Journeys of the Mind

 

Chapter 20

 

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty

   

Fear Factor

 

 

As she watched the sleeping man, Sreena pondered why she stayed here with her brother.  That was what Drenin asked her the night before he was found dead back on Prelar.  He had been her closest friend.  Most had thought him her lover, but he wasn’t; only someone who made her feel comfortable and safe.  However, he hadn’t been safe, she wasn’t safe.  

Because he’s my brother, she had told him.  I’m the only one he has left.  ‘Leave him,’ Drenin had said.  ‘Tell him you are going.’  She had told Erik she was leaving and Drenin was found dead the next day.  Suicide, they said, but Sreena knew Drenin, and when she had told Erik and he had laughed and told her she was well rid of him, she knew.  She knew and she was afraid. 

For years, she had overlooked Erik’s political and racial views out of loyalty, only trying to gently coax him to a more temperate view.  And when had those views become more radical, she wondered?  They had always been there to a small degree.  Father always moaned and complained on Uris about not being able to compete for goods or sales on the alien market.  They had kept to themselves as kids, not associating with any of those who looked non-human, by order of their father.  But Sreena figured it had been when she was in med school on Orion that Erik had really changed.  He was on Orion, too, both their parents dead by then, and he had formed the philosophy that now ruled their lives. 

Sreena had once asked him where he had picked up all his anti-alien ideas.  ‘Always there’ he had said.  But not like now, not this monstrous hatred and quest for racial domination.   She gazed once more at the sleeping man, whose rest seemed free of pain now.  Where did his philosophy of tolerance come from?  She sighed.  She still overlooked Erik’s politics, closing her eyes and ears to what was going on.  As long as she was only patching injuries and healing sicknesses, she could pretend.  But this—this healing of a human just so he could be killed by her brother?  For what?  Because he had crossed Erik Kormand?

Be afraid, Sreena Kormand.  Be very, very afraid.  What would Erik do to her if she chose to leave?  He had not come right out and said, but she had felt she knew.  Shuddering, Sreena felt that it was time to find out, to at least test the waters.  She would do what she could for this man and then leave.  Leave Erik, leave this continent, leave Mendalis.   Maybe if she helped her patient, he would help her.  Who knows?  He seemed to have had the power to somehow ruffle the waters of Erik’s agenda.

Her thoughts raced about like the little rodents she kept in a cage when she was younger.  Around and around and around they went, first in one direction and then in another.  Why do I feel so galvanized now?   But she really wasn’t, she plotted and planned in her mind every time there was some kind of military action, or every time she heard of an assassination, or every time they changed planets.  Changed planets!  She laughed bitterly.  Erik set up his operations from afar with those he handpicked and then went in when the climate was right for him to spread his influence.  He was the faceless savior of the human race; he had that kind of charisma.  He wrapped his followers around him like some kind of warm fuzzy blanket and when he was on the planet of his choice, it seemed to galvanize his ‘believers’ into open and quick action.  And it scared her, petrified her, seeing the various planets become sterile, hate-filled quagmires of human domination, and so quickly, too. 

It scared her when she had heard someone boasting what Erik had done to King Meecros.  She couldn’t stand to be part of this any longer.  She gazed at her patient again.  Had he been part of that?  She could easily check, but everything she did got back to Erik, everything, so Sreena had to be extremely careful.  Maybe it was better that she didn’t know who this man was, then she could continue to care for him.  If she knew, she would be tempted to tell him things, and if Erik knew that she knew, he would put him in someone else’s care.  It would certainly be someone who wasn’t concerned for this man’s welfare.  And she was so lonely down here in her lab, researching, sometimes caring for the injured.  This poor, lost soul provided her with something.  Something I can certainly relate to, she thought.  

If the amnesia remained then he would be safe or at least reasonably safe.  Sreena would play this one out for now; see what happened.   She sat down at the communications console, and after drawing a deep breath, called her brother.

“Any progress?” he asked, his voice eager.  But the eagerness seemed feral, his handsome face predatory. 

“Yes, he awoke briefly.  Spoke lucidly for a moment and then slipped back into his semi-conscious state.” 

“You think he’ll recover?” 

“Yes, Erik.”  She paused before speaking.  He had almost slapped her when she had asked about the lumps on his head and the bruises he had brought back with him from Brix. Then she plunged on anyway “Why is he so important to you?”

“It doesn’t matter to you why he’s important to me,” he answered angrily.

“It is if I am saving a life only to have it extinguished to satisfy your revenge lust,” she said vehemently.  Sreena surprised herself.  

Erik leaned forward, his eyes cold.  “What I do with him is my business, Sreena.  Your business is to do what I say.”  He sat back, a satisfied smile on his face.  “You act so holy, like someone with clean hands, dear sister, like the hermits of Coballa, just as you always have.”  He laughed.  “Don’t presume to judge, Sreena, as you have in the past.  You are as deep in the Human Rights Movement as I am.” 

She felt the heat of anger rising in her heart.  “I have not slaughtered whole villages of men, women and children.”

His eyes blazed.  “Do not equate them with humans.  They are animals!”

“Waris, Xiros, Bregalis, those were all animals?”

“Your passions are outstripping common sense, Sreena.  Beware.”  His voice was dangerously frigid, but she was too angry to take note. 

“And Throm.  Most of those villagers were old men and women!”

“They were bird people.  They were vermin.  And if not for your precious patient there, the last one would have been executed by the Galactic Council for killing humans.  But that . . . that bird lover saved him!  And has since sabotaged my efforts.”  Erik was flushed, but he stopped and studied his sister’s face.  “Be aware, Sreena, if you go against me, if you try to leave, you put yourself in the same category as that man over there.  In Human Rights there are not filial loyalties.  You are either for or against.  And if you are against….”

Sreena felt the threat of his words and it chilled her to the very center, dissolving her anger.  Instead, she felt horror replacing it.  Fear at what her own brother was threatening to do. 

“I assume you understand your position, Sreena.”

So softly that he had to lean forward to hear her, Sreena said, “Yes, I understand perfectly, Erik.”

“Good.  Now what did he say?”

“He wanted to know my name.”

“And what did you tell him?”

“My name,” she said sarcastically.  “What else would I tell him?”

Erik frowned at her jibe but said nothing.

“By the way, what is his name?” she asked.  Before he could say anything, she added, “He asked, in case you wanted to know.” 

Erik did a double take.  “What?”  Then, “Why?” 

Sreena hesitated a moment, but saw how this knowledge might possibly be an advantage.  “Because he couldn’t remember,” she said noncommittally. 

Erik did another double take.  “You mean he couldn’t remember his own name?”

“It’s called amnesia.”  Her reply, like the previous ones, was sarcastic.  It was the only thing she had left now. 

He growled out an epitaph or two, pounding his fist on his desk and then he gazed deeply into her eyes.  “Tell me when he stays awake for any length of time.”  His eyes grew distant and even colder, if that was possible.  “He can’t do that to me!” 

Sreena sighed and tempered her feelings of frustration.  “I don’t think he did this to discomfit you, Erik.” 

He looked at her sharply and seeing none of her previous sarcasm, relaxed a bit.  “Don’t give him any information.”

“Hard to do anyway.  I don’t know any,” she replied, but he had already cut the connection. 

Not feeling like going to her apartment and certainly not wanting to leave this man made more interesting by his anonymity, Sreena laid down on the lounger near his bed and dozed off.

 

 

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

 

 

Again, Kormand pounded his fist against the desk.  Amnesia!!  “Amnesia,” he repeated aloud.  He couldn’t believe that this man had once again thwarted him, turned his revenge into so many ashes.  First Wilma Deering and now Buck Rogers.  How could two people so easily turn his life so upside down, especially after almost twenty years of smooth and secure sailing?  He had surely underestimated these two people.  He had been cocky, dismissing their effectiveness.   But if there was some small, poetic revenge, it was that Rogers’ uniqueness, his twentieth century background was now snuffed by this amnesia.   Erik laughed softly and then growled in frustration.   But what kind of revenge could you have on someone who doesn’t even know what it’s all about or who the person getting back at you is? 

Erik got up and paced the length and breadth of his spacious office.  At one point he jerked his wrishnu fighting sword down from the wall and went through several maneuvers, making the blade whistle in the air.  The only thing left, he decided, was to send Rogers back in a body bag.  They would at least know whom they were dealing with. 

His door made a slight buzzing sound.  Kormand walked over to the communicator.  “Who is it?” he barked.  

“Stephen, sir.” 

“Come in.”  The door opened to reveal his closest advisor, aide de camp, flunky, whatever term Erik Kormand chose to use at any given time.  

Stephen Drishel, a slightly balding, paunchy middle-aged man, glanced at the sword, at his boss and ventured a guess.  “Rogers dead?” 

“No, but he might as well be.” 

“What happened, General?” Drishel asked.  

“The fool has amnesia.” 

“What?” Drishel asked, incredulous. 

“You heard me!  I might as well go in there, kill him and send him back to the Searcher in a bag.” 

“No, General.  That is really the last thing we want to do.” 

“What?” Kormand growled, placing the point of the blade against his subordinate’s throat.  

Drishel didn’t flinch, but his eyes kept close watch on the blade even as he spoke.  “You send Rogers back that way and you might as well send a personally signed admission to the Galactic Council, as well as an invitation for them to send a warship to find you and quell the Human Rights movement.”  The blade didn’t waver and Drishel took a breath and continued.   “We got away with the death of the two operatives because they can’t be definitely linked to you or to any one movement or group.  They could be considered coincidence, since the two individuals killed were in somewhat unsavory environments.  However, with Rogers, it would be different.  Three people from the same ship?  That would cause questions, and one with Rogers’ apparent affiliations to the top echelons of the Earth Directorate?  That would really get people in high places noticing.” 

There was a moment’s pause and then Erik drew the sword back.  Drishel continued, “Right now, thanks to Meecros, the council knows a little bit more about you.  But other than that, there is nothing definitive tying you to any racial massacres on any world.  They have suppositions, but not cold, hard facts.  Only rumor and innuendo, boss.  This can still be salvaged.” 

“That bitch, Deering, knows what I look like,” Kormand said. 

“That was a mistake, but not an insurmountable one,” Drishel said.  “If she makes a complaint, and I gather that she has not….” 

“No, nothing formal, although I have been informed that reports to the council have been filed.”  

“Again, General, minor.  You have the right man in the Galactic Council upper circle, and besides, it would be easy to claim she was acting to seduce you if anything ever went to a court,” Drishel said soothingly. 

“What about Rogers?” Kormand asked.

“What about him?” Drishel repeated.  “Keep him around. He offers a bit of protection and later, when you are ready to leave….”

“Wait a minute!”  Kormand’s eyes held a malicious gleam.  “I have studied Rogers’ past.”   His eyes took on a distant look as he pondered a new idea. 

Drishel gazed at his boss curiously.  Then he said, “Oh, he’s just a flamboyant starfighter jockey, isn’t he?  One who had the great misfortune of crossing your path one too many times?”

“Stephen, I would admonish you to study our enemies a bit more seriously,” Kormand reprimanded his aide.  “Buck Rogers is an anomaly.  He was born over five hundred years ago.  He almost single-handedly caused the destabilization of the Draconian empire, a feat I would thank him for were it not for his most recent activities.” 

Drishel did a double take.  “Five hundred years ago?”

“Read the history, and yes, five hundred years.”

“So what is your idea, General?” Drishel asked.

“We keep him around all right.  We keep him around only long enough to discredit him, thoroughly implicate him in Human Rights activities, including the death of aliens and then we let the Galactic Council have him, dead or alive.  And while they are trying Rogers for treason and his friends are scrambling to save his sorry hide, we quietly disappear.  At the same time, we are delivering a blow that will be catastrophic to the Earth Directorate.  And I know, from what I have read, that Deering is very fond of him.  What a terrible blow that would be for her if he were to be found in treasonous circles,” Kormand said in mock sorrow. 

“And you can easily change identity and appearance, if need be.” 

“Yes, if need be.”  Kormand paced.  “Let me think now, Stephen.  I want to be ready when Rogers recovers.  Even with amnesia, I suspect he is shrewd enough to detect something false unless it’s very well and solidly built.”  He paused a few seconds.  “And I want someone to check that place on the plateau where Rogers was spotted on surveillance.  Even though we have him, there is something there, someplace where Rogers was able to keep hidden.  I want to know what it was.”

Kormand’s subordinate smiled, “Yessir.”  Then he quickly left, confidant that his leader was now totally back in control.

 

                         

 

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