Raul was sitting at a desk across from Protector Geloth in the rough hewn cabin of the Soretta compound.
"No, Mr. Edrera, you won't be finding Blacks, at least not alive. The achawa swamps have a way of disposing of the unwary."
The humanoid across from Raul was dressed in parts of a uniform with furs of various sorts draped over those, and the small lamp on the table offered flickering light, at best, to see by in the dank night air. A Romulan Cohort Immunis detailed by his Centurion was guarding the door, and the old firepit was unused, the shelving half broken down and benches piled with various sacks and pieces of equipment. This was, at best, a storage hut.
"He's been through worse," Raul said with a raspy voice.
"If you're hoping for rescue... well..." he turned to the Romulan and nodded. The Romulan moved towards the sacks piled up and flipped one out of the pile and onto the floor. It was made of a tough fabric, dark brown in color, with touch seams. Geloth turned to look at him as the Immunis opened the seam half-way down the sack and took out a hand-flash to shine on the body inside the sack.
"It won't be coming, Mr. Edrera."
Raul gasped as he saw the bruised and bloody face of N'dara looking out with dead eyes at him. She was on Point this mission. He trembled in rage as this was more than a team-mate, more than Point... Blacks had looked the other way, made sure they both gained rank together and that they knew the risks of the life they led. And loved. Together.
"You are all alone, now, Mr. Edrera..." Protector Geloth smiled as he said those words.
"Raul?" came the raspy woman's voice. He looked to N'dara but she was fading, changing form as she did so... the room was fading... he was looking into a face.
The face of a woman.
He was choking her.
"I don't want to break anything, Raul," she rasped out as she worked her arms inside his, "I just want you to wake up."
Letting go he collapsed and her arms held him and shifted him slowly, softly, to her right side on the bed, turning him so he could face her. He closed his eyes and shook with the memories of the dream... and the memories now years past.
She stroked her hand over his forehead and edged to be next to him, holding him.
"Its all right," she said softly, "even the best psyches can't reach some things."
She stroked his head, and pressed herself to him, as he did to her, holding her actively around the waist.
"I haven't had one in years," he said quietly, "I thought... I was over..."
She smiled, nodding, protectively holding him.
"It really isn't as bad as it was five years ago, Raul. I didn't have to break your arm this time... and I doubt there will be bruises, either."
He held her tightly and she was always surprised at how strong he was compared to most other Andorians.
"I don't want to hurt you, Min!" he gasped out and she could feel his tears on her chest.
"And you haven't... you could, you know... but you haven't. Even that first time you didn't seriously injure me."
Shaking he cried softly, and then shifted away to look into her face.
"I just don't know why... it came back tonight..."
She slid down to look him eye to eye, saying very quietly.
"Of course you do, Raul. This isn't where you were, though. I'm here and it feels that way but... this is an echo of what you used to feel. I'm not here to replace N'dara... you are a close friend I love, Raul, not a lover but one I love and who loves me. No one can take her place in your heart... ever. But your heart can grow and love others and not put your past love at risk."
Smiling she looked at him, she shifted towards him, he responded and they pressed together in a tight embrace and deep kiss, lasting and lingering. Their legs intertwined as they kissed and as the kiss ended they slowly relaxed in each other's arms.
"We've both been around this for awhile, Raul... use it in the business end of things which is fun and games, but, we do keep our distance.
"Special training for agents utilizing sexual attraction and dealing with emotional fallout... its not really the best of courses, you know, Min? Even with the specialists dealing with that," Raul shook his head as he ran his hand over her side, "its not real derangement and trying to tinker with it... just makes things worse. And it doesn't deal with anything between agents."
Minestra chuckled and nodded.
"Den did what he could to let you two have what you wanted. Don't blame him, its not by the book but the book gets tossed out on so many missions its not funny. I'm just glad you didn't quit it after she was killed, Raul. That gave me someone to turn to once I got back and into the swing of things again. I needed that... a lot..."
She reached down and shifted his hand to her breast, and pressed her hand over his.
"Thank you," he said very softly.
She slid her legs between and around his and pulled him closer.
"Your mind is telling you something, Raul. Do you want to work through it?"
He gazed into her eyes and nodded, closing them and inhaling deeply, breathing deeply.
"We both slip into the old habits too easily, we really do," she whispered and saw him nod.
"Yes. Second nature after so many years, Min."
"You and me both."
He opened his eyes and looked into hers, furrowing his brow.
She closed her eyes and nodded, pressing her lips together. She felt his legs tighten around hers and he spread the fingers of his hand as she did hers.
"Its that..." she hesitated, "...and I don't know why..."
"Who?" he asked softly.
"Yes. Second nature... a bit assertive, brash... age difference, sex appeal... friendly but still... you know?"
"Getting a leg up," he said, "giving you room to operate by getting a reaction. Works, too."
She shook her head negatively.
"It didn't? Did he just pass it off?"
"I thought he did but... I..." she opened her eyes to look at him.
"Negative reaction? That can be a ploy..."
She chuckled, but still had a tight expression on her face.
"I can deal with that. No, not negative but... he's..." she choked slightly.
Raul shifted his hand from her breast and up to her face, cupping her cheek.
"You can tell me, Min. I'm just glad it isn't Charles or Kembe or Karl or Roger... Koletsu and Davis are just not your type..."
"Damned right they aren't!" she said in mock horror, but her eyes locked on his.
"So why the problem with Jomra? He's nice enough, kind of dull, can't get much of a read off him in any direction."
"He's... Raul he turned the approach around on me. You know once you step into familiarity you got a foothold, at least. Its so simple, people don't notice that you have taken up to addressing them like that... being familiar in just a slightly overt way. Once you start, you don't stop... so few people ever take offense to that... and you do feel that familiarity yourself..."
"He took offense?"
"No," she gasped out, "and that's the problem."
Raul blinked. He had run into all sorts of people in his career and life, so had Minestra who gave him an other-side view of things, but there were still areas that confounded psychological studies, testing of neural pathways and putting personality reactivity profiles together. No matter how much was found out about the myriads of personalities across hundreds of species, there were always surprises.
"Its a problem? But I don't..."
She inhaled and took a long blink to try and clear her mind.
"Raul its... he explained himself to me... he lives in a very... ahhh... formal manner... he doesn't... familiarity done like I did sticks out completely to him."
Raul had to think this one over as there were some societies that had very formalized ways of doing things. But Mr. Jomra was from Earth and only a few societies were like that on Earth and their representation in the Fleet was vanishingly small.
"What did he tell you about that?"
She closed her eyes and nodded.
"Its just how he lives his life. Formality is his way of ordering his life and those who earn respect and who respect him... can be familiar with him. He said that I treated him... like an object..."
Raul pressed to her as he could feel her tighten as she said those words.
"... that he was not an object, but a subject... a person... courtesy given is returned..."
"Oh," Raul said softly, "and he told you that."
She opened her eyes and breathed out.
"Yes. And when I slip and use the familiar... and he uses formal... I... to those who know him I'm the one who is..." she looked at him, "...wanting to be closer to him and failing at it."
Raul looked into her eyes.
"This has gotten under your skin, hasn't it?"
"You did read his bio, or what there was of it before you met him, right?"
"Yes, of course! Tranquility Base Technic and then space work, transfer to Utopia Planitia then work transfer to the Academy and was waiting for his assignment at the Museum. Ordinary, a couple of years older than the standard Academy cadre, excels at engineering, relatively standard to reserved personality matrix... I've met dozens in similar positions, Raul."
"Did you look into his Sol System Citizenship?"
Minestra looked puzzled as she looked at Raul.
"Notice that it isn't Earthgov but Solgov? He is from the Trans-Urals or Unaffiliated Recovery District 5, west central Eurasia. That doesn't matter much, really, but he did use his training there to get further schooling outside the Unaffiliated Areas. We don't have much on the people of the Unaffiliated Areas, Min, but history shows this to be a region where the people were relatively reserved and no longer wanted to be part of a larger arrangement after the Eugenics War and then WWIII. He may be exhibiting older cultural traits than modern humans do, even those in conservative communities off-planet."
"Doesn't help me, much. That does make working with him... ahhh... well its not going to be easy."
"Good thing to have a year or so away, then! Min you have to work out for yourself if you are interested in him as something more than just an acquaintance you got a bad start with. Since he does have a sense of propriety, you can always try the formal approach adapted to engineering."
He smiled lewdly at Minestra.
"Which is?" she asked softly.
"Present your interests as a project you want to work on with him. I'm sure he would have changes to it, but..."
Minestra chuckled, then giggled, and then laughed.
"Raul!! That's preposterous!" she said gasping for breaths as they held each other.
"I can't present a relationship... as a plan!! No one can!"
He kissed her on the cheek and moved slightly away to look at her.
"We do with contract marriages, Min. And if it is something he wants to do, then he will tell you. Yes or no and you will be done with it."
She worked hard to quiet herself down and then finally gulped in some air and took a deep breath, smiling at Raul.
"That might even work. You do come up with the nuttiest of plans, Raul."
"So I've been told," he said smiling at her.
"Ok, that's my #1 hang-up out in the open. Who has gotten under your skin, Raul?"
He pursed his lips together and nodded.
"I've pretty much propositioned all of them, except Ushanda, Eileen and Enid..."
Minestra blinked her smile fading.
"Of course they are the most attractive to you because of N'dara," she said softly.
Raul squeezed his eyes shut and his lips went tight as he nodded.
"You wouldn't be here if you didn't pass muster with Ushanda and Eileen, dear friend Raul. Trust me on that. They don't know about N'dara, that we kept inside the group, but they can see from what bio you have public that you're decent and respectable when you put your mind to it."
"Thanks," he said in a low tone.
"It's the truth, and you know it."
He nodded. She interlaced her fingers behind his back and around his waist shifting to make sure they were comfortable.
"So that leaves... ahhh... L'Tira, Tananda, Kathy... and you didn't bother with L'Tira..."
He stiffened and shivered as he opened his eyes.
"Oh! Ah... Raul... female and two legs does not mean Andorian or Humanoid compatible, you know?"
"She told me the details, Min. I... biology... responses... ahhh... it wouldn't have been pretty if she didn't like me."
Minestra nodded as he moved his free hand over her side.
She whispered, "That leaves Tananda and Kathy. You would go after Tananda first, as she is attractive, active and one of the youngest people in the Daystrom organization."
He smirked, "Yeah. Dead to rights on that, Min. Prop'ed her over a dinner and she said I should tag along at the worksite for a week with her and then we could talk more."
"Fair enough," Minestra said softly, "and how did it go?"
He breathed deeply and sighed.
"Up two hours before dawn. It's heading into their fall then but, that's still early. Then the work assignments. We did shuttle duty. We did personnel assignments. We did manual trench digging..."
"What? Manual trench... as in unpowered hand tools?"
"A rock strata was friable and powered tools would cause a hazard. Beamers might cause steam explosions. And even old fashioned jack hammers could send small, razor sharp pieces flying. There was talk about specialized equipment, tougher clothes and such, but that would take a few hours to do. Tananda just put on gloves, grabbed a pick and hopped into the trench to help out, and the rest of the crew followed suit. For 6 hours."
"Oof! That's hard to do."
"Then she set up a precision beamer for putting in a plasteel cable conduit there. I thought those rolls were relatively lightweight..."
"Until you picked one up after 6 hours of pick work," she looked at him sympathetically. "You do know she went through some years of manual and space construction training, right? Like Enid, for her age, she has done a lot and been on a couple of major contracts on and off Earth. And not in management, either."
"She doesn't look like a roughneck... she doesn't have the muscle strength... or so I thought."
Minestra smiled and nodded.
"Looks are deceiving, Raul. So what happened at the end of the week?"
"She came with me back to my quarters and we sat down on the sofa with a quick meal... and when I woke up the trays had been stacked on the table, I was laying down flat on the sofa with a pillow under my head and a blanket over me. Still fully dressed. I was exhausted. Not just dragged out, or been through one fight too many... just asleep as soon as I finished putting down the cake plate. I tried to stay awake, Min, but..."
She hugged him to her and he hugged her.
"I/CI can't prep you for that, Raul. You want to run with her... which means you have to run with her. You probably are stronger than her for any single task, but one after another after another? That's not you, Raul. I wouldn't be able to keep up with that, even though I'm stronger than either of you, as its the sheer amount of work being done that is overwhelming. She'll go far, about on par with Kembe or Karl."
Raul relaxed a bit.
"She is good looking, very attractive, Min. If I had enough endurance muscle time to get through the week, then I would probably be exhausted living with her for a month."
"Then she goes up to Site #2 for a whole new set of challenges and you wouldn't be able to cope being dead tired and not into her work. So that went well, as far as things went."
She arched an eyebrow.
Raul shifted and moved a bit to shift a pillow under his head and looked at Minestra.
"After a week with Tananda... I took a few days to recover, light work... then did my best to get time with Kathy. I was able to do that, although she is very busy, too."
"There is always time for some life beyond work, Raul. And...?"
"She was pretty blunt. She said she wants someone stable."
"Ouch," Minestra said softly, "that had to hurt."
He nodded, no longer relaxed.
"I'm not unstable. Am I?"
"Hmmm... waking up with you trying to strangle me isn't the greatest sign of stability in the universe, but I've known worse..." she said softly.
He closed his eyes, nodded stiffly.
"Raul... as a friend who loves you closely, enjoys our bed time together... and someone who cares about you... may I make a suggestion?"
He opened his eyes and whispered, "Sure."
"Drop the training and understand you are still in love with N'dara. And that she wouldn't want you to be mourning over her on the inside years after she was killed. From all I've come to know about her, I think she would tell you that if she were here. The outward grieving is one thing. But inside you still mourn her. Let that go, let I/CI go, and just be Raul Edrera. Not Operator Edrera but the man who did that job and did it well. The man she loved."
He shivered, closed his eyes.
"That's hard to do. It's been most of my life in one way or another, Min."
She worked over to him and held him.
"He's not difficult to find, Raul. Give him a chance to finish his mourning, but stop putting your life on hold."
He returned her hug.
"I... I'll try, Min. I'm just not used to being... my own man."
They kissed deeply, softly then slowly let each other go, relaxed more than they had been some hours previously.
"And you got some sort of project to do it with. I've been chasing down records for you and know that something is up under those antennae of yours. Just what, by the Black Nebula, are you looking for, Raul?"
He smiled, licked his lips.
"The Wen'kal ship."
"You know exchanging instability for derangement wasn't what I had in mind..." Minestra said smiling at him.
"Bring up our work sector, M-5, it is time to show Mr. Edrera what we have found," Kathy said standing inside the general purpose room off of the bay that M-5 was in at the Museum, as Raul took a seat in one of the chairs pushed out to the edge of the room.
The lights dimmed and a sector of space with parts of adjoining sectors floated in mid-air around Kathy as she walked towards a highlighted cubic. Raul Edrera watched intensely as she did so, not knowing if he had sent Kathy on a wild goose chase or not.
"Mr. Edrera," Kathy said, "I don't really want to know where you got a few of the data sets. I know that you and Minestra have connections, and lets just say they added in some things that make for a deeper puzzle."
Raul nodded, "We did our best to get what we could lay our hands on. And being so close to SFC we could pull a few strings, here and there. Mostly its only historical sensitive, not widely released outside of Fleet use..."
She held up a hand.
"I don't want to know, Raul, thanks anyway. They were interesting, although I don't know about helpful. The first deals with the immediate battle in and around Wen'kal shipyards," a highlight showed up on the system inside the prior Klingon Empire borders, somewhat core-ward and near the Neutral Zone.
"If there is any chance of a ship or ships leaving the Federation might have detected same on our border sensor networks and some passing Fleet vessels. Only the Scout USS Ralston was near that section of the border for decent work and while it was transient due to patrol duties it did pick up a few distant, but interesting indicators from that system. Can you give us a narrated timeline, M-5?"
"Yes, Kathy. The battle has a given stardate appended to it and the USS Ralston has its passage dates over a period of one month," the system with stardate highlighted as well as the Federation vessel with the latter having a light blue sphere around it that did not reach to the Wen'kal's system,"and you will note that the transit was two weeks before the battle at Wen'kal started. This battle has the Klingon designation of Barghar-1 which is a variation of a traitor's weapon deftly used to appear in a friend's back. Before this battle started there is a singular tachyon emission coming from just outside the system detected by the Ralston, and the path seems to indicate it originated there."
That path was indicated in dark red and designated a tachyon emission, and it had a straight, but dimmed out path heading back towards Wen'kal. As the days moved forward the tachyon emission became attenuated as the source moved to higher warp speed. At the very last day the Ralston was in sensor coverage the trail then vanishes.
"What happened there?" Edrera asked.
Kathy walked over to the trail and brought her hands around it and the entire display centered on it and enlarged.
"The list of what it didn't do is pretty long," she said, "and encompasses everything from a self-destruction event, a hostile encounter with another vessel, a mine going off, and just about everything else that can be thought of on the 'ship didn't survive' list that we could come up with. Here is where the rebuilding by outside groups begins, actually, as scientific sensor networks of that era inside the Federation used for commerce tracking and scientific observations picks up. M-5?"
In the zoomed in volume a new set of overlays appeared that continued the trail which now was no longer a relatively small tube of light, as the previous Fleet observations were, but a fuzzy tunnel of light getting darker as it went to its maximum extent. The trail had a sudden bend in it heading towards the Federation after the Ralston was out of maximum sensor range.
"These readings are from the old warp sensor network set up by the Fleet to aid in commercial navigation and tracking," M-5 said, "they only show an attenuated warp disturbance, typical of a ship under cloak. It is noted that the path taken now bends towards the Neutral Zone heading towards the Federation. By the time it crosses the Neutral Zone the warp disturbance becomes very attenuated indicating the ship has de-cloaked and is using a very spare and lean warp pocket."
Raul looked puzzled.
"Why didn't the Federation pick this up? I mean there is the sensor net of the NZ Base Station in that cubic that should have identified that intrusion. We were getting battle indications by now from the interior system."
"You have me on that one, Mr. Edrera. Any Klingon vessel coming across the NZ would know where the Stations and networks are, so it may have taken specific counter-measures to that system or is utilizing a new type of cloak, although that appears to be not the case. I am guessing the former as, in that mass of blocks you handed over to me, this Base Station No. 39," a dot off in the distance highlighted along with its deployed sensor network which spread into the cubic Kathy was standing in, "records nothing. Which I consider fascinating as the cruder, more distant system does."
"I think that was a working hypothesis in I/CI at one point: that this ship had a new cloak system of some sort. That doesn't go with its previous use of the older cloak, though, which makes it confusing," Raul said looking at Kathy.
"It is not an easy matter to discern, Mr. Edrera," the M-5 said, "let me append the work of the Vulcan Starprobe Group and the Ceti-Rigel Salvage groups. They did an analysis on commercial sensor data covering this region for the time period given."
At this point a bright red of the Ceti-Rigel group appeared showing an intermittant tracking of a warp signature and then a light green of the Vulcan group which generally overlaid the previous but had a tighter error signature. The path that was indicated swung slightly to the edge of the sensor network from Station No. 39 and then showed fuzzier tracks more distant and deeper into Federation Space. Kathy indicated with her hand to start bringing up this path closer to her and the stars wheeled slightly and then shifted.
"The Vulcans did a thorough re-analysis of the background readings and the derived ones, and show a common agreement that a relatively high warp speed passage is going on here, now some one month into Barghar-1. At this point, however," Kathy indicated the place where the multiple tracks ended, "the sparse warp sensor net and passing vessel distant readings are no longer available for lack of coverage. So if we scale this all back we can now see where this is headed."
More stars started to crowd in and a faintly green dashed path moved forward into space, and a red region some three lights along it marked the Ceti-Rigel search area which had its own, slightly divergent path.
"The Vulcans disagreed with the analysis by Ceti-Rigel," M-5 said, "and used their sensor readings to create a variant path that diverges slightly below the ecliptic."
"Ceti-Rigel came up empty," Raul said.
Kathy smiled, raised an eyebrow and nodded.
"No ship, yes. And they couldn't discern much out of their sensor readings and probably messed that region up for getting additional historical data for that time period, although knowing where their vessels went helps a lot. They were doing a maximum forward analysis, assuming a ship under cloak, and backtracking to a last proposed position and course. While both trace paths being proposed end up in a system inside the Federation, the infamous Mekev-21156, both are also thinking this is a cloaked vessel under high warp. The proposed paths keep a ship out of the main commercial traverse cubics and away from any sophisticated sensor networks, but all end up at a system where a ship of the mass you are describing, Raul, would have baked everyone inside it for staying cloaked so long. And its tachyons would be so slow as to be barely outpacing light and still not picked up."
"You aren't thinking that, are you?" Raul said more than asked.
She smiled and looked at the path.
"For all of being at the edge of the Ralston's sensor range, there should have been some registration of de-cloak event, namely the heat pocket being let go which sub-space sensors would have picked up, though just barely. I know those kinds of sensors and understand how they work, and they haven't changed much in range or acuity between then and now. But we also see no indication of such a heat event anywhere after the tachyon stream ends, and we only get normal sub-space sensor readings to work with. Something had to happen to the heat, but it wasn't picked up. Whatever that ship was it had a general course towards the Ralston, but lagging by speed and distance. So it somehow avoids that signature. Next it avoids a Base Station's sensor network which is designed to capture the passage of cloaked vessels, not to speak of normal space ones, and yet it avoids those and only gets picked up on a much older array. Any cloak able to do that will capture more waste heat, as dribbling that out behind you leaves a trail that sub-space sensors can pick up."
"So if its not a cloak, how does it do that?"
"You got me, Raul," Kathy said shaking her head.
"I had suggested knowledge of the Base Station's sensor network and taking a path through it that would not register properly," M-5 said,"although it would be unknown how it could know the layout, exactly, and so direct itself with specific anti-sensor equipment to avoid detection as the arrays are constantly on the move."
Kathy waved her hand over the path.
"The telling part is the old warp sensor net. It does register a warp signature, high speed and in excellent trim for what its trying to detect, and very faint. Klingons purposefully design their warships for a lean and spare warp pocket that is hard to detect and that old sensor net is made for commerce and obvious Fleet vessels, so the overall design strategy is doing what it should for a vessel like that. That is a positive indicator of a ship not under cloak as is the lack of tachyon emissions. Whatever is there is doing a very, very good job of evading those sensor nets."
Raul's rating on sensor operations was abysmally low, and he knew it. While in the Fleet he could sub in for a sensor operator for a few minutes, but not a full shift as he just couldn't think on his feet in the sensor realm to take in the mass of data, automated analysis and have his own analysis suite comb over those results and original data. He knew enough to know that this was not smoke being blown his way, but a skilled operator who was stepping him through the process.
"Now lets swing over to the other sector involved, closer to the proposed final destination," Kathy said.
The stars sped quickly around and the Neutral Zone border retreated to the right of the room and then reappeared and raced towards the center of the room.
"Here we get multiple, overlapping sensor networks from Base Stations No. 7 and 9, Intercept Flotilla Alpha 3, and the Scout USS Archer. What they picked up was this small ship darting through the NZ at very high warp under cloak," a small blinking green dot appeared and the USS Archer began to turn to pursue as did USS Fomar from the Flotilla, although it was a number of light years away.
"Neither of those ships have a chance in hell of catching that tiny vessel, as it is headed towards the interior system of ETA GAMMA 7505 far below the traffic cubics," the entire galaxy tilted to show the below the ecliptic path of the cloaked ship and the much nearer the ecliptic paths of the two vessels. The sensor zones of the Base Stations soon dropped away and the dot left the zone of the Scout, and the Frigate was so far distant as to not even show up near the vessel.
"Wow, that is a very fast vessel," Raul whispered.
"It is at the design limits of an E-4 or E-5 internal security vessel for the Klingon Empire," M-5 said, "and it is running on the barest of cloaks to still be effective while traversing active sensor nets."
"The Scout should catch it, though," Raul said.
"It was caught on patrol duty, Mr. Edrera, and was forward watch for the Flotilla, and only going at warp 4. This E-4 is going at warp 9.5 to 9.7 and a Scout of that era will be hard pressed to keep up," said M-5.
"And in the race to its destination, the E-4 wins and gets to ETA GAMMA 7505 one hour ahead of the Archer, and three ahead of the Fomar. That brown dwarf system, while not inhabitable, has more than enough output to mask an E-4 heat dump on a tight orbit. It has the square-cube ratio to its advantage as it has a very high surface area to mass compared to heavier vessels. Using its full intercooler system it can get the ship nice and chilly, back up to high warp and then under cloak in under 20 minutes and effectively disappear into the Federation. A D-7, in comparison, would take upwards of 2 hours to achieve that. The Archer does a quick scan racing into the system and then starts to look for signs of the E-4's passage, and doesn't find any, then takes a standard search pattern inwards to the Federation. The Fomar sticks around the system for a couple of days and finds no sign of it, either."
"Either ship would be very lucky to stumble on the tachyon trace left by a high speed vessel that is so small," M-5 said, "neither did."
Raul looked at the timing indicator.
"And that was when Barghar-1 started," he said.
"Which causes Fleet attention to shift all along the KNZ away from this area, and soon enough the pursuit ships leave. If you want to go places fast and be hard to find, a small ship is the answer, Raul. The Federation can only do so much with E-4's, G-3's, and H-8's which are tiny vessels with a three man crew. In theory such intrusions should be a cause for war, but they had become a cause for complaint as the Federation could rarely, if ever, track such vessels down to lodge a formal complaint. This E-4 could, with one additional hop to another small, uninhabited system, ETA GAMMA 205, have then gone on to Mekev-21156 unnoticed far outside the sensor nets the Federation deploys on the ecliptic."
The galaxy shifted and stars clustered back in, but at Kathy's head level to show ETA GAMMA 7505 and Mekev-21156. That stopped when the length of Neutral Zone appeared along the right wall and then shifted, again, towards Mekev-21156. The previous analysis of ship traces was still up.
"Now it is time for the searches at Mekev-21156 to show what they did, and its pretty fast. Projecting the Ceti-Rigel group's work," their proposed path led from their near border search zone to the outer part of the system, "and we can see they concentrated on the outer planets of the system. Nice scans of all of those, plus major hunks of rock. Nothing for their work beyond the scans. After them come the VSG," the green line went right to the center of the star system and to the star itself.
"Pragmatic, that group. They seemed to find indicators that the vessel was on a course right to the sun, itself, which would give them an excuse to actually do their first active star probe all the way to the core of a star. Nice reports on that, lots of them, first of its kind and detailed. No indications of an anti-matter explosion or trace elements of what a large vessel would leave behind a few decades later. They downplayed why they were there to play up the science part."
Kathy smiled as she looked at Raul.
"Pragmatic, but opportunistic."
"Sounds about right for the Vulcans I've met," Raul said smiling in return.
"Another group," a path came in with a light amber, "decided that the Klingon vessel might not have been under full control, as the Vulcans postulated, but be on the path the Ceti-Rigel group projected. That is the Intarsis Cooperative, a loose network of salvage operators, treasure hunters and other less interesting and legal projects. Still when they followed the projected path out of the system, they didn't find anything, either. In total there have been seven expeditions in and around Mekev-21156, looking at the inner planets, asteroids, minor Oort bodies, comets and generally all looking for someplace to hide a ship in a relatively minor, unremarkable stellar system. You do realize this is an impossible task, Raul?" Kathy asked.
"Yeah, sorry to waste your time on it..." he said starting to get up.
"Waste? Who said anything about 'waste'? No, never that as now I get to put my 2 credits into the lottery and see what I can come up with. Since the last search, about 20 years ago, there has been new background science data that has piled up and all sorts of fun things have been added to the data blocks. M-5 pull out and pull up overlay Lorimar-17."
The display pulled back to encompass the Neutral Zone and there was a number of membranes that appeared in dark red that spread across the region.
"What is that?" Raul asked, truly puzzled.
"That is a pull-up for this region for the interstellar hydrogen concentration. It doesn't vary much, locally, but it does vary and as we are moving from a spiral arm to an inter-spiral region the variation is larger and more distinct. That pull-up is pre-collapse of the Empire. Now for the more detailed one done recently looking at ionized hydrogen."
A shimmering of green was visible along the membranes. Then Kathy encircled her hand around the path that was left from previous analyses and all but those membranes that went through the area disappeared and those that were left went to higher resolution.
"M-5 the reduction on the differences between the two sets?"
"Yes, Kathy. Set 22 now displayed."
A dark blue zone came up to link the three dimensional membranes, which faded and turned red at the edges as the rest of the data sets were removed, leaving a tubular structure.
"And there it is!" Kathy said beaming.
Raul stood up and stepped over to it, looking at the slight shift in the spatial mappings.
"But what does it mean?" he asked.
"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 so a bit longer in duration."
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 between the ship going unpowered and the first search group."
Raul watched as a dark 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 in the inter-spiral region at sub-light speeds moves the system just slightly off the projected 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 on the opposite side when the first search group showed up. The other pathways were no longer headed that close towards the system.
"Notice they ignored the far outer part of the system at the other end of this path and concentrated on planets? Particularly the outer ones? And those near bodies along the entry path?"
He nodded yes.
It went forward and the green cone was a bit further out and bent some even though 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 Oort cloud of the system," she gestured towards the most probable cone," and they didn't investigate there."
Progressing the red one moved outside the system and was barely bent by the gravity of it.
"Now a group doing a forward/backward warp track analysis," another set of tubes appeared in a hazy smoke color, which took a near miss path of the VSG and went beyond the system, but at some distance to the cones as the VSG path bent slightly below the orbital plane of the system. "They missed that one, and all the rest of the investigations 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 thus operating under normal space conditions. Now I'll lower the intensity above and below the plane indicated by the warp path, if that is what the general direction indicates as bolstered by the most likely destination of the E-4."
He walked over and looked at it. A rainbow of colors that faded up and down on the conical paths plus rounded them out ahead and behind, then the overlapping areas clearly showed up where the least likely volumes had been removed. Lines above and below the most likely volume 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 nearly impossible to find. Unless you know exactly where to look. A broad volume search just won't do it if you don't know what to look for."
"But how do we find it?"
"Mass sensors. 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 tiny planetoids. What you are left with are the small sized planetoids and anything with a moderate density has a good chance of being a ship as rubble balls will have relative low density per volume and compacted planetoids high density per volume."
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..."
"The Ghost Dreadnought. I wonder what happened to it?"
"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.
A holodisplay of points and lines in very large amounts, all connecting to other points and lines, and those connecting further onwards, with some points connecting back to previous points was hanging in the air over the table.
"And that is the M-5/V static code analysis for networked points in the memory module system. No one can get an active read-out due to the nature of the processes involved, but a static code read out helped us understand just what it was we were dealing with," Roger Arrivan said standing up at the far end of the table next to the dot diagram. He highlighted a set of points in dull red with their lines connecting to points in a lighter red. He looked at the others seated at the table which included Alex Jomra, Kembe Daystrom, Judy Whitehall, Maurice Roberts and Sudek.
"Judy, what is this suite of points?"
She nodded and smiled. Each of them had their personal units turned off and were working unaided.
"They are M-1 nodes, Roger, indicated by their Tier 1 and 2 programming structures."
He smiled and nodded.
"Sudek what is their purpose?"
The Vulcan nodded, "They are the primary interface between the M-V array and ship's equipment, serving as a foundation for reactions from the M-V array. The M-1 units are the first interface to allow direct assimilation of sensor readings into later M-V constructs."
"Very good. Alex, are the indicated connections going to just M-2 units?"
"Roger, they aren't. As an M-V array shifts its programming, each M-1 input will gain multiple outputs into the larger system so that it can feel at multiple levels of cognition from that input."
Roger smiled. An M-V array was not a simple connection of dots, the work at the Museum had demonstrated that.
"Maurice, as constructed here at the factory, are M-1 system modules differentiated?"
Maurice shook his head negatively.
"No, they are used as single seeds for each M-1. Differentiation occurs when they are in a higher order array."
Kembe looked at the diagram.
"The M-1 units don't give weighting to their outputs at this point, do they? I mean, a single M-1 can handle multiple sensor inputs, but it doesn't give them weighting for the higher units at that point."
"They don't, Kembe, and its a subtle point. The M-1 units only gain weighting structure when additional M-units are in an array as those M-units backfeed input prioritization schema to the M-1s, which then change their node connection paths based on the priority schema."
"That's different for each M-V array, isn't it?" Judy asked.
"Yes it is, Judy. The next group of node points are essential M-2 points, but you will notice that by location that they are not all in just M-2 housings. In a simpler array they are limited to just M-1 and M-2 physical space, but with higher order units that processing is spread across all the systems in the array. The housings can still monitor that code spread throughout the array, and does so, but those are just distributed analysis routines which are centered in the housings. What the array does is balance analysis across all units, so that even if primary connections are lost, analysis routines can pick up the work at other units."
"Mr. Arrivan, engrams are added into the M-2 systems at that point, are they not?"
"Yes they are Sudek."
"What is their purpose beyond personality foundation?"
Roger nodded and changed the white highlights of the M-2s to a lower intensity and pulsed their connections which ran throughout the entire structure.
"Their primary purpose is the first emotional weighting given to derived input from M-1s. Engrams for this are very basic and any animal with basic reactive capability via a nervous system has some form of these engrams in them. That research into primitive engrams proved to be the foundation for the higher order work done in the time of Richard Daystrom and he was the first to encode engrams into a cognitive computational system and the only one to utilize the primitive engrams to allow an emotional basis for computation that does not rest solely on higher order engrams."
"Very subtle work," Maurice said quietly.
Sudek looked at him and nodded.
"Extremely so, and yet the depth of the analog's correspondence demands such low level engrams," he raised an eyebrow and looked at Roger, "as that is the basis for emotional comprehension of the physical state and allows higher cognitive processes to re-order them based on situations."
Roger nodded, showing the shifting of emotional weighting between M-1 and M-2 units.
"That is the primary role of the M-2's, although other units also do this but for their own particular set of engrams. When there are enough M-1's and M-2's in a directly interfaced array using fiber optic systems, the entire array stands up as a new system that is far more capable than any single M-1 or M-2 or even a number of them working separately. Our experience with the Grant indicates that the early Daystrom estimate of three M-2's and five M-1's was sufficient for controlling a heavy cruiser of that era, but for better input streaming and primary analysis five M-2's and eight M-1's is suitable to give a larger code domain space and for specialize processing and weighting of some of the primary inputs into the array."
"Which ones do they typically specialize in?" Kembe asked.
"Alex? You've had more field time with them than I have. What was it the Grant was looking for?"
"Sure, Roger," Alex said looking at the other members at the table.
"It had concerns on sensor inputs both interior and exterior to the ship, including such things as internal communications systems. As the Grant was to be upgraded, its internal communications system was shifting from centralized to de-centralized and the M-5/V wanted a better 'feel' for data flow."
"Doesn't that raise privacy concerns?" Judy asked.
"On any starship you give up much of your public privacy to the Fleet. In your quarters and other personal spaces, the Fleet typically blocks access to those records. An M-V array has engrams to deal with personal privacy issues, but views crewmembers not only as shipmates but as part of the overall needs management for smooth functioning. With quantum processing it can have aspects of its cognition process through personnel situations and then tag them, and they will only become actualized if there is an internal threat threshold crossed or if an officer with sufficient authority requests them. In all cases it uses Fleet privacy regulations to fall back on, and we expect to use those for civilian installs as well."
Roger nodded and shifted his indicator to the structure, where a number of points and lines, diffused throughout the structure, highlighted in light blue. Then a set in light green and a final set in amber.
"These are the parts of the M-5/V array that we get to put engram encoding into. We have worked out personality matrices to translate into the code used by the M-V array and these become plug-in modules for each of the higher order systems. These modules first gain a cross-check from the hardware to ensure engram integrity, adherence to standards protocol, and it does a primary balance check on emotional cross-summations to ensure that the engrams have long-term stability. It is that last which Richard Daystrom maladjusted when he utilized his own emotional engrams for the M-Series. Today with standard psychological practices and personality interaction matrices we have put in a revised framework to ensure that emotional stability will be retained by the system."
Kembe stared at the brightly lit array.
"But what happens when emotional factors go out of norm? That does happen, doesn't it?"
"There are software and hardware weeding out routines that isolate such code and either remove it from processing or substitute re-normalized values into the code, itself. Both M-5/V's report that they can also, within their cognitive structure, be made aware of such problems and spawn off new analysis capabilities based on original programming to find out what the problem is. These are typically kicked off at the lowest level, the M-2/V level, where basic emotional stability is a primary concern. With that said other levels can also initiate this. There are also basic clean-out directives to ensure that such problems get analyzed, tagged and then removed while storing their matrices for future analysis. This is a form of meta-thinking incorporated into the M-V array, first appearing in the M-3 units."
"It truly is revolutionary," Maurice said.
Alex nodded and looked at Roger.
"Yes it is. Today we will do a hands-on strip-down of the modified units that came in from the Museum. It is a good idea to see the older hardware, first, so you can understand what parts of the equipment does what function. We can then compare those to new production units, although they are far more compact than their older prototypes and we believe a full M-5/V array could fit in a standard single console in Engineering if all the data feeds were available there. Since they aren't, M-1 and even M-2 units get distributed throughout the ship, just like M-3 through M-5 units. Tomorrow we examine engram transition to the M-Series arrays, examine personality profiles and then cross encode those into an M-V array. By the end of the week we should be done retrofitting the older housings so that Alex can do the first new install on the USS Gryffon."
Alex nodded. He would be happy to be back at Vesta working with the construction crews there. And he knew that Roger was very happy to be able to get this group in while he formalized the entire syllabus with Enak Varda via comms. Within a month the Indianapolis plant would be in production, and Alex Jomra looked forward to all the difficulties of retrofitting M-V arrays into older ships and even installs on newer ones when they finally happened. He did love starship engineering and looked forward to what the next era of ships would bring. He was under no illusions that anyone else would be overly happy with that, but there were some things that he just did not understand about his fellow man.
Roger led the group from the conference room towards the final fabrication building for the M-Series units. The first building was partial assembly and construction of major components, or inspection of incoming components and was closest to the shuttle landing zone. Behind that was the in-process assembly and test facility for the M-Series processing systems. That building had interior divisions to handle different assemblies unique to each higher M-Series unit. The original design had centered on a common base processor which was extensible within limits of the technology of its era. Daystrom Industries had upgraded that to modern components that did the same essential task and could be fabricated at multiple locations. Yet each processing unit had multiple system cores inside of it, and with physical separation between them, allowing for interior data connections, the entire unit had built-in redundancy and excess capacity for processing and could degrade that gracefully with damage to the unit that did not destroy it. Each of those sub-systems needed thorough testing and evaluation, and while the majority of it could be handled by automated systems, final systems checking required activation of each of them with a query and response set-up for sentient interaction. By the time any M-Series Unit had gotten to the end of its test and evaluation inside the building, it had been in process for nearly 100 hours.
Building three was the U-Unit Building, named for its configuration where the sub-assemblies were merged with their initial housings. The building had started out as four separate buildings, but the necessity of assembly dictated one large building. Coming around the compound to the building behind the administrative building, where the group was exiting, was the final fit and test building, plus customization. As M-Series units were computationally compatible with duotronics, multi-tronics and the variety of similar computing platforms derived from that work, the sheer variety of interfaces, linkages, and coding platforms built on them was enormous. As times changed so did software, hardwdare, data standards and connection types which made for a large task of integrating any single M-Unit housing to its host systems a particular challenge. It was that building, building four, that the group went to in the still crisp air of early winter in Indianapolis. Once inside they took the left hand corridor to the 'Special Jobs' area, and the group members got positive identification from the security system via their encoded personal units.
"Alex, you are the hardware side of this. Could you describe what is going on here?"
Alex stepped over to a recieving table that had an old M-Unit on it, apparently an M-3 housing, but far out of date with current housing types for modular equipment.
"This is an original contract test unit found on-board the USS Grant, and it dates back to the original Daystrom Industries contract. It is actually a back-up unit, as the original unit was the one that went through post M-5 tests during the time of Richard Daystrom. As such it doesn't have the final modular mounts incorporated to it for placement in a starship, just stanchion rings at the base for temporary placement."
The unit did look battered and, although cleaned, the metal on parts of the housing was clearly discolored through some process that happened post-construction.
"Why was it left behind on the Grant?" Sudek asked.
"We can't know for sure. It was near the back of a storage bay, and the Grant was already in cycle for other equipment try-outs and tests, and the M-5 team from the Corps of Engineers may have just concentrated on the finished equipment, and decided not to take the older equipment. If they knew about it, which is always problematical."
Sudek raised an eyebrow and nodded.
"One interesting speculation is that this unit was going to be adapted to the SERS sub-project," Alex rotated the table so the back of the console came into view.
"When we removed the back panel," he touched over the old style mechanical releases and eased the backpanel off of the lower third of the unit, "we found this bundling of internal cabling that are input/output bare ends, just requiring adapters to fit them."
He shifted a hand flasher to the unit and pulled at the nest of cables, pulling them out. They were all faded from their original colors, save the black ones which remained quite black, and then showed one of the labels which read: 'COMMS OPTICAL DIRECT IV'.
"The reason why this is interesting is that the M-2/SERS units had very similar cabling in their rear areas, save they had been finished to connectors and mounted on their back panels."
He reached up and inside the unit, felt around and then tugged down. A face plate with connectors and labels came into view from inside the unit.
"And that is the faceplate that would drop into place, and the back panel would lose its center section. Very standard modular design."
"Does it still work?" Maurice asked.
Alex nodded negatively.
"Between the induced currents around Jupiter, the possibility of sulfur reactions due to Io, and general lack of controlled conditions in that orbit, this unit is non-functional. The memory modules have cracked, circuitry has delaminated or has flaked off due to cold shocks, and much of the fiber optics inside the unit are in similar bad shape. A few of the other units came through a lot better than this, and we did an internals swap for the M-5/V test unit to free up the recently done units. So we have newer housings and semi-reliable hardware for the M-Units. Those are all being analyzed and we are putting new equipment into the housings."
Alex removed each of the side panels so the group could get a good view of the internals of the unit, which displayed some bare cables, others broken off and hanging loose, a yellow encrusted power casing, and even some dust that had annealed via cold vacuum adhesion and heating to the internals of the unit.
"That's a mess," Judy said, "the housing can be reworked, but the internals?"
"Standard Fleet maintenance for Jovian orbit is half-decadal, and that is for basic functions. Reserve or semi-active ships get more maintenance than that," Roger said walking around the unit, "this is sixty or more years without one bit of work done to it."
"It would have done fine in normal storage conditions," Kembe said, "but exposed to the temperature and radiations of Jovian orbit, sensitive equipment will take a beating without check-ups and maintenance."
Alex pointed to the next table where there was a partially constructed M-2 unit and he walked the group over to that. There were parts laying out on the table and all the panels had been removed to show the unit's bare housing.
"This unit has undergone a full strip-out of equipment, and replacement of any failed structural parts. On that side table," he said pointing to the group's left at a table with black rectangular surfaces with multiple wires and contacts underneath it, "is the original era interface touch surface arrangement. That was seen as a new design schema back in the day, and would replace many of the older buttons and slides, save for those items requiring positive physical and aural contact feedback."
He moved the main table around to bring the new contact surface into view that was laying next to the housing.
"This is a custom unit. It has a bi-modal interfacing system and you can note that there are major divisions on readout panels."
As he lifted it up the group came forward to look at it.
Kembe looked at that and went over to the older panel to prop it upright via a holdtight system on its table and moved it over to the main table.
"That is a very tight arrangement for the new panel," Judy said looking from the old to the new.
Sudek nodded as he looked closely at the new system.
"What are the division markings on this unit? They are not like the standard diagrams for new build M-Series units."
"It is a special project request from Enid Daystrom. It is along the lines of a quick emplacement SERS but with added capacity, so this will be a gang of M-Units in one console," Alex said shining his hand flasher on the underside of the new panel.
"Not M-1's, then?" Maurice asked.
"That's right, they need to be at the communication nexus points for sensors, or have equivalent cabling set up for them. I don't really know what is scheduled for this housing... Kembe? Any idea?"
Kembe smiled and nodded.
"Tananda left schematics to fit five M-2 units in there. Add that to seven of the much, much smaller M-1's and in one modest sized crate you have a SERS system, all ready to go."
"Mmmmm..." Maurice intoned, "a demonstration unit, possibly? Something to take and set up on a ship to demonstrate its capabilities."
Alex raised an eyebrow, and noted the comment as it was a very, very, very good idea.
Kembe looked at Alex.
"Well, its for Reyard. If we do get a relatively intact ship, he wants an available SERS to rush out to it and do a quick install."
The others nodded.
The rest of the day was spent going through the custom shop, examining the final pieces being done for the Gryffon, and then going through the physical encoding process at Building 2.
Roger was very glad that Alex was handling the hardware portion of things as no one had ever thought to question what was going to be done with the old M-3 housing. A SERS was one thing...
Den Blacks looked at Reyard on his left and Eileen at his right, then across the conference table to Moreth, Raul, Minestra, Miyak and Davis. They all wore some variant of the Daystrom Industries jacket or vest, which Enid had allowed to be made into a rust-orange color with golden yellow starburst either over the left chest area or as upper arm designs. His old team-mates tended towards the vest over regular shirts, Blacks and Davis wore full outfits, and Koletsu used a lightweight mesh vest over one of his animal hide shirts that had been so worn as to be a near translucent dark green. Reyard and Eileen opted for the civilian jackets, hung over the back of their chairs, and in the case of Eileen a small patch on her blouse's right shoulder.
"This is our last full day together, and its been a day I think most of us have been looking forward to," Blacks started, "and due to transportation needs I'll keep this meeting short as Miyak has a shuttle to catch to rendezvous with a courier at Planitia within the hour and I don't want to hold him up."
Koletsu nodded. He had already packed his equipment into a personal pod and a larger stowage pod, suitable for locker or under-bed space on most vessels.
"I've had to delegate a lot of the infrastructure work on other goods needed to Reyard and Eileen, and I know that each of you has been in contact with them for this first outing. I know that a couple of you have contacted Enid or been contacted by Eileen and Reyard for some subsidiary work that can be added to your schedules. Some of it is just scouting and contacts or odd pieces of equipment not normally available at the core Federation worlds. I want to remind each of you that those are subsidiary projects and secondary to the prime task of anti-piracy work. On that part I've been busy cross-compiling a list from the Federation Diplomatic Corps, Star Fleet, and multiple Federation Member worlds of all the known Pirates and other groups that have warrants out for them. If you have to go after small fry as 'bounty hunters' to confirm that is your level of interest, then so be it: it is still a good job to do."
Col. Davis nodded, "A necessary one, but misdirection only."
"Even the small pieces can help, Colonel Davis," Eileen said smiling.
"You each have those lists now. It includes a couple of Romulan Houses gone Corsair, Klingon break-away factions and families, Independent traders who do some piracy as part of their stock and trade, a couple of Ferengi merchantmen, a sub-group of the Cardassian-Dominion rogue fleet, and Orions plus whoever else they work with on a familiar basis. There are also those ships that have turned on Federation worlds and gone rogue or pirate, and 30 worlds were able to provide a good list of those. When I totaled up the numbers, I was not pleased to see just how many ships that was. Confirmed ships, not just those caught under the umbrella anti-piracy policy due to trade with pirates. If they ever assembled, the Fleet would have a bad day on their hands."
"I hear ya, Den," Minestra said, "only about 100 heavies but the lightweight and moderates? I knew there were a lot of them, but 1,700 confirmed?"
"Space is mostly empty, Min," Raul said, "and some attacks were from decades ago. But those ships have never been cited as destroyed."
Reyard shook his head.
"All of the known ships that were destroyed were removed from the list. These are all the ships wanted for capture or destruction without distinction. Crews, too. And active suppliers go on the 'disable or capture' list, not destruction, so do be careful bringing in merchants. If they are armed and fire on you, then they are pirates, too, and may be dealt with as you choose."
Blacks looked at Reyard.
"Reyard, I want to thank you for chasing that down. It was a bit of legalese I couldn't figure out."
"It was hard to extract that from Fleet SecOps, and I needed a day to get Fed. Trade involved to clear it up. As our sanction comes from Fed. Trade they are the arbiter. Mr. Umak had some choice words to describe Fleet SO, not ones easily repeated."
"I'm glad he's the one doing that, really, him I can understand."
"Same here, Eileen. And thank you for the hard work you have put in getting initial logistics cleared up, along with transportation and some coordination."
"Part of the job, Den, and you're welcome," she looked across the table at the operative cadre, "and to each of you I've done my best to get all the gear you needed together, plus transport. I've worked with Reyard on that and we want it smooth for each of you. There is a 'safe list' of preferred service groups for large scale transport, personnel transport and secure shipment transport including special services for prisoners. As some of those, like McGruder-Korath also have trade houses affiliated with them, we would like to see some business passed their way for safe goods."
Reyard spoke up, "That is goods not listed as stolen or missing from raids against shipping or planets. Daystrom Industries will pick up the tab for return of those goods either via insurers, underwriters or personal delivery for items and goods from individuals and households. In theory it is ours to dispose of, outside of criminal investigation needs, and there is an over-arching data block to address that, which each of you have as part of your gear. We could just liquidate the goods, but Enid has mandated that we are to get good PR and economic contacts by demonstration of concern for material goods."
"And for ships?" Koletsu asked.
Reyard looked at Blacks.
"Ships you get a confirmation from your data or via open hostilities using weapons. Deal with them. We, as Daystrom Industries, prefer as little damage as you can do to bring in ships. Star Fleet wants at least one active warp core from an Orion vessel, and would also like at least one or two major superstructures from the Medium and Heavy Raider class, or Strike Raider class. Remeber, once you get a ship disabled or otherwise take it, then register it ASAP and bring it in either via one of our 'safe' space groups or via a local outfit willing to take on a non-negotiable 3% from liquidation or triple standard towage fee to the nearest Federation Port if we decide to keep it and not liquidate it. Any ships you bring in are under your care and you are accountable for them. If you have to blast a ship to atoms to survive, do so and without hesitation."
"Just so. Bridled beast if able. Carcass for gutting and mounting if not. Carrion if too deadly to get alive or for gutting. Good."
Moreth winced slightly as he didn't like to think of the universe in such raw terms as that.
"And let me express regrets for my sister-in-law," Eileen said, "she has a court date that was delivered to her this morning, so she can't be here, and by the time we are done we just might be able to find out what happened."
"They'll find some way to screw it up," Minestra said, "always in the best words, of course, and with the highest of all honor upheld. Then screw it up anyways."
"I dunno, Min," Raul said, "Enid might get lucky and get a court that knows what its doing."
"From Flag Officers? You are dreaming, Raul," Moreth said.
"God, I'm glad to be out of the Fleet," Blacks whispered under his breath.
"Got that right, Den. In spades." Minestra said.
"Then this meeting is over. If you can grab some lunch here and let me say some personal good-byes as I'm off tonight. Minestra tomorrow and Moreth tomorrow night, day after that is Col. Davis, then Raul in three days, awaiting transport and final equipment. Please, don't get yourselves killed, as I am coming to like you and think we have some real opportunity here. When opportunity knocks..."
"...knock it out in return so it doesn't run away." Col. Davis said.
The group laughed as they stood up, the meeting over, the future ahead.
Kathy Lorimar hurried down the accessways, down ladders between levels and jogged her way across the Museum. Months of being around Enid Daystrom had gotten Kathy used to taking those ways and finding out she could cut time between points on the Base without having to use the turbolifts. Within just two minutes after leaving the courtroom she was at the M-5 bay.
"Hello, Kathy," M-5 said, "do you have news from the trial?"
She nodded, breathing deeply and using her hands to sweep her hair back from her face.
"Yes... I do, M-5. The Court Martial is claiming that this is not their jurisdiction and that it should be changed to Sol System for adjudication."
"I understand, Kathy. They are not claiming a universal jurisdiction procedure?"
Kathy shook her head negatively, stretching her legs as she walked over to the dispenser for a cup of water.
"No. They issued a provisional ruling that could be implemented if it is sent back to the Fleet. But the venue change is immediate and the provisional finding non-binding to any other court."
M-5 was silent for a moment.
"That is... perceptive, I think. Human and Federation laws are often not coherent on some matters."
Reaching the dispenser, Kathy took out the cup and sipped at it, then breathed in and out slowly.
"I've noticed," she said smiling.
"Did you have a chance to talk with Enid afterwards?" M-5 asked.
"I'm in charge for DI here at the Museum, last one out and putting up the chairs and that fun sort of stuff. And she told me to tell you that Enid Plan Gamma is in effect."
"Understood. Thank you, Kathy and I know you will do a good job winding down the company affairs here."
Kathy took a longer swallow from the cup and then went over to her storage locker and pulled out one of the thin flasks she normally carries with her.
"Ahh... if its not intruding... what is her Plan Gamma?"
M-5 was silent for moment.
"Kathy, as Enid has put you in charge at the Museum, I take that as a relative executive level assignment as leader and thus I can make that material available to you. Enid had worked with me to go over a number of laws and methods to apply them, and then what was needed for a particular set of circumstances. While the Plan Gamma was the last we worked out for a given set of contingencies, she had given it more priority than others that dealt with actual trial to convictions or venue change to Federation Civil Court. In the Gamma contingency the case is changed to Sol System or Earthgov jurisdiction for adjudication. The main part of the plan is calling on the Daystrom Industries caretaking legal team to work on the case and to ensure they have access to all necessary case data. Beyond that is a directive breakdown for change of venue requests with prioritization and contingency filings based on initial rulings."
Kathy continued to walk around then decided to sit down at one of the chairs pulled up to a work table that held a partial packing crate.
"She thought that far ahead on this?"
"Yes, Kathy, she did. Her final prioritized order reflected what she concluded would be the most to least probable verdict from the trial here. It was a reflection of our analysis of prior Fleet and Civil law regarding Piracy and the course of the trial. Alpha, the most probable, would be a final verdict with the Court Martial invoking universal jurisdiction, as Piracy is a universal crime. Beta was a change of venue motion to Federation civil courts taking this as a purely commercial matter, not a military one. When she heard of the meeting called by the judges with the Defense and Prosecutors, she changed Gamma to the same level as Beta. Delta plan would be a move to have the Adjutant General at Star Fleet Headquarters re-scope the trial with a larger panel. The Epsilon plan fell to the bottom of the list, and that would be a motion to the Federation Council for a specific tribunal to work out the problematical nature of the law in regards to this case."
Not for the first time did Kathy change her estimation of Enid Daystrom's capabilities upwards. Enid complained that she hated dancing to the tunes others were calling out and did her best to change that whenever she could so that it would no longer be a solo performance, but a pas de deux.
"So what are the contingencies for this?"
"The first is ensuring that those who have been overseeing the legal problems of a company in stasis and one now being revived know her wishes. With that done, she has also filled out the necessary execution work to ask for an immediate venue change within the Sol System jurisdiction as she does not trust Earthgov Civil Court systems and that as her charge is coming from the military venue, that it needs to continue on in that venue."
Kathy looked around the room thinking.
"Earthgov... military jurisdiction... ahhh... system constabulary? Or, more properly, Merchant Space Guard?"
Kathy was really puzzled by this.
"Not the venue she would prefer and there are immediate change of venue requests in case it is put there."
"She's dancing the system! Ok M-5, cough it up: just where does she want the venue to be?"
M-5 paused a moment.
"She prefers the Daystrom Industries Incorporation papers filing venue as the contract that put her on the Grant is executed from that venue and set of laws."
"Georgia? Or is that the Indianapolis site?" Kathy asked.
"Neither, Kathy. Daystrom Industries started out as a Recovery Zone Company in private hands. It was and is incorporated in Cascadia."
Kathy was motionless in her seat, staring out into the empty receiving area.
Very softly she whispered.
"Earthgov does claim to represent all the peoples of Earth, Kathy. Even the non-consenting peoples. And there are treaty agreements between the Incorporated and Unincorporated areas that cover this."
Kathy was wracking her brain trying to encompass this.
"But why?" she asked softly.
"Friendly venue with the Cascadian Militia as final venue."
"The law is easy to understand in Cascadia. If you defend yourself against Pirates or, indeed, anyone who is seeking to do you harm via the force of arms when you have done nothing wrong, then you are innocent. Their military law is very clear on that. Piracy is summary execution."
Kathy's eyes widened as she realized that the good, capable and kind woman she knew as Enid Daystrom did not sugar coat life. She did not want revenge, and even showed kindness and mercy to those who were avowedly Pirates and who would have captured her, raped her and sold her into slavery if they had come out victorious on their raid. She didn't hate them. But she hated what they did. And while Cascadian military law may be a bit on the raw side... was this really any worse compared to those who perished on the Su and Shrike?
"I hope that Consul Navir can help them..." Kathy said barely moving her lips.
"So does Enid, Kathy. So does Enid."
"And that is that," Mr. Jomra said sealing up the side of the crate destined for the Museum to rendezvous with Raul Edrera.
Kembe nodded checking over the seals on the shipping crate, and then looking over the manifest.
"I'm glad we got that old fusion unit out of here! Its been sitting for decades in that basement and still in its original crate. Modern it isn't but functional?"
Alex nodded as he went to the side of the packing room to get two sets of repulsor handles.
"Luckily its all standardized. Getting the fittings made was the hardest part of this job, beyond waiting for the new M-1s to be finished. The class gave me a chance to work with Alex on the alternate personality profiles we had developed at the Museum."
He walked over to Kembe and handed him a pair of the handles.
"I learned a lot in that course, thank you Alex," he said taking a pair of the handles to attach to the bottom of the crate.
"Where did you get the custom interfaces from? We had less than a week and yet you had them here in no time," Alex asked bending down to attach handles on the opposite side of the crate.
"Attached here," Kembe said.
"The same. On three... one... two... three..."
They both activated the repulsors made for natural gravity fields and slowly began walking the crate towards the ground level shipping door which slowly was sliding open.
"The connectors were from that outfit Tananda pointed out to us for the shuttle. Alto Rennaisance. Turns out they have done a few export custom jobs and had familiarity with the D'ask'esh couplings. There were a few places I could get them, actually, because of the trade that has sprung up over the last few decades with the Klingons."
They were walking the crate over to the cargo shuttle, which had been reconfigured for a single, large crate. The cloudy skies overhead were promising rain, and the wind was slowly picking up.
"They sound like a good group," Alex said, "watch the ramp its a tight fit and we can't rotate it the other direction."
Kembe checked his footing and nodded.
"Slow but sure. I'm glad they had a set of data couplings they could whip up for us. That one container of theirs was just packed with adapters, couplings and other assorted power and data transfer housings."
They stopped and checked the readings from their handles.
"My forward handle is losing its charge," Alex said, "lower to a half-meter and laterally compensate, your fore, my aft."
Kembe reached forward and adjusted the handle as the crate lowered.
"The M-1s should be able to handle the data load. Minestra forwarded everything that she could get her hands on about Klingon data systems and comms. Their cybernetic systems are... well... limited..." Alex was breathing heavily as they had to shift the mass of the container to its attachment points, and the inertia of it was something that repulsors couldn't help with.
"Front corner on center. Let me slip out from here otherwise I'll get stuck shifting it in."
Kembe walked to the end of the crate and checked to make sure the front handle would act as a pivot.
"Klingon systems are purpose built and don't use wide ranging networks on their ships for security purposes. Are you sure that the M-Seris can handle the difference?"
Alex shrugged as he and Kembe rotated the crate incrementally.
"The M-5 at the Museum said it should be OK if the M-1s or M-2s have the necessary codes available. Limited but functional, especially in engineering areas."
Kembe nodded as he shouldered his edge of the crate in, and then smiled as all the lights at the corners turned to green. Alex looked at him and then adjusted the repulsors to slowly lower the crate down.
"She was faster than my contacts at the Corps would have been, thats for sure."
"I hope Enid's project works out."
"Full-up suite with everything we could pack into it. Actually the first out the door product from here, beyond a couple of M-1s and 2s for the Grant."
The crate sat on the cargo bed of the shuttle and automatic locks slid into place holding it down.
Looking at each other the two men smiled.
"Hell of a thing to send out, isn't it?" Kembe asked.
Alex smiled in return.
"Yes it is, but frees up room for the Gryffon's M-Units to be finished and fit into something modern. Those older housings were a chore to work with, but better than waiting for new product."
A first few drops of rain started to fall, wetting the landing pad in front of them.
"Time to get in before the rain," Kembe said moving from the shuttle towards the nearest building.
Alex followed as the shuttle ramp closed and he stepped off of it. He gave one final glance at the shuttle before following Kembe. So strange to have such equipment go off on a likely wild goose chase... but so satisfying if the wild goose can be caught. He mused as he ran amongst the raindrops that this really wasn't like any job he had ever heard about, anywhere. And while he enjoyed variety in work, fewer surprises would be nice.