Author : Bob Newbell, Featured Writer

Vandrin walked into the officer's club and saw Rudneth sitting by himself at a table in a corner. Fleet Admiral Rudneth was drinking shots of straight tyrofin. To all appearances, he'd been at it for some time. Vandrin doubted if his friend could stand on his own three feet. He walked over and settled himself on the forwardly inclined chair opposite Rudneth. The Fleet Admiral's three eyes blearily focused on Vandrin.

“I heard what happened,” said Vandrin as he poured himself a shot glass of liquor. “No one blames you.”

“My command. My responsibility,” said Rudneth a good bit louder than was necessary. He poured himself another shot of tyrofin, spilling half of it on the table.

“They say no battle plan ever survived contact with the enemy,” replied Vandrin. “Everyone knows the inquiry is purely a technicality. You won't be found culpable.” He extended his proboscis into the glass and sucked up the liquor in an instant.

“I'm the first,” Rudneth said. “In all of history, I'm the first one to fail. Even if this happens again someday, even if it happens a hundred times, I'll always be the first one who didn't succeed.” He tried to pour more booze into his glass but the bottle was empty. He turned to get the bartender's attention then quickly grabbed the table. The liquor had destroyed his equilibrium and the officer's club felt like it was turning over.

“Look, Rud, the situation is what it is. You can drink yourself under the table and it won't change a thing. All that happened was–”

“All that happened was we got beat,” said Rudneth as his vertigo subsided a little. “All I had to do was put humanity on trial. All I had to do was judge whether the human race deserved annihilation or not. We've put dozens of other civilizations on trial throughout history. Some passed the trial and were permitted to survive, others were found guilty and condemned to genocide. But the humans were the first to…” He let the sentence trail off.

“Get a hold of yourself, Rud!” said Vandrin. “All they did was–”

“Sue us!” yelled Rudneth. “Two hundred starships in orbit around Earth announcing humanity was being put on trial and they sued us for malicious prosecution! Used our own legal system against us! And it stood up in court!”

“Calm down! Let me get us another bottle of–”

“And then more lawsuits!” said Rudneth, ignoring Vandrin's offer of more liquor. “Defamation. Intentional infliction of emotional distress. Trespass to land. Frivolous litigation. Blackmail.”

“It's not your fault. The humans had a whole clan devoted to litigation. They practiced it on each other constantly. We were unprepared for the legal onslaught the — what did they call themselves? 'Americans'? — unleashed on us.

Rudneth cradled his head in his hands. “Our attorneys never had a chance. The cease and desist letters. The injunctions. The subpoenas, in the name of all that's holy, the subpoenas!”

Vandrin placed a hand on Rudneth's shoulder. “We're still hopeful for an out of court settlement. We're going to offer them warp drive technology if they drop the suit. We may not even have to face punitive damages.”

Rudneth didn't hear what his companion was saying. The tyrofin had finally taken effect. “Your honor, I object,” the inebriated officer said right before he passed out on the table.

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