Journeys of the Mind

 

Chapter 14

 

 

Chapter Fourteen

 

Into the Lair of Eagles

 

 

Dake continued to sit by his house as the sun slipped below the horizon.  He was on his third cigar, beginning to think that even that vice had no merit, when someone slipped up beside him and sat down.  “Sorry I’m late,” the other said in their native language. 

“Speak the human language,” Dake hissed.  “You can’t tell who might be snooping these days.” 

“No one’s here, but I will speak their babbling.” 

“Well?” Dake asked, not in the mood to small talk. 

“That was what I was going to ask you,” the newcomer said with a chuckle. 

Dake forced his nervousness down to a tolerable level.  That visit by Kormand’s man unnerved him more than he wanted to admit.  He didn’t like having those animals around where his children were.   He took a deep breath and felt his body relax a bit.  The nighttime here in Asher favored his people more than it did the humans and they usually stayed in after dark.  “I talked to the terran human, the one from the Directorate exploration ship.” 

“And?”

Now Dake chuckled.  “Don’t be so impatient, Crin!”  He ground out the last of his cigar against the plaster wall of his house and tossed the butt into the bushes. “Captain Rogers was eager to meet any aboriginals, so I sent him to the scavenging grounds.” 

“But the humans are patrolling there.  He would be captured,” Crin protested.  “Did you think he was a plant?”

“No, I think he will be able to make contact,” Dake replied.  “I believe him to be exactly what I was told he was—someone wanting to get good, hard evidence of what Erik Kormand is doing here and on other worlds.”  He paused a moment before continuing.  “I told him there was a trap and told him to warn whoever comes.”

“And did he say he would?” 

“Sure did, mate.” 

“Well, I’ll be.”  Crin sat quietly for a moment.   “I noticed that you were visited by Greeg.  They know about the human, too?”

“Yes, they do and I told them he was heading northeast to visit a village.” 

Crin chuckled again and then sighed, but said nothing for several long minutes. Finally, as the hreess were beginning to chirp for mates in the bushes, he said, “I think it would be wise for you to take your family and leave.  You know it won’t be safe for you once Kormand knows what you did.”

“I know, but didn’t want to do anything until you showed up.” 

“I wonder who Rogers will meet tonight.  I know none of our people were scavenging.  They had all heard about the ‘trap’.”

“Probably the sky people.” 

“Sky,” Crin snorted.  “They haven’t been in the sky since the sTerch-spawned humans began arriving.”

“I know,” Dake said.  He looked up at the stars and felt a deep sadness. 

“Get your children and leave, Dake.” 

“I will, soon as you go.”

“Good luck.” 

Dake nodded, but knew that Crin was already gone.  He got up, dusted himself off and went inside his little house.

 

 

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Creel listened to the distant cries of the trailing animal, then stood and looked at the other warriors.  “We cannot let them follow us here.   Go back, burn the back trail, force them to retreat,” Creel instructed.  As Raptor and two of his companions headed back toward Asher, the first moon rose.  Creel turned back to the human.  “Who are you?” 

“Captain Buck Rogers of the Earth exploration ship Searcher.”

“I am Creel.”

“Glad to meet you, Creel,” Buck said, getting up and brushing himself off.  “I would never have expected to find your people here.”

Creel cocked his head and asked, “What did you expect to find?”

“Freeosh scavengers.” 

“For what purpose?” 

Buck studied his captor in the moonlight.  Although not dressed exactly as his friend dressed, wearing a lighter leather outfit, the physical features were similar.  Creel was a little bit slighter in build, maybe an inch shorter, but the fierce look was there, the intense scrutiny in the eyes that was apparently characteristic of bird people.  “To get information on Erik Kormand and his activities here for the Galactic Council.” 

Creel frowned.  “The human federation has cared little for the plight of non-human people.”

“That’s changing, Creel.” 

“Oh, and in what way?” the birdman asked, his voice heavy with sarcasm. 

“We’re trying to capture Kormand.”  Buck paused then spoke a bit softer, but with more intensity.  “And the Galactic Council heard the arguments in behalf of the last of your people on Throm and allowed him to go free.” 

“A true member of our people would not have argued his case before a human court.”  Creel paused.  “I only heard of his capture just recently, through the boastings of humans passed along to us by one of our non-human friends.” 

“I didn’t say that he argued his case.  Hawk refused to say anything to a human court.  But the court understood the circumstances and opted for clemency.  Not all humans are bigoted hate mongers.”

Creel snorted, then paused in thought.  “If what you say is true, perhaps there is some hope.  And this last member of our race on Throm, he is yet alive?”

“Very much alive and on board the Searcher,” Buck assured the birdman.

“Of his own free will?” 

“Yes, Creel.  Hawk and I have been on many exploration missions together.”

“Then that is where you learned our language and our true-name?” Creel asked. 

“Yes, but only a few words and phrases,” Buck explained. 

Creel sighed and shook his head.  “So many years and so out of touch.”

“Hawk thinks he is the last of his kind.  He will be happy to know there are more of his people.” 

“If we survive this devil spawned human, Erik Kormand, then a reunion would be most appropriate,” Creel said thoughtfully, looking back down the trail. In the light of the moon, orange flame appeared in the forest, quickly growing and spreading. 

Buck stood close to him, watching as well.  “That’s one way to get them off your trail,” he murmured.  

“It may seem very humid here, but it’s actually been relatively dry and the right fuel can begin a very large forest fire.  I do not like to resort to such methods, but sometimes it is necessary, especially if we want to keep our enemies from finding our home.  

“The wind is blowing in the right direction.  Toward the spaceport,” Buck murmured.  He thought of his starfighter, sitting locked and secure, not too far from the spaceport.  They were most likely wondering where he was, his friends on the Searcher.  They would continue to wonder, especially when his fighter showed signs of stress from the fire, if it got that far.  Buck could only hope that his warning was in time for the others, for Wilma.  

“It will not reach all the way to Asher, but our trail will be obliterated and the pursuers frightened and confused,” Creel said.  “Come, we must go.  It will take you longer as you do not know the trail as we do.” 

“You are taking me to your home?” 

“Yes, Captain Rogers, you know of us, as no other human does.”  Creel smiled softly.  “And you know things that would interest the leaders.  What will happen after the leaders have had a chance to talk with you remains to be seen.”

Buck couldn’t argue any of Creel’s points, especially that of his inexperience with the trail, even though the birdman’s last statement left him less than relieved.  Even with the moon bathing the trail in a soft reddish-gold glow, he had to watch carefully to avoid shadowed pitfalls.  The boy followed close behind him.  “What’s your name, son?” he finally asked when the trail ahead smoothed out.

“There was some hesitation.  “Brish.” 

“Glad to meet you, Brish.   Our first meeting wasn’t illustrious, and I wanted to know who it was I ate a bit of dirt with.”

“What?” the boy asked, puzzled. 

“Don’t mind me.  Just trying to joke a bit and not succeeding very well.” 

“Uh, Captain….” 

“Buck.” 

“Thank you for saving me,” Brish finally said. 

“No problem, Brish.” Buck smiled at the irony of the situation.  “It was kind of mutual, though.  It wouldn’t have been a good idea if I had been captured, either.”

“Why not?” Brish asked, his voice tinged with curiosity. 

“Erik Kormand doesn’t like me very much, I think,” Buck replied sardonically.  

As they walked along the rocky trail, Creel was alternately listening for those behind who had set the fires and to his conversation with Brish. 

“Why?  You are human, he is human,” Brish pointed out.

“Not all humans think alike, and they certainly don’t all like each other,” Buck explained.  “And besides, I kind of helped blow up a military machine that one of his partners had built for him.”

“Really?” Brish asked, slight awe in his voice. 

“Yeah.  King Meecros threatened to blow up the Searcher along with her crew.  It was when we destroyed the machine that we found out about Erik Kormand,” Buck explained. 

“You mean you did not know about Kormand before that?” Creel asked.

“No, he seems to be very subtle, very smart.”  Buck paused and then sighed.  “We don’t even know what he looks like, but he knew all of us….”  His voice trailed off and again, Buck wondered if Wilma and the others were all right. 

“What do you mean, ‘he knew all of us?’ ” Creel asked, his curiosity piqued.  

“Since we found out that Kormand was operating here on Mendalis, and the Searcher was in the vicinity, we were asked to investigate and try to get more information on the enigmatic Erik Kormand.  There were thirteen of us, most working undercover.  I found out today that Kormand was aware of each and every one of us.  I got a warning out but don’t know if it was in time or not.”  They walked along silently for a while, Buck concentrating on where he was putting his feet in the dim moonlight. 

“You must not feel badly for underestimating Erik Kormand,” Creel said softly.  “We did not realize the danger, nor did our Freeosh neighbors, until ‘the human rights’ philosophies were already deeply in force.”

“Yeah, but it seems to be a horrible irony that this is called a ‘human rights’ issue,” Buck commented.  “Back in my day the term ‘human rights’ meant equality and justice.”

“For humans?” Creel asked bitterly. 

“Kind of hard to explain, but in my day, Creel, there were only humans, but different racial types.  The basic idea of human rights, though, was that all people had the right to be treated fairly, that no one race was better than another.  Kormand’s philosophy has taken that to a perverse and horrible extreme,” Buck said.

“Only humans?” Creel asked, puzzled.  “What do you mean?”

With a soft smile and still mindful of where he was stepping on this trail that had once again become more rough and rugged, Buck explained his background. 

Creel said nothing for several minutes, pondering the incredible story the human had told him.  He realized that there had been much left out, but that was something that could be elaborated on in the sharing.  But that this man could have grown up in a century so far removed from the here and now, seemed almost too inconceivable to be believed. “And now you work with humans and non-humans,” Creel finally said after Buck had finished. 

“Have nothing against non-humans, as long as they aren’t trying to kill me.  Same’s true for humans,” Buck replied, still vigilantly perusing the trail before him.    

It grew silent again as they continued up the rocky slope.  It seemed that they were walking for an eternity, ever upward on a trail that turned and twisted, sometimes seemingly on itself.  Finally they entered a cave and Creel motioned for him to sit down.  Slightly phosphorescent growths allowed Buck to see his surroundings and gratefully he found a suitable rock to sit on.  He was beginning to feel the effects of the long walk, of carefully treading on unfamiliar and rough terrain.   It was certainly more walking than he had done in a very long time.  Like, maybe basic training? he thought wryly. 

It was much cooler here, for which Buck was grateful, and there was the sound of trickling water somewhere nearby.  Buck licked dry lips, but didn’t say anything. 

“Rest here.  I am going to check the back trail,” Creel said softly. 

Before Buck could blink, the birdman was gone.  Without a sound, Brish got up and moved to another part of the cave.  Soon he was back, a cup of water in his hands.  He handed it to Buck, who took it gratefully.  Taking a few swallows, he also used a bit of it to wipe his sweaty face.  It was very cool, almost frigid, but it felt good. When he had finished he handed the cup back to Brish, who refilled it for himself. 

As suddenly as he had left, Creel returned, the others following behind.  They smelled of smoke and soot smeared their faces but they looked satisfied.  “Pursuit has ended.  Let us go,” Creel said to the group.  

Buck fell in behind Creel, while Raptor, Brish and two other birdmen fell in behind.  Again, as they emerged from the cave, the light of the moon, soon joined by its sister, allowed him to see enough of the trail to keep from stumbling.  They continued to climb for another kilometer and then the trail evened out and the surroundings opened into a savannah-like terrain, the grasses waist high, bushes occasionally popping up on either side of the path.  While they were out in the open, they walked quickly, as though fearing pursuit.   Somehow, Buck felt they were more worried about what might be in the air, rather than what might be on the trail behind them.  The group continued until they reached more rocks.  There the path again wound, crookedly twisting and convoluting among large outcroppings.   And again, the journey seemed interminable, but as the first vestiges of approaching sunrise tinged distant mountains, the group entered another cave.  The path began to descend gradually, the way lit by phosphorescent growths, both natural and cultivated. 

After another hour, the path opened into a small cavern, one that would hold about a hundred people, standing room only, Buck figured.  A small shaft of daylight from a crack in the ceiling showed other bird people, most waiting, a few preparing meals over small, relatively smokeless fires.  Somehow Buck got the idea that Creel had the means to communicate with the home base, and had probably done so on one of the occasions when he had left the group behind. 

Even those preparing meals now stood and stared at him, their dark, hooded eyes icy with mistrust and hatred.  To Buck, it suddenly seemed about twenty degrees colder in the cave.  But as he had in Meecros’ throne room, as he had many times before, Buck drew himself up and hid his apprehension.  He walked calmly behind Creel, whose feathered collar apparently denoted rank, as most of those in the cavern didn’t wear any feathers on their clothing.  On each side of him walked a birdman, while the rest of the scavenging party was behind him.  Creel stopped in front of two older birdmen, and a bird-woman.  Two of them were seemingly a pair, standing close together, wearing feather and design decorated cloaks that seemed almost to denote some sort of writing or to tell a narrative.  But to Buck’s surprise, the third one wore an outfit very much like Hawk’s, a dark, hard leather upper body covering that was fringed with an almost downy fur, in his case, alternating white and black, at the shoulders.  All three were regal, their bearing denoting importance much more than their clothing-of-rank. 

The woman, diminutive in stature, gazed intently at him.   It was a look that seemed to pierce his soul, and of the three, Buck decided that hers was the power to reckon with.   “You have brought a human to the eyrie of Mendalis, where none have set foot before,” the bird-woman said to Creel.  Her face was devoid of emotion.  

Buck decided this was not a very auspicious beginning….

 

 

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