Friday, December 12, 2008

The M-5 - Chapter 3

Chapter 3

In two days time Enid, L'Tira and Lothar were standing by the reception area behind the Museum command staff as the VIP delegation arrived. Enid stood back a bit watching the traditional 'piping aboard' ceremony that announced such high ranking visitors and also examined the various Dress Uniforms from different eras. While the immediate Captain and his staff wore modern, and austere Dress Uniforms, there were many more in shades of white, gold, dark blue, burgundy red, and even a gray set that the Weapons Staff tended to gravitate to. She suspected that somehow, amongst the braid, tassels, and even caps, that they wore more test equipment and actual side-arms than anyone else in the room. The uniforms hid them very, very well if that was the case. She had chosen an older style, done in the dark green of an early style of the Fleet, worn by science staff officers since it, too, had room for all of the equipment she would need in a normal day and was even powered by a spare tricorder power unit tucked against the small of her back. That was needed for air circulation in the uniform as it was not meant for actual ceremonial use save out in the field.

She smiled wryly. This was definitely field work for her at this point in time. It wouldn't do for daily wear, but for suddenly having to shift to a harsh climate if an accident happened in the field, it was the proper uniform for its era. It was also a uniform meant for working in on a moment's notice and the rugged boots would be a bit much for normal, daily wear but for today, they served and added an inch or so to her stature. Where the insignia would normally be, however, she had a project insignia instead: a round patch, in black with a single sword pointed straight upwards and a gossamer white hand holding it with three stars on either side and 'For the Excalibur' in gothic lettering under it.

She went through the schedule in her mind, letting the formalities of the 'welcome aboard' and introductions, plus the slow effort to divorce the highest ranking members from their staff. Everyone knew this would happen, but the smoothness in which lower level personnel quietly picked their staff members to talk to, distract and offer to show them around the Museum bemused her: say what you will about this being a 'backwater' in the Fleet, she doubted that the Federation Diplomatic Corps could handle it this well. She suspected that in particular as the diplomatic staff of T'sau seemed to be a bit clueless. Or perhaps just acting the part. You could never tell with diplomats.

Soon the introductions led by Captain Bartholomew came around to her, after covering normal base Command Staff.

".... and this is Cmdr. Lothar Hampton, head of our Engineering Integration and Large Scale Systems section."

"Pleased to meet you, Admiral Scott, Undersecretary T'Sau, Deputy Undersecretary Umak, Commodore Rafiq, Commodore Mirak. Welcome to the Museum."

Enid reflected that Lothar slid easily into that diplomatic role and would probably be hell to deal with on resource meetings.

"And this is who you have all come here to talk to, the Director of Daystrom Industries, Doctor Enid Daystrom."

"It is good to meet you all in person," she said," and this is my hired on XO, Ensign L'Tira that the Fleet has graciously allowed me to corral most of her time and energy. I can't get a thing done in this place without her."

She shook hands where appropriate, nodded to the Vulcan T'sau, a hand wave and nod to the Tellerite Umak and watched as L'Tira tried to deal with the situation.

"Admiral Scott, Undersecretary T'Sau, Deputy Undersecretary Umak, Commodore Rafiq and Commodore Mirak, it is wonderful to meet you! Welcome to the Museum, Archives Section and to the Daystrom initiative on the M-Series computers."

"Pleased to meet you, Ensign L'Tira," said Vice-Admiral Scott, "how did you ever wind up with Enid Daystrom?"

"Ah, she chose me, Admiral."

"Damned right I did," said Enid, "I know talent when I see it, even if it isn't trying to stick your hand down a carnivore's throat to convince it that it really would like to give up on your leg."

T'sau arched an eyebrow, "Indeed."

"And if the Fleet doesn't offer her a slot at Command School, I'll be offering her the Director of Operations slot at Daystrom Industries as we ramp into production."

"Director of Operations?" Commodore Mirak looked at L'Tira and Enid.

"Enid! Don't say that!"

"I mean it, L'Tira."

"You do?!? I... I..."

"Miss Daystrom, is that a thoroughly wise thing to do?" asked the Admiral.

"Well, if I don't she will be sitting in your seat in 25 years."

Admiral Scott chuckled and then started to laugh, "Ah, yes... that I understand."

Commodore Rafiq was slowly shaking her head, "Miss Daystrom, you do tend to make such decisions off-handedly."

"Nonsense, I've been thinking about this since I first met L'Tira on my first day here. She is charming, bright, adaptable, trustworthy, inventive, and yet keeps to a spare outlook on necessities. She knows how to handle a wide array of individuals, and even did well with the Gorns in escorting them around and talking with them. Having no fear of carnivores and yet wanting to understand them, I can appreciate how those traits work inside an individual. In case you haven't noticed we have no circle of listeners around us as is pretty much standard with this sort of situation and most of your staff and even the Museum staff is either in discussion with personnel or taking tours. I asked her to arrange for that, and here we are, with Captain Bartholomew, and not even his XO hanging around."

Capt. Bartholomew glanced to the side, "Say, just where did Commander Neal get to?"

"I think he is with two Cadets over in Requisition ensuring that the VIP staff have their rooms properly assigned, Captain," said L'Tira.

Capt. Bartholomew looked back at her, as did the others.

"I think that if Star Fleet can't offer you a good position, Ensign L'Tira, the Diplomatic Corps would have ready training available for you," said T'sau.

"Now you know why I want her: she is excellent at her job," Enid said.

"More than," said Revar Umak, "and the Federation Trade Council is also in need of good staff, Ensign L'Tira. I am coming to respect you deeply, Miss Daystrom."

"Good! Now, its a 'working lunch' so we will head to the Staff side and I will give a practical demonstration of our work to-date and then a quick seminar on the over-view. This will all be contract Fleet Confidential with Daystrom Industries, and while Fleet Engineering Corps. is getting a full technical overview and review, they are under the same constraints. And as Star Fleet has imposed this from its end a number of times, I expect you are all well aware of the ramifications of it."

"Yes, we are. Lead on, Miss Daystrom," said Admiral Scott.

"L'Tira? Lead on..."

As they walked Enid discussed some of her work and described how Ethan Lowell had, indeed, put his arm down the throat of a Raptocantor on Kargullen III while she was on a field expedition researching the reports of a larger animal that, apparently, fed on the 4 ton Raptocantor. The Raptocantor was a reptiloid, bipedal animal with a quite flexible, though short neck, and taloned hind claws. Originally dubbed a 'Baby T-Rex', its lifestyle tended more towards singular hunting grounds and its hide was more suitable to semi-aquatic environments, often acting as an ambush predator. One of those had ambushed her from a gully and while being able to wedge her foot across the back of its mouth and used her knee to the roof to keep the mouth wedged open, she couldn't get forward enough to do more than keep it off-balance. She had gotten a knife in close to a main blood vessel, but it was buried a bit too far under the skin that had a tough inner membrane used to conserve heat. Ethan had come to her aid and had the wits and daring to loop one arm around the base of its head and put a knife deep into the mouth and into the tongue just below her boot, causing a gag reflex and the creature vomited its stomach contents, her and Ethan onto the ground. Outside of a few bruises and scrapes, she was unhurt, but it had been a tenuous position. The Raptocantor choked and coughed staggering away from them.

"Why didn't you just kill it?" asked Commodore Mirak.

"We don't keep phasers with us to do that, and that would be necessary as the 'stun' setting doesn't mean much to an animal that size. Besides, as we learned later, killing it would have brought a very nasty beast out called the Charnocantor and it is more than just an opportunist and has a higher metabolism than the Raptocantor. I was thinking very seriously of using my beer canister on it, though."

T'sau looked to her, "Beer canister?"

"Yes, quick chill beverage can with slightly alcoholic liquid in it?"

"If I may, what good would that have done?"

"Imagine having a small, metal object frozen to the very back of your tongue and it was starting to freeze more than just the attached skin. We have figured out how to do a 5 second energy absorption from the standard can as it is a necessary survival skill that comes in handy. The field tricorder would do in forcing a cough reflex, if I could have gotten it in, before the tricorder would be swallowed, but I didn't want to lose my field notes. I am pretty sure I had a 70% survival rate given my equipment, but Ethan got to a place where I just couldn't get to and did the right thing. A bleeding wound I could have stopped, but the other carnivores and omnivores in the area would be coming, so that was an instinctual first course."

They arrived at the Staff Cafeteria and Enid went to a box and picked up a more or less random meal. "Mr. Umak, T'sau, species specific for Tellerites and Vulcans are in the appropriately marked boxes."

Admiral Scott turned to Commodore Rafiq, "This is your reward meal?"

"This is lunch, Admiral, a working lunch." said Enid, "Dinner usually comes later in the day, when that has some meaning around here... carry satchels from the 21st century are also available if your metabolism requires a larger take-away. Or if you expect to be away for awhile." Her own hands moved methodically to stow the meal, two beverage containers and a few of the flavor packets that helped to liven up the relatively bland food.

"I take it we are eating on the go, then," said Umak.

"Apparently," said T'sau.

Revar Umak picked up a satchel, stuffed two meals worth of food and 5 beverage containers into it, plus an assortment of flavor packets. T'sau chose a more sparing selection of only a few oddments of relatively dense and high energy packets, and water bottles. The humans were more readily adaptable on the Fleet side, even if the higher-ups were a bit rusty.

"I haven't done this in ages," said Eloise Rafiq. She turned and noticed a few of the regular staff waiting patiently for their superiors to make their selections. "Captain, is this normal for the Museum Base?"

"Ah, it is, Commodore, yes. For working staff and projects, this is pretty much 'normal'."

Enid took out one of the food packets, opened it and directly swallowed the protein crystals and then drank half her small flask of water, knowing that the rest would slowly swell absorbing digestive fluids and calm her stomach. Then she started talking as she walked.

"Today we will be starting with a practical demonstration of the ship survival system that was a sub-contract off of the M-5 work. You will get a practical demonstration and then a regular presentation on what it is you will have experienced," she had arrived at a cargo turbolift and summoned it. It arrived shortly and, unlike the other lifts on the station, this one appeared to be unrenovated from when the station was built. Still in working condition, but cosmetically it was in 'hard used industrial' form. Enid stepped in and waited for the rest of the group to follow, with L'Tira waving off a staff member who had tried to catch up with one of the VIPs.

"Sorry, project staff only," L'Tira said as the door closed, "Bay Three."

"Now let me shake each of your hands and bring you fully onto the project. You know that by doing so you are all liable for your activities on it" said Enid.

"Glad to, Miss Daystrom," said Admiral Scott.

Slowly she walked around from individual to individual ending up with Captain Bartholomew, "Purely an oversight on my part to have left you off, Captain. Please accept my apologies."

He smiled, "None needed, Miss Daystrom, your group has been very, very busy. I know, I've seen the scheduling and work reports."

"I didn't expect to use up so much, Captain."

"Actually, those on your project work harder at their normal jobs and more efficiently. Apparently there is an attitude which is catching on, and just as we started to get a heavy work load in. The Admin staff has been complaining about over-work, if anything, due to the amount being done by the technical staff."

"What is the secret, Miss Daystrom?" asked T'sau.

"Make that Enid, please. There is no secret, T'sau of Vulcan, I don't ask for more than anyone can do, they are all volunteers and I respect each and every one of them. I wouldn't try this on an organization of over 100 people, but for this size that personal system works well and effectively."

"Each of you will be having your personal systems updated with the all of the data in our project. It is all encrypted based on our bio-identities, but the standard overhead also applies. I update it every night, my schedule, and each of you will get it as part of the sub-space transfer I send back to the Daystrom Industries offices kept by my brother Karl. Actually that is just a small system he keeps secure and lets it do the routing for him, although he has started to take some serious time analyzing what we are doing here. From there you will each get a light-speed delay unless your systems are set up for a direct link. I also send out a normal space laser transmission daily in case anything happens via sub-space, and actual physical back-up via the Altax weekly."

"Isn't that a bit much, Enid?" asked Commodore Mirak.

"It is wise and prudent, Commodore, and once you start going over the material, yourself, you will see that. You will probably want to start with the Executive Summary and then peruse from there."

The door opened, "L'Tira, check to make sure things are ready,"

"Sure, Enid!" and saying that stepped out at a brisk pace heading down the corridor and turning to the left and out of sight at an intersection with a larger corridor.

"As you all know from my public statements and presentations, we have been working on this for awhile, looking to recreate the understanding that Richard Daystrom brought to the original project. What we have uncovered is what he could not recall under any circumstances after having his psychotic problems amended as the emotions behind this work was overwhelming. I really didn't know what to expect as this project unfolded, and wasn't prepared for where it has gone."

"You have coped very well, Enid Daystrom," said Revar Umak, "this must be a difficult emotional experience for you."

"As his great granddaughter I do have familial fondness for Richard Daystrom from the personal stories passed to me via family records and other family members. My work in the bio-sciences gave me respect for his work, if not his work habits and methodology, and even a bit of insight to him as a scientist. The glamor of the man's wake, however, I could do without. As the man to fundamentally complete the Common Organized Systems Overview with Multitronics and his work, and those of his peers, to establish the basis of it so widely, he has gained inordinate heft in a field and has actually had some stultifying effects on it, I think. As the work now stands, I think he was beginning to see that as a problem and thought he could break it up, and bring a more diversified approach to that understanding and large avenues to go down. His want for recognition caused many problems, not the least of which are the deaths of the crew of the Excalibur." Enid had turned down the larger corridor and then to a large bay full of equipment, tables, and systems in various degrees of work.

"Please step into the bay. Roger, activate bay security."

Roger Arrivan smiled and nodded, and the force field went up and the sound dampening installed by security registered its completion as well as the cyber anti-intrusion capability.

"I'm pairing up a few of you with staff members and we will be running from a simulation of the USS Grant as it would be if it were an unmodified heavy cruiser of the Constitution class, although we now have the simulation up almost to where it is today, but that is stalled for other reasons beyond the capability of us to simulate. What each of you are getting is an 'emergency list' of what supplies are necessary for this. We have shut down and opened all of the M-Series units involved, which includes all of the M-Variant and the original M-1 and M-2. There is a master container next to the M-2 unit, original, that has a colored memory module, done in blue and white stripes. The rest of the memory modules you will replicate from the bay replicator. We have retrofitted modern fittings on the systems, so you can choose any era of memory module from the original days of the M-Series all the way up to the latest revision as of last night. Once you do that, follow the checklist on your personal units. You are to consider yourself on the USS Grant, powered almost completely down and looking to get it shifted from its current orbit to one that allows it to dock with the Museum Orbital Base. If the system asks you for input, go to a terminal, which we have spread around the edges of the bay and only the VIPs are to be considered on-board, the extra hands are just to speed up the process."

With that she nodded and opened up the master container, showing a single color striped memory module. As she walked away from it Commodore Rafiq was checking her personal unit, stepped over to the case, took a memory module and headed to an M-2 unit, and realized that she also needed a bulk order of memory modules. Mr. Jomra helped her on that, and soon there was an orderly movement of people taking the coded modules, getting a container of blanks and then going to the various units.

She smiled as Admiral Scott slid out a surprisingly large number from his thin-skin uniform, until she realized he had on the equivalent of a cumberbund. His M-1 unit was the first to be closed up and turned on. In a few minutes the rest were closed up, turned on and initializing.

"We have been through this drill about 30 times so far, it takes a few minutes for the systems to initialize and coordinate with the simulator. Sit down, grab a bite and make sure you are hydrated. Remember that this system only knows about you from Fleet Records, but doesn't know your actual skills. And while you are all superior in the chain of command, none of you are the command staff of the USS Grant at this point. For some reason the crew has vanished, the ship is almost completely powerless and rescue isn't coming the standard ways. Your own skills are what you have left... and the M-Variant."

"That puts a different light on it, Enid," said Commodore Mirak,"we now have an interest in our survival."

"Yes, you do. Any of your technical skills for a starship are probably rusty, not well suited to the current situation and it is unlikely that you would actually get out of this situation without exterior help."

Captain Bartholomew looked bemused, "So we are super-cargo, eh?"

"No, passengers. Skilled in some areas, perhaps not skilled enough to do more than take a shuttle out. If there were any left on the Grant."

Soon the screens were coming up looking for input, and each of the VIPs took a whisperpiece and started talking very softly to their system. More screens started to flash up for each one as technical assignments in various parts of the ship were addressed. This was the longest part of any session, but worthwhile.

T'sau finished first, "Miss Daystrom, that was a very interesting experience. I take it that each of us will be doing the work assignments?"

She smiled, "Not directly, no, just that you are capable of doing so and the simulation will handle the rest. You were going through your screens very, very quickly T'sau was that due to lack of ability or too much?"

He raised an eyebrow, "Neither, actually, some I can do readily, others not so. As I have a good familiarity with my skills, strength, stamina and technical knowledge of starships, I utilized that to quickly address each part and sped up the system for interrogation."

"I knew that was possible, but nothing that rapid," said Enid.

"It was a contemplative mode of thought, most resting."

"Resting? Resting?" said Revar Umak, "Did you actually look at the work assignments?"

"Of course, Mr. Umak. It promised to be a worthwhile set of work."

"Worthwhile?!? The damned thing had be crawling into Jeffries tubes in the most remote part of the vessel to start dealing with the, what was it, 'anti-matter flux exhaust port' and reverse it and cross it with another exhaust port."

"It did?" said Lothar.

"Yes! It said it would be a three hour job with tools on-board with 6 breaks. It even suggested forms of calisthenics made for cramped positions!"

"If you knew it would save your life, would you do it?" asked Enid.

"Of COURSE I would do it!!! But there is no dignity in it!"

"Work is a dignity all its own, Revar Umak," said T'sau.

Lothar looked at the screen and walked over to where Revar Umak was and got a data capture, then walked back.

"It has never asked anyone to do this in all the simulations we have had," Lothar said.

Roger came over, with Admiral Scott who asked, "It hasn't?"

"Not once, I've just cross-checked. What is the thing doing this time?" Lothar wondered.

"Lothar, have we ever had anyone who could get to this area on the Grant?" asked Enid.

"Hmmm... let me think a moment," he checked his personal unit, "L'Tira but she doesn't have the capability for a direct line of sight on the work, and her patience while good is not up to this sort of work, I think. Plus it is a 'drop lock' work, so that it can be dropped off remotely and all the systems returned to normal function. While not a lot of equipment, it would take a week for L'Tira to get it done and I would only try such a thing in a drydock."

"Congratulations, Revar Umak, we are about to see if this can shave a few hours off of the best time this set-up has previously given," Enid said.

"Which is?" he asked.

"Twelve days, seven hours and 36 minutes from first work assignment to arrival in the parking orbit."

Captain Bartholomew was last, and finished up his screen.

"I haven't been on a starship as working crew for a decade, but this thing just kept on going as I realized how much I did know about work on a starship. Really amazing, Enid."

"Richard Daystrom is the one we can thank. Roger, would you give us a time-compression on this? It shouldn't take more than 20 minutes of our time to watch," Enid said addressing Roger.

"Sure!" he walked over to a console, called up a holodisplay and then brought up all the Jovian system and the USS Grant was highlighted. He also brought up all the major ship systems displays along the bottom and edges. The display shifted in and highlighted the major decision points for the M-Variant as it slipped into a high analysis mode with the simulator.

"Lothar, care to narrate?"

"Do the best I can, Enid, but it has something unusual this time."

The holodisplay changed over to compressed time and the Grant sped up in its orbit. Then shifted its orbital plane slowly.

"It hasn't done that before, going towards an orbit over the poles and out of the ecliptic" said Lothar.

"It is precessing it, too," said Mr. Jomra.

The display pulled out and started to show the orbital paths of the other ships, moons and space debris in the Jovian system. The angle of inclination of the orbit moved as well as its outer points.

"What is it doing?" asked Revar Umak.

"It appears to be shifting its orbital path to coincide with something else in the Jupiter system," T'sau said looking at the display, "this object here," he said pulling out a holopointer, which highlighted an object in that orbit.

"Magnify," said Arrivan.

The display shifted and pulled in more detail, while Jupiter and the rest of the system mov,ed out of the display. As it came into view the object gained a notation: 'Fleet Tractor Station - Jupiter'.

"What is it doing?" asked L'Tira.

"It is moving to shift the orbit around to that base," said Lothar, "Roger, what is the status of the base in the simulation?"

"Standard shut-down initiated by crew leaving the base. We agreed that we didn't want any exterior factors to play a role in this."

"Did the system ask anyone about this?"asked Enid.

"It asked me if it was allowable to utilize abandoned or inactive Fleet or Federation equipment," said Admiral Scott, "given the situation outlined, I thought that would be appropriate within reason."

Pulling out the display showed the Grant catching up to the base and taking in more of the orbit of both.

"Look, the Grant is powering up its phaser ring!"

Light modulated between the Grant and the base, and damage on the base was clearly displayed as the screen expanded it.

"Those are not random bursts, it is outlining a circle on the base skin."

As the Grant passed it did do that, clearly shifting the attitude of the ship in its orbit. Soon it reached the outer most part of its orbit and was swinging back in.

"Phasers re-charging." said Mr. Jomra.

On the other side of the base the ship had changed attitude and was putting a much smaller outline on the hull.

"Tractor beam engaged," said Lothar.

A small piece of the base, conical in cross-section drifted free of the base.

"I have never seen such precise phaser work before," said Commodore Mirak.

"What the hell is the Grant doing?" asked Mr. Umak.

"I have no idea," said Roger Arrivan, "but it is doing something it is allowed to under the given situation."

Within a few seconds of the sped up simulation the ship and base would cross paths again.

"They now have coincidental orbits," said T'sau.

"Phaser ring recharged. Photon torpedo tube warming and prepping a torpedo." said Lothar.

Again the light flared but the phasers went deep under the skin along the previous path it had cut and little could be seen as the light went interior to the base.

"Precise and exacting." said Commodore Rafiq.

The ship passed.

"Phaser ring powered down, photon torpedo going to half-charge," said Lothar.

On the reverse path a photon torpedo left from the forward bay and arced down and into the area that had been removed on the previous path. The release of energy was a dull red, not the actinic blue of a fully powered torpedo.

"The base is still intact," said L'Tira, "No one ever talked about this when I was in the Academy. Can these weapons actually do this?"

"Yes, they can," said Mr. Jomra, "but even the Engineering Corps. doesn't do this."

As the Grant shifted out from the base it was apparent that the base was not fully intact, as a large conical piece slowly drifted out of it. The ship continued on its orbit and returned the next orbit gliding in towards the base.

"Forward phaser bank warming and charging. Tractor on stand-by." Lothar said as he pulled up a subsidiary display on the simulation.

Again the Grant fired, just a single pulse from one phaser point and a small piece near the end of the cone that had drifted out separated from it. The tractor engaged to shift that piece out, and the ship used a small set of thrusters to change their combined orbit, and then, while still tractoring a second phaser point removed one section by vaporizing it and then the tractor shifted the remaining piece out of the path of the ship.

"Forward deflectors on, unknown configuration," said Lothar.

The ship passed the major part of the debris to starboard and a sub-piece on port-side inclined shifted out of the way. As the Grant passed through suddenly all the internal power readings leapt up.

"Warp core warming, anti-matter on-board, powering up full life support, deflectors. Display pull out."

Shifting, the display pulled out to an overview of the Jovian system.

As the ship passed the apogee of its orbit the impulse engines came to life and the orbit inclined more.

"It is preparing to do a deep pass inside the atmosphere of Jupiter," said Mr. Jomra.

"Admiral Scott, did it ask you anything about personnel safety?" asked Enid.

"Hmmm? Yes, it asked what the safety parameters for the destination for the crew should be, and I told it that we all must be alive and not need critical or long-term medical care. Safety to get us there, but allowances for minor injuries allowed."

"Outer hull vents opening, internal ship vents closing around engineering decks, weapons, sensors, and main power systems." said Lothar.

The ship sped down its orbit and into the upper cloud banks of Jupiter, performing a major impulse engine firing then.

"Coolant levels up, exhaust systems reconfigured, cycling captured atmosphere into storage and purging it. All systems now on-line. Warp core activated, nominal. Ship preparing for entry into warp drive." said Lothar.

A flash of light and the display moved to follow the ship into warp drive. It changed course for Mars and took a few minutes to get to the orbit and insert into the designated parking orbit by the base.

Simulation Ends.

"That is the fastest simulation it has ever done," said Enid, "at four days, two hours and twelve minutes. And not a single one of us expected it. L'Tira, can you get us a conference room and contact any project personnel that are interested? We need a post-mortem, say in a half-hour?"

"Can do, Enid," she said looking at the base display,"once we are unsealed we can get the level four conference room."

"Good, priority seating, but leave open the rest for anyone available. I know we didn't expect this, but I think its important."

"More than just important, Enid," said Lothar, "the system was able to identify a Fleet Command Staff member and basically asked for authorization to expend Fleet resources in its mission. That is very, very important and short of the full-up systems for holodecks I can't recall anything that sophisticated out of such a relatively small system."

"I take it that this is unusual activity for the system, then?" said Admiral Scott, smiling.

"Yes, Admiral, every other simulation has not been done with high level Fleet Staff at the Command Level. I believe that the system asked you for extra guidance in its mission, but that will have to wait until the meeting. Lothar, Mr. Jomra, Roger, get what you need collected here and see if we can get Kathy, Grace or Patti for the conference. And get the simulation on the datastream for team analysis. Can do?"

"Easily," said Lothar, "but I will be analyzing as I go. I have never seen anything like this done by any ship that I've heard of."

"Unseal the bay. There are washrooms at the end of the corridor, plus vestibule in case you need anything from the replicator. After that I will be replacing the prepared overview with the team conference, and that may run long."

"May?" said Commodore Rafiq, "You will most likely wear us out." She was deeply smiling with an appraising stare.

"That is the hazard of command, isn't it? Staff meetings?" Enid asked.

Admiral Scott and Commodore Mirak both laughed softly.

"Are you sure she isn't bugging Command Staff Meetings?" asked Mirak.

"Assuredly not," said Mr. Umak, "they are the dullest things around, even the complaints are dull."

"Too true," said Admiral Scott.

"If you would follow me to the washroom area?" asked L'Tira as Enid was whispering via her personal system.

As L'Tira led the group off, she realized that Enid had gone off in another direction, leaving her to help get this group to the conference room if they wanted to go, that is. But the whispered conversation amongst them, almost ensured that.

"L'Tira, is it?" asked Commodore Mirak.

"Yes, sir?"

"How did you assess what just happened?"

"Its... well its unexpected. All of our previous simulations were to just get the USS Grant to the Museum Base for further work and reconditioning. I... none of them had ever had this as an outcome. It is very unexpected and yet, looked like the right thing to do."

"That is something due to the preconditions that were out of normal parameters," said T'sau, "Fleet Command has a different view towards such situations than normal personnel. Personally I could only consider such a simulation to be one of the gravest danger in which such few people were so isolated and neither the Fleet nor Federation available for help. Very grave danger would be the cause of that."

"That was my thinking, too, T'sau," said Admiral Scott, "once the system started to ask me some of the questions it did, I realized that the M-System thought that, also."

"My feelings were the same," said Commodore Mirak, "although just a simulation, the circumstances are so unusual that it could only have been something very extreme to have gotten us so isolated like that, basically put on a dead ship to die."

"I didn't see it like that," said Commodore Rafiq, "although similar, the sort of situation is one where so many factors have gone wrong that being left where we were was an outcome of a number of hideous miscalculations that shifted us out of the way for something else to go on."

"Yes! That's it exactly, "said Revar Umak, "someone had been double-dealing and we came up empty and abandoned to fate. I have seen and experienced that before in trade negotiations, where the negotiation is just a ploy to draw us off balance."

"Indeed, and so deep in Sol System for this to happen, meant extreme danger to the Federation itself. The expenditure of Fleet resources in such a time must be considered and weighed," said T'sau.

"Just what I did, T'sau, its my job. I was shocked to see what went on, too, but for the situation, it can easily be condoned. An empty tractor base for orbital maintenance is not an integral Capital Asset if the Fleet or Federation are in danger."

They arrived at the vestibule, "We will be here until you are all ready, replicator is to the right, washroom section to the rear and seating is do-it-yourself for what we have here." No one noticed as she slipped a small water flask out of her vest and quickly drank it down, putting it in the disposal chute for atomic recycling.

Admiral Scott went straight to the replicator and came away with a white cup of hot fluid, which he slowly sipped.

"There is nothing in the universe like coffee," he said softly, "Tell me, L'Tira, would you seriously consider being Chief of Operations for Enid's company?"

"Ah, Admiral, she never even hinted at that before today. I am floored, really. I thought this was just a fun project to work on and, really, its been one of the most exciting times I've had. Still I don't know what sort of future Daystrom Industries will have and the Fleet does important work for so many people, that it is hard to say just what is the best way to go."

He nodded, taking a bigger sip, "I can see the attraction, already. Enid is more than just a good administrator, she is confident and assured, which are very hard things to come by at someone twice her age. And I am having to seriously revise my estimates of the project, too. These were early units ganged together to do this, correct?"

L'Tira nodded, "Yes, sir. That was the M-Variant contingent project, which fell through with the main project."

"That is astounding, L'Tira. I am thinking about just how history would have been different if this had gone through, and I'm starting to think it would have been far different, just for this part we have seen. Even our modern derivative systems aren't up to what we saw, although they can simulate it, this system was meant to enact it. The simulator is just showing us those results. Was this truly a fresh system activation for us?"

"Yes it was, Admiral. You will have to ask others on the seed modules, but those don't have the capacity to build what happened on their own."

"Robotic ships are one thing. This didn't feel like a robot or simple autonomous system."

Commodore Rafiq had since pulled up a chair with a water flask in her hand, "No it didn't, Wilson. Even with the simple questions it can ask, the system was insightful and used forethought. It had already looked at the overall situation and was refining it, and every answer we gave removed much of the possible and probable and left it with something that fit all the needs. Some of that is prescripted, the basic entry questions are that way, you can tell by the wording. But after that first few? No. That is extremely sophisticated for old equipment. Even new equipment. Nothing like it that I have seen."

L'Tira was counting heads or tracking voices, "If everyone has what they need, I will take you to the conference room. If you need to drop off and rest due to being tired, I'm sure you can do so, and letting your staff know not to worry about you. If anyone needs to do that do let me know and I can get someone to take you to your quarters." She looked around and saw no takers on that.

"Please follow me," L'Tira said moving off to the turbolift down the hall. Soon they were all in the lift and heading towards the conference room floor and disembarcked heading towards it. When they arrived, it looked like most of the people on the project were there. Enid looked up from the head of the table.

"VIP seating is at the table, and if we need more chairs for staff, then go and filch them from other rooms. Replicators on the side, regular coffee, tea, and volad, along with other consumables on the side table," Enid herself was absently nibbling at some sort of dull beige bar in a blue wrapper and had a cup of coffee in front of her, as well as her personal equipment. She had also changed into the Yeoman's outfit.

L'Tira smiled as she took a seat near Enid, but not at the table, and only as she sat down did she realize that Enid had used the gangway ladder system to get to her quarters and change. Three decks up, one section over and two more up. A turbolift would take forever to get there the way the base was configured requiring a shift from cargo lift to personnel lift. Quietly she slipped another flask from her vest and took a protein packet and swallowed it whole, chasing it with water. And she really liked the bad habit she had picked up from Enid of doing that as it calmed her system, kept her focused and never a queasy stomach no matter what the circumstances.

"If we are all here?" Enid glanced at her system. "Enak, could you hit the room security for me?"

By the side panel he nodded and did so.

* * *

"Welcome to the post-mortem of today's test, system - append stardate and other functions, along with attendance list. I hope this meeting isn't inconveniencing any of you, but it is important as we haven't run across this scenario before and the system has acted in ways we haven't seen. I've asked Lothar, Theresa and Brian to give us the overview of the activity and just a bit more time for Grace, Kathy and Patti to do a quick review with Roger and Enak. I would take time to welcome the new team members, but that has already been done, and they have added to our understanding of things just by coming on the team. Which is why we are here. Lothar?"

Enid shifted her chair to the side by L'Tira, and a holodisplay appeared over the table while Lothar stood off to the side at the front of the table. The simulation of the day had appeared.

"This simulation was done using Fleet Command Staff, a variable that we had not considered separate from other variables. With those variables in play, the M-Variant system utilized input from those personnel and examined the parameters of its problem, while still keeping within all the parameters given to it. This is the result."

The simulation started and Lothar kept the display in a running overview, port-side aft of the USS Grant.

"This simulation varied almost immediately as the ship made its first approach to Jupiter and had used its thrusters to shift orbital attitude and inclination which would, in two days, bring it to its furthest extent out just beyond the Tractor Base. That was its goal for this part of the simulation, but had other things going on internally that are not readily discernible as they happened. As the parameters on crew safety had been changed by that crew, the ship took longer runs in the atmosphere while using thrusters to adjust its orbit and stabilize it against drag. The net result was fusion systems actually coming on line faster and using the atmosphere as its source. In effect it was funneling a denser mixture into the fusion system to run them, while siphoning off longer chain molecules into storage after sorting them. By the time of its second orbit it was actually having to chill that mixture coming in so that it would not spontaneously fuse as a plasma."

"Spontaneously fuse? It was going that fast?" asked one of the cadets.

"Not so much a question of speed as density and constriction, and on the third orbit the system then changes its entire configuration and I missed this as it happened. As the ship's attitude over Jupiter put its nacelles and main disk pointing down to the planet, I missed the first time it used a deflector field constriction point located out of the ship to have it act as a ramjet. By then the simulation while it was running in the bay was already looking at the overall system, not concentrating on the ship. I had thought that it had suddenly loaded and off-loaded fuel through the impulse engines, but it went for an elegant solution of having the thrust happen outside the ship. As far as I know this is the first time a Federation starship has used its deflector systems to create a Bussard Ramjet. And that thrust actually gives it the orbital speed to shift to the base, while also requiring the ship to shift its orbit outwards due to speed. It only does that only once as it is spending the rest of the orbits compensating for that, but that impressive change in velocity turns into a stabilizing orbit with the base in two days."

"You are saying that the Grant used the atmosphere of Jupiter as a propulsion basis?" asked Commodore Mirak.

"Yes it did and created a decent system to do that propulsion and keep the crew safe while it did so. It would only be on for a few minutes, ship time, but that was more than enough to get the job done. All of the following orbits, to the final status orbit to the Base would be normal ones, if on a highly inclined and elliptical orbit."

"Why didn't any other simulation have this?" asked Patti.

"It is not a low to zero risk piece of work. But the expanded risk envelope allowed this to be done, although I wouldn't recommend it for more than a couple of passes as it would start to impinge on hull integrity just by heat generation. Also you can't do this with the shield system on, so it really is a complete emergency maneuver."

"Could you run that through from the nightside view?" asked Commodore Mirak.

"Sure, that should be a treat, really,"

The display shifted and then advanced to the start of the pass with the Grant on the dayside. As it moved to the night side a bright and intense glow pierced through cloud banks and outwards through the tenuous atmosphere away from the planet giving a silhouette of the ship as it did so, with light streaming over the shadow portions.

"Oh, that is beautiful!" said L'Tira.

Even the nightside lightning couldn't overwhelm the fierce and intense glow of fusion operations going on in the atmosphere.

"It really is," said Enak, "outside of probes, I don't think I've seen a ship do this."

"This isn't in any manual, I take it?" asked Admiral Scott, his eyes fixed on the display.

"Never described before, beyond theoretical papers dating back centuries. Impulse and Warp systems are just too compelling to make this feasible," said Lothar, "plus a normal computer wouldn't be able to keep up with something like this done ad hoc and would require a special feedback system with programming."

T'sau stared at the display like the others, "Ingenious and impressive."

"I am sure there are a load of other surprises we haven't gotten to, but this one stood out early on. Also note, however, that after this part of the run the entire battery system is recharged. Although the shields were not on, they were used in a passive mode to let magnetic flux fields wash over them and that plasma point made its own highly variable magnetic field that was very energetic. That would prove important later in the simulation."

"Propulsion and energy storage?" asked Kathy.

"Yes, just like it would feed off of the atmosphere and utilize it for other things, it used this to gain power for the ship, itself and then use that for later needs. By recognizing the magnetohydrodynamics situation it had, the M-Series put it to the most use possible in a limited time span."

The dot of light slowly waned and then winked out as the simulation went on.

"Here it is starting a small vector thrust that will do the orbital work to start letting it catch up with the tractor base. By this point in time it had already done an intense scan of all other vessels in orbit and the base, itself. The rest of its orbital maneuvers are conventional, although it would do some thruster work to move away from the deep atmospheric pass, like the one just seen. I still haven't figured out what its interstitial deflector work is, that is it reconfigures the deflectors to some other purpose when not used for sieving atmosphere. It still has intakes open, although the valves have sealed internally, so why it does this is beyond me. Beyond that I'll turn you over to Theresa, she is the large scale tactical weapons POC and a good weapon's officer. Theresa?"

Lt. Kul hadn't been expecting this, but was at lunch and took hours on the project as donated staff time to be at the meeting. She was very glad that she had finished her meal, and only sputtered on, by then, lukecold coffee when she reviewed the simulation. She did contact Brian DuVale who couldn't be at the meeting so he could do a preliminary analysis while she took the gangways to the conference room. She had artificial gravity on her side, luckily, and was one of the first to arrive and had quietly looked over the simulation and exchanged some ideas with Brian. She walked to the front of the table.

"Hello, everyone. I'm Lt. Theresa Kul and on the Weapons Analysis staff here, and previously was Ship's Weapons Officer on the USS Ares. I am sorry I couldn't be at the simulation due to work needs, but looking at the simulation I realized that this was not going to be another dry simulation for the Xth time. I've been working out the basic timeline with Brian DuVale, also on the team and he can't get out from his work at the moment, so let me catch you up on what was going on behind the scenes."

The holodisplay shifted back to the start.

"At the very start is normal: recharge the thrusters and sort out elements to the cooling systems. On the orbit just prior to the fusion ignition one, the M-Series had changed its approach to Jupiter to head through a deep mixture point in the atmosphere, where an upwelling of heavier hydrocarbons was present. It would take a few minutes to pass through that area, but the M-Series altered its flow of material out of storage and into the phaser and photon cooling systems. While the ship was buttoned down on the fusion run, just after it the deflector system did a ripple effect and moved ionized gases off of the hull and surrounding space and into the warp core cooling system. What that actually did, however, was start the warming process of the warp core as the exterior gas was highly excited and charged and would transfer both heat and charge into the core, thus neutralizing the gases. This will become critical later on for charging the weapons systems."

"But the core is inactive, isn't it?" asked Commodore Mirak.

"Yes, sir, it is. The core is not acting as a core, really, but a reserve energy system. In essence a giant battery. While you can charge up a photon torpedo with standard battery and fusion power, it works much, much better if the torpedo igniter has a quick charge put on it. By storing the energy in the core the core system is also warmed for later events, so the ship doesn't need to do a regular warming cycle or a 'crash warming' and will get a good charge on the photon torpedo later in the run."

"Again, multipurpose in outlook," said Enid.

"It is, Enid, and that looks to be the way the M-Series likes it. Now by having full batteries the pre-warming of the phaser systems can begin, although it concentrates on the ring and forward banks, each in turn. As you know the phaser ring offers a much more energetic phased array than a standard phaser bank or point phaser. What it lacks, however, is precision and is normally used on a sustained swath where letting the actual beam spread out is acceptable. It has good and bad points to it as it is easier to maintain and cool, but takes more energy overhead when run at full power. It really isn't made for a sustained and precise aim and the beam tends to get fuzzy on the sides."

"Has anyone proposed using it as it was used today?" asked Admiral Scott.

"No, sir. I've been on the history staff for phasers and cataloging them from their first early hand laser grid injection systems to some of the outre ones used by the Tholians and Orions. The principle remains the same, but engineering is widely variable. Now, since everyone is interested in the showtime, let me queue up to that and the first pass. Here we have the approach by the ship to the station, with the ship in a text-book description of how to line up a minimum distance for all points firing."

"This first arc is sustained and will represent the first semi-circle, forward, and it has to achieve that before the ship needs to change attitude. This energy swath is very tightly controlled for the phaser ring system, and at much lower power than normal. Let me slow down the simulation replay and reverse a bit."

The initial phaser fire stopped, the image pulled back on the timeline and restarted.

"This is down to thousandths of a second, which is the best the capture can do. This initial part of the phaser fire is very energetic, see that while the trail after it is reddish, this part isn't even white hot and can only be seen by a few stray atoms impinging on it. This first part of the fire carves right through the outer hull and is modulated to be at the perfect temperature and intesnity to disrupt the hull itself."

She ran it forward and did a close up of the hull point and as the unseen part of the phaser burst hit, the hull just vaporized under it.

"That white burst is the absorbed energy in the surrounding hull and the gas plasma of this first part of the burst. Next the red part, which carves through the interior,"

A red phaser beam moved into the interior of the base and gas with small debris was being ejected. The interior lit up to a deep yellow as that went on.

"Now just a step forward by a half-second and note that a second shot that is invisible to the naked eye penetrates deep into the station, with the white actinic follow on. That is cutting part of an interior support that is much, much sturdier than normal decks. Also see that the main phaser burst is eroding away at the exterior hull which is now penetrated. Now I'll shift into normal speed."

The blinding flash of the phaser continued along the hull then stopped only to be picked up right where the first hit was.

"At that point it has now done one-quarter of the hull, and has shifted to the rear part of the ring for attitude. It will duplicate that first run starboard and then start and do it all over again forward with port then starboard. At this point the base has taken a deep interior cone of damage that winds up just below its anti-matter containment system. In fact that system for shutdown containment is self-sustaining with its own small back-up battery system and direct feed to passive solar panels. At least parts of two decks under that system are in the cone."

The base was outlined and shifted on a lateral axis.

"The M-Series is wasting no time nor energy on this work, and is doing some interesting work with low power deflectors to keep the ring spread to a minimum. What it does do is add just a bit of plasma to each of the UV bursts, which are near critical overloads for the ring system. They are so short, however, that there is almost no wear on the exterior array. After that it will complete the outer part of its orbit and is situated to do this on the other side of the base. It also expends some battery energy for the tractor beam. This cut is basically the same as the first, save that it is much, much smaller and leaves three decks between the previous cut and this one intact. The tractor then shifts the piece out of the way as it is fully detached."

Watching the display, Mr. Jomra said, "That is very exacting work for a phaser, isn't it Theresa?"

"On the first, Mr. Jomra, that's right. Having to try and fiddle the deflectors, keep the beam on target, and adjust constantly like that is taxing work for our computers and far out of what a human can do. It is also very, very low power and conserving energy as it has modulated the beam to be at the perfect energy for cutting through the deck material and internal supports: it isn't wasting energy that would just get absorbed or reflected around causing excess damage or collateral damage. Waste energy from cooling is, instead of going to the intercoolers, goes through the warp core, so even that energy is recaptured, by and large."

"Now for the kicker, let me queue up run two. Let me run it at normal speed."

Phaser light again, apparently, repeated cuts of the first run, but it was apparent that something was slightly shifting.

"From what I can figure, the first run did something like perforate each of the major interior supports for the power system, but did not wholly cut through them. This run actually took far less power as it was removing the parts between the perforations. If you look closely, this section is now floating inside the base. As the Grant powers down its ring phaser and does a final power up on the photon torpedo, let me switch to the other side and then back to this side on the same part of the run."

Shifting to the other side the Grant came on slowly, then fired a single, dull red photon torpedo that arced out of its departure path and into the conical area cut away from the first run. This scene then repeated on the other side, but here the larger section was moving slowly outwards after the photon torpedo hit, and Theresa stopped it as it was three-quarters out of the base.

"Note this major support that runs along the axis of the base. You can clearly see one, major cut through the center of it, and then two smaller cuts just slightly off-set to top and bottom. That was the first run and second run: first did the major work, the second the smaller ones. That repeats around the entire section for each support, save minor deck supports. The small amount of twisting is the section breaking free of the base, and that didn't take much at all once the shockwave transferred from the lower support into this section."

The view shifted to the lower support as it floated out.

"That major beam has been eroded completely around leaving only what was a half-meter rod shaped section intact with a 'V' cut all around. If it looks like anything, it looks like a piston of sorts. The photon torpedo hit exactly to deliver almost all of its power directly into this support, compress it and then have that energy transfer to the section. Once it did the section then moved and pulled out the broken support which had fractured when it was compressed. That is what I call 'good shooting'."

"More than just that, Theresa, but a very deep knowledge of what it was doing down to the finest detail. Just amazing," said Lothar, "I wouldn't try it in real life, but then I'm not an M-Series computer running a starship."

"No one would be fool enough to even try and simulate this, Lothar. It is just too strange to even think about, having that sort of precision from a starship."

"Theresa, what would your estimation of the damage to the tractor base be?" asked Commodore Rafiq.

"That is a hard one to estimate. The actual superstructure is horribly compromised to the point a single disruptor shot could destroy it. On the other hand it is missing almost exactly two pieces of reinforced metalplas, each about ten meters long, which could be slipped in place and spot integrated by a two person team in half an hour. Add in an auxiliary power unit and the base is pretty close to operational, missing its tractor systems, but having everything else intact save for all its decks. Full restoration if done on-the-spot would be three months, easy, and probably more like five. I don't think that if the materials were available that the Fleet would consider junking it, but that is a logistics problem. As-is, with a few passive systems and batteries it could support two or three people for a few months, if they don't mind emergency rations and the exercise necessary to stay fit in zero-g."

"Really?" asked Kathy, "That damage just looks horrific."

"Yes it does, Kathy. The real kicker on this, and a lot to think about, is that the other pieces were not just tossed away. In fact, in a month or two, they will slowly shift closer to the base and it just might be possible to put the large section back in, although with a lot of refit work. The smaller section is more problematical, but might serve as patch-work in case of emergency repairs. There is also a very slight spin on the base, once this is done, and that will help to straighten out any deformation due to the photon blast. It is a bit harsh, though not enough to destroy the station, as that was not even at half-power, closer to 20%. More like a hard punch than a blast."

"Have you ever seen anything like this?" asked T'sau.

"You mean from battle damage analysis and my regular work here?"

"Yes, or even privately if that is not asking too much."

"No its not too much. I have seen all sorts of uses of phasers, photon and quantum torps, disruptors, nuclear devices, conventional explosives, you name it, I've probably seen it. The closest to this is a mining operation that had to deal with a layer of dilithium rich ore that was between two layers of extremely hard basalt with heavy metal inclusions. The group doing this only had a phaser bore and had to decide if they wanted to stop operations for a year or so to try a much longer, lateral approach, switch to other mining methods or do a timed burn. Their problem was that if the burn didn't work out right, they would lose the ore pocket which had a volatile admixture of matrix around the dilithium. Their controlled burn was one centimeter short and from there and they did hand work it, not wanting to risk any uneveness of the layer. They actually went manual and were glad they did as the under surface was very uneven. They precisely calculated the rock, inclusions and the rest of it to come up with a timed burn. It was something like this, but took a few days to calculate. In theory it can be done, but it always means a long, long time to figure out how to do it right. Even the Fleet Corps of Engineers doesn't do this kind of work at this distance. So there is similar work done in mining and large-scale work on things like hull plates and infrastructure to make a ship, but that is always close-in work."

"Theresa, those other operations are using tools, aren't they?" asked Enid.

Theresa thought for a moment then nodded, "Yes, Enid, I hadn't thought of it like that, but its exactly right. Those are the uses of things like phasers as tools, not as weapons although they can do that, in a pinch, too. Actually considering what happens next, I think you are on to something. Lets pick up on the return orbit. Here it is tractor and phaser work."

The holodisplay shifted to the USS Grant approaching the station on its next orbit, the conical piece floating free, but in the same general orbit as the station. Theresa Kul paused the simulation there.

"If the other passes were something not described or done, the next is one I consider almost impossible. Here the ship is coming in, two phaser points charged, not even the full bank forward, and the tractor is on stand-by. The first phaser point on port side fires one single, clean burst that shears off the tip of the cone, then the Grant latches a tractor beam on that piece and uses thrusters to adjust the ship and piece from the main section, although the orbit is basically the same, this is just a tactical maneuver. The next phaser burst looks short, but it actually lasts about twice as long as the first, but at a lower power and even pulses because it is trying a very tricky shot. As you know this is the heart of the station's power supply: its anti-matter cache. The Federation protects all anti-matter in a superconductive magnetic field, so that even a moderate term loss of power, say a week, would allow the anti-matter to stay contained. The actual circuits to monitor that are extremely low power and have their own battery and power feed from multiple sections including the passive solar array. In theory we could abandon a station like this for a few thousand years, come back and the anti-matter would still be contained."

"That is standard safe engineering practice," said Lothar, "still, it can't take this sort of punishment."

"By the time it does, Lothar, there isn't much of a superstructure or system to save. Here the Grant is being very precise and has grabbed the piece by a very small sub-meter square section near the tip. The tractor is at low power and why we will see in a moment."

The simulation continued, the thrusters firing and shifting the Grant out of the way of the major drifting section, the small piece shifting with it held in the tractor beam.

"At this point the ship has locked on to its firing slot, but it is askew from dead center and slightly to port. When it fires it also starts to shift the tractor by rotating it port to starboard. Here the phaser hits the larger section and starts to erode it. Note the high intensity pulse at this point, and that the piece is shifting faster. What it has done is vaporized the top of the containment while it has low lateral motion and then is rotating the piece faster as the firing happens. At this point the sudden arc of electricity shows the end of the containment field and the Grant then shifts the piece quickly aside. From here I can't really describe what it does, but it achieved its goal as it somehow processed the anti-matter into the heart of the ship to power itself. Lothar is probably better in that area, although Kathy should be able to handle it, too. I don't have much to add after this, save that no targeting system we have devised could do this work. The holodecks would complain about this in the human feasible area, but this set of interactions shows that there is at least one computer system that takes this very seriously."

"Theresa, what would you say this ship could do in combat?" asked Admiral Scott.

"Ah, sir, that is hard to say. All of this is normal space, non-shielded work, so the M-Series can do a lot here that would be difficult to do in combat, I should think. Still, given that and how shields operate, I think that this might be a major advance in ship systems capability because the system shows a very fast capability to see what it is doing, understand it and adjust to it."

"Why the proviso on shield operations?" asked Simon.

"Ah, Simon you should know about shield harmonics. If you could perfectly tune a phaser to the exact harmonics of a shield system and adjust it continually for range and spread, what would happen?"

He furrowed his brow for a bit, then came out softly, "Oh... yes, I see."

Revar Umak said, "See? What is it? What would happen?"

Simon turned to Revar, "In such a tuning the shield system becomes transparent to the phaser modulated beam. The deflector system would blunt that, but it is in no way enough to stop the damage from a major phaser strike. Even modulating harmonics, as done with the Borg... well... the Borg for all of their power are very slow to adapt and react, while this system is reaction in and of itself from what we have just seen. If it could run a program to guess the modulating system used to defend against it, then it would start to modulate its phasers likewise. By the time a normal ship figured that out, the damage is done. Normal biological entities can make very fast decisions and use intuition about what is going on, but the reaction time is on a long time lag interval."

Admiral Scott leaned forward, "Are you saying that we have just rendered shields useless?"

"Oh, not useless by any means, sir," said Lothar, "just we now know can't depend on them or our automated systems to actually protect a ship as a major defensive system against a ship that has a system like this on it."

"Dear, god... the Excalibur..." said Commodore Rafiq.

"I think that is part of it," said Patti, "even with low power shields and deflectors, the two should have blunted the initial damage. But they didn't. The M-5 utilized its capability at high power and killed the crew with extremely targeted fire that wasn't stopped by either defensive system."

"This is not what I expected," said Commodore Mirak.

"Nor us," said Enid, "which is a problem for the investigators after the incident not taking their time to do an extremely thorough examination of what happened. The Fleet was looking to place blame, not understand what happened, and the rush to judgment by the Fleet then changed how all future researchers would approach the incident."

"Enid, that is hard to take," said Rafiq softly.

"Now you know how it feels to be a Daystrom. The Fleet is not to blame for the incident, but it is culpable in what it decided to do in sweeping this under the rug. A technical accident can get blame and a scientist deranged can do damage, together they become the perfect point to lay blame. Once it is affixed, everyone then sees what happened in only one way. This is what the Federation passed up on - a system that can utilize a starship in exacting ways to save lives and defend them."

"Enid has a major psychological point there," said Patti DuBois,"just looking at Richard Daystrom's personal notes, what there are of them as he was becoming very paranoid and worse as the project went on, he loses track of this concept with his conscious faculties and yet, back in the background, his mind is still working on the original intent of the M-Series. They are not at exact cross-purposes, but the different goals and necessary schedules to meet make it impossible for Richard Daystrom's mind to remain balanced. Yet his commitment to finishing his work and intuitively understanding how important it was drove him forward, even understanding that he couldn't directly accomplish what he set out to do."

"That is at the dark center of his shadow. We never understood what it was or what, exactly caused it as great grandfather couldn't talk about anything related to this after being stabilized. Yet, in many ways, he showed evidence of frustration and not having some key part of himself engaged. That gulf made it impossible for him to understand his own work or help others. With the Fleet already having its say, the entire concept was scrapped. Yet some portion reminded him that Daystrom Industries was important, so that when the Institute was formed up, the title to Daystrom Industries remained with his estate and the family. If the Fleet, the scientific and technical communities and other researchers could not render a proper verdict on him, then he created the one thing that would allow one group who was interested in him to finally have that chance."

"The Daystrom family," said T'sau.

"Yes, although I think he might have expected it within his lifetime. Now, Lothar or Kathy? Which of you can best address the end of the simulation?"

"I'll take a stab at it, Enid, although some of the systems work I'll be relying on Lothar's notes," Kathy said.

"Good, take us from the shifting of the anti-matter cache in space."

Kathy Lorimar stood up. "As you know anti-matter is the opposite charge of matter, so that protons in matter have a positive charge and in anti-matter a negative charge. One thing that caught my attention was that the phaser shot came in at a slight oblique to the structure around the cache, and I think the M-Series was doing that to help shift the atoms of vapor away from the path of the container. It actually continues on for a few nanoseconds after the container arcs, which effectively vaporizes the top of the container. As the magnetic field decays it acts to actually eject the anti-matter out of the top of the cache, but that is, effectively, negating the speed it had previously. For all intents and purposes, the anti-matter is motionless, laterally, to the direction of the ship's deflector screens as it comes in."

With the end of the phaser fire, Kathy pointed to where the expected mass of anti-matter would be.

"Now, let me overlay what we think the deflector system has formed into..."

A grid formed topside forward of the Grant, with a definite funnel shape that would intersect the anti-matter just slightly to port.

"Here I believe the system is attempting a first segregation by interposing the deflector between any vapor left by the phaser strikes and the anti-matter. As the ship moves and the position of the funnel goes past the anti-matter, the funnel closes and that area of space that has the anti-matter in it is then compressed and shifted down and into the exhaust system for the warp drive. Here we think the anti-matter passes into the exhaust flux port, normally used in case of overheating of the anti-matter cache or if there is a run-away reaction in the warp system and anti-matter needs to be flushed out of it. The addition put in by Revar Umak disables it as an exhaust and turns it into a charged conduit. This work is vital as it is very important that any stray matter/anti-matter reactions happen either here or in the warp core: no other ship system can handle this."

"In fact the exhaust isn't designed to do this," said Lothar,"that small drop-in way out at the end of a Jeffries tube would try the patience of a saint to install while a ship was in-flight and couldn't be done with an active core."

"Hmph! It had better be important for what I would have to do!" said Mr. Umak.

"It is! The ship then shifts the entire mass right through the system and into the cache after putting it into the standard segregation ring that is normally used to add anti-matter to a starship. The last matter is taken out and the cache then has its supply of anti-matter. Once the last of the anti-matter is in the exhaust, the add-in drops off via standard releases and is dropped into the housing that surrounds the exhaust. At that point it can't do any damage if it knocks around, although it might work its way to fall down the Jeffries tube. After that the core has been pre-warmed, the anti-matter is warmed slightly by being slowed to a halt, and the first slow mixture is done in the core itself and then ramped up. The USS Grant is ready for operations, then. The rest is standard routine."

"If I may," said Patti,"this is more than just getting the necessary fuel, not only had the system pre-warmed the core but was actually able to do something that, in Richard Daystrom's time, would not be accomplished until M-4 and that is shift a ship into warp drive and navigate. This is new to the system, the project and hasn't been recorded as even possible in any other tests done by anyone up to this point. This is a serious point of departure for the project and clearly establishes new territory."

"That is very true, Patti," said Grace, "and something beyond normal interest. I will have the team members involved with the forensics side try and comb out how this has happened. Do you have any insights on where to look, Patti?"

"A few ideas, really, but not well formed. Roger?"

"I would think that a good part of it is in how the units did their work. Singly an M-Unit would be swamped by too much data and too many decisions, and even getting a spare and lean simulation was challenging to M-3. While this is a relatively stripped-down ship, we have had the fullest simulation we can provide for it, and the M-Variant has shown a capability to use that data as filtered through the simulator and the ship simulation. But how it is doing that is more up to the evolutionary code than to the static check code."

"What I noticed," said Lothar, "is that the M-Variants would tend to concentrate on a few things at a time and get the most from those activities as possible. While heading into the atmosphere there would be shifts from deflectors to energy intake and stabilization to vectoring thrust then to shifting those systems down, re-configuring them, while storing any captured atmosphere in the storage holds. While in orbit the ship transitions in a function by function manner and always leaves automated sub-systems to do their job when they are needed later. In fact once they set up an automated routine, they let it go and only keep status updates if it does not go out of its expected operational parameters. A very efficient way to do things if you have limited overall capacity but highly flexible capacity. And there are certain times in orbit when the system is working at a high amount and not doing anything. Planning time, possibly. I really don't know."

"That is my impression, too, Lothar," said Patti, "that its time for planning is one to order things and then just step through the things it had decided. Just watching a system overview, I could see some areas of the ship shift from active to inactive control in an orderly manner. Energy management would shift from tight control on the fusion areas to very light while working to clean up the energy coming in from the shield array, plus ensuring that a longer term need, like the warp core was being addressed. Once out of a rich source of fuel in the atmosphere, things would switch back to very precise control of those resources. Getting the weapons system prepared seemed to be far more automated until they were needed, and then energy systems went back to local automated control, with more attention being paid to sensors, targeting and so on."

Roger smiled and nodded.

"I'm glad you brought that up, Patti! It seemed like such a natural way for the ship to function that I had gotten a bit lost on how smoothly it did things. I'll see what I can do to help you, Grace, but I know that what Roger says about the code is one that is very valid. Getting to understand how and why evolutionary code does what it does do is extremely difficult. I've had a couple of simple primer courses from him and its always frustrating to finally get something that works and have no real idea how it can work, even when some of our most basic tools aren't given to the system."

"Evolutionary algorithms have been few and far between for us, in forensics," Grace said, "because they are so widely variable and difficult to figure out. This is not the Borg 'find and report and wait for orders' type of coding, nor that of some of the ancient automated systems that have survived via forms of adaptability due to higher level structures. These aren't von Neumann codes nor are they strict code types of imperative or non-imperative systems. Apparently there is an innate part of biological beings that have some distrust of created systems that are not exactly predictable or that behave in unique and adaptive ways without some understanding of how they can do that."

"It is hard to work with," said Kathy, "but there is a feeling that I get that what Dr. Daystrom put in place works very well, even when he was mentally ill. I agree with Patti, and this is not anything like what the M-Series has demonstrated before. And it has me working out in my specialty quite a lot to try and figure out just how it is doing what it is doing on the spatial end of it. No matter how rough the atmospheric part of the journey was, the shift to warp drive was a very nominal one and it took a short time to build up a very efficient pocket around the ship. You can get that with human/automated interactive systems, as space fields do have a 'feel' to them. The M-Units put only the sparest energy into pocket formation with the most going to actual warp capability. Well, I think that does it for my part of things."

Enid nodded.

"Thank you, Kathy. I'm hoping that this can be fleshed out a bit more over the next week, so that leaves us with anything not answered about this simulation, and after that I would like to segue into a broader over-view that was scheduled before this happened. I may want to put that off if our new team members are fatigued, however."

"T'sau, Revar?" asked Admiral Scott," I know the Council does have pressing concerns, but you will have access to the data and reports via your personal systems. I would like to stay for an extra day or two, but for all that this shows, I still have my regular job to do."

"I think I can garner much from the report database,"said T'sau, "that plus our diplomatic work with the Gorns about this now takes a much higher level of urgency. I will take time after the question period to meditate and then join you for dinner."

"T'sau has got that right, I can handle a lot, but just trying to figure out what I've seen here and how it will effect the Federation internally... that is difficult. And it is on me, as no one else in the Trade Administration can get this."

"Not until our scientific documents are properly put out, Revar Umak. That will be some months, yet. Realize that the Fleet Engineering Corps will also have this data in the very near future, and they will be working to do a thorough analysis of it, too" Enid Daystrom said.

"Good! Stay for the Q&A, catch up with my staff which must now be lost, do some catching up on work issues and then dinner."

"Eloise? Leonard?"

"I'm torn, Wilson. I have just seen something that will, possibly, reshape the entire field of cybernetic design and ship design, and put serious challenges to our researchers for years. Yet my restrictions keep me from doing more than being a contributor, and I can't prep my staff on this. It would be pure torture to do that and not be able to staff-up things as I think they should be done," said Commodore Mirak.

"Put it in as a Special Project for next cycle, Leonard," said Eloise.

"I will have to, one without direct assignment or linkage to this as of yet. Probably 'Assistance to Engineering Corps'."

"That'll work, Len. Have your staff put your tag on it when it comes to me, so I can prioritize it."

Eloise Rafiq sat back, her black jacket with insignia from the team on, though open down the front. "Luckily Records doesn't need such handling as most of it is cut and dried. My only worry would be dropping out of sight for a few days and having everything run smoothly without me... someone might get the idea that I'm not needed."

Wilson Scott smiles,"Eloise you will put them harder to work here than you do behind your desk. I've seen what you do during vacations, and just when do you get any vacation time during them? You are far busier away from your desk than at it."

"I don't want to be a dunsel, Wilson. But this is a part of my responsibilities, the Historical Section, so I won't be away from work, just doing a site visit. Can you set me up with an admin area for a few days, Captain Bartholomew?"

"Of course! How would Captain's Quarters on the USS Athens do? We have retrofitted modern capability in under the older equipment, so nothing should be lost while there."

"Oh! I thought that was off-limits for real use..."

"No, Commodore, we frequently let out quarters to VIP and their staff on the Athens, and the interconnect is only a short walk from a turbolift on both sides. I can even get Lothar and Simon to power up the comms so that you have a dedicated Fleet Link."

"That would be excellent, Captain, and thank you. That actually won't put me very far from my actual desk, administratively, and in some ways far closer to those working in it. Go ahead and do that, probably for a week as I would like to take in the next over-view session for the project."

"Very good, I'll see to it."

"Well, Enid, I think we will stay for the final questions and then relax before dinner. Do you have any recommendations?" he asked.

"Sure! Public dining alcove 7, which is done up in 19th century Boston historical emulating a restaurant of the era. Much better than holodecks, really."

"That sounds good!"

"It is already reserved for you, sir." said L'Tira.

Admiral Scott looked between L'Tira and Enid, "You don't leave things to chance, do you Enid?"

"Not if I can help it, Admiral. Now any final questions from this simulation today?"

"This wasn't the full-up integration to-date, was it?" asked Mr. Jervis.

"No, just the M-1/M-2 array augmented. M-3 was not in the array system." said Roger.

"M-3 wasn't.... wait a second, M-3 can operate as part of this?" asked Commodore Mirak.

"Ah, yes, that would be in the briefing, but to sum it up, the entire M-Series has the capability to interoperate as a whole system. That was what great grandfather was trying to do and we have spent weeks piecing that together."

"The system wasn't even fully operational for this?" asked Commodore Rafiq.

"No, it wasn't, and probably won't be until M-4 and M-5 get added to it," said Lothar.

"Get added? You don't mean...?"

"Yes, Commodore, that is the great loss from the Fleet perspective: Richard Daystrom had interior plans to himself that he kept obfuscated on purpose. He hadn't wanted 'just' the M-5, but M-5 was to be an integral part of a complete system spanning from multiple early units to singular M-3/4/5 units." said Patti. "You saw the Lifeboat reserve system sub-contract at work, and it turns out that this system was going to be the heart of the overall M-Series. Richard Daystrom lost track of that, and his ultimate goal, stressed by feelings he had been improperly appreciated, his work stolen, and without recognition from those who built on his work."

"Fascinating," said T'sau, "I had heard that no adept wanted to approach his mind beyond surface contact, that it was too volatile to approach beyond that. Neural stabilization has its faults in not addressing many underlying and systemic problems that go beyond our ability to map in an individual's brain. For those with standard talents or singular talents, those can often go unchanged, but Richard Daystrom was deeply talented and that made him very difficult to approach."

"How do you know this, T'sau?" asked Enid.

"I had entry Kolinar training as a youth, Miss Daystrom, and found that my mind would not settle on that path of absolutely pure logic. That made the diplomatic corps an ideal way to go in my life. When I was being trained some 60 years ago, I met an elderly adept who had worked with Richard Daystrom in an attempt to settle his mind. It could not be done, as the underlying structure was so strong that to move that would have broken the man and his personality. He was not happy with that, but understood it at some level."

"That fits with everything we have seen so far, T'sau, and thank you for that."

"My pleasure, Enid Daystrom."

"Just how close does the simulator come to real life?" asked Revar Umak.

Lothar looked at Simon then they looked at Roger, who looked at Enak, who shrugged and stood up, "The simulation that we started with is a Fleet Standard ship simulation with high degrees of add-ons for planetary masses, orbits, plasma, attenuated gases, and good simulation capability for physics. We originally had tried an era specific simulator, which worked well enough, but as we stepped outside the 'design pocket' of what those were made to do, we ramped up simulator types while retaining the older style system connections. We finally had to end that and retrofit the M-Units with modern connection systems which was easy to do, and we upped the actual capability of the M-Units to receive data, but their internal structure remained unchanged and they compensated for the throughput. I had to work with Simon, Lothar and Mr. Jomra to find all the modern specifications of the knowns of the Constitution class heavy cruiser and all of its foibles and peculiarities, which are not current Fleet Standard as no one really models that class of cruiser these days. In addition to that we have an old ship computer core off of a heavy destroyer which fits the majority of specifications for what that heavy cruiser should have, and that is part of the simulation, as well. Once we started on the M-Variant systems, we started getting feed-back from them on the simulation and its... ahhh... lacks. Their links to power and sensor systems, in particular, were high up on the complaint list and I'm afraid we can't properly simulate those responses for the systems."

"Actually, no one can simulate that accurately without having a starship attached to it," said Lothar.

"When you use the term 'complain' is that just your term for systemic feedback?" asked Mirak.

"That was what we had up to the M-Variants, when we added in M-3, we started to get a few real complaints falling outside of any pre-programmed parameters for response and prompting," said Enak.

"It complained. Not loudly, nor insistently, but these were problems that it had to deal with and felt that having a simulation that couldn't do so was hampering their function." said Patti, "No prior M-Series system tested prior to this group ran across this complaint type."

"That's true, the T&E logs up to M-4 would show standard, programmatic responses for items out of accepted tolerance and notify users of internal over-rides to compensate for those things." said Roger.

"M-3 when integrated also gets bored if it doesn't have much to do, which our simulations have had up to today." said Enid.

Eloise Rafiq blinked, twice, "Bored?"

"Ah, yes, a first for artificial intelligence, I think," said Roger, "During simulations when it can't get anyone to talk to, it starts to hibernate some of its programming, leaving automatic functions to the other units. It does wake up to do tasks like sensor scans, any adjustments to orbital plots, and when the ship needs to be busy it is fully powered up."

"It takes a nap?" asked Rafiq.

"Well, yes. Wouldn't you?" asked Roger.

"I... wait... wait a second. That isn't pre-programmed response, I take it?"

"Not at all, Commodore," said Enak,"it is a basic of life forms that when they have little to occupy themselves with, they start to spend more time in a lax or lethargic or even sleeping state."

"Yes, but that is for living things," said Mirak,"not starships."

"Looks like this is turning into the briefing anyway," Enid sighed, visions of going over her notes and perhaps getting some zero-g racketball in fled from her mind.

"From the top, Richard Daystrom's personal archives and much of what he did with the M-Variant project was meant to go directly along this path. He was going far deeper than just conscious engrams, which is the view every single investigator during his time took. They thought it was a marvel that he could get them working as he did. Those were mere surface engrams and the entire story delves into the structure of the M-Series as he originally conceived it. He reasoned that a computer that felt as a living being feels inside its body would have superior capability to learn and react than any computer system that did not take that into direct thought account. Our great balancing of our minds is that emotions help to moderate conscious thought and the conscious side helps to moderate the emotions: together they form a whole that occupies the body as one being. Emotions and conscious thought have a deep intertwining with the underlying state of the body of an individual, and together they form an organic whole personality."

Enid was a bit exasperated, but reconciled to the necessities of this.

"And he did a good job, really. No, an excellent job given what his mental difficulties were at the time," said Patti,"He had thought out the M-Series at some very basic level and realized that he could not do it all at one shot. He also knew that his critics would grasp on that to strengthen their criticisms, and he also recognized the truth that trying to get it all to work the first time around was impossible. He took care to hide the actual and underlying structure that would give a computer the ability to have emotional responses to its body, which would be a starship. As his mind grew clouded and slowly broken, he lost track of that in a conscious way, but not at that lower level. His mental decline starts before the M-Series is even proposed, but the intensity of work, the frustration of failures and the need to hide his actual work inside the project itself, all put additional stress on him. Paranoia I am sure about looking at the records, but by the end schizophrenia or some other form of displacement of personality cannot be ruled out. Yet what he was doing, by the time he got to M-3, was already an astounding achievement if he had wanted it to be put together then. When we integrated the M-Units of the original 1/2/3 and the Variants we found a surprisingly sophisticated and complicated system was coalescing. Previously it had demonstrated all the minimal consciousness necessary to protect itself and feed, while maintaining its systems and objectives."

"Feeding? Not refueling but... feeding?" whispered Admiral Scott.

Lothar changed to an earlier simulation of the Grant moving into the atmosphere of Jupiter and how it extended its deflector fields. Annotations showed how it sieved, sorted, and then distributed the results to appropriate areas for later need, and how energy systems responded.

"When you see something like this, not to speak of the fusion event, it is more than just typical 'refueling'," said Lothar, "this is a highly precise, integrated way to approach the needs of a ship and meet many of them simultaneously without impairing any other function. When we eat it is in response to our body's needs, and we seek out a food source to satisfy them and then allow the post-intake sorting to happen by the non-conscious mechanisms of our bodies. The M-Variants do that, and this ad hoc system is taking very little computing power to keep that up as it goes through the attenuated atmosphere. Even the responses are automatic and it places some field adjustments at the lowest level to how the deflectors work, not by automation."

"Don't forget the body recognition/response problem, either," said Kathy, "that really threw us as we tried to give the system what the Grant is, today, and since we don't really know how some of those systems really operate we couldn't simulate them well. That is why we finally backed down to the known ship type rather than as it is. Apparently we know enough about the systems of the past to give enough simulation capability to emulate them. No matter how much data we threw at the other equipment that didn't work well, the M-Series just couldn't handle that and told us so."

"A starship thats...well... living?" said Admiral Scott, "I mean we have seen many forms of cybernetic and artificial or created thinking platforms, but the ability to treat their underlying platforms as bodies is questionable."

"Some do and some don't," said Roger,"there is a variety of ways that AI and cyborgs adapt to their underlying platforms. The feeling of an 'integral body' or a housing that has a feeling of 'completeness' also varies, so that some can feel that they are 'in' their bodies but have little regard for the actual parts within them and can easily change out sub-pieces. Others may not have that feeling, but regard their housing as 'complete' and would feel 'violated' if anything was done to them. Robots and primitive AI systems usually do not have this to deal with, being an accumulation of software and hardware with pre-programmed purpose. Normally this only shows up in self-guiding intelligence structures, and those that transcend bodies, like the Organians, say, have no real association with any physical structure, although they still have an integral presence."

"I agree with Roger, with the proviso that this system is, apparently, unique in what it does," said Patti. "Here there is an attempt to build up the necessary non-conscious parts necessary for an intelligence to operate, so it starts down at the very basics of interfacing between the intelligence and the body. I think that Richard Daystrom was taking a few leaves from the evolutionary handbook, not only in his algorithms but in the overall design. Today's simulation put the structure to a hard test in which it would need to prioritize different pressing needs and accomplish them in a faster manner than had been done in previous tests."

"That came from the standard multitronic code, I would guess," said Roger,"it has that prioritization of external factors schema built into it and relies on the external computing system of the ship, at this stage, to do that. There was a large jump in ad hoc code shifting through that system and it was far beyond the standard Q&A work. The multitronic code did what it is good at and the memory module code did what it was good at and they operated together."

"I've been running some test equations on that fusion run, and talking with Kathy," said Mr. Jervis,"and it really is an amazing piece of work. The region it went through was ionized due to atmospheric currents so the deflector field was able to gather in a very strongly charged set of gases. It had attenuated its field to the maximum where a deflector field can actually deflect anything and by having it gain an opposite charge, the system extended even that reach by a small amount. As the funnel narrows it has irregularity in it to cause a spiral, which has a slight vortex effect, so as it narrows the compression rate speeds up to the pinch-point which is highly magnetic after the first second or so, due to the flow of charges inside the field. As the gas fuses, and it is mostly hydrogen fusion, although some other elements and molecules, especially longer chain hydrocarbons, get mixed in so the radiation from it will have some nasty spikes. Plus cause a very, very bumpy ride. Still the equations work out fine, and I'm surprised that no one has ever thought about doing this."

"It is a pretty primitive means of propulsion," said Commodore Mirak.

"True, but it also works pretty well if you can keep the deflectors constantly adjusting. And most of that is done by the electrostatic charges in the gas as it interacts with the field, even though it is a small percentage of the overall gas coming in, it does a good job of deflecting those components, and the pinch point actually opens and closes when heavier mixtures come through automatically due to their different molecular mass. I'm impressed."

"As am I, Mr. Jervis. If there are no other questions, about the only reminder I have is to put in your nominations for engrams for the final two systems, M-4 and M-5." said Enid.

"Nominations for engrams?" asked T'sau.

"Yes, as part of the problem with the first incarnation of these systems were being based on great grandfather's engrams, and that Patti and Roger have puzzled out how they get encoded, I think it is fair to say that I don't want his engrams used beyond initial testing. So it is who you think would be best to model the resultant system on, and why. It doesn't have to be long. I know I am personally looking at a steady personality with a decided lack of flamboyance but a high dedication to getting work done. Hopefully we can come to a consensus candidate that will satisfy no one, completely, and yet be highly reliable and a good role model. It will not be a personality or replicated personality, but a basis of personality that we are looking for. Don't expect to get some great commander of the past to return. But you will see some of those patterns of personality show up, even if in a unique individual. Do keep that in mind about the nominations."

"You really do run things differently, Miss Daystrom," Admiral Scott said.

"That I do. If there are no other questions, then Enak can unseal the room and for the VIPs the dinner is scheduled in an hour. Invite as few or as many of the team as you want, including zero if that is your preference. The alcove there can be secured. Enak?"

* * *

The displays shut down and the room lighting changed so that the dull red lighting disappeared against the ceiling. Enid stood up and stepped past L'Tira and towards the replicator, putting a water flask into the disposal and coding in for two just like it, which appeared and soon disappeared into her jacket. As she stepped from the receiving area of the replicator, she looked and smiled at Revar Umak.

"Hello, Miss Daystrom, it is good to meet you away from work," he said.

"And me to meet you, Mr. Umak. I hope you have enjoyed what you have seen and thank you for accepting my invitation to join the team."

"Eh? Oh, yes! This I couldn't afford to pass up, Miss Daystrom..."

"Do call me Enid, please."

"Yes? Thank you, Enid. No not pass up as you were discomforting Star Fleet at its highest ranks and they had little they could do about it. I've seen them have to go after Orions and other rogue trade groups, including Ferengi, but this is something unique in my experience. They can't get a handle on you, Enid, and I was not going to miss the opportunity to watch that play out. No, no, not Revar Umak who has had to put up with trade routes that go unprotected during conflicts while the Fleet is off and busy forgetting that if they let the trade go to rot, the Fleet will soon go to rot."

He had dialed up something that looked like a form of ancient cocktail sausage on sticks, but had to be composed of some other agglomeration of proteins. They walked over to low slung table and Enid took up a lotus position on the floor while Revar Umak pulled up a cushion. And munched down a few of the sausages.

"Delicious! I was told these were poisonous at my first reception on Earth, but they turned out only to cause minor digestive trouble while being wholly tasty. An ancient delicacy from Earth! From the city of Vienna!"

Enid had to close her eyes as she put the cap on the water flask. She was determined not to laugh, and it was very, very difficult.

"I see that you put the Captain's Engram proposal out as something that can be discussed openly, so let me ask you something, Enid. I come from different background and see things differently than most humanoids, although, yes, yes, I agree on many things and outlooks. My choice would not be something that would fit in with those of humanoids, although I can pick out such captains from your own sets of histories, be they Andorian, Human or Vulcan... hmmmmph... ok, not Vulcan by and large, although there are notables. Do you understand?"

"Of course, Mr. Umak, I don't consider species to be determinative, just reasoning as to why and what traits an individual had that you think are prime for a living ship."

"Oh, yes! I can see how the Fleet can't deal with you, Enid. And you know that it is a loaded question, don't you?"

"Loaded? In what way?"

"Heh! Yes, heh! You didn't think that out, did you?"

"I thought it a relatively obvious thing to ask and consider."

"No, you didn't! Now where, exactly, are you?"

"Huh? I'm at the Fleet Museum base orbiting Mars, of course."

"Yes!! Exactly!! And they are mostly doing what job?"

"Historical research...."

"Yes, yes, yes!! You have asked a group of historians to choose their favorite captain worth emulating in a starship personality!! Historians!! Heh!"

Enid Daystrom was at sea, mentally, because she had thought the request was pretty straightforward. Then she thought of the implications, took up her personal unit and spoke a quick message to it sub-vocally.

"Thank you for pointing that out to me, Mr. Umak. It was an oversight on my part."

"Eh? What did you do?"

"No academic discussions or feuds."

Revar Umak chortled, then laughed in a barking way. Pointing with a stick having a sausage on it he said, "You are most quick minded, Enid. I wish we had you on our trade negotiation panels to choose personnel. Yes, yes, the Fleet is in for trouble now, mark my words. They didn't take you seriously until last week, Miss Daystrom. Never even heard of you before that, I'll wager. I know I didn't! I know exactly the personality I want on that ship, Enid. Exactly and to a perfect quandary, but it is not a captain! Tempted? Yes, yes! But you will get a normal response from me, never worry, no, no, not ever!"

Cocking her head slightly she looked at Revar Umak.

"Normal? Ah.... who would be your first pick that would be abnormal?"

"Who? Who, she asks? Heh!! Well, I had best go meet up with one or two others to let my first choice stew a bit. Good day, Enid Daystrom."

Enid furrowed her brow watching him slide off the cushion and wander over to Lothar, "Good day, Mr. Umak.'

Enid shook her head, and realized that there are many things she enjoyed about carnivores and one was their direct approach to things, even when using subterfuge and ambush. You always knew what they were after. Another flask appeared in front of her on the table, and had been brought by Eloise Rafiq.

"Beer, just like when out on expeditions, save the can is pre-chilled. I was thinking about mugs, but those are a bit harder to move with down corridors. Give it a try, decent brew from Belgium if you don't mind heavy on the malt," Eloise slid down just to the left of Enid, sitting standard cross-legged and putting down a small platter of cheese and crackers. "I have been at one too many after action reports earlier in my career to expect anything here to kill my appetite," she said sipping from her can of beer.

Enid picked up hers, popped it open and took a sip, letting the liquid flow over her tongue a few times before swallowing. It was a rich beer, although it might have to be chewed to be appreciated, "Thank you, it is a good beer. So, what do you think of the project your people helped to start up?"

Eloise Rafiq swallowed down a cheese and cracker she had been eating with a sip of beer.

"Are you sure you aren't pulling everyone's leg and are from an alien species?"

Enid arched an eyebrow and started to cough as she sipped her beer, obviously trying to stifle a laugh so that she didn't get the beer where it shouldn't go, which was her nose in this case.

"Really, its no offense, but this little historical project is going at the underpinnings of the Federation and the Fleet. If the Gorns have been 'coldly agreeable but aloof' and the Tholians 'tenuously distant', we at least have some idea of what they are doing and why... well, except the Gorns, of course. But agreeable is better than hostile. Now in a short period of time you have stepped out of the darkness with a ghost from the past and gotten a little wedge into the entire thing and will soon have a starship for testing it out. I can't think of anyone who would be able to do that, really."

Enid had wiped her mouth and was finally satisfied that no beer had been aspirated nor that there was any possibility of it foaming from her nostrils. Life was good.

She looked up and nodded, "Actually, that was Richard Daystrom who did that, I'm just enforcing that agreement."

"Enid, this has gone a bit beyond that, don't you think?"

"No, I don't, Eloise. This is something that may shock you, but I had no idea where this would lead. I did schedule my sabbatical and hoped to take some time on a real vacation, even if it was just on Earth, there is a lot to see there that I haven't seen in my life. I had thought that a month or six weeks at the most, and this would be done, gone and finished. But I also let everyone know, up and down the line, that I was going to be here to the finish, no matter the cost, although I would like to still have a job and livelihood once its finished. But I would be the first person since the death of my great grandfather to finally, once and for all, clear up the darkest part of his reputation that, no matter how wonderful the rest of it is, still hits his family hard two generations later. Although it was M-5 that did the killing, the blood was on his hands as creator of that machine and that red still sticks with the family to this day. Before you met me and came on this project, what words would come to mind with the name of Daystrom?"

"Genius, deadly, misguided, rehabilitation." said Eloise.

Enid nodded, sipping her beer, "Notice that the rehabilitation and good works after M-5 do not make up for it?"

Eloise Rafiq leaned back and arched her back, "That is... Enid, how many people respond just like that?"

"The general pattern is the same of initial glory, great downfall and meager redemption. From what I have read from him, myself, that is how he finally saw himself, too, but the feeling in the family was that his early death did not bring justice nor relief for anyone."

"So you, two generations later?"

"Personally, I've had to live with it, live parts down, moderate others and get across that I am to be judged by my own works and actions. It is only with the initial notification from Star Fleet that I sat down for a few days to review the family archives, talk with grandmother and finally go through the last effects and pieces of his work that had been left behind. Something didn't ring right nor true about how I felt and most people feel about Richard Daystrom. When in the field and tracking a deadly carnivore that has a high degree of familiarity with its surroundings and you do not, and if you find that a trail you are on is guiding you someplace that feels dangerous, what do you do?"

"Get off the trail and think examine the surroundings, prepared for anything. It is a trap. I've run into the same while I was Captain and even as Commodore in Command. You need to shake up what you are doing or have pure confidence in knowing what is coming and that you can handle it."

Sipping her beer and taking a small piece of cheese, Enid said, "That was where I was at when I had finished a few days of overview. There was no intention behind it, I am sure of that. No conspiracy, save for one man put under extreme mental pressures and failing himself and those that would depend on him. The few, barest of traces of what had driven him to that were still visible in the records, his actions and the material he left behind... or more correctly that great grandmother had collected to make sure there was continuity in his history, as he did not care about it by that point in time. She knew that her husband was headstrong and yet cracking under pressure, to the point where he wouldn't listen to her or reason. Even when his work became his life for that period during the M-Series, she let that go hoping it would pass with final success. She became his anchor after that failure and the way for him to find useful work to do, that was still meaningful. She tried to get the Fleet interested in the materials, but it was not interested in them, by and large, and went lost into the records. She knew that her husband couldn't, ever, go back to what the M-5 was, but she believed in him and that he was able to do it and it would be a success for him and supported him, even through those bad times. She was the one to put the archives together and kept Daystrom Industries going with his assent, and pass that down until the materials would finally be released. She explained, at one point, that she had no trust in a group of strangers that was the Daystrom Institute, by then, but that the piece of success from the early days would remain forever in the family as she trusted her family. That has passed through the family until it is with me, her bequest on behalf of her husband. I am pretty sure my father didn't expect to ever have to do anything with that, but he handed me that bequest, and my mother never objected, expecting it to be a family heirloom, until she went over the materials with father."

After sipping her beer, Eloise looked at Enid, "I don't know what I would have done in such a situation, Enid. While, for humans, family has shifted to become a more transitory feature over generations, it has not lost its power. No matter where you go, members of the family are still family. No, not alien, nothing like it, in fact... just something we are so unused to seeing that it has become an alien idea to many these days. You've said you are here to make things 'right', not in vindication or excoriation of Richard Daystrom, but an open and fully inclusive look at his works. I'm afraid that those of us at higher echelons of Command and the Council are used to seeing plots, underhanded work, misdirection and even outright lying and betrayal that running across someone who is forthright and blunt is a shock. That is an approach we often leave to the side at those levels, for all the fact it is the best in how we should be doing our work."

"I don't have that leisure to do that, it is a habit necessary in the field and you give it up in the rest of your life to your own peril. I treat everyone like that, Eloise."

"It gets results! From what I have seen, you not only handle things well, but may be open to a charge of 'manipulation', by shifting events and your approach to people. I know I was more than a bit bemused when the cap, jacket and such arrived to me in a single-use replicator code, and I couldn't resist almost immediately heading to a replicator and having it ask if I wanted the items tailored to my body or, ah, 'stock' although that is very rough as everything is made tailored these days from the replicator. Still, I went with comfort over the 'stock' look, but understand where that comes from - everyone takes a generic sizing and that is part of the team ethos. I hadn't thought to see that at work, and with me!"

Enid nodded, "Roger's idea for the items, L'Tira explaining the problems of the old 'One-Size-Fits-All-Fits-None-Well' that, as a non-humanoid, she has had as a major problem in some areas of the Fleet and even in normal life, and then my own add-ons to adjust that. End result is that each team member gets clothing to suit their emotional outlook, yet be inconspicuous about it. Roger gave me the 'keys to the kingdom' on the clothing as it requires the same dual-association that the database has to allow you to access it. So you were a provisional team member by getting the jacket and cap, although the encryption key for that would not have given you database access."

"How did you get it so that each item must be individually replicated? I know I've tried to do a replication on the jacket and the system hands me one in green..."

"You would have to ask Roger about that, it has something to do with replicators vs transporters, molecular identification of goods and the encryption schema. It transports fine, as it is not considered a replicator and they operate on different principles, but the molecule identifies itself to a replicator and the system then adjusts to the encoding that the molecule is tagged with. By putting a different tag-code in the molecule that it is tagged for is subtly different than the original. You could use a transporter system to make duplicates, but that is a higher level of usage recording and few people are that enamored of the items to do that. Plus, if it is tailored to one individual, it is unlikely to fit another well."

Eloise nodded her head from side to side, "It sounds like a prank!"

"Actually, from what I understand, that is how it started, but turns out to have a few good uses although it isn't much more than an annoyance level idea."

"You know, it has some actual use, if you think about it. Handing an encoded physical document over would then make it un-replicatable or otherwise ruin the actual document. Few people would think of using a transporter on it, since the idea has gotten a bit ingrained that replicators are just a form of the transporter, but with bulk items instead of living ones. That is, of course, not the case."

Enid stretched out her hands, "I need some exercise and a change of clothes. Admiral Scott has let me know I'm invited to the meal, and while not being hungry and needing to work out for a bit, I can't say 'no' to that for team reasons."

"Me, too, Enid! Actually I was just nibbling on the lunch material as we went along, so I was never really hungry. I've been on a few projects and recognized the need for that, as did Len and Wilson, and T'sau eats sparingly at all times, so that single packet would hold him, but how he does that I have no idea. It just can't work for a person his size and metabolism."

L'Tira had stepped to the table seeing Enid preparing to get up, "No zero-g racketball today, huh?"

"No, you're on your own, L'Tira, I will be doing a workout tomorrow early in the day cycle if you have time."

"Jomra and me will do one after this, so I will have to skip out until the afternoon. Holodeck weapons training before lunch?"

Enid mentally checked her schedule, "If its free, sure. Otherwise the folks in handweapons want to do a practical particle beam casters of the late 21st century Ferengi arms."

"Sounds like fun! Will they be doing a modern cross-test?" L'Tira asked.

"Yes, we are doing the century retrospective with major change practicals, so from the backpack power source to the hip mounted, then upper arm, then actual large pistol, to the modern unitary grip. Should be about an hour as I have used the vehicle mounted type from field work, and the physical radiation comprehensive they gave two weeks ago helps to cover the more practical aspects of high density power sources. They thought I would like this as it would be a good replacement for things like whips for physical damage, although for other uses it is less practical."

Eloise looked at the two, standing up with Enid, "Actually, that does sound good, as I have only had experience of those on the receiving end. Will they be handling defensive measures?"

Enid nodded, "Per era and weapon change, plus fundamentals of how to set up a discharge grid and feedback loop out of 'everyday materials'. Twenty minute segments per advance, with most of it being 10 minutes of practical use, then 5 minutes of demonstrating defenses. I think they can handle five people at a time, although its been solo-instruction for me due to lack of interested others, until L'Tira heard about it and wanted a firearms primer from 20th century Earth armaments."

"Primitive arms, but still handy," said Eloise.

Enid smiled, "Not primitive at all, and in some environments I actually prefer firearms over energy weapons due to grounding effects and increased reliability. When the group demonstrated a simple feedback system for a hand phaser that consisted solely of a single broad leaf and a rock, I almost decided to swear off the things. Even with the need for a certain change to the plant leaf, I realized that the structure was one that I had encountered before and may have explained some less than effective phaser work in that setting. Many of our modern weapons, for all their utility, have a depth of problems to them outside of structured environments, and they don't plain 'just work' in a few."

L'Tira looked at Enid, nodding, "Simple really is better, even if it is more lethal. I still carry my clan knife, of course, but had relied on the phaser as my main distance weapon after Away Team training. I need more practical experience, really, but the phaser isn't what I really will want to carry because it can be easily defended against with a bit of preparation."

"It can?" Eloise asked.

"Of course it can," said Enid, "I chose this outfit as I was able to specify for the era specific heat weave with silica hardening layer sandwiched in between layers. Not only good for physical impacts, and heat resistance, but the fabric blend and thread spacing now gives me a good shot at a hard phaser feedback and an extremely efficient means to ground out a phaser into a empty phaser battery cell integrated to receive the burst. I loved the one era's impact and bounce-back layer, but once I realized that only external looks mattered... this outfit more than suits my needs. I already altered my standard outfits to follow suit for daily wear with jackets and vests."

"Have you tested it?" Eloise whispered.

"Of course I have! Knives, slug throwers, hand phasers, hand disruptors and even the rifle variations, plus standard punching and kicking. I was amazed that it wasn't in the stock listing from the clothing inventory and that I had to hand code for this... what?"

"Enid, that sounds more like a combat suit arrangement than normal protective daily wear. Something that the Fleet Combat Training School or Engineering Corps would make..." Eloise said.

Smiling, deeply, "Yes, those thin-skins are impractical, easily damaged, have no intrinsic quality beyond showing off a body, emphasizes bureaucratic power, and are uncomfortable as they ride up without the interior memory module pockets. Wonderful for a nice, safe, enclosed environment with a ship or Fleet to defend you. My line of work doesn't have that luxury and I appreciate utilitarian clothing that does many things, wears well and still looks good, although I really do wish that the Fleet had better taste in colors."

"Are you sure you aren't an alien?" Eloise asked.

"No, she is human," said L'Tira, "although why more humans don't have common sense is beyond me, but I'm glad that a few do. I think they keep the rest of you alive. And the Federation, too!"

"Ok, we have fifteen minutes, so I'm off to change and will see you at dinner." With that Enid turned and strode off, and L'Tira realized that she was heading to the gangway ladders, not the turbolift.

"That woman is amazing," said Eloise.

L'Tira looked at her, smiling some although that did bear teeth a bit, "She is! Oh, she didn't tell you how T'sau does with so little, did she?"

Looking at L'Tira, Eloise Rafiq had to change mental tracks,"Ah, no she didn't."

"Its a simple trick, really. Take one of the dehydrated packets, for humans it would probably be a compressed wheat or rice derivative, swallow whole and follow with water, about a half liter. She taught me that and I found something I could handle and it really is a good way to stave off hunger for long periods of time as the heat in the body only slowly allows for reconstitution even as the compressed amount breaks apart. It also will take in stomach digestive fluids. Works for about 4 hours and is very unobtrusive."

Commodore Eloise Rafiq, who had been through Fleet Combat, Fleet INTEL, Fleet Survival, Fleet Command, and more schools and practical training than most Fleet personnel will ever get, was starting to realize that she was not actually using all that training all the time. Enid Daystrom had just swept through that entire suite of training without having been to any one of those places, and seamlessly joined ideas together across them.

"Are all Daystroms polymaths?" she asked.

"Not that I've seen so far. Just her. And her great grandfather. I'm glad she decided to do this project and help us."

"I wouldn't want to be on her wrong side," said Eloise.

"She doesn't have any enemies," said L'Tira. "No living ones, at least."

"That is impressive. L'Tira, I also have to change before dinner. It has been a pleasure to meet you."

"And me to meet you, Eloise,"

Eloise Rafiq headed towards the turbolift and realized that the way that Enid had gone had no turbolift. Only gangways between decks. She was getting her exercise in with, or without organization. The phrase 'no living ones, at least' still echoed in her mind. Enid Daystrom was on a mission, and heaven help anyone who got in her way. And unlike many Eloise had seen in her life that were narrowly focused, Enid had the capability to bring all of her skills to bear on it, without exception, while still having a 'normal' life.

And what was her 'normal life'?

Field work with megacarnivores.

Eloise Rafiq pursed her lips. How had Enid put her encounter with one such? That it had 'met a sudden drop over a cliff that it wasn't expecting'? And she didn't take flattery or brown-nosing, either. T'sau was right, she was just the sort of person capable of going right through the Fleet if the Federation tried to do an eminent domain on the work. If the Fleet opposed her... 'no living ones, at least'. Ditto the Federation.

What really bothered Eloise Rafiq is she didn't know where all of this was headed... until she realized that Enid didn't, either. That really did bother her to an extreme after that.

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