Chapter 21 – Option of Last Resort

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“How long until we lose containment?” Saito asked through a sigh, finding it difficult to navigate the platforms conduits on her screen.

So many were damaged, it was proving quite a challenge to reroute power. On top of that, she wasn’t entirely familiar with the layout of the platform, making everything feel that much more cumbersome and awkward when she tried to effect a bypass somewhere.

“We’re down to twenty minutes, Major. Even with the survivors, it’s proving almost impossible to bring it back up off emergency reserves.” reported one of her troops.

Exal had seated himself in one of the chairs meant for whoever was in command, peering out of the window. He studied the overlay of the vent under them, trying to find a way out of this mess.

“We know the platform was to eventually become a permanent geothermal power station, so it has to have systems designed to make use of the heat energy below,” the Commander mused aloud, “What if we brought those systems online?”

“I would advise against that sir,” said one of the Zora warriors, “To engage the geothermal plant, we would have to bring the platform down to seal the vent. It’s what it was designed to do. We would effectively end up trapping both the Lieutenant and the Director inside the vent.”

“How long would it take for the vent to be sealed once we engage the power plant?” Exal asked.

Silence filled the room. He was actually considering it. A few exchanged uncertain glances, unable to believe such a sacrifice would be acceptable.

“Five minutes, sir,” the same warrior answered, “The whole platform has to lower down to seal up the chasm and extend the plant into the heart of the vent.”

Saito leapt to her feet and stomped her way over to the Commander, “You are not going to trap him down there! I don’t give a damn what you’re going through or what sort of ecological disaster you’re trying to avert! You are not sealing him away in there to die!”

Exal did not bother turning to look the enraged woman in the eye, but rather remained focused on the overlay in front of him, plotting, calculating, desperate to devise a way out of their current situation.

“Calm yourself, Major,” he said, letting go of what would ordinarily be annoyance, “I intend no such thing unless we have reason to believe he failed. I’m simply exploring all the options. Engaging the plant will be an act of last resort. If we trapped him in there, the shard would remain and we would all slowly go mad.”

“Well it isn’t an option!” Saito snapped, wanting to impress upon the Zora Commander that she wasn’t about to leave one of her men behind like that, “We’ve got other alternatives we’re working on! You do not give that order while I am in command!”

“We may not have any other choice when the time comes,” Exal said as he finally turned to look at her then leaned to look beyond to his warriors, “Make the necessary preparations to engage the plant. Do not being the process without my authorization.”

“Aye sir.” the Zora replied and turned back around, entering whatever commands were needed to make ready for the process.

“Now, while they’re working on getting main power back online, we should discuss how we are to get you and your soldiers back to the surface. Clearly your suits are no longer an option. We could swim you back to your transport but your suits would give out long before we got there.”

Saito crossed her arms, unamused by the change in subject.

“I’m not going anywhere until I get my Lieutenant back.” she said stubbornly.

“I understand your convictions, Major, and they are admirable, but in the event that we can’t, are we to condemn you and the rest of your people?” the Commander asked.

He looked up to her through still, calculating eyes. She could see the wheels turning in his head. She still wasn’t convinced he was unaffected by the shard. For the time being though, he was lucid, or at least sounded like he was, and that meant he was still an asset. And a friend. It took a great deal of discipline to calm herself, but Saito put forth the effort, taking a breath before continuing.

“What do you suggest?” she asked.

“One of the escape pods,” Exal explained, “It can have you back to the surface in under a minute, though it wouldn’t be a terribly comfortable ride. It can fit all of your people and it has a transponder beacon so your transport can locate you. We can simply dive into the water and swim back to the shore. Of course, we’ll need some sort of distraction to keep the feral mobs from giving chase. For both of us.”

“You keep working on that, I’ll keep working on getting main power back online,” Saito said and turned away, fighting against a sense of mild disgust at the idea of running away, “Second Technician what was your name? Fera?”

The young Zora woman they had found in the Director’s absence nodded, stepping forward in the hopes of being more useful than just coordinating all the trapped crew members.

“Yes ma’am, that’s right,” she said, “What can I do to help?”

“Is there a way we can augment the power flows to the protection field with the power supplies from the mining equipment you have in storage?” Saito asked.

“We could shunt the power into the main relays, sure, but it wouldn’t last long, only a minute or two. But we would have to get to all the drilling rigs and wire them in manually. That would take an hour for each one. Not to mention it isn’t safe to roam the platform.” Fera explained, her fins visibly drooping as she delivered the bad news.

Saito clenched her jaw in aggravation. More and more it seemed like there was nothing they could do.

“Keep trying to find something. I want to have that field up to full strength and staying there in fifteen minutes.” Saito said.

“I’ll try.” The Zora woman said as she cowered softly.

After all that had happened, she was left rather timid. And understandably so. If anyone was to survive this crisis, there would likely be a rather powerful need for intensive therapy.

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