The Roads Must Roll

We are your heartbeat
We are your night life
We are your 'low-line'
We keep you alive for now
We're engineers

- Gary Numan, "Engineers"

0600 Hours:

The vibrating alarm under the futon shakes. Blearily, Miles says, "Computer, alarm off." This does nothing – the alarm continues to vibrate until Miles remembers that he set it to require that he actually sit up first. With effort, he forces himself into a sitting position. "Computer, alarm off." This time it goes off.

Keiko has already awakened, since the room lights are slowly coming up on a sunrise simulator and of course the vibrating alarm goes off close to her head, too. But she's still lying in bed, staring at the ceiling. "Hey, Keiko," Miles says. "Do you want to get Molly, or Yoshi?"

"I'll wake Kirayoshi. You get Molly up."

"I'm already up," Molly says from the other side of the privacy curtain. "Dad, your alarm is loud."

"It's just vibrations," Miles protests. "If it was actual noise the neighbors would complain." Not that this stops the neighbors on their other side from having a loud alarm clock, but theirs goes off at 0700 hours so Miles doesn't complain.

He rolls up the futon while Keiko's getting Kirayoshi up, and pushes it into the compaction field. In moments it's crushed as flat as it can go, and the compaction field has materialized tight bands around it to keep it that way. He opens the drawer built into the wall at the bottom, and puts the futon in. Molly comes in, dragging her futon, and he helps her toss that in the compaction field as well. And then Keiko brings in Yoshi's futon and drops it on the floor, so she can open all the privacy curtains and turn the apartment back into a living area, not a sleeping area.

Miles pulls the breakfast table out of its drawer and pulls the tabs to inflate the legs. Once the legs are fully inflated, he pushes on the buttons on their bottoms to make them stiff and rigid. They use a Japanese-style table, low on the floor, because a taller table would have been a much bigger pain to store away; the inflatable legs work at their size, but if they were closer to the size of traditional table legs, the stiffening agent wouldn't be as effective and the table might be saggy and unstable. He puts the table down in the center of the floor. Keiko and Molly bring plates over from the replicator – ham, eggs and biscuits with gravy for him, rice, miso soup and grilled fish for Keiko, Bajoran patharen with blueberries for Molly, and cereal in milk for Kirayoshi. Coffee for him, tea for Keiko, iced sweet coffee for Molly and orange juice for Kirayoshi.

"Nui doesn't want to go to school today," Yoshi whines. "He's afraid of the big kids. Sometimes they push kids on the playground." Nui, short for nuigurumi, the Japanese word for a stuffed animal, is a soft, fluffy toy something-or-other, looking approximately like a tribble except three times the size of one. Lately Yoshi has been expressing all of his opinions as if they come from Nui.

Molly never clung to her stuffed toys this way, never whined that she hated school and the other kids were bullies. Of course her mother had been the teacher, back on Deep Space Nine, but still, she hadn't whined this way. But Miles can't blame the little boy; most mornings he feels like whining too.

"Did Nui tell the teachers that the older children are being mean?" Keiko asks.

"Nui thinks the teachers don't like him."

Which is a possibility. People glare at Kirayoshi all the time, even though it's obvious from his age that he was born when humanity was still free, when the population codes weren't in effect and it was absolutely normal for humans to have two or even three, four, five children. And it's not as if Yoshi hasn't paid for being the second child already; when the doctors came to sterilize Miles and Keiko, they'd done Yoshi too. Second, or any later, children born before the quarantine of humanity are permitted to exist, of course, unlike any second children born after the quarantine, which is why parents are automatically sterilized. But second and later children aren't allowed to grow up and breed; only the first born child of any couple is allowed to have a child themselves someday. The only way humanity will survive their captivity is if they reduce their numbers from six trillion as rapidly as possible, and the only humane way to do that is to strictly regulate reproduction. No one should be looking down on or taking it out on the second children who were born when humanity was free. But people do a lot of irrational things nowadays.

"I'll have a talk with the teachers before I go to work this morning," Keiko says. "I'm sure there's just a misunderstanding and they all like Nui just fine."

"Does that mean you're going to school with us, Kaachan?" Molly asks.

"Yes, I'll walk you both to school."

"Great!" Molly cheers, clapping her hands. "Can you walk us home too?"

"No, sweetie, I've got to go to work."

"But there's this creepy guy who follows us to the transporter pad. And sometimes he's there when we get off the pad at the end of the day."

Miles says, "You carry your stunner, right, honey?"

"'Course I do, dad, but he could have a stunner too."

"I'll talk to security." He's not sure security will do anything. Crime in the monad is very, very high, despite the surveillance cameras everywhere, and security is unlikely to take a complaint of "a creepy guy" seriously until someone ends up hurt, raped, or dead. Perhaps he can find some other Starfleet families who live in Hutchinson Monad, have his kids walk to the transporter pad with other children going to the Starfleet school for safety. Of course, with his luck, the other Starfleet families live on the other side of the monad, a kilometer away.

"Maybe I can leave work early," Keiko says.

"Yeah, that's probably a good idea. You could put in the rest of the day from home, maybe."

She shakes her head. "I need to be on site for most of it. I've selected most of the plants I want to use in the garden, and now I have to actually test them out to see how well the visuals and smells work together."

"Okay, well, maybe I can get off work early some days." This is totally improbable. He's an engineer, and the planet is completely dependent on engineers for survival, and there are simply not enough of them. Planets never needed the proportion of engineers that starships did, before, and in a moneyless society it's hard to find an incentive to get people with the skill but not the inclination to get trained up and become engineers. But it's his kids, so maybe there's something he can do.

0800 hours:

In the end, he gives up the brief freedom of an air transit car to walk with his family to the nearest transporter pad instead and stand on the insanely long line for transport, so he gets to work half an hour late, something that his manager Douglas immediately notes. "You're late, O'Brien."

"My kid was complaining that a creepy guy was following her to the transporter pad, so I had to walk her there."

"We authorize you a car for a reason. The rest of your car pool made it in on time. I've got power grids shorting in Nigeria, I can't afford to wait for you to hold your kid's hand."

"What's the situation?"

"We've got two monads affected and that sounds to me like sabotage. The power generators are supposed to be completely independent."

"They're all designed off the same replicator templates. It could be the same circuits have the same flaws and they're all shorting the same way."

"I don't really care. You're transporting out there with Efraim, Jones, Mubasa and Ivysdotter. I don't need to tell you what happened the last time the power grid to a monad went out, and now we've got two of them."

No, Miles knows very well what happened. It was here in San Francisco, slightly more than a year ago, in Archer Monad. Nine hours without power resulted in three hundred dead in the monad of suffocation or heart problems, and caused a riot that killed two thousand people, most of them trampled to death. The monads need power for air circulation first and foremost; the kilometer-square, half-kilometer-high structures have no windows, no ventilation except the ducts and the fans and the oxygenators that suck in CO2 and transform it with old-school fabricator technology into O2 and diamonds, or combine the carbon with waste water to make food. They also need power to run the replicators and fabricators, to transform people's piss and shit back into water and edible food or clothing or plastics, but it's the lack of air that kills when a monad's power grid fails.

"Okay. Wish you'd comm'd me to let me know right away, or I wouldn't have left the transport area to come up to the office."

"You were late. What was I supposed to do?"

Comm me while I was still in the monad waiting on line for the transporter, Miles thinks, but doesn't say. As Starfleet Corps of Engineers, he could have jumped the line, flashed his badge and demanded emergency access to the transporter if he'd known there was an emergency, but Douglas simply won't comm him until he's physically in SCE headquarters for the day. Miles swallows his objections and heads back for the transport pad.

1100 Hours:

The Nigerian monads weren't sabotage, after all. It turns out that Miles' intuition was correct; monad power grids tend to fail the same way because they were all replicated off the same template, in the horrific first few months after the quarantine began, when the monads were built. This is almost worse than sabotage. Sabotage could be solved by beefing up security, and while there's a worldwide shortage of engineers there's absolutely no shortage of people who desperately want a socially approved excuse to stun people or break heads. But systemic failure means that every single monad power grid built on the same replicator template could possibly have the same issues.

Of the six trillion humans in the solar system, three trillion live on Earth – Venus is too hot, Mars is too cold, the new world Juno is even colder, and both Luna and Luna's new twin Minerva require living in domes, and besides, the vast majority of people ended up teleported to Earth from wherever in the galaxy they'd been, and haven't gotten around to moving yet. Those three trillion people live, for the most part, in one and a half million monads spread out around the globe. It's likely that the same replicator template was used for half a million of them. And there aren't anywhere enough engineers to send them out on pre-emptive missions to find and replace the parts that might fail.

Miles' report makes it clear that he believes it is an urgent priority to start replacing the defective circuits before more monad grids blow out. This time, with only a three hour power outage, only two hundred people total are dead; the security forces in Nigeria simply stunned absolutely everyone when it looked like a riot was starting, and the only dead are the elderly, small children and physically sickly people who hadn't been able to withstand the high-intensity stun spreads. Given that two monads were affected and the body count is less than a tenth of the last monad power outage, the news is spinning it as a heroic effort and good work, but it's all propaganda; Miles knows that if the SCE doesn't send people out to fix the circuits before they blow, many more will die. He also knows that despite his report and the report of every man and woman on his team, the SCE won't do that. There are just not enough engineers to be proactive. And probably, some folks higher up are thinking, if several hundred people die every time a monad loses power... well, Earth's population needs to be reduced somehow.

He transports back to SCE headquarters for lunch, feeling sick at heart that despite his best efforts he and his team couldn't solve the problem before people died. Back in Starfleet, back on the Enterprise or Deep Space Nine, this never happened. Terrible, brutal engineering disasters occurred, but everyone who wasn't killed instantly by such a disaster remained calm and did their jobs and got the hell out of the way. No one rioted. Such a stupid way to die.

Before he's done with his sandwich, a new report comes in. In England, a replicator core computer is malfunctioning, and people who attempt to get food are getting inedible sludge. This isn't quite as dire an emergency as a power failure, but because it's not as dire an emergency it's been going on for longer; people in Islington Monad have been going without food for half a day. There's an eight hour time differential between San Francisco and Britain; the problem started slightly before lunchtime over there, but now it's well past dinnertime and people are hungry. As a result the closest two arcologies, Sauvage Mall and Baker Arcology, are suffering massive overcrowding and intermittent failures to their own replicators as two million people from Islington transport over to the malls to buy their meals, and the transporter grid is so badly overloaded that there has been at least two casualties, two people who transported into Sauvage at the same time from different spots in Islington and ended up fused together.

The transporter grid overload means that no one can safely transport anywhere near Islington, so Miles, Ivysdotter, Jones and Mubasa head over on a shielded shuttlecraft with Allen, a programmer. Efraim, the power expert they had with them for Nigeria, is heading to Luna for a power issue there. Allen's a civilian, a pretty red-headed woman dressed in completely shapeless sweatpants and sweatshirt covered in coffee stains, and she never talks to engineers about anything but the job, although the other programmers say she warms up around her own kind. But she's a top-rated programmer, and none of them are there to trade witty banter anyway.

"Did Douglas say they've shut down the transport system, or no?" Jones asks.

"No, he said they refused to. People need to get to work, after all," Mubasa answers.

"People need to not be transporting on top of other people. What can we do to shut that down by remote?"

"We're halfway across the Atlantic," Miles says. "If we wait another minute or two, we can send an override command to Islington and do a controlled remote shutdown of the transport system. That way more people won't be coming in to the arcologies, at least."

Keiko works in an arcology, a park arcology a kilometer square and half a kilometer high, the same size as a monad, with 200 floors of square kilometers of beautiful garden environments. Right now most of it is holodecks, but it's the job of Keiko and other botanists to turn the environments as real as possible – holodecks draw too much power and many people can tell the subtle difference between a real, living garden and a holographic one. Miles tries to imagine a million people flooding into her arcology, trampling the flowers, overloading the food service replicators, lines for the bathroom a hundred meters long and some people getting fed up and simply doing their business out in the open, and the stench. Transports going on everywhere, and some of them in the same place as a physical object that was already there, or a person, or another incoming transport. The idea makes him sick. And the two shopping mall arcologies are much, much smaller than a monad; they really only have the capacity for about fifty thousand people at a time, apiece.

He understands why hungry people would think it was a good idea to transport over to the mall for dinner. Really, he does. But two million hungry people cannot fit in those two shopping malls. The transporters have got to go offline.

As soon as they're in range, he sends the override command, shutting down the Islington transporter grid. And then, with the transport frequencies cleared so it's safe, he and his team transport from their shuttle to Islington's central server farm.

Allen gets into the server and buries herself knee-deep in the code while Miles and his team take apart and test the various pieces of the replicator central server system. It's Mubasa who finds it, a hairline crack in the crystalline array that stores instructions about food-grade replication. This one's a simple fix; Miles orders up a replacement from SCE headquarters, has it beamed in, and ten minutes later he and his team replicate cups of coffee and stacks of donuts from the Islington replicator, both to prove that food-grade replication is now working and because now it's 2 pm, it's been a few hours since they had their lunches and now they could all use some coffee and donuts.

They get the transporters back on line, run a quick test, and they're done. Now the citizens of Islington can all get out of the overcrowded arcologies -- which, at 10 pm Greenwich Mean Time, were nearly going to close anyway -- and head back home for a bite before bed.

1500 Hours:

They've just gotten out of Islington shuttle traffic when they get a report of an issue in Germany, at Lautermann Monad, where it's the middle of the night. People have been turning up missing. About 400 people who used the transporter today never got where they were supposedly going, and since Islington is only a few minutes from Lautermann by shuttle and no one else is as close, and obviously a problem with the transporters means no one can transport in to Lautermann, the SCE dispatches Miles and his team directly there to investigate.

They land on the roof of the monad in the shuttle hangar and take the turbolift to the affected transporter, an eight-minute trip down and across the monad. This particular transporter bank, Lautermann Transporter Bank #7, has processed ten thousand people today, about 400 or so of them since Miles' noon, or 9 pm on German time. Most of them were people going to visit friends or family in different monads, returning home from visits, or heading out to night shift jobs; some few were headed for shopping arcologies or recreational centers. None of them actually got there, although the transporter logs claim they did. Miles and his team set out to find out where they actually did go.

As Miles pores over power consumption logs to prove that they really did re-materialize somewhere and didn't end up permanently stuck in the buffer, and Mubasa and Ivysdotter check all the connections to see if the transporter is working properly and misdirecting people or if something worse is occurring, Jones checks the usual suspects in the system for faults and Allen digs deep in the datastream, trying to find out why the transport logs are lying and if there's any record anywhere as to where the people did in fact go.

The power consumption logs clearly indicate that people transported and rematerialized somewhere. Neither Jones, Mubasa nor Ivysdotter can find anything wrong with the damned thing. And then Allen whispers, "Oh, god, no."

"You found something, Dr. Allen?" Miles asks.

"I hope I'm not right. I really, really hope this isn't right." Her fingers fly over the keyboard – computers take voice input for deep commands as well as the more superficial ones that are usually all engineers need to access, but hardcore programmers usually use keyboards and drag objects around on the touchscreens with their fingers, because they can do that faster than they can talk. "Have someone check the matter tanks for the replicator system. Quickly."

"The matter tanks?" Ivysdotter breaks her usual taciturn silence with horror in her voice.

"Like I said. I hope I'm wrong."

"I'm going," Miles says, wanting desperately to have something physical to do, something that might involve opening up the guts of something. His mind is reeling. The matter tanks? That cannot possibly be accidental.

Replicators don't manufacture matter out of nothing – the energy requirements for doing so would be huge. They take waste matter, break it down to energy in a transport beam, and then reformat it into whatever is desired. The waste matter comes from toilets, garbage de-mats, and, here on Earth, is heavily supplemented with dirt, demolition debris and rainwater. The toilets and garbage de-mats dematerialize any matter under a certain size that enters them and rematerialize it in the matter tanks (distinct matter, so you can't, for example, amputate someone's hand by shoving it in the toilet, a good thing since in this brave new world Miles is sure someone would try), and the dirt and rainwater come from periodic transports to the outside, while the demolition debris is what's still left over from the buildings that were smashed to make room for the monads. The tanks are thus almost completely full with human waste, rotting food, dirt, and construction waste, saturated with or even floating in water. They are disgusting, they smell awful, and anyone who ended up in one would probably drown almost immediately. If they didn't... there are transports going on all the time out of the matter tanks, pulling matter out to feed the replicators, and they are indistinct transports, transports that don't respect the edges of solid objects. No one ever goes in a matter tank for any reason, and if anyone ever did, the replicator system would have to be shut down to make sure the poor guy doing the job didn't get partly dematerialized and lose a leg, or a random chunk of their torso or head.

There is no way that 400 people beaming to multiple different locations could possibly end up in the matter tank unless it's sabotage.

He pulls an emergency shutdown of the replicator system – it's midnight here in Germany, so hopefully this won't create the kind of problem it created in Islington – and opens up one of the tanks, with a respirator on so he won't have to smell it. He can't get a tricorder scan on the inside of the tank without opening it – the material that keeps the transporters for the replicators from being able to accidentally transport pieces of the tank walls away is also impervious to being scanned through.

And as soon as he gets the tank open and looks inside, he wants to retch, even though he can't smell it, because oh god, that's half a woman floating there, isn't it? No, more than a half – she has both legs but half her torso and head are missing, and the half of the face she still has is contorted in a scream. She's wedged between a couple of pieces of construction debris in a way that doesn't look accidental, and she's wearing an evening party dress. Maybe returning home from a party, maybe stepping out to a recreation center for the night, maybe going to an entertainment center to watch a concert or a play, except she'd never gotten there and she ended up in the matter tank and she managed to swim long enough to jam herself into a safe location where she wouldn't drown except her safe location wasn't so safe because it's the top of the tank that most of the matter transports come from and she would have had only seconds to realize what was happening and scream before half her brain and bone and blood were transported away to make dinner or bath towels for someone else...

The tricorder shows four life signs, all of them very weak. He reports back up that Allen was right – there are people in at least one of the matter tanks, and he needs a manual rescue crew ASAP because obviously they can't use the transporter for this.

For the next three hours, Miles helps the rescue crew recover the bodies and save the living. Some are still alive but cannot possibly be saved, like the little boy who somehow lived through having his entire abdominal cavity transported out of his body half an hour ago but can't possibly live out the night. Others are alive, even unhurt, but their eyes are wild with horror and at least two of them can't stop screaming, at least not until the doctors knock them unconscious with hypos of sedative. Most are dead. A woman who'd been transported into the tank with a baby had been caught under the water, pinned, unable to wrench free. She had managed to prop herself in such a way that her baby was held up out of the water, and when she'd died of drowning, the baby had remained on the surface... where the transporter had removed the top half of its head. That really does make Miles retch when he sees it. He keeps seeing Keiko and Molly as he looks at the bodies of the woman and the baby.

And he's still seeing them now, even as four hundred and twenty two people have been recovered from the matter tanks, some of them in multiple pieces that need to be matched via tricorder scans of DNA, and only fifteen of them are alive at all. No, now fourteen. Now thirteen. And only five of the survivors aren't permanently maimed.

He's physically exhausted, stinking to high heaven but unable to take a shower because here on Earth sonics aren't common and the water showers in the monad replicate water as needed and he can't use a replicator here in Lautermann, not even when the tanks are closed up and the replicator system comes back up. There's nothing left in his stomach, but he feels hollow and nauseous and he couldn't eat even if it came from the shuttle replicators. Miles returns to the damaged transporter to hear Allen's report.

She's white, shaking. "It was a virus," she says, her voice trying so hard to be professional and controlled, but cracking. They all saw the rescue operations up here on the monitors; she's seen some of the same things he saw.

"A computer virus?" Dear God. Someone did engineer this. Someone wanted this to happen, wanted to kill random people in this horrible way. If he gets his hands on whoever it is, they'll find out what it's like to drown in sewage.

"And it's infectious," she says, her voice trembling. "There's no way to tell how many transporters are affected; it's set to a random timer. At some point after infection, at random, it'll start beaming people into the matter tanks instead of where they're going, and it rewrites the transporter logs as it goes so there's no immediate evidence of the problem."

"Get me Commander Douglas at the SCE!" he barks at a random tech from Lautermann who's been assisting, mainly because he doesn't want to touch the console with his filthy hands.

As soon as he has Douglas on the line, he says "I need someone to shut down the worldwide transporter grid."

"What the hell? O'Brien—"

Miles interrupts him. "Dr. Allen's found a computer virus in the transporter here. There's no telling how many other transporters are affected. It activates at random and starts beaming people into the replicator matter tanks. Commander, I just helped to pull four hundred people out of the matter tanks, and only thirteen of them are still alive. I saw babies with the tops of their heads beamed off, women with half their bodies beamed away. We need to shut down all transporters worldwide until we can figure out which ones might be infected."

"That's insane. People need the transporters; there's far too many people for shuttlecars to handle the load. How is anyone supposed to get to work, or school, or anywhere?"

"They're not going to get to work or school if they end up in the matter tanks, sir."

Douglas sighs. "I'll see what I can do."

"Do you need footage of the people being brought out of the matter tanks, Commander?" Allen asks. "Because I can send you some. We had it on monitor here."

"I'm pretty sure I don't need it."

"I'm transmitting it to you anyway. If anyone gives you problems with doing what Chief O'Brien says needs to be done, you can go ahead and show them this. I think anyone who sees it won't have a problem with shutting down the transporters until we can identify which ones are infected."

Douglas sighs again. "Fine, I'll do what I can." He cuts the connection.

"He's not going to do anything," Allen says. "You have to go over his head."

Miles shakes his head. "I'm not going to do that. Commander Douglas will get them shut down, I'm sure."

"I'm not. He took this whole thing about as seriously as I take my doctor telling me to stop eating so many donuts. How many people are going to die because Commander Douglas doesn't think this is bad enough to warrant shutting the transporters down?"

"But he's got a point," Jones says. "The whole world's gonna come to a standstill if the transporters go offline. You know what they say, the roads must roll. Colonel Green might've killed millions of people but the trains ran on time. That's what people think is important, not a handful of people dying or people who might die sometime in the future. Otherwise we'd be getting authorization to go out and replace the power circuits in all the monads built on the Archer model."

"Yeah, and if everyone stays home for a day what's the problem?" Mubasa asks. "Some people can't get to their jobs. Who cares? Only doctors and engineers have important jobs anyway, and they already send us shuttlecraft and air transit cars to pick us up and take us to work so we can beat transporter gridlock. Let everyone stay home for a day."

"You think it's gonna be just a day?" Jones asks. "How long is it gonna take to check every transporter on the planet? There aren't enough programmers in the Solar System for that job."

"Yeah, there are," Allen says. "We just need to write a program that seeks out the virus and identifies any infected machine, and quarantines it. No one has to physically go to every transporter on Earth and check them."

Ivysdotter speaks up. "Chief, didn't you serve on Enterprise once?"

"Uh, yeah, but that was a while ago. My last posting was Deep Space Nine."

"The governor of Europe Sector used to be the captain on Enterprise, didn't he?"

"I don't follow politics. Who's the governor of Europe Sector?"

"Governor Picard. Wasn't he the captain of the Enterprise?"

"Well, yeah. Actually he was."

"That's great!" Allen says. "You served under him. You can contact him and get someone with actual authority to recognize the problem."

"I can't just call up Captain Picard out of nowhere! Especially since he's the governor of Europe now! I mean, I don't even know if he would remember me. It's been years since I served on the Enterprise. I should just let Commander Douglas do his job."

"What if the transporter your wife uses is affected?"

Miles goes pale. "That's dirty pool, Dr. Allen," he says, wondering how she even knew he had a wife. He's never met her personally before today... although he's worked with a number of programmers, and technically while they're a different department they are all SCE, even the civilian ones. Perhaps someone's talked about him... or maybe she just noticed his wedding ring and guessed that he probably isn't gay, and therefore his spouse is a wife.

"She's got a point, though," Mubasa says. "My sister transports to work every day. I don't want her ending up in a matter tank because you didn't want to rock the boat and Douglas couldn't be bothered to get off his butt."

Miles takes a deep breath. "Fine," he snaps. "My hands are still dirty. Can someone else place the call to the governor's office?"

He's not even going to be awake, he thinks; in Paris, it's the same time as it is here in Lautermann Monad, 3 am. There's no chance he'll actually get through to Picard. But Allen and Mubasa are right; Douglas didn't really sound like he thought this was a priority, and it's vital that the transporters be shut down before there are any more deaths.

They place the call for him. "Bonne nuit, this is Governor Picard's office. May I help you?"

"I need to speak to Governor Picard, immediately. I know it's late but this is an emergency," Miles says.

"I'm sorry, the governor is unavailable. He can return your call in the morning if you leave a message."

"No, you don't understand, people are dying, and more of them might die. Look, I'm Miles O'Brien of the Starfleet Corps of Engineers. I used to serve under the governor when he was a starship captain, and I know he'd want to know about this right away. Four hundred people just died because of a computer virus that sabotaged a transporter, here in Lautermann Monad in Germany, and the virus could have spread to other transporters. People are going to die if the governor doesn't take action, and they might die tonight for all we know."

"I'll see what I can do," the secretary says.

In a few minutes, the distinctive voice of Captain Picard comes on the line. Not Captain anymore. Governor. Better remember that! "Chief O'Brien? My secretary says you have an emergency on your hands."

"Yes, sir. I'm sorry for waking you up."

"That's quite all right. I'm sure your reasons are good ones. What's happening?"

And so Miles tells Picard the whole story, while Allen transmits the video record to the governor's office. When he's done telling the tale, Picard sounds shocked. "My God... this could have infected any transporter, you say?"

"Absolutely, sir. The entire Earth comm network interlocks; no transporter system's in isolation from any other. Other systems could be infected as well, but the virus is specific to transporter operations; since the transporter system always knows the location of the matter tanks, because of the role of transporters in replication, the virus overwrites the destination coordinates with the coordinates of the matter tanks, and then writes whatever the original destination coordinates were to the log. And since it's not a normal part of transport protocol on Earth to check via the comm system to see if transport was confirmed, not like it was in Starfleet... it takes time before anyone finds out where people are going. If this virus activated in a monad's transporter banks during rush hour..."

"I see. Very well. I will have all of Europe Sector's transporter grid shut down, and I'll contact Starfleet HQ, the President's office and the Governing Council with your findings. Is there any way to estimate at this time how long it will take to fix the problem?"

Allen says, "A day or two, I think, if we can get enough resources on the project."

"Excellent. I'll make sure you get whatever you need. And thank you for bringing this to my attention, Chief."

"Not a problem, sir."

1900 Hours:

Douglas is royally pissed that Miles went over his head... which Miles was expecting. He's going to pay for going to Picard in the days ahead, he can tell. But at least the nightmare of the people in the matter tanks will never happen again.

Allen stays behind; Douglas is coordinating with South Asia Sector, East Asia Sector and Pacific Sector to send fresh new programmers, people who are just starting out their day or who haven't hit lunchtime yet, out to Lautermann to help her, and she'll have to stay here working on the virus until she has a chance to transfer her knowledge to the new teams. The others are recalled back to SCE headquarters. With the shutdown of the world transporter grid imminent, every available engineer is being pulled back to work on repairing the shuttlecraft and air transit car fleets; Starfleet and FedGov fleets get priority, and after that civilian emergency vehicles, and if there's still a block on transporter activity after that the SCE will help the monads get their air transit fleets up to full strength. No one's been really focused on keeping the transit vehicles running at full capacity; they've been thought of as a luxury, things people use when their status is too high or their job too important to wait around for transporters at rush hour. Now they're vital.

Back at SCE Headquarters, Miles works on shuttlecraft after shuttlecraft; as an engineer with starship experience, they don't waste his expertise on the air transit cars, which are cheaper, smaller, more poorly made but easier to repair, and actually have non-Starfleet mechanics qualified to service and repair them. The work is boring, and feels anticlimactic after spending the day saving lives, but he needs the downtime. Whenever he takes a break for a moment, whenever he's not arms deep in the problem he needs to solve, Miles sees the dead people in the matter tank, the bodies that were split in half by having their middle transported out, the baby, the dead women. The man who was alive and screaming because his arms had just been transported away while he'd tried to climb to safety. The little girl in footie pajamas with her mouth and lungs completely filled with feces. Oh, god. Better to lose himself completely in his work.

It's outrageously late when Banister, Kyle and Fozzio from his car pool hunt him down and demand that he come back to Hutchinson right now, because the car is leaving and they're in too high demand to make two trips. Miles almost tells them to go on without him, that he'll stay here overnight, but he has to see his family, has to reassure himself that they're all alive and all right.

0100 Hours:

Miles watches the news briefs as they head back to Hutchinson. Word's coming in on the news now of the Lautermann Monad disaster, of the steps Governor Picard is taking to contain the problem. It's early morning in Europe Sector now. Reports are coming in that the transporter grid was shut down last night after the disaster, and that the President is on the verge of declaring transporter shutdown for the entire world. Europe appears to be taking it remarkably well; Picard has declared the next two days a holiday, with no school and only essential personnel to report to any job anywhere, and despite the fact that there's very little fun to do in a monad apparently the Europeans are taking their enforced holiday in good spirits. Consumption of party food and synthehol are already spiking despite the early hour, and holosuite usage in the monads is so high there's talk on the news of a lottery to assign people holosuite slots so there aren't lines stretching halfway across the monad.

The news doesn't mention that this was a computer virus, that someone deliberately created this disaster, and they say nothing of the fear that it may spread to other transporters; the way they're spinning it, the shutdown of the transporter network worldwide is necessary for an upgrade that will prevent this kind of accident from happening again. Miles wishes he still lived in a world where the news dared to tell the truth to the teeming masses, where reporting on a horrific crime that caused the murder of four hundred people wouldn't likely cause riots and more deaths.

Back in Hutchinson, he rides the turbolift to his apartment, feeling vulnerable. What about a virus in the turbolift programs that prevent their collision detection from working, or throw off their braking algorithms by a few seconds? What about a virus in the replicator system that produces poison in the food? If there's a terrorist out there writing murderous computer viruses, there are so many vulnerable systems and so many lives depending on each system working perfectly. The deaths in Archer Monad a year ago, in Nigeria this morning, clearly demonstrate that no matter what goes wrong people will die. But there aren't enough engineers to save the planet.

They should give us bigger homes, he thinks. Or allow us to have more kids. Give us some incentives, so everyone with the brains to do it wants to be an engineer. In a world where everyone gets exactly what they need, and no more than anyone else, the only incentive there has ever been to do a job is wanting to do it or loving it, and it used to be that there were more than enough people who loved engineering to manage all the work engineers were needed for. But that was before all of humanity moved into giant kilometer-square skyscraper-cities because there was no way to fit three trillion people on their homeworld if they didn't.

He unlocks his door. The lights are off and the curtains drawn, making their tiny apartment into sleeping quarters, and he can hear Molly and Kirayoshi breathing in their curtained spaces. Miles takes off his boots, his pants and shirt, and slips through the curtains to find his way to his futon.

Keiko's sitting crosslegged on the futon in her nightgown, holding a PADD and looking at the same newsbriefs he just watched. She takes her earbud out. "You were there, weren't you. Lautermann Monad."

"Yeah," Miles says. "Do I still smell? I took a shower while I was still there, before they reassigned us home, but I feel like I can still smell it."

"I don't smell anything." She shakes her head. "I was going to tell you all about my news, but after this..."

"Is it good news?"


"Then tell me. I'm dyin' to hear some good news."

"I got the floor. It's level 102 and I have authorization to do all the landscaping. They liked my proposal for a Zen desert garden – they say it's really different and original, and they think it could be a big draw, especially if we use big flat rocks that are comfortable to sit on even in the heat, because then people will want to use it for a sauna."

"That's great, Keiko! A whole floor?"

She nods. "And if that one goes well, I've got a proposal for another floor all lined up. I want to do a jungle, with an alien theme. I mean, I'm going to be using Vulcan and Bajoran plants in the Zen desert, but I'd like to go all-out and do an entire jungle with nothing but Bajoran, Klingon, Risan, any other world we've got seed stock from that has jungles."

"What's the point?" Miles asks. "It's not like anyone ever's going to go to any of those worlds again."

Keiko looks at him as if he's grown another head. "What's the point, Miles? What's the point to anything, if we're going to think that way? We're going to keep the memory alive that once upon a time we had the stars, and there's other people out there who were our friends, and maybe they're working to free us. That's the point. So humanity doesn't forget where it's been."

"Maybe we should forget," Miles mumbles. "Maybe remembering hurts worse than just forgetting about it."

"I don't think so. And I don't think you really do either. Kirayoshi still speaks Bajoran, you know that? I've been working on it and I think I've found a school that'll take him on the strength of that; it's a linguistic tank where they're trying to preserve as many alien languages as possible, and they want the kids who speak these other languages to come together and speak them to other kids, and keep them alive. Yoshi may be the only human native speaker of Bajoran on the planet; Molly was too old to pick it up natively."

"Well, getting him into a school where they really value him would be great. I don't trust the school he's in now. He complains about it too much."

"I agree, that's why I went looking for something. So you see, people who are doing the same kind of thing I'm doing with my jungle idea are going to make a good place for Yoshi. And I think we need to keep as much of the galaxy alive here on Earth as we can."

He still doesn't think he agrees, but he's not going to argue with her. "Well, it's great news that you got a floor, anyway." A whole floor of the garden arcology is the size of a monad floor – a kilometer square – all of it a parkland. Having an entire floor she can design herself will stretch Keiko's skills; it's not exactly the same as studying alien plant life, but it's as close as she's ever going to get, and a lot closer to her real work than teaching school on Bajor was.

He kisses her, genuinely happy for her even if he doesn't see the point of some of her ideas. It's been a while since they went to bed late enough that the kids were too deeply asleep to overhear them making love, and after today, he needs it terribly. He reaches for her, and she responds, and in the darkness they keep almost silent as they give each other what little joy can be found in this world.

Afterward, Keiko sleeps, but Miles can't, despite his exhaustion. He stares at the ceiling, seeing the dead at Lautermann again, and wonders what the point is. Every new human life is an intolerable burden on a straining system, every human death is a release of tension borne on the backs of others. It's an intolerable twisting of every value he was taught to believe. How long before it's not just the crazies that think mass murder is a good idea? How long before real wars break out, not like that conflict in South America but something that sweeps up most of the world on one side or another? How long before the religions people have begun proselytizing stop merely trying to convert unbelievers and start trying to kill them?

What's the point to any of it? They had the stars and now they don't. They had freedom and now they don't. Is there actually any point to living out their lives in a prison, denied so much of what had given life meaning? Is he really doing any good, fixing the machines so as to save people's lives, or would they be better off dead?

He can't think this way. Too deep, and Miles doesn't like to go deep. He likes things that distract him so he doesn't have to wonder if everything is pointless. And work is coming up soon, in a scant few hours, and he'll have plenty to distract him then.

Miles rolls over, and finally gets to sleep.

Next: A dead letter in the post office in LaBarre, France.

Notes: Naomi Allen was created by Mercutio, and appears with permission.

Previous stories in the series are: VOY It's Always Fun Until Someone Loses, TOS Te Morituri Salutamus, TNG One of the Living, DS9 Go Down Moses, TNG Let Me Entertain You, VOY The Partisan (M-rated).