He could see a herd of animals grazing on the far side of the lake, but they blended in with the dark forest too well for him to get a good look at them. A few trees dotted the lawn nearby with broad, dark leaves that drooped nearly to the ground. Small plants grew here and there around the grounds of the estate that he was told would blossom in a beautiful array of colors later in the year, but he hoped to be back on Earth by the time they bloomed. Having taken a closer look, so to speak, at the list of repairs he needed to make to the X-88 though, he had his doubts.
“Tits,” someone said behind him.
“Excuse me?” he looked around to see who was talking about tits.
“The animals across the lake,” said the tall naked alien standing behind him, “Very tasty.” He was covered in thick orange fur from head to toe; the head being a cross between a lion and a man, and the toe being in the form of a claw.
“They’re called tits?” Park asked.
The lion-man roared with laughter, “No, of course not. They are called tits.”
Park said, “That’s what I said. Tits.”
“You call breasts tits?” The lion-man laugh roared again, “I am suddenly looking forward to dinner very much.”
“It's a euphemism,” Park said, “Can’t wait to try a mouthful of tit.”
“I know the feeling, Jim Park,” the lion-man laugh roared again, “I am Bo, Frian ambassador to the Union of Worlds.”
“Call me Jim,” Park said as he stood up and extended his hand. Bo just looked at Park’s outstretched hand.
“It’s how my people greet each other,” Park said, “We shake hands. Uh, we grasp each other’s hands and go like this.” He made a handshaking gesture.
“Ah,” Bo said, “You should get used to bowing. Every species has its own way of greeting their own kind, but we are not all…compatible, so we bow when dealing with other species. It is easier that way, and some are more…,“ he gestured toward the Unpronounceables on the lake, “messy than others.”
“Thanks for the warning,” Park replied, “and the heads up about the tits, too.”
“Speaking of breasts, I was just on my way across the lake to hunt down a little snack,” Bo said, “It was a pleasure to meet you, Jim. I do look forward to tonight’s dinner.” He laugh roared once again and walked out onto the dock. A couple of minutes later he set off across the lake on a dual-hulled barge.
At dinner that evening, Bo took great pleasure in trying to get Park to use the word tit in conversation. Unlike earlier, he wore an elaborate body length jacket and a large gold medallion. Afterwards, he asked Park to join him for a drink. Never one to turn down a drink, Park followed him into the lounge.
Bo poured a couple of drinks and handed a cup to Park, “This is beer. I hope you like it. I have it delivered from Frian.”
“Beer? I love beer!” Park took a big drink of the beer and immediately spit it back into the cup, “That isn’t beer.”
Bo downed his in one big gulp, “I guess we have found another translator error for you. Do not worry. The translator is adaptive. It will get better the more it translates for you. Beer is a fermented drink made from grain. It is very popular on Frian. I am sorry you do not like it.”
“It just caught me off guard,” Park replied, “Sounds like beer, but it doesn’t taste like beer.” He took another more cautious drink of the beer and gave his taste buds time to adjust. It didn’t actually taste bad now that he knew what to expect, not bad at all. It had a peppery aftertaste with a kick of heat.
A few beers later, Bo finally broached the subject that was clearly on his mind, “So, Jim, what brought you to Klavaci? May I ask why your species chose such a critical time to introduce yourselves to the Union?”
“A mistake,” he replied, “We weren’t trying to introduce ourselves to anyone. I’m a test pilot. I was only supposed to go as far as Mars, not…here. Wherever here is.”
“I see,” Bo finished his beer, “A species unknown to any members of the Union of Worlds just happens to show up on Klavaci right before the most important conference in centuries…by mistake?”
“Pretty much,” Park said, “What’s this conference you’re talking about?”
“The Klavacs and Granthiams have had a dispute that could fracture the Union of Worlds if it escalates further,” he said, “We are here to negotiate a treaty. The Doopas and I were the first to arrive. Many more delegates will be arriving tomorrow.”
“Who are the Doopas?” Park interrupted.
“That is what I call Ambassador Kchkt and his wife,” he answered, “I cannot pronounce the name of their species so I call them Doopas behind their backs. A doopa is a small animal on my planet, and they kind of resemble them. They do not like it. But as I was saying, this is a pivotal moment in the history of the Union. Space is vast and, for all intents and purposes, empty. That you should accidentally travel to the Klavaci system is incredible enough, but on the eve of this conference? I do not believe that is a coincidence. I believe you are here for a reason even if you do not know what that reason is.”