A pattern of details, p.1
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       A Pattern of Details, p.1

           James Matt Cox
 
A Pattern of Details
A Pattern of Details

  by James "Matt" Cox

  The story presented here is fiction.

  Any similarity to any person living, dead or virtual is purely coincidental.

  Copyright 2013 by James M. Cox, Jr.

  Thank you for downloading this ebook. You are welcome to share it with your friends.

  This book may be reproduced, copied and distributed for non-commercial purposes, provided the book remains in its complete original form. If you enjoyed this book, pleasereturn to your favorite ebook retailer to discover other works by this author. Thank you for your support.

  Books by James "Matt" Cox

  A Pattern of Details

  Books in the Stone Blade series:

  Stone Blade

  Double Bait

  The Radical Factor

  The Burning Crown

  Expedient Measures

  Lethal Max

  This book is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Isaac Asimov:

  a true hero and role model for yesterday and all of its tomorrows.

  Chapter 1. An Ordinary Day

  A screaming alarm woke Morris from fitful, nightmare-riddled sleep. When he breathed his throat burned from the deadly toxic compounds in the atmosphere. The air recycler, the source of the alarm, shuddered and shook to a halt. He donned his near-depleted respirator automatically as he tore into the balking machine. He didn't waste time cursing the lack of parts or the patchwork he'd already done, he didn't have the time for it. He traced the problem as quickly as he could and fixed it as best he could.

  The recycler hummed raggedly back to life. Just before he fastened down the last access panel, though, it died again. This time the repair was even harder and the unit didn't even last thirty seconds before something else shorted and broke. He tried to patch it yet again but to no avail.

  "It's gone," he said. Then, after a pause, "There's nothing more I can do."

  As he fastened down the panels and gathered the useless and burned out parts Morris thought back along the trail of bad decisions and reckless actions that brought him here, starting with the first.

  ***

  Guild Senior Master Technician Morris Taylor scowled and adjusted his holospecs. The complex circuit swam into focus and just that quickly Morris saw the problems with it. He applied a delicate touch of silver and two dabs of insulation. Most Techs would have used a precision guide but he didn't want to waste the time setting it up. A few scrapes of a cleaning probe later he had the major repairs complete and ready to connect. He set the thinner-than-a-hair optical fibers, spliced them into place and began extracting himself from the machine.

  By the time Morris fastened down the access the machine, a line repair monitor, completed its powerup diagnostics and started integrating itself back into the building's net. By the time he reached the supervisor's office the line itself had reconfigured and started working up to full speed. Delvecchio Metal and Plastic now had a fully functioning hover-canopy production line.

  Morris beeped the supervisor's office and entered. Lon Delvecchio, the founder's grandson, looked up with mild irritation.

  "I've completed repairs," said Morris, "The line is ready for full load now."

  Delvecchio's mild irritation turned to sudden surprised satisfaction. He checked his terminal and smiled hugely.

  "So it is. Very impressive, Technician. You know you were authorized another four days on this."

  Morris shrugged. "No need for it. The repairs weren't that extensive."

  "Well... I won't argue," said Delvecchio under a raised eyebrow. He pulled out his exchequer and scribed a chit. "Here you are, Seigneur Taylor. Thank you."

  Morris signed and sealed the repair order and receipt, idly noticing the bonus there. Most of his assignments calculated cost per repair time and he usually collected a hefty bonus.

  As Morris walked to the linear station he ran his hands absently across his toolbelt. Though neither impressive nor imposing it was the sine qua non of effective and efficient repair. It consisted of a simple belt and harness festooned with tools, supplies and extensors but its true power came from the smartsystem hardfibered into it. From the first day a Tech started training he or she began learning the toolbelt and the toolbelt began learning its owner. By graduation and certification the Tech knew the toolbelt and the toolbelt knew its Tech on an automatic and almost subconscious level. By virtue of this the Tech could carry and keep organized the myriads of specialized and general tools required for his or her jobs.

  At the station Morris checked his chrono and examined the linear schedules. It was almost too early to call it a day but by the time he reached the Guildhall it would be too late for another assignment. Morris jacked into a public 'comm, checked his messages and smiled. He had exactly one, it came from his supervisor and it read 'Good enough, go home early.'

  The second stop after he boarded the linear Morris rose to give a young lady his seat. She smiled briefly then started talking on her 'comm. Apparently she heard quite a bit she didn't like; her expression fell and she looked ready to cry. She left at the next stop but he didn't try to reclaim the seat. When the hovertran sped up for a long stretch he felt several lurches and jumps that shouldn't be there. This particular linear would need servicing soon.

  The linear finally pulled into Eastfaire South Plaza. Home. Not for the first time Morris regretted not living closer to the Guildhall. When Morris received his Junior Master cert three of his friends and former trainees convinced him to move out of the hall billets and into better quarters. His supervisor at the time supported the idea so Morris moved. Now two of the junior Techs and that particular supervisor had moved away from Dracos and into other assignments and Morris still had the same apartment they picked for him.

  Shaking off that thought, Morris walked over to the closest financial kiosk. He logged into his bank, deposited the chit and made his usual allocations to his brokerage. Even after the Guild deduction he had a respectable amount of money; as long as the Member Worlds of the New Stars Sovereign System States Trade League didn't collapse Morris had ample savings. He felt secure.

  ***

  Morris sat in front of his powered-down holocad, idly contemplating his evening. Ordinarily he'd study for his upcoming assignments but he had none. He had long since read and digested the Guild technical journals and nothing in the civilian ones interested him. He'd already cleaned and serviced his toolbelt, now it hung on its rack charging.

  The apartment reflected its owner. The most comfortable chair and very nearly the only one sat in front of the holocad terminal. The pictures on the wall were holographic or flat circuit schematics or color-enhanced process flows. The odds and ends populating the spartan shelves and tables were kinetic do-nothings Morris built from parts too poor to recycle but too good to discard.

  Inspiration struck with a growling stomach. Morris hadn't eaten out in a while and now, by the stars, he deserved a celebration! For his evening out he chose a white shirt with gray trousers and a gray cloak: Guild colors. Before he left he slipped a penlaser and minikit into his pocket.

  The Good Knight's Repose, his favorite restaurant, nested between a modart theater and a club with all of them New Renaissance themed. Nonetheless the Repose maintained an air of quaint hospitality along with a truly varied menu. With a nod to the hostess Morris walked toward the table in the corner.

  "Morris. Mo Taylor! Here."

  Morris looked around and smiled at the man waving to him.

  "Kel. It's good to see you," said Morris as he approached the table.

  "If that were true you'd do it more often," said Kelven McCrory, one of Morris' first trainees on Dracos and now himself a Senior Tech. "You must be celebrating tonight. Join us?"

 
As usual McCrory had a companion for the evening.

  "No... I don't want to int..."

  "Blather," interrupted McCrory, "If you're out partying there must be a platinum reason for it! Have a seat, Mo."

  Aware now of several amused looks on him, Morris sat.

  "Po-larity," said McCrory, "Mo, this is Terri Jenkins. Terri, Morris Taylor. The best Tech on Dracos, no exceptions!"

  "Pleasure," smiled Jenkins.

  "Umm... Likewise," said Morris with some difficulty. Jenkins was truly gorgeous.

  "So what's the occasion," asked McCrory, "You finally solve the Eleven-Space Unification?"

  "Kel-ven," scolded Jenkins, "You be nice!"

  "I finished the Delvecchio assignment early," said Morris, "I didn't have another one in the queue so Reichsson sent me home early."

  "Pyronic," said McCrory, "That's... Wait a milli! Wasn't that a two-week authorization?"

  Morris shrugged. "I finished early. It wasn't really that hard, just a lot of detail work."

  McCrory shook his head sadly then grinned wide. "That calls for some tunes, then. Don't leave."

  Morris considered just that but Jenkins pinned him with a hand on his arm.

  "Kelven was telling me about the Tech who trained him. Was that you?"

  "Y-yes. He was a fast study but he liked to take short cuts."

  She chuckled at that. "I believe it. Did you two really spend nine hours in an active fusion chamber?"

  "Yes." Morris smiled at the memory. "Kel though we'd be cooked and crispy but the chamber wasn't really that active. It was on sub-ignition hold and damped. Not even really fully active but there are a few things that can only be done within a hot chamber. It's considered good training for new or impatient Techs."

  "But nine hours?"

  "Well... We skipped lunch."

  "Lunch," said McCrory as he sat, "I thought this was dinner."

  "Fusion chamber," said Morris.

  "Ahh. Hrm." McCrory cleared his throat. "I suppose it does make a good story. I ordered for you, Mo, so I hope your taste hasn't changed."

  Morris shook his head.

  "Slib. Now fusion chambers are interesting but we also spent time on an orbital station. That made me nervous, for truth. Not about the danger of hard vacuum or solar radiation, but about the slave-driver I had for a trainer! We hadn't even stowed our packs when..."

  Morris sat back and let the words wash over him. McCrory made even the simplest tasks fateful and did so with a nodding acquaintance to the truth.

  With the meal a pleasant memory McCrory talked Morris into a trip to the club next door. The Wench and Wagon was not a place Morris would have chosen but Jenkins added her request and he simply couldn't refuse. They found a table and waited for the current music, far too loud for conversation, to abate. Morris looked around uncomfortably, counting and calculating the ratio of ladies to men. The last song stopped suddenly and Jenkins, with a pat to McCrory's arm, grabbed Morris' hand and pulled him toward the dance floor.

  Jenkins did her best but Morris simply could not dance. After the second time they bumped another couple he tried to keep a better watch, which didn't improve his dance. Or lack thereof. By the time the music stopped he moved woodenly at best. Jenkins smiled warmly but Morris knew there was no way he hadn't embarrassed her beyond repair. She leaned toward his ear.

  "Thanks, hon. We'll do this again!"

  Morris smiled, more for the kind words than anything, but he knew the truth. In their absence McCrory ordered drinks. Jenkins took a quick sip of hers, grabbed McCrory and headed back to the floor. Morris found his drink stronger than he preferred but for some reason didn't mind.

  McCrory and Jenkins returned to the table halfway through Morris' drink. McCrory's skill at dancing rivaled his technical expertise and Jenkins' exceeded it!

  "Oh ruddy nice," said Jenkins.

  She spoke as the band started blaring primate. They seemed determined to complete a set and the harsh rhythm along with a complete lack of melody made conversation impossible. Jenkins cuddled up into McCrory's ear and Morris decided to give them some privacy. Besides, the air had grown hot and heavy.

  Morris walked a casual few steps into the cool, damp air, grateful for the lack of noise. Tendrils of an ache tensed his shoulders so he worked to relax them. After a minute or so his ears quit ringing, his head cleared and he began entertaining thoughts of returning.

  "Hi, doll. Light?"

  When he looked up he found that voice attached to a very attractive lady with a drugstick and two companions.

  "Umm... Hi," stammered Morris. He made a show of checking his pockets. "S-sorry. I don't... Umm... No."

  "It's polar babe," smiled the lady, "Stay pyro!"

  The three walked away before Morris could unstick any words. Uncomfortable now, he started back into the club. Just outside the door a pair of ladies stopped to give him a heavy appraising look. Before he could even think to speak they visibly dismissed him and walked away.

  As Morris walked home a dark mood settled over him. He carefully analyzed the evening, his mistakes and what he might have done differently. No optimal solution vector presented itself so he spent a hot shower modifying assumptions. Still nothing. Now clean from his shower, he took a headache tablet, checked his messages and went to bed.

  ***

  Morris sat outside his supervisor's office with no small curiosity. Upon awakening he found a message scheduling an early meeting. Though not unusual it was far from common; he typically received his assignments two or three at a time through the Guild netsite.

  "Come in, Morris."

  Jacob Reichsson always brought to Morris' mind a man carved of solid granite. His hands, one of which he held out, looked entirely too large and clumsy for delicate work but all who knew him knew better. Only his administrative skills, which surpassed his technical ones, kept him off the line. Reichsson himself didn't particularly like the fact but the Guild simply did not waste talent.

  "You'll be wondering why you're here," said Reichsson, taking a chair and pointing to another.

  "Yes sir. Did BidinCo file a complaint?"

  "Hades no," said Reichsson after a moment to recall, "They were completely in the wrong. They knew it, we knew it and the Arbiters knew it. Drew Poltano saw their solicitors, looked at the initial grievance and offered to rip them open."

  Morris winced at that. Poltano, an Arbiter with both seniority and experience, brooked absolutely no foolishness from persons within the Guilds or outside of them.

  "For truth," continued Reichsson, "he informed them that not only did you comply to their altered work request but you provided another ten hours above and beyond without billing them. That much he told me. His secretary told me later that he was ready to pull Tech authorization for them and all their subsidiaries pending a full audit." He chuckled at this. "No, Morris, this is completely different. What do you know about the Halcyon Autonomous Region?"

  Morris thought a moment.

  "Light population density for its size. Not too far from here, decent economy, good trade relations with the League in general and the Brytan sector in particular. Border or proximity with several governments either controlled by or closely allied to the Consortium."

  Reichsson nodded.

  "Likely targeted for a Consortium takeover if they get the chance. Not currently at war but capable against anything but a full Consortium push."

  "Which makes them strong League allies," said Reichsson, "Navy Liaison contacted me officially. They're assembling a team for an extended mission there and they want to include a highly-qualified Tech. It will be for an extended tour and I want to send you."

  Morris frowned at this. "I'm not up for another three months, sir. Why me?"

  "Three reasons," said Reichsson, "The mission is an extended tour. You don't mind those, or at least you haven't in the past. Second, they requested someone with at least a 3C clearance and yours is 4C. Finally, I trust your judgment both to represent the Guild a
nd not to cause an interstellar incident."

  Morris nodded. "That's sufficient for the official reasons, sir. What else is there?"

  "Your observational skills," said Reichsson dryly, "along with a gut feeling.

  "I don't know what Liaison wasn't telling me but I know for all the wine on Spiral there's plenty more under the garble. You're plus-plus sharp enough to handle it and handle it properly.

  "By what I have you and several others are to train a group of students on certain aspects of League technology. This coincides with the transfer of several surplussed Navy ships to the Halcyon government. The military part of the team will be training their folks on them while the civilian members teach technology and science, or at least our approach to it."

  Training. That unsettled Morris somewhat. While he didn't mind training 'prentice Techs he didn't feel comfortable with more than one at a time.

  "I know you don't like it," said Reichsson, "but I do want to send my best. So. Do you refuse?"

  "No sir. When do I leave?"

  Reichsson gave him a relieved smile and a box of datacubes. "Day after tomorrow, 0800 at the Navy side of the port."

  Morris took the 'cubes and rose to leave.

  "Morris... Thanks."

  ***

  Morris took the datacubes to the hall library to review them. As he suspected he had at least a full day of work ahead of him. He started by digesting relevant information on the Halcyon Autonomous Region. Though it did not formally border the League most systems near the edge of the Brytan and Quinde sectors considered it so. From what Morris read so did many of the systems within Halcyon itself.

  Although quite a distance from the Consortium, Halcyon did indeed border or lay within proximity of five close allies, two of which the Consortium effectively owned outright. Almost between it and the League lay the Coral Nebula Federation, itself strongly influenced by the Consortium but with some League trade. As a result Halcyon had a good military infrastructure but a tight one.

  Economically Halcyon was stronger than its neighbors, if only minimally so in several cases. More importantly their legal structure encouraged business both large and small and worked to keep all of them strong, much like the League. That as much as the military concerns made them staunch allies.

 
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