Crowding the Sky
The sky provides much awe to planet-dwellers. It spreads over plants like an old photography negative until it extends into the vacuum of outer space, where it may be observed by anybody who would bother to look. It has inspired many odes, poems, coronachs, novels, and countless other creative enterprises.
The Alien Aishas knew this fact, but they could not understand the fascination with the sky. The sky was worse than nothing; it was a vast expanse of nothing that they constantly came in contact with. It was worse than a blank canvas, for it showed little sign of growth or improvement. How assorted creatures from miscellaneous galaxies found beauty in such a thing, well, it was madness, for sure.
"Unbelievable!" screamed one empress out the window of her spaceship into the infinite blackness. "This... this is nothing! How could we let this abomination engulf the universe? Something must be done about this."
And indeed, something was done about this. At the empresses order, the public works officers attempted to create a giant refrigerator that could engulf an entire star. The project took many years and trillions of neopoints, but that was a drop in the sea compared to the empire's limitless wealth, and besides, it gave people something to do and forestalled the steady decline in employment.
The refrigerator could only move one star at a time and broke down frequently. It did not quite manage to move a mass of stars near the mother-ship so that the sky would vanish. With the giant refrigerator, the Alien Aishas could only move a pixel of light across a boundless screen, and this did not please Empress X'olola at all.
Many Alien Aishas blamed the government's inefficiency for the inability to restructure huge lumps of space at will, and so private companies embraced the task of trying to fill up the sky for the empress's pleasure. Many more giant refrigerators and star-trebuchets were constructed, each costing marginally less than the Giant Refrigerator Mark I, but they all fumbled before the expectations placed upon them.
Clearly, then, only a young Aisha, free of this generation's preconceived ideas about the sky, could determine a way to fill up the sky. These enterprising Aishas stuffed many boardroom meetings around the galaxy, each with their own innovation ready to be revealed.
"I know, why don't we just construct artificial stars everywhere?" suggested one.
"That's dumb--maybe stars aren't the answer. Maybe we need to create more asteroids."
"Or hire the space faerie from Neopia to construct large orbs of light!"
"How about we just, you know, leave the sky alone?"
Proposals of the last sort were deemed most unreasonable.
Year after year, more of these proposals manifested into reality, and more of these proposals failed miserably and were abandoned. The sky was still vast and endless and empty, and everyone was forced to stare at it. But one of these enterprising Aisha youth did not give up; he harassed an advertising company until they allowed him to pitch his product.
The company was Empire Classifieds. They specialized in littering media waves with the most propaganda per hertz, and they succeeded so much that every listener and viewer in the empire hated them. They didn't ever think the sky problem concerned them. Their job was to come up with catchy earworms and creepy mascots for gross food, not to construct star-sized contraptions.
On they day of his proposal, the young Alien Aisha Theodaxx flipped the daylight switch and sauntered into a room filled with bored board members who would have rather been spending their time worrying about the stock market. Theodaxx brandished his viking cape for all to see, wiped down the old chalkboard in the room, and gestured at it pompously.
"You realize that you're pointing at an empty chalkboard, right?" said one of the board members, an elderly, yellow Alien Aisha with spaceforce badges strewn across her overcoat.
Theodaxx huffed; nobody recognized his genius. Yet.
"That is the point," he explained. "This chalkboard is blank, and yet all of you are spending moments of your attention staring at it. That's attention that could be dedicated to a businesses product, right?"
"I fail to see how that helps us," chimed another board member. "We have saturated every airwave, every screen, with advertisements. There are no more blank canvases for us to paint on."
"And that's precisely where you're wrong!" interrupted Theodaxx. He raised his the room's remote control and pressed a button. The shutters on the circular windows all snapped up, revealing the vacuum of space. "Do you see this?"
The board members nodded.
"This, my friends, is the blank canvas all of you have been missing all along! The sky. Everybody--every species--looks upon it, is enraptured by it, and here it is, sitting, empty, unproductive, doing nothing!"
Theodaxx then slammed his fists on a nearby table. The horns of his Viking helmet raced toward someone's face.
"Don't you see? Thousands and trillions of miles of advertising space, unoccupied! Empty! Unprofitable! A torturous void expanding into infinity! It torments our dear empress, she wails in horror every day and night knowing of its existence. Not only is this a profitable venture, dear bores, this is the most patriotic venture!"
The entire board of directors sat baffled at this pitch, and were only disappointed that they had not thought of it themselves. Clearly, a true genius had come to bless their business today, bearing gifts of money and government favor.
"You're in!" said the ex-military yellow Alien Aisha.
Theodaxx signed a most luxurious contract netting him a good cut of the profit for his idea, and in exchange, he worked hard at not directing the project. Instead, he watched scientists and engineers develop a state-of-the-art holographic imaging system.
When Empire Classifieds displayed their final innovations and inventions to Empress X'olola, she adjusted her wreath of gadgetry and examined the results slowly. When she saw the sky fill up with annoying advertisements and the lyrics to the jingle of her favorite childhood sand-generating company, she smiled slowly.
"This is exactly what I was looking for!" she exclaimed to her advisers, expressionless figures with overlong robes. "I give permission to Empire Classifieds to fill the sky. No longer will we be plagued by the glare of dead stars and the distant clouds of lifeless clusters. This is a happy day for our empire!"
With a brief clap, she tapped the common red crystal on Theodaxx's forehead. Its sediments heated and smoldered and slowly became blue. Theodaxx didn't quite know what had happened other than the fact the figures in robes looked at him curiously.
"I now deem you champion of the empire, the innovator of our generation," continued the empress. "And I am now contented!"
She plopped herself back on her chrome throne. In the months after, the sky filled with manifold advertisements from the premier--and not-so-premier--companies of the empire. Pop-ups ballooned constantly around ships as navigators attempted to cross the universe. Infomercials wrapped around planets.
Empire Classifieds saw their quarterly earnings increase exponentially past their principal opponent, Alien Aisha Advertising, Ltd. Its board of directors enjoyed their rising bank account numbers and the rising anxiety that all these rising bank account numbers would stop rising as fast as they had been rising.
Theodaxx himself was the champion of the empire, though he didn't quite know what that entailed. Nobody did, in fact; it was a position that the Empress had extemporized in her exultation. Whatever the case, it brought him great esteem and fulsome praise.
He was enjoying his gourmet worm and leech pizza when a faerie had materialized out of thin air in his living room. She landed bottom-first atop his AishaVision set, crushing it under her weight. He had the money to replace it, but he could not continue watching the current episode of The Falsettos, and it annoyed him.
He made sure the faerie knew so. Her red eyes lurched with vexation while he complained that this was the best part of the episode, that he was finally going to know who was responsible for the fictional ice cream-smuggling operation.
Mira the Space Faerie snapped her fingers, and Theodaxx's lips were zipped--literally. She morphed his mouth into a zipper and swiped the wedge across his face. "Listen, pal, I'm a very serious lady," she warned. "I know that, despite the fact you have six ears, your people are not so good at listening, so I'll only say this once."
Theodaxx delivered muffled protests.
"These... advertisements," began the faerie, "are very disruptive. There are no more constellations in the various skies across the universe, and this interferes with the migration and travel of many different species. Not only that, but they have decimated the beauty of the sky. Well, worse than decimation; the sky is only 5% as gorgeous as it once was.
"I am told that you are responsible for this, young man." Mira put her hands on her hips. The ends of her blue pixie cut looked like it could perforate the hull of the mother ship. "What do you have to say for yourself?"
Theodaxx's lips were finally unzipped. "Technically, I'm not the one who put all these holograms in space. Empire Classifieds did. You should go talk to them."
Mira raised a brow. "And what makes you think I have not? They own their patent, and there is no legal recourse I could seek against them. The Empress will not listen to me. She is very happy, you understand. So we must take matters into our own hands."
"And what can I do? I'm just one guy."
"That's where my plot comes in," said Mira. "But first--the show you were describing sounds most interesting. Can I see the episode with you?"
Mira rebuilt the AishaVision and watched the rest of the episode with Theodaxx. She had even accepted a slice of his pizza.
When all was said and done, Mira revealed that she planned to sabotage Empire Classified's hard work, and Theodaxx could help her, since he was a great employee who did nothing but scrutinize random rooms. They traveled together to company headquarters where Theodaxx was rung in.
He wandered aimlessly for a few hours trying to think of a way he could access the main control for the space holograms. The blue amulet swinging back and forth around his neck while he walked glowed angrily at him. The space faerie lay in wait inside.
An extra few minutes passed before Theodaxx had made a circuit through the building once again, this time, making sure to read the signs above the doorways. He stopped at a glowing neon one that read "MAIN HOLOGRAM CONTROL--AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY."
It was the jackpot. Theodaxx opened the door only to be impeded by a receptionist whose hair spiked wildly in all directions. Her head tilted up to face him as she said, "Employee card, please."
"Oh, right," said Theodaxx, fumbling through his wallet and handing her his card.
She swiped it through the mainframe computer. "Huh, that's weird," she said, reading the text "SELECTIVELY AUTHORIZED" against the yellow screen. "Very weird. What is your role here, sir?"
"I am the quality inspector." Theodaxx pointed to his blue diamond. "I'm also the champion of the empire.
The receptionist did not know what that meant, but she did know that quality inspectors were allowed to come by. She permitted him to come inside.
The main hologram control room was immense. Many computer consoles and impressively-sized wires were strewn about all over; Theodaxx had to make sure he didn't trip on or bump into anything. When he was sure nobody else was around, he started his quality inspection by grasping his necklace and pounding it against his palm.
The space faerie staggered when she jerked back into her life-sized form. Her thin, transparent wings fluttered to stabilize her pose. "Good job, young man," she said. "Now I can shut down this operation once and for all!"
She leaned over the biggest and most important-looking console. It asked her for a turquoise sample, for holograms could not possibly function without them.
"So close!" she huffed. "Where am I supposed to find turquoise?"
Theodaxx shrugged, and in that moment he gave Mira the answer to her conundrum. A red light shined on the diamond embedded into his forehead. With an idea fomenting in her mind, Mira placed her index finger onto the diamond.
"What are you doing?"
Mira shushed him. She pulled out a tiny sample of turquoise from the diamond, which morphed back into its original common red. In a flash, the receptacle was filled with this sample.
ACCESS GRANTED, the monitor read.
Theodaxx stared at it as it displayed every single feature of the advertisement holograms. He was familiar with all of them, especially the physicality program.
The physicality program aspired to not only make these holograms projections of light, but to turn them into objects that could not be ignored by simply refusing to look at them. To make a pop-up disappear, one would have to physically touch the "x" button.
It was a brilliant plan, and it would be Empire Classified's undoing. Theodaxx frowned.
"Don't be too upset, Theodaxx," said the space faerie as her starry fingers tapped the keyboard. "They were going to stab themselves in the foot with this feature; I'm just expediting the process."
She did indeed expedite the process. By the time she and Theodaxx left, great damage was done. Spaceships crashed into animated ads, bits of text wandered off from their place and fell onto planets, and the galaxies the empire controlled quickly teemed with ads.
Facing such a crisis, the empress revoked Empire Classified's rights to the sky immediately. She demanded to know who was responsible for the sudden turmoil--and just as personally took the credit for his idea, Theodaxx took the fall.
"It was me," he said. "I thought I'd fill up the void a little more meaningfully, you know?"
"I understand," said the Empress, pacified. "But you realize this means you are no longer the champion of the empire."
Theodaxx hung his head. "I understand."
"It looks like your diamond is already red again. I hope you realize that this means it was too ashamed to be blue anymore."
"Yes, your Highness."
And so Empire Classified's advertisements faded into nothing over the next few months. Stocks plummeted, bank accounts were not gathering outrageous among of money, and the board of directors fell into deep despair, for they had lost their most brilliant employee.
He had decided to quit. His job wasn't very fulfilling, and he felt that he had not made enough of an impact on the company. Instead, he'd decided to look elsewhere for a job, where he could enjoy the sky from a planet's eye view, where he could stare at the endless expanse and let himself feel wonder rather than the urge to impulse buy yet another SmartBackscratcher.
Sometimes, though, reports of obdurate advertisements that stymied spaceships' trajectories surfaced, but they were few and far between.