Nikova spent his first day in Throckton wandering the streets. He tried to note traffic volume, construction trends, and anything else Ambassador Huntington might find useful.
He had a generous daily stipend. Breakfast consisted of a meat-filled pastry from a street vendor, washed down with a cup of coffee. Nikova did not have high hopes, but was pleasantly surprised at how good both were.
He found that more and more technological items were coming in every day to Halcyon, and the local economy adjusted accordingly.
New ground vehicles were in place, darting about on the streets. Some of these models were imported from as far away as Diego. But, they were expensive.
On the other hand, horses and wagons were still in use as they evidently had been before the Alliance. But, since they were slower the cost to use them plummeted. Thus, he could easily hitch a ride in a taxi, or even one of half a dozen flying autocabs that circled the city looking for fares. Or, for only a few credits he could rent out his own horse and carriage all day, complete with a driver.
He opted for the latter, deciding he would get an aerial look at the city later. Besides, he thought, where else in the galaxy could he go all seriously retro like this? It reminded him somewhat of the medieval renaissance festivals he had attended as a college student. Or maybe one of the online games set in the past.
So, he wandered the streets taking notes from his little buggy. It was quite enjoyable, until the horse had to use the toilet.
He turned and looked out the back window and watched a sanitary bot rush out and remove the equine waste from the street.
To Nikova, watching the modern bot clean up horse apples epitomized the planet’s synthesis of old and new.
“That’s going in the report, for sure,” he said out loud.
The driver asked him where he would like to stop for lunch.
“What’s your recommendation?”
“I think you’ll like Mama Sicily’s. They’re good for out-of-town guests.”
Half an hour later, sitting over a plate of stigghiola, he wondered why the wait staff watched him curiously.
In the mood for culinary adventure, he had asked for an exotic dish, or at least something he had never heard of before. They obliged, and waited in curiosity to see how he liked it.
He shrugged and dug in, chewing on a meaty bite gingerly.
“Hm. Not bad. Tasty.”
He swallowed and had another bite. Everybody smiled, so he presumed his approval mattered to them.
It was only when he finished and the waiter (a human, he noted, not an android) came to take the plate away that he bothered to ask what kind of meat was used in the recipe.
The man smiled politely and said, “Lamb guts. It’s a traditional dish.”
Well, he thought, at least it had a good taste. But, I’ll probably try something different next time.
By his third day, Nikova felt he had seen everything there was to see in Throckton. There was not much, really. He started running low on new data to send back in his daily reports.
It was a growing city, with infrastructure constantly expanding thanks to a steady influx of imports from Lute.
The electric grid had been recently upgraded, and buildings were being erected faster thanks to a recent shipment of construction bots which were much more efficient than human workers.
LuteNet had a strong presence in the city, with sensors on many light poles. The citizens were happy to have her, too, having gone the last three years with no AI and without a connection to the quantum matrix.
Perhaps these new resources led to a renewed sense of optimism in the city’s populace. Everywhere Nikova walked, people flashed smiles at him. Men tipped their hats and ladies said, “How do you do?”
Nikova felt like he must be on the set of holo, one in which he was the unsuspecting mark. Why was everybody this happy? It seemed odd to the spy. Nobody was like this back home. People were not even this polite on Lute.
Optimism was in the air. They had wrested away from the League, and now they were helping start the Alliance! They would tell you that, too.
He stopped in a pub to have a beer and see what the locals were discussing. When they found he was from off planet, he gathered a small crowd. Everybody wanted to talk about the new Alliance.
“We’re not much to look at now, and Lute has years head start on us, bub. But I tell ya what . . .” The speaker paused to quaff the remainder of his lager. “We’ll give Lute a run for the money in a decade or two!”
The men and women in the group all nodded, sipping thoughtfully at their own drinks.
A woman said, “We can provide some stuff. Exports and such. I don’t know what yet, but we’ll find something.”
The man sitting next to her, her husband judging by their matching rings, said, “Shoot, Lute don’t have much to offer other than poshbird. It’s them pirates what brings in most of the gold to Lute.”
To this, Nikova could only agree.
“What we have to offer,” his wife said, “is wide open spaces and freedom. We should be getting folks wanting to immigrate here. They could stake a claim, search for gold.”
Nikova said, “Gold?”
Everyone in the group nodded. Then they started sharing stories . . .
“Mah brother-in-law spent two weeks on a claim out at Wallisville. Two weeks, mind ya! Came back richer than Croesus. Had enough to open his own bakery here in Throckton without getting a loan, anyways.”
“I spent some time out there myself. Three months with a group in Darcy’s mines up in the mountains. I wouldn’t call myself rich, but let’s just say I added to my funds on deposit at the Galactic Bank branch here.”
“I have family out in Wallisville. If my boss chews me out one more time . . . just one more time . . . I’m going to get on the train and join them. I’ll do it, too!”
Late that evening, Nikova headed back to his nearby hotel a little drunk and unsteady on his feet.
But his mind lit up with thoughts of gold as he stumbled up to his room.