He rolled off his pillow bed and struggled to his feet to see what was going on outside. When he stepped out on the balcony he saw dozens of uniformed Klavacs running to and fro. He went back inside and quickly got dressed. By the time he got his pants on, he started hearing noises coming from outside his door. He stuck his head out the door to find a guard on either side and more Klavacs at the end of the hallway.
“What’s happening? What’s wrong?” he asked one of the guards at his door.
“Nothing is wrong,” the guard to his right replied, “We are preparing for the delegates to arrive. We are assigned to guard you. Ambassador Friss is feeling that familiar faces are putting you at ease. You are free to come and go as you wish, but we are accompanying you during the negotiations.”
“Sypha?” Park asked.
“I am Mas,” he replied, “He is Sypha.”
Sypha said, “Hello, Jim. We are pleased to see you now. You are not looking well.”
Park said, “I bet. I discovered Frian beer last night. Give me a sec, and you guys can guard me while I get a little hair o’ the dog that bit me and some breakfast.”
He ducked back into his room and stuck his lucky coin in his pocket, and then he and his guards headed downstairs. After a quick stop by the lounge for a few cups and a bottle of Shiri instead of Frian beer at Sypha‘s request, he grabbed a couple of pieces of fruit from the kitchen that tasted much better than they looked. He gained a new appreciation for the small red sun when his eyes didn’t scream in pain as he stepped out the back door of the mansion.
“I hope you boys don’t get seasick,” he said as they walked down the path to the dock.
A couple of hours later, Park poured the last of the Shiri into Sypha’s cup. The soldiers had finished blending in to their surroundings in and around the house. A couple of ships like the one Park encountered when he first arrived patrolled the skies around the estate. Dozens of ships of just as many varieties delivered delegates from the various worlds of the Union of Worlds.
Mas looked very guard-like standing at the operator console of the boat even though he was feeling the Shiri he kept sipping on the sly. Sypha relaxed on the deck, but he was just as careful about hiding his drinking. Park still felt hungover, but he no longer cared.
He queried the network about the operation of Klavaci ships. This was his first indication that he didn’t have full access to the network. He was able to get information about all of the civilian craft, but most of his inquiries about the fighters were listed as classified. He did learn that they were called Atmospheric and Space Ships. As for the civilian craft, he learned the planet-bound variety were called xells, in general, and came in several types. More importantly, he learned they were basically point-and-click because none of them were in any condition to drive.
“So, guys,” he said, “feel like going into the city? I need to get started on getting my ship up to code.”
“We are protecting you,” Mas said, “We are going wherever you would like to go.”
“Oh, that kind of…”, he fell silent because glass and steel and bodies exploded from the side of the dome.
Soldiers who had been discretely posted under trees suddenly took flight. The boats moored at the dock all swayed in unison, and then the shockwave of the blast reached their boat. It forced the air from their lungs, and the deafening boom left their ears ringing. Even though they were several hundred meters from the house, Sypha was thrown overboard. He scrambled back onto the boat and piloted them towards shore at full throttle.
Confusion reigned in the seconds after the blast. Soldiers picked themselves up off the ground and stood looking around in a daze. Others rushed to form a perimeter around the blast site. The fighters hovered over the scene, but they had nothing to target. Then they suddenly exploded, raining shrapnel on the soldiers below. Meters-wide craters burst into existence all over the grounds as if from within, and shockwave after shockwave tossed people around like rag dolls.
Sypha looked at Park and yelled something, but he couldn’t hear anything above the piercing tone of his shocked eardrums. The boat ran ashore at full speed, and Park was thrown onto the lawn. He landed next to a soldier pinned to the ground by a piece of steel sticking through his gut. Sypha, or maybe it was Mas, dragged him to his feet.
They started to run towards a group of soldiers tending to the wounded, but an explosion threw them to the ground. As he got to his feet, Park saw a new crater where the wounded has just been. He wiped something warm and wet off his face, but he didn’t dare look at what it was. Mas grabbed him by the arm and pointed at the nearest ship. He nodded that he understand, and they ran as fast as they could.
He kept his head down and shielded it with his arm as they hurried around the dome. Sypha got to the vehicle first and practically threw Mas and Park in as they got there. Syphe jumped in and closed the door while Mas fired up the engine. Just as they started to lift off the ground, Park saw an orange flash come from the front door of the house. He gestured for Mas to put the ship down and opened the door without waiting for a response.
“Bo!” he yelled from the open door, “Over here!”
He knew everyone was probably as deaf as he was right now, but he kept yelling and waving his arms. The orange streak changed course for the lowering ship, and Park just managed to get out of the way when Bo came flying through the door while they were still several meters off the ground.
“Go, go, go!” he yelled to Mas, who couldn’t hear him.
The ship sped them up and away from the carnage. As they gained altitude, the scope of the attack became apparent. They could see smoke rising from Nomaparra and several other points on the horizon. This hadn’t been a terrorist attack on the peace conference. It was a declaration of war.