A growl of frustration echoed through the translucent walls of the design project room. Lieutenant Whetu’s PADD clattered off the table as she flung it with annoyance. She paced back and forth, her loose black hair’s disarray reflecting her unhappiness in a very human display of pique.
“Another blown plasma manifold in the Hestia’s engine assembly! They’re going to bust me down to crewman and have me scrubbing the conduits at this rate,” Whetu said despondently.
“They’re not going to bust you down. At least, not before the project ends,” said Elyos. Even with his most impassive voice, as he lounged back in his seat the bald Deltan couldn’t help but project the hint of a smirk in his comment. “After all, there’s still a little bit of time before launch of the prototype.”
Whetu stopped and rolled her eyes for dramatic effect. “You could at least say something useful, Elyos,” she said. “Like ‘obviously there’s a defect in the ceramics manufacturing, which isn’t your fault, Whetu.’ Or ‘Maybe we should change the EPS resonant frequency, even though that means all of the components would no longer be interoperable and any repairs to the ship would have to be done at a starbase, thus destroying any long-range operational usage.’ Or ‘Let’s pack this one in for the day and go get some synthale.’”
Elyos lazily reached out and pulled the discarded PADD closer. He glanced up at Whetu, whose Maori moko contorted her expression and turned her unhappy frown into something resembling an angry glower. “Try to contain yourself, Whetu,” he said. “Otherwise, you’re going to pop like one of these manifolds. Don’t let the pressure get to you.”
“Easy for you to say,” replied Whetu. “You don’t have the entire power assembly riding on your work. You just have to install, check, rebuild. You aren’t responsible when the entire engine room floods with superheated plasma.”
Elyos sighed and said, “I may only be an ensign, but this is my problem too. You need to figure out a way to fix the overpressure – yours and the EPS grid’s.” He dropped the PADD back to the table with a gesture of indifference.
Whetu paused and exhaled with a long, slow breath. Too much pressure, of both kinds, she thought. Blowing off steam… letting it all out… Back home, on New Zealand, she would’ve gone for a walk along the beach, or perhaps taken the afternoon to construct a kite on a windy day. Up on Utopia Planitia, there wasn’t really room for that kind of relaxation, though the holodecks on Ares City were just a transporter beam away. Still, as she glanced out the window at the gantries and the superstructure of the Hestia, she felt for a moment like she was trying to cross that vast gulf of space by will alone.
Funny, Whetu thought, I hate boating. Yet here I am making ships that sail the void. Her distaste for boating had long been a point of contention back home, but just because it was “traditional” didn’t mean that she had to adopt it. She’d spent many a day trying to improve on the simple wooden canoes that were her father’s pride and cultural touchstone, and now here she was in Starfleet doing the same thing to their giant ships. Every time she meddled with the old canoes it was with some device to modernize it or make it more efficient, and every time her father had just chuckled with his deep, powerful laugh and encouraged her to keep working. He’d enjoyed the simplicity of the simple wooden boats, without any additions or “modernizations.”
Maybe that simple? Maybe…
Whetu strode to one of the large transparent screens in the middle of the room. With a gesture she brought the focus to the ship’s EPS systems. “Wait,” she said, “We’ve been dealing with this in our typical high-tech plasma fashion. It’s generating massive amounts of energy to power the ship’s tactical systems and it’s blowing out the plasma conduits. But plasma is just ionized gas. What if we look at it like steam?”
Elyos frowned and said, “I don’t follow.”
“Old Earth wet-navy ships used to use steam power for propulsion. And if the steam power got overpressured, they would vent the excess steam. As the engineering improved they developed systems that would expel the steam automatically. Later it was replaced with other technologies… but that’s not important right now. We need to have some way to vent the pressure safely.”
“Two things,” said Elyos as he leaned forward and raised his hands in a questioning gesture. “First, how do you get more plasma if you are always venting it when the pressure gets too high? And second, why do Human engineers always go back to Earth-historical ships? On Delta IV we don’t scatter our conversations with early social development or metaphors about the long-ago days when Deltas had hair.”
Whetu waved her hand dismissively. “Don’t worry about it,” she said. “It’s just a comparison. We can vent the excess high-pressure plasma through the hazard emitters. And you know how to get more plasma – we just offset the dilithium matrix –“
Elyos picked up on her excitement and stood from his chair, raising a hand in tandem with Whetu as he said, “—and we make the warp core inefficient enough to generate excess plasma to further feed the system! Oh, that’s rich. We use less refined technology to get the results we want. I like it.” He surveyed the schematics on the clear screen and tilted his head first to one side, then the other.
After a moment, Elyos cleared his throat softly and said, “Lieutenant, won’t the plasma ejecta will be extremely volatile?”
Whetu tapped on the PADD in her hand and sent the small display on it over to the main screen, bringing up the schematics of her unconventional design, and said, “That’s only a problem if you’re a hostile ship. If you’re an allied ship, the main deflector can treat the plasma just like ambient cosmic particles. We’re all on the same wavelength, after all. As long as the warp core has variable efficiency for its output, it can generate additional plasma as needed for the system, or it can be set to minimize plasma byproducts like a modern engine, and run as smoothly as we want.”
“Well,” said Elyos as he straightened up, “If it functions, it’ll add some work to the construction of the dilithium matrix to give it variable efficiency, but it will shave a few days off the EPS system, which should be a time saver overall – and it will solve the problems with the power grid. Plus, it will make the gun jockeys in tactical extremely happy with this additional defense system.”
“And that,” said Whetu with a grin, “is why I earned these.” She pointed at the moko kauae on her chin. “They don’t carve these symbols into just anyone with an engineering degree.” With a double-tap she brought up a computational interface to check some of her preliminary ideas. “We have all the pieces… Elyos, this looks doable. I think this is going to work!”
The Deltan smiled in response to the wave of elation that came off Whetu and said, “Then I think it’s high time I added that useful suggestion you mentioned before: Let’s pack this one in and get some synthale.”