Journeys of the Mind

 

Chapter 33

 

 

 

 

Chapter Thirty-three

   

Plots and Other Vagaries

 

   

 

Buck said nothing, only looking at the Titan’s commander in disbelief.   

“We don’t believe there is a soul on the Searcher even remotely affiliated to Kormand, or believing in his philosophies, but then we didn’t think there was on the Titan either, and I was wrong,” Alvarez continued, referring to the attempt on Buck’s life.  “And if there is anyone who is in contact with the Galactic Council, in any capacity, then we must keep up appearances.  Word has a way of getting around, even from ship to ship.”   

Buck immediately understood the implications of what the Colonel was saying and he was stunned.  “What?!  In the brig?  Here on a ship among my friends?” he cried.  “You’ve got to be kidding!”

“No, not the brig,” Alvarez said hastily, seeing the agitation, not only on the captain’s face, but also on that of Col. Deering’s.  “Confined to quarters mainly and under heavy guard at other times.”  

“Look, I already feel confined, Colonel.   A prisoner in my own mind; and we won’t discuss the towheaded little guard that has been following the discretionary twenty steps behind me everywhere I have gone on this ship.”  Buck got up and began pacing, only stopping in front of a star chart that stretched across most of one wall.  Intrigued, he reached out to touch it.  He felt something stir inside, but it couldn’t quite reach the surface.  The chart began to waver and take on depth, and he heard the soft tenor of a song for the briefest of seconds and then it was gone and his fingertips touched the plastic surface of the two dimensional chart.  He felt his anger soften, his frustration mellow and ease into a clarity of purpose that surprised him.  He turned to face the assembled group.  “I feel confined, but I also understand the power of what Erik Kormand is doing, the tremendously seductive, evil power of his philosophy.  I know, because he almost sucked me into it.  I know it needs to be broken before it overwhelms us all,” he said softly.  Gazing meaningfully at Alvarez and then Admiral Asimov, he added.  “If you feel this will help, I’ll stay in my cabin.”  There was a certain irony in this situation.  A scant day ago, he had felt the urge to hide in his cabin and now that he had to stay there, he felt a desire to roam and explore.

“Thank you, Buck,” the admiral said.  “We hope it will help.  Right now, we have nothing else.”  

“May I suggest that you send this information through our informant on Cronis first,” Hawk suggested.  

Asimov looked a bit startled, but he nodded. 

“We have a tighter space communications monitoring system in place,” Alvarez said.  “We will be able to pick up anything that goes from Mendalis to Cronis.”

“I think you had better keep a lookout for a courier on a ship as well,” Hawk suggested.   

“Yes, we have the means to monitor the registry of all incoming and outgoing ships, too, although we have to be careful,” Alvarez replied.  “We don’t want to tip off Kormand.”  

So within a short time, Buck found himself back in his cabin with time on his hands.  He tried to read, but gave that up after a short time.  He found the entertainment center and began playing music.  It made him feel better until he put on a disk that had the word “America” on it.  Then the phrase of one of the songs hit him with forceful clarity, “in the desert you can remember your name.”  Buck realized that for all that this was his cabin, these were his things, his choices, he still was a stranger to it all.  Sighing, he let the music continue while he delved again through the small, recessed cabinets that held knick-knacks and some pictures.  One of them was a picture of he and Wilma at some kind of party.  She was radiant, extremely happy about something.  He was next to her, holding her close and he, too, looked happy.  There seemed no visible sign of reticence about his proximity.  “So what happened?” he murmured softly.   He picked up a wooden rod, hollow, worn and weathered, that he also wondered about.  Some kind of musical instrument?  But it was nothing more than a hollow rod and Buck wondered about its significance.  Putting it back down, he gazed thoughtfully at more pictures.  There was a holographic cube, which he activated, seeing before him an aerial tour de force of exquisite beauty and grace.  It was he, Hawk and Wilma in special gliding apparatus.  Some of the pictures were taken by an individual from a nearby cliff, some by himself.  But it was beautiful, filled with a sense of unfettered freedom and Buck felt the ache of longing so great it was a pain in his chest.

“That was on Throm, the last time we were there,” Hawk said from behind him.   

Buck started and almost dropped the holocube.  The pictures immediately stopped and Buck replaced the cube on the little shelf as he turned to face the birdman.  

“It was not too long before this . . . adventure.  Just before yours and Wilma’s new shipboard assignments.  It was almost like a farewell to my home world,” Hawk added.

The birdman had a tray in his hands. Taking it, Buck walked over to the sofa.  “Join me?” he asked.   

Hawk nodded.  He watched as Buck perused the meal. 

The terran set the tray on a small table next to the sofa and gazed at Hawk.  “Will it ever come back?” he asked softly.  

Hawk leaned back, pondering the question.  “While I am not a doctor, there is something inside me that says you will eventually regain everything.”  

“Eventually.”  Buck paused a moment before continuing.  “That’s comforting,” he said sardonically.  “Apparently I am not a very patient person.”

“You are as patient as you need to be, Buck.  You certainly were when you were hunting me,” Hawk said with a slight smile.

Buck raised an eyebrow in inquiry.  “Could you tell me about that?  If you have time, that is.”

“Of course I have time.  The news of your impending trial and sure execution has been relayed to the Galactic Council and we are now playing a waiting game.”  Hawk settled comfortably on the sofa.  “But regardless, I would have the time to enlighten you of your past; at least that part with which I am familiar.”   

While Hawk told the story, Buck listened with rapt attention, trying to elicit a responsive chord from his locked memories.  There was nothing, but he was able to see where this friendship between he and Hawk had come from.  When his friend had finished, Buck sat back with a sigh.  “And Wilma?” he finally asked after a prolonged silence. 

“What is it you wish to know about Wilma?”  

“Our relationship, Hawk,” Buck said.  “On the one hand I have been getting the impression that we were tight….”

“Tight?”

Again, those terms seemingly from nowhere, but this time the idea came fairly easily.  “Close.  Very close.  And yet, when I have responded . . . uh, in kind, she stiffens, literally, or seems to be backing off from me.”  Buck paused.  “I don’t know what to think, or how I should act.”  

Hawk felt he knew what the problem was, but he also felt that it would not be fair to either Buck or Wilma to tell his friend what had happened.  “Buck, this whole assignment has been hard on everybody, in ways that none of us would have expected.”  He paused, trying to quickly gather his thoughts.  “But I think that Wilma’s feelings are best explained by her, not me.”

Buck drew in a deep breath.   “I kind of figured you’d say that.” 

“You have not touched your dinner.”  

“Not that hungry.”  Buck gazed intently at his friend.  “Tell me about our missions.  Fill me in.  If I can’t remember, I want to at least know something about my past from someone else.”

Hawk complied, talking until late into the evening.  And when he faltered, Buck asked questions—about planets, about those beings they had met, specifics about the ship and the people on it.  Hawk felt a curious sense of sadness.  His terran friend was almost like a child, curious about his world, and Hawk accommodated Buck as much as he could, finally stopping when the conversation delved too deeply into things that occurred before they met.   

“So I’ve had to deal with this treason thing before, huh?” Buck finally asked.   

Hawk nodded.  “Yes, Buck.”  

“It makes you wonder….”  

“About what?”  

“About the veracity of such claims,” Buck answered. 

Hawk shook his head.  “If your memory was intact, you would not even venture such a statement.”

“Kind of super-coincidental, don’t you think?” Buck mused.   

“No, it is not.  You do not sit back and let things happen.  You act quickly and decisively, based on your judgment of what’s going on.  So, in a way, by your nature, you get involved in things that might be considered dangerous or controversial by some.”  He paused, feeling Buck’s eyes studying him.  “That happened here on Mendalis, it happened back in the twentieth century when you helped break up the group trying to overthrow your government.  You were involved in a dangerous mission when your ship malfunctioned and you ended up in the path of a Draconian star cruiser.   You are an honorable and courageous man, Buck Rogers.  And you are the only human I would have allowed to put me in a position of trusting a ship full of humans.”   Hawk smiled softly, remembering that hard and yet hope-filled time.  The hope was still there, and the trust.  

“Thanks, Hawk,” Buck said meaningfully.  “I appreciate that.”  

“I am only stating what is,” the birdman said and then looked at Buck’s tray again.  “Now that it is stale as well as cold, are you going to eat any of your dinner?”

Buck studied the tray.  The spaghetti looked limp and unappetizing.  The vegetables seemed a jumbled mass of sad green, sad yellow and sad orange in a sauce that looked sad, too.  He perused the dessert, which appeared suspiciously to be something his mind labeled as apple pie and he tried a bite.  It was and he ate it, while wondering at the fact that his mind could so easily supply the names of these foods, but not other things, personal things.   He finished and laid the fork back on the tray, then something occurred to him and he looked at Hawk in embarrassment.  “I’m sorry, Hawk.  Eating in front of you without asking if you wanted any.”

Hawk looked amused.  “There is nothing to apologize for.  This was your dinner.  I ate before I came.  And to be honest, there was nothing on your tray that would have appealed to me anyway.”   

A short while later, Hawk left, tray in hand and Buck lay on the couch listening to more music.  He was half asleep when the door swished open and someone else entered.  It was Wilma and as he jerked up, he realized he hadn’t been dozing; he had actually slept.  She had a tray in her hands.  In dismay, he looked at the clock and realized it was morning. 

He sat up and stretched, feeling sore muscles protesting his choice of sleeping arrangements.  “Oh, man, this is no way to spend the night.”  He looked up and saw Wilma still holding the tray, a whimsical smile on her face.  “I’m sorry, I’m a pretty poor host,” he said, taking the tray and setting it on the little table.  He motioned for her to sit on the couch and she did so.  He sat next to her but not as close as he had before.

“Aren’t you going to eat your breakfast?  It’s one of your favorites,” Wilma said.  

Buck looked at the meal and felt his stomach rumble, but he had been intrigued with what Hawk had said and wanted to talk with Wilma. “Maybe later,” he told her.  “Actually, you are more appetizing then what’s on that tray.”  He saw her eyes become troubled for a moment and he again wondered what really had happened between them.  “Uh, I’m sorry, Wilma, I guess that was a rather crass way of saying I would rather have your company than the food.   I didn’t mean to insult you.”  

“Oh, no, Buck, you didn’t insult me in the least.  And I know what you meant.  It’s just….”  Her voice trailed off.   Erik had said something to her similar to what Buck had just said.  It was somewhat unnerving.

Buck decided not to pursue it.  “Tell me about the first time we met,” he said, changing the subject.  “If you have time, that is.”

“I have an hour before I go on duty,” she said.  “But whatever we don’t have time to discuss now, I will come back right after I am finished on the bridge.”  Again, she looked at his tray.  “But only if you work on your breakfast.  Hawk told me how much dinner you had.”  

“Have you had breakfast?”  

“No, but….”  

“Then I insist you join me in this marvelous repast,” Buck said with a chuckle.   

“If I really wanted to blackmail you, I could,” Wilma said with a smile.  “I am the one that holds the story.”

“That you are, but you can’t go to work on an empty stomach,” he responded.  “I don’t have anything to do except look at four walls.” 

Laughing, Wilma took a piece of toast, while Buck dug into his eggs.  After a few bites, she began.  “You were bewildered then, too.  You seemed crude to me, and barbaric, calling me ‘babe’ of all things.”  She smiled softly in remembrance.  

“In other words, I was a horse’s ass,” Buck replied.  

 “Oh, no, you were someone newly from another place, time and culture,” she corrected him quickly.  “I also thought you were a spy.”  And she continued with that first encounter. 

Like he did with Hawk, Buck asked questions, trying to pull more bits of his life into a complete whole.  After an hour, Wilma stopped and pointed to his tray.  “You haven’t done more than sample it.  And I bet the eggs are cold now.”   

“That’s okay, Wilma,” he said.  “I appreciate you telling me all this.”   

“I’m sorry, I wish I could stay, but I have to go relieve the admiral.”  

“How about dinner.  You bring a tray for each of us, and we can have a nice dinner together,” Buck suggested.

“What would you like?”

“Surprise me,” he said.   

“All right.  It’s a deal.  I will have the entire evening free and you can ask me anything you want,” Wilma said with a smile.  She stood up.  “I am looking forward to it.”

And she seemed to mean it, Buck thought as she left.  During the early part of the day, Buck read, listened to music and when he thought he couldn’t stand it anymore, asked to be escorted to the workout area.  He was joined by several of the Searcher’s crewmembers, including Hawk, and spent several hours working out.   It made the afternoon go quickly and he felt the exhilaration of honest competition.  He won a few rounds of hand-to-hand combat, and lost a gymnastics-like competition to a crewmember named Scarbrough, but still he continued, sparring, taking on all comers, doing anything to remain in the workout room.  The thought of going back and spending time in his cabin alone didn’t, in the least, appeal to him.   

Finally, when Hawk had him pinned to the matt in a surprise move that he had not seen coming, did Buck concede to quit.  “You win this time, Hawk,” he panted as the birdman stood up and offered his hand.   

“You were tired, or you would have given me more competition, Buck.”   

“I guess, but that was quite a move there.  You have to show me how you do that some time,” Buck replied.   

“I will, but it is my understanding that you are having dinner with Wilma, and it is almost that time of the evening.”

Buck looked at his watch in alarm.  “I lost track of time,” he said.  “Guess I’d better get back to my brig away from the brig.”  He motioned to the two guards standing dourly near the door.  “To my suite, gentlemen.”   They simply smiled and escorted him down the corridors to his room, where they took up their position outside his door.  

It wasn’t long before he had cleaned up, changed into something comfortable and was waiting for the enigmatic Wilma Deering.

 

 

 

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