Two weeks later, three Frumpkins and their Kachavaha attorney sat facing Victor Chelan and three of his top lieutenants. Frumpkins were short, wide, and pale of skin. They wore intricate polychrome multilayer garments that reminded Chelan of the Japanese junihitoe style, though the cuts were clearly far more practical for sophonts expecting to advance under their own power without several attendants picking up the trailing robes. The Frumpkins were given an extended tour of the facility. They had been fascinated, while their attorney worked heroically to mask his boredom.
“And so,” Victor said, “I was happy to give you an informal visit, so you could see our operations.”
“You have been most kind.” Treemuhr Radspeth said. Radspeth was the senior of the three Frumpkins. “In most cases, companies involved in your sort of activity attempt to mask what they’re doing, so that if we visit we see many flashing lights and pretty mirrors, but never actually see the facilities where any of our tools might be in use. You were just the opposite. Realistically, though, as I remarked earlier today, our contact with you was more anticipatory than retrospective. We understand that you are considering building spaceships of your own. However, your country lacks orbfab systems, so you must be planning on building an orbfab first, meaning that you will have extensive need for tools that can be used effectively in vacuum in zero gee by any of the wide range of species you will be employing.”
Elaine Bell smiled. She hoped that Radspeth and colleagues understood her facial moves. “It’s hardly a secret that people have urged us to build spaceships,” she said. “On one hand, our current ships have been severely ill-used and at the minimum are going to need very extensive yard time. That effort currently consumes all of our resources. On the other hand, the Anglic Union press is extremely good at searching out proof of conspiracies as to what interesting people are doing, interesting people like Victor here, whether or not the conspiracy existed in the first place. It was then not difficult for them come up with the belief that we must be planning to build spaceships. It’s certainly an interesting idea, but not one that is currently on our plate.”
“Thank you for clarifying that your inquiries were anticipatory,” Tara Broadhurst said. Her legal antennae, deep in our subconscious, were all aquiver. The letters from Kachavaha certainly had not sounded anticipatory. When she’d requested adequate files so Bulger Holdings could check whether or not they were violating any IP rights, she’d received the files, not a responder that the legal interest of the Frumpkins was what Bulger might be doing in the future, but as a responder to what had done in the past.
“But why do you think were planning to build anything in a zero-gee vacuum?” Elaine asked. “I suppose you could pump out the air from the graving dock you saw, put all of the workers into vacuum suits, install grav generators sufficient to ensure that inside the graving dock there was no gravity, but that seems to be an extremely expensive way to inconvenience yourself.”
“Surely it is well known,” attorney Maarshak Kachavaha said, “that the only efficient way to build spaceships is in orbit around the earth or some asteroid. You are preparing to build ships, therefore it is inevitably and certainly the case that you are preparing to build an orbfab, an orbital fabrication facility. In order to do that, you need a wide variety of tools fit for vacuum, and of course you are going to need to be hiring a large number of different species from the Republic to do various aspects of your work for you.”