Overture: Part Three
Their guide led them down immaculate corridors, the clinical white reminding him of his last visit to the expensive private hospital on the outskirts of Neopia Central; the crisp smell, unnatural in its sterile odour, served only to cement the image. Even the perfect white coat of the green skinned Aisha leading them seemed suited to the picture. Everything was unnatural here, the entire craft too cold and sterile for his liking, drained of any semblance of personality. The silence was worst of all, solemn and lonely as it wrapped about them. Like the stars themselves, so distant in the night sky.
Suddenly their guide stopped and bowed low. 'They are expecting you inside,' he declared, motioning the pets on through another cold, white door. With a weary sigh it opened at their approach.
Eternity greeted them. Behind him Parlax gasped in awe at the majesty of the display, the endless blanket of the stars themselves serving as the backdrop of the chamber into which they had been led. Shining lights filled all directions, streaks of colour cast across the darkness to form nebulae, unseen lines carving out pictures between the distant worlds on every horizon. Master Hog permitted himself a knowing smile at the awe-inspiring sight, not daring allow his impress to show. As though the striking display were nothing, he confidently strode down the narrow walkway spanning distant galaxies, crossing the abyss of space itself, and reached the platform in the room's centre where his hosts waited.
'Ah, Master Hog, a pleasure we meet at last,' an aging green Aisha declared politely, inclining his head slightly and causing all four of his ears to droop forward comically. He wore only a functional uniform of white and black, militaristic in its appearance, but lacking the lavish extravagance Master Hog had come to expect from those in power. By his side a second, younger alien Aisha waited, conceited smirk spread across her face, clad in a matching uniform to her elder.
Smiling professionally, he nodded back to the proud Aisha. 'Indeed, Captain, it has been long overdue. I trust all is proceeding as planned?'
'Your associate arrived some hours ago with the additional materials, and the craftsman has already started work on them. We were merely waiting upon your final delivery, and I see you have brought them with you. Chorana, take Master Hog's associate and deliver these items to the craftsman.'
Chorana flashed a sickly sycophantic smile to the Captain before taking the briefcase and ushering Parlax back the way they had come. For a moment Master Hog watched them go, a phantom portal suddenly opening in the magnificent backdrop of the universe as they stepped back into the chilly corridors.
'How long do we expect our craftsman to take in completing the project?' Master Hog queried, finally tearing his attention from the display all around.
The Aisha stroked his chin thoughtfully, rustling a meticulous white beard. 'We cannot say for certain, but unless there are complications it should be complete within twelve hours at the most. All of the preparatory work has been complete for some days now, and it is merely the final touches, and of course the assembly. Once he has had opportunity to examine the final items we should have a more precise timeframe. Until then, we have prepared a quarters for you to rest, and I would be honoured if you would join us for dinner later. We like to dine beneath the stars.'
'It is easy to understand why; I can imagine no finer audience, or indeed a finer performance. A projection, I assume?'
'Indeed. It displays a live-feed of what sensors on the exterior of the hull perceive. This is the universe passing us by, a constant reminder of where we come from, and where we shall one day return. I find it grants a certain perspective.'
Master Hog met his pointed gaze, hearing clear the insinuation. For all his misguided belief, the Aisha had the subtlety of one of his brother's punches. The Moehog just allowed his lips to twist into another polite smile, for all the world oblivious to what had just exchanged between them, and asked politely, 'I would like to speak with my associate. To tell the truth, I was expecting him to be with you already.'
'I am afraid he is longer aboard,' the Captain replied smoothly, a flicker of smugness in his face at the thought. 'He set off shortly after arrival to prepare for the next operation. He should have returned before we eat.' Yes, there was certainly little trust there. Still, it did not need to last much longer. A few more hours and the Captain's role in events would be complete.
'Clearly you do not know my associate,' Master Hog replied jovially. 'But it does not matter, I can speak with him before the operation begins. Until then, I would like to speak with the craftsman before I rest. Congratulate him on his swift work. It is amazing what can happen when you hold a pet's daughter hostage.'
'She is not a hostage,' the Aisha retorted sharply, 'she is our honoured guest while her father works.'
Master Hog chuckled to himself, relishing the irritation on the Aisha's face at the sound. 'Tell yourself whatever you wish if it makes you feel less like a villain, but she is only your "guest" so long as her father co-operates. In any other language that would just make her a well cared for hostage. Now, if you will take to me to see her father, perhaps we can instil in his mind the reality that I am the one holding her as a "guest", and not you. It might help ease your conscience.'
His words earned a scathing look from the aging Aisha, but it soon contorted into an ugly forced smile. Obediently he led Master Hog back down the narrow walkway and into the bowels of the alien Aisha mothership, back through the clinical corridors and hallways. No attempt was made at conversation. Master Hog felt a satisfaction rise at his effortless defeat of the proud pet. It mattered little how grand your technology could make you when a single word could shatter your spirit so easily. It was barely even sporting.
At last they arrived at their destination, a bland workshop greeting Master Hog with the same clinical whiteness he had come to expect from the seemingly unimaginative Aisha. For all their technical skill and creative prowess, anything beyond efficiency and functionality continued to evade them. Even the tools were efficient and functional, hanging from racks on the walls with a perfect polish that no craftsman worth their salt would dare allow in their workshop. Untouched was how he would describe them, an insult to any skilled craftsman who knew the value of familiar tools. It was with satisfaction he saw the grubby iron scattered across the central workbench where a grizzled red Bori sat, long white beard thrown over his shoulder as he leaned close over his work, examining a familiar carved black stone with a magnifying eyepiece. From the disdainful expressions on the faces of his two alien Aisha guards, they did not share the craftsman's penchant for his own trusted tools. Skulking in a corner stood a smirking Chorana, watching her fellow Aisha squirm with great amusement.
'You've got a visitor,' the Aisha Captain declared after a moment, it becoming apparent the Bori was not going to acknowledge his presence.
'Tell him to jump out an airlock,' the Bori retorted gruffly, not looking up from his examination.
Master Hog just laughed, the rich sound drawing at the craftsman's attention. 'I would gladly do as you asked, Donny, but I am afraid I have already made plans for this evening. Another time, perhaps.'
Donny scoffed at his words and returned to work, pulling over an intricately carved length of ancient wood. Master Hog felt his interest spike as he watched it, feeling the pulsations of psychic energy radiating forth around the room and sending a shudder of excitement through his spine. Kribal had only made delivery a few hours before, and already progress had come so far.
'How long until you expect to finish?' he asked, fighting back an urge to reach out and touch the masterpiece taking shape before his eyes.
The Bori shrugged. 'Few hours. Just a case of finishing it off now I've got the last pieces.'
'Exquisite. Once all is complete, I shall look forward to reuniting you with your daughter.'
'What, so you can get rid of us together?'
The throwaway nature of the remark stung in a way the Moehog had not expected. It was the words of a pet resigned to his fate, working only to fill up the time before it came to greet him.
He turned a disapproving eye over the Aisha Captain by his side. 'I give you my assurance, Donny, that you will be reunited safely with your daughter, and treated to the finest hospitality these pets can offer,' he declared firmly, a bite in his voice that the Captain did not fail to notice. 'Naturally, you will not be released immediately, but within a month, hopefully less, the information you have obtained through your work will be rendered void to my enemies, and you will be returned safely to Terror Mountain without question, or to any other place of your choosing should you wish, with full remuneration for your troubles. This I promise you, and if any pet even thinks of breaking it I will ensure they are dealt with.'
Nobody went against his orders. Xandra had made certain of that.
The sincerity in his voice made the old Bori look up again, meeting his eyes with a steely stare. 'What's it to you, what happens to me?'
'Everything. Nothing would make me happier than to see you and your daughter returned home safely. I only wish we could have come to a more hospitable arrangement for your services.'
The Bori regarded him thoughtfully for a moment. Grudgingly he grunted agreement.
'I will leave you to your work.'
The Bori's eyes stayed on him as he retreated back into the corridor beyond, the Aisha Captain close on his heels. There had been a new dark look in the Moehog's eyes as he turned away, his gaze lingering for a moment on Donny's alien captors, that instilled an unexpected hope in the old pet's heart.
For the first time, he wondered if perhaps he would get out of this after all.
To be continued...