Time and Again

 

 

 

 

Chapter Twelve

Journey

 

 

Buck’s temperature varied only slightly as the twilight deepened into full night.  Despite that, Theo was hopeful, knowing what Buck had told him of the Lagrithian’s expectations. 

Njobo silently prepared the medicines that his brother had brought, pounding the roots of the fever plant into a type of mush that would dissolve in water.  He turned to Twiki.  “Twee-kee/Thee-o, do you think you could build a fire like the one you started last night?”

Theo decided it was time to try and introduce the BaMbuti to the concept of his and Twiki’s separate identities.  While Twiki gathered wood and laid it in a pile similar to what Buck had done, he began, “I know this is hard to explain, but Twiki is one entity and I am another.  We are two individuals.”

Njobo studied the metal BaMbuti.  “There are two of you?  How do you both reside under the metal garments?”

“I do not reside under the metal garments.  I am a….”  Here Theo hesitated, trying to figure out how to explain what he was.  He just used the word. “I am a quad.  I reside in the box around Twiki’s neck.”

Twiki laid the last stick of wood for the fire and sat back. Njobo reached over and touched Theo’s case, watching the lights blink.  “Thee-o?”

“Yes.”

“How do you reside in this . . . box?” he asked, incredulous.

“You called Twiki and I a dawa man, referring to magic.  Let us just leave it at that.  It is rather magical.”

Njobo nodded, not totally understanding, but feeling that the forest gods did.  He would trust the Forest and trust these dawa men.  “And Twee-kee, is he a BaMbuti?”

“No, he is a quad, too.   An ambu-quad is also known as a drone and they can move about on their own.”

Njobo didn’t understand Thee-o’s words at all this time, except for the part about Twee-kee not being a BaMbuti.  That, Njobo thought, would explain why there seemed to be no connection between the metal man and the forest.

Twiki aimed the laser pistol at the wood and soon had a fire going just outside the entrance of the hut.  Njobo took a branched stick and cut it so that it would hold his leaf cup.  He held it above the fire, low enough to heat, but not so low as to burn the container.   Njobo continually checked the mixture and smiled his approval when he felt it ready.  He took the medicine and went into the hut where he saw Buck watching him. 

The hazel eyes were bright with fever, but there was awareness.  “That the good stuff, or the nasty?” he asked, his voice almost a whisper, as though too tired to even speak.

Njobo shook his head not understanding.  “Why is it you seem to understand me, but I cannot understand you?”

Buck also shook his head.  It was too hard to think.  “I don’t know.”  Theo translated what he said, but it sounded exactly like what he said the first time.  Buck shook his head again, thoroughly confused.  He felt like hell.  He didn’t recall ever feeling this bad in his life. “How long have I been sick?” he murmured. 

“I can only guess, Buck.  I would say a little over twelve hours,” Theo replied. 

“They said death would be quick,” he moaned.

“Buck, you have held up well.  Njobo is giving you medicine.  Surely the fever will break soon.” 

Buck said nothing, only closed his eyes and sighed.  Njobo lifted his head and held the cup to his lips.  “It tastes bad, but the medicine is good, Buck Sky Sled Rider, Sharer of Dreams,” Njobo whispered.  Buck understood and swallowed, even though his stomach protested.  When he finished Njobo’s medicine, he took several deep breaths, closed his eyes and muttered, “I’d better get well, because death is better than this stuff.”

“Here is the better tasting medicine,” Njobo said with a grin after Theo had translated Buck’s comments.  Like before, this drink went down much easier.  When he had finished, Njobo gently let Buck’s head rest back on the pillow of grasses. 

“Did Theo tell you that you were going to get this?” Buck asked softly. 

Njobo turned to Theo, who translated; then the BaMbuti turned back to Buck.  “Yes, he told me.  But all things are as Father and Mother Forest wish.”

Buck felt the aching, persistent pain subside somewhat and he sighed.  “I’m sorry, Njobo.  I am truly sorry.”

Again, Theo translated. 

“Buck, the Forest has brought you here for some purpose.  All things will work for good and then the Forest will be happy along with all of her children.  You are now one of the Forest’s children.  You and Thee-o and Twee-kee.” 

Slowly Buck raised his hand and laid it on Njobo’s.   So tired, he thought.  “Njobo, I . . . I thank you.” 

Theo repeated his words and Buck frowned.  This was an irritant to him, this constant translating, and yet, he felt that he should know why it was necessary.   “Theo, why can’t Njobo understand me?  I can understand him.”   Buck blinked, trying to focus on the quad.  He was having trouble staying awake. 

“Buck, you still have your translator on,” Theo said simply, and then he said something about magic to Njobo. 

“Oh,” he mumbled, yawning. He closed his eyes and slept. 

Throughout the night, Buck’s temperature fluctuated and the high fever brought convulsive chills and an aching pain that made him moan and thrash weakly on his makeshift bed. 

Theo, Twiki and Njobo alternated the medicine with water baths.  Finally toward dawn, Njobo put his molimo to his lips and began to sing a soft melodious tune.  The notes seemed to hang in the air and blend together, creating a harmony that included all aspects of the forest, past and present.   Buck stopped shivering and his breathing slowed. 

As the morning sun turned dark shadows into distinct shapes, Theo checked Buck’s vital signs and moaned softly.  He had so much hoped that they could pull Buck through this.  Now, despite the fact that Theo was supposed to be an objective, emotionless creation, he felt an overwhelming sadness.  “Buck has slipped into a coma,” he told Twiki, translating for Njobo.  The BaMbuti only stopped his singing long enough to say, “He still has a journey to make.”  Njobo continued to play softly.  Theo did not understand to what the BaMbuti was referring.  He could only watch and monitor his friend’s vitals. 

“Twiki, there is still a chance that the Directorate is looking for Buck.  You must shut down.  I will awaken you subsonically if I need you.  I will keep my sensors on low power, just enough to monitor Buck’s condition.”  Twiki beeped sadly and then deactivated himself. 

 

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Buck felt and heard the soft music and it soothed the aching pain that had settled in his joints and muscles.  Then the cobwebs cleared from his mind and he felt more alert than he had since the beginning of this sickness.  Well, he thought in wry amusement, Njobo’s rat poison must work after all.  Sitting up, he looked around the hut.  Twiki and Theo seemed oblivious to his movements; even though the latter appeared to be activated.  Njobo continued to play his instrument, eyes tightly closed in concentration.  Bright sunlight shone around the edges of the leaf thatching and beckoned him.  Buck crawled out of the hut and stood up, stretching.   The aches and pains were gone, he noted with deep gratitude.

The forest seemed clean and bright, almost surreal, very much like the Appalachian Mountains after a hard summer rain.  Mist lay like soft wispy clouds on the ground.  He looked up and saw canopy thick and seemingly impenetrable above him, but it was still bright, almost like pure sunlight.  A soft breeze blew strands of hair from his forehead and he absently ran his hand through his hair, smiling when it flopped back.  The breeze held the fragrance of fresh flowers with no hint of forest decay. 

Buck gazed around him, but could see no paths and nothing to give him a sense of where to go.  Shrugging, he just began walking, reveling in the simple pleasure of feeling good.  He continued through the forest, seeing several monkeys in the trees along with birds of various colors and sizes.  They joined in the melody that Buck had heard and continued to hear softly wafting in the air. A jungle cat peered at him without fear from atop a limb.  Somehow, Buck didn’t feel any fear, either and walked underneath the limb without a second glance.   Soon he came to a clearing, one that surrounded a shimmering lake.  Lilies floated serenely in the placid waters, birds waded sedately, seemingly not interested in the fish that swam near the surface.  The mist did not extend into the clearing and when he gazed toward the far side of the pond, Buck’s jaw dropped.  There, sitting on a wooden bench, were his parents.  He continued staring and his mother smiled and beckoned. 

Still not believing what he was seeing, Buck slowly walked around the pond.  Then as his mother got up and moved toward him, he trotted toward her, a grin spreading across his face.  “Mom!” he called out.  They are alive!   Then he stopped.  The trial for treason!  Even though she seemed happy to see him, was she really?  His father remained seated, his face devoid of any emotion that Buck could discern.  Buck stood quietly as his mother approached him.  What is going on?   Why?   He had known going back was impossible, but now he was here, he was actually seeing his parents, and able to talk to them, explain, apologize.  Buck found that he was suddenly very afraid and he didn’t understand that either. 

“Oh, Buck.  Oh, son, it’s so good to see you again.”  She stood back and looked him up and down.  Buck imagined he was a sight after slogging through the jungle, but when he also looked down, he saw that his uniform was clean and neat, as though he had just put it on.  He looked back into his mother’s eyes.  She was smiling and her eyes had a mischievous glint in them.  “You don’t look a day over one hundred.”  Buck heard that one often enough since his awakening, but from his mother?  He gaped.

She reached out and lightly touched his sleeve, then took his hand, enfolding it in her own. “Oh, Buck, you look wonderful.  Your new life has been good to you.”  And she reached out and grabbed him, and pulled him to her, hugging him tightly.  He felt her warmth; it was real.  He reciprocated, wrapping his arms around her.  This is no dream, he thought.  He smelled the faint scent of hyacinth, his mother’s favorite fragrance. He felt her arms, her comforting, strong but gentle arms and everything that had been ripped from his soul when his ship had malfunctioned came rushing back. 

Buck thought about what she had said.  He drew back, but still held onto her.  “You know?” he asked inanely.

“Of course, Buck.  Do you think I wouldn’t be interested in what you are doing, and wouldn’t occasionally check up on you?”  She smiled.  “That was the only way I knew how you were doing after you joined the Air Force.” 

Buck let the standing ‘why don’t you call me occasionally’ reminder pass.  There was something he had to hear.  “But the holocaust, the charges,” he stammered.

Her face clouded.  “That was a hard time, son.  Government agents went through your things that were still stored at the house, they went through our things.  They questioned us; they questioned other family members.  We kept it to ourselves, but there were a few of our friends who were questioned, too, and they were not kind.”  She paused when she saw Buck’s face. 

Horror alternated with sadness, guilt and anger.  “I knew it.  I knew the CIA or some agency would harass you over that.  I knew it,” Buck murmured, his emotions mixing in a cauldron beyond anything a witch could conjure up.

His mother continued.  “But despite everything, I couldn’t quite believe it.  You are my son and I raised you to be honorable,” Edna Rogers said, reaching up and touching his face.  “But it was hard.”

“I’m sorry,” he cried and hugged her again.  “I’m so sorry you had to go through that.”

“Why, son?” You were only doing what you were asked to do in order to save our country.  To try and save our world.  How could anyone know that half truths would be brought to light to defame you?” 

He could not let go of his mother.  Emotion welled to overflowing.  Everything that he had tried to suppress refused to be suppressed any longer.  Buck thought of all his parents had gone through on his account, and that and the stress of trying to fit into a new culture, time and place overwhelmed him.  He began to cry on his mother’s shoulder.  He had not cried since he was a little boy, but he could not stop.  Tears flowed freely and sobs racked him. 

“It’s all right, son,” his mother murmured in his ear.  “It’s all right.  I am so proud of you.  So proud of the man you became and the man you are now.  No mother could be prouder.  She continued to hold him tight.  Finally, she pulled away from him again when he had calmed enough to regain control. “And how many mothers can say that her son has saved the Earth.” 

She smiled and Buck smiled in return. He wiped his eyes on his sleeve.  “I’m too old for this,” he said softly, but he didn’t feel too sorry.  He was only relieved that he had done this in front of his mother and not his friends.

“Too old for what, Buck?  A hug from your mother?” she quipped.

Buck smiled again, reveling in her bantering cheerfulness.  There was only one more thing to make this complete.  “You have any cookies?” he asked.

“Chocolate chip?” 

Buck nodded.  “Of course.”

“No, not now, unfortunately.”

Buck looked up and saw his father standing just behind his mother. 

“Dad,” he said, stepping toward the elder Rogers. 

His father handed him a handkerchief and then just stared at him for a moment.  Finally, he spoke in a voice so low Buck had to strain to hear him. “That’s a fine uniform, son. You’ve worn it well, with honor. Just as you did your Air Force uniform.”

Emotion welled up again, but this time, Buck had no trouble controlling it.  “Thanks, Dad,” he said with a smile.  “But sometimes I miss wearing the old one.”

“No, son, don’t miss it.  What you are doing now is so much more important.”  He paused and looked toward the ground.  “You know, I’m afraid I didn’t have the same kind of faith your mother had in you.  I was angry, I was hurt and I felt shame.”

“I’m sure you did.  The evidence was pretty convincing.”  His heart wrenched with the same feelings of guilt and anger that he had been dealing with for the past couple of months.  “And I don’t blame you for a minute.  I was even doubting myself, Dad.”

“But you are my son!  I should have had the faith in you that your mother had.  I should have known!  Forgive me, son.”

His father was asking his forgiveness?  “Dad….”

“William . . . Buck, when the bomb hit Chicago, in the brief seconds before death came, I felt what your mother held in her heart during that time of shame and finger-pointing.  I knew then that you were no traitor.  And now the truth has finally come to light for everyone to know.  You are no traitor.  You never could have been.”

“A very close friend told me you would know.”  Buck stepped forward and gave his father a bear hug.  “There’s nothing to forgive, Dad.  Nothing.”

His parents led him to the bench on which they had been sitting.  They sat down together; Buck between his parents, and watched the pond in comfortable, peaceful silence for several minutes.  Buck wondered about this place.  “You mentioned your death. Where are we, Dad?  This forest looks familiar, but it seems dreamlike, too.”  He gave his father a bemused look and then his eyes widened in shock.  “Am I dead?” he whispered.  “Is this heaven?”

“It’s dreamlike because you are not really here, son,” the elder Rogers said.  “And we are sort of between heaven and Earth.”

“Son, you are not dead, but you are close to it,” his mother added, gazing deeply into his eyes.  “Buck, you have what no one else has had the opportunity to experience.”  She paused and took a deep breath.  “You have had the opportunity to make a difference in two times, two different worlds.  There was a reason you were preserved for this time, and as much as you have already accomplished, I believe there is much more for you to achieve.”

Buck said nothing for a moment.  “Why am I here with you now?  If it’s not my time to join you, why am I here at all?   I mean, it’s not that I’m not happy to see you and . . . but….” he stammered. 

 His father laid his hand on Buck’s arm.  It felt as strong as it had ever felt when he was a boy.  “William, you are living in the twenty-fifth century, but you are still tied to your past.  You cannot totally let it go.”

 

 

 

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