Bewildering Stories

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Through a Glass, Darkly

part 10

by Michael J A Tyzuk

Table of Contents
Part 9 appeared
in issue 131.

The guards exchanged looks, and then one of them reached into his pouch and pulled out a stun grenade. I moved Michelle behind me and stood in the middle of the cell, staring them down. The guard with the grenade moved his thumb to the activation button.

And that’s when something truly extraordinary happened.

The door on the other side of the cell block — the one Booth had not gone through — burst open and a squad of Federation Marines poured through. They dropped into firing crouches and called for the two guards to drop their weapons. The guard with the grenade looked at me and touched his thumb to the button on the grenade. I grabbed Michelle and dived with her into the space underneath one of the bunks. We heard the sound of weapons fire, then heard the sound and felt the concussion of the stun grenade going off. Then there was silence.

“You can come out now,” a familiar voice said a moment later.

Michelle and I crawled out from under the bunk to find Eric and Morgul standing there in front of the open door to the cell. What was left of the two guards was spread liberally over the cellblock. “It’s about time you got here,” I commented as Michelle and I walked out of the cell.

The Marines formed a protective circle around Eric, Morgul, Michelle and me and escorted us up out of the Palace. While we were winding our way through the corridors I had Eric and Morgul tell me what I had missed.

“The Council was pretty reluctant to listen to us at first,” Eric explained. “They were somewhat relieved by the fact that we left the flotilla at the edge of the system and came in on the Moonshadow, but they still had an inherent distrust of us. So we had to use our ace in the hole.”

“I made the trip to New Geneva with the flotilla,” Morgul continued. “I made sure to bring my uniform with me. When the Council refused to speak with Eric I got myself all dressed up and identified myself to the Council. I told them that we had irrefutable evidence of a sovereign member power of the Federation blatantly violating numerous articles of the Articles of Federation. Of course, at that time we really didn’t have much of anything. You had just grounded on Elva and the recorder you implanted in yourself hadn’t made its first transmission yet.”

“So you gambled,” Michelle ventured.

“So we gambled,” Morgul agreed. “I explained to the Council that I had been working with your flotilla for some time, and told them what your flotilla’s mission is. Then I gave them the same evidence I had given you before you left for Elva. The Council still wasn’t convinced of any necessity to act, but by that time your recorder implant had made its first transmission, so we were able to show them your meeting with the Council of the Wise.”

“What caught the attention of the Federation Council,” Eric continued, “was the sheer speed with which the Council of the Wise decided to imprison you. It was as if they had already made their decision in advance and were just going through the formality of the hearing, but it was a pretty weak formality. The Council was pretty much divided about what to do at that point, but all that changed when they saw the footage of Michelle being tortured.”

“The Elven ambassador tried to put a positive spin on things,” Morgul said. “He told the Council that Booth and his mercenaries were obviously contracted by the Council of the Wise to perform a specific purpose, but that they had obviously exceeded their mandate because the Council of the Wise would never knowingly condone the torture of prisoners. The counter argument was that while that statement might be true the simple fact of the matter was that the Council of the Wise had hired these people and thus they were responsible for their actions. That little maneuver brought most of the members of the Council in line, and when the vote on whether or not to intervene was taken there were zero no votes and one abstention.”

“The Elven ambassador,” I ventured.

Eric nodded. “After the vote was taken the rest of the arguments were simple mechanics. The Chiefs of Staff for the Navy and the Marine Corps were brought in to consult with us. The Council pretty much unanimously agreed that action had to be taken and taken now. The Marine commander was all for sending a battalion of Marines, and the Naval commander was all for detaching a cruiser to transport them, but the Council was concerned about the political impact of sending Federation flagged warships into sovereign Elven space. They were concerned that the Elves would view such an invasion as an act of war and fire the first shots in a shooting war.”

“Eric solved the problem by volunteering the services of the flotilla. The Naval commander was sent along for the ride and to put on official face on the expedition, but he knows that he’s just a figurehead and that Eric and I command the flotilla. The Marine commander sent his best Colonel, who is in command of the Marine battalion. However, the Colonel has been instructed to take orders from me if I find it necessary to give them.”

We came out of the Palace then and into the central courtyard. Several freighters were grounded there, among them the Moonshadow. The Marines escorted us aboard and then left us. We found several of the other freighter captains waiting in our lounge, along with a stocky fellow in his middle years who wore the uniform of a Marine Colonel.

Morgul handled the introductions. “Captain Martin Horvath, Master of the Freighter Moonshadow, this is Colonel Enrico Potter, Federation Marine Corps.”

The Colonel and I shook hands. “A pleasure to meet you, sir,” he said.

“The pleasure is mutual, believe me,” I responded. “Have your men been able to locate Booth?”

The Colonel nodded. “He’s left the Palace compound and made his way to the spaceport complex. We’ve got him cornered inside Hangar Twenty-One.”

“What’s in Hangar Twenty-One?” I asked.

“A freighter called Sycophant Folly.”

I nodded and turned to Morgul and Eric. “Eric, there are a couple of things that I need you to do.”

Eric nodded. “Name it.”

“First of all I want you go get in touch with the Council of the Wise and make arrangements to return the stolen gold to them.”

Eric frowned. “Are you sure you want to do that?”

I nodded. “I’m sure. We’ve had it long enough, I think, and besides, it’s worthless to us anyway. No sense it letting it continue taking up space in the cargo hold.”

“Fair enough,” Eric acknowledged. “What’s the second thing you want done?”

“I want you to make sure that Michelle gets up out of the well and onto the Chameleon in one piece. As soon as she’s aboard I want her taken down to sickbay and examined from head to toe. I want to make sure that Booth’s contraption won’t have any lasting effects on her.”

Michelle came around to stand in front of me. “And what are you going to be doing while I’m being examined?” she demanded.

“I’m going to go to that hangar and confront Booth and finish this thing once and for all,” I answered.

Michelle shook her head. “You don’t have to do this,” she insisted. “Let the Marines handle it.”

“The Lady does have a point, Captain,” the Colonel interjected. “My men have Booth cornered in that hangar. They won’t let him get away.”

I turned to the Colonel. “Sir, I have nothing but the utmost respect for your men and their abilities,” I began, “but the simple fact of the matter is that if Booth is taken into custody alive then it’s only a matter of time before he escapes and all of this happens all over again. I let this happen once, I can’t make that mistake twice.” I turned on Morgul before anyone had a chance to speak. “Some of the people we’ve taken down have had some rather substantial prices on their heads. What happened to the bounty money from those collars?”

“The bounties were paid to Percy,” Morgul responded. “Some of the money was funneled back to Intelligence to pay certain operational expenses, but most of the money is being held in a variety of off-world trust accounts.”

“So we have a proven track record of capturing people with prices on their heads and collecting the bounties on those collars?” I persisted.

“That’s right,” Morgul admitted.

“And there is a price on Booth’s head, yes?” I demanded.

Morgul nodded. “Last I heard he was valued at ten million credits.”

I turned back to the Colonel. “My people and I have a proven track record of serving as bounty hunters,” I said. “We’ve brought down some of the most loathsome and sadistic fringe types in explored space, and now it’s time for us to take down Booth.”

The Colonel shook his head sadly. “Look, son, I’d love to help you out,” he said, “but I know what Booth did to you and the lady. For you that makes this a very personal undertaking, and that makes you a dangerous commodity. I would never let any of my men on the battlefield with that kind of personal motivation behind them, and I can’t in good conscience turn you loose against Booth with the same kind of motivation.”

“Morgul,” I said.

Morgul stepped forward and shook his head. “You know, the Colonel does have a point,” he said. “And here’s another thing: Booth has proven just how dangerous he really is. This isn’t going to be an easy collar for one man, and there’s every possibility that you might not live through the experience. Do you really want to put Michelle through the emotional hell of losing you?”

I looked Morgul in the eye. “No, I don’t,” I admitted. “But I don’t really have a choice. This has to be done, if only to make sure that Booth never does anything like this to anyone else ever again.”

Michelle took hold of my arm and turned me to face her. “You’re appointing yourself judge, jury, and executioner,” she said, “and that’s not a good thing. You’re not in your right mind right now.”

I took hold of Michelle’s hands. “You’re right, I’m probably not,” I admitted. “But I do bear some amount of responsibility for everything that’s happened here, and now I have a responsibility to make things right. I can’t do that by sitting on the sidelines and letting the Marines do the dirty work.”

“And what if you don’t come back?” Michelle demanded. “What then?”

“Then I’m going to have to trust Eric and Morgul to make sure that nothing happens to you,” I answered and kissed her forehead. Then I let go of her and turned on Morgul. “Get me past that skirmish line,” I ordered.

* * *

The Colonel didn’t want to let me past his lines, but he was obliged to accept Morgul’s command, and Morgul was obliged to accept mine. I raided one of the weapons lockers for a few select items, including a new pistol and a new pair of sai, and then left the ship.

The Lieutenant commanding the skirmish line wasn’t any more eager to let me past than the Colonel had been, but he had his orders and the discipline of the service required him to obey. I sprinted towards the hangar and made for the front doors.

The door to Hangar Twenty-One was already opened. As I entered I saw Booth standing outside the boarding hatch for the Sycophant Folly, tapping at the keypad built into the hull. From the expression on his face I would have to say that he had been tapping at that pad for some time. I smiled a satisfied smile and ducked behind a shipping container, came up with my weapon drawn. I didn’t bother to call out a warning, I just fired. My shot slammed into the hull on the other side of the hatch and made Booth jump. He turned to face me and his hand went for his own sidearm.

“Don’t do it,” I called out. “You’re hand goes anywhere near that weapon and you’re dead where you stand.”

Booth cursed and made sure he had both of his hands where I could see them. “I’m surprised you didn’t just kill me,” he admitted. “Or maybe I’m not all that surprised at all. You never really were cut out for this business, and I imagine that woman of yours has probably tamed you over the years. You don’t have the courage or the fortitude to kill me.”

I answered by dropping the barrel of my weapon and putting a particle bolt into the floor between Booth’s feet. He jumped back and let out a startled yelp. “Maybe I just like toying with my food before I eat it,” I suggested. “Maybe you’re not worth killing quickly. Maybe I’ve decided that I want you to suffer a bit before I let you die.” I shrugged. “Maybe I’ve decided I want you to suffer a lot before I let you die.”

Booth shook his head. “You won’t kill me,” he insisted. “You can’t kill me. Your woman has seen to that. Tell me something, if you take my life in cold blood do you really believe that she’ll take you back? Do you really believe that she would ever want anything to do with you ever again? I don’t think so.”

I shook my head and holstered my weapon. Booth grinned. You could see the wheels turning in his head. He thought that he had scored a point, that he was going to come out of this alive and leave me a smoking corpse on the ground. Of course, he was wrong. I wasn’t going to let him leave Elva alive. The only thing I had done was decide that I didn’t want to shoot him. Oh no, I had something better in mind for him.

I jumped up on top of the shipping container and sat down casually. “Why don’t you try entering a few more codes into that panel?” I suggested. “Who knows, you might just hit upon the right one. I feel that I should warn you, though: there are three codes that will open that hatch. Any of the three will also trigger the timer on an explosive package that I placed against the ship’s reactor vessel. It’s a fifteen-second timer, so you’ll have to hotfoot it to the engine room and hope that you can disable the package in time.”

Booth sneered at me. “So good of you to give me that warning,” he said.

I shrugged. “Hey, I’m all about fair play,” I answered. “Actually, I think that it would be kind of fun to watch you struggle a bit more. Or maybe it would be just as amusing to give you one of the codes and watch you fail to disable the explosive. See, that’s the other thing I think that I should tell you: the explosive can’t be disabled in less than thirty seconds. You might get aboard the ship, but you’re doomed to failure if you do.”

Booth narrowed his eyes at me. “Maybe I am,” he admitted, “or maybe I think that you’re lying to me. Either way I don’t suppose that it matters. There’s lots of other ships for me to use, and all I have to do to get at them is take care of you.” His hand dropped to the holster at his hip.

To be concluded...

Copyright © 2005 by Michael J A Tyzuk

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