Cargo Bay 11 (Complete)

(( This thread is for roleplaying through the remainder of the Reverse-Ratcheting Routing Planer Production Team Saga. While it's primarily for members of that Ops team, others who have a reason to enter the story may feel free to do so. ))

H'ajah had known from the moment she received the assignment that this was her big break. It was her first command, modest but brimming with potential. This was where her legend would begin: with a small team, a little ambition, and a lot of stembolts.

At first, she tackled the problem head-on. She marshaled her troops -- Olivia, J'laqtra, Kirstine -- and set about the task of assembling the reverse-ratcheting routing planers that were her solemn mandate. It was exhausting labor, straining the back, fingers and eyes, but H'ajah persevered. This was her chance to show them her mettle, to grab her Starfleet career by the throat and strangle the glory out of it.

For a time, her single-minded ambition blinded her to the toll this took on her troops. Even J'laqtra was showing signs of fatigue by the third day. Perhaps it was H'ajah's own exhaustion that caused her to experience a moment of doubt. Was this mission she had been given even possible? Would James have set them up to fail? H'ajah fell into bed that night with a troubled heart. Then the solution came to her in a dream.

She dreamed, of course, of the work to be done. She stood knee-deep in a sea of stembolts, which jangled and clanked like bones as she waded through them. She scooped them up in her hands and crushed them like dough, molding them into new shapes: a lamp, a key, a scroll, a mek'leth. But the creation of these objects sapped her strength, and she fell to her knees; while the stembolts rose, up to her ribs now. She knew she could not carry on much longer. She grasped the mek'leth in her right hand, steeled herself, and with a mighty swing she cut off her left hand at the wrist. Then she passed the mek'leth to her left hand and cut off her right. And as she sank into the dark sea of stembolts, she saw her hands continuing the work, moving on their own.

It was a mighty dream, and H'ajah awoke invigorated. It was still mid-way through delta shift, and she had hours yet before she had to meet her team in cargo bay 11. She knew she had no time to requisition the equipment she needed; this mission she had been given was a fool's errand, she was certain, and no one would take her priorities seriously. But H'ajah would show them that no task was too stupid for her to conquer.

She had personally handled the requisition for the holography suite hardware by the Engineering R&D team a year ago, during the development of the EKI gloves for Echomet, so she knew at least one place to find one. She found the workshop deserted at this hour. She hesitated, but remembered that fortune favors the bold and glory comes to the brave. H'ajah took the gear she needed. But she still left a note.

By the time her troops arrived to begin their shift, H'ajah nearly had everything set up. The holo-emitters were arranged around the volume of the cargo bay, and she donned a pair of EKI gloves while the others looked on. Three other pairs of hands appeared in the air over the other work tables, skeletal wireframes gesturing and flourishing in sync with H'ajah's own movements as she explained her plan. Then she set to work, assembling a reverse-ratcheting routing planer from the components arrayed across her table, and the holographic facsimiles did likewise. When she was finished, she had constructed four planers for the effort of one.

They spent the day rearranging their workspaces and setting up more tables, until they were jammed so close together they could barely walk in between them. But by the end of the day, each planer constructed by a flesh-and-blood worker was matched by five constructed by disembodied hands. This was good. This was right. The team returned the following day and set to work in high spirits.

Perhaps H'ajah should have been satisfied with this. But she saw more room for improvement in this process. The team had to sleep sometime, even a formidable warrior such as herself. And the work was still tedious and exhausting, even with an output multiplier in effect. H'ajah could envision the ideal system; she just needed a few more parts.

When it was finally finished, the newly optimized system was a thing to behold. They had removed all the work tables, now the floor was filled by crates of stembolts. In one corner, the parallel processing module H'ajah had borrowed hummed softly, its cooling system working to offset the complex computations being performed by the class 1 AI it housed.

"Computer!" H'ajah bellowed triumphantly. "Engage program Epsilon-one-eight!"

Dozens of hands -- now clad in puffy white cartoon gloves, at Olivia's suggestion -- appeared in the air, hovering over the boxes, and immediately dove down to scoop up stembolts. Then they shot upward toward the ceiling, where floating tabletops shimmered into existence and the hands set about constructing a batch of 25 planers at speeds the meat workers could only dream of achieving. The movements they enacted had been modeled on input data from dozens of iterations of the assembly process by H'ajah and the others, filtered through the AI's optimization and efficiency routines. Below, a new army of disembodied hands materialized to dive down and rise back up to form a second layer of assembly stations one meter below. Then another. And another.

H'ajah showed her subordinates a mouthful of sharp teeth. "Glorious work, team," she said. "The tales of this day will be told long after we are dead!"
Everything was fine when H'ajah left it three days ago. The process was running smoothly; they were ahead of schedule, due to some efficiency measures the AI had added. H'ajah had been pleased about that, feeling vindicated in her choice to install a class 1 to manage the assembly lines. Ones were clever but possessed no ego; they worked tirelessly to achieve the directives given to them and didn't stop to ponder the nature of consciousness or anything like that. Upon returning to bay 11 after three days away, H'ajah saw at once that the AI had been busy making efficiency improvements the whole time she was away.

The bay was a churning maelstrom of puffy white-gloved hands, dancing and looping hypnotically. The floating tabletops were gone, dispensed with by a machine intelligence too efficient to see any need. No longer did one pair of hands diligently work through the assembly process as H'ajah and her team had taught it; now each set of disembodied gloves (and it wasn't always just two) performed a tight sequence of actions in a confined space, accepting inputs from below and handing slightly modified outputs upward. No motion was wasted, no idleness tolerated. Assembly paths merged to combine components into ever more complex arrangements until somehow, by the time it reached the top, a pristine reverse-ratcheting routing planer was formed.

H'ajah stared upward toward the ceiling, awed by this nightmarish efficiency. The ceiling of the bay was stacked with these planers, at least two meters deep, suspended above her by an array of emitters cancelling out the station's artificial gravity. Where had the AI even gotten those? It must have replicated the components and assembled them. H'ajah involuntarily whistled.

Pulling her gaze away from the tonnes of finished planers suspended above her head, H'ajah noticed that the crates of stembolts arranged on the bay floor stood empty. She wasn't surprised in the least, given the speed of assembly happening before her, yet the process hadn't stopped for want of resources. H'ajah felt a sinking feeling in her gut as she tried to force her eyes to trace the supply chain backward to the source. It was headache-inducing to try to follow the rapid, whirling motions, but she soon discovered what her fears had warned her to expect: all stembolts were streaming from the replicator at the back of the bay.

"Computer!" H'ajah barked anxiously. "Disengage program!"

"Unable to comply," the computer responded matter-of-factly. "Active program non-responsive."

"Computer, priority override, authorization H'ajah-Sigma-3901!"

"Unable to comply," the computer repeated. "Error accessing security authorization database."

H'ajah let out a frustrated growl. She hadn't linked the processor module up to the station's network, fearing it would be discovered that way, and she had not thought to copy over her auth codes manually. The process had been instructed to assemble routing planers as efficiently as it could. It hadn't been told when to stop, and it hadn't been told to give verbal orders precedence over its singular directive.

"Alright," H'ajah said, rolling up the sleeves of her uniform. "Time to try the manual override, petaQ."

Two hours later, the door to cargo bay 11 opened to admit CPO Laro Nazair. He had been dispatched by Cmdr. Strand to investigate some odd power readings coming from this bay. He stopped to pick up a sno cone on the way. Laro didn't really know what to look for when investigating odd power readings, so he'd been hoping to see something shooting sparks all over the place or the like, something obviously wrong. Laro was not prepared for what he found going on in bay 11.

Laro stepped across the threshold, mouth agape. Inside was absolute madness. He hadn't seen anything like it before, at least not since the nightmares he'd had studying for his emergency technician certification exams. The melting ice slush in his cup numbed his hand, but he hardly noticed.

"Helloooooo?" he called out. He wasn't sure if he wanted somebody to answer. He took a few steps into the room, as far as he dared while staying clear of the terrifying dancing hands.

"QI'yaH!" a voice shouted, and then a large and angry Klingon woman fell on him.

"Everything is fine!" H'ajah shouted at the stupid security guard, once she'd picked him up off the deck and wrung as much blue ice water from her sodden pantleg as she could. "It is an experimental fabrication process! It's supposed to do that!" H'ajah gestured around her expansively.

"Okay," the security guard said doubtfully. "And you were up on the ceiling because..."

"I forgot something in the back!" H'ajah yelled the first thing that came to her mind. "It was . . . my PADD! It's back there and I can't reach it because I don't have enough space to work in! So I was trying to squeeze between that stack of planers and the wall, but you distracted me!"

"Alright, let's . . . let's all calm down here," the security guard suggested patronizingly.

"I am calm!" H'ajah asserted. "And I didn't call for security. There's nothing wrong here! Everything is fine!"

"Yeah," the guard said cautiously. "Yeah, I can see that. Alright. Well. I'm gonna . . . go . . . report that we just had a false alarm then."

"Step to it then!" H'ajah called after the security guard as he backed out of the room.

Once the door closed, she issued a gutteral growl and whirled on the machine. "You have not defeated me, taHqeq! These bruises only strengthen my resolve! I will see you broken and scattered before me!" H'ajah shucked off her uniform jacket and threw it at the process, where it was quickly drawn into the dance of moving hands and disappeared. She slapped her collarbone and bellowed, "Minions! Assemble!"

Unfortunately her communicator had been affixed to her jacket, so she had to find her PADD and send an email.
J'laqtra's experience working for another Klingon in the structure of the Federation was an unusual one, to her thoughts. They had a similar drive to excel and duty was all-consuming. Admittedly, being termed a 'minion' galled, but she gritted her teeth and tolerated the indignity for the opportunity to prove her mettle against the never-ending opponent of the self-sealing stembolts. Surely, this was an honor for the generations to come.

The message arrived unexpectedly, her shift was not due to start with the new design Lieutenant H'ajah had created for another hour. She hastily pulled her jacket on and bolted to the Cargo Bay, a path magically opening before the charging Klingon.

The door opened and she skidded to a halt on the other side. It closed behind her. She didn't move, except to look up, and up, and up.

"pong qeyliS rol!" She shouted. "Lieutenant! Lieutenant, are you in there?" It took her a hypnotic, eye-twisting, several minutes to try and track the route of the cursed machinery. A sleeve dangled and she jumped, trying to snatch at it, for several moments, before she realized there was no longer a hand inside of it.

(( We're going to continue to time-dilate this scene so that it can proceed at its own pace, because I hate to rush it. This is taking place the evening of July 7th, 2417, approximately 12 hours before the USS Atlantis departs DS13. ))

H'ajah emerged from the mouth of the open crawlspace, sweating and disheveled, just in time to hear J'laqtra call her name. "Here, comrade," H'ajah said as she climbed to her feet. She caught her breath with her hands braced against her knees and delivered the bad news. "It is no use. This passage does not extend to the EPS junction feeding this bay. The passage must be on the far side." H'ajah waved dispiritedly at the storm of cartoon gloves. "I tried to slip past, near the ceiling where there was no gravity, but the gap is too small."

H'ajah straightened upright, looking her subordinate square in the eye. "There is no alternative, J'laqtra. We cannot go around, so we must go through. Find us something we may use as shields, and we will charge our foe."
J'laqtra examined H'ajah, staring from top to toe. She looked battered and weary, and J'laqtra immediately straightened. "I would never refuse a call to battle," she stated firmly, and immediately began searching the immediate area for something shield-like. Failing that, she stepped out into the hall and promptly removed two panels from the walls, exposing the wiring and conduits behind them, granting passerby only the dignified response of a snarl to discourage them from asking too many questions.

She bore her prizes back into the Cargo Bay. "I return!" She announced in a booming voice. "These wall panels are not quite large enough for our entire bodies, but I believe they should act as sufficient shields just long enough for a successful foray."
The enemy was formidable; countless disembodied hands danced in formation, a show of strength. The terrain was unfavorable; the floor was filling with stembolts, almost knee-deep in places, as a result of one of H'ajah's earlier attempts to disrupt the process by throwing her PADD at a holoemitter. (The process compensated for the misaligned emitter by churning out yet more stembolts, piling them high enough for the lowest tier of grasping hands to reach.) Yet the spirit of the warriors squaring off to charge through the holographic maelstrom was undaunted.

The four of them assumed a formation of their own. J'laqtra stood at the vanguard, shield held before her. Olivia and Kirstine covered the group’s flanks. And H’ajah, at the center, held her shield aloft to protect the heads of the other three. She issued a mighty roar of “QAPLA’!” and the brave companions surged forward as one.

J'laqtra slammed shield-first into the illusory opposition, scattering dozens of puffy white gloves in every direction. Yet before their charge had carried her even a meter into the storm, the process began to compensate. The hands pushed back from all sides, attempting to shove the hard, shell-like obstruction out of the way of their work. H’ajah braced her legs against the downward force on her shield, shouting to her warriors, “PUSH THROUGH!” J'laqtra drove forward, straining against the onslaught but nevertheless advancing, inch by inch. Kirstine and Olivia put their shoulders into J'laqtra’s back, bolstering her. H’ajah could see that the humans were pushing themselves close to their limits. Valor such as this had never been asked of them before. They were almost half way through now. “HOLD!” H’ajah commanded.

Distracted thus, H’ajah didn’t see the plush white fingers wrapping around the edge of her upheld shield until she was suddenly lifted off her feet. H’ajah dangled from the handholds in the repurposed wall panel, unable to reach the floor. She tried to swing her feet up to kick at the hands gripping her shield, though she came nowhere close to reaching them. The hands were carrying her shield back, away from the group. H’ajah could see more hands descending on her unprotected warriors. She abandoned the shield and leaped upon the melee, wrenching and biting at her foes to tear them away from her comrades.

It was not enough. With their formation broken, the group was vulnerable from too many angles. Both Olivia’s and Kirstine’s shields were ripped away from them. They, and H’ajah too, were overwhelmed. H’ajah kicked and punched and bit and snarled, but it was no use. She was dragged away and expelled from the storm, landing with a heavy thud on the bay floor.

H’ajah looked up in time to see J'laqtra’s mighty last stand. She had advanced almost three-quarters of the way through, but alone and unprotected, she stood no chance. She lost her shield and was dragged away as well.

Except that unlike the other three, J'laqtra was dragged toward the far side of the bay. The class 1 AI only cared about efficiency, and J'laqtra had been closer to their goal than their point of entry. Dumped unceremoniously into the meter-deep holoemitter blind spot near the back of the bay, J'laqtra now had unrestricted access to the Jeffries tube access point that lead to the EPS junction they needed to reach.

H’ajah staggered to her feet and cupped her hands to shout through the storm. “You did it, J'laqtra! You broke through! Now SLAY THE BEAST!
J'laqtra's roar boomed out amongst the hands as she tried to hold on to the remnants of the formation. As she was lifted up and away, she kicked and bit, clawed and screeched battle cries.

The floor came up fast and hard as she was dumped at the back of the bay, J'laqtra took several seconds to shake her fuzzy head clear. The sound of H'ajah's voice was faint and tinny, but eventually the meaning of the words sank into her mind. "The beast!"

J'laqtra spun around and charged, full tilt, for the Jeffries tube access. Lacking in subtlety, she yanked the door off and, in a fit of pique (well, rage) sent it flying into the mass of fluffy, white hands. "I'm going in!" She shouted back and crawled in, looking for the vital heartbeat that was the EPS junction.
In the chaos of the battle for Ch'Aekhla, to say nothing of the frantic uptick in engineering work that had followed in its wake, Liz had almost forgotten about the cryptic note left on her desk, penned by an unknown but rather dramatic author. And the memory might have lingered there in the obscurity of the engineers mind were it not for the murmurs about strange goings on in Cargo Bay 11. What was it that she had thought to herself when she first read over that anonymous missive?

I kind of want to see where this goes.

Fortunately on a station with turbolifts nowhere was all that far away, and Liz set off at a liesurely pace with a replicated bottle of root beer in hand. She spent her minute in the lift making conversation with Lieutenant Jyyrak from the science division, exchanging pleasantries and discussing their respective projects in broad strokes. Liz disembarked first, and the two waved each other off. The cargo bay was a scant dozen meters from the lift, but it was not until she stood at the threshold to the chamber that she spotted anything amiss.

A youth spent watching the horror movies of centuries gone by, encouraged by sweet candies, savory popcorn, and the expansive catalogue of films maintained by one Kyle Callahan, had prepared Liz’s imagination for the potential perils of life among the stars. She had steeled herself against xenomorphic starbeasts, fierce alien hunters, and all the lurking monstrosities the imaginations of the 20th centuries most fanciful costume designers could afford to create. Her mind even played host to a debate on whether the newly discovered bacterial species in the water purification system was more likely to skew toward the works of John Carpenter or David Cronenberg.

What she found in Cargo Bay 11 was none of those things.

Which is not to say that the group inside would have been out of place in one of those stories. The quartet huddled under their makeshift armor of plate metal seemed to wield a potent mixture of heat-of-the-moment ingenuity and reckless abandon, charging headlong into an absurd tangle of disembodied cartoon hands and wading knee deep in... stembolts? To their credit the charge seemed to be working until the gloved fingers grasped the lip of the heavy metal shields and pulled the group apart, returning three to the front of the bay and depositing one on the far side of the field of hands.

For her part Liz could only stare in wide-eyed wonder.

After J'laqtra disappeared into the Jeffries tube, several things happened very quickly.

First, H'ajah noticed the assistant chief engineer standing in the doorway of cargo bay 11. This was cause for concern, because H'ajah had recently stolen her holography gear. The engineer stood staring at the abomination H'ajah had wrought.

Second, Olivia and Kirstine collected their discarded shields from the floor, probably intending to replace them in the corridor. They stopped in their tracks when they, too, noticed the engineer blocking their way.

Third, the din of the industrious hands stopped as the holoemitters stopped operating. H'ajah turned her head back toward the center of the bay to see the swarm of white gloves vanish, grinning with satisfaction. J'laqtra had cut the power! Her exultation was short-lived, however, because her attention was drawn toward the ceiling by the sound of groaning metal. There, approximately four tonnes of reverse-ratcheting routing planers were suspended by a gravity cancellation field -- a field which was certainly dissipating now that its emitters had lost power.

Horror dawned on H'ajah's face.

"Close ranks!" she shouted as she sprinted toward the door. "Shields up!" H'ajah leaped and tackled the assistant chief engineer as four tonnes of reverse-ratcheting routing planers plummeted from the ceiling. Then the lights went out.

The stacked planers crashed down into a bed of loose stembolts, which somewhat absorbed the impact, but with the side effect of launching many of these stembolts in all directions with lethal momentum. It was as though a bomb had been set off in the bay, sending chunks of shrapnel hurtling into the walls and ceiling. It would have shredded the bodies of H'ajah and her team in the corridor if not for the barricade of wall panels expertly employed by Kirstine and Olivia. These makeshift shields were left with dents several centimeters deep, but the squishy organics beyond it remained mostly unharmed.

(( Anybody interested should feel free to get in one more post, then I'll close this thread out tomorrow. ))
The hands vanished so quickly that for a moment Liz thought that they had been nothing more than a hallucination, or some kind of manifestation of an impish being whose existence ran counter to the known conventions of the universe. Such things were known to happen, after all. And yet the deep pit of stembolts seemed to attest to the truth of the matter, along with the trio still baring their heavy metal shields.

Under the clank and clatter of dropping metal Liz nearly missed H'ajah and her minions closing ranks, but their headlong charge to the doorway - in which she stood - earned her full attention. She turned, but with their headstart the duranium phalanx was upon her before she could escape, and the mass of meat and metal slammed into the deck plating, mostly on top of Lieutenant Commander Kermit. Were she not reeling from what was sure to be a budding concussion she might have thought herself lucky to have the three officers between herself and the hail of stembolts displaced by the tonnes of reverse ratcheting routing planers.

The damage to cargo bay 11 ended up being mostly superficial, requiring the replacement of much of the paneling but only minor repairs to its structure. The mildly-concussed assistant chief engineer generously classified it as the result of an "industrial accident" in her report, filed after she was released from sickbay.

The reverse-ratcheting routing planers not significantly damaged by their fall still numbered enough to fill a shipment to Talos Junction, so they were hastily packed into crates and loaded aboard the U.S.S. Atlantis in time for its departure from Deep Space 13. As anticipated, it was a large enough supply to keep the outpost stocked for half a year at least.

Which just left the stembolts to deal with. The runaway manufacturing process had produced so many excess bolts that even after discarding the ones too damaged to use, the final inventory counted 504 gross. With cargo bay 11 out of service for repairs, that left Ops with a storage problem. They packed cargo bay 3 as full as they could, then filled all remaining dynamic storage space. The door to DSS-51, in particular, opened onto a solid wall of crate thereafter. That still left 17 cubic meters of stembolts to store.

Fortunately, the departure of many DS13 personnel aboard the Atlantis proved to be the serendipitous solution to this acute storage crisis. The newly-designated DSS-74 (a vacant office belonging to the absent assistant chief of operations) became these crates' new home--a temporary measure, just until Ops could shuffle some inventory around and make room elsewhere. They had two whole weeks to figure something out.

(( This concludes this Forum RP thread and all my planned content for this RRRPPTS subplot. What happens next is out of my hands... ))