Just outside of the landing bay, a marine in a gleaming suit of power armor stands guard over two nice little potted trees and the Umojan Protectorate Exostation Consular Office. Lilly admires the advanced-looking military equipment for a moment. She is not sure whether it actually operates differently, but it certainly looks cleaner and better-kept than the Dominion and Raider power armor she has seen. Lilly follows Imogen inside, where a well-sculpted face and torso attached to an array of wires and cables greets them. Li June had something sort of like this, though it was a relic of the Confederacy and therefore far less advanced. This small room is Umoja, after all, where everything is fancy and built better.
“Welcome to the Consular Office. How may I be of assistance?”
Imogen looks at the enormous fee schedule on the monitor behind the adjutant, trying to determine what sort of costs they will be facing, but it flickers through all the options too quickly, mixing displays of prices with advertisements for nature preserves to visit down on the surface. The adjutant’s blank eyes focus on her as she steps in closer to try to read the monitors better. “How may I be of assistance, Citizen Imogen Owendoher and associate?”
“I’d like to know what the current rate is for visas for non-Umojan-citizens,” Imogen tells it.
“That depends on your person and the purpose of their visit. Is your associate here the non-Umojan-citizen who requires a visa?” At Imogen’s confirmation, the adjutant reorients toward Lilly. “Please identify yourself so we can begin the visa application process.”
Lilly has never personally interacted with one of these AI things before. She pulls out her Dominion ID and holds it out. A little scanner emerges from among all the wires and tubes, reads the card, and makes an unhappy noise. For a moment, Lilly thinks it is going to call her out on the forged ID, but the problem turns out to be the current economic blockade that the Dominion is imposing upon Umoja.
“She’s not here for any sort of business,” Imogen says.
“What is the purpose of your visit then, Lilly Washington?”
I should’ve asked Imogen some questions about what we’re doing here, Lilly reflects. Her answer, though, is concise as ever. “Visiting.”
“Visiting.” The adjutant pauses a moment. “Thanks for telling me that. Can you help me understand a little better what or who are you visiting? And for how long are you visiting?”
“I’m traveling with Imogen. Whoever she needs to visit,” Lilly answers.
“You’re traveling with a citizen. Are you two together?”
Lilly nods. We’re both right here, aren’t we?
“Lilly is my bodyguard,” Imogen pipes up, hoping to speed this along. However, this just sends them down another bureaucratic hole. Bodyguard itself is acceptable, but of course Lilly does not have a bodyguard certification from anywhere. The adjutant insists one is necessary so that poor gullible citizens like Imogen will not be swindled.
“To enter on a bodyguard visa, you do require a bodyguard certification,” the adjutant reiterates.
“What about just as a friend?” Lilly asks.
“Are you here as a tourist, then? You said not business, earlier.”
That seems to have done the trick. Imogen tells the adjutant that they do not know how long their stay will be. It runs some quick calculations and states, “Lilly Washington, we can offer an initial one-week visa to the Umojan Protectorate for fifty credits, as your record appears to be clean and you are no longer a member of the Dominion military.”
Imogen raises an eyebrow at the adjutant knowing that, but a quick glance at the ID in Lilly’s hand reveals her military status as honorably discharged.
Of course it’s clean, Lilly thinks, the ID is fake. I made it that way. What she says, though, is, “Done!” She hands over the fifty credits, and after a bit of whirring, she has a one-week visa with some of the same information from her Dominion ID. The visa has a fresh picture of her, one that must have been snapped in the last few moments when she was not really paying attention.
The adjutant thanks them for visiting and encourages them to check out one of the nature preserves, as their schedule allows. Imogen inquires about shuttle service between the exostation and Umoja. Round-trip fees are twenty-five credits, which does not sound too bad, but the adjutant emphasizes that this is not a service of the Umojan government, and though it can share rates, it cannot endorse the activity.
“What else is available on this facility?” Imogen asks.
“On the exostation you can see what life is like outside the Umojan Protectorate. It is dirty and grimy. We caution visitors that there is occasional crime. We recommend only short visits to the exostation and only if you absolutely have to stop.” As far as businesses go, it reports that Remí’s Rapid Repairs is on level three, Silver Ship Maintenance on level two, and We Hate Umoja Repairs & Security on level four. The shuttle service is on their current level, two, on the far side of the landing bay. The screen behind the adjutant then fills with basic food providers, but it flashes through them too quickly for any good possibilities to jump out at Lilly or Imogen. The information display looks really cool, it is just not the most useful interface.
Lilly asks about long-term docking, and the adjutant again cautions them. “You park at this facility at your own risk. It is not maintained by the Umojan Protectorate. We make no guarantees. There are services you can hire to protect your ship. They are of varying quality and reputability.” Gold Star Security is on level one, and this is another one of We Hate Umoja’s services, down on level four. Finally, on level five, there is Shipjackers’ Anonymous.
“That name does not give much confidence to the customer,” Imogen mutters.
She and Lilly step out of the consulate, and Lilly says, “I would like to up the security on the ship if we’re going to leave it here. And I do think we should leave it here.”
Imogen lets out a long breath. “I’d like to at least talk to Remí to see what the options are for fixing it up well enough to get it down on-planet. I don’t like the idea of Snowball being down there. But on the other hand, I also don’t like the idea of not having a getaway plan if—Not that we would need to leave in a hurry!” Imogen assures Lilly. “But we just got freedom of movement. To be dependent upon others’ schedules is less desirable. Well, and maybe we can get Old Red properly sorted while we’re here. And do something about the hull.” Its integrity is still compromised from some rough landings back in the Dominion. “But aye, if we’re leaving the ship and Snowball here, it would be good to find something to make it more secure. So, did you want to see to that while I go talk to Remí or do you want to stay with me?”
Lilly is reluctant to leave her partner without backup in a seedy place like this station. “We can see what kind of guy this Remí is, and maybe he’ll recommend something.” If they are lucky, he might turn out to be someone cool like Rory.
Imogen and Lilly head down the wide corridors toward the lift, eying the various shops along the way. They stop in a convenience store for Lilly to look for candy and powdered drinks. The rack by the cash register has I <3 Umoja merchandise on one side and Umoja Suxx goods on the other. Imogen reflects that Mr. Hill might appreciate the latter, though she herself is not one to acquire knick-knacks for everyone she knows like Lilly is.
Lilly has found a few items that fit the bill of not being carbonated or citrusy. She loads up on dried sweet tea mix, and then for the promised special treat, she also grabs two packets of Power Thirst: The Thirst Quencher. Lilly figures she can give Snowball one now as a reward and save the other for the next time she needs to bribe him. The packaging makes it look like it will help muscle growth, but the ingredients are 99% sugar, with no protein to speak of. She picks up some hard candies, as well.
As the cashier rings up Lilly’s purchases, Imogen advises her to dilute the drinks more than the instructions say when making a batch for Snowball. “I don’t think he needs to consume as much of that stuff as he does. I think he just likes the taste of it. And it will stretch it out longer,” she adds, thinking of their dwindling supply of credits.