A flock of birds that eerily resembled extra large pink flamingos circled overhead, riding the currents in the air. Every now and then one would dive bomb the river. Those that caught something would fly away with their prize dangling from their claws, the prize being something that looked like an eel with fins. The rest would rejoin the others in the aerial ballet.
One flamingo who thought himself lucky made the mistake of flying away in Park’s direction. A young Frian named Kel felled the bird with a blow dart. Free of the birds claws, the eel began to slither back to the water. Kel ran over and swatted it on the head, and then he picked up the dazed eel by the tail and threw towards the rest of the Frians laying in the grass. The injured bird writhed in the grass with the dart sticking out of its chest. Kel snapped its neck in one smooth motion and triumphantly carried it back to the group.
“A rococo and a canawin with one shot,” Bo said, beaming with pride, “well done, son! Take them to Taober to prepare for lunch. We will have quite the feast.”
“Yes, father,” he said as retrieved the eel and ran off.
Bo stood up and walked over to Park. He was standing off from the rest of the group with a stern look on his face. He had been furious when he learned that the Frian commandos had, in Bo’s words, rescued him from the Klavacs. He demanded that they return him to Klavaci, but they refused, saying it would be impossible. When they arrived at Frian several hours later, Bo had taken him to his home as his guest. Park had laughed at that because a guest who isn’t allowed to leave is just a prisoner.
Bo said, “He has grown so much since I left.”
“Why did you kidnap me?” asked Park.
“We did not,” he replied, “We rescued you from the Klavacs.”
If he thought he could win a fight with a seven foot tall tiger, he would have hit Bo. Instead, he said as calmly as he could manage, “Fine. Why did you rescue me?”
“The Klavacs intended to use you to improve your weapon,” he answered.
Park looked at him for the first time, “What weapon?”
“Your X-88,” he said.
Park looked away again, “The X-88 doesn’t have any weapons. Yeah, it might be faster than your ships, but it isn’t a weapon. I mean, shit, we flew here in a day. How much faster do you need to go?"
Bo moved to face him, “Jim Park. It has been two years since we left Klavaci.”
“Two years?” Park said, and then it dawned on him, “Time dilation. Of course.”
“Yes,” Bo replied, “For me, I have been gone two weeks, but for my family, I have been gone for more than four years. This is why it is impossible for us to take you back to Klavaci. We have been at war for two years now. They would destroy our ship the moment it came out of warp. Even if we could get you there, they would never let you take your X-88. If they can perfect your weapon, they could destroy the Granthiams and all of their allies in an instant, including Frian.”
“That’s a little melodramatic, don’t you think?” Park said, “Stop calling it a weapon. It might give them an advantage, but at the end of the day it’s just an engine.”
Bo gave him a puzzled look before asking, “Are you not aware of how your X-88 works?”
Park quickly answered, “Of course I’m aware. I’m a test pilot, not an idiot. Oh. I get it now. You want me to build you your own Krupp Warp Drive. Well, you fucked up buddy. I can fly it. I can’t build it. I may not be an idiot, but I’m not an engineer either. If you wanted the X-88, you should have stolen the X-88.”
“We do not want the X-88,” he said, “We do not want anyone to have the X-88. It is far too dangerous. Had we known about it in time, we would have had the Granthiams destroy it.”
“So you wouldn’t take me back to Klavaci even if you could, would you?” Park asked.
Bo replied simply, “No.”
Park repressed the urge to kill him, “Well, at least you’re honest. You know, if you had just waited one more day, me and my ship would have been long gone by now.”
“The Klavacs would not have allowed that,” he said as a matter of fact.
“Yeah, you said that already,” said Park, “So how about you go ahead and spit it out? What don’t I know about the X-88? How is it so dangerous that you’d side with the people who tried to kill you? Why would you go to war over it at all?”
“This war has nothing to do with you, Jim,” Bo replied, “It is about resources, and it has been many years in the making. The timing of your arrival in the Klavaci system was very bad and more than a little suspicious, but do not worry, having met you I am convinced it was just an unfortunate coincidence. The worlds in the Union of Worlds are not really united at all. The Monarks and the Inju are the only ones able to travel instantaneously like you do, but they do not share their technology with what they consider lesser species. The rest of us are fairly isolated. It takes years to travel between systems. This is the only reason your…ship wasn’t destroyed in the opening salvo. We had no way to warn the Granthiams about it.
“I would be lying if I said I was not upset that I was not given any warning about the attack on the estate, but I am just a diplomat. I negotiate on behalf of the Frian government, but I have no say in our policies or military strategies. And certainly not in the military strategies of the Granthiams.
“My mission on Klavaci was to distract the Klavacs from the Granthiams’ attack. You did a much better job than I ever could have. They treated you like a guest, but they assigned two of their elite soldiers to guard you. They need your assistance to reverse engineer your weapon. Getting you away from them will slow their progress, I am afraid it will not slow them enough.”
“Stop right there,” Park interrupted, “and tell me why the hell do you keep calling the X-88 a damned weapon!”
“I was getting to that,” Bo replied, “You say you are aware of how your ship works, but you do not appear to be aware of its potential for destruction. I think it would be best if you see it for yourself. Come with me.”
Bo led Park up a garden path lined with an array of colorful flowering plants to the entrance to a cavern prominently adorned with an ornate archway covered in hieroglyphs. A split second after wondering what the glyphs said, Park knew it was the Frian version of a welcome mat, welcoming visitors to the home of the Pendu clan. Park sighed as he stepped out of the oppressive heat of the Frian daylight and into the delightfully cool air of the cave.
A small anteroom opened up into an expansive multi-tiered hall. A massive orb hung high above in the center of the room and filled the room with naturalistic light. Smaller, brighter spotlights within the orb shone on murals painted on the walls of the cavern. A waterfall poured down the wall at one end of the room into a small pool that flowed through a channel down the moss covered tiers to a larger pool that filled the lowest tier. The first and third tiers each had a small stone bridge crossing the artificial stream. The second tier, by far the widest of the four tiers, had three.
A few Frians lounging around the room noted their entrance with a wave while a couple of children played in the pool on the lowest tier blissfully unaware of the adults in the room. Park could hear Kel excitedly recounting his double kill from one of the many rooms that branched off this main hall, but the acoustics made it seem as though his voice was coming from everywhere.
“Wow, nice cave. Being a diplomat must pay pretty well,” he said to Bo as they descended the slope to the second tier.
“Thank you, Jim,” Bo replied, “I admit I am quite proud of our home, but it pales in comparison to the homes of some of the larger clans. There are two hundred in the Pendu clan, but some of the ruling clans have more than a thousand members. Their homes are truly spectacular. This way, please.”
They walked down a passageway on the second tier seemingly lit by the rock walls themselves and soon entered a smaller cavern. A portrait of Bo’s immediate family adorned one of the walls spotlighted by a more modest orb hanging from the ceiling. He led Park into his office, one of several rooms around the perimeter. Bo took a seat behind his desk and directed Park to a stool opposite him. A computer screen filled the top of the desk as soon as Bo sat down, and he began searching for a file as he spoke.
“This file I is from a group of satellites studying the Klavaci sun,” he said as he tapped away on his desk, “You will need to face the other way.”
Park turned around on his stool, and the room went dark. A hologram of the red star appeared in the center of the room with several planets around it. Bo walked around and activated the video from a touch panel hidden in the wall.
“Watch this side of the sun here and this area here,” Bo said as he pointed out the area of interest about forty degrees ahead of the second planet for Park.
The video seemed fairly mundane at first, but after a few seconds a black spot began to form on the star. The spot grew with alarming speed to the point that it noticeably dimmed the star. A stream of plasma began to flow out of it toward the area that Bo had noted. Within two minutes the plasma stream had reached as far as the first planet which was luckily on the opposite side of the sun at the time. The plasma continued to snake its way out from the sun for another two minutes until began to swirl around like water going down a drain. Park knew this must have something to do with his arrival, but he didn’t see Bo shield his eyes so he was completely unprepared for what happened next.
Piercing blue light filled the room.
“Ah! What the shit?!” he yelled as he turned away from the flash.
“I am not sure if that translated correctly,” Bo said, “but I am sure I agree.”