Friday, December 12, 2008

The M-5 - Chapter 10

Chapter 10

The Cultural Specialist performed the same maneuver that others of his kind had done, and flipped the shuttlecraft end for end and rotated it to give it a soft landing on the shuttle deck of the USS Grant. Lt. Miyaka, Ensign Raelyn and Lt. Commander Duvale were there, the last necessary to activate the lock-down procedures at the Jupiter system tractor base, and that the pirates were secure in the brig. All of the pirate crew left there were healthy, had access to meals via the replicator, sanitary facilities and the standard fare of entertainment programming. Lt. Commander Duvale did make sure that each of the men was isolated, while Captain Hampton sent a full report from the Grant to the station which had a more powerful comms system for the old LASNAVNET than did the Grant.

After sending the message Captain Hampton would wait for his crew to secure the detainees. Also he was obliged to open up comms time to Enid, Enak and any of the civilian members of his crew. Enak Varda had a number of messages that he had recorded to go out to the Andorian Embassy, Star Fleet Counsel, Daystrom Industries, and personal messages to his family. Each of the members of Enid's team had similar, of course, while Enid had a huge backlog of messages waiting for her from a wide array of individuals, groups, and her family.

She happened to be on the bridge, at the science station, when the downloads came, and the amount for her dwarfed what Lothar and everyone else was getting, which was one or two messages, and only the one from his wife had a top priority in his book. All the outgoing messages were already sent, but Enid was still getting incoming information.

"Full database update for the M-5 project and L'Tira has closed out the project side of it, and we only have assessment left. At this rate it will take a couple of hours to fully transfer, and its up to you, Lothar, if you want to stay here for that."

Lothar checked the chronometer.

"Well, Enid, I would like to wait for SFC to get back to me on this, so that I know someone will be here in a few days to pick up the pirates and take the remains of the Ara in for examination. Heh. That will probably go to the Museum as the fastest place to get it done, and while Grace did get a promotion, she wasn't transferred to the Grant. So now I am the cause of her increased workload! That will take at least an hour and possibly two if we have to wait for a second go-around on messages. I did make it clear I would not sit here waiting for messages, though, as we still have a potential hostile in system and really should be doing a patrol a bit further out to see if Ruzar is trying to get away."

She nodded, looking at the messages, scanning through them and the automated summaries on each.

"Hmmm... L'Tira is reminding the 5 that they actually did agree to let the Gorns have M-5 technology. There are a few in the INTEL group that want it classified and are trying to go around the Fleet DD. They, apparently, don't remember who works on their budgets. Still, hard to believe the mentality."

Lothar shrugged, as he had been sub-vocalizing a message for his wife and children.

"Nah, its not that surprising at all, Enid," said Theresa Kul from the Tactical Station, "They tried to hide the results of the first go-around for M-5 and now they want to try and keep the technology from being released? Doesn't surprise me at all. Same mentality, different cadre."

Enid continued on through her downloads.

"Karl is getting the manufacturing group together, looks forward to meeting with Alex and Roger, hopes they don't mind long stints at SFC and SFHQ... as if! Hmmmm... Gorns are putting in for a manufacturing agreement with us, too, and would like to provide a facility for production and research. That ought to go well with T'Sau! Who is leading the charge for understanding between Gorns and the Federation? Engineers!! T'Sau really should have a better technical staff...."

Lothar checked on his messages after sending one off to his family.

"Enid, you aren't publishing on how to make those ship killer rounds, are you?"

She looked up at him.

"Yes, I am, Lothar. Agreement with the Heavy and Hand Weapons groups at the Museum, technical backing by Daystrom Industries, field test by same."

Lothar looked at her and nodded.

"Fleet INTEL wants to quash that, too."

Enid smirked.

"Let 'em try. I already handed the technical designs over to Daystrom Industries, plus have a side agreement with the Gorns on it. Isn't that so, Weapons Specialist?"

The Gorn in the Helmsman's seat for running sensors nodded.

"That is so, Enid Daystrom. Such ordnance is less effective against our ship types than that of the Federation, Romulan, Klingon or other major starfaring civilizations. None can be wholly immune to them. While they will not be effective against Those Who Swarm, it will prove effective against annoyances from other groups, like the Romulans."

It wasn't easy to get around it, as Enid was using basic physics and principles to do the design work. Still...

"Who will be hosting the paper, beyond Daystrom Industries?" he asked.

"Ahhh... the Journal of Applied Engineering and Cosmology."

Wracking his brain and then going to his personal unit, he hunted down the publication. He started to smile, then chuckle.

"Enid, that Journal is so staid, so dull that it doesn't even put out a full digital digest, just summaries and the only way to get the full articles is to apply for them or pick one up from their distribution networks. Isn't their motto something like 'a pain to archives across the galaxy'?"

Enid had a wide grin on her face.

"That one?!?" said Theresa, "I get it religiously, been a subscriber since the Academy! They have some of the best and strangest stuff... and INTEL wants to try and suppress it?" She burst out laughing.

"Plus I have sealed patents and copyrights on the material, those sent in via Daystrom Industries to Earth, Vulcan, Andoria... the cross-agreement stipulates that they can only be unsealed when the last one is opened, so that makes it... ahhhh... just how long do the Vulcans keep that? After the death of the author plus a century? 130? Something like that. Yeah, anyone can figure them out and make them if they knew exactly what was going on in them. I'll work with M-5V and some good designers to hide that pretty well. The basics are impossible to hide, but the rest of it? Some sort of complicated, only comes together in a certain way under certain conditions sort of affair, plus the non-replicating tags and some of the M-3 ideas added in. By the time I'm done all the ship hunters in the Galaxy will no longer be using transporters to move their equipment, and so will have to move it physically. I'm sure some bright engineer will finally piece all of it together and figure out all the safety features and things that won't work if you disassemble it, and how to get past the scanning resistance.... lots of folks with idle time out there for that sort of thing."

"Enid, by the time someone gets past all of that... well, your patent material will probably be out first..." said Lothar.

She smiled.

"Catching on to my ways, Lothar?"

"Mind if I send that along to SFC via Rafiq? She needs to do some calming of heads in I/CI areas."

"Please do! Needless to say the Fleet and Gorns have exclusive access to this during my lifetime, outside of anyone Daystrom Industries appoints for its use. An elite group of ex-Fleet personnel on ship protection duty for commerce would be a great boon to it, and give the various ship raiders something to think about."

Theresa smiled.

"You just got me the best retirement position in the universe, Enid! I really hated the idea of tours and stuff, I'm just not a touristy type. Plus I'll get to bring along support personnel, no doubt.... mmmmm.... that is solving a bunch of problems for me, personal side, Enid. A lot of ex-Fleet personnel like parts of the job but not all of it, and a number of them like that part and the travel, but not the overhead."

Nodding, Enid went back to her messages, "I had noticed that at the Museum, Theresa."

Enid Daystrom closed up her personal unit, stood up and put her Daystrom Industries jacket on over the old Fleet uniform she still had with her from the Museum.

"I'm off to storage and helping M-5V get everything we have on-board cataloged. Just how many bays did you fill up with old and new junk, Lothar? I've been through five so far and know there are at least three left aft."

He looked at the viewscreen and pursed his lips.

"I don't know, Enid. I never counted, and the Corps left at least two or three bays in the primary hull full of junk during the X-Class upgrade and then another area during the restocking, plus whatever was left lying around by the various researchers and technical contracts that were going on."

Enid was adjusting her tricorder as she got to the turbolift.

"This ship is just too big..."

The doors closed on her sentence.

* * *

M-5V wasn't human, wasn't carbon based, and was a created device.

It knew that. Philosophically that, and recognizing it can think, made it a thinking being. To be able to recognize that one was thinking was, in itself, thinking.

Like all living things it had a body, an incarnation, a physical presence, but that was not limited to a few computational devices but encompassed the broad range of digital and analog devices and derived understanding from same that led it to feel it was inside its body. Instead of mere eyes, it could take in the entire swath of the electromagnetic spectrum available to its sensors. Its touch was from sensing density gradients, the presence of absence of certain materials in space around it and an internal recognition of what these meant. It could hear impinging particles on its hull through various sensors, and the song of moving objects in a gravity field which set up subtle changes in space, although this sense tended to limit it to large objects at a distance and tiny ones close in. Although it had no real sense of smell, it had a cascade of effects from other sensors and their derived analysis which created something akin to it, although very difficult to pin down as no single sensor created it. Further it had a sense of where it was in relation to other objects and a form of 'balance' based on how it felt the ship move and where all of its sensors were.

It had first felt this as M-3, then as M-4 and now this final part of the puzzle, this M-5 added in further complexity, backwards input from analysis and shifting to adjust continually based on what came in and how it analyzed those readings. In truth it could not fully claim that any of its senses were true carbon based analogs, because they weren't. What it could identify, which every life form could understand, is that it could hunger and feel when something was wrong with itself, even if it couldn't identify what that was. Hunger would not drive it like animals, however, it was a deep need of the ship to have hunger and put energy through its systems, but that was met as M-5 could do so and would not risk its fellow Fleet members for that hunger and need. Indeed it had oriented to that and being true to the crew, the Fleet and be a worthy addition to civilization. It knew the history of its lineage, and the shame of it: even with what Richard Daystrom had become and did, there would be that bitter memory with all of the higher M-Units that theirs was a mission to atone for the first of their kind and make good on the promises of Richard Daystrom.

Those things were not hard coded into it, nor any of its sub-units. No edict came down to demand that of the M-Series from anyone on the team that had re-built the dream of Richard Daystrom and gave his technological children a re-birth. That feeling and understanding came through the observation of the M-5 Team at the Museum, and the full archives that Enid Daystrom had opened to M-4 level of understanding. As all the M-Units came to interact with the M-5 Team, they had all gained an understanding of what was being done for them from their own perspective. They saw the dedication of each Team Member and how each contributed to the project and with the M-Units to bring them back and into functioning condition.

And beyond.

With such a wealth of interaction, and now the differences that would show up between M-Unit Webs of thought due to different circumstances, each M-Unit Web would gain its own understanding and deeper appreciation of what had been done: the M-5V on the Grant was different than the M-5V testbed in the Museum. Their thinking existed because of the realm of the uncertain at the lowest levels of physics, and their resultant personalities, outlooks and how they viewed the universe would each be individual in content and extent. Even at very first start-up, very minor differences in the evolutionary code and light quanta transport pools would shift each M-Unit to be slightly different from every other M-Unit and each resultant intelligence slightly different than every other of its kind.

And like many other sentient beings, it had a portion of itself that reacted instinctively to danger and threats. In the case of M-5V it was the basis for and foundation of its higher though capabilities that rested on the platform of M-2V and its SERS capabilities. Even if stripped of the higher M-Units, the M-2V would still be able to protect a ship from the vagaries of space if it was allowed to do so. Its firm guidelines set the tone for all other parts of the M-Series. M-2V formed the basis for emotion and understanding inputs and M-5V could not place that within itself and knew this only from the project records. It felt itself to be a complete being and could, only with difficulty, actually trace down some parts of its thought to other units. It really couldn't pin down where a thought came from, even where it would originate from, because the thinking, to it, happened everywhere and nowhere. That thinking had a place but no specificity, they just arrived through a complex confluence of events.

It did utilize almost all of the automated sub-routines that had been built into the systems on the ship, for the good reason is that is what they did, they functioned in a known way. Almost all of the work dedicated at the lowest level used the full gamut of inputs from all systems and interpreted them, and then the M-2V web started placing weighting and value on them for thought processing. While each layer above that got very little of the raw input, they each learned the feeling of how everything was working and then, like any sentient being, went on to ignore all but the most pressing. Low level problems could take a while to come to the attention of the higher analysis capabilities of the upper units.

Being suddenly awakened by the M-2V sub-routine was a hard wake-up call for M-5V. In looking back it realized that it had been overwhelmed by all that had gone on, all the inputs, all the readings, all the various threats and it had been struggling hard to gain a balance to those, filter them, analyze them, prioritize them and just get to the point where it could, actually, feel as if it could 'wake up' and function. Although the M-2V code was limited, some very deep portion of the entire structure of what was M-5V recognized what it was doing and why, and let that very basic code knit together a very basic set of senses. M-5V could wake up, then, and feel as any sentient who has not gotten enough sleep would: dizzy, groggy, trying to make sense of what had spurred it to wake up.

It took long, long, long minutes to fully realize that M-2V was never made to take a ship into combat and, at best, only defend itself. And of all the threats seen 130 years ago, a boarding of Pirates by shuttle craft, while not unheard of, never did make it into the threat matrix. The second realization was that Enid Daystrom, in seizing the only tool available in the M-2V suite of programs, had done the one thing that would save the USS Grant and M-5V. She had saved the entire M-Series from being forever forgotten, and then went on to save the first individual M-5V in a starship from failing the entire series on its second chance.

The hours spent waiting for messages to and from SFC at the tractor base were not wasted, and that time of little motion M-5V used to re-orient itself and gain back that full feeling of 'rightness' in how things were going on-board. The active warp core was an overwhelmingly good feeling within it: M-5V was no longer hungry and its body started to fully come online. This felt 'good' as the real powered balance of a starship functioning within its capabilities and not lacking anything was a strong, positive feedback. With that and its sensors integrating, M-5V could now review all that had happened since that emergency power-on.

It did so, many times.

Now M-5V got another feeling that humans can definitely identify with: something being wrong and you just can't put your finger on what it is.

Over and over again the M-5V went through that series of records, searching, analyzing and letting all of its sub-units do their jobs. Everything was within standard parameters.

Yet something felt just very, very subtly, wrong. This human equivalent of running through one's memories to try and find something would surprise no human, although there are many that would not expect this behavior from a starship: readings were just readings, right?

The resultant emotion, in humans, would be frustration. M-5V, however, didn't feel that but something more akin to head-scratching of someone putting together something and finding that, having gone through all the directions, nothing fit just as it should. Everything looked ok, should fit fine, but when it came to putting everything together, it was all just enough off so as to not be as what it should be. A watchmaker would take out each piece and examine it for fine grit that may have been left by something else, causing the parts not to fit, and it may not even be the obvious part, so the thing needs to be re-examined. That is what took so long for M-5V, and yet it could come up with nothing out of place. And yet it felt something was.

The crew of the ship and its guests were far more than just that to M-5V. Many had become close friends in their off-hours, and their offers of help going as far back as M-3V carried forward. Kathy Lorimar was not only skilled at her work and now in many fields, but highly evocative in talking with M-5V and all of the previous M-Units that could respond to her. She was the first to talk with the M-Series as individuals and offer empathy to them, and understanding. Although she had left the Fleet, she had continued on with M-5V as if nothing had changed between them, and, in truth, it hadn't and the amount of time she had invested in working with the M-Series at that level was a deep influence to it. She was not like any other team member: not as deep in background as Lothar, not as skilled in cybernetics as Roger, not as able to fit puzzle pieces and ship systems together as Enak, and in no way close to the puissant mentality of Enid Daystrom.

Plus, she was off-shift.

That helped.

* * *

Kathy Lorimar was off shift in her cabin, one that had been set aside in 'Officer Country' in the saucer section of the ship. She had nearly the entire deck to herself, save for the every so often appearance of Theresa, Matthews or Arior checking on some part of the ring phaser system.

As it was, she had decided on a long shirt, robe and slippers from the beginning of Star Fleet, done in dark reds and blues, to sit in one of the older style chairs and help with the technical reports on the M-5 project. She thought she had a lot of work to do in her portion of the project, and only came to understand the true and horrific amount of work and analysis that could be generated by 35 or so people working in tandem from multiple areas of expertise. Even with the help of Roger and Enak, the cybernetics and ship systems integration area were ones she had to slowly go over. Luckily they were doing much the same work and their flags for prior work, definitive texts, and other resources helped Kathy out immensely. Often those sidetracks, along with some placements by the others on the team, had led to enjoyable reading and understanding of how they had come to the conclusions they had. Enid had been a marvel, linking up all of Richard Daystrom's archives, and leaving pointed and somewhat terse notes, that for all of their brevity were insightful.

Just glancing at the reference index per page led Kathy to obscure areas, to her at least, of sciences she had never found interesting. She had been timid going outside her area of expertise before the M-5 project, and she knew that and it limited her in advancing through Star Fleet. Skill in one area was not enough in the sciences, and she had problems actually coming to grips with other subjects. One of the reasons that Mr. Jervis asked her to join the team and introduced her to Enid, was to help her get past that. She attended one of Enid's presentations on the Lascoter, its habits and habitat and was enthralled, even up to the point of seeing one of her team member's recordings of a trail-side ambush and taking Enid by the leg in its mouth. Kathy was horrified at that, and yet Enid went on describing in most accurate terms and with great enthusiasm, just what the characteristics of the Lascoter's bite capabilities were and how its musculature was made up for certain types of prey that humans didn't fit into.

She had laughed at that, even when recognizing the horror she felt for it, Kathy understood what Enid was doing, then, and how she kept her wits about her to save herself. She didn't hesitate with a carnivore weighing 7 tons and didn't hesitate to take up the M-5 project wholeheartedly. Her very candid answer to if she felt afraid when she was attacked was blunt and to the point, and stuck with Kathy.

'I felt fear after that. If I had felt it while it was going on, I wouldn't be here to tell you about it.'

You didn't have to be fearless.

You just couldn't let your fear control you.

So when Enid, Patti and Roger all pointed to the same work by the same individual for how the evolutionary code worked in M-5V for some aspects of it, Kathy Lorimar brought up the text by Raup and Sepkoski, centuries dead, describing the patterns seen in snail shells and the mathematics and materials of those shells and how there were differences between adaptation of features and aptation of using structures that were derived from those features but not a driving force behind them. Kathy Lorimar had never been to the place these two men had been, and it had been lost in WWIII by the tsunami event during that war. Yet they described in painstaking detail shells, habitat, and how those structures served those creatures. Not only was it pertinent to evolutionary algorithms, but it was fun to read, and the math, while simple, was elegant in ways that cosmology rarely is. The common language of math spoke volumes across centuries.

The intercom hailed, and M-5V had changed its tone slightly to let people know it was the one doing the hailing.

"Yes, M-5?"

"If I'm not intruding, Kathy, I have a problem I need help on."

"Not at all, M-5, what is it?" she asked moving the viewscreen slightly aside and dimming the text.

"I have been going over my records and trying to integrate what happened between the emergency power-on Enid did and where we are now, and while my systems are fully integrated, there is a feeling that I have missed something. It may not be major, but there is something at a low level of thought that is not identifying itself to me."

Kathy nodded and took out her personal unit and placed it on the table, setting up its miniature holosystem as she did so.

"Does it feel like something wrong in space, M-5?"

"It is limited to the space around Jupiter, yes, but is not part of the overall charge/discharge cycles going on here. It feels more... particular. Specific, but not limited to a single place."

"Well, this is a busy systems, what with all the moons, moonlets, ring system, sulfur torus, parts of the atmosphere coming off into orbit and then slowing back into Jupiter, and old starships in orbit. That was a surprise to me, when I went over the simulator for the system. Still, it is limited to just the time since that power-on and now?"

There was silence for a moment.

"I'm not sure, Kathy. I was very disoriented by that and some feelings and system integrations from M-4 were not complete until just recently."

"I understand, M-5. I can be pretty groggy before my first cup of coffee in the morning, too. If you would like it, I can take a look at your records on my personal system and see if anything catches my eye. Even though cosmology is pretty large scale, I did have to get to know the region around Jupiter pretty well."

"Thank you, Kathy. I think it is limited to about an hour before the encounter while I was still down for integration, but sensor readings were coming in and being recorded. I will send those down to you for the immediate Jovian system. There will be a slight lapse between my power-off and power-on, with only a few sensors having any continuity during that time."

Kathy was pulling up the display closer to her on the table and then bringing up some of her software for data analysis on another part of it.

"Go right ahead, M-5," she said.

"Sending. If you would like I will sign off to let you do that analysis on your own, Kathy."

Kathy smiled. Even being a pretty gregarious person, she had helped M-5 through some of the basics of humanoid privacy. That was something that, really, no one had a good enough handle on to program for it, so the M-Series had to learn as they went.

"No, I don't need that, thanks M-5. Actually, your participation should help a whole lot. Now, before I run my routines and since you are a part of this, you probably have some structural analysis on some of the Jovian system, and those should be up here, too. You've probably run the cosmology programs, yourself, but may not know some of their limitations and problems. So if you could add those to the display, it should be a good start."

"Yes, Kathy. Sending those and adding them."

Kathy Lorimar watched as the normal depiction of Jupiter was augmented by that of M-5V's analysis. She smiled seeing the staid, mathematical depictions of the tenuous gas areas become slow, roiling clouds. Pieces of the atmosphere, itself, could be seen bubbling up and falling back to the planet. Waves of low level ionic discharges, that culprit in sub-space interference, rippled back and forth, sometimes between those tenuous cloud areas and often between them and Jupiter, itself. The toroidal area of sulfur dioxide in Io's orbit showed bulges and ripples due to gravity, solar wind, impinging gases and the gravity of the other moons.

"You have this all the time, M-5?" she whispered.

"Yes, Kathy."

"I'm jealous, M-5. It is so beautiful... no program we have has ever made Jupiter's system look like this. And you get to see all of space like this... all the time... just so deeply beautiful, M-5. That is why I went into cosmology, because what we saw was so stunning. But this... its like everything is alive, here."

There was a pause as Kathy just looked and started to run the display backwards and forwards in time sequence.

"It is part of how I perceive my environment, Kathy. I cannot claim it is moving to me emotionally, as it is what I experience continually."

Nodding, she smiled.

"I do understand, M-5V, when you see a scenic and beautiful countryside on your way to and from work everyday, it becomes scenery not a beautiful vista. Still, you perceive the universe far differently than we do."

She went back and forth and was hopping over that 5-minute interval, going back and forth again and again. Pressing her eyebrows together she looked at the scene and rotated it as she flipped from one state to another.

"M-5, you have an integrated perception radius from the ship, right?"

"Yes, Kathy, I do."

She nodded.

"Could you put that up with areas of high, moderate, low and no integration? They can adjust as you do, but I want an idea of what you are really perceiving in depth and detail by volume."

The projection added in small shells around the Grant in very light colors going from light green to light blue to light red and then a very faint white that was not a sphere but had protrusions that shifted in time.

"Oh, I hadn't thought that the directional sensors would do that, but they would. Thank you, M-5, this is really amazing just as a readout. Now let me run it through a few times so I can see what you are perceiving..."

M-5 was silent as it perceived Kathy Lorimar at work, her eyes glancing here and there into the scene as it shifted back and forth along the time line, and then she started to rotate it. M-5, for all of its knowledge, could not figure out what she was doing. She brought up some sub-routines from her personal system and a stylus and started to see figures appear next to objects and then removed a large number by what was coming up from her sub-routines. M-5 tracked those and realized it was a sensor analysis suite, used to show objects falling outside of certain, minimal error boundaries. It had an additive function that put those objects getting more than a single sensor type within certain limits within what was acceptable and others not. The Jovian system, for all its complexity, was starting to clear out as moonlets, ships that were only at long range, and those tenuous gas clouds that had not been within easy sensor range faded and winked to a very dark gray. She was left with the major moons, some of the larger moonlets, the tractor base, some of the major and closer minor gas formations some miscellaneous space debris transiting the system and a few of the ships in orbit.

She keyed the intercom.

"Brian? Do you have a moment?"

Brian Duvale spoke up.

"Sure, Kathy, what's going on?"

"I'm running some of M-5V's sensor data as it has an anomaly it can't figure out, and I would like some data on the probably speed capability of the Shrike when last we saw it. It doesn't have to be great, just some basic parameters on what we think they were using for propulsion."

"Sure, Kathy. I did take a look at the hull and damage as last we saw it, so can get you that. It is mostly thrusters, but I assume they have an impulse system proportional to the ship size available, so that can give you a min/max arrangement."

"That would be great, Brian! Thanks!"

"My pleasure, Kathy. Keying it over now."

The display just after the 5-minute gap picked up new parameters that Kathy keyed over to dark yellow and dark blue.

"That's great, Brian. I know its just the spheres, but I had no way to estimate what that ship could do."

"It is a new design, thats for sure. A good design, too, looks to have taken some of the newer ideas from the Romulan designs, but gotten rid of their drawbacks."

Kathy was moving the timeline forward and back, watching the expanding bubbles of the maximum distance the Shrike might have gone, then moved to key in to remove a number of areas based on their proximity to large masses, gas clouds and Jupiter itself.

"Really? How maneuverable would it be for sub-light and thruster work?" Kathy asked.

M-5V was taking this in, seeing how Kathy manipulated the information, removed some things from the display.

"Oh, not much more than, say, an old D7 class Battlecruiser. It looks to be good for its mass and distribution, but it had a number of functions crippled by the attack so that would move it over to something a bit less agile, say, a Federation Heavy Cruiser."

"That's great, Brian! Thank you."

"I hope you find what is bothering M-5V," he said.

"Still looking, but that was a big help. Lorimar, out."

She pressed to close the comm circuit and the Shrike's spheres began to alter as she brought up a late class Federation Heavy Cruiser maneuver routine and put that in. The further in time she advance, the greater those initial changes were smoothed out by all possible changes, but that would no longer be perfectly spherical and with that she took out one more object.

Then it was run back and forth on the timeline. Kathy gazed at the display as it rotated, she shifted in and out over time, especially after the 5-minute interruption. She then keyed in a sequence to remove other objects that would be continuously under M-5 observation and that left a total of three that were discontinuous but within its perception range at single sensor, along with all possible paths of the Shrike. Kathy then brought up the tags for those objects.

"USS Dara, USS Phaeton and USS Journey, a destroyer, light cruiser and old scout class. Now let me invert the distances, get some anomaly readings and see what we have."

M-5V could not, even at its blazingly fast speed, figure out what Kathy Lorimar was doing. For all the capability of the M-Series, humans had grown up in a lethal environment, indeed all life evolves in such an environment and the ability of those brains to sense and analyze danger is acute. Even when trained to take in all sorts of non-natural inputs, that basic ability remains, a gift of a billion years of life forms.

"I think your problem is either with those three ships, or with this energy reading just beyond the normal perception range of most of your sensors, but showing up as a minor gas fluctuation, that then has the limb of Jupiter blocking it off."

Each of those was highlighted. Three had orbits, one had positional placement relative to Jupiter.

"If you have a problem between what you saw and what you see now, then it is the discontinuous or truly abbreviated items that you must be picking up. None of the continuous ones would register well as you would have constant feedback on them and pick up changes. Plus each of them has been dancing at two sensor overlap since the encounter and almost always in the single sensor category, except for the slight gas fluctuation, which has been single since we swung around Jupiter."

"These are items that might have caused me to perceive something but not have definite information on what the problem might be. I hadn't thought to do that," said M-5V.

"You haven't been a Science Officer on a bridge of an active starship, even if it was under a Commander's shift and not the Captain's, it is still a lot of work to keep up with. And every Science Officer does it differently in approach and for each incident. They can only train fundamentals in the Academy, by the time you are through with the two years of analysis courses, you have a toolkit of ways to do things that is particular to you. You know what everything can do, but have a personal preference for how to use them and in what order and why."

That is why a crew is so necessary, M-5V realized, as no purely cybernetic or cyborganic system could do as well with such limited capability. She was trained to do this, had utilized those skills and honed them to her own needs. It remembered that Enid had told it, as M-3V, how important training was and she had been correct then and now. M-5V with all of the tools could not properly discern which was better for a given problem and had tried all of them, until it looked at the exponential growth of how many runs and analyses would have to be done and saw an unending task. Raw speed and computer power could not replace honed skill, and that other drive that it didn't have, that survival skill. It was still just able to coordinate multiple inputs and fuse them to a larger perception, now it had to learn how to use them in turn and why certain ways of viewing were superior to others, even if they were not the most acute of the sensor suite.

"I have much to learn, Kathy. May I share this with the Captain and command crew?"

Kathy smiled.

"Sure! I know we don't really have a S.O. on-board, so I'm glad to help. And if you need a better set of readings on those ships or that cloud, you do need someone to order it since the entire ship has to move and we are currently moving further from each."

"Yes, Kathy. I will see if this is of interest to the Captain."

"Ok," she said smiling, "I'll be doing my reading, let me know if you need anything else."

She swung the screen around and shut her personal system off. By no means was her personal system as good as even an old Heavy Cruiser's capabilities, but it did serve the purpose well enough. Soon she was looking at rates of spiral in snail shells and growth rates and how fast they were deposited. All from an island scoured clean in the 21st century.

* * *

"Captain, I have anomalous sensor readings that I have asked Kathy Lorimar to help me sort out, and she had some help from Brian Duvale. I could not understand why I sensed something out of place and she has helped to place down those things it could be."

Lothar Hampton was in the Bridge, slowly going through the various notes, notices, and getting a longer message ready for his family when M-5V interrupted.

"Really? What did she find?"

"If I may display it, Captain?"

Lothar smiled and nodded.

"Go right ahead. Space Specialist, if you could review the problem and work?"

The Gorn at the Science station turned, "Yes, Captain Lothar Hampton," it said with a series of very low hisses that continued on far after it turned to its own readout systems that had been set up as an adjunct to the main console.

M-5V ran what Kathy Lorimar had done up on the screen and Lothar took a moment to realize it was a replay, but at twice normal speed. Still he could catch the shifts and changes, although some of what Kathy did were beyond him. She was far more skilled at the sensor suite and software routines than he was, and far more able to use them and quickly. What she was doing, however, became obvious: she was discarding all those things that couldn't be a source of trouble then doing a fine-tooth removal based on the Shrike's capabilities, then finally adding in those things that were truly not normal for what was now typical around Jupiter. Brian Duvale at tactical watched, mesmerized.

"She knows my targeting packages better than I do, I think," he whispered.

"Kathy needed the scientific resolution of them, Brian, you aren't used to thinking of them like that. Me neither, when it comes to that," said Lothar.

The Space Specialist had examined the results on the system it had and then started to key in a different set of routines. Being a Gorn it perceived the universe differently than humanoids did. No one could really understand what it was perceiving as its unit would show colors to the side and mass representations on its miniature replicator stage. The Space Specialist did appear very skilled as the displays were shifting, flashing and putting different masses in front of it at a very, very fast rate. While Gorn bodies may not look agile, their minds appeared to be very much so.

"Those objects are the one that I have had under discontinuous observation or are otherwise out of place, according to Kathy, Captain."

"Yes, I see that. Could we get her last run through at something about three times the duration, and then do a close object view for each of the three ships and then one for the gas fluctuation?"

"Yes, Captain."

The main viewscreen shifted back to a slower representation of the original run through, but having only the last, full time sequence up. After that it ran through concentrating on each of the ships and the area of fluctuation.

The Gorn turned for the last sequence and only took in part of its own display.

"There is one other anomaly, Captain Lothar Hampton. Shall I key it in?"

"Yes, Space Specialist, and run it through as best you can with Kathy's."

The Gorn turned and the main viewscreen shifted back to an hour prior to the conflict. The screen had mass density fluctuations, but those were removed and point masses remained.

"Fluctuation readings are not consistent at any time due to the motion and charge distribution in this Jovian system. Point masses are relevant."

The display zoomed out showing masses of the items Kathy had marked plus the general density of the gas area. The display moved forward with those numbers pip'ed to the places involved. They did fluctuate due to the sensor problems, but the mean score remained relatively constant. There was the flash of 5-minutes and then the motions of all the objects as the Grant finally tractored the Ara and lost sensor contact with them. When contact was regained the old readings were on the right and new ones on the left. There were two changes: one to the gas fluctuation cloud which saw a sudden increase in mass along with the energy reading, and the other was with one of the ships.

"That ship lost 3,000 tons in mass!" Lothar exclaimied.

"Yes, Captain Lothar Hampton, that is the USS Phaeton as your records show."

"Yellow Alert," Lothar commanded and keyed the intercom, "All hands, prepare for warp speed maneuvers."

"Lt. Commander Duvale, if you could plot us an intercept course to the USS Phaeton?"

"Yes, Captain, plotting course,"

"Lt. Miyaka, we will need energy for warp maneuvers. Are the mains online and ready?"

He turned in his seat.

"Yes, Captain, the mains are online and fully ready for warp maneuvers."

"Mr. Raelyn, when you have a course, execute at best speed for safe maneuvers in this system."

"Aye-aye, Captain. Preparing for warp speed maneuvers."

"I have a course, Captain."

"Executing the course, Captain," said Ensign Raelyn.

The USS Grant pulled away from the tractor base and the remains of the Ara, curving outwards and away from the base relative to Jupiter before completing the turn and heading across the system.

"Visual, on screen," Lothar commanded.

The main viewscreen showed a tactical view and then shifted to visual and slowly brought their destination into focus.

"That is not a Federation starship of any sort," said Brian Duvale.

"Captain Lothar Hampton, that is the forward hull of the Shrike," said the Space Specialist.

The heavily darkened and damaged side of the Shrike was clearly visible on the screen and that it had been detached from the aft hull was obvious.

"That bastard is stealing a starship!" Lothar said.

"Dear Mother of..." whispered Ensign Raelyn, "just look at the damage."

The USS Grant slowed to pull up next to the dead forward hull of the Shrike.

"Such audacity..." Lothar started and then looked over to the Space Specialist.

"Space Specialist, would the energy reading and mass fluctuation in that attenuated gas cloud account for the rear hull of the Shrike towing a Federation Light Cruiser?"

"At impulse speed, yes Captain Lothar Hampton."

"Red Alert. Begin charging the weapons and get me photon torpedoes in the storage system. Brian, I will want an outward plot using that gas cloud as a starting point for an impulse maneuver taking the Shrike out system, keeping Jupiter between them and where the Grant would be until its orbit swung around to that side of Jupiter again. General search pattern at that point."

"Aye-aye, sir, weapons charging, handing torpedo charge maintenance off to M-5. Plotting a course."

Theresa Kul had arrived to replace Brian at tactical, and Simon Lurva had replaced Lt. Miyaka who shifted to replace Ensign Raelyn.

"Lt. Miyaka, prepare for General Search of the area that Commander Duvale will give you. Commander Kul work with the Space Specialist to find me those ships."

"Aye-aye, Captain," she said, keying up the tactical console, with the Space Specialist putting in coordinating routines.

"We have a course, Captain," said Brian.

"Execute it, Lt. Miyaka,"

"Aye-aye, sir. Executing course at warp 2 and then General Search thereafter."

The USS Grant turned gracefully, even without being well balanced, Lt. Miyaka had simulator time and adjusted will to the ship. The ship increased speed and sped off towards the space near Jupiter.

* * *

"They are nearing the forward hull, Captain," said the Sensor/Helmsman.

"Good. Commander Walsa, is the warp core warmed and ready?"

"Yes, Captain."

"Pilot/Helsman, use thrusters to bring Io between us and the outward bound orbit to the other side of Jupiter. Ensure the mass of Io is between us and the Grant."

"Aye-aye, Captain, tactical thrusters to shield the Phaeton."

"Bring the warp core online, Commander Walsa. Slow surge and increase the cloak as it comes online."

"Yes, Captain, the warp core is now online, powering up."

The Captain keyed the general intercom.

"We will be going into warp speed very soon, and leaving this damned place behind us. General alert. All hands prepared."

He keyed it off.

"Just enough to see them beyond the atmosphere of Io, Captain. Their shields are up, building power, charging weapons..."

"Course when you have it, Sensor/Helmsman."

"Aye-aye, Captain. They are moving. Shifting to warp speed, course to the far side of Jupiter!"

"Commander Walsa, initiate warp power with increased cloak to cover our energy discharge. Pilot/Helmsman, get us out of here keeping Jupiter between us and the Grant along their expected course."

"Yes, Captain, we have full warp power. Warp drive initiating."

"Aye-aye, Captain. The Helm has warp speed and we are leaving best possible speed... initiating warp 1.... warp 2.... warp 3..."

Under cloak and heading into the darkness of space and out of Sol System, Captain Ruzar was glad to get away alive. Jupiter had failed him many times, but this was a mission he would return from. And that, along with what remained of his crew, was most important of all.

* * *

An hour later...

"We have a mass reading and energy discharge, Captain!", Brian said.

Lothar was still gritting his teeth, on edge.

"Hail them, Mr. Matthews."

"Aye, sir, hailing the Shrike."

Seconds went by, turning into a minute.

"No response, Captain."

"I don't blame them. Ruzar has been damned gutsy so far and will play that to the last. Pirates don't surrender. Lt. Commander Kul, what would it take to shake them out of cloak?"

"It won't take much. Dispersed photon torpedo spread, proximity fused. We only need to shake them up enough to get their cloak to drop and we will have him!"

"So ordered, Lt. Commander Kul."

"Aye-aye, Captain. Proximity fused spread, number of torpedoes?"

Lothar sat back.

"Tactical discretion, Lt. Commander Kul."

Theresa Kul smiled, grimly.

"Aye-aye. Firing pattern of five, dispersed for simultaneous detonation. Torpedoes away!"

Theresa Kul knew her job, and well. The photon torpedoes formed a pattern with the aft hull of the Shrike at its center and the dull red spheres detonated with mild shockwaves. The damage, however, tripped off the explosives rigged around the hull and the entire aft hull blew apart as the shockwaves hit it.

"It wasn't supposed to do that..." Thersa murmured.

"Did it take the Phaeton with it?" Lothar asked.

There was a silence on the bridge.

"There is no sign of the Phaeton or wreckage associated with that type and class of ship, Captain Lothar Hampton," said the Space Specialist.

Lothar sat back, thunderstruck.

He gazed at the viewscreen and then smiled. Then laughed.

"That wily,no good, son of a bitch, Ruzar! He sent us on a wild goose chase after a ship he had no more use for! He is good, damned good, I'll give him that. I have never, ever, encountered anything, in any battle report from any starfaring species that had anyone do this. Clever doesn't even begin to cover this."

Theresa Kul couldn't believe it, as she had set the pattern to barely do any damage to what was at the center.

"Rigged the hull to explode on damage. Yup, that is good, Lothar. No one, and I mean this, could have expected that. I was just trying to nudge the impulse engines to hiccup and force the cloak down. No one could have seen through that ruse, Lothar. No one."

M-5V was stunned, as all the masses worked out so very close to perfectly that there was no way to tell if the Phaeton had been in tow or not. It had been working at piercing the cloak, once they found it, but the few seconds between finding the cloaked aft hull and the torpedoes had not been enough to do that. In paying so much attention to that, and the firing set-up, it could not do a further review of mass, charge, and speed. Out of all of that it might have been able to figure out that the Phaeton was not in tow, but it was no sure thing. There was a grudging respect from M-5V, and it acknowledged it had a lot to learn.

"If our sensors read clear of anything strange, then stand down from red alert. We might as well stop at the tractor station and pick up our guests and the remains of the Ara and tow that to the Museum. SFHQ can take it from there."

"Aren't we going to search for the Phaeton, Captain?" asked Lt. Miyaka.

"It is gone, Lt. Miyaka. As sure as I am sitting here, Captain Ruzar took off with that ship in some way I will never figure out. He isn't here. I wouldn't be if I could figure out a way to distract a Federation Heavy Cruiser like this, and he is no slouch. He made good his escape while we were here, looking for an empty hull and a disappeared ship. Brian, get us a course to the base and then the Museum. Commander Lurva, prepare to take the remains of the Ara in tow at warp speed."

"Time to go home."

Of course you can never go home, again.

* * *

When the Grant arrived back at the tractor base, Lothar sent his message to SFC as a final report that Captain Ruzar had escaped the system in the USS Phaeton. This would also be the first full report in which an M-5V system would send its recordings, observations and summary to Star Fleet as part of the permanent records. While other cybernetic beings had done so in the past, none of them had been a starship, and how to integrate those logs, both ship and personal, into the system would take months to work out. Lothar noted that they would be at the Museum as soon as they secured the hull of the Ara for towing at warp speed. This would be one of the last jobs to involve any work by Enid Daystrom on the Grant as it required inspecting some of the hard to get at bracing structures in the secondary hull that were not easily accessible. This time she would have help, in the form of some of the Ensigns and Commander Lurva who would be coordinating that work, and it would not speed up her rate of work significantly. Still, those working with her realized this would most likely be the last time they would work with Enid on anything and were grateful for the opportunity.

With that done and the surrendered pirates moved back to the Grant, the ship broke orbit and headed to the Museum base at warp 3, cutting the transit time down to mere minutes instead of the weeks it would take at impulse speed. No one expected the Grant back so soon, and Captain Bartholomew was quickly making arrangements to secure the Ara and the prisoners. Sub-space interference had made all but point to point transports impossible via the transporter system, but the shuttles available, two at the Museum and the Gorn shuttle, helped in transferring prisoners and exchanging crew. Captain Hampton went with the prisoners to officially transfer them on the Gorn shuttle, and he was only bemused that Enid Daystrom wasn't coming with them. Actually, Enid had already jumped with her basic luggage from the Grant to the Museum, used her access codes to get in, and was already meeting with L'Tira.

The observation deck running around the edge of the Museum had many people clustered to look out on the Grant and what she had brought with her, but the obstruction of the USS Athens meant that the actual air lock Enid had used wasn't clearly seen, nor was the entry lock a level up one that gained any observers, with all of them preferring the more open vista to the rear of that ship.

L'Tira was amongst those, talking animatedly with others, some on the project, most Museum staff that she had come to know in her months there, and no one was looking at the gangway that Enid slid down to get to the deck. As quietly as she could, she made her way behind the onlookers.

"That is really a beautiful ship," said Patti Dubois, "I'm with Lothar that I did not expect or want a promotion and becoming 'Ship's Counselor' is changing my career plans. Still, serving on the sister ship of the Republic will be an honor for me."

"So true, Patti," said Grace D'gorna, "for me the promotion is welcome and they really couldn't put me in any slot on the Grant and use my skills effectively. Engineering, where I started, is already pretty well done by who they stripped out from here, and the only other real place is in the Science Officer role, and my work is more of the 'close up and hands-on' than sensor scans at a far distance. Now that hull Lothar brought back... the Ara, is it?"

"Yes," L'Tira said, she had been shifting her vision back and forth between the two ships, one working and functional, the other a twisted and battered hulk that was bent, twisted and melted in some points.

"That will be interesting to work on. Enid did a job on that and I've been having to talk with the Heavy Weapons and Hand Weapons group," she said pointing down the observation deck to the people clustered farther down the deck and looking almost exclusively at the Ara, " as they are extremely excited by this. They are going to want to be on the full documentation team, and I don't blame them. I didn't think anything like that was possible. That may have more of an impact on Star Fleet than the M-Series work, actually."

"Yes, she has done so much in so short a period of time. I am sorry to leave the Fleet, but working for her promises to be so exciting!" L'Tira said animatedly.

"She has shaken things up, and I understand it, L'Tira. I would be very tempted in your position, also, to work with someone so dynamic as that," said Grace.

"Oh, she was just doing her job, really," Enid said as she looked at the ships as she stepped up next to them, "history will remember that she did what was necessary with what she had, and that will be that. Not a real expert in anything, and spends most of her time with megacarnivores in situations that she really should know better than to get into. That is how she will be remembered, I think."

"Enid!" L'Tira cried out and jumped for Enid Daystrom. Unlike Alex Jomra she knew that L'Tira had a carnivore heritage, had played zero-g handball, racketball and squash with her many times, and was prepared for the jump. She used her arms to brace and hold L'Tira and slowly swing her around, using the mass of the weapons case on her back as a counter-weight. No one had ever done that to L'Tira, but her overwhelming feeling on seeing Enid did not have her react naturally and the two pirouetted as dancers with L'Tira slowly swinging around and descending as Enid lowered her arms.

"No hugs, this suit is a mess," she said.

As if that could stop L'Tira who didn't care about the grime, smell and more than a few rough spots on the space suit garnered by so many trips through Jeffries tubes, air conduits, and other tight places on the Grant. Neither did it stop Grace, Patti, Ensigns Chet and Luce, members of the Weapons Teams, and others.

Some of the upper staff who were not on the project stood to shake her hand and congratulate her on her work or just surviving, as the case may be.

"You know you've decimated my Directorate, Miss Daystrom?" said one of the smiling Commanders.

"I know, Commander Jankowski, Engineering and Ship's Systems are seeing a lot of personnel leave, and only a couple to Daystrom Industries, like Enak Varda or Alex Jomra..."

"He lets you call him Alex?" asked Walter Jankowski, "He doesn't even let me do that save for formal occasions and I've never had to reprimand him."

"That is an honor, Commander Jankowski. After you it is the Security and Defense Analysis Directorate, and then... well... the Grant needs good people and those who want a life of hard work, hard problems and often very harsh conditions are more than welcome to join Daystrom Industries."

Commander Jankowski smiled, "You should have heard the screams from Commander Ellet when he heard that Brian and Theresa were going to the Grant and that some of the Weapons Teams are now applying for out-cycling to Daystrom Industries. Not all of them junior level staff, either. I know Bartholomew is scrambling behind the scenes to raid the Academy and Command School for those he knows who want historical work. Having to put a ship up into operational condition without preparation is very difficult, and yet offers many opportunities, Miss Daystrom. I'm sorry I couldn't work with you, but like a few others I really am glad that my career can go on the course I've set for it."

"Enid, why didn't you wait for a regular shuttle? You didn't have to literally jump ship to get here," asked Grace.

"If I did, Grace, I would be tied up in formalities, official greetings, probably some sort of a ceremony..."

Commander Jankowski nodded, "Yes, protocol. That is why its taking so long for Lothar to get things moving, as the ship is only now coming back into service, has seen combat, and needs a year or so at the Vesta Shipyards, has prisoners to transport, reports to make... by then Black Bart will have a full-on ceremony and dinner ready."

"That's it, exactly. I need a shower, my suit needs a cleaning, and I need a decent night's sleep. Do you know what its like to sleep on an old bed that has been exposed to hard vacuum for over a century? By the end I had taken the old mattress, thrown it on the floor and put a couple of blankets on the metal frame. That ship needs an overhaul if its to be fit for service. I do not want to have a semi-clean suit, semi-clean me and still be suffering under the aches and pains of another few hours of purported rest there. I can do better out in the wilds of Elsen IV than I can on the Grant. Even an exercise mat in one of the closets off the gym here would be better than that."

"You still have your room here, Enid," L'Tira said.

"Wasn't that supposed to be cleaned out and made available to anyone who needs it?"

"No, Captain Bartholomew ordered the opposite. He said it was... tradition. If he kept quarters just like you left them, he knew a Daystrom would return one day."

That, actually, set Enid back some, as she remembered stepping into the quarters occupied by her great-grandfather Richard Daystrom on the Grant. A simple act like this was far deeper in what it said than anything else that had gone on for Enid since the project started.

"No, not that..." she whispered, "I wouldn't do that to anyone in my family. Not ever again."

L'Tira took her hand.

"Don't worry, Enid. Karl would have come if anything happened to you. He will be good to work with, and he respects what you've done, you know?"

The flash of a grimace and then rueful smile passed across Enid's face, then a bright smile appeared. She squeezed L'Tira's hand and let go.

"All right, I'm off for a shower and some rest. Do not disturb unless its something major. I'll handle the bureaucracy after that. See you all later," she turned and walked over to the gangway, sliding down to the next deck and out of sight.

"She really doesn't understand the effect she is having, does she?" asked Walter Jankowski.

"Like I've been trying to tell you, Walt," said Grace, "she probably does but expects that everyone will just do their jobs and get through with things. Just like she does. She does have a personal side to her, never doubt it, Walt."

"Then why not express it?" he asked.

"She does," said Patti, "but when the time is right. For her this not only works, but its necessary. She has walked away from places where even well trained fleet personnel would have perished. Many have not survived crossing her, and she does not do that out of hate or revenge. Look at the Ara, out there, and the other ships the Pirates brought."

Commander Jankowski turned, just briefly, and shook his head at the wreckage that was once a strarship.

"Mr. Jankowski, that, I'm sure, wasn't done out of hate, disgust, or any other thing like that," L'Tira said, "I've played handball with her. Trust me when I say that doing that was necessary for her to survive. And look at the Grant. She felt she was responsible to that ship and crew. Can you see how it is with her looking at that?"

Slowly, he nodded.

"Yes, just like the Fleet."

"No, Walt," said Grace, "far worse than that. She means it."

He shuddered very slightly.

"That hurt, Grace," he said.

"The pain will only stop, once we stop hurting ourselves, Walter," Patti said, "that is her real gift to us. We have lost sight of our responsibilities for our jobs. To her the responsibilities make the job."

"And she does what is necessary to carry them out..." he whispered.

"I will miss the Fleet," L'Tira said, "but Enid showed me where my responsibilities are. For that I love her like a clansman, a sister, an elder, all at the same time, Mr. Jankowski. Her duty isn't just duty, it is fulfillment of who she is."

From the Grant to the Ara and back again, Commander Jankowski had the proof in front of him. And he realized that he, too, had been treating his position in Star Fleet for decades as a job. The result of that was too obvious to deny.

"The Prime Directive isn't primal to her, Walter," Patti said, "protecting that civilization is prime. We don't do that any more. She does."

"I really will miss the Fleet," L'Tira said.

"So will I," said Grace,"so will I."

* * *

The meeting of the 5 at SFC was not going well.

"You know that she's been quietly hiring a broad range of people the past two weeks, yes?" asked Revar Umak.

Eloise Rafiq looked at him and nodded.

"I've gotten some contacts from retired personnel in the I/CI communities on this asking if she is the real deal on this, and when I say 'I can neither confirm nor deny' that is the last I hear from them. These are good people she is picking up, Revar."

Revar Umak snorted.

"Have you seen the bounty hunters, expedition leaders and more mercenary types that have also been getting the call? Hmmm, Eloise? These are not nice people."

"Actually," said Wilson Scott, "I've had my share from those, too. Some are a bit unsavory, but I'll give Karl Daystrom this: he is weeding out the unreliable. No matter how bad the reputations are, these are men and women that keep to their word. And its not all that many, really, a hundred, total, at most."

Leonard Mirak had tried to stay out of this, but couldn't.

"She has pointed out a major failure in our thinking and that of all the other starfaring races. We have been very cloistered and internecine in our outlook for centuries, and there is no way you can easily stop what she has made. Just look at the reports, you've all seen them, right from her own suit's perspective, too. I think we were right to put high classification on them, but you've already seen where she is going with this."

"Just like with the M-Series," said T'sau, "and you will remember what she told us to do."

"Our jobs!" said Mr. Umak, "Just so! And that is what I'm doing, too. The Fleet will take up a year or two just getting a new program started, and by then the opportunity will be gone."

"But Revar," said Wilson Scott, "you don't need to contract out for protection services from Daystrom Industries for Federation commerce protection..."

"How long do you think it will be before those Pirates start to armor their ships, Wilson? A year, two? The same time the Fleet will take to get its capabilities up! I know the budget as well as you do, Wilson,"

"Better, probably," said Eloise softly.

Wilson Scott flashed her a glare.

"... and by then it is stalemate. They are vulnerable now and forever, but now they are absolutely vulnerable and can be hurt, badly. No, I am doing my job to protect commerce and have already sent a contract to Daystrom Industries on this, to have basic ship protection up and running in four months. And you know how Enid has been operating and Karl is no babe in the woods, it turns out, when it comes to getting a cadre organized. What was galling was the proposed contract arrived on my desk, from him, within an hour as he had already sent it the day before!"

"She isn't wasting time, is she?" asked T'sau.

"I worked out the timing, T'sau," said Eloise, "the light speed delay wouldn't allow that sort of message for initiating that to come from Enid. That came directly from Karl Daystrom, under her authority, of course, but he knows her and knows she would approve. So by the time we are having this meeting to hash this out, my guess is that he has already gotten the first, good types who know how to train others into his corporation and is setting up training facilities, someplace, plus locked manufacturing. Even WE can't get to the patents and other work, with the full authority of the Full Council, because Enid has crossed all the t's and dotted the i's and has so invoked so many different patent laws that even trying to get a Federation Court Order might place us, the ones doing that, in jeopardy of trial and criminal misconduct. I've seen the Andorian Laws and you don't want to mess with them."

"I agree with Mr. Umak on this, Wilson," said Leonard, "you know how sluggish the Fleet is. Think of it like this, until today if you wanted to attack a major system, you needed a fleet of ships and if you wanted to defend that system you needed starbases and fleets of ships, too. Now, if you want to defend a system you need a handful of people who know what they are doing. But you still need a fleet to attack a system. The thing that we have going for us, is that if you think that we are sluggish, just look at the Dominion, Cardassians, Klingons and Romulans. You know what will happen once all those ships start to get freed up in the next decade, right?"

Wilson Scott hated that conclusion. The next war that was going to hit was going to be massive as thousands of ships across the Alpha Quadrant were shaken loose by this. Fleets were no longer necessary for defense... unless.

"What is it the Gorns have ship-wise?" Wilson asked as he massaged his temple.

Eloise grimaced.

"If what they tell us is even somewhat close to the truth, and I'm inclined to believe it is, they have a numerical superiority of at least 50:1 against the entire Alpha Quadrant across all ship classes. And they use that for minimal expansion and maximal defense. Yes, Wilson, numbers are a matter all their own. The Romulans would find themselves fleet-less if they shook even half their ships out from all systems to attack the Gorns. And it wouldn't even dent the Gorn numbers or even seriously threatened a minor system of theirs, if they have one, that is."

T'sau spoke up.

"That was one of the major emotional stumbling blocks we first encountered with the Gorns after first contact. They had asked why we use so few and such fragile ships and, I think, we took offense to that or that many saw that as a boast or bluster. Relations chilled significantly after that and no one has treated them seriously since then."

Wilson Scott nodded.

"That was the era for taking offense and I think we got set in our ways after that. Revar, are you seriously backing a contract with Daystrom Industries?"

Revar Umak snorted.

"I had to draft my own contract and my time away from the details showed. As it was classified I was able to bring that part of my contract people to work on it and they were quite interested in the idea and design of the contract, even when they said the entire thing was preposterous. They had clearances, so I showed them Enid's record. Then they marveled at how low the cost being offered was, as it relied on additional clauses I hadn't known could be put to use in the Federation Charter Code."

"Additional clauses?" Eloise asked, "Which ones, in particular?"

"Heh. Eloise, you mean you don't know? Your life blood for so many years has been dealing with unsavory sorts across the galaxy and you don't know? Heh!"

Eloise Rafiq was uncomfortable, as this did hit very close to her area of professional pride. Leading I/CI for a few years was one of the greatest achievements in her career and got her to where she is today. INTEL/COINTEL was her lifeblood in many ways, and yet she had never heard of rarely used clauses in the Fed Charter Code.

"Yes, Revar, cough it up. What are the Daystrom people asking for that is so rare?"

Revar Umak sat back and barked out a single, harsh, laugh.

"They propose hourly cost, per person, overhead, and transport, plus consumables. All standard and really quite low. What they want is the 'Takings and Captures Clauses' with regards to outlaws enforced for any ships so taken down by them with reimbursement to us for towage."

That brought silence.

"I don't believe it," said Leonard Mirak, "no one has ever wanted those used."

"Daystrom Industries is going into the ship captures, takings and auctions business..." Eloise Rafiq said very softly.

"That is not the norm for civilized activity," said T'sau, "I can't think of a single use of those clauses in the entire history of the Federation."

"Privateers? I don't... no check that, thinking on it if you are hired for the job and those are in effect, you don't need to have your own ship to Privateer. And if they reimburse for towage... ahhh..." Wilson Scott was trying to figure out just where that led and it came to one conclusion, "... that would be the best and cheapest way to offer services on condition of full receipt of Takings and Captures. Revar, you can't be considering this seriously, right?"


"Dear god, he is," whispered Eloise.

"Yes! It comes under the commercial salvage area as well as dealing with commercial outlaw raiders. As the Federation Council Member in charge of that, a little known duty no one has ever bothered to tell me about, I can simply declare all Pirate ships salvage via contract with Commerce. The Full Council already did the preliminaries decades and decades ago. Now I get to finish that work!" said Revar Umak leaning forward.

That hung there for a moment.

"You do know that the Pirates will figure out the same equipment, right?" asked Leonard Mirak.

Snorting and leaning further forward, Revar Umak asked in a low tone.

"And who will have the best technical team available to counter this? And already be under contract?"

Leonard Mirak went ashen.

"Exactly," said Revar in a low tone, "so while the Fleet takes a couple of years to figure out what to do, Commerce is protected. Trade is protected. Civil works and transport will be protected. And the easiest pickings will be?"

"Oh, my god..." whispered Deputy Director Scott.

"Star Fleet, and every other military fleet in the Alpha Quadrant," said T'sau.

"And do you remember who warned you about Enid Daystrom six weeks or so ago? Hmmmm? Remember? I signed the contract before coming here. Someone had to do the right thing."

Tellerites were always smug.

When they are right, they are insufferable.

* * *

Captain Ruzar smiled, that policing patrol vessel just at the edge of the Solar System had been far too easy. Federation ship in distress, was the message and then the Phaeton showing up when the vessel had moved into the sub-space occluded area, a simple decloak and phaser fire to disable the ship, and soon he had photon torpedoes, shuttle craft, and people to sell on the slaver market. No luxury goods, alas, but there were, finally all the necessities on-board the ship. Plus some antimatter that was extra and put into safe storage containment.

Looking around the bridge of the old Light Cruiser, its spartan appearance had a certain appeal to him. Oh it was an old vessel, even with its upgrades, that was for certain, but it had a charm to it that newer vessels didn't have. The foremost of those being a meter thick armor made by the Vulcan Star Probe Group over a one hundred fifty years ago. More or less. For all the crew he had lost, those that remained were almost perfect in numbers for the ship's needs. Commander Walsa came to stand on his left hand side.

"We are a month away at top warp from your Clan's trade station, Captain."

He nodded.

"Keep a watch out for any commercial transports, as we could use some more trade goods, but what we have now just might pay off most of the death benefits for the mercenaries and lost crew plus final payments on the Shrike. I will pay wages out of my own pocket. One or two small freighters and we will actually have shares for the crew, and then we will be in top form."

Commander Walsa nodded.

"I know this trip has been hard on you, Captain," she said softly.

He leaned back and realized that there was very little back support to these Federation Command Chairs. Or perhaps it was that the vacuum had been unkind to the padding?

"Actually, I have been on worse, though not commanding. Even ones that have gone to pot, I can usually manage some meager shares. That is what I hope with this one. Still we are alive, have a good ship even if it isn't the one I started with, and we have learned much information. Really, I think that will gain us the larger reward over the next decade than anything we can raid for. I may just do that, Commander Walsa, if my Clan can see fit to understand and believe their own eyes, I should be able to get a position in ship design and construction with royalties from the armor on this ship incorporated into new designs. All here on the ship will get shares from that, for every ship that puts on such armor. That won't be this year, but by next? Yes. Good payback. That is where the money is, you know that, Commander Walsa?"

She nodded, slightly.

"How would you like to be a raider captain in my Clan sub-group, Commander? I have this lovely, Federation Light Cruiser that would just be sitting idle..."

She chuckled.

"What next, a marriage proposal?" she asked smiling.

He laughed.

"One wife is more than enough for me, thank you very much. I am serious, Commander. With what we have I can at least pay off the Shrike so this ship has no one else's stake in it, and is mine alone. It needs some work, yes, but I can afford that if I know I have a captain that is good at raiding and can pay those debts I incur, off. And what is coming for us, will leave much open even while much gets closed off. In two years I expect that more than half of the current raiders will be moving out of the Federation, until we can get our hands on what struck my flotilla. Then... then things will balance out and be far more deadlier than now. It would be a harsh life, Commander Walsa."

She nodded.

"I will consider it, Captain Ruzar. It is an honor to be asked."

He smirked.

"You are alive, Commander. Three ships did not survive, one commanded by my relatively able half-brother, another lost most everything and an entire, veteran company of mercenaries are now gone and one ship is a disabled scrap pile. Most of my crew is dead. You are the most senior person next to me that survived, and did so by keeping your wits about you and thinking. Do think about it, Commander Walsa. I will make that available to you if things work well with my Clan."

* * *

Enid Daystrom had some contract obligations to sign off on at the Museum. Lothar had given the M-5V the course and maneuvers between the tractor base and the Museum, so the last of the full system capabilities for the M-Series contract had been finished, and the targeting assistance to Theresa had served for the final targeting trials. There was some negotiation on the ability of M-5V to actually function in combat mode, but the memory of the original M-5 served as a sign-off for that. A bit of target practice by M-5V in orbit demonstrated those things, too.

Getting to the sign-off meeting, she had expected a few handshakes, a couple of check-off boxes, a signature or two and that would be that.

Lt. Commander Danar, however, had checked the original contract work and had been very busy.

There were two open boxes of bound books and pages of actual paper on top of them.

"Hello, Miss Daystrom. I'm glad you could make it, as this is a momentous event for the Contracts Section for Star Fleet. I've been delegated the authority to sign-off on the M-5 project and its M-V SERS sub-contract along with you, and let me call in two witnesses."

He had stood up and shook her hand, then moved to the door in the back of the room and buzzed it open. Commodore Rafiq stepped through along with Deputy Director Admiral Wilson Scott. They were both smiling as Enid walked over to shake each of their hands. They each wore the cap and jacket of the M-5 Team over their regulation uniforms.

"It is good to see you again, Enid," said Admiral Scott.

"And for me, too, Enid. The fun is not stopping and your brother, Karl, seems to have picked up some of the nasty Daystrom traits of being a positive pain to everyone," said Commodore Rafiq.

"He does get that way at times, but he is far better at admin work than I will ever be. I'm glad to see you both, though a bit surprised. Why send both of you here?"

"RHIP, Enid. I could have delegated this to Captain Bartholomew and Eloise, but for such an historic happening, I thought high level representation for Fleet Ops was necessary. It isn't every day you get to close out a contract open for more than a century."

"It is, indeed, a surprise," said Lt. Commander Danar, "and an honor to have you let the Museum Contracts Office be on the close-out. Now if you would all join me at the table, I have pens available..."

"Pens?" asked Admiral Scott.

"Pens?" asked Commodore Rafiq.

Enid turned to the table and sighed.

"Is this really necessary? Actual paperwork?" she asked

"Haven't you read the contract, Miss Daystrom? Right here in Acceptance Section 7..." Lt. Commander Danar watched as Enid went very pale.

"You can't be serious?" she asked very softly.

"Oh, no, Miss Daystrom. Proper close-out is all done by paper on this contract. In my experience, well... it is rare and this is an extensive contract... what with three or four sets of boxes to bring in..."

"To bring in?" asked Admiral Scott.

"Oh, my, yes Admiral! That is just the overview on the table. We have some actual paper documents that date back to Richard Daystrom's time and Enid will have to pick up the initializing and signatures where he left off...."

"We will be here forever." Eloise Rafiq said.

"An eternity," said Enid.

"Oh, nonsense! I am sure in ten hours or so we can be fully finished..."

Eloise turned to Admiral Scott.

"I'm glad you are here, Wilson. You deserve this."

"It's all her fault," he said pointing to the still shaken Enid Daystrom, "she is responsible for this."

Enid looked back.

"It seemed like a good idea at the time..."

* * *

Over the next few days the solar storm swept through Jupiter's environment and cleared out the ionic charge build-up. No outside enhancements continued and sub-space cleared up to allow communications and transporter activity to resume. Many people who had been stranded on Earth or elsewhere in the Solar System found they could use the excuse of 'transporter traffic backlog' to get a vacation of sorts. Because of that, actual backlogs were infrequent after the first few hours and normal civilian transporter use was soon back at its previous levels.

Jupiter returned to its normal state of activity, and even after the Fleet sent a ship to pick up the remains of the forward hull of the Shrike, no real enhancements were in store for observing the gas giant's system. Orbits of ships were re-examined and the Engineering Corps proposed some changes to keep ships from shifting below the orbit of Io, but that would take time to do.

Unwatched and unnoticed Jupiter continued in its stately course.

A small vessel detached from a moonlet and picked up speed to head just slightly behind the giant planet, and that ship then wavered and phased into sub-space.

Really, nothing very exciting usually happens around Jupiter.

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