By Stephen V. Cole
SNAP COUNT, PART 6
"Everybody sit down," Captain Williams said. "As you can all see, we have the department heads, the main bridge shift, the science officer, Commander Strakhorn, and Lieutenant Kezlok.
"As you know, Juggernaut Beta is headed for Arcturus, a Federation associate member planet with a population of six billion. Evacuation is physically impossible, although everyone who can leave is crowding into freighters and leaving. That won't amount to more than ten or twenty thousand people.
"I have asked Starbase Eight to send us everything they can, but space is big and in six days that's not much.
"The local defenses include a civilian base station, ground-based phaser and missile batteries, a police ship, half a dozen police skiffs, an armed auxiliary cruiser with more missiles, a fighter wing with two dozen F-4s, and a couple of armed transports with phasers and some other weapons.
"The Arcturan National Guard has an old frigate in operation, and the Orion National Guard has a destroyer in the system on a good will visit. The Monitor Dien Bien Phu is at a nearby colony system and will reach Arcturus in three days. The Rigellian National Guard destroyer Akerlon and two police cutters will join us en route. Kearsarge is of course with us, and will maintain contact with the Juggernaut while we stay beyond its detection range. There's a Q-ship also in range of Arcturus.
"That's pretty much all of the combat power we will have before the Juggernaut reaches Arcturus. Star Fleet is sending everything within a thousand parsecs this way, but without prior planning to set up refueling, they can't get here in time, even by dash speeds. The only ships sitting at a base and ready to make a dash are back home, and they'll be here in ten days, if there is still a base at Arcturus for them to refuel at. If we don't stop the Juggernaut at Arcturus, or if we can force it to go somewhere else, we'll have another cruiser and a frigate in eight days, a destroyer in nine, a light cruiser plus the ships from Earth in ten, and it just keeps getting better. But there are, I remind you, six billion citizens on Arcturus and every ship under my command will be destroyed before the Juggernaut lands one salvo on that planet, am I clear? Star Fleet can afford to lose our ships; it cannot afford to lose the confidence of the citizens."
"We do this or we die trying.
"We've received word that the Babek is towing the Auchinlek to safety at a mining station. Babek doesn't have the speed to catch up, but there are those three other police cutters I mentioned in range. Auchinlek is out of the fight and will have to be completely rebuilt.
"Eagle will have to break contact in a few hours to go unload the rest of our passengers.
"How does my ship stand?" Captain Williams asked.
"Six dead and twenty wounded badly enough to evacuate," the XO said. "Everything is back on line, but..."
All eyes turned to the Vulcan Chief Engineer.
"I have no firm information on the power failures," the Vulcan began. "While I have found a promising line of inquiry, I will not speculate."
"Yes," Williams said, "you will. What did you find?"
"I did not find it," the Vulcan said. "An officer, not an engineer, noticed something unusual and went out of his way to notify me. This caused me to conduct some tests, since no other line of inquiry had produced any result. Those tests are ongoing, but have so far confirmed the tentative suspicions."
"Do enlighten us," the XO said, clearly annoyed. Vulcans were so resistant to lying that they had to be forced into making a guess for fear it might be wrong.
"It appears that the shipyard conducted a test of the power system early in construction," the Vulcan said, "before any of us had been assigned. They ran power through the system equal to three hundred percent of the design load."
"Standard procedure," the Weapons Officer said. "So what?"
"The problem was not the test," the Vulcan said. "After the test, they force-cooled the system so they could get back on schedule instead of allowing the system to cool naturally. This saved them almost an entire day of construction time."
"Your point being?" the XO snapped.
"Some ... perhaps all ... of the relays are ... partially crystallized," the Vulcan said. "Detecting this takes a deep scan. I have only had time to check two of the relays, but both showed seams of crystallization through the bus bars. The ship's weapons draw power at a particular frequency which may or may not interact with the crystallization. If that is what is happening, then the energy reflects back out of the bus bar into the relay itself, melting most of it and leaving the bus bar seemingly intact. I will conduct further tests to determine if this is in fact the case. It will take most of a day to check every relay, and three days to compile enough data for an adequate simulation exercise."
"And, if that is the problem?" Williams asked.
"Then only a shipyard can fix it," the Vulcan said.
"Why?" the XO asked. "You have plenty of metal on board. Make new bus bars!"
"It is more complicated than that," the Vulcan said, "and I remind you again that I do not yet know if this is the problem. I cannot replicate bus bars because the transcription errors will produce a similar kind of crystallization. I have four spare bus bars, counting the two I can borrow from Kearsarge which are the wrong size, but that would not stop the problem as one of those I did not replace would burn out. I could in theory melt down and recast the bus bars, but this would be a major operation and I would first have to build the equipment to cast the new bars. Even so, it would take them ten days to cool without crystallization. I have sent a report to Starbase Eight and have asked them to send new bus bars to Arcturus."
Captain Williams muttered a curse under her breath. "Find out as soon as you can. Keep me posted."
"Out of curiosity," the Weapons Officer said, "which of the 'non-engineering officers' discovered this?"
"The officer did not discover it," the Vulcan said. "He noticed something ... unusual ... and reported it to one of my officers for further investigation, along with recounting a story of a similar problem aboard another ship."
"Who?" the Weapons Officer asked again.
His eyes flicking to the officer in question, the Vulcan seemed to take a deep breath before saying: "It was Lieutenant Kezlok."
"What?" the Weapons Officer fairly screamed, jumping to his feet and reaching for the pistol he finally realized he was not wearing. "What in Hell were you doing anywhere near any of the power relays? You were way out of bounds, Attaché!"
"Sit down," Captain Williams said to her Weapons Officer. "Lieutenant, if you would care to answer the question?"
"Certainly," the Klingon said. "After helping with casualty evacuation and triage, I was making my way back to the saucer section and, well, I wandered a bit. I happened to pass by an engineering team inspecting a power relay. Being a naval officer and naturally curious, I took a moment to speak to them and they were kind enough to allow me to look into the opened hatch. They would not, however, allow me to use any of their instruments or tools.
"I noticed that the inside of the housing was ... discolored, as if a great deal of heat had been applied, enough to cause fumes from the overheated relay to fuse into the metal of the housing. I found this odd, but had seen something like it on my previous ship. I mentioned it to the technicians, who could not see the discoloration. After I insisted that it was there, they summoned an engineering officer who confirmed by instruments that something was ... not right.
"He summoned the Chief Engineer, who questioned me closely on what I could see, then adjusted his instruments and scanned the housing again. At that point, the Chief Engineer thanked me for my help and had the engineering officer escort me back to the emergency bridge, where I was told to stay. I remained there, having my evening meal sent to me, until summoned to this meeting."
"Why wasn't this violation of security reported?" the Weapons Officer demanded of the Chief Engineer.
"Once I determined that the line of inquiry was worth pursuing, I focused on my task," the Engineer said. "I regret if my ... curiosity ... caused me to ... assume that the matter had been handled. It was an error for which I apologize."
"So Kezlok saved us all?" the Weapons Officer sneered.
"Not actually," the Vulcan said. "I was confident that the discoloration was caused by the standard overload test. However, because it seemed ... more unusual than would be expected ... I pulled the records on the original test and found the overly fast cool down. Suspecting that this could have caused ... something ... to happen, I conducted further tests and found the crystallization. As I said before, I have yet to confirm that this crystallization is causing the random failures."
"Why could Kezlok see this discoloration when nobody else could?" the XO asked.
"I can answer that," said the Doctor. "The eyes of ethnic Klingons see a slightly different band of the spectrum than we do, farther into the red end of things."
"Lieutenant Kezlok," Captain Williams said, "thank you for your assistance. Would you like to leave the ship when we transfer the passengers?"
"That is up to you, Captain," Kezlok said. "I have violated your protocols ... inadvertently, ... and I apologize and accept any decision you make. I am here as a guest and you can send me away at will. But for myself, I am a warrior and will not willingly run from a fight. Moreover, you seem to be short a weapons officer for the Emergency Bridge and I offer you my service in any capacity, and my complete obedience to your orders."
"Very well, Lieutenant," Captain Williams said. "You may remain on board ... for now. You may drill with the Emergency Bridge crew. I reserve the right to put you safely off this ship at any time if I feel you are more trouble than you are worth. You will, of course, report all of this to your embassy and I will of course report it to my chain of command. Either may take the decision out of my hands. Do you accept this?"
"Absolutely," Kezlok said.
"I am curious," the XO began. "Why help us? Any damage to the Federation by this ... Juggernaut can only be of benefit to your Empire. If six billion of our citizens and a major industrial planet were destroyed, it would change the balance of power between us by ... a few percent. Why did you not simply keep your mouth shut and leave the ship with what you had learned and let our civilians die?"
"I confess that I debated with myself for a short while what I should do," Kezlok began, "although I was more concerned over making trouble and causing myself to look foolish than I was debating the merits of helping you. We are not at war and given that my empire is already involved in two wars, I would not wish a third upon my Emperor.
"I was ordered by my government to cooperate fully, and my presence here is in some small way an effort by both our governments to avoid any future conflict. To not help you would violate my orders and the point of my presence.
"If my observation helped you find the problem with your ship, it was a small thing as you must inevitably find the answer for yourselves. To be blunt, I learned more about your ship by helping you than I would have learned sitting in total darkness the next time a relay fails.
"But I must make a point, which you can believe or not as you choose," Kezlok concluded. "Even had I decided at the time to keep my peace, once I learned that a major planet was under threat, I was honor bound to come forward. We are not at war and I would not watch six billion people die just because it might give my Empire some theoretical edge in some potential future conflict. I am not so ruthless as the reputation of my empire would have you think. I do not kill civilians, or even enemies, for sport."
"You I thank," said the Navigator. No one else spoke.
"Darling, you have got to get that Klingon off the ship!"
"Don't 'darling' me, Kevin," Shanna fired back. "You don't give me orders, not in this room, not on this ship, and not anywhere else."
"He's a spy!" the Weapons Officer shouted loudly enough to rattle the dishes of their late night snack. "Get him out of here!"
"What did I tell you about giving me orders?" she snarled. "Get out. Go home. I need some sleep and you're upsetting my stomach."
"But you know how dangerous he is!"
"I know exactly what Kezlok is ... he's the only one here who has fought that thing before! And he's the one who found the problem with the power relays."
"His ship was destroyed!" the Weapons Officer shouted back. "That's a great recommendation for taking his advice on how to fight it. And you have no idea if he found the problem with the relays, or just found a way to sabotage Federation ships in the future! You have got to get rid of him!"
"The only thing I have got to do is get some sleep," Williams hissed. "Now get the hell out of here before I have the Marines come and arrest you."
"Why do they not attack me?" the voice of Beta asked.
"How would I know?" Crawford answered. "Maybe they're waiting for more ships? Maybe they're laying a trap? Maybe they're afraid? I do not know."
"You know your own kind," the voice of Beta said. "What would you do? What would make you do what they are doing?"
"Well ... ," Crawford said, thinking, trying again to find a way to trick the Juggernaut, and finally deciding that his guess was just as likely to be wrong as right. "You're like Alpha, but not like him. You have done things he never did, and that scares them. I am guessing that their first attack, with too few ships, was because they thought they knew all about you. Now, they don't trust anything they think they know. You're the same machine, but with a different mind. You're big, and you deserve respect, and you're smarter than Alpha, if only because you know more. Every hour, more ships gather, so the longer they wait, the stronger they are. They won't fight you again until they have to."
"I see," said the voice of Beta. "Then I must give them a reason to fight me now and not wait until we reach the planet."
"Captain to the bridge!" Lieutenant Kirkpatrick shouted into the intercom. "Juggernaut is changing course!"
"What?" came the voice of the captain, clearly not completely awake. "Repeat that?" Kirkpatrick did so.
"Where is he going?" Williams asked.
"Checking..." Kirkpatrick replied. "He's headed for mining station 2715MPN. Reported to be over 100 civilians on that station. Estimated time to weapons range 30 minutes."
"Go to emergency speed," Williams ordered. "Get us around him and head for the station. Notify them that we're on the way and to be prepared for evacuation."