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Battlestar Galactica
Red Tide

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Battlestar Galactica recently aired on the Sci-Fi Channel in a modernized and updated form.  Most of these changes worked very well and were much appreciated even by the die-hard fans of the original series from back in the late 70's.  The show made quite a splash on the Baen site as well and a number of us began speculating about various aspects of this newly envisioned universe that existed as a backstory to the new Battlestar Galactica.  This inspired some folks, myself included, to pen their own tales set in this new Battlestar Galactica universe.  So far, I've but one such tale but I might come up with more.

For now though, I decided to make use of my skills in program management to write a tale, BOM, about how some of the little and mundane things can have rather drastic consequences.


Not for the first time did Mitch Daniels thank his lucky stars that Owens Shipwrights had Steve Huma working for them.  It wasn’t just that Steve was a hard working and dedicated professional, everyone who worked for Owens was that or else they didn’t work for Owens long.  No, what made the good Mr. Huma special was his knack for wading through project assembly process specs and working them against the bill of material for each project Owens handled.  Steve Huma was an “optimizer.”

That doesn’t sound like much, it certainly wasn’t anything sexy or dramatic to look at, but with modern spacecraft and space facilities assembly being so thoroughly automated – especially at such efficient yards as those run by Owens Shipwrights – wading through such specs and BOM’s (Bill of Material) could make the difference between a project being profitable or even being started in the first place.  Steve Huma was just one of those guys who took to such a task and Owens Shipwrights paid him handsomely for his skills.

In the past his scrutiny revealed over priced components or flaws in the assembly schedules which needlessly slowed them down – which added to their cost.  In some cases this was just a matter or changing the order in which the components were slated to be fed into the assembly process.  In other cases it meant finding lower cost suppliers.  Or changing the specs, or letting the customer know his specs would entail a higher cost/ later delivery date.  In some cases the customer nixed those changes, in others they accepted them for the capability their specified components would give them.  In any event, keeping atop such minutia was one of the many ways in which Owens Shipwrights stayed atop its profit margin and also stayed in business.  It wasn’t glamorous, it wasn’t thrilling to look at, and it was even less exciting to describe but it kept the ink black at Owens Shipwrights and that profit was something to celebrate.

But making any more profit, or even staying in business, was no longer a priority.  Not since the Cylons attacked.  Now it wasn’t profit that mattered but survival.  There was no more money coming in, there was no more business for the yards.  At least not in the traditional sense. 

The Owens yards were still busy though.  Busier than they’d ever been, in fact.  Instead of building their usual commercial hulls or space habitats for remote projects (asteroid mining, colonization, manufacturing centers, etc.,.), now Owens Shipwrights were building space habitat structures for the evacuation ships Osir and Crues had spec’d out.  Those vessels were truly massive things and Owens got the nod to build a good chunk of the habitat modules because they did a lot of that business to start with, and they had the yard capacity to do the job.  Well, they had the mobile yard capacity. 

Their main yards, the ones in orbit around the Colony worlds, had been vaporized by the Cylons in the same attack that had vaporized so many billions of Colonists throughout human space.  But, because Owens did a lot of manufacturing work at remote locations, a good portion of their mobile yards survived intact and got out to the various rendezvous points ahead of any Cylons sent to vaporize them as well.

Those were dark days.  Hell, they were still dark days.  Long ones too, thought Daniels.  Will Garnet, the head Shipwright’s Union rep at Owens to survive the Cylon’s attack knew all too well how long the days now were.  His yard dogs were working non-stop, contract clauses be-damned, and he was proud of that.  Story was that one of those yard dogs had seen fit to complain to about the hours they were now working.  When that yard dog brought his complaint up to the head Union rep, Garnet punched him out.  Knocked him on his ass, he did.  And then made the guy go right back to work – bloody broken nose and all.

But the obscene pressures to get these habs built didn’t mean the job wouldn’t be done right and that’s were Steve Huma kept at it.  And what was now sitting on Mitch Daniel’s desk was proof of that.  Steve had been working equally as insane hours as any of the yard dogs, doing his part to optimize the manufacturing process of building the hab sections.  Among other things, this meant going through those assembly process schedules looking for items which could be deleted.  In some cases there were things which would be pretty damn useless for these hab sections given their new use – but it’d take more manufacturing time not to include them.

So, there were some hab sections which had a finer finish applied to their interiors because there wasn’t enough of the basic stuff to go around on that particular habitat manufacturing facility.  In other cases, it meant entire systems were simply left in their shipping crates, unused.  It was a hellish thing to keep track of all that, but that was what Steve was good at.  And that was what Steve kept up with.  It was in the midst of this that he found something strange enough to catch his eye.

It wasn’t anything big, and in normal times it might not have even been worth bothering with.  But these weren’t normal times.  Not by a longshot.  In this particular case Steve noticed the BOM called for a specific bit of equipment as part of its inter-ship communications system.  Between the fiber lines and various inter-ship radio communications systems in use throughout the Colonies (well, what was left of them) there were a lot of such systems and just about every customer seemed to have their own preference and their own specification.  This one was no different.  The original order for this space habitat was for a standard five module, one thousand unit structure.  Nothing terribly unique nor expensive about it.  Included in this order though was a spec for this specific communication system which used this specific equipment – and not the slightly lower cost standard comm. system offered by Owens.

In normal circumstances Steve, upon finding this tidbit, would’ve fired up an inquiry to the customer in order to verify that they really wanted to spend the money and take the time to have this particular system installed.  But this customer had been on Caprica and if they didn’t die in the initial nuking of that planet then they were certainly dead now.  Sustained nuclear orbital bombardment of a planet’s surface will tend to do that and that’s what the last ship’s out of the Caprica system reported the Cylons as doing.

So, Steve checked to see if there was enough of the standard Owens system to go around and there was.  He had this fancier system pulled out of the que and tagged for reexamination.  Doing so saved about four hours assembly time for every sixteen decks of the habitat structure.  On a small project like the original order this wouldn’t have justified the attention, on the multi-thousand deck project now underway such a time savings was immense.

But this didn’t mean that the sidelined units were utterly useless.  As there was a shortage of everything now, Steve had a salvage crew sent to examine the comm. systems to see what could be made of them.  And that’s where the strangeness began.  Looking them over they seemed normal enough.  They were just the usual set up of emitters, receivers, hubs, amplifiers, and filters.  They were standard enough but that was the problem, they were too standard.  Nothing in the BOM for these units set them apart from the standard units that Owens already used.  It was just the control units that seemed different and it was those that Steve had the salvage crews look to.  What they came back to him with was strange indeed.

Most of the materials in those control units was also standard stuff.  Most but not all.  Buried amongst all the various bits were several small components which didn’t seem to have any use for inter-ship communications.  Odder still was their power connections which were too high level for inter-ship use.  Steve had a tech pop apart one of those units to see what was inside and that’s where the real fun began.  And that was also what was now on Mitch’s desk.

Through bleary eyes and a sleep deprivation induced migraine that just would not go away, Mitch listened as Steve pointed out the weirdness once again.

“… that coupling here is our part – but this unit is something else.  There’s no standard serial number on it.  Those markings are barcodes alright but they’re not in any of the Colony Standard Component Barcodes Database (even through the migraine Mitch could hear the capitalization there) so they’re definitely not made by us and you know what that means!”  Steve stopped at that, waiting for Mitch to reply.

“Steve, look, I know this is hot for you but it’s just a non-spec part.  We’ve got lots of those, they’re nothing…”

“No!  Dammit!” the clearly frustrated optmizer yelled.  “You’re not getting it.  These parts, they’re not ours!”

“Steve, you’ve already said that.  I understand that they’re not from Owens.”  Mitch said, rubbing his temples as his migraine began to get worse.

“Dammit, Daniels!  That’s not what I said!  These parts aren’t just not ours, they’re not just non-spec, they’re not just not made by us – they’re not made by humans!”

“What?”  Now Mitch’s migraine really exploded.

“Finally!  You’re getting it.  Mitch, these parts aren’t ours.  They are not manufactured by any company run by humans.  If they were, they’d have used some parts with some Colony Standard Component Barcodes.  If even just down in their subcomponent level.  Hell, even down to the chip level there should be some component with a Standard Code.  But there’s not.  They’re also not assembled in any standard fashion.  Just look at this view of the welds on the leads to this chipset… Ah, crap, Mitch.  Look, what I’m trying to tell you is that these parts were made by Cylons.”

That got Mitch’s attention and got it cold.

“Steve,” Mitch said in as level a tone as he could, “that is one helluva leap there.  Just because it’s a non-standard, non-spec part doesn’t mean it was made by the Cylons.  You’ve got to have more to go on than this or else you wouldn’t be up here wasting my time.”  Mitch knew Steve was good, but he also knew that Steve Huma could be a bit obscure when it came to explaining what he did.  Nothing unusual in that.  Lotsa guys at Owens were so focused on their expertise that they had a hard time explaining it.  But now Steve had to and the strain of it was plain on his face.  It was just so blindingly obvious to him that he had to rein himself back in trying to explain it to his boss.

“Mitch, once I found this was a whole assembly on non-Standard parts, I decided to run some tests.  I took a complete unit, put it up on a breadboard to dupe the standard comm. system inputs and then I began running sims on it.  Mitch, it’s a comm. unit but it’s an over strength comm. unit.  I knew that much at least.  I had a suspicion this wasn’t ours as soon as I found those codes weren't in the Colony Standard Component Barcodes Database and if they’re not Colony Standard..”

“Yes, Steve,” Mitch interjected, “I know, they’re not ours – what about the test?”

“Well, I had the whole rig in a signal shielded test vault – the one over on Unit 29 – and set it to running normally.  I used the same sort of burn-in simulated commo traffic we use for our units.  I set it running like that for two shifts.  When nothing happened immediately I went back to working on the habs we’ve going on Karsten’s – they’re running low on triple point door hinges so I redirected…”

“Steve, stick to the subject.”  Mitch growled.

“Uh, yeah." Steve shock himself back on topic.  "Anyway, two full shifts later there was nothing unusual.  I still had my suspicions.  So, I altered the simulated commo traffic going through by downloading a real shift’s comm. traffic and then feeding that in to the sim.  I also overclocked the whole thing so I was running a twenty times the normal time rate.  After an equivalent month of commo traffic this little comm. unit broadcast an external signal.  I had the breadboard configured like it was a full-on ship’s comm. system.  This innocent little comm. unit ran a search program, found the comm. system’s architecture, and then found the path to access an external antenna – all on its own.  Had it been hooked up to an actual comm. system it would have broadcast that damn signal.  It would’ve broadcast that signal in hyperspace Mitch.  It would’ve given our position away.  Mitch, it would’ve broadcast it to the Cylons.”

Mitch didn’t say anything.  He tore his eyes from Steve’s, looked down at the components on his desk, and recoiled.  He thought of asking Steve if he was sure of what he just told him but he thought better of it.  Steve wouldn’t have told him all that without his being sure.  Steve never wasted time.  That wasn’t what he did for a living.

“Frack.” Was all Mitch could say. At first.  Steve just stood there, relief visible over his entire body.  “Those damn machines… Steve, how widespread are these units?  Have they been installed anywhere else?  What other contracts used them?  Not just the units we’re building now but the ones we built in the past?  Damn, these fracking things could be everywhere!”

“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you!”  Steve said, almost in pain, “That’s what I have been telling you since I came in this office!”  He reined himself in again, “Mitch, I’ve already run the queries and found three other projects underway that also use units from this supplier.  I’ve already issued change orders to stop any further use.  That’s the easy part.”

“And the hard part?” Mitch said.

“The hard part, is going back and pulling these things out of the systems we’ve already assembled.  Right now there’s about ten days worth of these systems.”  Steve didn’t look happy explaining that either.

“Felgercarb!  Ten days?”

“This has got to be a manual thing, Mitch, and they have to get to each and every one of these control units.  Then they have to pull these components from each of those units.  I’m not even including the time to install replacement comm. control units.  Right now I think it more important to get these damn things out of the systems, period.  Ten days Mitch, and that’s a hands-on ten days worth of labor.”

“Frack.  Steve, you of all people know what hell that’s going to play with our assembly schedules.  Crues is going to have our asses over this.”  Mitch began rubbing his temples again.  “Well, he will until we explain what the risks are of leaving them in.  Built-in homing beacons for the Cylons – that we so graciously install for them!  Very clever.  Very clever indeed.”

Mitched turned to his desk screen and began bringing up his task order and communications protocols.  Looking back up at Steve he saw the relief and the fatigue written all over the man’s face.

“Steve, good work.  Crues may have our asses over this but it will probably save our asses too.  I’ll take this from here.  You go rack out.  We’ll need you for the implementation – but we’ll need you fresh.  Get some sleep, you’ve earned it.  In the meantime, I’ll send out the word to the other yards and to the other companies.  And to Crues.  Just give me that BOM so they’ll know what we’re talking about.”

As Mitch Daniels turned back to his mail program he thought again what a lucky star resulted in Owens Shipwrights having folks like Steve Huma working for them.  This was one Cylon plot which would get stopped before it killed even more humans than the other plots already had.  And all because of one sharp eyed human catching something odd in a bill of materials.

# # #

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This page was last updated on: 31 March 2004