Journeys of the Mind
A week later the Searcher
entered the Endril system and Buck ended up with the unenviable task of
escorting the royal family of Endril to peace negotiations on Toran and
back again. Immediately
upon returning to the Searcher, Buck and his co-pilot, Lt. Carla
Cordell reported to the admiral.
“So what happened
Buck?” Asimov asked. “You
“What didn’t happen is
the proper question, Admiral,” Buck responded.
“But I wouldn’t have even bothered you with this if Meecros
hadn’t ranted and raved threats of retribution or revenge or some such
“What?” the admiral
asked, his face registering alarm.
“Yeah, we figured you
might need to know what happened,” Buck added.
The admiral called for
Wilma to join them. “Let’s
get this on record, Buck. It
“Let’s put it this
way, Admiral, King Meecros’ daughter is an octopus and the royal daddy
didn’t appreciate me ordering Oralinn out of the cockpit.”
Asimov looked puzzled.
“I think you need to make your complaint in, um, less colorful
Wilma walked in, saw the
look on Buck’s face and asked, “Can I gather that the escort duties
did not go smoothly?” she asked.
Wilma,” Buck stated. “But
I am thinking that it would be better if mine and Lt. Cordell’s
statements were taken separately.”
“That serious?” Wilma
“That serious,” Buck
call you when we’re ready,” Asimov to the young, blond pilot.
Cordell nodded and left,
smiling reassuringly to Buck.
As soon as she was gone, Buck leaned forward.
“I wouldn’t have even bothered, and just laughed it off as
one of those duties that you love to be done with, but somehow Meecros
bothers me. There is
something a bit alarming about him. I don’t know, maybe I’m being paranoid.”
“What happened, Buck?”
Asimov asked. “And this
is for the record,” he added, pushing a button on his desk.
Buck began, detailing
first the flirty glances and then the blatant advances of the voluptuous
Princess Oralinn. Buck had
thought Ardala to be overbearing and obnoxious but at least Ardala was a
woman. This under
disciplined and over stimulated royal pain in the butt was still the
Endrillian equivalent of a teenager.
Buck hadn’t even been flattered by the attention; he had been
“I tried to be polite. I
tried to tell her nicely to get off my lap, that it wasn’t safe to
mess around with the pilot during the operation of a spacecraft,” Buck
worked. I even asked
Meecros to get her off me and he laughed.
Lt. Cordell explained star shuttle safety procedures and they
laughed at her.” Buck
sucked in a breath. He
hoped he had been as thorough as he could.
“ ‘Oh, but our little princess is just such a precocious
thing,’ they said,” Buck quoted, making his voice higher in
imitation of the Endrillian queen.
Wilma couldn’t help
herself; she smiled at his descriptions.
However, there was one point in Buck’s narrative that had made
her cringe, even while she didn’t blame him at all for doing it.
“But did you have to tell King Meecros you were going to drop
her off at the nearest asteroid?” she asked.
“Wilma, you weren’t
there. If I hadn’t known better, I would have thought that I was
dealing with an octopus,” Buck replied.
“And that can stay on the record,” he added, gazing directly
at Asimov. “I could
somewhat ignore her blowing in my ear, but the last straw was when I was
doing last minute course corrections to enter stargate X34 and she was
trying to give me a wet willy.”
“A what?” Wilma asked.
demonstrated and then said dryly, “I’ll show you on our next
“You needn’t bother. I
get the picture. And after
the lieutenant’s statement we’ll register a formal complaint.”
She motioned Asimov to turn off the recorder.
“Again, maybe I’m just being overly sensitive or paranoid,
but I really think that Meecros is dangerous, a time bomb waiting to go
“But he’s the one who
requested the peace conference,” Asimov protested.
“Maybe, but I got the
impression that Meecros was mainly tolerating the proceedings, buying
time, gauging his opponent.” Buck
paused. “Mark my words, Meecros is going to pull something.
He’s a shark, cold, calculating and merciless.”
Buck got up to leave.
“We’ll keep an eye on
him,” Asimov said. “If
you don’t mind, send Lt. Cordell in, Buck.”
“Sure thing, Admiral,”
Buck said. As he walked out
of the room, he smiled at the lieutenant.
“You’re next, Carla.”
She nodded and entered the room he had just vacated.
The next day the request
came for the Searcher to host the next session of the peace
conference. The admiral
asked Buck to take the shuttle to pick up King Toran and his entourage.
“Who initiated this one,
Admiral?” Buck asked.
Sounds a bit fishy to me,” Buck said.
“He said he wanted to
cement the relations between the two worlds, especially in regards to
the marriage of his daughter to King Toran’s son,” Asimov replied.
Buck said nothing, but he
felt that fleeting moment of foreboding, and he wondered what Meecros
was up to. He trusted the mercurial monarch about as far as he could
throw him. Probably less,
he thought sardonically. “I feel sorry for Toran’s kid.”
I don’t doubt what you’re saying about Meecros,” Wilma
said. “But please don’t
pass along your opinions to King Toran.
This is something the two worlds have to work out on their
Buck smiled and made a
mock salute. “I will
volunteer nothing,” Buck said. “I
learned that in the Air Force.” But
to himself, he added, Volunteer nothing unless asked.
“Some things never change.
I knew I could count on you.”
Wilma smiled knowingly,
but Buck ignored it. “So
when do I pick up these poor lambs to the slaughter?” he asked.
“As soon as possible.
King Meecros is supposed to be coming aboard in about a half a
“He does work fast,
doesn’t he?” Buck asked. “I
assume there has been no objection to having Hawk co-pilot this time,”
he added, remembering the referring to Meecros’ very pointed request
for only human pilots. He didn’t think there would be.
His recollection of the Toranian monarch, brief though it was,
was favorable. Unlike his
counterpart, Toran had greeted the two pilots cordially and with
“I haven’t heard
anything specific, Buck,” Wilma told him.
“Good, we’ll be on our
way within the hour then,” he said, getting up to leave.
“I wonder just how much
enlightenment King Toran will be getting on this trip?” Asimov
murmured when Buck had left.
“Just enough to confirm
what he probably already knows,” Wilma replied, knowing Buck well.
As they were flying to
Toran, Hawk said, “Buck, do you have any thoughts on King Meecros’
“No, no more than I
already had,” he said. “Why?”
“I do not know.
Only that it seems very strange that he did not immediately
protest your so-called indiscretions.”
Buck had wondered about
that himself, steeling himself in the day following his report, for
repercussions from Endril. Perhaps
Meecros was more bluff than action and he said as much.
Hawk just nodded and said,
“Perhaps. But at least
King Toran seems to be a bit more open-minded.”
“That’s a real
plus,” Buck agreed. The
shuttle and the two escorts flew through the star gate and speedily
approached the Toran capital.
After they had landed in
the royal hanger, Buck grabbed his dark blue dress jacket and slid it
on, buttoning the gold buttons and pulling at the cuffs to make sure
they were even.
Hawk, whose only claim to
formality was his demeanor, watched in slight amusement.
Buck saw his friend’s
look and smiled. “Don’t
bird people ever dress up for formal occasions or dignitaries?”
“When my people were
more numerous, we had a few formal ceremonies and those few required
little in the way of excessive trappings and fancy clothing.
You humans worry entirely too much about appearance.”
“Well, I can’t
disagree with you there, pal. Sometimes
I feel like I’m in a straightjacket,” Buck stated wryly, giving his
jacket one last tug.
Buck opened the door and
stepped onto the tarmac, the same one he had landed on when he had
delivered Meecros and his family. This
time, though, Toran’s royal family met him.
King Toran nodded in recognition.
Beside him was an elegantly dressed, middle-aged woman who was
obviously the queen or royal consort.
She was slightly taller than the king, almost as tall as Buck,
and her dark brown hair lay in soft waves over her shoulders, her dark,
gold-green eyes studying him and Hawk intently.
Toran smiled and boomed
jovially, “Captain Rogers, again I greet you.
And your co-pilot?”
“Hawk, Your Highness.
A very capable pilot, better than myself,” Buck replied with a
bow. On the other side of
the king, Buck noticed a young man, also slightly taller than the king,
and favoring him enough so that Buck guessed that this was the
“Welcome to Toran,
Hawk,” the king said, extending his hand.
He then introduced his wife, Queen Mirin, and the young man,
Prince Altaron. “Shall we go to your ship, Captain?” Toran suggested.
“Just step on board and
select a seat, please,” Buck instructed.
“We will be able to leave in a few minutes.”
Mirin graciously thanked
him. The prince looked shy, openly staring at Hawk, and then sat
down with his parents. Soon
they had catapulted out of the hangar and were above Toran.
“Captain Rogers?” King
Toran asked from behind him.
While still making flight
adjustments, Buck answered, “Yes, Your Highness?”
“When you are in a
position to be able to, could we have a private conversation?”
Buck looked at Hawk, who
nodded. Turning the
controls over to his friend, he unstrapped his safety belt and followed
King Toran to the aft section of the ship, what would serve as the
galley on a long trip. “What can I do for you, Your Highness?” he asked.
Buck immediately remembered his conversation with Wilma and the
admiral and realized that Toran was on a fishing expedition.
One where information was the catch of the day.
“Captain, I would like
your opinion on something,” Toran said.
“Yes, you escorted King
Meecros and his family,” Toran said.
“My son is supposed to
marry the Princess Oralinn,” Toran said.
“Yes, Your Highness, I
“What is your opinion of
the royal family?”
“Your Highness,” Buck
said, trying to think of what to say that would satisfy the Admiral’s
request as well as King Toran’s.
“Why are you asking me? I
am just a starfighter jockey—a pilot.”
“You are also the person
in charge of the Searcher’s Exploration and Defense division,
if my information is correct,” Toran said with a smile.
“I am also impressed with your demeanor, Captain.”
He paused. “I was
not with the princess that long, but I came to some conclusions about
the royal family of Endril.”
“I came to some
conclusions about the royal family, too, but I was also told to stay
neutral in all of this,” Buck said.
Toran’s green eyes bored
into Buck’s and the pilot felt the king’s concern and even some
measure of fear. Buck took a deep breath.
“Your Highness,” Buck said softly.
“If your son is half a man, I would hope he pitched at least a
small fit after meeting the princess,” Buck responded, throwing
protocol out the window.
Toran blinked, his face
registering surprise at Buck’s answer.
He quickly regained his composure.
“He did, to a certain extent, although he is well aware of his
duties, too,” Toran replied after a few moments.
He paced and Buck said nothing.
“I fear this alliance,” Toran finally said, still pacing.
Then stopping, he looked again into Buck’s eyes.
“King Meecros considers himself superior to us, a human allying
himself to an inferior race.” He
snorted softly and then drew in a deep breath.
“But whatever human blood he may have is every bit as diluted
as any I might have. It is
a frightening thought that some members of this quadrant are now reduced
to counting genes and determining status based on the type of DNA they
Buck was not going to
touch a racial issue with a ten-kilometer pole.
He took another deep breath and a big chance.
“If you care for your son, I’d be locking him away in the
most inaccessible tower on the farthest planet from here.”
Toran smiled slightly and
released breath he had been holding.
“I feel the same way, Captain.”
“Your Highness, I think
King Meecros is a very dangerous man,” Buck added.
“Yes, I agree with
you.” Toran paused. “Feel
fortunate you are simply a ‘starfighter jockey’ and that you don’t
have to deal with these situations.”
“I am, Your Highness,”
Buck agreed. “I don’t
envy you at all.”
“But it really isn’t
your problem, Captain. I
simply wanted the input of someone else, someone seemingly unaffected by
politics and status. I think I picked wisely.
My thanks to you, Captain, and may you have a long and prosperous
life.” Toran smiled and
looked toward his family sitting in the passenger section gazing out the
windows at the star field.
“Thanks and I am glad I
could be of assistance,” Buck replied softly.
“I try to be as up front with people as possible.”
He glanced at his watch. “We
will be approaching the stargate in a few minutes.
You need to be in your seat, please.”
Toran nodded and returned
to his family. Buck
returned to the cockpit and fastened his seat belt.
“A problem?” Hawk
“King Toran wanted a bit
of confirmation of his opinion of Meecros’ character.”
Hawk cocked his head
slightly. “Did he get it?”
“Kind of hard to
disguise a skunk. It smells
no matter what you do to cover the stench,” Buck replied sardonically.
Hawk knew enough of his
friend’s sometimes strange sense of humor that he understood the
“Now all he has to do is
figure out a way to get out of the betrothal of his son to Princess High
and Mighty,” Buck added.
“Not an easy task,”
Hawk stated. “Meecros is
like a snake. Coiled and ready to strike.”
As they passed through the
stargate, Buck murmured his agreement.
He was definitely glad that he was not in Toran’s shoes.
They arrived safely and
owing to the fact that this assignment had occurred during the sleep
cycle, Buck headed back to his cabin and his bed.
This whole affair was making him slightly depressed.
There was something about these negotiations that bothered him,
but he couldn’t put his finger on anything specific.
However, as he lay down, Buck pushed it all from his mind and was
soon sound asleep.