Volume 2 Episode 1 - To an Unfamiliar Land

Space, CMS Northern Cross

The CMS Northern Cross is a starship operated by Carpathia Starlines, ferrying passengers between Andrast, New Berengaria, and Venus. Abord the Northern Cross, passengers milled about the main lounge, chatting, drinking, and watching the stars zoom by. The ship had a great many amenities on board, given that it takes a week between Andrast and New Carpathia, which is the route this starliner is plying.

Most of the passengers were human, as nekomi typically preferred their own ships. Two passengers had everybody in a fit of gossip though. Thus far, nothing like them had ever been seen on a Carpathia Starlines ship.

The passengers were intrigued. Not all of them even knew of the tokki, even though they first made contact with New Carpathia many years ago. Though curious and open to new ideas, Carpathia is the first nation with which they've had official diplomatic relations in many centuries, and, until a few months ago, their existence was secret. The other passengers in the lounge often cast furtive glances at them, all wanting to catch a glimpse of their outlandish, rock star-like clothes, their chains, their multitude of earrings...

The younger one, Toma, appeared to be entirely uninterested in anything that was going on around him. He held a small device in his hand, evidently a game, and focused only on it. Kradik was leaning back, nursing a glass of club soda, and enjoyed watching the crowd.

Kradik: These humans. I never can get used to it. They dress so strangely.

Toma, still immersed in his game, paid him no mind at all.

Kradik: You should socialize a bit more, you know. You're going to be around humans a lot for the next year.

Toma: I didn't ask to be sent to a Carpathian school, Dad.

Kradik: Pfft. Get over yourself. You're lucky to have this opportunity. You'll be the first tokki most of these people have ever seen.

Toma: Well, that sounds exciting.

It was impossible to miss the sarcasm in Toma's voice. Kradik decided that a change of subject was in order.

Kradik: We should be arriving soon.

Toma: About time. I don't understand why we had to take this old barge anyway. One of our ships would have been faster.

Kradik: But it's nice, isn't it? These Carpathians haven't lost the thrill of space travel yet. There's enough room here to get up, walk around, and enjoy yourself!

Toma: Hard to do with the gravity turned up so high. It's making my feet hurt.

Kradik: Oh, you get used to that. Besides, the gravity is the same on New Berengaria. Better to get you used to it now.

Toma: Whatever...

Toma turned his attention back to his game. Kradik leaned back in his chair again and resumed people-watching. He seemed to take great pleasure in catching people staring at him. He usually smiled back at them and awaited their reaction. Sometimes, they would simply turn back around and continued what they were doing before, but the more amusing instances were when they would scurry out of the lounge in shame.

Moments later, a voice came over the intercom.

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your Captain speaking. We will be arriving at Chrono Spaceport, New Berengaria shortly. Please return to your cabins and make sure you have all of your belongings packed and ready for disembarkation. We hope you had a pleasant journey on the CMS Northern Cross and we hope that you will choose Carpathia Starlines again for all your travel needs. Thank you.

Kradik: Great! Let's go get our stuff.

Toma: Yeah, sure.

They exited the lounge and walked down the corridor along the side of the ship. Through the window, they could see Chrono Spaceport growing larger and larger as the ship descended towards its landing site.

The Next Day

Tri-Rivers, Tokkastrian Embassy

The Tokkastrian Embassy was built in Tri-Rivers, a district in New Berengaria where three rivers come together. The land used to be an old industrial zone, but the land was cleared, cleaned, and the embassy was built, with its parks and two tall towers.

The tokki also have their own pleasure ship for entertaining special dignitaries.

Toma stood in front of the doors to the main embassy building, tapping his foot impatiently, the sound of which reverberated with dull thuds through the porous limestone patio. Finally, his father walked hurriedly out the front door and approached Toma.

Kradik: Hey, sorry I'm late!

Toma: Psht. If you're going to ruin my life, the least you can do is be on time for it.

Kradik: Oh hush up. We can still be on time. Now get in the car.

Both hopped into the limo and it took off, winding its way through the streets. They said little on the way, Toma wearing his usual scowl frozen permanently on his face. Thanks to some creative driving by the chauffeur, they arrived just in time at Rune Lake High School.

Toma: This place? You're kidding, right?

Kradik: No, I'm not kidding. This is the only high school in New Carpathia with an exchange program with Tokkastria. You'll be the first exchange student. Now let's go in. We have to meet your homeroom teacher first.

Toma: What's "homeroom?"

Kradik: I have no idea. I'm sure you'll figure it out, though.

Both got out of the limo and walked into the school. Stunned students gawked shamelessly at them as they walked through the entryway towards the teacher's room. Toma ignored them by concentrating on his holographic video game. The teacher met them at the door and seemed very eager to greet them.

Mr. McFadden: Welcome! I'm so glad you could make it. It's a great honor for me to be your teacher for the next year!

Kradik: Thank you very much.

Kradik looked over at his son, who was still immersed in his video game. He gave Toma a little poke.

Kradik: Say "Hi!"

Toma didn't even look up from his video game.

Toma: Yo.

Kradik shrugged as Mr. McFadden showed them into his office. Kradik and Mr. McFadden spoke briefly, mostly just to confirm the arrangements, particularly the special ones, such as diet (no meat, no caffeine, nothing with calcium in it, etc.). Their conversation was punctuated only by a few grunts from Toma's direction coupled with the occasional sarcastic comment. Once the arrangements were confirmed, Kradik stood up and took his leave, leaving the teacher to take care of Toma.

Mr. McFadden: Well, then. Shall we go?

The teacher picked up his briefcase and walked out with Toma in tow. He stayed close to the teacher, trying to deftly avoid the eyes of the gawking students. He tried not to listen, but humans... they were so noisy and he picked up much of their whisperings. "Look at those ears!" "What a pretty earring!" "He's so cute!" They finally reached the classroom, and the teacher went in.

Mr. McFadden: You can stand here next to me. I want to introduce you first.

Toma smirked and rolled his eyes.

Toma: I can't wait.

The students in the class all scuttled around and took their seats, their chairs scraping against the floor making, what Toma thought, an unbearable racket.

Mr. McFadden: Alright, settle down everyone! Before we start today, I want to introduce you to Toma Lapin. He's a new exchange student from Tokkastria. As you know, their embassy was just completed and they are eager to begin fostering cultural exchange. I'm sorry that I didn't let you know about this sooner, but we weren't even sure this was going to be doable until the last minute. But nevertheless, I'm sure you will all give your... um... er...

The teacher paused for a moment with a look of utter befuddlement on his face. The students weren't sure what to think until the teacher finally spoke again.

Mr. McFadden: Uh, Jaze, do you have to go to the bathroom?

Like a herd of penguins following a penlight on the wall, every head in the room suddenly twisted backwards to Jaze who was sitting in the back of the room. Now they all knew what caused the teacher to lose his concentration. Jaze's eyes were as big as breadplates and he was visibly shaking. For awhile, there was not a sound to be heard. Even Toma found this new development very interesting.

Jaze: RABBIT!!!

And then Jaze was gone. As suddenly as he blurted out the word, he disappeared under his desk, his chair clattering across the floor as he kicked it away. Nobody's eyes moved, but now they were staring at an empty desk which shivered just as Jaze was doing, as he gripped the legs in fright.

Toma watched with amusement. For once, the seemingly permanent scowl on his face slowly transformed as the corner of his mouth turned up into an ever so slight smile.

Toma: Teacher, I take back everything I said. This place is going to be interesting.

Commissioned art in this episode from:

Photoshop alterations of the spaceship by:

All city images from SimCity 4.

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