Space, between New Carpathia and Tokkastria, RTMS Lusitania
The RTMS Lusitania was the first Tokkastrian starliner to be reconfigured specifically for the New Carpathia/Tokkastria route. Improvements included two separate kitchens, one to prepare traditional Tokkastrian cuisine consisting of only fruits and vegetables, and another, with Carpathian staff, which was equipped to prepare meats and other animal-based fare. Signs and announcements had also been upgraded to be bilingual English and Tokkastrian. Gravity plating had been intensified to be between Carpathian and Tokkastrian standards.
These, among other upgrades, were designed to give Tokkastria Starlines a boost over it's primary competition, Carpathia Starlines. Until now, the only advantage Tokkastria Starlines offered was the dramatic difference in speed. Other than that, the cramped conditions, unusual food, and communication problems lead most Carpathians to choose their own ships for passage, despite the fact that they took a week and half to Tokkastria compared to just three days on a Tokkastrian ship.
Still, as the first ship to be newly reconfigured, mistakes were bound to be made. The name was one such issue. The operators picked a name for their vessel from human history without doing research on it and were not aware that it had a tragic past.
Jaze could often barely contain his giggles as he wandered the ship and read the many signs featuring horribly mangled English. The food was passable, but just barely, as the company's on-board services department, unfamiliar with Carpathian cuisine, often ordered supplies they thought were delicacies but which actually turned out to be just plain weird. The poor cooks in the Carpathian kitchens showed spectacular creativity in making the best of the ingredients they had on hand. The passengers, despite the iffy flavor, took delight in the fare as well. After all, it's not every day one can boast to friends that one has partaken in "Squirrel Hollandaise."
As per usual on a Tokkastrian starliner, there wasn't much in the way of entertainment. Nearly all of the passenger space was used for accommodations, with the economy passengers making do being crammed into small bunks while the first class enjoyed spacious, luxurious cabins. Jaze and Toma occupied one such cabin. The high-tech amenities may have been nothing new to Toma, but Jaze felt like he was in some sort of futuristic exhibition. He especially enjoyed the virtual sphere, an eight-foot orb of light in the middle of the room. Step inside and a myriad of computer displays immediately activated, granting the user access to everything. Information networks, video games, and even the cabin's climate controls.
Jaze, however, was not in the orb playing games or accidentally making it snow in the cabin again. Instead, he was in the bed, sitting up against the pillows, struggling to read an electronic pad in his hand.
Jaze: Inna... Innahey malkame... Malkame justna...
Toma: Blenk di nami ka mushlame.
Jaze let the pad flop down onto the bed as he looked up at Toma quizzically.
Toma: Sorry. I said, "That sounds better than last time." I guess I'm already thinking in Tokkastrian again.
Jaze: Lucky you. I wish I could learn another language as fast as you can. I don't see why I have to do this right now though. I'll be using the same automatic translator that you used to use, so I'll be fine. I'll be lucky if I'm barely functional in Tokkastrian without it before we arrive.
Toma: There will be times when you can't use it, like in very noisy places, so the more you learn, the better. You'll also need to at least be able to read basic signs.
Jaze: I only made that one little mistake.
Toma: You wandered onto the docking bridge. You're lucky all they did was kick you out.
Jaze's ears sagged like a punctured life raft.
Jaze: I needed to pee...
Toma: In Tokkastrian, the word for "dock" and the word for "toilet" are very similar. That's why you need to get the basics, so that you don't do anything like that again.
At that moment, the ever-present hum of the ship's engines, a constant companion to their ears during the trip, began to change. It slowly regressed into a low rumble and remained there.
Jaze: What's that?
Toma: We're slowing down. I have no idea why though. We're at least 12 hours from Tokkastria. There will probably be an announcement soon, so you'd better turn on your automatic translator.
Had either of them looked out their cabin window at that moment, they would have had a strong clue as to the reason for the slowdown. A small, white Tokkastrian shuttle pulled up alongside the starliner.
A tone sounded throughout the ship, indicating a forthcoming message from the captain.
P.A. System: Attention all passengers, this is the Captain speaking. We are slowing down momentarily so that we may accept a delivery from a Royal Shuttle. We apologize for the delay and we anticipate being fully underway again shortly.
Toma: Well, that explains it.
Jaze: It does?
Toma: If it's a Royal Shuttle, that means someone's probably getting an official message from Queen Maoh II, and it is not permitted to send official messages electronically.
A barely audible "thunk" indicated that the shuttle and the starliner had docked.
Jaze: I'm going to play in the computer orb some more!
Toma: Hey, we're not done practicing Tokkastrian yet.
Jaze: Awww... I was hoping you would forget.
However, more practice was not forthcoming, as the door chime sounded.
Toma: Oh no... Surely the Queen isn't sending a message to us?
Toma walked to the door in disbelief, knowing that the only reason the door chime would sound at that time is if the messenger was indeed bringing something to them. Sure enough, when he pressed the button and the door slid open, the Queen's official emissary was standing before them. He stood stiff and straight as he introduced himself.
Emissary Kodie: Greetings. I am Kodie, emissary of Queen Maoh II. I seek Toma Lapin and Jaze Bond.
Jaze stood up suddenly, half expecting the Queen herself to also be present at the door. He quickly noticed, however, that the emissary was alone.
Toma: That's us.
Emissary Kodie: Identification please.
Toma reached into his pocket as he turned to Jaze.
Toma: Show him your passport, Jaze.
Jaze turned and started rooting through his suitcase as Toma pulled his passport out of his pocket and presented it to the emissary. Soon after, Jaze found his passport as well and showed it.
Emissary Kodie: As the official emissary of Queen Maoh II and her heirs, I bid you welcome to Tokkastria, Mr. Jaze Bond. With your permission, I would like to deliver this package to you.
The emissary held out a large, overstuffed envelope. Jaze nervously stepped forward to accept it.
Jaze: Yes... uh... of course, I'll take it.
The emissary bowed deeply as he handed over the envelope. Jaze returned his bow in a fidgity spasm, unsure as to how he should respond in such a situation.
Emissary Kodie: Thank you very much. Her Majesty, Queen Maoh II, wishes you well and considers you her honored guest during your stay in Tokkastria. With your permission, I shall now take my leave.
Toma: Thank you for coming.
The emissary backed out of the cabin slowly and Toma closed the door with a push of a button.
Toma: Well, that explains a lot.
Jaze: Explains what? I'm confused...
Toma: It explains why we were bumped from a tiny bunk room to a first class cabin. I'm sure the Queen had something to do with it.
Jaze: But... but... Why would she do that? I'm not anything special...
Toma: You don't know?
Jaze: Know what?
Toma: You're the first nekomi, half or full, to ever visit Tokkastria.
There was a moment of pause as Jaze let the words sink in.
Jaze: What? Me? Nooooo... Really? Oh come on. Surely Lord Lynx has made at least one state visit?
Toma: He hasn't.
Toma: Yup. You are the "virgin cat," so to speak. Hee hee. Now are you going to open that or what?
Jaze looked down at the envelope given to him by the emissary. He'd forgotten that he had it.
Jaze: Oh! Uh... sure!
Jaze lifted the flap and looked inside. It was difficult to see, so he reached in and pulled out the first thing he touched. It was a very thick piece of parchment, emblazoned with what appeared to be some kind of official seal and clearly handwritten in scripted, swirly writing that he had no hope of understanding. Jaze handed the letter over to Toma.
Toma: Wow. This is hard for me to read too. Not just the handwriting, but it's written in traditional grammar.
Jaze watched as Toma studied the letter intently. After a short time, realizing that there was nothing to be gained by staring at Toma while he was reading, he reached into the envelope again to see what else was inside. As he rooted around inside, Toma finally spoke, his voice barely containing his amazement.
Toma: According to this, an audience has been arranged with Queen Maoh. For both of us together. We got times and dates here and everything...
At that moment, Toma was cut off by Jaze's exclamation of shock.
Jaze: What the hell is this?!?
Toma looked up to see Jaze holding a small, black garment and a pained expression on his face.
Toma: That's your silk bikini undergarment. You must wear it in the presence of the Queen.
Jaze: What? She's not going to... you know... check to make sure, or something... Is she?
Toma: I've heard that you can tell whether or not someone's wearing the Royal Tokkastrian Silk Undergarment whether you look or not. Is there another one in there?
Jaze fished around in the envelope again and pulled out another bikini.
Jaze: Yes. Just these two. Say, this one has my name pinned on it.
Toma: You should try it on and make sure it fits.
Jaze held up the bikini and turned it around several times.
Jaze: I guarantee it won't. There's no hole for my tail.
Toma: Doesn't need one. It sits below the tail. Go ahead and put it on. If it doesn't fit, we'll have to notify the emissary as soon as possible.
Jaze: Alright, fine. I'll try it on.
Toma looked down at the parchment again as Jaze began stripping off his pants and underwear.
Toma: If I'm reading this right, our audience with the Queen is six days from today. A shuttle will pick us up at my home on Skypad Gladad and take us to the official residence. We are instructed to wear the undergarments and our usual clothes but to bring nothing else. Hmmm... "usual clothes..." I think it would be best to wear something at least a little formal. Did you pack anything like that in your suitcase, Jaze?
There was no answer. Toma looked up to see Jaze standing where he was when he started changing his underwear, but now he neither moved nor spoke. He was now wearing nothing more than his silk bikini and a shirt.
Jaze turned slowly and looked at Toma.
Jaze: This... feels... AMAZING!!!
Toma raised his eyebrow as Jaze looked him over, top to bottom. Then, suddenly, in one agile, fluid motion that only a nekomi would possess, he leaped at Toma...
...and tackled him on the bed.
All city images from SimCity 4.
Shuttle images from SimCity 4 and modified by Jporter