Trial by Fire (The Outer Limits)

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"Trial by Fire"
The Outer Limits episode
Episode no. Season 2
Episode 9
Directed by Jonathan Glassner
Written by Brad Wright
Production code 31
Original air date 1 March 1996
Guest actors

Robert Foxworth as Charles Halsey, Diana Scarwid as Elizabeth Halsey, Teryl Rothery as Janet Brevson

Episode chronology
← Previous
"Straight and Narrow"
Next →
"Worlds Apart"
List of The Outer Limits episodes

"Trial by Fire" is an episode of The Outer Limits television series. It first aired on 3 March 1996, during the second season.

Introduction[edit]

The newly inaugurated President of the United States is diverted to an emergency underground bunker while on his way to his Inauguration Ball. He is told that an object is rapidly approaching the Earth.

Opening narration[edit]

Is man the center of the Universe made in the image of his God? Or is mankind merely the temporary occupant of an insignificant world about to be extinguished?

Plot[edit]

En route to his Inauguration Ball, newly sworn President Charles Halsey is diverted to a nuclear bunker and is greeted by his staff, including Junior Science Advisor Janet Brevson; National Security Advisor Tarquin; and General Covington, commander of the U.S. space program. They inform the president that an object traveling at half the speed of light will impact Earth in thirty minutes, wiping out human civilization. Halsey is advised to mobilize the military and provide some security for the survivors of the impact. Other nations across the world do likewise, and tensions between nations rise as worldwide military systems are put on alert. However, the object misses Earth and crashes into the far side of the moon in an immense fireball.

Celebrations are short-lived, however. Astronomers identify a group of objects traveling behind the original, and inform Halsey that the group is in fact a fleet of alien spaceships. Halsey decides to conceal this information from the rest of the world, triggering arguments between the bunker's military and civilian personnel. Theories on the original object begin to surface - the military argues that it was a display of force designed to scare Earth into surrender, whilst the scientists argue it was done as part of a maneuver to slow down. As the arguments continue, a fax comes through from Moscow, revealing that the Russians are aware of the approaching fleet and are determined to protect their country at all costs.

As the fleet approaches Earth, a military communications satellite is disabled by an energy pulse, further aggravating the situation. The scientists argue that the aliens inadvertently broke the satellite, whilst military leaders claim that they are trying to disable Earth's communications. First Lady Elizabeth Halsey initially persuades her husband that the aliens have peaceful intentions. However, he gradually allows the situation to escalate in the military's favor. Covington informs him that the U.S. possesses a nuclear weapon on board a space shuttle in violation of international treaties, but argues that it is the only chance they have of defending Earth. Meanwhile, Russia declares that they intend to use their nuclear weapons against any alien forces which violate Russian airspace.

As the fleet settles into orbit around Earth, another satellite receives a signal from the aliens. NASA contacts the bunker to say that they have discovered a video/audio message within the signal, and relays the message to the bunker. The message shows a humanoid alien making an unintelligible speech. The scientists in the bunker realize that the object that struck the Moon possesses quantum singularity, providing endless supply of energy for the alien fleet. While the scientists and the military argue whether the device was a gift, the press begins criticizing Halsey's apparent inaction while the Russians suspect he is negotiating with the aliens. Against the counsel of the military, Halsey broadcasts the message and welcomes the aliens to Earth, but explains that they must remain in orbit until diplomatic channels are opened. The Russians begin scheming to secure a prominent position at the planned summit.

After an alien response is broadcast, one of the orbiting ships breaks formation and enters the atmosphere, landing in the Pacific Ocean. The president, shaken by the prospect of invasion, is unable to make a decision. Despite pleas by the scientists and Elizabeth, Halsey order the military to DEFCON 2; the Russians mobilize their nuclear forces to strike any further alien incursions. Some of the scientists speculate that the aliens live in a water-based environment, causing panic amongst the military that the aliens are intent on an invasion in order to gain control of Earth's oceans.

Succumbing to panic, Halsey orders an immediate response using the space shuttle's nuclear device. At the same time, the Russians launch their missiles at the fleet from submarines in the Bering Sea. However, the aliens turn their energy beams on the shuttle and submarines, destroying them instantly. Seconds later, the aliens launch two unidentified objects at Washington, DC and Moscow. The staff in the bunker believe that the two objects are about to attack the two capitals. As the objects approach the cities, Halsey is asked whether additional rockets shall be launched. He declines, saying they have already done too much.

In the final moments before the objects arrive, a fax comes through from the cryptanalysts, having decoded the alien's original message. They realize that the aliens do in fact live in a liquid environment and that they were in fact speaking in plain English. Having removed the liquid distortion from the message, Brevson solemnly informs him of what the original transmission said: "Let us be your friends". The episode ends on the last seconds of the impact countdown, while Halsey comforts his upset wife, regretting his decisions, as do the military officials.

Closing narration[edit]

To those who would fail to heed their own words be warned: you never know who's listening.

External links[edit]