Cat's Cradle

by

Sue Kite

 

 

 

Chapter Three

 

 

Dream Weaver... I believe you can get me through the night
Dream Weaver... I believe we can reach the morning light.”

 

 

Dr. Goodfellow was tending to the brixtel, muttering to himself, when Hawk came in.  He sighed, knowing the conversation would be similar to that which he had just had with Wilma and before that, the admiral.  “Hello, Hawk,” he said simply, barely looking up. 

“How is Buck?” the birdman asked without any preliminaries.

Shaking his head, Goodfellow sighed, then said, “The same.  I finally had to put restraints on him to get medical scans.  Couldn’t do the brain scan with him sedated.”

“And?”

“No sign of injuries or trauma of any kind,” the doctor replied. 

“And no sign of recognition?”

“None.”

Hawk sighed.  “Then what do you propose?”

“Keep watching him.  Hope that his brain activity somehow increases,” Goodfellow said, his voice sounding less than hopeful.

“Increases?” Hawk asked, alarmed.  He only knew a little about human medicine but knew brain activity was a measure of viability in almost all sentient creatures.  At least by the humans’ standards of sentience.  No measurable brain activity, little hope of intelligent interaction.

“Buck’s scans show only minimal activity, perhaps that of a non-sentient animal,” Goodfellow explained sadly.  He gazed meaningfully at Hawk.  “I haven’t told anyone else this, yet, except you, the admiral and Wilma.”

Hawk could only imagine what effect this news would have had on Wilma.  He nodded in understanding.  “Do you think it could increase?”

The doctor simply sighed and shook his head.  “There are exceptions,” he finally said.  “But they are rare.”

“But we must have hope,” Hawk said, gazing intently at the scientist.

“Yes.”  There didn’t seem to be much hope in the old human’s voice. 

Looking down at the creature on the table in front of him, Hawk asked, “And the brixtel?”

“Mmm, yes,” Goodfellow murmured.  “Just the opposite, I have to admit.”

“What do you mean?” Hawk asked.  “Are you saying that the brixtels are more intelligent than any of the previous surveys indicated?”

“This creature sustained many serious injuries.  I don’t think I can do anything for it,” Dr. Goodfellow said distractedly, ignoring Hawk’s specific question.

Hawk was astonished.  “Doctor Goodfellow, I have seen you heal much more severely injured entities than this.  And were you saying that this creature is sentient?”

“I can keep it alive, and perhaps give it some measure of life, but you have to remember that it has to survive in a wild and sometimes very hostile environment.”  The old man paused.  “He could not survive in the wild.  He has lost an eye, lost a great deal of blood, is partially crippled in such a way that I am not sure if it could run fast enough to catch its prey.”  He gazed meaningfully at Hawk.

“But it could live with colonists,” Hawk suggested.  “You heard Wilma’s report.  Whether by fluke or mutation or whatever, this animal was friendly to her and tried to save her and Buck.” 

“Presumably, and the answer to your earlier question is yes.  This creature’s brain function scan shows incredible sentience, belying previous reports on brixtels,” Goodfellow finally admitted.

“But the other brixtels behaved exactly as the first science studies reported,” Hawk pointed out.

Goodfellow nodded.  “That is the main reason I ran so many tests on this brixtel.  He is a mystery.”

“Is there anything I can do to help Buck?” Hawk asked. 

“Perhaps go in and talk to him,” the doctor suggested.  “He is heavily sedated, but you never know what might be a key to unlock the mystery.”

“I will do that, Doctor Goodfellow.”

 

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

 

Buck woke to subdued but persistent pain.  He felt the grogginess of pain medication but after a while, the foggy tendrils of sleep began to slowly drift away.  And with wakefulness came memory, muted and dull, but enough to make sense of what had happened to him.  Buck remembered the readings, crazy skewed readings coming from a cave, the entrance overgrown with thick vegetation.  He remembered entering, still following the strange readings on his science monitor.  He remembered a brief thought of wishing for Twiki and a back of the neck hair-raising moment.  There was an eerie glow in the cave, pinkish red, and two yellow pinpoints farther away like animal’s eyes. 

He turned on his flashlight and had a momentary glimpse of various devices before he realized that the two yellow spots were animal’s eyes.  A brixtel hiss-snarled and rose to its feet.  Buck dropped his monitor and jerked out his laser quickly thumbing it to stun.  As the brixtel leapt toward him, he fired and then everything blazed into a world of fire and ice, searing heat one second, painful cold the next and then nothing.  

A transmutation device apparently, Buck thought as he opened his eyes—no, eye, and gazed around him.  In his line of sight stood Dr. Goodfellow.  He was on the Searcher!  They had brought him on board.  The pain couldn’t dull that flash of hope.  Buck heard Hawk and the doctor talking, one sadly listing the injuries this body had sustained and the other speaking of saving the brixtel.  His own body was discussed.  Apparently Dr. Goodfellow had run quite a few tests on both of them.  Naturally there would be less than normal results, Buck thought.  Then came Hawk’s suggestion.  No!  NO!   To be trapped in this body, crippled and silent was not an option.  He got here on board the ship, there had to be a way to get him back in his own body.  But how could that happen when no one knew what had really happened.  The key was the cave.  Something in that cave.  No!  The key was in getting Dr. Goodfellow and Hawk to understand that he was in the brixtel.  But how to tell them?   Somehow Buck had to communicate. But how, he wondered again?  How?  He let his thoughts drift into a half doze, then he forced himself awake again.  Can’t sleep, he thought.

Buck considered his options.  They could use an OEI, like they had when he was on Earth when Hieronymous Fox had pulled his stunt, but still there was the problem of communicating the need for one.  He couldn’t talk and he couldn’t hold a pen.  Buck didn’t know if he could tap a computer keyboard or even if he could reach one with his injuries.  Extending his claws, one at a time, now easy to do since he had figured out this body, he pondered.  The pain of even that small movement made him wince and the pain in his leg shot through his body. 

“He is awakening, Doctor,” said Hawk.

“Oh dear, I hope he doesn’t react violently to his surroundings,” Dr. Goodfellow said.  “I can only imagine how strange they might seem to a creature used to living in forests and fields.”

Buck forced himself to relax as Dr. Goodfellow leaned forward to look him in the face.  He thought of the irony of the doctor’s last statement.   How can I get you to understand? he wondered desperately.  He gazed steadily into the doctor’s eyes, willing him to understand, willing him to even think that there was more to this brixtel than just a fluke mutation.   He almost laughed.  When he had been a kid, his grandfather had told him that cats could give one ideas by just concentrating.   Dr. Goodfellow sighed and looked sad.   Apparently, thought Buck, there wasn’t enough cat in a brixtel to do what his grandfather and others thought felines could do.

Buck closed his eye and lay his head back down on the table.  A claw scraped the edge.  It was still out from its protective sheath, probably due to injury.  It scraped against the metal again, softly, but Buck felt a tingling.  Something he should be figuring out.  It was important, but he couldn’t think.  Why was the scraping of the claw important? 

“He appears to be in pain,” the doctor said.  There was some rustling, like paperwork. 

“Perhaps,” Hawk said, but he didn’t sound totally convinced.  He gazed thoughtfully at the brixtel who was, in reality, his first human friend.

Claw.  Scrape.  It tapped, then scraped the edge of the metal examination table.  Tap, tap. 

“Yes, it’s been long enough.  I should give our poor patient something so he doesn’t become too agitated from the pain and the strange surroundings,” Goodfellow said. 

Buck heard the doctor’s voice, but concentrated on the tapping claw.  Tap, tap, soft scrape.   Tapping—tapping.   Tapping!   That’s it.  Code!  A code—Morse code!  All pilots had to learn Morse.  It was basic in the first year of the Air Force Academy.   In case voice communication was out, or they were trapped somewhere, or injured.   Buck thought sardonically, I am certainly trapped—in a body that doesn’t allow me to talk.  And I am definitely  injured.   If he could only control his injured leg enough to tap out a message.   He concentrated on making the paw do what he wanted it to do.  Move!  Cooperate!   He curled the thin digits of his front right paw and then relaxed them; he moved the leg more onto the exam table where he could tap to greater effect.  Good, he thought, very good. 

“Ah, my friend, you will soon be feeling better,” Doctor Goodfellow said.  

Buck felt the prick of a needle.  No!  Not now!  Desperately, Buck began tapping, willing his body to cooperate before the pain medicine took effect and knocked him out.  Dash, dot, dot, dot.  Dot, dot, dash.  Dash, dot, dash, dot.  Dash, dot, dash.  ‘Buck.’

Dr. Goodfellow and Hawk stopped talking.  Buck felt the sedative taking effect, making his mind sluggish, more sluggish than it already was.  Dot, dash, dot, dot.  Dot, dot.  Dot, dot, dot.  Dash.  Dot.  Dash, dot.  ‘Listen!’   Then he began his name again, but couldn’t continue.  Consciousness wavered, just as the two people in front of him wavered.  They looked puzzled.  He tried again, finally getting his name out again, then having to stop, worn out as well as lethargic.  Through the crystalline eye, Buck saw Dr. Goodfellow staring at him curiously.  Hawk’s gaze scrutinized him and Buck willed understanding.  Hawk turned away and Buck felt despair covering him like the blanket of torpor that the drug was inducing.  Slowly his mind darkened and he fell asleep.  

“The poor creature must have been having spasms,” Dr. Goodfellow said sadly after the brixtel fell asleep. 

“If it didn’t seem so fantastic, I might think it was trying to communicate,” Hawk murmured, turning back to the sleeping brixtel. 

“What an intriguing thought,” the doctor said.  “But totally impossible.” 

Hawk gazed meaningfully at the human, not understanding how he could entertain such notions after all they had seen in their travels.  Indeed, it had been Dr. Goodfellow, as well as Buck who had proposed the idea that there could be other bird people among the stars.  “Why?” he finally said.  “Rock eagles on Morester have a clicking code.”

“Yes, with their beaks.  I have heard of them.”   He paused and lightly touched the severely injured brixtel on the shoulder.   “But why would there have been only this one creature showing such awareness and intelligence?"

Hawk shook his head.  “I do not know, but I think we should consider such a thing within the realm of possibility.”  He walked over to the table where Buck lay sedated and strapped to the medical bed. 

Behind him, Dr. Goodfellow nodded. 

 

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

 

Miru drifted in a fog, much like that at the Cauldron of Visions in her home place in the mountains.  But it was a white fog that slowly changed colors.  First red, then gray, then darkening to brown and finally back to white.  Sometimes she felt a surface under her and then it was as though she was floating.  A slight wave of dizziness passed over her and tendrils of pain behind her closed eyelids.   Then she heard a tapping.   Tap, tap, tap.  It varied even as it spoke of cadence.  There was a slight whispering of scratching that broke the rhythm of the tapping.  But even that held a cadence, a song.  Or was it?  Miru couldn’t tell, only that it was trying to tell her something.  She felt desperate need, a desire that was so strong to be painful.  More tapping and more sighing that was light scratching.  It was almost like a heartbeat, except that it varied in its pulse.   Then there was a plea for understanding.  Understand what? she asked in her mind.  What?  Who are you?  Where are you?  There was no answer, only more tapping, then it softly began to whisper away, until there was nothing left except the desperate need, the hunger for understanding.  Then that, too, was gone.

And she jerked awake to face the muted light of her cabin.  Someone on board the ship was in pain, physical pain, and that same someone was in anguish.  It was like they were lost and couldn’t find anyone to help them.   She lay there for a while, then closed her eyes trying to find whoever it was again.  But there was nothing, no answering to her query.

 

 

Chapter 4
Cat's Cradle 1
Buck Rogers Contents
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