“I also have important messages which have apparently been going unread,” said Dr. Robert B. Strasser, the Fancy Rat‘s sole passenger (and cargo handler third class for the duration of the voyage).

“Look, I’m sorry about that,” Jai said. “I promise, I’ve just been busy and under a lot of stress. I’ll get back to everyone in good time.”

“Be that as it may, the information is of crucial importance,” said Strasser. A computer scientist of some kind, he was nominally in charge of the data dump that the Fancy Rat was carrying–exobytes of network data to bring the Umbrielites up to speed on everything that had happened on the nets. It was faster and cheaper to load it into physical storage, since transmitting it to the Verge would have taken a century and exowatts of broadcasting power without a relay system. No one was likely to do that, and least of all for the Umbrielites.

“If it’s about Taos, don’t worry,” said Jai. “He’s working fine.” Rather than paying the going rate, Strasser had gotten himself a discount by installing the artificial intelligence. It was an excellent deal, as Taos was a top-of-the-line model capable of navigation and automation in addition to his sparkling personality. Most Diocletian-class cargo scouts shipped with a glorified autopilot.

“Yes, I sent you explicit instructions regarding Taos during the data transfer.” Strasser, an older man whose pale bald head often shone with perspiration, squinted at Jai through eyes both rheumy and Teutonic. “Please read them. It’s absolutely essential that you follow those protocols and not connect Taos to the Umbrielites’ primary network.”

“Fine, fine,” said Jai, waving his hands. “I get it. Understood.”

“And there’s the cargo manifests, too,” said Curnow. “We need those notarized and then we have to do a visual inspection to check for damage.”

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