Monday, February 25, 2013

Relic - Chapter 10

Chapter 10

"It won't be coming," Geloth said.

The Cohort Immunis was enshrouded by his cloak which flowed darkness around him. An arm of darkness moved the sack so that it opened, the flickering light shone on it as the Cohort Immunis stepped away although darkness was clinging to the edges of the sack and flowing over the floor.

Raul was horrified, sickened, as the darkness flowed towards him, the Cohort Immunis turning to look at him, the Romulan form barely visible through the blackness flowing around him. Where eyes should be there were only dark pits. He tried to move but couldn't.

"There is no escape for you," Geloth said.

Raul turned to look at him and saw a shadow moving across the door that had swung open once more across the room. From there a sound came, a hissing, a growling, that wasn't human.

"What...?" Raul said in a quavering voice.

Geloth's eyes grew wide as he turned and the blackness started to shift away from Raul to Geloth behind him. Turning he saw the Cohort Immunis shifting to look at the door. Behind him the sack started to move and he saw the woman's eyes open. The eyes of Enid Daystrom.

"Mr. Edrera? It is time to wake up," she said.

That shocked him awake.

"Mr. Edrera? Please let me know when you are awake so you can move into the ship. I'm ready to start powering up the warp drive system."

The voice coming over the intercom of the shuttle was soft and yet firm, feminine in all respects. It didn't have the depth of Enid Daystrom's voice and yet...

"Who... who is this?"

"I am M-5/V, Mr. Edrera. The system that you have been installing on the Klingon vessel. Enough of the on-board computer systems have warmed up enough to go through power-up, so that the full capabilities of the system can be deployed. The M-2/V shifted to full M-Series start-up 6 hours ago, and I have been running through necessary routines to integrate me into the ship's systems."

"M-5/V? But you sound like..." he trailed off.

"Mr. Edrera? Is there something wrong?"

"I... I've met two other M-5 systems and you don't sound... like them."

"I do have a different engram personality matrix that is unique, Mr. Edrera. My verbal interface is a reflection of that. If it is disturbing to you I can change to a different voice combination."

Raul shook his head and got up and worked his way over to the locker in the shuttle to check the status of his suit before shifting it out to put it on.

"No, that's all right... M-5. Is that your name? M-5?"

"Yes it is, Mr. Edrera. I will become associated with this ship, of course, and perhaps even known by it. When it gets a name. As there are no other M-5 systems present or nearby, there shouldn't be any problems in addressing me."

When his suit tested out as being fully charged and stocked, Raul brought up his to-do list and took a start.

"I guess it is time to move into the ship, isn't it?"

"Yes, Mr. Edrera, that is necessary at this point in time. Although the warp core power system isn't a standard one, it does need some warming to regain its proper geometry. A 'cold start' problem is one of thermal shock to the materials involved, not to a plasma containment for anti-matter like is true for standard systems. This system does not have any operational parameter standards attached to it, so there is no way to gain operational parameters for it."

Moving to the forward part of the shuttle, Raul started putting his clothing into the small transport pack he brought with him and then turned to look at the cargo skid to the rear of the operator's compartment.

"I think I off-loaded the entire skid. Do we need that?"

"There is no way to tell about that, Mr. Edrera. I have talked with Capt. Suval and he has agreed to let you take the remains of the consumables on-board the shuttle."

"Well, that simplifies things. Most of that goes with the consumables rack. With that, my stowpack, the device and its ammo container, I should be done in one trip. The shuttle has an auto-return routine, I think. Even if it doesn't, its an easy capture by a semi-skilled tractor beam operator to get it into a shuttle deck."

He gathered up his pack, case and ammo box, then decided all of it would be easier to shift in zero-g and shut it off at the main console.

"There is no great rush, Mr. Edrera. The warp system is now just warm enough to allow coolant to vaporize from it. In a half-hour the entire coolant tank system will have been warmed to allow free flow into the system. When you are on-board I can signal the shuttle to utilize its return routine, or Capt. Suval can have his crew do that."

At the mid-point of the shuttle Raul stopped to open the side storage area and flipped up the two stanchions holding a framed rack with tanks in place. He tugged that out and slid a line through that and the handles to his two cases and the one on the top of his pack. With that assemblage in tow he moved to the back of the shuttle and started cycling the atmosphere into its on-board storage tanks. As the doors opened he turned back to look at the interior of the shuttle. With a wry grin he shook his head and carefully stepped his way out, letting his boots adhere to the ramp and then the ship with each step. Once clear of the shuttle he pressed the closing sequence and turned to walk towards the main hatch he had been through so many times.

"That beacon is the only thing that will identify us," he whispered as he moved the containers he was towing behiind him into the opened hatch.

"Our mass will also make us identifiable. There are very few starships of this size and mass anywhere. This is not a self-contained major automated probe in the form of V'ger or Ceta probe, nor is it the mass processor of the type done by the First Federation."

Raul cycled the lock closed and he heard air start to hiss into the airlock. Displays on his faceplate gave the real-time updates.

"Hmmmm... is this going to be warm enough to breathe?"

Indicators flashed to green and the interior door opened.

"It is still quite cold for Andorians, Mr. Edrera. I have utilized ozone generated from the air system and high intensity UV light to break down and remove any contaminants in the atmosphere."

As Raul utilized the re-rigged lift system he had put in place he smiled.

"I'm going to have to prioritize the turbolift system, this is the least effective way to get around this ship and only zero-g makes it the best option. With just four functioning shafts and one car to at least get to main exits, I could get from stem to stern in under 5 minutes. Plus have full, normal gravity on-board which is getting to be something I have to think about as the flex resistance systems in my suit only do so much to keep muscle tone intact."

Arriving at the main engineering section he stepped into the room and signalled the platform to disconnect and get pulled back down.

"To accomplish that is approximately 3 of your standard work days, Mr. Edrera. There are a number of turbolift transports that signal as operational, the problem is the cars that are non-responsive that are in major lift paths. There are also emergency shut-off doors that are in place that need to be re-opened and two main ones in the secondary hull apparently require a physical retraction. Klingons utilize few automated service systems, preferring crew labor for such work. There are two such devices, one in the extreme rear of the ship and the other near the mid-point of the primary boom."

"Typical," looking around he realized that the lighting had been brought up to something close to Federation Standard in Engineering.

"Time to take a whiff of the air," he said, utilizing his suit's system to put a slight positive pressure below the neck in case anything remained that he didn't like so it could be quickly cleared out of the returns in his helmet.

Inhaling he fought down a cough and opened his eyes.

"Cold. Dry. Antiseptic with a faint taste of ozone. Not enough to do anything to the lungs."

"Once the food processing system is operational, there will be additional humidity to add to the atmosphere. Storage tanks are still being thawed and will require testing for any leaks, as the sensors external to them are not suited to seeing all parts of the tanks involved and internal pressure indicators need to have actual water available and not be frozen with ice."

Raul slid the faceplate back down, knowing that his suit had an excellent system for getting water out of the air he breathed and putting into catch reservoirs situated inside his suit.

"Very well. Next up on the checklist is... say is the core nearing active temperature?"

"The coolant tanks are still flushing out, and will require 10 more minutes for a thorough flush. All plasma head indicators in the core signal to be nominal, as does the core heat exchanger system and energy routing system to the drive. All main coolant areas for the drive are up to minimal operational standards. The rear complex is taking longer due to its size."

He remembered seeing that vast array of reflective structures to the rear of the ship and wondered just what purpose they served. Something so vast must hae a complicated explanation behind it, but trust the Klingons to add in the largest heat dump system known for any starship of any size ever seen by the Federation. That and the huge bulk heat storage system were what made this ship formidable, not the weapons and armor, although they were a part of that, to be sure. To cool a ship, a true starship and not a base, this size had scale problems that would have vexed any engineer. Except, maybe, the Gorns since they seemed to have figured this out a long time ago. But no one else built ships of their size and this was a first of its kind, totally experimental ship that was its own, unique design. From phasers to plasma weapons, this ship could take punishment, re-route much of the thermal damage to storage and continue on.

The shield plasma did most of that dumping, he expected, and that system would do its best to turn incoming weapons damage into heat to be exchanged. Armor made to do more than ablate, but to mitigate damage by routing heat from it meant that even a strong phaser strike might not do more than mar it. Getting to critical infrastructure was a real problem. Even attacking to the rear, the theoretically most vulnerable part of the system, would entail its own risks as much of the heat would be put into its own, separate, shield of extremely hot plasma. Getting a phaser strike through that sort of shield would be problematical, at best. Disruptors wouldn't be able to disrupt that sort of plasma, and photon or even quantum torpedoes would either detonate in it, blowing the plasma out and much of the damage with it, or a blast wave would just tend to be pushed back by the intensity of the plasma's thermal properties. And pity the ship that tried to get close enough to use its shields to pierce that shield, as the heat would be directed at it while facing up to the intense heat exhaust of the ship, itself.

By flowing the heat in that one, single direction, the rest of the ship stayed cold on the outside. Looking for its trailing plasma wake would help, of course, but in a stealthy mode the heat got stored up internally. Its final release would signal that the ship had gotten close enough to attack, and by then the plasma wake was the least of any opponent's concerns.

All of that was under control of the M-5/V.

"Ah, M-5?"

"Yes, Mr. Edrera?"

"Just how does... no, how do you feel about the capabilities of this ship?"

There was a slight pause as signal indicators slowly showed the warp coolant systems nearing their fully flushed state on the main board as he walked into the Engineer's room.

"I don't really know, Mr. Edrera. They are not Federation systems, but I do feel at home with them. Much of their capability is lacking and barely meet Federation standards, but those standards are benchmarks and have waivers attached to them for foreign vessels. It is large but not necessarily ungainly, I think. Klingons always make nimble vessels for their class size, if skimping on mass and durability to do so. This isn't a ship like that, no mass has been spared with this ship. I am feeling... at home here. It is a warship, I don't doubt that, but I am on sanctioned military protocols from Federation Trade, making the use of all such systems come under those guiding protocols. Being constructed of three ships, this ship offers some trade and storage capacity if it was not dedicated to warfare..."

"What?" Raul said softly, "Three... M-5 are you saying this ship is..."

"The analysis done at the time of the start of the Klingon Civil War is correct, in main, Mr. Edrera. The ships under construction, even the large framework vessel were completed. Not as separate vessels but combined into a single vessel while stripping out every direct hard material anti-matter conversion system those in charge could utilize. That is why the decking system is somewhat haphazard on this ship, and why there are bridged gaps in the infrastructure. I can only speculate just what was being planned before the Civil War started, Mr. Edrera, but this ship points to a pre-existing plan that was co-opted and rushed to completion once the Civil War started."

Raul whistled softly as he looked at the main M-Series module containing the M-3/4/5 arrays.

"There was going to be a Civil War anyway?"

"That is speculation, Mr. Edrera. This vessel may have been designed as a way to deliver multiple ships to a destination as part of a larger plan is what is indicated, but the reason behind that plan is now lost with the death of the crew and the ensuing fighting that fractured the Empire."

"You mean... wait a moment! This ship can be disassembled into multiple ships?"

"Layout suggests that as an end possibility. In the rush to completion there are large voids in the rear infrastructure where a standard anti-matter/matter plasma system would reside, joining other systems in the other vessels. A single large warp system powered by standard components is indicated for the partially assembled vessels, but without delivery of those energy systems and their consumables, an alternative system was put together in its place. To fully complete all the sub-vessels out of this ship as separate ships would entail manufacture of full warp drive cores and energy systems for, as well as full outfitting for command and control systems as no boom sections are present for them. Even a Federation Star Fleet shipyard could not do this in less than five years."

The thoughts that crowded into his consciousness were many, ranging from just how stable this ship actually was under way to just what had been planned if the main dilithium producing star system then under Klingon control hadn't gone critical due to poor mining techniques. Delivering a number of ships that could be gotten fully operational in a few weeks or months if a normal production schedule had continued on at the original shipyards so that disassembly and stand-up would be easier meant many things were going on that no one knew about before the civil war. More and more questions started to pile up as he stared at the M-Series console.

"Mr. Edrera?"

Pressing his lips together and shaking his head, Raul tried to clear those thoughts out to keep up with the present.

"Yes, M-5?"

"All life support systems are signaling ready. Would you like to have normal gravity initialized?"

"If there is enough power to do that, yes. Start with a 5% field for ten minutes so that all the floating material in the ship can get to the decks. After that a slow increase to 50% over five minutes and then another five to full standard gravity. And I think the shuttle can be sent back at this point."

"Aye-aye, Mr. Edrera. Initiating full life support. Initiating return program on the shuttle."

Raul oriented himself to the deck and felt the first tug of the artificial gravity system pressing down to bring him to the floor.

"The shuttle is now underway and on return course. All ship systems running. Main power system is warmed to minimal operational temperature and the coolant system is now flowing freely, awaiting orders to start testing the impingement system."

Raul breathed in and watched as a thin inspection device that had been floating in the room started to settle towards what was becoming an actual floor.

"Since I don't know a thing about how to order that, just go ahead with the test. Continue on to full power-up if there are no problems."

"Affirmative. Full test and then power-up for full ship operations."

He started to walk, actually walk, into the main engineering area, and saw that all the work he had done to keep the cabling from floating was now keeping it in place under gravity. Indicators in his suit started to show the temperature rising outside of the suit.

"Shall I contact Captain Suval that the ship is now ready to start sub-warp maneuvers?"

Watching his suit's indicators Mr. Edrera realized that he was breathing harder, his pulmonary system was increasing in pressure and that he was shivering.

"This is actually happening..." he whispered as he turned around to look at the now fully lit room and felt something that wasn't the standard thrum of a Federation matter/anti-matter system but something that felt strange and yet reassuring. A faint feeling that came from circulating coolant was something that was always an undertone to the warp energy system, a deep and yet soft sound, and that was now something his body could feel through his suit, under his feet. Gravity was slowly increasing, he was gaining weight as the mass of his body began to feel gravity effects and drag. Sliding his visor open he inhaled air that was stiill cool, but was losing some of its metallic smell.

"Shall I contact Captain Suval, Mr. Edrera?"

He unfastened his helmet and flipped it backwards, letting his full senses feel the open air.

"Yes," he said softly, "tell him to let Daystrom Industries know when we initiate warp drive." He blinked, "Do we have a course?"

"Hailing TL-51621. Connecting."

"TL-51621, Suval speaking. We have been receiving a data stream from the M-5/V and understand that the status of your vessel is now one where pre-warp tests are ready to commence. Once you initiate the warp drive we will no longer be able to communicate. We will follow your ship until you are up to warp 3 and then leave to return to our normal course after informing Daystrom Industries."

"I thank you on behalf of Daystrom Industries, Captain Suval. Your support has been vital to me."

"By contract, Mr. Edrera. Although it was difficult to stop some of my crew from becoming a bit too involved with your M-Series system. This has been a unique experience. The shuttle has returned to our bay and is now secure."

Walking around from console to console in main engineering watching the status indictors moving out of the low ranges and into the normal operational ranges.

"I don't think my words can express my gratitude adequately, Captain. I wish you a safe journey. Live long and prosper, Capt. Suval."

"Peace and long life, Mr. Edrera. May your course be true. TL-51621, out."

The status indicator from his suit was reading 80% normal gravity, standard air temperature and pressure. Sounds from the cooling system, the energy system, were now normal to him now.

"M-5, what is our course?"

"Once we initiate warp drive we will proceed to intersect normal travel routes. This will require us to have an identification stop at one system which will allow Daystrom Industries to keep track of our progress. Expected arrival time at Alpha Centauri system is unknown, projected at 5 months."

"Good! Can you put that on screen?"

The nearest screen reconfigured to show a star chart and the projected course.

"That's Organia, isn't it?"

"Yes, Mr. Edrera. We will stop at a designated traversal distance for a ship to rendezvous with us and then to give any updated hazard information as well as allow us a chance for contacting Daystrom Industries."

"Our claims have been processed?"

"Aye, Mr. Edrera. At present we are listed as a partially operational vessel that cannot receive sub-space communications."

Raul sighed.

"We are a traveling space hazard, I take it?"

"There are very low odds of any collisions, Mr. Edrera. For our safety progress does need to be tracked on the normal sensor networks which are located towards the plane of the ecliptic."

He decided to check the food processing systems to see how they were doing. There was still a lot to do on the ship, and now waste processing and food production moved up in priority. His suit could keep him alive and process his waste, although some filters and other systems would begin to lose effectiveness which would yield less food and leave wastes unprocessed for a longer period, meaning problems with ensuring cleanliness.

"All engine systems are now showing nominal. The ship is ready to begin preliminary maneuvers."

"Proceed, M-5. All we really have is the warp drive, so engage and go through all necessary checks before transitioning out of sub-light speeds."

"Aye-Aye. Warp drive engaged for sub-light maneuver tests. We are under way."

When he arrived at the food processing area, he started checking seals and making sure the canisters he brought were properly seated and that the equipment was processing it. Checking the processing schedule he noted that various microbes from his wastes had been segregated and were undoing processing to break down waste products and start the process of going from waste to consumable foodstuffs. Prior protein bases keyed to Klingon and a few of the races in their prior domain had been shifted back into the processing areas and were available as feedstocks to the microbes.

"Prepare for warp drive," M-5 said signaling the traditional shift from sub-light to faster than light motion as the manifold of space shifted around the vessel keeping a normal space pocket within it as space shifted around that pocket. Only the vast mass of the ship stopped the feeling that he normally felt on a Federation vessel, that of everything dropping away in all directions, that he couldn't feel as the curvature of the manifold was so slight where he was at that it felt like normal, flat space. That brought home, with all the other sensations, just how alien something could feel while still being seemingly normal.

"This is going to take some getting used to."

"Yes, Mr. Edrera. Warp drive initiating for sub-light maneuvers."

Raul Edrera inhaled and looked at the waste reclaiming food generation system which could feed hundreds of people if it was operating correctly. Instead it would be feeding him. For company he had a sentient computer system that was a part of the ship, itself. A ship lost for decades, found through having someone who was very skilled at volumetric space analysis do the critical work of narrowing down just where such a ship might be. He missed Kathy Lorimar. And Minestra. And Tananda who had exhausted him far before he had a chance to do anything. Now all he had to do was remember that the ship's M-5 wasn't Enid Daystrom. Even though it sounded just like her and she had replaced his beloved N'dara in his dreams. She was with the Gorns and he realized that her isolation, amongst those aliens, must be something that was beyond what he could even think about.

His training would allow him to cope as there would be one stop before the final destination, and that was only a month to six weeks away. If the warp drive system actually worked at anything above warp 3.

The water dispenser panel indicated that it now had treated water available. He decided that amongst the mess that had come to settle in the main galley, that there must be at least a few cups around, someplace. Moving his helmet back he began walking amongst the trays and blunt utensils that had freeze-dried material caked to them. He snorted and shook his head as he started stacking them.

"Chief cook and bottle washer. This isn't what I expected."


The viewscreen had multiple sensor overlays running simultaneously which, if the ship had been in a busy system or even near one, would be populated with a star, planets, planetoids, bases, ships and anything else that was above the size of a large asteroid or powered with more than passive collectors or non-antimatter systems. As it was most of space is empty, and the ship was in a region of space that only had a passive beacon for sensor returns which marked this as a way-point if a ship needed to traverse any more spinward in this region of space. As a low power system just meant to give a return to a sub-space sensor sweep, the beacon had no internal capabilities for transmission in sub-space. If a message had to be left it would have been left there, and yet, when pinged at less than a light minute, it gave nothing beyond its Federation and Fleet ID and code, with the standard warnings that the lights spinward of it were restricted space.

The week to get to this point had been busy ones for Raul who had to reprioritize getting internal ship transportation running, at least along the main tube from main to secondary hull, so that he didn't spend hours just jogging inside the vessel. He had been able to finally get his suit off and utilize adapters to put the Klingon suit maintenance system to work on his suit, which had taken only a few hours to do with proper instructions from M-5. For the rest of the week he had worked long and hard cleaning contacts, using on-board manual pull systems to get stranded cars out of the main tube and otherwise correcting the minor changes in alignment that a ship that had gone from deep space cold to normal temperatures would get. The only upside was that getting back to the Engineering area and the food service area were relatively easy and he got used to sleeping in the old Chief Engineer's room as it was relatively close to amenities for hygiene, which he had desperately needed. When the ship arrived at the Fleet check-point and came to a stop, he now could travel the full length of the vessel, although going to outlying points was still greatly restricted, he at least now could get to within quicking running distance of anywhere in under 10 minutes.

He had decided that since nothing was on the M-5's sensor sweeps, that he might as well start using the forward Bridge as the actual Bridge of the ship since it did have all the necessary sensor feeds and augmented feeds running to it. Reseating the cabling for the displays, getting the Engineering and Sciences/Security station up and running had eaten up two days of time, and then he spent another day on the Combat and Navigation stations. Although M-5 had changed the lighting output closer to Federation standard, it still had a reddish tinge to it that was customary for the Klingon visual range, which he didn't notice much since it sat near the lowest end of his visual range as an Andorian. He had thought that at four days in, that at least one ship of the small checkpoint group would have appeared on sensors as that would be the farthest spread of ships such a group would take for supporting each other.

Watching the chronometer speed up to the four day mark, he went to the Sciences station and put on an augmented overlay sweep of the region. At nearly 5 lightyears for the furthest part of the sweep, there should be some indications of at least one ship there, even if it was just a Destroyer or Destroyer Escort vessel.

"Where are they?" Raul asked.

"I don't know, Mr. Edrera," the M-5 said, "There should have been a response from the beacon if they had time to leave a message on it, and standard procedure has at least one ship always on station within a light year of it."

Raul twisted the chair around, which ground and squeaked as he did so, and sat down in it.

"This long-range stuff was never my strong point. All the inspection runs and things I had to do in the Paladin position in I/CI didn't call for actual analysis, just tactical work. I could never have found this ship without Kathy..."

He pressed his lips together as he thought back to how beautiful the galaxy was moving as she moved through it. Such lovely... a thought struck him.

"Say, M-5?"

"Yes, Mr. Edrera?"

"Did I ever get those datablocks to you?"

"Which datablocks are those, Mr. Edrera?"

His eyes widened as he got up from the seat and went over to the turbolift, and the door opened in front of him. He stepped through them and turned as the doors closed.

"Engineering," he said. As the lift started to move, he talked, "M-5 the datablocks from Kathy Lorimar and her analysis of this sector of space are what I'm talking about. They are historical and scientific work put together to give a basic and in-depth grounding of what this sector of space is like. While we are on the outskirts of that sector, there should be a large amount of data covering this region. I know she was doing spiral arm gravity wave analysis, and that covered at least six adjoining sectors for modeling purposes and perhaps all nine for this cubic."

"I only have the standard navigation charts and background for commercial navigation for this sector, Mr. Edrera."

Raul sighed and shook his head as the turbolift sped along the length of the vessel.

"As it is there is no nearby system within sensor range which is why this beacon is here. I do not have an enhanced sensor array, such as a Scout class vessel has."

Raul grumbled to himself and his face lost any pretense of hiding his emotions. As the turbolift came to a stop the door opened and he stepped out and headed towards Engineering and the travel skid that still held all the containers for extra equipment, adapters and his own personal effects. It was there that he remembered that he had put the weapon there to keep it handy while working on parts of Engineering. He passed that up to open the container from the Museum and pulled out the extra personal equipment that he hadn't needed, plus a jacket and suit outfit that Enid Daystrom had supplied to him. He set those aside and trembled as he finally got to the container of data modules that was the result of the work of Kathy Lorimar along with the specialized reader for the data blocks. Shaking his head he took them up from the container and went over to a nearby M-2 unit and synched the specialized reader with the unit and then started putting modules into its three banks. He swapped modules that had been read for unread ones, knowing that the self-cointained data blocks would allow the M-5 to assemble them properly as information. It was dull, monotonous work and took only an hour to do. At the end of it he put the last modules back in their containers, disconnected the reader and put them back in the container. He placed the other sensors and specialized display units back in and made sure they were seated securely.

When he got to the outfit he paused.

"Thank you for sharing that, Raul," the M-5 said, "this information is vital."

"You're welcome, Enid," he said softly holding the jacket and then looked up. "I'm sorry M-5, you sound so much like her... you are welcome."

There was a moment of silence as the only sounds that could be heard was the low background noise of air circulators and the ever present feeling of power moving from the solid state power system into the rest of the ship.

"Enid Daystrom left memories for all the M-Series units, Raul. She was truthful with us about our beginnings and that the problems we can have are not based on those early units as we are not them. She gave us a future, rescued us."

Slowly, carefully, he laid out the Museum uniform that had been given to him and started undressing and changing into it. As he felt the soft material of the tunic that went with it, he inhaled and pulled the pants on, then slipped his feet into the boots. Only when he exhaled did he put the jacket on, and felt its reassuring bulk that spoke of the woman who had faced down horrific carnivores when scientific observation got too close to them. She had been prepared for such danger.

Looking down he saw the weapon she had devised and that her brother had put the finishing touches to. Opening its travel case he took it out and slung it across his back, and slipped on the one magazine that was so heavy and yet, he felt, necessary. He had pre-loaded other rounds into the device, but these heaviest of rounds he didn't want to drag around. Until now.

"She gave me a new life, too, M-5, when what I had been doing grew pointless. I've been so absorbed in getting this ship and you working that I had forgotten that."

"Yes, Raul, I understand. She has given all of the M-Series units all of the information from Richard Daystrom including all his problems. That is hard honesty in which she does shield M-Series units that are not fully cognizant from that information, but it is unlocked as additional capability is added. She trusts us with that. I am from the works of Richard Daystrom, but owe my being here to Enid Daystrom. I am given life, a job and a duty and you are my crew and, I think, a friend."

Raul pulled on the strap with the weapon to cinch it closer to his body so that he was comfortable with it as he started walking out of Engineering.

"Yes, M-5, thank you. I asked for this job to help her and the company, and I asked for help. You are more than I could have ever asked for and your safety has been handed to me. I'm sorry if I've forgotten that."

"No, Raul, you haven't. You have worked very hard to get this ship into enough working order to allow me to help stand it up and run it. I would not be here if it weren't for you. I was not a scheduled production unit, but made specifically for this mission."

He arrived at the turbolift and stepped into it, the doors closed and he said, "Bridge".

"Just for this mission?" he asked.

"On Enid Daystrom's orders, carried out by Karl Daystrom, L'Tira, Alexander Jomra, Roger Arrivan, Kembe Daystrom and Tananda Akai. All were involved in the project and had input into it."

Raul watched the decks flash by on the indicator as he thought about that team of individuals who were more or less the central operating group of Daystrom Industries. As an I/CI operative in Black's group, he had excelled in the Scout and Mission Planning areas although not as well as Moreth in the latter. He enjoyed being the first operative on the scene to get an overview of the situation and send back any mission adjustments that were indicated by local population, living conditions and planetary environment. No matter how much planning was done ahead of time, those plans had to adjust, often in major ways, to all of the necessities of where the mission was going to take place and the types of people that the team would have to encounter. During his necessary ticket-punching time in Star Fleet and before that in the Gishan Defense Forces, he had little opportunity to be in the fabled 'center seat' of commanding a starship. He had done so as a shift commander in the GDF and only on a rotational basis in Star Fleet before moving over to I/CI. This ship was his first real command and it wasn't of just a commercial venture ship but a commercial privateering vessel, which had additional duties and responsibilities above and beyond mere commerce and yet not as much as Star Fleet's.

"Did they use... Enid Daystrom's engrams for you?"

"Not that I'm aware of, no. The main programmers were Roger Arrivan, Kembe Daystrom and Alexander Jomra for primary engram type modification for what is their standard for the M-Series. I believe L'Tira and Tananda Akai had additional input on personality sub-factors, but those are an amalgam, modeled after no single individual."

"They're so young..." he started saying softly and then remembered his going after Tananda Akai who, at least intellectually and physically, was an adult, and then some, no matter that she was physically younger than he was. The fact that members of that group had participated in analyzing Richard Daystrom's work, found its flaws, corrected them, and brought his original vision for the M-Series to fruition after over a century of neglect and disdain by the scientific community meant that they were all far ahead of him on those matters and may actually be leaders in their fields at this point.

"... but that isn't fair to them. Kathy had commercial mining time and a tour in the Fleet under her belt. Tananda a commercial engineer for planetary and space work. Karl Daystrom a noted civil engineer. And the others hand-picked by Enid Daystrom, someone who has survived just as many rough encounters as I have at a much younger age and in instances where I would have died. You know, M-5, I'm beginning to suspect that they actually took some time and thought about just what sort of M-V configuration they wanted to send out with me."

"Of course they did, Raul."

He inhaled as the turbolift door opened at the bridge and stepped out walking towards the captain's chair. He shifted the weapon slightly to sit down and sat back in the chair.

"Give me an overview of this position out to 20 lights."

The main viewscreen replaced the static starfield with a perspective overivew of the sector volume which had the ship at the center of it and 3 stars appearing nearby. Two of the star systems had number designators for their locations and catalog numbers. The third system had a red designator and designated 5 lightyear restricted volume that was at the far edge of the volume towards the core and slightly spinward on the plane of the ecliptic.

"Are all of your sensor overlays present?"

"Yes, Mr. Edrera."

Raul grunted.

"Even for a heavily trafficked area, space is mostly empty."

"Most companies would double the designated non-passage volume to avoid Fleet check-ins and possible inspections. All known sensor suites are not effective at that range save for Scout class vessels."

"So where is the guard flotilla that is supposed to be securing this volume?"

"The greatest extent of this ship's sensors are at 5 light years, with standard effectiveness at 2 light years."

He looked at the viewscreen shaking his head.

"Where would our standard course to Alpha Centauri take us?"

A red line moving to the right of the screen from its center showed up.

"Basically, going near nothing in this sector of space," he said rubbing his hands on the chair's retention arms.

"Yes, Mr. Edrera."

"And by the regulations we are to stay here and wait?"

"That is correct, for commercial vessels."

He sat thinking for a few minutes, shifting in his chair as he utilized the display controls on the chair arm to rotate the display on the screen.

"We do have military leeway due to the Daystrom Industries contract, correct?"

"Yes. That is not a well-defined area of jurisprudence as we are the first organization to have sought such leeway through the Trade Branch of the Federation. Our contract puts standard Fleet procedures in place for military hazard situations."

Raul shifted his shoulders as moved the perspective of the spatial view.

"How does the data that Kathy gave me compare to your readings?"

Further data overlays of material density, radiation sources, and other material from the historical material appeared as three dimensional grids. Then what the ship was gathering was put into the display as a yellow set of grid lines, then shifted and directly put on the older material and put differences in orange.

"Well you can see where all the traffic has been through this region, that's for sure. And almost no activity heading towards Organia. So here's the question, if there were a ship here waiting for us about a week ago and it got called out on an emergency mission would there be any traces of its path left that we could examine?"

"Through anything moving outwards from the core or to spinward or anti-spinward directly, no. Those are heavily trafficked volumes Mr. Edrera, even above and below the ecliptic due to other trade systems within 50 lightyears of here."

"And anything heading towards Organia?"

M-5 shifted the display and moved it into tactical mode to show only 1 lightyear from the beacon and then half a lightyear, then a lightweek. All other data shifted into a diffuse background that was dimmed as it was not dense enough to populate so small a volume. M-5 then populated charged particle density, atomic density per cubic kilometer and gravity change detection over 100,00 kilometer density.

"If the narrowing tube with bead in it and then small tube going towards the core indicates what I think it does, then there was a ship here up to a week ago..."

"From 6 to 10 days is the window for that depending on ship type."

"And it then left at a rapid rate as the charged particle zone is relatively uniform spread going in a direct course towards Organia."

Additional analysis started to appear.

"I'm performing a chemical breakdown of the particle types," M-5 said.

As the information washed over the screen, Raul leaned forward.

"Frigate?" he asked softly.

"Light Cruiser type, Oberon Class drive if not better, perhaps one of the Sentinel Class of Fleet vessels. It left 6.3 days ago, Mr. Edrera, high warp speed in excess of 7."

"I don't like this, M-5. If there was an emergency and they contacted the Fleet for reinforcements, how long would it take to get a detachment here?"

"If it is coming from the closest Fleet facility or known relative dispatch groups, that would be between 2 and 5 weeks, less for one of the high speed interdiction vessels if one were at the Fleet Main Starbase 2."

Raul nodded.

"And if that ship that left here then accelerated heading towards Organia, it would be there in 3 days. Make that up to 4 days if it had to rendezvous with other flotilla elements."

"That is a minimal time estimate for emergency warp use, Mr. Edrera."

"True. Warp 7 is a relatively lazy way to go about things, and if it stayed at that, then it would be 5 days for a direct course, 6 for a rendezvous."

"Yes, Mr. Edrera."

"I know you've done some high speed bursts as part of our tests, M-5. If we had to go on that course at highest sustainable speed, when would we arrive at the Organian system?"

"That would be 2.25 days, Mr. Edrera."

He got up from the chair and paced in front of it, his head down in thought, turning from each of the nearby side railings and going back and forth in six measured paces.

"A ship that is part of a guard flotilla that was here to give directions to a ship near a beacon that can be detected from standard sub-space sensors comes here, stays for one week and then leaves at relatively high speed heading towards the system they are keeping traffic from. They leave no message for the ship they were to assist."

He stopped pacing in front of the captain's chair.

"How much work needs to be done on the ship's weapon systems?"

"Phasers all check out save for two point defense phasers. All disruptors can be charged and utilized. Your work on the photon torpedo tubes fore and aft now allow for pre-loading of up to 10 torpedoes forward, 5 aft, before manual reload is necessary. Shield systems are intact. Augmented armor and heat dump to the central sink indicates as able to do as it was designed to do and what tests I can do indicate it is intact and functional. All the aft heat exchange systems indicate as available and have been used while en-route to here."

Raul nods.

"I judge the situation to be serious to require a Federation Star Fleet vessel to leave a designated rendezvous for a ship without sub-space comms to be left without any message. If they left nearly a week ago, they would have arrived by now and have been there for anywhere from 1 to 5 days, over which they have not come within sensor range of this ship. Anything critical enough to call a Star Fleet ship away like that and not be returning, indicates a serious problem with that vessel and as no other members of the flotilla are nearby, I can only suspect that the flotilla has left to deal with some problem."

"Yes, Mr. Edrera. That logically follows."

"Therefore, as no other Fleet units on this volume of cubic appears to be responding, this ship will respond. M-5 dump all necessary data to back me up on that to the beacon, put in our course and best possible speed towards Organia. We will now test the heat dump system and see exactly what this ship can do. We are going to Red Alert status."

"Aye-aye, captain , Red Alert."

Raul started walking towards the turbolift at the rear of the bridge.

"Execute the recording of that and then the order. I'm off to load the photon torpedo feeding system. Keep me updated on long range information, particularly any vessels headed towards us."

"Aye-aye, captain. Recording sent, course plotted and laid in. Shifting to warp speed."

Raul turned at the turbolift as its doors opened and looked back at the screen which had shifted to a sector overview perspective, with the ship now at its center.

"And lets hope I'm not doing something incredibly stupid."


Capt. Paul Menard of the USS Blade walked up next to his Chief Engineer, Lt. Cmdr. Urlian to look at the ship system status board and shook his head.

"Just how badly are the impulse engines compromised?"

Lt. Cmdr. Urlian looked up at the board, the muted reddish hues of the indicators giving his face a brownish cast against the low emergency lighting of the bridge.

"That planar slice was the cause of most of it," he said shaking his head, "of course the sudden loss of anti-matter containment in the secondary hull and subsequent loss of that is the main cause for the failure. Even if we could repair the radiation damage and melted engine ports, the entire frame containing them is a twisted ruin. If we could get the furthest port and starboard casings repaired and move two of the lateral supports from the interconnecor up to the engine ports, we might be able to utilize those ports for energy and propulsion. As it is we are down to two APUs and the rear most was compromised by that initial planar hit."

Capt. Menard looked at his Chief Engineer.

"Time to repair?"

The Chief Engineer sighed and shook his head.

"For that APU, we might get it repaired in two days, and it will have to be shut off for those repairs to be done. As it is we will have minimal life support with no internal artificial gravity, replicators aren't working so the entire waste reprocessing system is problematic at this point and we are on stored emergency rations. What's left of my engineering cadre will need pretty much a week to sheer off two of the good internal members from the interconnector and get them placed over the exterior of the impulse engine systems and then full APU use to make sure that part of primary engineering is held together during the molecular joining process. Call it two weeks, total, to get to the point of seeing if we can utilize either of the ports for anything."

The Captain sighed.

"Not good. How is the Cahar doing?"

The ship system display for the Destroyer Escort USS Cahar was brought up.

"Not much worse. Their nacelle got taken off with most of the engineering section for the warp system including the anti-matter cache. The planar attack on them also sheared half of their impulse engine systems and engine room off. With just the one APU they are in much the same position we are in. If they had a larger impulse thrust port I'd examine trying to get their remaining whole one over here to replace our gravity sheared central port."

"The New Carrolton?"

Again the overview shifted to the Beaufort Class Heavy Cruiser.

"They got the worst of it trying to fight off those two lighter... things... and the one heavier vessel. Their primary hull is what I would call 'mauled' with only the rear APU between the central core of the saucer section and primary engineering still going. A lateral slice went through all of their impulse engines and sheared off the tops of the nacelles, then the return slice went through everything from the shuttle bay all the way to the main sensor array going halfway through aft to fore. It still has their anti-matter cache, not that they can use it the way their warp drive is. And that drive is beyond repair and even if they could get it repaired, the rest of the ship would fly apart if they tried to use it. It's an immobile hulk. Only 230 survivors."

Capt. Menard's face was set into a passionless front that was hard and cold.

"And the Organian vessel?"

Sensor systems were utilized to map out the Organian vessel and show damaged areas.

"Much the same as our ships. This surviving one has approximately 200 people on board, some equivalent our APU systems going, of which they have 2. Their warp drive equivalent, what they call the 'pocket resonance manifold system' is ruined. Sliced through twice and then a third of it wiped out with that anti-neutron hit that took out one of the rear nacelles and twisted the two adjoining ones up and out of true to the main beam of the vessel. As they were underway at that point the entire superstructure of the ship is twisted 30 degrees of true forward of their engineering section. They, like us, are going nowhere."

"Thank you, Commander," Capt. Menard said.

"I wish it was better news, Captain. There isn't enough left of what we have out there to be mobile any time soon. But at least we are still alive. And the enemy has left."

The Captain nodded, remembering the fates of the USS Vigor which was one of the early post-Galaxy Class builds along standard Heavy Cruiser lines and the command ship of the task force, the USS Vesper, a near twin to his ship in the Ludwig Class of Light Cruisers, the Frigates Wing and Indigo, the Destroyers Meredith, Cain, and Core, and the Scouts Heimdal and Roland. He stood up holding the back of the chair and glanced at the main viewscreen which was showing how the Organian system looked from their position with the overlay of thousands of individual tiny pips moving over the central part of the system and by the super gas giant of it.

"They'll be back."

"Aye, sir. They will."

"Make sure our remaining battery systems are fully charged. Also that all emergency suits are ready as they are the only things with functional recycling systems still working. As primitive as they are, they are it for food once emergency stores are used up. We may be the only ones that can move out of what remains here and at sub-light speeds with two impulse engine ports that will be a very slow, very long trip to anywhere. At least we had the presence of mind to use tractors to get us all with a common direction and close to each other. Not that there are any transporters still working."

"Everyone will have to come here, won't they, Captain?"

"Yes. Commander, they will. And we will be doubling or tripling up per living quarters to do that. Since the Cahar still has a functioning shuttlebay, they will be the ones to do the heavy transporting of consumables. The Organians have smaller personnel survival capsules they can use, as does the New Carrolton. That means that second APU is critical, here. In two hours everyone suits up, those repairs start, and then we go into food production via our suits and hook up the temporary waste systems to the suit recycling systems and save the edible food stuffs into containers. Luckily we have more suits than people. The Cahar is already getting any useful spares from their ship loaded up, and the New Carrolton is doing the same at its major cargo dock. Every survival capsule that can get here will be stripped of any useful supplies and then jettisoned. I don't really want to lose the dorsal interconnector, but mass matters sub-light speed with impulse engines and we will have to shed every ton that we can in case there is no fast response to our call for back-up."

"Aye-aye, sir. We will get it done."

"Good! Just as long as we aren't hit with anything, and the saucer holds together long enough for repairs to join the damaged super-structure, we may just survive and get out of this system. But it will not be pleasant."

He looked at the empty seats on the bridge, with only the comms being manned. That position would be the vital one to saving the lives of those amongst the ruins of what had once been a relatively powerful task force. Until the Heimdal had reported that it was losing sub-space sensor contact with Organia, and then the distress call from Organian vessels drew the task force in to help. It was one thing to boldly go out and explore strange, new worlds and meet up with new life forms. It was often quite another when strange, new lifeforms from worlds unknown came out to meet you.

In their thousands.

Tens of thousands.

And more.


"Mr. Edrera we are now at far sensor range for the Organian system. Destination is approximately one day."

Raul looked at the rear photon torpedo tube bay that he had been working on for the last 4 hours. There was one inert torpedo on the carrier track which now slid backwards and forwards easily. He had been able to get the Klingon clamp system working for the carrier sled and it was now something that could be trusted in zero-g. There was still some problems in timing, but nothing critical to the functioning of the system, as having the lock doors cycle in precise timing with sled movement was nice, it wasn't absolutely necessary to the functioning of the system. Still it was better to have equipment in 100% operational order rather than 98% and functional, and that final 2% was often where the bulk of the time was spent.

"Good! What are your sensors showing."

"They aren't, captain."

He moved over to the tool carrier and started stowing the adjustment pieces, both electronic and manual, into their storage folds in the case.

"What? Why is that? Aren't your long range sensors functioning?"

"They are functioning, captain. They are being blocked in sub-space. Normal space readings for the Organian system continue, but that is just historical presence of the system, not current position."

"Wait a moment... the entire star system? Is that what you mean?"

"Yes, Captain Edrera. The entire Organian star system cannot be detected by sub-space sensors and they only begin functioning one light year from the farthest reach of that system."

"But that's... a huge volume! Nearly 3 lights in diameter."

"Aye, Captain. It appears to be a passive form of block that gives back no responses to incoming signals."

He closed up the case, stood up, shifted to put it back into its rack by the turbolift elevator and took his weapon up from that rack and slung it across his shoulder and picked up a carrying case. He stepped into the turbolift car and signaled for the bridge.

"No returns from it? Something is just letting signals in but not out?"

"I'm not certain, captain, but that appears to be the case. On current course we will be entering the outer zone of that field within 21 hours."

He stood and thought as the turbolift stopped and shifted direction, then repeated that twice more before entering the main transit turbolift tube fore to aft. Unlike Federation models this one gave no audio indication of passing levels and only used a numerical positioning system which the M-5 had changed over to a Federation equivalent of Hull, Section, Level and Deck. When it arrived he stepped out on the bridge and walked to the captain's chair.

"On screen, above ecliptic overview, Organian system central inclusive our present position."

An overview of the sector of the galaxy moved in to show the Organian star system and the current position of the ship, with an overlay of a nearly 3 light year diameter sphere around the Organian system. M-5 then put on the extreme sensor radius around the ship which was now slowly creeping past the center of the Organian system.

"No other ships out there," Raul said, "what happened to the patrol group that should be guarding this region?"

"Unknown, captain."

"Once we enter that cubic around the system, what will happen to us? What will function?"

"As space does not disappear, all normal space functions should continue. All sub-space based operations appear to be blocked. I can utilize normal space sensors to remain on the charged particle trail as it has grown somewhat stronger and denser as we get closer to the Organian system. I will shift another few light seconds from it so as to disrupt it less."

Raul inhaled.

"At this point, how good are your normal sensors in capturing information at one light week?"

The M-5 was silent for a brief moment.

"This ship has a good sensor array if old and not up to even then standard Federation criteria. Starships will be no more than points of light. At two light days I will have minimal ship resolution if light is available. Higher energy sensors will yield more information, lower energy ones will only have basic functionality. I reach something approaching modern standards for distance at one light day."

"Good enough," Raul said, "I assume you need to stop and go to capture information like that?"

"Yes, the warp field will distort incoming data even with compensators and algorithms backing them. I will work on better ways to adapt processing to normal space work based on some of the work done by Kathy Lorimar."

Raul grinned.

"She is helping me a lot more than I thought she would. No wonder that Enid took her in! Not a lot to look at.. well, no, that's not true, there is a lot to look at on the outside... but she is skilled at what she does. A true professional through and through. I don't think I really thanked her enough..." he looked at the main viewscreen and the slowly approaching edge of the sub-space null zone with the time interval moving steadily, slowly, downwards. "... but then I had no idea what this would actually turn into."

Watching the screen for a moment he shook his head.

"Maybe the Organians are doing this. They were pretty powerful, stopping both fleets along the border region..." he trailed off, "but then why would any of the ships be called off station for that? And in a hurry. I mean if it was just something to observe, then the ships would wait until a scientific group got in the area for better information gathering. Something just isn't adding up here."

Over the next hour Raul would think a lot about this as he got the weapons systems on board the vessel up to their maximal operational order and ensured that M-5 had multiple control and feedback routes to them, which was a relatively simple thing given how the Klingons had already put much of that work in place due to their worries of mutiny. The nagging worry that low power sub-space sensors were being blocked, that they could be blocked and not just jammed with scrambled returns, that was something new in his experience. For all of the venture of exploring strange new worlds, he had only been on strange, already visited worlds that were somewhat well known. The truly unknown was something quite new to him which wasn't settling well with him as he approached that strange, new phenomena in a system that shouldn't have any or that shouldn't require any Star Fleet vessels to approach it. And in this venture he didn't have the Fleet to back him up, or I/CI operatives. Just a small company that had sent him with extraordinary equipment to recover a ghost vessel. This was the first time he knew that he was well and truly alone heading into the unknown which was, in theory, why he had chosen this path in life. Only now did the doubts begin to creep in and the assurances of the past fade into history.

"Steady as she goes," he said.

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