The day was warm and humid, even with the morning sun not that far off the horizon. Two centuries ago, Elaine Bell thought, that Pacific current offshore would have been a cold current, so Humbold Bay ran twenty degrees colder than it does now. The ocean was then cold, not semitropical. It wasn’t so hot that she was sweating, though she would be happier when she moved to an air-conditioned work space.
*Inspector Tzoltzin’s aircar is entering its final approach.* The voice in her ear was the only-occasionally-manned Bulger Flight Control Center. Soon enough, she felt in her bones the hum of a vehicle landing on its alpha drive core. Showy, she thought. Emphasizes the Stellar Republic’s superiority over us primitive natives. A large area on one parking lot had been marked off with luminous cones. The air car settled to the ground very close to the center of its landing area.
The hum faded as the aircar’s drives powered down. As they stopped, she marched across the tarmac toward a remarkably large vehicle, all painted in Republic orange. More like an armoured combat support vehicle, Bell thought; it would appear to be overkill for transporting a somewhat junior embassy official across a continent at peace. A side hatch opened. Broad stairs, wide enough for two people to walk abreast, swung down.
A young man, tall, well-muscled, in the dress uniform of the Stellar Republic’s embassy guards, walked down the stairs and stood to the side. Long sleeves, Bell thought, really dark grey bottom and top, gold stripes on the trousers, no hat…this fellow will be uncomfortable if he has to stand in the sun for very long. And Junior Lieutenant’s stripes. Someone does not think much of the Senior Inspector. After a few moments the batrachian visage of Senior Inspector Tzoltzin appeared at the hatch. The inspector was a Creztailian, very far from home across the galaxy, interacting with space aliens – us, she corrected – with strange customs and habits. Creztailians were armored mammals, much of their bodies being parked behind bony plates. He was undoubtedly also staunchly loyal to the Stellar Republic and its interpretation of intellectual property laws.
“Lieutenant,” she said, nodding politely. “I’m Elaine Bell, here to meet the Senior Inspector.”
“I am Lieutenant Tashiro Junichiro, Junior Lieutenant Tashiro if we are being formal. I am here as the Senior Inspector’s Adjutant and shield from strange local customs.”
“Understood.” Bell smiled. “I’ll try to make sure no strange customs are exposed.”
The Senior Inspector waddled across the tarmac. Bell turned to face him, hands forward, palms up. That was supposed to be the polite formal greeting for a Creztailian, a greeting he returned.
“Tzoltzin,” He announced.
“Bell,” she responded.
“I expected to meet here Victor Chelan as person in command of this facility,” Tzoltzin announced. “Where is he? For that matter, where is my Honor Guard?”