Under the control of Starfleet Headquarters, the probe was launched in 2197 A.D. from its orbit above Earth. Its mission was simple enough: cartography of all systems on its course of 308 mark 12, and report back to Starfleet Command should it encounter any inhabitable or inhabited planets. On Stardate 7681.9, a message from the probe was received.
Epsilon Eight, one of the twelve communications complexes located within Federation territory, swung majestically around the small star. In the command post, Commander Osaka sat in her chair observing the messages being relayed over subspace frequency A. It had been a dull and tedious day. Naturally, the message she received was regarded with interest.
"Attention," intoned the feminine voice of the base's computer. "Cartographic probe 712 reports it has encountered an inhabited world bearing 308 mark 12 at a distance of three hundred seventeen parsecs. The inhabitants rate class H+ on Richter's scale of cultures. The inhabitants have made contact with the probe and have received its standard friendship messages."
The standard messages were sent only when a probe was contacted first and only when the probe determined that it had been contacted by a civilization comparable to that of the Federation's. It simply was a message of friendship and goodwill. It also announced that an ambassador from the Federation would be sent almost immediately. It had been reasoned that any civilization capable of starflight would be capable of understanding its non-belligerent tone.
There had been mistakes in the past. Xenophobic reactions from some races, resulting in the destruction of the probes. Those civilizations were avoided, their systems declared off-limits. Others were more insidious. The Klingons, for example, received the message, then prepared a special "welcome" for the ambassador in a style only they could have conceived of. Others were polite, either accepting the ambassador or declining his visit. Others were openly happy. Even now in the Federation, there was a call for first contact teams to be sent in once a probe identified a civilization. Such teams would infiltrate the society and report to the Federation, making recommendations of whether or not contact should be made.
Osaka's job, though, was not to sit in judgment on policy. Her job was to notify Starfleet's diplomatic dispatch office. She turned to another one of her monitors. "Patch me through to Commodore York."
The Enterprise had been on a standard survey mission three months after the V'ger incident when they had been diverted to Starbase 73 to pick up Ambassador Fox. Captain James Tiberius Kirk sat in the center seat on the bridge. Pressing a button, he turned the chair around to face the sciences station.
"What information do we have on this sector?" Kirk asked Spock.
"Not much, Captain," responded the Vulcan Science Officer. "The area was mapped only recently by probe."
The right turbolift doors opened to admit Ambassador Fox. "How soon 'til we reach the planet, Captain Kirk?"
"Only a few minutes, Ambassador," said Kirk. He turned back to Spock. "Begin full sensor sweeps; we have no idea of how belligerent or friendly they are."
"A reasonable precaution, sir," said Spock as he activated his scanners.
"Mainviewer on," ordered Kirk as he faced the screen.
"Aye, sir," said Sulu, pressing the switch.
The screen lit up with the beautiful image of the planet.
"Clearly Class M, Captain," said Spock. "Oxygen, nitrogen in atmosphere." He turned suddenly. "But no signs of life."
Kirk turned. "No signs of life?! Recheck your sensors, Spock."
"I have already done so, Captain. But the readings persist. This planet is devoid of intelligent life. I read immense cities, a massive transportation system, areas of agriculture, and a large number of unburied corpses lying in the streets and in the buildings."
"No disease organisms present in the atmosphere, sir."
"Well, Captain?" asked Fox.
"Apparently your services won't be required, Ambassador."
"I want you to find out why."
"I will, sir. You can count on that. Spock, Chekov, we're beaming down. Uhura, notify Doctor McCoy to meet us at the transporter room."
Four figures materialized in the center of what appeared to be a city street. There were bodies everywhere. McCoy moved to the nearest one and examined it.
"Well, Bones?" asked Kirk.
"I'll let you know in a minute, Jim."
Spock had moved to the nearest building, using his tricorder. "Captain, this appears to be some sort of local broadcasting center."
Chekov had his phaser drawn. The sight of so many dead bodies had him on edge as his intensive training took over. "Kyptin, I've never seen so many dead people before."
"I know, Chekov. Let's take a look inside of the broadcast station."
Inside, the devices were operating. Spock moved to a panel and experimentally pressed a sequence of buttons. They heard a transmission they knew by heart.
"Greetings from the United Federation of Planets," it began.
Spock deactivated the recorder. "Fascinating; it appears that they received our signal."
They heard McCoy outside the building mumbling, "Oh, my God" over and over.
Kirk removed a book from the hands of one of the bodies. It was marked. Kirk read the passage which had been underlined and closed the book, suddenly horrified.
"What is it, Kyptin?" asked Chekov.
"Another example of Hodgkin's Law of Parallel Planetary Development," said Kirk. "A terrible example."
McCoy entered the building. "Jim, I've performed examinations of ten people out there. It seems that they've killed themselves. Some sort of cyanide poison."
"What was it that you read, Captain?" asked Spock.
"A verse from the Bible, Mister Spock. This planet, like so many others, had a parallel development to Earth's religious views." He opened the book and read the verse aloud. "Then God said, 'Let us make a man in our image, according to our likeness; and let him rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.'"
"Oh my God," said McCoy.
Spock bowed his head in silence.
"Vhat happened, Kyptin. Vhat does it mean?" asked Chekov.
"They interpreted their Bible too literally," explained Kirk.
"It didn't occur to them that there were other worlds with other people on them. And it didn't occur to them that we're all created in His image. The image is in freedom of choice and independent thought."
No one spoke for several minutes.
"To think that all these people killed themselves because they were vain," McCoy said sadly.
"Illogical," said Spock. "And tragic that a race could actually think they were the sole masters of creation."
"Let's go home, gentlemen. And thank God that we outgrew our vanity." He brought his wrist up. "Kirk to Enterprise. Chief Rand? Beam us aboard."
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