The three-way monitor mounted at the center of the hexagon-shaped briefing room table showed images of a relatively barren, brown and rust-red planet. The rocky surface was laced with wide canyons which seemed to dissect the large continents endlessly. Signs of crawling and buzzing animal life and intermittent appearances of green and brown fauna gave proof that it was an inhabitable world but the little water, rough winds and jagged mountain ranges didn’t make it appear particularly inviting.
“This is the surface of Iota Crucis IV as it was surveyed by the Exeter
four years ago. Classed as a barely class-L planet, the survey team found the surface too inhospitable to be considered for a permanent outpost. The only signs of useable minerals were too far below the surface to be excavated without causing irreparable damage to the planet’s ecosystem,” said Zha’Thara as she provided running commentary to the slide show. Then she removed the bright yellow microtape from its slot and replaced it with a red one.
On the screens the surface images disappeared and instead showed still photographs of the sepia planet from a distance.
“These are images we took a few minutes ago with our long-distance sensors.”
She cycled through them until she reached the ones that resembled orbital photographs. Unlike the pervious images, these shots were not of the surface but it wasn’t difficult to make out clear signs of habitation on the planet. And not just a single outpost or sporadic settlements, there were undeniable signs of a sprawl of cities and infrastructure.
“I might be just an old-time Massachusetts quack but could somebody explain to me how anyone could build all that in just four years?” said Doctor Charles Vincent with his noticeable New England twang.
He wasn’t the only one looking at the images with bewilderment. The rest of the senior officers assembled in the briefing room seemed at a loss themselves. Ketteract was perhaps the only person present who seemed the least bit excited about this unusual find and instead kept drumming his fingers on the table top.
“The short answer, Doctor,” said the Andorian science officer, “is that they couldn’t. At least not with the kind of technology that we are familiar with.”
“That should rule out the Romulans. And the Klingons,” said Commander Kuznetsov. “G’arv, any thoughts?”
The Tellarite chief engineer tugged on his bright red tunic but before he responded, he shot another look at the images on the monitor.
Vincent smirked. “I didn’t think I see the day that G’arv is rendered speechless.”
This caused a number of smiles among the senior staff. The vocal chief engineer was usually a man quick to share his opinion, no matter if people cared for it or not. But this mystery had clearly robbed him of one.
“I’m still holding out for the day any of your patients survive their treatments without serious brain damage,” he shot back at the doctor.
Vincent was well accustomed to this kind of repartee, secretly enjoyed it even. “Judging by the clueless expression on you face, I’d say they usually do better than you at the moment.”
The Tellarite was not going to let that stand but before he could shoot back the appropriate insult, Robert Wesley stepped in, knowing full well that if unchecked, this banter could drag on endlessly. The crew certainly didn’t mind the entertainment but he needed his people to focus. “G’arv, may I re-direct your attention to the issue at hand.”
The chief engineer shot a last glower at the doctor, making it clear that he had not conceded this round, before focusing on the monitor again. “I’ve heard of plans for replication technology which possibly could construct material on an industrial scale but that stuff is mostly still theoretical at his point. And even then I doubt it could do anything to that extent.”
“So, are we talking about an advanced civilization here with technology far beyond what we have encountered before?” asked the commodore.
Zha’Thara shook her head. “I don’t think so, sir. Judging from the admittedly limited visual information we have seen so far, besides the fact that it has appeared out of nowhere, this doesn’t appear to be anything out of the ordinary. More tellingly the vessels we have already encountered were not comprised of any significantly advanced technology.”
“Thank God,” said the Bear. “I was getting rather bored of advanced and omnipotent beings.”
“I’m sorry if I’m interrupting here,” said Ketteract whose increasing impatience had finally reached the tipping point. “No, you know what, I’m not sorry at all, actually. We are losing sight of what’s important. It doesn’t matter who these people are or where they came from. The Ketteract readings are clearly coming from that world.”
The Andorian shot him a perplexed look. “Ketteract readings?” she asked with a raised white eyebrow.
He shrugged. “We don’t have a name for it yet. It makes sense for it to be named after the person who first discovered it.”
Vincent aimed a curious look at the first officer, the expression on his face seemingly asking: ‘Is this guy for real?’
‘Don’t even get me started,’ was the Russian’s non-verbal reply.
“To explore strange new worlds? To seek out new life and new civilizations?” said Vincent. “You may have heard those phrases before, Doctor. They are part of our charter.”
But the scientists dismissed him with a wave of his hand. “Our mission out here is to find the source of these energy readings. I’m not denying that we may come across some other, far less noteworthy discoveries on our way. But we shouldn’t allow ourselves to get distracted by the pretty lights which ultimately are of little scientific significance.”
With a heavy sigh Vincent capitulated, clearly deciding that it wasn’t worth arguing with this man and certainly nowhere near as much fun as it was with G’arv.
“Commodore, I took the liberty to speak with your chief engineer earlier, and I think we may have found a way to get passed those pesky little ships which are keeping us from Iota Crucis IV,” he continued and looked towards the Tellarite.
G’arv nodded. “And what a delightful conversation we had.”
Ketteract beamed proudly, missing the sarcasm completely.
“The mass drivers used on those ships aren’t really the problem. Our shields can withstand them quite easily. The issue is quantity, not quality. However we may be able to compensate by bombarding our shield grid with a low intensity tachyon beam from the deflector dish. It would reinforce the shields sufficiently to repel a multi-pronged mass driver attack. At least for a while.”
“Are we seriously considering this?” asked Vincent. “It seems to me that whoever these people are, they have made their intentions quite clear. They do not want us sniffing around in their backyard. Starfleet prides itself in not interfering with other races who just want to be left alone. I’m pretty sure this one qualifies.”
“Valid point, Doctor. If nothing else we know that they are trying to keep us away from their planet,” said Wesley and the focused on Ketteract who was most likely to have a different view on the matter. “This may be one of those cases were we should leave things well enough alone and respect these people’s wishes.”
“You cannot be serious,” he said. His face was twitching as if he was trying, unsuccessfully, to keep his emotions in check. “Commodore, the Ketteract signature –“
“For the record, I object to that term,” said the Andorian.
“Whatever we end up calling it,” he snapped at her before looking at the ship’s commander again. “It’s … it’s like nothing we’ve ever seen before. It’s difficult for me to put this into terms you would understand but we may very well be looking at a revolution in molecular physics here. Strike that. A revolution in scientific theory, period.”
“I’m going to pretend that you are not trying to insult my intelligence on purpose, Doctor,” said Wesley, keeping his own tone sharp enough to communicate his displeasure, before he turned to look at the Andorian. “Commander, you’re not a layman. Your thoughts?”
She needed to take a little breath of air first and then looked towards Ketteract who appeared almost contrite now that he realized that the greatest discovery of his life could depend on the words spoken by some Starfleet science officer.
Zha’Thara turned back to Wesley. “To be perfectly honest, sir, I don’t even fully understand what Doctor Ketteract has found here. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t agree with him in principle that this is an extremely significant discovery. Maybe even on the scale of the Higgs boson discovery of the 21st century.”
“My high school science is a little rusty, Commander,” said Kuznetsov.
“Forget the Higgs boson,” said Ketteract, quickly reinserting himself into the conversation. “This is Einstein splitting the atom, big.”
The Andorian rolled her eyes, somewhat weary of the man’s hyperbole, she didn’t bother to point out that on Earth it had been scientists like Ernest Rutherford, Niels Bohr and Marrie and Pierre Curie who deserved the real credit for nuclear fission. The point had been made.
Wesley looked concerned. “Splitting the atom led us down a path of conflicts fought with weapons of mass destruction. World War Three nearly wiped out the human race.”
“Exactly,” Ketteract said, quickly picking up on the thread. “Now imagine a force, I don’t know, a hundred times, maybe a thousand times more powerful than those primitive nuclear weapons. Imagine what it could do to a planet. No, no, imagine what it could do to an entire space sector, maybe even beyond.”
“You’re saying that this radiation could be weaponized on such a scale?” asked Kuznetsov.
He nodded quickly. “Absolutely. In fact, I have no doubt in my mind that it could.”
But Bob Wesley looked to Zh’thara for answers instead.
“From what I’ve seen so far I can’t see how you could weaponize this radiation –“
“That’s because you suffer from a limited imagination,” Ketteract interrupted.
She shot him a dark scowl which contrasted sharply with her beautiful features. “I wasn’t finished, Doctor,” she said and then turned to look at the commodore again. “What I was going to say was that I can’t see how it could be weaponized with our current means but I agree that the potential is there and given enough time, research and determination it could be turned into quite possibly the most destructive weapon we’ve ever seen.”
“Not just that,” the now inappropriately excited scientists was quick to add. “The potential for disaster is nearly incalculable. Power of this magnitude would have to be contained and monitored extremely carefully. If something went wrong, well, it wouldn’t be just a planet to go up in flames, I’m sure.”
The briefing room fell silent after that as these words were carefully considered. A decision had to be made and Robert Wesley already knew that he didn’t like either one of his options. And yet he fully understood that those were the only ones available to him.
He finally looked towards Vincent. “As much as I hate the idea of getting involved with the internal affairs of an alien race which has already shown its xenophobic attitude, if they in fact posses the means to produce a weapon which could become a serious threat to the Federation, be it by their own doing or through it being acquired by a known hostile race like the Romulans, I believe it is our duty to investigate and learn as much as we can about it.”
“Even if by that we’d be in violation of General Order One?” Vincent asked skeptically.
“Yes, Doctor,” Wesley said, now sounding completely confident in his decision. “Even if it violates the Prime Directive.”