Time and Again

 

 

 

Chapter Three

Repast

 

 

The vista stretching before them was spectacular and Buck Rogers felt himself holding his breath in amazement.  Although he knew that the room before him was no larger than an NFL football field, his eyes and mind were telling him that it was endless, stretching to a far terrestrial horizon. 

“This is beautiful,” Wilma murmured.  “To think that Earth could look like this.”

“Let’s not be greedy, Wilma.  I would be happy for the way it was five hundred years ago.  You know, a bit of smog, long lines in the grocery store, the things that make life interesting.”  He paused and felt the inanity of what he had just said.  “This is like Paradise,” he added in a more serious tone.  “I would think that perfection would become boring, but after seeing this, I don’t think so.”  Despite his wisecracks, though, he was impressed with what the Lagrithians had accomplished. 

“This is a duplicate of what we have done on our own world of Lagrith,” their hostess said.

‘This’ was a panorama of gently rolling hills, each covered with a bluish-green, almost golf green type grass.  Red, blue, yellow and white flowers waved gently on slender stalks.  The generated breeze carried a slight whiff that reminded Buck of freshly mowed grass and spring rain.  He smelled a heady but not overwhelming floral scent.  The soft light made him want to lie out on the grass and take a nap.  Along one side of the ‘terra’ formed chamber a small creek flowed over vari-colored rocks, gurgling and splashing merrily.  Several types of trees lined the creek, some small with tiny limbs covered with purplish colored moss.  Others, some with silvery bark and rust hued leaves, hung slender limbs over the icy blue water.  The sound of the water was calming and like everything else in the chamber, soothed the senses and pleased the eye. 

“Surely you are not serious, Buck.  With only a few modifications, this would be very much what we need on Earth,” Theo said. 

“Of course I wasn’t serious, Theo,” Buck replied.  “It is beautiful.”  He gazed at the area before him with intense longing.  It took him back again, just as his letter had, to a time not long before his launch when he had spent the afternoon in a park with his family.  It was not as lush green as this, but he remembered the warm sun, the breeze blowing through the palms and eucalyptus, bringing the heady tang of salt air to the picnic area, which was near a beach.  Buck sighed lustily and let his memories continue. 

His mother spread out tablecloths on two picnic tables.  Buck even remembered their color, a blue and white checked one and a red and white checked one.  The paper plates had a space motif, with planets and stars and space ships.  One of the ships resembled his own Ranger class ship.  

She had brought the fixings for hoagies, something that had been his favorite in Chicago.  Someone had told him that you could find anything in Florida and Buck had found that to be true.  His mother had bought salamis and cheeses that rivaled anything in a Chicago deli.  All the condiments sat in plates awaiting the ritual building of a Rogers’ hoagie, one that was almost too big to put one’s mouth around.  His father built a huge sandwich and then took a bite. 

“James!” his mother cried out.  “You know we say grace first.”  Buck had grinned broadly at the time.  This was almost an everyday occurrence when he was growing up.  He figured Dad did it mainly to aggravate his mother. 

His father had looked at him, suddenly serious and said, “You say it, William.”

After eating, Buck had taken his young nieces and nephews to the beach. Laughing, he had tossed eight-year-old William into the surf and then leaped in after him. It had been a glorious day, one that preceded the much anticipated launch that he had spent so much time training for.

“Buck, are you all right?” Wilma asked, bringing him out of his reverie.  She was worried about her companion’s recent bouts of moodiness, some of which seemed to border on depression.  She felt for him and wished that he would confide in her, if nothing else to relieve whatever it was he was bottling up inside.  Wilma ached for him. 

He shook his head, reluctantly coming back to the present.  “Yeah, I’m fine, Wilma,” he assured her.  “Just remembering.”

“You may walk around, experience what we have created,” the Lagrithian said softly. 

Her emerald green eyes were large and luminous, but soft, almost like the eyes of a doe, Buck thought.  She was tall and willowy, almost as tall as he was.   She resembled a slender tree, a sapling, supple and pliant, her fingers long, thin and expressive.  Her skin was almost like that of a smooth bark, nut brown, but soft.  Her nose and mouth, however, seemed almost Grecian and she was smiling at him.  “You are preparing to buy our services and expertise.  You must be able to use all tactile facilities to make a judgment,” she added.

Buck walked out on the slightly spongy surface, knelt down and felt the ‘grass.’  He strode down to the creek and stood on the bank.  Then he sat down, and on a whim, pulled off his flight boots and socks and stuck his feet in the water.  “Yow!” he cried. “This is cold!”

“We can increase the temperature, if you prefer,” the Lagrithian said softly. 

Buck laughed.  “No, no, it’s fine.  This is just like when I was in Colorado,” he said.  “Any fish in here?  Sure wouldn’t mind doing some fishing.”

“Fish?” the Lagrithian asked, puzzled.  Then comprehension dawned.  “We did not provide for fauna.  We leave that up to our customers to add to the reestablished land forms.”

Wilma sat down next to Buck, but chose not to check out the water as he had.  She gazed surreptitiously at her comrade. 

“I will leave you so you can enjoy the floritat,” the Lagrithian told them.

“Thank you, um . . . what is your name?” Buck asked, somewhat ashamed he hadn’t asked before.

“I am Breearth,” she said, bowing slightly and then turning and gliding out of the room.

Buck wiggled his toes and then shivered and pulled his feet out of the water.  He let the warm breeze dry them off before putting his socks and boots back on.

“Buck,” Wilma began, when she had waved Twiki and Dr. Theopolis away. 

“Hmm?”

“You know, when we returned back home, I was happy.  It’s wonderful to be able to visit the stars, searching, exploring and being able to see other worlds, but I was glad to be back home, too,” she said.  Buck nodded, but said nothing. Wilma knew she might be treading into territory Buck didn’t want to explore, but she felt she had to.   “But you seem to me to be exhibiting the sure signs of homesickness even though we have returned home.”

Sighing, Buck turned to her.  “I thought I had totally gotten used to my new life, this era, but I still can’t help but yearn for a bit of my home, even though I know that’s impossible.  I don’t know.  It’s kind of strange, wanting to be part of something so badly, but somehow still not being able to.”  He paused a moment.  “Am I making sense?  I sometimes dream that I am walking down State Street-- as it was, not as it is now.  I see the beaches, mountains and plains as they were, not the slag heaps some of them became.” 

“You are making perfect sense, Buck,” Wilma said.  “I can’t begin to imagine what it would be like to be jerked from one era to another, to something so totally different.”  She, too, paused, then added, “The Directorate wanted you to help with this project for accuracy sake, because you actually know what it was like before the Great Holocaust.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“We want what you had, Buck.  We want it badly, but if it will be too difficult for you….”

“No, I really do want to help,” he replied.  “This is just something that I have to work out in my head, Wilma.”  He stood and gazed around him.  “I, too, would like to see Earth as it was.  Like it was at its best.”

Wilma got up and joined him, following when he began to aimlessly wander the floritat.  There was something that drew her to this man, there always had been, even when he was annoying.  She mentally smiled.  And he could be so annoying, she thought.  There were times, though, when she wished that Buck was capable of a monogamous relationship.  Most of the time, though, she realized that neither of them was ready for that.  She was more or less married to her work, while Buck . . . Buck was still welded to his past in some ways, to the people for whom he had cared so deeply.  For whatever reason, Buck could not or would not allow himself to get close enough to anyone to fall in love.

“It wasn’t all this beautiful, you know.”  Buck stopped and touched the bark of a young tree.  It felt like the furry softness of pussy willows. 

“There were pollution problems, weren’t there?” Wilma asked, encouraging her partner.  She felt strongly that talking would help him with his inner turmoil. 

“Yes, there were dead streams, litter, landfills with chemical dumps.  But there was also beauty that would make even this seem plain.  Of course, beauty is relative to the beholder.”

“Oh?”

“There was a guy from Hawaii that I went through basic training with.  He hated Colorado.  He hated the steep rugged mountains, hated the dryness, the cold.  He said that Colorado was the ugliest place on Earth.”

“And you?” Wilma asked, even though she felt she knew what his answer would be.

“I came from the midwest, as you know.  Flat for the most part, green, most of the time, four distinct seasons, some humidity, but I thought the Rockies were awesome.”  Buck shrugged.  “I saw natural beauty everywhere I went.  Every place has good points.”

“And Earth now?” Wilma asked, curious, but sad.  Sometimes his reveries of the past sounded so melancholy, like a wound inside him that couldn’t quite heal. 

“I have seen what is, compared to what was.  It saddens me.  But the beauty of now is in the will of people like you and Dr. Huer and Dr. Goodfellow, who are determined to restore at least a portion of what was.”  He turned and gazed at her, and saw sadness in her eyes.  “Hey, you aren’t feeling sorry for me, are you?”

“Worried about you, Buck.  Dr. Theopolis told me you had written a letter to your father.”

“You know, I am going to have a serious talk with Theo and Twiki about privacy,” Buck said with a slight smile.  Then he became serious again.  “I was thinking about my father that day.  The second Sunday in June, in the U.S. is, or rather was, Fathers’ Day.”  He paused and they both walked in silence for a few paces.  “And it makes me angry that he and my mother died thinking I was the cause of all the death and destruction of the Great Holocaust.”

“And sad?”  She was not going to argue the fact that his parents may not have really known about the charges against Buck, about their knowledge of Peterson’s damning evidence.   However, she felt sadness that Buck believed it, because she knew that it added to the deep emotional stress that he had felt at the beginning of his sojourn to this time and place. 

“Yeah,” Buck replied tersely. 

There were several more minutes where the only sound was that of the stream rushing along its course.  “Do you believe in a hereafter, Buck,” Wilma asked.

He sucked in a deep breath.  “Yes, I do.”

“Then do you believe they know what you are doing now?  That they know just how much you have helped Earth in this time?”

“I hope they do,” came the reply. 

“Then they would know that the charges against you were proven false,” Wilma said conclusively. 

Buck sighed again.  “You sound like Theo and Twiki.”

“Theo said that?”   That surprised her that a quad would venture into realms of spirituality.   Sometimes Theopolis amazed her.  He had always been the most astute and open-minded of all the Computer Councilmen. 

“Something to that effect,” Buck replied.  “You make it sound so easy.  But it’s not, Wilma.  It’s one thing to believe and another thing to feel the pain, the pain of what was.  And of what cannot be changed.”

Buck walked away toward the far end of the floratat chamber.  Wilma did not follow him, feeling she had said all she could at this time.  Twiki and Theo joined her.   “Do you think he will be all right?” Wilma asked.

“I think so, Wilma,” the quad answered.  “But it won’t be instantaneous.  What has happened to him is a great shock.  So far, he has borne it well.”

“Buck will be A- okay!” Twiki declared.

Wilma remembered the time when she had taken Buck on his first tour of the Inner City.  He had been curious, but he still had the look of a man wondering if he was dreaming something exotic and too fantastic to believe.  The dream phase had changed to acceptance and Buck had immersed himself into his new world.  But on occasion, there were still excursions into the past with longings for that which couldn’t be.  Yes, Wilma thought, Buck Rogers was an incredible man to have acclimatized so very well and Wilma admired him for it. Somehow she felt that this time, her time, was that much better for his presence.   She smiled. 

“Wilma, what is it?” Theo asked. 

“I was just thinking of how exasperating Buck can be at times, but still . . .”

“Yes, he is an intriguing man,” Theo finished the sentence. 

Wilma laughed mentally.  That was not exactly what she was thinking.  Exciting was more the word she had in mind.  Aloud, she said, “I just hope he will weather this last bout of . . . what did he call it, future shock, as well as he had weathered his previous ones.”

“Me, too,” Twiki said. 

 

 

 

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