Bewildering Stories

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Through a Glass, Darkly

part 4

by Michael J A Tyzuk

“Through a Glass, Darkly” began in issue 109.
Part 3 appeared in issue 111.

Monty and Percy both knew blackmail when they saw it. A deal was struck and they started working for Federation Military Intelligence. Years later, when Percy settled down to open The Flight Line and Monty took Michelle aboard the Dragonheart to teach her the fine art of being a smuggler, the deal was altered to incorporate the information network that Percy was putting together. Donovan was assigned to the case to act as Percy’s partner, and his immediate control.

“Donovan didn’t spend a lot of time on Xanadu,” Morgul told me. “He bought a freighter from Percy, the Sycophant Folly, and set up his own smuggling business. He took charters the same way that every other smuggler does, but he also kept his eyes opened and when he saw something especially interesting he would let Percy know. Percy would tell me and I would either bring Federation resources to bear or I would provide Percy with what he needed to deal with the problem.

“Percy wasn’t in the habit of discussing his business with other people, and besides, if he started telling people that he was working with Federation Military Intelligence he would just get a dagger in the ribs for his troubles. For us it’s been a very profitable relationship. Very often Percy’s sources will come across something that our own sources missed or can’t get access to. In exchange for his word that his ships would never carry anything that was harmful or destructive, we’ve been leaving his fleet alone, for the most part. Sure, we stage the odd boarding and inspection, as much for the sake of appearance as anything else, but Percy’s ships can pretty much carry anything they want without being harassed about it.”

“So, you guys were the ones providing the leads that Monty and Michelle used when they were chasing pirates and slavers,” I ventured. “And, I’ll bet that you’re the ones responsible for a lot of the information that Michelle and Eric and I have used over the last twenty years to do the same thing.”

Morgul nodded. “Your little flotilla can get into places and do things that would be difficult for a regular Navy squadron,” he said. “As powerful as the Navy is, for the most part a cruiser sticks out like a sore thumb, because everyone is focusing so much time and attention on finding them first. If you know where the Navy keeps its cruisers then you can just focus your operations on the places that they aren’t protecting.

“The advantage of your flotilla of freighters and starfighters is that no one in their right mind would ever suspect that so many fringe types would be able to unite in common cause about anything except mutual profit, and there just isn’t a lot of monetary profit to be made going after pirates and slavers.”

“No, there isn’t,” I agreed, “but there is a great deal of emotional satisfaction.”

“True, but that’s an intangible benefit,” Morgul said. “Most fringe types aren’t capable of seeing it. That’s what makes your flotilla truly remarkable: you’ve been able to gather together a lot of the people who do see that intangible benefit and unite them into a very formidable force. You’ve even managed to enforce a chain of command on them, which is quite the achievement in itself, because fringe types are notoriously independent.

“Add to the fact that you have not only achieved a great amount of success but you have also managed to perform operations that Intelligence would be hard pressed to mount, and you can see where Percy and his network would derive a great deal of honor and profit from your actions.”

“We weren’t so successful on our last venture,” I said mournfully.

Morgul shook his head. “No, you were not, but the fault was not yours.”

“I agree,” I said. “We were compromised. The enemy knew that we were coming and they ambushed us. I would like to know why.”

Morgul nodded and pushed the data card closer to me. “This has the answers you seek,” he told me, “but I will tell you some of what is on there. Yesterday, barely an hour after the Chameleon made berth in the orbital dockyard, the Sycophant Folly emerged from the jump point and assumed orbit. Planetary traffic control hailed her but there was no response. A scout was dispatched to dock with the freighter and board her. A body was found in the cockpit.”

I grimaced. “It was Donovan, wasn’t it?” I asked.

“It was Donovan,” Morgul confirmed. “He was killed in a very brutal fashion and then put aboard the freighter. The autopilot was programmed to bring him to Xanadu and assume orbit. There was a message recorded in the ships computer. That message, along with the data sent to me by Percy, is on that data card. I encourage you to view it at your leisure.”

I picked up the data card and pocketed it. “I will look at the contents immediately,” I promised.

Morgul stood up then. “When you have finished you will want to contact me. I can be reached at the Inn of the Nest.” With that he saluted and disembarked.

* * *

“Do you believe him?” Eric asked me some time later.

After Morgul had left I had gone into the cockpit and viewed the contents of the data card he had given me. There were a number of disturbing things about the data it contained, but nothing was more disturbing than the message that had been recorded into the main computer on the Sycophant Folly, a message that had been recorded by the leader of the slaver operation against which we had struck, a message that had been addressed specifically to me, by name. The message was simple: if we continued to execute our raids against pirate and slaver targets then they would kill Michelle and return her body to me in pieces.

I downed the last of the pint of ale that I had been drinking and nodded. “Yeah, I believe him. After what I saw on that data card I’ve got no reason not to.”

Eric had shuttled down the well and had viewed the contents of the card after I had finished. The message from the slaver was as disturbing to him as it was to me, as was the knowledge that Percy had been a willing and cooperative agent of the Federation for as long as we had known him. Of course, since we largely worked for Percy then we ourselves were agents of the Federation as well, but I don’t think that had occurred to Eric just yet. It had only occurred to me after Morgul had left the ship.

“What are you going to do?” Eric wanted to know.

I shrugged. “I don’t know, exactly,” I admitted. “I mean, I know what my final objective is, but I don’t have the slightest idea how to go about achieving it.”

“You want to get Michelle back,” Eric ventured.

I nodded. “That’s my goal, yes, but think about what’s happened for a minute here. The one and only agent we had that we know about who was in a position to lead us to the slavers was compromised and killed for his troubles. We don’t know where they are or what they’re doing. We don’t know how many ships they have, how many men they can commit to a battle. We don’t know their strengths or their weaknesses. We don’t know anything about their side of the scale.”

“But we do know a great deal about our side of the scale,” Eric said. “The Chameleon herself is essentially ready to go, there’s just a handful of items left to repair and a couple of gashes in the hull that have to be sealed. As for the other freighters, I’ve got positive reports from their captains. They should all be ready to go in the next week or so. We also need to replace the fighters that we lost, and the pilots.”

I shook my head. “At this point, gathering more ships to our cause would be pointless,” I said. “No one in their right mind would flock to our banner now after what we’ve just been through.”

“They might not flock to our banner, but they might flock to Michelle’s,” Eric pointed out. “Think about it for a moment. There’s not a single smuggler or fringe type in this quadrant whose life she hasn’t touched in one way or another. We could build up quite a fighting force.”

“Aye, but we don’t have the slightest idea where to take them,” I protested. “Sure those files on the data card show us every known base the slavers had used in the past, but those guys aren’t stupid. They’ve set up shop somewhere new, somewhere we don’t know about, and without an agent among them we really don’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of finding them.”

“We could split our forces, send out scouts,” Eric suggested.

“Which would accomplish absolutely nothing if we don’t know where to send them,” I argued. “We don’t have the horses for that kind of search. Space is just too vast for us to cover that way.”

Eric cocked his head and regarded me for a long moment. “You think that this Morgul fellow knows where the slavers are, don’t you?”

I nodded. “I think he knows more than he told me, and more than what’s on that card,” I speculated. “It’s obvious to me that Percy trusted him in the past, and it’s equally obvious to me that we need to trust him now if we’re going to get Michelle back in one piece.”

“You came to that conclusion awfully fast,” Eric noted.

I shrugged. “I came to that conclusion when Morgul told me who he was and explained his relationship to Percy, and I have yet to hear anything to make me change my mind.”

“So, what are you going to do?” Eric wanted to know.

“I’m going to do what I have to do,” I answered. “I’m going to go and pay Morgul a visit and find out what he’s not telling us.”

* * *

I never thought the day would come when I would willingly seek out an intelligence agent, but here it was and there I was.

Morgul was right where he said he would be, at the Inn of the Nest. He was at a corner table in back of the lounge playing Pyramid with a group of Saurian merchants and a single Dervish starship mechanic. As I approached he laid down his hand and grinned as his companions moaned in unison and handed over all manner of credit notes and coins. Morgul excused himself and rose from the table to meet me at the door.

A few moments later we were seated at the table in Morgul’s hotel room. I came right to the point. “There are things that you’re not telling me,” I said.

Morgul cocked his head at me. “What makes you say that?” he asked.

“Because if I was in your position I wouldn’t be telling me everything either,” I answered, “especially if I knew where the slavers were.”

Now Morgul was grinning. “You think I know where the slavers are?” he said. “My friend, you give me more credit than I deserve.”

I smiled in return. “Hardly. See, I don’t think that you found out all by your little lonesome. I think that Percy found out before he died, and that he told you. Now, I’ve had a look at the data card that you gave me and the message from Percy doesn’t mention anything about a location for the slavers, so that means the contents of the card were edited. And then there’s the message from the slavers themselves to consider. See, if I was them, I would want the brave hero to come to the rescue of the proverbial damsel in distress so that I could smack him down good and hard when he arrived. It would be the ultimate act of spite and revenge for them, considering all of the things that our little flotilla has done to displease them.

“It’s good strategy too; they’re taking care of the problem by effectively neutralizing the leadership of their enemy. If that was the case then they would tell me where they were so I could come after them, and the fact that they didn’t means that the message was probably edited as well.”

“Of course, that’s assuming that the hero in question would be headstrong enough to accept that kind of challenge,” Morgul pointed out. “You wouldn’t be that kind of hero, would you, Martin?”

I shrugged. “I might, if the stakes were high enough. And that’s why you think you can’t tell me everything you know, because there’s a chance that I’ll throw all caution to the wind and just go, whether I stand a chance or not, and I’m willing to bet that’s not something you can allow to happen.

“The unfortunate thing here is that there’s nothing I can do to assure you that I’m willing to be somewhat cautious in this endeavor, because I’m not. These savages took from me two very important people who I loved, and loved dearly. One of them is dead and I’m going to have to explain to the other one what happened.

“These people have also killed a lot of my friends, and now I’m going to have to go out and find all their families and explain to them what happened too. I’m not a very happy man right now, Morgul; I’ll tell you that for nothing. I am just pissed off enough to take matters into my own hands, and I’m willing to do it starting right here and now, with you.”

I leaned over the table top and looked Morgul in the eye. “I’m not here to negotiate with you, or play games with you. Things have gone too far for that kind of monkeying around. I’m here to tell you straight out that I am going to go after Michelle, and there isn’t a damn thing that you can do to stop me. You can either profit by this by helping me out and telling me all the things you’ve been hiding from me, or I can kill you and loot the room and get what I want from your cold corpse. The choice is yours.”

Morgul wasn’t grinning anymore. “It takes a lot of stones to threaten an Elf,” he said dangerously.

I nodded agreement. “Aye, it does,” I acknowledged. “It also takes someone who’s willing to follow through on the threat or die trying, and I’m past the point where I care what happens to me anymore. So, what’s it going to be?”

Morgul stared at me for a long moment and then shook his head mournfully. “You know, Percy was right about you.”

“You’ve told me that before,” I said impatiently. “I’m not in the mood to hear it again.”

Morgul held up his hand to forestall further comment. “Bear with me for a moment,” he said. “After you told Percy what happened to Michelle he told you that he had some trees to shake and sent you back to the hangar, yes?” I nodded. “Well, Percy had a look through his own libraries and came up dry, so he called me. I gave him everything that I know about this slaver group you’re after, including a new bit of information that I had just received concerning an arrangement that the Council of the Wise had made with certain fringe elements.”

Morgul leaned in closer. “See, you have to understand something here. You made quite an impression on the Council of the Wise when you staged the treasury theft. You embarrassed them, and Elves don’t take too kindly to being embarrassed. So there’s been a series of warrants out for your capture ever since. In the beginning, those warrants stated that you were to be delivered intact and unharmed. About ten years ago the warrants were altered to read dead or alive. Then about five years ago something very unique happened.

“Every ten years or so the Federation Council performs an operational audit of the Ministry of Intelligence and all of its divisions. One of the items that turned up in the last audit was the practice of using fringe elements like smugglers and pirates as an operational apparatus. Your involvement with Percy and the flotilla that you put together with Michelle and Eric were held up as examples of how well this practice could work, how effective it could be in dealing with agencies and activities that the Intelligence community traditionally could not touch.

“The chairman of the committee that was performing the audit saw your name in the final report and recognized it, so he made sure to point it out to the Council. Why is it, he asked the council, that this man, this smuggler, is still under an arrest warrant for crimes that were committed more than a decade before when he has since demonstrated nothing less than total conversion to the peaceful goals of the Federation as a whole? The question struck a chord in the council and the Elves found themselves pressured to rescind the warrants, which they did reluctantly.

“A few years later the Council of the Wise was approached by an anonymous private citizen who claimed that he had the means to not only bring you to justice, but also make such an example of you that no one would dare to cross the Elves again for hundreds of years to come. Now, we Elves have long memories, and we can be very vindictive. The Council of the Wise can be especially prone to this weakness, because they’re often thinking of the greatness of the Elven race and actions like the treasury theft make us seem less great than they would like. So the council agreed, and orders were issued to give this citizen and all of the people he represented nothing less than complete and total cooperation. Those orders came through while you were on your way to the strike. I didn’t tell Percy about it just then because I didn’t think it would impact your operation. I was wrong, and for that I am truly sorry.”

I felt my eyes go wide. “You mean to tell me,” I grated, “That you had the power to stop this whole thing from happening? You had the power to give us a chance to fight against these bastards on equal terms, and you did nothing? What the hell kind of Elf are you? Aren’t you guys supposed to revere life?”

To be continued...

Copyright © 2004 by Michael J A Tyzuk

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