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Standing just beyond the gangway tube into Puller, Riordan double-checked the data that Yiithrii'ah'aash had downloaded to his palmcomp while synopsizing its operational significance. Hearing noise in the access tube, he looked up. Two of the starved-limbed, fireplug-torsoed lemur-Slaasriithi were approaching, followed at some distance by his team.

As the two space-adapted pastorae approached, Caine leaned toward the ambassador. "I didn't think you'd want to risk your personnel on this mission."

"While we prefer to avoid risk, that is not our reason for asking you to perform this task. Rather, success probability is maximized by the innate proficiencies with which your species' evolution has equipped you. These two pastorae are accompanying you in order to ensure that your personnel master the replacement systems with which we have finalized the repairs to your corvette."

"Which systems have you replaced?"

"We only made one entire replacement: the power and drive components. But we suspect your two engineers will readily comprehend our technology. Other partial replacements and upgrades—for instance, those we made to your life support systems—will be less familiar to your technicians. In particular, we use a radically different approach to recycle air and water."

Riordan's flesh cooled suddenly. "I presume you use specially induced biota for that?"

"Of course." The Slaasriithi ambassador studied Caine's face for a second. "Ah. I see. I assure you, there are no microorganisms in those biota other than the ones which will freshen your environmental resources."

"I see." And although I like you, Yiithrii'ah'aash, and even trust you to some degree, I'll let the experts on Earth be the judges of your biological adjustments. "And what about the other damaged systems? I'm guessing you had to replace our avionics and sensor suite."

"We did."

"Great—but how? Our systems use different electric current, different data links and protocols. Or are you using tailored biots to—?"

"No, Caine Riordan. We understand your reluctance to accept any biota from us without complete screening of them. However, it was also illogical to provide you with replacement systems that depend upon biota that you could not restore or regenerate, should they be destroyed or damaged. Our ability to blend our technological systems with your own is a product of our opportunities to familiarize ourselves with your devices, even before your species asked for membership in the Accord."

Further evidence that we were under observation for years before we knew there were other intelligences; I'm not sure how that's supposed to be reassuring, but—

Riordan's team was drawing close, led by Dora, who was securing her palmcomp to a wrist-adapter commonly referred to as a bracer. "Thank you for the explanation, Ambassador," he concluded. "We hope to have completed the mission in half a day, at most."
 
"That would be prudent, Caine Riordan. As you have no doubt surmised, when the stimulants in your body have worn away, you will experience fatigue." Yiithrii'ah'aash moved to depart, then looked back. "Profound fatigue," he emphasized.

"Thank you for the warning, Ambassador, and I—hey, Dora. On this mission, that earbud isn't going to be anything but jewelry."

She slowed as she passed him, her hand stilled where she was affixing the device in question. "Whaddya mean?"

"An earbud means wireless. Wireless means signals. And our mission requires we run silent and undetected as long as we can."

She scoffed. "Hell, the RF signature coming from our bridge controls will be putting out more EM junk than our portable commo."

"Yes, but we can't run the ship without the controls. So regardless of how convenient wearables are, they come with a signature—and any unnecessary signature could be the difference between us getting spotted or not."

She started toward the airlock. "Huh. So, any idea what we're up against?"

"Not much, but I'll share it as soon as everyone is on board and squared away."

Dora left with a nod, Flight Officer Karam Tsaami right behind her. As usual.

"We'll be working in duty suits," Riordan called after his pilot. "And we'll need to fit them with EVA liners."

"I'm on it," Karam shouted back, detouring to the ship's locker.

"While you're there, see if we still have the pony tanks for extended ops."

Karam's reply was muffled by the dogleg in the corridor down which he had turned. "They're still on board, Boss. Locker is fully stocked."
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