Cat's Cradle

by

Sue Kite

 

 

 

Chapter Six

 

 

“May I come in, Captain Rogers?” she asked in the Tane-rapanui language.  He nodded and she entered, the door sliding shut behind her.  She seemed almost shy, which bore out Buck’s suspicion.  “I meant to come earlier,” she said softly after a moment’s silence. 

Buck limped to the computer console and she followed.  ‘You have been busy with your studies.’

“But too busy for friends?” she asked in a suddenly self-recriminating fashion.  She didn’t say any more for a while, only gazed at him.  Now there was a sad look on her face and her eyes became misty, as with tears.

He typed again, irritation welling up inside.   He had enough of his own pity to have someone else laying more on him.   ‘Did you come in just to feel sorry for me?” 

“I, uh, I’m sorry, Captain Rogers,” she said in a quiet voice.  “I am very sorry this happened to you, but I came because you are a . . . friend.”

Buck sighed.  He typed again.  Miru waited patiently.  “I am sorry for being so irritable.”

“You have every right to be, Captain.  This cannot be easy,” Miru assured him.  “I have felt the stirrings of dreams.”

‘About me?’ he typed.

“Yes, but nothing specific.  Nothing I can interpret.”  She shook her head.  “It is frustrating.”

Buck gazed at her for a moment and then typed, ‘That’s okay.  Don’t worry about it.’

“But I do, Captain.  I would hope that my dreams would help find a solution to this problem.”

‘Miru, please, just call me Buck,’ he typed.

“You are not kin and you are an adult.  I cannot use familiar names until I am an adult, too.”

‘I might as well be kin,’ he replied.  ‘Like an uncle or something.’

Miru suddenly smiled.  “Very well, Atu-ai.”  Then she laughed and all the tension in the room melted away. 

Buck put a smile symbol on his computer screen.  ‘Thanks,’ he typed, feeling appreciation for her usage of the familial “uncle” term. 

“Would you like to go outside of your cabin?” she asked.  “I will be happy to accompany you.”

Buck thought a bit.  He had been ready to venture out on his own, but now that the opportunity had opened itself up to him, he wondered if it would be a good idea.  He was getting tired of staying cooped up, but he also didn’t want to be shot on sight.  And he didn’t want everyone who knew him to feel he needed to be ‘nurse-maided’, either.  Finally, he nodded.  With Miru to accompany him, it would be much easier to explain his presence.  Easier?  Ha, it would be possible, period, he thought.   Of course, it wouldn’t be necessary if the admiral had already told everyone, he thought wryly. 

They walked out into the corridor and headed toward the observation room.  Buck felt his leg joints pop a couple of times, but otherwise, he moved easily enough.  The observation room door slid open and they walked into the large room side by side.  As they passed by one of the large windows, Buck saw himself much more completely than he had even in his cabin.  The scars, only beginning to heal, crisscrossed his body, and the eye, with its bandage, made him look like some bristle-furred pirate.  He stared at himself for a moment and then mentally shrugged and followed Miru.  She sat down on a couch and patted the empty seat next to her.  Buck climbed up and sat down.  

“I have memorized the code,” she said with a slight smile.

Buck nodded and then tapped on the faux leather.  It took him a while to do it.  “It’s not good for your reputation to be seen in the company of riff-raff like me,” he quipped, sporting a toothy grin. 

Miru’s smile widened for a brief moment and then it faded slightly.   “I don’t think I could be considered less strange if I avoided you.”

It sounded jovial enough but Buck thought he detected a hint of sadness in her voice.  He studied her a moment before tapping another message.  ‘Is anyone giving you a hard time?’ he asked, laying a paw on her leg.

“Hard time?” she asked, puzzled.  Then she shook her head.  “If by that you mean is anyone treating me badly—no, no one has said or done anything to me.”  She paused and looked out at the star field beyond the observation window. 

Buck tapped another message.  ‘But you feel . . . out of place.’    She said nothing for several minutes and Buck began to think that maybe he had dug too deeply.

“Yes, Atu-ai,” Miru said quietly.  She gazed at him and then laid her hand on his back.  “Bu you know about that, don’t you?”

Buck nodded.  Indeed, he did.  There were no words he could say.  With soft gentleness, he laid a paw on her other hand. 

She looked at his scarred paw for a moment and then said, “We are related in that, if nothing else.”  They sat quietly for a moment, neither moving.  Suddenly Miru took a sharp intake of breath. 

Buck gently extricated himself from her touch and then tapped out a question.  ‘What is it?  Are you all right?’

She looked at him in alarm for a moment.  Her eyes lost their frightened look before she answered.  “I saw darkness and confusion, a swirling maelstrom of lights and places I’ve never seen before, although a few were like scenes I had seen when you were in the mountains during your trial of adoption.”  Then she smiled.  “But I also saw you as you are supposed to be, so we can only assume that Dr. Goodfellow must figure out the solution to your dilemma.”

There was a short burst of hope in his chest.  Buck tapped again, even as he wondered about the first part of this vision of hers.  It was too much to tap in all his questions, at least until they could get to a computer, so he just asked, “Really?”  

Their conversation was interrupted by the sudden metallic jangle of the intercom.  “Will Captain Rogers please report to the bridge?”

Buck looked up in surprise, wondering what could have induced the Admiral to invite him, in his present condition, to the bridge.  No matter, he thought as he stretched and then slid off the seat.

“Perhaps I should accompany you?” Miru suggested.   Buck nodded and soon they were in the turbo lift.  When the doors opened and Buck stepped out, he was met by the surprised stares of a couple of the bridge crew members, Devlin included.  Wilma was on the other side of the communications console, looking rather smug.   It seemed that if Asimov had told them, they hadn’t truly believed him until now.  With Miru right behind him, Buck limped to the communications panel and climbed into the chair.  ‘What’s the matter, Devlin?  Never see me in a . . . uh, fur coat before?’ he typed.

The lieutenant stared another minute or two before he broke into a broad grin.  “Captain, when I signed on, they told me I would see some strange things but you know I don’t think anything has been stranger than the predicament you’ve gotten yourself into this time.”

Buck couldn’t help it, he broke into laughter, except it didn’t come out as laughter; it was more of a yowl bark that could have sounded sinister had the bridge crew not known what was going on.  He typed into the computer again.  “You didn’t see me after I got back from Arcadis, did you?” he asked, referring to his run-in with Pangor, the satyr.

Devlin just grinned. 

Wilma walked over to him and laid a hand on his back.  “Dr. Goodfellow thinks that he may be able to reverse what happened to you down there.”

Buck sat up straighter, looking hopeful.  ‘Let’s go!’ he typed.

“Wait a minute,” Wilma responded quickly.  “Dr. Goodfellow, Dr. Devlin and the robots have been working feverishly and that cave is filled with more dangerous gadgets and safeguards than they could count.  They are pretty sure they have isolated the device that caused the switch, but….”   Her voice trailed off.

‘They aren’t one hundred percent sure,’ Buck filled in.

“No, they aren’t and you could very easily be killed.”  Her eyes held an anxious, almost desperate look, fear for him that Buck chose to ignore at present.

‘Any risk is better than staying like this,’ Buck retorted, adding a symbol on the screen to emphasize his frustration.  He gazed meaningfully at her with his one good eye.  The multi-colored aural highlights were emphasized in the brighter lights on the bridge.  Forgetting he was in a room full of people, Buck added, ‘What kind of relationship is this if I stay in this body for the rest of my life?’

“You would be alive,” Wilma said softly.

Buck snorted, but didn’t type anything at the moment.  He didn’t have to, he realized suddenly, looking around.  It was obvious to all the onlookers, including the admiral, how he felt.  Finally, though, Buck decided to make himself perfectly clear.  ‘No.  I will take whatever risks Dr. Goodfellow says are necessary to reverse this.’

Wilma nodded.  “I figured you’d say that.”  She smiled, but didn’t look totally happy.

‘Then let’s go down,’ he typed emphatically.  ‘With your permission, Admiral.’

“Granted,” the admiral said, then added, “Good luck.”

Buck nodded and slipped down from his chair.  Other crewmembers added their wishes for his success as he left with Wilma and Miru.  As they walked down the corridors, Wilma outlined what had been discovered thus far. “You evidently followed the signals into the cave where you encountered the brixtel, whose body you now inhabit.  It attacked and you fired your laser at it.  Stun, of course.” 

Buck nodded.  That was pretty much the extent of his half-remembered recollections.

“Dr. Goodfellow conjectures that your laser activated a device that caused the transfer.  He is still not sure how that occurred, only that it did.  Crichton is against any use of the device until experimentation has been done, but surprisingly, Twiki was vehemently opposed to this kind of delay.”

Buck wasn’t surprised.  For an ambuquad, Twiki knew him well and had an uncanny knack for figuring him out. 

Wilma continued.  “Dr. Goodfellow and Dr. Devlin agreed.  They are worried about the possible deterioration that could be occurring by the brixtel inhabiting your body.”

Again Buck nodded, wanting nothing more than to be back in his own home, so to speak.  He would have to thank Twiki for his support later. 

They reached the hangar bay within a relatively short time and stopped at a fighter’s wing tip.  Wilma turned to Miru.  “You will have to stay here,” she said soothingly, knowing that the Tane-rapanui girl wanted to go planet side with them.  “Hawk insisted.”

Miru frowned.  She had hoped to go down, maybe help, but she wasn’t surprised that she couldn’t.  She sighed, wondering if she was ever going to be grown up enough to be included in any missions, especially when they included those near her. 

“We will let you know what’s going on as soon as it happens,” Wilma promised. 

Miru nodded and turned to Buck.  “Atu-ai,” she began, then faltered.  “I . . . uh, . . . be careful, please,” she finally said. 

Buck could see that something was troubling her, but he couldn’t ask and right now he wasn’t sure he wanted to know.  He reached up, rubbed her hand to reassure her and she smiled softly. 

“We’d better get down there, Buck,” Wilma said, laying her hand on his shoulder. 

Buck growled a soft assent and followed her to a nearby shuttled.  A med tech, Brennan, Buck noted, two lieutenants, Marley and Joshen, where already on board along with—himself.  Buck swallowed and studied his body for a moment before climbing into a passenger’s couch.  It was disconcerting seeing himself lying there.  It had been two weeks since he had done so and he was shocked to see that his body seemed somewhat wasted; pale and sallow.  No wonder Dr. Goodfellow had wanted to try the reverse transmutation before he was totally sure of the results. 

Whatever the result, he was glad the doctors weren’t waiting.  Something had to be done—and soon.  Buck curled as compactly as he could in the chair and nodded to everyone.  He tried to calm himself, but it was very difficult.  After seeing that he had found a seat, Wilma headed front and settled herself into the pilot’s chair.  He watched her slim form appreciatively and hoped again that this ‘experiment’ would have the desired results.  Necking was pretty much impossible when you had the incisors of a grizzly bear, he thought morosely.  Then the distinct possibility of failure passed through his thoughts and he felt tendrils of panic creep through his mind.  Enough!   That was something that Buck had been fighting for the entire time he had been in this predicament.   He had beaten the garox, he had beaten the impossibility of even being here in this century and he certainly was going to beat this problem.

 

 

Chapter 7
Cat's Cradle 1
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