Recording finished, the party headed back toward Tzoltzin’s aircar. Victor Chelan stood in the parking lot, awaiting their return. He wore the classic men’s garb of the last century, tan trousers, shirt and open tunic, high-collared full-length cream dress cape, and a conical hat.
“Senior Inspector,” Chelan said, not bothering to smile, “I gather you have some questions for me?”
“You will not receive me in your office?” Tzoltzin asked.
“Your inspection area is limited to spaceships we are building,” Chelan answered. “Unless you claim I have a starship under my desk?” Good try, he thought, but you do not get to insert spyprobes everywhere.
“Clearly not,” Tzoltzin acknowledged. “However, I have been shown an improbable object, namely a spaceship with no alpha cores, nor any place to put them, and wonder if there is some deception.”
“That’s a legitimate concern,” Chelan answered. “Not tactful, but legitimate. Our current freight haulers are quite old. At some point they will wear out, needing huge amounts of maintenance. One has worn out. Inquiries by past management revealed a galaxy-wide alpha drive core and fusactor shortage, in that they could not buy either alpha cores or high-field fusactors. From anyone. We are therefore building ships – you saw the test bed vessel – that are based only on devices we can build without trespassing on your patent rights.”
“Building ships?” Tzoltzin asked. “More than one?”
“I expect I will be seeing a great deal of you,” Chelan answered. “The number of inspections climbs impressively as the ship becomes larger. Unless you decide to trust us, in which case you could skip most of your during-construction inspections. Of course, trust is a rare and expensive commodity.”