Kirk turned to face his Vulcan science officer. "What have you found on scan, Spock?"
"The planet appears to be comparatively unremarkable, Captain. A placid F0 primary; the planet itself has a few desert areas; a large proportion of vegetated areas, ranging from rain forests to tundra, and small polar ice caps. Mass is about 0.978 of Earth; there is a slightly higher partial pressure of oxygen, around twenty-three point seven percent, the majority of the remainder being nitrogen with traces of carbon dioxide and a few inert gases." He looked up from the console. "There are none of the volatile organics or carbon compounds that are generally associated with a civilization in the pre-interstellar stages. It appears that the planet is devoid of intelligent life forms."
"Very well, Spock. Protocol requires that we make a surface inspection of somewhere in the proposed area of the initial colonization. See if you can find a reasonably representative place to check, and you, Bones and I can beam down." Kirk turned to his chief of Engineering. "Scotty, you have the conn."
Spock lifted his tricorder, then one eyebrow. "Fascinating."
"What, Spock? Find a green-blooded monkey?" McCoy grinned lopsidedly as he gibed at his friend.
"No, Doctor." As usual, the Vulcan either ignored or failed to catch the intended humor. "There appears to be a large, manufactured object less than a kilometer away; given its dimensions, I suspect that it is probably a city. It is large enough that it should have registered on the sensor scan from orbit." He looked up from the tricorder. "Quite remarkable."
"Thats the kind of thing that were supposed to check out, Spock." Kirk turned to face his companion. "Which direction is it?"
Spock pointed. "It is approximately eight tenths of a kilometer that direction."
"Take the lead, then. Bones, try to keep up, will you?"
Without comment, the Vulcan began leading the way, his tricorder in hand, Kirk and McCoy following. Before long, a large, opaque dome welled up before them.
"Whatever else it is, its clearly constructed by an intelligent species." McCoys voice was tinged with awe. "That domes got to be a kilometer and a half tall. How in space could the ships sensors miss something that huge? How far is it to the other side?"
"It appears to be two point two one kilometers in diameter, Doctor. I conjecture that whoever built it has equipped it with some system to conceal its presence from orbital scanning." He studied his tricorder, then looked up again. "The civilization that built this was considerably further advanced than the Federation. It appears that the dome is made of modified neutronium; it is predominantly neutrons, but is alloyed with significant numbers of other, electrically neutral baryons and mesons. I would not have thought that such an object was possible."
"Sufficiently advanced technologies often appear to achieve the impossible to those of lesser technical skills, Spock." Kirk shrugged. "I suppose your tricorder would look like magic to a scientist of, say, Earths sixteenth or seventeenth century."
"Indeed, Captain." The Vulcan continued to study his tricorder readout, clearly not at all moved by the Humans comment.
"Whatever is inside that dome must be worth knowing about, Spock. Finding any entrance to it?" McCoy made as if to look over the Vulcans shoulder.
"I believe so, not far from here." Spock started to move forward.
"Hold on, Spock." Kirk flipped his communicator open. "Kirk to Enterprise."
"Scott here, Captain."
"Spocks detected what appears to be a well-concealed, domed city."
"Shall I have a security team standing by?" asked the chief engineer.
"A prudent suggestion," agreed Spock.
"Definitely, Mister Scott, but there's no sign of danger. Were going to see if we can find our way in and explore it. Ill contact again from inside the structure. Kirk out." He flipped his communicator shut, restoring it to his belt. "Lead on."
The three Starfleet officers made their way toward the dome. There was no question that it was made of an unfamiliar substance; its surface was iridescent and slightly reflective, giving the impression of immense depth. Spock led the troupe to the perimeter of the dome, then around it, clockwise. Kirk reached out to touch the material. It was cool and smooth, producing a strange, almost tingling sensation on his fingertips, but without showing any sign of his having contacted it. So fascinated was he by the surface of the dome that he almost bumped into McCoy when Spock stopped.
"Whats up, Spock?"
"We are standing near the entrance, Captain. It appears to be two point two four meters under the surface of the soil. Given the depth of its burial, I conjecture that the city has not had any beings entering via this portal for several centuries, perhaps more than a millennium. That leads me to conjecture that the structure has been abandoned, and..." The Vulcans discourse was suddenly interrupted by the soil on which he stood starting to undulate. Stepping back to a motionless area, he watched as a small domed cylinder forced its way out of the ground, opening to offer entrance. "It seems that the structure may not have been abandoned after all."
"Whoever is in there appears to want to meet us, Jim." The physician eyed the portal suspiciously. "The question is whether or not we want to meet them. Something doesnt smell right to me. Theyre hiding themselves from us when were in orbit around the planet, but suddenly, once were near the city, theyre rolling out the welcome mat, which has to burrow through a millenniums collection of dust and dirt. It just doesnt add up."
"Relax, Bones." Kirk eyed the portal. "Its not like we should expect to understand them, yet. We havent even met them. Come on." The captain made his way into the entrance, to be greeted by brilliant bluish lights suddenly illuminating the passageway. Obediently the physician and the science officer followed along. Silently, the threesome made their way down the corridor and into the domed area, Spock with his eyes riveted on his tricorder. Before them was an almost incredible vista. Buildings loomed over them, some appearing to reach all the way to the dome overhead, none of which appeared to have any windows. Between the buildings were plazas and porticoes, dotted with what appeared to be statues, and with fountains that still spouted water. The only thing needed to give the area an inhabited feel were living beings.
Spock looked up from his tricorder. "I do not detect any signs of life, Captain. However, the neutronium of the buildings could easily block such signs from my tricorder. I would recommend that an attempt be made to enter one or more of the buildings."
"It appears that the doorway to that one is open, Jim." McCoy pointed to one of the larger buildings near them. "Either that, or it has the weirdest colonnade that I ever saw."
Deciding that action was more appropriate than conversation, Kirk made his way to the doorway, finding that it was an open arch leading into a large room. He craned his neck slightly. "Well, either the inhabitants were considerably taller than we are, or they liked high, arched ceilings and doors. That lintel has to be every bit of three and a half meters off the ground."
"Three point six two meters, Captain." Spock followed the captain into the room. Like the outside, the inside of the building was devoid of visible ornamentation other than the occasional statue.
Retrieving his communicator from his belt, Kirk flipped it open. "Kirk to Enterprise. Scotty, can you hear me?"
"Aye, Captain, but the signals hardly as clear as it should be." The Scotsmans voice was obscured by static. "Id guess you were in the building, then. Weve been following you with the scanner, but youve disappeared off it. I was about to have the security team beam down."
"Hold off on that, Scotty. But youre correct; weve entered the city. Youll have to track us with the communicator."
"For all the good itll do, Captain, well do it. If the sensors cant find you, I dont see how well lock on you with the transporter. Perhaps twould be best if you got out now, Captain."
"Ill take that advice into consideration, Mister Scott. Kirk out." He looked around himself. Knowing that the Enterprise would be unable to use the transporter to pluck them out of a difficult situation made him uneasy.
Before he could voice his feelings, McCoys voice filled the vaulted chamber, echoing eerily. "Im with Scotty, Jim. Lets get out of here. I cant tell you why, but this place gives me the creeps." The physician shook his head, as if to dispel the unpleasant sensation. "Almost feel like Im being watched by someone. As dead as this city seems to be, I dont like the feeling at all."
"That will not be possible, Doctor." The voice was Spocks. "It would appear that the door has closed behind us."
Captain and physician turned to look back to where they had entered. As the Vulcan had said, the entrance had clearly closed while their backs had been turned.
"Wonderful." Kirk turned to face his Vulcan companion. "Is there any evidence of circuitry of any sort, or any mechanism that operates the door?"
Spock studied his tricorder intently for several moments. "There is nothing visible on the tricorder except the neutronium. I hypothesize that the doping of the neutronium may represent a form of circuitry that may control actions of the neutronium itself." He looked up. "If true, it represents a technology not yet even imagined in the Federation. Perhaps moving toward the area of the wall through which we entered will trigger the mechanism and allow us to exit."
"Lead the way, Spock." As he spoke, McCoy bowed low, sweeping one arm toward the door.
With the Vulcan in the lead, the threesome made their way toward the wall at the point that the tricorder indicated was the one through which they came. Nothing happened. Kirk moved to one side, waving his hand against the wall, hoping to get a response. Following the captains lead, Spock did the same. The wall adamantly ignored them.
"Im open to suggestions." Kirk looked at the others. "Any chance that there might be doors in other rooms? Or other doors in this room?"
"Judging from the external appearance of the building, I conjecture that other rooms may have exits; there were numerous doors visible when we entered."
"Looking at the height of the door jamb, Jim, maybe we just didnt reach high enough to trigger the mechanism."
The Vulcan studied his tricorder for a moment or two. "Although your hypothesis is uncharacteristically logical, Doctor, it appears to be improbable. Based on the markings on the wall, it would appear that the beings who built this city were approximately the size of the statues near the walls."
"Marks on the wall?" McCoy raised an eyebrow. "I dont see anything of the sort."
"Naturally not, Doctor. They are only visible in the ultraviolet spectrum, which neither you nor I can see. Using the emission spectrum of the lights here as a guide, I adjusted the tricorder to produce a false color image of the walls, transposing the reflection in the ultraviolet spectrum to one we could see." Spock turned the tricorder to where the captain and the physician could see it. "As you can see, there is what appears to be writing and signage at approximately one and one half meters above the floor. Since most sentient species have their visual organs at, or near, the top of their bodies, that would suggest that the beings were slightly over one and one half meters tall, as are the statues." He pointed to an area on either side of an arch-like marking on the wall, visible on the tricorders small screen. "These areas would likely be the spots where actuation of the door would be expected. The Captain and I both were in contact with those areas."
His eyes narrowing slightly, Kirk studied the tricorders readout. "Maybe its necessary to hit them simultaneously, Spock. I doubt that we did that. Its worth a try, anyhow."
"Your logic is impeccable, Captain." Spock moved back to the door area, his tricorder in one hand, the other ready to move toward the spot on the wall. "If you would position yourself, Captain?"
Silently Kirk moved to where his companion directed him. "When you give the signal, Spock."
The Vulcan nodded. Kirk and Spock swept their hands over the areas, being rewarded by seeing a portal open. Swiftly, they moved out, only to see the door close before McCoy could exit. Kirk pulled a wry face. "Trust McCoy to get left behind. Do you see similar markings on the outside of the door, Spock?"
"Yes, Captain. I conjecture the same action will get us back into the room. If you would take your position just here?" Spock pointed to an area of the wall. Kirk moved to position and on Spocks signal, sweeping his hand across the indicated area. Obediently, the area of the wall opened, allowing the two back in. McCoy was nowhere in sight.
"Okay, Bones, come out, come out wherever you are." Kirks voice contained a tinge of annoyance. "Youve made your point and its not funny."
"Captain, Doctor McCoy fails to register on my tricorder."
"He cant have disappeared, Spock. He has to be somewhere."
The Vulcan nodded patiently. "I concur, Captain, but that does not change the reality of his failing to register on my tricorder." He looked at Kirk. "I conjecture that the neutronium alloy, so to speak, would block the visibility of anything outside this room."
Frustrated, Kirk pulled a long face. "Wonderful." He glared at the walls for a moment while trying futilely to raise the doctor on his communicator. After a moment, he gave up. Suddenly, he saw something noteworthy. "Spock, I can just make out a faint shape here that looks as if it might be a door with the opening patches on either side. What do you see on your tricorder?"
"You appear to be correct, Captain. I did not realize that your vision was able to see electromagnetic radiation of that high of an energy."
"I can just barely make it out, to be honest; if I can, Bones probably could, too." Kirk marched up to the door. "Im betting that I can trigger both patches and open the door by myself. Lets see." Staring just to the side of the door, Kirk waved his hands across where he thought the sensor patches were. Nothing happened. He waved his hands again, this time with his chest almost touching the wall, to be rewarded by the door opening. "Cmon, Spock, lets see if we can find McCoy." Without giving his companion time to catch up, the Human strode confidently through the door. He turned, to see it shutting between himself and Spock. With a whispered epithet, Kirk stared at the wall, looking for the patches. The task took a moment or two, followed by a false attempt at opening the door. By the time that the captain had returned to the room he had left, the Vulcan, too, had disappeared.
"Spock! Spock! Can you hear me?" Kirk got no answer. He flipped his communicator open. "Kirk to Spock, Kirk to McCoy. Come in!"
All he got in response was Scottys brogue. "I hate to be the bearer of bad news, Captain, but both of their communicators have disappeared, and Im assuming theyve disappeared with them. Id hate to advise abandonin a comrade, but Im thinking this would be a good time for you to get back to the ship and send down the security team. I" There was an instant of silence. "Captain, weve a wee spot of bother. Weve a ship incoming, of unfamiliar make."
"Deal with it, Scotty. Ill be all right. Kirk out." He flipped the communicator closed.
"Your friend will not be able to deal with it as you requested."
Kirk whirled toward the place from which he thought he had heard the voice. "Who said that?"
One of the statues lifted off the ground, floating toward him. "I did."
"Where are my friends?" The captains voice had a harsh edge to it as he spoke.
"Most of them are in orbit around this planet. The two here on the surface with you are beyond your help." The machines voice was level to the point of being almost hypnotic. "You will come with me."
Kirk backed off, pulling his phaser. "I dont think so, unless you are taking me to my companions. All I want is to take them and leave."
"Your weapon is of no use. Come with me." The statue, now revealed to be an automaton, floated toward Kirk. As it drew closer, Kirk thumbed the contact on his phaser. Nothing happened. Inexorably, the automaton came closer. "You now see that your weapon is of no use. You do not have the power to resist, so please come with me. I do not wish to take you by force. If I must, I will."
The Human moved away from the approaching figure. "I do not wish taken at all."
"Your wishes are of no interest. Come, or be taken. You must be examined."
"No." Kirk backed up yet further, bumping into something; he suddenly found himself trapped in the arms of another automaton. The first one moved forward, extending one arm, touching him on the forehead, rendering him unconscious.
Montgomery Scott turned from the main viewer, which displayed the huge, essentially black block that was approaching the Enterprise to the communications station. "Uhura, see if you can raise yon ship."
"Im getting no answer." The communications officer turned. "In fact, no response at all."
"Shields up, Mister Sulu. Mister Chekov, prepare for defensive action." Scott turned to the science console. "Mister Hadley, what can you tell me about the approaching object?"
"Virtually nothing, sir. It appears to be an essentially solid block of neutronium, integrated with a few other baryons and mesons." Hadley frowned. "I dont think weve got a thing that would touch it. How it holds together, I havent a clue. It should be impossible, given our understanding of science."
Scott turned to the helm. "Mister Sulu, evasive action."
"Aye, sir." Silently, the Asian began tapping the console, his frustration levels increasing. "Im getting no response from the helm."
Scott nodded. "It figures. All we can do is hope that whatever this is, its peaceable. My guess is that the shields wont even slow it."
"Shields breached, sir." Chekov looked up. "Awaiting orders."
"Waitin seems t be all we can do, Mister Chekov. That, and hope tis nothing more than a sensor drone." Scott turned to face the mainviewer. "And thats hardly to my tastes."
Slowly, the black block moved toward the ship until it touched the Enterprises hull. As it did, the lights went out in the bridge, but no one noticed: all had dropped into unconsciousness.
Kirk slowly became aware of lying on a soft surface. From somewhere nearby, he heard a familiar voice. "Hes waking up, Spock."
"Captain, if you can hear me, please sit up."
A smile creased Kirks face at the sound of his friends voices. He sat up carefully. "How long have I been out?"
"Im not sure, Jim. Youve been with us for about an hour, sleeping peacefully. I figure our captors will be in shortly."
"What happened to you two?"
"The same thing that I conjecture happened to you, Captain." As always, Spocks voice was controlled. "We were captured by the automatons and taken elsewhere. It is my belief that we have been subjected to a very high resolution scan. Given the advanced status of the technology here, it is possible that they may have been able to extract what we know."
"Its theoretically possible, Jimsomething akin to a duotronic version of the Vulcan mind meld." McCoy was clearly not pleased by the thought. "Or whatever their equivalent to electronic or duotronic circuitry may be. Maybe its neutronotronic or something?" He lifted his mediscanner, playing the sensor over his friend. "At least they didnt harm you, Jim."
"And they left you your mediscanner." Kirk checked; his phaser and communicator were still on his belt. "Spock, have they taken your phaser?"
"No, Captain." The Vulcan stood, feet at shoulder width, his hands clasped behind himself. "It appears that they have taken nothing. I conjecture that it is their opinion that our technology is neither a threat to them nor of any particular interest."
Kirk opened his mouth to answer, but was not given the opportunity. An area of one wall opened, one of the automata entering. Spock and McCoy plied their scanners as it approached.
"Do not waste your time with your sensor scans. They will register nothing of use." The automaton floated across the floor toward them. "I will now escort you out of the city. You will return to your ship. It has been thoroughly studied, but is unharmed."
"I think were owed an explanation of what happened." Kirk stood, taking a step toward the mechanism that had just addressed them. "Whether were owed one or not, I want one."
"You have been examined. No harm has been done to you. Your ship has been examined. No harm has been done to the ship or its contents. You will be reunited with your companions and allowed to leave. Returning would be unwise; you will not be welcome. Do you need more explanation than that?"
"Yes, I do. Who are you, and what gives you the right to kidnap us to examine us?" There was no question that Kirk was totally dissatisfied with the answer. "What do you think you are doing?"
"We are the Masters servants. Of rights, we know nothing. We do as we have been instructed by the Masters. We wait for the Masters to return."
Realizing that he was probably wasting the effort, Kirk glared at the automaton. "So who are these Masters, and where did they go?"
There was a pause, presumably as the machine pondered the question. "The Masters are the ones that made us. I cannot tell you where they went, because you do not have the words."
"Can you teach us the words?" The voice was Spocks. "We would willingly learn." The automaton turned, presumably to face the Vulcan, though there were no visible surface markings to indicate the presence of a front or back on the machine.
"It is not possible." The automatons voice had an air of finality.
"Why?" McCoys head jutted forward. "Arent we good enough to get a straight answer?"
"It is not permitted. We do not fully know where the Masters went. They may return. Until they do, or until we are instructed otherwise, we will maintain the cities and await their return."
Kirk decided to take control of the conversation again. "While youre waiting, how about teaching us a thing or two about the technology around here? Seems to me that we could learn a lot from you."
"You cannot learn anything from us."
"Then let us study your citys technology and libraries." As Kirk pressed the point, he moved further forward.
"You cannot study the city or its library. You are too young; you must learn for yourselves. In developing the technologies by yourselves, step by step, growing in your knowledge of the underlying science, as the Masters did, you will be forced to mature, perhaps enough to use it wisely as you go along. You must go and develop on your own." The automaton turned, moving toward the door. "You will follow me."
Realizing that there was no choice, the threesome obeyed. Within moments, they were standing on the transporter deck. McCoy looked over at Kirk. "Well, I guess the Prime Directive points both ways, doesnt it, Jim?"
Kirk shrugged. "How often have we invoked the Prime Directive in contacts with other cultures, Bones? It just seems odd to think of it applying to me."
"Perhaps, Captain," Spock offered, "it would be easier if you thought of it as being the Directive Prime."
The doctor grinned broadly. "Spock, I think we might rehabilitate you yet. Thats the closest youve ever come to making a good joke."
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