Cat's Cradle

by

Sue Kite

 

 

Chapter Five

 

 

“Is there anything else you can remember, Buck?” Dr. Goodfellow asked.  The OEI remained dark.  The doctor took the device off and patted the brixtel on the shoulder.  “You rest now.  I am going to give you another supplement, as well as something for the pain and when you wake up, you should be feeling stronger.”

Again Buck nodded and lay his head down.   He felt the relief that they knew who he was wash over him, draining most of the remaining anxiety out of his system.  There was only one thing that still nagged him, though—would he be able to return to his body?  Could the transmutation be reversed?   And what if it couldn’t?   The slight stabs of panic, though, were countered, not only by the assurance that Dr. Goodfellow was now working hard to find the solution, but also by the pain medication that lulled him into renewed lethargy.  Buck soon found himself drifting off to sleep, the fleeting but disturbing pictures of him trying to date Wilma in a brixtel’s body dissipating rapidly. 

The next morning, Buck did indeed wake up feeling better.  While there was still pain, he felt less of the lethargy that had gripped him so fiercely the day before.  A gentle hand was stroking his body and he opened his good eye to see Wilma standing over him.  Ignoring the momentary irritation that he was unable to talk to her, he began tapping.  ‘Hi, Wilma,’ he said.  He continued even though he couldn’t see Twiki anywhere within his range of vision, ‘I hope you are imagining me as I was while you were doing that.’  It took him a long time to get the message out and Wilma’s brows furrowed in concentration.  Apparently she had studied the code when she had returned to the Searcher.   Wilma occasionally glanced at a nearby computer console, which Buck assumed provided translation.  After perusing the translation of his last sentence, she shot a somewhat irritated look, which changed quickly to bemused appreciation, even as her cheeks flushed bright pink. 

“As a matter of fact…” she said, smiling and deliberately leaving the sentence unfinished. 

Throughout the exchange, she continued to rub her fingers gently along his spine.  Buck felt a thrill at her touch that was not in the least diminished by the fact that he was in a body that slightly resembled a very large housecat, if housecats were crossed with Chinese dragons.  ‘I’ll remember that,’ he retorted, ‘when Dr. Goodfellow figures this all out and gets me and the brixtel in order.’   Wilma laughed and Buck felt another thrill.   This time, though, he clamped down on his emotions, knowing that until Dr. Goodfellow, Crichton and doctor’s team of scientists could find the remedy to his problem, there could be no thought of any kind of amorous relationship.   He sighed and closed his eye. 

“Buck?” Wilma asked, her voice sounding concerned.   “Buck?”

He opened his eye again and gazed at her.  Her smile was gone and her eyes looked sad.   Buck rose up on his haunches to see her more eye to eye.  He put a paw on her hand, gently, with the claws retracted, to reassure her.   In all honesty, he felt he needed some reassurance himself.  Suddenly, he felt the doubts rush in.  Would they be able to figure out how what happened?  More importantly, would they be able to reverse it?  He looked into Wilma’s eyes.  Through the brixtel’s eye, she seemed to sparkle with some diamond-studded highlight or aura.  He couldn’t explain it, but somehow it comforted him.  Buck tapped another message—‘It’s OK.’

Wilma smiled and placed her other hand on top of his.  “I know,” she said softly.  Then she began to smile again.  “What do you do for an encore?”

Buck blinked and grinned his response, although he figured it was more frightening than funny.

Wilma stared back at him and then asked.  “Were you smiling?   If so, you might want to find an alternative form of expression.”

Buck nodded.  He suddenly felt restless, even though he was still in some pain and feeling weak.  Calculating the distance from the medical bed to the floor, he took a deep breath, debating his ability to make the jump without further damaging his borrowed body.  He gazed longingly at the computer console.  It would be so much easier to communicate that way, even if Wilma had learned Morse code.

“Buck, if you’re contemplating what I think you’re contemplating, you’re too badly injured,” Wilma said reprovingly.  “Wait and I’ll….”

Before she had finished, Buck had jumped off the table.  A sharp pain shot up his left front leg and he couldn’t put weight on one back leg, but after pausing a moment to let the throbbing and light-headedness ease, he looked up a Wilma and nodded. 

“You okay?” she asked.   She had knelt down beside him and had her hand on his shoulder to steady him. 

He nodded again and then limped over to the console.   Buck cocked his head slightly to study it with his good eye. 

Wilma understood what he wanted now and she lowered the chair to allow him to climb up with little effort and then she raised it to put him level with the keyboard.  He studied it for a moment, before extending one claw to begin tapping.  “Have they figured out what caused this?” he asked. 

Wilma shook her head.  “No, but Hawk took Twiki, Crichton and Dr. Goodfellow down to that cave to study what’s in there.  They’re hoping it won’t take too long to figure out what happened when you went in there.”

Buck nodded.  “Thanks,” he typed. 

Wilma laid her hand on his back.  “They’ll figure out how to reverse this,” she said with great conviction.

Buck hesitated before typing in another message.  How would he deal with this for the rest of his life if they couldn’t?  Could he?  To not be able to talk to his friends, to fly a starfighter, to write, to laugh….  Buck pulled himself from those morose thoughts and typed, ‘I sincerely hope so.’

“I know so,” Wilma reassured him.  “And even if they don’t…”

“I will not consider a don’t,’ Buck retorted on the keyboard.  ‘There will not be a don’t.  If they can’t reverse this….’  He couldn’t continue.  His body was shaking with the intense fear that such a thought had brought crashing into his brain. 

“Buck, please.  Hear me out,” Wilma said, swinging his chair around so that he could face her.  Gazing into each other’s eyes, Buck saw a ferocity of the love that he knew she felt for him.  With it, though, was fear.  “Buck Rogers, I think I have told you this before.  That time when you were fighting the garox.  I fell in love with what’s inside.  Yeah, I enjoyed looking at the outer you, too.  What’s not to enjoy, but you are made up of the sum of your spirit and your soul, the inner part that came to me from five hundred years in the past and bonded to me, accepted me and drew close to me in this century.  That spirit has sustained you through your losses and through the pain.  You remember what Dr. Huer told you after you repulsed the first Draconian onslaught?”   Buck nodded.  “You have survived that.  You have gone beyond that and become so much more.  You still are and you can’t imagine how much I admire and respect that.  If I had gone through half what you’ve gone through, I’d be….”  

It was there that Buck reached out a paw and lightly caressed her cheek.  Wilma was almost babbling in her determination to keep him from plummeting into the depths of depression.  And to keep herself from crying.    She had done it before and as with the times before, it wasn’t necessarily the words she spoke, but the person, the sentiment behind those words that gave Buck comfort and calmed his troubled spirit.   She said nothing, but he saw tears brimming in her eyes.  He didn’t think he could stand that right now.  He continued to caress her cheek, amazed at the control that he was gaining over this strange body.  Finally, Buck stopped when Wilma took his paw and with her other hand, did the same along his muzzle, beginning below the damaged eye and all the way down his jaw line.   For a few minutes, they just gazed at one another, doing nothing, saying nothing.

Buck rested in the chair a short while and then slid to the floor, still tired but also restless.  Wilma had given him a bit of reassurance, and he was deeply touched by her devotion.  He found himself pacing, unable to relax.  The tips of his claws made an off pattern staccato as he limped across the floor.   He kept telling himself that the scientists would be able to take care of this problem, but his mind kept shoving pictures and thoughts of him forever in the body of a brixtel.  Despite her motions of affection, having Wilma there didn’t help much right now.  He humorlessly thought of all the lip-locks he would miss, and how in the world could you cuddle when you looked like something that wanted to eat a human for dinner?

“Buck,” Wilma broke into his pacing, this time her voice no nonsense.  “Dr. Goodfellow exacted a promise from me to make you rest.  He said, and I agree, that you will do yourself no good if you wear this brixtel body out.”   She held her gaze steady as he turned and glared at her.  “He even left something to help you heal faster.”

Even though he didn’t like it, Buck saw the wisdom in Dr. Goodfellow’s instructions.  As if on cue, Nurse Paulson strode in with a tray in her hand and gazed at him reprovingly.  “You certainly have a knack for getting into trouble,” she said with a slight smile.

Irritated, Buck clambered back into the computer chair and typed out a response.  ‘And you have a knack for understatement.  Ha, ha.’  He saw the medicines on the tray and typed, ‘Can I at least rest in my own cabin?’

Both women looked at each other and then Paulson said, “Do you think you can walk that far?”

Buck typed a terse note. ‘It’s not that far.’ 

“Then I don’t see why not, if you promise to take the medication and rest as soon as you get there,” Paulson said after a moment’s thought.

“I’ll accompany you, Buck,” Wilma said.  Paulson gave instructions on taking the medicines and then handed them to Wilma. 

Ignoring the twinge in his shoulder and back leg, Buck slid out of the chair and limped to the door.  It didn’t acknowledge him.  Irritated, Buck waited for Wilma.  It opened to her immediately.  That didn’t help his mood at all.  They walked out into the corridor and turned toward the senior officer’s quarters.   “Let me know if you can’t go the distance, Buck,” Wilma said solicitously. 

Buck chose to ignore her remark.  He limped at her side, staying close to give others room to go by.  He needn’t have bothered.  Most of the crewmen, when they saw him, stared at him and then gave him as much room as they could.  That, Buck understood.  A brixtel was a fearsome creature, even to those unfamiliar to the species.  A jolt of pure contrariness swept through him, and Buck had to repress the urge to ‘grin’ at them.  Worse, though, were those crewmen who apparently knew the scuttlebutt and talked to him pityingly.  Or rather talked to Wilma about him in their solicitous tones.  I am right here! he shouted mentally.  I still have my mind, even if I don’t have my voice!  He wished they were at his cabin so he could avoid all this.  And then, with a huffing sigh, Buck realized that his present mood was self-defeating and served no discernable purpose.  

Wilma looked down at him and seemed to understand his dark countenance for what it was.   “Lieutenant, if you wish to say something to Captain Rogers, please do so.  He may not be able to answer, but he can easily hear you,” she said sweetly. 

The young lieutenant blushed in embarrassment and looked down at Buck.  “Uh, Captain, I, uh, just wanted to let you know that I hope, uh, well, I hope you will be better soon.”

Again, Buck felt a tinge of annoyance, but shoved it aside.  He nodded his thanks to the crewmember.  She hurried down the hall. 

“I would have grinned at her, if I had been you,” Wilma said out of the side of her mouth. 

Buck gaped at her in surprise.  That was something that he would have expected from any number of people, but not Wilma.  Suddenly the humor of that moment caught up with him and he barked/yowled in laughter, his grin even toothier than it had been in the medical bay.  He saw the startled looks of a couple more crewmen just crossing the corridor in front of them and that added to his sense of enjoyment.  Well, he thought, if he was stuck in this situation for a while, he might as well get the most of it.   They soon arrived at his cabin.  Again, it wouldn’t open for him, but readily did so for Wilma.  They slipped inside. 

But while the cabin was better than the medical facility, and certainly more comfortable, Buck still felt unsettled.  Things he took for granted were not available to him now.  The small kitchenette was inaccessible as was the means to take a shower.  His books and recordings were out of reach as well, even if he could handle the discs and the remote that ran his sound machine.  He remembered a story about a cat that liked to get on the shelf and knock down books for his owner to read to him, but that cat was considerably smaller than him and easily able to stand on a row of books on a shelf.  With a sigh he settled on the bed and let the meds take effect. 

Hawk and Wilma alternated their planet-side duties, and consequently, their visits with him but finally there came a time when Buck wanted to do something alone.  He felt as though he was being baby-sat and he resented it.  And worse was the feeling of being a prisoner.  In a way, he thought, he was.  He was a prisoner in this body.  Continually, Buck was pushing aside the thoughts that he might forever be stuck in this body.  The brixtel’s body was still recovering, at least as far as it could.  The injured eye was irreparable; one leg would always have at least a slight limp.   There would always be scars all over this body.  Buck hoped that the brixtel was less critical than he was when the transmutation was reversed. 

By the end of the second week, Buck decided to wander the corridors.  He didn’t want to wait for visitors, but wasn’t sure if his back legs could support him standing to reach for the door panel.  On the first try, he realized that they wouldn’t.  The leg that the med techs had been working on in therapy the past couple of days would have to be operated on, he had been told. There had been extensive muscle damage.  Buck had balked, waiting on Dr. Goodfellow’s findings planetside.  There was a small part of his mind that told him he was being unfair to the brixtel, but he, the part that was Buck, didn’t want to be incapacitated in the event that some decision had to be made.  The brixtel could be sedated and worked on later. 

Even as he sat in front of the door, frustrated, it suddenly opened and Miru stood before him.  Buck had not seen her since his return to the ship and he had wondered a time or two, why not.  He could only come to the conclusion that she had been uncomfortable with his ‘change.’ 

 

 

Chapter 6
Cat's Cradle 1
Buck Rogers Contents
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