Bewildering Stories

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Through a Glass, Darkly

part 7

by Michael J A Tyzuk

Table of Contents
Part 6 appeared
in issue 114.

Michelle got up off of the bunk and stepped over to me. She stood before me with her hands balled into fists and propped on her hips. “What the hell do you think that you’re doing here?” she demanded.

I shrugged. “Hey, I was just looking for a bathroom,” I protested. “This looked like a nice planet so I thought I would stop. Next thing I know they’re arresting me. And here I thought that the universe was my urinal.”

Michelle shook her head at me. “It’s not the universe that’s a urinal, it’s your mind,” she informed me. “You shouldn’t have come. You’re doing exactly what they want you to do.”

I sat down on the end of the bunk and leaned forward, rested my elbows on my knees. “Well, you got me there,” I admitted. “You’re right. I am doing exactly what they want me to do. When I found out that they were holding you here I knew that it was solely for the purpose of bringing me to Elva. The Elves wanted me here to make me atone for the treasury theft. Booth’s slavers wanted me here to make me pay for all the things that we’ve done to their compatriots over the years. But neither of them had the power to get to me alone, so they teamed up and here I am. I came here knowing that I was walking into a trap but I came here anyway because there wasn’t anything else I could do.”

Michelle sat down on the bunk beside me. She curled her arms around my waist and rested her head on the back of my shoulder. “You’re thinking with your heart again,” she told me. “That’s the last thing you should be doing. You need to think with your head.”

I dropped my hand onto Michelle’s leg, squeezed. “Don’t worry,” I assured her. “I didn’t just up and come here without having some kind of plan.”

I could feel Michelle chuckling against me. “You have a plan,” she said. “Should I be impressed or frightened?”

An entire litany of smartassed responses cascaded through my brain just then, but in the end I decided that Michelle deserved nothing less than complete and total honesty. So I bit the bullet. “You might want to consider a little bit of both,” I told her.

Michelle pulled away from me and I turned to face her. She sat cross-legged on the bunk, her hands in her lap. “Maybe you should tell me what’s happened,” she said.

So that’s exactly what I did.

I told her about the ambush that the flotilla faced in orbit. I told her about my return to Xanadu and my meeting with Percy. I told her about Percy’s death and my meetings with Morgul. I told her about Donovan and the Sycophant Folly and the message that Booth’s slavers recorded in her data banks. And I told her about my trip to Elva.

Michelle was shaking her head at the end. “I’m surprised you didn’t come here with the whole flotilla,” she observed.

I shrugged. “I thought about it,” I admitted. “In the end I decided that if I brought that many smuggling ships into the Elven system it would just start a fire fight, and then I’d never get to the surface. So, I came up with something else for them to do.”

“What would that be?” Michelle wondered.

“That, as it happens, is a very interesting question.”

Michelle and I both turned to face the door of the cell. Booth was leaning casually against the bars, using a small knife to harvest the dirt from beneath his fingernails. “You know, it’s generally considered impolite to listen in on private conversations,” I observed.

Booth shrugged. “I’ve always found that when one is sitting in a jail cell the concept of privacy becomes irrelevant.”

“Thus speaks the voice of experience,” I commented.

Michelle took hold of my arm. “Remember that he’s the one with the upper hand,” she said. “I don’t think that it would be a good idea to antagonize him.”

I didn’t look at her. I kept my eyes locked on Booth, let him see the complete and utter contempt I held for him and his fellows. “But it’s such a fun and rewarding activity,” I protested. “Besides which, you have to admit that he really does deserve it. I mean, look at him. His face practically screams out the words use me and abuse me.”

Booth just grinned. “You know, the Lady does have a point,” he observed. “You really should listen to her more often. She is, after all, so much smarter than you.”

I shrugged. “If that was intended as an insult then you’ll have to try a lot harder,” I said. “I came to that conclusion a lot of years ago.”

Booth pocketed his knife, folded his arms across his chest. “You know, it’s interesting,” he said. “When my agents in traffic control reported that the Sycophant Folly had jumped into the system alone I started asking myself some questions. Why use the Sycophant Folly when you had the Moonshadow at your disposal? Why come alone when you can come in strength? And if you didn’t bring your tired old flotilla to Elva, then where did you send them? I must admit to being somewhat disappointed. I was looking forward to destroying your fleet.”

“Some other time, perhaps,” I offered.

“Perhaps,” Booth answered. “Still, it’s no matter. I have agents in all sorts of places who feed me all kinds of interesting little tidbits of information. One of them just sent me a rather interesting report. It seems that the Moonshadow has been sighted at New Geneva.”

“How about that,” I mused. “I wonder what she would be doing there.”

Booth grinned. “You know, I asked myself the same question. Then I read the rest of the report and discovered that while the Moonshadow was making her approach to New Geneva, the Chameleon and the rest of your fleet were taking up position at the very edge of the New Geneva system. Now I had to ask myself another question: what could there possibly be on New Geneva that could be more important to your flotilla than Michelle’s presence here on Elva? I have a theory of my own, but I was rather hoping that you would prove willing to shed some light on the subject.”

I shook my head mournfully. “Sorry,” I said. “I don’t know what to tell you.”

“Yes, you do,” Booth corrected. “You have simply chosen to withhold the information I’m asking you for. I can understand why. After all, a man like you would generally tend to try to impress his woman through foolish acts of machismo. I wish you luck in that endeavor. From what I understand of Michelle she’s not the type to be taken in by such silly displays. Still and all, I suppose you have to try. I would have thought that by this time you would have come to the realization that you’re fighting a losing battle, but I guess the concept is just too complex for you to grasp. Don’t worry, though. I’ll come up with some way of convincing you of the error of your ways.”

Booth turned and strode down the cell block, through the door at the end.

I turned to face Michelle, who was still sitting cross-legged on the bunk. She was shaking her head at me. “I can’t believe you’ve done this,” she said.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

Michelle looked me in the eyes. “I understand what you’re trying to accomplish by sending someone to New Geneva, but I don’t understand why you sent the entire fleet when you could have brought them here instead. Who did you leave in command of the fleet?”

“Eric,” I answered.

“There’s another problem,” Michelle observed. “Do you really think that the Federation Council will listen to him? For God’s sake, Martin, he’s a known smuggler. They’re more likely to arrest and imprison him than they are to put him in front of the council.”

“He does have an ace in the hole,” I pointed out.

“The Elf that you told me about, Morgul,” Michelle acknowledged. “Do you really think that you can trust him? How do you know that he’s not playing both ends against the middle?”

“Percy trusted him.”

“Percy’s dead,” Michelle snapped. “Percy’s dead because he underestimated just how badly our enemy wanted to hurt us. And you could have died with him just as easily and then where would we all be?”

I rose up off of the bed and stormed over to the other side of the cell, turned on Michelle. “Do you have a better idea?” I demanded. “Can you think of something else that I could have done or are you just making noise? For the love of God, Michelle, what the hell was I supposed to do, let these bastards sell you back into slavery?”

Michelle’s eyes went wide and she scrambled back across the bunk until she hit the wall, her hand across her mouth, her face as pale as a ghost. “How did you find out about that?” she whispered.

I took a deep breath and blew it out. I had gone too far and now I had to make up for it. I sat down on the bunk facing her. “Percy told me,” I said gently. “He told me right before he died. He told me because he wanted me to understand that you were in a very specific kind of danger. And when he told me what you had been and how you had been rescued I started to understand that I had a responsibility to make sure that you never had to endure slavery again. And I also started to understand that I simply could not live my life without you beside me.”

“Don’t you get it?” I wondered. “After all these years together have you not figured out that you’re the reason why I’m still alive? Do you have any idea what would have happened to me if you hadn’t walked into my life when you did? Eric would be dead and I would have taken the Moonshadow from world to world, always looking for the next big score. And the only thing that I would have accomplished would be to make myself a hunted man. The Elves would have been after my hide, and Federation would have been after my hide, and eventually they would have caught me. And then I would have been tried and exiled to the kind of prison planet where your life expectancy can be measured in hours, the kind of place where half the population wants to kill you and the other half wants to make you their love slave and then kill you.”

“You saved me,” I told Michelle. “You gave me a reason to want to be a better man. I’d be lost without you. Percy knew that, and that’s why he told me how you and Monty got together.”

Michelle looked up into my eyes. “Percy would never have wanted you to risk your life like this,” she whispered. “Not for me or anyone else.”

“No, he wouldn’t,” I agreed. “But he wouldn’t have wanted me to sit on my hands either. He told me that he was going to help me figure out a way to get you back, he was just killed before he had a chance to follow through. That meant I had to improvise a little bit.”

“Improvise, hell,” Michelle snapped. “You don’t even have a plan.”

I smiled a wan little smile. “Actually, I do have a plan. Kind of. I just can’t tell you what it is. The walls have ears, you know.”

Michelle smiled a sad little smile and sighed. Then she leaned back and lay down on the bunk. “I need to think about things for a while,” she told me.

I nodded and stood up. Michelle rolled over onto her side and faced the wall. I crossed over to the other side of the cell and dropped onto the bunk, closed my eyes. I was asleep in no time. * * *

I blinked against the harsh glare of the lights in the cell and rolled over to face the other bunk. Michelle was sitting cross-legged in the middle of the mattress with her hands on her knees, giving me a contemplative once over. “I still think that you’re nuts for coming here,” she told me when she saw that I was awake.

I sat up and dropped my feet over the edge of the bunk, fingered the sleep from my eyes. “Well, if it’s any consolation you’re not the only one who thinks so,” I responded. “Eric and Morgul both had a few choice things to say to me when I told them what I had in mind.”

“Well, I wish that you would tell me what you have in mind,” Michelle said.

“As do I,” Booth said as he came around the corner, stopping in front of the cell door. “I believe that your intentions would provide my people with some much needed comedy relief.”

I turned to face Booth. “Having a few morale problems, are we?” I wondered. “Maybe if you took better care of your people they would work harder for you.”

Booth just shrugged. “Some people simply aren’t strong enough to weather the rigors of a life on the fringe. We tend to weed them out early, just like everyone else.”

“The difference is that when you weed them out they usually don’t survive,” I countered. “Bet your airlocks get a lot of use, don’t they.”

Booth leaned against the bars and folded his arms across his chest. “We have been known to space people in the past,” he told me. “I assure you that we have something more imaginative in mind for you.”

“I can hardly wait,” I quipped.

Booth grinned. “Actually, you may not have to,” he said. “You see, I am not without my own sources of information, even within the confines of the Federation Council Chambers on New Geneva. Just this morning they sent me a most interesting report. It seems that an Elf who is connected to Federation Military Intelligence brought a smuggler before the council. This in itself is quite a remarkable event, but what makes it even more noteworthy is the fact that this particular smuggler came to tell a very interesting story. It seems that the Elven government has been conspiring with certain fringe groups. Naturally a revelation of this sort triggered a very passionate response from the Elven representative to the Council. The Council President cleared the chambers and called for a closed-door session to discuss the smuggler’s claims.

“Now,” Booth continued, “it seems to me that, were I in your position and in possession of the kinds of resources at your disposal, sending a representative to the Federation Council would be the last thing that I would do. It makes absolutely no sense for you to want to involve the galactic government. For starters it is unlikely that they would believe you. And even if they were willing to give your wild accusations even a moment’s consideration, the odds of them providing you with any kind of assistance of all are slim to none. One has to wonder exactly what it is that you are thinking. Why go before the council when you can use your resources to land a sizable force of Mercenaries on the ground and storm the Palace?”

“You really shouldn’t take me for such a fool,” I answered. “You and I both know that any Mercs I landed within so much as ten kilometers of the Palace would be cut to ribbons before they had traveled so much as twenty meters. Wasting lives unnecessarily is illogical.”

“I don’t take you for a fool, Captain,” Booth said. “On the contrary, over the years I have found you and your Lady to be most worthy adversaries. I simply see no logic behind the actions that you’ve taken, and that makes me think that there are things happening behind the scenes which could prove detrimental to my plans. And I can’t have that. Therefore, I find it necessary to persuade you to share your thoughts with me.”

I shrugged. “You can torture me all you want, but it won’t do you any good. The end result will be exactly the same.”

Booth straightened and began to pace in front of the cell door. “While it can certainly be an effective method of interrogation I personally find overt physical torture to be such a distasteful process. It is also generally unreliable, for the victim of such ministrations will often simply tell the interrogator what they believe he wants to hear, whether it’s true or not, simply to put an end to the pain and suffering. I have no interest in fabrications, but I do have an interest in learning the truth. And you will tell me the truth. You simply do not realize it yet.”

To be continued...

Copyright © 2004 by Michael J A Tyzuk

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