Bewildering Stories

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Through a Glass, Darkly

part 6

by Michael J A Tyzuk

“Through a Glass, Darkly” began in issue 109.
Part 5 appeared in issue 112.

Sycophant Folly, what is your cargo and destination?”

As promised the codes that Morgul had provided allowed me to clear the defense net. I had just made orbit and received the challenge I had been warned about. Now the fun was about to start. I took a deep breath and keyed the microphone. “Starfighter flight, this is Captain Martin Horvath, commanding the Sycophant Folly,” I said. “Request permission to ground at the Palace. I wish to address the Council of the Wise.”

There was a long pause. “Captain Horvath, you do understand that you are not welcome here despite the fact that the warrants against you have expired, yes?”

“I understand just fine, Starfighter Flight,” I answered. “Believe me when I tell you that I would just as soon not be here, but I’m given to understand that the Council has some kind of business with me. Please forward my request to ground.”

“You’re request is being forwarded, Sycophant Folly,” the pilot assured me. “Be advised you will not be permitted to approach the Palace if your weapons are armed or if your defensive systems are engaged. Heave to and stand for sensor inspection. Prepare for possible boarding.”

I brought the ship to a stop and made sure that the offensive and defensive systems were powered down. “Heaving to, Starfighter Flight. I await your boarding party.”

The sensor inspection didn’t take that long. Two of the fighters made three passes each at the Sycophant Folly before the flight leader signaled that permission had been granted for me to ground at the Palace.

The old me, the one that robbed the Elven Central Treasury, would have thought nothing of buzzing the Palace a few times before he grounded on the landing field. Maybe the palace guns would have opened up on me, and maybe they wouldn’t, but the point would have been that I was having fun and demonstrating to the universe at large that the only rules I was interested in following were the ones that I made up myself. Very mercenary of me, yes?

The me that I had become took a different approach. I kept my speed down to a reasonable level, partly to make it easier for the fighters trailing me to keep up and partly to give the sensor stations in the Palace plenty of time to get a good look at me, and also to demonstrate that I had no hostile intentions. I did a slow circle around the palace while I took a look at the area where I had been told to ground. Then I took the ship down gently, hovered briefly, and touched down.

I powered down the reactors and the ship’s computers completely. I knew intuitively that there wouldn’t be any last minute escapes happening here, so what was the use in leaving a ship on emergency power? Besides, if I knew the Elves there would be a party coming aboard shortly after I entered the Palace to make sure that the ship was powered down but good. They always were kind of paranoid that way.

I opened the hatch and came down the ramp wearing no visible weapons. That didn’t stop the Palace guards from seizing me, frog-marching me inside, throwing me against the wall, and subjecting me to the most through search I have ever endured with my clothes on. After the search came up dry I was escorted to the Council Chambers. Once I was inside the vast majority of my over large escort left me, except for the two guards who took up position on either side of the door.

The Council of the Wise was made up of five Elves, the oldest and most renowned of an already old and renowned race. They were among the greatest seers and statesmen that the Elves had ever produced, and some said they were gifted with the ability to see deep into the hearts of the lesser species that roamed the galaxy. If that were true it certainly explained how they were able to get so many races to sign on with the Federation with so little comparative bloodshed.

The councilors were seated behind a long bench which rested atop a raised dais, the better to look down upon the pitiful mortal that had been brought among them. They stared down at me, their expressions unreadable.

I turned when I heard a side door open, and watched as a pompous, puffed-up, pouter pigeon of a man wearing a long hooded cloak stepped through the door and took up position off to the side. He reached up and pushed back his hood, revealing a scarred visage that bore a distinctly malicious gleam around the deep set eyes. He sketched a half bow in my direction. I recognized his face from the files that Morgul had reluctantly shown me. This was the man who had commanded the slavers whose compound we had assaulted and been ambushed at. This was the man who had once sold Michelle into slavery. This was the man who had promised the Council of the Wise that he could bring me to heel. This, then, was my enemy. His name was Terrence Booth.

“You are Martin Horvath of Earth, are you not?” one of the Councilors asked.

I turned to face the Council of the Wise. “Yes, I am,” I answered.

“You are the same Martin Horvath of Earth who captained the independent freighter Moonshadow twenty years ago?” another Councilor asked.

“The same Martin Horvath who lead the pillaging and plundering of our Central Treasury?” demanded still another Councilor.

“Yes to both questions,” was my answer. “I realize that the Elves have reason to be less than enthused with my presence in this star system, much less within these Council Chambers, but I am given to understand that this Council has business with me and I come to see it through.”

“Not business,” one of the councilors corrected me, ’simply a desire to ensure that good and proper justice is meted out to those who deserve it.”

“Good and proper justice, you say?” I asked. “For this you require the assistance of the single lowest form of life in the entire Federation, a slaver.”

The council leader looked me in the eye. “this council is not in the habit of dealing with fringe scum.”

“So, this is some kind of special occasion, then,” I returned.

Booth stepped forward before any member of the council could answer. ’members of the council, I must apologize for the conduct of Captain Horvath,” he said. “Please be assured that most other human beings are far more respectful and well-mannered. The good captain is sufficiently dense that he has no clue what is really happening so, as a primitive defense mechanism, he lashes out at those who are superior to him.”

“Oh, yeah,” I agreed. “I’ve got your primitive defense mechanism right here!”

Booth just grinned. The Councilors all looked confused, but that was by design, for I had not completed the ritual associated with my remarks by grabbing myself in an unsightly place. The Elves might not have appreciated it. Booth, being human, settled for being amused. He had the upper hand here, and he knew it.

“Captain Horvath,” the lead councilor said, “It is the decision of this council that you are to be held in the detention facilities here at the Palace until such time as we have a chance to determine what is to become of you.”

I shook my head. “Your Excellency, that is intolerable,” I said. “This council decided some years ago to drop all charges against me and my copilot for our roles in the looting of your central treasury. Besides which, this council has already had its revenge when it rendered the gold worthless by converting the Elven economy from a Gold Standard to a Credit Standard.”

The lead councilor shrugged. “Irrelevant,” he stated. “Your actions at the Central Treasury twenty of your years ago caused no small amount of embarrassment to the Elven people, and also resulted in the destruction of valuable public property and the loss of a valuable financial asset.”

“It will be my pleasure to return the gold,” I offered. “I can account for every single bar that we stole.”

The councilor nodded. “Your offer will be considered.”

“And what of the human female that you have in custody?” I demanded.

“Her eventual fate must be considered as well. For the moment, though, the Council of the Wise invites you to be our guest here at the Palace while we consider exactly what is to become of you. The gentleman beside you will see to your accommodations and comfort.”

I gestured at Booth. “But he’s not a gentleman,” I protested.

The council said nothing further. They filed out of the room one by one.

The doors behind me opened again and a small squad of human mercenaries, armed to the teeth, strode into the room, their weapons aimed squarely at me. Booth smiled at me. “I’m sure you’ll be most comfortable in the quarters we’ve prepared for you.”

Some minutes later I was in the dungeons below the Palace of the Council of the Wise. One mercenary held the door open for me while another pushed me into my cell with such force that I rebounded off the far wall. I turned and made a rude gesture at the door. The Merc laughed and closed the cell door, walked away.

I turned to see Michelle lounging against the bunk that was against one wall of the cell. I smiled at the look of utter and complete shock on her face. “Hi, honey, I’m home,” I said.

Continuation pending

Copyright © 2004 by Michael J A Tyzuk

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