(More of the same!)
“I will answer your last question first,” Captain Trussman replied. “We have lost roughly seventy percent our power capacity. The precise figure is somewhat unimportant, for now. As to what happened, we do not know with any certainty. Lieutenant Jordan has been trying to work this out, but we need all the help we can get.”
“The patchwork looks mostly complete,” Pundel said. “What is it that you need?”
“Lieutenant Jordan, you have a better technical sense of all this,” the captain said. “Please continue.”
Jordan paused a moment before speaking, the slightest hint of a nervous tick starting. “The damage is relatively superficial, but has crippled key components of the power core. We have lost most of the activation inputs and equalisation arrays, which is the majority of the problem. This is not a fix that can be handled with the core in operation.”
“Perhaps you should let us in on what happened, in the first place?” I asked. “It might help to know what caused this before we attempt a fix.”
Jordan exchanged a knowing, uneasy look with Patel, the security officer. “We don’t know anything, for certain. The diagnostics are inconclusive, but it could have been a system malfunction. We have not ruled out foul play.”
“So what do you know, beyond the immediate state of the damage?” Pundel asked.
“Six hours ago, the computer detected a power surge in the power core arrays,” Jordan explained. “The system compensated in time to prevent damage, except for the equalisation arrays; most of which overloaded and burnt out. The activation inputs became damaged when the core became unstable. We have managed to correct the instability by lowering the core’s output and making manual adjustments, which is extremely difficult with so few equalisation arrays operating.”
“And you don’t trust the system to handle it,” Pundel suggested, “which is probably wise, considering.”
“Yes,” Jordan continued. “We haven’t had enough time to dissect the computer functions for signs of foul play or malfunction. Even then, we do not have the personnel for a full diagnostic if it was a carefully concealed sabotage. The basic functions are operating normally, though we are monitoring them carefully now.”
“You need our help to brainstorm up a stability solution for the power core,” Xiang said, bluntly.
“That is most of it,” the captain said. “We would also need to know if there is an ongoing issue that needs addressing before we even try to play with the power core. A repeat of the previous issue would be the end of us.”
“I cannot speak for the professor, but Terry and I will need to see specs, system reports and diagnostic data before we can do anything,” Pundel said, sounding ready to jump in.
We were brought to a terminal alongside the control panels. A screen displayed a series of hub menus, all of which were familiar to me. Jordan set the screen to an observation only mode and pulled up a file. A series of files opened, presenting time stamped readings from system sensors. It was slightly different for the format I knew, but made sense to me. Jordan forwarded us to the point, just prior to the power surge that set everything off.
“This is the point where the power surge began,” Jordan pointed out, probably for the benefit of Xiang. “I compiled this file about an hour ago, trying to chase down answers. My time has been limited, so I have only looked it over briefly. Let me know if you find anything. I will not be far, if you need me.”
The next hour was spent looking over the information. The sequence of damage that happened after the fact was easy enough to evaluate. The lead up was far more mysterious. Pundel and I made comments, here and there, but largely just reviewed the information. Xiang had watched with cool interest, not speaking until Pundel and I were finished.
“So,” she asked, “what happened? Is there an ongoing concern? Can we begin to find a solution to the power core damage?”
Pundel rubbed his temples, squinting. “I think Jordan is correct about finding a computer flaw, created or otherwise. In either case, a technician’s solution is a full power down, disconnection and data wipe. We can’t do that on an operating vessel. Everything relies on the computer.”
“So you don’t know what happened, then?” Xiang said, sounding angry again.
“To be blunt: no.” Pundel said, completely calm. “My opinion is that foul play is the most likely cause of all this. A power surge of that magnitude should not occur in any system, especially an essential one. Then the system disperses the surge to all but one type of array, and the excess power funneled back to these panels, blowing them out quite violently. All of this together is too suspicious to be anything but a careful sabotage.”
“Could this have been done before the ship departed?” Xiang asked, calmed down by Pundel’s assessment.
“I suppose,” he said, “but I am speculating on that point. Nothing is certain.”
“So the saboteur could be on board,” Xiang muttered.
“It is possible,” Pundel said, looking absently at the screen. “Such a person would be insane or suicidal, if they were.”
“Did you notice the smell when we arrived?” I asked Pundel.
“Hard not to,” he replied. “I take it you have the same concern about the fate of the engineer?”
“It only makes sense,” I said. “And it might just explain the foul play.”
“What are you two talking about?” Xiang interrupted.
“The sanitizer we smelled,” I explained, “is rarely used in this environment, unless there is…a biological cleaning. Jordan is the acting engineering officer, which is unusual aboard a ship of this size.”
Xiang expression told me that she needed no blanks filled in. We were all on the same page.
“What do we do now?” Xiang asked, very seriously. “Is there a solution?”
“I have a long shot hunch,” Pundel said. “It assumes the engineer was the saboteur, and sloppy about his task.” He waved Jordan over to us.
“Please have good news,” Jordan muttered. He looked tired.
“No promises,” Pundel said. “I am going to be direct with you. I mean no offense, and I am not trying to cause difficulty. This is all to strike a solution. Am I clear?”
Jordan’s brow furrowed, plainly surprised at Pundel’s approach. He nodded in agreement.
“Good. I have some questions that need quick answers. Was the engineering officer killed when the panels blew?”
“No,” Jordan responded slowly. “He is seriously injured, however.”
Pundel looked at Xiang and me before continuing. “Has he been questioned?”
“Her injuries were quite substantial,” Jordan said. “She has not been conscious since.”
“Is she expected to live?” Pundel asked.
“What are you getting at?” Jordan asked, sounding slightly defensive. “If you want to wake her for more information you are out of luck. The medical staff has already said her condition is terrible and will not push her. We have already asked about this.”
“Have you tried looking into her files?” Pundel went on, unfazed by Jordan’s agitation.
“There was nothing unusual about her entries to the engineering log. I’m sorry, Pundel, but that is a dead end. We would love to have her expertise, as well, but her condition is too dire.”
“That is too bad,” Pundel said. “It would have been helpful to know what happened immediately before the incident. Anyway, we are almost finished with our review. Thank you for the information.”
Jordan nodded coldly and left the engineering area. Pundel looked pensive as we watched Jordan depart. “What was that about?” Xiang asked.
“I always thought I would die in space,” Pundel half-mumbled. “I am concerned about our situation, here, deeply concerned. We need to speak with the captain.”
“Why?” Xiang asked. “Do you think Jordan might be involved?”