goes on annexing territory as if it were the days of the Dezkuet Union.”
Myrab stared down at the glass of wine in front of him on the table. He was trying not to grind his teeth.
“He’s a madman,” Olomun agreed. “A relic of a time long past, though he doesn’t seem to know it. Indeed, this man is actually under the delusion that he can go on gobbling up the old republics while the West stands idly by. Insanity.”
Myrab looked away, let out a deep breath.
He turned toward the voice. Yina was looking at him with firm eyes. But when she saw his face, hers softened. “Please,” she whispered. “Don’t.” She was trying to hide it, but Myrab recognized the dread in her features. He knew it well.
“You have something to add, Myrab?”
He looked up to find Brid studying him from the far end of the table. As was Brid’s wife. As was Olomun and his wife as well. Myrab felt Yina’s hand slip onto his knee, and he glanced at her. She was looking toward Brid, a fragile smile on her face. “No,” Myrab answered, then shifted his gaze back to his wine glass.
“Take this downed plane, for instance,” Olomun continued. “I mean, who does this maniac think he is?”
Beneath the table, Yina squeezed Myrab’s knee. He took a breath, nodded to himself. It was gonna be one of those nights. It would have to be. For her.
“So you believe the Neh-eaushans are responsible?” asked Brid while reaching for a bottle of wine.
Olomun shrugged. “The Neh-eaushans or the pro-Neh-eaushan rebels, it amounts to the same thing, doesn’t it? A power hungry psychopath blowing civilians out of the sky.”
Myrab snorted, and rather loudly. He cursed himself as the room fell silent.
“Something funny, Myrab?” asked Olomun sardonically.
Yina was quick to interject. “No, Olomun, sorry. He was laughing at something else.”
“It’s alright, Yina,” said Brid with a grin. “We’re just having a discussion here. Let the man speak.”
“Absolutely,” agreed Brid’s wife Dosania.
Yina scanned the faces at the table in search of hope. Finding none, she slowly turned to Myrab. He was staring at her with round, apologetic eyes. Yina gave him a final, pleading look, then sat back in her chair. A moment later her hand slipped from her boyfriend’s knee.
Myrab dropped his eyes to the table.
“Well?” pressed Brid in a bright voice.
He’d meant to keep his word after the last time. “Why?”
“Why what?” returned Brid.
Myrab looked up at him. “Why would Vlabin do it? What could possibly motivate him to shoot down a planeload of innocent civilians?”
Brid spread his arms. “The same things that’ve motivated conquerors throughout history. Domination, control. Power.”
“Precisely,” a nodding Olomun concurred.
Myrab leaned back, threw an arm over his chair. He feigned puzzlement. “And how exactly does shooting down a passenger jet help him in that endeavor?”
Olomun planted his elbows on the table. “By drawing the Federated Sectors into the conflict.”
Myrab was nodding. “I see. So it’s your contention that Vlabin is actively seeking war with Zamerida?”
Olomun raised his chin. “I think the evidence is clear.”
Myrab shook his head. “You see, that’s odd. Because I was thinking all the evidence points to the contrary.” He leaned forward, placed his folded hands on the table. “We’ve been poking the man with a stick since this whole thing began, trying to get a reaction from him. There’ve been multiple instances where a military response from Neh-eausha would’ve been justified. But what is he doing? He’s sitting back, studying all the pieces on the board. You really think he doesn’t see what’s going on? Say what you will about the man, he’s no fool.”
“Going on?” Brid asked skeptically.
Myrab turned to him, all trace of playfulness gone. “Yes.”
Brid gave him dumbfounded. “I’m afraid you’ll have to elaborate on that one. Like an idiot, I’ve been getting my information from places like JNN and the New Kadum Times. Perhaps you’ve heard of them.”
“Sounds familiar, yeah,” Myrab said. “Now, remind me. Is that the same corporate media that lied us into a war with Hiquiba by claiming that realm had stockpiles of nuclear weapons?”
“Now wait a minute, fella—“
“—And by the way,” interrupted Myrab, turning to Olomun. “Since we’re on the subject of propaganda, that plane wasn’t shot down with a Neh-eaushan missile. Or even a pro-Neh-eaushan separatist missile. In fact it wasn’t downed by a missile at all. Well, maybe one to finish it off. But reports are coming in from inspectors on the ground in eastern Kofraife detailing how that fuselage is pockmarked all to hell. That means heavy machine gun fire. Combine that with scores of witnesses who say they saw two Kofraifian fighters tailing the plane that day, and it looks like the Varev forces intentionally shot that plane down in the hopes that Vlabin would get the blame.”
“Come on…,” Brid scoffed.
“That’s absurd,” stated Dosania.
“I have a question,” offered Olomun’s wife Nili. All eyes turned to her, but hers were focused on Myrab. “I assume you’re aware the Phlelohrean Union, along with the Federated Sectors, just hit Neh-eausha with a new round of sanctions, these much more severe?”
Myrab nodded. “I’m aware.”
“Then I’d like to ask the same question you did earlier,” she said calmly. “Why? Why would the PU agree to sanctions against a realm they’re heavily dependent upon if there was any doubt at all as to that realm’s guilt?”
“Because it’s all or nothing at this point.”
It took them a moment to register. Nili drew back, as did Brid. Dosania seemed at a loss, Olomun at some sort of decision. None of them appeared to have expected such an immediate and precise response. In truth, Myrab had been