Secondary Warp Field: Culture

In this blog post I submit an an entry for XRP Short Story Contest. When I first learned about the opportunity, I decided I wanted to participate to expand my writing skills. I do hope you enjoy!


In the 24th century… 

The view screen read Warp 5.975. Cruising speed for the light ship. The captain entered the bridge and sat down in the chair of her small, Sabre-Class, starship. Another day in paradise, she thought. Ratana and her crew were patrolling the border of the Romulan neutral zone. This had been the second year of her tenure and one of seval uneventful days in space near the Alteran Expanse. Most other captains were out exploring the edges of the galaxy, but this ship was one of many keeping up with patrols. The job had to be done by somebody. After all, the Romulans were still the Romulans after years of conflict, even in a time of peace.

Ratana’s crew was a quiet bunch. Nobody really gets excited about checking sensor logs on the hour every hour for the same place everyone had been. Three months ago. For the hundredth time. As a captain, she kept her distance from subordinates and the only person she confided in was her first officer, Jindu. That day, a communique was blinking on the comm station and Jindu alerted the captain. She nodded but gave the impression that the message was low priority. At the moment, she needed to be certain the ship navigated through this particular segment of space. From the captain's chair without much reason, “Helm. Increase speed to warp seven.” In the background there was an “Aye Captain,” and obediently the helmsman diverted more power to the warp engines. Slowly the ship edged up on warp seven. Then she turned to her first officer; “In my ready room.”

Her ready room was a collection of models. If you looked at the bridge, the space felt cold but in here there was a number of her works that she had made. A Sabre-Class starship was not going to be the last stop of her captaincy. There were several more advanced federation starship models that she aspired to. She turned to her first officer; “Jindu, Starfleet wants us to travel to Lukarris to begin repairs on the station here sooner rather than later.” Surprised, Jindu assumed she already knew what the message was about. That woman knows everything he thought, so he responded “What needs to be done?” With a grin, she appreciated that he didn’t question her about the little things, “There’s an old payments node in orbit of Lukarris. One of a string of nodes validating payments along the entire border”. Confused, Jindu said “Captain, payments? Everybody knows that money doesn’t exist in the 24th century.” She said nothing. Just raised an eyebrow.

Of course money did not exist this day and time, but people in the Alpha quadrant still needed to transfer an object of value from one another. Jindu had a family house for ten generations that could no longer be cared for so it was still sold in a manner. There was a time when people needed to sell their homes for money because financial systems and governments gave a medium of value to paper and precious metals. Now anything that was yours was an asset that could be quantized on a ledger. In Jindu’s experience trading his family home was as quick as pushing a button to grant it to the home’s new caretakers and they set him up with their ship. He never gave much thought about how that worked. He just knew it was fast and that there had been other attempts to make a value transfer system in the 21st century but they had all failed due to technology flaws. Just like Starfleet he thought, only the best gets put to use. Jindu swapped his family house out for a generational family ship and for his first foray into the stars. A ship that his brother was watching out for now while he was in Starfleet. A question still posed to him, why would there be a payment system out here around the neutral zone? Who the heck are we dealing with out here? The intercom buzzed, “Helm this is the Captain. set course for Lukarris and maintain speed”, Ratana said. “Captain. I’ll have an engineering team ready when we arrive,” noted Jindu.

Upon reaching Luckarris the ship’s crew quickly found the node satellite. Jindu and the ship’s chief engineer, Dalby, formed an away team to go out in Extravehicular Activity (EVA) suits to take a look at the thing. From the transporter room he tapped his communicator badge, “Jindu to bridge. Away team ready for transport.” The away team of two beamed away. In space, cold they materialized in front of the satellite. Dalby took apart the side panel and placed it on tether so it would float away. Inside was an access panel. He touched it and the Library Computer Access and Retrieval System (LCARS) came to life. In the bottom right hand corner a button with an X-shaped symbol was present.

Jindu asked, “Dalby what is all of this? I thought these payment systems only existed on Earth”. Dalby, being unafraid to speak short with his superiors fired off “Haven’t you ever wondered how we bribe the Romulans to stay on their side of the fence? I am kidding. The old validator nodes that process all the transfers were upgraded to operate here and send transactions out over subspace frequencies. Now all the planets in the federation get to enjoy faster than light transfer of their stuff. The Ferengi love it. They use it to handle all of their Gold Pressed Latinum.” That still didn’t explain why there are nodes near the Neutral Zone. Dalby pressed the X-symbol and the screen changed to a command line with a print out; RIPPLED/CODIUS SUBSPACE NODE Version 16.1.20.

“Wow” he exclaimed! “What a wonder to see old tech still going. Did you know these things run everything from handling the Ferengi’s latinum to running holodeck programs?” Jindu plainly said “No. Really, Holodeck programs?” Dalby spent a minute explaining how the holodeck software runs as contracts on the platforms and is spread out across the quadrant. “Not only does the holodeck program proliferate but it’s preserved in case one of these thing goes down, like the one we’re at now,” he said.

The fix ended up being rather easy, the system had went down but it just needed to be reinitialized. All validator nodes forced on-site only access because it would prevent one person from taking them all down simultaneously from an asteroid base in the middle of the depths of space. After handling the fix, Jindu called back to the ship and had both of them beamed back aboard. “Captain, we’re all buttoned up now and the satellite is back online.” Satisfied, Ratana ordered the ship back to warp to resume their patrol.

An hour later a report had come in. The Captain read it and was confused. The satellite was just repaired. How could it be broken already? Dalby was a capable engineer and anything he touches benefits from his skill. Okay, looks like we’re going back. She explained what had happened to Jindu and order the helm back to their previous location. “Captain, we’re approaching Lukarris.” She was irritated because they were due back on patrol soon. Nevertheless, she got up and headed to the bridge; “Ratana to Jindu, meet me on the bridge.” When the turbolift door opened, she headed for her chair. From across the room the tactical officer chimed in, “Captain, I have readings indicating there is another vessel in the area.”

The captain ordered the unidentified ship on the view screen, but before it appeared the ship had gone to warp. “Jindu get back out there and see what they did to that thing. We already fixed this things once and I want this ship back on patrol.” He gave an “Aye Captain” and he was on his way. Upon reaching the satellite, again everything looked normal, except there was a new file added to the operating system. Blink and you would have missed but the file was there. The satellites were secured so the notion that anyone could have accessed it was cause for concern. Better report this. “Captain, our guest appears to have made some changes to this node and it appears to be running like normal. Are you sure it’s down?”

Readings indicated the node was operational from the bridge. That’s not good. Jindu’s turbo lift opened and he entered the bridge. “Captain, if we’re back then our repair job is bust? You know, these nodes are pretty darn important after all. I was reading up about them. These things handle thousands of the quadrants’ asset swaps every second and we never even think about it.” Jindu was fairly enthusiastic about his explanation. He just found out his favorite holodeck program, a stand up comedy theatre named the Gaslight was a distributed codius application running over subspace. Whenever you tipped an artist the application handled it and noted it on the galactic ledger. Who knew?

After an hour of tinkering with the node and no progress, a message appeared. “Kator Uve controls the quadrant’s liquidity and so do all the nodes.” Jindu was slightly confused. Who was this person? “Kator” sounded awfully Romulan. Then he saw the flash. The unmistakable flash that belonged to a ship dropping out of warp speed. “Uh, Captain…” Jindu started. “We know, a Warbird just entered the area. We’re beaming you back,” she said. On the bridge, a Romulan man hailed. “On screen,” said Captain Ratana. A witty Romulan appeared. He looked like a relic but oddly young.

Since Ratana was the sort of person to just speak the obvious she said, “You know, you’re the wrong side of that little invisible fence and you’re tampering with our equipment.” Starfleet captains are supposed to be diplomatic by training but Ratana captained a Sabre-class starship. The ship itself was small, and poor diplomacy could mean Ratana’s ship was met with one too many disruptor blasts short of a bad day as far as your shields were concerned. These ships were easy to make and numerous which is why they were patrol vessels. The Romulan replied, “I am Kator Uve of the Romulan Star Empire. I know where I am. I have installed a contract that has now spread to every node in your network across subspace. In a few minutes I will have the ability to shut them all down. Everyone in your federation will no longer have the ability to transact. They’ll even lose their precious holodeck programs. Not unless you let the Romulan Empire join the network.”

A Romulan node on the network? That would be an interesting day. She decided to play coy, “Kator, these satellites have been operating under your nose for hundreds of years. Are you telling me that you’re only now learning of their existence? This one only serves the region of space we are in for travelers.” Kator was not going to have it, “I know what these are. You have connected the entire quadrant and granted them the ability to send their most precious assets between themselves but no longer will Romulans be excluded. If we cannot be a part of the system then nobody will.” He must be bluffing, Ratana thought. Why destroy something that he claims that he wants to be a part of? Then again, Romulans do often fake their intent. At least that was her memory about a time in the past when her ship ran into the Romulans. Their encounter had been somewhat of a farce. The Romulan captain had projected a false image of a warbird on the Federation side of the neutral zone. They had been toying with her. Romulans do not reveal their intentions up front. “What is he up to?” she thought.

The notion of allowing Romulan join the quadrant’s validator network seemed like a bad idea. Long ago the validator network had been married with Coidus to incentivize mass adpoption for deploying a validator and a contract platform, by two old earth companies named Ripple and Coil. Even if Starfleet was on diplomatic terms and she was allowed to grant access, the Romulans could deploy a contract that could take down the entire system, like a virus. This Romulan had already threatened to do so! However, all starship captains, especially those in the federation embody the notion that all beings, Romulan or not, were worthy of respect and friendship if the demonstrate honesty. There had just been hundreds of years of distrust telling her that on the best terms, the Romulan government would use the network for no good.

Without regard for present company, “Jindu, notify Starfleet command and ask for their input.” Ratana said right in front of Kator on the view screen. Now he knows we’re taking him seriously. “Kator, even if we were to let you in on this system, how would the Romulans plan to use it?” He had the opening he wanted, “To enjoy the benefit of instantaneous trade with all federation planets and civilizations, of course”, Kator replied. Called that one. Exactly what he knows I want to hear. His ship even outclasses this one, so if he really meant to do harm that warbird could do some serious damage. But, she quickly ruled that outcome out because Kator was engaging in diplomacy by even making his threat. She decided to get more information, “Kator, how would you propose you add Romulus to the network?”

This was going where Kator wanted, she was playing along. “Captain, our spies obtained the network topology software for your precious value transfer system long ago. We have been using it amongst ourselves, but we have not been able to connect it beyond the neutral zone. Until now. The contract that I have deployed will spread to all nodes, on both sides of the neutral zone and it will either connect or destroy all of them.” She saw a way out of this situation. He hadn’t said how long it would be until the contract spread but given everything she had learned about Rumlans in the academy she assumed it wouldn’t be long. Actually, it might have already. If there was any hope of preventing the entire system from coming down she’d have to destroy this node. That would be suicide. As soon as her ship powered weapons that warbird would bear down with every disrupter bank it had, and her light cruiser would only last the barrage for a short time.

The situation did not look to good. Starfleet had not responded yet and Ratana was facing a decision that the only the President of the Federation was qualified for, and only herself, the crew and her ship were all that could stand up to this warbird. Given the impossible odds, she took a gamble. Turning to her communications officer, she said “Kator we’ll consider your proposal”. She made the gesture with her hands indicating to cease transmission. “Yellow Alert”, let’s see what he does. By posturing herself in a defensive stance she was sending the message that they were ready for a fight despite their size. The warbird matched suit and began moving towards a position between the satellite node and Ratana’s ship. I guess they’ll be using themselves as a shield, Ratana thought.

Aboard the warbird Kator knew that even this small ship could destroy any chance at setting Romulus free of isolation. Of course he could eliminate the small ship now but then Starfleet would never cooperate. Open war may break out between the Federation and the Romulan Star Empire. “How much longer until the contract software is deployed?” Kator started. A bridge officer replied quickly that only a few minutes need pass before he no longer needed to consider this small ship a threat anymore. All he had to do was wait. Except he was not given that luxury. “Captain, there are vessels approaching”, said his tactical officer. Kator smiled. They didn’t know the number of romulan vessels cloaked in the area”.

The bridge air was rife with tension. Provoked, the warbird wasn’t baking down. Ratana was going to make a move to destroy the node. This meant that in all likelihood everyone would die, but there was no other option. “We have to destroy the node without powering weapons. That would give away our intention. Options?” she asked. Jindu suggested, “We could beam a quantum torpedo beside the node but we’d have to lower our shields. The node would be destroyed but so would we. With no shields we’re sitting ducks.” The path was clear, so she said “Crew to your escape pods. Get on it.” From across the bridge, “Captain we might not have to. There are several ships approaching. Starfleet signatures.”

I guess Starfleet decided to send the cavalry instead of sending a message back. That might have been intercepted. After all, the Romulans had access to the validator node network, but just this one node they had infiltrated so far. She had an idea. The Romulans only had access to this one node but no others, and they couldn’t send messages through them on subspace yet, but Starfleet did not know that! She would send a text message of her intentions through the validator and broadcast it to the next nearest satellite on subspace. “Comms, send exactly what I say to starfleet: No choice. Must destroy satellite nearby or Romulan Control over all. Hold them off. Making move to destroy”, she said. The officer nodded and confirmed the message had been sent and received.

After a moment, the other starships had arrived. From behind Ratana’s cruiser six more ships descended upon the area in succession, one after another, out of warpspeed ammassing directly beside her ship in a battle line. One Galaxy-class battleship, two Akira class and the rest were more Sabre-class ships. Starfleet must have asked the other patrol ships to get there too! Now, fully provoked, the entire Romulan fleet decloaked. Even with reinforcements, Ranta and the rest of Starfleet was outnumbered two to one. “Captain we’re being hailed by our flagship”, the communications officer reported. A bald man appeared on the view screen and order Ratana to stand down. “Yes sir.” she acknowledged. “May I ask what’s next?”

He tightened down his shirt as he stood up and said, “Captain Ratana. We received your message. You have stumbled across a valuable diplomatic opportunity for the federation. I speak for Starfleet headquarters to deliver this message to you. I want you to negotiate the integration of the Romulan Validator Network into ours. This is your show, and we’re only here to ensure your negotiations go smoothly. There are a number of cloaked Klingon vessels in the area as well that would be willing to have a good time with us, but I’m sure you are more than capable of producing a peaceful resolution,” he said sternly. He knew what she was made of.

Even with Starfleet’s approval to allow the integration she still had to ask, “Captain, how do we know they will honor their end of the bargain. Can they not bring down the network anyway?” Another man walked into the view screen, “Ratana, Admiral Schwartz here assures me that the network can rebuild itself in such an event. Make it so!” Goodness! They brought an Admiral? She thought as she raised her eyebrow. “Aye Captain,” she said. Turning back to the communications officer she nodded and a minute later she was staring back at a shrewd Romulan, “Kator, the federation will allow the Empire to join the network willingly. I hope this event will foster further cooperation between our two governments.”

She looked sincere, although Kator was not so sure as he stared back at Ratana. He still had the upper hand and could protect the satellite if he wanted to. After all if he took out that Galaxy class starship then the line would break rather quickly. “An unexpected outcome, Captain. I knew that you were going to destroy the satellite. Tell me would you have if the other ships had not arrived?” he asked. Looking back at him with a smirk, “I guess you’ll never know, but one day you might have to ask yourself the same thing while I’m standing on the bridge of another larger starship.” Kator appreciated her candor and strength. The time had now passed, “Captain Kator, the contract pod is uploaded and is now spreading across the quadrant,” the warbird science officer said. “Do you hear that captain, we are now in this together. Goodbye”. The view screen went back to the endless depth of stars that was space.

Now that the Romulans were admitted into the payment network things would change. The system would grow and evolve further because new minds would be uploading additional contracts. Many of which would never have been added if it wasn’t for this new understanding. There would always be puzzling questions. Would the liquid layer of the system still remain XRP? “Maybe it would finally get a name,” Ratana thought. That would be a strange notion since it had been without one for many hundreds of years. The digital asset was never going to go anywhere because it rooted itself in federaction culture many years ago. Starships began turning and warping out of the area leaving only her ship.

In the distance a blinking blue light shown. It was the satellite. The node was running hard connecting the quadrant and now across borders previously uncrossed. A Romulan diplomat on Earth could now send any asset he wanted to his family. A seemingly uncrossable border. Until now. Ratana turned to her first officer out of earshot of her crew, “Jindu, I would have done it, you know”. Chuckling, he looked back and her and replied “I know, but I’m certain Kator didn’t think you would. I would have gone with you to the end, you know”. “I never doubted it, but we ought to get back on patrol.” Both of them took their seats. In the captain’s chair Ratana looked through the view screen, “Helm. Come about heading one two one mark six” The Alteran Expanse came into the view screen. The expanse was beautiful. Interlaced in it was many stars, some brighter than others. “Which planet should we start with, Captain?”, Jindu requested. Ratana smiled and simply said, “ Helm, second star to the right. Warp six!”