The Monument

The grounds of Starfleet Academy are expansive and well-mapped. Voice-activated navigation and other computerized services are omnipresent. Ensign Jameson stood looking at the wall, musing.

The wall was a tall slab of some metal he couldn’t make out just by eyeballing it, and he hadn’t thought to bring a tricorder along. Etched into it were two columns of names. Just names, nothing more, clearly readable in English. No, not names, he thought - racial designations. Below them, star systems, by common name. Vandervillaks, Epsilon Fuchi 2. Hakmak, Fisherman’s Bend 3. Rrinji Collective, Samuelson’s Star… The names weren’t laser-etched, either. They showed a distinct difference in style.

Just now, Earth’s own Sun was on the other side of the slab. It cast its shadow over him and well beyond.

The computer didn’t know what this place was. There wasn’t any voice control within 300 yards, and his portable terminal also drew a blank. Jameson frowned. Did it belong here?

“Good afternoon, Ensign,” came a voice. Jameson startled a bit, coming about in the direction of the voice. The uniform and rank insignia were the first thing his eyes took in; captain. Captain of a starship. The bald head and smiling face he recognized from reading the updates. “Captain Picard,” he said, coming to a crisp salute.

Picard returned the salute, then smiled. It was like a father, smiling warmly at his own son, but the captain had no family that Jameson knew of. How had he learned that trick?

“I bet you’re wondering what this place is.”

Jameson nodded. “Sir. The object does not appear in Starfleet Academy’s records, sir,” he replied.

Picard approached, coming into the shadow with the young man. He looked upward, taking in the slab with his own eyes, and began speaking.

“When this monument was constructed, ensign, a conscious decision was made to excise information about it from the records of Starfleet Academy. Not for any purpose or reason of security, nor because of any sort of extraterrestrial origin. Because the people who dedicated this monument wanted those who found it to seek out someone who’d know about it. They wanted the story to be told, person to person.”

The captain pointed at the left column of names first. “This monument is dedicated to those civilizations and races which have been most deeply affected by General Order #1 of Starfleet - the Prime Directive. On the left, the names of those races, as we understand them, whose societies either collapsed or were destroyed because of the Prime Directive. On the right, the names of those races, as we understand them, who we believe now survive today because of a violation of that same Directive.”

Jameson frowned for a moment. “Sir,” he began tentatively, and Picard motioned for him to continue. “Well, isn’t it a bit… doesn’t it give the wrong idea for us to learn about all the people whose lives were saved by breaking the order? I mean, won’t this be a temptation for people to say ‘here is evidence why we should do away with it’?”

Picard smiled again, and Jameson saw this time the familiar flash of pride - a teacher speaking to a prized pupil. “It’s true that there will always be members of Starfleet, at all ranks, who question the wisdom of the Prime Directive. But, Jameson, that is our highest duty. We should always question the wisdom of our most solemnly held beliefs and our most basic policies. We risk forgetting the reasons for our decisions if we don’t continually revisit those decisions.”

The captain turned, preparing to walk away. “There is one other thing about the monument. Its story is yours to tell someone else, should you find them here. And you may, more often than you think, and throughout your life. There are two reasons a starship captain is obliged to come here, though - to engrave a new name into the monument. Those names on the left in remembrance. Those names on the right after the trial.”

Jameson swallowed. “I hope… I hope never to do either, sir.”

Picard waved, nodding as he went. “As do I, ensign. As do I.”