Journeys of the Mind

 

Chapter 27

 

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-seven

   

Slowly Makin’ it Back Home

 

 

 

“Hold it right there,” Dake said, his voice authoritarian, undaunted by the contingent of humans.  “Identify yourselves and make it good.  We’ve already been attacked once and I am not in a very good mood.”  The slight afternoon breeze ruffled the sparse reddish hair on top of his head, but there was no sound as Freeosh and humans regarded each other.  

The leader of the human contingent ordered his men to stay put.  He lowered his weapon a little.  “I am Captain Eli Grishom of the Galactic Council expeditionary ship, Titan.”  He paused a moment and when Dake said nothing, continued, “We got word that your village was under attack and we came to help.”  Grishom pointed to the unconscious man at Dake’s feet.  “He one of Kormand’s men?”

“Don’t know.  Came in with them, though.”  Dake stood up and lowered his weapons, but didn’t holster them.   “He’s originally from the Searcher.  Don’t know if he’s playing a spy game or what.  His buddies left him behind quick enough.”

“Rest of Kormand’s men gone?” Grishom asked, disappointed.  Then he recognized the unconscious man as Captain Rogers.   

“Set a couple of houses ablaze and then left, about as quick as they showed up.  Kormand is usually more thorough than that.  Likes to get his quota of aliens,” Dake said sarcastically.  Grishom looked about as puzzled as Dake was.  

“Do you think Kormand’s people will attack again?  We can leave men here to guard your village.”  

Dake shook his head and holstered one of the pistols.  Somehow, he thought this ‘attack’ was linked to the man lying at his feet.  It didn’t have the feel of a real attack or an ambush.   But he couldn’t finger what that connection was or what Rogers’ involvement was.  “No, don’t think they’ll be back.  But even if those muck worms do come back, we won’t be here anyway.  That’s how this many of us have stayed alive these past few years.”  Dake shook his head sadly.  “But it’s a hell of a way to live.  Especially after you have gotten used to the life in the cities and settlements.” 

“I get the impression you have seen a great deal of Kormand’s activities,” Grishom ventured. 

“Enough of them….”  Dake spat into a nearby fire pit.

“Could you come with us and give your testimony?” 

Dake frowned.  He wasn’t sure he wanted to go with these humans, even if they were from the Galactic Council.  He snorted softly and squinted up at the spaceman with his one good eye.  “How do I know I’ll get back down here to my little ones if I do go with you?  I’m the only one they have now, since Kormand’s men killed their mother.”

“We can arrange for any of my men to remain here as hostage, if you would like.   Other than that, there is nothing more I can do but give my word,” Grishom said. 

Frowning, Dake reached into his pocket and began to pull out a cigar.  He saw the nervous looks and the ready pistols and paused.  “Only a cigar, gentlemen.  A bad habit I picked up from humans in Brix,” he said evenly as he slowly pulled out the cigar.  Lighting it, he puffed a few times and blew out a few smoke rings.  He thought about the human’s proposal as he did.  It couldn’t hurt.  And if it did, his children would be safe in the forest, at least for now.  Dake was sure these men were exactly who they said they were and he was willing to take a chance to try and ensure the survival of the rest of his people.  And besides, he was curious about Rogers.  He was curious if his instincts had been right and there was some kind of complicated spy game, or if he was totally wrong about his assessment of this man.  

Grishom gazed around nervously while Dake pondered.  He was slightly amused to be able to discomfit a human for a change, but he didn’t let it show.  “Sure, I’ll come with you.  And you don’t have to leave men here.  It would only make the rest of my people here nervous.”  Dake blew a few more smoke rings into the late afternoon air.  “But I will not stay any longer than necessary and then you’ll bring me back here or near here.”

“We appreciate your cooperation, Mister . . . uh, what’s your name?” Grishom asked. 

“Dake.   And I do expect a bit of compensation.”

Grishom looked a bit startled. 

Dake laughed softly.  “Nothing earth shattering, Captain.  But it would be nice if I could bring back a few provisions for my people.  You see, when you’re on the run, it’s kind of hard to grow a garden, or make goods to sell, or even to work for a wage to buy some food.”  Dake squinted at the lowering sun.  “I’ve had it lucky.   My, uh, job has allowed me to get food for my family, but most of these folks have been on the run for a while.”

“I don’t see a problem with that, Dake,” Grishom said, looking around at the hastily put together settlement.

“I will go with you then,” Dake pronounced.  “Think it will do any good?”

“We have enough evidence for Kormand’s arrest warrant.  We even have enough for several possible convictions, mainly on civil rights violations, but not enough to prove murder, believe it or not.  He keeps a very close-mouthed organization.  We didn’t even know who the guy behind all this was until Rogers and his friends found the information,” Grishom explained.

Dake looked at the man near his feet and wondered anew what the story was behind all this.   “Well, I guess there is no need to sit here any longer talking.  My cigar is dead anyway.”

   

 

Brandt heard voices, felt something binding his hands together.  Captured.  Anger built, becoming white hot.  Have to get away!!  Damn them!  If he had to fight, he would.  He struggled against the ropes around his wrists.  He opened his eyes to see several men and women in uniform and a smaller man with a laser pistol standing around him.  His laser pistol!  Had to think of a way out.  The anger continued to build and he couldn’t think. 

“Captain William Buck Rogers, you are hereby….”  That was as far as Grishom got for the man on the ground exploded into action with a cry of rage. 

Even with bound hands, Brandt leaped to his feet, knocking the first uniformed man to the ground.   Deep inside he wondered that the man called him by a different name.  But his mind couldn’t make sense of it.  Not right now.  He could only feel the overpowering need to escape.  And overpowering anger that someone was trying to prevent that.  One of the men came at him, but was quickly stopped by a foot in the ribs.  With a choked off cry of pain, the man fell to the ground.  Two others came at him; one was decked almost immediately by a double-fisted blow to the head. 

Only three more, he thought, then freedom.  

A hand hooked around his ankle and pulled him to the ground.  Brandt kicked out and felt his foot connect with soft flesh.  He heard a grunt of pain and felt satisfaction.  As he jumped back to his feet, he felt someone land on his back and he stumbled, but quickly recovered.  With a growl of anger, Brandt grabbed his attacker with both hands and flipped him over his shoulder.  His hands were still bound and that frustrated and enraged him even more.  He began to kick the person, but stopped.  He managed to ask himself, why?  They were keeping him from freedom.  But thought was unimportant.  There was only one more person and then escape would be assured.  There was a dense forest ahead of him.  A place to hide.  The woman in front of him had her laser out.  He pivoted, kicked, and as the bright beam shot wide, the pistol flew from her hand.  She gazed at him fearfully, but Brandt didn’t need to bother with her, he was free.

Then he heard a click behind him and realized in quick despair that he had forgotten the little man.  As he turned, Brandt knew he was too late.  The beam of the laser pistol hit him dead on and he fell into blackness.  

Dake gazed thoughtfully at the man now lying so still on the ground.  He also looked at the six men either unconscious or groggily getting to their feet.  The woman had a dazed look on her face.

Grishom was the first up, rubbing a sore shoulder.  “Thanks,” he said ruefully.

“I’d be kind of embarrassed by this,” Dake commented in soft sarcasm.  “He almost made it.” 

“Made it?” 

Dake snorted.  “Obviously, he was trying to escape.  He just neglected to take me into account.  Small people are often overlooked.”  He paused.  “Except by Kormand.” 

“Certainly not the actions of one held against his will,” Grishom replied to the first statement, pointedly ignoring the rest of Dake’s comments. 

“Never thought he was.  Don’t know exactly what’s the matter with Rogers, but he certainly is acting different than he did when I talked to him before.” 

“You talked to him before?”

“Yup, gave him some information in Asher.” 

“Yes, well, would you keep an eye on him while I check my people?” Grishom asked, wondering about this Freeosh sitting so nonchalantly amidst the scene of chaos.    And he was embarrassed. 

Lt. Crepps was already checking on the others.  “Brice looks like he needs some serious attention, sir,” she said. 

Pulling out his communicator, he called out, “We need a med shuttle down here immediately.  Also a code two military escort team.  Send a few pilots to fly ships back to the Titan, too.” 

“Resistance?” came a query from Colonel Alvarez. 

“Uh, yes, sir.  I’ll give the details later.  Grishom out.” 

Dake smiled softly, all the while wondering why Roger’s behavior had changed so radically.  Then he mentally shrugged.  Let the humans deal with it.  “Here,” he said, handing Roger’s pistol to Captain Grishom.  “If I’m coming with you, I need to arrange for the care of my children.”  He wondered about that.  Before, he had only wanted to leave the planet, now . . . he just wanted to get this over with and come back to his little ones.   Dake sighed.

“You sure you don’t want us to leave a military guard here for your people?” Grishom said. 

Dake gazed meaningfully at the unconscious men on the ground and then shook his head.  “The group won’t want to stay here anyway.  We’ll just hide out until things calm down.  Thanks, anyway, Captain,” he said, turning and going inside the tiny house.  

 

 

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

 

   

Admiral Asimov was sitting quietly in his conference room when Wilma, Hawk and Dr. Goodfellow entered.  Dr. Theopolis sat quietly on the table, his lights blinking softly.  Twiki stood nearby, uncharacteristically quiet.  The look on the admiral’s face told Wilma that something was not right and alarm shot through her body. No, not Buck!

The past seven days since her return to the Searcher had been nerve-wracking and not knowing about Buck made it worse.  “Buck?” she asked hesitantly. 

Asimov nodded sadly.  “But not exactly what you are thinking.  Let me show you and then we can talk….”  His voice trailed off as he nodded to Twiki. 

The ambu-quad placed a disk into the vid-com center and they all watched the large view screen.  To Wilma’s horror, she saw Buck . . . and Erik Kormand.  Buck was not a prisoner, he appeared to be friends with her rapist, joking and smiling and acting as though he was one of Kormand’s close lieutenants.  She felt Hawk’s hand on her arm.  “Things are not always what they seem,” he said softly. 

She nodded, took a deep breath and examined the scenes from the disk more carefully.  A part of her was rejoicing that Buck was alive.  He was alive and well, not hurt somewhere, or worse . . . dead.  And it was obviously Buck.  This was no computer generated theatrical type vid.  She was almost positive of that.  But as she continued to watch, what was obvious seemed to be masking something that wasn’t quite right.  Wilma pondered what that might be.  She tried to ignore Erik Kormand and concentrate only on Buck.  The only time he seemed totally normal was during a 10 and 11 game with Kormand.  Otherwise, there was something else.  Something she couldn’t quite put her finger on.  

What made it all such a horrible travesty was the fact that to someone who didn’t know Buck intimately as she did, he seemed easygoing and comfortable with Erik Kormand.  And such an observation could be damning. 

When the disk ended, the admiral gazed carefully at all of them.  “Obviously that is Buck,” he finally said with a sigh.  “And obviously he has spent most of the past week with Erik Kormand.”

“You do know it is possible for computers to take videos and pictures and generate whole sequences.” Dr. Goodfellow said. 

“Yes, Doctor, it is,” Theo said.  “But in this case that did not happen.  I did detect editing, but each sequence you see actually occurred.” 

“Editing, I’ve been told, can either hide or reveal just what the editor or producer wants it to reveal,” Wilma pointed out.

“That is true, Colonel Deering,” Theo replied.  “However, we do not have the important ingredient we need to determine what is missing.” 

“Buck,” Hawk said.

“Yes, Hawk.  Only Buck can verify or refute what appears before us,” Theo agreed. 

“Where did this come from, Admiral,” Wilma asked. 

“From the Galactic ship, Titan, the military cruiser dispatched here to find Erik Kormand and arrest him.  When they came through the stargate they sent the contents of the disk over to me through the communications link.”

“Why not before?” Wilma asked tersely. 

“They got it as they were in route and Colonel Alvarez did not feel it necessary to tell us until they got here,” Asimov said.  

Theo said quietly, “We were denied planetary landing clearance, we are not equipped for battle and we do not have the council’s clearance to act in this matter.  I suspect Col. Alvarez was worried we would do something rash, since we are so close to Buck as well as to the situation as a whole.” 

“The Council be damned!” Wilma cried out angrily.  “Buck is in the hands of that monster!  The camouflaging unit is almost ready on my ship!” 

“What is the Titan doing now?” Hawk asked, his quiet voice breaking through Wilma’s anger.  She gazed at him a moment and then turned to the admiral, waiting for his answer. 

“They are conducting a raid on Kormand’s compound,” Asimov answered.  “As we speak.” 

“What?” Wilma cried.  “Buck could be killed.”

“I was assured that every precaution is being taken to capture and not kill anyone, including Buck.”  The admiral paused.  “But be aware, Wilma, based on this evidence, there is an arrest order for Buck as well as for Erik Kormand.”

Wilma just gaped. 

“And have you considered the fact that there is the slight possibility that Buck has somehow, for some reason, fallen in with Kormand?” the admiral asked, although his voice indicated that he didn’t really believe the theory. 

“No, I have not, and he would not willingly ally himself with that sadist!” Wilma retorted.  

“That does seem rather unbelievable, Admiral,” Dr. Goodfellow said.  “Buck does have his faults, but bigotry and callous disregard for his fellow creatures are certainly not among them.” 

Hawk nodded.  “I agree.  Buck would not have joined with Kormand under normal circumstances….”  Hawk paused and looked thoughtful.  “Or in his right mind.”

Wilma’s eyes grew large with sudden revelation.  “That’s it!” she cried out.  Everyone gaped at her.  She gathered her roiling thoughts.  “When I started looking closely at that disk, I wondered what was wrong with Buck, why he seemed the same and yet different.  It was as though the whole person was not there.”

“Like something is missing from his personality,” Hawk mused. 

“There is the possibility of mind-altering,” Goodfellow said thoughtfully.  

“His personality didn’t seem that drastic, Doctor,” Theo said, “but I concur that something is not right.”

“What happens when Buck is captured, Admiral?” Hawk asked. 

“My understanding is that he, like Kormand, will be taken to Cronis and examined and then tried.” 

“Won’t we be able to see him first?” Wilma asked, trying hard to maintain some semblance of control.  She felt as though she was on an emotional roller coaster, one that never ended, just kept going round and round. 

“Of course, we will,” the admiral said vehemently.  “We will do everything in our power, just as we did before.” 

“May I suggest that the Titan’s doctor take a blood sample as soon as they get Buck on board,” Theo said.  “If there has been any form of mind altering, it usually entails drugs.” 

“Splendid idea, Dr. Theopolis,” Goodfellow said.  “Splendid.  We’ll get Buck out of this stew he’s in yet.”  

“I sincerely hope so,” Asimov said.  “I will send our request to the Titan’s chief medical officer right away.”

 

 

 

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