Journeys of the Mind

 

Chapter 39

 

 

 

 

Chapter Thirty-nine

   

The Pieces Come Together

 

 

 

Hawk and Buck were back aboard the Searcher within minutes.   Wilma was waiting in the hangar bay and escorted him to the medical facility where Dr. Goodfellow examined him. 

“Very good work here,” the old scientist/doctor murmured.   “Very good indeed.  Who did this?  You, Wilma?” he asked.

“No, Doctor.  Someone down in the cave,” she answered evasively.  Wilma knew that she would have to give the old scientist more information, but right now she felt reticent to do so. 

“Well, I commend his or her efforts.  I will still have to do some minor surgery to repair the damage to muscles and tendons that the knife caused, but it shouldn’t take that long.”  He turned and gave instructions to a medical technician then turned back to Buck.  “And you realize you will have to stay off that leg for at least a few days.”

Buck just nodded his acquiescence.  “How is Sreena?” he asked. 

“She had some serious injuries, Buck; broken bones, ruptured spleen.  She has been stabilized and Dr. Golden is operating on her as we speak,” Dr. Goodfellow replied.

Again, Buck nodded, lying back on the medical bed.  It felt good just relaxing.   Even though his leg throbbed, he simply lay there and let the lethargy take hold.  Kormand was caught, Sreena would be all right and he was safe among his friends.  

“I am going to give you an anesthetic so I can take care of your wound, Buck,” Dr. Goodfellow told his patient.  “It will also make you sleepy.” 

“No argument from me, Doc,” Buck said.  He sighed softly as the injection hissed and the medication entered his body.  Soon he knew no more. 

When he awoke, he was alone in the medical bay, except for a nurse working nearby.  As he sat up, she turned and smiled at him.  “I hope, Captain, that you aren’t going to give me any trouble like you did the last time you were under my care,” the nurse said.  

“Last time?” 

She hesitated for a quick instant and then said, “I am Lieutenant Paulton, and let’s put it this way—you are not a terrifically cooperative patient.”  She laughed softly.  “And in case you are wondering, Col. Deering was in here with you until Dr. Goodfellow ordered her to go get some sleep.” 

Buck nodded and then moved around to get more comfortable. 

“Now don’t go trying to get out of bed,” Paulton said, her dark face friendly, but her demeanor brooking no argument from him. 

“I was stabbed in the leg, not the heart,” Buck retorted.

“Very funny, Captain,” she said with a slight laugh.  “But you are going to have to behave, or you will be appearing before the Galactic Judiciary tomorrow in pajamas and a robe.” 

Tomorrow? he thought.  Could this be the exoneration I’ve been hoping for? If so…  “Pajamas?  You wouldn’t dare!” 

“Oh, yes, I would, hot shot.”  She smiled, but Buck knew that she meant exactly what she said and even though she was smaller than he was, she would enforce her edicts. 

“Okay, what time is it?” he asked, trying a different track.  

“It’s oh seven thirty.”

“My body feels as stiff as a board.  How long have I been asleep?” he asked.

Paulton just shook her head.  “I could say something about young pilots who think they can forego sleep, chase after wanted criminals and then have knife fights with said criminals, but I won’t.  You have slept for about fifteen hours, part of it drug induced.”  She paused.  “You needed it, Captain.  Just as you need some breakfast.  I’ll call for a tray and be right back.”  She turned to go.

“Wait a minute, Lieutenant, please?” he said.

Paulton turned back to him.  “Yes?” 

“How is Sreena Kormand?” 

“She came through the surgery well.  She should fully recover in time.” 

“Can I see her?” Buck asked. 

“Probably a bit later.  After your date with breakfast,” she said with a smile.  “I’ll be back in a bit.” 

Buck nodded and when she left, he reached back and unhooked the medical umbilical.  Swinging his legs over the edge of the narrow bed, he slowly eased off the bed, putting all his weight on his good leg.  The bandage was light, but secure on his injured thigh.  He felt none of the light-headedness of the day before and certainly none of the exhaustion.  Buck saw the crutches that Sky Mother had given him leaning up against a nearby cabinet.  Using the bed to help support his weight, very much aware of the admonitions of both Dr. Goodfellow and Lt. Paulton, he finally reached the crutches and then headed for the door that he felt would lead to Sreena’s room.  It opened to a corridor and Buck backed up and let it slide shut.  Throwing caution to the winds, he simply followed Paulton’s path and hoped that her wrath would cool quickly if she discovered him. 

In the next room, Sreena lay peacefully on a nearby bed.  The nurse was nowhere in sight and Buck walked over to Sreena’s bed and stood quietly.  She looked much better, but dark bruises still showed on the parts of her face not covered by bandages. 

Buck took her hand and lightly caressed it.  “You’re safe now, Sreena.  Erik can’t hurt you anymore,” he said soothingly.

She moaned softly, then opened her eyes.  Her gaze was empty for a moment, much, Buck supposed, as his had been.  Then she focused on him and smiled softly.  “Brandt,” she murmured.  “You are alive, safe.”

“Yeah.  So are you, Sreena.”

“Where am I?”

“On board the Searcher,” Buck said.

“Erik?”

“Captured.  He will never be able to hurt you again.”

She looked puzzled, then comprehension dawned.  “Erik frightened me, Brandt, but Drishel did this.”

“Drishel?” 

“Yes,” she sighed.

Buck remembered Drishel’s entrance into the cavern when Wilma was beating up Erik.  “Drishel was captured, too.  I shot him myself.”

“Good.”  She stared up at the austere, white ceiling and then back into his eyes.  “Erik knew who you are.”

Buck couldn’t help it, he laughed softly.  “Everyone in the universe, it seems, knows who I am, except me.”

“And me.”

“Yes.”  Buck had figured that.  “Buck Rogers at your service, ma’am,” he said lightly.

“Glad to meet you, Buck.”  Her eyes closed, the smile still on her lips and she slept. 

“Come on, Captain, back to your bed,” Paulton said gently from behind him.  He felt her hand guiding him as he turned back toward the other room.

He hobbled back; no further coaxing needed, his arms and chest almost as sore as his leg, but he much preferred the crutches to their alternative, a wheelchair.  When Buck saw his breakfast tray, he realized just how hungry he was and without saying a word, attacked it with relish.  Soon afterward, he was able to clean up and dress, then with the admonition that he stay off his leg, he was allowed the peace and solitude of his own cabin.   It was a solitude punctuated liberally by visits from his friends and counsel.  

“What’s the meeting tomorrow with the Galactic Judiciary all about?” he asked Arrans.

“My highly educated guess is that you will be fully exonerated of all charges that were leveled against you,” the lieutenant said.

“About time,” Buck said sardonically. 

Arrans raised his eyebrow in mock exasperation.  “You have to be joking, Buck.  For the judiciary to meet and decide on a case less than a week old is nothing short of miraculous.”  

“Considering everything, I am happy with the miraculous,” Buck shot back, a smile on his face. 

The next morning, refusing the use of a wheelchair to get to the Admiral’s ready room, Buck clumped in on the wooden crutches.  Wilma and the admiral were already there, as was Dr. Goodfellow and Hawk, and Lt. Arrans.  Wilma reached over and squeezed his hand, smiling in reassurance.  He smiled back.  The screen lit up and a formally attired man brought the tribunal to order.  Three judges sat motionless while the charges were read.  Then the middle judge leaned forward.  “Captain William Anthony Rogers,” the man said, looking directly at him. 

Buck stood up, as did Arrans. 

“You seem to have a propensity for getting into trouble, Captain, or at least in finding yourself in the middle of crises.”  The judge sat back and smiled softly.

Buck returned the smile.  “Your Honor, I don’t know about previous troubles, but yes, I did certainly end up in the middle of this one.”

“And you have very dedicated and loyal friends,” the judge said. 

“So I have found.” 

“I see it as a happy irony that your friend, Hawk, went to the same lengths to save you that you went to in order to save him,” the judiciary added.

Buck could think of nothing to say at that moment; he could only nod, his gratitude full to overflowing.

Clearing his throat, the judge continued.  “We have studied carefully everything we have received in your case.  We have reviewed the vid-disk that was obviously made with the express intent of implicating you with Erik Kormand’s Human Rights organization.  We have viewed the information from the OEI taken after your capture.  We have also listened to the testimony of a Freeosh agent, your crew mates and others, and looked at all the physical evidence and can come to only one conclusion.”  The man on the screen paused, put a sash over his head and then continued.  “We find that there is nothing in all of this to hold you for treason, sedition or any other charges related to traitorous activities.  We hereby dismiss this case against you.  You are exonerated of all charges, all claims of wrongdoing, and of any acts against the galactic community.”  The judge took off the sash and smiled.  “Congratulations, Captain.” 

“Thank you, Your Honor,” Buck said in relief. 

“And I hope your recovery is quick and complete,” he added. 

Buck nodded, again finding himself unable to speak as all in the room were exuberantly congratulating him.  

“This hearing is concluded,” the judge said.  The screen went dark. 

“Oh, Buck, I am so happy for you!” Wilma declared, throwing her arms around his neck and kissing him soundly.

“Mmmm,” was all he said.  Then he gazed meaningfully at Hawk.  “Thanks, pal.”

Hawk nodded and smiled softly, lifting his fist waist high in the thumbs up signal he had learned from Buck. 

The terran reciprocated, then shook hands with everyone in the room.  When he shook hands with Lt. Arrans, he said, “How about joining the little celebration this evening in my cabin?” 

“Celebration?” Arrans asked. 

“Sure, Twiki suggested it.  Invite Captain Golden, Colonel Alvarez and Captain Grishom,” Buck said. 

“I think we’ll use the rec room instead of your cabin, Buck,” Asimov said.  He looked at Twiki.  “Good idea, by the way.”

“You bet,” Twiki replied.

That night Buck was almost overwhelmed by the celebration.  The little celebration became a noisy, joyous, almost raucous orgy of laughter and gaiety.  At first Buck had stood in the doorway, leaning on his crutches, gazing somewhat in alarm at the scene before him.  

“Buck, not only are people celebrating your acquittal,” Theo explained, “They are celebrating release of great tension that has been building for weeks now.  Ever since King Meecros threatened this ship with annihilation and since we discovered the evil of the Human Rights movement it has been stressful to the extreme.  Then add to it all that has happened on Mendalis….”

“I think I get the picture, Theo,” Buck said.  “I just didn’t expect so much or something so big.”

“You created a party much like this not too long ago when Wilma received her new assignment,” Theo pointed out.

“I did?”

“Sure did.  I did the lights,” Twiki added.  “It was some party!” 

“Join the celebration, at least for a little while,” Theo suggested. 

So Buck entered the room and joined in the festivities until his leg began bothering him several hours later, then he bowed out.  When he finally reached his cabin, he sighed in relief and sank onto his couch gratefully.  His door chimed and he sighed again, this time in resignation.   “Come on in.” 

It was Twiki and Theo.  “Are you all right?” Theo asked. 

“Sure, just got tired.  Leg hurts some.”  

“You lasted quite a long time, Buck,” Theo said.  “Would you like Twiki to fix you something?” 

“Sounds good, Twiki,” Buck agreed.  Twiki stumped into the little kitchenette.  As he was fixing a drink, the door chimed again and Buck wondered if the party was following him here.  It was Wilma.  

“Saw you leave and was wondering if you wanted some less boisterous company,” she said. 

Buck didn’t mind her company in the least.  Twiki brought two vinols over to them.  “Thanks,” he said to the quad.

“How are you doing, by the way?” he asked Wilma.  “Seems there hasn’t been any kind of quiet time since we came back, except for when you were in the medical bay with me.”  

“I’m doing all right,” she replied.  “Just knowing Kormand is in custody has helped some.” 

“But there is his trial….”  Buck let his voice trail off.  

“I know,” she said softly.  “But it will be a while yet.”

“I’ll be there, too,” he told her, laying his hand on hers. 

Looking up at him, she smiled.  “Thanks.  You know that will be a great comfort to me.” 

Buck pushed a button on his remote and music filled the air.  It was a song from his life in the twentieth century, something that began, “This is for all the lonely people…”  He sighed.  

“It’s a pretty tune, but a bit melancholy,” Wilma said. 

“Yeah,” he agreed.  Then a thought came in his mind, something that partially negated his own feelings of loneliness, the loneliness of his own mind from the memories that he missed so much.  “Let’s dance.”

“Dance?” Wilma asked.  “Surely not.  Weren’t you told to stay off your leg?”

“For a few days.  It’s almost been a few days.  This will be short,” he said with a smile.   “This music is perfect for what popped into my mind.”

Buck got up and held out his hand.  Wilma took it and he pulled her close, beginning a slow dance that came almost by instinct.  After showing Wilma the steps, she followed his lead perfectly.

She sighed and laid her head on his shoulder, following the movements of his steps and moving in the same rhythm.  “This is nice,” she murmured, liking this much more than that provocative dance Buck did with Ardala so long ago. 

The song played on, its soothing melody filling his cabin, ‘Well, I’m on my way back home…….

 

 

 

 

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