The High Warlord of Antemon was having a bad day. For three days now, his starship’s engines had been experiencing weird power fluctuations which his engineering crew had been unable to track down. His ship was perilously close to the border of Terran space, so the engine trouble was more than an academic problem. Despite the tenuous truce between Antemon and its former overlords, the last thing the High Warlord wanted was any kind of mechanical failure when the closest settlement might be Terran, not Antemonian. And to top it all off, he was being subjected to the worst insubordination that he had ever encountered, from a junior trainee, no less!
The rest of his crew had been following his difficulties with ill-disguised fascination, and that knowledge only served to enrage the Warlord further. He struggled to keep his voice even as he responded to the latest outrageous claim. “You are not being treated like a child,” he said, continuing to stalk down the ship’s corridor. He had a faint hope, growing dimmer by the moment, that the trainee would fall behind.
She didn’t. She had to trot to match his longer stride, but she remained half a step behind him, arguing all the way. The Warlord’s color rose as crewmembers in the hallway politely stepped aside. He could see the smiles they were trying to conceal.
“I want to be posted to the Weapons Division!” the trainee demanded stridently.
“You are not qualified. That is the end of the matter.”
“No, it isn’t! I’m just as qualified as the last trainee who was sent there!”
“And he blew his hand off.”
“He got careless! I wouldn’t!”
“I said no!” The Warlord wished she would go away. He was beginning to think that it looked as though she were chasing him through the ship.
In stunning disregard for military etiquette, she grabbed the end of his billowing cloak and jerked him to a halt. He spun, his grip on his temper slipping. “You -- “
“You have no right to refuse me!” she shouted up at him, her eyes flashing defiance.
“I am the High Warlord,” he ground out. “I have every right.”
“You’re not doing this as the High Warlord! You’re doing this as my father!”
Looking down at his teenaged daughter, the Warlord struggled for control. Why was it that she could goad him beyond all sanity, he who was renowned for his cool demeanor? He had risen to his present rank because of his ability to keep his head and make deliberate decisions even in the heat of battle. Why couldn’t he muster that same calm when confronting his own child?
Because she was infinitely more irritating than any external foe, he snarled to himself. She knew exactly how to infuriate him, and she had begun to do so with alarming frequency. Just a few short months ago, he could do no wrong in her eyes. Now, suddenly, he could do nothing right.
It was bad enough to cope with such flagrant disrespect in their quarters, but here in public, it was intolerable. He was the Warlord, and he would be obeyed, in this area if no other. “Close your mouth,” he said, his voice dropping to a dangerously low level. “This discussion is over.”
“Mother would never have allowed this! If she were alive -- “
“That’s enough!” His voice was like a lash. “You forget yourself. You are a trainee aboard my ship, and you will treat me with the deference my rank demands!”
She glared back at him. For the first time, she was uncowed by his command voice. “Demands, not deserves!” she shot back in a voice that rang through the hallway.
He slapped her before he realized he had done it. The crack echoed in the sudden stillness, and the crewmembers who’d been quietly enjoying the conflict from the sidelines abruptly vanished.
The Warlord was more shocked than his daughter; never before had he lost control of himself like that. For what seemed like an eternity, they stared at each other, then the Warlord gathered the shreds of his dignity around him and rapped out: “Return to your station!” He wheeled about and continued down the corridor, heading for the sanctuary of his command center.
As soon as he was safely inside his office, away from curious eyes, he collapsed into a chair. How had that happened?
His rage had evaporated the instant he struck her, replaced by bafflement, confusion, and guilt. Technically, of course, he had the right; by Antemonian law, he held the power of life and death over every member of the military forces. But he had always prided himself on never having to resort to physical measures to maintain discipline -- ever. And now, to have lost control in such a public fashion, and with his own daughter!
Even when she was little she had displayed a spirited nature, but that independence had secretly pleased him, even if it had meant that he was frequently consulted about her misbehavior. He enjoyed her habit of questioning everything and had defended her from teachers who found it disconcerting. The rigid code of conduct by which Antemonians lived left little room for innovation, but even as a child his daughter had made it clear that blind obedience was not for her.
The difference was that back then, she had deferred to his authority. So long as he issued it, any order was carried out. It had been other people whom she had challenged, never him.
The Warlord sighed. He dearly wished his wife were here; maybe she could explain the girl’s baffling behavior. These mood swings would drive him to distraction.
“Commander!” The door to his office slid open and his First Officer rushed in. “Sir, it’s the engines -- the problems have become critical!”
All thoughts of teenaged daughters flew from the Warlord’s mind. “Critical” meant an engine overload was imminent, and that could destroy the ship. “Show me,” he demanded, pushing past the First onto the Bridge.