Star Trek: The Next Generation

Focal Point

Chapter I

Kiros was a small M-class planet orbiting a small unexceptional star on the Romulan side of the Neutral Zone. Inhabited by a population of humanoid beings, similar in genetic stock to humanity, it was unexceptional, dull almost.

Except when close to, mused Subcommander Serisa, as she stared from the small porthole that was currently facing towards the sunrise portion of Kiros. Golden light flickered along the horizon of the planet, signalling imminent dawn, and from her privileged vantage point, Serisa could see the sunlight racing across the ocean towards the darkened main continent. It was like watching fire creep across a burning page, she thought quietly, marvelling in such a simple yet beautiful event.

The Romulan science ship Talkaris was assigned to an eight month period of observation of the planet Kiros. It was expected that the planet would begin its first space flight experiments very soon, and the Romulan science council was anxious to observe first-hand the results of those experiments. Serisa, an anthropologist, had volunteered for the command of the assignment, and it was at times like this that she felt she had received her reward.

She glanced across at her close friend, Mallara, a geologist, who was currently glowering at a read-out on her screen. 'Problem?'

Mallara shook her head, not looking at her friend. 'Just annoyed at not being able to get down there and look at these results first-hand.'

Serisa nodded understandingly, turning her eyes to the screen itself. It was displaying a scan of a large desert on the second continent. 'What's so interesting?'

'There's a huge deposit of metal buried beneath the sand in the centre of this desert. It's a material I've never seen before, and I'm willing to bet that it's unique. Look at these readings.'

'I'm not a geologist,' Serisa reminded her, but she stepped across the small bridge and leaned over Mallara's shoulder, looking intently at what was displayed.

A huge desert area covered the second continent, one that extended from coast to coast and made the area uninhabited. But deeper scans that were made nearly four hours ago had showed up a huge black mass buried beneath the sand. Serisa stared at it for a long moment, occasionally flicking her gaze to the read-outs, her earlier flippancy replaced by genuine scientific interest. 'Do we know how big this thing is?'

Mallara shook her head, annoyed. 'The scans weren't aimed specifically at the object in question, so I only managed to get a partial picture of it, and that only when I went looking.'

Serisa nodded to herself, and glanced at the ship's position. 'We'll be going over the site again in two hours,' she said. 'We can devote scanner time to it if you like.'

Mallara looked away from the screen for the first time and smiled at her friend. 'Thank you.'

Far below the cloaked Talkaris, directly over the point of interest, two Kirosians, both geologists, stood on the burning desert sands and dug laboriously.

Kirosian technology was far below that of the advanced spacefaring civilisation that quietly observed them, but they used what was their most advanced technology to sift away the material of their planet to reveal the hidden secrets within.

A small probe sank slowly into the sand, disappearing from sight, and Beral Dalnar, the older of the two, wiped his faintly ridged brow with his hand and directed a solemn glance at his brother, Elgrad Dalnar. 'Probe set.'

Elgrad nodded and activated a small unit attached to the winch unit attached to the probe. 'It's burrowing down at full speed. No obstructions reported.' He smiled at his brother. 'Good job as well.'

Beral forced back a smile in return. They had spent a frustrating day repairing the sensitive probe after it had been damaged somehow during the long flight from their camp thirty miles away. Only now, with the sun about to set in a couple of hours, did they finally manage to conduct their first experiments.

Elgrad stared at the horizon, working out in his mind the time they had left before the sun dipped below the curve of Kiros. 'I think we'll only have time for once, Beral,' he said quietly. 'Unless you want me to fly in the dark.'

'We should have fitted the helicopter with lights,' remarked Beral.

'We can get the technicians back at base to do it for us,' replied his brother.

At that moment, any further conversation was stopped by a series of loud bleeps from the winch unit. Frowning, Elgrad checked the readings. Beral saw his brother's face suddenly go slack with shock. 'Beral!'

His brother moved to his side, and read the results being displayed on the screen. The probe only sent back numbers, but that information told him that they had found something totally unexpected below the sand. 'What is it?'

'The probe seems to have collided with a huge, solid mass of metal below the surface,' said Elgrad, struggling to recover his scientific detachment. 'It's buried about thirty metres down.'

'Any idea of what the metal is?'

'The probe doesn't seem to be able to identify it,' replied Elgrad.

'Take a sample and withdraw the probe. We'll take it to base camp and come back in the morning,' decided Beral immediately. He smiled excitedly at his brother. 'This was worth waiting all day for, wasn't it?'

Elgrad laughed and nodded. He turned his attention to the probe again as the winch hummed and began to pull the probe and its sample to the surface.

'Coming into scanner range,' reported the pilot, a young man by the name of Jolmar.

'Activating scanners,' acknowledged Serisa. She glanced at Mallara. 'It's all yours.'

'Thank you,' replied her friend. 'Beginning sensor sweep.'

The probing beams swept down through the atmosphere, undetectable, past the two Kirosians, and into the sands of the desert. Almost immediately, they made contact with the mass, and began mapping its structure.

Mallara waited impatiently for the first results to come in, and as they did so, she jumped on them and began analysing them. After a moment, she faced Serisa. 'Our initial scans confirm that the metal is an unknown alloy.'

'Carry on,' said Serisa unnecessarily, as Mallara had already turned back to the screens.

The next couple of minutes were spent in silent contemplation of the stars, as Serisa waited patiently for the scans to be completed. Eventually, Mallara turned to face her friend, her face worried. 'Serisa, this isn't right.'

Serisa frowned. 'How do you mean?'

Mallara glanced at Jolmar, and lowered her voice slightly. 'If I didn't know better, I'd swear that thing down there was artificial.'

Serisa scowled at Mallara, annoyed by the cloak and dagger acting. 'Come out with it, Mallara,' she said, her voice irritated.

Mallara pointed at the screen. 'What we are looking at,' she said, her voice not increasing in volume, 'is a perfect circle of metal, approximately fifteen miles in diameter. Surface mapping indicates that it is carved with decorations and symbols that make no sense to the scanners, but the computer agrees that the symbols all lead, in a spiral, to a central point.'

Serisa felt, for some unknown reason, a chill run down her spine. She dismissed the thought to the back of her mind, and said, 'Any indications as to its purpose or even the reason it was buried?'

Mallara shook her head. 'I want to continue making scans, and I want all scanners running a full probe of its structure.'

Serisa nodded. 'You've got them.' As Mallara turned to her console, Serisa activated the intercom. 'This is Subcommander Serisa. All scanners are now linked to the bridge consoles, scanning the planet's surface. I apologise for the disruption to your experiments, but we believe that we have made a major discovery on Kiros. We will keep you informed. Serisa out.'

Scanner beams are undetectable, unless your technology is equipped to do such a thing. Scanner beams probing the object below the sands of Kiros had been noted and analysed long before, and the observers were being observed in return.

A decision was taken. It was time to end that observation.

Beral put the last piece of equipment gently into the helicopter, and jumped into the cockpit beside his brother, who had already warmed up the motors of the craft. He glanced at Beral. 'Ready to go?'

Beral nodded, but his ears picked up something. 'Did you hear that?'

Elgrad listened, and nodded. 'Like a low rumbling noise?'

At Beral's nod, Elgrad shrugged. 'Thunder,' he said dismissively.

Beral pointed mutely at the clear blue sky, and Elgrad was forced to concede the point. As they silently listened for a moment, the rumbling seemed to get louder. Elgrad said, slowly, 'It's getting louder, but not closer. I think it might be coming from around here –'

As he said that, Beral turned his gaze downward, at the sand that was now vibrating gently. As the rumbling slowly increased from a growl to a quiet roar, Beral seemed to see the sand become more and more agitated. 'Take us up,' he said quietly.

Elgrad had already come to the same conclusion, and he fired up the engine, and lifted the craft from the ground.

'Hell,' whispered Mallara. Serisa heard her, and stepped over.

'What's the problem?'

'I'm reading a power build-up from the object,' said Mallara, her voice hushed. 'I don't know what to make of it.'

Serisa's nerves tightened, but she refused to panic. She turned to Jolmar. 'Get Vrellis up here now,' she said.

Jolmar nodded, and put the call through. A few moments later, Vrellis, a physicist, came through the door, his normally lofty countenance replaced by one of concern. 'You called me?'

Serisa nodded, and motioned for him to take Mallara's place. As he did so, she said, 'We've been reading an enormous power surge from Kiros' surface.'

Vrellis took one look at the figures, and his eyes widened in horror. 'I've never seen a power surge this big in my life.'

Serisa frowned. 'It couldn't be produced by the Kirosians?'

'No chance,' said Vrellis. 'Even we don't have the capability to do something like this.' He looked at Mallara. 'What's been going on up here?'

Beral and Elgrad were now very worried. Far below the hovering helicopter, the sand was moving visibly, shaking from side to side as if placed in a sieve. All of a sudden, an enormous crack of power rang through the air, and a series of gigantic fissures appeared in the desert sands.

Vast tracts of sand ran into the fissures, but that was not what transfixed Beral's and Elgrad's attentions. For from the sand, six immense black pylons of metal lifted up, unfolding themselves slowly, with an undefinable air of menace.

It was obvious that the pylons had lain flat over a central point, and were like a giant door, opening and shutting under command. Each pylon was a hundred metres in length, narrowing from the bottom up to a blunt top that towered past the tiny helicopter, which now hovered over this central point.

Suddenly, the pylons stopped, all perfectly vertical, pointing like a giant hand to the sky. Inside that hand, a vast bowl-like depression filled with sand had formed, nearly a full mile in diameter.

Beral and Elgrad were too stunned by what they saw below them to do anything except watch in terror.

In the centre of the bowl, a small object forced its way up through the sand. Compared to the rest of the mass, it was tiny, but it was a globe of black metal, which shimmered with suppressed power.

A field of green energy radiated suddenly from the globe, vaporising the sand around it. Within seconds, the sand had vanished, allowing Beral, Elgrad and the watchers on the Talkaris to see a vast field of light green energy, the same colour as that from the globe, pouring towards the centre of that point.

A moment later, a beam of that energy was focussed by the globe, and shot into the air, past the startled Kirosians, who were buffeted as if hit by a solid object.

The beam transfixed the Talkaris, holding the ship within its confines. Jolmar struggled to keep the shaking craft under control, as Serisa stumbled to her command chair. 'Report!' she shouted over the noise.

'A field similar to a tractor beam has captured us and held us in place, Subcommander,' said Vrellis coolly. 'We are not being scanned.'

'Can you break us free?'

Jolmar shook his head. 'No, Subcommander! It's too strong for impulse, and we'll tear apart if we go to warp!'

Serisa never had time for another command.

Below Beral and Elgrad, a crackling ball of white energy formed over the globe of metal. Tendrils of plasma spiralled from the edges of the bowl towards the centre, enlarging the ball of power, until, without warning, it flashed into the sky, directed along the green beam of energy.

Flashing through the helicopter, Beral and Elgrad were vaporised in an instant. They never knew what hit them.

Vrellis spotted the beam an instant before it struck, and shouted, 'Brace -!'

The white ball of fire slammed into the Talkaris, shattering the science ship into flame and debris. As it burned for a brief time before extinguishing itself, the green energy faded.

In the desert, the pylons closed slowly over the depression, leaving no trace of its existence to any outsiders. As sand closed once again over its black hull, the destroyer waited patiently.

It had been found, and risks could not be taken.

Far away from the darkness, a man clutched at a glass convulsively. The water inside sloshed about, as it's holder's hand shook as he raised it to his lips.

It spilled some onto his uniform trousers, and a curse in French escaped his lips. He stood, set the glass down, and brushed ineffectively at the stain.

After a moment, he gave up, and decided to change his trousers quickly. He was on duty in a few minutes. He stepped into the bathroom – and stopped, staring at his reflection in the mirror.

Reaching out, his hand brushed something only he could see – the cheek of a young, dark-haired woman, smiling at him gently, love shining in her eyes.

Tears ran down the cheeks of this man, as he whispered her name over and over again, in a tortured voice that spoke of pain beyond that which should be endured.

A moment later, her face faded, replaced by his own. He stared, lost for a moment, hand still outstretched. Fury crossed his face, and his hand curled to become a fist, and, almost nonchalantly, he drove his fist into the mirror, shattering it.

As he stared for a moment at the spiderweb of cracks that spread along the glass surface, and then turned his attention to his bleeding fist, he remembered the face again, and Jean-Luc Picard turned, his face weary with shock, tears still trickling from his eyes, and slumped to the floor, whispering a single name over and over.