"Now what do we do?" said Nige as he looked back at the place where Q was standing just moments before.
"We do what we can with what we have," said Kira in a near exasperated tone. Q always seemed to bring out the worst in his personality, something that annoyed him to no end. "Get in touch with Kerrin for me and inform her of the situation. Ask them if we could use one of their ships to get to the galactic core."
"Do you really think you can do this?" said Nige.
"We're about to find out," said Kira. "Have Benton and the Kelvans meet us at the core as well. I may need their assistance in this matter."
Nige left the small dwelling at once, leaving Kira alone with his thoughts. *This is supposed to be some sort of test? A test for what?* Obviously something was eluding his understanding, but he didn't have time to figure out what Q was up to this time. Right now he needed to find a way to prevent two super-massive neutron stars from colliding two days from now.
Minutes later, Nige had returned along with Kerrin in tow behind him. Kerrin informed him that the Iconians would help them as much as possible in their quest to save their galaxy. Not only would they lend them a ship for their use, but they also provided a full compliment of their officers and scientists at their disposal.
"Also," said Kerrin, "I will be accompanying you on your mission."
Kira and Nige looked at the Iconian female with some trepidation. Why would she need to be aboard the vessel?
In answer to their expressions Kerrin answered, "I am one of my race's most learned experts in stellar phenomena; my knowledge may be of use to you."
"Very well," said Nige, "how long until we're ready to depart?"
"We can depart immediately. We will travel through the gateway to one of our shipyard planets in this galaxy that is near the galactic core. The remaining scientists and officers will arrive through the gateway as well. We will be on our way within the hour and will arrive at the core less than thirty minutes after we are aboard the ship."
"Ships capable of moving faster than transwarp. I had no idea that it's possible to go faster than transwarp speeds," said Kira.
"One day your race will learn of such things, however, we do not have time to explain the nature of our travel. Time is of the essence; we must leave at once."
"Of course," said Nige, "lead the way."
True to her word Kerrin led the two officers back through the city and to the large gateway complex. After tapping a brief set of keys the gateway before them stopped changing its location at random and instead centered on their desired destination.
"After you, gentlemen," said Kerrin.
Upon arriving on the shipyard world, the name of which Kerrin never mentioned to them, they were greeted by personnel who led them directly to a room which only contained a single gateway that looked somehow smaller and less complex than the ones they had traveled through before.
"This gateway is a smaller version of the ones which we normally use for transporting between planets and galaxies. Its primary function is to deliver us to destinations that are much smaller in magnitude; in this case one of the ships that is orbiting this planet."
As the three stepped through this final gateway, they found themselves aboard a large Iconian ship whose interiors were keeping with their standard color scheme, almost all white. Kerrin instinctively led them to the bridge of the ship, which took quite awhile. Obviously this ship was pretty large. As they finally arrived on the bridge Kira and Nige took a quick look around them in order to get their bearings as to what was located where. Unfortunately for them, none of the instrumentation panels seemed to make much sense. To unravel how to utilize their technology even on a basic level would take too much time. Perhaps that was why they had provided them with a full crew compliment to run the ship for them.
One of the officers aboard the ship noticed that they had arrived on the bridge, and immediately walked over to greet them. "Gentlemen," said the stranger, "I am Captain N'teiu. I'll be commanding this ship for you." N'teiu definitely looked like the rest of the Iconians, tall, long blonde hair, piercing blue eyes, and dressed in white and off white clothing. The only bit of color that was different from the rest of the Iconians that he had seen in the city was a grouping of small, silver bars located on his right chest. All the other officers aboard the ship had various designs made out of these bars, but this was the first one that Kira noticed of its type.
"Thank you, Captain," said Kira as he looked around at his surroundings one more time before concentrating on the Captain again. "How long will it take us to get to the core?"
"Less than fifteen minutes."
"How many light years is that?" asked Nige quizzically.
"Over 300," replied the Captain.
Kira and Nige looked at each other in astonishment. To travel that much distance in so little time was beyond all comprehension to the two men. It would normally take a vessel, at maximum transwarp speeds, at least two days to travel that far.
"We'll be departing soon," said Kerrin. "Until then, our scientists are meeting at this moment to discuss how to prevent this disaster. They arrived only minutes before us, but they have already begun to discuss their ideas on how to remedy the situation. If you will follow me I'll take you to them."
Once again they were led through the bowels of the ship around seemingly endless corridors and junctions until they finally arrived at a large doorway that silently opened to reveal several people inside an even larger room. Seated around a long oval shaped table were well over ten Iconians and a couple of races that Kira had never seen before. They had obviously begun to speak amongst themselves about the problem, as there was already a considerable amount of talking going on between smaller groups seated around the table. One particularly tall looking Iconian managed to get everyone's attention as Kira, Nige and Kerrin sat down in three empty seats at the end of the table.
"Everyone," said the tall Iconian, "calm down for a moment." The crowd of people stopped what they were talking about and gave their attention to the Iconian. Once the noise had subsided, he continued, "Please welcome to our assembly two outsiders from the Milky Way, Kira and Tyran. Also with them is our own Kerrin Shi'al, known by most if not all of you for her work with predictive methods for stellar anomalies."
Murmurs of assent were heard from around the table at the mention of Kerrin and her work. Apparently, Kerrin was more of an expert in these matters than she had originally let on to Kira and Nige. Kira surmised that modesty was an Iconian trait.
"These two outsiders, along with a friend of theirs who has yet to arrive, alerted us to the potential problem we have with our galactic core. The information they have given us has allowed us to pinpoint when the problem will occur, however, at this time all of our scans have not told us what caused the problem to begin with."
Kerrin rose in her seat and punched a few buttons on a panel near where they were sitting. Immediately an image of the Maffei I galactic core sprung to life on the table between them.
"The images you see here are real time," explained Kerrin for Kira and Nige' s benefit. "As you can see the two super massive stars in sector 008 have somehow spun out of their natural orbit in the core." As she spoke the two stars were highlighted by a dim green hue, obviously to help them discern which stars were out of alignment. Suddenly the image zoomed in much closer and two sets of lines were shown with a deep red hue. "This represents what the orbit of the two stars should be," said Kerrin as she punched another button on the panel, "and this is how their orbits appear now." A second set of lines came into focus that was in a blue hue. "We have tracked the focus of the event that changed their courses to approximately 3 weeks ago, here." Once again the map changed its focus as it zoomed backward in time to where the two orbits were disturbed.
Nige leaned over to Kira and whispered, "We have got to get one of these."
Kira made motions to quiet Nige's excitement over the Iconians holographic technology, if that is what you could call it. He was looking at the junction in space where the change occurred.
"Kerrin," said Kira, "I hate to interrupt, but...."
"Yes, Kira," said Kerrin.
"This doesn't look like a naturally occurring phenomena."
All of the faces that were in the room looked at Kira with faces that, if Kira could read their expressions, stated their disbelief at Kira's claim.
"Explain, Kira," said Kerrin.
"If a natural phenomenon were to cause this change in these two stars orbit' s, it would have caused a host of other problems if it were to continue on a course in any direction. If you plot any course in that area of space with something massive enough to change the motion of two stars, it would cause a lot more problems than just a couple of stars colliding."
"We agree on this matter," said the tall Iconian who had calmed the crowd moments ago, "however, where did this anomaly go after it caused this disturbance?"
"I'm not sure," said Kira as he studied the map before him and let his sentence trail off. Suddenly he had an idea. "Unless...."
"Unless what?" asked Nige.
"Unless the anomaly formed between the two stars itself and is trapped between their altered orbits."
"Our scans have picked up no such readings, Kira."
"Yet, something must be there. You said this image is set on real-time scans of your galactic core, correct?" said Kira.
"Yes," replied Kerrin, "and they are very precise, even from this distance."
"Whatever has formed between these two objects is obviously still there, because if there wasn't a gravity well operating between the two stars they wouldn't be moving toward each other any more. they would be catapulted out of their trajectories. Instead, they are being drawn closer together faster than they should be. Look at their rate of acceleration."
Kerrin paused for a moment and punched a few more buttons beside her. A few equations were shown in progress n the middle of the display before them. Kira didn't understand the equations, in fact he didn't know what made him see the difference in the motion between the planets even on this scale, but in a moment Kerrin was done with her calculations. Her results must have surprised her.
"He is right," said Kerrin. "The two objects are moving together faster than should be allowed per their gravitational masses. Something is speeding that process up between them."
"Whatever it is must be something that your long range scans can't pick up on," said Nige.
"We shall be there momentarily. Perhaps when we arrive we shall understand what is occurring, and why these two stars seem to defy the laws of space by moving toward each other faster than their masses should allow."