Tzenkethi Lieutenant Hulrun looked down at his sensor station as data filled its display monitor. A cursory glance revealed the scan markers he’d been assigned to look for. Positive, he thought. There’s no doubt. I must report. He stood from his console and turned to face his commanding officer nearby.
I must condemn billions to die.
Captain Yur Tzen-Crinnu stared silently at the central monitor as Hulrun rose from his station. The master of the Coalition Warship Steadfast was of noble birth; the presence of the Tzen before his family name declared this to all of his crew. Despite his station in Tzenkethi society, the captain took pains to know his shipmates, to work and fight with them. It was not a common practice of noble-born officers; such familiarity was often frowned upon by the upper echelon of Tzenkethi society. But he did it anyway, and it earned him the high esteem of his crew. Because of this, Hulrun was reluctant to announce his findings. Despite being the messenger, Hulrun knew the final command to scour a planet of life would come from the captain… and that such an order would take a toll upon the man, delivering a burden no one should have to shoulder.
“Something on your mind, Lieutenant,” inquired Tzen-Crinnu, his gaze shifting from the monitor toward the junior officer. “You’re not usually one to lurk about like a stalking beast on the hunt.”
“Captain,” Hulrun said hesitantly. “Long range probe data has arrived. The targeted system has been classified as positive. By Autarchical Dictate 1219, we…”
“Yes, Lieutenant, I am fully aware of the dictate in question. I have followed it three times already. Consider your duty in this matter fulfilled and return to your station.”
As Hulrun obeyed, Tzen-Crinnu followed protocol. Orders were given; crewmen obliged. The Steadfast sped through the sector at maximum warp toward the target world. The Autarch was quite clear – once a target was classified positive, it was to be scoured as soon as possible. Hesitation would be seen as weakness, and weakness would be dealt with accordingly.
Below decks, a team of technicians began to prepare the weapon, a scientific terror and the ultimate expression of the Autarch’s might – a protomatter bomb. Once detonated, the bomb would cleanse the target world of all offending life in a matter of moments.
Once the word was given.
Knowing that the engine of destruction was now in motion, Tzen-Crinnu stood and nodded at his Tactical Officer. “You have the conn,” he said flatly. “Instruct the galley to prepare my evening meal.” Quietly, he engaged his personal transporter and faded from the view of the bridge crew. Upon rematerializing in his personal quarters, he walked to a shelf containing a well-worn tome. His family crest adorned the cover of the book, a chronicle of his lineage and the deeds of his forebears. He regarded it with respect before opening it slowly.
“All my fathers, all my mothers, from the first hatching to this moment - share with me your wisdom. I am your humble son, and I am lost. Guide me now to the Path best followed.”
“Captain,” the monotone voice of the ship’s computer said. “Lieutenant Hulrun petitions to enter. Shall I allow it?”
Tzen-Crinnu closed his book and stood, placing it back on the shelf.
“Yes, computer. Send him in.” The junior officer entered a moment later, saluting before removing his sidearm and placing in the rack near the entrance. He stood silently at attention thereafter, doing his utmost to look calm – and failing miserably.
“Be at ease, Lieutenant. I would know what brings you here,” the captain said. “You’re troubled, that much is clear. Why?”
“Captain, I… I wish to issue a statement of protest,” the younger officer said nervously. “Formally.”
“I see. You are aware that once the statement is entered in the ship’s records, it cannot be recanted… for any reason.”
“I am, sir. I do not withdraw my request.”
Tzen-Crinnu gave the lieutenant an icy stare. “If you’re serious about this, I would know the reason why, Lieutenant. I would know why a promising officer would place his career – his life – in jeopardy. Speak now.”
Hulrun cleared his throat before responding. “I do this because that which I protest is not our way. It is craven, and… and…”
“Yes? Go on, Lieutenant.”
“It is not the Path of the Just. It isn’t even the Path of Violence. It is the Path of Madness.”
Tzen-Crinnu stood quietly and pointed at a tattered, stained, and partially burnt banner hanging upon one of the walls of his quarters.
“Do you know what that is, Lieutenant?”
“The battle standard of your first ship, sir… from the war with Federation and Empire…“
“Yes. I carried it proudly throughout that conflict. I took it from the bridge when the ship was about to plunge, burning and wrecked, into the skies of Betazed while her cities burned below. I carried it into a Federation prison not long after that.” Tzen-Crinnu stared at the ravaged banner for a while before he continued.
“Time passed, and the Autarch decided that Tzenkethi walked the Path of Peace. The Federation let me have the banner when they released me. I keep it here to remind me of that campaign, what was lost… and the Path of Madness that led to it all.”
“Sir? I… I don’t understand. The war with the Federation was…”
“Madness, lieutenant! That entire war was madness! No one in their right mind would have attacked the Federation, let alone the combined forces of Federation and Empire!”
“But we had cause! They took sacred land, sacred worlds…”
“A misunderstanding at best. In the end, we fought in the name of the Autarch, over slights real and imagined, because he wished it so. We bled them, we burned them, but in the end, it was we who were brought to heel. And when he surrendered, the Autarch’s son came forth to seek vengeance for his father’s weakness.”
“And he’s been the Autarch ever since,” Hulrun said. “May mercy find our souls in the void.”
“Mercy,” Tzen-Crinnu spat. “That is not a quality he knows. Mercy doesn’t drive the hand that ends lives without end.”
“No,” said Hulrun. “Madness does. And that is why I am here to protest. I cannot abide the murder of innocents for the sake of madness.”
“Your intentions are clear, Lieutenant. Before we continue, I offer you a counter-proposal. Heed my words…”
Captain Tzen-Crinnu regarded the image of the target world on the tactical monitor. Class –M, fertile and life-sustaining, home to a pre-industrial society, billions of lives, all blissfully oblivious to the doom waiting for them above.
“Lieutenant Hulrun,” he said. “Has the protomatter weapon been placed and primed?”
“Aye,” Hulrun replied from his station. “The team has beamed back to the ship. We await your command.”
“Very well, Hulrun. You have your orders. Execute.”
Hulrun keyed in a sequence on his console. Seconds later, a barrage of weapons-fire erupted from the Steadfast toward the planet, engulfing the bomb site and utterly annihilating the dreaded weapon.
A shocked silence fell upon the bridge for a few seconds, followed by the sound of sidearms being removed from their holsters.
“Madness,” one of the crew said. “You walk the Path of Madness!”
“No,” the captain replied as Hulrun stood by his side to face the others. “Madness would’ve been to follow our orders and murder this world. I walk a new path now.”
“As do I,” said Hulrun. “And you should join us.”
No one fired. Calls from other decks began to fill the air as weapons were holstered. The captain took his seat and smiled.
“The crew has questions,” he said to the rest of the bridge crew. “Let’s give them the answers they seek. Navigator, what is the closest Federation system?”
“Izar, sir. Four days at maximum warp.”
“Set a course,” Tzen-Crinnu replied. “There are things the Federation should know, and soon.”
Star Trek Online