17. Dinner

Fencing practice had gone well, and now it was time for a dinner with the passengers. Bren tossed his day clothes into the hamper and carefully laid out the clothes he intended to wear this evening: his Cadet uniform, shiny boots, and fancy red brief. He grinned, remembering how Omega had approved and kept the Quartermaster from poking through his stuff. 

“Get what you like,” Omega had said. So he did. 

His mom had always got him and his brothers boring white underwear. Bren had seen colorful underthings in stores but never got a chance to get any. He had plain blue ones for everyday wear, so this red one was special. And tonight was a special occasion: the first formal meal with the passengers. 

He pulled on the brief and fastened the back strap over his tail. It was comfy: red with white edging, slightly longer legs, a short sleeve for his tail rather than just an opening, and a pouch for his male parts. He stood and looked at himself in a mirror. He grinned. This felt sexy! He looked at his brief and wondered what kind of a job it was to design and make such things. Nah. He’d rather be a spacer. 

He put on his Academy uniform, stuffed his tail properly in the tailsock, and buttoned it to the back of his shoulder. He looked at himself in the mirror. 

I’m a space cadet!

He lined up the front seam with his belt buckle, made one last check of his appearance, and exited the officers’ quarters. As he walked down the corridor to the dining hall, he bumped into some crew wolves. 

“Hey, there, cadet! Remember FURDAL!” 

It was a crew chief. The other crew wolves were silent, but watched the exchange.

“Fertile?” asked Bren. 

“FURDAL, cadet. Forward Up Right Down Aft Left. That’s the direction you’re supposed to go in on a ship.” 

“Why?” 

“Corridors are narrow.” 

“Oh. FURDAL. Okay, Chief.” 

Bren stood and looked at the chief, who looked back at him. Bren turned and went the other way, then took a cross corridor to get to the dining hall. 

He entered the hall—a decorated cargo hold, but nice. Almost as nice as a second-class dining hall on the Tarkel’s Glory. He saw the command pack standing around a table, so he went to them. He stood at attention and saluted. 

“Cadet Bren Feltwig reporting for duty, Sirs!” he said, smiling. 

Captain Lupindo turned to face him. Stroking his chin-beard, he looked Bren up and down sternly. He nodded and looked at Commander Fox and Commander Garwulf. They looked Bren up and down too … and nodded. Captain Lupindo saluted and said, “At ease, Cadet!”

With a big smile he reached out to hug Bren. 

“You are the best-looking Space Cadet on this ship.” 

“I am? Well, I’m the only one.” 

“Hey, now,” said Fox. “Deep down we’re all Space Cadets.”

“It’s an adventure,” said Garwulf. 

“It’s the best adventure in the galaxy!” said Bren, smiling. 

The officers all looked at him and smiled. 

“That’s our pup,” said Captain Lupindo. “Let’s eat.” 

Captain Lupindo stood and tapped his glass with a knife. 

“Gentlewolves. We have with us tonight a talented member of our crew, someone I’m proud to have on my ship. Not only the best Master Chief in the fleet, but the best fencing master and a good paw at the pen. Master Chief Proudfoot, please grace us with your wit and poetry.” 

Proudfoot stood at his table, with the rest of the crew woofs. 

“Thank you, Captain. You embarrass me.” 

“Master Chief. I beg pardon. When I said best in the fleet, I didn’t mean just the seven ships of our little shipping concern, but the entire Wolfheim fleet.” 

“Captain,” said Commander Garwulf. “You’re not making things any easier on the chief. If you go on like that, he won’t be able to get his helmet on.” 

Crew members and officers alike laughed. Proudfoot raised his glass to the captain. 

“Captain Lupindo wants me to inflict one of my poems on you, but in deference to those who attended today’s practice and suffered enough of my skewering, I will instead read a speech from the Bard. This comes from the play inspired by a night he spent up on Observatory Hill, amongst the standing stones of the old Henge. It is advice to his nephew. It contains some curious lines, which historians have yet to work out how they are so reminiscent of our modern neighbors.” 

Proudfoot struck a dramatic pose and captured the attention of all in the hold. 

“Try not the temper of the Wester Wolves: Generous and hospitable, kind and courteous, slow to anger; but once awakened they will not easily sleep. 

“Fall not into the claws of surly hierarchy; try not the bureaucracy of rash dominion. 

“Beware those with bold stripes.” 

Proudfoot glanced over at Timberwoof. Someone in the audience tittered. Proudfoot glowered and went on. 

“Be brave and valiant in all your dealings with wolves and foreigners. 

“Whether what approaches you is life long or death sudden, face it with dignity and courage. 

“When you return to your Long House, bless us with tales of your adventures.”

Proudfoot held his pose for a dramatic moment, then bowed. 

The crew and passengers tapped glasses and pounded the table in appreciation. 

“Enough, enough. Eat and drink now, or I shall grace you all with my wit and poetry.”