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.