Rolton, Corok, and Nuzor had trained for years to be planet scouts for the vast and cruel Empire. They were instructed in the grave business of how to make the initial exploration of a planet, which would produce knowledge that would be used if the Empire decided to conquer the planet. The three astronauts would not travel in one of the huge conquest ships of the Empire. The three would take a very small starship to a planet, and scout all of its characteristics. If intelligent life were found, the three astronauts would analyze how much resistance the native life could be expected to put up. If the astronauts found a civilization, and reported that it was ripe for conquest, the planet would then face a visit from one of the many imperial conquest ships, which would lead to the planet's subjugation, and the landing of a horde of the Empire's troops.
On their first scouting mission to another planet, Rolton, Corok, and Nuzor arrived at a blue green planet named Sorador, which was lovelier than any they had ever seen. They could see quickly that the planet had intelligent life. For months the astronauts analyzed the planet and its life forms by analyzing television signals from the planet. The astronauts were able to learn the language of the native civilized beings.
“We will synthesize some carbon material we can apply to our bodies to make us look like these people,” said Rolton, “and we'll wear some clothes that help us fit in. We'll go down there to the surface of the planet, and pretend to be foreigners from another country. After we uncover some of their secrets, we'll make our report to our imperial superiors.”
The three astronauts took a shuttle craft from their starship down to the surface of the planet. After taking a day to hide the craft with tree branches, the three astronauts went walking about. They passed by scenery more beautiful than anything they had ever seen. The planet had an abundance of waterfalls, cliffs, lakes and rivers. There was a riotous profusion of vegetation in a rainbow of vivid colors.
The astronauts approached a kind-looking old man, and began talking to him. “Friend, we are tourists from a distant land,” said Rolton. “We wonder if you could tell us a little about this place.”
“Sure, by all means,” said the old man. “Come, I will show you some of our attractions.”
First the old man took the three disguised astronauts to an astonishingly beautiful garden. “We have gardens like this all over our land,” said the old man. “We eat freely of these berries you see on the branches of the plants. We call them the Bliss Berries. Try one if you want to feel happy.”
Corok ate one of the berries, and his face lit up. “These berries are incredible,” he said. “Try one; it's better than anything.” The two other astronauts also ate a berry.
After five minutes of ecstasy, the effect wore off. “Do all the berries have this effect?” asked Rolton.
“The Bliss Berries come in many colors and sizes, and each type has a different pleasure-giving effect,” explained the old man. “If you eat one of the small red berries, you will feel bliss for five minutes. If you eat one of the large purple berries, you will feel a mountain of joy that will last for one hour. When you eat one of the medium pink berries, you will feel better than you ever felt before, for the rest of the day.”
“Please show us more of this place,” asked Rolton.
The old man led the three astronauts into a softly radiant city. Most of the buildings were built from an exquisite salmon-colored marble, which was cool to the touch. There were fountains and sculptures everywhere. Gigantic flowered vines flowed gracefully down the sides of many tall buildings. It was the most beautiful city the astronauts had seen. Throughout the city flew brightly colored birds, which gave forth delicate and enchanting musical notes, which were so beautiful they sounded like fragments of carefully crafted songs.
The city was crowded with beautiful women, many of whom wore identical silver bracelets. Rolton asked the old man about this.
“Ah yes, they are the Morph Maidens,” said the old man. “There are so many of them here. They have a most unusual power. You have probably heard of creatures in the ocean who can change their appearance quickly, to avoid predators. The Morph Maidens have a similar biological power to change their bodily appearance, but it is not to avoid predators, but to please the males they mate with.”
“How does that work?” asked Rolton.
“The Morph Maidens can sense the desires of the men they mate with,” explained the old man. “If they find their mate is getting bored with them, they change their appearance, changing their face, their hair, and their figures. Marrying a Morph Maiden is like having 40 different wives.”
“I therefore can't imagine why any man would ever cheat on one of the Morph Maidens,” continued the old man. “But should a man desire even greater variety, and the Morph Maiden found out, it would not cause a problem. For the Morph Maiden would simply erase the unpleasant knowledge from her mind, using a special power she has to completely remove painful memories.”
The old man sat down with astronauts to eat a meal. As they ate, the astronauts were astonished. It was the most delicious meal they had ever had. They thanked the old man for the meal, and told him they had never ate better food.
“You must be joking!” said the old man. “The food I gave you was the traditional 'Welcome Meal,' provided only for its nutrients. I assure you it's the worst-tasting meal you could eat in this city. Every thing else you could eat here tastes a hundred times better.”
The three astronauts chuckled. “Who does most of the manual work around here?” asked Nuzor.
“Why, of course, the robots do all the unpleasant work,” explained the old man. “We have so many thousands of robots, for every possible purpose. Here a man can devote himself to pleasure, poetry, and philosophy for his entire life, or whatever pursuit pleases him, whether it be mental or physical. We have 50,000 years of art, books, films, and games. We have an abundance of everything we need.”
“Is there no crime?” asked Rolton.
“The last crime in this city was 500 years ago,” said the old man. “What need is there for crime when each citizen has all that he needs?”
“Does not anyone here suffer?” asked Nuzor.
“How could anyone suffer when we have the Bliss Berries in such abundance?” asked the old man in return. “The Bliss Berries instantly drown every pain in an ocean of pleasure.”
“Is everyone here as friendly as you?” asked Corok to the old man. “No,” he said, “almost all are much friendlier, even to strangers.”
When the old man's tour was finished, Rolton thanked him, and requested some time by himself, apart from the other two astronauts.
Rolton thought for a good long time about what to do next. Then he took out a hand-held device, and issued some orders to his starship which was orbiting the planet.
“I just ordered our starship to send a radio message to the imperial command of our great Empire,” explained Rolton. “The message is as follows: all that was discovered in this solar system was a lifeless rocky planet with no atmosphere. We are attempting to return, but the planet is surrounded by a thick cloud of asteroids, which makes our destruction very likely.”
The other two astronauts looked at each other with shocked faces.
“Then I gave one other order to our starship,” said Rolton. “I ordered it to fly directly into the lifeless moon that orbits this planet. When it hits that moon, our starship will smash into a thousand little pieces.”
The other two astronauts looked at each other, and then they both began laughing hysterically. They knew their days working for the Empire were over.
“Great!” said Corok. “We'll live on this pleasure-packed planet the rest of our lives. Now let's go court some Morph Maidens.”
“Sure, right after we have a whole bunch of those Bliss Berries,” laughed Nuzor.