The Extermination of Tukralu
Nobody can hear a scream in the vacuum of space, or so they say. He supposed that was a good thing, really. No one would be forced to bear witness to the atrocities that would be carried out here today.
Gazing out the window of the ship at the children playing in the field far below him, the captain chewed his lip, his memories flashing through the echoed cries of yesteryear.
He couldn’t tell you quite how he had managed to rise through the ranks to become the commander of the BC Hephaestus. Fifty-one ribbons dotted his chest, witness to the dozens of eradications he had faithfully executed. Yet not one of those missions had left him with a feeling of bravery or valor.
He certainly didn’t have the courage of Nichols, who had faced down a giant Siroden and hacked it into tiny pieces, before the venom from its saliva brought him down with it. Nor did he have the intelligence of Gasper, who’s coding prowess had allowed her to hack an enemy ship and send it careening into their local medical facility. Her heroics were touted on every news station for weeks, before she ended things with a bullet to her brain.
Back when he had first enlisted, senior officers had been a thing of awe – stories of inspiration to guide the dreams of the young recruits. He remembered being regaled with tales of selfless sacrifices and heroic deeds that earned their commanders such esteem. These days, it felt as if the standards of officers had been lowered from ‘hero’ to ‘person who survives.’
What exactly made one a hero, anyways? The number of villages torched in the dead of night? The scores of unsuspecting lives ended with a flick of his sword? The number of grenades launched into peacefully sleeping houses?
“Gather the recruits,” he gruffly ordered his second in command.
"Right away, Captain Caspian, sir!" the too eager-to-please youngling yelped, anxious to prove his value in any way possible.
The Captain huffed, rolling his eyes in irritation. The pups they filled his ship with these days were far too bright-eyed for his tastes. So evident that the horrors of battle had yet to tar their view of the endless march to glory.
He studied the men as they filed in, years of discipline evident in their perfectly-rigid posture and alert but unseeing stares, as they quickly arranged themselves in a perfect line before him.
“Let me tell you a story, of a young soldier eager to prove his worth,” the Captain droned, his eyes flicking back to the window.
“Thrust into the military at the ripe age of sixteen, after facing down a mean-mugged judge and the threat of a future viewed through steely bars, the boy quickly learned that the less-confining option was not necessarily the more freeing of the two. Sleep deprivation, missed meals and grueling treks soon forced into the boy the discipline that a lifetime of whipping could not.”
“Three years of being pushed and appraised in every way imaginable, and his country was finally prepared to call in the debt owed to them for saving him from a lifetime of delinquency. With 24 hours’ notice to pack a bag and kiss loved ones goodbye, his squad loaded up and embarked on a mission to prove their worth, and protect their nation’s values with everything they had.”
“No amount of training could have prepared the boy for what he would witness once he arrived on the small planet, nestled in the outskirts of the Comodorre galaxy. Screams of unsuspecting citizens rose up as the ships docked, feeble foreshadowing for the events about to unfold. ‘Torch everything’ his commanders barked, ‘no survivors left to tell their tale.’ With the honor, loyalty and blind faith instilled in them so carefully by the nation they served, the men obeyed the orders with pride. Homes torched, skulls rolling loose, small rivers of blood collecting in gutters as the life of an entire population was reduced to crimson rain.”
“The boy took his first life that day. His opponent, no more than twelve, armed with a knife she stole from her mother’s kitchen. She managed no more than a poorly aimed swing and miss before she became a lop-sided kebab dangling from his blade.”
“More men were lost that day than returned to the ship, every inch of their cargo space filled with the corpses of their fallen compatriots. The remaining men crowded into the bunks farthest from the hold, in a failed attempt to escape the stench of death permeating the ship.”
“It wasn’t until they were halfway home that it was decided that the fuel reserves were being stretched too thin, and the escape pods were stuffed to bursting with the bodies of the soldiers who had laid down their lives for the sake of their planet. One by one the pods were launched off to the depths of the galaxy in an intergalactic pauper’s funeral.”
“Awards were given to the survivors upon their return, for all those who had shown undeniable courage and loyalty to the cause. It wasn’t until this ceremony that the boy finally voiced the question ‘why?’ and learned that the genocide was triggered by the failure of a diplomatic representative to observe proper customs when meeting with their nation’s great leaders.”
“A salute with his left hand instead of his right had cost his people their future.”
“The boy lied about the reason behind the mission, of course, when the families of his deceased fellows came to him for answers. Better to memorialize the fallen in the best possible light, and allow their families the peace of believing that they had given their lives for a truly worthy cause, than to let them in on the true meaning of war, and cast them into the same kind of hell he now resided in.”
“Fifty-one missions I’ve served in, and I’ve long-since learned to stop questioning the reasons behind the orders. Not one reason has ever been given that’s justified the commands that are being carried out. These missions, and the things that are being asked of you, will break you. Pieces of your soul, incinerated, till all that's left is a husk of the man that once stood proud.”
“Should any man here wish to save their soul, I won’t breathe a word to the chain of command. Step forward if you wish to leave before it’s too late. Escape pods can be programmed with the coordinates of safe locations to escape to, where new identities can be established.” A pleading tone crept into his voice as he choked out the last few sentences of his speech. His eyes roamed the young soldiers, silently begging them to turn back, to make a different choice than he had made all those years before.
One by one, the men stepped slowly back, their discipline unbroken.
The captain stared at their rigid faces, his gaze growing solemn as he realized his soliloquy came too late. Their will had already been stolen. The damage irreversible.
With one last salute shadowing the despair in his deadened eyes, the captain barked the command to deploy.
Author's note: This story has two companion pieces, The Terrible Tragedy of Tukralu and The Last Tukrali
There's a really powerful message within your story. Brutal at times, and appropriately so to this world and character, I think your writing does well to capture this intensity and destruction of oneself when operating mindlessly or with little choice on behalf of an aggressive state.