Time and Again

 

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-four

Endings and Beginnings

 

 

Several days later, Buck sped back toward the rainforest; this time, the circumstances were much different.  This time he had Njobo next to him and Twiki and Theo in the back.  He was well, the virus contained. 

“Buck, I hope you return to the Forest someday,” the BaMbuti said.

“I hope so, too, although I will soon be on another journey with the Searcher.  It may be awhile before I get back.”

“Your Ndura is much bigger than my Forest and even this world.  But you carry a small part of the Forest with you.  I know you will return when you can,” Njobo said with surety. 

“Yes, I will, Njobo, whenever it’s possible.  As will Dr. Huer and Brigadier Gordon,” Buck replied. 

“You said the mangese, Dr. Huer, will be able to visit more often,” Njobo said.  “I welcome that. As well as visits from my friend, Gor-don.”

Buck was happy an agreement had been reached where the forest people would be allowed to live in peace, only making contact when they chose.  Also gratifying was the research that would determine the reason why the forest was spreading and had grown into former wasteland areas.  That information might allow the Directorate to reclaim parts of the wasteland on other continents. 

Carefully, Buck set the starfighter into the same clearing his first starfighter had crashed in, seemingly so long ago.  Undogging the hatch, Buck shoved it back and stood up.  The richness of the vegetation hit him like a wave.  It was the scent of heady blooming flowers and decaying vegetation.  It was almost overwhelming humidity and heat.  Beside him, Njobo cried out his joy and scrambled out of Buck’s starfighter, his face suffused with intense pleasure.  Buck smiled, happy for his friend and then followed him.   While Njobo had done very well in New Chicago, the star pilot knew that the BaMbuti was living for the day he would return to his home.   Buck noticed that vegetation was already beginning to cover the scars of his crash.

“Njobo,” Buck said, interrupting the pygmy’s silent celebration.  “You know how grateful the Directorate is for your help in saving Earth.  And how grateful they are for allowing access to parts of your forest to help rebuild some of the ravaged areas of Earth.”

“Buck, the Forest wants its children to be happy,” Njobo said, repeating his philosophy.  “It is only right for Dr. Huer and his friends to help the Forest grow near New Chicago and for the forest medicines to help your people feel good.”

“I know.  And you also know how grateful I am to you for saving my life,” Buck added.  Both men stood and listened to the rich sounds, scents and sight of the forest.

“The Song of the Forest,” Njobo said.  He paused and looked toward the deep blue sky overhead.  “The madmen.  I am glad that they can be happy, too.  That all of the people of the Ndura above are helping them to purge their madness.”

Buck was also glad that the Galactic Council was so quick to work on a solution to the problem that had led the Lagrithians to take such drastic action against Earth.  “Yes, hopefully their problems will be solved and their people saved.”  He walked among the new vegetation of the clearing.  “I will be leaving Earth soon,” Buck finally said.  “But even so, I will never forget you.”

“Nor I, you.”  Njobo pulled his molimo out from his pouch and gave it to Buck.  “Take this.  Sing your songs, the songs of the stars, the forest and wherever you are.  And we will both remember.  Perhaps we will still share dreams.”

“Thank you, Njobo.  This means a lot to me.”  Buck felt badly that he didn’t have a gift. 

As though reading his mind, Njobo said, “You have given me much, Buck.  I will forever dream and sing the songs of the stars.  My family and friends will hear the same songs and they will be happy as well.”

“Thank you,” Buck repeated softly. 

“Let me see your molimo for a moment,” Njobo said, holding his hand out, feeling the great need to make one last song.   Putting the instrument to his lips he began to sing, his voice soft and distant. 

To Buck the song seemed far away, like the distant past of his previous life.  It reminded him of his home that was, as well as the places among the stars where he had been, far away, but close enough to touch, to carry in his soul.  It was a short song, but when Njobo finished, even the forest was subdued for a moment. 

Finally, Njobo handed the molimo back to Buck.  He pulled out another molimo he had made while in New Chicago.  It was made of plastic, but as Njobo had told Buck, it was the song that counted, the molimo was only the carrier.  “Let us sing this song together.   Somehow, I feel you may need to sing it someday.  Add to it your own song.”  

While Buck was puzzled at Njobo’s request, he didn’t question it.  He had only tried out the molimo once and had not felt the same power as when Njobo used it.  However, this time when the two men sang together, Buck’s rich tenor mingling with Njobo’s slightly higher pitched voice, he felt something almost as powerful as the molimo dreams he had experienced while he was sick.   After they had sung together, Buck repeated the song alone, adding a small melody at the end.  While it was not as powerful, Buck still felt a chill go up and down his spine.  And the melody and the words stayed vivid in his mind. 

Buck nodded, and kneeling down, embraced the BaMbuti, who despite their physical differences, had treated him as he would a brother.   Twiki and Theo said their good-byes and the three climbed back into the starfighter, while Njobo watched from the edge of the clearing.  As they rose slowly toward the canopy, Buck saw another BaMbuti join Njobo.  They waved and then disappeared into the forest.  Soon the starfighter was heading west, back to New Chicago.   

 

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A week before the departure of the Searcher, Buck stood on the edge of a yawning precipice feeling distinctly nervous.  It seemed rather ironic to him.  Here he was a crack pilot for Earth’s Defense Directorate and had flown aircraft of all sorts in two separate centuries, and now he stood at the top of a thousand foot plus cliff--afraid. 

“Are you going to stand there admiring the magnificence of this splendid view or are you going to join me?” Hawk asked, his mouth quirked in what Buck would have sworn was a half smile.

“Admiration is not exactly what was on my mind and you know it,” Buck replied sardonically.

“Buck, you told me people did something similar in your day.”

“Idiots did something similar in my day, I didn’t!”  Buck looked back at Wilma, who was sitting on a rock watching.  She was trying very unsuccessfully to contain her amusement. 

Getting up, she walked to the edge, standing near him.  “Only a thousand feet, Buck,” she said.  “Shouldn’t be any trouble for a starfighter jockey.”  She squeezed his hand and helped him put on the quasi-wings.  He and Hawk had practiced in the wind chamber in the month since the containment of the virus, as had Wilma, who had not yet been given a medical release to fly over the Grand Canyon.   Buck had done well in the chamber, but that was a far cry from this cliff and the butterflies in his stomach, in just the past five minutes, had multiplied one hundred fold. 

“Come, Buck.  You promised,” Hawk coaxed. 

Yes, he had, he thought ruefully.  With that in mind, he decided he’d better get this over with.  Buck checked the gauges and controls.  Made sure of the fastenings, took one step and then leaped from the cliff.  He and his stomach dropped about fifty feet, and then he moved his arms slightly and the quasi-wings caught the air currents.  Buck remembered his leg position and the air currents caught under the wings and lifted him up.  He soared up above the cliff and continued to soar for another hundred feet, gently adjusting the angle of the wings with slight movements of his arms and hands.  The tiny gauges showed his air speed and altitude.  The warm air blew in his face, but the goggles remained snug. 

Buck experimented, banking and locating thermals.  He began finding joy in this twenty-fifth century form of hang gliding and wished he had tried it before.  Muscles in his arms, shoulders and back stretched as the air currents continued to lift the quasi-wings.

“I told you this was enjoyable, did I not?” Hawk shouted as he flew alongside.

Buck smiled.  “You did.”   

But deep inside Hawk felt more than just enjoyment.  He felt the freedom of flight that his ancestors had reveled in; he felt the restoration of his soul, a joy transcending anything else.  Freedom, wonder, peace.  He soared above his friend, whom he observed was discovering a similar joy, as he knew Buck would.   Hawk continued to soar higher and higher.   He felt the warm air currents caressing his body, almost like fingers of love, and he thought of Koori.  He almost moaned, his emotions were so overwhelming.  Koori!  Oh, Koori!  And he felt the presence of someone beside him.  Unseen, but there, nonetheless, and that, too, added to his joy. Koori.  He heard the soft laughter of Koori’s voice in his heart and he laughed with her.   Finally, he moved his hands slightly and banked, flying to a lower level where Buck was still getting used to his quasi wings. 

Buck grinned his pleasure, then he, too, banked and plummeted toward the cliff where Wilma stood near the starfighters. Fifty feet above the ground he leveled and found another air current.  Buck continued for almost an hour until Hawk convinced him it was time to land.  Reluctantly, Buck complied, knowing there’d be hell to pay with sore muscles if he didn’t.  Flaring the quasi-wing panels to allow him to dive one last time, he banked at the end of his dive, drew in his legs, at the same time tilting the plane of the quasi-wings to cut his air speed.  As he approached the ground, he cut his air speed even more until it was safe to touch ground.  As it was, Buck almost fell over.  Wilma caught him in a hug, laughing along with him at the awkward landing. 

Hawk landed lightly nearby and deftly shed the wings.  He and Wilma helped Buck take off his wings. 

“Now are you glad you came?”  Hawk’s smile showed his own intense pleasure of this experience.

“Yes, I admit it.  That was exhilarating,” Buck replied, breathlessly.

“And there will be three of us next time,” Wilma exclaimed.  “Whether the doctor says I’m ready or not.”

“There is no reason why you cannot.  Your muscles should be strong enough in a few more days,” Hawk told her.

“Of course you will, Wilma,” Buck said, pulling her close in a reassuring hug. 

Several days later two large figures and a slightly smaller one soared over the magnificent east rim of the Grand Canyon celebrating friendship, loyalty, and triumph.  They celebrated love and freedom.  They celebrated life.

 

The End

 

 

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