Journeys of the Mind

 

Chapter 11

 

 

 

Chapter Eleven 

Into the Cockatrice’s Den

 

 

 

Dake sat outside a tiny, ramshackle building at the edge of Asher, smoking a cheap cigar.  Inside he heard the sound of his two children settling down for the night, his sister quieting them with urgent whispers.   It didn’t do to bring attention to oneself when you were under suspicion for being ‘alien.’  He would be in there himself but for important business waiting to be concluded.  Sighing, Dake realized just how tired he was becoming of this, tired of what had happened on this planet, on the planet of his birth.   At one time he had considered himself a child of the towns and cities.  His boyhood had been spent on the streets of Brix, playing with children of all races, not caring what was going on elsewhere.  Now, those human boys were grown and hunting his friends to extinction.  Now he was ready to not only leave Asher, which had once been a safe haven, but even leave the planet.   

Knocking the ash from the end of his cigar, Dake took another puff.  What he had told Rogers was correct, these things could be deadly, but it gave him a perverse sense of pleasure.  It was bad for you; therefore he smoked.   He laughed softly and blew several huge smoke rings into the air.   Again, he wondered what the terran had done to raise the ire of Erik Kormand so much that the Human Rights leader would suspend his activities against his people and other non-humans on this planet.  He chuckled.  If only the humans knew what secrets this planet held.   Someday, secrets like those held on Mendalis would reach up and bite them, like the crish adder did to those unsuspecting souls who stepped on its den. 

Of course, Dake knew what he had done . . . he had been born part Freeosh.  That was all that mattered these days.  That was what had lost him his eye and his wife.  When the human gang had killed his lovely wife and beaten him almost senseless in Brix that devastating night, he realized that the end of his world had come.  The only gratitude he had felt was that his children had been at someone else’s home.  As soon as he had been able, he had taken his children and left Brix, left the continent and come to Asher.  Now Asher was unsafe.  Most of his people had hidden deep in the forests and hills by now, but Dake knew that it was only a matter of time before every little settlement, every hidden family would eventually be rounded up and either be killed or sent to the reservations. 

Frowning, Dake thought of how subtle the humans had been when they had first arrived.  There had been no problems; his people and humans had thrived together for over fifty years.  Then the problems had begun, the meetings where humans demanded more land, less encroachment of his people.  Dake snorted.  What was that supposed to mean? he thought derisively.  This was his people’s planet and they had been living their paradisiacal existence for millennia before humans had ever fled their nearly destroyed planet.   If anything, his people could be accused of complacency, rather than being the ‘confrontational aliens’ that Erik Kormand claimed them to be.  But that was slowly changing.   Many of his friends were feeling the stirrings of righteous indignation at the treatment they had been taking for the past several years. 

Actually, Dake thought, it wasn’t the first humans who had caused the problems; it was the humans who came about five years ago.   They were very well organized, and the Freeosh couldn’t even hope to compete with the hate messages that had begun quietly and were now so very insidious.  And if something didn’t change, his people would be extinct, quickly and without fanfare.  And within his lifetime.   He wondered where his contact was.  Dake pulled out another cigar and lit it. 

“Got another one?” a voice growled from the shadows.  

“No.”

“That’s okay.  That garbage can refuse you smoke would make a screffle gag.” 

Dake didn’t even look at his companion, he knew who it was.  Greeg.  He wasn’t expecting him.  “What do you want?” 

“I want to know that you did what you were told to do,” Greeg said. 

“I did,” Dake replied, finally turning to the human.   He squinted at the late day sun shining in his eyes.  

“Which direction did you send Rogers?”

“Northeast.  Freemont Road.   Abandoned settlement, ten klicks from here.  Should be fairly easy to catch him,” Dake said tersely.  

“Good.  The boss will be happy about that,” Greeg smirked, tossing some coins into the dust at Dake’s feet. 

“This all?” 

“That and yours and your brats’ skins,” came the derisive answer.   Greeg got up and dusted himself off.    “Just keep providing information and the boss will let all of you live.” 

Dake just nodded, turning and gazing off toward the far horizon.  After Greeg had left, Dake spat in the dirt where the human had stood.    

 

  

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Wilma woke to find herself tied by her wrists to the wall behind her.  Her mind felt sluggish, stuporous and she struggled to remember what brought her to this apartment that appeared posh in all ways but one-- the manacles that were around her wrists.  Above her a small crystal chandelier glittered, each hanging jewel moving languidly, only slightly, as though they had been drugged as well.  

The walls were covered with dark designs of purple and gold, adding to the poshness of the room and she remembered.  She remembered those same designs on a wall last night and then she began remembering everything.  The laughter and gaiety of the night before, hers and Maria’s subterfuge in the attempt to get information.  Or was it still night, Wilma wondered.  Her arms ached, indicating that she had been lying in this position for some time.  She saw raw places just above her elbows where the headboard had rubbed her skin.   And her whole body ached, as though she had done something strenuous.  Her thighs throbbed, her stomach, everything below the waist was one continuous bruised and battered ache.  And then her mind took hold of the drugged and dreamlike memories, no, half-remembered nightmare visions, she thought, the horror of the past hours coming back in stark clarity.   Wilma moaned and felt the tears prickling in the corners of her eyes.  How could I have let this happen?  Maria?  What happened to Maria? And Kormand.  Where is he?  What else is he going to do?  What more can he do?  Kill me?  She laughed softly as a few tears flowed down her cheeks and into her ears.  Wilma realized that death had much less horror to her than what had already happened. 

She remembered someone handing her a drink last night—Erik.  Then she remembered feeling the lethargy and realizing that despite everything, despite her precautions, he had drugged her.  He had given her something that Dr. Goodfellow’s pre-antidote didn’t cover.    As she sagged back on the overstuffed sofa, she saw Erik grinning, but this time it wasn’t the friendly smile it had been before, this was more like that of an animal that has cornered its prey.  

“You wanted Erik Kormand.  You both wanted Erik Kormand,” he had said.  “Well, you were right about one thing, my dear.  Erik Kormand does like beautiful women.  The prettier they are, the better I like them.” 

And Wilma had realized that this Erik, was in reality, Erik Kormand.  And a sick feeling had settled in her stomach as she realized what Erik Kormand must do to the women that he chose. 

Her realization must have shown vividly on her face, because he had laughed.  “Yes, I am Erik Kormand.  Welcome to Mendalis, dear ladies.   Now you will find out why I come to Brix.”  He rubbed his finger down the side of her cheek, but Wilma could only muster the strength to move her head only slightly away from him.  He laughed again and turned to Maria.  He jerked her from the couch, throwing her to the floor.  Wilma could see that Maria was still awake, but only barely.  Her partner had drunk much more of the doctored liquor than she had.  Kormand jerked Maria’s dress away from her body and began to rub his hand down her belly.  Suddenly, Maria seemed to awake enough to realize what was happening.  She moaned softly and then louder and louder, her cries filled with abject fear.  Kormand laid his hand across Maria’s mouth and ordered her to be quiet.  But it was as though Maria was possessed.  Or very, very ill from the drug.  Wilma wished she could force enough energy to move, to struggle.  Maria began to convulse and cried out in ear piercing screams.  Kormand sat on top of her and Wilma couldn’t see what he was doing any more.  

After a few minutes it was quiet and Kormand stood up.  Maria lay silent and still.  Too silent.   Wilma tried desperately to move, to make her legs carry her away from this scene of horror.

 She remembered Kormand grabbing her wrists, yanking her to her feet, dragging her to the bedroom, this bedroom.  Wilma remembered struggling, realizing what was happening, what was going to happen. What had happened.  She struggled, but her struggles were almost totally ineffectual.  The drug didn’t completely knock her out, but it rendered her efforts next to useless.  Kormand dragged her behind him like a rag doll and threw her on the bed.  She jerked up, for some reason still coordinated enough to do that.  With a growl he grabbed her and threw her back on the bed.  

“Going to make this interesting, are you, Colonel?” Kormand had asked. 

She had opened her mouth to answer, but her tongue seemed to stick to the roof of her mouth.  Wilma had felt fear, real fear, the kind that wants to make you scream, the kind of fear that says ‘run, hide.’  But she couldn’t run, couldn’t hide, couldn’t go anywhere, couldn’t do anything.  She could only watch the leering face in front of her, the grin that had seemed so charming earlier in the day on the commuter.  And I actually compared him to Buck? she thought in despair.   Then she remembered the shock of his words.  Wilma forced her tongue to work.  “C . . . Colonel?” she stammered. 

“Oh, did you think that I had no idea who you were?  Colonel Deering, how do you think I have stayed alive, and unknown to all my enemies for so long?” Kormand asked with a laugh.  “I know where all of your operatives are and the names of each.  I know what they are doing.  This planet is mine, Wilma, dear.  It’s mine and almost all of her people are mine as well, all except the scum and those that love scum.  Like your Captain Rogers.  Like you,” Kormand said.   “But then, you are mine now.  And I will break you and make you wish you had never heard my name.” 

“But . . . but how?” she asked. 

“How did I know about you?” Kormand asked.  “Or how am I going to break you?” he taunted.  His wolf-like grin broadened.  “I think you know that one, m’dear.”  He sat down next to her on the bed and laid his hand on her thigh.  “Oh, the breaking will be so enjoyable.”

Wilma jerked her leg out from under his hand and tried to jump up again.   She only succeeded in rolling slightly to one side.  Kormand grabbed her hair and yanked her back down on the bed.  “Ah, Colonel, you disappoint me.  You would think that you didn’t want my attention.”  He laughed.  “Well, you can just pretend that I am your boyfriend.  And when we are done you can tell me who is the better lover.”

Wilma bristled and before she could stop herself, blurted out, “Buck . . . never do this . . . to me!” 

Kormand sneered and rubbed his hand up and down her arm, then along her neck.  “Then he is a fool.” 

Wilma felt her skin quiver in revulsion as he proceeded to rub her and then slowly pull her dress from her body.   The only thing for which she was grateful at that point was the drug, which allowed her to pass from consciousness to a twilight awareness where everything seemed surreal and remote.  But she had remembered crying at one point, crying and wishing she could die.  

Now she was only feeling shame.   Then she remembered Maria.  How was Maria?  Was she still alive?  Somehow, Wilma felt that Maria was dead and that added to her shame.  She had brought the lieutenant into this situation; brought her to her death.  Shaking her head, Wilma wondered where Kormand was and that led to thoughts of what he had in mind for her.  The restraints told her that he was not through using her and that jerked her out of her self-pity.  There is no way in hell he is going to do this to me again, she thought.  Wilma looked up and studied the manacle-like restraints.  Slowly, she tried to position her hands to allow them to slip from through the steel rings.  They were tight, but Wilma felt that if she worked at it, she might be able to get free.  She drew her thumbs in toward her palms, willing her hands smaller.  Biting her lip at the pain, she continued to pull and tug, feeling the skin scraping from her hands.  Even then, Wilma continued trying to work her hands free.  Soon the manacles felt slippery and she didn’t have to look to know she had rubbed her hands raw, the pain was enough to tell her. 

Cool air from the air conditioning system made her skin crawl, but Wilma ignored it, continuing to work her hands free from their hated bonds.  With a gasp, one hand finally pulled through.  Holding the second metal ring with her now free hand, Wilma worked until the other hand came free as well.  She sat up, quickly drawing the sheet across her body, and looked around.  Her ripped dress lay on the floor, useless, but she grabbed her underwear and quickly threw it on.  She had to get out.  Somehow, she had to leave before Kormand returned.   The very thought of him being in the same room with her made her skin crawl. 

Wilma perused the room more closely, knowing she had to find something to wear.  There was a small doorway . . . a closet, she wondered?   Quietly, she walked across the room and lightly touched the door, wondering if Kormand was paranoid enough to put detectors inside his apartment.  If so, she would have to hurry.  Decorum, be damned, she thought as she slid the door open with a jerk.  Inside she saw various items of clothing—pants, shirts, jumpsuits.  She pulled out the first pair of pants that she came to and pulled them on, then grabbed a belt to hold them up when the pants fell off.  A shirt followed, quickly tucked in.  The sleeves were too long, but Wilma chose not to roll them up.  The long sleeves would serve to hide her abraded hands.  She grabbed the remnants of her ripped dress and shoved it in a pocket of the pants.  Evidence, she remembered. 

Whether there was a detection device in the room or not, Wilma heard a door open beyond her room.   She felt her heart race, wondering if Erik Kormand was returning.  Looking around the bedroom wildly, she saw a slim-necked vase on a stand and grabbed it.  She only had time to stand close by the bedroom entrance before it slid open and a figure came in.  Without even waiting to see who it was, Wilma swung and connected with the intruder’s head.  As he slumped to the ground, moaning, she saw it was, indeed, Erik Kormand.   Her breath constricted in her throat, her heart still raced and she could only see his leering face in front of hers as he sat on top of her in the night. Anger warred with fear, a white-hot anger engulfed her and, as he stirred, still moaning, she swung the vase again, connecting with the back of his head.  She felt pleasure that she had hurt him.  Hurt him? No, she wanted to kill him for what he had done.  She swung the hard, treated-glass vase against the doorway, where it broke.  A large piece laid by him, inviting her to act upon her anger, her desire for revenge.  An eye for an eye.  She picked up the shard and held it by his throat, then she hesitated, feeling frustrated on the one hand and horrified on the other.  Wilma realized she couldn’t do it.  She could not kill someone lying helplessly on the floor like this, not even Erik Kormand.  The hand with the shard moved to a different part of his body, but still, even though she wanted to destroy that which seemed most precious to him, she couldn’t do that either.  She felt disgust at herself and disgust for the heap of refuse at her feet.

Suddenly, Wilma couldn’t stand to be near Kormand.  She felt she had to get away from the apartment, the place of her shame or she would be physically sick.   Throwing the shard to the ground, she ran out of the bedroom.  Maria!  I have to make sure about Maria!  Wilma looked around the room where she and Maria had sat laughing and joking with Erik Kormand.  She saw a piece of the soft silken dress that Maria was wearing lying on the floor in front of the sofa.  Again, her heart hammered and her stomach lurched.  Her attacker was in the other room; he was here!   Wilma jerked around, thinking that he was sneaking up on her, but there was no one there.  It was still and quiet in the apartment.  She gazed through the door that led to the room of her shame and saw him still lying on the floor, just as he was when she had hit him.  With a ragged breath, Wilma forced herself to go from room to room, looking for her companion. 

Finally in the other bedroom, she found Maria, her body already cold and stiff, her eyes slightly bulging in the horror of death by strangulation.  Wilma shuddered and took Maria’s hand.  “Oh, Maria, I am so sorry.  So very sorry,” she whispered, feeling the guilt trying to overtake her again.  “I wish I could take you with me, but I can’t.”  Somehow, he would pay for this.  Sometime in the future, she, Wilma Deering, would find a way to confront Erik Kormand with this horrible thing he had done to both of them and he would pay.  But not tonight.  It couldn’t happen tonight.  Wilma smiled humorlessly.  Just escaping would be one little bit of revenge.  Saying a quick prayer for her friend, and covering her with a blanket, Wilma turned and went back to the main door.  She paused and thought.  What if there were guards outside?    Putting her ear to the door, she listened, trying to still the horribly noisy beating of her heart.  She took a deep breath and forced herself to calm down, to think and plan.  

Looking at her hands, Wilma saw that blood was showing on the sleeves of the shirt.  Despite her desire to leave this place, she had to do something about that or she would be noticed just as soon as she left the apartment.  Bathroom, she thought, remembering the night before when Erik had offered Maria the use the ‘ladies’ room.’   The room was as opulent as the rest of the apartment, Wilma noticed with disgust.  Quickly, she found antiseptic spray that would stop the bleeding and used it on her abraded wrists and hands.   Then she took Kormand’s silken robe and using materials from a manicure set, tore it into strips, getting great pleasure in destroying something that belonged to him.  Awkwardly, Wilma wrapped a strip around each wrist, using her teeth to help tie a knot.  Not the best job, but it will do, she thought.  Grabbing another shirt out of the closet, she changed, stuffing the old one in a dark corner of the closet.  That done, she went to the door and listened again.

Finally, when she felt ready, Wilma pushed the button to open the door and then flattened herself against the inside wall out of sight of anyone who might be there.  She heard nothing, no one poked a head in to investigate and the door slid shut.  She looked behind her again, feeling the same eerie feeling she had before when she thought someone was creeping up on her.  But it was still in the room, only the soft whisper of the circulating air breaking the silence.  Taking a deep breath, Wilma pushed the door’s button a second time with the same result as before.  For a brief moment, she was incredulous, wondering at the utter arrogance of this man who was so sure of his following that he didn’t even keep guards at the door.  Quickly, Wilma leaped through the door, ready to take on anyone who might be lurking, waiting.  There was no one and she dashed down the hallway to the elevator she had come up with Erik and Maria the night before.   Pushing the button, she waited impatiently.  When at last it opened, a security guard looked at her in open shock.  It was quick lived.  There was no hesitation on Wilma’s part this time.    She quickly knocked the man unconscious, dumping him in the hallway.  She entered the elevator and pushed the button that would take her to the lower level. 

 

 

 

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