The Cathedral of Power
The massive, battle pocked hatch sealing off Engineering Control slowly opened, hydraulics shrieking from centuries of neglect. The crew of the Gorion charged in, fanning out to meet any potential threat. Barrels swept over the empty deck-spanning control center, its consoles and workstations standing abandoned. The immediate area secure, the crew set the hatch to grind shut and crew fanned out further. Weapons ready, they searched and secured the compartment dedicated to marshalling the energies and technology necessary to keeping a battle cruiser and her crew alive. Or simply suspended somewhere in between.
Engineering Control hollowed out part of three decks to make way for the ship’s three main reactors, the vessel’s beating heart. And much like the rest of the ship, the heart was sickly. Even the untrained ear could hear the unhealthy vibrations and rattles in what should have been a pleasant bass rumble of high efficiency fusion. The crew crossed the main control area with its huge display table and the surrounding workstations to the railing that overlooked the Pit, where the three reactors sat. Two loomed silent and dark, the arrays of displays and indicators dark. Lights blazed on the third, dotted with displays and controls but many in the worrying shade of amber instead of a reassuring green.
Bran rested one hand on the rail and looked over the maze of pipes, conduit and metal. Ancient metal bent under his hand as his mind’s eye conjured up the images of the defenders’ last stand here. How the hatches must have rung with fire as they tried to consign their ship, their home, to the interstellar darkness. And their task complete, crippling the very vessel they’d worked so hard to maintain. Darkened workstations and blackened access panels stood testament to the maiming of this powerful vessel. And once the work was complete, then what? They must have… his eye caught on the broken coolant vent above the Beta reactor. That would work, quick, painless and no bodies left to turn. God, what a decision that must have been, to…
"You know, if Nalia was here, she'd pop such a hard-on just LOOKING at these reactors,” Imoen quipped to his left, derailing his train of thought as he turned to give his sister an incredulous stare.
“I believe that is a physical impossibility, O Pink One," Valygar riposted speculatively.
“Thanks V. Like I didn’t know that V. It was a figure of speech V.” Imoen replied with a dramatic roll of her eyes. Then she flashed an evil grin and winked at Bran. “Because if it was the literal truth, you’d think Bran would’ve complained."
“Yes, Bran Flakes?”
“Shut up." His sister and her sense of ‘humor’. He fired off a glare that would have vaporized battle steel. Needless to say, it had no effect on that grin.
"Your best friend could be in mortal peril and you're making jokes about her sex organs,” Jaheira chided.
The grin failed to waver. "She wouldn't have it any other way."
"Another example of classic faulty logic,” Valygar rejoined.
Bran closed his eyes and shook his head to clear another sudden Imoen onset headache. "Let's just focus on the task at hand here.”
"You mean turning this ship into its namesake? I'd rather make sex jokes."
"I hate to admit it, but she's does have a point," Valygar added.
“Be that as it may,” Bran said through gritted teeth. “The faster we get this done, the better chance we have of getting off this derelict before it does go nova.”
“Well, okay, point there,” Imoen conceded. “So, you want me and Minsc to make with the Boom?”
“Ya hey! Explosions are fun, right Boo?”
As Boo squeaked a likely affirmative, or at least something Minsc intended to take that way, he wondered again why he let those two play with explosives. Yes, they were damn good at it. The problem was that sometimes made the whole situation generally worse. The look Jaheira shared reinforced that feeling. “Yes, Imoen. Minsc. Let’s set this girl up to blow.”
“Excellent!” Imoen chortled. “Of course, it’s going to be a challenge with so little explosives.”
“I, unfortunately, have faith in your combined creativity,” Bran said plainly.
“Course you do. We never disappoint,” she punched Minsc in the shoulder. “Right big guy?”
“Sneaky Imoen is right! Minsc and Imoen can make anything go Boom!”
“Yes, I’ve seen. On multiple occasions. Now, what’s the plan?”
“Right. The plan,” Imoen chuckled and rubbed her hands together with glee. “Sabotage. Of the explosive kind. I mean that thing,” she nodded to the reactor, “is really just one controlled bomb. We just need to nudge it into getting mad.”
With another chuckle, the lithe former infiltrator laid out her plan, with Minsc interjecting his own thoughts in the right places. It was, like all good plans, simple and direct. It even allowed for time to escape. However, once begun it was irreversible.
Of course, all things considered, that too was a virtue. It wouldn’t do for give the enemy any chance to stop the countdown.
Imoen sliced open another access panel, pitching the cover over her shoulder and sending it on a loud, clanging journey to the deck plate two decks down. As the sound reverberated up the reactor vessel, Valygar, working to carefully place an explosive device in another panel, flinched. “Is tossing them necessary? People are trying to do demolitions work here.”
“These catwalks aren’t that big. Don’t want to clutter them,” she replied sharply, positioning her plasma cutter inside the gap. She pressed the trigger and a bright green beam flashed from the emitter, slashing through another bank of circuits. A few cuts later, she reached in and ripped out a flow regulator. That too when arcing off the catwalk.
Pulling out a block of H4C explosive, she slapped on a detonator. She, with a little less care than usual, fitted it into the gap left by the now smashed regulator. Looking at her work with a bit of disgust, she shook her head. “Gah!”
“Yes, O Pink One?”
Imoen straightened her hair and took a deep a breath. Tugging at the front of her armor, she looked at him, square in the eye. She took another deep breath. “Valygar?”
“Yes, Imoen?” he replied, eyebrow arching even as he put down his tools.
“Look. There’s some things I really need to tell you. Important things. Like, really important things. And, well there may not be a whole hell of a lot of time left to tell you them. On account of us going all ‘splodie. So, yeah. There are these things I just need to get off my chest, because if we’re going to be dead and I didn’t tell you, well, that’d be bad and it would suck and well, it’d be stupid…”
“Imoen,” Valygar said firmly but gently.
“Yes, Valygar?” she said, caught up short.
“It can wait,” he said with a soft smile.
“No it can’t!” she nearly shouted. “We could really dead soon,” she said, grimacing. “And not even still moving around dead, but blown into tiny Imoen bits dead. So, no! It can’t!”
“Yes, it can,” he said, his tone still soft and even. “Because we are not going to die.”
She glared at him, not even bothering to hide her wide-eyed surprise. “Since when did you become Mr. Cheery McHopeful? I mean, Doom And Gloom are your middle names! And you’re telling me things are going to be fine?” she shouted back, voice rising. “Have you not been paying attention to the Plan? It’s insane!”
“Exactly. This plan is completely insane; but I have a great deal of experience with your brother’s crazy plans. And I’ve discovered, the crazier the plan, the more likely it is I’ll survive.”
She frowned. He seemed so... sure, but at the same time, she still felt she needed to-
"Let's get back to work." He wore a look of infinite patience.
She took a breath. "You... you really think-"
"I do," he said, squeezing her shoulder gently.
That seemed to settle things. She nodded. "All right, then. Back to work."
A deck below, Minsc with the ever able assistance of Boo, busied himself setting the key charge, a 2 kilo block of GBD, inside the magnetic containment regulator. This charge, set to go last, would cripple the automatic as well as the emergency systems that kept the fusion reactor’s magnetic field stable. Without those, the purposeful unstable reaction sneaky little Imoen crafted would be allowed to really blossom.
Setting the third in a series of anti-tamper devices, the big gunner grinned. “Ah ha Boo! No naughty Evil fingers will be able to stop this mighty bomb from cleaning out their stinky cages! Of course, Boo, more explosives would always be better, but you have a point that rupturing the reactor would be bad. It would make little Imoen grumpy.” He chortled as the anti-tamper device came online.
Grinning happily, he set about installing the fourth and most cunning anti-tampering devices. In fact, it was so cunning, it seemed Evil but could have only been crafted by the Forces of Justice in its ingenuity! For why would someone tamper with such a weapon of Good but for Evil! As he did, he heard a scuffling next to him.
Carefully, he left his work half finished and turned to the sound. It was Fierce little Mazzy, crouched over a tumbled toolkit. She lifted it and cradled it in her hands. Just like he cradled Boo when he got into Jaheira’s spicy powders. But instead of Boo’s eyes tearing, it was Fierce little Mazzy’s.
Exchanging a look with Boo, whose nod was emphatic enough, he walked over and crouched next to her. Very gently, he asked, “What is wrong, Fierce Mazzy?”
Mazzy looked up quickly, surprised. She pulled the tool pouch close, guarding it against her chest while fixing Minsc with a challenging glare. Still the tears trickled down her face. “I did not…” She blinked in surprise. “I did not hear you approach.”
“Minsc knows many secrets of stealth, so that he can sneak up on Evil and thump it with a big rock,” he said, shrugging his broad shoulders. “But Fierce Mazzy seemed intent on the little tool pouch so she did not hear Minsc and Boo approach.”
Mazzy nodded differentially. “That is true, Minsc. I was distracted.”
Minsc nodded. “By the tool pouch.”
“Indeed,” she admitted.
He turned his head slightly, eyes flicking over the top. “Tasselhoff,” he said. He paused and studied her a moment. The name had drained the color right out of Fierce Mazzy’s face. All the fierceness was gone, only great sadness. Boo reminded him that Tasselhoff was the name of one of her brave friends. “That belonged to one of your noble friends.”
The stare she fixed on him burned with fierceness. “That is correct, Minsc,” she said through gritted teeth.
“Minsc understands. Minsc and Boo have lost great and noble friends to the forces of Evil,” he said, shaking his head sadly. “Sometimes, a great pain tears at Minsc’s heart when he thinks of them. But Boo reminds him that they fell in battle, fighting Evil. And now they rest in a place free from battle and Evil. Boo says it is a very pretty place, with nice tall grasses, big lakes, and all the crackers you want,” He smiled softly, cheeks coloring. “And no one ever gets mad if you leave cracker crumbs around.”
He smiled a little more. “When Boo reminds Minsc of this, the pain in Minsc’s heart is a little less, knowing that his good and noble friends are happy. Minsc is sure that Fierce Mazzy’s friends are there with Minsc’s friends, and are safe and happy.”
Again, he watched all the fierceness drain out of Fierce Mazzy’s eyes, but there was far less sadness now. The stern set of her mouth softened. “Th… thank you Minsc. I hope that you are right, but they are still in the grip of the foul fiend that pollutes this place. They are still trapped.”
Minsc nodded. “That is why Captain Bran has his crafty plan! We will blow up the hidey hole of Evil and free your friends! The Dark Man can not run from Captain Bran.”
Fierce Mazzy smiled a little more. “Yes, I do think Captain Bran’s plan should defeat the Dark Man. And that is a good thing. You should probably get back to your duties Minsc.”
Minsc nodded and started to stand.
“Thank you very much. I mean that.”
He smiled. “Heroes must help Heroes, or Evil will triumph.”
She blinked and nodded sagely. “So very true, Minsc. So very true.”
Their explosives laid and sabotage completed, the crew gathered around the main control table. The massive flat station dominated the main Engineering compartment, allowing for the 2 and 3-D display of all the ship’s systems and their status. Right now, many displays were dark, the feeds for them long since dead. The main display glowed brightly, different colored indicators showing power flow and statuses of the remaining online reactor. This display shifted and turned under the deft manipulation of Imoen’s fingers.
“Just a few more alterations and one…” She squinted at the readout. “VAX-153D reactor will go from nice little antique power source to homemade fusion bomb. Man, physics is great.”
“I feel obliged to point out that reactors are not usually bombs,” Bran said.
“Duly noted. And ignored,” Imoen said without looking up. “Now, just a few more adjustments. There.” She looked up, a wide grin on her face. “I press this button,” she pointed at a glowing indicator on the console, “And we have a Grade A slow burning fusion reactor overload that goes touches off in about 30 minutes. And we can push it into hyperboom just by triggering the bombs, just in case we need it to go boom sooner.” She arched an eyebrow. “But, I’d prefer to avoid premature boom. It’d be a real downer.”
“Indeed,” Jaheira deadpanned. “No one appreciates a premature boom.”
There was a brief, uncomfortable silence with the crew exchanging varying glances but not saying a word. Finally, Bran coughed. “Right. We do not want to set off the explosive packages early because that would be detrimental. To our survival. Yes.”
He coughed again and studied the board. “So, what’s our easiest exfil?”
Imoen, not bothering to disguise a grin, tapped a few places on the board and an exploded diagram of Engineering and the surrounding decks popped up. “Well, as all the other hatches are apparently fused shut, best bet is out the way we came and then, based on the structural readings this airlock on T Deck. Looks like the most intact stretch. And… if these controls are reading right, I can actually seal most of the pressure hatches along the route.”
“I would recommend another route,” Valygar said darkly.
“What, it’s the shortest route, the most secure,” Imoen countered.
“The first is true. Not the second,” Valygar replied. “I’m getting hits on motion sensors. Lots of hits.”
Bran blinked and checked his HUD. Fuzzy images ghosted over the motion sensors and the rest of the array. Their reliability and function had been steadily degrading due to some strange interference, but there was something definitely there on motion sensors. Damn things couldn’t pick out how many. Which simply meant -too- many. “Confirm. Well, I guess it was too much to hope the zedheads would let us simply walk away.”
“Minsc and Boo and Larry think we should charge! Heroes kick out the front door, not sneak out the back!”
“But Minsc, we’re not sneaking out the back door. We’re running out the back door before the whole house goes kablooie.”
“Explode? Minsc does not wish to explode.” An emphatic squeak echoed from Minsc’s shoulder.
“I’m with you on that one, big guy,” Bran added, eyes flicking to the schematic. “So, since the front door’s out, how do we sneak out the back?”
“Good question. Engineering is supposed to be a secure area, and it’s been pretty well secured,” Imoen said, gliding her fingers to slide the schematic around. “The other hatch doors will be hard to reopen.”
“What if we don’t use the hatches?” Bran said, staring at part of the diagram. Quickly he zoomed it in and pointed. “What if we use something else?”
“The drive plasma conduits? Are you nuts?” Imoen replied.
“The drives are offline. Crippled intentionally. Which means no drive plasma. This says the entire line into the Beta Drive is severed here. Just behind the main offshoot valves here.”
“It’s true. In retrospect, it appears that explosives were used there,” Mazzy added. “One of the things we wondered about initially.”
“The drive is completely offline. We can follow the conduit to the drive chamber and then … well, we’re pretty much home free,” he stabbed the diagram with a finger. “A little quick blast and open space.”
“Those lines are tight. Single file, crawling. No way to rear guard,” Valygar observed. From behind him, a very faint pounding could be heard on the hatch door. The muffled sounds of fists, lots of fists, against the thick durasteel.
“Valygar,” Bran said. “That door is a meter thick of armor quality durasteel. Fists and blasters are not going to get through that. Certainly not in a half hour. No way.”
“Even if they had enough remotely usable explosives, and they’d need several kilos,” Imoen added. “The resultant backblast would shatter the corridor and much of the deck behind it. I mean, that’s why they built the damn door so thick. Now, they could cut it, but it’d take… what… twenty, twenty five to get through. In which case, we already did our buh byes.”
“They have proven amazingly adaptable,” Valygar said, eyeing the door darkly.
“V. Enough with the doom and gloom. They are not getting through a meter of durasteel,” Bran said confidently as the pounding faded. “Hell, even they know.”
The door suddenly boomed.
Seven sets of eyes flew to the hatch.
The door boomed again, louder this time.
“The door… it… it didn’t just move, did it?” Imoen said.
“It couldn’t have. It’s a meter thick!” Bran said incredulously.
The door boomed a third time. And this time, the thick metal obviously buckled. Not much, just a centimeter, but it did most certainly move.
“Okay. So, maybe I was wrong,” Bran said as the door rang with another impact. “Imoen?”
“Yeah bro?” Imoen said, eyeing the door. The metal strained and groaned under the blows. Both doors were beginning to buckle. Whatever was outside was going to get in.
“Hit the button. Time to go.”