Nantais drops you on one tiny ship in a vast and politically messy universe. Its sequel, Nahara, returns to that ship and her crew – but in the meantime, big stuff is going down.
Enter The Ambassador, Book 1.5 of the Non-Compliant Space series. It opens near the end of Nantais, but in an entirely different part of the galaxy. Think of it as the secret entrance to Book 3.
Here’s Part 1. I’ll be sending one part a week to readers every other Wednesday via email. You can sign up for those here or by clicking ye button on ye home page.
Few things were more amusing during a diplomatic mission than its news coverage: inflammatory, weak on detail, and always wrong.
Mazereth, never hard to find in a crowd, had dodged two reporters and not-so-tacitly threatened to murder a third by the time she reached the top level of the concourse on Interstellar Science’s Station 6. She could easily have contributed to the media nonsense with a well-placed charming lie or two, but she wasn’t in the mood. Maz couldn’t avoid being seen at these negotiations, but she could minimize her chances of being noticed.
For the most part.
Reveni weren’t common on this side of registered space, Rehhn even less so. Interstellar Science itself had dispatched its first official mission to Maz’s home system only a month before – and then only a scouter, as if the corporation didn’t take her seriously as a political threat. Not that humans tended to take her seriously as a personal threat, either; Maz possessed the sort of pale skin, piercing blue eyes, and lithe figure that made their pupils dilate, the opposite of fear.
Going unnoticed was too much to hope for. She’d settle for un-indicted.
Maz had opted for the concourse’s gently-sloping ramps over the elevators, all six flights of them, not because the view was worth admiring but because the ramps did at least afford a sense of space. Like every other member corporation in the Kuiper Union, Interstellar Science cut corners on employee pay and ran dangerously rickety ships in order to spend on what really mattered: impressing stakeholders.
Though if Station 6 was the best they could do, Maz didn’t think much of their stakeholders.
The concourse at the heart of S6 offered six stories of shops, anchored by a massive fountain outfitted with a microgravity system that made the water dance in a complicated pattern that was also six stories high. Maz wondered how often it rained on unsuspecting tourists.
Some enterprising designer had turned the top level into a scale model of Atalanta’s Central Park, complete with half-size topiary garden and park benches only large enough for one person. Maz seated herself on one, beside the foliage facsimile of some ridiculously long-necked Earth creature, and flicked the screen on her handheld.
Kolmanbotic is fronting Zhen Dal, the text read.
Not what she’d wanted to hear. The Kolmanbotic was a hivemind; not all of the minds had living bodies. It conducted official business via the handful of bodies it still had. Zhen Dal had been Kolmanbotic for only three years. Once the Kolman’s most revered general, he’d been repurposed for his unusually strong isolationist streak. The Kolmanbotic’s isolationism fluctuated in inverse proportion to the number of battles it had won.
Maz had no doubt Zhen Dal would talk terms, if only to make the Alash Kan go away. But the “peace” part of the peace treaty wasn’t what interested her.
I’ll keep a low profile, she tapped back.
Gage replied so quickly that Maz knew her executive vice president had been sitting on the message. Jack’s there. He wants to take you to dinner.
Maz smiled. Gage had every reason to hate Jack Gliesen. Though whether Gage hated him more for ending their engagement or for forcing her out of her half of Gliesen Reynolds, Maz couldn’t say.
I’ll poison his drink for you, she replied.
Fucking shitworm, Gage answered.
She wouldn’t, of course. Maz never poisoned anyone as long as they were useful to her.
She checked her internal chronometer. 2122, S6 time. Jack ought to make an appearance any moment-
Maz rearranged her face into an expression of delight as she stood. “Jack. How are you.”
Jack Gliesen was handsome in the way only a human with too much money could be.
“Great,” he said. “Flight could have been better. My boys can’t get that hum out of the SR220’s downcycle no matter what they do, it seems.” He leaned in for a kiss.
Maz dodged. “Shall we? I’m starving.”
Jack led her into the restaurant just off the scale-model park, seated her with aplomb, and proceeded to order them both a dish Maz had never heard of and expected to hate.
“Heard you had a little dustup over on Tara Station,” Jack said as their drinks arrived.
She sipped hers to avoid taking the bait. Jack had a way of opening with conversational bombshells phrased as innocent inquiries. It was his favorite mode of attack. Any sign she was rising to the bait, and Maz would be dubbed the “hysterical” one. “Nothing we couldn’t handle.”
“Of course not,” Jack said. “Nothing ever is. Too big for you to handle. My stakeholders would be in fits if I’d spent that much on scab labor, though.”
None of the responses that occurred to Maz offered a tactical advantage, so she sidestepped. “Why did you ask me to dinner, Jack?”
He sprawled in his chair. “Maybe I just missed seeing your lovely face.”
“It’s on the cover of last week’s Interstellar Business.”
“Outstanding.” He emptied his glass, toyed with the rim. “No, I wanted the company. And your take on this whole thing.”
“I don’t trust Viidans any further than I can throw one.” He sat up as a waitdrone approached with their plates, its eight arms bristling. Maz was possessed of a sudden urge to see Jack poke his own eye out on one. “I don’t know how you can stand them.”
“They’re not all cutthroats,” she said.
“I don’t know how you can tell them apart, either.”
She knew he wasn’t asking for a lesson on the nuances of Viidan physiology, so she didn’t offer one. “The Alashkani are going to walk out of here with everything they want,” she said. “They’ll blow Kolmantiga off the map otherwise, and the Kolmanbotic knows it.”
“That’s it? That’s why you’re here?”
Maz tried the fish. Overcooked, a bit dry, but the sauce interested her. “The same reason you are. Business.”
Jack snorted in the way that meant he knew exactly which interests she meant. Of course he did. As Gage had noted, Jack was a shitworm, but he was a sharp one.
Alashkani control over Kolmanti provinces didn’t inevitably imply Alashkani control over Kolmanti shipping interests – unless Alash Kan demanded them as part of the peace agreement. Maz was there to make certain the Alashkani minister demanded them.
She wasn’t particularly concerned about her chances. Alash Kan had privatized all public-interest shipping years ago, and their trade minister was an old friend.
As if sensing the drift of Maz’s thoughts, Jack said, “Still, if it’s all going to fold up the way you say, why the heavy hitter?”
Both Geral and Zhev Dal boasted formidable lists of military victories and a certain reputation for ruthlessness, but neither brought those particular traits to the negotiating table. She knew who he meant. “The ambassador.”