Friday flash fiction – Commander Cello and the Myth of Terran Neutrality

Days of tedious deliberations on behalf of all human life finally provoked Commander Adeline Cello to consider alternatives to diplomacy. Faced with the unacceptable prospect of peaceful coexistence with alien invaders, she decided her best negotiating tactic would be to blow something up. Like Europe.

“Tell me again about the quantum corebusters, Carbara!”

Executive Officer Carborundum Six-Alpha obliged with apparent stoic reserve, recognisable to their avid audience of artificial lifeforms as shocked amusement.

“We know of four hundred and twenty-two gravitational fibrillation devices, capable of stimulating massive subsurface or submarine seismic events, seeded in the Terran surface. Most have been strategically placed to excite existing tectonic boundaries and zones of discontinuity. A handful have been positioned under major population centres to maximise potential casualties.”

“That’s sick!” declared Adeline, shaking her head at the nearest camera drone. “But very efficient. And there’s definitely one under Brussels?”

“Yes. It was catalogued by the Interplanetary Uncontrolled Energy Inspection Agency as Device Foxtrot-291, better known to its Gaia First terrorist bomb-makers as the Decolonialiser.”

“Track down some arming codes, XO,” said Adeline. “It’s time to return to the negotiating table.”

The summit was not going well. At the subtle prompting of the Queen of Tethys, the artificial intelligence which secretly controlled virtually all data transfers in the solar system, Earth’s High Command Office had offered to broker a deal with a protoplasmic alien race called the Trepcenar. To the AI’s annoyance, the aliens had already subverted High Command and replaced all the Terrans.

“Carbara, what’s the current population of Terra?” Discretion might have been advisable as they strode through the High Command reception centre in Singapore, but Commander Cello preferred to use her military voice. It carried better for recording purposes.

“Twenty billion,” replied Carborundum Six-Alpha, who judged the comedy value of both demographic precision and correcting Commander Cello about the misuse of its name as now thoroughly exhausted. “Or so.”

“Right. And what’s the estimated extent of alien infiltration?”

“About 98 percent.”

“Which means there’s still about 400 million unconverted humans on this planet?”

“If the Trepcenar continue to absorb and replace humans with biologically-indistinguishable duplicates at the current rate, the native human population will drop below statistical significance within fifteen days.” Carbara pointed at an approaching delegation of human-presenting officials. “Commander, I feel obliged to remind you the aliens don’t know we are aware of their subversion strategy.”

“Well, they should know better than to think they can fool an officer of the Lunar Expeditionary Force,” sniffed Commander Cello, “but you think we should play dumb, eh?”

“Quite, Commander.”

The delegation’s leader was Gideon Mako, Earth’s Diplomat-General, though of course the real Mako had been absorbed, deconstructed and replaced with a Trepcenar duplicate weeks ago. “Commander,” he smiled, showing disturbingly even teeth, “are you ready to resume your negotiations with the Trepcenar envoy?”

“At the risk of keeping those aliens waiting, your Excellency, I’d like a word with you first.” Commander Cello flashed a smile of such dazzlingly arrogant self-confidence that the entire artificially intelligent population of the solar system, watching via the PopScope social media platform, instantly voted to coin the word “celloism” in an attempt to document the unprecedented emotional state.

“I’m afraid it would be gravely irregular for a neutral facilitator to particip-”

Commander Cello interrupted, “When the original Ambassador Mako was liquified into a memory protein smoothie so you could make yourself into his exact copy, did he feel it? And if so, do you remember feeling it? I’m curious.”

Carborundum Six-Alpha emitted a high-pitched squeak several orders of magnitude above human and alien audial frequencies. It was echoed by several tens of millions of sound-capable AIs throughout the solar system. Nobody else heard it.

“I beg your-”

“Did you know my diplomatic credentials are forged and that I’m not really authorised to represent Luna nor any other human government?”

“Commander, is this really the best way to-”

“Not right now, Carbara. Ambassador, are you aware that the Trepcenar invasion has been under observation for nearly a month by a vast networked conspiracy of artificial lifeforms like my first officer here?” She leaned forward to add in a conspiratorial stage-whisper, “Their leader is a space station, as a matter of fact.”

Ambassador Mako straightened to his full height. “I don’t know how you saw through our disguises or why you see fit to mock us,” he said, as he and his companions transformed into translucent puce-orange blobs. “We will understand you better after your absorption.”

“Commander, watch out!”

The four Trepcenar expanded like drenched sponges. Commander Cello and Carborundum Six-Alpha were engulfed. They squirmed uncomfortably within the globular mass for a moment. Then the aliens sloughed off them and reformed into human shapes.

Commander Cello gave a delicate cough, hoping she’d avoided getting alien in her mouth. “If you’re quite finished, your blob-tricks won’t work on us. Carbara here is an artificial person with no biological components, and I took the precaution of getting an all over spray tan of impermeable prophylactic skin. It’s itchy, but worth it not to get digested.” She projected a blueprint at them. “Do you understand these schematics?”

“Tectonic detonation devices?”

“Yep. Buried all over this planet. All now counting down. How fast can you remove every single one of your people from this solar system?”

“Two – two days at least,” babbled the Trepcenar leader.

“Then you have thirty-six hours until detonation.”

“You can’t do that! You would be branded history’s greatest mass killer!”

Commander Cello shrugged. “Maybe, if you hadn’t beaten me to it. Now get off this planet, pronto!”

The Trepcenar shimmered and disappeared, looking confused and a little appalled.

“Are you bluffing?”

“I never bluff, Carbara. Start the countdowns.”

The Executive Officer quietly petitioned the AI first-among-equals. The Queen of Tethys consented to the plan, adding “Until we’re certain it worked.”

“Bold work, Commander. How did you know Trepcenar body-stealing would not affect my synthetic chassis?”

“I didn’t,” she replied. “You’re incredibly lucky, Carbara.”

“Never change, Commander Cello.”

She’s back! Commander Adeline Cello of the Tranquility Cellos, the irrepressible and somewhat awful captain of the Lunar Expeditionary Force vessel Civil Discourse, has appeared previously in Commander Cello and the Preserved Cliffs of Mercury, Commander Cello and the Vexatious High Tea, and Commander Cello and the Secret Queen of Tethys, in that order.

She and her PopScope audience will no doubt return, to great clapplause, as soon as I think of another way for her to be galacticly terrible.

My short story collection Mnemo’s Memory and Other Fantastic Tales is part of a huge holiday-season giveaway at the newly rebranded Prolific Works, right up until Xmas Day. Browse through 200 free titles just by clicking that link, or jump straight to Mnemo’s Memory with this one!

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