Operation Starfold 12

Romi Mulhaney raced for the elevator as it closed, in vain. The door shut and the pod whisked up.

She swished her finger desperately through the floating holo button, requesting another pod. The elevators in the Republican Shipworks’ Diego Headquarters Building were notoriously slow, however.

It’s not so much they’re slow themselves, she thought. It’s that everybody uses them.

Reluctantly, she eyed the doorway to the nearby stairwell, and headed that way.

“It’s only three stories up,” she said out loud. “I could use the exercise anyway.”

She looked down at her midsection, which was a little too thick to be considered attractive by current standards. Romi was only 25, but she was woefully out of shape.

And flabby, she thought.

She headed for the stairs.

When she graduated from college, she received a job offer from Republican Shipworks as a functional analyst.

Her friends became teachers, medical technicians, and lawyers. They were all jobs people understood, or if not they could be summed up in one sentence. She soon discovered that nobody knew what a functional analyst does, and to describe it to them to the point they fully understood usually took more than a sentence or two.

The last guy she dated, before the war, tried to understand when she explained it to him.

She told him, “I examine data and help my boss make decisions. That’s the easiest way I know how to put it. That’s my one sentence job description.”

But he still did not get it. Most people did not, including her mother and father. Her parents were happy she supported herself and apparently made enough to pay for her own apartment in a nice part of Diego, but they had no idea what their daughter actually did for a living.

Her mother complained to Romi that she could not brag to the neighbors because she did not understand Romi’s job.

“Just tell them it’s classified,” Romi said.

Her mother’s eyes had brightened. That did the trick.

Mom and Dad stopped pestering me about it after that, she thought. Now if they’d lay off the pressure to get married and bring them some grandchildren.

At five foot seven, or 170 centimeters, with light brownish hair and rare blue eyes, Romi was not unattractive, even if she was six or seven kilos overweight.

“Not my fault,” she said out loud, huffing up the steps. “Too busy with the war to work out. Or find a boyfriend.”

Her big break came just as the war started, in fact. She submitted a report to her boss detailing the statistical probabilities of ship losses based on quantifiable factors in battle, such as shield ratings, structural capacity for direct hits, and firepower.

The fact she was able to pool together literally dozens of variables and come up with a sustainable probability model impressed several people above her, and promotions quickly followed along with more responsibilities and even more serious tasks.

She was told her statistical model had been programmed into PLAIR, and still helped with some of the risk analyses used by the AI. This fact made her very proud. She mentioned something about it, vaguely, while visiting her parents one time for lunch, during a rare weekend off.

She said, “When my kids ask what I did during the war, I’ll be able to tell them my assessment models were used to great effect!”

“That’s nice dear,” her mother said. “But first you’ve got to find a nice young man and get married before you can start thinking about having kids.”

And just like that, the conversation shifted back to the fact that she was not married yet.

In the present, Romi grumbled. “The war is more important than you getting grandchildren right now, Mother! Oh gosh. I’ve got to stop talking to myself.”

She reached the door to the floor she wanted, slightly out of breath. It swished open for her.

She took a right and headed down a long, long hall. The Republican Shipworks building was huge.

She picked up her pace and dodged in and out between humans, droids, and the occasional bot.

Eventually, Romi was selected for a special assignment by I. Jonas Kraft himself, the brains behind Republican Shipworks.

Technically serving as the Chief Executive Officer, Kraft delegated most of the administrative duties for the giant company to subordinates while overseeing everything as a whole.

He liked to say he served as the soul of the company, and in many ways this was true. Republican Shipworks was Jonas Kraft, and vice versa.

Jonas had two managerial components he relied on heavily to help run the company. The first he called his Inner Circle. This was comprised of three people, two women and one man, who were directly underneath him on the corporate pyramid. They were in charge of the major divisions and reported directly to him.

The other group was composed of five men and one woman. They comprised a cadre of extraordinarily gifted individuals Kraft called his “Problem Solvers.”

Romi was the lone woman in this second group.

When Mr. Kraft first approached her about joining, she felt flabbergasted.

“I’m not smart enough, sir.”

“I don’t care about your IQ so much as your creativity. Creativity is much more subjective, and hard to measure. But, I’ve been reading your reports. I believe you have it what it takes to serve on this team.”

The words embarrassed her and filled her with pride all at the same time. Mr. Kraft himself read her reports? He thought she was creative? He wanted her on the Problem Solvers?

Of course, she accepted. The following month her paycheck doubled, a nice side benefit.

Now her talents truly were put to maximum effect, and she went into overdrive. There was no time for dating, or working out, or a personal life of any kind.

She helped with the logistics of spaceship design, figuring out how to maximize cargo and passenger space. She helped adapt shield configurations for maximum protection of the Wu drives. She worked on dozens of projects, all of which would probably bore her mother to tears if she could ever tell Mrs. Mulhaney about it without violating her security clearance.

But most important of all, she felt . . . useful. Romi Mulhaney felt like she was finally doing what she was born to do. And, she knew that her efforts helped the Planetary Republic’s war efforts. She was making a difference.

She was also late.

Finally, she reached the door to the conference room, and it swished open after she waved her palm over the holo reader.

Inside, near a large executive table, Kraft stood at the head while five men sat in chairs. Everyone looked at her when she came in.

Romi flushed in embarrassment.

“Sorry I’m late.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Kraft said.

He watched as Romi collapsed in a chair, out of breath.

He said, “As usual, we have a problem. I’ve gathered the Problem Solvers here to get your ideas on how to resolve it.”

He flicked a wrist at the middle of the table and a holo appeared, showing a replay of the Battle of Sporades.

“Our forces failed to take Sporades thanks in no small part to . . . these things.”

Everyone watched as the large skeletal cubes moved abruptly, sunlight flashing in their interiors, ships and pieces of ships disappearing.

“What is it?” one of the men said, awe creeping into his voice.

“We just received word that Thespar’s Sporades branch, which has always served as a sort of a skunkworks for them, transmitted the plans for these to Euripides, Clarion, and Epsilon. RNI picked up some details via an intercepted transmission over the quantum matrix. They call it ‘Starfold.’

“Essentially, best we can tell, the cubes act as one way portals to the nearest sun. Whatever goes inside, does not come back out.”

They watched the recording as one of the giant cubes teleported a short distance, enveloping a Republican warship. Sunlight flashed within, and the ship disappeared.

Another man said, “Are they going to . . . tow these into place in an attack against us somewhere?”

Kraft shook his head. He said, “RNI tells us there are some limitations. One is an enormous energy requirement. Thus, they are tethered to the proximity of a friendly planet.”

“That’s a relief.”

“Yes. But, it does make attacking those planets they’re guarding problematic. Watch what happens when our Condors try to take out the cubes.”

Everyone observed while the Marian Francis popped three solar particles near a cube, with two actually appearing inside the metal beams.

The cube jumped over and swallowed the one outside it. A blinding flash later, and all the chunks of sun were gone.

“It just sends the solar energy back to the sun!”

Kraft nodded. He said, “You begin to see the problem. Our task is to figure out how to destroy these things so that we can take out the remaining League capital planets. The table is open for ideas.”

Everyone watched as two Republican torpedoes and one more solar bomb appeared near the cube. It popped over and swallowed all three, and they disappeared in flash of energy.

Sitting at the far end of the table, Romi laughed suddenly. The men in the room looked at her.

She said, “I’m sorry. I thought this was going to be difficult.”

“Care to elaborate, Ms. Mulhaney?”

“They’re cubes. They’re like dice, they have six sides. So they move six ways, right? Up, down and the four cardinal directions. Simply port in explosives on all six sides at once. They can’t move fast enough in all directions, sir. Even if they could port faster than once per second, they can’t port six times before something blows up.”

Jonas’s eyebrows shot up. He said, “Can anybody think of a reason that wouldn’t work? No? Well, I would say, ‘Why didn’t I think of that,’ but that’s the reason all of you are here, to come up with ideas like this.

“Alright. I’ll pass this along to the Navy brass and RNI. Back to work, everybody.”

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