Journeys of the Mind

 

Chapter 26

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-six

 

Set-up

 

 

Colonel Miguel Alvarez gazed at the view screen in his ready room, stunned at what he was seeing.  On either side of him sat his executive officers, Captain Eli Grishom and Captain Denise Winters.  When the disk was finished, he sat in quiet contemplation, his chin in his hand. 

“Colonel, that was exactly who that appeared to be, wasn’t it?” Grishom asked. 

“Yes.  So far analysis indicates with ninety-five percent surety that it is Captain William ‘Buck’ Rogers, up to now a very important and highly respected member of the Earth Defense Directorate,” Alvarez answered.  

“Any chance that this has been computer generated or somehow contrived?” Grishom asked. 

“So far, no.”  Alvarez shook his head.  “What you are seeing is actual footage.” 

“Except that it’s obvious that there has been editing done,” Winters pointed out. 

“Yes, Captain, it has, but what’s left is very damning,” 

“True, but I would like to see the entirety.  Sometimes context can be skewed,” Winters replied.  “Colonel, where did it come from?”

“I was told that an underground group managed to get it to the Galactic Council only hours ago,” Alvarez said.

“But how did they get it?” Winters persisted. 

“A double agent in Erik Kormand’s organization.” 

“It’s unusually clear and concise footage to have come from something undercover,” Grishom said. 

“Yes, but the fact that it also picked up Kormand would argue against it being a piece of planted evidence,” Alvarez noted.  “That is the first picture I have ever seen of him.” 

“But we had already received a description of Kormand from Colonel Wilma Deering of the Searcher,” Winters said.

“Either way, if we don’t get Kormand now, he can just disappear and we get to start all over again,” Alvarez murmured.  

“But we have the location of Kormand’s compound, thanks to the Searcher’s crew,” Winters added.  “That was a stroke of unsurpassed luck.”

“Yes, and we are going to strike as soon as we are within the Mendalis system,” Alvarez said. 

Winters was staring at a small painting on the far wall, rubbing behind her ear.  “Colonel, wasn’t there an incriminating videofile found on Captain Rogers several months ago on Earth?” she asked.  She tried to remember the circumstances surrounding that incident.   

“It was proven false.”  Alvarez gazed at his subordinate.  “I will admit this seems coincidental, but so far everything is pointing to the veracity of the evidence on this disk.”

“He could have been psycho-altered,” Grishom suggested. 

“That, too, is a possibility,” Alvarez murmured.  “And it would fit.  But needless to say, Rogers has been with Kormand and could have useful information.”  He paused.  “And don’t forget, even if he has been psycho-altered, that would still make him dangerous.” 

Grishom looked at a readout on the computer screen in front of him.  “Our estimated time of arrival at Mendalis star gate is twelve hours,” he said.

“Very well, Captain, have all fighters and crews ready to launch as soon as we get through the gate.  They will storm the compound and take alive anyone there.  The council would prefer as little loss of life as possible.”

“Yes, Colonel,” Winters said, pleased that they would be able to act and not have to sit in orbit arguing with planetary officials.  But even as she left, she wondered about the disk she had just seen.

 

 

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“Brandt, we have found out that the animals responsible for your family’s decimation are in a small village not far from here.  I am sending you and a few other men out to take care of them,” Kormand.  Brandt sat quietly, Drishel next to him. There were several other trusted lieutenants in the council room with them.  There were questions in Brandt’s eyes and he added, “I told you we’d keep looking.”

“What do you mean, take care of them?” Brandt asked. 

“Brandt, these are vicious creatures.  They murder children.  They murdered your wife and children, remember?” Kormand reminded him. 

No, Brandt thought, I don’t remember.  But he only nodded and said, “Yes, of course, but if you could take prisoners, would that not help you find this group’s leaders?  Stop this movement against humans?” 

Again Kormand wished he had time to groom this terran.  It would be the ultimate revenge with Rogers as the ultimate weapon.  He was shrewd and a very intelligent statistician, as well as an excellent military man.  “You are correct, Brandt, and we will, if given the opportunity.  Very good thinking, my friend.  But we must hurry.  We are fortunate to have found this group so close.”  Kormand pointed to the various members of the group and gave assignments.  To Brandt, he said, “See if you recognize any of the leaders, lend your expertise in capturing some of these Freeosh.” 

“Yes, sir,” Brandt said, feeling eager anticipation at hopefully finding something that might unlock his past.  He became caught up in the fervor of the group, eager to revenge the loss of the family he couldn’t even remember.  He had felt twinges of guilt that he had not only done nothing to mourn them or to mete out justice to the murderers of his wife and children, but that he had not even felt the inclination to do so. 

“One hour, gentlemen.  You will meet in an hour in the hangar.”  Kormand stood up and shook hands with each man.  “To victory!  To success!”  

“To victory,” Brandt repeated with the other men.  An hour, he thought.  Enough time to go see Sreena and get something for this pesky headache.   It had never totally gone away from his last excursion and he didn’t want to start this mission with one. 

As he walked into the medical bay, Brandt noticed several techs placing supplies and equipment on carts.  “What’s up?” he asked Sreena, who was directing the operation.  He had not been told of anything other than the mission.

“Erik got word that some of our enemies might be planning a raid.”  She realized that Brandt had been kept in the dark about the Council raid and kept away from most of the activity related to it, but she couldn’t help his knowing now.  She could only hope that the delay reaction properties of the drug and the tendency of the Council forces toward leniency would keep Brandt alive.  

“It happens occasionally, Brandt,” she added quickly.  “The survey teams found a cave system in the plateau to the east of here where we can stay for the duration of the alert.”  

Brandt looked puzzled for a moment, then he shrugged.  “Well, hopefully it won’t last long.”   He paused.  “By the way, do you have something for a headache that won’t make me drowsy?” 

“Severe?” she asked, at once concerned.  

“No, just there, and persistent.” 

Nodding, Sreena dug into her kit and pulled out a small vial.  Quickly, she administered the drug and then gazed meaningfully at him.  She again felt guilty at her lack of courage for not trying to help this man.  “Be careful, Brandt,” she said softly.

“I will, Doc,” he said with a smile.  “I’ll be back by nightfall.”  Then his smile faded when he saw the deep sadness in her eyes. “What’s wrong, Sreena?”

“Oh, nothing.”

She smiled, but he wasn’t convinced. “What’s wrong?  You can tell me.” 

Sreena almost laughed at the irony of what he had just said.  No, I can’t, not with Erik’s spy-corders all over.  Then she decided she needed to say something, anything.  In a low voice, she said, “Brandt, you don’t really belong here.  You need to find a way to leave.  You are not like the rest here, you’re different.”

Brandt took her hands and found that she was trembling.  Something had her frightened.  “What is it?” he asked.  “Why should I leave?” 

“I can’t say more, just think about it and trust me.”  She grabbed him in a fierce hug, and then turned and went into the equipment room. 

Brandt followed her to the back room, not wanting to leave her in such an emotional state.  He laid his hand on her arm.  “Sreena, who are you afraid of?  Is it someone Erik doesn’t know about?”

She laughed softly, again seeing the irony of the conversation.  Turning to him, she said, her voice almost a whisper, “Brandt, haven’t there been times, moments when you have felt strange, and wondered why you were there, why you were doing what you were doing?” 

Brandt could say nothing, only feeling deep inside, the veracity of her words, even while not being able to bring specific incidents to mind. 

“I am sorry.  I can only say that you do not belong here.”  Sreena touched his hand.  “I will be all right, I assure you.” 

Seeing that nothing more could be gained in probing her, Brandt just nodded.  Gently, he held her hand in his and kissed it lightly.  Then he turned and left. 

In his apartment, Brandt quickly changed into the military outfit provided him by Kormand.  It was grayish-blue, with thin red piping on the sleeves and around the collar and waist.  It was comfortable and gave great freedom of movement, but seemed a bit plain for his tastes.   Well, he thought, I’m not going out on the town.   Within minutes he was at the flight hanger.  The rest of the assault crew was already there. 

“You were almost late,” Leegrand said with a scowl. 

“But I wasn’t,” Brandt answered with a smile.  “I’m ready.”

Quickly the six men climbed into the fighters and were soon in the air, streaking toward the alien settlement.  Behind the pilot, Brandt checked his laser pistol, making sure it was set to stun.  He wanted answers, not death.  Then he blinked in surprise.  Now Brandt thought he understood what Sreena meant.  As much sense as Kormand made at times, there was an undercurrent of . . . what . . . death? . . . that made him uncomfortable.  He wondered if he could find out more about himself away from Kormand.  It had been frustrating living with half a name and no memory.  And somehow, despite Kormand’s words, Brandt didn’t think there had been as great an effort to find out his identity as there could have been.  

The location must have been near, as the ship soon landed.  The pilot was a taciturn man, only communicating in grunts and hand motions.  Brandt had tried to engage him in conversation during the beginning of their flight, but he had been met with virtual silence, so he had quickly given up.  So it was no surprise to him when the pilot, a man named Reneau, only motioned for him to follow him after they had disembarked.  Soon the six men were walking single file, Leegrand the point man and Reneau the rear guard.  They stopped just before a cleared perimeter, hiding behind brush.  To Brandt’s eye, it seemed a serene, pastoral community, but he knew that looks could be deceiving.  

“Here, it’s hot already and going to get hotter,” Leegrand said, handing him a bottle of water.  

Brandt nodded.  It was hot, being the hottest time of the afternoon.  And he was thirsty.  He took the bottle and drank it dry, it not holding a great deal.

“Everyone be ready.  They are having their afternoon rest, and won’t be expecting us,” Leegrand said.  “Anyone who resists, kill them, otherwise we will take prisoners and interrogate them.”  There was a slight pause.  “Everyone understand?”

Brandt nodded along with the rest. 

“Brandt, you come in from the west.  Durrell, the north, Reneau, you and Gorn from the south. I will strike from the east, Prichett, the south-east.  Now let’s go.” 

Brandt went in the direction indicated and saw several thatched homes sitting serenely at the edge of the small village.  A slight noise caused him to jerk around, his pistol out and ready.  A bird flew out of a nearby tree.  Brandt shook his head, disgusted with himself.  He turned back to the little village.  There were children playing by one of the stick and thatch houses.  They were just children, but what about inside the huts?  Yes, that was where the beasts were, those who killed his family.  Again, he shook his head.  Why was he suddenly so angry?  Why now?  No matter, he told himself, it is getting rid of these murderers that was important. 

Hearing shouts, Brandt jumped out from the brush, rushing toward the nearest stick and thatch house.  Bursting in the door, he found himself confronting a frightened Freeosh woman, a baby at her breast. Her furred tail swung protectively in front of the child, the slightly brushy end hiding the child’s face.  Brandt lowered his pistol a bit.  “Where are your leaders?” he growled. 

She shook her head.  “I do not know what you mean.  Our men are out gathering food for our pantries.”

Brandt felt anger rising.  He listened for any noises behind him, outside the hut, but heard nothing but the twittering of a few birds.  “I want those who killed my family.”  

“I do not know who killed your family.  Please, we are only refugees from the larger village near Asher.  Please, do not hurt my children.” 

A noise, the sound of a footfall, caused Brandt to jerk around.  As his finger squeezed the trigger of his pistol, he saw a child, a young Freeosh, with large, round frightened eyes, its downy, reddish baby fur sticking out from its body.  The mother shouted and grabbed his arm.  Anger surged again, but with difficulty, Brandt forced it down.  He shoved the woman aside and said, “I do not shoot children or women.  I want to see your elders.”

“Please, we are only refugees from Asher.  Go seek there.  The real killers are there.”

Shaking his head in confusion, Brandt nodded.  He went out the door looking for his comrades but only found the flash of bright and blinding light, and then nothing.

 

 

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

 

 

Dake looked in the doorway, gazing at Freesa-ono and her children.  “Are you all right?” he asked in his own language.  Here in the forest, presumably away from human influx, he was dressed to allow his tail freedom.  It was not as long as the female’s, nor as graceful and elegant, but it served its purpose when he was traveling in the forest. 

“Yes, Dake-urlu, we are all right.”  With her prehensile tail, she drew her child to her even as her baby suckled, seemingly oblivious to the events around it.  “The human seemed angry, but made good on his promise not to hurt us.” 

Dake’s one good eye widened in shock.  “He promised?” he asked, incredulous.  It had been very apparent from what a scout had brought in just before the raid, that these were some of Kormand’s men.  “That is as strange as the humans withdrawing almost as soon as they attacked.  And not all of them even attacked.”

Freesa-ono looked puzzled.  “But why?  What was there purpose in even coming here?  Simply to scare us?”  She shook her head.  “If that was the case, they succeeded.” 

“I don’t know.  They did set fire to three huts before they left.  Perhaps when this one awakens, he can tell us.  But it is most strange.  They could have easily massacred us in a matter of minutes.” 

Dake looked over at the still unconscious human.  He would have to be restrained.  Grabbing a length of rope from inside the little house, the Freeosh walked over to the human and rolled him over so he could see his face.  Dake gasped in recognition.  Buck Rogers?  But he had been with Kormand’s men!  He was wearing the assault jumper that Kormand’s attackers usually wore.   Dake felt himself a pretty good judge of people, Freeosh and human, but how could he have been so wrong here? 

“What is wrong, Dake-urlu?”

“I know this human.  But I would never have expected him to be in Kormand’s group.”

“He said he only wanted to find those who had killed his family,” Freesa-ono said. 

“Killed his family?” Dake asked, confused.  Rogers had never mentioned a family.  

“Perhaps he does the same thing you have done,” the Freeosh woman said softly.

Working on both sides, Dake thought.  That would make sense.  “Perhaps you are right, but I think I should tie his hands just in case.”  As he tied Roger’s wrists together, the man moaned softly, but did not regain consciousness.  While he was doing that, a ship flew overhead and Dake looked up fearfully, wondering if Kormand’s men had decided to come back and finish what they had strangely left unfinished.  Thankfully, most of the men and women were in the forest, but there were still the women who had stayed with their children to protect them and he knew that he could not guard them alone.  He saw insignia that told him these were not local government ships.  He thought they were Galactic Council ships, but he couldn’t be sure.  “Get inside,” he ordered as two more similar ships flew low and then landed just beyond a small line of houses.  

As the new group of humans cautiously entered the now smoky village, Dake squatted behind Buck Rogers’ unconscious body, a laser pistol in each hand.  The first human came into view.  

 

 

 

 

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