Time and Again

 

 

 

 

Chapter Fifteen

The Brigadier

 

 

Hawk read the information on the screen in front of him.  Almost thirty years ago, a then Lieutenant Gordon, had crashed his ship in the forest while on a survey mission.   The pilot had been rescued a few days later.  What pleased the birdman was that Brigadier Gordon was still alive and residing in New Chicago.   Hawk noticed another message, one that astonished him even more.  It was from the very man he was just reading about, the man who had crashed in the rain forest so long ago. 

 

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The older man watched the information channel with interest.  He usually didn’t have his vid link on, preferring to play cribbage or chess with his wife or with his friends at the recreation center.  Lately, he had been taking time to exercise more.  The mission he had been called out on, the one where he and his companions had been instrumental in averting an invasion, had invigorated him, and made him feel younger than his seventy-four years.  After that mission, although he had not admitted it to anyone, he had been painfully aware of how out of shape he had been.  Now seven months later, the old man felt even younger than he had when he and Buck Rogers, the young man from the past, and Colonel Deering and the others had wiped out the invaders.

Now he was watching the memorial service for Captain William ‘Buck’ Rogers.  It saddened him.  He had liked the young man.  In fact he was grateful to him.  It had been the captain who had been instrumental in their temporary call up as well as their reserve status now. 

It was a short memorial for the young pilot, as it should be, and also included brief tributes for the captain’s companions, a drone and one of the computer councilmen, Dr. Theopolis.  After the memorial, he continued watching, as they were giving details on what had happened to young Rogers. 

Suddenly his eyes opened wide in surprise.  “He crashed where?” he asked to no one in particular.

“Somewhere in Africa,” his companion, Major Trent said.  “Say, isn’t that where you crashed way back when?”

Brigadier Gordon gazed at the map that was being shown on the screen, his blue eyes totally attentive to what was being said.

“Yes,” he said absently.

“They found you.  Wonder why they couldn’t find Buck?” Trent asked, familiar with the incident in question.

“Appears his starfighter’s engine core blew up,” Gordon said.

“Talk about a fluke.  That sure doesn’t happen often.”

“I know,” Gordon said.  “Usually only happens when the failsafe is activated.  And that usually only happens in enemy territory.  The forest is pretty much just off limits, not considered hostile.”  He pondered.  “Unless Buck saw a threat.”

“Of course it could have happened in a crash that severe, too,” Trent said. 

Gordon thought of the secret he carried, the information he had told no one, not even his wife and children. And he thought of the promise he had made.  It was a promise that he had kept for thirty years and he could not break it.  Then he considered the fact that Buck Rogers had somehow crash-landed in the same vicinity that he had.  Could Buck have been given the same help he had been given when he had crashed in what had once been known as the Ituri forest?  If so, someone needed to know.  Promises or no promises.

He walked over to the communication line and connected with the Directorate headquarters, leaving a message for Col. Deering and Dr. Huer.   He immediately received a communication saying that Col. Deering was not taking private calls at present and another one that told him that Dr. Huer would get back to him as soon as possible.  Gordon frowned.  There was no telling just how long it would be before the Directorate leader got back to him.  Gordon decided to head home to await a response.  Angelin would be wondering where he was after all this time anyway.  

The next day, still not having received anything from Dr. Huer, Gordon considered his options.   He wondered about the other man at the memorial, the birdman.  From the broadcast, he had learned that the alien had worked very closely with Buck during his time on the exploration mission of the Searcher.   Perhaps a message to him would help.  What was the name they had given?   Hawk.  That was it.  Gordon found a recent listing and sent the same message to Buck’s friend.  Perhaps he could relay it to Dr. Huer faster than the communiqué would be answered.

 

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As Hawk traveled the monorail to Brigadier Gordon’s residence, he tried to remember Buck’s description of the man.  He had been a squadron leader, and later the head of the defense forces.  He was still very capable, even though retired.  And he had helped save Earth when a great deal of the food supply had been poisoned, debilitating most of Earth’s defenders. 

He was let into the Brigadier’s apartment by an older woman, presumably his life mate, and shown into a room with a large window overlooking the inner city.  The lowering sun shone brightly, giving everything a golden hue. 

The Brigadier stood up to greet him, shaking his hand.  “I am glad you got my message.  And I thank you for getting back to me so promptly.”  Hawk studied the man in front of him.  The Brigadier was only an inch shorter than himself.  His silvery gray hair hinted of sun bright lightness in his younger days, his intensely blue eyes still young.  He appeared very fit and agile, most equal to the task of flying a starfighter.

“I have been studying all of the data pertaining to Buck’s crash and had barely received information about your crash some years ago when I saw your message,” Hawk said.

The Brigadier studied the man before him, whose hooded eyes and sharp features denoted the demeanor of a hunter.  Even more than Colonel Deering right now, this one might take his information and be able to use it. 

“The report was very limited, only saying you had crashed, suffered some injuries and had been rescued,” Hawk said bluntly.

“Please sit down, Hawk,” Gordon said, pointing to a chair.  “Do you have an honorific?”

“No, I am just Hawk.”  The birdman sat and faced Gordon, continuing to study him just as the human had measured him.   “But I assume that there is more to it that what the report said.”  Hawk noted that Gordon’s life mate had left the room, pushing the button to close the door behind her.

“Yes, but I had made a promise not to say more about it.”

“To whom?” Hawk asked.  “To the inhabitants of the forest?  The BaMbuti?”

The Brigadier gaped in astonishment.  “How did you find out about that?”

“I said I had been studying this incident.  I have seen more survey data than I care to admit to.  And even though I was not authorized to do so, I also flew above that forest.”

“Why such an acute interest?  If you have been digging into this, you have surely seen everything that brought the computer council to its conclusion,” Gordon said, intrigued by this alien’s intensity. 

“Partly it is intuitive.  I did not feel closure in this.  The evidence is very much overwhelming, but I know Buck Rogers well and this data is not enough to satisfy me.”  He paused and took a deep breath.  “And as I have dug into this, I have become even less satisfied.  I am not stifled by the Earth Directorate proclamations.” 

“You are going to the forest to search?” Gordon asked. 

“Yes, as soon as I am finished here.”  Hawk pulled out a map of the forest area.  “Dr. Huer told me this was part of an area called the Ituri Forest.  Buck crashed here,” Hawk began, pointing. 

“As far as I can remember, that is not very far from where I crashed.”  Gordon looked up from the map.  “And yes, I was helped by the BaMbuti, the pygmy people.” 

“The readings I looked over indicated individuals the size of children, but when Dr. Huer told me who was indigenous to the area, I realized that it was the native peoples that I was seeing on the survey.” 

“How could you tell that from a survey data sheet?” Gordon asked, impressed. 

The door opened and Gordon’s life mate entered with two cups of what Hawk presumed to be tea.  “Thank you,” he said to her as she set them down and turned to leave.

“You are welcome.”  She smiled and the door slid closed behind her. 

“Brigadier, I belong to a hunted race.  I am the only one left.  I found survey records like these which had helped my enemies, some of your fellow Earth people, find and destroy my people.  From this experience, I know what to look for.”

Gordon said nothing for a moment.  He found it incredulous that anyone whose family and friends had been hunted and killed by their enemies would be sitting and talking with a member of the enemy race.  Finally he said, “If it was my race that has destroyed yours, why are you here?  Why are you helping?”

“It is simple—Buck Rogers,” Hawk said, flashing an uncharacteristic smile.  “It is a rather long story and when I am back, with Buck, I will tell you the details.  For now, let me say that I owe my existence to Buck.”

“And you believe he is alive?”

“Again, intuition.  Yes, I do, Brigadier.  And I believe you do, too.”  Hawk gazed at the human, his dark eyes penetrating and unsettling.

Gordon nodded.  “If he has had the help of the BaMbuti as I did, I think he conceivably could be.  They are one with their environment, totally a part of their forest world.”  Gordon sat quietly for a moment, remembering.  The old fashioned clock standing on a shelf near the window ticked the minutes while both men pondered.  “I had injuries and was bleeding, a sure signal to any predators.  Despite their fear of a stranger such as I, several of the BaMbuti helped me.  When the search and rescue finally got to me, I had convinced my forest friends to hide.  The policy then was to assimilate any people found living in isolated groups.  He paused.  “Well, perhaps assimilate is too strong, but they would have been studied, offered the best of Directorate technology and wisdom.”

“And you felt they didn’t need or want it,” Hawk said simply.

“No, they were, and I suppose, still are, a simple people so in tune with their land that they seemed to me to be one with it.”

Hawk nodded and turned to his map.  “I perfectly understand, Brigadier.” 

“Perhaps the Directorate is wiser and more mature in its policies now, but who knows?”

Again, Hawk nodded and pointed to a place on the map.  “I found a pattern here and here; the movement of several individuals in this same geographical area and in the same direction.  I also saw something that could have been a larger person in the same area, but it was difficult to tell.  Cloud cover, the foliage made it virtually impossible to be sure.”

“Buck and several BaMbuti I would guess,” the Brigadier concurred. 

Hawk left the map and stood up.  “May I ask a favor of you?”

“Yes, of course.”

“If you hear nothing from me in several days, would you take this and what I have told you to Dr. Huer?” Hawk asked.

“Yes, I will, Hawk.” 

“I am going to try and contact both Dr. Huer and Col. Deering when I leave here, but they have been rather busy or distracted recently, and I am not going to wait,” Hawk said.  

Gordon knew that coming from someone else, the statement would have been slightly sarcastic, but the brigadier realized that from this birdman it was a simple statement, blunt and without judgment.  “I sensed, having known Col. Deering for some time, that she had taken Capt. Rogers’ crash hard,” the brigadier said.

“Yes.”

“Use my communicator, Hawk.  It will save you some time.”

“Thank you, Brigadier.”  Hawk followed the older man to another room. 

When the birdman contacted Dr. Huer’s office, the Directorate leader greeted him personally.  “Ah, Hawk.  I am sorry I haven’t been more available.  I finally read my messages and was trying to get a hold of you.  What do you need?”

“I understand, Dr. Huer.  I have enough information that I feel it necessary to fly out to this forest myself.”

“You believe that Buck might be….?” 

“Yes, Doctor and as I am not hampered by edicts of your council, I am flying out as soon as I finish speaking with you.  I tried to contact Wilma but she was unavailable.”  

“Yes, she was invited to the Lagrithian ship.  They wanted her to see and approve a floratat they had created, one that would be a permanent memorial to Buck,” Huer explained.

That puzzled Hawk a little, but he didn’t let it show on his face.  He felt he needed to leave soon and didn’t want to ponder on anything that would take his mind from the task at hand.  Too much time had already passed.  Hawk simply nodded.  “When she returns let her know what I am doing.”  

“I will, and Hawk,” Huer paused as though not sure what to say next.  “Good luck.  I hope you are right and you find him.  If you find . . . anything . . . and you need help, do not hesitate to contact me.”

“I will do that, Dr. Huer.”  Hawk turned off the communicator. 

“Nice people, those Lagrithians,” Gordon said behind him.  

“Yes,” Hawk replied, thinking the same thing.  He left the brigadier’s home and quickly went to the flight bay where his ship sat waiting.  Soon he was speeding east and into the dark night.  

 

 

 

 

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