By the time we docked, most of the repairs had been completed. I think all they had left to do was replace some of the larger components and then the ship had to pass some sort of inspection before it could be declared space worthy again.
It felt strange as our impromptu family disbursed, knowing it was highly unlikely that we would ever see each other again, but we all knew it was inevitable. Perhaps some of us would remain in contact. We all had each other’s names and addresses by now.
Dad hired a private car and we went directly to the emperor’s complex. I was amazed that the complex was the size of a major city all by itself. Gaining access was difficult to say the least, which is appropriate I guess, but I found it irritating. I was thankful I had the distraction of helping Colin adjust to full gravity. Most of the work had already been done. All that remained was for him to get used to it and build up his strength and endurance a little more; he tired rather easily.
It was almost six weeks before we gained an audience with the assistant of an undersecretary of some other underling’s underling of the emperor, but it was a start, and mother was excited about it. Apparently, our story gained someone’s interest because, as short as two weeks later, we were summoned to see an assistant of the undersecretary of the emperor himself.
Mother purposefully kept the unusual details of our situation extremely vague, but the report caught the ear of the emperor nonetheless and apparently, it caught his interest.
Three days later, he sent for my parents. A private audience with the emperor was just what my mother had hoped for. I went along, but I wasn’t allowed into the meeting. Several hours later, an assistant suggested I return to my apartment. The emperor wasn’t going to see me today, and he was far from finished with my parents; there was no point in my remaining any longer.
I returned to the apartment I shared with Pip, Georgy and Colin. I tried to interest myself in the movie on the video screen, but I had missed too much, and it was too complicated to try to catch up.
I went and took a shower instead. It was the closest thing to a rain dance I could find; it was a long shower.
After pacing the apartment for another hour or two, Pip had a suggestion. “Why don’t you call the closest guard post and ask if there’s some place where you can go and work off a little of that pent up energy. Your orbiting is going to drive me nuts.”
That sounded like a good idea to me, so I did it. They gave me an escort to a workout arena where the guards in our area did their own training and exercising. I had to have an escort because I would be taking my own weapon and only certain people were allowed to go armed here.
I ended up staying there until the wee hours of the morning, either trying to invent unopposed sets, or sparring against anyone who offered, and there were several guards willing to take on a kid who needed to unwind. It would have been nice to flex my magic too, but there were too many witnesses and I didn’t want just anyone to know. Consequently, though it felt good to do this kind of workout, it was still inadequate.
I didn’t see my parents until late two days later and I spent most of that time at the garrison’s training field. I was worried about them, but I hoped that, in this case, no news is - well, maybe not bad news.
Early in the afternoon of the second day, a group of men and women arrived at our apartment. The man in charge called himself a seneschal and he informed me that the four of us were to attend a formal dinner with the emperor, and that the people he had brought with him were to assist us in dressing properly, among other things.
The ‘among other things’ included a quick lesson in proper manners at the emperor’s table such as what, when and how much to eat, when to speak and what to speak about, as well as when to sit at the table and when it is acceptable to leave. I’m sure we were getting an abbreviated lesson in such etiquette; I got the impression from some of the people attending us that it was common knowledge that dumb country bumpkins like us couldn’t manage such a complicated affair as a formal dinner with the emperor and should never be allowed within a light year of him.
By the time they were done with us, my head was in a whirl, and I think Pip would have gladly wrung a few necks, but we were primped, trimmed and tucked in all the right places and dubbed ready to depart.
They ushered us into a vehicle that looked like a small train. The front car was the engine of course and looked like a large van. Behind it were three more cars that looked like the front one without the windshield. The seneschal ushered me into the first car behind the engine. Pip, Georgy and Colin were ushered into the second car along with three other people, and everyone else got into the last car.
“You must realize,” said the seneschal to me as soon as we were alone, “that the emperor is very interested in you and your family. He will likely speak to you rather often, if not almost exclusively, so you must be careful how you respond.” He shrugged. “Then again, he may ignore you entirely until after dinner and the others have all been dismissed. Remember what I told you; do not attempt to engage him, or anyone else, in conversation. He will indicate the flow of conversation; no one comes to see the emperor in order to converse with anyone else.”
“Why don’t you just say, ‘don’t speak unless you’re spoken to’? Wouldn’t that be so much easier?” I said.
He just scowled at me. His whole body language said he thought I was just too stupid to understand.