The ceremony was a very polite affair with Honka making a long and protracted speech about how their new found friendship with the Mairne people would last for an eternity, but I knew it was all bull. I also knew that I had to play along, ignoring my feelings of contempt, and play the warm and friendly officer from the Federation.
Finally, as the High Emperor finished his speech, he signalled for us to make our way towards the shuttle. It nestled in the grass, having made quite a sizeable dink in the smooth lawns with its weight. Arunga paused at the doorway and looked down.
"Oh dear," he said. "We appear to have spoilt your beautiful lawn. I am so sorry."
"Yes, but it matters not. Although I had assumed that you would be returning by boat under the circumstances."
"Why would I travel by boat?" asked the cat, looking quite perplexed.
"Bearing in mind how poorly you were from the Federation's new fangled transporters, I would be dubious of their flying box."
"As I am, but I suspect it is far safer than the sea."
Honka laughed. "I thought you had no fear of the water?"
"Why on earth would you think that? Just as you are, we are very wary of such things."
Honka's brow furrowed.
"But why? I know why my people fear it, but yours?"
"No doubt our fears stem from similar history. I know our Federation friends have no fear of it, but they do not know our seas as we do, and like you, I am not so foolish as to venture uninvited into the territory of the sea people."
You could have heard a pin drop.
"S-s-sea people?" ventured the high Emperor, his face quite pale.
"Yes. Surely you know of the sea people? Do they not haunt your myths and legends? Is that not the root of your own people's dislike of the water?"
Honka shook his head.
"We … have no such legends of sea people," he said, concern etched hard into his features.
"Then you are most fortunate. Huge, terrible beasts they are. With many legs adorned with dangerous, spiked suckers … and a beak so powerful it can snap a tree in half. I admit to being very surprised that any Dirrian has ever crossed the sea without disturbing them and lived to tell the tale."
"But your people have?"
"Ventured onto the sea? No, but they often come close to our shoreline when they hunt."
The tables had been turned. Suddenly, Honka had a third species to contend with and he wasn't happy.
"And … are they sentient? I mean, have you spoken with them?"
"I'm not sure that they have a proper language such as you or I, and no one has ever got close enough to one to find out more, not without perishing, that is."
"You know this to be fact?"
"I have seen it with my own eyes."
"When?" demanded Honka in horror.
"Oh, it was many, many years ago; too long for me to remember clearly. I was only a kitten and it was a horrible sight. A herd of deer had wandered onto the beach and one strayed too close to the water's edge. From underneath the calm surface of the waters, two of the creatures broke. They snatched three of the creatures from the sand before the herd could bolt. It was horrific. They tore them limb from limb in a matter of seconds. Blood and guts painted the beach red in seconds. It was a dreadful sight to witness."
The High Emperor's expression was one I will never forget, and his face was so expressive. The irritation he usually showed for the cat had been replaced by horror and then incredulation. With his bottom jaw slightly dropped, his eyes scanned the King of the Mairne looking for answers, but he found no more than those already provided. To my joy, though, you could see that he was regretting frittering away the time Arunga had spent on the mainland. He had been impatient to be rid of the cat when all that time he could have been asking questions and learning more. He had been a fool and suddenly he knew it. There was nothing he could do now, though. It was too late. All he could do was watch as the shuttlecraft doors closed behind us and we left.