– III –
“You’re saying you were in here when this happened?”
“It wasn’t a pleasant experience,” said Star while she leaned against one of the very few bulkheads in the room which were not covered with soot and grime. She had her arms crossed in front of her chest and watched as Hopkins and a pair of technicians were going through what remained of the EPS substation.
“No kidding,” said the chief engineer. “It must have been near sixty degrees in here when the plasma fire broke out.”
“What are your findings?”
Hopkins, wearing a plain, mustard-colored jumpsuit was on her hands and knees trying to gain access to the flashpoint of the fire. “So far, I haven’t found anything yet that could shed light on what caused the rupture. It almost looks as if—“
Hopkins got on her feet and turned to one of her engineers.
“Have a look at this?” the man said and handed her a palm-sized device, blackened and singed by the fire but otherwise apparently still in one piece.
She took it off his hands and inspected it closely. “Now that’s interesting.”
Star stepped closer. “What is it?”
“This,” she said, “is the emergency shut-off seal for the EPS conduit. The very same which should prevent an accident like this to happen.”
“It failed?” the Trill asked.
Hopkins shook head. “It worked perfectly.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Commander, there is nothing wrong with the seal. In theory it should have activated and immediately stopped the plasma flow after detecting the rupture.”
“But it didn’t. Why?”
Hopkins shrugged her small shoulders. “Honestly? Beats me.”
The first officer frowned at that, not happy with that explanation at all.
“The only way I can see this could have happened is if …” apparently she didn’t want to finish her own thought.
“If what, Lieutenant?”
She uttered a sigh. “If somebody purposefully tried to cause the EPS overload and circumvented the emergency seal.”
The Trill considered that for a moment.
“But it makes no sense, Commander,” she added quickly. “If we hadn’t gotten the EPS rupture under control when we did, we would have lost shields protecting half the ship. We would have been exposed to the nebula’s radiation.”
“Meaning we would have had to abandon our current mission to build the sensor array,” Star said.
Hopkins nodded slowly but apparently not quite on the same page as the XO yet. It took her a couple of seconds to catch up. “Wait, you’re saying somebody is trying to sabotage this mission?”
“What can you tell me about Katherine Smith?”
“Kate?” she said, momentarily dumbfounded by the new line of inquiry. “She’s been on Eagle
as long as I’ve been here. Day one. She’s one of my best people. Dedicated, hard-working, skilled at her job.”
“She was the only person who accessed this substation yesterday, wasn’t she?”
“She had both opportunity and the knowledge to carry out an intentional overload of the EPC conduit.”
“Yes but no reason,” Hopkins said quickly, desperate to defend her man. “I know Kate. We spend time together off-duty on occasions. We’ve been on shore leave together. She’s not a saboteur. She’d have no reason to be. This makes no sense.”
But Star considered the other woman suspiciously. “Then give me another explanation?”
Clearly Hopkins didn’t have one.
The Trill turned and headed for the exit and the chief engineer followed closely. Outside they found Kate Smith near the very bulkhead where Star had found her, cowering on the floor after the fire had started. An armed security guard was standing watch over the woman as to Star’s orders.
She knew that technically this fell into the security chief’s department but Star had pulled rank and done an end around Nora Laas. After all these events were fitting perfectly into her theory of an enemy spy operating on board Eagle
. She hadn’t shared those views with anyone except for Katanga but given current events, it would become difficult not to draw the conclusions she already had. But the last thing she wanted was to get Nora involved. Besides the security chief was busy with the murder investigation and while there was a chance that these events were related, so far there was no evidence connecting the two. She did not rule it out, of course, and her saboteur could have very easily have been the same person responsible for killing Lieutenant Gedar. Right now that person appeared to be Lieutenant Junior Grade Kate Smith.
The slim dark-haired engineer watched Star and Hopkins emerge with large eyes, apparently anxious as to their findings. She didn’t appear encouraged by the dour look on her boss’ face.
Star cut right to the chase. “No mechanical fault whatsoever,” she said to the woman.
“I … I don’t understand,” Smith said.
“Then let me clarify,” said Star and crossed her arms again. “Either you caused the overload accidently due to negligence on your part or you did so purposefully with the intention of harming this ship and her crew.”
Smith immediately shook her head. “No, no that can’t be.”
The XO glanced at the chief engineer. “You told me Lieutenant Smith is a competent engineer who is fully able to operate the EPS substation safely and without causing an accident. Am I also correct in saying that even if there had been some sort of equipment malfunction, she would have been able to take quick corrective actions to avoid what took place here yesterday?”
Hopkins didn’t respond straight away. Instead she kept her focus on her engineer who was pleading with her eyes. Then she nodded.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t get that,” said Star.
Hopkins swallowed before speaking. “Yes. With the emergency seal fully in tact, she should have been able to shut-off the plasma flow at the first sign of trouble, even if it didn’t engage automatically.”
Star turned back to look at Smith.
“I … I can’t explain it,” she stammered. “I simply don’t know what happened. I mean … I was there and there was no sign of any malfunction. The plasma flow was … it was normal, I’m sure of it.”
“Then what caused the rupture, Lieutenant?” Star asked.
“I … “ she clearly had no explanation to offer, instead her eyes were starting to become moist. “I don’t know,” she finally said and hung her head.
“Lieutenant, I’m removing you from active duty and you are restricted to quarters until further notice and pending a full investigation of what happened here. Crewman, please escort the lieutenant to her quarters.”
The security guard nodded and when Smith didn’t move, she prodded her gently until the engineer began to head down her corridor, the armed guard staying two steps behind her.
Hopkins watched her engineer leave. “It’s going to be very difficult for us to keep on schedule with the array without having her around. It’s the second good man I’ve lost on my team.”
“Pull people from other departments if you must but I’m not taking the risk of having a possible saboteur walking around freely on the ship. Not while we have a killer onboard as well.”
“Wait,” she said and turned to face the Trill. “You don’t think Kate—“
“I don’t know yet but I can’t see how we can rule anything out at this point,” she said and then looked at the fire damaged EPS substation. “I know you’re already stretched thin but I need you to put a team together to fine comb through that room and find out exactly how she caused the rupture.”
“Internal sensors were non-operational, we’re going to have limited data to analyze.”
“Do what you can. I expect a full report within twenty-four hours,” Star said and then walked away.