Journeys of the Mind

 

Chapter 24

 

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-four

 

Hawk’s Discovery

 

   

 

Finally, after twelve hours, the additional fuel tanks were ready and Hawk called down to Dr. Goodfellow’s laboratory.  

“Yes, Hawk, I believe the device is ready as well.  I only need to run a few tests.” 

“How long, Doctor?  And can we run some of the tests in flight?”

There was a pause and Hawk could picture the old scientist rubbing his chin and thinking.  “Yes,” he finally said.  “I suppose that is possible.” 

Within a few hours, the device was installed.  Wilma stood next to Hawk as Crichton ran a few quick checks.  “Hawk, please be careful,” she said, her hand on his arm.  

He looked into her eyes and saw her desire to be going down as strong as his own.  And he saw the haunted look, the sadness that had been a part of her life for the past week.   “I will, Wilma,” he reassured her.  “And I will find him, I promise you that.”  

“Thank you,” she murmured.  Suddenly she leaned toward him and kissed him on the cheek.  “You are special, Hawk.  Thank you for listening.” 

Hawk could think of nothing to say.  He nodded and placed his hand on top of hers, squeezing gently as he did with Koori when he wanted to reassure her.  And suddenly he felt Koori’s presence, felt the warmth of her spirit and he, too, was reassured.

She looked up and smiled softly.  “Go with God, Hawk,” she whispered as he gently pulled away. 

Stay with this woman, my love.  Comfort her, Hawk asked silently of his beloved as he turned and climbed into his ship.  As he did his preflight checks, he again wondered at the changes that had occurred in the past year.  Never in his wildest imagination would he have dreamed that he could feel this close to humans or go to these lengths to help them.  Shaking his head, he began the sequences that would propel him out of the launch bay and into space.  As he was catapulted out of the ship, Hawk pushed the switch that engaged Dr. Goodfellow’s distortion/camouflaging device. 

Then he switched to the secure channel of his communicator.  Searcher,” was all he said.   

There was a slight pause and then the happy voice of Dr. Goodfellow.  “Ah, it works like a charm, my boy.  Like a charm.” 

Not wishing to take any chances that someone could still detect him, despite the good doctor’s assurances, Hawk acknowledged, cut the communications and then sped toward the planet’s surface.  He made a quick surveillance of the top of the large plateau from which the last transmission from Buck had come, trying to find an outcropping of rock large enough to hide his ship under.  He found no such place.  

Although it would take longer, the birdman concluded that the only way he was going to be able to hide his ship during his search for Buck, would be to land the starfighter at the base of the plateau and then climb up to the top.   And the only clearing he found at the base was what appeared to be a small village, one with only a few houses, next to a field just barely able to hold his fighter.  He had no choice.  Hawk didn’t have time or fuel to fly around the entire base of this plateau to find another clearing and this one was within reasonable climbing distance from where Buck’s transmission had originated.  With precision, he brought his ship down, retracting his wings at the same time.  As soon as he shut down his engines, his distortion device would power down as well, so he would have to rapidly camouflage his ship.   Quickly, he popped his canopy and gazed around him, his laser pistol in his hand.  Then he draped the camouflage cloth over his ship. 

While he worked, Hawk heard nothing, even the sounds of the forest seemed muted, expectant, but then, he thought, that was to be expected when something as big as his ship suddenly appeared from nowhere.   With his laser ready in his hand, Hawk walked over to the huts, noting their ramshackle appearance.  He peered inside each one, and seeing nothing, loosely holstered his weapon and began to gather loose brush from the edge of the clearing.  Quickly, but with careful precision he laid it over his craft.  Suddenly, he felt the presence of another and pivoted, his hand on his pistol. 

“I wouldn’t, mate,” a small man said, a laser pistol in his hand.  While the man appeared human, Hawk felt there was something of the Freeosh in him as well. 

Hawk let his hand slowly move away from his weapon.  “I am sorry about your field.  I had no other place to land.”    When he had turned, Hawk noted a quick look of surprise on the small man’s face. 

The small man squinted at him and seemed to visibly relax.  “I didn’t know you folks had space craft, only that soaring equipment.” 

“You folks?” Hawk asked, wondering what had been meant.  But strangely, the man seemed to know who, or rather, what he was and was comfortable in his presence.   He wondered how that could be.  “I am Hawk.”

“And I’m Dake.  I’m on the run from Kormand.  You steal that fine ship?  Plan on using it against Kormand?”

“I would like nothing better, Dake, but no, I did not steal it.  And I am not yet ready to use it against Kormand.  It is my starfighter.  I am from the exploration ship Searcher.”

Dake did an even more noticeable double take.  “The Searcher?  He rubbed his chin and glanced nervously over to the bushes.  

Hawk had noted the slight movement and knew that there were others nearby, hopefully Dake’s friends.  “I am not here to harm any of you.  I am only trying to find my friend.”

Dake lowered his pistol, but didn’t put it away.  “That friend wouldn’t happen to be Buck Rogers, would it?”

“Yes,” Hawk said hopefully.  “Have you seen him?” 

“Yep, some days ago, I think.  Lost track of time.  Hope you find him; he did a favor for me and some friends of ours.” 

“Do you know where he is?”

“Nope, but when you find him, tell him that Dake said thanks,” the small man said.  He looked into the forest, then back at Hawk’s ship, and up at the sky.  “Sorry.  Bit nervous.  Been on the run with my kin for the past four days.  Kormand’s pretty upset with me, too.  And you’d better cover that ship real good.   Up to a couple days ago, Kormand had ships all over the place.  Looking for Rogers, I guess.  Who knows?”   He smiled enigmatically, holstered his pistol and then suddenly melted into the forest.    

Disappointed, Hawk felt that this small man could have told him a great deal of information.  He especially wanted to know why Dake seemed so familiar with someone like himself. 

Finishing the job of camouflaging his starfighter, Hawk began climbing.  It was strenuous, but nothing he wasn’t used to. In fact, it reminded him of the terrain back on Throm.  The path was narrow and overgrown, but there were signs that individuals had passed this way in the not too distant past.  Periodically, Hawk paused and studied the telltale signs.  Finally, he reached a shelf-like area near the top.  There stood a small building, half hewn from the stone of the plateau and half from materials gleaned elsewhere, an ingenious work of camouflage.  Hawk had not realized it was there until he was almost on it. 

He walked through the ramshackle doorway and saw, against one wall, a bank of machinery.  Hawk sat down on the rough-hewn log stool and examined the machines.  He finally found a switch that he presumed turned the machine on, and the machine lit up in a soft yellow glow.   This was a communications center, most likely the one from which Buck had sent his message.  Further examination of the dials in front of him led him to believe that it had been put together from bits and pieces of machinery from a great variety of sources and he felt a great admiration for these people whose genius had put this all together.  That they could assemble something like this even while they were under siege by Erik Kormand’s prejudicial witch hunters was nothing short of miraculous.  He turned the machine off, not wanting anyone to home in on any signal that this communications system might be giving out. 

It was obvious that Buck had fallen in with these non-humans, but where were they?   Most likely they were deeper in the plateau, probably in caves, much like his people had been, only more hidden.  And he doubted, that given the trouble they had gone to in order to hide from human encroachment, they would show themselves to a stranger such as himself.   Quickly pulling his pack over his shoulders, Hawk began walking a short, rugged, almost non-existent path that ended abruptly against a rock wall covered with foliage.  Pulling the brush aside, he was elated when he found a small opening, and, ducking, Hawk went inside.  Pulling out a small, but powerful flashlight, Hawk perused the dark path ahead of him, noticing slight carved notches that almost seemed to indicate directions.  They would have been difficult to detect by anyone but a person used to living underground.  He set out along the path, noticing that it led directly into the bowels of the plateau.  It sloped downward slightly, but the width of the corridor stayed constant, only wide enough for one person to walk comfortably.  Hawk noted that at one time in the distant past, some parts of the walls had been chiseled and smoothed to provide that width. 

At several intersections, he had to make decisions and twice those decisions led him to dead ends.  However, even the dead ends had seemed to serve some purpose, storage, or something similar.  Finally, though, he came upon a chamber, one lit slightly by a bit of sunlight through a crack in the vaulted ceiling above.   Hawk let his light shine into every nook and cranny of the chamber, but found no evidence of recent habitation.  A few sticks and leaves littered the floor, broken bits of pottery lay scattered.

Could Buck have been here alone? Hawk asked himself.  It was possible, but somehow he didn’t quite believe that.  He wandered down one of the corridors leading out of the chamber.  Maybe just a few inhabitants, but….   Then his light picked up something that almost caused him to gasp in shock.   In a niche in the wall, he saw a small stone figure.  Make-Make!   He dashed over and then stopped, frozen for a moment.  Gingerly, Hawk reached up and touched the effigy, then he gently curled his fingers around the figure and drew it toward him.  If the small stone figure was any indication, the leaders’ rooms should be down this corridor.  All Tane-rapanui leaders’ homes had the protecting presence of Make-Make.   He gently returned the figure, and then continued down the corridor, his footsteps echoing dully.  

Could Buck have been among my people?  Or did he find the remains of a destroyed people?  The caves were clearly deserted, but for how long.  Did Buck realize what he had stumbled upon if, indeed it was long since abandoned?  Hawk came to a cave and let his light play across the cabin-sized room.  As his light covered each part of the room, Hawk saw more evidence that the people who had once lived here were his own people.  There was a candle near the entrance, lying seemingly neglected on the cave floor.  A welcome candle, lit by the matriarch of the clan.   Picking it up, Hawk studied it.  It was old and yet….  It had only a minimal coating of dust.  He stared at it in shock.  These people hadn’t abandoned this place months or years ago, but only a few days ago.  

There were more of his people!  No wonder Dake had seemed to be familiar with him.  No wonder the small man had asked the questions that he had; the questions that had puzzled him.  Then Hawk almost cried aloud his frustration.  There were more of the Tane-rapanui and he missed them by only days.  A glint caught his eye and he bent to pick up the shiny object half hidden on the ground by an old threadbare blanket.  A button.  He examined it carefully, then shined the light on it.  He had seen a button like this before.  Buck’s jacket.  

The aliens that Buck had been with were his kind.  But was he a prisoner or simply staying with them until he could return to the Searcher?  His people would have as little trust for a human as he had.  Buck would have been a prisoner, but where were these people, and where was Buck?

But if Buck was a prisoner, he would be somewhere in the depths of this cave system and he would be relatively safe.  That made it even more imperative to search the cave system, at least as much as he was able to search it.   But what about Erik Kormand’s communiqués?   Hawk shook his head.  If the messages that were picked up could be trusted, then Buck was not here, he was somewhere in Kormand’s hands.  Hawk realized that if that were the case, time was definitely not in Buck’s corner.  He had to continue his search, find these people, who, in turn would be able to help him find Buck.  And he would be finding his own kind at the same time.

Oh, Koori, our people are here, we are not alone.  I am not alone!  There are more Tane-rapanui!

Hawk stood silently for a moment, composing himself, then he continued into the bowels of the cave system, frustrated at each turn he made that did not yield contact with his people.  Finally he came upon a ledge.  It was huge, overlooking a large tree-covered plain.  It was also large enough to hold a few starfighters if the pilots were adept enough to land in such tight quarters.  

Pulling off his pack, Hawk reached in for the binoculars and began scanning the land on this side of the plateau.  Details of habitation had been sketchy about this part of the continent, so he was surprised when, in the distance, he saw evidence of a settlement.  Adjusting the lenses, Hawk was able to count about a half dozen substantial buildings, a landing field and large grassy areas surrounding those buildings.   The view came and went, and Hawk could only figure that there was some kind of distortion field at work. 

When he could see it clearly enough, it looked more like a private accommodation rather than a town or agricultural settlement.  Hawk wondered to whom it belonged.  He turned his attention back to this cavernous area and in the dark recesses, he found more evidence linking this place to his people.  He saw several sets of quasi-wings in various stages of construction or repair.   He checked out a pair that appeared complete and was not surprised to see evidence that they had been used recently.  But where are they now? he asked himself.  

That the people had hidden was a given, but from what?  Hawk turned back to the ranch or whatever the habitation was.  His people were hiding from the encroachment of humans, especially humans like Erik Kormand.  But this ranch seemed innocuous enough.  Why would someone have a habitation, complete with shuttle landing field this far away from cities or other settlements?  It seemed sophisticated, not in the least primitive.  Could this be Erik Kormand’s living quarters, he wondered?  It would make sense.   Buck had been here in these caves, but for some reason Hawk didn’t think he was here anymore.  Somehow if he had been, his friend would have made his presence known when he was aware who was snooping around.  Buck was captured but not in his starfighter.  So if Kormand had him, it was nearby, presumably, although the possibility that Kormand could have transported Buck to another part of this world was a definite possibility. 

But Hawk didn’t really believe that was the case.  Looking through the binoculars again, he realized that he had to go and investigate this large habitation.  He had to do surveillance on this ranch.  Whether Buck was there or not, Hawk knew that he had to get all the information he could about this mysterious compound and get it back to the Searcher.  And if Buck was there, speed was of the essence.   

Hawk gazed at the sky and realized that he had spent the entirety of a day exploring.  Off to his right the sun was sitting on the shoulders of a low mountain range.  He pondered a moment, silently berating himself for the wasted time, then he corrected himself.  Part of the problem they were having now was the fact that the Searcher had been forced into actions for which there had been too little planning.  That ‘Death Machine’ had frightened the Galactic Council into premature action and Wilma and, probably Buck, were suffering for it. 

It had been a necessity to explore these caves, to find out if there was anyone here.  Hawk knew that somewhere hidden there were the people whose home this was, but until they were ready, he would find no access to their hiding place.  Then he saw a flash from the habitation and looked through his binoculars again.  A ship was lifting off, a small scout craft.  It hovered a moment and then headed toward the plateau, toward him.  Hawk watched as long as he dared and then when he was sure the ship was heading for the cavern, he backed into the dark corridor.   With his pistol in one hand, Hawk waited, hoping that this visit would yield the valuable information that had been so lacking. 

The craft eased into the natural landing bay and the engines whined to a sigh.  The canopy opened and two humans stood, looked around and then climbed out.  Hawk watched and listened from the shadows.  

“What the hell does the boss think he’s going to gain in exploring this place?” one of the men said.  “Leegrand already said it was deserted.  He also said it wasn’t big enough to even store things in.”  The speaker gazed suspiciously up at the rocky ceiling. 

“Shut up your griping, Bran.  Erik hasn’t stayed alive and incognito by doing anything stupid.  The General wanted to make sure there weren’t any aliens here that might attack the compound.  That’s all.”

“Hey, Matt, look!  Isn’t that like what Rogers tried to sneak in with?” Bran asked as he walked to a part of the cavern out of Hawk’s line of sight.  “So that’s where that strange get-up came from.  And to think that idiot terran thought he could actually get in the compound with these.  Wonder he didn’t kill himself the first minute.”  Hawk heard the rattling of struts and the soft whisper of cloth that indicated a set of quasi-wings being examined.   And with that bit of information, Hawk had found what he came for.  All that was needed now was a survey of that habitation on the plain.  And if there was a way, then he needed to go in and get Buck.  With that determination, Hawk put on his night vision goggles and returned to the darkness of the caves.  The journey back would take only a fraction of the time it had taken him to get to this ledge.   When he was far enough in the bowels of the cave system, Hawk pulled out his flashlight. 

Hawk paused at the statue of Make-Make and bowed his head quickly in acknowledgement of his god before turning to leave.  He continued on his journey, unerringly and swiftly returning to his starfighter.  As he rose from the forest floor, Hawk noticed that he only had enough fuel for one pass, two if he cut the camouflaging unit before he reached the Searcher.   He would get as much information as he could on the first pass and keep enough fuel to make a getaway when he had Buck.  Arming all surveillance equipment, Hawk flew above the plateau and turned his starfighter toward the north.  With Dr. Goodfellow’s invention engaged, Hawk began flying slowly over the compound as low as he dared.  The readings were distorted for the entire pass.  He made a few adjustments and then found a slight anomaly that allowed him a clean scan of the ranch.   And during that scan, Hawk realized that he would not be able to rescue his friend alone.  Not only was there the lack of fuel, there were outer perimeter detection devices, and a power fence that precluded him trying to get in on foot.  With regret, feeling guilty that he was leaving Buck behind, Hawk throttled his starfighter straight up.  As soon as he reached the outer atmosphere, he disengaged the camouflaging device, seeing the level of his fuel dangerously low.  As it was, Hawk’s ship had to be towed into the Searcher.

 

 

 

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