Chapter 26

U.S.S. Aldrin

Sector 015

17:41 Hours, February 8th, 2380

Stardate 57105.838993

 

Clark stood in the corridor in front of the doors to Engineering-A, keying in a code on the large circular lock that had been mounted over the seam between the doors. The lock had a small control panel in its center, surrounded by a narrow glowing red ring and a pair of handles on either side. The turbolift behind him opened and Vorik stepped out, “Captain, I believe an explanation for what Commander Jensen has requested is warranted.” He had changed into the standard gray-shouldered black duty uniform and carried and engineering kit in one hand.

Clark glanced over his shoulder, “I see you managed to get yourself into a uniform.” He tapped the lock control and the red ring blinked off, followed by a loud metallic thump as the lock released. Clark grabbed the handles and pulled the device off the door.

“Why have we been requested to activate and eject a damaged warp core?” Vorik demanded.

Clark stepped to the side and attached the lock to the adjacent bulkhead, “We’re being pursued by a Galaxy wing. We’re going to detonate the core to knock them out of warp.”

Vorik stepped forward and tapped a code into the control panel to the side of the doors, “How long until they intercept?”

The door split open and Clark walked through, “Not enough time.” His pace slowed to a stop as he noticed that Engineering-A was nearly pitch black, with the overhead lighting, dozens of consoles and screens, and the warp core itself all offline. A static hum filled the air, coming from the transparent forcefield that bridged gaping five-meter hole in the bulkhead on both decks. Visible through the invisible energy screen was the scorched and sheared-away decking, bulkheads, and conduits of the neighboring engineering labs. The smooth gray panels of the ablative armor beyond that blocked the view to the port engineering hull and warp nacelle, as well as the long spectral streaks of stars at high warp beyond.

Vorik kneeled just inside and set down and opened his kit. He pulled out two wrist lights, tossing one to Clark and attaching the other to his own wrist. They turned on the torches and surveyed the damage.

The powerful Dominion disruptor beam had removed a five-by-two-meter chunk of Engineering-A along the inner side of the starboard hull, stretching forward from the warp core and reaching halfway to the doors. Obliterated in the blast were the Chief Engineer’s office and a pair of alcoves along the workspace and their mirrored counterparts on the deck above, along with the attached labs behind the alcoves and office. The deck was littered with small pieces of burned and twisted debris, with a few larger chunks of demolished bulkheads and conduits scattered about. The metal deck itself had warped and cracked from the explosion and bent down precipitously towards the edge of the breach. A structural beam from the upper deck had broken loose in the blast, its free end falling into the deck below and obstructing the path to the warp core.

“Computer: lights.” Clark called out. A handful of the overhead lighting panels in Engineering-A turned on, almost entirely on the side opposite the breach; a few closer in spastically flickered on and off. The flickering light dimly illuminated the engine room, but provided enough light to work by. Clark continued, “Activate manual initialization sequence for warp core alpha.”

The female computer voice calmly responded, “Initialization of warp core alpha is not recommended until primary safety checks have been completed.” Vorik started forward towards the warp core, its transparent and empty housing marred with burn streaks and pitting.

“I know,” Clark snapped back. “Override, authorization Clark Alpha Nine Seven Epsilon.”

“Override acknowledged. Beginning manual initialization sequence.” The consoles around the base of the warp core and on the platforms surrounding the core lit up.

Vorik walked up stairs to the first platform around the warp core, “I will remove the dilithium matrix.” He stopped and crouched by the large round hatch built into the thick metal band that wrapped around the center of the core. The hatch had two handholds set into its sides and a control panel.

Clark agreed as he ducked under the fallen beam, “No sense in throwing away something like that.”

Vorik pulled out on the hatch, sliding out on rails the dilithium matrix from the center of the core. The dilithium, a opaque head-sized hunk of crystalline mineral, was suspended at the end of the matrix in a pyramidal frame, with an array of needle-like electro-plasma waveguides set up in a ring to the rear, feeding into a T-shaped splitter that routed the plasma energy into a pair of conduits that led out the sides of the core, up to the overhead, and back to the warp nacelles. When operational, the entire assembly harnessed and directed the energy released by the otherwise destructive matter/antimatter reaction taking place inside the core. Vorik stood over the frame and grabbed it from both sides. He calmly lifted it out of its tray, turned around, and dropped it unceremoniously on the platform.

Clark stepped up behind him and kicked the hatch closed, sliding the empty tray back into the core. He joined Vorik at the curved console mounted to the railing at the edge of the platform, “How are things looking?”

“Deuterium and antideuterium injectors appear to be functional,” Vorik said. “Preliminary scans indicate the containment casing integrity to be at seventy five percent.”

Clark nodded, “I’ll add a level ten forcefield, just to be safe.” He tapped the console a few times.

“I will not argue that,” Vorik said as the energy screen snapped into place around the warp core behind them.

“Decoupling warp plasma relays. Clearing fuel conduits,” Clark said.

Vorik followed, “Activating magnetic constrictors and opening injectors.”

A muffled explosion was accompanied by the rumbling of the deck and distressingly loud rumbling of the damaged superstructure. Clark’s combadge beeped with Jensen’s voice, “Bridge to Clark, what’s your status? The fleet’s in weapons range and exercising their torpedo launchers.” The ship vibrated again.

Clark tapped the badge, “We’re initializing now. I’ll let you know when we’re ready. Clark, out.” He tapped the badge again to end the conversation, and then looked over his shoulder at the core. It was turning a hazy gray as the deuterium-based fuels flowed in from the top and bottom, both a deck above the upper level of Engineering and two decks below. The core flashed white as the fuels contacted and began to reactively annihilate each other, followed by a roiling blue-green energy. Clark found himself unsettled by the disorganized nature of the energy, normally it swirled in a predictable fashion towards the dilithium matrix in the center, but with that removed there was nothing to harness or channel the reactive energy.

“Intermix ratio is steady,” Vorik announced. A panel fell off the overhead in a shower of sparks, followed by a jet of gray gasses. “Core integrity at seventy percent and dropping rapidly. I estimate a containment breach in four minutes.”

The computer calmly announced, “Warp core alpha containment failure imminent.”

Clark looked away from the core, “Alright, time to go!” He quickly descended the stairs and jogged across the lower Engineering deck with Vorik following closely behind. Clark ducked under the beam and stopped to look over it to the core, which was humming loudly and sending small arcs of white energy into the nearby decking and surrounding platforms.

Vorik nearly walked past him, but stopped and grabbed Clark’s shoulder, “Captain, we must evacuate Engineering.” An arc of energy reached out from the core and sparked against the deck a meter from their feet, as if to emphasize the point. Clark followed Vorik out without a word, feeling the Aldrin shudder under another torpedo impact.

With the door closed behind them, Clark tapped his combadge, “Clark to Bridge. We’re ready.”

 

17:47 Hours, February 8th, 2380

Stardate 57105.850156

 

Jensen grimly replied to Clark’s declaration, “We’ll take it from here, Captain. Bridge, out.” She looked up to the viewscreen, which displayed the thirteen Starfleet vessels that had quickly closed the gap with the Aldrin.

R’Mor reported, “The Bolton is firing torpedoes.” A trio of brilliant red photon torpedoes flashed from the graceful flared neck of a Galaxy-class starship towards the front of the pack. Accelerated to slightly faster than the high velocity warp factor of the pursuing starships, the torpedoes took a few seconds to cross the space to the Aldrin. The three warheads impacted the rear of the Aldrin, exploding against the dark gray armor wrapped around the port warp nacelle pylon and the weapons pod high and center at the aft.

“Rear armor down to eighty two percent,” Murphy growled. “Can I return fire now?”

Jensen shook her head, “I will not fire on a Federation starship unless absolutely necessary.” She tilted her head slightly, “Lieutenant Toq’bae, are they close enough?”

“Yes, Commander,” Toq’bae responded.

Jensen nodded, “Ensign, eject warp core alpha.”

R’Mor turned her head down towards her console, “Clearing an opening in the armor.” Her finger hovered briefly over the glowing controls, “Ejecting warp core alpha.” She pressed the console, immediately triggering the core ejection program.

A three-meter circle on top of the starboard engineering hull had been cleared of the thick ablative armor, exposing the duranium hull and a square hatch. In the span of a second the hatch slid open with a snap and the warp core was expelled through the opening by a magnetic propulsion system. The core, measuring some twenty meters long and two meters across, was sheathed in duranium at the top and bottom, with the transparent center span visible inside Engineering. Tendrils of energy trailed the overloading core as it shot vertically away from the Aldrin, beginning to tumble to the rear as it traveled through the ship’s warp field.

Toq’bae reported, “Three seconds to detonation.”

Jensen sighed and whispered, “May the prophets forgive us.”

“Two. One. Mark.”

About a hundred meters above and to the rear of the Aldrin, the core crossed out of the vessel’s warp field. In the blink of an eye the core stretched into the distance and then ignited in a dazzling white explosion that filled the field of view of the viewscreen. The Aldrin rocked as the shockwave from the sprawling blast washed over the ship.

Jensen cringed as the small empty engineering station on the right side of the bridge erupted in sparks. She looked up at the viewscreen, which displayed the rear-facing view from the Aldrin, albeit obscured by static interference and stuttering visual artifacts. “Report.”

“Minor damage reports from most decks,” R’Mor reported. “No injuries. Our warp field appears to have been destabilized by the explosion, but it is holding.”

Murphy followed, “Aft armor is down to seventy percent. Shield grid is offline. And I’m getting garbled automated reports from the weapons pod; we might be down to the saucer-mounted launchers and phasers.”

“What about our pursuers?” Jensen asked.

Toq’bae grinned, “Sensors read all twelve Galaxies have been warp neutralized. Not reading any serious damage reports or injuries.”

Jensen squinted at the viewscreen, “And the Enterprise?” The bright aquamarine flash of a quantum torpedo filled the viewscreen, followed by an intense vibration that caused a second cascade of sparks from the burned-out engineering station.

“I think that answers the question,” R’Mor quipped.

“Do we have rear launchers?” Jensen asked.

“I…” Murphy slapped an open fist against his console, “I don’t know!”

Toq’bae offered, “The ODN relays might have been corrupted by the subspace shockwave.”

Jensen stood from her chair and faced the rear, “Shouldn’t the smear have had at least some effect on the Enterprise?”

Turned into his cylindrical station, Toq’bae replied, “They appear to have modified their shield geometry. It seems to have had the affect of diverting the majority of the shockwave. Though I doubt that was intention.” The bridge shuddered violently from another torpedo impact.

Jensen dropped back into her seat and pulled over her control panel. She began typing in a series of codes, “Ensign, hail the Enterprise.”

“Commander?” R’Mor questioned. The ship shook again, breaking open a panel below the master systems display behind her with a burst of gray smoke and more sparks.

“Aft armor at fifty two percent,” Murphy reported.

Her eyes fixed to the screen in front of her, Jensen snapped, “Ensign, do not make repeat myself. Hail the Enterprise.”

R’Mor brushed away hair kicked into her face and tapped her console, “Hailing.” After a few seconds she added, “No response.” The static on the viewscreen cleared, displaying a sharp image of the sleek Sovereign-class Enterprise to the rear.

“That’s fine…” Jensen said, trailing off as she furiously typed on the panel. She yelped, “Yes!” and the pushed the panel aside. “Terminate comm link.”

Kelley looked back at her, asking with a hint of consternation, “What did you do?”

Jensen grinned, “I used the carrier band to transmit a code that disabled their weapons.”

“I guess that works,” Murphy said, frowning at a readout on his own console.

“So what now?” R’Mor asked.

“We get our weapons back online first,” Jensen said.

Toq’bae leaned in towards his console, “Commander, that might not be a problem. I’m reading a surge in gravitons in their deflector.”

“What’ll that do?” Murphy asked.

 

17:54 Hours, February 8th, 2380

Stardate 57105.862995

 

Man’tA’el shouted across Engineering-B, “Paulson! Switch to secondary flow regulators, the primaries are fried!” The warp core to his side glowed nearly white, casting shadows and heat across the engine room. The deck still vibrated underfoot from the raw power channeling through the reaction chamber, sending the bits of debris scattered across it dancing in random patterns. Jets of gaseous blue coolant cascaded down the sides of the core from ports built into the overhead. Sparks and heavy smoke poured from a broken conduit in the center of the workspace between the core and the main doorway.

Those doors opened and Clark and Vorik walked through. Vorik immediately called out, “Report, Lieutenant.”

Man’tA’el accepted a PADD from a passing engineer and jogged towards the pair, “The shockwave overloaded the plasma flow regulators, we’re switching to secondaries. We’re also having trouble stabilizing the warp field, the blast introduced irregularities into the subspace system that keep compounding when we attempt an adjustment.”

Clark grabbed the PADD, “Have you tried resetting the matrix flux capacitor?”

“First thing we did,” the Andorian said, wiping away the sweat dripping off his brow. “No effect. Well, it actually made the fluctuations worse. I’m not sure how much longer we can maintain our current speed.”

Clark opened his mouth to speak, but Jensen’s voice through Vorik’s combadge stopped him, “Bridge to Engineering, the Enterprise is charging a graviton pulse!”

“Shut down the core!” Clark shouted, dropping the PADD and running towards the chief engineer’s office. Man’tA’el whirled about and sprinted back towards the overtaxed engine core.

Seemingly every alarm in Engineering began to cry out at once as Vorik shouted, “A graviton surge is destabilizing the gravimetric field displacement manifold!” The glowing white pair of warp plasma conduits mounted to the overhead in the two-deck high opening around the core began to erupt, breaking away half-meter-long segments of translucent ducting back towards the core at a pace of a meter each second. Glowing white plasma slowly drifted down from the burst conduits, dispersing against the bulkheads and deck with a sparkling and smoking sizzle.

Clark bounded over the step up into the office and slid to the far end of the long curved console against the bulkhead opposite the core. He slapped his open hand onto the console and yelled, “Computer, disengage warp core bravo!”

The disconcerting rumble, heat, and light of the straining warp core immediately faded away, followed a split second later by the cessation of the familiar hum from the nacelles. One final segment of the plasma conduit overhead burst, raining bits of the duct on the deck, trailing streams of radiant plasma behind them, but still two meters from the core. The nearly white glow of the warp core quickly faded to a dull hazy gray of unannihilated deuterium gas, leaving the hiss of the coolant jets as the dominant ambient sound in Engineering-B.

As the Aldrin suddenly dropped out of warp, the superstructure of the starship audibly groaned under the stress. Additional alarms sounded as the ship twisted and tumbled from the violent speed reduction.

Clark stepped into the office doorway, looking up at the core with concern as the ship creaked and groaned around him. “Can somebody get thrusters back online?”

Vorik walked up to the console alcove to the office, prompting Clark to step out and join him. The wide curved display in front of them displayed a full schematic of the Aldrin, with alerts and warning markers displayed across the diagram. Vorik took a second to look over the readouts before declaring, “That nearly sheared off the starboard warp nacelle. Nearly the entire warp plasma relay system will need to be replaced.”

“I designed the Akira­-class,” Clark said. “She should have been able to take a graviton pulse with more grace than this.”

Vorik looked to him with an eyebrow cocked, “Captain, this ship has suffered serious damage in battle, been repeatedly sabotaged, and pushed well past defined safety limits for an extended time. I wouldn’t have predicted we would make it this far given the punishment afflicted on this vessel.”

Clark opened his mouth as if to speak, but paused and instead just sighed loudly. He turned around, his shoulders drooping dejectedly, and looked up at the silent gray warp core. The bulkhead and deck behind it were scorched from the plasma contact and littered with shattered bits of the conduit.

His combadge beeped, “Jensen to Clark. Captain, the Enterprise is hailing.”