I’m also fairly sure that decorative plants don’t give people “the frond” when someone cuts in front of them on the way out the door. Being no authority on rude galactic gestures, I might not have noticed, but the Xiniti implant was.
Marcus laughed as the door shut and the train silently pulled away from the station. “I wonder what it thinks of vegetarians?”
“I’m not going to ask it,” I said and looked out the window. While the train traveled inside closed walls that made it feel like a subway sometimes, it flew above the commercial areas. Wide open streets with shops, restaurants and offices lay below us—at least for a while. Then we started moving up, passing through levels. There were more levels that could pass as a futuristic downtown, but there were also levels that passed as factory and warehouse districts. There we passed over streets choked with floating packages and nothing I recognized as a living being.
We didn’t stop, but we passed railway stations that were filled with cargo—huge boxes floating in lines, waiting for the next cargo train. Soon, we were out of that asteroid, traveling through one of the struts we’d seen while flying in and able to look out the window at space, the asteroids and the asteroids’ connecting infrastructure.
I’d done searches on the sort of shop I needed and it was on one of the inner asteroids. We passed through several more asteroids on the way. One appeared to be devoted to growing food. Several levels were different sorts of alien food crops as well as recognizable Earth crops. I saw wheat and corn. One asteroid had been set aside for a race that needed chlorine in their atmosphere. They were red, bulky and covered with a thin layer of slime.
Finally we reached our destination K’Tepolu Two (the second main asteroid). We got off the main train and took a smaller train line that was limited to traveling up and down one street on one level of the asteroid.
This level of the K’Tepolu Two had a high enough ceiling that the line ran above the street. We took a lift down to the main level. “Lifts” were essentially square shaped platforms that moved up and down. I assumed that they had some way to prevent people from falling off or scraping themselves against the wall around the lift, but if that was true, it was invisible.
The lift reached the street without a sound and Marcus asked, “So where are we going?”
Walking down the sidewalk and into a walkway that led through the line of shops to the next street, I said, “A shop, but a specialty shop where I can make what I need if they don’t have it.”
He nodded and we followed the walkway across three more streets. None of these had train lines. Train lines ran down every six streets, making the third and fourth streets the ones with the cheapest rent.
It felt like it.
The streets weren’t empty, but there were less creatures and more gravity sleds carrying cargo. As with every street on this level, the shops reached from the street to the ceiling two stories up. On the main streets, facades made each shop different whether it was architectural styles or color. Here, facades were rare. Most shops looked like the material they’d been shaped from—a nickel-iron asteroid. Like the streets, they were silver/gray. Sometimes the name of the shop had been carved in the metal. Most of the time, a full color sign glowed in the air with nothing visibly holding it.
Marcus looked around the streets. “You know, this place feels like some of the not very nice sections of Chicago. How close are we?”
I stepped around a tiger-like creature that lay across half the sidewalk. One of its tendrils clutched a bottle. I said, “A quarter of a mile. The shop’s called ‘Tinkers’.”
“Tinkers?” Marcus’ expression went slack. Then he pointed, “Down there?”
I followed the direction of hand. He’d asked his implant and he was right. My implant confirmed it, spelling out “Tinkers” in the air and drawing a line that pointed at the building.
It didn’t take long to get there and except for nearly being run down by one of those floating package carriers, it was uneventful. Apparently we should have registered our intention to cross with our implant and it would have relayed it to the traffic system. That’s what a synthetic voice from the package carrier shouted at us anyway.
Marcus looked back as it sped away. “We just got chewed out by an AI. That’s so weird.” Then he pointed further down the street. “Did you notice that art supplies shop? I wonder how art is different here?”
I noticed the shop and my implant called up lists of what they sold, reviews and ratings for the store. “You can go down there if you want. I’ll probably be here for a while.”
“I’d like that,” he said. “I’ll pick up food on the way back. There are a couple restaurants around here.” He started walking away and then stopped. “You’re sure you’re okay with it? I’m supposed to be backing you up.”
“No problem,” I said, checking the crime statistics for the area. They weren’t any worse than the main roads on either side.
He left and I walked up to “Tinkers.” The reviews my implant showed me about the place described it was almost as much a movement as a shop. Owned by a human named Kee Oataki, it’s purpose was to encourage innovation—which was why it rented space for modifying equipment in addition to simply selling it.
Like many of the shops on the street, Tinkers had no facade over the nickel-iron storefront. Unlike any of the others, they’d melted words related to Tinker and creation in multiple languages all over the front. My implant recognized the words and translated them, noting the original language.
I stepped inside. It wasn’t a big shop and I wasn’t completely sure I would have recognized it as a shop if I were at home. Machines filled most of the room and there weren’t any shelves with stocked items. My implant informed me that the machines would fabricate standard equipment by default and that it could show me the controls to modify the rest.
A woman stepped out from behind the equipment. “I’m Kee Oataki. What are you here for?”
She had short, straight black hair, brown skin and wore a blue and brown jumpsuit that according to the implant worked as spacesuit as well as work clothes. I guessed that she might be in her early forties.
I pulled out the bag I’d been carrying. It held the parts I had to replace. “I need to replace parts for my ship’s near-space drive. They’re slightly non-standard.”
She nodded and started asking questions. The first was, “What size is your ship?”
I told her, “It’s about one hundred tons.”
She picked up one of the pieces and started to inspect it. “That’s ridiculously over engineered for a one hundred ton ship.” Then she added, “But it’s clearly worn and needs replacement. What have you been doing with the drive?”
I considered lying, but I needed her help. I knew as much about the ship’s components as Grandpa had bothered to document. I knew the basics of how each drive worked and what I could do with them, but I wasn’t an expert.
“It’s an experimental drive,” I began and explained about the modified power plant and the near-space drive that Grandpa had modified to a point that it could now handle jump and blink space.
Her eyes widened as I explained. “You weren’t exaggerating about it being experimental. Let’s see what we can do.”
Sometimes you’ve got no choice but to trust.