arrives in the Minarian star system which is on the brink of nova. Its mission: recover two scientists, Ozaba and Link, assigned to monitor the eruption. Kirk, Spock, and McCoy beam down to the research base and receive word that Scotty has to take the ship out of orbit to protect the crew from a solar flare. Assured that the atmosphere will protect them, the landing party enters the research station and finds it abandoned and covered in three months' worth of dust. Spock finds a security tape and they watch as Ozaba and Linke are working when a high-pitched whining noise surrounds them. Wincing in pain, the scientists one at a time disappear. The same noise fills the room and the landing party staggers in pain and disappear one at a time. Kirk is the last to go, and as he tries to escape he stumbles and cuts his forehead on metal steps.
"In his hand are the deep places of the earth--" Psalm 95, verse 4. Looks like He was listening.
The landing party wakes up in a vast darkened chamber. Using his tricorder, Spock concludes they were brought there by a teleporter-like effect. He detects one humanoid life form and they investigate, discovering an unconscious female. They quickly conclude that the female has no vocal chords and is a natural mute, and isn't a native of the planet. McCoy suggests they call the female "Gem" so they have something to address her with. Two robed aliens arrive via teleport. Kirk tries to introduce himself but they identify themselves as Vians and note they know who the landing party are. When the Vians, Lal and Thann, refuse to account for themselves, Spock tries to draw his phaser but they use a handheld device to disarm him. They then trap the landing party in a force field and examine Gem. Satisfied, they teleport away and the force field vanishes.
I don't know about you, but I'm going to call her "Gem."
Well, that's better than, "Hey, you."
Spock tries to find an exit to the cavern while Kirk has to sit down, weakened, because of his injury. Gem notices and touches him, and takes on his injury. After a few moments she then heals it herself, leaving both of them unharmed. McCoy determines that Gem is an empath, capable of physically and emotionally bonding with those near her. Spock discovers several pieces of equipment that previously didn't register on his tricorder. Investigating, the four of them find the equipment, along with glass tubes containing the twisted bodies of Linke and Ozaba. There are three other tubes present, labeled "Kirk," "Spock," and "McCoy."
You're wrong. Their own imperfections killed them. They were not fit subjects.
Lal, appears and informs them that more "tests" are necessary. When Kirk informs him that the sun will soon go nova, Lal acknowledges he's aware of the fact and time is growing short. Spock renders the Vian unconscious and takes his hand device, then detects an exit to the surface. They take Gem and leave, unaware that Lal is unaffected. He and Thann watch the landing party go.
Your time is running out. This sun is about to nova. When it does, it'll destroy you, this planet,
and this insane torture chamber.
The landing party gets to the surface and fined storms due to the encroaching flare. Unable to contact the Enterprise
, they head for the research base and spot Scotty with a security team. When Gem falls behind, Kirk tries to help her and sees Lal and Thann. He sends Gem on ahead and goes after them, but they paralyze him while talking about his strength of will. Spock and McCoy approach the base but the security team is a mirage that disappears. Gem catches up and directs them back to Kirk. He's recovered, and the Vians inform them that they need the captain for their tests. They assure Kirk that they have no need for the others and he orders them to go on. The others start to leave… and disappear, teleported away. A furious Kirk lunges at the Vians, who teleport him and themselves away as well.
Their will to survive is great.
They love life greatly to struggle so.
The prime ingredient.
As Scotty and Sulu count down the hours until they can return to orbit, the Vians torture Kirk with their hand devices while holding him suspended above the floor by wrist chains. They assure him that the only thing they need from his is his determination to stay alive. They then teleport Kirk and Gem back to Spock and McCoy. The Vians contain the two officers in a force field and Gem hesitantly touches Kirk and starts healing wounds. Despite the fact the effort weakens her, she succeeds in healing him and then collapses. The Vians disappear and Spock and McCoy are free. He determines that Kirk is suffering from decompression sickness, and that Gem's life may have been threatened if the injuries had been much worse. Meanwhile, Spock examines the captured hand device and realizes that he can get it to function and transfer into the Vians' energy system.
What is it you hope to prove? If my death is to have any meaning, at least tell me what I'm dying for.
If you live, you will have your answer.
The Vians return and inform Kirk that they need another test subject. Kirk must choose between McCoy, who has an 87% chance of dying, and Spock, who will survive but has a 93% chance of going insane. They leave, giving Kirk time to consider, and Spock works to complete the work on the hand device, saying he'll leave notes for the others. Kirk insists on making the decision if one needs to be made, but McCoy gives him a sedative for the remaining injuries. Spock notes that as he is now in command, the decision is his. He continues to work, while Gem senses the hidden emotions from him. McCoy then injects Spock with another dose of sedative. The Vians arrive and McCoy volunteers himself and they take him away for more torture.
Doctor, please understand that if there was any other way to accomplish our purpose...
Get on with it.
Kirk and Spock wake up and, unhappy, continue their work. Spock discovers the hand device is operated by mental commands and attuned to only one user at a time. He adjusts it to himself while Kirk wonders why the Vians let them keep the device. They conclude that the Vians want them to escape, abandoning McCoy. They refuse, and Spock uses the device's one charge to teleport themselves to McCoy's location… where they find him bloody, battered, and on the point of death. They try to stabilize him but it's too late. Kirk wonders if Gem can save him but Spock warns that the attempt could kill her as well.
The best defense is a strong offense, and I intend to start offending right now.
The Vians place Kirk and Spock in another force field and explain that no interference is permitted. Gem must save McCoy on her own, to prove that her people can learn self-sacrifice. The Vians can teleport only one civilization to safety before the sun novas, and they have constructed the entire experiment to determine suitability. They've tortured the landing party so that Gem would be exposed to self-sacrifice and compassion: now they must determine if she has learned the concepts. Gem starts to heal McCoy but it weakens her and she instinctively back away. The Vians consider their experiment a failure but refuse to heal McCoy, noting his life isn't important. Spock notes that the force field is feeding off of their own energy to sustain itself, and suppresses all emotion. He steps out of the field and disarms the Vians, but they still refuse to heal McCoy. Furious, Kirk notes that they have lost the very compassion they're seeking to instill in Gem. He then gives them back their devices, refusing to leave their friend. Realizing they've lost sight of their goals in their desperation, the Vians heal McCoy and then depart with Gem to save her people.
If death is all you understand... here are four lives for you. We will not leave our friend.
You've lost the capacity to feel the emotions you brought Gem here to experience.
You don't understand what it is to live.
Love and compassion are dead in you. You're nothing but intellect.
Back aboard the Enterprise
, McCoy dwells on the random element of chance that brought them together with Gem. Spock notes that the Vians left very little to chance, while Scotty talks about the story of the pearl of great price. McCoy is more impressed by the fact it was compassion that saved the day and they rib Spock, noting that the Vulcans should be informed. He promises to give it all the consideration that it's worth.
Mr. Spock, can you be prevailed upon to bring them the news?
Possibly, Captain. I shall certainly give the thought all the consideration it is due.