A teal glow from the lights filled the board room accompanied by the gentle hum of the stations air handling system. Tephra adjusted her glasses and smoothed out her gray dress. Her eyes darting between the three figures sitting at the table in front of her.
“So, let me see if I’ve got this right, Miss Solette” said the man in the middle seat at the table with thinning gray hair and well-trimmed beard.
“Actually,” Tephra interrupted. “It’s Captain Solette now, sir.
The man paused for moment, and a small smile crept across his face. “Indeed, congratulations are in order then. I’m glad the procedure went well.”
“Thank you, sir,”
“Anyway, back to the matter at hand” He swiped through several pages of a document on his pad. “You are suggesting that the ancient race known as the Sleepers are-“
“Not extinct” said Tephra, realizing she had just interrupted the provost twice in less than 20 seconds.
“My hypothesis is” she continued, “that the Sleepers were capsuleers.”
“There have never been any capsules or pilots recovered from Sleeper drones.”
“They were capsuleers. I posit that the Sleepers simply went one step further. I believe that their society reached a point in its development that having a physical, biological body was seen as superfluous, or a liability of some kind. Ergo, the drones encountered in W-space are not drones, but people. Or more specifically, people’s minds, completely computerized infomorphs.”
The woman sitting to the right of the provost spoke up. “And what would the impetus be for such a societal shift?”
“Well, Professor, perhaps there was a spiritual element or it, or more practically, it was seen as a way to inoculate themselves from the Jovian disease.”
“Interesting,” the woman replied. “Do you have any evidence for what you have just proposed?”
Tephra shrunk back a bit and broke eye contact with her interviewers. She knew that question would be asked eventually. She took a deep breath and refocused on the three figures in front of her.
“Well, not exactly, however I have reviewed every single Federation Navy report from encounters with the Sleepers in W-space and their behavior is nothing like any drone I’ve ever heard of. Not even rogue drones behave that way.”
“That may be, Capt…” the provost began to say…
“Furthermore,” Tephra interjected, acutely aware she had now interrupted the provost of the most prestigious university in the federation three times within two minutes, “making contact with an ‘extinct’ people group would afford great prestige to the university and be the discovery of a lifetime.” She knew that last bit wasn’t evidence, but an argument. In her experience though, sometimes arguments could be more convincing than evidence, however fallacious they were.
The room fell silent for a few moments before the younger man sitting to the left of Provost Marcon spoke up.
“The resources and funding you have requested for this venture are, extensive.” He looked up at her from his pad. “The Federation Navy has in most cases used less than half of what you have requested in dealing with the Sleeper drones.”
“The navy’s goal is to reduce them to slag; my goal is to communicate and perhaps bring one back. You’ll note that I have few actual fighting vessels in the requisition.”
“No, but an entire contingent of logistics and command support cruisers, and enough EWAR frigates to disable a space station. Honestly, Captain Solette, what you have requested would require nearly 75% of this semester’s research grants. Tensions with the Caldari are at an all-time high and with the Drifter threat ever looming on the horizon, the military would not be able spare the resources, even mercenaries are in short supply these days and those not currently employed are charging three times their normal rates. I’m afraid It would not be fiscally responsible to …”
Administrator Roan kept speaking, but Tephra was no longer listening. She closed her eyes and lowered her head in defeat. The two magic words had been spoken. Fiscally responsible. The incantation that had ended countless research projects before they had even started and the bane of academics the galaxy over, had been used on her. As Roan finished, Tephra quickly gathered her belongings.
“Professor, Provost, Administrator, thank you for your time.” Tephra moved briskly towards the exit of the conference room, her high heels clacking rhythmically against the carbon-ceramic floor. The provost’s voice stopped her just before the door.
“Captain Solette, you were and continue to be a brilliant feather in the cap of this institution. I’m sorry this project didn’t pan out, good luck, and may the stars light you path.”
“Thank you, sir,” she replied weakly and entered the long empty corridor.
Tephra had spent the better part of the afternoon drinking in the university lounge, trying to forget about the morning’s meeting. She had switched from wine to harder liquor after the first glass. Ever since the procedure she had noticed it was much more difficult to get drunk. The capsuleer implants caused her body to metabolize alcohol much more efficiently than before. She scrolled lazily through news stories on her pad when a message notification flashed on the corner of the screen. She tapped on it. It was from Professor Valuri.
FROM: Claudia Valuri, PhD
TO: Tephra Solette
SUBJECT: This morning’s proposal
It was so good to see you again this morning, dear. I lament that that the university cannot fund your research, I was, however, reminded me of an organization that may be able to assist you. They operate mostly in W-space and are quite familiar with the hazards and opportunities that exist there. A few of them are even former students.
stars light your path,
Tephra tapped the underlined link and took another sip of her drink as the confidence she had this morning slowly returned to her.