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The Particle Fountain Project was initiated to develop a new mining technology.
The initial design of the particle fountain was to lift 500 kilograms per minute from a planetary surface. At the time the project began, lift capacity was far below this, and by increasing the particle stream density, the lift capacity was boosted by 72%. In order to prevent overloading the field generators, though, the stream overload needed to be distributed evenly throughout the system. It took four months to get the particle flux to its necessary strength.
It took about six years of study and research before the particle fountain was ready for field testing, but the project was plagued with many problems, which raised the question of whether this new technology was more efficient than conventional mining techniques.
In 2369 the USS Enterprise-D visited Tyrus VIIa to monitor the project's progress. Starfleet wanted a feasibility study performed because they wanted to use a particle fountain on Carema III. Captain Picard was asked to evaluate the project and send his findings to Starfleet.
Lieutenant Commander Geordi La Forge was sent to the station to perform the evaluation. On his first visit, there was a problem with the power grid. Shutting down the particle stream would have solved the problem but would have caused a four month delay to the project, so Dr. Farallon used an exocomp to repair the power grid.
Dr. Farallon asked to postpone the particle fountain evaluation report to Starfleet for forty-eight hours. To complete the project within that time frame and boost the efficiency of the particle stream she proposed to use the exocomps. The only risk would be that the project would fall further behind schedule, but Dr. Farallon was willing to take that risk. Lieutenant Commander Data agreed that the exocomps had the potential to advance the project whereupon Dr. Farallon asked Captain Picard if Data could work with her.
On the station, Data performed fourteen separate tests on an exocomp and found its performance to be excellent. When a plasma conduit needed to be repaired, the exocomp did not respond to the commands and burned out his command circuitry. When Enterprise personnel investigated the problem in engineering, it turned out that the exocomp's pathways had increased by 632%. Further investigation by Data revealed that the exocomp burned out its own circuitry and repaired it two hours later. This led Data to believe that the exocomp had a form of self-preservation.
Because there were now only two working exocomps, Commander La Forge added an extra shift and dispatched two extra engineering teams to the station. With the help of the exocomps the project should be finished in time.
At this time Data told Dr. Farallon that she could not use the exocomps because he had reason to believe that they were alive. In a briefing with Captain Picard it was decided to test the exocomps. Although the initial tests proved no self-preservation the final test revealed that the exocomp knew it was a test and therefore finished repairing the simulated plasma failure.
When Captain Picard was on the station, it was clear that full particle stream strength would not be reached within forty-eight hours but it would be close. When suddenly something started a power drain into the main particle impeller and within seconds the internal confinement fields were lost and the particle stream could no longer be contained. This meant that the control room would be flooded with radiation and within one minute field ionization would make communication and transport with the Enterprise impossible. The station needed to be evacuated.
Everyone but Picard and La Forge managed to transport to the Enterprise. Fortunately, La Forge was able to raise a low intensity force field that would protect him and Picard for about twenty minutes. Commander Riker suggested asking the exocomps if they would help, as Data refused to beam the exocomps into the particle matter stream so their detonation would disrupt the stream. The exocomps solved the problem by distorting the particle stream frequency. Unfortunately, one of the exocomps did not survive because it had to stay behind to disrupt the particle stream so the other two could safely be beamed back to the Enterprise.
Due to the failure of the particle impeller, the particle fountain needed to be reconstructed. Dr. Farallon expected that within two years the technology could be recommended to Starfleet. (TNG: "The Quality of Life")