Bewildering Stories

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Five Cities

by Charles Richard Laing

As per design, our ships screamed when they entered the atmosphere of the new planet. We wanted them to know we were there. We wanted them to look to the skies. We wanted them to be afraid. For ten of their days, our terrible warships made slow sorties over every inch of their planet, placing special emphasis on their most heavily populated regions.

We didn’t use any of the countless deadly weapons that protruded from nearly every surface inch of our vessels, but we made certain all saw them. Weapon design was an art among our people. Therefore a weapon must be as fearsome as it is lethal.

From the transmissions pulled from the primitive communication system that linked their lovely planet, we could tell they understood the gravity of their situation. Widespread panic set in fueled by exhaustive and alarmist media coverage. They were scared to death.

It was good. It was all going according to plan.

We watched calmly as they assembled their military forces. This, too, was anticipated. We tried not to laugh. We were clearly in no danger from their planes or their tanks or their robots.

On the eleventh day we simultaneously opened fire on their five largest cities, reducing them each to hot ash in under a minute apiece. Nothing lived in a neat hundred-mile circle around each former city. We let them view the unspeakable devastation. We let them air it for the world to see. Then we broadcast our demand for immediate and unconditional surrender.

We waited for the inevitable. It never came.

They didn’t surrender. They couldn’t. It just wasn’t in them. Despite overwhelming odds and certain destruction, they chose death over surrender. Less than an hour after the loss of more than thirty-three million of their people, they launched an attack, a world united against a common enemy, throwing everything they had at us in a final furious act of desperation and defiance.

It was futile. Their most powerful weapons couldn’t scratch the paint off our humblest transport vehicle. They quickly saw this, yet they kept coming, in wave after pathetic wave. When their guns failed, and their missiles failed, they did the only thing they could. They crashed their ships into us, sacrificing their lives for the greater good.

Our response was quick and decisive. We activated our engines and headed for deep space.

They won. We lost. It happened.

It was a beautiful world, one that would have surely been a jewel in the crown of our growing empire. We could have easily conquered it by force, but what remained when we finished wouldn’t have been quite so beautiful. Ever inch would have been covered with thick ash. We had no use for a dead planet. There were too many of them left behind by our predecessors.

It was a big universe, containing many worlds where the natives weren’t quite so bold.

* * *

We entered the atmosphere of the new planet. We identified their five largest cities. Ten days later...

Copyright © 2004 by Charles Richard Laing

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