Ramon Ruiz-Sanchez is a Jesuit priest as well as a biologist with the United Nations (U.N.) survey team on the recently discovered planet of Lithia. Lithia, dominated by a species of intelligent reptilians, is an apparent utopia. The Lithians have no crime, no politics, and no religion, and their ethical code (otherwise identical to that of Christianity) is based on pure reason. Despite their planet’s iron-poor crust, the Lithians have developed advanced technologies, including a planetary communications web based on pulses emitted by the gigantic Message Tree, the roots of which reach into the planet’s bedrock.
When the survey team meets to make its recommendations before departing from Lithia, Ruiz is in surprising near-agreement with physicist Paul Cleaver. Cleaver advises closing the planet publicly while secretly turning it into a nuclear weapons laboratory. Ruiz also votes to close the planet, with a permanent quarantine, because he has become convinced that Satan created Lithia as a convincing demonstration that virtue is possible without God’s grace. The other two team members recommend that Lithia be opened. The tie vote means that the planet will remain at least temporarily off limits. As the terrestrials leave, Ruiz’s Lithian friend Chtexa gives him a farewell gift, a sealed vase containing the fertilized embryo of Chtexa’s child. The embryo, as it develops outside the body, will replicate the evolutionary history of its species....
(The entire section is 559 words.)