Monday, February 25, 2013

Relic - Chapter 5

Chapter 5

Raul Edrera was, for all of his first name, not human. He had come from the Andorian colony world of Gishan, which had welcomed a small human colony to it after their First Contact with Humanity. The Federation would be forming after that, and Andoria was to be one of the core worlds of it with Earth and Vulcan, and the Andorian fleet was capable if small in numbers. Their attitude towards colony worlds was one of transplanting a highly automated set of agricultural systems and a densely populated urban development system and then allowing the automated systems to do their work and the rest of the colony to support other forms of production, which would allow a modicum of trade until it was self-sufficient. When it accepted ten thousand human colonists the Andorian population stood around four million as Gishan had been established a two centuries previous to human first contact.

Andorians were bemused by the way humans spread themselves out into small villages and even single family farms. While the humans accepted Andorian law and even participated in the representative governing system, they also were given carve-outs for human based law in their communities. It was a strange, patch-work system that Andorians politely, and in private, chuckled at. They had understood that humans were a gregarious people, yet here they were all over the landscape. And they brought little in the way of mechanization with them, which made the early years ones of pure bewilderment of actual livestock used to work farms.

These were a starfaring people?

Yet a few indicators gave clues of the future.

One was that each of these tiny communities, even small farms, defended themselves and formed an interlinked network of communications without resorting to orbital based systems. They sought for, and received, permission to put up orbital transponders, but those were mere timing devices to allow accurate location within near-Gishan space.

The second point was that humans eagerly scooped up all knowledge of Andorians, attended classes across all age groups, attended virtual seminars, and absorbed much of the legal, ethical, moral and mores of Andorian culture. Not practiced them, mind you, but learned them and extremely rapidly. The humans said they wished to be 'good neighbors'.

The first human generation born on Gishan became a backbone of the local planetary defense force in a decade, and an influx of a few new settlers and expansion of the older farms and towns gave testament to the rising capability of human economics. They traded heavily with Andorians, formed trade groups and even started to trickle out some goods to the larger markets of the newly minted Federation. And by the second generation a few of the human majority towns had defense platforms able to reach up to orbit.

Vulcans had warned that humans always seemed to be preparing for war and gave some warning about the remains of the third large-scale planetary conflict that had so weakened Earth to the point of its barely being able to support Federation membership. And yet the colonies of Earth multiplied again and again. Star Fleet had started to become a human dominated affair and even Andorians could not keep up with the numbers of ships involved.

Orion's entry to the Federation was a mixed bag as it underwent a deep cultural split with a number of clans becoming piratical groups. The third generation of humans on Gishan had worked in well to the local establishment, and were now representatives in their own right and their trade system was now on-par with the Andorians on the planet. Some members of the Colony Council took some alarm at this as, within another generation at the then current rate, humans would outstrip native Andorians in population, trade and defending the planet.

One of the Andorian native Fleet vessels, about a Frigate in size, was joined by a Destroyer from the Federation, which looked to be a relatively crude but very functional craft. Within a decade they would receive their first test as a squadron of Pirate vessels descended on the Gishan system with intent to raid and take off anything they could. The eight incoming ships dispatched the two vessels guarding the planet, although two of their Medium Raiders took significant damage. The vessels went into orbit and demanded tribute.

Or else.

Planetary Force Commander Miriam Mossak gave them a very terse response.

She said it was traditional.

It would take awhile for the Pirates to process through the meaning of 'Nuts'.

The Orions opened a salvo on the large city the Andorians had put down and a barrage of disruptor blasts and photon torpedoes rocked the city. The response took a few minutes but it was deadly. Across the planet all the defense platforms put in place by the human settlers activated and started a direct barrage of one use missiles and sent up regular salvos of photon torpedoes. While the smaller ships intercepted the missiles the larger ones were caught unaware of the photon torpedoes until a large, bright mass of them arced in orbit heading towards their largest vessels.

Both the Medium Raiders underwent a term called 'overkill' and were soon atoms and chunks of anonymous material in orbit. The Heavy Raider suffered 20 simultaneous attacks, about 8 of which blossomed inside the hull after the shield had been broken at the small area the torpedoes hit. It was crippled and badly, unable to operate much of anything as its course altered by off-gassing from inside the vessel and a set of thrusters spewing their contents out at random.

The five Light Raiders decided to try some hit and run raids after dispatching the missiles. They concentrated on one of the smaller human outposts and overwhelmed its defenses then started beaming raiders down to terrorize the population and make off with whatever they could get. Approximately 500 mercenary raiders beamed down and were met with a mere 35 defenders. The attackers used the brightest, flashiest and most deadly hand weapons they had and nearly laughed at the humans use of antiquated firearms.

Laughed while they could, that is.

Three humans had what is known as 'commanding oversight' and had some of the highest training in accurate fire that could be provided on-planet. In a space of ten minutes nearly 100 mercenaries were dead and another 50 engaged in a death struggle with the remains of the defensive outpost. The mercenaries were, indeed, taking anything they could get and getting beamed up. The three nearest towns outside of any defense support then took action and co-beamed assault personnel aboard the Orion vessels.

What followed was chaos, pure and simple.

Two of the Light Raiders would impact Gishan and leave large craters where their anti-matter stores detonated. Another would vaporize over an ocean causing a 30 meter tsunami. The fourth detonated in orbit, from a possible suicide charge. The last escaped, but had gotten nothing from the raid as it was the furthest away and did not try to beam anyone back.

Raul's great great grandparents had survived as children, but most of their family had been killed in the raid. Human families worked side by side with Andorians, honored the dead and then took in the homeless children. The children were raised to Andorian standards and schooling, but their culture was no longer that of Andoria. Gishan culture would change, greatly, as the assault squads had been mixed human and Andorian, as had been the crews in orbit. The humans, however, were the ones to 'grind out' the mercenaries, and only four survived to get to Andorians and plead for mercy. Those four were granted trials, and then put into prison for the rest of their natural lives.

So while DCB and Min were mixed of species and culture, Raul was only culturally mixed in the new hybrid that was Gishan culture while still being Andorian stock. He served his 20 years with Fleet I/CI in the same operations group as Den Blacks, Minestra Yarida, Jerlain Whittier and Moreth, along with a group up and down cadre from them, with the older members retiring a decade or so before he did. Den Blacks was up-cadre but promoted and stayed on an extra tour and when he retired a lot of other members did, also, after ensurinig that the basic command cohesion for the unit still held together. Like the others Raul had been at loose ends, not really wanting to retire, being a bit too old for some of the actual work but not old enough to really consider himself 'out of the game'.

Somehow the long middle age of Andorians hadn't been a second-career blessing to him, like it was to the rest of Andorians. The problem was that he liked the work, like the challenges and didn't mind the hard labor that went into it. Like many others from the Community he had picked up on a bit of bounty hunting, chasing down various criminals for local planetary authorities and getting into the 'odd jobs' area. The prospect of something like his old line of work really did appeal to him and when Karl Daystrom contacted him, what was being offered wasn't easy to believe. Somehow Karl had ferreted out the information about Den's group and he was soon on a fast courier to Sol system and getting the news of what Karl's older sister, Enid had done over the previous two months or so.

Getting to the Mars Base to meet up with everyone had been an experience with Den, Min, Jer and Moreth there, along with three others who were part of the new team the Daystroms were putting together with Ushanda in the lead. He knew two of them from other planetary defense forces, and one was a 'Big Game Hunter', Miyak Koletsu, that he couldn't place for anything but that Enid knew on one or more of her expeditions. They could only inspect the outside of the Ara and forward hull of the Shrike, and get holodisplay walk-throughs at the Museum for those areas already examined. Those and the recordings by Enid done from the rear of the USS Grant had shown Raul that Enid, at least, was far, far tougher than she looked. His review of her career deeply impressed him as he started to understand that she was a bit better prepared in some areas than he was.

The brass tacks were simple and straightforward.

Daystrom Industries was going to do quite a bit more than enhancing Federation starships with M-Series computers. Their work with the Gorns was still spinning up, but had a full 'go ahead' from the Federation Council. The Defense Unit, then named, would be a contracting outfit to start pulling in heavier resources via the destruction of Pirate and other predator ships run by other outfits, and capture was preferred as those had resale value, with Star Fleet getting first dibs on any incoming ships, which they were going to exercise to help expand the Fleet. But anything that was captured belong, first, to Daystrom Industries and this organization was not going to put up with nonsense that had been left unaddressed for a long, long time.

A meeting with the Daystrom 'Braintrust', Enid, Karl, Ushanda, L'Tira, Alex, Kathy, Roger and Enak via subspace, had convened with the cadre for the Defense Unit, and they were given the other thing that would go on: to operate autonomously of Star Fleet to go after 'high value targets'. For that they needed an expanded operation, however, and a good basis to start their other work, so it might be awhile as no one had actually tried to do the hard one-man trick of capturing a starship. An ARMED starship that was hostile without having another armed starship available for back-up, which made things even harder. That was a real challenge and something that even Den Blacks couldn't easily pin down as to the best way to do it. Their training in the types of equipment Enid had devised and Karl had advanced took a few weeks and then they were deployed. But it was after that initial meeting at the Museum that Raul remembered a bit of history in the collapse of the Klingon Empire.

Wen'kal Shipyards had been put together as an advanced prototype/refit base prior to the collapse. It was an advanced design organization that was given the unenviable task of upgrading older Klingon designs and putting new ones together. It had a lot of work on the refit side and had just gotten itself going on the prototyping area when the collapse happened. A couple of years before the collapse Federation INTEL had gotten a quick drone flyby and saw that there were multiple new ship types being put together: bodies of something a bit smaller than K'tinga Class ships, some new Light Cruiser design and the beginnings of the forward boom of a Dreadnought. That was the last information about two years before the collapse and those ships went missing with the destruction of the shipyard by the civil wars that started to erupt nearby. A decade or so after the worst was over the Federation had gotten a Fleet Advisory group through there and the devastation was total, and multiple ships in for refit had been demolished with the shipyards.

All of the prototypes were gone.

It would have been just possible to finish them to basic starfaring capability by the time internal hostitilities erupted and multiple clans fought for that region. Raul brought that up with Enid, she passed him over to Kathy and they started to go through old stellar records the Fleet had and worked with the M-5/V that had been the testbed at the Museum. A week or so later they had finally found tachyon emissions of a large ship under cloak warping out just before hostilities hit and tracked those to the Neutral Zone which had been left seeing its own problems with systems on the Federation side wanting to help systems on the Klingon side. That region would become engulfed in the mayhem, and just as that started that Dreadnought had an emissions trail cutting the 'corner' of Federation space, possibly to an uninhabited brown dwarf system.

The tachyon emissions cut off outside the system, however, and over the next few decades the expeditions that went looking for the ships couldn't find a single one of them. The brown dwarf system had been checked against previous records and nothing of note was seen save some possible disruption in its scattered Oort cloud, but that was indicative of nothing. No wreckage on the few planets, and nothing found to have been dropped into the one gas giant, about the size of Neptune, that was in the system. No ship in orbit, anywhere. The Vulcan Star Probe group even checked the star, itself, and found nothing out of the ordinary before their probes gave out. Any expected course in and out of the sytem was checked forward and back and the result was: no ships from the shipyard. And no record of them showing up anywhere.

With all of that Kathy, Raul and M-5/V started their work using all previous data and seeing what had been left unchecked. Raul hated sensor work and while enjoying cultural historical analysis, stellar historical analysis was not something he enjoyed. Still, he stuck with it as Kathy Lorimar was very interested and the M-5/V was demonstrating some capability at synthesizing information unlike any other computer he had ever encountered. They went through everything, and came up empty. Still Kathy ran the recordings through and started to pull up more and more background information, and they finally had to move to a full holostage to host all the data.

She had pulled up all interstellar analyses for the entire history of the Federation, its member planets and even released Klingon datasets. Slowly, taking each data set she fused them and examined them, some sets she set aside, others she broke up and still others were put into a faded out status. She stared through the space and slowly rotated it around her at the center of the platform and Raul just watched mesmerized.

He remembered 'the moment' when she highlighted a blue path through space. It was short.

"That is a disruption in interstellar hydrogen showing an ionized track that was not there before the collapse, and was picked up about a decade after and since has disappeared back into background. Although its a cylinder, when you take the center of it you get something very close to what the clan that was in charge of the shipyards who were also part of the rebellion would have taken to rendezvous at that system. As we have missing tachyon overlays for much of this sub-sector, no one could know exactly where the emissions ended, and they didn't have the interstellar background information to work with as it hasn't been called up. We are the first to see this information."

Raul stepped over to it.

"But what does it mean?"

"It is a track of ionized hydrogen that shows up due to warp disruption."

Stepping around it Raul looked at it.

"But why does it end a half light-year before the brown dwarf system?" he asked.

"You got me, Raul. But it indicates they dropped out of warp drive. Now look at the short red path just beyond it."

Raul looked at a very short path that was very small compared to the blue path.

"That is, possibly, impulse engine effluent. At full ship output for, say, a K'tinga or D-7 that is about a week of increasing velocity. For something larger it scales up for output in proportion to size, but mass means lower end velocity."

Staring at that, Raul gestured and brought the red portion down and stepped behind it to look through it and to the brown dwarf.

"Sub-light?" he asked.

She nodded and smiled.

"Unpowered after that, too. All previous researchers and salvage groups assumed the ship was under power enough to reach the system and have something happen to it. Assuming otherwise would be pure speculation without data to back it up. Now let me add in a min/max speed for, say, something heavier than a CA and up to DN size and lets see what we have over the next few decades."

Raul watched as a green line started, then spread out to be a very small cone moved forward, then noticed that it was not a uniform front and was becoming a series of slightly different colored areas that overlapped.

"Blue is CA mass and unlikely, but its telling that relative motion of the brown dwarf at sub-light speeds moves the system just slightly off the course. The darkest red is a really heavy DN. Green is most probable. Now I'll let it march through and stop with each research group and add in their investigation areas."

The blue course went through the system and was bent due to gravity and just outside the system when the first search group showed up.

"Notice they ignored the far outer part of the system and concentrated on planets? Particularly the inner ones?"

He nodded yes.

It went forward and the green cone was a bit further out and bent so it was just outside the system.

"That is the Vulcan Star Probe group sent in by the Fleet. That cone has already moved beyond the last minor planet, but not the Oort cloud."

Progressing the red one moved just outside the system and was barely bent by the gravity of it.

"First group doing a forward/backward warp track analysis. They missed that one, and all the rest are moot. Let me move it up to the present."

The cones moved and spread and the other groups flashed through far behind the forward face of the cones.

"That's the spread, Raul," the volume outlined into a spread out ellipsoid form, "somewhere in there is a ship that shut down its warp engines and had a limited impulse drive boost for normal space work. Now I'll lower the intensity above and below the plane indicated by the warp path, if that is what that indicates."

He walked over and looked at it. A rainbow of colors that faded up and down and went slightly ahead and behind the overlapping areas clearly showed up. Lines above and below marked the most probable and faded oblongs marked furthest possible course deviation based on equipment accuracy of the era.

"And no one has checked here for a ship, right?"

"An active one, yes. But one that isn't putting out a heat signature? Tachyon signature? Energy signature? No. If it had lost its warp drive, had only a week or so at impulse, and no other power source, then it would be and nearly impossible to find. Unless you know exactly where to look."

"But how do we find it?"

"Mass sensor. Very basic. If you get a reading, its either an interstellar piece of debris or the ship. You have the minimum and maximum for a DN so that will help get rid of the light stuff and small planetoids."

Raul started to smile.

"Do you think we should contact Enid?" he asked.

"I think so, Raul. This looks like a good gamble and it will take you awhile to get there..."

He nodded.

"The Ghost Dreadnought. I wonder what happened to it?"

Kathy chuckled.

"Capture everything with a good sensor suite and you can get a good historical documentary out of it."

"If its there," he said.

"Yes. Better you than me for this sort of thing, really. The Grant when unpowered gave me a very bad feeling. I can't imagine a Klingon ship like that. But note that nowhere is there a signature of a matter/anti-matter explosion. It either dropped its cache or..."

His eyes widened.

"Still on board?"

"If its there," she said.

The rest, as they say, is history.


Enid Daystrom looked at the people in the meeting room, and saw the faces of Reyard, Eileen, Miyak and Kathy that she knew and after a brief introduction could still just place faces to names and background. They seemed at ease with each other, chatting to each other either standing next to or seated at the briefing table. Enid made sure the door behind her was secured and walked fully into the room.

She looked at the room and softly said, "Don't I ever get to escape these meetings?"

Den Blacks who was seated near the head of the table looked at her and shook his head.

"It goes with the job, Ms. Daystrom, no escaping it. That is one of the main reasons I looked forward to retirement."

Eileen smiled, "You'll get used to it, really!"

Enid shook her head and grimaced.

"You, at least, could get away for months at a time, Mr. Blacks. And Eileen, you know that I well and truly detest any but the sparest meetings. I've been stuck here for the most part of a year, save for my time on the Grant. The meetings for the M-Series work was bad enough, all the bureaucracy since then has been exasperating. It gets tiring after awhile."

The others in the room had noticed her and began taking seats, and where Blacks was on her left, Miyak Koletsu gravitated towards the front of the table on her right.

"Enid you are least suited to doing this," he said taking his seat and putting his field hat on the top of the very high backed chair, "and the only one who can do it. I have reviewed the full M-5 meeting records and you do it well."

She shook her head in the negative.

"I have got to get away from all of this, Miyak. And I will, too, once the Fleet Court comes to a final decision and then the Federation Court makes its decision on my change of venue request. At least two months, if not four. Time to stop the complaining," she said inhaling, "If everyone is comfortable?"

Moreth was seated just a seat away from Blacks and getting his personal unit deployed, as were Kathy and Minestra. Others were nodding or indicating that they were ready.

"I've secured the room and added in the DI module to enhance that, and if you want a full record then do utilize your own modules to get those feeds. All of you met me yesterday and had time to sleep off the shuttle trip. I am Enid Daystrom and as the head of the company I want to keep this meeting semi-formal due to the nature of the topics that I will be going through. Some of you may not consider yourself as being in a position to offer advice on some topics, but I reject no input from anyone who has commitment to our mutual success. Karl, Ushanda, Reyard and Eileen have all given you a clean bill of health, hired you and you each have them as your main contacts for Daystrom Industries. That said I run a flat operation, with titles and jobs morphing to suit immediate needs. That means that each of you has direct contact with me, and as I am learning on the job and no one has ever attempted what we are doing before in Federation history, I need your help. Never be afraid to ask for help in Daystrom Industries as no one can do it all, be everywhere and know everything. There is no stigma attached to personal limitations, we all have them. Those you work with are your best resource for help, and that includes me. Like you my time is valuable..." she looked around the room in general,"... just don't tell that to the Fleet or Federation."

Enid reached down and took up her water glass and sipped at it. Then reviewed her personal agenda for the meeting which flashed onto the forearm of the historical uniform she had on.

"Guaranteed they know," said Col. Davis.

Minestra nodded.

"Damned bureaucracy. Courts martial are usually pretty quick, I know that after being through one or two in my life," she said.

"Hard cases make bad law," Moreth said shaking his head, "and that is exactly not what the Fleet wants."

"Very hard case," Koletsu said, "they never expected a hunter to bring in such kill."

Enid sat down and smiled at him.

"Remains at any rate. First up is for my geneal overview of DI and its path. Most of this is already set down and are things you need to be aware of. Any help is appreciated."

She looked around the table and brought up a flow diagram for the company in the holospace over the table.

"The darker red parts of the diagram are the past events, flowing from those to the light blue boxes are current events and the dark blue boxes are future events with the shade darker further forward until I start the green farther future area. On the immediate table is getting this team stood up and deployed and I will be leaving that deployment up to Mr. Blacks as he is the head of the Operational Section inside the Defense Group under Ushanda. Everyone here needs familiarization and test round firing of your devices, and Karl sent along a few hundred test rounds that simulate effects of the real things, indcluding indicators for some of the dispersal rounds. Also for what is going on here, and on today's agenda, is examination of the forward hull of the Shrike and the safe parts of the Ara. That is how you can see what the effects of these rounds are, first hand with the Ara being the prime one for going after the warp core coolant system. The forward hull of the Shrike has received each of the other types of rounds, as I considered it to be the prime threat after the immediate threat of the shuttles and escorts. I will be leading that tour."

"The Shrike could have destroyed the Grant on its own," Edrera said, "very gutsy to take out the shuttles and escorts, first."

"Ruzar was pretty distracted, is my guess, Raul," Blacks said, "most Pirates have their bridge in the center of their ships like sane people, but Ruzar was damned haughty and wanted an expansive bridge to show off to people."

"Pure psy-ops," Moreth said.

"And paid for it. You targeted that part of the ship due to its EM signature?" Col. Davis asked.

Enid nodded.

"Seemed to have that 'bridge feel' to it from what I understood of the literature. After today's meeting and tour, tomorrow Reyard and I will step you through weapon loading, unloading, targeting and general use. Karl has added a fully manual mode to your systems so that you can take suit feeds and over-ride the on-board targeting system to do other things with it. Even though these are test rounds, I don't suggest firing them at people as the velocity they use would be fatal..."

"Good," Blacks whispered, "probably need a few for deck clearing."

Koletsu nodded.

Enid looked between the two men and decided she did not want to know.

"Outside of that scope is getting the rest of DI set up in overview. The Indiana Plant is waiting for final building construction and staffing, along with the M-5/V modules and housings from here. An M-2/V unit is set up for the Defense Group and one is now coming on line for the regional government. These are critical as we are on a deadline for getting an M-2/V system to the Fleet for an install on the Gryffon and for additional M-1 and M-2 units for the Grant. We will then be upping capacity within two months by installing and starting up a new facility in Cascadia, which will get most of the M-1 through M-3 unit construction so that the Indiana facility can concentrate on M-4 and M-5 work, plus Defense Group work."

"Who is getting that up and running?" Moreth asked.

"L'Tira," said Kathy.

"L'Tira? Isn't she... ahhh...." Blacks was looking from Kathy, who was smiling, to Enid who was also smiling.

"Don't worry, Mr. Blacks," Reyard said, "this is a family business and while brother and sisters are very busy, not to speak of myself and Eileen, we have an excellent second tier of volunteer family members who know this business. Kembe, Charles and Tananda will be helping and when Eileen and I get back from here, then we can help that effort and overall stand-up."

"Mr. Blacks, L'Tira was my X-O for the entire M-5 Project. Do you think I would give that job to someone I didn't trust?" Enid asked still smiling.

Den Blacks had been unimpressed with L'Tira as an administrator type as she just didn't have the personality for it. This had puzzled him for a long time and he still couldn't figure it out. He suspected something was missing in his understanding of the relationship, but could not, for the life of him, put his finger on it.

"I do know that, Ms. Daystrom, its just that she seems... well... young, brash, outgoing..."

"She is all those things," Kathy said, "and very detail oriented. Which Enid is in certain areas but not administratively. You meet her, you immediately like her, she comes across as genuinely interested in you, and then never forgets a christmas or birthday greeting or passes along a short note or otherwise lets you know she does not forget you. Enid has those problems of forgetting to keep people updated and in touch," she said smiling at Enid who's mouth twisted into a half-grin and nodded, "L'Tira doesn't."

"Even before she arrived she was handing us schedules, Den," Eileen said, "asking for help, giving a few pointers and generally smoothing over all the normal contact problems I've had with Enid for, well, how long has it been Enid?"

"Close to fifteen years, I'd say."

"I love Enid like a sister, Den," Eileen said, "but she is distant to everyone, even her own brother and sister. When L'Tira was added into the loop we got far more of Enid's outlook from her than Enid was sending us, directly."

"And she pinged Enid for more," Reyard said, "and can get away with that because L'Tira is a likeable woman. Now she will do the exact, same thing for getting the Cascadia facility up and running. The harsh edges of the family business will be smoothed over. Of course those of us closest to Enid will suffer for her lack of personal communications..."

He looked to Enid and she looked down and then up smiling.

"Family! They never let you forget how errant you really are, which is very errant in my case. I was interested in L'Tira as her people were the top predator on their planet, and working with sentient top predators is a treat, even though they are very civilized, getting a feel for their history is amazing. That one would be so personable as L'Tira? She was sending me notes from the first day of our first meeting, and she was not sucking up just being friendly as the project hadn't even stood up or even gotten started. I not only appreciated that, I realized I couldn't get the job done without her, at least not easily nor quickly. Plus she loves hard work, in case that has been missed."

"She's your doppelganger!" Minestra said.

Enid laughed.

"She has all the nice parts I lack, Ms. Yarida. That is why I sent her to Cascadia, directly. The people there aren't used to outsiders, are used to carnivores, aren't used to sentient carnivores and aren't familiar with outsiders acting nice to them. She will get the plant up and running in record time, while even Tananda or Reyard would have extreme problems due to the familiarity factor of being humans and being Earthgov citizens. Cascadia people would be just hostile because of that, but to something so strange, dangerous and yet nice? Mr. Blacks, would you ever, in your right mind, cross L'Tira?"

Blacks had been listening and as this unfolded he realized that the entire personality that was Enid Daystrom was slowly fitting the puzzle together.

"She is your trusted point man, just like Moreth is to me," he said looking at Moreth, "and no one crosses him up without paying a price. I do understand, now, Ms. Daystrom."

"She is different, Den," Moreth said, "she would apologize to you for the pain you asked for."

"No matter how sweet, the hunter still remains," Miyak said, "her attraction is obvious and even I feel it. But then we are hunter kin."

"Yes, Ms. Daystrom, it fits. It was just troubling to me is all..."

"That is why you are with us, Mr. Blacks, because you see what troubles you and say it. Even if it is a bit painful to me," she glanced at Eileen and Reyard, "that is part of life and I am no better a person than any other person, and worse in some ways."

"And better in others," Kathy said, "you didn't reject me when I asked to come over, Enid."

"How could I?" Enid said smiling deeply, "What you did for me and why you wanted to leave the Fleet is obvious and I could never turn you down because of those things. Only you could have picked up when Mr. Jervis and the Swift went missing, no one else had the background and interest to help the team put the M-Series work together. Your work and insights on the M-Series, alone, would make you welcome, Kathy. Your truthfulness and misgivings on what happened to that work are a much needed part of this organization and a great help in making sure that I stick to the dream of my great grandfather. I was stunned you wanted to come over, Kathy, but my gratitude for that I just can't easily say and without you we might have lost one or more ships in and around Jupiter and not have the M-5/V ready, yet. Besides, you are going to help stand up the next portion of the company after the Indiana and Cascadia plants get operational."

Kathy blinked.

"I am?" she asked softly.

"After those two are up and running comes the extra-solar part of the organization to safeguard the M-Series and Defense Group and handle the commercial installs. That, I expect, will be the main resource stream for all of DI: commercial installation of M-2/V webs on freighters and other vessels."

"General refits too?" asked Raul.

"If we can do it, yes, Mr. Edrera. A full-service stop for commercial freighters needing the M-Series and some overhaul work."

Minestra let out a low whistle.

"You do move fast..."

Enid smiled and nodded.

"I have my reasons," she said flatly and then inhaled deeply.

"So as the only user of the anti-ship device, I get to run the training tomorrow. I've arranged for some mildly shielded targets which are some older probes and drones the Fleet is willing to excess for this off of the Athens and Grant. As you are all familiar with the capability of the device in more than overview, I probably won't be the best one to carry on the training after initial introduction. I know that Karl gave you all the normal atmosphere and space maintenance run through, and a few zero-g field strips to help each of you understand the system and be able to put it back together if there is need to do so by replacing worn parts. Now it is time for functional tests and try-outs with a week or so here to help people get started on the next phase of operations."

She turned to look at Den Blacks and shut down the holospace diagram she had up..

"Mr. Blacks, you are the one I've asked to lead the operational portion of the Defense Unit and I want your outlay on how you see this initial cadre operating along with first deployment or deployments."

Blacks nodded.

"Thank you, Ms. Daystrom," he said standing up and looked around the table, "I've messaged with Enid on this and talked with each of you to get your input and asked for some sketch of your part in this first operation as you think it should go. That input has helped me come to some basic decisions."

He looked around the table at each of the people there, from diverse backgrounds, and knew there was a lot riding on what he had decided.

"As you all know the I/CI world operates differently than the commercial world or even how the Fleet operates, but I recognize that the situation I am in is not I/CI, nor standard commerce or even covered by the Fleet although we do have some military laws over us. As no one has had this capability before, we have a slim window of time to try the audacious and do something that is unexpected. Normally I would want to concentrate our assets in the way of personnel, but that won't let us do the unexpected and will make for a future in which what we do is known by our Team as a group. What has happened, instead, is I have the most talented individuals from my old group plus two people who are very capable from different areas of activity and all of you know how to operate individually. For once trying to cross-cover may not be the best way to do things and that means letting everyone use their own ideas, skills and personal initiative to try and get results. The next cadre will then have the ability to learn from us about what we did and start some non-solo projects. That doesn't mean we act alone, necessarily, and we will have our own timelines under a larger one that I would estimate to be 6 to 8 months with a bit of leeway due to travel times. You each know how to operate alone, without back-up and knowing there is no one to catch your back, so I won't go into the obvious of waiting for someone to rescue you if things go into the pot. That time period will give us each time to get out to where we will do our business and see if we can bring a ship down. Or in. Preferably in. To get an idea of how this will work, I'll start off."

He turned on the holoprojector over the table that brought up the Alpha Quadrant and some surrounding space.

"I will be heading inwards towards the Epsilon 5 base area, also slightly towards the Dominion environs. There are a number of small colony worlds that have suffered from Pirate attacks as well as a renegade Klingon faction and some break-aways from Dominion control. While the Federation doesn't have a large presence there, just a base station and small planetary base along with frigate flotilla, with an older cruiser backing them, the number of small trade freighters is high, in the range of 3-5 per day that then trans-ship to smaller vessels to keep the colonies supplied. Its been a sore spot of attacks that dries up if the Fleet puts in more vessels and goes back to being a sore spot once the ships move on from it. So it makes a likely area to operate in and Karl has some freighter groups willing to try out something different even if they don't know what, exactly, that is, save for general contract verbiage on 'prize takings' and 'bringing in anyone' from the Federation Known Pirates list. That list also contains ships, but most people forget that and assume it is a bounty hunter's list. A single man on a freighter that may not have time to raise shields or even have shields isn't a great burden on overhead, and a part of any prize takings is a decent reward. They may be thinking in the very small scale, picking up an individual here or there, and not taking a ship down or in, but I can deal with that if and when it happens. I expect I can be on at least three or four ship convoys before 6 months are up, plus haulage convoys to and from the area. Raul?"

Blacks sat down and Raul remained seated.

"For me it will be outwards towards the old KNZ area," he highlighted a destination where the Klingon Empire had once been and was now populated by multiple small, independent systems and some older Federation systems along the old Klingon Neutral Zone area.

"That old 'bend' between the old Klingon Empire and Federation is where most of the trouble still is after the collapse of the older system order of the Empire. Old Andorian trade companies populate the region, as well as some old-line colony worlds from Andoria and Earth, and the old base station patrol infrastructure had to be superceded when Far and the Deep Space outposts were set up into and beyond the old Klingon territory boundaries. Although the Empire is back up to its old economy, its ship capacity is still not what one would call 'good', even for its pared down holdings. The Federation patrols along the Deep Space stations allowed the Klingon Empire to re-assert control over many of its core worlds. After that it found resistance on the near border systems supported by indpendents, Ferengi, Orion, Romulan and even Tholian backers. Tholia, in particular, has 'flipped' some independent worlds from Federation or Romulan aligned to non-aligned or Tholian trade aligned, and that has meant a shifting of threats laterally along the inward arm of the 'bend' where the old KNZ was. So that is where I'm headed, towards the old-line bases in and around the old Sherman's World colony thrust, now nominally Federation Affiliate. The trip there will be longer than most, and I may only have a month or two before having to return, but I think it is an area that should be investigated and has a large number of vessels from Romulan, Tholian, Orion, Klingon, non-aligned, and Ferengi involved. And with a long list on the Federation Threatening Groups that we can target beyond the Orions it should prove interesting. The Fleet cannot patrol the non-aligned systems and that means opportunity for targets going after unprotected trade. Den?"

Blacks nodded.

"Thats a long trip, Raul, not your usual method for action," he said.

"I've got my reasons and contacts, Den. And we may get more than just prizes out of it."

Blacks nodded as Raul was one of the better operators for study of operations and outlining threats and capability that he had run across in his career. If Moreth was the Point Man then Raul was the Situation Assessment Man. Blacks hadn't thought out the aspect of differing groups and how they played into the situation, while Raul obviously had and had the background to quickly gain a footing in such surroundings... once he got there.

"Understood. Min?"

Minestra smiled and stood up, highlighting a portion of space near the Gorn, Federation and Romulan confluence of space, but inwards towards the core.

"Den, like you I'm looking at the new colonies inward. I'm going spinward, not anti-spinward, though. Our understanding of the Gorns has caused some major changes in colony placement. The old Cestus Co-Dominion worlds near the tri-border is one that has meant a major problem for the Romulans. They can no longer expand inwards towards the core, and they face a border that is solid between the Gorns and the Federation, and if our colonies just outside Gorn space haven't flourished, the Romulan ones by the tri-border have become fortresses, and static. Our I/CI work points to a number of systems being major Romulan military installations, but declining civilian-side as emigration to those worlds has dwindled and even reversed in some cases. Trade is stagnant and some worlds that were thriving colonies two centuries ago have lost their leadership status because nothing ever happens there as the only place to expand is towards the core and the next spiral arm has a different suite of stars than we are used to and those colonies are picking up steam while the old inter-arm ones are losing it."

Minestra looke at the members around the table.

"That status shift means these older worlds see an outflux of people to newer colonies. Orions have learned that if they evade the Romulan military bases and their patrols, the civilian targets are generally weak just beyond the tri-border region and RNZ. Activity from the tri-border through Federation Space on the Federation side with colonists not wanting to go to worlds by the Gorn holdings means light patrols beyond the starbases near Cestus and the old RNZ response system. The Federation long ago shifted ships and resources away from Gorn space. The Romulans wouldn't stage a major incursion due to the RNZ fleet arrangement, the Gorns have zero interest in those systems and the Dominion is a long, long way away. I'll have the shortest trip out, I think, and my contacts commerce-side indicate that some of the Pirates operate on a ransom or 'tolling' arrangement, willing to receive goods and not take entire vessels but just skim off the top. They don't want to endanger the old colonies and drive them off, and they don't want such a presence as to get a Fleet response. Plus they need worlds to off-load goods from sorties into Romulan space and some of the Federation Associates are rather lax in security arrangments in that area. To me that points to the Laretian System, just inwards of the Tri-Border Area and corewards beyond the old Cestus trade complex, but still within hailing of the tri-border and though away from the Fleet starbases. There is a good shipyard there and its a colony that has stabilized and generally fends for itself. As a Federation Associate system I will still have easy work operating from there and keeping in contact. That's about it, I think."

She sat down.

"A good choice, Min," Moreth said looking at her, "I hadn't thought about those colonies as no one pays much attention to them."

She smiled.

"No one does, Moreth, which is how the Orions can operate there and keep a low profile. I'm going to see if I can mix that up a bit."

Blacks nodded.

"I wish I had contacts there, and you're right, Min, no one does pay attention there as we know the Gorns aren't going to attack us. Too bad that scares people off because of what the Gorns are. Moreth? What's your take?"

Moreth stood and highlighted a part of the Romulan-Federation Neutral Zone outwards and slightly spinwards of Minestra's.

"I'm mirroring Raul on the other side of the Federation, but for different reasons. The Tri-Border region for the Romulans has an outflux problem and emigration is a symptom of a wider problem with younger Romulans along the Neutral Zone systems. While the Zone is an excellent way for the Empire to conserve its strength, it is static and that grates on the younger generation after the last of the generation that solidified the RNZ has died off. Internally the Romulan Noble Structure still works, but the families and houses have shifted in their status and the only way to get status is via military work. And that means outwards of the Federation towards the periphery. Orions go where the military is static and not seeking to stop it, and the century or so of good Clan to House relations for intel between Romulans and Orions means that the Orions know a lot about the inner workings of the Empire. Their attacks are relatively small inside Romulan space but high value. Not large enough to get a response and they often hire for mercenary attacks between Romulan Houses, to profit off of interior power shifts. At the RNZ bend is where Orions begin their traverse from Romulan to Federation Space and the place to find them is between the two powers, in the Neutral Zone systems. It is a low pay-back area, but worth investigating, plus it is near my home world and gives me a chance to visit on the way out."

Moreth sat down.

"That's actually an interesting area," Eileen said, "at least for me. I've studied a bit of Romulan history in relationship to the Zone systems, and its been a sore point that the Neutral Zone agreement gives neither power the ability to protect those systems, and those systems can't align with either power due to the agreement. The refusal accords was a hard one to accept but necessary for a stable border region. Those worlds are unable to join either side or any side, unable to defend themselves and can call for help, but after a raid there is little that can be done save to leave them so long as no permanent presence is being established. They are unclaimable, and vulnerable worlds."

Moreth nodded.

"And they allow freedom of operation as all one needs do is get over the Neutral Zone border and the Romulans cannot go after you in 'hot pursuit'. Just as that has vexed the Romulans a number of times so they have used it to vex us, particularly with the Zone systems. And if I get an Orion vessel, then they are fair game for all sides, no one will come to defend them, and it is one of the few places where they must go in and out alone as even two ships together will get attention, but lone ships can slip by all sensor nets."

"But I thought the tachyon array allowed you to track cloaked ships?" Reyard said.

Moreth nodded in the negative.

"The nature of tachyons is that they have the highest speed, approaching infinity, with the lowest energy. Thus cloaked ships using warp drive under warp 1 you can find easily with tachyons, when you can sense them. At warp 2 the tachyons barely go faster than the vessel. At warp 3 the vessel is as fast as the tachyons. At warp 4 the tachyons actually go slower than the vessel and are useless. Thus we can sometimes capture a ship on sensors when it cloaks, but only at low speed, and at sub-light the effects of warp drive aren't present and so you get no tachyons. Thus the sensor net is a false security blanket, and only helps when backed by other sensor systems, like those of Scouts and fast intercept vessels. The core of finding cloaked ships is multiple coordinated sensor platforms backed by very fast ships. Star Fleet ties up nearly 20% of its assets just on that along the RNZ and another 25% through the non-aligned areas to Deep Space stations. After infrastructure, trade protection, system protection and other interior duties, you are left with an active part of Star Fleet for exploration at less than 3%. We tie a lot of vessels up with going after cloaked ships, and to escape tachyon detection you need only get to warp 3, first, then turn on the cloak."

Enid sat back.

"Thats... all of that to go after cloaked vessels?"

Blacks nodded.

"Yah. And what with the Romulans, Klingons, Orions and who knows how many of the independents using it... that makes for a lot of dull, then suddenly nerve-wracking patrols whenever you find a ship as you don't know whos it is."

Enid shook her head.

"I never knew. By the Star Fleet reports you would think that exploration or normal Federation patrolling was the norm for Fleet work."

"Ms. Daystrom, thats just a bunch of advertising," Minestra said, "a lot of this is patrolling, but coordinated between many ships and they still have to cover normal space work, too. The Scouts, starbases, base stations, special tachyon sensor nets, EWEN, all of that has to play together with individual ships on patrol and many of those along the RNZ and through the independent space and Klingon periphery are also cloak protection. Individual ships can and do get through and we try to guess where they will de-cloak to shed heat, but even a relatively small stellar mass can mask that. Star to star hopping for cloaked ships is the hardest thing to detect as they can use a star to hide their heat dump and build-up to warp 3, and remain difficult to detect because of stellar output and mass of even a white dwarf. Even a rogue planet in intra-galactic space can do that and none of the spacefaring civilizations can put sensors around every one of those. Or even find them, save by chance."

Moreth nodded and smiled.

"My first tour was on Scouts along the RNZ. I was happy for the time doing that to familiarize myself with the systems involved, and I got to understand the normal space independent freighter operators who trade with RNZ systems. We can't stop that, just check them before and after for contraband. As Sol System is somewhat closer to that bend in the RNZ than to where Raul is going, I should get to it faster. I believe that some of the prospect contracts Ushanda has gotten will get me a trip or two into the RNZ, and for a cut of my share I should be able to bring something back with help as Zone systems would like to extract some payback on non-aligned marauders."

Reyard nodded.

"Sub-contractor shipping for a larger company is allowed under the Letters we have. The true nature of what all of you are doing won't be known up-front, just that you are trying to get specialized first-hand sensor readings of Orion or other outlaw ships and are licensed to bring in anything you can off the List. It may be a bit of a shock the first time around, but we have partial shares language in the contracts for any 'takings', which we indicate are physical items from Orions or other outlaws. As ships are 'physical items' they are covered under that heading."

"Heh," Miyak said smiling, "and they are at that."

"Mr. Koletsu you are next," Blacks said.

Koletsu stood and looked at everyone.

"You are all highly trained in what you do. I am not trained in those areas but see why you do as you do. For me it is different and my training sees what we go after as beasts, and like all beasts they have habits, they have requirements and they have their own ways. I am not skilled in their hunting grounds, all of you are, and so cannot place a blind and wait for them to arrive. You are also skilled in their trails, the way they go to and fro from hunt to hunt and, again, I bow to your knowledge as it is considerable and the best way to often catch beasts is on the trails they use. I understand the other side of what beasts do, where they rest and how they make good their takings, has attempted to be covered by various organizations inside the Federation and they have failed. Stochastic shipping and reciepts rings make for difficulty in not just finding shipments but tracing them either forward or back, shipper to receiver. So it is not for me to go after the hunt zones or trails or even the distribution of their takings to recoup losses. The results of their work is hard to track, and quite pointless as it does not go to its source. That leaves me with the other portion of their lives: watering holes and original source transfer points. Watering holes are a simple idea. Where do they go for replenishment of stocks, supplies, consumables and the myriad of small items necessary to run a starship? I assume most of that is in Pirate held systems or bases, but they must be few and far between and difficult to find. Also the places where they go to rid themselves of waste, or valuables for trade, must be more extensive than just a scattering of a few bases and systems, here and there and there are, assuredly, far more of those worlds than Pirate bases and would be most excellent places to get ship stores, consumables and common spares. That is where I must go."

"But where is that?" Blacks asked with a puzzled expression.

Koletsu nodded.

"Just so. I will start on one of the failed colonies, one of those that never succeeded enough to thrive nor failed fully to die out, but one that limps along on the periphery of patrols. Affiliate, associate or independent does not matter. I have personally sighted Orions, Ferengi and Klingons at a small place known as Shasata Base, a small base that the Fleet abandoned when it had to cover Klingon territory on the second planet of Fremar 2251. Even then it was not well situated and had little trade through it."

A system indicator lit up between where Blacks was headed and far from Raul's course, but closer to Sol system than either via travel time.

"That is the back of beyond," Minestra whispered, "way below the ecliptic."

Koletsu nodded.

"Being near no major trade route, no major system of any starfaring group, in one of the areas of low star densities before true intergalactic space, it is the nearest fringe of our galaxy in relationship to the populated and numerous worlds of the ecliptic civilizations. Nothing the Federation has deployed covers those vast stretches of space with few stars and fewer worlds. Just as there are a suitable world or two above the ecliptic, so there are a few below it. When I compute travel times via high warp, even adding cloaked cooling periods, the only system that is situated equally close to all of the Federation bordering groups is Shasata. I have started more than a few trips to the unlisted worlds from there. And it is better situated than E'krina system above the ecliptic for this work."

Enid nodded.

"Its a rathole," she said softly.

"I am looking for rats," Koletsu said smiling, "and ratholes are a good place for that."

Eileen giggled.

"Well I'll be damned!" she said looking at the I/CI people who were still digesting this their faces registering shock or just sheer bewilderment.

"None of you, not even in I/CI or the Fleet has thought of that, have they?"

Blacks nodded staring at the small point of light below the galaxy.

"No one goes there," he said softly.

Miyak nodded his head from side to side.

"That is incorrect, Mr. Blacks. No one looks there for untoward activity save those of us who have business at such worlds. Star Fleet casts its 'nets' within a few lights of the heavily star populated ecliptic and for border territory only a large number of ships going outside of that will make the Fleet take notice. If you take a month of travel time from the RNZ heading down by those light years, then you can even travel openly at high speed and no one will look for you. I know this. I have been there."

Moreth shuddered.

"By the Spiral..." he whispered.

"Yes. Civilization stays by the Spiral. Those hunting rats or great beasts wishing to remain hidden must go away from civilization's rich takings to those places unguarded offering refuge and sustainment."

"There can't be many Orion or other listed ships going through there, though," Raul said.

Koletsu nodded.

"I only need one."

Col. Davis let out a low whistle. He had been quietly taking notes throughout the session but when Koletsu had put up Shasata base he sat back.

"That explains how the rings operate," he said.

Koletsu smiled.

"Yes. I have used those, too."

"What?" Minestra asked.

"I have been on hunts for goods not sanctioned by the Federation, Ms. Yarida. That is in the nature of what I have done in my life. Clients wish to go to dangerous worlds that are under sanction for trespass or unlisted though not unreported, and I go there to help them survive. My hunted prizes are often those that can't be sold inside the Federation and so I broker out through Shasata or E'krina or Talahos. None have proper bases or patrols near them as the Fleet must conserve its ships."

Davis nodded.

"Star Fleet has problems covering the interior systems, and those that are well populated and thriving. We are all headed to the periphery in one way or another. It is just... Shasata explains so much."

Blacks looked at Koletsu and was obviously trying to still get a handle on the subject and the puzzled look reflected that.

"Wait a moment. You haven't reported this at any time, have you?"

"No, Mr. Blacks. It is not my business to do that and would impede my previous line of work if I did. It is still not my line of work to do the thinking for authorities, nor is it yours, Mr. Blacks. The business we are now in is different from what yours was, but not so different for me. If you wish to catch prey, you must not scare it off with poor hunters thrashing around for what they will not find. The smuggling rings are minor in comparison to piracy and if I must use those who commit minor crimes to find those who commit larger ones, so be it. Once we all begin work the lesser beasts will be spooked and change their habits and environs and the larger be far more wary. I will not poison their watering holes as that will destroy our chances. Once found I will find a more secluded place to do my hunting so the hole and trails around it are left unsuspected and undisturbed."

Den Blacks sat back and looked at the other people in the room to see that there was an unspoken agreement with what Koletsu had said.

"Ms. Daystrom, is that how we are to operate?" he asked.

She smiled and looked at him.

"Mr. Blacks, ask yourself how much time has been spent on the fruitless chase of illegal goods and then how much has been lost to piracy over the last two centuries. We are not outside the law, we are not above the law and we are not the law. We are being allowed to participate in the war pirates are and have been waging against us. This is war, Mr. Blacks, not policing. Not INTEL or COINTEL. I did go over that with you some weeks ago, and it is hard to take it all in. I don't like the criminals but I like the piracy and what those pirates do far less. Our duty is to stop those waging war on us, Mr. Blacks. And its our job. Our risk is our lives, our reward is only if we actually do the job right. There is no one keeping track of our time on the job, there are no hours because it is all hours, all times and our enemies will want to kill us once they find out about us. I would prefer some mercy to those who surrender, but it is our option to offer mercy not our requirement."

"It is a lot to take in, Enid," Reyard said, "when Karl first talked to Ushanda and me about this, I couldn't really take it all in," he inhaled slowly and then relaxed looking at the members in the room, "and it is still hard to live with. Yet all through history we have had this in one form or another under many names and yet what is done is the same. This isn't civilized war, but a war for civilization. It isn't fought with just mighty starships but at all levels of civilization. We cannot fight at all levels and we must do as we can within what we are allowed. Even with months to let that sink in, it hasn't. At least not deeply. Ushanda told me that I would be the one to worry about this and make sure all of us are safe if normal authorities do not understand what we do and why we do it. Eileen and I will both train with you so that we understand what you do and how you do it. I hope that none of you are captured by those hostile to us and civilization, but if so I will do all I must to get you out. Not alone, never alone, but rescue would be months away, at best. Ushanda asks that of me and I will do as she wants as it is important to her and to me."

The figure of Reyard Chambliss, seated next to Eileen, was not a happy visage. Yet for the spareness of his face there was courage and determination.

"Thank you, Mr. Chambliss," Koletsu said, "no beast shall take me alive. If I am captured, count me dead for I soon will be. In truth the lawyers will be worse with authorities than the animals in ships I hunt, and for that I will do my best to ensure that no problems reach you."

"You aren't much back-up," Raul said looking at Reyard, "and I don't plan to be foolhearty. Gets you killed when you do that. I'll let Den do that for me," he said turning to Blacks.

"Yeah, definitely. Reyard you won't have to worry about me if Den gets us screwed up," Minestra said looking from Reyard to Blacks. "And remember, Den, I don't have a HULU anymore so no screaming rescues, ok?"

"Indeed," Moreth said, "I know what risks I take, Reyard. I always leave a way out. If I'm ever captured, don't come to my rescue, be it pirate, outlaw or bureaucrat. I'm a Point Man, its how I operate. Den has never had to rescue me, only the entire team."

Col. Davis looked at Blacks.

"You outrank me, Commodore Blacks. Yet here my knowledge should protect me quite well and I do not stick my neck out. That is why Tananda thought of me, as I leave little to chance or luck, and I am prepared to wait for long odds to break my way as they must if I have used my skill correctly."

Blacks looked between Reyard and Enid.

Enid had a very slight smile on her lips, and softly whispered, "Ushanda married well."

"I hear you all," Blacks said, "thats why I'm not basketing us as a team. No one has ever done this before and I don't know how to write the book on it. You have to do that for me, or at least show what doesn't work so we can find out what does. This is a 'get your feet wet' time, but each of the Cadre are here because they use both feet, full body and all their heart. If we operated as a unit, not knowing exactly what to do, there is a very high chance of failure. I trust all of you to use your skills, wit and foresight to come back alive. That is all I want from this, even if we bring in nothing. Reyard, you catch the legal flack, and I'll do the rest and use you for logistics. And if something happens to me, then Col. Davis is my back-up. And the last one to tell us where he is going."

Blacks looked to Davis who nodded and stood up.

"For me this is somewhat personal," he started, "and I'm going back to that border confluence area near Tholian, Romulan, Federation, Klingon and non-aligned space."

A system in that region gained a pip and indicator.

"Calastis Station. It is a known haunt of the Romulan Ojura Corsair family and it has small pilot transports from Orions who briefly decloak to let the transports out and then re-cloak while the transactions are done. It is where Mr. Blacks was attempting to show treachery by the Oguta Independence Group against Calastis so as to swing the government there towards the Federation. I was there on an independent mission with one of our system's police Corvettes, chasing down a stochastic smuggling ring. That was a messy day and while my mission was not successful, damaging a Corsair Light Cruiser was a positive outcome. While I don't doubt that the Hulu from Blacks' Group would have gotten through, getting out again was a different matter. As the Federation wasn't the only one trying to meddle in local affairs, we did get some concessions. So my personal contacts there should be enough to let me lounge around, play retired tourist re-living old times and be perfectly above-board that I am an operative with private papers. They will think 'bounty hunter' and enjoy the fun of not telling anyone who has meddled with their affairs that I am there. Calastis system has great leeway in what it does as it is unaligned and yet necessary to so many."

"Got to know the Lector well?" Moreth asked.

"Ahh, yes," Col. Davis said, "Lector Alisar D'Inar was unofficially delighted by the events and what transpired, although his official office could only offer token recognition and thanks. While he does not hold office any longer, he still has strong ties in the Prectarian and Upper Chamber and left a standing invitation to me if I happen to be in the region. So I would enjoy some Romulan Ale with him while talking past times and a bit of above-board shopwork."

"Hard contacts like that are damned good," Minestra said.

"That is what I will be doing. Perhaps nothing but INTEL work and some police shop talk. Still fruitful and I will have a good two to three months to work myself into the background."

Davis sat down.

Den Blacks stood up.

"That leaves only one real major item on my agenda, and that is independent transport. We need shuttles, not only orbit to surface transport, but low warp capable ones at least. We are going to be without them for this go-around and it would be a lot easier to be dropped off from a ship when Pirates appear than to stay with them."

"I agree, Mr. Blacks," Koletsu said, "even standard Worker Bees would be better than no ship. As it is my suit is good for many things, but not for long range space transport. I will, however, cope."

"A warp 3 Hulu 2 for me would be peachy, but I'm not expecting one," Minestra said, "but I agree. I want to be away from ships when anything hits the blower."

Enid looked at the nodding heads from the Cadre.

"Well, don't damage any ships you bring in too much, then. We do get to keep anything we want on a captured vessel. While each of you has space ready side-arms, I would also like a better supply of those for the next Cadres. And if you can get a fully intact ship, then I will go through hell to make sure we keep it. Actually Karl will do that for me, but strip it of valuables that can be resourced but keep the ship as ours. A good ship is beyond price."

"Enid is right," Eileen said, "part of the logisitics is not only damaged vessels but their goods. Each of you will have the unfortunate task of liquidating captured goods. Ensure that all stolen registeries are gone through, first, as we are returning stolen goods as part of our work. And if you think it can get a better price somewhere else, contact me or Karl or Ushanda and we will work it out. Anything that you think would be good for the company to have, I want in a general list in two days, so we can get it through our Company needs. There isn't a lot we can use from ships, but anything we do need would be a great help if you get it."

"Forward that through Mr. Blacks, Eileen," Enid said.

Eileen smiled and nodded.

"If that is it?" Enid asked looking at Blacks.

"Yeah. Thats my schedule."

"Ok. Everyone is to be at Bay 7 in one hour for the inspection of the Shrike forward hull and safe parts of the Ara. I suggest the main commissary for cuisine and personal system adjusted menus. See you all there in an hour."

Enid pushed her chair back from the table and started shutting down her personal system accessories.

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