***** (5 stars out of 5)In the previous entry I mentioned the munchies. Well, how about a planet where the pizza cooks and eats YOU?
The earthy miners of Janus VI are a gruff, tough, pastel jump-suited breed. They supply the mineral Pergium for the Federation Purgatoriums... I mean, life support systems. Which is all very well if a horrible monster isn't melting you by the dozens.
There are millions of symmetrical globular nodules lying around these blue caverns with no commercial value. Spock suggests the monster might be the first known silicon-based life-form. Silicon-based life is physiologically impossible, McCoy insists. (They proved that back in the day, mostly by stuffing it into women's boobs.)
The murdering monster can't be stopped by a single phaser, and it secretes a corrosive acid strong enough to dissolve anything. It moves through rock with ease. Kirk and Spock set out to hunt it down.
If it is the last of its kind, Spock says, to kill it would be a crime against science. But between them, they can think of no alternative.
They shoot a chunk out of it with a phasers- yup, it's silicon-based. (One of those rare occasions when Science Officer Spock is proved correct in matters of science.)
In Spock's theory it is imperative not to damage the little bronze-coloured silicon globes.
Kirk is faced with the killer unknown and he makes what is, for me, the highly brave and admirable choice to lower his weapon.
"So what do we do now? Just... talk it over?"
At Kirk's order, Spock uses the mind-meld and establishes that the being is a highly sophisticated animal that calls itself a Horta. It burns the English phrase NO KILL I into the rock. As Spock gets beneath its searing agony he gets some perspective: it regards humans as murderers, the repugnant devil in the dark.
Kirk orders McCoy to heal this chatty rock shark. "I'm a doctor, not a bricklayer."
"You're a healer, there's your patient."
"Walk carefully in the Vault of Tomorrow. Sorrow for the murdered children." intones the Spock-Horta.
Kirk figures it out: the globes are eggs, and the monster is their mother. He manages to stop the angry mob from brandishing torches (just slightly too late for the red shirt security crew they already bludgeoned unconscious.)
McCoy trowels silicon thermo-concrete into Mother Horta's wound and saves her life.
"By golly, Jim, I'm beginning to think I can cure a rainy day."
As a grown-up, the Horta is quite clearly a man under an elaborately decorated rug. But Horta designer/portrayer Janos Prohaska created a thing of beauty, weirdly elegant and affordable. Yes, it always reminded me of pizza but I believed in this creature. To the boy I was, this was a real Horta.
With understanding achieved, the little devils hatching by the thousands are going to make Janus VI the mineral treasure-house to a thousand planets.
I'm curious about Federation child labour laws. Yes, they jump right into their work, but they are minors, after all.