“Captain’s log, Stardate 41255.6. After delivering a party of Earth colonists to the Strnad solar system we have discovered another class M planet in the adjoining Rubicun star system. We are now in orbit there having determined it to be inhabited as well as unusually lovely. My first officer has taken an away team down to make contact and they are in the process of returning to the ship.“
Upon his return back from the surface, Commander Riker tells everyone with great enthusiasm about the planet; he explains that the planet’s lifeforms are almost identical to Humans and that it is a class M planet, beautiful and stunning. Doctor Crusher suggests shore leave for everyone, stating that nothing is better than fresh air and open spaces. Lieutenant Natasha Yar states that the inhabitants’ laws and customs are pretty straightforward and nothing out of the ordinary. What is special about them, however, says Geordi La Forge, is their great affection for others.
Commander Data reports on a continuing faulty reading in the sensors, indicating there is something in orbit, despite the fact that nothing appears on the viewscreen.
The doctor’s suggestion of shore leave is approved but only for a small group at first. Among them is Wesley Crusher, whom the captain personally designates as the one to evaluate this planet as a place for young people to relax. If their scans and observations support the report from the away team, then shore leave for the entire crew will be approved, says Picard. He just hopes the planet it is not too good to be true.
“Captain’s log, supplemental. We are in orbit of a planet designated Rubicun III, the home of a lifeform who call themselves the Edo. Our away team, including Wesley Crusher, has beamed down to make some arrangements concerning some well-earned recreation.“
Commander Riker, Lieutenant Yar, Lieutenant Worf, Wesley, and Counselor Deanna Troi beam down to the surface where they are passionately greeted and welcomed. Two of the planet’s inhabitants, Rivan and Liator, introduce themselves by hugging everyone in turn. Worf compliments them on their planet and uncomfortably accepts the hugs and affections. Wesley isn’t sure how to take them and how to react. Overall, these aliens are warm, empathetic, and seem to have thought of everything. Suiting to their fit and joyous lifestyle, people do not walk anywhere, but run and jog along. They wish everyone health and happiness, even passers-by as they run to the counsel chamber. When they arrive, three children take Wesley to play right away, while the adults enter the chamber to find more of a massage parlor, where people are playing games, dancing, exercising, receiving massages, hugging, and kissing.
Meanwhile, aboard the USS Enterprise-D, Data has completed his analysis. None of the internal systems are at fault; the reading, though mysterious, is accurate. It appears to be some sort of shadow, like something that is “neither in nor out of their dimension”. When the main viewer is not showing anything out there, Data hails the empty space, requesting that it identify itself. Suddenly, a strange object appears and the ship enters automatic red alert.
The sensor readings do not make any sense, and the response to their transmission is difficult to decode. When La Forge looks out of the window with his VISOR, he experiences the same confusion; it is as if whatever he is seeing is not really there. Data, however, is finally able to make out something, stating that the message they are receiving translates as something like “stand by”. Then, a small, transparent, ball-like object exits the big one, and passes right through the Enterprise‘s hull, moving through corridors and bulkheads.
The shimmering ball of light makes its way to the bridge, and then rocks the entire ship as it speaks. Captain Picard speaks with it, explaining, between shakes, who he is, and that he is on a mission of peaceful exploration. It then demands to know why they have come to visit. Picard explains that they have sent down an away team to make peaceful contact and that he does not plan on leaving lifeforms there. It asks about the colony they just planted and Picard explains terraforming, and that they would only do it for uninhabited worlds. It gives a warning not to interfere with its “children” below (on the planet) and then tries to communicate with Data, it seems telepathically. Data says “I do not understand how but it is asking me if I was constructed for information exchange.” Picard encourages him to go along with it and the object then communicates directly with Data, who falls unconscious.
Down on the planet, Wesley is running through the gardens with a few of the Edo children, when one of them starts walking on their hands. Wesley responds by spinning a few cartwheels. One of the girls runs up to him and says that she would like to do with him, something he could teach her. Wesley is clearly flustered, claiming there are some games he doesn’t quite know yet. But she is talking about playing “ball”… which visibly put him at ease. He asks the other children if they have a bat, but they are confused by what that is. Wesley explains that it is a stick or a branch. They all run to the gardens to find one.
Worf is extremely uncomfortable with the advances of the women, avoiding them as much as he can. He is not much concerned with pleasure, according to himself, as he is a warrior. Plus, he is convinced that these women couldn’t handle his Klingon mating habits.
When Riker fails to contact Enterprise, he gets nervous and orders everyone together, including Wesley, just in case. Troi doesn’t believe it is anything these people have done, since they are much too open and friendly. Nevertheless, Riker has Troi head outside with him to look for Wesley.
Yar, who is just fascinated by the Edo, is talking with Rivan and Liator about their laws as Worf approaches to brief her on the situation. They explain to her that there is no crime in their world and that no one breaks the laws. A long time ago, there was much disorder, but no longer. They explain that they have no police or law enforcement but instead have so-called Mediators who select only one area each day for a certain period of time: the punishment zone. It is a completely random selection, no person ever knows when or where a zone will be and so no one risks death.
The Edo explain to Worf and Yar, who are both very disturbed by this news, that there is only one punishment for any crime: death. While it sounds drastic, the Edo consider it very wise and a basis for their lasting peace. After all, since no one would want to risk execution, no one breaks the rules. Hearing this, the two officers are immediately alarmed and head off to find Wesley quickly, who they know is running around with the other kids, not knowing anything about these rules.
As the rest of the away team go looking for Wes before he’s able to get into any trouble that could be bad for him, unfortunately they are too late. While Wesley is playing ball, he jumps for it in midair, crashing into a small greenhouse structure past a short white bar, disturbing the new plants within. And what’s worse, the mediators picked that moment to show up. Everyone attempts to cover for him, pleading that he is only a visitor and did not know, but the mediators are adamant and insist on applying the law equally to everyone to avoid chaos, crime, and disobedience.
It pains them deeply what they have to do, but given the circumstances and existing canon of laws, they have no other choice. As one of them raises a syringe to inject Wesley, Worf and Yar draw their phasers and Riker knocks him down to the ground. The mediators are taken aback by this, not knowing why they are not allowed to simply execute the boy. They are disappointed in the Enterprise crew, stating that they thought they came as friends. Riker tries to contact the Enterprise but there is still no response.
On the ship, the bubble finishes its information exchange with Data and disappears, leaving him unconscious. At the same time, communication is restored. After being informed of the situation, Captain Picard beams down to the planet.
Everyone seems as kind as ever when he arrives in the counsel chamber, and the dialogue begins. They regret that their system of justice is troubling him. Liator explains that Wesley is being held, pending the execution of his sentence at sundown, and they stand by their system of justice. They explain that the tranquility in their lives has been made possible by their laws, for they are a people of law, even though that may bring them sadness, which they have adjusted to. Picard makes the argument that when Earth executed criminals, they thought for the longest time that it was necessary to do so until they learned to detect the seeds of criminal behavior; capital punishment is, therefore, no longer considered a justifiable deterrent.
The Edo’s reaction is a little confusing to comprehend, but they do seem to feel that Picard is suggesting some kind of a superiority. Since they apparently are not as advanced as they are, Liator suggests that they just use their superior powers to rescue the boy, stating that they would just record him as a convicted criminal out of their reach, an advanced person who luckily escaped the barbarism of their “backward little world”.
But Picard tells them that he wants to honor and respect the Edo’s rules and law, referencing the Prime Directive.
He takes the time, since the Edo guarantee Wesley will not be harmed before sundown, to ask about the vessel in orbit. The Edo recognize it as their god, who is said to be somewhere “up there”; a protector who is far above them, both here and in another place, with great powers. Doctor Crusher calls in, and says Data wishes to speak with him urgently. Not wanting to involve all of the Edo, and not sure if he accepts their description of god, he beams himself, Counselor Troi, and Rivan up to the Enterprise.
On the way to a room with a window, Rivan is amazed at “the city” in the sky – referring to Enterprise – and is surprised that with all this power, they do not just take Wesley.
When she sees the object in orbit, she kneels and bows down before it immediately, confirming that yes, it is god. Rivan seems to be extremely frightened by the object. Deanna encourages her to explain that she can identify it because it has appeared before. Suddenly, it then thunders for Picard to “return its child,” and begins moving closer. Hurriedly, Picard attaches his combadge to Rivan and has her beamed back to the planet’s surface, and the object moves off again.
Picard and Dr Crusher speak about Wesley, and her concern that he’s about to be executed for committing no crime, certainly not one that any sane or reasonable person would recognise. She tells him that if Wesley were his son he would be as frightened as she is, to which he responds that he is.
Picard then talks to Data about his experience. When Data regains consciousness he explains to Picard everything that was communicated to him. Data says that it’s not one entity (it is many) and they know that the Edo worship them as a god and feel that said worship is “quite expected and harmless at the present Edo stage of evolution.” Data also states that the “god” aliens are inter-dimensional beings and thus can be in several places at once, and due to this the “Edo Gods” consider this entire star cluster to be theirs. He then points out the obvious that it was unwise to place a Human colony in this star cluster and then rambles on about potential colonization until Picard stops him and says “Data! Don’t babble. Please organize it into brief answers to my questions.“
They continue to talk (briefly now) until Data “volunteers” the information that the Edo God aliens may be observing them now as they know everything Data knows (including the Prime Directive) and may be watching to see what the Enterprise will do next. Finally, Picard asks how the Edo God aliens would react if they were to violate the Prime Directive and Data answers that they would consider the Enterprise crew to be “deceitful and untrustworthy” and subsequently reminds Picard that the Edo God aliens warned them to not to interfere with their children below. Dr. Crusher begins to cry and Data starts to babble on about “the emotion of motherhood” when he is abruptly cut off by Crusher telling him to “Shut up!” It is at this moment that Data realizes that he does, in fact, babble.
“Captain’s Log, Stardate 41255.9. Whatever the object or vessel in orbit with us, it hangs there like a nemesis. It is one thing to communicate with something mysterious but it is quite another to be silently observed by it. I am concerned whether it understands the same concept of reason that we do.“
Picard sends for Data to ask more questions, as he attempts to try and put together what he knows into some sort of decision. Picard asks Data to help him with this decision and Data asks in response “What level of communication, sir?” Picard smiles and says “Any. My apologies for saying that you babbled. You see things in a way we do not but as they truly are.”
Picard is torn between the letter of the law, and the knowledge that the Prime Directive never intended to cover a circumstance like this. Data states simply that it is the object he should be worrying about. They know of the Prime Directive, but how it will be viewed is the question. How would they react to taking Wesley, especially with regard to that warning? While pondering these questions, Picard asks if breaking the Prime Directive and saving Wesley’s life will potentially endanger the entire Enterprise and the 1,000 people who live on the ship. Data answers his question with “Would you choose one life over 1,000, sir?” and Picard responds sternly that he “refuses to let arithmetic decide questions like that.”
Data believes that they did exist earlier in our dimension, but now are taking advantage of their present abilities. Perhaps they did share a value system like that of the Federation and existed in some flesh and blood form previously, but in their present multidimensional state, they may have advantages that the others do not understand. Picard wonders if that means they would have previously shared the same values as them. So, why would such an advanced species feel obliged to protect the Edo. Data theorizes that the Edo are a child race they have chosen to protect just as the Federation puts down colonies and protects them.
When Dr. Crusher arrives, Picard pre-empts her request to beam down to the planet, and approves it. He has also made a decision: he will not allow the Edo to execute Wesley, regardless of the cost. Picard simply states that he will ensure Wesley will not be executed, but in a way everyone will agree upon. Picard and Crusher head towards the transporter, but not before Picard hands command of the Enterprise to Data.
On the planet surface, Wesley is brought to the crew, and Picard states that he will do what he can to prevent his execution, but in a way that the Edo will understand. The mediators do not like it, saying he cannot understand what they were like before. Picard knows what they went through and their laws were in the spirit of justice for them, which does not mean being executed for such a minor offense. Picard also states the impact of breaking the law of the Prime Directive, which states that they must not interfere with other lives in the galaxy, and that doing so – by saving Wesley – he will be breaking that law. Risking the wrath of God – and the Federation when he returns – he gives the order to beam up. Nothing happens. God has prevented their escape.
The Edo are vindicated, Picard then shouts to the ceiling that “there can be no justice so long as laws are absolute.” He elaborates that such laws as these – without degrees of punishment, and with such severe consequences – cannot be just. He argues that rules should also have exceptions, and that rules with no exceptions can never be just. The transporter works.
When they return to the ship, Picard hails the object to inform them they are leaving, and that the colony will be removed at its signal. It dematerializes, which is enough for Picard. Although he would have liked the chance to learn more about it.
With Wesley’s life saved, the Enterprise departs.