Journeys of the Mind
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
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
“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
“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
“I will, soon as you go.”
Dake nodded, but knew that
Crin was already gone. He
got up, dusted himself off and went inside his little house.
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
“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?”
“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.”
“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,
“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
“You are taking me to your
“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.”
“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.
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
“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
“For humans?” Creel asked
“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
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.
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
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….