The new constellation sparkled like a phoenix as it rose from the embers of the setting sun. Most of the people who saw it wondered, but did not worry, seeing only a beautiful addition to the autumn sky. Only the Hubble telescope painted a more sinister picture. And by the morrow, the media were declaring, not only that it was not a new constellation, but that it was a clear and present danger to the world. 

There were a great many who either did not hear the astronomers’ pronouncement, or did not believe it, and continued to delight in the new pattern in the heavens. Then, as the days passed, the glowing points of light grew further apart, and more significantly, glowed brighter and more baleful with each passing hour. 

Now the papers carried the headline, “Meteor Shower”. And astronomers on the news tried to quieten fears by saying they would — undoubtedly — miss the earth and go spinning down into the sun. 

But the meteoroids did not fall into the sun. They made a course change that specifically targeted the earth. 

Only one kind of meteoroid changes direction like that. The glowing orbs were intelligently guided. “Extraterrestrials of Unknown Origin” was the established code name for them: “E.U.O”s, usually rendered as, “Echo Uniform Oscar” or “Echoes” for short. And privately; indeed secretly, preparations were soon underway to deal with what the world leaders perceived as a true menace to life on earth. 

Missiles were launched under the cover story of a new series of communication satellites being parked in a geosynchronous orbit. The missiles knocked the Echoes out of the sky in minutes. And a public statement was quickly released that told only half the truth: that a number of ‘bogies’ had been destroyed by the earth’s “Asteroid Missile Elimination Network” or “AMEN” for short. 

 But when more missiles took the place of the ones destroyed by AMEN, it became impossible to keep what was really happening a secret. Now the media openly admitted that the earth was under attack. 

No one knows how many of the first wave attackers burned up before they got better at navigating in the earth's atmosphere. Soon, a few got through. The first anyone paid attention to was destroyed on impact. It came down in a blaze of golden fire and when the American army task force went to look at it, they found only a burning heap of twisted metal. 

Another fell the following night –- intact this time. But by morning the army had shelled the crater and completely obliterated it. 

“A very crude construction,” said Professor Heinz Zeit when the CBS News asked him to comment. That was the consensus in the scientific community, apparently. The ships were huge, but simple hollow cylinders — hardly more than that. The short, stubby wings slowed them down. So, at first, they lost hundreds. But hundreds more got through. 

Soon there were more getting through than even the united armed forces of earth could deal with. When there were no more earth defence missiles left, the surviving cylinders opened up and the aliens came out fighting… Carrying only spears, bows and arrows. 

“Tell me, Professor,” said the news anchorman, “how could primitive aliens like these develop rocket propulsion?” 

The professor polished his spectacles (he only wore them for show, of course, Heinz Zeit's eyesight was twenty-twenty.) “The answer is simple — they did not. We have examined the rockets, and it is clear that they are an obsolete type, very similar to the ones that were once used by the Russians during the Cold War. Many of these were fired off into space in those days, you know. These aliens — it seems — found some and made copies of them. They may be primitive, but they are good at making crude yet serviceable copies of technology. They do not have to understand it, and they do not need all the electronic monitoring equipment and safety devices NASA uses for life support, and getting the crew home again. It is clear that for these aliens, life is not at all valuable. They are probably considerably overpopulated. And so they are hurling their surplus population at us. Inevitably, they will either use up all their surplus population in a war, or find some living-space on another planet –- ours for instance. From their point of view, they have nothing to lose either way. In killing the invaders, we are rendering their leaders a service.” 

And so it was, that the aliens perished in their thousands as the planes of the combined earth air force strafed them into the ground. Yet, still they kept coming. 

The head of the task force, General Man was incredulous: “They're deliberately coming down in and around heavily populated areas! We can't nuke them. We have to evacuate the area before we can shell them. There are so many that we can't manufacture ammunition fast enough to maintain a steady barrage!” 

Flame thrower tanks were brought forward, and only then did the tide of battle turn — until hundreds of spear waving aliens began to fall on the tanks, bogging them down in a swamp of burning flesh. 

“They haven't even got parachutes!” the General cried, thunderstruck, as wave after wave of aliens jumped out of their missiles in mid flight to splatter their remains over the front line, while the cylinders themselves crashed into airbases, pock marking the airstrips with craters. 

“There is a risk,” said General Man, mopping his ample forehead as he faced the notoriously pugnacious US President. “There is a chance that if they keep up this kind of attack, that is, if they keep dropping on us in these numbers, we might not be able to stop them overrunning the earth.” 

“Liberal defeatist commie crap!” shouted the President with his customary eloquence. “Kick ass, General! Nuke them if need be. But if I don't have their asses by tomorrow, I'll have yours for a trashcan!” 

And so it was that, inevitably, with the President's disturbingly eager ascent, nuclear weapons were deployed on domestic civilian targets. First New York, then Washington DC were fire balled out of existence. Other major cities followed them into oblivion –- and still the aliens continued to drop out of the sky. 

“Do you want your cyanide pill now, Mr President?” said his Aid. “Or do you want to make a speech first?” 

“Is there anyone left to make a speech to?” asked the President. 

The Aid buried his face in his papers. “Nobody sane,” he mumbled. “Most people are too busy looting and fighting and killing each other to care anyway.” 

And so it was, with increasing desperation that the armed forces released powerful biological and chemical weapons. Millions of aliens died, and still more kept coming. The remaining human beings were few in number and mostly sterile or dying. The army retreated behind a wall of firepower all the way back to the hills. 

“Mr President,” said General Man to the late president's white-faced successor, “Our intelligence informs us that the number of aliens hitting the ground has halved in the last few days. The tide is turning! Hallelujah!” 

“You mean we can win this thing?” gasped the President.

General Man spat tobacco into the fire and slapped his thigh for emphasis. “Hell! We are winning, Mr President.” 

The new President relaxed his grip on his cyanide pill. “Are you sure?” 

Yessiree, Mr President. I have every confidence in our boys. We now have the requisite firepower — and the enemy has none!” 

"As you say, General –- Hallelujah!" 

But their triumph was short lived, for with the dawn came a new wave of attacks, considerably smaller in numbers, it is true. But with an important difference. These aliens were firing weapons and driving tanks. They had fighter planes and bombers. 

“What?” quavered the President. “General Man, you said those aliens were primitive savages! What does this mean?” 

“I’ll tell you what it means, Mr President. It means that Capitalism has prevailed even if we haven't. Someone's been running guns to the enemy. The arms dealers have sold us down the river!” 

The president opened his mouth to speak. But his reply disappeared into a mushroom cloud of burning ash as his blood boiled in his veins. 

And so it was that the earth became the first colony of the race that has now conquered the galaxy — by using borrowed technology.

 As they conquered planet after planet, the invaders tempered their warrior ways. Gradually, they developed a technology of their own. 

And as the need for expansion and war faded, they became more curious about the people they conquered. 

And out of this curiosity came ethical sentiments and even compassion. 

Now they are the great civilising force of the universe, although, great saviours as they undoubtedly have become, they learned their lessons far too late to save the earth.

This ReadWave has travelled through…

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