Friday, December 12, 2008

The M-5 - Chapter 8

Chapter 8

L'Tira arrived at the small conference room with the 'brain trust' of Kathy, Simon, Grace, Roger and Patti there. She took a seat and it was at the head of the table, and she was still not used to that.

"Enid asked me to convene this sub-group meeting to review the final works of Richard Daystrom from the USS Grant. I've had a chance to review them and Enid's notes and... well... I think we each need to give our part to this. I can't give a real good handle on it from me, but let me say that as much as I've come to respect Richard Daystrom's creation, I am very saddened that his mind had slipped this far and caused so much death. I didn't have that feeling of respect before all of this started, but saw that Enid was in no way Richard Daystrom. He was driven by things he couldn't control and they controlled him, while Enid was not only in control of herself, but knew she had an effect on others. Ok, that is my part. Others have or are putting their views in private, and I know each of you have, too. But Enid said this needs discussion and we are here for that, instead of a regular meeting. M-5 is ready to go and there isn't much to say on the project for active work, and it is now just preparation to releasing the publications. I guess this is the major wrap-up. There is more work, but the majority is done. Does anyone want to go next?"

There was silence at the table.

Kathy looked to the others and stood up.

"This is very hard for me, as I have learned so much about each of you and Enid and the work of Richard Daystrom. I knew of the M-5 incident from the Academy, but not in depth or detail. If I'm saddened at the problems of Richard Daystrom, I am also unhappy with the performance of the Fleet in this matter. Yet the Fleet understands that it has taken a far too narrow a view on Richard Daystrom and a number of things and we are working with the Engineering Corps and higher command to start addressing them. I... this isn't what I ever expected from my career, or spending a year or two here. The past two months have seen highs and lows, and we have done so much... but we can't just shelve Richard Daystrom into the past. If we sorrow at his weakness of spirit, we must also understand the good of his mind beneath that. This was painful material to review, for me, and although I can imagine Enid handling it, I know I would have problems doing the same in her position. When I see more than just the ones she flagged, others where there is some reference or side-talk without response, I normally assume that the system was muted. I thought that was the case with the ones she did flag. It isn't, I've looked at the sound encoding and it is background stable at all times. What I see, then, knowing all that I have seen of his works and how they work, is that there is a good mind trying to get a vital and important idea out, but that it gets twisted going through the man. The good ideas don't stand alone, but can be considered alone, and that is what I am doing. That is very hard to do as I have come to admire the works of Richard Daystrom and I'm in sorrow that his spirit and mind could not keep it together and put such good work to such poor ends."

She sat down, shaking her head just slightly as she did so.

Simon Lurva remained seated, but spoke up.

"As you know I came into this because of Lothar's interest: I am his 'right hand man' for the department and do much of the daily operations work. I didn't expect this to be more than a formal review situation, but as it turned into one, I couldn't help but realize that I was looking at a confluence of events that we would call 'criminal' if not for the fact that there was no criminal intent or motive behind it. I'm used to the bureaucracy, its utterly misguided internal directives, the overhead of trying to administer anything and then having to sieve out what those in the command structure really want against what they say they want. If it was Richard Daystrom's personal problems that led to the creation of M-5, along with his genius, then it was Star Fleet that made it possible for such an ill man to put such a crippled machine onto a starship where it would kill hundreds of our fellow Fleet members. This was troubling to me when I first started to review the entire set of original documents with what Enid brought with her, and I had some early side-discussions with her on this and arranged for a quick overview of Star Fleet practices with our Contracts group. I did not want to distract from the overall effort and never expected that this would become part of the overall effort, but I saw that she recognized the significance of this problem and integrated it into the overall work."

"At this point we now have complete validation of Richard Daystrom's original proposal, all the way to working end system that is, really, just a simple piecing together of the system parts he left behind. The Fleet was far, far too ready to try and place blame because its own hands were not clean in what happened: the push by the combat arm to get a full combat operational starship AI changed the course and direction of the entire work by Richard Daystrom and led to the hard push to get just that, while Daystrom's fevered mind broke down trying to make sure the original concept remained in place. From my systems viewpoint his work is a true marvel, when fully put up, and is a system dedicated to the main goals of the Fleet, ensuring the safety of its crew, and knowing that to explore there are risks involved and letting human wisdom guide it on when risks must be taken. This is not a 'robotic killer' or an AI bent on our removal as 'imperfect': this is a system that recognizes its own imperfections, understands the need to weigh risks and ensures that those who do decide to take such risks are as safe as possible in doing so. That is not the simple and direct ship control and combat computer system the Fleet wanted: it is a highly complex and adept system structure that adapts to its ship, its crew, its environment and does its best to sort out risks on its own when no one else is there to help it. It is a living organism, and yet is not complete without the human part of it, and its life and function are not complete without a crew. That is not a ship as control mechanism, this is a ship as crew member and knowing that is its best and highest form of service and will outlast many of its crew even while welcoming new members to the ship."

"If M-5 went wrong due to pressures of being unstable both from lack of system depth and from poor engram encoding by Richard Daystrom's mind, it would not have been put there without the overarching pressures from the Fleet. I don't know if Richard Daystrom would have achieved a stable system on his own, but the M-2/V component gave direction and stability to call into question the directions of later M-units. We see this today: aberrant programming that is not in line with ship and crew safety is removed by the mental structures of all later M-units because this is a foundation of their thought system. We may never know the actual success or failure of this working with the aberrant engrams of Richard Daystrom, but that hard trimming of thoughts is inherently self-stabilizing to them. While M-5 without that depth was a dark reflection of Richard Daystrom and his circumstances, it is very possible that the system, itself, would identify the aberrant engrams and seek human help to replace them in itself. That is speculation, at best, and I urge no one to try it out. What I can say of M-5/V is that it weighs and balances its own motives and views with that in mind and does curb and eliminate those thought paths that are a detriment to ship, crew and functioning between them. That isn't what the contract asked for, but it was what Richard Daystrom wanted and never saw completed. He is not alone in taking blame nor is M-5 as it was used, nor is the Fleet wholly culpable. What we do need, now, is to work on something to address the problems of Fleet imposed directives and personal proposals and find a better way to get them aligned on future contracts. Because that system is still as broke, today, and while many complain about it, we rarely realize that it can actively cost lives."

"Well, I've said more than enough for the number two man in the department, really."

"No, Simon," said Grace, "that was necessary and hits along with what I've been seeing, too. I'm glad that the major work on the project from my side was done before this large workload hit, and I've had some time to review the work and investigations: past and present. Our review, although summary in nature, has an added part of new analysis based on unrevealed information or information not added to the first reviews. It is clear from the records that Enid provided that the Daystroms sought to have the proper information included, even when Richard Daystrom was in no state to provide it. His mental condition, even once stabilized, left him with a void on the project itself, one which he could not approach. His wife, however, did try to provide that data, and even when that was accomplished, the Fleet did not halt its review, which was nearly processed, nor include the Daystrom records as so much as an addenda to the report. This is actually not too unusual for the period in question, particularly the years of Star Fleet expansion via the Constitution class Heavy Cruisers."

"While the loss of the Excalibur in what was, essentially, a demonstration, was devastating, the Fleet was putting on two ships a month into service in its second-line builds and the number of people flowing through the Academy, Command School and being put on to these new build cruisers was astonishing. At the same time the older Republic and Bon Homme classes were undergoing upgrades and refits, which added to the overhead as new re-fit shipyards were stood up in three systems: Sol, Andoria, Vulcan. That was in response to understanding the full size and capacity of the Klingon Empire and seeing its new D-5 and D-6 Battlecruisers being made at an increased rate before the D-7 showed up. All of this led to a lowering of average service time in the Fleet, an increase in overhead in multiple areas that was not properly planned for, and a number of problems being side-lined for years or, as we have seen, decades. The final part of this is the smaller service vessels: Light Cruisers, Destroyers, Frigates, Police Cruisers, Scouts, and Tugs to name some of the major types that were coming into service. Star Fleet had been top-heavy, infrastructure-wise, for the overall Fleet mission for the five decades preceding the M-5 incident, and it was then re-organizing to address the plethora of smaller problems seen Federation-wide that were also handed to Star Fleet. Smaller, purpose-built vessels with well-defined roles for the Federation and the Fleet cut crew sizes enormously as fewer specialized crewmembers were needed for what was, essentially, Federation internal work."

"How did that effect overall Fleet performance?" Simon asked.

"Star Fleet started to demonstrate a bi-modal outlay of command: a group of older command officers ages 45 to 90, normalized to human standards, and another group ages 30 to 40. While everyone admires the well known young Captains, the command staff was having a serious generational shift between the Fleet's older style of exploration and defense to one of internal security with external defense and a few, heavy ships for exploration. While many of the Captains in the 'plumb job' of Heavy Cruiser commander were in the older cohort, the young captains that proliferated into the lighter vessels, particularly Frigates and Destroyers, found that the promise of their careers for exploration and defense had shifted noticeably during their decade or so in junior service. The Fleet they entered was no longer the Fleet they were in and many were promoted very quickly to these smaller, purpose-built vessels and found themselves not in glamorous positions in exploration or relatively staid but essential border security work along the Romulan Neutral Zone and expanding Klingon border areas. A major shifting point came during the debate, decades before the build-out, on the retention of 'reserve units' by Federation members to patrol their own systems and the immediate trade lanes between systems. That was a long, long debate as many felt the centralizing of duties to Star Fleet against such things as the Orion Pirates, was putting far too much power in the hands of the Federation. Those looking to centralize the duties keyed on coordination between Fleet and non-Fleet units and standardization of training and equipment. The compromise to have all members of the system member units trained to Star Fleet standards and to slowly obsolete out the older, member constructed units and construct Fleet units, was one that didn't sit well, even on places like Vulcan. Andoria, in particular, felt its long space-faring heritage had been slighted and the rifts caused by those decisions saw what should be the fourth largest member of the Federation contribute far below its population percentage to the Fleet. If Enak were here he could tell you about that in detail, I expect."

There were a few nods from the members present,as they had studied some of these questions in the Academy.

"What that would mean, for us, is that when Richard Daystrom proposed a way to cut crew size via his M-Series project and automate almost all major areas of a starship under a unified system, Star Fleet welcomed it, particularly in the area of patrols along the border regions. That, finally, shifted the entire project emphasis from ship control to combat, and the pressures on Richard Daystrom, which no one knew were already high, caused a severe mental breakdown that would only be seen as it unfolded. Part of his mind knew that the original concept could do this if it could get all the pieces into being. The other part would not ask for help, seek to expand the knowledge base and actually hid vital computer code and capability from other project members. The last gasp of unity between these two was the M-Variant or SERS, which would hold the working basis for an entire M-Series system when put together with all parts of the M-Series. Like Richard Daystrom's mind, the project splintered and when his mind failed, so did the project in all of its parts. That would not have happened with proper contractual oversight, restricting modifications of the contract to limited ones that did not change the scope of the project, getting good project documentation on a timely basis from the project, and having a less headstrong Captain who would not trust a system and disoriented it so much that even if it had been stabilized previously and did not have so many simulations, that it would have failed just due to the actions of that Captain alone. By not having clear and precise ideas of what a the project required and setting up a fully 'safe' testing methodology to demonstrate the capabilities of the M-5 via a rigorous, multi-month install and testing routine, as was called for, the result was tragedy."

"From what I've seen of Contracts, it hasn't changed, has it?" asked Roger.

"No, it hasn't. It has actually gotten worse since the implosion of the Klingon Empire and the large number of semi-autonomous systems that no longer hold fealty to the Empire or seek to become part of the Federation. Stabilizing the collapsing Empire took nearly 60 years of Star Fleet time and energy, along with serious work to ensure that the Klingons understood that the Federation wanted a 'working relationship' that would be closer. By augmenting or actually replacing Klingon patrol needs on the Empire's anti-spinward and inward periphery, a number of large ships were taken out of that service and put into 'interior order' duties, with horrific results of some of the semi-autonomous systems being forcibly re-absorbed into the Empire. That was seen by their somewhat allies in the Romulan Empire as a chance to expand into Klingon space. The battles at Narendra III and Khitomer would spark a civil war that included these semi-autonomous systems. Those systems had worked with the Romulans, Tholians, Ferengi and Orion Pirate Clans to stage that uprising. The intervention by the Federation to deploy the tachyon net across the border between the Klingon and Romulan Empires demonstrated its effectiveness for immediate use and overlooked its long range problems, both in maintenance and actual volume of coverage. That and the following problems with the Dominion ensured that no real end to those problems would be put in place for the longer term. The Federation detests Klingon practices of 're-assimilation', the Romulans have found ways to mask tachyon signatures, and the semi-autonomous systems see the Federation as a 'non-friendly power' but one they have to deal with. And nothing can be done about Tholian, Ferengi, and Orion help and commerce to those systems without incurring a large capital cost to the entire Federation to install similar tachyon networks that would then have little oversight and be improperly staffed, even as others find ways to thwart it. All this time the Fleet continued to add units, staff, personnel and faced an ever changing array of powers, threats and the unknown. If this was a historical case analysis, I would say that the Federation is overstretched and on the verge of collapse, taking the rest of the immediate large groups with it as heavy units splinter off going back to home-system protection."

Grace took a swallow of water.

"But then no one has asked the Forensics History Group to analyze that,and they are my own personal views. Not that of my Group." She sat down, more than a little bit flushed at saying what she had just said.

"Unfortunately, I concur with Grace," said Patti DuBois. Everyone turned to see her, still sitting, with one or two holodisplays up in front of her.

"Richard Daystrom, while a very troubled man, was a symptom of ongoing problems within the Federation scientific community and commercial communities. I've approached the M-Series project as someone examining an alien artifact and culture, knowing my own biases and foibles and true inability to be an alien to that culture. But it is informative to approach it that way from the Psycholographic Sciences. As an alien artifact, the M-Series is a disjointed set of parts that fit neatly together, demonstrating a high level of intelligence in their creation. Each part is semi-functional, semi-capable and has its own and unique strengths and weaknesses, some that are shared with other units and some that aren't. Each part of the M-Series has a definite purpose in a larger mental structure. We have M-1 being a base system to process incoming data from all parts of the ship and do a low-level, homeostatic analysis and regularization on them. There is no way that it could ever organize with a higher, though limited, computer and run a starship, and yet it has the properties necessary to feel what a starship is, how it is working and just what, exactly, the import of those things are on an emotional level. It has no real 'feelings' but is the basis to have 'feelings', and ones that sense where a ship is and how it is working. M-2 would have some of that, but not the actual depth that the M-1 units have in a ship. No other units process at that fine level of detail and then derive that emotional state from physiological state that M-1 does. All animals with a responsive set of nerves does this, and that is what M-1 does and serves as the foundation for all later units, without which, they will not function properly."

"M-1 was the success Richard Daystrom needed to let him know the rest of the project can and would work, and yet he hid the very foundation of it from his project members and even made out that it was a failure. He was hiding it, as we know now, so that no one would be able to do subsequent work without acknowledging his prior work. But those superficial deceits would slowly become real emotions, if they weren't that to start with, as later problems pressed his mind harder and some of those failures stung much harder because he couldn't show the work he had done to overcome them. When I generalized this and asked fellow colleagues what would drive someone to do this, the general agreement was that the person in question felt that they had suffered betrayal in their area of expertise more than once and felt justification in doing that. It can lead to paranoia and be a symptom of that or delusional problems, and may actually cause such problems later. In a way that only his genius could do, Richard Daystrom was so marking the area he was researching that no one one be able to go into it without acknowledging his work. He did not foresee that a failure on a large scale would also so imprint that area that no other researcher would want to go into it, lest they be seen as heading into treacherous areas that had 'destroyed someone better than they were'."

"For all of his personal problems, many of the causes came from outside him in the scientific and technical communities. I am ashamed to say that the actual historical record of this problem in many other areas has always been readily available and easy to study. This case is unique in blending so much together from so many areas that it brought the point clearly home to me. As an alien technology this would be stunning, no matter who found it. That it was built by a human with the help of the Fleet and then lost to petty concerns is a tragedy beyond compare. Just on the mental integration side of things, my specialty, I have not seen a system like a full M-5/V ever in either the history of the various Federation members or in what we have found before the Federation came on the scene. Even more astonishing is that the Gorns have no records of something like this being developed anywhere. Many races had automated starships, many have cybernetic intelligences in control of ships, many have created things with similar functions, but without the emotional depth to find stability in what they are. M-5 as it originally was fell into that category. The Borg fall into that category as their biological components give them minimal emotional capability and their massed mental power is degraded to the barest minimal of needs. With M-4/V we see the higher level organization of base drives and a full development of an integrated self with intellect in emotions working together. In M-5/V from what we have seen, the overall direction of that intelligence with purpose to integrate with a ship and its crew is not only unusual, but revolutionary. Our own shortsightedness as a culture nearly lost us this capability. We have been given a gift in bureaucratic mistakes, inaction and petty infighting to have a second chance at this. If we can admit to our faults, we can try to pick up and learn from them, and do better from here on out. That requires we make a good and solid presentation to our friends in the larger scientific and technical communities and within the Fleet itself."

"Ok, that is my part, stripped down of pretty phrases in the official report, but I do want to add a personal note. I really didn't know what to make of Enid Daystrom when she came here and the word of mouth got to me about this. As I was intrigued by this project I joined on, and soon found myself trying to analyze Enid, just as I was doing with the M-Series and Richard Daystrom. I had thought her cool and aloof, and more than a bit structured in her ways, and even thought that made her a somewhat stiff or brittle. Then she flexed her mind, emotions and talent, never denigrating or deriding, but always with a positive attitude that held out for just what each of us could do. She worked hard, too. Lifting crates, unpacking equipment, talking with Department heads, going to social dinners, giving talks on her scientific experiences, going to training sessions, and more than I care to think about. She outworked me, and I admit it. She took pleasure in what she did, even if it was matter-of-fact, you never saw her stop or be stymied. Even those not in the project remarked on how she applied herself to many things, and slid right into the routine while never taking her presence for granted. Each of us has seen her take hard news during this project, some of us would be devastated at learning the actual condition of their great grandfather like that, or exactly what it meant when bureaucracy failed in a devastating manner. I was and am still, personally, shocked that she wants us to get the credit for resurrecting Richard Daystrom's work. But even while I disagree with her decision, I see that it is right for her and I see how it changed all of us when change needed to happen. That pride of ownership for what we have done she cut herself from... not to hurt herself, but to give us that common bond. I know psychological action at work, and that was shocking: she knew what to do and had no concern for herself. I can disagree with the decision, but I can't disagree with the results. It will be months if not a year or so before all we know is put out for distribution. That is work I gladly do, now that it is only collating, coordinating and getting the documents into shape. When she comes back and says her last good-byes here, I will deeply miss her as a friend and I know we will keep that up after she is gone."

"Now I'm done," Patti said sitting down.

"Well, I don't have the historical background or overarching views that others have, I haven't been in the Fleet long enough for that, "Roger Arrivan said.

"Most of my work has been technical, and yet Enid had me managing others working on trying to figure out what the M-Series really was. I contributed a few insights and ideas but the bulk of the work wasn't done by me and I had to sit next to a number of more senior people who walked me through the code... and walked me through how to manage something like this. For all the inward orderliness of understanding the actual way the M-Series worked, our outward environment was a mess. You couldn't walk through the bay without finding partially disassembled components, readouts, sensors, and all the necessary things to try and get to the inner workings of the M-Series. Some things stopped us cold, like the interlink bus system for M-2/V. What it was doing was beyond us, and took Kathy and Enak to help puzzle out. I know this project is in no way 'typical' for the Fleet or the Historical section, and yet it involved me in more areas of physics, ship design, code structure and the psyche sciences than I ever expected. Even with the 'normal' work I had to do, I admit that I looked forward to hours on the project as a treat... a reward... and more. I've always scored high in various intelligence measures, and took that for granted. Seeing what Richard Daystrom made and trying to make sense of it... I was doing some of the hardest work, ever, in my life and actually started in on the texts he was reading and going through his background material when I wasn't trying to puzzle out some coding mystery. I've received a lot of teaching in my life, but this I had to learn. No one could teach it to me."

"We all have had to do that, Roger," Patti said softly.

He smiled.

"I know Patti that... I wasn't alone in that. I saw Lothar trying to figure out some way that the M-2/V was trying to interact with the simulated starship and he was doing as much learning as I was. More, maybe. Kathy had to go from astrophysics to standard physics to psychological sciences to ship design to cybernetics and back again, and she was working harder than I was! I can't tell you how many times Enid or Jomra or Simon or Lothar would come to me and ask to have me explain something to them. And the coding team got a work out, too, with many of them having to sub-specialize to track down how the systems worked, why they worked the way they did and what it was that the M-Series was doing. I could never have done that, and I had trouble explaining it and their work and input directly into this is theirs, not mine. I just had to understand it fast enough to explain it to the rest of the team. When we finally broke the Engram system, it was a team effort and when we did we got all of Richard Daystrom's original code before us. What a smooth mind he had for that! It is some of the cleanest and most elegant code for this work that I've ever heard about, and yet it was buried inside the workings of machines long forgotten by most everyone. Only in the last week or so have I really understood that Richard Daystrom had to know all of this to make it work, had thought it all out and created something that would do what he wanted... even as he forgot what it was that was important and his mind shifted from recognizing that dream to inward self-glorification. For the first time I was really frightened when I realized that his intelligence was no safety from his mental attitudes. It was hard to understand how something so beautiful could go so wrong."

"I guess thats it... I put something far longer into the report, along with everyone else working on the code and synthesis area. It is more than I expected, ever, when I joined the Fleet."

Roger sat back, looking at his hands in his lap and then to the personal system, adding a note or two to the comments he just spoke.

"Roger, you have been a part of this longer than anyone, remember? Enid first wound up with you, waiting for Mr. Jomra and me and the M-Series containers. We had all graduated together, come over here together even though we had different ship assignments, and you have done more than your share. Far more, Roger," L'Tira said smiling, "Enid met more senior and more experienced people here, and had two or three people with both of those in your area come on the team. She chose you. I never saw it before, but she did that because you would apply yourself to this and not see problems as walls, but parts of solutions. More senior and experienced people couldn't have done that. You know that and I know that. So does everyone here, I think. Do you think that Lothar was chosen because he was senior to other people? He treated you, me and everyone else here as competent and equals, and he never, ever attempted to pull rank or speak down to anyone."

Simon spoke up, but softly. "That is how he runs his Department, too, he expects you will do to the best of your ability and recognize when you are unable to do something honestly. There are no slackers there."

Kathy Lorimar started, softly, but evenly. "I've had a rotation for one cruise as the Junior Science Officer on a Light Cruiser, and a well run ship doesn't need to have rank pulled by anyone. It was a bit more structured here, but in the Science Department it was what you could bring to the job that mattered. Looking back at this major milestone point, just how many actual technical decisions has Enid Daystrom made? One or two, possibly, but not more. She did her job, however, and made sure we could all do ours well and without interference. When she put people like Lothar, Grace and Patti into lead positions, it wasn't rank... it was because they liked the work, the project and were able to work with others. She did that with Higher Echelons, too, in case anyone has forgotten, and THEY contributed to the team and were self-selecting to approach her on that. She gave us all credit before they joined up, so that the hard work was captured by those who did it. Then there are the Gorns. I found them intimidating, frightening, repulsive. In a short week they were my co-workers, able bodied contributors and understanding even as we both had problems in talking with each other. They helped on the M-3 translator and I worked with them and the coders and that M-3... all with Enid's help. And L'Tira's. And Simon's. I was shocked that in seeing the Gorn shuttle leave that I knew these were my team mates. Even when I can't identify them individually, which I could do by the time they left, they all treated me as an equal on a project they had volunteered for."

"It has been something more than I ever expected, too, Kathy." L'Tira said, "And I want to close this major milestone meeting, now. We still have an M-5 to deliver, and I really don't like Enid being out on the Grant without it. Thank you, everyone, for coming. The initial project is now completed, now it is time for the reports."

* * *

"Are we all here and accounted for?" Lothar asked. He was strapping himself into one of the seats taken from the Federation shuttle and put into the Gorn shuttle and secured.

"All present and accounted for, Commander Hampton," said the M-4/V.

"Good. How long to atmospheric entry?"

"On present course and speed, we will begin to hit outer atmospheric turbulence in one hour. Total run time has been reduced due to orbital adjustments and will be 5.7 hours in length. Dedicated comms hook-ups have been put down for the shuttle. All crew will have access to their standard systems through that, although bandwidth has limitations on detail. Any countermanding of injection into Jupiter's atmosphere must be done in the next ten minutes."

"Keep me appraised, M-4/V. With all systems nominal, it is steady as she goes on best course."

"Steady as she goes, aye-aye sir."

"5.7 hours of high-g?" Theresa asked.

"I will be able to use the Grant's life support gravity systems to counter some of that inside the shuttle bay. I cannot do much, but it will modulate the forces to 6.7 g standard. The Gorn shuttle can further adjust that down to 1.3 g standard. That will be far less than the previous run," M-4/V had told her that before, but Theresa was just making sure.

"Good! I didn't like the strained muscles from the last trip."

"Our shuttle will be able to ensure that you do not suffer, Lt. Theresa Kul. It is well within the bounds of what you have experienced before," the Human Specialist said.

"Doesn't mean that I like it..."

Enid Daystrom had stowed her case against the wall, strapped in and made some final adjustments to her suit.

"I'm shutting off the transmit. I need the rest. Let my suit know if it needs to wake me up."

"You are going to try and sleep through this?" Lothar asked.

"Just try and stop me. I've put in 16/3/10/5/10 and now 6 or so hours of sleep sounds really good. Besides, its out of my hands now. If you need me during this, we are all dead, anyways. I'm leaving it up to the experts who have been here before."

Lothar shook his head. Really a trip through the Jovian atmosphere was something amazing... even if the sub-cloud bank time did get monotonous.

"Good luck on resting, Enid. You'll need it."

"Thanks, Theresa. Wake me up when its over."

There was a soft click sound as Enid Daystrom shifted from two-way comms to receive only. The systems didn't need to do that, but it did assure a positive auditory signal that someone did do that.

Lothar checked the external viewer from the forward part of the ship. The last of the curvature of Jupiter was passing into darkness and the red cloud bank they would head into started to swell as they approached the night side terminator.

* * *

"The Heavy Cruiser is on course for Jupiter, Captain Ruzar," said the Helmsman/Sensor.

"They did not vary their course?"

"No, sir. Their last course correction gave them a positive impetus towards the planet."

"That course will take them through the upper atmosphere?"

"No, sir. They are going below the clouds on present course. Estimated time if they transit successfully will be under 6 standard hours."

"And no one has left it since the last shuttle?"

"No, sir. Large sections of the ship have been shut down and life support ended. Long range sensors indicate that there is an aft clustering of personnel on the ship, but precise determination cannot be made due to interference from the vicinity of Jupiter."

"The last shuttle?"

"It has made rendezvous with the Mars base, as of one hour ago."

Captain Ruzar nodded his head from side to side.

"Do our records and simulations indicate if that Heavy Cruiser can actually survive the depth it is going to?"

"There has been no change in that, sir. We do not have enough information to know."

"Keep me informed and updated."

"Yes, sir."

He would know by his next shift. If it didn't survive, then alternate targets had been chosen and would end the question of: 'does the Federation have insane personnel that will commit suicide in obscure ways with ships?'

If they survived... then they had some means to actually do what they were doing. WHY they would ever want to do something so astronomically dangerous he could not figure out. And this was dangerous, as no ship in the known travel spaces would do this, the Gorns excepted as no one knew about them. Vulcans would use good sense and send probes. Klingons would use this as a devious form of execution. Romulans would expend lessers and use no ship in this. Even he wouldn't think of this save to cloak his ship in the upper to middle cloud reaches, as Commander Karsu had done. He hadn't survived. The Grant, apparently, had, unless it knew that Karsu was there and tricked him into the deadly atmosphere in an area of high risk while it skirted the upper portion.

That was possible.

Not likely given the lack of everything on the Grant, but possible.

Captain Ruzar got up from the Captain's Chair.

"Helm has the conn. I will be back after a shift resting. Steady as she goes."

"Aye-aye, sir. Helm at the conn, steady as she goes. Rest well Captain."

Ruzar snorted and walked off the bridge. He had patience for long trips. But he hated, purely detested mysteries. Unless there was something to be made from them. That was a different thing completely.

* * *

Alex Jomra disembarked from the shuttle to see the smiling faces of Patti, Grace, Simon, L'Tira and Roger. L'Tira walked up to him and then hugged him fiercely.

"Welcome, Home!"

He was stunned as he stumbled off to the side and she did that with Brian who was behind him, he didn't have time to adjust before Roger came up to shake his hand.

"Good to have you back!"

Alex Jomra was bewildered, he had never experienced anything like this in his life. Soon he realized that everyone was out of the shuttle and sharing greeting. Then Captain Bartholomew showed up.

"Ensign Alexander Jomra?" he asked solemnly.

"Yes, sir!"

"For action taken above and beyond the call of duty on the USS Grant during her encounter with an Orion Raider and showing outstanding skill in your performance in all other areas, by orders of Star Fleet Command you are promoted to Full Lieutenant, Junior Grade. Congratulations, Lieutenant Jomra and to your new assignment on the USS Grant."

Captain Bartholomew handed a small case with the Lieutenant pips in them.

Alex Jomra was stunned, and could barely get out, "Thank you, Captain Bartholomew."

He just stood there, dumbly, as Enak also was promoted and likewise transferred to the Grant. Brian DuVale was promoted to Lt. Commander of the Grant. Cadet Matthewss was now Ensign Matthewss of the Grant. This went on with each member of the repair teams. It was only then that Lt. Jomra noticed other promotions with the station crew.

Kathy Lorimar was a full Lieutenant. So was Tareen Lefar. Cadet Walsh was now Ensign Walsh. Simon Lurva was Commander, and Grace D'gorna and Patti Dubois were now full Lieutenant Commanders. He started picking out other faces in the crowd, wearing the jackets of the team and sporting new insignia.

Then he was shocked to realize that not everyone had taken a promotion.

Roger Arrivan was wearing a Daystrom Industries vest.

It was only after Captain Bartholomew had walked back down the line that Alex Jomra saw L'Tira wearing the same type of vest.

Daystrom Industries.

"I'm sorry that shift work didn't allow for everyone to be here, and I will be asking Simon to take the promotion packages to the Grant, but the promotion messages were sent out and timed to arrive there with their exiting the Jovian atmosphere. I'm afraid that Commander Lurva will have to be the one to present Lothar Hampton with his Captain's insignia. He already has my warmest greetings to the Captain's Club after having skillfully avoided it for a decade.

Simon Lurva, who had a stunned smile suddenly blanched.

"Me?" he asked very softly.

"I'm sure he won't kill the messenger, Commander Lurva. Probably make you his X-O and hand you much of the hard work to do on the ship that a Captain just can't attend to all the time. And you will be bringing with you an excellent cadre of Officers and crew, which Star Fleet will be filling out once you get here."

"He'll kill me. I'm the one who suggested he join the project," Simon said in a bare whisper.

Alex Jomra turned to him.

"Have you ever seen the report you have to fill out for that? You'll live."

Simon broke out in a smile and Captain Bartholomew chuckled.

"Effective immediately, the USS Grant is scheduled to return to full active duty for a re-fit at the old Vesta shipyards. That change in status will take place when her officer cadre is on-board. SFHQ shook two shuttles free from the Corps operations on Luna to help facilitate the transfer of crew and stores. But that official change-over happens when the M-5 is brought on board, installed and operational. To help that the Museum is taking the old shuttle it keeps in reserve and will do a one time ferry with it so that a good skeleton crew can be on-board."

There was a cheer from the project team and the rest of the base staff who had shown up.

"And let me express my regrets in having to accept the resignations of Lieutenants L'Tira and Roger Arrivan as they have reached an agreement to move into private sector service in Daystrom Industries. I believe that L'Tira is moving to the Deputy Director's position accountable to Enid Daystrom and Roger Arrivan is the head of the Technical Division and Liaison with Star Fleet and the Federation Council. These are actually very high step-ups in duties for both of them and in areas that the Fleet considers to be senior positions. As you know the private sector does not work by Fleet rules, but Roger's position is something akin to what a full Commodore would have and L'Tira's is that of a Assistant Director to a Federation Council Member on the Federation Council. Enid Daystrom, of course, would be the equivalent of a Full Council Member or a Senior Admiral's position. Star Fleet is providing them transport to the USS Grant to conduct final Contract Closeout with final publications to be under auspices of Daystrom Industries with the full support of Star Fleet."

There was polite applause.

"I know this is a shock to many of you, and that you will need time to gather your personal items as the move to the USS Grant is a permanent assignment. Before going to Vesta Shipyards, the Grant is scheduled for a stop-over here, so any very bulky items you may wish to leave in storage in your quarters. If you are fully leaving your quarters, do let us know so that they can be re-assigned. Expected re-fit time for the Grant will be approximately two years and will be under the supervision of the Engineering Corps and Captain Hampton. As it is, due to the amount of material the M-Series project has needed, I will suggest packing lightly, and if you can put items to be kept for your return in a storage container, that would help free up living quarters. I've talked with L'Tira and we are delaying shuttle turnaround for two hours, so that material can be moved on to the shuttles."

Captain Bartholomew paused for a moment.

"Normally there would be a celebration for such a happening, but circumstances do not allow for it. I've worked with many of you for years here, and a couple I've known during my active duty time. I am deeply proud and honored that you have been under my command and that SFHQ took my recommendations for promotions with sign-off from the Director of Fleet Operations with commendations and approval, above and beyond what is normal for such promotions. It has been my distinct privilege to serve with all of you. May your journey be safe and swift."

"For the Excalibur!" shouted one of the team members in attendance.

"For the Excalibur!" was soon taken up as the cry, repeated over and over for long minutes.

L'Tira turned after a few repetitions.

"Thank you, everyone, and I speak for Daystrom Industries on that, both Enid and Karl. We have a lot of work left to do. So lets get packing and get the Grant back in service!"

There was a cheer of approval that quickly broke up as L'Tira went over to Ensign Walsh and started going over the transfer list. Other members took that cue and moved over to help take out equipment from the shuttle, shift the minimal baggage and then start loading on the crated M-5 unit and other auxiliary equipment.

Roger stepped over to Alex.

"Times awasting, Mr. Jomra. Better get packed or you'll miss the shuttle to your ship, and your Captain I am pretty sure, would not like that."

That snapped Alexander Jomra from his stunned reverie.

"I should quit and join Daystrom Industries, Roger, just like you did."

Roger smiled.

"Go right ahead, the Fleet will accept that and I think L'Tira has Deputy Chief of Operations under Karl open along with Fleet Corps. Liaison, plus a few other job titles. You wouldn't get out of hard work... I'm the one that now has to talk to the Group of Five on the team at higher echelons plus some above that. Enid wasn't kidding about handing out hard work, and I am dreading having to hold that position down and could use some help."

Alex Jomra clearly weighed his life. Star Fleet had just given him a promotion and a plumb assignment aboard a Heavy Cruiser that was also a historical Ship of the Line. Not many got that chance in their entire careers as such things were rare happenings. For the first time he did consider the social milieu and that moving to an active starship would put him in close contact with his friends in the Corps and elsewhere during the refit, but then slowly cut him off from them. Distance and time aboard ship would do that. Shifting to Daystrom Industries brought those contacts into a different realm: no longer just working but helping to guide Daystrom Industries. The Federation was going to need a lot of help, this project had proven that. There were many good ships that would need refitting with the M-Series and he had the contacts and knowledge to help that and improve on ship and system operations and give direct input into ship design from a private position.

Mr. Jomra walked over to L'Tira.


She turned to him, smiling.

"Yes, Lt. Jomra?"

"Are you still hiring?"

Alexander Jomra had never adjusted to L'Tira's bursts of enthusiasm. Or her race's predatory lineage. Thus the speed of what happened was beyond his ability to react, even if he had thought it out ahead of time. He was flat on his back being hugged.

"You know it, Mr. Jomra," she said smiling as she got on the deck and helped him up.

"Please, call me Alex."

* * *

"We are 20 minutes to exiting the cloud bank and 30 minutes until we are in free space for navigation, all systems nominal, limited impulse engine use complete. Atmospheric turbulence is declining."

"Relatively declining, you mean, don't you M-4?" asked Theresa.

"Yes, the turbulent cloud and lower atmosphere region is the one with serious shear forces. The expanded envelope allowed for a higher processing of that mixture by extending ship duration in it via the impulse burn."

"I'm still surprised you wanted to risk that, M-4," Lothar started, "I thought that would be outside of acceptable limits for the ship's superstructure."

"My analysis of the earlier run and experience with the ship's structure indicated otherwise, Lothar. The first run could not spend enough time in the rich intermix area to gain the expected volume for fuel processing. By flattening the trajectory and increasing time in that region, this run has more than doubled the fuel output of the first run, although final processing will still leave it below 5%, it will only be by a slim margin."

"There has been no activity due to other vessels or artifacts," said the Gorn Systems Specialist, "fuel remix has been enhanced via this run."

The M-3 doing the voice transposition gave each Gorn a distinctive voice, and that of the Systems Specialist was that of a low tenor in human terms.

"Ship system integrity is good," said the Gorn Ship Specialist,"hull integrity is excellent, all intakes that were nominal remain so, there has been no damage to the louver system used for liquid venting through the shuttle bay."

The Gorn speech was directed to the humans, in particular to Lothar, but M-4 reported that they had a constant and ongoing speech process which the translator M-3 worked with. That M-3 now was working at a self-reported 80% basis for translation factuality, intent and content. The modest time lag would place the report from M-4 and the reports from the Gorns at a near simultaneous level, but the M-3 would let other speech pass, first, before inserting the Gorn speech. To Lothar there was something uncanny about that and it nagged at the back of his mind and had for awhile.

As the Gorn shuttle's interior pressure reduced, Lothar heard a very light tone and looked back at Enid who was, it appeared, just waking up.

"Say, did I miss anything exciting?" she asked.

"No, Enid Daystrom, it was an uneventful transit," said the Human Specialist.

"That's good to hear! So what broke this time, Lothar?"

Lothar was more than a little bemused at someone who could sleep through the noise, shaking,sudden skewing of the ship and all the rest that went on while the Grant slipped through the upper atmosphere of Jupiter.

"We are basically nominal, according to M-4 and the Ship Specialist. Anything major to note, M-4?"

"The ship is in better condition this run after having been through the last and getting major necessary work addressed. There are no missing panels, carpeting or other loose items that could get caught up in the atmosphere as it went through the interior of the ship. Staying up from the deeper pressure areas helped that. Even minor work that has been done appears to be in working order."

"I am amazed. Of course the old work list still had a lot on it. I take it you were able to keep the major control areas from being damaged?"

"Yes, Lothar, I was. I utilized conduits for normal atmospheric work to raise pressures slowly and blunt the worst of the rapidly increasing pressure and wind. That helped across all the living areas and also allowed for some segmentation of different atmospheric components that I am now shifting into storage containers for post-processing. A starship is not made for this work, and doing anything to the basic design to facilitate it would only add complexity to an already complex system."

"There is no benefit when minor utilization impedes good function," said the Systems Specialist.

"Yes, that is true, Systems Specialist, and I thank all Gorns for their work to ensure that such minimal damage was limited," said M-4/V.

"M-4, are you saying that the Gorns asked for additional work beyond the priority material?" asked Lothar.

"Yes, Lothar, their utilization of somnolent time is different than humanoids and far shorter per individual. When major work schedules slowed due to lack of ready parts or that required smaller frame access, they then asked for secondary items to protect the ship during transit and generally improve marginal performance."

"Huh? The Gorns were being slowed up by the human part of the crew?" asked Theresa.

"Yes, that is the case," said M-4.

"We are out of the majority of the atmosphere and the remaining amount is now below Earth single standard pressure," said the Systems Specialist.

"Hmmm... nice work list you have there, M-4," Enid started,"are you sure that the exterior ports are nominal?"

"They are, Enid, yes. Overall function has only been degraded by 3% and there are no serious external repairs at this time."

Enid was obviously examining the list being projected inside her helmet.

"Hey, a Jeffries tube I haven't been in yet! I'm starting to get the idea that you are handing me these for more than just my ability to navigate them."

"Theresa will be busy with weapons systems, Enid, and no one has shown greater ability in quickly getting repairs done in hard to get at places," Lothar said. Of course he also did want her out of the way of other jobs, but would never say that as he suspected his life would be on the line.

"Plus it keeps me out of the way. Don't worry, Lothar, it's good work and interesting, even if it is just following the repair specifications and manual most of the time. I learn a lot just by doing the work," she said brightly.

"At this point I am sealing the ship and removing the remaining Jovian atmosphere. Normal life support is returning to all areas previously having it. Full ship-wide test will be implemented when the safety 'go ahead' is given. No further turbulence should impede work schedules," said M-4.

The doors to the Gorn shuttle opened and they were leaving by them, as the Federation crew members unstrapped themselves and followed suit. There was very little to unpack this time, as the Gorn contingent kept their sensitive equipment in the shuttle, and the humans had very little that needed caring for. It was still zero-g on the shuttle deck, but that was expected. A last few wisps of atmosphere fled out the slowly closing bay doors and when they were sealed full lighting returned.

"Well, I'm off for my quarters and then to the Jeffries tubes surrounding the impulse engine feeds," Enid said and glided across the bay and upwards relative to the deck to get to the upper catwalk. She had discovered that it transversed the axis of the Grant fore to aft with only four sets of two hatches for atmospheric containment. It was far faster to go along that route as re-pressurization for the Engineering deck only took a few seconds, rather than the half-minute of the larger personnel doors. They were only emergency lights, and dim ones at this point, along that route, but she enjoyed it for the shortened travel time.

The Gorns had picked up the one or two cases they had stowed, and were filing out on either side of the shuttle bay. Lothar shook his head, at how they never needed to be told what to do, at least not more than once. And there had been a few times when he thought of something that needed to be done, got to the site and found it had already been done or a Gorn was working on it. They had laid the elevator guide-paths and main energizing system for it, and the final guide system only needed to be installed and then elevator access between those points serviced in the Engineering hull would be connected up to the main lift system. Lothar was checking what he had on the duty roster and was astonished that it wasn't Engineering but the Main Bridge. The final connections between Engineering and the Bridge had been routed, along with secondary control of the weapon's systems and he was scheduled for that test and eval. He glanced up at the top of the bay, and seeing that Enid had already disappeared decided to follow her, as that would be the fastest way to get to the interconnector. By the time he got on the catwalk and to Engineering, she had already cycled through and disappeared past the small airlock. He did so himself, went through the upper reaches of Engineering, which was actually decked off via standard deck plating, through to the other side's airlock, through that and then a quick walk over the open area just between two of the segmented warp cores, then down the gangway ladder to the turbolift elevator. From there it was a short ride to the bridge, which had the main viewscreen on, tactical displaying the planet and the ship slowly moving out of its shadow.

"Any updates?" Lothar asked.

"No, we are still in the shadow of Jupiter for direct communication to Earth or Mars. Direct line of sight will return in 10 minutes," said M-4.

Lothar nodded and went over to the Engineering console and took out his portable toolkit, unfastened and unsealed the console and lifted it up to see a maze of fiber optic cable and standard control connectors, and going through the checklist for system by system readout. Most of the preliminary routing to Engineering was already done, and initial tests were satisfactory, but these manual tests allowed for the full range of responses from the systems. At ten minutes in he had only identified one loose fiber optic cable and had reseated it and sealed the end after checking to make sure it worked.

"Incoming messages, multiple, some repeating to ensure accuracy of transmission," said M-4.

Lothar nodded.

"Figures. Someone is always kibbitzing. Who do we have on incoming messages?"

"By priority there is a Star Fleet Command set of orders. Second is a Museum Base message from Captain Bartholomew. Third are general Sol System warning advisories. Fourth are messages from Daystrom Industries to Enid Daystrom. Fifth are communications from two shuttle craft from the Museum Base at Mars along with two cargo shuttles on the same course, en-route to the Grant."

Gently lowering the Engineering console and sealing it, Lothar said, "Put up tactical at scale for Jovian system and shuttle approach."

The main viewscreen shifted out and the representation of Jupiter and its moons became more stylized with dots representing small bodies. Two blue dots were rapidly moving through the outer parts of the system and had ETA estimates next to them of approximately one hour, given course and speed of the Grant. Also on the screen, beyond Jovian satellites, was the tractor base, with its three people from the Corps still there, just in case the Grant needed something... although the base was very minimal for what it could do.

Lothar sat down in the seat at the engineering station.

"All right, first priority is first: lets hear what the brass are worried about lately."

The screen flashed, showing a re-built message indicator, and the datastreams used to rebuild it, then the stardate for SFC, then the authorization: Director's Office, Star Fleet Command.

"Well, you don't get one of those everyday..." Lothar whispered.

Eloise Rafiq appeared on the screen.

"To Commander Lothar Hampton, currently on-board the USS Grant, notification is given of the activation of the Grant to regular Fleet Ops Status..." she started.

"So much for having it at the Museum. She has shafted it, again," Lothar whispered in low tones.

"Effective immediately the following promotions and re-assignments to permanent duty station on the USS Grant are issued by the Director's Office:

Commander Lothar Hampton is promoted to Captain of the USS Grant,

Lieutenant Commander Simon Lurva is promoted to Commander on the USS Grant..."

Lothar's eyes glazed over, not really hearing the rest of the names, promotions, and re-assignments.

"They can't be serious..." Lothar barely whispered.

"All encryption indicates that this message is from the Director's Office, Captain Hampton," said M-4, "Congratulations on your promotion."

"It is a mandatory 5-year tour, M-4. I had planned on retiring in two years with my 35 Service Anniversary."

"Ah... yes, Captain. I hope your family will understand?"

"It will take a week, at least, to explain this to my wife... she had hoped to have us on Base until retirement. I will have to see what the Fleet can do for her. Getting a promotion to ship's captain was not in our plans, and I have tried to stay on the technical side of the Fleet to avoid that or getting promoted to a desk captaincy."

"I don't understand, Lothar," said M-4.

Lothar looked around the bridge, seeing that all the critical systems were operational at the stations.

"No, I suspect not, M-4. Perhaps when you have the M-5 integrated you will understand. I am not knocking the Fleet, M-4, and listening to the promotion and re-assignment list I understand that Command wants a match crew on here as soon as possible and one that interworks well. Almost all of the M-5 team is on that list. Bartholomew will be short-handed for a year or so because of this, and missing most of his top staff. Still, he can do a backdoor raid on the Academy and a few other places to get good staff. It is hard to get a good ship's crew on the fly."

"Then you are happy with your promotion?"

"I understand it, M-4. Happiness is in the eye of the beholder and I had planned to spend some life outside of school and the Fleet. That will get delayed, now, at least by one tour and possibly more as the Grant will need to spend at least a year in drydock if not two. It is hell to have a ship that needs this much work and to not do much with it, and even harder to keep a crew together as the Fleet has its vagaries about assignments. Still, most of the Ensigns and j/g Lieutenants get a boost out of this, which sweetens things. Ok, I have some idea of what Bartholomew has in line, but might as well hear it."

The screen flashed to replace the SFC banner with the Fleet Museum insignia, gave the stardate and message header from Fleet Historcal Museum Director's Office. Captain Bartholomew appeared behind his desk at his office. He was smiling.

"Congratulations and welcome to the Captain's Club, Captain Hampton. You have worked very hard to get it, even if it isn't exactly where you wanted it to be. I'm also sending along congratulations from a few other members of the First Families that have gotten the news. To keep it brief, SFHQ is worried at Sol System's primary gas giant, Jupiter, having such a high charge ratio and increasing ion storm activity in its outer magnetic field, which is enough to disrupt sub-space communications and all but point-to-point transporters even reaching to Earth. There was only one storm like this back in the 22nd century, and this has truly caused problems for command and control. It turns out there are no ships available for checking out the possibility of there being a manufactured cause to this coming from the Kuiper belt, and a previous light cruiser has been put on inner system patrol to manage commercial traffic. SFC is using the old LASNAVNET for system comms, which puts a speed of light limitation on things."

"This really isn't good...", Lothar was whispering.

Captain Bartholomew continued.

"No one had planned on how to actually manage so much stellar traffic and much of it is being re-routed. Fast couriers are being used to the nearest out-system station at Alpha Centauri. Still a natural solar storm will sweep across Jupiter in a week or so and return a standard charge balance there, so most of SFC is communicating the 'sit tight' message. They recognize the danger of the Pirate ship you encountered and that this may be caused by one of the clans. Even stopping a manufactured beam that far out, now, will not help as the beam itself would continue on for days. That leaves the USS Grant in its emergency position and the need for a supplemental ship for in-system work, even just having it available, will calm some people down...."

Lothar nodded, "Even an old Heavy Cruiser is still a Heavy Cruiser in name and the name will do that..."

"... now you will find that SFC has left an opening for junior personnel at the j/g and below level. You may have noticed L'Tira, Roger Arrivan and Alex Jomra missing from the re-assignment list plus some others. They did get promotions and then left for private employment to Daystrom Industries under the current contract for the M-Series. This is an honorable discharge with gratitude on behalf of SFC, as we expect that they will help to integrate Daystrom Industries revival towards ship systems design and cybernetic systems. That option will be left open for junior grade personnel with you for a week or so...."

Sitting back Lothar smiled, "Enid got them fair and square, the best recruiting officer for a young Cadet is one that instantly promises reward, danger, and lots of hard work, and she didn't even do it in that order!"

"... so while not under the best of circumstances, let me congratulate you, Lothar. I really do think you should have sought a promotion some years ago and do admire your skill in evading them. As this is an emergency situation the USS Grant's Captain has leeway to do what he thinks is best under the circumstances. No one really can offer you guidance on what that is, and it is more than likely that you will just head back to the Museum to do some final exchanges of personnel before heading to the Vesta Yards. That said, you know that the Orion Pirates have been under prime orders to be brought down or brought in, and while I doubt you can achieve the latter, if any show up, you might be able to do the former. Plus keep an eye out for anything else going on. Frankly, Lothar, a lot of people are worried, commerce is snarled and tens of millions of people have suffered isolation with the transporter network now limited to point-to-point transports at Earth and that only to near Earth orbit. This will take months to straighten out, and the best we can hope for is that this isn't caused by one of the Clans and that nothing more will happen. Still SFC is starting to see what Enid was talking about with the Gorns and the Federation is very vulnerable to even minor upset. Until just a few weeks ago no one had even thought that to be the case. Now that attitude is finally starting to be shaken up. So I will sign off and let you get back to getting the full M-5 system operational on your ship. Good Luck, Captain Hampton. Bartholomew, out."

In theory the idea of being a starship captain and given autonomy to do what is necessary in an emergency would give that captain a vast array of choices and options. Lothar knew that Star Fleet Command knew the condition of his ship, its bare ability to break out of orbit around Jupiter and, generally, the fact that he wasn't going anywhere with the Grant until a few simple things like a supply of antimatter was on-board. A starship looks so awe inspiring, until you realize that without the very basics it is stuck in Newtonian physics and without a power supply is simply a lovely piece of sculpture or orbital housing unit with weapons on-board.

"That is a large responsibility, Captain Hampton," said M-4.

"Impressive until you think about it, M-4. But with that on my service record on my first day of my first command SFC is virtually guaranteeing that I'm on-board for at least two tours if not a full end of my life commitment. Or given a fond farewell if I'm not up to the job, which means that we end up dead or captured by Orions or something critical goes wrong during the next atmospheric traverse. Still need two of those for enough impulse engine fuel, right?"

"Aye, Captain Hampton, that is correct."

"Are the ion storm warnings anything beyond what Bartholomew outlined?"

"Yes, Captain Hampton, with the build-up of ion differential there is increasing lightning discharge in the upper Jovian atmosphere. There are some discharges that are now reaching out of the upper atmosphere and then arcing back into it. The sulfur vapor torus of Io has gained significant charges and any objects moving across these charge shells may encounter discharge events."

Lothar pursed his lips and nodded.

"The last thing we need is a Jovian sized lightning strike hitting the ship. Anything you can do about that, M-4, beyond outcycling some deflector plasma?"

"Nothing at this time, Captain. More worrying is the other Star Fleet vessels in orbit that are inactive and cannot shed charge readily. Two Frigates, a Destroyer and Three Light Cruisers would be prime for that sort of activity, although the Light Cruisers being restorations utilizing Vulcan Star Probe Armor will be nearly immune to those."

"They built that stuff well, thats the truth, M-4. When the Vulcan Science Academy was asked to rework their probe armor, they were more than happy to do it and if it weren't for shields we would probably still be using it, to this day. It is a lot of mass to haul around, but its very good at what it does. Ok, re-route the Daystrom messages and put the shuttle messages up next. They are, what, less than a light hour away?"

"Yes, Captain."

"Put 'em on."

Simon Lurva appeared on screen, and the interior was a full shuttlecraft behind his pilot's seat.

"Congratulations on your promotion, Captain Hampton. Captain Bartholomew has given me promotion packages for all on-board the Grant. We have the personnel shuttle from the Museum Base plus the old shuttle from the Repulse with the M-5 unit and more crewmembers. The Fleet Corps of Engineers has shaken two cargo shuttles loose with impulse engine fuel with enough to get the Grant up to 5% of stores, so that she can break orbit and head to the Museum for further personnel and then onto the Vesta shipyards. The Gorns on-board are all given high commendation by SFC and Commodore Mirak extends his warmest greetings and that news of the first Gorn-Federation mutual work contract is in the works with Daystrom Industries.

Lothar, let me add my personal thanks to what you've done. I know you don't want the promotion, but I haven't met anyone as deserving to sit in the center seat as you. At this point we will be asking permission to come aboard and off-load the shuttles, which should take the Corps shuttles about 5 hours to do. The schedule for installing M-5 will go faster than that, and it should be installed in under two hours. I hope that the return to it coming online will not be as long as last time, but it is the last part of the final check-off on the amended contract certification list. So permission is asked to come aboard with your crew, Captain Hampton. Commander Simon Lurva of the Grant, out."

"They are, what, a bit over two hours to get here?" Lothar asked.

"Yes, Captain, that is correct," said M-4.

"Send, Permission granted and get your sorry ass here as there is work to do. Append the usual to that from the Captain of the USS Grant."

"Of course, Captain."

"Good! If that is it, then hand out the work assignments to them, inform the Corps shuttles where to dock and lets get you upgraded to full M-5V status and end this damned project. I should never, ever, have signed up for it..."

* * *

Lothar had met the shuttles as they arrived, accompanied by Enid Daystrom. He kept fuss to a minimum and the Gorns only had the Cultural Specialist present, mostly to observe things. Lothar climbed on top of the Gorn shuttle and waited for the crew to assemble.

"Welcome to the USS Grant. We have been working together for weeks on the M-5 project, and now we are here to close out the active portion of the contract and get it into the procurement cycle. That means one, final test: the M-5/V fully installed and operational here. We will be the first ship in Star Fleet to be so equipped, and that is an extreme honor to have the vision of Richard Daystrom carried through here. You each have your quarters assigned to you, and if you have a stateroom in the saucer section, you may want to familiarize yourself with where the stuff that came loose is stored on each deck. You'll need it, believe me. We still don't have turbolifts working ship-wide, nor life support, which is why you are all still in your suits. Currently Engineering, the dorsal connector and the saucer all have standard life support. The void areas fore and aft do not, so if you take a turbolift from the saucer to engineering, don't expect things like gravity to be available. You each have an hour to get to your quarters, make sure your suits are fully charged and then put in a half-shift to get the M-5/V installed. At that point we will do a shutdown of the ship and staged return of the M-Units. That might take awhile, and it was over 20 hours last time around. I'll want all Commanders and Lt. Commanders to stick around for a few minutes, as you are my Department Chiefs and Section Heads. We will work out of the Main Bridge when we have life support and Aux. Control in Engineering when we don't. Gorns will be taking up normal work shifts, ship standard, and then do as they wish on their spare time. If you see them working harder to get the ship into good repair than you are, do realize they need only four hours of rest in every thirty. They are your comrades, shipmates and were critical in understanding some of what the M-Series can do."

"For those of you here from Daystrom Industries, you can meet up with Enid and start your work as soon as possible. Once the M-Series is down, the central database will run for work orders and assignments, and we have days of those scheduled. Again, my welcome to all of you. I didn't expect to be here, but its a damned good job to have and you are the finest crew I could ever start with. Time to get to work, everyone. Dismissed."

Enid Daystrom smiled and watched as a few figures in Daystrom Industry suits came towards her.

"It is good to see you all here, really it is. This is a leap of faith on your parts and I hope never to let you down in that."

"Thank you, Enid," said Mr. Jomra," L'Tira sends her regrets, but you need an XO to keep things down at the Museum. She said that is where you would want her."

Enid smiled, deeply.

"It is, and thank you Alex. I know she doesn't like that, but it is a responsibility she took up. Enak? It is good to have you with me, thank you, I am deeply honored."

"The honor is mine, Enid. I think you will want liaisons with the Andorian Consortia, and I'm proud that you recognized that and gave me that as a duty amongst many."

Enid chuckled, softly,"You will be overworked, underpaid and a thorn in everyone's side because of your quick mind and easy grace. Kathy Lorimar? I really did not expect you to want to join me, but my deep gratitude for your work is unending. You went from astrophysics to understanding some of the most complex work ever devised by man, and helped to sort it out and get it running. My family owes you deeply for that."

"Enid... I... after seeing how the Fleet reacted when the Swift disappeared... I had to question if my duty to help the Federation was best in the Fleet or with you. For all that I was helped by the Fleet and my section at the Museum... I... its hard to say this, Enid, but I got what was due my rank, not my capabilities. The loss of Mr. Jervis, how the Fleet still hasn't responded and that, that was too much. There is something seriously wrong in the scientific community and the Fleet, Enid. You showed me what they are."

"No, I didn't, Kathy. I had the best people I could find help me to get the pieces together to identify the problem. Contributing to organizing that is worthy of respect, but the work was done by others and I freely admit that. I am not above any of that work, Kathy. That is why I respect your contribution so much. You did the same and it was very hard for you to do that. I know how that feels."

She turned and looked at the last figure.

"Roger Arrivan, just why are you here and not coordinating with the Council?"

"Contractual duties, Enid. I am Senior Technical Lead on the project and must be here for sign-off. That is one of my duties you handed me, you know?"

Enid laughed and deeply, hearitly.

"I had completely forgotten, Roger. Well that is going to make for a long meeting with the Five once we get back, but to hell with that, this is where you do belong, really. Thank you for bringing back the last gift of Richard Daystrom. Now, with the help of the Cultural Specialist, we should be able to get M-5 into Engineering and integrated. First to Engineering and then you get a half-hour to get your things and find your quarters. That will give the Fleet personnel time to do the same before you. We will follow the normal work cycle here, otherwise. And I think the Cybernetics Specialist will be helping with the final integration. So lets get the stuff out so the shuttles can leave.

With that, the Gorn moved to the shuttle of the old Repulse along with Daystrom people. Soon the unit was out and they all left the bay, carrying other luggage and containers. As they left the two Museum pilots lifted off and slowly shifted each shuttle end for end and headed out.

* * *

Captain Ruzar stepped to the center seat of the bridge.

"Taking the conn," he said as the Tactical Officer vacated the seat.

"Aye sir, conn transferred," he said.

"What is the update?"

The Tactical Officer turned at his post.

"Sir, while you were asleep four shuttles have made rendezvous with the Heavy Cruiser and departed. Two were personnel shuttles and the cruiser now has a crew of 25. The two refueling shutttles came from the inner system, and carried impulse engine fuel for the cruiser. It now has enough fuel to break its orbit with Jupiter, although it has limited options after that as it has no anti-matter on board and would use up most of its APU fuel in a low warp power ignition. The first cargo shuttle went to the orbital tractor base and then left it with no apparent changes. The second has just begun departure from the ship. We are 20 hours at current course and speed from orbital insertion into the Jovian system."

"Sensor/Helmsman, put that on screen. Tactical overlay. Show me everything the current orbit of the Grant will encompass plus 20%."

The display shifted, started showing Jupiter in outline and then the orbits of its satellites, then the orbit of the Grant, highlighted in red while the others were in white. The display shifted to just the other side of Jupiter looking back and shifted to show orbital inclinations. The orbit of the Shrike appeared in dark purple, and showed crossing the orbits of the moons and coming in at a low orbit inside that of Io, missing the vapor torus ring.

"If all continues, what is the configuration in 20 hours?"

The objects in orbit shifted showing the Grant on the inward leg of its orbit around Jupiter and the Shrike coming in aft and slighty lower in inclination. The Shrike's orbit also broke out the orbits of Ara and Su as slightly ahead of it.

"That is an excellent approach as you suggested four days ago, Sensor/Helmsman. An additional tenth share for you after this is done, or my personal reimbursement for 1,000 credits."

"Aye. Thank you, Captain Ruzar."

"Where are the major sensor platforms for the Federation inside the Jovian system at that point?"

The orbits of the base and Ganymede showed up. Both were on the far side of Jupiter at that point.

"Excellent. A well earned bonus, indeed, Helsman/Sensor. Tactical Officer, you will begin working with the mercenaries and my shuttle pilots to determine the best point for all ships to de-cloak and launch a shuttle boarding. Engineering Officer, work with the Tactical Officer and arrange to get us under main power when we are masked from both sensor platforms and on course for intercept. I want at least one hour so that both Ara and Su can recognize the need to power up at that time. Tactical Officer, work up the two next most likely targets that we can snatch if the Heavy Cruiser is gone."

"Aye-aye, Captain," said the female Orion Engineering Officer.

"Aye, Captain," said the Tactical Officer.

Captain Ruzar sat back and smiled, "Current status of the target and system on-screen."

The display shifted back to the Grant moving slowly on the outward leg of its orbit. A small pip detached itself, heading slowly in front and then off to the side of the ship.

"Last shuttle is leaving, Captain Ruzar. Course is for the inner part of the system."

"Noted. Fuel level still minimal for the ship?"

"Aye, sir, it is."

Steady as she goes, Helm/Pilot.

The Ferengi pilot nodded, "Steady as she goes, aye, sir."

The Captain sat back and thought. If he had a minimal fuel load on a ship like that, he would want to use the orbital speed of Jupiter and wait until the last moment to start the impulse engines, so that the mass was used for propulsion and left behind. That would gain speed in two ways: from the impulse engines and from leaving that mass behind. The lighter vessel would pick up speed from that, alone, and move much faster along with some gravity drag assist from the huge planet. Then low thruster use to guide the outward orbit in the direction you would want to go. Striking just before then was optimal.

The Tactical Officer was in whisper communications with the mercenaries, and a sub-altern brought the daily consumables list for the Captain to approve. He started moving through the sequence of events heading back to the present that would need to be done. As he thought the minutes went by, slowly. Then the Tactical Officer turned to him.

"Captain, the mercenary leader wants to ensure that his people are protected by cover fire in case the Heavy Cruiser powers up to attack the shuttles."

"Granted. Part of the contract. That is why I hired the Ara and Su for this, they are excellent distraction platforms. Unlike my half-brother I refuse to hire on heavy assault units when I can hire two good, light ships for fewer shares. They will have shepherds, never fear."

"Yes, Captain. He is reminding you, sir."

Captain Ruzar nodded.

"Tell him I run a professional outfit, not a slap-together one like the Tramma Clan. Or that rogue Klingon outfit. My part of the agreement will be fulfilled, he is to take care of the smaller things, which is why armored shuttles are necessary."

"Aye, sir. Their leader agrees, sir."

The Sensor/Helmsman spoke up.

"Sir, the Heavy Cruiser has just lost all power."

The Captain looked at the screen, and snorted. That ship needed an overhaul!

"I doubt we will have any worries about heavy weapons from the Grant, Tactical Officer. And, really, there is nothing else that can harm a starship if you don't have on-board power for it. No, only the mercenaries will have to worry about small arms. That is their job, and they had better be up to it."

* * *

Deciding on where, exactly, to put M-5 had taken a bit as most of the available bays for equipment readouts in Engineering had been amply filled by all the previous M-Units. M-4 had actually been placed in an inset coming off of the main corridor in Engineering, so that last, available niche was taken. Finally, Lothar had to come down and point out that as this was now the main unit in Engineering, it should be in the Main Office for Engineering. That already had a number of displays, readouts, a desk and such in it, but Lothar reasoned that you didn't need most of those with the M-5 console there.

That took about an hour, then installation and power checks another hour, plus putting in the few things that could be fitted back into the office. Thus Captain Hampton was in Engineering for the final supervision along with Simon Lurva and many of the rest of the crew, as this was an historic occasion.

"Are we ready, Commander Lurva?"

"Yes, Captain, we are ready."

"M-4 are you ready?"

"Yes, Captain. I have put in the quiescent integration routines for start-up, so that all units are brought up in that state until the M-5 is powered up."

"Are all emergency stations manned?"

"They are Captain Lothar Hampton," said the Gorn Team Lead, "there are crew members at each critical station."

"Very well. Lets take it all down and get this show on the road. Commander Lurva, Enid Daystrom, turn off all systems and re-start with the new, M-5V configuration."

"Aye-aye, Captain. Here we go, everyone. Helmets on and make sure your suits are green."

Enid looked to Roger, Kathy and Enak who were prepared to bring down the other M-Units.

"Are we all green?" Simon asked.

There was an overwhelming response of 'aye'.

"All crew report ready, Commander," said M-4.

"Then off it goes starting with the sensors, weapons, and life support. Then each of the M-units from 4 downwards. Then the APUs. Switching over to the repeater net."

"Sensors, down," said a voice over the suit systems.

"Weapons down and cooling," said Brian Duvale.

"Deflectors and shields, deactivated," said Theresa Kul.

"Life support deactivated, all hatches report sealed," reported Simon Lurva.

Enak switched off M-4, Mr. Jomra M-3, with Kathy and Enid working on the M-2's and then M-1s.

"All M-Units deactivated," said Enid Daystrom.

"APU systems 1 through 5 coming down," said the Systems Specialist.

"APU 6 and 7 deactivated," said the Weapons Specialist.

Simon watched the thin glow strips come to life.

"Captain Hampton, the USS Grant is now powered fully down."

"Thank you, Simon. This is the part I hate. I hated it the first time, I hate it this time, and hate it every time I'm on a powered down ship."

"So do I, Lothar. Just remember what the Grant was like when we got here. Barely one APU going."

"Don't remind me. Are the five minutes up, yet?"

"Nearly, Captain," said the Group Lead.

"Ok, on the mark for restarting the APUs and then the M-Units. Once they are powered up and online, bring it all up starting with sensors. You folks know the drill, this is the last time we have to do this."

"Aye-aye, Captain. Group Lead, bring up the APUs."

"Yes, Commander Simon Lurva,"

The APU systems started up, slowly returning some lighting to the ship.

"We have power, Captain," said Simon.

Enid, Kathy and Roger turned on the M-1 units. Enak and Mr. Jomra turned on the M-2 units. Kathy rushed to M-3 to turn it on. Roger went to M-4 and activated it. Then Enid, who had walked into the engineering office turned on M-5.

"Readouts show all M-Units activated and interconnected. M-2V web coming up," said Enid.

"Sensors have power available, and are now offline," came the voice of Ensign Matthews.

"Life support has power available, and is offline," said Simon.

"Weapons, deflectors and shield systems all have power available, currently all are offline," said Theresa Kul.

"Now we wait," said Lothar, "anyone who can be spared from monitoring systems, we still have work to do. All controls through Auxiliary in the Engineering Hull. The rule is: not to do anything until the M-Units are fully functioning. Keep watch on radiation near the outer hull areas and I want someone monitoring charge build-up on the hull, itself. The last thing I want is Jupiter to reach out and swat the Grant. Otherwise, as you were," with that Lothar walked out of Engineering and checked his job schedule.

"Aye-aye, Captain," came from Simon,"stand down and back to work, everyone."

Enid looked at her people.

"Ok, I want someone here at all times to answer any questions by the M-5V or M-2V web. If you need rest, take it, and no napping in Engineering, either. If you aren't resting, doing oversight, or eating, then you are working on the Grant. I'm going to finish up the basic work on the impulse engine lines and then head out to the pylons for a detailed inspection of the intercoolers out there to check for any damage from the Jovian atmosphere. I have this feeling it is 'busy work' and an attempt to get enough radiation to put me for interior work, only, for a week or so. Apparently, they don't know my suit. Busy work or no, it is work and necessary. That is the order of the day, everyone: oversight, sleep and work. If you need me for a shift, here, let me know."

Enid Daystrom turned, adjusted the case on her back and stepped up the ladder to the top of Engineering then headed for the central walkway leading aft.

"I'm first," said Kathy, "and all of you need more rest, by now, as I was supernumerary during the installation. Whoever is next, you have 6 hours."

The rest walked out checking their assignments and chatting as they left, leaving Simon and Kathy in Engineering.

"I hate the waiting, too," Kathy said.

"We all do. M-5 is coming to mean something to all of us, I think."

* * *

"I hate the waiting," said Captain Ruzar when he came to the bridge three shifts later, "taking the conn. Status report, sensor/helmsman."

The sensor/helmsman left the Captain's seat and went to his seat at the helm controls.

"There has been no change in status, Captain. The Federation Heavy Cruiser is still in its power-down mode with energy available, but not even life support functioning. The crew there has done work assignments normally, although most of that is concentrated in the secondary hull in engineering. There is one set of eight life forms that do not conform to standard humanoid type, but we cannot identify them. Those are working with the crew. We are pulling into attack position with the re-powering of our warp core. That is complete, and while neither Ara nor Su can report without breaking cloak, they have taken up forward and flanking positions and their power signatures indicate they are also fully powered up. We are one hour away from insertion to orbit coming up aft of the Federation Heavy Cruiser."

Captain Ruzar smiled, and picked up the excitement in the air. He nodded to his tactical officer.

"Tactical, prepare the first three shuttles for departure. Tell the mercenaries they will need to be onboard them for initial boarding parties in 40 minutes. Keep track of the status of the Grant, and you have authorization to bring our weapons system up from warmed to active status if there is any major change on their ship. As it is the Ara, Su and mercenaries should have an easy time of it."

"Aye-aye, Captain. Sending orders now. The Federation ship has let its weapons systems cool and there are only some indications of any residual heat in the warp core. It is inactive and there is no antimatter on-board their vessel."

"Good. Engineering? Analysis of the Grant?"

The female Engineering Officer turned in her seat, from her station.

"Captain, there are two areas in the secondary hull that have no decks. One is just forward of their engineering section and appears to have some sort of warp drive or other unknown power system there, that is currently inactive. Below engineering there is another system that is either a warp drive or power system, that runs fore to aft of engineering..."

"They have three warp drives on that ship?" asked Ruzar.

"At least two, yes. The third is some multi-segment system that is unknown as no fleet of any grouping utilizes it."

Captain Ruzar smiled.

"Ah, this is a very rich prize, indeed. We may be able to outfit another ship just like the Shrike just on those two alone. Continue, please."

"Overall the ship appears to be in sound condition, with only some mass problems for maneuvering due to those other power systems. It has full thruster capability and perhaps as much as 6% of its impulse engine fuel in storage. There appears to be some systemic control problem across the ship that defies external analysis. Almost all of the ship's power is available to its systems, and yet they are all in standby mode, save the central computer system. That has been the case since their full power down and return to power two shifts previously. That is my report, Captain."

Captain Ruzar pursed his lips. She was an excellent officer and suspected that her clan was grooming her for a major position amongst Heavy Raiders after her tour on the Shrike.

"Excellent, an additional one-tenth share for you, Engineering Officer. Helm/pilot, put up our course, Jupiter and the two observation platforms on-screen, along with Io's position. Tactical, give me an overlay."

"Aye, Captain," from Tactical.

"Yes, sir," from the helm/pilot's position.

He took in the screen as it changed, moved up and outwards from the Grant until everything but Jupiter turned into mere dots in orbits.

"Sensor/helm, we will be outside of any observation from those platforms for how much longer?"

"At least 6 hours, Captain, and perhaps as much as 8 due to the Jovian atmosphere, charge shells and other phenomena including light speed lag for control of those sensors."

"Most excellent. Any other incidental items in orbit to be aware about?"

"Nothing close, Captain. A Yellow Fleet Destroyer will be aft of us by two hours at tactical speeds, and a Light Cruiser one hour ahead by tactical speeds. Io will still be forward and up from us, at less than one hour at tactical speeds."

Captain Ruzar took note of the times, as full impulse would put those down to mere minutes, but if one were maneuvering using tactical thrusters, the time did go up. It was better to save impulse fuel and waste thruster fuel when one could do so. As it was, he had no worries on either count.

"Good. The Grant will be ours in just over an hour if all goes well. Put a safety course in for Io for after that, so we may pick up my half-brother's anti-matter cache."

"Aye-aye, Captain. Course available as needed."

"Steady as she goes. Prepare to de-cloak and launch the boarding shuttles. Once they are gone prepare the second strike wave for departure."

"Aye, Captain," said the Tactical Officer with a predatory grin.

* * *

Enid Daystrom was asleep, drifting at the interior end of the Jeffries tube on the port pylon.

"Red Alert, Battlestations," came clearly through her suits intercom and she awoke instantly. It was the automated Red Alert warning system, which was unconnected to almost everything else in the ship. She turned that frequency down and to hear Theresa Kul over the general intercom.

"Three unknown ships are de-cloaking to aft of the Grant. Captain Hampton to Aux Con. Brian Duvale to the primary weapons station. We need power and tactical back-up on the Main Bridge. Everyone else, get to where you are supposed to be. Captain Hampton to Aux Con immediately."

Enid unclipped the lines which retracted into their places in her suit's belt. She touched down on the catwalk just enough to re-orient and then jump port to starboard across the open area over the slip warp and to the other side of the ship near the entrance to the shuttle bay. She was alone.

"This is Captain Hampton, about two minutes from you, Theresa. On my way, can we get some updates out to the rest of the crew?"

"Feeding those now, Captain. The ships appear to be two Orion Light Raiders and one ship in similar design to many Orion ships, but much larger and better armed."

"Confirmed," said the Ship System Specialist, "two Orion Light Raiders and one Strike Raider class."

Enid was sub-vocally going through the roster of who was where until she found who she wanted.

"Group Lead, can you get me an analysis of the intercooler gas used on those vessels?" she asked.

"Yes, for the two nearest, Enid Daystrom. They are using Klingon intercooler gas systems. The third ship is only in forward profile and there is no light for spectral analysis from its intercoolers,"

Enid passed through the doors into the shuttle bay. It was very similar to that of the USS Athens that she had trained in for so many long hours. As she switched to passive IR she saw what she was looking for at the top of the bay. Carefully she stepped towards the main control cabin.

"Can you get me a tactical feed with diagram overlays?" she asked.

"Yes, Enid Daystrom. I am keying those over to you now."

"Thank you, Group Lead. I will be doing as necessary for the ship that is within my power to do from here."

"Understood, Enid Daystrom."

Theresa Kul was on the intercom.

"We have a hail from the largest vessel, Captain. It is deploying three shuttlecraft."

"Just down the corridor. Put it through, Theresa."

"Aye-aye, sir."

"This is Captain Ruzar of the Shrike. I am calling for the immediate surrender of the USS Grant to my forces."

Enid Daystrom started to key over the console in the shuttlebay, sealing it and evacuating it of any last atmosphere that had been trapped there.

"M-2V web, status?"

"M-2V web active. Higher units in integration mode, offline," the response was a simple white text layout near the bottom of vision inside her helmet.

"M-2V record. This is Enid Daystrom, President and CEO of Daystrom Industries and Executor of the estate of Richard Daystrom. Acknowledge."

In engineering all of the M-Units screens flashed for a moment and then put up the Daystrom Industries logo from 130 years ago.

"Identified, Daystrom, Enid. Full access permitted."

"Is there an emergency integration routine available for the full set of M-Units?"

There was a pause.

"SERS Executive Order 5a. Emergency power-on to full status. This routine is available. It is unknown if it will work across all M-Units."

"How long will that take to invoke?"

"Five minutes."

"How long to final M-Series integration along current mode?"


* * *

Captain Ruzar smiled as he watched the Ara and Su de-cloak just seconds after the Shrike did. Very professional.

"Greetings to the Ara and Su. Battle alert, prepare to defend the shuttles."

"Both ships are putting up their shields and warming their weapons, Captain. They report full ready status in two minutes. Defensive fire available immediately."

"Tactical Officer, by the schedule, launch when ready."

"Aye, sir. Mercenaries on-board their shuttles and now given orders to proceed."

"Hail the USS Grant for me, Engineering Officer."

"Yes, sir. Hailing message and normal space frequencies open."

They waited a few seconds.

"USS Grant responding. Opening a channel."

Ruzar had never seen anything other than a Federation Main Bridge. Not even a Battle Bridge. He had heard of there being emergency back-ups to both, but had never, ever, expected such a cramped galley-style control system with all of two seats in it. The crew there had helmets flipped back, but not off, as an indication of some life support there. One male human walking into the room took the center seat just vacated by a female human, who went to an empty station to the side of the control area.

You couldn't even call it a bridge, really.

'How pitiful,' Ruzar thought.

"This is Captain Lothar Hampton of the USS Grant replying to Captain Ruzar, is it? Unfortunately all fleet rulings and regulations require me to resist any attempts to take over the Grant by force. So I must decline your offer."

Ruzar smiled, a deep, warm smile.

"I perfectly understand, Captain Hampton of the Grant. I am sorry for the hostilities about to take place, but I must offer, first, so as to save the lives of you and your crew," Captain Ruzar had taken note of at least one Gorn in the control area. That was odd, to say the least. Still, if they were the other set of life forms, they would be overwhelmed, "I will allow any wishing to escape the opportunity to do so before my boarding parties arrive. Flee now, or face capture."

"Sorry to disappoint you, Captain Ruzar..."

Almost simultaneously the report to Captain Hampton and the report to Captain Ruzar came through.

"Their shuttle bay doors are opening," said the Sensor/Helmsman.

"Our shuttle bay doors are opening," said the woman to their Captain Hampton.

"Who the hell is doing that?" he asked in a somewhat less than moderate tone.

"Perhaps someone wishing to take advantage of my offer?" asked Captain Ruzar.

He checked the tactical screen between the helm positions and saw the good order of the shuttles and two lighter ships moving forward.

"It's Enid, Captain Hampton."

"Dear god, what is she...."

"She wishes to be put through to Captain Ruzar, Captain Hampton," the woman said.

"Well, why the hell not. Have the crew prepare to be boarded and put her through. What else could go wrong?"

"Am I speaking to Captain Ruzar of the Shrike?" came a woman's voice.

"This is Captain Ruzar, and this is...?"

"I am Enid Daystrom, Citizen of the United Federation of Planets. Under the rulings against all Orion Pirate Clans I ask you to give up your ships and crew for civil prosecution or face the consequences."

"Consequences? From YOU?" he asked, laughing.

"Yes. This is your last warning."

"You have nothing, Enid Daystrom of the Federation," he glanced over at the Tactical Officer who indicated that no heavy weapons were being armed on the Grant, "And just why are you opening the shuttle bay doors?"

"I need a firing lane. Good-bye, Captain Ruzar. M-2V, execute SERS Emergency Routine 5a."

The main viewscreen went blank, then put up the tactical and visual readout.

"The Grant just lost all power to its systems, Captain, although APUs are still online."

"That is one strange woman..." Captain Ruzar started.

* * *

"I need a firing lane. Good-by, Captain Ruzar. M-2V, execute SERS Emergency Routine 5a."


She didn't notice the entire ship powering down, save for the one instant she was looking for. She had arranged the firing routine to be automatic and it triggered just as she had stopped communicating with Captain Ruzar. Her suit counted down seconds... 3...2...1...

Starting with the first shuttle craft a thermobaric round's proximity fuzing went off, sending a slug of copper with highly magnetic iron through the copper loops, which caused the metal to turn to plasma and impact the forward, upper right of the first shuttle craft. That plasma bored a thin hole into the shuttle, instantly killing the pilot and two boarding party members directly behind him. The second slug was similar to the first, just slightly larger in diameter and having a much denser core. Its outer portion turned to plasma while the core punched through the hole made by the first jet. The second jet widened the hole to an exterior crater and the slug penetrated at supersonic speed, not noticing as it went through the spacesuited bodies of two more mercenaries, then impacting the rear of the shuttle and turning into plasma as it did so, yet still leaving a very thin, molten core to hit the armored ramp at the aft part of the shuttle and puncture that. That second slug had taken the copper coil out as it vaporized in the crater and the round then nestled in it and sealed itself to the hot metal and spewing out its contents of compressed, fine dust into the interior of the cabin. As the last of that exited the round it ignited, pushing a rolling overpressure ahead of it which would see some of the dust actually getting through to the inter-cabin space, fore to aft and then it, too, detonated. Everything inside the shuttle instantly vaporized, and the shuttle blew apart sending pieces of flaming wreckage in multiple directions before the flames were snuffed out in the vacuum of space.

That took less than one-tenth of a second.

The second and third shuttles likewise blossomed out of existence as craft and into vapor, metal pieces and a flame that was the merest afterglow of expended thermobaric powder. Vacuum didn't really need to stop any fire as there was none left to put out.

Two seconds later the ship on the outward path of the orbit, away from Jupiter, experienced something different. This round, too, went by proximity and was homing in on the intercoolers, which were at full level and easy to target given just a hint of light from them. Here the slug was much smaller as it needed to only pierce a fine section of the intercooler radiator. It did so and the forward part of the round melted under the escaping gas, which caused the round to fire its single use propellant array and push itself into the intercooler and release its catalyst. On contact the catalyst spread with the gas of the intercooler and as some touched the interior insulation material that material started to change to more catalyst. There were two main effects of this: one was the propagating change in gas type, which was highly unstable and very energetic; and the second was the insulation material, itself, changing to become catalyst to spread this reaction backwards and forwards of the penetration site. That happened much faster than the temporary plug formed by the round losing its shape and being expelled by the pressure it now faced. That physical melting to vapor would take at least a full second. By then the entire cooling system of the ship, the Su, flashed into an actinic white then going over to blue and x-rays, with some gamma radiation showing up. The upper and lower nacelles of the Su flashed white, its hull went from its dull metallic luster to one of infrared warmth. Then the back of the round that had plugged the intercooler turned to vapor and the slight pressure loss caused a massive explosion to rip through the upper pylon and into the ship, itself, and then into the lower pylon.

At that point matter and anti-matter met to annihilate each other and there was nothing left of the Su and the shuttle debris was pushed towards Jupiter by the shockwave.

The fate of the Ara, on the other hand, was determined by a slight mis-firing of one of the propellants: a temporary plug seal was not formed there so the upper nacelle exploded a mere hundredth of a second after the impact. The interior systems registered the sudden loss of coolant, that there were problems in the entire coolant system and did the one thing that those automated systems could do, so as to save the ship: it ejected the entire warp core and antimatter cache from the ship. The residual coolant and heat, along with just a trace of the catalyst, would propagate into the other nacelle and the rest of the coolant system. Here the catalyzed coolant escaped into the ship, ripping across all decks in its secondary hull and out the top of the vessel. The lower pylon and nacelle twisted at the force being applied and the ship began to tumble, escaping gases causing it to lose speed.

The last round was aimed at the Shrike, and it was the set of rods that Enid called 'fiddlesticks' for some reason.

She didn't even bother to see the effects of what she had done, as she was reloading for a second set of rounds. She was reloaded before the shockwave hit.

* * *

Captain Ruzar watched the viewscreen and the sudden, near simultaneous blossoming of the shuttles into explosive non-existence.

"Raise the shields! Charge the weapons! Fire anything into that shuttle bay! Kill that woman!!" he screamed.

The Su vaporized into a burst of radiation causing many systems to flare out in the Bridge. Still, the better protected parts of the ship would be functioning. The main viewscreen flashed off for a moment as did the lights in the bridge, then they came back on.

"Getting readouts now. Raising shields. One disruptor cannon at half-power," said the Tactical Officer.

"That is enough to kill her! Fire it!"

"Firing disruptor. Direct hit in the shuttle bay, its doors were closing."

"Good, she's dead. Prepare to launch the next wave of shuttles. No mercy for any on board."

"Aye-aye, Captain."

Then the fiddlesticks hit.

They were simple, very simple, and the round wouldn't even be noticed if you were looking for it. It would just accelerate, eject its outer cannister through the thin ring of copper to pierce the shields at a single point and then the single motors on the slugs of depleted uranium would take a last target fix and fire. As the rounds were unguided from there, but had a huge target, they would still see most miss vital systems. Of course that wasn't the point of them: the point was to do lots of small damage in a wide area. In this case the direction was at a high oblique to the Shrike, so the small rods had a general target of what the Group Lead identified as the Bridge area, plus the deck beneath it. Of the 12 rods, three would miss completely and go into orbit around Jupiter until hitting something or being slowed down on their inward legs by the attenuated atmosphere. One would just graze the hull of the ship over the bridge. Of the rest three would go into the deck below the bridge and five into the bridge itself.

The outer two, fore and aft of the bridge, would take out the main viewscreen and turbolift equivalent, plus causing severe damage to power systems to the bridge area. The next one in from the viewscreen would take out the Tactical station and its officer, then hit one of the sub-alterns at a sensor station taking him and the station out, before burrowing out into the crawlspace between the hull and bridge and expending itself as a crater on the interior of the hull.

Next, going from fore to aft, was the one that went through an Engineering sub-station, which had no one at it being a simple display of the ship and systems, and would pass just between the helm positions and Captain Ruzar. It would leave an intense, thin, afterimage in Ruzar's vision, and redden his face due to heat, and only go to hit another system display on the other side of the bridge and expend itself there in a plasma causing a small fire to start burning not only the various materials in the display but some of the overheated metal of the bridge, itself. Still, automated fire suppression systems would start to take care of that, just as the sealant backing the hull would seal the holes that had been made.

After that was one that went through the Engineering main station, just missing the officer there, but going just behind her to overheat the back of her chair which caused her to jump forward towards her burning console. That stick went through the officer at the main power control station and his console and really caused quite a mess that the fire suppression system would take awhile to deal with.

Aft of that was the one hitting the turbolift and, unfortunately for the occupants of that car that was just arriving, kill them and expend itself into an expanding plasma that would push inner and outer doors outwards causing quite a violent eruption of air, heat and a few pieces of flesh into the bridge itself.

All of that was near simultaneous in its happening, so the flashings, burnings, screams, moans, explosions and various claxons along with the hiss of atmosphere or fire suppression material was a cacophony. Captain Ruzar knew that he had just escaped death, but barely, and that he was in very bad straights. His mind instinctively took in the chaos and re-ordered his priorities. Some small part of his mind reminded him that the original ship design, that he had overridden, had placed the bridge in a nice, safe, part of the forward hull. But he had wanted space to spread out and that meant someplace out from the safe areas. Besides, the Federation did this and got away with it... it showed status, safety and confidence in your ship and crew. None of that cowering in the center of the ship for Captain Ruzar.

Cowering had never looked so good.

He jumped off to the side of his seat and to the deck and opened the hatch between his chair and the turbolift.

"Evacuate the bridge. Head to the Secondary Bridge..." which was safe and secure just a few decks below him. The ship had its shields up and was powering up as last he had ordered, and may have even launched the next wave of shuttles. With this Enid Daystrom dead, they would have no problems in overcoming the Grant.

* * *

Enid Daystrom had felt the tingling off the disruptor bolt. More important was that the running lights had come back on just a moment or two before that, along with the slight rumble of the shuttle bay doors closing beneath her. She knew that the running lights had come on because she was just behind the one at the rear of the ship over the shuttle bay.

A voice came through.

"M-5 tie-in, activated. M-5 online." The voice was deep and rich in overtones.

"Glad you could make it, M-5," she said.

"Enid you need to get back inside the ship immediately."

"Could you give me 20 seconds?"

"Yes, I will start building the shields next to you and work around the ship, that will give you 40 seconds. When it reaches you, you will be killed by the shield plasma."

She nodded and put the pre-fire coordinates in her weapon, which then shot off the six rounds in it. She pulled it and the case to the hatch that was open just next to her and dogged it down. The sudden increase of energy she could feel through her suit as she carefully stowed the weapon and closed the case. She then opened the lower hatch to the shuttle bay, which had a major part of the landing pad showing a clear loss of material up to where the Gorn shuttle was. It was still there. With its shield on, just as she had left it.

"I have a tactical download for you, M-5, for the time you spent re-booting. Sending."

"Acknowledged, Enid. Thank you, I will relay that to Lothar who seems to believe that you are dead."

"Don't blame him, but the misdirection was necessary. And you might want to see if the Gorns know how to turn their shuttle's shield system off when no one is on board," she stopped to look around the damaged shuttle bay, the twisted catwalk, the various control areas that were pushed flat by the disruptor bolt and the clear scorching and scouring of metal in many places.

"Hmmm... I was right, this offered concealment only, no cover. Still, the airlocks seem to be in order..."

"They are, Enid, the bolt energy was not anywhere near normal, and probably under 60% of normal with most of that expended against the Gorn shuttle. They are sending the Systems Specialist to deal with it. Also, Lothar wants to talk with you."

"Put him on," she said pushing to the remains of the catwalk near the upper airlock.

"Enid? Just what in the name of the Spiral Arm do you think you were doing?" his tone was a bit immoderate, as one could understand.

"Lothar, the M-Units were putting the ship in danger, plus all aboard her. I could fix that, but did not have time to contact you and deal with the incoming threat. So I chose the latter, and deal with you when things were a bit more even..."

"Tactical is online, shields up, weapons warming..." Enid heard Theresa Kul in the background, "... dear god..." she heard Theresa say very, very softly.

"What the hell...?" asked Lothar.

Enid had landed and cycled through the airlock, and checked her work list.

"So, do I end up on the shuttle bay repair crew?" she asked innocently.

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