Journeys of the Mind

 

Chapter Four

 

 

 

Chapter Four

Truth and Consequences

 

 

Admiral Asimov waited until the door had shut and then he addressed the Endrillian ambassador. “You have what you came for.  You can leave now.”  

Zrinn began to say something but then changed his mind. He bowed slightly and turned to leave.  His Highness would be pleased.  Zrinn had not only tested the resolve of the terrans and won, but he had rid His Highness’ partners of a threat in the guise of the unorthodox Buck Rogers and his companions. Yes, Captain Rogers and the Earth Directorate had been very obtrusive in the affairs of the galaxy lately.  And now that Earth was sending out a ship to the various quadrants of the galaxy?  Presumably to explore for the ‘lost tribes of Earth.’  No, that had been a threat too big to ignore.  Sooner or later the Galactic Council would see what was happening here in this section of the galaxy.  

But now?  Things could not have gone better if it had been scripted.  When King Meecros had requested the services of a Galactic Council ship to convey the royal families to the various negotiation places, he knew full well that the Searcher was the only such ship in the quadrant.   And it was the Searcher that King Meecros wanted to test the new Death Machine on.   Zrinn smiled.  King Meecros had almost panicked when the Earth ship had shown up several days before it was expected, but Zrinn had assured His Highness that the terrans would back down.  And he had been right—so very right.   Yes, indeed, King Meecros would be very pleased.   And knowing of the terrans’ weakness, the ultimate destruction of the Searcher would only bring token repercussions.  Turning back, he looked steadily into the eyes of the admiral and said, “We expect Captain Rogers in a day.”  He walked out of the room with a very satisfied smile on his face. 

Asimov sighed and wiped his hand over his eyes. 

“I can’t help but agree with Buck, Admiral,” Wilma said, her voice filled with incredible sadness.  “We have given in to a terrorist.”   

“Ordinarily I would agree, Wilma, but I think there is something here that we are not seeing,” Asimov said, standing up and pulling down the jacket of his tunic.  

“What do you mean, Admiral?” Wilma asked.   

“Something I cannot put my finger on,” the admiral said.

“I feel the same way, Admiral, but I, too, cannot figure out what I am missing about all of this,” Theo concurred.  

“I think we should consult with Dr. Goodfellow and Crichton about this, see if they can shed any light on this,” Asimov said.

“That is a very good idea, Admiral,” Theo added.   

Asimov picked up Dr. Theopolis and started for his door, beckoning to Wilma.  When they were in the corridor and the door slid shut behind them, he turned back to Wilma, “I think you need to see Buck before I do.  Why don’t you give him a chance to cool a bit and then talk to him.  I want to talk to him, too, but I think he will be more apt to listen to you than he would to me, at first, anyway.  I imagine this hit him like a tidal wave, and wounded him deeply.”   

Wilma nodded, “Yes, enough to tender a resignation.”  She both dreaded and wanted to talk to Buck.  To make him understand what was at stake in all of this.

They walked into the elevator and the admiral punched the communications button.  “Debugging detail to the admiral’s ready room,” he said.   

Wilma looked at him in surprise.  “Debugging detail?  Do you think Zrinn planted something in your room?”  

“Not really, but I don’t want to take any chances.”  They walked into the doctor’s workroom and detailed the situation to him.  Soon the three humans and the robot and quad were working on the problem.   After an hour, Wilma looked at the printouts yet another time and then leaned back with an exasperated sigh.  She could see no way to get the so called ‘death weapon’ away from Meecros or to neutralize it.  She looked up at the Admiral and Dr. Goodfellow and saw the same defeated look that she was sure existed on her own face.   

With a yawn, Wilma got up and stretched.  “I think I will go see Buck now.  I am getting nowhere here and I think he’s owed an explanation.”  

As the door slid shut behind the colonel, Dr. Theopolis said suddenly, “I think that’s it!”  

“What’s it?” Dr. Goodfellow and the admiral said at the same time.

“I think that Buck is the key to neutralizing King Meecros’ machine,” the computer councilman said.

“Oh?” Asimov coaxed.

“He is the only one who has a clear invitation to the king’s palace and we already know that the machine is in a secure room somewhere in the palace,” Theo explained.   

“Why, I don’t know,” Goodfellow murmured.  “Very dangerous, dangerous place indeed to put a machine of that type.”

   

 

                                     ==========================

 

 

Inside his quarters, Buck sat in his lounger, trying to make sense of everything.  But nothing made sense!   He got up and paced, but that didn’t help, either.   Finally, he sat down again, recalling everything that was said in admiral’s ready room.  He remembered what Hawk had said.  Yes, I would trust Wilma with my life, but why all this kowtowing to a planetary regent? he asked himself. Had a threat of a trial at the hands of the Endril people been real enough to give in to them?  Somehow he couldn’t believe that was possible.  It couldn’t be.  He got up and walked to the small view port.  

“Okay, boss, now tell me what’s up,” Twiki said as he clumped in from the bedroom.  

There was no need to keep the news from the ambu-quad any longer.  Twiki would find out anyway.  Buck told his robot friend the whole sordid tale.  

“Uh, oh,” the drone said.   

“Do me a favor and make yourself scarce in a little while.  I think Wilma might be coming by,” Buck said, not sure if he was ready for such a visit, but knowing it was necessary.

“You sure you don’t want me to stick around and referee?” Twiki asked.

Buck frowned. “No, I don’t want you to stick around and referee.”

“Be gentle with her,” Twiki said as he headed toward the door.  

Buck sighed.  When the Searcher had left Earth, his and Wilma’s romance had been the topic on everyone’s lips, much to his chagrin, but not to his surprise.  Gossip spread fast in an enclosed society like a ship.  What had most irritated him, though and Wilma as well, was the speculation after Wilma’s promotion.  Buck had even heard of bets being taken on how quickly they would split.  Now this!  Ron’s betting pool is seeing action now, he thought, annoyed.  But why this decision?  Despite what Hawk had said, despite what logic said, he still felt betrayed.  With a sigh Buck clicked the remote on his music system and began listening to some songs he had ferreted out of the archives on Earth.   

He sighed when he realized what was playing.  ‘A Horse With No Name.’  That was one of his favorite songs, even though it was a somewhat quirky one.  He began to sing along with the chorus.  “I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name, It felt good to be out of the rain, In the desert you can remember your name, ‘Cause there ain’t no one for to give you no pain……..’”

Maybe that’s what he would do; take a trip into the desert when he got back to Earth.  But that prospect didn’t appeal to him either.  The thought of leaving his friends behind, leaving this life of exploration of the new and the unexpected saddened him.  Buck sighed.  He would miss Hawk, but then Hawk said he wouldn’t stay here either.  Maybe they could find something they could both do.  Despite his feelings right now, he would miss Wilma.  Buck would miss everyone he had become close to, but he didn’t know what else he could do.  In his day, even the president was not so important as to give in to terrorists for.  Then he pondered.  What is behind all this?  There had to be something!   Running his hand through his hair, Buck pondered.  Damn, it was so complex.  But regardless, giving in to terrorist’s demands was wrong.  And Meecros is a terrorist, Buck thought angrily.   A terrorist who thinks he’s better than everyone around him.  

He got up and pulled out a bottle of vinol and two glasses, almost sure that within the next hour, Wilma or the admiral would be by to talk to him.   Into the glasses he poured some of the drink and then added several other ingredients that made the vinol somewhat similar to what he was used to back in his day.   As he worked, he kept murmuring the words of the song, occasionally missing one, but he had the song on repeat and soon remembered all of the words verbatim.  While he was still mixing the drinks, he heard a knock at the door. 

“Happy hour,” he murmured.

   

                                      ==========================

   

As Wilma walked down the corridor to Buck’s cabin, she saw Twiki and stopped him.  “Do you know where Buck is?”  

“His cabin,” the drone replied with a beep.  

“Thanks,” she said, relieved and anxious at the same time.  

“Be gentle on him,” Twiki added as she began walking again.   

Wilma stopped and turned back.  “Did you tell him the same thing when he sent you on an errand?” she asked with a soft smile.  

“Yep.”  

Wilma shook her head, amazed at the independence of Buck’s drone and how much of Buck’s personality Twiki had picked up.  “Thanks,” she repeated.  

At Buck’s door, she hesitated and then did something totally old-fashioned.  She knocked.  The door almost immediately slid open and she heard the strains of a twentieth century tune.  ‘After nine days I let the horse run free, ‘Cause the desert had turned to sea….’  She looked for Buck, but didn’t see him.  Then she heard his voice singing along with the tune, “ ‘There were plants and birds and rocks and things, there was sand and hills and rings….’”  Wilma stood and listened for a moment, enjoying the rich sound of his voice, then she walked into the tiny kitchenette where Buck was fixing two vinols.  

“The closest to a Marguerita I can get,” he said, handing one to her.  “In my day this would be called a Virgin Marguerita.  No alcohol.”

“Uh, Buck?”  

“Get comfortable, Wilma.  I believe we have some things to discuss, but I don’t want to do it standing here.”

His voice was dispassionate, controlled, but his eyes didn’t seem angry, only sad.  A somewhat good sign, Wilma thought, but it added to her sense of sadness as well.  She took the doctored drink and sat on his sofa.  He sat down next to her.  Another good sign, she thought.  

“Bottoms up,” Buck said and took a drink of his vinol.  Then he pushed a button on the remote and the music stopped.  “Now tell me what Meecros has over the admiral’s head that has caused you two to sacrifice my integrity to the Endril gods of business and politics.”

“Buck, it’s not that.”  Wilma felt anger growing along with the sadness and she took a deep breath to calm herself.  “Since when did you begin believing I would betray you?”

Buck heard the hurt behind her words and he sighed.  “Deliberately, no, Wilma.  But it was a shock, just the same.  And until I have a very good reason for all of this, I will still feel angry about it.”  He paused and took another drink. Then he sighed.  “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it like that.  I know you’d never do anything . . . I mean….  This is just so unbelievable.”  He turned to Wilma, gazing into her gray eyes, struck by their expressiveness.  Right now, they were expressing a desire for him to understand.

“Wilma, this whole situation makes me mad as hell, but I really want to understand.  Last I heard, they had been complaining that I didn’t treat the princess with deference and then the next thing I know, I’m being accused of trying to seduce ms hormones in the cockpit, with a female co-pilot in attendance, no less.”  He paused.  “What gives?”

As if on cue, the door chime sounded.  “Go away, I gave at the office,” Buck called out, annoyed at the interruption.  He really didn’t feel ready to talk to anyone else yet. 

“Captain Rogers, it’s Admiral Asimov.  I would like to come in.”   The voice over the communicator was polite, but still held a note of command in it.

Sighing, Buck said, “Come on in, the door’s not locked.” 

Asimov came in, carrying Dr. Theopolis.  Buck got up, motioning the admiral to his spot.  He turned and walked into the kitchenette where he opened a cabinet and pulled out another glass.  He poured it full of vinol.    “It is on this type of occasion that I wish I had a fifth of Jack Daniels,” he said, handing the glass to the admiral.  Asimov looked puzzled.  “Tennessee Bourbon whiskey.  Potent and powerful,” Buck explained.  He sat down across from his guests.  “Here’s to politics,” he said sardonically, finishing his vinol.  Asimov looked ready to say something but Buck started speaking.  He wanted the admiral to know exactly what he was feeling before the conversation went any further.  The brunt of his anger was now directed to Asimov, rather than Wilma, not that it hadn’t been anyway.   

“I was in the service for over twelve years, including my academy days, fully expected to do at least twenty.  I’m military, Admiral.  Maybe unorthodox military, but military nonetheless.  I was lucky, I rose quickly, not necessarily in rank, I was a bit outspoken for that, but I got some plum assignments.  One of them was as a liaison from NASA to the Israeli space program.  I had worked with a real sharp guy, Levi Weiss. Everyone figured he’d be Israel’s first astronaut.  He took a flight back to Israel before the rest of us.  His wife and baby were booked on the same flight that I was on, leaving the next day.”  Buck paused and glanced at Wilma.  Her drink was untouched, her eyes intent on his.

“His plane was hijacked by terrorists.  They forced the pilot to land once; that was in Quebec.  They sat on the tarmac for a day repeating the terrorist’s demands.  Levi was the first one shot and tossed out.  Several others followed.  Not one government gave in to the demands.  Finally a special force stormed the plane and took it, killing all of the terrorists and saving most of the passengers.  I accompanied Levi’s wife and child back to Israel for the funeral.”  He sat quietly and gazed into his glass.  “That terrorist group didn’t try that stunt again.  At least before my mission.”

“Buck,” Wilma began.

“You don’t give in to terrorists!” he exclaimed.   

“But what about everyone else on this ship?” Theo asked, his lights blinking as he sat on the small table next to the sofa.

Buck looked at the quad, puzzled.  “What?”  He was beginning to feel that there was something he hadn’t been told. 

“I did what was necessary, Buck,” Asimov said.  Buck started to say something, but the admiral stopped him with a gesture.  “You have often talked to me about that game that was played back in the 20th century.  Football?”  Buck nodded.  “Yes,” Asimov said.  “I even watched you and some of the crewmembers playing down in the workout room one time.  It’s a game that is won by employing several smaller, um, what did you call them?”  

“Plays, Admiral.  Each side runs several plays hoping to get the ball to the goal line and thus score and eventually win.  But what did….”  

“Yes, so if one play doesn’t accomplish this goal….?”  

“Then another one might,” Buck finished, his face showing curiosity along with the previous puzzlement.  “Are you saying that you had some kind of plan cooking against Meecros while I was in there thinking I was getting hung out to dry by the Endrillians?”  

“Not really, Buck,” Asimov said. “And let me tell you that under normal circumstances the Directorate, and therefore I, make no deals with, or give in to terrorists threats.  But there were things here that didn’t seem right.  And there was something that told me that we had a chance to win this ‘game’ against Meecros if we only had the time to plan another play, so to speak.”  

“Look, I have the distinct idea that there was something that happened in that ready room of yours that I don’t know about.  So what in the hell did Meecros have that caused you to give in?” Buck asked. 

“As I was about to tell you a few minutes ago, King Meecros found the arrival of the Searcher to be the perfect opportunity to test his new ‘Death Weapon.’  Zrinn even had a long range detonator.”  

“What?  Whoa, there. A Death Weapon?  So that’s what I missed?”  

Wilma smiled softly.  “Yes, Buck and we didn’t see it coming either.  Apparently Meecros bought the services of several brilliant scientists who, between them, have managed to perfect a long-range extra-solar laser weapon of mass destruction.”

“And he threatened to use it on the Searcher,” Buck stated.  Wilma nodded.  “But why?  Why would that serve any feasible purpose?  What’s the Searcher to them?”

“At first I was thinking it was something to do with the peace plan, but now I’m not so sure,” Asimov said.

“What’s being gained with this peace plan?  Or lost, as the case may be?” Buck asked, beginning to see parts of a whole now.

“Other than peace?” Wilma asked with a wry smile.

“Peace plans don’t usually work unless there is something else of value to be gained,” Buck replied cynically.  “And many times peace plans are simply ruses used to gain time to build a bigger military advantage.  Kind of like Draco’s attempted treaty was.”

“I suspect that is the case here.  I think we interfered in that ruse,” Theo interjected. 

Wilma sighed and finished her drink. “And there is this, too.  Meecros is obviously xenophobic.  He publicly protested the Searcher’s presence for another reason—Hawk, and to a lesser extent, you.” 

     

 

 

Next Chapter
Journeys Prologue
Buck Rogers Contents
Main Page