Corridors of Time
A Buck Rogers/Time Tunnel crossover
Buck was sitting alone at the console, listening to the soft whirr, chuckle, and murmur of the computers as they scanned yet another time ‘zone.’ He had been surprised a couple of days ago when Dr. Malcome had come to him and Hawk with the offer to work on ‘temporal surveillance.’ Buck had known that Hawk would jump on that deal because the Tunnel might chance on something about his ancestors.
"I thought you said you weren’t going to split the surveillance until Doug and Ann and the kids were here," Buck pointed out.
"Tony and I overcame that problem, Buck," Malcome said. "We have a computer dedicated to keeping the link with Montana, January, 1936. The other computers can scan and record. While they will be doing most of the work, I would like someone to oversee and make sure everything is running smoothly during each shift. The operator can also direct the computer a bit," he added with a slight grin. "With your knowledge of history, Buck, you could suggest some times that would be most beneficial to our historians. You know, the beginning of space travel, the milestones in the history of the continent we reside on now, things like that."
"But we’re rocket jockeys, not scientists," Buck protested, mildly, he realized in retrospect.
Malcome looked a bit puzzled at first and then smiled in earnest, when he saw the interest in Buck’s eyes. "You are both intelligent and it’s not hard to work this console, especially with these new computers."
"We also assumed that we’d be heading back to our posts on Searcher as soon as Wilma came back," Hawk added.
"And when she does, you can," Malcome explained. "But right now, we’re a little short handed until Ann and Doug do come to the complex."
"And you can’t get more scientists?" Buck continued playing Devil’s advocate.
"Dr. Huer is adamant about keeping this as tight a secret as possible and that means no more people until we have added safeguards in place to prevent what happened five hundred years ago from ever happening again." Malcome was not smiling now.
Buck nodded and glanced at Hawk. The birdman was very much interested in sticking around for a while longer. "Understandable. Okay, we’ll play switchboard operator for a while."
"Huh?" Malcome asked. "What?"
"Just a phrase, Doctor. No problem. We’ll take our turns watching the console and the Tunnel."
So it was that two days later, Buck was watching the operations during the main sleep cycle. His first shift had been interesting, watching events that awakened memories from his past. There was the Civil Rights era. It had been fascinating seeing some of the historical figures that had only been pictures in history books or newscasts when he was growing up. Then there had been Kitty Hawk, and the American Revolution. Those had been a couple of his ‘suggestions’ to the computer. But tonight? Tonight he felt restless. He let the computer decide and watched the Kennedy assassination. All during the event he felt something whirling inside. How easy to just go back and find Oswald or who-the-heck-else was in that bindery. Then he remembered Jerry’s comment about this scientific theory that would not allow such a thing to happen and he felt a bit depressed. Novikof? Norikov? He shook his head, unable to come up with the guy’s name.
Without even thinking, he typed in a date into the computer and watched the picture within the Tunnel rings fog, dissipate and then reform. His rocket was heading up from the launch pad in a cloud of smoke and bright orange light from the beach at the Cape. It was just before sunset. It was also interesting seeing the event from the outside. When the rocket booster successfully detached from his craft, Buck decided to change the venue. He moved the time forward a month. Same place, more somber, less bustle. Another month, same place. Things seemed to be getting back to normal. He edged the computer up in one-month increments until about August, then he saw dark and swirling winds whipping a blasted beach. Cape Canaveral had taken a hit when the nukes had begun criss-crossing the continents. Indeed, he would guess from the way the ocean behaved that there might have been a whole chunk carved from the state of Florida. And he remembered that there had been—almost the entire southern half of the state had disappeared in smoke and ocean.
Taking a breath, Buck changed the date to closer to what Jerry had said was the actual date of the beginning of the Great Holocaust. A mushroom cloud rose briefly before the Tunnel wavered and changed to the previous setting. With a frown, Buck studied the readout. He hadn’t put in any kind of parameters. The Tunnel had arbitrarily changed. Something drew him to examine the events closer. He couldn’t quite bring himself to look at Chicago yet, so he put in New York City, same date in August that the Tunnel had changed from before. This time the Tunnel didn’t even show a brief view. The picture wavered, flickered, sparked and darkened.
Buck looked at the date, it was the same date he had put in, but several hours later. Smoke from fires painted the scene a grim hellish hue, red and gray and occasional yellow sparks of small explosions. Sirens echoed ethereally in the distance, horns, fire alarms added to the quality of being in hell. In the darkness, Buck saw mounds of dust-covered objects. He assumed that the larger ones were vehicles, the smaller were . . . bodies. There was almost no movement, except a cold, howling wind. To his shock, there seemed to be a flatness to the scene. No skyscrapers remained. It was like a scene from Dante’s Inferno, what he remembered of it in his college lit class.
Taking an even deeper breath, Buck tried other cities. The date held, but the hour would never go any closer than a few hours after the hit. He remotely wondered just why it seemed important, but deep down inside something was stirring and Buck figured he knew why. One thing was very certain, though. What he had told Tony was true. Most of the northeastern United States lay scoured by the nukes. Every damned one of them stockpiled over the years must have been set off. He felt his vision waver as tears smarted in the corners of his eyes. How dare they do this to his world! How the hell did they get off playing God? he raged inside. Blinking, Buck changed the setting again and he saw Chicago, or what was left of it. Fires, ruins and the horrible howlings of man-made instruments that had been meant to protect and defend. Now they were just reminders of man’s ineffectiveness and stupidity.
He noted that the date was several days after what he had put in. Buck tried again and got a vision of dead and dying people walking like zombies through smoke filled streets. Then the view wavered to a few hours later. The Tunnel was either being arbitrary or it simply couldn’t hold the place and time for some reason. For some reason…. It was the radiation. The Tunnel was powered by nuclear energy and the conflagration he was seeing was caused by raw radiation. If he used a probe, Buck thought. Tony had told him of using multiple probes, had even tried one that very day. It had been a success. The new ones were temporary, only lasting for a certain number of hours in their respective time zones before breaking down, but the probes allowed for better recording of historical events during that time. He got up and almost trotted to the equipment lockers just under the observation gallery. The devices that Malcome and Tony had been working on that day lay securely in their cradles. They looked like undersized footballs, each only about the size of his fist and flat on the bottom so they would rest easily before transfer.
Buck pulled one out and strode back to the console. He set the controls on standby and took the probe deep into the Tunnel. It only needed a push of a button to activate. The Tunnel would do the rest when it sent the device to a pre-set location and time. It took only a moment. He would set it for just before the moment of destruction. The place would be his brother’s address. They would be together—his family. If he could give warning, perhaps that would be enough.
Buck didn’t think; he only acted. He didn’t remember all of Tony and Doug’s attempts and actions in the past, only concentrated on what was possessing his mind and will at that moment. Buck didn’t think of failure, only what he had the opportunity to do. He made sure the device was sitting as far back as he could take it, then returned to the console. The primary computer was still locked to Ann, Doug and Wilma’s temporal setting, the secondary was still wavering slightly at the time several days after the nuclear strike. Fallout was drifting gently from a dark sky, looking like a dirty snowstorm. A shrouded sun tried to show itself, but only shed a bit of weak light over the doomsday vista.
Buck reset the computer for his desired time and locked the coordinates in. He took a deep breath and then keyed in the probe countdown sequence. The Tunnel ‘arms’ slid toward the center of the orifice, and the probe sounded with a slight rattling hiss that told of imminent launch. A soft explosive sound, along with a puff of smoky haze and the probe was gone. Buck didn’t even watch the focusing arms retract, he studied the computer readouts and then cursed silently. The date had changed again. He tried to change it back, but the computer was locked. It wavered of its own accord and then settled on a time. Same day, but about four or so hours later than Jerry’s time of the beginning of the nuclear war in his journal. The Tunnel cleared and the picture clarified. Perversely, the computer had shipped the probe not only later than he had wanted but also farther away. He cursed again, this time aloud.
He watched the smoke billow from the shells of what was once a vibrant downtown area. Exactly where was it, he wondered? He tried to pick out landmarks from what was there. He typed directions into the computer and this time it cooperated. There was a sign, and the computer zoomed enough to give him the clues he needed. He was gazing at a scene just south of the river. A sign at the top of an overturned bus told him that he was looking north, toward the university. It wavered again, but Buck knew exactly where the probe was.
It was a straight shot to his brother’s place if you wanted to walk about fifteen blocks. He could do it. He could get there and give them the aid they needed. But the radiation would still be incredibly intense, not the neutron and gamma radiation of the initial blast, but the beta particles in the fallout.
Then he remembered the protective suits. They were in the same equipment area as the probes. The outfits resembled his Directorate flight suit but with added protection, including a re-breathing pack and a helmet with visor. Buck had wondered about the suits here in the control area, then came to the realization that eventually Dr. Huer had wanted to examine this event more closely than with a probe and computer video. He wanted to send someone back to gather some of that information.
Leaving the console, Buck returned to the storage area and dug through the protective equipment. Yup, he thought in triumph, radiation suits. He studied the controls and determined that he would have a tight time frame of exposure, but could still do what he needed to do within the limits of the suits safe operation. With absolutely no thought, Buck donned the one closest to his build, putting on the helmet under his arm, and walked back to the Tunnel control console. He had to admit that they were much more comfortable and easier to move around in than the ones of the 20th century. He set the computer’s automatic controls and then stood up, gazing at the dark and hellish scene in front of him.
"Don’t do this, Buck," Tony’s voice startled him from his brief reverie. The scientist’s hand reached to turn off the automatic controls. Buck grabbed Tony’s wrist as the fingers barely touched the button. The other man didn’t flinch, nor did he struggle against Buck’s restraint. "Buck, I know what’s eating at you. I really do know how you feel—the last of your family. No matter that you have become a part of this time and place, you have left part of yourself in that time," he said, his head nodding toward the flickering picture between the Tunnel extension bars. His finger reached for the panel again and with a touch, switched off the automatic controls.
Buck didn’t say anything, only glared at his new friend for a moment. "No, you don’t know entirely how I feel. You at least still had aunts and uncles and cousins. You had a place, a time, an anchor."
"No! I didn’t have an anchor. Yeah, I had relatives, but I didn’t have my own family. Buck, it’s too dangerous there now. There won’t be anything you can do."
"How do you know? Have you watched?" Buck felt his face flush with the heat of anger. Every minute lost…. No, this was a time portal. Still, his mind chafed at what he saw as quickly disappearing opportunity. He realized he still had hold of Tony’s wrist and released it.
"No, I haven’t watched. I have tried to avoid watching," Tony retorted. He rubbed his wrist almost absently, willing Buck to understand the futility of what he wanted or hoped to do. "Frit has only tested travel to this time fix with probes, Buck. He was going to test with protected animals next. Only then was he going to send someone back with instruments to gather readings if the experiments worked. At least that was what the council had proposed. With what I've read in Jerry’s journal, I think it would be much too dangerous to do anything but send probes back. I am wondering at the worth of even doing that. It happened, it’s over, done, and viewing, recording and experiencing carnage and horror like that just doesn’t seem worthwhile to me."
Buck knew Tony was grabbing at straws, trying to dissuade him.
"You saying you couldn’t send me back? Or that you don’t have
the authority?" Buck asked testily, ignoring Tony’s last
argument. Then he took a deep breath. "Sorry, I shouldn’t be
taking this out on you. But even if it was by accident, you were able to
see your father." Buck rubbed his hand across his forehead and
shook his head. "I just want to see my home. Say a final good-bye.
Help them if I can. Close it if I can’t help them."
This time Tony sucked in a breath. As he thought, this was the heart of the matter. But would just seeing them be enough? "I know I was able to say good-bye, Buck, but it was accidental…." Tony stopped and considered. Talk to him, reason, maybe he could get Buck to reconsider this move. He studied the picture showing from the Tunnel. It showed a horrific view of smoke, dust, ash and muted fires. There were alarms and sirens wailing in the distance. "This where your family is?" he asked softly.
"Well, yeah, it runs right through downtown, but my brother lived a little north of the real downtown area," Buck answered. "The probe ended up about fifteen blocks south. Radiation affected it, I guess."
"Probably," Tony said. "And your folks?"
"They moved to a suburb when my dad retired, but I have a hunch." He really had more than a hunch, but he wasn’t going to explain it.
Tony just nodded and returned to his computer. He typed in more minute coordinates to change the location setting, but nothing changed. "Not going to change, Buck."
"I know; it wouldn’t for me either." The streets were filled with a noxious greenish fog. There were a few muted screams, sirens that continued to rise and fall, and the rumbling of falling masonry and bricks. "Tony, let me go ahead and go through. I have the suit; it will protect me."
"Buck, I can’t, in good conscience, do that. The radiation is still dangerously high," Tony argued, his hand sweeping toward the Tunnel. Buck looked unconvinced. His mouth was set and his countenance hard. Tony continued his argument. "I tried to warn my father, too, but it was to no avail. He didn’t believe me until after the bombs began to fall." He shook his head. "Then it was too late."
"I know that, Tony."
"Buck, the radiation is too high," Tony pointed out again.
"Dr. Huer had in mind to do some on-site study. Malcome is his employee and wouldn’t do anything without his say-so."
"Dr. Huer?" Tony rubbed his hand through his hair in frustration. "Oh, hell, who am I fooling? I’m sure he was planning on doing that. All of Frit’s experiments, notes and work point to that. But I am not going to send you to what could be your death. There hasn't been enough study," he said vehemently. "No, Buck, I can't do this."
Buck leaned forward until he was only inches from Tony’s face. "I seem to remember that you chose to enter that Tunnel alone. You set the controls, you went in blind, and you didn't consult a soul. Now, I am not the expert that you are, but I have got this ready to go through without your help." He paused and then said in a much lower voice. "I’d rather have you helping me. What's your choice, Dr. Newman?" Why can’t I just let it go? Even as he stood locked in a contest of wills with the scientist, Buck wondered and agonized. This was the action of a madman, he railed against himself. But he didn’t back down. He couldn’t. It was something he had to do.
With a sigh, Tony nodded. "I should still tell you no, Buck, and just walk away and let you do commit whatever suicide you want to commit." The scientist sucked in a deep breath. "Don’t get me wrong; I do understand how you feel. But I also realize that I simply can't let you do this alone. Are you sure you want to do this? I guarantee you, it’s going to be much harder to deal with than you expect. This radiation is playing hell on the instruments."
"I'm sure and yes, I know."
Tony sighed. "All right. You’ve got the suit on already. Is there anything else you need to prepare? You sure that the suit will protect you?"
"So I have been told. Let’s do this now." Buck donned the helmet.
"Buck, I’ve been through a lot because of my rash decisions. You sure about this?" Tony repeated. "We’ve become good friends, you’ve saved my life in more ways than you could consider. I feel I am sending you to your death."
"Yes, I’m sure and no, you aren’t sending me to my death." Buck began walking toward the gaping Tunnel. Although the pictures of destruction weren’t there anymore, it was still like something ready to swallow him. It did not seem welcoming like the last time. Buck shook off the feelings. "And this isn’t rash," he said over his shoulder. "I had been dreaming of being able to do something like this ever since I awakened in this century." And he realized it was true. He had.
"Just keep walking," Tony said from behind him. "And may God be with you," he added fervently.
That was what Buck did—kept walking. Into the smoke and haze of the Tunnel. Soon he was falling, floating among the rainbow motes of light he had experienced before. Again, it felt as though it was angry, like something ready to eat him and Buck wondered about his decision….