Iota Crucis IV, 2267
The underground complex was enormous compared to the relatively small domed habitat which sat on the mountain above it.
The entire thing reminded Robert Wesley of a massive beehive, turned inside out. It had a similar shape and consisted of a huge empty space at its center with at least three dozen individual levels surrounding it. An entire army of Xenarth worked here, all busily heading back and forth the various levels and in and out of the countless doorways which presumably led to other parts of the facility.
He could spot one of the two Iota Crucis’ sun’s shining in the rust red sky through a large clear pane some hundred meters above and at the very top of the subterranean complex.
Another armed contingent of guards had been awaiting their arrival but most of the Xenarth down here looked like workers or researchers of some kind and many wore tunics with a cross-shaped symbol.
Their curiosity was not easily missed and many stopped and stared when they noticed Selphi lead the alien landing party along to their destination.
Wesley was still hard-pressed to be able to distinguish the individual Xenarth. He was reasonably sure that many of the workers were male, which he thought were differentiated by their less curved body shape and the lack of any facial markings.
The Artisan Queen showed them to a lab large enough to rival the size of Lexington
’s shuttle bay. It was dominated by a huge blast shield set into the far wall at about ten feet above floor level. Considering how thick and sturdy the shield looked, whatever was kept behind it had to be enormously powerful.
The lab was filled with computer consoles and machinery and dozens of scientists. But the flurry of activity seemed to come to an abrupt standstill when the Starfleet party entered.
“Supreme,” said Selphi and slightly lowered her head in a gesture of respect. “I have brought you the visitors as you have requested.” She hardly had to raise her voice, considering how quiet the lab had become.
It didn’t take Wesley and the others long at all to determine which Xenarth was the leader of her people. Differently to the others, Queen Ergia wore an elaborate cloak with fine golden stitching all along the back. The stitching itself appeared to be a delicate piece of art, commemorating Xenarth history, mythology or both. On the front she wore a prominent moon-shaped symbol.
Ergia was flanked by two armed guards, also with moon-shaped tunics. Bodyguards.
She had been in conversation with another fellow queen, judging from her slightly more elaborate clothes which set her apart from most of the workers in the room. She wore a prominent cross-shaped medallion and appeared smaller and somehow younger than Ergia or even Selphi.
“Please meet Robert Wesley and members of his vessel’s crew,” said the Artisan Queen.
The Supreme stepped towards the landing party, her bodyguards only a few steps behind her. Differently to Selphi she carried herself with much more importance. But to Wesley it appeared to be more than just the presumptuousness that came naturally to a leader of an entire people. He had seen this before among high-ranking members of the clergy of many different worlds. A sense that they had a gods-given infallibility which placed them on a lofty plane far above the rest of their fellow kinsman and one that only they alone were privy to.
Wesley understood that this would make matter a lot more difficult for him. “Queen Ergia, please allow me to officially extend greetings to you in the name of the United Federation of Planets. We consider it to be a great honor to make the acquaintance of new and unfamiliar races and to welcome them to our interstellar community.”
Ergia looked Wesley and his people over for longer than was necessary. She was but a few inches taller than the commodore but held her mandibles up as if she towered many meters above him. “We have little interest in your community, Commodore. You have been invited here for only one purpose. To assist us to reach the All-Mother.”
“And this is exactly why we have come,” Ketteract said, clearly out of turn, and took a step forward, causing the bodyguards to level their spear weapons at him instantly and him to stop in his tracks.
“And you are?” she asked.
“Doctor Bendes Ketteract. At your service.”
“Yes. You are the man who claims that you can be of assistance to us in stabilizing the Xendaru particle. Our Scholar Queen has been eager to make your acquaintance,” she said and used one of her four arms to summon forward the one she had spoken to earlier.
She didn’t hesitate and quickly placed herself next to the Supreme.
“Chelra has only recently been elevated to become a member of the Aggregate and therefore does not possess the knowledge and wisdom of her predecessor, the former Supreme and esteemed Scholar Queen Semunstra who was regretfully killed during our last trans-phase. However, she is eager and I am certain that with your help, we shall be successful in activating the Star Portal once more.”
If the new Scholar Queen felt slighted by the Supreme’s somewhat belittling tone, her insectoid features did well to hide it.
Wesley spoke up before Ketteract got the chance. “We will need a few days to familiarize ourselves with your research and I cannot make any promises as to the end result.”
Ergia did not seem to like what he had said as her large compound eyes focused on Queen Selphi who stood to one side but said nothing.
Then she looked back at the Starfleet officers and Ketteract and spoke, seemingly without addressing anyone in particular. “You have three days to have the Star Portal operational again. If you fail, you will be removed from Xentarra and leave this system. If you do not, you shall be purged,” she turned to Chelra. “Ensure that their scholars get every assistance they require.”
“Yes, my queen,” she responded quickly.
“Selphi, the other aliens shall remain in the main settlement until the scholars have completed their work. See that they are constantly under guard.” And with that she turned away with her bodyguards and promptly left the lab.
“I take it she didn’t become queen due to her winning personality,” said Doctor Vincent under his breath.
Ketteract quickly stepped up to Chelra who took a moment to look the unfamiliar alien up and down carefully. “Why don’t you show me what you’ve got so far. I can’t wait to get started and it looks like we’re on a tight schedule here.”
Chelra nodded. “Follow me.”
Wesley frowned as he watched the two of them heading closer towards the blast shield at the other side of the lab.
“Three days isn’t much time,” said Kutznestov.
“It’s more than enough time to have this planet and half the quadrant accidently blown to high heavens,” said Vincent and looked after Ketteract who was eagerly following his Xenarth counterpart.
Wesley turned towards the New England doctor. “Had we stayed away the Xenarth may have done all that by themselves and a lot faster.”
“Perhaps,” he said. “But the way I see it, we’ve just added fuel to the fire by unleashing Ketteract onto this Omega molecule of his.”
“That reminds me of an old Russian saying,” said the first officer. “You play with fire and you will get burned.”
“That’s not a Russian saying,” said Mtolo.
The Bear gave the security officer an intense look.
“Or maybe it is,” he added quickly.
Wesley and the rest of the landing party joined Ketteract and Chelra, mostly because the idea of leaving the scientist to his own devices around such a powerful force scared them all.
They arrived just in time to witness the massive blast shield being opened to reveal a large tank of swirling cobalt-colored energy within which countless little particles swirled around in a seemingly semi-coordinated dance. It was bright enough to force the landing party to shield their faces for a moment until their eyes had adapted to the brilliant colors, lightening up the lab and dowsing it in dark blue colors.
“My God, it is more beautiful than I imagined it,” said Ketteract who stared at the light show with unbridled fascination. “You can literally feel the power that courses through it.”
“In this state the particles are uncharged and relatively harmless,” said Chelra.
“Yes, yes of course. You keep them polarized so that they cannot bind together and unleash their full power. But how do you contain it all? More importantly, how do you facilitate the final stabilization?”
Chelra’s mandibles twitched slightly and moved upwards in what looked like a semblance of a smile. Then she walked over to another heavy blast door which loudly slid to the side after she entered a code into a nearby panel.
Ketteract had brought his own, heavily modified tricorder which was at least twice the size of the Starfleet standard issue version. He turned it on and began scanning the cargo crates which had been stored in the room behind the blast door. “Boronite,” he said, his voice not having lost its earlier excitement. “I should have thought of that. It makes perfect sense. Its dense atomic composition makes it the perfect mineral to synthesize and contain the molecule. And this must be the purest form I’ve ever seen.”
Wesley had overheard that. “Are you saying that you cannot produce the molecule without your baronite supply?”
Chelra jerked her head in a nodding fashion. “We were fortunate to have a large source of naturally occurring boronite on Xenarth Prime. This is the only stockpile we were able to save following the trans-phase.”
Ketteract turned to Wesley. “This is excellent news, Commodore. They have more than enough here to get us started on stabilizing the Omega molecule. I’m now more convinced than ever that we will be successful in safely harnessing this awesome power both of the Xenarth and for ourselves as well.”
Robert Wesley considered this for a moment. He looked back up towards the eerily beautiful sight of the inert molecules dancing behind the force field, seemingly entirely harmless and then at the impatiently waiting Doctor Ketteract. “Very well. You have three days to make this work, Doctor. I don’t have to tell you that I expect you to follow every possible protective measure necessary. This is not an occasion to be cavalier about safety, if you detect anything going amiss, I want you to shut things down straight away.”
He looked almost hurt. “I have no intention on sacrificing my life to science just yet, Commodore. If we were all to die who would be left to enshrine my name into history,” he said with a little smirk.
“Right,” said Wesley humorlessly. “Commander Zha’Thara will remain here and assist you with whatever you may require.”
The molecular scientists shot the Andorian a quick and not so subtle look, wordlessly questioning her competence for the task but apparently deciding it to be better to say nothing further on that subject. “As you wish. But now I really should get started,” he said and quickly turned back towards Chelra, eager to discuss his theories with her.
’s science officer stepped up to her captain. “Sir, I may be slightly out of my element here.”
“Telana, the difference between you and Ketteract is that I have complete faith in you. You have a couple of days to catch up on the basics and make sure the man doesn’t blow up the universe while chasing immortality,” he said and then took a step closer to make sure the Xenarth did not overhear their conversation. “If you think that there is any chance that he and his new friends cannot pull this off without blowing us all to kingdom come, I will need to know straight away because I promise I will go to whatever lengths necessary to stop them.”