The planet Calpernia Prime is about twice the size of Earth, but due to its geological composition, has only sixty percent of Earth’s gravity. Its atmosphere is quite similar, however, and its northern continent is considered a “must-see” for tourists throughout the galaxy.
The continent, which stretches fifteen thousand miles from ocean to ocean, is almost entirely composed of flat grasslands, pockmarked here and there with lakes. The grasses grow over sixty feet high, which makes sense when you consider Calpernia Prime’s sole dominant fauna.
Its calves are larger than a sperm whale. The largest on record was larger than the island of Manhattan, though the typical beast grows to only half that size. While it is clearly a mammal, it resembles a giant furry caterpillar, with twelve legs on each side of its gargantuan body. Each side of its ox-like head is dominated a black eye, which is about the size of a football stadium.
Every schoolchild in the Empire learns about behemodons, which are known as the largest land animal in the Universe.
While there are other animals on the planet, birds and insects and rodents and such, the only animal larger than a squirrel is this beast, which the Imperial biologists had dubbed behemodons. Fortunately for the birds and insects and rodents, the behemodons are herbivores.
Herds of behemodons move from west to east, slowly traveling in packs of a few hundred, stopping at the lakes, sometimes for years, in a journey that can last a century. There does not seem to be a rhyme or reason as to when they stop, where, or for how long, but sometimes a herd will charge from one cast to the other within a generation, and sometimes the eastern coast is only seen by the great great grand-calves of those that left the west.
And when they get to the eastern coast, they usually stay for less than a day, before heading west again.
No one knows why, but it has been this way for millions of years.
When the starship E.S.S. Sun Tzu entered the atmosphere, several beasts raised their heads and tracked its trajectory across the sky. Then, seeing it land about a hundred miles away, they slowly turned toward the oldest of them, a beast with a single horn spiraling out from the center of its forehead.
This beast seemed to contemplate the new arrival for a moment, and then turned back to munching on an enormous stalk of grass.
The landing party consisted of Captain Harper, Commander Lucan, and a half-dozen others who don’t really do anything in this story and therefore need not be named.
The moment Harper stepped onto the planet surface, he placed his fists on his waist, looked off into the distance, chin straight, and struck a pose of such commanding confidence that Lucan felt his throat catch.
The captain made it all look so effortless.
The remaining Legionnaires gathered around him in an at ease position, hands clasped behind their backs, watching for anything that might be moving beyond the giant, tree-like grasses.
Captain Harper peered at something and pointed, saying, “Fascinating, I swear I just saw something that looks just like a rabbit hopping off in that direction.”
Lucan nodded, “Not surprising, rabbits, or at least creatures looking very much like them, have been spotted on many planets throughout the Empire. No one knows why that is.”
Harper turned to his second-in-command, “Really, Lucan? The depths of your knowledge sometimes surprises me.”
Lucan paled for a moment, then quickly caught his composure, “Cocktail waitress back on Epheseus Beta. She was crazy about rabbits, couldn’t stop yammering on about them.”
Harper nodded, “Ah. Yes. Well, have you guessed yet why we’re here?”
Back on firmer ground, Lucan looked off toward in the direction of the herd they’d flown over, consciously appearing as contemplative as possible. “Sir, I have long since learned the folly of trying to discern your motives. My role is simply to carry out your orders.”
Things had been slightly tense in the past few months, since Lucan had inadvertently become a hero of the Empire by saving it from annihilation at the hands of revolutionaries. He had repeatedly stated that he was acting on the orders of his Captain, but it was evident from the vids of the event, captured from every angle on the Sun Tzu’s many cameras, that Lucan was the only officer present calling out commands during the historic event. Captain Harper was nowhere to be found, as he was in his quarters at the time, sleeping off the previous evening’s bender.
Lucan had found himself in a very delicate situation. He was being feted as a hero, but he knew that the actions of a lone officer were not nearly as important to the Empire as respect for the command structure. If Lucan appeared to be trying to rise above his station, or worse, intentionally stealing the spotlight from his commanding officer, there were those in Central Command who would reassign him to a frozen way-station planet just to prove a point.
So, while portraying the consummate officer was Lucan’s full-time occupation, he now projected an extra helping of deference, with just a slight soupçon of obsequiousness.
A loud grinding noise snapped Lucan’s attention back to the ship, as the cargo-bay doors swung open. From the depths of the hold, a Mongol Meteorstorm Mobile Heavy Artillery unit rolled out onto the surface on heavy treads. Lucan hadn’t even know that they had one of those aboard.
“Looks like I’m the one surprising you this time. I picked it up during our ship inspection on Epheseus.” Captain Harper’s smile was not exactly warm. “Any guesses?”
What could we possibly need a Meteorstorm for… No. No no no no.
Lucan shook his head imperceptibly, it was the voice deep down inside speaking to him. The voice he’d spent much of his career learning to suppress. “No, sir.”
“Back on Earth, I had a chance to chat with a fascinating fellow. The Emperor’s personal chef. Not sure where you were. Maybe, signing autographs or something. Anyway, he said something, just a throw-away idea, I assume. But I made a note of it.”
“He said, ‘I wonder what a behemodon tastes like.’”
Lucan reflexively suppressed any show of hesitation or uncertainty. He smiled broadly. “Brilliant, sir. That’s one barbeque I wouldn’t want to miss.”
Harper nodded. As they spoke the other Legionnaires prepared the artillery and aimed it, and then an ensign handed Harper the control panel. Harper took the device, paused, and said, “Marc, would you like to do the honors?”
Commander Lucan shook his head. “I wouldn’t dream of it, sir. I think the honor of first man to bring down a behemodon should belong to Captain Alphonse Harper.”
A hundred miles away, the ninety year old beast, who had led her herd back and forth across the continent four times, having taken over the role from her mother, and her mother before her, raised its head to contemplate the giant, howling silver bird-like thing that was very quickly descending from the sky toward her.