By Joseph DeRepentigny
Xavier Johnson loved being a space trader. Going from place to place seeing different kinds of people and things was to him the greatest thing in life. He lived to see and experience new things and taste the local fares. Therefore going to Cappella, one of the Old Terran Empire’s provincial Capitals was a big deal.
The Old Terran Empire was for 1300 years the dominant power in the known galaxy. At one time they controlled over 50,000 planets and wielded a military machine unmatched even today. Unfortunately, the empire could not hold itself together and it fell apart. The reasons why were debated over a thousand desks of academia. Corruption, decay from within or a lack of caring on the part of power seeking politicians. Whatever was the cause, now all that remained were tales of their opulence and a few places echoing the old grandeur and glory. So going to Cappella was indeed a treat for Xavier. Unfortunately, his Partner Yuri did not seem to share Xavier’s excitement.
Yuri was a Hoken. They were a race of spacefarers who came from the far side of the Magellan Cloud. Humanoids with four arms and a rusty red skin tone they as a general rule found humans interesting if not slightly barbaric. The two of them met each other at a space station almost five years ago. After a lot of talking and drinking, they discovered that they both shared an intense need to see what was out there. A streak of gypsy as Xavier called it. Therefore, they decided to work together and see what they could see and make a little money along the way.
“Why don’t you want to go to Cappella?” Xavier asked.
“It is explored space.” Yuri replied sitting back with the lower two arms folded. His upper hands were working the console he sat at. “I would rather go someplace humans and Hoken have never been.”
“I know that, but it is Cappella!”
“I heard you the first time, “Yuri said with a sigh. “In fact I heard you the last thousand times.”
“A provincial capital in the old…” Xavier started.
“… Terran Empire” Yuri ended.
Xavier gave his partner an annoyed look. “Why aren’t you excited? We’ve never been there before and just think of all the things that you will see. Great monuments dedicated to the achievements of the old empire.”
“I’m not a fan of conquerors.” Yuri replied. “They idolize soldiers and generals. Everything in their society revolves around the violent aspects of life. Additionally their displays of military prowess are usually garish and stark.”
Xavier frowned and mumbled under his breath “Pacifist.”
Yuri smiled and folded all four arms. It was a sign that he was deeply satisfied with himself. He knew he made his point. Still, secretly he looked forward to seeing this place. Even if military prowess was barbaric, he was naturally curious about the place. He just didn’t want his friend to know it.
A blue light on the console started flashing. This informed them that an automated defense system had locked on to them and was asking for an “Identify Friend or Foe Reply.” Xavier pushed the flashing button; the ship’s system sent a stream of data to the sender. A moment later, a voice came up on the ship’s communication system. “Welcome to Cappella. Please follow the approach path provided by Central Control or risk being destroyed.” Not wanting to risk anything, Xavier let Cappella’s Central Control take over.
“Strap in,” Xavier announced. “We are coming out of hyper drive.”
The two of them strapped themselves into their seats and let the ship’s systems take over. Sitting they watched the view screen in front of them expectantly. While in hyper-drive, the screen was blank. There was nothing to see and like an old submarine, they really didn’t need to see what was out there. The ship’s sensors took care of any obstacles it encountered. For the most part, they were passengers in a ship that took care of the day-to-day operations for them. They felt the ship lurched and the screen came on.
The first thing they saw was the black almost purple backdrop filled with stars. A sight that was reassuring to spacefarers like the shoreline was to ancient sailors. The two of them sat in silent awe soaking in the beauty. Then a white cube caught Yuri’s eye.
“What is that?” He asked pointing at the cube.
“I don’t know” Xavier answered, “whatever it is it is huge. It is almost 19 kilometers in mass.”
“Is it a space station?”
“No my friend,” Xavier said with a bit of awe in his voice. “That is a battleship.”
As they got closer, the gun turrets became clearer. Hundreds of them lined each of the six sides of the vessel. They both knew that in a battle this ship would win the day with the first salvo.
“That was quite an awesome display.” Yuri said under his breath. Then a thought hit him. “Why is it here?”
“What do you mean?” Xavier asked.
“Something like that might be a secret.” Yuri explained.
“How would you hide it?” Xavier countered. “It could be here as a deterrent too.”
Yuri thought a moment and nodded. It would be quite hard to hide such a ship and it did work as a deterrent.
After ten minutes of turns and maneuvers transmitted to the ship by Cappella’s Central Control, the ship was heading toward a blue planet. The surface of the planet was artificially illuminated and showed signs of being entirely urbanized. The seashores were all right angles and rivers seemed to run in straight lines. Even the shape of the polar icecaps seemed designed.
“That must be Cappella Prime.” Xavier said with a grin.
“Cappella Prime?” Yuri asked.
“Yes, Cappella is the name of the Star.” Xavier explained. The Capital Planet is Cappella Prime.”
The descent went smoothly. As they slowly descended toward the ground, Yuri and Xavier could see white marble statues and arches in the distance. “I’m getting my cameras.” Yuri announced unbuckling himself and getting up.
When the ship landed a group of soldiers waited at the hatchway. They were dressed in the finest uniforms Xavier ever saw. Gilded braids and medals covered their uniforms implying that these people were living heroes. On their belts, each of them wore a silver sword and white cotton gloves. Their shoes shined like glass. All of this made Xavier feel quite underdressed.
Xavier wore a white flight suit, black canvas sneakers, and a gray baseball cap. All of which needed a pressing or a quick cleaning. He was glad that he decided to shave that morning or else he would look like a total hobo. A taller older man then stepped from between this honor guard wearing even more medals and braids.
“Welcome to Cappella Prime.” He said with a smile. “I am the Praetor.”
Xavier heard a clatter behind him. Turning, he saw Yuri now dressed in a multicolored jumpsuit wearing sunglasses and flip-flops hurrying down the ramp. He had two cameras around his neck and another in one of his hands. The noise came from the cameras hanging around his neck and the unfastened belt hanging around his waist. The last item he was using two of his hands to cinch. All in all his excitement was obvious if not comical. Turning back to the greeting party, Xavier noticed something different. The Praetor was no longer smiling.
“I’m sorry,” Xavier tried to explain. “My Hoken partner is a little excited at coming to Cappella.”
“Where is your cargo manifest?” the Praetor asked coldly.
“Right here” Yuri replied rushing up to the Praetor and fishing a data cube from one of his pockets with his only free hand. He then offered it to the Praetor.
Looking down at the cube suspiciously the Praetor turned and nodded to one of the guards standing nearby. The young man stepped up and held his gloved hand out for the cube. Confused at the action Yuri dropped the cube into the young man’s hand and smiled at him. The look of terror in the young man’s eyes confused Yuri.
“Is everything we asked for in the hold?” the Praetor asked.
“Everything in the hold is on the cube.” Yuri replied.
The Praetor stayed quiet for a moment and then said. “Good, we will begin unloading your ship.”
Xavier smiled with relief and said. “Great! Now what sights on Cappella do you recommend?”
“None!” The Praetor said in a menacing tone.
“None?” Yuri said with a bit of shock. In his time with humans, he found them boastful and proud of their homes. Even the poorest planets would drag them around showing them holes in the ground or giant hills “Why?”
“Cappella is off limits to Off-worlders!” He replied.
“Why?” Xavier asked.
“That is none of your concern.” He replied. “Just stay in your ship and when we are done unloading you must leave immediately!”
The tone in the man’s voice sent a chill down both Yuri and Xavier’s spines. Sights of firing squads and worse ran through their minds. Nodding silently, they got back on their ship and left quickly once cleared by Cappella’s Central Control. When they were back in deep space, they headed quickly to a nearby space station for a meal and a drink.
Various corporations as neutral entities ran these places, sort of like interstellar truck stops. There they had a team of techs go over the ship to make sure that Cappella’s people did not leave any surprises onboard. After their bipolar reaction to them, anything was possible. Meanwhile they sat in the dining/bar area having a hot meal and a cool drink.
“Those people where weird.” Yuri said in a quiet tone.
“I know,” Xavier replied. “You’d think the Cappellans would want to give us the grand tour.”
“You guys just come from Cappella?” A man in a nearby booth asked.
“Yeah,” Yuri said looking down at his plate. He was disgusted with himself. A sneaking suspicion told him that the bad reception was due to his over eagerness to see the sights of the planet.
“I thought so.” The man said with a smile. “And they were all smiles and friendly until your friend showed up.”
Yuri looked harder at the table. He was sure of what was coming. His clothes and lack of decorum lost them a chance to see Cappella.
“Yes!” Xavier replied. “Why?”
“They’re purists.” He said mater of factly.
“What?” Yuri said looking up not expecting this at all.
“They believe that aliens corrupted the old empire and caused its demise.” The stranger explained. “They believe the foreign influences diluted and corrupted the power of the empire and made it weak.
“Did it?” Xavier asked. He was unaware of this theory.
“No the opposite is the truth.” The stranger said with a smile.
“I don’t understand.” Yuri said still a little confused.
“The Empire started to believe that outside influences were destroying them.” He explained. “So they became isolationists. They banned anything foreign or alien inside their borders.”
“I remember that in school,” Xavier said with a smile “The Edict of Emperor Williams.”
“Correct,” the stranger said with a smile. “Unfortunately when a government gets so paranoid that it walls itself off from the rest of the universe it actually kills itself slowly. They fall behind in technology, art, and social evolution. Eventually the decay takes over and the society dies from the inside. Then when a foe that would normally be nothing more than a nuisance attacks them, the whole thing collapses. Unfortunately, they get the blame or honor of being the conqueror’s conqueror.”
“That won’t happen to Cappella.” Xavier said shaking his head. “We saw a huge battleship when we approached. It looked like that ship could take on a whole fleet by itself.”
“Everyone has seen it.” The stranger laughed. “Rumor has it that it is understaffed and in disrepair. That ship is nothing more than an oversized scarecrow.”
- Used Time