Read an Excerpt
Rebecca Greenblatt hated the fact that the Capellans were so much taller than she was.
Not that she minded being short in general. She'd gotten used to it. Although she was born on Benecia, Rebecca had spent most of her childhood on Pangea, a high-gravity world. Living there stunted her growth, so she topped out at a meter and a half. When dealing with most other humanoids, this wasn't too much of an issue, but on Capella the shortest native cleared two meters.
She'd spent most of her time on Capella staring up nostrils.
This was not how she had hoped her first job as a supervisor would go.
Not that she was complaining. Hell, right now, she was just thrilled to be alive. Like everyone else, she saw the images on the Federation News Service of thousands of Borg cubes swarming into the Federation -- this only seven months after a giant cube entered Earth's solar system, consumed one of its planetoids, and almost destroyed Earth. All things considered, it was good to be alive.
But it was better to be alive and to have finally made supervisor.
She had started working for Janus Mining as an intern while studying structural engineering at Imprek University on Tellar. A tectonic shift under one of Tellar's oceans had led to a discovery of uridium, and Janus had gotten the contract to mine the ore for the Federation. They were eager for staff and so they trolled the universities. Mostly they hired Tellarites, but Imprek had a twenty percent population of non-Tellarites, including Rebecca, who found that her talent and background in structural engineering fit nicely with mining work.
Of course, she didn't do any actual structural engineering on Tellar. Janus mostly wanted people to fetch and carry and run errands, but she did well enough that she was offered a job upon graduation.
That was ten years ago. Last month, she was called into the office of her boss, Torvis-Urzon, at Janus's headquarters on Bre'el IV. The building was small and functional, as was her boss's office, a cramped space with no windows and a desk behind which the Grazerite barely fit.
"Do you recall that promotion we'd discussed?" Torvis-Urzon had asked without preamble as she entered.
Rebecca hadn't been surprised by this. Torvis-Urzon had always viewed politeness as something other people did. "Yes. And I also recall that everything was on hold."
"That was due to our belief that we'd be assimilated. That is hardly a concern now. And in fact, the Borg invasion directly relates to your new job as supervisor."
Her heart racing, Rebecca had said, "What new job?"
"We suddenly find ourselves with a topaline shortage. So you'll be in charge of getting some."
That had made sense to Rebecca. In the wake of the Borg, the need for atmospheric domes had increased a thousandfold, and if you wanted them to work, you needed topaline. "Where?"
Her heart had slowed considerably. "Capella IV already has a mining operation. In fact, they've had it for more than a century."
"And in all that time, they have yet to perform an upgrade. Capella's topaline production is about a tenth of what it would be with modern facilities."
Rebecca had grinned, then. She'd known nothing about Capella beyond that it was a trading partner with the Federation for topaline, but that was enough. She started scratching her chin. There used to be a mole there, which she'd had removed, but it continued to itch for no good reason long after the mole that caused it had been vaporized. "And the Federation wants us to do it?"
"In fact, the Federation wanted the S.C.E. to do it."
"You're kidding," Rebecca had said with disgust. She hated those Starfleet glory hogs.
"Yes, but the Capellan government refused. Something about an exiled king of theirs or something."
Torvis-Urzon made a noise like a plasma leak, which was how Grazerites shrugged -- or, at least, how this one did. "I know nothing of Capellan politics -- that is simply what I was told."
"Fine, then. When do I start?"
He dug around the dozens of padds on his desk before finding the right one and handing it to her. "Two days. This has all the information you will require, as well as who is available for you to take."
Now her heart raced again. "I can take who I want?"
"Within reason," Torvis-Urzon said.
Rebecca called up the list in question on the padd's bright display. She immediately noticed that there was no list of options for the post of primary computer technician.
Scowling, she stared at her boss. "You're making me take T'Lis."
"She's the only technician available who has the experience you need."
Waving the padd back and forth as if she wanted to slap Torvis-Urzon with it -- which didn't seem like all that bad an idea, then or now -- she said, "She creeps me out."
"The translator must have malfunctioned. What did you say?"
Rebecca knew damn well that the universal translator could handle that particular bit of slang, but she also knew that Torvis-Urzon hated people who conversed in slang in any language. "She makes me uncomfortable. She always stares at me like I'm a lab experiment that's gone horribly wrong."
"Perhaps you are." Torvis-Urzon had almost smiled at that one.
With a heavier sigh than the situation really warranted, Rebecca had clutched the padd and left the office, taking it to one of the hotel rooms Janus had reserved for nonlocal staff when they were on-planet.
Within a day, she'd picked her team and contacted most of them. She didn't actually contact T'Lis, figuring that Torvis-Urzon already had -- and if he hadn't, maybe she wouldn't come, and Rebecca would be able to get someone else.
But T'Lis did show up, along with the other one hundred and seventy-six people whose job it would be to upgrade the Capellan mining system. They went from Bre'el to Capella in one of Janus's massive carriers, the Hecate.
Then she arrived at the capital of Capella and found herself looking up the nostrils of the teer.
In all the material on Capella she'd read over the previous week, none of it mentioned how tall they were.
They were also honest to a fault. Their ritual greeting involved open hearts and open hands, and they valued the truth. The teer had said to her on arrival -- after the greeting was complete, which put him one up on Torvis-Urzon -- "You are welcome on Capella for as long as it takes to restore our ability to trade you for our rocks. You will be welcome for no longer than that."
Realizing that coexisting with the locals wasn't going to be a priority, she threw herself into the task of upgrading Capella's mining operations.
Or, as it turned out, overhauling and/or replacing them. She got a lecture from T'Lis on the subject. "These mines," T'Lis explained, "were built in 2267, at the height of the duotronic age. While these computers were of the best possible quality in 2267, they are woefully antiquated by 2381 standards, as even you might imagine."
Gritting her teeth at the insult but refusing to respond to it, Rebecca instead asked, "Why haven't they upgraded?"
She regretted the question instantly, as the Vulcan woman gave her that damned look. "Since reading the history of Capella that came with our materials is obviously beyond your capabilities, I will tell you. While Capella did agree to a treaty with the Federation in the previous century, relations soured when a group known as the toora Maab succeeded in overthrowing the teer, a young man named Leonard Akaar."
Rebecca started scratching her chin. "There's a Capellan named Leonard?" You saw that kind of name mixing in the Federation, of course, but she wouldn't have expected it from snotty isolationists like the Capellans.
"Apparently, he was delivered by a human of that name. In any case, he and his mother were exiled and declared dead. Akaar's tomb is in the capital city."
"City. Right." On Pangea, cities sprawled over thousands of kilometers. On Benecia, cities were built into the mountains. On Capella, what they called a "city" was a few small, poorly constructed buildings that happened to be near each other.
T'Lis went on. "After Akaar's ouster, the Capellans were willing to trade with the Federation but were not willing to allow Federation technicians to perform necessary upgrades."
"So as time went on, the equipment got less efficient, and trade declined."
"Leading to an eventual near-collapse of the Capellan economy," T'Lis said. "It has taken this long only because the mining equipment Starfleet installed a century ago was quite durable. Still, the Borg attack was fortuitous for the Capellans. Without the increase in topaline exports brought about by our presence here, most economists estimated the collapse of the Capellan socioeconomic infrastructure within the decade."
Rebecca excused herself, wishing she had a computer technician who could have simply answered her question by saying that the stuff was old and the Capellans didn't like us enough to let us fix it.
The next day, Rebecca was going over some reports, and called in her assistant, a Zakdorn named Jir Roplik, who had the dual advantages of being incredibly smart and efficient and being one of the few people here who was shorter than her.
"Why is T'Lis taking the computer core offline again?"
"Because the diagnostic program works better if she takes it offline."
Scratching her chin, Rebecca said, "Jir, I've worked with computers all my life. In my experience, diagnostics are usually more, ah, robust than that."
"T'Lis has been experiencing problems in the changeover to isolinear systems. She says this might be the last time she has to take the core offline for this reason."
" 'Might'? What's the circumstance under which that'll happen?"
"The diagnostic actually functions."
"You know, I was only willing to put up with her because she's supposed to be good at this," Rebecca said.
Jir blew out a breath, puffing out the folds of his cheeks. "I'm just passing on what she said."
Rebecca looked to the ceiling in supplication, but all it offered was corrugated metal. The living quarters for her people weren't complete yet. Rebecca hadn't requested them to be part of the original manifest because normally on such jobs, you could stay in local housing and not have to waste time building temporary housing, which was usually dreadful in any case.
But living and working in this slapped-together piece of cheap metal needed to improve a whole lot before it got as good as dreadful, and Rebecca had requested temporary housing shelters as part of the first resupply shipment from Janus.
Which reminded her..."That Ferengi trader yesterday. It was a different ship from the one the first couple of weeks."
"I noticed that, and asked one of the teer's people. Apparently, that's not unusual. The 'big-eared bringers,' as they call them here, change ships all the time. It's rarely the same ship more than three weeks in a row as it is."
"Fine. Also, is Firee still going to be able to meet with me, or is he still pumping out the water?"
"Still pumping out the water. He says they'll be at it until midafternoon."
Rebecca sighed. It had rained the previous night, and although the Capellans built their structures to withstand the elements, they hadn't done the same for the mineshafts that they'd dug since kicking the Federation out. Ironically, the meeting this morning was supposed to be about testing the drainage of the mine in case it rained. Rebecca hadn't expected a practical test to be provided by nature the previous night.
Rebecca jumped at the loud voice and turned to the entrance to her office, which was now entirely taken up by a Capellan male. He wore a blue shirt and pants with a dull yellow sash covering his waist and right shoulder, a headdress to match the shirt and pants, black boots, and a weapons belt. His hair was tied in a topknot, which stuck out through the top of the headdress.
Looking up his nostrils, Rebecca asked, "Can I help you?"
"I was sent by the teer. I am Kuun. You are to teach me how to run your new machines."
Scratching her chin almost hard enough to draw blood, Rebecca said, "I'm sorry, Kuun, but we're nowhere near that point yet. Trust me, training you on the mine operation is on our agenda, but it's not finished yet."
"The teer sent me now. You will teach me now."
Was it Rebecca's imagination, or was Kuun growing larger as he spoke? Shaking the notion off, she said, "There's nothing to teach. Right now we've got large machines that don't do anything and computers that don't work properly."
"Actually," Jir said, "the refinery is scheduled to be completed today."
Rebecca glowered at her assistant, hoping that her look conveyed her thought: I wish you hadn't said that. "Yes, but there's nothing to actually refine yet."
Kuun folded a pair of arms that could've been used as support struts for a Pangean building over his huge chest. "You will show me the refinery."
"Tell you what. I'm not free until after lunch, but -- "
Jir said, "No, you're free now. I told you, Firee -- "
"Cancelled the meeting, right." Rebecca had actually forgotten that. "Fine." She rose from her desk -- she had intended to keep it neater than Torvis-Urzon's, at which she had failed rather spectacularly -- and approached Kuun. "If you'll come with me. Jir, get in touch with Yinnik and tell him to meet us at the refinery."
"Of course," Jir said with a nod. He went back to his desk -- which was pristine, the bastard -- while Rebecca led Kuun outside.
For a brief moment, she paused at the threshold and took in the view.
While the people were pains in the ass, and the project was hitting more snags than she was entirely comfortable with, Rebecca had to admit that this was a beautiful planet. The sun shone brightly through a sky that was crystal clear -- no doubt due in part to the rainstorm that had passed through. Rain on Pangea had always been a messy affair, as the rain came down at a greater acceleration, and was therefore stinging and uncomfortable. It wasn't until Rebecca moved to Tellar for her university studies that she realized that rain could be beautiful -- though after a while, the sodden mess that was Tellarite weather grew wearing.
Here, though, the humidity had washed away, leaving a crisp, clear day. The sun shone, the trees bowed elegantly in the breeze, the distant rocks of the hills to the east glinted in the sunlight, and to the west lay the mine that her people were turning into a state-of-the-art facility that would leave that twenty-third-century anachronism that they had rotting there in the dust.
That was when the refinery blew up.
The force of the explosion pushed against Rebecca, but she did not fall. Her bones and muscles had long since grown accustomed to the pull of Pangea's gravity, and the distant force of an explosion was not enough to uproot her.
The same could not be said for her Capellan companion, who fell backward and on his rear end.
Knowing that Kuun wouldn't accept a hand up, Rebecca instead turned her attention to the refinery. Grabbing the comlink out of her pocket, she said, "Yinnik! What happened? You there?"
"Rebecca, it's Firee. What just happened?"
She started running toward the refinery, her heavy tread making deep impressions in the Capellan dirt. "The refinery just blew up! Emergency Procedure Four, everyone, now!"
Janus Mining had procedures for almost every possible emergency, and when a new one came up, they created a new procedure for the next time. This one, though, had happened plenty of times before, though refineries usually only exploded when refining volatile materials. The problem here was that topaline wasn't volatile, and even if it were, this refinery wasn't active yet.
So what the hell happened?
She put that question aside as she pulled a padd out of her pocket and tied it to the comlink. The first part of every emergency procedure was for everyone who was able to check in to do so.
Of the one hundred and seventy-seven people under Rebecca's supervision, one hundred and sixty-nine checked in. Of the remaining eight, six were Yinnik and five of his staff, who were assigned to the refinery. One was T'Lis. What was she doing in the refinery?
The other was the head of security, a native Pangean named Yevgeny Ubekov, with whom Rebecca had gone to school. In fact, she was the one who got him the job with Janus. And he's the one who's supposed to investigate this. Dammit.
By the time Rebecca arrived at the refinery, the automatic fire-suppression systems had dealt with the resultant conflagration -- which barely had a chance to conflagrate.
The different section chiefs started reporting in that their sections were okay, with the obvious exception of Yinnik regarding the refinery. One of T'Lis's assistants said the computer core was fine. "And," she added, "she was in the refinery because Yinnik said the control consoles weren't working right."
That explains that, at least, Rebecca thought as she noted the fifteen people whose job it was under EP4 to go through the rubble and search for survivors were doing so -- aided by Kuun, who was heaving aside rubble and debris without needing to be asked, which Rebecca appreciated.
Also present, but hanging back, was the doctor, a reclusive Bolian named Hruok whom Rebecca had chosen because, of all Janus's medicos, he was the only one who'd worked on a nonindustrial planet.
Hruok was holding a medical tricorder up. "I'm not reading any life signs that aren't the rescue party here." He looked down at Rebecca with sad eyes. "I'm afraid this is recovery, not rescue."
"Then I'll need autopsies," Rebecca said, trying to remember the security procedures. This is what I had Yevgeny for. "And we'll scan for explosives."
The doctor stared down at her in confusion. "Explosives?"
"The refinery wasn't operating yet, Doctor. And we're on a planet full of people with a history of disdain for the Federation. If Yevgeny was here, that'd be the first thing he'd check." I hope.
Then she got on the comlink. "Jir, contact Torvis-Urzon on the emergency hyperlink and fill him in."
Hruok was back to staring at his tricorder. "I'm picking up Vulcan DNA traces right under where that big person is."
Kuun started digging more thoroughly, yanking out a very large piece of twisted metal that was stained green.
Under it was T'Lis's body. The last thing I thought about her was unkind. Rebecca felt awful about that, more so when she realized that all her thoughts about T'Lis had been unkind.
One of the engineers, a human named Hugues Staley, walked up to Rebecca. He was holding a modified Starfleet tricorder from about twenty years ago. Hugues loved to take Starfleet surplus and play with it. "Rebecca, I just ran a scan. There's an element that shouldn't be here -- it isn't indigenous to Capella, and it's not in anything we use."
"What is it?"
Hugues was speaking as if that would mean something to Rebecca. "Hugues, my last chemistry class was ten years ago, and I've never been involved with mining cabrodine, which is honestly the only way I learn about elements and minerals."
"Well, cabrodine has a bunch of uses, and it's possible that the explosion caused a chemical reaction that created it, but..."
When Hugues's pause threatened to go on for five seconds, Rebecca prompted him. "But what?"
"It's also a common ingredient of explosives."
Hruok swallowed. "So we're back to sabotage."
"Maybe." Rebecca hit the comlink and cursed Yevgeny for being in the damn refinery. "Jir, have you gotten through to Torvis-Urzon yet?"
"Shroya's looking for him right now."
Rebecca did some quick calculations in her head, belatedly realizing that it was late in the evening in Bre'el IV's capital city. Torvis-Urzon was notoriously difficult to reach once regular business hours concluded.
"Okay, keep me posted."
Looking down at the remains of the refinery as they dug up two more bodies -- including that of Yevgeny -- Rebecca thought, This is not how I had hoped my first job as a supervisor would go. , ® and © 2009 by CBS Studios Inc.