Episode II: Part III - Tragedy strikes the Stargazer
Stardate: Nov 26/27, 2096
No one paid particular attention as Captain Foxwell and Leia made their appearance at the Stargazer’s formal dinner. No one, that is, except Xuriya. It wasn’t unusual for Starship Captains to accompany invited guests at such events. The Captain had issued previous orders no announcement was to be made regarding his arrival, anticipating earlier last minute duties or unforeseen situations could result in a delay, his unexpected previous rendezvous with Leia notwithstanding.
“Good evening, Captain,” Xuriya said, a warm smile accompanying her exuberant greeting.
Foxwell returned the smile. “Good evening,” he responded, forgetting for a moment it was customary to assign someone to act as simultaneous host and greeter. “Well, this is a surprise,” Foxwell continued. “I had no idea you were the assigned host.”
“Neither did I,” Xuriya answered. “I was informed by Commander Beta of the assignment after my replacement assumed my duties on the bridge.
“Couldn’t have selected a better host,” the Captain replied sincerely. Turning his attention to Leia, he formally introduced her to his Communications Officer. As Captain Foxwell proceeded with the introduction, he noticed Xuriya appeared somewhat less than enthusiastic. There was no smile, no return greeting, not even the offer of a handshake. Foxwell took notice, but was interrupted before he could speculate on it further.
“Captain, so nice of you to accompany my daughter to the welcome aboard dinner,” Professor Adana said, catching Foxwell off guard. “ I was just speaking with your Chief Engineer across the room when I caught a glimpse of you and Leia. Will you be sitting at our table?”
“We will, father,” Leia quickly replied, answering before the Captain could respond, surprising everyone with her unexpected declaration. She placed her hands around Foxwell’s arm, moving closer to him. Xuriya stared in disbelief at her brazenness. Who the hell does she think she is answering for the Captain?
Foxwell smirked in response to Leia’s announcement. He had given no thought to seating arrangements. It was his usual practice at such events to ‘work the room,’ enjoying a cocktail while greeting and making small talk with guests and ship’s company, choosing where to sit only when the culinary staff began service.
“May I speak with you Captain?” a familiar voice audible outside the circle Foxwell, Xuriya and the Stargazer’s two guests had configured. It was Beta. She was exhibiting her usual serious expression.
“If you will excuse me,” the Captain politely announced, stepping away from his guests to confer privately with his second-in-command. “What is it Beta?” Foxwell quietly asked.
“Captain, Chief O’Donovan was just informed by the assistant Chief Engineer of a problem with the fusion drive. Apparently it’s more than minor issue; it’s quite serious. O’Donovan excused himself and is on his way to engineering.. He noticed you were busy with our guests, so he alerted me, but did not go into any detail. He simply started he needed to return to engineering.”
Foxwell was concerned, but no more than usual at receipt of such information. Engineering problems and other departmental issues were a normal part of a Starship’s ‘modus operandi’ during the course of daily operations. Standard operating procedure was to assess, identify, correct and/or repair, etc…, up to and including setting ”Condition Red” if necessary for survival of the starship.
“Did POD tell you anything before he left for engineering?” the Captain asked.
“Something about the rilidium reactor circuits. He didn’t elaborate further.”
“Which is where we’re headed,” Foxwell declared.
Captain Foxwell and Beta exited the wardroom and walked into the nearest turbo lift. “Engineering,” Foxwell voiced into the companel, the starship’s elevator beginning its descent to engineering. He tapped the bridge icon on the companel’s screen, the hailing chime audible at the captain’s chair.
“Bridge, Lt. Baker,” the conning officer answered.
“Lieutenant, this is the captain. Provide a bridge instrumentation status.”
“Ay, Captain. Within the last thirty minutes monitors began to register a slight variation in the fusion drive electromagnetic field. According to the assistant chief engineer, the disparity has something to do with the rilidium reactor circuitry; nothing I needed to alert you about. He told me chief O’Donovan is on his way to engineering. All other monitor and instrumentation readings are unremarkable.”
“Any sensor or viewer screen anomalies?” the Captain asked.
“Very well, continue with present course and speed. Beta and I will be in Engineering. Foxwell out.”
Moments later the turbo lift arrived. Foxwell and Beta exited and found the Assistant Chief Engineer studying the main fusion control panels and monitors. Chief O’Donovan was examining and comparing what appeared to be individual printed circuit boards (PCB's). The Captain sensed his Chief Engineer was more than a little concerned. “So, POD,” the Captain curiously interrupted, “what kind of problem are we dealing with?”
Chief O’Donovan took in a deep breath before answering. “Captain, we’ve discovered several rilidium circuit boards that have developed fissures, like safety glass that initially cracks and then spreads. This has resulted in reflective cracking in the gold conductive tracing on the opposite side of the boards.
“In short, Captain, it’s no different than cutting an electrical cord in half,” Beta chimed in.
Foxwell sighed. So, the affected boards are longer functioning; is that what you’re telling me?” Foxwell posited.
“Ay, Captain,” the Chief Engineer replied, his irish accent accentuated by the unexpected discovery. “There are a total of 120 rilidium circuit boards in six control panels, three panels on each side of the light speed drive assembly.
“How many boards have been affected, and what’s causing the problem?
“So far twelve boards have stopped functioning. I’m not sure what’s causing it, but we’ll figure it out,” O’Donovan assured the Captain.
“What affect is it having on the fusion drive?” Foxwell asked.
“None yet, Captain, just a slight variation in the eddy currents generated by the rilidium contained in the boards, noticeable per instrumentation on the bridge and here in engineering. That’s what alerted us to the problem. The fusion drive assembly was purposely designed with a ten percent safety factor to allow for replacement of boards that normally go bad over time. In this particular case, twelve boards have failed over a course of approximately two hours, which is not normal. The loss of any additional boards will affect fusion reaction, our ability to maintain light speed, weapons availability, and eventually life support. We’ve currently reached our safety threshold,” the Chief Engineer explained.
“How many spare boards do we have?” Beta inquired.
“We began this mission by replacing all boards in the control panels, and stockpiled 120 spares. I believed that to be prudent considering our previous engagement with the Vorcians, which pushed the fusion drive and its support systems to their limits. Weapons fire and use of the cloaking system further taxed the entire fusion drive power grid.”
“My understanding is we didn’t lose a single circuit board as a result of our battle with the Vorcians, POD. Am I correct?”
“Ay, Captain, O’Donovan replied. However, I replaced them as a precautionary measure.
“Could the new boards be defective? A manufacturing or quality control issue?” the Captain asked.
“Possibly,” O’Donovan replied.
Beta glanced at Foxwell, then the Chief Engineer. “Is it possible the rilidium is decaying, similar perhaps to uranium decay in which depleting electrons transform the rilidium into a different decaying atom?”
Chief O’Donovan thought for a few moments before replying. “Aye, it’s a plausible theory. That would mean the decay process continues until the rildium ore reaches a stable state and no longer emits ionizing particles. The fusion drive will ultimately begin to shut down.”
“Your theory appears totally reasonable,” Beta added.
“However,” O’Donovan continued, “decaying rilidium wouldn’t cause the boards to crack. Something else is doing that.”
Captain Foxwell nodded, then walked to the closet companel, hailing the bridge.
“Bridge, Lieutenant Baker,” the officer of the deck responded.
“Lieutenant, this is the Captain. Dispatch a security officer to the wardroom and escort Professor Adana and his daughter to Engineering. Do this immediately.”
Foxwell walked back to the Chief Engineer and Beta. “Professor Adana and his daughter are on their way to Engineering. They are Galactic Fleet’s premier rilidium specialists.” Foxwell turned and looked directly at O’Donovan. “POD, provide our two guests with a thorough briefing; make the engineering lab available and work with these two experts to get to the bottom of this. Beta and I will return to the wardroom and resume, ‘mingling’ with our guests and crew. The formal dinner will end in less than two hours. Beta and I will return at that time. I want answers.”
“Aye, Captain,” O’Donovan acknowledged.
Captain Foxwell and Beta returned to engineering; having closed out the formal dinner and thanking guests and crew members for attending, Foxwell was hoping the two senior geologists could shed some additional light on the problem. As it turned out, that's exactly what they provided.
“You’re not going to believe it, Captain,” O’Donovan blurted out as Foxwell and Beta approached the Chief Engineer. He was holding one of the defective circuit boards.
“Try me, POD. What are we dealing with here?”
O’Donovan raised the board to eye level and pointed to the treated, non-lethal rilidium semi-conductor chips, microcontrollers, sensors, interface and gateway components that comprised most of a typical PC board. "Our fusion drive works by using rilidium fission to compress and heat our fusion reactor’s fuel. The fusion of those isotopes within the confines of the reactor produce the energy required to power this Starship.”
“You’re not telling me anything I already know, POD. Get to the point,” Foxwell insisted.
“Captain, we all know rilidium cannot be replicated or lab grown. With the assistance of the Professor Adana and his daughter, we’ve discovered our circuit boards have been manufactured with what appears to some type of near depleted rilidium. The depleted rilidium is releasing a caustic chemical compound which is corroding and cracking the boards; when a board cracks conductivity is lost and that board no longer functions.
A wry expression twisted the Captain’s face. “Any idea as to how we came into possession of two hundred and forty defective rildium circuit boards?” Foxwell asked, exchanging glances with O’Donovan and Beta.
The Chief Engineer responded with a puzzled expression. “That’s the sixty-four thousand dollar question I would like answered, as they used to say back in the mid-20th century.”
Even Beta appeared bewildered, but not in a technical or scientific sense. She agreed completely with the assessment provided by the Stargazer’s engineers and Galactic Fleet senior geologists. To paraphrase another related idiom, Beta quoted, “the fly in the ointment” as I see it, is one of logistics, going back to our time in space dock for repairs after our battle with the Vorcians. New equipment installation and re-supply of supporting inventory made up the majority of our extensive refit,” she continued.
Foxwell turned and looked at his Chief Engineer. “Straight question, POD. And I want a straight answer. Will we make it to Luyten b?”
“Aye, Captain, we’ll get there, but I can’t guarantee we’ll make it back without replacement boards,” O’Donovan reluctantly answered. “We’ve notified all departments to minimize their energy requirements in order to reduce power demand on the reactor. We’ve already noticed a slight improvement in circuit board longevity.
Foxwell nodded his head. “POD, I want a complete review of all sub space supply transmissions regarding the request for new boards, their receipt, and return of old and damaged boards. I want to know the name of the manufacturer, the delivery courier, and every pit stop those boards made before engineering took possession of them. Have Xuriya review the communications log in reference to courier tracking. Keep me advised.”
“Aye, Captain,” the Chief Engineer replied.
Foxwell glanced at Leia and her father, both huddled and speaking hurriedly behind the large bay window in the engineering lab. Their manner of conversation appeared brusque, exacerbated by an exchange of hand gestures as they attempted to argue quietly. Beta and Chief O’Donovan took notice as well. “What’s that all about?” the Captain quietly asked, continuing his inquisitive stare at the two senior geologists.
“Interesting,” Beta curiously responded.
Chief O’Donovan rendered a puzzling shoulder shrug.
Foxwell turned and looked at his Chief Engineer. “Do you require any further assistance from Leia and her father?”
“Negative Captain,” he replied. “We’ve identified the problem and it’s just a matter of managing energy requirements until we arrive at Luyten b. We’ll need to contact Galactic Fleet Command and arrange for a shipment of new circuit boards once we arrive.”
“Prepare the appropriate report and request for new boards; send it to my quarters for review and approval. I’ll have Xuriya forward it as a priority subspace transmission. Beta and I will return to the bridge. Keep me advised,” Foxwell ordered.
Foxwell and Beta were on their way out of engineering when he stopped and turned around. “Oh, and when the Professor and his daughter are finished with their ‘discussion,’ or whatever it is they’re doing, have them escorted to their quarters. It’s been a long day - for everyone.”
“Aye, Captain,” the Chief Engineer responded, both eyes red from exhaustion, “that it has.”
“Captain on the Bridge,” the PA system announced as Foxwell and Beta exited the turbo elevator. Beta continued to her science station as Foxwell walked to his command chair. The conning officer stood and turned in the direction of the Captain.
Lieutenant Baker smiled nervously as he briefed the Captain. “Maintaining course for Luyten b; new bearing 015 mark 17, light factor 1.5. New time of arrival is one day, 18 hours, 21 minutes.”
“Instrumentation readings are within normal limits, sensor scans are unremarkable.”
Foxwell turned slightly and craned his neck in the direction of Beta. She glimpsed back at him while rendering a confirming nod.
“Very well Lieutenant. Good job. You are relieved,” the Captain affirmed, turning back in the direction of the junior conning officer.
“Thank you, Captain.” Lieutenant Baker replied, the young officer displaying an appreciative smile.
Foxwell and Beta remained on duty until nearly 0100 hours, exiting the bridge for their quarters after thoroughly briefing the newly arrived on duty mid-watch crew and conning officer.
Captain Foxwell laid on his bed, his hands clasped tightly behind his head as he contemplated the day’s events. He stared quietly at the overhead for several minutes, his eyes growing heavy with fatigue. The cabin’s fiber optic lighting slowly faded, facilitating transition between relaxed wakefulness and the beginning stages of sleep, until the hailing sound of the companel jolted the Captain out of a sound slumber. He reached over and fumbled with the panel on his nightstand. “Foxwell here.”
“Captain, this is Dr. Rivera. Sorry for the early reveille,” he continued in a hushed tone, “but I need you in sickbay - immediately.”
Foxwell sighed, sitting up and swinging his torso around, placing his feet on the deck of his quarters; he understood contact from the ship’s senior physician at two in the morning was not a good sign.
“What is it Doctor?” Foxwell, demanded, rubbing the palms of his hands over his closed eyes.
Dr. Rivera emitted a long, audible breath before answering. “It’s Professor Adana, Captain - he’s dead.”
Click to read Episode II Part IV "Star Voyagers: JOURNEY TO PARADISE"