Chapter Four is now available on Wattpad for reading. Did you also know that this is the eve of another writing event? Starting February 1st it’s the February Writer’s Challenge. 1000 words per day. 28,000 words in total for the month. That’s an attainable goal.
The February Writer’s Challenge, at least when I was introduced to it, was something that Zombie Chronicles author James Melzer had announced. Sort of a motivator to get writing.
Librarian Sor’Tah stood at the very edge of the tarmac as the shuttle landed, a rather unimpressed look on his face. His long robes hung neatly over his massive frame, in one three fingered hand he held onto a large tome, the other clutched his robes with care. Sor’Tah’s eyes never left the shuttle as the occupants began filtering out. He never showed any excitement or surprise, though deep down he was thrilled to be meeting Vulpine. This was his first time meeting the smaller race of beings that had been touted as friends of the Critainian people. Sor’Tah had never been off planet before, his duties to the Library kept him quite busy.
He watched as Jor’Tal assisted the three pilots, and marvelled at how different they appeared, even though they had the same features. The one he felt that was the commanding officer had brilliant, orange fur with white markings covering her, and he could only assume that was the case even under her uniform and armour. She was shorter than the other two, one of which was a softer orange colour than the first. The final one had similar white markings, but his fur was mostly black. Each of them had similar tails, a white tip that made up something brilliant to behold.
As they approached, he steadied himself, preparing to make the usual greeting. With an outstretched hand, he looked to the four that approached and called out in a proud voice. “Welcome to the Great Library. Our knowledge is your knowledge. I only wish this could have been under more pleasant circumstances. Allow me to introduce myself. I am Head Librarian Sor’Tah.” He motioned to a pair of Critainians that stood slightly behind him, their robes ornate, but not nearly as much as Sor’Tah’s. “This is Jen’Tauk, she is head of the library’s inventory. And Tor’Val, associate head of new stock.”
“Greetings, Sor’Tah,” Jor’Tal announced as she stepped forward. “This is Left-tenant Senia Felix, and Corporals Clarfax Billings and Hardy Maynard,” she said as she motioned toward the Vulpine, pointing out each one as he announced their names.
“I am most honoured to meet you,” Sor’Tah announced as he stepped forward and faced the three. “I do hope you will be able to assist us in this matter. I apologize if we have not presented any tea for your arrival.”
“That ith quite alright,” Senia announced with a nod. “Well patht tea time ath it ith,” she added and looked to her comrades with a small smile. “Bethideth, we’ve had more than enough with the hothpitality on board the orbital thtation.”
“In that case, please follow us to the main faculty,” Sor’Tah stated with a slight bow and motioned down one of the long streets. “Jor’Tal, I believe that is all we require of your attention. Thank you for bringing the Vulpine to us.”
“Actually,” Senia stated as she stepped forward. “I believe it would be in our betht interet’th if Jor’Tal came with uth.” She saw the confused look on Sor’Tah’s face and continued quickly. “We aren’t fully verthed in Critainian law and authority, tho having her with uth would be a great benefit.” She looked up to Jor’Tal, who seemed to be giving Senia an impressed look. It was obvious that she had diplomatic skills.
Sor’Tah on the other hand was caught off guard, but quickly found his voice. “Ah, yes. I can see how that would help a great deal. Yes. Well, if you would all follow me.” Again, he held out his arms in the direction down the street, bowing slightly as he motioned for the four to walk with them.
The buildings were an architect’s dream. Ornate, well constructed, and evenly spaced down the entire street. The buildings had a few variations in colour, but many were trimmed in gold. Why anyone would wish to adorn their buildings in gold was another thing, it was a useless metal for the most part, had no monetary value, and only those who created computer circuits found any practical use for it. Each of the buildings had large windows, some were open revealing shops and other services, while some others had blinds in front which could only mean they were homes. Possibly the dwellings of those who worked at the library. This place was more than just a library, after all. It was a small city.
After what seemed like a kilometre, the small group finally approached the steps of the main faculty, itself an incredible structure. Jen’Tauk took out a key and unlocked the main doors, as each Vulpine took a mental note of what they were doing as they entered, sometimes asking a quick question about the actions. They learned the main faculty was always locked, and only five Critainians had a key to enter. Unlike many of the other buildings Senia had seen, the doors to this building were opened with a very old fashioned key, not with a key card as most others had.
“This is the main faculty,” Sor’Tah announced as they walked inside. When they were all in, Jem’Tauk closed and locked the doors. Inside, there was the smell of books, many that seemed like they were over one thousand years old. Most were in a series of stacks, with some Critainians alreayd cataloguing them to be placed in their respective areas of the main library itself. Others were sitting in neat piles on a series of long tables, obviously waiting to be itemized and put away before being catalogued. Some of the books had spilled over onto the floor, one of which Clarfax nearly stepped on.
“Oh,” he called out as he picked it up. “Looks like this one was trying to get away,” he said with a chuckle. He held it up to one of the organizers, taking note of the bold lettering and bright colour of the font against the black background which stated for all to see ‘Don’t Panic’.
“Um, Vulpine humour, if I recall,” one of the organizers said as she came around the table and gently took the book from Clarfax’s outstretched hand. She made the comment to ease the questions the others might have about what Clarfax meant. “Like, this book was going to grow legs and run away.”
“Exactly,” Clarfax replied with a nod.
“I’ve been studying some of the Vulpine texts that we get in,” the Librarian said with a smile, then turned to one of the others. “Put this in the galactic reference section. We can’t lose this one.” He handed the book to one of his companions and turned back to Clarfax to offer his thanks, only to find the Vulpine, and his two companions, extending three books out to him. “Oh my, what’s this.”
“Ath ith cuthtomary for anyone who would vithit the Great Library,” Senia said as she handed him the book. “It ith well known that a book mutht be prethented. I hope that each of thethe can find a plathe in the library.”
The librarian took each book and looked them over carefully, naming off each title as he inspected it. “History of Chattingham Airfield. Oh, this would do well in the Vulpine historical section,” he said with a smile as he handed the book to one of his assistants. “The Expanding Universe: Theories and Discoveries in Quantum Mechanics. Oh my, yes. Written by Colonel Nelson deGrase. I’ve been so hoping to acquire a copy of one of his books.”
“He was my physics professor at the military college,” Clarfax said with a beaming smile, obvious he was proud that one of the most renowned Felanus professors was his teacher at one point in his life.
“Oh, that must have been an honour to speak with him, and even learn from him,” the librarian said before handing the book to another assistant. “In the scientific section, physics subsection, if you please. Now, what have we here,” he said turning his attention to the last book. “The Mark Ten Maverick: Designs of the Vulpine Air Corps Flagship. Oh my, I never knew they had released this.”
“The Mark Ten’s are to be decommissioned,” Hardy said with a nod. “They’re making way for the new Nighthawk. And let me tell you, that bird is light years ahead of the Maverick class.”
“Oh excellent,” the librarian chuckled and handed the book to the third assistant. “The aeronautics section, if you would.” He turned back to the three Vulpine and smiled. “I can’t wait until the book for the Nighthawk comes to reside here as well.”
“I’ll let you know when I finish writing it,” Hardy said with a chuckle.
“Now with our gift’th out of the way,” Senia said as she turned her attention back to Sor’Tah. “Perhapth we can get down to the matter at hand.”
Previous | Next
Gear had been gathered, preparations made, and the three were ready to depart from the orbital space station to the surface of Critainia. However, instead of flying down with the Nighthawk, they received a message from the planet’s constabulary. Constable Jor’Tal would be the one to transport them personally and would be waiting for them at the departure platform for small vessels.
Small vessels and Critainian are two things that often don’t mean the same thing, at least from Vulpine standards. Jor’Tal’s shuttle was about as big as the Nighthawk. Still, for something so large, it still looked sleek and very space worthy, a tribute to Critainian engineering and design. As they three made their way onto the departure platform, Jor’Tal could sense them and turned to greet them. He, or rather she as indicated by the blue arm band, stood a good height, close to three meters tall. A veteran, by the look, she had one horn at the top of her head crest chipped off, the indication that she partook in a ground battle at one time. Critainians were fond of battle scars, and would often display such things with pride. The other horn was ornately decorated with carvings, some of them with Critainian glyphs describing the battle she lost her horn in.
“Left-tenant,” she called out with a stiff salute. Her voice was quite gruff compared to other Critainian females they had run into before. “Corporals,” she added. “I’ll be taking you directly to the surface. We can discuss the situation in greater detail on the way.”
“Of courthe,” Senia replied with a nod, though didn’t understand what exactly needed to be discussed further, all information had been given to them, including suspicions. What more could there be?
“Right this way,” she said as she opened the hatch to the shuttle. She took note that the three had given a glance or two toward her arm band. “And before you ask, I go through a gender shift in two weeks. Just getting used to the arm band right now.” The three nodded and entered the craft, no need for further explanation at all. As they settled in, Jor’Tal climbed into the pilot’s seat, making sure she didn’t inadvertently step on the feet of the Vulpine. The shuttle’s hatch closed, she began the main launch sequence. The engines whined to life, then they felt the ship slowly take flight toward the planet’s surface. “You’ll have to forgive me if I don’t have tea ready on the trip down. I felt you’d rather get ready for the investigation,” she said as she steered the craft through some minor traffic, then straight on to the planet. “Besides, I think by now you’ve probably had your fill.”
“Tea in the harbour master’s office, tea in the living quarters,” Hardy said with a sigh. “I spent so much time going over some of the Library’s schematics, my last cup got cold.”
“Impressive structure, isn’t it,” Jor’Tal said as she took a glance back to the Vulpine. “But wait’ll you see it from the air. That’s the most impressive.”
“I’m thurprithed the diagramth don’t include the hidden bunkerth,” Senia commented. “After one hundred yearth, it might be thomething to put in plathe.”
“There are a few that had suggested doing that,” Jor’Tal explained as she tapped the controls. The craft changed attitude slightly. “Hang on, we’re hitting atmosphere.” The shuttle bounced just a bit as the ship made her way back into the atmosphere of the planet, then adjusted to compensate. “As I was saying, the Ministry shot the idea down after the Raptory settled on a southern continent of the planet. There are still many in Tri-Horn society that believe the Raptory would like nothing better than attack us.” Tri-Horn, an old phrase to describe the Critainians. One they hadn’t used in over a thousand years since settling on the third planet of the Lupine Star System.
“Still, it’s possible that someone in authority, maybe even military, might have a secondary schematic prepared,” Clarfax added, thinking maybe there was some map to these underground bunkers.
“Don’t forget,” Jor’Tal said with a slight chuckle. “We Tri-Horns have hereditary memories, most of the pathways are locked in memory. I know that place like the back of my hand, even though I’ve never set foot inside of them.” She looked back to the Vulpine and nodded. “You may want to come up here and see this.”
The three left their seats and moved to the front of the shuttle, looking out through the windshield. There before them was the Great Library, bigger than the largest city on Vulpinia, with structures any architectural master would dream of seeing. Eight main structures, leading out from a central amphitheatre, smaller buildings spread here and there between the larger structures. Where the eight main group of structures met the outer edge of the amphitheatre, there were eight towers, measuring at least fifty meters and reaching as tall as seventy five meters.
“The thchematic doeth not do thith plathe juthtithe,” Senia said in a hushed voice, amazed by the layout of the entire thing.
“I told you,” Jor’Tal said with a smile, then flipped a few switches on her craft’s communications console. “This is Constabulary Shuttle 005, Constable Jor’Tal at the helm. Requesting permission to land.”
“Permission granted,” a voice called back over the comm. “Librarian Sor’Tah will be meeting you on the main tarmac. Air traffic control out.”
“Thank you, Air traffic control. Constable Jor’Tal out,” she replied, then sighed as she cut off the communications link. “It had to be Sor’Tah.”
“Problem?” Senia asked as she settled back into her seat to prepare for landing.
“Sor’Tah is a stickler for duty, tradition and protocol,” she explained. “This may hamper the investigation, especially if he’s being assigned to assist you while in the Library proper. But if I recall, the evidence found is just outside his jurisdiction. We might catch a break there.” She checked her navigation and eased the decent of the craft. The engine began to slow down slightly as they prepared to land. “Get ready. We’re about to enter the ancient Library City. Welcome to the Great Library.”
The room was large, like everything about Critainian architecture. One room set aside for sleeping, another for bathing, and the largest room for other pursuits. To the three Vulpine pilots that could have been a half sized game of rough ball. As the entered and stored their gear, Hardy took note of the tea service that sat on a coffee table of the sunken section of the living room. The chairs and couches were quite ornate, as was customary in Critainian culture. The room even had a communication console, and on one of the shelves sat a data rod. Senia picked it up and placed it carefully into the data processor of the console and pressed a few buttons.
Behind her, over top of the sunken living room, a holoimage appeared, a schematic by the look of it. A full layout of the Great Library. It nearly covered the entire sunken section of the room. As they studied it, there was a chirp from the communications console, which Senia answered quickly. As they waited for the call to complete, Clarfax fixed tea for each of them.
Soon, the form of a high ranking member of the Critainian government came into view on the screen. A respectable looking individual, the three knew that they needed no coloured arm band to determine his gender, they’d been briefed on this Critainian. “Ah, Left-tenant Felix,” he said with a smile and a small bow. “I was informed of your arrival and took the liberty to arrange quarters. I know that Vulpinia is a much more temperate climate than Critainia, and I do so hope this is to your liking.”
“It should thuit uth fine ath a command thentre while we work, Minithter,” Senia replied with a nod. “Ath you’ve no doubt been informed, I am Left-tenant Felix. Corporal Maynard and Corporal Billingth,” she said as she motioned to her comrades. Clarfax handed her a tea cup filled with a steaming liquid before she continued. “We jutht only activated the data rod found in the room. A three dimensional map of the library.”
“Yes,” the Minister said as his tone became much more serious. “This will hopefully help. Most of the reports have been coming from one of the older sections of the library. Most advanced technology outside of the climate control and lighting is outlawed in that section. We’ve detected signs of … well.” He paused a moment as he tried to explain the situation. “We believe that there is something being moved through the library using the old infrastructure underneath the current foundation.”
“Underneath?” Senia remarked as she was about to take a sip. She turned to look at the holo image, as did Hardy and Clarfax. “It would appear no thuch thytructure ith prethent in thith diagram.”
“Sadly, our data rods have not been updated since the war with the Raptory over one hundred years ago,” the Minister explained. “There were a great number of bunkers created to hide non military personnel during the worst of the fighting. We had created the data rods before the war broke out, and felt it best to leave out the hidden chambers in case they fell into enemy hands.”
“I remember that,” Hardy said as she studied the schematic. “Around the same time of the Vulpine Pantheran war, if my history is correct. One of the reasons why the Critainians didn’t directly join the fight until near the end of the war.”
“You’d make an excellent historian, Corporal,” the Minister said with a chuckle. “Are you sure you’ve chosen the right vocation.”
“History is just a hobby,” Hardy replied with a smile as she looked back to the console’s view screen. “Now, get me in an engine room, I’m in my right environment.”
“Well, I’m hoping it is some of those other talents I was told you have that will assist,” he said with a nod. “There is a theory that there is someone trafficking contraband through these old bunkers. We haven’t been able to find out who exactly, but we may have a possible suspect. Constables have found interesting tracks at one of the sites, and believe it may be Jackai.”
All three looked to the view screen in silence for a moment. They knew Jackai had raiding ships and often would attack merchant vessels between Vulpinia and Critainia, but for a Jackai raider to be so bold as to attempt an operation surface side was unheard of. “You’re certain, Minister.”
“Very,” he replied with a nod. “We’ve matched some of the tracks in our data base, ruling out everything that we know of the Raptory right away. That was our first thought. The tracks belong to, if you will forgive the use of the term, more mammalian creature. Too big for a Vulpine or Felanus, and too small for a Pantheran or a Lionid.”
“Which left only Lupine and Jackai,” Clarfax stated as though finishing the Minister’s thought.
“Exactly,” he said with a sigh. “The Lupine very rarely leave orbit of their own world, as many of them find their own home world just good enough. There are exceptions to that rule, however, but we’ve accounted for almost all Lupine that do leave planetside. We can almost name them all without difficulty. That left only the Jackai, and I believe everyone is familiar with their activities throughout the system.”
“With the extheption of the Dorgotha,” Senia added, mentioning the salvage operation vessel that was commanded by the Jackai Red Streak, the only known Jackai vessel that was registered with the trade commissions throughout the system.
“Yes, of course,” the Minister added quickly. “I wouldn’t think Red Streak has any such inclination toward such underhanded display.” The Minister cleared his throat and continued. “I’ve assigned Constable Jor’Tal to assist you, should you need anything. Head Librarian Drago’Hyt shall assist you in the library should you require anything there. I ask that you respect the laws and traditions of the library. I don’t think that should be a problem, but I must convey that to you. The Library is of great importance to our people.”
“Of courthe, Minithter,” Senia said with a nod. “You have our word that nothing shall be done to show any dithrethpect at all.”
“I thank you, Left-tenant,” the Minister added, and then the communication ended.
Senia looked to Hardy and Clarfax, silently waiting for their opinions as she sipped her tea. Hardy was looking over the schematic once more. “This shows the plateau the Library was built on,” she said as she pointed out the geographic landscape of the structure. “It looks deep enough and thick enough to hide several thousand Critainians, just by the size of the structure standing on top of it.”
“The rock face has to have some sort of mineral in it, I suppose,” Clarfax added. “Something that would scramble any scans at all.”
“Why couldn’t they jutht open the bunker and look inthide?” Senia asked aloud.
“The Minister said certain sections of the Library forbid any technology,” Hardy said with a shrug. “Maybe they have rights on the land as well.”
“Unless someone in the Library already knows what’s going on,” Clarfax stated as he took a sip of his tea. He looked to Senia and Hardy as they appeared to be waiting for him to continue. “I know you two are already thinking of it, so it has to be said. What if someone in the Library, maybe with a decent security clearance, knows about what’s going on. It’s not unheard of for Critainians to have illicit activities, after all.”
“We’ll have to keep it in mind,” Senia said as she set down her tea and crossed her arm. “I want to thpeak with the authority before we go to the Library. We should leave thith evening, arrange a time to thpeak with the contact the Minithter arranged for uth. Then we’ll thee if we can’t go pay a vithit to the Library.” Hardy and Clarfax nodded firmly in reply, both agreeing with the plan. “For now, let’th prepare any gear we do need. No need to take rifleth, jutht pithtolth. I don’t believe we’ll get into trouble, but it never hurt. Clarfax, bring your thcanning equipment, Hardy, make sure your toolkit ith at hand.”
“When is it not?” Hardy replied with a good laugh.
“Good.,” Senia said with a firm nod. “We’ll plan to leave by 2100 hourth local time.”
I’ve been writing more on the adventures of the three Vulpine pilots, and have come to change something in the story.
Nothing big, just the name of one ship. The Jackai salvage operation ship named the Sifter. Originally it was named that because it would “sift” through the wreckage of old abandoned vessels. The new name will be the Dorgotha, named for a Jayna tribe community, one that became a turning point in the Great Lupine Land War.
Dorgotha’s Gorge was just south of the Lupine territories on Lupinia. The Jackai there would often trade with their northern Lupine neighbours. It would also become a stronghold during the war, defended by Jackai soldiers. Among them was Red Tail, who would become the first captain of the salvage ship. A Pantheran doctor and his two nurses, known as “the twins” in Swift Fox, would also be a part of this battle ground. So too would a quartet of Royal Vulpine Air Corps pilots. Two Vulpine, two Felanus, all from the 76th Squadron. Most of the members of this rag tag battle group would end up becoming crew members of the Dorgotha.
Oh, and there will be another part coming today, I promise. I’m working on it right now and should have it posted shortly. So, for now, here’s a picture of a fox napping!
In truth, it’s been listed for a while, I just never got around to mentioning it here.
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The morning came uneventfully. The crew of the Pride held their usual regiment of breakfast, but this time with the added bonus of the three Vulpine pilots. Calder and Marina still hovered around the three, asking all kinds of questions that only children would ask of those who commanded a ship such as the Nighthawk. By the end of breakfast, the orbital space station that hung above the planet of Critainia was in sight.
A marvellous structure, built in the same fashion as the Critainian city ships that arrived in the Lupine star system one thousand years before. It appeared to have several different levels to it; a massive hydroponics section for growing fruits and vegetables along with the prized Critainian roses that produced the famed rose petals so sought after throughout much of the system; a huge docking ring that welcomed ships from every planet; ship yards for the Critainian’s own fleet, the ships of the famed Critainian Hegemony. A lower section held living quarters for those who visited the planet, created for comfort due to the extremely hot and humid climate of the planet’s surface being rather uncomfortable for non Critainian species. The entire orbital station was built like a series of great discs, with each disc holding just as much importance as the others.
Urial set coordinates for the main trade docking ring, and signalled the space station of their arrival and intent. He also informed them of the three Vulpine, and allowed Senia to speak with the Critainian docking personnel and announce her credentials and intent. Once that was cleared, the three Vulpine made their way to the make shift hangar and prepared the Nighthawk for launch.
Even though the five had watched the Nighthawk land, it was still a wonder to watch her as she took off again and made her way to the docking ring. As the Pride began her own final docking procedures, the Nighthawk was landing ina special bay designated for off world police officials. Once the Nighthawk completed her landing, the three pilots exited the ship and made their way to the harbour master’s office.
The office was a standard sized office, for any Critainian. Which meant by Vulpine standards it was huge. The ceiling was seven and a half meters tall and the room measured fourteen meters long by nine meters wide. The furnishings weren’t exactly standard Vulpine fair which was to be expected. Critainians, after all, measured slightly over two meters to three meters in height. The controls within the room, however, were familiar. Clarfax recognized the scanning read outs, the detailed ship manifest section and the communications port within the room. Something else in the room was the wide variety of plants that were growing. Again, for Critainians, this was not uncommon. The plants were actually their food source, and easier for them to work within close proximity to what they would eat. While they were seen as some of the most impressive cooks in the system, they often preferred their own meals straight from the vine, as it were. Such was the case of the harbour master, as he, or she as one could never tell with Critainians, was munching away on a large leaf from a tulla bush that grew near his desk.
He looked up and put the leaf to the side quickly as he saw the three Vulpine, a look of embarrassment on his face. “My apologies,” the harbour master said as he rose to his full two meter height. “Today has been an extremely busy day,” the harbour master said stepping forward to offer them a seat. They took note of the red armband on his right arm, an indication he was at present identifying as male. Females wore blue on their left arms. As the three took their seats, he rushed off to a small cabinet area and produced a tea service which he set down on the table in front of the Vulpine. “Just this morning I was brushing up on my Vulpine etiquette. I made a fresh batch of rose petal tea. Not the most prized on the planet, but still and exquisite blend.” He took a seat beside the three pilots and poured them each a cup. “I am Dor’Ah’To, the port’s harbour master as you are most well aware. Nothing comes in or out of this port without my knowledge. I was informed by the Ministry to be expecting you.”
“Yeth,” Senia said with a nod as she picked up her tea cup. “Colonel Chattham informed uth there wath a thituation at the Great Library.” Senia, just as Clarfax and Hardy seemed to be doing, could not divert their attention from Dor’Ah’To’s top horns, as they were filled with intricate carvings. A common practice among Critainians, just as ear piercings were common among Vulpine.
“The Ministy never informed me of the full details of your visit,” he replied with a smile as he picked up his own tea cup. “I was just informed that you were to be given the best treatment. It is tradition, after all.” A tradition that went back one thousand years, as it was early Vulpine starships that encountered the Critainian city ships. A meeting that would become a great alliance. “I have made arrangements for your vessel to be refueled and carefully housed.” He saw the look on Hardy’s face, and being one who has dealt with stingy engineers before, he held up a reassuring hand. “Not to worry, Corporal. My crew always takes the best care of any vessel that makes her way to this port.”
“I thuthpect that, ath you have introduthed yourthelf,” Senia said as she motioned to her companions. “It ith only betht that we do the thame. Corporal Clarfax Billingth. He ith our betht thienthe offither that graduated from the academy.” Clarfax nodded as he was introduced, replied quickly and with great exuberance from Dor’Ah’To. “Corporal Hardy Maynard, top pilot and engineer, ath I believe you may already have athumed.” Hardy smiled with a nod, letting out a small chuckle at the comment. Dor’Ah’To again replied in kind. “And I am Left-tenant Thenia Felix.” She paused and coughed before continuing with her usual introduction for herself. “That ith Thenia, with an ‘Eth’.”
“Oh, not to worry, Left-tenant,” Dor’Ah’To replied with a broad smile. Whenever he smiled, his eyes squinted just a bit as his scaley hide wrinkled around his cheeks and eyes. “After all of the people that come and go from this space port, I have heard more than my fair share of minor impediments, and to be honest, I am not hindered in anyway whenever I speak to any of them. I can assure you, for me you will be no different.” He set his tea cup down and took out a data pad and three identification tags from his long robes. “I almost forgot, I have made arrangements for you to have temporary living quarters her on the space port. I understand you are to travel to the Great Library, which is a more cooler climate than most of Critainia, but it can still be somewhat muggy at a constant 25 degree Celsius. And make sure that you have those ID tags with you at all times, they were issued by the Ministry and will identify you to anyone in authority.”
“Thank you very much,” Senia replied with a nod as she finished her tea. “That ith moth appreciated.”
“Oh, really, it was no bother,” he said as he handed over the data pad. “This will have all the information about your quarters. A large, three bedroom suite that has a wonderful view of Critainia. Some of our most respected dignitaries from Vulpinia and Lupinia enjoy that side of the space port. Now, I will have to advise you to stay clear of docking ring 24-A,” he said as his tone took a slightly more serious note but still managed to hold a decent level of cheeriness. “That is a restricted area, for the officers and crews of Critainian ships.”
“Completely underthtandable,” Senia replied with a nod as she rose to her feet. Clarfax and Hardy followed suit. “Now, if you will excuthe uth, we should be on our way and make contact with the Ministry. I think we can do that from our quarterth.” She turned to leave but stopped and nodded to the harbour master one last time. “Again, you have my thankth for all you’ve done.” Dor’Ah’To rose to his feet and bowed graciously in reply, then went back to his business as the three pilots went on their way.
It was quite sometime before any of them spoke, almost feeling like they had to wait in a moment of silence as they left the office. Hardy was the first to comment.
“Anyone notice how eager he was to please?” she asked with a chuckle.
“Stands to reason,” Clarfax replied. “Critainians have hereditary memories, most can remember their great great so on and so forth grandparents during the Great Crossing and meeting the early vessels in the RVA.”
“You think they’d calm down a bit after a thousand years,” Hardy said as she shook her head. “My mother served aboard a Critainian vessel as part of an exchange program, a few years b’fore I was born. She said she felt as though the Critainians, from petty officer all the way to senior staff, treated her like she was the captain.”
“I’ve heard a few thtorieth of that mythelf,” Senia added. “But at least they have one tradition solidly grounded and that’s tea time.” The three laughed as they began walking down a long hallway that lead to dignitaries quarters. “Ah, here we go. We shouldn’t be too far now.” They looked over the room numbers carefully until they finally found the matching sequence. Critainians always made sure to put their room codes in a short form algebraic equation, to try to confound anyone who wished to infiltrate the station. “Thith lookth like our room,” Senia said as she was about to insert her data card into the lock. Just as she was about to do so, she heard a familiar voice.
“I didn’t know you three would be bunking in these quarters,” came the voice. The three turned to see the Felanus Snow Fall across the hallway. “Good thing I already have an idea of who my neighbours are.”
“Mith Thnow,” Senia remarked with a smile. “I didn’t realize you’d be thtaying. I thought you’d be heading back with the Pride.”
“Oh please, Snowy’s just fine,” she said with a chuckle. “Miss Snow sounds so formal. Besides, that’s my mom.” She grinned as she approached the three and lowered her voice to a more conversational tone. “I’m here for three weeks on a study exchange. Botany. Best place to learn is at the hydroponic gardens here on the station.”
“Best place to gleen some knowledge, too,” Hardy remarked. “Critainians are some of the best in the system.” She nudged Snowy with her elbow. “I take it you are well versed in Critainian etiquette. What should we watch out for when we go planet side?”
“One thing I can warn you about,” she said as she leaned in closer to the three as though conspiring with them. “My dad told me that if ever they ask if you would like a mud bath, say no. It’s a thick, hot bath. Takes forever to get the mud out of your fur.”
“We’ll be sure to avoid that,” Senia said with a small smile.
“Well, I better let you three get your room ready,” Snowy said as she crossed the hallway back to her quarters. “If you’ve got time, we should have lunch together.”
“Conthider it a definite pothibility, Thnowy,” Sneia replied with a nod. Snowy turned to enter her room, leaving the three to enter their own.
With supper out of the way, both crews from the Lionid’s Pride and the Nighthawk eased into the usual confines of an evening discussion. Under normal circumstances, this would take place in the comfortable setting of a lounge if on Vulpinia, or in the shade of one of the pristine gardens if on Canin. But because this was a cargo cruiser, the ship’s bridge doubled as both mess hall and command centre. Urial and Nadia made it work, however, as the setting was both comfortable and practical. This was their home after all, so it had to fit into two roles for the four family members. This suited Snow Fall just fine, as she had become a member of this family, albeit temporarily.
As they small group talked, Calder and Marina played together in a small area as they listened. They grew up around vessels and had just as much a fascination with them as their father did. From time to time, they would show Senia, Clarfax or Hardy one of their toys and give a long explanation about it’s history.
The name of the ship was one picked very well. Urial was extremely proud of this vessel, the work that he and his family did, and the reputation that they had received among the other races throughout the star system. At times like this, whenever the rare time a dignitary would come on board, or perhaps a temporary crew member such as in Snow Fall’s case, he would beam with pride when talking about the ship. Inevitably, there would be the grand tour that show off the best features of the ship. But in this case, Urial was just as fascinated by the Nighthawk, and seemed ask as many questions about the Vulpine vessel as he did answer about his own vessel.
“You have an incredible sensor array,” Clarfax said as he studied the sensor controls on the bridge, identifying all the basic controls and seeing the wonderful craftsmanship that went into the console. “Most cargo vessels don’t scan for spacial anomalies as well as other ships. This is very much like what we have on the Nighthawk.”
“Well yes,” Urial said with a broad smile as he sipped his tea. “I’ve had the incredible fortune to talk to Vulpine and Felanus engineers while at the monastery. They’ve given me a great number of wonderful ideas for this ship. Even Snow Fall’s mother and father had their own hand in the planning of this vessel.”
“Urial has been planning this vessel since before our cubs were born,” Nadia said with a smile. “As a matter of fact, Calder and Marina were born the day before we were scheduled to launch. It made our first flight rather interesting.” She chuckled as the memories came back and leaned light against Urial. “I remember him decorating their cribs with little models of some of the most well known vessels in the system. The Tritan, the Tiger’s Pride, the Barrow’s Revenge, even the Sifter. And he’d spend the evening lulling them to sleep with stories of each vessel.” She looked to Urial and lovingly ruffled his mane. He seemed to blush just a bit, but only smiled and sipped his tea.
“That mutht have been quite thomething for you to grow up on Canin,” Senia said to Snowy.
“Oh, it wasn’t a different experience, really,” she answered with a shrug. “We moved there and settled near the Ice Field Monastery when I was three, so in truth I have better memories of that then I do of our home on Vulpinia. I have been back, though. We used to live in the northern regions, near the Juratta Mountains.”
“My grandparents lived there,” Hardy spoke up as she lifted her tea cup in salute. “I still feel a bit of a connection to that place.”
“I felt a connection when I went back to visit my grandparents,” Snowy replied. “But I like to explore. Dad said I got it from my mother’s side of the family. They were all explorers from the way my parents talked.”
“You should have joined the Huntsman,” Clarfax said with a smile. “Before we joined Main Authority, the Huntsman was scheduled for a deep space exploration mission.”
“The Huntsman?” Urial said as he looked up, his interest definitely piqued. “A new ship of the Vulpine fleet?”
“Yes,” Hardy said with a nod. “Dawn of a new age, the Protectorate calls it. We need to explore, just as we need to protect our system. The Huntsman is fitted with the latest in scientific sensor arrays, her crew is mostly from the science academy, but she also has the regular military compliment that’s found on most vessels.”
“That would have been interesting,” Snowy said with a shrug. “But, I still like the freedom of discovery on my own. No need for protocols, just exploring. Nobody to answer to, that kind of thing.”
“You’re still young,” Urial said with a smile. “In time you never know. You might be called upon by some of the greatest scientific minds to join in a grand expedition.” There were a few chuckles around before Urial switched topics back to the Nighthawk. “I suppose that vessel of yours can be utilized for any purpose, really. She looks to be much more than just fighter craft.”
“She ith,” Senia replied with a nod. “A full array of thenthorth that would make any deep thpathe ship enviouth, a good thized cargo hold for shipment of minor goodth and materialth. And in a pinch, can give ath good a punch ath any war ship.” She motioned out the main view screen. “I believe the Jackai found that out rather quickly.”
“They did indeed,” Urial said with a chuckle. “I hope you don’t mind if I enquire, but what exactly is your mission on Critainia?”
“There’th a bit of an issue which the Critainian Counthil would like uth to invethtigate at the Great Library,” Senia explained. “It would theem there ith thuthpicion that there ith contraband being thmuggled through the library, but the keeperth of the bookth can’t find any corroborative evidenthe.”
“The Great Library,” Urial said with a sigh as he shook his head. “I have often wanted to visit that place. As big as a city, I’ve been told. The knowledge of a million years housed inside the walls of the buildings that make it up.” Urial looked to the three Vulpine and nodded. “You’re going to have a big job ahead of you. As I’ve been told, the library covers twenty square kilometres.” His voice changed a bit as he went into further explanation, his tone filled with wonder and amazement. “The Critainians sought out the finest historians, asking them to add to the library, making a permanent record of the entire star system. There is a vast section that covers their own history from before the Great Crossing. A full history of the Vulpine fleet, the first attempts at space flight by the Vulpine and Felanus, and the equal attempts by the Pantherans. Even the tribal history of the Lupine and Jackai are well documented. It’s actually one of my duties on this cargo run, to deliver an historical datapad filled with the complete history of the Lionid Monasteries, plus a detailed description of the process in making the best Ice Wine as they do at the Ice Field Monastery.” This last brought about several chuckles, as it was known the Lionid Ice Wine was some of the best wines in the entire system. To be given a bottle was considered that the one receiving the gift was a great and trusted friend.
“If the library is as big as you say,” Hardy replied with a broad smile. “Maybe they’ll catalogue that information before we finish our investigation.” The chuckles turned to boisterous laughter with Hardy’s comment. Still, it was a reminder of what they faced.
“We should be rendezvousing with Thpathe Port Beta thometime in the morning,” Senia stated with a nod.
“We best get some rest then,” Clarfax said as he finished his tea.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have any extra quarters,” Urial announced. “We don’t often take on passengers unannounced, so we weren’t able to prepare anything appropriate.”
“It’s no bother,” Hardy said as she rose to her feet. “The Nighthawk is equipped with a small sleeping area. Helps when on long trips.”
“Papa!” Calder called out to his father as both he and Marina stood in front of him. “Can we stay on the Nighthawk for a bit? Please!”
“Well,” he said looking down to his children then over to the three pilots. “I think it best to ask Senia if you could.” The cubs moved over to Senia, eyes as big as saucers as they were about to make their enquiry.
“I think it would be fine for a little while,” Senia said with a nod. “We can show you the ship, but then you two have to get to bed.”
“Don’t worry,” Snowy said as she rose to her feet and stood beside the cubs. “I’ll make sure they get to bed, and I’ll be back up here for my shift on the bridge.” The six moved slowly out of the bridge area, Calder and Marina excitedly asking questions of the three pilots. Eventually the noise died down a bit, leaving Urial and Nadia to themselves on the bridge.
“You really would like to go as well, wouldn’t you,” Nadia said teasingly to Urial. He seemed to snap out of his dream like state and looked to his mate. “You have such an appreciation for ships of any kind.”
“Well, maybe,” he said with a sigh. “But Vulpine vessels are sometimes very small. I don’t fit inside them very well.”
“Come on,” Nadia said as she hooked her arm in Urial’s. “Let’s clean up and get the bridge ready for Snowy.”
Often, the engine rooms of cargo cruisers were a huge mess. Most were cobbled together with parts purchased or traded from all sorts of areas. Many assembled parts were bartered from the Jackai Sifter salvage ship, or from other cargo cruisers. It was not unheard of for a Vulpine freighter to have the neutronium coils from Pantheran cargo cruisers. But Lionid ships were a different matter. Considering the engineering of these ships were dictated by monks of the different monasteries, the ships themselves seemed quite disciplined themselves. They were immaculate.
When Snowy took Hardy into the engine room, Hardy had to stop and look around for a moment in wonder.
“Ya know,” she finally said after she looked over the pristine engine. “The Vulpinian Trade Coalition could learn a thing ‘r two from the Lionids.”
“I know, right,” Snowy said with a chuckle. “Sort of like my dad’s ship when we first arrived on Canin. The Lionids thought we were in a battle while on route. Come on. I think the worst of the damage from that fire fight is in here.” Snowy lead Hardy down through the long corridor of driver coils. The engine itself was massive, even for a cargo ship. Two long tubes that seemed to glow, encased in a clear housing of transparent titanium shielding. Tough as nails to break through, which kept the engine safe in case of an attack. “Here it is,” Snowy said as she pointed out a snoking panel.
“Ah that shouldn’t take too long to fix,” Hardy replied as she took out her tool kit. “This is nothin’ like what my instructor at the military college talked about.”
“Military college?” Snowy said as she pried the panel off the control box. “You guys looked more like fighter pilots than military. Which is another thing I was going to ask. You’re with Main Authority, but I never knew of Main Authority taking on your type.”
“Well, we are fighter pilots,” Hardy replied as she inspected some of the burned out fuses with a calibrator. “At least, we attended the Chattingham Academy after military college.”
“Wouldn’t you guys be with the 76th, though,” Snowy asked as she gently pulled out a control rod. “Gimme a hand with this, would you?”
“That was the plan,” Hardy said as she helped with the control rod. “But, I think ya heard Left-tenant Felix’s voice. There was a decision that she’d be unfit ta be a pilot.” Hardy looked up in time to see the look on Snowy’s face. “I know, I know exactly what yer thinkin’.”
“That’s just a bunch of bob-tail,” Snowy said, matter of factly. “Sorry for the language. Hand me that operator bar, please.”
“Oh, no worry about language,” Hardy said with a chuckle and handed over the tool for Snowy. “I guess General Gerring caught wind of it, found it to be an injustice and next me an’ Clarry knew, we were recruited into the service of the Main Authority as well.” They gently placed the spent rod into a holding container and began to place a brand new rod in its place. “I think General Gerring must of looked at my file and figured one look at the Nighthawk and I’d swoon madly over her.”
“She is an impressive looking ship,” Snowy said with a chuckle as they began to carefully insert the new rod. “Careful. Gotta make sure that it’s flush when it’s in place. Then the engine should run smooth again.”
“She is an impressive ship. Brand new systems, complete with the latest in weapons technology, sensor capability, an’ even fly smooth,” Hardy said, boasting about the Nighthawk’s finer points. “We’ll have to look over that fuel problem, mind you.”
“If you don’t mind, maybe after supper I can give you a hand with that.”
“Oh, I don’t see why not,” Hardy said with a smile. Always a chance to show off the Nighthawk and this would be the first biggest chance. “Just haveta clear it with Senia and I don’t see that bein’ a problem.”
“There we go,” Snowy said as she closed up the panel again. “Now we just have to clean up and she’ll be good until we get to Critainian space dock.” Snowy looked to Hardy and smiled. “As Urial says, a clean engine is a happy engine.”
“Well,” Hardy replied as she perked an eyebrow. “Words o’ wisdom that strike home and heart to me.”
“When we get to space dock, we’ll probably put her through the basic repairs,” Snowy said. “Urial and Nadia will no doubt oversee all repairs. This ship is like their third cub, after all.” She looked up and took a sniff. “We best hurry. Smells like Urial’s cooking his finest again. He likes to try new things all the time, and I have to admit, he can make some delicious food. Come on. Give me a hand cleaning up and we can make it in time for supper.”
All five watched with great interest as the Nighthawk formed back into her original configuration beyond the doors of the shuttle bay. They were speechless as the craft gracefully glided into the hold of the Lionid’s Pride. Never before had they seen a vessel like her, one that could traverse the depths of space, yet separate to become three very formidable fighter craft. They more than proved their worth this day, and all thought they could have easily destroyed the Jackai ship. But they let them go, returning in a protective formation around the Pride.
Marina and Calder waited with excitement by the control shield as the bay began to recycle atmosphere as the doors closed. The great, dark blue bird, resting in the middle of the room. She looked pristine as she sat there, like some majestic ice eagle, one of the greatest birds that roamed the ice cliffs of the northern continent of Canin. As the control shield lowered, the pair of cubs raced down to get a closer look. Urial, Nadia and Snowy each walked casually toward the craft, but deep down, they were just like Calder and Marina, filled with excitement as they saw the craft.
“Those Vulpine and Felanus are incredible craftsman,” Urial said in a low voice as he looked over the hull of the ship. Snowy looked back and smiled, knowing with just a look at the ship that there were designs from both Vulpine and Felanus ingenuity at work in that craft. The fleet may have been called the Royal Vulpine Authority, but the Felanus had a great hand in helping construct and man the vessels that roamed space from Vulpinia.
The main hatch of the craft lowered, and the three Vulpine walked down the ramp, offering a wave as they caught sight of the small group.
“Thank you very much for letting uth dock,” Senia called out.
“It seems I’ll have somethin’ to look into,” Hardy added. “Fuel reserves start ta bottom out when the ship separates. Gotta be a way to make sure the reserves keep level.”
Marina and Calder stared in wonder at the three pilots. They weren’t much shorter than them at all. “Wow,” Calder whispered with a touch of awe in his voice. “I’ve never seen Vulpine before.”
“Ah…” Urial began as he stepped forward. “You’ll have to excuse our children,” he said as he motioned to his mate. “This is they’re first time travelling such a distance. They just recently met some of the Lupine in a cargo run to the Wolves of the Plains.”
“Oh, no need to explain,” Senia said with a smile. “In a way, thith ith our firtht journey to the other planetth ath well. More formal introductionth. Left-tenant Thenia Felix.” Senia extended her hand to Urial and then added, “That’th Thenia. With an ‘Eth’.” She cleared her throat as she heard the cubs giggling. “Pardon me, but, I have to explain thometimeth. I am aware I have a thpeech impediment.”
“I for one don’t mind,” Nadia said as she stepped forward and shook Senia’s hand. “You did quite the number on those pirates.” They all exchanged greetings, even the cubs who needed a bit of proding to say their names. They were still caught with a bit of wonder.
“I am afraid it will be a little while yet before we can press on,” Urial said with a sigh. “Our engines were hit and we lost out main hyper drive. We have parts, but it might take sometime to fix.”
“Unfortunately, that means I’ll have to get to work,” Snowy said as she picked up a tool kit from a nearby work station.
“Well,” Hardy piped up as she stepped over to the white Felanus. “They maybe the job can go faster if I give ya a hand. I’m pretty good with a wrench myself. An’ I look at it this way, with a Vulpine an’ a Felanus workin’ on the engines together, we should have her up and runnin’ in no time.” Snowy chuckled at the enthusiasm Hardy showed and nodded, motioning for her to follow.
“It’s not completely necessary,” Urial spoke up. “You saved us from those pirates. We owe you a good deal more.”
“This is our duty,” Clarfax said with a nod. “It would be out of character for us not to respond to an attack.”
“Bethideth,” Senia said with a firm nod. “You’re give uth pathage while we repair our own ship, the leatht we can do ith help you with yourth.”
“In that case, you are most welcome to join us for dinner,” Urial said as he bowed slightly. “I will do the cooking. I believe you will enjoy our fine selection of ginseng and rose petal teas also, Lieutenant.”
Senia looked to Clarfax and smiled. He nodded in reply, impressed with the announced selection. If there was one thing that always caught a Vulpine’s attention, it was the mention of tea.
“According to sensors if we continue at this speed we should have no problems the rest of the way to Critainia,” Clarfax announced from his station. “We’ll dock at Critainian planetary space dock in 32 hours.”
“Good to hear,” Senia said as she flipped a few switches on her console. “Dropping the Nighthawk into autopilot.” Once the ship had taken over navigation, Senia sat back and stretched. “I jutht hope that thith new ship doethn’t make uth complathent at all.”
“That’s why I think we need to do our own drills,” Hardy spoke up. She’d been monitoring the hyper drive as they flew to their destination, and had no anomalies to report. “If we have the opportunity to test out the ‘Hawk’s capabilities, then we’ll keep ourselves sharp as well.”
“Um…” Clarfax said as he looked to his sensor screens. “We may have an opportunity, actually.” He began flipping switches and pressing commands into the computer as Senia and Hardy joined him at the station, watching the screens. “I’m reading weapons fire. One thousand kilometers aft.” He looked to Senia and Hardy. “Some of it is coming from the Pride, but there are other signatures. They are sporadic, but they also point to what we know about Jackai ships.”
Senia stood up straight as her ears lay back on her head. She looked out the window to the space in front of the Nighthawk, she knew a decision had to be made quickly. “Clarfax, contact the Critainian authoritieth and inform them we will be late. When you have confirmation they have the methage, take your thtationth in the other cockpit’th. We’ll theparate the Nighthawk and invethtigate and athitht in whatever way we can.”
Without another word, Hardy and Clarfax moved to their individual cockpits, closing off the outer hatches to the main control area. Senia moved to her own pilot’s seat and strapped in, receiving confirmation from both that they were preparing.
“Internal atmosphere is stable,” Clarfax reported.
“Engines are prepared for separation sequence,” Hardy called out over the comm.
“Keep communication channelth open,” Senia instructed them both as she prepped her own ship. “Clarfax, ath thoon ath we are within range of the Pride, contact them.”
“Understood,” he replied quickly.
“Beginning theparation on my mark,” Senia said as she flipped a few switches on her control panel. Red light indicators came to life, letting her know that Hardy and Clarfax were ready. “Mark, begin theparation.”
The ship shuddered and groaned as metal plating retracted. Indicators showed the progress and let each pilot know just how much fuel would be available for each ship. Communications went from wired comm devices to wireless frequencies. The engines of the secondary ships flashed for a moment, then powered up and matched the speed of the main fighter. Senia’s craft began retracting the wings, just as the other two fighters began extending their own wings.
“Perfect,” Senia said with a smile, then flipped a few switches to initiate the auto targeting system. “Clarfax, are we within range of the Pride?”
“Almost, Senia,” he replied quickly. “Another minute and we should have a comm lock.”
“Engines are working fine,” Hardy said over the comm. There was a smile in her voice, pride beaming through that the procedure worked flawlessly.
They could see the Pride in the distance, as a larger, much more menacing ship attacked it. In usual Jackai design, the ship was cobbled together from various other vessels. Hull plating from a Vulpine vessel, the hyper drive from an old Lionid cruiser, weapoins from a Pantheran destroyer. All of it acquired through means of scavenging. But most impressive was the piece of work the Jackai had done themselves. Reclamation arms at the front of the ship, making it look like some menacing spider hungry for prey. At the base of the arms there was a tractor beam device, which presently had the Pride locked on target.
On the bridge of the Pride, Urial and Nadia were working furiously to free their ship from the clutches of these predators. “Trying to scramble sensors,” Nadia reported as she worked tirelessly at a control console. “Not working.”
“Thrusters are down,” Urial roared as he slammed his fist onto the flat surface of his console. He could see out of the corner of his eye, his children huddled together next to Snowy’s console. He knew the Jackai would board the ship and take whatever they could. They’d have to hold here on the bridge and be prepared to fight hand to hand if need be. At least their passenger was helping to protect his children.
“We’re receiving a transmission,” Snowy called out as a photon blast rocked the vessel.
“The pirate wish to talk?” Urial snarled.
“No! It’s a Vulpine signature,” Snowy said as she looked back to Urial.
Both he and Nadia looked to Snowy for a moment before he spoke. “On speakers, quickly.”
“Lionid’th Pride, thith ith Left-tenant Felix. We thee your thituation and are on our way to athitht. Hold tight ath betht you can,” the transmission said, then began to repeat.
“We hear you, Lieutenant,” Urial said with a triumphant roar. “What is your plan?”
“We’re going to come up your belly,” Senia replied. “Uthe your hyper drive thignature to hide our approach. Our firtht target ith going to be that tractor beam.”
“Understood, Lieutenant,” Urial replied. “We’ll be waiting and ready.” He looked between Nadia and Snowy. “When they come around, give them as much support as you can. How many photons do we have left?”
“Ten,” Nadia reported as she gripped the edge of her console, trying to keep herself upright after another blast from the Jackai slammed into the ship.
“I picked up their signatures,” Snowy called out. “By the Great Mother,” she whispered. “The Nighthawk is three ships.” She looked to the view screen and watched the menacing ship and wondered if the Jackai would be prepared.
On board the bridge of the Pirate’s Victory, Silent Stalker watched with glee as the ship’s weapons did their damage. “Don’t focus on the cargo bays,” he informed his tactical officer. “I want what they’ve got. Just hit their weapons and propulsion.” He grabbed his chair as the Pride fired a volley back at the Jackai ship. “Oh oh!” Stalker laughed. “The pretty kitties are getting feisty! They want a fight, they’re gonna get one.” He turned his chair to his naviagtion officer. “Begin the reclamation, put the arms in place and lock the Pride in, we’ll tow it if we have.”
“Right away…” The navigation officer stopped mid sentence, causing Stalker to look at him directly, a look on his face as though he was filled with great disappointment. “Sir. I’m reading something. Something’s coming up hard and fast from underneath the Pride.”
In answer to the question not yet voiced, the Victory rocked violently as a volley of photon torpedoes slammed into the vessel. The bridge crew tumbled and scrambled as the ship was tossed about. The navigator scurried into his seat and checked his readings carefully. “Sir. The tractor beam has been disabled.”
“The pretty kitties couldn’t have done that,” Stalker howled. “They’ve got torpedoes ten years out dated.”
“It wasn’t the Pride, sir,” the officer reported, then hung onto his console as another attack rocked the vessel. “Three Vulpine attack fighters, coming in from starboard. I’ve never seen this class of Vulppie fighter before.”
“Great Wolf, blasted Vulpine,” Stalker growled. “There has to be a ship somewhere around here. Fighter craft can’t just appear without transport.”
“There isn’t one, sir,” the officer cried out. “Just the three fighters…” He was tossed from his console as a shower of sparks rained out from the work station and the bridge rocked violently. Another attack by the Vulpine. He managed to scramble to his feet, holding his now injured left arm by his side, and began checking his readings once more. “Sir, all six reclamation arms have been destroyed.”
Stalker looked out the view screen for a moment as the debris from the arms floated by, the Pride now free from their grasp. “Tactical!” he finally shouted. “Target the fighters.”
“Having trouble, sir,” the tactical officer reported. “They’re scrambling out sensor lock and playing havoc with our targeting systems.”
“Target them manually if you have,” Stalker shouted out with rage. “Don’t just sit there, do it!” He fell back into his seat as another volley hit the ship. Just how much damage were the doing.
“That’s the last of the reclamation arms,” Clarfax called out over the comm system as the fighters hugged the hull of the Pirate’s Victory.
“Good,” Senia quickly replied. “Hardy, begin a thtraffing run and take out their hyper drive. Leave them only with impulthe power. Clarfax, take the port thide and target their weaponth thythtemth. I’ll take thtarboard. Leave them in jutht enough of a piethe tho they can limp back to the Belt.” Senia gripped her controls as she heard the confirmation from both Hardy and Clarfax. The three fighters began to make their run.
Hardy dodged weapons fire easily as she neared the back of the ship, firing when she needed to and taking out lower weapons arrays. Both Senia and Clarfax made their respective runs, taking out weapons turrets as they went. The Pirate’s Victory was about to become a hollow one. An explosion rocked the larger vessel and Senia’s comm lit up. “Hyper drive destroyed,” Hardy called out. “Minimal damage to the ship’s hull, but she won’t be making any hyper jumps in the next little while.”
“Well done!” Senia called out. “Rendezvous with me back at the Pride. Clarfax, open a channel to the Jackai.”
“Channel open, Senia,” Clarfax replied.
“Jackai vethel,” Senia called out as soon as she was informed by her comm that connection had been made. “I urge you to retreat. Try to make it back to your hole in the Belt. We’ve already contacted Main Authority, who will undoubtedly contact a ship of the fleet. Maybe the Tritan or even the Thunderchild. Do not come into thith area of thpathe again.” She closed out the channel before receiving a reply, taking note that the Jackai ship was beginning to retreat slowly. The three fighters positioned themselves in a defensive pattern near the front of the Lionid’s Pride and watched as the Jackai began to shrink slowly from view.
“We have a small problem, Senia,” Hardy called out over the comm. “Fuel reserves are low. We’ll need to dock soon.”
“Maybe the commander of the Pride will help uth out,” Senia suggested. “Clarfax, open a channel to the Pride and then contact the Critainians again. We’ll be much more late than originally anticipated.”
“Aye, Senia,” Clarfax called out. “Urial is on the channel from the Pride.”
“Urial,” Senia said as she began to relax a bit now that the Jackai were gone from view. “Are you alright?”
“Yes, Lieutenant,” he said. “Thank you for your assistance. It was much appreciated. If there is anything we can do to repay you, just name it.”
“There might be thomething,” Senia said as she tapped in the order for the three fighters to regroup and reform into one ship. “We’re running low on fuel. Perhapth you could give uth tranthport to the Critainian ship yardth.”
The Lionid’s Pride was the first of many ships launched from the fifth planet in the Lupine planetary system. Canin was host to two species; the Lionids and the Pantherans. The Pantherans had made a name for themselves already in space, and their actions, in combination with the actions of the Vulpine, forged some of the greatest treaties in the history of the system. The Lionids were much different, though they did share similar features.
The Lionids were much more peaceful, and they valued wisdom and discovery among several of their virtues. It was because of this, the Lionids vowed that any space faring fleet they would sail would be one of peace. That has survived to this very day. For the longest time, the Lionids ran cargo cruisers and science vessels that carried no compliment of weapons. But after a few attacks from Pantheran and Jackai pirates, and the head of the Pantheran fleet urged them to arm their vessels with at the very least, low yield photon torpedoes. Nothing that would destroy an attacker, but enough to make them think twice. The Lionids, after all, valued life the greatest of all virtues. Even when they killed game for their own meat, it was done in a very respectful manner.
The Pride, as she had come to be called, was a generational ship. Much like the Jayna tribe ship the Sifter and the Vulpine cargo cruiser the Barrow’s Revenge, the Pride had been a constant in a family of Lionids, always passed down from parent to cub. The present holders of the Pride were well respected among the merchant guilds throughout the system. Urial and Nadia, along with their children, had made many friends from Canin to Critainia. Often, they would shuttle cargo which included fine wines from the Ice Field Monastery on Canin, or rose petals from Critainia. On this day, the Pride’s cargo was tanned leathers from the northern Lupine tribes of Lupinia bound for Critainia. This particular day also gave the Pride one passenger.
Her name was Snow Fall, a pure white Felanus, born on her home world of Vulpinia, and raised in a monastery on Canin after her parents wished to explore. Snow Fall was much like her parents, with her own exploring nature, which was why she was on her way to Critainia. She didn’t consider herself a passenger, though. No, she worked as hard to pay for her way to Critainia as if she was a regular crew member, and with some help from Nadia, she made sure that the sensors and navigation arrays were working properly. And she also made sure the entire family was fed, as she was an expert cook. More of a hobby, but something she prided herself in.
That was her tasked on this day, as she stood in front of the counter, cutting up thick pieces of rye bread, lightly cooking slices of bubka meat, and fixing up a salad for herself. There was tea, and juice for Marina and Calder, the two cubs to Urial and Nadia. She hummed as she busied herself, smiling as she sensed a presence come up on either side of her. “You know, you guys aren’t as quiet as you’d like to think you are.” She looked to either side of her, winking to the two cubs. They had taken it upon themselves to play hide and seek with Snowy as much as they could. Snowy got very good at listening for their padding feet across the floor of a deck.
“We almost had you,” Marina said with a whine, trying to defend her abilities to hunt and capture. Even if it was playfully.
“How come you get to cook an’ me an’ Marina don’t?” Calder said as he tried looking over the counter. Both cubs were only eye level with the counter, still too small to do most tasks on board the vessel.
“Because I’m the passenger and I have to cook as part of my pay for your mom and dad taking me to Critainia,” Snowy replied as she finished the last of the sandwiches. “I’m also the adult, and you two shouldn’t try this until your mom and dad teach you how to do it.”
“But, you’re not much taller than me an’ Calder,” Marina pointed out.
“I also happen to be standing on a box so I can do this,” Snowy explained with a nod. “Now, I have something that you two can do.” She handed each cub a tray, both containing a cup of tea and several sandwiches. “Take those to your parents and I’ll bring your food out too, okay?” The cubs smiled, said ‘okay’ as cheerily as they could, then carefully carried the trays the short distance to the bridge. Snowy gathered up a few other plates of food, along with juices and tea, her own meal and the cubs, then stepped carefully off the box and followed the cubs to the bridge.
As she entered the doorway to the bridge, Urial and Nadia were already sitting down to eat at a little table area by the workstations. Marina and Calder were both waiting patiently, or as patiently as they could, for their own meals. Snowy smiled as she set down the large tray and first handed Marina her meal and then Calder. Both children happily said ‘thank you miss Snow’ and began to eat. Snowy moved over to her own workstation and began nibbling at her salad.
“Thank you, Snowy,” Urial said with a nod as he sipped his tea. “I must admit, at first I was worried when you said you would take care of the food details for our trip, but I can see that my worries were not warranted.”
“He means that he was worried someone would mess up his kitchen,” Nadia explained to Snowy with a chuckle. “He’s very protective of that kitchen.”
“Of course,” Urial said in a shocked tone. “It takes a certain art to cook, and to let just anyone use the place where you create art can be rather… invasive. But, I have put aside my doubts and your time here with us on this journey has given me other opportunities.” He looked to his children who sat across the table from him. “Such as spending time with my daughter and son,” he added as he smiled. The two cubs grinned back at the compliment.
Snowy only smiled and continued to nibble her salad. This family was perfect. They worked together, learned together, and even played together. It helped that both Urial and Nadia had this fascination with space, with ships, and they wanted to share that with their children. Her attention was diverted as a read light on her navigation console began blinking. She flipped a few switches and carefully looked over the read out. “Incoming ship,” she announced. “Looks Vulpine, but I’ve never seen the registry number before, not the configuration.”
“Oh?” Urial said with great interest. “Are they within visual range?” He looked to Snowy, who nodded and began putting in the combination of commands to display the ship on the main view screen. “Amazing,” he said with some awe. “She appears to be one ship, but has the look of three to her.” He sat back in his chair and smiled. He loved ships, but his passion was the old space vessels that were powered with solar sails. “Perhaps we should hail them.”
“I can open up a channel,” Snowy said and began sending a hail to the ship. They waited a moment and finally heard the response. “She’s received and sending a message back. I’ll put it on screen.”
All five of them turned to the view screen as the image of the interior of the ship came into view. Three Vulpine sat at work stations, one who they presumed to be in command, faced the transmission. “Thith ith Left-tenant Thenia Felix of the RVA Nighthawk.” She paused a moment and cleared her throat. “Excuse my thpeech impediment. That’th Thenia, with an ‘Eth’.”
“Lieutenant Felix,” Urial announced in a bold voice. “I am Urial of the Lionid’s Pride. We just saw you on our sensors and just wished to say hello.”
“Thank you,” Senia replied with a nod. “I apologize if I may theem brief, but we have been called to an urgent athignment on Critainia. Again, thank you for the hail. And may the Great Mother bring you luck on your journey.”
“Thank you, Lieutenant,” Urial said with a smile. “We won’t keep you any longer. Good luck. Lionid’s Pride out.” The view screen switched back to the display of the ship as the communication ended, and the five watched as the Nighthawk began to vanish in the distance. “Very fast ship,” Urial said as he watched her grow smaller and smaller. “Those Vulpine are marvellous in their craftsmanship.”
Snowy chuckled and went back to eating her salad. One thing she learned about Urial, he would research that vessel as much as he could just so he could learn about her designs. It wasn’t for any technology to take back to Canin, but for his own interest. It was his hobby and passion.
As Snowy ate, another sensor reading came in, and the light on her console began to blink again. “Traffic is getting heavy,” she said as she began to inspect the readings. “There’s another ship out there.”
“Ah, maybe one of the other cargo vessels,” Urial suggested with a nod. “Vulpine and Lupine cruisers often travel this route.”
If Snow Fall’s expression could have been anymore white, it would indicate her sudden worry as she inspected the read out. “It’s neither of those, Urial. Nadia.” Her voice grew filled with worry as she looked between the two, then to the cubs. Finally she explained her worry with one word. “Jackai.”
Vulpinia was the third planet of the Lupine planetary system, and was also graced by three moons. The two largest were Pau Theta I and Pau Theta II, both of which orbited the planet simultaneously and held such an orbit that Pau Theta I was constantly in an outer orbit of Pau Theta II’s. Some have often wondered if this was the reason why Pau Theta II had an atmosphere while Pau Theta I did not. Still, this did not stop exploration ships from investigating the lifeless moon, one which they found was rich in neutronium. After the mining incidents on Pau Theta II, however, many in the Vulpinian governments felt it best to leave mining to other, more habitable worlds.
This didn’t stop any from suggesting that the planet couldn’t be used as an outpost and listening station. A claim that persisted decades after the end of the Great Vulpine Pantheran war. Every time the suggestion was brought up, however, it was always met with delays, the most important being the moral complications with their neighbours on Critainia and Lupinia, the second and fourth planets in the Lupine planetary system.
While diplomats and dignitaries discussed the possibilities of an outpost, however, another group that was completely unaffiliated with the Lupine, Vulpine or Critainians decided Pau Theta I would serve just as well for them. The Jackai.
The Jackai were native to Lupinia, and distant cousins of the Lupine that called the fourth planet home. Unlike their Lupine cousins, however, the Jackai were much more aggressive. At least, the Hyna tribes of the Jackai were more aggressive. Jayna tribe members were often accused of Hyna thievery only because they had the misfortune of looking some similar. But there were ways of telling them apart. One was the social circles they followed. Jayne were caring and compassionate to the pack mates, while Hyna were very domineering to those they considered lessers, even within the pack.
The Jackai, much like the Lupine, did not venture into space on their own merit. Had it not been for the Great Lupine Land War, then the Jackai would have never had the idea to move out into the far reaches of the planetary system. But once they saw Vulpine and Critainian star ships and fighter craft, they began to get ideas.
The Hyna managed to cobble together pieces of ships and learn how to construct their own. Mind you, they were always clunky and ugly looking. But the Hyna weren’t going out into space for exploration, they were going out into space to pillage just as they had on the surface of Lupinia. They proved to be cunning and manipulative pirates, forcing even those few Vulpine and Pantheran pirates to give up a great deal of territory in the Wayfarer’s Belt.
Every now and then, ships would venture away from the safety of the Belt, moving in closer to the merchants’ run that ran from the Belt to Critainia. One in particular, a cunning Jackai named Silent Stalker, found hiding near the moons of Lupinia and Vulpinia gave his ship and crew a great advantage. He became the listening post that the Vulpine never built. And he picked his targets carefully. Wanted by every government in the system, Stalker had become public enemy number one. His attacks were quick, his ship powerful and intimidating, and his crew ruthless.
On this day, his ship, dubbed the Pirate’s Victory, watched and listened for traffic on the merchants’ run to Critainia. They were finding the pickings slim, but there was some promise.
“Lionid’s Pride is on a run to Critainian space,” a stocky comm officer announced. His work station was very rag tag and put together as best it could be. A great deal of the parts were salvaged from other ships the Victory had sacked. But it worked extremely well. The Victory wasn’t a ship that needed to be aesthetically pleasing, but she did need to work as best as possible. “No other ships on the run…” He paused as he listened carefully to the comm chatter. “Hold on. There’s a vessel launching from Pau Theta II.”
“Did they detect us?” Stalker called out with a gruff voice. He sat up in his command chair and held a firm grip on his ceremonial chak’ta blade. A four foot long blade, narrow at the hilt and widened as it curved upward until it came to a sharp point at the tip.
“No,” the comm officer said as he continued to listen. “But it is Main Authority. Vulpine registry. RVA Nighthawk.” Stalker shrugged and shook his head in response. “New class of vessel, from what I’ve heard. Haven’t heard anything else, though. They’re on the way to Critainia, will pass us by in an hour.”
“Once they do,” Stalker said as he rose to his feet. “We’ll set a course to intercept the Lionid’s Pride.” He turned to his navigations and helms officers. “How long would it take us to over take the Pride?”
“At her current course and speed,” the navigation officer announced. “And, once the Vulppie ship passes us, about three hours.”
“Any idea how long this Nighthawk will take before passing the Pride?” Stalker said as he stood between the navigation and helms officers, sword tip resting on the bridge’s deck as both hands clasped the hilt carefully.
“Approximately two hours,” the navigation officer announced. “Orders, Stalker?”
Stalker looked out the view screen to the stars that lay beyond. Each decision he made had to be carefully planned. This Nighthawk, however, was a wild card. A new Vulpine ship, but very little about it was known at all. “Tall Ear, see if our mole in the Main Authority is available and see if he’s heard anything about this ship,” he said, calling back to the comm officer. “Once the Nighthawk passes us by, set a course to over take the Pride. Do not increase speed to match the Nighthawk, keep it at the speed we recorded the Pride at. Once we’re absolutely one hundred percent sure the Nighthawk is out of range of the Pride, we strike.” He picked up his blade and moved back to his command chair. “Lay in a course, helmsman. You have your orders.”
Senia went through a check of her gear one last time, making sure she had everything before grabbing a small ruck sack and heading out the door of her room. In the hallway, just like when she was at the academy, Hardy and Clarfax were waiting. Mine you, it two people less than usual. Back in the academy Jadda and Philburt would have been part of this ritual. Still, Senia smiled with the knowledge that even though the ritual had changed somewhat, there was still a ritual to be had.
“Gear’s all ready?” Hardy asked with a grin.
“Thix yearth at the academy,” Senia replied with a chuckle. “And you alwayth athk the thame quethtion jutht before a mission.”
“Better ta make sure ta keep somethings constant, hmm,” she replied with a smile. The three began walking down the long hallway toward the shuttle bay. As they walked, they reviewed their mission status. Transport to Critainia, meet with the head delegate of the City of Knowledge, inquire about the full reason why Main Authority agents are being asked to assist, investigate. Simple enough, though Senia felt there would be a greater need for diplomacy than anything else. And judging from the display of the other agents, outside of Spike and Shauna and maybe a couple of the other Vulpine, the rest of the agents didn’t look like they were all that diplomatic.
“How crowded do you think the merchant lanes will be?” Clarfax inquired as they entered the shuttle bay.
“Shouldn’t be too bad,” Senia replied as she took out a data pad. “I managed to get a traffic manifest from the traffic control here. We should only be meeting the Lionid’s Pride along the way. In the event that we need to dock in their shuttle bay, I took the liberty of having a few goods packed into our cargo hold.”
“As big as our cargo hold is, mind you,” Hardy added, shaking her head. “Bigger then the Mavericks, but she’s still not a deep space vessel, that’s for sure.”
“Does that really matter?” Clarfax said with a chuckle. “I think you still would fall in love with her either way.”
“I know a beauty when I see one,” Hardy said with a grin. As she turned to look over at the Nighthawk, she spied a pair of agents on the tarmac. “Hey! Look who it is. Spike an’ Shauna.” She waved to the pair and called out. “Here ta send us off?”
“More like watch,” Shauna said with a laugh. “We get a good number o’ ships that come an’ go here, but nothin’ like her. That Nighthawk o’ yours is a beauty, that’s for sure.”
“We’re thtill waiting to thee her in action,” Senia said as she and her two friends joined up with Spike and Shauna. “Not that we want to get in a fire fight, but we need to make sure we’ve thtill got our training up to par.”
“True fighter pilots ta the core,” Spike replied with a wink. “B’fore ya head out, me an’ Shauna have a few tips for ya.”
“Aye,” Shauna added with a nod. “Now it’s gonna be hot an’ humid, considerin’ Critainia is so close ta the sun, so it might get a bit uncomfortable. However, the library is up in the northern most location o’ the planet. Cooler, ta help the computer systems run proper an’ make sure that the books remain in good condition.”
“An’ if they ever ask if ye wish fer a mud bath, just politely decline,” Spike added. “Critainians love mud baths. I’m sure I don’t haveta explain why it’s not so good for anyone the likes o’ us, hmmm?” The three pilots nodded with each explanation and custom that came up. It seemed the Critainians had a few. “Now, one place that ye should never go ta, that’s the great hatchery. Critainia might have some beautiful places ta see, but many o’ ‘em are regions steeped in thousands o’ years o’ tradition. The hatchery is one o’ ‘em.”
“I’ve heard of the hatchery,” Senia said with a nod. “It’th the thentral birthing area for the Critainians. New motherth go to one location to lay eggth, and they remain there until they hatch.”
“That’s right,” Shauna said with a nod. “And completely off limits ta anyone who don’t have clearance or don’t happen ta be Critainian. Steer clear o’ there an’ you should be alright. There is one place we do suggest that ya check out, though. An’ it’s not far from the library. The Grand Tea House. Critainians love their tea even more then anyone born on Vulpinia. An’ they the best rose petal tea you’ll ever find.”
“We’ll definitely keep that in mind,” Senia said with a nod. “For now, we betht get moving. We’ve a long journey ahead of uth.” She offered the pair a salute, followed by Hardy and Clarfax, and the two veterans saluted back and bowed just slightly.
Spike began to move to the shuttle bay exit, but stopped and looked to Shauna. “Yer not actually gonna watch her take off, are ya?” Shauna looked back and nodded with a grin. “Ye’ve seen a thousand vessels at least come an’ go from this motherless rock, what difference is this ship ta any o’ the others.”
“She’s a fine ship,” Shauna replied. “Finer ‘n any that’ve come before. Makes you think that you an’ me should put in for a model like her.”
“She takes three pilots,” Spike reminded her. “Who’s gonna be the third?”
“Oh, ya never know,” Shauna said with a sigh, then began to chuckle. “Maybe Range Runner could be the third ta even it out.” The pair looked to each other a moment, then began laughing as they steered themselves toward the shuttle bay exit.
On board the Nighthawk, the three pilots were settling themselves in. Senia knew it was going to be a long trip. At least three days at full impulse, and while she would like to engage the hyper drive, she didn’t want to push the Nighthawk’s engines. They’d have to deal with things as they could. “Engineth powered up,” Senia called out after she buckled herself into her seat.
“Running good,” Hardy replied. “We have stable power distribution.”
“Internal atmosphere enabled,” Clarfax called out. “Sensors are online and ready.”
“Beginning launch,” Senia said as she flipped a few switches then tapped her communications system. “Left-tenant Felix to traffic control, we are ready for launch.”
“We read you loud and clear, Left-tenant,” a voice said over the comm. “You are clear for launch. The sky ways aren’t too bad this time of day, so you’ll have a good ride out of Pau Theta II orbit.”
“Underthtood, traffic control,” Senia replied. “Hardy, open thruthterth on my mark and head for coordinates 165.8.” She waited for a few minutes as the Nighthawk cleared the entrance to the shuttle bay, imagining all the eyes that could see the bay were watching as the Nighthawk began her second flight. The thought made her smile. “Engage, Hardy,” she called out.
“Coordinates 165.8 set and locked,” Hardy replied. “We’re on our way.”
Trust me, I am working on today’s episode of Rocket Fox.
In the meantime, here’s a couple of cover designs I made for the first and the third book in the series. First up, Rocket Fox: Flight of the Nighthawk.
And, second, the third book in the series which will see some heavy changes coming to it.
Senia took a seat at a small table as Hardy and Clarfax took seats flanking her. She looked around the room as the other agents and constables began to filter inside. Four Lupine including Range Runner; at least the other three seemed much more open. Range Runner merely leaned against a shelving unit that faced the front and spoke to no one.
Shauna and Spike, the pair they had just met, took seats not far away and seemed to greet anyone who approached them. This included six other Vulpine and five Felanus. The last few stragglers began to sit down or take up a standing position in the room, which included two Pantherans and four Critainians. The Critainians’ sheer size was intimidating, but most seemed open to some small talk. Senia did notice one who seemed rather agitated, and wondered if that wasn’t Coratta, mentioned by Colonel Chatham the previous day.
The Colonel, along with Captain Marr, stood at the front of the room. The odd looking pair going over a few notes on a data pad together. Both of them seemed to make absolutely certain they greeted each individual agent and constable as they entered the room, or as they sat down. Even Senia, Clarfax and Hardy got a nod of acknowledgement. The other agents in the room talked in low voices among themselves. Senia listened idly to the distant conversations. Two Vulpine were discussing the previous day’s rough ball match. A Felanus and a Lupine were comparing notes on a tail each was chasing. One Critainian mentioned returning back to her homeworld. The conversations varied and seemed to flow. But Senia noticed neither Coratta nor Range Runner were taking part in any small chatter.
Finally, as the chronometer next to the door turned to 0600 hours, Chatham spoke up. “All right everyone,” he called out. “Listen up. Not a long briefing today. A review of current assignments, an introduction and handing out assignments.” He looked over his data pad as Captain Marr watched the agents and constables. “Crantha, Greenfield, Tripper, Mor’Tak and Shorthair are still out chasing tail. They each reported earlier this morning, and each is close to tagging their targets, so hopefully they’ll be returning to base soon enough.” He looked up, pointing to Shauna and Spike. “How are you two coming along with tracking down Trickster.”
“The research part is done, Colonel,” Spike said as she looked to a data pad. “Hyna Jackai, stole a shuttle from Lupine Protectorate and was seen makin’ his way toward the Wayfarer’s Belt. Word is from a few that there’s a cabal o’ pirates hidin’ out in the Belt.”
“Alright, I want you to contact the RVA. Rendezvous with a fleet ship if you can, but don’t go chasing him in there without heavy reinforcements. I’m not about to send either one of you on a suicide mission.” The Wayfarer’s asteroid belt was a known hideaway for Jackai, Pantheran and Vulpine pirates. Each group had their own territories, which the Jackai seemed to control the largest portion. “Coratta,” he continued as he looked to a large Critainian opposite the room from Range Runner. “You still have four weeks on your sick leave.”
“Colonel, I’m fine,” Coratta protested.
“No excuses, Coratta,” Chatham replied as he shot Coratta a look. “This is your first shift in gender and I’ve researched the effects. For now, you can do administrative work here at base, but the first opportunity you have to seen the doctors at the Institute on Critainia, you do it. Clear?” Coratta only mumbled and nodded in reply. Senia was unfamiliar with this Critainian process, but she had heard they go through it at least five times in their lives. She also had heard how it can be draining both mentally and physically for a Critainian. “New business,” Chatham said as he quickly changed the direction of the briefing. “Left-tenant Felix, Corporal Maynard and Corporal Billings,” he called out and looked up from his data pad. The three rose to their feet, fighting the urge to snap to attention. Each felt it wouldn’t be received very well, this group seemed rather lax even though they served an important service. “These three are new recruits, just transferred in front Chattingham. And before anyone asks and annoys the three with questions, they are trained fighter pilots.” A small murmur went through the group as they began to understand something, each one making a different comment, but amounting to the same thing. You three got the short end of the stick.
“Alright everyone,” Captain Marr called out. “We don’t need to chatter about them all morning.” She nodded to the three pilots and they took their seats.
“Moving on,” Chatham said as he looked over the data pad. “Aside from Coratta, Spike and Quickfoot who already have assignments, I have a few details for each of you. Range Runner.” The Lupine looked up, attentive only to Chatham. “I want you to look into some activity that’s been hitting the Wolves of the North on Lupinia. Check in with the Grand Chief of the central tribe. I received a wave from him yesterday.” Range Runner only nodded in reply, confirmation enough for the Colonel that the job would get done. “Tripper, Highhill, Morning-glow, Chaser. You four are on reclamation duty.” There was a collective groan of protest that came from two Vulpine and two Felanus in the room.
“Only fair, mates,” Spike called out. “Me an’ Shauna had ta do that last month, everyone gets their turn at reclamation. Give ya a chance ta salvage parts for everyone’s ships. Which reminds me,” she added with a grin. “The neutronium drive in me own ship could use a few new coils.”
“Alright everyone, settle down,” Chatham called out as the group had just started to talk amongst themselves for a few seconds. “Jik’Tok, you and Bor’Tok have paperwork that needs correlating.” Two Critainians nodded in reply. “Finally,” Chatham said as he looked directly to Senia. “Felix, Billings, Maynard. I want you three to go to Critainia, speak with the local authority there. Seems they’ve had some trouble at the Great Library. Someone’s been trying to get into the Great Library, though no one knows why.”
“Probably trying to return an overdue book,” one of the Critainians said with a laugh. The others replied with their own chuckles and laughs, but quieted down as Chatham held up a hand for quiet.
“It’s nothing serious,” he said directly to Felix. “But I’m not in the habit of sending new recruits out on dangerous missions first time out. You’ll leave at 1100 hours, Captain Marr will have a full dossier for you to examine while in transit.” He looked about the room to the other agents and seemed to wait just long enough before speaking once more. “That’s it everyone. Dismissed.”
The evening was spent in relaxation. Senia, Clarfax and Hary familiarized themselves with the working of the station, the boundaries of the prison complex and the small civilian area that surrounded the headquarters. The complex itself showed signs of wear and tear. Hardy recognized most of the systems weren’t up to date, save for the weather control system that protected the entire complex, civilian and prison areas included, from the harsh environment of the small moon. Centuries ago, the first Vulpine ships discovered the moon was habitable; or rather, just habitable. Those many years ago, it was discovered the moon held a precious ore used in the fuelling of the deep space vessels that made up the bulk of the Royal Vulpine Fleet. Mining operation began, and for a few centuries, they were successful. But over time, the ore became obsolete, and so did the colony.
The main command of the Royal Vulpine Authority deemed it necessary to find some other purpose for the facility. The suggestion that came was a logical one. The prison system on Vulpine was ancient. Contractors did not wish to build new facilities, fearing the empty buildings would have nothing to be used for except turning back to nature. Yet, the present conditions of the prisons were in a state of disrepair and deemed unlivable. A report issued said the only thing they would be of any use for would be construction facilities for the new line of Maverick fighter jets.
A use for the prisons was made, but where to take the prisoners. The report also detailed a complex plan to turn the old mine into a new prison system. Work began right away, and within five years prisoners were shuttled from Vulpinia’s surface to the new facility on Pau Theta II. The Main Authority was commissioned, guard details and unit transfers arranged and eventually even merchants agreed to locate new shops to the moon. A thriving community began to form.
As the three fighter pilots saw from their small, self guided tour, that community saw a great disservice over the years. Even the shops looked as worn and ragged as the Main Authority’s compound. Felanus and Vulpine civilians had banded together to make sure supplies were shipped frequently and on time. Because, over the years the Fleet Command began to forget that the civilian population even existed. They did survive, however, with the assistance of the bounty hunters.
After the eye opening tour, the three turned in for the night to their spartan quarters. Each room, set up in close proximity, had a bed, a table and chairs, a food dispenser, a desk and a shelving unit. They weren’t meant for long stays. They felt more like crew quarters on a star ship than a home on a planet. But at least they could rest.
The morning came quickly enough, and each pilot prepared for the day. They remembered; 0600 hours for briefing. Hardy was the first to exit her quarters and she waited in the hallway for the other two. Slowly, they made their appearance, Senia first, followed by Clarfax.
“How was the night?” Hardy asked in a low voice as the three walked down the hallway to the briefing area.
“Did either of you hear the pipes knocking in the middle of the night?” Clarfax asked as he stretched his arms to get out the kinks.
“I did,” Senia replied with a sigh. “Thought I wath thtill on the Nighthawk and there wath a malfunction.”
“I think I’d have prefered that,” Hardy replied with a chuckle, then moved to dodge a large form that walked through the trio of pilots. “Hey!” she called out, quite annoyed. The figure stopped and turned to look at her. A Lupine, tall and muscular, his eyes were piercing as they glared at her through thick, black fur. His ears pinned down to his head and he appeared as though he was about to lash out. He looked nasty, as they identified two pistols, a rifle and several bladed weapons being carried by this Lupine. And that didn’t even include the spear he held with a firm grip in his left hand. “Or… carry on. I’m good with that too,” Hardy said as she decided to change her tone, feeling the need to shrink back a bit. The Lupine turned and stomped his way into the briefing room and the three Vulpine breathed a collective sigh of relief.
“See you’ve already met the strong, silent type,” a cheery voice called out. They turned to see another Vulpine approach them. She was a black furred vixen, and appeared to have the look of a veteran about her. She was walking with an equally skilled looking Felanus. “Don’t mind him.”
“Me an’ Spike here have been on this rock an’ part o’ this crew for seven years,” the Felanus added. “In that entire time since we’ve known Range Runner, he’s only ever said four words to us.”
“Yeah, and that was ‘get outta the way’,” the Vulpine added with a chuckle. She nodded toward the three and held out her hand to them. The pair of veterans nodded, not to surprised when the three pilots looked shocked hearing the name Range Runner. “Your the new recruits, I take it. Saw the bird land yesterday. Good lookin’ ship. I’m Constable Tilly Everet. But, as Shauna here said, just call me Spike.”
“Constable Shauna Quickfoot,” the Felanus added and exchanged a friendly greeting with the three. “Spike’s right. That Nighthawk’s an impressive one ta be sure.”
“She ith indeed,” Senia replied with a nod. “Left-tenant Thenia Felix.” She coughed and cleared her throat. “That’th ‘Thenia’, with an ‘Eth’. I’m aware I have a thpeech impediment.” She sighed but got the feeling the two constables understood, and continued on with the introductions. “Thith ith Corporal Hardy Maynard, and Corporal Clarfax Billingth.” Nods of acknowledgement were shared around once more. “Glad to meet thome willing to share a bit of information. Thank you.”
“Me an’ Spike have made it our business ta make sure ta greet new recruits,” Shauna replied with a nod. “We don’t get many ’round here ta begin with.”
“True ‘nough on that,” Spike added with a nod as she motioned toward the briefing room. “But we can talk more ’bout that after the briefin’. I’m sure the Colonel’s got his usual for us.” The three kept pace with the two veterans. Senia felt a comforting hand on her shoulder. “An’ no need ta worry right off. Colonel usually only hands out small stuff ta the newbies. You’ll be fine.”
“An’ if ya do get in a bind,” Shauna added as she opened the door to the briefing room. “Just call on me an’ Spike. Though, with you three on board that fancy ship, don’t be too surprised if it ain’t us callin’ you for some help.”
The three pilots stepped off the lift slowly, taking care to haul their gear in without making a ruckus. In the small lounge area there were a few tables and chair, and a pair of couches that faced a view screen. A few Vulpine and Felanus were sitting on the couches, enjoying tea and watching a game of rough ball on the view screen. The favoured sporting past time of Vulpinia. Clarfax offered a wave and asked who was playing, to which he received a tired answer from the viewers. He nodded and moved on, following the other two toward the Colonel’s office.
As the door to the office opened, the three stopped. Captain Trella Marr sat in her chair on the other side, giving each of them a scrutinizing eye. “The new recruits,” she stated in a low voice. She waved them off as they tried to salute. “The formalities of rank aren’t needed here unless we get a dignitary or two that comes by. Come in, agents,” she said as she wheeled her chair back. “And before you ask, no, do not push my chair or ever ask to push my chair.” She stopped and looked to the three. “I’m sure you’d feel the same way if our roles were reversed.”
“While Marr’s advice is sound,” Colonel Chatham called out from behind his desk. “If you give her respect, she’ll offer the same in kind. Sit down, agents,” Chatham said as he motioned to a few chairs on the other side of the desk. The three Vulpine took their seats as Chatham poured each of them a tea. “Just standard tea provisions,” he explained. “We don’t get the good stuff around here that much.” He set the tea pot down and returned to his seat behind his desk. “Impressive ship you’ve got out there. I know a few of the agents that might get jealous, but I think they’ll get over it quickly.” Trella handed him a data pad and he continued with the more formal portion of the greeting. “As you may have surmised by now, I am Colonel Gregory Chatham and this is Captain Trella Marr. We aren’t big on formalities, but I would prefer it if you called myself and Marr by our designated rank.”
The three nodded quickly, and Senia spoke up after she took a sip of her tea. “If I may, Colonel. Captain,” she asked as she nodded to each of them. Chatham motioned for her to continue. “General Gerring gave uth the particularth regarding the rank and file here at the thtation. She gave uth the full report on the thituation of the Main Authority. Though, we did wish to hear it from you firtht.”
“I thought General Gerring might,” Chatham replied. “She also warned you that I wouldn’t be going easy on you simply because you’re recent graduates, correct?” The three nodded in unison. “Good. From the look of things, you’ve done your homework, which means your already half way ahead of most who come here. A quick refresher for you, then. I hand out the duty reports in station. I give leave when it’s warranted. You won’t have standard rest periods, that I can tell you for certain. But I’ll make sure that you get them. I have quarters set aside for you,” he said as he reached across the desk and held out the data pad. “They aren’t palatial by any means, but they work as a place to rest, spend time alone if you wish.” He sat back down and took a deep breath. “From what I’ve read, however, you three are close. That’s good. Stay close and work together. Besides you three, the only others who work in any kind of partnership are myself and Trella.”
“And, if I might add,” Trella spoke up as she looked to Chatham. “We aren’t going in the field anytime soon. Not unless any of you three want to give us lessons in the Nighthawk.” The three Vulpine looked to each other for a moment, Hardy having the look like she was about to say good bye to a lover. Trella saw the look and chuckled. “No need to worry, Corporal. I’m not going to steal your ship.” She looked to Chatham and added with a smile. “But maybe we can requisition the next model for this stations purposes.” Trella and Chatham chuckled, soon followed by the three pilots. They were starting to feel more at ease. The Main Authority, while still intimidating, at least wasn’t a nightmarish place.
“You three will have the rest of the day to familiarize yourself with your new surroundings,” Chatham stated as he turned the discussion to more serious matters. “Make sure that you stay away from the red areas of the facility, though. Those lead toward the main prison proper, and while the prisoners are behind lock and key, that doesn’t mean they won’t try and goad you into a fight. They don’t care who you are, all they see is that uniform. For now, rest. Meet back here at 0600 hours tomorrow. I may have an assignment for you.” He looked to the three as they finished their tea. “Alright, dismissed.”
The three rose to their feet, gave a smart salute and gathered together their gear and hurried on their way. Chatham leaned back in his chair and rubbed his thigh again as he watched after them. “What do you think, Trella?”
“So they sent her here because she had a handicap,” Trella stated as she wheeled her chair beside the desk. “She’s got a minor speech impediment, but it’s not that bad. I think she’s attempting to cover it as it is.” Trella sighed and rolled her shoulders, letting her muscles work a bit as she sat in the chair. “Aside from that, they seem fresh, a little skittish but that’s to be expected around here for newcomers. But they had a look in their eyes.”
“They’re fighter pilots,” Chatham explained. “They may be skittish just by being here, but they do something that no agent would want to unless they had the metal of those three.” He pointed out the window to the shuttle bay, toward the Nighthawk. “They climb into the belly of that ship, one of the most powerful fighter craft ever created by the RVA. If they can do that, then they have something valuable. They might have fear, but they know how to swallow it and get the job done.”
The Nighthawk powered down slowly as she sit comfortably on the tarmac. A crew was approaching, ready to transport her to a standard parking area and perform any maintenance if need be. Hardy saw them coming up the tarmac and scrambled with her gear as she opened the lower hatch so the three could step off the craft. Senia and Clarfax walked slowly down the ramp, but Hardy was jogging toward the work crew.
“Be careful with her,” she warned them. “She’s a delicate piece of machinery an’ she needs to be treated with respect.”
The small crew of five looked between each other, giving a few side glances to Hardy for a moment. One of them whispered ‘fighter pilots’ as if that was answer enough. Finally, one of the crew members spoke up. “We’re just going to take her to a stationary platform, Corporal. No maintenance, but we do have to run scans just to check if there are any particles it picked up…”
“She,” Hardy corrected him. “She. An’ that I can agree with.”
The small group of crew members sighed collectively and again one mumbled something about fighter pilots treating their ships like family. Eventually, Hardy let them go on their way, watching carefully as Senia and Clarfax tried to steer her to the main deck.
“How long did it take?” Senia asked with a chuckle.
“About an hour,” Clarfax said as he smiled and looked to Hardy who had turned her attention to Senia and Clarfax. “Oh come on. You fell in love with her an hour after you finished the engine checks while we were in flight.”
Hardy walked between the two and nudged Clarfax lightly. “Ha! I’ll have ya know that’s incorrect. It was about fifteen minutes after I saw the first schematics.” The three chuckled lightly, then quieted down as a stocky Felanus approached them. He wore the common uniform of a bounty hunter, much like the three pilots. His had some wear and tear, however, but it was still treated very well.
“You three are obviously the new recruits,” he called out as he offered a friendly smile. “I’m Agent Lenk. And I guess I’m the official greeter today. I guess that’s what happens when you get shore leave after a long few weeks chasing tail.” He offered his hand and shook each of theirs in kind, and they exchanged small pleasantries and exchanged names.
“Afternoon Agent,” Senia began with a small nod. “At leatht you give a proper friendly greeting. We’ve … had our share of horror thtorieth about Main Authority.”
“Yeah, I’m afraid some old tales don’t die quickly,” he replied, noting Senia’s lisp but deciding it was best not to make mention of it. Besides, she wasn’t that hard to understand. “There are a few of the blocks you’ll meet who are tied to the stereotype, but there’s a few more that are the complete opposite. We have a duty, even if it’s not look upon as very glamourous. But then, we aren’t here for the glamour.” He turned and pointed toward the lift that went to the upper decks of the facility. “That’ll take you to the hunter lounge and resting area. There’s also a small area to write reports. After you make a capture, that is,” he added as he looked back with a smile. “Colonel Chatham and Captain Marr’s office is up there as well. Marr will have some quarters assigned to you. Don’t expect anything extravagant.”
“All I require is a few books shelves, a bed and a desk,” Clarfax said with a small laugh.
“The book shelves are for all the scientific journals he plans to go over while not on duty,” Hardy said as she nudged him gently.
“Well, we do have a small library,” Lenk stated with a nod toward Clarfax. “It’s not the Great Critainian Library by any stretch, but there’s a few journals to be had.” He lowered his voice a bit and moved closer to the three. “I do have to warn you, though, about a couple of the other agents. You’ll probably meet a tall Lupine named Range Runner. Rarely talks to anyone unless he has to. Pretty much the only ones he does speak with are Chatham and Marr. Outside of that, I think he’s said ten words to me in the five years I’ve been stationed here. He’s not bad, he’s just sort of moody.” The three pilots nodded in reply, taking heed of Lenk’s words. “The other one you need to watch out for is Coratta. A big, lumbering Critainian. He’s okay, as long as you give him a wide berth. I think the length of time he’s been working here has gotten to him. That, and we still don’t think he’s gotten used to his last shift. When I first got here, he was a female.” The three pilots nodded in understanding. It was common knowledge that Critainians would often shift genders based on the societal need, and for some it was a rather unsettling experience. Especially if it was their first time. Fortunately, they had ways of dealing with the stress. “Coratta likes to make jokes, and a lot of times his jokes are really hurtful jabs. Don’t pay him any mind. Colonel Chatham has already told him to be on his best behaviour.”
“Thank you, Lenk,” Senia said with a nod. “We appreciate the headth up. Glad there’th thomeone here willing to give uth a hand.”
“Anytime,” he replied with a small bow. “I’d be willing to give you more of a hand, but I am heading out on shore leave. I’ve got a mate and two cubs back on Vulpinia that I haven’t seen in several weeks. I’m gonna enjoy this time off.” He took a deep breath and smiled, obviously thinking about his home and his family. “Well, you two better head directly to the Colonel’s office. He’ll be wanting to debrief you.” He nodded and waved as he walked toward a small transport ship. “Good luck. And good to have some new blood here with us. I really do hope everything works out for you.”
Senia nodded and smiled, waving to Lenk as he went, then spoke in a soft voice. “Not exactly the athignment we wanted, but we will make the betht of it. At least we now have someone we can call of for support if need be.” Clarfax and Hardy both nodded in reply as the three began to move toward the lifts. “I thuppothe we should go thee the Colonel then, shall we.”
Colonel Gregory Chatham stood by the window in his office that looked out into the Main Authority shuttle bay. It was large enough for small troop deployment ships, small cargo ships and standard transport craft, it should be able to handle the Nighthawk without any problems. Idly, he rubbed his thigh, just above the prosthetic leg. It was curious how he sometimes imaged he could still feel his toes, even after all these years since he lost his leg. Behind him, Captain Trella Marr wheeled up close and looked out the window along with Chatham.
“That’s one thing I’ve often thought was a saving grace of this chair,” Trella said with a small chuckle. “At least I can fit into Vulpine parameters now.” Gregory smirked and looked to his assistant for a moment. “The Nighthawk should be arriving in the next three minutes. We’ll have a good look at her from up here.”
“The new recruits are a mixed review with the current agents,” Gregory informed her. “Some are adamantly against three bounty hunters working together. Others showed some mild interest. Lenk was the only one who seemed the most impressed. But then he wasn’t the typical kind of bounty hunter to begin with.”
“What about Coratta? Or Range Runner” Trella asked, naming one of five Critainians who worked with the Main Authority, and one of ten Lupine as well.
“Coratta commented in his usual way,” Chatham said with a huff. “He made a joke out of it.” He sighed and shook his head. “You know, I liked him better when he was female.” Trella only nodded as she leaned forward in her chair and looked intently out the window and let Chatham continue. “Range Runner didn’t even bat an eye when I told him. He was his usual self whenever news is announced. Just asked what his next assignment was.” He turned to his desk and poured both himself and Trella a cup of tea, handing Trella hers before he took a sip of his own and looked out the window once again. “His demeanour might have been thanks to his recent visit with Wild Howl in section 14 of the prisoner base.”
“Ranger doesn’t let go easily, does he?” Trella replied. Both she and Chatham were very familiar with the situation surrounding Range Runner and Wild Howl’s relationship. Wild Howl was a Hyna tribe Jackai that slaughtered Range Runner’s family, his entire tribal pack, near the neutral territories on Lupinia. Range Runner made it a habit to visit Wild Howl in prison since his capture.
“He’s just making sure Wild Howl is still alive and well in his cell,” Gregory said with a shrug. “I’m still surprised he didn’t ask for the death penalty. He had every right by Lupine Law. But Ranger denied it. It just hope it’s not eating away at him.” His ear perked up as he looked out the window. The running lights from a ship appeared at the shuttle bay doors. “There she is,” he said as he keyed a communicator. “This is Chatham to air traffic control. Bring the Nighthawk in safely.” There was a quickly reply of confirmation, and then silence, leaving Gregory and Trella the opportunity to watch as the aircraft made her way into the shuttle bay.
The Nighthawk made her approach slowly, the sleek ship making her way into the shuttle bay like a giant, graceful bird. Gregory looked out the window to the traffic control section, taking note of the personnel that suddenly stopped to watch with a great deal of interest. He could see why, the Nighthawk was an impressive ship.
“You can see where she separates,” Trella said as she pointed out several spots on the hull that looked like connecting rods. “But if you didn’t know what she was, you’d never know what she was capable of.”
“She is impressive, that’s for sure,” Gregory said as he looked to Trella. “Still wanna get behind the stick and have the new recruits give you a flying lesson?” He chuckled and patted Trella’s shoulder, who smiled in return.
“Maybe after the three get settled in,” Trella replied. They watched again as the Nighthawk came in for a smooth landing, her landing struts setting down gently for a craft her size.
“Colonel Chatham,” came a voice over the comm from traffic control. “The Nighthawk has landed.”
“I see that, traffic control,” Gregory said with a nod, still looking at the Nighthawk with a small amount of awe and wonder. “I’m sending Agent Farspear to meet them before they report to the office.” He looked to Trella with a nod. “Better get a pot of tea on, best to make them feel a little at home.”
With the Nighthawk fully underway, the three Vulpine pilots were given the chance to relax as the craft was set to auto navigation. She’d get them to their location, and signal them when they were close. Hardy found the food storage units in the back of the craft. Clarfax had begun to download a transmission shortly after leaving space dock. And Senia was going over the sensor readings the Nighthawk was picking up.
“Thith ith incredible,” Senia commented as she read over a data pad. “The thenthor array picked up a ship travelling in the charted lane for merchant cargo vethelth, and she wath able to identify it.” She looked up to the others as she sat back in her chair. “The Lionid’th Pride. On route to Critainia. None of the old craft we trained in ever could read that far out.”
“That has to be about 10, maybe 15 million kilometers,” Clarfax stated as he shook his head. “The Class Ten Mavericks could get ten thousand kilometers at best, and that was only in low orbit.”
“This engine drive marvels me,” Hardy said as she took a pot of tea and began passing around tea cups to the others. “We’re travelling at only half her capability and already we’re going three times faster than the old Mavericks.”
“It’ll be a thrill to enter combat with her,” Senia commented as she took her tea and said her thanks. “What tranthmissionth did we get, Hardy?”
“Let’s see,” he said as he looked over the collected data pads in one hand while he balanced a tea cup in his other. “Got a note from Mrs. Bascombe and Mrs. Collinsworth. Both congratulating us on our transfer and best of luck all around. Mrs. Bascombe added that Philly couldn’t write because he is positioned to join the RVA Thunderchild for his five year deep space vessel duty. He’ll be with the pilot’s squadron on board, but she says he looks to be in fine shape to join the 103rd.”
“That’ll be a feather in his cap,” Hardy said as she took a seat and sipped her own tea. “But five years on board a deep space vessel. Isn’t the Thunderchild a heavy escort cruiser?”
“I believe tho,” Senia said with a nod. “Back in the day, she would ethcort cargo shipth and thuch from one thide of the Wayfarer’s Run to the other. Mothtly to avoid Jackai pirateth, but after a few tathteth of her gunth, pirateth thtayed away when they heard Thunderchild wath in the area.” Senia nodded to Clarfax as she cradled her tea. “What elthe did we get for tranthmissionth?”
“General Gerring sent us a complete manifest of all the bounty hunters stationed at Pau Theta II,” he said as she set his tea cup down. “She suggested the one we could best associate with is Lenk Farspear. Felanus, from the southern continent of Vulpinia. Seems he’s made a bit of a name for himself, and doesn’t like to shy away from the spotlight. Gerring says he likes to shatter the stereotype of bounty hunters.” He shuffled through the transmissions and held up a data pad. “This one is a greeting from Captain Marr at the Main Authority headquarters. She said we should report to the main office upon arrivel. Fortunately, Agent Farspear will take us there when we land. I guess he’s supposed to be going on leave after we arrive.”
“Well, we’ll have a rather toned down greeting, I suspect,” Hardy said as she checked over the engine monitors for the fifteenth time during the trip. She caught the look both Clarfax and Senia gave her. “What?” she said with a laugh. “I like to hear the hum and make sure everything is running smoothly.”
“You’re jutht excited about thith ship, aren’t you?” Senia replied with a chuckle.
“Alright, I admit it,” she replied with a sheepish look. “I do enjoy this new ship, and I like to hear her purr when she’s at full power. And I admit, I’m looking forward to get a chance to see her separate and get behind the stick.” She grinned as she settled back in her seat. “This ship has power, you can just feel it.”
“I think we’re all a little excited by that,” Senia replied. “We jutht have to remember, we need to keep our wits about uth. No letting the power of her get uth in over our headth.”
“We have to stick together,” Clarfax added. “We make a better team if we’re coordinated. Just like the practise runs we performed at the academy.”
“As I recall,” Hardy said with a chuckle. “There were five of us. Philly and Jadda were just as tenacious in their training.”
“It’th too bad they couldn’t have joined uth,” Senia said with a small sigh. They were her friends, after all. At least they knew Philburt had his sights sent on the 103rd. Jadda’s removal from the academy was a surprise, however. Though, with this new assignment, maybe they’d get a chance to see her again.
“That reminds me,” Clarfax called out as he picked up another data pad. “Another message came through. This one from Jadda.”
“Really? Well, go on, read it,” Senia said as she sat up in her chair.
“Let’s see here,” Clarfax said as he read it over. “Here we go. ‘Dear Senia, Clary, and Hardy. Hope you’re well and settled into your new positions. We’ll probably see a lot of each other in the space lanes, as I have just joined the salvage ship, ‘The Sifter’. She’s an interesting ship, built predominantly for tearing apart abandoned ships and salvaging anything of value. The captain, a Jayna tribe Jackai named Red Streak, informed me that the main duty of each officer in charge of reclamation is to catalogue and inventory each part. Anything that is weapons technology, we have to find out whether it is Critainia, Vulpine or Pantheran and contact the proper authorities to hand it over without question. Selling weapons technology is risky at best, and Red Streak says she’d rather not have a target on the back of her ship.” Clarfax sipped his tea before continuing. “There is some aspect of home here. Our science officers are both from Vulpinia. Robert Evenfoot, an excitable Felanus who seems to be amazed by absolutely everything he sees in space. I already can see that to him, the universe is a marvel not to be feared, but to be explored.” Clarfax stopped as the three of them chuckled, trying to imagine it before he continued. “The other is an older vixen who has taken it upon herself to take us both under her wing. She’s been aboard the Sifter for a few years and has earned the respect of crew. I’ll send you a letter in a week or two. We are about to head into the Pantheran sector. All my love, Jadda.”
Clarfax set the data pad down and smiled. Senia nodded as she let the words bounce through her head once or twice. It was good to hear from a friend, and know that they won’t be separated forever. Even Hardy was quiet as she finished her tea and began to clean up the tea cups and tea pot, getting them ready to be stored away.
As the mid afternoon tea had wound down, the communications relay signalled, an incoming transmission was being received. Clarfax flipped a few switches and sent the usual greeting. “This is the Nighthawk, receiving transmission. Go ahead.”
“Nighthawk, this is Captain Marr of the Main Authority headquarters,” the voice said over the comm. “Our sensors have picked you up, and it seems you are within range. I take it you’ll be about ten minutes before docking?”
“Yeth, Captain,” Senia called out as she turned her chair back to her controls. Both Hardy and Clarfax settled into their own chairs and began to monitor ship’s systems. “We have the landing protocolth and are ready for approach. We’ll thee you in the thtation.”
A little early, I know, as the quotes are usually released on Monday or Tuesday. But I found these while I took a small break from writing today, and found they fit quite well with what I have been writing. A series of quotes pulled from Star Trek and Wind in the Willows. Seeing how Rocket Fox is a bit of a cross between the two, here they are.
“Intuition, however illogical, is recognized as a command prerogative.” –Captain James T. Kirk, Star Trek: The Original Series, “Obsession”
“‘Beyond the Wild Wood comes the Wide World,’ said the Rat. ‘And that’s something that doesn’t matter, either to you or me. I’ve never been there, and I’m never going, nor you either, if you’ve got any sense at all.’” –Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows, Ch. 1
Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Her five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.” –Captain James T. Kirk, Star Trek: The Original Series
“Somehow, it soon seemed taken for granted by all three of them that the trip was a settled thing; and the Rat, though still unconvinced in his mind, allowed his good-nature to over-ride his personal objections.” –Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows, Ch. 2
After the short brunch, the three Vulpine fighter pilots went back to the ship to let Senia familiarize herself with the cockpit’s controls. She’d be flying the main ship, when it was joined as one. She took note of the extra stations within the cockpit and smiled. The three would be working together within the same space. Once a quick run down of the controls and ship systems took place, it was time to suit up.
With the new ship, came new armour and gear. Each pilot would wear tri weave light polymer under armour, a body hugging suit that was able to withstand a good bolt from a phaser rifle. Primarily red, it had white highlights and a white strip that went down the middle of the suit, over the chest. The leggings covered down to the knees, where they joined with knee pads. Next came the breast plating. Light, and durable. Easy to snap into place as well. It felt as though the wearer was just covered in light gear, not something as cumbersome as armour fit to protect the wearer from heavy phaser and plasma fire. Two utility belts adorned the pilots at their waists. One held small compartments for medical supplies, rations and a few other sundries. The second belt held ammunition and battery packs for the phaser pistol, a standard issue weapon for each Vulpine pilot. They also had a small knife and a length of nylon rope. You never knew what situation you’d be thrust into, and while rope may have been seen as unneeded by some, Vulpine pilots would swear it was essential equipment.
Each pilot had a communication device strapped to one write with an easy to key pad so they could contact one another, headquarters or hail nearby ships or personnel. The last piece of standard equipment was a standard issue Vulpine RV-221 Pulse Rifle. The rifle was a recent addition to the armed forces, and a particularly favoured weapon by bounty hunters. Able to fire one single shot, a full burst of shots, one continuous beam or a charged shot. Both weapons they would carry had settings to stun and kill. By default, all weapons were set to stun.
From there, it was more personal items that suited the pilot. In Hardy’s case, she carried a small pack that contained tools, data pad schematics and sensor pads to detect power surges, fluctuations and other problems they might encounter with the ship or some other device they might run into. Clarfax had a multi use sensor scanner, able to detect life signs, scan wounds to check on severity, scan for harmful particles and even energy signatures. Senia carried a small med kit, extra weapon charges, and a few flash bangs. Once on board, the extra gear, such as the tool kit, scanners, flash bangs and rifles, would be stored in carefully labelled lockers.
Once they were suited up, they were ready to hit the tarmac. As the three proceeded to the ship yards, they noticed a small crowd had started to gather. Word had spread on the station that the Nighthawk’s maiden voyage was about to take place. They’d seen her parked, but now they’ll get a chance to see them fly. And Senia would be the one to make history for the ship. She took a deep breath and told herself to be calm, everything would be alright.
The three mounted the ramp that lead into the belly of the ship, feeling the eyes of everyone on the tarmac watching them. As they disappeared inside, the crowd moved to get a good view of the ship as it would prepare to launch into space. Inside the cockpit, the three pilots began to settle in. They stored the extra gear in a series of lockers located at the back of the main cockpit, then moved to their stations.
Three seats sat at the different stations, set up in a U-shaped pattern. The chair at the front of the U was obviously the main pilot’s chair. A series of panels had different displays that monitored fuel consumption, nearby aircraft, ship’s systems including engine, stabilizers and hull intergrity. And in the middle, right in front of the chair was the main controls for flying the Nighthawk. Standard two prong stick, clasp locked triggers to operate the weapons, along with a small series of switches right in front of the unit to engage the auto pilot.
The other two chairs were for Hardy and Clarfax. One monitored the ship’s engine core, speed, and weapons systems. The other monitored life support, strange sensor readings and would keep a sensor sweep to monitor incoming transmissions.
In front of all that, there were five windows that looked out in front of the three pilots. They would have a clear view as they set about on their journey. Each secondary cockpit was built in similar fashion to the main cockpit, right down to the system stations and pilot’s seat.
“Begin main engine power up,” Senia called out as she sat in her seat and began buckling in.
“Main power sequence engaged,” Hardy reported. “All engine systems are reporting clear.”
“Channels open for communication,” Clarfax reported as he flipped a few switches. “We can hear anything coming our way. I have a standard response ready to go for automated hails.”
“Hatch thealth?” Senia called out as she did a last check of her navigational system.
“Sealed completely,” Clarfax announced. “We’re breathing on the ship’s internal atmosphere.”
“Hull is one hundred percent,” Hardy called out. “Engines are hot.”
“Prepare to retract landing gear on my mark,” Senia called out as she began to move the controls to allow the craft to lift off, hovering slightly above the tarmac. She watched the controls carefully, calling out when she saw it was safe to bring in the landing gear. “Mark! Bring it in.”
“Bringing in landing gear,” Hardy called out.
“Thetting ethcape course at thlow velothity,” Senia said as she eased her hands on the stick. “One eighth impulthe, full ahead.”
“Doors are open and we’ve been given clearance for departure,” Clarfax called out.
Senia managed to quell the urge to look out the windows in awe and wonder as they began to exit the main hangar of the Port Omega Shipyards. She could see a crest of Vulpinia as the ship moved through the doors, but kept her eyes on the stabilizers, watching to see if there was any deviation that might send the ship bumping into the door frame of the hangar. Nothing came up. It was a clean exit. “Thetting a courthe for Pau Theta II colony,” Senia said as she began flipping a few switches on her console. “Corporal Billingth. If you could open a channel to Port Omega. Athk to thpeak with General Gerring.”
“Right away, Left-tenant,” Clarfax said with a smile. “This is Corporal Billings of the Nighthawk calling Port Omega. Do you read, Port Omega.”
“This is General Gerring of Port Omega, Nighthawk,” the General’s voice called out as it came over crystal clear on the comm system. “We read you loud and clear.”
“We are clear of the shipyards and plotting a course for Pau Theta II colony,” Clarfax announced.
“She’s a fine ship,” the General said. “And it looks as though you’ve gotten the hang of her controls already. Left-tenant Felix,” she said as her voice softened a bit. “Treat her well, and she’ll always bring you home.”
“Yeth, General,” Senia replied, smiling broadly. “She ith indeed a fine ship.”
“This is an historic occasion,” the General said one last time. “Left-tenant. Corporals. Good luck, and may the Great Mother watch over you. General Gerring out.”
As the communication ended, Senia began to increase power to the thrusters. “Monitor the engineth, Corporal Maynard. I’m taking her to full impluthe.”
“Yes, Left-tenant,” Hardy said with a smile as she opened a screen that monitored the engine’s core. “She looks like she’s ready.”
“Well then,” Senia replied as she gripped the stick lightly. “Time to let the Nighthawk thpread her wingth.”
End of Act One
These are things that the reader will see that change slightly from Swift Fox (which will get a complete rewrite, but the main concept will remain the same). We’ve already seen two, such as the Nighthawk’s design has changed (though, it’s allowed me to retain the Nighthawk Attack Pattern that Left-tenant Colonel Artemis Dawkins used during the Lupine Land War, which the Nighthawk was named after). The second being Hardy’s gender change. Hardy, of course is no longer a male, but instead a female.
Changes that the reader will see in the second act so far: a change in race to what began as a minor character. I made Snow Fall as a shout out to tumblr user snowy (who got me hooked on Avatar: The Last Airbender), but as often times happens with minor characters that I will create off the cuff, I ended up liking the concept. Snow Fall will appear in the second act of Flight of the Nighthawk. She will be on board the cargo cruiser the Lionid’s Pride. Snow Fall is no longer Pantheran. As a matter of fact, Snow Fall will be Felinus, the other race that shares their beginnings with the Vulpine. Snow will still be a cat like humanoid, but the race is smaller, more like a lynx or a bobcat. Snow Fall will also at some point complain that she’s going through a heavy shed, and different coloured fur will be coming in (white, as opposed to her usual brown/grey).
It’ll also give me a chance to sort of expand on Snow’s own back story, which we’ll learn when…
That would be telling.
- Act One drawing to a close (taholtorf.wordpress.com)
- With the writing, there is art (taholtorf.wordpress.com)
- Combining things to make something new (taholtorf.wordpress.com)