The Inversion Method
(inspired by the song Watcher Of The Skies from the 1972 album Foxtrot)
Headnote: This dramatic, hyperbolic fragment is all that survives from our forefathers’ records. The trite prose raises as many questions as it answers. How the author could have known the described details (what the Captain was thinking, what constituted Perenyite vigour and youth, and the on-board discussion), when it has taken nearly thirty years of research for our own scholars to verify the few known facts of that fateful day, will remain a mystery. Nevertheless, despite its highly questionable literary merit, it is the only apparent ‘eyewitness’ account that remains.
Captain Chervik of the Perenyites raised his eyes to look at the unknown planet around which his ship had just entered orbit. As he expected, more or less it appeared like every other M-class planet he’d colonised over the years. Life hadn’t surprised him for a very long time, and he didn’t expect it to here. This planet’s only distinction was that it would be his planet, the last he would colonise. After he employed the inversion method for the final time, he’d hand command over to a younger officer. And then Captain Chervik would finally retire and settle on a conquered world.
Squatting on the bridge of his enormous planet-colonising ship, he glanced down and reflected how the saggy membranes on his fin had lost their elasticity, and tried to remember a time when the sticky, green skin had glistened with the vigour of youth.
“All one-thousand-and-sixty-four charger units have cleared the bay, Captain, and are proceeding on the standard dispersal flight path.”
Chervik threw the helmsman a nod of acknowledgement, and then looked back at the planet on the screen as the tiny black dots representing the charger units splayed out and disappeared. “Time to position?” he asked.
“And how far out is the admiral?”
A navigator crouching on the other side of the bridge responded, slapping the top of his head with an idle fin. “Making good time Captain,” he rasped. “Her ship estimates arrival on site in three-and-a-half hours.”
“Any new response pulses from her?”
“Nothing since the clearance confirmation she sent an hour ago.”
“Are the clean-up crews standing by?”
“Yes sir,” answered the helmsman.
“Any potential long-term damage issues?”
“Scans have located one hundred and fifty active nuclear reactors which are likely to be severely damaged; each has a crew assigned to it. There are several thousand further traces of fissionable material, but they’re showing little or no activity.”
“What are the planet’s tectonic-plate tolerances?”
“Slightly low compared to the median, but well within inversion limits.”
“Very well. Trim tangential velocity and bring us into final position, where the clean-up crews will have swiftest access.”
Below them the charger units moved in silence and fanned out to encompass the globe at equal distances. Each five-metre-long cylinder had a diameter of two metres, and none made any effort to conceal itself as it followed the mother ship’s instructions to reach a certain location above the planet.
To cheer himself, Chervik thought about his legacy: over forty thousand children. Even now one of his favourite concubines rested in the medical bay about to excrete another batch of two hundred embryos, all of which could expect to survive to adulthood thanks to Perenyite medicine. In a few hours he would show them this planet, cleared of its indigenous life just for them. After clearing hundreds of planets, he would retire at last, to stop the endless journeying, settle on this planet with his concubine, and raise this latest batch.
As with many older Perenyites, Captain Chervik found the imperative occupation of colonising planets a problem tedious beyond distraction. The issue was not finding suitable planets: this arm of the galaxy offered hundreds of thousands of bodies on which water existed as a liquid in at least one region. The problem was the life which had already evolved on them; or, more particularly, any sentient life which had developed. Until Perenyite science developed the inversion method, indigenous, sentient life forms always found a way to cling on to their world.
Once a planet had been conquered, with monotonous regularity the natives struck back, always managing to survive in isolated pockets. It didn’t matter whether the method employed was orbital bombardment, or an engineered genetic attack, poisoning the atmosphere, or any of the other old ways of clearing a planet, with stealth the natives would regroup and attack the Perenyites. On some planets the mopping up operation had been continuing for decades, while in other cases the Perenyites found themselves obliged to destroy the planet when eradication of existing life proved impossible.
What annoyed the Perenyites the most was the natives’ irritating tenacity. Not one race on the thousands of conquered worlds had accepted the obvious conclusion that evolution was cosmic in scope, not merely planetary. Interstellar propagation was no respecter of interplanetary space, and the Perenyites propagated like no other race.
As with all great discoveries, finding the solution to this problem involved a small measure of serendipity. An accident with the engines of a transport ship, which was using the gravity field of a planet to leave one of its moons, led Perenyite scientists to stumble on the simplest method of clearing a planet. Simple, yet devastating. The inversion method was brilliant in its directness, guaranteeing the swiftest annihilation of all sentient, indigenous life forms, while leaving the planet itself relatively undamaged and available for colonisation.
Against this ultimate weapon there could be no defence, and the Perenyites could look forward to a peaceful future.
The helmsman gargled in humour, the slick mucus on his body gleaming with the vitality of youth.
“Are the natives getting restless?” Chervik asked.
“A little excitable,” came the reply. “I’ve deciphered one of their main languages, Captain. But it’s all chatter, something about finally making ‘contact’. They’re not advanced enough to be able to do anything to trouble us. Would you like to give them any parting council before we send them on their way?”
Chervik waved a fin laconically in dismissal.
There was silence for a moment, and then the helmsman said: “All inversion charger units are in position, Captain.”
A new voice from the rear of the bridge said: “Captain, request permission to turn the inversion charger units over to automatic.”
At once the charger units activated, creating a false shell at the edge of the globe’s atmosphere, and the Earth’s gravitational field was, at a stroke, inverted. The gravitational acceleration of 9.807 metres per second towards the planet’s surface was reversed to the same rate of acceleration away from the surface.
At once innumerable billions of tons of water leapt skywards, taking icebergs from the polar regions and surrounding all atolls, small islands and coastal regions in flumes of seawater. Thousands of boats and ships of every description fell skywards. In the deserts, millions of hectares of sand flew into the air.
On the daylight side of the planet, exposed people fell away from the world and plummeted, arms and legs flapping, into the sky. Cars, trucks, trains, buses, rickshaws, bikes and every other form of transport dropped from the ground. Elevated roads and bridges cracked and snapped and fell away from the earth. Those working in buildings, factories, yards, docks, offices, mines, on production lines in thousands of places, were thrown into the ceiling, often to be crushed by the machinery and other equipment at which they were working.
On the night side, the sleeping millions were woken - if they were woken at all - by freshly broken heads, ribcages and legs, squashed into the paint and plasterwork and wood of their bedroom ceilings, pinned there by their beds. In every conceivable form of human occupation, from the most primitive, desert-bound straw-and-mud huts to the most advanced and (believed to be) secure defence establishments, stunned surprise was superseded by fear and injury. And all this in only the first second.
In the next second, when all of the water and sand and people and other trifles had reached ten metres from the surface, deeper, more structural events began. Far under the ground enormous fissures started to yawn open. The structural integrity of millions of buildings was irreversibly compromised as floors collapsed onto each other, squashing the occupants like flies. With piercing shrieks, the roofs of residential houses wrenched free and fell into the sky, to be followed by chunks of walls and floors of every size and shape. In taller buildings there was no pattern: in some cases the roof broke away alone with floors and walls chasing them, eager not to be left behind. In other cases tens of concrete storeys might concertina together before almost the whole building made its leap towards the clouds. Most of the taller buildings broke off at ground level, as a billion steel reinforcing rods shrieked in protest.
By the third second, fifteen percent of the Earth’s human population was either dead or beyond saving, and this figure increased by the nanosecond. Large, mature trees leapt from the ground, dragging mounds of earth with their roots. Entire coastal regions broke away and plunged skywards. The underground guts of thousands of cities disintegrated and fell. Planet-wide the destruction was relentless: whole tracts of forest began to peel away, white-and-grey mountain tops were wrenched free to fall like some angry giant’s teeth, until, finally, the Earth’s very crust started to loosen.
Up was certainly the new down.
The computers on the Perenyite colonisation ship monitored the charger units. Each M-class planet has its own characteristics, and the inversion method had to be applied more exactly than any Perenyite fin could manage. With data relayed from the chargers, the computers estimated the optimum duration: long enough to ensure the eradication of all sentient life, but not an instant longer to minimise the cleaning-up operation. Thus, 11.617 seconds after initiation the computers shut down the charger units, and the Earth’s gravitational field instantly reverted to normal.
At this stage, still half of the human race remained alive. But now came the most devastating aspect of the inversion method. Those who had not immediately been crushed to death or expired of heart attacks and other shock-induced ailments, abruptly found themselves over one hundred metres above the planet’s surface, with no means of remaining there nor of making a safe descent. They might be out in the open, in some kind of vehicle, or they might be trapped in part of a building. But wherever they were, they did not have a great deal of time to become accustomed to the new state of affairs before the previous state of affairs was suddenly reinstated.
In addition, all of the trillions of tons of water and sand also began their descent, as did vast swathes of land of varying thicknesses, not to mention several billion tons of masonry and other debris. Over the next half an hour, the result was the inundation of most land masses, numerous earthquakes on all major fault-lines, several serious volcanic eruptions, the complete destruction of ninety-nine percent of all manmade objects, and the eradication of the human race.
Captain Chervik stared impassive as he viewed the image in front of him. Rows of charger units flew silently to return to the storage bay above the expanse of the planet’s atmosphere, now cloudy and opaque from all the chaos. From the top right hand corner of the screen, he saw shuttles containing the clean-up crews proceed towards the planet. In a few hours, the admiral would arrive to congratulate him, and he would begin his retirement in peace on a new world.
Chervik wasn’t given to sentimentality, but he thought about his two hundred new children with warmth. In a very short time, his concubine would have more batches, and within just a few years those offspring would also reproduce. Soon this planet would have hundreds of thousands of inhabitants, who would, to some degree, qualify as native. His memories drifted to the thousands of children he’d already-
Endnote: And this is all that was recoverable from the damaged data carrier. We can but wonder at the more comprehensive and sober records which must also have been made in that period, but the accident eighty-five years ago completely destroyed the facilities of the moonbase in which records were stored. However hackneyed and painful on the eye, this fragment remains our most important relic.