Bewildering Stories

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Tangled Threads, Tangled Strings

by Michael J A Tyzuk

Table of Contents
Part 9 appears
in this issue.

part 10 of 11

The ready room door chimed. Mike straightened in his chair and called out, “Come!”

The door snicked open and Maureen stuck her head in the room. “Everything all right in here?” she inquired. “You’ve been awfully quiet the last couple of days.”

Mike motioned for Maureen to come in. She did and sat down on one end of the couch that dominated one wall. Mike rose from his chair and sat down beside her. “I’ve been trying to catch up on my paperwork,” he explained. “I’ve been reading the after action reports for the Marine contingents that stormed the safe houses in Acheron City. The Underground put up a fierce fight. There were no survivors. I’ve also got a message from Lieutenant Dubois in Acheron City reporting that the two prisoners we took from the first safe house raid were found dead two days ago by their guards.”

Maureen arched her brow. “You think that they were poisoned?”

Mike nodded. “Oh, I know that they were poisoned,” he said with certainty. “You and I both know that the Underground never lets its people be taken prisoner. They’ve all got orders to kill themselves before they allow that to happen. It’s more than a little wasteful, I think, but it’s how they want to fight the war.”

“Did we get anything back on the genetic screening for the two prisoners?” Maureen wanted to know.

Mike shook his head. “The reports were due back yesterday, but they never arrived,” he answered. “I had a little talk with the science people at the Garrison after Lieutenant Dubois told me. It seems that the files containing the reports were somehow misplaced between the time when the reports were completed and the time when they were to be handed over to the police. So I ordered them to use the remainder of the genetic material to perform a new screening. Apparently they can’t do that because there isn’t any genetic material left. Either it was all used in the original screening or it’s been misplaced too.”

“So. Why don’t we harvest new DNA from the corpses of the prisoners?” Maureen asked.

“I’d love to be able to,” Mike said. “However, their attorney insisted that the bodies be turned over to him as soon as the certificate of death was issued. He had a doctor with no attachment to the police department perform the autopsy, and that doctor concluded that the two prisoners died of natural causes. As soon as that autopsy report was issued the attorney had his client’s bodies cremated.”

“Lovely,” Maureen observed. “And very convenient, too. One would almost think that it was planned that way.”

“I’m not convinced that it wasn’t,” Mike agreed. “But I have no proof, only a hunch that happens to fit the facts. And the two people best qualified to gather that kind of evidence are flat on their backs in my sickbay.”

“I read Cyndi’s report on her intended therapy,” Maureen said. “Her idea to use specialist nanos to take down the caretaker nanos protecting the implant and then attack the implant itself is an interesting use of the technology. She’s going to be a very famous woman if it works.”

Mike smiled. “I like the idea because it has a certain feeling of justice to it,” he admitted. “Using the same technology that created the implant to defeat the implant is kind of fitting somehow.”

“Do you think that it’s going to work?” Maureen wondered.

Mike shrugged. “I don’t know,” he answered. “I hope that it does, for Tamara’s sake. I’m not looking forward to the possibility of having to tell her that there isn’t anything that we can do for Jeremy. But that’s only one of my concerns right now.”

Maureen smiled. “I thought that there was something else bothering you,” she said. “It would help if you told me what it is.”

Mike leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees. “I received my orders for this mission when we were at Gateway Station,” he said. “While you guys were off enjoying your liberty I was stuck in intelligence briefings and strategy sessions listening to one group of people tell me how dangerous these implants were and another group of people tell me how much it would benefit the Empire if we managed to get our hands on the technology, simply as a means of shifting the balance of power in our favor. My orders were written by people who fall into the second category.”

“Officially my mandate was to do whatever it took to both take down the safe houses and seize the implant technology; however I was supposed to do handle this as a black operation. My orders specifically stated that I was not under any circumstances to involve local law enforcement, or any other agency for that matter. This was a military problem and it would be handled by elite, military forces. A detachment of Rangers from the Garrison was placed at my disposal for this operation.”

“But then I looked at the mapping for the safe houses. Every single one of them was in a moderately to densely populated residential area. I looked at that map and I knew in my heart that there wasn’t any way in hell that I could take those safe houses without putting those civilians at risk, not if this was going to be a black operation. In order for me to protect those civilians I was going to have to involve the local police.”

Maureen folded her arms across her chest. “So, you’ve been violating your orders from the beginning,” she observed. “And you’re doing it because you had an attack of conscience.”

“You’ve known me for nigh on a dozen years,” Mike said. “When have I never had a conscience? For god’s sake, the last time I was here I withheld vital information during the course of the investigation and almost cost two exceptional detectives their lives because of it, and all because those were my orders and when you’re a lieutenant you don’t ever question your orders; you just salute and say aye aye and go get the job done. Do you have any idea how long I’ve been carrying that guilt around? As soon as I made the decision to violate my orders I saw an opportunity to do something about that, to make things right. I took it. Didn’t even need to think about it. Well, now there are consequences.”

“In addition to having to explain to the High Command why you saw fit to ignore your orders you also have to explain to them why you don’t have the implant,” Maureen concluded. “When we get to Gateway Station they’re going to put you in front of a board of inquiry and make you justify every single decision you’ve made since our last stopover.”

“Shooting down the runabout’s escape pod is going to be especially popular,” Mike observed. “They’re going to want to know why I was on the runabout in the first place. They’re also going to want to know why Tamara and Jeremy were there with me, and why I didn’t order the Rising Star to try to capture the pod.”

Maureen frowned at that. “Why didn’t you order us to capture the pod?” she wondered.

“With an Underground cruiser bearing down on us?” Mike countered. “There’s no way that scenario can have a happy ending, not with that cruiser closing as fast as it was. Shooting down the pod gave us a chance to avoid having to enter into the naval equivalent of a pissing contest.”

“It’s a pissing contest that we could have won,” Maureen reminded him.

Mike nodded. “I know,” he agreed. “But there would have been a heavy price for the victory, and I wasn’t all that sure I was willing to pay it.” Mike leaned back against the couch and shrugged. “The simple fact of the matter is that I’ve been manipulating circumstances ever since we arrived in the system. I contrived to disobey my orders, I arranged for Tamara and Jeremy to run the police end of the operation; I brought them to the ship and took them into a combat situation. Now it’s time for a reckoning. If I’m lucky I’ll walk out of it with my hide intact, but there’s a very real possibility that they’ll decide to cashier me for this one.”

“You did the right thing,” Maureen assured him.

“Did I?” Mike wondered. “Probably not form the point of view of the people who wrote my orders. I can hear it now. Once again Richardson has demonstrated why he’s unfit to command one of Her Majesty’s starships. If we had sent a more effective captain, like Vegan Slate of the Agamemnon, to Iskander he would have brought us the research team and the technology. The fact that Acheron City would probably be a crater when he was done with it would be considered irrelevant; the mission would have been accomplished the way they wanted it accomplished.”

“You know, they haven’t even had the inquiry yet,” Maureen reminded him. “No one has said you’re guilty of anything.”

“Not yet they haven’t,” Mike agreed. “But it’s only a matter of time.”

“Commanding Officer, Sickbay,” the intercom said.

Mike rose from his chair and sat down behind his desk, touched the intercom control. “Richardson here.”

“Doctor Geller here, Captain,” Cyndi said. “Could you come down to sickbay? I think you’re going to want to see this.”

Mike nodded. “Very well. I’ll be down momentarily.”

Mike rose from his chair and made for the door. He was stopped halfway by Maureen, who enfolded him in a tight hug and buried her face in his neck. Mike returned her embrace and nuzzled her hair. “I want you to know something,” Maureen whispered to him. “No matter what happens with the inquiry I will always love you.”

“And I will always love you, Little Girl,” Mike returned. He gave Maureen one last squeeze, kissed the top of her head, and then left. Maureen returned to the bridge a moment later.

* * *

“You can start breathing again,” Cyndi said when Mike walked into the operating theater. “The nanos are working as advertised.”

Mike heaved a sigh of relief. “They’re attacking the caretaker operation and the implant?”

Cyndi nodded and waved at the screen. “There’s a right proper nano-tech war going on in Jeremy’s body right now,” she said with a smile. “It’s really something to see.”

“How long until the process is finished?” Mike wanted to know.

Cyndi turned serious at that point. “This is just the physical part of the process,” she reminded Mike. “This part will be over in a matter of hours, but there isn’t anything I can do to reverse the conditioning imposed by the RNA injections.”

“Can anything be done for that?” Mike asked.

Cyndi nodded thoughtfully. “The only thing I can think of that will help him is a course of hypnotic conditioning, along the lines of instructing him to ignore the impulses being created by the RNA conditioning. However, that’s going to take a certain amount of time because we have to use the same hypnotic therapy to determine exactly what the RNA would have instructed him to do.”

“So, Jeremy is still potentially dangerous and the only people that can help him are military psych specialists,” Mike summarized.

“That’s right,” Cyndi agreed.

Mike nodded. “Very well. Contact the Garrison and make the necessary arrangements with the military psych division there. Let me know when the implant has been eradicated and you’ve made the arrangements for his treatment.”

“Aye aye, sir,” Cyndi responded.

Mike was halfway to the door when he turned back to Cyndi. “Good work, Doctor,” he said with a smile.

Cyndi grinned in return. “Thank you, Captain.”

Mike left sickbay and began the long walk forward to the lift that would return him to the command deck. He was halfway to the lift when he suddenly stopped, slumped against the corridor bulkhead, heaved a sigh of relief, and started to chuckle to himself as tears of relief spilled down his cheeks.

* * *

“You know, it’s about time you stopped running from me.”

Tamara started at the sudden voice behind her and turned to face the speaker, found herself face to face with Alan. She blew out a breath and shook her head. “Well, I wasn’t all that sure that your intentions were benign,” she admitted.

Alan smiled. “I know you better than that,” he riposted. “You weren’t the least bit worried about my intentions. You were just afraid of your own feelings, so you ran.” He shrugged. “Well, now you can’t run anymore.”

Tamara cocked her head. “Maybe I don’t need to run anymore,” she said. “Maybe I finally have the strength to face what happened to you, and to face my part in it.”

Alan shook his head. “You may have found the courage to face me, but that doesn’t mean you understand the significance of what happened,” he said. “That’s okay, though. I’m not all that sure that I understand either. But then, I don’t need to understand, and you do.”

“Okay, I’ll bite,” Tamara returned. “Precisely what is it that I have to understand?”

Alan’s smile turned into a grin. “You know, I’ve missed seeing that fire in your eyes,” he said. “You still love a challenge. That’s good. You’ve got a lot more challenges ahead of you before the universe is finished with you.” He folded his arms across his chest and started to circle Tamara. “Everything happens for a reason. The consequences of the things that happen to us are simply intended outcomes, machinations designed to enable each of us to fulfill our special destinies. You have a special destiny, though you’ve not yet realized it.”

“The pain that you’ve endured was given to you for a purpose,” Alan continued, “to mold your character along specific lines to prepare you for what’s to come. But personalities are not defined by pain alone, and so you were given moments of pleasure as well.”

“If what you’re telling me is true,” Tamara said, “then nothing I do makes any difference. The outcome of my actions is already written, the consequences predefined. Doesn’t that render my individuality irrelevant?”

“Only from a certain point of view,” Alan responded. “The unvarnished truth of the matter is that your individuality is relevant. You have within you the power to influence the actions of countless numbers of people who look to you as a role model. That’s both an enormous power and an enormous responsibility, and the purpose behind the pain we endure is to remind us of that responsibility, and to chastise us when we forget.”

“I knew from the beginning exactly what the intended purpose of that implant the Rebels installed in my brain was. I knew that one day in the future someone would track me down and turn the implant on, and turn me into something I never wanted to be: a cold-blooded killer. That was my destiny and I accepted it.”

“But you didn’t have to accept it,” Tamara protested. “You had alternatives.”

Alan nodded, conceding the point. “True, I could have reported the implant to the Medics when I was rescued by the Marines, but if I had they would simply have locked me up and threw away the key until such time as they discovered a way to dispose of the implant safely. Or they would have figured out how to use the implant, and altered my conditioning to make me their puppet. I was already a victim, but that would simply have made me even more of a victim.” He reached out and touched the tip of Tamara’s nose. “Besides, if I had done that then I never would have met you, and that would have been a tragedy.”

“That was your special destiny, wasn’t it?” Tamara wondered. “The universe wanted us to meet, wanted me to start loving you.”

Alan nodded. “The Fates move in mysterious ways,” he reflected. “Sometimes they bring within our reach that which we’ve always desired and let us have it. But every now and again they like to tease us. You had been alone for a long time when we first met. Your father had been dead for years, you were never particularly close to your mother even when she was still alive, and when the padre who had befriended you in your youth proved mortal you suddenly found yourself well and truly alone. You dealt with it by ignoring it, by throwing yourself into your work. But the universe had other ideas for you. The universe needed you to open yourself again, to allow yourself to love and to be loved. That’s why we were brought together.”

Tamara nodded. “Okay. I can accept that. But that still doesn’t tell me why your death was necessary?”

“Because all people with special destinies have one thing in common: they have all seen more than their fair share of both darkness and light.” Alan resumed circling Tamara. “I told you before that pain is a big part of the process that defines who and what we are. But pleasure is a part of that process too. When you opened yourself to me you did so with all your heart and soul, and that changed who you were at that moment in time on a very fundamental level. That’s why my death was so painful to you, because you were no longer the person who shut herself off from everything the world had to offer her. You had reached a point where you thrived on contact, on companionship. Without those things you were adrift, and you needed to be guided back on course.”

“That’s why Jeremy came into my life,” Tamara ventured, “to remind me that it was possible not only to love, but to be loved in return even if you were no longer with me. But you will always be with me, won’t you?”

To be concluded...
Proceed to the table of contents...

Copyright © 2005 by Michael J A Tyzuk

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