The Enterprise is en route to planet Eminiar VII in the star cluster NGC 321,[N 1] to open diplomatic relations with the inhabitants. On board is Ambassador Robert Fox, who has been sent to lead the talks and to establish diplomatic relations with Eminiar VII. Little is known about the culture of Eminiar, or its neighbor Vendikar, except that they have had intrasystem space travel for a few centuries, and there had been a longstanding war between them at the time the cultures were first contacted. Soon afterward, the Federation starship USS Valiant mysteriously disappeared and was reported lost.
As they near Eminiar, the Enterprise receives a priority signal not to approach the planet under any circumstances. Ambassador Fox orders Kirk to ignore the warning and investigate further. Kirk leads a landing party, which includes First Officer Spock, a yeoman and a security detail, to meet with Eminiar leaders. They are met by a representative, Mea 3, who escorts them to the planetary council. Both Mea 3 and the council leader, Anan 7, sternly remind Kirk and his landing team they should not have come because the city has just been hit by a Vendikar fusion bomb which has killed half a million people. Curiously, everything in the city seems intact and there is no visible evidence or sensor readings of such an attack ever occurring.
The landing party soon discovers that the war is entirely simulated by computers, which launch wargame attacks and counterattacks, then calculate damage and select the dead. Citizens reported as "killed" must submit themselves for termination, stepping inside a disintegration booth. Anan 7 informs Kirk that the simulated attacks and following executions is the agreed system of war decided by both sides in a treaty with Vendikar. A conventional war was deemed too destructive to the environments and societies of both planets.
According to the Eminians, the computers calculated the Enterprise was destroyed by a tri-cobalt satellite during the last attack, and the entire ship's crew must be terminated within 24 hours. Although the landing team is exempted from execution, they are arrested and held hostage until all Enterprise crew members report to the planet for execution. Mea 3 has also been reported as a casualty.
In an attempt to lure the Enterprise crew down, Anan 7 simulates Captain Kirk's voice and orders the crew to come down to celebrate the newly established diplomatic relations with the Eminiar people. Chief Engineer Scott, who was left in command, does not believe it and decides to have the Captain's voice analyzed. When the computer determines it is a fake, he realizes the landing party, and by extension the entire ship, must be in danger.
When Mr. Scott refuses the order, Anan orders the Enterprise to be destroyed, but the ship's shields easily repel the attack. Ambassador Fox insists that the attack was just a misunderstanding when he talks with Anan 7. Anan 7 lies and declares a sensor malfunctioned and it appeared the Enterprise was about to attack. Anan 7 apologizes and extends a warm invitation for the Ambassador to beam down and talk. Ambassador Fox accepts the invitation and orders Scott to lower the shields.
To Fox's indignation, Scott, with Chief Medical Officer Leonard McCoy's support, refuses the command, considering the planet's government has obviously captured the landing party, sent a fake message to lure them down, and had just fired on the ship. After threatening to bring Scott up on insubordination charges, Fox and his aide beam down, but are quickly taken into custody by the Eminians and sent to be terminated.
Meanwhile, Spock and Kirk break out of their holding cell by overpowering a guard and stealing his weapon. They also stop Mea 3 from reporting for execution, and destroy a disintegration chamber. Kirk is recaptured by Anan 7 while trying to locate the party's communicators. Spock and the others disguise themselves as Eminians and rescue Ambassador Fox, destroying another disintegration booth in the process. A chastened Fox accepts that he was dangerously mistaken about the situation and volunteers to fight with the others.
With Captain Kirk in his presence, Anan 7 demands that Kirk order his ship's crew to beam down and accept their fate as determined by the wargame computers. In the background, Kirk yells out instructions to Mr. Scott to follow General Order 24, a full attack on the planet, within two hours. Kirk informs Anan 7 the Enterprise is more than capable of destroying everything on the planet. Anan 7 still refuses and orders the Enterprise destroyed, but it has now moved out of range. Mr. Scott then contacts Anan 7 to say that the planet has been surveyed, and the Enterprise will destroy it by Kirk's deadline if the hostages are not released. In the prevailing state of agitation amongst the councilmen, Kirk manages to overpower the guards and take their disrupters. He orders the guards and the councilmen towards the door when Spock arrives with Ambassador Fox.
Kirk and Spock make their way to the wargame computers. Kirk destroys the entire system while Anan looks on in horror. Anan exclaims that the planet is doomed; with the treaty broken, the people of Vendikar will fire their conventional weapons in retaliation. Vendikar had already complained about Eminiar's failure to comply with the treaty, due to Kirk's interference. Retaliation is now imminent.
Kirk asks Anan if he really thinks that Vendikar is willing to start a REAL war, suggesting that Eminiar is also terrified of actual war. Kirk makes the point that people will no longer step into disintegration chambers, neatly disappearing, but that cities will become ruins and civilizations will be destroyed, that war is a dirty business - that's what makes it a thing to be avoided. Kirk encourages Anan 7 to call a ceasefire instead so that the two planets, with the Federation's assistance, can learn to coexist in peace. Anan 7 desperately agrees, and Ambassador Fox immediately offers to lead the negotiations. As the Enterprise breaks orbit, Fox reports that the peace negotiations are going relatively well.
In the epilogue, Spock questions Kirk's judgment as a "gamble". Kirk rebuts that there was no gamble - the Enterprise and both planets win regardless. If the planets had gone to actual war, the same number of people would have died (as the computers realistically counted the number of deaths in a simulated attack), but that the planets would soon have lost the ability to wage war. Kirk also mentions that the Eminians were a very orderly people, and war is a very messy business, implying that he was sure the planets would not launch real weapons at each other.
Errors and ExplanationsEdit
The Nitpicker's Guide for Classic TrekkersEdit
- Eminiar presumably learning about Code 7-10 from the crew of the starship Valiant, despite being an isolated society. Eminiar could also have learnt about code 7-10 from stray Starfleet transmissions.
- Code 7-10 still being valid after fifty years. Some codes don't need to be changed as often as others.
- Starbase 11 and Beta III computers on Eminiar. The Eminiar computer probably just resembles the ones at Starbase 11 and Beta III.
- The Eminians not firing when Enterprise beams Ambassador Fox to the surface. Fox could have been transported through a sensor window without the Eminians noticing.
- Keith Alan Morgan on Thursday, April 15, 1999 - 6:07 am: Ambassador Fox says that thousands of lives have been lost in this quadrant and seems to think that a port would somehow stop that. Wouldn't the simpler solution be to stay out of that quadrant? Todd Pence on Monday, April 19, 1999 - 3:20 pm: Yes, but manifest destinists like Fox don't think that way.
- The people have gathered at a disintegration chamber to die, but when Kirk waves a weapon at them, and tells them to leave, they run as if they are afraid of being killed. They probably think Kirk's weapon would result is a death which is messier and more painful than that caused by the disintegration chambers.
- ↑ In reality, NGC 321 is a barred spiral galaxy outside the Milky Way.
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