‘We’ve got limited communication with Engineering,’ said Thawn as she followed Valance out of the turbolift onto Deck 7. The alert lighting pitched them into gloom, all around already embroiled in the controlled chaos of officers withdrawing from the damaged sections close to the hull breaches and compromised plasma conduits. ‘They’re fighting to keep the antimatter flow to the warp core stable.’
Valance’s throat was tight as she nodded. ‘Keep me posted. And see if you can contact Lieutenant Juarez or Lieutenant Rhade and get them to expand their security deployments to protect this section.’ They were sat on a disaster in the making, if it was even half as bad as she feared. The last thing they needed was for this to turn into a D’Ghor ambush with Klingon warriors boarding and attacking the emergency response teams.
‘Yes, sir!’ Thawn’s feet moved fast to keep up with Valance’s determined stride, but at least officers got out of the way of two senior staffers rushing towards the danger. ‘We should head for Section 7-G, Commander; impact and the breaches were aft of that.’
With their systems still reeling, Valance wasn’t sure what to expect. But a tricobalt mine of unknown yield breaching the hull and hitting an EPS mains in the middle of the ship was a recipe for serious immediate damage and untold further problems from unstable plasma conduits. And the closer they got to the section, the clearer it was that the damage was not insignificant.
The region Thawn directed them to had been an interior corridor, once, one of the main thoroughfares for foot traffic across the deck. The breach had blasted through the whole section to its starboard, making interior bulkheads now the only physical barrier between this stretch of the ship and the hard vacuum of space, emergency forcefields already gleaming on the left side of the hallways ahead. They had reached only the beginning of the damage, 7-G the last intact and secure section, and it spoke of how chaotic Engineering’s damage control had become that Petty Officer Koya, Endeavour’s Deck Boss, was running things from this junction.
The big, gruff Benzite looked up from her control panel as the two approached. ‘Don’t go any further, Commander; we’re pulling people back from these sections.’
Valance looked down the corridor, emergency lights barely gleaming through the dark and smoke, officers trickling back in their ones and twos. Her gaze flickered up to where from here she could bring down not just more emergency forcefields, but a heavy blast door. ‘Report.’
‘The impact was two sections down,’ Koya reeled off as Thawn joined her at the console. ‘Ruptured an EPS mains; didn’t cause any secondary explosions, but we’ve got plasma and radiation leaks. Damage control teams have been moving to fix it as we evac all other personnel.’
‘I don’t like these power levels,’ said Thawn, bringing up what diagnostics she could next to Koya. ‘Commander, if the plasma relays in this section go, they might damage emergency power systems and risk these vacuum-rated forcefields failing.’
‘Right now, the bulkheads are holding,’ said Koya. ‘But the lieutenant’s right, if something goes, I don’t want to rely on emergency forcefields.’
Valance’s jaw set. ‘Any idea how many crew are in the damaged sections?’ Koya shook her head. ‘Try to get me an estimation or a life-signs scan; as soon as everyone’s out, we’ll bring down the blast doors.’
Thawn’s breath caught. ‘That’s a good idea, Commander,’ she said, like something further and unpleasant had struck her. ‘And sooner is better -’
‘Commander!’ Out of the smoke came a trio of figures, engineers coughing and sputtering as they reached the junction. The burly Tellarite Baranel was at the head of them, sleeve across his stubby nose, but he was recovering quicker than his human colleagues. ‘We need more hands; it’s rough back there.’
Valance frowned at him. ‘I need more than “rough.” Who’s running damage control in this section?’
Baranel’s arm dropped and he looked around the officers gathered in the smoky gloom, silhouetted against emergency lighting. ‘Chief’s not back?’ Koya shook her head.
The bottom of Valance’s stomach dropped out. Thawn said something, insistent, but she couldn’t hear her as she stared at Baranel. ‘Commander Cortez is back there?’
Baranel coughed and nodded. ‘Took over damage control while Adupon’s in engineering. We were trying to reroute the plasma conduits away from this section in case of another breach, or we could lose the whole deck. The teams split off to each conduit junction but we’ve got leaks; some sections are too dangerous for us to get in there. We lost track of her and had to get out.’
‘Commander!’ That was Thawn, who looked pale when Valance’s head snapped around. ‘Not all of these conduits have been rerouted and I’m picking up a surge in conduit 7-G-24. Pressure levels are rising and we’re critically close to a breach.’
Koya swore as she looked at Thawn’s display. ‘That’ll rupture the plasma conduits along two sections and punch right through the bulkheads, maybe even the emergency emitters even if they keep power…’
‘Right.’ Baranel squared his shoulders and turned back to the two engineers. ‘We’re going to get the Chief, so put your lungs back in.’
Thawn made a small squeak. ‘You’ve got a narrow window,’ she said. ‘But maybe from here I can try to increase the safety forcefields around that section; it might hold for a little more time if there’s a breach.’
‘You heard her,’ said Baranel. ‘Let’s -’
‘Belay that.’ Valance’s mouth tasted like carpet as she dragged her eyes from the display on Thawn’s panel to the trio of engineers. ‘Pressure levels are far too high; we can’t send anyone in.’ Her gaze flickered to the dark, smoky corridor ahead, and even against the blazing of emergency lighting, she couldn’t see any signs of movement. Of people.
Baranel rounded on her. ‘If there are people trapped behind busted doors, or injured, and can’t get out -’
Valance ignored him, looking at Thawn. ‘Lieutenant, how long until pressure levels are high enough to cause a breach?’
‘I…’ Thawn looked wildly between Valance and Baranel. ‘Twenty seconds?’
When this had started, her stomach had been trying to wrap around her throat. Now, when Valance looked inside herself, there was absolutely nothing there but the cold. Her gaze again went past Thawn to the display. ‘A generous estimation. Petty Officer Koya, bring down the emergency bulkheads in ten seconds.’
Thawn went paler. Koya’s expression went blank as she nodded, and reached for the controls. But Baranel burst forward, planting himself between Valance and the corridor. ‘What the hell, Commander? There are people -’
‘Here, in safety, and a conduit overloading might not only cause a hull breach, but could vent plasma through this entire section, and it could happen at any moment.’ Valance’s voice was utterly flat, and with one hand she reached out to push Baranel aside. She barely felt the big Tellarite move, and didn’t so much as look at him, gaze still locked on the long stretch of dark corridor. There was still no movement.
Then she saw nothing more as the emergency bulkhead came down. And whatever was frozen inside Valance twisted.
‘Lieutenant Thawn,’ she said, her voice not sounding like her own, cold and steady and as if it were coming from far away. ‘Notify the bridge of this secondary explosion, if you can. Everyone else, I recommend you brace.’
‘Done,’ said Thawn, who also sounded like she’d shoved whatever fear or horror she felt into a small box. ‘Pressure levels are critical, it’ll rupture at any moment.’
Baranel’s words were a low rumble. Valance thought they might have been a prayer. But nobody else spoke, the silence filled by the creaking of bulkheads, the distant hum of crew heading to the evac points, the dull drone of low-level emergency klaxons. Time felt like it stretched for an eternity, but she told herself it could only be seconds, because at any moment there would be a rupture, taking out another section of the ship, the crew beyond, and –
‘Commander?’ Thawn sounded confused, and she realised that almost half a minute had passed. ‘Pressure levels are – are dropping.’
As Valance whirled around, Koya was at the console again. ‘Confirming that; looks like the plasma flow has been rerouted to the stable conduits along 7-H-23.’
‘Ship-wide power levels are stabilising, too -’ Thawn hesitated. ‘Bridge confirming the EPS conduits are functioning within safety parameters and systems are coming back online.’
Then Baranel’s combadge chirruped, words sputtering through. ‘Cortez to… -nel, come in, team.’
The Tellarite’s eyes widened, though he notably didn’t look at Valance as he tapped his combadge. ‘Baranel here. Good to hear your voice, Chief, what happened?’
‘Y’know. Rerouted a whole system of conduits in a maintenance room next to a chamber flooded with plasma at over a hundred degrees. Maybe. Didn’t bring my thermometer.’ Cortez’s voice sounded either forcibly jaunty, or light-headed. ‘Think I got the pressure under control.’
Baranel did now look at Valance, albeit briefly. ‘Yeah, Chief – you stopped the whole section from blowing…’
Valance turned away, back to Koya. ‘Get the bulkhead up. Lieutenant Thawn, get a medical team to this section and take command.’
Thawn hesitated. ‘I… yes, Commander. What are you…’
‘I’ll check in with security and the bridge,’ she said, forcing the voices of Baranel and Cortez from behind her into oblivion, for all she could care or handle it. Beside her, the emergency bulkhead began to shudder up with a creaking groan, and within a heartbeat a coughing, sputtering officer had ducked out from under it to be grabbed and helped by one of Baranel’s team. She swallowed hard. ‘Good work, everyone. Keep the bridge posted.’
She didn’t look back as she left. She didn’t need to; behind her she could hear Thawn tentatively assuming command to restore stability to the section, hear Koya calling in medical support, hear Baranel and his people helping the trickle of officers emerging from where they’d been stuck behind the emergency bulkhead. Not many – three, four, but there might be more, more of them she’d left trapped for the good of the ship.
Left to die.