At his sensor array terminal in the flight operations centre, operator Maxx Cantrell picked up the heat signature of a Saud Kruger Beluga Liner on an approach vector towards the station. As duty and protocol required, he opened up a comms channel and hailed the fast moving vessel.
“Saud Kruger Foxtrot Uniform Romeo, this is Coney Gateway Flight Control. Please abide by station law and submit a docking request before landing.”
Within seconds, the Beluga pilot keyed an auto-request to the station’s internal computer which would assign the first free landing pad capable of accommodating the huge ship, subject to clearance from its human controller. Cantrell’s fingers flashed across the terminal in an almost automatic manner.
“Docking request approved,” he responded, green-lighting one of the largest landing pads. “You may alight on pad four-two.”
A moment later, the liner entered the docking bay with a carefully controlled velocity and set down regally onto the assigned pad.
As its engines powered down, wisps of hydrogen fuel spewed wildly from giant nacelles at its rear while docking clamps secured the landing legs to the platform. At over two hundred metres in length and one hundred and thirty wide, it was one of the largest vessels capable of passing through the narrow docking port that served as the only major entrance and exit to the Orbis starport. Bigger ships were in existence, such as the Interdictor and Farragut class warships, but these were typically constructed and maintained by the Federal and Imperial Navies who refuelled, repaired and rearmed them at specialised dry-docks. The Beluga was the flagship model designed and manufactured by the esteemed Saud Kruger Corporation, a company famous for its prestigious transport ships and favoured by many politicians, celebrities and other VIPs throughout populated space. As such, it was as beautiful as it was big, with an elongated central body similar to that of the early airliners of Earth’s distant past. However, unlike the atmospheric vehicles of ancient history, the upper half of the hull was given over to a strong, tinted glass like material; its purpose to give its passengers as much a view of the cosmos as possible from a series of promenades and viewing chambers beneath. The middle and lower sections of the ship were reserved for living quarters, cargo storage, mess halls, an entertainment centre and even a gym while the back end housed more integral systems such as life support and the powerful frame shift drive necessary to power the starship across the galaxy. As soon as the ship’s systems were powered down and Cantrell’s terminal indicated that all docking clamps were locked in place, he reopened the comm channel.
“Greetings, commander. The 8th Dragon Squadron welcomes you to Coney Gateway. We trust that you will find our services accommodating.”
“Oh, I trust I will, brother Dragon,” said the pilot with apparent amusement. “Now be a darling and remind me again which level the Star & Garter is on. I’ve a raging thirst that only a bottle of Centauri will quench.”
Maxx frowned briefly before the seed of recognition finally bloomed. It had been more than a standard year since his departure, but in linking the ostentatious nature of the newly docked ship, the flowery language and the obligatory mention of gin, there could be no mistake.
Commander Deuil Furieux had come home.