It’s getting close to release! I can’t tell you when – YET – but we’re getting closer and closer every day!
If you haven’t already read the Prologue and Chapters 1, 2, and 3, you might wanna do that.
Of course, you don’t have to; you can just jump in here, now. Sure. Why not? Go for it.
The meeting didn’t start at eight.
It might have been on track to be on time, but the Master Chief showed up at quarter till eight, and once she was there the house devolved into chaos.
“Auntie Mikki! Auntie Mikki!” Two auburn-haired missiles launched themselves from the breakfast table at the Chief, who had enough presence of mind to set down her duffel before swooping them up to squeals of happy laughter.
“How are my favorite billy lids?” she said.
“Come and play!” said Lisa.
“I wanna show you –” said Mikki at the same time.
“Hold on, hold on!” laughed Stone. “One at a time! And let me say hello to your mothers before you drag me off into your lair!” She set the youngsters down despite protests.
“G’day, Cassidys,” said Stone. Her faint Australian accent had gotten stronger in her semi-retirement. Cass suspected it was her way of intimidating the agents she trained at OutLook. “What’s new?”
“Did Cris fill you in?”
“She did that. High mucky-muck from the UE dropping in uninvited tonight.”
“That’s about the size of it,” confirmed Kendra. “We’re home planning today, so we were glad you could come to hang out with the girls.”
“D’ye need me to sit in on anyone?” she asked, fending off grasping hands.
“Certainly when they arrive, maybe later. We’ll talk later,” assured Kendra.
“Don’t give your Aunt a hard time!” Cass warned the girls.
“We won’t, mom,” assured Mikki.
“Nuh-uh,” agreed Lisa. “Come on, Auntie Mikki!”
“You promised you’d show me how to do a leg sweep!” insisted Mikki from the other side.
“Me too!” chimed in Lisa.
“She promised me!” retorted Mikki.
“I wanna know too!”
The squabbling sibling voices faded quickly.
Mac was, for once, speechless.
Kendra was staying home as well. Unlike Cass, she didn’t have any official duties, or titles, within the sprawling holdings of the Trust, but she usually split her time between Los Alamos, at home but trying to stay out of the way of the kids, and the venerable Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in Pasadena. Pasadena was part of the Republic of Los Angeles, in the California Confederacy, and had been the center of design for the warp ship. As such, Kendra had gravitated there and, well, made a nuisance of herself.
The engineers and theoreticians who had been working on the project – originally called Pegasus – couldn’t prevent her from renaming it Enterprise after the fictional ships, but they damn well could put a stop to her design ‘suggestions’. Most of them, at least. The ones that mattered.
Since one of the first changes was to move the construction from groundside out to geosynchronous orbit, lift cost be damned, suddenly aerodynamic considerations and the need to start at the bottom of the gravity well were made moot. That allowed them a new perspective on her directives as to what it ‘ought’ to look like. They ran the numbers, found that it wouldn’t impact the performance, and gave a collective shrug of the shoulders.
So the ship was long, with a rounded upper hull, a cylindrical lower hull, and two ‘warp nacelles’ projecting on arms from the lower hull. The warp nacelles were nothing of the sort, of course, as they had explained to her. Current theory only demanded creation of a single warp field, which was the purpose of the lower hull. But they had to agree, the nacelles did make for an excellent location for fuel collection, processing, and storage.
Dr. Valari Roberts, the project manager, had looked on the changes wrought by Kendra’s arrival with deep skepticism. Or, well, maybe complete distrust would be a better way to describe it. She’d spent eight years of her life working on the Pegasus, working her way up to oversee a team of nearly five hundred scientists, engineers, machinists, and others, and being the second-ranking scientist on the project. More than anyone else, this was her baby. She had been one of the two physicists responsible for the breakthrough in manipulation of warp fields that would allow humans to finally break the light-speed barrier. She was also the single person most responsible for the radical new inertial damper designs which would revolutionize sublight spaceflight, reducing the crushing acceleration forces to something humans could tolerate by two orders of magnitude. It was a gigaBruin endeavor, one that would finally free humans from the tyranny of gravity and the chains of the Solar System. Then in waltzes this – this – actress! And suddenly her word was no longer The Word.
It took Kendra the best part of two years, and all of her considerable skills, but eventually Dr. Roberts stopped snarling every time she walked in the room. Of course, if Kendra was being honest, that was at least partly due to the fact that she’d put Roberts into her position. That had been the result of an apocalyptic argument with her predecessor, shortly after the ultimate control on the construction had passed to Kendra.
At the time, her mind awash with the images culled from a lifetime of old science fiction, Kendra immediately started putting her stamp on the project. She had seized on the use of the compound CeeSea as an armor coating for starships which would routinely travel at or above c. This view was not shared by everyone involved with Pegasus. The most notable objections came from the director, Dr. Carnahan.
“The density alone makes it ideal for an armor!”
“Why does a starship need armor?” retorted Carnahan. “This is an exploration ship.”
“Even I know about micrometeorites!”
“That’s what the navigational deflectors will be for. Projecting a field of repulsive energy beyond the hull of the ship to intercept, yes, micrometeorites.”
“And if the deflectors fail?”
“They won’t fail.”
“And if they fail?” she persisted.
“They. Won’t. Fail. It’s my own design, I’ve tested it under every possible condition here at the laboratory, and it’s passed every time.”
“Lab tests don’t guarantee success in the field, Alexis.” Carnahan didn’t yet realize when Kendra got angry she concealed it under a layer of perhaps-inappropriate informality. As long as she was using surnames and titles, you were fine. “I’ve had far too many gizmos and gadgets the quartermaster promised me were foolproof fail when I needed them to put all my faith in lab tests. But okay. Let’s say that the deflectors work, and you don’t need an armor backup. This stuff reflects, what, ninety percent of the spectrum?”
“This stuff, Ms. Cassidy, is passivated chromium Seaborgium in crystalline metallic form,” sniffed Carnahan. “You’re correct, it’s highly reflective. Your point?”
“Besides that it’ll look cool? Think of it! Most forms of electromagnetic radiation reflected away? Put a layer of this on and you won’t have to worry about the ship heating up in sunlight!”
“It’s called thermal absorption. Heating up, oh, never mind, I don’t know why I’m arguing with a person who never attended college. In any case, the regulatory system I designed is fully capable of disposing of any excess heat produced from solar radiation.”
“Alexis, who is your assistant?”
Dr. Carnahan was put off stride by the seeming non sequitur. “I have a number of assistants.”
Kendra tried again. “Who’s your number two? The person in charge when you’re not here.”
“Nobody is in charge when I’m not present; I can be contacted at any time. They merely follow my directions.”
A visibly frustrated Kendra calmed her voice. “Then who would contact you if something happened you needed to know about?”
“Ah. That would be Dr. Roberts.”
Kendra closed her eyes. She had just gotten her ‘plant, and using it hadn’t yet become natural. When she opened them, Carnahan was staring at her.
“Are you feeling well, Ms. Cassidy?”
“Quite well, Alexis.” No more was said about the armor; they chatted about other matters related to the project for several minutes.
The conversation was interrupted by a knock at the door.
“Excuse me, Ms. Cassidy,” said Carnahan. “Enter!” she called.
Val Roberts walked in.
“Is there a problem, Dr. Roberts?”
“No, ma’am,” said Val. She pointed to Kendra. “I got a message from Ms. Cassidy to come to your office.”
“Ms. Cassidy summoned you? And you simply came? Dr. Roberts, this is highly irregular to say the least! You left the work that I assigned you to do at the, the, the whim of some sensie actress, who has no idea what critical experiment she may be interfering with? I’m afraid I may have to reconsider your position in this endeavor.”
“I couldn’t agree more,” added Kendra.
“I’m glad there’s something we can agree on,” said Carnahan.
“I don’t think it’s exactly what you’re thinking, Alexis.” Kendra’s tone was mild.
“What the devil are you talking about? This is all –”
“Alexis. It’s time for you to go away. Someone else can run the project.”
She sputtered but nothing coherent came out. Kendra sat patiently. Eventually, the sputtering gave way to words. “This is impossible!”
“No, Alexis, I don’t think that word means what you think it means. You see, the impossible does happen, fairly frequently in my experience. Dr. Roberts. Can I call you Val?”
“Certainly, Ms. Cassidy.”
“Val, how long have you been working in this field? And how long have you been here?”
“I received my doctorate in 2104; I was doing research for my professors before that, but I’ve been actively pursuing warp theory since getting my degree. I’ve been here since ‘09.”
“How dare you!”
Kendra whirled on Carnahan. “I will tell you this only once, Dr. Carnahan. Shut up. This no longer concerns you.”
Carnahan’s mouth opened and closed several times, but no sounds emerged.
Returning to Roberts, Kendra continued. “How much of the design for the drive do you understand?”
Flashing a quick look of apology at Dr. Carnahan, Roberts said, “Truth be told, ma’am, it’s my design, based on the Carnahan Theorem with my own modifications.”
Kendra’s smile lit the room. “Great, Val! Congratulations!”
“Hold on a moment.” Kendra returned her attention to Carnahan. “You have one hour to clear out your desk and get off the campus. You’re fired.”
Ignoring the steamkettle noises, Kendra turned back to Roberts. “I need a Director. It’s your job until you can’t handle it. We’ll work out details about pay and benefits, but whatever she got, you’ll get plus fifty percent. Are you game?”
“I, what, yes! Is this for real?”
“Absolutely for real. Come on, let’s go to your office. You have an office, right?”
Guiding Roberts out, Kendra called over her shoulder. “One hour, Alexis. Don’t worry, I won’t do anything punitive about your next job. I’ll be happy to write you a recommendation.”
As they walked toward Roberts” office, Kendra continued to talk. “We have to get a few things clear. First, my name is Kendra. If you can’t deal with that, you can call me Ms. Cassidy. You keep saying ma’am, and I’m going to look for my mom. We clear?”
“Yes, ma – Ms. Cassidy.”
“Nice save. Second, you can keep calling this project ‘Pegasus’, but the name changes right now.”
“Ma – Ms. Cassidy?”
“She’s the Enterprise.”
“I can live with that, I guess.”
“And that brings me to the hull. I’ve got some ideas for the shape, but we can talk about that. But that chromium stuff is amazing!”
“What chromium stuff?”
“The –” Kendra checked with her ‘plant. “Passivated chromium Seaborgium in crystalline metallic form.”
“Oh, yes, the CeeSea!”
“That’s such a better name! Why couldn’t Carnahan use that?” The discussion continued, and continued, and continued. And Enterprise ended up being slated for an outer coating of CeeSea.
That had been a promising start, and the additional gigaBruins she’d poured into the project probably helped. She’d shamelessly traded on her shared ownership of HLC to have an entire orbital construction facility built, where the Enterprise was being fabricated. And Dr. Roberts had to admit that the possibilities inherent in a teleportation system had made the transition from a ground-capable ship to a strictly non-atmospheric craft much more sensible.
When Kendra commed her to inform her that she wouldn’t be coming in today, Roberts was shocked.
“You’re always here!” she said.
“And you’re always complaining that I’m there too much,” countered Kendra. “Today you get your wish.”
“But – we’re supposed to be doing a static test of the warp field today! You’ve been talking about it for weeks, what could possibly be more important!”
Kendra could see the preparations for the test behind Roberts. It was true; this would be the last full-scale static warp field test before the drive was installed in the ship, and she had planned to be there. Still, her ohana needed her home today, so she simply shrugged. “I wish I could explain exactly why, but believe me, Val. If it were anything else, I’d bail and be there.”
“It’s not going to be the same without you here,” admitted Roberts. “I think you’re almost as invested in Enterpriseas I am.”
“You know it,” agreed Kendra. “Keep me in the loop today. If I can, I’ll do a holographic sync.”
Roberts nodded. “We’re on track for noon. If anything changes, you’ll be the first to know.” She closed the connection.
“I’m sorry, hon,” said Cass, stepping to Kendra’s side and hugging her. “I know you wanted to be there today, but I really appreciate you staying home to help plan.”
“You’re there for me, I’m there for you. It’s what families do.” Kendra turned her attention to Mac.
“What have you dug up overnight?”
Mac raised a finger, chewing furiously. Once she swallowed, she said, “Not much, their firewalls aren’t worth anything, I got through them pretty easily, but their Operational Security is good, I couldn’t find anything in there except the very basics about when they’re arriving and how many she’s bringing, I’ve already given that information to Candice, and by the way the guys from OutLook will be here by ten, she’s already got their patrols all set up, I put all their biometrics into SARAH, I hope you don’t mind, I just figured it would be easier to get it out of the way before they got here.”
“That’s fine, Mac, what exactly did you find out?” said Kendra.
“Like I said, I found out when they’re going to arrive, and how many people, and who they are, and –”
“Let’s break this down,” interrupted Cass. “One piece at a time. When are they arriving, and how?”
“They’re coming on commercial tube, the Richmond-Houston-Los Alamos run, they’re going to arrive at seventeen twenty, Candice has that too so she can arrange a proper escort, do you want to know how they’re getting to Richmond?”
“No, not important,” said Cass immediately.
“Hold on. It might be. Mac?”
“They’re going commercial suborbital from Geneva to Norfolk, all under assumed names.”
“It is important.” Kendra was frowning. “That’s not right. I can see, maybe, them using the tubes to get across the continent. Suborbitals and Jumpbugs can land at the LA spaceport, but it’s not really that much of a port. It would be noticed. But Norfolk could land an official UE ship and not even blink; they’ve got heavy traffic coming from all over. No, they really don’t want to be noticed. And if they don’t want to be noticed, then this is definitely not an official visit.”
“They’re coming incognito, so?”
“Let’s go over the rest. Mac, who is coming?”
“Well, there’s Director Hartman, and there’s another Assistant Director, his name is O’Quinn, and the head of their Protective Services, a man named Lynch, they each have an assistant, and then there’s four security guards, that’s a total of ten.”
“Cass, something’s rotten. This Lynch, he’s in charge of what military they have. Why would the Distribution Directorate be bringing along a military specialist? There aren’t any riots, no problems with either procurement or production –”
“None that we know of,” amended Cass.
“Good point. Mac, dig into UE. Find out if there are any disruptions that would need the UEPS to get involved.”
“On it,” said Mac.
Conversation stopped when the OutLook reinforcements arrived and until the inevitable chaos was sorted out. They reconvened in the office.
“Do you have anything, Mac?”
“No Cass, there’s nothing going on, the UEPS aren’t deployed anywhere, I mean, they’re deployed everywhere, but they’re just standing around, or doing training, they’re not actively involved in anything right now, there isn’t even any peacekeeping missions going on, oh, they’d love to get a toehold in the Border States but that’s the one thing the Confederacy, U.S., and Texas all agree on, they’re not letting the UE get more of a presence on this continent than they already have in the PRM, not that any of them are really worried about the UEPS getting frisky if you know what I mean, any of their militaries are powerful enough to swallow the UEPS whole without a burp.”
“Curiouser and curiouser,” Cass mused. She sat at her desk, fingers steepled in thought. “No problems with distribution, no problems with procurement, the UEPS is relatively weak…”
The other two let her think undisturbed. Mac continued her snooping into the UE files, while Kendra closed her eyes and activated her holographic avatar at JPL, first pinging Roberts to warn her.
“Thanks for the advance notice,” said Val once she’d flickered into life. “I didn’t want to wear my coffee today.”
“That’s me, kindness all the way. How’s it going?”
“No glitches yet,” and Roberts knocked on the closest table.
Kendra smiled. “Knocking on polycarb? Really, Val?”
“It’s a lab, there’s no wood. Look, you know how huge this is, and while I’m confident…” Val let her voice trail off.
“A little extra luck never hurt,” agreed Kendra. “I got it. Hey, I wanted to ask you, have there been any people asking around the site lately? Maybe officials, and I don’t mean the usual baksheesh grabbers.”
Roberts” face scrunched as she considered the question. “No,” she said finally. “Nobody I’ve heard about. The LAR came by last week for their quarterly kiloBruin, but you knew about that. What’s going on?”
“Probably nothing,” said Kendra. “I won’t distract you further. I still plan to holo in for noon. Let me know if anything changes.”
Kendra cut the link and opened her eyes to see Mac staring at her.
“Where did you go, I mean you were here but you weren’t, you were using your ‘plant for telepresence weren’t you, I hope it was somewhere interesting, but while you were gone I was able to pull a little more information out of UE, I don’t know if it’s related but I think it’s important.” Belatedly Mac shot a glance at the still motionless Cass.
Kendra correctly interpreted the look and explained, “When she’s thinking hard, you could set off a fire alarm, or pour a glass of water down her back, or –” She stopped when she saw Mac’s face. “Not that I’ve done either of those.”
“Anyways,” said a red-cheeked Kendra. “She’s off in her own world until she decides to come back. We can talk, no worries.”
“Um, okay, yeah, I guess I get it, I mean I get like that sometimes when I’m trying to crack a tough network, I just get pulled in and wrapped up in what I’m doing, there was this one time that I was working the problem, it was a server that I needed to access, well, I didn’t need to but I wanted to, and I started in the afternoon and the next thing I knew it was tomorrow morning, so yeah, I get it, as long as she comes back soon.”
“Mac.” Kendra’s tone was weary. “What was the important thing you found?”
“Right, I went digging into what the three leader-types have been doing lately, and there was a report, well, not really a report, more like a memo, it came from that O’Quinn guy to Hartman, and that makes sense since she’s his boss, but here’s the thing, she was the only one he sent the memo to, no file copy, and it doesn’t even exist in his account any longer, the only copy is the one Hartman has, and then get this, not two days later he and Lynch are meeting with Hartman, a meeting that doesn’t show up on any logs, any calendars, and the only way I found it is the biometric scanners they use in their offices track their movements, and all three converge in her office for an hour when their schedules all say they ought to be somewhere else, and then the very next day Hartman contacts Cass, so what was in that memo?”
Kendra didn’t say anything; she knew better than that. Sure enough, in just a few seconds Mac continued.
“I tried to pull a copy of the report from her files, I found it easy enough, but she has some really next level encryption going on, I was able to extract it but it’s still locked, it looks like it’s at least a six-key cipher, and there’s a sort of electronic dead-man’s switch on it which will totally randomize the file if there’s a failed encryption attempt, so I have to disable that first and I’m still trying to track down the code, I’ll get there, but until I do I won’t be able to start working on it.”
Once again, Kendra resisted the temptation to interrupt.
“But the UE records everything, most of it is wiped on a twenty-four hour cycle, but Hartman is almost Nixonian in her obsession with properly documenting meetings, so her records are held for review for ninety days, some of them she puts into permanent storage, but the meeting she had with O’Quinn and Lynch is in there, I can tell because each file is labeled with the attendees, and I’m working on extracting the audio now, it’s still going to be a while but I should have it before noon.”
Kendra still waited a heartbeat before speaking.
“Good job, Mac, keep us advised. Was there anything else? Important, I mean.”
“They want us to go to war for them,” Cass said suddenly. “It’s the only thing that fits.”
“What? War? How do you figure? And we’re two people, not a, a, a navy!”
“No, but we can build them a navy; we can cut off the Union and cripple their supply of rare earth metals; and we have the Enterprise. And don’t forget the Cassidy Process.” Much to Cass’s amusement and embarrassment, her teleportation theory had been tagged with her name when it had gone public.
“Holy Zarquon,” whispered Kendra.
“It’s the only thing that makes sense, for values of sense,” replied Cass.
“That too. But what else could they want? We have things that they need, but live in a place they can’t simply demand them.”
Kendra’s response was cut off by Mac’s exclamation. “Got the file! Although I think I got booted out of their system, yeah, my bots are toast, I hope we don’t need to get back in there because they’re onto me now, well, not me personally, but they know the weakness I exploited to get in, and now that they know they’ll close it as soon as they can, I would if I was them, and until then they’ll be monitoring any activity.”
“Can we hear the recording?” asked Kendra.
“Oh, yeah, no problem –”
“Now, please?” said Cass.
“Right, yeah. Now.” Mac tapped the keys, then the recording of the meeting played. Cass, Kendra, and Mac all listened, Cass taking notes.
“How the frak do you do that?” asked Kendra when it ended.
“Do what?” replied Cass.
“That freaky predict-the-future shit.”
“It’s a blessing and a curse,” said Cass, airily. In a more serious tone, she continued. “They don’t mention either the transporter or the Enterprise. I wonder why not?”
Before Kendra could speculate, Mac interrupted. “Kendra, O’Quinn mentioned he got an idea from television, about the sunken ships, and since you’re so into that era do you have any idea what he was talking about?”
Kendra frowned. “I – yeah, there’s something, I can sort of half remember it. Hold on.” Her eyes closed and she got the faraway look of a person consulting her ‘plant.
“Ah!” she exclaimed, opening her eyes. “It was called Star Blazers, and it was a cartoon –”
“Cartoon?” asked a confused Cass.
“Think CGI, but the images were hand-drawn. Twenty-four different images for every second.”
“Whoa,” said an impressed Mac. “That’s a lot of work!”
“And it was a children’s show,” added Kendra.
“But what is he talking about?”
“I won’t go into the plot, but they took a sunken battleship – that was a heavily armed and armored ship, really large, like three hundred meters long and thirty wide. They installed updated weapons and some sort of space drive and launched it from a dry sea bottom, don’t ask, into space to fight their enemies.”
“Sounds pretty improbable,” commented Cass.
Kendra shrugged. “Science fiction. But I can sort of see how O’Quinn went from that to Second Fleet.” She turned thoughtful. “Let me ask Val.”
“Who?” said Mac.
“Val Roberts, she’s in charge of the Enterprisebuild.” Closing her eyes again, she pinged Roberts again, then activated the holographic avatar.
“Kendra, this isn’t a good time!” said an obviously frazzled Val.
Kendra noted the time, less than half an hour before noon, and winced.
“Sorry,” she said sincerely. “I got caught up in something and didn’t check the countdown. I’ll come back after the test.”
Roberts sighed. “Will this take long?”
“Just one question.”
“Could we put a warp drive into a ship? Like a wet navy ship?”
“Why would we – wait, forget that. If the ship was big enough, yes. Wouldn’t do you any good unless you could get it into orbit, and then you’d have issues with, you know. Vacuum. But yes, we could put a warp drive into a ship.”
“That’s it? You’re going to ask a ridiculous question like that and then just leave?”
“I said one question. Ping me after the test and we’ll talk more.” Kendra disconnected.
“We could do it,” she said, opening her eyes.
“Are you serious?”
“Val said it’s possible to put a warp drive into a ship’s hull.”
“You got that in a thirty-second telepresence visit?”
“Not the details, but she said yes, it’s possible.”