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Fanfic: Federation Space

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  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 1,935 Arc User
    .Season 1, Episode 11

    "Mother and children are healthy and strong," Dr. Sar announced as he returned his scanner to its compartment on the inboard bulkhead of Sickbay.

    "They are strong," Ben repeated.

    "Of course they are. You may return to your duties now."

    Ben helped his sister off of the biobed and lead her toward the exit holding her by the hand.

    "Doctor," said Crewman Brock, I don't get this whole sexual differentiation thing. Sex is established by DNA, so how can a hormonal selection be imposed on DNA after conception?"

    "That is a good question, and one to which I have only poor answers."

    "Theories?"

    "Hypothesis more than theory. The Pakled Medical Database doesn't have the answer, I'm afraid, and we missed our opportunity to study it since the period from conception to hormonal differentiation occurred before their arrival.

    "But here in the umbilical region there is a fatty tissue for which I have found no function, or indeed mention in the database. This tissue is present in both of the young, but in neither of our adult Pakled, and it appears to be in the process of being subsumed by the body of the infants."

    Dr. Sar zoomed his scanner into one of the twins, to a point on the lower center of its backbone, and two tiny lobes of fat were revealed on either side of the backbone, through which two large arteries passed, forward of and parallel to the backbone. Each of these branched out to pump blood into the lower organs and the legs.

    "I took these to be a remnant of a food supply which would sustain the infant after the release of the umbilicus until its digestive organs could take over and, to a degree, I still believe that hypothesis holds true. However," he zoomed in to the cellular, then to the microscopic level, "You see here there is an MC chromosome pair, and here is an NC pair. Both sexes in the same cells. I believe all Pakled are bi-gendered at conception and, after attachment to a nipple, the differentiation hormone selects one chromosome for suppression, preventing those from replicating in the daughter cells during mitosis. Since these are the only remaining cells which haven't undergone several dozen generations of mitosis, they and some very specialized cells of the brain stem are the only remaining bigendered cells in their bodies."

    "But if that's the case, wouldn't there be medical issues with unhealthy mothers unable to produce enough of the hormone?"

    "I would expect that hermaphroditism is somewhat more common on Pakled than Earth, but from a species survival standpoint I can't see that it would make much difference. Whether bigendered Pakled are fertile or not, their species' ability to produce twins every two to four years without significantly weakening the mother means that population growth is only limited by food supply and by whatever customs they practice regarding contraception."

    "So why differentiate between male and female at all?"

    "Crewman Brock, you ask interesting questions, but at some point I simply must confess that I don't know."

    ***

    "There's been a kidnapping reported," said Justice Daniel Webster from Marshal Lee's holowall. "The daughter of Judge Thome of the 421st District Court which is based on Starbase 311. I'm sending you the file."

    "Kidnapping? Wouldn't that be a local matter?"

    "Ordinarily, yes, but this appears to be a case of interplanetary transport of persons against their will."

    "Ah. And the Judge is involved. We'll set course for Starbase 311 immediately."

    "Very well. I'll be waiting for your report."

    "Your Honor, there is one little issue I'd like to discuss if you have time."

    "Not too much time, I hope?"

    "No sir. It's about deputies: promoting Clair to Marshal was a god call, in my opinion. As much as I'm going to miss her, I can't hold her back. She's going to do one hell-of-a-job in the Beta Zed sector. But that leaves me short handed, and I have Deputy Vine on hand. She's nowhere near ready for promotion, and she's a good deputy with a solid skillset."

    "And Senior Marshal T'eset has already informed you that Marshal Jasse's deputies are going to be reassigned."

    "It seems a shame to pull Vine out and send someone else to me when you can send the someone else in her place."

    "And you can keep an eye on Jasse's protege. As a favor to your old friend." Justice Webster looked at Lee until Lee shifted in his chair.

    "I withdraw my request, sir."

    "I'm actually of a mind to return Vine to you once she has completed a little job I have in mind for her, but you both need a break. Marshal Jasse's condition is emotionally traumatic for you both, and you both have too much self-pity on his account.

    "However, you do need a deputy who has skills both you and Deputy Chuss lack. I will suggest to the Senior Marshal that she expedite your new assignment."

    "Thank you, Your Honor."

    "Webster out."

    Lee tapped a toggle on his desktop.

    "Bridge," said Chuss, whose image replaced that of Justice Webster on the wall.

    "Set a course for Stabase 311. We're going back to work."

    "Aye."

    Chuss terminated the connection, and Lee sat back with a sigh as he opened the file on Judge Thome's case.

    ***
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 1,935 Arc User
    "Your honor, I must advise that you have been recused from this case," Mashal Lee said. "Your Marshal has not. I am in no way attempting to impede Marshal Cepe's investigation. I am here simply to aid in it."

    "In that case, you can find that TRIBBLE of Ki's and bring him in. He's behind this, and Ki's helping him."

    "I'll review the evidence, sir, and take it where it leads. I understand Marshal Cepe's been looking for the son of Benda Ki for three days now and has only so far verified neither he nor your daughter is on the station. I'm sure he's done a thorough job of searching, so duplicating his efforts would seem to me a pointless waste of time."

    "Then what are you going to do? Sit around and wait for my Middy to rescue herself?"

    "No, Your Honor. I'm going to investigate. Have there been any ransom demands?"

    "Ransom? I've told you what happened. Why would a kid who's intent on humiliating me try to ransom my daughter? Every day he has her he shames me and my family."

    "There may be other agencies at work here, I just want a clear picture of all of the facts."

    "Here's the facts: Benda Ki has been nothing but trouble since I took on this District, and his smart-mouthed son has been very vocal in his negative opinions of me. He has repeatedly attempted to get to me, his latest scheme was to use my daughter. When I caught on I let him know that he was one jump short of a fall his father couldn't buy him out of. Not a week later he and my daughter turn up missing, and Benda Ki's refusing to answer questions. He knows where my daughter is, and I'm going to find out!"

    "About that, sir. As you know, a suspect may be held up to seventy-two standard hours without being charged. The Prosecutor admits to not having sufficient evidence to charge..."

    "That incompetent hack couldn't prosecute a gryll with a leg of cralluk in its jaws!"

    "Nevertheless, Judge Arnham has ordered his release unless sufficient evidence to charge him is brought forth. As a..."

    "Release him?!!! So he can run off to wherever his son is hiding?"

    "He is a person of interest in a criminal case. Attempting to flee would only demonstrate cognizance of guilt. Your honor, this is now a matter for the 12th Circuit Court. Speak to Judge Arnham, then listen to her. Your further involvement in this case can only result in creating difficulties for the prosecutor's office."

    The judge sat back and glared at Marshal Lee. "Find my little girl," he said.

    "I intend to do that, sir. I have one more question: why would Valas Ki or his father seek to humiliate you?"

    "Because he's the son of a Gatherer who has been taught to disrespect the law and its courts his whole life. His father's been in my courtroom more times than I can count, and he's bought his way out of trouble every time. His son thinks he can do as he pleases, but when I get my hands on him I'm going to demonstrate just why it's a bad idea to mess with me. Anything else?"

    "Thank you, no, Your Honor. If you do hear anything else related to this case, please have me informed immediately."

    A grunt was the only response, and Lee left the office.

    "How did it go?" asked Sam.

    "Oddly. For a distraught father he seems far more concerned with his image than with his missing daughter."

    "Something to look into, at least.

    ***
  • patrickngopatrickngo Member Posts: 9,333 Arc User
    Oh Yeah, I'd agree. "Daddy" probably wouldn't notice her missing if it wasn't a ding to his reputation for months-if ever. (of course, if the girl IS in real danger, as opposed to getting the frell out of a stifling environment, it might be his 'wake up call'..or not.)

    I'm liking your setup for this, Brian. really really liking it.
    KDF: Not supported by Cryptic, because according to them, we're not 'Real' Star Trek fans.

    Well, TRIBBLE them, I'll play KDF anyway.

    "We are the Federation. Resistance is futile, we will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own."-Cryptic Studios

    Advocacy
    simple logic process:

    The body is filled with so much blood...It's always more than you think!! -Dr. Dinosaur

  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 1,935 Arc User
    patrickngo wrote: »
    Oh Yeah, I'd agree. "Daddy" probably wouldn't notice her missing if it wasn't a ding to his reputation for months-if ever. (of course, if the girl IS in real danger, as opposed to getting the frell out of a stifling environment, it might be his 'wake up call'..or not.)

    I'm liking your setup for this, Brian. really really liking it.

    Thanks.

    Hope the Weekend At The Beach wasn't too dull. I needed a break after the big murder mystery, (which I am still reviewing and finding things I shoulda-woulda-coulda done better.)

    My Pakled aren't quite canon, but then I haven't really seen them extrapolated elsewhere and I've always had a fond spot for them. (Damn Geordi and his Crimson Force Field.)
  • jonsillsjonsills Member Posts: 8,030 Arc User
    brian334 wrote: »
    patrickngo wrote: »
    Oh Yeah, I'd agree. "Daddy" probably wouldn't notice her missing if it wasn't a ding to his reputation for months-if ever. (of course, if the girl IS in real danger, as opposed to getting the frell out of a stifling environment, it might be his 'wake up call'..or not.)

    I'm liking your setup for this, Brian. really really liking it.

    Thanks.

    Hope the Weekend At The Beach wasn't too dull. I needed a break after the big murder mystery, (which I am still reviewing and finding things I shoulda-woulda-coulda done better.)

    My Pakled aren't quite canon, but then I haven't really seen them extrapolated elsewhere and I've always had a fond spot for them. (Damn Geordi and his Crimson Force Field.)
    There have been a couple of other versions - I forget who wrote them as having mouths that don't work well with spoken language, but using a sign language instead, and in my own stories they like to fake being stupid because it makes others underestimate them - but I'm finding this version quite intriguing.
    "Science teaches us to expect -- demand -- more than just eerie mysteries. What use is a puzzle that can't be solved? Patience is fine, but I'm not going to stop asking the universe to make sense!"

    - David Brin, "Those Eyes"
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  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 1,935 Arc User
    Of the assignments Sam thought Chuss had drawn the easier one: going through public computer records to find out what there was to know about the victim, the victim's family, the accused, and his family. Easier, of course, meant boring. While she was quite good at parsing data, it got old quick.

    And Lee's... The Marshal's, (she had to remember to say that.) The Marshal's task was more difficult: to go through court documents related to the two families.

    At least the assignment she had drawn was more active than sitting behind a computer console for hours or days: she got to talk to people. Somewhere in all of that was the key to the missing girl. and boy, of course.

    There was a shop with a handful of teens standing around a table drinking a blue fluid and talking. Wherever kids hang out...

    "Hi, I'm hoping you can help me find a friend," she said to the older teen who waited behind a metallic counter. Boy, human, seventeen or so, brown hair with loose curls, brown eyes with slight epicanthic folds, rail thin with solid bones that promised he would grow into a powerfully built man in a very few short years.

    The boy looked at the P.A.D.D. she offered, saw the image of Middy Thome, and instantly looked up. "Don't know her." He said.

    Now why was he lying? "Surely on a station this small, you have to know just about everyone around your age?"

    "Lots of kids here. I mean, I've seen her around, but she's older. She don't butt around in my zone, you know?"

    "Have you heard anyone talking about her lately? Rumors? Gossip?"

    "You hear all sorts of dull and duff here."

    "Maybe something you heard will help me to find her."

    "I don't butt around in her zone."

    "Have you seen who does?"

    "Not really. The Hobson girls, but they went off to university last semester. I think their zone's busted. Maybe Zimmer's still around. I heard he flunked the Starfleet exam and didn't want to crew."

    "Where does Zimmer hang out?"

    "Hang out?"

    "Umm, butt around."

    "Oh. Heh, hang out! Gotta run that one."

    "Zimmer? You know where he butts around?"

    "I don't know. Maybe over to Grill Manche."

    "Thanks."

    "You want a sherbu?"

    "A what?"

    "Sherbu. It's what we offer here."

    Sherbu turned out to be a sweet, semi-frozen concoction in more than a dozen bright colors, served in transparent cups and eaten with a combination spoon and straw. When she was twelve she would have loved it. Now it was just sickeningly sweet with a slimy texture. Half a dozen steps from the shop it went into a waste recycler.

    Grill Manche turned out to be a club haunted by the almost-twenty crowd. Its combination of loud music and bright lights which cast shadows into the tables on the the perimeter complimented the over-salted foods offered at the grill which also served a variety of fruity synthehol concoctions. She was out of place here in her basic black. These kids liked colors; back on Betelgeuse she and her friends had scorned the chromatic spectrum in favor of the greyscale spectrum. And she admitted to a bit less inhibition than seen in the cut of their clothes which were regular, bilaterally symmetrical designs with very little exposed skin.

    Sam had a momentary vision of her in her mother's place telling one of these girls, "My daughter will not leave this compartment with all that color and not even her navel showing!"

    "What'll it be?" asked the young girl whose makeup was as outlandish as her clothes.

    "Can you tell me where I can find Zimmer?"

    "Zimmer's not here. You want something? I got browsers waiting."

    "Sure, what do you have?"

    The multicolored girl rolled her yes and said, "Kebabs are special."

    "Do you have any without meat?"

    "Veggie kebab, rolled or dusted?"

    "What do you recommend?"

    "Dusted is mellow, rolled is bite."

    "Dusted then."

    "Wafers or chipies?"

    "Wafers, I suppose. Have you seen this person before?" Sam showed her the image of Valas Ki on her P.A.D.D.

    "Acamarian. Never tips. He's been here."

    "How about this girl?" She showed Mida Thome's picture.

    "Nope." She said it too fast; she didn't even have time to examine the holo. She knew the girl well, in spite of her denial. And by the look in her eyes after she said it she knew she had given herself away.

    "You'll let me know when you see Zimmer, won't you?"

    "Sure," the girl said as she headed off.

    Sam smiled. The girl had forgotten to ask about a drink order. And she thought she was protecting Mida.[/i]

    Sam watched without watching. People act differently when they think they're being observed, but she had trained her peripheral vision, and she was adept at following shadows and reflections. The girl went straight to a boy. The boy looked at her then looked away. Then he got up and left.

    Sam followed, careful to be unseen. The boy took a turbolift. Sam tapped into the Security Net and found its destination. She took the adjacent shaft and followed.

    ***

    Chuss was hunting again, his new hunting park was this station's computer
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 1,935 Arc User
    Chuss was hunting again; his new hunting park was this station's computer.

    Starbase 311 orbited a Class-I supergiant star best known for its lack of major planets and the abundance of topaline and pergium in its asteroid disc. It was the sort of place Crewman Ladner would call home: mining stations, ore processor facilities, mobile low- and zero-g habitats, with an abundance of traders, ore freighters, and prospectors moving through the system.

    The starbase was a part of the border defenses which had been beefed up after the Klingon War. Indeed, it was in a nearby system that the war had begun based on ancient claims of Klingon ownership. Humans had moved into what had been abandoned or never truly occupied by the Klingons, and when they began to show a profit several Great Houses whose efforts had never amounted to much suddenly saw the potential to take by force what they had no ability to create.

    In the wake of the war criminals had moved in. Thus, the Federation had seated District Court 421 in the new starbase. Between the local police forces and the Marshal appointed by Judge Ilsor Thome, a semblance of order was imposed on the chaos of the former borderland. He had been on a cleanup campaign for the better part of four years, and it had begun with the lower courts. Three judges of local courts had been dismissed due to their participation in illegal activities.

    And once Chuss began to dig for them he began to notice there were webs of less than legal activities strung through the asteroids. It appeared there was an Orion organization which had no mines or ore contracts, yet had a route-freighter making regular stops on a run back and forth across the Klingon border. There was a Klingon Guard unit which was relatively expensive, but apparently did little actual guarding: Chuss suspected the old 'protection racket' was in play in which locals paid them to not damage their productive capacities. There was a shell-game group spread across the system who were involved in trading commodities, but it appeared that the same commodities were being passed around, and in the process there seemed to be ample opportunity for smuggling less than legal products in place of the trade goods they claimed to be trading.

    All of which was interesting, but not really relevant to his search, other than as background data. But it helped to build a picture of the flow of traffic in and through the system. There was a number of regular routes to Klingon Space, and more into industrialized Federation sectors. There were routes into the Romulan Republic, and of course, to Ferenginar. And a route to Hromi II, of all places.

    Why would anyone wish to sell ore to Hromi II? It was an almost uninhabited world with no industrial capacity. And then he found it: Benda Ki, the father who was currently being held for the kidnapping, was a shareholder in the ownership of the transport, which was a former Gatherer vessel. The exiled Acamarians had been given the chance to rejoin their people, but some had remained out in the stars, refusing the offer of reconciliation. Hromi II was once one of their bases, and now it was a major population center of Acamarian Gatherers who had supposedly given up raiding for a life of trading and homesteading.

    But why would a community which numbered in the hundreds require monthly visits by a vessel capable of hauling four hundred long tons of goods and fifty passengers? It was time to look into manifests and cargo inspection reports. Perhaps the Judge was right about the former Gatherer.

    ***

    Judicial records defy parsing, which is why Law Clerks are so valued. The mass of records easily fit in the computer banks, but Lee was finding it difficult to incorporate them into his memory.

    Tim would be able to do it, Lee thought, and then he had to unthink that because thinking about Tim was not going to help him to concentrate.

    Benda Ki had been before the 421st District Court no less than eight times. Twice convictions were made on associates: their sentences were twelve and eighteen years rehabilitation. Twice the prosecution had failed to prove its case and the charges were dropped. Four times the charges were dropped prior to trial: critical evidence was lost once, twice witnesses recanted, and once the supposed stolen merchandise was found to have a legitimate bill of sale, as was confirmed by the seller.

    He had lost the link to the two convictions. "Computer, convictions records of Acamarians," he said, certain they would pop up.

    Almost two hundred Acamarian convictions popped up. A conviction a week for four years? There were clusters: a ship's crew here or there, a company office, a smuggling ring. Lee thought their sentences appeared to be on the long-side of standard, so he did some cross-checking. Non-Acamarians tended to get about a third less time for similar convitions. Some additional checking showed the Acamarian convicts were universally Gatherers or their descendants.

    Judge Thome was an Acamarian, but not a Gatherer. Were there other Acamarians who weren't Gatherers in the record?
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 1,935 Arc User
    "Adolph Zimmerman, age 18, lived on the station for six years. Human," said Sam. "He didn't want to be interviewed. His mother demanded an Advocate be present for any interview. I got the impression that he, and all the other kids on the station, are trying to protect the missing kids. Both of them. I have to wonder why otherwise normal kids would feel they need to protect their peers from a Federation Deputy."

    She looked to Chuss, who said, "It looks like we have several criminal gangs running things in the system, including this Benda Ki. Nothing provable, just very suspicious traffic patterns. I've made notes. If I can find them in a few hours, the local authorities have to know about them.

    "I've also managed to isolate the possible means of departure: the Sovereign's Shadow, a former Gatherer vessel which was granted amnesty when the Acamarian Resettlement Agreement was enacted and the Gatherers were disbanded. The day before its departure from the system there was an unscheduled shuttle with the Janus Industrials Intermodal Station listed as its destination. It was the last port of call made by the Shadow before it warped to Hromi II."

    "Did you check the security tapes of the shuttlebay to see who actually got on board the shuttle?" Lee asked.

    "They were erased," Chuss said. "Before and after."

    "That would require a good bit of skill," Sam said.

    "Or an on-station accomplice," agreed Chuss.

    "So it looks like Benda Ki is involved in this," Lee mused.

    "Or someone wishes us to think so," said Dr. Sar.

    "Chuss, you need to get over to the Janus facility and see if their security holographs have been similarly compromised. If this is a fake-out, I wonder what other ships or stations may have played a role in their disappearance?"

    "I don't think this is a kidnapping, Lee," Sam said. "I think it's fairly clearly a runaway situation."

    "Romeo and Juliet?" asked Dr. Sar. "If so, who's Friar Lawrence? Someone piloted the shuttlecraft, someone erased the records. Find Friar Lawrence and we find the missing children."

    "They are hardly children," Sam said. "Mida Thome is eighteen Standard Years old and Valus Ki is nineteen. The Federation has set eighteen as the 'Age of Responsibility' for Acamarians, though it will still be a few years before either of them can vote in Federation-wide elections. By Acamarian tradition Mida came of age a Standard Year ago, and both would be allowed to vote or to perform military service."

    "You seem fairly convinced the kids eloped," Lee said.

    "I'm not certain they eloped, but both males and females their age have been actively trying to avoid speaking to me. If they didn't know anything, or if they thought something bad might have happened, they might be scared, but they would at least talk to me. They think they are protecting the kids. From me, even. I have to wonder why kids would protect otherwise innocent kids from adults?

    "And another thing: why the suspicion by kids, and one mother, toward a Deputy Marshal? I usually get noticed in my uniform, and usually the response is curiosity from kids or adults. Marshals, and Marshal uniforms, aren't common. Anywhere. Instead, they saw me, recognized what I was, and gave me the silent treatment."

    "Hmm, that fits a pattern." Lee said.

    "You see a pattern?" asked Dr. Sar.

    "I have seen a pattern of unequal justice. Former Gatherers are dealt with more harshly than others, and non-Gatherer Acamarians are never brought to trial. Now it may be that there are so few non-Gatherer Acamarians in the system that none have gotten into trouble. Or it may be that we have a case of judicial bias here. And we may have a judge who uses his Marshals to keep an eye on his baby girl."

    "I see the mental gears winding," said Dr. Sar. "Do you have a plan of action lined up?"

    "I'm getting there." Lee said. "Mister Friday, please ask Lieutenant Mirra, Ensign Tanaka, and Crewman Sibley to come to my office."

    "Aye, sir,"

    "Sam, tomorrow morning I want you to go through the station traffic control records, and see if you can identify alternate means of escape by the missing kids. If you can't find anything I'm probably going to send you to Hromi to look for them on that end. Chuss will confirm if they transferred to the Sovereign's Shadow on the Janus station. I'm going back into Judicial Records. I have a hunch I've overlooked something.

    "Chuss, as soon we and the special detail depart in the morning I want you view the security tapes on Janus Station. Get Crewman Aktay on the Janus security system if their records have been altered. Ask permission; we want information that is useable in court. Use the standard consent form."

    The door chime sounded and Lee said, "Enter."

    "Crewman Sibley, reporting as ordered, sir." Ensign Tanaka arrived just behind him.

    "Come in both of you. I seem to have run out of chairs. Sit on the bed, or the desk chair."

    The chime sounded again. "Come in Lieutenant," Lee said. "Perch anywhere, it's getting a bit crowded in here."

    "I could rig a holoprojector, sir," Sibley offered. You'd be able to order a new chair whenever you need it."

    "I'll keep that in mind," Lee said. "Lieutenant, I'll need two things from you, the first as soon as you can get it, the second after morning muster.

    "I'm sending the Ensign and the crewman here on a recruiting drive. They'll need the name and comm number for the nearest Starfleet Recruiter in case anyone takes them up on their offer. You might also replicate some business cards to pass out with the recruiter's information."

    "A bit unusual, but doable, sir. May I ask what they are really going to be doing?"

    "I'll get to that in a second. There's the other thing I want you to do: ferry Mister Chuss to the Janus Industrials Intermodal Station in the morning after Sam and I depart. If necessary, Mister Chuss may want assistance from Crewman Aktay to unscramble some security records."

    "I may have drawn the easy job."

    "But it won't be as fun as the job I have for you two," Lee said, turning to the two youngest members of his crew. "And that's exactly what I want you two to do: have fun. You will be going to places where the eighteen-year-olds go to relax and have fun on the station. Make small talk, mention a career in Starfleet, and join in whatever the kids are doing.

    "Most importantly, I want you to listen. I do not want you asking questions, unless they are about recruiting related matters: have you graduated Primary School? Have you been accepted to a higher education institute? What are your employment prospects? That sort of thing. You might even mention that Starfleet is a way to get out and see the galaxy.

    "What you'll be listening for, and not asking or even noticing you heard, is anything about two kids who might have eloped or otherwise gotten away from the station, where they may have gone, with whom, and most importantly why.

    "I'd also be curious about their views on uniforms. You can talk about your uniforms and ask questions about them, but listen to the answers. If nothing else, you can use the uniform talk as an ice breaker, unless these kids are just anti-uniform.

    "Any questions?"

    "Sir," said Tanaka, "Starfleet doesn't generally recruit that way."

    "I know, but the kids won't. And if one of them does, say that Starfleet is taking a more active role in recruiting to fill the need for crews for the new shipbuilding program. Here's the thing: I'm not actually wanting any recruits to come out of the effort. I want the kids to accept you and then possibly you'll hear things none of us older folks will hear."

    "Do I get a bonus if I get some recruits to sign up?" asked Sibley.

    "You're getting a couple of days to play instead of doing your job. Any recruits you get will be bonus for me." said Lee.

    "I can live with that, sir," said Sibley. "Talk to kids, play their games, and listen for word about two kids that ran off. And on the side listen for anything regarding uniforms?"

    "That ought to cover it."

    "And remember you represent Starfleet," added Lt. Mirra. "I don't want any trouble with Starbase authorities because of you two."

    "Aye, sir," they both responded.

    ***
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 1,935 Arc User
    When Lee left the ship and headed toward the Records section of the court he just happened to run into Marshal Rinar Cepe, who just happened to be headed in the same direction. Lee let the Acamarian draw him into conversation.

    "Just what is it you hope to find in the Judicial Records?" Marshal Cepe asked.

    "I'll know when I find it. Right now I have no clue where the girl is. If I can find someone with a grudge or something like that at least I'll have a place to start looking."

    "You need look no farther than Benda Ki."

    "That's what the judge says, but I have the feeling there's something else going on here. Call it an intuition if you like."

    "My intuition tells me it's that Clan Dorata Gatherer who's behind this, and his intention is to get leverage on Judge Thome. But you go ahead and look at the records. I have another lead to follow up. I'll be off-station for a few days, but I'll be back with a prisoner and a kidnap victim."

    "Would you like some backup?" Lee asked.

    "Nothing I can't handle," Marshal Cepe said with a grin. "See you in a few days."

    "Good luck to you then," Lee said.

    As he watched the Marshal walk away Lee took his combadge from his pocket and tapped it, hoping the Kestrel was still in range.

    ***

    "There is no single 'system traffic control' here," the Starfleet Lieutenant was explaining. "Each station has a zone around it that it controls, and outside of those zones ships go pretty much wherever they want."

    "Sounds chaotic," said Sam.

    "It is. There's a lot of traffic through the system, with over twenty-eight large mining operations and who knows how many smaller ones. There's no native population in the system, and the two little planetoids which are settled are also mining colonies run from outside the system. No single regulatory authority has ever been established, and the various mining outfits compete, sometimes vigorously, which means a ship from, say, Tracor, won't take any orders from Dantar Mining."

    "With a Starbase here it seems like you'd have Starfleet imposing order on the chaos, if for no other reason than flight safety."

    "Space is big. If two moving objects collide, it's because they wanted to."

    "Now that doesn't sound like the Starfleet I've come to know and love," she teased. "Starfleet likes order. It seems like they'd just love to regulate traffic in a system like this. You're telling me you don't even monitor traffic outside the Starbase Zone?"

    "Oh, we monitor it. We just don't do anything about it. Admiral Hasdrubal didn't want the status quo disturbed when the Starbase was brought online."

    "If you monitor system traffic that's what I need!" said Deputy Vine. "Where do you store the data?"

    "Oh, okay. Come with me." The Lieutenant turned and began walking through a maze of office cubicles. "Of course we monitor traffic in the system; we make no pretense of controlling it. I think the only ones who get any use of it are the Security folks. They tend to analyze everything for potential threats." He turned and smiled to her, "But I guess you'd know all about that in your line of work."

    She smiled back.

    "Here we are: Station Security. You'll want Chief Ilsa in Data Analysis."

    "Thanks for the help," she said.

    "Any time. And if you aren't doing anything for dinner this evening message me at MooreL on Stationnet. I can show you the best restaurant on the station if you like talapia."

    "I'll keep that in mind," she said, and entered the door.

    It was quiet on the other side. A half-dozen Starfleet crewmen were engaged at their desks, but a red-clad matron glared at her from a desk just opposite the door. Sam surmised her role was to discourage random visitors. And then she realized that Lieutenant Moore had bailed on her outside this particular door for a reason!

    "Hi," she said in her soft voice. "I'm Deputy Marshal Vine. I'm informed I'd like to speak to Chief Ilsa in Data Analysis."

    "About what?"

    "System traffic recordings."

    "You too?"

    "Someone else has been here looking into traffic patterns?"

    "Make up your mind: do you want system traffic reports or personnel traffic reports?"

    "I want Data Analysis. Security Chief Ilsa."

    The woman sat there looking at Sam for a moment, then said, "Wait."

    She touched a desktop control screen, held her hand in front of her mouth, and looked into a monitor. She appeared to be speaking. Noise cancellation, of course. The woman was a trained security professional, again, of course. And Sam noticed the strange insignia worn on her collar: a pointed tag with three wavy lines and a dot all the way up by the point. She had never cared to learn Starfleet insignia, and none of the crewmen on the Kestrel wore any.

    When the woman turned back to her, Sam said, "Security Chief Ilsa, right?"

    "Call me Chief," the woman replied. "The lieutenant says you're to have supervised access to the data. What do you want to look at?"

    "Seven days ago until five days ago. Any vessel of any size that left the Starbase, and any vessels or stations with which they have docked since. I presume you've got traces capable of determining if transporters were used?"

    "Let's see," the Chief said, without answering.

    ***
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 1,935 Arc User
    edited November 2018
    Quoits was a game the kids played. It consisted of a dowel set inside four concentric circles which were used as targets, and two teams with three braided nylon rings. There was a complicated scoring system, sometimes requiring a 'before' and sometimes an 'after' shot to gain points. And of course, the kids were experts at their game.

    Sean stood by while Crewman Sibley threw for green team. His first toss had hit the dowel and caromed off of the scoring circles. His second was on the ring. In order to turn that ringer into a score he had to put the last ring into one of the two troughs, the outer recessed circle for one point or the inner recessed circle for two. A two-pointer would win the game.

    He lined up, his hand practiced the wrist flick that would send the ring flying, and then he tossed. The ring hit flat in the inner recessed circle, bounced, and leaned against the pin.

    "One poooiiint!" shouted Rem as the assembled kids teased Sibley. "Nineteen green, seventeen red! Next tossers!" Rem was big, handsome, and popular. He was exactly the kind who would do well in the Academy. He was a third generation miner who was on the starbase studying mining engineering at the local Tellar Mining Academy Extension.

    It was Sean's turn, and he got up to retrieve the green rings. His opponent was Daff, (short for Daphne.) She was young, healthy, and otherwise unremarkable, save for her small size and her very large eyes, which followed Rem. And she was very good at quoits, having scored twelve of her team's seventeen points.

    She took her place in the tosser's circle, smiled at Sean, and without ceremony she threw. Her ring hit the outermost raised ring and hopped into the outer trough. Good for one point. Her second ring hit the middle raised circle and slid into the inner trough. Combined with the first it converted into a three-pointer. The kids were cheering her on. Her final toss floated over the dowel, snagged, and dropped: a ringer!

    "Five points for Daff-neee!" caroled Rem.

    "Really, Daff?" Ensign Tanaka asked. He laughed as he stepped into the tosser's circle. Three points to tie. "Wait, how can I make four points?"

    "Inner circle, two in a row!" shouted someone.

    "Like Daff did!" said someone else.

    Sean lined up, tossed: his ring flew to the inner ring, but bounced out, landed on edge, and rolled. When it hit the outer trough it fell, half-in the trough. By itself it was not a scoring toss, but a second ring in the outer trough would convert to two points, and a third would convert to four! He aimed and threw again. This one bounced too, and ended up in the inner trough.

    "Who put the elastic in the trough?" asked Sean in mock indignation.

    "Concede already!" shouted someone.

    "Are you tossin' or bossin'?" asked another.

    Sean lined up, then tossed. His ring hit the flat just before the inner trough, slid into the trough, then popped up to wobble into the pin where it settled flat on the inner raised circle.

    "Twoooo points!" shouted Rem. "Game to Red Team!"

    Sean turned to congratulate Daff, but saw that she was busy being congratulated by Rem. He felt a moment of jealousy as the tiny girl enthusiastically melted into Rem's hug, but then he smiled. She was off limits for him anyhow, and not only because of the four years difference in their ages.

    Sibley had vanished in the press. He was two years younger, and of an age with the older patrons of the club. Then he saw him on the technicolored dance floor with no less than three of the young locals, attempting to dance to the music which was mostly drumbeats that virtually drowned out the alto singer who alternately loved someone new, hated someone old, or wanted to express her individuality.

    His table was somewhat quieter. There were several kids there: Glory, Tisha, Bonner, Rem, and of course, Daff. Tisha's communicator chirped.

    "Parental," she sighed without even consulting the device. "I wish I had a guardian angel like Mida's to keep the parentals off my tail."

    "At least all you have to deal with is curfew," said Glory. "Mida..."

    Rem coughed at this point, in an obvious attempt to distract the girls. "Hey, you'll miss them when they aren't around. Mine are in the cometary belts prospecting for deuterium."

    "Yeah," said Glory. "Go make your check-in so you don't get the interrogation."

    When Tisha was gone the conversation went with her. In an attempt to bring it back, ensign Tanaka said, "You know, in one way or another you're always checking in with bosses and having to live with curfew. I mean, yeah, I'm in Starfleet, and that comes with a certain amount of supervision, but even, say, Rem. You're going into mining, right? Well, a digger has foremen, and foremen have supervisors, who answer to a superintendent, who answers to some sort of project manager, and on and on right up to the owners of the mines who answer to customers."

    "So it's eternal servitude?" Glory asked. "When do we get to be free?"

    "Never!" said Rem. "You work and when you aren't working you sleep and get ready to go back to work!"

    "There's good times in there, too. You just have to pay for them," Sean said. "Like the time I got drunk at Starbase 77. Oh how did I ever pay for that one! I don't think Doctor Sar has forgiven me yet for the mess I made in sickbay."

    "Is Starbase 77 anything like this place?" asked Glory.

    "Exactly like it. Except older. And instead of a docking ring it has three shipyard gantries. And it's smaller. And in orbit of a planet. And it doesn't have kebabs or chippies for you to inflict on the browsers..."

    "Exactly alike, otherwise, though!" said Rem.

    "I'd like to see a real planet," said Daff. "I mean, one where you don't need life support to walk outside, and you can see a sun."

    "You can't really look at Earth's sun without protection. Even from Mars it'll burn holes in the back of your eyes."

    "You've been to Mars?" asked Glory.

    "Yes, I spent a few days in the shipyards orbiting Mars, so I had a chance to get down to see the sights. You can't walk on Mars without a pressure suit and air supply. Outside of the domes, that is. In Lowell or Heinlein you can, but there most buildings have lots of revolving doors to allow peds to get inside quickly in case of loss of pressure in the dome. I don't know if it's ever happened, but I hear they drill kids in school on what to do just in case."

    "Pressure-tight, you're all right!" they said almost in unison.

    "I came from an agricultural world: Bootes III. From the Kryvvyr Escarpment you can see for almost sixty kilometers, and there's nothing but flat fields of grain laid out like some giant's chess-board. Needless to say, I was less than prepared for the loss-of-pressure drills when I got to the Academy. The kids from stations used to tease us flatlanders for that. You know it once took me a full five minutes to get into a P-suit?"

    "You'd have been dead a full two minutes before you got in!" said Daff.

    "Yeah. I got better." He smiled. "You can't get to second year at the Academy without P-suit proficiency, and I wanted to make it through the Academy."

    "Why?" asked Rem. "What's so special about Starfleet?"

    "A few things, really. People, for one. On a farm world you have machines that do most of the farming, so people are spread out. I never saw more than twenty people in a single place before I was a teenager. It's still strange to me to look around and see so many people. Farming is lonely work.

    "Another thing is the chance to see something other than farms and co-op stations. You have no idea how much the same everything looks on a farm planet: farm houses, barns, equipment sheds, co-ops, grain elevators: everywhere on the planet they all come from the same mold. Every house is white, every barn is red, every grain elevator is metallic grey, and everything is roofed in black power panels.

    "But mostly, it's the stars. You can't see them in daylight, but at night the heavens unfold and you can see infinity: billions of stars with billions of worlds. I would lie awake at night on the roof of my parent's house staring at the stars. I learned their names. The constellations as seen from Earth didn't line up, so I made my own. The Combine, the Harrow, I even named one after my family's dog when she died. As I got older I knew I wanted to be out there, out here.

    "And, of course, who could resist the chance to get to be captain of a starship?"

    "What about the wars?" Glory asked. "You join up, they might just send you out to die in some cold corner of the galaxy where even the parentals wouldn't be able to find you."

    "There's always that chance. I've never been to a war; I graduated the Academy less than six months ago. But far more civilians have died during the Klingon War and all the troubles since than Starfleet personnel. At least in Starfleet I can fight back in some way."

    "I wish you'd have come by a month ago, when Val and Mida were looking for a way out of here. They could have joined Starfleet..."

    Again Rem's cough interrupted.

    "What?" Bonner asked. "How can it matter? Ensign Sean doesn't care, and by now they're on their way to New Romulus anyway."

    "I wouldn't say Starfleet is a 'way out,'" Sean said. "Your problems have a way of following you no matter where you go."

    And he did his very best to maintain what his Uncle Milton called a 'poker face.'

    ***
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 1,935 Arc User
    "This is a drill, this is a drill:" said the Lieutenant over the intercom. "All hands to Abandon Ship Stations! Repeat, all hands to Abandon Ship Stations! This is a drill!"

    By now Ben's sister knew the flashing red light meant 'Emergency' and that they wanted her to go to her quarters. And she also knew there was no emergency, but they wanted her to hurry. She left the Crew's Mess and went to her room. On the wall there was a cartoon of a Pakled getting into the tube beneath the raised deck.

    Ben was already there waiting and both of the escape pod hatches were opened, so she let him help her into one and close its hatch. The green light winked, and she touched it. If the emergency had been a real one, the button would have ejected her into space. It was only practice.

    A moment later the red light stopped flashing. "Secure from Abandon Ship Stations," the Lieutenant said. "One minute fifteen seconds for all stations to report. This is unacceptable. On a ship this size forty-five seconds should be plenty of time. If we can't shave thirty seconds off next time, I'll consider private drills for our tail-end-Charlies.

    "Now resume Alpha Watch stations."

    ***

    Kestrel gently floated into the small craft docking bay of the Janus Industrials Intermodal Facility. It was easily the largest of the small craft there, though the hangar had been designed for ore barges somewhat larger still. Deputy Chuss was on the gangway as it lowered, and hopped off as soon as his head cleared the lower curve of the Kestrel's hull.

    Security Supervisor Wyatt was there to meet him.

    "Thank you for seeing me, Supervisor," Chuss said. "I realize your time is valuable, and I hope I don't waste too much of it."

    "A potential kidnapping is a serious matter. I'm not aware of anyone who passed through here displaying signs of duress, but of course there would be ways to conceal such signs if a kidnapper were prepared."

    "I'm not sure how the kidnapping itself, if it was one, would have been arranged. That's one of the reasons I need to review your security logs."

    "Come this way, then." Supervisor Wyatt lead the way across the hangar toward a bank of turbolifts. "I'm sure you realize that under ordinary circumstances you would have to present a warrant to view security recordings. There is an inalienable right to personal privacy issue involved. However, we recognize the need for expediency in the case of crimes in progress. I hope you don't object to limited, supervised access to insure the rights of potential accused persons aren't violated?"

    As they entered a turbolift, Chuss replied, "I would be most grateful for any assistance, and I understand and respect your position. In most Federation systems there is a single unified governmental authority with whom I would deal, and who would establish the ground rules for an investigation. Here every station is an independent legal entity, and every Chief of Security is a Magistrate. I have every intention to respect your authority. My only interest is to find a missing girl."

    A short while later in the Security Office they were reviewing the hologram of a Federation Type 6 Starbase Shuttlecraft entering the hangar. It coasted gently to a landing zone marked out on the deck. Chuss noted its identification number as its hatch opened and three people exited. Two Acamarians and a Danteri.

    The Acamarians were the missing kids, and even if he had not been able to see the face of the Danteri he'd have had no trouble identifying the metallic-bronze skin tone of the only Danteri he had seen since he arrived in this system: the Judge's Clerk of Court.

    "There appears to be no duress," said Security Supervisor Wyatt.

    "Let's watch a bit longer and see if there are signs of drugs or other coercion."

    The trio walked across the hangar lead by the Danteri, went up a stair to a mezzanine overlooking the hangar, and to the entrance of a passenger boarding ramp. There the girl hugged the Danteri, the boy shook his hand, and they entered the ramp.

    "I see no sign of coercion," the Supervisor said.

    "Do you know what ship was docked at that boarding ramp?" Chuss asked. He already knew the answer; he was buying time to see more of the recording.

    The couple paused to embrace as the Danteri made his way back to the stair.

    "I'm afraid I have to assert the right to privacy on behalf of the persons appearing in this recording," the Security Supervisor said. "Any further assistance from this station's Security Department will have to be gained via service of legal documentation."

    "I understand," said Chuss. "And I respect your position. Rest assured that nothing I have viewed here will be used as evidence in court, though I reserve the right to use it as probable cause to obtain a subpoena if that should become necessary. I'd like to thank you very much for your assistance, Supervisor Wyatt. I no longer believe I am looking for a kidnapping victim."

    As the monitor went dark Chuss watched the kids run back out of the boarding ramp onto the mezzanine, both faces glowing with excitement.

    ***

    Records had been expunged. Lee could view almost any legal documents and records, but expunged records were only accessible by the Court. There were dozens of them: far more than should have been found in a four year period.

    Three year period. The earliest expungement occurred a year after Judge Thome assumed the bench. That also coincided with the first attempt to prosecute Benda Ki. That prosecution failed due to a chain-of-custody error dealing with vital evidence: a computer record which had been erased.

    Exactly what had been expunged was blocked. The fact of the expungement was not. Lee made a list of names. He would have to cross-check them against Chuss' suspected smuggling rings, but it was quickly becoming apparent that there had been, there was, a concerted effort to keep certain people off of the Judicial Record. And it was being done with the power of the court.

    Lee leaned back and rubbed his eyes. Six hours of dull records was quite as far as his mind could go without a break. He stood and stretched, still feeling a tightness in his shoulder from the scarring left by the nanites. It was a gentle reminder about rushing headlong into traps, and it reminded him that there was more than one kind of trap.

    He checked his P.A.D.D. and noticed he had missed lunchtime. He had gotten too accustomed to Friday's prompts. He exited the Records section and headed toward the nearby mall in search of something to eat.

    This looked bad for the Judge. Justice Webster would have to be informed immediately. But what if it was meant to look bad for the Judge? Who else could have done this dirty-work and left the Judge's fingerprints on it?

    And then it clicked. A year. The big change at the one-year mark was the arrival of Adu Joor, the Danteri Clerk of Court. A clerk of Court would have access to the Judge's computer codes and to every record. He would have extensive knowledge of computer and record-keeping systems. And since he would supply the information the Judge requested, he would be in a position to hide such manipulations from the Judge.

    He would have to perform a thorough background check...

    He was walking without looking where he was going, but something clicked in his brain and he stopped. He had walked into a trap. Ahead three men stepped out of an alcove. Lee looked, and there were the three men he had just walked past, similarly moving to block the passage.

    "You have no idea how bad this idea is." Lee said.

    "You have no idea how much this is going to hurt if you don't come quietly," said one of the trio blocking his way.

    "Come where?"

    "You'll find out when you get there," the thug said.

    "If you think I'm just going to walk into an airlock for you, you have made a serious mistake. Even if you do manage to hurt or kill me the station is monitored. They'll I.D. you and you'll spend the rest of your life regretting your decision."

    "I'm not concerned with monitors. You'd better be concerned with pain!"

    Lee didn't need his helmet's rear-view imagery to know the person ahead was distracting him from the people behind. The anticipation of violence was apparent in the eyes of the leader, and as he said the final word his partners tensed.

    Lee dropped to the floor and swept with his leg, hooking the feet of an attacker who fell to the deck hard. From the floor he performed a heel strike on the solar plexus of the downed man, whose back was flat on the deck. If his diaphragm had not ruptured he would still be in a great deal of pain.

    His two partners attempted to go around their fallen, gasping comrade, both armed with club-like tools. The one on the left raised his club in a smashing strike, but Lee twisted, rising to his feet as he grabbed the arm of the one on the right, twisted, and came up behind him pulling the arm up behind his back, forcing the man to bow right into the path of the weighty club. It dropped him, unconscious or stunned, onto his partner on the deck. The man who struck the blow appeared to be as stunned as his victim.

    Lee turned and executed a roundhouse kick into the neck of one of the pair of onrushing assailants, grabbing his metal bar as the man's momentum carried his feet forward without his head and upper torso. A quick block of the fifth man's swing with the bar allowed him to slide the metal bar down onto the assailant's knuckles, breaking them open in a spray of blood. A second blow on the man's knee forced him to fall to the deck screaming as he held his maimed hand.

    The leader was already running away. It was a long shot, but Lee threw. The bar spun end-over-end to collide with the back of the man's skull, dropping him as quickly as the first man had fallen.

    "If you try to run I will very likely kill you trying to stop you," Lee said to the man who still stood holding his wrench, looking at the bodies of his comrades on the deck.

    He dropped the wrench and raised his hands.

    ***

    Sam was getting used to the Security Chief's brusque attitude, and once past that she began to see that the woman's sense of humor was a dominant personality trait. But she was also very certain that beneath the humor was a very serious, dedicated professional.

    They had tracked the unauthorized shuttle, (and indeed, once made aware of it, the Security Chief initiated an investigation into how a shuttlecraft had been launched without authorization and notice.) It went straight to the Janus facility. In the forty-eight hours after its arrival, the only ship leaving the system from that location was the Sovereign's Shadow, though a number of other small vessels arrived and six other vessels departed for other stations in the system.

    So their search expanded: by now there were forty-three possible destinations on thirty-one possible craft, (six of which were dedicated ore barges without passenger accommodations.) So they narrowed their search again to limit their targets. Only two vessels, both route shuttles, had dedicated passenger facilities. and their destinations were a large part of the original spider's web they had narrowed their search to trim. With nineteen craft and twenty-nine stations, it was still a large segment of the system to search, and with every docking their field advanced ahead of them.

    "We could put out a system-wide request to hold them for questioning," suggested the Security Chief.

    "Under what authority? They are both adults, and we have no evidence of their being under duress or coercion. Even Missing Persons have rights." Sam thought about the problem for a moment, then said, "Maybe I'm looking at it wrong. Instead of chasing them, maybe I should ask, 'Where can they go?'"

    "From here, anywhere. There's traffic across the Klingon border, across the Hromi Nebula, back into the Federation. Virtually anywhere they might want pergium, which is anywhere that uses Federation or Klingon designed power packs."

    "Yes, but the only two ships that have left the system are the Sovereign's Shadow, bound for Hromi II, and Marshal Cere's runabout which gave no destination. I'm betting Hromi II is where Marshal Cere has gone. So, what other vessels can they be seeking to board if they didn't get on that ship?"

    "Let's see," the Security chief said, and called up a list of scheduled interstellar vessels. At the top of the list was T'Ria, an ancient Romulan Warbird converted to haul cargo. It had arrived the day before, and was scheduled to depart for new Romulus in just under eighteen hours. The next ship on the list wasn't due in system for another two days, and it wasn't scheduled to dock at any station on their current web of contacts, (though in two days that web would grow considerably.)

    "I think we have it!" said Sam.

    "Might want to check your enthusiasm a bit. Those kids could be anywhere by now, including doing duty as mulch in the arboretum."

    "You're right, of course, Chief," Sam said. "Let's keep looking."

    Her com-badge chirped. Sam took it from her pocket and tapped it. "Sam," she said.

    "Sam, it's Lee. I've just been attacked. Are you in a secure location?"

    "Yes, I'm in Station Security. Are you okay?"

    "The attackers had more enthusiasm than skill. Listen, Station coms are down here, could you report this to someone?"

    "Security Chief Ilsa here, what is your location?"

    "Corridor three seven dash three two zero dash four. Also send medical teams."

    "I thought you weren't hurt?" the Chief asked as she tapped on her virtual keyboard.

    "I'm not, but they sent six attackers. I might have killed one, and at least two will need surgery."

    "Stay where you are; Security Teams are on their way. Stay on the line in case something else happens."

    "Sorry, Chief, I have two of my crew on your station, and I need to check on them." The signal clicked off.

    "Who does he think he is?" asked the Chief in an indignant tone.

    "He thinks he's a Federation Marshal."

    ***

    During all the interviews and depositions imposed by the Starfleet Security apparatus on the station there were moments when Lee could get some actual work done. Tanaka and Sibley were okay. Tanaka hinted at some news, but it was several hours later that he was finally able to deliver it. By then the Kestrel had arrived, and Lieutenant Mirra was sent off with the 'recruiters' on another errand.

    Lee stood when a commander in a gold uniform entered the interrogation room.

    "Please, have a seat, Marshal."

    "Commander," he replied. "How is your investigation progressing?"

    "Well enough. I do have few questions for you."

    "None of which will help you to solve the crime with which you are presented. So long as you continue to treat me as a suspect instead of a victim, you will not find the answers to your questions."

    "A bit defensive, aren't we?" she asked. "No one's accused you of anything, Mister Lee."

    He smiled. "You still have sixty-six hours before you have to file charges or release me. But I can promise that the only charges you can bring on me involve six counts of battery based on testimony which will be proven false under voice stress analysis. Which I am certain you are using at this very moment."

    "There may be a premeditated murder charge or two in there as well, Mister Lee," she said.

    "It would be most unfortunate if any of the attackers were to die, but I acted in self defense or in the apprehension of criminals wanted for the assault of a Federation Law Enforcement Officer. Your best case would never make it to trial."

    "It appears that at least two of the victims were struck on the back of the head, one apparently while in the process of fleeing the scene. Bringing a weapon to the scene demonstrates premeditation."

    "The weapon I used on an armed attacker to break his hand and knee I retrieved from the attacker whose throat I crushed. I then hurled it at the fleeing accomplice to prevent his escape. I was in possession of the weapon for less than three seconds, and in the heat of the moment I threw with greater force than intended. The other skull injury was inflicted by his fellow, not by me."

    "Yet we have the testimony of one of your so-called attackers who said you threatened to kill him."

    "That's the fellow who inflicted the first skull injury. What I said was that I might have to kill him to prevent his attempting to escape. Fortunately he was intelligent enough to believe me."

    "I'm sure you can see why I have a problem here, can't you?"

    "Yes, I can. It seems someone was able to defeat your station security protocols and disable a system that would verify everything I've told you. Not only that, but I'm willing to bet that once you start to look into it, you will find that your disabled systems lead right to an airlock or matter recycler which was where the attackers intended to leave me. Further, such systems failures would have had to be performed by someone with a security code, so either this person is on your team or your team's security codes have been distributed to someone who is not authorized to have them. All in all, I'd say you have one whale of a problem, Commander. If you'd like, I have some technical experts who could help you track down the problems."

    "I'll keep that in mind." The commander sighed.

    "Look, Commander," Lee said, "We both have work to do that isn't getting done here. So let's wrap this up, shall we? I know you want to keep tabs on me, and I'm happy to comply with reasonable requests to aid your investigation, even so far as to remain in your custody for as long as you need me, but I have an investigation of my own, one which triggered a response by the people I'm investigating. I need to act on that information quickly before the one who ordered the attempt to assassinate me gets away."

    "And who ordered the assassination attempt?" she asked.

    "If I knew that I'd have arrested her already."

    "You've been in my custody for the last six hours."

    "I have long arms."

    ***

    By the time Kestrel returned from her errand, Lee had a better idea of what he wanted to do. His deal with the Commander included restriction to the station, to the extent of not boarding his ship, and an armed escort of two Station Security Officers. He asked for, and received, a station com-badge which would allow Station Security to locate him at need.

    Then he went back into the records. This time he knew what he was looking for, and he was surprised to find it as quickly as he did. With this new information he began to cross-reference with other stations in the system, and a pattern developed.

    He called Senior Marshal T'eset, and she referred him to Justice Webster.

    "You seem to have a ball of six different kinds of yarn," the anachronistic figure said.

    "Your Honor, most of this I lack authority to prosecute. Some of it is your territory, some of it is local, and a big chunk of it is Starfleet's problem. Really, the only thing I can act on is the assault of a Federation Officer, which as a suspect I am reluctant to take away from Starfleet Security."

    "I'm sending you a warrant for judicial misconduct. At the very least, we can get that rat out of the rice. I'll be sending a judicial review team to deal with most of the rest, but turn over the local problems as soon as it won't jeopardize the one case you do have."

    "Yes sir," Lee said.

    "Sometimes you amaze me, Lee. It's too bad you didn't become an Advocate. You'd have made a good judge."

    "Funny, sir. I was just thinking how very tedious studying legal documents could be just before the attack."

    "And I find it mentally stimulating. To each his own, I suppose. Take care of yourself, Lee. Webster out."

    Lee made an appointment to meet with Judge Thome the next morning and was on the comm with the Commander of Station Security when his P.A.D.D. chirped, announcing the receipt of the warrant Justice Webster promised.

    "Commander, if you would be so kind, I'd appreciate a guard placed on the various means of egress to prevent my suspects from leaving the station. I'd also appreciate a transporter inhibitor field imposed on the Starbase until tomorrow morning. I believe at that time I can give you the person responsible for all the trouble, and a bonus prize too."

    ***
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 1,935 Arc User
    Benda Ki was not a happy Acamarian, and Chuss had no intention of giving him cause to be.

    "The choice," growled Chuss, "Is to come with me now or to be arrested and come with me. You really have no third alternative."

    "I protest! My son is a victim of a vindictive judge who has harassed me, my son, and my business interests for years!"

    "Look in my eye, Mister Ki," Chuss said. "Do you see the least flicker of interest in your protests? I am beginning to lose patience, and if your fellow just behind me there thinks he can assist you in any way, please, let him pounce. I have been instructed not to kill you; for him I have no such prohibition."

    Chuss's eyes never left those of Benda Ki, but in their reflection he could see the Acamarian behind him back away.

    "Shall we do this the easy way or the hard way?" Chuss asked.

    Benda Ki deflated. "I'll go with you."

    Chuss allowed the older Acamarian to set the pace as they passed through the maze of corridors and turbolifts to the section of the station devoted to the 421st District Court. In the outer office they passed Lieutenant Mirra and Crewman Mason, but Chuss gave no sign that he recognized them. The secretary outside the Judge's chamber motioned them to enter.

    Inside the Acamarian judge sat behind his polished quartzite desktop, Lee in a chair to the left, Sam in the next chair. Standing on the right behind the Judge was his Danteri Clerk of Court, and seated in front of the desk on the right was a Starfleet Commander in a gold tunic. Chuss pushed Benda Ki toward the last empty chair beside the commander.

    "Is your clerk prepared to record? Good," said Lee. "I hope we can wrap this up in short order now."

    "You said you had the kidnapping case solved," said Judge Thome. "Where's my daughter? And where's that Gatherer's by-blow?"

    "I resent that! This judge," his scorn was apparent when he said the word, "Is biased and I demand he be taken off the case against me!"

    "We'll get to that in a bit, Mister Ki," Lee said. "First, I want to show a hologram Deputy Vine made yesterday. Deputy, if you please?"

    Sam took a thick disc from a satchel and set it on the desk. She tapped its top, then sat back in her chair.

    The image resolved on an Acamarian, a young woman, who was wearing the local multi-colored fashion.

    "Okay, we're recording now," said Sam's voice. "I want to be certain you understand this is an official investigation, and that you are not suspected of any crime. You have the right to have an advocate present during the questioning. Do you understand this?"

    "My father's a judge. I've heard 'The Law' ever since I can remember. Yes I understand."

    "And I also want you to be aware that to intentionally tell a lie during an investigation is a crime under Federation Law?"

    "Yes, I know."

    "Thanks, I just have to be certain. Formalities. You know how it is," Sam said.

    "Do I!" The girl rolled here eyes as she said it.

    "Please state you name for the record."

    "I am Mida Alay Thome. Of no clan."

    "Surely as an Acamarian you are member of a clan. I thought it was inherited."

    "I reject the clan system and everything it represents."

    "Okay, the questions: you were reported as kidnapped six days ago. Were you, in fact, taken or held against your will?"

    "No."

    "Are you currently under duress or threat of any kind? I can offer you safety and transportation, and I can arrest anyone who has made threats against you in any way."

    "Nobody's threatened me. I'm here by my own choice."

    "I want you to be very certain. Were you drugged? Manipulated? Told that bad things might happen to someone else if you didn't comply?"

    "No, nothing like that. Your doctor did the scan, he should know."

    "Yes. Thank you for submitting to that. It will be very helpful. I apologize for the inconvenience I've caused you, and I thank you for your candor and cooperation. I understand there's something you want to say."

    "Yes, can Val come in now?"

    "Sure," Sam said. "Lieutenant?"

    In the background the hiss of an automatic door could be heard, and a moment later Valas Ki entered the frame of the hologram. They stood side by side with an arm around each other.

    "Daddy, I know you're going to be angry, but I can't worry about you any more. I have my own life to live. I can't help but think if Mom were still alive none of this would have happened, but it did, and there's no going back.

    "Val and I are married now," she displayed a gold bracelet on her left wrist, and Valas displayed an identical one on his right. "We're going to immigrate to a place where, even if you can find us, you can't touch us. And we're going to never teach our children about clans, Gatherers, and mostly, hate.

    "If I can I'll stop being mad at you. I'll send a message then letting you know how we're doing. But it will be a long time. You'll just have to learn to live with that."

    She looked up to Valas, who said, "Father, I don't have much to say to you. You never listened anyway. I don't want your 'empire' and I don't want your feud with Clan Memdra. I'm not your puppet to show off to your friends, and I'm not a weapon you can use against your enemies.

    "Mida and I are going to do our best to be happy together, and one day when we have children we're going to love them and listen to them, and help them to accomplish their dreams instead of trying to make them live ours.

    "If I were you I'd see about making friends with Judge Thome. Mida's a lot more forgiving than I am. You might hear from her long before you hear from me."

    The recording ended abruptly.

    "I can make copies of that for you, if you like." Sam volunteered.

    "You were supposed to bring her back here!" Judge Thome shouted.

    "Under what authority, sir?" Sam asked. "She is legally of the age of responsibility, and in possession of her native faculties. She is not under duress or threat, and as a free citizen of the Federation she cannot be detained against her will, even by an angry father."

    The Judge sat back in his his chair, red-faced, but speechless.

    "Mister Ki, it appears there are no grounds to hold you for kidnapping," Lee said. "But if you will indulge me a moment longer..."

    Lee drew a P.A.D.D. from Sam's satchel. "Sometimes in the course of an investigation we discover wholly unrelated crimes. Crimes which are not within our jurisdiction to prosecute or even investigate. Such as smuggling. I have no evidence your operations include smuggling technology to undeveloped worlds, so your involvement with any potential smuggling operation is outside my purview. The best I can do in such cases is to transfer any lawfully acquired data to the proper authorities."

    He passed the P.A.D.D. to the commander. "If you will note, file six shows a pattern of activity which indicates a regular transaction between an Orion freighter crossing into Klingon space on a monthly basis and a vessel owned by a partnership which includes Benda Ki. Indications are that there are routine shipments of kemocite in exchange for Klingon weapons, along with other less than legal, and certainly unrecorded, transactions. With the information on that P.A.D.D. you could justify a warrant and have a security team on Mooshar Station in a few hours. I recommend you contact Judge Arnham of the 12th Circuit Court. She's already been briefed. If you move quickly, the Orion freighter will be here in another day or so, and you can catch them too."

    "Kemocite will get you twenty years in a rehab colony, Ki!" Judge Thome gloated.

    "Benda Ki," said the Commander, "You are under arrest on suspicion of smuggling controlled materials. You have the right to remain silent. You have the right to retain advice of competent counsel, and you have the right, after this time-sensitive information has been processed, to communicate your situation with your family, friends, and associates."

    "She got up to escort the prisoner out of the office, but Lee said, "Just a moment, if you would, Commander. Let my First Officer and Master At Arms hold the prisoner for you: there's one more thing we need to discuss."

    Mason was ready with a set of wristlocks, which he expertly applied to the Acamarian, and the Commander returned to her seat.

    "As I said, there were things uncovered in the investigation over which I have no jurisdiction, and one thing which concerns me greatly: an accusation that I was involved in a pre-meditated attack on Starbase personnel.

    "I've spent four days going over judicial records, and I've discovered some amazing things. Your honor," Lee turned to the Judge, "How many expungements have you issued in your tenure here?"

    "What? That's a violation to go opening up expunged records!"

    "I haven't done that. Sealed records require a court order to open, but the fact of expungement is as public as birth records. How many?"

    "I don't know. Six, maybe. It's not a common practice."

    "Six? Not sixty?"

    "Don't be rediculous! No judge has authorized sixty expungements in a career on the bench! I've only been here four years."

    "And yet there are seventy-two expungements under your seal. How can that be?"

    "It's not possible! You're manufacturing crimes here!"

    "I'm not the author of those expungements, and they certainly do exist. But you deny issuing them, and I believe you. You had no incentive to do so, and a lot of reasons not to do so, especially considering that every one of them involves persons in this system who are very likely to be currently involved in criminal activity. So who had access to your codes and the knowledge of the procedures and protocols?"

    The Judge required only a second to think it through. He turned to look at his Danteri Clerk of Court.

    "It was after I discovered the expungement records that I was attacked, and I had to ask myself why that might trigger an attack, so I looked deeper. Within a month of the arrival of Mister Adu Joor, the first expungements began. If Mister Joor had performed the expungements illegally, then he would be the only person on the station who could possibly benefit by my disappearance.

    "It indicates a considerable degree of sophistication with data processing systems to not trip tampering detection programs. So when we had other issues with records tampering, such as the records of the flight that carried Mida Thome and Valas Ki off-station, Mister Joor's name was prominent on the list of suspects.

    "In fact, I have over thirty discreet instances of tampering with the station's computer, at least six times of which the result was the 'accidental' loss of data which might have secured convictions. And in every such instance Mister Joor's code was used to log into the system just prior to the erasure. Two of those times are during the departure and return of the shuttlecraft used to transport the young couple on the first leg of their elopement."

    "You can't prove any of this, this is all conjecture." the Danteri said.

    "I can't prove it yet, but I have probable cause to make an arrest. Here is the warrant." Lee slid another P.A.D.D. across the desk. "Judicial misconduct is a serious crime, but I've only scratched the surface of your misdeeds. You have deliberately stoked the clan rivalry of Benda Ki and Judge Thome to keep the Judge distracted while you conducted your sale of clean records operation. You have aided and abetted the conduct of illegal trade, you have corrupted through bribery and extortion several Starfleet Officers, and when the Commander here gets done with a complete review of the station's computers, we will discover that you have manufactured evidence to convict a large number of former Gatherers of crimes for which there was insufficient evidence to prosecute.

    "Mister Adu Joor, you are under arrest. You have the right to remain silent. You have the right to competent counsel. You have the right, after the Commander is finished with her raid on the Mooshar Station, to communicate your situation with your family, friends, and associates."

    "I didn't..." the Danteri stammered. "Judge, you have to believe me, I would never do..." He fell silent on seeing the Judge's eyes.

    "Commander, if you would be so kind as to take Mister Joor into custody until your security forces have completed their mission. I will, of course, make myself, my deputies, my ship, and my crew available to you if you have need of assistance."

    "Thank you Marshal. I wouldn't dream of leaving you out of this."

    "Chuss, Sam, give the Commander a hand with her prisoners please."

    "Aye," said Chuss, who took the unresisting Danteri by the arm and lead him out to join the disgraced Acamarian.

    When the door closed behind them the Judge said, "I'm not happy with the way you handled this mess..."

    Lee cut him off. "Mister Thome, I am not empowered either Constitutionally or by legislation to act in this matter, but I have passed the information I've gathered along to Justice Webster. He informs me that a Judicial Review Committee will be assembled to investigate your part in all of this, from biased sentencing to the use of your Marshal as a baby-sitting service. Not the least of your worries will be how you explain your failure to supervise the officers of your own court. The committee will determine what is to be done. My advice to you, sir, is to resign and to retain competent counsel."

    As Lee go up to leave the Judge said, "I did what I had to do, nothing more!"

    Pausing at the door Lee said, "The sad thing is that I think you believe that."

    ***
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 1,935 Arc User
    Waiting is the hardest part of any mission, Lee thought once again as the Kestrel sat parked behind a nickle-iron asteroid. They had beamed a power-pack with a thermal generator onto the asteroid's surface hoping the Orion vessel would think they were drilling. If they even bothered to look.

    Yesterday they had stood by as Starbase Security Teams swarmed the Mooshar facility. The one shutlecraft which managed to launch saw the Kestrel and surrendered. The token fight was short; most of the smugglers didn't want to add assault to the list of charges they faced. When two hundred kilos of kemocite and a long-ton of paralithium were discovered the confessions began to pour out.

    So it was decided that a dock supervisor who had been among the first to confess would meet the crew of the Orion ship with a Security Team dressed as longshoremen. Kestrel's role was to stand by in case the freighter tried to flee, and to act as recovery and battle aid station during the assault on the freighter.

    Lee set Condition Yellow when the Orion Freighter entered the system, and sat in his chair watching as the ship, on the edge of the stellar system, turned around and warped out.

    "Chuss, how long to intercept?"

    "They will cross the border before we can intercept."

    "Using the VG?"

    "That was my assumption when I ran the calculation."

    ***

    There was still, of course, the after-party. It was a Kestrel tradition by now, and to violate tradition goes against everything Starfleet stands for. Or so Lee explained to the crew after they docked to Starbase 311.

    "I will not drink ice!" exclaimed Crewman Voght. "When I left Andoria I swore off the stuff, and I mean to keep my vow!"

    Lieutenant Mirra was serving daiquiris at the bar, and she passed the offered drink on to Crewman Ladner. "I think she's just afraid my mixology is too powerful for her!"

    "I think the Chain of Command is weighing her down!" said Aktay.

    "I'll chain of command you!"

    "Hey, what are we going to call you when you make Chief?" asked Brock. "Chief is already taken."

    "I wouldn't worry too much about that," said Voght. "Nobody makes Chief on the first round. Maybe in a couple of years they'll pass me."

    "I knew a guy who thought the same thing when he was up for Lieutenant Commander," said Lee, "So he quit Starfleet for a civilian job. He was promoted two weeks after his transfer to inactive reserves."

    "What's he doing now?" Ensign Tanaka asked.

    "Teaching my Number One how to tend bar!" he said. "Here, Voght, try this."

    He slid a steaming mug down the bar to the Chief Petty Officer Selectee. "Sip, don't gulp!"

    She sniffed the concoction suspiciously, then took a careful sip. Her face lit up with surprise, and she took a second, deeper sip of the steaming beverage.

    "What is this?" she asked.

    "Tennessee Cold Medicine," he answered. "Four parts boiling water, two parts Tennessee Burbon, one part honey, a lemon twist, a pinch of nutmeg powder, and a cinnamon stirring stick to round it off. I didn't have a cinnamon stick, so you got a pinch of powder instead."

    "If they had this on Andoria I'd never have left home!" Voght said.

    "I'm glad they didn't, then," said Mirra. "I'd have missed out on the best sparring partner I've ever had."

    "Speaking of which, I'm able to go back on a light workout schedule. No sparring yet, Doctor Sar says it'll be a few more days..."

    "WEEKS!" said the Doctor, who was in the back of the compartment with Chief Garadda. They had assembled a drum kit and a guitar with two necks, and were now trying to make music. They were accomplishing the task, to some extent. They would play for a minute or two, then stop to talk, then pick up again for another couple of minutes. Exactly what kind of music they were trying to create was not yet apparent.

    A chorus of cheers drowned Voght's response as Crewman Ben and his sister entered the Briefing Room. Dressed alike in red crewman's work jumpers, there was very little difference between them: Ben was a centimeter or so taller, about the same wider across the shoulders, and had a slightly more prominent brow-ridge, all of which could only be seen when they were together.

    Aktay hugged them both in welcome then pushed Ladner and Brock aside to make room for the siblings at the bar.

    "We have got to work on your wardrobe!" Akay said to Ben's Sister as she made room for her at the bar.

    Ben's sister was carrying something draped in a bath towel which she placed on the bar. She then stood there looking at Mirra, as if waiting for something.

    "I'm sorry, but I never did get your name," Mirra said. "Everyone calls you Ben's Sister, but that's..."

    Mirra realized the Pakled woman wouldn't be able to follow the conversation, so she changed tactics. "I am Lesedi," she said, pointing at herself. She pointed at Ben's Sister, who looked at her finger, then at Mirra.

    "I am Lesedi," she repeated, again pointing at herself.

    Aktay saw her this time and said, "Ben! What's your sister's name?"

    "She is my sister!" Ben said, turning back to look at the Lieutenant.

    Mirra repeated, "I am Lesedi." She pointed at Ben and said, "He is Ben." Then she pointed at Ben's sister, and waited.

    Ben said, "She is my sister."

    "Yes, but she needs a name," Mirra insisted.

    Ben and his sister turned to look at one another for a moment, both making an odd opening and closing motion with their mouths. Then Ben's Sister turned to her and said, "I am Ben."

    Mirra experienced a strange moment of deja vu, but recovered and asked, "You are Ben?"

    "I am Ben," she repeated.

    "He is Ben," Mirra said, pointing at Crewman Ben.

    "Sir," Crewman Aktay said, "She never needed a name before. She might not know how they're supposed to work."

    Mirra said, "May I call you Bennie?"

    "Bennie?" asked Ben's Sister.

    "Bennie," said Ben.

    "I am Lesedi," Mirra said, pointing to herself. Then she pointed to Ben's Sister and said, "You are Bennie."

    "I am Lesedi," Ben's sister said, pointing at Mirra. "You are Bennie," and she pointed at herself.

    "Close enough!" said Mirra. "What is this?" she asked, pointing at the covered object.

    Bennie pulled the towel away and revealed a wood carving of a wave which was just beginning to curl. Crouched to avoid the falling wave-top was a figure on a surf-board... herself! It was the image of Mirra riding the wave on Pakled!

    "This is beautiful!" said Mirra. "Thank you Bennie!"

    She stepped around the end of the bar and hugged the newly named Pakled woman, then examined the sculpture again.

    "This is perfect!" said Mirra. "Except you made my butt too big!"

    "True to scale," said the Chief, stepping over to the bar to look at the carving. "If anything, she slimmed it down a bit."

    "You!" Mirra said, but she couldn't take her eyes off the image for long. The level of detail was amazing: the surfboard's wake twisted higher up the wave until it was lost in the curl of the crest, the figure of Mirra was crouched low with thin slivers of water falling over just above her head, even the individual splashes and ripples of the spray as the curling wave's leading edge contacted the water's surface.

    "Hey, there's the snake!" said Brock.

    Mirra looked again and saw the eye-stalk of the spiral-fish poking from the wave's face, which on first glance she had mistaken for a splash of water. And beneath the texture of the water which was carved into the wood was the distorted pattern of the spiral-fish, which gave the illusion of transparency to the opaque wood.

    "It's beautiful!" said Mirra as she hugged Bennie.

    ***

    The bridge was empty, so Lee took the call there. Judge Arnham was somewhere between sixty and one hundred, and didn't care to color her short white hair which she wore in an almost Romulan style.

    "Since Judge Thome stepped down, I'll be basing my court on Starbase 311 until a new judge can be found for District 421. I got the impression from Justice Webster that I might be tapped for the position. How bad is it there?"

    "My guess, your honor, is that it is a simple case of neglect. You will, of course, have to decide for yourself how you want to handle things, but I think a good Marshal and a handful of Deputies can get the less diligent authorities moving again. Most of what we discovered is petty and largely local. You will have my reports."

    "Justice Marshal places a lot of confidence in your opinions. You wouldn't want to transfer to the 421st for a while, would you? I have to confess I'm looking forward to staying in one place for a while."

    "Thank you, your honor, but I already have a job."

    "If you change your mind, let me know. After I cashier Marshal Cepe I'm going to need someone to take his place and clean up his mess."

    "Your honor knows best what she wants to do, but if I may offer an opinion?"

    "Please."

    "Marshal Cepe was badly used. With proper management he may turn out to be competent. If you offer him the choice between resignation and probation, and if he chooses probation, you may be able to guide him into becoming an effective officer."

    "Interesting. I'll think it over." She sighed, and said, "In any case, I'll be at Starbase 311 in two days, and I'll handle the Joor case there, so we won't be needing you for prisoner transport. And since the Prosecutor's Office assures me that they will not need your testimony to convict, I see no further reason for you to remain there. I've sent a message to Justice Webster letting him know you're free to resume your normal duties."

    "Thank you, your honor," Lee said. "Good luck to you on your new bench."

    "Stay safe out there. Arnham out."

    ***
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 1,935 Arc User
    Season 1, Episode 12

    Crewman Sibley commiserated with Ensign Tanaka as he sat through his oral Engineering Qualification. He had had the same treatment from the Chief less than six month ago, and Chief Garadda was hard to please.

    "How do you determine the intended purpose of a vessel?" Chief asked.

    "What? That's not an Engineering question. Is it?"

    Sibley gave a one-sided smile and shrugged. Somehow, with his back to the crewman, Chief knew.

    "Sibley, since you're so smart, you answer the question."

    "The intended purpose of a vessel can be identified by its power distribution Chief." Sibley added, "If you have limited power and lots of mass, it's a cargo hauler. If you have lots of power distributed to weapons hardpoints its a fighter..."

    "Power distribution," the Chief interrupted. "Sounds like an engineering question to me."

    "Now," Chief said, "With that in mind, what is the intended purpose of the USS Kestrel?"

    "It's a scout-ship." Tanaka was firm in his answer this time.

    "You read that on the commissioning plaque. But why is Kestrel a scout ship?"

    "Because she's fast."

    Sibley smiled again.

    "What has fast got to do with scouting?" asked Chief. "Lots of ships are fast. Sovereigns are fast. Ventures are fast. Are they scouts?"

    Sibley pointed at his eyes. And again Chief knew.

    "Answer, Sibley!"

    "Chief, the ship's power distribution allows more power usage by the ship sensors than any other system, save deflectors and warp engines, and the fact of two deflectors allows extreme long range scanning through channeling the sensors with the main deflectors. Kestrel is a scout because she can see better than any other class of ship in the fleet."

    Falcon Class!" said Ensign Tanaka. "I get it! It's not just a cool-sounding name..."

    "What are you talking about?" asked Chief.

    "A falcon is an Earth bird: a flying creature. It hunts small animals by flying up very high then diving down on them when it spots something. Falcons have the best eyesight of any Earth animal."

    "Huh. Go figure," Chief said.

    "You didn't know?" asked Sibley.

    "I know engineering, not biology," said Chief. "And you need to do some studying yourself. I found Mars dust in the port winglet root when I was inspecting the warp plasma system yesterday. I plan to re-inspect it tomorrow, and I'll be wearing white gloves!"

    "Aye, Chief. I'm on it." Sibley grabbed a pressure garment and hood, and checked its air bottle. The winglet root compartment was in the outer hull where a loss of pressure could conceivably occur. The pressure garment would contract to prevent his body from expanding in case of vacuum, and the hood would give him ten minutes of emergency oxygen.

    "Now, we were discussing power distribution. How does power get from the warp reactor to the main deflector dish?"

    "From the reaction chamber to the port and starboard warp plasma manifolds. From there it feeds into the Main Deflector Capacitor located above us, above the Engineering Control Room here, and feeds forward along the Deflector Power conduit."

    "Where's the Secondary Deflector Capacitor?"

    "It's not a subspace deflector, it's a gravitic one, so it doesn't need a capacitor."

    "Incorrect. The secondary deflector doesn't require a capacitor for its main power input, but its control systems utilize two capacitors as redundant backups. They are located on the deflector module itself."

    "Sorry, Chief. I was thinking main power distribution, not subsystem power."

    "If it has plasma it's an engineering system," Chief said. Now, Auxiliary systems..."

    The red light flashed and the siren began to wail. "This is not a drill, all hands to battle stations! Repeat, this is not a drill!" said the Lieutenant.

    Sibley apparently left a hole in the air as he shot out of the Engineering Control Room. Tanaka was a short second behind him. The Chief didn't pay attention to either as he prepared to bring the warp reactor up to full power.

    ***
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 1,935 Arc User
    On the viewscreen a harried looking older human who appeared to have just gotten out of bed said, "We're a passenger liner, of course we have survival pods! But they're unpowered; we won't be able to get them clear of the warp core breach radius!"

    "Can you hold it together for a bit longer, Captain?" Lee asked.

    "Maybe. We'll do what we can. I don't know what happened, Captain. We lost a nacelle, and dropped out of warp. A second explosion took out our impulse engines. I have limited power, a reactor going critical, and a hundred passengers in a panic."

    "We're on our way. We'll evacuate your passengers and crew. Start getting them ready. We can transport groups of six at a time, on two transporter pads, with a two minute delay between transports. If your transporters are out it'll take about half an hour for us. Docking might go a lot faster if you can still operate your gangway."

    "I'll look into that."

    "Captain, there are other ships on the way. We're the closest and the fastest, but we're also the smallest. Let your people know it's going to be cramped for a while. We can't take luggage."

    "Will do that. Captain, I have injuries..."

    "They transport first. Get them ready. I have to coordinate my staff for this, so please excuse me. I want you to keep this com open and let my communications officer know if anything changes. We're on our way, Captain."

    "Thank you."

    "Chuss, what do you need to do a manual docking?" Lee asked.

    "Five minutes. I can use the security cameras to get us into place and fine tune our position as the gangway extends."

    "Croaker, they have injuries," Lee said into his console.

    "Crewman Brock and I are prepping for burn treatment. It might be helpful if you have some extra hands available to help down here."

    "I'll see what I can do."

    "Lieutenant, you and Mason will be on transporters."

    "Voght is qualified, sir," Mirra said.

    "That's right. Okay, get them ready. Mason knows the protocols for the #2 Transporter. You and Aktay will have the pleasure of settling our guests in the cargo bay. It's going to get crowded fast. Who am I forgetting?"

    "Me," said Chief Garadda, entering the bridge wearing a full pressure suit with the bubble-helmet in his gauntleted hand.

    "I want you on the docking ramp..."

    "Can't do it. Ladner and I will be keeping that thing from blowing up." He tapped Sibley and said, "I have the bridge console, get down to Engineering and take over. Ladner needs to get his damage control kit ready."

    Sibley glanced to the Skipper, who nodded. He launched himself at the near hatch and was gone before the Chief could take his seat.

    "There may be nothing you can do," Lee said.

    "Can't hurt to try. Lee, if I can buy you enough time to evacuate the ship, you can beam us back and move before that thing goes up."

    "I don't want to order you to go."

    "You didn't."

    "Or Ladner."

    "Ask him. You need time. We can give it to you. We'll have our com-badges set to ping the whole time."

    "All right, Sparky. If you TRIBBLE this up, though, I'm never going to let you live it down," Lee said.

    "What about me?" asked Sam.

    "You will be with Croaker. I'll join you after we dock."

    "And me, sir?" asked Tanaka.

    "You're with Deputy Chuss here on the bridge, coordinating coms and whatever else Chuss needs from you.

    "Understood sir."

    "All stop!" shouted Mirra. "Chuss! All stop now!"

    The Kestrel's engines reversed. Chuss was not averse to pushing engines to the point of failure, and the ship dropped out of warp, shedding momentum and overheating its impusle drives even before Mirra finished shouting.

    "Sir! It's... You have to see this." Mirra sent her scanner feed to the main viewer. What they saw was the small liner made even smaller by the distance between them. She set the false color image to display on the main viewer in infrared and the image changed. Before there was a lone ship tiny in the distance, but now they could see that the small ship was surrounded by speedy small red teardrops.

    "I'm detecting trilithium, sir. those are mines."

    And the SS Adventure sat in the center of a small galaxy of them, all gently, serenely, revolving around their common center of mass.

    ***
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 1,935 Arc User
    "Captain," said Lee, "We have a problem. Do not, repeat, do not, activate any system you haven't already activated. You're in the middle of a minefield."

    "A What?!!! the captain screamed.

    "Listen carefully, we're sending our engineer over to give your team a hand in keeping your reactor stable. If we don't attract any attention from the mines ourselves we'll begin transporting your wounded, then any children, then your passengers. It will take a while, at least half an hour. If we do attract attention from the mines it'll take a while longer."

    "Can't you just shoot them?"

    "Yes, but I'm not so sure that would help. It might set them off, or who knows what. I have my people working on better solutions, but for now this is it. We have some help incoming: in two hours the USS Guerriere will be here. Until then you have to keep it together. Understood?"

    "You're full of good news, don't you know?" the liner captain said.

    "I'm getting to work now, Captain. I repeat, do not try to turn anything on. We as yet don't know what triggers those mines. I'll keep you informed."

    Lee turned to Tanaka, "Has the broadcast warning gone out? And has the Guerriere responded?"

    "The captain of the Guerriere wants to speak to you."

    "On screen."

    "Captain, I'm a little busy right now, we have a civilian crew holding a warp core from going critical with a hundred passengers on board."

    "Kestrel, do not, I repeat, do not try to disarm that minefield!"

    "Captain, in about ten minutes the minefield will be in the middle of a warp core breach. We're going to attempt long range transport unless you have a better idea."

    "You don't have the mass or the shields to withstand a hit from a mine. Wait for us, Guerriere can handle this."

    "Captain, I can't wait for you to get here. Lee out."

    "Captain, the Guerriere is hailing..."

    "I'm too busy. Tell him so." He sighed. "Number One, tell me about those mines."

    "Sir, I didn't detect the mines themselves, Just the trilithium signature and the accumulation of interstellar dust they have collected. Those mines are old. I want to say thousands of years old by the dust on them."

    "So we can't just get a schematic from the database." He toggled the intercom. "Transporter Room One, Chief, you still want to go?"

    "Aye, the sooner the better."

    "Ladner, no one will think less of you if you stay here."

    "It's all right, Skipper," Ladner said. "I'm a fair hand at fixing things; they need me over there."

    "All right, Voght, be ready on the Lieutenant's signal. I want it fast."

    "Can do, sir."

    "Mason, the first group should have an active transponder to lock onto. Cycle fast, but safe, understood?"

    "Aye, sir."

    "All right, Chuss, take us in easy. Sam, why don't you get down to Transporter Room 2 and help with the wounded?"

    "Good luck, Lee." She exited the bridge as the stars began to move in the main viewer.

    The passenger ship hung motionless, the deadly swarm around her invisible, but marked out by the tactical triangles superimposed on the image. Chuss maneuvered to find a gap between the slowly moving explosives. Fifteen seconds, thirty, forty-five, already it seemed like an hour.

    "Transport range," Mirra finally said. "Transporters engaged."

    "Stay calm," Lee said softly, "It's just a walk in the park..."

    "SIR!" Mirra shouted.

    "Chuss!" Lee said, but the Caitian was faster than either of them. when the first mine jumped he was engaging the impulse drive and guiding Kestrel out of the minefield at full impulse.

    "We have company!" Mirra said. "Six, eight mines on an intercept course."

    "Destroy them," Lee said.

    "Sir, I can scan them now; their power systems are active!"

    "Make it fast, we have to get back."

    "Lee, they're gaining on us," Chuss said.

    "Just a minute..." Mirra was focused on her scans.

    "We're exceeding safety tolerances on the impulse engines," said Chuss.

    "Just a minute... Got it!" She toggled the fire control and the point defense algorithm pulsed beams from the four phaser emitters which could fire directly aft as each individual capacitor dumped its energy into the power feed, but the first mine took a full cycle of hits before it exploded. Mirra switched to full power and the main capacitors dumped in a regular firing cycle. Two more mines went up, but five still chased the Kestrel. And they were getting close. The capacitors recharged and two more went up, the nearest one rocking the ship.

    "Might have singed the nacelles," said Lee in a calm tone that was contradicted by the fierce look on his face.

    "I am so stupid!" Mirra said.

    "It was the right call, Number One. We had to know..."

    "No, I mean..." she slapped the console's surface and the aft-facing deflector powered up, and pushed the mines away. They detonated as if they had hit a wall.

    "Targets clear," Chuss said.

    ***

    Chief and Ladner materialized inside the engine room, where Chaos ruled.

    "Where's the engineer?" Chief shouted, loud enough to be heard by everyone in the rather large compartment.

    "He's dead," said a young engineer who was carrying a bulky piece of equipment.

    "Who's in charge?" asked Garadda.

    "That would be Sumer," He said. Follow me."

    "Why aren't you in radiation suits?" demanded the chief.

    "We, what?" the engineer asked.

    "Like this one, to keep you alive when the engines fail."

    "We don't... The engines don't just fail..."

    "Civilian ship, Chief. They don't expect to be shot at," Ladner said. "They don't spend money on stuff they'll never need."

    "They will from now on, I'll bet!"

    "Sumer!" shouted the kid into a hole in the bulkhead. The access plate had been removed and the bolts that secured it were scattered across the deck.

    "Pass the clamp carefully through the opening," the occupant said. "I require it intact for it to be of any use."

    Chief took the rig from the boy and passed it in, then followed it. with Ladner right behind.

    "You Sumer?" Chief asked. "Ladner, get on the other side of that conduit, we're going to do a Wylis Patch on that plasma conduit."

    "I am Sumer," the Vulcan answered. "I am gratified to see competent assistance has arrived, but I am afraid the reactor is in cascade failure. We will not be able to patch fast enough to contain all of the ruptures, and when the first failure occurs..."

    "Who's doing damage assessment and prioritization?"

    "I'm afraid everyone is busy at the moment performing damage control."

    "Ready to lock down my side," Ladner said.

    "Do so," said the Vulcan as he snapped the clamps on his side.

    "Done!" said Ladner.

    "Power on, now," the Vulcan said and he snapped the switch that turned on the force field.

    "Ladner, survey for more damaged conduits," Chief said. "You're with me, Sumer."

    When the chief had crawled out of the access he said to the boy, "Give Ladner a hand in there!"

    Then to Sumer he said, "Take me to your engineering board."

    "How many are in your team?" asked the Vulcan.

    "Just us. Why didn't you bleed down warp plasma pressure?" asked the Chief.

    "Nowhere to bleed to. The vents are part of the impulse drive assembly and that was where the damage occurred."

    Sumer lead him into a control room with a shattered partition screen. A lot of blood was smeared on the floor. Sumer ignored it as he stepped to the damage control display.

    "Aft of frame 827 our feedback transponders have failed, but external cameras show extensive damage to the impulse drive. Starboard Bussard collector and warp coil assemblies have sustained major damage. The secondary shockwaves amplified damage to the warp plasma system, and pressure on the warp manifold went critical before we could get the matter/antimatter stream shut down. Since then we've been isolating plasma segments to avoid a critical failure, but each segment we isolate increases pressure on the others."

    "We need to dump plasma."

    "How?"

    "Ladner!" Chef toggled his combadge.

    "Ladner here," came the reply.

    "I need eyeballs on the drive plasma vents. Trace them by hand. I don't are what they look like aft of frame 827, so long as they aren't blocked, but I want to know if they'll hold up to that point!"

    "You know where the vents are?" asked Ladner, then before chief could chew him out Ladner said, "Young fellow says he can show me the way. I'm on it Chief!"

    "Hull integrity is compromised aft of frame 827," Sumer said.

    Chief patted his radiation-shielded pressure suit. "You really should invest in safety equipment."

    He continued, "Lets look at some ways to relieve the strain. How are your plasma converters?"

    "Port has failed," Sumer pointed through the broken window at the stump of a Warp/EPS power converter tower. "Starboard is holding."

    "And the main EPS grid... Can we isolate segments that are damaged and power that up?"

    "I suppose we could, but it would only be a minor pressure relief."

    "Any little bit helps." Chief studied the systems diagram, then asked, "What's this capacitor bank?"

    "Warp systems restart capacitors. It's charged, we won't be able to store plasma..."

    "No, capacitors have vents. What volume of plasma could we send through there, not to charge, just to expel."

    "I see, yes, a small amount, about five liters per minute."

    "Let's do it. Meanwhile, we need someone to go through the EPS manifold and shut down the damaged segments so we can power up the... Who's that?"

    Chief was pointing at a man who was sitting on the floor drinking from a green bottle.

    "You!" he shouted. "Yes, you! Come here!"

    The man got up and came. Chief reached through the broken window and grabbed the bottle, hurling it against the bulkhead behind him. "We have a job to do! If you want to die, do it on your own time!"

    The man started to protest, but Chief went on, "Do you know the EPS system?"

    "What difference will it make?" asked the man.

    "I told you, die on your own time, this is MY time, and if you waste any more of it I'm going to make your last moment in life a living HELL! GOT ME?" His voice dropped back to his usual brusque tone and he said, "I need you to test the EPS system and isolate any segments with leaks. You have five minutes. Don't track down leaks, just isolate. Start on the Starboard manifold. MOVE!"

    "Doran is untrustworthy in the best of times," Sumer said.

    "I'll untrustworthy him. I need you on the port side. There's more damage there."

    "There is no way to divert warp plasma through the destroyed converter to power up the port manifold."

    "We don't need to. If the crossover conduit is intact it will give us additional volume."

    "Chief," said Ladner's voice from the com-badge. "Hand-over-hand of the Starboard vent to Frame 8-2-7. Looks good. Moving to port. I'll have to find a working airlock after that."

    "Good work, keep at it."

    Sumer picked up a plasma circuit test unit and said, "I'll see what I can do. I trust your shipmates are currently evacuating the passengers, and will soon evacuate us as well."

    "That's the plan." Chief said as he began to run through the systems diagnostics one by one.

    ***
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 1,935 Arc User
    "Chief," Mirra said, "The mines are attracted to gravitational gradients such as are generated by warp or impulse drives. You should be safe using reaction thrusters, and venting plasma shouldn't cause the mine to react."

    The Chief was on an audio signal, but the damaged vessel's captain was on the main viewer, and he didn't appear to be very pleased.

    "How certain are you?"

    "I'm not. It's a best guess."

    "We're still working on a better solution," Lee said. "Right now it's going to take over an hour to evacuate the passengers. Longer if we keep getting interrupted."

    "I don't want to risk my people on a 'best guess,'" interrupted the passenger vessel's captain.

    "My best guess is that in about five minutes you won't have to worry about that, Captain," growled Garadda.

    "I concur," said Sumer. "The warp system is highly unstable. Chief has bought us all the additional time he could, but we will vent the plasma, either voluntarily, or involuntarily."

    Lee said, "We're moving in on station-keeping thrusters and will resume transporting your passengers in two minutes. I'm sorry, but we don't have a better option just yet."

    "All right. My thrusters can't handle more than .01G, so let's do it slowly," the captain reluctantly agreed. "Begin to vent on my mark..."

    ***

    The Kestrel was backing into the minefield, a pair of tiny blue-white flares on her nose pushing her toward the wrecked vessels. The mines were an invisible menace, save for when one passed between the ships, allowing it to be seen by its obstruction of the illuminated object behind it.

    The damaged vessel was long and slim, almost rectangular in its curved profile, with a pair of warp nacelles a third of its length from the rear, raised up on forward-swept pylons. The bottom of the hull was smooth, built for water-landings, and made of or coated in black material, while its upper surfaces and nacelles were bright white, with a rainbow at the transition between them.

    The leading end of the starboard nacelle was gone, and its shattered remnants were twisted back to the pylon. The aft end of the vessel was a mass of wreckage. The wreckage began to glow, dull red with orange highlights, then an orange fog formed, jetting out in random spurts in random directions. The expanding fog dissipated at its edges, but more filled in.

    Spurts from the station-keeping thrusters countered the erratic movement induced by the venting of the plasma. The ship lurched as a piece of its impulse drive broke off and was pushed away by the billowing gas, but this allowed the gas to vent more directly aft. What was an enveloping cloud became a jet which allowed the orange-hot wreckage to cool to red, then black.

    Five minutes became ten, and still the plasma vented. Voluntarily, as Sumer would have said. It began to taper off: the jet became a plume, which became a stream, then a squirt, then a series of dwindling spurts. The station-keeping thrusters played out, stabilizing the vessel as she tried to roll with the uneven discharge of mass, and then they too went out.

    ***

    Bennie looked in on her brother, who acknowledged her presence. He was busy in his little room with all the little lights. So she went up the ramp to the Skylight Lounge. The main viewer showed the damaged vessel with a cloud of vapor shooting from it. Very beautiful, and very dangerous. She didn't understand the physics of plasma, but she could recognize the vast energies being expelled from the damaged ship.

    The crew of Kestrel babbled on the intercom. They did like to hear their mouth-noises. To her it was just nonsense, but she could hear the anxiety in their tones. She went aft intending to see if anyone was in the Briefing Room. But when she came to the paired ramps she heard voices, and moaning. She went down.

    And immediately regretted it. There were people there, badly hurt. Savagely burned, oozing bodily fluids from raw, ragged wounds. They filled the quarterdeck, stained its beautiful blue starfield with their blood. She could see the pain, even in those who were asleep.

    Brock was trying to get one of the victims on a stretcher. She helped. Brock was not strong; the burned man was light. She helped him carry the man into the crowded medical facility where the small brown Doctor worked on another burn victim with Sam holding him still. Brock hunted for a bare spot on the crowded floor, and some of the ambulatory patients moved to give him room.

    There were some who had already been treated. She took one by his hand, gestured to others, and lead the man up the ramp, and up again to the open space behind the bridge. There were a few padded chairs here, but mostly there was empty deck space. There was also a door that opened into an empty room with a washroom and a replicator, which she showed them.

    She stepped into the sonic shower, fully dressed, for a quick cycle. Blood had gotten on the flowery dress Aktay had given her, and it took only a moment for the shower to clean it. When she came out she saw Lieutenant Mirra making mouth-noises at the people, and she was angry, but she smiled at Bennie. Then Mirra looked inside the Briefing Room before closing and locking the hatch.

    Brock and one of the half-dozen ambulatory patients carried a man up the ramp and laid him on the deck. He was the one who had been on the Doctor's table just moments ago, and now bandages covered his horrid wounds with an IV pump on the deck beside him. Bennie went down the other ramp and, taking a cue from the Lieutenant, closed and locked the hatch at the bottom.

    She could go back to her quarters and work on her latest piece, but with the images in her mind she doubted she could get much done. Instead she went down the starboard ramp to the quarterdeck without the painted floor. A group of six were being ushered through into the cargo bay by Aktay, so Bennie followed them.

    At least thirty people were in there, sitting on stacks of spare parts. None of them looked comfortable. Or happy. In the open space the crew used for a gymnasium there was a group of children. One of them, a little girl, was crying, and nearby a little boy was bouncing, saying, "I gotta pee! Ma! I gotta PEE!"

    Bennie knelt and hugged the little girl, then picked her up. Humans were bad at communication. No one noticed her calling them. So she made a broad, sweeping gesture with her arm, pointing to the little boy and to several of the children, then she turned and walked away. When she looked over her shoulder a crying woman had jumped up to follow her, and so did the some of the children. She went back, took the jittery boy by the hand, and lead him back down the length of the cargo bay to the Starboard Quarterdeck.

    The children didn't need to see what was in the Port Quarterdeck, and neither did Bennie. They waited for a group of passengers to pass into the Cargo Bay, then went through and up the ramp. In the passageway they turned forward, the massive Pakled woman followed by a string of children down the narrow passageway.

    There was an empty stateroom just aft of the one she shared with her brother, and one of the engineers had used it to store spare parts, which were cluttered on the deck. Its washroom was functional, and the jittery boy ran in with a squeal of delight, slapping the door control behind him. Bennie tried to put the small girl down, but she clung to her, so she carried the girl with her back into the passageway. She taped one of the adults on the shoulder and made the broad, arm-gathering motion she had used in the Cargo Bay, and lead the way up the ramp, again, followed by some of the children, into the Skylight Lounge.

    She touched one of the replicators to be certain the woman had seen it, then carried the little girl up to the forward end of the Skylight Lounge where the image of the damaged ship filled the screen, repeated from the bridge viewscreen. She opened its control panel and scanned, then selected a program she had enjoyed: a hologram about a strange triphibian animal with two wings and two paddles which nested on a rocky sea cliff. A few minutes into the program the little girl crawled off her lap and sat on the floor with a half-dozen other children.

    Bennie looked around. There was an older boy and two older girls, and two mothers. She patted one of the mothers on the shoulder, as Mirra sometimes did to her. It seemed to comfort the woman, who put her hand on top of Bennie's.

    Bennie gently took the boy by the upper arm and pulled. He rose to his feet, confused. Bennie pointed to the girls and made her sweeping gesture. They followed her down the small, broad ramp to the replicators, where Bennie scrolled down the menu to a favorite of Aktay's: ryazhenka. She replicated a dozen small mugs on a tray with spoons, then opened a cabinet and took a cinnamon shaker from the shelf. She put it on the tray from the replicator, gave it to the smaller girl, then pointed to the children.

    The girl got the message and carried the thick sweet drinks up to the children who were watching a flock of the triphibians coming and going from their crowded cliff nests. Bennie replicated trays of lemonade and iced tea in slightly larger cups, handed them to the boy and girl, then with a tray of her own lead the way back to the Cargo Bay.

    The humans made meaningless mouth noises at her when she began distributing drinks, but she ignored them. Instead, she gathered up some of the remaining children and returned to the Skylight Lounge. The mothers had a system set up: one was in the stateroom supervising the line of children at the washroom, the others were in the Skylight Lounge.

    She tapped one on the shoulder, and when the woman looked at her she moved her mouth, then patted it with her hand. Then she pointed to the woman, made mouth movements, and swept her hand around the lounge. The woman didn't appear to understand, so she made her arm-sweeping gesture again, and went back to replicate another tray of drinks. The boy and girl were already headed down the ramp with full trays and something like eagerness in their steps. She replicated another tray for the woman and lead her back to the cargo bay to distribute drinks.

    There were more people this time, but it appeared the boy and girl were leading the last of the children and their mothers to the Skylight Lounge. She followed them with an empty tray, and an adult male tried to follow her. She stopped on the ramp and blocked his way, pointing back into the Cargo Bay. He made mouth-noises at her, but she blocked his way. She finally got tired of his obstinance, grabbed him by the upper arm and pulled him back into the Cargo Bay, passing a smiling Aktay along the way.

    She hauled him, against his will, through the cargo bay to the Port Quarterdeck and opened the hatch to the scene of carnage on the other side. He made more mouth noises as she shoved him through toward Brock who wore a look of surprise. On her way back through, ducking under the conduit that ran from the Engine Room to the Deflector, she heard many of the humans giving applause. She didn't understand the patting of hands gesture, but she read approval in many of their faces.

    On her way forward this time she thought to retrieve her P.A.D.D. so the people could ask for things.

    ***

    Cadet Friday was an Artificial Intelligence. She was also a Legal Entity. She had autonomy, the ability to think and create original thoughts, and she had, as much as her programming could be said to have, empathy.

    But this was the first time she had ever wished for a physical body. She wanted to help these poor people.

    She could monitor them, but she could do nothing for them. When Bennie began to help she felt what may have been envy. The Pakled woman couldn't communicate, but she could help. She lead the ambulatory patients up to the Logroom where they would have room and be out of the way, and Friday realized she could have done that.

    When they discovered the bar Friday informed the Bridge, and Lieutenant Mirra came out like one of Hell's Furies.

    "What do you think you're doing, you idiot!" she screamed. "Alcohol in your condition? You're begging for secondary infections!" The Lieutenant locked the door.

    Friday watched Bennie go down to the cargo bay and lead some children to the Skylight Lounge. Then it occurred to her how she could help: as Bennie's translator! She began to interpret the Pakled's intentions to the passengers. And when one of the ambulatory wounded began to poke around in the Lieutenant's Office aft of the logroom she ran him out and locked the hatch. She locked all of the hatches that passengers shouldn't be using. And monitored the spaces. She could be the ship's internal security monitor as well.

    In the Skylight Lounge she heard a child saying he was bored, so he asked what kind of game the child wanted to play.
    Holograms in the lounge were limited to tabletop games, and she showed them a menu they could use to choose games. She replicated a ball and jacks set for a child. It was a fascinating game of hand-eye coordination, made all the more fascinating to Friday due to her lack of hands and eyes. Toys became a popular request until the children were flying spaceships and building block structures and a dozen other things.

    Their mothers only wanted to talk, but even Friday could tell that they were feeling a great relief as their children began to put the horror of their impending death behind them.

    Then Bennie confronted the man in the ramp. He had been a complainer. He harangued anyone and everyone, and when he saw the children leaving he demanded to know where they were going, and why he wasn't being given special accommodations.

    "Sir," Friday explained, "The ship is very small, without passenger facilities. The children are being given the use of the ship's mess decks so they do not cause problems in the over-crowded Cargo Bay. There is insufficient room..."

    "I'm a first class passenger! I demand service..."

    Bennie settled the matter by grabbing the man and dragging him back to the Cargo Bay as he continued to declare his rights and privileges. Then she surprised even Friday when she shoved him through the hatch to the Port Quarterdeck.

    "What is the meaning of this?" the man demanded, as Brock knelt beside an injured man with an expression of shock on his face.

    "The meaning, sir, is very clear!" said Friday in her most irate tone. (She had not been programmed to shout, but she was learning!) There are people here with real problems, and if you can't sit down, shut up, and stay out of the way, the very least you could do is try to help."

    At this point a group of passengers came through, mincing to avoid stepping in the mess on the deck.

    "You can begin by cleaning this deck!" Friday continued. And if you don't like it, I can have Crewman Bennie come back and toss you into the brig!"

    "I demand to see the Captain of this ship!" the man sputtered.

    "You have ten seconds to decide: Clean the deck, or the brig! The captain's too busy to play games with the likes of you!"

    Brock threw him the dirty towel he had been using to clean his latest patient. "I think she's serious," he said.

    ***
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 1,935 Arc User
    When the drive plasma plume dwindled and petered out Lee sighed with relief.

    "How's it looking in there Chief?" Lee asked.

    "We lost atmospheric pressure in the Engine Room. Everything aft of Frame 792 is in vacuum, but the warp manifold is down to one hundred sixty pascals. We won't have a problem with a plasma rupture now."

    "Did anyone get hurt?"

    "No, we evacuated the engine room before we vented. They had a limited supply of pressure suits, so they took them forward just in case. Their senior engineer, Sumer, stayed behind with me and Ladner. He's a good hand. They don't have an airlock, but I'm sure we can rig something. We're okay for now if you aren't going to be all day about getting the passengers and crew offloaded."

    "An hour if we can avoid triggering the mines. We're doing good so far. Sit tight, and well done."

    Lee toggled the channel and the liner's captain appeared on the viewer.

    "Captain," Lee said, "I still can't do anything about the mines, but so long as we avoid engaging any gravitic devices we should be okay. Our subspace communicators don't seem to be causing them any issues, and the transporter is working. Keep your people calm and keep them queueing for the transporters, and we'll get this done."

    "I hate to abandon my ship. I'm sure you can understand."

    "Captain, we'll do what we can to save her, but before we fool with those mines I want to be certain nobody is going to die if we make a mistake."

    "Understood. We'll keep things moving on this end."

    "Ensign, maintain an open channel to the Adventure, and get me back the Guerriere."

    "I have them on Channel 2, Skipper," Tanaka said.

    "On screen."

    "It's about damned time you got back to me. We're an hour and fifteen minutes out. Is your ship still intact?"

    "So far, Captain. Captain Leeson, is it?"

    "L'sohn. What's your status?"

    "We're inside the outer perimeter of the minefield, which seems to be holding in a pattern ten kilometers around the damaged ship. My tactical officer thinks, and I agree, that the mines are intended to cripple a ship, then cripple any vessels that attempt to rescue the first ship. As long as we act like a cripple we should be okay.

    "We're sending you the data we've gathered so far, but our present understanding is that they target sharp gravitational gradients, such as are caused by warp or impulse drives. My Number One saved us from blundering into the trap by detecting trilithium resin. Some of the mines have leaked, and are probably inert, but we're no counting on that.

    "The mines are old. Thousands of years by the accumulation of dust. And the dust is the only reason we can pinpoint them: The residual heat the dust soaks and bleeds can be seen on very low scale IR in the microjoule range.

    "The captain of the liner want his ship preserved. I've made no promises. We've vented the drive plasma and averted a catastrophic failure of the warp plasma system. We've begun transporting the wounded and passengers, and we're set to run if any of those mines gets too close.

    "As you will see when you review our recording, it requires a full phaser cycle from our Type II system to destroy a single mine. We had much better results with our aft deflector. There's no way we could shoot down all one thousand sixty-one remaining mines, and I'm not about to try as long as there are civilian passengers aboard."

    "I'm glad you're finally learning caution. I'll get my people working on the problem of dealing with the minefield, and I think we're going to want to relay those passengers out of there before you try to escape the minefield. Stay put and wait for us."

    "One more thing:" Lee added, "You might want to drop out of warp a light-minute out. My ship is small, with a very small warp shell, and we dropped out of warp thirty seconds out, but the first mine hit the Adventure while she was at warp. Those mines are warp-capable. If they detect you you might solve our minefield problem the old fashioned way."

    "Understood. Hold where you are for an hour and fifteen minutes."

    Lee waited until the screen blanked and he turned to Mirra. Options?"

    "Sir, I don't think we can deal with the whole minefield. A few at a time, yes, but if we accidentally trigger the whole field..."

    "I agree. I mean options for if we accidentally trigger some mines."

    "Oh. Sir, I'm still examining the scans, but so far I don't have any better ideas on how to deal with them. No using the main drives or maneuvering thrusters, only the reaction jets. If we have to, point Kestrel's tail at them and use the aft deflector. Artificial gravity seems to set them off."

    "Our main drives, but not our internal grav-plating or internal dampening fields?"

    "Sir, it may be that at one gravity the mines don't react. We've never operated the impulse engine at that low a power setting."

    "I don't want to test that theory," Lee said. "For now we'll treat any external gravity as a homing signal for the mines."

    "That's my recommendation sir."

    "Keep looking. I want to be out of this minefield as soon as possible. Without endangering the passengers and crew of the Adventure."

    "Aye, sir."

    ***
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 1,935 Arc User
    "I want to make a final survey of my ship," the captain of the Adventure said on the viewer. "My First Officer and my Purser will coordinate the last of the crew transports while I visually verify everyone is off. You should have the passenger and crew manifests, and confirm everyone made it on your end."

    "We want to get out of this minefield as soon as possible Captain," Lee said. "I'll be waiting for your call."

    Lee turned to the Lieutenant. "Making any headway on the mines?"

    "My best guess is still gravitic influence, sir. They seem to attract to steep gravitational gradients, which allows them to ignore natural gravity and home in on warp and impulse drives. They appear to be acting as network nodes which form a single larger computer which coordinates them. And we don't know what that computer is programmed to do in the event someone purposely sets about destroying the individual mines.

    "Their technology matches some Karsid remains. Karsids occupied Qo'nos five to eight centuries ago, and are another in the long list of reasons why Klingons are such xenophobes. Apparently the Klingons pulled a Bajor on them, in a geurilla war that lasted almost four centuries. When it was all over there were no Karsids left: just some odd equipment and some ruins. If my readings on the mines are accurate, these will have dated from that time.

    "I'm trying to see if I can find any key Karsid technological components we can exploit, but much of what we think of as Klingon technology appears to have derived from the Karsid Empire's technology, and ideas like failsafes seem to be unknown to them."

    "Earlier you said the mines acted like they wanted to lure ships in by crippling one, then attacking their rescuers. Can we use that somehow?"

    "I don't see how, sir." Mirra said. "Not yet," she added.

    "Okay, keep studying."

    "Sir," said Tanaka, "Crewman Mason reports the last of the Adventure's crew is aboard."

    "Inform their captain," Lee said.

    "On open channel, sir."

    "Captain," said Lee, "We have your last crew members aboard, and we're waiting on you so we can get moving."

    "Don't worry about me. Just get your ship and the survivors of my passengers and crew out of here."

    "Captain, we're not going to abandon you in the middle of a minefield."

    "Nine dead. Nine friends. I worked with Second Officer Fentt for twenty years. Crewman Bas was only aboard for four months. I got them killed. I'll never be allowed to command a ship again, but I'd give it all up to bring even one of them back."

    "Captain, this wan't your fault. Those mines were waiting for eight hundred years for someone to stumble into them."

    "They won't get anyone else."

    "The circuit's dead," said the Ensign.

    "Lieutenant! Beam him here now!" Lee commanded.

    "He's generating a warp shell, sir!"

    "What? How?"

    "Residual energy in the restart capacitors," said Chief, who still wore his pressure suit, without the bubble helmet.

    Lightning flared from the damaged starboard nacelle, but the coils on the port side began to give off the familiar blue glow of a warp drive firing up. A half-dozen of the mines activated. The first one punched through the belly of the liner, then four hit almost simultaneously around the ship, with a final strike that destroyed the port nacelle and its pylon. The lights on the ship blinked dark.

    "Scan for the captain!"

    "Sir, I'm detecting no life," Mirra replied.

    ***
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 1,935 Arc User
    Crewman Aktay had gone through the Cargo Bay with a P.A.D.D. From front to rear, everyone signed. Mason had gone through Sickbay and up to the Logroom while Voght went forward to try to corral the children. When they were done eighteen names from the manifests weren't on the list, and eight of those were unconscious and crowding sickbay's limited floor space.

    "Get in line so I can count you... get... Hey! Stop that! I said get in line..." Voght said.

    "LINE UP!" shouted one of their mothers. "NOW!" Voght watched as the children reluctantly obeyed.

    "Thank you," she said to the woman, who was still glaring at the children as they dawdled up to the front of the mess deck.

    "I just need you to each say your name, so we can be sure we haven't missed anyone, Understood?"

    She went down the line, holding her P.A.D.D. to each child in turn: Marissa Beaumont, L'ott, Victor Yan, Abigale Morton...

    "Are you a Who?" asked a very small girl.

    "A what?" asked Voght.

    "A Who. My mommy read them in a book to me."

    "That's stupid," said a boy. "Everybody knows Whos are furry."

    "Nu-uuh," said another girl, "And you're stupid Tommy-James!"

    There were more children joining in the argument now, so Voght took a cue from the mother and said, "ATTENNNN-SHUN!"

    They paused in their debate for a moment. "I am not a Who, I'm an Andorian. My name is Crewman Voght. And you are on a STARFLEET ship! You will act like it, and that means no talking in line!"

    She turned back to the little girl and held out her P.A.D.D. "Your name please?"

    The little girl clamped her mouth shut.

    "Your name please?"

    "You said no talking in line," a boy snickered from the far end.

    "Talk only when I ask you to say your name!" Voght amended.

    "Tanya Olyn," the girl said.

    Further down the line a boy said, "Tommy-James DeLeo. Why do you have a chain wrapped around you?"

    "Because sometimes when I get angry they have to chain me up. Do you want to see me get angry?" Voght glared at the boy who swallowed his reply and did his best to approximate a pose of attention.

    She got the names of the half-dozen mothers who had come forward with their children and stayed to supervise them, and went aft to merge her list with Aktay's.

    ***

    Once outside the perimeter of the minefield, the Kestrel did not switch to impulse. The aft station-keeping plasma jets were applying their .035G thrust to the ship, and she was moving away from the minefield faster with every second. The depletion of the deuterium fuel they consumed would not be an issue for several hours.

    Lee opened the intercom circuit and said, "To all hands and passengers, we are now ten kilometers away from the minefield. While not yet out of danger, it's looking better. I want to thank the passengers and crew of the SS Adventure for your cooperation in this trying time. I apologize for the inconvenience, but Kestrel is a very small ship. We'r expecting the USS Guerriere to arrive within twenty minutes, and at that time we'll transfer you all to her, where they will make quarters and facilities available. I don't know what their accommodations will be like, I expect they will be Spartan, but you should have a bit more leg-room.

    "I want to see the command staff of the SS Adventure in the Briefing Room in five minutes. That is all."

    He added, after toggling off the intercom, "Mister Friday, let them in the Briefing Room, but the bar is closed."

    "Aye sir."

    He leaned back in his chair and sighed. He allowed himself a moment to relax, then asked, "What am I forgetting?"

    "Sir, when the Guerriere gets here I recommend you invite their Medical staff to handle transportation of the wounded."

    "Good idea, Number One. Anything else?" He waited.

    "No funny quips, Sibley?"

    "Sir..." the crewman said, "Nothing seems funny right now."

    "I know what you mean," Lee answered. "Mister Tanaka, send the request to the Guerriere to have their medical teams come aboard to deal with the injured, and if you can do so without interrupting the Doctor, attach his report on the patients he's treated."

    "Aye, sir," Tanaka said.

    "Number One, you have the conn. Keep looking for a way to deal with those mines. If nothing else we can set up a web of warning buoys around them."

    "Aye sir."

    When he stood he felt the tension in his back. He had an unfortunate tendency to slouch when he was thinking, and poor posture lead to cramping muscles. He stretched a moment then left the bridge.

    ***

    Sam was sick, but she held it together. Brock was needed to treat the lesser wounds, but some of the patients had needed immediate attention from Dr. Sar, and he required an assistant. It was her lucky day.

    Being medically qualified was not the same as being medically competent. Especially when it came to excising burned tissue. Especially when the patients, numb with shock, terrified at the sight of their wounds, and feeling the ever-increasing pain of the tissues around the wound reacting to the piece of themselves which had either burned away or lay like hard chunks of charcoal in gaping wounds, screamed in terror every time they saw a dead piece of themselves discarded.

    In their conditions sedatives would have been dangerous. Shock combined poorly with drugs, and without adequate medical monitoring a patient could go into respiratory failure. The Kestrel was not equipped to monitor more than a handfull of patients at a time. And Dr. Sar wanted to leave as many as possible undrugged to prevent complications once they got to better facilities on the Guerriere, which could monitor them and treat their wounds.

    They were performing First Aid: stabilize the patient. Twelve of the nineteen were ambulatory. Six were severely burned and required monitoring. This one was dying. A large plasma burn had melted a significant portion of his left buttocks and thigh, and some of the various circumflex arteries which were fed from the femoral artery had only poorly cauterized. The man had nearly exanguinated while they were stopping the many fountains that sprung up with every disturbance of the injury. But the real damage was almost invisible: a tiny nick in his back caused by a piece of shrapnel which had penetrated his kidney and severely sliced his ureter and renal vein.

    With a degree of cold-bloodedness Sam could never emulate, Dr. Sar had left this patient for last. "Triage," he said. "Three may die if I try to save this one."

    But the man had clung to life, mercifully unconscious the whole time, and survived the retrieval of the offending bit of duranium. Most of the whole blood they had given him had come from quickly typed and matched passengers, and it had quickly leaked out again. Brock had several more donating as they operated.

    And with the crisis averted, it looked like the man would live after all. His recovery would not be peasant, and he would require multiple sessions of regeneration therapy, but he would live. Sam applied the cellular matrix powder as Dr. Sar guided the regenerator along the surface of the wound. The powder was a white dust composed of very fine, (though large on a cellular level,) carbon spheres in a shape Dr. Sar had called 'truncated icosahedrons.' When Sam confessed she had no idea what that was, he said, "Fullerines." Then, exasperated, he said, "Footballs."

    Apparently the football-shaped spheres provided a frame for cellular regeneration, and they were using them to grow skin over the wound which would prevent scabs from forming so that further regeneration treatments didn't have to begin with excising the scar tissue.

    When they finished Sam moved to lift the man from the surgical bed, but Dr. Sar said, "Leave him. The monitors will let me know if his life-signs change, and he's the last one we have to treat."

    Sam looked around. The surgery was a mess. Blood and other less savory products splattered on the floor, with red footprints through the whole area. There were people on stretchers along the walls, their blood and that of others smeared on the walls. and now that she had time to listen, she could hear their whimpers and moans.

    "I think I can handle things from here," Dr. Sar said.

    When she didn't respond he repeated, "Samantha, I think I can handle things from here. You performed wonderfully. Why don't you take a break now?"

    "Oh, yeah." She stripped the gloves she wore and tossed them toward the receptacle, then headed out.

    "Hey!" protested a passenger who was crawling around the quarterdeck cleaning blood from the floor. She paused, realized her feet were still covered in the blood-soaked booties she had donned less than an hour ago, and paused to take them off, along with the red smock and hood. She threw them into the Sickbay and turned up the ramp, oblivious to the smears of blood she had gotten on her face and tunic when she removed her surgical gear.

    She went up to the Briefing Room and without noticing Lee and the assembled staff of the Adventure stepped behind the bar. Almost without seeing it she pulled a bottle of Ketel from behind the bar and tossed a shot into a tumbler, which she drank down. She poured a second and tossed it off too.

    "You're wasting that," Lee said. "If you don't want to taste it, why not use the Smirnoff?"

    She looked up to see Lee on the other side of the bar.

    "It was rough, wasn't it?" Lee asked.

    "Lee, they... the pain..." A tear ran down the side of her nose.

    "I know. And you're not a doctor, but we needed you, and you did great." Lee's voice was calm, soothing. "Why not take the bottle to your room and clean up? You could use a sonic shower about now, I'd bet, and then take a nap. Let your body and mind have a moment to catch up."

    She looked down to the smear on her tunic, and the blood on her hands from her careless removal of the surgical booties. "I could use a shower, but I don't think I can sleep."

    "It's okay," Lee soothed. "You're going to be okay."

    Sam left the glass and the bottle's cap on the bar when she headed out. When the door closed he said, "Mister Friday, watch to be sure Deputy Vine goes to her stateroom, and instruct Crewman Voght to meet her there in fifteen minutes with a sleep inducer. She is to use persuasion, not force, to get Sam to use the inducer for a minimum of four hours. Inform me if there are problems."

    "Aye, Skipper," Friday said.

    Lee paused a moment looking at the door, then turned and said, "I'm sorry gentlemen. Now, we were discussing the off-loading. Your crew will be responsible for insuring parents and children are together before offloading begins and that families don't get separated once on the other side. We'll give the medical teams first access to the ramp. Guerriere is a very large ship, so it will be important for you to keep the passengers together. Even experienced Starfleet personnel become disoriented..."

    ***
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 1,935 Arc User
    "Captain Sheer, welcome to the Karsid Minefield," Lee said as the Guerriere dropped out of warp. "Our docking port is on the port side: we only have the one. Where would you like us to disembark our passengers?"

    "There appears to be additional damage to the civilian ship," the Andorian replied.

    "Her captain went down with his ship. I have the event logged, and my communications officer is sending updated reports to you as we speak. Notably, the records of the patients our Doctor has treated. We'd like to get the medical cases transferred and settled first if you don't mind. There are some rather severe injuries."

    "Don't want them dying on you, do you?"

    "I don't think they are in danger of dying, but they do require prompt medical care."

    "Of course, Captain. We're coming in on impulse, but we'll coast the last few kilometers then kill our inertia with maneuvering thrusters to insure we don't attract the attention of the minefield. You are certain it's gravitational gradients which attract them?"

    "It's our working hypothesis. We haven't really been in a position to test it."

    "We'll take your passengers and then you can be on your way. We'll handle the minefield."

    "Thank you, Captain Sheer. Docking port?"

    "Ah, yes. Deck twenty-five, starboard. Our gangway extends thirty meters from the hull. Get in close and our docking tractors will take care of the rest."

    "Are you sure you want to activate tractor beams near this minefield, which responds to gravitational gradients such as are generated by impulse and war drives, and tractor beams?"

    "You're right, of course," said the Andorian. "We'll perform a manual docking."

    "Thank you, Captain. We'll see you in," Lee glanced at his control panel, "Five minutes."

    "Channel on standby," Tanaka said.

    "What an insufferable TRIBBLE," Mirra said.

    "He may be your boss one day," Lee said. "Competent combat commanders are often arrogant."

    "You aren't."

    "I'm not a combat commander."

    Chuss snorted.

    "What?" asked Lee.

    "We'll be in position to receive the Guerriere when they arrive. If their pilot is skilled."

    "Their pilot will be skilled. They won't believe you are." Lee toggled the intercom and said, "Crewman Mason, report to the Port Quarterdeck and prepare for manual docking."

    Sure enough, when the Guerriere arrived their pilot veered to avoid the Kestrel. And then spent another five minutes jockying to get into position to mate the gangways. Chuss growled instructions to the Guerrier's helmsman the whole time. At the last moment Chuss fired three jets and brought the vessel to 0-0-0 relative motion.

    "Magnetic lock on gangway," Mason said on the Quarterdeck Com Circuit. "The Guerriere is pressurizing."

    "Ensign, inform Crewman Aktay that we'll begin to offload the passengers as soon as Medical is cleared," Lee said.

    "Aye, sir," the Ensign replied.

    ***

    The Skylight Lounge was a mess. Popcorn and spilled drinks littered the floor and there were toys scattered everywhere. Bennie began to clean up. As she ran the static vacuum over the floor she found a tiny toy human the little girl had loved. When the little girl crawled into the booth to sleep the toy must have fallen, and when her mother woke her the little girl was disoriented and half-asleep.

    Bennie went aft for the hundredth time, this time with only the doll in hand. The children were with their parents, lined up near the port exit, and she found the little girl clinging to her mother. She held out the toy and the little girl snatched it, turned it so its head was up, and hugged it to her. Bennie nodded and turned back the way she had come.

    Little feet hit the deck running, and Bennie turned. The little girl had escaped her mother's grasp and run to her. Bennie knelt and hugged the child, careful to be gentle with such a fragile person. Then Bennie took the child's chin between her thumb and forefinger and leaned to touch foreheads and noses. It was not a kiss, as humans would have done, but they, for a brief moment, breathed the same air.

    Then she took the child by the hand and returned her to her mother. As she walked away the little girl made a gesture with her free hand. Bennie imitated it: a grasping gesture, as if the other wished to hold a piece of the departing one. It was a beautiful, poetic gesture. Sometimes humans weren't as dumb as they seemed to be.

    As she made her way forward to the Mess Deck she noticed that the carpet of the Starboard Corridor was stained with spilled drinks. Her young assistants had been less than careful. She would have to clean that too.

    ***

    Voght had managed not to drink any of the vodka by the simple expedient of not having a glass. And Sam hadn't drunk enough of it to get really drunk, though she was on the edge of it by the time Voght convinced her to try the inducer.

    Voght also learned the source of her anxiety. Blood and injuries were nothing new to the Deputy; she had herself been wounded when making an arrest. What set her off was the way they had systematically cut away pieces of the injured. They were dead pieces, to be sure, and if left in the wound they would quickly turn gangrenous and kill the patient. But the whole time she had been imagining if this was what it was like when her friend and mentor had had pieces of his body removed. She had tried to push the thought away, but it was there with every cut of the laser scalpel.

    Talking about it had allowed her to relax enough to try the inducer and, of course, the inducer had put her to sleep in minutes Voght sat for a while in the darkened stateroom trying to get images of cutting away at living people out of her mind. She sighed, retrieved the bottle, and headed to the Briefing Room.

    ***

    Aktay was glad to see the crew of the Adventure take over shepherding the passengers. Some of them were less than considerate guests, and complained about having to sit on stacks of old equipment or on the deck. Some wanted free run of the ship, certain they would be more comfortable elsewhere, in spite of Aktay's assurance there was nowhere on the ship as roomy as the Cargo Bay. Some were just depressed, and they were the most difficult for Aktay, whose cheerful outlook made it difficult for her to understand them.

    When the professionals took over Aktay went forward and locked herself into Deflector Control, sat with a sigh, and stretched out. She wondered if she could get away with a nap.

    ***
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 1,935 Arc User
    "All passengers and crew accounted for," said the Purser of the Adventure, who was in charge of counting the passengers and crew as they disembarked.

    "Good luck to you all," said Mason.

    "It's all gravy from here," he said with a smile as he sealed the inner airlock hatch. He watched the man descend the ramp and exit the outer hatch, then sealed it as well.

    He toggled the gangway comm circuit and announced, "Kestrel Quarterdeck to Guerriere Quarterdeck, final passenger is on the way."

    "Acknowledged, Kestrel," came the reply.

    He toggled another switch and said, "Quarterdeck to Bridge, Airlock 2 secured."

    "Thank you, Mason," said the Lieutenant. "Stand by to retract the gangway when we get the all-clear."

    "Quarterdeck aye," he said.

    The wait was not long. "Guerriere reports all clear, permission granted to retract gangway," the Lieutenant said.

    "Performing visual inspection of gangway," Mason said, and he scanned the length of the joined gangways up to the closed airlock hatch of the Guerriere. The gangway comm circuit lit and the Officer of the Deck said, "Kestrel, visual inspection shows all clear. Preparing to disengage mag-lock."

    "Confirm all clear," Mason said. "Deactivating mag lock. Fair winds, Guerriere."

    "Clear skies, Kestrel," and the circuit broke.

    From outside the ships the tiny Kestrel was dwarfed by the massive Exploration Cruiser. It's clear gangway tube retracted into the hull of the neck between the saucer and secondary hull. Kestrel's matching clear tube retracted into a square box which folded in two places to tuck up into the hull before the outer doors of the ship's skin could close.

    Blue-white plasma jets pushed the Kestrel out from beneath the Guerriere. Additional jets on the stern fired and the Kestrel turned away from the Galaxy Class cruiser, slowly picking up speed under their low, but continuous thrust.

    ***

    "You're free to go, Kestrel, We'll take over here."

    "I recommend placing subspace beacons to warn traffic away from the region and give Starfleet Archaeology an opportunity to study these relics," Lee said.

    "That's what my science officer said," Captain Sheer replied, "But this is a hazard to navigation, and we're going to handle it."

    "Captain, I hope you'll reconsider. The data we've compiled shows that the mines form a network, and with over one thousand units it's at least as sophisticated as your ship's computer. It may be an Artificial Intelligence."

    "Noted. Don't worry, we're going to stay outside of that field's detection range. Guerriere out."

    Lee looked around the bridge and said, "Chuss, get us as far from Guerriere as you can without engaging the impulse engines."

    Chuss rolled the Kestrel until her belly faced the Guerriere and fired off the nine ventral jets. Their cumulative thrust was almost a third of a standard gravity, and her speed increased drastically. Though slow by impulse drive standards, the gap between the ships grew rapidly wider. Gurriere's multiple thrusters were also firing, steering her toward the wrecked passenger ship."

    "Skipper, what you just said. Artificial intelligence?"

    "It's a good bet, Number One."

    "Sir, it may not have seen us as much of a target. We're too small to be important. It only sent eight mines after us when we approached the first time."

    "Your point?"

    "A Galaxy would be a much better target, if you were a minefield with the ability to think."

    "I already had a bad feeling about this. Mister Tanaka, get me the Guerriere..."

    But it was too late. Guerriere fired at extreme range and a mine exploded. The minefield moved. Not a few mines, as had been sent to attack the Kestrel; the whole minefield swarmed the Guerriere. Her forward arrays fired, then her point defense protocols kicked in and multiple pulses fired in every direction as the minefield enveloped the vessel, but for every mine that the beams destroyed there were a hundred more. Within seconds there were a dozen hits on the weapons emplacements.

    "Oh dear Lord!" said Mirra, and the familiar glow of the impulse drive flared, only to die in a flash of fusion fire when multiple mines impacted the drive emitter.

    "Sir!" she said, "Get us to the Adventure fast, stern facing her!"

    "What" asked Lee, jerking his head from the carnage on the viewscreen.

    "It attacks gravitational gradients, sir. We have a gravitic deflector. We need to move now, before Captain Idiot tries to warp out..."

    "Red Alert," Lee said. "Chuss, full impulse, be ready to evade. Number One, talk it through."

    Chuss ramped up the impulse drive and scribed a crescent, first away from the Guerriere, then around and toward the Adventure. A dozen mines chased her, closing rapidly, but Mirra targeted them with the stern deflector and they exploded before they were ever a threat.

    "Sir, if I can lock onto the hull of the Adventure and build up a graviton field, I might form a gradient steep enough to make that minefield think there's a huge drive..."

    "An artificial microsingularity?" asked Ensign Tanaka.

    "It's been done before."

    "How long will it take?" Lee asked.

    "I don't know, sir. I'll do my best to be quick about it."

    "Adventure dead aft now, five kilometers," Chuss announced.

    "Mister Chuss," Mirra said, "Please take the weapons controls, and stand by to run away if this doesn't work."

    "You'd better believe it," he said.

    Mirra moved to the Science side of her console and began to manipulate the aft deflector.

    "Sibley, feed more power to the deflector, we may have to burn it out for this to work."

    "Aye, sir," he said.

    A stream of gravitons flowed from the aft deflector to impact the wrecked ship. The heat they generated created an orange glow in a line between the ships and an orange-glowing splash-zone around the target site on the SS Adventure. A dozen mines peeled off the cloud around the Guerriere, then a dozen more. They sped toward the Kestrel, obviously attracted by the graviton source.

    "Incoming," said Chuss.

    "Another minute," Mirra said.

    "Thirty seconds..."

    "Another minute!" Mirra insisted.

    The first six mines slammed into the target area of the Adventure. but one targeted Kestrel, and Chuss shot it as it passed the hulk. Then another locked on the deflector, and what looked to be a swarm followed the first two-dozen mines. If only one in twelve of those attacked Kestrel her defenses would be overloaded.

    Chuss shot down two more, then another. Dozens of mines were slamming into the broken hull of the Adventure.

    "I won't be able to stop the incoming swarm," Chuss said.

    "Ready the impulse drive, Lee said. "Mirra, you have fifteen seconds..."

    Something in the wreckage twisted, then the Adventure shrunk with a jerk, paused, and then collapsed into black sphere about the diameter of an orange. The entire swarm of mines attacked the spot where the Adventure was, and just as they had done when the Guerriere began to fire, the entire web attacked.

    "Move us out on thrusters," Mirra said a they watched the minefield swarm the black hole and get itself devoured mine by mine. She maintained the graviton beam until the aft deflector burned out, but long before then most of the mines were gone, and only a few stragglers remained to slam themselves to bits on the accretion-halo of super-dense dust that the rest of the minefield and the collapsing ship had created.

    "I'm reading four mines remaining, sir, "Mirra said, " I can detect them by their IR signature, which is a bit higher than when we first encountered them. I do not detect tritium. Either the mines are damaged, or they are possibly control units that never had warheads."

    "Mirra, you are amazing," Lee said. "Chuss, take us back to the Guerriere. Sibley, how would you like to practice your Damage Control skills? It looks like Guerriere will need some help. Lieutenant, form a party. Ladner, Chief, and Ben are excused. Chuss will have the bridge, and I will be busy making reports; I'll join you when I'm done. Everyone else is fair game."

    ***

    When the crew returned after sixteen hours on the Guerriere they were met with a clean ship and a pot of stew that Bennie had made. She had, of course, conscripted her brother into helping with the cleaning of the crew and cargo areas, and left him to clean the logroom by himself when she went to make the stew.

    Sibley fell asleep in the booth, his stew half-eaten, but some of the rest were still too wound up to sleep. The bull session in the Skylight Lounge ran for several hours before the last pair left Sam alone in the Mess Decks.

    Mirra had returned and gone straight to the bridge to review the recordings of the sensors she had locked on to the singularity she had created. Its Hawking Radiation had caused it to quickly evaporate and spit out the mass of the wrecked ship and the mines, and that mass sat there spinning furiously and slowly expanding as the degenerate matter reabsorbed electrons from the
    cloud of electrons which had been squeezed out of the mass under intense gravitational stress. It wasn't neutronium, or even close, it had simply been rushed until its electrons squeezed out. Even now lightning flashed in the little cloud, now as large as a passenger vehicle an growing larger with every flash of lightening. Of course, it would look nothing like a spaceship when it finished expanding, and many of the electrons, having been freed, would never return. It would take a while for the process to complete.

    When the USS Bayou Sauvage arrived to take over and tow the Guerriere home Lee plopped down in his chair and plotted the course back to Starbase 77.

    "Why don't you get some sleep, Number One," he said. I can handle an underway shift tonight.

    ***
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 1,935 Arc User
    "I have a message for Mister Friday," Ensign Tanaka said.

    "Deliver it," said Lee.

    "I... sir, she doesn't have a mailbox."

    "Mister Friday," Lee said. "Please set up your mailbox so Mister Tanaka can deliver your mail."

    "My apologies, Skipper. I never anticipated receiving mail."

    "Understandable," Lee said, "But what if an old friend wanted to contact you? Your designer, perhaps, or whoever you worked for before coming here?"

    "I was only active for two weeks before coming to Kestrel, sir. So far, aside from the crew of the Kestrel, I have only interacted with Admiral Franklin and the cybernetics support Staff of Earth Spacedock."

    "Be sure to set up a mailbox on your next assignment," Mirra said. "I'm sure there are some on this crew who will miss you when you transfer."

    "I'm happy to hear that, Lieutenant. My mailbox is ready to receive messages."

    "Who's it from?" Sibley asked.

    "Privacy, Crewman Sibley," Lee said. "You don't want Mister Friday reading your mail, do you?"

    "Oh, sorry, Mister Friday. I wasn't thinking. But if you want to, you can read my mail. It's just boring letters from home."

    "I would not think of reading mail which was not mine unless invited specifically to do so on a case-by-case basis."

    "Mister Tanaka, are we in hailing distance of Starbase 77?"

    "Arrange for docking, and for shipyard time. I want that aft deflector repaired as soon as possible."

    "The VG Drive doesn's operate nearly as efficiently without it," Mirra said.

    "I stood at your station for to years on the Merlin," Lee said, "And I never used the aft deflector for anything. Never even powered her up except for routine maintenance. Now I wouldn't leave dock without one. We'll have to re-balance the VG field manipulation algorithm when the upgrades Chief proposed are installed. Speaking of which, I haven't seen Admiral Franklin's approvals yet, Mister Tanaka."

    "I sent the request and the upgrade parameters, sir. The Quartermaster's Office has not yet replied."

    "Let me know the minute she does," Lee said.

    ***

    Between the Port Dorsal Lateral Sensor Arrays and the Avionics and Ship's Control Systems multitronics, and above the Data Archives and Subspatial Processing Arrays, in the EMH Module rack, port A, Friday was busy at a dozen tasks. She was preparing activity reports for the Skipper's signature, she was analyzing a materiel request from the Chief Engineer concerning the proposed upgrades, she was performing an inventory of medical expenditures in equipment, supplies, drugs, and sterilization chemicals to replace those used on the crew of the Adventure, she was compiling and collating the visual and data records of their encounter with the minefield, and adding references to log recordings and after-action reports where needed.

    And she was viewing her mail.

    "Dear Friday," the woman said. "I'm sorry we never got the chance to meet personally. I know you were so busy with the whole situation, but you took the time to make us, and especially my little Tommy, feel welcome on your ship. This whole experience has been difficult for us, but you were a bright light in one of my darkest hours. Thank you.

    "Tommy-James, you wanted to say something?"

    "Thank you for the spaceship," he held up the tiny version of the Kestrel, "And the musponi!" It was the child's reference to the Andorian spumoni she had replicated, (only for the good children, his mother had insisted.)

    "We can't thank you enough," he said again. "Until we can meet again under better circumstances, take care of yourself, and our best wishes go with you wherever the Kestrel flies."

    "Bye-bye!" said Tommy-James, waving as the message ended.

    ***

    On the banker set up under the curved windows of Crew Quarters #1, sat what remained of a replicated wooden cube, now carved down to a human hand grasping the air. It was a plump hand on a plump wrist, with dimpled knuckles and a crease where the hand met the forearm.

    Bennie was not certain the hand truly captured the kinetic motion of the child's last gesture, for all that she had spent more time on this one piece than she had on any work in the last few months. It was a physically acceptable replication, but did it capture the moment?

    Ben's heavy tread on the steps alerted her to his arrival. The ship must have docked or he would be in his room with the lights.

    Why is it so sad? he asked without words.

    Sad? she asked.

    It reaches for something, but grasps only air.

    She sighed with contentment. The sculpture was a success.

    ***
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 1,935 Arc User
    Season 1, Episode 13

    It was 0720 by her clock when the chime went off announcing a comm call.

    "Computer, audio only," she muttered. "What do you want?"

    "Chief Selectee Voght, it's time," said Chief Garadda.

    "I'm off duty today, we're in port and I just got off OOD. It's time to sleep."

    "Chief Selectee Voght, it's time!" the Chief repeated.

    She rolled over violently and bent an antenna on her pillow. "Ow, damnit..." she sat up rubbing the base of her electro-chemical receptor. "I just got to sleep," she protested.

    "Chief Selectee Voght," Garadda growled, "You have five minutes to meet me on the Port Quarterdeck." Chief closed the circuit.

    Five minutes gave her enough time to rinse her mouth, comb her hair, and shrug into coveralls. Boots and gloves too, certain that Chief had some thankless and needlessly manual task in mind for her. She wrapped her chain around her waist; it had become habitual by now, and she was as ready as she would be to face the world on her day off when she had gotten less than three hours of sleep in the previous 24 hours.

    "About time," the Chief said when she arrived. The Control Panel read 0724:34. She didn't feel like arguing at the moment, so she said nothing.

    "Come on, then," he said after inspecting her.

    "Good luck," Ladner said as he cycled the airlock hatch for them.

    They went down the short ramp to the outer hatch of the ship, and were almost across the mated gangways of the station and the ship before her brain engaged.

    "Good luck? Where are we going, Chief?'

    "You'll see when we get there."

    He wasn't picking on her or trying to start an argument. And he wore his Class A's: Starfleet Dress Uniform, with his Master Chief rank tab and a rack loaded with ribbons and citations, over which were five deemed too important to wear on a rack: Bronze Shield with oak leaves, (also known as the Medal of Valor, awarded twice,) Karagite Order of Heroism, Cochrane Medal of Excellence, Starfleet Decoration for Gallantry, and in the place of precedence, the Starfleet Medal of Honor, (gold).

    She was walking with a real hero. He was taking her somewhere important, and she had dressed for cleaning environmental filters.

    "Chief, shouldn't we go back and get my Class As?" she asked.

    "You look fine," he said. "Just be yourself, and you'll make me proud."

    They went across the Loading Bay to a bank of turbolifts. Starbase 77 was old enough that the turbolift cars had old-style hand-grip activated control units; a safety feature in case the ride became rough enough to cause a passenger to lose his grip. He grabbed one, and Mirra another. "Goat Locker," he said.

    The ride was just rough enough to be uncomfortable without becoming a thrill ride. It ended in a section of the Starbase reserved for Chiefs. Even Admirals didn't enter the area without invitation by and escort of a chief. A short walk later brought them to a wide corridor in which stood four other chief selectees, complete with P.A.D.D.s attached to chains which were wrapped around their waists. They wore their Class As, with their decorations displayed.

    "Wait here," chief said, and he entered the double-doors.

    The other Selectees were a smirking Zakdorn, who sniffed when she joined them, a smiling Bolean, and two humans.

    "If you hurry," the Bolean said, "I saw a replicator down the passageway. You could get into a proper uniform."

    "What's this all about?" Voght asked.

    "Your first time?" the Zakdorn said with another sniff. "Don't worry, you'll do better in the next advancement cycle." Then he added, "In two or three more cycles you may even learn to dress properly." He tittered through his nose; an annoying, "Hnee, hnee, hnee."

    A human chief arrived with a human selectee in tow. "It shouldn't take long. This is just a formality. You're prepared, so don't worry."

    He left her outside and entered the room which was labeled, Multipurpose Meeting Room. She smiled at the assembly, and was sniffed in response by the Zakdorn.

    "Voght," the Andorina said, and extended her hand.

    The human took it and said, "Mann."

    "Ayott," said the Bolean.

    The Zakdorn refused to join in the nervous chatter which followed, but watched the selectees with narrowed eyes. Their conversation centered around the selection process, and the various foibles of their chief mentors.

    They fell silent when the door opened and a young human chief called, "Marl'ar."

    The Zakdorn sniffed and entered. There were a few attempts to restart the conversation, but the tension among the selectees was high. The Zakdorn left without a word when he emerged fifteen minutes later, without his chain and P.A.D.D, and one by one the selectees were called in until only Voght and Mann were left.

    "Going by seniority?" asked Mann.

    "My first time," said Voght.

    "Mine too," said Mann. "They say it takes a few cycles to get approval, so I'm not worried."

    Even Voght, whose empathic abilities were somewhat limited, could see the lie, but she smiled and agreed. "You'll do fine. Master Chief Garadda said, 'Be yourself and you'll do fine.' I think that's my best bet, and if they don't think I'm chief material, well, so be it."

    "I haven't been this nervous since I shipped off to service school."

    "Me too," Voght said. "What's your rate, and how did you do on the proficiency exam?"

    "Life Sciences Lab Tech. Ninety-second percentile. You?"

    "Torpedoman, eighty-fourth. I did pull down a ninety-three on the General Service portion of the test, but at Chief, Torpedoman merges with Phaser Tech as 'Weapons' rating, and I haven't got much experience with phaser systems. I'll do better next time."

    "Yeah, next time."

    The wait wasn't long before Ayott came out smiling, and left.

    "Voght," the chief said.

    Voght entered and saw nine chiefs, senior chiefs, and master chiefs, sitting behind a long sectional table. There were other chiefs in the room, seated facing the table. Chief Garadda was among them, and he rose to stand beside Voght as she approached the clear space in front of the table.

    "Who stands for Chief Selectee Voght?" asked the Rigellian Master Chief seated in the center.

    "Engineering Master Chief Garadda, USS Kestrel," he said.

    "State your recommendation for the disposition of the selectee."

    "Chief Selectee Voght has earned my respect as a technician and as a fellow serviceman. She accepts nothing less than personal excellence in everything she does, and inspires the same in those around her."

    "Thank you Master Chief."

    Garadda took his seat and the Rigellian turned to Voght. "High praise from Master Chief Garadda. But it is not him we are assembled to judge. Please submit your P.A.D.D. so it may be entered into the official record."

    As she unlocked the chain and unwound it, she had time to regret the flippant remarks she had entered into her log as a means of inciting an outburst from the Chief. She set it on the table in front of the Rigelian and returned to her place.

    "Why are you wearing a working uniform to this very important examination?" asked a flanking chief.

    "Chief, when Master Chief Garadda woke me after five minutes of sleep following a 24 hour OOD watch and said I had five minutes to meet with him, my assumption was that it was for a working party, and I prepared for that."

    "You are a first class crewman," a senior chief said. "Why are you standing OOD watches?"

    "It's a small ship," Voght said.

    From the end of the table an old human Master Chief said, "I'm far more concerned with your disciplinary record. You have a history of fighting, culminating in an incident in which you struck an officer. The only defense you offered in that incident was, 'He deserved it.' How would you defend yourself now in a similar situation?"

    "I've learned better coping mechanisms since then, but I would not defend myself now any more than I did then. What I did I did; there are rules in place concerning such situations. I broke the rules, and accepted the punishment for so doing."

    "So, you admit you did wrong?" the master chief asked.

    "No. Ensign Ryan deserved a punch in the nose. Respect goes up and down the ranks, and I will not tolerate disrespect of my subordinates by anyone."

    Several of the chiefs looked at one another at her response, but said nothing.

    Finally the Rigellian master chief asked, "Why, Chief selectee, were you instructed to wear a chain and a P.A.D.D. during your selection process?"

    "Master Chief, the chain represents the Chain of Command, and the P.A.D.D. represents the Requirements of Responsibility."

    The Master Chief held up the chain, and asked, "Which link are you?"

    "The one in the center: the strongest link."

    "Why do you call it 'the strongest link?'"

    "Because it has to carry the weight of the links on both ends."

    The questions went on, from trivial, even trick questions on Starfleet history and protocol, to difficult question concerning the operation of weapons systems. It seemed to last much longer than the fifteen to twenty minutes each of the other candidates had endured, but at last the Master Chief said, "Your mentor will inform you of the results of our deliberations, Chief Selectee. You are dismissed."

    On her way out she stopped to shake Mann's hand. "You'll do okay. they took it all out on me!"

    Man gave a worried smile as her name was called, and Voght made her way back to the Kestrel, where she rolled into her bunk and fell asleep.

    ***
  • patrickngopatrickngo Member Posts: 9,333 Arc User
    iirc, Longer=better. The more they have to work to trip you up the better you've done.
    KDF: Not supported by Cryptic, because according to them, we're not 'Real' Star Trek fans.

    Well, TRIBBLE them, I'll play KDF anyway.

    "We are the Federation. Resistance is futile, we will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own."-Cryptic Studios

    Advocacy
    simple logic process:

    The body is filled with so much blood...It's always more than you think!! -Dr. Dinosaur

  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 1,935 Arc User
    The dual vocal chords of Marshal Gri Siefer produced a unique sound: a harmonic reverberation that accented her vowels as she spoke Standard. She filled the viewscreen, apparently enjoying the role reversal of being so much larger than Lee.

    "Just to keep you updated, as Senior Marshal T'eset said." She paused, "Oh, and she said something about Deputy Vine's reassignment but you didn't hear that from me!"

    "I'd rather expect Aguilar to try to rebuild his cloning lab," Lee said. "The modified Borg nanites he uses appears to be hard on clones."

    "We have agents monitoring key items. I have a few leads pointing to the Rigelian Triad, which may be an attempt to distract me with Orion criminal organizations, or which may be a real connection to the Orion networks. I'll have to get inside to find out for sure. But you know me well enough to know I can get in and out of almost anywhere.

    "So keep your eyes open for missing medical equipment and I'll see if I can track down the delivery boy. I'll contact you as soon as I have a development to report. Say hi to Chuss and that sweet little girl you were issued with your ship."

    "Be careful, Marshal," Lee said.

    "You too. Siefer out."

    The screen blinked to the image of Starbase 77 from inside the framework of its #3 spacedock. He was alone on the bridge with little to do until the aft deflector upgrades were complete. He selected a camera on the spacedock with a view of the stern of his ship, (and the nose of a merchant vessel sharing the bay,) and zoomed the view in to his deflector. It floated, with four tethers, aft of the ship, leaving a large square hole between the four impulse engine thrust plates.

    If the ship was separated from its warp engine the top pair of thrusters would remain attached to the saucer while the bottom pair would remain with the engineering and deflector sled. The floor of the cargo bay and the two work-bee shuttles in fitted compartments beneath the winglet assemblies were part of the sled which would wait ten seconds then go to warp, if enough warp plasma was available. The idea was to give the saucer section a chance to survive a warp core breach, but on two auxiliary reactors the impulse drives wouldn't be able to do much more than one quarter impulse.

    The aft deflector was attached to the saucer. Beneath it was the aft landing strut. The saucer could make one landing after separation, and it would be a hard one on any world with more than .5G. The aft deflector had another purpose, though, and that was communication. It could create a gravitic dish that would enhance the aft subspace communication antennae both for transmission and reception. It was not a efficient as the forward subspace deflector, nor was it as efficient in focusing the long range sensors. However, if the ship ever had to separate, the deflector would be an invaluable aid to the survivors, who would be stranded without a warp core.

    But its primary purpose was to generate the forces required for the Variable Geometry Warp Shell, an experimental precursor to the Slipstream Drive. Indeed, Slipstream was not even a theory when the Theoretial Propulsion Group at Utopia Planetia proposed the concept. Fourteen years later Lee had finally vindicated a young physicist whose career had almost been sidelined by the failure of the Falcon Class Scout Ships. She would win no awards for her groundbreaking innovations; technology had leapfrogged her concept, pioneered largely by Voyager, who borrowed the idea from a Delta Quadrant species.

    Now they were installing larger conduits to allow increased plasma flow-rate to the deflector. They were also upgrading its plasma circuitry so the deflector could generate even more powerful fields. It was truly a multipurpose tool. It could be used to supplement the defense deflectors, it could perform as a tractor beam or a repulsion beam, it could enhance the aft communications arrays and sensors, and it could increase the efficiency of their warp drive. And it could be used to create what Mirra called 'gravity wells' which were very small, very short-lived singularities. Apparently they had been used by Starfleet before.

    Lee sighed and got up, intending to get something to eat, when Chuss came in. "Why are you here?" he asked with his customary tact.

    "Call from Marshal Siefer. Update on the Aguilar case, or rather, the lack of anything to report," Lee said. "She heard we're losing Sam soon."

    "Knew that was coming. We have three more days in spacedock. Go out and have fun."

    "Not in the mood for fun tonight," Lee said.

    "Insomnia again?" Chuss asked.

    "The price for having an overactive mind."

    "Hmpf..." Chuss went to the helm console and pulled up his status reports. "I'll be finished with my rounds in fifteen minutes if you want to talk. Did you hear from Chief?"

    "They gave her the recommendation. They are supposedly on the station in the Chief's Quarters now, initiating her and the other selectees they passed. We're not invited. I'm worried that Bureau of Personnel might have a different idea. I've spoken to a couple of the officers on the starbase and they say it's rare to promote a 'red stripe' to chief."

    "Red stripe?"

    "Apparently a reference to a disciplinary record. I'm not sure where the name comes from."

    "Ah. In that case, most Andorians should be disqualified," Chuss said. "I'm done here. You're welcome to walk with me, but I have to finish my round."

    "I'm thinking about dinner. Bar-b-que in my quarters when you're done?"

    "I've already eaten, but thanks."

    Lee looked around the bridge after Chuss departed, then followed him out.

    ***
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 1,935 Arc User
    Lee tired to relax on his balcony overlooking Hong Kong. To his right the roofs of Wan Chai rose almost as high as Tim's apartment at the foot of Bowen Hill. To his left, between the concrete and glass towers, could be glimpsed the greenery that defined Hong Kong Park, and the towers of Central. Ahead, again, glimpsed through gaps between or above the towers, was Victoria Harbor and the city of Hong Kong beyond.

    It was a landscape of vertical divisions. From the twisting streets one was compelled to look up, and the effect was of the towers leaning over, attempting to arch themselves across the narrow gaps of the sky. It was an effect the locals learned to ignore, but tourists and visitors could be spotted by their skyward gaze.

    His door annunciator chimed. "Enter," Lee said and turned to see Lieutenant Mirra in the open doorway.

    "Come in, Number One," he said. "I'm just trying to relax while I can. What can I do for you?"

    "Daily reports." She set a P.A.D.D. on his desk. "Nothing urgent. Chief rejected the starboard conduit installation and got into a row with the repair crew chief. They're pulling a double-shift to get it done right, as Chief says, before they fall behind schedule. We're still on track to reinstall the dish tomorrow and to test the day after."

    "Good. I trust Sparky to be sure it's done right."

    "Ben set off another firestorm in Doctor T'serel's office today. I'm not sure I follow the whole chain of proof, but he seems to have claimed that Cochran's Subspace Theory is incorrect. Something to do with a point-to-point subspace coordinate system that he proves can't be true. Doctor T'serel said he's going to prove the universe can't exist next."

    "A rather emotional reaction for a Vulcan, isn't it?"

    "We use warp drive every day. For him to claim the fundamental theory that makes it work is flawed... It's a little hard to swallow."

    "Ever hear of the Aether?" Lee asked.

    "The what?"

    "It was proposed as a medium through which radio waves propagated back in the old days when radio was a new discovery."

    "I've never heard of it," Mirra confessed.

    "It was a very short lived theory. Dr. Einstein came along and showed how electromagnetic waves required no medium to propagate, and within a generation his theory was demonstrated by ballistic craft which exited the atmosphere. But for a short time there was a whole imaginary dimension credited with the transmission of radio signals. So, while radio worked, the prevailing theory was wrong."

    "Then you believe Ben is right?"

    "I don't know enough to know, but I won't discount him just because he's come up with something the experts don't like. Experts said man couldn't fly, or that man couldn't escape Earth's gravity, or that faster than light travel was impossible. And Ben could also have a beautiful piece of math that just happens to be wrong. Time will tell."

    "I suppose." She seemed to want to say something more, but was at the same time reluctant.

    "Spit it out, Number One."

    "I'm not sure it's my place to say, sir."

    "The job of the First Officer is to tell the Skipper what she's thinking, even if she thinks he doesn't want to hear it."

    "I've heard you've been having insomnia, and have refused treatment."

    "Chuss has a big mouth."

    "Yes sir, but I didn't hear that from him. Sir, the skipper has to be sharp at all times. If you're missing sleep then have to pull a twenty-hour shift..."

    "I understand your concern. If my insomnia persists I'll get Croaker involved, but we're in port and not going anywhere so long as the back end of the ship is dismantled."

    "Sir, maybe if you talk about it it'll make things easier?"

    "Insomnia is associated with an eidetic memory. I have one. I've always had trouble sleeping, and I have various strategies for dealing with it, depending on the circumstances."

    "Your bar?"

    "No, that's for fun. I don't drink when I'm having sleep trouble because that makes things worse, not better. I've tried."

    "Then what is it, sir?" she asked. "You said it's related to memory?"

    "Yes. I can remember things the way you would dream. I re-live the event moment-by-moment exactly as it happened. I don't always have perfect recall, unless it's something I noted at the time, like when you showed up in half-a-suit of armor the day you arrived on Kestrel. But in my memory-dreams I can read the text on P.A.D.D.s I never read when the real event happened."

    "Wait, you can read data? Like scroll through my music playlist?"

    "No. I can only see what was actually there. I can't alter the memory, or at least not consciously. There is some debate about how the mind stores memory and how eidetics modify memories to 'fill in' information they never noticed. I've never been scientifically tested, but when I use what I recall in my memories it turns out to be accurate."

    "So it's like lucid dreaming, but accurate instead of random?"

    "I'm awake the whole time, and aware of my surroundings. I can control it to a certain extent, like now, if I wanted to, I could recall that the last time I was on the bridge your console was set to sensors primary, ship's status secondary, and weapons tertiary, with a link to communications. The science station was set to deflectors primary, engineering secondary, navigation tertiary. That's a rather odd setup. Was that you or Sam?"

    "You just now noticed the settings on the consoles? You didn't check them before you left the bridge?"

    "I looked around just before I left the bridge. Mister Chuss and I spoke, he left to go on his rounds, and I left a moment after. If I see it, hear it, or learn it, I can remember it. Instant recall is sometimes a problem. But when I'm lying down at night and a memory-thread gets pulled, I have to just live through it until it's unraveled, or the next time I try to sleep it'll start from the beginning and play through.

    "A memory like mine is a blessing and a curse. I'm really good at taking tests, but I make for a lousy bed-mate."

    "So, what is it this time?"

    "Aguilar."

    "I don't know much more than his name and some horrid bits of story here and there. And what happened to... Marshal Jasse."

    "Mashal Jasse wasn't his first victim. Not even close. Aguilar got started before I ever joined the Service. Before even Starfleet. He was a civilian scientist involved in the recovery of Borg drones. He was supposed to be studying how to reclaim people who were assimilated.

    "He began to infect people with Borg nanites to see how the process worked. None of his subjects volunteered, and the Federation Science council would never have approved such research even if they had. We know of twenty-six victims from that phase of his career, but then he was imprisoned. When he escaped six years later Jasse and I were deputies for Marshal Travis.

    "Dr. Aguilar had gone into hiding on Sharad, an Andorian colony world. We tracked him down by the disappearances of civilians. The Marshal had sent Jasse on what turned out to be a wild goose chase, and there I was, one year in the service, with a huge case of hero worship.

    "Leo, Marshal Travis, was one of the best. He had turned down offers of promotion to Senior Marshal, and word was he had had his name withdrawn from the Chief Marshal list too. I was too green to let out of his sight, so we continued to hunt together, following the trails of the disappeared.

    "We finally cornered him in his lab: he had six Andorians in various stages of Borg conversion, and they bought time for Dr. Aguilar to escape by infecting Leo. I managed to destroy the control nexus, the vinculum, as I later learned it was called, and I got the Marshal to the nearest hospital for treatment.

    "And I went after Aguilar alone. It was impulsive, stupid, and I was too green to even recognize that. I guessed that Aguilar would go to the nearest spaceport and relocate, but he would need to get some luggage through customs. Most colony worlds have black markets, and in most cases they augment colonies with supplies they can't get from legitimate sources. Some colonies tolerate them, others actively encourage them, but it creates long term problems for a short term perceived benefit.

    "Anyway, I knew where this black market was, so I went looking, and found Aguilar looking for passage off-world. We never located his luggage, but a squad of specialists went through his lab. Leo was in rehab for two months, and when he came out he was changed. Old. He said he was tired a lot. Two years later he retired. Jasse was tapped to fill his slot, and I was transferred to a tour in administration.

    "That's where I met Dr. Sar. For the next two years I learned forensics. Not just the medical aspects, but how to break down a crime scene and recreate the crime from evidence. How to postulate theories and project possible consequences, then prove them by finding the clues those consequences would leave, or disprove them by finding clues which don't fit the projected pattern.

    "Seven years ago I was tapped to replace Marshal V'rein, who had retired. I was sent to investigate a politically motivated crime on Beta Lyrae, and Chuss was assigned to keep me alive. It seems the Patriarch felt a human was far too fragile to go about unescorted. We solved that little issue, Chuss got his name recorded in the official records, a big thing for Beta Lyran Caitians, and we've been brothers ever since.

    "It was right after that that Aguilar escaped from the maximum security penal colony he had been sent to. Apparently his rehabilitation didn't take. I wanted to capture him. I kind of took it personally when 'my prisoner' escaped. Marshal T'eset saw that and pulled me from the case.

    "It took two years, but Jasse tracked him down and killed him in an attempt to recapture him. In the process Jasse was infected with what we now call Series 1 Modified Borg Nanites. The ones they took out of me were Series 4. But it took Dr. Sar four months to clear them from Jasse and insure he stayed clear.

    "We had a body, we had a lab, complete with innocent victims, and we had files filled with research notes. Case closed on Aguilar. We knew nothing about Mirell then.

    "I did a stint on Earth working for the Chief Marshal and almost resigned from the Service, but there was one more thing I had to do: Marshals are too slow. If Jasse had had Kestrel, he might have caught Aguilar a year sooner. If other marshals had had space ships Aguilar might have been caught before he got very far. The clencher was that in the past eight years we've had seventeen prisoners escape while being transported.

    "So I went to Mars, found the Falcons sitting in the dust, and made a deal with Starfleet. I want to demonstrate to the Service that we need police cutters: small, fast, ships which can get us where we need to be or get us out of trouble fast. And that's where you came into my story.

    "When Aguilar resurfaced it caught me flat-footed. I had thought that was in the past, a part of my career I had out-lived. T'eset's right: I am emotionally compromised. But Aguilar's been a part of my career since I joined. He took two of the best friends I've ever had from me, and I worry every day that he'll take another. Not to say the other lives he'll be taking aren't valued.

    "I can understand why you want to catch him," Mirra said.

    "I don't have to be the one to catch him, but I do want him caught, and stopped."

    ***
  • jonsillsjonsills Member Posts: 8,030 Arc User
    (Side note: The luminiferous aether was proposed as the medium through which light propagated. It was the Michaelson-Morley experiments which proved it did not exist, and incidentally also established what the speed of light was, leading Einstein to discover the existence of frame drag and begin formulating the General Theory of Relativity. "Experts" were also not responsible for the proclamations of the impracticality of heavier-than-air powered flight or spaceflight; blame newspapers for those. As for the FTL thing, those experts were right, as it's implicit in relativity - the loophole is that relativity applies to an Einsteinian plenum, and it's pretty explicit that the subspace domain used by warp drive isn't Einsteinian in nature. On the other hand, that fact also argues that Ben is right, and the assumption of a point-to-point correspondence between subspace and "normal" space isn't necessarily correct.

    (Upshot is that Lee is a good cop, and a good captain, but not much of a scientific historian. :smile: )
    "Science teaches us to expect -- demand -- more than just eerie mysteries. What use is a puzzle that can't be solved? Patience is fine, but I'm not going to stop asking the universe to make sense!"

    - David Brin, "Those Eyes"
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  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 1,935 Arc User
    edited December 2018
    Science history is fun, but what people know is often wrong. For example, if you ask who invented the electric motor, a Brit named Faraday comes to mind. If you ask who invented the telegraph an American named Morse comes to mind. Both are wrong answers, because history jumbles things up. A fellow named Henry did both. In addition, he created the fundamentals of long distance electrical transmission and powerful electromagnets, as well as defining how current transformers worked. Even Alexander Graham Bell credited Henry with the principles behind the invention of the telephone.

    Marconi's radio is another example of an invention which was credited to the wrong guy. His work relied on Tesla's patents, which were themselves derived from Henry's work. But nobody knows about poor old Joe. He was good enough to be the guy they called when the Smithsonian was created, but not good enough for the history books to remember.

    Three hundred years from now, and a worldwide nuclear war later, who will remember Michaelson and Morley? You and I will be long gone, and the Aether will be a quaint theory those benighted primitives had to shrug off, along with Flat Earth and pantheons of deities.
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 1,935 Arc User
    Jon, I want to apologize if that previous post came across as snarky or know-it-all. What I should have said is, "You're right." Instead I went off on an unnecessary over-explanation.

    What I was going for in the story was a Chekov history, where the facts are close, but not quite right. If I introduced a distraction I need to edit it either to be more correct or to make it clear he's just wrong.

    I invite readers to do exactly what Jon did so my writing can improve, and giving justifications for what the reader perceives as an issue is not the correct response. I will try to do better.
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