Journeys of the Mind

 

Chapter 31

 

 

 

 

Chapter Thirty-one

 

Back Aboard the Searcher 

 

 

 

 

When she entered, Buck was sitting at a small table, his restrained hands in front of him, his eyes down, but he immediately looked up.   His face registered shocked disbelief and without taking his eyes off of hers, he stood up.  As he continued to stare at her, Wilma began to wonder if he recognized her.  Then her emotions overwhelmed her and she rushed over to him, stopping less than an arm’s length away, conscious of the wrist restraints that held his hands tightly together.  After a moment’s pause, she reached out to touch his arm.  “Oh, Buck!” she blurted out.  “We were so worried about you!” 

To her it seemed as though nothing had changed until you gazed into his eyes.  And in them was sadness and the haunted look of a lost soul. 

When Buck looked up, he saw the same woman he had seen in his mind when Erik Kormand had told him the lie about a lost and murdered family.  He saw her in front of him and he remembered the grief and guilt he had experienced then.  The whole thing had been a sham.  Buck had realized that logically when Alvarez and Golden had begun telling him facts about his past, but now he was feeling it.  It was real.  Erik Kormand and his cronies had played upon his illness, his sense of loss. 

But before him was the only thing he remembered from his past and she was alive, vibrant and happy to see him.  There was no room for anger now.  That could come later. 

Wilma saw several emotions playing across Buck’s face, but his first words surprised her. 

“Oh, God, it’s . . . it’s really you!” 

Her heart skipped a beat.  “Buck, do you remember me?” she asked optimistically.  

“When I first woke up.  At Kormand’s compound.  You were there--in my mind--for an instant,” Buck said, his voice hesitant, almost stammering. 

“I was?”  She said hopefully. 

“Who are you?” he asked softly. 

Quick disappointment supplanted the hope, and then she shoved it aside.  “Wilma Deering,” she replied.  “We have worked quite closely for the past two years.”

Buck continued to stare at her, study her, then suddenly he smiled.  “Lucky me,” he quipped. 

She gasped.  His appraisal of her was much as it had been the first time they had met, but Wilma knew what lay behind it now.  Rather than being angry as she had before, she was genuinely overjoyed.  It wasn’t all gone; there was still some of Buck inside.    She returned his smile and then she couldn’t help it, she hugged him close to her.  He was not as responsive as she had hoped.  Pulling back, Wilma said, “I’m sorry.  I guess I shouldn’t have done that.” 

He looked at her quizzically, still smiling that endearing grin of his.   “I don’t know.  I kind of liked it,” he replied.   “Do it again when I have these restraints off.” 

“Now that sounds like the old Buck Rogers I know,” Wilma said with a small laugh. 

“Really?” He asked, feeling some small measure of relief.  Then he laughed with her.  He felt a surge of hope, a feeling that soon things would be as they had once been.  Then he wondered.  Obviously, Wilma Deering was not his wife as he had previously thought, but what was his relationship to her?  “I guess this will sound . . . well . . . stupid, but . . . anyway….   We were . . . are on a first name basis, aren’t we?”

Wilma hesitated, wondering just how much to tell Buck.  She decided to just answer the question literally and deal with intricacies later.   “Yes, of course we are.”  She couldn’t help it; she smiled again.  “Buck, it’s so good to have you back again.” 

He nodded, happy for every small tidbit that was coming to him.  “When do we leave?  Frankly, I would like to be somewhere where people at least tolerate me and I can get these restraints off.” 

“I believe we can leave anytime, Buck,” she assured him.  Wilma turned to the door communicator.  “Dr. Golden?”

The door slid open immediately and admitted the doctor and several other people.  Whereas Buck had remembered Wilma, even if for a momentary flash of recognition, the others were total strangers to him.  He did have a curious sense of déjà vu, though, like there had been a previous meeting, and in that Buck had to be content.  Maybe in once familiar surroundings he would regain his memory.    One after another, people he had once known came up to him and re-introduced themselves to him- a birdman, a stooped old doctor, even a drone with a quad around his neck.  All of them knew more about him than he did himself.   But he felt their friendliness and their genuine caring, something that he had been missing, except for Sreena, in Erik Kormand’s compound.  Lt. Arrans also accompanied them to the shuttle with Colonel Alvarez leading the way.  In the hangar bay, Wilma formally took him in her charge.   Buck was shocked to learn that she outranked him and he wondered about the audacity of his earlier question to her. 

She turned to him and asked him to hold out his hands, whereupon she nullified the restraints.  Grinning, he pulled them from his wrists and handed them to one of the Titan’s crewmembers standing nearby.  “I don’t need them anymore,” he said, knowing that he was being flippant.  But he couldn’t help it, he felt as though he was finally crawling from Hell.  The memory was missing, but the future was a great deal brighter than it had been since he had awakened in Kormand’s compound. 

“After you, Captain Rogers,” Wilma said with a wave of her hand.  The warmth of her smile continued to reassure him and he didn’t hesitate, ducking his head and entering the shuttle.  “Would you care to sit up front with me?”  Wilma asked.  Seeing a look of shock on Lt. Arrans’ face, she immediately responded with a ‘higher rank’ look that caused him to shrug and turn to the passenger section of the shuttle. 

Buck caught Dr. Golden’s eyes studying him and guessed what his concern was.  “I feel none of the emotions that I felt before, Doctor, if that is what’s worrying you.”

The doctor nodded and sat with the rest in the other part of the shuttle.   He guessed that Captain Rogers and Colonel Deering had been much closer than just co-workers on very friendly terms.  He also felt confident that what the captain had said was true.  The last blood test, taken just an hour before, had shown only the slightest of traces of the drug Kormand had given Rogers.  Curiously, the aleshizaren was more evident than the more recent drug now.  He wondered at the pervasiveness of the alien chemical.    

In the cockpit, Buck buckled the safety belt and then watched Wilma.  Everything she did seemed familiar and yet it didn’t.   She worked on preflight settings, maneuvered into the launch tube and then, when permission was granted for launch, catapulted into space.  Buck gazed in wonder at the star field around them, again feeling that same déjà vu alongside that sense of first-time experience. 

“Would you like to take us to the Searcher, Buck?” Wilma coaxed gently.  

Buck felt a strange excitement and began to reach for the controls, but then he pulled his hand back.  Shaking his head, he said, “Not yet.”

“You’ve flown this shuttle many times,” Wilma coaxed gently.

Buck felt irritation growing, but quickly squelched it.  “Not in this lifetime,” he murmured, not looking at her.

Wilma felt keen disappointment, but also remembered Dr. Golden’s admonitions.  “I’m sorry, Buck.  I didn’t mean to be pushy.”

At her apology, the vestiges of irritation disappeared.  He turned to her with a reassuring smile.  “No, you have nothing to apologize for.  It’s just this damned amnesia.  I feel so . . . so empty.”

“And lost?” Wilma asked, wondering if he felt a loss of direction and control as she did.

“Yeah, lost is an excellent word.”  Buck turned back to the view screen and said nothing else.  

Wilma felt sick inside but didn’t know what else to say that would help.  The man she loved sat next to her, lost, hurt and helpless, and she didn’t know how to help him.  Why should that be a surprise? she thought.  I can’t even help myself.  “I’m sure everything will come back eventually, Buck,” she finally said. 

“I hope so,” he murmured, continuing to stare out at the stars.  Finally he turned to her and gave her a slight smile.  “Thanks.”  He stared at the large ship looming ahead of them. 

“That’s home,” Wilma told him.

“The Searcher?” he asked.

“Yes.”  Wilma made contact and maneuvered the shuttle into the hangar.  After they had set down and Wilma unbuckled her safety belt, she glanced at Buck, who was still sitting in his seat, staring out the view screen.  She could imagine his trepidation, but she could not imagine the depth of his feelings over the loss of his previous life, all of his memories.  She reached over and gently touched his hand.  “You’re among friends, Buck,” she said softly.  

“I know,” he murmured, then he shook his head.  “Sorry to be so childish,” he added as he unbuckled his safety belt and stood up.  “I just feel so tired all of a sudden.”

“That’s okay,” Wilma reassured him.  “And it’s understandable with everything that’s gone on in the past ten days.”  She smiled, but inside she felt disappointed, having hoped for a quiet evening with him in his cabin. 

As he left the shuttle, Buck wondered just how close to this crew he had been.  He knew that those who had come to the Titan knew of his condition, but how much did the rest know? 

A high-ranking officer walked up to him, a great and genuine smile on his face.  “Welcome back home, Buck.  You can’t believe how happy I was to hear that you got away from that madman down there.”

Admiral Asimov, Buck determined, mainly based on what Alvarez had told him.  He shook the outstretched hand.  “Thanks, Admiral,” he said.

“How about a nightcap in my cabin, Buck?”  The admiral took in all the others with a quick glance.  “All of you in fact.”

“Thank you, no, Admiral,” Dr. Goodfellow said.  “Dr. Golden and I have some data to go over.”

The Titan’s doctor walked over to Buck.  “Just take it easy for a day or two until the last vestiges of those drugs are out of your system.”

Buck nodded, wishing he could politely back out of the invitation the admiral had extended, but Asimov was his commanding officer, after all. 

Wilma, understanding Buck’s dilemma, took his arm and said, “We’ll be there shortly, Admiral, as soon as Buck’s had a chance to change into something more comfortable.”  

Buck looked at her gratefully, thinking if she was always that perceptive, it was no wonder he felt so close to her.  

She led him down several corridors, their few occupants greeting him warmly.  He smiled and nodded in return but was relieved when they reached a doorway.  

“These are your quarters.  Press the ident plate on the door,” Wilma said.  

“Oh.”  He did as directed and the door slid open to reveal a room much smaller than the suite Kormand had given him.  Somehow, though, Buck found it to be comfortable.  Wilma sat down on the sofa.   He walked around gazing at the pictures on the walls, the furniture, the items in small, recessed bookcases.  There was not a great deal, but he briefly looked at each item.  Then he turned and sat down on the sofa with Wilma.

“We’re supposed to be going to the admiral’s quarters after you change,” Wilma prompted. 

“Would he be terribly upset if I didn’t go?” Buck asked.  “And does he know?”

“I don’t know.  The rest of us didn’t know before we got to the Titan.”  She paused.  “And I think he would understand, but I also believe he might be a little bit hurt.  Admiral Asimov likes you a great deal.”  Gazing at him, she added, “But if you really don’t feel like it….” 

“It’s not that,” Buck began and then he sighed.  “I feel all right, it’s just….”  He got up with another sigh.  “It’s okay.  Just help me fake it, will you?”

“Why should you fake it, Buck?”  Wilma asked.  “It was an accident.  Something unfortunate that has happened.  If you had a broken leg, you wouldn’t worry about what others said.” 

He shook his head.  “I know, but at least if I had a broken leg, I’d know who to joke with, and who wouldn’t appreciate it, and how to approach one person as opposed to another.”  Buck peered at her a minute.  “Does that make sense?” 

Wilma nodded.  “Yes, perfect sense.”

“Good.  I wasn’t sure it did to me.”  He sighed. 

“And I see what you mean.  But remember, these are people who know you, to whom you have formed a bond of friendship and trust.  Anything you may or may not say, correct or otherwise will be accepted, because they will understand.  We are like a family here, Buck.  We have been through a lot together and care for each other.  You have saved lives on this ship and others have saved your life, too.   Family members don’t condemn each other because something has happened to another member.”  She stopped abruptly and realized that it was true.  She may have been treated with a bit too much deference at first from some of those few who had found out.  And it had also been obvious when someone among the crew did find out what Kormand had done to her, however, no one had condemned her or overly pitied her in the days that followed.  She had simply felt their caring and concern.    She knew that would be true for Buck, too. 

“I guess I’d better get ready.”   

Wilma reached out and took his hand.  “But we don’t have to rush.”

Buck smiled and sat back down.  He felt drawn to her and felt he could understand why among all of his friends, it was Wilma Deering whose face he saw briefly when he had awakened in Sreena’s medical facility.  This time he sat close enough that their legs touched and he felt the warmth of her body.  But for a scant moment, Wilma stiffened and seemed nervous and Buck was puzzled, wondering why she would seemingly come on to him and yet not want him to get too close at the same time.  Was it his involvement with Erik Kormand or had he missed her body language that badly?  Damn, this is when my past would have made the present so much easier to deal with.  Buck had been beginning to think their relationship was a much deeper one than just close friends, but he wondered now.   He wondered how to salvage this little faux pas of his when he suddenly yawned and Buck realized he actually was as tired as he had claimed to be. 

Getting up, he turned to Wilma and was struck not only by the intensity of her eyes, but by the emotion contained in their blue-gray depths. He saw longing.  Longing for him or longing for his recovery?  Both?  Evidently, he decided, just longing for his recovery.  They were friends, after all.   “I guess I’d better make my appearance before I fall asleep here and miss my own party,” he said.  He walked past his bed and pulled open a small closet door where he found his clothes.

Wilma sat and watched, berating herself as Buck picked out a comfortable outfit and headed into his bathroom to change.  Why had she stiffened up when he sat next to her?  He had picked up on it; she knew he had.  But why?  What is wrong with me? she asked herself.  This isn’t Erik Kormand; this is Buck, a very warm and caring individual.  This is the man I love!  Buck was Buck, even with the amnesia.  Erik Kormand hadn’t taken that away from him, at least not entirely. 

But he had been reaching out to her, even if slightly and she had backpedaled like a naïve, twice spurned adolescent.  She sighed and then looked up as Buck came back into the room, dressed in his rust colored outfit, the one she thought he looked so handsome in.  

“Shall we?” he asked tentatively. 

“Absolutely!” she responded, determined to hide this weakness of hers.  She jumped up and took his arm.  He paused, taken a bit aback at her exuberance, then he smiled.  They left arm in arm.  

Later that night, when Buck was finally alone in his cabin, he walked around again, looking at everything, this time much more carefully; touching, picking up and putting down, looking in each of the small alcoves, opening up the books on a shelf on one wall.  These books were much different fare than what he had seen in the apartment Erik Kormand had provided him—To Kill a Mockingbird, The Story of Mankind, Robinson Crusoe, Future Shock, a Holy Bible.  He opened up the latter, careful of the cracking spine and fragile cover, and began reading what was there on the page.  “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want….” and he was comforted.  He was among friends, his family as it were.  Buck yawned and decided to listen to his body.  Sleep came quickly.  

 

 

 

 

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