Somewhere on the New Earth flatlands, an enormous plume of smoke arose, putting a smile on the face of Lieutenant Briggs, watching the explosion through a binoculars. Once the smoke dispersed, nothing was left of the Groms, the giant insectoid beings who peacefully grazed there. In an instant, they became dust.
For Briggs, that was the best result he could have hoped for. And judging by the enthusiastic chittering going on behind him, the other Groms -- the Groms who were watching with him on the mountain slope, the Groms who wore bulletproof vests marked with the word "police", the Groms who were carrying the weapons the humans had given to them -- had been wooed sufficiently.
Beside Briggs, Carl was looking nervous. Briggs himself had it in him to never show emotion, and that's why he was in charge, why he was Lieutenant, why Carl would never go beyond being a Private. Briggs knew all about ruthless aggression. Carl didn't.
“As you can see," Briggs said to the Groms, "timber mines are highly effective in combat scenarios, especially against soft targets. What do you think, you in or out?”
The Groms communicated amongst each other. Some fired bullets into the sky. Then one of the Groms stepped forward. To Briggs they all looked the same, but when that Grom opened its beak, speaking human language, he recognised it as the leader.
The Grom replied, “<We'll take them.>”
“So," Briggs said, "15 automatic rifles, 10 rounds of ammunition, 20 grenades–”
“<And don't forget the mines.>”
“– and the mines,” Briggs checklisted. When that was done, he and Carl left the Groms alone and headed down the other side of the mountain. Briggs barked orders at his soldiers in the supply trucks. “Start unloading the goods.”
Carl took Briggs to the side. “Are you sure?” he asked Briggs.
“Sure about what?” Briggs said with a surprised laugh.
“Handing all these guns to them like this.”
Briggs paused. “They give me the willies, too, but it's company policy and we follow orders through no matter what.”
Briggs didn't respond. He whistled at the mountain, signalling to the Groms up there. Dozens of tiny Groms quickly came out of holes in the ground, squirming their way to the supply trucks to take what was theirs. Soldiers handing over the crates warned for patience, but the Groms kept grabbing at anything they could, as fast as they could.
Briggs grinned at the mess of a scene, then finally offered Carl a nod.
They quietly walked a few paces over to the gunner truck they were riding in, Carl following Briggs. Then Briggs explained further, once they were out of sight, “This way, not only have we secured prime real estate for ourselves, but we've set it up so the current residents kill each other off – and at no extra cost.”
Suddenly Carl found a Grom stalking the tyres of the gunner. He leaned down and whispered, “What are you doing, little fucker?”
It poked its head up and stared at him with its many bulging, beady eyes.
Carl stood up straight, wiped his pants, saying to Briggs, “I don't know, man.” At the same time he kicked the Grom away, causing it to scuttle off with an angry hiss before retreating and wiggling into a hole.
"Don't know what?" Briggs said.
“Just seems like a hell of a way to settle a world.”
“Carl, you don't get it. We're at war with these roaches already.”
"Just get in."
"Just get in."
They climbed into the gunner. Briggs got in the driver's, Carl took the passenger side. Briggs grinned, keying the ignition. “See, we're at war, but they just don't know it yet.”
The gunner started up with a loud sputter, drowning out the low hum coming from the underside of the vehicle, where an electronic mine was planted.