Bewildering Stories

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conclusion: “Xanadu”

by Michael J A Tyzuk

Part 1 appeared in issue 63.
Part 2 appeared in issue 64.
Part 3 appeared in issue 65.

So, what do you do after you’ve just pulled off the heist of the century and robbed the Elven treasury of several million crowns worth of prime Elven gold and survived an encounter with a Dark Elf intent on using genetic material extracted from a shipload of prisoners to create a genetically engineered super race? You find some place where you can turn your generous windfall into usable cash, that’s what.

In all the worlds of the Federation there was one planet where anything could be fenced; you just had to be willing to pay the right price: Xanadu.

Xanadu was settled a few hundred years ago by a human group from Earth who understood that corruption was a part of human nature. They understood this so well that they built corruption into their government instead of building a perfect government and whining and complaining when the local politicos found a way to corrupt things. The end result is a near-anarchistic world where the seedier elements of Federation society can find a secure home base of operations.

The problem with Xanadu is that it’s deep in the core of Federation space. Thanks to our little treasury theft, Eric and I were already on the Elves hit list, and because the Elves were the dominant members of the Federation, that meant we were also on the Federation Navy’s hit list. If we were to venture so deep into Federation space there was a good probability of us running afoul of a Federation patrol, which was the kind of thing that could really ruin our day.

Fortunately, there was a solution. Before we ventured coreward I spent some quality time on the data nets and prepared a new set of identity papers for me and Eric, as well as a new vessel registration for the Moonshadow. Thanks to my efforts Eric and I were now the captain and crew of the Independent Freighter Wayfarer, which would hopefully allow us to venture deeper into Federation space without attracting the attention of the Navy.

It actually worked better than I thought it would. We were able to pass within five hundred thousand kilometers of a Federation cruiser and we weren’t even challenged. Now that’s what I call success.

Of course my luck being what it is, by the time we got to Xanadu we had developed a leak somewhere in the fuel system, and I couldn’t find it. Given that our propellant of choice is liquid hydrogen, I was motivated to get the leak plugged up as soon as possible.

We received clearance to ground in docking bay thirty-five at the Xanadu North spaceport and I think I set a new record for the gentlest touchdown. I had to check the instruments to make sure that we had actually touched the deck.

We shut down the Wayfarer and discussed what to do. Repairing our fuel line was a high priority, but so was fencing the gold. Indeed, we would have to fence the gold in order to pay the spaceport mechanic we were going to have to hire. Therefore it became obvious that we would have to fence the gold first.

Our merchant of choice for this endeavor was a gentleman named Percy Powell. Percy had once been a smuggler until he had discovered that there was more money to be made fencing stolen goods, and on a world like Xanadu people were less likely to shoot at you because they expected you to screw them over. So he had gotten out of the business, sold his freighter, and set up shop in the back room of a local pub called The Flight Line.

The journey to The Flight Line was short. We walked in and sat down at the bar. The barkeep was a pretty lady in her early thirties, with shoulder length blonde hair and a slender body. She had mischievous eyes and a perpetual smile. She had just poured herself a cup of coffee and was spooning in sugar from a convenient shaker. The name tag on her shirt read Michelle. “Hey, sugar, what’s shaking?” I greeted.

Michelle smiled. “Same as always,” she answered. “Seems they shake more and more with each passing year. How’s things with you?”

“Oh, pretty sweet,” I answered.

Eric moaned and shook his head, kicked me in the shin. Eric has no sense of humor.

“Something I can get you boys?” Michelle asked.

“How about your comm code?” I offered.

Michelle grinned and shook her head. “If I had a crown for every time somebody has asked me that...”

“You’d be royalty,” I finished for her.

Michelle cocked her head. “You want something to drink or do you just want to come on to me some more?”

I grinned. “Normally, I would say both. Today I need to see Percy. I was wondering if he’s in?”

Michelle stirred the sugar into her coffee. “Hang on a moment,” she said, “I’ll go see if he’s talking to anyone today.” With that she disappeared into the back.

Eric shook his head. “You just have no self control at all, do you?”

I sniffed a very British sniff. “I have no idea what you’re talking about,” I asserted.

Eric snorted. “Really? Remember what happened the last time you used that line on a waitress?”

Of course I remembered. How could I forget?

Well, how the hell was I supposed to know that the planetary government thereabouts had passed a series of laws declaring punning to be a capital offense punishable by immediate summary execution if the crime is committed in front of more than twenty witnesses? I mean, it’s not the kind of law that you ever expect to see passed.

We got run out of town on a rail for that one. I think that was the shortest stint that we’ve ever spent planetside: twenty minutes.

Michelle came back around the corner and gestured for us to come behind the bar. “Percy says he’ll talk to you,” she told us. Eric and I rose from our seats and went around the bar. As we passed around the corner I reached out and goosed Michelle, but she was ready for it and returned the favor. My kind of woman.

Percy had his office at the end of a small hall. We walked in and dropped ourselves into the guest chairs on the visitor side of his oversized desk. Handshakes and greetings were exchanged and then we got down to business. “So, what is it that Percy Powell can do for you gentlemen?”

“Well, we’ve recently come across some materials that we need to get rid of and convert to liquid cash in a variety of currencies as quickly as possible,” I said.

“Naturally,” Percy agreed. “What kind of materials are we talking about?”

I shrugged dismissively. “Around about three hundred and sixty million Elven crowns.”

Percy’s eyes widened and he made a sound suspiciously like a strangled giggle, but right then I couldn’t be sure. “And where, pray tell, did you come into possession of these crowns?”

I tried to sound detached and disinterested. “Oh, we stole them from the central treasury on Elva.”

Remember that strangled giggle I mentioned a moment ago? Well, this time Percy wasn’t quite so successful at keeping his mirth bottled up. His merriment erupted from him in waves and were delivered with such force that his whole body shook. For a moment I thought that he was going to fall out of his chair, but he managed to right himself in time.

The laughter went on for such a long time that I began to wonder whether he was going to run out of air.

Have you ever laughed at a joke without getting it? You sit there watching everybody around you kill themselves laughing at something that they’re finding uproariously hilarious, but you can’t for the life of you figure out what it is. So you sit there with this stupid expression on your face. But then you start thinking that if you don’t start laughing they’re going to notice and then they’ll laugh at you. So you start laughing. Now, if the event continues for a sufficient length of time then you could find yourself unable to laugh anymore. Then you become embarrassed that you can’t laugh anymore and this is where you make your biggest mistake, for you decide to throw yourself on the mercy of the court and admit that you don’t get the joke. All laughter stops right then and there and your friends all look at you as if you’ve just sprouted a third arm from your chest. Then they start laughing even harder than they were before and this time you know for certain that they’re laughing at you.

Eric and I were being laughed at, and I couldn’t figure out why. I don’t think I would have minded so much if I just understood the joke, but I didn’t and that made me mad.

Finally Percy came up for air. “What the hell is so funny?” I demanded.

Percys eyes widened again and he graced us with his best you mean you really don’t know expression. “You mean, you really don’t know?” he asked.

“No, I don’t,” I admitted, “and it’s starting to honk me off.”

Well that just set Percy off again. I turned to Eric and saw that he had folded himself over and buried his face in his hands. His body shook with what I took to be silent sobs.

“Will somebody please tell me what the hell is going on?” I roared.

That brought Percy up for air. “You were really proud of yourself when you robbed that treasury, weren’t you?” he said.

“Of course I was,” I answered. “Who wouldn’t be? It was the heist of the century.”

“Yes it was,” Percy agreed. “At least, it would have been five years ago.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” I demanded.

“Well,” Percy explained, “for the last five years or so the Elves have been batting around a plan to switch their economy over from a gold base to a credit base. They had just gotten all the preparations completed and were ready to flip the switch when you pulled off your robbery.”

“Oh, God!” Eric moaned. “I knew it!”

I felt my own eyes widen and a shiver of fear cascaded up and down my spine. “Tell me they didn’t do what I think they did?”

Percy nodded vigorously, a huge grin splitting his face almost down the middle. “That’s exactly what they did,” he crowed. “As soon as you jumped out of the system they flipped the switch. An hour later the Elves announced that they were no longer going to honor any financial commitments of exchanges using the gold based currency, it was credit or nothing.”

I slumped in my chair as the full weight of what was happening hit home. “So it’s all worthless?” I moaned.

Percy nodded. “Every single crown,” he confirmed. “I can’t fence it for you. Nobody can fence it for you. The Elves never want to see it again, nor do they want to see you again. You can try melting it down, but all the exchange houses have been given the molecular signature for Elven gold. All they have to do is scan what you’re giving them and they’ll have enough to put you in the custody of Federation law enforcement.”

Percy rose from his chair and pointed at us. “In other words, you two have screwed yourselves out of what should have been the heist of a lifetime. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a bar to tend to.”

It sounds easy, but it’s hard to do, to laugh when the joke’s on you.

* * *

So, how did we get rid of all that gold? I don’t know. It’s been almost twenty years and I’m still working on it.

Copyright © 2003 by Michael J A Tyzuk

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