Journeys of the Mind

 

Chapter 9

 

 

 

 

Chapter Nine  

Spying Can be Such a Dirty Little Game

 

   

 

When they returned to the meeting they were greeted with curious stares.   But the pair revealed nothing.  Buck and Wilma sat back down and Asimov cleared his throat.  

“Buck, yesterday you made some good suggestions as far as undercover assignments go.  Except I recommend Wilma and Maria Moralin go together into Brix, instead of Yee and Park.  I think Mason and Henders should go separately on the two other large continents, to a larger city, but not the capitals.  And Park should go to Gris on the continent of Braxtis.  That was the site of the last alien massacre.  That should be good for undercover.”  He looked at the entire group.  “I think that for the public display of inquiry, Dr. Goodfellow and Devlin should go to Brix and go through the bureaucratic nightmare of seeing the elected planetary leaders.”  He paused.  “Any other suggestions?” 

Buck gazed up at the map of Mendalis, showing the eight continents, countries, land forms and cities.  “I think our time is limited.  I believe that once Kormand is aware of any activity, he will act, and act decisively.  I think there is more to Erik Kormand than the little bit we have uncovered recently,” he said, still gazing at the map.  “I think we need to send at least one undercover operative to every continent.  I think everyone possible should be sent to places where information says we’ll have the best success.”  He turned and looked meaningfully at the admiral with a quick, but significant glance at Wilma.  “And that includes me as well as everyone else.”  Then he turned his attention to Hawk.   “But not you, Hawk.  I have seen what abject bigotry did in my century and, as you well know, it’s still around in this one.  You’d stand out like a sore thumb.  I believe that Kormand has a pretty good network of followers here or he wouldn’t have chosen Mendalis for his headquarters.”

“I have disguised myself before.” 

“Only for a short time and you were discovered.” 

Hawk gazed at Buck and then at the Admiral and Wilma, and then he looked down at his hands.  Finally he sighed.  “I do not like it, but I concede to your decision, and only say that as soon as feasible, I will be down there to help take care of this spawn of the deep pit of Seniket,” Hawk replied meaningfully. 

As much as Wilma wanted to argue, for she had felt a deep, black surge of fear at Buck’s suggestion, she remembered his comments out in the corridor.  She could not offer anything as concrete for him staying out of this assignment as he had offered to Hawk.   “I do feel, owing to the notoriety that you undoubtedly seem to have gained with this group of people, these terrorists, that you should not be seen in the capital city.” 

“I have to concur,” Asimov and Theo said at the same time.  Asimov continued.  “An assassination would only be too easy in a place like Brix.”

Buck sighed and nodded.  “All right.  Zeron.  We do need to gather evidence of these atrocities for the council and there have been several villages ravaged there, too.” 

“Yes, that makes a great deal of sense,” Dr. Theopolis said.  “And the quicker we have the information we need, the quicker we can send it to the Council and then they will have ample reason for sending out a military ship to deal with this menace.”

“Hawk, I think you need to coordinate reconnaissance,” Asimov said.  “Especially since Devlin is going down planet-side.”

Hawk still looked a bit unhappy with the turn of events, but he nodded. 

They spent the next two hours making more assignments and coordinating all phases of the operation.  

As they left, Hawk pulled Buck aside.  “Buck, I do not like this,” Hawk said, fixing him with a penetrating stare.  

“Now don’t you go sounding like Wilma,” Buck replied.  “I don’t like it, either.  I think there are things we don’t know.  I think Kormand is a thermonuclear bomb waiting to go off.  I think we are going down there with too little information.  I don’t like Wilma and Maria going it alone in the capital with Kormand’s influence so strong down there.  I, personally, would prefer taking on these goons of Kormand’s with you by my side, direct and quick.  But that’s not possible.”

“Has it occurred to you that Kormand may not be in the capital?” Hawk asked.  

“Yeah, but most of his operatives are there, and according to the information the Council gave us, he appears there frequently.  Regardless, even if Wilma and Maria don’t make contact with the boss, his underlings will be dangerous enough.”  Buck sighed and laid his hand on his friend’s shoulder.  “I’ll scout out the colonial outposts.  Get a feel for what’s going on and then you can join me.  Manders can handle the reconnaissance from here.” 

Hawk knew that while this operation worried his friend, he also felt that Buck was underestimating the danger of the colonial outposts.  Hawk worried that this racial bigot had at least partially succeeded, even here on this ship.  Kormand had turned their thinking from that of a venturous optimism to overzealous pessimistic caution.  He spoke his thoughts aloud. 

“Yeah, happened in my day, too.” 

Hawk nodded. “Some things do not change, do they?”  

“No, sadly, they don’t.”  Buck ran his hand through his hair.  “I’ll be glad when we simply go back to saving damsels in distress,” he added wryly. 

Wilma, Maria Moralin and two others left for their mission first and reported no mishaps.  After they had signed off, Buck prepared to leave as well.  Six of his subordinates left, one or two at a time to the various parts of Mendalis where it was felt that the most information could be gathered in the shortest amount of time.  Devlin and Dr. Goodfellow, along with Crichton, left on their assignment in an official and publicly announced shuttle and then it was his turn.  He was the last operative.   The thirteenth.  He grimaced at the thought, although not normally superstitious.  Buck shoved the number out of his mind.  There was work to do.

Admiral Asimov was in the launch bay.   “Be careful, Buck.”

“Sure thing, Admiral.  I’ll watch my back and keep you updated as often as I can.   And if the aboriginals are not overly skittish, I hope to make some kind of contact.”

The admiral nodded and Buck climbed into his starfighter.   Twiki waved good-bye and Buck returned the wave.  He wondered why this whole thing seemed to have a funeral kind of feeling.  Damn that Kormand, he thought.

Buck had studied Zeron, using the long distance reconnaissance photos that Crichton had enhanced for him, but he wanted to scout the places that the robot had surmised had contained alien settlements.  There was evidence of habitation, but it was impossible to tell what kind and some had become almost totally overgrown.  With a sigh, Buck flew toward the continent’s capital city, keeping low.  He landed in the spot in the thick forest predetermined to be large enough to hold his fighter, and after camouflaging the ship, set off down a narrow path that led to Asher.  When the sun was almost directly above, Buck came out of the forest and walked into the small, very much provincial city.   He took a room at the first inn that he came to and changed out of his now sweaty outfit.  After a short rest, Buck walked out of the inn and wandered the streets.  He was not exactly sure of what he was looking for, but he figured he would know when it appeared.  

 

 

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“So the birds have come down to roost,” the light-haired, brown-eyed man said, smiling as he read the report on the screen before him.  Erik Kormand had paid his people well, had them in all the capital cities on all the continents, although in most, he didn’t need to pay anyone to keep him informed.  Most of the humans on Mendalis were now of the same philosophy as he was, and were very conscious of strangers and very eager to share their information with his operatives.   It also helped that he was getting information from the Galactic Council, and that his Council contact was considered to be beyond reproach.  That made it so very easy to get information about the Searcher, her crew and her activities.   It was the Councilman who had told him about Meecros’ spectacular failure at the hands of that damnable Buck Rogers.  How could Meecros be so stupid?   How could ‘his highness’ use the machine that was meant for his own use and, especially use it before it was ready?   Kormand ran his hand through his hair as he remembered his anger.  It wouldn’t have been such a bad idea if the death machine had been ready, but it wasn’t.  Meecros paid for that mistake.  His whole family had paid.   That’s what I get for trusting a non-human with so much money and information.  

While he would have been happier having an organization made up exclusively of full-blooded Earth ancestor humans, Kormand was a realist.   Pure human peoples were scattered all through this very large quadrant, indeed, throughout the galaxy, and it was impossible to get the numbers of followers he needed if his guidelines had been that strict.  But there were many of alien blood that looked human, and very many of those who wanted to be part of his organization, like Meecros.  Right now, it didn’t matter what their reasons for affiliating with Human Rights was, whether it was land, money, or revenge; it suited his purpose.   As long as they were loyal.   Maybe someday when all the ‘obvious’ aliens, those who looked non-human, were gone, destroyed and only memories, Kormand would be able to work on his plan.  The glorious plan for the resurgence of the full-blooded human race.   But it all came back to patience.  He had to be patient.  And vigilant. 

He brought his mind back to the problem at hand, the Searcher and her inept operatives. Right now, the only ones he wasn’t going to worry with were the old man and his escort, sent officially to inquire about the activities on Mendalis.  They were totally harmless, as all of the government officials were in his political camp and would give these visitors a great deal of trivial double speak anyway.  He would have the rest watched, and taken care of when the time was right.   They would meet with a variety of accidents.  None of them would interfere in his plans to get rid of the last of the alien populations here on this planet and make it his permanent headquarters. 

“Hmm, keep an eye on all of them.  Do nothing until I give the word or unless they find something that could be damaging to the cause.  I especially want someone to keep an eye on Buck Rogers when he arrives.  Here on Zeron, is that right?”

“Yes, sir, General Kormand,” the young man in front of him said formally.

“Not so stiff, Reese.”  Kormand smiled.  “I would like him captured at the right moment.  I have special plans for that one.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Alive, mind you.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Have my fighter readied for launch.  I think I’ll pay a visit to the capital.  I would like to get together with Colonel Deering.  She wants so much to meet me.”

“Now, sir?”

“Of course-- now.  We wouldn’t want to keep the lady waiting.  I hear she’s quite beautiful.”

The young man finally smiled.  “I’ll send the word to the hanger bay right now, General.”

 

 

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Wilma blinked in the bright sunlight, but drew the beaded jacket closer to her for warmth.  This part of Mendalis stayed moderately temperate, not too hot in the summer, but somewhat cool in the winter.  It was early winter.  She and Maria Moralin had left their small shuttle at a spaceport in a small city about one hundred kilometers from Brix, spending the night at a small, but comfortable hotel.  This morning they had commuted part way into Brix, where they stopped at a large, crowded restaurant.  There she and Maria had put on their disguises.  Hair color quickly applied, hair straightener, lenses, make up, fancier clothing.  All done meticulously, but in a relatively short period of time and all evidence speedily destroyed.   If anyone had watched them go into the ladies lounge and waited to see them come out, they would have been disappointed.  For those coming out looked nothing like the women who had gone in.

Wilma and Maria appeared, for all the world, like two provincial young women heading for the capital for a good time, slightly overdressed, totally awestruck over their good fortune and very much like most of the other female humans milling around the commuter station. 

Wilma noticed a distinct absence of non-humans among the crowds. Kormand and his followers had done their work well, insidiously sowing the seeds of distrust and hatred that had flowered into acts of violence and bigotry.  Non-humans had retreated into the background, heading on a course toward oblivion.

“Hey, Marlina, let’s go on the next commuter,” Wilma said jauntily.  

Her companion nodded and smiled as she also gazed at all the men in the terminal.  Some of them were nice looking, Wilma had to admit.  They boarded the commuter, something that resembled archival pictures Buck had shown her, and were soon speeding toward the heart of Brix, gazing out the windows in seemingly rapt wonder.  

“Excuse me, ladies, but are you here for the weekend?” a low voice asked.  

Wilma turned and gazed into a pair of large and very penetrating brown eyes.  The man’s sandy hair was highlighted with a slight tint of red when the sun touched it.  The hair was curly, like he had spent time on a beach and he had let it go natural.  He was tanned as though he had spent a great deal of time in the sun, too.  His smile was warm and friendly and Wilma felt herself drawn to him, trusting him. 

“Yes, we got enough time off work so we decided to spend some time in the Fylos district,” Maria interjected, her voice bubbly.  “We heard it was fun.” 

The man favored Maria with a smile as well, then turned back to Wilma.  “What’s your name?” 

“Who wants to know?” Wilma said coolly, even though she was smiling.  She didn’t want to seem too eager.  Their quarry wasn’t some hot between the legs man on a commuter; it was Erik Kormand.  “We don’t usually speak to strangers, even if they are handsome.” 

The man laughed merrily, seemingly not put off by her answer.  “Erik Richards.  And now we aren’t strangers.”

Wilma joined in his laughter, not able to help herself.  This Erik was charming, even if not their ultimate goal.  She could play along.  He seemed to know the area; maybe he would be of some use.  “Felee,” she answered.  “We’re from Roos.  And this is Marlina,” she added pointing to Maria, who smiled and waved her fingers at him.  Wilma had to restrain her laughter.  Maria was playing the slightly ditzy tourist act to the hilt. 

“Marlina,” he said with a slight tip of his head.  Then he smiled even more broadly.  “I am spending some time in Fylos, too.  I would be happy to show you around.  I know the area pretty well.” 

“Oh, I don’t know,” Wilma said hesitantly. 

“Please, as my guests.  I promise I won’t bite,” Erik assured her.  “There are two of you, you know.” 

Maria laughed.  “Do you think you can handle two of us?” 

Wilma smiled.  “Marlina!” 

Maria giggled.  Erik chuckled.   

Wilma wondered about the similarity in name between this man and Erik Kormand and wondered how common that first name was.  She pondered if that was any indication of the popularity of the ‘Human Rights’ leader.   His name seemed to be very well known, even if his face was not.  Could Kormand have become so popular that men would change their names?   He reminded Wilma a little bit of Buck, having something of the same boyish charm, even though Erik appeared a bit older than Buck. 

“No problem,” Erik chuckled, his grin warm and friendly.  “This is why I, a stranger, offered.”  He bowed like an old-fashioned gallant, and showed them to their seat.  “You two interest me and I believe you would be more than a match for me, if I even considered doing something unseemly, which I wouldn’t.” 

“Well, we have a while to get to know one another anyway,” Wilma said with a smile.  

They bantered for the duration of the commute and before they knew it, Erik announced, “This is Fylos sector.  Fun, games, dancing and the best time to be had on all Mendalis.  Would you ladies like to accompany me?”  

“I believe so,” Wilma said, even as Maria gave an emphatic ‘yes.’  The colonel hoped that they would find out about Kormand without a great deal of effort but suspected that it would take a bit of time and several visits, if they could hold their covers that long before Kormand found out who they were.  They knew so little about Erik Kormand; he was so elusive.  They didn’t even know what he looked like.  He had been almost unknown before the affair on Endril.  As Hawk had stated, mass bigotry and prejudice had been a nameless and faceless entity.  There was still no face, but Wilma was determined to that there soon would be.

“Come Felee, Marlina,” Erik said.  “Let’s go have fun.”  He held out his arms and allowed the ladies to each take one.  The three of them walked off the commuter and out into the bustling, noisy infamous Fylos section of Brix. 

 

 

 

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