and the cold knowledge was a canker at his centre.
She wasn't asleep. The container was empty.
Something inside Daniel knew she was dead, that he deserved her to be dead, as punishment, as an endless ache that would still only be a fragment of what he deserved.
But he didn't want to be left alone, not now.
Shock flooded him with coldness as he dashed forward, and it left him without control over his voice. A gulp of air became a cry, a desperate, piteous thing, as he reached her and fumbled on her cold neck for a pulse long faded.
Daniel closed his eyes for just a few seconds, forcing everything away, drawing in a single shuddering breath, and then opened them, swallowed, and turned away.
His punishment. Endless hours of pain, heartache and despair, alone and comfortless. Daniel could see it all before him, and felt, deep inside, a small sense of justice at it that he knew he would never admit again, even to himself.
He banished it, then, with his vision of his future - there was no more future, just an endless empty present - and took another, a last look at Alina's childlike features, feeling them settle into his memory like a stone into frigid water.
Her cross was missing from her neck, but her fist was tightly closed.