Cortez knew she was the only engineer in the room by the way everyone else struggled to keep their feet as the deck of the Odysseus lurched. From somewhere in the distance, a warning klaxon sounded; heads snapped around, but she ignored it.
‘That’s just a pressure drop in this compartment,’ she said, grabbing the main control panel for the warp core tight. ‘Nothing to worry about.’ Normally it was a lot to worry about. But they had to survive a while longer before that could kill them.
Airex had grabbed one of the nearest terminals, and she could see the internal systems display he’d called up. ‘The King Arthur has detached from its docking point at the mess hall.’
Valance drew a sharp breath. ‘If they’ve evacuated the rest of the crew, that’s for the best.’
‘That’s also,’ Kharth said, ‘our ride.’
‘We’re on our ride,’ said Cortez with a confidence she didn’t feel. Her hands raced over the control panel, trying to level out the power systems of the Odysseus without any sudden surges as she eased the antimatter injection rates back into alignment. ‘We’ll just fly this girl out of here.’
Next to her, Valance had whipped out her tricorder and used its screen to project a direct communications link to the bridge. After a second, a small, slightly fuzzy image of Commander Aquila at the operations console flickered into view.
‘I’m restoring all your access down there, Cortez,’ the Odysseus’s master said without missing a beat. ‘What’s the situation?’
‘The rift started to tear open as our warp field became unstable,’ Cortez said, not looking at her. ‘I need to not only restore the warp field, but I think expand it to again connect with the torn subspace filaments at the edge of the rift. That will restabilise everything and we can plan from there.’
‘Is it safe,’ said Valance, ‘for the King Arthur to have left?’
‘If Lieutenant Arys could reach the mess hall,’ said Airex, ‘he and Tegan presumably know what they’re doing in manipulating the runabout’s warp field harmonics. They should be able to leave as easily as you got here.’
‘So it’s just us we need to worry about. And, you know, the subspace rift causing all of this,’ mused Cortez. As she continued working, the humming in the deck slowed. ‘I’ve levelled out the warp field. That’s not about to kill us all.’ She glanced up. ‘Uh, Sae; could you possibly go deal with that pressure loss?’
‘Oh, now it’s a problem,’ Kharth groaned, but she obligingly headed to one of the engineering control panels.
‘Do we have a way out of this?’ said Valance.
‘We can figure that out once the rift is under control. Which it will be in about ten seconds; I’m expanding the warp field.’ Slowly, Cortez adjusted a slider on the panel.
Airex straightened up three seconds later. ‘Wait -’
But too late. This time, Cortez was thrown from her feet at the juddering impact. More alert klaxons went off, all of them serious, and though she was the first to rise again, it was to see three panels overload, hear the hissing from above she knew was a coolant leak. Dragging herself back to the console showed the warp field collapsing, and her chest tightened. ‘What the hell…’
‘Endeavour is out there,’ groaned Airex, also pulling himself to his console. ‘They’re putting out a dekyon pulse; when our warp field came into contact with it, because of our calibrations along the same subspace harmonics as the rift, it’s…’
‘Collapsing the warp field. Oh.’ Cortez’s eyes widened. ‘Oh, no. We’ve got to get out of here.’
Airex shook his head. ‘If this ship explodes here and now, the warp core overloading will rip the rift wide open.’ He hesitated, and Cortez could see him running calculations in his head. ‘I don’t think Endeavour’s going to survive it.’
‘Okay,’ she said, like this pause would give her an idea. It did not. ‘Okay,’ she said again.
‘So even if we evacuate right now,’ said Kharth, who’d been checking on Templeton, ‘we’re still not getting out of the blast radius in time.’
Valance had had to pick up the tricorder again, the display showing Aquila’s face shimmering still. ‘Which means we have to close this rift, no matter what.’
Valance nodded. ‘Dav, Isa – ideas?’
The two experts locked eyes, and Airex worked his jaw. ‘If we can match the dekyon pulse harmonics from Endeavour, we might be able to… stabilise our own warp field?’
‘It won’t stabilise it.’ Cortez’s stomach lurched, and she straightened. ‘I know what I have to do.’
Valance rounded on her, eyes flashing. She couldn’t possibly know what Cortez had in mind, but she’d read her tone. ‘What do you mean, “I”?’
Cortez cast a quick, urgent look at Airex and Kharth, and the Romulan security officer, at least, tensed as if she knew something was expected of her. ‘Airex is half-right. What we need to do is flood our own warp field with dekyons. When that comes into contact with the subspace filaments of the rift, that, along with what Endeavour’s doing, should… close the rift.’
Airex clicked his tongue. ‘That’s going to require absolutely fine-tuned calibrations to maintain a warp field in alignment with the edges of the rift…’
‘So you have about two minutes to get to a shuttle or escape pod and get the hell out of here,’ said Cortez, ‘while I get my calibrations ready, and then close the rift on top of the Odysseus.’
‘No way,’ snapped Valance at once. ‘There’s no way we’re leaving you behind.’ She turned to Airex. ‘Dav, we need another plan.’
He looked stricken, and moved to Cortez’s side by the panel. ‘I don’t…’
‘Commander.’ Cortez squared her shoulders and looked Valance in the eye. ‘This is how almost everyone gets off this ship, this is how Endeavour is saved, this is how the rift is shut. Unless Commander Airex pulls a rabbit out of his hat in two seconds, we don’t have any other option.’ Her heart was thundering in her chest, but that was more about facing Valance down than it was about the fear of her impending death. Engineers were always half in love with the idea of dying with the ship. The only regret was that this wasn’t her ship.
Kharth slid to Valance’s side. ‘Commander Cortez’s plan -’
She’d sounded like she was trying to be brisk and professional in her support, but Valance turned on her like she was ready to unleash all of her fury. ‘Stand the hell down, Kharth; you’re not an engineer.’
‘Kar.’ Abandoning professionalism, Cortez flew to Valance’s side, grabbing her arm. ‘I can do this. We don’t have much time. This is my job.’ Valance’s expression was crumbling as she looked at her, and words rose in Cortez’s chest – everything and nothing, none of them encapsulating so much as a particle of what she felt and thought.
So she could have sworn with frustration as Aquila’s voice came through the tricorder sat on the warp core console, an interruption just as she was trying to reduce her heart into pithy words. ‘Commander; I’ve crunched some quick numbers. Does this look like what you need?’
I didn’t need your help, Cortez thought with almost a petty resentment. But she turned away from Valance, because there was indeed not enough time, to look at the file scrolling over her console’s display. Her eyes raced across the algorithm. ‘That looks right, Commander. I’ll adjust the strength and distribution of the dekyons as the rift contracts and ride it through to the end; ideally Endeavour should realise when it’s too late, or you contact them, and they finish the job once the rift’s microscopic.’
‘Good,’ said Aquila. ‘It’s a tremendous idea, Cortez. The sort of thing medals are made of.’ Then every console in Main Engineering flashed red, the words ACCESS DENIED blaring in front of Cortez’s eyes, and the image of Aquila straightened. ‘I’ll take it from here.’
‘Oh,’ said Kharth in the silence that followed. ‘Well played, Commander.’
Cortez’s jaw dropped. ‘Commander, this has to be absolutely fine-tuned -’
‘I understand. This is my ship, I know her systems better than any of you. Now kindly get your asses to a shuttle; the bay is two sections over and the Eurylochus is still in there.’
‘Cassia.’ Valance’s voice was flat. ‘We don’t need to leave anyone behind.’
‘Yes, we do. I’m sure if there was another way, your pack of geniuses would have come up with it by now. And if anyone’s going to stay behind, it’s me. Captain’s prerogative to go down with her ship.’
It was Kharth who moved again in the silence, shaking Cortez gently by the shoulder. ‘Isa, Dav, drag the commander out of here if you’ve got to; I think she might stab me if I try. I’ve got Templeton. Let’s hustle, people.’
Cortez blinked, knowing that Kharth was right, slightly heartened by how she’d rallied as quickly to leave Aquila behind as she’d rallied to leave her behind. She advanced, slipping her arm around Valance’s in a way which would have been sweet had it not also been designed to get an iron grip. ‘Kar. We don’t have a choice; she’s locked us out of all systems down here.’
Valance wrenched herself free, and for a moment Cortez looked around to see if she could spot Templeton’s phaser, wondered if they’d have to shoot her – then Valance grabbed the tricorder with its comms display, and fell into step with them as they stormed towards the doors of Main Engineering. ‘I thought you hated the Kobayashi Maru, Cassia.’
‘I do,’ said Aquila, not looking at the screen, obviously occupied by the complicated work of bringing a rift down on top of herself and her ship. The deck rumbled again, but there was a stability to the hum, and Cortez guessed that was the dekyons beginning to flood their warp field and start building the connections to manipulate the rift. ‘Getting my crew all out of here, getting you out of here, carissima, doesn’t look like a no-win to me.’
Valance only stared as they hurried, and Cortez felt her tense beside her, felt the feelings that choked and smothered any possible response. The main doors to engineering slid shut behind them, and they were running down the corridor now, Airex in the lead as the person who best-knew the layout of the Odysseus, Kharth taking up the rear to help a completely disassociated Templeton.
At Valance’s stunned silence, Cassia Aquila laughed. ‘Remember what I told you. Set the world on fire a little, sometimes. After all – no way you can’t win that bet now.’ And the connection went dead, the captain of the Odysseus’s face winking out of view; out of, for them, existence.
Valance stared at the space where she’d been for a heartbeat, then holstered the tricorder and fell back to Kharth’s side. ‘Let me help,’ she said roughly, and with her strength to half-carry Templeton, it was much easier for them to sprint down the next two sections, come skidding into the shuttlebay.
The view beyond was of that roiling mess of a rift that Cortez had only seen through the sensors before, the wound in space of purples and reds, the edges sparking at the dekyons flooding through to tighten and manipulate the subspace filaments. ‘If this shuttle doesn’t take off right away…’
‘I’ve got this,’ Valance cut off her warning. The ramp from the Eurylochus was already descending, a final gift from Aquila, and Cortez fell into the back with Templeton and Kharth as Airex and Valance slid into the co-pilot and pilot’s chairs respectively.
‘Returning to normal space is going to require,’ started Airex tensely, ‘very precise calculations and calibrations of our warp field. Your timing is going to have to be perfect, Karana, to get us through the right route at the right time.’ His fingers ran over controls, the shuttle powering up.
‘I know,’ Valance said simply, not waiting for anyone to settle before the shuttle ascended and tore away from the Odysseus. ‘Give me a flight plan.’
Cortez had almost gone for the co-pilot’s seat herself, but Airex had got there first. She was, on some level, relieved. This was not her element; she belonged in the belly of the beast, next to the thumping heart of a ship, where she could send her commands out to every limb, every artery. Watching Airex and Valance working together was something else, the Trill acting on more than a knowledge of his vessel and how to harness it, but seeing sensor readings and data possibly nobody had ever seen before and extrapolating a response in mere seconds. Beside him, Valance’s console chirped and complained at every minor adjustment Airex made, every alteration to their course, but she responded like a river merely following its route to the sea.
‘Okay,’ Cortez breathed in the back, slumped to the deck beside Kharth and across from a crumpled Templeton. ‘Maybe trusting your ex isn’t a terrible plan.’
‘Hang on!’ came Valance’s call before Kharth could summon a doubtless-sardonic retort. ‘We’re breaching the rift into normal space in five…’
‘Why couldn’t we get a shuttle with more seats,’ complained Kharth, and they braced.
‘You need to slow down,’ came Airex’s voice. ‘I need another second for the calibrations -’
Then they hit the edge of the rift, the Eurylochus lurched, and everything went black for the second time that day as Cortez was slammed into the bulkhead.