Chapter 23 - Water Work

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K’Naut stood and knuckled his back. He’d spent the last 3 hours on a subspace conference call with the engineering team aboard the USS Alameda, the California-class starship that had been assigned to assist the people of Ange. He stretched and swished his tail back and forth a few times. He wasn’t old by Caitian standards, even if he had been invited to join his clan’s council of elders last year. No, it was sitting still for so long that left him feeling so stiff. His body was built for action.

He checked the time. It was close to the end of his shift. He left his tiny office, stepping into Main Engineering. He paused for a moment to listen to the warp core and to feel subtle vibration of the deck beneath his feet. The assistant chief, his second, was already here as his relief and was talking to a technician about the to-do list. K’Naut stepped over to them.

“Chief,” the assistant said.

“I’m going clock off a little early this afternoon,” K’Naut replied.

His assistant grinned, “It’s good to be the king,” the officer remarked before putting on a stern expression. “Sir, I relieve you.”

K’Naut grinned back at the mock formality. “I stand relieved,” he intoned grimly.

They burst out laughing. The technician shook his head with a bemused expression. He was growing used to his boss’s eccentricities.

“Was there anything to look at that’s not on the list?” the assistant asked, waving a PADD.

K’Naut was quiet for a moment, listening. “It sounds like the matter injector is slightly out of alignment.”

The assistant chief nodded, making a note on the PADD. The Caitian’s staff had accepted that his enhanced senses could sometimes detect issues before the monitoring system did. “We’ll look into it, sir.”

“Thank you. I’m off.”

K’Naut made his way to his personal workshop, set up in one corner of Cargo Bay 2. He had a few hours before the Millipede’s dinner party, so he thought he’d check up on his project with the water world water. He hadn’t received any alarms from it, but it wasn’t wise to allow equipment to run unsupervised for too long.

He’d cobbled together the separator using spare parts from the ship’s waste processing system. The device rested on one end of his workbench. K’Naut checked the control panel. He’d filled the tank that morning, and the separator had completed its task. It was now in standby mode. He shut it down to prepare it for another run. The Caitian drained the processed water into a bucket and set it aside. Next, he needed to remove the minerals. K’Naut rummaged through his pockets to find the tool he needed to unseal the containers. As he did, he found something he’d forgotten about.

It was the small sample bag containing the piece of food from Ange. He hadn’t liked the smell of it, so he hadn’t eaten it. Curious, he took it over to his portable replicator and ran a programming scan of the foodstuff. After a moment, a list of nutrients scrolled up the screen, followed by a warning in large red letters: ‘This sample contains fehrehew. High potential for negative health effects on the following species: Caitian, Kzinti, Lyran.’

K’Naut set the replicator to recycle the sample. He sat on a stool, trembling. Fehrehew was one of the most toxic natural substances known to the Caitian people. He would have been dead in less than a minute if he had tried the food on Ange. Ordinary Caitians wouldn’t have been able to smell the toxin. It had been used to assassinate in the ancient past. The food had smelled good, except for the fehrehew. Without his enhancements. K’Naut would have eaten the sample and would have been dead. He thanked his parents for their meddling.

Once his nerves had settled, K’Naut got back to preparing the separator. He had designed the device to remove up to four minerals during each run but was only using it for two. He originally planned on just taking out the cortenum in the first phase of processing. A detailed analysis of the water changed his plans and prompted a private talk with the captain. He unsealed one of the tubes containing the product of his device. He looked at the silvery liquid bead rolling sluggishly as he tilted the collection tube. Pure latinum, about a brick’s worth of it. Which meant there was a hell of a lot of latinum locked up in that world’s ocean. Enough to tickle the lobes of even the least ambitious Ferengi. The planet would need to be protected, especially with the potential of there being a sentient species living on it. Well, that was above his pay grade. All he could do was report what he had found and hope the higher-ups would do the right thing.

K’Naut emptied the other collection tube. There was more of the light gray powder, sodium cortenide, than there was of the latinum. That was to be expected, as there was a higher concentration of the cortenum. It was valuable, too. In fact, there was so much metal dissolved in that ocean that there was enough of even inexpensive metals like copper or gold to make someone quite wealthy. K’Naut stored the cortenide in an airtight container to wait until he had some verterium so he could finally craft the warp coils for his NX-class refit model. And then would the challenge of squeezing old-scale warp 7 out of the small coils. Ah, what problems to have.

It only took a few more minutes for the Caitian to get the separator ready for another run. Once he was done, he tidied up his workshop area and headed to his quarters to get ready for the party.