Gare Morell sighed heavily as he pushed the ‘new’ flow regulator into its slot, being rewarded with a satisfying clunk as the module was successfully installed. The regulator was about as new as the 50 year old engineer’s joints were and just as problematic. This was the third time it had been reconditioned and pressed back into service. Gare had warned his overseer that this would lead to inevitable failure, but that warning had fallen on deaf ears. Typing a command into his bulky PADD, Gare set the diagnostic to run. In a few minutes he would have the results.
It was nothing short of a miracle that the facility was still active. It had originally been built by the Dominion during their occupation, or rather it had been built under Dominion direction with the Daroxi providing the labour. Whether the technology was Dominion in origin or developed by one of their other subject races had been the topic of much debate by historians since the Dominion withdrawal. Gare didn’t much care. The less he thought about the Dominion, the better.
Added to that was newer Federation technology, still decades old, that had been installed four years ago to extend the life of the facility until a more permanent replacement could be constructed. Keeping it all working together was no easy task and one that was becoming progressively more difficult and the day was coming that they wouldn’t be able to. Gare didn’t want to be around when that day came.
Politicians had been talked repeatedly about commissioning a new power generation facility but so far they’d only been able to agree on the need for one. There had been little consensus on how best to proceed. Some believed that requesting the Federation’s help was the best way forward, others believed that the new facility should be designed and built natively, without the help or influence of offworld partners.
Gare was firmly in the latter group. He appreciated the help the Federation had provided them following the Dominion’s withdrawal but firmly believed that the Daroxi needed to stand on their own two feet after centuries of Dominion occupation; a belief that was gaining traction among wider Daroxi society. Yet the Prime Minister and his Deputy had invited representatives of the Federation and the Romulan Star Empire to discuss becoming a protectorate of one or the other.
The beeping of the PADD drew Gare from his thoughts. A cursory study of the results suggested the reconditioned flow regulator was operating as it should. Gare started tapping at his PADD again, routing the plasma flow through the reconditioned unit. For the next few minutes he monitored it and once he was satisfied that the installation was successful, he prepared to tackle the next task on his work list. He was looking forward to the end of his shift so he could return home and share breakfast with his family before the children went off to school.
He’d only taken a few steps when the PADD beeped again, this time a louder and more urgent sound. Glancing down the alert was telling him that the plasma flow was becoming unstable. His first thought was that the regulator had failed already but the device in his hand was telling him otherwise; it was working fine.
The facility’s safety protocols should have shut down the plasma flow automatically but that hadn’t happened. He input the shutdown command into his PADD but that had no effect. Gare’s heart rate jumped as he frantically tried the command again but once more it failed. A loud alarm blared overhead, one that he’d only ever heard during drills; the evacuation alarm. Dropping the PADD, Gare set off down the corridor but the isolation door had already begun to lower. As he pushed harder, pain shot through his right knee. It brought him to a momentary halt but the sight of the door continuing to lower forced him to push through the pain. He started in a run/limp but he realised quickly that he wasn’t going to make it.
The door closed with a solid thud as he reached it, pressing himself up against it. This wasn’t how it was supposed to end but there was nothing that anyone could do. He could tell just by the sound the conduit was making that it was about to rupture, filling this section with superheated plasma. Closing his eyes, he prepared for the end. His last thoughts would be for his wife and children.
An unfamiliar sensation pulled at his body, a strange hum drowned out the sound of the conduit. He was aware that he was no longer pressed against the isolation door. Cracking an eye, he found himself standing in the control room of the facility. A distant boom could be heard from deep within the facility.
“Isolation doors have contained the damage.” He heard someone report. “Reactor number two has been shut down.”
Another, familiar voice spoke next. “Very well. Start putting together a damage report and begin an investigation. I want to know how this happened.”
Gare watched as the overseer approached him cautiously. “We asked the Challenger to beam you out.” She explained.
His view of the overseer became blurred as tears filled his eyes. The enormity of what just happened, what almost happened, hit him. He slowly sank to his knees, the pain that once more shot through his right knee only registered faintly in the back of his mind. He let out a sob as his palms reached the floor and without a care that the eyes of everyone in the control room were on him, Gare wept uncontrollably.
The transporter beam deposited the small engineering team at the back of the power generation facility’s control room. One wall was dominated by a large LCARS display that, judging by the colour scheme and a few small details that Chris picked up on, dated back to the mid-2360s. The information on the display showed the now shutdown reactor 2 along with the damage sustained to the facility.
Their arrival drew a few glances but everyone’s focus quickly returned to their consoles, leaving the engineering teams standing around awkwardly. “Hi,” Chris started, addressing no-one in particular, “I’m Lieutenant Commander Christopher Jackson from the starship Challenger.”
“I know who you are, Lieutenant Commander Jackson.” A woman replied stiffly as she turned to face them. “I’m Lurea Cantell, Overseer of this facility.” She straightened and placed her hands behind her back. “I’ve been ordered to allow you to assist in the investigation of the accident.”
The frown on her face as she spoke gave away her feelings. “You don’t sound pleased by those orders.”
“I’m not.” Cantell replied. “While we appreciate your help saving our trapped engineers, we’re more than capable of investigating this accident on our own.” She added dismissively.
Chris knew where she was coming from. Having some outsiders brought in, hanging over your shoulder in the wake of an accident like this would have wounded his professional pride just as much. “Believe me, I understand and I would be feeling exactly the same if our roles were reversed but we both have our orders.”
Overseer Cantell gave a haughty sniff before motioning to a nearby bank of unmanned consoles. “These consoles have been set aside for your use. You’ll have access to all our data from there.”
“Thank you.” Chris offered a tight smile and a slight nod. While the rest of his team moved off to set up at the vacant consoles, Chris stayed where he was. “How’s your engineer?”
The overseer’s features softened. “He’s been taken to a nearby hospital. He was pretty shaken up but he’ll be fine. Thank you again, for getting him out of there.” A slight smile graced her face and lit up her features.
When Chris joined the rest of his team, they were already getting set up and diving into the data. For the next three hours the three Starfleet engineers worked in silence, studying every piece of data the system had recorded in the hours leading up to the accident. There was nothing out of the ordinary in the data that Chris had taken. He sat back in his chair and rubbed his eyes in frustration.
“Commander, I think I have something.” Lieutenant Nabris announced.
Chris pushed his chair over to the console where the Trill engineer was working and studied her display. “What is it?” She quickly explained what she’d found and ran the chief engineer through the data. “That can’t be right.” Chris said, believing they must have missed something. “Let’s go through this again.”
After another few minutes going over the data again, the trio concurred. “Overseer Cantell, do you have a minute?”
“You’re saying this wasn’t an accident?”
Overseer Cantell nodded gravely. “So it would seem, Prime Minister.”
“Explain.” Was the simple instruction that followed from Prime Minister Larell. He sat at the head of a long wooden conference table deep within the government’s office complex. The Deputy Prime Minister to his left and Secretary of State for Security Shrea Hutek on his right. Beside Renos was Commander Oreth while Tom was sitting next to the security minister.
Cantell stepped to one side as she typed a command into her PADD. A screen at the end of the table came to life and displayed data from the power generation facility. “When our systems detect an unregulated plasma flow, they are designed to reroute the flow or, failing that, shut the entire reactor down. The unregulated flow was detected but the safety mechanism failed to act. Even inputting the commands manually failed.”
“The failsafes failing to kick in is bad enough, but the manual commands failing is catastrophic.” Tom commented. “Do you have any idea what happened?”
The overseer nodded again, the colour draining from her features. “The safety protocols had been deleted.” She paused for a moment to let that sink in and it was just as well. Everyone sat in stunned silence. “The computer didn’t recognise the manual command inputs, because they’d been deleted too.”
“How?” Oreth asked, raising his right eyebrow.
Overseer Cantell looked to Lieutenant Commander Jackson to answer this question. “We’re not sure. According to the system logs, there’s no record of their deletion. They were there one minute and gone the next. Whoever did this covered their tracks well.”
“The surveillance systems around a computer console in a remote area of the facility were down for half an hour late last night.” Cantell added. “We believe that’s where and when the system was altered.”
Minister Hutek sat forward. “Our security services are currently investigating but given how thorough the saboteurs were with the computer system, it is proving to be a challenge.”
“We’re ready to provide whatever assistance we can.” Tom offered.
Not wishing to be outdone by his Federation counterpart, Oreth added, “As are we.”
Larell smiled tightly. “Thank you, both. You’re help would be gre-”
“Prime Minister, with due respect I believe it would be prudent if we handled this matter ourselves.” Minister Hutek cut in.
The Prime Minister’s eyes briefly met Tom’s before returning to Hutek. “Both Federation and Romulan ships have advanced equipment and their crews have a wealth of experience that could expedite this investigation.”
“With all due respect to Captain Forrester and Commander Oreth,” Minister Hutek began, “I find the timing of this incident suspect. There hasn’t been anything like this until now, when we have two visiting starships in orbit. Starfleet and Romulan engineers have been providing ‘assistance’ in a number of engineering projects, including at power generation facilities all over the planet.”
She paused for a moment. “This may well have been an act of domestic terrorism or it may be part of some plaot by one of the Alpha Quadrant powers to destroy the capital, throw the planet in to disarray so they can swoop in and fill the leadership vacuum that would create. Until we know which, we should limit the access both crews have to the planet’s surface and keep them out of the investigation.”
“Minister Hutek, I can assure you the Federation does not condone, much less plan and participate in, coup d’etats.” Tom was quick to point out in defence of the organization he’d devoted his life to. “We’re here at your request and if you were to decide that you didn’t want to be a Federation protectorate, we would leave peacefully.”
Oreth quickly jumped in. “Nor would the Romulan Star Empire participate in such an act.”
“Some people have short memories.” Tom mumbled, which drew a sharp glare from Oreth and a curious look from the Prime Minister and his Deputy but otherwise went unchallenged.
“Very well.” The Prime Minister finally said. “For the time being I must ask both of you to limit your crew’s access to Darox III. We will carry out this investigation on our own for the time being but we may ask for assistance,” Minister Hatak opened her mouth to object but the Prime Minister held up a hand and raised his voice slightly, “if our own efforts do not bear fruit.”
It was a disappointing development but Tom could certainly understand. “Of course, Prime Minister. I’ll recall my officers. Are there any objections to Doctor Bentley remaining on the surface to continue his evaluation?”
“Of course not.” Larell replied before either of his ministers could object. “Matthias is a true friend of Darox and will always be welcome here.”
Tom ignored the knot in his stomach at the Prime Minister’s clear fondness, or possibly something more, for Matt.
Prime Minister Larell stood, causing everyone else to rise to their feet. “Thank you all for coming.” With a final nod he left the room with his two ministers and Overseer Cantell in tow.
“Nor would the Romulan Star Empire participate in such an act.” Tom said, parroting Oreth’s words in a mocking impersonation. “I guess I must have imagined that time when your military leadership wiped out your political leadership and installed a Reman as your head of your government.”
Oreth said nothing. He just sneered as he tapped a control on a panel connected to the wrist of his sleeve. Within seconds he was snatched by the familiar green of a Romulan transporter beam.
Tom shared an amused look with his chief engineer before contacting his own ship. “Forrester to Challenger. Two to beam up.”