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When a planet of intelligent beings is discovered on the verge of self-destruction as each island nation fears the others are plotting its downfall, a distant space faring culture sends a mission. The mission’s task is to understand the planet’s cultures enough to determine whether they are worth saving and, if they are, to prevent their self-destruction. However, they have to do it in a way that none of the planet’s inhabitants know that they are being observed, much less potentially manipulated.Some of the mission members want to sweep in on the natives with missionary fervor to enlighten them to the glories of their obviously superior culture while other mission members want to understand the planet’s inhabitants and what they might offer to enhance the diversity of intelligent beings in the galaxy. More than just following the guidelines issued to the mission, the Mission Supervisor finds that he has to balance the differing viewpoints and encourage the experts and rookies as well as the traditionalists and innovators to somehow all work together in order to come up with a solution that will work for the inhabitants of the planet they are studying.When the Mission Supervisor takes a side trip to visit a planet where he had previously been assigned, the rookie pilot that accompanies him has several surprises that encourages him and, in some ways, forces him to think outside of his training as well as to set aside his missionary zeal to acquire honor for himself. The Mission Supervisor has his own surprises when he lands to meet with her on-planet agents and finds herself in an unexpected first contact situation.After the Mission Supervisor returns to the planet of island nations with the rookie pilot and is updated on the current status, he encourages the mission members to consider any ideas of how they can help the inhabitants to avoid self-destruction. Or maybe the mission should find a way to help them self-destruct in a way that couldn’t be blamed on the mission. That suggestion shocks some of the mission members, but it encourages them to think outside of the status quo or previously tried solutions.As one idea after another doesn’t pan out or outright fails, two of the scientists from different disciplines try to combine some of their research and are surprised when it shows some promise. Before they can test the possible solution on the inhabitants, they have to have a better understanding of how the individual inhabitants think which requires a totally different approach. Unexpectedly, that is provided when it’s revealed that the rookie pilot has an unknown talent that the mission is able to make use of with surprising success.Following some very limited testing, it’s decided to offer the solution as a new product to the inhabitants on a voluntary basis without revealing the source of the product. The majority of the inhabitants who try the new product find that it improves their lives, but there are some people who have a negative reaction, at least in their opinion. After an extended time of watching the inhabitants get close to mutual self-destruction then slightly back off, the mission members now have to sit and wait to see whether the new product will encourage the inhabitants to move away from or towards self-destruction.

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