The Cromsag Incident should never have occured. It violated the complex laws and strict moral code that were the foundation of the Galactic Federation. But it did
While conducting a routine survey mission, the scout ship Tenelphi dsicovered intelligent life on one of the worlds under investigation- a race apparently in serious trouble. Observation from orbit showed signs of advanced civilization together with indications of a fairly high level of technology. But towns and cities everywhere were run-down and abandoned, and of the planet's 17 continents, only one, in the equatorial region, was currently inhabited.
It was deduced that the planet was in the grip of a plague, and apparently survivors had gathered in the warmer equatorial zone to conserve power and resources. Yet no matter how much data the scout ship collected, one piece of the puzzle refused to fall into place.
Instead of joining forces for their mutual survival, the natives were engaged in a strange, archaic form of warfare. There were no mass-destruction weapons involved, no aerial bombing or artillery, though ground and atmospheric vehicles were available. There were used only to transport individuals to selected battlegrounds- where both men and women met in savage, hand-to-hand combat.
The Tenelphi was not equipped to handle any First Contact, let alone one in which- between the plague and the bloody battles- it looked as if the natives would be imminently wiped out. Because the situation was urgent, the battleship Vespasian was hastily converted for disaster relief and dispatched to Cromsag.
It was commanded by the Earth-human Colonel Williamson, but in matters pertaining to relief operations, the Tarlan, Surgeon-Captain Lioren, had the ultimate responsibility. And Lioren miscalculated badly.
In a short time, there were only a handful of the Cromsaggar still alive.
Lioren was a being of honor, who had always lived according to a rigid moral code; in his own mind, he deserved to be executed for genocide. But neither a civil court nor the subsequent court martial he insisted upon agreed. Catastrophic and horrifying though the result had been, the Tarlan had taken action he deemed necessary to save the people of Cromsag. The sentence handed down was, in Tarlan terms, worse than death: He was condemned to live... and to come to terms with his enormous sense of guilt.
He was stripped of his rank and assigned as a trainee in the Other-Species Psychology Department of Sector General Hospital. And there, forced to cope with the mysteries of his patients' minds rather than with the more familiar ailments of their bodies, Lioren began the long road toward his own rehabilitation and recovery...