Ensign Trell and Captain Ortega jumped into action almost before the video from the Emperor’s Herald finished playing. They ran for one of the doors at the side of the ship’s command chamber, but the door slammed into place as they reached it. Trell angrily punched the door before she turned to a maintenance panel at the side of the door and ripped it open. The dangerous humming around them began to increase as the timer on the monitors in the room gradually ticked down.
“That humming is the ship’s reactor core kicking into overdrive,” said Ortega. “It’s the sound of a systematic overcharge designed to cause an explosion.”
“You’re sure?” asked Trell, tossing the panel’s cover away from the wall and looking into the maintenance niche.
“Pretty sure,” he said. “Zamona’s wrong when he says that no one alive’s experienced this kind of self destruct sequence from a firsthand location. If we can get to the reactor core quickly enough, we might be able to disable a lot of these systems. Or we could just make a break for it and try to reach the airlock.”
“The airlock’s too slow,” shouted Trell as she disconnected two cords and reconnected another to the vacated connectors.
“Only if we let it cycle. In emergencies it can be reworked for an explosive jettison. It might even help launch us further away from the explosion.”
A sudden spark and cloud of smoke issued from the maintenance panel and the door reopened. Trell pushed her way out, picked herself up, and ran through the door, Ortega moving along with her. Another door slammed into place at the end of the hall and Trell clenched her fists, stifling a frustrated scream before she moved to the wall. She paused and frantically began moving her fingers along the gray metalwork.
“There’s no maintenance control point,” she said. “At least… none I can find.”
“Should we go back?”
“No time!” she said. “And even if there was, do you think any other route from that room wouldn’t have more security doors?”
Another noise, a high-pitched whine, floated through the air, and Ortega turned his head in the direction of the reactor.
“That’s new,” he said.
Suddenly, all the lights in the corridor grew brighter before going off with a sizzle and a pop. After a moment, emergency lights powered up, creating a dim glow that outlined the path and the location of most exits. With a gentle hiss, the door in front of them lifted up.
“Definitely new,” said Ortega. “I don’t… I admit I’ve never seen a self-destruct mechanism do this. Have you?”
“No,” she said. “This isn’t a standard protocol. Unless…”
“Is everyone alive over there?” said Captain Calen’s voice from over Trell’s communicator. Trell activated it to respond.
“Yes, Captain,” she said. “Some sort of self-destruct sequence was activated, but all the power has turned off now. I don’t know if we’re still in danger or not.”
“You’re not,” said Calen. “I’d been monitoring your situation and the reactor was going to blow. I decided to fire a neutrino load, something that could harmlessly reach through the hull to neutralize the energy.”
“You had a weapon that could do that?” said Ortega. “I mean, I know weapons exist that can do that but most ships aren’t armed with them.”
“Our ship is designed to be able to neutralize ships without fully destroying them so that they can be salvaged later,” said Trell. “We also have features for gradual retrieval operations. Why do you think the ship type is called a Scuttler?”
“I… guess I hadn’t thought about it,” said Ortega. “Do they power up quickly?”
“No, I was targeting your ship in case of treachery,” said Calen.
“Of course,” said Ortega.
“Trell, you may be interested to know that you’re not entirely without power over there,” said Calen. “Some extra system lines your vessel, tracing its way through the exterior hull. It seemed like part of the main systems when everything else was running, but it’s clear now.”
“Can you tell what its purpose is, Captain?” asked Trell.
“I’ll work on that,” said Calen. “Right now I can tell you that it generates some sort of energy field. It’s low-grade right now, but could be increased, infusing the entire ship and everything immediately around it with some sort of high-energy radiation.”
“Immolating itself,” said Trell, opening her eyes wider.
“What?” asked Ortega. “Oh. Oh! Good call.”
“What that?” asked Calen.
“Captain, you may have discovered the Phoenix Circuitry we’re looking for,” said Trell. “It’s a long-shot, but it’s possible that the Phoenix Circuitry is a device designed to surround the vessel with some sort of energy. If we can figure out what that energy does, we might know what the Phoenix Circuitry is designed for.”
“Then you’ve got work to do,” said Calen. “With any luck, the Dyson Empire’s just given us a weapon that we can give right back.”