“I don’t understand, Ambassador Cwan,” Commander Elizabeth Shelby said. “Are you telling me that the Thallonian government actually encouraged the Iraqis to be bullies?”
Si Cwan nodded gravely. “We did, yes. It seemed the most prudent course. Our military resources were stretched enough, and if we could encourage a regional power to ‘take charge,’ so to speak, in this sector, it freed us to pursue our policies elsewhere.”
Captain Mackenzie Calhoun frowned. “But you gave them biogenic weapons, which they then used on the Iranians, the Kuwaiti, their own citizens. How can you justify this?”
Cwan’s hand slapped the conference room table. “I did nothing, Captain. This policy was implemented by my father and his predecessor.”
“What did the Thallonians gain by this arrangement?” asked Soleta.
Cwan took a deep breath, grateful that the tenor of conversation had shifted to something less confrontational. “Resources, Lieutenant. My government gave the Iraqi the weapons they needed to maintain order in this sector, and in exchange we received natural energy resources desperately needed elsewhere in the Empire.”
“You mean to tell us, Ambassador,” Shelby said, her voice growing cold, “that you exploited a people you set up to exploit others?”
Cwan bristled. “Of course, Commander Shelby. It was quite a natural arrangement.”
“I must admit, Lord Cwan,” Calhoun interrupted, “I fail to see the point of this mission. Why exactly are we travelling to Iraq-115?”
“Why, isn’t that clear, Captain? The Iraqi have been making provocative gestures toward the remaining Thallonian worlds. They have been clandestinely developing more powerful biogenic weapons–”
“–from the very biogenic weapons your family so willingly gave them when it benefitted them,” Calhoun finished.
“That is not true at all, Captain.”
“Oh?” said Calhoun. “From where I sit, that’s very much how it appears.”
“Your orders, Captain?” Shelby asked.
Calhoun stared at Si Cwan across the conference table. Nothing more needed to be said. “We’ll continue on towards Iraq-115 and meet with their leader, Hussein. If I believe we can do something productive, then I will. If not, with all due respect to Lord Cwan, I think there are far better ways for me to waste the Excalibur‘s time.”
Hussein was quite taken by Calhoun’s ready room. “That’s an impressive sword, Captain,” he said, noting the Danteri blade hanging on the wall behind Calhoun’s desk.
“Thank you, Your Excellency.”
“It is now. I took it from the man who gave me this scar,” Calhoun said, pointing at the scar running down his cheek.
Hussein laughed heartily. “A worthy foe, then. I take it he died for your wounds.”
Calhoun smiled thinnly. “Death wasn’t enough for him.”
Shelby heard the yelling on the bridge. She dashed to the ready room door, called for a security override, and entered. Calhoun stood before his desk, starring at the wall.
“Mac?” she whispered.
“The sword. That bastard took the sword.”
She looked at the wall. Calhoun’s ceremonial sword was, indeed, missing. “How?”
“How?” Calhoun echoed. “What does that matter? The sword’s gone. I don’t know how, I don’t care how. That bastard Hussein is going to pay.” He paused for emphasis. “Dearly.”
“Of course I stole your sword, Captain. I thought it would look nice in my own residence.”
“It’s not yours, Hussein. I want it back.”
“You’ll have to come and take it, then. Fight me for it, like a man.”
“No, Hussein, I have a better idea.” He turned to Kebron. “Cut the channel.”
The screen went dark.
“Soleta, is the transponder I installed in the sword still functioning?”
“Mac, I don’t believe this. You installed a transponder in your sword?”
Calhoun shrugged. “Someone was bound to steal it one of these days. Best if I can track down the bastard who stole it.”
Shelby shook her head. Calhoun could be so rationally irrational at times.
“Zak, the shields on the Iraqi city?”
“We can beam through them.”
“Excellent. Have Transporter Room Two beam my sword directly to the bridge.”
Seconds later, Calhoun’s sword reappeared in the center of the bridge.
“Captain,” Kebron said, “we are being hailed by the surface.”
“I have no doubt,” Calhoun said as he stood, straightening his tunic. “On screen.”
“Captain, I thought you were a man of honor and you would fight me for the sword.”
“Honor? You’re a thief, Hussein. You stole something of mine, I’m right to steal it back.”
Hussein smiled. “We’re even, then.”
“Hardly. Bullies need to learn lessons. And get your own sword.” Calhoun turned to Kebron. “Zak, lock photon torpedoes on the Iraqi weapons facilities located by Soleta.”
Kebron growled, “Done.”
“Captain, what are you doing?”
“Teaching you a lesson. A long-overdue one. Close channel.” He paused dramatically. “Fire.”
The Excalibur rocked slightly as a dozen photon torpedoes streaked down toward Iraq-115’s surface. Explosions blossomed across the main continent.
“Mac, was that necessary?” Shelby asked in the Team Room.
“Absolutely. He stole my sword.”
“But you destroyed half the planet.”
“Eppy, he stole my sword.”
Shelby shook her head. Calhoun could be so maturely immature at times.