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WHY? - Part 4

Geraldle

© 2002

PROLOGUE

Ben was sitting at a table in the messhall doing his homework. It was really more self imposed, than a strict necessity. He had an insatiable thirst for knowledge, and he was reading the regulations which concerned travel in space, not only what concerned Free Traders but everyone.

At the next table several of the crew, including Mason Cooper and Dan Foreman were discussing politics on Home Base. Mason said, "If they'd get rid of that damned Hodgkiss, Home Base wouldn't be as vulnerable as it is. I don't know what those alien rebels have in the way of forces, but if they have anything big Home Base is almost helpless. The fighters are fifty years old. I know that they've been upgraded twice but they're still twenty years out of date."

Dan Foreman shrugged his shoulders, "I don't like it either, Mase, but he originally appealed to people's pocketbooks and he's remained in power by staying with that policy. There's more than three million people on Home Base and despite the fact that they are Free Trader clans, only about two percent of them have ever been outside the solar system. Hodgkiss himself knows nothing about things outside the solar system and he's proud of that ignorance and brags about it every chance he gets."

"Besides," said Rick Tane, "he has five other members of his family on the Council and they're just as bad as he is. No you have to get rid of the whole family or nothing will change."

Ben got up from the table with a thoughtful look on his face, and didn't even notice Kim as she came in just as he was leaving. Looking after him she turned to the other crew members. "What were you guys talking about."

They looked at each other, "We were just talking about Hodgkiss and his clan and the way they've screwed Home Base in defensive matters." Mason said, "Why?"

"Because you just pointed Ben at them and pulled the trigger." she said calmly, not particularly worried. Ben wouldn't go off halfcocked. If he ever went after Hodgkiss and his clan, he would have a foolproof plan.

 

ONE-July 10,3145

"Captain, we have contact ten thousand miles off our starboard bow." reported Mabel.

"Any additional data, Mabel?" asked Mason Cooper.

"She's about the size of a battleship, but her power curve indicates that she's at least three times faster than any battleship on which we have specs. Either she's experimental, or she's nothing we've ever seen before." Mabel told him.

"Give your new scanners a workout, Mabel, and let's see what she looks like." said Dan.

The ship that appeared on the screen indeed was the size of a battleship, but she was a bit narrower overall, and didn't have any heavy offensive weaponry, though she had plenty of smaller defensive weapons. The hull itself looked fuzzy on the screen.

"The ship has a shield up Captain, so I can't get anything off of the hull itself, only things that extend beyond the shield. It seems like it might be a stealth field of some kind, which has been dialed down to its lowest setting. That's allowing us to see things, but no details." said Mabel.

Ben, who for some reason had come up to the bridge not knowing exactly why said, dreamily, "It's a Protector Spin Ship Carrier, Captain. It's not considered polite among my people to announce your presence. The smaller ship always takes the initiative. They'll just sit there until we contact them."

Mason could see that Ben was almost in a trance. He asked gently, "What exactly is a Spin Ship, Ben?"

"I can't give you much info, Captain, but a carrier like that will carry twenty-five wings of four each with about twelve spares. A wing would be expected to come out the victor against a battleship, nine times out of ten, and a single Spin Ship could go one on one with a heavy battlecruiser and have a fifty/fifty chance of winning." Ben said, becoming more alert. "I heard Mabel say that she's about three times faster than a battleship, the one's I have in memory, would be only about one third faster, so she's new since the information was encoded in my DNA."

"That's the type of Protector I am Captain, a Spin Ship pilot. The crew of the carrier will be adults, but the pilots, they'll all be like me." He thought for a second, a bit of sadness coming into his voice, when he continued. "No, not exactly like me, as I said I'm fully mature, their life is only delayed for about thirty or forty years, and then they resume aging again. They will become adults and be able to have children, who in turn will become Spin Ship pilots."

"Hail them, Rick." Mason told Rick Tane, who was acting as com officer.

"I have contact. Putting it on screen, Mase." Rick said.

The view screen lit up, to reveal a colorfully dressed man who appeared about forty, though in an age where rejuvenation was common it was impossible to tell exact ages. He smiled, "Hello, Captain Cooper and the rest of your crew. And especially to you, Ben," who had moved to stand beside the Captain's chair. "My name is Rynar Ferick, and this is the Sanscri Republic Spin Ship Carrier Incursion. Don't think this is our usual response to strangers, Captain, but since you had one of our people on board, we felt we should use the normal protocols that we use among us. We knew that Ben with his genetically encoded memory would eventually come up with the reason we weren't contacting you."

"You don't need to worry that we've come to take Ben away from you, Captain. Spin Ship pilots go through two periods in which they bond. Usually it's first to the planet they are born on and then to the Sanscri Republic as a whole. These events are triggered by drugs, which emulate adrenaline. They are also triggered by natural adrenaline, and when he saved your life on Ochan Station, he bonded to you and through you to your ship, and your clan as a whole. The second event happened on Dandre, when he protected the lives of the children. His second bond is therefore to Dandre."

"That doesn't mean he would ignore others in danger, but his principal duty would be to those he bonded with, and he would always put them over and above anyone else. That is an instinctive imperative, that would be hard to override. Since he has free will, he could choose to ignore that imperative, but few Protectors would do so."

"This is the first voyage for the Spin Ship pilots on board and for the last fifty years, when we make such a voyage it is always to somewhere in the galaxy we have never been before, searching for Ben's mother and her kidnapper, Captain Cooper." He turned his eyes on Ben. "If you're wondering Ben, why this carrier is so much faster than your memory indicates, that is the reason."

He turned his eyes back on the Captain, "I invite you and those of your crew who can manage it, to come on board, Captain. We would like to give Ben a thorough check up since we know more of what his body should be like. We will then provide your med-tech with all of the information of exactly what Ben's body should be, and any ways that it differs from the proper norm. Also we have a gift for Ben."

TWO

They were met at the airlock by Rynar Ferick and another man who was wearing something like a uniform.

Rynar shook hands and introduced his companion, "This is Captain Pol Tyrant, I mean Tyran." and he ducked away from a mock blow. He grinned, "We've known each other for a long time. We started out on a ship like this as Spin Ship pilots, just under ninety years ago. Of course nothing nearly as advanced as this one is. Come, we'll head for Sick Bay and we can talk after Ben is checked over."

He led the way down a corridor, and the people from the Harvard could hear lots of giggling coming from behind them. Pol said, tolerantly, "Spin Ship Carriers with pilots on their first few voyages aren't really considered military ships unless we're actually at war, and in this case it's especially true. The children on board are all on their first voyage and unlike Ben, who we know is somewhat older than ten years old and was forced to grow up fast, the others ARE ONLY ten years old and they act their age. Which is probably just as well. They're somewhat in awe of Ben at the moment and they're feeling a little shy, or they'd be mobbing us."

Ben asked, speaking for the first time. "Why are they in awe of me?"

"I'm afraid you're famous Ben. One of the officers on the Monitor station put a Vid together, about the incident with the diphonus, and the dinner honoring you. I've been told that some of the children who where there were allowed to see it, and they were shaken at how accurate it was. All except for your name and the way you look. The only thing that looks at all like you is the fact that the kid in the Vid has red hair, though it's cut very short, unlike yours."

Ben rolled his eyes, "I'll kill him, I'll tear him limb from limb the next time I see him, just see it I don't." More seriously, but with a grin on his face and green eyes lit up, he asked, "Do you know how much of a cut Tiff gave me? Being an honorable Bear I imagine it's a fifty/fifty split."

Rynar said, "Yes, he did mention that it was fifty/fifty. I gather you're not completely surprised?"

"Well Tiff didn't actually ask me, but he said he was thinking about it. I told him as long as he didn't use my name and it didn't look like me to go ahead. But how could you guess from a Vid, that I might be the one you were looking for?" Ben asked

"Tolnar, would you please come here!" Rynar said speaking more loudly, "I know you're there."

He half turned as a young boy showed up in the corridor behind them, dressed in a pair of dark blue shorts and a light blue T shirt, smiling sheepishly. When the boy reached them, Rynar put his hand on the top of the boy's head. "This is my son, Tolnar, and as you see, like Ben he has red hair and green eyes. Pol and I are anomalies. Ninety percent of all Spin Ship pilots have green eyes and red hair. Not all the same shade of course, it ranges from the deepest bronze to the lightest red. The Vid gave us a clue which the Monitor station confirmed."

Tolnar was staring at Ben with wide eyes unblinking, obviously fascinated. Ben with the maturity of his almost seventeen years, reached out and snapped his fingers a couple of times in front of Tolner's face. "Ben to Tolnar. Ben to Tolnar." Tolnar blinked and giggled. Ben said seriously, "You don't have to be impressed with me. I'm almost seven years older than you are, and I grew up in a much more dangerous environment, that's all."

But Tolnar answered just as seriously, "We're impressed because you've acted like a Protector, not once but on three occasions. We saw the Vid of you saving the Captain's life." And he nodded at Mason, "and the Vid of you and the diphonus, and Kifar told us how you arranged for the Bears to get their station back. Though that wasn't distributed throughout the ship until after we left Ochan, so nobody else in this sector of space will know about it."

"We're just at the start of our pre-pubescent break period, which will last thirty or forty years, and it'll be another ten years after that before we can become law-enforcement Protectors. There hasn't been a border skirmish or a war involving Spin Ships for more than two hundred years. We know that's because we're there and nobody with any sense wants to face us, but that also means that what you've done already we will never be able to do, until we get old enough to move on."

Ben said sadly, "But you will be able to move on, eventually. Whoever kidnapped my mother altered my DNA in such a way that I am mature as I am."

Tolnar simply wasn't old enough or mature enough to understand the implications of that, but there was a look of shock on both Rynar and Pol's faces. They looked at Kim and she nodded, "As far as the med scans go, they confirm that. I hope that yours will prove mine wrong.

THREE

They didn't as the Incursion's chief med-tech unhappily reported. However there was a bit of good news, as he said in the briefing room, "We've come to the conclusion that while Ben may be right about the present rejuvenation techniques not working on him, by the time he actually needs them any problems should long since have disappeared. There are several new cloning processes that look good for Ben, so while he won't grow up, he'll still be able to have offspring in the not too distant future."

Everyone laughed at the look of horror on Ben's face at that idea. "Don't worry Ben, I didn't say you would be forced to have offspring, I just said it would be possible."

Rynar began speaking then, "We said we knew approximately how old Ben was. Well Kifar, who's now the Manager of the Ochan Station helped there. One of the tenants they didn't allow back in had computer records bearing on your mother and her kidnapper peripherally and you specifically. The space yacht that they were on was discovered drifting in the outer edge of the Barins system about forty-eight years ago, by the tenant's people on one of their journeys to the station. They informed no one. The lifeboat was gone, and they found you, a baby of about eight months old. You were in stasis and they kept you there until sixteen years ago, when a new manager took over."

"He was clearing house so to speak, when he found the record of you being in stasis. You were taken out of stasis and sold. To whom, we don't know. For what purpose, we don't know, but obviously, you never left the station, and despite the type of life you led, you may have been incredibly lucky. After that we lost track of you for a while, and then when you were about eight, traces of you began to show up in the internal computer systems. They had the signature of our people all over them, that's how we knew it was you. They became more and more sporadic and the last trace and it was a very small trace indeed would have been just before you were ten years old. Since we didn't think you had stopped hacking into the systems, we just assumed you got better than the security systems."

Ben said dreamily, "If there had been any way to access the station computer itself, I could have owned that station if I'd wanted to. But it was simply too old, as I told Mason. None of the public terminals supposedly connected to the station computer were actually connected directly to the station computer, but to a smaller backup computer. They used that because they didn't want to alarm their tenants. There was an old fashioned computer room and the only way you could alter anything was from that room, they didn't want them to know that if you destroyed one small room you destroyed the station. The computer could be controlled externally through a ship's com when it was docking at the station, and briefly had direct communication with the computer. At that time you could sneak something into the computer, but even that went through the computer room." He grinned. "Obviously they weren't able to keep everything out."

FOUR

"You want to give me that? Why?" asked Ben.

Rynar said, "Well part of the reason is that no else can fly it except for one of Ferma's offspring. We don't know if she's still alive so we don't know if it will ever fly unless we do so. Second, you're a Spin Ship pilot, and you'll never be completely happy until you fly one." He waved his hands at the others in this bay locked down in cradles. "Spin Ships can only be flown by one pilot. When that pilot starts to grow up then the Spin Ship's AI is replaced, because it can't be altered. The Spin Ship's original AI's core programming is transferred to a memory jewel, like this." And he lifted up the one that was around his neck. "It only contains about a hundred terabytes so it's not very big, but it contains the essential personality, so that we never have to give up what has become a very close bond."

"Third we owe your family much more than that, this carrier and those Spin Ships are the result of your grandfather's research. They increased the power and the speed, and increased the savings by an incredible amount. This ship was intended to be the next generation of Spin Ships, and even without your mother we've been able to use some of her research and though we only used about twenty percent of what we could have done. The next generation, while not as powerful as this experimental model, will be able to go toe to toe with a battleship with an even up chance of winning."

"Also we need to know how much better it is than the current model. That can only happen if there's someone to fly it. Since we don't know where your mother disappeared to, it's possible that our enemies may be constructing Spin Ships based on this design. Once you've linked with it, we couldn't take it away from you if we wanted to. The ship itself would fight us to prevent that."

"What about training in how to fly it?" asked Dan Foreman.

"That is also genetically encoded in Ben's DNA. It's impossible to use simulators to learn how to fly Spin Ships, since the link is so vital to piloting it, and that can't be simulated. We lost a lot of children in the first couple of generations until we actually built it right into their DNA." Rynar said. "We lose pilots in accidents but seldom brand new ones. It's usually after they've been flying for a while, and they tend to get cocky and careless."

"All right, I know you're right, I look at the Spin Ships and I just get an itch to get into one. Rick and I have gone over the upgrade for the computer with your experts. They say that they don't really understand it, but the directions are clear and implementing them won't be difficult. Since you want to see what this one will do against your Spin Ships, Rick and I should upgrade about a dozen of them, that will at least give you some idea of how much that will help them." Ben told him. "Also the way you talked about their vital duty, they will either be attacking or defending a solar system in most cases, so we want to find a nice solar system with no habitable planets and with no claims on it."

"You don't intend on upgrading this one?" Rynar asked.

"My mother may have been a genius, but not in the computer field. Oh the hardware is all right, it's somewhat more advanced than your Spin Ships, but the software is atrocious. However, you want to see how it will perform against its probable configuration, if one of the rivals in your sector of space builds it. Computer geniuses are a dime a dozen, whatever that's supposed to mean. It took two with diametrically opposed types of thinking for Rick Tane and I, to develop the computer upgrades that we did. Neither of us could have done it on our own."

FIVE

Pol handed Kim a disk and told her, "This is the chemical composition of the concoction that we've prepared for Ben, and inserted into his Spin Ship's memory. The basic mix will work with all pilots but for best reaction, it's better if it's tailored to the pilot. It's one of the genetic modifications that was originally done and in Spin Ship pilots, it appears to slow down time, and it combines with the special physical attributes of the pilots themselves, which includes their reaction time, and their unusual tolerance for high gravity. This is what makes Spin Ship pilots so deadly."

"The chief med-tech noted in your medical information on Ben that he has an unusually low tolerance for anything that contains alcohol, or what his body considers to be alcohol. Well, all Spin Ship pilots have the same reaction and this is why most of the chemicals it contains have traces of alcohol in them, if not combined with the other components they could cause them to seem to be drunk. That's why Spin Ships are called Spin Ships, because of this chemical. In the first versions, it actually made things seem to spin to the pilots for the first few minutes after taking it. It took about three generations before we were able to eliminate that side affect."

"The first pilots coined the phrase for being launched as going 'On the Spin', and from that, it developed into the ships being called Spin Ships. The reason why children are necessary to fly the ships is that once they begin puberty, the careful chemical balance that we were able to create genetically and that they have in their pre-pubescent years is destroyed. Experiments in trying to control those chemicals in post pubescence were horrible failures, so what they eventually came up with was a way to delay puberty. Fortunately, unlike Ben, those first children were a genetic success, though at the time the period was only delayed about ten years. Now it's at thirty to forty years."

"Beyond the first couple of months after conception, this period can't be extended or shortened, it's genetically encoded in their bodies. Like Ben however, it can be tampered with in the first few weeks and extended to a permanent period or entirely eliminated, so that those children would simply have a normal childhood. Once into puberty chemicals that would make them drunk no longer work, and in fact, they have a very high tolerance to alcohol in general."

SIX

Ben nodded to Kim and Rick as the Spin Ship was moved from its cradle among the spares to the transporter that would move it to the launch bay, where the other Spin Ships were already manned and ready to go. He'd been in a full link with the ship's AI, who he had called Charlie, for several days. One of the reasons telepathy and especially xeno-telepathy had been developed was to provide this incredibly close contact between pilot and ship. It could be flown without that telepathic link, but not very safely or very well.

He flicked a switch which started the Spin chemical circulating through his system. It only took a few seconds for things to slow down, the transporter seeming to slow to a crawl. Once the Spin Ships were launched they were on their own, the chemical allowed the pilots to think so fast that communication was almost impossible between them and the carrier when they were in actual combat.

Finally, he was in the launch bay, which though made for the normal larger Spin Ships were designed so they could launch any ship that could fit into it. Ben reported, *Ready to launch.* and the computer slowed it down and transmitted it to the command deck, and sped up the reply. *Launch at your discretion.*

*All right, Charlie, let's go.* Ben ordered, and the ship's afterburners flicked on and they launched from the bay. The carrier was just far enough into the solar system at ten light hours, that it couldn't use it's hyper engines, a Spin Ship could go much deeper, to almost two light hours. Ben activated his hyper engines, and suddenly the stars became a blur, for about thirty seconds, before he shut them down. That put them far enough out that it would seem like they were attacking from outside the solar system.

*****

The tracking officer said, "Here he comes, sir."

Pol said, "Launch all Spin Ships." and the tracking officer flipped a switch which turned the lights in the launch bay from standby yellow, to green for go, and ships began to launch from both sides of the carrier. There would be ninety-nine in total, Ben's ship having taken up the one-hundredth bay. There would be no use of hyper-drive, according to the game scenario, they were under fifteen light-minutes from the sun, far inside even a Spin Ships hyper-limit.

"Taking up formation, all ships at sixty-five percent of light-speed. First contact in ten seconds. First contact, now." It was impossible to follow the battle that occurred then. Spin Ships were so fast and agile, that only when run in slow motion could battles in which they were involved be analyzed. All they could do was watch the simulated casualty figures mount up, after fifteen minutes it was at ninety-one destroyed, and there it stopped. The tracking officer said, mournfully, "Well, at least eight survived. The way things were going I didn't expect even that many to last."

Pol said with disgust, "You realize what this means don't you. The generation that they're building right now will have to be scrapped, and they'll have to put everything that we know about the experimental spin ship into a new generation. There are going to be some heads rolling. Those who decided to be conservative have been proved wrong. Ben deliberately didn't upgrade the software, and it still destroyed all but eight."

SEVEN

Ben was stalking away from the Spin Ship and he was pissed, oh was he pissed. He was usually a calm individual, but right now, he was mad. The technician, "You've locked the AI, how did you do that, it's supposed to be impossible."

Ben yelled over his shoulder in a furious voice. "Nothing is impossible, it's just more difficult." His words seemed to be crowded together, so fast did he say them. The technician looked at Rick and me with worry on his face. "You'd better follow him. The AI controls the counteracting drugs, and with it locked down he's still partly On the Spin."

Ben almost ignored the people at the door. They were in his way so he walked around them. I relaxed a little, the way he was acting, I'd expected him to try to go through them, but obviously, he was still thinking. Rick and I followed him into the lift and he hit three. I got out the communicator I had been given to use on the Incursion and dialed Pol's code.

"Tyran."

"This is Kim, Pol. I think Ben's heading for Spin Ship programming. I've known him for a few months and the most I've even seen from him is mild anger. Right now, I don't think I've ever seen anyone angrier. The technician said he was still partly On the Spin."

"Oh, joy. Do you think he's dangerous?" asked Pol.

"No. There were people at the hangar door and he walked around them, so he's still calm enough to think, but I don't know what he'd do if anyone actually tried to restrain him." I told him.

"Okay, I'm on my way to programming as well, I should be there just about the same time that you get there. Out." said Pol

Rick and I were a little behind Ben, as he entered Programming, and Pol was there by the time we entered. Ben went directly to a computer terminal. He looked at a technician, "What's the experimental ship's code?" he demanded.

The technician looked at Pol, who simply nodded, and the technician said, "x1473alpha222."

Ben's fingers were just a blur as he entered the code and then kept on typing. Pol said, "Put it on the big screen."

We looked up at the large screen, already it was almost full. Pol looked at Rick. "Can you tell what it is, and what his intent is?"

Rick watched a little longer. "It's a virus of some kind, however it's benign. In other words it's not designed to hurt anything, but what it's for I have no idea."

The technician asked, "Do you want us to unplug him, Captain."

Pol said, "No, he's just working on the experimental ship and in effect it's his now, to do with as he wants."

Ben kept typing for almost a half-hour, his fingers still just a blur. Just before he stopped, Rick exclaimed, "That part I recognize. He's spliced the master copy we made of the computer upgrades into whatever he's writing."

Ben stopped typing and hit RUN, and the program, whatever it was began to run. Ben turned in his chair and I could see that his eyes were calm now and he talked at normal speed. "Let's go for that debriefing now."

*****

"Well it took every ship except for eight, but we did get him in the end." said the analyst.

Ben said calmly, "Those eight were ones that Rick and I worked on, but no, you didn't, or at least you shouldn't have done so." He keyed a number into the desktop communicator at his seat. "How do you feel, Charlie?"

"I have a headache. I didn't know it was possible for a computer to have a headache." said the voice.

"Run the last part of the action as you were ordered to do, rather than what you actually ran." Ben said.

What appeared on screen was the last maneuver, but it was completely different from the one that had actually happened. Ben said, "This is the actual maneuver that I planned, and that should have been carried out. If it had been run, we would have gotten at least six and probably all eight of the remaining ships. You can go into suspend mode now, Charlie."

He disconnected the communicator. "As you know all Spin Ship pilots name their AIs. Charlie disobeyed my direct order, and instead of what I just showed you, he ran the one that resulted in our projected destruction. According to a Spin Ships parameters the pilot has the override right, whoever programmed Charlie gave him the right to override his pilot. If I hadn't been so mad, I would have explained."

"No computer is going to go beyond its assigned parameters with me, not twice at any rate. So I wrote a benign virus to reformat Charlie and return him to his proper place, without destroying his personality, at the same time, as Rick said I spliced in the master upgrade, since I was doing a major upgrade anyway."

"I'd find out who originally programmed the Spin Ship my mother designed. She didn't. Some of the peripherals were programmed by her and they're completely different. Before Rick and I leave, we'll go over Charlie's original programming. It's still there, it's simply been blocked off. We can then design a program to extrapolate exactly what type of programmer he/she has become in the last fifty years. With that, even if you can't find the programmer, you can find anything he's programmed and with a little alteration you can run the virus on it to reformat any computer to it's original parameters. I've put clear instructions inside the virus itself that'll tell the programmer's how to modify it. If you don't have the password which I'll give you, it'll only respond to Pol's voiceprint. You'll want to limit who can use it."

"If the programmer has become good enough that the virus won't work at first, it'll automatically and continually change to attack from different directions. Sooner or later, it'll succeed. The programmer simply wasn't good enough, to start with, that he could learn enough, even in fifty years, to stop it."

EIGHT-September 8,3145

They had parted with the Incursion two and a half weeks back, after modifications were completed to turn the fighter hangar on board ship into a Spin Ship launch bay. It could launch and be recovered either in hyper space or normal space. They were two days out from Home Base, where the clan ship yard and a lot of their support people were located, also there was a planetary population of one hundred million people, loosely connected to the clan, and looking to them for their defense.

While there was always an officer on watch, the com itself was tied directly into the PA system, so only one person was required on the bridge. A sudden call for help rang out over the PA system. "This is Home Base calling any Federation or clan ship. We are under attack. Mayday. Mayday. We are under attack by several waves of fighters. So far we have lost twenty-five fighters without inflicting any damage on the attackers. Mayday. Mayday. Calling any Federation or clan ship."

The message suddenly stopped as the bridge officer reached the com and switched it out of the PA system. Ben was already in the Spin Ship hangar working on the peripheral computer systems. It only took him thirty seconds to suit up and then he almost threw himself into the cockpit. He began powering up, and he flicked the switch for the com. "This is Ben, I'm on board Charlie and powering up, I can be there in two hours."

"This is Mase, Ben. Go, when you're ready. If Hodgkiss had kept our defenses up to date, we wouldn't be in this fix. Our fighters are two generations out of date." repeating what he had said in the mess hall a couple of weeks earlier. Ben watching his controls, saw that he was at optimum and said into the com, "Launching now." He flicked the switch and suddenly the hangar door parted in the center and opened full width. Hitting the tractors which pushed the Spin Ship out of the Harvard, he hit the hyper drive engines and went to full emergency power. Within seconds, the Harvard was so far behind, that even his advanced instruments could no longer see it.

*****

The sixteen fighter ships were facing a wave of twenty ships. They were holding off and the defending crews just knew they were laughing at the ineffective defense so far. They'd lost one hundred fighters so far and hadn't taken out any of the opposition.

"Holy shit! Something just came out of hyper and it's moving at eighty percent of light speed! Range half a million miles!" yelled the Tactical officer on the two man command ship. "It's firing!… It went back into hyper and I've lost it!"

The command pilot looking at his own screen sighed with relief. Where there had been twenty fighters there was only debris. He drawled, wryly, "Well, whatever it was it seems to be on our side."

*****

Ben headed for the second wave of twenty. They were too far in to turn back, which the third wave had already done. They were aware of him now, but the second wave had as much luck against him as the first wave. He came out of hyper to destroy it and then followed the third wave in normal space. With that many fighters, there had to be a carrier out there somewhere and he wanted it. It was just showing at the extreme edge of his screen when the third wave self-destructed.

On the Spin, dreamily, he realized that only nineteen had done so, there was still one fighter intact and slowing. He ignored it for the moment as the carrier fired up its engines and began moving. Heading in and not out. With the fighters destruction obviously done from the carrier, the logical conclusion was that the carrier intended to ram Home Base itself. That showed they were fanatics of the worst kind, ready to waste their lives to complete their mission. That would take out the shipyard and about three million people.

He went back into to hyper and came out less than a light second from the carrier. Moving at eighty percent of light speed, he began firing. His anti-matter beams, which were capable of knocking out a battleship's screens, ripped into the carrier's screens, missiles and anti-matter beam weapons firing back. Nobody in this quadrant of space had ever faced anything like a Spin Ship before, and nothing even came close to hitting his ship.

Flipping over with the incredible agility a Spin Ship had, he began a spiral around the carrier, his beams just eating into the screen, and it became weaker and weaker. Suddenly the screen failed. With no hesitation, Ben stopped his spiral and switched targets to the aft anti-matter reactor, his beams now eating through the hull. In seconds it was over as the first anti-matter reactor blew, the explosion reaching for and taking out the second reactor, and the carrier became a small sun for a few brief seconds and then was gone, leaving no debris behind.

NINE

He came up on the last fighter of the third wave, which was powered up but was just coasting. His instruments showed no sign of weapons activity. He put a needle beam from the short range com on the ship, and the other ship responded with a similar needle beam.

His eyes widened as he recognized the pilot as the creator of the computer which had ended up in the Harvard being targeted for destruction. As soon as he recognized the pilot, Ben realized why this fighter had not self-destructed as the others had done. Ben said, "My voice will sound somewhat mechanical at the moment. I'm On the Spin, though I'm starting to come down. If you are who I think you are, you'll probably find out later what I mean, but in essence the computer is slowing my speech down and speeding yours up."

The man looked surprised. "You recognize me? From where?"

Ben said, "I'm the one who put your computer together. The one you left for someone to find, so that the Federation could be informed of exactly what your group was doing. We assumed, since your associates were coming after us, that you had been captured and drained of all information and then killed."

The alien looked sad, "I took full credit for developing the computer and placing it on a planetary surface in case it was intercepted, but in fact I was only one of five, who were formed into a cell. Together we developed the computer and got it down onto a planet hoping that what happened would happen, and that would tell the Federation about the terrorist group I was a member of. One of us was caught and he informed them about the computer, but he was able to commit suicide before they could find out anything about the cell, and they assumed he was working alone."

"Do you have a name that I can use?" asked Ben.

The alien grinned, "You could not pronounce my real name. When among humans I call myself Daniel Harris."

"All right Daniel. I'll drop my outer shield and bring you inside of it, and extend it to cover your ship while I ferry you in to Home Base. I'm a xeno-telepath and your mind tells me that I have nothing to fear from you. However, I'm new at telepathy so that doesn't mean that there isn't danger from you or your ship that you might be hiding behind a block. Since that constitutes an unknown danger, I'll have to separate you and I'll put a Type Five Beacon on your ship, then I'll be returning to my ship, which is a couple of days out from Home Base."

Daniel looked at Ben. He'd been among humans enough to know that Ben wasn't being quite honest with him, and the straight face that Ben was carefully holding confirmed his suspicions, but he decided to hold his peace.

TEN

The Harvard was heading for its assigned docking bay on Home Base and its scanners were deployed. Rick Tane, who was Harvard's computer expert and usual com officer in formal situations, said, "That fighter that you put fifty thousand miles away from Home Base seems to have company. There's a ship only five thousand miles from it. I thought you said interdiction range of the beacon you placed was ten thousand miles, Ben."

"Oh, it is." Ben said, his voice gurgling with laughter, "I think if you take a closer look at the ship that it no longer has an engine."

Mason Cooper turned a suspicious eye on Ben, "Okay, Ben what did you do?"

"'Come into my parlor,' said the spider to the fly." Ben quoted a very old saying.

"He's right, Mase. The ship is still powered but it can't go anywhere because it's engine has been destroyed. It also appears that it's Councilor Hodgkiss's private yacht, and the scanners indicate that it contains five life signs." said Rick.

Ben said, laughter still in the background of his voice. "A tractor beam would be considered armed assault and the beacon would respond by firing on the ship that used one. First, a warning shot, which since there are no other ships floating around, obviously was heeded."

He approached the com station. "May I, Rick?"

Rick grinned, "Since you seem to be the only one who knows what's going on here, go ahead."

Ben activated a needle beam and aimed it at the beacon. "The beacon doesn't consider a com beam a threat, unless there's a lot more power than there should be." He typed a password into the keypad and then a command.

"You can tell Home Base com section that the interdiction zone around the beacon has been changed to one thousand miles and that they can retrieve the Councilor's ship, with, I assume, the Councilor on board." Ben said.

Mason was about to question Ben again, when he caught Dan Foreman's eyes. His first officer shook his head, a grin on his face. "I really wouldn't ask, Mase. He might tell you. It might be less of a shock if you just went along with it, and find out as it happens." he told his old friend.

*****

It was a very full Council chamber. The Council was in session, and all of the Harvard crew were sitting in the audience, as were several members of the Home Base com section, plus several members of the law enforcement body of Home Base, and Daniel Harris and the Federation representative accompanied by two armed Federation marines.

While not a trial Ben was representing the Harvard since he was the only one who knew what was going on, and the Council was representing itself, with a very angry, red-faced Chief Councilor, and they were completely in the dark.

The Council Second in other words, the head of the five person opposition said, "This Council session will come to order. Since the Chief Councilor is involved in this dispute, I will be chairperson for this session." He looked at Ben. "I'm afraid I don't know your name, young sir, or in fact what you are doing here."

"I am Ben Cooper Dandreson, sir, and I am an adopted member of the Cooper clan, and I was piloting the ship that destroyed the fighters and the carrier that attacked you. When I left to rejoin my ship, I placed a Type Five Beacon on the lone fighter that survived. The interdiction zone of the beacon was breached and in essence that's why we are here. I made the complaint against a Council member and you have it before you." Ben said politely.

The five members of the opposition bowed to Ben formally. The Council Second looked around and said, "It appears that only the five of us are willing to thank you, Ben. One hundred and two fighters were lost, luckily the bailout mechanisms saved eighty-three of those pilots, so we only lost nineteen men and women, but without your help we cannot calculate the destruction that would have taken place. The probability is that it would have been total. Whether that would have included the planetary population as well we don't know."

Ben interrupted, "I'm sorry to interrupt you sir, but we do have a member of the force that attacked us here, he may know what the plans were. If I may ask him."

The Council Second nodded, "Go ahead, Ben."

Ben turned to the audience. "Daniel Harris, can you tell us what orders where given?"

Daniel stood up. "While full parameters weren't set for the mission, we were to destroy anything we saw. I assume that would have included the planet as well. This was the biggest target we have ever hit, and the greater the damage the greater the outrage. When the first two waves were suddenly destroyed, in such a brief period of time, the carrier set off the self-destruct mechanism in the fighters of the third wave. Luckily I had disarmed the one in my fighter."

Ben said, "Thank you, Daniel." He turned back to the Council. "Since Daniel cannot confirm that the planet was also in danger we cannot assume that it was also targeted, however we can take it for granted that Home Base was targeted and that means at least three million men, women and children."

Hodgkiss said angrily, "Why is this man free? He should be locked up."

Ben turned to the Federation representative, "That would in your province, ma'am."

The beautiful black haired woman who stood up, could have been in her mid-twenties but was in fact, almost one hundred years older than that. "This man, known as Daniel Harris, supplied us with information several months ago, which allowed us to destroy some members of the group that has been attacking us. Due to more recent information he has supplied, at present operations are being carried out, which we understand should drastically reduce the threat they represent. For his information he has been granted Federation citizenship and exonerated of any crimes against the Federation."

Ben said, "Thank you, ma'am." and she smiled warmly at him.

"Most of the Council doesn't seem very appreciative of the fact that you saved their lives, Ben. Let me tell you that the Federation is very appreciative and the bounty that is normally paid will go to your clan as you requested. The total sum should amount to approximately one billion credits."

She turned to the Council. "I am sorry that your fighters can not share in the bounty. They fought gallantly, with what they had. But they didn't destroy even a single opposition ship and under Federation law, they were required to destroy at least one to share in the bounty." She sat down and there were frowns of disgust directed at some of the Council members.

Ben directed a comment at the Council Second. "I have made a notation and presented it to you concerning the regulations of placing a Type Five Beacon, would you please put it up on the screen."

The Council Second nodded, and looking down he saw the notation on a com pad, and entered it on his computer and once it was on his screen he transferred it to the main screen on the side wall of the Council chamber.

Ben read it off the screen, "Type Five Beacon. Placed on any object which poses unknown dangers to society. It may be a Federation or a private beacon. Both are covered by the following Federation regulation. Such a beacon consists of offensive weaponry, and an explosive charge designed to destroy the dangerous object, plus a com to warn off approaching ships. A Type Five Beacon interdiction zone may only be entered by a Federation military vessel, used for the recovery and disarming of dangerous objects, or by the emplacing spaceship. All other ships come under regulation 321011.344. A couple more things before we get to that regulation. Would you please play the recording which is the second item on the com pad."

"Forbes this is Hodgkiss. I want you to go out and get that fighter. It's evidence, and should be under our control."

"Sir, are you aware of the regulations concerning Type Five Beacons."

"I've looked up the technical specifications for beacons. They're all at least ten feet in length. The one on the fighter can't be a Type Five Beacon because it's only two feet in length. It's simply too small to contain the required components."

"Sir, even if we wanted to, we don't have a ship to get there. We are internal security only, normally the fighters take care of external security and they aren't under our control."

"You can use my yacht, the Somerset. She'll get you there and she has tractor beams to bring the fighter in."

Now sir will you please play the recording which is the third item on the com pad. The Council Second was beginning to grin, as were a lot of the more knowledgeable people in the audience. He keyed in the recording and it began to play.

'Private ship Somerset, this is Home Base com section. Do you read me.'

'This is Somerset. We read you loud and clear.'

'Somerset. You are approaching the interdiction zone of a Type Five Beacon. You come under the regulations concerning such a beacon.'

'Somerset. Somerset, please answer.'

Ben looked at the Federation representative who was having a hard time restraining a smile. "Would you please tell us, what the Federation would think of those two conversations."

"The communication to Forbes, who commands the law enforcement body of Home Base is an illegal order. Type Five Beacons are regulated under Federation law. Regarding the communication to the Somerset: Once a communication is sent out and is answered it is considered a live conversation until the receiving ship signs off. There are certain exceptions but they wouldn't apply in this case. Under Federation law the Somerset received the communication telling them they came under the Type Five Beacon regulations. Councilor Hodgkiss who is the Chief Councilor of the elected body that rules Home Base gave an illegal order. Forbes however was required to obey that order, and since Hodgkiss is also the owner of the Somerset and was within com range he is considered the responsible party, not Forbes." she said, and then coughed to hide her face.

ELEVEN

Kim whispered, "Ben set him up, and now he's going to hang him out to dry."

Rick looked more thoughtful, "No, he went to too much trouble just to get one man. He's going after something much bigger and from the look on his face, he's got it."

Ben looked at the name plate in front of the Council Second and said, "Now Mr. Berringer, if you would put regulation 321011.344 on the screen. Actually there are four clauses so if you'll put 321011.344a up first."

They all looked at it.

'321011.344a: In pursuant to Type Five Beacon interdiction zone. Any owner or commander of a ship that enters this zone is liable to a fine of one million credits and/or imprisonment of not more than ten years. If it is done within com range of the owner, even if the owner doesn't give the actual orders the owner is considered responsible. If this is a Federation beacon, it automatically comes to trial. If it is a private beacon, the emplacing ship's commander has the option of applying this clause or clause 321011.344b-1.'

Everybody looked at Hodgkiss and he was white. He looked at Ben and said with a strangled voice, "You wouldn't dare."

Ben looked at him sardonically, green eyes cold, "Well actually I don't particularly like that clause either. I prefer 321011.344b-1 much more. That's my choice. Would you bring that up Mr. Berringer."

'321011.344b-1: The commander of the emplacing ship may demand the resignation of the owner or commander of the ship that enters the interdiction zone. If the owner is within com range the owner is considered the person responsible. The owner or commander may never hold that position again. If the position is an elected position he must resign and may never run for that political position again.'

Kim, Mason and Dan Foreman looked at each other in awe. Political opponents had been trying to get rid of Hodgkiss for close to fifty years and it looked like Ben was finally going to do it. Of course, he'd still be the power behind the throne so to speak, but he wouldn't be in the front line. Rick just looked thoughtful, knowing the other shoe hadn't dropped yet. Ben's Protector instinct demanded total defeat of the enemy whenever possible.

Hodgkiss said, "Well, you've got me kid. My resignation is effective immediately, but I have five members of my family on this Council, so it's going to be a deadlock, and I'll have a good chance of controlling whoever is elected."

Ben said, "Possibly, Mr. Hodgkiss. But no, you don't have five members of your family on the Council. Mr. Berringer, if you'd put part three of that clause up." Berringer who had been looking fascinated at what was taking place, took a few seconds to realize that he'd been addressed and then he hurriedly put up part three of the clause."

'321011.344b-2c: If the position is an elected position, all family members of the owner, who belong to the same elected body, must also resign, and may not stand for reelection to the same position for two terms. All family members are forbidden from standing for the same position, also for two terms.'

Rick smiled, and murmured, "Game, set and match."

Ben addressed Hodgkiss. "When the Council goes under six members an election must automatically be held within one week. The remaining Council members can not pass any laws during that time, but they continue to rule until after the election. Mr. Hodgkiss, you and your policies have caused nineteen deaths and led to the destruction of over one hundred fighters. How well do you think you're going to do in the coming election?"

The white faces of Hodgkiss and the other members of his family on the Council told him the answer.

TWELVE

Raster Cooper, Head of the Cooper Clan, looked at the other four members of the Clan Council and the gather clans. "Ben asked for this meeting and he explained why, and the Council is one hundred percent behind him. Ben, you're up."

Ben stood up and said, "Rick, Jubal and I have been working on this since I got back on the Harvard after the attack. Mabel's been patched in, so that we can show you what we did. Mabel, put the prototype up on the screen please."

Suddenly there appeared on the screen the picture of a fighter. To those in the audience who never saw fighters up close and personal there didn't seem to be much difference but the fighter pilots and former fighter pilots sat up and took notice.

"You've all heard the news about our stay on the Incursion and the simulated battle between Charlie and I, and the Incursion's Spin Ships, and the fact that Charlie's programming had been sabotaged. Rick and I designed a program to extrapolate from his programming what type of programmer that person would be today. Well, we adapted that program with the help of Jubal and we used it to design a new fighter, adding in some of the technology incorporated into a Spin Ship. The fighter on the screen looks at first glance very much like the fighters of today. The most advanced Federation fighters that is. Mabel show in red the differences in the body to a standard Federation fighter."

Almost the whole exterior of the ship changed to red. "As you see there's one or two changes." Ben said, sardonically, and he got a laugh. "The body’s been completely re-designed and it uses one of the materials that are used in Spin Ships. This material has a much higher stealth capability built right in, so it's seventy-five percent harder to find with the current generation of instruments. It has its own separate shield generators built right into the material, in addition to the usual shield capability of the fighter itself. All told that adds about four hundred percent additional survival capability."

"The material itself, underneath the built in shielding generators, can take a glancing blow from an anti-matter beam and survive. Now realize here I'm not talking about a battleship beam here. I'm talking ships that mount smaller anti-matter beams. Her main armament consists of six anti-matter beams for use in space, four forward and two aft, and four laser cannons for use in atmosphere. Since the fighter is configured for atmosphere as well as space, and has wings, she has the space to carry two small ship killer missiles and six smaller electronic warfare missiles, to go after ships like the carrier, which mount mainly defensive weapons. You wouldn't want to send them after anything with offensive weaponry unless you were desperate, but with enough fighters, you could have saturated the carrier's defenses and been able to destroy it. Well, I could go on, but only those who produce her and fly her need to know everything she can do. How many total changes area there, Mabel."

"Four thousand three hundred and four and 1/2 changes have been made."

Raster asked with interest, "Why is there a 1/2 change, that's somewhat unusual isn't it."

Mabel answered, "Agreed, however, every other part was completely replaced, but by only changing one half of this particular part we increased its efficiency by over three hundred percent, and when we compared the redesigned part it was less than half of that so we went with the half change."

"Okay, Mabel let's talk what generation of fighter this would be." Ben said.

"This design has been seen by Naval experts. They consider it a quantum leap in fighter design. They said if they followed the present track, they wouldn't expect to develop a fighter like this for over a hundred years."

"You realize that as I said, much of the technology isn't mine, or Rick's or Jubal's, it's my mothers translated into a somewhat smaller shell." Ben said. "We did a good job of adapting it, but still this ship would have as much chance against Charlie as the fighter's of the raiders had. In other words none."

"However as I said, the Federation Navy has seen it and we have a firm commitment for ten thousand fighters just like her, if we can produce them. They're replacing a full quarter of all fighters they have. That means that we're going to have to spend money to make money. The Home Base shipyard needs to be doubled in size. The one billion dollars in bounty will pay two-thirds, the Clan Council has agreed to put that up plus the additional half billion needed, subject to your approval." Ben said.

Kim stood up, and Ben nodded to her. She turned to face the her relatives. "Most of you know what Ben is. He's a Protector. Some of you aren't aware of exactly what that means. Ben cares absolutely nothing about money. His only concern is Protecting his people, and that's us. If we have a stronger Federation Navy, we automatically get more protection, and that's a Protector's overriding concern. To him the fact that we make a lot of money is nice but again he doesn't care, he only cares that we get more protection. My vote is yes." She turned and smiled at Ben, her thumb up in approval and his green eyes lit up with thanks. The vote was almost unanimous, less than a dozen people voting against it.

EPILOGUE

Just under six months later the first dozen of the one hundred projected for the first month were completed. The second month production was five hundred and the third month was the full production of one thousand a month. Eighteen months later the last of the first production run was complete, plus the five hundred produced to protect the system. Orders were coming in from all over the Federation, planets wanting to replace their outdated fighters, with the new model, which cost only one third of what the old models had originally cost. The older models cost much more to repair and that made it cheaper in the long run to replace the older models than to continue repairing them.

END

4/7/02 4:04 PM

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