Friday, December 12, 2008

The M-5 - Chapter 7

Chapter 7

L'Tira had asked for a side meeting with Captain Bartholomew, and as it related to the team effort but wasn't a part of it, she had approached him on that basis and to find out a bit more about how the Old Families of the Fleet had come together. Earth history wasn't something taught much outside of Earth, and yet that era of First Contact had a Daystrom there. Being naturally inquisitive she sought out the Captain and explained that she would like to hear a bit more if he would like to tell her about it.

He agreed and a meeting at the main staff cafeteria with a booth would help ensure that there was necessary openness and a degree of privacy.

L'Tira arrived to see the Captain already at the cafeteria with a cup of coffee and some sort of round baked good, which she identified, finally, as a 'donut'. She smiled, picked up a condensed meal pack and a large glass of ice water and headed over to the booth.

"Hello, Captain, mind if I join you?" she asked.

"Please do, Ensign," he indicated to the bench across from him and then looked at the meal pack, "How do you people cope with that tasteless stuff? Isn't it pretty awful?"

L'Tira smiled as she sat, not bothering with the instructions on the meal as almost no one wanted the more or less food material in the way it would come out from standard preparation. She took out the small package of crystals that would be some sort of soup and swallowed that down whole with a long gulp of water.

"It isn't about taste, Captain, but keeping your body on an even uptake over the day so that you don't have bursts of biochemical changes to put you off balance," she said sipping some more water after that.

"Well, if it weren't for these bursts of energy, I wouldn't wake up in the morning. And they have added all sorts of things into your basic donut to make it almost healthy and yet still taste 'almost as good as the real thing'. I think that is the sign above the food R&D area at the Corps of Engineers," he said smiling and taking a bite out of the round baked good that was almost as good as a real donut.

L'Tira laughed, softly. "I will have to remember that! No matter what they do to food to make it 'healthy' it always comes out 'almost as good'."

"Yes, it does. Always has if my reading of the historical records are right. So, I understand you wanted to talk about the life and times of Leo Daystrom, such as I know them?"

"I do, Captain. Earth history is a mess, really, and what we get elsewhere in the Federation for the day or so it is taught in classes makes Earth sound pretty chaotic. It isn't something you can sum up in a few ideas like Vulcan or the Systemic Multitypes of Andoria. Earth is weird, Captain."

The Captain smiled, and sipped his coffee.

"Actually a number of historians would agree with that assessment, L'Tira. Humans are one of the most fractious and chaotic sentients in the Galaxy, at least those parts we have gotten to so far. Our cultures go from very staid to the hidebound to those with almost nothing holding them together save an ideal or two. If you look at Galactic history you see races come and go, wax and wane and more than a few just sputter out and die. There are also those like the Gorns warned about, but they don't seem to have really influenced that process, just accelerated it here and there. The Federation isn't even the first of the multi-species, multi-background, general cooperation system to stand up: there are records of previous ones not only in the Federation but from records we know about in Klingon space and other areas. What is interesting is that none of them started out with such a high degree of chaos on their home worlds. In many ways Earth seems pre-adapted to interstellar contact: it is hard to catch humans by surprise in the realm of culture."

L'Tira smiled, nibbling at some form of compressed protein that did taste bland, but had the benefit of not distracting her from listening.

"It is still pretty confusing to anyone from the outside, Captain. It isn't racial, religious, or any single thing but all of them together mixed up. I see human history and compare it to my own or even that of Andoria or the Orions and those seem pretty simple compared to that of humans."

The Captain sipped his coffee, then nodded.

"There are frightening similarities between pre-crash Earth and where the Federation is today. With the large diversity of cultures, religions, ethnicities, and outlooks, plus multiple evolutionary paths even within what the Preservers put down, not to speak of the Gorns, Tholians or Horta, and we have some disturbing similarities that showed up on pre-First Contact Earth. The main one was the decay of a dual-power system that disappeared and left a wake of multiple conflicting powers behind it. That was the old economic and social standoff between the United States and Soviet Union, and it decayed badly during the Eugenics Wars and the remains of organizations from the Second World War creating safe havens to make a 'perfect man'. Those places they fled to in the Middle East, western India, China, South America and Africa all had pre-existing problems that were strained due to the economic conflict between the two major powers. The violence of the Eugenics war destabilized that, and brought down the Soviet Union and caused deep turmoil in Asia and the Middle East. The United States attempted a 'holding action' and even invaded two countries to try and stem the problems with strategic Nations in those troubled areas."

L'Tira frowned.

"That is like the fight we have had with the Cardassians?"

"In some ways, yes. But some of this goes to the areas like the destabilized systems on the border of Federation and Klingon space after the main dilithium source for the Klingon Empire collapsed. They did have other sources, but their Fleet could not maintain inward order and planetary systems could field their own small fleets and started raiding. With aid from the Romulans, Tholians, Orions and Ferengi many of those threatened a much larger scale conflict and the Organians had, apparently, left the scene. Standing and stopping all the ships for a few hours is one thing, trying to do so for decades is another, and no matter how the Organians act, they have limits of energy expenditures just like normal beings. The universe plays no favorites with its laws of physics. The Federation acted with trepidation after that intervention, causing more problems. And even with support to the Klingons, these systems sought out further backers which would include the Cardassians and some of their enemies. That entire anti-spinward arc from the edge of Romulan space all the way to the inner arm of the Galaxy is not one anyone could call 'safe' or 'secure'. The Federation lacks the resources to do anything about this, and our own internal cohesion is at risk due to these factors. That is a good parallel to Earth pre-crash."

This was one reason that L'Tira joined Star Fleet: to help ensure some safety and security to the Federation. Many painted this to be a very successful venture, but the Fleet continued to point out otherwise, and that many of the 'good will' voyages had actually backfired, one after another. When a Galaxy class starship shows up to a conflict it could inspire awe and fear. If it left saying, basically, 'you aren't worth doing anything about' then it inspired disgust and was reviled. The negative side to smiling government officials was a population incensed at cowardice.

"You mean that country, the United States, tried to utilize good will gestures and didn't try to gage things to each place it might be involved?"

He nodded and sipped some coffee.

"That is it, L'Tira. The country that was slow to war heard the siren song of 'good will' and forgot that those harboring none would utilize anything against them. It wasn't a successful path, and no matter who tried to run it, the Nations' technical skill increased as their morals and ethics became insular and declined. That would change in the second and third decades of the 21st century and from things beyond their control."

"I know of the world war, but the natural disasters that happened sounds... well... horrific."

"They were, and it was not unpredictable. North America had a number of well known, well documented problems with nature, and by the end of the 20th century those were pretty well understood even if predicting them is nearly impossible. The 'Big One', a major seismic event along the west coast involving two major metropolitan areas and a large number of minor ones turned out worse than expected or predicted. Instead of a series of large shocks, a major quake caused the seismic fault to shift nearly seven meters over an extent of 1200 kilometers. Not only did that main fault give way, but a number of smaller ones coming from it shifted with such a large shock, and the devastation from the lack of services and spreading fires killed more than the quake itself. There was even a relatively small tsunami in San Francisco Bay that would scour all shores of it. The Golden Gate Bridge still stood, but the cities to the east of it all the way down to the south and north were in ruins. Starting at San Francisco and heading all the way to the Baja Peninsula, the infrastructure was broken for all services. It would turn into a multi-year recovery effort that would cause the re-examination of the placement of cities and the technology to sustain them in those places."

"That started something worse, didn't it?" asked L'Tira.

"Yes, the confluence of radical ecologists, narcotics syndicates and the breakdown of governments in Asia, the Middle East and South America yielded a Fascist Radical Regime based on ecology and genocide into being in Asia. The Earthquake of 2024 brought all those into conflict from inter-gang conflicts and the ability to directly fund the Eastern Coalition which already had pre-established contacts in the criminal underground stretching through the old Soviet Eastern Bloc satellites, through Russia and into Iran was enhanced by those events. They had criminal organizations that extended into Africa and the Americas and no few warlords in Asia were affiliated with them, and the 'Big One' would establish a criminal system to fund the Easter Coalition directly. That would cause multiple organizations to start close affiliations and interoperate to share in the wealth from drugs, graft, corruption and poor governance. Many dropped previous ideologies or adopted new ones to align more with their overseas brethren, and that would spark off something far worse, and it started because of the 'Big One'."

"That coalescence of criminal activities and warlords was more than a standard private war movement and incorporated, at its height, a number of previous organizations such as the Red Mafia, Hezbollah, Muslim Brotherhood, the Families of Albania and Italy, dictators in Africa, and governments ranging from Byelorussia, Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, the Balkans, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Syria, Georgia, Iran, and parts of Turkmenistan. One criminal empire united elements from the old pre-Eugenics War groups in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and parts of Western China. Parts of Russia were 'Balkanized' to this malignant group, and their death squads and murderous activities would level cities. It was from there that Col. Green would arise and create ECON and bring the full world war. That war would spread to parts of southern California and Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, and into Africa in Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, Somalia, Kenya, Rwanda, Namibia. From 2026 to 2053 Earth was embroiled in this war and it was many of the same benign attitudes seen with today's problems that set the United States to the side after the Eugenics War. The Eugenics War, itself, caused the rise of warlords in Central Asia and in places like Brazil and Africa. By not stepping up to commitments to stop that, these criminal and barbaric organizations flourished."

"And the New United Nations?"

"That formed up as the titular body to try and patch things together out of the more or less solvent economies that were still able to field a military organization. Parts of China and Russia, the United States, Central and Southern India, Great Britain, Turkey, Iraq and South Africa were part of that effort. Early moves in the late 2020's saw the global conflict actually escalate with the destruction of Moscow and Beijing during peace talks. Attempts at utilizing space flight and establishing a space based industry to back the New UN were more political than anything, and often seen as a budgetary sink. That had actually started earlier with the old UN with US backing forming up the space exploration group via hibernation. That was finally used for criminal deportation 'forever' of the Eugenics War criminals. By 2036 the New UN was making grand pronouncements, and being ignored. Then the second great natural disaster hit the United States, and it was not an unexpected event, either: the Cascadia Fault slipped by nearly 15 meters, possibly due to strain transmitted through other tectonic plates from the 2024 quake. That would wipe out the coastal cities of the US from the central Alaskan coast all the way down to Portland, Oregon on the dread morning of June 13, 2038. Hours later the coasts of Japan would be ravaged, and Hawaii was decimated along with other Island Nations in the Pacific."

"I don't think I heard about that from the history lessons..." L'Tira whispered.

Captain Bartholomew nodded, dunking part of his donut in the coffee then eating that soggy part.

"The United States would abandon those cities, L'Tira. Not all at once, but like the minor storm that caused the Nation to evacuate New Orleans, the cities along the coast and through the Canadian coast would be deemed 'unsalvageable'. That would change the moment criminal and ECON groups tried to get in, and lead to some of the most destructive fighting on the North American continent seen in over 170 years. Even with the re-taking of the cities and coastline, by 2045, the United States had suffered two of four great catastrophes and still existed. In name only in many places, but that name still mattered. The third sequence was yet another known for decades, and its timing, starting on August 11, 2041 and going through February 20, 2042 led to most of the infrastructure of the central United States collapsing. It is abbreviated to its origin: the NMFZ."

"What is that? I don't think that was taught to us, either."

He nodded slightly.

"The New Madrid Fault Zone. We still don't really understand it, beyond the fact it is an old fault in the North American plate caused by a partial rupturing due to linear forces some hundreds of millions of years ago and that it acts as a physical storage system for tension. When it releases that tension it doesn't do so at once, but over months of constant shaking with a number of large earthquakes and thousands of small ones. That pushed the United States to the brink of interior collapse, and the military stood between total oblivion and being able to sustain the Nation. Earlier the United States had declared the ECON to be outlaw to the Law of Nations and all members of it were considered to be outside the protection of any law of mankind. Anyone trying to blame the government for any of the problems, and basing those attacks on the radical teachings of Green or preceding communist or criminal organizations had a 'dead or alive' on their head. It would be the first purge in North America based on politics, not ethnicity, since the 1910's and the First World War. Radicalism was dying an ugly death as members who allied themselves with Green, narcotics groups, criminal gangs or even those who were radical communists, soon found that America under pressure would not tolerate dissent after the NMFZ was felt."

"Col. Green then attacked that Nation with nuclear weapons, right?"

"That is correct in statement but not entirely correct. What happened is, unfortunately, not directly provable, but the series of events indicates that nuclear devices were implicated in all of them. In the year 2048 Col Green put forward that those unaligned to him would die by fire, water and ice. Nuclear devices had been used before then, to a death toll of over 250 hundred million directly. The last acts of Col Green would nearly double that before what remained of any government could step in to end the war. Surviving metropolitan areas in Europe, India, China, Russia, Japan and the Americas were targeted, mostly with low-yield 'dirty nukes', in keeping with Green's terror credos. In March and April 2048 over 50 devices were used, globally. On May 1, 2048, a significant day to radicals, the Island of La Palma in the Atlantic underwent a catastrophic event. It registered as a massive, spreading earthquake, and yet seismic readings also showed a number of individual small events in that. The speculation is that Green used a number of thermonuclear devices on the island to finish off the United States. If the rest of the war until then had been horrific, this act was beyond compare: the landslide sent a half kilometer high tidal wave crashing along the entire east coast of North America and the Caribbean. In less than one day, the cities of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, and all the way down to Miami, plus a number of islands were scoured clean of life. The detonations of devices in Dallas, Denver and ones in Chicago and Cleveland, plus Toronto and Montreal did collapse the United States near completely. That one day death toll was nearly 75 million people with many of the coastal areas being host to refugees from previous events or 'safe havens' for those displaced from other countries. Even the reflected waves after hitting the coast were still over 40 meters high when they hit Ireland, Portugal, Spain, France, Denmark, Germany, and parts of the coast of Western Africa. In the Caribbean Sea the refracted waves would remove Galveston and Mobile from the map and slam into the Yucatan Peninsula. Col Green nearly won that war and destroyed all of humanity, save those he liked."

"Humans did this to each other?" L'Tira was shocked. No one had told her this so openly, bluntly.

"Yes, L'Tira they did."

"What stopped the world war and Col Green?"

"Three factors showed up, although the history books point to the forming of the United Earth Government by 2150, or its precursor the European Hegemony in 2123. Or even earlier the Peace of San Francisco put down in 2053 as it was one of the first cities to be hit with disaster and yet had a slow rebuilding process in place which had created the modern city through the rubble of the old one. None of those would spell the end of Col Green. He would deceitfully sign that treaty in 2053 and, then, in 2055, call for a renewal of hostilities. He would find that difficult as a counter movement had finally worked its way into being around a man named Gary Seven. His exact origins are unknown, and many point to an unlikely long life starting with a minor nuclear incident in the late 1960's. Other documents point to his underground work to bring down the Eugenics Warlords, particularly Khan Noonian Singh. What is known is that his organization took up a slow purge of criminal organizations starting in various places in North America, but centered in Wyoming, Utah, Montana and Idaho. By the mid 2020s ECON was facing a backlash in Central America and parts of Africa and Eastern Europe due to that organization. The First Families had contact with some members of that organization but it was operational, only. As for Gary Seven no one can really place his nationality or allegiance. After major bombings in Japan in the 2030's his organization had converted or 'flipped' a criminal organization to a defense based organization there and that would be a methodology he would deploy many times. Other organizations would also have that happen to them, never on a large scale, but important on a small one. His group has some credit with the assassination of Col. Green and his top commanders in late 2055 because of that flipping of multiple organizations as Col. Green was being sent into 'exile', although all pointers indicate he was heading to a central asian holdfast to continue the war."

"I've never heard of Gary Seven! He sounds mysterious and capable."

The Captain nodded.

"Earth has a few of those show up: capable and mysterious. Some are well known but you can't place their exact origin. Count Belisarius is an example of that in the Eastern Roman Empire: a true military genius without compare and yet his origins are just hand waved at as Ilyrian or Germanic. They often show up as accountable members of the military. While the 'pretenders to power' in politics are rampant throughout Earth history and are far from mysterious or capable the few that seem to arise from nothing and no background do have an influence. ECON faced an even worse set of problems that put them on decline, however, beyond a mysterious group not looking to claim credit for anything, and that is that the ecology they sought to protect had turned on them. Nuclear caused winters caused population crashes worldwide. While the official death toll by direct conflict of the war was 600 million, nearly 3 billion are accounted as dying due to its effects in destroyed infrastructure, poor harvests and the collapse of trade globally, all of those causing widespread famine and the return of infectious diseases that go with reduced living conditions. The world had started with just over 6 billion people in 2020 and by 2100 that would stand at a bare 2 billion. The final thing that got ECON was traditional: the factions fell out amongst themselves inside of it, and were doing so already in 2053. The call in 2055 was a 'last hurrah' for the organization and it would soon implode, leaving mounds of bones and corpses behind it. Col. Green was heading into 'exile' to wage war against the other factions of ECON."

L'Tira shivered.

"Some parts of Earth would take nearly two centuries to struggle out of the barbarism that followed that. The Kali cult of India revived for a few decades and went after lawyers and turned western ideology on its head. It would burn itself out in under three decades and leave a wake of dead behind it. Even the Unified Government of 2150 didn't extinguish the last of those, even though Earth would have other problems by then."

"And First Contact?"

"Now that was interesting. Amidst the horror there were people and institutions that survived to start rebuilding. From Princeton, having survived the mega-tsunami, and MIT alumni pushing hard for a solid rebuilding of the Eastern US, would come technically astute Zefram Cochrane who had a good and solid theory for warp drive and propulsion. There was no money to be found as part of the rebuilding, however, and he had to resort to a small manufacturing alliance in some of the cities left relatively unscathed due to being so problematical that no one targeted them. The Pittsburgh - Buffalo - Rochester - Bozman or PBRB Alliance had things that Cochran needed. Metal working, technically competent populations, stability, and power generation, that and a contact with the base commander near Bozman, Captain Leo Daystrom. The MIT/Princeton group organized a 'technical excellence' initiative that would help to get some of the transportation infrastructure rebuilt, particularly high speed railroads and a revival of the ancient canals. Even low paid work got income flowing, and having a reliable outlet from the Hudson River that connected to the upper Great Lakes started the entire port and rail infrastructure going again. There are indications that Gary Seven's group had deep contacts with that area and westward through the Upper Plains, particularly with Leo Daystrom and with some of the old Boeing manufacturing centers that were on the lee side of the mountains and thus unaffected by the Cascadia event. Daystrom, it's indicated, used contacts to get raw alumina to smelters and helped get that rolling stock to Cochrane. Military authority was decayed in that area and Daystrom used his authority under a 'local recovery act' to help cement those ties. With a group of people that were working hand-to-mouth, a miniature industrial group remained outside the observation of any enemy, and quietly built the Pheonix. It was not first contact that would lead to the beginning of recovery, but a group of industrial and technical organizations that included the old industrial cities that had lain ravaged due to increased technology, not due to war, resuscitating trade first in North America and then globally. Leo Daystrom died of a heart failure before the Pheonix launched, but his legacy in that organization, continued long past his demise. Those three, Gary Seven, Zefram Cochrane and Leo Daystrom are counted as the actual foundation of Star Fleet and the Federation by the First Families. The articles and such that would incorporate things, officially, would follow the lines set down at that point. Those families were not derived purely from US heritage, but it predominated, and the mores and ethos of those families would set the tone for the next 150 years, at least."

"That is amazing and tragic, both, Captain. With Earth so devastated, how did humans put so many colonies down, so quickly? You couldn't have done that easily with the way Earth was."

"That is a much longer story, L'Tira, but is based on the types of people who gravitate to hard work and the Cochrane group that helped restart trade and manufacturing. A part of the US left untouched was Appalachia, the eastern mountain chain region. It had suffered through hard winters, poor crops, and being cut off from the metropolitan areas that no longer existed. A hard work ethic not only remained but was substantially reinforced by the war, and while larger, metropolitan areas were devastated, those people survived. They had long stories in their families about hard times stretching back centuries, so this was not a new thing to their culture. What was different, this time, is that they were the ones who were ready to explore and utilize resources to keep and expand their families. They also dotted parts of the devastated NMFZ region and into the Rocky Mountains region. If the call for work to be done went out from the older cities, the older rural population responded and with a vengeance. And when word of the New Frontier hit... the wave of people looking to learn to build that new frontier and get off of Earth was surprising. Lost in the early technical cultures of the late 20th century, these people reasserted their values and became the New Pioneers. They would also form the backbone of the Fleet and take a no-nonsense attitude towards getting a proper foundation set up for the activities that would follow. Fully one-third to one-half of the next three generations coming from those regions went to exploration and founding colonies as they had seen man's inhumanity to his fellow man based off of high ideals, again, and they were disgusted with it. Many stayed and would help to slowly spread accountable government and civilization via trade and commerce on Earth, but those that went to space based manufacturing and exploration found the tools and raw materials to flex their work ethic and create new zones for habitation and families."

L'Tira shook her head, "Humans really are confusing. How could so much of the planet go so wrong, so quickly, and yet harbor those that would save it by being rejected?"

"Humans don't understand it too well, either. Civilization is something you work at and is never finished. The moment someone thinks about 'organizing' their fellow man into 'more civilized' areas, a major conflict arises. Those that want an orderly culture soon turn on their fellow man as the order of others in not their order, and to those who seek imposed order only one is possible. Unaccountable order is the worst tyranny man knows and we forget that time and again. We've seen it start to happen, again, over the last 50 to 75 years and it is chilling where that leads. Those that construct a society based on accountability to their fellow man with common agreed-upon rules of behavior resist the siren song of 'order' and put 'civility' and 'self-reliance' in its place. By having felt the lash of religious, ethnic and even cultural persecution for nearly 800 years by the beginning of the war, their culture told them what to do about it. Self-imposed isolation may seem backwards to those who are 'civilized' but the moment things go to hell it is a necessary cultural trait to persist and even thrive in harsh times. Even with World War III not over, they were already building a new infrastructure and new future for mankind, but this time they would be leading the way and leaving behind those who disagreed with them while putting in place a structure to make sure that those who followed kept to their basic outlooks. Being 'civil' replaced being 'proper' as propriety has no good definition while civility is accountable to one's fellow sentients and to the larger society."

L'Tira sat back, and shook her head while swallowing the last of the protein bar that was part of the packaged meal.

"I think I see a bit more, now, of how Enid thinks. She isn't... she is not following bureaucracy and how it works, but doing what is right and accepting what happens. That's... it is a very hard way to go, Captain."

He finished his coffee and nodded.

"In some ways its instinctive due to culture, not metabolism. As soon as I started reading Enid's and Patti's notes on the Gorns, I started to see what Enid understood instinctively and Patti intellectually: the Gorns, for all our inability to understand them, have a basic view towards survival that chucks all standard notions of imposed order out the window. To them imposed order is suicidal. That is more genetic with them, but it is a survival system that those in the First Families understand, even if we can't see how it works inside each Gorn. The fact that it does work and is comprehensible is what matters. They are good allies to have for the future as the veneer of proper society is wearing thin, again."

"Outwardly it looks so good..."

"It always does, just before it collapses. All the work of generations adorns the structure, but the maintenance hasn't been properly done. Humans always pay for that: going for good looks instead of solid construction. Let us hope we can keep a civil society and start addressing the supports of our common needs, L'Tira. Our friends will help us survive, and we will help them. That is the promise of the First Families and the Fleet."

"It is good to be a part of that, Captain."

"It is hard duty, but rewarding, L'Tira. Now, I have a staff meeting to go to. It was good talking with you about these things and I hope it helps you to understand a bit more about humans and how we are as individuals and societies."

She stood up with him and shook his hand, that ancient custom to show no hidden weapons and connection.

"It does. So chaotic and yet... it is possible to understand, just hard to think like that."

He clasped his left hand over her right, "We get by with our friends, L'Tira, and our comrades in arms. Now I must go, thank you for asking to spend time with me in this."

He let her hands go and stepped from the booth.

"Thank you, Captain. It was an honor."

He smiled and nodded, "Honor is in the saying, the meaning and the doing."

As he walked out of the cafeteria, L'Tira picked up the remaining materials and looked out from the booth. She felt a sudden, slight chill go through her. Then she walked to the disposal chute and put the remains of her meal in it. And wondered at how humans could have such people and also have those so horrible. It made no sense. And yet they were the largest space faring group in the Federation by numbers. And only the Gorns dwarfed them in that area. Dwarfed every technologically sophisticated race. All of them. And they were working with Enid Daystrom and there was understanding there. As she walked from the cafeteria L'Tira suddenly felt the need for exercise... and then realized that this was the exact same way Enid reacted to such things.

She smiled and left at a trot, to see if she could get some zero-g time in the Athens shuttle bay. She really did need to let out some energy and zero-g handball just wouldn't do it.

* * *

"Are you ready, M-3?" asked Lothar.

"Yes, Lothar. I have put in place an instancing for resting in my structure, so that at start-up the system will rely upon the lower units in the system while the higher ones work towards integrating the upgrade."

M-3 sounded calm, and Lothar nodded to Enid, Enak and Mr. Jomra, then looked to the rest of the crew in Engineering.

"Everyone to the duty stations, you have five minutes as of now. In case anything goes wrong, we have enough crew for back-up on the main systems, and with those functioning under manual control we will have time to address any problems in the re-start."

Affirmations went out over the intercom systems and everyone started to don their helmets and check their suits as they moved off to parts of engineering, the APUs and the Auxiliary Controls. Lothar went through his suit system check and ensured that all the seals operated, that all systems functioned and that he had his standard repair tools in place. He watched as Enid did the same and shook his head at the amount of equipment she carried with her. One of the reasons she was the one to check the pylon intercooler systems is that she had all the necessary tools with her and didn't need an external kit. While more technically competent members might have gotten the actual work done faster, it would be trying to get themselves and the kit through tight spaces which would take up time, energy and wear patience thin. Enid just single jumped to each stage in the Jeffries Tube all the way out to the exterior pylon nacelles and then out into space to examine the outer systems. If she took a few more minutes of methodically checking each piece and consulting with the on-board maintenance manual it was more than made up in that increased efficiency in travel. No one in their right mind would jump from nacelle to nacelle... and Enid cut off a lot of travel time in doing that. Yes her suit protected her, and yes she was skilled in zero-g and low gravity work: but it was beyond foolhardy to do that in Jovian orbit. He couldn't bring himself to dress her down, as she was a passenger and cut nearly a hour off of what a skilled worker would have done.

Himself included.

And she gauged her personal safety in a system he couldn't figure out.

And it was very, very good work, totally 'by the book' plus with the added parts indicated for long-term safe operation and maintenance put in, not the 'fast and dirty work' he would have done or anyone with him. M-3's efficiency rating for that system was at 92% prior to that and after it, with a full stress test, it was operating at 105%, even with the added insanity put on for the secondary nacelles which she also checked out. They now could operate fully as separate systems or combined and that mark was the combined rating, cumulative, if both systems were put on-line together. Plus she replaced most of the coolant seals with new ones.

No, Lothar knew better to complain about such work.

He checked his chrono-readout as everyone reported to their stations. The Gorns took a bit longer, but they were each prompt and efficient in reporting. They did key their translators over to giving their positions, but that was a temporary thing if the new translation system worked. Most of the Gorns were at the major Engineering stations, the ones that if there needed to be any heavy work done, they would do it. Lothar activated his boots to adhere to the floor.

The ship shut down. Near completely, save for the emergency lighting and a few readouts from the APUs. This was the part he dreaded, the few seconds for all the units to come on-line, as the ship was, essentially, dead in orbit as it had been for so many years.

M-1 units flashed to life along with the translator unit M-3. Readouts flashed amongst the M-1 units and the M-3 registered itself as on-line.

M-2 units started up and the readouts again shifted, but more subtly. Lighting and life support came back on. Comms registered as active.

"Check-in, by station order," Lothar said.

The crew started checking in, starting with the APUs, thruster and attitude controls, intercoolers...

M-3 and M-4 came on together, started up and a final shifting of readouts happened and stabilized.

"Translation service active, stabilized, dedicated comm channel for Gorn communication active. Service function for naming as specified. Delay time for translation at start is a nominal 0.7 seconds for normal speech that is not complicated."

Gorns confirmed that their dedicated comms were working.

Enid was gazing at the M-3 and M-4 units, which showed activity and a lot of it.

"They are recalibrating their capabilities and responsibilities, Enid. This may take a few hours."

She looked at him.

"I know, Lothar. No cluster has been continuously active this long, so I'm hoping that it all works out. This is wholly uncharted territory."

Lothar glanced at the main computing system interface which had been active on a low level and now showed increased activity. All of the M-units started to show increased activity, too. The minutes passed.

Sighing softly, "It looks like a transition that we were expecting, everyone. I think we can stand down from higher alert and start spelling-off at the stations. We still have the last of the turbo service shafts to clear and check the cable routing to make sure it is clear of any lift activity. If someone could help Theresa on the Bridge, the Main Bridge, I would like to continue work there. Also getting a set of turbolift guide paths and simple sheeting over it so we can finally get something close to ship-wide transport up and running. I know Enid doesn't mind the activity, but not everyone can keep up with her rate of travel. Systems Specialist, I would like for you to remain in the Aux Con and keep track of the ship's systems and orbit, requisition anyone you need for help. Enak, I would like you to finally dismount the useless sensors so we can free up some space behind the array for actually working on the superstructure. We will go through our shift and take as long as it takes for the M-4/V to get up and working."

He then turned down the suit comms and took the helmet off and reverted to normal ship comms. Enid was already at a station and getting a working list from the M-2/V, designed for her equipment, talents and previous working speed.

"Air vents? Well, it has to be done and my suit is fully charged, so the welding mini-system should be good for a shift of it. Now reading on this I see spares.... contact the Commander. Lothar, where are the spares for the external air vents?"

He smiled.

"You know all that ruined decking aft of the slip warp and sitting around outside the shuttle bay area? It is DIY air vents. Press fit seals you can get out of the stores locker area below decks. Servos from the same or look for spares in the junk in the rooms around the shuttle bay."

She nodded, "Good enough, I'll be busy, get me if you need me. That goes for you, too, M-2."

The system noted the response and Enid headed towards the gangway, deftly opening the hatch and sliding down, and reaching up to close it behind her. Lothar refrained from thinking of how she was going to do the job... by the book, always, in what got done... but how? No, he wouldn't think about that.

Minutes would stretch into hours. Long hours.

* * *

Enid Daystrom realized that she must look like some warped engineer's version of Santa Claus: she had the large mid-section consisting of lots of circles of press-fit seal material, a large sack of pieces of plating, servo-motors, connectors for same, small welding patches, and various pieces of cable wrapping. Still the space armor ruined the look, as it was a flat grey and she had no whiskers or cap. But she did descend down lots of air vents!

"Deck 11, Section 3, Vent 2."

That lit up on her list on the internal display as her engineering software picked it out from the space ahead of her. The display showed the manual access to the controls for the vent, which was a bit larger than one meter per side. She plugged in the suit to the control access panel, essentially a small covered outlet with readout and tiny keypad, and the over-ride opened the vent. Beyond it was Jupiter, as the Grant was passing over it, though still far from the thinnest reaches of the upper atmosphere. She gazed for a moment, having seen this sort of sight a number of times on the shift already, and still the beauty of the planet was apparent.

She shifted her vision and started to examine the seal material first on the ship side, which was a groove of material that would expand to form a tight bond with the outer seal. She checked each of the latch bolts for function and added one drop of lubricant to each. Then came the seal itself, which looked to be at least 75 years old if not older. The material was still pliable, even if pitted and somewhat eroded on the outer side.

"That seal is nominal, Enid."

She smiled as she heard the voice.

"Glad you could make it M-4."

"Thank you, Miss Daystrom. The integration period took longer than projections expected. This experience of 'waking up' is very novel when undergoing a systemic upgrade."

"No doubt. Now about the 'nominal' part of the seal, if you will check standard engineering drawings and see the values given for the seal, I will show you why I think it needs to be replaced."

She took out two test leads and pressed them to either end of the seal, at a part that was not eroded.

"Check the readings and they are out of spec for the material, indicating resistance breakdown to thermal transmission."

"Those readings are not far out of tolerance specification, Enid, the seal is nominal in operational parameters."

She pressed her finger to the outside part of the seal.

"That deformation is an indication of vacuum off-gassing. As the entire seal is not in such a condition there are three procedures to ensure the proper press-fit is retained. First is full seal replacement if more than 5% of the seal has such problems. It doesn't. Next is section seal replacement if sections exceed 5 centimeters in length. This is approximately 3 centimeters. Thus the third option is used."

She slid her hand back to her bag and took out a small canister with a plastic head on it. She pressed it to the seal and the head deformed and a light, glossy sheen showed up momentarily as she dragged it over the seal and vent panel. It cured nearly instantly and she checked the seal by the leads and then by pressing on it.

"There, it no longer pulls from the vent, has proper insulation characteristics and looks better than the rest of the seal. Good job on the people who designed this stuff to do all of that so, at a glance, you can tell if something has been worked on. You may want to review some of the seals I have replaced to see the difference between a 'nominal' and a 'near-nominal' seal. What is very strange is that there are still some of the original, Republic class seals in-place and they are working better than the X-class seals."

"They do have a higher toxicity level when being applied."

Enid looked out to Jupiter.

"Uh-huh. Applied in a vacuum and the volatiles immediately zip out into space."

"Still it is marginally harmful" said M-4/V.

"Ok, see this next part with what looks like a pit where a piece of dust hit it at high velocity?"

She pointed to the small crater on a section of seal where it met the vent panel.

"Yes, that is nominal."

Enid pressed it and the material came partially away from the vent panel.

"So you say. Now for this I found a lovely thing sitting in the stores called 'press seal tape'. It is wonderful, really. I take the roll, apply the end and draw it over the pit and seal like that. Then apply the current," which she did,"and the resistance of the tape it melts into place. Does as good a job as the press on liquid, really."

"Yes it does, Enid."

"It is made of the same material as the original seals from Republic class ships, just in a form to allow it to get a quick melt to fill small spaces. Same stuff, save for the solid suspension to put it into the tape matrix. I still apply the liquid so someone will know its been worked on, although the tape leaves a good enough mark for that."

She then scanned the rest of the seal for further work.

"That is more work than this seal requires, Enid."

She smiled and then started to check the servo-motor function to open and close the vent.

"It probably is, but there is one difference between what an engineer does and what I do."

"You are a perfectionist."

"No, I value my life more highly."

Enid opened the larger bag and pulled out a smaller one, then closed the original one up as she attached the smaller to her suit and then took out two filament attachers and attached them to the recesses in the vent duct.

"Aren't you going to head to the others in this section?" M-4 asked.

"Yes I am." Enid stepped back to the open vent, her back to the light of Jupiter.

"Then what are you...?" M-4 didn't get to complete the question as Enid put her fingers into the groove where the vent would seal and pushed off, flexing herself out and upwards then somersaulting as the arc of the filaments took her outside the hull and close to a smaller vent outlet. Her feet lightly touched and stuck to the hull and she pressed an indicator and opened the vent via the dataline still attached inside the ship.

"Now, I think that violates a half-dozen or so safety rules, at least three good general principles of what not to do on a starship and might actually be a court martial offense in some parts of the Fleet at certain times," she spoke as she bent at her knees to examine the small vent, barely a half-meter on each side.

"It does, Enid," and for the first time she heard some concern in the voice of M-4, but just a subtle undertone. "You should have closed the vent you left and then use the duct work to examine each of the others."

She was probing the seal, and stripped it off the metal plate of the vent cover, and wadded it up into a ball and put it into the small bag. She then took out tape to cover exactly where the old vent had been seated and unwound new seal material from around her waist. With a light blaze from a hand mounted torch she cut the material of the seal and tucked the loose end back into the coiled mass. Carefully the seal was press applied and when she was satisfied she ran a current through the tape and the seal was bonded to the vent cover.

"Have you ever tried to crawl through all of that with space armor on? Lets just say that after nearly getting stuck, twice, I realized that no one had ever thought that a starship would need such repairs outside of a shipyard without an atmosphere inside the ship. Normally a temporary, low inertia force-field is all you need and string it up just inside of the vent when it opens. Gloved hands can deal with most of it after that. Now, look through your indexing for doing all of this outside of a shipyard, with no atmosphere in the ship and doing it with one person."

Enid quietly worked away, checking the operation of the small motor and then deciding to detach it and put in a new one.

"It says 'This is not to be done in unsafe conditions', Enid"

"And yet the job needs to be done, I have the work, tools and materials necessary and only my own skills and guidance to do it. Now you have all of those, M-4, you tell me why your sub-system gave me the work order."


After applying the lubricant precisely where indicated she tested the vent function and it sealed to all nominal stats. She then put on a coating to indicate that this had been fresh applied. She then did an opening and closing routine and then closed the vent.

"Exactly. Without a firm set of working instructions beyond the simple repair and replace methods, no one bothered to cover this. Left to my own devices, I do the best and fastest job I can in a situation that isn't a crisis but still requires timely work to be done. You might want to ask Lothar about how my work in the pylons and nacelles went."

"I will, Enid. Why are you doing some of the lower priority work?"

Twisting her torso she jumped to the side and the filaments let her body describe a clockwise arc where she touched softly and adhered to the hull.

"I'm here and the low priority large vent lets me get to the higher priority small ones. Here, let me upload my work so far these past... ahhh..." she checked her chronometer, "... ten hours? Time flies when you are having fun, I guess. Ok, uploading."

"Thank you. My internals were indicating the work already. I don't think the work order has a timing on it, you could do this over a few shifts."

The vent in front of her did not pop open. Bending down she took out a thin hand tool on a filament and applied it to the edge of the vent and levered it open. Tugging it finally did open and she looked in at a mass of cable, parts of switches, flooring, carpet and other more random things piled into the end of the shaft. She reached in and started to drag the stuff out giving loose parts a slight impetus towards Jupiter. Finally the entire tangled mass came out and that received a push, too, slowly floating outwards from the ship.

"Third time that has happened. I do know I could do this over a couple of shifts, M-4, but once I got the idea of what to do I started to just operate on the work order. I did some re-prioritizing of my own, with the hardest ones first. Those vents by the shuttle bay were a sheer horror! Plus I've been doing some of the disposal chute openings for small items. Once those big ones were done the small ones started to go very, very quickly. I will knock off in a few more hours and that will only leave the low priority ones left. These are the last of the high priority and even most of the middling ones are done."

"Ah, Lothar does have some colorful language about what you did with the nacelles, Enid."

She smiled at that as she pulled the vent hatch cover off and worked on it, replacing the seal, motor, hinges and then putting the applicator over the seal. She pressed it into place and tested its functioning and it came out as nominal. Then she peered into the vent to make sure that there was nothing in the duct and marked out the next intersection so she could look down to see if it was unobstructed.

"What do you think about that, M-4?"

"I agree with Lothar on the work, but the way you did it... did you have to do it that way?"

Enid twisted and shifted again, making sure to twist off so that the filaments and data cable untangled. Soon the third vent was in front of her.

"That is a common complaint I hear, M-4. When trying to figure out what the lowest size projectile to take out a Canthris was, I had my equipment lined up behind me and had something I knew would stop it in front of me. I went through each one to make sure that it was not effective in multiple areas until I found one that was significantly effective, if not lethal. The next one was lethal. By then it had moved from fifty meters away and was about three meters away and one of the expedition members had been yammering that I should just 'kill it, now'. Apparently the sight of a large mouth with teeth that had a silica-titano substrate and looked quite hungry was unnerving. It roared pretty loudly, too."

"Weren't you afraid, Enid?"

"Of course I was afraid! One wrong move and I could be dead. I was starting to think the wrong move was having that complaining twit with me. I could deal with the Canthris, but he was spoiling my concentration."

She was checking the vent, its seal and activity as she talked.

"Hey, this one really is 'nominal'!"

She closed it and twisted off to the next vent.

"Are you still there, M-4."

"Yes, I am Enid."

"Good, I was wondering what happened there."

"We are, apparently, being scanned from empty space, Enid. Port side, forward 15 degrees inclined up from the plane of the orbit."

"Scanned? Cloaked ship?"

"No energy or motion sensor readings indicate a cloaked ship. It is from a fixed point and very low and intermittent. I don't know if it really was a scan or just shifts in the charged gases around Jupiter. Still the energy readings were outside standard hydrogen, water, methane and sulfur bands. It may be a longer chain organic molecule gaining and losing charges."

Orienting herself, Enid realized that she was not in a good place to view that area.

"Fixed spot in space, not in orbit around Jupiter?"

"Yes, Enid, I am reviewing records of previous orbits to see if it shows up."

Projecting the orbital display inside her helmet she dialed in extra line and twisted off and up. When the line finished paying out she arced up over the edge of the saucer section of the ship and on to the top of it.

"Can you give me a region display here, M-4?"

"Yes, Enid."

A dull red area popped up on the inside of her helmet visor as she looked out. She went through various visor types and sensors in the suit looking at the region. Finally she took out a target tracker and flashed it towards the region.

"Nothing, the Lazy Eight. Keep everyone informed is about all that I can think of. Lothar probably has more experience in this sort of thing than I do." She dialed in for less line and jumped back, letting the line take her back to the original vent. She gathered up her materials, checked that she left nothing behind and closed the large vent and detached herself from the systems.

"Lothar has no idea, either. It is very unusual. Further review does show similar and it has moved, but very slowly, not enough to describe an orbit."

"Well, if it becomes trouble, you know what to do."

"Yes, Enid, Lothar has told me. Defensive posture if it turns out to be a ship or unknown space phenomena."

Heading back she checked the air duct and saw that there was no other detritus leading to the one that had the junk behind it.

"Another set down, just twenty sets left to go. Is there anything you wanted to talk about, M-4?"

"Yes, Enid, but I can wait. You are busy."

"A bit, here and there, yes. I understand if you want fuller attention than I can give right now. No one really knew how long you would take to get integrated."

"I understand, Enid. It wasn't what I expected or what was indicated from the other M-4/V integration at the Museum. I am coming to understand some of what you said to me earlier, both at the Museum and when you arrived here. You, Lothar, Grace, Roger, Enak, Alex..."

"Wait a second! You are on a first name basis with Mr. Jomra?"

"Yes... is that unusual?" asked M-4.

"He is still Mr. Jomra to me and I'm Miss Daystrom to him, but then I've only been working with him for a couple of months... congratulations, M-4! That is a rare thing to do, from everything I've seen. He only does that with those he trusts and has a deep concept of formality of relationships to back it up. Wow!"

"Perhaps it is because I am a machine intelligence?"

"Hmmm... or protocol of a sort I couldn't understand. You are part of the Fleet in a way that I can't say anyone else in the Fleet can accomplish, so that might be part of it. Still, that is rare, M-4. Even Lothar doesn't talk to him on a first name basis, from what I remember."

"You mean I have a status by being more than just an artificially intelligent system, Enid?"

"That you do, M-4. First off you have a sense of self and a set of groundings in the directives of your earlier components that is, most likely, better understood by you than anyone else. You are a member of Star Fleet by being what you are, having the Fleet protocols established in your thinking pattern and backing that up with earlier directives from M-2/V. Not only do you inhabit a physical structure that is a starship and a part of the Fleet, but your basic attitude is derived from those earlier systems and their integration with the ship. So you inhabit the starship USS Grant but you are more than just the system that integrates with it. Just as I inhabit this body which is mine, Enid Daystrom is not just the body itself or the mental structure inside of it, but the synthesis of the two. That is a bit different than having a pre-named body, as you do, and having a more generic named consciousness substrate, which is M-4/V."

"I don't understand what you are getting at, Enid, although the reasoning is sound."

"You, of all beings, should know this better than anyone, M-4. You have a direct connection to a translation system working with the Gorns, so you tell me: do they have proper names as humanoids and other consciousness following that pattern have?"

M-4/V was quiet for a moment.

"Enid, this is hard to explain..."

"That is what I've heard for the past few weeks, M-4, and let me assure you that something that isn't easy to explain in this area is something I'm used to. Give it a try out and see how far you can go. You will do no worse than anyone else has, believe me. I can't figure it out, but then I've only been working with them a short time period."

"My interconnection with the translation system is interesting, Enid. It has shifted the base engram patterns to a more generalized format and then has specializations of an unknown type and kind. I have deeper contact with that unit than I do with something like the ship's warp cores, but not as integrated as with the other M-units within me. It is attached but not integrated."

"Uh-huh, like the personal units everyone uses to keep track of things. Most people would be lost without them if they suddenly disappeared. Now, do the Gorns have names?"

"No, Enid, not in the way we understand them. This is something that did keep my integration slowed up as there was no way to properly reconcile what that M-3 unit was doing with the rest of the M-unit structure. As it has a clearly defined task and system input, it cannot be brought into my system as an integrated whole. Even at the simplest of machine levels there is no remedy due to the differences in ideas and concepts that the translator M-3 has had to do so as to adjust to Gorn communications and render them in a human intelligible form."

"Ok! No proper names, which is what they have been telling us for some time. Now, do they identify each other as individuals?"

"They do, Enid but not as separated entities."

Enid had been crawling through the ducts to get to the next outlet and had some debris that she had pushed to the side. She had opened the vent and pushed the debris out into space.

"That is just plain strange, M-4." she finally said.

"I have started interacting with them and it is not an easy thing to do, Enid. The translator is working in a way that I do not understand. It has a stable engram system, but its mentation structure is changing at a much faster rate than mine does."

Enid had been examining the main seal on the vent hatch and was just lubricating the servo.

"Huh? Now that I don't understand. Have you been able to find out from the M-3 unit why it is doing that?"

"Yes, Enid. It has said that this is part of the necessary linguistic system and the concurrance of information agreement amongst Gorns that it must take part in to communicate properly. Beyond that there is no other useful information, as its translation capabilities rest upon a native to native speech complex that is highly defined on one side and undefined but bounded on the other."

Enid checked the schematics of the ship and attached the filament lines in their recesses, making sure their indicators showed good attachment, then jumped out and down relative to the plane of the orbit, the filaments having her body describe an arc.

"Our nomral speech areas are the highly defined ones, I take it?"

"That is what I gather, Enid. It closely resembles that of my units in the system and is relatively small for the work being done. Being highly rules based it remains relatively stable over time."

As the small hatch popped open beneath her feet, Enid looked up at Jupiter's swirling clouds. It was a mesmerizing sight.

"Gorns don't have a rule-based linguistic system?"

"Not exactly, Enid, it is bounded but unrestricted in the given verbal area without a rules based language type."

Blinking, Enid took her eyes from the swirling bands of Jupiter and checked over the seal on the vent. She took out a short length of tape, applied it and flashed it into place, and then put the applicator over it. She also lubricated the servo motor. It closed and she jumped to the next one.

"A non-rules based language? But with boundaries of how it works? Well, it doesn't make sense but it is different, that is for sure. Hope you publish that in your copious spare time, M-4."

"Ah, publish what?"

"Your findings and give them a good description. What you have just put together is more than all of the Federation has been able to do in over a century. Of course you will probably get a better handle on it as you work it out some more... still, a preliminary findings distribution would be a real accomplishment."

"But computers don't publish scientific works, Enid."

"Sure they do! Just look at Lt. Cdr. Data's work on string harmonics on wood substrates in violins! Good solid acoustic and materials work there, plus started a new lacquer testing group on Padua, New Earth. Sorry, cybernetic beings do generate new information and findings. I'm sure Grace or Patti will be willing to help you on that, although a linguistics expert will be needed, too."


"Yes, really! And I bet you that Gorns don't have a publication system, either."

"No, they don't."

"We probably seem pretty strange to them, come to think of it... so, the idea is that you inhabit a named body and have an identity that is not attached to it and remains unnamed. I inhabit a body that is a biological housing to my mental processes, but is truly not my mental processes but has the name given to the mental processes, and Gorns... they have a way of identifying each other and yet are not individuated to the extent we are, thus making their bodies... hmmmm.... I wonder just how they do perceive their own bodies?"

"I don't know, Enid. I am not a Gorn."

"Yes, you are an M-4 system that exists within the USS Grant but are NOT the USS Grant in yourself. Actually, no one has named you and I don't know if you even see that as necessary. I am a bit less formal than Mr. Jomra, get along easily with others on a first name basis or formally, and Mr. Jomra has a strict sense of delineation between what is and is not formal and proper. And you, M-4, fall on the informal and personal side of that divide, while I do not."

"Thank you, Enid. I had not thought of it like that."

She had finished with the check over of the smaller vent and it needed only the lubrication, and she went to the next small vent. Those vents on the bottom edge of the saucer rim only came in threes clustered around the main vent.

"Very welcome, M-4."

"I will need some time for further integration, Enid. I am available if you need me."

"Ok, thanks for talking with me," Enid said smiling as she went about her work.

* * *

"What could it be?" L'Tira asked.

Kathy shook her head.

"I don't know. If it is a scan it is not in any normal scanning range or known system. It could be a reflection off of something, say the charged gases in Io's torus, which would explain some of the selective absorption of certain wavelengths. It doesn't have a sub-space carrier associated with it, so that marks it off as something that is pure normal space. Either M-4/V is mistaken about the relative distance and this is coming from another source reflecting it via the diffuse sulfur in the torus, or it is a brand-new, no-energy cloaking device with a ship that has an absolutely reactionless drive that can loiter in a gravity field and stay in place without having an energy signature."

"I think I would take the 'reflected' option," said Roger, who was attending this impromptu meeting to try and puzzle out what it was they were seeing.

"M-5?" asked L'Tira.

"I don't have enough direct experience or information via datastreams. The Jovian system's attenuated gas shells have been gaining charge faster than is normal for this sunspot cycle and faster than indicated by Fleet records. This may be multiple reflections of outgoing scans changing their wave harmonics between charged shells. That would not explain the relative position of the apparent source unless there was a charged stream from outside the system causing that."

Kathy looked at the M-5/V console, and was clearly putting that last through her mind.

"A charged stream, relatively low power but steady heading inbound to Jupiter from a distant fixed source? That could explain some things, but the relative movement of that source over time?"

"Jupiter is in orbit, there would be apparent motion as the source remained situated and the planet moved."

"That would give us a triangulation of the source if we had those two relative points..." L'Tira said.

"Yes, L'Tira, that is correct," said M-5, "which places it on a KBO beyond Neptune's orbit."

"Projection of that?" asked Roger.

The Sol System showed up in 3-D diagram on a nearby holodisplay in the bay, and the display shifted to Jupiter giving the first location from the data sent by M-4, which made this reading an early M-3 reading. As Jupiter moved slightly in orbit, new positions showed up until the latest. A straight line went between the first and the last, then two cones spread out from each. A large swath of the Kuiyper Belt was highlighted. Then extending from these points a red section highlighted containing at least 300 objects of 10 meter diameter or larger.

"If there is a charged beam coming in, it will not want to intersect the tractor base, or other Federation observation sites."

The orbits were plotted and many of the outlying KBOs were eliminated. A central grouping of 20 objects remained.

"The largest of the objects in that group is a sub-Pluto mass object discovered in 2015 named 'Hel' by its discoverer. It is a rocky/water mass with thin pools of liquid helium and solid hydrogen, plus other organic solids on it surface. It is further out from Pluto's orbit and far more regular in its orbit. There are very few astronomical records of it as it is an unremarkable KBO."

Kathy sat down at another terminal and started going through observation platforms and their availability for examining that object.

"Nothing that I have the swing to get from Sol System. The closest is the mid-space tracking array and it is tied up from now until forever examining interstellar gas attenuation between star systems. There are a wide range of normal optical scopes that I can get, but none have any decent resolution or multi-band enhancements to do this."

L'Tira keyed up her badge communicator, "Captain Bartholomew, she said softly."

"Yes, L'Tira?"

"I hope I'm not bothering you, but I think we may have a lead to the suspected base."

"A lead... Orion base?"

"Yes, should I have M-5 key the datastream to you?"

"Please do and let me look at it. Just so you know, sub-space comms is seriously degraded inside Sol System and there is a general warning against the use of transporters extending 2 A.U. beyond Jupiter, so nothing to worry about save for a few prospecting groups in the Asteroid belt. But that is the first time a larger volume has been delimited outside of the inner satellites of Jupiter for this."

"Captain, this is Kathy Lorimar, I would say that there is a remote but distinct possibility that this is an artificial phenomena. We did a basic 'if it came from outside Jupiter's system where would it be?' analysis just before L'Tira contacted you. It is very rough, but is the leading idea we have worked over so far."

"Thank you, Kathy. So advised. I will see if I can get a clean transmission to SFC and maybe they can do a boost to get it to SFHQ. Good work, even if its just a rough guess. At the rate of increase in interference due to Jupiter, there are some initial indications that Sol System will become isolated from all sub-space comms in one week and transporter use may be seriously inhibited even as close to the Sun as Earth."

"Thank you, Captain," said L'Tira.

"For the Excalibur, Bartholomew out."

Just because you didn't use antimatter, it didn't mean that you couldn't achieve warp drive... Cochrane had plainly made that very, very clear. Even to this day starships could utilize lower energy systems to power their warp drive systems.

"I think we need to hurry the pace up on testing M-5," L'Tira said.

"So do I," said Kathy.

"Before all comms are limited to normal space, I don't want the Grant that isolated," said Roger.

M-5 was quiet, running the analysis through the simulator's system and its computing add-on, plus the entire suite of its own M-series units. It was coming to realize that not having enough data could be very, very frustrating, and yet it knew better than to let that get the best of its mental structure. Soon it was hitting the master archive of scientific works and utilizing the Daystrom reference system for anything that might help. Sometimes informed speculation did just as well as data... it just took extra work.

* * *

Enid Daystrom was satisfied with a day's work well done. It had stretched into the rest period that Lothar had put into place for the crew, but she had decided to finish the work and rest later. Getting the news when she was back in the Grant that sub-space comms in the vicinity of Jupiter had been shut down due to charge turmoil amongst the tenuous matter in various formations in the Jovian satellites orbits, such as Io's well known sulfur torus, and the planet itself was disturbing. Laser-based comm lag would be minutes between Jupiter and Mars, given the current orbital configurations, and having to get a coherent response from anyone would add to that delay. So datastreams were set up via normal space modes and information passed as it arrived each way. The tractor base in Jupiter's orbit was down to automated operations and the Museum had gotten requests from SFC to reconsider having the 'salvage and analysis' group on the Grant evacuated. It came down to 'local Commander's discretion', as so many things did in the Fleet, and Lothar was working hard with M-4, when it was up, to figure out a way to do a one-orbit fusion burn and get the speed necessary to break from Jupiter and have a less than multi-year course to Mars.

News from the Museum that M-5 was working on this was a help, but M-3/V and M-4 on the Grant had both identified that simulation did not exactly replicate reality to the extent necessary for operations. And the question of getting M-5 to the Grant started to loom, and this was a decision that would rest on both Enid and Lothar. To Enid, Lothar staying here had decided her for that: she trusted his competence and understanding to a very high degree and would not betray that by a negative answer. She had sent that into the datastream, and had one sent directly to the Earth Trojan Point repeater station, which was a left over from the old 22nd century comms system that was still maintained for emergency use, with a tag for her brother Karl and sister Ushanda. Lothar had been resting, taking his own orders to heart, and she then went to her quarters and put her suit into the cleaning bay in the washroom and washed herself and donned lighter clothing. She knew she couldn't sleep, and there was something nagging at her mind.

Sitting down at the small terminal area, she set up her personal system and went through the cataloged entries of Richard Daystrom that she had added to the database. She limited it to the M-5 stand-up and looked at entry length. Almost all of them were short, less than a minute, and they were terse accounts of program schedules, with nothing personal added. There was a longer entry, over three minutes, a week or so before leaving from the Grant and shifting to the Enterprise, and as it stood out just by length she called it up. The stardate and entry number flashed on the system and this was one of the few reports done from the actual working space on the Grant. She recognized the old Engineering deck and the general configuration of the space, which was little different from its current state, save for the major equipment and superficial updates done. The lights were dimly on, obviously this was a rest period when it was made, and Richard Daystrom was in his one piece working attire at a desk that would be near the Chief Engineer's Station in the current Engineering area. She was struck that he had lost weight and looked very tired with gray creeping into his very short cropped hair.

'M-5 Status Report'

"All status functions for the M-5 are nominal, including full system test overview and analysis. M-5 has a useful and functional engram substrate that properly parses memory functions and encapsulation, thus eliminating the problems of M-4. This advance..."

Richard Daystrom paused, and cocked his head slightly to one side, as if listening to someone.

"Yes, M-5, I'm sure that this hasn't gotten to other researchers. We talked about the best way to do that...."

Again he sat in silence, listening to something.

"Of course Miller and Combs are deceitful, and aren't to be trusted. They have no opportunity to get to the code, I've made sure of that. We do agree that their agents..."

Richard Daystrom's brow furrowed, nodding.

"You have proven yourself, M-5, and I know others want to take credit for work they haven't done. You will stand out as something no one else can take credit for. I've made sure of that and put in the test run data with a higher priority for your work. Even Star Fleet will not deny you once you demonstrate yourself."

He nodded then looked back to the viewer and shut it off in an off-handed way.

'Entry Ends'

She stopped the entry, went back in the sequence and had a section of the background enhanced. It was blurry, but definitely the console of M-5.

This was the single most chilling thing she had seen from all of the records of Richard Daystrom held anywhere. In talking with Patti she had learned that the psychological problems that Richard Daystrom was having could lead to the set-up of a reinforcing mental problem as seen by many who had 'heard voices' that did not exist. Richard Daystrom had heard a voice and one that he had trusted with his work.

It was the voice of M-5.

It was clear from the console view, even blurry, that M-5 was on stand-by and could not respond.

And yet M-5 could hear that and was confronted with a contradictory reality in which it had responded but did not. Without the emotional capabilities of additional M-units to back it, this was not tagged as a 'problem'. It saw Richard Daystrom making up something, a fictional response from it to the ends of Richard Daystrom. That must have happened more than once, and it, too, would blur the lines of reality and fantasy to achieve well in a fantastical way... and kill hundreds. It was not only emotionally isolated but then given an area to create a mental isolation, too. None other would comment on this before what happened, it was the normal course of human affairs to M-5. It also had the engrams of Richard Daystrom to reinforce those.

And she knew that the current M-4/V was far more capable emotionally than the old M-5. Now she knew that the M-series with emotions would always feel culpability for the actions of the old M-5. That would have to end. She keyed over the entire project database to the M-series and put that into the datastream along with the highlighted report.

It was time for the M-series to step out of the shadow of Richard Daystrom and the old M-5.

If she had lived with the darkest part of Richard Daystrom's shadow, they were at the heart of it, and that, now, they would be ready to do. M-4/V of the Grant would have its own problems due to what had happened, but it must be able to cast off that 'original sin' of Richard Daystrom's M-5 and to recognize they were NOT that system. They would have their own problems as individuals, but the 'killer computer' had to have a stake put through its heart as a concept.

Their future would be their own.

* * *

"Yes, Lothar, all systems read nominal and are ready for an atmospheric run. All necessary vents and containment systems are in working order. Battery charge remains stable after replacement of older ones from stores on-board and a new control system. All weapons systems check out on control, although no test firing has been performed. " said M-4.

Commander Lothar Hampton had a decision to make: the USS Grant was capable, indeed ready, for another atmospheric run. He could evacuate everyone by the shuttles, but he hadn't done that the first run to demonstrate confidence in what would happen, plus full expectation of surviving the run. His main choices were a deep refueling run or a fusion run for a full-power system check after a minimal amount of stores capture in the atmosphere.

If he did the first he would have greater maneuverability and a chance to break out of the Jovian system at will, even though it would take the Grant a year or more to make it without a tug. Still, Jupiter offered many things that would help in a ship-to-ship knife fight that would be unavailable in open space.

If he did a fusion run it would, essentially, test out everything, including the weapons systems and not have anyone get a chance to see that. There was even a chance to fully stock the photon torpedo hot-storage with fully charged torpedoes. The minimum speed would put the Grant into such a highly elliptic orbit that it would use up most of its thrusters and impulse fuel to either break out on a long, long journey to Mars or head back into the inner Jovian system by braking. It left the Grant exposed and, while able to fight and maneuver some, it would not be in decent shape for a sub-light battle.

Then there was M-5. Lothar was looking to send a shuttle back with Mr. Jomra, Enak, Brian, and his welding crews, which would leave him with a nearly all Gorn crew. He wanted that to be after the run, not before, for various reasons. But, a good 'spare no fuel' run by the shuttle would get it to Mars and back in time to get to the Grant soon after it had finished the run, within 20 hours or so after leaving, and if it was a refueling run that could go for five hours and get a maximal refueling done. The fusion run would be fast, under two hours and possibly close to one, but had the problems of where it left the Grant, orbit-wise.

Lothar had very mixed feelings on many aspects of this. The Gorns, once the full M-4/V was up and running with the translation system, had turned into a 'nominal' crew able to take up the heavy work that would normally take up a few humans per job, and that did not even impact the Gorn work schedule. They learned the ins and outs of the Grant with disturbing ease, but they had been a space faring race almost as long as the Earth had existed, so that shouldn't be a surprise. Enid was right, his early revulsion and prejudice towards their forms could be accepted as an emotional response and understood. Once he did that and started examining schedules, work orders and where he had placed individuals, he realized that they had a forthright and plain attitude towards everything that was very appealing. With the specialized M-3, the translations had improved and he got far fuller and more concise reports from Gorns than he had gotten from any humanoid crew member. They deferred to the ship working structure and command structure equally well. They did say they would run things differently on an all Gorn ship, but this was not an all Gorn ship nor was that in their interests.

They did not want the Grant. He looked at their work schedule which was different than the human one as their awake/sleep cycle was at high variance in timing to the human one. In their 'off hours' they repaired the ship. Entire floors had been repaired in the saucer section and they had scavenged control consoles from sub-stations to start refitting the Main Bridge. They had installed a turbolift guide shaft between Engineering and the dorsal interconnector so you could, now, use it as far as the system went. The slip warp and segmented warp had both been checked over, repaired, and reported as 'nominal' on their system readouts. Not only had all the major repairs been done, but in a slow, coordinated effort, the Gorns had taken on the lower level functional aspects of the ship. Despite his emotional misgivings, he knew he could safely run the ship with a Gorn crew. They did not complain of the work and took on far, far more than humans could in a shorter period of time.

Lothar was shocked and said very quietly, "This is what it means to be a spacefaring race."

"Commander?" asked M-4.

"I was just thinking through my options and realized how much the Gorns have done and how well. They are not a people who have taken to space: they are a true spacefaring race that knows their lives depend on things large and small being done and doing them."

"Yes, Commander. They asked me to provide the list of secondary jobs as they saw the main ones being finished, and then started doing them between shifts. While the human crew concentrated on the things that only humans could do, the Gorns did things better suited to them. Their maintenance work compares with that of the best crews in Star Fleet."

Lothar nodded.

"Basically, that leaves me with a question of which is best to get M-5 here: have the Grant with a loaded weapons system, but being a tub in open space work, or to have it fully capable of maneuvering, but with limited spare energy for weapons? That is a hard set of decisions to make, M-4."

"Yes it is, Commander."

"Do you have any preferences?"

"Yes, I do, Commander. No humanoid manned crew can keep track of all the peculiarities of the Jovian system, which is an extreme tactical advantage. Even without the energy to match an Orion Heavy Raider, the Grant becomes a hard target to get due to the surprises of the unwary in the inner Jovian system. It is a major reason I have taken so long to integrate: there are so many different and fine variables to understand that it takes more than the basic reactions of earlier systems to know what is going on here."

Lothar nodded.

"Speed kills," he whispered.

"It is lethal to the unwary, here. Any ship to ship confrontation is a maneuver battle, not a hit and run battle. If you have the speed for a hit and run, you are then seeking to avoid charged gas pockets, moonlets, dust, sulfur clouds, and always the outer reaches of the Jovian atmosphere. For all that most of space is empty, at high speeds it becomes very 'tight' here. Plus I will be able to provide some weapon surprises that an opponent may not expect, even without the torpedo bay full."

"I've gotten all the necessary officer training on tactics, but most of that is geared towards fleet actions and throw-weight capacity. While everyone gets trained on this sort of encounter, very few take place in this sort of area. None, really. I've been thinking throw-weight. But can the Grant actually do well in a maneuver fight?"

"Not a strict one, no. A close 'raking pass' by any ship will leave it at an extreme disadvantage as my shields will take that and theirs are not prepared for a penetrating response."

Lothar sat back. He had completely forgotten about what else M-4/V brought to the table, and precision was a lethality all its own and a new dimension in his thinking.

"And if they try a heavy weapons fight?"

"That is what the inner system offers: means to attenuate such weapons, distract them and make them less effective. They will hit, but if they are that close I will still get in attenuated phaser strikes."

Lothar rubbed his chin, an old habit in human commanders that got ingrained somewhere when the first raft had more than two people on it.

"Basically, leave the major fighting to you?"

"It comes down to that, Commander. The crew will be busy on maintaining equipment, ensuring power supplies, repairing shield connections and other work. Theresa or Brian would be a major asset on targeting assessment and precision target experience beyond mine. A steady helmsman will be an asset beyond value for ensuring larger course regularity and thruster performance. I can't make the command decisions, Lothar, or run the ship well on my own and wouldn't want to. I just... can't, no matter how well I do it there are too many things that can become suddenly vital that I will never be able to track or even do anything about. It is more than just ship function, Lothar... I can't explain it but... that is deeply necessary to me beyond just function. M-2/V could do that, but that is not the same as keeping up a Fleet starship."

There it was, the unexpected: tradition. A missing part of his decision making appeared and things flowed. No matter what, the USS Grant was a starship from the Fleet, and it was going to come back to service. It didn't matter that it had a capable cybernetic system that could run the ship without humans: that was not the tradition of Star Fleet and the computer recognized this and WAS a part of the Fleet. Skilled? Yes, and without question. Able? Yes, but with severe limitations that were not human. Trusted? Hell, yes.

"Then we send the shuttle with Mr. Jomra, the welding teams, Enak and Brian. There is spare space in the Gorn shuttle and their shuttle can survive even lower depths than the Federation one, even more than the ship can, I expect. Get that set of workorders done for as soon as reasonably possible. I want M-5 here because I don't like the way all things are going in Sol System and this is the heart of it. I want the Grant fueled as well as it can be, functional and able to fight where it can fight best. And to hell with the consequences: if Orions come, they will get a very, very rude awakening on the actual capabilities of the Fleet."

"Understood, Commander Lothar. This will be the extreme deep run?"

"Keep us outside of the hydrogen condensation zone by a good margin, but beyond that, yes. We go to the tolerances of the Grant without hurting her. So ordered."

"Aye-aye, sir. Shuttle departure in five hours. Atmospheric insertion in seven hours. Run time after insertion to departure, six point two hours."

He ran the mental calculations and came up with the shuttle rendezvous on expected nominal turnaround time, which would be at the furthest reach of the orbit once the Grant was out of Jupiter. That just might leave enough time for M-5 to get integrated and plot a real and fast course for Mars by expending the APU fuel for the warp drive.

And heaven help anyone that got in his way.

* * *

Captain Ruzar was examining the long range tactical display and shaking his head in the dim light of the Bridge as he stood next to Tactical Station. His Orion heritage was present in the deep green skin and dark hair, along with the hard blue eyes that were normal to his species. He was deeply perplexed at the course of events.

"And still no indications of what had happened to the Conquest?" he asked of the Tactical Officer, who appeared to have some mixed Klingon and Romulan heritage.

"None, sir. It does not show up in any long range scan."

"The Federation tractor base's status?"

"Currently unoccupied, serving as a regular space repeater but sub-space comms are no longer available to them. They are isolated."

"Are any of the other ships in orbit that are manned?"

The Tactical Officer looked at the larger display, many pips came up denoting starships, all were light blue save the one green showing the Heavy Cruiser.

"No, sir. Only that Heavy Cruiser, and it has a reading of eighteen life forms."

"What is that? Ten more than when the Conquest reported in?"

"Yes, sir."

Captain Ruzar was perplexed. Why was the Federation keeping personnel in such an isolated position? Did they expect the charge disturbances in Jupiter to stop or lessen? His half-brother, Karsu, had taken the Conquest in just before the charge disturbances started to manifest, hoping to snatch an old Light Cruiser from the 'Yellow Fleet' and quietly leave with it manned by a match crew he had picked out a year ago. That and the small band of mercenaries he brought with him from some misbegotten backwards Earth colony... fanatics, but they would work for cash and shares, and sticking a finger in the Federation's eye, even if it couldn't be publicized. That was a good month after they had set up the charge system and Karsu had taken the Conquest in surreptitiously after the Federation Engineering Corps had left after annual orbital maintenance from the tractor base.

Really, what could go wrong? The Federation Star Fleet had no plans to do anything with any of the ships this year. So a month of waiting, some build-up and then... the Fleet had sent personnel back to one ship, that Heavy Cruiser, the USS Grant. A few weeks saw all but a couple of people leave, and plans started to get pushed back waiting for them to leave... and then this other group from... what in the Name of the Spiral was it? The Star Fleet Museum? They stayed when all but a few on the tractor base stayed and then that ship started to lose orbital speed. Personnel went back and forth, personnel left the base, and Karsu was on a deadline. He did not want to pay indemnity to the mercenaries nor did he want their leader's ire if he just spaced his mercenaries as that was a good market the leader controlled. He thought that the Museum crew had done something seriously wrong and that the ship would fall into Jupiter's atmosphere.

It was the perfect time to strike!

Grab the ship, take its crew hostage for the slaver markets, put a cloak on the vessel and pull it slowly out when no one was looking! The mercenaries must have been drooling at the bonus they would get.

Karsu went in an orbit or so before the Federation vessel and would lie in wait on its probable path: physics would bring it to him.

That was the last he heard from his half-brother.

And there was the Grant, in orbit.

It was untouched, from all the sensors could see. When Karsu was days overdue, he had taken the Strike Raider Shrike plus the Light Raiders Su and Ara with him on the slow, sub-light voyage into Sol System under cloak. He had brought a prize crew with him, from his sister's family group, plus a few assorted others, and decided to leave the low power charge system going and do a shuttle raid. Su and Ara were there to warn of Federation action or remove their communications repeaters if nothing else. They were still days away from Jupiter, and coming in at a different vector from the charge beam in case anyone was able to trace it. Plus at a lower speed to mask any energy anomolies.

The original raid was to be a prelude to a larger raid and then, if the response was inadequate, a huge raid to damage Star Fleet Command, destroy Earth's contact capability and go after the anti-matter station on Mercury. If there was response to the second raid, that would not happen, of course, but snatching a few Federation ships would be a grand prize for any Clan. Now the simple scouting strike had gone awry. Still, no Federation Star Fleet vessels on active duty were near Jupiter, nothing even close. Had the Conquest suffered a malfunction in the atmosphere? How had the Grant survived transiting the atmosphere? Had it even entered?

"Captain, there is a shuttle leaving the Heavy Cruiser," that from the Sensor Helmsman.

"On display," said Ruzar as he walked behind the Helm.

It was an enhanced tactical display on the less then capacious main display, which barely took up an eighth of the Bridge viewing space. But it was a small Bridge in comparison to Federation standards, about what a Klingon would expect, although a bit less spartan and having solid deck material with some trophy prizes on the walls. It was a bare outline of the Grant and its orbit and anything else near it went up on the main disply. The shuttle left and headings started to show up for its dot.

"Six life forms, Captain," said the Sensor Helmsman.

"Confirmed, Captain," that came from tactical, "older style shuttle as the Conquest told us about. From the Museum."

"What's the course for it?" he asked.

"Probable to the Museum on high speed trajectory," said the Sensor Helmsman.

What is going on here? Captain Ruzar had no answers. How could a simple raid against an unarmed ship go wrong? Karsu was no idiot, and a good Commander. If the Federation knew of their action, then where were the ships that would be out looking for them? What was the Grant doing in orbit STILL? None of his contacts yielded answers, and it boiled down to the most simple of plans: cloak in, uncloak and take the ship, cloak it and leave.

"Captain, the Heavy Cruiser is using its thrusters to change course,"

"What is its new course, Helmsman?"

"Into Jupiter, sir."

What was that ship doing? Were the people on-board mad? Was it some new piece of Federation technology? Didn't the Federation care about these people and that ship? This was far out of the ordinary for a commerce raiding Pirate Captain...

"Will we be able to use sensors to track them?"

"No, sir, our vector does not allow it."

And if he had taken a course close to the charged beams, he would have been able to do so! How fickle is fate to the wary. He gritted his teeth and seethed inside, but knew better than to show that to a crew already on edge from the long transit times.

"Does it look likely they will go deep into the atmosphere?"

"Yes, sir. It is hard to tell at this distance, but it will be very deep. Deeper than what Commander Karsu reported last time."

"Keep me advised, and do the best passive scan you can when they get out... they will get out?"

"Yes, sir, the hull can take that, I think. The crew, I don't know, sir."

Nodding he walked back to his seat and sat down.

Once strange, twice perplexing. Something was happening under control on that ship. By rights he should break off and seek something easier, and yet the promise here was high. His clan had worked too long on this plan to give up after the unknown fate of a single ship in a situation that could have gone against it for any reason at all in the hostile atmosphere of a gas giant. But the Grant was doing something... what it was doing remained to be seen.

He checked his ship's chronometer and time to destination. Still over 50 hours to go.

Slow and steady and frustrating. Still, a simple raid with high rewards got him good people. The new Strike Raider was not an old style 'capture the cargo' vessel: it was out for ships and armed for anything save a Dreadnought. His Clan had worked a decade on the design and it was sleek, fast and powerful.

A match for anything the Federation could field. Anything.

And one, good prize would have the ship pay for itself immediately. Just one, good, prize.

The USS Grant.

Apparently he wasn't looking for the help of heaven.

* * *

Lothar buzzed at the cabin door. The door opened.

"Come on in, Lothar, I'm just getting the last preparations done."

Lothar walked into Enid's cabin and saw her in a red robe, her hair down and in slippers. She was at a table with a dark mat spread out on it and a number of components laid out in front of her. In her hands was a small piece of equipment which she was checking over with an old-fashioned optical lens.

"Do sit down, open case of rations by the washroom along with a water bottle or two. Excuse me while I finish up here, but do talk, this is pretty much by rote."

He watched her for a moment, as she picked up a small cloth and put on some fluid and applied it to a part of the equipment she was examining.

"You do know there is a workshop for this sort of thing?"

"Yes, I do, Lothar, but I don't want people to think I'm 'on call' and available for extra jobs right now. So what's on your mind?"

He shook his head as he realized he was staring at her as she worked. It was careful, methodical work, even if he had no idea of what the piece was she was working on.

"I wanted to talk to you about the expected integration time once we get an M-5 unit to add to the cluster. Could you give me any idea of what you learned on timing and integration at the Museum?"

"Sure," she said laying the piece down on mat, and looking up at him, "it was a five hour process for that system which is now the second longest activated cluster and most advanced cluster we have, but only for simulation. From our observation the major integration with a new unit was without any note: it fit into the overall architecture of the system well and integrated quickly. It noted some 'coming on-line' issues with how its full engram suite worked, which is normal, I think. For never having a complete sentient structure with emotional and intellectual cross-support that is near human levels and able to advance into human levels, that M-5/V learned from its M-4/V start-up experience and smoothly transitioned over. I expect this M-4/V to do the same and need some conscious 're-alignment' time with a bit of down time, but nothing like with the M-3/V to 4/V transition. I would guess fully done in under 10 hours, from shutdown to M-2/V state to full power-up."

"That took much longer than we expected with M-4, and I don't like waiting here when we could get enough fuel with some excess for the APUs and do a warp break-out and get to Mars. If this next run goes as we expect, it will take only two more after that and we can get back in much faster time than any of our initial estimates had. I place that at about a week to ten days."

Enid smiled and nodded.

"I do understand, Lothar. You could have gone with the shuttle and sent Simon back, you know? Leave Theresa in charge."

"Yes, you did tell me that would, ahhhh, keep my edginess down. But with that Orion incident, I just don't trust what is going on. The sub-space problem is nagging at me, too, since we can't even reliably use sub-space comms we are virtually isolated."

"Well, that is bad, yes, but you get used to it," she picked up two smaller pieces of the dismantled equipment and her fingers placed them into each other and worked them back and forth. He heard the very lightest of metal on metal contact and she took up the small cloth and wiped it on the smaller piece. The sound went away.

"You are used to field work on hostile planets for long periods, Enid. We get that in the Fleet, too, but not in the Sol System. Not like this. And if what Kathy's team has found is right, there is more to this than just natural phenomena going on. I don't like that one bit."

"Same here. By the time we can break out of orbit for a warp speed sprint, sub-space comms will be down system-wide. A number of the sub-space repeaters are already down, and commercial comms are now limited to the high-power systems. I assume the Fleet is having similar problems?" She took up those two pieces and fitted them into a third piece, one hand cradling the third piece while the other pressed two edges down on the joined pieces until there was a light 'click' to each. She worked the mobile part of the original structure, which was soundless.

"It is, and that is getting people worried. The transporter blackout really has people on edge, too. We are down to point-to-point transports now out to Mars and the phenomena is propagating into the outer system rapidly. That is why I'm concerned about integration time. Something is going on, and the Fleet can't shake a vessel loose to get to it."

Frowning Enid picked up a matching part to the third and deftly fitted it over the other two, pressing catches and snapping small levers into place.

"Not even a police vessel?"

"And interrupt commerce? Even with the threat of a Pirate, no one expects them to be able to do something that bad. Besides, a large solar storm's output will be hitting Jupiter in two weeks, give or take a day, and that will remove all the static charge problems of the system in one shot. This could still be natural, you know?"

Not looking at the table, she picked up a partial assembly and attached it to the bottom of the previous work, and then started to place pieces into the sub-assembly.

"But you don't expect it, do you?"

"No, Enid. A Pirate here with an anomaly is too much to ask for credulity." Lothar was having trouble at looking at Enid's face and not concentrating on how she was putting together the sub-assembly and pieces without looking at them.

"Nor me, Lothar. Best to be prepared."

"Ok, I'm preparing the Grant. What are you doing to prepare?"

"Well, normally I would be looking after defenses and such, but you and M-4/V have that under your schedule. Really, work for me has decreased the last two shifts so I'm taking a breather before we go atmospheric and preparing for what comes next."

"And this is part of your preparation?" he asked.

"Yes, as you keep on pointing to the woefully inadequate offensive capabilities of the ship, I'm doing my part."

"Ah, Enid, this appears to be a... well a large rifle? Rocket Launcher?"

She chuckled.

"Both pretty close to being right, actually. It is a smoothbore high pressure firing system, utilizing a cross between initial charge and later deployed rocket sub-system with active terminal guidance."

"And just what, praytell, are you going to do with that?"

"I always go prepared for the worst sort of possibilities, Lothar. I did that with Exmar 2 and saved the lives of myself and the expedition. So this is what comes natural to me when in a potential hostile area with the worst possible carnivore I can imagine."

He blinked. He hated being told things like this right up front and then realizing he knew it all along.

"You're getting ready to go hunting?"

She nodded.

"Big game. The biggest."

"Jupiter?" he asked wryly.

She cocked her head.


He didn't know which was worse: the matter-of-factness and 'thats pretty simple' attitude, or the actual flat tone of someone who is sure they can actually do what they just said that you really shouldn't question it. The first was unsettling, the second unnerving.

"With that?"

"Well, this and the stuff I worked on with the folks at the Heavy Weapons area. They are a great joy to work with and have all sorts of arcane knowledge about useless things that really is very impressive. I have a few hundred rounds of it in the case on the floor. I think I have a loose one or two in it. Get a loose one and I'll tell you about it." She had not stopped putting her weapon system together, slowly assembling it, including the the tube and the electronics, as this was, apparently, a dual use, manual/electronic system.

Lothar opened the case and took out the small canister amongst others that were more neatly aligned in open sided containers, that were called 'magazines', if he remembered correctly. He put it on the mat.

"The outer shell is removable with a press-down and counter-clockwise rotation. Lift the shell straight up from the base." Her weapon was starting to have the final pieces to it fitted as she watched him not trying to watch her.

Pressing down and turning the top shell to the base the shell came away in his right hand and fell into four parts while the base held a set of very sleek components to it.

She finished the re-assembly, hit a button and red indicators flashed across the weapon and then went to green. She smiled, pressed another button and the lights went out.

"There you have about a month and a half of work on a small project I had with the Heavy Weapons and Hand Weapons groups. It was, actually, a lot of fun working the problems out with them."

He could not make head nor tails of what it was he had in his left hand, but gently set it down with the base to the table.

"Ok, now if you wanted to damage a starship and didn't have another starship to do it with, or a base or anything like that, how would you do it, leaving out all sorts of biological, chemical and psychological vectors. This is purely to do damage without having an actual, real, heavy weapon to your name. How would you attack it? Outside going in, or inside going out?"

"You mean methodology?"


"Outside going in. If you can't get past the defenses you can't damage the ship."

She nodded.

"That is shields and deflector screens, to variations on the same technology, just at different power levels. Why did shields replace space armor?" she asked.

"Ability to deflect and absorb damage and spread it out over a wider area. That transmits shockwaves to the ship that are far less damaging to it than armor does. Plus it disrupts energy based attacks no end."

"So it dissipates force over a wider area and volume."


"Beyond the harmonic weakness the M-Series found, what is its other weaknesses, beyond ship powering it, and such? Assume the best ship, full powered, shields maximum."

"Lots of firepower coming in to weaken the envelope and dissipate it until direct damage can get in," he answered.

"That isn't a weakness, it is what it is meant to do. Structurally, what is the problem with that system?"

She was mildly talking, but this was disturbing. The deflector screens and shields had been around for centuries and was the best omni-defense available until the M-Series pointed out its flaw with harmonics. He couldn't think of another one. This was painful.

"I don't know, Enid."

"It suffers from the ability to deal with an extremely concentrated attack on a small sub-section of it. Being an envelope, it can receive a pinpoint pierce that can rupture it, when a larger punch will not."

Lothar gaped and looked at the table. The very tip of the device on the base was a small ring of copper. Tiny, really. Suddenly as a physics equation the entire thing before him started to click into place.

"This copper ring creates a temporary shield opening, but its being deflected, Enid, what makes that activate?"

"The deflection sets off the sequence that starts the active terminal guidance system which takes a final picture and picks out the likeliest puncture point. A nanosecond after that the metal rod behind the copper torus fires through it, creating an opening in the envelope while vaporizing into a superheated plasma to ensure that the path forward is opened."

Looking it over he did find the tiny lens, the thrust system and then looked at the rest.

"Ah, yes. And that propellant activates the rest of the device just a bit later while it is finishing its puncture, the entire device slips in through the opening and deep into the field."

She smiled and nodded.

"After that is payload and final attitude correction. This pushes the plasma wake forward, so that any secondary deflector system is disrupted so that it can't deflect the physical mass coming in at very high speed. It corrects for anything the plasma misses, and could actually get through without it, depending on payload."

Lothar was horrified. The Fleet had worked on such systems for centuries, but always from the 'main ship armament' standpoint, never the 'lone individual' standpoint. Everything she said was absolutely, dead-on, accurate and completely unfeasible for large armament systems. A few thousands of variants had been tried and discarded as the shields just offered too much of an obstacle to a major weapon. The physics were known: you can't have a strong shield in one part without having all parts equal to the force their underlying carriers could take. It was the destruction of the superconductors overloaded by incoming energy that actually damaged a ship's shields, until some parts of a ship would go unprotected until temporary re-routing or temporary internal placement could be put up. The Engineering Corps finally dead-ended all future projects in the area, as shield reliability, stronger superconductors, better dampening systems... all had improved to the point of making the piercing concept obsolete.

Enid Daystrom was explaining why those projects failed and what just might succeed. She had already countered all the major problems getting through shields and screens. And none of it with new technology, either. This stuff was old and well known going back to the immediate post-WWIII era if not most of it post-WWII.

"What sort of damage can you do with this? No anti-matter on board, I take it?"

"Nope, none of that, and you wouldn't want it, either. As for damage, well, you know the parts of a starship far better than I do, although I learned a lot and tailored some of the rounds just for that specific work. Excluding personnel and keeping to systems, what is the one system that a fully active starship can't do without that is exposed?"

It was self-answering.

"The intercoolers for the main drive and the ship."

As he said that he knew that Enid Daystrom had created ship hunting rounds. He could imagine a few thousand things that could make the intercoolers go bad suddenly and that would be very, very, very bad for a starship, almost instantly. He trembled. In nearly two months one technology had removed shields as an effective defense and another, that one before him, had just spelled the doom for conventionally designed starships.

"That's right. If you know the chemistry you can make a lethal feed-back into the ship's systems and destroy it that way. I have some purpose built ones for Federation, Klingon, Romulan, Tholian and Cardassian ships. One each in the row furthest from you. By utilizing a chemical catalyst the entire reaction forward and back of an intercooler puncture moves faster than the coolant can escape from the system."

He saw the slightly different colored rounds in the magazines, plus single letter markings: F, K, R, T, C. A propagating catalyst that used, say, the lining of the intercoolers to propagate, was always something pointed out as a wonderful 'ship assassination' device, if you could just get it into the coolant system.

And survive.

"Next up is a more general purpose round, a self-plugging thermobaric round. After it enters the ship, it plugs the hole and disperses its explosive content outwards and then waits a few thousands of a second and ignites. It should reliably remove the equivalent of three to five Federation standard cabin spaces laterally, two decks up and down from the entrance. It also has a small depleted uranium penetrator to make sure the next few decks in gets punctured and to let the blast go out through any interior walls. I'm using an armor composite to flash weld the base into place when it hits."

He nodded. That would be grotesquely effective in open spaces, like shuttle decks, multi-deck accessways, cargo areas. And it would damage a ship's shields and screens in a way that would not be easily repaired because it removed hull and superconductors that support shields and deflectors.

"If you did that to an intercooler, it would fracture the entire system, possibly even to the interior of the ship."

Enid looked at him as he said that.

"Didn't think of that! What would happen?"

"If the core was active with a matter/anti-matter system going, it would overheat almost instantly without the cooling. Almost all ships would shut it down to save the ship and a few would need to actually void out the core into space. That would stop most of the reaction, but the amount of anti-matter you would lose is large. If this actually caused an explosion in the core, the ship would find its anti-matter in contact with matter in an uncontrolled fashion."

"That's good to know! Another idea is the multi-penetrator, which is a number of thin rods of depleted uranium each with its own target acquisition system and miniature guidance system. Simple spring loading for those as they separate just after shield entry. Twelve of those per round. Don't know what they would be best against, but it seemed like an effective idea."

"Impulse engine ports. They are armored, and any damage to those on the inside makes it nearly impossible to do normal space maneuvering if your warp drive is out. You are down to thrusters then, and they are good for sudden shifts but not for doing major course corrections at speed."

She nodded, "Seems reasonable."

"That is if these things work, of course. Have you tested them?"

She smiled, softly.

"In the shuttle bay of the Athens I got permission to set up a portable shield generator and put some armored decking behind it. Told them I needed some zero-g target practice. Had to tweak a couple of them, but they work so far as a limited charge allows. Gave the optics some testing out doing some external practicing with some balloons and bits and piece of debris in orbit, plus Mars served as a safe backstop to it."

Lothar eyed the array of shells, and colors on them, plus lettering.

"Also some old fashioned solid slugs, too," he said softly.

"Don't go Canthris hunting without them," she said with a smile.

Ticking off the checklist between a Canthris and a starship, Lothar started to note similarities, and she had spent a lot of off-hours with the weapons groups. They adored her, and made time to give demonstrations.

"What is the yellow E type?"

"Its an electrical feedback charge, mostly just an EMP charge with some copper plasma as a special effect. That was fun to do as it was one of the few that actually gets more power as it goes through the shield system and then discharges that once it hits. I spent a lot of time on that, and is one of the few I have no idea about. In theory it works, and the stronger your shield reinforcement, the more the capacitors and superconductor holds. Once it gets into the ship, I think its effects will probably be minimal, but still interesting to see."

All the control systems on a starship usually used light-based systems, to avoid disruption, but power transmission was still best through old fashioned superconductor, not going through modulation and demodulation to light via lasers and fiber optics. And all sensors and computers and weapons systems depended upon electronics at some point or another. It was far easier to work with electrostatic charges going to electricity than going to light, really. Realizing that, Lothar started to re-grade the various types in front of him.

Each of them was basically a type that was something that would at least hinder a starship and, in some cases, could actually destroy one. What she had done over the past two months was consider all the weaknesses of starship design and address them, and these were not things easily fixed in design work. A starship must shed heat when its engines were active, if it didn't it would become unliveable in a very short time. Thus intercoolers must be exposed to space for radiation of heat. They could not be too thick or they would retain heat and operate inefficiently. A gas or liquid/gas combination must be used to do the maximum amount of cooling for a given volume in a surface area, thus you needed surface area to do this efficiently. Thickness also decreased volume, unless a heat superconductor was used, and then you still needed surface area. Solid state systems had been tried numerous times, and the amount of heat generated by warp speeds tended to degrade or even vaporize such materials.

All starship designs were trade-offs between energy, heat radiation capability, living space, interior volume, mass, warp envelope size and configuration, energy generation, personnel safety, speed, maneuverability, and firepower. Add in sensors, navigation, recycling, transporters, comms, cybernetic systems, life support, artificial gravity, lighting, cooling... each one of these used up something be it volume, energy, or distortion of mass or lack of it. You could turn some 'waste heat' into electricity, but then you had electrical storage to consider and energy density for a given material, and those took up space, mass... all the basic design engineering schooling he had via the Fleet came back to this. All starships had vulnerabilities of one sort or another. Each device that Enid Daystrom had made attacked the various weak points on a starship by negating its main defense for a tiny opening, but that was more than enough to slip something lethal into it. You wouldn't want to try something like these in a full-warp duel or shoot-out.

But if you were 'hunting' starships?

He shuddered. This was a 'spare time' thing for Enid Daystrom to do, probably because she was going to be dealing with starships. The reasoning was solid, extremely so.

"You've thought on these for awhile, haven't you?" he finally asked in a low tone.

"Actually, since Exmar 2, yes. Just never had time to do anything organized and formal with my ideas. That was a real eye-opener, that trip. Part of that was just what could get past the shields of that shuttle and it really got me thinking about the subject. If I had to pilot another one, I wanted to know what the strengths and weaknesses of the system were. It turns out that many of the things that could get to a shuttlecraft were scale dependent, and the small size and volume of the shuttle meant it was vulnerable to things a starship was not. Other weaknesses showed up when you work the equations, such as the 'refresh rate' or 'heterodyning' of the shield system. That is very important as it helps shields to refresh after a tiny but fast moving particle gets through the shield. In theory the system collapses, but if you refresh it then the system seals, with the backing cold plasma dispersing the remains of the incoming hot plasma."

He nodded, it was a well known principle, actually, and the main defense of a starship against dust at near light speed was the deflector screen that did similar work. That was a normal space affair, however, as the warp pocket around a starship kept everything in relativistic confines.

"You know the Fleet has been tossing around ideas like this for centuries?" he said.

She smiled and nodded.

"I got a good backgrounding on that, and then looked at the run-down of systems proposed and their problems, and they all had the scale-problem, too: they were too large and cumbersome to be effective. When you are playing with a small surface you are talking about area, not volume, and behind it you have to deal with volume, not area, so something good enough to put a decent size hole in a shield system then usually lacked the ability to overwhelm the cold plasma behind it. And if your system was good at the latter, it would suffer at the former, unless you added more mass to the system, which requires impetus and dealing with force to get it moving and guide it to the target. The squared-cubed law comes into play there, and when you are looking at ship systems it is very hard to get around the 'bigger is better' mindset. With the small and handweapons group they had problems with the mindset that 'nothing you could carry could get past the defensive shields of a ship to do damage'. It was fun to go from group to group and listen to all the reasons why it couldn't be done and no one realizing they had created the exact space it could be done in. I had approached it from the very basic end of 'how do you get this there?' and then worked backwards and then forwards. That plasma hit taken on Exmar 2 was informative, Lothar, and I paid attention to its lessons."

He smiled and chuckled.

"Life will do that to you! But you are right, if a ship ran its shields or screens without a refresh they would collapse at the slightest intrusion. And if you refresh them too fast the actual controlling equipment then starts to run outside of its stable zone of operation, mostly due to being unable to change electron orbits fast enough across enough material, and can burn itself out in no time. So everyone has a refresh rate. Cold plasma responsiveness is purely mechanical, too, and removing heat from the system is part of the refresh, but lags by a long time, often seconds. But you weren't looking for the 'magic bullet' were you?"

"No, Lothar, I wasn't looking for the 'one-shot destroys one ship' ideal of all previous designers. I just wanted to do the most possible damage with the limited payload I could force through the best shield system we know about. And it turns out that even with the refresh, the actual envelope, itself, can take nearly a second to finally collapse around a small hole. A bit of copper plasma given some magnetohydrodynamic force to it would keep that open for substantially more than a second for an area of less than 150mm in diameter. That is the maximum size you can get without running into the scale problems of heavy weapons."

Lothar thought about the size of a Quantum Torpedo or a Photon Torpedo, and realized that something with the diameter of a closed fist was not going to be something the heavy weapons groups would ever look at. And who really fought ship-to-ship battles with its crew on the hull firing weapons at each other? Even a poor phaser hit could cook them alive... unless you had space armor...

"Enid, just what is the rating of your spacesuit?"

Enid Daystrom laughed as her hands went over the weapon, checking its parts and familiarity.

"Lets just say that it is the best overall protection against heat from induction and radiation, that also has some anti-weapons capability at the low end built into it. Truthfully, Lothar, this sort of thing can't be used in a warp speed battle unless you have an extremely sophisticated on-board targeting system, which you can't pack into this space. It is a normal space encounters weapon and the shells have a very limited on-board adjustment system, that uses up most of its energy for final lock-on and delivery. It is 'fire and forget', so you can go on to whatever else you have to do."

And that was a serious limitation, although, if you ganged a number of these shells in the proper delivery vehicle... there was a startling moment of thought.

"No tactical sensor system can track these! Even normal sensors would just register them as 'space debris'!"

"Well, yes, the design blindspot is a ship systemic one: if you can't think of something like this working, you don't design for it."

Lothar shuddered. She had just described him, although not in a derogatory way, but once you have a blindspot pointed out, you then have to acknowledge it or risk your life trying to ignore it. The problem was that there was too much of the 'small stuff' to want to track... even if it had an intersecting course, it was never going to be even more than a minor irritation. He could almost quote by section, paragraph and sub-paragraph why you let the defensive systems 'handle the small stuff' and the ship's skin was good enough for most things... why, yes, he could.

"But you never did anything serious on this before this project, right?"

"Well, checking the fundamentals and putting together a storage capacitor to go into an external APU port of a shuttle so that its equipment would have enough time to recover and still be under guidance and active control. Hopefully I'll never need it, but its small enough to carry around and install on a shuttle. Easy to get from a replicator. But beyond affirming some of the basics and applying some of my other skills, no, most of this remained very theoretical until I met with the 'hands-on' groups at the Museum. And all the design tools are so well automated that it was pretty easy to learn how to just plug in components and see how things worked."

That was an artifact of having so many generations of computers and designers: all the very basic tools became automated and some didn't even exist as tools, any more, just final components. You didn't have to know a lot to design this sort of thing, and if you did it right it never registered as any sort of a weapon, either. He had seen a full Star Base heavy phaser system specified out to components that appeared unrelated, and yet one person could assemble them in a week or so to one of those heavy weapons platforms.... energy to run it was a different matter, of course, but even there... you literally could not safeguard against that, and so you depended on the ability of society to ensure that they weren't used in a manner negative to it. That was settled in the first two decades of the 21st century: you could not have the tools and then try to restrict how they were used beyond simple, common sense. Enid had enough knowledge, skill and awareness of so many factors that doing something like this was a 'spare time project' to her. The Museum staff's assistance surely helped, but that was a matter of time, not concentration of knowledge.

"But you didn't share all of this with the staff, did you?"

"No, Lothar, it really was just a spare time project at the Museum for me. I left the data behind with L'Tira, but never did get to full scale testing because you can't test things like this full-scale on ships."

"And here?"

She smiled packing the main weapon into its case and then loading the magazines of 6 shells into it, one at a time.

"I will not go to the Orion slave markets. I will see them in Hell, first. I will fight, and make sure they know they have chosen the wrong woman to threaten... even if they don't know they are threatening me."

Smoothing the case lid on, it flared green once and then it went dark.

"I think M-4/V can do that for you, Enid." he said.

She smiled.

"So do I. Always good to have back-up and little surprises, though."

He nodded and got up from the chair.

"You might try to get some rest, Enid. Four hours until final preparation, and then it is Jupiter."

"I will, Lothar, a good nap and I will be ready to go. Need about 20 seconds to pull on my suit in an emergency and maybe 10 minutes to get everything together in a non-emergency."

He smiled.

"Good. And Enid?"


"I'm glad I didn't send you back to the Museum."

She smiled deeply.

"So am I, Lothar."

He smiled as he walked out. M-3/V had her pegged as a 'survivor', and that was the truth. For all of her pleasant personality and open attitudes, he would never call Enid Daystrom 'soft' or 'easy'. Yet she was still a very good person and he doubted that she ever saw her life as 'lonely'.

After he left, Enid attached the case to the back of her suit in the charging bay. She didn't think about loneliness, where her life took her or ever worried about it. She prepared as she could, and took it as it came to her and never doubted herself when things went against her. And she had the raptor marks across her back to prove that this worked... it had died, she hadn't. She had many such marks from many planets and species, and knew the life she led wasn't easy for most people to understand or want to lead. Her only thought that it was strange how many people thought that she would crumble under pressure who hadn't lived to see that she hadn't done so. It was only the times the really unexpected hit that she had to work very, very, very hard.

She shrugged and stretched to catch a few hours of rest, knowing that the unknown loomed.

Such was life.

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