Vuorrassi V – Moon 13 – Ishukone Corporation Factory
Security personnel were not an unusual sight in the corridors of the Ishukone Corporation station that kept measured and deliberate orbit around the thirteenth moon of the fifth planet in Vuorrassi. These men and women, however, were not in Ishukone uniforms, and that was enough to earn a few second glances from those they passed.
Second glances, and then stares, when curious glances fell on the man they so discreetly and alertly shadowed.
Security without Ishukone colours might be rare, but pod pilots on the loose in the station corridors were unheard of.
Capsuleers were … well, every one of the Ishukone citizens who paused and turned and gawked had their own opinions on what capsuleers were.
Dangerous. Crazy. Wealthy.
This capsuleer, Captain Silver Night, did not look to be any of those, except perhaps wealthy, to those close enough to see the expensive cut and dull lustre of a suit far too polite to announce its cost above a whisper. If he noticed the stares, he gave no sign of it as he walked down the station's corridors, absentmindedly following the directions his implants threw up on his field of view.
There is a certain comfort being home.
Of course, this wasn't a station he'd ever been on before, but he was back in the State, and it was an Ishukone station, and that was close enough.
He focused on business as he approached his destination. One of many labs in that section, it was bigger than some and smaller than many. The front room hummed with the harmonics of the shield tech operating further back in the complex, and with a quiet but intense concentration.
Even if he had not been expected, his reputation with the corporation was more than sufficient to ensure his access.
But he was expected, and after the usual routine pleasantries was navigating the narrower corridors leading back into the lab proper.
If his internal neocom had not provided him with the layout and directions, he would still have been able to locate the room he sought from the raised voice audible some distance down the hall.
“Then pay attention,” Dr Nolikka Toin said sharply to someone who replied in a lower voice, words indistinct but tone placating.
Dr Toin was clearly not placated. “It's Spirits-damned obvious to anyone with half a brain. Look, just go and work it out. I have work to do, I can’t hold your hand every minute of the day.”
A shaken-looking young man exited the lab hastily. Silver gave him a pleasant smile and received a slightly terrified stare in response before the scientist hurried away up the corridor.
As always, he called Dr Toin from outside the lab. As always, she assured him that he was not interrupting. Only after receiving that assurance did he open the door.
It was not a large room, even as far as rooms on stations in general, and laboratories for theoretical research in particular, tended to run. Utilitarian grey walls and floor, a terminal – not the latest tech, Silver noted – with a hard-wired connection snaking a very busy IK111 supercomputer, a stool, and little else besides the scientist standing beside the terminal, one hand resting on the keyboard.
Dr Toin turned towards Silver as he stepped inside, and they exchanged the usual professional courtesies.
Silver was dismayed to hear her explain the difficulties she was facing with her project: a new team, inexperienced colleagues. She didn’t mention the deficiencies in equipment, and nor would Silver have expected an Ishukone scientist to make such a complaint to someone who was, as he sometimes still needed to remind himself, an outsider, but those he could see for himself.
Could see, too, that the corporation had not done perhaps all it could to provide a conducive working environment. Noises from the hallway – people passing, an inquiry called from one room to another – clearly disrupted Dr Toin’s concentration.
“Have you had …” he started, and then paused. “That is, do you have everything you need, Dr Toin?”
“The corporation has been very generous with us all, Captain,” she said.
He looked at her folded arms, knuckles white, and then around at the lab again. "The discussion we had before you left stands, Dr. Toin."
“Captain,” she said softly, and then stopped. “This is where the corporation believes I belong.”
“It just seems as though, ah, your work might progress more quickly in a more..." Silver paused for a moment, trying different words in his head, "An environment that better fosters the concentration your work requires.”
“The station is - I'd forgotten how much noise there is, on a station,” she said. “How many people. I would wish there was somewhere a little quieter, though. From time to time”
Somewhere on the station. Somewhere calmer. “Have you tried the hydroponics bay? It isn't entirely quiet, but it is a different sort of noise.”
“I’ll have to find it,” she said, with what seemed like genuine interest.
“I could, perhaps, show you where it is.” The words were out before Silver realized it. Of course, it is probably much more convenient for her, if someone can act as a guide. It only makes sense. He hastened to add, “If there's a convenient time, for you.”
“That would be most kind,” Dr Toin said. “I would not want to delay you, though.”
“My time at the moment is my own, it would be no delay.” He hesitated as he turned toward the door. “Would it be simpler if you took my arm? For navigational purposes?"
"It, ah. Would, yes."
Dr Toin moved easily beside him, her hand resting lightly on his arm, as they left the lab complex.
The corridors of the station were crowded as ever, and though Silver’s security kept a small buffer of clear space around him, there was nothing they could do about the hum and hubbub of thousands of voices, of footsteps, of people.
As they made small talk about Dr Toin’s assignment to the station, about her family, her discomfort with the crowds was barely noticeable, her voice steady, if at times so soft Silver had to stoop a little to hear it. Extraordinary self-control.
They reached the hydrobay, with its rows and rows of tightly packed plants stretching towards the ceiling. As a child, those walls of green had seemed to tower up forever, and as he looked up past the gently waving leaves Silver half expected to see three small faces looking down at them from the catwalk above, Jan, Ami and Val escaping from the supervisors for a snatched half-hour in their shared secret garden.
Or hear Jan’s voice. Ancestors, man, it’s been an age …
But there was just the hiss of the sprinklers, the faint gurgle of the drip-irrigation system, the quiet whir of pumps.
He realized he had been silent for several moments, and turned to Dr Toin. “Here it, um, is.”
And then he realized it wouldn’t have mattered to her how long he’d been silent. She was smiling faintly, one hand outstretched to brush the leaves of the plant nearest her, reminding him of the way she’d reached out to trail her fingers through the holographic equations dancing around the Ideal’s lab the last time he had seen her.
She moved further down the row of plants, to the arm’s length limit of the hand that still rested on his sleeve, and Silver took a step towards her and reminded himself to stay close. “I’ve always found these places … “ He paused, finding the right word. “Calming.”
“It’s beautiful,” Dr Toin said quietly. “Almost like not being on a station at all. It must look like – like a garden?”
“Very much like a garden,” Silver agreed. He described the walls of green for her, the plants stretching far above both their heads, identified the different varieties as well as he could. Perhaps she could envision it: she had, it turned out, spent time on a planet. One with an awful lot of sky, she said with gentle amusement, and weather, a reaction much as his own had been the first time he had dropped into a gravity well.
“How did you know it would be – ” She paused. “How did you know it was here?”
“This station is similar to the one I was born on.” As Dr Toin leaned forward to inhale the scent of the plants, Silver found himself adding, “My creche-mates and I used to sneak off to the hydro-bay. My brother became a hydro-engineer. He was a supervisor, had his own bay."
“What does he do now?” she asked.
“There was an accident,” Silver said. “He’s no longer with us.”
Dr Toin was still for a few seconds. “I’m very sorry,” she said. “I’m very sorry for your loss.”
“It was a long time ago,” Silver said.
“Does it get … easier?” she asked quietly.
“Yes. Easier.” The sprinklers hissed softly and Silver felt he should be honest. “It doesn’t ever go away, though.”
“There are people … “ Her voice trailed away to silence for a moment. “People you think … nothing can divide you. And then ... when something does. You keep running up against the nonsense of dividing by zero having actually happened. Like walking into a wall that wasn't there yesterday.”
“It does … it takes time. Fitting something like that in.” Silver said. “It does happen, though, Dr Toin.” He cleared his throat. “What does, ah. What does your sister do?”
Applied electronics, was the answer, a lab manager in the same system. With a young son, Dr Toin’s nephew, just a little older than Jan and Madlen. She was telling Silver about him when her comm chimed: a call from the lab. She was needed back there.
“Do you – “ Silver said. “That is, shall I walk back with you?”
“Thank you,” she said. “I can usually remember the way, once I've been somewhere. But it's not the same in reverse, you know? Finding one's way back is harder than it seems.”
“Yes,” Silver said. “I've experienced that myself.”
As they left the hydrobay, Silver again choosing a route that kept them, as far as possible, out of the more crowded areas of the station, Dr Toin’s smile vanished. Still, her careful self-control seemed to take less effort than it had. If the corporation cannot provide the environment most conducive to concentration at this time, at least there will be an alternative for her.
They reached the lab complex and he stopped.
Dr Toin stopped with him. “Thank you, Captain,” she said. “I’m glad your business allowed you time to visit.”
“As am I,” Silver said. “I hope your research goes well, and I look forward to seeing the results.”
Her hand dropped from his arm. “I will make sure to keep you informed.”
“I appreciate that,” he said. “I look forward to hearing from you.”
She hesitated a moment longer, and then, with a quiet “Travel safely, Captain Night,” turned and was gone.
As he made his way back to the hangars, Silver wondered if an alternative would be enough to allow Dr Toin to complete her work. Perhaps the corporation could be encouraged to move a little faster.
There was more than one Ishukone agent always ready to take a call from Captain Silver Night. Indeed, one at this very station. Silver made the connection with a thought.
“Mr Iwahari. I hope I find you well? I have a research matter to raise with you …”