The Pacifica hurtled through space towards Slayton. Stars drifted lazily across the display, and Lauren checked the time. They were only three hours out from docking, and she still hadn’t received any kind of turnover from the previous Diplomat.

She checked her comm again. No updates. She opened one of her Diplomatic Corps manuals and started reading about initiation rites for the second branch of the Troika separatist faction.

It was a basic summary, and she knew all of it by heart: that they had their roots in the Bratva of pre-Cataclysm Russia, that they took nicknames when they became official members, and that they consisted of hundreds of families with only notionally similar structures. But having something - anything - to study helped calm her nerves.

She heard heavy footsteps as her bodyguard entered the bridge. Hawthorne’s tactical hardsuit more than doubled his weight in metal and hydraulics, making him the loudest thing on the shuttle. She turned and pushed a mug towards the other seat at the galley table. “I made coffee, but yours got cold.”

Picking up the mug, Hawthorne toasted her. “Lauren Knight, Diplomat of the Terran Consortium. Damn, you grew up fast, kid. Are you ready?”

“As I’ll ever be.”

“Relax,” Hawthorne said, clapping her on the shoulder. “It’s only a temporary position, and the entire Diplomatic Corps is only a call away. Besides, you’ve been training for this for years.”

Taking a deep breath, she nodded. “I’m glad you came.”

“Remember you said that when you get sick of me babysitting you.” Years in Terran Special Forces gave Hawthorne an eternally serious expression, but she saw a hint of a smile. He picked up her empty mug and disappeared into the shuttle’s tiny galley.

Lauren’s comm beeped, and she pulled up the incoming file on her tablet. They’d finally sent the turnover report. She scanned the document quickly, then sighed, letting her tablet clatter onto the desk in front of her.

“You alright?” Hawthorne asked.

“It’s one page.” Lauren looked over her shoulder, and Hawthorne raised an eyebrow. “The turnover from the previous ambassador. The entire thing is a page long.”

Hawthorne chuckled, returning with fresh coffee. “Sounds about right.” He set a mug down in front of her.

“There’s nothing right about this. The Corps sent me because I specialized in Troika history and culture, and everything we know about the local Troika fits on one line. For the local leader - if he even is their Pakhan, he’s only listed as a Point of Contact - there’s only a nickname. I’ll be lucky if I can pull up his record from that.”

“It doesn’t make much difference, they’re all criminals -“

“Separatists,” Lauren interrupted. “Over whom we have no jurisdiction, so we have to rely on diplomacy to contain their activities. Which usually takes more than one line of intelligence.”

Hawthorne gave her a dubious look. “Let me see. I can do a lot with one line of intelligence.” Lauren turned the screen to him, and he read over the memo. He sighed. “You’re right. It’s not a lot, but I’d bet you can get all of the information you need by taking that to Slayton security when we dock. They should be tracking Troika activity, even if they can’t intervene.”

Lauren was less optimistic. “I’ll make an appointment with the Security Chief.”

“Look at the bright side,” Hawthorne said. “Maybe no news is good news, and things are actually quiet on Slayton.”