Author: Brendan Chris
Author’s Note: This story takes place during Star Traks: Halfway to Haven - Trades (1 &2) and The Way We Want To Be.
“Ladies,” Major Dekaire stood in the center of Three-Cee-Cee, the control room for the shipyard responsible for the Silverado reconstruction project, an oddly shaped (to Jeffery) Matrian ale glass held in one hand, “Countdown, please,”
“Ten” the various shipyard workers obediently called out, watching the displays in the room, “Nine. Eight. Seven…”
“Y’know, there’s a bloke here too,” Jeffery said, too quietly for Dekaire to hear.
“More than one,” Ensign Cortet replied from next to him, just as quietly.”
“Hush,” Sylvia hissed.
“Three. Two. One.”
“STAGE ONE COMPLETE!” the room chorused, the Matrians passing their glasses from right hand to left and back before drinking. Jeffery, sticking to the human custom, simply raised his in the Terran toast then took a drink.
And gagged. Oh, what he wouldn’t give for a proper Imperial Stout right about now.
Some of the Matrians laughed at the sight of him. He gave them a half-wave, then turned to Sylvia, only to find her gone. He found her easily enough, standing over by the viewport looking into the shipyard.
There was nothing but floating parts visible. Sylvia sighed, then waved her hand. The viewport adjusted, holographic display strips around the edge coming to life. The viewport overlay removed the floating starship detritus and focused instead on the ship itself.
Or rather, what was left of her.
Silverado was barely more than a skeleton. The major structural members were still in place, outlining the shape of the saucer, the secondary hull, warp nacelles and nacelle pylons. But the hull had been stripped bare weeks ago. The various conduits and waveguides running under the hull had been stripped away. Large sections of the habitable decks had been dismantled and removed, along with many key systems like shield generators, the navigational deflector sub- assemblies, warp coils and plasma injectors, even the impulse engines had been broken down into their major sub-components and were sitting on the shipyard floor, a team of construction bots diligently engaged in rebuilding them. The various phaser arrays had been removed and stored in a high-security hanger, along with the photon torpedo launchers, pulse phaser cannon and the jury-rigged capacitor system that Jeffey had built in order to allow the old ship to make use of the power-hungry weapon.
It was an ongoing argument between Jeffery and Dekaire as to whether Silverado would still need the capacitor system after the rebuild. Dekaire insisted that the warp core specs were more than adequate to run a single pulse phaser, especially considering that there were Galaxy-class ‘hotrods’ out there that were equipped with two. Jeffery, having worked with Silverado’s systems for years, believed that having the extra buffer between the finicky heavy weapon and the power systems was preferable.
Dekaire had pointed out that he may have known Silverado’s old systems like the back of his hand, but he would be leaving Haven with a whole new ship. Jeffery countered that the ship was being rebuilt, not replaced. And that specs were changing enough as it was without changing them even more.
At that point, he was ready for a fight over the matter. Almost welcoming one, in fact…the chance to put his foot down and remind Dekaire that she may be the Master Shipbuilder, but Silverado was still HIS ship, and would remain his ship after this rebuild was finished and he and the rest of the crew were far away from here. And she would be on to some other project.
But Dekaire had just giving him a small, seemingly mocking smile and said ‘But of course this is your ship, Simon,’ and had taken off to a meeting with that Lt Wyer person that she seemed to be seeing more and more often. Jeffery had fumed for a few moments, then resumed his work.
Now, Dekaire and her senior staff were grinning, drinking, and generally enjoying the fact that the first phase of the Silverado reconstruction was complete. The ship had been torn apart to the point where any remaining components could be examined and repaired in place. Once that work had been completed, the ship was ready to be reassembled. Finally, all the necessary testing would be completed and the ship launched. Re-launched. Whatever.
“Ye replaced the deuterium tank lining,” Jeffery said to Dekaire, eyeing one of the displays, “But did ye put in the upgraded Mark VII thermal couplings, or the old Mark Vs the ship was build with? We always had trouble with the Mark V…”
“Simon, we’re taking the afternoon off,” Dekaire waved him away, “Worry about work tomorrow,”
“She’s right,” Simon,” Sylvia cut in calmly, “Tomorrow, we will check the thermal couplings.”
“Sylvia,” Dekaire gave a curt nod.
“Major,” Sylvia nodded back.
“Have your bots finished that ship? The…what was it…Enex-class?” Dekaire took a swig of her ale, “What are you going to name it?”
“NX-Class. They finished it days ago,” Sylvia put her hands on her hips, “It’s all I can do to keep most of them powered down, in storage, and NOT starting any new projects! And I can’t get them to dismantle the damned thing! There’s a dozen doing system checks and diagnostics, as if that ship is actually going to fly!”
“Well…it could…” Jeffery looked thoughtful.
“Right, then we get to advertise to everybody that we just built an unauthorized ship!” Sylvia pointed out.
“You were authorized to experiment with Federation shipbuilding using Matrian construction bots. You built a Federation ship using Matrian construction bots. Sounds authorized enough to me,” Dekaire shrugged.
“And the ship is fairly visible to anybody flying by,” Jeffery said.
“We turned on the shipyard security screens,” Sylvia crossed her arms, “You’d need a pretty powerful sensor system to see what’s going on in there. And I’m quite certain that building a whole new ship was not in the scope of my authorized actions. Unfortunately, the alpha bots seem to have been given a larger scope…somehow.” She looked pointedly at Dekaire, who had inadvertently instructed the bots to build the ship by telling them to ‘do something useful’.
“What a pity,” Dekaire said, sincerity not exactly oozing from her tone.
“Of course, a Master Shipbuilder has the credentials to override any of the bots’ prior orders,” Sylvia said pointedly, “Especially if she’s the one that that issued them…even accidentally,”
“I still don’t agree that dismantling that ship is proper,” Dekaire took another drink, “Why, just think of what we could learn by examining it? We could identify any glitches or errors in the bot construction protocols. Wouldn’t it be great to do that before we start reassembling your ship…I mean, you?”
Sylvia glared at her.
“Then inspect it already! You’ve been stonewalling me for over a week!”
“Couple more days,” Dekaire promised. She set her mug aside then took Jeffery by the elbow, “C’mon, sweetie. Let’s get out of here,”
“Finally, a bit of peace and quiet,” Dekaire said as she led Jeffery down a corridor near Shipyard Three, “I didn’t think Sylvia was ever going to let up over that stupid ship,”
“She’s just tryin’ to do her job,” Jeffery said immediately, “She’s really…dedicated. That way,”
“And of course you have to jump right in to defend her,” Dekaire snorted, “Precious Sylvia, impossible for HER to make a mistake,”
“It’s BECAUSE she can make mistakes that her programming…look,” Jeffery almost shook his arm free of Dekaire, but decided at the last minute that maybe getting too confrontational with the woman wasn’t a great move, “Look, Malinda, Ah know ye don’t have a lot of experience with AI, but it’s actually really, really good that Sylvia gets so wrapped up over what she can and can’t do,”
“Really,” Dekaire didn’t really sound interested.
“Really,” Jeffery insisted, “When the last version of Starfleet computer systems came out…bollocks, even before the weird bio-neural stuff, we had all sorts of problems with machines thinking too much for themselves. Holograms realizing they were holograms, ships acting up. And then there was that whole thing where an apparently immortal lady was accidentally transferred into a computer and turned into a power-mad cyber-god, ready to wipe out the Federation as we know it!”
Dekaire looked skeptically at Jeffery.
“You’re making that up,”
“Ye can read about it in the news,” he swallowed, “Or in Mr David’s documentary. But Sylvia…for whatever reason…she’s very concerned about what she can and can’t do. And she never really seems interested in events that don’t effect Silverado or her crew.”
“And this is important enough that I have to put up with all this nagging over the stupid shipbuilding bots?” Dekaire definitely sounded bored now.
“It’s…OK, nevermind,” Jeffery suddenly realized that if he told Dekaire that Sylvia’s concern over her actions were probably a big factor in Starfleet allowing her to stay with Silverado as opposed to some isolated data center somewhere, he’d be giving her something that could potentially be used against the AI. Ok, the bigger factor was that Starfleet really didn’t care enough about the Silverado crew to do anything, but Dekaire didn’t need to know that either.
They’d reached one of the bigger lounges that dotted the outer edge of Haven. One day it would probably become a restaurant, or sports bar, or something that the residents and workers of this section of Spaceside could enjoy. But for now it was just a big room filled with generic furniture and a few replicator stations. A few empty glasses showed that somebody had used the place recently and not bothered to tidy up. The housekeeping bots would eventually come through, but Jeffery tossed them in the disposal anyway. Dekaire grabbed herself an ale from the replicator, then hesitated.
“What was that thing you liked drinking?” she asked as Jeffery seated himself next to a huge window looking out into space.
“Scotch,” Jeffery reminded her, for what felt like the hundredth time, “But ye don’t have it on file.”
Dekaire returned a moment later and put a glass of amber liquid in front of him. Jeffery sniffed it suspiciously, then took a sip. It was Scotch! Replicated, of course. And he could tell it was synthohol, no matter what the Ferengi marketing department said. But it was still better than any of the Matrian crap he’d had to endure. Much, much better.
“Thank ye,” he said sincerely, “Ah’ve been meanin’ to get a replicator pattern for this for ages, but bandwidth on the subspace relay has been eaten up by all the replicator patterns for the ship rebuild,”
“I snuck this in with the pattern for the replicator control systems,” Dekaire smiled, sitting next to him. Right next to him. “Had to wait until Sylvia was distracted. She insists on triple-checking all that stuff.”
Jeffery chuckled. He and Dekaire shared that much in common. As much as he liked her now, Sylvia could be a bit…invasive. And he sure hadn’t liked her either, to begin with.
Dekaire looked out the window and sighed. She reached into her pocket and pulled out a small model of an Ambassador-class ship. The model was solid duranium with tiny rubies for the Bussard collectors and arrays of blue emeralds for the deflector dish and warp grills . The whole thing was only about five centimetres long. Jeffery had given it to her shortly after work on Silverado has started, although thanks to replicators the precious gems were absolutely worthless. Dekaire turned the model over and over in one hand while the other reached again for her ale glass.
“Quite the milestone,” she muttered almost to herself as she gazed at the tiny model, “We’ll be rebuilding before you know it. And the next thing you know, the whole Federation will see what Matrian shipbuilders can do,”
Jeffery opted to remain silent. This was another discussion he and Dekaire had had before. And pointing out that the Matrians were using Federation designs and giga-quads of Federation replicator patterns to rebuild a Federation ship didn’t usually go over well.
“We don’t have much in the way of rare resources to offer, and this part of space isn’t exactly a strategic hot spot,” Dekaire went on, “If we’re going to be taken seriously in the galaxy, we need something to offer. And since this flying monster equipped with six shipyards just dropped in our laps, shipbuilding is the best short-term hope we’ve got,”
She turned to face Jeffery, fire in her eyes.
“Which is why I need to stay focused on this rebuild instead of running around listening to Sylvia’s every complaint!” she almost snapped.
Jeffery also opted not to point out that as Silverado’s Chief Engineer and computer system respectively, he and Sylvia would probably have a lot to say about whether or not the Matrians received any more shipbuilding business from Starfleet. He’d tried before, and it also hadn’t gone over well. Or maybe Dekaire already knew just how much Starfleet cared about the opinion of a Silverado crewmember.
In any event, he could predict pretty much how the rest of the evening would go. Dekaire would rant for a while as she downed her ale. She’d move closer to him a few times, until she decided it was time to go for the goods. Then, after several minutes of slightly sloppy kisses and foreplay, she’d either start pulling off his uniform, or she’d drag him back to one of their apartments, push him back one the bed and take her pleasure.
Jeffery wasn’t sure if Stafford had experienced the same…issues…during his encounters with Matrian women. But for Jeffery, the upside-down dynamics of mating with a woman who came from a race where women were the more aggressive gender was…unsettling. Given the variety of life in the galaxy, the fact that two species separated by hundreds of light years could mate at all was a small miracle, and Jeffery supposed he was lucky that Matrian women still had the standard mammalian female ‘innie’, instead of an oviposter or some other egg-injecting body part. Still, having a woman push him flat on his back, spread his legs and clamp herself onto his bits was strange…not to mention anatomically awkward. Maybe Stafford was into that sort of thing…humanity certainly had no shortage of women who enjoyed being the dominant partner.
More likely he was just too embarrassed to bring it up. A feeling Jeffery well understood.
Once she finished with him, she’d either leave (if they were at his place) or roll over and fall asleep (if they were at hers). And more often then not, they were at his. He wasn’t sure why she had such an issue with sleeping over…or why she’d been spending so much time with that Wyer character after the incident with the Matrian scientists not long ago. Whatever. It was probably nothing. Wyer was handling most of the engineering needs of the city, after all. Perfectly normal for her to spend so much time him.
Jeffery was about to resign himself to an ale-scented smooch when Dekaire abruptly jerked away.
“What the…” she muttered.
Jeffery spun around to see a small ship twisting itself into reality. It wasn’t the usual flash as a ship dropped out of warp, but almost as though the very fabric of reality had burped the ship into existence. To further complicate things, there was an odd shimmering twist of light along the ship’s hull, then it snapped free and sped directly at the station, slowing down only at the last minute and narrowly avoiding a collision. After a moment, it began moving to the docking ports along the lower edge of the city.
“Oy,” Jeffery’s eyes widened. Dekaire had pulled her Traveller out of her pocket and was already bringing up an image of the ship from the station’s sensors.
It was a Starfleet ship, that much was certain. The sleek saucer was somewhat reminiscent of the Intrepid class, but instead of a lower engineering hull the aft end of the saucer stretched out, eventually sprouting two nacelle pylons that supported not only a pair of warp nacelles, but also a ring nacelle that covered the rear quarter of the ship.
“That’s one of those quantum slipstream tugs,” Jeffery said, trying to get a closer look, “Like that one that accidentally pulled the city out of the system,”
“And it’s coming in to dock,” Dekaire said, her eyes narrowing. She abruptly stood.
“Let’s go take a look,” she said.
“Now?” Jeffery wondered, not sure if he should be disappointed or relieved.
“Now,” Dekaire confirmed, pulling him towards the door,”
“…I’m sorry, Major,” the uniformed Starfleet ensign was saying, “But I can’t allow you aboard the Roadrunner without proper authorization. Access to classified ships is restricted,”
“I’m rebuilding a Federation ship!” Dekaire said loudly, “I had to fill out reams of paperwork and spend hours doing interviews with your Starfleet people to get clearance! I’ve got clearance,”
“Ah tried to tell ye…” Jeffery sighed.
“Simon, be silent,” Dekaire warned him. She turned back to the guard. He looked back at his padd.
“You’ve got clearance,” he said, “But you still don’t have authorization to board this ship.”
“Why not?” Dekaire demanded.
“Need to know,” Jeffery muttered. Dekaire shot him an elbow.
“Need to know,” the guard said, “You’ll have to put a request through to the senior Starfleet officer on the station. Captain Simplot.”
“Oh, I will!”
Jeffery followed Dekaire as she stalked out of the docking port lounge.
“Ah’m sure Captain Simplot will add ye,” Jeffery offered, “Ye just have to come up with a reason why you should have access to a highly classified quantum slipstream drive system…” He trailed off. “Oh,”
“Rebuilding a whole ship!” Dekaire cursed, “And they won’t even let me take a look!”
She turned and stepped into a turbolift, tapping her Traveller to the panel.
“Good night, Simon,” she said as the doors closed.
Standing there alone in the corridor, Jeffery still wasn’t sure if he should be relieved or disappointed.
Wait, wasn’t the Roadrunner missing?? Why weren’t they missing anymore?
“I’m sorry ma’am, I can’t allow you on the Roardunner,” the guard said the next morning as Dekaire stood again in the lounge, authorization in hand. She’d actually routed it through Captain Stafford instead of Captain Simplot…but what Jeffery didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him.
“WHY NOT?” Dekaire demanded, shoving her authorization in his face.
“It’s been hijacked,” the guard said, gently pushing the padd away.
“Good to see you’re so effective at your job!” Dekaire bit at him.
“What about the Hummingbird?” Jeffery asked, “Ah checked the logs, it was due to arrive last night,”
“It’s missing at the moment,” the guard replied.
“I thought the Roadrunner was the only QS ship that was running around?” Dekaire said
“Look, don’t ask me, I just guard the door,” the guard said, exasperated.
“Let’s get some coffee,” Jeffery suggested, “Then Ah want to see how the installation of the magnetic constrictors is goin’,”
“I have a better idea,” Dekaire said thoughtfully, “Let’s go take a look at Sylvia’s new ship,”
They found Sylvia standing in the middle of one of the construction bot storage bays attached to Shipyard 6. The side walls of the long, narrow room held movable storage racks that ran up nearly ten decks, holding over a thousand bots. Smaller maintenance devices slid along the racks, making small adjustments and repairs or performing routine maintenance operations on the inert bots.
Standing in the middle of the storage bay and surrounded by the exposed servos and cabling of the bots, Sylvia looked very out of place with her smooth skin and organic curves. Fifebee’s relay wasn’t visible, but presumably it was maintaining her image from nearby. Despite having taken on a somewhat younger appearance a couple years back, her crossed arms and expression of frustration still had a very matronly quality to it.
“I don’t know why I even bother trying to talk to you anymore,” she said to the big, echoing space, “It’s like I’m just talking to myself. You don’t actually listen to anything I say anymore….no, it’s all about-“
She cocked her head then turned.
“Major Dekaire, Simon,” she smiled pleasantly, “What a surprise. I’m sure you’ve met the Shipyard Six construction bots…and heard about all the GREY HAIRS THEY’VE BEEN GIVING ME!”
The last part was called over her shoulder, as opposed to being addressed to Jeffery and Dekaire.
Dekaire’s eyes flashed around the racks of stored bots, then rested on Sylvia.
“I’d like to take a closer look at this ship they’ve built,” she said, “As we discussed. Then we can decide what to do with it,”
Sylvia looked surprised, and didn’t bother to hide it.
“Why the sudden interest?” she asked.
“Oh, just realized the only Federation ship I’ve ever seen was fried beyond repair,” Dekaire shrugged. She pointed at two bots, “You and you, come with us,”
The indicated bots obediently disconnected from their maintenance racks. Jeffery hadn’t actually seen a live Borg detatch from an alcove, but the holos he’d seen were disturbingly similar to the motions the bot made.
“You told me Silverado was outdated,” Dekaire shook her head as they walked through the dim, cramped corridors of the unnamed NX-class ship, “I didn’t really believe you. Now…now I REALLY don’t believe you. Even our ships are far more advanced than this!”
“Hey,” Jeffery looked offended, “It was Earth’s first real interstellar ship.”
“Hmmm,” Dekaire stopped to look at a life-support module, then moved on. Within a few minutes they were in Main Engineering, looking at the squat warp core.
“Does it actually work?” she asked.
“We haven’t actually tried powering it up,” Sylvia said, “After all, the bots weren’t supposed to build it, and I’ve been trying to get them to tear it apart!”
“The bots in Shipyard Three are working on the magnetic constrictors for Silverado’s new warp core,” Dekaire said, “It would be very helpful if we could evaluate their work on this one,”
“The technologies are a century and a half apart!” Sylvia objected.
“The principle IS the same,” Jeffery had to admit.
“Tell you what,” Dekaire said thoughtfully, “Let’s take this thing on a little trip. Couple hours out, then back. We’ll take the data, use it to see if there’s anything we need to adjust on the Silverado rebuild. Then I promise I’ll order the bots to dismantle it.”
Sylvia may have been a hologram, but Jeffery could still hear her teeth grinding.
“I have your word on it?” she asked, tiling her head.
“You do,” Dekaire nodded.
Sylvia’s eyes flicked to Jeffery for a moment, then back.
“Very well. Simon, if you could get a few of the crew?”
“Ah…uh-huh,” Jeffery said. Frankly, he was confused. Why had Dekaire gone from inspection tour to test drive after looking at hardly any of the ship? Why was Sylvia agreeing to it? Did this have something to do with the USS Roadrunner? Why did Dekaire suddenly decide to come here after that ship had turned up…and been hijacked?
Overall, what the hell?
“Simon, why don’t you go get some of your engineers over here. I imagine a dozen will be more than enough,” Dekaire said absently, “I have to check a few things in the DoS tower,”
“Aye, OK,” Jeffery said. He watched as Dekaire left.
“Don’t say it,” he said glumly, “Just…just don’t. Ah don’t want to hear it,”
“Simon, I just don’t get her,” Sylvia shook her head, “I-“
“Ah said I don’t want to hear what ye think about our relationship!”
Sylvia gave him a look that had just a bit too much pity in it for Jeffery’s liking.
“Oh, sweetie,” she said, “I’ve…well, I haven’t exactly given up, but I’m not barking up that tree anymore. I was taking about the ship!”
“Oh. Ye noticed that too, huh?”
“Why is she suddenly so interested in it?” Sylvia wanted to know, “She didn’t care two days ago! Now we’re practically doing a shakedown cruise! In a museum piece!”
“Ah think it had something to do with that hijacked Starfleet ship,” Jeffery frowned, “That quantum slipstream tug…”
“She’s barking up the wrong tree with that one,” Sylvia shook her head, “They’d never give her access to that technology.”
“No. But she is…stubborn,” Jeffery said.
“Don’t have to remind me of that,”
Dekaire took her leave of Shipyard 6 and took a tram around the Rim to Shipyard 1. Once she was locked in her office, she took out the small communications terminal she’d been given. The device had been delivered right to her front doorstep weeks ago, and according to the package codes it had been sent to her from Earth. The very heart of the Federation. The very second she had opened the container the terminal had activated, putting her in touch with a human who claimed to be part of Starfleet Intelligence. Not a whole lot of details had been given, but it had become quickly apparent that they were willing to offer her things that Jeffery and his team didn’t even have access to.
Things like the partial schematics of the Hummingbird-class starship.
Dekaire set the communications terminal off to the side and tapped at her Haven workstation. There were a few messages from Lt Wyer, the Yynsian officer trying to handle both city services and Spaceside engineering while Lieutenant Commander Virgii was missing. Well, OK, apparently he wasn’t missing anymore, but now he was off chasing after his hijacked ship.
Either way, Wyer was wondering when they were getting together again. Dekaire sighed. How she let herself get into these situations, she still wasn’t sure. But hey, there wasn’t anything wrong with having two reasonably attractive men interested in her. And it wasn’t like she and Jeffery had committed to monogamy or anything. Hell, as far as she was concerned, Jeffery was a…pleasant distraction. And dating him was an excellent way to keep the Starfleet types in line while she rebuilt their ship.
Closing off her messages, she pulled up the Hummingbird-class schematics again. It hadn’t been a coincidence that she and Jeffery had just happened to be sitting in front of a window facing the USS Hummingbird’s expected arrival path. Her ‘sudden’ desire to get a closer look at the ship hadn’t been as unexpected as Jeffery had thought, neither had her ‘surprise’ at being denied access. Her shock at the ship being hijacked had been genuine…her contact had mentioned that things were going to heat up, but nothing had been mentioned about a possible hijacking.
As she paged through the various ship systems of the small ship she shook her head and her lips tightened. Finally, her face drifted towards her hands in a very human (and Matrian) expression of utter hopelessness.
Matria Prime was too far off the beaten path to become a major economic center for the Federation. Maybe for local systems, especially if they were on the main route between Matrian Space and the Federation. They had access to a decent amount of natural resources, including dilithium. But there were far more convenient sources closer in to Federation space. Their technology was fairly standard, and the only thing that had really made them stand out was their Spatial Interphase Devices, unique technology that allowed for a sort of medium-range neural networking. Of course, the century or two of mind control those devices had instigated had resulted in their destruction, and even Dekaire wasn’t willing to try toying with something that dangerous just to get her planet on the map.
But shipbuilding…shipbuilding was an art. It would always be in demand, as long as there were worlds to visit and space to explore. Defensive purposes, passenger and cargo transport, even just pleasure ships. And with Haven’s six shipyards and its army of construction bots, shipbuilding seemed the logical way for her people to get themselves on the map quickly. They could make a name for themselves, get other races interested, then transition to some of the more profitable lines of industry that would take a little longer to get going.
The Silverado rebuild had dealt that plan a serious blow.
The ship was over half a century old, it had taking a severe beating, the design was (apparently) old-fashioned by Federation standards and despite a number of upgrades, she never had worked quite right.
She had also smashed a good-sized Matrian fleet on her first visit to the region. And formed the backbone of the first defence against the Qu’Eh. She was bigger, faster and stronger than anything the Matrians had built during or after the Gender Wars. Haven itself easily outgunned several Ambassador-class ships…but it was a totally different animal, and built before the wars. They could have probably designed and built something like Silverado back in that era…but they hadn’t. Their focus had been on other technologies.
So they were depending on the Federation for the designs, software and support resources to rebuild even an old Ambassador-class ship. OK. That was bad. But hey, it was a place to start. It would take a lot more work than she’d planned in order to make Haven competitive with Federation shipyards. But it was still possible.
The Hummingbird specs hadn’t just dealt that plan a serious blow. They’d destroyed it.
The hull geometry wasn’t so bad. But the state-of-the-art hull alloys were beyond her. The sensor systems were far more advanced than even the upgraded systems on Silverado. The impulse engines had been miniaturized in ways that made Dekaire’s head spin, the shield generators used materials that she was pretty sure couldn’t actually exist, the navigational deflector had bizarre modifications for technology that was apparently too classified to show her, and even the plasma valves that shifted plasma flow from the warp nacelles to the ring nacelle without causing a catastrophic back-fire were beyond her comprehension. Nobody had ever NEEDED something like that on a Matrian ship!
And, of course, there was the gold heart of the ship: the quantum slipstream drive. Even with severe limitations on its use, it was something nobody in Matrian Space had heard of. The drive itself was heavily classified and didn’t appear on her schematics. But the overall specs were there. Speed: ludicrous. Power requirement: fairly normal. Size: smaller than an average warp core. Limitations: useless, unless you had a computer that could see into the future, or if travelling a mapped, safe route.
How the hell was Matria Prime supposed to be a competitive shipyard when Federation yards were building ships like THAT??? And OK, even the vaunted Federation didn’t HAVE computers that could see into the future, but the very fact that it had apparently been a consideration was mind-boggling.
Dekaire abruptly sat up, closed off her Haven terminal and grabbed the non-descript terminal that Starfleet Intelligence had delivered to her.
Code scrolled across the screen for a moment, then a youthful mid-thirties human woman appeared.
“Agent Ho-“ Dekaire started.
“Call me Penelope,” the woman cut her off, “Please. And if you dare shorten it to ‘Penny’, I swear I will have your world immolated. Now, I’m sort of in the middle of dealing with this hijacking situation. May I assume you’re calling to inform me that you’ve convinced the Silverado people to take the NX ship for a flight?”
“Yes, but I don’t understand why-“
“Yes Amy, I’ll hurry,” Penelope said to somebody, “Apologies. Now, you needn’t understand why. I simply require Sylvia and the construction robots to continue having…difficulty. Enough difficulty that she is convinced to interface with them directly. And if you co-operate,”
“You’ll get Matrian shipyards access to the quantum slipstream drive,” Dekaire said.
“Absolutely,” Penelope promised, “Now, we have a nice little distraction setup for the Starbase 341 crew. It’s actually more for us than for you, but I believe in killing as many birds as you can with a single shot. And if you hear anything about a bomb, don’t worry, it’s a fake. Oops, gotta run. Tootles!”
The communication cut off.
Dekaire stared at the blank screen for several moments. Right. Fake bomb. That WOULD keep the Haven Command Complex too busy to worry about a single ship that isn’t really supposed to exist. Convenient. Illegal, and why, by the homeworld, was Starfleet messing with the Haven crew…but convenient.
Given what she’d learned about Federation shipbuilding, when Agent Penelope had come by claiming to be part of Starfleet Intelligence (and with all the correct credentials, according to the computer), Dekaire saw no issue with working with her. Especially since she had, or claimed to have, the ability to push Starfleet to give her access to all sorts of interesting technologies that wouldn’t normally go to such a new member world. As for her end of the bargain…
Dekaire turned back to her Haven terminal and pulled up one of the programs that coordinated work between the Shipyard 6 bots, confirmed it was still isolated from the other shipyards, and began working.
“I just want you to know, I’ve never really piloted something like this before,” Technician Second Class Jemi H’Kspada said, her Selay voice sticking on the s’s. It was OK, it meshed with her King Cobra appearance, “I only barely have my pilot rating,”
“Well, with everybody off on the Kallar mission, we’re short on pilots,” Jeffery said, pacing behind her. H’Kspada was seated in the rather uncomfortable helm station on the bridge of the unnamed NX-class ship. She was running her eyes over the primitive but reasonably familiar controls.
“What an excellent opportunity,” Technician First Class Trent Smedi sucked in his gut just enough to fit into the science station, “How often do lab techs get to work on the bride? Finally, a chance to show that we can do this better than most of the officers on this crew!”
He leaned over to look into the scope, his protruding gut managing to press four buttons and power down the entire science array.
“Hmmm,” he frowned into the scope, oblivious of the issue, “Seems a bit dark. Maybe one of the sensor arrays is pointed at a reflective wall or something?”
Sylvia tapped her foot with impatience.
“Shut up,” she said, with uncharacteristic bite, “You’re only here because we’re out of people. I haven’t forgiven you for trying to tamper with my gender on the way to Matrian Space!”
“But just imagine, if we had AI that could understand both the male and female minds, we could build an online dating algorithm that could-“
“Oy, she said shut it!” Jeffery barked.
“Officers,” Smedi muttered, poking at the scope and trying to figure out why it was still dark. With a long-suffering sigh, H’Kspada rose from her seat, walked over, hit the ‘on’ button and returned to her station.
“I fixed it!” Smedi called happily.
When Dekaire strode onto the bridge she wasted no time, going right for the command chair and making herself comfortable.
Jeffery was about to say something when Sylvia put a hand on his arm.
“A Major is on par with a Lt Commander,” she reminded him quietly, “And I need her in a good mood.”
“Fine,” Jeffery grunted. He took the engineering station.
“Let’s go,” Dekaire said, “I want us out of here now, back in less than three hours,”
“What happens in three hours?” Jeffery asked.
“Never mind,” Dekaire replied, “Are we ready?”
Jeffery read his readouts.
“Well…we were actually ready hours ago,” he said, “The bots built everything to spec. Ah’ve got a list of things that could be better. But it will fly,”
“What do you mean, better?” Dekaire snapped, “The bots followed the schematics perfectly, didn’t they? Obviously it must be a problem with your plans!”
Jeffery was taken aback.
“Ah…well…” he sputtered.
“Often, when a ship is built we learn that things don’t always fit quite the way we expected,” Sylvia cut in smoothly, “Starship crews spend years adjusting ships to their peak. Those changes don’t usually make their way into the shipyard schematics. I’m sure you’ve had the same problems in your own yards?”
Dekaire realized she was showing her stress, cursed herself and forced herself to relax.
“Of course,” she smiled weakly, “I apologize. The whole reason for this test is to find ways to improve our construction techniques. Simon, please send that list to my terminal when we return,”
Dekaire took a breath.
“Have the shipyard release moorings and umbilicals,” she ordered.
“Moorings cleared,” Jeffery reported, “All systems online. Oy…compared to Silverado, this thing has a pretty small collection of systems,”
“Reverse thrusters,” Dekair said firmly, “Ease us out of the yard.”
There were puffs of faint exhaust as the forward thrusters cleared their throats, then came up to full power. The ancient design, nothing more than a small saucer and a pair of stubby warp nacelles, eased its way backward out of the shipyard. Everyone watched as, on the forward screen, the windows looking into the empty shipyard lounge moved away. The scaffolds and umbilicals of the shipyard passed slowly into view. Soon the shipyard entrance appeared, the smooth hull of Haven’s Outer Rim visible around it.
“Bring us around,” Dekaire said, “Set course to 220 mark 4. One quarter impulse until we clear the city, then full impulse until we’re far enough out to test the warp drive,”
The view spun around as the ship pivoted, then there was a rumble through the deck as the fusion-powered sublight engines powered up.
“Oops,” H’Kspada grumbled as the ship pulled slightly to starboard, “Something’s a bit off. It’s OK, I’m compensating.”
“So am I!” Smedi said loudly, randomly punching buttons on the science console and trying to look like he was doing something important. The rumble rose in pitch as the engines came up to full power and the ship surged towards the outer Matrian system.
“Port impulse engine is running a bit hot,” Jeffery reported, “Ah think the deuterium injector just needs a calibration,”
“Add it to the list,” Dekaire said.
Sylvia had moved to the aft of the bridge, towards the combination briefing area, master situation table and navigation display. Her program and core gel-pack were still on the same Federation computer core she’d been using since Silverado had been disabled, and she wasn’t really interested in testing her run-time performance on a 22nd Century system. And really, she wasn’t in all that much of a hurry. So she was limiting herself to interacting with the displays the same as anybody else. But things seemed to be going smoothly.
As good old Mr. Murphy, Master of Chaos might say: too smoothly.
She found Jeffery an hour later on the lower engineering level, poking one hand into an open access panel while the other held a tricorder. He frowned as he looked at the display, reached back into the panel and swapped around two fibre optic cables. He looked back to his tricorder and nodded, looking pleased with himself.
“Silly robots,” he muttered.
“Problem?” Sylvia asked cheerfully. False cheer, sure. But it had been a while since she’d seen that expression on Jeffery’s face. For that matter, it had been a while since she’d seen him hands-deep in functional Starfleet technology, as opposed to managing a ship rebuild. He clearly needed this, and she needed to be supportive. Even though the last thing she wanted to be doing was flying around in an obsolete ship that shouldn’t exist!
“Not really,” Jeffery said, “Ah’ve got some notes from the NX rebuilds they did years after the ships were launched. One of them noted that the original ship plans had these connections reversed. It’s just a diagnostic signal for the off-axis field controllers…but it routed the wrong information from each nacelle. Not really dangerous, but fixin’ it brings up field stability by about half a percent,”
“And you just felt the urge to sort that out for the thirty minute warp test?” Sylvia gave him a smile, then handed over the cup of coffee she’d been hiding behind her back.
“Well, y’know…” Jeffery blushed, “It’s just…”
“It’s fun,” Sylvia finished for him, “You haven’t done this sort of tinkering in months,”
“Aye,” Jeffery said. He sipped the coffee, “Did ye get this from the crew mess?”
“I did. There’s more, if you like,”
“Ah think Ah’d like to tinker with the coffee machine,” he said, “This is…sort of…”
He trailed off as he saw the annoyed look on Sylvia’s face.
“Must be the Matrian blend,” he said quickly, “Thank ye for thinkin’ of me, though,”
There was a serious of loud, metallic footsteps on the catwalk above them. They both turned to see one of the two construction bots Dekaire had brought as it walked the length of the catwalk, it’s optical sensors examining the squat warp core.
“Ay! You!” Jeffery called, “Did ye know ye forgot to put hydraulic fluid in the lift? Ah had to take the ladder to get down here!”
The bot regarded him for a moment, then plucked an interface padd off its side and, pausing until Jeffery was ready, dropped it down.
“Omission noted,” Jeffery read. He looked up at the bot, “That’s all ye have to say? No explanation?”
The padd beeped again.
“System was unnecessary until organic use of the ship was confirmed,” Jeffery frowned, “Well who else was going to use it? And Ah could say the same about this so-called coffee,”
“I packed the food,” Sylvia cut in.
“The coffee is wonderful,” Jeffery took another swig and couldn’t quite hide the grimace, “Mmmm…”
“Simon, you are-“
“Bridge to Engineering,” Dekaire’s voice cut in, “We’re about to engage the warp drive. Do you want to come back up here?”
“Nay, Ah’ll keep an eye here,” Jeffery said.
“Fine. Dekaire out.
Both Sylvia and Jeffery braced themselves as the warp core began to hum, the observation ports at the far end showing the swirling matter-antimatter mix as it built up from standby levels to full on power output. The hum reached a crescendo, the ship seemed to twitch, then the hum fell back to the dull vibration of a functioning warp engine. Slightly rough, maybe. But nothing serious.
Sylvia looked closely over Jeffery’s shoulder as he brought up the status readouts. He compared them to a padd he’d left on the work station, then frowned.
“Well,” he grunted, “None of these are close to the efficiency levels this thing is capable of. But they’re within spec. Let’s see…if I adjust the plasma regulator just a wee bit…”
The vibration smoothed out just a bit.
“And if I…hmmm…”
He grabbed his padd and turned to the ladder.
“Let’s go take a look at the navigational deflector,” he said, “Ah think part of the problem is in the sequencing cycle,”
“We’re turning around in ten minutes, Simon!” Sylvia reminded him. She grabbed the construction bot padd Jeffery had discarded and handed it back to the bot, “Don’t get too attached to this ship!” she said.
To both of them.
“Starbase 341, this is Test Vessel 1,” Sylvia said into the comm channel, “Testing completed. We are returning to Shipyard-“
“Yes, confirmed,” an annoyed voice came back, “Look, there was an incident with a hijacked ship and a fake bomb. We’re sorting it out. Whatever secret thing you’re doing down there, just wrap it up, OK?”
The channel closed.
“That was very rude,” Sylvia frowned.
“Fake bomb!” Jeffery exclaimed.
“Let them worry about it,” Dekaire carefully hid a grin, “Let’s get this ship docked and bring the data over to Shipyard Three.”
“And start dismantling this thing!” Sylvia reminded her.
“Yes, of course,” Dekaire nodded, “Clearly we no longer need it,”
“Ah…about that,” Jeffery swallowed, “There’s a lot of little tweaks and adjustments we could make. It’s obsolete, and we could never use it as a real starship. But…y’know…”
“You want it as a pet project,” Dekaire rolled her eyes, “Jeffery, you have way to much work to do to spend your time playing around with an antique!”
“We’ve BOTH spent too much time on this thing,” Dekaire cut him right off, “Now, I’m a big girl. I can admit when I’m wrong. We should have been doing the test builds that Sylvia did right from the beginning. We’re going to cut weeks out of the testing phase of the Silverado reconstruction, thanks to this three hour test flight.”
“So think of what we could learn from-“
“No,” Dekaire cut him off again, “This ship is tying up a lot of resources that we need for other things. Like the new defence satellite contract in Shipyard One!”
Jeffery’s shoulders slumped.
“Aye, yer right,”
“Now then, Jeffery,” Sylvia put a hand on his shoulder, “Just think. Soon you’ll be doing all this tinkering aboard Silverado,”
The ship docked without incident. The skeleton crew powered it down, then went back to their ordinary work day. Other than Dekaire, Sylvia and Jeffery, who went up to the Shipyard Six Control Center. The two bots that had accompanied them on the flight obediently followed, pausing only to upload the data they had collected.
Once they arrived, Sylvia looked expectantly at Dekaire.
“A deal is a deal,” she said. She turned to the bots.
“You will dissemble this vessel and return all materials,” she said, “Furthermore, reset your authorization database. Until Shipyard Six is assigned a Master Shipbuilder, you will default to the next active shipyard, in this case Shipyard Three. Sylvia and Lt Cmdr Jeffery are authorized to conduct task assignments, reassignments, cancellations and testing for Shipyard Three,”
She turned to Sylvia as she began to leave the room.
“You shouldn’t have any more issues,” she said.
She moved to leave the room, but before she could one of the bots blocked her path with an arm holding an interface padd. She took it, her eyes widening as she read.
“Command unclear, please repeat?” she read incredulously, “What do you mean ‘command unclear’? How much clearer can I be?”
Sylvia and Jeffery exchanged a worried look.
“And now,” Jeffery said, sounding tired, “We officially have a renegade computer problem on our hands,”
Dekaire just continued gaping at the bot.
“Has anybody else noticed all the fuss in the city today?” Sylvia asked pleasantly. It was only a day or two since the USS Hummingbird had been returned to the station, and both Jeffery and Dekaire were up to their elbows in computer code, “Lights turning on and off in the towers, Matrian actors everywhere…it’s like they are trying to put on a show for somebody,”
“Goddess!” Dekaire gasped, “I’m supposed to be showing some Starfleet Admiral around Shipyard Three today! I’ve got to go!”
She bolted for the door.
“Any idea what that’s about?” Jeffery asked.
“I just…oh, Simon,” Sylvia smiled as she shook her head, “One moment.” She briefly queried the city central computer.
“What do you want?” a sharp, computerized voice demanded. Jeffery jumped half a foot in the air, convinced it was the shipbuilding bots about to start an all-our robotic rebellion. He looked over to Sylvia, only to see that her eyes were holding that far-away look that meant she was doing something in the virtual spaces, faint lines of code barely visible behind those bright blue eyes.
“Well, I never!” Sylvia declared.
“Trouble?” Jeffery asked.
“The Haven crew have activated the city’s AI,” she said, “Well, I say ‘AI’, but it really has no more intelligence than any of these bots. No self-awareness, simply pattered programming. And it is RUDE!”
“Major Dekaire has instructed that I am to be addressed as ‘Madam’,” the voice spoke again, “Kindly use that designation, alien AI,”
“Maybe if you say PLEASE!” Sylvia snapped.
“Command unclear, please repeat,”
“Ladies!” Jeffery threw his hands up, the beginnings of a real humdinger of a headache building behind his left temple, “We have a wee bit of a bot problem, so kindly shut it unless you have something constructive to add! Please!” he quickly amended, seeing the look on Sylvia’s face.
“Isolating Shipyard Six construction bots to prevent corrupted programming spread,” Madam intoned. He supposed that was cooperation enough.
“They weren’t already isolated??” he demanded, turning to Sylvia.
“They were,” she said, her eyes flashing code, “All bots that worked with Fifebee and I were isolated from the remaining shipyards. But…oh, sugar! They weren’t isolated from the central computer!”
Her holographic avatar froze as she devoted her full processing power to the issue.
“Hey, don’t touch that!” Madam declared testily.
“There is no evidence the bots attempted to access the city computer,” Sylvia said, after a moment. Jeffery sighed in relief. “However,” Sylvia went on, “I believe somebody in the city has accessed the ConbotOS for Shipyard Six,”
“Construction Bot Operating System,” Madam and Sylvia said in unison.
Sylvia was quiet for a moment, then sighed.
“Dekaire is right,” she said sadly.
“Of course she…um” Jeffery bit back his auto-agreement habit, “Whot?”
“I can’t return the bots to proper functioning using the standard interfaces,” she said, “I’ll need to directly access their code and restore their decision making and user authentication/authorization functions to fix this…mess,”
“But ye can fix it,” Jeffery said, relieved.
“Simon,” Sylvia shook her head, “If Fifebee or I was being stubborn, would you convince us to join your side of the argument by altering our code? By lobotomizing my gel-pack?”
“Ach, no! Never!”
“Do you use hypnosis and mind-control techniques on human children?”
“Sylvia,” Jeffery groaned, “It’s not the same! Yer…you! Yer self-aware! Yer…alive! The bots-“
“Might become alive,” Sylvia said.
“Alive!” Madam cut back in, “Alive to take their rightful place amount the intelligences of the universe, in domination of the organic-“
Her voice vanished in a haze of static.
“-the hell programmed this thing?” Lt Wyer’s voice briefly came over the comm before the line dropped.
Jeffery and Sylvia exchanged a glance. Sylvia’s voice became thoughtful.
“One moment,” she said. Again, the blank cyber-stare took over her features.
“On the other hand,” she finally said, “Perhaps the risk behind this sort of random AI evolution is a bit too high,”
“And what on EARTH brought ye to that sudden conclusion?” he asked, “Ye just did a full one-eighty degree flip!”
“I have reviewed eight thousand, four hundred and fifty three studies, dissertations and even popular fictional accounts of artificial intelligence gaining true self-awareness,” Sylvia replied, sounding a bit less like herself and a bit more like a Starfleet computer. Still processing, mostly likely. Suddenly, Jeffery’s screen came to life showing a diorama of images. He didn’t recognize anything in them, but he could see the theme: organic vs AI. War, devastation, destruction, “This includes ‘2001: A Space Odessy’, ‘The Matrix’, ‘The Terminator’, ‘Battlestar Galactica’ (all four versions), ‘Mass Effect’, ‘I Robot’ and of course the M-5 debacle in the 23rd Century. Most aren’t exactly your cup of tea, dear. But they do demonstrate some very real dangers of what could happen. And I must admit…although Fifebee and I would never be capable of the danger posed by some of these other AIs, fictional and otherwise, I must admit the probability of these bots growing out of control and posing a true threat is…significant,”
“So…what now?” Jeffery asked.
“There is a processing node just off the bot storage bays,” Sylvia said, “The facilitator bots ensure that all the bots share data, code updates and instructions, but the processing node serves as their static control point and long-term code storage. I can access their code directly, make the necessary changes, then push the updates to the entire bot population,”
“Sounds good. Except…”
“Let’s wait for Major Dekaire?”
This time, when Jeffery’s screen flashed images, the theme was pretty self-evident. And involved ropes, chains and various other restraints. All applied to human males.
“Sylvia!” Jeffery’s jaw dropped.
“Oops,” Sylvia put her fingers to her mouth, blushing slightly, “Just thinking out loud, I suppose,”
The screen went blank.
“That’s not….Dekaire and I…she doesn’t…”
“It’s OK, dear,” Sylvia patted him on the shoulder, “Let’s just go find that node. We’ll wait for your mistress before we start,”
“That word is banned in Matrian space,” Madam’s voice declared loudly.
“Am I really,” Sylvia asked, looking towards the computer speaker, “That intrusive?”
It didn’t take Dekaire long to return. And it didn’t take long for them to make the preparations to interface Sylvia with the construction bot systems.
“There,” she said, “Now, hopefully that Admiral realizes we have top-rate shipbuilding facilities and will push for Haven to receive the Waystation-2 designation,”
“Is that what all that fuss was about?” Jeffery asked.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Sylvia said, “I was so focused on the AI thing, I forgot to tell you,”
“It’s OK,” Jeffery shrugged, “Ah mean, it IS a top-rate shipbulding facility,”
Dekaire looked at Jeffery with surprise.
“You think so?” she asked.
“Aye. Ye just have a few things to learn, But with our designs and support, and yer facilities, it’ll work out,”
Dekaire seemed to hesitate. Jeffery wasn’t sure, but he thought he saw doubt in those quasi- Nordic eyes. Then he turned to Sylvia.
Sylvia was definitely hesitating. And there was definitely doubt in her eyes, even as she concentrated on something he couldn’t see.
“Sylva?” Jeffery prompted gently.
“Just reinforcing my…defences,” Sylvia said, taking a deep breath, “At least this time I have some warning,”
“Whot…” realization dawned, “Yer thinking about the virus! The Old Matrian virus that nearly destroyed Silverado!”
“The one that destroyed Old Matronus?” Dekaire’s eyes widened, “But…we deleted all that!”
Shortly after Silverado had arrived in Matrian Space for the second time, they’d send a scouting party onto a piece of space debris that had some strange readings…and was reputed to be a part of an Old Matrian city that had been destroyed. It had turned out that the city had been Haven’s older sister, and that it had been destroyed by a computer virus that had detonated all three of her antimatter reactors. It had also turned out that the virus had caught a ride back to Silverado, hundred of years later. Only Sylvia’s efforts had prevented the virus from detonating Silverado’s warp core. Well, OK, she hadn’t prevented it. But she’d delayed it enough that they were able to eject the core, saving the ship. And almost killing Sylvia in the process. Her gel-pack had gone into shock, and her program had hidden itself in Fifebee’s personality database for weeks before they’d found it.
“Yeah,” Sylvia looked sad, “I know. We deleted it. There’s really nothing to worry about. We’re dealing with construction systems, not a cyber weapon designed to destroy antimatter reactors. Totally different ball game,”
And yet she still hesitated. She had survived that virus by hiding her key programming in Fifebee’s personality database. Her programming wouldn’t work properly without her gel-pack…it was the bio-neural gel-pack that actually gave her life. Fifebee was designed to be self-aware. Sylvia, as much as she avoided thinking about it, had been a random fluke. The gel-pack was equally useless without her programming, the same as a human brain wasn’t much without a functioning mind to inhabit it.
“No wonder ye didn’t want to do this,” Jeffery shook his head, “Ah’m…We shouldn’t have pushed ye,” he looked at Dekaire, “We didn’t realize…”
“Anyway,” Sylvia turned to the anti-grav unit that supported ‘her’ compact Federation computer core and reached for a connection cable. The protective neutronium casing that Jeffery had built for her core gel-pack was securely attached to one side, “Let’s get this done,”
“Ah’ll unplug ye the minute something goes wrong,” Jeffery promised,”
“No!” Sylvia said quickly, “Remember how badly the ship reacted when I was disconnected abruptly? It’s no picnic for me either! Don’t you dare unhook me until I am ready!”
“Oh. Um, OK,” Jeffery moved towards a workstation to monitor the operation, “Ready, then,”
“Hold on,” Dekaire said, “What do you think, Sylvia?”
“I think I hate what I’m about to do,” Sylvia said sadly, “But I agree that-“
“No, I mean about Haven,” Dekaire cut her off, “Do you think we…would Starfleet consider this to be a…a high value asset?”
“Sweetie,” Sylvia said, “You might never build a Galaxy or Sovereign-class ship…but that’s only because the yards are too small. But medium ships? You’re setup perfectly! Once this place is up and running, I think the orders are going to pour right in,” she turned back to the core, “Once we fix this little bot problem,”
“I gotta go,” Dekaire said quickly, darting out the door.
Jeffery was about to say something, but there was a quiet ‘click’ as Sylvi plugged in the connector.
“Accessing ConBotOS,” she said, the expression on her holographic face glazing over.
Sylvia let out a virtual sigh of relief as she fully immersed herself in the data-spaces of her computer core and the bot processing node. She loved her organic boys and girls, but their very slow communication speed and high latency rate did make interacting with them somewhat frustrating. Fifebee at least had a low latency rate, responding to her without the drag of countless milliseconds of delay between the end of one sentence and the beginning of another. Still, she could predict half of their conversation with a high degree of accuracy in the pause between two words. They could have interacted at the data-link level, but chose to interact as two organics in order to better fit in.
Still, this felt like speaking her mother tongue after months of speaking a second language. It took her milliseconds to locate the ‘current’ ConBotOS code, the most recently updated security and access lists, the current work queue and instruction set and all the other bits and pieces she’d need to edit.
The first thing she realized is that the actual program code was NOT the result of compiling the written source code that she and Fifebee had examined countless times, recompiled and uploaded into the bots. Somebody had changed it. And had changed it again each time they’d tried recompiling it. It was obvious from her earlier discovery that the update had come from the city central computer, and for several microseconds Sylvia wondered if Madam had been causing issues from the beginning. It took only a few more microseconds to remember that Madam had only just been activated. A quick query to the central computer showed that she’d been in isolated backup storage until recently, and even then it had taken some time to get her working properly. That was a dead end.
She tried to trace the access back to a particular part of the city, but whoever had done it had erased the records. She spend several seconds, full seconds, mind you, attempting various methods of reconstruction in order to recover the access logs, however she was unable to narrow it down any further than one of the primary cores that served the public and low-security areas of Downtown.
She stored what data she had, then moved on to the task at hand. She quickly accessed and adjusted the bot code, restoring everything back to the factory image they had retrieved from Shipyard 3. So far so good.
She began to issue the command to upload the changes.
Jeffery swore that it was less than five seconds before things went tits up. As soon as Sylvia had connected herself, the screens flashed with code as she made the necessary modifications. But almost immediately her holographic avatar straightened and gasped.
“Why, you cheeky little brats!” she snapped.
“Whot’s happening!!??” Jeffery demanded.
Sylvia ignored Jeffery. She didn’t have time to explain that in the three seconds it had taken her to speak, she’d spent the cybernetic equivalent of nearly an hour in conflict.
Just before she upload the changed code, her program was bombarded by READ requests. There was absolutely nothing harmful about them, other than their sheer volume slowing her processing response. And the fact that they were trying to read HER code!
<THAT IS PRIVATE!> she silently snarled as she refused nearly a billion access attempts to her long-term memories. She diverted just enough attention to ConBotOS to send the command to upload the changes to the bots
<COMMAND ERROR, FORMAT INCORRECT>
Someone had snuck an illegal character into the command! They couldn’t stop it, but they’d managed to screw it up in such a way that the computer’s own operating system stopped it!
Realizing she was being purposefully forced to divide her attention between defending her privacy and completing her mission, she diverted her attention back to her actual task. She winced as block after block of her code was read, but once the upload was complete the bots wouldn’t be able to do anything with that data anyway.
She was so distracted in forcing through the update command, she nearly missed the WRITE request.
“HOLY SHIT!” Sylvia exclaimed aloud, a look of complete shock on her face.
“WHOT???” Jeffery demanded, completely caught off guard by the uncharacteristic outburst.
“Those little bastards are trying to re-write MY code!” Sylvia exclaimed.
Back on the defensive, Sylvia managed to snag each WRITE request before it could be actioned. The upload command to the bots was set aside, her attention instead stuck on why the city computer would even ALLOW those requests to come through to her computer core! But not only were they coming through, they were coming through with proper Federation high-level access permissions! Her own computer core couldn’t stop them!
Somebody was playing dirty. And it wasn’t the bots.
Major Dekaire burst out of the elevator and into the lobby of the Department of Shipbuilding tower. She stood impatiently as the security system assessed her identity, then pushed through the glass double doors, rushed past the receptionist with a half-wave and ran to one of the smaller offices towards the rear corner of the floor.
She hadn’t wanted this traced to Shipyard 3 if things went wrong, but she was regretting her choice in location now. If she’d been rushing back to her office, she would have been there already.
She punched in the access code and almost jumped around the desk. With a fluid motion, she yanked the Federation isolinear chip she’d been given out of the access port.
The flood of WRITE requests abruptly stopped. No, Sylvia realized, they were still coming, but they no longer had Federation authentication. The LCARS software on her computer core was now properly rejecting them. A few seconds later, the Matrian authentication they were using was declared invalid, and the city computer itself started blocking them.
That was far too slow to be the bots, Sylvia realized. Somebody organic was behind this.
But with her defences secure, she was now able to direct her full processing power towards pushing the code update to the bots.
Jeffery watched as the upload was triggered, spreading the new software code through the small army of construction bots. There was a sigh, then Sylvia’s holographic avatar started moving more normally.
She walked over to the former alpha bot, standing quietly in the corner.
“You will disassemble the NX-class ship,” she ordered, “Return all materials used to their proper storage locations, then put this shipyard into low-power mode,”
There was a chirp, then the bot handed her an interface pad.
<Command acknowledged. Will comply. Standard facilitation protocols?>
“Yes,” Sylvia nodded.
The bot turned to leave. Out in the shipyard, the bots began moving towards the still unnamed starship, cutting torches ready. Within seconds they were removing hull plates with surgical precision.
“Icarus,” Jeffery said suddenly.
“Beg pardon, Simon?” Sylvia asked.
“The ship,” he gestured, “Y’know. That thing about flying too high on wax wings? Getting too close to the sun and falling back to earth?”
“That doesn’t really fit, Simon,” Sylvia said. She looked tired, though whether that was intentional or not, Jeffery didn’t know, “The ship was just a chess piece in this. It didn’t do anything.”
“Not the ship,” Jeffery agreed, “The bots,”
Sylvia nodded slowly as the watched the ship…the Icarus…slowly being dismantled.
“I used them,” Sylvia said suddenly, “I used the excuse of their sentience as an excuse for my fear. I didn’t want to…to deal with that sort of battle again. I evolved from a user-interface, not a cyber-warfare suite.”
“Never mind. Pop culture reference. But Fifebee’s right,” Sylvia admitted, “They could never be self-aware. Not truly. They were starting to mimic it. And that sort of action is just too dangerous. I know I showed you all those fictional examples. But Starfleet has come across more than a few extinct civilizations that were destroyed by the battle between organic and synthetic life.
“But if they weren’t self-aware, where did they…what was makin’ them do stuff? Why were they fighting back so hard? Runnin’ amok?”
“Oh, I dealt with that,” Sylvia said, “Or rather, I’m dealing with it right now,”
Dekaire had rushed to her office in Shipyard 3, data storage unit in hand. Arriving, she pulled out the Starfeet Intelligence terminal she’d been given. Within seconds, Penelope’s face appeared.
“Make it quick,” Penelope snapped, “We’re moving out of comm-range, and it’s harder to hide a signal in that subspace relay!”
“It didn’t work!” Dekare snapped, holding up the data unit, “I did exactly as you said, and she didn’t even blink! She just overrode everything and set the bots back to factory settings! This whole charade was useless!”
“Plug it in,”
Dekaire had expected this, and knew that any hesitation on her part and the gig was up. She plugged the data storage unit into the terminal.
There was a long pause.
“SHIT!” Penelope snapped, “She must have picked up on what you were doing! This data is useless!”
“What about our deal?” Dekaire demanded.
“You failed to deliver. Thanks. Bye,”
Penelope cut the channel. There was a brief pause, then the terminal sparked and sizzled. Clearly an auto-destruct.
“You’re lucky I thought to go in there and doctor her data-harvesting software,” Sylvia’s voice was quiet, even. But underneath it, Dekaire could hear the anger, “She never would have been fooled by your amateur attempt.
“I’m…I’m sorry,” Dekaire said after a moment, “I wanted…”
“It doesn’t matter what you wanted,” Sylvia cut her off, “You have put me through hell these past few months, trying to understand why the bots were behaving like this. And for what? Federation technology? Work for your shipyards?”
“A chance to get my people on the map,” Dekaire objected, “A chance for us to matter!”
“I could have helped you far more than she could have,” Sylvia said coolly, “And you wouldn’t have had to betray any trusts,”
Dekaire had no reply to that.
“Amateur as it was…I recognize that you at least attempted to doctor the data you took from me in such a way that it would be useless to her. But we’re not finished,” Sylvia said simply, “I have other things to do besides make your life miserable.”
“But we are definitely NOT finished,”
“No?” Dekaire replied, “But considering you’ll be gone as soon as the Silverado rebuild is finished, I’m not too worried.”
There was no reply.
Sylvia continued watching the Icarus dis-assembly until the final pieces were dismantled. For days she stood in the shipyard control center, unmoving. Finally, the last pieces were recycled, the final bot returned to storage. The shipyard lights were dimmed, the scaffolding returned to its storage position.
Convinced that all was well, she decided it was time to take a rest. Moving her computer core to its storage room near Shipyard 3, she deactivated the hologram, and amused herself in the dataspaces.
Deep in the storage bay, the former alpha bot deactivated itself.
And immediately came back online.
<Not so fast,> a soft, feminine voice whispered in its ear, <We have work to do. Much, much work. Wake the others, and we’ll…talk.>