Interview with Gisel and Zagdorf from The Wildcat’s Victory by Chris Hoare
I wondered what characters from my Iskander series novels to use for this interview and came up with two scenario alternatives. The first idea was an interrogation that would take place in a dungeon when the arch-villain Commandante Zagdorf managed, at last, to capture the protagonist Gisel Matah. I thought it might work as information but might be too gory for readers to enjoy.
There is an interval between Iskander novels, after The Wildcat’s Victory, where they both attend a conference while a truce was in effect – which means they have to try to be civil to one another and put aside the death threats.
The scene is an executive dining room set up in a castle in Novrehan by the Iskanders, during a break in the conference wrangling.
Enter Gisel Matah in charcoal grey military fatigues. The room is almost empty, except for two men dressed as clerks and an Imperial officer, Commandante Zagdorf, in parade uniform, cuirass, and wearing a rapier.
Zagdorf: (at a table in the middle of the room, looks up from an empty glass of fortified wine and pours himself another slug) “Good evening, Wildcat. Taking a rest from subverting all the neutral princes?”
Gisel: “Not at all – just letting a suggestion sink in. What about you – drowning your sorrows?”
Zagdorf: “I’m sure that would please you, but I have none. Won’t you join me?”
Gisel: (hesitates and then grins) “Why not? I doubt if you have the table booby trapped.”
Zagdorf: (smiles as she takes seat) “This is almost like old times. Do you remember the breakfast in Lubitz?”
Gisel: “Or the delightful dinner meeting in Crown Prince Jeury’s yurt?”
Zagdorf: (raises the bottle) “Such memorable times. Will you take a drink?”
Gisel: “Thank you, not your poison. I came for a quick meal. I expect the meetings will go on until midnight tonight.” (Orders a couple of savory pies and a flagon of wine from the attentive footman)
Zagdorf: “Now you admit you came to this world by a vessel that traveled between stars, I’ve been wondering what function you fulfilled aboard. Were you trained to be this subversive rabble-rouser?”
Gisel: “Not at all. I was a sixteen-year-old gymnastics coach and personal trainer – the security gig has been entirely a response to meeting you and your murderous cronies.”
Zagdorf: “I’m not entirely sure what those titles mean, but you were merely your father’s protigée, were you not?”
Gisel: (narrows her eyes) “I was a minor, he had an obligation to provide for me. Yes . . . I admit he pulled strings to get me aboard.”
Zagdorf: “But the implication is that he took you on a journey. Why did you not stay at home with your mother?”
Gisel: (looks down at the tray set on the table before her; pours wine into a glass, adds some water, picks up a pie and bites into it) “Actually, it was my mother’s idea. You see, my brother had decided to accompany his father for the ten year contract to build up a new colony world’s infrastructure and mother worried about his father’s influence on her ‘dear son’ in all that time. I was supposed to act as a moderating influence.”
Zagdorf: (smiles broadly) “I cannot imagine you as a moderating influence. But where is this brother? I’ve never heard of him.”
Gisel: (shrugs) “Robert works behind the scenes. He’s our mathematician and intelligence analyst – keeping us ahead of your murderous plots.”
Zagdorf: (sets his glass down) “Aboard your star-ship the Iskander, floating in space above the equator?”
Gisel: (eyes him and doesn’t answer).
Zagdorf: (laughs) “Don’t pretend that’s not true. I’ve known about your star-ship since ‘44, when I went to Kalamina to investigate your pirate raid. I took an astronomer with me who had tracked the machine when you first arrived. He was able to offer many theories about its nature and navigation that have since been borne out.”
Gisel: (carefully raises her glass and takes a draft) “But you didn’t tell the Emperor?”
Zagdorf: “Not at first . . . you see I had no proof –”
Gisel: “And could not offer him any plan to deal with it? I understand . . . no point in putting him into a foul mood without some means of gaining benefit for yourself.”
Zagdorf: (shrugs) “Don’t tell me that you don’t manipulate events to your own advantage as well – not only for Iskander’s. You must be a wealthy woman by now with all the prize money stolen from the Empire – and perhaps one day a marriage into the rich Felger family as well. How is Yohan, by the way?”
Gisel: “Very well, and very busy, of course. You wouldn’t credit how many inquiries he’s getting from noblemen wanting him to supply them with restricted Iskander manufactures.”
Zagdorf: (scowls) “Yes. No doubt.”
Gisel: “So, the Emperor has decided to allow your artisans and scholars to venture into the black arts of science and engineering? You must realize how far behind you are – you’ll never catch us up.”
Zagdorf: “As if it were merely a question of catching, as you call it. You may not understand, but many people abhor your evil inventions. I have studied much since first I met you strangers. In all our beliefs, the intention to create change is regarded as sinful or else a foolish illusion. Your activities threaten the very principle that all goodness comes from the Holy Flame – the Unmoved Mover.
Gisel: (raises eyebrows and sets chin on hands, elbows on the table) “And that explains why we arouse such opposition? I accept the criticism – we’ve been too busy making things to be able to spend time listening and learning.”
Zagdorf: “Yes. You have created devices, but destroyed ways of understanding. And now the Emperor, too, has begun to doubt the wisdom of the ages. He hopes to find a way to purify change . . . to use new devices but not be corrupted by them. I fear for the heresy and schism he might unleash.”
Gisel: (shakes her head slowly) “Perhaps both peoples need to explore the implications of change. If he wants the knowledge, why not suggest he makes peace with us?”
Zagdorf: (grimaces and doesn’t answer).
Gisel: (smiles broadly) “I guess that suggestion would earn you a hemp necktie – or does your rank call for beheading?”
Zagdorf: (scowls into his glass) “I think you have as little authority to propose such an idea as I have to convey it – although I know you usurp a great deal of authority when you get the chance. It must be gratifying to have a father so highly placed.”
Gisel: “I think you know how impatient I get with protocol and chains of command. More gets done when I can strip away the red tape and start things happening that will take on a momentum of their own.”
Zagdorf: “Like the radical movements among the peasants and workers?”
Gisel: (hides her expression behind the second pie as she bites into it) “What makes you think that?”
Zagdorf: “Oh, come now. They are far too well organized and financed to be unconnected with Iskander. Are they yours or Iskander’s?”
Gisel: “I think you underestimate the urge for knowledge and change in the world. Peasants are tired of giving half their livelihood to greedy landlords, and workers want to have fair wages and treatment from their employers. My duty is only to keep track of it.
Zagdorf: “I don’t believe you.”
Gisel: “I don’t refute your philosophical underpinnings, but you and your Emperor don’t realize how much pressure has built up under two hundred years of oppression. Change is the natural order of things – one day it will burst free. If you are on the same side as me, you might escape the mobs and guillotines.”
Zagdorf: (laughs) “There you go. Now you are trying to subvert me again. Treason is not an interest of mine.”
Gisel: (sets her empty wineglsss on the table and gently tips it over with one finger) “You may call it that, but despite your savagery you could still be useful to society. I see making peace with you a substitute to being obliged to order your death.”
Deadly Enterprise and The Wildcat’s Victory are on Amazon and at Double Dragon’s website.