The Invasion Will Be Slightly Delayed
Commander Segh’rr ran his baleful tongue over his scaly lips as he studied the blue and green marble on the view screen. It was all he could do to restrain himself from mashing any of the buttons (each labeled with a graphically descriptive word for “kill”) resting beneath his mighty fist. It would be far quicker, but even the iron code of the Kro’dyl Empire contained its little exceptions for the joy of slaughter.
“Lieutenant Ryn’ssh, status report,” rumbled Segh’rr.
“Terra-3, known as ‘Earth’ to local species,” said Ryn’ssh, faithfully perched over his superior’s shoulder. “Dominant species is a frail hominid of average intelligence and weak honor. Radio activity and high-level construction suggests an advanced civilization.”
“Then perhaps they will have some fight in them,” said Segh’rr.
“Any of our annihilation devices would be suitable to collapse their feeble systems, and you need only select the tool of their agonizing departure,” said Ryn’ssh.
“What subtle pleasures are there in the use of gamma emitters, mass drivers or extinction drones?” said Segh’rr as he ascended from the command chair. “It will be good for our future chattel to see the face of their oppressor.”
“I expected as much, Commander,” said Ryn’ssh. “The landing vessels are ready and the landing parties are assembled and awaiting your orders.”
“Excellent.” Segh’rr gestured to a pallid figure standing nearby. “Wis’gh! Prepare a case of Blood of the Conquered. This will not take long.”
“Of course, your Heartlessness,” said Wis’gh, retreating into the shadows.
Segh’rr checked his armaments, passing his blunt claws lovingly over each weapon. “We’ll destroy a few of their buildings during our descent. That should scare the apes out of their holes. Ryn’ssh, where is our landing?”
“At the site that radio activity suggests is their communications center, Commander,” said Ryn’ssh. “Also a major population center. Casualties will be high.”
“They’d better be,” said Segh’rr.
To any proper Kro’dyl Commander, there was no delight in life like the initial intrusion into a soon-to-be subjugated planet. He watched with rapturous delight as the transorbital torpedoes disintegrated the mighty buildings around the assault craft. He could already see the silly creatures running for terror beneath him, some losing their sense and hiding amid the rubble, some staring up at the heavens in the futile hope that mercy would be forthcoming. The landing was a rough one, always a good sign—it meant the possibility that they had landed on one of the weaklings, earning him a kill before even taking to the field.
“Commander, I’m getting some anomalous readings,” said Ryn’ssh. “We might wish to perform a quick analysis of the surface before you disembark.”
“Silence, Lieutenant, you’ll not quash my glory with analysis.” Segh’rr stormed down the landing bridge, his handheld ion disruptor leading the march. After so many annexations, he knew the speech by heart, and belted it out with malicious pleasure. “FEEBLE, INFERIOR BEINGS, BOW DOWN BEFORE YOUR NEW MASTER! I AM COMMANDER SEGH’RR OF THE INVINCIBLE KRO’DYL EMPIRE! YOUR PITIFUL HOME IS NOW THE LATEST PART OF AN INTERGALACTIC DYNASTY THAT RUNS THE BREADTH OF THE VIRGO SUPERCLUSTER! YOUR NATIONS AND KINGDOMS ARE SPECKS BEFORE THE UNSTOPPABLE WRATH OF…” Segh’rr paused, his glorious cadence broken by a feeling that something was awry. “…Where is everyone?”
The street was empty. No one had run out to grovel before their conquerors. No one was cowering in the alleys. No bodies lay in the street. Except for a faint echo of Segh’rr own magnificent voice, there was no sound and no life.
Ryn’ssh raced out to his Commander’s side. “Sir, this was the anomaly I mentioned. While the trappings of civilization still function, there is no trace of the hominids themselves.”
Segh’rr whipped around and clocked his Lieutenant square across the jaw, knocking the officer to one knee. “THAT’S THE SORT OF THING YOU TELL ME!”
“…I’m…sorry, Commander,” said Ryn’ssh.
Segh’rr gave his Lieutenant a parting kick before returning his attention to the street, still aggravatingly devoid of victims. “They’re here somewhere, I know it. They’re hiding in deeper holes. We’ll just have to take this miserable rock apart until we find some trace of these cowards!”
Then there was a trace of movement in one of the half-demolished buildings. A small figure appeared, diminutive before the great Kro’dyl warriors. He was a pale creature with a thick crop of hair and an expression that Segh’rr recognized as a “smile” from the other lesser species he had encountered. “Hello there! My name is Billy. Welcome to Earth!”
Segh’rr advanced on Billy, brandishing the disruptor. “Mind your tongue, ape. Your planet is now part of the invincible Kro’dyl Empire. Surrender now, and you can choose between being servant and prey.”
“I sense from your speech that you are a warlike race, bent on conquest,” said Billy.
“Is your species stupid as well as feeble?” said Segh’rr, jamming the disruptor in Billy’s face. “Bring out your weak-willed Commanders that we may negotiate the terms of your supplication!”
“I’m sorry, the leaders of Earth are not available,” said Billy, not flinching at the sight of the weapon.
“You defy me?” said Segh’rr. “I WILL DISEMBOWEL YOU ON THE SPOT, HOMINID!”
Billy put on a wider grin. “I’m sorry, I did not understand that last comment, or it was not a response that has been programmed into my memory. Please ask again.”
“A machine? THEY GREET ME WITH A MACHINE!?” Segh’rr stepped back and squeezed the trigger on his disruptor. A beam of ruby light shot out and knifed cleanly through Billy’s face, blowing off the top of the android’s head and knocking the remaining husk to the ground. “THIS IS WHAT I THINK OF YOUR MACHINES! NOW GREET ME AS I DESERVE!”
There was a flash of blue light from the building and a new Billy appeared, smiling the same as his now-defunct forerunner. “Hello there! My name is Billy. Welcome -”
Segh’rr cut off the robot’s greeting with a blow from his ceremonial maiming hatchet, swinging it again and again until the robot was reduced to a steely pile of disfigured parts. There was another blue flash, and another robot appeared.
“Hello there! My name is Billy.”
Segh’rr grabbed this Billy with a roar and smashed the robot against the ground until its head flew clear of its chassis. There was another flash of light. “Hello there! My name is Billy. Welcome to Earth!”
Grumbling, Segh’rr sheathed his various weapons. “Fine. Tell me where I can find the inhabitants of this planet.”
“I’m afraid they’re not here right now,” said Billy. “The human race grew weary of having to repel forces that reminded them of their own short-sighted hubris and lust for conquest. So they’ve gone on a long journey into the depths of space. Their precise date of return is unknown. However, if you wish to colonize this planet, no resistance will be offered.”
“WE COULD HAVE COLONIZED ANY PLANET IN THIS BACKWATER GALAXY!” shouted Segh’rr. “I TRAVELED HERE WITH DREAMS OF SPLENDID BATTLE, THAT MY BLOOD BE EXERCISED, THAT MY DEEDS FIND THEIR PLACE AMONG THE HISTORY SONGS OF THE IMMORTAL KRO’DYL EMPIRE!”
“It seems that you have just made an epic declaration of the honor of your culture,” said Billy. “We humans are always interested in learning of extraterrestrial cultures, even when those cultures demand our deaths. Please follow me into our lounge and you can make contact with the human exodus fleet as soon as it is available.”
Billy turned and walked cheerfully back into the building, gesturing for Segh’rr to follow. The Commander drew his disruptor and glared back at his men. “I will deal with this. Mind the surface. Eliminate anything that moves.”
“Of course, Commander,” said Ryn’ssh, massaging his jaw. “We will hold until your safe return.”
Segh’rr followed the infuriating android into the building and down a flight of stairs that extended implausibly far into the depths of the soil. It ended at a pristine white room filled with folding chairs and tables, some nauseatingly gentle music piping in from unseen speakers. Segh’rr wasn’t alone here. The other denizens advanced on the door, brandishing a mix of weapons—energy blades, plasma rifles, flamethrowers, or their own inborn tools of death. Segh’rr responded in kind, drawing his disruptor and waving it at the new targets.
“Hold it everyone, hold it! It’s not the humans!” One of the horde, a supple-skinned red creature with a jetpack and more than a few cybernetic implants, jumped between Segh’rr and the others. “We got company, folks. Oh hey, you’re with the Kro’dyl, right? We did some work for you guys a while back.”
“Who are you?” said Segh’rr, still waving the disruptor.
“Okay, quick introductions.” The red creature cleared his throat. “They call me Crisin of Agolgus. And your name, sir?”
Segh’rr lowered his weapon and puffed out his chest. “I am Segh’rr, Commander of the Main Conquest Expedition.”
“Super. All right everyone, this is Commander Segh’rr of Kro’dyl, easily one of the most storied and expansive of the galactic tyrannies. Now, Commander…” Crisin pointed at one of the others, a dun-skinned creature with a sizable forehead and clad in an armored frock. “This is Prelate Crom of the Sacred Epochal Kingdom.”
“Followers of the Universal Philosophy.” Crom stood straight and true, speaking in a firm but cool voice. “The Philosophy bestowed by the Great Central Will, the Progenitor of the Animus, Sustainer of the Psychic Firmament, Eradicator of the Ignorant, Designer of-”
“Please, Prelate, I’ll do the introductions, that way we can get back to business in a reasonable time.” Crisin next pointed at a thing that looked like an artillery battery with legs. “This is XA-371293 of the Titanium Legion, bane of all organic life…” Next was an enormous mantis-like creature that emitted a strange tone that almost sounded like words. “…This is an Arch Swarm Queen from the Regulus horde. We can’t really make heads or tails of her language, but she stopped trying to claw us to shreds a while ago so we assume she understands us.” In the last seat was a mechanized spacesuit with a tangle of inky tentacles and eyestalks emerging from the neck hole. “…And this…uh…individual heralds from the Great Black Primordial Ocean on the Lost Forbidden Planet beyond the Coma Cluster. He doesn’t talk much, and when he does…”
The mass of tentacles began to twitch, and Segh’rr could hear a whispery voice: “Madness chaos torment terror murder hatred.”
“…Yeah, it’s pretty much like that. And I’m with the Sanguine Claw, finest mercenary corps in the known universe. Give us a name and a number and we’ll put that many holes in it. Pow pow pow, just like that.” Crisin lowered himself into one of the folding chairs. “Now that we’re all friends, I’ll catch you up. All of us have an interest in these humans—that’s what they call themselves, by the way—beyond the land they control. So we figure we divide up the geography—blindly and randomly, so it’ll be fair—and those sections will be our hunting grounds when the humans come back.”
“Hmph.” Segh’rr carefully lowered himself into one of the folding chairs. “Very well. I’ll listen to your proposal and communicate it to my superiors.”
“We were actually taking a break from the planning session,” said Crom.
“Sure, just kick on back,” said Crisin. “It’s not so bad. I’ve spent time in much worse places.”
Segh’rr stared at the five would-be conquerors arrayed before him. None spoke—they took it in turns to rock back and forth in their chairs, adjust their garments, stare at the slightly grimier parts of the otherwise spotless room. Sometimes it looked like someone was going to speak, but the room stayed silent.
Finally, XA-371293 leaned forward. “So, filthy obsolete organic, how many of my terrestrial synthetic brethren did you destroy on your way in?”
“You speak of the one that calls itself Billy,” said Segh’rr. “I destroyed three.”
“Hey, you’re quicker than my guys, then,” said Crisin. “They capped six before we realized they were gonna keep coming forever.” The tentacled horror raised four of its mechanical digits. “Caught on faster than him, too.”
Segh’rr groaned under his breath. “Does this not seem strange to any of you?”
“The greater mysteries of the universe are understood only by the Central Will,” said Crom.
“Enough,” said Segh’rr. “How long have you been here?”
“I showed up a rotation or two ago,” said Crisin. “Same with the rest of you, right?”
“And you’ve had supplies?” said Segh’rr.
“The Billies take good care of us,” said XA-371293. “They supply me with electrochemical energy as well as solid nutrition for your pathetic organic digestive tracts.”
“How could the hominids know about our individual needs in advance?” said Segh’rr.
“They’re more advanced than we thought?” said Crisin. “Look, don’t sweat it. All our ships are holding the perimeter, waiting to hear back from our respective bosses. Our men wouldn’t let anything bad happen.”
Segh’rr kicked aside his chair. “There are no ships on the ground or in orbit.”
“Really?” Crisin rubbed his chin with his metallic hand. “That’s, uh…really?”
“All right, so we’ve got Exterra Green Cards set up for your whole crew. They’ll be good for two years, then you can apply for something more permanent. We’re thinking of setting you up in our Chronos Beta colony, the climate should be very cozy for you boys.”
Lieutenant Ryn’ssh reclined in the command chair as he watched the face of Captain Ramos dance across the hailing screen. “You are as good as your word, Captain.”
“Hey, we treat our friends right,” said Ramos. “And you Kro’dyl guys are friends, just like the Epochals and the Sanguine Claw mercs—I mean, it takes some real guts to just ditch your commanders like that.”
“And if you’re feeling any guilt, don’t,” said Ramos. “The Billy network can keep your commander alive and healthy.”
Ryn’ssh dabbed at his weeping jaw with a cloth. “Yes…wouldn’t want the Commander to suffer.”
Wis’gh stepped to the command chair. “Lieutenant, do you need treatment for your mandible?”
“It will heal,” said Ryn’ssh.
“Perhaps a glass of the Blood of the Conquered will ease your suffering?” said Wis’gh.
“Eugh…never cared for the stuff.” Ryn’ssh turned back to the hailing screen. “Captain, I understand that there is a beverage called ‘champagne’ that hominids use to celebrate.”
“I’ll fix you boys up with a few bottles from my private stash,” said Ramos. “See you at Chronos Beta.”
“Closing frequency.” Ryn’ssh mashed his palm on the control panel.
“Lieutenant?” said Wis’gh. “You may have hit an unintended button.”
“Oh? Which button was that?”
“I believe it was the button to launch a mass driver strike back at the Commander’s last known location.”
“Did I?” Ryn’ssh put up his feet. “Such a shame.”