A shimmering field of bright violet light illuminated the printout. Calculations covered the sheet itself and, though the sums weren’t quite what one would have preferred, Analyst Tnersk remained unworried. They were closer than he’d hoped, and it was unlikely that anyone would notice his slight omissions.
He looked over the numbers once again. The population of the planet under study was just over seven billion entities. They were intelligent and bipedal, with a mechanized society that had achieved limited spaceflight. Nowhere near the Skroull confederacy in terms of technology; they would not become a threat in the foreseeable future.
The lights on the pressure door indicated that he had permission to enter. The opening irised open, and he moved into the presence, covering his eye with his upper tentacles in the accepted show of humility. After seven kalins, he faced the Supervisor.
“Analyst Tnersk,” his superior signaled. “Has your analysis borne results?”
“Yes,” Tnersk replied, willing his communicating appendages not to tremble and betray his nerves. “I believe I have discovered a position of financial advantage.”
The Supervisor leaned forward, a sign of high excitement. The politics in the Upper Financial District were such that any financial gain was a matter of great moment. “Give me your conclusions.”
“The system discovered in the spiral arm is clearly worth harvesting. The inhabitants of the third planet are bipedal and intelligent – intelligence seems near galactic norm for sentients – but the dominant species is also of lower group independence than the current Andrean slave cadres. They can be herded and coerced at significantly lower cost.”
“I had heard that they are non-hive-mind creatures. They must be herded individually. How can this represent a cost benefit over the Andrean insects?”
“The xenopsychological analysis shows that they do not need to be herded individually, that they can be influenced through group dynamics. The same studies also show that the cost of sabotage losses will be much lower than the Andrean norm, and that they have very weak racial memory. That means that each successive generation will be more willing to play their roles as domesticated members of the slave caste – significantly better than the current situation.”
This was the crux. The same studies had also shown a small but not insignificant probability of deviant individuals creating massive amounts of structural damage as saboteurs, precisely because they were not part of a hive-awareness, and could not all be controlled at once. This, though, was not part of the primary study he’d included with his analysis, but a mere appendix. Supervisors almost never read appendices – and almost never redid numbers as a function of probability analysis. Nevertheless, Tnersk felt the nervousness causing his nether regions to glaze over.
“This is a long-term investment,” his superior signed. “The distance and cost are considerable.”
“But the rewards,” Tnersk replied. “We can get a head start on all the other clans. If even three billion of the bipeds are suitable for menial work, we can remove the entire Andrean problem within thee next forty cycles, and begin to generate profits nearly three percent higher.”
One of the Supervisor’s tentacles waved idly in the air, repeating the sign for ‘three percent’. It was, Tnersk knew, an almost irresistible amount.
“Forty cycles you say?”
“Yes.” The analyst tried to keep from signing his pleasure. He knew that in forty cycles they would both have been promoted far from their current posts, and that responsibility for any failure would not be based on the original analysis, but on whoever was administrating the ongoing work. The personal risk was low, low enough that, even if he hadn’t been serving other masters, Tnersk might have proposed it anyway. As it was, it was more than worth it. The only way it could backfire on them was if the original invasion and harvesting procedure overran its budget.
The Supervisor was thinking the same thing. “You say that they have only nuclear devices and conventional rocketry at their disposal.”
“No antimatter? And they aren’t aware of the wormhole mouth mere light-hours from their system?”
“The cost of the invasion looks a bit high, then.”
“I was conservative in the scenario. I wanted to make certain that it would work in unfavorable circumstances.” He didn’t mention the fact that his other bosses said that another, unnamed force might try to stop them.
“I would never be able to get those figures past an audit. They’d spot it straight away. Do you have a favorable scenario?”
“Here you go.”
“The return on our investment improves considerably.” The Supervisor, very unprofessionally, was signing his delight. He gave Tnersk the honor of meeting his gaze, eye to eye. “This is excellent work.”
Tnersk bowed, hoping there would be no more need for changes. His true superiors had promised great rewards, but also dire retribution.
The Supervisor signed as soon as Tnersk straightened. “Approved. You will have the honor of creating and leading the fleet.”
Tnersk wondered whether what he was doing was best for the Skroull, and wondered who had gone to the expense of getting him the original statistics for the planet. But, unless he wanted to commit professional and social suicide, there was no turning back now.
Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine writer with over a hundred published stories and three books to his credit. Every Day Fiction is one of his favorite places to get a fiction fix – and loves the interaction when one of his stories is published there.