Journeys of the Mind

 

Chapter 12

 

 

 

 

Chapter Twelve 

Capture

   

 

Buck continued along the sun dappled path, heading unerringly toward his starfighter, hidden in a clearing about two hours from Asher.  It was a bit cooler here than in the small city, but still reminiscent of the African rainforest where he had almost died.  An hour and a half of hard travel and Buck reached his ship.  Moving the camouflage blanket partway off of the craft, he popped the canopy and slipped into the cockpit.  “Clint Eastwood to Searcher,” he called out, smiling at the joke of his predetermined clandestine name.  

Searcher here.  How are you doing, ‘Clint’?” Hawk asked, his voice evidencing slight amusement at the curious Earth subterfuge.

“Not bad for this high plains drifter,” Buck replied in another predetermined coded answer.  It was letting the admiral know that he would soon be moving on to find evidence elsewhere on this continent.  “But I have something important for the sheriff.”

Buck noted the change in Hawk’s voice to dead seriousness.  “Yes, what is it?” Hawk asked. 

“Birthday boy knows about the party.  And knows who all the guests are,” Buck answered cryptically. 

Another voice, the admiral’s, “ ‘Clint’, if that’s so, then get back up here.” 

“I will,” Buck responded.  Yes, he would, but not until tonight.  Not only because he had all but promised Dake to warn the scavengers of the trap laid for them, but also because he wanted to talk to these people, too, and he didn’t know of any other way he could do that other than to meet them tonight.  “Eastwood out,” he added, cutting the communication before the Admiral could say anything else.

Buck gathered a few supplies, secured the fighter and then headed back down the trail toward the spaceport.  He built a small camouflaged camp near the dump at the edge of the cleared land around the spaceport and waited, dozing off and on during the hot, late afternoon sun. 

Just before sunset, Buck awoke fully, hearing slight changes in the timber of the forest noises.  He peered out of his hidden camp and saw men patrolling within the perimeter of the landing field, but away from the dump.  They were fully armed with lasers, he noted.  The sun set, the air cooled and lights bathed the area closest to the spaceport terminal.  The perimeter remained in darkness.  The guards were patrolling within the lit area as well, avoiding any of the darkened areas, including the dump, indicative of the trap to which Dake had been hinting.  Buck put on his night lenses and saw more guards in strategic places closer to the dump.   He had to hand it to them, the soldiers were well concealed, almost undetectable, even with the infrared goggles he was wearing.   Moving about a bit to get the kinks out of his muscles, Buck assumed that the guards had night lenses, just as he did.  He would have to be careful not to give himself away.   It was then he saw a small, robe-covered humanoid creeping toward the dump.  Looking into the forest, Buck saw others, at least three more figures skulking behind the first one.  None of them had night lenses. 

It seemed that the concealed guards tensed, waiting, their lasers ready and Buck crept low to the ground, sure that he was detected by the humans, but not worrying about that right now.   When he was between the smaller alien and the ones behind, Buck rose up a bit and gestured to the aborigines that were following, trying to impress on them that they needed to go back, that they were walking into a trap.  He then turned toward the smaller one in front of him and saw him gazing at him with a puzzled, fearful look on his face.  With exaggerated hand gestures, Buck tried to convey the same message to the lone scavenger that he had to the ones behind.  It was so dark, he wasn’t sure that any of his gestures were understood.  He heard noise behind him and turned toward it.  At the same time there was a sudden whirring noise and a powerful beam of light caught all of them in a glare like that of midday.  

The forest people’s robes covered most of their bodies, but under the hoods Buck caught a glimpse of feathers.  Feathers? 

The guards howled a triumph call of discovery and began running toward them.  The smaller alien dashed past him and Buck didn’t hesitate to follow.   Most of the robed figures had already dashed back into the forest, lost from sight, but Buck kept his eye on the smaller one who had been at the front of the scavenging group.   Surely they couldn’t be bird people, but Buck had to find out.  Hawk’s people were the only ones he was aware of who were feathered. 

Despite the robes, the smaller man just in front of him was holding his own in the dark forest, but still, they were not losing the soldiers behind them.  Apparently, the best-trained men were put on this assignment.   Buck loosened his pistol in its holster on his thigh and listened to the shouts behind him.  Then the person in front of him stumbled and fell, sprawling hard on the uneven ground.  Buck raced for the smaller man, grabbed him by the arm and jerked him off the trail.   The alien struggled, but Buck hissed in his ear, “If you want to escape, settle down and keep quiet.”  They crossed the fallen trunk of a massive giant tree and Buck dropped and pulled his companion beneath it with him.

“Shh!  They were right behind me,” he whispered when the small man tried to get up.  Noise behind them lent credence to Buck’s words and they both listened as the soldier came closer, looking around.  Another soldier joined him.  Buck was struck by how light weight the other man had been when he had picked him up.  Hawk also had a light frame.  Buck remembered Dake’s comment, ‘You might even find other non-humans.’  Hawk had said that his people scattered during their flight, losing contact with one another.  Could a group have settled on Mendalis?  If so, they had kept their existence a very tight secret.  But who could blame them? 

Buck brought himself back to the present situation.  He had to keep his mind on immediate survival and listen for the guards.  They were quiet now, too quiet. 

There was a slight crackling of twigs only a few feet away.  Then another.  Then a low voice, “I know someone is here.”

“Shut up, Kreg,” came another harsh whisper.  “Eli will be here with his hound in a moment.”

Thank you very much, Kreg, for the information, Buck thought.  Making sure his laser was set on stun, he jumped up and fired, hitting the one guard point blank and nailing the other before either could do more than grunt in surprise.  The birdman, or boy, Buck suspected, wasted no time.  He leaped over the log and dashed into the forest, going down a trail only barely discernable, even with the night lenses.  

“Wait!” Buck called out softly.  He had to make contact with them.  He owed that much to Hawk.  He couldn’t just go back and give half information to his friend; he had to have facts and surety.   With no hesitation, Buck raced after the young birdman, desperately trying to discern hidden roots and branches, even as he ran.  He barely heard the boy’s passage ahead of him, but it was enough.  Receding behind him were sounds of the guards and their tracking dog.  Buck knew the dog would be a problem, but that was something that could be figured out later.   He continued following the trail, stopping only briefly to listen for sounds ahead of him.  He had studied the general topography of this area and had a pretty good idea where the bird people would most likely be going.  There was a mountainous plateau directly ahead.  Buck quickly consulted the compass on his wrist to verify his guess and then continued.  

Behind him, he heard the faint cry of a dog that had picked up a scent.  This was one pre-holocaust institution that he wished had been lost. Buck sincerely hoped there was something that would allow the bird-people to escape their pursuers.  He also hoped there was something that would allow him to escape as well. 

He continued toward the highlands, but suddenly found his path blocked by someone that had seemingly appeared from nowhere.  Before he could say a thing, something hit him from behind.  There was quick pain and then nothing.

   

Creel stood gazing at the human crumpled at his feet, wondering about him, pondering the reason a human would to desperately try to catch them.   Why had he been waiting for them, for he was sure that is what this one had been doing.   He bent down and took the night lenses from their captive.  They would come in useful.  It would be something to show for all their efforts.  In the distance, they heard the cry of the sniffer.   That was something they would have to take care of before they got to the caves. 

“Leave him,” a tall, muscular birdman, Raptor, said, nudging the still form at his feet.  

“No!” the boy, Brish, cried out.  “He saved me.” 

That was something else that confused Creel.   He had seen enough to know that the human had helped his son-by-marriage, but again, why? 

“He’s human,” Raptor pointed out the obvious. 

“But he still helped me.  And I think he saw that I was not a Freeosh.”  

“Do you think he recognized you for one of the people?” Creel asked.  It would make sense, the man having the night lenses. 

“I think so, Creel.”

Creel thought of this new dilemma.  Indeed, if this human knew who they were, and his actions seemed to lead to that conclusion, leaving him in the hands of the pursuing humans would be very dangerous.  “We’ll bring him.  Brish is right.  We cannot take a chance of him falling into the hands of the soldiers if he knows.” 

“Why don’t we just kill him?” Raptor asked. 

Creel smiled.  That was a good thought, and a simple answer, but there was something keeping the birdman from carrying out the suggestion.  And that was curiosity.  Creel wanted to know why this man followed them, why he was so determined.  “That might normally be a sound idea, Raptor, but I am intrigued in this human who seemed interested in helping one of us.”  He paused.  “And there is something that causes me to balk at doing something that seems to come so easily to so many humans.”  His people had practiced anonymity from the moment they had heard evidence of humans on the planet.  They had been remote even from the Freeosh before that, fearing what had happened on Earth so many centuries before.  But now, in the wake of recent events, he was glad of the wisdom of his grandparents.  While he didn’t doubt there were humans who did not mind sharing their colonies with other entities, there were so many, especially in this quadrant who wanted nothing more than to see all of his people dead.  It had always been thus, it seemed, even from the beginning. 

But what is this one’s motivation? he asked himself, again nudging the still form with his toe.  Could this be a trap?  If so, it was quite an elaborate one. 

Raptor grimaced in the darkness, then he bent down to pick up the human.  “Why are humans so blasted heavy?” he grunted.  Another member of their party helped and they were soon climbing the path that led toward the plateau.  After a while, the human began stirring.  Creel ordered a rest.  “Watch him.  Keep him quiet, but don’t harm him.”  Creel walked away, listening to the sounds of pursuit coming from their back trail.  Why were the humans so determined to capture us this time? he thought.  His people only came down a few times a year, very discreetly; the Freeosh scavenged the rest of the time.  And they had never caused any damage, only gathering what they needed among the things that the humans wastefully threw out.  Creel sighed, Why do humans do anything they do? 

Creel looked toward the spot where the human was slowly regaining consciousness.  Is he the reason they are following?  But that makes no sense!  The distant howling sent chills up and down his spine, even though it wasn’t that close.  Creel walked back to his companions.  “They seem determined this time.  They are still following with their sniffer,” he said to those sitting nearby. 

“Never have they followed us before,” Raptor commented.  “Why now?”

Buck heard voices as he slowly drifted back to awareness.  There were not speaking terra lingua, but still it seemed somewhat familiar.  He moaned softly as a shooting pain went through his head.  

“Quiet, human,” a voice hissed in terra lingua close by his ear.  “If you value your life.” 

Slowly he sat up and saw the same hooded boy he had followed, staring intently at him.  Buck smiled softly to reassure the young man and looked around, trying to see into the pre-moonlight darkness.  His lenses had been taken from him, but that didn’t surprise him.  Again the voices were speaking the same language as before and Buck finally recognized where he had heard it.  It was Hawk’s ancestral language! 

His friend had told him about it, taught him a few words and phrases, but even Hawk had not been totally fluent in his native tongue.  The bird-people of Throm had gone the path of assimilation with their human neighbors at first and by the time the village had been destroyed, only a few of the older members had been fluent.  Hawk had retained most of his native language from his boyhood and he had begun practicing with his father in law only a short time before the old birdman’s death.  It was when Dr. Goodfellow had dug up some written records that Buck had asked Hawk about his language, and his friend had begun teaching him some of the rudiments. 

Buck listened to his captors, even as he listened to the sounds of pursuit.  Dake had been right.  Kormand’s men were very determined.   “S-ris,” he said softly to the one standing nearby, the birdman he assumed was the leader.

Before he could take a breath, Buck felt the steel hard fingers of the birdman he presumed to be his guard, around his throat, choking him.  “Who are you who presumes to speak the sacred tongue, human?” the warrior hissed.

As the fingers squeezed, Buck struggled to grasp the birdman’s hands, pull them away from his throat.  He felt the lightheadedness of lack of oxygen, and was finally able to gasp out, “If you let go, I can tell you.”

“Let him go, Raptor,” said the one Buck had judged to be the leader.

With pointed deliberation, Buck first rubbed his bruised neck, then ignoring the rest of the party, addressed the birdman now squatting down in front of him.  “S-ris al kiror upolu risor mokoura.”  He sincerely hoped that his pronunciations and inflections were correct.    

The dark eyes bored into his, almost luminous in the darkness surrounding them.  “How do you know about us?  How do you know our language?” Creel asked in terra lingua, his voice low, almost a whisper.  Somehow, he was already feeling that this human had no affiliation with Kormand.  Why would a believer of Kormand’s philosophies take the time to learn his people’s ancient language, even as crudely as this human spoke it?  The formal greeting was perfectly, if haltingly given.

“Answer to the first question--I didn’t, at least until you showed up at the spaceport,” Buck replied, his voice equally low.  “As to the second question, a friend of mine taught me a little of your language.”  He paused.  “But the important thing is that the spaceport guards are following and with a tracking dog, they can follow you anywhere.  I was informed by a friend in Asher, a Freeosh half-breed, that Erik Kormand was increasing his efforts to annihilate all aboriginals on the planet.  I can only assume that your people would be acceptable for that fate as well, especially since Kormand was indirectly responsible for the annihilation of the Tane-rapanui on Throm.” 

Creel gazed at the human in shock.  He knew the true, ancient name of the people.  Under no circumstances could their captive be allowed to go free, nor could he be killed until the leaders had taken for themselves the knowledge that this human carried inside him.  

 

 

 

 

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