The Tribunal Hall was rife with tension as the well-dressed ambassadors of more than three hundred different peoples stared at the pale blue maps that hovered at the center. The three dimensional display was speckled with archipelagos of various star systems, glowing either yellow to denote settlement by the Garu peoples or red, the shade of their aggressors.
“Intervention is inevitable,” said the representative from Tarus. It was what his people always said. Warlike and domineering, they’d wrestled their way to galactic dominance by tearing down the civilizations of their neighbors and spring boarding off of their progress until they faced an enemy that they could not defeat. “We take the Tarusian fleet and lay waste to the aggressors, put them back to a single planet and keep them there. They are an untempered and dangerous life form, let them grow unchecked and soon races from this Tribunal will be facing their horde.”
“Pah! Enough of your fear mongering!” a translation unit shouted from the far end of the room. It was strapped on the nebulous, bacteria-like form of a Prolot whose communication organs spewed a stack of fumes into the box that converted the thought-gas to the galactic common-tongue. “This is a lower race with no more than two-hundred stars to it’s name. Laying waste to a civilization simply because it is threatens to do the same to another violates the order of this Tribunal. We must bring balance, not destruction.”
The Tarusian sneered, his twin sets of lips peeling back in anger over his ominous, dark mouth. “And what of the Garu? Without someone to defend them, we will lose a form of precious sentience. Was this assembly not formed to defend against such atrocities?”
The Tarusian turned to the rest of the room, but they were silent. The Prolots and Tarusian were among the Tribunal’s most powerful civilizations and were rarely contested on such fronts. Each of them had might beyond measure, the Prolots with their vast trade networks and the Tarusian’s with their terribly vast fleet. Even throwing support behind one was enough to anger the other into embargoing or rescinding protection treaties. So the room remained silent.
“If it had been,” said the Prolot’s translator, taking a snarky tone. “Then it is a marvel that a civilization such as yours has joined. How many sentient peoples were extinguished on your people’s rise to power? Forty-six?”
“Forty-seven,” said the Tarusian. “But that was before we’d achieved enlightenment.” Behind his stern grimace, a few of the other ambassadors could hear him gnashing his teeth. This spot was still a sore one.
“Regardless, we cannot fault a territorial people for doing what comes naturally to them when they haven’t yet moved even ten span from their homeworld. They are but a drop in a world-spanning ocean, a single white-dwarf amongst a burgeoning galaxy, no more threatening to us than a single ship might be to your mighty armada,” said the Prolot.
“Ignorance!” snarled the Tarusian. “Do you not see the power they wield? Their weapons sever matter itself! It is crude, yes, but in time they could sow seeds of destruction across an unfathomable expanse.”
“As do yours, and the Trogdarians, and the Runbup People’s of Star-Fen,” said the Prolot ambassador. “I do not wish to see the Garu die, but why must the aggressors suffer a fate so much the same? These are low sentients we’re discussing, they have not yet even mastered star-travel. None of us would have even batted an eye at this had you Tarusian’s not raised such a huff over them. And that, it seems, is because you fear the rise of a competitor, if anything.
The Tarusian shouted, trying to form a rebuttal, but the Prolot increased his volume and stormed ahead, ignoring him. “I propose the Tribunal votes. We can either go through with the Tarusian’s brutal plan, stranding the aggressors on their homeworld, or we can do that which is reasonable and allow these two low sentients to rise as we all have, engaging in natural competition without interference.”
The room began to fill with murmurs, the ambassadors discussing among each other not necessarily what decision was the best to take but which, rather, might bring about the least ill-effects for their societies. It was during this low-hum of murmurs that a tall, elongated, bipedal rose to stand beside the two of them. The Prolot and the Tarusian exchanged a confused look. Then the Prolot turned toward the figure. “What do you think you’re doing?” the translation unit sputtered in a haughty tone.
The figure did not answer, but turned to face the crowd. “My fellow ambassadors,” it said in an eerie, two-toned voice. “Most of you do not know me, as I often make it my business to not be known. But I am Shar-Valuk, the ambassador from Priam.”
“Priam?” said the Tarusian, stifling laughter. “That three-world civilization from the far-rim? I didn’t know your folk were even a member race.”
“Though you will likely not recall, as it was many cycles ago and it was our intention for it to remain obscured, Priam was a founding member of the High Sentience Tribunal,” said Shar-Valuk. “But alas, we are not here for a history lesson. I am here to offer an alternative to both the Prolot and Tarusian proposals. They are both quite well reasoned, yet both seem to lack a truly comprehensive grasp on dealing with the long-term.”
“Long-term?” chuckled the Tarusian ambassador. “Should we really be heeding advice about the long-term from a being whose people have not yet left their mother-star?”
“I assure you, if there was a need to settle beyond our current borders we would do so,” Shar-Valuk told the Tarusian before turning back to the rest of the crowd. “These aggressors are dangerous, as the Tarusian says. Our people have been studying them for nearly two hundred cycles and until finding the Garu in nearby space, they warred nearly endlessly among one another.”
The Tarusian grinned with both sets of lips. “All the more reason to send them to the slaughter.”
“Ahh,” said the Priamese ambassador raising a long, lanky digit. “But it is the responsibility of the Garu, as a low sentience, to prove themselves resilient enough to be worthy of enlightenment. A feat which they have fallen woefully short of, as we can all plainly see.” Shar-Valuk pointed toward the map, where the flood of red encroached upon the increasingly dwarfed remainder of yellow systems. “So we find ourselves in a bit of a conundrum. The policy of this Tribunal states that low sentient life mustn’t be interfered with unless that life poses a significant threat to one or more High Sentient peoples. And according to said policy both the Prolot and Tarusian proposals are at the same time correct and incorrect responses to the situation. So instead, I shall propose a third.” He paused. “Eradicate the Garu.”
All manner of vexation engulfed the room. There were shouts, bright burning colors of anger, a terrible, bitter smelling fume that emanated from the Tubrash ambassador in the far corner. But among the many seats of the Tribunal, no two were more outraged than the Prolot and Tarusian standing beside the tall Priamese dignitary. The both of them began letting loose a slurry of angry insults toward Shar-Valuk, who stared calmly forward, seemingly unresponsive. “Destroy the Garu?” the Prolot’s translator shouted in disgust. “Perhaps we should plant a black hole on Priam while we’re at it. After all, your people are just as worthy of eradication as they are.”
“I assure you,” said Shar-Valuk. “Guilt has little to do with it. It is about–”
“Oh enough of it,” interrupted the Tarusian. “This isn’t about anything other than the Priamese wanting an ally with a large arsenal. They’re a small empire with few friends among our Tribunal’s ranks. Is it not possible that they wish to use these aggressors to stage a coup?”
“Possible,” said the Priamese ambassador. “But highly improbable. And we have very little need of an army to bend you to our bidding, Tarusian.”
The twin-mouthed ambassador guffawed. “You? Bend us to your will? And how exactly shall your single-system hamlet manage that?”
Shar-Valuk turned to the Tarusian, a glimmer in his night-black eye. “Do you think it was coincidence that the moved the Trogdarian Collective across your path when you were still little more than war-mongers? Or what about you Prolot?” He turned toward the enormous bacterium. “Twenty cycles ago when the Great Pulsar Storms kept you from forming a monopolizing alliance with the Anke Tribe, was it mere chance that churned them forth?” Shar-Valuk shifted back forward then and addressed the room once more, “This Tribunal has interfered with many threatening low-sentients before. Some of you sit here now, ascended, others have been lost to the space between stars. Perhaps these aggressors too will one day sit among us, but if they are to hope to do so, action must be taken.
“They must be halted,” Shar-Valuk went on. “There are variable ways to do this, but the one which interferes the least and maintains the greatest balance is the one I have proposed. We Priamese have studied these folk and found them to be brutal and violent, yet in their time since first contacting the Garu warring between their own factions has ceased. We’ve run simulations and are firm in our belief that if they are robbed of this common enemy, these war-like beasts will turn inward and battle amongst themselves once more.
“What’s more is that the Garu have used this conflict to prove themselves weak, irresolute, and unworthy for enlightenment. This may be difficult for some of you to admit, but if you divorce your passion you also may see the truth apparent. If we weren’t to intervene their death would come regardless and the aggressor forces would have all the knowledge currently privy only to the Garu home world, including maps which would lead them to many of your own systems.”
Concern swam through the crowd in gasps and other myriad forms of panic. The Prolot looked over to find that the Tarusian ambassador wore an unsure grimace himself. He turned back to the crowd and sent a blaring call from his translation unit to quiet them down. “The time for deliberation is over,” he said. “Let the voting commence!”
A hush fell over the room while the collected ambassadors of the High Sentience Tribunal made their marks on their small voting devices. Many did little more than stare at theirs, while others found themselves shifting their mark between all three proposals again and again. Even the Prolot, usually set in his ways, deliberated for some time before selecting an answer. But as with every Tribunal vote it soon came to a close and the results leapt to life in the same blue light that had previously brought the map to life.
The room was transfixed. Both the Prolot and the Tarusian ambassadors felt a bit of sickness churn inside them. Shar-Valuk however, looked as collected as always.
“Then so it is,” spoke the Priamese ambassador, addressing the Tribunal in the standard fashion of the deliberation’s victor. “The Garu Assembly shall receive an early end to their collective misery while their aggressors, the Humans, will be allowed to continue on, either to prove themselves enlightened or tear themselves apart.”
Originally posted as a response to a prompt by /u/TerriblePrompts on reddit.com