Bewildering Stories

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Through a Glass, Darkly

part 9

by Michael J A Tyzuk

Table of Contents
Part 8 appeared
in issue 130.

I sat down on the other bunk and lounged back against the wall. “You mean you don’t know?” I teased. “Your sources of information must not be as good as you give them credit for.”

Booth shrugged. “Good sources come and go,” he said. “You hold onto them while they can but sooner or later you’re going to lose them. That’s just the nature of the business. Ask your friend Donovan, he’ll tell you. But you can’t ask him anymore, can you? A pity about his death, but he did have it coming.”

“Donovan was a good man who did good work. But you wouldn’t know anything about that, would you?”

Booth took a step forward and bored his gaze into my eyes. “Donovan was a very stupid man who should have cut his losses and run for his life a lot sooner than he did. I’d been onto him for most of the last year, but it took me some time to determine exactly who he was reporting to and how he was doing it. That investigation led me to Xanadu and your friend Percy, and that connection led me to you. Now, what I find interesting is that for all your skills and all your success you couldn’t manage to protect yourself from me. You couldn’t manage to protect her from me. Yet another failure to add to a long list of them.

“The only thing that you’ve ever done right in your life was to rob this place blind, but you still managed to bugger that one up too. If you had staged your robbery a year earlier the Elves would have been caught flat-footed and you would have gotten away with it. Instead you choose to stage your robbery on the eve of their planned switch from a gold-standard economy to a credit-standard economy, thus rendering the gold that you worked so hard to steal worthless. Do you have any idea what a laughingstock you are? Did you know that most fringe dwellers speak your name with some combination of contempt and pity? Did you know that they say Michelle took you in because she felt sorry for you?”

“At least I was able to find a woman who was willing to be my lover. That’s better than you’ve ever done.”

“And that brings us to your most recent failure,” Booth countered. “Your people like to project the image that you’re somehow more intelligent, more enlightened than your average fringe dweller. But the truth is that you’re incompetent. You and your people just don’t want to admit it. That woman over there on that bunk is the brains behind your whole operation, and you’re just along for the ride. I mean, look at you. You can’t even manage to rescue the woman you love without somehow managing to allow yourself to be captured and imprisoned.”

“We all make our choices, Booth,” I said. “At least I’m enough of a man to face up to the consequences of my choices.”

“Ah, yes, consequences,” Booth responded. “You know what’s going to happen next, don’t you? Now I’m going to have to advance my timetable, I’m going to have to break you now, thoroughly and completely, instead of being able to take my time and enjoy myself. That vexes me somewhat. I was rather looking forward to crushing your spirit slowly, savagely.”

“You won’t break me, Booth,” I said. “You’re not strong enough, not by a long shot.”

Booth grinned. “But I’ve already come so close,” he protested. “I can feel the turmoil within you, the conflict. You’re ready to do anything to prevent me from hurting your woman again. You’re ready to do anything to spare her the pain and anguish that she’s going to endure. That’s good, though. It means you’ve taken your first step on the path that you’re going to need to follow. That gives me something to work with. It means that by the end of the week you’re going to be mine.”

The door to the cell block opened and an Elf stepped through. I recognized him almost immediately: he was the leader of the Council of the Wise. He walked up to Booth with a data pad in his hand. “What is the meaning of this?” he demanded as he handed Booth the data pad.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Booth answered. He took the data pad from the councilor and stared at the screen. He touched a button and I could hear the faint murmuring of an audio track. Then I heard the distinct sound of a stun grenade going off, closely followed by the sound of Michelle screaming.

Michelle sat up and rose from the bunk when the audio started playing. She padded into the center of the cell and stood beside me. She seized my hand and held it for dear life.

Booth looked up at me with a bemused expression on his face. Then he turned to the Councilor. “Where did you get this file?”

“It was transmitted to us,” the Councilor answered. “A flotilla of smuggling vessels, flagged by an old decommissioned assault cruiser, has come out of hyperspace in orbit. There is a Navy admiral on board the cruiser. He sent a message saying that he was coming down the well with orders from the Federation Council to liberate our prisoners. Naturally I denied any knowledge of any such prisoners. When I did he sent me that file. Is that record genuine? Did that event actually happen?”

Booth didn’t answer. He just turned to me. “The only way that the Federation Council could have gotten this record would be for you to transmit it to them. But how could you have achieved this? You were scanned for any electronics when you came groundside. The scan showed no transmitter of any kind. And yet the Federation has this file. So how could you have sent it to them?”

“Did this event actually happen?” the Councilor persisted.

Booth continued to ignore him. “I’ve heard tell of an experimental transceivers that the Intelligence services have been playing with,” he said. “Until now I wasn’t sure if it existed. The premise is astonishingly simple, and astonishingly brilliant. The user carries a pressure injector-style hypodermic which contains a very special kind of silicon saline suspension solution. The purpose behind the solution is to allow a very specialized breed of nanobot to survive until they are deployed.

“Once they are deployed the nanos travel through the circulatory system until they reach the brain. The nanos then begin to break themselves down and rebuild themselves into a microscopic recording system which feeds data from the bodies auditory and visual cortexes. The data stored by the recorders is encoded within memory RNA. At regular intervals the recorder sends a millisecond-duration burst transmission to the local hyperspace antenna farm. The transmission is specifically encoded to attach itself to the regular status telemetry that the antenna farms transmit to their host stations. Once the transmission is in open space, it can complete its journey to its intended destination.”

Booth took a step closer to the cell, held up the data pad. “I believe that you are carrying one of those implants,” Booth continued. “It’s the only way that you could have sent the Federation this record. That means you have more resources at your disposal than I originally gave you credit for. And that makes you more dangerous than I gave you credit for.”

“The only person that I’m dangerous to is you, Booth,” I said.

Booth grinned. “That remains to be seen.”

The Councilor grabbed Booth by the shoulder and turned him around. “Did the event chronicled in this record really occur?” he demanded.

Booth pocked the data pad and rested one hand on the butt of his sidearm. “Of course it really happened,” he answered. “Do you honestly think that I would have spent the last sixty seconds discussing it with this infidel if it hadn’t?”

The Councilor poked Booth in the chest with his index finger. “You assured us that the prisoners were not to be harmed,” he snapped. “You gave us your word.”

“And I have kept it,” Booth said. “You can see for yourself that the woman is in perfect health.”

“You tortured her.”

Booth nodded. “Yes, I did,” he admitted. “It was a necessary part of the process of breaking Captain Horvath’s will.”

“Breaking his will was never a part of our agreement!” the Councilor thundered. “You were to bring them here, incarcerate them, guard them, and otherwise leave their disposition to us.”

“I altered our agreement,” Booth said. “The only thing that this transmission proves is that I should have altered it further.”

“Do you have any idea what you’ve done?” the Councilor snarled. “Your actions have tainted the entire Elven race. It is against the Articles of the Federation to torture prisoners. It is also dishonorable.”

“I fail to see why you’re concerned.”

The Councilor was totally flabbergasted by Booth’s response. “How can you fail to understand? It’s a simple matter. It is against the laws of the Federation to torture prisoners, and the Elves are not above the law.”

“Of course you’re above the law,” Booth countered. “You wrote the laws. You can make the laws say whatever it is you want them to.”

“What are you suggesting?”

I took a step forward. “He’s suggesting that he thinks it’s time for the Elves to reconsider their relationship to the Federation,” I said.

Michelle shot me a confused look. I gave her hand a reassuring squeeze.

“Think of it,” Booth said. “The Federation as we know it exists because your people went out into the universe and found the younger races gleefully killing each other. So you massed your fleet and engaged the other races one at a time. You brought them a message, either change your dealings with the other races or we will change them for you. The other races had no choice but to bow down to Elven domination, your Navy was orders of magnitude more powerful than any of theirs. It still is. Why do you think that the backbone of the Federation Navy is Elven-built ships? You have the power to reach out into the universe again and change the way the other races deal with each other, except this time you’re not going to build a democratic Federation, you’re going to build an Elven Empire, with you on the throne.”

“The other races would rise up against us,” the Councilor protested.

“Aye, they would,” Booth agreed. “Fat lot of good it would do them. The Elven Navy is still the class of the Federation. Even the combined military might of all of the younger races would be hard pressed to stand up to a concerted Elven advance. You could hold the whole of explored space in the palm of your hand in less than a year.”

The Councilor shook his head. “No. This must not happen.”

“Really?” Booth asked. “You’ve already started down that road. You’ve already hired mercenaries to capture and imprison a known enemy of the Elven people. You’ve also given those very same mercenaries a license to treat those same enemies in whatever manner they deem appropriate.”

The Councilor leveled his finger at Booth. “That’s a lie, and you know it!”

“Is it?” Booth asked innocently. “Perhaps it is, but the Federation has no way of knowing that. Nor will they have any reason to question it when I tell them that’s the way that it happened.”

“There’s something else for you to consider, Councilor,” I cut in. “The naval might of the younger races themselves may not be able to stand up to a unified Elven navy, but the Elven ships that make up the Federation Navy would certainly be enough to tip the balance of power in the Federation’s favor, and you know that the Federation Navy would side with the other races.”

“There are Elves in command of those ships,” Booth said. “Call out to them and tell them that now is the time to rise up against Federation oppression. Throw off the yoke of your masters and become masters yourselves. You’ve already taken your first steps.”

“Every officer in the Federation Navy swore an oath to protect the safety and security of the Federation as a whole above the safety and security of their own races,” I said. “I remember, I swore the same oath back when I was in the military. The Elves in command of those ships are honorable people, they wouldn’t be in command of those ships if they weren’t. They will fight to the death to defend the Federation.”

The Councilor shot me a look, then turned back to Booth. “This must not happen,” he said. “This cannot happen. You will release the prisoners, and then you will take your people and your equipment and you will leave this planet and never come back.”

Booth shrugged. “As you wish,” he said. Then he drew his sidearm and shot the Councilor neatly in the face. “It was such a boring conversation anyway,” he said as the Councilor dropped to the floor.

“You do have a way with people, don’t you, Booth?” I commented.

“You’re just jealous,” Booth countered.

I nodded. “Oh, yeah. That’s the explanation. Really.”

Booth grinned and gestured to two guards, who came running. “Incapacitate them, use the woman, and then execute them,” he commanded.

The guards snapped to attention. “As you wish, sir!” they said in unison.

Booth turned to us and gave us a rather jaunty little salute. “And now, my friends, if you will excuse me, I must bid you adieu.” And then he legged it for one of the doors.

To be continued...

Copyright © 2005 by Michael J A Tyzuk

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