Journeys of the Mind

 

Chapter 19

 

 

 

Chapter Nineteen

 

Maelstrom

 

   

 

“Sky Mother, I watched as closely and as long as I could without being detected,” Creel reported sadly.  “Buck Rogers was not successful.  He was captured.”  He pulled off his gliding gloves and goggles and tossed them into a niche beside the door.  “I think he took the potion.  They carried him away and he was not struggling.  That was when I turned back.  I was not seen,” Creel added, finishing his report. 

Sky Mother nodded and turned away.  It had happened as she feared. 

Sky Father sighed.  “Very well, my son.  You did well.  Order the evacuation to the lower caves.  And show this as a place of past abandonment.  If, for some reason, they find out about the caves, I want any of Kormand’s people to think this has been empty for some time.”

“It will be done, Sky Father,” Creel said formally, bowing.

 

 

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Wilma awoke, just as she had for the past two nights, in a cold sweat, the touch of Erik Kormand in her nightmares.  And as before, sleep was gone.  She turned on her light and dressed, glancing at the clock as she did so.  Four hours tonight.  At this rate, she would soon totally collapse from exhaustion.  Or she would have to take Dr. Goodfellow up on his offer of a sedative. 

For the thousandth time she wished Buck was here.  While he couldn’t make these nightmares go away, he had a gentle touch, a listening ear and a way of understanding that was more than she had felt from any man before.  And he knew how to make her laugh.  But most of all, she worried about him.  Even though a cryptic message had come through that was unmistakably Buck’s and it indicated he was all right, she still worried.  Erik Kormand seemed maniacally obsessed with finding him, especially since she had successfully escaped.  And it had become apparent to her and the admiral that Buck was on the very continent on which Erik Kormand had established his headquarters.   

Somehow, they had to figure out a way to rescue Buck, but how could they when they didn’t even know where he was?  The one reconnaissance flight they had made had almost been blown out of the sky by Mendalis starfighters flying in the vicinity.   And it had yielded no information on the site where the message had originated.  There was only the message, ‘With Daedelus.  Fine.  See you soon, love, the Duke.’  She knew who the Duke was in this instance, Buck had told her that he had been some famous actor of fictional vidplays from the twentieth century, but Daedelus?  Who was that?

That communication had been from the edge of a rugged plateau and there had been nothing since.  But, she reminded herself; he was still alive.  Buck was alive and, as of the previous night, all right.  Now they had to find him. 

Wilma dressed and left her cabin, walking to the observation deck, where she gazed out the large view port at the stars that hung in ethereal majesty.  She never could get enough of space.  Then she heard Kormand’s mocking laughter and felt his touch on her shoulder.  With a sharp cry, she turned to try to push him away—and found Hawk gazing at her, his eyes at once puzzled and concerned. 

“Oh, you startled me, Hawk,” she said, her voice trembling.  Got to get under control, she berated herself.  “When did you get back?” she asked, trying desperately to sound calm. 

“A short while ago,” Hawk replied, his dark eyes curious.  “The hanger chief told me that you had returned, but Buck had not.  He could not, or would not, tell me any more.”  He paused and gazed thoughtfully at her.  “Wilma, if you had been any more startled, you would have done what Buck calls ‘jumping out of your skin’.”  He motioned her to a couch nearby.  “I sense something wrong.  I feel from you some of what I felt in Koori when we discovered our people slaughtered.”  She sat down and he sat near her.  “Wilma, what is wrong?  What happened down there?”

“Buck and Williams are the only ones left alive down there.   But Lt. Williams is in their jail.”  She looked in Hawk’s eyes, but he continued to study her.  

“There is more.  Buck has been missing before.”

“Oh, Hawk,” she began and then stopped.  She didn’t even know how to begin.  She only knew that telling Hawk was right.  It was okay.  She had said almost nothing to Dr. Goodfellow and only a little more to Admiral Asimov, but now?  She knew that if she kept this inside any longer, she would go crazy.  And Wilma knew that Hawk would listen.  He didn’t listen when they were trying to save him, but that was because it was about him and he still didn’t trust them.  But when it was something about someone else, Hawk was one of the most compassionate people she had ever met, despite his sometimes dispassionate, almost distant outwardly demeanor.  Hawk would listen and not judge her.  Somehow she felt he would also not patronize her.  She felt that Hawk would be as good a confidant for her right now as Buck would have been. 

“Erik Kormand raped me and killed Maria,” she began. 

“What?” he gasped.  

She simply nodded.

“Have you told the admiral?”

“Yes, and I have had all of the medical and evidence exams done, too,” she added. 

“Would you like to tell me about it,” he asked softly.

“Yes, I believe I would,” she whispered, drawing her knees up under her chin and clasping her arms around them, as though cold.  As she began telling him, her mind remembered details, seemingly forgotten, minute things that had had no significance then.  She saw, with clarity, things that Wilma was now labeling as ‘before Kormand.’ And she continued to talk, telling him the events, the feelings, the pain, the guilt.  And when she got to the actual rape, she could hold it in no longer.  She cried.  

Hawk shifted and moved closer, pulling her to him when she didn’t react adversely to his proximity, cradling her gently even as he had held Koori in her time of grief.  And he understood why he had felt the same things from Wilma as he had from Koori.  Koori mourned for the loss of her family.  Wilma mourned for something else just as precious, the precious sanctity of her body.  And Wilma mourned the loss of power and control, the determination to make her own choices. 

She continued to cry for a while longer and he continued to comfort her in the quiet depths of the early morning.  And when the tears stopped flowing, she continued to lay safe and secure in the arms of her friend.  For over an hour she leaned quietly against his shoulder, at times continuing her odyssey of horror, guilt and helplessness, sometimes simply relaxing.   She told of her escape, and Hawk gazed at her now healing wrists in wonder, his admiration of this remarkable woman increasing immensely.  He felt a white-hot anger at the man who would do this to Wilma, but he kept it under tight control.  She did not need to see his anger right now, only his understanding and his willingness to listen. 

Finally she sat up and looked at him in wonder.  “I can’t believe I did this,” she blurted out.  

“I can, Wilma.  Koori did the same thing the first night.”  He reached up and wiped a tear from her cheek.  “Wilma, Erik Kormand took something very precious from you.  But there is something even more precious that he can never take away.” 

She looked puzzled. 

“Your spirit, your soul,” Hawk said softly.  “It will take time to get over this, but you will triumph because you are stronger than Erik Kormand.”  Hawk felt awkward, in a way he couldn’t describe.  He was someone who acted, not someone who counseled, and yet, he felt the rightness of his words and of his actions right now.  But he also knew, and in his heart it was branded, the promise that he would find Kormand.  He would find him and make him pay for everything he had ever done to his people . . . and to Wilma Deering.

“Thank you, Hawk,” she murmured.  “It’s hard to believe that I’m strong right now.  I feel so weak.  I . . . I don’t know.” 

“I do,” he responded.  “You will win.  I promise that.”  Then after several minutes, he added softly, “and by Make-Make, the chief god, I will be here to help you win, just as you and Buck and the others were there to help me.” 

“Thank you, Hawk.  That means so much to me,” Wilma said and then she sighed.  “Now if I only knew where Buck is.”

“Buck, too, is a fighter and he will win,” Hawk responded, but somehow Wilma didn’t think he sounded as sure, and his worry added to hers, even as she still hoped. 

 

 

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

 

 

Kormand gazed at the unconscious man before him, his thoughts filled with triumph as well as anger.  Finally, he had Captain William Buck Rogers in his hands, but at this point, the man seemed more dead than alive.  A grimace of pain crossed his prisoner’s features and Kormand smiled slightly.  “What are his injuries?”

A petite brown-haired, blue-eyed woman looked up from the diagnostic monitor that sat in the corner of her lab that had been converted into a makeshift medical bay.  “Broken ankle, scrapes and bruises and a very serious concussion.”

“That doesn’t seem very serious, Sreena.  Why isn’t he awake?  I want to question him.”

“I’m not sure, Erik,” Sreena replied.  “Head injuries can be tricky. Apparently his crash landing caused more injury than is normal or apparent.  He was going through grand mal seizures when he was brought in.  Thankfully, I was able to control those quickly.”   Sreena glanced at her patient, then back up to Kormand.  “It could be shock.  That, too, is not totally understood.  But regardless, he needs more medical attention then you are allowing.” 

“Sreena, he is not going to the facility.  That is for my people, not for alien lovers like him!” 

“You did say you wanted to interrogate him, didn’t you, Erik?”

Kormand glared at his sister.  “All right, you order what is needed for his care and it will be delivered.  And when he wakes up I want to know immediately.  And don’t tell him anything.”

“Thank you, Erik,” Sreena said sarcastically.

He frowned and stalked out. In surprise, she realized that she hadn’t even asked her brother for the prisoner’s name.  As she began typing a list of medicines and supplies, the injured man cried out softly.  In more ways than one, she felt sorry for him.  Whatever he had done, Erik would exact his revenge.  Then Sreena paused, shocked by the cruel irony of what she was doing.  She was caring for a man who eventually would be tortured and killed.  She bowed her head and sighed. 

When the equipment arrived, she got to work.  “Jake, bring the orthopedic rehab stimulator over here,” she ordered the technician. 

“Why?  He only needs to talk to the boss, not dance with him,” Jake joked and then he laughed at his own joke. 

“I am a doctor, Jake.  I supposedly heal people.  Ease their suffering.”  She paused while she moved the man’s injured leg.  He moaned softly.  “Even if it’s only temporary.” 

“Well, you’re the doc,” Jake said, pulling the cart with the orthopedic machine over to the bed and setting the calibrations as Sreena called them out.

As the orthopedic stimulator did its work, Sreena pulled the more advanced diagnostic machine she had sent for close to the bed, trying to determine the true extent of his injuries.  She checked the readings and ran the diagnostic again.  Then she sat back, a frown on her face.  The second time the readings had been slightly different.  She ran the diagnostic again.  More variances. 

“You don’t look happy, Doc,” Jake said.  “What’s up?” 

Sreena knew that whatever she said would end up back to her brother.  “The machine is off.  It keeps giving me different readings.”  

“Oh, like what?”

“She smiled softly.  “Massive head trauma.  But that is obviously not true.  Even a non-physician like yourself can see that, right?”

For once, Jake was at a loss for words.  “Uh, I suppose so, Doc.” 

She shut down the diagnostic, deleting the information from its memory banks and shoved the machine to the side.  Instead she manipulated his arms, checking his shoulders.  Then she felt the lump at the back of his head.  She felt his ribs and his soft moan told her that two were cracked, just as the machine had told her.  

“Orthopedic stimulator’s done, Doc,” Jake announced.

“Good, I want it set for the cracked ribs.  When you’re done, take this hunk of junk with you, too,” Sreena said, pointing to the diagnostic.  

“Okay, Doc.”  A short while later she was alone with her patient and her thoughts.  The diagnostic hadn’t been totally wrong; it had simply misinterpreted all the data.  Each scan had shown something slightly different, but it had shown something else, too.  His ‘head trauma’ was self-induced.  The seizures, the comatose state were all the result of an almost undetectable drug.  One Sreena knew was supposed to cause death.  Aleshizaren?  It was something used among alien peoples, but who on Mendalis would have given it to the man on the bed in front of her?  If humans had used aleshizaren, she hadn’t heard about it.  It was an almost secret drug, something closely guarded by the alien cultures that used it.  But who would have access to aleshizaren?  Surely not the Freeosh. 

Then it dawned on her.  Bird people.  Those were the aliens it was most associated with.  Even though she didn’t know of any extant populations of bird people, she had heard about the drug in old medical writings.  But could there be bird people on Mendalis?  She had heard one of the soldiers laughing about the man trying to glide in.  If that was so and this man had been among bird people, her brother would not stop until he found them.  Of all aliens, he hated bird people more than any other race.  She sighed.  As much as she loved Erik, she was tired of the wholesale killing of aliens.  

She gazed thoughtfully down at her patient.  He knew what he was getting into.  He knew and came anyway . . . and had taken the drug when capture was imminent.  Who are you?  Why are you here? she asked silently.  What is so important that you would walk into a lion’s den like this?

He grimaced in pain and then relaxed with a sigh.  Sreena gave him a small dose of painkiller, but she dared not give him too much.  She could tell from her diagnostic that his body was fighting the aleshizaren, trying to take back awareness and control.  And at this point he was winning, even if it was very, very slow.  She gazed at him again, then checked his vitals.  He was still stabilizing.  Good.  He was also handsome, Sreena noted sardonically.  Shaking her head, she turned to the now mostly healed ankle under the soft bindings that would hold the injured limb immobile for the next day. 

She heard a sigh and turned back to see the man gazing at her.  The look on his face was one of bewilderment.  “Who . . . are . . . you?” he asked softly, hesitantly.  The voice was very nice, too.

Stop it, Sreena she admonished herself.  “My name is Sreena,” she said with a smile.  “What’s your name?”

But he only continued to gaze at her and then he fell asleep again.  She continued to monitor him, giving him painkillers less and less frequently as the drug wore off.  He did not wake up again until midnight.  She had the lights dimmed and was resting in a recliner. 

“Sreena?”

She awoke with a start.  “Yes, Erik,” she mumbled.  Then it dawned on her, it wasn’t her brother, it was her patient.  Getting up, she approached his bed.  “Yes,” she said, again smiling.  “You remembered.”

“You told me . . . earlier, I believe.”  He looked at her expectantly.  “What did you call me?”

“I was asleep and thought my brother was calling me.  And yes, I did tell you, but you’ve been very sick.   I didn’t know if you would remember or not.”

“Remember,” he mumbled and then looked away for a moment. 

“What’s your name?”

He continued to look away, now frowning.  For several moments there was only the sound of clicking, whirring machinery.  When he looked up, he had the look of a lost soul, like a child whose mother had left him in the middle of a busy street.  “I . . . I can’t remember,” he almost whispered.  “I don’t know.”  There was a pause and then a heart-wrenching plea.  “Do you?”

Sreena had to shake her head.  “No, I’m sorry, I don’t.”

He turned away.

“I will check, though.  Surely someone here knows you.”  Like Erik, she thought.

He turned back to her.  “Thank you,” he murmured. 

“Now you go to sleep.  That will help you more than anything.”

Nodding, he closed his eyes and was almost immediately asleep.  The look in his eyes haunted her, but inwardly, she rejoiced.  Perhaps if Erik could get nothing from this man, he would let him go.  Perhaps.

 

 

 

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