Lieutenant Commander Ibrahim Nayazov sat in the co-pilot seat of the small shuttle, leaving the flying to Lieutenant Lee. Istanzia had effectively ignored all communication from the Chʼil Awoshí until he asserted his authority and informed them he would be paying a visit to ensure that all compliance measures required by Tumbleweed were on track for the scheduled joining.
“It looks like they’ve picked up some spin,” Ibrahim commented.
“They did that less than an hour after you announced your visit,” Lee answered. “It’s not much. We estimate by the rate of spin that it’s barely a tenth gee even in the outermost area.”
Ibrahim nodded. “It’s late, but at least that part is normal. Take their time getting up to speed. It’s strange that they’re still this far away, though. Most new construction hugs as close as they can before hook-up.”
“Most newcomers also shuttle regularly between their module and the station for everything from parts to pizza,” Lee said.
The fact had been noted previously. As chief of security and a representative of the command staff, Ibrahim needed to concentrate on any actual violations, not odd yet non-criminal behavior.
Failure to communicate should be against regulation. Every time he brought it up, the response boiled down to “it’s complicated.” It was also unclear whether the regulation, if put in place, should come from the governor’s office or from Chʼil Awoshí command.
There was no question in Ibrahim’s mind. That was a station issue, not something trivial for the governor to sort out.
“They’re hailing us, sir,” Lee said.
“Well, that’s something new, and I hope good,” Ibrahim said. “I’ll take it.”
He punched through to see a petite woman smiling back at him. “Lieutenant Commander Ibrahim Nayazov?” she asked.
“In the flesh,” he said. “And you are?”
“Pippin Strober,” the woman answered, continuing to smile just a bit too wide. She was wearing an almost-sheer top pulled tight across her breasts. It wasn’t anything unusual for women of any age or background almost anywhere on the station, but somehow it seemed out of place on her. All the images he’d seen of Istanzia’s administration were much more plain and conservative.
He’d never seen any images of their actual citizens. Another strange thing.
There was a temporary docking hub installed on both sides of the center of the disc. The hubs not only provided a method of getting in and out of the station, but they ensured that the structure under construction had a core that was compatible with the rest of Discworld, including a clear corridor for moving through the module to get to and from their neighbors. The core was considered public space.
“Welcome to Istanzia!” the woman said when the airlock finished cycling. She spread her arms wide, dark nipples clearly visible under her gauzy outfit. Of the three crew he’d brought with him, the only one who seemed to notice was the fifteen-year-old cadet who was spending the week shadowing his mentor. Translucent fabrics were nothing unusual on the station or most anywhere in human space, nor was it out of the ordinary for men or women to go topless. Yet something about the women’s manner implied that she expected a reaction from them.
“Thank you M Strober,” Ibrahim answered, noticing two other women passing in the background whose eyes grew wide when they looked toward him. They were dressed in very plain khaki jumpsuits, appropriate for doing any number of tasks on a module under construction. He wasn’t sure whether they were surprised at M Strober’s fashion selection or the fact that a group of uniformed officers from the Chʼil Awoshí was boarding them.
“Call me Pippin!” their hostess said, with a tiny lilt of laughter.
Ibrahim grit his teeth and tried to smile back. “Call me Lieutenant Commander,” he said.
She looked impressed. Not genuinely impressed; more trying-to-pick-him-up-in-a-bar impressed. He wondered why Istanzia had chosen her to be their guide. If they were trying to distract him from the task at hand, they were sadly misguided.
At the hub, they were in microgravity, but even as they moved farther out the pull was negligible. The disc wasn’t up to speed yet.
“I find it disconcerting that Istanzia failed to answer our repeated calls,” Ibraham said as they made their way down the corridor. “Most importantly, the fact that a craft from Istanzia collided with the station should have warranted immediate attention.” He was ninety percent sure the pod was from Istanzia. The salvage crew was tracking a piece of debris they thought might be a black box, but retrieving it was problematic.
“I do apologize for that,” Pippin said. “We don’t have our full crew yet, and apparently all your messages were overlooked.” She paused to key open a door for them, leading into a large common area with tables and chairs. “We just recently confirmed that a pod was stolen from the construction framework. Ronan Mackerie and Shentah Sho were part of the crew moving equipment from the outer dock into the station.” They filed in slowly. The space was obviously designed for a level of gravity it had not yet achieved. The cadet bounced himself up toward the ceiling, but with a curt word from his mentor returned to the floor. Ibrahim held the back of a chair. It only moved when he put some effort into it. Magnets held it in place. “Of course, the news that M Mackerie was killed in the incident is disturbing, to say the least,” Pippin continued. "And I understand you have M Sho in custody?”
“Yes, he is in station custody,” Ibrahim said. “The investigation is still underway.”
“I apologize for our part in the unfortunate incident,” Pippin said, her face a mask of sincere regret. “Of course, Istanzia will pay for any repairs necessary from the damage our citizens caused. You may return Sho to our custody, and we will make sure proper discipline is administered. We assure you, he will not pose a threat to the station ever again.”
From any other lips, it would sound like they were planning to space the guy and just be rid of him. Pippin made it sound like they were going to send him to a happy farm for rehabilitation.
“Extradition isn’t up to me,” he said. “There are legal complications to be considered, but I’ll make note that Istanzia would like to have him back.”
Pippin twitched. Ibraham wasn’t sure why, but something about what he’d said either surprised or rankled her. “Of course, Lieutenant Commander,” she said. “You will have our full cooperation.”
The tour was obviously concentrating on the best of what the module had to show. Pippin showed them the hydroponics bay, areas for light manufacturing, offices, and other business activities, and a simple yet nice-enough area that was designed to look like a typical Earth street with small shops on either side.
“We have everything we need right here!” Pippin said, gesturing to the street around them. It was still quite sterile, but it looked like there were planters at regular intervals that could freshen up the space with live plants.
Ibrahim raised an eyebrow. He’d go nuts if he had to spend more than a day in such a small area. It wouldn’t be too bad if he could leave at the end of the day and enjoy everything the Chʼil Awoshí had to offer, but he wouldn’t want to live there.
“And these are citizen apartments?” he asked, gesturing to what looked like living quarters above the business level.
“Yes! Family apartments,” she said.
Ibrahim looked along the row of balconies. They certainly looked like nice, comfortable homes, but there weren’t nearly enough of them for the number of anticipated inhabitants recorded in the module’s plans. “Are these high-end apartments or the median?” he asked.
“Oh…” Pippin moved her mouth for just a moment without any sound coming out. “Living space is not put up for the highest bidder. Quarters are assigned according to each citizen’s position.”
Ibrahim didn’t like that, but it wasn’t unusual. Many of the smaller modules like those in Discworld and Ringworld only had enough space for the exact number of bodies that claimed citizenship. Most solved their growth problems by letting their people rent better quarters elsewhere on Tumbleweed. There were dozens of modules that were nothing more than suburban neighborhoods with homes and shopping. He lived in one and had neighbors with citizenship from three or four different modules, including command. Lieutenant Lee lived three doors down with his family.
It might just be an issue of still being under construction, but the hub they’d entered through seemed to be more geared for through-traffic, with only a tight bottleneck for people going into the disc itself.
“I’d like to see the workers quarters,” Ibrahim said. “In particular, the rooms occupied by Shentah Sho and Ronan Mackerie.”
“Oh, actually I had planned to take you to see the executive suites,” Pippin said, her smile gone for just a moment before reappearing just as fake and reassuring as before.
“I need to see their quarters,” Ibrahim said, with a smile just as fake as hers. “It would be so much easier to do it now than to come back again with a warrant.” It was a gamble. Istanzia wasn’t actually joined up to the Chʼil Awoshí yet. Getting a warrant wouldn’t be simple. He was betting that their desire to get along with the least intrusion would override their desire to keep secrets…whatever those were.
Pippin touched her ear, then covered it by brushing her hair aside. It would not surprise him if someone else had been listening all along. He wondered what they were telling her.
“We…can…at least walk the corridor,” she said. “And I’ll see what I can do about getting access to their quarters.”