Chapter 5

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The hologram hesitated before replying, seemingly gathering his thoughts.  "You know, Mel is actually more right than she knows."

"So you are full of shit?" asked Cam.

Ethlukjamson sighed.  "No, not about that.  She's right about me not really being humanity's last hope.  You four are that hope.  That's the answer to your question, Cora.  That's what this has to do with four humble baristas.  You can save the world.  I'm just here to give you the chance."

Max leaned forward in his chair.  "Look, if you actually expect us to be part of this insanity, we need some facts.  Who are these alien wankers?  What do they want?  Who are you and why do you want to help us?  And what's so special about the four of us?"

Ethlukjamson held up a finger.  "OK, question one.  Who are the aliens?  Well, allow me to introduce the Rigellians, coming to you live from beautiful downtown Rigel, just 863 light years along the galactic rim.  Their hobbies include walking in the rain, conquering primitive worlds, and finding new and creative ways to hurt people. Real particles of effort."

Max, Cora and Mel all shot inquiring looks at Cam.  "Pieces of work," he translated.

The virtual man continued.  "They're an aggressive, warlike race, who spent most of their history insulting and blowing each other up, until they developed interstellar travel and discovered there was a whole galaxy to insult and blow up, instead.  And that's basically what they've been doing, ever since."

He held up a second finger.  "Question B.  What do they want?  Apart from the insulting-and-blowing-up stuff?  To conquer.  To subjugate.  To rule.  But most of all?  Cheap shoes.  And hats."

Max goggled at him.  "Hats?  What the hell does attacking Earth have to do with hats?"

"Economics," replied Ethlukjamson.  "Hats getting too expensive?  Inflation getting a little high?  Need to reduce your wage costs?  Easy—just bomb a low-tech planet back to the stone age and voila—billions of slaves to work in your hat mines."

"Er—don't you mean hat factories?" interjected Cam.

Ethlukjamson glared at him.  "I know what I mean."

"I don't bloody care where the hats come from!" shouted Max.  He took a deep breath.  "I just want to know what they've got to do with the end of the world."

"The habitable planets of the Rigel system are all high-grav worlds," explained Ethlukjamson, "which made the Rigellians tough and very strong.  But it also made them short.  Really short.  So when they ventured out into the galaxy they found that pretty much everyone they met was taller than them. This really pissed them off, and made them even more inclined to insult and blow stuff up.  It also induced them to start wearing platform-soled shoes, and hats.  Really tall platform shoes, and really big hats.  The bigger and taller the better.  Pretty much their whole economy is now based on millinery and footwear.  A bit of weaponry—guns and bombs and lasers and that kind of stuff—but mostly hats and shoes."

Max shook his head.  "OK, fine.  Hats.  We're getting invaded by aliens with Napoleon complexes, so they can get cheap hats.  Makes as much sense as anything else has tonight, I guess.  Please, carry on."

"Right," said Ethlukjamson.  "Where was I?  Oh yeah."  He held up a third finger.  "Question four."

Max pointed at the hologram's hand.  "Uh—don't you mean question three?  That's three fingers."

Ethlukjamson put his hands behind his back.  "Oh, yeah.  Question three.  That's what I meant."

Mel buried her face in her hands again.

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