After arriving at the Daystrom Industries Indiana Plant, Raul had been shocked to see the state of disrepair, neglect and overgrowth that were the main features of the facility. Only the main administrative building, which was tiny in comparison to any of its modern counter-parts, was functioning fully, while the rooms set aside for the new arrivals did have power, a bed, clothing storage and sanitary facilities, they were only up to a standard that Raul would classify as 'primitive' and belonging more to Earth's 20th century than to any 24th century counter-part.
As an I/CI operative he had been trained on how to adjust to nearly any circumstance from outright survival on a hostile world with an an unbreathable atmosphere and damaged life support suit to transition through space vacuum for up to a minute and everything that was an off-shoot of known technology across the plethora of Federation worlds over times going back hundreds of years. The change of clothes, lunchpak and having just enough time to get situated before the introductory briefing and sign-on to Daystrom Industries was welcomed time.
A briefing that included the revival of the M-Series systems, how they worked and then the actual business end of the work of Enid Daystrom was not something he could easily process. As his old leader Den Blacks had warned before the briefing, their way of looking at the Federation was about to be turned inside-out and then shaken up. So much of what he had learned from the Gishan Defense Forces, the Fleet Academy, his time in Star Fleet and then in I/CI depended on some very basic premises which were now liquidated out from under him.
Starships were no longer bastions or a safe haven, or a place to retreat to as they could be attacked and dismembered by a lone individual with the proper weapon and training. The apparent safety of starships was now only apparent, not rock solid, and it no longer took a concentrated and massive force of attack to disable or destroy one, even though destruction was only something that happened if all safety interlocks were overwhelmed. They were safety interlocks for a reason: to prevent them from being overwhelmed. Now the lethal heart of the power system could be rendered inert or, even worse, put into a self-destructive mode without the need of a command or malicious and lenghty work by someone hostile to the ship who was on-board, but by a lone individual working from the outside of a starship. A starship with shields up. Destroyed as its very safety systems contributed to its own demise.
Over the presentation holostage of the administrative conference room the forward hull of the Shrike and hull of the Ara slowly rotated in mid-air. A set of involuntary tremors went through his body, the Andorian equivalent to a shiver, and done for the same biophysical reasons as a response to the horrifically unknown. Less than an hour ago he decided with Minestra that this was an organization worth being a part of.
"I told you so," Blacks said leaning next to Raul seated at the main table, "this changes everything."
"And that is the whole of the presentation," Reyard Chambliss said standing next to the holoprojection platform, "the final imagery and rebuild of interiors of the forward hull of the Shrike and the remains of the Ara are from Star Fleet's Corps of Engineers as this incident took part during the M-5 system installation and test."
"That is awesome," Minestra said looking Reyard and then back to the floating ships, "and that was done by the head of the company?"
"Yes," Ushanda said sitting at the end of the table next to Blacks, "Enid had been working on the problems associated with her expedition to Exmar-2 and realized that shield technology has an inherent design limitation because it nearly ended her life."
"Uh-huh, I don't know how many times I cratered out running through that. Even with help from Kathy it wasn't easy taking in what all the flight controls were telling me. No combat pilot would have survived that."
"One didn't, he was a retired Fleet heavy lift and assistance officer, Captain Thomas Elmers. The plasma ball went right through his side of the shuttle," Tananda Akai said sitting at a smaller console near the holoplatform.
"But what about the weapons, themselves? The Ara had its shields up and the Shrike had been raising theirs, how did the rounds get through the shields?"
"You are both currently under NDA, Raul, with Mr. Blacks having been read on to the company some time before your arrival. To understand the basics of functioning of what Enid created, you need to be an employee, which means you will also agree to work in the area of ship taking for Daystrom Industries under the Federation Trade Organization as chartered by the Council."
Minestra looked at Blacks.
"Den, is that legit?"
Den Blacks smiled and nodded.
"Extremely legit, Min. You will not get detailed design insight into the equipment, but the basics of how it works, what it does and why it does what it does and enough to operate it."
Raul leaned forward and turned to look at Ushanda.
"Who will we be going after?" he asked softly.
Ushanda nodded and ships appeared in profile next to the one floating above the platform with name, designation and other pertinent information on activities next to them. Ship by ship flashed up and that was interspersed by names and images of individuals if they were available.
"Anyone on the Federation Piracy Activity List or other factions or groups without National designation that are making war on the Federation, its commerce or her citizens. Plus all on the Most Wanted list compiled across the Federation. Daystrom Industries would also like proof of those organizations, groups, industries, corporations and individuals supporting such activities to place legal charges against them. Anyone actively fighting with those individuals on the list are also considered Pirates and may be brought in with demonstration of that activity."
He had seen Minestra smile at that and he knew that Den's old Group had its own ideas about how many of these individuals and organizations operated that were at odds with the rest of I/CI and the Fleet as a whole. This problem had been kicked around by them for years in off-hours, and even with no official sanction, the picture of how different operations actually worked, not just how everyone thought they worked, was pieced together, at least in part. Their conclusion was that I/CI couldn't properly get an assignment to start removing these organizations as it required too many people working at critical weak points inside and amongst organizations. They had tried informing some of the policing organizations, and that got the usual 'this isn't your line of work, butt out' attitude that was common for bureaucratic turf wars. Actually doing a job was secondary to protecting the turf of one's small domain within the bureaucracy. For a few years the core of Den's group had worked on this side-problem that effected only a tiny fraction of Federation trade to see how it drove larger events inside and outside the Federation.
Now they were given a chance to work outside all normal bureuacracy and find out if their ideas were the right ones or not. If they were wrong they would come up empty, multiple times over. If they were right...
His specialty had been in setting up the details of operations, scouting, adjusting missions to local conditions which was the meat of any I/CI operation. Each person had to know all the critical roles, of course, but everyone had a natural ability towards one area or another and his was that assesment and adjusting part. He knew that Den wanted to start unravelling organizations, stop the flow of materials and vital INTEL that had caused so many uprisings and revolutions and yet were driven by the by-products of socio-criminal organizations that intertwined with each other. Orion Pirates were key, yes, but their position had slowly morphed over decades to becoming backers of other organizations, moving illicit goods, serving as transfer and payment backbone. And off of every transfer, every payment, every shipment that involved their ships, they made a small amount. That added up and had become a shadow trade system that spanned from the edges of the Romulan Empire to the other side of the galaxy with the Cardassians and Dominion, and all points in-between.
Gone were the days of Orion Pirates directly challenging Star Fleet vessels. Even trade raiding had moved to the periphery of space held by the Federation, Romulans and Klingons. The break-up of the Klingon Empire was a question that had been an ongoing one, and the role of the Orion Pirates in backing the border Independent Systems was clear: a free space was being carved out of the Klingon Empire and, when they could, even amongst Federation Systems who no longer felt safe on or near the old KNZ. Even today that region of space that bordered the Tholian Enclave, edge of the Romulan Empire, Federation and rump Klingon Empire, was one that was no longer an organized star faring group, but one that tended to group together against incursions. It was a region that gave I/CI, the Diplomatic Corps and Star Fleet headaches as it was a porous border as no one wanted to have a permanent presence by any of the larger space-faring organizations on its borders. And yet they all played in the Great Game of intrigue, trade, and 'lets you and him fight'. That was neither a cause nor result of the lower level criminal activities that still went on everywhere at low levels. But that low level material fed into the Independents who were just that: Independent of all exterior law.
After the multi-fleet Cardassian/Dominion conflict with the Federation, Klingons and Romulans assisting, the loss of ships had thinned out the ability to actually patrol space well. The Federation was left with the suspicion that the Romulans had slipped ships into Federation space either intentionally or unintentionally, with some Families going Corsair. Romulans allowed trade, but it was strictly controlled with the Federation and was seen as a way to cut out some of the Independents from their intermediary role and push them to rely more on main fleets than simple amalgam ones. Klingons regained territory and even annexed some new territory. The Federation tried to work out an amicable peace to allow greater autonomy and yet keep some larger system in place in the Cardassian/Dominion cubic.
With the larger systems and Fleet degraded and years to rebuild, the cropping up of new colonies, fusion colonies put down by irate settlers from multiple species, and the Independents who were looking to slowly increase their trade all put the Federation at risk of having a large section of post-Klingon collapse space now fully collapse outside of the realms of Far and Deep Stations it had built, purchased or refurbished. Then when you added the Free Port systems above and below the ecliptic, the idea of actually having a region of space that an organized civilization could control became questionable.
Only one bright spot was in that mess, and it was the group that had given Enid Daystrom information during the stand-up project: the Gorns. Their space was not penetrated by any of their neighbors. Period. It was obvious that the Romulans had an ongoing conflict with them, but Gorns appeared to not even notice that. Rumors of Orion Pirates a few decades previously trying to push an actual battle fleet through and losing it, was just that: rumor. Tholians had tried to make approaches by going through the RNZ cubic, itself a pretty dangerous cubic along the plane of the ecliptic, and failed. Klingons hadn't bothered and the Cardassians and Dominion hadn't even been aware of Gorns. Only the Federation, by treating them with extreme kid gloves, being friendly but no oppressively so (a first for the Diplomatic Corps and not to be repeated!) had gained anything from them.
It was with all of that going through his mind that Raul took stock of the spartan quarters, simple bed, chest of drawers, closet and washroom that he had been assigned and realized that it wasn't even fully interactive. There was only one display surface and it sat on the desk, and appeared to be a relatively new interface screen attached to its own computing system, which no doubt linked up with all the other systems locally. There were three chairs in the room, one for the desk and two across from the entrance to the washroom. His personal pod and other amenities he had brought with him were on collapsible stands in the meager open space of the room.
"I've been in worse," he said to himself as he walked to the materials he had brought with him.
His mind continued to work on where he was, what the threats were and just what it was that was necessary to get things going. Sometimes that wouldn't be obvious and with so much needing to be done he first had to find out what it was that was actually being done so he could find out what needed to be done.
Tananda checked her schedule again as she ate breakfast, bringing up the overview of the Indianapolis plant as she looked at where work was ongoing. Getting some basic living quarters, no matter how minimal, had been a first accomplishment for the work crews and now she looked at what had to be done to get the main production facilities in order. One of the major factors was that separate buildings needed to be joined, but only after integrating the foundation structures between them. That meant a lot of digging and not much equipment to do it. She started laying out the plan for all of that work to get the main buildings connected together, make sure that work crews following up her crew could put down the proper framing and do the final connection work.
Lists started to multiply out of the main job that included the underlying soils and bedrock on the site, which meant consulting with an expert on what the best way was to work with the older foundations and put in newer ones that wouldn't compromise the older structures. She moved the surface walkways off the major lists and tagged it as being out of her area and would have to wait until after the construction was done. She smiled hoping that Kembe would understand that, and the attempt to keep her around the area would be a failure because of the need to get a second site up and running. Subtle is the romancing from plant managers, but such managers knew better than to cross up larger plans, which were driven by Karl.
"Ah, family," she said smiling as data cascaded in the space around her at the cafeteria table.
"Mind if I join you?" she heard to her left and she looked back and up to see Raul Edrera holding a tray with covered dishes on it.
"Not at all, Mr. Edrera," she said, "since you're being put on my work tasking area, its a perfect time to let you see the part of all of this that you are going to miss! Plus we are short-handed. Everyone works at whatever is necessary and you are still in the approval process but provisionally on the rolls, so that means helping getting the production facility going. So have a seat and we'll see what I can get you going with."
Raul smiled and said 'Thanks', then went to the seat across from her and sat down, and her data system moved material to make way for him. As he uncovered his simple breakfast that would have been known to centuries of humans, he opened the small container that held nutrative citrus juice and took a sip from it.
"So what's your real job here?" he asked as she moved taskings around her and addressed problems and contingencies.
Tananda chuckled, shifted in her seat and looked at Raul through the floating data and processes that she had brought up around her.
"I'm the details girl, the immediate job boss, and the person you want to run from if you see me coming with a task schedule. If you aren't tasked to some other job or actively doing something else and on DI time, then I get to grab you and have you do something useful. And its really no use running, either."
He looked at her, and stared at her as she looked at him.
"Everyone but your boss, surely..." he whispered.
Chuckling Tananda shook her head, but still looked at him.
"I'll drag in Kembe if he is slacking off. I've done that with Karl, Eileen, Reyard, Ushanda... doesn't matter. Everyone knows that the details must be dealt with, the facility must get its infrastructure put in place and if you can't figure out what you should be doing, then I can find something for you to do. Hell I put the boss' kids to work if they decide to play tag or something around here. There are always tools to be fetched, cable to be dragged, boxes of all sizes to be moved around, and just plain old buildings that need to be demolished. Doesn't matter who you are. If you work here then I'm the one tasked to make sure you really do some work. The only one I can't really get is Charles. He is busy. He has to put the stuff up on the foundations I have to get prepped. I'm supposed to really answer to Kembe, but I really answer to Charles."
Raul blinked and shivered as he realized just what sort of person he was dealing with, and what sort of organization this was. It wasn't the structured I/CI environment with loosely run Groups to get jobs done. Nor was it the structured and somewhat better run Star Fleet, nor was it a large company like McGruder-Korath. No this was something far below those levels, and something fundamental to the Federation: a small enterprise run by a family group. He took stock of her outfit which would be a basic riggers or working outfit normally seen in any environment from shifting stock at warehouses to building structures in hostile climates. Boots, work pants, work shirt and outer jacket that all worked together to heat and cool the individual, offer basic protection, and generally be in a color that ran from blue to brown.
Tananda's clothing was just like that, but fit her far better than work clothes of any sort, even those done by customizing programs for each individual, had any right to do. She had obviously put in extras in the clothing, hints of shifts in seams, form-fitting in some areas of the upper torso and lower legs, but more fluid elsewhere, and boots that were black and a worn black, not one of the duralast, evershine types. He revised that as they might once have been of that sort of boot, but were now dull, scraped and indicated that more than one or two high power discharges had gone off by them. He had thought that she was a dancer, or lithe enough to be one or a gymnast or some other equivalent of that, until he took stock of her clothes. Her gloves were a dead giveaway of how hard she worked: they had fraying seams, minor rips in the fabric and generally should have been replaced months ago.. if it weren't for the fact that she had a new pair hanging out of a pocket with their reproduction date being two weeks ago and only the cuffs of the current pair shone like something close to new.
"What's on the agenda for today, then?" he asked as he broke eye contact and started to eat breakfast.
Glancing at her work schedule, timelines, work charts, and completion date she said, "I've got one crew on trenching, another on moving cable, a few guys making forms to fit in the trench, and no one to start hauling tools needed for the next phase of the second trench, or to get a matrix set up once the forms are finished for trench one, and no one really starting trench two or three."
She looked at him as he ate.
"I hope you don't mind hard work, Mr. Edrera. You get to stick by me today so I can scope out what you can do, then tomorrow you get real work to do. And lots of it."
He smiled and sipped his coffee which was cooling.
"I don't mind at all, Miss Akai. But where can I get a set of gloves like yours?"
She raised her eyebrows as she shifted up a wardrobe section and sent a glove design over to him.
"They don't last me long, but fit well. I get a box of them a month. Maybe they will wear longer for you..."
New box a month. Current package two weeks old. How many in a box? He glanced at the listing. Ten. Heavy multi-use and multi-environment riggers gloves. Over two a week. Surely no one went through more than three pairs of this type of glove a year?
Tananda put covers back over her empty dishes and drank down the rest of her container of water, while her displays condensed around her as she stood up.
"Five minutes to finish up here, Mr. Edrera. Then meet me over at the Main Building in its storage area in fifteen. I'll be picking up stragglers and late-comers as we go."
The chronometer display for the room showed 0610 and that the sun was not up yet.
Tananda could feel him watch her as she walked over to the recycler, put her tray in it and then toss in her old pair of gloves and the wrapping for the new pair she put on. She waved back to him across the sparsely populated cafeteria and he waved to her as he hurried to finish up. She thought that for a young middle-aged Andorian, Raul Edrera was good looking, but obviously not really cut out for what was coming up. As she walked out of the cafeteria she whispered to herself, 'Perhaps I should go easy on him...'
'Nah, if he can't hack it with me, then he really shouldn't be here.'
Whistling softly her footsteps carried her quickly and efficiently out of the side building that they had rigged up as working quarters. Thoughts of Raul drifted from her mind as she looked up.
"Shame we have to tear that down soon," she said to no one in particular and then turned to look across the muddied field towards the main work buildings, keeping an eager eye out for slackers, drifters, or anyone needing something to do. She didn't need augmentation to see that the area ahead was without any of those sorts of people. Tomorrow she would change up her schedule and catch those who thought that merely tracking her would be enough to save them from work. Another week or two of that and she just might get a few things finished.
Raul stopped to catch his breath and push his protective headgear back to let him wipe his sleeve across his forehead. He looked at the supply racks in the materials deployment environment, aka 'the cable shack' and checked exactly what it was he was sent to get. The readout on the back of his sleeve blurrily read, '2 Reels, 50m multisystem cable, armored' which he knew was going into the conduit that was being laid down between each set of foundations. The sensor networks that were in the foundations were old and the multisystem cable was the closest to-spec connector that could be had without having to go to custom fabrication. The cable shack had row upon row of cabling on spools along tiers of shelving to serve everything from surface sensor nets to mains power connections to fiber optic comms and much more. A facility this size that was being refurbished needed to get modern cable for everything as most of the older stuff had either detriorated, rotted out or was plain missing.
He stepped through the air curtain and into the shack and walked over its utilitarian tiled floor that had an auto-cleaner go over it at least once in each day cycle. There was a bench to do spool to spool transfers and a set of multi-headed cutters to go through a plethora of cable types, plus hand cutters for cables that didn't need such power applied to it. Checking the displays he moved from sensor and comms cable that was unshielded through unshielded power cabling and shielded comms...it was the last row, with the sturdiest rack, that had the armored cable types on it and he walked slowly making sure he could find the right cable so he wouldn't have to lug it back after getting it.
Heavy footsteps announced someone else in the room and Raul turned as the footsteps approached down the aisle. He saw a human with thick shirt and work pants, long boots that went past the ankle, and a hard hat that had seen a number of incidents that had scraped and gouged it in many places. His sleeves were rolled up, his face was red and a blue bandanna was tied around his neck. The man smiled as he came towards Raul.
"Hello... Raul is it?"
As he approached the man took off the glove from his right hand to shake his.
"Charles Wollat, the Foreman around here. You with Tananda's crew, right?"
"Yes, we are doing the foundation work between buildings."
"Awful work. We have a major shoring up to do with what should be the crew quarters, but is in something I would call 'condemned' state. Its what you get leaving old buildings and foundations to sit a few decades, things go to hell."
Raul shuddered thinking about what that must be taking, as it was a larger and more intense job than the mere foundation connecting he was on.
"I just need to get some armored multicon," Charles said, "that and power conduit which I can pick up out back."
Raul looked at him as the man got his gloves back on and stepped past Raul down the racking.
"Is that the same we're using for the foundation connections? Because I need two 50m reels of that."
Charles reached out and took a safety stop and twisted it until it recessed into the tube.
"Yah, we are using up this stuff at a fair clip," Charles said moving spools down the tube to the end, "here let me get this 100m spool out of the way..." he said as he grabbed a large spool of dull grey cabling and set it on the floor, "50m multicon? Right here."
Raul stepped next to him as Charles slipped his hand past two spools and pushed them to the end of the rack. He looked at Raul and then the spools.
"Need any help loading up? I know it can be a bit much until you get used to it."
Raul put his dirty gloves on and smiled, reaching out to the first spool.
"Its been a few years since I was doing cable pulling on the ships in the GDF," he said tugging at the reel with one hand and then two as it slowly slid on the tube that held it, "that was a real pain..."
Charles chuckled and nodded.
"Its a royal pain to have to install new cable on ships, let me tell you... gravity or no, unless its a simple push and tack job..." he said watching as Raul struggled to get the reel off the rack, "Here let me help you get that to your shoulder... hold out your arm..."
Raul had been trying to figure out how to do this without any material handling equipment, which he had when he was working in the GDF. He followed Wollat's instructions and was glad for the help, until the cabling was on his shoulder.
"Now shift around and I'll balance you out..."
Slowly Raul turned and held his arm out and slightly up for the next reel which Charles shifted so that the coil didn't touch his arm and then adjusted it so it was on the shoulder. After that Charles flipped up the 100m coil up his arm to his own shoulder, reached out and twisted the tube stop back into position.
"I... thanks..." Raul gasped, trying not to show what it felt like to carry nearly his own body weight on his shoulders.
"Glad to help. Shorter steps, take it easy and if you gotta just make sure the end is tight and roll the damn things. Its a bitch when they fall over, keep the feet out of the way since even protective boots give some under this stuff."
"OK.... now have to..."
"Right! Glad to meet ya, Raul!" Charles Wollat waved as he stepped to the next aisle and turned down it, whistling as he went.
"Same..." Raul gasped out staggering under the weight. As he stepped he leaned slightly forward and took measured foot steps and watched as Charles exited the cable shack with a load equal to his and not even breaking stride. He had been sweaty before he got into the shack, but it didn't seem that the cable changed that for him. Carefully Raul lifted his hand up and tilted his head down until he could get the cooling headband back in place for his protective headgear. He stepped out into the chilly but sunlit day and his chronometer told him it still wasn't even mid-day. He had made good time getting to the shack, but now the half-klick back was not going to be pleasant.
So far he had slid into a ditch, tripped over a walkway, been on a three man team moving conduit, spent a good hour learning how to cut the conduit to length, and had pulled the first of 20 sets of multicon cable through the conduit. He hadn't done this much work in the GDF in a day, and yet here his day wasn't even one third of the way through. Those decades had been catching up with Raul and he didn't like being reminded about it by his body.
His body was telling him an entirely different set of things about Tananda Akai, however, as he had watched her step over open trenches, single hand jump over walls, lift up sections of conduit on her own and teach him how to use the cutter without losing a limb. Raul Edrera had never quailed from hard work and couldn't afford to as a Point or Lead since getting even a low level job allowed him to blend in on a mission. He could, however, slack off as a dayman on a construction site. That was different than being a full employee, very different indeed.
In trying to shift subjects in his mind he was trying to think about what Minestra had gotten stuck with having to be the assistant to that taciturn young man... that Jomra fellow. He looked up under the brim of his headgear and realized it was going to be a long, slow walk.
Building #2 had been singled out as the one most suitable to start piecemeal assembly of M-Units as it had the shortest distance to walk components from local delivery services and, while a five minute walk from the shuttle pad for the complex by foot, it also had the least cracked and broken walkway from it. On the inside of the building the old production equipment fittings allowed for new tables, conveyors and side-by-side desks for the precision assembly of pieces into frames that were being inspected after fabrication or restoration to useful housings. The building had started out as a two story affair with some offices on the upper floor before transitioning to a test and finishing room that held fittings for nearly all of the modern equipment once the foundations were injected with new material to stabilize the structure. Old paint and finishing products had succumbed to decades of neglect and water damage, requiring the stripping of some supports, the removal and replacement of others and then an overall refinishing to create a relatively clean and livable work environment. The space between it and its neighbors, Building #1 or the Main Building and Building #3 which had been a large system integration work area, were put aside to get the larger manufacturing buildings up and running next.
Minestra Yarida didn't know what she had expected save that she knew it would be some form of slow torture as she found herself assigned to Mr. Jomra's small retinue that had been putting together M-1 and M-2 Units for the facitiliy, for Karl's home, for the regional government, and to be shipped with Mr. Jomra on the first contract install of a full M-5/V on an old-build Light Cruiser that Star Fleet was putting back on the rolls. She was not really pleased with that turn of events, but was determined to get through it as a minor difficulty with just one person shouldn't stop what promised to be an interesting career change. If she survived it. She had worked most of the morning hauling old system housings that had been retrieved from some storage facility and shipped to the site, and that for her was a bit of relief as she got to work with L'Tira more than Mr. Jomra. They were not meant for the M-Series Units, but they were close enough and didn't need to be integrated into a starship's systems and all the rigor that meant for equipment.
They were both at a long table with a series stack of unopened containers on the floor at one side of the table, a trash bin behind L'Tira and then a stack of housings at the far end of the table with rejected units on a table behind Minestra. Some of the housings were old enough to actually be in packing containers a century old with faded colors and often cracks in them which foretold of storage damage over the decades. Minestra was using a hand scanner on a unit just unpacked where the outer container had fallen away into large pieces.
"Another reject... internal structure is decomposing. Not even good for spare parts."
She picked up the plasteel housing and as she shifted it one of the internal framing pieces snapped and the weight shifted in her hands. After turning to set it down she picked up the remains of the packing crate and tossed them over L'Tira and into the bin.
"How many good ones have we gotten from this, anyway?" she asked.
L'Tira looked up from her scanner and shook her head as she pushed the housing across to Minestra.
"Today?" L'Tira said looking at the few units at the end of the table, "I think thats five so far. Forty rejects, and ten for spares. Considering these actually are from storage here, that's on the order of incredible."
As they talked the door to their sorting area opened and Roger Arrivan walked in.
"Hello L'Tira, Minestra," he said smiling in a greyish blue workman's outfit with something akin to leather boots on.
"Hello, Roger," Minestra said as she watched him as he was just a recent Academy graduate and perhaps one of the youngest of the cadre that had worked directly with Enid Daystrom.
"How's it going on your end, Roger?" L'Tira asked.
He shook his head as he got to the end of the table and the few housings they had found that were good so far that morning. Sighing he raised an eyebrow and glanced behind Minestra at the table of discards as she moved the one L'Tira had just nixed to the pile.
"About what you would expect. No one seemed to care about what went into which container when things got packed up here and even using tricorders didn't help for some of it. On the downside nearly 90% of the stuff that we are targeting is junk. That includes array boards, sub-component completed boards, power systems, interconnects... basically anything that was in a finished state when it was packed up is dead and useless. What we did find we utilized immediately to help augment the special system for Karl's end of things with design and development. Now we are left with sorting through base components, holo-boards that are still in their original packing and a lot of other stuff that we don't have equipment to assemble at a fast rate."
"Ugh," L'Tira said, "that's nothing like the state of equipment we had at the Museum."
"No, it isn't. That material had been properly packaged, handled and in the right environment so that we only had a few sub-components to replace here and there. This stuff is at the other end of the spectrum where a lot of the little stuff should be just fine, but nothing actually worked on is worth keeping."
Minestra took her gloves off and took a sip-tube from her harness rig and sucked some refreshingly chilled water, which did little to actually satisfy her thirst but much for her wanting to take a break.
"So thats it, then? All this work for nothing?" she asked.
Roger blinked as he looked at her.
"Oh, no, that would be pure luck that we would have to wait another couple of weeks for the proper production equipment to get here. What we brought with us is enough to program some basic M-1 and M-2 units, and all the raw components, unused boards, all the duotronic and holographic parts, all of that we can start piecing together basic units to prepare this place for stand-up. The M-5/V at the Museum indicated that we could limp along with as little as 3 M-1 units and 1 M-2 until we got into real production and all the bits and pieces we have, plus others that just might work from other storage facilities Kembe is getting, should do that for us."
"Roger you aren't serious, are you?" L'Tira asked.
"Deadly serious. So what comes next is we can all take these housings into the component room and I'll start sitting you down with the spare parts, unpopulated boards, boxes of brand old connectors, power supplies that tested good and all the furn stuff necessary to make M-Units by hand!" he said clapping his hands together and rubbing them, "Won't that be fun?"
Minestra thought, for a moment, that he was joking and putting on a false brightness to try and leaven things and prepare them for a punchline of a joke. The punchline didn't come and Minestra got a sinking feeling as Roger waved them over.
"C'mon, it'll be fun! Alex will run you through the basics of hand placement, which tools to use to get a physical bond, which for good electrical contacts, and how to get polished optical contacts! Basic stuff I did before the Academy and really easy to pick up..." he lifted up one of the checked over housings and propped it on his shoulder and then took a second one up to put on his other shoulder.
Minestra looked at L'Tira.
"He's not joking, is he?"
"Actually, I did some of that helping out various teams getting the M-Units working at the Museum. I've never built an M-Unit from scratch before, though," she said as she looked from L'Tira to the retreating form of Roger Arrivan.
"You are all nuts," Minestra whispered, "stark, staring, raving mad."
L'Tira chuckled as she stepped to the end of the table and picked up a housing between her hands, its dull white luster had once been bright and was now somewhat pitted and looked aged.
"Of course we are," she said as she nodded for Minestra to come over, "but that doesn't stop us. I wouldn't be here, today, if I thought the impossible wasn't worth doing."
As she took tentative steps towards L'Tira, Minestra tried to think of what she had thought when she decided to follow-up on Den's message. This certainly wasn't it. Then she remembered seeing the USS Grant fly through the upper atmosphere of Jupiter, creating a fusion choke point with its shields. She could be making a unit that might just do something like that. At the end of the table she put her gloves back on and hefted one of the checked over housings on to her shoulder. Then she looked at L'Tira who was smiling less but still watching her.
"You want me to help..." Minestra said and lost words as she locked in the stare of a top predator, a carnivore that, no matter the strength advantage, could probably kill her in less than five seconds. A sentient carnivore. A friendly carnivore. And one who was not afraid of tedious, hard, long, impossible jobs.
"Just that, yes," L'Tira said staring at Minestra, "its not just for us, you know."
Minestra had to look away and nod.
"I know its just not..." turning to look at L'Tira she realized that here, a second time, someone far less skilled than her, far her junior and not even an operative of any sort was now doing something unfathomable to her. After being the one to rescue missions gone awry, after landing into hostile attack zones, after all of that and much more, she was now being asked to commit herself to a mission that had no known outcome by anyone involved. Going into a known, hostile environment was one thing and she could easily do that and even laugh at long odds. These people couldn't give her any odds or success, or even survival come to that. They were daring to do the impossible which had no odds to be brokered, just advantages to be made.
"Come on, its easy. You might even like it!" L'Tira said shifting to compensate for the mass of a housing that was a good fraction of her own body's mass.
"OK, I guess I have to go nuts, too," Minestra said out loud and shook her head, "it seems like that is the only way to survive now."
Minestra Yarida, after having done ship tours, being married, having children, working at SFC, going back to I/CI, going on missions that were dangerous, having numerous enemies still trying to kill her, was now setting a new course in her life, destination totally unknown even if the direction markers looked good. She tried not to think of Alex... Mr. Jomra! But there was, apparently, no way to avoid him. Even worse he was not avoiding her nor chasing her and nothing she had tried was changing that. As she walked down the hallway and into the large assembly room, she saw him getting fitting and joining equipment out at workstations.
Now he was going to be her teacher.
"Life isn't fair," she said so softly that no whisper of sound went beyond her lips. Perhaps, just perhaps she would learn more than just how to do the tasks at hand.
That would be left up to Alexander Jomra the patient, soft spoken and ever ready to help teacher.
Minestra Yarida was leaving her world and entering his a place she had never wanted to be.
Den Blacks pulled up a chair and sat down across from Raul as he finished off the dinner left for him by the kitchen staff. It had been a more than adequate meal, but the physical exertion of the day was making the prospect of eating even a small portion of it difficult. The beverages he had taken in immediately and was on his third set of them, and while the soleshu preparation of hybrid avian meat had been a favorite of his back on Gishan, he just wasn't able to eat more than a small portion of that and the accompanying vegetables. The meal was well enough prepared and seasoned, if toned down somewhat for off-world standards, that wasn't the problem. Getting his digestion to work after such a hard day was and as Blacks pulled up with a cup of coffee and pastry, Raul was glad for the interruption.
"Long day, huh?"
"Not like most of the cover jobs I took for seating a mission down, that's for sure."
Blacks sipped at his coffee.
"Tananda is a bitch on the work, Raul. I've been waylaid by her for hours hauling structural conduit, cable, raw plastiform mix and I forget what else. After a brief stint with Karl to find out that everything he is doing is way beyond me, I got shuffled over to Ushanda and then Reyard, which is admin to a point but has got me in more meetings than I care to talk about. There is no real structure to back us out there, which means I don't think that a team is the way we need to go."
Taking in a forkful of the hybrid meat substance, Raul nodded and chewed it down. It might almost be tasty if he could taste it after the fine amounts of dust and other aerial irritants hadn't got to him once he took the breathing apparatus off. Even after a wet mist run-through, it wasn't enough to keep some of that material down. His brand new gloves were a mess, not just stained but actually torn in a few places and featuring at least one burn mark where a heat setting shield hadn't been perfectly placed.
"We've all done solos, Den, though mostly junky jobs that some piece of brass wanted done and any Group that had someone who wasn't wary got pulled into that. Hard to do it that way, of course, but possible."
"Its why I made sure everyone got a rotation for each slot on missions. Specialists are great, but if you lose one and no one can really step in, your mission is in the pot. Everyone did well, but we all made enemies. Lots of enemies."
"Space is vast, although its hard to believe that when you're trenching out a foundation for a building," a forkful of something that looked like zucchini but tasted like radish disappeared into Raul's mouth along with some sauce from the meat.
Blacks took a bit out of his pastry and sipped some coffee to go with it.
"I had a chance to talk with Min, earlier," Blacks said, "she is more than willing to do some score settling. Of course she has got assets we don't, and I don't just mean looks, either."
Raul uncovered the last plate and found cookies on it. Chocolate chip cookies. He leaned over and inhaled the aroma coming from them and his eyes lit up.
"Just like grandma used to make," he said smiling and checked his covered cup, which had been meant to go with the cookies, and found hot chocolate with a foamy top on it. He was about to set the cover down when he saw that on the lid that had been on the interior there was a small note saying, 'Welcome to DI - T' with a bit of flourish on the handwritten script. "How did she...?" he whispered softly.
"What?" Blacks asked sipping at his coffee, "Didn't you order the meal, Raul?"
"I did but... only for something bio-compatible. Its been modified to something served on my home world."
"Great cooks here, you gotta admit that," Blacks said, "I could only hand them a bioprofile and what I could tolerate. Beats me where they get some of the stuff, but it isn't synthesized, I can tell you that. I couldn't afford to eat some of the stuff they've given me here, at least not more than a couple of times a year, and I'd need a restaurant with some fancy master-multichef to make it. I swear its just line cooks here, what I've seen of them at least, but they got skills. Maybe they hijacked them out of some M-K executive dining room? No idea, and I'm not complaining."
Raul nibbled at the cookies and sipped the hot chocolate and turned the cover so that the interior was down. He hadn't thought that he had made any impression on Tananda, and she had only been off the job for a few minutes at mid-day, although she could have contacted the cooking staff for this meal at any time. Coming in to hand write a short bit on the lid would barely be possible... but then he had been busy. So had she.
"You know, Den, they have got to have at least ten or fifteen different bio types to feed around here. Not counting the two dogs and three cats, of course. I wonder if the cooking staff has just a hard a time here as we have?"
Sipping his coffee, Den Blacks frowned as he looked at Raul.
"You're getting at something, aren't you?"
Raul pressed his lips together, tilted his head slightly and looked off into the distance.
"I think... Den... outside of the back-breaking stuff around here... we're being trusted to... well... our jobs."
Blacks nodded, "Yeah? What's your point?"
Raul straightened his head and nibbled at a cookie.
"When was the last time in any job where you actually had that, Den? And not with some bureuacratic busy-body trying to tell you what you can and can't do, or someone in Command threatening you with a load of bricks if you screwed up. Just... gave you the job and let you do it the best you knew how?"
That took Blacks by surprise as he thought about it.
"You're getting back to my Fleet tours for that, Raul. Up to Commander level, although the BS had started to filter in even as an L-T junior grade. Yeah being an Ensign was no fun, but as long as you didn't screw up, did your job and did it right, you were OK with everyone."
"At that point you were competent enough to do the job," Raul said, "could be trusted with it and knew that if you screwed up you would have problems, maybe major ones, and so you did your best not to screw up. Of course you got new stuff pushed at you, but after that first set of tasks you knew how to cope. Then you got overhead after you got promoted because you were competent enough and experienced enough to handle more responsibility. There is no one here to really yell at you if you screw up, Den. You're expected to be able to do your job, do it well and if you can't you ask for help. That is why we have these hard and dull jobs right now, isn't it? To see if we are capable of handling a set-back and just get to the task at hand."
Blacks raised an eyebrow, "And they don't have the ability to get automated equipment. That stuff costs."
"Den, I was going nowhere fast trying to crack how a stochastic crime ring works. Just a minor one, but it was frustrating and, ultimately, got me nowhere. A few minor operatives who couldn't tell me or anyone a thing about them, and when I went after their contacts I started getting dead-ends: people who had slipped out of tracking via persona usage. I do it, you do it, and I think a lot of people do that just to get some privacy here and there. Now its common enough amongst those who don't want to be found that no one even remarks about how some people just disappear into vacuum on a planetary surface because they were never there in the first place. The really nasty trade stuff you can track down because it has a fast market, but that isn't the stochastic ring groups. I really needed a team of specialists and realized that multiple policing groups had them and they made no headway, either. We think they are stochastically operated because that is what a few captured programs utilized to shift goods around, but those were only the highest level busts ever made and their grand total was two and even they didn't get more than a hundred people, total, between them and none of them were what we would call high level operatives. I'm starting to think that they aren't any sort of traditional criminal system, Den, but that is only a guess and I have no idea what or how they are operating. I wasn't competent at figuring it out and neither is anyone else. For merely nuisance crime and trafficking in outlawed goods, it is more sophisticated than anything done by anyone else, anywhere."
"And? Is there a point to this?"
"Yeah, Den, there is. This organizationn isn't criminal, you can tell that right off. They don't have the attitude and are above-board on everything they can be. They are operating at a whole other level of things, but unlike the stochastic rings I can put a finger on it. Its key, Den. They create some really amazing stuff and you would think that outside of normal academic and industrial subterfuge, which they have down in lots of ways, they don't much care who knows about them. In fact no one knows or cares about them, now. In five years I'm not so sure, Den. We aren't given brass packages to work on. I think we can clean up some of our loose ends, and actually start looking forward, you know? So that we can finally be comfortable with doing that once the past starts to get ended. Then we get a real hard job to do and I have no idea what that is or what it will look like."
"I'm glad I got you, Moreth and Min, Raul. You are the best three operatives I've ever had in the Groups. You three are alive, active in many ways and not resting on a retirement and wasting years of your lives. Nothing suited me outside of I/CI, and I can't even stomach going to commercial ship ops or command. I can do it, yeah, but thats not for me. There are still lots of things I would like to settle... get settled... ended, take your pick... but I'm after people not on a bountyhunter's list, most of them, because they have been thought dead and yet I know they aren't. Each of you has been telling me something important about what we do next, Raul, and none of it is looking good. Of the three you are the only one not making dire predictions and you were best at the scoping out of jobs and laying the groundwork for getting a real point team in so tell me, Raul, what you think that future holds if we stay here."
Raul smirked as he sipped hot chocolate.
"I can tell you that if we are on the outside, we would get blind-sided by it, Den. Change is never pretty, never neat, never nice and when it isn't at a better than snail's pace, it shakes everyone up and down. We have a bit over a century from Richard Daystrom to now, Den. What he had... if his mind could have stayed sane... really was different. The prodigy of this company, and don't try to call her anything else, Den, she has just sheared out everything we know about space warfare at the level of physics because that is what threatened her life and she took it seriously. Others have been threatened by such phenomena, and never bothered to think about it like she did. Now you have two major changes coming, one from a few generations ago that will slip right in and begin changing everything from low level organizations to starships, and the other which will shift the threat matrix asymmetrically against centuries and longer of understanding. In five years? Den, we are on the inside, and this is where you, I and anyone with an bit of sense would want to be. I can't tell you what that future looks like on the outside. I have no idea on that. From the inside? I don't know and no one can know now, but unlike the hundreds of billions out there..." he said sweeping his free arm out to the left, "... we will understand it."
"You're not helping me, Raul. That's no insight into what to do."
Raul finished the last of his cookies and looked at Blacks.
"I think its just do the job, Den. Some of it will fizzle, some will get screwed up, some will work and I can't tell you at the start which will do what. All I can tell you is that every bit of support we can get will do things beyond what we can imagine. That's your horrific part. You have a much better imagination than I do."
He smiled and then looked around the empty cafeteria area.
"Still no Min," he said looking at his tray of half-eaten food, though with fully eaten cookies.
"Yeah... shes been waylaid into piecing together equipment. And if its not a weapon, then that holds little interest for her which makes her job perhaps worse than yours or mine right now, Raul."