“You don’t have any kind of emplaced defenses at your hatches?” Hathoway demanded.
The three Chiefs passed a look around, silently asking who wanted to field the touchy sergeant’s question this time. Randal blinked first. “I know that, given the context, this is going to sound wrong,” he said, “but they are exterior hatches on a deep sea colony. We don’t expect anyone to want to open them outside of safe, controlled situations.”
“Anyone normal,” Sam tossed in.
“Sorry, but wasn’t one of the potential reasons for this sabotage you discussed earlier industrial espionage?” Ambassador Sudbury asked, not accusingly but with mild curiosity. “Surely opening a few hatches would be a quick way to cover a corporate gambit of some sort.”
Walker laughed. “Not if they wanted to survive. The hatches are manual only – can’t be activated remotely. Anyone opening one from the inside is getting crushed or drowned in the process unless they’ve got the right gear on hand. And that’s for the same reason we don’t have advanced defenses at the hatches in the first place.”
“Electronic control systems cost too much to build.” Walker rapped his knuckles against the access hatch to the sealed section which he and Sam had been working on getting open for the last five minutes. “There’s only one electronic control for the emergency lockdown system, kept in a central location, and it triggers a pneumatic system that locks the dogs on the hatch in place when the protocol is tripped.”
“You’re short on electrical components?” Sudbury asked.
“Semiconductors are hard to get ahold of down here.” Walker reached into the access panel he’d been working on and pulled out a lever about as long as his for arm. “We have to refine most of them from seawater or scavenge them from wrecks.”
After throwing the lever to one side Walker stood to one side and let Sam crank the lever up and down for about ten seconds, then there was a loud pang from the hatch as the dogs snapped open. Hathoway eyed the hatch warily and said, “Are we going to be locking that behind us when we go through?”
“I will be,” Walker confirmed. “Whether it’ll be dogged behind the rest of you is all on whether you go through or not. Really, this is an engineering problem, not an executive or justice problem, so I should just wait here for the specialized team that’s coming up behind us. But it’s ten minutes away and if we are dealing with a fish out of water who’s planning to try and flood the colony we’re on a serious clock. On the other hand, this is kind of an Australian problem, but I think your interests are best served letting people who know the situation and have a lay of the land take care of it. But if you want to come, I won’t stop you. Extra hands would let us go two ways at once.”
“Making sure this delegation is safe is my job,” Hathoway said. “So I’m definitely going.”
Everyone looked to Sudbury. “I think Sergeant Hathoway and Chief Walker both have sound points. But before I decide to stay I need to know two things.”
“Ask away,” Randal said.
The ambassador ticked them off on his fingers. “First, what does it benefit a person who wants to flood the Ward to activate a failsafe that prevents that from happening? And second, why would switching off that system make it more difficult for our fish out of water to achieve his goal?”
“I’ve been thinking about that,” Sam said. The other two Chiefs gave him a surprised look and he shrugged. “It is kind of my job to think about these things. And what it boils down to is that there’s no real reason to trigger a breach lockdown if you’re a fish out of water-”
Hathoway jabbed a finger at Walker. “He seems to think there is.”
Walker threw his hands up in defense. “Because it actually happened! The fish had disabled the pneumatics on an interior hatch so it wouldn’t seal and probably planned to open the exterior hatch after the lockdown the same way we did just now.”
“Why didn’t he pull it off?” Randal asked.
“He was in a part of the communications team and not the hull maintenance team,” Walker said. “He didn’t know the schedules and pulled his stunt on the same day a maintenance team was doing an inspection of that compartment. They caught him before he could open the exterior hatch, although he got pretty close.”
“Wouldn’t that have just resulted in two sections flooding?” Sudbury asked.
“That’d be more than any other fish has ever managed,” Randal pointed out.
Sam waved them down, looking annoyed. “If you’ll let me finish. There’s no real reason to trigger a breach lockdown if you’re a fish out of water unless you’re looking to exploit the securing procedure.”
Sudbury frowned. “For those of us who are new here, what exactly is that?”
“It’s a five minute systems check that runs when a section secures from lockdown,” Walker said. “All communications lines and sensors run checks and someone from the engineers gets the hatches undogged and opened.”
“During that time can another lockdown be triggered?” Sam asked.
Walker turned pale. “No. The system wouldn’t start the procedure until it was finished with the system check. Ninety percent sure.”
Randal sighed. “Why can’t the crisis every be simple and easy?”
“It’d never make it to crisis status if it was,” Sudbury answered with a grin. “And I think that, like Sergeant Hathoway, I should come along to make sure our people in there are safe. And it sounds like you people could use all the hands you can get.”
“All right then,” Randal said. “Lead on, Walker. Lead on.”