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Catastrophe In The Making

Posted on Wed Nov 25th, 2020 @ 10:23pm by Lieutenant JG Charlotte Aschail
Edited on on Sat Dec 5th, 2020 @ 3:25pm

Mission: Enforced Intermission
Location: Engineering

With the turbolifts out, Charlotte had to literally run from the bridge through corridors and ladders down fourteen decks to Deck Fifteen and Main Engineering. Instead of leaving the Bridge and arriving in Engineering in under two minutes, it took her ten minutes in which she was sure that everyone she'd had in engineering was dead or dying. She was breathing hard by the time she ran into the closed door of main engineering. She took a deep breath and commanded the door to open and saw her reduced team of four other engineers at their stations with a low level of conversation going on.

Two heads swiveled over and one of them walked away and came over to her, "Now, Charlie, I'm sure you're wondering why we aren't in radiation suits right now so that we don't fry our brains out, and there's a good reason." He waved a hand over at one of the others, "Lianna over there set up portable radiation shielding around the warp core, so as long as we don't go on that side of the area, we'll be fine."

Charlotte let a breath out that she didn't know she was holding, "I didn't even think of that..." She looked at the warp core that had been the center of her life since she'd gotten on board the ship all that time ago, knowing she could never go near it again and her heart broke just a little bit. "How are we coming with shutting that thing down?"

"We aren't. We can't get in there and whoever goes in there?" He shook his head, "We're trying to figure out a workaround, but the manual shutdown requires someone in..." He tossed a head nod over to the warp core again.

It only took a pair of heartbeats before Charlotte grabbed him and hauled him over to where the radiation suits were, "Help me get dressed. How long before it's bad?"

Lance's eyes widened, "Five before damage starts, eight before lethal dose, fourteen before you wouldn't walk out of there." He said automatically, not helping her until she patted his cheek softly and then roughly.

"There are lives at risk, Lance, more than just one." An icy chill ran down Charlotte's spine, but she did her best to fight it off.

=/\= Engineering, prepare to shut down the primary core on our mark =/\=

"Give me one minute, Captain." Charlotte said quietly, then knowing the computer would probably not send the next, "My choice, Lance."

Forty-five seconds later, the seals were being checked and Charlotte smiled sadly. "Wish me luck." And then she was moving towards the radiation shielding and was rapidly approaching the warp core interface, terror filling her as she began a mental countdown. "In place and ready, Captain."

"Understood." Came the response, then about thirty or so seconds later: "Engineering, shut down the primary core."

"Shutting down the warp core now." She went through the procedure and looked up at the reaction. It should be stopping right about.... Now. But nothing happened. The reaction continued on. "Captain, the manual shutdown has failed. Trying again." She didn't notice there was no response as she went through the procedure again, with the same lack of results.

"Captain, the shutdown has failed again." She paused again, "Captain?" Her eyes looked over at her team and she looked back down at the panel while her mental countdown went completely awry. She went through the readouts of the containment system and blanched again before abandoning the console.

"Lance, what's going on with the comm, I can't reach the bridge." She motioned towards his panel.

"Comm is up and good, so it says."

"It's not good!" Charlotte barked, "I can't talk to the Captain to tell her that we're screwed!" Her voice raised, "I CAN'T SHUT DOWN THE WARP CORE!" Unbeknownst to her, the comm was still transmitting, the other direction, however, had fallen to the glitching. "I can't tell them that the reaction chamber bottle is falling apart and that we have somewhere between seven and ten minutes before we lose containment."

Her eyes glanced around at her remaining team, "Lianna, Barzan, Trojal, go down two decks and manually eject the anti-matter storage pods, then get to an escape pod and get out." They didn't move, "MOVE!" As they got into motion, Charlotte looked to Lance, "You need to move your ass like you've never moved it before and get up to the bridge and relay the news."

"And what are you going to do, Charlie." He didn't budge.

She looked back at the warp core, "I'm going to try to hold it together as long as I can." She said quietly, "I can rebuild the protocols, maybe or at least buttress the containment field. I can buy a couple more minutes to get everyone else out. Pull the manual evacuation call on the way out. Even if you can't get up to the bridge, that should warn them." She started to put the helmet back on.

He reached out and pushed the helmet down, "If you go back in there, if you're there for another three minutes..."

Charlotte smiled softly at him, "I know." She reached out and placed a gloved hand on his forearm, "Someone's gotta do it, Lance, and I've babied that thing since I got here. I can't abandon her now, when she needs me."

Lance grimaced and shook his head slightly, "You don't have to." He repeated.

"Yes, I do." She squeezed his arm and then pointed at the corner console, "Pull the manual evac and go." She watched him until he turned and went over to where it was and started the process of opening the panel. She turned back towards the warp core and inhaled the last breath of non-recycled air she'd ever have and put the helmet over her head and reached up to latch it shut.

She never heard the phaser set to stun that Lance had removed from the panel, "No... You don't." He said quietly as she collapsed to the floor. He grabbed the lever that was only to be pulled in well, a desperate emergency and yanked it. At least in Engineering, hopefully throughout the ship, a raucous alarm resounded, an alarm that no one could sleep through or ignore.

That done, he went over to the unconscious form of Charlotte and shook his head, went to his knees and picked her up in a fireman's carry, "We gotta get out of here." He told her as he oofed while getting back to his feet, then shook his head as his brain worked to not say something that would get him killed if she overheard him. They disappeared through the double doors, leaving the empty room behind, a helmet sitting untidily on it's faceplate.

******** Epilogue **********

The matter/anti-matter reaction was the beating heart of the starship, providing power to all of the systems and charging the emergency power batteries that could keep even a complicated starship running for a few hours. It worked by taking antimatter (antideuterium), contained in a magnetic field that had several redundancies, and squirting it to contact with a matter stream (made of deuterium), annihilating the both of them in the reaction chamber and creating an absolutely insane amount of pure energy that was attenuated by the dilithium crystal matrix to harness that energy.

That process was itself held inside an armored shell that was typically made of battle steel or another hardened metal that was shielded by forcefields to contain the energy and keep it from interacting with the metal and plastics and eating them to then set itself loose to consume the rest of the ship. In a situation where the entire ship lost power, emergency forcefields would snap into place with the highest priority to keep the reaction contained until the safeguards could stop the matter/antimatter reaction.

Of course, that was typically on a ship in a combat situation, or any other situation where a problem happens in a short amount of time. Astraea was compromised in several dozen ways by a computer virus that had gone far beyond what had been planned for by its creator. Glitches had shown up throughout ships systems and the warp core hadn't been an exception.

Eight and a half minutes after Charlotte Aschail had predicted between seven and ten minutes before the containment system would fail, the primary forcefield that contained the reaction flickered twice, then died. The emergency system snapped into place and the commands for automatic shutdown went out, but like the previous attempts, failed to stop the interaction of deuterium and its alter-ego antideuterium. This field lasted for thirty-nine seconds before it too went down, releasing 1500 Cochranes (or about 2.38x10^6 Terawatts) of runaway energy into its surroundings.

The explosion itself was blinding, but it was only supplied with the materials immediately at hand rather than consuming the extra antimatter storage, and produced a shockwave that expanded out only several kilometers before dissipating, leaving nothing where the Akira-class starship had once been, except for shuttles and escape pods that had cleared the blast radius. A glitter of beacons in the background of a star-studded eternal night.


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