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CONQUEST

Chapter One

In the beginning was the wormhole. It bloomed like a strange flower at the edge of the the solar system, dwarfing Pluto in its size and majesty. It was beautiful; theory become real. The eyes of the Earth turned upon it, and the space telescope Walton was redirected to examine it more closely. Within days, images were being sent back to Earth.

What Walton revealed was a kind of blister in space, a lens-like swelling in the fabric of the universe. As one scientist remarked, to the discomfort of her peers, it looked almost as if humanity were being examined in turn. The stars behind it were distorted, and slightly off-kilter, an effect explained by the huge amount of negative energy necessary to keep the wormhole open. An intense light at its rim dimmed to a dark centre like an unblinking pupil, and so the newspapers began to refer to it as "The Eye in Space."

Once the initial thrill of its discovery had worn off, disturbing questions were raised. Why had it not been seen before? Was it a natural phenomenon, or something more sinister?

The early years of the twenty-first century had yet to offer any proof that mankind was not alone in the universe. Shortly after the discovery of the wormhole, mankind received conclusive evidence that the universe was more crowded than it had ever imagined.

A fleet emerged from the Eye, a great armada of silver ships, graceful and elegant, moving unstoppably towards the small blue planet in the distance at speeds beyond human comprehension.

And the people of Earth watched them come: steadily, silently. Efforts were made to contact the craft, but there was no reply...

Panic spread. There was talk of the end of the world, of imminent destruction. Riots crippled the great cities, and mass suicides occurred among the more extreme religious cults, convinced that their souls would be magicked up to the approaching starships.

But wherever it was that their souls ended up, it was not on those ships.

The fleet stopped somewhere near Mars, and the Earth braced itself for attack. Some people fled to bunkers, others sought shelter in underground stations and subway systems, or retreated into caves. They waited for explosions and devastation, but none came. Instead, the Earth's tecnhological systems began to collapse: electricity, gas, water, communications, all were hit simultaneously, sabotaged by their own computers, but in a deliberate and targeted way—national defense systems shut down, but hospitals did not, and warplanes fell from the sky while commercial jets landed safely. All control had been seized by an outside force, but one that appeared careful to avoid more fatalities than were necessary. Still, fatalities there were.

Now, the Earth's generals warned, the real assault would come, but there was no further attack. The silver ships sat silently above, while below, society fell apart. There was looting, and murder. Mass exoduses from the cities began. Cattle and livestock were stolen and slaughtered for food, so farmers began to shoot trespassers. Men turned against men, and so great was their fury that, at times, they forgot the fact of the aliens' existence in the face of their own inhumanity. After a mere three days, armies were firing on their own citizens. All that mattered was survival.

Then, on the fourth day, power was restored selectively to the hearts of nine capital cities across the world: Washington, London, Beijing, New Delhi, Abuja, Moscow, Brasilia, Canberra and Berlin. A single word was sent to every computer in every government office. That word was:

SURRENDER

And the Earth did indeed surrender, for what other choice did it have?

When the planet's new overlords eventually made themselves known, they were not what anyone on Earth had anticipated, for the Illyri were not unlike themselves. In their grace and beauty they resembled their ships. They were tall—the smallest of them was no less than six feet—with slightly elongated limbs, and their skin had the faintest of gold hues. Some had glossy, metallic manes of hair, whereas others kept their perfect skulls smooth and bald. They lacked eyelids, so their eyes were permanently open, and a clear membrane protected their retinas. When they slept, their coloured irises simply closed over their pupils, leaving their resting eyes like vivid, eerie marbles set in their fine features.

The Illyri spoke of a "gentle conquest." They wished to avoid further bloodshed, and all necessities and creature comforts were restored to the people. However, modern weapons systems remained disabled. Air travel was initially forbidden. Telecommunication ceased, and for a time, the Internet no longer functioned. There was a period of adjustment that was difficult, but eventually something approaching normal life resumed.

The Illyri knew what mattered most to the planet they had colonised, for their technology had been hidden on Earth for many decades, ever since the earliest human radio signals were detected by by probes at the mouths of wormholes, and the first quiet infiltration of the planet began. Tiny clusters of Illyri androids, most no bigger than insects, had hidden in meteor showers and entered the atmosphere in the late 1950s. They began sending back details of Earth's climate, atmosphere, population. The Illyri followed the progress of wars and famines, and had seen the best—and the worst—of what the human race had to offer. The Internet had been a particular bonus. Nanobots embedded themselves in the system in the late twentieth century; not only were they capable of transmitting the sum total of mankind's accumulated knowledge back to the drones, they became part of the technology itself. As humanity embraced the Internet, and computers became an integral part of life, so too mankind unwittingly welcomed the Illyri into their lives and sowed the seeds for their arrival.

After the initial shock of the invasion, the human resistance commenced. There were shootings and bombings. Illyri were kidnapped and killed, or held as hostages in a vain attempt to force a retreat from the planet. World leaders conspired to fight back.

In response, the citizens of Rome were given twenty-four hours to evacuate their city. It was then wiped from the map in a massive explosion that sent dust and debris over all of Western Europe, a reminder that the Earth's empires were as nothing before the superior power of the invaders. The Illyri then announced that one tenth of the population between the ages of fifteen and twenty-one in every city and town would be conscripted into the Illyri Military brigades for five years. Essentially the youths would be hostages. Each family from which a young adult was removed had a responsibility to report saboteurs, or face the consequences. If violence was committed against the invaders, the townsfolk were informed that they would never see their young people again. It was a charter for informers, designed to sow distrust and crush cooperation among those who would challenge Illyri rule.

But the Illyri also offered hope. They erected great condensers in arid climates, transforming deserts to fields. They genetically modified fruits, and grains, and vegetables, making them more abundant and more resistant to disease. Within two years, hunger was virtually eliminated on Earth, as were many communicable diseases. Geoengineering—the use of giant reflectors to send sunlight back into space before it struck the planet—tackled the problem of global warming, reducing the Earth's temperatures to levels not seen since the start of the nineteenth century.

The Illyri did all that was possible to change the Earth for the better.

And still the humans fought us at every turn ...


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