They landed on a pad next to a small A frame house that would have looked right at home in Park’s native Colorado. The house was old but well maintained. It had large skylights built into its roof, and there was even a shed in the backyard. It sat near the base of a mountain overlooking a small river that cut through the valley a short distance away. If it weren’t for the red sun that looked too big in the sky, Park might have thought he was home.
Bo climbed out of the ship first, and that’s when Park noticed the dark, matted fur below his left shoulder. He jumped out and helped him lie down in the grass. He couldn’t see the injury through all of Bo’s fur, but it looked like a significant amount of blood.
“When did this happen?” Park asked as he carefully tried to move the fur aside to get a better look at the injury.
“I was just talking to Ambassador Grohlen and her aide about…something, inviting her to visit Frian after the conference I think,” he said as if trying to remember, “and the next thing I knew, I was lying on the floor face to face with her. I asked her what happened, but she just stared at me, through me. I didn’t realize until I reached out to touch her. It wasn’t…it was just her head. One step to my left. One step to my left, and that would have been my head lying there.”
Sypha walked over while Mas went to open the house, “We are helping you walk into the house. Mas is treating your wound then.” They helped Bo to his feet and walked him into the house. A main room that acted as kitchen, living room, and dining room dominated the house. To the left were a bathroom and a couple of bedrooms. Sypha led him into one of the bedrooms where he collapsed onto the pillow. The rush of the attack had faded and taken with it most of his strength.
Mas came into the room with a bottle of something and what Park assumed was a first aid kit. He held the bottle to Bo’s mouth for him to take a drink, and then he poured some onto the wound. Bo tensed momentarily, but otherwise he didn’t move or make a sound.
“We are allowing Mas to tend to his wound,” Sypha said to Park as he led him out of the room, “We are staying here until we know what has happened.”
“Where exactly is here?” he asked.
“This home is property of the parents of Mas,” he replied, “We are approximately one thousand reddell northeast of Nomaparra."
“I have no idea what a…hang on,” Park queried the network for the definition of a reddell, but it only defined it in terms of other Klavaci values he didn‘t know so he pulled his file. As soon as he converted his height from rennen to centimeters, the network began pulling information from his brain. He didn’t think about anything specific, but everything he knew about weights and measures passed through his brain while UoW standards came to him in an instant. He suddenly knew a thousand reddell were equal to twelve hundred kilometers, but he didn’t need to because he knew exactly how far a reddel was like it was second nature.
“I need to do a little homework,” he said to Sypha, “but first I need a drink.” He walked over to the bar and poured a couple of cups of shiri for Sypha and himself, and then he sat down in the living area to figure out just exactly what he’d gotten himself into. He started with the Union of Worlds.
The Union of Worlds consisted of representatives from twenty-three sovereign worlds in twenty-two solar systems within forty light-years of each other. One solar system, the Unpronounceables system, had two members; the Unpronounceables from a fairly large Earth-like planet and the Cashians from an even larger moon in orbit around a gas giant. Twenty of the twenty-two solar systems were in binary pairs. Of those twenty binary systems, three had member planets from both solar systems. Klavaci was centrally located within the sphere of the Union in one of those three systems.
Klavaci orbited a red dwarf star called Tur at about the same distance as Venus from Sol. The Tur system, in turn, orbited a yellow dwarf called Paktakut at a distance of about nine light-months. The planet Repus in the Paktakut system was home to the Granthiams. The Granthiams were massive cold-blooded creatures with short, stubby legs, and four powerful arms. They had cobra-like heads with eyes in front and back. The Granthiam child’s boots Park had been given were actually baby shoes. He hadn’t met them yet, but he already didn’t like them.
Union planets used a shared warp technology to travel between systems. Unlike the Krupp warp drive which punched a hole in space-time, Union warp drives used true warping to achieve faster than light travel. Rather than move their ships, they would compress the space in front of their ship and stretch it back out behind them. This let them effectively move through space at up to ten times the speed of light, but that still meant fours years of travel time between the farthest planets in the Union. Theoretically, there was no limit to how quickly they could travel, but they were currently at their technological limit.
The dispute between Klavaci and Paktakut had been ongoing for more than a century. It centered around a small outer planet in the Paktakut system that was rich in rare minerals. The Klavacs had already been mining it for decades before they made first contact with the Granthiams, and it was several decades more before they were admitted into the Union of Worlds. With the new advances in technology they acquired through membership in the Union, they finally had the ability to mine that planet themselves, but the Klavacs had already claimed it as their own nearly a century earlier. The conference on Klavaci was to have finally settled the dispute of who owned the planet and set clear guidelines for mining rights in uninhabited systems.
Park tried to get an idea of where in the Milky Way the Union resided. When images of the galaxy began to appear in his mind, it took him a minute to acknowledge what he instantly knew. This wasn’t the Milky Way. It was a spiral galaxy, but there were only two spiral arms coming off a thick bar. He tried to picture the Milky Way in his mind, but nobody had ever taken an actual picture from outside the Milky Way before so the network started flooding his brain with images of similar galaxies. After a few frustrating minutes of watching spiral galaxies flash through his mind, he changed tack and tried querying for an image of the Milky Way’s galaxy cluster.
It only took a few false matches before Park found the image he was looking for. He pulled the image up on the screen mounted on the wall behind him. He couldn’t get a great look at the structure of the Milky Way because it was canted nearly forty-five degrees in the photo, but still, he was the first person to ever see an actual picture of the Milky Way. Then other realizations began to creep into his consciousness.
He was thirty million light-years from home. The Krupp warp drive had been categorized as a weapon, and the Klavacs would never let him leave until his ship had been retrofitted with a Union warp drive. It would take him three million years to get home with a Union warp drive. To top it all off, he had just given twenty-three advanced civilizations, who were obviously not above going to war, the location of the Sol system and the means to get there in a matter of minutes.