The tour of the ship starts with a fighter hangar.




Window Outside

The Haul, probably the most flat-chested female in the universe, led the Rabit through more blood-red corridors. One was as spotless as the other. «I almost feel ashamed to put my dirty paws on the ground,» muttered Vance so quietly that only the other Rabits could hear.

«You could eat from the ground but mustn't,» Forne chimed in. Nervous chuckling answered his comment. Their guide gave no sign that she had overheard the comments.

They had to wait for an elevator. While Forne was still looking for a good way to engross Raor in a conversation, the doors opened. A Haul stepped into the corridor. Hastily, the Rabit made way. Without looking at them, the Haul stepped through the gap and walked away. The Rabit looked at each other in confusion. After all the soldiers and weapons, they had expected a different treatment.

Two Haul already occupied the cabin. Without a word, Raor stepped inside. The Rabit followed her and crowded together in the corner that was farthest from the Haul. As if by chance, Chermy's paw grazed Forne's bottom. The Rabit swallowed his anger. Because of the distraction, he had missed which destination Raor had keyed in. 'Odd,' he thought. 'I can't see a thing on the display!' The doors closed but the screen above the key pad remained dark. He looked around for another display but found nothing.

«You saw what she did?» Forne whispered in Vance's ear.

«Nothing,» he replied as quietly. «Maybe we're already going to the right place? Or she wants to drop off the other two first?» Vance seemed slightly distracted which didn't surprise Forne: Boser gently stoked him with her paws.

'Damn women,' thought Forne angrily. 'Can't keep their paws to themselves for four seconds!'

When the cabin stopped, he stormed out so quickly that he almost collided with Raor. To stop any more advances by Chermy, he kept the Haul between them. The Rabit bent the tips of her ears in irritation but her complaint was a mere look.

«Is Raor your full name?» he asked to get her out of his thoughts. «We Rabit also have a family name.»

They passed walls that look similar to those around the Rabit quarters: Retracted reinforced doors and strange technical structured of an unknown function. «You could say a House is much like a family,» Raor replied. She looked down on him. It was odd to see her angry look and hear her calm voice at the same time.

«I hope you don't mind to show us around,» Vance said carefully.

Raor's ears twitched. «As you know we have no facial muscles. To interpret the arrangement of the pads around our eyes as "angry" is an ethical misjudgment. You will learn to ignore this with time.»

'And how would we know?' Forne asked himself but didn't risk the question.

«Then Haur is your House?» Chermy wanted to know.


«What does Haur stand for?» she drilled deeper.

«My house is involved with communication and interpretation.» An airlock snapped back into the wall. The movement was so abrupt and quick that the Rabit jumped back in fear.

«Shit,» Forne cursed. He eyes the edges of the locks they had already passed with suspicion. 'They're death traps!'

«Sensible,» commented Vance. «I wonder how they pull it off?»

Raor didn't react to the casual question. Instead she waited for the Rabit to come back to her. Behind them, the airlock snapped shut as quickly as it had vanished. The hooks of the locking system engaged and made the seal airtight. Despite the fact that the halves of the door hit each other with full speed, the whole process was noiseless but for a small hissing sound. Vance whistled impressed.

In front of them, the inner airlock opened in the same fashion. Beyond was a gallery that encompassed the whole hangar. Directly in front of them, a wide catwalk led to a series of waiting Haul battle fighters. At almost breast height of the Rabit, the catwalk sported two thick handrails on top of an unbroken sheet of glass.

Just like in a Rabit ship, the fighters hung in a launch system but here, they were horizontal. Above and below, left and right, the layout repeated. Forne counted five parallel rows, they were standing in front of the second from the left.

Above them was another level below the ceiling. His current position didn't allow him a clear look below. Carefully, he approached the edge. His paws clung to the thick handrail as the floor seemed to tilt forward to throw him into the abyss. His jaw quivered as he drew a deep breath.

«Can you stand it?» Vance asked understandingly.

«Give me a moment.» Forne stood at the railing and fought with his vertigo. His brain told him that the floor didn't move but his gut told him something else. The massive pole in his paws offered a welcome bit of stability in a shaking world.

There was no sign that Raor noticed his problems but she gave them the time they needed to get used to the view. 'At least she doesn't rush us out there,' Forne thought. 'And that's it. I'm starting to believe that Haul can be nice.'

«How many fighters does this ship carry?» Vance interrupted the silence.

«125 per hangar,» Raor replied without delay. «The RORR has two times four of these smaller fighter hangars and one big central hangar.»

Boser, obviously unaffected by vertigo, tried to look down over the hand rail. «What's that? It looks like ...»

The Haul stepped next to her. «Space. We're not under battle conditions right now but the ship's bridge has decided to open the hangar for you.» There was a small pause. «I like the view.»

Vance kept his paw on Forne's shoulder and craned his neck to get a glimpse. «Wow! They should ask for admission. Put up a couple of chairs, a coffee bar. There's a fortune to make here!»

«We have a bow observatory with comfortable seats, where one can enjoy an unimpeded view on space,» Raor explained.

'They'll have waiting lists,' Vance was sure. 'I don't dare to think what means the shop owners up there use to get a slot. It must be like a fountain of credits!'

«What keeps the air in?» Chermy wonders.

«Force field,» Vance assumed who remembered Forne's report.

«Correct,» Raor confirmed.

«Of course you must switch it off to launch the fighters,» Vance added casually.

«No, we can create gaps as necessary,» the Haul corrected.

The Rabit looked at each other. The military value of such a system as obvious. If you could maintain, land and launch fighters simultaneously without having to evacuate the hangar every time, then that gave you a huge advantage in a battle. Medics could care for the wounded without having to get them through an airlock, first. Technicians could start replacing damaged system immediately, without having to wait for pressure equalization or being encumbered with thick gloves. Of course, you have to be careful with humidity or you'd get ice all the time. And you have to watch out for parts that had been exposed to sunlight or you'd burn your paws severely. But isolated covers and appropriate tools would solve that. On top of all this, you would only be vulnerable while a fighter was launching instead of having a gaping hole in your armor that only closed slowly.

«Is there also a shield around the whole ship?» Vance asked innocently.

«Yes,» Raor replied, who either had never heard about the concept of confidentiality or who was trying to feed them with false information. «Of course, it's much stronger during battle conditions.»

«Sure,» Vance nodded in understanding. «Micrometeorites and dust weren't created to damage a ship.» He heaved himself on the railing and bent far above the abyss while Boser secured his legs. There seemed to be a blue glow around the perimeter of the force field. «Can we have a closer look?»


Forne exhaled noisily, closed his eyes and turned around. He walked back stiffly next to the Haul and said nothing.

«Hey, you alright?» Chermy asked tenderly and tried to look into his eyes.

He evaded her. «Yeah, yeah, I'll be fine.»

She started to embrace him but when she felt his reaction, she stopped. The rejection annoyed her obviously, but Forne didn't care.

The new corridor was the spitting image of the one they had just left. Vance gazed around but there were no signs or any kind of marking telling where they were. 'How do the Haul find their way around here?' It wouldn't have surprised him much if the airlock would have led to the same level in the hangar as before but they really stepped on to the lowest level. Above them, the launch mechanisms disappeared upwards, a few meters below the huge hole gaped in the fuselage.

To the right, stairs led downwards. Vance saw no chains, no barrier, not even a sign. «Can we get closer to the shield?»

«We would need safety belts.»

The Rabit was already giving up his hopes when she asked: «Do you want me to order some?»

«Yes,» he cried out before he realized that he was probably overstepping his competence. She-captain Boser calmed his worries immediately and stroked his shoulder reassuringly. Together, they stepped to the edge and looked down. The view was amazing.

It reminded Boser of a childhood visit of an moon without an atmosphere where she had spend hours in a cupola. Only there, the dome had been supported by sturdy steel beams. Here, nothing separated them from the glowing stars and nebulae that spread motionlessly below their hind paws. She noticed that Vance suddenly stiffened under her paw. «That's not possible,» he murmured and stared down intently.

«What?» she asked anxiously but quietly.

Vance rubbed his chin, lost in thought. «Uh, Raor? Do you have something small that you don't need anymore? Like a pencil or something?»

* * *

Forne was glad that Vance did all the talking. The sleepless nights in the past weeks had made him easily irritable. It was hard to stay on focus during this important mission. His body yearned for rest, curl up somewhere in a bed and sleep for three days straight. Unwillingly, he had to admit that the Haul did treat them well. Of course, he would have liked a pair of boots and some clothes. But it was warm enough to run around half naked. Even the floor felt pleasant, if a bit hard. The omnipresent red was becoming a pain in the neck, though. On top of that, there was the constant sexual harassment from Chermy and the fact that he was probably only here because the Haul showed some interest in him. Forne had no illusions how much he could help in his state. But it hurt nonetheless.

* * *

With a growing sense of concern, Chermy watched Forne. The state of the Rabit was troubling her. She didn't dare to think what might happen if he should break down under the pressure. 'If he would at least accept some help!'

* * *

Raor kept a close eye on the Rabit. With the help of the safety systems of the ship, she had defined surveillance parameters which would warn her well in advance so she could step in. In addition to that, twenty Haul of the ship's safety crew were close by. She knew only too well why the Rabit wanted to get close to the shield systems. 'To kill yourself.' She simply couldn't understand Rarrarar. 'Why is he postponing the transfer of the pilots to the hospital ship? These Rabit need help that we cannot give them. They can always come back after their treatment and visit one of our ships.' After she had noted down her thoughts, she received a message from Rarrarar: «We never had contact with any of the over 2'500 Rabit which have taken part of the challenges so far.»

«Does that mean the Rabit cannot help their people?» Raor asked back.

«That is one possibility that I keep in mind. But there is also a small that I cannot quite place. Therefore, I currently prefer reversible options.»


Remember the first time you saw Star Wars and the snapping doors? This is what Star Wars made so great: It was the first time a film maker had sat down and thought hard that people have to live in this world they were creating. What's the point of an airlock when it takes a minute to close? Airlocks should snap shut in an instant. Yes, it's much more dramatic when the hero fights against the torrent of air rushing out and all that. But Star Wars was different. It was realistic. Ships and gear had signs of usage. There was carefully places dirt and wear.

For me, it was an eye opener. From that time on, I wanted stories that made sense.


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