The Over-men looked down on their world. Their castle hanged impossibly above the sky, shaped like the upper half of an hourglass, and the seven of them peered out through the hole at its point.
‘Australia is still burning,’ said one of them. His voice was level. To any outsider he would have seemed devoid of emotion, as if he was discussing a culture of bacteria in a Petri dish, but the other six had known him a long time. Used to silence from their youngest member, to the Over-men this outburst had an edge of hysteria. He looked up at their leader and repeated himself. ‘Australia is still burning.’
There was no intake of breath. Nobody moved, or reacted outwardly in any way to this statement. Inwardly, they all armed their weaponry.
‘Forty million people lived there,’ he said. The twins glanced at each other in surprise at the unusual phrasing. Not the human population was forty million. Forty million people. The leader looked up.
‘This is not new information.’
‘That is the worst part of it,’ said the youngest. The others all looked at him, their faces impassive. He had clearly gone mad.
‘What is your point?’ asked the leader.
‘I think that is obvious.’
‘There should be no ambiguity.’
The youngest nodded slightly. A pointless action. A human action. It unnerved the others.
‘My point is that we are monsters.’
Such emotive language! The twins glanced at their leader, looking for a cue. The woman standing next to the leader – the only woman in the group – spoke next.
‘We serve the greater good. An example had to be made. Rebellion cannot be tolerated.’ The youngest’s upper lip curled.
‘Forty million people,’ he said. ‘No good is great enough.’
The two either side of the youngest each took a step away from him. There was no sense staying in the line of fire.
‘The rebels broke the interdiction on the island,’ said the leader. His body language was the same neutral as always, but his voice had a just-detectable edge to it. The others all prepared their defences. ‘They may have had the starseed. If they had used it, they could have brought about the end of the human race. The firestorm was a necessary action.’
‘Necessary for our continued rule, perhaps,’ said the youngest. The light started to distort around him as he activated his shield, but he made no aggressive movements. The others responded in kind, and a breeze started flowing around the chamber. The woman narrowed her eyes.
‘You could have objected when the action was suggested, or when it was carried out. Instead, you waited two years: why?’
The youngest grinned, letting all pretence of calm fall away. There was madness in his eyes, the others could see. A ball of yellow light formed in the leader’s right hand.
‘Well,’ said the youngest, ‘I needed that time to set all the bombs.’
The he leaped out the hole. The castle exploded. The heat of it burned his skin, even through his shield, but that didn’t matter. He laughed in spite of the pain and a thousand smaller explosions filled the heavens, destroying a thousand surveillance satellites. He carried on laughing until he hit the ground.