Corridors of Time
A Buck Rogers/Time Tunnel crossover
Buck pulled the reins and brought the gelding to a stop. He surveyed the snow-covered vista around him. Behind him stood the vague outline of the top of Doug and Annís house, smoke rising from the large chimney. Before him rose mountains liked those he had learned to love during his academy days. Right now, they were wreathed with snow-filled clouds, making the scene almost ethereal. He sucked in a breath of cold air and let it out again slowly, watching the vapor of his breath just as he had when he was a boy in Chicago. The sorrel beneath him pranced and then pawed the hard packed snow. There was a tree near the fence line and Buck guided the horse toward it, all the while feeling the wind gust under the hood of the parka. It was cold, but it didnít bother him. It was the closest thing to his childhood home he had experienced since arriving in the twentieth-fifth century. Okay, so it was Montana, circa 1935, and not upper state Illinois in the mid-sixties, but that was okay; it was closer to home than 2496. Now all he had to do was figure out why this sudden urge to be alone.
It was overwhelming, that need to leave the warmth of Doug and Tonyís Christmas celebration, and it scared him a little. Why so sad at a time like this? That house had been filled with laughter and warmth and friendship. That these people would treat them so warmly after knowing he and Wilma for less than a week was incredible. And this morning? You could almost cut the happiness with a knife. Doug and Annís toddler opening his presents, his eyes glowing with the wonder of it all; the ginger cat playing and hiding among the ribbons and wrappings, along with several weaned barn kittens brought in during the first storm after his and Wilmaís arrival. There was also the smell of a venison roast cooking in the kitchen. There had even been presents for he and Wilma, even as Buck had requested certain things for Dr. Huer to send to the little family. How Tony and Doug had done it on their end was beyond him.
Then it struck him. Was it because this celebration reminded Buck of the times when he had celebrated Christmas with his family? That was probably one reason. But it disturbed him to think that after all this time; he was still subject to this kind of moodiness periodically. He was here, or rather he was there. He shook his head before he confused himself. Regardless, the twenty-fifth century was his home now.
Buck dismounted and threw the reins over a low hanging limb. He could no longer see the house he had recently left, only an occasional puff of fireplace smoke. He gazed at the tree. It was a tenacious oak. It had to be to get this size in a place like western Montana. Buck walked around the oak until the large tree was protecting him from the brunt of the fierce wind. There was a pocket of almost bare ground, the grass brown and bent, frozen to the ground. He stood there and watched the snow thicken and the wind ease up. The snow drifted down more sedately, falling straight down instead of across as it had most of the previous two days. Buck remembered a NASA friend of his from Wyoming who claimed that the snowflake that left its cloud in Rock Springs would not land until it reached Rawlings. Having driven that distance along I-80, he could totally understand the joke.
Then the clouds began to disperse even as the snow tapered off. A burst of golden sunshine from directly overhead settled on a distant mountain and made it look almost heavenly.
"You know, for a fly boy, thatís a pretty dangerous and stupid thing, coming out here in a snowstorm," a voice said from the other side of the tree. "Even if it is a waning snowstorm." Buckís gelding nickered and another horse answered.
Buck peered around the tree and saw Tony dismounting. The ex-time traveler joined him, leaning against the trunk next to him.
"Thereís something about this tree," Tony said with a soft smile.
"You come here, too?"
"Yeah," he answered. "Kind of nice leaning against the hard bark looking at the mountains." Tony paused. "Both let you know that there are things bigger than any of us."
Buck nodded. There were lots of things bigger than he was. "Itís beautiful," he said, nodding to indicate the mountains.
"Surely they are still around in the twenty-fifth century, arenít they?"
"Yeah, but the weather is screwed up and some of the mountains were carved up by the nukes," Buck told him. "Most of North America kind of got blasted."
"Wilma called what you were having a twentieth century moment," Tony said with a chuckle. Then he sobered quickly. "Sorry, didnít mean to make light, but I think, in some small way, I understand."
Buck looked into the other manís dark eyes and knew that he did indeed understand. "A very wise friend in the twenty-fifth century said that I would always feel some pain over my loss. I guess he was right. I just keep hoping that it will eventually go away, that I can finally make my peace with the past and not wish for it anymore."
"Buck, the only way you could stop feeling those painful moments is if you were able to purge all memories of your past," Tony told him. "Do you really want to do that?"
"No, of course not," Buck replied quickly, remembering the time when he had amnesia. Both men were silent as the sun slowly slipped from overhead and began its journey toward the distant mountains. Finally, he gazed at Tony. "You would like to go home, too, wouldnít you?" They had talked about their respective pasts when they had gone hunting a few days ago. Buck had enjoyed the time in the wilderness and had especially enjoyed talking with someone who truly understood where he came from. Maybe that had contributed to his melancholy. Suddenly, he wondered if it had been such a wise idea to come back here to this place and time. But just as quickly, Buck realized that he was glad they had come. Somehow, he thought Tony was, too. He wasn't so sure about Doug, though. Phillips had been cordial enough, even accepting, but still slightly aloof, though. Buck suspected that it might have to do with the fact that he had scared the bejeebers out of Ann.
"Yes, I would, but I would then be working for what eventually ended the world," Tony replied, his voice sad and bitter. "It amazes me that something that I put my heart and soul into would have been the cause of the holocaust that blasted your . . . well, and my world, too, into oblivion." He sighed. "The Tunnel should have continued to be used for knowledge, even if it couldnít be used for peace."
Buck shook his head. "I was part of an undercover operation to expose zealots determined to destroy the other side before they destroyed us. And all the while, another arm of the same group was working inside your tunnel."
"I know," Tony murmured. "I often wished that I could somehow go back and stop the madness before it got out of hand." He laughed bitterly. "But I found out time and again how futile that was. Why, there were times when it was our very intervention that made the moment in history." He kicked at a frozen tuft of grass. "I even tried to save my own father, but instead I watched him die."
"Jerry mentioned that, but didnít elaborate. If itís too painful, you donít have to say anymore."
"No, itís okay. I have come to terms with it. Doug and I landed near Pearl Harbor on the eve of the attack. I was just a boy then in 1941, seven-years-old. It was kind of creepy seeing myself so young. Until that time, though, I never really knew what happened to my father. And as an adult I couldnít save him, but at least he knew before he died that I had grown up and that I never forgot him. Just after he died, after Doug had dragged me out of the communications shack, a bomb obliterated it. Dadís body was never found. The Tunnel transferred us before a bomb got us, too. I grew up never knowing what had happened to him, only knowing that he had died. At least until that day when I went back to Hawaii as an adult."
"Iím sorry, Tony," Buck said. "I had no idea."
"Yeah, Christmas that year was really tough. I was an orphan. I think I mentioned that before. My mom was already dead." He paused before continuing. "But you know, as painful as it was seeing him and not being able to do anything, I really do feel blessed to have been able to have that moment before he died and for him to knowÖ."
Buck said nothing, only gazing raptly as the clouds finally blew off and left a blue vaulted ceiling overhead. The rays of the sun sparkled on the snow, making it look like diamonds.
"Itís Christmas, isnít it?"
"Huh?" Buck was puzzled at so obvious a question.
"Itís the fact that itís Christmas that has you depressed, isnít it?" Tony elaborated, suddenly insightful.
Again, Buck didnít say anything, but felt that the other man had verified what he had been thinking before. Buck had watched little Tony opening his presents with joyful abandon earlier that morning and he remembered doing the same thing with his family and then doing the same thing with his nephews and nieces when he was grown. There was really no one to do that for now.
"Do they celebrate Christmas in the twenty-fifth century?" Tony asked, curious.
"Yeah, well, kind of, but itís almost a hybrid of several celebrations, and also a celebration of survival from the dark days after the Great Holocaust," Buck said. "There is remembrance of the birth of Christ since a few Bibles survived the destruction. Remembered is the fact that it was a miraculous birth, but it has been turned into a symbol of the post Holocaust. A rebirth celebration, I guess you could call it. The old carols have for the most part been forgotten, although I catch snatches of old melodies in the newer songs. There are gifts and parties, but itís not the same. You know, no Santa for the kids, no caroling in the snow, no eggnog, no Christmas trees." Buck shook his head and laughed sadly. "No big monster dinners with Mom cooking way too much for those gathered. And no watching bowl games afterward while Madeline gripes about me and Frank being so lazy."
Tony laid his hand on his fellow time travelerís arm. "Yeah, I know." They watched the sun traveling toward the distant mountains for a while. "Itís been comfortable here, really. When Doug and I arrived and realized where and when we were, we decided if the Tunnel wasnít going to be able to bring us back to our time anytime soon, we might as well anchor in a place that was at least somewhat familiar to us." He paused a moment. "Weíve done well here. With our technological expertise, weíve lived very comfortably."
"ButÖ." Buck coaxed.
"But it hurts knowing that only a few hundred miles away, my dad is cradling me in his arms."
Buck pulled in another deep breath. "That stinks." He was thinking that his folks were opening their presents in their parentís homes today. He was only fifty plus years distant from his family rather than a half a millennium and a horrible war removed.
"Yeah, it does, but I have to remember just how lucky I am," Tony mused. "I am alive, I am free, and I have seen things that so many people could only dream about."
"Me, too. And I have a wonderful woman to share my new century with."
"Iíll say," Tony said with a smile. "How did an old man like you manage to snag a fine looking woman like Wilma?"
"Hey, hands off!" Buck said in mock protest. "And who are you calling old?" Buck couldnít help it; he burst out laughing. "It took a helluva long time to figure out she was the one for me." Then he studied Tony again. There was sadness there.
As though reading his mind, Tony began. "I have been in love. There was one time when I was ready to settle down in a century far removed from here and now, and stay with a woman not only beautiful to look at, but beautiful inside, too."
"On one of your travels?"
"Yes, Marco Poloís day. The Khanís daughter. But it was not meant to be. We both realized that," Tony said. He looked at Buck. "And when Doug and I came here, I thought about marrying someone local, but I just couldnít make myself begin the process."
"Couldnít set down the roots . . . just in case?" Buck queried, thinking he knew what was going on in Tonyís mind and soul. Eight or so hours of trudging in the snow after a three pointer and sitting in wait helped a person learn a great deal about his hunting partner--even when you weren't talking.
"Yeah, youíre right. Somehow, even though I love this place, there is always that thought in the deep recesses of my mind, that this is only another temporary place in time and space," Tony said, feeling the renewed pain that he usually only felt in the evenings or when he was trying to sleep at night. Those times when he wasnít working on projects that kept his hands and mind busy.
"I know the feeling," Buck said. "It took a great deal for me to let go of my past enough to even begin to set down those roots. Thankfully, Wilma has been very patient."
"You know, Buck," Tony began. "You could reintroduce some of the Christmas customs that you grew up with. If they were worthwhile in your youth, they certainly are good enough for the twenty-fifth century. Even if itís just in the family you will be starting with Wilma." He could not believe that as different as he and Buck were, in personality and in backgrounds, there was still so much in common. Their commonality was displacement.
"Whoa, partner, getting a bit rushed there?"
"Well, maybe, but Wilma said you have already contributed to some understanding of the past in the twenty-fifth century, a past that was lost in the Great Holocaust, so why donít you add to their celebration and make it more special to them and to you," Tony ventured, feeling a strange sense of excitement. "Record all of the customs you can remember. The Christmas trees, the songs, all the stuff that made us happy we were growing up when and where we were."
"Yeah, thatís a good idea, Tony." Buck picked up on Tonyís excitement and then he began to think. He wondered about the Tunnel and the vast amounts of information, the nuances of its operation and how much more the Directorate people had to learn. "And why donít you come to the twenty-fifth century and help the Directorate run the Tunnel. Who would know better how to operate something like that than the person who helped build it? If I understood correctly, I think they could transfer you back to the complex just as easily now as they can me and Wilma."
Tony gaped at him. "Youíve got to be kidding, Buck. For five years they tried to get us back by continually transferring us, then for another four they tried to come up with the solution without transferring us more than a few times. And then the military took over and we told them where to stick it. Thank goodness they couldnít figure how to get us back either. Jerry secretly shipped us to another placeóhereóand then obliterated the computer tapes that recorded our jump. After that the fix was just too tenuous, non-existent, in fact for them to figure it out on their own. Ann jumped ship about the time we decided to stay here. So Doug and Ann and I have been here for almost three years and for you, the Tunnel has been sitting dormant for over five hundred years. I donít see how it could be done. It amazes me that you even found us to begin with, despite Jerryís notes, vague though they were."
"Oh, ye of little faith," Buck said with a smile. He saw the hopeful gleam in Tonyís eyes. "Didnít Doug say that the Tunnel accidentally brought people out of their own times and returned them? I dare say that you, and Doug and Ann and little Tony, if they wanted to, could be sent to the twenty-fifth century in the same way."
"Are you serious?"
"Deadly serious," Buck said. "You are an extremely talented scientist and your talents shouldnít be stuck out in the country building solar grids and wind generators and secret things that you can never market." He paused. "Not if you really want to go back to the miracle that you helped build."
"Iíll have to think about it, Buck." They watched the sun glowing just above the mountains for a few more minutes. Tony felt the chill creeping through his body and slapped his gloved hands against his thighs. "Itís getting cold out here. Why donít we go back?"
Buck nodded. He felt much better than he had only a scant few hours ago. He was grateful for Tonyís understanding and his suggestions. "You think they would be able to stand all the crazy things we did at Christmas?"
"I donít know," Tony said with a chuckle. "But it would sure be fun trying, wouldnít it?"
"I wonder how in the world they would understand the time I dared my brother, Frank, to stick his tongue on the light pole on the corner of State Street?" Buck asked.
Tony laughed even as he gathered the horsesí reins. "That sounds like the time I did the same thing to my younger cousin the year after Dad died. I promised him my Batman decoder ring if he did. Did you get in as much trouble as I did?"
"I ate Christmas dinner standing up that year," Buck said matter-of-factly as he mounted. They both laughed as they rode back toward the cheery looking ranch house, its Christmas tree glowing in the window. "By the way, thanks."
"For helping me get over my twentieth century moment," Buck said with a smile.
"Merry Christmas, Buck."
"Merry Christmas, Tony." Buck smiled. "Life really is good, isnít it?"
"Yes, it is."
The sun shone over their shoulders, bathing the ranch house in shades of gold. A slice of heaven, Buck thought, but then heaven wasnít where you were; it was who you were with.