"The Earth village of Hobart is targeted and locked in for destruction, sir."
"Excellent," growled Xarnax Splurmfeen. To the consternation of the weapons technician, the admiral almost smiled at him. "Remain on standby for the order to attack."
"The order to attack, sir?"
The almost-smile was instantly replaced by a definite-scowl, which came as something of a relief to the technician. He knew where he stood with an angry admiral. A smiling one was a complete mystery.
"Did I stutter, moron? Yes, the order to attack, you fool. Why would we target something we're not intending to destroy?"
The technician assumed this was a rhetorical question, at least until the increasing redness of the admiral's face convinced him otherwise. "Um. To make the humans think we're going to destroy it?" he ventured, eventually.
"You're right," snarled the admiral. "Or at least you would be if the primitive humans had the technology to be able to tell what we're targeting, which they don't, and if we were only pretending that we're going to destroy Hobart, which we're not. So in other words, you're wrong and in addition to being wrong, YOU WILL ALSO BE DEAD IF YOU EVER DARE TO EVEN THINK ABOUT QUESTIONING ONE OF MY ORDERS AGAIN! The admiral leaned in closer to the unfortunate technician. "IS THAT CLEAR?" he roared.
The technician blinked, and fought the urge to wipe the admiral's saliva out of his eyes. "Crystal, sir."
Satisfied, the admiral leaned back and surveyed the aerial view of Hobart displayed on the technician's monitor. "Yes, it turns out Hobart is actually a hotbed of highly dangerous Earthling military units and guerilla fighters. And as a definite military target, GalCon can have no objections to its destruction. Its peaceful, harmless and seemingly mind-numbingly boring appearance is merely a clever disguise for what is actually a seething metropolis of human resistance."
The technician glanced at his monitor and wondered briefly if he was looking at the wrong one. "Um, it's a very good disguise, sir."
The admiral grunted. "All the more reason to destroy it. Standby for orders." He turned on his heel and stomped away.
"Tell me again, Earthman. Why are we in a ventilation shaft?"
"Because," puffed Max, as their crawling brought them to yet another junction, and he picked a direction at random, "we're trying to stay undetected."
"OK, cool," replied Chek. "I'm totally into that. It's just that I'm getting all kinds of dust and stuff on my jacket. Could we maybe stay undetected somewhere a bit cleaner? Like maybe in a bar?"
Despite the awkwardness of the enclosed space, Max tuned and glared at him. "I thought you wanted to help save the Earth."
"Hey yeah, I do. No question. That's definitely the long-term strategy. I'm just proposing that a smart tactical move may be adjourning to a local place of refreshment, in order to regroup and gather our thoughts. You know, to plan the next stage of the campaign."
Cam was at the tail-end of the group, just behind Pok, and wasn't enjoying the experience. On top of the cramped conditions and the dust, his view consisted largely of the rear end of an elderly man. On his hands and knees. Wearing a robe. "Getting out of the shaft does sound pretty good."
Although loath to admit it, Max was beginning to feel the same way. After infiltrating the battle-station, and disembarking from their garbage-bag-ship without detection, the ventilation system had seemed like an ideal way to move around stealthily. And it was. The only problem was that he didn't have a clue where they were going, or what they were going to do when they got there.
In movies and TV shows, ventilation shafts always seemed to lead to the places the characters needed to be. In real life, Max was discovering that they just seemed to lead to more bloody ventilation shafts.
He had hoped that Flenson would be able to guide them to somewhere useful, but the captain was yet to fully recover from his coffee hangover and still seemed a couple of cappuccinos short of a brunch. Max also hadn't counted on just how enormous the battle-station was. They were in a section that the captain wasn't familiar with, and so far his only contribution had been to tag along. He'd been quiet since they arrived on the station, but spoke up now.
"This Hobart place. Is it really so very important?"
Cam snorted. "Don't let Cora hear you talking that way."
"But, is it?" persisted Flenson.
"Well," said Max, "when in it really comes down to it, in the grand scheme of things, in the cold, hard light of day, in any sort of objective assessment - not so much. But that's not really the point, is it? If we're now Earth's last hope, then we need to be looking out for everyone - even Hobart."
Flenson shook his head. "You Earthlings are hard to understand. Surely the soldiers at this Hobart base knew the risks when they joined your country's military?"
Max stopped crawling. "Hobart base? What are you talking about? What soldiers? Hobart's the capital of Tassie, not a military base."
Flenson stopped too, mostly in thought, but also because when Max stopped, everyone else had to, as well. "Splurmfeen, you bastard," he muttered under his breath, before continuing in a louder tone. "He's bluffing - Hobart will be fine. Well, apart from the population-being-enslaved-by-alien-overlords-and-being-forced-to-toil-in-their-hat-mines thing. But it's not going to be destroyed."
"They've found the PM."
Marilyn's voice roused Cora and Mel from the doze they'd both lapsed into (it had been a big few days).
Mel blinked groggily, and got to her feet. "What's that?"
"The Rigellians appear to have located the prime minister. I'm picking up multiple units vectoring in on his location."
"But how?" asked Cora, rubbing her eyes. "We were cloaked all the way from Uluru. How the hell did they find him, in our shed?"
"DNA tracking drones," said EJ, grimly. "Or nano-bot scouts. Or maybe somebody heard him singing Cheap Wine*. Doesn't matter now - the only question is, what are we going to do?"
"We need to get there first!" replied Cora. "Marilyn, how far away are they?"
"Not far, but then neither are we. It's going to be very tight. Strap in - things are about to get bumpy."
With a sleepy grin, Mel sat back down and fastened her seat belt. "Let's hope so."
*For the non-Aussies out there, this is a classic Australian pub-rock song. For any Aussies who don't know it, shame on you. Kindly hand in your citizenship on the way out.
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The Four Baristas of the ApocalypseScience Fiction
In the Earth's darkest hour, unexpected heroes are stirring. Stirring their coffee, that is. When aliens invade, four baristas on a camping trip hardly seem the most likely saviours of the world. But thanks to a hologram with no fashion sense, some...