Corridors of Time

 

A Buck Rogers/Time Tunnel crossover

 

 

 

 

Chapter 8

 

 

"Thank you so much for your hospitality, Mrs. Phillips," Wilma said with a bright smile. She pulled off her parka and Ann almost gasped at the skin-tight outfit the woman was wearing.

"Youíre welcome," Ann finally stammered out. "What are you colonel in?" she blurted out before she could stop herself.

Captain Rogers grinned. "Same reaction I had the first time I saw Wilma, and she was in her regulation white uniform then."

He blushed as soon as he said it, but before he could say anything else, Wilma Deering cuffed him on the shoulder and growled, "Buck!"

"Uh, well, somewhat different reaction," he corrected himself. "Sorry."

"I have some coffee brewing," Ann said, not sure just what to make of that entrance or these two people.

"Oh, I have died and gone to heaven," Buck sighed. "Real, honest to goodness, twentieth century coffee? Not instant or decaf or simulated?"

Annís eyebrow shot up several degrees. "The only kind you can get around these parts and this time."

"By the way, Iím sorry that I frightened you with that phone call, Dr. Phillips."

Ann looked at Doug, but then saw that Rogers was looking directly at her. He was addressing her by her title? She didnít say anything, just gazed at him.

"I just didnít know any other way to say it," he added. "You know, party lines and all."

"I understand, Captain," Ann finally replied.

"Please, Iím Buck to my friends," Rogers added.

"And Iím Wilma."

Ann turned her eyes to her husband, now peeling off his gloves. He simply nodded. She turned back to their guests. "And just call me Ann." She studied Wilma again, wondering at the attire. "I would guess you didnít come totally prepared for your trip." It wasnít that she resented this addition to the game plan, as Doug used to call Tunnel activities, but the idea that this Wilma was so very obviously fit and trim and showing it off, whether she thought she was or not, while Ann was monstrously and uncomfortably pregnant, irritated her just a bit.

Wilma didnít say anything for a brief moment and then smiled. Her eyes showed what Ann decided was at least a small amount of understanding. "No, when your husband pulled out the gun, I was anxious enough to pull rank and insist they send me through, too."

"Well, your appearance did lend credence to Buckís story," Doug interjected, putting the toddler down on the braided rug in the middle of the living room. "What does the radio say?"

"They are calling it a big blow, dear," Ann answered. "But a quick one. An Alberta clipper straight from the north. A day, maybe two at the most."

"Okay, Iím going out to help Tony, then. Put enough out for the livestock to eat on in case we canít get out for a day or so." He turned toward the door, but when she followed him, he turned and gathered his wife in his arms again, his back to their guests. "I am almost a hundred percent positive they are not Beckerís people, but just in case, keep an eye on them and if they do anything funny, call me," he whispered in her ear.

"I will, Doug." He pulled on his hat and gloves.

"Iím not ranch hand, but will it help if I come and give you two a hand?" Buck asked from the doorway into the large dining/living room.

"You donít have to do thisÖ." Doug began and then stopped. "Yeah, it will help us all to get back in sooner."

"Just tell me what to do, then," Buck replied and re-buttoned his parka.

"First get a pair of gloves," Doug said, pointing to a small shelf by the door. "And tie that hood tight, or youíll lose it."

Buck grinned as he took the gloves and pulled them on. "Reminds me of my academy days. It was pretty cold there, too." With that, the two men left, a gust of bitter cold the only witness of their passage out of the house.

 

"Iím sorry, why donít you sit down. Iíll have coffee ready in a short while and dinner will be ready in a few hours," Ann told Wilma. "And that will give you the opportunity to tell me how you managed to find us." She tried to keep the tension out of her voice, but it was difficult not to think of the fact that they were found, no matter that these people said they were friends.

"Why donít I help you?" Wilma suggested. "It will make whatever has to be done here easier."

"All right," Ann said with a mental shrug. Doug had asked her to watch and assess. What better way then to see the other woman in action? She felt the communicator safe in her pocket. Little Tony was sitting on the floor, looking wistfully toward the door where he had last seen his daddy.

"What can I do to help?" Wilma asked, looking around the room as though she didnít know where to start first.

Could it be, Ann thought, that there was someone less domestic than she was? "Well, I almost hate to askÖ."

"Look, I used to be lost enough in Buckís haphazard twentieth century apartment in New Chicago, his retro pad, I think he used to call it. Iím even more lost here. Just point me in the right direction, give me some simple instructions and Iíll be able to do whatever you ask," Wilma said with a reassuring smile.

Ann felt the charm of this woman and began to warm up to her, even if she seemed rather show-offish in her slinky Ďuniform.í "I havenít been able to comfortably wash dishes for almost a month now. Not fun doing them sideways. Doug has been sweet enough to do them most of the time; Tony at other times."

"No problem, Ann," Wilma began and then looked around.

Ann realized what the problem was. "No dishwashers in this time."

"I was getting that idea," Wilma said wryly. She picked up a box of soap flakes and read the box. "This the cleaner?"

"Yes, you donít need much," Ann said quickly before Wilma began shaking some of the soap into the sink. She neednít have worried, though. After a moment the newcomer seemed to understand what was needed and was soon running water into the sink. Only a few instructions were necessary after that and Wilma was quickly putting the dishes into the sink.

As Wilma washed and the women talked, little Tony played under the table and the smell of roast lamb permeated the room. Ann found herself taking a quick liking to the young colonel. "You know, I was being a bit forward before, but I am still curious."

"About what?" Wilma said, suds halfway up to her elbows. She had pulled the shiny blue material up her arms so as not to get it wet, although Ann figured water wouldnít harm it any.

"About the organization you belong to."

"Oh, what I am a colonel in?" Wilma answered with a cheerful laugh.

Ann felt her cheeks grow warm, but she nodded.

"Believe me, there were some others who wondered how I got that, too." Although still upbeat, Wilmaís voice took on a more serious note. "There were voices that said I got my post because of my fatherís previous service."

Anne wondered that such issues would still pervade even that far into the future and said so.

Wilma sighed. "My father was a high ranking Directorate officer. I had no other goal than to serve in the Directorate just as he did. Oh, the Directorate is Earthís governing body in the 25th century," she added quickly when Ann looked confused. "There are several departments under a central leadership. I was the head of the Defense Directorate until a couple of years ago. Now I am second in command of a large exploration and scientific starship."

Anne was astonished. To travel the stars! It boggled her mind just as traveling time once had.

"Even Buckís initial reaction was less than flattering," Wilma continued.

Ann smiled. Having just had a slight introduction to the captainís demeanor, Ann could well understand how he might have reacted to Wilma. Somehow, she felt that there was a great deal of steel hardness underneath the colonelís gracious exterior. There was no doubt in her mind as to Wilma Deeringís ability to command. Ann wondered just how much these two had to adjust to get so close.

"Mind you, he changed his perceptions quickly, butÖ."

Ann waited for more and wasnít disappointed.

"I have to admit, it was Buck who helped Earth through one of her most trying times, though and it was mainly because of his . . . remoteness from our century. He didnít have any preconceived notions about the politics of the time." She paused abruptly. All Ann heard for several minutes was the clink of dishes as Wilma washed and then dipped them in the rinse water and placed them in the drying rack. Without comment, Ann reached for and dried the clean dishes and put them away in the cupboards as best as she could. "But I had distanced myself from him," Wilma continued. "It took a great deal of time before he could see me as more than a superior officer or just a friend."

"But you had already fallen for him by then." Ann felt she was stating the obvious.

"In my clumsy way, I had fallen for him from the moment I laid eyes on him. I thought him boorish, a chauvinistic little boy in a manís body, but still he excited me." She laughed softly, ironically. "It was just some kind of charismatic fascination at first. Maybe it also had to do with the fact that he was lostóa piece of flotsam that had been washed up on a distant and strange shore. I finally figured out that his strange humor wasnít just a piece of his half millennial distant culture, but his way of coping with what he couldnít understand. At first he was just trying to deal with his loss and the strangeness of his new world."

"And that awoke the Ďmother instinctí in you, right?" Wilma looked thoughtful for a moment and then nodded. Ann continued. "You sound a bit like me when I first began working at the Tunnel and met Doug. He didnít even know I existed, insofar as anything other than work was concerned." Here she paused. "At least until he and Tony had been stranded in time for several years. Both of them went through some serious psychological adjustments and I felt myself even more drawn to Doug and Tony. Tony, more like a brother/sister sort of relationship. That still continues. But with DougóI felt even more drawn to him. And I couldnít even touch or hold him."

"That had to be so hard," Wilma said thoughtfully, handing Ann the last dish. She washed the utensils and laid them out in the rack to air dry without saying anything else.

"It was and then Jerry proposed an idea to me as to how I could join Doug. He saw what General Kirk, Ray and everyone else missed. In hindsight, I think he was somewhat in love with me," she said reflectively.

"He wasÖ."

Ann looked at Wilma. "Writings?"

"Yes. He kept a journal and some other letters and writings. Thatís how Buck figured out where you were." Wilma paused and then added hastily. "It was cryptic and very vague as though he didnít want anyone to know, which of course you had expressed to him, but yetÖ. I just donít know how Buck figured it out, personally."

Ann nodded. "Poor Jerry. We made him promise, but then he must have had some vague notion of regret that we would be forever lost to anyone who might come laterófind the TunnelóI guess as your people did." Something flashed in her mindóa thought so outrageous that she suppressed it immediately.

 

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"You did say you were a city boy, didnít you?" Tony said with a slight chuckle as Buck tried to milk the second of two milk cows that Doug and Tony owned. As though punctuating the time travelerís ineptitude, the cow turned her head and mooíed disapprovingly.

Buck sighed and leaned his head against the cowís warm side. "You know, several companies were or are making canned milk in the 30ís."

"I know, and we have several cases in the house when we canít get anything fresh, but this is still tastier. Youíll see."

"Never was a milk drinker," Buck commented as Tony knelt beside him and showed him how to do it.

Buck took over and this time the milk flowed much better into the bucket below the udder. The sound of the streams of milk brought several cats out of hiding. They stood like a row of soldiers waiting. Tony laughed and directed Buck to aim for them.

"ButÖ."

"We get enough for ourselves most of the time, and itís kind of a fun show," Tony assured the space pilot. He wondered vaguely as Buck practiced his aim, just what it would be like to fly freely in space. Without thought, he asked.

"In Ranger or in the 25th century?" Buck asked, smiling at the cats licking milk from their faces and other parts of their bodies.

"Whichever."

"In Ranger, I was encased, in contact, even though I was alone. While I understood the dangers, I still felt remote from where I was . . . if that makes sense."

"I think so."

"The first time I flew on a starfighter, I was a bit green . . . literally. We went through a star gateóa sort of shortcut between specific points in space. Itís been explained to me, but I guess itís like the fact that your Tunnel is a shortcut between points in time."

"That makes sense. Like folds in a cloth, there are points that are the shortest distance on the Ďfoldí so to speak, than they would be otherwise. In time and in space, that is."

"I suppose. I just learned to use them. After the first time through one, I got used to them."

After a momentís silence, as Buck slowly filled up the bucket, Tony grabbed another bucket and began milking the second cow. When he got his rhythm, he prompted the spaceman again. "But in the 25th century? Once you got used to it? What was it like?"

"Like a bird, I guess. Like a racecar driver; only in the most exhilarating and advanced car possible. Freer, wilder, more beautiful and more powerful."

"I wish I could have felt that way with the Tunnel the first time I went through."

"You were mainly trying to protect something."

"Yes. They were going to shut her down, as you know."

"I guess I had to fly in the 25th century to protect something, too."

Tony was puzzled. "What?"

"My sanity, I suppose." Then Buck shook his head. "More like my right to even be here . . . thereóto exist."

"To have survived?"

Buck didnít answer, only concentrated on his milking.

"Uh, Buck," Tony ventured seeing the somewhat melancholy look on the newcomerís face. He leaned against the pitchfork he was using to distribute the hay. Tony had found himself drawn to this star pilot; almost from the time he had met him. Despite Dougís lingering doubts, Tony felt deep inside that this man was exactly who he said he was. He understood Buckís feelings.

"Yeah?" Buck stopped milking and looked up.

"I was planning on going hunting after this storm passes, but Doug doesnít want to go too far from home with Ann this close to delivery." He paused. "And I donít like going out alone."

"You low on meat or something?" Buck asked, looking at the cattle gathered at the door waiting for their feed.

"No, but we kind of started a tradition where we have venison for our Christmas dinner," Tony explained. "And Iíll have to admit that itís better than any turkey or ham dinner Iíve ever had for Christmas." He waited for Buckís response. Some people had something against hunting, but he and Doug had had to do some during their sojourn in time and Tony had taken a liking to wild game.

"Sure, I donít mind being your hunting partner," Buck said with a slight smile. "Been a long time since Iíve been hunting, though."

Tony shrugged and grinned. A long time indeed. "I would guess that anyone who learned how to fly a starfighter in that short a time can remember how to hunt."

"Okay, when weíre through, weíll check out the armaments," Buck replied, his smile widening to a grin. "Havenít been hunting since I went with my dad after I graduated from the academy." He turned back to the cow and continued his rhythmic cadence. The smile continued and the cats got a second helping.

 

 

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