Time and Again
Hawk knew there was a great deal that was being
left out, but as the implications of what Buck told him sank in, the
birdman gasped. “But why
would the Lagrithians do that? What
could they hope to gain?”
“How the hell should I know?! They want something!” Buck replied sharply.
Then he swiped his hand across his eyes, took a deep breath and
calmed down. “I’m sorry, Hawk. I didn’t mean to snap at you.
It’s been a horrific week and now….
Now, you have to get back to your ship and warn Dr. Huer.”
“No, we aren’t that far from my ship, Buck.
I went through the ten gates of Morphon to figure out where you
were; even while everyone else was mourning your death.
Now I have found you and I am not leaving you behind, especially
since you appear to need help getting to my ship.”
“Hawk, you don’t understand. They have to be warned.
And warned now! It
takes twelve hours to incubate and about a day to manifest itself.”
Buck’s eyes took on a haunted look.
“And then all you feel like doing is dying,” he said, his
voice almost a whisper.
Hawk gazed deeply into his friend’s eyes.
He knew what was going on in Buck’s mind, he felt he understood
this twentieth century Earthman better than most, but he kept seeing his
dying wife, Koori. He kept
seeing her life slipping away even as he and Buck had struggled against
that other forest. Hawk
felt that Buck was far from being well, so he was not going to leave
him, no matter what the consequences.
“My friend,” Hawk said softly, “Another hour will not
change anything. Do not
insist. I will not leave
you. I will stay with you
until we all reach my ship.”
Buck’s hazel eyes continued to hold his own and the desperation
began to soften and change to quiet despair.
“For Wilma, Hawk.
The birdman felt his heart wrench at his
friend’s plea. “Buck,
we will warn them in time. We
will get back to New Chicago in time.
I promise that. If
your calculations are correct, then Wilma won’t have had a chance to
get sick yet. And you
survived; she will survive. She
will have the best of New Chicago’s medical services to help her.”
Buck sighed and looked at the ground.
Hawk placed his hand on the Earthman’s shoulder.
“Buck, I remember when we went through a forest like this
together. We did it together.
We will go through this one together as well.
Do not ask me to do anything less.”
Buck looked back into Hawk’s eyes,
understanding what the birdman was referring to.
In his mind’s eye, he saw the forest of Koori’s death, felt
the pain of their failure, their guilt and their sorrow, and Buck
remembered the bonds of friendship and hope forged from the fires of
hate and despair. While
still wishing Hawk would go and give the warning, he understood
perfectly. He nodded.
Hearing a slight noise, Hawk pivoted and stared
at a small man that had not been there a second ago.
“Hawk, meet Njobo.
He saved my life.”
Hawk bowed and greeted the BaMbuti. “My
thanks to you,” he said simply.
Theo translated and Njobo smiled. “You are the one whom I saw in the shared-dream.
The one who flies without a sky sled.”
Hawk looked puzzled. Puzzled
at the dream reference and puzzled by the translation process, but he
felt all things would be explained in their own due time.
Buck said, “It’s a long story, Hawk.
Theo and Njobo can tell most of it on the way.
It gets a bit deep. But
we need to go, since no one seems to want to listen to me anymore,” he
added with an almost imperceptible smile.
They trudged through the forest, Hawk helping
Buck at times when the path was wide enough, simply slowing his pace and
watching his friend when it wasn’t.
Njobo continued to lead the small group unerringly toward the
clearing on a path that seemed straighter and easier than the one Hawk
had taken to find Buck. He could not understand how he could have missed it, but then
this was Njobo’s home. As
they negotiated the path back to the clearing, the birdman listened in
horror as Dr. Theopolis related the story of the Lagrithian’s
subterfuge and Buck’s subsequent ordeal.
Occasionally Buck would add a detail, but mostly he concentrated
on walking along the path.
After an hour, Hawk began watching his friend
with concern, and he wondered if Buck would make it to his starfighter.
Despite the BaMbuti’s care, Buck was still in need of
some serious medical attention. Hawk checked his locater and saw they had slightly less than
a quarter of a mile to his ship. “We’re
not far,” he said. “Let’s take a short break and then we can go
the rest of the way quickly.”
Buck glanced at him and smiled softly.
“Thanks, Hawk,” he murmured.
He continued to lean on his walking stick.
Njobo sat down in front of Buck. “Sit down,” he ordered, pulling the cup and his medicines
out of his dawa pouch.
“Won’t be able to get up if I do,” Buck
replied, but he did as he was told, realizing that it was futile to
argue with the dawa man. And
he had to admit, Njobo had not been wrong yet.
“What can I do?” Hawk asked both men.
Buck answered immediately, “Pray we get back
to New Chicago in time.”
Theo translated for Njobo and the BaMbuti pointed
to the forest and said, “I would like you to find some water.”
This time Buck translated for Hawk and added,
“Lots of times you’ll find water puddled in holes of tree trunks or
in large leaves or flowers.”
Hawk nodded and picked up the bucket.
With a glance toward Buck, he stepped beyond the path and was
soon lost from view.
“Buck, my sensors tell me that Hawk’s ship
is only three sixteenths of a mile distant.
I am not sure you can keep this up.”
“Theo, would you quit telling me what I
can’t do. I have to
make it! You jokers won’t
leave me to go contact the Directorate, so I have to.”
He sighed. “I have
to anyway,” he murmured more to himself than to anyone else.
Hawk soon returned. “I could not find any more
water in the near vicinity, but I thought this would be enough for
Njobo nodded when he looked in the bucket and
then began mixing his medicines.
“Njobo?” Buck began and then hesitated,
unsure of how to broach the subject that was on his mind.
“Your medicines were instrumental in saving my life.
Would it be possible for us to take samples of them back to New
Chicago with us? You can
tell Theo what each is used for.”
Njobo silently continued mixing the medicine
after Theo had translated, but he pondered Buck’s request.
As he had told his brother, he felt as though he had learned
enough of this man and his world to understand what was happening.
He knew the madmen were determined to kill everyone.
He also understood that the Forest was the means to saving the
whole world. And the Forest included him.
“Buck, Dream Sharer, it is not yet time for us
to part. And Thee-o could
not use or mix the medicines correctly.
You will take me as well as the medicines.
As fearful as this is to me, my dreams have told me this is to
be,” Njobo said. He
poured water into the cup, mixed the medicine, and handed the cup to
Buck stared at the BaMbuti in shock.
He thought he could understand to a certain degree what this kind
of trip might mean to this man of the forest.
To go from an almost stone age existence to something as modern
as New Chicago and the Inner City could possibly overwhelm the BaMbuti.
At least he had had a knowledge of some modern technology when he
had awakened in this century. “Njobo,
you have no idea what my world is like.
What my people are like. It
might be more than you can handle.”
“Buck, I know you and Thee-o and Twee-kee and
Hawk and Gor-don. I….”
did you say? Gordon?”
Buck asked. Could Njobo be
talking about Brigadier Gordon? He
remembered a picture that the Brigadier had shown him of his younger
days. “Would you be talking about a man not quite my height,
blond, um, light hair, blue eyes? A
sky sled pilot?” Theo
translated and Njobo nodded. Buck
began wondering what else he didn’t know about this man in front of
“Many years ago another sky sled crashed into
the Forest. The rider was
named Gor-don and he was hurt. Me,
my uncle and my father helped him until your people came to get him.
He promised not to tell of us.
Do you know Gor-don?”
“Yes, I believe so, Njobo.
I flew with him once.” Buck
felt that this might explain why Njobo had so quickly helped him.
The BaMbuti was already used to someone from New Chicago.
“Regardless, it will be strange to you, not peaceful like your
“Buck, through the shared dreams, I have seen
a small bit of your world, enough to make me sad that you and your
people do not have a forest to make them happy and to nurture them.
I also understand this fight against these madmen.
It was the Forest that saved you.
I understand the Forest and can help you save your friends.
The forest will be in my heart until I return, and I believe that
a part of the Forest will stay with your people even after I am gone.
Then they will be happy and that will make me happy.
I will come with you.”
Buck could say nothing for a moment.
“You’re sure?” he asked.
“Yes, I am sure, Buck.
My brother has been gathering medicine plants. They will be waiting at Hawk’s sky sled.”
“And New Chicago’s doctors will be able to
study why Njobo resisted the virus,” Theo said, excited.
“Thank you, Njobo,” Buck said, his voice
heavy with gratitude. He
drank the medicine the dawa man had given him.
He didn’t know what was in this particular concoction, but like
before, it gave him a little energy.
Enough so that Buck got up, dusted himself off and began walking
toward Hawk’s ship. “Let’s
go, troops. We have a plane to catch.”
Hawk shook his head at Buck’s attempt at
levity and fell in beside him. If
he had not seen what had happened to his people, the horrific genocide
of a once proud race, he would have been totally appalled by what had
been inflicted on his friend. But
very little surprised the birdman anymore.
By the time they had reached the small clearing,
another rain shower had passed overhead.
Buck stood leaning on the walking stick, trying to gather his
breath, while he gazed at Hawk’s ship.
He didn’t think he had ever seen anything quite so wonderful in
“You see, I told you that you would make
Buck simply nodded and walked haltingly toward
the starfighter. His feet
felt like lead weights. “Do
you think you could call Dr. Huer now?” he asked.
“Yes, but let me help you in first,” Hawk
said. With the birdman’s
help, Buck was soon resting in the back of the cockpit, squeezed between
Twiki and Theo, and Njobo, whose eyes looked fearfully at all the
instrumentation and blinking hardware inside the starship.
As Njobo had promised, there were plants, roots and other
medicinals waiting for them, and all had been stored in a small cargo
compartment in the belly of the starfighter.
The BaMbuti had insisted on keeping his dawa bag
and his molimo with him, however and they rested between
Njobo’s knees. Hawk
settled in the front of the cockpit and began the pre-flight sequence.
“Hawk, contact Dr. Huer now,” Buck insisted. He felt so tired, but this had to be done. “Tell them that Wilma and everyone she has come in contact with must be quarantined. And make sure it’s private,” he added. “I can’t help but think the Lagrithians will be monitoring everything they can to follow the progress of our demise.”
Hawk activated his communicator and directed a
call to Dr. Huer. The
Directorate leader responded almost immediately, his face hopeful and
expectant, studying the birdman for any clues.
“Hawk, did you have any success?”
“Yes, I did.
We are coming back now,” Hawk replied.
you did…. That’s
wonderful!” Huer’s face
lit up with joy.
“Listen, Doc,” Buck called out. “You’ve got to do something vital. Without delay.”
“Is this line private, totally private?”
“Why, yes, Buck,” Huer replied. He heard the urgency in Buck’s voice as well as the
listen. You have to
quarantine Wilma and anyone she’s come in contact with since she
returned from the Lagrithian ship.”
“What?” Huer said, not expecting anything
“Just do it, Doc.
And don’t make contact with the Lagrithians, either,” Buck
“But why, Buck?”
All of the walking, all of the past days in the
jungle were catching up with him. Buck
felt reality wavering and slipping away.
“Global genocide, Doctor Huer.”
He felt the vibration of Hawk’s ship and it lulled him.
“Trust me on this. Please.”
He felt Njobo’s hand clutching his arm and he murmured,
“You’ll be fine, Njobo, I promise.” And then reality finally relinquished its hold and he lay his
head back and fell asleep.
“And what part do the Lagrithians have in
this, Buck?” Huer asked, bewildered.
When Buck didn’t answer, Hawk looked back.
“Dr. Huer, Buck is unable to answer your question right now.
The Lagrithians are the ones who gave Buck and Wilma the
contagion. Whatever Buck has on his mind, I am sure he will tell you
later, but it is imperative that you do as Buck says.
We will be in New Chicago soon and then everything will be
explained. And as a
precaution, have a quarantine unit waiting for my ship as well. Buck
does not think he is contagious anymore, but he didn’t think you
should take any chances.”
“Very well, Hawk,” Huer said, his countenance suddenly tired as the full realization of what Buck and Hawk had conveyed to him set in. Hawk cut the communications, slowly lifted his ship into the fading light of late evening and headed west. As he rose above the canopy, he pushed the button that allowed his wings to flare outward and catch the air currents. The sub-light engines boosted the craft into a faster than sound speed that would quickly take them to New Chicago.