Corridors of Time

 

A Buck Rogers/Time Tunnel crossover

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 16

 

The three men appeared together in the Tunnel and the first thing Tony noticed was the presence of two medical technicians in the area between the main console and the Tunnel entrance. As soon as they had materialized, the men began moving toward them.

"Begin removing your radiation suits, gentlemen," the foremost of them said.

Tony was peeling off his suit when he felt someone sagging against him. "Buck!" he cried out when he realized who it was. The technicians in front leaped forward as Tony tried unsuccessfully to hold his friend up. Hawk had jumped to Buck's other side, but the Directorate pilot collapsed to his hands and knees on the walkway, heaving violently. Tony quickly pulled off Buckís visor.

"Decontamination Bay, med emergency. Coming in with three, one incapacitated," a dark-haired man called into a small communicator. He looked up at Tony and Hawk. "Can you remove your suits without help?"

Tony only nodded, his concern over Buck growing.

Hawk ignored the question, staying by Buckís side. His friend sagged to the walkway, unconscious. Hawk looked up, his dark eyes showing intense worry. "Will he be all right?"

"We'll find out. Please move away and let us do our job," the med tech said professionally. "This is why we have radiation indicators in these things, so people will leave those kinds of areas when the radiation...."

"He was trying to bury his family," Hawk said softly, his voice ominous as he slowly got to his feet and pulled off his suit. All the while, his eyes were locked on those of the med tech. He handed the radiation suit to someone who had joined the group. The technician gazed into the dark, angry eyes for only a moment before turning away. He said nothing more, only directing arriving personnel to take care of Buck.

The group was escorted to what Tony recognized as the medical bay, except it was now refurbished and modernized. Buck was brought in on a type of gurney, still unconscious. Tony and Hawk were escorted to separate areas where they were quickly checked and given a battery of irradiation treatments. "What about Captain Rogers?" Tony asked his friendís attendant doctor.

"I don't know. You'll have to wait over there until tests and examination are finished."

Hawk soon sat down next to Tony and they waited for what seemed an interminably long time, side by side, neither saying a thing. Several hours later, Wilma, who said very little, joined them. Her eyes spoke volumes.

 

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Buck kept seeing oily fog reaching up with skeletal hands trying to choke him. Voices screamed and moaned in the corners of the hazy area where he couldnít see anything but dark shapes. Bodies trudged toward him, their skin sloughing from their bones, their eyes blank and unseeing. He tried to back away, but there were more behind him. It was like the remnant hordes of mutants, trying to kill him and destroy Twiki for his parts. The individuals in the front disintegrated before his eyes, body parts melting, and Buck gagged even as he tried to keep out of their reach. It was like a vivid and horrifying film from his childhood, except this was real.

A bloody hand grabbed him and Buck jerked aside. Suddenly he opened his eyes and saw the faces of those he knew, Wilma, Hawk, Dr. Huer and Tonyóand they were whole and alive. He tried to sit up, but groaned and lay back down. His body felt battered; the muscles in his sides and diaphragm most abused. He had a colossal headache, one that reached all the way to his toes and curled itself back up around his stomach. Cotton filled his mouth and made it difficult to speak. "What happened?" he finally croaked out.

"You stayed in a dangerous area far too long," someone next to him said, the voice unsympathetic.

Buck didnít recognize the speaker and assumed he was the doctor. Alarm gripped him and when the man said nothing else, Buck prodded. "AndÖ."

"And you are lucky to be alive," the doctor retorted. "At first I thought your symptoms were from acute radiation poisoning, so I pumped you with all the anti-radiation treatments available." He scrutinized Buck. "It seems that your symptoms were psychogenic, for the most part, as your lymphocyte count is only slightly depressed."

"Symptoms?" Buck asked stupidly, then he remembered the horrible nausea; was still feeling the pain of the nasty headache.

"I thought you were a Defense Directorate employee and you donít know the symptoms of radiation sickness?" The doctor shook his head in disgust, but Buck saw a slight smile on Wilmaís lips.

"Of course I know the symptoms; I just didnít remember what happened afterÖ. I just didnít remember, thatís all," Buck responded, sounding almost petulant.

"You do, now?"

"Yes, Doctor. I remember."

"Good, then you wonít ignore the warnings that were built into your equipment next time." The doctor finished his examination and moved off.

Buck scowled after the retreating figure, but felt his anger melting away as Wilma stepped to his side. "That was dangerous, Buck, but I understand why you did it." She paused and he saw her eyes misting.

He thought he had understood what the doctor said, but still everyone was looking like they were at a funeral. As soon as that thought crossed his mind, Buck remembered the funeral back in Chicago and cringed. "Okay, so am I going to live or not?"

"Not by reason of any of your actions, Captain," the doctor said from the other side of the room.

Buck almost made a nasty retort, but Wilmaís hand on his cheek stayed him. "You were so sick, Buck. I thought . . . well, I was afraidÖ."

"That I had received a fatal dose?" he finished.

She nodded and then threw her arms around him. Buck noticed the others standing a bit uncomfortably to the side, but he didnít care. Reaching up, he pulled her closer. "Thanks for understanding," he murmured in her ear. "Iíve been a regular pain in the ass lately and still youíve understood." She pulled back with a lopsided grin on her face and Buck noticed that his friends had scattered from the room. He appreciated their consideration.

"You have always been a pain in the . . . well, you have, but it took a while to understand just what makes you the person you are," she replied. "I donít think I would want you any other way."

He took her hand. "Even when I scare the bejeebers out of you?"

She sighed. "Buck, you have scared me more times than I would like to consider. I wish you wouldnít, but I guess it comes with . . . knowing you." She brightened. "I guess I will just have to learn to be a bigger pain."

Buck began chuckling and then as a thought occurred to him, he laughed aloud. "Wilma, I do believe that you would win the contest."

"What contest?" she said, slightly puzzled.

"The, uh, butt-kicking contest." And with that comment, Wilma began laughing with him.

She was still chuckling as she turned and picked up something on a nearby counter. By now, Buckís headache had receded to something just this side of tolerable and he sat up slowly. Wilma carried the object as though it was something either very delicate or very precious. It appeared to be a picture in a golden-hued picture frame. She handed it to him and Buck glanced at it and then did a double take. It was a picture of him and his mother and father, taken when he had graduated from the academy. He looked up at Wilma in surprise and puzzlement. "Where?" He knew he didnít have one with him when he had gone up in Ranger. So how did Wilma get a hold of a copy? There was a crease along one side and it appeared as though it had been carried around a great deal.

"You had it on you when you came back from burying your family," she said softly. "You donít remember?"

Then it dawned on him. Yes, he did remember. "It was in Momís apron pocket. I, uh, didnít have time to see what it was when I took if from her."

"This was with it," she said softly, handing him an envelope. It had a stamp on it, but had apparently never been sent off.

Buck carefully opened the envelope, feeling anything from his past to be precious. He pulled out a letter and recognized his motherís handwriting. Without saying anything, he began reading. It was addressed to one of the then Illinois senators. As he read it, Buck felt a renewed love and appreciation for his parents. To the end, theyóespecially his motheróhad been staunchly loyal to him, even to threatening a lawsuit for defamation of character. Mom was such a scrappy woman; he didnít doubt that she would have done it were it not for the nuclear holocaust. He pictured her in the courtroom in a very proper apron and he smiled softly at his daydream. However, Buck realized that his dream back in the jungle had been at least partly couched in reality. He thought of the horrible scene he had found in his brotherís apartment, then he looked at the picture again, studied it, remembered the time it had been taken, the emotions he had felt, and thoughts that had occupied him then, and his heart lightened.

"I got this for you, too, Buck."

He looked up and saw what looked to be a container in her hands, or a box. As she drew closer, she began to pull the lid off and Buck realized it was a book. Even in such a short time, the elements had darkened the thick leather cover, causing it to become prematurely cracked and mottled. Puzzled, he took it from her hands and opened it. Then he did another double take, realizing that it was his motherís scrapbook. She had taken it to Frankís apartment that fateful day. There were a few newer pictures that he was unfamiliar with at the back of the bookóhis nieces and nephews along with his brother and sister and parents. Tearing his gaze away from the pictures, he looked up at Wilma. "You went back," he said softly. "Even though you thought I was sick because of the radiation, you went back."

"Yes, I did, dear heart. These were your people, I knew you wanted something of them besides the memory of burying them under such horrible conditions." She was silent for a beat and then she continued softly. "And because they were your family, I wanted a piece of you from them. I guess that was rather selfish of me, but I wanted to see more of who you were rather than just the stories and memories you have told me. Iím afraid I went through it while you were still unconscious. I hope you donít mind."

Buck took her hands in his and kissed the palms tenderly. "Thank you, Wilma. And you can look anytime you wish." He pulled her closer and kissed her passionately. His fingers swam through her thick, soft, luxuriant hair.

She finally pulled away, catching the book as it began to slide off his lap. "This is a bit awkward, dear heart," she whispered.

"So it is," he replied and swung off the bed, pulling off the medical leads. At a squawk from the doctor, Buck turned, his glare defying the manís continued protest. He turned back to Wilma, offering her his arm. "Shall we retire to my cabin to look at the album together?" he asked, even as the doctor continued muttering.

"No, you are using the cabin that belonged to Jerry Ricker. While I am not superstitious, I would prefer not staying where the poor man died." Then she smiled wickedly. "How Ďbout mine?"

"Lead on, gallant lady," Buck agreed, even while he felt a slight wash of dizziness course through his body.

Although it was quickly gone, Wilma noticed. "Are you all right?" she murmured. "Maybe youíd better stay here a while longer."

"Absolutely not! And certainly not while Dr. Doom is on duty," Buck answered her in a conspiratorial tone of voice. "Just hold me up until we are out the door."

"My hands are a bit full," she pointed out. She had the picture, letter and the scrapbook.

He took the scrapbook from her hands, and placed the picture and letter inside. "Now, your hands are totally free to do anything they want."

She laughed, happy at his mood change. "That a promise?" she asked.

"Make it one when weíre more comfortable," he retorted good-naturedly.

Hawk was outside the door and looked surprised when they emerged arm in arm. "The doctor released you?"

"No," Buck replied with a cocky smile. "I escaped."

Hawk only nodded. "Then I suppose that you two will be enjoying dinner in privacy."

"You supposed right, my friend." Buck paused a moment and then reached out and grabbed his friend by the arm. His grip spoke the depth of his friendship and respect. "Thanks, Hawk. I appreciate you coming after meóand of understanding."

Hawk said nothing, only nodded, returned the grip and after a moment, turned back toward the Tunnel.

The couple continued to her cabin where Buck finally put aside all pretense and almost fell onto the small futon-type couch that also served as her bed. He lay back and sighed heavily.

"Are you sure youíre all right?"

"Wilma, where do you want to get married?" he asked, ignoring her question. "I mean, we never really discussed it, only assumed that it would be here on Earth. But where, specifically, do you want the wedding?"

"I was thinking New Chicago, but if you were prefer somewhere elseÖ."

"Iím relatively new to this century, so I defer to you, querida." Then he sobered. "I know youíve thought about it."

"The Great Reception Hall," she said after a short deliberation. "Itís big enough."

He remembered the hall where Ardala and her entourage had been wined and dined and where Wilma had first come on to him. It was beautiful, but thoughts of all the dignitaries that Theo and Dr. Huer would think necessary to invite came to mind and he cringed. Elopement suddenly came to mind. Someplace like Doug and Tonyís place. But he knew a small wedding would not be possible. After all, Wilma had been head of Defense Directorate military forces and was second in command of one of Earthís largest star ships. "Okay, the hall it will be. When?"

"When you choose, dearest," she said, sitting down next to him.

"After we place the headstone on my familyís grave," he said quickly. "And when Doug, Ann and the kids make their transfer. Iíve grown rather fond of them. Iíd like them at the wedding."

"So have I," Wilma said, thinking of the children she had been with up until Buckís illness. They sat in companionable silence, enjoying each otherís company without feeling the need to say anything. "Buck, thank you," she finally said, leaning over and giving him a kiss. Buck was a whole-hearted participant in the reciprocation.

 

 

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