Hokule’a is the Hawaiian name for the star Arcturus, meaning “star of joy.” In ancient Earth history, the Polynesian people considered it to be one of the most important stars for navigating ocean-going canoes on voyaging expeditions, as it was the zenith star for the Hawaiian island chain, providing a natural beacon for sailors returning home. Like the canoes of those who named the star many centuries before her construction, the Hokule’a was built for exploration. Well-armed, yes, but meant to perform planetary surveys and other light-duty research tasks. Under the deft control of Lieutenant Windsor, the Hokule’a hit Thalruatania’s atmosphere, casting off super-heated vapor with its shields and sending a sonic boom echoing for miles once it got low enough.
The majority of Arcology 616-J had been vaporized when between one and three omega molecules destabilized in its reactor room deep underground. That had been enough to wreck subspace in tendrils snaking out from the planet that it would likely take the Thalruatanians years to fully map. For the Hokule’a, though, it had provided several flat and stable landing zones near to the borehole that had been cut by the mothership. The vessel circled lower and lower, extending a set of four landing legs at the last moment before setting down gently on the surface.
From that position, the bottom of the borehole was well within safety margins for transport, even with residual radiation in the area. The two hazard teams went down first before signaling the captain to join them once they were sure it was safe. Lancaster had wanted to be the first one in, but even he couldn’t argue with the notion that if he were lost, they’d have no way of finishing the mission on their own.
There was no sunlight when Lancaster materialized. They were a hundred meters underground and many kilometers in the shade of neighboring buildings. From the lights on the shoulders of each hazard suit, he could see that the entrance they’d carved into the catacombs was stable.
“I’m on point. Ensign Taigan, stay with the captain,” Bowens ordered.
“Don’t you think I should decide that, Lieutenant?” Lancaster asked.
“All due respect, sir, but if there are any cave-ins or sinkholes, I’d rather it be me that finds out than you,” the lieutenant replied.
“Carry on,” Lancaster begrudgingly replied.
Ensign Taigan, a tall, lean Orion man, nodded to the captain before moving to his side. It was unlikely Lancaster would have any need for a bodyguard on this particular mission. Still, he wasn’t going to complain if he served as a totem to allay Lieutenant Bowens’s anxieties. Losing a captain would be bad on his record, after all, assuming that the details of this mission would even be enterable in such a record.
Even a hundred meters down through the rubble of the arcology and layer upon layer of older structures, they were still well above the actual surface of Thalruatania. Some of this material was simply the ruins of demolished buildings packed in to provide a level surface for those built on top of them, but there were hollows created both by erosion and in earlier foundations left intact there.
The upper levels were largely industrial-era, made of concrete and steel, abandoned long ago when the Thalruatanian’s aspirations grew beyond living on the surface of their world. Thanks to the detailed scans Lancaster had made in advance, they were able to plot a route through the maze, but they soon came to an area that was such a massive tangle of steel that Lancaster knew they wouldn’t be able to get through, not without ending up cut to pieces anyway.
“Analysis, Ensign Shadi?” Lancaster asked, even as he whipped out his own tricorder to take readings. The debris didn’t appear to be part of the tunnel they were in per se, just garbage from whatever construction project had covered the area over. Evidently, recycling was not a practice of the Thalruatanians of approximately 1750 CE.
“None of this material is directly connected to the structures around us. It’s almost like it was discarded here as filler,” the Bajoran engineer responded. “We should be able to cut through it with minimal risk.”
“Agreed. Bowens and Taigan: Phasers on setting 12,” Lancaster said as he unholstered his own weapon. At that setting, three phasers would be more than sufficient to clear the area ahead of them. “Five seconds on my mark. Mark.”
The three officers opened fire simultaneously, each counting down as they did so. The steel in front of them glowed red for a split second before being vaporized from the combined force of their phasers. Once the path was clear, Lancaster holstered his weapon.
“Shadi, confirm that we haven’t just triggered a cave-in,” Bowens said, putting a hand out to prevent Lancaster from walking forward.
“We’re fine to proceed, sir,” Shadi confirmed.
“You’re enjoying this, aren’t you, Lieutenant?” Lancaster asked as they continued forward.
Bowens smirked. “I’m trying to keep any gentle suggestions I give to be only those that are absolutely necessary for your safety, sir,” he replied. “Before we left the saucer behind, Captain Rakan intimated that she’d hold me and Commander Evandrion personally responsible if something happened to you, and Doctor Sheppard just told me to either come back with you or not at all.”
“I’ll do my very best not to put you in an awkward situation, then, by dying,” Lancaster replied.
“I appreciate that, sir.”
Subtle threats of reprisal were out of character for both Rakan and Sheppard. Still, the captain could understand why the two of them would try to exert what little control over the situation they had by taking it out on the security staff. Of the two of them, he was more surprised that Rakan would say anything, but he couldn’t imagine not telling Bowens the exact same thing had been Admiral Hayden who was going and he who was left behind instead.
“Should I apologize on either of their behalfs for cornering you?”
“Not at all, sir. She’s just doing her job, and… well, I guess so is he,” Bowens replied.
Lancaster contemplated that as they moved out of a relatively level passage into a chamber that was less clearly part of a building and more like a cave, with the way artificial walls had settled around it. There was an escarpment of debris they had to scramble down to make it to the next level, but luckily no one ended up face-first in the jagged concrete.
“This planet’s an archaeologist’s dream,” Ensign Taom noted from the middle of the pack.
“Keep your focus, Ensign,” Lancaster scolded.
After almost an hour of careful travel, they came to a sheer drop of nearly fifty meters, which surrounded a clearly modern support pillar that had been driven down several kilometers through the ruins and into bedrock. Lancaster scanned the area with his tricorder and compared it to the scans from the ship. Without this void, it likely would have been another hour of scrambling through the labyrinth.
“This is the drop we’re looking for. We should be able to enter the next network of tunnels at the base of this column,” Lancaster said before tossing a flare off the edge, casting the chamber in a dull red glow. “We’ll have to repel from here.”
Bowens went down first with two of the security officers, with the rest following in groups of three to avoid putting too much stress on the edge of the rock face. The last thing any of them needed was an anchor being ripped out. They had to cut another hole in the wall when they located tunnels that would take them closer to the omega particles’ location. Rather than tunnels, though, they found themselves in natural caves, which proved to be even slower going than the ruins. At several points, the caves were narrow enough to force them through single-file.
The caves gradually got wider again, and Lancaster started to see signs of sentient inhabitation: paintings and other things on the cave walls and then the entrance to a circular staircase. According to his tricorder scans, it had to be least as old as the chamber they were looking for, which was directly above them. Theta radiation was also increasing.
“Taom and Gardner, you’re up. If there’s any point for a booster of our radiation meds, it’s now,” Lancaster said.
The two ensigns in blue took their packs off and set them on the floor of the cave. While Taom was a biologist moonlighting as a medic, Gardner was the reverse: a nurse who served as the second team’s science specialist. They each retrieved a hypo, and Gardner made a bee-line to Lancaster. The two young men were quite similar in height and appearance, other than the freckle-like spots dotting Taom’s fair skin on the sides of his neck and hairline, but they couldn’t be more opposite in personality. Gardner radiated overconfidence and a preening sort of self-assuredness equal to the way that Taom seemed uncomfortable in the spotlight.
“Sir, Doctor Sheppard did stress that too much arithrazine can have some pretty uncomfortable side-effects,” Gardner said, bouncing the head of the hypo in his hand.
“None of which are as uncomfortable of dying from theta radiation poisoning, Ensign. Do it,” Lancaster ordered.
Gardner blanched. “Of course, sir,” he replied before complying with the order.
Once everyone in the party had been inoculated again, Lancaster made one more scan of the staircase ahead of them before motioning to Bowens to retake the lead. They took the stairs slowly, with Lancaster just behind Bowens. As they climbed, there was an ominous blue glow coming from above.
Lancaster’s tricorders began to sound a chime. “We’re close,” he muttered.
The stairway ended in an octagonal room, which looked like it used to be part of a small building on the plaza. Once through the doorway, Lancaster could see four arched metal supports and a branching lattice of braces keeping the ceiling intact. He could tell that the chamber used to be a marketplace or square of some ceremonial importance, which confirmed the computer’s information, as there was a giant metallic statue in the center of the area. Very unusually, though, it was glowing blue.
“Taom and Gardner, document everything you can. Everyone else, get those pattern enhancers ready. We’ll use all six of them,” Lancaster ordered. “Center on that statue.”
As the team worked, Lancaster scanned the object. While he initially thought it was a statue, he couldn’t actually discern what it was supposed to be of, even with the Thalruatanians’ unusual aesthetic style. In fact, the internal structure was much closer to something technological than artistic. It didn’t match anything he was familiar with, but he could detect a deformation in subspace at the center of the object, and that’s where the particles were concentrated—it was unclear if they were causing subspace to act strangely or if that’s where they were emerging from.
The more Lancaster looked at it, the more convinced he was that the object was not from the planet. Given how little the Federation knew about omega, there were lots of reasons that the phenomenon might be attracted to this particular object, but any device capable of manipulating subspace had to predate the construction of the chamber they were standing in.
“Lancaster to Anjar. We’ve located what we came for. Stand-by to receive transport,” he said.
“I’m ready on my end,” Anjar confirmed.
The hazard teams set up the enhancers in a hexagon around the statue-like object. With six of them, the effect would be even more potent than with just three, and hopefully, that would be enough for safe transport. Once in the harmonic resonance chamber, they would be able to safely eliminate omega, but a mistake or malfunction in transportation would be lethal.
“Energize, Doctor,” Lancaster ordered.
The transporter hummed, and after a split second, the statue stopped glowing.
“Transport complete. I have it,” Anjar replied.
Lancaster let out an uncharacteristic sigh of relief. “Good. Stand-by to bring us up as well.”
The thirteen members of the two hazard teams plus Lancaster got between the statue and the pattern enhancers before beaming back to the Hokule’a in one large group. After scrambling through warrens and tunnels, Lancaster would have preferred to clean up a little, but he made a bee-line to the cargo hold.
“Lancaster to Windsor. Take us back into orbit,” he ordered while en route.
The blue alert klaxons sounded shortly after as the escort picked up off of the surface of the planet, jolting Lancaster slightly as he walked into the cargo hold.
“Computer, seal the doors,” Lancaster ordered.
Anjar looked up from the control console, off to the side of the resonance chamber, which was now glowing blue. The fact that they’d managed to transport omega without blowing themselves up was a near-miracle. Now they were faced with neutralizing the particles before anything could happen that would impede their containment efforts. A simple graviton torpedo would have been a much more manageable, cleaner solution had that option been available to them.
“The computer estimates that it should only take about ten minutes to neutralize the molecules. Hard to believe we have a full-on secret directive over just a few hundred molecules of anything,” Anjar noted.
“Let’s get this over with, then,” Lancaster said. “Begin the process.”
The chamber began to whine slightly once Anjar tapped in the appropriate commands on the console. Lancaster stared at it, the weight of being in the presence of enough omega to devastate an almost incomprehensible span of space hitting him. In a few short minutes, it would all finally be over.
“Windsor to Lancaster. The Arcturus has engaged the Kazon!”