Journeys of the Mind

 

Chapter Three

 

 

 

Chapter Three

Betrayal

 

 

 

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 out.   

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.”  

“Captain Rogers 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 crew’s lives. 

“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.

Asimov’s shoulders 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 Meecros’ terms.”  

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 minutes.   

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 war.”  

“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?”

Zrinn bristled.  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.”  

“You’re kidding, 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.”  

“Ambassador Zrinn,” 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 Endrillian system.”  

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 was Twiki. 

“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.

“Yeah, Hawk?”  

“Before you begin working on your fighter, can you help me here?”  

“Sure,” Buck replied noncommittally.   

“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.  

“Yes.”  

“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 nothing.    

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.”  

“Restraint?  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 be kidding!” 

“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. 

 

 

 

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