"You were very clear on what he was to do?"

"Yes, Commander. Murder his only son. With a knife."

"And you explained why?"

"Because you said so. Period. And before you ask, yes, he thinks you make the rain, and the harvest, and grant victory in battle, can prevent or cause disease, and so on."

"So he agreed to do this atrocity in order to curry favor with me?"

"Of that there can be no doubt."

The Commander turned a sad shade of deep green. "And I had such high hopes for this species. I truly did."

"Well, clearly they’re not ready to join the Intergalactic Fellowship."

"That’s the understatement of the eon. And a real pity. All the disease and starvation we could have spared them."

"Right now, sir, they’re like an infection themselves."

"True enough. And we must isolate it." The Commander’s ridge quills drooped against the scales on his back. "They’ll think they’re all alone in the universe. So very sad."

"Shall I transport down and stop him? From the filicide, I mean? There’s still time."

"Oh, yes. Go swiftly. Stay his hand."

"And what shall I tell him?"

"Tell him the truth. It was all just a test."

"And tell him that he failed."

"Yes. Of course. He’s proud, this Abraham. It will sting his ego. But perhaps when he retells the story to his people, it will serve as a catalyst for their moral growth."

"We can only hope, sir. We can only hope."