Moroth inclined his head to me, an expression of mixed amusement and benign tolerance on his face.
“Why do you say oh hell?” Eric demanded.
“Back before the War of Foundation,” I explained, “the Elves found themselves facing something that they hadn’t faced in millennia: a civil war. See the Elves are a basically peaceful race, but they had long since recognized that there were elements of their society which didn’t embrace the core values of peace and brotherhood as they did. The Elven government declared these Rebels to be Dark Elves, and ordered them rounded up and shipped off to rehabilitation centers for the purpose of reawakening the core values within them so that they could safely rejoin Elven society.
“The vast majority of the Dark Ones were able to be rehabilitated over time. Those who couldn’t be rehabilitated were imprisoned for the rest of their natural lives, which, given that Elves are extremely long-lived on the best of days, was going to be an extremely long time. But the Elves think in long terms.
“Over time the issue of the Dark Ones began to fade, and new generations of Elves forgot that they ever existed. Then the Elves made first contact with a lot of the younger spacefaring races and recognized the potential for interstellar war on a galactic scale. So they founded the Federation of Worlds and brought the member races into it by conquest.”
“I would imagine that most of the spacefaring races weren’t all that pleased with the idea of living under Elven rule,” Eric ventured.
“Not at first,” I agreed. “But the Elves are patient. Over time their diplomats were finally able to make the other races understand that the Elves didn’t intend to rule them, they just wanted to set up a system to govern their dealings with other races, a system that even had concrete consequences built into it in the event of infraction. When the other races saw them using that system with the conquered governments, and saw that the conquered governments were living quite peacefully and contentedly under so-called Elven rule, they agreed as a unified whole to end the wars. So the War of Foundation was the only war in history to have ever been successfully ended with negotiation.
“But then the Dark Ones came back,” I continued. “About a hundred years after the War of Foundation a group of Elven scientists set about researching the task of combining the Elven genome with the genome of other races. They wanted to create a hybrid race with all the positive qualities of each contributing species. They submitted their research proposal to the Ruling Council, who approved the request on the grounds that all experimentation would be for the purpose of establishing their theoretical background for further study. They weren’t supposed to actually create anything, just prove that the Elven genome could be combined with other races’ genes.”
“The Ruling Council has always been notoriously short-sighted,” Moroth interjected just then. “They can’t begin to understand what they denied our people when they limited our research like that.”
I decided that it would be best to ignore Moroth for the time being. If he was really who I thought he was, then I was going to have enough fun explaining his continued presence, and his continued health, to Eric as it was. No sense if crossing that bridge until I absolutely had to. “Anyway,” I continued, “the Ruling Council never really bothered to keep an eye on the researchers, so the head scientist decided to ignore the council completely. He sent scouting expeditions to the other races to acquire living specimens, but he had no intention of asking anyone’s permission. Instead he wanted his men to kidnap members of the lowest strata of each society, people whose absence wouldn’t really be noticed or questioned. He built himself up a stockpile of living tissue donors and began his experiments.
“The problem was that the specimens showed a distressing tendency to fail to live through the experiments. So they were always having to acquire more. Now, that kind of activity will get you noticed, and that’s exactly what happened. When the Ruling Council investigated the matter and discovered what was happening, they sentenced the scientists to death, but they escaped and were able to steal a starship. The Elves declared them to be exiles and advised all the member worlds of the Federation to deny the Dark Exiles, as they came to be called, access to their worlds.”
Now for the coup de grace. “The head of the Combined Genome Project was named Moroth.”
Eric frowned. “All right, I understand why you were shocked to hear the name, but Elves are a long-lived race, and you were shocked at more than just hearing the name. What’s the story behind that?”
I grimaced. “Eric, all that took place more than a hundred thousand years ago,” I explained.
Eric paled and his eyes widened. “The longest any Elf is recorded to have lived is thirty thousand years,” he breathed. “Oh, hell.”
“Exactly,” I said. Then I turned to Moroth. “You are the original Moroth, aren’t you?” I asked.
Moroth nodded. “I am.”
“May I ask how you’ve managed to stay alive for so long?” I pressed.
Moroth just grinned. “You could say that it’s a product of the fruits of my labor,” he answered. “I have discovered that combining certain Elven genes with genes from other races produces a significant increase in the average expected lifetime of any Elf who has undergone the procedure.”
“And you made sure that you were the first to do it.” It wasn’t a question.
Moroth nodded. “Just as soon as I knew that it worked.”
“And that is was safe,” I added. “I take it that you saved us from that corvette to add us to your collection of species for your Combined Genome Project.”
“That is precisely what I have in mind,” Moroth confirmed.
“I don’t get it,” Eric said. “I mean, I understand the nature of your project, and I understand what our part in it is going to be, but I don’t understand why we’re here sitting and talking with you when it would have been so easy for you to just throw us in one of those cells we passed. It would have accomplished exactly the same thing, the only difference being we wouldn’t have known anything about what was going on.”
I looked at Moroth and cocked a brow. “He does have a point,” I agreed.
Moroth leaned forward across his desk and rested his elbows on the desk top. “You have accomplished what no one ever has,” he explained. “You entered the Elven Treasury, robbed it blind, and then escaped. And you probably could have eluded that corvette as well. In more than a million years of Elven spacefaring civilization no one has ever accomplished this, though many have tried. I simply wanted to meet the men who accomplished the impossible.” Then he leaned back in his chair. “And now I have, and now that I know which race you belong to, I am beginning to believe that I have ignored the human genome for far too long. I will begin my experiments on you, but just to ensure the success of my experiments I am going to swing past Earth and acquire a few more specimens. Just to be on the safe side.”
Moroth snapped his fingers and the guard came into the room.
Okay, I thought. Let’s look at the odds. There’s me and Eric, and one sidearm between us. On the one side there are two of the single most fearsome creatures I have ever seen in my life and on the other there is an Immortal telekinetic Elf. Somehow I think that the odds are a little bit against us.
A talent for understatement, you say. Hmmm. Funny, I’ve never noticed it before.
* * *
“Right,” I said as the guards escorted us to our cell, “let’s review. The Moonshadow is sitting on the flight deck of this monstrosity with millions of Elven crowns in her hold and we are now the prisoners of an immortal telekinetic Elf who wishes to use us and our tissues to contribute to his continuing Combined Genome Project.”
“You forgot the part where it’s all your fault,” Eric added.
I turned to him with a wounded look on my face. “My fault?” I repeated. “What makes you think it’s all my fault?”
“Well, it was your idea,” Eric pointed out archly.
I frowned. “I don’t recall you voicing any objection at the time.”
“That was then,” I was told. “I’m voicing an objection now.”
“It’s a little late for that, don’t you think?”
“It’s never too late to have second thoughts,” Eric insisted.
And that’s when the idea hit me.
It always happens that way and I don’t know why. These ideas that I get, they seem to come out of nowhere, and they always seem to come when I need them most. These ideas are typically unusual, and almost always so far removed from anything that any sane person would attempt that it distracts our opponents for critical seconds, thus giving us a momentary advantage. For example, I could start a fight with Eric right there in the corridor.
The thought had some potential behind it.
I turned on Eric as we strode down the corridor with our escort. We were almost at the holding cells, so we didn’t have a lot of time. “You know what honks me off the most about you?” I demanded. “What really gets under my skin is your unerring capacity for blaming someone else whenever something you’re involved in goes wrong.”
“I blame you because it’s usually your fault,” Eric countered.
I nodded and laced my voice with such a thick layer of sarcasm that it was fairly dripping. “Oh, sure, and you bear no responsibility at all for what happens. You bear no responsibility at all for your part in the heist, you had no part in conceiving the operation, you had no part in executing it and you certainly had no part in the escape. You know something, you’re absolutely right; it’s all my fault. It always has been and it probably always will be. Thank you so much for pointing that out to me before we die.”
“Well, there’s no need to get uppity about it,” Eric snapped.
“And you’re an expert in the acceptable range of human emotion and response,” I prodded. “I’m sorry. For a moment there I forgot all the things that you think you know.”
Eric stopped in the middle of the corridor and rounded on me. I came to a stop next to him and turned to face him. Our guards stopped as well and exchanged bewildered expressions.
“Is there something that you’re trying to tell me?” Eric demanded. “If there is then why don’t you just come out and say it.”
Just the opportunity I was looking for. “Yeah, I’ll come our and say it,” I said. “You’re nuts. You’re certifiably insane. You have no grip on reality whatsoever and you insist on blaming other people for everything that happens around you. Run.”
Eric frowned for a moment at my use of the word run, then shook his head and remembered that we were having an argument. “I have no grip on reality?” he repeated. “You’re the one who comes up with the idea of stealing money from the single most advanced spacefaring race in the galaxy and I’m the one with no grip on reality.”
“Well, you were dumb enough to go along with it,” I encountered. “Run.”
Eric cocked his head in confusion, and then resumed the argument. “It was your idea!” he screamed.
Sometimes I think that Eric is related to that famous mule. Certainly he was incapable of understanding a basic message. “And if it was such a rotten idea, why didn’t you even make an attempt to talk me out of it?” I demanded. “Run.”
Now Eric was really confused, and when he gets confused, he gets angry. “I’m supposed to talk you out of your own dumb ideas?” he shouted. “Oh, that’s rich, even for you. You know what you are? You’re a psychopath, that’s what you are. You have no conscience, no sense of responsibility, and I am sick unto death of picking up after you!”
“And I am sick unto death of you and your endless prattle!” I roared back. “Run!”
It was right at that moment that our two guards were the most confused, for they had never seen two humans in the middle of a heated argument before. In fact, I think it was also at that point that one or both of them had decided that he had enough. The one nearest to me picked that moment to raise his weapon, a wicked looking two-handed blaster which he was bringing to bear on me. I sidestepped closer to him and jammed two stiffened fingers of my right hand into the belly of his torso, and backhanded him across the face. He reeled and took a step back, loosing his hold on his weapon. I made a long arm and caught hold of the blaster, slammed the stock into the side of his face. He went limp and dropped to the deck.
Eric hesitated for what could have been a critical second before he performed much the same maneuver with his guard, except instead of ramming his fingers into the belly of the torso, Eric ran his fingertips into his guard’s eyes. All three of his hands went up for his face. Eric pulled his pistol and slammed a pulse dart right into his opponents skull. What was left of the guard dropped limply to the deck.
My own guard heard the report of Eric’s pistol and started to rouse himself. I brought the business end of that rifle I took from him to bear, sighted down the barrel and fired. No more guard problem.
Alarm klaxons started to sound throughout the corridors.
“Time to go,” I said. I grabbed Eric by the arm and pulled him down the corridor after me.
We rounded the first bend we came to and spotted a closed turbolift. We could hear the sound of more guards double-timing it to our position, so we sprinted to the door and pressed the call plate. The door opened and we stepped inside the lift. “Level, please,” the lift requested in Elvish.
“Flight deck,” I snapped.
“Thank you,” the lift said.
“Up your shaft,” Eric muttered.
“Temper, temper,” I admonished.
Eric shot me a withering glare.
The turbolift spit us out onto the flight deck within sight of the Moonshadow. We sprinted across the deck, made it to the boarding ramp just as more of those Centaur creatures surged through the corridor access and opened fire. We boarded ship and closed the hatch behind us, raised the ramp and made for the cockpit.
We hadn’t bothered to power down the ship completely when we had come aboard the dreadnought, so there really wasn’t much of a need to go through more than an abbreviated preflight check. Nothing flagged my attention as I gave the controls a glance, then reached out and raised ship. I let her hover over the deck and rotated her one hundred eighty degrees so her bow was facing the closed atmosphere doors.
“Weapons on line,” Eric reported.
I glanced down at my status repeater and saw that Eric had laid in a firing solution for those doors, loaded two torpedoes into the forward tubes. “Let ‘em rip!” I snapped.
Eric stabbed at his controls and a pair of torpedoes lanced out of our two forward tubes, the exhaust from their engines describing a perfectly straight line between our bow and the atmosphere doors. I watched them impact and detonate, did a slow five count as the atmosphere inside the flight deck suddenly vented out into open space, then yanked back on the throttle.
We soared through the center of the explosion and out into open space. I hauled the stick to the right and brought the ship parallel to the dreadnought, straightened her out and soared away from our captives and into open space. “How close are we to a jump point?” I wondered.
Eric glanced down at his board. “A couple of hours,” he reported.
“Too long,” I snapped. “We’ll have to jump blind!”
“Tell me you’re kidding!” Eric roared. He had reason to be concerned. The nice thing about the jump points is that those routes have been mapped over a long period of time, thus making navigation almost effortless. All you had to do was pick a jump point and you had a finite number of destinations of the other end. But hyperspace is pervasive. It’s everywhere, and modern navigational computers will allow you to override the programming that restricts them to using jump points and allow you to manually calculate your hyperspace jump.
But we were going to jump blind, without bothering to make any calculations. The navigational computer would drop us out of hyperspace after a few seconds, but there was always the chance that we would run into some large stellar object, like the mass shadow of a star, in those few seconds. It was a risk we were going to have to take.
“No time!” I jabbed at the controls and mentally crossed my fingers as the stars elongated and then became an intense continuous field of white.
* * *
We dropped out of hyperspace a moment later and took a scan. We had traveled a little more than a light year and our pursuers were nowhere to be found.
I breathed a sigh of relief and leaned back in the chair as Eric plotted a course for friendly space. Friendly for a pair of smugglers with several million crowns of contraband in their hold, that is.
A few months later I heard that a giant starship appeared out of nowhere in Earth orbit, reeled in two passenger transports, and then disappeared for parts unknown. I felt sorry for the people that Moroth captured, but at the same time it was better them than me.
As for Eric and me, we never heard from Moroth again, which was a good thing as far as I was concerned. And now we could look forward to unloading all those Elven crowns. Little did I know what we were in for.
To be concluded...
Copyright © 2003 by Michael J A Tyzuk