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Home Soil (episode)

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(written from a Production point of view)
"Home Soil"
TNG, Episode 1x18
Production number: 40271-117
First aired: 22 February 1988
16th of 176 produced in TNG
17th of 176 released in TNG
  {{{nNthReleasedInSeries_Remastered}}}th of 176 released in TNG Remastered  
122nd of 728 released in all
Microbrain under glass
Teleplay By
Robert Sabaroff

Story By
Karl Guers, Ralph Sanchez and Robert Sabaroff

Directed By
Corey Allen
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When the Enterprise visits an outpost in the process of terraforming a dead planet, they find the science team threatened by a mysterious new form of life.

Summary

Act One

Velara Base

"We don't get many visitors here."

The USS Enterprise-D is on a mission to catalog young planets in the Pleiades Cluster. Along the way, they have been instructed by the Federation to check on the terraforming colony on Velara III, as they were behind schedule. Captain Picard calls down to the station, and Director Kurt Mandl responds. The director insists there is no need for them to pay a visit as they are back on schedule. Counselor Troi senses that he is extremely nervous about something, especially when Picard insists that an away team be sent down to have a look around. Troi, Commander Riker, Lieutenant Yar, Lieutenant Commander Data, and Lieutenant La Forge beam to the facility. They are greeted by hydraulics specialist Arthur Malencon, biosphere designer Luisa Kim, and Chief Engineer Bjorn Bensen. Outside the complex is Velara III's dark, windswept desert, a hostile place, which Luisa tells them to remember; in a couple of decades, she plans for it to look like a Garden of Eden. Luisa apologizes for their director's rudeness. She points out that they don't get many visitors and mentions that Dr. Mandl has been under stress lately.

Luisa offers a look around, explaining their amazing procedure of taking a lifeless planet and converting it into a Class M environment. She explains the first phase is selecting the right kind of planet. It must have the proper mass and gravity, the correct rate of rotation, and a balanced day and night. It must also be completely lifeless. Once a candidate world is selected and approved by the Federation, the terraformers take over. They are now at phase two - digging basins and pumping filtered sub-surface water into them. Phase three will be adding microorganisms to create a lush, arable biosphere. Malencon points out that they have been having problems with the servos that control their hydraulic probes. La Forge offers assistance, wondering if the high saline content of the soil is disrupting conductivity. Mandl finally enters, appearing gruff and moody. He reminds Malencon of their tight schedule and sends the tech off to work. Mandl directs the away team's attention to a schematic diagram of their planning; everything is specific and exacting.

Malencon dead

Laser blasted

Suddenly Troi senses terror and announces that Malencon is in trouble. A warning siren sounds and the group runs to the hydraulic station. As they approach, they hear the blasting of a drilling laser and cries of pain. The door to the room is sealed; they try to force the hatch when the laser blasts and screams abruptly stop. Upon opening the door, they find the room is a complete mess and spot the smoldering remains of Malencon; they are too late to save him. In the center of the room a large drilling laser hangs from a control arm, still pointing down at him.

Act Two

Data avoids laser drill

Quick like an android

Riker has Malencon's body transported to the ship. In the meantime, they have the power to the hydraulics room shut down. Luisa, Mandl, Troi and Riker head to the ship as well; the rest stay to survey the damage. Data finds it interesting that the laser seemed to stop at the moment Malencon stopped screaming. He reactivates power to the room and reruns the drilling program. Data watches the beam run its cycle as it blasts down into each of the bore holes. He turns away for a moment to check the readouts. Suddenly, the beam pivots toward him. He quickly dodges the stream as it blasts past him. It fires again, but he is saved by his android reflexes. La Forge and Benson come to the rescue, but find the door is sealed again. Beyond it, they hear a horrendous crash and the smashing of equipment. They finally get the hatch open, and find that Data has ripped the machine down from its mounting. The whole device lies mangled on the floor, and Bensen laments a year's work destroyed.

The away team returns and Picard is informed of the attack. He tells Mandl he is shutting down operations until the matter is investigated; Mandl is outraged, stating Picard is overstepping his authority. Picard says a member of his crew has been attacked, which gives him the right to intervene. Mandl reminds him that he has a delicate schedule to maintain, but Picard says it is on hold until he has answers. Picard meets with La Forge and Data, who inform him the drilling laser was somehow reprogrammed to kill anyone who entered the room. Picard suspects one of the three terraformers, and instructs La Forge and Data to return to the planet to look for any sabotage or tampering. He tells Yar to dig up the service records of the terraformers and look for a possible motive.

Act Three

Microbrain in ground

A flash in the dark

Data and La Forge return to the station. Data notices a strange flicker of light down at the far end of one of the bore shafts. He makes sure it isn't a reflection of light, and scans it with his tricorder. He gets no readings, so he asks La Forge to look at it with his VISOR. Using its various visual modes, La Forge scans the object. It's inorganic, yet the pulses of light and color are unexplainable. Data wonders if it could be alive; it might be what the terraformers are trying to cover up. The object is beamed to the Enterprise, where Dr. Crusher has it placed inside a bell jar for analysis. The computer makes scans and verifies that it contains no organic molecules. Crusher enhances the scan on the wall display, which shows a complex pattern of crystalline forms. Energy patterns flow throughout a beautiful network of structures. It begins to emanate an audible hum. Crusher asks the computer what is causing the flashes and noise, but it is uncertain, since it is theoretically impossible for the substance to produce such an effect. She asks for a hypothesis, to which it replies: "Life".

Picard relays the findings to Mandl and his staff. Mandl claims the Federation verified Velara III lifeless, which Picard says is understandable given the novel nature of the lifeform. Regardless, Picard mentions his suspicions of Mandl knowing there was life down there; a direct violation of the Prime Directive. Mandl makes it clear that he is in the business of creating life, not taking it. Back in medical, Crusher calls for Picard; La Forge has detected movement inside the crystal. Picard arrives, and La Forge indicates he has detected a shift in the infrared spectrum; its internal structure is somehow changing. Suddenly, the small flicker of light brightens, nearly blinding everyone in the room. The hum grows louder as well. The hum and light subside, revealing two points of light inside the bell jar. Data points out that only life can replicate itself.

Lab quarantine force field

Microbrain, macro problems

As a precaution, Crusher activates a containment field around the bell jar, but the computer has trouble maintaining the field. The computer indicates that a "translation request" is being made; the glowing objects are trying to communicate with the computer. Power is increased to the containment field, but the fight for control continues. It looks as if Data is right; it's a lifeform, and also intelligent, with the power to access the computer. Everyone evacuates the lab and meets to discuss the situation. Once again, Picard confronts Mandl, asking if he knew there was life on Velara III. He admits he knew of random energy patterns that disrupted their drilling, but that hardly indicated life by anything he is aware of. He adds they're meaningless silicon crystals that rebroadcast sunlight. Picard tells him they are hardly meaningless; they are clearly alive and intelligent, and are trying to communicate.

Act Four

Microbrain scan while reproducing

Growing in the lab

By now, the bell jar contains a cluster of several points of light. Data works with the computer on the analysis. The computer relays its composition: silicon, germanium, gallium arsenide, cadmium selenide, water, sodium salt... forming a natural superconductor array. Elsewhere, an engineer reports that the power fluctuations are increasing, causing numerous systems around the ship to go haywire; something is taking over. Soon, the universal translator comes online by itself, saying "Ugly bags of mostly water!" Picard is confused, and Data indicates it is an accurate description of Human physiology; he points out that Humans are 90% water surrounded by a flexible container. The crystals speak, saying they had asked the Humans to leave, but they did not listen. It has driven them to kill. Picard tries to reassure the crystals that they come in peace; they didn't understand the message, and were unaware there was life on the planet. The crystals object, stating the "bags" at the station knew. They tried peaceful contact, but were ignored, and some were killed. They have no choice now but to declare war. Before Picard can respond, the crystals end communication. At this point the whole ship is jarred by a force.

Data indicates that the crystals have joined together into a kind of living computer he calls a "microbrain"; the more there are, the stronger they become. The flashes of light they emit appear to be program instructions, so they can interface with the ship's computers faster than the crew can. After a quick flare up of energy and more disturbances in the ship, the crystals seem to power down. Crusher indicates that with single-celled organic life, replication is followed by a resting state; perhaps it is the same for the microbrain. Picard orders Yar to beam the entity back to the planet. She tries to energize the beam, but power becomes redirected. Picard is agitated; lifeform or not, the safety of the ship is at stake. He tells Data to remove the atmosphere from the medical lab. Data tries, but again, the controls are locked out.

Scientists learn of microbrain

Game over on Velara III

Picard meets with the terraformers, explaining that the entity said it has tried to contact them before, but they ignored it. Mandl claims that if it tried communicating, they didn't understand it; how were they to know? Picard wants to know what the terraformers did to cause the crystals to fight back. Luisa indicates Malencon was siphoning off a layer of saline water on the surface of the sand. Crusher suggests that life needs water; perhaps it was sustaining them. Data suggests it might have been what linked them together; individually, a single brain cell is not intelligent, but when linked to others, intelligence is formidable. To prevent the loss of the saline, it drove them to kill.

Act Five

The image of the medical lab shows the mass in the bell jar growing brighter. Suddenly, the bell jar shatters. Data and La Forge come up with an idea; they had detected cadmium salts, which create electrical current under infrared light. Perhaps the crystals are photoelectric in nature. Picard has them kill the lights in the medical lab. Riker opens an access panel at the room, and disables the lighting system. Now in total darkness, the glow of the microbrain begins to soften, and the crystals respond, begging for more light.

Microbrain

"Come back in three centuries."

Picard waits for them to release control over the computer, then has the lights brought back up, just a bit, to relieve them of their torment. The microbrains state "War over!", to which Picard agrees, and expresses his apologies for having caused them harm. He has the transporter chief beam the entity back to Velara III. Afterward, Picard places an indefinite quarantine on the planet. Data is saddened that they couldn't learn more about the strange lifeform. Picard replies "In time, Mr. Data. When we're better prepared." They set course to the nearest starbase to drop off the terraformers.

Log entries

Memorable quotes

"Ugly giant bags of mostly water."

- The crystal lifeform, describing Humans

"I'm Luisa Kim, gardener of Eden."

- Luisa Kim, introducing herself to the away team

"She is as open as she seems."

- Deanna Troi, on Luisa Kim

"I create life... I don't take it!"

- Kurt Mandl

"A year's work... destroyed!"

- Bjorn Bensen, remarking on the laser drill Data destroyed to save his life

"...But is it alive?"
"Probability: positive."
"I wasn't asking you."

- Worf and the computer

"Terraforming makes you feel almost God-like."

- Luisa Kim

"Agreed. We will send you home, to your wet sand."

- Captain Picard, talking to the crystal lifeform

Background Information

Production history

Video and DVD releases

Links and references

Starring

Also starring

Guest stars

Co-stars

Uncredited co-stars

Stand-ins

References

2360; 2363; 2395; 28th century; artificial intelligence; atmosphere; biosphere; biosphere designer; braincell; cadmium selenide; carbon; centimeter; Class M; computer program; computer science; desalinization; director; Earth; Eden; gallium arsenide; germanium; Henry V; hydraulics; imager; ion; laser drill; life; master subsurface pump; microbrain; microorganism; nursery; photoelectric; photosynthesis; Pleiades Cluster; programmer; quarantine field; refraction; rest room; salt; sand; science laboratory; scientific method; silicon; snow; sodium salt; starbase; subsurface; sulfide; sunlight; Terraform Command; terraforming; transistor; universal translator; vacuum; Velara III; Velara Base; vegetation graph; water; water table

External links


Previous episode:
"When The Bough Breaks"
Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 1
Next episode:
"Coming of Age"

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