by Zella Christensen; sponsored by Phillip T. Stephens
If you’re going to declare yourselves the planet’s Supreme Overlords, there have to be people around for you to conquer. This was the dilemma facing Mad Doll and Plague at the time of the Tau Ceti incident, which would be remembered later as one of the most pivotal moments in recent history.
When news of the aliens’ arrival hit Channel 4, Plague and Mad Doll were in the lair they had dug under the Science and Engineering building where Plague had most of her classes. Plague was tightening the last screw on the Overpowered Mind Control for Overlords Machine, a device that looked a bit like an oversized, old-fashioned camera. Mad Doll, who had been interviewed yesterday in her capacity as president of the Students Against Poverty Club (to be president is good practice for anyone aspiring to Global Overlordship), was lying on a pile of cushions stolen from dormitory couches and waiting for the interview to air on television.
“Is the OMCOM going to work now?” Mad Doll asked without turning around to look.
Plague paused to remove a long piece of hair from the screw. “I think so. I fixed the problem from last time.”
“When the mice repeated everything you said?”
“Yeah. Now we just have to find a place to aim it from.”
“I thought you were going to send it into space.”
“Do you have a rocket lying around?”
“So make a rocket.”
Plague rolled her eyes. The gesture was lost on Mad Doll, whose attention was devoted to an ad for a TV show about a cutthroat children’s baking competition. A girl was holding up a platter of pastel cupcakes and crying.
Plague held the hair she’d pulled from the OMCOM up to the light. “This is yours.”
Mad Doll turned. “No, it’s not.”
“It’s definitely not blonde.”
Plague crossed to the pile of cushions and draped the hair gently across Mad Doll’s head. Mad Doll threw the hair away and swatted Plague’s leg.
“Shh!” Mad Doll pointed at the television. The commercial had ended, and a woman in a red suit was standing in the central plaza on campus. She held out her microphone to a tiny hipster in a flowered dress.
“That’s me!” Mad Doll said.
At that moment, the television went dark.
“What did you do to the TV?” Plague said.
“I didn’t do anything!”
The television came back on. A three-headed blue creature stared at the camera from behind a clamshell-like desk.
“Are you recording?” it said. A metal band around its central throat flashed red as it spoke.
Something off-camera burbled a reply.
“Alright.” The creature waved one clawed hand at the camera. “Greetings, sentient beings of Planet”—it consulted a flat screen to its right—“Earth. We are a moderately peaceful delegation from the Tau Ceti system, which has run out of space for our thriving population, and we are in search of a new home. We have determined that Earth would make an ideal home for us, except for the presence in its atmosphere of oxygen gas, which we will need to replace with hydrogen through our UltraRapid Tauforming Process. This will eliminate all life on Earth, including any sentient beings capable of understanding this Earth-wide broadcast. Since our researchers tell us you’ve spent the last few millennia killing each other anyway, we figured you wouldn’t mind us accelerating the process a bit.”
The speaker looked up at the sound of an off-screen burble.
“My apologies. My camera-being reminds me that I am running short on time. Tauforming will begin in twenty-four hours, before which time all sentient beings are advised to evacuate the planet. Please be aware that our spacecraft is designed to withstand nuclear attacks, although we fully expect that you will ignore this message and launch missiles at us anyway. In the unlikely event that you would like to make a futile attempt at peaceful negotiation, we will be sending a small transport shuttle to the official residence of each of your countries’ leaders within an hour as a meaningless courtesy. Have a nice day.”
The screen went dark. The faint sound of screaming reached the Lair from the main floor of the Science and Engineering building above, where three widescreen televisions had recently been installed.
“So, when they said, ‘eliminate all life on Earth,’ do you think they meant... eliminate? All life?” Plague said.
“I told you we should have built the rocket first!” Mad Doll said. “How are we going to get off the planet in time?”
“You literally never told me that.” Plague listened to the screaming coming from upstairs. “Maybe it’s a hoax.”
“Is the TV working?” Mad Doll asked, as if that would be the decisive indicator of fraud.
Plague pressed a few buttons on the side of the screen. “No.” The screaming went on. “What do you think the government will do?”
“Probably launch a missile.”
“The alien said it wouldn’t work.”
Mad Doll reached through the pile of cushions beneath her and took out her phone.
“Seriously? Are you texting?”
“I’m looking at the bus schedule,” Mad Doll said. “I think we can get to D.C. in half an hour.”
Plague and Mad Doll turned the OMCOM to its low-power setting, which targeted just one person at a time, in order to convince their bus driver to skip most of his usual stops and take them directly to the White House. He seemed conspicuously un-panicked when they boarded the bus, given the hysteria that had taken over on campus. While Plague took the OMCOM from her backpack and bent his mind to her will, Mad Doll noticed that the driver didn’t seem to have a cell phone with him.
“I don’t think anyone told him what’s happening,” she said.
Plague shrugged. She spent most of the ride into D.C. looking out the window for any sign of the Tau Ceti spacecraft, but the only indication of its presence were a few bright flashes in the sky. “It must be on the other side of the planet,” she said.
“What?” Mad Doll had been watching the people they passed on the streets. It seemed like there were fewer cars on the road than usual, and there were a lot of small groups of people clumped together, talking and looking at the sky. Through a second-story window, she saw a woman shaving her head and crying.
The bus driver stopped as close as they could get to the White House and opened the doors.
“Have a good field trip, girls!” he called.
“Thanks,” Plague said.
“You told him we were going on a field trip?” Mad Doll said once they were on the sidewalk.
“It’s all I could think of.”
As the White House came into view, so did a large gray orb on the lawn, behind the gate. A lot of men with sunglasses and guns were standing near it.
Plague checked her phone for the time. “They’re very punctual.”
“That’s nice of them.” Mad Doll stood in front of the gate and turned to Plague. “Help me over.”
“What? No! They’ll shoot us!”
“They’re not even paying attention,” Mad Doll said. “Come on.” She grabbed the bars of the gate and tried to pull herself up.
“Fine.” Plague glanced at the Secret Service people, but they were focused on the alien transport shuttle, if that’s what it was. She grabbed Mad Doll by the waist and lifted her as high as she could. Mad Doll scrambled over the gate, kicking Plague in the face a few times in the process, and slid down the other side. Plague hoisted herself up, scraped her elbow on the top of the gate, and fell down next to Mad Doll.
“Hey!” someone said. “Don’t move!”
Plague stood up—no broken bones, that was good—and saw that one of the men with sunglasses had finally noticed them. She reached over her shoulder to unzip her backpack.
The man in the sunglasses had a gun, and all Plague had was a mind-control machine she couldn’t reach.
“Can you get it?” she whispered. Mad Doll was standing behind her, partially blocked from the Secret Service man’s view.
Mad Doll didn’t answer, but Plague heard the sound of a zipper and felt the weight against her back shift.
“You too! Don’t move!”
The Secret Service man raised the gun, and Plague winced. It seemed vaguely unfair to get shot to death by one of the very humans on whose behalf you were trying to intercede with hostile aliens.
Suddenly, the sunglasses man relaxed and shifted the gun to point at the ground.
“Pardon me, ladies, I didn’t recognize you,” he said. “Right this way.” He turned and walked toward the gray orb. Plague and Mad Doll followed him.
“What did you tell him?” Plague whispered.
“That we’re some kind of dignitary. Do I have to use it on the rest of them one at a time?”
Plague took the OMCOM and adjusted a dial on the side, turning the power up slightly from its lowest setting. “Stay behind me when I use it. I don’t want to get you, too.”
As the OMCOMed Secret Service man approached the gray orb, his colleagues noticed Mad Doll and Plague. When Plague found herself looking through the OMCOM’s viewfinder at too many guns for comfort, she pressed the button on top of the OMCOM. The guns went down.
“Right this way,” the first OMCOMed man repeated, gesturing toward the sphere.
As Mad Doll and Plague approached the sphere, a narrow opening in its smooth surface came into view. Both girls hesitated at the entrance to the orb. They exchanged glances.
“Just through there,” the OMCOMed man said, gesturing at the opening.
Plague and Mad Doll stepped inside.
Mad Doll, who had seen plenty of spaceships on television, expected bright lights and sleek, angular surfaces. Instead, the alien shuttle was dingy and cluttered with cords and wires. The whole thing looked like a good way to fall and break your neck, which seemed especially unfortunate considering the creature waiting inside the craft had three necks to break. Mad Doll wondered whether it was a single being with three heads or three beings with a single body.
“Hi,” Plague said. She stuck out her hand for the creature to shake. The creature stared at the hand.
“Are you the leader of this country?” A red light flashed on a device fastened to its middle neck.
“The president couldn’t come, but we’re here representing him,” Mad Doll said.
“Are you qualified to negotiate on his behalf?”
“Of course.” Mad Doll had read a thing or two about the signs that give liars away. She carefully maintained eye contact. Plague held her breath.
The creature shrugged. Mad Doll supposed that was a universal gesture. “Your efforts are futile, but it seemed rude to destroy all life without making some kind of empty diplomatic gesture first.” It tugged at one of the thin cords hanging from the ceiling, if a sphere can be said to have a ceiling. “We will reach the Big Ship in ten minutes.”
The sphere jerked as it lifted off the ground. After ten tense, silent minutes, the door in the sphere reopened, and their pilot stepped out. More three-headed creatures moved about in an equally gray and cluttered corridor outside. Some glanced at the humans as they passed, but most ignored them. Plague reached into her backpack to adjust the dial on the OMCOM.
“It might take some adjustments.”
The creature from the shuttle strode down the hall without looking to see if they followed. Mad Doll and Plague hurried after it.
“What do you mean, adjustments?” Mad Doll hissed. “We don’t have time for that!”
Plague tripped on the uneven floor and steadied herself with a hand on Mad Doll’s shoulder.
“Be careful,” Mad Doll said. She glanced over and saw Plague staring intently into the backpack and fiddling with something on the OMCOM.
“Maybe if I adjust this screw... no... this one?”
“This is not comforting,” Mad Doll said.
Finally, the corridor opened into an equally dim, but slightly less cluttered, space. A handful of humans and a single three-headed creature stood around a tumorous outgrowth of cables that might have served as something like a table. Near them was a large window facing the Earth. The humans at the cable-table were yelling at the creature. The creature said very little and occasionally shrugged.
“United States,” said the creature who had guided Mad Doll and Plague to the room. It turned and left.
The creature at the table looked up. “I wasn’t expecting any representatives from your country to join us,” it said, “considering all the missiles you’ve sent.”
“That was the...War Department,” Mad Doll said. “We’re from the Peace Department.”
Plague cringed and glanced at the other humans to see if some OMCOMing was in order to support their last-minute cover story, but they all seemed too busy arguing with each other to pay any attention to her and Mad Doll.
“Oh,” the creature said. It turned and stared out the window.
“Are you in charge?” Mad Doll said.
The creature answered without looking back at her. “Yes, I’m the leader of our delegation.”
The world leaders continued to argue in a variety of languages.
“You know, if your planet’s peace departments had been more effective, we might have left you alone,” the creature said.
Mad Doll felt Plague tap her shoulder and readjusted her stance to shield Plague and the OMCOM from view with her small body. “Is that so?”
The alien’s heads all nodded. “We passed by a number of perfectly habitable planets because they showed real signs of developing into pleasant, likeable neighbors one day. We didn’t think that was a likely outcome on this planet.”
“We’re hoping it will be a lot more peaceful very soon,” Mad Doll said.
Behind her, she heard the OMCOM click.
The alien cocked all three of its heads curiously to one side. “Is that right?”
It took Mad Doll a moment to remember what she’d just said. “Um—yes. Absolutely.”
The OMCOM clicked again. The alien’s three heads looked around vaguely, as if searching for the source of the sound. Mad Doll elbowed Plague gently in the stomach. “Hurry up,” she muttered.
“I’m trying. Just one more screw...”
“What was that?” the alien said. Its necks stretched to look over Mad Doll’s shoulder. “That—is that a weapon?” The other delegates stopped arguing and turned to see what was going on. The alien reached toward Mad Doll. She jerked away and stepped on Plague’s foot.
“Weapons are strictly forbidden onboard this vessel!” the creature said. “How dare you—”
The OMCOM clicked. The alien relaxed abruptly.
“Yes, I’ll let them know we’re to head back to the Tau Ceti system immediately.” It walked toward the corridor leading from the room.
“And the shuttle,” Plague said.
“And I will personally prepare a shuttle to take you and the Earth-beings back to Earth so you may begin your long-term diplomatic mission there.”
“Does it think we’re the same kind of thing it is?” Mad Doll said as it walked away.
“Well, it wasn’t going to take orders from a human,” Plague said.
The other humans stared at the alien walking away down the hall.
A man with fluffy eyebrows and an expressive mustache muttered something in what Plague thought was probably German. “How did you do that?” he asked, switching to English.
“It’s...” Mad Doll faltered.
“It’s a persuasion technique we just developed,” Plague said. “We’re with the CIA.”
The man looked unconvinced. He glanced at the OMCOM.
Mad Doll glanced over the man’s shoulder at the window behind him. She gasped.
The man turned to follow her gaze. He smiled. “Home sweet home. It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”
The Earth was perfectly framed, a cloudy, luminescent marble against a black background.
“Plague...” Mad Doll murmured.
The nice man turned back and gave her a confused look.
“Yes,” Mad Doll said too loudly. “It’s really a beautiful view. In fact, I’d say we have the perfect angle here, don’t you think? You can see the whole planet.”
The nice man blinked. “Ah...yes. Exactly.”
There was an awkward pause. A lot of the delegates were staring at Mad Doll.
“Group picture!” Plague said suddenly. “I mean, how often do you get to go to space?”
She smiled and held up the OMCOM like a camera. Mad Doll exhaled a breath she didn’t realize she’d been holding as the delegates smiled automatically and shuffled around to face the device.
Plague twisted the dial on the OMCOM as far as it would go. “No, over there. In front of the window. Can you scoot over? No, sorry, I meant you. The other way. So we can get Earth in the background.” She grabbed Mad Doll by the elbow and dragged her out of view of the OMCOM.
There was a brief multilingual exchange as the world leaders shifted into place. Supreme Overlords, Plague thought. Supreme Overlords. She realized suddenly that she hardly knew what that meant. She had been so preoccupied with the technical details of getting herself and Mad Doll to this point that she hadn’t thought about what they would do afterward. She wondered if Mad Doll had thought it through.
In the corridor behind her, Plague heard the sound of approaching footsteps and alien burbling. She stepped back until the fifteen or so world leaders (who were these guys, exactly?) and Earth, that cloudy blue marble, were framed in the viewfinder. The world is ours, she thought. She pressed the button.
About Our Sponsor
This story is sponsored by author Phillip T. Stephens, whose irreverent novel Raising Hell is getting good notices on Amazon.
Pity poor Lucifer. He rules hell with a vice grip. Demons and damned scatter at the sound of his footsteps. Lucifer’s future looks perfect, pitch black, until an administrative error sticks him with an innocent soul—an overweight optimist who calls himself Pilgrim and who believes he must be in hell to do good.
About the Creator
World's Shortest Creator Interview
The robot overlords have gifted you with the choice of one cybernetic module that will make one of your existing skills or traits all bionic and stuff. What do you choose to buff up, and what would be the unexpected plot twist?
Wow! Robot overlords are possibly even radder than human ones! I asked them to amp up my ability to speak Avian through a fancy bionic voice box that makes me sound just like a bird, even though all my friends said it was a dumb idea. But guess what! It turns out vultures are amazing conversationalists, and pigeons are constantly spitting hilarious one-liners about the people around them, so who even cares that I can't talk to humans anymore?
If penguins invented a different mode of transportation, what would it be, and why are they not content with all the nice ice slides we have provided for them?
About the Artist
Our very own Matthew F. Amati, associate editor, wears socks and lives by a canal. Occasional temper-tantrums give way to resigned melancholy. Amati's diffidently-updated writer blog is www.mattamati.com. He is the author of the bestselling novel Loompaland (and by bestselling, we mean it has literally sold two copies to date) which features drunk Oompa-Loompas and gross candy.