Corridors of Time

 

A Buck Rogers/Time Tunnel crossover

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 4

 

 

The breakthrough, when it came, seemed entirely too easy. If Dr. Frit Malcome had been beside himself before, he was really ecstatic now. By now, ten days later, the trio had almost finished the journal, as well as read through some loose notes that Buck had found in Jerry Rickerís room. Buck had come to admire Jerry Ricker very much. He had persevered in a situation that had become intolerable, all to protect his friends and to try to protect the integrity of the project that Doug Phillips and his fellow scientists had begun so many years before. He felt a sort of connective bond with Rickerís thoughts and feelings, he understood the despair and helplessness, having felt so much of it himself the first couple of years of his new life.

Ricker, however, had no light at the end of his tunnel, so to speak. Buck had the advantage of making a new life; Jerry did not. He knew too much, was too much an integral cog in the machinery of the underground complex. It was not written in black and white, but Buck could pick out between the lines in Rickerís journal. The man knew he was a prisoner for the last years before the holocaust. And he was certainly resigned to his fate afterward. The journal entries were much more candid after everyone else was either gone into the swirling maze of time or had been killed.

However, when it came to the whereabouts of the three temporal scientists, Ricker was extremely tight-lipped. It was understandable, Buck thought and Ricker had even pointed that out in his journal. There had been a slight tingling of guilt that he had wanted to pursue his quest despite the scientist's last wishes. Ricker's thoughts had been that if in the remote event that anyone did discover the Tunnel in the distant future, or if indeed anyone had even survived the horrible events that Ricker had witnessed, the twentieth century scientist wanted Tony, Doug and Ann's privacy secured. And yet.... And yet, there was a slight note of doubt in Jerry's thoughts. Knowing where they were and when would make them vulnerable to the very holocaust that their invention had created. That thought had been very clear in Rickerís last entries.

Buck paused in his reading, a diverging thought striking him forcibly with its power. Wouldn't the idiots with the bombs have found some way to deliver their deadly cargo even if they couldn't have succeeded in using Operation Tic Toc? Was it fair to blame the Time Tunnel and its inventors for the horrible devastation? No, if Tony or Doug, Ann or Ricker had any voice in the matter, they would have prevented the terrible events of 1987. Another thought hit him. Why didn't Ricker try to go back in time and try to prevent the Holocaust? He posed the questions to his companions and they had sat in thoughtful silence for some time before venturing any kind of thoughts on the matter.

"You could very well be right, Buck," Dr. Huer ventured. "Such men will ultimately find a way to force their ideologies on others. If one method fails, they keep trying until one finally works, or until they are annihilated themselves. You have seen that even in our century. But you know that time better than we do and you know the mindset of such men."

"As to the other question, Buck, maybe he did try. Maybe he found what he had been writing about over the years, that it was impossible to change such things," Wilma mused. "By going back, the person trying to change the events becomes a part of them."

"In fact, we found something in the computer that we think Dr. Ricker supplied. Something he called the Novikov self-consistency principle," Dr. Huer added. "Which you have very aptly put into laymenís terms, Wilma." * (Novikov)

Unfortunately, Buck had just about come to the same conclusion, which took him from his original idea of using the Tunnel to avert the disaster. What he saw now, was a trio of scientists stuck in a past where their skills were of little or no value, where they would be forced to see the events that led up to the Holocaust, helpless to do anything about it.

Buck was convinced that the trio was in the not far removed past from the nuclear holocaust, probably not more than fifty years. That was clear enough in Jerry's notes. But where? And when? Buck kept trying to find clues to Tony, Doug and Annís whereabouts, but so far he only had vagaries. They were in the Intermountain West somewhere, he was almost positive of that. Nothing concrete, but something that he felt strongly about. It was the when that was puzzling. Perhaps if he could more accurately pinpoint the place, he could find some old records that might hold the key.

He thought it curious that Jerry began writing quotes from Pres. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the first one being the famous fear quote from FDRís first inaugural address. Then it dawned on him; that had to be the date that the time traveling trio settled in the past. March 4, 1933. That was the only quote that had a date attached. Now for the place. Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, the Dakotaís? Despite Jerry's reasons for not just coming out and divulging the scientists' exact whereabouts, Buck now felt compelled to find and talk to these people. He felt a link to them. Was it tied to the displacement feelings he sometimes had? Possibly it was, or maybe it was something else. He looked through notes and letters, spent more than a little time in Rickerís small apartment in the bowels of the complex. The man had taken up quarters in the project coordinatorís apartment near the end and Buck began combing that place, too. Wilma was uncomfortable in either place. The larger apartment was where Rickerís body had been found, in the bed, as though the man had laid down to sleep and never awakened.

Finally, Buck found what he thought was the breakthrough clue. It was separate from the journals; something that he had found in an envelope, dated a short time after Ricker had shut down the tunnel. It was a torn out page from an atlas with a dot in marker in one spot. Was it Montana, or Nebraska? He studied the two sides and couldnít help but think that it was the spot out in the backwoods a hundred or so miles from Helena. But it was so smeared that he couldnít tell just what location it really was. There was a scrawled note on the bottom that confirmed to Buck that Ricker had been having second thoughts about keeping the trio's location secret. It said, " 'May God have mercy on my soul, keeping the promise I had made to Doug back when I was still in communication. Keep it a secret, they said. Did they realize by keeping that secret, what would happen to any children they hadóto the child they have already had?"

Okay, Ricker had regretted closing off the tunnel to his friends, so why didn't he leave more clues for others to be able to contact and rescue Tony, Doug and Ann? Perhaps because he was afraid that others like Becker and his cronies would find the complex and try to exploit it. Poor Dr. Ricker. It was a turmoil that he could never quite rectify in his own mind. Somehow, Buck thought that such a dilemma might have very well unhinged the lonely man.

Still, after several days Buck was almost ready to give it up before it unhinged him. Wilma, whom he suspected knew what his thoughts were, had kindly left him alone in his research. Buck went through the notes and papers that Jerry had left in various places in his room, old and new. Then he noticed a seeming out of place reference to wolves. It was out of place like that Roosevelt quote had been. Searching through other notations that had been made during that time, Buck saw a reference to Lewis and Clark, also made out of context. Frowning, he tried to think. Yes, there were wolves in Montana, but how would that help? A national park? But the only one he was aware of in Montana was Glacier. He wasn't aware of anything of any size in Nebraska. Lewis and Clark had gone all the way across Montana. Couldn't say the same for Nebraska. Suddenly, Buck was excited. Montana. It had to be! He had narrowed it down.

He jumped up and headed for the main computer terminals near the tunnel. Wilma, Dr. Huer and Dr. Malcome were in there and looked at him curiously. Buck ignored them, sitting at one of the terminals and typing in his request. A map came on the screen, showing the route of the two famous explorers. Then he typed in another request and a map of Montana of the twentieth century came up. Leaning closer to the screen, he studied it, looking for something, he wasnít sure what. Then with an excited intake of breath, Buck knew he had it. Wolf Point. No, there were two cities or towns with the name Wolf in it. Wolf Creek. Both small cities smack dab on the route of the two nineteenth explorers. But which one? Without saying a word to anyone, Buck got up and returned to the scientistís room. He looked for more clues. Now he wasnít trying for continuity, but for something that broke it. With a sigh, Buck lay back on the bed and continued.

Then he remembered Jerryís mention after the Holocaust of there not being anymore purple mountains majesty, but nothing else of the patriotic song. Montana was a state of plains and mountains. Which town would have been closer to the mountains? Again, he went into the main complex and brought up the old maps. He let out breath he didnít know he had been holding in. Wolf Creek was in a mountainous area. It was close to what was once the Glacier National Park. A soft reflection in the monitor showed that Wilma was now standing behind him.

"Found something?" she asked.

"I believe I have found the location of Tony, Doug and Ann."

"What?" Malcomeís choked voice sounded from the console in front of the tunnel. The rings were a soft blue color, throbbing almost like a heartbeat. The Directorate scientist had been sending probes back in time for several days now and they had been able to see various times and places for limited times.

"I think I know where the three time travelers are," Buck repeated.

"Where?" Dr. Huer asked, having walked up behind Malcome.

Buck hesitated, and then took a deep breath. "Only if you send me instead of some little radioactive pellet/camera."

"What?" three voices replied together. The shock in their voices was palpable.

"You heard me. I want to meet these people, not play peeping Tom," Buck declared. "I want to breathe the air of my previous century," he added in a softer voice. "I want, for a brief moment, to be an American in America."

"BuckÖ." Wilma began and then stopped. She laid her hand on his shoulder and squeezed. Then she turned to the other two men and nodded. "Would you be able to bring back a person, no matter how long theyíve been in a time zone?"

"You talking about Buck or the three scientists? I donít like the idea of sending anybody back, much less Captain Rogers," Malcome said tersely.

"Who better than me? I am the most connected to the twentieth century. I could pass for an inhabitant much more easily than any of you could," Buck argued.

"Right now, Iím talking about Buck," Wilma replied, ignoring Buckís argument.

"Well," began Malcome. "Yes, theoretically. Weíve had no trouble bringing back the probes. But I want to try this on other organic life forms before sending a person."

"How long will it take you?" Buck asked.

"Probably not much longer than it will take you to research your theory a bit more thoroughly, Captain," the scientist returned.

"Touchť, Doctor." Buck smiled.

Dr. Huer had sat quietly listening. Now he only sighed, but agreed with Buckís assessment. "But only after more experimentation and I am satisfied that you could be returned to us."

Wilmaís look didnít bode well for him later on, Buck thought. However, if Wilma had something on her mind, she kept it to herself. Buck researched the area and the time, finding very little information about Wolf Creek in the 1930ís. He could only go by historical information and pictures that he gleaned about other Montana towns and cities, like Helena and Billings. He figured that winter was the best time to go back, specifically a little before Christmas. This elicited some surprised questions from the others, particularly Malcome.

"Why Christmas, Captain Rogers?" the Directorate scientist asked bluntly. "Seems it would be much to hectic during that holiday, especially in those days."

"It was also a season of good will and cheer. If anyone has reason to be suspicious of me, it will be negated by the charitable feelings of the time of year," Buck responded. There were other, half-formed thoughts in his head. "There is very little extant money during the period, so I wonít have the means to rent a room for any length of timeÖ."

"You mean you donít think youíll be able to make contact quickly?" Huer asked.

Buck shook his head. "No, I think these people wonít be living right in town, but on a ranch or something similar outside of the town limits. More private. And if they are worried that Becker and his boys might guess their whereabouts, living in the remote rural area makes more sense." He paused and thought a moment before continuing. "I think Iíll have to ask around and wait a bit." What he didnít say is that if they had become friends with various townspeople, Tony and Doug might have their network of Ďearly warningí established and working. It would be chancy. Wilma just gazed thoughtfully at him but didnít say a thing.

If 1933 were the year that they had arrived, then going in within a year or two would make a great deal of sense, before they had become too acclimatized. However, if, on the other hand, he had misread the Ďclues,í then he could end up in Timbuktu and nothing to show for it but a nice visit to the past. Or a not so nice one if Rickerís notes of Tony and Dougís journeys were correct. Seemed those boys were trouble magnets. Then he considered his own history in his present day. He laughed softly to himself.

Wilma laid her hand on his shoulder. "Whatís on your mind, my dear?" she asked sweetly.

Buck repeated what he had been thinking.

She smirked and then nodded. "I would say that might be the reason you want to meet these people. You have that in common, anyway."

Two weeks, one ferret, a cat and a dog later, Frit Malcome declared the temporal processes successful. Wilma still looked dubious, but Buck was ready. He had ordered several warm sets of clothing that he felt would fit in the time frame and they had arrived that very morning. He looked at them with a great deal of satisfaction. Two pairs of jeans that Levi Strauss would have been proud of, a couple of heavy flannel shirts, one blue plaid and one red. The parka was wonderful. While it was made of materials that made it more lightweight than its twentieth century counterpart, it was just as warm as an Eskimoís. It was the same with the boots. They looked like something a lumberjack would wear, but they werenít heavy at all. No heavier than his exercise Nikeís he had worn back in his pre-Rip Van Winkle days. He put on one set and folded and placed the rest of the clothing into a small duffle bag.

When he walked out of his apartment, Buck found Wilma standing in the corridor waiting for him. She didnít say anything, only gazed at him. He couldnít tell exactly what was on her mind, although it was almost the same type of look she had had on her face when he had gone through the vortex. "Itís going to work fine, querida. If theyÖ."

"No, I just keep wondering where these kinds of dangerous activities come from? If they multiply exponentially or if they will ever end?"

He sighed and then shrugged. "Wilma, I lived in a dangerous century, we live in a dangerous century. I guess itís just part of living and breathing in this part of the universe." Buck knew it was lame, but he really didnít know the answer.

"I know, but I just canít help but worry," she replied.

He smiled. "Well, Iíll send you a postcard."

She smiled. "I would ask what you are talking about, but it would just delay the inevitable."

"I promise, Iíll bring one back with me."

"The Tunnel will let you?"

"I believe so. Would almost have to. It did back in the early days, with the exception of Doug and Tony, and it will have to be able to in order for the three scientists to return."

"If they want to come back, we can send you the materials needed for them to have a temporal signature for us to lock on," Malcome said, coming around the corridor. "But no picking up souvenirs."

Buck smiled guiltily. "Caught me. But seriously, I was only going to bring Wilma back a postcard."

"A what?"

"Look it up after I leave," Buck said abruptly. Now that things were lined up and ready for the take-off, he was ready to do it. Buck felt his nerves tightening with the adrenalin of impending action. Like when he was in a starfighter ready for launch. So letís launch already, he thought.

"I gather youíre ready," Malcome said with a nervous smile.

"Yes."

They walked to the Tunnel, where it sat in mute splendor. The rings were lit, throbbing with power. Buck felt the tingle of excitement, but he also felt something else. He felt the physical tingle as well.

"Good luck, my friend," Huer said, sitting up from one of the consoles. "We have in the date you specified and the place. We should be able to both see and hear you once you arrive in Wolf Creek."

Buck nodded. "Then letís get this show on the road."

Again, Malcome didnít know exactly what he was talking about, but this time seemed to have the gist. "Walk straight in, Captain. You donít have to stop, you should simply step from this plane to the temporal plane before you reach the end of the Tunnel."

"All right."

"And good luck." Malcome was watching the dials with nervous anticipation.

Wilma suddenly gathered him in her arms and kissed him soundly. He dropped the duffle and gave her his full attention. When they broke, they were both panting a bit. "Donít do anything foolish, Captain Rogers," she said softly, her voice husky.

"I wonít. I want something like this when I come back."

"I promise."

He gathered up the bag and turned and walked into the pulsating rings. The hum became louder and louder, almost overwhelming him. Buck hesitated but then continued as he had been instructed. A sharp smell, something unknown, seemed to assail his nostrils, the light became brighter and brighter and the hum all but deafened him. Then something seemed to explode and Buck was free falling in the dazzling light. It penetrated his very core, flashing and dancing all around him. He felt as though something was squeezing him and yet he was sliding through a strange kind of space. It was similar in some ways to the vortex, and yet different. Buck was falling, helpless to do anything but watch the lights. It whirled, floated, danced and bounced in and out and around his bodyÖ..

 

 

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