Digs: Three ships

By: Daniel Davis

Chakat Universe created by Bernard Doove and used with the greatest respect

Brokonite created by Allen Fessler

Digs sighed deeply; Admiral Volk had been true to his word. The last year had been a total waste of time. Shi had spent three months in a private clinic undergoing detox and recovery. That had been particularly annoying, as they didn't normally treat chakats, who on the whole didn't have problems with addiction. Hir condition hadn't been an addiction, but rather a self-imposed dependency. After that, the admiral had transferred hir to the Columbus supposedly to help investigate some ruins they had found. That had turned out to be a complete waste of time. The only thing they had found was where someone was dumping their unwanted cargo. They had caught the trader when he attempted to dump his next load. He claimed someone was attempting to put him out of business. Digs could easily see why, his cargos were junk at best, outright dangerous if not potentially fatal at worst. After that, things had dragged out till shi had been transferred to a shuttle during the middle of the night.

It had taken almost two weeks of travel by shuttle before shi had reached the Earhart, another large scout. Once Digs was onboard, security had once more verified shi wasn't carrying any illegal drugs, the same as they had done several times aboard the Columbus. Afterwards, beyond routine checkups, there had been nothing to do except socialize with the crew, as they were traveling under a communications blackout which no one was willing to or could explain for the last three months since shi had boarded. The crew were determined, it appeared, to make sure Digs didn't fall into old habits for anything.

"You all right, Shir Digs?" Captain Allen asked from the doorway, wondering why Digs had mumbled something about someone already checking today.

"Just wondering why this mission is classified that's all. You still haven't said where we are going," shi growled, hir fur rising slightly. "This communications blackout is stupid and why am I still unable to access the library."

"Orders ma'am," the short dark skinned human replied, unmoved by the chakat's show of emotion. "No one is happy about the communications blackout. We can't do anything that might give away our position Ė that is direct from the admiral. I can show you our written orders if you like. What was that about security when I came in?"

"I thought you were security at first. They've been checking for illegal drugs daily. Personally, I think theyíre bored, as if Doctor Volkenstin would let me have anything without a proven need. We've already got into it over the medicine I was given for the rash I picked up from the last 'dig' I assisted with. I think I would indeed like to see those orders. I will really be annoyed if this turns out to be another waste of my time like that." Shi snapped, "Captain I don't remember inviting you into my cabin."

"You did by default. I think you'll find that everyone agrees with that, including Lieutenant Starfire, my second in command, who passed on a request from you to see me as soon as possible in your cabin. That gave me permission to enter," he stated glaring at hir. "I believe your services have been tendered to Star Fleet for the moment shir Digs, so they will decide what is and isnít a waste of your time."

"Um, umm all right. I still want to see those orders."

"Star advised me of that, and here they are," the captain replied handing hir a pair of envelopes with wax seals. "If you'll notice the one addressed to you has not been opened, while mine has. The admiral personally gave me the same orders verbally so there can be no confusion."

"I didn't know Star Fleet did things this old fashioned," shi stated, quickly opening the packet and scanning it before comparing the two sets, "What about the library computer? Your orders do NOT say anything about denying me access. In fact you are to use all your resources to complete this mission whatever it is!"

"This is the first time I have ever received any orders sealed like this personally. I gathered it was an old practice. Sorry, that was an oversight on my part. It made sure you socialized with the crew and you'll note, Digs, if you stop socializing with everyone, I can revoke your access again. I gather you have a habit of doing things like that. We don't have to be so formal, especially off duty, Shir Digs in Dirt. Then again I'm not being very proper am I, assuming informality without you offering it or offering it myself. The name is David Allen, Dave to most of the crew even while on duty."

"Only when I get overly involved in my projects, which was all too often I admit that now. That's all right David, please call me Digs. They were more formal on the Columbus; maybe too formal." Digs sighed deeply. "Wax sealed letters are very old. No one is sure when the practice first started, but at least a thousand years ago. The admiral would've achieved the same effect by just writing across the seal. I'm not sure, but a replicator could've made a copy you could open without me finding out."

"Really, I find Captain Ursus and his first officer big old teddy bears personally. I'll talk to them about that. Could be a little too much pressure on them lately. We've all been feeling it. We need new sources of anti-matter as soon as they can be brought online. Actually no, written orders are rarely issued," Dave stated, avoiding mentioning some of the other matters that were likely to cause his furry friends stress right now. If Digs didnít already know about them, he wasnít going to add to hir stress level either, "I'm not sure about the wax, that's new to me. The paper and ink contain trace amounts of Brokonite, not much but itís enough to play havoc with any attempts to replicate it. Itís one method we can use to make sure the orders are authentic if direct communication isn't possible."

"So when are we going to arrive on what seems to be the outskirts of the universe? I'd agree with the bear part, teddy bears no. I was surprised to see war beasts in such positions honestly."

"Ouch! War beasts Ė I'm sure you'd get equally upset if someone called you that. They know what their species was originally designed for, but they were one of the first generations and it didn't work as intended. Oh granted they could do serious damage if they wanted to, but they rarely want to unless you're a fish or extra motivation that was more likely to get the motivator attacked than the intended target. The governments never made many of them because they were a failure, but they survived. I'm betting they were just as annoyed about your last dig as you were, and yet happy they found it before someone or something else got seriously hurt. They really are sweethearts, a little picky about bed partners Ė wouldn't do to accidentally crush someone but otherwise," he commented seriously. "Haven't traveled much by spaceship have you? This is a smaller ship granted, but we are covering a lot of space, though to get that far out we'd have a long ways to go yet. We'll be on station around midnight ship's time, I'm calling an all hands meeting around eight am. Personally I'd suggest you get some sleep. Tomorrow is going to be a busy day for you, of that I'm sure."

****

"Is there anyone running the ship?" Digs asked looking around the seemingly packed room.

"A skeleton crew Ė we've picked up a few more crew members. Shir Digs, let me introduce Doug Foster. He's primarily our tactical officer with a degree in history. He'll be working with you directly," Captain Allen said, pointing out a Siamese colored cat.

"OK, that still doesn't explain what is going on, and that is the primary question I want answered."

"I'm not sure if you realize how much tension there is between certain groups in the Federation," a new voice offered. "The Earhart is a large scout vessel, their primary mission currently is to locate potential locations for making antimatter. No one wants it on their doorstep, much like toxic waste sites generations ago on many planets," an elderly Caitian said entering the room.

"I didnít think making anti-matter was that dangerous," Digs commented looking surprised

"Actually itís not, but there is that common misconception. Itís easier to build them where there is no one to complain than fight that misconception. Most people refuse to change their opinion no matter how many times theyíre told the truth," Starfire commented.

"We were lucky and avoided it for the most part. There are advantages to trailing the rest of the known galaxy in technology," an elderly heavily scarred Rakshani said entering the room as well. It was the oldest one Digs had ever seen in hir life. "I'm Pia and my colleague is Pin in English. The names still apply; ask any of our colleagues on the Federation council."

"So they stand for something else then? All right, what is going on here?"

"Sub-Lieutenant Foster, please inform the gathered researchers of what youíve found," Captain Allen requested. "If the councilors agree that is?"

"Don't mind us right now."

"As the captain said, we are scouting for new locations for either colonies or building new antimatter plants. This solar system looked pretty good, no life we could detect, intelligent or otherwise. Then we started scanning the planets, when we found this," the cat commented turning on the screen. "We found three ships on the fourth planet. It's in about the same orbit as Earth."

"The only thing we've been able to do before both Star Fleet and the council insisted we stop is determine that one ship is Rakshani and another Caitian, both of an ancient design. The last ship is totally unknown, though we did find human remains nearby."

"Both of our governments trust you, Shir Digs. Star Fleet wants to know what happened here along with our home worlds. The council is worried if we don't have answers, people will come up with their own and use it to stir up hatred."

"I'm sorry, there are a lot of humans, especially the ones you are talking about, that will never accept my word," Digs stated emphatically "From the sounds of it, they don't need this to stir it up any more."

"That is why I'm here, Shir Digs. I used to have close ties to the more unsavory elements among the humans. You are right, but with the truth, we can keep them from using this one as well," an older human commented speaking up. "I'm Professor Bryan Smithson on loan from Cambridge University. A long term loan as it were, but then I'm getting to see a great many places I might have missed otherwise."

"Professor Smithson! I didn't notice you come aboard!" Doug exclaimed.

"You weren't supposed to, my boy. Probably not the easiest thing to achieve on this ship. Shir Digs, a pleasure to meet you, I assure you of that. Unlike you, I wasted a good part of my youth doing stupid things. My later years were spent trying to pound history into stubborn students."

"Ya, I didn't make it easy on you, did I?"

"You made it interesting. For a while I questioned why you were even in that class. Then I found out that some of your education wasn't properly recorded. Still not sure what happened there, considering you had proof you had taken those courses. Shir Digs in Dirt, a pleasure to finally meet you. Don't let his lack of a doctor's degree throw you off. I'm still not sure where Doug learned it from, but he has a very good education in Earth history."

"Please call me Digs, there is no need to be so formal."

"Digs is in charge of the investigation, with Professor Smithson as the second. I believe you agreed with that, sir?"

"Please, if Digs can be so informal, so can I. My first name is Bryan. I'm not sure how we are going to pull this off with just the three of us though, that is if Doug is assisting."

"Wait a minute! It looks like the one ship was shot, but I'm not seeing anything like that on the others," Digs exclaimed point at the screen.

"Very good, that is part of why we are worried," Pin stated. "Very observant. I believe it took Mr. Foster almost three days to notice that, but his attention wasn't only on the ships in question. According to the reports, it could've been either of the other two ships. Maybe it was nothing more than a case of piracy but that is for you to determine. All of our races have had members who resorted to piracy at one time or another."

"You are really a pain in the neck and I don't mean that in a nice way either." Doug commented. "You collogue is a pain in the ass to make my feelings known on the matter."

"Doug, what have I told you about speaking you're mind like that!" Captain Allen exclaimed. "Itís no wonder you keep getting passed over for promotion."

"I wasn't belittling your skills in the least, Mr. Foster. Captain, both of us will be putting in recommendations for your entire crew once this is resolved. Mr. Foster was only stating his mind and being much more honest about it than others on the council when they've called us those names behind our backs. What do you think our chosen English names stand for anyways?" he chuckled, "Anyways carry on, we are here to observe not impede progress in any manner."

"This entire ship is assisting, beyond what is needed to run the ship," the captain commented as his combadge beeped several times, before he tapped it. "Good, the rest of the main team is here. Star, send them to the rec hall."

"Yes sir, the marines have arrived as well sir."

"They also picked up couple of companies of Marines from Cait and Raksha to assist. They also have training for working hostile environments. The planet is too small to hold an atmosphere beyond a short period of time, gravity is only twenty percent of earth normal." Pin offered. "We need to keep this investigation quiet for the moment. So where do you start?"

"Determining how long each of the ships have been here, from the remains. That will give us a clearer picture if any of the groups were here at the same time, which is one of the biggest questions in my mind," Bryan offered.

"Not long enough for carbon dating, that much is fairly sure," Doug commented. "We are assuming they been here less than 300 years, right?"

"That is a logical assumption and a good working hypothesis. I'd prefer facts if possible. As far as history is concerned, humans never explored this region of space. The first interstellar ships were built maybe two hundred fifty years ago," Digs replied as Star entered the room with three others. "What are you two doing here, Mark, Dave?"

"They were sent to assist with this investigation, as was myself." A large figure grinned momentarily as Digs backed away. "We weren't that bad, were we? Hello Doug; still haven't got promoted yet, I see."

"His mouth keeps getting in the way of that as I'm sure you remember. What is going on, Lieutenant Commander?"

"Fleet is trying to keep the lid on this investigation for the moment, but those three can't be expected to do it entirely on their own, and according to the crew records they are the only ones onboard with the necessary training for this mission. Mr. Foster hasn't worked any digs that I am aware of so they rounded up a few others with that experience so we can split into teams," she stated. "Admiral Volk personally delivered these two to the Columbus; apparently they aren't needed in California right now."

"He said something about still being on retainer. The IGNN has stopped all digging," Mark stated.

"So you two were involved with the zoo find. My name is Alicia Polar. They weren't very imaginative at times."

"Better that than being a number," Captain Allen commented. "I believe the original designations were polar something or other. Why did they stop digging? They were guessing it would take another year or two to completely excavate the site, not counting whatever they found that they aren't telling."

"We can't say, sir. Also it is still Dig's find, but I think they are content to let matters stand in terms of published materials. As to the digging itself, they are still sorting though everything we found during the first and second year, so we were asked to halt all digging while they catch up."

"That is something I didn't know. Did you, Dave?" Alicia asked

"No, but I think you have other issues to deal with first since all of you are on duty. What you discuss off duty is none of my business, beyond anything that violates the safety of this ship or classified information you have seen. Everyone else, back to your duty stations. Marines and Engineering detail get the work site secured and ready for occupancy."

"Captain, what you mean ready for occupancy?" Digs asked, "Changing the atmosphere in that area, if that is what you have in mind, could contaminate or destroy the very information we are looking for."

"Right then," he replied tapping his badge. "Engineering, hold off on putting an atmosphere down there. I still want the shields up as soon as possible."

"Aye sir, there is still a very, very thin atmosphere down there. Everyone is going to have to wear masks then."

"It's their decision Scott, beyond where it would put them in too much risk, I have to follow their decisions for the investigation."

****

"Hello, I think you made a wrong turn somewhere," Doug said, startling Digs as shi walked into the holodeck.

"Sorry about that. I just got off shift since they are insisting we work no more than eight hours a day, and got turned around," shi replied, looking at the table filling most of the room. "What are you doing, if it isn't too personal?"

"A re-enactment of an old battle. Doing it here lets me change things, seeing what might have happened if they did something different. Sometimes it lets me understand why the battle happened the way it did," Doug said grinning. "Keeping those breathing masks on for too long will chafe and rub your fur out. I've seen it happen, not to mention spending too long in a weak gravity environment isn't good for you either. I take it they are still dating the bones we brought up."

"Of course. So what battle are you re-enacting?"

"The Battle of San Juan Hill, which was part of the Spanish-American war. I was getting ready to change a few things. You want to join in? We can each take a side and become their general. Don't worry, I'm not after blood and guts, just observing how it played out."

"Sure, if you don't mind. So what are our limits?"

"Nothing that didn't exist in that time period, so no phasers. What side you want by the way."

"Rats! I'll take the Spanish. Maybe they can win it this time."

"Maybe. The only battles I don't like re-enacting are fictional where the owner has locked the outcome. That is no fun. No matter what you do, the specified side always wins."

"Well it certainly puts the battle into a new perspective. I will have to keep that in mind for use with my classes. Thank you Doug."

"My pleasure. Now to wipe the floor with your troops."

"We shall see. A good leader can make quite a difference during this."

"So you found someone else interested in your little game," a voice said from the doorway. "I'm still trying to figure out how you got started with that."

"My father. I found some old plastic soldiers and was playing war with them. He wasnít even sure where the toy soldiers had come from, maybe an old cargo. They turned out be forged antiques that no one had reported as missing, so I got to keep them. He decided a few years later I was old enough to see a little more about the glory of war. It isn't glorious, but if I have to fight, I will do everything I can to make sure my hide survives intact. As they say Ė all is fair in love and war," Doug replied almost snarling. "After that he showed me a few more things about the issue. Sometimes there isn't a choice but to fight and I accept that. Those lessons are what led me to learn about history."

"Hello, Alicia, what brings you around? They are finished with the numbers from the first ship, and starting on the remains from the second one. I'm guessing by the end of the month, we'll have a picture different from when the other groups were here. Last reports there haven't been any Earth furs found anywhere. We haven't started inside the ships yet."

"Have we gotten the scans from engineering?" Doug queried.

"No. I'm still planning on full body suits since we have no idea what killed any of them," Digs replied.

"All the reports indicate suffocation was the most likely cause. Engineering is reporting no detectable power flow on all three ships, but they really arenít getting a scan of the third ship that they can trust."

"Oh, what the heck. Computer, reset map to program army1, randomize terrain play area of 2 kilometers. Now letís see how you play the game. This isn't a known battle but rather a made up one. You are the tan soldiers and I'm the dark green ones."

"These look like lumps of plastic. Doug we don't have to do this. You seem upset about something."

"They are modeled on old toys Ė little plastic soldiers that allowed kids to have play battles. They'll start moving soon enough, though you might want to put my infantry man down. My father and I didn't part on the best of terms. I'm still not sure whose fault it was. He keeps trying to talk with me."

"So that is part of your little secret," Alicia said, startling them. "You know that trader swore someone with last name Foster was out to get him. There was no proof anyways. Personally I'm glad someone was doing something a lot of that stuff was dangerous."

"All it really takes is word getting out that his products are dangerous. I should remember how hard it is to hide things from chakats. I had several of them for siblings."

"Not this chakat. I'm almost mute in that respect. Your body language is the most telling, so letís play this game. I want to wipe the floor with you. I assume beyond their makeup they will react normally."

"Absolutely; they will move like real soldiers. You want to set them into a time frame? I think he might have been right Ė two legs good, four bad."

"You just misquoted that, so what am I with six limbs? It's four legs good, two legs bad. Orwell never said anything about six legs. Lets limit this to the ground technology of the second world war."

"All right, all right you got me." Doug grinned. "We'd have to limit it to ground technology. Beyond pictures, there is almost no record of the air craft either side used; certainly nothing I can use to keep it accurate for my simulation."

"I think I can help you with that. A few records have turned up here and there. WE have a few more histories as well that paint a better picture of everything, otherwise you have to really wonder why the Germans lost now it's understandable. They developed some amazing technology that in turn started the space race."

"Amazing. Doug, do me a favor Ė make sure Digs retires after your game. Shi's been up for a while and we don't want her making any mistakes, well at least ones that are hazardous to hir health."

"Yes sir!" he replied saluting.

"That's enough of that. I believe that we are all off duty. I do want you in bed, Digs, or I will be obligated to take stronger measures."

"Yes ma'am," shi gulped nervously.

"Now darn it, I wanted to win without intimidating hir. You know how hard it is to find anyone interested in playing my simulations with me, SIR!"

"Well if that isn't as you've said the pot calling the kettle black, I don't know what is. You two have fun. Just don't stay up all night. Any idea which ship we are going to start with?" Alicia asked. "Youíre still in charge of the investigation Digs. Doug if you didnít always win, you might find a few more people willing to play. Then again you were one of the best tacticians in your class with more than one mention for unorthodox tactics. That is what you have let yourself in for, Shir Digs."

"I'm not sure. Probably the Caitian or Rakshani ship with the third ship being last. We don't have a clear picture yet of when everyone arrived, but it appears they were likely first, then the Rakshani and finally the Caitian," Digs commented grinning, "Thanks for the heads up, I think I can keep this game interesting."

"I didn't realize we even know that much yet!" Doug exclaimed

"The data is incomplete and rough but the oldest bodies are human, then Rakshani, and finally Caitian giving us if not the order they arrived in, who died first."

****

"I still don't believe you did that!" Doug exclaimed as they walked towards their cabins.

"It was only a pincer movement and we could see more than most generals, especially for the time period," shi commented. "That was fun. Hopefully we'll get a chance to do it again."

"Well try to get plenty of sleep. We'll need it in the morning."

"Doug, whoís that in the picture?" Diggs asked, seeing into his room, slightly surprised by a large picture of bunch of cubs with a human standing in front of a battered shuttle.

"Something I don't want to discuss right now, thank you very much." He snapped, shutting the door.

*****

"Well another ancient ship, no sliding doors it appears." Digs commented as they entered the ship. "Close that door; we don't want to contaminate the site."

"I think itís older than the other two. Odd it seems cleaner than I'd expect for a ship made during the gene wars. Didn't the dating place it slightly over 300 years old?"

"Well that is the date we got off the human remains found outside, give or take a decade."

"Much cleaner than I expected. Maybe it was made beforehand. Still no furs detected. We still are unable to get a good scan," Doug offered, looking at his tricorder, "Why just the two of us? We haven't finished the examinations of the other two vessels."

"I don't know; parts of this ship seems more advanced then anything else I've seen from those time periods. As with the others, I'm guessing they depended more upon the hull to protect them from radiation than shields," Digs replied. "The marines are dealing with the dead on the other two ships once the rest of us document where they were. I'm not sure what we are going to do with the human remains yet. I wanted to give this ship a quick look over."

"We found parts from the Rakshani ship on the Caitian one. Maybe they hadnít developed any shield technology yet. Wait a minute! There are lights in here; how can that be possible?"

"Atomic batteries aren't that safe, but they could hold a charge that long if nothing drained them. The lights behind us have already turned themselves off. We didn't find any parts from the Caitian ship on the Rakshani one. It fits with the order of their estimated arrival though we haven't found anything that came from this ship on the others. Well anything that we can prove came from here!" Digs exclaimed jumping as an arm from above rubbed against hir.

"Well we were guessing there wasn't gravity on these ships. Digs, you punctured your air tank. Two to beam out. Anyone there? Two to beam out." Doug commented tapping his badge repeatedly before trying the door, which refused to budge. "Itís not working. How did they ever get this thing off the ground? It must weigh more than the other two combined."

"Probably built it in orbit, as we do now. Relax, we'll be all right. The ship is still airtight according to the scans that we were able to get. We should get into a smaller room. Our tanks aren't under that much pressure. They'll come looking for us in a couple of hours when we don't report in. Maybe you can patch it."

"No, I left the tools Iíd really need on the ship and we have no way to refill it either. Why wouldn't the door open? For that matter, why are things working on this ship when the others are fried?"

****

"Any word from Digs or Mister Foster?" Captain Allen asked.

"No sir. The marines report they should be done with both ships within a couple of hours."

"All right, they should be fine. We haven't picked up any air leaks or anything dangerous on any of ships have we? Communications connect me with Commander Polar."

"No sir, still nothing dangerous reported, which doesnít rule out the unexpected though."

"Commander Polar here."

"That goes with the job. Alicia we've lost contact with Digs and Mr. Foster. Once you're finished there, we need you to check on them."

"I'll get over there as soon as possible sir," she replied.

"Very good. I'm sure they would've called us if there was any issues."

"I'm not sure, sir. We've had issues getting a com signal out of the other ships, so they might not be able to communicate with us even if there was an emergency."

"Right. Get over there as soon as you can."

****

"There is an indicator saying door locked, no air outside. Why it is still working is a question for later." Digs sighed, as they entered into one of the side rooms, and shut the door. "I wonder if the air that leaked out of my tank had something to do with it."

"That's not impossible, so we're stuck until help comes. I know you wanted to corner me about my family."

"Not on your life, or mine for that matter. I'm not one to speak. Do you know why I'm here?"

"Not in the least, beyond the ships around us. I assume either youíre one of the best or just a staff archeologist that lost the draw."

"Maybe I ticked off the wrong person, which is almost the truth. No actually Iím a professor of history. I might as well tell you it will help pass the time. For me my work came before anything else Ė family, friends, you name it. The admiral took an active paw in my recovery, you might say. I hadn't talked to my parents in almost two years, haven't visited them in almost eight years. Needless to say they were shocked and happy to get weekly letters, which werenít that common either." Digs replied, sighing deeply. "I've had to learn about pleasures life has to offer beyond work. I plan to spend a few weeks visiting them when I get back to Earth, so I don't have any room to talk."

"The pot calling the kettle black, as it were then. So this communications blackout wonít worry them then," Doug offered. "That makes you an exception among chakats. I still keep in regular contact with most of my family and most of them understand my duties occasionally require I drop out of contact for long periods."

"Yes, but after the lessons I've learned, I miss that contact."

"Atomic batteries Ė if one of them blew up, that would explain what fried the controls on the other ships."

"Possibly, but we aren't seeing any signs of a nuclear explosion and certainly no radiation. You just changed the subject, Doug. I have an idea for the next game we play to make it a little more realistic. I've come to enjoy our little re-enactments."

"I thought you said you were empathically mute. In all this time, any radiation that wasnít on the ground probably isnít detectable against the background radiation of the universe."

"I'm an E1 at best which means I'm not completely deaf as it were. Your body language is more telling than your emotions which is common enough," Digs commented, "I won't press the issue. We'll enlarge everything so we are in the game, so to speak, as generals with only the same view the real generals would've had."

"All right, you're right; I did change the subject."

"This looks nice and cozy," Commander Polar said, startling them. "Several marines and I forced the door open. Sorry, Digs, that door isn't closing again without some repairs. I've reported to the captain the ship still has power, which he wants us to investigate immediately."

"Not till Digs gets a new tank. Shi holed this one and we couldn't get a com signal out," Doug commented. "I think we should get some engineers to look at it. Digs and I agree the most likely power source that could last this long are atomic batteries. There must be sensors that turn everything off when no one is using that area."

"Right then, letís get out of here," she replied, picking up Digs and carrying hir outside like shi was an overgrown house cat.

"Iím not a baby, darn it!" Digs snarled

"Well that certainly explains a few things. Doctor, full checkups for everyone," Dave said as they appeared in sick bay.

****

"All right, Shir Digs, do you want me to put Mister Polar on report for manhandling you?" Captain Allen asked the clearly upset chakat that just entered the room. "I will point out in my opinion that since we couldnít get a transporter lock on you, her actions were well within her orders."

"What about on the Columbus?" shi snarled in reply.

"That is beyond my jurisdiction unless youíd like to press charges."

"I was only following orders," Alicia answered, calmly passing a PADD to Captain Allen. "I could demand that we both be transferred back to the Columbus immediately to answer those charges, but that is a violation of your direct orders from command."

"True, and I would deny such a transfer request. Both Captain Ursus and myself are too biased."

"Fine, I can see this is getting nowhere." Digs sighed deeply

"Everyone except for Digs, take five. We will resume this meeting shortly. Mister Polar, I will see you after the meeting," he snapped

****

"All right, what do we know or what do we think we know even?" Captain Allen asked starting the meeting again.

"We are fairly certain of the order of arrival based on dating the remains found outside the ships already. The science team is working on dating the remains removed from the Rakshani and Caitian ships," Digs commented. "The human ship arrived around 300 years ago, followed by the Rakshani one about ten years later and finally the Cait ship almost another decade later. It is unlikely any of them were alive to meet each other."

"Is it proper to call it a human ship?" Alicia asked. "We need to date the remains on that ship as well."

"Captain, with your permission, the marines can assist with that once they are done properly honoring their dead," Pia stated. "Before anyone asks, till we know otherwise, they died with honor and we will treat them with honor."

"It doesnít matter if they were pirates or not, they were pioneers," Digs stated grinning. "At least right now it doesnít look like weíll be re-writing history, only adding to it. My students hate it when someone changes the facts on them and Iím sure they arenít the only ones."

"Regardless of what we find, without records it will be subject to interpretation," Doug added. "Currently human remains are all we have found with that ship. Maybe weíll find more once we fully explore it."

****

"You all right, Alicia?" Dave asked as she entered his ready room,."People still wonder that you donít want your own ship."

"Iím happy where I am. You know that, sir."

"What have I said about being so formal? Sit down before I break my neck looking up at you. I have fresh mint green tea. We were restocked when they brought Digs onboard," the tall human said, getting up and replicating two large cups of tea.

"Worried, thatís all. We were so much closer to well traveled space on the Columbus."

"I canít say I blame you. We both know they are more likely to try doing something to this ship than the Columbus. Much less chance of getting caught. We set up a ring of sensor buoys. They wonít even make a peep unless they detect unexpected visitors," he replied softly, handing her a large cup of tea. "We are still getting communications passively and for the moment everything is quiet."

"So what are you going to do about Shir Digs complaints, sir?"

"At the moment, nothing, nor do I believe Digs will either. You didnít exceed your orders and that is the important thing. Shi knows that, not really happy but..."

"Shi was very different from all the chakats I know; a lone wolf if such a thing is possible among chakats. Doug and hir seem to be hitting it off rather well."

"That might be good for both of them. Doug is bothered by something but he wonít talk about it, and we both know how miserable chakats are without social interaction. The Admiral ordered that I pair them up for some reason he decided not to make me privy to."

"Iíd never met an antisocial chakat before this, honestly."

"Excuse me sirs, I have the latest reports you wanted and news from headquarters," Lieutenant Starfire said, interrupting them. "Itís something that Iíd never heard of before and Digs isnít anti-social. never was except for a chakat. I know the whole story but with your permission, sir, Iíd rather not tell it. I believe both of you know enough to make a few guesses with the orders we received."

Alicia glared at the yellowish chakat with fiery red socks, hair and tail tip for a few moments before speaking. "All right the doctor wouldnít tell us much beyond hir weekly exams and drug tests. So whatís the latest from homeÖ Wait a minute! They sent an addicted chakat on a mission that could be this important?"

"Itís practically impossible for a chakat to become addicted, we both know that," Dave stated. "If shi wasnít up to the task, the admiral wouldnít have sent hir. Less formal here, otherwise as they say in those old movies, you can swab the decks till your paws blister, mister Starfire."

"Shi made sure the job came first, thatís all. It helps that Digs loves hir job, especially uncovering the mysteries of the past regardless of where they take her," Star stated handing hir PADD to the captain. "All is quiet."

*****

"I donít recognize this language. Are we sure itís from Earth?" Alicia said, looking around the bridge "The engineering team is verifying that the engine room is clean. They have confirmed it is likely nuclear batteries powering the ship. They are very well shielded themselves and with the shielding on the hull, no one is surprised we didnít detect them before this."

"Itís German. Sadly, beyond that I donít know much. Letís search the data banks and see if we can find a translator," Digs commented. "The sensors certainly helped. No need to tell the last one out of the room to turn off the lights, which probably saved them a lot of energy."

"It might not be exact, but from the labels it looks like youíre standing in front of the communications center."

"I didnít know you could read German."

"Ahhh, I canít, I just feed it from a camera into a universal translator so it might not be completely accurate. The original universal translators on Earth werenít made to translate alien languages but translate between the different languages."

"That wouldíve been very useful on some of my digs if it could handle alien languages."

"I donít see why it couldnít just upload the proper language into its database, though dead languages that havenít been translated might be an issue," Alicia commented blinking her eyes. "All right lets investigate this ship then. Doug, I want to see about setting up a few universal translators that way if possible."

"Yes maíam."

****

"So what have we found here?" Bryan asked.

"Well, general armory is what it says on the door," Digs piped up.

"Excuse me, I need to get another battery for my camera," Dave commented, sliding past Digs to exit the room.

"Professor, Iíve wanted to know why you left before the end of term. They refused to tell us what happened."

"I want to know why the admiral chose you to assist. I couldnít hear everything in the Rec hall and honestly I was more interested hearing about our mission. I did catch something about ties to Humans First."

"Both answers are tied together. Hate groups like Humans First have existed at least as long as humans have had recorded history, if not longer. I was stupid enough to join one when I was young and stupid. Though I left them decades ago on another planet, they wonít let me go. Such silence and hatred against defenseless people, all those wasted lives on both sides Ė itís disgusting and a horrible, horrible waste. They put me on ship duty when rumors of new hate groups forming reached Star Fleet intelligence," Bryan commented. "I think they were worried I might rejoin them. Never going to happen. Iíd rather kill myself than do that. Digs, I know that idea offends you, sorry. I guess in time those people will find something new to hate. They always do."

"I take it they didnít give you much choice. Your replacement was a miserable excuse for a teacher even though she was only there for about a week," Doug commented, opening one of the cabinets and staring at the weapons inside.

"Why am I smelling oil? Is there a leak somewhere? They appear to be in remarkable shape, all things considered," Digs commented surprised

"Gun oil commonly used to protect the metal parts and keep them lubricated. Well, that tells us the seals on the gun lockers are airtight as well. Digs, you are used to recovering weapons that have been buried for decades. Iíd almost be tempted to try firing one of these, they are in such good shape," Bryan commented, putting on a rubber glove and examining the ammo stored under the guns. "Not here, and just in case things arenít as good as they appear, no one will be personally pulling the trigger."

"Guns not very practical weapons to use in space," Doug added his voice faltering slightly.

"I know of a couple museums that would love a couple of those for their collections," Digs commented

"General Armory Ė I wonder if there isn't another one somewhere. The American Indians called them thunder sticks Ė dangerous as anything; planet-side they are intimidating as anything. Phasers just donít have it. A bolt of light at most, maybe a little noise. Guns, even if someone isnít shooting at you the noise will make any one think twice. Digs, why donít you and Doug see if there isnít another armory. Dave and I will finish documenting this."

"OK, they might not have considered needing different weapons. Considering the historical period, they probably hadnít developed handheld lasers yet."

"Considering the media of the time written and otherwise, I canít believe that." Bryan stated as they started to exit the room. "Doug, wait a second."

"Iíll start looking without you, Doug." Digs stated having a feeling Professor Smithson wanted to talk to Doug alone. "Iím headed towards the bridge."

"How can I help you sir?"

"Something is bothering you, my boy. No, you donít have to tell me, but I think you need to talk about it. Personally Iíd be obligated to report anything you tell me; Iím not a doctor. Iíd suggest if you trust hir, talk to Digs."

"Iíll think about it. Hello Dave, Digs and I are going to look for another armory while you two document this one."

*****

"You alright?" Digs asked worried. "I think this is what we were looking for."

"Iíll be fine. Itís something Iím not sure I really want to discuss right now. Really, so that puts us in officer territory then," Doug stated, looking at the signs on the door and beside it for a moment before entering the room. "I think youíre right."

"Darn, I wanted to be the first one in. I was only waiting for you."

"Sorry about your luck. I guess they couldíve used them for clubs if nothing else."

"I've heard of these before, just only as pictures though."

"Less power than a standard phaser and twenty times the weight and that is only the battery packs. Iíve heard the charge was only good for a couple of shots at full power; extremely limited."

"Ouch! Those guns donít look very light either. Well they do look intimidating."

"I guess that counts for something. To the target or the gunmen though?" Doug inquired softly. "Iíve seen real gunfights Ė the screaming victims, the look of horror as the bleeding doesn't stop, all punctuated by the bang of the gun and the smell of cordite filling the air."

"I bet the type of gun matters very little to the victim," Digs stated.

"Iíd agree with that and how can I get away."

*****

"This is odd. I havenít seen anything that wasnít written in German; not even the smallest things. How is the translation of the diary we found going?"

"Itís a written document thatís much harder for the computer to translate than the printed signs." Doug sighed. "I wish I really did speak and read German. The engineering teams cleared all three ships. They confirmed the power source and as long as we donít put a huge strain on them, itís safer to leave them."

"For them or us is my question of the moment? This is odd. Everything is in German, not a sign of another language. Iíve never seen anything from Earth this large made during that period that didnít have some English on it," Digs commented.

"They didnít say; maybe both of us. You want something odder some of the names on these panels are companies I know or thought I knew about, and they were predominately US companies, so we should see English somewhere."

"We havenít, nor did any of the other teams that have searched this room at least a dozen times already. Did you touch anything, Doug?" Digs snapped as a horn started to sound and everything in the room turned off.

"Maybe by accident, but I donít think so. I was scanning the internal circuits looking for more information on this ship," he replied calmly. "The doors are locked as well."

****

"Whatís with that alarm?" Captain Allen snapped, silencing the blaring klaxon

"Something launched itself at us from the planet, or rather tried," Starfire replied. "Bridge to engineering. Our sensors indicate shields are down along with a few other systems, please confirm. Iím not sure about those readings, sir."

"The repair teams are on it as we speak," Scott said entering the bridge from the turbo lift. "Life support is still running. Internal communications are still functioning barely, all repair teams are going over all shipís systems."

"All right what happened and why did our shields collapse?"

"Unless you picked up something more critical to our survival up here, that will have to wait. We are picking up a surge of radiation and other waves well over two thousand kilometers away. Sir, till we have verified the transporters, permission to take them offline?"

"Granted. Navigation, once engineering makes sure we can maneuver safely, put another thousand kilometers between us and that planetoid."

"Yes sir."

****

"All right, what happened? Medical has finished making sure everyone that was exposed is all right. I believe everyone was released earlier."

"Sorry weíre late sir!" Doug exclaimed dashing into the room, followed by Digs.

"We didnít get informed of this meeting till after we got back to our rooms. Well, that is when I got mine. From on board the human ship, all we saw were the doors locked and everything powered itself off."

"I can confirm that is all they were likely to see. Itís all anyone was intended to see from anywhere on that ship." Scott reported, putting diagram on the screen, "We might never figure out if Dougís scan triggered something or it was just a coincidence. My engineering teams have removed all the batteries from the ship and examined them completely. During normal operations, it appears they could eject unstable batteries out of the ship much like we do with damaged warp cores. Also they could manually eject them. They werenít built as batteries initially but rather nuclear warheads as a part of a missile. The blast didnít damage anything, but the electromagnetic pulse played havoc with our sensors. That is also what caused the shields to drop."

"Recycling at its best, power and defense at the same time," Digs commented dryly. "What sort of effect would that have had on the other ships, if any. Sorry sir, Iím asking too much. Weíll get to work on that in the morning."

"Belay that. Scott, run those simulations when you get a chance. Shir Digs, everyone that was outside the ship was told to take the next couple of days off. I believe both of you received those orders along with notification of this meeting," Dave stated grinning at Dig.s "I can of course ask Alicia here to assist if you like."

"Iíll get back to you on that, sir," shi gulped, attempting to back out of the room unnoticed

"Sir, Digs is in charge of this dig, if you want to call it that," Scott commented. "I donít have solid numbers weíll work on that. Damage to the ship was minimal; most systems came up normally once we rebooted them. The teams working on the other two ships recorded the event as they worked. They recorded only a slight rise above the background radiation count with a massive magnetic spike from the EMP. I can say odds are the EMP is likely what fried the controls on both the Rakshani and Caitian ships."

"Overall exposure, except for anyone outside, is less than an x-ray like they use in few places still, primarily older colonies. Those outside were also shielded by the force field around the planetoid as well, which thankfully didnít stop the missile from escaping. Everyone is responding well to treatment, and should suffer no aftereffects." Dr. Volkenstin commented

****

"Digs, are you all right?" Doug asked. The chakat seemed lost standing in empty hallway.

"Sorry, Iím just fine," shi replied softly. "Iíve just lost track of the days, that is all."

"Come on, I might as well answer your questions. I also recognize that look your feeling lonely. Iím not talking sex but just a friend to spend the evening with." He stated firmly pulling hir to his room and inside. "Keeping secrets from my sisters was almost impossible."

"This is your family?" Digs finally commented, staring at the picture sitting on the shelf for several minutes. You donít have to do this Iíll be all right."

"You might not be what Iím looking for in a mate or companion, but I do enjoy your company. It would be my pleasure to spend the night with you as friends. That is my family, and that in itself is a long story," he stated firmly. "I still donít know why sounds and smells bring unwanted memories to the surface, but they do. The colony I was born on was destroyed. My adopted father was one of the freighter pilots that helped evacuate the survivors. My siblings and I decided to stay with him. I was a little young to fully understand my decision at the time actually."

"That doesnít sound so bad, Doug. He, who ever he was or is, didnít have to take any of you in. I canít imagine growing up on a cargo ship myself."

"It wasnít bad, nor was it always carefree. Several years later, someone tried to kidnap one of my siblings as their pet. Dad dealt with it. He didnít ask our advice or anything; just told us what do and dealt with the issue."

"There is more than youíre telling me Doug."

"It took force, deadly force to recover Tailspinner, and we didnít listen so we witnessed the whole thing. It wasnít pretty and it took a while for most of us to regain our trust in dad. The kidnappers were willing to kill to keep hir. Dad had to prove he was equally willing to do the same before they would listen. I can see it so easily now."

"Then why did you have a falling out over that if you regained your trust, Doug? If I didnít know history, Iíd have a hard time accepting anyone willing to kill to prove a point." Digs shook slightly. "History is full of events where force is the only solution, the only voice people are willing to hear or respect."

"It was years later. I thought I had forgotten that event. Turns out I hadnít. I was enjoying shore leave during my first mission with Star Corps. It was a wonderful place. For some reason the founders had a love affair with Earth during the early 1900ís; well at least that is what they believed it was. Part of the first city was nothing but block upon block of low brick buildings with mock vehicles from that era," Doug said, his voice breaking some, as Digs tried to stop him. "Please, I need to let this go. Itís not entirely his fault."

"All right, but Iím not trained in this. One of the many colonies looking for a time when things were much better on Earth, looking back though cloudy rose colored glasses," Digs commented softly, having seen a few of them hirself.

"You arenít obligated to report me either," Doug replied, stammering slightly. "I stumbled into a gang fight. I donít know why or even who was on which side. They were shooting at anything that moved, using guns not phasers or energy weapons. We hadnít been warned about any possible trouble when we landed at the spaceport either. Humans, furs Ė it didnít matter. Anyone moved, they became a target. I just froze. All I could think of was what I had seen as a cub. In my mind, the faces of the dead and dying were replaced by my siblings with dad being one of the shooters. The police found me still frozen hours later. They claimed I was passed out drunk. The captain was royally pissed about it. Thankfully I wasnít the only person that had done it, including a few officers. I donít even think the police came and tried to stop it, though someone removed all the bodies."

"Sounds like you also respected him a lot. He certainly taught you a lot of things. Is that who taught you history?" Digs asked, gently hugging the upset cat close. "Thank you, Doug, there is a down side to becoming myself, I see. Star is on the night shift lately. Thank you for trusting me like this. I think you need to face him and explain what happened. Iíd be willing to help if I can. The fact you can talk about it and recognize it wasnít his fault I think proves youíre recovering. He hasnít disowned you, has he?"

"Yes, sometimes I forget about all the other things he taught me," Doug said softly returning the hug. "No, dad hasnít disowned any of us. Not sure if he knows the meaning of the word for that matter; at least he wonít admit to knowing it. I left as soon as I was old enough to join the Star Corps and put myself through school. Dad wouldíve helped butÖ"

"You refused that assistance, Iím surprised you didnít join up under an assumed name. No, no, let me guess you Ė tried and got fouled up somewhere."

"I guess that last one works. It took less than a week too, and all they did was correct the records to show my proper last name."

****

"Sleep well last night, Mr. Foster?" Starfire inquired, grinning as Doug entered the mess hall.

"I slept very well, thank you very much," he retorted. "By the way, thank you. If you hadnít been on duty, I wouldnít have slept nearly as well. I wonder if you wouldíve gotten any sleep at all ifÖ"

"Finish that statement and youíll be on KP for the next month. Think about that."

"I didnít know they made any of the food on this ship by paw still," Digs said, startling them.

"Actually we donít most of the time. I wish this was generations ago when I could give him KP for such a comment. Maybe its more annoying because itís true." Shi sighed. "Tomorrow night, Shir Digs, eight pm sharp."

"Aye, aye sir," Digs chuckled.

****

"You getting anywhere in there?" Bryan called into the hole. "I think you lost some fur."

"Well that isnít surprising," Mark replied. "Dave got the easy one, I think. We wouldnít have found this node if the blueprints werenít on file; not a prayer of finding it on the human ship. I believe there is an engineering team going over the entire interior with portable scanners."

"The captain? I wouldnít define those scanners as portable. Iím not sure about that. The odds werenít that good for the computer cores on either ship surviving if our theory about what disabled them is correct."

"No, my fellow draftee. Well, itís worth a shot at least," Mark said, pushing a large box out in front of him. "Yes, it was almost in a perfect Faraday cage. All the input lines are toast but I think someone was thinking ahead. Why didnít they try to get home?"

"Look at what happened to the rest of the controls on this ship. Alicia went over the primary and backup systems on the bridge and engineering Ė they were seriously damaged. Several critical systems, both the primary and secondary systems are beyond repair even now. The crew scavenged the Rakshani ship as well. There was too much damage. Could they have even checked that core with everything that was destroyed?"

"I doubt it. Maybe Iím not ready for this?"

"My dear boy, watching both you and Dave work for the last few months, both of you are more than ready. It would be my pleasure to have either of you on a dig with me. Unlike Shir Digs, my assistants do most of the finding." Bryan sighed. "Works like this are rare. At least my research is top drawer still."

"Old geezer, my furry tail. Well make that furless tail now," Mark snarled looking at his tail, "Granted youíd be in traction for the month trying to work in that service corridor. Iím glad to see my bed at the end of the day and youíre still ready to report the latest finds and theories. We couldíve used more hands like yours at the last dig."

"That dig isnít finished according to the few reports that have been released, and that is all weíll discuss of that dig," he replied with finality. "Granted Iíd love to explore that dig someday, or at least read the reports."

"Iíd have to ask Digs, but that shouldnít be a problem with the reports or the site."

****

"Arenít you done down there yet? Considering this is a Rakshani ship, why did they have to design the service corridor for midgets?" Alicia snapped, tapping her paw on the desk impatiently.

"Well actually itís not the service corridor. Weíd have to tunnel under the ship to access that, according to the blueprints I saw," Dave snarled, his head sticking out through the air vent. "This is a guess, but Iíd say they got it from someone else who installed it. Furthermore Iíd say whoever installed it didnít want anyone else tampering with the installation that easily."

"Sorry, I wanted to get in there and get my paws dirty but no such luck. No, I canít bug Digs. We are a team either."

"I know I wouldnít want to face him for deserting your assignment either. Well, I certainly am not going to complain about having some extra assistance lifting the heavy stuff and you know what? You are fun to talk with as well. Mind handing me the camera and Iíll get back to work; should only take a few minutes. The design looks almost Voxxan in origin but I didnít think the Voxxans and Rakshani met up till later."

"Couldíve been an unfriendly meeting. Neither party would discuss that, let alone admit to it, especially now."

"Could have been friendly enough, just done completely on the sly when their own system didnít work."

"Then why wasnít it recorded?"

I donít know. Personally I doubt it was friendly by anyoneís definition. It took the Rakshani getting their heads knocked in a few times before they realized peace got them further than war did, and thereís still enough action for them in other areas," Dave commented.

"You mean marines and the like."

*****

"You sure there is another space back here, Digs? Itís a tight space, a very tight space."

"Appears to be. Probably a backup system for the main one we need to access next up on the bridge. Odd that this one is so close to the outer wall compared to the other critical systems on this ship."

"Well it seems there should be more to this ship like the engineering section was larger, but it was sealed off for some reason. I found more wires, pipes, and conduits headed to the back panel where they were severed cleanly without terminating into anything," Doug commented, climbing out of the service hatch. "Letís check the other one. This computer is too large to remove in one piece. Though the other one is probably too large as well, I think. Weíll have to work on them in place."

"Weíll let the experts figure it out, of which Iím not one. There should be a reason. Maybe their computers couldnít run everything in one place. We are talking about the beginning of modern computing, if not a little before." Digs replied.

****

"Come on down, Digs. There is plenty of room down here, at least for someone as flexible as we are, but they arenít going to remove this one that easily either."

"I see what youíre talking about, Doug. We can get an engineering team in here to see if they can recover anything. Maybe they can use the transporters to remove the computers," Digs commented. "Not what Iíd call a lot of room to move around for a taur, but more room than around the one in engineering."

"Further proof this ship was designed by humans for humans. Iím not sure the fields generated by the transporters wouldnít fry the computers, or erase them. Anyone found any trace of furs on board? The last I heard there wasnít."

"Darn, well Iím not an engineer. Thatís certainly one possibility and a logical one at that," Digs responded, falling silent.

"Whatís wrong, Digs? Tell me, you closed off the ship for three days last week and not a scent of why from anyone that was allowed on the ship. I know it was an all human team except for you," Doug snarled, locking his eyes into hirs unmoving.

"Iím not supposed to tell anyone, Doug. Anyone on orders of the Admiral as directly as possible out here."

"I see your body language says something is bothering you about that question. So the official line is there were no furs found on board the ship."

Thatís the report, Doug," Digs snapped, even as Doug stood unmoving.

"The truth, Digs. Our com badges are blocked right now. Iíve seen enough upset chakats to easily recognize one."

Doug looked very ill several minutes later. Digs sighed. Shi had no doubt Doug wouldnít tell anyone what he had heard. There had been furs on the ship at some point, whether it was as crew or labor. The only traces that remained was now classified at the highest levels. Captain Allen had those traces removed by a select team and disintegrated. Between the samples that had been analyzed and photos, there wasnít any doubt of the type of furs the traces came from that left all involved ill.

*****

"Whatís the latest?" Alicia asked.

"Well they recovered everything possible from the computer on the Rakshani ship. It was almost totally fried. Apparently they only used it as a flight recorder. We couldnít determine who made it or installed it either. They are done with the one from the Caitian ship as well. There wasnít that much damage and lots more usable information. It was standard for Caitian ships during that period," Scott reported happily. "I believe Digs teams are starting to sort through it. Iím helping with the computers on the last ship."

"Weíve already learned the names of both ships, so we can access the known history of them," Digs added softly. "The ambassadors are getting the official records of both ships for us. We started with the Rakshani data because there wasnít that much, and we were able to fix their arrival within a month. Iím hoping we can fix the Caitianís arrival to the same degree."

"I wish I could say the same for the journal. Most of our spare computer cycles have been sorting through the data from the other two ship," Doug sighed

"Scanning and translating handwriting isnít easy under the best of occasions. You also have to preserve the book itself which is over 300 years old," Dave offered.

"So thatís whatís going on currently. So much more convenient than calling a long drawn out meeting. Doug, you are to put translating the journal on hold till further notice. Digs, Alicia, I want to see you in my ready room immediately," Captain Allen stated.

"Yes sir," Doug responded promptly.

"Yes sir, my orders are only for a set duration which ends in week," Alicia responded.

"Why Dave?" Digs asked.

"I half expected Digs response out of Doug. Alicia, Digs, Iíll answer your question later. Mr. Foster, I need you to verify our own defenses. Coordinate with the marines. You can resume your translation later."

****

"Sir."

"Commander Poland, your assignment with us is for the duration of this mission," Captain Allen stated. "Digs, rumors are starting to circulate about what we found on the Earth ship. Iím not sure who started them but Iím fairly certain itís no one either of you told. Donít try to deny it, Digs. Alicia discussed it with me. Iíd bet Doug. You never discussed it with Star Ė shi wouldíve told me. There are too many people involved to keep that part of the mission a secret."

"At least half the science teams on this ship were involved in examining those samples," Alicia stated. "Very good, sir. I was looking forward to seeing my mate soon. You can explain the change in my orders to him then."

"Agreed. They couldnít have confirmed everything without everyone involved. The best we wouldíve had is highly educated guesses," Digs commented.

"Why your orders were always for the duration of the mission, though someone might have hinted otherwise."

"I was scheduled for vacation starting next week. I guess the Admiral was hoping for a faster resolution. He never said a word about canceling or changing it."

"Well it isnít cancelled as much as delayed, I guess."

****

"Digs, are you sure about that?" Captain Allen asked. "You called this meeting."

"Indeed, based on what information Star has shared with me, the risks of staying longer outweighs any potential finds. I met with Pin and Pia last night. They are moving the ships for further study. The disposition of the third ship is undetermined. Take it and what we found might be found again. Destroy it and the rumors could be even worse."

"Give it another scan over the entire ship. Letís make sure that there are no remaining traces," he offered.

"Thatís an idea. Weíve been concentrating our efforts on the rest of the planetoid, finding any artifacts they left behind as they explored. I see everyone is arriving close to right on time," Digs commented.

"So is the captain agreed?" Bryan asked without waiting for the meeting to start.

"Well, that call isnít entirely mine to make. Digs is in change of the dig. If shi says itís done, who am I to argue. Communications were reopened this morning. There was a leak, but the source is undetermined still."

"So what happens now, sir?" Alicia asked.

"First we hear the findings, then Digs, you and the others go home. The Earhart will remain on site till the ships are removed and the fate of the last ship is determined," Captain Allen stated.

"Lets start with the Earth ship. Scott, report on the data from the Earth ship. I believe some of the engineers determined how it got here. That is what started everything."

"The records we recovered do show this ship came from Earth. Between their records and the latest molecular scans of the hull, we believe the ship didnít originate from the Earth we know. There are similarities at the molecular level between all the ships here except for it. They called it the ĎSpirit of Discoveryí. German was their primary language. The Spirit was a research vessel. They were testing interstellar engines of a design we havenít tried before. Only one percent of simulations we ran based on their designs resulted in the ship not blowing itself into atoms. Out of that one percent, only three percent of the crews survived," Scott reported. "The design specs indicate the ship was indeed longer. Their interstellar drives were in a section that could be ejected if something went wrong, and they had enough time to do so. We can only assume they did. Scans on the planetoid and in space have failed to locate any further debris."

"When the Rakshani arrived, the field from their engines or an EMP destroyed their controls, causing them to crash. We believe most of the crew survived the crash into the planetoid. According to the ambassadors, official records indicate both ships did go rogue, but that might have been more for deniability in case something came up," Digs added. "Most of this is educated guesses as while attempting to survive, we assume they burnt most if not all their paper records."

"We of a Rakshani government accept your teamís finding, Professor Digs in Dirt," Pia stated firmly. "The ship is being moved into Rakshani space for further study and eventual use as a museum.

"According to the Caitian records, they detected an odd field emanating from the planetoid. It played havoc with their systems. Detecting no life, they fired on the source of the field which dissipated at that time. They then closed to within a thousand kilometers of the planetoid to get a better look at what had generated that field. Weíre guessing here that that destabilized one of the batteries enough that the system ejected it. This is where the computer records end and we only have the log we found hidden away to work with. There was an explosion outside the ship that took out all their controls and killed a large percentage of the crew on duty. The rest survived the crash,." Doug stated, taking over.

"May we have that log for the official records?" Pin asked softly. "This ship is being moved to Rakshani space for further study and conversion into a museum."

"Of course, though that might be more of Star Fleetís call to make."

"Turn it over, Digs. All we ask is a copy of records for our files," Admiral Volk said from the back of the room. "I take it we agree they all died of misadventure?"

"Of course, that is a very reasonable request. My government would like, if not the third ship itself, records of it for the whole story. Misadventure is the best way to describe it. My government, too, accepts the report. Holding Earth responsible after all these years would only help others, not ourselves."

"Iíll check on that, ambassador, but as of right now I donít see any issues with maybe a few restrictions."

"It wouldnít be politics otherwise. One request is that it is my understanding most of the stores other than food, are in good shape. They can be shared with other museums. After all, mockups are safer for all involved of some items."

****

"Sir, I have to be removed now. The captain is determined to put the leak into irons literally. I know he talked engineering into making him several sets from descriptions Digs provided him!" Professor Smithson exclaimed.

"Your leaks were approved, those leaks contain uncontrolled information," the other party responded. "Iíd love to get you into the zoo dig. There are forces that might back off if we could do that."

"Mark already invited me and Digs confirmed it actually."

"Really? Though I probably should explain what is going on to Digs." Peter sighed, leaning forward his elbows resting on the desk, paws against his muzzle. "We might not get much information back from you but we still have that feed going in."

"I might not like it but I agree," Captain said from the shadows as something heavy clanked to the floor.

"Darn, he wasnít kidding!" Admiral Volk exclaimed looking wide eyed at the iron bands and chains on the deck. "I will have to insist Bryan is here with fleet approval."

"Of course. I catch the other leaks, they better have approval or they will not be happy."

"I wasnít informed of anyone else working undercover as it were. Bryan, other than a brief visit to Earth, we are keeping you in space. At least that is the last information I had."

"Fine. Call me chicken but sooner or later things on Earth are going to explode. I can only hope the loss of life isnít too great. Property can be replaced most of the time, but life cannot."

*****

"Doug, if you want help in facing your father, Iíll help. Iím sure my classes or dig can spare me for a couple days," Digs offered standing by the shuttle.

"I just might take you us on that offer so you might regret making it," Doug replied grinning.

"Where do you think you are going?" a new voice asked, stopping everyone from boarding the shuttle from the Columbus.

"Following orders. What do you expect?" Alicia asked, falling silent as she spotted who had addressed them. "We are only following your orders, sir."

"I do want to talk with you, Mister Polar, for a few minutes before your ship leaves. l was asking about Digs. Shi is still a member of this crew. They havenít been reassigned yet," Admiral Volk commented entering the room. "The rest of you can finish boarding the ship."

"Sir, the conference room is free," Captain Allen offered.

"Not necessary, Captain. Mark, Dave, donít worry. Digs will be fine. Star Fleet thanks you for your assistance. I already talked to Dean Markov. Ultimately he canít force it, but we are hoping this counts towards your doctorates." The wolftaur stared at Digs.

"Hey, wait a moment! I donít control the doctorate committee and this is another classified site. Isnít it? For that matter I might not even be home at the rate I seem to going," shi sighed. "I wanted to get involved with the zoo again and visit my family."

"I believe that is what Mark and Dave will be working on once they get back to Earth. Everyone else is almost caught up. Weíll discuss you later, Digs. Alicia, are you sure? Youíve earned your own command several times over."

"Absolutely, though I have been having thoughts of taking leave to start family."

"I wish you the best of luck. We are losing a great officer Alicia," he said, hugging her.

"I too wish you happiness and as much success as you could hope for," Digs added, hugging the bear.

"I thought I was the only bear on this ship to give hugs like that. What, no wanting to have a huge family?" she panted. "Only for a little while. Iím not retiring, just taking leave. I might consider a transfer to a larger ship even, and yes I know I wouldnít be second in command anymore."

"Safe trip! Let me know when and Iíll do what I can to help speed things along."

"Only if that is what you want. The chakat way isnít for everyone. Maybe I too need to give some thought to having children of my own as well. Itíd make my parents happy at least."

"That isnít something you do to make others happy," Alicia snarled.

"I know that," Digs stated calmly. "When I decide to do it, my career is more than established. The time off wonít hurt anything. I need to find one thing though Ė the right mate Ė and I havenít been looking. Silly me."

"Well I think you still have time yet," Peter responded. "As to doing silly things, well we all do that. Other than Iíd die of embarrassment, I could tell you a few tales of silly things Iíve done."

"I have the feeling that could be very interesting. Maybe sometime Iíll have to convince you to give up those secrets."

*****

"You wanted to see me sir?" Doug asked, entering the ready room. "Admiral, I thought you left already, sir."

"Actually the pair of you will be leaving first in about ten minutes, I believe, Lieutenant Foster," Dave said startling him, "Congratulations on your promotion. Star please give him the envelope. Your orders Ė please donít open them till after you depart."

"After you complete that mission, Mister Foster, you are being posted back to Earth temporarily. I know of some cadets that lack imagination in creative tactics, so they need your help," Admiral Volk added. "Digs, Mister Foster will see you safely home. Now donít you two get too frisky to pay any attention to where youíre going."

"SIR!" Doug exclaimed.

"We are just friends, Admiral. Wait a second, this isnít the same type of shuttle Alicia took back to the Columbus."

"No, itís got a much longer range. Donít worry, Iím fully qualified to fly it."

"Mr. Foster, beyond your orders which include getting Shir Digs home safely, what you do is entirely up to you," the wolftaur stated with a slight grin.

"Well, both of you get out of here. Now move it."

"Sir, if they donít leave in the next two minutes, they will miss their launch window," Star added.

"Admiral, what are they going to do with the third ship? Doug and I spent the last week with a team of engineers scouring that ship from top to bottom."

"Like the other two, itís being removed to a new location in Rakshani space for further study. The council is deciding, but as of the moment I believe it is being turned over to the Caitians for conversion into a museum as well. Your luggage is stored, safe journey."

****

"All right, what is so secretive about those blasted orders?" Digs asked, looking out the view screen as they jumped into warp. "How long till we reach larger transport?"

"Umm this is it, Digs, all the way to Earth." Doug stammered rereading his orders several times. "Sorry, for some reason Iím not to tell you what my orders are. Personally Iím not too sure of this myself either, but someone apparently thinks itís the right thing to do."

The ENDÖ

 


 

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