Journeys of the Mind

 

Chapter 37

 

 

 

 

Chapter Thirty-seven

…And Out Again

 

   

 

Once Twiki had awakened her, it took Wilma exactly five minutes to get dressed and less than a minute to get on the bridge. 

By then Asimov had contacted the Titan.  “They are sending five fighters and a shuttle down, Wilma.  I want you to go down, too.” 

“I would like to take Twiki and Theo as well,” she said.  “To get the background of all this.” 

The admiral was nodding even as Wilma was heading out the door, leaving Twiki and Theo behind.  

“Hey, wait for me!” the robot called out.  He was ignored. 

“Hurry, Twiki, we must get there before Wilma finishes her preflight checks,” Theo added. 

“Yeah and I bet it won’t take her long,” Twiki grumbled as he trundled down the corridor as fast as his mechanical legs would carry him. 

It didn’t take long for the six fighters and one shuttle to make it to the plateau.  Three, including Wilma’s starfighter, landed in the large cavern.  “Take over, Twiki.  When I get out, land below and keep a look out for hostile ships.” 

“You got it, Wilma!” 

As soon as the shuttle had landed and had disgorged her complement of marines, the group slowly headed down the corridor, listening, wondering where Kormand’s people were.  They found several unconscious and Wilma knew that Buck and Hawk had been this way.  At the joining of two corridors, they heard the sounds of laser fire down one of the passages.  Leaving two men to watch their backs, the rest made their way toward the sound.  

Finally, they saw Hawk crouched down at the bend of a corridor, protected from laser fire that spat harshly against the rock wall beyond him.  He arose just slightly and fired a laser shot toward his enemy.  An unconscious body lay at his feet.  Suddenly, he pivoted, sensing their approach, but relaxed visibly when he realized who it was behind him.  Wilma crouched by his side, relieved to see that the body nearby was not Buck. 

Captain Grishom crouched behind them.  “Status?” the Titan exo asked. 

“I can only assume that ahead is the area where the new death machine is being assembled,” Hawk answered over his shoulder.  “My best guess is that there are about ten men remaining.”  He looked back at Grishom.  “I am certainly glad to see you.  My laser pistols are almost empty.” 

Grishom smiled grimly.  “I think we can take care of ten people with this.”  He held up a small canister.  “Did you find Kormand?”

“No,” Hawk answered.

“Where is Buck?” Wilma asked before Hawk could say any more. 

“He is down the other corridor looking for Erik Kormand.”

“I’m going to find him,” Wilma stated tersely.  “He may be pinned down like you were, Hawk.”

“I will join you,” Hawk said. 

“Good idea,” Grishom said.  “We will secure this area and meet you.”

As they sped down the empty corridor, Hawk scooped up another laser pistol from an unconscious soldier. He listened intently for any sounds ahead of him, but heard only his own breathing and the soft sloughing of breeze in the dimly lit tunnels.

Suddenly a cry of pain cut the silence, echoing from somewhere ahead of them.  “That’s Buck!” Wilma cried out, sprinting ahead of her companion. 

“Wilma, wait!” Hawk called after her, afraid of what might be ahead.  There was another cry and he sprinted down the corridor, trying to catch up to her. 

Wilma knew that rushing headlong like this was foolhardy.  She could hear her instructors from so long ago.  You always reconnoiter.  Always take enough time to consider the best course of action, even if that time is brief.  That time was brief all right, she thought, about the time it took to blink.   Buck was in trouble, and he was alone.  Wilma recalled instantly the time of her aloneness and she moaned softly even as she continued running.  Bursting into a well-lit chamber, Wilma saw Kormand standing over Buck, a short sword in his hand, beginning an arcing swing that would end in Buck’s death. 

With a loud cry of defiance, Wilma leaped, catching a surprised Kormand chest level, bowling him to the ground and sending the sword clattering across the chamber.  Quickly, Wilma jumped up and with moves she learned from her training along with some she had picked up from Buck, she kicked-boxed Kormand in the head and chest.  

Roaring in pain and anger, Kormand grabbed her foot, twisting it.  Wilma recovered just before she hit the ground, rolling and dancing lightly to her feet.  As Kormand turned to retrieve his sword, Wilma caught him in the nose with her elbow, followed by a fist beneath his jaw and finally a knee to the groin.  He fell to the earth unconscious, but as Wilma stood over him, silently celebrating her victory, she was startled to hear the hiss of two laser pistols.  Turning, she saw Buck and Hawk, both with their weapons ready.  And near one of the corridors leading out of the chamber, two men lay heaped together on the floor. 

“Damn, that felt good,” Buck murmured as he lowered his pistol. Looking up at Hawk and Wilma, he smiled.  “Drishel, Kormand’s number two man.”

Wilma holstered her weapon as she knelt at Buck’s side.  She was horrified at the sight of the knife sticking out from his leg.  

“I got careless and forgot that he keeps a couple of long-knives hidden away,” Buck mused when he saw her expression.

Hawk checked out the corridor that Drishel and his companion had come from, as well as other corridors leading out of the chamber.   When he returned, he too knelt near Buck, examining his injury.  “We need to get you back to the Searcher,” he said.  

“We need Kormand safely in the brig on the Titan,” Buck replied.  “And it needs to be quick, because as soon as the people on Mendalis find out we have him, there’ll by hell to pay.”  He pointed his laser at the still unconscious ‘human rights’ leader and shot.  “Added insurance,” he said grimly in explanation then he gazed at the birdman.  “Hawk, until others get here to take the trash out, you need to watch those corridors.  I would hate for Leegrand or any of Kormand’s other buddies to surprise us.”  He then gazed at the knife, felt the continued throbbing of the ravaged flesh, and with sudden resolve, grasped the hilt.  

“Buck, wait,” Wilma began.  “You know you shouldn’t….” 

Ignoring her, Buck bit his lip against the pain, but still moaned softly as he slid the knife out.  Tossing it to the side, he tightly grasped the wound with his hand, trying to staunch the increased flow of blood.   “Yeah, that rule I remember, Wilma,” he said through gritted teeth.  “But consider how difficult it would be going through these caves with that thing sticking out of my leg.” 

Wilma said nothing, only going over to Kormand and with just the barest of hesitation, grasped his jacket and jerked it off the unconscious man.  Then she pulled off his shirt.  Kneeling by Buck, she ripped the shirt into several wide strips, gazing worriedly at the blood seeping between his fingers.  She folded one of the strips into a bandage and then laid it across the wound.  “Hold that there until I can bind it on,” she admonished him in as matter of fact a voice as she could manage.  It irritated her that there was the barest hint of trembling as she spoke.  I can do this! she admonished herself.  It didn’t matter that she had fought the man who had raped her.  Fought him and won; it was Buck that mattered right now.  Taking a deep breath, she pulled one of the strips under Buck’s leg and began to tie a knot over one end of the makeshift bandage.  While she worked, Hawk continued to patrol the chamber, checking the several corridors leading away from it.  Buck followed her instructions implicitly, watching her in undisguised admiration.  She noticed and blushed slightly.  

“Remind me not to get you mad at me, Wilma,” he finally murmured.  

Wilma smiled softly.  “There have been times when I have wanted to slap you silly, Buck Rogers, but never to the extent I have wanted to hurt Erik Kormand.  And I know that as chauvinistic as you can be, you will never do anything the likes of what Erik Kormand has done.”  She drew the other strip around his leg and tied it, further securing her bandage.  He grunted in pain.  “I didn’t want to touch him, Buck.   I didn’t even want to be in the same air space, but….” 

“But you did it to save me,” Buck interjected.  “I appreciate that, Wilma.  I think I was pretty close to decapitation when you showed up.” 

“You were alone….”  She sat back to check her handiwork.  It would do for a short while, but it was quite obvious that Kormand had done more than slight damage.   “We’ll still need to get you back to the ship soon.”

Buck could only guess how hard all of this had been on her.  Not saying a word, Buck took her hand and held it in his. Even stained with his blood, it was delicate, belying the strength that lay beneath the surface.  Then he softly drew her hand to his lips and kissed it.  

She gazed at him, her eyes filled with tears.   “Oh,” was all she could say. 

“Thank you, Wilma,” he said softly.  

Before she could do more than smile, Hawk was at their side.  “The men from the Titan are coming.”

Even as Hawk finished speaking, Grishom and several of his crewmembers burst into the chamber, their weapons drawn and ready, only relaxing when they saw Kormand unconscious, and the Searcher crewmembers alone in the chamber.   Grishom dispatched several men to check down the two other corridors.  He turned to Wilma, Buck and Hawk.  “Kormand, I presume?” he motioned toward the unconscious ‘human rights’ leader. 

“Yes,” Buck said with a smile.  “All packaged neatly, courtesy of Colonel Deering.”  

Grishom gazed at him and then at his injured leg.  “But you found him first, I presume.”

“Yeah, I sparred with him, too.”  Buck sighed.   “Came out on the short end.”

“We’ll get you up to the ship, Captain.  You need medical attention.” 

“No kidding.  But it would make me feel much better if you just got Kormand out of here.  Off planet before his cronies get wind of his capture,” Buck said tersely.  “I’ll be okay with Hawk and Wilma.” 

Grishom studied Kormand and then looked back at Buck.  Just then his men returned.  “Everything appears secure, Captain,” one of them reported.  

“The coast is clear.  You’ll need all of your men to get Kormand and his men off planet.”  Buck smiled.  The Titan exo looked dubious.  “Captain Grishom, I am fine.  I’m breathing and Kormand is going to get what he deserves . . . if you get him out of here.” 

Grishom said nothing for a moment.  Only the sound of the air moving down the dark corridors broke the silence.  Finally, the captain nodded.  “All right, Captain Rogers.  I hate to admit it, but we are somewhat short-handed, not having expected to capture so many of Kormand’s top aides at one time.” 

Buck used the wall and Hawk’s helping hand to get on his feet. “Just get that sorry piece of garbage out of here.”

Grishom smiled and turned to Wilma.  “Do not hesitate to get a hold of us if you have any problems.”

She nodded.

“You three did a nice piece of work here.  The Council will be pleased.”

Buck laughed.  “I’ll send you my bill.”

Grishom couldn’t help himself; he began laughing as well.  He could see that Arrans’ decision to have Rogers returned to his own vessel was a correct one.  The captain was like a different man.   Motioning to his men, Grishom supervised their exodus with the prisoners.  Hawk gazed down one of the darkened corridors, feeling something now that the Titan’s men were gone.  He didn’t know what it was, but it pulled at him.  It was like Koori’s presence, there but intangible except for a light touch, an awareness in the corner of his mind.  

“What’s wrong, Hawk?” Wilma asked, seeing the change in his demeanor. 

Hawk shook his head.  “I do not know.”  Then he looked at Buck who was leaning against the wall.  “But we need to get Buck back to the Searcher.”

“Wait.”  A soft voice came from on of the dark corridors.  It was in his language.

Wilma jerked her pistol out but Hawk stood calmly, as though he knew the identity of the speaker. 

He walked in front of Wilma, toward the voice and suddenly an older Tane-rapanui slipped out of the shadows and into their view.   Hawk gasped in awe.  “Sky Mother,” he said in the language of his people, trying hard to keep his composure.  

“Sky Warrior,” the older woman returned.  

She was smiling warmly and Hawk saw in a flash, his own mother.   But he felt in another instant the shame of his aloneness, the testament to his own inabilities.  Hawk’s head bowed and he murmured, “I am no sky warrior.  I could not even protect my own people on Throm.”

“Are you any less than us?” Sky Mother asked, now speaking terra-lingua.  “We who have stayed alive by hiding like cave worms in the bowels of the mountain?  We who are so afraid that we would not venture out to capture our enemy even at our steps?”  She then gazed at Buck, who was studying her with the look of one who didn’t know but felt he should.  “Or even come out of the shadows to help one of our own?”

“Your own?” Wilma asked, puzzled and awed at the same time.  

“Yes, Buck Rogers has been accepted as our own.  He has been touched by the spirit of Make-Make, as have you, Wilma Deering.”

Wilma’s eyes were large in surprise.  “How do you know who I am?  Are you telepathic?”  

“No, but the Sky Mothers and Sky Fathers can feel . . . things, essences, and sometimes we can discern.” She paused.  “Also your friend, Buck, told me a little bit about you.” 

“You know, if my leg didn’t hurt so much, I’d be appreciating the irony of the fact that everyone here knows me . . . except me,” Buck commented dryly.

“Come, you need to be tended to before you return to your ship,” Sky Mother said, seeing the now blood-soaked bandage around the terran’s leg.  She slowly led the way down one of the corridors to a cave. 

Hawk recognized it as the one he had seen in his explorations.  The welcome candle was now lit.  

Sky Mother pointed to a pallet and Buck, with Hawk’s help, limped over to it and sat down.  The bird-woman beckoned to Wilma and then she began gathering a variety of containers and clean cloths. 

Hawk stood by Buck, who sat quietly, his eyes closed.  “How are you feeling?” he asked his friend. 

Buck looked up at Hawk.  “Tired. Very tired.  And stupid.”

“Stupid?” Hawk asked, puzzled. 

“Yeah, I sparred with Kormand at his compound.  Even though I think he held back, I knew he was good.  And I let him get the drop on me.” 

“I seem to remember similar feelings when a certain human ‘got the drop on me,’ as you put it.”

Buck just sighed.  “Wilma could have been hurt back there.”

“Wilma is extremely capable, and I think what Wilma did in that cavern was as much to her advantage as to yours, Buck,” Hawk said softly.

“I know,” Buck murmured.  Then he leaned his head back and again closed his eyes.

 

 

 

 

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