art by Richard Gagnon
by Robert Reed
Ask people what they believe. Approach them on the street or at work, or better yet, visit their homes at dinnertime. Carry clipboards and tablets along with bright unthreatening smiles. Beg for a moment of their time and some careful thought. Tell them that you are doing a survey, and when they seem agreeable, pose one question.
"What would it take to conquer the world?"
At this point, the average person will beg for directions. He or she would prefer their choices narrowed. Who is doing the conquering? And does it happen today or in a hundred years? Don't relent. Tell them that they can choose the conqueror, advocate any timetable. Steering them into imaginative states is the goal. Let them talk about images and emotions. Nod on occasion, and throw in a strategic wink or two. They will explain what comes first and second and third in their minds, and none of it will be particularly interesting.
Aliens will be common. Subjugating the planet takes determination and evil talents, and most of the hypothetical aliens will arrive inside enormous spaceships or some other cliché. Citizens of the industrialized world will invoke lasers and nuclear bombs along with scary plagues, since these tools are only decades old and impressive on movie screens. Meanwhile people from the Third World slums and cassava villages--supposedly unsophisticated people--are far more willing to unleash magic in its myriad forms.
This activity is a game, first and always. There is no correct answer, and you are within your rights to tell them so.
Eventually the images of warfare will run dry.
And at that point, you need to remind the participants that the world has to be subjugated. Mushroom clouds and zombies are all well and good, but in the end, the world must belong to a single authority or power, which begs the question:
"What does conquest look like?"