(The sci-fi mystery continues)
“Highly unlikely,” Pundel said. “He has too much control over the ship’s systems to qualify. If he were on a suicide mission, we would already be dead. The engineer, on the other hand, is not in the clear. The captain is our best recourse, for now. In the meantime, Lumbsden, can you see what can be done with the power core, assuming we need a straightforward fix? I know it is out of your specialty, but we need to start a proper repair attempt.”
“Yes, sir,” I said with a smile and a short salute.
“Xiang,” Pundel said, turning to the professor, “this may be a stretch, but is there any way you could determine if the dimensional module or shields could be modified to use less power?”
“It is unlikely I could assist you,” Xiang said. “My field of study is mostly theoretical.”
“I understand,” Pundel said, standing up and pulling his shirt straight, “but you are more qualified than anyone aboard, with respect to the physics. You are also very intelligent. The system specs are all available to us, so you are the only one who could help on that end.”
“It would take several weeks to explain the complexity of the task you request,” Xiang said. “It seems highly unproductive.”
Pundel half-turned to go. “As you will,” he said, “however, we may die for lack of a solution. Consider that before you give up.” Xiang looked eager to retort, but Pundel was gone too quickly.
“He is such a bastard,” she finally chirped, moments after he was gone. “He is in no position of authority to order me around.”
I was already bending my mind toward solutions to the power core problem, but heard her clearly. “True,” I said, “but he is right.”
[Story switching to Pundel’s perspective]
Lumbsden was a bright tech, no doubt about it. He had picked up on the matter of the engineer quickly. If I could count on that kind of reasoning from him, we might just have a chance. It would be important to reach the captain and access the engineer’s records and personal logs. A long shot, yes, but if the engineer was the saboteur and foolish enough to record her activity we would be in a better position. I knew how to find the bridge from the ship specs and the computer reported the captain was there. Jordan intercepted me in the corridor before I made it. He was unhappy I had left engineering unescorted.
“You all require escorts while outside passenger areas,” he said tersely, before agreeing to bring me to the bridge. “What do you need the captain for, anyway?”
“I need some general information about the transit of the ship and so forth,” I said, carefully adding, “as well as taking up a personal request with him.” I did not want to give insult to the acting engineer.
The bridge was a cozy spot, certainly a change from the stark, functional ones on military ships. If fact, it looked more comfortable than the lounges on military vessels. Captain Trussman was slouched back in a padded, oversized seat, focussed on a personal viewscreen to his left. The other bridge crew looked disinterestedly busy at their stations. What struck me was the utter silence of the room.
The good Captain Trussman was surprised and hesitant in his greeting. I was subtle about requesting private information, though Jordan may have picked up on my desire to leave him out; Trussman definitely read my signals. I was in a briefing room with him a minute later.
“I may not be a seasoned military man, Pundel,” he said, offering me a drink with a gesture, which I declined with a wave, “yet I know when something unusual is happening. I would prefer you get straight to it and spare me the nonsense.”
“That is fair, captain,” I said, joining him at a briefing table. “I will try to be brief, but there are some layers, here. To start, I think the vessel has been sabotaged. Your injured engineer is likely the culprit, or involved somehow. If we are to survive this, I will need your help.”
The captain poured himself a drink, after all, looking deep in thought as he did.
“So,” he sighed, “you think it was foul play. Fair enough. What do you need from me?”
“Several things, actually,” I replied. “I will need access to the engineer’s personal logs and effects. I will also need to speak with your officers and crew. It would also be helpful to borrow your dimensional technicians during this. Xiang is knowledgeable, to be sure, but her potential is wasted without guidance.”
“Is that all?” Captain Trussman said with a smirk. “You do know that we are already operating on emergency protocol. How do I pull my people away for this little hunt of yours?”
“Good question,” I replied. “It’s a simple matter of logistics, really. The general repairs in engineering should be a matter of hours, really. Then there is the power core and computer system. Those will require substantially more time, even if we can be sure of the computer and devise a fix. You don’t have enough crew hours, even if the engineer was available, to make that happen. Is this ship provisioned with stimulants?”
“Stimulants?” Trussman asked, suddenly looking uncomfortable. “You mean the military variety designed for full duty hours?”
“Exactly that sort. According to my understanding of things, we are a few days from our exit point. If we do not have this vessel ready for dimensional transit by then, it might be pointless.”
Trussman looked pensive and troubled. I felt bad for him. This was not a scenario he, or his crew, were prepared or equipped for.
“The personal affairs of our Engineer are a detail,” he said, up and pacing now. This emergency gives me full authority over privacy matters. Ordering this crew to full duty hours, assuming we have the proper stimulants…that is more difficult. Very few of them have a military background to handle that. That level of stimulation, for so long, it could be lethal.”
“No less lethal than the alternative,” I countered.
“True,” the Captain agreed. “I will see what we have available. Access to the crew is yours, only let me advise them, first. This will be difficult.”
“And one last thing, Captain,” I asked. “Your officers seem set on monitoring our movements. I appreciate the need for this, under ordinary circumstances, however we well past that, are we not?”
“I can have those restrictions relaxed,” Trussman said. “But I have to review it with my security people. Until then, let’s have a look through my engineering officer’s personal effects.”
He summoned a security man and we made our way to the officer quarters. They were comfortable, compact cabins designed for modest comfort on short voyages. The quarters of engineering officer Major Peggy Flint were simply and sparsely decorated, nothing suspicious in that; pictures of a few relatives and friends amidst her credentials hanging on the walls.
Trussman opened her private consol and gave a coded command to unlocked everything in the room and open her computer files. He motioned for me to proceed as he began opening compartments and searching. I also began with a physical search.
“What do you know about her?” I asked him.
“Standard information has her as single, divorced a few years back, actually,” he answered. “A bit too dedicated, perhaps, not much room for a relationship, on top of regularly being away. She is from one of the mining colonies on the periphery. The space program gets a lot of recruits from remote places like that.”
“She mixes well with the other officers and crew?” I asked.
“Near as I can tell, yes,” Trussman answered, rummaging through her things. “She is not overly social, mind you. As I said, very committed to the job.”
“How about her politics?” I asked, cutting closer to a dangerous possibility.
“Not much there,” Trussman said. “She is almost apolitical, really. In addition to standard screening, our crew was then screened by the military. I went through it, too; and they leave nothing to chance. If you have the slightest gripe, you had no chance.”
“I see,” I said, having completed the search of her cabin. “There is nothing obvious here, not that it matters much. She would be unlikely to have left a physical clue. Still, if your security man is worth anything, he should be familiar with a full search procedure and execute one. Hopefully, her private computer files offer something.”
Trussman was already at her consol, glancing through her private information. “I do not access officer and crew files lightly, Pundel,” the Captain commented. “There is something I need to ask you, however. You seem…almost too versed in the investigation process. You were a technical officer, correct?”
I smiled at his comment. This question was bound to come up at some point.