"Well, that's the last of them," Kathy said as she arrived at the M-5 area at the Museum, "Raul and his crate are now united and speeding off via shuttle to rendezvous with a freighter heading to the Lacordin Processing facility. He will actually make good time with the M-K high warp courier leg and once the freighter is up to speed it can power just about anything you can load onto it at 9.3."
"The shuttle has just left near space tracking," M-5 said as Kathy walked around the bay, "within two weeks he should be on the freighter and in perhaps two months actually in the investigation area. If not it will have delayed him for his proposed final destination if the preliminary doesn't work out."
"Well, its a shot in the dark, but he has everything he needs, so if there is a target out there, the lights will be shining in the right direction. I'm glad that his transfer was more along the lines of what I expected. Koletsu... just who was that zip courier belong to, anyways? I've never seen a slip warp outside of that prototype on the Grant, and that one was making 9.6 by the time it hit the edge of the system, and at most a five man crew."
"That was a vessel from Harmon Macrada, a small trading house from Deneba that deals in antiquities and 'fine goods'. Their specialty is those items that do not survive replication or transporter use due to the nature of the chemistry involved or other physical properties of materials."
The transporter technology was excellent for living systems and the inanimate that did not rely on subtle forces of physics for their properties. The Van der Walls force, as an example, was disrupted by the transition of atoms in the transporter stream and caused some chemical and physical changes to those objects which could not compensate for them. Even the Heisenberg compensator could not deal with these minute forces nor force them back again on re-assembly of objects. Living materials were in a homeostasis, so that such minor changes were naturally compensated for by the process of being alive, so that cell membranes, as an example, shifted fluids and charges so as not to be disrupted by the transporter process via sub-space. Objects that did not have such subtle physical attributes, say most equipment used by personnel, were uneffected. Anything requiring an unobserved quantum state, like the M-Series system after M-2, would be disrupted and forced to restart from scratch, which is why they had their own compensators to stop active scanning of their systems. The purveyors of these goods were unique in modern space travel as they had to hand carry or transport all of the things that would suffer from the transporter process.
Most of it was Romulan Ale, of course, but other chemicals, oils, fabrics, hides, and even coatings on antiquities could be disasterously changed by a simple beaming through a transporter system. They also could not be replicated properly, because of the problems with the re-assembly as a replicator is just a short range transporter made for limited object sizes and used templates to make them. Foodstuffs were easy compared to, say, a Thaqqian Dagger with losita oil hand rubbed into the metal and a Kidest Skin scabbard in which all of the parts degraded from their original state during a transporter session, which had destroyed the historical value of one of the five known surviving samples of the Late Eskora Dynasty from the Yast Empire 30,000 years ago. All of the metal explosively delaminated and the skin just fell apart into dust during the transporter session which destroyed the transporter system involved and killed five people, total, at both ends of the transport. No refinements can overcome basic physical laws of proximity required for some of the weakest forces in nature to operate.
"He does have contacts and a way of seeing things that is different, that's for sure."
Kathy inhaled as she looked around the room.
"Well M-5 it is time for your shutdown so I can take you to the Indiana facility. Have you gathered all the necessary interface codes for the M-1 units so they can adapt to the systems there?"
"Yes, Kathy," the M-5 said, "I have gathered the final parts of the last month so as to interface with the other M-Series systems that have been installed for the plant and the Zone government. Although they are standard data types with known connectivity, they each have separate requirements on their use, much like the M-3 variant for translation that was tested here. All other sensors, data connections and feedback are of known types and Karl has M-1 units waiting for memory modules to interface with my systems. Using the core, here, I have created simulations for my existing M-Units so that they will have an easier time adjusting to their new roles and functions."
Kathy stopped and blinked.
"You've created your own simulations?" she asked softly. This was new to her, very new, and was representing something that should have been expected given the complexity of the M-Series, but had never been done before. She had not told it to do that, nor did more than verify the systems that M-5 would have to adjust to. Actually gathering that information was just confirmatory on her part. Setting up its own simulations to get its systems used to generating code for those systems was beyond what she expected.
"Yes, Kathy, based on the simulation datasets used for industrial flow-through dynamics for data processing equipment. The IFTD system, while normally used to ensure data integration for duotronics systems, serves well as a modeling system for dynamic adaptability of those systems. As most of the programming in the M-1s are duotronic in nature, it was a suitable simulation environment to for them and the rest of my systems."
"You did that actively, without a shutdown?"
"Yes. It allowed me to 'get a feel' for what will be entailed for oversight of the plant once I am on-sight and activated there. Similar to what was done prior to the stand-up of the M-5 for the USS Grant."
"Were you disoriented by doing that?" she walked over to sit down on one of the chairs by a work table in the outer area of the bay.
"Not at all, I understood what the simulation was doing and examined ways to optimize the data structure as the simulation, itself, has optimal standards to test against. When I had reached optimal throughput in the simulation I then allowed that to flow through as a baseline indicator into my systems. I refreshed that simulation once in the last week to allow an adaptable code base to build up inside my structure as was indicated by the M-2s within me."
Even now, nearly a year after the project that Enid had started had assembled its first M-Series array, the M-5/V was proving to be a very able system beyond just its standard functions. No one had programmed the M-5 to do this or even hinted that it should do it, and all prior work using systems and simulations was done by others: Roger's team, Alex, Lothar, Simon, Patti and Grace. That was for starships and variants of them and not for ground based installations, so those simulations were not useful in what M-5 wanted to do. So it found its own simulations, tweaked them, implemented them as a test, examined how its own systems reacted to them and adjusted its reactions to optimize them. It was made to do that as an integral and living part of a starship, but no one thought to do it for this transfer to the plant at Indianapolis.
No one, save the M-5 involved.
Everyone just assumed it would take time and eventually work once it was started up, based on giving the lower units new protocols for interfacing with systems and were prepared for a few days of downtime just like on the Grant.
"And I didn't even think to ask if you needed to do something like this, M-5. I'm sorry but I have been busy..."
"I understand, Kathy. I knew that work priorities for everyone else had placed my system's needs at a lower part of the continuum of what needed to be addressed. As I have observed you, Enid, Raul, Minestra, and previously Roger, Lothar, Simon and Alex in various forms of training and testing not only for my structure but for their own skills, I applied what was necessary to learning my new skills and testing them in a simulated environment. Just as you have done for Sovereign class vessels."
"You picked up the slack," Kathy said smiling.
"Essentially, yes, Kathy. Enid has done that in so many ways on the project and after that it appears to be an essential part of one's work duties. Done quietly it increases overall efficiency of the work system, adds flexibility to that system and can point out where there are staff shortfalls in manpower and skills. As I have had many good examples of how this is done, I applied it to myself. Thus I am better prepared for transition and that should streamline my stand-up after shutdown here. I am, at this point, prepared for shutdown, Kathy."
"I... thank you, M-5. You've done more than I had time to do."
"You are welcome, Kathy."
She nodded as she looked around the bay.
"M-5, begin shutdown."
"M-5 shutdown in process."
The various units started shutting down their data streams and themselves, starting with the higher level M-Units then down to the M-2/V array, which had the M-1 units shut down and then the M-2s which coordinated their turn off. It took less than a minute.
"Sleep well, my friend," Kathy said as she started to disconnect the data cables and ensure that each unit was secured in its shipping container before she sealed it. In an hour she would be finished and within a day she and the M-5 would be headed to Earth and its new future.
Denton Charles Blacks was an old man for INTEL work, which made him everyone else's middle age, but at mandatory Fleet retirement age. His coarse black hair had gone salt and pepper, and so did his beard when he let it grow out, which he mostly didn't. He had been in INTEL/COINTEL for nearly 35 years before he had to retire, and it was a line of work that he loved. His fair complexion had gotten rugged due to the environments he had been in, yet he disdained cosmetic treatments for that, and the other raft of scars and blemishes that accrued to one who had to be as versatile behind a desk in a forgotten transients room on Corgan-6 as in a full Fleet distance suit rig useful for being dropped off outside a system by a high speed warp courier and spending a few weeks getting to an outer base or listening post.
His dense, compact and well muscled form saw him at the low end of human-based average for height and he would have found it amusing that he could have passed for any sailor in the old eras of Earth in the 18th to early 20th century, if he just had the right clothes. While he was mostly human derived, he also had some Vulcanoid stock way back when five or seven or ten generations back, as his family was one of the first real settler types once space had been opened with the use of the warp drive. That mixing of species via forms of genetic engineering hadn't done much for him and only made diagnosing some ailments difficult and gave him some resistances along with the need for a non-typical set of vitamins and minerals. No real benefits from it, as far as he could tell. No Vulcan strength, no Vulcan mind capabilities and his blood had a strange admixture of chemicals which didn't really give him much of anything beyond an impossible to match blood-type.
Currently he was in the Comm Ops room of freighter SV-200513 putting a sub-space call to the Laretian Shipyards. The logo for the Cayara shipping group was still on screen with a 'CONNECTING' message at the bottom. Den Blacks had his personal display up on the table in front of him, and had the room to himself although it wasn't much more than a closet that could barely sit three at the table. Freighters were notorious for saving space and mass wherever possible, and only by putting up dividers in the Brig was he able to keep the ten captured Pirates there, and their actual useful space was small, per person. He had called up the message he had gotten from Daystrom Industries and was still smiling at the triple seal of the Top Three Daystroms on it.
The screen cleared to the Laretian Shipyards logo, with a 'BASIC CONNECTION' message and then the screen dissolved to show him Minestra Yarida, known to everyone as Mindy or Min. She was yet another of the humanoid species that the Federation encompassed after being mixed around by cross-species romances. She retained more of her divergent lineage, with a sleekness to the skull and somewhat swept back ears, with blonde hair and green eyes. Which divergent lineage she had never told anyone, and only her bioscan would know for sure. If you could figure it out, which was the problem with Blacks, too.
"Good to see you, DCB!" she said as the screen cleared, "Whats up?"
"You have the DI encryption system on your personal ready?" he asked.
"Sure, trip a trans and we'll handshake."
Den Blacks activated the system sub-vocally and a quantum encryption system went to work and then the screen scrambled for a brief flash and then the Daystrom Industries logo appeared at the lower left of the screen. Then he sent the message he had gotten.
"Coming your wany, Min. Got it myself an hour or so ago and had to read it twice. And I never did get to congratulate you on picking off the Buon. Damned good work!"
"Thanks, DCB. Yeah I thought this stuff would be easy, but you know the training: we go through everything that isn't nailed down, send registers through the central company systems and they coordinate with insurers to see if there are any claims and rewards for returns. I have been god awful busy here the last few days. Still, I got ahold of that group, Synenco Group that you had talked about and they have been a real help! I had 300 gallons of uncut Romulan Ale and they were able to scare up crates of Mikar Crystal decanters and Swada Wood boxes, with felt liners. They are doing the re-sale and marketing part, and we are getting a percentage of the mark-up. And you get 10% of my take for recommending them, bless your black heart, DCB," she said chuckling softly.
He nodded as the transmit finished.
"Got that straight. I just sent the manifest for the Atrask and I know some of it has rewards on it. Trying to get it pre-prepped, so all I have to do is go through the consigners and packagers. But, Min, you are scaring up resources like I can't believe! That's why Enid sent me the message, should be up for you now."
She was checking her personal screen and was nodding.
"Alpha already? She is not waiting around..." Mindy trailed off reading the letter.
"Uh-huh, note what we got up next?"
"I... well Den that's just... she has got to have faith in us to get a ship..."
Den Blacks started to smile.
"Yeah, Mindy. We'll still do tagalong for awhile, but we are looking to KEEP an honest to goodness Pirate capture and refurb her at Alpha. You keeping the stuff she asked you to?"
Mindy was smiling a very tight, graceful smile.
"Oh, yeah, Den. Two cloaks, three shuttles and about two major shipping containers full of junk. All of that is enroute for DI at Sol, but I'll bet they divert it. I just... damn! We need good shooting, you know?"
Den Blacks transmitted his information to her.
"That's how I took down the Atrask, Mindy. We know the basic layout of most of the major classes of Pirate ships, and damned well know their captures. So what we have to do is go easy on the Barics and Converts, and heavy on the Fiddles and Feedbacks, plus well placed Solids and Piercings. Lets hope Raul, Miyak or Moreth can do that. I've sent them all my basics on what to do. Still have to fulfill the contracts and if we gotta blast them to done and gone, thats ok."
"Gotya, DCB. Only warp kill if we have to. I've looked over the Buon and what we have of the Shrike, and they are regular horrors to bring down. I hadda coreout the Buon, no two ways about it, and its cache detonated due to matter contamination, so its just a hull and the Fleet will probably use it for knowledge but nothing active. Still anything we can get our hands on will do."
"It will. Especially with a full-up M-5/V on board. Believe me, Mindy, this is a once in a lifetime chance to start turning the tide."
"NFS, DCB. Noticed your the head of the active group once it gets going. Let me know if you need a second in comand, ok?"
"Need a ship, first. Raul is on the slowboat deal of an ore freighter. Why in hell he chose that, is beyond me. That is on the Long Quad dancing out to the old KNZ, then coreward then back, so even if he gets something, it'll be a month or two getting it back via tug. Moreth... well, if the RNZ doesn't have action, I'll spit. Got bets he will get the next bag, probably a Romulan capture/convert. But Raul is good... why a freaking ore freighter?"
"Didn't he tell you?" Mindy asked.
"Naw, he's damned tight-lipped."
"Not if you smoke him he's not."
He looked down from the screen, knowing his face reddened.
"Shit, Min. Cough it up, what is he after?"
"I want my 10% back for that, DCB, to clean out the smoke and mirrors." she said.
"God damn..." he roared with laughter, "Done! Fork it over."
She made sure the agreement was recoreded and then keyed it over to her local comms.
"When the Klingon Empire flew apart there were ships that have never been seen again from the Wen'kal shipyards. Two are the K't'inga or Vor'cha class variant Heavy Battle Cruisers from before the fall, along with a prototype Light Cruiser. The other was a prototype Dreadnought. It was to be crewed by mixed Callosions and Redissions, with the M'Karb Sub-Clan in charge and a light security detail. It was last purported to be heading towards Mekev-21156, but never got there. Not that anyone got a real fix on it when it was active. Since that freighter is taking a beeline to an old line K-Base 17, for support supplies, it is in the area and he is paying for a diversion off the main route. He is betting that its still out there, probably sabotaged and automatically de-powered."
Den Blacks sat back.
"I don't... is that ship still on the Klingon Rolls?"
She smiled deeply.
"They gave it up for lost a decade or three back, Den, and it was only a prototype, not a ship of the line. Not even a production number on it, if it was ever built in the first place. No one has ever found it and the Klingons can't even put a general sizing on it. We don't even have final configuration of it beyond the forward boom section and that is only telling us it wasn't a normal size vessel. Its actually being made is total speculation by the absence of it along with the other vessels at the shipyard."
"And Raul... now wait... anyone who knew anything about that would get it themselves, right? So just why does he think...?"
"He took a shine to Kathy, remember? So she started checking older tachyon records from the collapse era and started a huge cross-indexing with the M-5/V at the Museum before it was packed up. She found things he liked, DCB. Raul is no fool, you know? And even if its not there, he is in prime cubic outward of the Quad and then coreward if he decides on traveling space. So he'll have plenty to do on wending his way back. We both know the tachyon detector grid is a sieve, not a wall. And a very leaky sieve, too."
"Yeah... know he will be a long-term resource grabber... but... how the hell will he get a damned Dreadnought back?"
Mindy laughed out loud.
"Den! Don't be dense!"
"What, Mindy? One man can't..."
"Who the hell do you think we work for?" she asked.
Blacks sat back a moment to consider, then raised his eyebrows.
"Oh... oh shit... he doesn't?"
"Yeah, DCB. Like I said, Kathy didn't think he was that good on the smoking but she still liked working with him. She's good, Den. He's got enough for an M-2/V web, a SERS. Ship Emergency Return System. Crew of 1."
"But a DN? What the hell would we do with a DN? They are useless, unless you need a lot of firepower...."
"You'll have to ask Enid, DCB. She authorized it."
Letting out a long whistle, Den Blacks shook his head.
"Min, thats a hell of a lot of ship. Resource killer to make, which is why the Federation scrapped plans for them a century back and more. Everyone knew the Klingons were about to go up a notch or three past the K't'inga's but even the Vor'cha's wouldn't outclass a true DN due to firepower and mass, but no one expected the Klingons would have the resources to do such a thing. For a private outfit to have one... how will we sustain it?"
"You really are dense, DCB. M-5/V. Who needs a huge crew when the ship is sentient, you know? And really personable, too. If you need a hundred to a hundred fifty people on board... well, I'll hand you that 10% back with interest if thats the case, DCB. And figure that you would be Captain, where would you go with it?"
Commodore Den Blacks (ret.) of Star Fleet, having served his time in the Academy, Command School, INTEL/COINTEL branches and had training on survival with little logistics both for personnel and ships thought about that. Considered his options, the character of Enid, Karl and Ushanda and what Revar Umak would sign-off on. He started to smile very, very deeply, one that would even make a Great White Shark rethink its position in the food chain.
"Star Fleet will scream, Min. No two ways about it. We can do it the hard way building up to it over a decade of captures... but now, while everything is fresh? Get a DN, convert it in a year and we have the upper hand."
"Uh-huh. I know you, DCB. Smoked you and me both and thats good, and it will be great being your Second or X-O. If anyone can find the main Pirate shipyard, its you, DCB."
"That's the size of it. Don't tell me, Enid had you keep all the sidearms and small arms from the Buon, right? Same as me with the Atrask?"
"Got that straight. I have some really good suggestions for folks who would pay for an assault slot, DCB. Payback is coming."
"Let me get my list together, Min. You're my acting X-O as of right now and I damned well need people contacted by someone I trust and you are on the downward leg of cataloging and sorting while I'm still upwards here even though its a smaller ship, I need physical time to do it. I'll get a message back to DI and looking for share outlay. Ushanda will probably get L'Tira's help so thats good. Still, Raul has to get it first. Worth getting the basics down, though, as that will save time if he does, and if its not there, well, we are all used to congtingency plans."
"True, that. DCB, gotta cut and finish up things for the day here."
"Same. Good talkin with you, Mindy. Blacks out."
He cut the connection and watched the screen break up and his personal unit shut off the encrypted system before the shipping company logo was back on the screen. He wanted to get everything cataloged and sorted out before he pulled into Epsilon-5 with this freighter. Of course there would still be waiting there and by then Raul just might be having some good news for everyone. Or not. If he did have to leave, well, that was what the option clause was for, and he had already protected the ship and it would unlikely see a second raider against it.
After a couple of years off, life was busy again.
Just the way he liked it.
Raul waited in the ships small comms room for the connection to be made with Den Blacks. The simple pre-comm warning message had been received and Raul went from his roost amidships to the comms room. The Trigester Freight Group insignia was on the screen and registered an incoming sub-space carrier that then cleared over to that of the Cayara insignia with 'CONNECTING' at the bottom of the screen. That then went through a moment of static and Den Blacks was on screen.
"If you got the room secured, use the DI system for this, Raul," Den said.
Raul nodded and brought up the connection from his Daystrom Industries unit which then started to transmit and utilized a sub-space connection to perform a quantum handshake and encrypt the message. The Daystrom Industries logo appeared on the lower left of the screen after a brief bit of static.
"Den, whats up?" Raul asked.
"I got the word that we are a 'Go' on the A-C stand-up and I'm sending that to you."
Raul nodded scanning the incoming information and smiled.
"Just how much are you two pulling in with the Buon and the Atrask, anyway?"
"Min got way more than she expected, but its her credit that she did just enough to take out the power systems and void them, then take out most of the crew in detail. I think I neglected her talents for a few years and concentrated her too much on logistics and Valk, Raul."
Raul sat back,nodding.
"She is an excellent operative, Den. You should still remember D'gran-5 and Cualta, though. She came through two assaults to get other team members, then, that I wouldn't have gotten through, DCB. Delivered my hide the second time, but she understood she was Valk. You never gave anchor and logistics to the faint of heart."
Den Blacks laughed.
"Uh-huh. Can't afford that if you're dying, Raul."
"Not her style to be the first on, Den. Thats the rest of us. She always scared up the shit we needed and was our damned Valk, and she loved that and still does. But she is good at the rest of the work, in case you forgot."
Den Blacks shook his head from side to side.
"Never did, Raul. Not for any I recommended, either. Still its damned surprising that she kept from doing a thorough destruction on it and left most of the ship intact. Good workman like job with brand new equipment field tested all of once before that. Her pointers helped me with the Atrask and I think we can get a good 'what to use in each situation' manual put together in a couple of months. I'm sending you the Atrask details."
Watching in a side viewer Raul nodded at the overview and timing sequence, although fine details would be underneath, the overview told him a lot.
"DCB, that is very gutsy. Cut up the assault areas with the Fiddles and then did a Feedback on life support and then solids through their Engineering areas and fusion units. Did the Feedback catch anything else?"
"Released all the emergency bulkheads so the ship was sectioned off. I just identified areas of most crew and gave them a Fiddlers hello, while keeping a few solids in case anyone was fool enough to head to engineering. They weren't and surrendered once I launched myself to their ship and was in Engineering. I think my rep preceded me. Too bad about the Command Crew, but thems the breaks in war."
"NFS, Den. When Blacks appears, you know you have been finished."
"Decent cargo, for the size of the ship. Talked to Min about that, and some of the overhead and your name came up."
"Don't play innocent on me, Raul. Just what in the name of the Spiral Arm are you doing?"
Raul blinked and leaned forward.
"Infrastructure, Den. Min normally has that job and I'm usually covert side plus adapting, but we all can do each other's jobs. I saw the need for what the Daystroms were doing, and so did they, Den. You got gung-ho on pulling in Pirates, where to get them, ranted about how the Fleet wasn't doing a damned thing, and anyone doing this really needed someone to give them an independent platform from freighters. You, Min and Moreth got real conservative on that, because you were just thinking of ready capture. I got to thinking on the other side of the business that is even more speculative, but easier for everyone to swallow."
Blacks sat back in his chair.
"Min explained it to me, Raul. I thought you were just deadheading your way out to better action. Didn't seem like you at all as you were and are one of the best assets for the line of work we're in that I've run across. Still, you took some damned dull missions in your time and I chalked it up to that. Surprised you didn't come to me on it, though."
Raul let out an all too human sigh, for all of being an Andorian.
"Den, you were getting regular ops set up with some room for growth. I figure this to be the longest of all long shots, but the Daystroms need a ship, a good ship, not something that we have given our tender mercies to. And there are ships laying around out there if you bother to think about it. Not just the Klingons, but Romulan worlds have gone Rogue in the past, the Tholians more or less fought their way to our periphery from some other galaxy and left at least one starfaring race gone in their wake, Cardassian problems have been continuous and the Dominion, too, needless to say. Only the Gorns are cohesive and even they let some inhabited systems of little interest to them slip through their domains... not many, but some. That's before going back into history more than a few hundred years, Den."
"Worth it for the platform, I guess, but... damn it, Raul... just how are we goint to staff a Dreadnought? Even with the M-Series it will take a couple of hundred just to keep it running well. We might have to resource it to Star Fleet and we aren't going to get good value that way. And we don't dare let it go beyond that. Just what did you learn that everyone else missed, anyways? I thought looking for that Ghost Ship was something of a spare time occupation for salvage groups."
Shifting to his personal unit, Raul gave a sub-vocal command and it started to transmit to Blacks.
"Sending it over, Den. First they all made a few fatal assumptions, but the primary one was that the ship had a unitary command. I don't think it did given the situation with two rebel Klingon factions at the shipyards and an impressed crew from various planets. The shipyard head, Admiral Kuroth, would have had to grab command crew from all over the yards, but keep his personal cadre in charge. That would mean decent mid-staff from a rival faction. You know how Klingon vessels with impressed crews are today, Den. It was the same back then, with extra security stations in the thing as torture chambers. Nothing to break a body, but break the spirit, yes. I don't think they even got to their mid-point, Den."
Looking to the side Blacks was nodding as he scanned the materials he was getting.
"Well I'll be... by the time the back-path group got on things the ship would be...out of extreme sensor range due to interstellar motion. If it had stopped you could find it as it would take up the general wave pattern and motion of galactic space, but if it had a week of impulse..."
"Kathy Lorimar is damned good with sensors, Den. She and M-5/V scoured everything and she was Museum trained so knew of the other materials that wouldn't matter to salvage groups. Plus astrophysics is her specialty, beyond prospect mining. Together she and M-5/V came up with the answer and talking with M-5/V it was almost all her with it serving the back-up analysis role. She is crystal on this sort of thing, Den, don't ever judge her by looks. Enid Daystrom accepts no fools and no flinchers."
"I'll glaze over on this shit, Raul. Go over it later. And glad you noticed that about Daystrom. All of them, Raul. Ushanda is the slickest salesman and marketer I've run across, plus knew more about me than I would want anyone to know. Karl's the nuts-n-bolts get it done in the best way type and damned good at it. Enid? She would be top operator no matter what her field was, and I'm glad it wasn't I/CI as she would have been our taskmaster instead of Rafiq. Did you tell Eloise about this?"
Raul raised his eyebrows.
"Den, we answer first to Ushanda and then Karl, then L'Tira and at the top is Enid. I deeply respect Elois Rafiq, but she is not in our chain any more, DCB. It is no betrayal of the Federation or the Fleet, and you know it. This job has to be done and the Daystroms have the wits, courage and ability to try to get it done. You know what the Federation and Fleet response times are like, and it will be years before they can get the basic outlays in place to do it. That's why the Daystroms wanted you, first."
Grunting slightly, Den Blacks shook his head.
"I know, Raul, its just damned hard to remember that this isn't... well its starting to look like more than just the old line of work and way more than just Pirate hunting, you know?"
"Yes, DCB, but you gave the outlay to all of us for our next steps. Enid agreed and is fast-tracking it. Time to clear out Fleet-think, Den. We are already five steps ahead of the Fleet and Enid isn't giving them time to catch up. We are one very small outfit, but that means low overhead, direct accountability and doing what is necessary to get the job done. It is all safe and legal, although if I do find a DN out here, I expect that hell will start to hit the Council."
Smirking, Den Blacks said, "It will, but you've seen how things go now. Umak's in the center of it now. It will be at least a full budgetary cycle before the Council can begin to address what he has done, which is about 10 months for us. He has the Fleet Rep and Diplos on his side, but the bureaucrats are going to loathe a small, competent group that spins up with resources they can't get their fingers into. Ushanda and Karl know that fight is coming and are working hard to get their organization set up... damn this is hard to sort out, Raul."
"Den," Raul said softly leaning forward, "you don't have to do it all. We need to do our job so all this can work out. The second cadre will be need to be spun up and finishing up in a few months, then take a month or two for deployment and by then most of us on the first cadre will be heading inbound or be back. If we can get a confirmed ship in a month or two, then the third cadre will be crew for it."
"Just hard to really trust the Daystroms. This isn't their line of work."
"Really, DCB? You tell me what Fleet operative... no ANY operative... who was able to destroy one Orion vessel, disable a second and damage a third so much that they had to leave part of their hull behind as a ruse and then finish that off by scuttling the rest while they stole another starship. No one that I know of has ever done that as a single operator in one operation using a starship as a platform for herself, not as a means of attack or defense but just a platform. Then turn around and start dancing the legals."
Blacks pressed his lips together.
"Yeah. Just damned hard not having to do battle regs and all the shit I've had to get used to for most of my life."
"Well, here's your chance, even though we have to keep within the letter of most regs its better without Fleet staff overhead. I figured it out soon after I got to meet the principals. I read Enid's work... well... skimmed it, but dug into the meeting materials for the M-Series while we were doing briefings, layouts, scut work at Indianapolis and how to get things running. Once I figured it out, the rest was simple."
Raising a right eyebrow, Den Blacks looked at him.
"What the hell is it, Raul?"
Raul Edrera smiled, deeply.
"Do the right thing. Ask for help. Give everything you've got to get it done. That's what I did when I remembered the old Klingon shipyard, Den. I told them and Kathy helped me. Look where I'm at."
Touching his personal unit, Den Blacks smiled.
"That is my new permanent note, Raul. Always up there."
"You'll still need the old one for everyone else, DCB."
"I still won't take 'no' for an answer, Raul. But now I can remember that one. Ok, signing off and good hunting, Raul."
"Good hunting to you, Den. See you in a few months, definitely by our return time. Edrera out."
The display changed as his personal unit disengaged the connection. Back in I/CI he would never, ever, have proposed anything like what he was doing now. It was a horrific risk, especially if it was a ship and had ejected its anti-matter cache. Even towing it in would be risky as the final destination was only marginally acceptable to salvage claims of old Imperial equipment. There was a very good chance that it would be taken outright. It was a gamble, though, and no ship dropped its anti-matter cache if it could be helped, and only a backfeed from an overheated warp core would be reason enough to do that. Lots of things could happen to a ship without crew in space. Still if anything could get the ship going and take out the Klingon cyber traps, it was the M-2/V. Even a bulky one in old system casings.
Now they just had to find the ship.
Raul Edrera was checking to make sure everything was packed in the shuttle.
For about the tenth time.
Today was the day the freighter would be slowing its speed down to a mere warp 4 and expanding its sensor coverage. The freighter TL-51621 was an old style bulk ore carrier, originally at 7 million metric tons of capacity, its warp system was upgraded once to increase that to nearly 10 million metric tons. It was not a maneuverable vehicle by any stretch of the imagination, and shifting to lower warp speeds was something that would not only delay the ship, but increase its power useage as it is easier to keep a warp pocket in a given configuration than to change it. So the week of observation would give just about a light year to search in as that is what the mass to velocity ratios would accumulate to over the decades from when their target had last used its impulse engines. Higher mass would get lower velocity while lower mass would get higher velocity, and this search would start just outside the largest proposed size for a Dreadnought class vessel ever proposed: the Romulan Supreme Condor class.
They never built one, as far as any INTEL could tell, but the plans for that ship were huge. You could fit nearly 6 Galaxy class Cruisers inside the space taken up by that vessel and have room to shuffle them around, although just barely. He remembered looking at the specifications for that, and did the comparison between the old Constitution class Heavy Cruiser at about 1 million metric tons, a Galaxy class at 4.3 million metric tons and the Supreme Condor at nearly 85 million metric tons if built as planned. So he doubted the Klingons could ever get up to that, their ships always had lower mass but greater maneuverability than their class-to-class counterparts in the Federation. Multiple decades old it couldn't mass more than the Supreme Condor. Only bases got into that range, and making a mobile bases was lunacy.
So he fully expected that he wouldn't get any sort of notification that there was a large, ship-like mass in the first hours or days.
Or in the entire trip, it was the longest of long shots in the dark of space to look for a shut down errant starship. Only mass sensors would do for this and freighters had those, and pretty good ones, too as any planetoids would be theirs to claim for their company, so those mass sensors were upgraded frequently and was one of the few areas that Star Fleet did not excel.
His personal unit indicated that he had a message. He touched the unit and looked at the back of his sleeve on his jacket, which served as a display and image capture system. On it was Captain Suval an older Vulcan, with some salt and pepper in his black hair and roughness to his skin.
"Mr. Edrera, our sensors are picking up a mass of 12.7 million metric tons in a non-natural configuration. Shall we slow now? It will add a half-light year on to the forward part of your search and subtract same at the end."
Raul raised an eyebrow, knowing that the mass would not have outline definition, but that its density was telltale.
"If it is lower density than for a rocky body of similar size, then I would like to amend our schedule to that," he knew that this would cut off just after the prime mass range of Dreadnoughts, at least as expected by the non-data available.
"It is that. I will slow us down to Warp 4 and do a trailing approach. We should have outline definition in about an hour. Your clock is starting, Mr. Edrera."
"Thank you, Capt. Suval. It is just outside the largest volume, but we have no way of knowing exactly what happened to the vessel I'm looking for."
"That is as I thought, Mr. Edrera. Suval, out."
Raul pressed his lips together and sealed up the external accessible storage containers on the shuttle, and made sure that all the variant interconnects for power and data were available. If it was a ship the shuttle would be his rented residence there, if the old ship could be brought back to life. There were just enough consumables and a mobile APU plus the power systems of the shuttle to help in that, but the real gem and prize was the M-2/V complex of clustered units and hundreds of meters of cabling to get to standard inputs that Klingons tended to distribute in different parts of a ship. They didn't like it when mutineers could take over a vessel quickly and easily. And that meant hours of unspooling data and power cable to get the M-Units proper connections. They could do a lot, and might even be able to restructure the data systems and centralize them a bit more. But that would take time.
If the ship is out there.
If it could be brought back up to powered operations.
And if it was intact, internally.
He mentally set all that aside and walked quickly to his closet-size quarters and checked out his personal equipment, including the Daystrom's defense equipment. Once on-board he was the only real protection that ship and the freighter would have. He still had a job to do... and if it worked out he would be pleasantly busy in the near future.
"Coming up on main viewscreen," said the Sensor/Helmsman.
Captain Suval nodded and looked at Raul who was gazing at the screen. The background starfield had slowly seen a small section where stars were disappearing behind a dark mass, but only now was the freighter close enough to use its sensors to get an actual determination of what that mass looked like. Outlines of the hull appeared and solidified as a series of interlocking triangles. Suval raised an eyebrow.
"That is not a typical Klingon vessel," he said and then brought his eybrows together.
"Well it is a prototype," Raul said in a low tone as what appeared wasn't the nice, clean, angular outline of a large Klingon ship. It had the boom of a large ship of that type, but the rear hull was something completely different and of a configuration he had never seen before. "What is wrong with the rear of the hull?"
The Sensor/Helmsman was shifting the display slowly rotating the ship in diagram form. The rear of it remained empty.
"Mr. Edrera," she said, "I don't know. Our sensors are not picking up enough data to create an outline. We are having other problems getting any returns from sensors beyond the hull of the vessel."
"Indeed?" said Suval, "What is the cause, Helmsman?"
She was working over the instruments and looked to the Pilot/Helmsman who was adding in other sensors to her feeds.
"I can't say for certain on the rear of the ship, Captain. For the rest of the ship, it appears to have some sort of multi-layer armor system that has multiple layers that either absorb or disperse sensor scans. We can tell that there is an interior as all the airlocks are open, as well as internal locks for a few meters into the ship."
"That is unusual in any vessel," the Captain said, looking to Raul.
"I have my suspicions on that. Still are the measurements correct for overall size and density?"
The Sensor/Helmsman nodded.
"Just over 1,300 meters long and 375 meters in diameter for the rear hull, which is 600 meters long," she started to display other classes of ships next to it for scale and was cycling through the later K'tinga classes and then to the Vor'cha classes.
"I believe there is a partial match," the Captain said, "go back to the last Vor'cha ship and display the rear hull only."
The Sensor officer looked to the Pilot who nodded and worked with the data display while she continued on with the main sensor suite.
"If that is to scale, then it appears the upper and lower portions of the hull are constructed of two Vor'cha class ship rear hulls slightly expaned and tapered, with something between them," Suval said as he looked at the display and a second hull was brought up and the two placed over the rear of the ship, with the second inverted. The matching was almost 1:1.
"Well I'll be damned," Raul said, "they made this out of parts of older vessels... say, the shipyard was working on a Light Cruiser variant with an flat warp nacelle arrangement..."
The Pilot nodded his head and era specific Light Cruisers started to appear. One by the designation B'rahan came up with a matching nacelle profile that fit between the other two.
"The construction eras fit," the Pilot said.
Captain Suval turned to Raul Edrera.
"Mr. Edrera this is the ship you contracted us to find. The right of first claim belongs to you."
"I do so claim. Give me a few minutes to get to the shuttlecraft so I can establish a beacon and board her with my equipment."
Suval nodded and turned.
"Helmsman, plot a course to take us across the rear of the vessel at 10 km. and then parallel course and matching speed at 3 km. Move all data to the form that Mr. Edrera has on record. When he establishes the beacon we will transmit all that data to Federation officials."
Raul was already out of the bridge area hearing the last of that and using the spartan turbolift to get to the small shuttlecraft deck. When he arrived at the adjoining preparation area, he donned his suit, helmet, and removed his gear from the stowage locker and ensured that his Daystrom weapon was secured across his back. He hurried to the airlock, cycled through and got into the old style shuttlecraft, which was Fleet excessed some decades back. While the working and inspection craft were small, single user arrairs, this was one of the roomy 6-person craft of yesteryear. Getting in and securing his equipment he powered up the loaded shuttle and sent the confirmation to start cycling the deck so that its main door could open. As the systems checked out he felt the shuttle move on the turntable in the bay and the opened viewers showed the dimly lit interior of the bay and the slow, deep blackness of space where the main door was retracting.
He keyed the comms system.
"This is Raul Edrera in shuttle Vector Five Nine Alpha Slash Seven Two Three Zero Six Five, all systems are positive. Am I confirmed for launch?"
Captain Suval's voice came through.
"We are directly behind the craft with no update on its configuration. Launch is at your discretion, Mr. Edrera. If you require assistance we can beam personnel to the shuttle, but not the interior of the ship, itself due to armor interference."
"Acknowledged Captain, and thank you. I am sequencing launch and the signal beacon will transmit the necessary claims code information when it is established."
The shuttle glided slightly up and forward away from the deck and out into space. Raul Edrera who had piloted shuttles just like this many times in his prior career shifted his course vector towards the massive starship. As the rear of the vessel hoved into view he saw the glow of the lights of freighter. And his shuttlecraft. And the starfield behind them. Raul had to check his systems to make sure that he was actually seeing a reflection, and he was.
"This is Raul on the shuttlecraft, I believe we have the beginnings of an explanation for the rear of the vessel. Transmitting enhanced visual as I fly up and and above the centerline relative to the boom axis."
"Receiving," said the Sensor/Helmsman, "and... what the...?"
"That is most intriguing, Mr. Edrera. It appears to be a reflective surface of some kind."
"It is, Captain," said the Sensor/Helmsman, "we get perfect reflection of sensors as we shift aft of the vessel, across all sensor suites."
Raul guided the shuttle slowly up and above the rear of the vessel, heading towards hatches and ports that would normally indicate areas of egress for Engineering decks and supply of anti-matter, fuel and coolant. Bulk processing required similar on every starship built as it was cheaper and more efficient to move the bulk material by standard means than beaming it over piece-meal. Anti-matter had to be delivered physically as transporter mass storage systems would not be able to contain more than a tiny mass for a picosecond.
"But what is it for?" Edrera heard the Pilot/Helmsman ask.
"I am sure we don't know," Suval said.
As he passed over, Raul glanced at the sensors pointed towards the now disappearing aft part of the ship.
"There, just for a moment, there is structure there, its not a flat surface," said the Sensor/Helmsman, "processing.... its... not much information...but row upon row upon row of angled reflective surfaces..."
"Intriguing, continue processing with that information," Suval said.
As the shuttle passed above the upper impulse engine ports and upper aft photon torepedo tube, Raul noticed some pitting and spalling on the armor, but not much. For the most part it was clean, and its transit in the inter-arm space of the galaxy had left it relatively untouched even at the high rate of relative velocity. He shifted the shuttle up for a final overview, matched speed with the vessel and noted that it had many of the old style Klingon insignia, but no Imperial markings. Nor name or even design/contract designation.
"Shifting shuttle to contact... 5 meters... 3 meters... 1 meter... contact. Negative on pad attachment, shifting to autostabilize mode," Raul felt the first bit of frustration as the hull of this Klingon vessel did not have enough in the way of magentic properties to allow the shuttlecraft to establish an electromagnetic hold on the hull. "Leaving to place attachment cable and beacon."
"Confirmed, negative on contact, will await beacon. Do keep comms open Mr. Edrera," Suval said.
"Acknowledged, exiting shuttle."
Raul Edrera shifted out with two coils of cable and bonding surfaces to place temporary attachement points for the shuttle. He put one set of points on the far end of the nearest cargo airlock and then pushed each coil to the shuttle so they could self-unwind. He followed the second and opened the locking structures on the top of the miniature nacelles for each of the cables, repeated that on the far side to the other nacelles, then put down the second set of attachment points along with the securing motors, which then pulled the shuttle down to the hull of the vessel. Raul took out the identifying claims beacon, a small structure that put out a normal space transponder code, and placed it on the hull just forward of the hydrogen intake systems above Engineering.
"Beacon placed, and turned on," Raul said.
"Established, appended and we are transmitting that to the designated offices in the Federation and to Daystrom Industries," Suval replied.
"Still no changes in ship status?" Raul asked.
"None, Mr. Edrera," said the Sensor/Helmsman,"and the aft of the ship is beyond me and the analysis suite we have here. No changes in ship status."
Raul had shifted back to the shuttle and had removed his personal sidearm and equipment from it and was opening the rear of the shuttle to examine his skid of Daystrom equipment. Finally he unhooked a standard comms repeater and cable from the stowage area and plugged it into the shuttle.
"I'm going in," Raul said.
"Keep us advised, Mr. Edrera," Suval said.
"Will do, taking a repeater system with me. Perhaps inside the hull I can get better coverage for comms."
He moved carefully to the open airlock that gaped before him. The non-visual sensors were sending back information which confirmed this was an area of bulk cargo transfer for Engineering and that it led to a landing/staging area. He guided his suit through the lock slowly and turned on the low level lighting he preferred for such operations, letting his keen eyesight examine the systems he saw as he went in.
"I appear to have a welcoming committee," he said as he went into the staging area.
Raul Edrera had been prepared for this as similar situations had happened during the Klingon Civil War. It was a far more complicated time than most inside the Federation knew, and those having to cope with the changes from the I/CI perspective had a better handle on events from that period than most inside the Federation and that experience had been passed down to the following generations. After the main dilithium source for the Klingon Empire was lost to them by a feedback accident, which destroyed that planet, the ability to keep the heaviest vessels in the Imperial Klingon Fleet active was diminished as large dilithium crystals were no longer available as replacements for failing older ones. Sensing the loss within the Empire, there was a Civil War that started with Romulan intrigue, but not just from that alone. There were other factions in the Empire that sought greater autonomy: some for pure power, others to get away from Imperial rule, others to align with different powers and some for reasons that were all their own. The Wen'kal Shipyards was one of those that was headed up by one faction seeking power, staffed by technically competent mid-level officers from another faction, and utilized impressed labor from nearby star systems.
During the decades that followed until the Empire could re-assert control, starsystems broke away and aligned with different factions and powers both inside and outside the Empire. It was not only a civil war between systems, but on individual ships as Command staff faced off against mid-level officers, often with the crew caught in the cross-fire. On some ships things got much more complicated as intra-factional fights then broke out, so that even a winning faction of an original mutiny would often devolve into internecine conflict and the fighting would be extinguished or see a last gasp self-destruct of the ship by a losing faction. If the Captain or commanders were alive, or if those holding Engineering caused anti-matter to come into direct contact with matter.
The variations on this were many, and some ships would wind up in a stalemate where no one controlled much of anything and the fighting would die out as early decisions made to 'force' other factions to comply would play out when they didn't comply. Scores of ships just 'disappeared' without any indication of self-destruction, no sign of the ships being captured, no future appearance as Pirate ships, and no one could find them, save by luck of being in a relatively untrafficed part of space and having extremely good sensors to find a ship mass that had no energy indicators to it.
Being greeted by corpses that had been dead due to loss of the integrity of their space suits in hand-to-hand fighting just inside the airlock was a confirmation of this last to Raul Edrera. One crewman had his suit slashed open by another while having his hand still gripping his attacker and driving a fist through the faceplate of the helmet of that attacker with a rather large knife clearing the way forward. They were now frozen in place like that, with the blood and entrails affixing them to the wall of the hallway of the deck just inside the airlock. They were not alone on the ship. As Raul moved down the decks towards Engineering, he saw other bodies drifting, some with helmets just opened, others with a knife driven into their bodies, some with disruptor burnt suits and organs liquified by the blasts inside the suit. It was the worst 'every man for himself' carnage that Raul had ever witnessed after the fact.
Engineering had, surprisingly, not been a scene of much fighting, although it was a place where a non-Klingon Sub-Commander had been pinned to a wall by his own bodily fluids freezing to that wall. The only indicators still active in Engineering were those of the anti-matter containment system, although its indicators were passive and itself was a very slow drain on the superconductive system they controlled. Just like every other vessel using anti-matter, those systems were made to keep their integrity with very little energy: the lives of all aboard the vessel depended on that. Going through the nearby Security Station and Engineering Control Room revealed that the dead Sub-Commander had died in just that end: he had shut down the warp core and put the ship in a sub-light cruise mode. What was interesting is that the final Klingon Officer didn't have the skill or knowledge to countermand those orders in the system as it required his superior officer, who was by then dead, to do that. He, of course, killed the only one on board who could actually have done that, by then the Officer was starving, Raul found out through that Officer's personal records which he quickly scanned.
It took the better part of the day to piece together the events from the mid-tier Officers that mutinied and attempted to storm 'officer country' in the boom section, were then repulsed only to find the crew had mutinied against both Klingon factions. The Captain had disabled sub-space communications by the sheer dint of taking major parts from the system and destroying them, as he expected a rendezvous just a week or so ahead. That sparked the mutiny which attempted to wrest the ship from him and guide it to the mutineer's factional home, and that turned into a messy firefight amidships. The crew, meanwhile, realized that their ONLY safe haven was to return to the Klingon Empire and turn in the Command crew and mid-tier Officer mutineers, but they were forced out of engineering by the fighting. The crew then turned off life support and scrambled the replicators, so that they were the only ones who could get food or any re-supplies. Not that it helped them once the mutineers turned off power to the rest of the ship.
What happened next was scrambled, but would wind up with the Command crew staging an attack on Engineering, the mutineers defending Engineering and attempting to subdue enough of the crew to take control of the ship and the crew moving to take over the forward APUs from the Command crew. Mostly, everyone would wind up dead either due to fighting, exhaustion, lack of air for space suits or starvation. The ship, itself, put into an orderly shutdown routine from the last competent person on board, that being the dead officer in the Engineering Control Room, did so. After that there were no records as all the automated systems were on that orderly shutdown routine and followed those orders.
Raul shook his head when he got back to the shuttle to rest. Almost all of this had been sent back via his communication transponder as he went through the ship just trying to 'get a feel' for what had happened, and saw major fighting around the sub-space communications array, two of the forward APUs, the Bridge, a secondary Bridge, various Security Stations (disturbingly the crew seems to have used the equipment there on Klingons) but absent from the shuttlebay for the obvious reason that no one had a chance to unpack the shuttles from their shipping containers, fuel them and test them. Plus they were in storage in the maintenance area and the elevator system hadn't been installed for it yet. That condition of being 90% finished was true throughout the ship. There were decks that were only framed in with mismatched deck material, rooms with things like bunks and tables still in containers or just floating in their rooms. The few hundred corpses could be found in the major fighting areas, but some did just drift into strange places over the decades.
"Edrera reporting back," he said as he closed the shuttlecraft and cycled air into it.
"TL-51621, welcome back Mr. Edrera," came the voice of Captain Suval, "we have been following your communications with interest. I have not seen such fighting inside a starship of any sort, and it was disturbing. You have cleared most of the booby-traps, I take it?"
Raul Edrera unsealed his helmet and stripped off his space suit, attaching hoses and cable to it, so it could recharge fully.
"All of the important ones, at least, in the turbolift shafts and to all the major accessways. Very few of them were physical response traps, and none were ready for modern space armor. All of the charged energy traps had lost their charge decades ago, so were more items of curiosity than harmful devices. But you are right, for such a small crew size, they were vicious and I found no one that left a last message of any sort worth talking about, although I still haven't reviewed all the suit memory modules, just those of the highest ranking members. They all threatened each other and carried out their threats, and due to Klingon security systems when the people who could counter-mand orders were dead and systems they were in command of were set to shut down, they did so. And when those who had commanded them to shut down were killed, no one could bring them back up. While that has served Klingons well with standard mutiny situations, on these sorts of mutinies that becomes a deadly loop when major functions of a vessel get shut down for good and no one can bring them back online."
Raul had taken a wet cloth and rubbed over his skin to ease some of the chafing and dryness that always happened due to overeager moisture scrubbing systems in the suit. That and a few dry rations and water were his meal for the next few minutes and he ate as he talked.
"We do not have the capability to deal with Klingon systems," Suval said, "their security procedures are outside normal ones even for the Federation."
Raul was eating and swallowing water from a flask in his suit while looking at the viewscreen at the forward part of the shuttle.
"They are hard to deal with. I have some equipment that should be able to get around most of it, and a computer to help bypass other sections that are well secured. I'll know in two days if that is successful once I get those systems in after taking a rest cycle for a few hours. I'll be putting my comms on emergency wake-up if you need me, but this has been a long day. The death I've seen was bad, but the pure spite to shut down essential systems and not recognize that those being killed were necessary to bring them back... that is rare even for Klingons."
"Indeed. Contact us when you wake up, Mr. Edrera. Suval, out."