The Enterprise is on its way to Eminiar VII on a mission of peace, carrying with them the diplomat, Ambassador Fox. The Eminiarians are at war with another planet, Vendikar, and the Federation is going to attempt to broker peace between them, despite knowing nothing about either race. The Eminiarians warn Kirk not to land, but Ambassador Jerkoff orders Kirk to land anyway. Are diplomats EVER the good guys in fiction?
The planet is populated by people who have become so efficient at waging war, that now it is performed only using math. You see, rather than shoot each other with actual missles, the two warring planets have resolved to fight wars in theory, where computers determine exactly how many casualties there are. Then those marked for death are sent off to disintigration booths, and there’s no no messy structural damage to deal with. The perfect system!
You’d think this system would result in both sides giving their most convincing “Ah! You got us! Ahhh, we’re really hurting over here!” performances, while killing nobody. But apparently the computer system prevents that. Now, you might be inclined to think one side could hack the system, but now you’re thinking too hard. Nobody questions the judgement of Anan 7. Off to the suicide booth with you.
Now, simply marching people to their murder doesn’t have the same impact as a for-realz war, so there’s no motivation to bring about an end to it, so the war has been going on for 500 years, with millions being killed each year. The secret subtext of this episode is that while they have mastered the art of killing people, the must have also mastered the art of making ’em. To support a population with millions of war dead each year, they must be getting on the freak train non-stop.
Anyway, that stuff I slept through in high school is apparently able to determine exactly how many people will die in a theoretical war. But as a term of their imaginary war, the planets have also resolved to kill any visitors who happen to be caught up in a logical explosion. Luckily for Kirk and Spock, they happen to be on Eminar when the Enterprise is hit with an imaginary bomb. Everyone aboard is condemned to death, and head engineer Scotty, who for reason was left in charge of the Enterprise, is responsible for the imaginary deaths of the entire crew. A pretty bad first day for Scotty.
Anan 7 contacts the Enterprise and asks them to beam down for disintegration, er, we mean have some candy and ice cream, you handsome devils, you. Ambassador Fox tells Scotty that it sounds legit, and they should go ahead and beam down the entire crew. Mr. Scott has reservations, given how weirdly the Eminarians have been. For example, they just shot lasers at the Enterprise. Anon 7 assures them that the attack was an accident. But Scotty thinks they may not be on the level.
Meanwhile, Kirk, Spock, and McCoy have been locked up and had their communicators stolen. They use a mixture of Vulcan mind tricks and awkward karate to escape and start blowing up the suicide booths. They give the Eminarians the slip by returning to the cell they broke out of, which is either a brilliant tactical move, or a cheap way to reuse one of their sets.
Eventually, The crew is captured again, and as a last ditch effort, Kirk issues General Order 24, which is Federation speak for “blow up the planet in two hours.” As apparently, every Federation starship has the capabilities of a Death Star. Good to know a crew that gets mind-controlled regularly has that kind of power.
Anon gives in to Kirk’s ploy and releases him. They turn right around and blow up the math computers, condemning the planet to having to fight a for-realz war. Or rebuild the computer, I suppose. But facing the prospect the watching people getting killed instead of disintegrating them forces the Eminarians to consider a ceasefire as an option. Because the only real thing stopping us from waging war is when buildings get blown up.
Ambassador Fox stays behind on the planet to help work out a peace process between the two planets. Just like Space Israel and Space Palestine, I’m sure things will work out great between them.
In the epilogue, I imagine their extreme baby-making technology leads to overpopulation.