Robert Sheckley - Legend of Conquistadors

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Robert Sheckley - Legend of Conquistadors
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Legend of Conquistadors

EARTH CB122XA IS ONE OF the alternate Earths spilling out of the matrix of quantum mechanical points of possibility that make up this part of the multiverse. They do things differently here. Earth CB122XA, or "Earth," as the locals called it, was a quiet place. A single king ruled the entire planet. It had its cyclones, floods, forest fires, and its plagues and epidemics, just like most of the other Earths.

But these came in moderation, especially when compared with elsewhere. And, just as their people and planets and conditions of Earth came out of the cosmic foam, so did their gods.

This Earth had its own god, generated out of the endless quantum-mechanical possibilities. The locals called him "God." He didn't involve himself in the day-to-day workings of the planet or its people. He preferred not to work miracles, considering them a cheap effect. This god liked to see his people work out things for themselves. But sometimes, when an important point was at issue, or when the life of the entire planet hung in the balance, he had been known to give a hint or two.

This Earth, like all the others, was prone to accidents. Accidents often have forewarnings, but this one had none, unless you count the two spaceships that appeared seemingly from out of nowhere, circled the planet as though they were doing a survey, and then vanished again into space.

This Earth, although it was a fairly advanced technological civilization, had no spaceships to send up to find out what the strangers wanted. There was some speculation as to why they had not responded to Earth's signals, but not much, because only a few people had seen them, and their accounts were not generally believed.

All too soon, the ships were back, and they led a fleet of spaceships into the skies of Earth. These ships were large and fully armed, and the people of Earth did not try to oppose them, but waited to see what they would do.

To wait was also the decision of Drax, the king of Earth at that time.

The spaceships took up position above Earth's capital city, which was a place of architectural merit with many green spaces. At last a single huge ship came down and landed on the lawn of the king's palace.

Drax said to his court officials, "I guess I'd better see what they want." He walked out alone to the ship.

After a while a port in the spaceship opened. A group of men marched out. They were tall, broad, ferocious-looking men, wearing battle armor. After them came a single man, larger than the others, dressed in golden armor. He was taller than his guards by half a head, and proportionately broader. He carried his massive golden armor lightly. He wore metal belts from which hung an assortment of weapons, each more terrifying-looking than the one before. In one hand he carried a mace with a massy head, around which were mounted razor-sharp blades.

King Drax walked up to him and bowed. The golden warrior inclined his head slightly. They sized one another up for a moment.

At last the alien leader spoke. "I am Eduardo. I am the king of this several-million-man army that I have brought to your planet."

"And I am Drax," Drax said. "I am the king of this planet we call Earth. I welcome you. I am amazed to hear you speak our language."

"Universal translating machinery is one of the few things we have retained from our planet's old science. It enables us to give orders to our subject people without having to sully our mouths with their debased languages."

"It's obviously a useful accomplishment," Drax said. "Have you many subject people?"

"Every race we have encountered is now subject to us. Except for the few who preferred to die to the last man."

"Our god would not approve of that," said Drax. "He is not in favor of war. He advises us to go on living by any means possible, and at any price."

"He sounds like a wise god. Let's get down to business. How do you feel about fighting me here and now in single combat for the whole works?" His gesture seemed to encompass the entire Earth.

Drax looked at the armed man more than twice his size and smiled. "I'd rather not," he said.

Eduardo nodded as if he had anticipated that answer. "Then what about if my army fights yours?"

"We haven't fought a war in over a thousand years," said Drax. "I don't think we'd make a very good showing. Have you another alternative?"

Eduardo looked him up and down and said, "If you think being unarmed and insignificant is going to keep me from killing you, you are mistaken."

"Why should there be any killing at all?" asked Drax.

"It's usual," Eduardo said, "when one king wants to take over the territory of another king."

"Do you really want to be king of this planet so badly that you'd kill for it? Don't bother. The planet's yours."

"This is anticlimactic," said Eduardo. "We're accustomed to at least token resistance."

"You won't find it here," Drax said. "You're going to rule this planet no matter what I say or do. So take it, it's yours."

"All right," Eduardo said. He had seen total capitulation before. "The first thing I'll need is a palace. I have to change my armor, issue some orders, put up my guard, and get some lunch."

"My palace is yours," Drax said. "I'll move into a hotel in town."

"You're pretty cool about all this," Eduardo said. "I've got a notion to kill you right here and now, and rid myself of your deviousness."

"You'll do as you wish," Drax said. "But I assure you, I'm not devious. My god tells me the new king must be served. I obey. I would be useful to you in getting your orders transmitted to my people and obeyed properly."

"My dear fellow, why should I trust you?"

"Because I will always be under your eyes and in your hands. If I displease you, you can kill me out of hand at any moment."

"That's true," Eduardo said. "Okay. I'll need to go to my palace and get out a few orders."

"My palace is your palace," Drax said.

King Eduardo had a lot of work to do. He got all his soldiers places to live. This took several days. After those chores were done, Eduardo called for Drax and said, "Okay, now what?"

"Your majesty has been working very hard," Drax said. "Might it not be time for a little entertainment?"

"You know, Drax, I've never met anyone like you. Other kings, when I come to take over their planet, fight me to their last man. That's noble. I applaud noble men like that. But what do you do? You turn over everything to me without a fight. Why are you doing this, Drax?"

"This is what my god has instructed me to do."

"Must be quite a god, to advise you to give in without a struggle, and to hand over what you are asked for."

"Our god has served us well," Drax said.

"Well, I think it's time we got some girls in here."

"As you wish," Drax said. "They'll start arriving by tomorrow."

"I'll want all the finest looking women in the kingdom."

"You'll get them."

"And let your wife be among them."

After a short silence, Drax said, "It shall be as you say."

Eduardo sneered at him. "You really are a weak son of a bitch!"

"What would you do if I said you couldn't have her?"

"Kill you and take her anyway."

"Take her anyway, but don't kill me."

"So you can live to fight another day?"

"So I can live."

"And I believe you have two nubile daughters, too."

"That is correct."

"I'll have them, too. They'll be serving girls at our feasts." Drax turned pale, but he nodded. "Yours is the power to take what you want."

AND SO THE FEASTS and the merrymaking began among the invaders. Eduardo's troops were quartered in every city of any size on the planet. Eduardo decreed month-long celebrations, and the most beautiful women were forced to attend. The invaders were in a very good mood. They considered this a time of national degradation for Drax's people, and this pleased them.

Eduardo's next decision was to consider the people of Earth a population of untouchables -- except that they were very touchable by the overclass.

The Earth people were ordered to refer to themselves as The Underclass. The invaders thought that was very funny, and ignoble in the extreme.

Eduardo was amazed that Drax could bring himself to accept this. He asked him, "How can you bear such an insult?"

"My god told me it's my job to bear insults. "

The king and his people quickly got used to bowing and scraping before Eduardo and his warriors. It was a big change but they handled it with little difficulty.

The invaders tasted the pleasures of the Earth and found them good. They quickly accustomed themselves to the soft and delicious foods that the underclass prepared so well. They grew used to exquisite women, which the Earth had so bounteously. And to the exquisite boys, for those whose tastes ran that way. They grew to love the great wines of Earth.

And then they learned about the great drugs.

This Earth was exceptionally well-stocked with drugs. And they were all stored in the temples that abounded on every continent, and proliferated in every city.

In the culture of Earth, drugs were used only as gifts to the gods.

Consequently great quantities of them had piled up in the temple storerooms, neatly labeled, wrapped, or bagged or barreled. Ready to go.

There was ancient hashish that had mellowed and intensified for months, for years. There were potent psychedelic mushrooms. There were all of the subtle preparations of the opium poppy. There were marijuanas so potent that the mere nimbus of their scent was enough to intoxicate a man.

Eduardo was in a high good old spirit when he asked Drax to visit him again, this time in his private chamber, which once had been Drax's private chamber. There was the carved green jade vase, the antique red turkey rug, and the yellow damask couch on which Drax and his wife had reclined in happier days. But it was too painful to think about. Drax put it out of his mind, remembering one of his god's more resonant sayings: "How easy it is for bad memories to come upon a person unawares. To forget such memories is difficult, but one who is assiduous toward his own salvation will acquire the knack, if for no other reason than to maintain his present happiness."

Eduardo appeared in good spirits; his sallow cheeks were flushed, and a hectic light was burning in his dark eyes.

"So, leader of the underclass," Eduardo called out, "you see me in an elevated mood. Life is good, my dear ex-king."

"I agree, and my god agrees, too."

"I think I know what you're trying to do, you sly dog. You expect me and my men to besot ourselves with your drugs, then you will rise up in rebellion against us, and cut all our throats." Here Eduardo laughed very loudly.

"We considered it, of course," Drax said. "But rejected the idea immediately. It would never have worked. There are millions of you invaders on our planet. If we killed you all, we would pollute our Earth with your bodies. Our god would never have stood for it."

"So what would he have done, this god of yours?"

"If we polluted his Earth? He would have slain us."

"So how come he doesn't kill us invaders, who conquered his people and robbed his temples?"

"I am not privy to my god's thoughts, much less his decisions. But since he is a thorough sort of deity, he doubtless has plans for you invaders."

"And what would they be?"

"I haven't the slightest idea."

It was a short interview, and apparently unsatisfactory to Eduardo, who waved Drax away. The conqueror remained sitting, his chin upon his hand.

A few weeks later, Eduardo again called for Drax. "I know your plan! It is the drugs, isn't it? You thought we would become stupid and careless with them. But such is not the case. I am smarter than ever, and my men are doing fine."

"I had no such thought," Drax said. "I have always believed the supposed drawbacks of drugs are greatly exaggerated."

"But you do not use them yourself?"

"Our god forbids them to us."

"And when did that begin?"

"The taboo began the day your ships appeared in our sky."

"Interesting .... Well, just as well. The stuff's too good for the underclass."

Drax bowed his head in the servile manner he was growing accustomed to.

"But the reason I asked to see you, my men have been reporting that their local temples are almost empty of drugs."

"Not even the greatest pile is inexhaustible."

"We want you and your people to give us more."

"There is no more."

"Then have your people get out there and grow some."

"We tried that, to no avail. No narcotic plant has grown on our planet since your arrival."

"And you attribute this to your god?"

"I suspect it's his way of doing things."

"People like me and my men are not going to be conquered by a lack of narcotics!"

Drax cringed and nodded. Eduardo remained sitting on the couch, his eyes fixed on nothingness. Drax noticed that Eduardo's hands were trembling slightly. Seeing that it was an opportune moment, Drax retired.

Nothing changed, life went on, but suddenly, everything changed. Earth historians have theorized that the conquerors had been buoyed up by their own exploits, and by the drugs that made them feel good, better, best.

Suddenly all that was no more, and now there was an almost palpable gloom hanging over the invaders. The Earth and its peoples lived on quietly under their overlordship. Grain, vegetables, animals, fish, all flourished. All plants grew, except for the narcotic-producing ones. Life was quiet, and very tame. There were no new lands to conquer. Not on this planet at any rate.

And so, very suddenly, in one of those vagaries that are the bewilderment of learned men everywhere, the marauders voted en masse to pack up and move on to the next world, fresh glory, more conquests, and the next drug.

And Eduardo, who was as good a politician as he was a warrior, had no choice but to follow the people's whim.

Drax was there when Eduardo walked to his spaceship, the last to take to the skies.

At the gangplank, Drax said, "Pleasant voyage, king, and great deeds ahead of you."

Eduardo looked sour. He said to Drax, "I don't know what you or your god did, but you tricked us. I'm sure of it. I still don't know why all my men want to leave this place. It's something you did. I really ought to kill you before I go."

But Drax had an answer. He said, "If you did that, who would see to raising your statue, building your temple, and clearing the sacred grounds? Who else but I would prepare things so my people could worship you as a god?"

"I hadn't thought of that," Eduardo said. He looked a little more cheerful. "I am a god. I fought your god and won. Put that on the statue!"

"The one who wins is the one who sets the rules. Our god says, 'He who laughs last laughs best.' Have a nice new conquest, Eduardo. But remember, while you were here on Earth, you merely occupied territory for a while. That's not the same as winning."

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