Journeys of the Mind

 

Chapter 8

 

 

 

Chapter Eight  

Intrigue

   

 

“Dr. Theopolis managed to retrieve a tremendous amount of data,” Asimov told the assemblage of the ship’s top personnel, several days after the incident with the ‘death machine.’  “Some of which is very disturbing and may have to be acted upon immediately.   We are in discussion with several top Galactic Councilmen about this information.”   The admiral turned to Hawk.  “This may be of particular interest to you, Hawk.  It would seem that there is a common thread in the atrocities to your people and those perpetrated against other non-humans.  The common thread is a man.  His name is….”

“Kormand,” Hawk finished for him. 

Asimov nodded in surprise.  “How did you know?”

“During the days of my warring, there was a human who was babbling much, in the mistaken belief that I would spare his ship.  At first he told me things that I knew were false, but after I destroyed part of his engine core he mentioned Meecros, and his willingness to supply arms to any and all that paid, including a human whose name sounded like Korman. The babbling human, as his ship was drifting away, would say no more, as though the very walls of his ship, the very vacuum of space could convey his indiscretion to this Korman.  Meecros’ name had been garbled, and when I went to the library in Nutralis, I could find nothing about him in the Galactic Council database.  Korman’s name was garbled as well, but the only thing I could find was only the possibility that this was a person named Kormand, an individual who had advocated the rights of humans on Orion about twenty years ago.  Before I could find out more, I was pursued,” he said, looking meaningfully at Buck.

“Exactly what did he say?” Asimov asked.  

“ ‘I did not kill your people.  Go find Meegris, Korman.’  And as I said, when I asked who these humans were, he stopped talking, only begging that I not destroy his ship.”

“Well, that is consistent with what Dr. Theopolis found.  It seems that Kormand is Meecros’ biggest client.  Through his funding, Meecros has shipped weaponry to about thirty known places, including Throm,” Asimov explained.  

“Just who is this Kormand?” Buck asked.  “He must be pretty shrewd for no one to even be aware of him until now.”

“And only because I chanced on the records of his transactions in King Meecros’ computer,” Theo added.  “Based on the data I found, Erik Kormand is the leader of an ultra-militaristic human rights organization.”  

“Whoa, Theo.  Back in my day, human rights was concerned with the fair and equal treatment of all people.  But I get the impression that such is not the case here,” Buck said.  “Sound more like a white supremacist group.”

“Knowing what little I do about your time, you are correct in your assessment,” Theo replied.  “This is a human supremacist group.  Kormand, from what I gleaned, believes that humans and those he terms ‘near-humans’ are the superior entities in the galaxy and have the right to exterminate ‘obviously’ non-human races to make room for human expansion.  He seems to get some of his reference from a very ancient holy book, although I can’t figure out where such a precedent is.  Most of the followers of religion do not hold to such a belief.   It is also my understanding that Kormand also proscribes to some of the actions of leaders in Earth history.” 

Buck was startled, remembering his thoughts of several weeks past as he had been reading the books Dr. Junius had given him.  This is getting spooky.  “I can believe that,” Buck said dryly, bringing himself back to the present conversation. 

“Wasn’t there something in The Bible where a group of people wiped out another group?” Admiral Asimov asked.   “Would that be the reference?” 

“That’s a possibility, although there are other ancient writings that have stories of the same type of thing.  What you are talking about is the section in the Old Testament where the Israelites, the ancient covenant people, had been recently freed from enslavement and were looking for a place to live.  They were given leave by God to drive the existing peoples out of Canaan,” Buck explained.

“Could they not co-exist?” Theo asked, his voice incredulous. 

“Not being a theologian, I’m just passing the story along.  I believe the reasoning was that the people already living there were wicked and debased and had rejected God’s laws.  And also, they would pollute the Israelites with their depraved customs.”  Buck saw several shocked faces.  “Hey, don’t look at me that way.  For what it’s worth, I also read that if the locals had not been so evil, they wouldn’t have been run out of town, so to speak.”  Buck sighed.  “And Kormand is not the first to take something like that to such outrageous extremes.  Earth history is filled with horror stories of genocide.”

“Yes, I believe I could tell a few,” Hawk murmured.  The others looked at him in sympathy.

“It would seem that this Erik Kormand has taken such ideas to new and dangerous levels, if recent events, including the destruction of Hawk’s people, is any indication,” Dr. Goodfellow said.  

“Yes,” Theo continued.  “His goal, based on Galactic Council records of this human rights organization, is not acquisition of lands as much as it is racial extermination.” 

“Why wasn’t this acted upon, if there were records?” Buck asked.  

“Until now, there has been no one entity that could be blamed for the racial hatred that destroyed my people.  When I was looking in the various databases on Nutralis, the bloody attacks against non-humans were just listed.   No one claimed responsibility.   And no one seems to care.   It also disturbs me that these attacks seem to be escalating.  Hatred without a face or name,” Hawk said solemnly. 

“So does this Kormand have a base of operations?” Wilma asked after a short pause in which she digested what Hawk had said.

“He seems to have several, but it would appear from Meecros’ files that his latest residence is on the planet Mendalis,” Theo replied. “Up until the last decade, the human population and the native Mendalisians lived a fairly peaceful co-existence.  But, according to Galactic Council communiqués, there have been quite a few bloody skirmishes in the past few years, most of which, it seems, weren’t even officially reported.  The native Mendalisians have not filed any protests.” 

Hawk’s eyes became even darker than usual, the only visible clue of his anger. “Sometimes harsh realities do not appear to be a danger until it is too late to do anything about them.”  He paused and the room was silent for a moment.  “What is the next step?” he asked.  

Asimov answered, clearly glad to be discussing present action. “We were asked to investigate.  Since there are humans there, our outward appearance of looking for lost Earth tribes would be our cover.  However, we are to try and find out where Erik Kormand’s residence is.”  He paused.  “And then if all the evidence holds up, we are to capture Kormand and his followers.” 

“Pretty tall orders for an exploration vessel, Admiral,” Buck commented.  

“True, but we are the best equipped to deal with this situation and the subterfuge involved that is available right now,” Wilma interjected.  

“There will be another ship arriving later to help us, provided we get the information they need.  The Council knows that if they wait too long, Kormand will most likely be long gone, so that’s why we have been asked to go in now, investigate quietly.”

“Won’t Kormand figure something’s up?” Buck asked.  “Wouldn’t it be wise to send a few people undercover to do some digging.” 

“He probably will suspect, but as long as he feels we don’t know his whereabouts, he will feel safe,” Wilma replied.  “And yes, there will be a few people undercover, posing as locals in various capacities.  But even those not undercover need to be looking for this information in as discreet way as possible.” 

“So how do we go about this spy business?” Buck asked.  “Mendalis is a very big planet.  Kormand is going to be quite a needle in the haystack.”

“We’re not sure yet, Buck, but Wilma and I are studying all options and will decide within the next twenty-four hours,” Asimov said.  “We will be arriving in the Mendalis system in two days.” 

Buck nodded and Wilma let out a mental sigh of relief.  She had fully expected Buck to volunteer immediately to go to Mendalis and she was worried about that.  After the events at Endril, she suspected that Buck would be about as unrecognizable as Hawk.  And therefore be in danger.  They had only the last hour heard of the huge explosion that had annihilated the palace at Endril and killed the entire royal family.  She didn’t doubt that Kormand had something to do with it.  The man had been incognito, an unknown cipher for some years now and because of Meecros, he was no longer a faceless entity.   And if Kormand knew what had happened on Endril, then it was almost a sure thing that he would know who was responsible.  

The meeting broke up, but Buck stayed.  “Wilma, Admiral, for what it’s worth, all you have to do is give the word and I’ll be on my way to Mendalis,” he said before he, too, left the room.

Wilma sighed.

“What’s on your mind, Wilma?” Asimov asked.

“Buck is used to being sent on these kinds of missions.  And under normal circumstances, he’s well suited for them.” 

“Exactly why he was chosen to be exo of exploration and defense,” Asimov said.  “But I believe I know what you are thinking.  It seemed very obvious that Meecros had some foreknowledge of Buck.  And I can’t help but believe that it came from Kormand.  I can only imagine that Kormand has been able to establish a very elaborate and thorough information gathering system.” 

“Meecros was allied to Kormand, by money, if not by politics,” Wilma stated.  This whole situation bothered her.  She couldn’t say exactly why, but she had a nagging feeling as though some filthy and loathsome person was sneaking up behind her. 

“So what ideas do you have for investigating Kormand?” the admiral asked.  

“I agree with Buck that there needs to be some undercover work going on even as we do the more public investigation,” Wilma began.  “I think this time, I need to be the one to go down and investigate.”  The admiral scowled.  “I’ve done this sort of thing before, too.  I’m not bad at changing my appearance either.  And Theo has gleaned some information about Kormand that will make my . . . um, attributes, an asset.”

Asimov paced, still scowling.  “Let me think on that.  But you do know that we need to include Buck on this.  In his capacity as commander of exploration and defense, of course, if for no other reason.  

“Yes, I know.” 

“We will have another commanders’ meeting in the morning.  Maybe we’ll have more information and more concrete ideas then.”  The admiral got up and motioned toward the bridge.  Wilma preceded him out of the ready room.  

Twiki, who had been standing discreetly in a corner, beeped.  “I don’t like the looks of this,” he muttered to himself as he stumped out of the room.

The next day, Asimov and Wilma met together before the strategy meeting began, laying the groundwork for the operation on Mendalis.  “Wilma, before you call Buck and the others in here, I need to know something.”

“What?”

“I need to know if your decision for Buck to stay on board has anything to do with your relationship with him,” Asimov said.  He felt a bit intrusive.  He had already asked Buck the same question a few weeks ago and now he was also intruding on Wilma’s private life.  

She walked to the port and gazed at the stars.  Am I?  She had read the reports, she had talked to Dr. Theopolis and the admiral, she had made the inferences and she knew her intuitive gut reactions.  And she had not been with Buck the previous evening, preferring to make her decisions uninfluenced.  She turned back to the admiral.  “I don’t think so, Admiral.  I really feel that this time, if Buck goes down there, he will be targeted.  I think that Kormand knows of Hawk and Buck.  I think Kormand gets detailed information on activities that interfere with his operations.  He’s also very clever or it wouldn’t have taken so long for us to find out about him.” 

“I agree.  And I thank you for your candor.”

“Admiral, be aware that I do fear for Buck.  I remember how close we came to losing him on Arcadis and it’s frightening.  Every time he’s gone on a mission, I fear for him, but I hope it hasn’t interfered with my decisions.  And I hope you’ll let me know if you think that’s happening.” 

“I will, but personally I think you’ve made a sound decision.  Now let’s convene this meeting and ready ourselves for some heated objections.”  

Wilma smiled sheepishly as Asimov called the rest of his staff into his ready room.   

Buck sat quietly as Admiral Asimov outlined the information that had come in since the last meeting and some of his ideas about how to get the information they needed.  He stared at the far wall and pondered the information.  Then with a lusty sigh, he focused on his two superior officers.  “It seems obvious from the data, that not only would Hawk stick out like a sore thumb down there, but I might as well.”  He paused.   “But you need all the people you can get.  Some to be more obvious and some to be undercover.  We aren’t a military ship.  That is going to stretch us to the limit to have enough trained personnel to do both.”

“I know, Buck,” the admiral said.  “What do you have in mind?” 

“Yee and Park look like the tourist type.  They would blend well and they can be very subtle when they need to be.  They would be good for the undercover.  And Mason and Henders would do well, too.   Maybe a couple in the capital city and the other two separate in a couple of the other large cities.” 

Despite his low-key delivery, Wilma could see frustration in Buck’s eyes.   He despised having to stand aside and let others go into danger.  “Why only men, Buck?  Seems to me a woman would be even more successful, especially considering Kormand’s reputed interest in female companions.” 

Buck looked at Wilma sharply and she could see some of the frustration become anger.  But she saw a determination to keep this professional as well.  He had been very conscious of his status as an executive officer and the attendant decorum, and was trying to temper his individuality and impulsiveness in order to fill his position. 

“By your own admission, you said this was extremely dangerous.  So why put a woman in that kind of situation? 

“Why not, Buck?” Wilma countered.  “A well trained woman should be able to do as good a job as an equally well trained man.” 

Buck sighed lustily.  It was an old argument, one that popped up occasionally. 

Hawk watched both of his friends with concern, but said nothing.  

“Other than the danger, what don’t you like about it?  Do you realize what secrets a woman would learn if Kormand took her into his confidence?”

“Yeah and what consequences might follow if you’re discovered?” Buck retorted, gazing deeply into her blue-gray eyes. 

Wilma saw fear in his countenance, fear for her.  Somehow, she felt that the fear would have been there even if they had not established their closer relationship.  But regardless, this was something they would have to deal with and it appeared that they would have to deal with it now.  They couldn’t constantly be wondering where personal feelings and professional feelings crossed over and begin affecting the performance of their jobs.  Several hundred lives depended on their decisions.  “Admiral, could you excuse us for a moment?” she asked. 

Asimov nodded and Wilma motioned to Buck to follow her.   

In the corridor, Wilma asked, “Buck, maybe this isn’t fair, but would you feel differently if it were a different woman going on this assignment?” 

He leaned against the bulkhead and folded his arms across his chest.  The leather jacket he was wearing crinkled softly and she noted the unobtrusive but nevertheless very masculine smell of his cologne.  And his very masculine presence.  Wilma couldn’t believe how hard this was, separating the professional from the personal.   But they had to do it.  This relationship had been building from the moment that she had escorted him into the landing bay back in New Chicago, after he had been awakened by the Draconians.

“You’re right, Wilma.  It isn’t fair,” Buck replied coolly.  

“I’m sorry, Buck. But I have to keep re-examining my motives in this job.  I don’t like it, but I have to do it nonetheless.  I had no idea it would be so hard.” 

Buck’s eyes held a slight glint of anger that softened with her words, but otherwise he seemed the epitome of cool reason.  Then he looked down at the floor and sighed.  “Yeah, I know,” was all he said and then he sighed again.  He looked deeply into her eyes and she saw that the anger was gone.   “I think that part of my fear is that there is so much that is unknown here, and that would hold true for anyone who had this assignment,” he began.  “It’s one thing to do these things on my own.  It’s my own decisions, my own skin, my own consequences if I screw up.  But when you, or anyone else goes into a dangerous situation, I can’t help but worry, to wonder if I should be there, too.”  He smiled.  “And I can’t help feeling more protective toward you, Wilma, even though I know how very capable you are.” 

“Thanks, Buck.” 

“And I can’t help but feel that this Kormand is like a cobra, sitting under a rock, just waiting, ready to strike.” 

“But he is a man who has already made one mistake.”  She smiled to reassure him.  

“Oh, and what’s that?” 

“He chose Meecros to be his partner and they chose to cross us.”

“That’s true,” Buck replied with a soft chuckle.  He took her arm.  “Shall we go back in before they send a search party?” 

 

 

 

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