There was, for a time, a good deal of puzzled and uneasy speculation about the methods that had been employed by the Confederacy of Vega in the taming of Cushgar. The disturbing part of it was that nothing really seemed to have happened!
First, the rumor was simply that the Confederacy was preparing to move into Cushgar — and then, suddenly, that it had moved in! This aroused surprised but pleased interest in a number of areas bordering the Confederacy. The Thousand Nations and a half-dozen similar organizations quietly flexed their military muscles, and prepared to land in the middle of the Confederacy's back as soon as it became fairly engaged in its ambitious new project. For Cushgar and the Confederacy seemed about as evenly matched as any two powers could possibly be.
But there was no engagement, then. There was not even anything resembling an official surrender. Star system by system, mighty Cushgar was accepting the governors installed by the Confederacy. Meekly, it coughed up what was left of the captive peoples and the loot it had pirated for the past seven centuries. And, very simply and quietly then, under the eyes of a dumfounded galaxy, it settled down and began mending its manners. ...
... what had they done to Cushgar — and how?
"The Truth about Cushgar" is the fourth story (of four) about the Confederacy of Vega's fabulous trouble-shooters, the Department of Galactic Zones, in James H. Schmitz's Agent of Vega series. This novelet can stand alone but is best read fourth. If you have not yet read the review of the first story, "Agent of Vega", please read that review before this one.
The paragraphs quoted above are the beginning of "The Truth about Cushgar", but this is a very personal relation as well as an interstellar adventure. The lovely and driven Zone Agent Zamm is a woman to remember.
As with the other Agent of Vega stories, this one glows with enough action and thought-material to be a complete novel in itself. "The Truth about Cushgar" is one of the most openly emotional of all Schmitz's science fiction, and he is a master. Love, yearning, and vengeance are very strong here. This is a power of a story.
Zone Agent Zamman Tarradang-Pok is a distinctive heroine even among the superlatively drawn heroines of James Schmitz. We also see more of the boss of Galactic Zones, the tough and subtle Third Co-ordinator; as well as young Bropha, executive scientist in charge of the "mundane affairs" of the tantalizingly hinted-at College of the Pleiades. — But this really is Zamm's story.
We see several stops — sharp police actions — along Zamm's years-long journey of personal seeking. After a neatly-drawn personal-level intervention, Zamm in her special Galactic Zones ship hunts and intercepts some ships of the vicious Shaggar drift:
Up the long cone of flame, the ship sprang at the five [Shaggar ships]. Zamm's hands soared, spread and high, above the armament banks — thin, curved, white claws of hate! Those seeming to swim down toward her now, turning and shifting slowly within their fire-veils, were not the faceless, more or less humanlike ones she sought. But they were marked with the same red brand: brand of the butchers, looters, despoilers — of all the death-thoughts drifting and writhing through the great stupid carnivore mind of the Universe — ...
Zamm's hands flashed.
And later on a far grander scale, Cushgar. Yet what can she do about, against, vast Cushgar? Zamm's powers of mind are considerable, her robotic ship is fast and well-armed as well as intelligent itself, a fighting extension of the Zone Agent operating it. But Zamm's special competence and zeal and sheer force as a Zone Agent is powered by her yearning, which is built upon her love. For beneath the scalp-tingling interstellar adventure, and beyond Schmitz's distinctive leavening with wit and humor, is an unforgettable love.
Yes, "The Truth about Cushgar" is a beautiful power of a story.