He was asleep during most of it, and the rest of the time he simply didn’t care.
Over thousands of years, a succession of thinking, inquiring minds had worked, slowly and deliberately, to understand the inner logic of a shy and reluctant universe. Only their patient determination, their dogged invention had made his journey possible.
His craft was full of splendours put together for the safe accomplishment of his mission: giant engines that would dwarf the biggest buildings of Earth, and intricate mechanisms, too small to be seen by the naked eye.
On his trip to this faraway destination, he had encountered some of the universe’s most breathtaking sights. Remnants of ancient novae, still lit somehow by their ageing fires; a sun locked in orbit around a neutron star, and slowly devoured by its invisible companion; a nebula, a cloud of cosmic dust, a nursery of stars, all aglow of the improbable births taking place in its innards.
Not once did he think or ponder, not once did he pause to give thanks, never did he stop to marvel.
Such a mind is not to be trusted.
There was a tear in the fabric of space.
This is a lie, of course; there was no such thing. There cannot be. But to the untrained eye, it appeared as such: a great rip in the jeweller’s black velvet, a gap across which others stars, unknown stars, could be seen. And through that gap came a great ship.
Listen, here is the quandary: how do you classify things? Living things. On Earth, it had been a long standing debate of some centuries but, as soon as was found out that all living creatures were somehow related, the solution became obvious, and the systematic of life on our planet was from then on little more than the drawing of an extraordinarily complicated family tree.
But what of the greater universe? What of all the diversity of worlds, where life was born independently on hundreds of different planets? What kind of classification can the logical mind impose on such chaos?
The obvious answer is that there is no obvious answer, only a matching chaos of antagonistic theses and competing proposals.
Out of these, only two systems really stood out.
The first one had been invented and was used by the personnel of Earth main military academy, the Breihat, and by extension by all of the planet’s armed forces, and, by a further extension which would have left extremely unimpressed a truly impartial observer, by its diplomatic service.
This system used complex measurements, statistics of kin and grotesque experiments in comparative biology – similar to comparative literature, but messier – in order to determine three variables of interest. The potential danger the newly discovered species could pose to the Empire of man; the potential uses it can be put to and advantages it can bring to the same empire; how to maximise the latter while neutralising the former.
The second system of classification was used solely by Contact Corporal (second class) Richard E. Sains. It was his and his only. He never explained it to anybody and, to this day, it resides only in his head. And as he stood on that hilltop, his great ship in a geostationary orbit high above him, the hinged doors of his landing craft closing at his back, he had a good look at the assembled fauna of this new world, gathered round him, come to meet and welcome him, and he tried to assign them a place in his peculiar system.
“ – Oh, he said after a while. One of these, then.” And he felt truly sorry.