“There is nothing left to win.”
“No, Rodrick. There is always something left to win.”
The town of Lambest nestled in the valley below was bustling tonight. Its citizens ate, slept, and made love fitfully beneath the light of their ever-torches.
“It’s not right,” Pluvius said, tugging at the tip of the beard which rested on his belly in time with each stressed syllable.
“Of course it isn’t right!”
“It’s never right.”
Rodrick shook his head. “Just say it, Pluve.”
“It’s not enough that they aren’t considered slaves. To be told you are free and to know you are free are two different things.”
Rodrick hesitated. “Pluvius. You can’t stop it.”
“You know what they’ll do,” Pluvius said. “You know what they always do.”
“Pluve, why? These creatures, they’re barely sentient. They aren’t slaves anymore. Isn’t that enough?”
“All right. So tell me. Tell me what we’re going to do.”
“We’re going to arm them.”
“With knowledge, Rodrick. What do you think will happen?” Pluvius put a finger to the sky. “What’s going to happen when they come back?”
“They’ll kill them. Or worse, re-enslave them. Is that what you want?”
“That isn’t what happens, Pluve. At worst, they’ll be relocated to another planet. That’s the way it always goes.”
“Yeah, relocated to the last planet that we pre-pillaged. We force our leftovers on them. Is this what we’re doomed to do? Again and again? Is that what we’re meant for? Walking over another race just for the supposed benefit of our own?”
“C’mon, Pluve. It’s not like they even know how to harness the planet’s resources.”
Pluvius smiled. “Not yet, my friend. Not yet.”
Rodrick’s eyes widened. “You can’t be serious. We’ll be burned alive.”
“That’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.”
“Pluvius, I’m begging you. They’re barely sentient. Chattel.”
“That’s where you’re wrong, Rod.” Pluvius smiled his best and most devilish grin. The uncertainty spreading over his friend’s face only made the grin widen. “We’re going to give them a fighting chance.”
Shapeshifting into two-legged lifeforms twice the size of the natives, Pluvius and Rodrick had no trouble convincing the locals they were gods. Then they went to work.
Teaching the primitive beings the secrets of tapping into their planet’s core was not an easy one. It took several lifetime’s worth of indigenous lifeforms just to finish creating the harvesting equipment. The refining equipment took twice as long. Rodrick eloped with one of the natives a few generations before the process was finished. A generation later, his wife surely departed, Rodrick did not return.
Pluvius found himself teaching the natives how to fashion not the weapons of war, not the tools of the conqueror, but good and useful things. The secrets of the ever-torch he imparted, and the earth-travelling disc, the hat of crystal rainbows, and stone oxen that would pull their plows every day and neither tire nor sweat.
Pluvius ruled them with a kindly heart and a firm fist. Crime faded into myth as the citizens thrived under their new god, and they created paradise with their new-found technology. Pluvius smiled each day as he awoke and he smiled himself into sleep each night.
To his surprise, and with the aid of the planet’s essence, they constructed new and original wonders. They made walking statues of alabaster as tall as twenty natives, equipped with spears like steeples that pierced the hearts of forest creatures again and again, until they returned with a kabob so full it could feed an army, had ever known armies. They made fountains of cackling essence that sparkled up to meet the stars, and they fashioned discs that could break the atmosphere, that they might meet the stars themselves one day, should the desire or need arise.
It was another two generations before the Intergalactic Conglomerate reappeared. Their last rock depleted, they had finally returned to claim the treasure they believed had remained buried.
Rodrick was at their side. He did not look into the face of his former friend as Pluvius was shackled. The natives were confused, and many were angry, but Pluvius told them in their scattered, chittering tongue not to be afraid as he was led away to the colonization craft.
“You’ve taught the mice how to reach out and touch the sky, Pluvius,” the Lord of Space and Time said in an amused tone. “And how do you respond to the charges against you?”
Pluvius smiled his best and most devilish grin. “I did it. I did it, didn’t I? Taught the little bastards everything. Your precious new planet is quite used, yes, nearly used up, I’m afraid. Now, will you let them be? Will you return to the stars and simply let them be?”
The Lord of Space and Time was quiet for a moment, then replied, “I’m afraid that is an impossibility, Pluvius. You never taught them how to kill. How do you expect them to survive? They will move to another planet once this one is drained, and they will die in the process.”
“I thought not, my Lord. No, I thought not. You will kill them, won’t you? You have to kill them. You can’t let the poor bastards live now, can you? Yes, have blood on your hands soon, will you? Will you?” Pluvius burst into laughter, a long and joyous laugh, the first laugh he’d had in many, many generations.