Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Guest Post: Occam's Razor

Please help me welcome today's guest blogger, Terry Stenzelbarton:

“Lt. Nog, we’re running out of time,” the young Ferengi heard from his combadge. It was Capt. Benjamin Sisko and Nog could tell the station’s commander was reaching the limit of his patience.

Slapping the badge, he said hurriedly, “Five more minutes, Captain. I know I’ll figure it out.”

“We may not have five minutes, Mister Nog. Chief O’Brien says heat sinks are at maximum on that spar. The secondary coolant has run out and the temperatures are rising quickly. If you can’t bring the coolant lines back online in three minutes, we’ll be forced to blow the spar, and you with it.”

Nog didn’t spare the time to answer. He felt he was close to the answer and the Captain, for all the respect he deserved, needed to just shut up and let him work.

The war was over, but there was still so much work to be done. The Founder had been transferred to Starfleet custody earlier that day, ships that had been taking part in the final Dominion War battle were in orbit around Deep Space 9 awaiting repairs, and soldiers were still being transferred through DS9 to other facilities for advanced medical care.

Tomorrow there would be parties and goodbyes. Chief Miles O’Brien had announced his acceptance of a teaching position at Starfleet Academy. Commander Worf was headed to Qo'noS to fill his position as Ambassador. Odo was going home with Col. Kira. Sisko would be away to Earth with his son Jake for two weeks of debriefings. Nog himself had scars and an artificial leg, but he had survived when hundreds of millions had not. He and Bashir and Ezri would remain on Deep Space 9, cleaning up the mess the war had wrought and continuing the medical support for the ships still limping to the station.

But the war was behind him and he’d have the rest of his life to deal with it - if he could get the coolant lines to the heat sinks flowing. The heat sinks on the spars of the six pylons of Deep Space 9 were instrumental in keeping the station’s attitude and location stable in the area of the wormhole. They were part of the station’s stabilization network and bled off heat from the reactors which powered everything from the artificial gravity to the environmental equipment onboard, to the station-keeping thrusters and six rudimentary impulse drive engines.

The coolant that was supposed to flow through the sinks was in the pipes, but not cooling anything.

In all the excitement with the end of the war and the signing of the peace treaty, beta shift hadn’t noticed the increased pressure in the coolant tubes running up the pylon to the docking clamp spar. The automatic equipment hadn’t shut down the sinks or re-route the super-heated plasma from the reactors to one of the working spars or pylons.

Only when Nog had signed on duty and began handing out assignments did he see there was an issue, and by then it was quickly becoming a problem. He sent the rest of gamma shift on to their assignments, and pulled one of the multi-tool cases and another diagnostic case from the rack. It was his first night as gamma shift supervisor.

Just before leaving the engineering offices he'd reported to Lt. Ayava, the Bajoran Gamma Shift bridge officer, that he’d noticed a problem in Pylon 3 and was on his way to effect repairs. She'd acknowledged and logged the communication, flagging it for Captain Sisko and Chief O’Brien’s attention.

That’d been 42 minutes ago.

Things had not gone well. What should have been a simple matter of shutting down the heat sinks and shunting a few valves had turned into a battle to save Pylon 3 and, in the last ten minutes, his own life.

There didn't appear to be any damage to the control circuitry for the machinery that should have been shunting the plasma. Nog opened his diagnostics case and began running the troubleshooting routine. It took less than a minute to complete, but the computer was only able to tell him something was wrong, not what was causing it.

Still confident he could keep the heat sinks from going critical, Nog began removing panels along the corridor. The piping looked right at first glance, so he concentrated on the circuitry.

Twenty-two minutes into the circuit tests, the first alarm sounded. The temperature in the heat sinks had reached maximum and the emergency coolant tanks were pumping 500 liters of Ever-Kool across the heat sink baffles. Deep Space 9’s Ferengi engineer had about 10 minutes to shunt the plasma flow to another group of heat sinks, get the primary coolant flowing to the sinks again, or blow 25 meters worth of spar off the end of Pylon 3. The station would be unbalanced and the other engineers would have to manually compensate to keep the station from tearing itself apart, but it would survive.

Nog, however, would not. He knew his time was running out when the pumps for the secondary coolant wheezed silent. The backups were now empty and the sinks would begin heating again.

The corridor he was working in was in the 25 meters that would be blown free of the station. It wasn’t just a few explosive bolts. The blast doors had slammed down with the first alarm. It was a cruel fact, but one engineers understood. Sometimes you had to sacrifice a few to save the whole. The corridor he was in would be blasted free of the pylon and, hopefully, clear of the station. There would be no place for Nog to take refuge. He’d be blown into space.

There had been some hope for a transporter lock, but 15 minutes after the emergency bulkheads had slammed shut, Ensign Polk in Ops started explaining why he couldn’t get a lock.

“Just keep trying, Mister Polk. If I don’t give up trying, you can’t either,” Nog told the young Ensign.

“Excellent advice, Mr. Nog,” Sisko added. “Is there anything we can try beaming in to you?”

“No, sir. I can fix this. I know I can. I just need to concentrate.”

“Have it your, way, Lieutenant. The Defiant has cleared moorings and is maneuvering into position to tractor the spar clear of the station. You now have three minutes,” Sisko told him.

“My way, your way, any way I can make it work,” Nog muttered to himself, looking at the piping and wiring in the corridor wall. “My way is the right way. What is the right way for this work?” he slammed the computer diagnostic tool against the main coolant pipe. The sound was wrong. It should have been filled with cooling fluid, but to Nog’s hyper-sensitive ears, he could tell the pipe was only mostly full, and not moving. He looked to the far end of the corridor and realized the valves had been worked on recently. They seemed to be installed correctly except for the arrow on the main valve. It was pointed to the left, but it should have been pointing to the right.

“The right way is right!” he shouted, grabbing the tools in the work box.

It took 20 seconds and Nog suffered freezing burns to his hands and face, but with the valve re-installed correctly, the fluid started moving through the pipes and up to the heat sinks.

He was sitting on the deck plates, hands stuffed inside his uniform, when the emergency bulkhead opened and alarms ceased. Dr. Bashir got to him first, followed closely by O’Brien and Sisko. Three other Gamma Shift engineers started work on cleaning up and putting the spar corridor back together.

“Well done, engineer,” Sisko told him. “Well done.”


  1. WTF is this writer? Put a little polish on this and this is a great story.

  2. Always thought Nog was a thief and a liar. I was surprised they made him a main character. Nicely done Mary.

  3. Maybe you're thinking of Nog's uncle, Quark. Thank you, but Terry's the one who deserves the credit for the nice job; I don't think such a story would have occurred to me.

  4. Wasn't a huge fan of ds9 but this might have me rewatching the final episodes again.

  5. Why did Nog go alone to fix something that could destroy the station? Why didn't O'brien tell him what might be wrong? How come he didn't notice a valve in backward right away? I think this story was too contrived. Maybe Terry shouldn't quit his day job because he's not a writer.

    1. I think you'll find most of the answers in the story, or at least in the show: Because he didn't want to risk more lives than necessary. Because O'Brien wouldn't be aware of the problem until morning. Because the valve was only one item in a whole wall full of things that could have been the culprit. And I agree: Terry did a brilliant job of capturing that 'contrived' feeling you get from a typical episode of Star Trek.

  6. The story is better than most fanfiction I've read and I think Star Trek Expert is being disingenuous. Like Mary said, all stories are contrived to create suspense and drama, and Terry wrote both in the style of Deep Space 9, but also in the voice of the show. I think the "expert" needs to go shove his head back up his ass and learn to appreciate good writing.

  7. Is there more of Terry's work somewhere?

    1. Yes, he has links posted on his website,

  8. Expert needs to STFU. This was a good story and better than most stuff people write on Star Trek. Im not even a big fan of the show but this was good.

  9. This is the way more stories should read.

  10. I thought the feringees ears were a sex organ too.

  11. A cardassian station that is always going to blow up. How original. This is the reason star trek is dying because stories like this are the same tired old theme. Nothings new here.

  12. How come I've never heard of you? This is well-written, concise and clearly described. I was able to see Nog working in the tight quarters and the deadline was a nice touch.

    Keep up the good work and I'll gladly ready me.

  13. HA! Now you're writing for other peoples blog DT? Loved the story, but I think your Dominion War II is better.

  14. Wow Mary, you found a real unique story here. I could see this as an episode if it was still on TV. Nice choice.

  15. I think I like Nog... I've never seen the series and "shame on me" for that (I should've, a long time ago!), but I think this has given me the push to watch the series. Thanks, Terry, for writing it, and thanks, Jae for posting it!