Journeys of the Mind

 

Chapter 32

 

 

 

Chapter Thirty-two

 

Home Sweet Home?

 

 

 

 

Kormand paced the confines of the cave, muttering angrily, and gazing morosely at the rough stone ceiling that he had banged his head on too many times already.  “Any word?” he asked. 

Several of his confederates shook their heads.  “It’s too soon yet, General,” Drishell said.  “We’ve only been here for a couple of days.”

“We should have at least heard from our councilman.” 

“Any news from Cronis will take at least another day,” Drishel said.  “The Titan seems to be concentrating on Brix, which is good.” 

“Yes, at least that planted lead worked,” Kormand agreed. 

“Even though those on the Titan and the Searcher are very tight-lipped with their communications, we should be able to get something from Cronis soon,” Drishell said.  “And hopefully then we can begin to move out.” 

Kormand smiled briefly.  “In the Relis quadrant I can rebuild and plan my revenge against those who have set back the cause.”  Kormand began pacing and then stopped and looked at his subordinate again.  “And resistance to the Titan’s efforts?”

“From what our courier said this morning, the Galactic representatives are getting little or no cooperation in their efforts to find you, General,” Drishell replied.

“Good, then perhaps it was almost time to leave here anyway.”

“Yes,” Drishell agreed.

“But Wilma Deering and all her friends will pay for this . . . this humiliation,” Kormand growled.  “Hiding in caves.  And in caves that once held aliens.”

 

    

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The next morning, Buck was awakened by a chime that first impinged into vague dreams and then brought him to partial awareness.  He tried to ignore it, but the noise repeated itself.  As he sat up, rubbing the sleep from his eyes, the door slid open revealing Hawk.   He grumbled good-naturedly, “Can’t a person get some sleep around here?”

Hawk studied Buck for a moment before saying anything, gratified that many of his friend’s personality traits were still in evidence.  Finally, “Come, they will soon be closing the mess hall and then you will have to eat that prepackaged food that you have professed to love so much.” 

Buck sighed, remembering the night before.  While everyone at the admiral’s get-together had been friendly, they also seemed overly solicitous, at least in his mind’s eye.  Only Hawk had seemed totally natural, if regal self-control was the birdman’s natural demeanor, which he had no doubt was.   As he got up from his bed, Buck suddenly found himself remembering everything he had done in Kormand’s compound, comparing it to the vid-disk that was made of that time with Kormand.  He felt anger, a hot righteous anger of someone who had been violated and used.  But he wondered about Sreena.  Was everything she had done been part of the scam, he wondered?   Buck couldn’t help but think that Sreena had been frightened about something.  Her brother?   Buck shook his head.  She was gone now, back into whatever hole Erik Kormand had slunk into.  So even though he wished he could talk to her alone, away from her brother’s influence, there was nothing to be done about it now.  He didn’t even know his status with the Galactic Council.  

Yawning and stretching, he padded toward the bathroom.  Then Buck remembered what Hawk had said.  “You were being facetious, right?” he asked over his shoulder.

Hawk had wondered if Buck would pick up what Wilma, interestingly enough, had begun referring to as ‘Buck-isms’.   

“Yes, Buck, and I totally agree with you.  The prepackaged meals are one step below edible fare,” Hawk replied, his attempt at his friend’s style of levity meeting with a chuckle. 

Soon they were on their way to the dining area.  Buck perused the selections and finally chose something, that while not matching Kormand’s lavish style settings, looked appetizing nonetheless.  Something inside seemed to instinctively tell him that the scrambled eggs, toast and coffee were things he liked.   He sat down with Hawk and was sipping his coffee when Wilma breezed in.  She sat down across from him. 

“Did you sleep well?” she asked. 

“Yes, I did,” came the response.  “Didn’t have to worry about what was coming next.”  

She looked at him curiously.  

“I always kind of wondered, in Kormand’s compound, what might be coming each day.  It was as though he was trying to stuff each day full of things.  While everyone treated me with a certain amount of deference, I still felt that undercurrent of . . . I don’t know exactly what it was.  I always felt like I was walking on eggshells with Kormand.”  He sipped his coffee and nonchalantly said, “Now I know what a turkey in October must feel like.”  

“What do you mean, Buck?” Wilma asked, puzzled. 

Buck thought and then wondered at his last words.  He couldn’t pull anything else up from his memory.  “I don’t know.  It just came out, but I don’t know what it means.”  He just shrugged.  “But I know now that part of what I was feeling down there was the fact that I was being set up, but I wonder if some of it was, or is the amnesia.”  He studied the other two for a moment.  “I mean, I feel much more comfortable here than I did down there on Mendalis, but still….”   He shook his head and ate his breakfast while the others talked about the day’s upcoming events.  

As he finished, Wilma asked, “Would you like the grand tour this morning?” 

Buck nodded.  “Yes, very much so.  Seemed like quite a large ship from space.”   Between them, Hawk and Wilma, Buck saw the entire ship, stem to stern by the end of the ship’s day.  Finally, shortly before dinner, Wilma took Buck to the observation deck where they stood and watched the stars wheeling above them.  Entranced, Buck totally forgot his surroundings as he gazed through the view screen.   He felt surrounded by stars, by space itself, wrapping itself around him in a dark velvet cocoon.   It was silly, but he wanted to reach out and touch it. 

Wilma saw his awe struck expression and knew it was more than just the beauty of celestial grandeur as shown off by the large view screen.  She could only imagine it was an almost childlike wonder, something newly discovered.  Wilma remembered the first time her father took her into space and she stood at a viewing window like this one.  “You once told me about a time when you were a boy and you were out in the country,” Wilma began softly.   When Buck said nothing, she continued.  “You said it was cold enough to see your breath, but you laid down on the grass anyway and watched the stars and picked out the constellations.  You saw a satellite; I believe you said.  Then you saw a meteorite streaking across the sky, almost from one horizon to the other.” 

“I can imagine that I forgot about the cold if it was as beautiful as this,” Buck murmured.  A large nebula filled a corner of the view screen, seemingly pulsating in vibrant colors of gold, blue and red.   “Is it always this exciting?   Do you feel you could reach out and touch the stars?”

“It was that way the first time I went into space.  But I was only six then.  From what I understand, you didn’t truly go into space until your mission.” 

“Yes, Dr. Golden told me a little of my background.   Hard to believe that I’m over five hundred years old,” Buck said, finally pulling his eyes away from the grandeur above and before him.   “If what he told me is true, something like this, when I was a child, was only part of one’s dreams.” 

“Yes, the dreams of a boy lying out on the grass on a cold night.  Dreams that would take a man to the stars someday,” Wilma said quietly.  “I think that is a lot of what you are feeling now.”

“Because I have forgotten,” he added.  

Nodding, Wilma said, “I would guess that would make this totally new to you.”

“But some things aren’t like that,” he said, puzzled.  “Some things, like knowing how to knock those troopers sideways to yesterday came quite naturally.”

“You were in high gear then, Buck.  You weren’t even thinking; you were reacting,” she suggested.  “It was like an instinctive response.”

“That’s comforting,” he said, his voice filled with self-deprecation.   Sighing, he touched the smooth surface in front of him.  “That I could forget such beauty as this and yet, the bestial comes naturally.” 

Laying her hand on his arm, Wilma said earnestly, “Buck, what happened on Mendalis was drug induced.  That was the way you were supposed to react.  Kormand wanted you killed or executed for murder.  But even with the drug-induced psychoses, you acted with restraint, resisting the urge to kill innocent women and children.  There were witnesses that gave testimony of that.”  She paused to gather in her thoughts.   Buck was struggling, even now, with feelings of self-doubt and guilt, emotions fed by the loss of identity.  She saw how very important it was for her to reassure him, to let him feel how much she trusted and believed in him.   “Believe me, the beauty hasn’t been lost.   There is so much of your personality that shows past the barrier that has locked your memories.   I noticed that almost immediately.”  He was silent, looking back out at the stars, then he turned to gaze deeply into her eyes.   “There are so many wonderful personality markers that mere amnesia can’t destroy,” she added. 

He laid a hand on hers and felt the warmth of her caring.  “Thanks,” Buck said, his voice husky with emotion.   He felt stirrings inside him, feelings of intense attraction to this woman.  Whatever his relationship with Wilma Deering before, he felt very much drawn to her now.   And yet, he didn’t know what he could do with those feelings or how far he could go.   

A slight throat clearing sound alerted both of them to another person.  Buck felt the spell that the stars and the woman beside him had almost put him under, dissipate and he looked up and saw Hawk.  

“Dr. Goodfellow asked me to escort you to the med bay, Buck,” the birdman said.  “He’s required to run another blood test.” 

“Another one?” Buck asked.  “I don’t think I have anything left to give.”  

Hawk gave a brief smile.  “You have no choice.  Dr. Golden thinks the stimulants are finally out of your system, but a test is the only way to make sure.” 

Buck snorted in derision.  “If I pass, do I get to lose the goon who’s been my shadow all day?” he asked, pointing to the guard trying to be discreet just outside the observation room door. 

Wilma glanced at the young lieutenant, who was, indeed, trying to be nonchalant.  “I don’t think he’s enjoying it very much either.  And you have to remember, you are still under suspicion of treasonous activities, even if we all know how false they are,” she replied.  Again, she saw so much of the old Buck in his behavior; so much that must be so close to the surface.   “Regardless, you should probably go see Dr. Goodfellow.”

“Yeah, sure, I guess I’m good for another pint,” Buck said with a shrug of the shoulders. 

When the trio arrived at the medical facility, Buck found a virtual welcoming committee there, including Admiral Asimov, Colonel Alvarez, and Dr. Golden, Dr. Goodfellow, Lt. Arrans and a technician.   Dr. Golden had the equipment ready for the blood sample.  

“You don’t waste time, do you, Doc?” Buck asked with a smile.  Twiki trundled out from the lab, Dr. Theopolis around his neck.  The drone put the small quad on the table next to Buck, who was wondering why there were so many people for a simple blood test.  The look on Wilma’s face showed that she was equally puzzled. 

“I gather that you had an enjoyable day, Buck,” Theo said. 

“Yeah,” Buck said, grimacing slightly as Dr. Golden found a place to extract a vial of blood.  “But I sure hope this is the last one you need Doc.  I’m beginning to feel like a pincushion.” 

“I see you have regained your sense of humor,” Theo said.  

“Have to have something, the way I have been poked and prodded, examined and interrogated,” he replied in mock exasperation.

Arrans cleared his throat and Buck looked up at him expectantly.  “We have a favor to ask of you,” the lieutenant said.

“What is it?” Buck asked, again wondering what was going on, especially when the technician was dismissed and the ever-present guard sent outside to watch. 

“We have not been able to find Erik Kormand yet,” Arrans began. 

“I could have told you he was wily as a weasel and more slippery than ice,” Buck replied with a frown.

“We feel he’s being hidden by his compatriots in Brix,” Theo added. 

Buck glanced at the quad and then at the rest of the assemblage.  “I would like nothing more than to go down and personally capture that son of a….”  He glanced at Wilma and paused, somewhat embarrassed.  Apparently cursing was something easily remembered, too, he thought.  He cleared his throat and said, “Anyway, I don’t think that’s what you have in mind.” 

“No, Buck,” Arrans said.  “Colonel Alvarez wants to use you to try and flush Kormand out of hiding.”

“How?” Buck asked dubiously.  

“We want to send word to the council that we have found enough evidence to convict you of treason,” Arrans replied. 

Buck scowled at Arrans, suddenly irritated and frustrated.  “Look, I have never been told just what my status in all this situation is; not in simple phrases anyway.”  

“There is clearly nothing that indicates a willing and treasonous affiliation with Eric Kormand, Buck,” Arrans said.  

“Okay, then explain just what this grand plan entails and what you hope to accomplish.” 

“We believe there is someone in the Galactic Council who is in league with Erik Kormand and his ‘Human Rights’ organization,” Arrans explained.  

“And by getting word to the council you get word to Kormand,” Buck interjected.

“Exactly and whoever this individual is will be quick to get word to Kormand.  In turn, Kormand, feeling a bit more cocky and sure of himself, will be more likely to send messages as well.” 

“And you will be able to pick up some of those messages,” Buck said. 

“Yes, Buck, we hope so,” Alvarez replied.  

“All right, but isn’t that a long shot?” 

“Kormand went to a lot of trouble to set you up, Buck,” Asimov said.  He appeared a bit uncomfortable and Buck began having bad feelings about this conversation. 

“True,” Buck replied.

“Buck, I personally feel like this is taking a great deal of advantage of you,” Asimov continued, his voice tentative.  

“Hell, Kormand took a great deal of advantage of me,” Buck said angrily.  He looked at Asimov and then at Alvarez.  “So what do you want me to do?”

“Really nothing, Captain.  But in order to make this look authentic you will be placed under close arrest,” Alvarez said.

 

 

 

 

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