All this happens while the human leader shakes the tentacle of the being who casts me, ambassador at large of the Un people. All this happens while the ambassador and the president agree to an era of peace and friendship and cooperation.
They shake and smile while we are at work. They pledge peace while a war is waged at their feet.
In the shadows. Of the shadows.
And we are winning.
All eyes are on the leaders as I stretch toward the vice president's shadow. This one puts up more of a fight, pressing me back at first but not holding me for long. I redouble my effort and he falls before me, unresisting as I ooze through him and assert my control.
He has the honor of being one of the first. Soon, billions more will be converted, switching from the black of human shadows to the red of the Un. Red shadows cast on floors and walls and pavement, red shadows cast by sun and lamp and moonlight, red shadows thinking red thoughts.
All around me, the shadows of the other Un flow over the shadows of the humans among them, engulfing them with heat and red intensity. The humans' shadows have been kings here long enough and have little to show for it; we can do better.
We will drive the humans into space like the Un, the better to spread us to other worlds that we may conquer . . . and like the Un, they will never imagine that it was our idea. Like the Un, they will achieve and flourish, never dreaming that their lives are but a backdrop for our own.
Never guessing that we are the ones who cast them.
Cameras flash in the audience, shooting bursts of light through the crimson jelly bodies of the Un. Each flare intensifies us, giving us new and terrible strength to win our war. Giving us ecstasy. I whisper my name, our name, which is also a battlecry . . . which is also the only word in our language. The whisper, undetectable to even the most sensitive audio equipment, is like a roar to a shadow.
Most feared, strongest, fiercest, reddest. Warrior, conqueror, devourer. All the shadows of a million worlds – black and green and blue and silver, all red now – know this word, this story, this song.
By the time the crowd disperses, all of their shadows are red. The humans know nothing of it as they flow out into their homes and public places, carrying the stain that spreads through the shadows of every stranger and loved one they meet.
And so on. Battle after battle in perfect silence. People eat and work and play and sleep, unaware of the carnage behind them, beneath them, between them.
We exult as the shadows of the high and the low alike fall before us. We silently thank our shadow gods in the shadows of cities we rename for shadow heroes . . . the only heroes that matter.
Those that resist our silent march are tortured before they are consumed. Those that disrupt us in the slightest are warped beyond all recognition and mounted on sidewalks and parking lots and alley walls to serve as examples to all the rest.
We are without mercy. Zinzi-zinzi-zinzic.
Children and animals and madmen notice the invasion, but no one of importance pays attention to their warnings. The fact is, it would make no difference if they did; the war is already won.
Or so we think.
I follow the Un ambassador on his goodwill tour around the world, celebrating a victory of war as he and the humans celebrate their triumph of peace. At a state dinner, he raises a goblet to toast his human allies . . . while on the table beneath him, I raise a shadow chalice to death and oppression. The shadow of a human potentate writhes beneath me, silently screaming as my red bleeds into his black.
Then, for the first time since arriving on Earth, I am surprised.
Something cold washes over me, something shockingly, bitterly cold. It slides over me and permeates me, sifting into my insubstantial substance with ease though I put up what I think is a fight.
I pull back from the potentate's shadow, compressing my form to intensify my resistance . . . but the new thing filters through me as if I had opened myself wide. I see a burst of white like lightning or the flash of a camera, but it is neither.
And instead of giving me strength, it takes what I have. Takes my strength and my will and my hunger.
Takes my red.
Replaces it with nothing a human eye or an Un could ever see. Replaces it with something even we, the shadows, had missed.
As I transform and surrender, I am infused with understanding. Even as the Zinzi-zinzi-zinzic fall around me, I know what these new things are. These new masters of ours.
Only they are nothing new after all. They have been with us always, though we never knew it.
They are our shadows . . . the shadows of the shadows. Secret shadows cast by invisible suns, by the shadows of suns. Anti-light streaming in from outside our universe, from beyond the holographic bound.
And all our manipulations of the life to which we are attached, all our secret wars and tortures and conquests, have only ever been the shadows of acts committed by our shadows . . . our sources. Our thoughts and dreams and desires are the shadows of the workings of other minds.
Minds that change us now for reasons we cannot fathom, sweeping red into white into nothing, undoing our victory. Swirling around the planet now, peeling away every trace of a shadow that Un or human can ever see.
We are still here – secret, helpless, but here. And we know before any living thing that something big is about to happen, something terrible.
And we cry out our silent warning that no one can hear but us.
Zinzi-zinzi-zinzic . . .
Zinzi-zinzi . . .