Bren looked up from the display of wolfish uniforms. His own pale shirt matched his fine white fur and contrasted with his dark brown waistcoat. To anyone from his home planet Wolfheim his clothes marked him as a member of a pack high in the Tarkel social order. Nevertheless he felt silly in these antiquated, frilly clothes; they hurt his adolescent pride. Who in the modern world still wears breeches with stockings and codpiece? Here in the military surplus store he could hide from public view while he looked at interesting and much more stylish clothes.
The shop, one of many in the space port orbiting high above Outba, had stuff from half a dozen different worlds; some of it Bren could not figure out what part of an alien’s body, or even what kind of alien, it was meant for. He had been dawdling here for a while now, for a rather smart uniform in the Cibosan-Canine section had caught his eye: Gray trousers with tail-sock, a waistcoat of matching gray with orange trim. The cut was sleek; the only ornaments were black shoulder-boards and braided stripes on the sleeve cuffs. Patches on the shoulders identified the wearer as a Wolfheim Space Academy cadet, Altair Pack. Bren pulled it off the rack and tried on the jacket. It was too big for him.
Bren sighed. He was just sixteen, so he had two more years of pack school before he went on his Journey: he’d see more of Wolfheim than just Tarkel City. Then he’d return home and find a position in the government as an assistant deputy second minister, just like his siblings. Wolfheim Star Feet Academy was not his destiny; only the brightest were chosen.
He hung the uniform back on the rack and looked around the shop. His siblings and parents were nowhere about. In a panic he ran out of the store and into a wide boulevard with storefronts along the sides, benches for people to sit, and a central avenue for pedestrian traffic. Above he could see balconies of higher levels: offices and residences overlooking the avenue. High above them, through the station’s great windows, he could see the stars. Perhaps one of them was Wolfheim’s star.
People of many species were walking about, some with packages, some with traveling baggage. Most were Cratif, with big feet, chunky tails, and long faces with eyes widely placed. Bren saw a few wolves—Canine Cibosans was the technically correct term—like himself, some catlike Rasafac, thick-tailed dinosaurian Rshast, and a raptor wearing metal armor: a Dein.
Which way was the space port? He could not read the signs; he tried going by the icons, but they were designed by the aliens who lived here.
I’m the alien here, he thought. I have wide and slightly pointy ears, long snout, longish fur, big bushy tail … and, compared to the locals, big teeth.
Bren saw some people with luggage, some going this way, some that … so he was on the right path, but he didn’t know which direction to go in. He picked one and followed the stream of travelers. Luckily, he chose the right way: he found the station’s space port.
There was the ticket counter for the travel line his pack had used. With relief, he saw a wolf behind the counter.
“Um, can you help me?” Bren asked.
“Do you need to buy a ticket?”
“No, I need to get on my ship.”
“Do you have a ticket? Traveling papers?”
“My sire has all that.”
“Where are you going?”
“Home to Wolfheim.”
“A ship to Wolfheim just left half an hour ago.”
“Was my family on the ship?”
“What’s your name?”
“Let me see.”
The agent typed his name into the terminal.
“Ah. Here it is. Sorry. I can’t give out that information. Security reasons.”
“Was everybody aboard?”
“Well, they were missing one of their party.”
“Can you verify that?”
“I told you, my sire has all my ID stuff.”
“Well, don’t get snippy with me, young wolf. There’s nothing more I can do. Next.”
Bren knew when he was dismissed; he would not get anything more out of this agent. He sighed and went away from the ticket counter. He looked at the arrivals and destinations board. His ship, Tarkel’s Glory, had already left. All he had was the clothes on his back. No ID. His sire had taken care of all that.
His datapad! He pulled that out … it would not turn on. The battery was dead. Useless! Bren thew it on the ground; the glass surface broke. He sighed and looked around. Some people looked and frowned. Bren picked up the remnants, stuck them in his pocket, and walked away from the space port.