Time and Again

 

 

 

 

Chapter Thirteen

Journey’s Return

 

 

Puzzled, Buck said, “I don’t think I understand, Dad.  Am I supposed to forget my first thirty years?”

“No, of course not, Buck.”  His father hesitated and then smiled.  “It’s hard getting used to calling you that.”  Then he grew serious again.  “Son, your bond to the past is one woven by guilt.  You had suppressed it for the most part, but that damnable trial brought it back to the forefront of your thinking.”

“Guilt?” Buck repeated.

“Yes, Buck,” his mother said.  “You lived and we died.  Under horrible circumstances.  Deep inside you have felt responsibility for our suffering, or felt you should have been there to suffer with us.”

Buck could only gaze at the mossy surface beneath his feet.  He felt the truth of what they were saying even as he wanted to deny it.

“It’s ironic, son, that the trial would accuse you of doing physically what you had already felt psychologically,” his father said, “And couple that with a good old fashioned dose of future shock.” 

His mother took his hand.  “You have nothing to feel guilty about, Buck.  We are so very proud of how you have not only worked to make your new world your own, but you have fought to keep it alive and to make it better.  You have lived in the past so you can save your future.”  Seeing Buck’s puzzled look, she laughed.  “I will leave it to you to figure out that last statement.”

“Remember us, son, but do not feel anything but joy in your memories of us.  We are happy and regret nothing, except maybe not telling you kids more often just how much we loved you,” his father said.

“Son, move on.  Draw your new friends more tightly into your life.  They can help you, they already have.”  His mother paused, as though trying to find words.  “You know, your fiancé moved on after your ‘death.’  She went back home to Ohio and just before the holocaust, she had married a childhood friend.” 

Buck just stared dumbfounded for a moment.  “Jennifer?  She married?  Oh.  I guess….”  He assimilated the information, but still the idea that she would have married someone else had never occurred to him.   And it kind of hurt that she moved so quickly, too. 

“She could not cling to something that was not there, no matter how much she had loved you.  And she did love you, Buck,” his mother added.  She paused and held his hand more tightly. “Move on,” she repeated.  “There are people as special as Jennifer in this time.  They are closer than you think, Buck.” 

His mother and father stood up.  “It has been wonderful seeing you, talking with you, but we must leave and you must go back, too.” 

“Go back?  So soon?” he asked plaintively. 

“Yes,” they said together.   Although not wishing an end to the visit, Buck felt a kind of finality of this place, and knew that nothing he could say or do would keep them longer.  He felt something pulling at him as well.   Standing up, he hugged them both and watched as they walked away and were soon lost to his view.  Buck turned and suddenly began feeling weak and lethargic.  There was a throbbing pain and then nothing but darkness.

 

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As Njobo continued his molimo song, Theo continued to monitor Buck’s vital signs.  He was concerned that his friend’s breathing and heart rate were slowing.  He watched and listened intently, worrying in his own computer fashion that Buck, despite everything they had done, might indeed die.  And he was sad. 

Suddenly Buck sighed and Theo noticed that his heart rate and breathing increased to a more normal and healthy rate. 

Njobo suddenly stopped playing and put his molimo down.  His eyes lost their dreamy look and he said, “He has returned from his journey.” 

“What journey?” Theo asked.

“You will have to ask him. I am not sure.  I only know it was something necessary,” Njobo said quietly.  “It is now time for his medicine.”   Njobo administered to his patient and then said, “I will be back in a short while.”  He stepped out of the hut and was gone. 

Theo continued to monitor Buck’s vital signs even as he pondered what Njobo meant. 

Twiki beeped plaintively and said, “Buck’s going to get well, isn’t he?”

Theo’s lights blinked for several seconds before he answered.  “I think he will, Twiki.”

Buck slept through most of that day, only awakening enough to drink Njobo’s medicines.  Theo had Twiki place him near his human friend and he continued to constantly monitor Buck’s progress after the drone had deactivated himself again.  He was pleased that his fever not only did not rise, but it actually dropped a degree.  Finally in late afternoon, Buck sighed and opened his eyes.  He gazed around the hut with a puzzled look on his face. Then he saw Twiki and Theo.  A soft smile lit his face. 

“How are you feeling, Buck?” Theo asked. 

There was a pause.  “Uh, better, I think,” he murmured.  “Could I get something to drink?  He remembered his dream.  Was it a dream?  Was it something else?  He remembered the stories of out of body experiences and wondered.  He pondered sleepily and somehow felt that he and his parents had made some kind of connection.  Buck shivered and not entirely from the cold. 

“You were near death earlier today, Buck,” Theo said. 

Buck wondered if that was when he had been with his mother and father.  Mentally, he shrugged.  It was still hard to think.  “But I didn’t die, thanks to you two and Njobo,” he said softly.   He looked around for the pygmy and saw him squatting in the doorway, grinning. 

“The forest is happy.  You are happy.  That is good,” Njobo said.  “Now it is time for you to get better.” 

“Yes,” was all Buck said.  

Njobo seemed to understand because he nodded before Theo translated. 

“It’s daytime,” Buck murmured, noticing the light coming from outside the hut. 

“Yes, Buck.  In fact it’s close to evening,” Theo answered, but Buck had fallen back to sleep.

 

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The computer council stood in austere court in their meeting chamber.  Wilma remembered being here when Buck was on trial.  The first one.   Although her head, filled with logical facts and figures, had told her that that trial and its verdict were right, her heart had given her mixed signals.  Now, as the council members reiterated the lists of data and facts in the crash of Buck Rogers’ starship, she felt no logic, she only heard her heart telling her that Buck couldn’t be dead.  He simply couldn’t be. 

Doctor Correllis was speaking.  “Although we realize the immeasurable service that Captain Rogers has given to Earth and the Directorate, we cannot ignore the facts that have been presented.  There is nothing that gives any indication that Captain Rogers is alive and that our fellow councilman, Dr. Theopolis and the drone, Twiki are still extant.  Therefore, despite the wishes of our esteemed head of the Defense Directorate, we must reluctantly discourage the expansion of the search for Captain Rogers.  We cannot continue to expend the resources of the Directorate on such a search when the Defense forces are involved in so many extra-solar activities and they and the Directorate budget are already stretched so thinly.

“We also officially declare Captain Buck Rogers to be dead, as well as officially acknowledge the demise of Dr. Theopolis and Twiki.   We unanimously agree that a memorial service for the aforementioned heroes be conducted in two days in the Plaza of Heroes.”  There was a long pause.   “However, in deference to Doctor Huer and Colonel Deering who had requested an extension of the search, we are directing high altitude scans as well as further study of already gathered data.  That is our decision, made amongst the full body of the council.”

Dr. Huer rose, his face as passive as possible, but Wilma knew that inside he had continued to feel hope, just as she had.  “Thank you, Doctor Correllis, council members,” he began.  “I know that this was a difficult task that we gave you, considering how much we have all come to admire and respect Captain Rogers.  As head of the Earth Directorate, I cannot fault your findings even though I cannot totally agree with them.  I do appreciate your consideration for a continued, though less strenuous search.  A memorial service will be conducted at nine o’clock on Wednesday morning.  That is a little more than a day and a half from now.  I can only say that Captain Rogers will be missed.  His has been a great service to the people of Earth.”

Looking up at her, Dr. Huer mouthed, ‘I’m sorry.”  She nodded her thanks for his efforts.  Bowing his head in defeat, Dr. Huer turned and left the room.  Wilma sat in the gallery, stunned.  Although more tired than she cared to admit, after having spent three days diligently searching the crash site and the near vicinity for any sign of Buck, she had hoped that the council would have approved a ground search and a more extensive air search.   Now, there was very little she could do, except hope that the scans would turn up something.   Hawk sat next to her on one side and Dr. Goodfellow on the other.   While no official declaration had been given, there was always hope, always the chance that something would show up to give credence to their faith.  But now, even though her heart yammered for something to pin her hopes on, there was nothing. 

“Wilma,” Hawk began. 

Again, she brushed off his overtures of consolation.  “Not now, Hawk.  I’m sorry.  I can’t talk now.”  Getting up quickly, before she began to cry, Wilma left the room and headed for her own apartment.   There she looked at the photograph of her and Buck.  It was taken on Mrinilian, when they had gone to represent the Earth Directorate at the coronation of the planetary ruler.  That had been such an enjoyable occasion.  Nothing had happened except a good time.  That was when she had wondered the most about their relationship.  It had occurred right after that affair with Jennifer/Leila, and Wilma had entertained hopes that she and Buck might be able to develop a romantic relationship.  But at the time, Wilma had realized that despite what he had said about the past, Buck was still too closely tied to those he had left behind.  

Wilma also realized that she wasn’t that easy to get close to, either.   With a sigh, she thought about their time together.  Buck had become more like a brother, she supposed.  A brother that she had never had, being an only child.  But now that Buck was gone, she saw a great dissatisfaction in that relationship, frustrated that she didn’t make a greater effort to get closer to him. 

Pausing, Wilma looked into her mirror.  Sad eyes gazed back at her.  How could someone affect her so much?  Especially after a whole life of trying to be strong and tough.  What did you have, Buck Rogers, that you could so easily find residence in my heart and tear it apart so horribly when you left?  But he wasn’t gone.  His easy going nature, his smile, his single-minded devotion to doing the right thing, whether that coincided with what was considered right in this century or not, his almost childlike curiosity and sense of wonder that melded so adroitly with his compassion and sense of honor, those things were still there deep in her soul.  Oh, Buck, why did you have to leave?  Why now, why like this?  She almost wanted to say, why did you come into my life if this was how it was going to feel when you left, but she couldn’t.  She wouldn’t want to be devoid of that experience of meeting and knowing Buck Rogers.   At times, Buck had been so very exasperating, but he had also made her feel so alive, made everything seem so fresh and wonderful.   He had shown her that life was more than devotion to duty.   

She didn’t think she could go back to the Searcher.  On the other hand, she didn’t relish staying in New Chicago either.   Sighing, Wilma lay down on her bed.  The past three days had been physically exhausting, but sleep just didn’t come.  Thoughts of the past year and a half kept coming to her mind.  Realizing that she had to have some rest, Wilma broke down and ordered something to help her sleep.  It still took an hour of tossing and turning, but sleep finally came.

 

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Hawk spent part of the next day with Wilma and Dr. Huer going over the details of the upcoming memorial service.  He found himself feeling caged, stifled in the somberness of the event, but as someone who had been close to Buck, he was obligated to take part in the planning.  The two humans wanted him to participate in the actual ceremony but in that Hawk drew the line.  He was no speaker and his feelings were something private and not subject to public display.   In the end, he agreed to stand with Wilma and Dr. Huer at the memorial, but that was the extent of it.   His own eulogy to his friend would be in the memories and feelings that resided in his heart. 

In the evening he began looking over the records, first the communications/tracking records and then the surveys of the crash site.   Hawk was chilled at the cold biological readings that seemed to pinpoint Buck’s demise.  The starfighter had been his friend’s crematorium.  He looked for any evidence of Twiki and Dr. Theopolis, but as expected, there was nothing.   And there had been so much shredded and melted metal and plastic that nothing could be determined from those remains. 

The surveys picked up nothing in a ten-mile radius that would indicate the two quads.  However, he did see several times when biological entities showed up on the readings.  About sixty percent were definitely small enough to be forest animals.  Several seemed to denote creatures residing high in the trees, which would eliminate a six-foot plus human.   Hawk laughed softly to himself, Buck was athletic, but he couldn’t picture his friend climbing trees in a rain forest.  Most of the later third-day biological readings seemed random, which along with the size factor, fit the conclusion that all were animals, but there were a few that seemed to follow a slight pattern, all occurring in the same geographical area.  Hawk frowned.   Most of these entities would be about the size of children.  Studying further, he became even surer that their movements followed a pattern, one that precluded that of animals simply looking for a meal; they seemed to indicate a human presence.   It didn’t make sense.  Hawk had been told that there were no human populations in that part of Africa.  He looked over the data again, but could come to no other conclusion. 

The next morning he called on Dr. Huer.  “I am wondering if the information about this equatorial African forest is correct.  The information that says that there are no people living there,” Hawk said. 

“As far as I know, it is,” Huer answered.  He looked into Hawk’s eyes.  He wondered what the birdman had on his mind.  “Why?”

“I am looking at the survey data of the search and rescue and I am seeing patterns that would indicate more than just animal presence.”  He saw Huer’s dubious look and added,  “I am aware of how this kind of data works, that is how some of my people’s enemies were able to find the hidden caves.” 

Huer sighed and rubbed his eyes.  “It seems strange that the demise of one individual out of the thousands residing here would create such turmoil and sorrow.”  He sighed again.  “I am interested in what you have, but I cannot talk until after the memorial this morning.  Could you stop by then?”  He sounded genuinely intrigued.

Hawk nodded.  “Yes, Dr. Huer.  I definitely want to go over this with you.  You are certainly more familiar with Earth history and geography than I am.”

At the memorial service, the two men flanked Wilma, who seemed to have totally regained her composure and appeared self-assured and poised.   She spoke briefly as did Dr. Huer and Captain Asimov.  She and Dr. Huer unveiled a plaque in Buck’s honor.  Hawk felt it was a fitting memorial for his friend, but he still felt no closure.

 

 

 

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