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The Kaax Station

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Jordan Rattan stood in the Kaax station and looked for signs of robot compliance violations. It was noisy inside: the constant buzz of a bustling, interstellar marketplace, and conversations in clucking, alien tongues. Most of the aliens here were the bird-like Kaax: tall, feathered creatures twice as wide a human and a foot taller. The station was a massive, sprawling structure with chaotic architecture. It looked as though metal beams, girders, and walkways had been haphazardly flung together to fill the inside of a stadium. There were multiple levels with metal grate floors, allowing visibility straight through to other sections. There were no doors; everything was part of the same, open space. Instead of stairs there were long, widely spaced poles. The Kaax gracefully climbed up and down these walkways, gripping the poles with three-fingered bird feet. In other areas, pod-lifts had been installed for the accessibility of alien species.

Jordan's security detail, the Alliance officers Derek and Nick, stood by his side. Just in front of them, their Kaax guide, Ocepaxarel, waited patiently. The bird creature stood two heads taller than Jordan. Its beaked face rested high above its shoulders on a long hairless neck that resembled a thick, rigid worm. The alien's vestigial wings ended in clawed digits that presently fumbled with the translation device on its chest. "Will that be all then?" Ocepaxarel clucked at them, his words translated automatically.

"No," Jordan answered. He looked off into the distance, squinting. Movement near a Kaax vendor had caught his attention. "Over there." He nodded. "Let's go." Jordan walked briskly, making his way through the crowd of feathered Kaax. They clucked as he forced his way past their large, feathered bodies. Nick and Derek followed behind, and with them their Kaax attendant, Ocepaxarel.

"There." Jordan pointed at a metallic object just as it began floating into the air. It was a small spherical device, no larger than a human head, its surface dotted with clear circular panels and small metallic protrustions. It hovered for a moment in the air, then sped off towards an upper level, curving gracefully through the air. "What is that?" Jordan asked.

"It's merely a cleaning unit," Ocepaxarel clucked.

"Bring it down here," Jordan ordered.

"I cannot."

"Why?" Jordan looked down from the object to Ocepaxarel. "Is it automated?"

"No. It is remotely controlled. I simply do not have access to the control mechanism."

"If it's not automated, then someone nearby is controlling it. I'm ordering you to bring it down here right now."

"Is this disruption really necessary?"

"If you don't get that thing down here, I'll report it as a violation of the Neutrality Act. We do have the authority to levy a fine."

Ocepaxarel stared down at Jordan, then off to the side. It used its stubby wing to press a button on the communication device draped onto its chest. "Ocepaxarel to station manager. Our guests from the Sol Federation are requesting to examine a cleaning unit, in order to verify that it is remotely controlled." Ocepaxarel clicked another button and waited. An untranslated bird voice returned through the communicator. With the Kaax on the other side of the communicator, Ocepaxarel exchanged a series of clucks and chirps. As they spoke, Jordan watched the cleaning device. It was now two levels above him, drifting slowly underneath one of the metal girders, shining a beam of energy onto the surface as it moved along. Jordan looked further above and spotted another of the devices; far off in the distance he saw a third.

Ocepaxarel pressed the communicator button and looked down to Jordan. "The technician will bring the cleaning unit down for your inspection."

Jordan kept his eyes up, watching as one of the spherical devices hovered out into the open air, then sped down towards them. It settled at their feet with a gentle ping on the metallic girder. Jordan knelt onto one knee and pulled a small kit out of his pocket, retrieving a pen-like object from inside then placing the kit onto the ground by his knee. He pointed the pen at a seam in the device and clicked a button, and a bright green beam of light fired from the tip. Jordan ran the beam along the seam on the device, rotating the ball with his other hand, slowly making his way around.

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