Three … Two … One!

story by Jenny Robson , illustrated by Peter Sheehan

KQARG FELT HIS fifth ear pop. That meant only one thing: he was now descending through the stratosphere of this outer-galaxy, minor planet.

With the index finger of his third hand, Kqarg flipped the transducer switch. Now his spacecraft would be invisible to those Earthlings way below him.

Such strange-looking creatures, those Earthlings! Kqarg had studied vids from their primitive cyber network. They had only two of everything: two arms, two legs, two eyes. How did they manage to do anything? And only one head! Imagine that—each specimen had only one head which housed a rather rudimentary brain system.

No wonder the poor creatures were so backward! This would be the easiest planet-conquest ever!

* * *

‘I have Horse-stray-lia in my sights now, sir,’ Kqarg thought-radioed to his Commander. Commander Szeev was back on the mothership out in space, surrounded by the rest of the attack fleet. ‘Night seems to have fallen, sir, so I’m switching to infrared.’

‘Excellent, Chief Scout Kqarg,’ Commander Szeev thought-radioed back. ‘Keep me posted. And don’t forget to file your thought-log before you return.’

It was Commander Szeev who  had chosen Horse-stray-lia as the landing site.

‘Perfect area,’ he had said, back on the mothership. ‘Plenty of open space. Low population density. Calm, peaceful inhabitants. Those Horse-stray-lians won’t give us much trouble. From there we can Gamma-6 Ray the rest of the planet.’

And yes, Kqarg could see the country’s outline clearly, surrounded by swirls of water. ‘The sea,’ Earthlings called this water. But why had they called this country

‘Horse-stray-lia’? Had one of the early inhabitants lost a steed or something?

The whole planet was riddled with weird names, like: Lundin on the River Tems and Bay-shjing in Ch-eye-nah and Hawk-lind just across the water from Horse-stray-lia. No wonder these Earthlings were such a confused race! No wonder they had made so little progress!

Back on Kqarg’s home planet, naming was kept simple. There was Valley 1, Valley 2 all the way through to Valley 1389. There was Mega-City 1, Mega-City 2 and, of course, Mega-City 367, which was his home city.

The thought of home caused Kqarg to long for his wife, Nuuxhar. She was so lovely; each of her three faces more beautiful than the last. He thought-phoned her now, in the middle of his scouting mission, even though it was against regulations.

* * *

Nuuxhar was not happy about all this Gamma-6 Raying of planets.

‘Why don’t you all just come home,’ she thought-begged. ‘Hasn’t Commander Szeev conquered enough worlds? Maybe these Earthlings are happy living their primitive lives? Maybe they don’t want all our amazing scientific advances. Maybe they prefer to be free?’

‘You are too soft-hearted, my love,’ said Kqarg. And this was true. Each of Nuuxhar’s three hearts was very soft. ‘It’s in our blood to vanquish planets of other solar systems. Once these Earthlings have recovered from the shock, I’m sure they will be grateful we came.’

She was so lovely; each of her three faces more beautiful than the last. He thought-phoned her now, in the middle of his scouting mission, even though it was against regulations.

* * *

Nuuxhar was not happy about all this Gamma-6 Raying of planets.

‘Why don’t you all just come home,’ she thought-begged. ‘Hasn’t Commander Szeev conquered enough worlds? Maybe these Earthlings are happy living their primitive lives? Maybe they don’t want all our amazing scientific advances. Maybe they prefer to be free?’

‘You are too soft-hearted, my love,’ said Kqarg. And this was true. Each of Nuuxhar’s three hearts was very soft. ‘It’s in our blood to vanquish planets of other solar systems. Once these Earthlings have recovered from the shock, I’m sure they will be grateful we came.’

* * *

Kqarg didn’t want to think about that. If the planet-attacks stopped, he would lose his job as chief landing-site scout. He’d be stuck working in some boring office somewhere.

So he thought-wished Nuuxhar goodbye and disconnected. Then he shook his three heads to clear his three minds and focussed his full attention on the area directly beneath him.

Slowing his throttle to cruise speed, he followed the intricate shoreline. There seemed to be a harbour just beneath him now.

But …

But something was wrong. Something was very wrong! Commander Szeev hadn’t warned him about this!

Even though it was deep in the Earth-night, hordes of Earthlings seemed to have congregated. Yes, he was close enough to identify their individual bodies clearly: two arms, two hands and each specimen with only a single head. But there were hundreds of them—thousands! More than in any mega-city back home. All squashed close together so that the ground seethed like some giant, multi-armed monster.

So much for Commander Szeev’s theory of low population density in Horse-stray-lia!

And they were all screaming, it seemed. Terrifying noises issued from their single mouths. Kqarg was not used to voices. He and his compatriots communicated mainly through thoughts. The massive sound nearly shattered all six of his eardrums.

And what words were they screaming? Kqarg strained to understand them.

‘THREE … TWO … ONE …’

They seemed to be down-counting. But why? Was this preparation for some violent counterattack? Some organised Earth-defence? Did they know about the mother-fleet parked just beyond their stratosphere?

* * *

The next moment was even more terrifying. Beyond horror! Giant explosions shook the air and made Kqarg’s spacecraft lurch. Sparks burst into multicoloured fire on every side of him. Great clouds of smoke fogged up his infra-red screen. The water beneath him was turning a luminous blood-red. The night sky was suddenly almost as bright as day.

Kqarg realised that all his lips were trembling. Had these backward Earthlings somehow discovered Gamma-7 Rays? Or an even more threatening weapon?

In panic, Kqarg thought-radioed his commander. ‘Abort mission! Abort attack, sir! This planet is way too dangerous! These Earthlings of Horse-Stray-lia are not peaceful and calm! They are wild, crazy, noisy savages—armed with some terrifying mega-weapon!’

And then he full-throttled, swooping up towards the stratosphere and the safety of space and the motherfleet, with all six of his ears popping, leaving the Earth-madness and mayhem behind him.

* * *

Once the beating of his three hearts had steadied, he began completing his thought-log. A good chief scout always filed a report immediately after a mission. ‘Local Earth-Time: five minutes past Earth-midnight. Local Earth-Date: first day of January, Earth-Year 2018 …’