Bewildering Stories

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Through a Glass, Darkly

part 11

by Michael J A Tyzuk

Table of Contents
Part 10 appeared
in issue 132.

I vaulted off of the shipping container and landed in a crouch halfway between me and Booth. I came up in a dead sprint with a sai in either hand. I got to Booth just at the moment that his weapon came up and his finger nestled against the trigger. I batted his gun away with the sai in my left hand, reversed the sai in my right hand and jabbed the handle into his gut. The air whooshed out of him and he doubled over, dropping his weapon as he went. I kicked the gun away, then spun and snap-kicked him in the face. Booth stumbled back and dropped to the ground.

“You’re better at this than I thought you were,” Booth said as he wiped blood from his mouth.

I bowed in acknowledgment. “People like you have given me a lot of practice over the years,” I returned.

“What are you going to do with me now?” Booth wondered. “Surely you won’t kill me yourself, else you wouldn’t have gotten the Federation involved.”

I smiled a feral little smile, much the same way a predator smiles at his prey. “Actually, I have no intention of giving you to the Federation,” I said. “Things have gone too far for that.” I dropped to one knee and drove the point of one of my sai through Booth’s right hand. He wailed as the point went into him, wailed again as I wiggled the sai first to the left and then to the right a couple of times before I pulled it out of him. I ostentatiously wiped the blood off on Booth’s sleeve.

“Did that hurt?” I wondered. “Sorry. Sometimes I just lose control of myself, do some pretty impulsive things. Like this, for example.” I drove the tip of the same sai into his right hand this time and repeated the process.

“You know,” I said after I had withdrawn the sai again and Booth had fallen silent, “it’s amazing how effective the application of pain can be in demonstrating to someone exactly where they went wrong. Pain really is the ultimate teacher, isn’t it? Now, here’s a curious thought: how many nerve endings do you suppose there are in the upper thighs? Perhaps we should find out.” I held the sai above his left thigh.

That’s when Booth decided that there was some fight left in him yet. His right leg lashed out and his foot clipped me in the side of the head, knocking me aside and sending me sprawling. By the time I got to my feet Booth was already up and out the door. I followed him leisurely, for there really wasn’t any hurry. He was trailing too much blood to hide from me.

Booth didn’t get all that far anyway. He ran right into a wall of very honked-off Federation Marines with loaded weapons. The only thing that kept them from firing was the sight of me coming out of the hangar door.

Booth turned and ran, but he mistakenly chose the wrong direction and ran right into me. That suited me just fine. I was in just the right mood to end all this and end it now.

I jabbed the end of one of my sai into Booth’s belly, snaked my foot behind his legs and pushed with my other hand. He went down in a heap and tried to curl up into a fetal position. I kicked him in the face and sent him sprawling again. Both sai went back into my boots and I reached down and picked Booth up by the lapels of his jacket.

I hauled Booth to his feet and frogmarched him over to the exterior wall of one of the hangars. I gave him a right cross that took him in the nose, then a left hook that caught him in the same place when he turned his head. I grabbed his head and rammed my right knee into his face. I crouched with him when he went down and pulled my sai from my right boot while my left hand hauled him to his feet and slammed him back against the hangar wall.

I didn’t give him a chance to react after I slammed him into the wall. I drove the point of my sai into his belly and pushed hard, digging the tip into the duracrete wall of the hangar. I dipped and pulled my other sai from my left boot, rose back up and met his astonished expression.

“You thought that I didn’t have the stones to kill you,” I said quietly, pitching my voice so that only he could hear me. “That’s not the first time you’ve been wrong, but it’s going to be the last. My only regret is that no one manufactures small guillotines anymore.”

And that’s when I drove my remaining sai into his throat.

I took a step back and watched Booth thrash out the remaining moments of his life against the wall of that hanger. Then I recovered my sai and watched as his body dropped limply to the ground. I wiped the blood off on his clothes.

I rose and turned just in time to see one of the Council members weave his way through the skirmish line and advance on me. “Do you have any idea what you’ve done?” he demanded. “No one has shed blood on this world in ten thousand years!”

“Yeah, well, all that was destined to change the moment that you and yours contracted Booth and his band of mongrels,” I returned. “He’s the one that started the bloodshed, all I did was finish it.”

“You killed the leader of our Council!” the Councilor wailed.

I shook my head. “No, I didn’t. Booth did. And you know something, maybe your people are better off for it.”

“Explain yourself.”

“I shouldn’t have to,” I countered. “It should be self-evident. But, since it apparently isn’t, I guess I’ll take a swing at it. See, you and yours were so concerned about the greatness of the Elven species that you lost sight of the bigger picture. You were so concerned with bringing me to your perceived notion of justice that you forgot that kind of justice has consequences, and more often than not those consequences are going to be a burden that you can’t bear. You proved that by hiring Booth to bring me in. For God’s sake, the man was nothing more than a two-bit conniving slaver. He’d sell his own mother for a large enough haul of cash. Hell, for all I know he probably did. But you hired him and you negotiated in good faith with him and you completely forgot what kind of person he was, and then you were surprised when he pulled the rug out from under you.

“That was your big mistake. But I’m not entirely innocent in all this either. I bear some responsibility for what happened here, too, because I dared challenge the greatness of the Elven species by robbing that central treasury. Even worse, I succeeded. But I repented and began to serve the Federation that you and your people created in a way that you couldn’t, and that had to stick in your craw a little bit too. I know that it would have stuck in mine.”

That caused the Councilor to take a step back. “There may be some truth to what you say,” he admitted.

I nodded. “And admitting it is the first step in solving the problem,” I said. “And now it’s time for me to take some responsibility for my actions in the past. I’ve given my people in orbit instructions to arrange the return of the gold we stole twenty years ago. When the transfer has been completed I will gladly appear before the Council and stand trial for my actions, provided that the trial is conducted fairly. I will also abide by the consequences of that trial.”

Now the Councilor was confused. “Why would you do this?” he asked. “I thought you hated the Elves.”

I shook my head. “I don’t hate Elves,” I assured him. “I never did.”

“Then why did you rob the treasury?”

I shrugged. “Why does a mountain climber climb a mountain? Why does a spelunker explore a cave? Why do archeologists spend so much of their lives crawling through the ruins of ancient civilizations? Because it was there, and because I could. And really, isn’t that the reason behind everything we do?”

* * *

The Marines who let me through the skirmish line filed their reports on Booth’s death. All of the reports said the same thing: Captain Horvath attempted to capture Booth, who resisted, forcing Captain Horvath to kill him in defense of his life. It’s a lie, of course. I wasn’t defending myself. I killed Booth in cold blood, and the Marines knew it. But their way sounds so much better on paper, doesn’t it?

The Elves accepted their gold back, along with our accounting of what happened to every single bar. They raised their eyebrows a bit when we told them about the pallet that Michelle and I used to destroy a pirate ship, but otherwise said nothing. The surviving members of the Council of the Wise decided unanimously that it wouldn’t be necessary to hold a trial, that the best thing for everyone was to close this chapter of our lives and move on. I can’t fault their logic.

After the Council reached their decision the flotilla was permitted to leave. We loaded the Marines onto the Chameleon and about a third of our freighters and sent them on to New Geneva, while the rest of the flotilla returned to Xanadu.

The doctors on the Chameleon gave Michelle a clean bill of health and turned her loose. She decided that she wanted to travel with me back to Xanadu on the Moonshadow. Morgul took possession of the Sycophant Folly and used her to transport some of the Marines to New Geneva.

We had been in hyperspace for about a day. I had the ship on autopilot and gave the computer instructions to raise holy hell if something out of the ordinary happened. Then I retired to the master stateroom, assumed a meditation posture on the bunk and started to think.

Michelle and Eric and Morgul had been right about me taking what Booth did to us personally, but shouldn’t I have? I mean, what he did to us was a very personal thing, and wasn’t it incumbent upon me to react in a very personal manner? By kidnapping Michelle and torturing her he really had signed his own death warrant, hadn’t he?

Well, yes and no. Yes, what he did to us was very personal in nature and so it was only logical that my response would be equally personal. But there wasn’t any real need for me to kill him in cold blood. I did have it within my power to allow the Marines to take him in and present him before the various and sundry legal authorities that wanted a piece of his hide. With any luck he would have been shipped off to someplace like Felicity, where the average life expectancy of an inmate was less than a week. That would have solved the problem quite nicely. But somehow I had it in my head that such justice was outside our reach, and that the only way Booth would be made to pay for what he had done would be if I made him pay. That’s the worst kind of arrogance, the notion that I myself have a God Given Right to act as Judge, Jury, and Executioner because some strikes out against me in a personal way. The only reason I got away with it was because the Marines lied about what I had done, and because the powers that be as a united whole all believe that the universe is a better place without Booth in it.

In that regard they are very correct.

Still and all, the fact of the matter is that my killing of Booth has bestowed upon me a cosmic debt which I will one day be forced to pay. The scales must balance after all. For each action there must be a reckoning, and brother did I have one hell of a reckoning coming my way. It was only a matter of time.

I guess that Michelle decided I had been alone in that stateroom for too long. She opened the door and stepped in without knocking. She was wearing a long floral print dress that buttoned all down the front of her. She sat down on the bunk beside me and smiled. “Are you all right?” she asked.

I returned her smile and nodded. “Yeah, I’m okay,” I told her. “You were right, though. There really wasn’t any need for me to go after Booth personally.”

Michelle reached out and patted my cheek. “You were just doing what you thought was right for the both of us.”

I brushed my fingers through her blonde hair. She closed her eyes, smiled, and nuzzled my hand. “Yeah, but did I get it?”

Michelle pushed me back into the bunk and stretched out beside me. “You worry too much,” she told me and kissed me very thoroughly.

Some time later we were both naked a sweat soaked. Michelle clutched me to her and whispered in my ear three magic words guaranteed to give me the strength to live for the day and let the fates unfold as they will: “I love you.”

* * *

One would think that would be the end of our adventure, but it wasn’t. The fates still had some surprises in store for us.

Percy’s will named Morgul as executor. One of the provisions of that same will transferred title for all of Percy’s businesses, including The Flight Line, to me and Michelle. Morgul didn’t read Percy’s will until after I had left for Elva. When he did he took a look at the cash value of Percy’s holdings and discovered that there was enough money to rebuild the flight line. He contracted a demolitions contractor to clear the sight, and then contracted another company to rebuild the bar to the original specifications. By the time Michelle and I got back to Xanadu with the Moonshadow, the demolition had been completed and construction was just starting. Construction was halfway completed when Eric and Morgul returned with the rest of the flotilla.

The Flight Line reopened for business a week after construction was completed. Naturally, we marked the occasion with a party.

The locals on Xanadu loved us for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was the fact that our very presence seemed to keep a lot of the wannabe gangster types away from the planet lest they incur our wrath. This meant that there were a lot of people who wanted to come out that night and congratulate us, and give us their condolences for Percy’s death.

That meant we had a full house. I was tending bar that night, along with the rest of the bar staff from the original Flight Line. Michelle meandered throughout the room acting as hostess. She was wearing a long purple velvet dress that was fit to her form, and she had the attention of everyone in the room. She went from group to group, accepting hugs and kisses from anyone who offered them, dancing with anyone who asked. Between waves she would come back behind the bar and remind me that I was hers and she was mine. The reassurance was comforting, but it really wasn’t necessary. We had been together for twenty years, after all. If she had any intention of straying she would have done it by now.

The party was still in full swing at two in the morning and showed no signs of dying down. I was as busy as ever behind the bar. Michelle was at the bar entertaining Morgul and some of the other freighter captains. Every now and again she would turn to me and flash me a smile.

The only reason I noticed them come in was because I happened to be talking to someone at the time. There were two of them and both of them were wearing hooded cloaks. They came in through the front door and looked around, then drew back their hoods. They were Elves. The really astonishing thing was that one of them had Michelle’s face.

Michelle’s look-alike scanned the crowd and eventually found Michelle at the bar. She meandered her way through the crowd with her companion trailing along behind her. Finally she arrived at the bar and gently dropped her hand onto Michelle’s shoulder.

Michelle turned to face her, took a step back and gasped when she saw the resemblance. “Are you Michelle?” the look-alike asked.

Michelle nodded. “Yes, I am.”

The look-alike smiled, and it was Michelle’s smile. “Excellent,” she said. “I’ve been looking for you for a long time. My name is Arvala, and I’m your twin sister.”


Copyright © 2005 by Michael J A Tyzuk

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