Corridors of Time
A Buck Rogers/Time Tunnel crossover
The Tunnel almost roared with triumph, lights flashing and the power grids booming for several seconds like a pyrotechnics show, until subsiding into more tolerable level of light and sound. It reminded Wilma somewhat of the journey through the vortex and she wondered if it felt the same. She turned to Malcome. "How long before we know. Obviously, he can’t talk to us during the transition."
"The animal subject, a cat, went through in only a minute and five seconds. The longest time is what they referred to as the ‘radiation bath.’ The actual time to the time and place is quick because we are able to program that in."
"In other words, you know the destination, so the journey won’t take that long," Wilma reiterated, wanting to make sure she had understood the entirety of the process correctly. She had watched the transfer of the animal the day before, but still she felt her grasp of temporal journeying was limited.
"Yes, exactly. Like you pilots and the star gates. You aren’t guessing or taking the long way, so to speak. You know the gate to the place you are going and you take it."
She nodded. It made a great deal of sense, explained that way. She knew that this whole project had made her uneasy from the moment she found out what it was all about and that had most likely blocked her normally quick mind.
"Plus the fact that it’s not a relatively distant time in the past," Malcome added.
Wilma took a deep breath. "If there is the slightest hint of trouble after Buck gets there, I go after him."
Malcome’s mouth opened and shut several times, but nothing came out.
Dr. Huer didn’t say anything for a moment either, but his eyes showed understanding. Finally, he said, "Wilma, everything will be all right."
"I’m sure it will be, but I will not be separated from Buck. It took him 500 years to get to me and I will not have him stranded back 500 years without me."
"I understand," Huer said softly, laying his hand on hers. The group at the Tunnel continued to listen and watch as the control banks monitored Buck’s progress. The tunnel continued to flash muted blues and reds. Then two arms crept out from the inside of the Tunnel as though to meet one another. Wilma had seen that with the transfer of the cat and knew that Buck was at his destination.
Buck had felt as though the air had been sucked out of his lungs for a brief moment during his journey, so when he felt the world around him and sucked in a deep breath, he thought he was going to choke. It was bitterly cold. It was like being in the Tunnel again, but at least this had sight and sound, feeling and texture—not that emptiness that had filled him with dread and fear. But, still, it was so abominably cold. Buck had forgotten just how cold the mountains could be.
And in that briefest of thoughts he saw the ground rise up to meet him and he had a scant instant to try to break his fall. He only half succeeded. His shoulder hit the ground hard, but he managed to roll and then jump to his feet without feeling too klutzy. It was daylight and he blinked in the brightness of the sun on the drifts of snow between the buildings. Luckily, he was in-between two old wooden buildings—an alley of sorts. Snow was a foot and a half deep on one side and scoured from the hard ground on the other. When his eyes had become used to the light, Buck reconnoitered and was gratified to see that no one had seen his sudden arrival.
He brushed himself off, picked up his duffle bag, and then walked out of the alleyway to see an old Model-T and a horse next to each other in front of the building on his right. The building across the street was a more modern brick and wood two story structure that said, ‘Rooms for Let—by the week or the month or longer.’ Buck gazed at the black Model-T for a moment and then wandered across the road toward the boarding house. In the window, the sign announced the rates. He walked in and found a very sleepy middle-aged man dozing at the desk. Probably had the night shift, Buck thought.
"Excuse me," Buck said, trying not to startle the man. He looked at the clock on the wall. It said eight o’clock and the calendar next to it said it was Sunday. No wonder things seemed slow.
The man started anyway and jerked his head up with a slight snorting breath. His cheek was red where it had lain on his fist and he rubbed his eyes. "You’re a stranger here." Looking at the clock, he added, "And coming in early for such a cold day."
"Yes. It’s been a long trip," Buck answered, thinking of what an understatement that was. "I don’t think I’ll need anything for more than a night or two. Would you be able to let me stay here?"
"Well, kind of unusual, but I guess so. Business has been rather slow and a room for two days is better’n an empty room."
"I guess so. I’m here to visit my friends, Tony and Doug, and I hope they’ll loan me a couch for a few when I see them."
"Tony and Doug? How do you know them?" the man asked, almost instantly suspicious.
"From school. Way back." Again, another understatement.
"Where’d you grow up? You don’t sound like…. Well, you don’t sound like you come from the same place."
"From college. I’m originally from Chicago."
"Well, those two are certainly college boys. All their gadgets and gizmos…." The man peered at him carefully. "They know you comin’?"
Buck shook his head.
"They don’t get visitors and seem to like it that way."
"Yeah, well, Tony said he’d like to travel, but I figured that once he got that out of his system, he’d just hunker down someplace remote," Buck adlibbed.
The man nodded, a bit more comfortable, but still a little suspicious. "Well, the Newcomb ranch is pretty remote, being butt up against the mountain the way it is." He made a vague gesture behind him.
Buck took note of the direction and then thought, Newcomb? Apparently Tony or Doug had used a pseudonym around here. "How long would it take to get there from here?"
The man peered at him closely. "How’d you get here?"
Shrugging, Buck gave his most endearing grin. "My thumb. Lost my car a year or so ago." He leaned forward almost conspiratorially. "I was hoping that they’d let me work on their place for grub and a bed to sleep on."
"Well, if that’s so, what were you planning on paying for your bed here with?"
Again, Buck lowered his voice. "Well, I’ve been up to Alaska—last summer—and I got a bit lucky, at least for a moment or two." He grimaced for effect. "Until someone found out how lucky I had become. Trounced me. Took most of what I had. I had a bit of my, uh, discovery, stashed where it wasn’t found and that got me back to California and then here." He hugged himself and shivered. "Sure picked a rotten time to come calling, though. It’s cold out there! Every bit as cold as it was up north!"
The man laughed shortly but Buck could see him exuding curiosity. "What have you got, stranger?"
"Name’s Buck and I have this," he said holding out his hand where a small nugget of Wesslogian gold lay glinting dully. The planet had so much that the Wesslogians traded the stuff for things it didn’t have, like copper and iron. The Directorate had salvaged quite a bit of both from ruined cities. Once the residual radioactivity was purged, it was perfect for resale. Sweet deal for both sides. The Directorate then traded with other planets for things they really needed, mainly sustaining items like pure water, food and the materials to keep the technology running that sustained the people of Earth. The barter system never went away.
The man gasped and then whistled. "Gotta be several carats. And you got it in Alaska?"
Buck nodded and then lied, "Yes."
"I certainly don’t see a problem. I think you need to take it to the bank and let them give you the value."
"You still have a bank running these parts?"
"Well, there’s one in Helena and they set up a kind of branch office here. Bill Malone is here three days a week for the ranchers to bring in their payments and deposits."
Buck was incredulous. "And no one bothers them when they transfer this money?"
"Ah, they use the old Savings and Loan office and vault."
"Oh. Where is it?"
"Didn’t you see it? Just back down the road," the man hitched his thumb the opposite direction he had pointed out Tony and Doug’s place.
"No, I was kind of all hunched up trying to stay warm." Then Buck considered. "Today is Sunday. When’s this Malone fellow going to be in and can I, uh, give you the cash when I get it?"
The man shrugged and held out his hand to look at the nugget. He did the obvious thing and tried to bite it. It was a bit softer than Earth gold, so it easily got the needed result. "I’ll get a room ready."
"You have a telephone?"
The man nodded. "Sure, it’s in the sitting room there. Party line."
"Doug and Tony have one, too? What’s the number?"
The man looked at him quizzically again. "You just have the operator connect you. It’ll ring for them, unless the weather’s knocked the lines out."
"Oh, yeah. Sorry. Forgot. This isn’t Los Angeles or Chicago," Buck said, trying to save himself.
"Yeah, thank goodness. We may be a bit backwards to you city folks, but we have all we need, most the time," the man said a bit testily as though accused of being a hillbilly or something similar. "Except for more rain and money."
"No offense. Think you all have the right idea out here. Or I wouldn’t be here."
Mollified, the man smiled. "Yeah, you can use it while I ready a room. You hungry?"
Buck nodded. He didn’t know when he’d get a meal, so might as well take advantage of what he could get, when he could get it.
"Jody down the road has a great diner. Just tell her I sent you and that we’re good for it."
"Thanks. I’ll go when I have made my call."
"Okay," he said. "Sign the register, please."
Buck did so, not even trying to hide his identity. "By the way, what do I call you?"
"Dick Morgan. Glad to meet’cha, Buck." Morgan shook his hand, got up and then headed up the stairs.
Buck decided that it was now or never and walked into the sitting room. The phone was very old fashioned, one of the crank jobbies. But he knew enough to be able to use it. Hell, he thought, he had watched Lassie when he was a kid. He pulled down the bell shaped receiver and then turned the crank several times. A pleasant, but slightly tinny voice came on the line. "What party are you calling, please?"
"The Newcomb Ranch, Tony or Doug. If they aren’t available, I can talk to Ann."
There was a slight pause and then, "Yes, sir. One moment."
There was some static, a click and then a woman’s voice said ‘hello.’ The operator said the obvious. "Your party, sir."
"Ann McGregor?" Buck decided to just plunge in. He figured that this was Ann, sincerely doubting that they would want anyone like a servant around, even if they were rich enough to have any. And certainly there wouldn’t be relatives who would either be alive or able to believe kin popping in from the future.
"Who is this?" came the reply, instantly suspicious in tone. Buck heard the sounds and chatter of a young child in the background.
"My name is Buck. I assure you, I am a friend, not only to you, but also to Tony and Doug. However, I have been told that this is a party line so I don’t think that it would be wise to say any more over the phone, ma’am."
There was a very long pause and Buck almost spoke up. Then she asked, "Where are you . . . Buck?"
"The Morgan boarding house in Wolf Creek."
"It’s the only boarding house in Wolf Creek," she said dryly. "I will tell Doug that you called."
Before he could finish saying, ‘thank you’ she had hung up the phone and all he heard was the whispering of other voices—or maybe it was breathing of people listening in. Buck hung up the receiver and walked out of the room. In the distance he heard the sound of church bells and he zipped up his coat and headed out the door, duffle still hanging off his shoulder. Following Morgan’s directions, he was soon at the diner. However, it was closed. The sign told him the obvious, ‘Closed on Sundays.’ Apparently, Morgan forgot about that little detail. He looked down the wide street and saw several older model cars chugging toward the church. They occasionally bounced ominously as they hit potholes in the road. With a shrug, he decided to head toward the church. At least it would be warmer.
The wind seemed determined to force its way down his collar, into his nasal passages and all the way into his bones. He couldn’t get into the church doors fast enough. Buck figured it would have to be warmer to snow. Apparently a lot of other folks had the same idea. The church was packed. Of course, the preacher seemed very happy. At the door, he shook Buck’s hand as though pumping for oil and then motioned him on in, reaching for another hand. Buck didn’t hesitate, the further in the better. With the back door open, there were no back row worshippers during this meeting.
As he sat down on the hard, cold bench, he looked around, taking in the depression era fashions. Most of the clothing appeared worn, which didn’t surprise him. The expressions were fervent, which also didn’t surprise him, but somber. He had heard his parents talking about the Depression and figured there was no joy in Mudville here, so to speak. He looked at his watch he had reset from the wall clock in Morgan’s place. It was 10:30 and the pastor breezed up the aisle, his expression fervent as well. Buck half-listened to the man, feeling suddenly lethargic. That trip through the tunnel must have taken a great deal more out of him than he first thought. Halfway through the meeting, Buck dozed a bit, jerking awake during music that turned out to be the closing song. Looking around, though, he noticed that he wasn’t alone. Others were also slowly coming back to life.
After the benediction, Buck got up, steeling himself for the walk back to the boarding house. At least he’d have a warm place to stay while he waited for Doug’s response. He hunched over in the even more brisk wind and almost ran back to the boarding house. Morgan had returned to his desk and smiled at him as Buck undid his coat. Not knowing how quickly the time travelers would react to his phone call, Buck wasn’t going to mention to the man the mistake about the diner. He had a Directorate sustenance bar in his duffle bag.
"Room 12, up the stairs and to the left," Morgan said, handing him an old-fashioned skeleton key.
"Thanks. Think I’ll go up and try to get warm."
"Bathroom’s at the end of the hall. Just work out a bath schedule with the other tenants and you’ll be okay," Morgan told him.
Buck forgot about that particular of life in the earlier part of the twentieth century, but he only nodded and thanked Morgan. Then he dashed up the steps, as much to get warm as to get to his room. It was a comfortable room, though small and Buck gazed at the bed. That was the main feature. It felt strange being in a sort of motel and not having a TV or a bathroom, just a bed, nightstand, and wardrobe. It also had a couple of wing chairs in two of the corners and Buck strode over and dumped the duffle bag in one of them. He unzipped the coat and tossed it on the back of the chair. His stomach growled and he dug into the bag and pulled out one of the sustenance bars. They weren’t much, insofar as taste was concerned, but they would do what they were named for—sustain him. After he had eaten the pasty thing, Buck decided that all he could do was wait. There was a magazine on the nightstand. A June, 1935, Saturday Evening Post. He lay down on the bed and began looking through the periodical. The old-fashioned radiator clanged reassuringly, telling him that there was heat on the way.
When the knock came, it startled the magazine off his chest where it had apparently rested when he dozed off. The knock came again.