Star Trek The Next Generation: Dead Planet
I've often wondered what it would be like if andriods could be created that acted human yet were fully automated and purely mechanical. Star Trek has never fully explored the subject because androids such as Data are fully conscious and aware of their own existence making them alive. But a machine that could walk and talk, and yet still only a simple robot, would be a fascinating subject to explore.
For the main character of this story I've chosen a new recruit who's still a little unsure of himself and nervous with this being his first away mission. Dr Beverly Crusher, Data and Worf join him as they search what they believe to be an uninhabited world in search of dilithiam.
The story begins just as they beam down into a cave.
The first thing I noticed the instant we beamed down was the frigid stale air in the cave while a distant wind echoed around us. The boiling desert sun glared down from above with the cave offering no protection against its heat. It was a strange cave, completely unnatural in shape, with a large opening at the top exposing the inside to the elements and feeding the grass underfoot with sunlight.
Dr Crusher stood beside a small pool of water while Data, standing beside her, opened up his tricorder and scanned the water's contents. Worf calmly walked over to one of the cave entrances and stood as if on guard.
"This pool contains large crystals of dilithiam," Data said as he read his tricorder, "While the water itself is saturated with microscopic dilithiam particles. This is not a natural pool. In fact this entire cave appears to have been constucted to manufacture the process of growing dilithiam."
"But growing dilithiam crystals isn't possible," I said as I walked over to join him and Dr Crusher.
"It's certainly possible under the right conditions," Dr Crusher said as she peered upwards and shielded her eyes from the sun.
Data continued using his tricorder and walked over to Worf.
The dried grass growing all around appeared to sparkle in the bright light, possibly due to it absorbing some of the dilithiam.
"I am detecting no humanoid life signs," Data said, "But there are many cave-like structures in the vicinity such as the one we currently occupy. This planet was once inhabited but appears to have been abandoned."
"But why would they abandon a planet that's so rich in dilithiam?" I said knowing full well that none of us knew the answer.
"Are you detecting any bio remains?" Dr Crusher asked Data, "Because if dilithiam got into the water table then anyone drinking it would develop health problems over the long term."
"Hmm," Data said, "Any human remains would have decomposed in the heat. This planet appears to have been deserted for millenia."
Everyone was startled and looked toward Wolf as he removed his phasor.
"We are being watched," he said.
We all rushed over to join him and looked out of the cave entrance and down a long slope of desert sand.
"There is someone hiding under the sand," he said, "Peering at us."
Data waved his tricorder and continued his scan.
"I am not detecting any life form," he said, "But there is very faint electrical activity."
Carefully we all followed Worf out of the cave and toward the object that was burried in the sand. Worf had very good eyesight because it wasn't until we got closer to the object that I could make out its human features. The top of its head and part of its arm were exposed with the rest of its body remaining buried. At first I thought it was a dead body but didn't understand why the tricorder hadn't detected it.
Data crouched down beside it and began brushing the sand away using his hands.
"It is an android," he said.
We all looked at one another.
It took no more than a few moments before Data had brushed away the fine loose sand from the upper part of the android's torsal. It was a very simple looking android indeed made of tin with painted on green clothing and painted pale skin. It was laying face down. Its body was shaped to resemble a human female but its head appeared too large in relation to its body giving it a doll-like shape.
"Are you sure it's an android?" Worf said, "It looks more like a mannequin."
"It contains a very simple electronic brain and mechanical body," Data replied while continuing his scan with the tricorder, "It is not sentient but to all intents and purposes it is an android."
"Do you think we can, erm, activate it?" I asked, "We can ask it what happened."
"I cannot see why not," Data replied, "Its power cell is still active."
Worf took a few steps back and held his phasor firmly as if expecting something bad to happen.
"Are you sure this is safe?" Dr Crusher said, "It's not going to suddenly attack us is it?"
"This android was not designed for malace," Data replied, "I am not detecting any hidden weaponry, and its physical strength is far weaker than the average human."
"Even so," Worf said, "We'd better be on our guard."
Data closed his tricorder and brushed some more loose sand away from the android's shoulders. There was a switch on the back of its neck, a simple on/off switch that made me think that the android may just have been an oversized toy. The humming sound of a fan could be heard the very moment Data switched the andriod on, followed by a metallic sound as if the robot was attempting to move.
I stood back expecting the android to jump to its feet as its body twiched against the sandy ground. It was a few moments before it sat itself up and looked at us through its creepy looking painted on eyes. The metal eyelids with oversized eyelashes made a clinking sound as it blinked. If it could see us it surely wasn't through its fake eyes but rather a hidden electronic eye somewhere hidden upon its face.
"Hello," Data said to the android, "My name is Data and these are my friends. What is your name?"
It continued to stare at us blankly while blinking its eyes at us once more.
"Are you sure it has vocal ability?" Dr Crusher asked Data.
"There is a rudimentary sound generator inside its mouth," he replied, "However as to its vocabulary range and its level of understanding, that has yet to be relvealed."
Suddenly it climbed to its feet. Written on the left of its breastplate said the words Bot-Orchid while on the right side was a ventiation slot that was filled with loose sand. It blinked yet again then wobbled as it ran down the sandy slope waving its arms frantically. It looked as though it was afraid of us.
"Eeeee yaaaa! Eeee yaaaa! Eaaa yaaa! Hyie!" It screamed out before suddenly stopping and running back towards us.
Worf held his phasor at the ready.
"Performing diagnostic, please wait," said a soft female voice emanating from its body but not from its mouth.
It stared directly at me causing me to have to turn away to avoid eye contact with its frightening eyes. There was something about a mechanical doll that I found disturbing.
"Performing diagnostic, please wait," it repeated.
I noticed its hair was lopsided as well as clumped with sand. It was clearly a wig and looked as though it would soon fall off. Data started at the android with fascination.
"Some of my operations are damaged due to a battery leak," it said verbally through its mouth, "And my server motor in my left elbow has lost cohesion. I require time with the repair gadget."
"What repair gadget?" Worf asked bluntly.
"You are not native," the android responded, "The repair gadget lives at the far side of the desert and administers repairs and general maintenance."
Dr Crusher took a few steps closer to the android.
"You're right we're not native to this planet," she said, "We have traveled a long way in search of dilithiam deposits which this planet has aplenty. Do we have your..."
Dr Crusher stopped mid-sentence as if uncertain of how to phrase her question. She glanced toward Data then back to the android.
"Do we have your permission to extract some of the crystals?" Dr Crusher asked.
The android remained silent.
"Do we even need to ask?" I said, "It's not like it has the intelligence or authority to grant such a request."
The android stared at me with a blank look then blinked its eyes.
"I am not an it, I am a she, and my name is Orchid," she said.
"We apologise," Worf said on my behalf, "We meant no disrespect."
It clearly wasn't honourable to take things without permission. The android tilted its head to one side. I couldn't tell if it was thinking or was broken.
"I accept your apology," she said, "And you may take all the dilithiam you require, but do not consume the water for it is contaminated."
While Dr Crusher was in the middle of thanking her the android quickly ran up the sandy slope and into the cave heading for the pool of water. We all followed wondering what she was up to. We found her standing still on the dry grass.
"There used to be flowers," she said, "They have all vanished. I do not know how long I was offline for."
"I estimate somewhere between 1000 and 2000 years," Data said matter-of-factly.
"People were getting sick so they evacuated the planet," the android Orchid said, "You may take the dilithiam but do not consume any of the water."
Dr Crusher nodded her head as her suspicions about the planet's human inhabitants had been confirmed.
Orchid took a few wobbly steps towards Data then stopped suddenly.
"Will you help me search for my friends?" She asked, "There are six of us scattered around the desert and I am sure they will all need repairs."
"Consider it as payment for the dilithiam," Data said.
A metallic plate under Orchid's chin moved giving her the illusion she was smilling. Even though her emotions were simulated I found it strange that she was able to recoginse a happy moment. I wasn't sure even Data detected emotions on that level.
Orchid turned around and ran back out of the cave back to the sandy slope where we found her, then stood still waiting for us to follow.
"This used to be a set of stone steps," she said, "The sand has covered them up. I will have to clean them when priorities allow."
She then started running again further down the slope and out of the shade of the cave wall directly into the hot sunshine.
"Eeeyaa!" She screamed out as if reacting to the heat.
She then stopped once more waiting for us to catch up with her. The sun was only just bearable and it was only the thought that we could beam back to the ship at any time that gave me the strength to put up with the heat. Data had no reaction to the temperature, Wolf appeared to be coping with it while Dr Crusher wiped her brow using her sleave.
"How long is this going to take?" I said to everyone, "Finding all its, um, her friends is likely to take some considerable time."
"Well if it comes to that we could always..." Dr Crusher stopped mid-sentence as Orchid started brushing against the sandy ground.
"Yayee!" She screamed and starting digging with increased vigour.
We all hurried over to her as she scaped her hands against the ground and revealed a similar metal android. This one was in the shape of a male with dark skin. His legs appeared broken with them bending in the wrong direction, but it was possible that these androids had double joints and were capable of beding their legs both ways.
Orchid stopped and stared at it.
"Accessing," she said without moving her lips.
We all stared at her for a few moments while she remained motionless.
"This is Bot-Lotus," she said, "It would be dangerous to activate him. His battery has leaked acid over all his vital circuits, he needs a thorough internal clean by the repair gadget."
"Maybe we should fetch this... repair gadget before searching for your friends in this atrociuos heat," I said.
Orchid turned and looked up at me.
"I agree with your idea," she said, "You possess wisdom."
Within an instant Orchid had jumped to her feet and was running further into the desert towards another series of caves.
"Wait!" Worf yelled out causing her to immedietly slow her stride.
Data took out his tricorder once more and began to scan in Orchid's direction.
"I find it fascinating that such a simple android is capable of understanding to such a complex level," Data said, "Her electronic brain is no more than a few computer chips. Even this tricroder contains more complex circuits than she does."
"Maybe it's because she was programmed to..." I began to say but my sentence was cut short by Worf.
"Over there," he said pointing to some rocks nearby, "There is another of those machines and it appears to be active."
Orchid noticed us walking over to the rocks then joined us only to run ahead once it saw the other android. She stood in front of it and for a moment it looked as though they were staring at each other.
As we got closer it was clear both Orchid and the other android were identical abiet with different eye colour and hair. The name written upon its breastplate read Bot-Rose.
"Accessing," Orchid said in the same manner she had before.
"Is it switched on?" I asked, "I mean is she, erm, awake?"
"No," Orchid replied.
She bagan to circle the other android that was standing bolt upright. There was clearly something amiss and Orchid could sense it too.
"She is stuck," Orchid said, "It takes at least a 23 degree angle to lift our feet but there are rocks in the way. These small rocks prevented her from walking and therefore she could not lay. We cannot go offline whilst upright so she remained standing until her power cell ran dry."
"Can the repair gadget fix her?" I asked.
"Yes," Orchid replied, "Just a simple battery recharge is all that is needed, but it is not fitting to be in a state of non-operation whilst activated."
I wasn't sure what she meant and it was clear that Data, Worf and Dr Crusher didn't understand either.
"I am crying," Orchid said.
Suddenly she lurched towards me, practically manhandling me, holding me tighly against her body. The reflected heat from her metal body felt hot causing me to momentarily panic. Wolf took a step closer ready to prise her off me.
"I am in a state of distress," she said in her usual calm tone of voice, "I need comfort."
Data was fascinated by her reactions and scanned her with his tricorder.
A strange smell wafted up my nose that reminded me of oil mixed with battery acid. Her grip around my body wasn't tight but I wasn't sure if she was willing to let me go.
"My sister Bot-Rose was fully awake while unable to move," she said, "That is horrific. How long would she have been in that state for?"
Data moved the tricorder toward the other android for a moment.
"From the state of degredation in her power cell, I would say she was active for 256 years before she powered down," Data said casually.
I gave Data a stare.
"Um, calm down," I told Orchid, "You yourself said that your sister can be recharged."
I gently squeezed her metal back but it was very likely that she had no feeling through her metal outer shell.
"We need to find the repair gadget," Orchid said, "He is not far. He will come and recharge her and perform repairs on all of us that need it. He is multi-talented."
"Then we should go," Worf said with impatience.
"I need a moment for my tears to stop flowing," Orchid said.
Her painted on eyes contained no moisture whatever. Maybe she was unaware of what her own body looked like and truely believed she was in tears.
She let go of me then turned to her sister who was still standing upright between the rocks.
"We'll come back for you," she said before running back to the caves she was earlier heading for.
We quickly followed.
"Eeeyaa! Eeeyaa!" She screamed out while waving her arms about.
"She is purely a machine?" Worf asked Data.
"Yes," he responded.
"Hmm," Worf gumbled.
It wasn't long before we met up with Orchid at the opening of a large cave. There was a lot of stonework built into the cave walls indicating that it was a mixture of a natural cave and a man-made structure.
Orchid waited for a moment as if expecting something to happen.
Dr Crusher and myself were covered with sweat and it was to our relief that Orchid began walking forward and we all felt the coolness of the air within the cave itself.
"The repair gadget should be here," Orchid said as we ventured even further into the cave and into near darkness.
"Is there a light somewhere?" I asked.
Data started scanning again using his tricorder.
"There are usually burning embers in vases to light the way," Orchid said, "However, today they appear to be extinguished. I do not understand why."
"The repair gadget is human isn't he?" Dr Crusher said.
"He is," Orchid replied, "But he is fully versed in repairing androids as well as other humans."
Worf let out a sigh of frustration.
"He either left with the others or he died millenia ago," Data told Orchid.
Orchid stood ridgid for a while as if deep in thought before speaking.
"I detect this is bad for me and my andriod friends," she said, "May I request your help?"
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