Captain Lupindo surveyed the bridge of the Jackal’s Trove. From his vantage point, he could see the helm and navigation stations before him, two ship’s systems stations on either side, and three big view screens ahead.
Outba, a lovely blue marble in many respects like Wolfheim, gleamed in the smaller panel to the left. The center panel showed their destination, an interstellar port station kilometers across, dozens of freighters in dock. The Trove was still some distance out, so even with the telescope at maximum magnification, the details were fuzzy. A great habitation ring rotated about the stationary hub, where ships could be seen maneuvering to and from their assigned berths.
The communications officer tuned his radio to the galactic standard Orbital Traffic Control frequency. “Ahoy Outba Station, this is Jackal’s Trove, a freighter of Wolfheim registry.”
Captain Lupindo watched and listened.
“Jackal’s Trove, Outba Station. Ahoy,” came the reply. An image of one of the station’s OTC officers appeared on the other smaller panel: short gray-brown fur, dark brown eyes on the sides of an elongated head, long narrow ears. A Cratif.
Communications officers in this part of the Zulu Sector of the galaxy all used the same message format: speak in Rshast, state the intended recipient, state your own identifier, state the message.
“Outba Station, Jackal’s Trove. We’re coming in on vector 246 by 768; request clearance to dock.”
“Jackal’s Trove, Outba Station. We have you on tracking. We confirm your vector. Proceed on vector to Second Beacon; adjust course for Docking Bay Twelve.”
The communications officer poked his computer terminal; the right view screen showed a diagram of how to find Docking Bay Twelve. The door indicated by lights outlining it was opening and a big Rshast 12 was lit up nearby. Vectors for direction and Orbital Maneuvering System burns were indicated in standard graphics.
“Outba Station, Jackal’s Trove. Second beacon, docking bay twelve, Aye.”
“Navigator,” said the captain. “Plot the courses and feed the OMS burns to helm.”
“Courses to helm, aye.”
The Jackal’s Trove made the required vector-matching burns and approached at reasonable speed: slowly. A Class II freighter was a big ship, its outer surface bristling with over three hundred cargo containers. A careless move could kill a smallship pilot. Outba Station was kilometers across, with dozens of freighters moving in and out. A careless move could kill a freighter crew.
Ships respected one another’s space as they maneuvered about the station, here or anywhere in Zulu Sector. The opening of Docking Bay 12 grew in the view screen as OTC handed the ship over to the bay’s Landing Signal Officer. The Jackal’s Trove bridge officers stayed silent as the wolf at the helm concentrated on her task, watching proximity monitors, radar echoes, and the LSO’s instructions. OMS thrusters burped from time to time.
Vectors and positions and speeds were right; the Jackal’s Trove clamped onto the mooring posts. The helm wolf shut down the OMS.
“Captain, docking compete.”
“Jackal’s Trove, Outba Station. We verify docking complete. We’re extending the airlock tubes now. Welcome to Outba Station.”
“Outba Station, Jackal’s Trove. Docking complete, Aye. Airlock tubes, Aye. Thank you.”
“Well done, Lieutenant,” said Captain Lupindo. “I counted only five OMS burps on the way in.”
The captain knew that pilots liked to make their docking maneuvers as precise as possible. One outcome of a particularly smooth operation was very few OMS corrections.
The pilot beamed. “Thanks, Captain.”
“All Paws, All Paws attention,” said the communications officer. “We have docked at Outba Station. We’ll be ready for crew debarkation in one half hour.”