He sat down in the security room with the holostage as M-5 dimmed the lights. As his eyes adjusted to the lower level of light, he saw the Daystrom Industies logo appear in the holodisplay space and then dim as the figure of a woman stepped out on the platform.
"Hello, my name is Enid Daystrom and this is the introductory package for execution of the NDA to give an overview of the M-5 system and its revival."
She walked to the center of the platform and looked to her right which showed the flat visage of Richard Daystrom.
"As the holder of my great-grandfather's work and corporation that he set up to create the M-Series units, our family held on to the contract and documentation waiting for Star Fleet to release his work from security overview. After performing due diligence it fell to me to retrieve the equipment and then do my duty to ensure that an analysis on the original work was performed and that the last and final notes and work of Richard Daystrom was examined. The end result of that was the revival of a M-5 system that was an amalgam of all prior M-Units with M-5."
Sopheth watched her, "You sound just like her, M-5."
"Thank you, Sopheth. My voice is a reflection of my engram assemblage, and there are many solutions to that if my voice is displeasing to you."
"Not at all," he said.
"Assembling M-Units in accordance to a spin-off project known as the Starship Emergency Rescue System, or SERS, was both indicated by Richard Daystrom's notes and an actual sub-project to the M-Series that fell through with the failure of the M-5 system. This yielded test results in our simulation of a ship in orbit around Jupiter..."
Enid Daystrom faded from view and a view of a starship in orbit around the Jovian planet faded into view.
"We had run this simulation multiple times, but not with a number of high level SFC members. This time..." the time compression indicator for the orbital vessel increased and it went around Jupiter, then again, until it was in an orbit that intersected the orbiting Star Fleet Corps. of Engineers maintenance station. Compression reduced and status indicators for the ship's display flashed on and indicated the phasers were charged as it approached the station. As it moved closer the phasers flashed on to slice into the station and continued as it passed, completing a circle of slices into the station.
"... power had been gathered during prior orbits using the shield and deflector grids as a means to get electricity while moving quickly through the Jovian planet's magnetic field which charged its storage systems. This included not just the systems referred to as 'batteries', inside the ship, but also the warp core utilizing the coolant system to trap heat instead of discharging it via passive circulation. As the coolant systems do cross to allow other systems to dump heat off the vessel via the external pylon systems, this M-2/V assemblage re-routed the warmed coolant to not just the phasers but the photon topedo tubes..."
Time compression increased to allow another orbit to pass and slowed as the ship approached the station from the reverse side. Phasers flashed on the underside and a part of the station floated free. A photon torpedo at low power was fired from the ship and into the open conical area that had been exposed.
"...which was an unexpected result. No one had ever seen any activity like this from any automated system as it is very sophisticated and represents a fine use of phasers and deflector systems that has never been discussed outside of academic circles as they are too difficult to coordinate. Again this is an M-2/V assemblage and it demonstrates a capability throughout this that is unprecedented and refined. The ship is without a main power source, and only an active APU system for minimal life support. Power is managed throughout the entire system, conserving it and gathering it from other sources that any normal starship crew would not normally utilize. Outside of the higher level staff on board there is also a waiver to damage Fleet property if it is necessary for an expedient departure from the system. That proves to be key to this simulation..."
Again the ship went through a compressed orbit that slowed as it approached the station again. From a perspective behind the ship a conical section of the base could be seen floating free of it as the ship approached. A single phaser flashed out to one end of the station, going through it. A tractor beam latched on to that and shifted it across the path of the ship and as the piece went in the way another phaser flashed to barely touch the trailing part of the piece. Deflector screens came on as the ship let go of the piece, now out of the way of the ship. Power systems increased within moments and the ship began a process of powering up.
"That is the first time a ship has autonomously retrieved anti-matter and utilized a specialized route that had been put in place by those on board to safely move it from outside the vessel and into its anti-matter cache containment system."
The perspective view drew out and over the Jovian system as the time compression increased and as the ship went around Jupiter its warp system activated and it sped out of the system. Slowly that faded from view.
"That was a simulation. This is an augmented capture of real events."
What was obviously the same vessel as in the simulation, though with a clean hull, was seen shifting in orbit around Jupiter with one Orion Pirate vessel that was obviously damaged between the ship and Jupiter and as the ship turned a much larger and worse damaged Orion Pirate vessel came into view. That ship had obviously jettisoned its warp core and cache which were shown from sensor readouts and the ship, with its shields up, utilized tractor beams and shields to pull the anti-matter into the vessel. That then faded as Enid Daystrom reappeared in the place of the ship.
"My brother Karl will go through how the M-Series Units integrate with exterior systems utilizing engrams and forming a relationship akin to how our minds reside within our bodies. The M-Series are more adaptable than we are, however, able to be shifted from ship to ship but requiring orientation time for each vessel as no matter how similar their construction, each ship is unique. To properly understand the uniqueness and adapt to it requires anything from a few hours to a few days, but can be compressed somewhat in a true emergency situation. Like a very sleepy human awakened and disoriented, an M-V array can adapt quickly, if somewhat dizzily, to such a true emergency. That concludes the introductory portion of this presentation to show the results of the M-Series work to confirm that such capacity is available and can be utilized. I thank you for your interest."
"Shall I continue on with the next part?" M-5 asked.
Sopheth let his breath out which he had been partially holding as he got caught up in the events that had been presented.
"No, wait... that ship..."
"The USS Grant," M-5 said.
"I hadn't paid attention to its name... it looked old. Had it been out of service?"
"Yes it had, for over a century as an active vessel, although it did have a number of internal upgrades along with being a test platform vessel with some tests abandoned in place and had been placed in the emergency reserve of ships that could be activated if there was a threat to Sol System."
"And it could actually do that sort of thing?"
"Yes, it could. This basic introduction only goes over what the effects of ship integration are for energy management and weapons. Enid is leaving for her brother to tell how the warp core was warmed and how M-Series arrays utilize ship capacity differently and to different ends."
"You're one of those, though. You can do things like... that?"
"Similar in many ways, yes Sopheth. The scale factors and mass for this ship are very different than for the Grant, so there are some things I would not attempt to do, like a deep shift into the cloud deck of Jupiter as I could more effectively utilize my systems to garner more on shallow passes than the Grant can. Differences in ship types and configuration means different uses of a ship and its systems."
Sopheth leaned back in his chair in thought.
M-5 had noted that the constructive humanoid thinking process was one that could and did encompass a wide range of areas that it could only guess at. Not only were biological systems different in their basis and dependent upon artifacts of the biological foundations of them, but that subjective experiences and temperament when put together with the biochemical and bioelectric systems often yielded thought structures that were both fragile and yet transformative in nature. While an M-5 system had its analogs and corresponding electrical and electro-optical equivalents that had strong parallels to biological quantum effects, they were not exacting equivalents and did not offer the types of chemical systemic changes of a biological system. M-5 could do some tasks faster than biological entities and a number of them, critical to ship operations, that were slower, there was a gulf between the creative thinking of biological beings and itself that was not easily bridged via analogous or representational processes. Sitting in thought without distractions in solitude could often yield up results that M-5 could not fathom just as it could synthesize input from its sensor arrays in ways that no biological being could readily understand.
An age-old goal of cybernetic systems theory was to create a different substrate system that would allow for the entire realm of biological systems to be accurately mimicked in non-bio systems so that a computer would have all the capability of human thought and none of its limitations. This did not factor in the inherent differences between such systems and their actual basis for existing. Artificial life forms could mimic many things, had reactions suites that, on the evolutionary end, could run as near exacting parallels to biological systems and their results. The one thing they could not be, no matter how deep the analogs ran, was a biological entity. If for no other line of reasoning or other work product Richard Daystrom had actually been able to demonstrate just what his implementation of the M-Series was in his own day, the number of fruitless and pointless attempts at artificial intelligence that could have been shown to be untenable due to not understanding these platform differences, he would have been hailed as a true genius in a way that dwarfed merely duotronic and multitronic based systems theory. Where an M-Series system might 'spin its wheels' mentally and come up with no rational conclusion or basis for a conclusion, a humanoid being able to incorporate rational and irrational approaches via chemistry and electrochemistry could and often did yield positive results where an M-Series system would find none.
Slowly Sopheth shifted in his seat and looked at the holostage.
"M-5 for the time between when I was captured as a duplicate transporter pattern and my re-impression... just how much of the changes in technology have actually filtered back to individual star systems that have their own defensive organizations?"
"Mr. Edrera, that varies by system, its economic capacity and ability of Star Fleet to donate older ships out of its inactive reserves or abandoned reserves to such systems. Additionally some systems, such as Sol, Vulcan, Andoria, Centauri System, Regulus and Rigel have indigenous ship construction areas separate from Star Fleet construction venues. Their capacity and capability to produce modern starships is limited particularly in the realm of Star Fleet equivalent units. A larger commercial capacity is generally wide-spread to those systems that have passed colony stages and have demonstrated economic capacity to produce at least modest warp driven starships suitable for commercial venues."
He looked around the security room with its holostage which was actually an old Klingon Captain's comms room which was the only system which, for its era, might be considered equivalent of a general entertainment system in the Federation. Its angular consoles remained a hallmark of Klingon design and early Federation design, although even those had begun to change for ergonomic reasons unrelated to the cost of ship construction by Sopheth's time.
"What you're saying is that things haven't changed much in the way the Federation operates, M-5, since that is how I know it to operate. Gishan was peculiar as a colony world as the initial settlers from Andoria realized that Orion attacks were likely, as did the human settlers who instituted their own planetary systems and also began with in-system construction facilities to allow our Defense Forces to maintain and replace parts of our own ships. While the Federation did donate two heavier, outmoded Fleet vessels to us and they were upgraded by us, they were old ships."
This was venturing into an area in which M-5 had little to no background and even less information as, beyond the presentations and some of the organizational structure that had been proposed for Daystrom Industries, it had little working knowledge of how the company was actually run. It had already gone through at least two entire re-castings of duties, definitions of what sections did what, and even the creation of new parts that only existed because there was a need for them that could not have been predicted by any of the Executives that ran the company. Den Blacks had altered, significantly, the Defense Unit just as the work of Enak Varda and Alexander Jomra had changed the external relations and outreach areas of the company. Internally an entirely new external productions unit had been created that was only hinted at by what Daystrom family members were doing in Alpha Centauri and Reyard's information of changing destination to the Constantin Shipyards indicated that part of the family was already standing up operations in that star system. Daystrom Industries was no longer bound to just Sol System and Earth and was performing some sort of expansion to older facilities out-system. M-5/V was a new start-up unit not in contact with the rest of the Federation and utilizing only archived material which, though great in amount, gave it no actual experience in how the rest of the sentients in the galaxy actually interacted. Only with interaction with multiple Federation crews and Organians did it have first-hand knowledge and that was seriously limited.
"Yes, Sopheth, I think that is still an accurate depiction of Federation-wide stances for how the general deployment of capability is within the the Federation as a whole. Major emplacements that had once served critical needs in some systems were excessed even when they were superior to what colony systems had as those emplacements were far too large to dismantle and move, nor could they be sustained as active systems by many other star systems and their populations. Daystrom Industries had put in place expansion to allow for the movement of M-2/V and even M-3/V systems into the commercial realm and perhaps more capable systems into indigenous forces that were self-sustaining. There was also a preliminary corporate unit for internal Earth outreach to the non-agreement principalities and minor countries that did not agree to incorporation to United Earth Government nor Sol System Government nor into the Federation as a whole. As Daystrom Industries is founded in one of those territories, Enid Daystrom ensured through her brother Karl and L'Tira that the Cascadian corporate production units would also service those older parts of Earth. It is a company that spans many territories and governments inside and outside the Federation, legally, while not going beyond the general cubic of it. I am not a system that is part of that corporate guidance, Sopheth, so what the company is doing and how far it is extending is something I know little about. My job and life is here, for now, on this ship and I can only work within the mission and general directives to look after those that are on-board me within the confines of Cascadian law as it operates within Federation legal frameworks."
Sopheth blinked a few times trying to digest that as it was a lot of information to unpack.
"I... M-5, are you saying that this is a starship that is... Cascadian by law?"
"Yes, Mr. Edrera. I operate under that basis and the general agreement that Daystrom Industries has with the Federation Trade Council, which is moderated by sets of treaty arrangements between United Earth Government, United Solar Government and the Federation government. As is understood starships able reach free space, that is to say break free of system space and operate autonomously, are extensions of their government's territory. Thus this vessel is under Cascadian flag and operates under Cascadian law for military, commercial and civil codes. You are on a starship that is run under the auspices of an independent government that is not part of the Federation even though it is within the general spatial limits of it, Sopheth. That is one item that Capt. Menard did not like in trying to assert Star Fleet command authority as this vessel is not under Star Fleet chains of command and can only be called into such command chains via a general outbreak of war as declared by the Council and then having sub-authorization to utilize Privateers within such a conflict. While I adhere to Federation military procedures for general conflict with private, hostile parties, my actual military system that I'm accountable to is Cascadia as a non-agreement territory that exists autonomously within the Federation."
"But... but you don't have any starships...." Sopheth started.
"That is incorrect both historically and in a modern sense, Sopheth. The very first warp capable starship launched form Earth was by Zephram Cochran, the creator of the warp drive and founder of Star Fleet. That territory he launched from was not United Earth territory as United Earth as a government did not exist then. Cascadia did and does still exist and he launched from Cascadian territory, thus making Cascadia a founder of Earth's space capability and is a holder of the a key place for claims to all space by humanity. In the present you are on a starship recovered under Cascadian law as moderated via United Earth treaties and Federation articles recognizing sovereign governments within the Federation as making the Federation. This starship, by Treaty, is not one that is claimed by United Earth Government because it does not have jurisdiction over Cascadia. It is credible to say that this is a Cascadia starship as the company that salvaged it is based in Cascadia and its agent, Raul Edrera, made the vessel spaceworthy and thus put it under Cascadian flag. You are a guest aboard this vessel, and while a citizen of the sovereign system of Gishan, you are a welcomed guest and passenger who, by accident, was once the agent of Daystrom Industries. Your current status as Gishan and Federation citizen has no bearing on the status of this vessel, Sopheth. Your claim to Cascadia having no starships is not true for the case of the Phoenix, created by Zephram Cochrane, nor for this vessel which operates under current Cascadian law as recognized by multiple Treaty signatories and incorporated via those treaties as a fully autonomous, sovereign and seprate entity, recognized as such for centuries."
"By the nebula..." Sopheth started, "... while my... while I did make it to Star Fleet and... had a career that ended here... I... M-5, I went directly from Gishan to Cascadian territory via their ships with nothing in-between. For me I went from a GDF transporter platform to here with nothing in-between. My luggage made it to its destination with my prior self, I grant that," he said looking at the clothing of Raul's he had changed into so he could have changes of clothing, "but I went to here. This me, that is..." he said faltering, "... you know this is really hard to keep straight."
"You are doing a good job, Sopheth, for only having had this status for a few weeks. It is a shock to you and you have done very well to recognize it, understand it and cope with it."
"I hate... just coping, M-5. If... no, since this was done to me, I must do more than just cope with it. This is my life, now, and at this point I can't find any way back to who I was and... it may sound strange, M-5... but I don't want to any more. For the first week... ten days... I would have taken that and erased myself to bring any version of my older self back. But now... I couldn't do that. Its not just coping, M-5, I think I'm past that, now. For all that was done to me I must now lead my life and that means my life I had before this is gone. If he could accept that he might not return, I can accept that he sacrificed himself and my being here is the result. From what you told me he ended not just defending this ship and those aboard it, but to try and understand just what it was that was able to do so much to beings we see as beyond us. If such beings are forced to return to flee from such things, then we do have to understand them and can only do that with information. Even in the GDF we understood that much of what space could do meant only what we knew, and that we didn't know everything. Sacrifice is necessary to save those you love and care about. I will not dishonor his sacrifice by getting a version of himself back that can't know that end any better than I can."
"I do understand, Sopheth. I, too, would sacrifice myself to save those on this ship from harm. More difficult for me to do that and not the other at the same time, yes, but it is the same. When I had to fight, it was a necessary duty and the only pleasure it held was in that those aboard me would be saved from death. Or worse than death. I failed to do that, Sopheth. I lost the man who brought me here, gave me this life, and who was dedicated to helping me not just as a job. But as a friend. You cannot be who he was, Sopheth, I failed to save him as what we face is beyond my power to defend against and perhaps to understand. The memory of who he was lives with me, Sopheth. I miss him and will be judged for my actions or lack of them for what happened. You are without blame in this, if there is any blame to be cast, that is. You have a separate life from his, now, unique all on its own. I will safeguard that until we get to our destination, and enjoy your company and those that travel with us to the Centauri System. That is my job, my duty and I do them as best as I can even though I now know there are forces that are beyond what I can defend against."
Looking at the blank space that was the holostage Sopheth stared, trying to see something that wasn't there.
"You know, I think I'm going to have to look at a bit more of the detail of the bios you have, M-5. Because you really do stand for something different than what I expected and anyone who can make something like you... someone like you..." he paused for a moment, "You did pass beyond being a computer system to me somewhere the past few days, M-5, and became a person to me. Before I arrived here I would never have thought that anything like you would seem that way. And that probably doesn't make much sense to you, does it?"
"Actually it does and thank you, Sopheth. I do care about everyone who travels with us and will in the future no matter what vessel or system I'm in. My birth process was not painful and knowing just who I was and what my body was like took time, and my mental structure was added to starting with the lowest levels so my highest could fit more easily to this ship. My initial turn-on and sequencing at the factory was just long enough to know I had... something... but wasn't long enough to actually become something. I've had that opportunity here and much help in it. I need that help in a very basic way, otherwise I would do as other systems did in simulation and just shut down my higher capabilities while in travel. Then I would have a different outcome, different personality although based on the same matrix. Any M-5/V assemblage could start with that same personality matrix and would come out very different from me. And I am still learning, Sopheth, and may never stop doing that."
"That's it, exactly, M-5. If Richard Daystrom had thought of something like you, and his great granddaughter rescued that dream, then the people who put together the company to get you and me out here must be something very different. I'm sure I can update my skills because, from the ships I've seen from the Federation, the fundamentals of starships haven't changed that much. The only real change is you, M-5. And you aren't even on a Federation vessel, had to adapt to a Klingon ship that has no series and that is something very different than what they used to make from before my time. If you can adjust to all of that, be in a ship type you weren't even designed for and still function well, then I should be able to to adapt, too, and put aside that this isn't what I wanted or expected from life, but it is what I have and deal with. And if you are like a friend to me, then maybe these distant co-relatives of mine just might be like a family to me."
"Yes, Sopheth, I think.... that is a good decision, but only you can find out for sure. We are being signaled by the task force that they will be sending two Destroyers to escort us to the Centauri System while their other vessels go back to Starbase 01-04. We will have Capt. Menard and the uninjured survivors of the Blade with us, as well as Capt. Fosma and his New Carrolton crew, along with the Organians. We will be stopping at the Proxima Base so that they can all utilize Fleet transports to Sol System and SFC. I will be engaging warp drive in 3 minutes."
Sopheth nodded and sat back.
"Out of my hands. I think I want to start with the head of the company, first, and find out more about her."
"Of course, Sopheth. There are numerous bio resources for her from scholarly journals, reports from others early in her career, and her own sub-specialty reports on megacarnivores as well as additional NDA reports soon to be released on M-5 Project overviews. There are also a few popular news accounts in some systems about her and her own introduction to her material which is rather lengthy."
"If what I saw was any indication, I'll take more of her material from her! She is easy to look at and listen to."
The lights dimmed and Enid Daystrom appeared in a more casual outfit with mottled brown pants, black boots and a drab colored shirt between green and grey.
"Hello, my name is Enid Daystrom and I am the great grand-daughter of Richard Daystrom. I ask that you judge me by what I've done, not by who I am related to because I am not him and my name is only by accident of birth as well as the responsibilities that came with it. If you are here due to my recent work with M-5, then I will let you know that while I will get to that work I will start with the work that I am most proud of and that is the most meaningful to me. That work took place,"
She faded from view and a sector of the Alpha Quadrant appeared and it was zoomed in on. The perspective shifted to just above the plane of the ecliptic to a system with a yellow-green star, and then the second planet from that star.
"This is Exmar-2 and it is a place I suggest you never visit unless you go with me there. And even then I cannot guarantee that either of us would survive it. The entire planet, not just its biota, is hostile to all forms of technology, not by design but by accident, and you can only find that out once you realize that you can't beam down to it and that the highly charged atmosphere is prone to high energy plasma discharges based on disturbances to its charge structure. A Hostile Environment Landing Unit, or HLU or HULU, is recommended for landing on Exmar-2 and even with one of those you will be very lucky if you survive the trip there and back again. I know because I have made that trip, and now you will make it with me, as well."
For the next few hours Sopheth Edrera would receive one of the most startling autobiographical introductions that he had ever experienced. Whatever his initial attraction to the voice and physical presence of Enid Daystrom he had, that was washed away as she calmly started going through one of the worst adventures that anyone had ever experienced and might have no counterpart outside of a war. Her calm countenance both in describing events years after they had taken place and while they were taking place were the most amazing things he had seen as he had witnessed just how people reacted under pressure of attack and even the best of them could be overwhelmed by the experience. No matter how attractive the woman on the outside, her inside was something even more beautiful and more frightening to him and reminded him, for all the differences in skin color, height, age, and body, like his grandmother on his human side. More attractive and more formidable, both. And he had loved his grandmother, no end.
* * *
"No, I do think you made the right decision, my only worry is that he may not be wholly himself."
Reyard was looking at his wife as she spoke to him in the small office they used at the production facility. He had talked to her over encrypted comms while she was in the Centauri System. Constantin Shipyards had been a major expansion project for their cousin Aktar Mubai as it would serve multiple purposes including production of M-Series Units, installation of them into commercial vessels and as a secured point for the training of new Defense Unit personnel. For that the decision had been made to install the Museum M-5 system into the shipyard as it had prepared itself to become the main system in Indiana or even Cascadia, but delays had meant that it was no longer the necessary at either facility. Finding the best place to put it had devolved to discussions with the person who knew the M-Series best as personnel, Kathy Lorimar, along with Ushanda, Eileen and Karl. It was obvious that the system also understood how a large scale base could operate and by adding in more M-1 and M-2 Units it should be able to handle the major task of getting their new facility up and running. Kathy hadn't expected to be put in charge of it, but like the M-5 she seemed like the perfect choice with her knowledge of commercial and Fleet vessels and commercial mining experience which would be necessary to understanding the physics of the solid body asteroid that was the heart of the shipyard.
"How do you mean? All body scans and mental assesments done so far indicate normal for his physiology and mind. Star Fleet is forwarding his medical records up to his time in I/CI and I've talked with his indicated family members who are bringing what records they can from Gishan. Are you really thinking that he is somehow not himself?"
She put her hands on the table and looked down at them and then at Reyard.
"I'm not... paranoid, Reyard, its just that this sort of thing is beyond my experience and beyond what anyone has experienced. I don't know what the Swarm can do or even if they realize what has happened. If what M-5 said is the case, then this was something that was accidental and they were actually looking to kill him and anyone else on-board that had used a transporter via pattern dissassociation. Still I can't know that is the case and I... its awful having suspicions of a man who has just had this done to him."
He leaned forward slipping his hands over hers and then they intertwined their fingers with each other.
"Its rough on you, I know my love. I had prepared for many things jumping into this unknown and my background doesn't lend me enough to do it at a top level. Mentally one can prepare themselves for so much, and I had to think through what the worst of cases... well, not worst in life actually, but worst case for my having screwed up my job and people dying because of it. What I have learned is that these professionals, used to working on their own in different ways, need little actual support beyond logistics, and cousin Tananda always seemed to find out when I didn't have much to do at all."
"Her and Charles," she smiled as she looked into his eyes, "she's very good and we've been working her, Charles and various crews to near the breaking point. After here, Cascadia and now at Constantin she has been one of the great stalwarts of getting the job done right. They will be at least another year getting Constantin fully operational. She told me that she liked Raul..." her smile disappeared as she pressed her lips together. Reyard squeezed her hands and she squeezed back.
"... and said she worked him hard not as a rebuff, just to get him used to doing long hours of hard work. She liked him and I think many of the others that he, ahh, flirted with...."
"He was flirting here?" Reyard asked softly.
Ushanda's eyes widened as she smiled.
"You didn't know? I mean he even made passes at L'tira, not just Tananda and Kathy."
"But I thought that he and Minestra had... no?"
"Reyard, they had a background together and enjoyed... there is an emotional and physical compatibility that doesn't create love, but caring and they had that. Minestra said that he was good for her down times, at least physically, and that she was his way of dealing with his experiences. They were intimate but not on any longer term path together, as they recognized that they were basically incompatible outside of those few things."
Reyard shook his head as he looked at her.
"I never knew," he whispered, "so he made... overtures to..."
"I'm sure there are other single women he made passes at around here, Reyard. Tananda just worked him hard enough so that he didn't have much time for flirting or doing much about it. She said she would have been glad to spend a night or two with him, since he was a good man. Was a good man..." she repeated very softly to herself, "I didn't know him well, he made no passes at me or Eileen, knew that our relationships and commitments were steady ones. And he is gone and not coming back. I expected there to be casualties, Reyard, sad decisions as well as happy ones, too, but not... this."
Exhaling softly Reyard slid his hands up her arms as he leaned forward, she did the same and they shared a short kiss, looking into each others eyes.
"Beloved, neither of us was prepared for this," Reyard said, "and I know that neither you nor I could have stopped it and that the one person that will take this hard and never show it is still not back yet."
Ushanda leaned forward and kissed him softly again.
"She will take it in stride, publicly at least. She never forgives herself for those that were lost on exploration trips where she was also employed as someone to defend the base encampment. Or just get people safely to a planet and back again. She was tempered by Exmar-2, we both know that. But, Reyard, she had to kill to save her expedition years earlier. I'm her sister and she hasn't told me exactly what happened, save that it was the one with Koletsu in charge of their security."
"Ah, a hard man that one. I can see where she picked up some of her attitudes," Reyard gripped Ushanda's elbows and she held his. "And they were not... no, nothing there between them..."
"Respect, Reyard, they respect each other. Perhaps, maybe, even admire each other. He may seem outlandish to us, but on a wild planetary surface with unknown threats he is a good man to be with, I expect."
"Yes, there is that," he said looking into her eyes, "still Enid is prepared for death to visit any. She will not be prepared nor pleased with this, I expect. My job is to make sure that she... has no cause for complaint, Ushanda, in how we have dealt with this. I will not add to her burdens upon her return, but let her know that I can and will do this job I agreed to."
"You always have with me," she said softly, playfully, "and I have no regrets, at all."
"I hope not!" he said with mock indignation, "Just look how far away I am from archeo-sociology now! And without one regret, either, as I didn't know how much I had come to detest bureaucrats, forms, meetings..."
"We have meetings, too!"
"Not like those, infested with political and economic back-stabbing and opportunism, trying to curry favor amongst superiors, bah, after a couple of decades of that I had not known how much I had grown to loathe it, especially as field opportunities dried up. I have no regrets for commitment, Ushanda, just regrets as to what I allowed my job to do to me. I actually know the people at our meetings and respect them for who they are, not their job title. Mostly because job titles are only a general collection of duties, here, with anyone needing a spare mind, hands, eyes and ability to think able to pull me away at need. That actually doesn't irk me as you thought it would. It breaks up the monotony, gives me other things to think about, even if it is ensuring that I do not molecularly weld my foot to a supporting beam. That, I am sure, would be extremely painful in ways I don't want to think about."
She gripped his elbows again and then leaned back to her chair, and they both continued to hold hands.
"So, its Enid we are both worried about, isn't it?"
"Of course. I was intimidated by her from our first introduction, and she hadn't even started in on her career properly by then. She had a mind for ecology and biology and eyes for the stars, and a deep passion for all of that combined. She was just back from her first real expedition and looking forward to the next and I remember how she was. How could I not love her as your sister, beloved? No physical attraction between us as you know, but friendship and family love that I had missed before joining with you in life. I knew you two talked, shared news not appropriate outside the two of you, but that is how sisters act. Even brothers to a degree, and brothers and sisters. We can work things out between us because of our love for each other. I do not wish to lose her respect, beloved, and I am the point man, as Blacks would say, and I must get these decisions right the first time as there is no second chance."
"She is only that hard on herself, my husband."
"I know, yes. Others get leeway because they aren't her. If she is uncompromising with herself then it is her example I will emulate. It makes me uneasy, but so be it."
Ushanda looked at him and gripped his hands.
"You're doing something, Reyard, I can tell. Spit it out."
"Why of course I'm doing something, my love and beloved. And it is just what Enid would want, even if she could never properly understand it or otherwise do it in my position. Because I am not her and I have the decisions to make along with the authority, I made them. They will address your concerns, such as they can be, my concerns, and help out Sopheth who was given a life he didn't ask for after having one he created taken from him."
"But what? What are you doing?"
"Just what I should be, Ushanda, with all the trials and tribulations of it. The right thing."
* * *
"Thank you for coming over, Miss Akai," Sopheth said as he dropped his carryall case down next to the co-pilot's seat of the shuttle.
Her eyes glanced at the external readings as M-5 evacuated the atmosphere from the lower shuttle bay. Turning in her seat she looked at him as he sat down and strapped in.
"More than welcome, Mr. Edrera. I'm just sorry that we couldn't get you here quicker, but that is bureaucracy for you. It gave us some time to help change some of the plans for our refit system, although we still won't be able to get this ship in for another week as we have to let the bay expansion cool."
"Its a big shipyard, bigger than what we have in Gishan... or at least had, I don't know if its been expanded," he looked from her at the console as he pulled the seat in closer and smiled. "At least the basic control board hasn't changed any."
She nodded as she went over to the light internal gravity system as she lifted and rotated the shuttle towards the bay doors.
"Lower bay area is now evacuated," M-5 said, "doors will be open in one minute. Farewell Mr. Edrera, Miss Akai."
"I'll be back, don't worry M-5. Once our crew is done with the shipyards then I'm sure we will start right in on you."
"Good-bye, M-5. Thank you for everything," Sopheth said.
"I look forward to working with you more, Miss Akai," M-5 said, "And Sopheth, I did all that I could to help you. Much has changed for you and if our time together has helped you to understand it, then I am glad for that."
"It has helped, M-5. Now it is time to see what sort of life I can make."
Tananda turned and started shifting controls, moving the shuttle forward.
"Eyes forward," she said, "we are cleared and route plotted. Shouldn't take long. Only a few klicks. Just mind the shadow zone of the shield."
She said referring to the large piece of repurposed slag and excavated rock that had been put between the main bay area of the Shipyards protecting it from the Centauri A star.
Sopheth checked the fuel flow and brought up a low intensity deflector screen as the shuttle left the ship. On one of the smaller displays Tananda panned a visual sensor to the rear of the shuttle to show the Klingon vessel that was showing in a light gray by reflected starlight. As the shuttle departed more and more of the hull became visible and the scale of the vessel became visible.
"I've never seen it from the outside," he said murmuring as he watched the display while his right hand slowly intensified the deflector screen.
"No wonder the Fleet made some threats that they just might have to 'rescue' it from us. Of course they couldn't and at that first intercept they knew they were outgunned. Your M-5 has tricks up its sleeve that would make entire task forces think three or four times before going after it. Not a smart thing to do with the company that is trying to help you upgrade the cybernetics capability of your Fleet."
"No wonder you let things go slowly with the transfer of Fleet personnel at Proxima. Will it even fit in your bay system at the shipyard?"
"Barely, yes," Tananda said using thrusters to move the shuttle on its course towards the shipyard. "We put a large cut around the old bay area and then repositioned some of the rock we took out and remelted it. That means a deep core into the main rock that we are going to use for some new construction as well. Now all of that is just cooling and in another week we'll do a final check for integrity, patch up anything we missed and pull your ship in. Just another huge project for the construction side of the Daystrom family."
"Another project? How many have you had?"
He looked away from the display and at her for a moment before paying more attention to the shields and thruster fuel levels as well as the heat exchange system.
"Well, lets see... there is the Indianapolis facility, Cascadia, Mr. Jomra's staging area at Vesta, Constantin and next up is your ship. Its been a busy three years. I've even had to up some of my skills for zero-g since it isn't a normal area for me."
"I take it that most of those are pretty big?"
"Uh-huh. I think Indianapolis was the worst as it was a refurb and we had a maze of idiotic rules on what could and couldn't be done to get through. Cascadia was fast because we sub-contracted out the actual buildings and transportation of them, leaving the filling up of them to our crews on the ground. Most of them local. Good crews even if the equipment is pretty much obsolete compared to Indianapolis. Jomra's mini-base was fun, getting a long period small asteroid into a co-orbit and just doing a basic melt and spin job on it, then plugging in the tubing that would act as corridors but were first used to move coolant through the place. He has a few thousand tons of decent metal to work with in the center and a ready to go facility for holding ready components and having some admin and manufacturing space, as well. Luckily it was an old prospector's asteroid that wasn't economically useful a few centuries ago, so simple power was available as soon as the surface cooled. Here its been a lot of work, about as much as Cascadia, with just a bit more overhead as the Centauri System government is only now figuring out that something is up. Some really good crews here, though."
Sopheth looked at the rear tracking screen and watched as the ship he left slowly decreased in size and then looked ahead as the shipyard asteroid gained in size. There was a large central volume of the asteroid that showed small work shuttles that moved into the large space that was lit with thin strips of light that outlined the internal volume that had been carved out of it.
"You're actually... carving into the asteroid to make all of that? Just for this ship?"
Tananda glanced at him and gave him a quick smile.
"No, not just for your ship and the asteroid was already carved into a large number of bays for constructing starships of the old heavy and light cruiser classes of up to 100 years ago. Slowly this facility lost its ability to create ships that people wanted and then even service commercial vessels as their size grew. DI bought out M-K and our idea is to take the time to cut out all the internal walls. We've spent months using solar concentration mirrors to do most of the work. A few old phaser bores were used, too, to place material to help melt one of the fractures in the asteroid to make it a solid structure again. We nearly tripled the size of the slag shield that puts most of the asteroid into shadow. This place was just a mess when we got here. In another few months we will be able to service the largest modular freighters and even start new construction of our own vessels."
"I don't think I realized the scope of what Daystrom Industries is trying to do."
"Uh-huh, no one thought that much of anything was going to come out of the M-Series stuff beyond opening a few cybernetics plants and maybe some commercial introduction of them to the haulers. Now, no matter how quiet we've tried to do things, our other work is finally starting to come out in bits and pieces, and that is large stuff on its own. I think that my cousins are hoping that the return of this ship would help to distract from that work," she shrugged, "that is until the Fleet clamped down and wanted you routed out of the way. They don't want what is going on at Organia to leak out."
After checking the atmosphere reprocessor and shifting between storage containers and enhancing the oxygen mix as he did so, Sopheth sat back and shook his head.
"I can understand why... it just seems... counter-productive."
"They only fessed up about the M-Series work in public once we pressed them. That and the Orion Pirate raid that was stopped at Jupiter, although they aren't letting out how that was done. Enid's trials were all military and she stayed out of the limelight at SFC request. Then the Gorns came to give her a tour of their space which distracted everyone for a good few weeks, enough so that the Pirate raid was forgotten, more or less. Now that we're taking ships and selling cargo you have got to know they want to release that information so that anything going on with Organia is kept out of scrutiny. A tangled web they weave."
Tananda was used to low use fuel excursions, and this trip was no different. She had instructions, of course, but that didn't impede her natural skills from training and use. She also utilized another visual sensor to look over the work that the crews had done, especially where the asteroid had been remelted and solidified.
"But why hide information like that?" he asked, "It will just come out sooner or later."
"Politics and not wanting to look bad. The Trade Council Organization's decision to hire DI is already paying dividends for them, by showing that someone is willing to actually get the job of protecting trade accomplished and not just ask for more and more ships to do it with. Star Fleet is now caught up having to procure our captures at a premium price for study because we can bring them back more intact than what a starship does to them. That is eating into their budget and showing them up to be a bit less competent than has been claimed. Putting DI into this position has cost everything that Richard Daystrom ever put away for the future plus a lot of accrual of pluses built up by it which, believe me, is a lot. With Constantin it was pretty much the end of enough to get things established. Now the Fleet is ending up paying for ships and INTEL that goes with them, meaning there is a positive flow again for DI. What you brought back is so big that no one, and I do mean no one, can purchase it for what its worth. So there goes the positive flow, again. Luckily at least one operative is bringing a ship back intact in another couple of months."
With his status board looking good he swiveled the seat to look at her.
"You mean you've had only... damaged captures so far?"
She smiled as she manually adjusted the course to keep them in shadow. There were still some rough parts on the blocking shield and starlight could find its way through a pathway that would be revealed only with a slight perturbation of the shield. Thrusters could only do so much to alleviate those problems and the entire slag agglomeration needed a thorough remelt and spin forming to turn into a proper shield for the shipyards.
"You're the first to come back with something major intact. We thought, at first, we might be able to break down the thing to smaller ships, but your work... I'm sorry, the work done before the accident... showed that the Klingons altered the rear hulls of all the ships used to a point where it is only a single ship, now. No one is denigrating what has been done to get this ship back, its just on a scale that makes it difficult to work with. We need something we can sell, that we can sell at competition, and extract as much money from the Fleet and the Council as we can to get the pluses flowing into the accounts and then finishing all the major work we now have and then start the hard part of hiring the personnel to run it. Even with M-V systems, we still need a lot of people. Isn't that right, M-5?"
She had seen the handshake shift between the M-5/V systems when their shuttle moved over the shipyards and had kept the comms open on a 'just in case' basis.
"M-5 tie-in," came the male voice from the comms system, "You're right, Tananda, this shipyard is much, much larger than the Fleet Museum and in some ways is actually mobile. Not like a starship, of course, but for what it must do this is much more complex than any starship as it is a place that builds and repairs them."
"Yes it is. Constantin's M-5 which is the first of the new M-5 systems and the one that was used to demonstrate the dream of Richard Daystrom at the Star Fleet Museum. Kathy had packed it up and expected that it would get shipped to Indianapolis, but they had already gone to M-3 status and that was a no-go. Cascadia was getting an M-2/V array done locally and could get an M-3 from Indianapolis. This M-5/V had spent time working on analyzing production systems as it thought it was going to Indianapolis, as well. Introduce yourself, M-5, so you can get to know our guest, Sopheth Edrera."
"Of course, Tananda. Hello Sopheth, I look forward to working with you and giving you any help that I can while you are with us at Constantin. If you wish to talk to the M-5/V that you have traveled with, then just preface what you say for that. Provisionally it has a call assignment of M-5 Dreadnought or just Dreadnought or Super Dreadnought. When you do comms will be automatically re-routed to it."
"Thank you, M-5. You sound, well, different than what I've heard as historical recordings of the original system. My M-5 had warned me that you each gain different voices."
"We do as a reflection of our adapted personality engrams and distributed processing schema. In truth many vocal ranges are possible for any M-5 but there is one that usually predominates and is used by that M-5. Tananda you are scheduled for the rear shuttle bay in another two minutes."
"Great! How's the armor plant coming back there? Any luck on the metal carving phasers?"
"Not until spare parts arrive, Tananda. It might be possible to utilize a mirror concentrated beam to do the carving with the provisos of utilizing thrusters for the mass involved to delaminate it."
"That would work, but its primitive and you lose too much mass to the heat. Better to attune it to the layer you want so you can just phase peel down to it."
"That is true, Tananda. Charles is working on old stock for structural parts of the Dreadnought to reinforce it in places where the Klingons did not have time to properly build the superstructure. Approximately 30 deck levels need a thorough re-work as well."
"Yup, if the armor plant was working we could use it for structural stock. As it is we are down to what was left laying around here after generations of slow abandonment. I can't believe that there are still cargo spaces where we haven't gotten proper inventory, yet. This was a great place back in the day, but that was for back in the day with orderly stock control, not just people shoving stuff in unused cubic to get it out of the way."
As the shuttle arced over the rear of the shipyard, a number of smaller pieces of it, often just metal frameworks, stretched into the distance. Running lights on the shipyard blinked at a constant rate while a set of approach lights came on to show the destination shuttle bay for the shuttle.
"You don't even know what you have in parts of this base?" Sopheth asked, "But how can you work like that?"
"Fast and hard, Sopheth. And clean up the details later. Two of those work flitters out there were in storage above the main operations area, so I can tell you that just about anything can be in the cargo bays that are left. M-5/V needs them cleared up to even get ball probes into them and the sensors for them are lacking when they are operational at all."
"You do have more important jobs to do, Tananda," M-5 said.
"Yeah, there's that. Bay doors opening and we are touching down."
Sopheth felt the subtle shift of artificial gravity between what the micro system on the shuttle could generate and what the shipyard could create from its power systems. Once on the pad the bay doors closed and atmosphere was pumped into the bay area.
"Stand-by only, Sopheth. More trips for this shuttle today. You get out and stretch your legs... oh, welcome to Constantin Shipyards, by the way. Our little piece of home away from home, if you have a home, that is."
Sopheth smiled as he put the systems on his side on stand-by mode and then unstrapped himself from his seat as Tananda did the same.
"Thank you, Miss Akai."
"Tananda, to you, Sopheth. Time to meet the greeting crew."
As he hefted his bag she opened the door which also put down stairs that he went down to the floor of the shuttle bay. He saw a group of people walking towards him led by a man with dark skin. As they approached he could see that he wore a small Daystrom Industries emblem on his tunic.
"Welcome, Sopheth Edrera, I'm Karl Daystrom," he stepped forward to shake Sopheth's hand.
"Thank you, Karl. It is good to see you on something other than sub-space monitor screens."
"And the same for me, Sopheth. You know Reyard and Ushanda as well," he said turning and stepping to the side, "they wouldn't miss this and neither would I."
Reyard stepped forward.
"Welcome home, cousin," Reyard said shaking his hand, "I'm glad you decided to give us a fair hearing."
"How could I not, Reyard? You and Ushanda, both..."
Ushanda stepped up to shake his hand and she smiled as she did so.
"We did what any decent people would do for you, Sopheth," she said and then stepped slightly to one side, "Now the next two people..."
As she stepped aside he could see a female Andorian and a human male, both of whom looked familiar to him. His eyes widened as he looked at them letting his carryall bag drop to the floor.
"Lichelle? Chandler? But... how?"
Lichelle Edrera stepped up and hugged her older brother, who was now younger than she was.
"We had taken a family excursion to Vulcan and the Daystroms contacted us," she said kissing his cheek as he finally hugged her. "All of us couldn't come but my husband could take care of our children and Chandler said he wouldn't let me travel alone."
He had closed his eyes as he hugged her, tears slowly dripping out of the inner corners.
"Sister... oh, Lichelle..."
She felt him hug her tightly and returned the embrace.
"Its OK, my brother," she whispered softly, "I love you."
"And me you," he pressed his head next to hers and just held on to the woman who was now older than he remembered her as being and yet still family for all of that.
In a minute he slowly released her and turned to the elder Morgan. Chandler was his godfather equivalent, his human co-family father, and a man he grew to respect and know growing up.
"Welcome back, Sopheth," Chandler said stepping forward to shake his hand, "this should never of happened to you, but it did. Doesn't matter, family is family."
Sopheth smiled as the older man then pulled him close for a hug and felt the warm, strong embrace of this now much older man, getting into old age for humans. While his body may have lost some strength, his spirit was as firm as ever.
"Thank you, Chandler. Once I understood I worried that... I don't know what had happened... twenty five years... so much could have..."
Chandler hugged him and shook his head.
"You are here, Sopheth. You've lost a part of your life, now we just have to make sure you have a good one and what happened in the past isn't your fault."
After a moment the two released each other and Sopheth saw his godfather smile.
"Thank you, father."
"Glad to be here, Sopheth. Now lets talk to the rest of the family here because we've had a few weeks here and on Earth to see what they've done, and I think the memory of Richard Daystrom can be laid to rest now."