UES Enterprise. En route to Kraltos System . Warp 4.01
10th May 2151.
As a safety precaution, the matter/anti-matter reactor that powered the ship's warp drive was located in a heavily armoured lozenge shaped pod that nestled between the two lower fins. It was an unfortunate position, given it's rather phallic appearance, but it meant that the reactor core was well protected from enemy fire should the ship enter combat. It would have been even better protected located within the main hull, but so far no adequate means of ejecting the core in case of emergency had been developed. If a catastrophic reactor overload were to occur, a series of explosive bolts would sever the struts holding the pod in place. Chemical rockets would fire, thrusting it backwards, hopefully far enough and fast enough to prevent Enterprise being caught in the explosion. That was the plan, and it worked in simulation. No one wanted to test it for real.
There was another advantage to placing the it outside the main hull. Jonathan Archer had been on ships with on board warp cores. They were noisy. Not so bad for routine operations, but deafening when ramped up to full power.
Main engineering was large compared to other compartments on the Enterprise, but so packed full of equipment it seemed even more cramped. As he entered Archer grabbed a set of ear protectors from the nearest locker. The noise coming through the reactor pod's access point was uncomfortably loud, and that was with the hatch sealed. Conditions inside
the pod itself must be hellish.
He caught the eye of a passing engineer, one of the UEMA people, and gestured to the chief engineers office. She shook her head, and pointed to the pod's access point at the rear of the compartment.
So. Trip was still in there. Archer had hoped he would be finished by now. But given the unanticipated demands placed on the engines this mission, it was hardly surprising that they'd need more maintenance than expected.
Nodding his thanks to the engineer he set off that way. Even from here he could see the indicator lights for the decontamination chamber. Someone was coming out. Rather than try to navigate his way through the labyrinthine network of computer consoles, wires, and pipes, not to mention the swirling mass of people, he scrambled up the nearest ladder to the main catwalk. There was an even higher level too, as he was reminded when a couple of engineers rappelled past him down to the main deck.
He reached the far end, by the deuterium storage tanks that gave the place the look of a brewery, and descended the ladder. The decon chamber hatch was just swinging open, allowing a swirl of mist to escape. With the thick hatch open the noise got even worse. Archer clamped his hands to the ear protectors, pressing them hard against his skull. He felt the vibration in his lungs, his bowels, even in his eyes.
Three figures, clad in thick anti radiation armour and heavy helmets, came through the hatch. Steam coiled from them. Decontamination was in essence a shower, to wash off any matter that might have adhered to the armour. Recently a liquid polymer had been developed that, when added to the water, increased efficiency of the process. But it had to be applied at high pressure and very high temperature. Supposedly after application a second wash with pure cold water would wash the polymer away and cool things down. Clearly that hadn't happened here, and the three engineers were forced to wait until the armour was cool enough to remove. At least things were quieter with the hatch shut.
Archer knew there was no reason to stand around waiting, but he had no pressing business elsewhere and it would be rude to just walk away. Eventually Trip gave the signal and a couple of crewmen rushed forward and helped him out of the armour. One of them gave him a set of ear protectors, the more advanced sort with the built in com set. He started rapping out orders. With the basic protectors Archer couldn't hear what was said but if his lip reading skills were any good there was something about the decon chamber's second stage.
Out of his armour Trip was clad standard issue fatigues. One of the crewmen handed him a jacket before turning to help the other engineers still in the armour. After checking his dosimeter, the small device that would detect exposure to radiation, Trip started to talk to Archer. Realizing that he couldn't hear, he pointed to the exit instead. Archer nodded.
It was a lot easier getting out than in. Trip knew the most efficient route through the maze of equipment. Furthermore, whilst Archer was captain of the ship, engineering was Trip's domain. The crew parted for him automatically. If Archer was on his own he'd have to wait till the crew recognized him before they stepped aside. For Trip, it was like the parting of the Red Sea. Archer bobbed along in his wake.
Out in the corridor, with the main hatch shut, the noise was down to an acceptable level. Trip twisted his head from side to side, trying to work out a crick in his neck.
"Glad that's done." he said. His voice was slightly too loud, his hearing not yet returned to normal.
"Tough job?" Archer asked, sympathetically.
"One of the crossbeams had gone out of skew on the treddle." said the engineer.
Archer blinked. "I have no idea what that means."
"Me neither. It's something Polly told me once. One of her 20th century references. It's either that or 'reverse the polarity of the neutron flow'. Anyway, one of the mounting brackets for the anti-matter injection system was working loose. Coulda' been mighty bad news if we hadn't caught it in time."
Imagining the possible consequences, Archer paled. "Bad news indeed. How are things holding up, generally?"
Trip rubbed his chin. "Not too bad, considering. Maintenance operations like that are the sorta' thing we'll be doin' regular on deep space missions. I didn't think we'd be doing it on this one, but I guess it's a good a time to practice as any. So what d'ya wanna see me for?"
"Just checking you're OK. What with one thing or another, you've been working hard these last few days. There have been....concerns raised, you might be working too hard."
Trip snorted. "Let me guess. Doc Locke wants me sedated and out cold for forty eight hours, right?"
"Well he did give me these." said Archer, pulling a pill bottle from his pocket and handing it over. "Seriously though, you're no good to me if you collapse on the job. We've got another day till we reach the Kraltos system. Unless you can think of anything that desperately needs to be done, you should get some rest.
"Nah, we got all the major jobs done. I think I will get my head down. Have something to eat first, though. Errr...." Trip looked slightly embarrassed. "There is one thing....as you say, I been kinda busy. Not really payin' attention to anythin' else...so, er, where you say we headin'?"
"The Kraltos system. An uninhabited system with few natural resources or points of interest. According to the Tellarites....you do know about the Tellarites, right?" Archer teased.
"Tellarites? Sure I've heard about them. Logical humanoids with pointy ears, Tellarites."
"Those are the ones." Archer grinned. "According to them, that's the best location to meet the Ithenites."
Trip thought about this. "OK, now I am confused. Ithenites?"
"They are a race of traders. Their home is far from here, very far, but one of their merchant ships operates in this area. Flies round buying and selling, delivering cargo. Pretty random flightpath, but it is one of the few ships that had regular contact with the Rexus station."
"That could be significant."
"Plus, the Tellarites themselves tried to charter their ship for a special delivery. Turns out the Ithenites couldn't help, they'd already been hired. We have no idea by who, they tend to honour their clients confidentiality. But while they were at the trading post they did buy large amounts of vegetarian food. The sort of thing that'd sell well to the Vulcans."
Trip said "So they are hired to deliver the cargo crates with the attackers in, and try to make a bit of extra profit on the side. It's possible...bit of a reach though, John."
Archer shrugged. "Only lead we've got at the moment. Anyway, it seems that the Ithenite ship routinely travels to the Kraltos system. It meets up with another of it's kind, and they transfer goods, crew and profits. The first ship then goes back to trading, and the second returns home. I'm not sure why they do it that way rather than have the new ship take over, probably a cultural thing. But for a few days we've got a chance to catch up with them and find out what they know. If we miss them here we have no idea where they're heading next."
"So that's why you got us runnin' at warp four plus. Don't wanna miss the connection."
Archer paused as a couple of crewmen passed. He kept his voice low. "It's more than that Trip. When we were at the trading post an alien, a Yridian, spotted us and ran. He was killed in a shuttle crash but not before getting a signal out to his ship."
"Yeah, I got that bit."
"The thing is," Archer went on, "that Yridian was warning someone that we were investigating. Hoshi's studied his signal and she's quite clear about that. So if we followed the conspirators to the trading station...."
"...then they might decide these Ithenite fellows know too much." Trip realized. "They could try and kill 'em before they tell us what they know."
"Right. Assuming they haven't tracked them down already, the Kraltos system's the best bet for an ambush. So we better get there fast before they have a chance to spring it."
Trip let out a long breath. "Hell John, we could be heading into a warzone. Better get the XO to double check the weapons."
"She was triple checking them when I came to see you. Anyway, now you know why I need you rested."
Trip looked at the bottle of pills in his hand. "Man, I hate these. Still, better than lettin' Locke near me with a needle. Is it just me or has he been even crankier than usual recently?"
"Make allowances, Trip." said Archer softly. "It's the tenth. The tenth of May."
Trip sobered instantly, checking the date on his watch. "Is it? Damn. Didn't realize."