Cat's Cradle

by

Sue Kite

 

 

 

Chapter Four

 

 

The awakening seemed to be a little harder this time.  Every muscle felt glued to the bed; his body mired in cement.   At least, Buck thought when his mind had cleared a little more, there seemed to be a little less pain.   This time, he lay quietly, listening.  There were the clicking, whirring, shuffing noises that were normal in the medical facility.  There was also the soft murmuring of voices, as though from a distance.  He opened his good eye and saw Dr. Goodfellow and Hawk nearby, studying a computer read-out.  The imperious voice of Crichton came from the other side of his bed.  “I have studied these creatures….”

“You have studied the scientific notes on these creatures,” Dr. Goodfellow said somewhat testily. 

“But what about Buck,” Twiki said plaintively.  The ambu-quad was out of Buck’s range of vision. 

“Not now, Twiki,” another voice said.  Wilma, Buck identified.  He was able to barely see her, almost hidden by Hawk. 

He had to try again.  Surely with so many people in the room, someone would understand what he was doing.  ‘Dot, dot, dot, dot.  Dot.  Dot, dash.  Dot, dash, dot.’  Then—‘Dash, dash.  Dot.’  Hear me!   It was exhausting.  Hard taps, soft taps; it was hard to separate them for understanding.  Buck stopped a few minutes to muster a little energy.  Then he continued.  ‘Dot, dot, dot.  Dash, dash, dash.  Dot, dot, dot.’  SOS.  Tap, tap, tap.  Tap, tap, tap.  It was difficult.  Sometimes the light taps turned into a slight scratching sound when he was too tired to pick up the claw.  Tap, tap, tap.  Several times.  Then he signaled his name.  Again, he stopped.  Everyone in the room was silent; all were watching him.  Wilma was in his eyesight and appeared puzzled. 

Then he continued.  ‘Dash, dot, dot, dot.  Dot, dot, dash.  Dash, dot, dash, dot.  Dash, dot, dash.’  His name.   Hawk was studying him carefully, even more than he had the last time he had been awake.  

Dr. Goodfellow also concentrated on him for a moment before turning to Crichton.  “Can you determine what kind of code this is?”

The robot raised his arms to his side in a movement that signaled his annoyance at being bothered by something so trivial, but he said nothing for a moment.  He huffed and then spoke.  “I have been programmed with several thousand codes and languages, but this is not one of them,” he said.

“I know what some of that was,” Twiki piped. 

“What?” several people said at once, their voices registering obvious surprise.

Twiki beeped, but before he could say anything, Crichton commented haughtily.  “You are not nearly as sophisticated as I am.  How could you know the code of an obscure species on an uninhabited planet?”

“Because it’s not a code of an obscure species on an uninhabited planet,” Twiki said irritably.  To Buck’s mind the ambu-quad looked ready to kick the larger robot.  Do it, he prompted, with sarcastic humor.   “Some of that was called ‘S.O.S.’,” Twiki added.

“S.O.S.?” Wilma asked gently, although there was a hint of impatience in her voice.  “Where did you learn it?  Where is it from?”  Then before Twiki could say anything, she gasped.  “From Buck!”

“Exactly, Colonel Deering,” Twiki replied.

“Somehow, this creature learned it from Buck before his accident, or whatever happened,” Wilma said.  She gazed at Twiki.  “Do you know more?”

“Buck called it Morse code and I know there is more, but he only started teaching me and never finished,” the little robot said, and then paused.  After a second’s silence, he beeped in surprise.  “That last was Buck’s name!”

“What?” asked Dr. Goodfellow.

Twiki repeated some of the brixtel’s taps and scratching dashes.   “That spells ‘Buck’ in Morse code.”

Buck tried to raise up, but his injuries and a pair of soft restraints prevented him from doing more than raising his head.  Somehow he had to communicate his plight.  He remembered beginning to teach Twiki.  Maybe they could take that and add to what he was trying to do.  ‘Dot, dash- A.’  Dash, dot, dot, dot- B.’  Dash, dot, dash, dot- C.’

“A, B, C,” Twiki translated.

‘Dash, dot, dot- D.’  ‘Dot- E.’  Dot, dot, dash, dot- F,’ Buck continued. 

“D,” Twiki began, then stopped.  “I don’t know the other two.”  Then he beeped as Hawk stared at the injured brixtel.

“I am assuming that this code uses a combination of distinct and non-distinct taps for each letter of the human alphabet?” the birdman asked. 

“Yes,” Twiki replied.  “Buck said the longer taps were dots and the pauses or sometimes softer taps were dashes used in different combinations to make letters, which were put together to make words.”  Then the ambu-quad waved his arm and beeped.  “He’s teaching us the alphabet!”

“I believe you are right,” Dr. Goodfellow said thoughtfully.  “I only hope he has the strength to do so.”

Buck did, too, as he continued to tap out the letters.  The rests between each letter became longer and longer, but he persisted until the last letter, then with a sigh he fell asleep.

Dr. Goodfellow looked over the notes a med tech had taken down on the computer.  “Twiki, would you listen to the first coded message?  We have been recording everything that has happened since the brixtel was first brought in here.”  

“Of course, Doctor,” Twiki replied promptly. 

Dr. Goodfellow gave instructions to the tech at the terminal and soon a recording of the code was repeating in the medical bay. 

“The first thing was ‘hear me.’  Then he taped an S.O.S. and he taped out Buck’s name.”

“What’s S.O.S.?” Wilma asked.

“Buck told me it was a universal distress signal, a call for help that was used almost exclusively in the late nineteenth century and most of twentieth century,” responded Twiki. 

“Then he did get it from Buck.   But how?” Wilma asked, perplexed.

“Dr. Goodfellow?” Hawk began from across the room.  “Can you give me the password to Buck’s medical records?”

“Yes, but why?” Goodfellow asked.

“I cannot exactly say why, but I suppose it would be what Buck would call a hunch.”

“Of course, you can, dear boy, of course,” the old scientist said, typing in a string of symbols into the computer.  “We don’t have much else to grasp at.”

“And is there something you can give the brixtel to help it stay more lucid?” Hawk added.  “Somehow, I feel it will be the key to this entire mystery.”

“Yes, I believe the treatment can be increased to compensate for its increased activity.”

Wilma stood nearby watching both men, feeling sad and confused.  Glancing over her shoulder at the sedated and non-responsive Buck only increased those feelings.  What happened down there? she wondered for the hundredth time.  The solution had to be in that strange area and those equally strange readings.  “Let me know what you find out.  I’m going down below to check out those anomalous readings.”

“Is that wise?” Hawk asked, his eyes flicking to Buck’s still form in the bed across the room.

Wilma felt anger flare and then she squelched it.  Hawk was only concerned about her safety in light of what happened to Buck.  “Maybe not, but I will be careful and won’t do anything foolish.”

“Please stay in close communication,” Hawk urged. 

Wilma smiled.  “I will, Hawk.  And I will be careful.”

As she left, Hawk turned back to the screen.  He ignored his surroundings, studying Buck’s medical records of the past two years, since the time of his awakening in this century.  Of particular note were the scans taken at that time.  He compared them to the scans that Dr. Goodfellow had recently ordered and felt despair, but he pushed them aside, wanting to follow his ‘hunch’.  He studied the brixtel’s scans as he heard the creature behind him begin slowly tapping again.  As Hawk saw the two scans, Buck’s two-year-old ones and the new ones of the brixtel, he almost gasped in shock.  He studied them again, to make sure he had been seeing everything correctly.  “Doctor Goodfellow,” Hawk said, still staring at the screen.   There was no answer.  It was then he realized that Twiki had been talking, too.  “Dr. Goodfellow,” he said louder. 

The scientist was staring at the now awake brixtel, then he leaned forward and released the creature’s restraints.  Hawk got up and walked over to the table where the injured creature lay. 

“It is totally unbelievable, totally unbelievable,” Dr. Goodfellow muttered. 

“That Buck’s mind is somehow in this creature’s body?” Hawk asked. 

“Yes.”  Dr. Goodfellow looked at Hawk and then at the med console Hawk had been using.  “And that is where you came to your conclusion?”

“Yes, Doctor.  The scans for Buck when he was first awakened and for the brixtel here are almost identical.”

The brixtel/Buck was looking at them.  He tapped out a quick code, which Twiki translated with an amused beep.  “’Bout time.”

Hawk smiled softly. 

“Transmutation.  But how?” Dr. Goodfellow asked to no one in particular. 

Buck sighed.  ‘Do not remember,’ he tapped.  After a moment of rest, he added, “OEI.”

Hawk nodded.  “Yes, not only would that help find out what happened, but it would be much simpler and easier for you than tapping out a code,” Hawk said to Buck.

“But an OEI can be hard on an individual as well,” Dr. Goodfellow warned.

Now that Hawk knew what to look for, he thought he could read what was on Buck’s mind.  The crystalline eye showed a bit of humor along with impatient desire.  There was another tapped message.  ‘OEI.’  It seemed more emphatic somehow.

Dr. Goodfellow nodded and turned to get the apparatus.

Hawk gazed at Buck and then smiled softly.  “I suppose the OEI will tell us how this strange dilemma you are in came about, but I cannot help but wonder at your propensity for getting into these situations.”

Buck just gazed at the birdman for a moment, then he began tapping. “Ha, ha,” and then, “Getting out is important.”

“Yes, indeed it is,” Hawk concurred. 

Buck struggled to a sitting position and then waited quietly to regain some measure of equilibrium.  Hawk was next to the side of the medical bed, watching him closely.  Feeling much better than he had when he had first awakened, Buck still felt extremely weak. 

Dr. Goodfellow walked over with the smallest OEI device he had and placed it on Buck’s head, adjusting it so that it would fit somewhat comfortably in a brixtel head.  It was still so large, though, that it almost totally obscured Buck’s vision.  “This is the best I can do, my boy,” he said.

Buck tapped out a message and Twiki translated.  “It’s okay.”

Dr. Goodfellow began the session, asking questions and recording the memories.  Admiral Asimov came in near the beginning of the session and watched quietly, only occasionally asking questions.  Hawk continued to stand near Buck, watching his friend as much as he was watching the memories. Then he remembered where Wilma said she was going.  Before anyone could say anything, he had rushed to a communications console and punched the buttons.  “Contact Colonel Deering and tell her not to go into the cave!”

“Why?” the voice at the other end asked.

Asimov was next to Hawk in an instant.  “Don’t ask why, just contact her and tell her.  My orders.  I will explain in detail later.  Just tell her she’s in great danger if she goes into that cave!” he shouted into the intercom. 

“Yessir,” the voice answered contritely.

Within a few minutes, the comm. tech came back with another query.  “Col. Deering wants to know what you would like her to do.”

“Let me speak to her directly,” Asimov ordered, his voice calm.  When Wilma’s voice came on the comm., Asimov was spare in his explanation.  “You need to return to the Searcher.  We have discovered some information that not only makes venturing into that cave extremely dangerous, but information that you will be very much interested in.”

Exasperation was heavy in Wilma’s voice.  “But I was already in there.”

“Then you are fortunate we called you in time, Colonel,” Asimov replied.  “We will explain when you return.”  His voice softened.  “And we have some very good news for you here.”   He smiled as he cut the communications. 

With a relieved sigh, Hawk returned to Buck’s bed.  “I do not know just how this change can be reversed, but somehow it will be.”  Buck nodded, lying back down. 

 

 

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