Time and Again

 

 

 

Chapter Two

The Assignment

 

 

Theo finally caught up with Buck in the training center.  His friend was sparring with another Directorate pilot, using long poles, or staves, as Buck had called them.   The practice was fast and furious with each man scoring points and neither seeming to have a clear advantage.  Sweat glistened on their bare torsos, and Buck’s hair hung down almost in his eyes.   Their breath was coming in gasps and Theo could only assume that this bout had been going on for some time.  Twiki couldn’t resist some well-placed encouragement for his friend.    Theo directed the drone to stand by the wall, well away from the two competitors, until the session was finished.  They didn’t have long to wait.  Within a few minutes, both men agreed to call the match a draw.  Buck stood bent over, panting, catching his breath.   The other pilot, a black man named Morgan, leaned on his stick, doing the same. 

While both men took a few minutes to recover from their bout, Theo wondered why humans were so competitive that they would allow something to go to the point of exhaustion like this.  He decided that it was just something that was.   In the meantime, Twiki took each man a towel.  “Good match, Buck!” he told his friend. 

“Thanks, Twiki,” Buck gasped, his eyes showing curiosity at the appearance of the drone and the quad in the training center. 

“Buck, that was some match,” Morgan said.  “You’ve practiced a bit since we last worked out.”

“Let me just say that I had practice staying alive the past seven months.  There’s some tough hombres out there in the galaxy,” Buck replied with a grin.   He wiped the sweat off his face and pulled on his shirt.   He gathered Morgan’s staff and put both his and his opponent’s away in the weapon’s rack.   “But I thank you for a great workout.  We’ll have to get together again sometime.” 

“I will consider that a challenge, Buck,” Morgan said.

“And next time I’ll whup you good,” Buck taunted good-naturedly. 

Morgan just gave a mock salute and sauntered out of the room.   Buck laughed and then turned to the drone and the quad.  “What’s up?” he asked.

“What does ‘whup’ mean, Buck?” Theo asked. 

“It means ‘kick butt’,” Buck replied, his voice teasing.  “It’s slang.  And I used the nice form.”

“It would appear that I asked the wrong question,” Theo returned dryly.   “What does ‘kick butt’ mean?” 

Twiki beeped.  “It means that Buck is going to beat him good next time.”

“Yes, yes, Twiki, I was beginning to get the impression that it had to do with beating one’s opponent.”

Buck laughed.  “Twiki’s right, Theo.   The next time we have a bout like that, I’m going to win.”   Buck rubbed the back of his neck with the towel and then repeated his question, “What’s up, Theo.  You usually don’t come down here.”

“You know that the Directorate has been attempting to terraform the Wastelands for some time,” Theo began.

“Uh, huh.  Wilma told me,” Buck replied, his curiosity piqued.  The sight of the Wastelands appalled him every time he saw them, mainly because he so vividly knew what the land had looked like in the past.  His land, his home.  The thought that the Directorate felt these lands could be reclaimed was heartening.  “She said something about contacting a terraforming firm.”

“Yes, we did find a group that specializes in those kinds of jobs.   Lagrithians have been doing this sort of thing for many years, beginning with their own planet.   Dr. Huer has chosen Wilma to head a small delegation to meet their ship, check out what they have in mind and negotiate a deal with them.” 

“Sounds great.  And I suppose you would like me to go with her?” said Buck, anticipating the computer councilman’s next sentence.

“Why, yes, Buck.  Dr. Huer believes that you are the one person best qualified to work with the Lagrithians on the technical aspects of the project,” Theo stated.

“Best qualified?  Me?  What gave him that idea?”

“You lived on Earth when it wasn’t contaminated and wasted.”

Full comprehension dawned.  “Ah, I get it.  I can help them decide what an area should look like when it’s been terraformed.”

“Yes, Buck.  And Twiki and I will round out the delegation.   Dr. Huer felt that we four have worked well together in the past.  We should do well in this assignment.” 

“Hmm, we do make a great team, don’t we?” Buck quipped.

“You got it, Buck!” Twiki quipped. 

“And this one is a nice sedate assignment,” Buck continued, ignoring the drone.  “No Princess Ardala, no espionage.” 

“That is a very big advantage, too,” Theo agreed. 

Twiki beeped and then said, “Rest and relaxation!”

“Sure, I’ll do it.  When do we leave?” Buck asked as they walked out of the room.

“The Lagrithians are scheduled to arrive in two solar days."

“Sounds like the Directorate was waiting til the last minute on this one, Theo,” Buck said, his voice teasing.

“The Directorate made initial contact, but wasn’t going to make any definite plans until they received a response from the Lagrithians, Captain Rogers,” Theo said almost reproachfully.  “It would seem that these people were very confident about our intent or else they were already in the vicinity.”

“I understand, Theo.  And look, I wasn’t trying to be critical,” Buck apologized.  Most of the time the quad could tell when he was not totally serious, but sometimes Theo didn’t quite catch on.  Even after a year and a half, it was still hard to get these folks to lighten up, but at least he didn’t have to explain what he was saying as much as he used to, he thought wryly.

“Dr. Huer wants you and Wilma to meet with him to discuss just how much the Directorate wants the Lagrithians to accomplish for us in this contract,” Theo added.

“Now?  Let me shower first, Theo.  Tell him I’ll be there in about twenty minutes, okay?”

“Of course, Buck.” 

 

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

 

“So these Lagrithians come with pretty hefty credentials, right?” Buck asked.   The older man in front of him, Dr. Huer, had just finished detailing the Lagrithian’s proposal.

“Yes, they do.  I have studied the work they have done and it’s quite impressive,” Dr. Huer said. 

“Well, pardon me if I sound a bit negative, but since I’ve been around in this century, there have been a great number of shady characters trying to put one over on the Earth Directorate,” Buck replied. 

“See for yourself, Buck,” Wilma interjected, handing him a disk.  “This shows some of their latest projects and the reports of those who have contracted with them.” 

“Who supplied this?” he asked cynically, holding up the disk.  “The Lagrithians?”

“Yes, but we also did some independent queries of our own, Buck,” Dr. Huer said.  “Why so hesitant about this?”

“I’m all for it, Doc, but I just want to be sure that these Lagrithians are on the up and up,” Buck explained. 

“Understandable, considering,” Dr. Huer said, nodding.  “And although it seems as though this was a hastily conceived project, the Directorate has been looking into this since before your awakening.  And when we first contacted these people, we also began checking on them with some of their galactic ‘neighbors’ as well as some of their clients.”

Buck shot a quick glance at Theo sitting on the table, Twiki standing nearby, but both the drone and the quad were quiet.  “Well, sounds pretty good,” he said, deciding not to make an issue of one or both of them telling Dr. Huer some of his previous thoughts. 

“We want you to study the disk and the other materials we have and then you can form an unbiased opinion, Buck,” Dr. Huer said.  “We definitely want you working on this, but only if you are comfortable with it.”

“Thanks, Doc.  I’ll look this over right now.”

“I don’t think you’ll find anything amiss, Buck,” Wilma said.  She smiled, excitement evident in the tone of her voice.  “This is going to be good for the reclamation of Earth.” 

Her excitement was contagious and Buck was eager to view the information.  Anything to get rid of the hideous Wastelands would be wonderful as far as he was concerned.  As he slipped the disk into the computer in his apartment, he watched the variety of reclamation projects that these Lagrithians had done for other worlds and he was impressed.  Immediately, Buck began to see the possibilities for area around New Chicago and understood Wilma’s excitement.  This was terraforming on a grand and marvelous scale.  Reclamation using floratats, they called it, and they worked closely with each planet’s experts to make the new landscapes as close to the older pristine lands as they could. 

On his own, Buck went down to the lab and used the memory probe to make a disk of areas that he best remembered from before the Great Holocaust.   He remembered the beaches of Florida, the plains of his own home state, the rolling, green mountains of Tennessee and Virginia, the more rugged mountains of Colorado, the deserts of Arizona.   He tried to remember the details and the more he remembered, the more excited he became.  It would be good to sit under the sun out in the country, feeling grass under his feet and hearing birds twittering in the trees.  And with more flora, there would be more oxygen, which would in turn increase the fauna.  It was a win-win situation as far as Buck could see. 

 

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

 

Two days later, Buck and Wilma rose through the defensive gate to meet the orbiting Lagrithians.   Twiki and Theo sat in the back seat of Buck’s fighter, which flew not far from Wilma’s starboard wing-tip.  It wasn’t long before the Lagrithian’s starship appeared on their scopes. 

“Holy mackerel, Wilma, are my readings right?” he asked.  “If so, this thing is bigger than Princess Ardala’s flagship.”

“They must be right.  I’m getting the same reading.”

“Greetings, Col. Deering, Capt. Rogers and Dr. Theopolis. We are expecting you.  Please proceed to the docking bay indicated on your navigational system,” a voice intoned.

“Affirmative,” Wilma answered. 

Eagerly, Buck watched for the ship to come into his view.  It didn’t take long.  “That thing is huge!” he breathed.   The ship consisted mainly of a central framework to which numerous large pods were attached.  Looking at the data that was showing on his monitor, he noted that the smallest such construct was the size of a football field.   They approached the aft pod, which was apparently the landing bay.  Soon they were inside the starship and standing outside their fighters. 

A tall, thin humanoid with nut-brown skin and feathery hair met them.  “Please, come with me.”

Buck touched the translator he was wearing in his right ear.  Even though small and unobtrusive, it was still a bit uncomfortable, but he was told that this was the best means of communication with the musical voiced Lagrithians.  Even with the translator, he could hear the melodious lilt of their words.    What they used as translation devices was unknown to him.   But what had continually amazed Buck was the extent that ‘terra-lingua’ had spread through the galaxy and even beyond.  The use of a translator was extremely rare.  Most peoples he had run into used the formal type of English that everyone in New Chicago spoke. 

They walked down a long corridor and stepped into an elevator or transport of some kind and Buck felt the gentle motion of their passage.  Very soon he felt the motion cease and the door opened showing a vista that all but took his breath away.  He stepped out, his eyes large in awe, to something that he would never have believed if he wasn’t here viewing it.

“It’s beautiful,” Wilma breathed next to him.  Amazement was evident in her voice as well.  For once Dr. Theopolis was silence. 

“This is some view,” Twiki spoke for them all.

 

 

 

 

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