It felt cold on the bridge. The atmospherics were reading point eight above standard ambient, but it still felt cold. As if the great observation window was sucking the heat out into the void of space. First Arbitrator Hadrian did not hate his job. He loathed it with a passion and fury far, far beyond a shallow mortal construct such as ‘hate.’ He was the man tasked with making the impossible decisions and all the hard choices. The pale azure translucence of the command-screen hung in the air before him, flickering with its characteristic visual hum. Light caresses of fingertips streaked across the ephemeral surface, trailing faint wakes of white fire. Statistics were paged through, reports viewed, sensor readings computed. Lines were converging and systems locking in for the final phase of his latest crisis mitigation operation. Damage control. Fire-fighting. Call it what you will. He called it murder. He called it necessary. The washed out navy-blue of his standard issue enviro-cowl felt heavy and awkward. Vainly he tried to tug it into a more comfortable position. It was times like this that he truly felt his isolation, the futility of it all, the enormity of the tasks he performed. All the things he did in lonely isolation. Working for the Department of Statistics’ Resolution Body did not win you many friends, but at least it didn’t make you enemies. Nobody was that stupid in this day and age. Second Deputy Assistant Arbitrator Felicity rested negligently against a railing on the other side of the command dais. She was watching, perhaps learning. Hadrian knew nothing about her, he’d never even seen her face. It was the way the DSRB worked. You didn’t make friends, you didn’t show your face. You had to divorce yourself from your humanity just so you could get through the day. You weren’t people, you were tools, instruments of justice, the sharp end of the spear of peace. You did not keep the status-quo, you were the status-quo.
Their ship sat at high anchor above the planet they had come to destroy. An hour earlier they had launched a small device no larger than a clenched fist into the heart of the local star. Now the storm was boiling out from the sun towards them. A seething cloud a ravenous strangelets hell-bent on rendering all matter into copies of itself. Within another hour the planet would have been consumed. By the end of the day all that would be left of the system would be an inert cloud of stellar hydrogen. Thirteen billion would be dead, the cost to save two quadrillion more. If two empires were ready to go to war over one star system the only logical choice was to ensure neither of them could have it. War would be prevented, the balance would be maintained. The calculations showed it to be the truth. The calculations were not to be argued with. It was a price worth paying. Soon the entire populace would be dead and become nothing more than a statistics, a statistic of necessary action. Such was the way of the DSRB. It was an impossible decision, a hard choice, another day at the office.
Hadrian sighed. He felt tired, he always felt tired these days. There was only so much of this sort of work you could take before you’d sacrificed too much of yourself, until there was nothing left and you became nothing more than a soulless killing machine. Once that happened you were no longer and instrument of justice, you were a target for that which you had previously meted out. Perhaps it was time he retired, or at the very least took a desk job back at head quarters. Something easier on the knees and the stomach if not the conscience.
They stayed just long enough to watch the cloud engulf the world below them, an entire world dribbling into nothingness like melted wax. The cloud washed over the ship’s rarefaction fields spattering across them like a rain of molten copper, flashing irregularly into bursts of gold. Beautiful as it was it was tainted by the nature of its origin, something beautiful behind which lay a terrible truth. A bit like life really. With a wave of his hand Hadrian dismissed the command-screen.
“Thrusters to thirty percent, charge superluminal inductors and make ready for departure, forward all mission data to headquarters.” Said Hadrian, addressing the scattering of crewmen on the bridge. Hadrian began to pace away from the command dais heading for the transport tubes. “Arbitrator Felicity you have the conn.”
“Arbitrator Hadrian sir?” asked Felicity. Hadrian paused before the entrance to the transport tubes.
“Yes?” he replied wearily.
“What’s our heading?”
“Any direction” said Hadrian “It doesn’t matter.” Stepping into the transport tube First Arbitrator Hadrian sped away into the belly of the ship towards his quarters and an unsatisfying, restless sleep.