The Enterprise had been ordered to make contact with the inhabitants of the planet Farnahbria, because the notorious criminal known only as Marcello had last been seen entering the Farnahbrian system and was assumed to be hiding there. The police officer who'd been pursing Marcello had the authority to arrest the criminal and bring him back to the Federation for trial, but she didn't have the authority or expertise to make first contact with a new alien species. The Enterprise was the closest starship, so the job of first contact fell to her captain and first officer.
The Farnahbrians were blue-skinned, black-haired humanoids who differed from the usual humanoid model only in having four arms instead of two. Kirk and Spock found the Farnahbrians wildly excited by their first contact with aliens and more than eager to make their acquaintance, so the Starfleet officers were surprised to find that there was a barrier to contact with their head of state, the First Minister.
Conlo Hanta, the First Minister's principal aide, explained. "In order to have the standing in our society to approach the First Minister, you must first pass the Test."
Kirk looked dubious. "What's involved in this test of yours?"
"Farnahbru, the god who guards our world, will offer you whatever you most desire but at a price you should not pay. For example, someone whose heart's desire is to be a great musician could be offered supreme musical talent, but that talent would be stolen from three other musicians, who would then be without it. Each person is offered something different, depending on the heart's desire of that person, but the price is always so selfish as to be morally wrong. Those who accept the offer cannot speak to the First Minister, for their character is tainted."
Spock titled his head to one side as he gazed at the Farnahbrian man. "If the correct response to the test is known, how does anyone come to fail it?"
Hanta smiled. "Farnahbru is very powerful, and He will make you forget that you are being Tested, forget the correct answer, forget all but the words He says to you."
Kirk and Spock exchanged a glance. Spock said, "This involves mental manipulation?"
Hanta nodded. "Of course. Farnahbru knows your mind and your heart, and He can close most of your mind, the better to reveal what is in your heart."
Kirk said, "We are not of your world, and our minds are not like yours. Can you be sure that your ... god won't damage our minds when he does this?"
Hanta looked at the two Starfleet men doubtfully. "We have never encountered your kind before." Then his faith reasserted itself and he added, "But Farnahbru is powerful, and He would not hurt those He Tests."
Spock drew Kirk aside, out of earshot of the Farnahbrian man. "Captain, in spite of his assurances, this test is potentially damaging. Since Vulcans have more experience with mental manipulation, I suggest that I be the one to undergo the test."
Kirk said, "I don't ask anyone to undertake something I'm afraid to do myself, Spock; you know that."
Spock exhaled just lightly enough that it could not quite be called a sigh. "Your courage is not in question; it is a question of aptitude. Vulcans have vastly more experience in this area than humans do, and if damage should result, there are Vulcan healers who could enter my mind and repair it, whereas no such resource exists for humans."
Kirk spoke with a verbal swagger. "It's a test of character, Spock, and if anyone's character represents Starfleet or the Federation, it's the captain's!"
Spock shook his head. "I have no doubts about the content of your character, Captain; it's your ability to withstand mental manipulation that concerns me." The Vulcan looked directly into Kirk's eyes, and his voice was soft but intense. "Captain, Jim, please. Allow your logic to make this decision, not your pride."
Kirk sighed and then smiled. "You know me too well." He gave his first officer an assessing look. "All right, Spock. You'll be the one to take the test."
The two Starfleet men rejoined the Farnahbrian man, and Spock said, "I will take your test. Where must I go?"
Hanta escorted Kirk and Spock to a small room that was surprising in its simplicity. There was no attempt to make the room impressive by its size or furnishings or decoration. Just as the Test itself was said to strip off the overlays of habit, thought, and education to reveal the basic character, so too did the Testing antechamber strip away worldly concerns and deal only with the basics. There was a chair in which the person to be Tested could sit, a set of shelves upon which they could put their possessions, and a small lamp that provided illumination. That was all.
Hanta said, "All meet the god alone and are Tested alone. Nor may you take anything with you. Naked we come from the gods and naked we meet them when life is done." He gestured towards the set of shelves. "You may leave your clothing and equipment there. We will wait for you in the outer chamber."
Spock raised an eyebrow but did not otherwise protest, and Hanta and Kirk withdrew, leaving him alone. Spock removed first his equipment and then his clothes, and when he was attired only in the air of dignity that clothed him in all circumstances, he opened the door to the testing chamber.
Entering that chamber, Spock found himself in a small room whose dominant feature was a large statue, representing the "god" Farnahbru. The statue was carved of a dark blue stone, shot with veins of silver. Its general form was that of a Farnahbrian but with an additional pair of arms and a third eye centered in the forehead. It seemed unlikely that it housed an alien entity, but something gave the tests, and Spock wished he had not been required to leave his tricorder behind.
He felt something enter his mind, undoubtedly the entity that the locals called Farnahbru. Spock tried to observe the manipulations his mind was subjected to, but Farnahbru was extremely strong, and knowledge of the testing conditions—even the knowledge that this WAS a test—was locked firmly away. Most of Spock was still present, but he neither knew nor wondered where he was, neither knew nor wondered with whom he was communicating, neither knew that he was nor wondered why he was naked. He knew that he was communicating with an immensely powerful being who could grant him his heart's desire, and that was all.
The entity spoke inside his mind, not in the august tones one would expect of a god but in the familiar, insinuating tones of a slightly sleazy salesman. "I can make you 100% Vulcan. No human half to get in your way, no human heritage to invite the scorn of other Vulcans, no human weaknesses to derail you."
Spock considered this. "You would rid me of my mother? Although my human heritage has frequently been a challenge, my life would be infinitely poorer without her in it."
Farnahbru said, "I can make it so that your mother adopted you when she married Sarek. She'll still be the person who raised you and loved you and thinks of you as her son, but you won't have any pesky human genes in your DNA."
Spock raised an eyebrow. "Those 'pesky human genes' have helped to make me what I am. It is true that I have not always appreciated them, but I have a level of compassion that most Vulcans do not possess, the insight into both Vulcan and human society that comes from being a perpetual outsider, and the sense of self that comes from being forced to choose my own path because no template exists for a hybrid. I would not give up the man I am to become a generic Vulcan."
Farnahbru coaxed him. "You're sure? I could make it so that you would never feel divided, never feel lesser, never feel that you must always strive for a wholeness that eludes you."
Spock shook his head. "Most sentient creatures feel divided; that condition is not unique to me. As a child, I blamed that feeling on my dual heritage, but as an adult, I realize that this is merely the natural self-questioning of the sentient mind."
Farnahbru said, "Once again, I ask—are you certain? Once you leave this room, the offer will be rescinded, and you will never gain that which you so desire."
Spock stood straight, his hands clasped behind his back. "I am grateful for the offer, because it has clarified my attitude towards my dual heritage. I now recognize that this heritage is more benefit than detriment. I am what I am, and it is the Vulcan way to accept what is. Thus I am more Vulcan in retaining my dual heritage than I would be in discarding it."
The entity released the binding on Spock's mind and allowed him to regain his knowledge of the testing conditions. Farnahbru said, "Congratulations, you have passed the Test in a way that is new to me. No other in my experience has been offered his heart's desire and then realized that the desire itself was unworthy, without my ever even mentioning the price you would have to pay for it. I examined your mind and heart, even so, and found an unprecedented lack of selfishness in your character."
A silver ring bearing a large sapphire materialized at the idol's feet. "You may wear this ring as a symbol that you have passed the test. The size of the sapphire represents the virtue of the character, and you may rejoice in the fact that your sapphire is the largest I have ever bestowed."
Spock inclined his head in thanks and bent to retrieve the ring. He found that it fit the forefinger of his right hand, so he placed it there, then looked again at the idol. "Our business here is concluded?"
"We are done. And you were the only person in your party who could have qualified during the Test."
Spock looked affronted. "My captain is a man of fine character."
"It is not his character I find lacking. He already has his heart's desire—to captain a ship like the one he now has—so it would have been impossible to Test him, as it has now become impossible to Test you."
Spock nodded to the statue, turned on his heel, and left the room. Once back in the antechamber, he dressed and replaced his equipment. He sat for a moment to evaluate his mind and discovered that the alien entity had been as skillful as a Vulcan healer. Rather than being debilitated, if anything, he felt refreshed by his mental contact with Farnahbru.
Spock left the room, finding Giamo Hanta and Captain Kirk waiting just outside. Hanta gasped on seeing his ring and looked up into Spock's face. "Your stone is the largest I have ever seen! The First Minister will greatly desire to meet you!"
Kirk smiled at his first officer. "I gather you did us proud."
Hanta told Kirk, "Since you are not from this world, you might not know this, but the size of the stone reveals the virtue of the character. The First Minister is always elected from the Ten who bear the largest stones, and the other nine become the Council. Those of us who serve the Minster or the Council are chosen from the next hundred, thus ensuring that our government will be composed only of people of the finest character."
Hanta frowned. "There are stories of corruption, greed, violence, and selfishness in the governments before Farnahbru came to us, but those things exist only in history now, for Farnahbru has guided us and ensured the probity of our government for twelve generations."
Kirk looked skeptical. "And what does Farnahbru demand from you in exchange for this?"
Hanta spoke simply. "That we teach our children to think morally and behave ethically, so that more of us will pass the test with each generation."
Spock intervened. "Captain, I had contact with Farnahbru's mind, once the test was done, and I sensed neither deception nor selfishness from him. Whatever powerful entity is serving as a god to this planet, he truly does seem to have the best interests of the populace at heart."
Kirk smiled. "Sure you don't think that just because he approves of you?"
Spock looked affronted, and Kirk broke in before the Vulcan could speak. "No, I know you wouldn't do that. I've had at least as much of a chance to evaluate your character as Farnahbru has, and let me just say that I'm not surprised you scored the biggest sapphire ever."
Spock inclined his head in gratitude and acknowledgement, and the two men left to make first contact with a new head of state, secure in the knowledge that both she and they had been found to be of the highest integrity.
Kirk spared half a thought for wondering if his sapphire would have been larger or smaller than Spock's, then dismissed the thought as unworthy of them both and went to go do his duty.