by Matthew Bailey
You want to know how we won the war? It started like this:
“Now, the Model 3500 is good for cleaning your average family-sized starship,” the salesman said, “but for a planet-buster craft like this? What you really need is the Ultra Deluxe Turbo 3600 model for only $2,000 more.”
The aliens closed their eyes and went silent, which I knew by then to mean they were communicating telepathically. The salesman–Dave, according to his business card–waited patiently.
Finally, the alien known as Kamrost Two opened his eyes. WE WILL HAVE TO THINK ABOUT IT.
“Take all the time you need,” Dave replied amiably. “Of course, you should know that this is only a limited time offer. And I have to tell you, it would be a darn shame if the Earth Delegation returned before you made a decision. We humans expect alien spacecraft to have a certain grandeur about them. That’s how it is in the movies. But you’ve already admitted that your ship is much the worse for wear after coming all this way. If the public sees the inside of this place and it’s not what they expect, they may react indifferently. And if it’s awe and terror that you’re going for…”
He spread his arms wide. “Fortunately, the Model 3600 can clean even hard-to-reach places like the gun batteries I saw on the way in. It’s all because of our patent-pending reverse-phasing-swivel technology. I can give you another demonstration, if you like.”
Another pause. The lights above the aliens’ heads flickered blue and green, a sign that they were mentally accessing the ship’s computer.
DO YOU ACCEPT KITHJARI CREDITS?
Dave smiled. “If it’s money to you, it’s money to me. Now, let’s discuss our industry-standard warranty…”
Irving Fleischer came next, from the Helping Hands Mutual Insurance Company.
“You have family waiting for you back home, don’t you?” he asked. “Think about their future. They’re probably banking everything on your success. But harvesting Earth’s natural resources is a hazardous job. What if you don’t return? Who will take care of them?”
The aliens were like chameleons, I had noticed, and their skin often changed color depending on their mood. Kamrost One had turned an especially bright shade of orange.
YOU IMPLY THAT THE KAMROST ARE CERTAIN TO FAIL?
“Not at all,” Irving said. “But between you and me, why leave your family’s future up to chance? Think of the peace of mind you’ll have when you bombard my planet, knowing that whatever happens, your loved ones will be taken care of.”
The alien’s skin shifted from bright orange to a softer, more soothing blue. The Kamrost, I had come to realize, put a strong emphasis on family.
THIS IS TRUE…
“Of course, we want you to be taken care of as well,” Irving went on. “Which leads me to the subject of disability insurance. Does your home world have provisions to take care of you should you become injured?”
“Terrible, terrible,” said Irving, shaking his head sadly. “Fortunately, we at the Helping Hands Mutual Insurance Company believe that everyone could use a helping hand. That’s why, for a very low premium, we can insure a replacement income should you ever be unable to continue with regular employment. This chart here shows the various options…”
When the aliens came, most of us were terrified. At first, we didn’t know why they had come, only that their ship was bristling with the most advanced weaponry anyone had ever seen. But when they began to broadcast over every known frequency and medium, the meaning of their unsolicited visit became all too clear.
INHABITANTS OF THE TERRESTRIAL PLANET COLLOQUIALLY KNOWN AS EARTH. WE, THE KAMROST, HAVE LONG OBSERVED YOU FROM AFAR. AFTER MUCH STUDY, WE BELIEVE YOUR WORLD IS HOME TO MORE NATURAL RESOURCES THAN ANY KNOWN PLANET IN THIS QUADRANT OF THE GALAXY. HOWEVER, WE HAVE OBSERVED HOW CAVALIERLY YOU TREAT THESE RESOURCES, HOW CASUALLY YOU CARE FOR YOUR OWN PLANET. THIS INDICATES THAT YOU HAVE AN ABUNDANCE OF RESOURCES ABOVE AND BEYOND THAT OF YOUR ACTUAL NEEDS. DUE TO THIS CLEAR EXCESS, WE HAVE COME TO SECURE THE SURPLUS FOR OURSELVES, WHERE IT WILL BE PUT TO BETTER USE.
WE ARE AWARE OF YOUR CONCEPT OF ‘TRADE,’ AND THEREFORE PROPOSE A MUTUALLY BENEFICIAL TRANSACTION OF YOUR RESOURCES IN EXCHANGE FOR OUR MERCY. HOWEVER, WE ARE PREPARED TO TAKE WHAT WE NEED BY FORCE. YOU HAVE FORTY-EIGHT OF YOUR EARTH HOURS TO COMPLY. PLEASE DO NOT THINK TO UNDERTAKE ANY FORM OF DEFENSE, AS YOUR ARMAMENTS ARE VASTLY INFERIOR TO OUR OWN.
AS YOUR OWN WORKS OF FICTION SAY, IT IS POINTLESS TO RESIST.
Being experienced in international dialogue, the government quickly dispatched me to negotiate with the aliens. I knew the truth, however: I was only there to stall while the government formulated an attack plan. But while Congress, the United Nations, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff deliberated, the private sector, long frustrated by the fact that there were no more underdeveloped countries to exploit, saw their opportunity to expand into what they called “a newly emerging market.”
They didn’t waste time.
The card said, “Bob Brokerman, financial advisor/wealth manager.” The logo of a well-known international banking company gleamed proudly in the top corner.
“You could make a killing,” Bob explained, keying up yet another PowerPoint slide, “investing in defense contractors. Their stock is about to explode. Our analysts expect that the U.S. government is likely to go to war with you, meaning they’ll be putting in major orders to the entire industry. As a result, corporations like Lockheed-Boeing and Northrop-Dynamics will see their revenue go through the roof. People will be lining up for miles to purchase their stock. Demand will leave supply in the dust. But if you get in on the ground floor…”
Red skin. Anger. I braced myself for a fight.
YOU WOULD HAVE US PROVIDE MONEY TO THOSE WHO MAKE THE WEAPONS YOUR PLANET WILL USE AGAINST US…
“A great way to secure a seat on both sides of the table, don’t you think?” Bob replied, not skipping a beat. “If you win the war, you get all our natural resources. But if even if you lose, you’ll still come out the winners. Diversification! That’s the power of a good investment portfolio, my friends. Hell, with the money you make, you can just buy all our natural resources.”
Kamrost One and Two conversed silently. YOU WOULD SELL THEM TO US?
“I imagine so,” Bob answered. “On Earth, everything can be had for a price. Now, I’ve brought all the paperwork with me. All you have to do is sign here, and we can begin the transfer of your assets…”
It’s not going to do my reputation any good to admit that I warned the aliens against letting solicitors on the ship. I couldn’t help it–my basic humanity won out. But every time someone came knocking, the aliens were convinced it was the Earth Delegation coming to deliver their surrender. It is pointless to resist, they repeatedly told me. A short sales pitch later, and Dave, Bob, Irving and all the rest were demonstrating the old maxim that once you get inside the house, you’ve already made the sale.
“You need legal representation,” said Sue Hammond, attorney-at-law. “Frankly, I’m shocked you came all this way without it.”
“Absolutely,” Sue said crisply. “I think we can convince a jury that you’re entitled to Earth’s natural resources. We’re all part of the same intergalactic community, are we not?”
THIS IS TRUE…
“No doubt about it. We may even convince the Earth to settle out of court. No one likes a protracted lawsuit. By the way, have you or someone you loved ever taken the heart medicine Zorolex?”
OUR PHYSIOLOGY DOES NOT CONTAIN THE SAME CIRCULATORY SYSTEM THAT YOURS DO.
“Too bad,” said Sue. “You may have been eligible for damages.”
A man in a turban and another in a ten-gallon cowboy hat came last. I didn’t hear what they had to say, but I could guess. While they glad-handed Kamrost One and Two, I was busy studying a text on my phone. It was from the Secretary of State.
Any luck? it said.
I paled. Had my superiors really expected me to negotiate with the aliens? Was I more than a mere stalling tactic, after all? As yet, the aliens had paid little attention to me, engrossed as they were with the growing parade of “sales representatives” arriving in their docking bay by the hour. But clearly, I had to do something.
I wracked my brain for a proposal to make, looking around at the different aliens and the formidable technology they possessed. Most of it was beyond my understanding, save for the newly purchased Ultra Deluxe Turbo 3600 gleaming in the corner. One of the aliens was at that very moment trying to decipher the bible-thick instruction manual that came with it.
And then it hit me.
“You know,” I said, when the two oil barons had left, “you can’t possibly attack the Earth now.”
IS THIS A THREAT?
“No threat,” I said. “It’s in your best interest not to. Look, if you attack the Earth, you’ll cause a lot of collateral damage. What if you accidentally destroy the Helping Hands Mutual Insurance Company? You won’t be able to receive the benefits you signed up for. And if KleanTech Industries gets destroyed, the warranty you purchased on your new Model 3600 will be useless. And you better not touch New York, or else you run the risk of shutting down the stock market. That will put a dent in your investment returns. Plus –”
I shut up. The aliens conversed one final time. It seemed like hours for them to finish their mental dialogue.
Suddenly, the lights above their head began blinking rapidly. Their skin color turned very pale.
TELL YOUR SUPERIORS, they said, THAT WE WILL WITHDRAW.
Why am I telling you this story? After all, since the aliens agreed not to attack the Earth, I’ve been feted as a global hero. I’m the man who singlehandedly staved off invasion while simultaneously setting off the greatest bull market we’ve ever known.
I’m telling you because I can’t take the guilt any longer. People think we’ve advanced as a race, because we didn’t resort to using nukes against the aliens.
But I know the truth. This wasn’t a peaceful resolution at all.
I may not have been the one who let all those salesmen on board, but I didn’t do enough to stop them, either. So because of me, the Kamrost have now been subjected to the most insidious weapons of all.
Don’t believe me? Well, you didn’t see the paper this morning. Trade routes have been opened up to the Kamrost home world. As we speak, a hundred ships are heading their way–each with a different product to sell. Insurance, financial advice, magazine subscriptions, kitchen equipment. Like I said, once you get inside the house, you’ve already made the sale. And very soon, the Kamrost will know what we know:
It is pointless to resist.
About the Author
Matthew Bailey hails from Salt Lake City, Utah, having also spent time in California and Alaska. An aspiring fiction writer by spiritual calling and a professional ghostwriter by trade, Matt devotes his free time to huffing and puffing on several different instruments, the saxophone first and foremost. When not battling a severe case of B.A.D. (Book Acquisition Disorder), Matt also loves romping in the Wasatch Mountains with his wife and three sons. You can find out more about him at www.matthewjordanbailey.com.
More by the Author
Matthew has a short story forthcoming in Lightspeed Magazine.
World’s Shortest Author Interview
Please describe fifty words or less.
The door to the saloon squeaked open. In stepped a single black boot followed by a solitary donkey’s hoof. Attached to both were a pair of more or less normal legs, fastened with rope, spit, and a rusty nail to a man’s torso. Attached to the torso was one regular arm and one gunarm (a Spencer Repeating Rifle), topped by a mustachioed head the size of a dehydrated melon. The saloon went silent. It was the infamous Fifty Words, the biggest, baddest, donkeyleggiest bravo in town – so called because he only had fifty words in his entire vocabulary.
No one ever lived to hear him say all fifty.
Behind him stood his partner, Less, who I cannot describe because the question only said to describe one or the other.
If you could change one thing from your childhood, what would it be and why? (Please include the word “porpoises” in your answer.)
I wish I could go back in time and tell my young self not to take that job at the aquarium. It wasn’t a hard job, understand. All I had to do was collect money from customers and give it to Ollie the Orca. I never knew what Ollie did with the money until my last day on the job, when I saw him discreetly hand the money over to two stubnosed cetaceans. These cetaceans were dressed like mobsters, and each had a leggy blonde clinging to their fins. It was then that I knew the truth: the aquarium was a front, and I, an innocent youth, had been collecting money meant for immoral poirposes.
About the Artist
Our very own D Chang is a designer and game writer from Austin, Texas. His short fiction has appeared in Avast, Ye Airships! and the Cryptopolis science fiction anthology. He does most of the Space Squid cover designs.