Never thought you'd witness the end of our world? George did not either.
THE FLOWERS OF ARMAGEDDON
"Sir, the drone is in position. Hovering at ten thousand feet and ready to transmit. We are proceeding as planned," the grizzled Sergeant next to him spoke while working the controls of the console. "The data is streaming in."
"How long, Pat?" George asked.
"Ten minutes, at best, Sir," the soldier replied. "A couple more, if we somehow slow them down. Darn it. We lost the signal."
"Have the men prepare both their weapons and souls, Sergeant. I want us to make a stand worthy of a legend."
"Aye, Sir," the Sergeant replied as he hurried down the line of soldiers. The repetitive sound of safeties switched to full auto echoed along the gently sloped hill.
Major George Neroff exhaled heavily and took a moment to appreciate the delicate beauty of his surroundings. The sky was rich in sapphire and pearl-white hues while lush green meadows stretched to where the eye could see. Ancient trees rose to the heavens, their leaves gently swaying in the wind. The unearthly serenity calmed his mind... yet, that was but the calm before the devastating tempest. Their end was near.
"You look awfully calm, General, given what will be upon us in a couple of minutes," George noted while examining his XM-102 assault system. The rifle's barrel bore the signs of heavy use, as did the polymer handguard. For all its rugged appearance, the weapon in his hands had a distinctly lethal beauty to it. Its sleek lines concealed the heavy firepower of the smart munitions launcher and the rail gun held under its carbon-plastic skin. With a quantum nano-processor faster than the supercomputers of old guiding its munitions, his rifle was the perfect tool of war... or so he had thought. It had served him well, both during Armageddon and the bloodbath that followed it. Today would be their last day together... but it was not time for a 'good bye' yet.
"There is a moment in every soul's life when we have to meet our destiny," Raphael, the heavenly warrior sitting next to him answered cryptically after a moment in deliberation. A mysterious smile appeared on the archangel's lips as the ethereal being fastened the old-fashioned gilded cuirass. "Perhaps, our time has come.... but fear not. In the end, this is nothing but a spin in the cosmic wheel of existence."
George wished he could grasp the bigger picture, just like the immortal being next to him did. As a human soldier in the army of Heaven, George had roamed many battlefields and slain those who had opposed the Light. He had obeyed orders and many demons and their human followers had met their end from his hand. He had killed, but he knew his was the right cause. Well, it was the right cause but was it truly his? Was he, in fairness, the righteous type or was he hiding behind his faith?
His faith? George appreciated the irony of it. How could he believe when, in fact, he knew?
His mind's answer was hardly a surprise but his instincts begged to differ. It was not faith keeping him going--it was his utter stubbornness to concede defeat, either mental or physical. His driving force was his desire to win at all costs, to always emerge victorious no matter the odds. Judgment Day was upon him, however, and he had to make inner peace.
He sighed. Inner peace? Such an easy concept, yet so elusive. He had been a servant to a greater Lord but was his obedience but a convenient excuse for his sins? His had been a lifetime of blood and death. Would he have chosen a different path had he been presented with another chance at life? Probably not.
Regret was not a word in his dictionary but before the end, he wished he could somehow catch a glimpse of the divine purpose that led the host of Heaven to march on the Gates of Hell. He wished what drove him was a higher calling, a cause greater than him. With all his heart he wanted to believe. He prayed he was worthy for what was to come. He hoped God would forgive his missteps before everything was over with.
Whom was he kidding? There would be no absolution... He would never earn the right to take his place amongst the men and women who had sacrificed their lives in His name. What he could do, once again, was make it through the night. Easier said than done...
He remembered the angel's words. A spin in the cosmic wheel of existence? He sneered. He was quite familiar with the virtues the Generals of Light preached and the archangel's words hardly surprised him. He had heard the sermon countless times, even as he was sending men to their deaths in the Lord's name. He knew he should not fear what was to come.
Yet, he could not help but hold on to the last spark of life still lingering in his mortal body, delay the inevitable for another precious moment. He was a man alive in a world already dead but he refused to call it quits just yet. His mindset had gotten him through many carnages where beings far worthier than him had perished. Whether George liked it or not, the archangel was correct, as always. The time for him to stare into Death's eyes had come...
George inhaled slowly, enjoying the fresh scent of lavender. He closed his eyes for a second. Who would have thought he would be here? He had always imagined the ones to witness the fall of this world would be the most worthy, the souls who had proven their purity over the course of the Ages. He almost expected Saint George to ride out on his white horse and lead him into battle once again; hear Saint Peter speak to the mass of enlightened souls and give them the strength to face their deepest fears and nightmares.
He remembered the magnificence of the Heavenly host as its angels, Gabriel and Michael in command, descended from Heaven in all their otherworldly perfection. They had to be here, not him; they, who held powers his mind could hardly comprehend.
Instead, the last force facing the nemesis advancing on the Gates of Heaven was a ragtag group of desperate souls like him, men who refused to believe their end had come. The worthy were already dead.
"How did it come to this, General?" George asked, his eyes begging for an answer that would alleviate his throbbing conscience.
"We destroyed the delicate balance holding our world together, George," the archangel answered, "and we unleashed a force that had to restore the balance of Good and Evil; of Light and Darkness. In the end, our glorious victory over the Legions of Hell proved to be our undoing."
George did not pretend he understood what his commander explained. All he knew was that their position would soon be overrun by a ruthless enemy who had swept everything before it. Earth was already an endless desert of sand and water no living creature inhabited. Not a damn thing... and here they were, the last survivors of that Apocalypse, beings from both the physical and ethereal realm, preparing for their last fight. He wanted to believe God would help them in their moment of greatest need; that He would bring victory when defeat was so close. He wanted to believe, but then again his countless years on the fields of battle had given him a rather cynical sense of realism. The feeling in his gut insisted if salvation was coming, God would not have waited that long already.
"But who are they, General?" George said. "Who would have the power to defy the strength of the Almighty?"
"I wish I could answer these questions, George," Raphael spoke back, his fiery sword flickering in the dusk, "but in truth my understanding of our enemies is not much better than yours. Whoever they are, their creator has given them a mean streak none of us can match. Not your race, not even mine... In the end, that entity's destructive imagination proved too much for us and the Almighty to handle."
"I am afraid I do not understand, General. We are not fighting some illusionary enemy, some unrealized fear. We are combating a foe leaving ghastly ruins where once great cities had risen. I have seen the enemy withstand nuclear attacks that did not so much as slow it down. They are real, General; even in my mortal ignorance I know this much."
"Your logic is not necessarily correct, George," the angel explained patiently. "All creation stems from the mind, George, and hence the power of the mind is greater than you or even I can possibly imagine. Perhaps the reason why we cannot defeat that army is because we cannot defeat our deepest nightmares. They are a part of us and feed on our fear and uncertainty. Although you are probably correct that our enemy is real, the beings we are facing exist in a reality even we, angels, cannot describe. Whoever they are, their Master has made them the perfect extermination tool. They seek and destroy life as though they cannot survive without doing so. They are invulnerable for they live in our subconscience, a place where no matter our effort we cannot harm them."
"They are real, General, trust me on it," George objected stubbornly again. "You have seen the destruction left in their wake, just like I have. That is no trick that my mind plays on me..."
"Reality is defined by how we perceive the world, George. What is real for me or for my kin may not be real for you. Our minds shape our reality and the simple truth is some minds are greater than others. We are pitted against a spirit of infinite mind, a conscience that we perceive as evil, but a being without which the Universe cannot even exist."
"You lost me there, General."
"My race has always suspected there was something out there, a spirit that kept the balance of Life and Death, of Good and Evil, of every aspect of our existence. We served the ultimate Good. We failed to realize that Good cannot exist without Evil, Life without Death. We failed to comprehend that there is a greater force, greater even than the Almighty, a being that cares little whether we are righteous or corrupt, pure of heart or wicked, alive or dead. We never considered that by vanquishing our sworn enemy, we tipped the scale and the only possible consequence was for us to suffer the same fate we brought upon the Devil and his minions. Something had to balance the scales again and that something was our utter annihilation. In our ultimate victory, we suffered our ultimate loss..."
"So all our glorious victories..."
"Led to our downfall," Raphael finished for him.
"What I know for certain, General, is that I am about to empty all my ammo into the first sucker who walks across the valley. I don't care whether they are dreams or real, all I want is for a target to shoot at..."
"You will get your chance, George," the angel replied as it stared across the Fields of Eden.
A dark cloud had appeared over the horizon, a solid mass of utter blackness George recognized rather clearly. Wherever the cloud passed, nothing but charred lifeless ground remained. The cloud engulfed life with such hunger and precision that he wondered whether there truly might be something more to their enemy.
He sighed. Thinking too much about it would not help. With his right thumb George switched the safety to full auto as well. Whatever those bastards were, they were about to experience the impact of his magnetically accelerated bullets. Today, he was not going to be conservative with his ammo. He was going to fire every single bullet, every rocket.
Men knelt and sent silent prayers to their deity, the Almighty, who was probably preparing for His last fight, just like they were. Soon it was to begin.
In the blink of an eye, with a speed that defied reality, the cloud descended upon them and the army of Heaven unleashed its full might. The last surviving angels brought Heavenly fire upon their enemy, while he and his fellow humans greeted the invader with the smart bullets of their guns. It mattered not. The cloud moved closer and as it engulfed the first lines of defense, morbid screams echoed through the evening air. He refused to go out like that. With his finger on the trigger, he kept on firing. The cloud inched closer and closer. His mind locked out the screams of his dying brethren. His eyes were fixated on the grotesque mass of solid darkness as his gun continued to spit its deadly discharge.
His rifle went silent as he reloaded. He breathed heavily and a curse left his lips. Complete darkness engulfed him yet he kept on firing. Whether a second passed or an hour, he could not tell. With a roar leaving his mouth, his last bullet flew out of the barrel and he dropped to his knees expecting his imminent death. The cloud was everywhere, swallowing any and every tiny piece of Heavenly light in its infinite darkness. He exhaled for one last time and then it struck him. The sudden awareness was a mental hit, more painful than any wound of the flesh that he had ever received. The shouts of the dying had ceased... and a morbid silence surrounded him.
He did not bother to look around. He instinctively realized he was the last soul from his world who was still alive. The very last... Formless shapes swirled around him, some teasing his soul with promises of eternal bliss, others threatening him with never-ending pain. He smirked and dropped his gun on the now lifeless ground.
His mind was finally ready to give up. The darkness penetrated his body and he felt his lifeforce beginning to dissipate. He sensed the wild joy of his attackers and, for a single moment, he imagined them as little kids who rejoiced after having finally put the pieces of a puzzle together. It surprised him that he felt at ease... he had thought there would be more pain, more suffering. Before he closed his eyes for a sleep he would never wake up from, he registered a voice that spoke in a language unfamiliar to him. His mind refused to understand, yet he somehow comprehended the message nevertheless.
Our work here is done...
His vision blurred and he could hardly tell the cloud from the hopelessness in his own soul. And then, he noticed them, just on the brink of his vision. There they were, a tiny pair of plants, spared by the spreading darkness; a pair of plants defying the logic of pure and utter destruction surrounding them. One was a beautiful flower, its pale exquisite form hinting at its future brilliance. The other was a minuscule weed, little more than a pest seeking to cuddle with its stunning cousin. And then a vision flashed in his mind, a sensation stronger than the cloud, even stronger than Death. He observed those plants populate a world of infinite life, of struggle and beauty, of Good and Evil, of life and death. He witnessed the rise and fall of glorious civilizations, of virtue and vice. He watched in awe as the two entangled plants continued their eternal dance through the heartbeat of an entire world. Those two tiny islands of life carried his resolution, his stubbornness, his thirst for life and the realization presented him with the one feeling he had always searched for but had never found. Inner peace. He smiled even as his soul joined the cloud that had taken everything else away from him.
No, you bastards; your work will never be done...