Corridors of Time
A Buck Rogers/Time Tunnel crossover
The dinner had been glorious. Even the cats lay curled up next to each other in front of the fireplace, glutted with tidbits of the turkey and venison that each person had snuck to them. Tony understood how they felt. Wilma was busy in the kitchen wrapping and then storing the leftovers in the icebox. Buck was with her, helping her deal with the primitive conveniences that she obviously wasn't familiar with. With a smile, Tony figured there were other things going on, too.
What wouldn't fit in the fridge, he knew, would go in the ice chest in the basement. Ann was snuggled next to Doug on the couch watching the fire and looking very grateful that someone else was cleaning up after the huge dinner. Tony figured he should be in there helping their guests, but guessed that what they couldn't figure out, they would ask about later. He thought about the conversation he and Buck had enjoyed earlier in the day. Did he really want to go back, or rather go forward and live in the century that Wilma talked so glowingly about and that Buck now called home? Did he want to go back to the Tunnel? As much as he enjoyed this place and as much as he had become used to it, there was something that had continued to draw him to the complex; to what had been. Just as there was something that kept telling him that this was not home, even though it had been a very comfortable place to live these past years.
Like Buck, home didn't exist anymore. It was some abstract place and time that just wasn't there except in his heart and mind. So what was tying him here? Only Doug, Ann and little Tony. But if Buck was right and the Tunnel was operational as it had been intended to be, then what would stop him from going back with Buck and Wilma and then coming back to visit occasionally? Guilt and excitement warred, and he sighed, sitting deeper in his chair as he watched the flames caressing and then consuming a small log.
Several days and another storm later, the sun rose in a vaulted blue sky that had even Wilma entranced. As they walked along the snow-packed path that led to the corral, she watched her breath curl in smoky plumes upward. She felt and heard the soft crunch of the snow along the edges of the path as she walked. Purposefully, she took steps at the edges just so she could experience the snow. It was dry enough that most of the new snow sifted around her feet, but some of it packed down to add to that which had covered the path in a surface that reminded her of plasta-crete. It was bitingly cold, but Wilma didnít mind. She had never experienced snow on Earth before, only on other planets. While it had been intriguing on worlds such as Trinis and Cobrin, this was infinitely more satisfying. Why, she wondered? Because it was her planet. Earth. That Earth could have possessed such wonders amazed her. "I can see why you chose this place," she said to Ann, who had bundled up little Tony and brought him out for some fresh air. Only the toddler's eyes were showing and he waved his arms in his displeasure. Ann was almost as well bundled, appearing quite round about the middle. It amazed her that in only a few weeks this woman would be having a baby without the benefit of medical care other than a country doctor in the nearby small town. Little Tony had been born with only the help of her husband and the old doctor. This time, with the weather as unsettled as it was, even the doctor was a tenuous bet. Ann said nothing. Despite the lovely surroundings, though, Wilma was well aware of the isolation of this area. It wasnít just the physical isolation of being located on a five hundred acre ranch in a sparsely populated area of the state of Montana. Ann McGregor Phillips had been a scientist in her own right, having worked with the Tunnel engineers almost from the time she had received her degree until she had made Jerry send her through the Tunnel to join Doug and Tony. "Ann?"
"How have you managed all of this?" Wilma asked bluntly, then she felt the heat in her face. What an impertinent question, she thought. "I'm sorry, that was somewhat forward of me."
Ann laughed softly. It was muffled behind the scarf. Keeping an eye on the toddler who only wanted to pull off some of his clothes so he could play in the Ďpretty white stuffí, she pulled down the scarf so she could speak more clearly. "Do you mean in this primitive place and time, or do you mean giving up my work to be a mom?" She paused and gazed meaningfully at Wilma. "Believe me, if there hadn't been more at stake, I would have gone crazy by now." She shrugged. "As it is, I do miss my work that I did at the Tunnel. I was a scientist, although a sometimes very frazzled one. Most of the time I think I was at least a good one. However, this is worth it," she added, laying her hand on the toddler's head. "As to the primitive, I have to admit, I wish for a television at times, or a fast food burger or milk shake, although they were hard to come by in the complex, too. I have to admit, it was even harder at the beginning."
"I can imagine," Wilma replied. "I can see that I have been spoiled with all the conveniences I have grown up with." She didn't really know what else to say. She imagined having to live without the amenities that she had become accustomed to.
"I hear that Tony is seriously considering going back with you and helping with the operations." Ann's voice sounded a bit wistful and Wilma wondered if Ann wished she could go back to the Tunnel, too.
"Yes, he is. I think he'll go as soon as they have established the means to transfer him."
"A couple of years ago, we wouldn't have even dreamed of such a thing. Or have wanted it."
Wilma nodded. "I know it has to be hard. When Buck told me what had happened in that tunnel, I wasn't even sure I wanted to stay there."
Annís voice was higher in sudden anger. "Can you imagine what it was like for those of us who had been with it from the beginning? Those of us who knew what the Tunnel could do and what potential for scientific knowledge it had. And to see it used the way it was...."
Again, Wilma wasn't sure what to say. She knew how bitter she had been growing up, seeing the vast burned wastelands, having to deal with remnants of animalistic mutants, hating those who had caused it, while not knowing who those people were. She had simply hated Buckís generation. When Buck had arrived, part of her animosity toward him had been due to that disgust and bitterness she held within her toward those who had almost destroyed her world. "I'm sorry, Ann. I really am. I understand how even the best, most benign of discoveries can be twisted and turned for destructive or selfish uses by those who donít understand themóor donít care."
"Don't be sorry, Wilma. It certainly wasn't your fault. You have had to deal with the aftermath of what we created," Ann said bitterly. She picked up little Tony and held him close.
"Ann, I realized as soon as I saw how successful Buck's journey had been just what a fantastic marvel you and Doug and Tony had created. I watched the living past as Buck walked through it. And going through time myself...." She paused, remembering the sensations of light and darkness, weightlessness and pressure all coming together at once. It had been incredible and totally indescribable.
"The Tunnel is incredible, isn't it?" Ann asked as she picked up the toddler and turned back to walk toward the house. "If you donít mind, itís a bit too cold to go all the way to the corral." Little Tony fussed in her arms, obviously wanting to see the horses, but Ann just held him the tighter.
"No, itís no problem. But, yes, but even if you didn't go anywhere, only simply watched what was happening, I . . . I would love to see the history that was lost to us. To be able to see some of the places that Jerry described that Tony and Doug had seen in their travels." She looked meaningfully into Annís face as they walked back toward the house. "Almost all of that was lost, or so jumbled as to be meaningless to our historians. Buck almost laughed at what Dr. Junius had surmised from the old artifacts he had collected, but I think he realized just what we had lost as well as what he had lost. There were times in-between missions when Buck spent hours in Dr. Juniusí collection, explaining and helping him catalogue what had been found."
Ann nodded and remained thoughtful as they walked along the well trodden path. Finally she asked, "You are military, so I have to ask this." When Wilma nodded, she continued. "Is a part of that desire anything to do with your position?" she asked bluntly.
Wilma felt a bit of irritation but it fled almost immediately. She knew where Ann was coming from. "No, I have seen enough war, destruction and devastation to realize that I am only in the Directorate to preserve peace." She saw Ann studying her and continued. "I definitely mean peace for everyone, Ann, not peace because one bully is bigger than the other one." She turned and gazed at the almost-too-bright-to-stand snow pack. "It is a much larger field of engagement out there, but I don't see the Tunnel as being anything but a means to restore our lost past. To know who we are and where we came from."
"That was all we wanted," Ann said. "Scientific study and discovery, thatís allÖ."
They entered the homey warmth of the house and Wilma took off her coat, hanging it up on the coat rack. She turned and saw Ann still standing inside the doorway, little Tony whining in her arms. Annís eyes seemed unfocused and then pain filled and Wilma guessed immediately what was going on. "Let me take Tony, Ann. You sit down there," she said, pointing to a wooden, straight-backed chair. Quickly, Wilma took the toddlerís outer clothing off and set him on the floor. "Go find Bitsy," she told him, turning quickly to Ann. "Let me help you off with those." She moved to help Ann, who didnít say anything and let Wilma take off her coat. "Whereís Doug?"
"Out with Tony, feeding the cattle," Ann murmured. Her face was white and she sucked in her breath tremulously.
"Do they have the communicators?"
Ann nodded. "My water broke."
This time Wilma nodded. She had noticed the wet pants and had known that the water gathering on the dark floor hadnít been from snow tracked in on their boots. "Whereís the communicator?" she asked.
"My coat pocket," Ann said. "The babyís coming faster than Tony did . . . I think."
Wilma didnít say anything, only grabbing in the coat pockets until she found the little communicator that Doug had put together. "Doug!" she called, knowing that this communicator was directly linked to both Dougís and Tonyís. "Doug! Tony! Come in, please."
"Doug, here. Wilma?"
"Yes, get back here now! Annís having the baby."
"Where are you?"
"Just inside the house. The kitchen. Iím going to get Ann comfortable by the fire and put little Tony in his play room where heíll be safe."
"Iíll be right there and Tony can go get the doc," Doug said tersely.
Little Tony gazed curiously at the two women, his hazel eyes large as fear began to fill their depths. "Itís okay, honey," Ann told him. She took him by the hand. "Come with me by the fireplace and you can play with the kitties for a while." She took a deep breath. "It just startled me and the pain has eased considerably. There is nothing imminent, Wilma. But I think I need to get comfortable in the bedroom and get ready for this," she said, slowly and awkwardly rising from the chair.
"Will you be all right while I take little Tony to the play room with the kittens?"
"Yes, and when Doug comes, could you take care of him?"
"Of course and if you need my help, Buck can take care of little Tony," Wilma said quickly, realizing that she didnít know much about this kind of thing, but offering anyway. Her Directorate training had prepared for all contingencies related to survival and battle, howeverÖ.
Ann nodded and turned to her son. "You go play in your room with your new toys, sweetie. Aunt Wilma will find the kitties for you. If you get tired you can take a little nap with them. Mommyís going to rest and maybe soon youíll have a new baby brother or sister."
The toddlerís eyes got really large, but he nodded and gazed up at Wilma. She took him in her arms and carried him into the combination playroom and nursery. Come to think of it, she thought, she didnít have a great deal of experience with little children, either. She was the baby sister in her family. However, little Tony was a very sweet child, and had taken to them quite easily. As she walked into the childís room, the door burst open and Doug called out. Ann answered from their bedroom. Buck called for her and Wilma answered him.
"Mommy," little Tony said. "Daddy."
"Your Daddy is taking care of your mommy," Wilma assured him. "Me and Buck are here to take care of you." He held her tight and wouldn't let her put him down.
Buck came into the room. "Tonyís gone into town to get the doctor."
"I know. You have any experience with childbirth?" she asked.
"No, not really. I mean, I was in the Air Force, learned first aid, but not anything like that," he responded quickly. "You?"
She shook her head. "But it only takes one of us to care for this baby."
"Well, to be honest with you, Tony had mentioned getting more firewood for the stove in the basement before another storm comes through or while this cold snap continues, so unlessÖ."
Wilma was about to give a quick retort about him skipping out, a term he had taught her, but realized that if the temperatures continue to stay below freezing as they had for the past several days, they would need firewood to keep Ann and the new baby comfortable. She simply nodded and led the little boy over to the changing table. When she had taken him, Wilma had noticed that Little Tony needed a change. She knew she was awkward at the chore, but the toddler cooperated with her by lying still, listening raptly at the little songs she sang from her childhood. When that was accomplished, Wilma sat down in the rocking chair with the little boy. She sang until he had finally fallen asleep in her arms, then Wilma gently carried him to his crib and laid him down, covering him up with his quilt. Quietly she crept out of the room, noticing the kittens staring at her from the doorway. She left the door cracked open and then walked into the living room where the fire crackled softly. It needed more wood and she added a couple of log as she listened for sounds from the master bedroom. Occasionally Ann groaned from the pain, but otherwise there was nothing else to hear but Dougís words of comfort and support. She listened for sounds of the truck, but was unable to hear anything above the sound of the wind blowing. No storms, but she knew it had to be getting quite cold.
The late morning slid into afternoon and still Tony hadnít returned with the doctor. Buck had finished cutting the wood and stoking the wood stove in the basement. Little Tony had been fed and was playing with the kittens. Wilma and then Doug had tried to raise Tony on the communicator, but there had been no response. Wilma knew that Doug was worried, but simply couldnít do anything.
Buck paced, even as Annís labor became harder and harder as evidenced by her cries coming from the bedroom. "Wilma, I canít believe that Tony would have turned off his communicator or be ignoring it after all this time."
"I agree, but I donít know how to drive one of their trucks." She wondered if the Tunnel could locate Tony, but knew they hadnít sent him one of the Ďplacer fixesí so figured they wouldnít be able to.
"I do, but Tony took the vehicle that is best suited to the snow and ice thatís out there. I think it would be better on horseback. Iím going to go out and follow the road. See what I can find."
"But is that safe?"
Buck snorted. "Was Sinaloa safe? Something has to be done. If Tony ran off the road or something like that, he needs help. Even dressed as warmly as he was, itís blasted cold out there and looks like itís going to get a whole lot colder when the sun sets."
"As much as I hate to agree with you, I believe that is the only thing left to do," Wilma replied, her eyes worried. "But donít take any chances, please."
"I wonít." Buck paused and then looked surprised as a sudden thought came to him. "Doctor Huer?" he called out to no one in particular. "If you are listening, I believe we need some medical assistance here." He turned his attention back to Wilma. "Hold down the fort, Wilma. Iím going to look for Tony." He kissed her soundly, crushing her to his chest.
"Fly safe," Wilma said softly.
Buck gave her the thumbís up as he threw on his heavy parka. Then as he pulled on his gloves, he went out the door.
Wilma shivered at the cold blast that hit her after the door closed behind him.