News traveled fast aboard a starship, especially one with a crew this small. Wei had anticipated Vinak's arrival, and when the commander rounded the corner to enter engineering, he was quick to meet the much taller Vulcan halfway. "Commander—I heard there was an incident."
Vinak nodded, and though his expression was neutral, Wei could read the tension in the Vulcan by the stiffness of his posture. "Initial reports indicate an EPS discharge in Doctor Wright's quarters, cause currently unknown. It set off no alarms on the bridge."
"Nor here, sir." Wei called up a schematic on the nearest engineering station. "I can see there was a minor variation in the EPS power grid in that section, lasting..." He called up another display. "Eleven point two seconds. It's nothing out of the ordinary, or at least nothing that would usually indicate anything serious."
"And yet." There was an iciness in the commander's tone which set Wei back a bit, though he knew it wasn't directed at him, but rather the situation.
"And yet," he echoed Vinak softly, with a sigh. "I'll immediately begin a thorough investigation, Commander. I'll take the bulkheads apart, if I have to. Whatever caused this, we'll figure it out."
"Do so. Report to me the minute you have anything."
"Aye, sir." As Wei watched Vinak leave, he was aware of T'Saren's presence at the station across from him—and uncomfortably aware that her attention had been as much on his conversation with the commander as the display in front of her. Not for the first time since word had first reached him, he wondered if she'd been right after all in challenging his decision not to run a level one diagnostic on the EPS grid. The odds of Utopia Planitia missing an issue had been remote, but T'Saren had been right in that it was one of their more critical systems. Perhaps he should have pushed for enough time to complete a more thorough diagnostic...
Stop it, he told himself sternly. Speculating on what it could be is pointless. It could have been something you missed, but then again, it could be anything. Lhir was exhausted, and could have made some error, but you wouldn't blame her without evidence, would you? "T'Saren," he said, already heading for a nearby locker to gather a toolkit. "Come with me. I could use a second set of eyes." More than that, it was important to him to stand by his decision, whatever the outcome. He'd fought her on this and won, and he wouldn't shrink from that...even if the results of their investigation did lay the blame at his feet.
The quarters he'd assigned their guests were on deck four, near both sickbay and security, giving Sovinn very little time for speculation as he headed for Wright's quarters. Under any other circumstances he might have asked the computer if the geneticist was still there—but in this case, he was reasonably certain that there was no need. He was proved correct when the door opened only moments after he signaled his arrival. "Doctor Wright," he said in greeting, noting the other man's somewhat disheveled appearance. Together with the air of anxiety which surrounded the man, it painted a clear picture of someone who'd been through a harrowing experience.
"Commander," Wright said. "I'd expected someone would come."
"Doctor," Sovinn greeted him in turn, glancing over Wright's shoulder and into the room beyond. "May I?" he added, when an invitation to enter did not appear forthcoming.
Wright blinked, and stepped aside. "Yes...yes, of course," he said. "I'm sorry, I'm still a little... When I asked the lieutenant to fix my replicator, I hardly expected—how is she, by the way?"
Sovinn stepped past him, his gaze sweeping the room before settling on the replicator. "She will be fine," he murmured, moving closer. The panel was completely dark, and it didn't take an engineer to know why. An area roughly the size of his palm was scorched and warped, with a small off-center hole melted clear through. It certainly had the look of an EPS surge, and he would be interested to find out why it had not registered as such. He turned back to Wright. "Could you tell me what happened?"
Wright nodded, glancing toward the replicator. "I knew I had a problem with the replicator when it would not give me a meal I'd ordered before. I was about to signal for assistance when I heard Lieutenant Lhir and Sharggos Kul out in the hall-" He paused, the shadow of a rueful smile tugging at his lips for a brief moment. "Well. I could certainly hear him at least, and inferred from his side of it that he was talking to one of your officers. So I stepped outside, and asked the lieutenant for her assistance."
Having met the Tellarite himself, Sovinn had no reason to doubt that the doctor could have heard him through a closed door. "And what exactly did Lhir do while she was here?"
"She didn't get very far. She tried to place a few orders, she opened the panel and inspected one of the chips. She said...she'd have to run a diagnostic to determine if it was a programming or a hardware issue," Wright explained. Sovinn noted that the man had calmed significantly since his arrival, no longer jumping from thought to thought without completing his sentences. "I tried to place my original order—for a roast beef sandwich, extra horseradish—and almost immediately after, she reacted as though she could hear something. And that's when..."
"That's when...?" Sovinn prompted. He restrained the urge to open the panel himself. Though he was curious to see the extent of the damage, he could not be certain that there was no longer any danger.
"She threw herself at me, knocking me aside. I think—I think if not for that, she'd have been able to avoid it entirely. But because she tried to move me, she was caught when the replicator panel blew." Wright hesitated, his expression growing concerned. "I do hope she won't be blamed for this. I have no concerns about anything she did here—in fact, I think she very well could have saved my life. If not for her, I probably would have been standing right in front of the replicator when it..." He lapsed into silence, gesturing toward the burned out panel.
"Thus far, we don't know what's to blame," Sovinn said. "There is nothing to suggest that the lieutenant is at fault—I'm merely trying to establish what did happen." A soft chime announced another arrival at the door. "One moment," Sovinn added, moving to open the door himself. He was not at all surprised to find an engineering team on the other side, and he stepped aside to let Wei and T'Saren enter.
"Commander," Wei said, with a quick bob of his head. "Is this a bad time?"
"No. I was just finishing," Sovinn assured him, before turning back to Wright. "Doctor Wright. Since I cannot predict at this time how long our investigation will last, nor how quickly repairs will be completed, I will see to it that you are given new quarters. May I suggest you enjoy a meal in the mess hall while I make arrangements?"
"Of course," Wright answered, absentmindedly smoothing out his jacket, and glancing about the room. "Should I gather my things now, or...?"
"I will assign a security officer to do so." As Wright nodded, somewhat unhappily, Sovinn addressed Wei. "I will also station an officer outside, so you may complete your work without interruption."
Wei nodded, already unpacking his tool kit on the small dining table nearby. "Thank you," he said. "We'll get this figured out, sir."
"Indeed," Sovinn replied, ushering Wright out ahead of him. He followed the doctor until they parted ways at the intersection, lingering long enough to make sure the doctor got on the turbolift. Only then did he continue on, entering the security complex. "Jensson," he said, addressing the guard on duty. "I want you outside Doctor Wright's quarters until Lieutenant Wei is done his investigation. Make sure none of our civilian guests enter, including the doctor himself—or any of the crew without clearance from Wei or myself. I'll send Selak to gather the doctor's personal effects once I've freed up some new quarters for him."
"Aye, sir." Jensson departed, briskly, leaving Sovinn to oversee security from his office...which was less an office and more an alcove separated from the rest of the room by a large workstation.
For a long moment he sat there quietly...though he was not idle. Now he finally had time for speculation, for sifting through the possibilities as the situation currently stood and discarding those which did not hold up to to logical analysis—and making plans to act on those which did. Though he had not expected a potential security issue this soon, Sovinn was far from unprepared. His interview with the doctor had been short, but it had still yielded some possible avenues of investigation, should this turn out to be something other than an accident. He did not intend to sit idle while Wei and his subordinate completed their own investigation—by the time they had their answers for the captain, he hoped to have something of his own to contribute as well. He was certain the captain would expect nothing less.
"It was no accident." Wei stood, and stepped around the conference room table to set a compact device in front of the captain. "We found this once we removed the replicator itself. It was mounted on the EPS conduit, but linked to the replicator—or it had been, until the connection was burned out." He nudged a slender, blackened filament about four inches long with one finger.
Anwal frowned, picking up the device and turning it over in her hands. Down the table, Sovinn and Vinak watched with expressions almost equally somber. "What was its purpose?" she asked. "I recognize what looks to be a capacitor, among other things..."
"We think it fulfilled its purpose," Wei said, still standing by the head of the table. He reached out to activate a panel on the wall, bringing up the same schematic he'd shown Vinak in engineering. "In order to have an EPS discharge, you typically need to have a significant surge in the EPS flow, which then overwhelms the grid, or you need to physically sever the conduit, which would result in either a complete absence of power in one section of the grid, or sporadic, fluctuating power levels if the electroplasma is able to bridge the gap. Any of those circumstances would have immediately triggered an internal alarm in engineering, and on the bridge."
"But we have established that it did not," Vinak said, taking the device from the captain to examine it himself.
"No. What we do have is a very small dip in power levels in that section of the grid for a little over eleven seconds," Wei confirmed. "What we believe happened is that this device tapped into the EPS conduit, siphoning energy off at a rate slow enough not to raise any alarm, until it built up a potent charge—which was then directed outward, through the replicator. It was an EPS discharge, but there was nothing spontaneous or accidental about it."
"Were you able to determine what triggered it?" Sovinn asked.
"In a manner of speaking," Wei said. "We can tell that it was connected to the replicator's processor, suggesting that it was triggered by a program rather than a physical switch. Not only was the connection burned out by the energy discharge, but the processor was burned out as well—so we can't determine what specific command was used. It could have been set to respond to a certain dish, or to repeated orders of the same dish, but we have no way to know for sure."
Sovinn did not frown, but his brows knit as he considered the engineer's words. "It does suggest, however, that this was a targeted attack. Doctor Wright said that it did not respond to Lhir's attempts to use the replicator—but it did when he placed his order for a roast beef sandwich."
Anwal sighed heavily. "You two are telling me that we might not just have a saboteur aboard. We may, in fact, be looking for an attempted murderer."
Wei understood the captain's sour mood. Despite the flicker of relief he'd felt at discovering that the incident had not been caused by any negligence on his part, he'd quickly come to realize that the actual situation was far worse. "That...does seem to be the case, Captain," he said, turning off the display and returning to his seat.
"Then the next question is—who." Anwal shifted her attention fully to Sovinn, leaning forward. "I don't envy you this task, Lieutenant Commander."
"Nonetheless, it must be done," Sovinn said. "Lieutenant Wei—could we narrow our pool of suspects with the device itself? Either the components used, or the expertise required to assemble it?"
Wei shook his head. "Unfortunately...no." He'd already considered that idea. "The components are far too common to be narrowed down to a specific console or piece of equipment. We could try to figure out where they were scavenged from, but that could take days. As for expertise...it's the same story, I'm afraid. Anyone with even a basic knowledge of science or engineering could have put it together. Tapping into the EPS conduit...well, that's riskier, but..."
"But not risky enough to rule out any of our guests, who are all presumably highly intelligent, inventive, and accustomed to meticulous adherence to safety protocols," Sovinn concluded.
Wei nodded. "Exactly," he said, relieved that he hadn't had to say it himself.
"Nor would it rule out one of the crew," Vinak said. "Are we certain it's one of our guests?"
"I cannot be certain of anything, at this point," Sovinn admitted. "I will of course look into any potential connection between the members of the crew and Doctor Wright—and any connections between the crew and the crewman who was originally assigned those quarters, in case the device was planted earlier than we suspect, or with a different target in mind. I would be somewhat surprised to find out the perpetrator was a member of the crew, however. Prior to our launch I examined every personnel file myself with the aim of identifying any potential security risks, and found nothing of note. Beyond that...I have made some inquiries of both the transport which brought our guests, and the site of the conference on Earth. Doctor Wright ordered a roast beef sandwich aboard the transport and each day of the conference. Only our guests would have had the opportunity to learn his habits so well."
"I'd also prefer to think that this was not a member of my crew," Anwal said, casting a sharp look at Sovinn. "But should your investigation indicate otherwise—you have my full support, Commander."
"Understood," Sovinn said, already seeming lost in thought.
"I'll have my engineers keep an eye out as we finish up our diagnostics," Wei volunteered, sensing that the meeting was coming to a close. "In case any other devices turn up. And I'll set up a subroutine to monitor the EPS grid for fluctuations similar to what we found in this instance."
Anwal nodded, the intensity draining from her gaze. "Good," she said. "I'm leaving this in your hands. Keep me informed."