Journeys of the Mind

 

Chapter Five

 

 

 

Chapter Five

The Planning Stage

 

 

 

“Me?!” Buck asked, incredulous.  He finished his drink, admitting to himself that vinol had the distinct advantage of some pleasure while still leaving one’s faculties in linear order.  He just wished it tasted better.  

“You were responsible for the commuting of Hawk’s sure death sentence,” the admiral said.  “And there are some people who have a distinct dislike to bird people.”

Buck rubbed his chin in thought, then he laughed.  The other two just gazed at him, puzzled.  “That’s totally insane!  Especially in light of what King Toran told me.  He said that Meecros envisioned himself as some sort of superior being due to his human blood.  What’s totally ironic is that Toran implied that Meecros’ family had no more human blood than his did.”  Buck looked into his now empty glass.  “Regardless, that kind of attitude is scary.”  No one said anything for a moment.   “Something else to consider.  Hawk did mention that he believed Meecros might have been one of the main suppliers of weapons to the humans who decimated his village.”  The cabin was silent for a moment and then Buck looked up, his face showing embarrassment.   “I really put on a show in your ready room, didn’t I?  I’m sorry I was such an ass, Admiral.”  

“Don’t be. In fact, I think this works to our advantage.  You were genuine and Zrinn is going to report all the sordid details,” Asimov replied.  “But before we go further, let me mention that without my suspicions, my half-thought through notions, I probably would have still agreed.  That might have been ‘giving in to a terrorist’ as you put it, but Meecros would have eventually been given the justice he so richly deserves.” 

Buck said nothing.  He was feeling that this was more than just the absolute notion of never giving in, as he had felt before, but he really didn’t have any clear-cut thoughts on the matter at present.  This whole fiasco seemed surreal to him, even as he accepted its reality.  

“When you get as old as me and have your own command, you will find that simple answers and simple solutions are not always that straightforward, especially when you are not even afforded the opportunity to think about it.  Two hundred and fifteen lives, Buck.  That’s quite a decision.  And I don’t like playing God, even if the rule books tell me to.”  

“I understand, Admiral.”  Buck got up and replenished his vinol.  “Anyone want more?”  Wilma and the admiral both shook their heads.  “So what do we do now, other than me preparing to grovel? And what conclusions or suspicions did you have?”  He looked a bit sheepish as he returned and sat down.  “I’m afraid I’m not too astute or objective right now.  The only thing coming to my mind is that Meecros wanted to show off his new war toy, but I can’t help but wonder why he didn’t just do it.  Especially, if, as he claimed, he had right by law to wage war on us.”  Buck paused and shook his head.  “Could he have just wanted to test our resolve?  And I wondered about the sudden request for King Toran and his family to meet with him on the Searcher,” Buck commented.  

“I am beginning to think that the entire scenario was contrived,” Asimov said, his gaze thoughtful.

“You mean the whole negotiation, peace plan assignment?” Buck asked.  “Someone from the Galactic Council is in on this?”

“No, I don’t want to go that far,” the admiral murmured, although he appeared to be considering the idea.  “But yes, the whole assignment, Buck.”  Asimov rubbed his chin thoughtfully.  “The Galactic Council sent us out here to oversee the negotiations between Toran and Endril, but they didn’t see fit to send a mediator with us.  If this was so critical, so delicate that it required Galactic Council intervention, why wasn’t a negotiator sent?”  He gazed meaningfully at his two exo’s.  

“Yes, a very interesting point, Admiral, unless the Council considered me to be a mediator,” Theo added.    “I have done that before.  However, King Meecros did not wish the presence of anyone but humans.  And there did not seem to be a basis for our intervention at all, actually.  No wars, threats of wars, no deep disputes, other than the trade treaty and the marriage treaty.”

“At least nothing that a single mediator couldn’t have handled,” Asimov added.  “I think, Dr. Theopolis, we need to contact the Council and find out why there wasn’t a request for a negotiator and who it was who arranged our assignment to Endril.”  He got up, picking up the computer councilman.  

Wilma had been quietly contemplating, but suddenly she turned to Buck, her eyes filled with sudden insight, “You seemed to be the catalyst, Buck.  It was as though….   But why would he use you?”

“Meecros almost specifically requested you, Buck,” Asimov said.  “Not by name, but in so many words.”  He paused.  “They wanted a higher ranking officer, preferably an executive officer.  Not a woman, not a non-human.  That pretty much left you.”

“There are not enough clues, Admiral, to make any kind of concise or accurate conclusion,” Theo mused.

“I know that,” Asimov said with a sigh.  “Wilma, you and Buck continue to brain-storm.   Dr. Theopolis and I are going to check into the background of this assignment and try to make some more sense of it.  Let me know if you two come up with anything.”   

“Sure thing, Admiral,” Buck said as his commander left. 

As Asimov was walking out, Twiki walked in.  He beeped and asked, “Can anyone come to this pow wow?”

“Sure, Twiki,” Buck said.  Then he asked, “What ideas flashed in your brain, Wilma?”  

“The look Zrinn gave when you left the admiral’s ready room, Buck.  I remembered it and wondered why he should care one way or another if you quit the Directorate.  I agree with the Admiral.  I think they had the Searcher targeted.”  

“Hmm, targeted….” Buck mused. “You know, I keep coming back to the fact that Meecros is the kind of guy that wouldn’t hesitate to use his Death Machine on us. He likes to throw his weight around.  So why didn’t he?”  Suddenly, he sat up, his eyes wide in surprise.  “It’s so obvious….”

Twiki beeped, interrupting, “They didn’t plug it in.”  

Wilma looked puzzled, but Buck began laughing.  “Out of the mouths of babes and ambu-quads.”  

Twiki beeped irritably.  “Hey, who are you calling a babe?”  Then he added, his voice curious.  “What did I say?”

“The machine isn’t ready,” Buck said. “At least not ready enough to actually blow us up.”

“Of course, that’s the only explanation,” Wilma agreed.

“Yes, and by making the demands he made, Meecros still achieved his goal.”  Buck rubbed behind his ear, pondering.  “But I can only suppose that if the machine is not ready, it is not far from completion.  We showed up too quickly.  I bet it was Meecros that specified that we be the ones involved.  And the wheels of politics moved a bit too quickly for him.”  

“Which makes this a very volatile situation,” Wilma said.  “There has to be something we can do to stop him before he really does use his machine.”  

Buck sat quietly, his gaze focused on something beyond his room.  Then he began grinning and his eyes took on a mischievous glint.

Wilma gazed at him in alarm.  “Buck, I know you well enough to figure that you have something percolating in that devious mind of yours.”  

“Hmm.  Yes, I think I do have something we can use.”  He paused, as though for dramatic effect.  “Tell me, don’t you think Meecros’ boys would be looking for someone to try and sneak down and sabotage this weapon?”

“Yes, that’s what the admiral and I were discussing.  Unfortunately, you are the only person who has been given permission to go down there and that’s only to apologize.  I’m afraid that you’ll be watched very carefully.” 

“Well, I suppose if I must apologize, then I must.”  He smiled conspiratorially.  “Tell me what harm a somewhat penitent pilot and his drone could do in the palace of such a high potentate as Meecros?”

“Twiki?  Do you think he could find the machine?  Disable it?”

“You bet I could!!” Twiki said confidently.  

Patting the ambu-quad on the head, Buck continued, “I think so. Especially if he has Theo along.  It’s my understanding that Dr. Goodfellow has been working on some kind of small appendage that will allow Theo some mobility.  And, of course, the obligatory luck.”  

“You do realize that you’ll have to probably do a great deal of debasing down there,” Wilma reminded him.  

“Wilma, there are apologies and there are apologies.”  He grinned.  “I think it might look better if you came, too.  You have to keep your bad boy pilot out of trouble, you know.”  

Wilma wondered, gazing blankly at her hands.  What Buck had proposed sounded feasible, but carried a great deal of risk with it.  It had been an understatement when Buck said luck would be involved in this assignment.  Meecros was mercurial and if he didn’t like what Buck was saying….

Buck saw her look of concern.  “Wilma, something has to be done and done quickly.  This guy can’t be allowed to have free rein to terrorize this part of the galaxy.  Meecros can be contained just as Draco was, and we know how big a shot he was.”  Buck reached over and took her hand.  “I’m sorry for what I said earlier, but I will not apologize for my feelings on this now that I know all the facts.  Meecros has to be stopped.” 

Wilma nodded. “We’ll go down and try this then.  Perhaps some diversionary bluster from the Searcher would help.” 

“Perhaps,” Buck said dubiously.  “But I’ll need to work on Twiki so that they’ll not be able to detect anything amiss.” 

“What do you have in mind for him to do?”

“I’ve been working on something that will make him much more dexterous than he is right now with those pincer hands of his.  He could carry the various components, that put together, would short out the firing mechanisms of the death weapon,” Buck explained.

“But they’d still have the weapon.  They could build a new firing mechanism.”

“Not if Twiki and Theo install a failsafe devise that will activate on a timer.”  Buck sat pondering all he needed to do in the next twelve hours to be ready for his ‘court’ appointment.   

“That’s a lot to ask of a drone,” Wilma murmured, worried.  “Even with the help of a quad.”

“A drone, yes, but Twiki, no,” Buck responded before Twiki could protest.  “With Dr. Goodfellow’s help, I can finish some of the programming I’ve been working on.  Theo will be hidden when we go down, but he will later be able to direct Twiki in setting up the devices that will cripple the machine.”  

“If you’re sure….”  Wilma let her voice trail off.  She felt bogged down in the intricacies of this problem and couldn’t force a command decision right now.  “We could leave this to the Galactic Council.”  

“All I have to do is keep talking long enough to let Twiki get at the Death Machine.  There will be great purpose to my debasement.” 

“I don’t doubt you can talk that long,” Wilma said with a mischievous smile.  

In mock hurt, Buck said, “I resemble that remark.”   

“It’s just that I worry about you in there with that madman.”  

Buck sighed and moved closer, putting his arm around Wilma’s shoulder.  “Which one of you is worried?  Wilma, the friend, or Wilma the second in command?”

“I guess both, but more Wilma the friend.”

“That’s okay, but don’t go treating me differently than others just because we’re tight,” he admonished.

“Tight?  Oh, you mean our relationship,” Wilma translated.  “I’ll try.”

He leaned over and kissed her.  “You just leave the worrying to me.”

Wilma pulled away slightly.  “Oh?  Well, let me tell you, Buck Rogers, you’d better not start treating me any different because of our relationship.  I’m just as capable now as I was before.” 

“I know,” he murmured in her ear.   

“Buck!  I mean it.”  

Laughing softly, he threw up his hands.  “All right!  I concede.  You are a tough lady and no pushover.”

Wilma smiled and leaned back against his shoulder.  “I’m just sorry I couldn’t warn you about Zrinn this afternoon,” she said, feeling the warmth of his body next to hers.

“As the admiral said, it just made it more effective,” he said.  “I guess you can now give a specific time for Bad Boy Buck to appear in the palace tomorrow morning.”

“Are you and Dr. Goodfellow going to have enough time?”  

“We’ll just have to make sure we get it done.  We wouldn’t want to keep His Highness waiting too long, would we?”  He squeezed her hand and then stood up.  “I guess Twiki and I had better head down to the good doctor’s lab.  I suppose I’ll see you in the morning.”  

“Good luck.”

Buck thanked her with a kiss.  Despite his bravado, he figured he’d need all the luck he could get.

   

 

 

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