Author: David Barber

The final part of the plan involved capturing a Jirt Princess.

Morgan led one assault team, a band of Earthers who took terrible losses before the Jirt security swarm was destroyed.

A last Jirt warrior blocked the way down into the palace. Evolution had selected the soldier caste for single combat with armoured opponents. This one was a nightmare of spikes, pincers and serrated blades.

It staggered as bullets sparkled on its isolation field, but each time it returned fire, another of the human fighters died.

Morgan dragged a captured Jirt weapon. He had only the sketchiest notion how to use it. He wiped spattered blood from his face and yelled for his people to keep down.

Whether the energy yield was set low or high he could not tell, but when he fired, the Jirt convulsed into fragments.

The Earthers cheered and charged inside. Jirt workers fled but it was a slaughter.


The Naal were frail, flightless avians who used songs instead of names. Morgan called this one Plato, because he talked a lot and was a useless soldier.

Plato had cautiously led the Naal assault. They were still exchanging shots with Jirt drones when the Earthers arrived.

Afterwards, Plato counted how few humans remained.

“The Princess was captured trying to escape,” said the Naal. “But she is unwilling to negotiate.”

Morgan cursed when he saw the Jirt still wore her isolation field.

“She will not turn it off.” That bobbing of the head was a Naal shrug. “Jirt say we seethe with pollution.”

The Princess loomed over Morgan. “Can you understand me?” he demanded.

“I have a translator. The Queen is coming. Release me and I will petition Her to make your deaths quick.”

With the Jirt weapon set to the lowest yield, Morgan burned off a leg and the Princess shrieked like a whistling kettle.

“Did you need to do that?” Plato whispered.

Morgan studied the Naal. Centuries of Jirt rule had made them submissive and accustomed to defeat.

“Observe,” Morgan told the Princess. A screen showed the vast Jirt Hiveship entering orbit above them.

The Naal pleaded with him to wait, but Morgan had already sent the signal.

“But many of our kinds work on that ship.”

“They know what sacrifice is.”

Abruptly the Hiveship detonated.

“A smuggled fusion device. They underestimate us.”

All around, Naal were touching their faces to the floor.

“What’s happening?”

“We mourn our people, and yours.”

“The Queen!” The Jirt Princess chattered her mouthparts. “What have you done?”

Morgan smiled bitterly. “You are alive because the Naal think you will negotiate.”

“Other Queens will come to claim this star system. Negotiate with them.”

“This is being repeated everywhere that humans can reach,” Morgan cried triumphantly.

Later, Plato spoke with the Princess. “Your Highness, you have no one to advise you—”

The Naal glanced around. The humans were busy elsewhere.

“They cannot defeat you, but you destroyed their homeworld. They will never forgive.”

The Princess remained silent. Morgan had ordered her chained by one leg. Perhaps forgiveness was just a Naal concept.

“We accepted conquest, but these humans—”

“Yet you betray us.”

Plato made the gesture of contrition. “We thought to curb their excesses, but…”

But you are both utterly alien, the Naal might have said. Incomprehension on all sides.

“Nothing will bring Earth back. Instead they sustain themselves by a notion they call revenge. The bombs, the killing, it will never stop. Unless—”

The Naal had more to say, but the Jirt Princess had turned her translator off.