As the shimmering light faded away, John Smith looked about the cold, sterile room he now occupied. Then he pinched himself, and since it hurt quite a bit he felt confident this wasn’t a dream.
“Greetings, Earthling.” said a creature that looked like a house plant made of tentacles.
This was the first time a human had ever seen an alien, and so John Smith felt it appropriate to mark the occasion with a suitably historical statement.
“Please don’t be alarmed, I will not hurt you!”
“Oh, that’s good.”
“However, my master is an intergalactic warlord who plans to conquer your planet.”
John Smith repeated his iconic first contact speech.
“I’m really very sorry about all this, but it’s his way. He wishes to speak with you, an ordinary human, to best assess the military capabilities of your planet. He doesn’t bother with soldiers because they just brag about how strong they are, and he hates politicians because they just try and surrender immediately. What you tell him will determine whether your world is invaded or not. No pressure.”
Rather reluctantly, John Smith was led from the teleportation chamber through the alien warlord’s vessel. He was steered through an ominous doorway into a vast, dark chamber with a glowing ring on the floor at the center. A mass of angrily quivering tentacles stood at the far edge.
“I am the Arch-Conqueror, Blaphimax the Furious! Step into the circle, human! Let the fate of your world be decided!”
John Smith obeyed. Blaphimax joined him in the circle. “This is a Truth Field! No falsehood may be spoken here, and so you are now compelled to reveal the true capabilities of the human race! By now you must realize we are far beyond your world technologically, possessing marvels the likes of which you have never seen!”
“That’s not true,” John Smith blurted out. He didn’t mean to, and he was so surprised by his own words he clasped his hands over his mouth in shock.
The alien quivered in shock. “How can you possibly be familiar with our technology?”
Words crashed against the inside of John’s mouth, forcing their way out of his lips. “The Enterprise!” he blurted out, before wrestling some measure of control back. “I’ve seen your teleportation technology a hundred times on the Enterprise. And a bunch of other places, actually. But the Enterprise is where I first remember seeing it.”
Confused, One of the warlord’s eyestalks turned to a nearby lackey. “He can’t be making this up, right?” A smaller, more nervous ball of surplus squid parts shook what passed for a head. Blaphimax turned back to the human just as the Truth Field compelled another pronouncement.
“Also, this is just a Zone of Truth. I’ve known about the Zone of Truth since I was a child! It was used in a game I played with my friends when I was twelve.”
The Arch Conqueror began to pace – or at least do the ball of tentacles equivalent of pacing – as he studied the human before him. “Have you ever faced a Star Destroyer before?”
“I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen a Star Destroyer,” John replied.
“How many battles have you fought in?”
“More than I can count.”
The warlord paused. “How many conflicts have you personally partaken in that involved uniformed combatants, fighting under the flag of an armed force, against an equivalent force?”
“Like I said, more than I can count.”
“I speak only of conflicts where kills were achieved!”
“How many times do I have to give you the same answer?”
The alien bristled with fury. “Name such a conflict zone!”
John smiled. “Blood Gulch.”
The warlord fell silent for a time, brooding on the answers he’d received. John decided to take the initiative. “How many worlds does your empire have?”
“Twenty-two,” Blaphimax responded. “Spread across seventeen star systems.”
“Small to mid-game empire then,” the inadvertent response made the pacing alien pause.
“I beg your pardon?”
A smile crept across John’s face. “In my spare time, I run a simulation called ‘Stellaris’. It’s very popular. Millions of humans use it. It creates a virtual universe for us to manage, and we seek to control the galaxy through either diplomatic, economic, or military means. I’d say I win about sixty percent of my playthroughs.”
The tone of the warlord’s voice changed. “Are you telling me that ordinary humans, civilian humans, routinely engage in war game exercises?”
“Absolutely! In fact, simulated conflicts are one of our most popular hobbies!”
“You know of advanced technology, yet we see no sign of it. You simulate galactic conflict, yet you live upon a single backward world. This… this must be a deception! You must be lying!”
“I cannot lie within this circle.”
“Then what am I missing?” No answer came. “There is something you are holding back! What is it? Explain to me why a species that has knowledge of advanced technology would not have it in widespread use!”
John felt his chest tighten as the truth field tried to drag words out of him. He knew by now to get ahead of the sensation, “Those simulations I told you about? We often play them against AI machines designed to follow certain pre-scripted parameters. I’m sure you do the same in your own war games?”
“Yes we do,” the Warlord answered, though seemingly not by choice.
“By default, those simulations make all factions roughly equal – same starting resources, equivalent territory, ‘average’ skill at combat, and so on. The reason I only win sixty percent of the time is I give the AI a large advantage; they get more resources, their weapons are stronger than mine, and they are allowed to ‘cheat’ by having access to knowledge they shouldn’t have. I run these wargames at a considerable disadvantage… and I still win more than half the time.”
Blaphimax went quiet. “You deliberately put yourself at a disadvantage?”
John nodded. “It is far more satisfying to defeat a superior opponent than to crush an inferior one. Every time I win, I make the next game slightly harder.” He leaned in and whispered, “Just between you and me, from what I’ve seen of your technology so far… I can say with absolute confidence that a war between my world and yours wouldn’t even be close to a fair fight. I’d be amazed if it lasted a week.”
For a moment, John feared he’d pushed his luck. The eyestalks of the Arch Conqueror fixed him a glare. “Which faction would win? Earth, or my Dark Dominion?”
“The fact you even have to ask that question proves you are nowhere near as smart as you think you are,” John sneered, folding his arms across his chest.
The alien shrank to the floor, defeated by words alone. “Earth will be spared… for now.” The warlord made a curt gesture with his tentacles, and John Smith dematerialized from the throne room in a flash of blue-white light.
Republished with permission from the author, TonberryFeye. Image created using Stable Diffusion.