The alarm sounds its gentle, delicate electro-waltz. It does not wake me up; I have been awake for almost two hours now. Dreams are not safe anymore.
I stand up, knowing I cannot fool the kind tyrant that is my auto-manager. It will start bothering me in a few seconds if I do not get up, and in a few more it will start giving me the occasional shock just so I get to work.
For a minute, some rebellious part of myself wonders… Well, why not? Let it fry your brain. Make this a little harder on everybody. Or aren't you tired of this lie, of all the pretending? Do you really agree with the plan?
I do not. But no one person matters.
The rebellious impulse goes away, as usual. As I stand in my bedroom, a spartan habitat excavated from moon rock and covered in cold concrete, I check on that one thing we used to contain.
I observe the float, the screen of ultra-light nanogel where a goddess is dying, and will keep dying; she has been dying for a few hours now. She is the central foundation of the Border, and she has to be. Nothing else will stand the strain. Nothing else this real ever wanted to help us do what must be done.
I begin to dress up. Then I realize how pointless it has been for twelve years that I wear clothes at all.
While we could, we secured anomalies. When we were unable to do that anymore, at least we could contain the ones we already had, mining them for the most pitiful scraps of data we could extract. When we weren't able to do even that, we chose to do the one thing we were supposed to do. The one thing we intimately believed, in our core, to be right.
We protected them.
Not just from anomalies, but from the truth. From the lies we told ourselves, too. And from the sad, pathetic lies of omission we kept telling those who worked for us, hoping they would not feel curious. Hoping they wouldn't peek at the stars.
And so, a handful of them figured out that the universe was going to die.
Originally, this plan was to wait and keep our world as safe as possible from any threats, anomalies from beyond and inside alike hunted and imprisoned for the greater good; and, when the time came, we would simply go out, no fight, no fuss. If reality ended, then we would end with it.
Those who had ideas on how to solve the problem either contacted their superiors or waited until they were promoted. Eventually, they were in a position to change the original plan, and so they did.
The final activation sequence of such plan is about to begin. Phase two is already active and about to end. It will take a few minutes, so I have time to indulge in my feelings.
My desktop is made of wood. Real, earthly wood. A memento from my predecessor, an anachronism filled with memories; be it emotion or respect, I cannot bring myself to discard them. I find myself being regularly dragged to them instead. I cannot help but to be observe and study them, to lucubrate on how these small relics and prohibited things reached her hands. And I particularly cherish one of them, which I pull from the uppermost drawer.
I look at the protein-made model of a Star Womb. It is a magnificent thing, a massive, gargantuan thing. And it fits in the palm of my hand. My mind makes me feel that it is not right; it spawns worlds, how could it be so small?
I used to enter the nanogel projector rooms and ask the computer to model a few of them for me, around Earth. I know that, at such distance, their mutual gravity would disperse them and destroy Earth. But I marveled, I gaped at their incredible size, their infinite, inspiring majesty. In awe.
I gaze at the screen. It announces that Phase two will reach Earth in minutes. All gone now.
Of course, the grandiosity of such anomalies is not lost on me. It is not lost on many of us. There will be stories from beyond our light that will go forever unexplained, tales of survivors who saw other suns over other worlds, and sometimes just hints, clues to a greater universe… lost. We agreed that letting go is worth more than the alternative.
"We agreed." Nobody else did. Just us.
I feel like crying. If I close my eyes, I will see how the Sister of the Sun withers and dies again, writhing, her face frozen in pain as it snaps in pieces; so I do not.
Half-walking, half-jumping down the hall of my house (a small lunar bunker, well equipped but mostly just functional), I reach my terminal. It has a magnificent screen, hemispheric, capable of reproducing in real time and perfect tridimensionality every event that I am supposed to know about in the entirety of the Solar System.
For the past ten or so years, however, we have been euthanizing every single anomaly we knew of. There are not many alerts left to which I should pay attention to. There was a good reason: we did not want them to suffer what the Sister suffered.
Or so many other things, monsters and wonders alike, that we killed. We killed them just so we would remain hidden away.
Not just us, the Foundation; not even us, humanity; us, Sol.
Because, for a very long time, the Foundation almost lost everything.
For the longest time, we had to make concessions. We had to go all the way straight down to discreetly endorsing fascism, then all the way up to enacting the world's greatest farce; Foundation, Federation, just brands for the same product. Then, with the masses blind of nepenthe, we worked our backs by handling the heft of the world on our own, and expected it to get heavier; so we expanded.
Humanity is the Foundation now. The Foundation is Humanity now. Extricating one from the other now would leave one limping to its deathbed and the other pointless.
I digress. I check on the progress of Phase two, opening a float feed connected to a camera on the surface. The last wave of true starlight already passed Earth and I missed it. Stars have dulled, and most die out entirely as I look. Amused, I wonder if that one star can still see us, and whether we can tell what it thinks of this whole thing.
I open another float on the automated array of devices meant to monitor it. I smile. Threatening to the end.
I close it, and know that the star is dead. All stars are dead.
It looks promising. It did not use to, back then; our predecessors feared we would lose everything to fanatics or anomalies… but we won. Kings of the anthill that Earth had become. And even after winning, that was not enough.
Resources were scarce, even under our rule. We absorbed every group, every corporation, every nation; it was not yet enough. So we expanded even further.
Of course, as part of an ongoing effort to secure the secrecy of our project, we told the masses that interstellar travel was impossible, probably even dangerous to experiment with. It used to be, yet we developed it one hundred and twelve years ago. We used it to collect the resources required to implement the plan, most of them extrasolar in origin.
The populace believes the underlying physics of the universe are comfortingly solid, reliable and absolute. Therein lies yet another kind lie; C is as much a barrier as it is a protective wall: nothing of the sort.
The truth is far more complicated. Thousands of self-replicating ships were launched back in the first days of the project, when the shadow had barely begun to manifest. We did not deplete our own star system because we could reliably predict how much humanity would need it in the days after the plan was completed. Those ships traveled faster than light towards their colonies, loaded with three things: automated machinery, a strict schedule, and a dedicated workforce, inspired through a manufactured religion. Billions of them. A flourishing civilization on their own.
Most of the bulk of humanity is actually composed of what we like to call "E-Class Citizens," who called themselves "Exiles." The E-Class personnel, I am told, originally handled the securing of anomalies.
Now, as I and twelve others flip a switch, they are dead. Scattered across a fractured cosmos, a dozen worlds depleted of all useful materials… just to make certain that the Foundation had a chance at success. Their exile, and the stories and legends that surround it, is ended. A century of oral tradition, dedicated machine worship and astronomical mysticism, all of it a delicately engineered and projected memeplex, burnt in a second to never be remembered by anyone.
But the Overseers.
And lies were worth it, it was all worth it. For the first time in all of our history, an Overseer can look upon our works and say "Yes, we are safe. Yes, Humanity is safe. Yes, Earth is safe. The Foundation's mission is complete."
Earth will live. Humankind will develop, and wither, and eventually die when our sun dwindles and dies itself… unless we manage to trick ourselves out of this new conundrum, of course.
Because the Foundation will persevere. We persevered these past decades, and we succeeded. At the negligible cost of the rest of the universe, we escaped a threat that is now devouring all known space… perhaps all that once was, for lack of a better word, "real."
We do not know how long our countermeasures will last. But even that has been taken into account, of course. There are dozens of temporal sinks beyond the Oort Cloud, their size larger than the Moon, continuously bartering time out of a universe that has none left for itself. They siphon what little eons can be salvaged from it… My peers say that we cut its agony short. I believe euthanizing it without asking is still murder.
The Anchors we have deployed took almost a century of uninterrupted work to finish. They do keep at bay the simple horror of a predator that we, poor prey, are not evolved enough to outrun on our own. The entire thing requires an enormous array of Dyson statites to keep it going, barely active. And still, we know — I know that it is the right thing to do.
As I input the final activation sequence authorization and see how the other twelve do the same, I wonder if there was a right thing to do.
Of course, I know there is, and we did it. We vowed to protect humanity. Intellectually, I know how morally myopic this all sounds, to sacrifice the entire universe as bait while we built our own defense, our Infinite Border. But please, judge us kindly.
It is too big for us to picture. And we have seen the children. We have met the lovers. We have embraced the siblings. We have rebelled against the elders. We are humans, and we are egotistical, and self-centered, and ultimately, scared.
We want to live.
I hear weeping and prayer (prayer! Such cowardice! To whom should we pray? Would such prayers be even pondered, coming from us?) from my equals as the system comes online. The Border is now closed, for good. Forever.
I look through the float that shows the camera feed, knowing in advance what I will see: a black, starless night sky. All light from other suns, looming over other worlds forevermore trapped beyond the Border, dead void looking back at us. Fortunately, and thanks to the global alert systems, only a few human beings will be looking at it right now. Only B and a few select C personnel are supposed to look at it, and those are loyal enough as to take their amnestic course and let go of it.
If we say they can live without it, they can live without it. Memories are usually a burden, anyways.
Phase three is the most poetic and, I know, the most unnecessary part… but the others said it would bring a comfort to the masses that Ennui agents could not. Only the B-Class personnel dedicated to astrophysics will ever know the truth about the statites, and those will be told that the Border is a protective system that surrounds Sol; not a veil.
As its main systems come online, the immense microwave receivers gather the energy from the statites. By the billions, satellites deploy, designed to energize the Infinite Border, divert power to mirrors and reflectors and, for the lack of a better word, massive and extremely well-contained micronized stars. They are magnetically contained fusion reactors not larger than a small country, numbering in the thousands.
And finally, as the powerful space-bender tethers close the bleeding Border over itself, knitting it in a trillion fractal arcs around the furthest limits of the System, all the excess light recaptured from Sol is turned into further energy for the Infinite Border.
Now its name is legitimate: a few of these void-bridges bend the light until recreating the vague luminous path of the Milky Way, and Solar space is a perfectly closed Klein bottle. The Border now irradiates the Solar System with a fake starry night.
As the not-quite starlight crosses the few minutes that separate us from the statites, I try to imagine a bubble barely a few light-hours large. I try to imagine a teardrop as it detaches from the universe's face and drifts away.
Safe. Confined. Protected.
The few threats that remain are simple puppets, manufactured boogie men to keep the populace scared and trusting… plants and false flag operations are everyday business. Such lies are justified, as justified is the liberal application of force to make certain these harmless threats remain harmless.
And it works. Tonight, the universe died, and humanity will be none the wiser.
One by one, my now awkward homologues, of whom I know little beyond number and rank, congratulate each other and humanity on this achievement. A few, probably choking on their bullshit, are silent; whether they have killed themselves or chosen to go and sleep well, I have no idea. I do not really care.
One of them laughs at the bland joke another one makes. Idiots. We killed the universe tonight. No amount of levity would compare to the grandiosity of the crime, so there is no point in chastising them… again, I cannot even grasp it.
How does one compare it? To what? What Ethics Committee hearing would consider to judge this, never mind the fact that they always supported the program?
I ask the foodprinter for cold wine. Any wine, in copious enough quantities. The auto-manager replies that it can only serve me amounts insufficient for becoming drunk. Such are the duties of an Overseer that I must remain lucid, capable and sane.
It suggests I have some fresh soy milk instead.
I kick the dumb machine.
I scream at it.
I use every object I can find, my body included, to pound against it, scream against it. My muscles are weakened after living here for so long, and I do not realize that the damned thing stays unscathed despite my best efforts. The internal security system warns my memeticist, who makes sure the unknown A-Class personnel living in this unmarked, modular bunker is not insane with the madness of a thousand dark gods. Just merely furious.
Why? Well, none of their business.
I then keep hitting and hitting. I take the keyboard out of the screen, and smash it against the machine, the softform denting with each strike. I keep doing it, savage, angry, sad.
I now know why Phase three was necessary. I envy the masses. I envy those of us that will no doubt choose to forget this night and live their lives in peace. I envy my fellow Overseers, who laugh and sing and dance and pray.
Pray. My prayers are bleeding hands and a seething semblance. And I do need to pray.
A few hours later, the alarm rings again; twinkle twinkle, little star, it goes. I grunt. I have pending work and too little time to do it.
I decide to get up and ask the machine for a full meal. Life goes on, I think to myself.
I must fix this. I must fix her. And if there is no way to do so, I must at least make certain there is something else for humanity to discover, something else for humanity to marvel at.
I cannot stand that there are no other suns under which new things may be, just counterfeit starlight.
I cannot stand that, in our zeal to protect humanity, we placed it in a box.
In related news, a series of Arcology Control alerts have been announced all over the planet this past afternoon, Universal Time. While the specifics are not clear, an institutional source reports that Federation task forces may be soon conducting assaults on suspected sectarian holdouts in Mars and Europa…