Time and Again

 

 

 

 

Chapter Eighteen

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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.

“Buck.”  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.  Please?”

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.” 

Buck translated.  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 now.” 

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.

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….”

“What?  Who 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 him.

“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 forest is.”

“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 his life. 

“You see, I told you that you would make it.”

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. 

“We?  Then 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.”

“Buck?  Thank goodness you’re….”

“Is this line private, totally private?” Buck interrupted.

“Why, yes, Buck,” Huer replied.  He heard the urgency in Buck’s voice as well as the fatigue. 

“Good.  Now 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 like that. 

“Just do it, Doc.  And don’t make contact with the Lagrithians, either,” Buck told him. 

“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.

 

 

 

 

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