Time and Again
Even while Dr. Huer was contemplating the
minute, but horrifying bit of information that Buck and Hawk had given
him, his mind was rejoicing that Buck was alive.
He did not in the least question Captain Roger’s directives; it
was only a matter of how to deal with the tremor effect of what he was
about to do. This kind of
activity couldn’t be hidden from the public for too long and a shocked
and frightened public would be clamoring for explanations.
However, Buck’s warning would allow the Directorate to contain
this virus and keep a disaster of holocaustic proportions from
genocide? he repeated in his mind.
Why? What were the Lagrithians’ motives? What did they want? What
in the world would cause someone to unleash bio-hazardous materials on a
world with whom they weren’t even at war?
First he had to contact the Directorate’s
Bio-Hazard team. Then he
would contact Wilma to find out everyone she had been in contact with
since her return from the Lagrithian ship.
She should be home by now. She
had complained of a headache even while they were together just over an
“Headache,” he whispered.
Dr. Huer felt a cold fist gripping his heart. Global genocide! And
they were using Buck and Wilma as its carriers. Was a headache the first manifestation of the
contagion? If so, it was an
incredibly fast acting virus. It
was a wonder that Buck managed to make a controlled landing.
Or had they made it even more deadly in the days following
Buck’s so-called ‘death?’
He opened the link to Wilma’s apartment.
He had to contact her first.
He had to know if she was all right.
There was no response. The
fist of fear gripped harder and his breath caught in his throat.
He called again, but there was still no response.
He keyed another number, one he had hoped he
would never have to use. The
possibility of contagion borne of nuclear mutation was something for
which the Directorate had planned for some years ago.
Now he was going to see just how effective it was.
And hope it wasn’t too late for Wilma.
The moon-faced countenance of Colonel Dirk
Millard appeared on the screen. “Colonel
Millard, this is Dr. Huer.”
“Yes, sir,” Millard responded crisply.
“What can I do for you, sir?”
He was a fairly young man, but quite capable, he was told, of
handling emergencies and taking charge.
“Mobilize your bio-hazard units. We have a confirmed contagion.”
The colonel’s eyes first showed surprise, then fear and then
the training kicked in. Huer
continued, “You will first go to Colonel Deering’s apartment and
take her to the quarantine unit. She
is already symptomatic and may not be responsive.
Secure her quarters. Do
the same with all persons she says, if she is able to tell you, that she
came in contact with today. I
am sending you a partial list of contacts.
You will send a squad here and follow the same procedure.
You must do this quickly and discreetly, Colonel.”
Huer took a deep breath to allow Millard a moment to assimilate
all of this. “Finally,
you will direct the starfighter of Searcher crewmember, Hawk, to
a landing bay specially designated for this emergency and escort all
passengers to the quarantine area.”
As he was giving the verbal instructions, Huer was also sending
the contact data. “Are you clear on your instructions, Colonel?”
“Yes, sir, Dr. Huer.
I assume this is a Class I exercise?”
“Yes, only those being quarantined are to know
what is going on.”
Reaching for his computer, Huer cut the link.
He began gathering those things that were essential to him in the
running of the government. When
the bio-hazard squad arrived, he was ready, submitting to wearing the
bulky contamination suit. Hopefully,
most of those in the hallways would think the unit was running a drill.
Thanks to Col. Millard’s diligence, they ran them quite often.
That would offset any questions or panic for a while, anyway.
Thank goodness for small favors, he thought .
When they arrived at the landing bay being set
aside by the bio-hazard unit, he asked, “Colonel Deering?”
“She is in the medical bay.
We were unable to get any information from her.
As you suspected, she was unconscious when we got there.
If you like, we can take you to her, since you, well, since you
“Yes, I know, Colonel and, yes, I want to see Wilma.” The fear that Huer had forced into the far corner of his mind surged forward. Surely Buck’s warning had not come too late. It couldn’t have. His mind spun trying to think all this through. Buck was contaminated with the same contagion, but he had survived and without the aid of New Chicago’s doctors. Wilma could do the same. Then he paused in mid-thought. Buck has survived this virus; his cells might be able to provide the clues to develop a serum against it. “I want to see her before I meet Hawk and . . . and his passenger.”
Wilma heard voices, felt the harshness of the
bright lights against her eyelids, but she could not respond. She could only feel pain, a harsh excruciating agony that
seemed to beat against every atom in her body.
If it would only go away, she thought.
Very seldom had she gotten sick, usually she was fit and healthy,
but now? Now she only
wanted to die.
What had they said when they came to her
apartment. Put under
For a headache? Something
about a contagious virus. If
that was what was causing this, she sincerely wished no one else got it.
No one else should go through this.
The pain was accompanied with heat.
An unquenchable fire that seemed to be fed by the pain.
a voice impinged into her misery. Buck?
No, Buck is dead. Dr.
Huer. That’s who it was.
She didn’t open her eyes, but she answered,
her voice barely audible. “Dr.
“Yes, my child.
I am here.” His
voice was soft and soothing.
“What’s wrong with me?” she asked. She felt tears rolling down her cheeks, hot tears of her
“The Lagrithians infected you with a
Even in her misery, Wilma’s mind cried out
Dr. Huer must have anticipated her question.
“They apparently wanted to wipe out the population.
Why, I don’t know.”
That’s why he….” Her
voice failed her and the sentence ended in a moan.
“Yes, that’s why Buck crashed his ship.”
The pain seemed to be increasing, if that was
possible. The fire in her soul seemed to be consuming her.
She couldn’t concentrate on Dr. Huer’s words.
“Wilma, Buck survived this.
You can, too.”
“Buck’s dead,” she whispered. Blackness began overtaking her.
At least he went quickly in that crash, she thought as she
slipped into semi-pain free oblivion.
“No, he’s alive, Wilma.
He’s alive and he’s coming home,” Huer said, but he
didn’t know if she heard him or not.
The hand he was holding went limp.
The med tech attending to Wilma came over and checked her vital signs, shooing him out of the room.
Njobo felt alone, totally, absolutely alone.
Even during the times when he had been in the forest by himself,
he had never felt this alone. He had always had the Forest around him, part of him.
Now he only felt the deadness of the sky sled.
The vibration of the craft did not lull him as it seemed to have
done with Buck, it just reminded him of how far behind the forest, his
home, his life, was.
“Perhaps you should sing on your molimo,
Njobo,” Theo suggested, his voice soothing.
Leaning forward, Njobo gazed at the little round
box that was Thee-o and nodded. “You
are very wise. Thank
you,” Njobo murmured. He
looked down at the dawa pouch between his knees and saw the molimo,
sticking out invitingly. He
reached for the small bamboo trumpet, and although it was very cramped
in this space in the back of the sky sled, he was able to pull it out
and raise it to his lips. He
began to sing softly, so as to not disturb Hawk as he guided the sled.
Njobo sang of the trees, the flowers, the rain and the animals.
He sang so the Forest would not forget him.
He sang to sooth his soul and to keep a piece of his Ndura
with him while he was away. While
he sang he felt Buck’s dreams weaving themselves through his mind and
he saw stars with a clarity he had never seen before.
Njobo felt he could reach out and touch them.
But then he realized that he was not looking up
at them, he was among them. Njobo
almost dropped the molimo; he was so astonished.
The heavenly lights winked in colors as numerous as the flowers
in his own forest. Plumes
of feathery substance flowed around him and seemed to wave in a slow
dance of wonder. Njobo
realized, in amazement that Buck did not ride his sky sled just above
the canopy only, but also through the heavens, through the dark starlit
sky that he had only wondered about.
And that was where these madmen resided as well.
While still confused beyond measure, Njobo understood better than
he had before. The heavens must be Buck and his people’s Ndura,
their Forest, that which sustains and makes happy, just as his home
sustained and made him and the BaMbuti happy.
But that was not totally true, Njobo realized in the same
instant. It was the heavens
and the forest combined that nurtured these people that Buck belonged
As he continued to sing, he saw a huge,
monstrous structure in the vaulted ceiling of the heavens, its spires
larger than any limb ever put out by his forest.
He went inside this structure and saw people of numerous shapes,
sizes and colors. Then he
flew back out again and saw the Ndura, the whole world before
him, a huge blue, green, and brown orb, beautiful and stately.
His song began to incorporate the stars and the beautiful world
before him. He immediately
saw where his Forest was, but that was not where Buck’s dream self was
They sped over the same land Njobo had seen
before, the harsh and barren area that had little or no vegetation
growing on it. They
approached something that reminded Njobo of a forest but it was nothing
that had grown from the ground. These
were huge huts that had been constructed, put together by men.
They were made from stone and dead trees and things he could not
The sky sled went into an area of bright lights
where men and women were waiting, most dressed as Buck was dressed, in
white garments that covered their bodies.
A woman with earth brown hair smiled, her happiness apparent. An older man, a mangese, Njobo perceived, also smiled
happily. Njobo realized
that these people were able to find happiness in their lives here in
this strange habitation. They
gave and received their happiness from each other and not just from the
forest, although Njobo felt a portion of the Forest’s influence even
in this place. It had to be
the ground. The ground
nurtured these people like Buck. Njobo
stopped pondering and let the music of his Ndura and Buck’s
mingle and blend. It was
pleasant and it helped still the fear that separation from his Forest
had placed in his heart. His
song softened and then ceased as Njobo dozed in the cramped seat of the
sky sled, his molimo lying peacefully on his lap.
Hawk gazed out of the view screen in wonder as
the notes of the BaMbuti’s song faded.
He had felt he had been seeing things through another’s eyes
and he had been soothed and entranced.
He wished it could have continued, for he had felt the melodies
and heard the notes of his own people flowing through his mind and
coursing through his blood. He
even thought he had heard the notes from one of Koori’s songs floating
in the air.
“How far are we from New Chicago?” Buck
asked, interrupting Hawk’s reverie.
“Close enough to make contact soon, Buck,”
Hawk responded. “How are
“Much better than I was a few hours ago.”
He paused. “Hawk,
did Njobo sing into his molimo?”
“Yes, and it was amazing.
Is that what he referred to as sharer of dreams?” Hawk asked.
this time I think he was mostly taking my dreams and incorporating them
into his song. I dreamed I
was traveling among the stars.”
“And I heard the celebration songs of my
people,” Hawk said.
“It’s incredible what has survived the
holocaust or come out of it,” Buck pondered aloud.
“Your friend seems to consider his forest as
some kind of entity.”
“Maybe it is, Hawk.
Who knows? Through
Njobo’s expertise, it has saved me,” Buck said contemplatively.
“Searcher starfighter 227, this is New
Chicago. You are directed
to hangar thirty,” an austere voice directed.
Buck felt a quick surge of joy. He was coming home. The flowing wasteland didn’t bother him
like it had before, he simply ignored it, and he watched eagerly for the
spires of New Chicago to come into view.
If not for the Lagrithian threat, his joy would be complete.
“Home, Sweet, Home,” Twiki said, echoing
Buck’s sentiments. Only
when Hawk had landed did Buck touch Njobo on the arm and awaken him. “Stay close to me,” he told the BaMbuti.
Theo translated and Njobo nodded.
Hawk undogged the hatch and stood up.
Bio-hazard technicians stood nearby, as did Dr. Huer.
“Buck, let me give you a hand,” Hawk
“Hey, when I was ‘dead’ before, I walked
out of my craft under my own power.
I’m fine. You help
Twiki and Njobo and I will take care of myself,” Buck replied
jauntily. I hope, he
thought. He helped Twiki
into Hawk’s waiting hands and did the same for Njobo.
Twiki slid into the arms of a bio-hazard technician, while Njobo
stayed by Hawk’s side until the birdman jumped down.
“Let us see how good your words are, my
friend,” Hawk quipped as he helped Njobo to the ground.
Buck felt like a player in a for-stakes poker game.
His bluff had been called and now he had to play the hand.
He grabbed Hawk’s chair and pulled himself up.
But he took no chances on jumping down from the wing of Hawk’s
ship; rather he used the recessed steps in the fuselage.
When he was on the ground he turned and accepted Dr. Huer’s
“Welcome home, Buck.”
The older man’s eyes were filled with unshed tears of happiness
and he was grinning from ear to ear.
Buck found himself smiling back, happy to be home. Nearby, the technicians were gaping openly. “Reports of my death are highly exaggerated,” he laughed, enjoying his homecoming as much as he was enjoying their discomfiture.