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Old February 14 2014, 05:55 PM   #68
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Re: The Star Eagle Adventures V: Shadows in the Haze

– V –

Star and Nora stepped into chaos when they returned to main engineering.

People were hurriedly running back and forth between computer work stations and judging by their panicked expressions, they appeared to be mostly clueless as to what exactly had happened to get them to this point, or worse didn’t have the first idea how to stop it.

That something was terribly wrong was not difficult to determine. The ship was still at red alert and while Eagle had not shook again, the initial tremble had been bad enough for most to realize that something very much out of the ordinary had transpired.

“What’s going on?” the first officer said immediately, focusing in on the chief engineer who looked just about as concerned as the rest of her people.

She did not stop to look up as she spoke. “We’re not sure yet. It looks like the starboard main power tap leading to the nacelle experienced a malfunction.”

“What kind of malfunction?” Star said.

But Hopkins was already addressing her own engineers. “Sirna, try to reroute EPS main flow to secondary outlets. Cor, find out what happened to the emergency shut-off. It should have kicked in by now.”

The two men acknowledged with a nod but didn’t take the time to respond verbally, fully aware that time had become a critical commodity.

The chief engineer shook her head. “It looks like an overload in progress,” she said and then actually looked up. “This is bad. Very bad. It could lead to a catastrophic feedback surge right into the main chamber,” she added and momentarily glanced towards the back of the room.

Star followed her glance to see the bulky warp core intermix chamber in which the dilithium crystal produced the incredible power necessary for the warp drive and most other ship’s systems by being bombarded by deuterium from above and anti-matter from below. The explosive mixture was turned into raw power which was then channeled directly into the two large warp nacelles which hung underneath the ship via highly-charged electro-plasma. But something had clearly gone wrong and now that very same plasma supposed to provide power to the ship was threatening to tear apart the warp core chamber which would ultimately lead to the destruction of the entire ship.

“Is this the same thing that happened a few days ago?” said Nora, doing her best to stay to one side and out of the way of the engineers desperately trying to avoid a catastrophe.

Hopkins nodded. “Similar but on a much larger scale. If we cannot stop this quickly… damn,” she said and hit the table-like master control console with frustration as she worked on it. “I cannot vent the excessive plasma build up. The radiation level must have melted the vents shut.”

“Unable to reroute the plasma flow,” shouted the Zakdorn from halfway across engineering and working from a different console. “The valves are not responding.”

“Yeah, same problem I’ve got here,” said Hopkins and then turned to look the other way. “Cor, where is my emergency shut-off?”

The other engineer was shaking his head. “It’s been … I don’t understand, it’s not coming on.”

Louise Hopkins’ eyes grew wider. “What? Why the hell not?” she said and headed towards Cormac Wibberly as he unsuccessfully attempted to activate the one thing designed to save the ship in this circumstance. She nearly shoved him aside to have a look herself.

“Critical overload in two minutes, thirty-eight seconds,” said Chief Petty Officer Telrik, the Vulcan able to keep his voice free of any emotional response to the impending disaster.

“Can we eject the core?” asked Kolrami.

Wibberly shook his head. “Not inside the nebula. The thermionic radiation would cause a premature detonation we would not survive,” he said as he watched his boss working on the shut-off valve problem he had been unable to solve.

“It almost looks as if it’s programming has been overridden,” said the chief, unable to keep the surprise out of her voice. “I don’t understand this at all.”

“It’s sabotage, then,” said the first officer.

Nora shook her head. “How is that possible? We identified the spy already.”

“We’ve know that there must be accomplices who’ve been sabotaging the ship since we arrived in the nebula. Clearly this is their work,” said Star.

“There are very few people on board who could have had the engineering knowledge, not to mention the authorization level to reprogram the main shut-off valve,” said the chief, still hard at work at trying to undo the damage, her fingers in constant motion.

“How many?”

“All due respect, Commander,” said Hopkins without looking up. “I think we need to focus on averting the ship being blown to dust before we can start wondering who’s to blame.”

“Agreed. Can you reset the valve?”

She nodded. “Yes but it will take time. Time we don’t have.”

“Sir, we appear to have access to one of the secondary valves on deck twenty-six,” said Telrik.

But Kolrami was already shaking his head when he reviewed what the CPO had found. “Not good enough,” he said. “The valve is stuck halfway. At this rate it will not divert enough plasma to avoid the overload and we cannot control it from here.”

The Trill first officer stepped closer. “The secondary valves have manual overrides, don’t they? Accessible via Jeffries tubes.”

Kolrami nodded. “Yes but it’s pointless. The radiation in those tubes is way above tolerances by now. Nobody would survive that.”

Star considered that for a moment. Then she abruptly turned and headed for the nearest turbolift.

“Commander, where do you think you’re going?” Hopkins called after her.

“I’m going to go and buy you that time you need,” she said without losing her stride.

“I can’t let you do that,” she said, sounding surprisingly firm, once again showing off her surprising resolve once she was in her element. “You’d be killed.”

Star stopped for a second. “Somebody has to do it.”

The security chief smirked. “Planning on going out a martyr, Commander?”

“Trust me, Lieutenant, I have no intention on sacrificing myself just yet.”

But Hopkins was not buying it. “If anyone should go, it’s me,” she said, to her credit, apparently not even thinking twice about giving her life to safe her ship and crew. “I’m the chief engineer, this is my responsibility,” she added and was already making steps to head in the direction which would spell her certain doom.

“As you were, Chief,” Star said sharply. “It has to be me. Besides, I need you to reprogram the shut-off valve, you’re the only one who can to do that in the time we have.”

Hopkins stopped in her tracks when her logic began to sink in.

Then Star was gone.

Hopkins and Nora exchanged looks.

“I hate when she goes and tries to play the hero,” said the Bajoran.

* * *

Even though her destination was two decks below, Star didn’t bother heading for the turbolift. Instead she headed for the nearest Jeffries tube access point, practically ripped away the hatch cover and jumped inside.

She had never been more grateful that she had spent all those sleepless nights since coming onboard Eagle to carefully study every last blueprint and technical diagram available, practically making her an expert on the layout of the majority of all systems, including the secondary valves on deck twenty-six.

She moved as fast as she could on her hands and knees and after a few moments she reached the intersecting hub which allowed her access to the below decks. She found the ladder, opened up the below hatches with a tap of a control panel and then slid all the way down.

The heat was the first thing she felt. It was far higher than comfortable levels but the EPS tabs were fairly well insulated so it wasn’t nearly as bad as what she had felt a few days ago when she had run into a room with a raging plasma fire. She already knew that it was the radiation that was going to be a far greater concern this time. Thankfully she had a small edge which she hoped would make all the difference as she crawled closer to her destination.

It didn’t stop her from feeling light-headed almost immediately or the sickness beginning to grow in her stomach.

“Owens to Star.”

Still on the move, she tapped her combadge. “Go ahead, sir.”

“Hopkins has just filled me in on what’s happening. I want you to get out of there now and leave this to people with appropriate protective gear.”

“I’m not sure what Hopkins has told you, sir, but we don’t have the time for that. The EPS feedback will destabilize the warp core and destroy containment in less than two minutes. She’ll need more time than that to get the shut-off valve engaged again and this is the only way to do it. How soon can you get somebody else in here?”

Owens hesitated. “Not soon enough.”

“Like it or not,” she said as she crawled around a bend and suddenly feeling the overwhelming urge to vomit. “I’m the best chance we’ve got right now.”

“How close are you?”

“I’m here,” she said and stopped to remove another cover. However she quickly found the crawl space too restrictive to get a hand on the equipment she needed to manipulate. And the throbbing pain right behind her forehead didn’t help matters. She flopped over onto her back with the hatch directly above her now. This allowed her a little more room to work. Of course the hatch cover refused to come off easily. “How much time do we have?”

“One minute, forty-eight seconds until containment failure.”

She nodded and then tried the cover again, putting all her strength into pulling down onto the handles. It didn’t come free until her third attempt. She unceremoniously dumped the cover and then studied the controls which had been revealed. A lot of them didn’t appear to be functioning, most likely destroyed or disabled by the far too hot and irregular EPS flow in the manifold just beyond it. “Never an easy day,” she said as she began to work on the few controls which still accepted input.

“How does it look?”

“Well, I’m no engineer but in my expert opinion this is thoroughly FUBAR.”

“Anything you can do?”

“I would hate having come all the way out here for nothing,” she said and had to wipe the sweat off her brow as it was threatening to drop into her eyes. Then she reached for one of the controls regulating the valve currently flashing in bright red to indicate imminent danger. She howled in pain upon contact.

“Commander? Are you alright,” said Owens, genuine concern lining his words.

She retracted her burned fingers. “Hot, is all,” she said and then continued with a more careful approach, gingerly testing any control and surface before trying to work it properly. After a few moments she managed to turn about two out of the twelve bright red lights to green, indicating that she was making some sort of progress.

“I’m looking at the engineering station,” Owens said from the bridge. “Whatever you’re doing, it’s working. EPS pressure has reduced by about five percent. Hopkins says she needs another couple of minutes. Right now the computer estimates containment failure in sixty-eight seconds. Try to further reduce the pressure.”

“Sounds so easy when you’re saying it,” she mumbled and reached out again. Even though she had been more careful her fingers were burning and every touch send shockwaves of pain through her digits and up her arms. She gagged as she felt her bile coming up her throat but managed to suppress it, fully aware that she might drown on her own vomit while lying on her back. She managed to get half the light to green.

“Well done,” he said. “We just need a little more time.”

But Star shook her head. “That’s all I can do, the other controls are not responding anymore.”

“According to the diagram we’re looking at here, there should be a manual release lever to the right. If you can get to it, it should redirect enough plasma to significantly reduce the pressure.”

Star saw it. The problem was that it was too far up to reach from her current position. She tried to pull up slightly but immediately realized that it wasn’t going to be possible. Her entire upper body protested with intense pain at any movement and it was an effort just to keep her arms up. “I … I don’t think I can.”

“Warning, warp core containment failure imminent,” the computer announced with its infuriatingly calm voice.

“Tell me something I don’t know,” she said and surprised herself how weak her own voice sounded all of a sudden. She felt pain just trying to talk.

“Commander,” Owens said, “we’ve been here before, remember?”

She uttered a little laugh. “You mean … me trying to safe the day in a … totally absurd and … irresponsible fashion,” she said, vividly remembering her unorthodox method of trying to stop a bomb from detonating over a major city a few months ago which involved jumping out of an airplane without a parachute.

“It’s beginning to become your MO,” he said. “And I’m not sure I much care for it.”

“Right there with you, Captain.”

There was a moment of silence. Silence except for the drowning sound of her throbbing head coming closer and closer to explode.

“I need you to focus and get this done.”

She took a deep breath and reached out again. But as much as she tried her fingers couldn’t get to the lever, falling short by less than an inch. As much as she tried to, her upper body wouldn’t move any further. “I’m trying. I really am.”

“I’m not going to lose you or this ship, do you hear me?” he said, his voice now taking on a hard edge as if he wouldn’t accept failure. “I rolled the dice on you. Taking a chance when I didn’t have to. You are not going to let me down now.”

She gritted her teeth and she stretched her hands further. “All you’ve done … since I’ve come aboard … is keep me in check … on the short leash. All … respect … you haven’t taken much of a chance … on anything,” she said and could actually feel her fingertips brushing against the surface of the lever. Just not enough to move it.

“You’re probably right.”

“Probably?” she said, her chest burning with each word. “I … haven’t been a first officer on this ship … I’ve been a glorified … a glorified secretary. If that’s … all you need … all you want from me … I’ll take it,” she said, having somehow managed to touch the handle of the lever but with no leverage whatsoever to move it. “It’s better than the alternative. But … at least be straight … with me. Tell me that’s what you … what you want. I think I deserve that much.”

“No,” he said sternly. “I want you to be more than that, Taz. I want you to be my first officer,” he added. “And I want to have a ship left for you to be one on.”

Despite herself, a smile crept onto her lips. “That … must have been the first time you’ve … you’ve called me … that.” But she couldn’t keep her hand up any longer and it dropped back down as she uttered a gasp.

“Ten seconds,” Owens said.

“The hell with it,” she said. “I’m not going … out like this. Not now.” She craned her head to look further up the Jeffries tube and spotted a couple of handholds at either side. With herculean effort she managed to extend both her arms again to hold on to each and drag her radiation wrecked body along the tube for a foot or two. Then she focused back on that elusive lever above.

She took another breath even though her stomach content was once again threatening to spill out along with her used up air and then managed to bring up a leg and smash her boot against the lever.

It bulged slightly.

“Move, you godsforsaken piece of junk,” she yelled with frustration as she hit it again. “Move!”

She hit it a third time and the lever turned.

All the light changed to green.

It was the last thing she saw.
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