The 411,013th Glorious Cycle of the Szann Dynasty
Emperor Szagg, of the Murtilon Empire rotated his virtual duplicate thoughtfully.
“Does this cape make me look un-aerodynamic?”
Grand Vizier Prang pretended to squint thoughtfully at the image before uttering well-rehearsed opinion.
“Perhaps the neutronium cape isn’t the most flattering armor, but we must preserve your safety above all else. With your broodling Szant about to undergo his final molting, it is my duty to do everything in my power to safeguard you, my lord.”
“You mean that it’s your hide too if that little bastard manages to do me in. I don’t see why I can’t just execute him now and spare us all the stress. Who’s gonna stop me?”
Prang clacked his mandibles together thrice in a gesture of deference.
“Oh, your majesty, if only it were that simple. But the losses we’ve sustained in the war have made your exalted position precarious. If you execute Szant without proof there will certainly be a revolt. He has supporters among the court and the commoners.”
“Yeah, yeah. He’s awfully free with his money, because he’s not running an empire. Maybe the next time we sack a planet I’ll have the plunder distributed to the populace at large.”
The Emperor took one last look at the virtual preview and sighed.
“Fine, bring me the cape. I’d rather wear it and look stupid than have my half-eaten corpse up for display in the throne room. We need to hurry or we’ll be late for the meeting with the admirals.”
The Vizier had been waiting for this moment; he’d already sent two attendants to fetch the neutronium cape. He summoned them into the Emperor’s dressing room and had them help Szagg adjust the built in anti-grav units until the cape rested comfortably on the royal backside.
“Is everything to your satisfaction, my lord?”
“I’ll be satisfied when I’ve forced the softies to pay me blood tribute and I get my mandibles around one of their young.”
The Vizier amended his question.
“Is everything about the cape to your liking, then?”
“Yes, it’s fine. Now, let’s get a move on. I’ve got a plan that will end this war in one stroke, and I can’t wait for everyone to hear about it.”
The pair (along with half a dozen hand-picked guards) made their way from the Emperor’s quarters to the official conference chamber. Szant was already in his nest up on the royal dais - as the Emperor’s heir he was permitted at all official events to ensure a smooth transition in the event of his progenitor’s demise (untimely or otherwise). Emperor Szagg hated the dais with a passion. He only used it because it contained the equipment necessary to conduct strategy sessions; by custom no member of the royal line was allowed to “sully their perfect form” with implants. Szagg flopped into the central nest and motioned for Prang to initiate the conference.
With a click and a hum, the empty area below was filled with military brass waiting patiently for the Emperor to speak. After a glance over at Szant to make sure he was paying close attention, the Emperor greeted the assemblage.
“May your mandibles always crack the shells of your prey.”
The crowd intoned the formulaic response with great dignity.
“May your proboscis be engorged with the viscera of your enemies.”
Szagg gestured to Prang, who opened a video feed to the special weapon’s testing facility orbiting a gas giant fifty light years away from Murtilon Prime. There were a few clacks of surprise from the floor. The Emperor smiled.
“That’s right; we managed to capture one of the humans alive. Now, after extensive study of the creature’s anatomy, our scientists have developed the “Neurolance”, a powerful beam that can pass through an energy shield with enough power left over to fry our the softies’ central nervous cluster. Let’s watch.
The prisoner must have sensed that something was going on. It began to struggle wildly, contorting the covering around its sensory apparatus in a fashion that the Murtilon psychologists had determined indicated fear. As the power reading on the display ramped up, the writhing intensified for a few moments before abruptly ending. The prisoner’s vital signs dropped to zero as celebratory hisses erupted from the assembly.
“Kill all softies!”
“Death to the earthlings!”
“We’ll wipe out Earth in one blow!”
Szagg allowed himself to savor a long, hard glare at his soon to be ex-heir, before turning his attention to the exulting throng below.
Mesopotamia - Earth, Approximately 8000 solar revolutions earlier
Jephta checked the riveting on the girders one last time - the supervisor had been riding his ass ever since he’d signed off on an I-beam that wasn’t quite horizontal. Like a few hundredths of a degree was going to make a huge difference. Satisfied that he wasn’t likely to be chewed out, he checked off section 807. It was time to call it a day.
Jephta‘s buddy Adbar was waiting for him when he arrived at ground level.
“Only two-hundred and seventeen more sections to check!”
“Let’s grab a skin of wine. I’m parched.”
Jephta frowned. “Can’t today. I promised my wives that I would take them to see that new Addam Bensalem movie. Well, all of them but Harsha – she’d rather just stay home with the kids.”
Adbar laughed. “That chick flick? What are you gonna do tonight when all three of them have their motors running at the same time?”
“A gentleman never tells, my good friend. A gentleman never tells.”
“Well, I’m off then. Have fun at the movies…you lucky dog.”
Jephta and his wives managed to slip into the movie theater just as the previews were ending. There weren’t enough seats in a row for them all to sit together, so Velma and Haggam sat in front of Jephta while Tamar sat next to him. Jephta was pleased, Tamar was currently his favorite because a rich relative of hers had passed away and had remembered Tamar in her will.
“You look lovely tonight,” he whispered into her ear.
“Hush, it’s starting,” she replied as she squeezed his hand affectionately.
The movie’s introduction began with a vivid burst of color that seemed to fill his eyes and his mind simultaneously. The audience “ooohhed” at the chromatic marvel; no one had seen anything like it before. The movie’s intro began to roll, but something was wrong with the sound. The narrator wasn’t making any sense.
Jephta leaned over to Tamar again.
“Why is he talking in gibberish?”
“I said why is the narrator talking weird.”
“Heta nta! Shnu wqa!”
All across the theater people were starting to spout nonsense. There were a few moments of growing consternation before panic truly set in. Someone opened the emergency exit and the resulting alarm added to the sensation of urgency – Jephta found himself swept up in the mass hysteria. He had to get outside! He grabbed Tamar’s arm and raced for the exit, there was a hospital just a few blocks away.
The hospital turned out to be worse than the movie theater. Scores of injured and healthy alike packed the waiting area and more were arriving by the minute. An administrator was trying to maintain order using hand signals only, but even under the best of circumstances communication would have been difficult. In the current state of affairs, it was impossible.
Tamar pulled at Jephta and pointed towards their home.
Jephta understood immediately. There was little point to staying at the hospital; they needed to go home and make sure that Harsha and the kids were safe. Even though they were almost five kilometers from the house, Tamar set off at a brisk jog and motioned for her husband to keep up. He followed the best that he could.
They ran for what seems like hours before reaching their street. It seemed fairly calm, so Jephta slowed to a walk to catch his breath and yelled at Tamar to wait for him. As he panted for air, two men appeared from an alleyway. One of them grabbed Tamar and pinned her to the ground while the other charged Jephta with a metal bar. Jephta fell to his knees and put out his hands in surrender, but that didn’t deter his assailant. There was another bright flash of light, then darkness.
The 411,058th Glorious Cycle of the Szann Dynasty
Emperor Szagg motioned Grand Vizier Prang over to him.
“Is everything ready for the assault?”
Prang focused inward for a moment, no doubt checking in with the fleet commander.
“Yes, my lord. But I must once again protest your plan to enter battle with the vanguard. You can watch just as easily from the jump point.”
Szagg laughed viciously.
“I think the truth is that you are afraid to fall in battle; I always knew that you were secretly apostate.”
“My faith is strong, your excellence, it’s just that my duty to the Empire bids me to preserve my Emperor and my own person.”
“Yeah. Yeah. Well, what are you waiting for? Give the order to jump.”
A moment later there was the momentary feeling of weightlessness that always accompanied a hyperjump. The first wave of ships, each armed with a Neurolance as well as conventional weapons, was now just a few million kilometers from Earth. It was time to see if the newly designed weapon would work as advertised.
Szagg evaluated the tactical display; the Murtilon vanguard was right where they wanted to be, close enough to benefit from the element of surprise, but far enough out that it was unlikely they would trigger any particularly nasty traps. There weren’t many human ships in the vicinity – mostly interplanetary cargo drones. The neurolancer wouldn’t be effective against unmanned vessels, but that was ok. Emperor Szagg’s sights were set on a much larger target – Earth itself.
“Sweep the area for mines or other traps, then allow the battle A.I. to fire at will. But I want the vanguard to stick together until we see how the humans respond – we can’t afford any stupid mistakes. Even vermin can be dangerous when cornered in their nest.”
The softy vessels in the vicinity scurried toward the inner defense perimeter while Szagg’s fleet probed the space around them. The Emperor’s mandibles writhed in impatience; they had lost several good opportunities to test out the Neurolance on crewed vessels. The ships would still function under autopilot, of course, but the Murtilons’ sensors would be able to tell whether or not the humans aboard had been exterminated. Szagg wanted confirmation that the weapon was everything his scientists claimed it was before calling in the main fleet.
“My lord, the battle A.I. is asking permission to chase down a human transport. It estimates a negligible chance of heavy fleet casualties.”
Szagg’s personal view screen blurred momentarily before locking on to a small ship, probably a pleasure craft, racing toward the temporary refuge of near Earth space. The chase itself was unexciting, Szagg merely had to watch as the distance between his fleet and the human vessel shrank. As soon as the lead Murtilon ship was in firing range, the transport’s shields flared momentarily. There was no obvious damage to the shields or to the craft’s exterior, but that was to be expected. It was the inside that mattered, and the Emperor would have gladly eviscerated Grant Vizier Prang in exchange for a video feed of the transport’s interior.
The Vizier himself, unaware of his imaginary demise, hissed softly in exultation.
“I have multiple ships confirming zero life signs remaining on the transport. The shields dampened the beam’s power a trifle more than we expected, but not nearly enough to render the weapon ineffective. The battle A.I. advises that we call in the main fleet before our position here is overrun. It’s recommending a hit and run on the planet itself.”
“Call in the rest of the fleet. But before we withdraw, I want that transport! It will make a fine addition to my war trophies.”
“We disabled its engine, but the ship had too much of a head start to haul in. We’ll have to get it later once we’ve wiped out the softies.”
“Then let’s move.”
Emperor Szagg’s ship and its escorts moved off slowly, checking for mines or other traps. The rest of the vanguard hunkered down to await the main fleet. The humans were busy piecing together their defensive force, recalling any ships within jump range and forming up near one of the massive defense stations circling Earth. So far, they hadn’t done anything aggressive except to launch a few probes toward the Murtilon forces.
“That’s far enough, Prang. I want to be able to see the actual battle without having to rely on video feeds.”
“My lord, the A.I. recommends that we move out another three million kilometers.”
“Override it! We’ll be fine here as long as we keep our optics moist.”
The main fleet jumped in and immediately moved to attack Earth. The human forces, outgunned and out of position, began harassing the Murtilons’ flanks instead of the desperate last stand that Szagg’s advisors had predicted. From his vantage point above one of the planet’s magnetic poles, the Emperor tried to make sense of the maneuver.
“Prang, they’re leaving the planet wide open! Maybe we should pull back and perform a deep scan of Earth; they’ve got to be hiding something.”
“Perhaps the softies don’t think our weapons can penetrate their planetary shield.”
“What!? What shield!”
“A powerful shield just materialized around the entire planet. The computer estimates that the power output required to sustain a shield of that magnitude is over ten-thousand megazorches.”
“No wonder the softies were pushing us back – they might be spineless cowards, but their grasp of energy manipulation far exceeds ours. I’m going to have to fund more research in that area.”
“What are your orders, my lord?”
“Order the fleet to target the largest population cluster and concentrate fire there. Then pray to your ancestors that the beams get through, we can’t give my beloved heir a reason to start a revolt while we’re so far from Murtilon Prime.”
The Murtilon fleet made a half-hearted attempt to pick off the scattered resistance at its flanks as it positioned itself over the megacity that covered the smaller of Earth’s two landmasses. As conventional weapons’ fire poured into the energy shield, the entire planet glowed blindingly white. The shield held.
“Conventional weapons have failed to significantly affect the energy shield, your majesty. They are switching to the Neurolance now.”
Grand Vizier Prang suddenly shuddered with joy.
“My lord, the shield surrounding Earth is down! I am ordering the ships to attack the planet itself!”
Emperor Szagg waggled his mandibles in anticipation of the glorious victory feast that would celebrate his destruction of the humans. He would finally have the power to crush his upstart spawn. But his happy daydream of having Szant garnished with tube-grubs and served to his supporters at the banquet was interrupted.
“Your majesty, only a fraction of the fleet is reporting in – the rest are running on automation. The remaining ships are reporting heavy casualties to but no equipment failures. Looks like our own weapons partially rebounded off the shield.”
“No matter, the fleet is intact. Will they have any trouble with ground based defenses?”
“Well, my lord, that’s another mystery. The fleet is reporting no traces of advanced technology on Earth – only carbon based propulsion and smattering of primitive satellites. There’s no sign of any human ships and no jump signatures indicating they left the system.”
“What? That doesn’t make any sense.”
“The A.I. has two offered two possibilities. The first, and least likely, is that we somehow stumbled across a dimensional rift and are in a parallel universe. The other, and more likely, scenario is that the human’s shield somehow shunted the Neurolance fire into the past, where it caused enough damage to alter the human’s development as a species.”
Szagg gave Prang a confused look. The Grand Vizier realized the need for elaboration and began to explain the effects of energy shields on space-time, but the Emperor’s expression intensified from confusion to horror. Prang finally stopped his attempt at an explanation.
“Are you all right, my lord?”
The Emperor’s response only confirmed Prang’s growing fear.
(NOTE: User was awarded 25 shmuckers for this post. -Rob)
This has simultaneously reminded me of two stories. In a good way, well done. Science and religion can intersect intriguingly.
The first was a science fiction interstellar exploration, only extinct alien races found so far kind of setting. A Catholic priest got in on the mission because of his degrees in geology and astronomy, but as he examines a planet with aliens that died suddenly due to their sun going nova, he realizes the light would have reached Earth at exactly the meridian of time, and has to cope with the idea that a flourishing culture was destroyed to provide the bright star at Christ's birth.
The second was the story of a young man who decided to skip church on Sunday and leave the city to go boating. Everything about the story makes it sound like a modern event, until he comes back to discover the entire city had disappeared. Apparently he was the last person keeping the city of Enoch from being taken up to heaven because of extreme righteousness.
(Puts on annoying pedant hat)
Actually, in regards to HighJumpers' recollection of a story where the city of Enoch is taken up into heaven, it was the individual Enoch, son of Jared, who was so righteous he was taken up into heaven, while Enoch the city was a place founded by Cain that just kind of stood there and was a city.
(Takes off annoying pedant hat)
This was a nice story, and I liked it.
(Puts on Annoying Mormon Pedant Hat)
Enoch the city was founded by one of Cain's descendants.
Later, Enoch the prophet was taken up to heaven by God for being extra righteous, and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) believe the city Zion was just as good and went up with him.
Which fits HighJumper's second remembered story.
(Removes LDS Pedant Hat)
I like this story. Sometimes I wonder why God didn't just let the consequences for Babel be the giant tower itself.
So...wait. What? Are we to infer that the Neurolance affected the humans of the past and turned them into the Mutilons? Or just fried the emperor's brain?
Second, if the Neurolance DID retroactively wipe out humanity, then how were the Mutilons at war with them? Sounds like a time paradox.
I agree with Nakedkali; I don't understand this story.
If the Tower of Babel effect was contagious in such a way that it mysteriously gives quantum-entangled non-range-specific speech-cooties to the different brain configuration of the Murtilons, then the tests of the Neuro Lance would have already affected the Murtilons.
If it is range dependent or somehow requires contact, then the Murtilon empire is still fine and humans are still doomed, just not by our protagonist. The protagonist is a piece of boop and gets their comeuppance, but there's no indication that any other Murtilon isn't similarly booptastic. What intended audience is pleased about that?
This is why I did not come to the intended inference at the story's conclusion.
(adjusts everpresent flat cap)
Good job, MrH, for knowing your Bible. However, as rougesteelproject pointed out(while implying 'Annoying Mormon' is equivalent to 'LDS', interestingly), there is further precision to the meaning I used. I did indeed read that story in a magazine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and apparently skimping on explanation wasn't the right course for this situation. Enoch, son of Jared, has a Wikipedia article section headed "In LDS theology" that should explain, if anyone's interested. I really didn't think anyone would care, so although I knew there might be some confusion due to differing religious teachings, I didn't want to distract too much from sdub's awesome science fiction explanation of a debated historical/religious event.
(keeps on hat because it's not annoying)
Thanks, sdub, for identifying the first story. I think I found it in an anthology I randomly pulled off a shelf in highschool, but it was thoughtprovoking in an "I could see God being okay with that if they were wicked, so I'm okay with the possibility of it having happened that way, but maybe less religiously convinced people might have a problem with it if they found out it actually happened" kind of way, so thanks for redirecting me to it.