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.”