The operation on the plant was successful. As a precaution, the scientists didn't let the plant absorb the crystal naturally but inserted the mechanically-enhanced crystal into the plant's central sac through old-fashioned surgery.
Three separate insertions were done on plant samples of varying growth stages, from the budding shoot, to flowering tendrils. Many plant samples, however, were casualties of these three successful ones.
Then, the scientists realized that these wilted plant materials were excellent sources of plant fiber. They could be used to create paper, which was especially useful now that the Hope had a news agency.
The Academy was glad that they had stumbled upon such a treasure. They believed that this plant would prove invaluable to their misadventures in space!
The belief had infected even Yao Yuan, who ordered some plant spores to be kept in quarantine so that when man's technology caught up, they could be used in more wonderful ways.
On the other hand, the mining operation had reached its end, which meant that it was time for the alien plant to be used. Of course, they needed to fit the underground hole with surveillance devices before they could release the plant to monitor its growth rate. The devices would be corroded in the process, but those were necessary sacrifices.
Setting up of the surveillance devices took up yet another long day. After all, this was the first time man had used space technology; they were using a plant for the purpose of harvesting and excavating, so they had to be incredibly cautious. In fact, some parts of the Academy still rejected using this method. They had appealed to Yao Yuan multiple times to give man a few years before they commit to something mankind couldn't understand and handle.
These voices of dissention came from senior scientists, and even though Yao Yuan knew that their points were valid, he believed that man needed to look ahead. For a better chance at survival, they needed a leap in their technological advancement and not a stagnant idling. Yao Yuan felt that using these plants was a step in the right direction.
However, Yao Yuan still had a needling apprehension about the whole operation. In fact, it was not a feeling that was unique to him. He had consulted Zhang Heng, who expressed the same concern. Nevertheless, because Zhang Heng said that the feeling was more like an annoyance than acute danger, they both decided to keep the matter under wraps.
What mattered the most at the moment was for the upgrade on the Hope be done expediently. This was because if there was any danger, with the upgrade, they could choose to warp without reservation.
After the manual excavation was completed, an acid-covered plant sample was lowered into the hole. Within, four cameras were monitoring it.
"Releasing energy bait."
"Surveillance system working as normal."
"Initiating heat detection sensors."
"Opening radiography system…"
All of these commands poured towards Yao Yuan, who sat over the whole operation in central command. Finally, every single surveillance device at the Hope's disposal was activated. As an extra safety measure, the Hope even flew 500 meters off the asteroid's surface.
"Now, shed the acidic carapace."
"Captain's order, shedding the acidic carapace…"
In the surveillance video, one could see the covering surrounding the plant blow up into smithereens. However, it was an incredibly contained blast; there was barely any lingering smoke. After that, a ball of green mass slithered to the ground. It then pooled itself in a clump, barely moving.
Everyone watched the video with bated breath, waiting for the alien plant to respond. Gradually the plant mass started to spread out. Other than the globular sac that remained in the center, the rest of the plant fused into searching tendrils. They latched onto nearby rocks, and before long, the rocks turned to sand. It was obvious that the plant had awakened from hibernation. With an incredible speed, the tendrils crowded towards a corner of the cave. It was reaching for the previously buried energy bait.
After ingesting the bait, the initially 30-cubic-centimeter-wide plant's mass grew to about several hundred cubic centimeters wide. Plus, it showed no signs of slowing down. Almost instantly, it dissolved an amber-colored stalactite the size of a grown man's fist. Before long, it expanded to ten cubic meters in size.
All this was carefully recorded. Attention was especially paid to the amber-colored rock. After all, its color meant that it probably carried radioactive deposits, and those needed extra analysis.
Just like that, within only a few hours, the hole that was only about several meters wide grew into a cavern that was a few hundred meters in size.
During this process, a lot of air was released by the plant. The scientists had found out that the oxides in the rocks were converted by the plant and released into the air as oxygen and other gases. This was the reason behind Planet Sahara's unique air composition.
The whole project took about seven hours to complete. By then, the plant had grown to a massive size about one hundred meters big, and the cavern was already one thousand meters wide. The harvest would be allowed to continue if not for the fact that the plant suddenly ate upwards. Therefore, the process had to be halted. With the press of a button, the plant started wilting. In about 10 seconds, all that remained were husks of the plants.
Everyone on the Hope cheered for the success of the operation. A digging expedition that would require months of manual labor was completed within a few hours; it was truly a sight to behold!
After landing once more, a special unit made up of soldiers and scientists went into the cavern. They started to survey the situation, especially the plant's activity. Everything had gone according to plan. All of the plant had died, leaving behind a bunch of fibers, sacs of minerals and alloys, and most surprisingly, an energy plant capsule the size of a ping pong ball!
This meant that they had another energy crystal in their hands!
Although it was only the size of ping pong ball, it contained one tenth of the energy supplied by the Hope's crystal reactors!
Then there were pure minerals of many kinds, such as copper, zinc, aluminum…
There was also a great harvest of alloys. Together with the alloys, whose usage was still unknown, they had harvested about one ton of the superconductor alloy!
The time spent on transporting these materials alone was one full day and one full night.
However, the cavern was not large enough to accommodate 120000 people. Therefore, the excavation would have to continue. Calculations estimated another ten excavations. This meant that harvests of this size would be repeated another ten times!
After these ten harvests, the Hope would no longer need to worry about its stock of metals, energy crystals, and plant fibers. Other resources, like fertilizers and chemicals, could be transmuted from these, so that meant that the Hope wouldn't need to worry about those anymore either.
The only exception was the radioactive ores and that happened to be the Hope's most urgent necessity. But in a forming solar system, there was bound to be loads of radioactive substances, so it didn't pose much of a worry. With time, the Hope would also have more than enough stores of radioactive supplies.
This had brought a fresh wave of hope to every man on the Hope. Their initial consternation regarding this solar system was immediately wiped out. This system was, in fact, a paradise!
During the second scheduled harvest, a few specialists were looking through the recent computer records on the system's new sun. Suddenly, one of them said, "Hey, come over here and look. There was a spike in the sun's radioactive scale yesterday."
The other specialist replied, without raising his head, "Was it a short fluctuation before everything returned to normal?"
"Yes, you're right," said the surprised specialist.
"Then it's probably fine," offered another person at the end of the room, "That has been happening since two months ago. Our observations showed that the sun has remained overall stable. We've reported this to the Academy, and their personnel reached the same conclusion after their own analysis. Since every other reading on this sun has remained relatively stable, this was probably a misreading by the device or a result of asteroids colliding with the sun.
"In any case, record it down and report it to the Academy, but most probably they'll tell us that it's nothing again."
With that dismissal, everyone went back to work…
Far away from the Hope, the sun burned quietly, spreading its warm embrace throughout the solar system…