Corridors of Time

 

A Buck Rogers/Time Tunnel crossover

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 15

 

 

This time, despite the debris, he landed on his feet. Buck found that even with the re-breather, the air was cloyingly heavy with thick, dark smoke drifting like oil on water. Not that it was hot, although heaven only knew; it could be stifling this time of year. In fact it was fairly cool, he noted after glancing at his temperature controls. He looked up and saw the pale globe of the sun trying to pierce the clouds above him. It was the middle of the day but appeared as though it was twilight.

And there was a light dust falling from the sky, like dirty snow. Nuclear winter. It didnít waste time occurring, Buck thought as he quickly familiarized himself with the area. He was at North State and Wacker. Behind him a bus was lying on its side. Buck heard moans coming from inside, but as much as it bothered him; as much as he wanted to help, he couldnít. They were already dead. He gazed toward the river, couldnít see it because of the fog. However, Buck figured he didnít really want to see it.

The pallid sun was totally hidden now, and the dimness increased to almost nighttime darkness. Buck walked north, staying in the even more dense shadows. Bodies littered the remains of the sidewalks. Some even still moved in spasmodic twitching. He needed to get north of Ontario and he didnít have a great deal of time. There was no telling how long Tony would allow him to stay or even if Malcome or Dr. Huer would order his return.

Despite the heaviness of the air, Buck broke into a jogging trot. Occasionally, it was dark enough in the shadows that he stumbled, but even though there was a flashlight with his suit, he didnít want to call undue attention to himself. It reminded him of the eeriness of the time when he roamed the streets with Twiki and Theo right after his arrival, except this was much worse. He continued steadily, striving to reach Ontario as soon as possible. "Tony, if you can hear me, is there any way you can send me closer to Loyola?"

There was a pause and Buck figured Tony was studying pre-Holocaust maps of the area. "No, still no cooperation from the Tunnel. Once you get there, though, I think I can send another probe to tighten the link."

"Síokay," he panted and broke into a faster run. He reached Ontario and stopped for a short breath. It was slightly better here. The nuke must have hit the south side, probably no closer than Dearborn Park. He grimaced. Some of the snobs would call that a blessing, but there was nothing redeeming about this. Absolutely nothing! He felt a stitch in his side that was annoying, but he continued. He crossed Erie and then Huron before stopping to breathe again. His brother lived near Loyola. Buildings were flattened here and the damage seemed more extreme, making Buck reconsider his prior assessment. Then he realized that the nuclear winds had taken down more of the residential homes and apartment buildings because of their less rigid construction. He shuddered, thinking of his family visiting this area. But they had been buried, so someone had to have survived the initial blast.

Turning toward the east, Buck slowed to a walk, studying the buildings, the streets. A car had hit a light pole, bending it almost double. Everything must have happened at once, he thought. No warning to anyone as to what was happening. One moment things were normal and the nextóHell.

He found the apartment. The faÁade was rubble on the sidewalk, but still he recognized it. The chronometer indicated that he was more than halfway beyond acceptable levels of radiation exposure. He pushed his way past the slightly open door and headed up the stairs. They creaked ominously but he continued. Buck reached his brotherís apartment and heard a cry for help. The door was locked but it only took two shoves for it to cave in. Plaster from the wall and ceiling cascaded down on him. The outer window had blown in, bringing with it the dusty, noxious fog that had swirled around him like a hungry cat around his ankles. Buck grabbed a skewed tablecloth from the table that looked as though it had been ready for dinner. Dishes lay scattered, food spilled, but it was unrecognizable.

To his shock, he saw his mother lying on the floor, her hand clutching someone half on, half off the couch. It was his father. Buck quickly checked them over and found that they were both dead. Their fingers were cold, but their bodies still held a measure of warmth. Regardless, he was too late. They had to have died in the initial blast or from the shock of the events. Buck shook his head and got up, the cloth still clutched in his hand. He quickly covered the window with it and then he pulled out his flashlight in the added darkness.

"Who . . . who are you?" a weak, rough voice almost behind him whispered. There was a hacking cough and in the near darkness, Buck found his brother, Frank in a corner near the doorway to the bedroom.

With the flashlight still in his hand, Buck knelt beside his brother. "Itís me, Buck."

"Buck?!" Then more coughing and hacking.

Buck saw that Frank was coughing up blood. His heart became a rock in his chest. "Take it easy, Frank."

"What do you mean, take it easy! Mom and Dad are dead; Marilyn is dead, too. Or almost was when I last checked," Frank said in a rush, coughing more bloody sputum onto the sleeve of his shirt at the end. "I guess my pit stop during the commercial . . . saved me from a quicker end. Damn!" There was more coughing and wheezing.

"I tried to get here earlier," Buck said softly, not knowing what else to say.

"What . . . the hell . . . you doing here," Frank struggled to say, even as Buck raised his brotherís shoulders to lean against the television cabinet. "How?"

"Frank, itís a long story, but I am from the future, to put it in a nutshell. I finally found the means to come back and it . . .and I was too late," Buck replied, his voice cracking at the end. How, after all this time, all his desire, could he get here too late to do anything but feel regret. Tony was right, Buck thought with a silent curse.

"Yeah, too lateÖ." Frank said nothing for a moment. "What happened? Bomb . . . but why? Who?"

"Complicated Frank and no one actually knew what happened until very recentlyÖ." Then Buck saw the irony of his statement. "Recently in my new time, that is. Some idiots had a Ďhit them first before they hit usí attitude and shipped a bomb to the enemy. Of course, there was retaliation. Apparently, no warning."

"No. Watching TVÖ. Smelling Momís roast cooking."

Buck remembered those days very well. He set the flashlight up so that it would illuminate the room a bit better without being right in Frankís eyes. "Let me check Marilyn. Where are the kids?"

"Decided to do some fishing and camping up in Wisconsin this weekend with Marilynís husband." More coughing. "Maybe they didnít get this."

Buck quickly checked his sister and found her to be dead, even as Frank had said. She had died recently, even her fingers were still warm. He returned to his brotherís side. "Frank, Iím sorry. I wish I could have been here. Wish I . . . IÖ."

"Mom and Dad went through hell . . . for a little while. Were here to spend a quiet weekend." Buck could tell that Frank was quickly succumbing. "But they kept telling the . . . investigators you were no traitor."

Buck was appalled. They were here to escape from all the crap that the government had imposed because of him. He moaned softly in despair. They might have avoided this.

Frank seemed to understand what Buck had realized. "Donít blame yourself, Buck." He paused for breath and Buck put his arm around his brotherís shoulders to help keep Frank from sliding back down to the floor. "If not that," he added slowly. "Then the news people wanting . . . an interview after Ranger . . . was lost." While he was catching his breath after another coughing fit, his brotherís eyes were questioning. "Besides, if . . . if I am any indication . . . would have been slower death." He took a moment to try to get more air in his lungs. "How did you live?"

"Cold storage. Cryogenically preserved. My ship was found and I was revived after five hundred years," Buck said quickly. "The world survived, although it was difficult for a while. Iím sorry," he added, choking back his emotions.

"Why . . . sorry?" Frank gazed at his brother affectionately. "I didnít believe you were, either, Buck. Traitor, that is," He coughed again and panted, trying to get breath. "You came back. Why?"

"I wanted to try to save all of you," Buck said, feeling the tears slide down his cheeks under the visor.

"You always were a survivor, bro." More coughing. Buck felt his heart being torn apart. "If you canóbury us, pleaseÖ. If you canítÖ."

"I will, Frank. I will. If I can, Iíll also find the kids and Michael."

"Wonít ask how, but . . . but thatís a good thought to hold. Thanks, Buck. Thanks." He took a tremulous breath. "Love youÖ." Then the breath released and there wasnít another to replace it.

"I love you, too, Frank." Buck felt his brotherís hand fall from his arm. "Frank?" Buck felt for a pulse, but found none. Frank was mercifully gone; but he was still gone. Buck took his brother in his arms and held him close, even as the short-term warning signal buzzed in his ear. The tears flowed unchecked. With great care, Buck stood up, still holding his brother close to his body. He bent slightly and gathered Frank in his arms. His brother was a big man and he finally had to put him over his shoulder. Slowly, Buck walked out of the apartment and down the creaking stairs. At the door of the building, he met two other radiation-suited figures. Buck quickly recognized Hawk, and then realized that the other figure was Tony. He said nothing in greeting, just stood staring, his brother on his shoulder. His radiation suit gave warning that his time was up.

"You are interring your family, Buck?" Hawk asked, the voice emotionless, but the eyes filled with understanding; with grief. Buck knew that his friend was thinking of Koori, his beloved.

"Yes."

"Weíll do it, Buck," Tony said. "Frit is going to bring you back. Time is up for you."

"No!" Buck said harshly. "Only four people. Weíll get them buried quickly."

There was disbelief in Tonyís dark eyes, but Hawk simply helped Buck lower his brother to the small plot of ground behind the apartment. What used to be a flowerbed was a plain, debris-covered mound of dark earth now. "Where are tools for digging, Buck?"

"In the shed, probably," Buck answered. "But there wonít be enough for all of us to dig."

"Go back, get what you need, Buck. Get another radiation suit and weíll start," Tony ordered.

Buck hesitated, but Hawk nodded his agreement. "All right," he finally acquiesced.

Tony pushed a button on his belt and Buck felt the now-familiar tingling and weightlessness. Then he was in the Tunnel. Technicians rushed toward him, quickly stripping the suit from his body. He was pushed from the Tunnel and directed from the area. He stopped short. "No! I need some tools and a new suit."

"Buck." It was Dr. Huer. "You canít go back."

"Just try and stop me! I will bury my family. I promised my brother." His voice rose with his anger and frustration. He glowered at the older man. "Donít keep me from this."

They glared at one another and then Dr. Huer nodded a reluctant acceptance. "There is another suit. You can use it while we decontaminate the one you were wearing." The doctor put his hand on Buckís arm. "What do you need? I will try to get it if itís here."

"Something to dig; shovels at the very least, a small digging machine if possible." As Huer began to turn away, Buck added, "Doctor, if it can be done, I want a headstone made."

Dr. Huer gasped. "The headstone! That is why there was a headstone for your family."

Buck nodded, smiling wanly. "I guess so." He paused, looking at the older manís arm. It was warm and comforting. "Can it be done?"

"Yes. Write what you want on it and I will have someone construct it."

"Natural stone, if possible," Buck added softly.

"Of course. And Buck," Huer began.

"Yes?"

"Be careful. The radiation is very high there. Even with the suits, you are getting a small dose of radiation each time you go, especially if you are over the allotted time limit."

"I know, Doc," Buck admitted. A technician brought another suit and Buck quickly donned it. While he was doing that, someone else got tools for him to take with him. They were of the time of the Holocaustóa couple of shovels and a small gas-powered digging machine. Buck studied it and decided it was something akin to a minerís excavating machine, probably here in the complex in case there was some kind of underground disaster.

"Thanks," Buck told the technicians who had brought them. All of them carried the materials to the Tunnel entrance and then into the glowing orifice.

Buck stood near them and gave a signal. Again there were the familiar sensations and then he was in the back of the apartment building. Tony was digging a hole that was already six feet long and a couple of feet deep. He stood up when Buck appeared and approached the equipment. "Good job! This will speed up the job."

"How long do you have, Tony?" Buck asked. "And whereís Hawk?"

"Inside, trying to figure out which apartment your family is in. And to answer the first question; we have been here about half of our time."

Buck nodded. "Iíll go help him if you can get this machine working."

"Iíll get it going," Tony said with conviction. "You go on and help Hawk."

Buck was up the stairs in an instant. He found Hawk in the apartment, Buckís father in his arms. "You found the right place."

Hawk nodded. "There is a resemblance." He paused a beat. "Did you want to take your father down or do you want me to?"

"I will. My sister is on the other side of the couch. Would you get her?" Hawk nodded and Buck took his father from his friendís arms. "Thanks, Hawk."

"I do this because you are my friend, even my brother. I can do no less."

Buck felt his throat closing up again and he nodded. "Thanks," he choked out again. Then he turned and carefully carried his father down the stairs. His father had lost weight and wasnít as large as Frank, but still it was difficult carrying him down the stairs. When he had reached the back yard, Buck saw that Tony had made a great deal of headway into the soft earth of the flower bed. Carefully, Buck laid his father down next to Frank who almost appeared to be resting by the back door of the old apartment building.

Hawk followed with Marilyn, gently laying her next to the others. "I will help Dr. Newman while you get your mother . . . unless you need my help."

"No, Iíll get Mom." Within minutes, he was back using the other shovel to break the ground that Tony deepened with the machine. Suddenly, Tony stopped and gazed at Buck. "We have to go back and get new suits." And before Buck could respond, both Tony and Hawk had disappeared.

Buck took the machine, shifted it back into gear and continued what Tony had begun. Soon there was a deep enough grave for two people. Buck continued even as the cloying, dusty air swirled around him. The sirens were silent now as were any voices of the dying. The ground shuddered occasionally but Buck ignored it. Within minutes, he had another three feet in width dug in the large grave.

The air shimmered and Tony returned. "Hawk is having a bit of trouble getting his suit ready for the return." He saw the progress Buck had made and nodded. "Glad they had that in the emergency stores. Do you want me to take over?"

Buck considered. "Yes. I will get my family ready to go in the grave." While Tony took over the machine and deepened and widened the grave, Buck knelt beside his mother and father. "I wish I could have been here soon enough to help you. I wish I could have saved you." He felt the prickling of tears again and blinked to hold them back. Not now. This was not the time. "You were so precious to me. I have missed you so much these past few years. Memories of you are what helped give me strength when it got rough. Thank you." He knelt quietly, not saying or thinking anything else. He had always wanted the opportunity to say good-bye, but now that he had; now that he was laying them to rest and saying his final good-byes, Buck felt drained. He felt empty of any emotion except for helplessness. Wisps of fog or smoke curled around his feet and rose around his body, drifting like oily film into the dim sky.

He reached out to straighten his motherís apron. Mom loved wearing her old-fashioned aprons with large pockets. Dad had called her a female Mr. Green Jeans. She kept all kinds of things in her pocketsórecipes, grocery lists, receipts, newspaper clippings, pictures of family members. This one was a favorite, he remembered; it was the yellow one with light green ruffled trim. She had said that her own mother had made it and worn it before giving it to Mom. He reached into the pockets and found several pieces of paper and some pictures. There was also a short pencil and a tiny notepad. There was no time to read now, so Buck transferred the items into a specimen pocket of his suit. He reached out and touched her cheek. "I love you." He touched his fatherís hand and Marilynís, telling them the same thing.

"I think this is big enough, Buck," Tony said softly, touching his shoulder.

Buck hadnít even realized that the machine was not running. It was silent except for the soft sloughing of the wind. A thicker fog was creeping along the edges of the hedge at the back of the little back yard. "Thanks, Tony," he murmured. He folded his motherís arms across her chest and pushed a stray strand of silver-gray hair from her forehead. Then he finished straightening her clothes, brushing the worst of the dust that was now falling like snowflakes from the sky. Gently, he picked her up in his arms and carried her the short distance to the large grave.

Remotely, Buck noticed Hawk standing in the grave, ready to take the bodies. Buck nodded, seeing the rightness of his brother-friend being there to help him put his family to rest. Tony stood nearby in respectful silence. Buck handed his mother to Hawk, who laid her gently, almost reverently on one side of the grave. His father soon followed, then his sister and brother. The four bodies lay close together as though sleeping, but even that was artificial as the dustóthe falloutóbegan to fall thicker.

Hawk climbed out of the grave and the three men stood quietly for a moment. "Did you want to say anything, Buck," Tony asked gently.

Buck took a deep breath, one that was accentuated by the re-breathing system. "They were good people who did not deserve to die this way. God grant them peace and God grant that the rest of my family was able to escape this." He paused and took another, tremulous breath. "I love you and will never forget you." He stood without saying anything for several moments.

"Amen," Tony murmured next to him. Still the other two men did nothing and Buck realized why. They were waiting for him to place the first shovelful of dirt over the bodies. Buck didnít know how Hawk knew this, only that he must be watching Tonyís example. With arms that felt heavy, Buck picked up a shovel and gathered a small amount of the dirt that had been heaped to the side. He carefully sprinkled some of it on the chests of each of his family members. All the while, the little buzzer gave him warnings. It had been a shorter time than before. Buck ignored the warning as he began to throw more shovelfuls of dirt into the mass grave.

"Buck, let us finish," Tony said, again touching him in the shoulder. "I know you have been here beyond the safe limit."

"No, I am going to finish this myself. You two go on."

"I will not leave you," Hawk stated.

Buck recognized the Ďno argumentí tone in the birdmanís voice, but it didnít matter to him if the others stayed or not. "I am going to do this myself," Buck said woodenly, but decisively. He shoveled dirt even when his hands began to blister inside the gloves. Buck continued long after his back and shoulders screamed with pain. Still, his two friends stood by. Finally, he had the soil mounded over the bodies of his family and Buck stood back, feeling the sweat pouring down his chest and back. He was heaving for breath and his legs were shaky. He felt his friends on either side but he couldnít move, couldnít talk, wasnít able to say anything. Vaguely, Buck heard Tony talking to someone back in the Tunnel and the air swirled and flickered and the dismal, gloomy scene was gone.

 

 

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