The graving yard was a circular array of curved titanium spines, concave upward, arranged to match the load-bearing landing strakes on a spaceship’s hull. The base was well below ground level, the spines sticking up so that the midpoint of a pancake -shaped freighter might be roughly at ground level. To Chelan’s dismay, the graving yard was flooded, an accumulation of rainwater having filled the yard much of the way to its top. “There should be pumps,” McNaughton said. ‘At a guess, one of the buildings over there around the perimeter.”
“Where’s the roof?” Bell asked. “I see some pivot points, but there should be a retractable roof to cover a ship while it’s being taken apart or assembled.” Chelan made careful notes.
“Perhaps disassembled and in the machine shops,” McNaughton said. “Those large buildings should be the shops, equipped to handle even the ribs and strakes of freighters considerably larger than the ones we own.”
The trio walked over to the buildings. An outside stairs to the second floor brought them to a sliding pair of doors. Inside, they looked down at the shops, which were in an unbelievable state of chaos. Metal shavings in spirals covered the floors. Tools were scattered about on workbenches, not racked or placed in tool chests. A thick layer of dust and oily grime covered exposed surfaces. Manufacturing robots stood by their machines, but there were no signs of active power lights.
“If it weren’t for all the windows,” Chelan said, “we be completely unable to see what was in here. And while these appear to be light switches, the status lights are both out. I was brought up on the doctrine that good machinists are scrupulously clean and orderly in their work areas; apparently whoever was running this place had a different set of ideas.”
McNaughton inhaled deeply, then blew out the air from his lungs. “That’s a distinct stench, not just machine oil. Other than in the headquarters building, the sanitary facilities here are ghastly.”
“What a total mess,” Bell said. “However, I’m doing a survey by eye of the different sorts of machinery and how they’re arranged. You have a lot of excellent equipment here, which looks to be well laid out so things don’t get in each other’s way. If you brought in a crew that knew what they were doing to clean up the mess, at a guess clean and lube the machinery, this facility would be in good shape. That’s way better than the graving yard, where I would want to do careful inspection of the foundations before I tried landing a ship in it.” Chelan made more notes.
“The large-component molecular spray systems are in the next building,” McNaughton said. “That’s another building I couldn’t get into, though I think it’s simply that I tried the wrong doors.”
“We might be able to look in windows,” Chelan observed. “And perhaps there is a door you missed.”
Further buildings proved to be as disappointing in their lack of maintenance. “Interesting that the outside paint is always good, the gutters looked to have been cleared recently, and I have yet to spot a roof leak.” Bell nodded approvingly.
“That’s the two folks who wanted to stay on the job here,” McNaughton said. “They did the outside maintenance, and janitorial support in the management building. Mrs. Brixton spoke very highly of them, and it looks like I agree with her.”
“Those interviews are tomorrow,” McNaughton said. “I expected we would be busy all day starting things up.”
“And I expected to be dealing with litigation all day,” Chelan said. “So far, so good.”
“The walks are in good shape,” Bell observed.
“Welcome to California,” McNaughton responded. “My great-grandfather mentioned seeing Roosevelt WPA-installed sidewalks that were still in near mint condition a century after the concrete had been poured. There are no frost-freeze cycles, so the concrete just stays there.”
Finally they reached the fine-resolution facility. Inside, everything was neat and clean. Staff members were visibly hard at work. The one visible molecular spray unit was generating a heat exchange lattice, under the sharp eyes of a senior staff member.
Division Director Sarah Yates smiled politely, greeted them, and led them to her office. “We’re under directive to finish this unit for the BSH Mighty Transporter. That’s a health and safety requirement, so the legal staff of the former owners said we should carry through regardless, because we might be held liable if we didn’t.
“Noted,” Chelan said. “You will be paid.”
“Why is the unit running so slowly?” Bell asked. “That looks to be a completely standard grate it’s building, so I would expect it to be moving much more quickly.”
“You’ve worked with these before?” Yates asked.
“I was seconded for some years to the China Yards.” Bell nodded politely.
“The gravitronic heads are old, so if we tried running them at full speed they’ld lose focus and we’d get a piece of junk instead of a heat transfer grid,” Yates answered. “This is our last working unit, so we treat it with tender loving care.”
“Do I misremember?” Chelan asked. “Shouldn’t there be six of them in working order?”