Freedom's Wings

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-three

 

   

At Sky Mother and Sky Father’s suggestion everyone tried to get comfortable enough to sleep, but even though they were all tired from their journey, sleep was virtually impossible.  The group was still in shock over Buck and Wilma’s kidnapping, even though they weren’t totally surprised.  The only one seemingly not anxious was Tigerman, but Hawk knew that the felinoid was simply doing what his people normally did in such situations—not worrying about it until an opportunity to act did present itself.   Tigerman curled up in a corner and was quickly asleep.

“We have only to talk to the elders tomorrow,” Sky Mother said softly to her beloved as they sat together near the balcony. 

“They mentioned a queen,” Sky Warrior said.  “Could it be that there is no leadership by elders here?” 

“Miru told me there was,” Hawk said, joining the small group.  

“What if she was only saying what we wanted to hear in order to get us into the city?” Sky Warrior suggested.  

“She would not have to lie to succeed,” Sky Mother said with a soft smile.  

“I believe Miru was sincere,” Hawk said.  “I did not feel . . . duplicity in her.”  He paused.  “But I feel there are things among this people that are not right,” he said hesitantly.  

Sky Mother nodded sadly.  “Yes, I do, too, and yet I felt the rightness of coming here.”  

Sky Father wrapped his arms around his beloved.  “As did I.  We cannot say what Make-Make has in mind for each of us in the total scheme of things.”  

The door suddenly clicked and opened, and a guard admitted an older winged birdwoman.  “You can only stay a short time,” the guard admonished.  

The birdwoman bristled, glaring at the warrior.  “My husband, the Elder Leader, told me to stay as long as needed,” she retorted.  “And the last I knew, the Elder Council still held power among the people.”  She glared fiercely at the guard.  “If you are worried that I will smuggle these visitors out through the balcony, then stay in the room and watch.”  

The guard looked uncertain, then said something under his breath to his partner, who closed the door to the room.  The first guard found a chair by the door and made himself as comfortable as he could.  

Sky Mother got up and approached the old birdwoman.  “If you are the beloved of the Elder Leader, would that make you Sky Mother?” 

“I am simply the beloved of the acting Elder Leader, nothing more,” Mara said with smile.  “I am Mara.” 

“I am Sky Mother, a leader of the Tane-rapanui on Mendalis,” she said, taking Mara’s hands in greeting.  She was astonished at the strength of feelings that emanated from Mara.  She released one hand and pointed to her mate.  “This is Sky Father, my beloved.” Then she proceeded to introduce everyone else.  When she finished she gazed deeply into Mara’s eyes.  “There are yet two more of our group.” 

Mara nodded.  “Yes, I know.  My beloved is checking on them.  He has called a Council of Elders for first light.  There you will all be able to tell your stories and your reason for being here.” 

“So there is a leadership council,” Hawk said.  

“Yes,” Mara said and then her eyes suddenly filled with tears.  “And there are others of the bird people on other worlds.” 

“Yes,” Hawk said.  “I am from Throm.” 

“And the rest of us are from Mendalis,” Sky Warrior announced.  

“Please tell me about your homes.  What are they like?” Mara asked, her voice pleading. 

“Come, sit over here with us and we can tell you some of our history,” Sky Father said.  “The rest will be saved for the council.” 

Still holding Sky Mother’s hand, feeling the strength of her good will, Mara allowed herself to be led near the balcony where the group sat and talked. 

 

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“And since when does the queen’s command supercede that of the Elder Leader’s?” Ranakatu thundered to the guard. 

The warrior hesitated and Ranakatu noticed the large pistol at his side.  It was a laser of very high power, mainly used in the destruction of aircraft that ventured too close to the valley.  It was also used to impose the ultimate punishment on criminals—death.  

The queen had evidently decided to be rid of the humans before the council convened, even foregoing the interrogation.  What was she afraid of?  Or was this a show of her power?  Was she planning the same with the rest of the visitors?  Then a possibility infringed upon his mind.  Cooperation between humans and Tane-rapanui would negate all the propaganda she had been recently telling the populace, and weaken her power.  The Tane-rapanui visitors would ultimately have to be sacrificed as well, but tonight?  Somehow Ranakatu didn’t think so.  She could lay treason charges on the visitors later.  But the idea that Arana was terrified of these humans and what they could do to her power intrigued him.  He must keep them alive at all costs.  

“Uh, Elder Leader?” the warrior stammered.  

“Who did you think it was, Warrior?” 

“I was just told not to let anyone in to see the prisoners,” the guard said.  His wings flapped lightly in his agitation.  It was clear to Ranakatu that he was lying.  

“I am simply determining whether to include these intruders in tomorrow’s council, Warrior.  I am not here to have a party or set them free,” Ranakatu said caustically.  

“Yes, sir . . . I mean, no, sir.” 

“Well, let us see what you caught,” the elder said when the guard did nothing. 

“Yes, sir.” 

They went together into the darkened corridor.  “Did you not bring a light?” Ranakatu asked, trying to peer into the darkness.  

“Yes, sir, but I was going to use it when I open the door to their cell.  To blind them so they cannot do anything or pull any tricks,” the guard replied.  

Ranakatu nodded.  “Good thinking.  They are tricky creatures.” 

The warrior prepared to open the door.  The elder stayed close to his sight.  With a jerk the guard pulled open the door and turned on his light.  Ranakatu saw that the male, despite his inability to see in the dark, had placed himself in front of the female.  It was obvious by his stance that the human was a warrior of some kind.  The female was quickly by his side, equally ready.  Both blinked, blinded by the sudden light, hands shielding their faces until they became used to the light.  

Ranakatu suddenly cried out, “No!  They cannot be allowed in the Council!”  He pulled out his own stun pistol, unseen by the warrior.  

“That is exactly what the queen said, sir,” the guard said, almost with a sigh of relief.  “She wanted them destroyed.  

That was all Ranakatu needed to hear and what he had already surmised.  He fired his stun pistol and the guard crumpled to the ground.  

The human male, whose eyes had adjusted to the light, gazed at him in surprise.  Both humans looked ready to spring at him and he lowered his stun gun to reassure them.  They didn’t look totally reassured, though.  “I am Ranakatu, the acting Elder Leader.”  He stuck his stun pistol in his belt where it would be quickly pulled out if need be and pulled the light away from the warrior’s unconscious body so he could see the humans better.  He also took the guard’s laser pistol and stuck it in the pocket of his jacket.  The humans relaxed a little, but still looked ready to fight or escape.  Ranakatu didn’t blame them their suspicions. 

“I am Colonel Wilma Deering,” the female said.  “And this is Captain Buck Rogers.”  

“So you are both warriors,” the elder said.  

“Yes, I guess you could call us that, but now we consider ourselves more . . . uh, diplomats,” Wilma Deering said, scrutinizing the elder closely.  “Thanks for saving us.  I somehow don’t think that was a simple stun gun,” she said, indicating the large pistol that Ranakatu has taken from the guard. 

Ranakatu noticed that the human spoke the language of his people fair enough, at least so he could understand.  “It remains to be seen whether you live past the Council or not,” Ranakatu said tersely.  “You are human and you came uninvited.” 

Surprisingly, the male, Buck Rogers, seemed to relax a bit more.  “If we had politely asked would you have invited us?” 

“No.” 

“Then we did what we had to do.”  He paused.  “Did anyone tell you that we came with no more than personal protection weapons?” 

Ranakatu noticed that the male had a better command of the language than his partner.  “No.  It was only by chance that I learned of your presence at all.” 

The woman had been gazing at him intently.  “Why did you save us then?” 

“I did not feel that your fate should be left in the hands of one person.”  He paused and pondered a moment, wondering about these avowed enemies.  “And I am curious as to why humans would venture into our valley.”  He partially opened his wings to get the kinks out.  “That would make you stupid, ignorant or very dedicated to whatever cause you believe in,” he said, all the while continuing to try to gauge these humans.  He could not quite bring himself to move closer to them, there was too much past between the two species, but somehow, he felt they had not come to harm his people.  

“We are here to help unify your people and ours, if you will let us,” Buck said.  He saw the fear in Ranakatu’s countenance as well as distrust, but he also saw curiosity and the ability to accept something new.  He sincerely hoped so or this cold night would be their last.  

Still suspicious, Ranakatu wondered just what benefit the humans wanted from such a union.  “Why?” 

“It began with one lonely, hurt and hate-filled birdman,” Buck said.  

“One of the miru-moruku in your party?”  

“Yes, the lone survivor of the Tane-rapanui people on Throm,” Buck began.  “Believe it or not that was the first that I had even heard of your people.   Hawk was ready to die in battle against humans but when we learned a little of the history of the Tane-rapanui, we convinced him he should live to find more of your people.  And in that searching, we have learned that it isn’t just the Tane-rapanui peoples that need unifying, but Tane-rapanui and humans as well.”  He gazed deeply into the old birdman’s eyes.  “It can be done, Elder Leader.  We have proved that it’s possible.” 

Ranakatu thought about the human’s words.  He was passionate, that certainly couldn’t be denied.  “But how did you get here?” 

“On an Earth ship, the Searcher, built specifically for exploration and discovery.  While most of the ship’s complement is human, one of its most important members is Tane-rapanui,” Buck replied.  

“And when Tane-rapanui from Mendalis desired to seek you out, there was no question but that we would bring them here,” Wilma added.  

Again Ranakatu felt the importance of this visit of strangers as a means of breaking the growing stranglehold of the queen.  He fully meant to take advantage of it.  “You will have a chance later this morning to convince the entire Council of your purpose in coming.  So will the rest of your expedition, but in order to do that I have to take you to a safe place.”  

“That’s certainly fine with me,” Buck said.  “It’s freezing down here.” 

Ranakatu pondered just where this safe place might be.  It was certainly late enough that there would be few to see them in the corridors, but that few would be enough.  Then an idea occurred to him and he smiled.  It was so simple.  “Come with me.” 

Ranakatu led them out of the dark chamber and up a long flight of stairs.  He was very careful that no one saw them as yet and he took the lesser-used passages.  He was successful; they met no one until they were at the guest chambers.  The warrior standing in front of the door gaped at them in surprise, then he began to draw his weapon, a heavy-duty laser like the one Ranakatu had taken from the guard in the lower cell.  

“Put it away, Warrior,” Ranakatu said.  “They are unarmed, have not tried to escape or harm me and if they had, I would have used the pistol I have in my possession.” 

“But they are humans!”  

“Indeed they are,” Ranakatu agreed.  “But it is the Council of Elders that will decide their fate, not a warrior.”  The elder decided on diplomacy, not wishing to name the queen in any duplicity until a full council meeting. 

The humans watched the verbal sparring with not a little concern, but they wisely kept still.  

“Right now, they will be safer with their companions.  My beloved will stay with the intruders until they are summoned for the council meeting.”  He paused, hoping he was sounding properly authoritarian.  “To stay unbiased, I will not go in with the visitors but I put you in charge to make sure nothing happens to any of them.  You will answer to the Council if anything does.”  

The warrior stammered and then nodded.  “Yes, Elder.”  

In one respect, Ranakatu felt sorry for the young warrior.   He was stuck between loyalties and in the middle of a political morass, but there was no help for it.  The elder just hoped that the threat of a council censure was more powerful than the orders of the queen.  “Good, let us get these humans into the guest chambers.” 

The guard nodded his affirmation and then turned the key that unlocked the door.  He opened it and then motioned the two humans inside.  

“You will stay at this post until the visitors are summoned by the Council,” Ranakatu ordered.  “Do not abandon your post.”  He was very glad that his position was still respected and was confident that this guard would do just exactly as he ordered. 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-four
Chapter One
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