Time and Again

 

 

 

Chapter Sixteen

Good News, Bad News

 

 

Buck woke up from a dream, nightmare, he thought, of being run through a gauntlet, beaten with sticks and clubs.  He reached up to wipe the sweat from his face and found that part of his dream was true.  His joints protested any movement and his muscles ached abominably.  Slowly he sat up, groaning at the effort.  He saw Njobo by the fire pit, asleep, and Twiki and Theo at the edge of the little clearing, working.  At his movement, the drone turned to him, beeping happily. 

Again Buck guessed what Twiki was saying.  “Headache’s gone, not dizzy, not cold but I feel like I went nine rounds with Tigerman.”  He finally managed to sit up and lean against the backrest that he vaguely remembered Njobo making for him.  Even that little effort tired him out and he leaned back to rest. 

“Buck, Njobo left water for you nearby,” Theo told him.

Feeling the tendrils of alarm, Buck asked, “Njobo?”

“He said he was tired, Buck.”

“Only tired?  Not sick?” Buck asked.

“Only tired.  As far as I know, Njobo has not slept since he began taking care of you,” Theo explained. 

“Thank God,” Buck breathed fervently. 

“And I am happy to say that your fever has finally broken, Buck,” Theo added. 

Buck said nothing, concentrating instead on getting his fingers around the bamboo cup at his side.  He was dismayed at how weak and stiff his hand was.  This is nuts! he thought as he finally got his fingers to cooperate. 

“It would seem that this virus manifests itself with more than just a fever.  I had noticed before that you were in pain, but was more concerned about the high fever than about anything else,” Theo continued.

“Yeah, it would seem,” Buck said sardonically, finishing what was in the cup.  He laid it down and flexed his fingers.  “This is just something else I’m going to take up with the Lagrithians when I get back,” he growled.

Twiki beeped. 

“Keep trying to increase the power, Twiki,” Theo encouraged. 

Twiki beeped indignantly.  “I’m doing the best I can!”

“I know you are, Twiki.  And you have done a very fine job with the materials at hand,” Theo said soothingly. 

“Communicator problems?” Buck asked.

“We can only make a communication device that will signal a nearby starfighter, Buck,” Theo explained.  “We cannot make anything that will receive signals and we don’t have vocal capabilities.” 

Buck sighed.  “Just do the best you can.”

“Of course, Buck.  I cannot doubt that eventually a survey craft will come this way.  Probably New Chicago will send out a recovery team to gather all they can of your starfighter.”

“I know I should have dropped you two off in Australia,” he murmured, laying his head back and closing his eyes.

“No, Buck.  Twiki and I could never abandon you.” 

“Thanks, guys,” Buck mumbled.  He dozed off, waking up several hours later to see Njobo squatting by his side, a cup of stew in his hands. 

Flexing his fingers, Buck took the small cup and drank the savory broth, realizing for the first time in days, just how hungry he was.  “That’s good, Njobo,” he said appreciatively.

“You have pain, Buck?” Njobo asked. 

“Some, but not as much as I did before.  I’m mostly stiff,” he answered with a yawn.  “And I’m tired all the time.  All I want to do is sleep.”

Njobo handed him another cup of stew, this time it contained small chunks of meat.  “You need to eat more stew.  The meat is from the sondu.  It will give you strength.” 

Buck drank the broth and pulled out the chunks of meat with his fingers, chewing each piece slowly to savor the succulent taste.  “What’s a sondu?” he asked when he had finished.  Buck didn’t think he had eaten anything so delicious in his life. 

“It is a large antelope.  I will roast a piece over the fire for you for the next meal.  It, too, will give you strength."

“Hmm, can you make that a Porterhouse steak?” Buck joked.  He handed the cup back and stifled yet another yawn.

Njobo looked puzzled even after Theo’s translation.  “Never mind, Njobo.  I made a joke,” Buck said.

“Ah,” Njobo replied, nodding.   “Jokes are good.  It means you are getting better.”

Except for translating, Theo had kept quiet during the exchange.  Twiki was in the forest gathering wood for the night’s fire. 

Njobo left the hut and worked by the fire pit.  Buck couldn’t see what the BaMbuti was doing, but he had no doubt that he was mixing some other concoction to help make him well.  He remembered that in his day, many of the world’s ecologists had talked about the amount of medicines that had come from the rainforest plants.   Now he knew what they were talking about.   He wondered if they could be synthesized if the Lagrithians still managed to introduce this damnable virus to Earth.

“Buck,” Theo began.

“Yeah?”

“Show me your hands.”

Puzzled, Buck did so, palms up.

“No, Buck, the other way.

Buck did as he was told.  “What’s on your mind, Theo?”  The quad didn’t sound terribly happy.

For several seconds, Theo was quiet, only the blinking lights showing that he was thinking.   “Buck, it would seem that the virus works by attacking the victim’s red blood cells.  The fever was really symptomatic, the manifestation of your body’s intense fight against the virus.  The high fever probably also gave you the pain that you have had, but the weakness and lethargy indicates a low red blood count.”

Sighing, Buck looked at his fingernails and saw what Theo had noticed.  “Peachy.  So the reason I feel like something the cat beat up and then dragged in is because I’m anemic.”  

Theo had learned to understand his human friend’s sometimes strange sense of humor and antiquated phraseology fairly well.  “Yes, Buck.  And Njobo has the right idea.  You need to eat plenty of the meat he prepares as it is your best source of iron right now.”

“Okay,” Buck said.  “I think I can handle that.  Always did like a good broiled steak.”

Njobo returned and handed him the cup again.  “This will help you to regain strength.  I am thinking there will be much ahead and we will all need to be strong.” 

Buck paused before he drank what Njobo had given him.   He had felt something different about this man even while he was too sick to care about anything, and now he wondered what it was about the BaMbuti that suggested something mysterious and mystical.  “Njobo, are you some kind of shaman or something?” he asked. 

Njobo paused after Theo’s translation.   “I have been designated the doctor of my clan, mainly because I understand the forest much better than my relatives and my friends.  Always it is that way.  The one who understands the forest is the healer in our clans.”  He gazed at Buck meaningfully.   “Before I ever met you and your companions, I felt something different about you.”

“Uh, that’s how I feel about you, too, Njobo.”

“I feel that the Forest wanted us to meet for some reason.  I do not know what it is right now, but we will know when the time is right,” Njobo said solemnly.  “Now you eat what is in the cup.”

Buck did so, frowning at the slight taste that reminded him of his least favorite food when he was a boy.   He finished it and lay back to rest.   He was tired, but not ready to sleep.  There was something else that he needed to know.  “Njobo, are you feeling all right?”

“Yes, I only had a bit of pain in my head yesterday.  It is gone now.”

Buck pondered.  “Theo, why didn’t Njobo catch this?”  Then a thought came to his mind.  “It has to do with genetic make up, doesn’t it?”

Theo blinked for a few seconds, a manifestation of his thought processes.  “Yes, Buck, I believe you may be on the right track.  They used samples from you and Wilma, mainly Wilma, if what you are saying is correct.  Your genetic material and Wilma’s is different from other races of humans, although those differences are slight.  I would venture to say that even your microbiological material is slightly different.  Maybe that is a tiny factor in your survival.  I cannot say for sure in that case.”

“So, in other words, those of different racial backgrounds would be immune to this sickness,” Buck said, his voice animated.

“Maybe not immune, but at least a great deal less susceptible,” Theo replied.

Njobo handed Buck the cup again, this time filled with some kind of juice.  Buck looked down at the contents and then back up at his companions.  He thought of this latest development as he drank.  The more he thought, the funnier the irony seemed to him.  Finally, he couldn’t help it; he started laughing.  He laughed until tears rolled down his cheeks.  

Njobo looked happy, but at the same time puzzled.  Theo blinked and Twiki beeped.  “Buck, is something the matter?” Theo asked.  “Are you all right?”  The quad wondered if Buck’s illness might have caused some mental aberration. 

“Oh, no, Theo,” Buck said, wiping his eyes with his sleeve.  “Something is very right for a change.”

Theo said nothing to Buck, but translated the proceedings to Njobo as best he could. 

“Don’t you see, Theo?” Buck began.  “Those arrogant jackasses up there are hell bent to destroy the human race, but they made their contagion too specific to accomplish their goal.”

“It is a good joke, Buck,” Njobo added, “Against your enemies.”

Buck sobered.  “We still have to warn Dr. Huer, though, or the Lagrithians will succeed in destroying a good portion of Earth’s people.  And I don’t doubt that they will try again.”

“Tonight, Buck, we will try to boost the power of the communication device,” Theo assured his friend. 

“Thanks, guys.”  Buck flexed his fingers and made a fist.  It was a bit easier than it had been earlier.  “And I will begin to exercise a bit and loosen these board-stiff muscles.” 

“Do not overdo it, Buck,” Theo said. 

Buck sighed and listened to the pattering of rain on the leaf roof of his hut, a hut he was sincerely getting tired of.  “Theo, if we do get back to New Chicago, what are the odds of me still being contagious?  Back when I was a kid, if you had some kind of disease, say chicken pox, you were usually immune to it after the first exposure.”

“I would guess that the same would be true in this case, but we cannot be sure.  This is not a natural illness.  You would most likely have to be quarantined and tests run, to determine your condition, in so far as the virus is concerned.”

“Fair enough,” Buck murmured, feeling a desperate helpless frustration replace the humor he had previously experienced.  He felt sleepy again, and cursed his weakness and the Lagrithians even as he fell asleep.

                        

                                     =========================

 

Njobo sat on a limb and watched his brother who sat on the other end.   “I thank you, my brother.  I could not have saved the sky sled rider without your help.”

“He is still sick, but you are not,” Aberi said. 

“I had only a slight pain in my head.  I do not know exactly why, even though Thee-o has tried to explain it to me.  I only understood that we are different from Buck.”

“You told me of the madmen.  You also told me that Buck thinks the madmen will try to make the people of the whole Ndura sick again.”

“Yes,” Njobo said.  He sighed. 

“What are your thoughts, brother,” Aberi asked, concerned over all of this that he didn’t understand.

“It was the medicines that helped Buck get better.” 

Aberi shrugged.   “Of course.  The Forest is kind to its children, even those from far away.”

“In my dreams I see myself going with my new friends and helping them fight these madmen,” Njobo said softly.  “I see no other way.” 

Sucking in his breath, Aberi said, “Brother, Mangese, that will be a hard thing.  Surely someone who rides in a sled like the one that destroyed part of the forest cannot come from a place that is as comforting and nurturing as our Ndura is.”  Mabosu slipped down a vine and sat next to his uncle.  His eyes were large and fearful.

“I think this is what is needful and the Forest wants it.  When the time comes, I will know for sure.” 

Aberi nodded as Njobo slid down the trunk and walked back to the camp where the sick man and the two strange dawa men resided.

 

 

 

 

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