Journeys of the Mind

 

Chapter Two

 

 

 

 

Chapter Two  

Royal Trouble

 

 

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 seem upset.”

“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 idiocy.”

“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 sounds serious.”

“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 terms.”  

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.

“Understatement, 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 asked.  

“That serious,” Buck replied.

“Lieutenant, we’ll 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 thoroughly disgusted.   

“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 concluded.  “Nothing 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.  

Buck partially demonstrated and then said dryly, “I’ll show you on our next date.”  

Wilma shuddered.  “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.   

Buck sighed.  “Again, maybe I’m just being overly sensitive or paranoid, but I really think that Meecros is dangerous, a time bomb waiting to go off.”  

“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. 

“King Meecros.”

“So soon?  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.”   

“Now Buck.  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 own.”  

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.

Asimov smiled.  “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 day cycle.”  

“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 respect. 

“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’ purposes?”

“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 soon-to-be-unhappily-wedded prince. 

“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.   

“Oh?”  

“Yes, you escorted King Meecros and his family,” Toran said.

“Yessir,” Buck answered simply.   

“My son is supposed to marry the Princess Oralinn,” Toran said.  

“Yes, Your Highness, I know.”

“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 have.”  

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 asked.  

“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 reference.

“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. 

 

 

 

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