"Do you remember how we were determined to stop the horror of war?" asked the pilot of one ship to his co-pilot shipmate. Their small vessel taking a few of their kind out on a journey from their home world.
"Please, don't remind me..." said the other in low tones.
"We had shuddered in horror when we ran across ancient parts of an Empire so old it no longer had a name to anyone. They apparently ruled by mind control. Killed any that got in their way. Took a third of the galaxy, at least, as their domain. That was horrific to behold, wasn't it?" the pilot asked.
"It... it was... we had to... take a path to peace..." said the co-pilot hauntingly.
"And we DID! Yes, and transferred into energy form where we would not have the worries of flesh and we could keep the annoyance of war down around us. So happy a day, wasn't that?" the pilot asked.
The co-pilot checked the old ship's systems, and spoke softly, "It was good... then..."
"And over those thousands of years as we whiled away at nothing, admiring our own grandeur, and war threatened around us... what did you do?"
The co-pilot sighed.
"I remember so clearly. I stood on the bridge of hundreds of ships in their battle fleets and bade them still... such power..." he whispered at the last.
"Drained our energy reserves and then we couldn't take on energy in quantity because the old transfer system couldn't find great power to transfer. Did your standing on those ships matter?"
"It did! I foresaw that their kinds would draw together... but...."
"Yes. BUT! We couldn't stop one from falling into civil war, could we? Not a proper fight, really, and we had NO power to expend. Then, then, in all their wisdom the other sought to help prop up the first and THEN things went worse as that civil war gained other powers backing it. Soon turmoil was engulfing that entire region, the horror of war that was much, much worse in destruction, size, and depth as this was down to planetary systems often fighting each other. Do you remember that?"
The co-pilot nodded.
"I do... no one could have thought in a mere span of less than two centuries that... stopping a war would make things worse. No one."
"The few of those of us who recommended husbanding our resources made just that point. Did you forget that?" the pilot asked.
"I... no.... I don't," said the co-pilot.
"And our need for power to enforce your bold words meant that we had to draw heavily for power through the transfer systems. And it wasn't there to get! That source has been dwindling over the last few decades, and so even the ravages of energy systems in war can't be felt. They respected us and our power of then, but it was all used up. Such a noble cause!" the pilot sneered.
"But what has that to do...?" started the co-pilot.
The pilot looked at him.
"Where did those ships come from?" he said indicating the tens and hundreds and now thousands of markers on the display indicating hostile vessels. In their home system.
"Sub-space..." the co-pilot whispered.
"And where did our power draw come from?"
"Sub-space..." the co-pilot barely whispered.
"And who used up our stored power resources?"
"I... did... but you all assented..." the co-pilot said.
"You promised this would bring long term peace to the galaxy!!" the pilot said enraged.
"I thought it would..."
"Instead our power draw served as a BEACON in sub-space. Not only did you fail in your grand idea to bring peace, but you put us all at absolute peril of destruction of our kind. We are the lucky few who remembered our old ships and retained the basics of how to pilot them. And a few actually worked, too! We could build well in those old days, apparently. Before we were sweet talked out of helping others to become civilized and shifted to energy form. And WHO talked us into that?"
The co-pilot gulped.
"I... thought it would be... a better way... to disengage... demonstrate the good of our power..."
The pilot laughed one sharp, short, laugh.
"Look upon your works NOW. No one will be listening to your sweet path to benign power NOW, will they?"
The co-pilot closed his eyes.
"Snuffed into non-being when their energy went? Millions. Tens of millions. We didn't keep track of who was around anymore. Only a few thousands of us could actually shift back to material form with the last of the energy we had. Now how many in the ships we have? Five thousand, maybe?" he glanced at the indicator.
"No, another ship down to that horde of vessels. Possibly four thousand left, and some of those ships just won't make it much farther. We once trod on the surface of planets in their hundreds, across a thousand systems... and now?"
The co-pilot gasped as two more of their vessels winked out to the ships pursuing them.
"I didn't mean..."
"No you didn't. Now we are going to see if the old warp drive systems we created have stood up to not being used for so long. One ship made it to warp drive. Perhaps we will get lucky."
The co-pilot nodded.
"How do the power system indicators look, now?"
The co-pilot brought up displays and examined them.
"Thirty percent at best. Minor failures have been routed around."
"Good, our rear shield system isn't taking much more of that energy being beamed at us and some just ignores the shields. Their ships are gaining. Prepare for transfer into warp drive."
The co-pilot nodded, using an interface nearly forgotten in memory. All aboard were informed.
"Warp drive on-line," said the co-pilot.
"Shifting to warp pocket in three... two... one..."
With a flash the ship disappeared into its warp pocket and sped out from the pursuit, which then turned to concentrate on other fleeing ships... or headed out to start taking in the materials from the outer part of the system.
Organia had fallen.
Space Comp Alley on Borson 5 wasn't what Raul Edrera would call a 'nice place', and considering his standards that was saying something. As bars go, he had seen better, far, far better than the one at SCA which had as its only major feature being the fact that is was fully automated and wouldn't serve drinks on credit, IOUs or organ donations, so it was not at the lowest of the low category. Being made from the remains of an old cargo container that had seen better days a century ago when Star Fleet landed it on Borson 5 to get bulk goods to the colony, the SCA was more than just a bar and much closer to a self-contained run-down town. The turbolifts, such as they were, still worked and the entire complex was powered by an old APU unit that came with the container when it was delivered. It had served, first, as a colony support system, then living space for families, then converted into semi-private rooms, then slowly engulfed by the city of Adina and its spaceport which was within a block of SCA. As people moved out, businesses moved in to service the spaceport.
There were hundreds, if not thousands, of similar establishment across the Federation, parts of Klingon and Romulan space, the Dominion, and probably even further onwards. The semi-orderly process of gaining capital assets to establish a colony, put down pre-fabricated buildings or utilize existing cargo structures, was one that started soon after the Federation came together. Only the very earliest of colonies were haphazard, and many of those had still not been fully accounted for as those colonists often gave one set of coordinates as their destination and then voted to change them mid-flight.
And tell no one.
Borson 5 wasn't one of those, but the idea that was held and still held, that colonization could be 'organized' was an act of hubris: so many colonies that had been 'organized' fell on hard times, couldn't be properly supported or just withered on the vine never fully collapsing and never fully become established that 'organizing' soon became something you avoided or planned for to mitigate the impacts of it. For every Deneba or Rigel there were three or four colonies about the caliber of Borson 5 and a few more that were less well established than that. The people who went through the areas around a spaceport tended to be the same sort no matter the planet, just the class of them varied by wealth of the colony world, of which most were full members of the Federation even if the population was scanty. Farmers were still farmers be they hydroponics megacorporations or dirt poor hayseeds, and no matter the wealth their reason to be at the spaceport was the same: exporting crops and receiving necessary imports to run their businesses.
Raul Edrera was an Andorian by lineage, but of mixed upbringing and he had found one of the upper deck tables near the railing to allow him to get a good view of the entire establishment. The human staff of the establishment wasn't much: one technician at the entrance to assign tables or such 'bar' space as there was, and who also covered malfunctions of equipment. A 'Honcho', or security man, rested behind a traditional desk on the main level, beyond the stairs but close to the turbolift at the back of the establishment. The last man was unseen but undoubtably present or had a representative there, and that was the putative owner of the place.
In theory the place had an anti-riot system to quell major disturbances, but one look at those fittings revealed an old system that was oxidizing in place and may not have been tested for a decade or more. The tables were, at least, clean plastic as were the chairs and booth seats. All the booth dividers were of transparent aluminum that had seen better days. There had once been a carpet on the floor, no doubt, but engineering tread plating on normal decking now served as a low cost way to drain liquids off the floor and ensure a good, non-skid surface. The SCA bar could hold, at most, 200 people and was very quiet in the afternoon barely having 30 people scattered around the lower and upper areas. Transparent aluminum had replaced the forward hull area of the old container and it served to allow everyone a view of the cargo area of the spaceport, just a kilometer away and downhill through the dust with the greenish sky overhead.
Edrera fit in very well with the somewhat scruffy to low level business and farmer types that frequented such establishment. That had been his job for decades before mandatory retirement, the sad bureaucratic system instituted decades back that no one had the sense to repeal. Before that he had been a Star Fleet INTEL/COINTEL operative who then moved over to joint Federation/Fleet I/CI with his career winding up in the cadre of Blacks Group. For almost everyone who 'retired' they were in the prime of their careers and shifting to a new career held problems for many people in the Fleet and Federation staff areas. Raul was good at his job, usually part of the primary or secondary infiltration team to establish assets before the rest of the group would come into play. Of course everyone did learn and do each of the other tasks in the group as multiple situations were often to be handled by a single group and operatives had to switch roles and assignments quickly and not lose a step.
His target was the man by the name of Klathas who had entered the bar about a half hour ahead of him, an older man of mixed Klingon descent who was sitting in the lower area at a booth waiting for someone. Klathas led a mid-tier import/export house trading in basic foodstuffs, agricultural equipment and household supplies. He was also a middleman for the shifting of goods from Klingon territory to the Federation while going around the standard IM/EX bureaucracy. In that part of his business he used the shipping and engineering group of McGruder-Korath which was one of several bulk shipment groups that had Borson 5 as a stopping point. Regula-2 had a warrant out in Federation Space for anyone associated with the illegal importation of Shumoth hides and oil, which were a Federation protected species of L'T'Val 3. These hides and oil from the Shumoth, a relatively large, shaggy beast coming in at just under 500 kg, were not only unique for their hair and hide quality, but had a polymer structure that replicators could not reproduce and even transporters would kill the animals if they were used.
The oily substance that served as a fat reservoir in the Shumoth had likewise unique properties of not only being a long term metal protectant for things like plasteel (and even normal steel alloys) but was a mild stimulant in most humanoids. Together those properties gave it a unique ability to form a molecular layer over metal and excess amounts brought increased alertness to those who held such items. When mixed with a Romulan based aphrodesiac it yielded unique experiences that were, unfortunately, addictive and could not be counterd by standard removal techniques of modern medicine. Nanoscrubbers faced difficulties with the molecule and its unique binding properties, which worked at the molecular scale to stop nano-based equipment and even dismember it. Thus the user had a long term biological addiction that removal by transporter, modern medicine and modern equipment could not deal with.
Thus the swamp based Shumoth, who had a very rigorous environment to work with, was hunted down to near extinction, and no efforts to start a normal protection system would withstand the application of private huntsmen and poachers for very long. As there were no sentient natives on L'T'Val 3 and the environment was not conducive to standard humanoid settlements, due to an array of chemistry that included formeldahyde as a major component of plant life, no one would or could readily raise the Shumoth for study. It had become a belief over the centuries that the more and better sentients got at building equipment, the more often they ran across planetary systems that had unique characteristics that challenged the best of equipment.
Raul Edrera had gotten hired for tracking down a smuggling and poaching ring due to its influence on Regula 2 politics. It wasn't enough to just get a few end suppliers, but go to the source of this particular group and take it out at its root. Just two years into the project Edrera had now worked his way to the sixth intermediary and he had the depressing feeling that someone had utilized a computer based hand-off system to create multiple interacting rings of operatives with separate knowledge containment so that trying to pick apart the system meant following rings of individuals who did not, necessarily, serve as direct or even indirect parts of the organization as a whole. M-K Group was such, as it just carried bulk cargo manifests certified at ports. Each port, in theory, had a standard regulatory system, but that actually varied so widely as to be useless and the Federation gave up on trying to get an agreement for a standardized one nearly 70 years ago. So honesty in local portmasters and IM/EX groups was fundamental to secure trade and there wasn't much of that fundamental basis outside of standard items.
Researchers had studied the hides and oils for years before the interdiction, and came to only tentative conclusions on the unique molecular properties of the Shumoth. Trying to save the animal was now the business of finding the hunters and poachers and getting them out of the way. To do that required skill at observation and the ability to compile information about the endeavor in the field and report it coherently. Twice, so far, Raul had been thwarted by a self-referencing association between individuals: they had known each other only as trade contacts for contract work, and no real idea of what was passing between them, save as bulk cargo goods. IM/EX houses had many of these as did cargo haulers, so building up a network of goods shipment was not an immense problem. Out of the fifteen shipments he had tracked all but two showed up as front shipments of no importance to his mission. Those two were actual, real shipments, with one as a general hide delivery service to a processing and fine goods group on Alui-Krav and another as a containment oil specialties delivery to a tiny automated processing facility on D'Kina 2. Both yielded, yet again, small time frontmen who would pass discards from facilities onwards to customers. That was not Raul's goal and his attempt to backtrack shipments had led him in virtual circles as the amount to trace was small, the cargo shipments huge, and the ability of a single sub-container to get lost in a standard interstellar shipment container was beyond belief: seven of the other shipments he had lost, completely, in the bowels of old cargo containers.
This stake-out had lasted nearly a month and the trader Klathas was a very ordinary man, given the frontier nature of Borson 5. He had been in one brawl, three shouting matches, four complaints over not being paid, took two complaints on damaged goods, and generally was what he appeared. Edrera knew that he was, too, as he was only taking a tiny middleman's cut on bulk goods cross-shipments and only if you did a lot of these could you make a living. His warehousing system was pre-modern in many respects, but had the best climate controls and even vacuum system for some items. The five people he hired were barely getting by on their pay and it appeared that Klathas took care of thieves in a personal way when they were someone he hired. For all of his rough edges, Raul admired a man able to make a good living this way. He was, however, just an outer part of a ring group that had stochastic interactions with him so the old fictional way of doing things, taking him off to the side and 'explaining things' would not work as he did know nothing, could be convicted of nothing, and was leading an ordinary life.
As Raul ordered a small snack at the table's automated dispenser system, which was not a replicator system but a transfer from storage system, he knew the worst of his suspicions were confirmed as a previously identified small time cargo hauler walked into the bar area and then sat with Klathas. This system of blind transfers would simply change to a different one if you just stopped the shipments: without hard and clear lines of resource transfers you could get some minor convictions and yet the entire system would continue to run having taken the identification and damage done to it in stride. Nodding his head from side to side, he took out the small dish with a creamy substance and some form of vegetal matter and took a cracker to it and munched on the result.
Bland. Sustaining but bland.
'This retirement business was for the birds', Raul thought.
He let his mind drift as his personal system decrypted the privacy shield the two men had set up and he listen off-handedly. This was about simple trans-shipments and storage, and it was even possible that it would not be about the hides in storage on Borson 5. No one could have put together a system like this before sophisticated programming techniques came into play and now it was relatively common place for high value criminal goods. Even with his I/CI background these types of groups were the hardest to crack as the Orion Pirate Clans had demonstrated for over a century.
The resources, the goods, the people, the shippers... all done on blind, automated routines with minimal interactivity and pre-coded arrangements that only got decoded when the circumstances happened to allow that. Change the codes and a shipment would just sit, as no one would come to retrieve it. Save an automated cargo handler that would bring it to someone's attention. Often years later based on life expectancy of goods on the lading bill. There was no such thing as a direct shipment, a direct hand-off, or a direct connection to make and the web of connections suffused throughout Federation Space and beyond it. I/CI could call upon the resources of Star Fleet to help on such things, to interdict multiple ships simultaneously, but that was only done for security matters, not common poaching. Only when you had the ability to stop a number of shipments and do the cross-connect and throw an automated analysis sytem at it, did you stand a prayer of uncovering the larger organization, which could often just be one man who was a front for another group. In security matters that tended to yield results as those frontmen had to know something about what they were getting into.
But in common trade?
The incompetent criminals didn't last long.
The competent ones were nearly impossible to uncover.
Only threats to the Federation warranted that sort of resource commitment.
As the two men concluded their talk, Raul's personal system checked the status of their commercial arrangements, noted the cross-ship agreements and placement and noted that this shipment would be cycling forward towards a known destination in the cycle. As Raul had identified only two such shipments in the last five years, prior to this, going through Klathas he estimated the minimum wait time to another such coming in was anywhere from 4 months to 15 months. He had hoped to catch another name doing a trans-shipment through Klathas, but that was not the case. Or through anyone else on Borson 5 so far as he could tell. That was the nature of stochastic rings: anonymous shipments with coded destinations carried by innocent carriers who thought they had verified and legal goods meant that it was extremely difficult to get into the actual set of rings, themselves.
Sighing, he sat back and watched the two men leave the bar.
His personal unit notified him of incoming messages.
Bringing up a readout on his jacket sleeve he looked at the material. His contract was nearly up and final reports were coming due. This had been a wash, much as he suspected it would be. The last major shipments would be forwarded to proper authorities and part of the ring system broken down, but it would self-heal. Hunters still evaded Federation protective systems with ease, and waiting in a small craft in orbit for a few months was a non-starter with everyone as resource commitments for this did not stretch that far. And a cloaked drop ship coming in from outsystem meant that even with an orbital ship, you could still miss a hunting party.
'Really, the Federation shouldn't be making laws it can't enforce,' he thought idly looking at the readout. One caught his attention and he straightened up while he sub-vocalized to the unit to give him the message.
It was forwarded by the retired leader of his group, Den Blacks.
The message, itself, was from Daystrom Industries with a direct address back to Ushanda Daystrom.
As he read it he smiled, ever so slowly.
This looked much, much better than chasing a Shumoth smuggling arrangement.
There was more than his sleeve could display, and he would need to be at an encrypted display for it. But the contract outlines looked good, as did the DCB byline.
'This is on the level.'
That was all Raul needed, he settled his account, left most of his snack behind to be taken in by the table's system, and left to head towards his quarters in town. Things were finally looking up.
The three figures stood on the platform at SFI which was a designated the point-to-point bulk transporter station for the orbital SFC base. Along with the three was a small cargo skid that hovered steadily in mid-air, its on-board units having been pre-adjusted for the SFC to Earth gravity transition. The relative energy difference between orbit and ground were handled at both ends of the transport, with both utilizing re-capture devices to get the excess energy out of the system so that those arriving at ground level were not instantly overheated by the kinetic energy gained from the loss of potential energy in beaming between the base and the ground installation.
The two systems did have to handle waste heat normally, of course, with the SFC side using the base intercoolers and SFI using a large heat sink known as the Pacific Ocean. Strategically placed cables took heat away from the San Francisco Bay area and deposited the bulk of it at an actual heat sink at the center of what had been the North Pacific Whorl or its surface manifestation as 'the garbage patch'. That heatsink, consisting of thousands of rods driven into the ocean floor with nozzle vents aimed into the center of the Pacific Whorl had broken up the 'garbage patch' that had formed during the 20th through 22nd centuries. The upwelling current was small, but enough to overcome the resistance of the floating material and nature then cleared up the patch by depositing the material on beaches around the Pacific Basin. Just two centuries later and the entire patch had disappeared to become land-base refuse with the majority of it ending up on those areas not governed by Earthgov. The Humpback whale population even enjoyed the relatively nutrient rich broth that brought other sea life to what was normally desolate ocean.
"Ah, real gravity again! Nothing feels like planetary gravy..." said the female felonid wearing short tan boots, somewhat oversized dark green pants and a dark red halter top. She had a small pack attached to a real halter, and that ran down the center of her back with standard Fleet Issue blue as its main color. A Daystrom Industries jacket was tied off around her neck and flowed over the pack.
The slightly older humanoid woman standing next to her, wearing a dark blue pantsuit with Daystrom Industries jacket and black boots, looked at her traveling companion.
"There is no discernable difference between artificial gravity and natural gravity, although they work by different principles," she started.
"L'Tira can tell," said the young man standing behind them in a white shirt, sleeveless black vest, a Daystrom Industries jacket draped over his shoulders, red/gold pants and black boots, next to the hovering skid, "believe me, Kathy, she will tell you of the differences in detail...."
L'Tira nodded, smiling.
"Feels different on the fur and skin, upsets balance, and has a refresh discontinuity," she said ticking off the items on one hand, then smiled at Kathy, "Roger is right, I do spend too much time on the differences. Still, it is wonderful to be on a planetary surface again! Even if it is only a bit more civilized than my homeworld..." she said looking around at the confines of the transporter platform which was fully automated for SFC beam-downs.
Roger checked his personal unit display on a small wristband he used for that purpose.
"Mr. Jomra is here already, left a message to meet him and a Captain Minestra Yarida at... ahhh... updating... Side 3 Dining on Level 2, near the cargo section. That they decided to get something decent to eat."
L'Tira nodded, having her unit put up a display off to her side from one of the embedded projectors in her pack.
"Sounds good!" she said smiling over to Roger then Kathy.
Kathy was pulling up the bio material on Capt. Yarida and adding annotations to it.
"A dispensary doesn't offer very good food, I'm afraid," she said, "I wasn't thinking about that when I left them there."
Roger checked the skid and started walking it forward down the ramp to the side of the transporter bay while the other two went down the steps and into the large room that consisted of scattered transfer stations and actual, physical, shuttle entrances plus doors that led to standard air transport systems. Once their maps oriented properly, L'Tira quickly walked ahead with a spring in her step, happily taking in the scenery as they moved from the Fleet/Federation Pavilion to the rest of the terminal building. There was quite a bit of foot traffic headed to/from the Pavilion as so many in San Francisco had jobs in the Fleet or Federation that required attending to jobs at the orbital base or even further out in the Solar System.
"The crowds have cleared out, at least," Kathy remarked looking at the hallway which she remembered from correspondents stuck on Earth while Jupiter's massive electromagnetic/ion storm cut all transporter traffic off inside the entire inner system and reaching as far out as the orbit of Neptune.
"No excuses to stay after a month. Still there were some extra-long vacations taken because of it," Roger said, having his unit display a page of text with block diagrams in the air in front of him as he made hand and sub-vocal notations to it.
L'Tira nodded taking them to a hallway for cargo movement and then a turbolift at the end of it. It opened immediately and was empty.
"I look forward to poking around Earth," L'Tira said, "especially the non-Earthgov territories! I get to see humanity as it was before the Federation."
Once they were inside the turbolift and Roger had it headed to their level, Kathy looked at L'Tira.
"That is incredibly dangerous, you know? Earthgov law doesn't extend outside of the Formation Territories. All the laws out there are local where there are any at all."
L'Tira smiled even more brightly, if that was possible.
"I know! That is amazing and wonderful, that humans are like that!"
Her two companions looked at her, somewhat dumbfounded.
"L'Tira they don't..." Kathy started, "... have... uhhh... a good attitude towards Earthgov or the Federation."
"Actually they do have plenty of attitude, a lot of it," Roger said.
"And?" L'Tira asked, "Where is the bad part in this?"
"You have a good chance of getting killed playing tourist, L'Tira," Kathy said.
L'Tira pursed her lips then smiled, widely.
"I am not going to be 'playing tourist'. I will be working for Daystrom Industries. Part of the job."
The turbolift door opened and Roger moved to the controls of the skid.
Kathy and L'Tira walked out and Roger followed.
"Part of the job? What would ever take you out to the non-Earthgov territories?" Kathy asked.
"Daystrom Industries has some property in...ahhh..." L'Tira checked her display and brought up another one, "... Montana District. An old site held by one Leo Daystrom. The law firm that has been running the property rights for Daystrom Industries still has taxes it pays in Territorial Script."
"Actual money?" he asked, "not just resource transfer types or credits, but cash?"
The amount of time bureaucrats worked to remove money from the Federation only made the need for accounting and regularization of transactions a more pressing need, not less. Over time the cash based system had been replaced by a credit and then resource plus/minus system which, in turn, got monetized by varioius Federation members. Federation 'credits' while no longer being a physical thing, easily moved into physical script cash, resource based monetary systems and otherwise got transfer valuation done at the local level.
The resource plus/minus system was, itself, a generalized unit used for ensuring that there were resources available to do things within the Federation, like build starships. As the Federation had so many member worlds, the actual intricacies of what a resource unit was worth, or a 'credit', or anything was a purely a local monetization. Three million Narglets was about 922,650 Quuatloos which was about 750,000 credits or 25,000 plus resources which could be used to monetize the purchase of, say, 5,000 ounces of refined gold in Earth Territorial Scripts or with the Ferengi for equivalent trade in goods better left unmentioned. The transaction systems set up around the stability of the plus/minus resource systems beggared the imagination, and most people were glad enough to put automated systems to work handling this, but savvy local organizations could often get a better transfer arrangement than the best automated systems because of alternate transaction venues below the system level. Those continued to make money the old fashioned way: by earning it.
When Enid 'cracked the books' to show L'Tira the relative value of Daystrom Industries, she was amazed. The growth from advances and royalties, along with fees and other things, when transfered into plus/minus resources with minimal overhead management, meant that the organization that Richard Daystrom had built up, at least on the resource side, was actually far better off than most individuals could do in a lifetime. You could start up a small interstellar trading house with what was on the books. Getting a manufacturing cybernetics industry going was another matter, as that would go far beyond rental space and into some real industrial space which could not be leased, rented or otherwise used on a part-time basis. Enid was adamant on using what they had in recent transactions as their starting capital and keeping the bulk of the holdings aside for a brand-new acquisition at some future point to expand production. She said it was about going from insolvent, but liquid to solvent, but illiquid. So very little of what was liquid could be used, locally, and expanding production meant having to do so at places you could already build or refurbish things and expend the greater portion of the worth of Daystrom Industries.
L'Tira didn't try to explain that as she had a hard time keeping up with it, although it made sense. Of a sort.
As they turned the corner L'Tira sped up her pace, her soft boots making nearly no sound on the floor. To most human eyes she became a blur of motion, actually. She headed towards a table that had two people just getting up from it. One a blonde, female vulcanoid and the other the familiar presence of Alexander Jomra. Mr. Jomra had just stepped away from his chair and L'Tira could just catch him saying something.
He was almost able to turn as he heard 'Alllleeeeexxxxx...' in the voice of L'Tira.
He never would get used to the sudden transition from standing upright to the landing on his back with a quite weighty felonid hugging him. Still it was traditional to her people, at least amongst friends. But they had a far, far better set of reactions than humans did and even the elderly didn't wind up on the floor.
"And just how did you sneak away from the Museum when there wasn't any courier service, Alex?"
L'Tira asked smiling down at him, then lightly jumping off and giving him a hand up.
"I took a service shuttle to Utopia, then a cargo shuttle to Vesta and got an office there and hopped their courier to SFC then got an ad hoc beam down from a friend there. I had finished up my second de-briefing and didn't want to stay around at the Museum in case a third was dreamed up by some lawyer or bureaucrat."
"Ohhhh! Alex, you were gone with just the forwarding note to meet you here and we took nearly ten more days to finish up. How did you finish up so quickly?"
"I had asked for their question system ahead of time and fed it my answers to all previous investigations and it green lighted me."
"I take it you know each other?" asked Minestra. She had stood up and had a small hand phaser out, aimed at L'Tira, more or less.
Mr. Jomra turned to look at Minestra Yarida and nodded.
"Yes, Capt. Minestra Yarida, this is Lt.(j/g) L'Tira who I have told you about. The other two down the hall with the cargo skid are Lt. Kathy Lorimar and Lt. (j/g) Roger Arrivan," he turned back to L'Tira.
"L'Tira this is Capt. Yarida, on her way to see the Daystroms."
As Minestra relaxed to put her phaser away, she found that L'Tira had moved quickly, smoothly to be in front of her. L'Tira extended her forward right upper arm appendage which was close to being a hand, save for the thicker pads on the palm and along the fingers. L'Tira's claws were retracted.
"Glad to meet you, Captain Yarida, and just L'Tira is fine with me." L'Tira said with a bright smile on her face, "Captain Bartholomew told us about you," she said gesturing with her left hand towards Roger and Kathy who were nearly at the threshold of the eating establishment.
Minestra Yarida had heard of L'Tira's people, but had never met one in the flesh before. She wasn't used to looking slightly downwards at someone nor their having a very lithe build that gave them very fast reflexes. Only later would Minestra realize that she had never gotten a proper aim at L'Tira until she had asked Mr. Jomra (and she was working to fix that in her mind) about her. As it was Minestra understood the constant situational awareness of a sentient derived from carnivorous lineage. She shook L'Tira's hand-like appendage and recognized that L'Tira could still hunt with just her body, alone. And probably be pretty good at it.
"S'good to meet you, L'Tira."
Minestra relaxed somewhat as the other two arrived, and she saw the easy way they reacted to each other and knew that they had more than just standard working acquaintances going on, and possibly more than friendship.
Mr. Jomra stepped past L'Tira and smiled at Kathy.
"It's good to see you again, Miss Lorimar, although we did decide to get lunch."
She smiled as she approached.
"I did find them, finally," Kathy said, "and Roger got your update. Say, that brings up a question: how did you get here before the rest of us. I could only get your trail as far as Utopia and then, after that, there were far too many supply vessels and transfer ships to really follow your trail."
He smiled and nodded.
"As the liaison for Daystrom Industries and the Engineering Corps I could get transportation faster and I did have to establish offices and contacts. As it was I arrived three days ago and had Enid's message waiting for me. She and Karl had gotten my reports at Utopia and Vesta."
"She didn't let me know," L'Tira said as she stepped aside in a fluid motion, "but she was pretty busy. So is Karl. And it's good to meet you, Capt. Yarida."
"Min, please, or Minny or Minestra," it had been ages since Capt. Yarida had formal introductions like this, with most of her work having been a quick exchange of names, a nod or other quick acknowledgement. She felt awkward, and yet the structure of it also gave her a firm footing with these people and was understanding just how necessary that was. She hadn't liked fleet protocols all that much and personal relationships were handled almost immediately on a personal and not structured level, and she never did more than remember simple courtesy when with superiors. These four were not mere employees, but some of the people who had helped revive a seemingly ancient computer system that was completely revolutionary. They were friends with each other and Enid Daystrom, and just meeting them she was abel to tell a lot about that woman and her ability to instill confidence even in those fresh out of the academy. Although both Mr. Jomra and Kathy appeared to be older than normal academy graduates, by almost a decade, each, and with obvious other life experiences.
Minestra saw the last member of the group put the cargo skid into a non-travel mode and had walked over while she was being introduced to L'Tira and Kathy.
"Roger, this is Capt. Minestra Yarida," Mr. Jomra said turning to Minestra, "Captain Yarida, Lt.(j/g) Roger Arrivan."
"It is good to meet you, Captain Yarida, and please call me Roger."
Minestra nodded shaking his hand, "And Min, Minnie, Minestra are my call signs."
"Roger was instrumental in understanding the M-5 source code and developing a means to recreate lost work from Richard Daystrom's era," Jomra said.
"I had lots of help, Alex," Roger said releasing Minestra's hand, "and I couldn't have done it without Enak. Or Kathy. Or you or L'tira..." Roger looked at Minestra.
"It was a team effort, I was just coordinating between coders and the rest of the team, learning as I went, then put what we found into intelligible lay-terms for other team sections..."
"Other sections?" Minestra asked, "You were a section lead?" She was a bit taken aback as Roger Arrivan was, apparently, the youngest of the group. She would never have thought that he would be a technical section lead on an important project.
"Ahhh... yes, I was. Reported to Enid, directly, coordinated with Commander...mmmm... Captain Hampton now, plus, Lt. Commanders Dubois and D'gorna, and Kathy with the help of L'Tira. Really I wouldn't have even been able to understand the basic engram matrix and how it was translated by Richard Daystrom into the non-multitronic part of M-5 without a lot of help Patty and Grace. Enak was really important as he stood up as the transition manager moving our concepts into the reality of the final system."
Minestra was now hastily revising her estimates of the people in front of her and rapidly so. From what she could figure out this was an essential 'brain trust' of the entire M-5 project at the Fleet Museum that had returned the M-5 system to complete capability. Mr. Jomra had given her an overview of what would be public in a few weeks, the simulated fly-by plus real fusion run and many post-integration analyses, but she had assumed that it was all senior people on the M-5 project who ran it, and Alex... Mr. Jomra!... had never indicated otherwise. And she was suspecting that Enak was of similar rank to this group, with, perhaps, reaching Kathy's full Lieutenancy. They had all worked with Lt. Commanders, Commanders and Captains and possibly more if what Den had said was correct. As individuals they didn't appear to be all that capable, but as a group? Yes. She understood how, taken separately, Den's old Group didn't seem like much and that was the value of the Group system for I/CI work: to not seem important or all that capable while being very capable as an interoperable team.
She was sorting out just how Mr. Jomra related to each of them. L'Tira and Roger were close friends, comrades, although nothing beyond that. There was quiet formality and familiarity with Kathy and both of them were happy with that state of affairs, although he was closer to her age than to that of L'Tira or Roger. With the larger dynamic in play, she understood just how that would ease up social tensions for Mr. Jomra and others who knew him. Minestra also realized that by trying to assume a closer form of relationship she was putting two things into play, because of her vulcanoid background. One was intimacy at a personal level which was not what she had wanted beyond a hint, not the full-bore nearly bragging about it as she must have appeared to be. The other, to her, was now becoming apparent and that one made her recoil, mentally. She had not thought that she would be seen as a mothering figure to anyone save her own family! And because of her age, though not biological state, difference she could be seen as doing either. Or both.
That was something she didn't see with L'Tira, and no matter how appealing her form, there was the biology problem, and Kathy, who was happy with some distance. In trying to deceive she had stepped into a tangled web and only she could and would, yes definitely would, step out of it.
L'Tira turned to Alex.
"I got Enid's orders, and you're on the hook for getting us all together and getting transportation to the Indiana site," she said, "any luck?"
"The group doing contract hauling is waiting for some material here to arrive, and we will take that. We are still waiting for Capt. Edrera. He has arrived via fast transport vessel and is now," he checked his personal unit's display, "out processing at Earthgov customs."
"I handled that pretty easily, but Raul will be a couple of hours, yet, to get through that," Minestra said.
The others nodded in agreement, as Earthgov was not known for its startling efficiency or timeliness on the civilian side of things.
Mr. Jomra looked at his personal unit and left a message there, then turned to Roger.
"About two hours to out-processing, at least. Roger, I think it would be best if we got the skid stowed on the transport shuttle in the Cargo area. I've left a message to update my previous ones, and our rendezvous in 2.5 hours will be at Cargo Bay 15."
"I will be coming back here after the equipment is delivered and installed, so I'll stow most of my personal travel goods in a pod heading to the Federation Enclave as that will be where my work site will be here in San Francisco and in orbit The install shouldn't take more than two weeks and no need to lug all that around."
"Alex, can you get our personal cargo pods stored as well?"
He nodded, "Just re-route them to Cargo Bay 15. Roger and I can get those stowed away and protected from the bulk cargo in the rest of the transport."
Kathy smiled, "Thank you, Mr. Jomra."
"I lost all of my personal travel items at Base Station KL-12, so what I have is what I've got," Minestra said.
"Lost it all?" Kathy asked, "How did that happen?"
Minestra looked at her.
"An old enemy that couldn't let a grudge go decided to space my cabin at KL-12 while I was sleeping. Now I'm just on back-up equipment from what was stored under my bed, as I had been living out of my pod and that one is lost to deep space."
She had said it in a cool voice.
L'Tira nodded and smiled.
"Its good to keep up on the practicing! You never know when you will need your space exposure survival skills!" There were times when L'Tira was overflowing with energy, and nothing phased her when she was like that. The imminent destruction of the universe would be seen as a minor inconvenience to be worked around.
"I am glad you survived that, Ms. Yarida," Mr. Jomra said softly.
Kathy shook her head, "A very rough line of work, Minestra."
Roger nodded, "I am sure you can get some new equipment if you need it, Minestra," he looked at the venues outside of the dining area,"although most of the stuff here is pretty much junk for that sort of need."
"Yes, it is," she agreed, "so I'm going to kill some time in one of the simulators here. Anyone want a fun ride?"
"I will be busy with Roger, Ms. Yarida," Alex said, "as I can't handle the equipment stowage on my own."
"What's the simulation?" Kathy asked.
L'Tira was looking around at the prospects for her to remove some of her abundant energy and get back to something more or less tolerable to humans. Perhaps a run to San Francisco and back...
"I'll be doing some brushing up on Hulu work. I've heard about Ms. Daystrom's problems going to Exmar-2, and would like to see how I would have handled it. I will try it not knowing what she actually did and just use my own skills, repeatedly if necessary. Then after that I actually want to do a final review with the recorded events and compare my ability against what she did. Handling Hulus was my specialty, and it is really interesting that she could handle one that was so badly damaged. It won't be a full-up holo-deck, just the simulator with some holography added, but that should be good enough."
"Going to pass on that, thanks Min!" L'Tira said. "I'm off to the pool where I can cool off and get used to the gravity of Earth a bit faster. A run isn't going to do it and 3D handball is only an orbital game. Meet you all at Cargo Bay 15!"
With that L'Tira took off at a trot out of the dining area and into SFI.
"Is she always like that?" Minestra asked.
Roger and Alex had moved to the cargo skid and were getting it moving again.
Kathy watched them.
"Oh, no! L'Tira often has high energy days, too," Kathy said, as she looked back to Minestra and chuckled. "Then she is a true terror, believe me. I think I will join you for the simulator time, Minestra, as I could use some brush-up work and can dupe out a control setup in a standard seat. I do need to keep up my pilot's rating, too."
Minestra had blanched watching L'Tira as she took off at a fast lope towards a maintenance corridor and sped up just as the door opened in front of her.
"Good! Maybe you would like a go around on landing at Exmar-2?"
Kathy nodded 'no'.
"I've been turned into plasma, cratered out and the best I ever did was a mid-altitude skip on a denser atmospheric layer, and then the lander disintegrated. I've done this before, too, and know I would have died if I was in that seat."
"It'll be fun to try. I've got one of the Admin systems for this, so we can at least be comfy while doing it."
The two women walked out of the dining area and by then Alex and Roger had already disappeared into the depths of SFI heading to the Cargo Bay levels.
The Earthgov immigration officer looked across the table at the Andorian who was smiling in a bemused fashion at him.
"Mister...ahhh... Sopheth Morgan?" he asked of the Andorian.
Raul Edrera nodded, "Yes, that's me."
"I...ah... I see," the immigration officer, a young man in plain clothing with an Earthgov insignia press patch on his upper left tunic, said looking at the display surface on his table and then up at Raul, "Isn't that a strange name for an Andorian?"
"I'm from Gishan, an Andorian colony world that accepted Terran colonists before we officially joined the Federation. Although our biology types prevent genetic sharing, there is nothing that has stopped our cultures from melding, at familial levels" Raul said truthfully. He relied on a number of identities, like any good I/CI agent, but by preference he kept up an active set of personas that allowed him to get to some places with very few questions asked when he retired into civilian life. This one was his oldest and by transposing his actual names with that of this persona, he would get the family names granted to him by his Andorian ancestors and human host family. In theory the entire immigration system would keep track of everyone and had documents that were unable to be forged or falsified, so that everyone was always who they said they were.
The fact that there were so many planetary systems with little to no controls on people transiting them, and that more than a few of the old line base stations were ill-equipped and suffering under large amounts of traffic meant that it was a relatively simple thing to have a persona move around with very little active complicity of those running ships, stations, bases or planetary governments. That made tracking criminals down a nightmare, of course, but once one persona was gotten it was pretty easy to track down others. Unless they were periphery ones going through the outskirts of claimed space. When you add in the active work of I/CI to add in personas for their agents, then things got very difficult to track for the bureaucracy.
Nodding the man looked to the display surface and a scanner came to life over the single cylinder carryall that Raul used to transport his necessary belongings.
"No prohibited items...." he said looking over the inventory and then up at Raul.
"Do be warned that although Earthgov recognizes the use of hand phasers for personal defense, that use otherwise is restricted to training and test areas. Older arms are not interdicted, but general rules follow those of energy weapons save for hunting and that only on the assigned hunt times with appropriate use equipment. Do you understand, Mr. Morgan?"
Raul nodded, "Yes, I am familiar with the regulations. What are the regulations for areas outside of Earthgov control?"
The young immigration officer blinked.
"That varies, Mr. Morgan. We have no control or say over those regions and advise against travel to them under any circumstances as many have war damage from the last two general world wars and various smaller conflicts. While there is limited trade between those regions and Earthgov ones, their laws are far more primitive than ours," the officer said in a an even tone, only turning slightly disdainful at the end.
"I understand. My current seeking of employment here with Agami Corp. as traveling representative, if I get the job, should not afford me time to visit those areas."
Nodding the young man moved a stylus to a few areas on the desk, the displays he sought changed and the scanner turned off over the carryall.
"Welcome to Earth, Mr. Morgan, I hope you enjoy your stay," the young man said smiling.
"A short visit, I expect, but I will avail myself of such interesting activities as can be easily enjoyed," with that he shook the young man's hand and sauntered out of the immigration control area. He had been waiting for nearly five hours for a few minutes of one bureaucrat's time. As he walked out 'Mr. Morgan' left an electronic trail one way and 'Raul Edrera' picked up another trail just outside the Federation Pavilion. He mused that in many ways he had changed as person from when he decided to leave the field work for good and go into retirement status, but the basics of staying alive were still there since leaving the work didn't mean that the work had left him.
As he walked he became aware of a faint aroma of wheat, fresh cut, under the sun in the field. A memory of home which was similar to many other terrestrial worlds, but out of place in SFI. He looked to his left and saw a female felonid walking next to him. She had been looking at him and smiled.
"Hello, Mr. Edrera, I'm L'Tira from Daystrom Industries," she did not break her pace with him, and he knew that even though he walked relatively quickly for a humanoid, that he was no match for her species in that realm.
"A pleasure to meet you, L'Tira," he said while shifting information from his personal system to his upper left sleeve. "Are you here to help me find my way through this maze called SFI?"
She chuckled and nodded.
"More or less. I'm on roundup duty starting with you and then heading on to Minestra and Kathy. Let me give you the meeting point," she said as she sub-vocalized to her unit that relayed information to Raul,"in case you need to pick up something to eat or make sure your gear has arrived safely."
He shrugged his carryall that was slung over his shoulder.
"No need for that, I travel light, and it would be good to see Min again..." he trailed off thinking, "since its been three years, no four, since we last had time together. Its hard to meet up with people when you're both busy and going from system to system."
L'Tira nodded, "Three for me since I've seen my kin, although I do get comms from them every day. We knew that Fleet duty would mean being out of touch for months on end and accepted that. Now that I'm with DI, I may get a bit more contact but it is looking to be highly irregular, at best."
She led him down the smooth flowing incline that adjusted its surface to people headed downwards and lightly impelled them on the surface. Others moving in the opposite direction flowed around them, and you could still walk on the surface although it cushioned motion down on its incline and sprang somewhat for those going up it. The escalators of old had been replaced by this flowing polymeric structure centuries ago as it required little energy to run, instead just storing kinetic energy as potential or shifting potential energy to kinetic. The ones at SFI had a somewhat rougher surface than many others by design as non-human traffic, though rare, was pre-adapted into the system.
On this level they walked down administrative hallways towards the technical section.
"Yes, Mr. Edrera?"
"Why did you leave the Fleet for Daystrom Industries? The bio material I've been able to collect shows a pretty large blank spot..."
L'Tira nodded and looked over and somewhat upwards to Edrera.
"Some of that you won't know until you get the CDA briefing and I can't talk about it. Really it is a change, but that is due more to Enid Daystrom..."
"She's President and CEO, right?"
"She is, although she runs it equally between herself and her sibs and their spouses, plus other family members. I met up with her on her first day at the Fleet Museum when she came to get a cargo skid of materials being discharged from Fleet security. Normally it would have been gone over by the Museum, but she arrived with the necessary contract documentation to claim the material. As the Museum would have to do a review of it anyways, she was given a chance to use her company position to run that..."
Raul slowed down as they approached yet another slidewalk between levels.
"Contract? Fleet security had kept the materials under their overview and then outcycled them? I wasn't aware that Daystrom Industries was still active until Den contacted me. What was her contract about? Isn't she an exo-biologist?"
"She is that," L'Tira said standing and letting the slidwalk move her down slowly,"but it wasn't her contract. It was one by her great grandfather that had been left open by the Fleet. Something about security regulations and contracts working against each other and forgetting the matter. You know, standard Fleet mishap?"
Raul chuckled and nodded as he glided down next to L'Tira.
"All too well. So it must have been in the SFHQ Broom Closet, the system put on regular updates, any outside work got updates and no one really tracked it until an anniversary came up... ahhh... wait a moment, her great grandfather? Richard Daystrom?"
L'Tira stepped off the walk and waited for Raul who finally realized he wasn't moving and stepped forward.
"Yes, that's the Daystrom."
"She came to get the M-5 ship killer?"
Chuckling L'Tira nodded and stepped forward down the hallway.
"Yes. It took us a couple of months to finally figure out what was going on with that system, and I can't talk about that work until our research work is released."
"You worked on the M-5? And got it working again?" he asked softly.
L'Tira turned and looked at him.
"Mr. Edrera, the story of Richard Daystrom is a sad one, even for me and the years I spent at the Academy. Everyone had closed the book on him decades ago, and the M-Series as well. Everyone except the Daystrom family, that is. M-5 was a problem because it wasn't the full system and had a deranged man who had created it with his problems translated inside of the machine from him. For all of the horror it caused, Richard Daystrom's mind, through all of its disturbed parts that misled everyone, still had an original and revolutionary dream and a means to achieve it. The full sadness will be revealed in a few months as one of the publications by our organization. There is more blame to the M-Series than just Richard Daystrom as we found out. His creation was very close to his dream, but what was asked of it and him was too much for man or machine to bear. The M-Series we have today is that dream, finally brought forth from the ruin of its awful start, and I couldn't walk away from that work once I started it."
As Raul listened to her he heard a warmth to her voice, a depth that he hadn't heard before through her conversational voice. The difference in species and genotype was vast, huge, and yet Raul could hear a deep sense of passion and compassion in the way L'Tira spoke. From what she said he knew that she had direct contact with the new M-5 or M-Series and that the lowness of her voice wasn't from fear nor love, but something wholly different. His background as Lead Operator brought up a memory of a man he had met on a mission 7 or 8 years ago, a man with passion and commitment to his work which was saving his life from the crushing force of a small d-bomb that had pressed Raul against solid rock, a bomb left by an activist of a now dead cult. That man who saved him was not a cult member, but a doctor, and the depth of his voice with quiet urgency to save lives spoke volumes of him. Crastos Fasrin was one of those who had found his life's work and he treated all the injured that came his way with what he had and his skill was put into that service, no matter if it was a Federation Officer or a cult rebel, to him it was the saving that was necessary to let life then come to a natural conclusion.
Crastos had a Calling not a profession or job.
So did L'Tira.
"I... L'Tira that will take me some time to understand, I'm sure," he said shaking his head, "My time as an operative and in the Fleet will make that difficult as I've only had it presented as history or at memorials as remembrances. I had no one directly in the Fleet of that time, that era, but the memorials were always poignant as the Fleet felt that it had done something that could not be easily forgiven of itself. To most it is just another incident, another mishap, another stupid thing that went horribly wrong... but I've seen that first hand in my career and the shock of sudden, lethal betrayal by a trusted comrade and friend."
She nodded as she listened.
"And I had even less than you with that, Raul," extending her hand out to him and gently touched his forearm, "and I had to read the histories, all of them, that came through the project and much, much more. I was surprised that Enid had asked me to be her X-O or right hand in that project, and I didn't want to disappoint her. At first I thought it was because of my species type, being top predator and carnivore from my home world. That was part of it, of course," shaking her head slowly in a twisting fashion she then looked at Raul, "but as I worked, it was going through that material, listening to so many people, and hearing her talk about how it was like to grow up being the great granddaughter of a man thought to be a mass killer, even if not by intent, that I began to see his dream. An entire, tragic life unfolded and what I had thought of Richard Daystrom from what little I knew, changed. When I joined the Academy to go into the Fleet I had wanted to defend all of those that depend on it, and I still do, Raul. I haven't turned on the Fleet. It just isn't the best way to defend the Federation."
She slowly pulled her hand back and Raul grasped it and lightly squeezed hers.
"That I understand, L'Tira."
Smiling she looked down the hall.
"Come on, we can still get to Minestra and Kathy before they finish their session in the simulators."
He nodded and they went down the hall together.