Journeys of the Mind

 

Chapter 36

 

 

 

Chapter Thirty-six

 

Into the Valley of the Shadow of Death

 

 

 

“Thanks for sticking your neck out for me,” Buck said softly.

“Sticking my neck out?” Hawk asked and then before Buck could say anything added.  “Ah, I understand.  Believe me, Buck, it is also personal.  If I had thought of where Kormand was, I would have been searching those caves several days ago.  I made a vow that I would get Erik Kormand for what he did to my people.”  There was a pause.  “And that includes you and Wilma as well.  You are my people now.”

Buck said nothing for a moment, deeply touched by Hawk’s statement.  “I only hope that you don’t get into a lot of trouble on my account.”

“Buck, if I was going to get into trouble ‘on your account,’ it would have happened a long time ago.”  

“Am I that dangerous to be around?”

“You ask a question like that now?” Hawk asked dryly.

Buck smiled.  “Touché . . . I guess.” 

“I am landing near the base of the plateau closest to the large entrance.  It would make sense that the bulk of Erik Kormand’s men and materials would be there.” 

“You’re the boss,” Buck said.

“And besides, that is closest to his compound.” 

Even with the camouflaging equipment, Hawk came in fast and low, only slowing when they were within seven klicks of the base of the plateau.  Both men saw evidence of continued occupation of Kormand’s compound by some of Titan’s men, but they paid scant attention to it, their real goal ahead of them.   Hawk landed deftly in a small clearing near the base of the plateau.  Working together, Buck and Hawk pulled brush and branches over the birdlike starship and then began hiking up a narrow path toward the caves. 

“You know, everyone could have been more considerate and found caves closer to the ground,” Buck puffed quietly during a short break.

“You have been living too lavishly lately, Buck,” Hawk countered, his breathing only slightly faster than normal.   They continued and within an hour found themselves peering into the dark interior of the cavern.  

Buck adjusted his night lenses and then motioned to his friend.  Two guards were standing near each other, talking softly. 

After another hand signal, Buck dashed along the cave wall to a point just behind the two men.  He tapped one on the shoulder.  When the man turned, he got Buck’s fist in his face.  Before the other man could utter a sound, Hawk had knocked him unconscious.  The two men continued down the main corridor, the only one leading from the large cavern.  They only met two other men until they came to a major split in the route.  There several men stood talking softly.  The soft glow of their small lanterns danced on the walls.

Hawk pulled Buck back.  “We will have to take them out with our lasers,” he whispered.

“So much for trying to get our information the easy way,” Buck whispered back. 

“Let us just do it and trust to luck.” 

“Right,” Buck said, pulling his weapon out from his belt.  “Now.”  They both leaped forward in the near darkness and shot all three men into unconsciousness before they even knew anyone was there.

Quickly Hawk and Buck examined the three men lying together in a heap.  Buck recognized all of them as close confederates of Erik Kormand and said as much to Hawk. 

“I used minimum stun on this one,” Hawk said, dragging one away from the other two.  He shook the unconscious man gently then more vigorously as the prisoner started moaning in a return of wakefulness. 

When the man’s eyes opened, Buck said, “Hello, Orlis, remember me?  Kormand’s sacrificial lamb?”    Orlis struggled to get up, but Buck’s hand shot out and seized him by the throat.  “Where is Erik?”

“I don’t know.” 

“Orlis, you can do better than that,” Buck said, squeezing a bit tighter.  “You know, I’m not too happy about the way Erik took advantage of me.  Don’t particularly like the way he treated my friends either.  Kind of put me in a rotten mood.”

“Really.   Don’t know,” Orlis wheezed, and then he saw Buck’s eyes become even harder.  “Brandt, I swear, I don’t.  He hates the caves.  Can’t relax, always roaming.”

Buck saw compliance in the man’s eyes and released him.  “I sincerely hope you’re not lying to me, or Hawk or I will be back to reckon with you, Orlis.”  The frightened man nodded.   “Oh, and the name’s Buck Rogers.  Get it straight.  I wouldn’t want you to forget me.”  Again, Orlis nodded, his fear tangible.

As Buck got up, Hawk shot the prisoner with his laser.  “He will be out longer this time.”

“Good,” Buck said, looking down both corridors.  He pondered a moment.  “What’s in that direction?” 

“There was a meeting chamber and living quarters,” Hawk replied, realizing that his friend was trying very hard to determine where best to find Kormand. 

“I’ll go that way then,” he said, pointing toward the living quarters, “and you go the other,” Buck said.   “But be careful, that has to be where they are putting together that machine.”

Hawk studied Buck with his dark, piercing eyes before saying anything.  He knew that splitting up was dangerous, but leaving a way for Kormand’s men to corner them from another direction was also dangerous.  “Very well.  Be careful, Buck.” 

Nodding, Buck turned and strode purposefully down the corridor, relying on his hearing and the night lenses to warn him of anyone approaching.  Light ahead forced him to slow his pace considerably.  Buck wished he could remember his time here, but he couldn’t and it was something he could do nothing about.  He paused and listened, hearing footsteps.  They didn’t seem to coming toward him, nor did they seem to be going away.  Buck carefully continued down the corridor, straining to hear, straining to see . . . and came face to face with Glindon, one of Kormand’s techs.

“You!” he hissed, recognizing Buck, despite the lenses and dimness of the corridor. 

“Yeah, me,” Buck responded as he rabbit punched the tech in the nose.  Grasping him around the neck as he had Orlis, Buck shoved him against the cold, hard rock wall.  “Where’s Erik?” he hissed.

Glindon struggled until Buck shoved his laser into the man’s ribs.  “Kormand, where is he?”   Glindon only rolled his eyes in fear and Buck knew that the man was more afraid of his boss than he was of anything the terran might do to him.  Buck fired the laser and the tech slumped to the floor unconscious.  At that moment, two more of Kormand’s men rounded the bend of the corridor and stopped stock still in shock when they saw him.  Buck grinned wryly.  It had been going too smoothly, too quietly.  His good fortune had to end eventually. 

Before the first could do more than gasp, Buck had hit him directly with a laser blast.  The second was reaching for something on his belt and Buck’s laser hit him squarely in the chest as well.   A voice called further up the corridor, one that seemed to come closer for a minute and then stop.  Buck plastered himself to the rock wall and waited, almost holding his breath.  An individual came into view, wearing night lenses like himself and Buck exploded into action, kicking the pistol out of the man’s hand and then lunging forward.  Buck couldn’t tell who this man was, but that he was better trained was evident.  Kormand’s man danced out of the way and landed a blow to the side of his jaw that made his vision waver for a brief moment.  Buck was barely able to duck the next blow, but he managed to shift his weight and kick the man in the ribs.  As his antagonist was gasping in pain, Buck grabbed him by the back of his jacket and shoved him head first against the wall.  With a soft groan, Kormand’s man slumped to the ground.  

Buck shook his head to clear it and then worked his way forward again, slower, even more carefully.  He stopped just outside a large chamber that was brightly lit, enough so that Buck had to pull the night lenses down to hang around his neck.  He listened.  

“So the courier says that they are going to try Rogers for treason.”

Erik Kormand! Buck thought exultantly.  Pay dirt.  Remotely Buck registered his use of yet another term from his past, but he dismissed it quickly, needing to concentrate on matters before him, namely Erik Kormand.  

“I was beginning to wonder,” Kormand continued.  “And what about my compound?  And Asher?”

“Still some of Titan’s people around, but fewer.  Still some nosing around in Brix and Asher, too.  But I think they are tiring of it all.  Getting discouraged.”

Drishel, Buck identified the voice. 

“I hope so.  This damnable cave is going to drive me crazy.  I want to know as soon as there are few enough so I can leave this hell hole,” Kormand said, his voice angry and agitated. 

“Yes, sir,” Drishel said. 

Buck heard his footsteps going away, presumably out of the chamber.  Then he heard Kormand pacing and muttering.  There were no other voices.  When Kormand’s steps seemed to be heading away, Buck ventured a glance into the chamber and saw Kormand pacing near the far side of the chamber. 

Buck ducked back when the ‘human rights’ leader turned to pace back toward him.  There had been no one else with Kormand, but there were also at least two other corridors leading away from this chamber.  Someone could come through at anytime.   Somehow, though, Buck doubted there were very many of Kormand’s followers here in the caves with him, only the closest members of his organization and the death machine scientists and technicians, and it was imperative to capture Kormand—now!  There would probably not be a better opportunity.  However, getting Kormand out after capture might prove more difficult than it had been for he and Hawk to get in. Worry about that later, he admonished himself.   And realistically, Buck realized that the longer they stayed, the better the chance of discovery.  

Buck looked at his watch.  Theo and Twiki would have told Admiral Asimov about the little sortie by now and reinforcements would be on the way.  There was nothing more to consider.  It had to be done now.  The footsteps seemed to be heading away again.  As much as Buck wanted to physically punish Kormand, as much as he wanted to shove his fist into Kormand’s face, he knew that it would be much more risk free to simply stun him.  Buck stepped out of the corridor with his pistol raised, but somehow Kormand had sensed a presence and was facing him.  Kormand’s pistol blazed even as Buck’s did.  And as he fired, Buck leaped to the side.  But Kormand’s aim was a bit surer and the terran’s laser pistol was knocked from his hand.   With his arm tingling from the jolt and Kormand’s laser pointing directly at him, Buck was immediately put on the defensive.  He rolled to the ground as Kormand fired again and kicked out from his prone position, sending Kormand’s pistol flying.  Immediately Buck was on his feet, crouched to defend himself.  Kormand was no less quick, lunging with his fists ready. 

Both men said nothing, intent on the fight and on each other, intent on winning.  Intent on surviving.

Buck blocked the first punch and deflected the second, then deployed a kick-boxing move that had Kormand gasping in pain.  Taking advantage, Buck followed with two more kicks, the last one square to Kormand’s solar plexus, bringing the ‘human rights’ leader to his knees.  Immediately, Buck was crouched beside Kormand, his knee against the back of the man’s neck, shoving him to the rough, uneven ground.  “We are going to walk out here nice and easy, Kormand,” Buck hissed in the man’s ear.  

Kormand struggled.  “Never,” he gasped. 

Buck had known that would be the answer Kormand would give him.  He looked around desperately for his pistol or something, anything to tie Kormand with, but there was nothing.  The pistol lay a few feet away, but it might as well be a few hundred feet.  Buck cocked his fist back to knock Kormand unconscious, but was thrown slightly off balance when Kormand jerked his body off the ground.  Kormand raised up again and half turned over as Buck tried to regain his advantage.  Suddenly red-hot pain lanced up and down his leg and he cried out involuntarily.  The pain continued and Buck glanced down to see Kormand’s fist tightly curled around the hilt of a knife that was buried in his thigh.  How the hell…?

Kormand twisted the knife and Buck cried out again as he felt the blade grate against his femur.  It was like white-hot fire and his breath shuddered in his throat.  Without thinking, he struck out with his fist and caught Kormand just under his ear, causing him to release the knife.  Kormand fell away half-dazed and Buck struggled to reach Kormand’s laser pistol only a few feet away.  He felt his leg muscles spasm, the pain come in waves, but he tried to ignore it as he desperately grabbed for the weapon.   Just as his fingers touched the butt of the pistol, an angry growl caused him to look up.  Kormand had another one of his knives poised to arc toward his head.  Buck pulled the pistol toward him, but he knew he wouldn’t have time to use it.

 

 

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“They did what?!!” a still sleepy and thoroughly agitated Asimov cried out. 

“Buck and Hawk went down to the planet to capture Kormand,” Theo repeated.  A sheepish and still slightly groggy guard stood behind the quads. 

“Now how in the hell did they think they could capture Kormand, when the total combined efforts of our crew and the Titan’s couldn’t?” 

“Buck remembered something he heard in the sleaze ball’s compound,” Twiki interjected.  

“He asked me to tell you and Colonel Alvarez after three hours had elapsed,” Theo explained.  “It has been exactly two hours and fifty-nine and a half minutes since they left.” 

“Where did they go?” 

“The plateau that Hawk explored,” Theo replied.  

While they had been talking, Asimov had been pulling on his uniform.  He couldn’t believe that the solution to Kormand’s whereabouts was so simple.  He also couldn’t believe that Buck, in his condition, and Hawk would do something so foolish.  Then he remembered with whom he was dealing and sighed.  “Get Colonel Deering.  I’ll contact the Titan.”  

“Right, Admiral,” Twiki said.  The ambu-quad stumped out of the room as quickly as he could.

 

 

 

 

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