"What kind of godforsaken hole is this?" I asked, as we materialized at the landing site. It was an ugly world, and I had started to get the feeling that this wasn't a training exercise. There had been a tone in the captain's voice, and a fret on Kirk's brow that normally didn't show. They sent up red alerts in my mind and my adrenaline began to flow.
"Tricorders out, phasers up. Thompson and St. John take point..."Kirk issued orders to us with quiet calm. She was good at what she did, and having her on this rock brought a certain security. If there was a tactical situation she was well trained. We were close to the Romulan border, and though there hadn't been even the scent of our neighbors for nearly twenty years, I didn't like the idea of being near them. Suddenly the back yard seemed a little less safe.
I drew out my tricorder and pulled up the meteorological scanning interface and looked onto the most desolate landscape that I had ever seen. The sky was empty, not devoid of objects, but empty like a person's heart after the loss of a parent or a child. It was a sorrowful wound to the eye. Grey and lost. Far in the distance rose up jagged mountains that reached up to the empty heavens. Desiccated fingers that had fallen short of their embrace a billion years ago. They reached around us, surrounding us at nearly a kilometer out.
There was a strange wind chime sound in the air and a foreign scent that reminded me of something that had been left too long in a freezer unit. The air was cold, and it was drier than bone. A frozen empty world that I hoped never to see again.
"What is this place?" I asked, trying to find the source of the wind chimes.
"Charon Four?" Tien replied sounding unsure. As he spoke the words I riffled through my mind to recall that name. It had been more than a navigational point that I had glanced at recently.
Kirk looked at the young man. She had the best poker face in the fleet, and even the highest admiral would be hard stricken to call her bluff.
"It's the only possible place that would be of any interest within range of our original position," Tien replied to Kirk.
She stared at him for a moment more and then let a small grimace crack on her cheek.
"It is indeed, Mr. Tien." She sounded impressed.
At that moment I realized why I had been left out of the loop; we were breaking interstellar law by violating the Neutral Zone. The Treaty of Algeron, signed by both the Federation and the Romulan Star Empire, directed both governments to stay out of the very region of space in which we now were in. To be here meant an act of war. I found it hard to believe that we would have been sent here without consent of the Federation council.
"We are here by orders from Starfleet," Kirk began. "This is a mission of utmost importance. This was the first contact point for the United Earth Forces and the Romulan Star Empire nearly two hundred years ago. Earth Forces encountered a Romulan ship that was bombarding this location from orbit. The Romulans immediately attacked the starship Endeavor and chased them from the system. It started two hundred years of hostilities and cost billions of lives. A year ago, long-range scans showed evidence of Tachyon surges on the surface and a confirmed Starfleet comm signal. Starfleet put this mission together then."
Suddenly, I felt a surge of confidence run through me. I had thought that I had been overlooked by Starfleet command, and had been given a milk run as a punishment, or as a sign that I hadn't deserved better.
Kirk nodded and then refocused on her tricorder. She directed us to begin a standard scanning pattern, and we started our survey of the dead world of Charon.
Every cadet had learned and forgotten about this world in his first few weeks of classes, never truly standing out as a great historical fact, but significant in its existence.
For me, the moments of greatest importance were the flight of the Kitty Hawk, or the first breach of the warp threshold by a human. I should have been more interested in Federation history, but I had focused myself. Flying a ship had been my dream as a child and was my life as an adult. I didn't care about discoveries or intrigue; I just wanted to be behind that helm and do my job.
Life in the fleet isn't like the media reports. Officers aren't all like Picard or Tryla Scott. We are just people and it was how we had chosen to live our lives. It was a job and usually not a very glamorous or exciting one.
At one time I had been in the spotlight, a moment that I had tried to forget. Forgetting wasn't easy, though. With the renewed faith from my superiors a grave guilt began to rise inside me.
"Lieutenant," Tien eagerly summoned Kirk, "My tricorder is showing a density variation." He pointed to the tiny screen in his palm.
Both Kirk and I approached. It was more than a density shift, it was a clear indication of a cloaked structure. There were tetryion and chroniton emissions. Some kind of interphasing cloaking device had been used to hide the structure. I wasn't sure, this wasn't my field of expertise. I was lost in the readings and began to wonder why I had been selected for this mission. As far as I knew, none of us had any specialization's in this area.
"There is an energy signature matching one that Starfleet recorded in this region a few years ago. The energy signature is defiantly Iconian," Tien explained, then added, "My thesis was on the Iconian computer virus that destroyed the Yamato in Sixty-five."
It became clear that we were here to safeguard Dan.
Using the tricorders we were able to 'see' the building. The structure was a large cube about 25 meters across with a low rising dome on top. The tricorders showed that it was slightly out of phase touching the surface of subspace. There were no life signs and it showed no viable source of energy. Whatever this building might have been it was in the center of the crater and it looked as if it had been hit by something with a lot of kinetic force. It was broken and burnt, devoid of life. An empty can discarded long ago on the side of a less traveled road.
I recalled images of haunted mansions from the second rate holo-novels of my childhood. The kind of tales where the foolish soon to be killed run in headfirst.
"Alright men, let's go in two by two," Kirk said motioning to an opening that appeared as if had once been a door. Dante's immortal words over the gate of Hell came to me as we approached the invisible entrance: "Abandon all hope ye who enter here."
My throat tightened as Kirk motioned for St. John and me to take point.
We entered the invisible building, tricorders in one hand and phasers ready in the other. St. John was on his second tour of duty, a young man who had wanted nothing more than to see the galaxy. He had seen some action two years back on the Cardasian border and we had traded war stories. Not that there was much, but we each had a moment of outstanding bravery. He had spoken of the Setlik Three recovery, and I had talked about my time on the Kyushu.
I watched St. John as he moved concisely and without any sign of fear. He was a brave man, but it wasn't his time. It was mine. A surge of emotions ran across me and I moved forward and cut off his advance. I had to be the first one in. I had to take on whatever was in there. Four years ago I had run away, and irony had made me a hero. This time it would be different. This time I wouldn't run.
As we scanned and passed through the two-meter tall entrance we stepped into a real, visible room. It was as if it were transparent only from the exterior. The room was small and devoid of any decor. Several small bowls extended from the walls one-meter off the ground and every thing was composed of a stone-like substance. There was a tomb-like feeling in there, an understanding with the walls that we were the first to violate this silence in at least two hundred years.
The bowls in the wall fascinated me, and I scanned them with more intensity than the rest of the building. This room had been exposed to incredible heat, but there was still some molecular residue in the protrusions. They held soil at one time, and vegitative matter. I imagined some kind of flowers or vines that spread out from the bowls and arced across the ancient room.
Kirk ordered us in further. I was already three steps ahead of her and crossing the room to the next chamber. It was as if I weren't in control of my actions, as if I had a need and this was my only chance to fulfill it. Nearly four years ago I was thrown about by fate and rewarded for something I didn't deserve. Now after so long a sleep a force was rising in me. It bade me to move and commanded me to be brave. To make penance for my lies.
Kirk, Tien, and Thompson, our other security escort, entered quickly behind us. Their tricorders drank up information like starved children.
"There is neutronium lacing in the stone work, and it looks like there are Iconian glyphs beneath the surface dirt." Tien read from his small device.
"Five more minutes, then let's get back outside." Kirk clarified our time schedule.
"I'll go into the next chamber. Scans show it's clear." I was here and I had to have my moment, this was it. I was going to be brave this time. Starfleet had decorated me. I hadn't deserved it, but I had taken it none the less.
"Wait," Kirk began, as I approached the dirt-covered ancient doors, "We'll go together. You three follow us," She commanded.
Kirk was going to mess things up. If something were to be found, some danger that needed to be confronted, then I needed to find it.
We had to force the doors, but they separated easily with a cloudy shove. They were cold, gritty, and there was a sulphurous scent that they exuded. As the dirt from the portal fell it revealed a circular room with a column-like console at its center. I had seen similar designs built by avian species, and wondered if the ancient Iconians, or whoever had built this place, might have had feathers. Again, it was a very Spartan affair, with only one other entrance on the far side of the room. And again the feeling of the tomb, as if the dead were still here watching and angry that we would desecrate their long lost home. I had my tricorder out, but my mind was on my phaser. I walked across to the other door. This room was empty, and I was sure Kirk was going to call us back. I knew our time was limited, but I needed a chance to prove myself and it wasn't happening here. I shouldn't have expected much, but still its ghost-like genre inspired my imagination.
"Ensign, wait." Kirk beckoned me back. But I didn't stop. I had to see what was on the other side. Face it down and save myself. I had been living a lie for one day too many and this was my one chance on this tour of duty to clear my conscience.
"Ensign..." But Kirk couldn't finish. Tien shouted something about a tachyion surge and that's when it went crazy.
I paused at the door, held in place by Tien's warning. The doors parted with a dusty whoosh and I was suddenly face to face with the first Romulan that I had ever seen in my life.
I froze for only a second, and was about to stun her, when in clear and concise words she spoke my name.
"Commander Faulkner, what's going on?" the Romulan woman said with a very confused look on her face.
"Don't move," Kirk called out, phaser extending its fearful aim toward the alien woman.
The woman was light-skinned, with dark hair and green eyes. She looked at me as if she had known me for many years, but hadn't seen me for awhile.
"Faulkner, back away," Kirk commanded.
I took a step back and the doors closed. I turned to Kirk, who then waved for us all to exit. She ran into the room in which we had come from, but stopped mid-stride. She dropped her weapon and raised her hands in the air, then slowly backed up.
She was under the guns of several heavily armed and armored Romulans.