The new specimen was waking up. Lord Xaurkoth unsealed the entrance to the specimen chamber and reared up to his full majesty, allowing only two of his tentacles to bear his weight. In this gravity, of course, even the weakest brood-Swaddler could have maintained this stance, but the specimen didn't need to know that. It only needed to know that Lord Xaurkoth reigned supreme here.
As it began to move, Xaurkoth studied the beast. It was always fascinating, studying the dominant life form of new system-the automatic probes did their work without any direct supervision, homing in on the transmissions most likely to indicate sentient life and assimilating the totality of their culture through a scan of their archived information storage before settling on the most receptive specimen for the first contact based on that scan. Xaurkoth didn't generally enter into the process at all until the first captive was taken and it was time to inform them that their world was under a new dominion. He was always intrigued by the results.
In this case, the creature appeared stiff and ungainly. Its flesh grew around an inflexible network of calcium deposits, forcing it into a rigid and limited range of motion. The eyes, though...as it unveiled them from behind its protective shroud of dry, pale skin, Xaurkoth was struck by how atacamite they were. Even the color seemed familiar, a deep blue that reminded Xaurkoth of the skies of Adacia on a warm morning during near tide. The similarity shook him slightly, but he drew in his tentacles and refused to let it show.
It looked up at him with wide eyes, no doubt struck with primitive terror at his majesty. It was tiny, insignificant compared to him-its full-body, stiff limbs, and all, was barely the size of his central mass. Reared up on his tentacles like this, he towered over it. He wondered idly if it would express that terror with servility or defiance. It mattered not-a session or two under the Thought Transformer and it would eagerly betray its own species. But he always found the process of unraveling the minds of lesser species worth a few moments of time before the Thought Transformer did the same thing more crudely and literally.
"I am Lord Xaurkoth," he said, certain that the servitor drone hovering at his shoulder would translate his words into the beast's own language. "I am the brood-progenitor of the planet Adacia, some three hundred light-years from your Earth. Ours is an ancient and noble people, scions of a glorious history of conquest that spans a quarter of the galaxy. And now we have come to enslave your world."
The beast looked up at him, an unreadable expression in its soulful eyes. Finally, it spoke. "That is so cool," it whispered.
Xaurkoth looked over at the servitor drone, suspecting a fault. It wasn't the use of metaphorical speech that perplexed him; the automatic probes had done their work well, producing an entire cultural index that he could tap on-demand to bridge the vast cultural gaps that existed between species. He understood perfectly that the creature wasn't literally suggesting that conquest would lower the temperature of its home planet.
It was suggesting that the act of being conquered was desirable. Possessed of an indefinable glamour. Captivating and exciting. 'Cool'. Xaurkoth had personally crushed opposition to his will on 427 inhabited worlds. He had never heard the act of being defeated and enslaved described in exactly those terms.
He decided to try again. "Perhaps your primitive mind is unable to comprehend me, beast," he said, knowing the servitor drone would pick up every iota of contempt in his voice. "Your world's existence as a free planet has ended. The Adacians have chosen you as our next conquest. We will crush your fragile spirits, one sentient at a time. You have been selected by our automatic probes as the most vulnerable to our processing methods-what." He paused, as the creature began to convulse uncontrollably, exhaling in staccato bursts. "What is this, what are you doing, what?"
The beast attempted several times to vocalize again, but it could only manage a word or two before the choking exhalations began again. Its eyes lubricated copiously, and it seemed unable to sustain its balance. Xaurkoth silently ordered an immediate medical diagnostic, but the information from the probes indicated no illness or injury. It merely appeared to have experienced an unexpected emotional reaction to the information.
"I'm sorry," it said at last, as the fit subsided, "I just...oh, you have no fucking idea." It exhaled sharply through its secondary breathing passage, making a loud snorting noise. "Please, go on."
Xaurkoth looked around, certain that one of his brood-leaders was playing a jest on him. Was there a camera planted in the room? Did they intend to humiliate him by selecting a neurologically impaired specimen for first contact? He double-checked the selection protocols, cross-matching them against a detailed profile of the specimen that he had barely glanced at before now. Everything appeared not just correct, but ideal-the 'human' egg-carrier scored higher on the vulnerability index than any creature Xaurkoth had ever seen. She was a match in every single aspect, the perfect choice to soften the hierarchical structures of the human species in preparation for invasion. And yet, she was responding in a way that no other specimen had.
Xaurkoth lowered himself into a crouch, perching on a more comfortable five tentacles. "No," he said, trying not to let his irritation show. "You have intelligence that you are refusing to share. I will not tolerate defiance from an inferior like this. Explain to me, or you will be punished."
The specimen bared her teeth, and for a moment Xaurkoth thought she was going to attempt violence against him. But instead, she widened her eyes and changed the color of her skin to a reddish hue. "Oh god, you've got so many tentacles," she muttered, fanning her face in some sort of attempt at cooling the blood that was pooling around her mouth. "That's so goddamn hot."
Clearly, the species was drawn to temperature extremes in its metaphors. Xaurkoth glanced through the climatological data. That explained it-irregular axial tilt caused extreme variations in habitability. They must obsess over such things. Curiosity satisfied, he returned to the investigation. "Do not attempt to change the subject," he said, raising his voice in a deliberate attempt to intimidate. "You claimed I had no idea how vulnerable you were. Tell me what you meant by this. Are you an inferior caste? A slave race? What makes you so weak?"
The creature's eyes gazed up at the ceiling for a long, inexplicable moment, as if she sought supplication to some imaginary deity. Then she spoke. "The, um...automatic probes you mentioned. You said they selected me for assimilation. How did they learn about me in particular?"
Xaurkoth's tentacles rippled in amusement. "Your transparent attempt at intelligence gathering will gain you no advantage, human egg-carrier," he said. "Whatever you learn will only make you a more effective servant once you have been through the Thought Transformer. You were chosen based on a complete assimilation of the informational archives of your entire planet. Every document of your culture, every record of your denizens, every thought committed to storage was scanned and absorbed and analyzed. From that assimilation, you-"
The beast broke in, apparently unaware of the breach of protocol she had just committed. "That included the Internet, didn't it?" she asked.
Xaurkoth took a moment to check. It had been some time since he'd done this much preparatory work for an invasion, but he had to admit, the sheer irrationality of the creature's behavior was intriguing him. He had so few diversions these days; a determined resistance from a half-mad species of warm-blooded calcinates could provide him some entertainment. "The Internet...ah, yes, I see. A peculiar vulnerability of your species. An open network for the exchange of cultural data, easily penetrated and scanned by the automatic probes. Yes, they used it to evaluate you for collection."
"Does it say...why they picked me?" the creature asked, looking at his tentacles with captivated fascination. "I mean, can you look at the raw data that they used to make the selection? Because, um...I mean, I never thought it would really happen, but..." She swallowed heavily and fanned herself further. He advised the servitor drone to step up medical monitoring and inform him of anything significant.
"It started with anime," the specimen continued, but Xaurkoth had already tuned out her babbling to view the details of the selected profile. It led him down a wormhole of nested cultural references-the probes seemed to find it highly significant that she was of prime reproductive age for her species, which forced him to look up the details of the human reproductive process, which led him into a detailed examination of their brain structure... Xaurkoth read on, utterly fascinated. He had never seen a species that devoted so much time and energy to the reproductive act.
"...and I mean, I know it's a cliche, and all, but La Blue Girl can still just get me so wet every single time..." Xaurkoth allowed the human egg-carrier to yammer-he could always go back and view the interrogation extracts later. Right now, he was delving into the messy...yet strangely fascinating...biological and cultural aspects of human reproduction. The fertilization and gestation of embryos appeared to be entirely internal, with a confusing and complicated biological egg-chamber taking the place of the normal gestation membranes. It appeared that rather than evolve a better process, humans evolved a pleasure reward system to incentivize this dangerous and inefficient method. No wonder they obsessed about it so much.
"So I found DeviantArt when I was twenty-four, and it was just this huge 'Oh my God, I'm not alone' moment..." The obsession ran deep, it appeared. Their entire culture betrayed a deep and abiding addiction to the reward system embedded into their brains; they drew artwork of it, they wrote endlessly about it, they fantasized about it virtually non-stop. This 'Internet' that the human egg-carrier described seemed to be almost entirely devoted to depictions and discussions of reproduction and its associated social rituals. In some cases, the rituals seemed even more important than the reproductive act, bizarrely enough. Which led him, finally, back to the human's suitability profile.
"Do you like them?" she asked, as Xaurkoth projected the tiny images the servitor drone displayed onto a wall for easier examination. "I've been drawing since I was thirteen-I mean, they weren't all like this one, that didn't start until I was nineteen, but I really have practiced hard. I've studied nature films to get the poses right, and...um..." She trailed into silence for a moment, as blood rushed to her skin virtually all over her body. "Do you like them?"
Xaurkoth genuinely had no idea how to respond. He had confronted specimens on over four hundred campaigns, grown used to defiant threats and pleas for mercy, and even stark wordless terror over the years. He thought he knew what to expect from even the most alien of alien species. But he had never imagined being presented something like this. He was, for the first time in ages, at a loss for words.
The display showed primitive artwork, line drawings of a human egg-carrier whose resemblance to the specimen was unmistakable even to Xaurkoth's unpracticed eye. Unlike the actual female that stood in front of him, this one had no artificial protective covering-she displayed her full body to the viewer, giving Xaurkoth a perspective on the anatomical structures that the informational text had not fully conveyed. In each of the pictures (and there appeared to be dozens), she was engaging in a simulation of the reproductive act with...with a...
Xaurkoth flushed vivid scarlet. His tentacles curled and uncurled in embarrassment he hoped the specimen would not recognize. The human egg-carrier was simulating reproduction with an Adacian.
Not precisely, of course. The tentacles varied widely in size, shape, and color, and some of the pictures contained too many. Sometimes they were attached to the main body mass that existed nowhere but in the specimen's mind. But it was all too easy to stare at the images and recognize in those expressive human eyes an awareness that she was engaged in sex with an Adacian, sex that was apparently intensely pleasurable for her.
He continued scanning the images. There were none that depicted the egg-carrier engaging in sexual activities with a member of her own species. Many were accompanied by detailed descriptions of the reproductive acts depicted in the drawings, fictional (presumably? Xaurkoth suddenly realized that he had only presumed he was making first contact with the planet) accounts of the human egg-carrier surrendering her body to the inevitability of pleasure at the hands of a powerful alien overlord. Some even described her undergoing a form of thought transformation. It seemed as though she had been dreaming for years about an encounter such as this.
Xaurkoth suddenly noticed that the human egg-carrier was still staring at his tentacles. He swiftly checked the medical readouts from the servitor drone, and realized that the female was exhibiting characteristics consistent with readiness for impregnation. She was sexually excited by his body. Xaurkoth felt strangely nervous about that.
"This...artwork," he said, unable to hide a trace of hesitation from his voice. "It is most...vivid." He paused, trying to find a way to articulate emotions that were entirely new to him. He knew that he had no interest in reproducing with the human egg-carrier; even if they could produce a viable offspring, he derived no particular pleasure from the reproductive act. Certainly not in the way she did.
But at the same time, seeing the images projected at almost life-size on the wall, Xaurkoth had to admit that they did stir some kind of emotion within him. The human female depicted her own helplessness, and the pleasure it brought her, with such intensity that Xaurkoth could imagine himself in the role of her overlord. It gave him a sense of power, the same power that he felt when immersed in the thrill of battle but somehow charged with a personal delight. Instead of crushing and enslaving faceless specimens, he was connected somehow on an emotional level to his conquest. And far from being terrified, she saw it as the culmination of her life's experiences. It felt strangely exciting.
Xaurkoth's introspection was interrupted by the human female. She was removing her artificial coverings, rendering her identical to the egg-carrier in the drawings. He could see that the depiction of her anatomy quite accurately depicted her reproductive organs, right down to their evident lubrication and flushed, swollen state. "That wasn't what I asked," she said, breathing heavily as she spoke. "I asked you if you liked them. Sir."
Xaurkoth squirmed under the intensity of her gaze. He felt oddly powerless beneath her stare, as though there was only one conceivable outcome for events now and she had simply realized it before him. She wanted to be conquered by him, physically invaded by his tentacles and mentally dominated by his Thought Transformer. He had never in his life found an alien who begged to be helpless; the more Xaurkoth examined the notion, the more he found it irresistible. A conquest, even the most hard-fought and hard-won conquest, eventually ended, but this human could be conquered anew every night. Xaurkoth tentatively reached out a tentacle to brush at her skin, just to see what would happen.
The response was incredibly gratifying. The female let out a liquid sigh of pleasure, her eyes fluttering beneath their skin-sheaths at the sensation of his touch. Xaurkoth reached out and gripped her more firmly, wrapping his limb around hers and pinning it over her head, and was rewarded with a whimper of obvious sexual arousal from the human. He couldn't resist pinning her other wrist alongside the first.
"Please, sir," she gasped, the arousal response making her breathing labored, "please take me, please make me your concubine, make me serve you in your bed chambers night after night, make me your mindless slave, please Master, fuck me with your tentacles, please!"
Lord Xauroth had personally conquered over four hundred planets. His hearts were hardened against mercy. No plea had ever moved him to relent once he proceeded on the path to war. But this entreaty, he was helpless to resist. He parted her legs with two tentacles and slid into her reproductive channel with a third.
Her moan of pleasure echoed loudly off the walls of the specimen chamber as he sank deep into her. He felt her slick moisture around his appendage, trickling down his skin and mingling with his own. His brief studies of the human race served him well, giving him an understanding of the places most likely to stimulate the reward response they called a 'climax' when touched. He touched them all, feeling like a child experimenting with a new plaything. The sensation of personal power was almost unbelievable.
The human seemed to feel it, too. She shook and writhed in his grasp, almost as if she enjoyed the feeling of struggling and failing as much as she loved Xaurkoth's caresses. "Oh, yes, Master," she moaned, "oh fuck me, please, yes, more, please don't stop, make me...oh, make me obey, make me cum, please!" Her hips bucked hard, as though seeking to draw him deeper into her egg canal. Xaurkoth decided to oblige her.
Everything about the encounter was fascinating. Xaurkoth was amazed by the way the human's brood-sustenance glands engorged and stiffened with excitement, he was thrilled at the way that he could stimulate her to whimper and pleading with only a few strokes on the tiny nub of flesh at the entrance to her birthing channel-even something as simple as the way her skin flushed red with pooling blood became a meaningful, intimate experience. Xaurkoth felt like he could never get enough of this.
It was only when the servitor drone warned him that the human was having difficulty maintaining consciousness that he finally relented, lowering her to the floor to collapse in exhaustion. Even then, she continued baring her teeth in a manner that Xaurkoth was rapidly coming to recognize as a sign of evident enjoyment. Xaurkoth felt oddly proud of himself for bringing her to that state. He imagined disdainfully that no human sperm-depositor could have simulated reproduction quite so well as he did.
Eventually, the human female recovered, putting her coverings back into position in an oddly affecting display of modesty. "I, um...thank you?" she said, as though unsure of what the protocol could possibly be in a situation as unprecedented as this.
Neither was Xaurkoth. He fell back on the familiar conventions of his normal interactions with conquered specimens, saying, "Remember, human, you are my slave. Your body is nothing more than my plaything, to be used at my will." The familiar words felt strangely touching this time, though.
The human seemed to feel it as well. She replied, "Yes, Master," with her eyes downcast as though too in awe of him to look him in the face. Xaurkoth found he appreciated it more than any gesture of submission from a defeated foe. "Is it...is it the Thought Transformer for me now, then?" She didn't exactly sound terrified by the idea.
Xaurkoth wriggled his tentacles dismissively. "Not just yet, slave," he said, putting a sternness into his voice that he didn't quite feel. "I still have valuable intelligence to gain from you, I think." Privately, he was already making plans to adjust the Thought Transformer, perhaps even to make its effects reversible. He was already realizing that he could only break the human's will once, and that seemed woefully inadequate for such a pleasurable experience.
The female seemed to understand. She knelt before him, her eyes shining with bliss, and said, "Of course, Master. I am yours to command. What do you wish to know?"
Xaurkoth flushed yellow with pleasure as he lifted her comfortably onto the specimen table. The servitor drone could tell him anything he truly needed to know, of course, but he found that it was more exciting to pretend that the human needed to be enticed into betraying her species. He sat beside her, asking the question that had burned inside him the entire time he was playing with her body.