It was at this point that they saw it. “What is that thing?” one of the officers on the bridge said. “It looks like a skipspisere,” said the captain of the flagship. “I believe you are right,” Captain Hansen, the emperor replied. “That creature does indeed look like it could eat a ship, and I think that is exactly what it wants to do.” “What do you mean,” an adviser asked. “We have among us a ship that is not very spaceworthy,” the emperor replied. “Oh, you mean the Amish vessel?” “Yes, precisely that one.” “That ragged thing looked like it was one of the first space vessels ever made and hasn’t been repaired once in a century.” “I think that is exactly what it is, but what vessel do you think would be sold to naive and trusting religious refugees looking for a safe place in the stars? Do you think they would know well enough to insist on a better vessel? And did any of you help them to find a better vessel yourselves?” There was silence in the bridge, as it was easy to make fun of others, fear easier than to help others, even when you knew such people were vulnerable of being taken advantage of. “Hail the vessel now,” he told the officer who was on signals duty in the bridge, a young officer who was quick to obey, quicker to obey even than to understand. When the image popped up on the screen of the bridge, one could see a vessel with a lot of resolute and simple folk inside of it.
“How are things?” the emperor asked politely. “We are all alive,” replied the captain grimly. “Have you found anyone willing to take your people in yet,” probed the emperor. “No, and we have asked nearly every ship in the armada. We have been told that there are too many people already, or that the bulls and llamas would react badly to being around strangers, or something else like that.” “I was concerned that might be the case,” said the emperor. “Your grace thinks of us?” the captain asked, to the interested view of the people on the ship. Ignoring the question for the moment, the emperor asked if all the people in the ship were in the bridge at the moment. The captain said that this was the case, blaming the poor life support in the rest of the ship and the fact that parts of the ship were starting to leak. At this the emperor felt it necessary to interrupt the long litany of the ship’s woes and the heroic efforts taken by the crew and passengers to keep everyone alive and warm in the face of such dire threats to their survival, as well as their frustration at the lack of hospitality by the rest of the fleet. As was his custom, the emperor cut the Gordian knot with a boldly generous statement. “Prepare to evacuate to the flagship.” “You wish for us to travel to the planet in your own ship?” “Absolutely. Your ship is derelict. It should never have been brought on this journey in the first place, and it is not your fault at all that you have a ship that is unfit for deep space and is not long to exist.” “But you would have us with you? We are humble and simple folk, not grand like you are.” “That is quite alright,” the emperor said. “Besides, we have much to discuss.” “We do?” “Aye, that we do.”
It took some time for the passengers of the ship to be evacuated to the flagship, but as the captain figured, there was plenty of room for them in the cargo bay, where they were able to live simply as they wished, without having to use electronics. The captain of the vessel, a bearded and serious man who had found the spaceship a challenge to maintain but had been the best educated of his lot, found the emperor to be a less grand person than he supposed, and he introduced his little community to the emperor once they were all together on the flagship. The emperor himself proved to be gracious as well, inviting the menfolk of the community to discuss their backgrounds, their various skills and talents, and what they hoped to do once they landed on Multi Prime. To the emperor’s annoyance, if not surprise, they expressed what they wanted to do but stated that no one had yet told them where they would end up. The emperor told one of his assistants to bring them a printed map of the planet showing the allotment of lands that had taken place so far so that they could discuss the matter. It took some time for the assistant to return, and in the meantime, the emperor discussed where they had come from and what conditions on earth had led to their departure from the earth, even if the thought of space travel had been terrifying to them. The women and children of the group eyed the emperor with curious interest but were silent, letting the menfolk speak as was their custom, but recognizing the politeness of the English gentleman.
When the assistant returned with a large projection of the map of the planet, the emperor and the men of the group discussed what climate zones they expected were in what areas, and the emperor proposed that they take they land surrounding the proposed capital area, an area of mixed meadows and forest, land that would otherwise be left as a national park to avoid the existence of too much sprawl around the capital. The group looked at the emperor a bit stunned. “You would have our community near the capital?” “I would.” “But we are a simple folk, without a great deal of technology, and we are certainly not grand.” “That is precisely the point,” the emperor replied. “I want it to be made clear that this is an unusual sort of empire, one where the humble and modest and simple folk are not shunted off into desolate wilderness, but are instead at home among the high and mighty. I expect there will be many who will want to push their way close to the center, but who will need to learn a lesson that those who humble themselves will be exalted, and those who exalt themselves will be humbled,” the emperor continued. The group stared at him agape, never expecting to see an emperor act this way, but the group took it in stride, seeing him as a far more complicated man than they might have expected. Their gratitude at a safe berth and a secure new home in prime territory was effusive and genuine, while the emperor was gracious, if less effusive, in response.
When he got back to the bridge, he saw some solemn looks on the faces of the bridge crew. “You might want to look at this,” the captain told him, bringing up the viewscreen. What they saw was a look down the open mouth of the skipspisere, which had slowly opened its mouth as if to swallow the old and small ship that the Amish had traveled so far and so dangerously into space. The captain ordered the ship to release its connection to the Amish ship, as all of the people were now safe and sound and off of that derelict vessel, and the flagship respectfully moved to a short distance away, in the full view of the rest of the fleet. The monstrously large being then appeared to suck the old ship inside of it, and the loud noises of a ship being digested inside the belly of a large creature were easily imagined by those who watched. Before long it did not appear as if the ship had ever existed, so clearly it had been swallowed by the large monster, itself roughly the size of the flagship. The emperor looked at the being intently but politely, and soon the skipspisere seemed to emit a song that vaguely reminded those who heard it of the song of a whale in the deep sea, at least those who had been familiar with such beings on earth or in their studies. After the ship was digested, the monster fell into a pleasant sleep, likely not dissimilar from the sort of food coma that awaits those who eat a large meal among the whole of the animal kingdom.
“Do you think that is a friend or a foe,” the captain asked. “I think that is is a friend,” the emperor replied. “You think everything is a friend,” one of the advisers shot out, before putting his hand over his mouth. “Perhaps so,” the emperor replied guardedly, “but look at what is going on? This being could have eaten any of the ships in this fleet that he wanted to, but he went right for the one who was worthy of being destroyed. And look, instead of a vessel being left in space to serve as junk, it has now served as food. I believe this being is worthy of further investigation, and it should be especially determined if this creature eats only derelict vessels who have started to release the signature of their materials into space. It is quite possible that this is a creature whose diet does not include organic creatures like ourselves at all, but merely ships and their materials. And if that is the case, would it not be good to have around a being who can recycle so as to save us from waste in space?” The scientific among them nodded their head in agreement, and saw an obvious line of unexpected research that might make the reputation of one or a few people, a line of research that would not take long to accomplish at all, and which elicited the approval of a scanning vessel as well as long-term observation from part of the flagship crew, so as to better understand the strange beings that this planet had in store. The emperor pondered the existence of this creature and the implication that there was something very mysterious and important about this planet, noting that the existence of a creature which ate old spaceships would be quite strange unless there had been at one time before a diet of spaceships to eat, and the worth of creating such a being in the first place. How long had it been since the creature had eaten its last meal? Along with the existence of the gates, the existence of a being which could eat ships suggested that this area had a lot more surprises in store.
“What is that thing? How could it even be?” asked some people as they continued to look at the creature. It is a mystery worth finding out, was the reply. There was much to find out and little that was known so far, and so preparations were finalized for the dispersal of the ships to the areas where they would land in order to encourage the building of new communities and serve in many cases as temporary homes while the construction of new homes and other kinds of buildings commenced. At that point, the ships would largely return to space where, by then, some sort of docking station should be built that would be the home of the ships and that would also serve as the conduit for trade between planets, which would be divided between ships that served from station to station and others that served from station to spaceport on earth, of which there would be several, once the planet’s resources were determined and the appropriate extraction infrastructure had been built. The emperor felt a bit tired after all of the drama of the past few days, as they had been taxing on his brain, but something told him that the day’s excitement was not yet over, and so he readied himself for more, as a signals officer came to him looking as if he had something exciting to say. “What do you have to share?” the emperor asked. “You’re going to want to come and look at this,” the young man replied, pointing at a sphere which represented the planet. “Let’s look at it then,” the emperor answered.
The young man eagerly pointed out the large group of dots that appeared on the southern continent, in what looked to be packs of groups. “And what do you think those are,” the emperor asked. “It’s hard to tell, as we have yet to get a visual read on them, but they are extraordinarily well-attuned to electromagnetic frequencies, and appear to be some sort of advanced life. “I think you are right,” the emperor said. “Do you propose that we go to them and check things out?” “Do you want to do that yourself?” I do think it would be best if we are to become natures to check things out personally.” “Surely you’re not going to go alone,” an officious officer asked the emperor. “Of course, I do not plan on going alone, but I agree that this should be investigated, and if there needs to be some sort of diplomacy, I should be the one to make contact and let whoever or whatever is down there know that we come in peace and wish them no harm.” “Do you think they are more friends,” asked someone more than a bit sarcastically. “I hope so,” the emperor replied. “I really do.”