Journeys of the Mind
Buck straightened up from his search in the closet. Twiki stumped in. “Hi, Buck! What’s up?” The door slid shut behind him.
“I see you are keeping yourself well occupied,” Theopolis said. “May I ask what your purpose is in this research?”
Buck peered suspiciously
at the quad. “You
monitoring my computer searches?” he asked.
“I have been monitoring all unusual computer activity. It is part of the surveillance being done to see if there is anything that might help us find out where Erik Kormand is,” the quad explained.
It made sense, Buck
thought, even if it did irritate him.
And he had spent several hours researching Erik Kormand.
“Any luck other than catching me being curious?”
“Yes, a transmission between the Titan and the Searcher. Then a transmission to Cronis from the Titan,” Theopolis replied. “Both of those came last night about this time.”
“Ah, so someone was pumping one of the Searcher’s crewmembers and then sending the information to the Galactic Council,” Buck surmised. He walked over and sat back down at the computer.
“Yes, Buck, that was my thought,” Theopolis said.
“And did you also think
that I might be in league?”
The computer councilman
blinked for a few seconds before answering.
“No, but such activity usually means that you have some kind of
a plan,” Theopolis said. “Or
an idea of a plan.”
The quads’ timing couldn’t have been worse.
Maybe. If he
hadn’t spent two plus days on this ship and seen the genuine caring
and friendship of the members of the Searcher’s crew, he would
have been suspicious of their motives.
But he knew that these people, and that included the quads, had
no ulterior motives concerning him.
If anything, they were overly solicitous toward his condition.
He had been told that the ambu-quad, Twiki, was almost devoted to
him, while the computer councilman had been his staunchest supporter
from the outset of his tenure in this century.
He decided that he had little choice but to trust them. “Yeah, I have some kind of a plan. Sort of.”
“What do you have in mind, Buck,” Theopolis said.
“You usually call me Theo,” the computer councilman said.
“Well, Theo, I happen to know where Kormand is.”
“Great news, Buck!” Twiki cried out.
“Not so loud, Twiki!”
“That is welcome
news, Buck,” Theo agreed. “How
did you come to that conclusion?”
“I remembered something that Sreena, his sister, said before they sent me out like a lamb to the slaughter,” he said. “Something about caves in a nearby plateau.”
“So that is what you were studying in the computer files,” Theo said.
“We must tell Colonel
Alvarez and Admiral Asimov immediately,” Theo declared.
“No!” Buck said
sharply. “We can’t.”
“Why not?” Theo and Twiki said together.
Why not, indeed, Buck
thought. Was it just pride? Or
was there a really serious danger that others might be in by going after
Kormand enmasse? Maybe a
bit of both. “Look,
first of all, I think that one person can go in and find Kormand easier
and with less chance of bloodshed than a large group.”
Buck got up and began to pace.
He noted wryly that he seemed to be doing a lot of that lately.
“I can go in fast and low.
Then I go through the caves by stealth, take out the guards and
“That would be too
risky,” Theo said.
“Theo, listen to me! Kormand has destroyed too many people. He has to be taken without anyone else being hurt.”
“And you have personal reasons as well,” Theo suggested.
Was that it, he asked
himself? Well, so what if he did!
“That is a maze down there.
Do you have any idea how much time Kormand would have to escape
if a large force deployed down there?
Or how many booby traps he could set up if he got wind that a
troop of Council marines was coming after him?”
He glared at the quad. “You
and I both know that the likelihood of that happening is greater the
more people know about an operation like that.
I don’t have to have my memory to know that.
It’s just common sense.”
“Buck, I cannot let you go do this alone. You need help,” Theo argued. “You have been in those caves, but you don’t remember. The chances of you finding him in a warren of caves like that plateau has before you are discovered is very remote.”
“Theo, I’m doing
this,” Buck said angrily. He
kept pacing, more to gain control of his emotions than anything else. He
wasn’t successful. The idea that he was finally able to do something and then
would be thwarted by a pile of nuts and bolts angered him beyond
measure. He kept
remembering what Wilma had told him; and he kept seeing the anguish in
her eyes as she was retelling the sordid events of her night in hell.
“Kormand has to be stopped and I’m going to do it.
He will not do to anyone else what he did to Wilma or me.”
“Buck, if you do not
listen to reason, I will contact the admiral right now,” Theo said
firmly. “You cannot go
alone. That would be
tantamount to suicide.” He
paused to let his words sink in. “I
do not know exactly what happened to Wilma, but I know it was bad.
I agree that Kormand must be stopped, but going in without a
clear plan, or clear thinking and going in without someone to back you
up is not the answer.”
Buck glared at both quads. Twiki wisely said nothing. As he thought about Theo’s words, Buck realized that he was working under revenge lust. He simply wanted Kormand’s neck in his hands right now. Looking down, Buck realized that his hands were clenched so tightly into fists that they hurt. With a sigh, he forced his thoughts to calmness. Theo was right; he could accomplish nothing unless he was clear-headed and composed.
“If you took Hawk, you would drastically increase your chances of success,” Theo said soothingly. “Hawk has been in the caves, too.”
Would Hawk be willing to help him? Somehow, he thought the birdman would. “All right, but no one else, Theo.” If a machine could sigh, Buck could have sworn that Theo was doing just that. Turning to the ambu-quad, Buck said, “Twiki, do you think you could persuade Hawk to come to my cabin? It’s kind of late.”
“Just say the word, boss,” Twiki quipped.
“I’m saying the word. Now!”
“Keep your shirt on, Buck,” Twiki replied testily and he turned toward the door.
“Uh, Theo, I would like you to stay here, please,” Buck said as Twiki turned to leave.
“Buck, even though I think what you are planning is completely outrageous and highly dangerous you can trust me not to say anything, at least not right now.”
Buck blinked in surprise. That had not been his primary concern for Theo staying, but it was something that had occurred to him. “Well, no offense, but the thought did cross my mind. I have spent a week with Erik Kormand and his cronies, you know.” He paused. “Actually, though, I was interested in more information.”
“No offense taken,
Buck,” Theo said evenly. “Twiki, please leave me on Captain
As Twiki turned to leave, the door opened, admitting Hawk.
Hawk took a quick glance at Buck and the quads and asked, “What are you planning?”
Buck didn’t even take time to wonder at the birdman’s appearance before even being summoned, he got right to the point. “I know where Kormand is and I have every intention of finding and either capturing him, or killing him in the attempt.”
“I believe I know where he is as well.”
“Yes, Buck. Someplace that should have occurred to me earlier.” Hawk paused. “Caves near his compound.”
“No wonder we’re such good friends,” Buck said with a smile. “We think so much alike.” He motioned for Hawk to join him at the computer. “There.” Buck pointed to the plateau on the map. “I remembered Kormand’s sister saying something about caves nearby and these are the only ones in the vicinity.”
“I have been there, which is why I should have figured that he would be there. His last communiqué threw me off.”
“Yes, I know you have.
Theo said I have, too, but I simply don’t remember.
I would have preferred going it alone, but I am more or less
compromising because Theo threatened to tell if I did.”
“In this case, I agree with Dr. Theopolis,” Hawk began. Buck started to protest, but Hawk cut him off. “I have to agree that going alone would be foolish. Those caves are a labyrinth. But I think the two of us could infiltrate efficiently and quietly.”
“And Asimov and Alvarez come in later to take care of the new Death Machine,” Buck added.
“Death Machine?” Hawk asked. “I thought that had been destroyed.”
“I think Kormand was working on it or something similar in his compound. There were parts of the compound that were off limits to me, including a section that was below ground.”
“Yes, Hawk,” Theo interjected. “I have been looking at the information Buck pulled up and concur with his deductions. I believe Kormand is, indeed, assembling another death machine.”
“We need to go tonight, now, Hawk,” Buck said. “Go in low and fast and get that . . . uh, get Kormand before he can assemble his machine and use it.”
“My ship has a camouflaging device. It uses a great deal of fuel but we can go in virtually undetected. And I have the necessary equipment to go into those caves.”
“Great! We’ll go as soon as I change into something more suitable,” Buck said. He got up and strode purposefully to his closet where he pulled out some dark clothes. Soon he was ready.
“I will take care of the guard here,” Hawk said with a slight smile. “They decided that there was need for only one guard this time of night.”
Buck nodded and turning to Theo and Twiki, said, “Give us several hours if we don’t contact you first.”
“Very well, Buck,” Theo said.
Buck waited beyond sight of the guard as Hawk left the room. There was a grunt of surprise and then a soft thud of a body hitting the floor. As Buck looked out, he saw Hawk dragging the unconscious guard into his cabin.
“I believe your
instructions to Twiki and Dr. Theopolis will not be necessary, Buck.
The alarm will be raised as soon as this man is found missing,”
Hawk observed, matter-of-factly.
“True, but only Theo and Twiki will be able to let Admiral Asimov know exactly where we are,” Buck replied. He turned to Twiki. “Can you tie him up and gag him for me?”
“You bet, Buck.”
“You will stay in communication, Buck?” Theo said.
“At least with each other,” Buck said and he and Hawk turned to leave the cabin. “Oh, and Twiki, you stand guard in case someone comes before we’ve been gone for a couple of hours. If they ask, tell them the regular guard had to go to the bathroom or something.” Twiki just chuckled.
The corridors were deserted, being very early morning, ship’s time, and the two friends quickly made it to the hanger bay before meeting anyone.
A lone workman was near Hawk’s starfighter and Buck walked nonchalantly up to him. His eyes grew large and he began to sputter. “You . . . Captain . . . you are under….” His words were cut off as Hawk hit him from behind. The man slid unconscious to the ground and Buck dragged him to a storage closet where he let the younger man lay in quiet repose.
Soon the pair was in
Hawk’s starfighter, Hawk in front, Buck calling out the pre-flight
checklist from the back.
“Hawk ready for patrol.
Starting launch sequence,” he said into his communicator.
“But you’re not scheduled for launch, Hawk,” the puzzled voice said.
“You are mistaken, Lieutenant. It is on my roster,” Hawk said authoritatively. “Launching.” And with a touch at the throttle, his craft shot forward and up into space. Hawk flew past the Titan, which hung off their port bow, but before the communicator could do more than crackle, Hawk had engaged the camouflaging unit and shut off his communicator. Mendalis loomed ahead of them.
“That was slick, Hawk,
very, very slick,” Buck said with a laugh.
“That was the easy
part.” There was silence
as they approached the planet and then Hawk asked, “Do you have a
“Just stealth and perseverance,” Buck said grimly. “Go in, take out a few of the outer perimeter guards and find Kormand. If one of his men is cooperative, then we get lucky. If not, it may be a long haul.”
“There are night lenses in the compartment by your right leg as well as an extra laser pistol,” Hawk said.
“You did have every contingency covered, didn’t you?” Buck asked in admiration as he pulled out the supplies and checked the charge of the laser pistol. As he expected, it was almost full.
“I was prepared to have
a passenger if I had to go into the caves again to try and find you,”
“Thanks, Hawk,” Buck said softly as they dipped into the outer atmosphere and arrowed toward Zeron and the plateau where Erik Kormand was hiding.