Journeys of the Mind

 

Chapter 13

 

 

 

Chapter Thirteen

 

Oh, the Tangled Webs We Weave

 

 

 

Hawk paced the confines of the bridge, his body taut with nervous frustration.  It had been over twelve hours since that last call from Buck.  Nothing at all from Wilma for a day.  “Admiral….” He began. 

“Hawk, I understand your feelings,” Asimov interrupted.  “I would like nothing more than to go down myself.  I am disturbed that not only Buck and Wilma are unaccounted for, but also Maria Mendalin, Troy Grayson and Ross Williams.  That’s five people out of the group I sent down a day ago.  Then add to the fact that of the rest, two barely made it back with their lives.  And then the fact that the planet has become a stew pot of racial bigotry and strife.”

“But is that not enough to call in a Galactic Council warship, Admiral?” Hawk asked, feeling as though he was clutching at straws. He knew the directive had been discretion.  And he knew that these had all been developments that had unfolded in only a matter of days.  He also was fully aware of the Galactic Council’s past history.

The admiral sighed.  “No, Hawk, we never made contact with any aboriginals, never got the concrete evidence we needed.  Kormand has done his work well.  And that’s why the Council wanted this done as discreetly as possible.  Get Kormand quietly or at least get the evidence on him quietly, avoiding conflict that may cause this all to blow up in everyone’s face.” 

Hawk nodded, but said nothing. 

“Damned politics,” Asimov muttered.  He stared at the view screen, which showed Mendalis floating serenely below them.  “However, I promise this, if we have not heard from them in the next twelve hours; if they aren’t back by then, then politics can go out the window.  I will send someone down to make inquiries.  Hell, I may anyway.  John is still nursing that broken arm from the mob that almost killed him.”  Asimov rubbed his chin and sighed in frustration.  “And if we find out nothing, or if they are still missing after a day, then I feel we will have to contact the Council, give them what we have.  That’s five Directorate people clearly in harm’s way; they will have to do something.”

Hawk doubted that there would be any action from Cronis, the seat of the Galactic Council, despite what the admiral said.  “Even if they wanted Eric Kormand taken without undo publicity?” Hawk asked evenly.  

“Even if,” the admiral agreed. 

“This is a hard thing, having friends in danger and a madman on the loose.”  Hawk paused.  “And not being able to do anything about it.” 

“It certainly is,” Asimov concurred with a lusty sigh.  

Hawk continued to pace, stopping before the large port that showed a palette of brilliant stars.  Below him, his two closest human friends were in danger while he sat in safety.  It frustrated him to feel so useless.  Then the eyes of his mind saw a familiar face in the white sprinkled blackness.  Koori.  She was not beckoning, nor was she trying to say anything, she was only gazing at him, her eyes filled with love and devotion.  Koori, what is it you want of me, my beloved, my piri-ua? Her visage came closer and almost could he feel her breath, her touch.  It took a great deal of self-control to keep from outwardly reacting to her nearness.  But there was nothing else, no message, only the closeness of her entity.  Then he really did feel as though she had touched him.  He felt the power of her presence, and a strengthening of his spirit and his body that surprised him.   She smiled and began to withdraw.  He smiled softly in return, not feeling the pain that remembrances of Koori usually brought him, but the contentment that she was ever near to him, never far.  It was as though she had deliberately come to give him strength, to help him prepare for something to come.  

“Hawk?  Are you all right?” the admiral asked.   

Hawk turned to find Asimov close behind him.  “Yes, Admiral.  I am fine.”   And Hawk knew what needed to be done.  He knew and dreaded and anticipated at the same time.   But it was something other than sitting in frustrated anger and only hoping.  It was acting and working toward the rescue of his human friends and ultimately for all of the entities in this quadrant. 

Now the admiral was pacing.  “I just wish there was something we could do other than just sit and wait.”   Suddenly, he slammed his fist against his desk.  “Damn, I have five people down there.  Five friends, not just five subordinates and I can’t do a thing!  Nothing!”  Asimov sighed and his voice became almost too soft to hear.  “And I am responsible.”  He looked up at Hawk, who had not moved, not said anything, only waited.  “I can’t believe how seriously we misjudged Kormand.   I was amazed that he had stayed incognito all this time.  But apparently he could teach us all about patience and shrewdness.” 

“And I believe, in order to have succeeded as well as he had, Kormand had to have infiltrated the Galactic Council,” Hawk said softly.

Asimov sighed.  “That thought also occurred to me, as well as to Buck, and I believe you are right.”  A deep frown crossed his features.  “And that means that we must be very, very careful who we talk to at the Council level.”

“That is true.”  Hawk turned to gaze out at the stars for another moment and then turned back to the admiral.  “I believe there is something we can do.  Something more than useless worrying and wondering.” 

Asimov looked puzzled.  “What do you have in mind?”

“Is there anyone in the upper echelons of the Galactic Council that you trust?  Someone whose integrity is beyond reproach, whom you could contact in strictest confidence?” Hawk asked.

Asimov thought, rubbing his chin.  How well did he know all these men?  Brinker?  He hadn’t seen him for several years.  Morrisk?  Yes, they were old friends, as far back as the academy days, but Drew wasn’t that high up in the inner council.  Froligen?  Yes, he was part of the inner council of thirty and Asimov felt he could trust Mic.  After all, he was from Xeros, a planet whose people were renown for their integrity. He had never had any reason to doubt him during any of their contacts since his earliest dealings with the Galactic Council.  “Yes, Hawk, there are a couple of upper echelon Galactic Council people whom I trust.”  He gazed thoughtfully at the birdman.  “What is on your mind?” 

“Let me go see at least one of these people.  Let me take what we have found, let me talk to the one in whom you have the greatest trust.”  

“What good would that do?”  

“Hopefully that individual would have influence on the rest of the council, guiding their decisions.  And we would have someone with whom we would have direct contact,” Hawk explained.  “I feel it is something that must be done.” 

Asimov said nothing for a few minutes.  He thought of the past year of the Searcher’s explorations and endeavors.  He thought of the change from enemy to friend that had occurred in the man who now stood next to him, counseling and offering to meet with the very people he had once vowed to destroy.  It must be a strong feeling, indeed, for Hawk to want to deal intimately with humans he didn’t even know, much less respect.  “Hawk, you are willing to do this?  Go to Cronis and possibly deal with those who have, in the past, turned a deaf ear to your people’s plight?” 

“Yes, Admiral.  I feel it is right to do this . . . and necessary.”

“Then, by all means, do so.  I would like you to take Dr. Theopolis and Twiki with you.”

“Yes, that would be wise.”

Asimov pushed the button on his communicator and called for the two quads.  As they waited, the admiral said,  “I believe you should go as soon as possible.”

“I concur, Admiral.  Staying here on the ship is doing nothing to help those on Mendalis, and if I can get someone’s sympathetic ear, then perhaps it will help effect the release of our people,” Hawk said.  

“My thoughts exactly, and as soon as Twiki and Dr. Theopolis are briefed you can leave.  It won’t be long.”

“My ship stands at ready,” Hawk said. 

 

                                        ==============================

 

 

Once again, Wilma felt her heart beating hard enough to cause pain, hard enough to make her gasp.  She felt the sweat trickling down her sides.  It had matted her hair and caused the ‘borrowed’ shirt to stick to her body.   She knew her time of freedom was limited.  She had not killed Kormand, even though she had wanted to beat him to a bloody pulp. 

But she had left him.   And when he awoke, he would still feel that reminder of her anger in the bruises that he now bore.  And would bear for at least a few days.  By now, he knew where her shuttle was and would have people waiting for her to return to it.  Wilma paused and thought.   If that were the case, then she would find a ship in the vicinity, in the Brix spaceport.  

Wilma wished for nothing better than to shower, to get the evil, foul evidence of Erik Kormand from her body.   However, she knew the procedures.  While incidents such as rape were rare in the directorate academy, it still happened occasionally and she had often drilled the female pilots in what they should do in the event they were sexually assaulted.  Now she had to follow it herself.  But Wilma wanted Erik Kormand to pay for this.  So she would continue to carry the reminders of last night.  At least until she reached the Searcher. 

Oh, yes, I want Erik Kormand to pay.  She remembered the surprised death look on Maria’s face and felt the guilt wash over her for letting Maria die.  Stop it! she admonished herself.  Erik chose to do what he did, she didn’t, Maria didn’t.  But I wanted to meet him.  Wanted to find him.  I brought Maria along with me.  But you didn’t want him to violate you, didn’t want him to take away that which you had planned on giving freely to the right man.  And you certainly didn’t want him to kill your partner.  But I wore that come hither dress.  I dressed for the occasion.  But Erik still made his choice.  HE decided to violate her, even when she protested.  He decided to kill her subordinate, her friend.   Wilma felt the stabbing of shame, enough that she had to pause and take a deep breath.  This is useless now . . . and dangerous.  All of this could come later, much later.  Right now she had to get to the spaceport, get a ship, get back on the Searcher.   

She couldn’t use public transport.  It was a surety that Kormand had all such services under his control.  Unbidden, her thoughts turned to Buck and she couldn’t help but wonder how he would feel about this.  Would he even want her now?  Am I pregnant? she wondered.  Another thought to purge.  Then Wilma wondered if Buck was safe.  But he had to be; he was on another continent, one far from Erik Kormand.  He had to be!  Oh, God, she prayed, Let him be safe. Let him understand.  Wilma looked down and found herself rubbing her hands down her hips.  No! she ordered herself.  No….   She looked down at clothes and realized that she had to find new ones.  Something less conspicuous than men’s clothes that were far too big for her.  

She was still in the business district, but many of these businesses were entertainment facilities where she might grab a costume or uniform.  Dashing down a dark alley, Wilma found an unlocked door and opened it slightly, heartened when she detected the sounds and scents of a nightclub.  It was still late morning, so there was little activity.  Seeing no one inside the door, she slipped in and, hugging the dimly lit corners, made her way to the rooms behind a small stage.  There were noises coming in her direction, so Wilma ducked behind a rack of clothes.  As she hid, she perused the gaudy dresses and suits in front of her.  They would definitely not do.  When it grew quiet again, Wilma scouted the individual rooms and was heartened when she found normal everyday street clothes in a small closet.  She pulled out several pairs of khaki pants and several shirts that appeared to be close to her size.  She found a drawer with underwear and almost laughed.  At least she would be able to strip one part of Erik Kormand off.  Wilma pulled off her clothes, and pulled on the new ones, wincing when the shirtsleeves pulled at her bandages.  Checking the bandages, she found that the abrasions on one hand had stopped bleeding and weren’t that obvious.  The other had stopped bleeding as well, but was still painful to the touch.  However, the slightly tight cuff still pulled at the bandage, so she would just have to take the bandages off and hope for the best.   Finding a carry bag, she shoved her old garments inside, along with the bandages, and again wiped her hands down her legs. 

Peering out the door, seeing and hearing no one, Wilma slipped back toward the rear entrance, again glad for the hour of the day.  She was not seen as she slipped through the alleyway.  Before she reached the street, Wilma ran her fingers through her hair and twisted it into a knot, hoping it would not only stay, but would make her look different than when she had first entered Brix. 

In her mind she pictured the layout of this city and headed in the direction that would take her near the spaceport.  Late morning turned into afternoon and then to evening.  Wilma felt faint from hunger, but could only refresh herself at public fountains.  She was amazed at how big this city was, but then she reminded herself that she was used to taking commuters, land or space, wherever she went, so size was a relative thing, especially since she was on foot now.  The evening became night and things quieted down a little.

Soon she saw the lights of the spaceport and walked into the public terminal.  She continued walking, not able to stop, even though her feet hurt abominably.  She was constantly watching and listening, afraid that someone would recognize her.  Finally, she saw the hangar where the private military starships were kept and watched surreptitiously as people came and went into the restricted area. 

Everyone was security checked and Wilma began to despair of being able to gain access to a ship, when she saw someone in a military pilot’s uniform enter the public restroom.  Although male, the pilot was slender and about Wilma’s height.   First looking around to make sure no one was watching, she followed him.  There didn’t appear to be any surveillance cameras, but at this point Wilma didn’t care, hoping that speed and more good luck would get her to a ship and away before any security guards could catch her.  She had been very fortunate already, but it had almost been twenty-four hours since she had gone to Erik Kormand’s room and he was surely awake and looking for her now.  

Luckily, no one else was in the facility and when the man turned, she favored him with a kick in the stomach and her locked fists to the back of his head when he bent in pain.  The pilot was unconscious before he could even look startled.    Wilma dragged him out of the way and behind a partition where she quickly pulled off his uniform.  He was slightly bigger than she had thought, so she simply pulled the jumpsuit on over her clothes.  It would serve to disguise her even more.  Leaving the man laying on the floor in his underwear, Wilma pulled her hair up and stuck it beneath the cap he had been wearing.  Looking in the mirror, she saw evidence of Erik’s manhandling of the night before.  There was a bruise on one cheek and scratches on her neck.  Wilma could only pull the collar up a bit more and hope for the best.  

Picking up the man’s helmet, she walked out of the facility with much more confidence than she felt, especially as she approached the hanger security checkpoint.  More luck, there was only one person there and after a quick glance, he just pointed to the scanning device.  Wilma swiped the card over it and continued when a green light blinked.  She was in the hanger. 

A quick glance showed several likely ships.  Two were starfighters of a design similar to her own.  Another was a large shuttle and likely not that maneuverable.  She walked to the ship closest to the launch bay and pulled back the canopy.   More luck, it had not yet been security coded to the pilot.  

“Hey, you can’t take that ship!” a security guard said. 

Wilma deepened her voice and reined in her increasing anxiety.  “I was ordered to test the new tilozian guidance system,” she said gruffly, beginning to climb up on the wing.  

“Who ordered such a test?  Certainly not the boss.”  The guard sounded as though he was right behind her and Wilma exploded into action, hoping he didn’t have a laser ready to shoot her.  Pivoting, she used a martial arts move that Buck had taught her, catching the man squarely in the chest, causing him to double over in agony.  His pistol clattered to the ground and Wilma scooped it up, putting it onto the stun setting.  Soon the guard was a silent heap on the floor and she turned back to the fighter. 

The boss? she wondered.  The night before she had vaguely remembered someone else in the apartment, someone who called Kormand, ‘boss’.  Could it be?  Erik Kormand?  Sliding into the pilot’s seat Wilma pulled the canopy shut and did the fastest pre-flight check in history.  “Ready for launch,” she growled, at the same time arming the laser cannons.

At the protests of the launch director, she shot a salvo of laser fire at the launch bay doors, blowing a huge hole in them.  Then she lifted off the deck as the smoke cleared and punched full thrusters into the controls.  Full sub-light speed was attained almost before she cleared the damaged doors and soon the reassuring glitter of stars and blackness of space supplanted the haze of Mendalis’ atmosphere.  

The Searcher lay just within the orbit of the next planet in the system and she continued accelerating.  Belatedly, Wilma realized that this ship could be armed with a detonation device for just such a situation as this.   She keyed the communicator, turning off the squawking of the agitated ground control.  Searcher, Colonel Deering reporting in.” 

“Wilma!” Admiral Asimov cried out.  “Thank God you and Maria are all right.” 

Wilma almost choked.  “Maria’s dead,” she murmured.  “Kormand killed her.”  She paused for a moment trying to get control of her emotions that suddenly seemed ready to overflow again. “I believe I am in Kormand’s ship.  There is a possibility that it may be triggered to blow in the event of theft.”

“Wilma, we’ll do a quick scan.  Slow and hold.”

She did and waited.  

“Come on in.  Scanners indicate there are no detonation devices,” Asimov told her after a few minutes.  

And she did.  By the time the ship’s engines had ceased their whine, she realized that her hands were shaking uncontrollably.  The canopy was opened from the outside and hands reached to help her.  Wilma couldn’t help it.  She shook them off and climbed out on her own.  The admiral was just rushing through the door when she jumped down from the ship’s wing.  She almost stumbled and fell.  Her legs were shaky as well. 

Asimov put his hand under her elbow to steady her.  “Are you all right?” 

“Yes,” she replied automatically.  Then, “No. I need to go to the medical bay.”  Now that she was safe, she felt weak and nauseated.  Gulping in air to control her seditious stomach, Wilma felt the admiral’s arms around her shoulders, but this time she welcomed the touch.  Asimov’s presence reassured her. 

“The others?” she asked as Asimov guided her down the corridor.   

“Buck found out that Kormand was somehow aware of our every movement.  So most of our people returned safely.”

“And the rest?  Buck?” 

Asimov hesitated.  He had no idea what she had gone through down there, but Wilma appeared so fragile right now.  However, there was no putting it off.  “Grayson, Williams are unaccounted for.  So is Buck.  We haven’t heard from him since his last communication over twenty-four hours ago.” 

She almost sagged against her superior.  “At least Kormand doesn’t have them.  Not yet anyway.” 

“What do you mean, Wilma?” 

Wilma didn’t want to say anything further, didn’t want to tell anyone, but he would know sooner or later.  It would all be in the reports.  She pulled in a ragged breath.  “He was too busy last night raping me,” she said softly, her voice filled with bitterness.  

The admiral stopped abruptly and stared aghast at her.  “Oh, Wilma.  Wilma, I’m so sorry.  So sorry I sent you into that.  I….”

“Admiral, it’s not your fault.  We all underestimated Kormand’s power and abilities.  He must have, not only most of the people down there on his side, but everyone in the government working for him.”

“Hawk felt there is someone in the Galactic Council working for him, too.”  The admiral put his arm back around her and gently guided her toward the sick bay. 

Wilma only nodded.  Suddenly she was too tired to even think or to feel.  There was so much of her that wished Buck was with her, here to hold her in his strong arms.  But he wasn’t.  In her heart she once again prayed that he was safe.

 

 

 

 

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