The Captain viewed the mass of gold, olive, and russet flashing on his screen. The display of colors was in fact a small town, and a beautiful one at that, with its spectacular summer foliage and quaint little houses that made it look like something out of a greeting card. But the Captain was not admiring the town's splendor. Instead, he was brooding over its destruction.

"Sir, what will happen to this town?" asked the attendant that stood nearby.

The Captain's eyes remained focused on the screen as he answered. "I am not sure. It has gone beyond its allotted expiration date. By order of Apollyon, I am forced to initiate its obliteration. And yet.."

His voice trailed off. The Captain stood pondering his predicament. Why must he destroy another town? Did he want to cause so much pain and suffering – again?

No.

It was not that he wanted to do it. It was because he had to do it. Apollyon carried strict orders. If they were not followed, it would result in severe punishment.

"In this world and time, every decision we make is a matter of life and death," Apollyon had once told him. "It is yours or theirs. You are of a superior class, destined for a higher calling. Mercy is for those who show weakness. They do not deserve life."

The Captain shuddered at the words. Oh yes, he had heard the rumors of what had happened to the captains before him who had showed weakness. It was not a desirable fate.

"Captain, have you made your decision?"

The Captain realized that he was still poised before the image of the town displayed on the screen. The sun was setting over the horizon and cast a crimson light over it, deepening its beauty. The shapes and colors danced before his eyes, as if mocking him.

The Captain gazed once more at the town. He wondered how many people lived there. How many mothers and fathers and children were unaware that there lives were in the hands of a mortal man who did not have the slightest idea of the magnitude of his decision.

"Life can appear unfair sometimes," he said suddenly. "It is quite ironic that the fate of others is often determined by a single being who by no means possesses the power to make such a decision. Cruelty is not in my nature. Yet, it is the one thing I am forced to employ each day I end the lives of guiltless people."

"Sir? Is that not the purpose of our existence, to rid our world of the unworthy? That is the teaching of Master Apollyon. I do not think we have the right to question his ways. It is he who gives us life."

"Yes, but it is I who must take it away." The Captain looked painfully away from the screen. He could feel the excruciating guilt in the depths of his heart for the people of the town, but he could also feel Apollyon's wrath if he did not carry out his instructions. Did this make him a coward? Was he really going to sacrifice an entire population to ensure his survival of another day? At that point, it did not matter. He was already doomed.

"It is better to be a pawn of the Devil than in his path," he whispered and reached out for the ominous red button on the control panel. The Captain closed his eyes as he pressed it. For a moment, he could hear the cries of a thousand voices.

Then, all was silent.

He opened his eyes. The screen was blank, except for a thin haze of pink matter that drifted over a mammoth crater. The town was no more.

"Dirige nos," the Captain murmured as he made the Sign of the Cross and turned his eyes upward, searching for salvation that he wasn't sure would come.

--

A/N: Dirige nos translated means "guide us". As for the name Apollyon, it is Greek for "the destroyer" and was often used by early Christians as an alternate name for Lucifer.