The main science lab was empty except for Daystrom and Chen. While the captain had shared knowledge of the Omega Molecule with her senior officers, she had made it perfectly clear that no one else in the crew would be privy to their true mission details and had sworn her officers to secrecy.
Whatever work needed to be done in order to accomplish this mission had to involve the least amount of personnel.
For the chief science officer and chief engineer that meant that they had to seal themselves into the lab and find a way to destroy the controversial sub-molecular particle by themselves. And the captain had given them a tight timetable to produce results.
“I do not understand why you doubt this method,” said the Xindi as he considered the computer simulation running on the monitor. “It appears to have proven successful when breaking down the molecule in the past.”
“According to our long-range scans the Xenarth are not using the same resonance containment chamber design as last time they tried to synthesize the molecule,” the scientist responded. “We will not be able to simply inverse the isofrequency to destabilize the particles.”
“Then we construct our own resonance chamber and transfer the molecules inside to be destroyed.”
But Daystrom had since turned away almost as if no longer interested in partaking in this conversation.
Chen’s feelers twitched in confusion. “Lieutenant?”
“Listen to yourself, Commander,” he said without turning back to face the chief engineer. “You are talking about wanton destruction. About tearing down ideas and new technologies which could be beneficial to billions of people.” The young man turned around. “Shouldn’t we be in the business of preserving those things? It just feels so wrong.”
The insectoid engineer considered this for a moment. “My people used to build massive underground lairs by digging out many dozens of meters into the soil,” he said and getting a blank look from the scientist in response. “In fact many Xinid-Insectoid colonies still prefer to live underground in that manner. But sometimes those colonies become infected due to diseased roots or plant-life and the only choice is to fill in the colony and effectively destroying it before starting over somewhere else.”
“I don’t understand the reference,” said the scientist.
“On some occasions you have to destroy in order to survive.”
“But this is different,” Daystrom insisted. “We’re not allowed to start over anywhere. We’re not even allowed to think or know about Omega. What if the Xindi leadership told your people that you cannot built underground colonies anymore because they are too dangerous even though thousands of Xinid prefer to live in exactly that manner?”
“You imply that the majority is always correct,” he responded. “Just because a great many people want something to be a certain way does not make it right, or safe. And yes, the Xindi leadership has deemed certain areas off-limit to underground colonies because of the inherent dangers to dig there. We have to accept that they know better than we do and that they make those decisions purely for the welfare of the many.”
Daystrom clearly didn’t care for that answer and stepped away from the chief engineer. “Right,” he mumbled and then finally turned back to face Chen when he had reached the far bulkhead “And what if they don’t know better? What then?”
Chen moved his large head from side-to-side in a motion designed to mirror a human headshake. “It occurs to me that this conversation is neither productive nor appropriate at this time, Lieutenant. Our orders are to come up with a plan to destroy the Omega Molecule. As Starfleet officers we are not supposed to questions our orders.”
“That’s not true,” he said quickly, stepping closer. “Starfleet doesn’t want mindless drones …” he stopped himself and his face turned into an embarrassed grimace at using the term while addressing an insectoid.
“Not offensive,” Chen clarified after sensing the man’s discomfort.
“There is something called an unlawful order which should be disregarded. In fact it would be our duty to do so. It’s in the regs,” he quickly went on.
“And you are implying that Captain Donners and by implication Starfleet Command has given us an unlawful order? I suggest you seek out a JAG lawyer before making these kinds of accusations.”
Daystrom unsuccessfully tried to figure out if Chen had made a joke. It was difficult to tell with his non-humanoid facial gestures and body language.
Finally he uttered a heavy sigh, perhaps realizing that he would not be able to win this argument today. He stepped back up to the workstation and entered a few commands. “Building a resonance chamber from scratch would take too long. I suggest we simply disengage the power flow to the containment chambers without disturbing the containment field itself.”
The chief engineer considered the new simulation Daystrom had entered. “A simple yet elegant solution, Lieutenant. If we use the right modulation the particles would simply fizzle out and disengage, thereby neutralizing them quickly.”
“Lex parsimoniae,” said Daystrom in lackluster fashion and without affording his colleague with another glance.
“Indeed,” said Chen, understanding the human expression most often referred to as Occam’s razor for reasons he wasn’t fully aware of.
“Excuse me, Commander,” he said and then swiftly left his chair and headed for the doors and before the chief engineer could even inquire about his hasty departure.
Chen didn’t remain alone in the lab for long. His feelers straightened tellingly when the only other person outside the ship’s senior officers who had been given leave to enter the science lab stepped inside, leaving the security guard tasked to escort her by the doors outside.
“Queen Ket,” he said.
“Please,” she said quickly. “My title has been stripped by my people. Ket will suffice.”
The Xenarth and her unique blend of insectoid and humanoid characteristics were fascinating to the Xindi chief-engineer who in his Starfleet career had often struggled to identify with his fellow officers. And while Ket shared many attributes with humanoids, she unquestionably saw herself first and foremost as an insectoid. The bond that they had created in the short time they had known each other went beyond the simple acknowledgement of their similarities. In fact their differences were still significant. Ket for example was a clearly female member of her species while Xindi-Insectoids were asexual even if Chen had long since made the decision to identify himself as a male to simply social interactions.
The most notable physical similarities between them, like their similarly shaped skulls, their compound eyes as well as their feelers and mandibles made Chen more adapt at reading Xenarth body language than anyone else on the crew.
And at the moment he could easily tell that she was in a despondent mood.
“I apologize for the delay,” she said. “My briefing with Lieutenants Mer’iab and Sh’Fane took longer than expected.”
“You have not missed much other than Lieutenant’s Daystrom’s doubts over our current strategy.”
“I have noticed the lieutenant leaving the lab,” she said. “I am not able to easily read human expressions but if I am not mistaken, he did not appear pleased. Has no progress been made?”
Chen gestured towards the monitor to show her the last simulation they had been running. “On the contrary, we believe we have a solution which we can present to the Captain.”
She studied the screen shortly but not being a scientist or an engineer she quickly gave up understanding the details of this plan.
“Forgive me for saying so,” said Chen. “It is you who appears dispirited.”
She fixed those large dark compound eyes on him. “You find this surprising? My own people have marked me a traitor and demanded I be returned to them as a prisoner when all I ever wanted was to ensure that they do not destroy themselves by meddling in powers beyond our comprehension.”
“Captain Donners has made it clear that she will grant you asylum if you request it. You mustn’t fear being handed over to the Romulans.”
“And yet I have an armed guard which shadows my every move on this ship as we continue to head towards a rendezvous with the very people who expect me to be transferred into their care,” she said with her mandibles clicking anxiously.
“The guard is a routine precaution and follows you as much for your own safety as for the safety of the ship. We continue to head towards your world while the captain decides if to follow through with the destruction of the Omega Particle. You should not be discouraged by these factors,” he said.
Her mandibles constricted tightly and Chen figured that if they worked anyway like his, then this gesture was an equivalent to a human smile.
“I am grateful for your words, Lieutenant Commander Chen. They are soothing and greatly appreciated.”
“If you insist on me disregarding your title, I must ask that you extend me the same courtesy.”
“Then so I shall,” she said with her mandibles constricting a little further. “Chen.”
While it was obvious that her spirits had been lifted slightly, her overall sadness was not easily dispelled. “I have faith in Captain Donners to resolve this matter with the Romulans and your people. She may be young for a starship captain and she may have limited experience but she is resourceful and has a good crew to provide her with sound advice.”
“I do not doubt her wisdom,” she said, her feelers twitching slightly. “Or that of her crew.”
“If we are successful your people may be able to see their mistake in trying to pursue the Omega Particle and casting you out.”
“You don’t know my people as I do. You don’t know Supreme Klestra. She has waited a very long time to come to power and take over the Aggregate. Differently to her predecessors, she embraces technology but only for the purpose of making the Colony strong again. She has visions of a second Xenarth empire and I fear she will stop at nothing to try and grow her influence. She considers those who are in her way expandable,” she said and jerked her head slightly to the side before turning away and glancing towards the far bulkhead. “She will ensure I’ll never set foot on New Xenarth and be surrounding by my own people again.”
“There are other alternatives,” he said. “You claim you have always held a fascination for the stars and the Federation in particular. Why not become an emissary of your people to the Federation. You can learn from us while you teach us about the Xenarth. And if you required a guide in your journeys, I would be glad to offer my services.”
To that she turned back to face him. “You would leave your vessel?”
He took a step towards her. “I am an explorer. But some discoveries cannot be made on a starship.”
“I might come to enjoy that,” she said and then leaned her head forward as if starting to nod.
Chen mirrored the gesture until their feelers touched. It was a sensation unlike anything Chen had ever experienced before.
* * *