“Is the pressure getting to you, dear ?” The tone of Lady Forthwith-Huntington’s question was not solicitous.
Lady Forthwith-Huntington stood in the middle of a vast unwalled pillared chamber, on a dais of polished serpentine, around which flowed burbling waters. Four dark towering fountains, intricately carved in the shape of fantastic animals and inlaid with glowing gems, fed the waters. Surrounding the fountains lay a narrow beach of black sand, behind which in every direction stood a dark tropical forest. On all four sides of the chamber, the forest ended in mountain ranges, cunningly fashioned to provide the illusion of great distance and height.
Above the mountains, a thin band of the sky glowed pink with the last moments of twilight. In the dark above the twilight as in frames, the heavens were filled with the beauties of the universe: a spiral galaxy dominated one, a glowing, ghostly nebula another, a galaxy cluster another, and a ringed gas giant the last.
In each corner stood an onyx column, slender, deeply fluted, with a florid Corinthian capital, set, like the fountains, with glowing gemstones. Across the ceiling spread the Great Galactic Wall, strands of galaxies like pearls against a field of black. The entire structure, a thousand meters to the side and a thousand tall, was alive with subtle movement and sounds at the edge of hearing. The Construct was, it had to be admitted, beautiful.
Mistress Elizabeth Boward-Campanile knelt atop one of the black columns, her forearms held parallel above her bowed head, holding up the capital. Three other women topped the remaining columns in similar postures, their onyx bodies motionless.
“No, m’lady.” At that moment, a slight tremor passed through the entire structure. “Then what was that, pray tell?” One of Lady Forthwith-Huntington’s hands now rested on her hip.
Intelligences that might be called life forms gathered in the dark voids between the luminous galactic filaments. Presences were projected; some were present to the others merely as persistent ideas. A few had even arrived in space ships. The Greater Intelligences did not judge, but accepted whoever came in good will.
The gathering had taken 500,000,000 years; the decision a mere 100,000,000. The preliminaries had been surprisingly easy. The Greater Intelligences were able to provide a syntax suitable for discussions among the varied intelligences. Coordinating ethical systems had taken less than a million years. Analysis took the most time; possible courses of action were presented and discussed, and, finally, a plan was chosen and commitments made.
The Great Galactic Wall was an artifact indistinguishable from both magic and nature. The subtle science of the Greater Intelligences had seen its true and artificial nature 10 billion years ago. Others had seen hints, which when studied and piled together for a million years or so, gave more and more dire hints.
The Great Wall was truly a wall, a wall to keep others out. Dark matter had been manipulated to create it, and had shaped and arranged the galaxies behind it. Inside, the insatiable appetite for energy, the dreams of a Kardashev IV civilization, drove its builders.
Outside the wall, stars died too soon. Kardashev II civilizations died before their times, outside the Wall. Energy was being drained from what to the Builders of the Great Wall were the hinterlands. The gathered intelligences decided that this must stop.
Another tremor shook the Construct. This time, Mistress Katherine Barbican-Allbright, on the column diagonally across from Mistress Elizabeth Boward-Campanile, noticeably sagged under the weight of the sky. Despite the conceit of the Construct, the four Mistresses and Lady Forthwith-Huntington could see and hear each other in detail across the distances.
Mistress Elizabeth spoke: “M’lady, when may we be relieved?”
Lady Forthwith-Huntington sighed. “I am here to witness the Fall. You may not leave until I see it.”
“We are to die.” I was a simple statement.
“Come now. You – we – are all going to die.”
“We might live millions of years more. The Fall will be long.”
Lady Forthwith-Huntington sighed again. “Very well. I suppose a triviality like a few millions years more life might be important to some. I grow tired of this life. Our sad little imaginations cannot keep up with our abilities to satisfy them.” She shook her head. “What difference does it make if the barbarians breach the Wall? Let them come! You are dismissed.” She vanished from the Construct.
The four caryatides heaved together, impossibly thrusting the ceiling up off their forearms. The leapt from the columns as one, and vanished as they fell. The ceiling followed them down, the columns crumbled, and the Construct flickered and died.
Trillions of intelligences, wielding subtle engines, breached the Wall.
The looting began.