The shuttle descended through a thin layer of clouds to reveal a sprawling metropolis silhouetted against the purple sky. Towers that would dwarf the tallest buildings on Earth dotted the coastline for as far as the eye could see, and lights blinked on all across the wakening city. The shuttle banked left and began its final approach to the spaceport located about a mile offshore. It came to a hover above an empty landing pad and gently touched down.
A jetway nestled up against the door of the shuttle, and a disembodied voice inside the shuttle announced, “Welcome to Nomaparra. You are disembarking now.”
The first passenger off the shuttle stood six feet tall with short jet black hair and a stubbly beard. He wore a loose fitting off-white tunic secured with a dark belt and brown pants made out of some kind of animal skin. His bodyguards, who he now knew as Mas and Sypha, stood on either side of him as he surveyed the terminal. The first thing he noticed was that friendly Klavacs greeted each other by intertwining their face trunks. The next thing he noticed was a billboard.
“You have money?” Park asked Sypha.
“I have money,” Sypha replied.
“Huh,” Parked said mostly to himself, “I kind of assumed you’d be a post-capitalist society. I guess the ambassador isn’t here yet. Is there someplace we can get one of those Shiri cocktails you were talking about while we wait?”
“I apologize,” Sypha said, “You are not allowed with no shoes. We are waiting for Ambassador Fiss.”
“No worries,” Park looked down at his bare feet and wiggled his toes, “We have the same rule on Earth.”
Right on queue a group of Klavacs emerged from the crowd and approached Park. One of them carried a brightly colored box under his arm. Most of the Klavacs in the group wore gray or black tunics, but the tallest of the group wore a dark red robe with a subtly lighter floral pattern and a yellow sash.
She bowed to Park, “I am Moran Fiss, Klavaci Ambassador to the Union of Worlds. Welcome to Klavaci, Jim Park. My secretary is presenting to you a gift of shoes.” She motioned to the Klavac holding the box, and he held it out to Park.
Park took the box from the secretary and bowed to the ambassador, “Thank you, ambassador. Pleased to meet you. If you don’t mind, I’ll go ahead and put these on now.” He found an empty cushion nearby to sit down, opened the box, and pulled out one of the shoes; a white open-toed boot with a picture of a purple shooting star on the side. Park looked up at the ambassador. Mas and Sypha both made the Klavac equivalent of a laugh with their trunks. He couldn’t blame them.
The ambassador bowed again, “I apologize, Jim Park. The dimensions of your foot are limiting us to provide you shoes of a Granthiam child. These are the only shoes we found before now to accommodate you. Granthiams are not to visit Klavaci at this time.”
He held up the boot, “This is a kid’s boot?!” He put on the boots and stood up. Mas laughed again, and Park still couldn’t blame him.
Ambassador Fiss said, “You are following to my ship.“
He replied, “Lead the way, ambassador.” She nodded and led the entourage to another gate a short distance away. Like the shuttle that had brought Park to Nomaparra, the ambassador’s ship had normal seats. Unlike that public shuttle though, it also had an area with floor cushions. Shortly after takeoff, Park was the only passenger not to forsake their chair for a spot on the floor.
The ambassador’s secretary, seeing Park sitting alone, asked him, “You are not comfortable flying? You are sitting with us in the lounge, please.”
He said, “Thank you, but I’m more comfortable here. I’m more of a chair guy, and I have a pretty good view from here.”
“Of course,” the secretary said and left him alone.
Park could see the spaceport and city outside the window more clearly now that the sun had risen, but violet sky was still only slightly brighter than twilight on Earth. The spaceport had terminals extending out from a central hub in a semi-circle. He couldn’t see how it was connected to the mainland, but thinking about it instantly brought him the answer. A Klavaci version of a subway ran from the hub to several other underground stations along the coasts. From those mainland hubs, Klavacs could travel to any of hundreds of other stations throughout the metropolitan area.
At first, aside from their differing heights, all of the skyscrapers looked the same, but Park became aware of different styles of architecture the longer they flew above the city. Even though they all had the same basic tapered designed, many of the buildings stopped before they came to a point at the top. Those buildings invariably had dark gardens, pools, or both encased in glass on their roofs. Of those buildings that did conclude in a point, about half also had a spire extending several stories or more from the top.
Occasionally, he would see a landing pad emerge from the side of a building with a ship preparing to take flight. So far he had discerned three distinct types of ship which he dubbed sports car, soccer mom, and bread van. There didn’t seem to be any kind of system or traffic laws on Klavaci, but there hadn’t been any fiery mid-air collisions yet so they must have had something. He consciously repressed the thought though because he didn’t want his brain inundated with Klavaci traffic law.
Despite traveling at what Park judged to be a few hundred miles an hour, it took quite a while before the city fell away to a black forest. He could see long straight lines cutting through the forest for parts unknown and clearings that appeared to be estates clustered mainly around lakes and rivers.
A few minutes later the ship emitted a few short tones to indicate it was about to land in one of those clearings. The Klavac passengers returned from the lounge area and strapped themselves into their seats. The ship slowed and began to descend. It banked and circled the compound as it landed giving Park a good view of the estate.
A large dome stood in the center of a deeply purple lawn. It only vaguely resembled the domes of Mars and the Moon Park was used to. This dome had many balconies and large windows all around it. A dozen ships of various types sat on the lawn to one side of the dome. On the opposite side, a path led to a large dock on the shore of the nearby lake, and several boats were moored there.
As the ship settled onto the lawn, Park leaned over to Ambassador Friss and asked, “Is this your home, ambassador?”
“No. This home is for visiting dignitaries such as you. We are negotiating here very often, but I am living in Nomaparra. A few ambassadors stay here now, and I am introducing them to you this afternoon.” she replied.
“You know, I should probably point out I’m not an official ambassador for my planet,” he said, “I’m not authorized to speak on behalf of my species. Hell, I don’t even get along with most of my own kind. I’m a test pilot. I’m here by accident. I was only supposed to fly from one planet to the next in my own solar system, not…here. I don’t even know where here is.”
“We understand,” she reassured him, “We are not expecting you to negotiate any treaties, Jim Park. You are staying here as our guest while your ship is brought to compliance with regulation. Your ship is requiring much work. You have much time to locate your path.”
“Great,” he said, only half sarcastically.