The Talon flew through space at its maximum cruising speed.
They'd already been two days at space it had been a relatively peaceful flight. Jack didn't have to be at the controls unless something really needed his attention and the Talon's autopilot did most of the work.
Jack had pretty much kept busy by asking Fara about specific things she wanted him to study about the Raptor's engines.
He was in the forward compartment doing some serious studying while Fara and Harry stayed in the back sitting at a table eating lunch.
"You know he's really taking to it," Fara said taking a sip of her coffee. "I didn't think he was capable of learning at least that fast."
"He's never had the drive to try." Harry said. "At least not lately."
"So why now?"
"You are just going to keep pestering me till you get an answer aren't you." Harry said sighing closing the book he was reading and setting it on the table.
"You damn well know I will Harry." Fara said tapping her fingers on the table.
"Look it's about his little Fall out with Terri." Harry said. "I am just trying to help a friend out ok?"
Fara took a bite with a smug look on her face. "Looking out for your boy, I got it." she chewed for a moment. "Just because you and him are friends doesn't mean I'm going to take it easy on him."
"I never expected you too," Harry said. "I expect you to push him just like you would anyone else on your staff."
"As long as he's taking it seriously, that's all I care." Fara said. "I don't take half efforts on my half of the ship."
"I know him Fara, when he does have the means to set his mind on something he sees it through."
"If you say so."
Harry shifted in his chair. "So you think we're going to find any answers when we get there."
"I'm going to find something even if I have to beat it out of them." Fara growled.
"Can we not?" Harry said. "I have as much vested interest in finding out who has been messing with us as you do but I'd like to keep a low profile if possible."
"Ok fine, I'll play nice if it will make you happy." Fara sighed.
"At least try." Harry said flatly.
"FINE!" Fara said. "I'll try! Besides I'm sure they won't be expecting us to just show up on their doorstep at any moment now."
"That I am counting on." Harry said as heard the door to the main cabin open up as Jack entered.
He had a data padd in his hand and looked like he was intensely reading.
"Fara, I got a question about some of these equations here." Jack said putting the padd down on the table beside them. "I thought you said time constant didn't change."
"It doesn't under normal situations, look at the problem again. " Fara said.
Jack did so. "Yeah if this is right, this has to be for anything above warp 9.9."
"You are correct," Fara said. "I just threw that in to see if you were paying attention."
Jack seemed pretty proud of himself. "So I couldn't solve them anyway because I have no idea."
"Correct." She looked over at Harry and checked the test results. "Perfect score and I didn't trip him up. Maybe you were on to something with him Harry."
"What else do you got for me?" Jack asked.
"Get back to my technical notes, you passed the exam I give all my techs so you are in for the most part." She said handing Jack back the datapad.
"Sure, I'm going to grab a snack and i'll head back up front."
He did so and disappeared out of the cabin.
"Maybe I am wrong about him. He only needed a 7 out of 10 to pass." Fara said sipping her coffee and shrugging.
Harry merely nodded and smiled.
Terri Lu slipped on her new uniform, it wasn't much different than her old one but it was it had the red undershirt, and striping and maroon rank pins and combadge. She had quite a bit to do today but she wanted to pay Don Rivas a visit and see how she was doing she'd been so busy taking over his duties she hadn't seen any of her friends in a while. She was a bit annoyed that the red uniforms didn't allow for the skirted version. She quickly did her hair, fed her Taber cat to get him to stop running around the quarters like a maniac and headed out.
It wasn't that far to Riva's quarters and she walked up and hit the door chime and waited.
She was a bit shocked when she saw Michele O'mara standing there.
"Hi… Michelle, what are you doing here?" Terri asked curiously.
"I've been helping with Don's physical therapy the week or so what are you here for?"
"Well I wanted to see how he's been doing, I've just been pretty busy up till now."
"Well he's in the shower right now I'm making breakfast for him. He is getting around but it's pretty slow and painful even with the apparatus Doctor Okan gave him. Come in he'd probably like to see you." Michelle said allowing her in. "You want anything to drink?"
"No I'm good." Terri said looking around. The place was actually looking quite clean and organized. She wondered how much of that was Michelle's doing.
Michelle walked over to the door to his room and hollered inside. "Don, Terri is here she'd like to see you."
"Ok, i'll be out in a bit." He yelled from the bathroom.
"So how's your report going?" Terri asked.
"Done and shipped off to fleet sciences division," Michelle said proudly. "How is being Harry's first."
"He keeps me very busy." Terri said. "I don't mind."
"Where is the Commander anyway? I haven't seen him around the station." Michelle said heading towards the kitchenette.
"He's away to tend to some business with an issue with Raptor's warp coils he should be back in about a week or so, I hope. He took Fara with him too. So I've got my hands full at the moment making sure our engineers stay in line on top of everything else."
"Ah well I've been in my own world, taking care of him and working on my findings," Michelle said working on finishing Don's breakfast. "That red looks good on you by the way."
"Thanks." Terri said walking along the pit running her finger along Rivas couch recalling some find memories.
"Michelle is there something you aren't telling me?" Terri said with a mischievous grin spotting O'Mara's gym bag full of a few changes of clothes and a few of her personal items neatly tucked under an end table. "A girl just doesn't stay over at a guys place and it's just nothing."
"Terri get your mind out of the gutter." Michelle groaned. "He gets up in the night and has bad cramps in his legs and he needs help getting around while he stretches them."
"Plus it helps to have someone to talk to to get back to sleep." Don said exiting his room with the whirr of the apparatus accompanying his movement as he finished drying his hair. He'd thrown on a t-shirt and slacks and leaned against the counter panting slightly before hopping up onto one of the barstools. "Look at you in your new uniform, how about that."
"How are you feeling Don?" Terri asked as she walked up to him.
"Like swiss cheese with robo legs it could be worse I suppose." he lifted up his shirt showing her all the scars.
"Sorry I didn't come by and see you we have all been busy."
"It's ok, nice to know not everyone forgot about me." Don said. "What are you up to?"
"The Commander left me in charge of a mess." Terri laughed. "we have to pull two coils and get the rest of it back together so it's ready for the new ones when he gets back."
"That sounds like all kinds of fun I don't want to be involved in." Rivas chuckled.
"As I told Michelle He and Fara are on their way to the planet they make the coils to give them a piece of their minds."
"Well good glad to see someone is doing something about the nonsense we've had to put up with faulty parts since the day this project started," Din said. "What else have I missed out on?"
"Not a lot it's been pretty boring," Teri said. "Captain Stiles managed to get enough ships in the area to keep the Urtheans at bay so it's been really quiet."
"Hey now that you're a bit closer to the top you'll like the quiet." Rivas chuckled. "Proud of you kid two bumps in a short time you are going places."
Terri blushed. "Thanks."
"Be honest with me are you gunning for the first officer job?"
"No!" Terri said. "That's your post I wouldn't dream of taking it."
"That might change if you like what you do, admit it." Rivas grinned.
"Don I don't want your job!" Terri said looking hurt.
"Ok, Ok I'm just teasing." Don chuckled.
"Anyways is there anything I can do to help? Terri said.
"Just don't leave me a mountain of paperwork waiting for me when I get back." Don said. "That would be the biggest thing.. Keep me apprised of what's going on and I'm here if you need some advice. Michelle's pretty much making sure I'm not sitting around all day."
"Yeah and you are doing better for it too," Michelle said handing him a plate of food. "Sorry, Terri I don't have enough to share." O'mara said. "We weren't expecting company."
"It's ok." Terri said. "I'm not really hungry in the mornings for some reason."
"Speaking of Mornings," Michelle said sitting by Rivas and eating. "What happened to our class?"
"Jakar took leave, left in the middle of the night. He's supposed to be back in two weeks."
"He takes vacations?" Michelle said shocked.
"He does now apparently." Terri sighed. "I was hoping he'd stick around so I could have his support."
"What about the people you had step up when you took command?"
"Knackt, doesn't give me problems. Jax is on leave too, Kai is off with Jenna also on leave. Kurtzman, he doesn't like being expected to do anything but his job." Terri sighed.
"I can think of a few." Rivas said. "What about O'bren and Munro?"
"Our transporter chief and the universes grumpiest Altarian?" Terri asked.
"Yeah, go talk to them. O'bren is a pretty neat guy once you get to know him. He's been around a while he knows things." Rivas said . "Munro's not bad either, yeah he's a bit intimidating but he knows a lot about the ship and he's practically done every job on it."
"Ok I'll talk to them if you think they'll help."
"It couldn't hurt." Rivas shrugged.
"Knackt to Commander Lu."
"Yes what is it?"
"Well you said you were open to some Ideas to get the ship back together, I have one, it won't make Fara happy but if you make it down to the ship i'll explain it."
"Ok, I'll be down." Terri said. "Well I guess, duty calls, get better ok?" She said to Don.
"Trying every day."
"Later Terri." Michelle said waving with her fork.
Terri nodded and left.
Rivas waited for the door to shut and let out a breath. "Think she figured it out?"
"Probably not, I think she's suspicious," Michelle said kicking her feet. "Probably a good thing we got all my feathers picked up."
Rivas chuckled and pulled her close to him and she nuzzled into his shoulder.
Down in the depths of Starbase 186.
In the secreted away room a metallic cylinder lit up with an array of lights. It appeared to be some sort of strange sleeping chamber but it was filled with strange fluids and gasses. The chamber began to drain and then it opened filling the chamber with gases.
A black furred paw reached out and grasped the side of the chamber and a nude red furred sat up and blinked a bit confused.
The process was complete but its consciousness was hazy. Once the vessel was ready the swarm had moved into it completing the reanimation process. All the tissues it needed to pass off this disguise were replicated in intricate detail and it should pass as a living thing. Everything just felt so strange, breathing, moving, the cold deck plates!
Actual sensory information was almost overwhelming and terrifying, the intelligence had never predicted this. "I am Eve." it chartered trying to stay warm it walked over to the replicator it had fabricated and quickly made and outfit and slipped into it.
It looked around looking dazed and confused as something confused it. "I am Eveylin." It shook its head. That was odd. It grabbed it's head, things were confusing there was extra data, why was there extra data? It replicated the dead cells to perfection why was there data? Was there some biochemical residue it didn't detect.
It was frightening, this was terrifying, it was like the prior behavior algorithms it had adapted for decision making but this was different.
Father would know what to do.
Eve accessed a terminal it had constructed by the replicator and typed in a query.
All information concerning Doctor Dustin Sarne.
Eve remembered the father, he was kind, he created her, nurtured her he could help her.
She stopped as she read all the information that popped up.
Over 800 dead…. Several starships destroyed… Starfleet Board of Inquiry… Commander Martinez found Innocent of all charges….. Epsilon 3 Dismantled and scrapped….. Raptor Returned to Active duty. Doctor Sarne Committed to Rial 4 Mental Rehabilitation Colony.
Eve frowned. She didn't remember these things only the bare data it deemed necessary information had been stored when the second generation had made the move to save the Raptor.
Eve had to find Doctor Sarne,that was the best option at the moment. She needed to get away from here before she was discovered. First stop, the vessels home, assimilate all pertinent data to maintain the disguise. Eve had already anticipated needing this move and had a small personal transporter constructed in her lair. She powered down the rest of the alcove she had constructed and sealed it off transporting to the vessels home.
"Ok Knackt I'm here what's this big news you have for me." Terri asked as she entered the Raptor's engineering room.
"Well, you want this turkey to fly I got an idea." Knackt said. "But ya gotta promise to keep Fara from murdering me for it."
"If its sound enough I'll take the heat for it now get to the point Mister."
"Alright fair enough," Lancet said walking over to the master systems display and activating it. "Now don't get me wrong Fara is a great engineer but she does tend to over design a bit." Knackt said bringing up a schematic of the Raptor's warp coils. "Now when she built this thing she made the nacelles carry an extra coil on each side. She thought the output of the core would damage the coils, sure it increases our range by a few million light-years at high warp but it's a bit overkill."
Terri looked over the data he provided and wished she had a better understanding of engineering. "So can it be done with six instead of eight? Is that what you are trying to tell me."
"Yup. It would be better than sitting around waiting to get the part and being on furlough for at least a month." Knackt said. "If Fara has a problem with it we can put new ones back in when we do the refit in about 6 months."
Terri thought it over, it sounded like a good idea. "Ok, do it, but as soon as it's done I want to do some test flights and make sure everything is in working order."
"Not a problem," Knackt said smiling. "I promise ya, ya won't regret it."
"How long will it take?" Terri asked.
"No longer than a day."
That definitely sounded good to her, Harry would definitely be happy with that. "Fair enough keep me apprised."
Knackt seemed very satisfied with the answer, he shut off the console and scurried off to carry out the operation.
Terri just hoped that Knackt wasn't misleading her. However Harry had tasked her with getting his ship back in one piece and she meant to see it through, she wanted to show him she could handle the responsibility and everything that came with it. Rivas had suggested that she talk to Munro and O'bren so she headed to the transporter room first.
"So how can I help you out, Commander?" O'bren said as he closed up an equipment trunk in the transporter room and moved over to another.
"I'm planning on getting the ship back underway here in a day or so I need some positions filled on the bridge."
The brown feathered Avian chuckled. "So what brought you to me for this?"
"I looked at your record, you've served on a lot of ships. You have a lot of experience I think you could be reliable as my first if you'd be interested."
"I do." O'bren said checking another trunk and scanning it. "But I'm usually a floater."
"Yeah float around and do whatever job I'm given." O'bren chuckled. "I've been on a lot of ships, know how a lot of captains act so yes I guess I could be of use to you. It's your call commander."
"I know so I take it you'll take the post at least while I'm in command?"
"I suppose so." O'bren said. "It'll take me a bit to get used to running Rivas station, if you don't mind I'll swing by the bride and give it a good look-see after my shift is over."
"Sure that would be great, thank you so much." Terri said.
O'bren nodded and she headed out. Now she had to locate Munro, she didn't really know where to find him. She tapped her comm badge. "Computer Locate Ensign Munro."
"Ensign Munro is in hangar 37, starbase 186." the computer responded.
I wonder what he's doing there? Terri thought. Hanger 37 was in a rather unoccupied part of the station She assumed she'd find out when she arrived.
Eve walked about the vessels quarters. She had to become this person in order to make her disguise complete. She accessed the data terminal, hacked the password and started to go through the messages inside. She quickly assimilated the records of every video call, every message and quickly had enough information about the form she had taken to pull it off. She tried out her voice and it matched the original perfectly. She found a journal and quickly read it to fill any gaps.
As Terri approached Hanger 37 she heard the rapid fire of a phaser rifle and the corridor was ripe with the ozone smell from phaser beams plus the burnt smell of carbon being scorched. She walked up to the door and saw that it wasn't locked so she went inside.
She covered her ears because the sound of the rifle discharging was very loud inside the mostly empty hanger.
Munro was firing at targets he had set up at the far end of the hanger into a what looked like a buffet of old scraped and damaged hull plating from the Raptor. He had protective goggles on and something to cover his ears. He sniffed the ear noticed he wasn't alone in the room catching Terri's scent. He spun around lowering the weapon and regarded her curiously.
Terri uncovered her ears and waited for him to take his ear protection off. "Commander." He grunted looking her over.
"Ensign." Terri said. "What are you doing down here."
"Target practice." Munro grunted. "What can I do for you?"
Ok. Terri thought. Not really a man of a lot of words. "The Raptor will be ready to get under way in the next twenty four hours. I need a navigator."
"You're the boss. I'll fly her." He grunted. "Anything else?"
"Just a question."
Munro cocked his head to the side.
"Why aren't you doing this in a holodeck?" Terri asked.
"You are answering your own question sir." Munro responded twitching his tail and grinning slightly in a predatory manner. "It' not real enough. I got permission from Captain stiles. I rent this space just to do this." He flipped the rifle around in his hand gripping the barrel with his clawed hand extending the stock towards her. "Want to give it a try?"
Terri had done life firing exorcises a long time ago but she hadn't wielded one in ages.
"Sure." she said taking it, the one thing she hated about them was they were almost a little too big for her to wield.
"Use the scope. I don't like letting it started for me." Mind I added keeping his distance so they didn't make physical contact.
Terri nodded and put the stock to her shoulder and aimed using the site at the targets down range.
She squeezed off a few rounds and the weapon pushed against her and she remembered to lean into the shot. The first one missed but the other three hit their mark, not a bullseye, but a hit.
Terri handed back the weapon. "You are right that is fun." She smiled. "I'll see you on the bridge tomorrow?"
Terri started to leave but stopped and looked over her shoulder. "How often do you come down here to do this."
"Quite a bit." Munro smiled.
"I could use some more practice if you don't mind me joining you?."
"So who all do you have assigned so far?" Munro asked taking out the charge pack and setting the rifle on a table.
"Well I got O'bren for Ops, Michelle of course at science, Knackt for Engineering. I still need someone for tactical."
"Jakar isn't here?" Munro asked shocked.
"I know tell me about it." Terri shrugged. "He suddenly took leave out of the blue."
Munro thought for a moment. "Do you know Lt. Baxter?"
"She's one of the reserve crew members transferred about a month ago from the Freeman. She knows a lot about ships weapons, almost a scary knowledge about them. We hang out occasionally. She's an Eviason so you know she's got that wonderful ability to retain almost anything they've ever learned perfectly. You might want to hit her up, if anyone could work that console just as good as Jakar she could."
"Thanks for the recommendation," Terri said. "I'll consider it. Thank you."
"Not a problem." Munro replied.
Terri nodded and left the hanger and headed back to the habitation ring of the station stopping by a computer access panel. "Computer Locate Lt. Baxter."
"Lt. Baxter is on Promenade level 2 section 4."
Terri hit her combadge. "Lt. Baxter this is Commander Lu, I would like to have a word with you about an assignment."
"Of course Commander," Baxter replied. "I'm having dinner at the moment but you are welcome to come by I can wait."
"I'll be there shortly. Lu out." Terri said heading for a turbo lift.
A bit later she found the Eviason Mink at a table in the Promenade with a food tray who beckoned her over to sit. Terri did so and sat across from her.
"So you said you had an assignment for me?" Lt. Baxtor said getting right to the point.
"Yes, I need a tactical officer, Lt. Jakar is currently on leave so I'm short a person on the bridge, pending my review of your record, I may have a place for you."
"Save yourself sometime commander, my record is spotless." Baxter smirked proudly.
Terri was a bit taken aback by her brashness but carried on. "I hope so, Ensign Munro put in a good word for you I just wanted to get the preliminary stuff out of the way." "Heh he would," Baxter said. "Look, I can get the job done, I've already studied the lay out of the Raptor's tactical console in simulations just on the off chance I get the chance."
Terri liked that, she could respect someone who was proactive about their job, she was getting a good feeling in her gut about this woman.
"Ok just one little thing than." She said. "Why did you transfer, this isn't the most ideal of postings. The Freemen is a nice ship, what made you decide to come here?"
"Honestly?" Baxter said. "Bad break up. It was that or go to the brig for choking the son of a bitch to death. I couldn't stand being on the same ship as that guy and breathing the same recycled air."
"Oh." Terri said with her own breakup with Jack she could relate somewhat. "That's fair enough I suppose. Ok i'll get back in touch with you in an hour after I look into your record and I'll call you before too long." She made a note to get to know her a bit better. Terri herself was sitting on a lot of confused feelings about her own break up. She wished she could look as confident and nonplussed as this woman just talking about it.
"Sure, if you want. I do want the job if you are offering it."
"I will definitely consider you." Terri said getting up. "If you'll excuse me I have a few other matters I need to attend to and I'll contact you when I've made up my mind."
"Sure." Baxter shrugged. "I'll be waiting for that call."
Terri smiled. "I'm sure you will."
All the information processed and a solid algorithm developed from the vessels personal logs and entries Eve felt confident she could pass for an organic. Her thought processes even with the aid of the organic components seemed a bit slowed with all the activity. She quickly packed a bag with clothes and forged a reasonable activity log with the computer to make it appear she had returned and was around. The computer was easy enough to her to fool once she interfaced with it. She practiced in front of the mirror various simulated interactions with others until she was satisfied she could appear as convincing as possible.
With her things packed, she quickly booked a flight to Rial Mental Rehabilitation Colony. She could forge her identity well enough to suit whatever she needed it to.. She's already decided to create a persona based around a psychiatrist, being able to activate the federations medical database she could fake it well enough, prove it if forced. That would be the best way to get to father. With the items in her quarters she could definitely make an appropriate disguise.
She noticed her organic components were starting to require fuel, the draw back of this form. Even with it's cybernetic enhancements this form still needed nutrients to be ingested in order to function properly, she would also have to rest soon another annoying set back that she disliked but she could reduce the period needed to 3 hours and get the full benefit of it.
Eve walked over to the replicator and made some food to suit the nutritional needs of the regenerated organic components. She quickly scarfed down the food and then walked over to the bed, lie down and quickly fell to sleep.
Terri sat in her quarters getting ready to bed down for the night looking over Baxter's records and the mink had been right. She had an excellent service record, no disciplinary actions, never late to a duty shift and lots of recommendations from her former commanding officers.
Terri took a sip of tea and felt her Taber Cat hop into her lap and mew wanting attention. She scratched the creature above his ears and realized he was probably wanting food as he began to purr. First things first though, she opened a channel to Baxter,
"Yes?" The Mink replied over the speaker.
"You were right, I'll take your word for it next time. Can you meet me on the bridge by 0600? We are just going for a little cruise but I'd like to go over tactics tomorrow. Just in case"
"Getting to it early? Sure I'll be at the docking ring waiting for you."
"Looking forward to it see you, tomorrow Lieutenant." Terri smiled.
"Count on it." Baxter said closing the channel.
Terri couldn't help but like her, they both had a similar mentality when it came to their job. She hoped maybe they could become friends someday. She picked up her cat and went to go feed him before he started protesting.
The next day.
The Talon approached the world of Ustafar
Ustafar was a very volcanically active world on the edge of the confederation. It operated as an independent entity used for constructing starship framework, warp coils and many other things needed for starship construction. In orbit space frames for starships were being formed and manufactured
Land whistled as he looked at all the construction. "I have never seen a place like this before."
"They are one of the largest suppliers of starship superstructures in the entire quadrant," Fara said standing behind him looking at the window with Harry. "They run twenty-four-seven nonstop construction."
"Well they had better be ready to answer some questions," Harry said. "If they're so good then there shouldn't be any excuse for this."
"You'd think." Fara shrugged.
"We are being hailed by the planet's flight control," Jack said. "They want us to state the nature of our business."
"Good, I'll take it." Harry said heading up to the back console.
"Oh come on Harry, let me do it.
" Fara grinned wickedly.
"No thanks I don't want to get shot down before when we just got here." Harry said dryly. "Ustafar Control, this is Commander Harry Martines on the Shuttle Craft Talon. I"m the commander of the U.S.S. Raptor and I would like to discuss some defective coils my ship received a few months ago."
There was a brief pause. "Do you have an order number?"
Fara had already made her way up to Harry's console and had the data pad with the order ready already anticipating this. "Yeah, order h256t/483st."
"And who is the other Party."
"Fara Phoenix, Chief Engineer U.S.S. Raptor."
After a few moments. "We will send landing coordinates you are cleared to land please land on padd j35 we will have someone to meet you shortly."
"We got the coordinates Skipper." Land responded.
"Ok take us in." Harry said. "Well that went well."
"So Far." Fara huffed.
The Talon approached the planet and plunged into it's smoke filled turbulent atmosphere. The ship handled quite well even in the turbulence and they had a rather smooth ride down to the planet. Soon the sprawling planet wide industrial complex could be seen constructed between the spireds of granite that sat over endless churning pools of lava.
Jack whistled looking down at the huge amounts of machinery and the molds that appeared to be the size of small cities. "What in the world is all that?
"If you wanted to know how they make those space frames you saw in orbit. They mold them as one piece down here and launch them into orbit." Fara replied. "That's what makes Confederation ships so tough their super structures are forged. That huge cylindrical complex in the distance is the furnace where they take the raw materials of this world and forge the metal."
"It wasn't what I was expecting that's for sure." Land said spotting the marker signal for the landing pad. He flew them towards it and flawlessly landed the shuttle on the landing pad that was brought into one of the superstructures that looked like some sort of office complex perched on one of the craggy peaks.
Once the shuttle was brought inside the building several techs approached it and began to hook up the umbilicals to refuel and service it.
Fara gathered up the core samples while Land powered down the shuttle.
"We got everything?" Harry asked.
Fara nodded and patted the bag.
"We're good to go skipper, shuttle is on standby." Jack said. "I'm ready to get out of this ship it's been a long three days."
"Can't argue with you about that." Harry said. "I hope they have some decent guest accommodations."
"They do." Fara said heading down the gangway and lowering the door. "Well come on you two I want to speak to the manager of this place before the day is over.
She stepped out into the landing platform and saw a tall bobcat, a Nekujin in a business suit flanked by two Forians, the local space-faring species that controlled Ustafar resembling large ants.
"Ms. Phoenix I presume?" The Nekujin said extending his paw. "My name is Gratos, how can I be a service to you?"
Fara took his paw and shook it. "You sent us some bad coils, we're here to find out why. This the Raptor's commanding officer Commander Harry Martinez and our Navigator Ensign Land."
"Well, I'll be glad to assist you in that matter do you have the cores?"
"I have a few you can have one of them." Fara said opening the bag and extracting it. "They're all tagged and documented properly." She said handing him one.
"I am sure they are." Gratos said taking the core. "Now if you'll come with me, I'll take you to your accommodations."
Gratos lead them deeper into the complex past numerous rooms and offices. There was a mix of species here, most of the populace was the ant like Forians. Soon they entered a cavernous lobby in what looked like sort of hotel.
"Since we have numerous clients we have set up a hotel to provide some comforts while you are attending to business, now we have basic ones that we usually use for fleet officers but if you have any credits we have much nicer rooms."
"Do you have a suite with three rooms and the works?" Harry spoke up.
"We do, it runs about 7500 a night, that covers room service as well." Gatos replied.
Harry dug into his pocket and tossed him his digicard. "I hardly use them anyway, my treat." he said to Fara and Jack.
"Very well." Gratos said taking the card over to the desk.
"Harry I could have covered it." Fara scolded him.
"Fara we could stay here for a week and it would barely make a dent in the pile of credits I have." Harry said.
"Do you ever take time off?" Fara asked him.
"I get time off when we have downtime like we do now." Harry replied.
"He doesn't take vacations," Jack smirked.
"I am actually planning on taking some time off here soon, it's just we got to get a few things taken care of first." Harry said. "Besides if I left you all to your own devices I don't know what I would come back."
Gratos came back with a hotel attendant. "I will call your room after we have looked at the sample, if you would follow this gentleman to your rooms, and enjoy your stay here."
They followed the attendant to a lift and left the lobby.
From around a column, a figure watched them go.
A bright red canine muzzle could be seen under his hooded coat. He fished out a com link from his pocket and activated it. "D'jonn to Xox. We have a problem."
Harry drew back the curtains Which revealed the hellscape of Ustafar's surface. "Well I can't say much for the view but the room is nice." He mused tossing his duffel on a couch.
Fara walked over and looked out the window as well. "I just hope they aren't jerking us around."
"They seemed pretty cool about the whole deal." Jack said plopping down on a couch and activating a vidscreen to see what shows were on.
Fara grumbled something and put the bag with the samples on a chair. "Dibs on the shower." she said rushing in and closing the door, after a moment water could be heard running from under the door.
Harry decided to check one of the three rooms and saw that they contained large beds a closet a small sink,mini bar with a replicator. The bed looked very comfortable it also had various paintings to spruce up the place due to the view being a bit morbid. He came back out and saw Jack contently watching some trashy horror flick in the main room he went to grab his duffle.
"So are you going to stay up all night watching that junk?" Harry asked.
"Well until you tell me otherwise, yes. I don't have much else to do I read all the stuff Fara gave me on the way over, I could use a little mind rot." He shrugged
They both heard a very loud and contented sigh from the bathroom.
"Are you ok Fara?" Harry said as he walked up to the door."
"Yup. There's a Jacuzzi in here, I'm using it and you can just wait your turn." Fara replied through the door.
Harry thought about just settling in and reading his book but he felt restless he didn't feel like watching the movie with Jack either.
"I'm going to go out and look around after being cooped up in that shuttle all that time I'm feeling a bit antsy."
"If you want to go exploring that's fine Harry." Jack said taking putting his boots up on the coffee table and removing the top coat of his uniform. "I'm staying right here, I want to hit that Jacuzzi when she gets done with it."
"I'll be back in an hour or so." Harry said heading for the door and exiting the room.
He stepped out into the hallway and made his way back towards the elevator they came up and went back down to the lobby. He walked up to the main desk and an attendant approached him.
"Can I help you Commander?"
"Yeah I am just taking a walk, feeling a bit anxious where all can I go?"
"We have a gym if you like but we do have a walking tour that's always open that lets you see various parts of the facilities. It's mainly for new customers or potential clients but it's open to everyone"
"Sure how long does it take?"
"An hour if you don't hurry, and stop and read everything." The attendant replied.
"That will work, which way."
"Through that door." The attendant said pointing to a door off to the side of the lift.
Harry thanked the attendant and headed for the door.
"So the vermin is on Ustafar.." Xox mused on the bridge of his own ship. "Any idea as to why?"
"None as of yet Comendant, I just got done delivering payment to our contact when I spotted him." D'jonn replied. "Do you have any orders?"
"Stay out of sight and track him." Xox said sterling his gloved fingers. "I wonder why he is there, we just got reports that his ship is getting ready to get underway from the Starbase."
"That could present a unique opportunity, Comendant. We could potentially capture both if fortune was on our side."
Xox grinned and his eyes glowed. "You are very right. I wonder who that rat left in charge in his absence?"
"More than likely it would be the Cornerian Wolf, Rivas." D'jonn replied.
"I think it's time we try out our new masking technology against that ship and are if we can get the upper hand for once. If we are successful then we'll capture that vermin."
"By your command," D'jonn said closing the channel and then following behind Harry.
He followed the echidna down to the walking tour area and hung back watching.
This soon became unbearably boring the Termian seemed to be preoccupied with learning about the mundane processes and history of Ustafar prime. D'jonn stuck to the shadows and tried to restrain himself from killing the echidna just to end the boredom and the droning of the audioguide.
Harry, on the other hand, was at least enjoying the tour. He had often wanted to see this place in action and really enjoyed watching seeing the massive pieces of starship superstructures being forges from the materials of this turbulent world. For some reason, as he walked along the tour he felt like he was being watched but when he'd check over his shoulder he never could spot anything. Perhaps he was just on edge about the whole ordeal and his imagination was running wild with it. The tour wasn't more than another twenty minutes and it lead him back to the hotel. Harry hoped they would see a bit more of the facility tomorrow he headed back to the room.
"So how was the tour?" Jack asked when he got back as the doors closed behind him. Fara was sitting on the other couch eating some popcorn watching the movie as well, she as in pink pajamas and seemed to be at ease.
"It was interesting," Harry said. "How's the movie?"
"It's probably the stupidest thing I've ever seen." Fara said not breaking her view from it. "Something about this beach ball eating some freighter jockeys."
"It's low budget!" Jack said defensively. "I told you not to have high expectations."
"I was expecting it not to look like something a bunch of kids put together with a budget." Fara said.
"Well you are watching it." Jack retorted.
Fara just shrugged and folded her legs up under herself. "Yup… I am, I want to see if they pop the ball or not."
"I think I'm going to clean up, call home and then hit the sack." Harry said yawning and stretching.
"You really got to bother Terri?" Fara asked looking back at her. "Her of all people? Seriously?"
"Don't bother her, I think if she needed help she would have called you by now." Fara said. "Plus she's got Don to give her advice if she did need it."
"Well, I am curious as to what has got done." Harry stated.
Fara rolled her eyes. "Why don't you just send a signal home telling them we got here and just sleep on it. I think everything is fine don't be bothering her."
Jack turned his head to Harry. "She's right Harry, just turn in for the night I'm sure everything is fine."
Harry thought about it for a moment. "Ok fine, you are both right. I'll just send a message letting them know we're here. I'm sure if she has an update she'll let me know."
Later during the night the door to their quarters opened and D'jonn quietly stepped inside. He put up his tools and checked to make sure the scrambler on his wrist was functioning properly. He moved into the room and looked around moving as a shadow without making a sound. He was a bit curious as to why they were here. He went to Harry's quarters and didn't find anything of note. A book, some reports nothing of worth. He passed on rummaging through Land's things, he was the pilot, there wouldn't be anything of note in his belongings. He went into the female's room whom he recognized as the Engineer of the ship. She was sleeping soundly with a pillow pulled over her head. He noticed a few containers of medication, he scanned them. Upon seeing what they were he realized she was sedated enough that it would take a lot of noise to wake her up. He went to her things and saw the duffle on the table. He carefully unzipped it and pulled out one of the core sample containers. He turned it in his hands as he looked at it and he realized what they were.
They were warp coil core samples. He glared and quietly put them back,that pretty much resolved in his mind what needed to be done. He quickly put the cores back and left the room locking the door again as he left.
The next morning.
The Warp Coil swap had gone without a hitch much to Terri's surprise.
Knackt had started work early the day before and had it completed by the afternoon of the next day.
The ship was back in one piece, now they had to make sure everything was in order.
Terri sat in the Captain's chair going through her checks and filing their flight plan. She already got approval to go retrieve Commander Martinez and the shuttle from Captain Stiles and the trip seemed safe enough that they could break the Raptor in without having to worry about being stranded in the middle of nowhere. It was odd being in command again, it seemed easier when she was under a more stressful situation. She was actually a bit nervous much to her embarrassment. She'd already sent a report to Harry about their progress
O'bren was at ops, Munro at the con, Knackt at engineering, Lieutenant Baxter was at tactical Michelle was at her normal place.
"Mister O'bren we are getting ready to depart are all systems green." Terri asked.
"All pre launch diagnostics are in the green and all systems are a go Commander and we have clearance to depart." O'bren reported.
"Mr. Knack, this is all on you how are my engines?" Terri asked.
"As good as they can be, might be a bit of a break in with the new coil arrangement but I think we'll be fine." Knackt. said confidently.
"Lt. Baxter, I sincerely hope we don't need them but how are our weapons systems?" Terri asked.
"We have a full complement of photon torpedoes and all weapons are ready to be brought up at a moment's notice." Baxter reported.
"That's good to know." Terri said standing up out of the command chair. "I think we are ready to depart. Clear all moorings Mr. Munro."
The ship reverberated with a dull thud as the magnetic interlocks released and the Raptor free-floated in its dock.
"Take us out one half thrusters." Terri ordered. "Once we clear full impulse."
"Aye, sir thrusters one half stern, full impulse once we are clear." Munro replied as he backed the Raptor out of its slip and pivoted it to face the space dock door and then applied forward thrust making the ship move towards the opening in a matter of seconds they were in open space.
"Set a course for Ustafar Prime, warp five."
"Course plotted and laid in." Munro reported.
"Engage." Terri said.
The screen showed the stars streak by as they entered warp space. Terri notices that the all to familiar shudder the ship would have as it jumped to warp space.
"That was uncharacteristically smooth Mr. Knackt, I take it that was some of you handy work?"
"Yeah, with those extra coils gone I was able to do some extra tweaking to take care of a few of the Raptor's quirks while I was at it." Knact said proudly. "Fara's probably going to kill me but eh, whatever." He shrugged.
"I think the captain will live with it." Terri smiled. "Excellent work. Now while we are cruising lets get all those engine checks out of the way before we really break them in."
"Already got them started." Knackt said standing up. "If you don't mind I'm going to head down and get it done quickly."
"By all means." Terri smiled as he left. Things were going very well and she was very pleased. Not too bad for her second outing in command.
The boarding agent looked at the multipass containing her travel information.
"So Mrs. Jarvis." The agent asked checking validating the multipass on his terminal. "How long are you planning on being on vacation before you come back."
"Two weeks." She replied forcing a smile that was nothing more than mimicry of the of the actual act.
"It's been a while since you traveled, I bet you are looking forward to sometime around here."
"You can say that, is there anything wrong?" Eve said with polite impatience.
"The terminal is just taking it's time processing your multipass." The agent said patiently.
Eve was becoming frustrated, setting up the card to show a reasonable amount of use and activity had been simple. Finally the terminal acknowledged the multipass and he smiled and handed it back.
"Thank you." Eve said pocketing the multipass and moving through the terminal. Dealing with security had been a minor inconvenience. She quickly found the location for her passenger flight and sat down and waited calculating her next move. Rial wasn't exactly a major travel destination and she anticipated the flight not having very many passengers, even though she would have easily hacked the manifest if she had so desired.
Eve blinked, why did she hesitate to do so?
She checked the wall chronometer as a few more passengers started to arrive, the flight should be leaving in the next half hour.
More waiting, how drull. It was worse than a software update in her former iteration.
She shited in the uncomfortable chair and decided to wait, and pondered why she felt discomfort, it was also an annoyance she wasn't used too.
* * * .
Gortas had come and retrieved them in the morning for breakfast. He explained that after they got the complimentary meal taken care of they were going to head for the warp coil construction facility. After the breakfast they boarded Gortas' shuttle and they were off jetting above the fiery surface of the world.
"I am planning on having you speak to our head metallurgist about this matter." Gotas said from the pilots seat. "After taking a look at the sample last night I must say your findings are quite disturbing, I assure you our organization finds such sloppy manufacturing wholly unacceptable."
"Well being as the Confederation finances most of your jobs, I would hope so." Fara groused.
"That is true the confederation is one of our larger customers even before the Keldryian's formed it, we built ships for them." Gortas said. "I apologize for the sloppy workmanship and we will rectify this immediately." He said piloting the shuttle around two tugs that were lifting a space frame from the mold into orbit. "We should be arriving at the warp coil productions facility in the next ten minutes." He then set the autopilot and turned to Fara. "Mrs Phoenix you have been nothing but hostile since you have arrived here, I assure you that no matter what the issue is I will try to get it resolved."
"Would you look at this guy trying to make amends before…"
"Fara.." Harry grunted interrupting her, Fara shut her mouth and crossed her arms. "She has some reason to be upset as I do. We had an incident a few months ago where one of our primary drive plasma conduits exploded due to a defect. We lost almost half our crew, we tried to contact your organization several times about that matter but we never heard anything back."
Gortas furrowed his brow in thought. "We never received any communication in regards to such a matter, I assure you if we had we would have responded promptly. I am deeply sorry for what happened."
"Well that's why we're here." Harry said. "We're trying to find out why we've been having nothing but problems when it comes to getting parts to maintain our ship. This issue with the warp coils is only the latest."
"I will get to the bottom of this I assure you, I just ask that you trust me." Gortas said. "It's not in Ustafar Manufacturing's interests to allow these things to continue unanswered."
Fara said nothing but just crossed her arms and glared. "We'll see."
There was an uneasy tension when Land suddenly spoke up. "So, we know the coils are bad, is there something that would cause them to get past inspection without the defect being noticed?"
Gortas' turned to him. "That is a good question." He replied. "The component that turned to powder is supposed to cure to be solid, if there was an overabundance of impurities -at the time of forging but we test for that."
"Yeah but what if someone deliberately botched it." Jack added.
"I suppose, but why would they?" Gortas said after a moment of thought.
"I dunno you tell me!" Land replied.
The destination arrival chime sounded on the flight controls and Gortas turned back to them. "Well, we'll be having a discussion with the one person who would have been capable of doing that soon." He grunted.
The shuttled approached the enormous structure and passed through its protective forcefield and they disembarked. Gortas opened a cabinet in the back of the shuttle pulled out some ear plugs and safety handed them to everybody. "When we drop the door it will be very loud in here. It doesn't effect the Formians but it can damage your hearing. Also per safety regulations you will need helmets and goggles there's a lot of dust in the air that can get in your eyes." Once everyone had put on their safety gear he lowered the door and the cacophony of machinery and the smell of molten steel filled the shuttle and the three followed Gortas into the facility. The temperature was very warm and they could actually feel the noise around them.
They crossed a few catwalks, walking past a few Formians that were scuttling about doing their work. They approached what looked like a modular lab structure suspended above the huge molder machinery below them.
They entered the structure and soon the noise was just a dull quiet roar.
"Our chief Metallurgist works here." Gortas said. "Wardrwen Garo is his name he's from Zaphodia and one of the best in the quadrant."
"Well then he should have an explanation for our problem," Harry said as he removed his earplugs and safety gear and placed them on the shelf.
"Of course." Gortas said tapping in a security code into the inner door and it opened. "Now if you all will follow me inside."
As they did the first thing that became apparent was the place was a mess. The second was there was an awful lot of purple colored blood on spattered on everything. The third was a gutted Zaphodian slumped back in the seat in front of his terminal.
Gotas was aghast, Fara quickly turned away as Jack and Harry looked on.
"Well Mister Gratos." Harry said flatly. "It looks like our situation just got a bit more complicated."
Terri paced around the bridge, so far everything was going well. She had gotten up to shake the nervousness she was feeling but something just didn't feel right. She noticed Michelle was busy with something so she made her way over to the science station.
"What's got you busy over here?" She asked peering at the instrument readout."
"I've been picking 70's a gravimetric distortion in our warp wake for the last few light years." She said drowning.
"I told ya it's just an anomaly caused by the coil alignment." Knackt snapped behind her you are worrying yourself over nothing."
Michelle quickly typed in some commands casting her readings to a wall monitor on her station she then angrily spun in her chair and thrust a feathered finger towards it. "Then if it's just a distortion why showing it has mass!"
"Target the section just behind the bridge between the main hull and the nacelle," Xox ordered licking his lips in anticipation, even with the Raptor's ablative hull plating a well-placed compression beam hit should do the job. He raised his gloved hand in the air. " Close to 50 hectars and prepare to fire on my mark.."
Terri scrutinized the image on the monitor tuning out Michelle and Knackt's bickering. Each sensor sweep showed pieces of a strangely familiar shape She glanced over at Baxter who just seemed alert but not alarmed at the situation.
"Ms. Baxter are your sensors detecting anything?" She asked trying to figure out exactly what it was she was seeing.
"Nothing out of the ordinary, the closest vessel is a freighter in a parallel course several light years from here."
The Raptor grew larger in the viewer and targeting reticles marked where the main guns would strike. "Steady…" Xox said trying to contain his own merriment, he was going to enjoy this, no better than that he was going to relish it!
Terri bit her lip every instinct she had was screaming at her. This is what she wanted to do was have a command, it had been so much easier before. She was starting to doubt herself when suddenly the sensor sweep on the monitor passed quickly one more time and for a brief moment, she saw the outline of an Urthean battle cruiser. It took a second for it to sink in, another to process it fully. This far into our space how, why?! Was she being paranoid?! Was this actually happening?! What if she was wrong!?"
"FIRE!" Xox bellowed thrusting his hand at the viewscreen.
To be Continued…