"... well you are with another part of DI, I'll give you that," Tananda said talking to Raul who was sitting across the table from her in the cafeteria. The night systems had shifted to smaller spot lights from the overhead system and the windows to the outside showed the darkness of a fall night. The two of them had come in after stowing the last of the cabling equipment after the rest of the crew quit for the day, and only one or two of them actually used the rooms the Daystrom's provided, the rest being local hires or those who were staying locally after deciding that the spartan quarters at DI were not to their liking.
Raul smiled as he was tasting the frozen dessert that was the simple ending to a filling meal. His work clothes were dirty and stained as were hers having to deal with mud, water, plasteel dust, rock dust, adhesives and a myriad of other materials they had encountered that day. His arms ached, his upper back was stiff even with the simple support systems the clothing provided, and his legs could barely carry him around. Still he had kept on a simple course and decided that it was worth following to its conclusion.
"Yes I am," he said, "and I'll be shipping out next week or at least the week after for proper training. So its no long-term or even short-term commitment."
She leaned back in her chair and sipped at the open cup of hot coffee, which filled the air with the aroma of roasted beans. Her long, thin fingers curled around the cup as she sipped and closed her eyes.
"Well you did OK today..." she said in a soft voice opening her eyes to look at him, "...and did fine for a young middle-aged Andorian."
He ate another spoonful of the dessert and realized that whoever had left it in the box with his name on it in the food storage area actually had bothered to find something compatible with his system that he liked. It could be one of the actual, live cooks that the company hired to deal with non-terrestrial sentients on the workforce, of course, but this had a personal touch to it. Probably Minestra, he finally decided.
"It has been a few years since I've had this much to do..." he said, "... it just takes parsing out what has to be done and doing it without straining myself."
Nodding she sipped a bit more of the coffee.
"I tell you what, I'll get you a room upgrade to something that's a bit better for relaxing together and if you're still doing this well at the end of the week, then... we'll see. How does that sound?"
Raising his eyebrows he nodded.
"That sounds... good enough, thank you. I don't think I could actually cope with more, today, truthfully."
She chuckled as she set down her now empty cup and stood up taking her tray with her.
"Its a date, then. I'll make sure we finish up on a normal schedule on Friday, which will astound everyone, and then we can have dinner in your room."
He thought for a moment and then looked up at her.
"Why not at your room?"
She smiled and shook her head.
"Not much you can do on retracting bunk. My room is just a place to sleep and change clothes, Raul. I've been living in places like that for so long I no longer need more than that. I can live in the most basic of closets on a starship, under a basic natural barrier in the winter on Hudson's Bay, in a privy pod on the Moon, and just about anywhere else in-between. So long as I can get new work clothes and don't need more than three sets, then I can work anywhere, anytime for any job. I like it that way. Now get some rest as you don't get any extra time to shift quarters tomorrow, OK?"
He pressed his lips together and nodded.
"That sounds good, thank you Tananda."
"No, thank you, Raul. I don't mind sharing a bed, just so long as it isn't mine."
Watching her move to put her tray into the recycler, he thought about what that meant to live like that and have that sort of attitude. He finished up his dessert, drank down the drink recommended for him that contained all sorts of substances and amino acids to help replenish his system which still tasted like some fruit mash that someone had forgetten to check for flavor quality, and then followed suit with his tray.
Walking out of the cafeteria he saw the door at the end of the hall open and Roger Arrivan walk in, carrying a personal system screen rolled up under one arm. He looked back out the window of the door and then turned and waved at Raul.
"Hello, Mr. Edrera," he said as they met and shook hands in the hallway.
"Hello, Mr. Arrivan. Long day?"
Roger sighed and nodded.
"We've been hiking housings and components around most of the day and trying to get enough system boards assembled to put some M-Units together."
"Could be worse..." he started.
"That was before Kembe came in and let us know the first of the automated assembly equipment was coming in two days from now."
"That should be a help, right?" Raul asked.
"If we had anyone to run it, yeah. We don't. Kembe wants us to get 2 M-1 Units and an M-2 up and operational before it arrives so we can start putting the systems to work to make up for lack of personnel."
"Ah, I see..." Raul shook his head as there were other sorts of work headaches beyond just being physically exhausted and this was one he was glad he didn't have to deal with.
"So we're working through the night. I'm here to snag food boxes, then get wrap sleepers for all of us before Tananda gets pulled off of the current job and has to put in the sub-surface framework for our building. You see we don't have three days to get the units up and running. We have two nights and one day. We were hoping the equipment would be delayed but, instead, its being delivered ahead of time... and there is only one building where it can sit and it needs to be part of the integrated framework ASAP."
Raul blinked as he looked at Roger.
"That is going to be a lot of work to get..." Raul stopped and realized that Tananda Akai obviously had a better line on production and schedule changes than anyone on the work crew he was with.
Roger smiled and clapped his right hand on Raul's upper arm.
"That's how things like this go. Now I have to get moving! See you later!"
"Right... later..." Raul said in a tired tone. Shaking his head Raul realized that this sort of job wasn't going to work out anything like any other job he ever had.
They had long since dragged a table into the room and moved their equipment to it, using the old workstations for placing their food, diagrams, jackets and anything else that was needed to keep going. By tasking out work by type, put boxes between each place and then removed pieces to be worked on from their left and put more finished work in the box on their right. When any box got to the point of being full and someone ran out of pieces or at least ran low at their current position, that person shifted to where the work was.
L'Tira had moved into the first position which was the general re-check of boards and sub-assemblies to be populated with parts. After the interiors of the housings had been removed and sorted by size, they now sat on their own tray to be fitted with completed parts. They were starting to take up the central part of the table as they gained very basic power systems and connectors the fastest. Getting the necessary boards and assemblies that were the heart of the low level M-Units was a longer task and as the seats around the table showed the rate of getting to completed boards was slow. L'Tira just wanted the first power check-over station to go away, which would mean that everything that could be done for power placement inside the frameworks for the housing was all that was left and that one station could go away.
Minestra had worked on placing and fitting the power units, and she was nearly done with that as L'Tira finished up the initial inspections. Next to her sat Mr. Jomra who was now doing a last check-over of connectors for the primary and hardest to place boards and then starting to populate them with additional connectors and the first power moderating pieces that would allow power to run to the rest of the system. The box to his right being filled to the top he skipped over past Roger to start working on secondary boards which would do the interconnecting to equipment. Some of those interconnectors were specialized and they only needed one or two of those. L'Tira walked by Minestra and stopped and knelt next to her.
"I think we now have more power ready housings than we need for the week," she said placing a hand on Minestra's shoulder.
She looked at L'Tira and sighed.
"Uh-huh, I think you're right. What do you want next?"
L'Tira turned to look down the few seats to the next open one.
"I think the sensor input/output boards for me next. Do you want the inter-board fitting and test position at the head of the table?"
"Sure, let me check this last unit and then I'll join you. I need to stretch my legs and get something to drink."
Minestra felt the slight flex of weight on her back as L'Tira stood up.
"OK. There's plenty to do..."
Turning back to the frame that would go back into a housing at the end of the process, Minestra made sure that the fasteners were secure by giving a tug on the power pack, and then plugged it in and attached a readout for it. All came in the green, grounding to the frame was positive, and all that was left was the very end part of putting the return fiber optic control feeds into the pack so it could be checked and modulated by the system. Pushing away from the table Minestra stood up from her chair and stretched her hands out and bent over at her hips first forward and then back. After shrugging her shoulders and moving her arms a bit more, she walked over to her old workstation and picked up a can of liquid from the box that Roger had brought over for her. Opening it she sipped the cool and slightly fizzy drink.
Roger pushed away from the table and shifted around to look at her.
"Closing down station 3?" he asked.
She licked her lips and smiled.
"Yes! Finally. This is taking forever," she said hearing faint echoes of her voice in the large open space of the room.
"Its not that bad," Roger said looking at the empty spot next to him, "I think we've done what we can, at least for main boards so station 4 is done unless something needs a replacement. The time I spent away meant catch-up work for me and I'll be at this for at least another hour or two. After that I'll get a few hours of sleep under my workstation and get back to wherever things have left off."
"I'm good at least until morning," Minestra said, "but my eyes are getting sore. Legs too."
"Nothing for that," Roger said, "stay as fresh as you can. By late tomorrow afternoon we should be having the first fully functional M-1 and then the rest of the night is to finish off all the rest."
Minestra looked at the pile of housings on the floor and frames with power supplies on the table.
"Why so many?"
"Its not just for us, Ms. Yarida," Mr. Jomra said continuing his work, "we have a number of places that will need units very soon. Mr. Koletsu is offering at least an M-2/V array to the regional government, each of the buildings here will require at least one M-1 Unit each, the new site will need nearly an entire M-2/V array per building..."
"New site?" Minestra asked sipping her drink, "You mean you people are already going to be opening a second production facility?"
"Have to," Roger said, "need some place to build M-1 and 2 Units when we shift over to the higher array systems here."
She nodded, "Makes sense. So where is it going to be?"
"Cascadia," L'Tira said, "that's where I'll be going after we get this stuff running. There is an old Daystrom property there that Karl wants me to check out and if its something that can be fixed up, then production starts there."
"But isn't that... one of the, ah, non-agreement territories? You know, one of the ones that didn't agree to becoming the planetary government?"
Alex leaned back and flexed his arms, then turned to look at her.
"Yes, it is. While the Earth Government claims total terrestrial representation, the dissenters continue on as autonomous regions under treaty agreements. That is why Enid is having such a hard time getting a venue for her hearings since the Fleet can't figure out just who it is that can hear the charges brought against her. As the President and CEO of Daystrom Industries which is incorporated in Cascadia, she is claiming source jurisdiction for her actions."
Minestra sipped at her drink looking at Mr. Jomra as he turned back to the work on the table in front of him.
"Sounds pretty... complicated. Its going to be a hassle getting parts into there, isn't it?"
L'Tira started sorting through components and putting them into sub-assemblies and chuckled.
"Not really, there are trade agreements in place. Besides, if it can be worked out, that manufacturing will be done locally or in the non-agreement trade zones. They have access to Daystrom duotronics and other technologies and much of M-1 and M-2 designs rests on that with only some specialized parts necessary to finish them."
As Minestra finished her drink she put the can into a bin on the workstation and walked over to the next open spot at the table, pulled the chair to it and went through the instructions hovering over that place.
"That has got to be a pain, though, doing that. Wouldn't it be better to just get some more facility space nearby here and get a larger manufacturing system in this area?"
"You would think so," Roger said, "but Karl has other ideas. Enid does too as she wants L'Tira to be chief operating officer or some equivalent for the M-Series production. Karl and Ushanda are also looking for help from their cousin's family in Alpha Centauri system. Something about commercial ship installation."
As she placed sub-assemblies and components together, Minestra checked to make sure that the general fit was as described and used a sensor to confirm that positive contacts had been made. Placing the five smaller pieces into parts on boards and then putting the three boards together was tedious work, but easy to do. This set of components were the power feedback and adjustment systems for each housing, and in just two more stations would be placed into a frame to be added to the housings that awaited them at the other end of the table.
"To do that we need lots of M-1 and 2 units," L'Tira said, "even just to stand a facility up. Once we get those in production the rest comes quickly. There is just so much to do to stand up this plant fully so that any production can get started..."
Rubbing the corner of her eye with the back of her hand, Minestra Yarida started to realize that this was a form of fatigue that she hadn't counted on. It was one thing to be on a rush of hormones and body produced fight or flight chemicals in a hot part of an I/CI mission, which she had learned to handle and even enjoyed to a large degree. Fatigue just melted away when people were trying to kill you or a team member, no doubt about it. This was hard work of a different kind and just as serious as the lives and livelihood of many people rested on getting work done in the present and it was work that must be done to get that future. Patching up the present was fun and nervewracking, building a future was dull and tedious. It was an unexpected part of this job that she would have to do the latter to get a chance at the former and she was already thinking about ways to, perhaps, exact some payback from one or more of those people who still held a grudge against her.
She was also sitting at the head of the table with Mr. Jomra just to her left at the corner of the table. There was an involuntary glancing at him as she worked which was having quite another effect on her that caused her to shift her hips to try and get comfortable. Although she loved the feeling of an operator's suit she was glad she had exchanged it for rather dull work clothing, save for some of the bunching up of material on the hips and legs. For all the advances in clothing, the simple dynamics of having cloth and a physiology would always cause certain shifts in the clothing and that meant pressure in certain areas that were just distracting. Normally she could work that off with the person of interest in her off-hours and to mutual satisfaction. Now she faced something different in not being able to work that off and having someone who was generally unapproachable as the person of interest. It had been decades since she had reactions like that and uncomfortable reminders of that early stage in her life that she thought she was over given all the training she had gotten in those areas both inside and outside of I/CI.
Minestra Yarida had learned all about the cruelties of torture that others could do to her and had been prepared by the best training available on how to deal with it.
Self-imposed torture, however, was much, much harder to deal with especially when all the standard ways to deal with it were unavailable.
As much as she looked forward to getting out into something like her old routine and life, she also knew that she was going to miss this time as well. Of all the things she could stop, the hardest of all was her own feelings that, once started, gained a life of their own.
"... and that is the timeline for the Defense Group. All of you play a part in the larger standing-up of Daystrom Industries," Karl said talking to the assembled Defense Group in the main building's secure room, "which has critical milestones nearly every week for the next six months. Most immediate of which is here at Indianapolis."
Den Blacks looked at the holodisplay and called up a better view of the current portion on his sleeve and took in the most current schedule.
"When does the equipment arrive for true production?" Moreth asked.
Karl looked at Kembe who was sitting to one side of the display platform as Karl walked in front of it.
"A basic circuit fabricator unit is arriving in two days, and we now have the minimum number of M-1 and M-2 units for getting basic stand-up started. In fact we are already standing up M-1 units to interface with personnel and for the outside infrastructure supply buildings to start moderating our use of central power, water, sewage and so on. Today you will all get to have some time with M-2 once it goes fully on-line. After that its back to Karl who has the first minimal M-3/V for our specialized unit production which is small scale and piece-work."
"What does that mean, in all?" Col. Davis asked.
Ushanda stood up from her seat next to Kembe on one side and Reyard on the other, and walked over to Karl who nodded as he went to sit down.
"For you and Mr. Blacks it means an interview session with the M-2/V array which should be similar but shorter than for the M-3/V system you have worked with. For everyone else you get to see the test design and small scale production area, and get your personal units quantum encoded with it. At that point you will no longer be able to use a transporter and be able to use our equipment. A benefit is that as long as you wear the sub-system no transporter will be able to utilize a sub-space lock-on for you and standard transporters will no longer be able to transport you. Other style of teleporter systems that perform quantum shifting will be able to do that, but they use probability placement without sub-space and are, in theory, not going to disturb your quantum state."
"Mmmmm..." Minestra subvocalized, "I could have used that a half-dozen times in my career. How does it work?"
"Its pretty simple," Ushanda said, "once you put on the register device it is given a quantum scan key for your body that is entangled with it. Any use of a transporter will disrupt that and you will be locked out from Daystrom Industries equipment keyed to that, which is the device and our quantum key encryption system adaptable to standard sub-space comm units."
"If the unit is taken off, will just a sub-space scan disrupt the entanglement?" Miyak Koletsu asked.
Ushanda looked at Karl.
"No, it shouldn't," he said, "a comprehensive body scan for pre-transporter use will, which is the part that is blocked out by the unit in both normal and sub-space."
"This means you will all be taking up estoeric physical transport as your main mode of getting around," Ushanda said, "It is necessary as no one in Daystrom Industries is to use a transporter again. Too much valuable bio-information is given up to sub-space and we are no longer to have any easy tracing via sub-space. Your data trails we can do nothing about..."
"Don't worry, that we have covered," Raul said with a smirk as he knew at least two of his ghost data dopplegangers were elsewhere on Earth and five others were in other parts of the Federation, making his actual, real physical position nearly impossible to find.
"... but you should already know how to handle that."
"I have only used a transporter for a very short period of my life. I prefer physical transport," Koletsu said, "it was a customer requirement when it wasn't my own."
"While Karl is the Chief Engineer and Design Bureau," Ushanda said, "you work for me. My husband Reyard, whom you all have met, is our Details and Logistics chief which means you get to talk to him a lot more than you do to me. Our part of the overall design plan is critical as Enid is having us going from a solvent company with few liquid assets to becoming a company with many capital assets with little solvent basis remaining. To keep liquidity in our operations we need production flow and there are three main ways to do it. As you've seen the most capital intensive way is the part Karl laid out which is the M-V systems as they offer the best long-term prospect to liquid asset flow not just from Fleet contracts but private contracts as well. We expect to have three main production areas going which are here in Indianapolis, Cascadia and Alpha Centauri. Branch offices will follow. These address government and commercial liquidity problems and we expect that a number of Federation systems will be investing heavily in procurement of the M-Series designs."
"That is the dream of Richard Daystrom," Moreth said, "and a vital one to the goal."
Moreth was perhaps the least well suited to terrestrial environments, and of his people only his genetic background allowed him to function in Standard Gravity and Atmospheric conditions. Thin and pale to the point of being gaunt, he was a robust specimen of his people who were generally unable to do much physical participation in the Federation.
"Yes it is, Moreth. The second area to examine is that of the Federation Trade Council Organization which has an intense interest in curbing and ending piracy and threats to internal federation trade. That is why all of you are here. Once you get the quantum entanglement, you become part of the Daystrom Industries contract services to go after anyone on the federation-wide threats list, particularly with a 'dead or alive' attachment to them. Others are wanted alive and for questioning, but we aren't after those, by and large, although they do make a bit of asset flow if you run across them. Our main goal are ships, and because we are a private company given letters of reprisal against entire ships and pirate organizations, that means we don't get paid anything until we pull something in. In the six months to three year time frame you and the next cadre will be the main source of liquid asset flow for Daystrom Industries. That entire time after setting up in Cascadia and purchasing something in Alpha Centauri to getting our normal ship install and upgrades going requires assets to keep things afloat. If you've studied the long list of ships, organizations and personnel that means one or two vessels a year of what can be classed Medium Raiders. Don't pass up anything that you can reasonably expect to get relatively intact, though. We need the flow."
"And that's the important part," Blacks said, "most of us have had to deal with small-time operators, people skirting legalities and a lot of people that are just not all that nice. They aren't the target. Those that they know who are on that list, they are the target and I know that for the people from my old Group here, that there is also premiums on their hides from one or more of those organizations. This isn't payback, exactly, but putting an end to that set of threats. We will make more enemies, I'm sure, but now we are able to deal with them a bit better."
Col. Davis nodded.
"Not just for you, Commodore Blacks, but my time in the Antares Regional Forces I can assure you that there is no love lost with many of these organizations and freebooters."
Blacks chuckled, "And saved our hides the one time. Yeah. And I expect that Mr. Koletsu has his own set of... problems."
Miyak gave a curt nod in agreement.
"Its flow, which means ships, which means we each know the groups or groups most itching to find us that we wanted to avoid after retirement. Easy enough to retire in a major system and do that. We are heading back to the periphery,"
"Not all of us stayed safe and cozy, Den," Minestra said.
"True. If we operate as a group we will stand out and get nowhere as we don't have the infrastructure to do a covert insert. Suits me fine."
Ushanda smiled as she saw the by-play go on and looked at the schedule and nodded to Karl who stood up, walking in front of the platform.
"So that is the overview. No matter how tedious or distasteful the work you have here, it is for a reason. We can't let ready, warm and employed bodies sit idle. Are there any questions?"
Col. Davis nodded.
"Yes, Mr. Daystrom. Ushanda had said there were three main areas of interest to the company for asset flow. Yet only two have been addressed."
Karl raised his eyebrows and then looked at Kembe who shrugged.
"Yes, and I'm sorry about that. The third area dovetails with the second, which is asset recovery and salvage. It is understood that there is a requirement to get assets back to their original owners when they are still wanted, and that usually has some form of payment with it. Salvage is that final part for the things that we will do that either don't leave much behind or that otherwise require some asset outlay to bring in. It is the catch-all category, and includes delivering any less than Federation-wide wanted individuals back to where they are wanted if at all feasible. Reyard will be handling that end of things, I believe," he looked at Ushanda who nodded, "and its that area that if you have an idea, then please do kick it over to us so we can see if we can support it. Basically we expect that if you over-do things with your enthusiasm then salvage may all be that is left. We will take what we can get that yields a net positive asset flow."
Col. Davis nodded and Karl looked at the rest in the room.
"Say, Karl, I got a question thats kinda unrelated to this stuff, but can't figure it out," Minestra said.
Karl looked at her and nodded, "I'll answer it if I can."
"Great! Who's that hot person to complain to when any of the family screw up or get on the nerves? I mean, it hasn't happened with me, but I just gotta know is there someone that can act as... you know... an intermediary or something?"
Chuckling Karl nodded.
"Yes. L'Tira is going to be getting the headache of intermediating between all the sub-parts of Daystrom Industries and our sister Enid. And of all the jobs there are in this company, it is the one that I don't think we could find a volunteer for. Myself included."
Minestra shook her head, "You know, the more I'm with you people the less strange you get. Now its everyone else that is starting to look weird and that has got me worried."
Raul looked at her.
"Don't worry, Min. It all makes perfect sense if you are insane."
"Or just short-handed," Koletsu said, "there is an efficiency in extremity that forces its own conclusions."
"With that I will turn you over to Reyard," Karl said as he went to the other side of the display and started pushing a table forward while Reyard stood up and went in front of the display.
"Welcome to Daystrom Industries, Raul and Minestra, I am glad that you two have come to join us and that you've passed Eileen's scrutiny," Reyard said.
"I'm sorry that those who got here early had to be put on to vital tasks that were outside your areas of expertise, but we did desperately need that. This building would not be up, today, without that early help and after this meeting the first of the assembly equipment will be put in, so that by the time you leave we will have the capability to start up M-Series production on something other than an ad hoc basis."
Reyard Chambliss nodded as he looked at Karl, "Please do come up to look at the equipment. It is part of why you are here and once you are registered in the M-3/V here you will have a chance to acclimate yourself with test rigs."
The assembled members got up from their seats and walked up to the table to look at the container on the table that was a bit bulkier than a hard case used for fragile equipment.
"As you know this team will be doing something that has never been attempted before and Karl has put in many hours getting the first full anti-ship delivery systems ready for you. While Enid's design work was very much a stock construction design, it suffered some flaws that we have eliminated."
Karl had stepped back from the table and took an oblong container out and put it on the table. He pressed the seal areas and it opened up, with the lid retracting towards him into the case. Inside was a tubular device with oblong part over a handle and trigger arrangement, with a smaller oblong opening on the underside in front of the trigger and a second grip in front of that. The device itself was held in place by small contoured uprights inside the case with easy open mechanical stays going across the device. In front of that were three smaller oblong pieces that were evidently made to fit into the opening of the larger device, and those were held in place with clips. Additionally there were empty cylindrical clips around the internal portion of the case and a small box with ident opener built into it next to the device. Karl flipped down two support legs on the case to allow everyone at the table to see it, then brought up a holo model of it over the table. After doing that he nodded to Reyard.
"You may recognize the basics from Enid Daystrom's recordings," Reyard said, "and while that was fully functional as a system, it was not designed to be anything more than a test platform. For that it functioned well enough, but for our needs more had to be done with the overall system. Karl can address the technical issues far better than I can, and will do so, but my part is for overall integration of the system and its end-user. Thus I have had to research systems from many eras and civilizations to find a mix that suits the hostile environment of space, use inside and outside of a vessel, user ability to target and control the device both automatically and manually, ease of use without allowing parts to harm the end-user, and security so as to disable the weapon in case it is taken by a non-authorized user or one who has had use privileges revoked. We have no particular name for it beyond 'Mark I' as we do not wish to have its capabilities advertised by an acronym, so we also call it the 'device'."
Den Blacks smiled and leaned forward as did Minestra.
"It is a bit bulky," said Koletsu,"but you are constrained by the size of the rounds involved. Just from first look it appears to be slightly larger in the feed and launch tube area than Enid's device."
"You are correct, Mr. Koletsu, on those counts," Karl said, "There is a maximum size problem for the rounds that you are all aware of from other man utilized launchers. When utilizing rounds to gain power from shields or activate when contacting a hull that problem is one of increased mass and size if an active power system is added."
"It is Enid's insight that minimizes active power and utilizes parasitically gained power to allow for functions to occur. Thus we have researched those size limitations and have put a bit more capability into each round based on that insight," Reyard said.
"Still a six round device?" Moreth asked as he was getting pull-ups from the holo image and superimposing them on the actual device.
"At this point, yes. I had talked over a cyndrical feed or drum feed with Karl, but that would be a very bulky design. This one utilizes successful overall sizing seen in direct fire weapons of short barrel length, while allowing for the use of accurate tube launched devices. As such it is lightweight, at under 3 kgs. as a base unit and just over 45 kg. if fully loaded with slug rounds. I don't recommend that latter unless you are using a collapsible bipod or mounted tripod system with the device as it would be too heavy to wield in gravity and have a high inertia in zero-g."
Raul whistled softly.
"That is a lot of mass! One round per load at the most for specialized work and carrying more than that would be a problem."
Blacks took a pull-up over the device and started talking.
"Any luck on getting the mass of that round pared down? I know we put down a couple of 'nice to have' options for that and taking some mass out to get enhanced effects would increase versatility."
"What did you put down for that, Den?" Minestra asked.
"It was Moreth who came up with it," Den smiled looking to his left at her.
"Figures, Mr. 'Bag of Tricks' himself," she leaned a bit over the table to look at Moreth, "Spit it out, Moreth. What sort of nastiness did you ask for, as if this wasn't enough?"
"Min, would I ask for something that could, in any manner, be considered 'extremely lethal'?"
"About every ten minutes, only. I hear you take time out to breathe and eat, too."
"Moreth is a great wealth of useful information," Koletsu said, "and I seconded some of those based on animal models."
Col. Davis looked across the table at Minestra.
"Ms. Yarida, as your comrades are seeing fit to banter," he said smiling at Blacks and then Raul,"let me say that one of the prime concerns was to get enhanced effect internally via a fragmenting or sectional round that would easily use the original round's effect of speed and mass for penetration of outer and inner hulls, but then come apart into high speed sub-projectiles inside a ship, very much like the 'Fiddlesticks' round. This would not be as deadly as, say, the thermobaric round, but have greater damage capacity than just the 'Fiddlesticks' as the sub-projectiles need only penetrate normal ship decking and walls."
Karl brought the original round up next to the device, both a physical round from a box by his seat, and a virtual one over the table. Next to the virtual round he isolated the physical projectile and its motor units and expanded that, then brought up a new configuration next to it.
"This is what I've come up with, thanks to Col. Davis and Moreth's work on pointing to similar penetrators in history, and doing a bit of research for our specific needs," the solid projectile had parts inside of it isolated showing a different material that held sub-rods in a matrix, along with some isolation from the exterior part of the original projectile. The exterior skin of the projectile still had some thickness that decreased from the front of the round to the rear. A solid slug was still present in the center of the round, but barely larger than any of the sub-rods in the matrix. Karl rotated the projectile and small, single use, solid fuel motors, barely a centimeter long, showed up on each rod.
"In keeping with Enid's work, this round conforms to all others in its staging and parasitic power generation with its targeting and shield penetrator capability. It was obvious that the round needed to make up for its lower mass with higher speed, so its original boost motor is increased by 10% in size to help enhance the penetration effect."
Ushanda sub-vocalized to her personal unit as she stood up with her personal unit in her hand, and a top/bottom computer generated display was brought up on the display of the two rounds approaching a shielded vessel, moving through the shields, then impacting the skin and outer hull of the ship. At that point the displays moved for a close-up of each.
"Thank you, sister," Karl said smiling warmly at Ushanda and she smiled back.
"Better to see it in action, I thought."
Each round began its penetration, but a cross-section showed that the solid round was just ablating material just like the new round, save that when the rounds crossed between the space from outer to inner hull, there was very little depleted uranium left on the new round.
"That penetrator cap still has an attachment to the central rod," Minestra said watching the virtualization.
"Deformation can be seen," Koletsu said, "the penetration cap area is almost the same radius it had at first, but the interior rods are being pushed apart as the matrix is pushed down."
"What's the matrix material?" Blacks asked.
"That took a bit of research to help decide on what was best, Mr. Blacks," Reyard said, "I had thought an inert material would be best but Col. Davis suggested a mix that only becomes active at high temperatures and is impossible to stop, yet easy to make and requires extremely low resource expenditures."
"I use it extensively on demolition projects to weaken structural elements before doing final shearing charges. On lighter ships I can use only that mix and get suitable shearing with very little need for heavier charges," Davis said.
Raul was taking a pull up of the matrix.
"Vacuum mix iron oxide and aluminum encapsulated paste? Huh? Those aren't reactive."
"Not at low temperatures, no, Mr. Edrera," Davis said, "but when you apply a suitable amount of heat to the two, they undergo a chemical reaction that is independent of any atmosphere. It is a very energetic exo-thermic reaction suitable for use in most standard welding, for weakening of metallic structures and composites, and even serves as an anti-materiel round for equipment via a hand-held emplacement device. At a minimum 2,500 degrees, its utility is most efficient against standard superstructure pieces."
Karl smiled and nodded.
"Cousin Kembe had to clue me in on what this was, and its old name is 'thermite' although we use a nano to molecular mix seeded with other materials for safety in packing and forming it. Its very low density allows for deformation to shift the position of the interior rounds and over the very thin layer on the solid motors, when the plasma from the depleted uranium hits it the material starts its reaction, then that ignites those motors and break apart the round, with each of the sub-penetrators gaining its own trajectory and the main rod powering forward along the previous path. Some variance is expected, of course, so the six sub-penetrators and initial round bring an enhanced damage effect while the thermite particulates spread outward in a blossom as the shell breaks apart, with that material ignited by the plasma and general heat of the motors."
"It figures Moreth would ask for this," Minestra said in a low tone.
"Actually, this is more than I expected," Moreth said, "I take it the complexities of the simulation make it hard to detail what happens after the sub-penetators leave on separate courses?"
"There is no known way to easily do that, without a specific ship type, and I just used a generalized 'heaviest armored system' for this."
"Isn't that a starbase skin simulation spec?"
"Yes it is, Mr. Blacks," Reyard said, "it was the easiest to obtain for older style armor and is very heavy so that if there is penetration against this model there should be penetration against lighter systems. This is something we still lack as an organization: the expanse of knowledge and contacts necessary to get better information. As a contractor for Star Fleet we can access some materials, of course, but much has either been archived or lost over the intervening decades and requires remodeling."
"The round now has 35% less mass than the original," Ushanda said, "which should answer the original question."
"And excellently so, if I may add," Koletsu smiled and nodded.
"The round itself is in the 'ready for testing' stage and will be part of your test work done at the Fleet Museum," Ushanda said.
"The Museum?" Raul asked as he looked at Ushanda then Blacks.
"It is still in a highly secure mode with no public allowed there or at Planitia, and we have allowances to utilize items in the Martian orbit as test objects as well as the training facilities available for normal space operations at Planitia. All of you, save Mr. Koletsu, have prior ratings with that, of course, but our system is introducing added factors that you will need to work out. Karl can go over those better than I can. Enid does want to see all of you in-person and as the hearings and trial are lagging that means the Museum."
Karl nodded and pulled out a Daystrom Industries marked memory module.
"Each of you will be issued three of these," he said as Reyard took out a small set of cases and passed them out to each of the Defense Unit members.
Col. Davis flipped his open and examined the memory modules.
"Each of these modules has been in contact with the M-Series system here at the plant," Reyard said, "In addition to that we have given that M-3/V system all of your particulars as to biochemistry, mass, normal electrostatic skin response and a variety of other biological and personal data. Each of them interfaces with personal units, comm systems and the weapon system to allow for verification of each of you and to create quantum encrypted channels using Daystrom Industries programming schema."
"What makes these different than industry or Fleet modules of similar type?" asked Raul.
Reyard looked to Karl.
"Raul, part of the knowledge we have from the M-Series is how to create a quantum based secure comms system that uses entangled pairs of atoms to serve as a constant quantum channel. With your information each of those modules was encoded by the M-3/V in the production area which serves as the system master key. Those modules you hold in your hand have a direct connection with the M-3/V when they are activated and continue that connection when they are not in use. Because of that quantum channel, when you utilize them they identify you, confirm you and then allow for specialized comms to be opened. Each of these weapons platforms," Karl indicated to the device in the case, "has a small slot for one of those modules," he indicated that physically and it showed up on the holodisplay,"that then allows the device to scan you, identify you and confirm that you are the individual authorized by that module."
"What does the scan do?" Blacks asked.
Reyard brought up a part of the brief sent to them by Enid and highlighted it.
"In this technical section of the M-5 briefing," Reyard said, "Enid covers one of the technical quirks of the M-Series: it is unable to be transported while in operation. With the remote help of Mr. Jomra, Mr. Arrivan and Miss Lorimar, Karl incorporated that scan system into the device. Additionally he has incorporated the same into customized personal units."
Reyard lifted a small tray with Daystrom Industry boxes on them, suitable for belts, waistbands or other attachment points on clothing or equipment, onto the table and pushed one to each of the Defense Unit members. Moreth quickly unpacked the contained personal unit, which was quite small, an oblong that would do justice to an old style credit card although three times as thick, and turned it on. In a few seconds his personal unit was interfacing with it and he was examining the features the new unit presented. Koletsu let his remain boxed while Minestra, Col. Davis and Raul each took theirs out and were checking it much the same as Moreth was.
"They are proof against transporter lock-on and transportation, but only activate with an encrypted module with them. The modules, however, lose all quantum pairing when moved via transporter. As they serve as the key to the system, it also serves to ensure that the entire system from weapon to personal unit, integrate completely. As you've heard these units cannot be recreated by any means and retain quantum integrity, and includes recreating matter stream 'copies' of you, as they have strong quantum variance with your original matter stream. The Heisenberg Compensator for transporters has limits on what it can do with exacting positioning and quantum state, and your generalized state can be remade only with the original matter stream and even that has quantum variations with your original scanned placement. A copy of you cannot get close to that due to variations in the matter involved at a quantum level."
Minestra let out a low whistle.
"That's impressive! Does the Fleet have this technology under security locks?"
Reyard looked to Ushanda.
Ushanda smiled and looked to Minestra.
"Ms. Yarida, as far as we know no one has ever made a system like this as it is based on M-Series work. The basics for the M-Series will be made public in overview, but detailed technical work will be released piecemeal. A number of large distribution journals will be used for some of the work, but for other parts of the work we will release the material to small distribution, not easy to obtain but recognized journals on many systems. This work, in particular, will fall under that latter category in general, but as to specifics it will not be highlighted. I believe that this falls under a category of 'interesting confirmation of previously known phenomena', which most scientists don't care about. This will be in a small materials science journal released in the next year to two years if we can arrange it. Even with that we do not go into the technology, and that falls under 'patent held in secure systems to cover industrial secrets' arrangement systems. By doing normal confirmatory work the scientific community will understand that the company does more than just cybernetics or anti-commerce activity. As the design is held in-house, there is no easy way to duplicate it or co-opt it due to the nature of the encoding involved."
Col. Davis had been listening, even while synching his data up with the DI unit.
"And that is why the changes to not using transporters," Davis said.
Reyard moved the information area to a reduced size just above the table and brought up Federation wide trans-shipment display. Each of the major systems, bases and other major transportation points showed up with multiple display colors connecting each in thin strands.
"It is a recognized part of the system, Col. Davis," he said,"which we are addressing through ensuring that we have contract arrangements with fast courier services at least for administrative purposes. There are a number of personnel in the Federation who need fast transport as a matter of their line of work in commerce, and these courier groups serve them. At this point we have affiliations with two of them: Savod Group and Pace. Both are well established and bonded courier organizations, and understand that our needs incorporate personnel and Federation sanctioned weaponry. Of course each of you has a background and contacts and may wish to use other services, which Daystrom Industries will resource for you. As a last resort we can use Fleet based courier shuttles, but that would require that you establish some other cover for yourself at your destinations until such can arrive."
"I do have a number of formal and informal contacts for such work, as I assume the rest of our team has. I am used to getting to places that are out of the way quickly, and can help any members going far off of the known space corridors if they need it," he looked at the others who were looking at him. "I am unused to thinking in this manner beyond those trips that I am brought in to lead or facilitate. Yet I have learned that here we each must make sure our skills, even humble ones, are put to good use."
"I may need to do that, Mr. Koletsu, and thank you," Col. Davis said, "while I still have a number of contacts that may be of some use to me, they are limited in type and scope plus availability."
"We will have to work out a better system for this," Blacks said and then looked at Raul, "and I have just the point man for it."
Raul looked at Blacks.
"Den, you know that most of our old contacts can't do much for us these days."
"You do make more extensive use of your friends, Raul, almost as much as Min does," Moreth said.
"Yeah, we do need that, you're right, DBC," Minestra said looking first at Raul then Blacks then Koletsu.
"Plus I'm damned sure Koletsu has contacts with some people who would get hives helping us. Some of us can't hide worth a damn," she said looking back at Blacks, "so any help is appreciated."
"We will need to organize this a bit better," Ushanda said looking at Reyard, "and my husband should be the one for that during your trip to the Museum for final test and eval of the equipment. In general Reyard will be the one to handle the logistics and support of your operations. For the testing cycle, Fleet Museum and the Planitia Utopia shipyards have been persuaded by the Council to make a few test targets available for us..."
"Umak! He's giving Eloise a run-in that she hadn't expected on her rise to the Council. She had been hoping to get to the Fleet DD Office and then seek the Chair of the Council in about two years. Revar Umak, however, wasn't in her plans. So she and Wilson have got to cough up some help, now, to help the Fleet get a Council Chair slot for the next election period. It is time for her to help execute our plans and try to show that she actually deserves the slot. That's dancing to Umak's tune... but..."
He looked around at the others staring at him.
"Did I ever mention I hate Council politics?" he asked.
"Just about every day, DCB, and twice a day on weekends," Minestra said, smiling.
"You will get further chances to demonstrate it, I'm sure, Mr. Blacks," Ushanda said suppressing a smile,"after all you are operating under the auspices of the Council Trade Organization, and they are taking a large chance on us based on Mr. Umak's assessment of the situation. While predation on trade is still below 1% of all trade..."
"It is 1.6% of all trade that we know of, sister, Federation-wide." Karl said looking at her nodding.
"You're right, Karl," she said nodding,"I forgot that the less than 1% figure is for Federation intra-trade and that when you include the non-Federation systems the figure jumps up quite a bit, nearing 3%. That is not just Orion Pirates, however, but all Piratical and Corsair organizations plus standard criminal endeavors that get into that area of things. In any event, we need to pool our contacts resources beyond just those trade contracts we have lined up to give each of you the leeway and opportunity to use your talents to start bringing in Pirates. Although approval goes through me, final approval rests with Enid. Your meeting with her in two days will also include an inspection of the damage to the Ara and the forward hull of the Shrike."
"This is the first hard capture of any Orion Pirate vessel, ever," Moreth said,"unique as Pirate Captains prefer self-destruction to capture and possible compromise of their Clan."
"Ruined the interior, I bet," Minestra said examining the Ara in the holospace in front of her,"so no insights on the tricks they use to get high performance from their engines."
"The electrical disruption round had to have made the forward hull of the Shrike useless, too," Col. Davis said, "so while interesting items were found and the hull yielding some clues to Orionid ships, they don't portend a great breakthrough against the Clans."
"That is almost the direct assessment of the Fleet Engineering Corps, Col. Davis," Reyard said,"the Corps, Fleet I/CI and Sciences have all gone over the Shrike forward hull and Ara, and their work has been called upon for the Courts Martial which are going on at the Museum. The team is going there for that information and personal examination of what is left of those ships, so you can get a better feeling for how your systems work."
Raul nodded as he duplicated out Minestra's view of the Ara and added the Shrike to his viewspace.
"Has a generalized re-creation been done, yet?" he asked.
Reyard looked at Karl who, in turn looked at Ushanda.
"I believe there is a generalized scenario with humanoid figures. There are some more personalized figures with that, including Captain Ruzar, but we don't know the composition of the crew so the more generalized display figures with job assignments based on estimates of what it would take to do a given task. That forward hull section was cleared out before it was abandoned by Ruzar, and his crew did a thorough job removing anything useful to Federation specialists."
"Captain Ruzar is one of the smartest of the Pirate Captains," Blacks said, "and I hope we get a chance to give him some additional payback for his career. He has been in everything from smuggling to slave trading to disrupting planetary governments, plus has survived some of the known Pirate fleet battles not only in the Federation but Klingon and Romulan space, as well."
"He did have a plan, had it disrupted, lost his ship plus those that came with him, and still survived," Moreth said, "which is something that very few Federation Captains could pull off. Even amongst Pirates, most Orions would have self-destructed after the initial onslaught, but he didn't and remained composed enough to survive. That is why he has a reputation."
"He's respected, thats for sure. Detested, but respected," Minestra said.
Miyak Koletsu was examining the biography of Captain Ruzar.
"I do not like that we must use freighters as our means of bringing in such beasts," he said,"I would prefer an independent platform to work from."
"I am sure that Enid will talk to you all about that, as we have," Karl said,"but your ideas will be better founded than ours. If we can get a ship that isn't too badly damaged, then we can get that platform. None of us can do that," Karl glanced at Ushanda then Reyard,"but you might. Unfortunately the way we will be dealing with ships to bring them in means most will be liquidated for ready asset resources. That will help us build the company and get each of you better resource streams, but a ship of our own is something that the Federation doesn't really want to lend us. Bringing one in that is relatively intact would be a prize worth gaining, but not at the cost of any of your lives."
Raul nodded, glanced at Moreth who was now examining Ruzar's bio for the millionth time, then at Blacks who was pulling up some logistics systems work, then to Koletsu who glanced at him and nodded.
"So, if that is all for questions on the rounds and equipment?" Reyard asked.
Blacks looked from his viewspace and at the other team members.
"I think so, yeah."
"Good. Now it is time to issue you the equipment, get you synched with it, pull out rounds for testing and start getting all of you ready for tomorrow," Ushanda said,"bright and early, we have a shuttle to transport you to a Fleet courier in orbit and then to the Museum."
"This show is going on the road," Minestra said.
"About damned time," Blacks said, smiling.
Raul shut down the history queries he had going and stood up with the rest of them. He, too, was looking forward to the future.
L'Tira waved to Reyard and Eileen as they walked towards the shuttle. The other Defense Unit Team Members had arrived earlier to oversee the packing and crating of their equipment, which was taking a bit longer than expected. She turned to Kathy Lorimar who stood by her side, with a small, standard packing case next to her. It had been an overcast day, but the clouds were finally breaking up as the storm from the previous day had passed through the area.
"I'll miss you, Kathy," she said looking slightly up at Lorimar.
Kathy nodded as a brief breeze went across the DI Landing Center.
"And me, you, L'Tira. And Roger, Alex, Ushanda, Karl... everyone here. I was surprised that Enid wanted me to do the M-5 shutdown at the Museum. Its an important task to get it properly shut down and then move its system modules here for a re-integration. Alex was holed up with Karl, Kembe and Charles for nearly a day with the unpacked hardware and I thought that, for sure, one of them would be asked to do the shutdown. They are better at the technical aspects than I am."
Kathy looked out to the shuttle as part of the load was taken out the back and was being re-sorted for a better fit. Minestra Yarida, Charles Wollat, Raul Edrera and Moreth were there tyring to figure out the best way to put the cases and equipment on-board, and it was obvious that some major re-packing had to be done. Miyak Koletsu and Den Blacks were seen attaching repulsor handles to skids and slowly sliding more equipment out of the shuttle when Reyard and Eileen got there.
"That is one motley crew," Kathy said smiling towards the group on the dressed pavement by the shuttle.
"Really capable, though. Twice I didn't hear Mr. Koletsu walking towards me, once inside the admin building and once out by the park," she nodded outside the fence and southwards down the street, "and I really thought that humans couldn't be that quiet. Most are pretty noisy when they walk around, but not Mr. Koletsu."
"He is an odd one," Kathy said watching Koletsu shifting the skid out of the shuttle then taking a second repulsor handle and attaching it to the side that became exposed. "So is Moreth. A really quick mind and eye. He sees so much and says so little around everyone, not just people he doesn't know."
"Do you think so?" L'Tira asked wrinking her nose some. "He seems pretty normal to me, at least for humanoids. Far more talkative than Alex, say."
"L'Tira, most statues are more talkative than he is, at least when its not on technical topics. Actually, he seems to treat everything as a technical topic, but the real interest in engineering is the one that matters."
"Oh, he talks enough with friends, really. Now Edrera, he isn't a typical Andorian, that's for sure. I don't think that he has propositioned all the women on the staff, yet. I had to explain to him the use of claws and fur adaption, plus scent crossing and what that portends for my species when he got to me. I don't think he liked some of the images that came to mind. Really, most humanoids are relatively defenseless against the elements and minor cuts and scrapes..."
"Uh-huh," Kathy said suppressing a smile and raising an eyebrow,"got the same from him after we first arrived. Subtle, yes, I'll give him that. More subtle than the cargo hauler crewmembers I've had to deal with in life. I didn't give him the load of bricks that you did, though. Probably more than capable in that department, but not someone I would want on even a semi-permanent basis. Of course he has Min, and I get the idea that she has been more than teammates with more than teammates. She wasn't doing the obvious flirt with everything male, though, I'll give her that."
L'Tira nodded glancing at Minestra Yarida who was gesticulating towards a platform on the ground and towards the shuttle, plus a cargo box that was half-way out of the back of the shuttle that Charles was hefting, bare handed.
"She's been with Alex," L'Tira whispered,"and it didn't go well. For her."
"What?" Kathy gasped in surprise. "Are you sure?"
"Either that, or she tried something on him and he didn't like it. Alex isn't saying and just addresses her semi-formally, you know?"
"He's formal with all of them, except Moreth and Koletsu. But with Min... involved?"
"Have you seen how she reacts when he's around? She's been married, has children and grandchildren, is in the prime of her Vulcanoid-offshoot life and yet fumbles everything when Alex shows up. She tries to catch herself, but more than once she has slipped and called him 'Alex', and then just shook her head. I know humanoids, Kathy. If there isn't something going on there, then she wants there to be and Alex, being Alex, has politely informed her that he doesn't make up his mind quickly in that area. Which, of course..." L'Tira said smiling.
"Just makes him more attractive to her!" Kathy's eyes widened as she smiled. "Alex is a nice man, and all, but I'm not wanting a life-time commitment. Still if she did, and at his age... hmmmmm... don't know what her sub-group's age range tends to be. Not pure Vulcan that's for sure."
Kathy looked over to the shuttle where Kembe had arrived and started telling people which skid went where in the shuttle.
"That will just have to sort itself out," Kathy said looking back to L'Tira. "And you? Where on Earth are you supposed to be headed? Cascadia? That is nasty country, you know?"
L'Tira smiled and nodded.
"I'm looking for Leo Daystrom's old site that was passed down to Richard and now part of DI. We have paid taxes on it for a few centuries, but no one has been there. It is in what used to be the old North Central Section, but Cascadia withdrew from the Earthgov proposal, along with a lot of other places. I know they probably don't like outsiders too much," L'Tira said, "but I'm not humanoid. And if they are as relatively primitive as everyone says they are, then I should fit right in. With some luck and work, of course."
"You are nuts, L'Tira. They don't even have representatives to talk with Earthgov... not that they are alone in that, of course. But you will be beyond reach there, unless you get an emergency transport out."
"Nope. I'll be carrying an M-Series scanner with me. No lock-ons unless I want it," L'Tira said shifting the small, flexible strap that held her personal unit and indicating the DI box that was attached to it. "So complete freedom and responsibility for myself, just the way I like it."
Kathy shivered and reflexively reached out to hug L'Tira.
"Take care of yourself," she said quietly.
L'Tira returned the hug.
"I will, Kathy, really," she said disengaging from her friend's hug, "it is a big responsibility and Enid wants me to do it. She says I have a better chance to do it than anyone else. And you do know I suggested you for the M-5 shutdown at the Museum, right?"
Kathy had her hands on L'Tira's shoulders.
"You did?" she whispered, "Why?"
L'Tira smiled brightly.
"It's your friend. It trusts you. You will keep it safe during the entire operation."
"Me?" Kathy asked pulling her hands from L'Tira and letting them drop to her side, looking lost.
"Yes, you!" L'Tira said still smiling, "Enid doesn't have the time, wants it done right, and she agrees that M-5/V trusts you more than anyone, even her."
Kathy was shocked. She had spent a lot of time with that M-5/V system, but she had never thought of it as friendship. But it was a person to her, unlike all other cybernetic recreations and holograms, and any other sentient system she had encountered. And she had treated it as one from their first encounter pre-M-5/V stage.
"How do you know that?"
"Simple! I asked it. So did Enid. So off you go to the shutdown!" L'Tira was smiling deeply and shifting her weight slightly from side to side with the emotions inside her.
Kathy looked over the distance to the shuttle and saw that Kembe, Blacks, and Min were now getting the last of the pieces into storage.
"Ok, I'm holding things up," Kathy said and looked back to L'Tira and held out her hands to her, and L'Tira grasped them.
"Thank you, L'Tira. You are a good friend, one of the best I've ever had."
"My pleasure, Kathy. Keep an eye on Raul, though, ok? He's a smooth operator, that one. Good guy, and such, but still..."
"I will. Don't get yourself dead in Cascadia, all right?"
"Nope. No bets, but I'm not going on a suicide mission."
With that Kathy gave a final up and down shake with their hands and let go, hefted her case and walked off towards the shuttle. The light clouds overhead had broken more, although the wind was still chill. Inhaling deeply, Kathy knew that it was good to be alive.