Author’s Note: This story originally appeared in a slightly different form on Dusters an EveOnline/Dust514 fansite.
Jordan McNaught scrubbed a hand through a thick shock of ebony hair and shook his head.
“What I’m saying is, if we can’t find a single spot on a Dreadnought thin enough to punch through, then the whole damn project has to be scrubbed!”
“And I’m telling you, you’re not thinking about it hard enough.” Janus Evanovich shrugged mildly. “Dr. McNaught, if you can develop a method of delivering troops onto an enemy ship undetected, your grandchildren will have more money than they can ever spend. I should think that would be incentive enough for one of the most brilliant minds in the galaxy.”
“It’s not a question of motivation, it’s a question of physics!” McNaught sighed and slumped into his chair, the supple leather squeaking slightly. “We can hide a drop uplink inside of a projectile, that’s not the problem. We cannot, however, cushion the electronics from the detonation of the shell if we don’t use an inert projectile. And if we use an inert projectile we-”
He cut off as he suddenly noticed that Janus was looking at a datapad, not even pretending to listen to him. “So, I was thinking if we painted them with psychedelics and focused the power of positivity into them that might do the trick.”
“Well, that’s why you’re the engineer and I’m the CEO, isn’t it? So let’s get this problem resolved, shall we?” Janus didn’t bother to look up from her screen as she waved at him.
“Right.” McNaught shrugged and pushed up from the soft leather armchair, one of a matched set that fronted Evanovich’s massive wooden desk. McNaught couldn’t have named the type of wood, but he knew it was probably worth a month of his salary. It was a massive expanse bare except for a large black leather blotter emblazoned with the Qualix Corporation logo; a ringed planet with a starship angled against the rings forming a giant letter “Q.”
Aside from the desk and the chairs, the office was bare of furniture. Massive viewports occupied the rear wall of the room offering a stunning view of a brilliant red planet below. The viewports were photosensitive and computer-controlled to protect the room’s occupants from being blinded by any glare from the world below. Protection that could be subtly manipulated, if one so chose.
“Oh, and Doctor?”
He stopped at the door, surprised. Turning, McNaught raised an eyebrow. “Yes, Ms. Evanovich?”
“I’m going to increase your department’s funding by 30% as I’ll be adding some new personnel from a recent acquisition. You’ll find your new assistant waiting for you when you return to your lab.” Evanovich smiled brightly, a warm glow from the red planet giving her a halo.
McNaught gritted his teeth and forced a smile. “Oh, super, good to hear Ms. Evanovich, thank you for the head’s up.”
A few months earlier and he would have argued with her, he would have raged about the unfairness of being forced to train new personnel without adequate time. And if he was feeling especially bold, he might even have demanded the right to select his own team.
That was before he learned how Evanovich worked. While she never raised her voice, she never let anyone forget who was running Qualix.
What Qualix was trying was unprecedented, a weapon system that would deploy a drop uplink onto an enemy vessel. Once the ship was penetrated, the drop uplink would anchor itself to the bulkhead and wait for the ship’s auto repair systems to seal the breach. Then a specialized logistics trooper could simply create a localized wormhole and teleport onto the stricken vessel. Once on board they would place more drop uplinks to allow a squad-level assault to begin.
If this technology proved feasible it would make the Minmatar Republic the dominant force in the galaxy. Successfully testing this on a dreadnought would mean that no space station could resist it. The Republic would crush its enemies, Qualix would rise to the top, and Evanovich would be the hero of the hour. It would be the culmination of her life’s work.
Janus Evanovich was a fighter, a brilliant and effective mind locked inside a sturdy, athletic body. She wasn’t born to wealth, quite the opposite; Evanovich had clawed herself up from obscurity to graduate at the top of her class in the best schools on the backwater planet she grew up on. When she had joined Qualix, it had been on the verge of insolvency due to poor implementation of projects and other mismanagement. Under her leadership it had become one of the Minmatar Republic’s most promising weapons firms.
This project was top secret, with the highest security measures in play. All personnel involved in the project were under gag orders and had signed strict nondisclosure agreements with Qualix. Evanovich had left nothing to chance on this endeavor.
No communications devices could enter or leave the labs that had been given over to McNaught’s department. No computers in that department were accessible from outside the lab, their intranet was completely isolated. All data had to be brought there in hard copy and scanned by datapads organic to the lab itself.
Some of the engineers had complained about that in the beginning, but then she had annexed three entire floors of the station to serve as on-site housing. That had not only improved morale slightly, it had enhanced productivity as well since the engineers were essentially sleeping in their labs.
It was going to make her the wealthiest, most powerful woman in the Republic, possibly the Universe. She could hardly wait.
McNaught strolled through the corridors of the Qualix Headquarters space station with a frown on his face. He had never been especially happy with Janus Evanovich. She wasn’t a bad CEO, but she wasn’t the nicest person in the universe. Evanovich was a brilliant businesswoman, no doubt about that…but McNaught was in charge of that lab, damnit! Even if he couldn’t control the hiring and firing of his staff, he would at least like to be consulted!
There was nothing for it, though. Evanovich was going to get her way and he was going to have to deal with that idea. At least the personnel she had sent him were all top-notch in their respective fields, the best Qualix could afford to hire. In all fairness, Evanovich had arguably created one of the best research and development groups in the Republic. The revenues from various licensing deals and patent royalty arrangements from his department had enriched Qualix significantly, and Qualix kept her best and brightest fat and happy.
As long as they earned their keep and didn’t try to overstep themselves.
There was a soft hiss as the doors to a turbolift opened and McNaught stepped into the nearly-empty carriage. The other occupants were a small blonde woman with a pinched face and narrow, suspicious eyes and a badge that identified her as one of the station’s food service officers, and a tall man with a Van Dyke and large horn rim glasses whose badge was currently turned around backwards. McNaught didn’t recognize either of them but that didn’t bother him, the station housed over four thousand people and had hundreds more coming and going at all hours.
McNaught reached into his pocket and produced a keyring, singling one out and slotting it into the turbolift control panel and keying in the number for the engineering section. All turbolifts in the station had received software updates that isolated those floors from anyone who didn’t have a key. It was another security measure designed to safeguard this project.
With a barely perceptible jerk and a soft hum the turbolift descended. None of the three in the car spoke or looked at one another. When the turbolift stopped at the engineering section McNaught was surprised to see the other two occupants of the car exiting as well.
“Oh, hey,” he grinned. “You two must be new.”
“Yes, just got to the station today.” the man with the Van Dyke smiled and extended a hand. “Mason Pierce, demolitions expert.” Pierce indicated his badge, then turned it around to reveal his picture above a magstripe that would contain his biometric data.
McNaught raised an eyebrow as he accepted the other man’s hand. “Oh, you must be part of the company’s recent acquisition.” He grunted slightly as the other man grasped his hand with a rough, callused paw. Pierce clearly did more than just lab work.
“Indeed.” Pierce nodded. “I’m eager to see the labs, shall we?”
“Yes, of course, I just need to-” he cut off and glanced around, confused. “Where did that woman go? The one from food services?”
Pierce shrugged his broad shoulders indifferently. “No clue, but I’m sure she’ll turn up soon. Shall we get on to the lab, Doctor?”
“Yeah, sure. I just need to inform security that we might have someone lost on the floor. Ms. Evanovich wants this place on total lockdown and we can’t have unauthorized people wandering through.”
“No, I suppose we can’t have that.” Pierce agreed quietly as he followed McNaught to a security station.
In financial news, the trade markets in the Minmatar Republic suffered a loss of .2 percent on the news of a catastrophic accident today in the Qualix headquarters in orbit over Maklon VII. Information is still coming in, but as of now sources confirm that the Qualix Station was almost entirely destroyed when a series of explosions tore through the facility, beginning in the engineering section before rupturing the reactor core.
For months rumours have been swirling about the top-secret nature of the work being conducted in Qualix HQ. Qualix, one of the fastest-growing munitions companies in the Republic, was known for making extremely precise targeting and guidance systems for ground warfare units. Industry insiders, however, whispered that Qualix CEO Janus Evanovich had begun work on an entirely new type of weapon system and had moved the company’s headquarters to Maklon VII to personally oversee the implementation and testing of the new weapon in that remote stretch of space.
Tragically Janus Evanovich was present on the station at the time of the incident and at this time is presumed dead. The Qualix Board of Directors will be holding an emergency meeting to determine who will replace her.
The redhaired woman in the Gallente officer’s uniform cut off the video screen and settled back into her chair, tapping a sharply manicured fingernail on the black lacquered desk before her. For a long moment she sat quiet, contemplating this news before leaning forward and accessing one of the three datapads on her desk. After unlocking the screen she accessed an encoded messenger program and leaned back, the glass beads woven into her hair clicking softly.
“Excellent work, gentlemen. You will find the balance of payment has been transferred to your account, as per agreement. Should we have further use for your talents in the future, rest assured you will be our first choice.”
As she finished speaking she tapped the datapad with her red fingernail, sending the communique to the mercenary leader she had hired to destroy Qualix. Pushing the datapad back to it’s previous position, she turned her attention to the next item on a seemingly never-ending list of problems that faced the Federation.
The life of a military officer is a busy one, but she found great satisfaction in protecting her people. Especially from threats they never knew existed.
Copyright 2014 by Vesper Aeon