Journeys of the Mind
Wilma stared at the
Endrillian ambassador in open-mouthed shock.
“You can’t be serious,” she said.
Zrinn gazed at her for a
few seconds, his eyes contemptuous before turning back to the admiral. “You have heard King Meecros’ terms. What is your answer?”
He was tall and thin, his skin the color of dark bronze, his eyes
a cold blue. His hair stood
out from the side of his head, over small rounded ears, and Wilma saw a
similarity with an Earth snake, a cobra.
She had to work hard at controlling a shudder.
Asimov stood, his face red
in anger, his body tense and stiff.
“What you are demanding is blackmail,” he said coldly.
“And we will not be threatened in such a manner,” he spat
Zrinn smiled, barely
showing his teeth. Wilma
thought the resemblance was even more snakelike.
He had struck and was waiting for the poison to take effect.
“King Meecros’ daughter, the Princess Oralinn, has been
insulted. That is reason
enough for a declaration of war. However,
since His Highness is a reasonable man, he sent me to present a
reasonable alternative offer.”
committed no crimes nor did he, in the least degree, act with anything
less than the decorum befitting his rank,” Asimov replied.
“So if King Meecros wishes to declare war, let him do so.
We will take this up with the Galactic Judiciary.”
“You do not seem to
understand, Admiral Asimov,” Zrinn hissed.
“You have on board, the royal family of Toran.
By not answering this, most generous, offer, you are dooming your
ship to absolute and total destruction.”
He leaned forward and favored them with a frigid smile.
“We have the means to destroy this entire ship, including King
Toran and his family.”
“You are bluffing,”
Wilma declared, her anger hot and fierce.
Zrinn finally addressed
Wilma directly. “Colonel
Deering, look for yourself. I
assure you, King Meecros does not bluff.
Our shielding is down only long enough for you to check the
veracity of my words.” He smiled again and held up a small device.
“And if you try any offensive maneuvers this trigger will also
activate the death machine and blow this ship into so many atoms.”
Wilma sat down at the
admiral’s private computer and brought up the information.
When she looked back up, her face was pale.
“A machine of incredible power, Admiral,” she said softly.
“And quite capable of
doing everything I say, I assure you,” Zrinn said with a cold, hard
smile. “You have a few
minutes to decide if you will concede or begin a war you cannot win.
A short path to your death.”
Asimov stared at the
ambassador whose fingers strayed over his little device with nervous
deliberation. “We need time to consider our answer,” he finally said.
“You need nothing except
to answer my king’s demands,” Zrinn hissed.
“Look again. See
what this machine is capable of. And
think about the royal family of Toran on board your ship, caught in a
war begun by one of your own crew.”
“Captain Rogers did
nothing wrong,” Asimov retorted, angry at his inability to salvage
this situation, to save Buck’s honor as well as saving all of the
“According to the
Princess Oralinn, he did and that is enough for King Meecros to declare
war unless his very generous terms are met.”
Zrinn rocked back on his heels.
“Check again, Admiral, Colonel.
See what the Endril people are capable of and then decide just
how important your Captain Rogers is.
If he is worth the lives on this ship, as well as the royal
family of Toran.”
In despair, Wilma knew
why Meecros had requested the meeting between himself and Toran on the Searcher.
To put them in this very position.
But what was the motive? What
did Meecros hope to gain with either the destruction of the ship or with
Buck’s admission of the false charges?
All she knew was that they had very little choice.
Asimov moved to Wilma’s
side and glanced at the data still accessed on the screen.
Meecros had gotten his hands on a very dangerous weapon. Even by conceding to the king’s whims now, there was no
guarantee of their safety, but, and Asimov rubbed his chin, there was
always a chance of turning this around later.
But can we? he thought.
We have to, he answered himself.
We have to. Buck’s
sacrifice has to give us something to beat Meecros with.
He sighed. And by
deferring now, he would be able to report to the Galactic Council.
“This will be reported,” he finally said, his voice sharp
with suppressed anger.
“Of course,” Zrinn
said with a bow. “But be
aware that the Galactic Judiciary does very little to dispute individual
planets’ autonomous claims,” Zrinn said.
“Just as I said, Captain Rogers insulted a member of the royal
family and that is tantamount to an act of war.”
“Buck was trying to
safely fly a starship,” Wilma retorted.
“And the princess interfered, putting everyone in danger.”
“An insult was made.”
Zrinn’s cold smile never wavered.
“We can’t give in,”
Wilma whispered to the admiral, who had partially turned away from the
ambassador to consult with his second in command.
sagged. “We have to,” he said softly.
Turning back to Zrinn, he said, “I will inform Captain Rogers
of my decision.”
“Yes, but here and now.
I must be in attendance, so that there is no misquoting of King
Wilma almost gasped.
This was going to hit Buck hard and they wouldn’t even have the
benefit of being able to explain and break this to him even a little bit
gently. What are Meecros’
motives here? she wondered as the admiral punched in a
request for Buck’s presence, noticing at the same time that he had
also sent for Dr. Theopolis. She
steeled herself for what she knew would be an explosion of almost as
great magnitude as that ‘death machine’ below could do to them.
Zrinn stood watching the stars out of the viewport while they
waited. The tension was palpable and no one said anything for several
A drone entered carrying
Dr. Theopolis. It set the
quad on the table and left. “What
is that doing here?” Zrinn asked indignantly.
“I want an accurate
record of the proceedings,” Asimov replied.
“I should have sent for him earlier.”
Zrinn huffed but said
nothing, only returning his gaze to the stars.
Asimov made a gesture to Theo and the councilman sat quietly.
Buck sauntered in about
five minutes later, casually dressed.
“Your timing’s great, Admiral.
Just got out of the shower when you called.”
Then he saw Zrinn and his smile faded.
“Well, hello, Ambassador Zrinn.
What brings you to this pleasant corner of the galaxy?”
Buck’s voice had changed, carrying only thinly veiled disdain.
“Buck, King Meecros has
leveled very serious charges against you, charges that could lead to
“Oh?” Buck asked.
Then he turned to Zrinn. “What’s
the matter? Your boss
bored? He can’t find
anyone else to pick on except the chauffer?”
He now understood, at least partially, why King Meecros wanted
this man neutralized. Even
though he was only a captain, a seemingly minor cog in the wheels of the
Defense Directorate and the Galactic Council, the man had a presence
about him, a way of taking charge of a situation.
Zrinn did not doubt the other things the king had told him,
either. “Captain Rogers,
the charges leveled are, indeed, enough to declare war. King Meecros is
very willing to do that, but he is also generous and is also willing to
work out a compromise.”
right?” Buck was incredulous that this incident could so easily
evolve into such a farce.
“Captain, your insult to
the Princess Oralinn is no kidding matter.”
Buck said evenly. “What’s
going to happen the day the princess plays doctor with the pilot of a
shuttle and they fall into a vortex?
Is King Meecros going to declare war against the vortex?”
“It is out of your
hands, terran,” Zrinn snapped. “Your
admiral has already agreed to my king’s very generous terms.”
Buck jerked around and
gazed at Asimov. “What
terms?” he asked hesitantly. He
knew he wasn’t going to like this.
Zrinn answered, “His
Highness demands a personal apology to his daughter, himself and his
wife, the queen. And immediately thereafter, this ship will leave the
Buck’s eyes blazed in
indignation and anger as he again turned to the admiral.
“And you agreed to this?”
“We had no choice, Buck.
There are many lives at stake here.”
Buck drew back as though
slapped. His anger was
palpable and fierce. “Well,
it would seem as though I have no choice, either, although I would like
to say that Hell would freeze over first.”
His gaze rested on Wilma
and she cringed at the hurt she saw in his hazel eyes.
“Buck, I’m sorry.”
“I am, too,” he said
tersely, coldly. “It
seems that I have been sacrificed to satisfy the ego of a two-bit pocket
planet dictator.” He shifted his gaze back to Asimov with a quick glance to
Zrinn. “Since I am
currently under the auspices of the Defense Directorate, I will follow
the orders of my commander.” Buck
leaned forward and took a deep breath, his mind a maelstrom of anger,
frustration, helplessness and depression.
He wondered how much Asimov and Wilma had fought this and decided
he didn’t really want to know. He
gazed at Wilma, wondering why she would have allowed this at all and
then wondered how he could have a relationship with someone who could so
quickly toss him out to the dogs. Her
face showed sorrow and her eyes seemed to be trying to say something.
What, Buck didn’t know. Right
now he didn’t really care.
“Let me just say this.
When I finish with this farce, my resignation will be on your
desk and I will be out of here. The
door won’t be able to shut fast enough to catch me on the way out.”
Buck paused and drew himself to his full height.
“I thought that I was working with an organization that
believed in honor and in not giving in to the demands of terrorists at
the drop of a hat.” He
turned to Zrinn, wanting nothing more than to let his fist take the
smirk off of the ambassador’s face.
Without saying anything, Buck turned back to Asimov and Wilma.
She was next to him and laid her hand on his sleeve.
Buck shook it off.
“May I leave now,
Admiral, Colonel?” he asked. Asimov
nodded wearily, sighing, and Buck turned on his heel and left.
Stalking down the corridor, he only wanted to hit something,
Meecros first, Zrinn second, Orilinn over his knee third.
He remembered his days in the Air Force and knew that this would
never have happened back then. As
screwed up as the world was, the powers that be would have told someone
like Meecros to go to hell. He
paused in his thoughts. Or
would they? There had been deals brokered, but like this?
Buck shook his head, he didn’t know what to think.
What in the hell did Meecros have over the Admiral’s head? He
just kept walking aimlessly, padding the corridors of the ship, not
making eye contact with anyone, not answering greetings.
Right now, he just wanted to be alone, but for some reason, he
didn’t want to go to his cabin.
Buck found his steps
leading to the observation deck, which at this time of the day was
usually empty. As expected, there was no one in the room and he stood
watching the stars move slowly as the Searcher orbited high above
Endril. Thankfully, that
misbegotten planet wasn’t visible, Buck thought.
He heard a noise behind him, and from experience, he realized it
“What’s up, boss?”
the ambu-quad asked.
“Nothing I want to talk
about, Twiki,” Buck snapped.
“Uh, oh,” the drone
said. “You want me to leave?”
“For now, yes,” Buck
answered. He heard his metal friend clumping out of the room.
Even in his misery, he could not help but wonder at the
perceptiveness of the drone, who, when he first met him was merely a
‘gopher’ for members of the computer council.
With a sigh, Buck sat down and continued watching the stars.
He remembered the first time he had flown a starfighter and felt
amazement at the power of such a small craft.
He remembered the first time he had gone through a stargate,
visited another planet, seen a distant star up close.
He had been awed and almost overwhelmed, but he had gotten used
to it and had learned to love it.
After a while, Buck felt
restless and he got up, deciding to go to the launch bay and work on his
starfighter. While it was busy there, no one bothered him.
His starfighter sat to one side of the bay, next to Hawk’s
starfighter, which was reposed like the giant bird of prey it most
greatly resembled. Of
late, Buck had become fascinated with the inner workings of the compact
machine that was assigned to him. Like
he had done with Twiki, he wanted to see if there were modifications
that could be done to make his starfighter more responsive.
With a sigh, Buck realized that he would have no time to figure
out the various components of his craft.
Within a short time he would be gone.
He felt his frustration growing, a frustration that was firmly
linked to disappointment and feelings of humiliation.
Digging into the storage
compartment, he dug out the schematics compartment and his tools.
Normally, he relished his free time to get better acquainted with
his ship and its workings, but now it was merely something to try and
distract him from his anger. It
wasn’t working. He found
himself staring at the schematic in his hand without really seeing it.
“Buck,” a familiar
voice called out. Hawk.
“Before you begin
working on your fighter, can you help me here?”
“Sure,” Buck replied
“Hand me the relay
driver,” Hawk requested, his voice floating out from under the belly
of his craft.
Buck found the designated
tool and bent down to give it to his friend.
“Here,” Buck said.
Hawk pulled himself out
from under the fuselage of his ship and gazed at his friend without
taking the proffered tool. The
birdman looked around and seeing no one, said softly, “Buck, before I
met you, I had heard rumors of King Meecros and I think there is more to
this situation than the royal family being angry with a human pilot.”
“You know what just
happened?” Buck asked incredulous at his friend.
Hawk looked a bit puzzled. “Today?” he asked.
“No, but Twiki was just
in here and said that you were very unhappy about something.
I could only guess that it had to do with the incident on the
shuttle,” Hawk replied. “So
what has happened since then?”
Buck told him, leaving out
Hawk nodded and sighed.
“I am sorry, my friend. This
is a hard thing to accept and I believe I would have done exactly the
same thing. In fact, I
doubt seriously that I will stay here if you leave.”
He paused for a moment. “The
rumors I had heard along with what you have told me, lead me to believe
that the Endrillians might have been one of the suppliers of the weapons
that the human killers used to wipe out my people.”
Hawk took a deep breath, trying hard to control the anger that
was building inside. Buck’s
revelation had given him yet another clue to the destruction of his
people and he wished only to act upon it, but now was not the time.
Someday, he thought, but not now.
He gazed deeply into his friend’s eyes.
“I think you need to hear what Wilma and Admiral Asimov have to
say before you render a final judgment on what has happened.
I think there may be more to this than there appears to be.”
“Are you hinting at some
kind of ulterior subterfuge?” Buck asked, hoping for something,
anything that would make sense of all of this insanity.
“I do not know, but
patience and restraint may be in order.”
Hawk, Wilma and Asimov folded like a house of paper cards!” he
cried out. “They tossed
me out to hang in the wind like so much laundry.”
Buck began pacing in front of the starfighter.
He felt his anger growing again and he tried to clamp down on it. Tried to be fair. He
stopped in front of Hawk. “What
restraint? You’ve got to
“Just think about it,
Buck,” Hawk suggested as he took the tool from Buck’s hand.
“And think just how much trust you have had in Wilma.
Why should that change now?” he added.
“Just think about all of this without anger.” Hawk felt he might be saying this to himself as much as
to the tense and angry human in front of him.
Sighing in exasperation,
Buck acquiesced, “All right, I’ll think about it.”
He put away his tools and stalked out of the hanger, soon finding
himself in front of his cabin door without even being aware of the
journey. The door slid open
and he walked into the small suite of rooms that served as his quarters
while on the Searcher. He hoped he would find some measure of solace here, but
somehow, he didn’t think so.