arrives in orbit over Gamma Trianguli VI and Kirk takes down a landing party of Spock, McCoy, Chekov, Landon, Hendorff, Marple, Mallory, and Kaplan. The planet is a lush paradise with a nearby village of humanoids and Kirk is duly unimpressed. Hendorff investigates a flower only for it to spray poisonous thorns into his chest instantly killing him. As McCoy examines the body, one of the natives watches from the nearby bushes. They beam Hendorff’s corpse up to the ship and Scotty lets them know that they’re having problems with the anti-matter pods but it’s nothing serious.
Spock detects the vibrations of an underground power source in the vicinity of the native village, and notices the native following them. Kirk sends Mallory and Marple on ahead to scout the village and Scotty calls down to report that the anti-matter fluctuation has increased due to a beam from the surface. Spock examines one of a number of rocks and determines that is both a potent energy source… and highly explosive. He then notices a flower preparing to spray the captain and jumps in the way, taking the thorns to the chest. He goes into shock and McCoy needs to beam him up to the ship. Kirk agrees and orders Scotty to beam them up, but the transporter cuts out. McCoy does what he can and fortunately Spock’s Vulcan body is mostly immune to the poison. However, a lightning storm rolls in and they duck for a cover, but an electrical bolt disintegrates Kaplan.
Mallory calls to let them know he’s found the village, then runs to contact them. He stumbles over one of the energy rocks and it explodes, killing him. Spotting their shadower once more, Kirk has Spock and Chekov stage an argument while Marple chases the native out and Kirk punches him. The native breaks into tears and Kirk gets him to calm down. The native identifies himself as Akuta and says he is the Eyes and Ears of Vaal, who rules over the planet. Kirk asks to speak with Vaal and they determine that Akuta has a sophisticated set of antenna implanted behind his ears. Contacting the ship, Kirk is told that the Enterprise
is caught in a tractor beam and they can only slow their inevitable descent into the atmosphere and destruction. They have only sixteen hours left and Kirk vows to save the ship.
Akuta takes the landing party to a cave with a giant rock-lizard head. Spock uses his tricorder to identify it as the surface outlet for the energy source he detected earlier. It’s surrounded by a force field preventing access but Akuta says that Vaal will awaken later for feeding. They go to the village and discover that the native are all adults: there is no sex, no children, and no love. McCoy examines the natives and determines that they live in a perfect physical environment and are immune to bacteria and disease, and may in fact be immortal.
The natives are summoned by Vaal to “feed” him with the energy rocks. Vaal drops the force field but senses the landing party when they approach and rumble ominously. Spock deduces that Vaal is a machine put in charge of guarding and guiding the natives, and it uses the rocks to regularly replenish its fuel supplies. He and McCoy argue, with McCoy believing the natives have stagnated while Spock insists they have a culture that should remain free of interference. Kirk contacts the Enterprise
and Scotty comes up with a plan to reroute all the energy to burst free from orbit, but it will take time to set up and they’ll only have a few minutes to spare before planetary descent.
That night, Chekov and Landon go for a walk and end up in a romantic kiss. A native couple is watching them and, intrigued, try it for themselves. Akuta appears and warns them that they have been “contaminated,” and Vaal has given them new instructions. Gathering the village men, Akuta demonstrates how to crush the skull of an outsider with a club.
Kirk comes around to McCoy’s point of view, believing the natives should be free to choose rather than serve a machine. Going outside, he and the others discover that the natives have disappeared. They go to Vaal but it ignores Kirk’s entreaty and attacks Spock with a lightning bolt. He is severely burned but otherwise unharmed. They go back to the village where the natives kill Marple, but the landing party disposes of the villagers and imprison them.
Scotty tries to free the Enterprise
but fails, while on the planet Vaal tries to summon the natives to feed him. Kirk keeps them imprisoned and orders Scotty to fire full phasers on Vaal. It maintains its force field but the extra drain on its energy reserves, along with the lack of fuel, causes it to burn out and drop the tractor beam just in time. The natives are shocked that their guardian is “dead” but Kirk assures them that they can fend for themselves, and will enjoy the experience.
Later back on the Enterprise
, Spock wonders if they have played the role of the Serpent from Genesis, contaminating the planet with the Fruit of Knowledge. Kirk isn’t thrilled with the idea but notes that there’s only one person on the ship that might bear any resemblance to Satan.
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