Time and Again

 

 

 

Chapter Fourteen

Mechanizations

 

 

Foreenizor watched the two women standing before him.  Their eyes were sad, their finger movements echoing their sadness.  They were too soft, he could not include them in the plans. He would only use their expertise, giving them another reason for his request.  Perhaps it was better this way.  He could see that they had developed an affinity with the dead human. 

“How quickly can you alter the woodland/meadow floratat to match what Captain Rogers had specified?” he asked. 

Mreesa looked puzzled but with only a moment’s pause said, “We can synthe-change the grass covering and use holo-imaging for the trees and plants.  Probably two days.”

“Use holo’s for all of it and do it in a day,” he said.  They are having a memorial service for Captain Rogers in a matter of hours and it would be most appropriate if we had some fitting tribute to show the Earth people afterward.”  Foreenizor paused for dramatic effect, waving his fingers in a gesture of sadness.  “I would like to invite his partner to see what we would like to do on Earth as a tribute to Captain Rogers.”

Breeshnar and Mreesa looked at each other and then turned back to their leader.  “That is a wonderful idea, Doctor.  We will get started right away and hopefully get it ready in a day and a half by Earth time.  We can do no better than that.  I am sure Wilma will understand.”

“Yes, I’m sure she will, too,” Foreezinor said with a slight smile.  “Go ahead and get started, and I will contact Col. Deering.”

 

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“Thee-o, I did not hear the sky sleds at all today.  I think your people have given up looking for you,” Njobo said. 

“Yes, I would imagine that after three days with no evidence that we are alive, the Directorate would most likely declare us dead,” Theo said. 

“Why don’t you want your people to find you?”  Njobo finally asked the question that had bothered him since he had first encountered Buck and his companions.   He wondered if it had something to do with the sickness, a sickness that had not yet affected him.

“Buck was given this sickness so that he would give it to his fellow humans,” Theo began, but paused when he saw Njobo’s puzzled look.

“I do not think I totally understand.  Why would someone deliberately give a sickness like this to another person?  Someone wanted your people to die?” 

“Someone wanted everyone on Earth to die.  And I have not figured out just what these people from another world want here so badly that they would destroy everyone on Earth to get it,” Theo said. 

Njobo gasped in horror.  He had never heard of such a thing.   That would be like the leopard trying to kill all of the BaMbuti simply because they occasionally took a pelt from one of the jungle cats.  All of his people dead?  He shook his head, imaging the same thing with all of Buck’s people.  It was incomprehensible to even begin to imagine.  “Those people have the madness to conceive of such a thing.  That is the only explanation,” Njobo finally said. 

“That is probably the best explanation,” Theo answered, at the same time activating Twiki. 

“How’s Buck?” the drone asked immediately.

“Buck seems to be better.  He has slept most of the day and his fever has lowered by two degrees,” Theo answered. 

“Great!” Twiki cried as Theo translated for Njobo.

“He is in need of nourishment soon.   He is very weak and needs meat to build his strength,” Njobo interjected.  “My son delivered the haunch of a sondu.  The juices will make a good stew that Buck can drink.”  Here Njobo paused again.  “I have not seen either of you eat.  What do you take in for nourishment?” he asked. 

“I agree, Njobo.  Buck has been too long without anything of real substance.”   Theo pondered a moment to figure out how to best describe the self-contained internal energy system that almost never had to be replaced.  “We have special things inside our bodies that keep us alive.  We have no need for any nourishment such as you and Buck need,” Theo explained.

Shaking his head, Njobo said, “Ah, more of the dawa magic.”  He gathered wood and Twiki started another fire in growing darkness.   The BaMbuti gathered the clay pot and the meat that his son had left on a limb above them and began to cut the meat to make a savory stew.   Sitting the pot at the edge of the fire, he let it warm while waiting for coals to form.  He cut up a variety of roots, leaves and other things that had been gathered during the day and added them to the meat.  The juice of several fruits provided the liquid.   As the stew warmed and then simmered, Njobo pounded more of the medicine that had provided Buck with some relief from his fever.

As the night deepened, Buck finally stirred and awoke, moaning softly at the pain that seemed to be residing in his joints.   He blinked groggily at the fire and then at Theo, whose lights were winking in the dark. 

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

“Don’t ask,” he said, groaning with the effort to move.  Every muscle, each joint seemed to have turned into boards.   Njobo, seeing his difficulty, gathered sticks and vegetation and built a mound for Buck to recline against.  He and Twiki helped Buck sit up and get comfortable.  “Thanks,” the spaceman panted, incredulous at how tired he felt just from that tiny bit of effort.  Sitting up made him feel somewhat dizzy, too, but he didn’t want to lie down again.  He felt as though he had been doing that his whole life.  Nevertheless, he closed his eyes, tired and ready to sleep again.  “How long has it been?” he murmured.  He mentally cursed the Lagrithians again. This sickness seemed eternal. 

“Since you have been sick?” Theo asked.

“Yeah.”

“Approximately two and a half days,” Theo answered.  “I am happy to say that your temperature is down, only a hundred and two now.”

“Great,” Buck said acerbically and he began to doze off.  Then his eyes popped open and he gazed at Njobo who was mixing something in a small wooden bowl.  “Theo, did you say two and a half days?”

“Yes, Buck.”

“Njobo?” he asked the BaMbuti, who turned to look at him.  “How do you feel?”

“I feel happy,” he said after Theo had translated.  Then he understood what Buck meant.  “I do not feel sick.”

“Buck, didn’t you say the Lagrithian virus incubated in its victim for about a half day and then the onset of the illness was anywhere up to a day later?” Theo asked.

“Yes, if I heard them right.  And I went about a half a day later than their predictions,” Buck answered, his face flushed from more than fever, he was feeling hope. 

Njobo approached with his medicine.   “You are better, but you still need this.”

Buck grimaced, but he drank what Njobo offered.  It was getting harder and harder to keep it down.   While he was concentrating on taming his protesting stomach, Njobo offered him another cup.  Carefully curling his stiff fingers around the little cup, Buck concentrated on not dropping it. “What’s in this?” he asked, able to tell by the aroma that it was something different.

“It is the broth from a stew that I made.  It will give you strength,” the BaMbuti explained.    

Buck tried a sip and found it to be delicious.  “This is good, Njobo.”   Buck drank the small cup dry and then leaned back against the makeshift chair with a sigh.  Now he really was feeling sleepy again.  Another thought occurred to him as he began to drift off.  He gazed sleepily at Theo.  “You started working on a communicator yet?”

“No, Buck, we have been very busy trying to keep you alive and escaping detection,” Theo answered. 

“Well, if I can survive Njobo’s medicine, then I can live through anything,” Buck commented and then yawned.  “You two need to get busy on a communicator.  You have to warn New Chicago, Theo.”  He closed his eyes, unable to stay awake any longer.  “Lagrithians will try….”   He fell asleep before he could even finish his sentence.

“Twiki, Buck is right, we have to begin working on some kind of communicator,” Theo said.  “Let’s see what you brought with you.”

 

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In Dr. Huer’s office, Hawk pointed out what he had seen the night before. 

The doctor rubbed his chin thoughtfully.  “I see what you are saying.  Let me pull up the records from the archives on his personal computer. He looked and studied for several minutes. 

Hawk waited impatiently.  

“It says that there were several tribes of African people in that area of forest, which, by the way, seems to have increased in size.”  He pondered the data he had brought up.   “This is most interesting,” he murmured.

“What, Doctor?” Hawk asked.

“The fact that this forest seems to be reversing a trend that was common even before the great holocaust.”

“You mean the increase in the size of the forest?”

Huer rubbed his chin again.  “Yes, back in the twentieth century, deforestation was commonplace.  Usually it was the encroachment of men, but climactic changes were also a factor.  I believe that this will be of interest to our scientists.”

“But what about the people of the area.  You were looking that up,” Hawk reminded the older man. 

“Yes, I was.  According to this, the group that seems to have been there the longest is the BaMbuti, a race also called pygmies.  Most of them were no larger than four feet tall.” 

“That would correlate with some of the things I noticed when I was studying the survey data.”

Huer studied Hawk’s face.  “What are your thoughts, Hawk?” he asked.

“I don’t know yet, Dr. Huer.  But I think there is more to this than a simple crash landing.  Just call it intuition.  Simple intuition.  But the more I study the data, the more questions I have.  I am hoping that soon I will have the answers to those questions.”

“Hawk, I think you know that I still have hope in my heart that Buck is out there alive,” Huer replied.  “Despite everything, I hope.  Regardless of what the council concluded, you have my leave to do whatever you feel necessary to determine for a surety whether Buck is alive or dead.  Please let me know what you come up with.” 

“I will, Doctor,” Hawk answered. 

The next day, Hawk was still studying, still pondering and still questioning the decision of the computer council.   In the meantime, Wilma had thrown herself into her duties, drilling new recruits in the starfighter maneuvers that her predecessors had developed along with those that Buck had introduced.   Hawk only saw her in passing. 

Hawk continued to study the data that detailed Buck’s flight.  The ship showed no signs of having problems, other than the communications system, until the approach to New Chicago.  Buck had come through the defensive shield without mishap.  Then there was the direct flight to where he had been camping, with the accompanying maneuvers.  Then another slight flight change, followed by the nearly arrow straight route to the rain forest.  If the actual crash was eliminated from the equation, the flight seemed totally deliberate. 

Hawk leaned back in the chair and pondered.   The more he thought about it, the less he thought that this was a ship in trouble, especially considering the pilot.  If this had been a green recruit starfighter pilot, Hawk might have understood the conclusion, but Buck?    His friend had to be signaling him over the canyon, trying to tell him something.   But what?   There was something wrong, that was a surety, Hawk decided.  Otherwise, Buck would have landed either in New Chicago or in the canyon where he was staying. 

So for some reason, Buck went to the rain forest where he crashed.  But what about Buck himself?  Where was he?  Could he have died in the crash?  There was a slight difference in time between the crash and the explosion of the ship.  Was that enough time for Buck to get away?  

“Ai, Buck, you have always been a most puzzling and yet intriguing human,” Hawk murmured as he continued to gaze at the computer screen.   Perhaps if he fed the information into that insufferable robot, Crichton, Dr. Goodfellow’s creation might be able to make sense of all of the information.

Putting all of the information onto a storage disk, Hawk took a monorail to Dr. Goodfellow’s apartment/laboratory, where he found the old man tinkering on yet another creation. 

“Ah, Hawk, good to see you.  Good to see you,” the scientist said, a great smile creasing his face. 

Hawk just nodded.  “I need your robot to analyze some data I have gathered.”  He handed the small disk to Goodfellow and continued.  “There are some things about Buck’s crash that don’t seem to make sense.”

“Yes, Buck.  That is very sad.   He was such a fine young man.  Such a loss,” Dr. Goodfellow murmured. 

“Do you think Crichton could look this information over?” Hawk asked, bringing the old man back to the matter at hand.

“Oh, yes, yes,” he said, turning to the tall, spindly robot.  Activating him, Dr. Goodfellow fed the data in and then waited.  Turning back to Hawk, he said, “You do realize, Hawk my friend, that there may not be enough data for Crichton to come to a conclusion.”

Crichton whirred and then huffed.  “I can always come to a conclusion, Dr. Goodfellow.  It just may not be the conclusion you would want.”

“Quite right, quite right,” the stooped old scientist said in his good-natured way. 

Hawk sighed and paced the room, knowing better than to argue with the irascible robot. 

A few minutes later, Crichton announced, “My conclusion is that while there is much evidence to support Captain Rogers’ death, there is nothing that conclusively proves it.  So I cannot give you a definitive location for his body, or if he is alive, for his location.”  Crichton whirred again.  “And the data seems to support your claim that there are indigenous people in that forest.” 

“Really? That is interesting, indeed,” Dr. Goodfellow said, almost echoing Dr. Huer’s comments the previous day. 

“Thank you, Crichton, Dr. Goodfellow,” Hawk said, gathering his data storage disk.  He left the apartment with the same questions still whirling around in his mind.  And they were still running through his mind when he arrived at his and Buck’s apartment.   That something had gone terribly wrong with Buck’s flight was a given, but now Hawk wondered if it was the ship, or if there was something else.  Was Buck really trying to signal him?  Most importantly, was he still alive?  If so, and Hawk was beginning to believe that was the case, the only conclusion that he could make was that Twiki and Dr. Theopolis had to have perished in the crash.  The other conclusion was that Buck was most likely hurt.  But after all this time, four almost five days, would he still be alive?  There were many creatures in a forest like that, undoubtedly large predators as well.  But there were people living there as well.  Would they help his friend?  

Hawk knew one thing.   If there was the slightest chance that Buck was still alive, he had to fly to the forest and attempt to find him.  Quickly he grabbed a snack out of the refrigerator and poured himself a cup of coffee from Buck’s custom-built expresso machine.  It wasn’t the most nutritious meal he could have eaten, or the tastiest, but it was the fastest.  Buck had passed along a couple of very bad habits to him, Hawk thought sardonically.  Like coffee.  As he finished he heard the computer beep, a signal that one of his queries for more information had borne fruit.  Hawk brought up the screen and gaped in astonishment.  Someone else had crash-landed in the same forest. 

 

 

 

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