Time and Again

 

 

 

 

Chapter Six

The Awful Truth

 

 

The dinner was elaborate, but not on the scale of the first night.  Dr. Foreenizor was not as exuberant as Breearth and Mreesa, but he was pleasant enough.  When they showed him the computer generated diagrams, building schematics and schedules, Buck leaned back in his chair, sipping his Lagrithian cordial, satisfied. 

“Looking good, Buck,” Twiki interjected, speaking only loud enough for his human companion to hear.

“Yes, it does, Twiki,” Theo agreed.  “You have done a fine job, Buck.”

“Breearth and Mreesa have done most of the work, Theo, but thanks, we made a very good team,” he said loudly enough for his hosts to hear and then raised his glass to the alien women.  They smiled their thanks.  Dr. Foreenizor praised them as well.  “Well, Doctor, I sincerely hope you can join me at a banquet on Earth to celebrate the completion of this project,” Buck said with a grin. 

“As do I,” Foreenizor said. “You will have to excuse me, Captain.  I have much to do.”  

“I just hope it looks as good on Earth as it does on this computer,” Buck added wistfully after the Lagrithian leader had left. 

“It will, Buck,” Mreesa said emphatically.   Breearth agreed.

“Well, time to hit the sack,” Buck said.  “It’s been a very busy four days.”

“We will see you in the morning before you leave,” Breearth said. 

“Absolutely.  Wouldn’t even think of leaving without saying goodbye.”

That night, dreams haunted his sleep, dreams that were even stranger and more ominous than the half-remembered one he had experienced the first night on the ship.  It made him feel vaguely uneasy, but as the foggy tendrils of sleep left him, so, too, did the threat.  Buck just dismissed it as a simple nightmare. 

“Sleep well, Buck?” Twiki asked.

“Yeah, except for the strange dream.” 

“What was it about,” Theo asked. 

“Well, some of it was vivid and some was pretty vague, but I believe I was being held as a prisoner in someone’s laboratory somewhere,” he said, shaking his head.

“Uh, oh,” Twiki quipped. 

“Oh, it’s nothing,” Buck said in dismissal.  “I have never in my life had a prophetic dream.”  He wondered about the fact that he had remembered having Lagrithians in his dream.  He usually didn’t dream about the very recent past either.  He padded into the bathroom where he shaved and took a shower.  He noticed that his arm was a bit sore, but dismissed that, too, especially after the hot water took away the stiffness.  He pulled on his flight uniform and then waved to Twiki and Theo.  “Let’s go have breakfast, guys.” 

Breearth and Mreesa joined him and they bantered pleasantly for a while.

“I look forward to working with you on Earth,” Breearth told him.  Mreesa nodded. 

Buck finished his coffee.  “As do I.”  He got up.  “Time to hit the road.” 

The two Lagrithians walked with him to his ship.  Dr. Foreenizor was waiting. “My thanks for your planet’s contract,” he said, shaking Buck’s hand. 

For some reason, Buck felt a shiver go up his spine, but he didn’t know why and he didn’t let his reaction show on his face.  “I’m sure I’ll be thanking you when the floratats are done,” was all he said.  Smiling, he added, “See you all later.”  With that, he lifted Twiki and Theo up on the ship’s fuselage and climbed in after them.

Breearth and Mreesa waved as he closed the canopy and Buck waved back.  As he taxied his ship around to take off, he wondered about his reaction to the Lagrithian doctor and then shrugged.   He vaguely remembered that it was Foreenizor whom he had seen in his dream last night.  But it was something he could ponder when he arrived home. 

The take off sequence began and Buck felt the gee force as his ship catapulted out of the launch bay.  As he exited the Lagrithian ship, he saw Earth hanging almost dead ahead of him, the lights of New Chicago barely discernable from this distance.  He flipped the switch of his communicator.  “Buck Rogers calling Earth Directorate.  Come in Earth Directorate.”

There was nothing, not even static.  He tried again.  Then he spoke over his shoulder to Twiki and Theo.  “You try it.”

They did so, with the same result.  “My sensors indicate that some of the components for the communicator are missing,” Theo reported. 

“But I used it on the way in,” Buck said, puzzled.  “I’ve got to start doing pre-flight checks again….”  His voice trailed off as alarm bells started ringing.  Tendrils of fear began squeezing his heart as the various little niggling things that he had shrugged off earlier came together and clamored for his attention.  “Theo, I know the first night you and Twiki worked while I slept.  What about last night?”

They were approaching the Earth’s defense shield.  Automatically checking his coordinates, Buck kept his mind on their conversation. 

“After you had fallen asleep last night, we were asked to help clarify some items of the contract and then work on a few of the floratat specifications.  It took no more than an hour and a half.”

Dread washed over him, followed by anger.  The dreams rushed back in with startling clarity.  They weren’t dreams; they had been real!  He had been betrayed.  He had trusted these people and had been betrayed!!

“Why do you ask, Buck?” Theo inquired.

“They betrayed me!” Buck spat out.  “That was not a dream I had last night.  It was real.  And the first night, that was no hangover, that was from a drug.  That dream was real, too!”

“What was real, Buck?”  Theo asked.  “And who betrayed you?  The Lagrithians?  Surely not….”

“There’s no time to discuss this.  I’m on final approach to New Chicago,” Buck said tersely, cutting off the quad.  “And there’s no way in hell I can land!”

“Why not, Buck?” Twiki asked.  “What’s wrong?”

“Because I carry death in my veins, Twiki.  A death more sure than if I had a hundred kilo blazium bomb.”

“What?” Theo cried out in surprise.

In a quick motion, Buck jerked the fasteners at his left sleeve and pulled back the material from the arm that had bothered him that morning.  The mark, a slight bruising, was barely discernable.  “See that, Theo?  What do your sensors make of that?”

“Yes, I see it, Buck.  It could indicate the insertion of a needle recently, but it could also be indicative of a bite.”

“I have to go back,” Buck said, jerking the controls to the side, heeling the ship sharply to the left.  “I can’t land in New Chicago and I can’t let the Lagrithians get away with this.”

“Buck, the evidence is not conclusive. To accuse them….”

Growling, Buck jerked the controls and set the ship on a course due west, putting the starfighter in a couple of maneuvers that might give Wilma and Dr. Huer cause to wonder.  “To hell with diplomacy,” he muttered, but he realized what might also happen if he returned to the Lagrithian ship.  They could destroy him in ‘self defense’ and then infect someone else, possibly Wilma, when the so-called floratat program was begun again.  His mind raced and Buck tried desperately to think of a solution to all of this.  He could think of only one thing and that was iffy at best.   But he also had to try and warn someone else.  Make them suspicious.

“Can you locate Hawk?”

“Yes, his ship is in an area once known as Bryce Canyon."

Buck buzzed the area quickly in the sunset, rolling in a maneuver that Hawk had taught him, then he shot out over the Great Basin and on out over the Pacific Ocean.  He asked himself what he was hoping to accomplish.  His answer was that he was doing anything that might make his friends question what was going on and possibly cause them to wonder about the motives of the Lagrithians.  But on the other hand, he had to isolate himself from the rest of the world.  He didn’t think he could do both, but he had to at least accomplish the latter.

“What are you going to do, Buck?” Theo asked.  The quad could feel the great tension, the fear and anger from his human friend and wished he knew the cause of it. That something dreadful had occurred; he had no doubt.  Whether it warranted the kind of action that Buck was taking now, he also had no doubt.   But his sensors wished they had all of the information.

“I am going to crash land this thing well away from a populated area.  Eventually you will be found and you can explain what happened.  Presumably you and Twiki should be immune to whatever I am carrying.”

“Buck,” Theo began as the blue, white-capped waters slid under them.  “Just what is it that happened to you?  What makes you believe that the Lagrithians have infected you with something?”

While still keeping his eyes ahead of him, Buck began.  “I woke up from the first night feeling slightly hung over.  I had what I thought was a strange dream about Wilma.” Buck paused.  “We were both in some kind of doctor’s office or laboratory, lying on those uncomfortable tables, gurneys.  Then I felt a needle prick and don’t remember anything else.”

“And last night?” Theo asked. 

“Same place, but this time I heard voices, saw people, Lagrithians, specifically Foreenizor.”  As he talked, Buck remembered, and remembered with greater clarity, almost as though he had opened a hole in the dike of his memory.  He remembered the bright lights through his eyelids.  He opened his eyes briefly and gazed in semi-conscious befuddlement.

“Doctor, he is awake!” a Lagrithian cried out. 

“Jreeshnar, calm yourself.  He is not fully conscious.  This will only seem like a dream in the morning,” Foreenizor said.

“We should give him more sedative to make sure.”

“No,” another voice said.  “That would interfere with the introduction of the virus.  This will be only as a dream.”  The Lagrithian stood over him.  “It is only a dream.  A strange dream of a strange place.  Soon, Captain Rogers, you will be home, home in New Chicago.” 

The musically lilting voice reassured him and Buck murmured, “Yeah, funky dream….”  He smiled.  Where is Wilma?  She was in the last dream. As he drifted through a nether world of sleepiness, he heard people moving around, heard the clatter of metal instruments, felt the cool breath of antiseptic air.  He shivered slightly, realizing that he was stripped to the waist.  Turn the air conditioner off, he thought, but when he tried to say something, his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth. 

He felt a sharp pain inside his arm and moaned softly. Fire shot up past his elbow and then slowly dissipated. 

“It is done,” a voice announced. 

“How long?” another voice asked.

“He will be contagious within twelve hours.  That is how long it will take his body to assimilate the agent and reproduce it.  The onset of his own sickness will be within a day, most likely.  It is a fast acting virus.  He will die quickly, but he will continue to be contagious until he does die and even for a short while afterward.”  There was a pause and Buck felt someone doing something to his body.  Someone was putting his shirt back on.  About time, he thought dreamily. 

“We will withdraw, wait the proscribed amount of time after the extermination is complete and then pay for salvage rights.”

His thoughts tried to take hold of the information, but he could not.  Buck kept telling himself it was a dream, a weird, horrible nightmare.  Even as he was wheeled back to his room and placed on his bed, he was telling himself this and finally he believed what he was saying to his subconscious.  Then he remembered nothing else until he had awakened.

“So what do you have in mind, Buck?” Theo asked when he had finished. 

“If I could find a planet with no humanoids, I would go there, but I can’t, not at the spur of the moment.  I have to find a place where I won’t be found, but where you have a chance to get to civilization so you can warn the Directorate.   You should be free of contagion after you are away from me.”  Buck paused and pondered.  Yes!  If he could drop Twiki and Theo off somewhere and then head for his unpopulated hideaway.  That would work, he thought.  “Twiki, Theo, I am going to drop you off near New Sydney.  Then you can contact Dr. Huer and Wilma and tell them what the Lagrithians are up to.”

“But Buck, we still have nothing concrete,” Theo said.  He saw Buck stiffen in front of him.  “Captain Rogers,” the quad said formally, “I will not leave you until I must.”  Although Buck’s reasoning was sound, he could not abandon his friend.  At least if they were together, Buck would not be tempted to fly his starfighter into the side of a mountain.  Theo modulated his voice to a slightly softer tone.  “Buck, I believe you, but this company has never even attempted to do anything like this before.  What are their motives?”

“There is something we have on Earth they are desperate for.  Besides, it doesn’t really matter.  They’re doing it.”  His eyes hardened.  “I am going to set you two down in Australia.”

“No, Buck!” Twiki and Theo said together. 

“No,” Theo repeated.  “I know you well enough to understand what you have in mind and I cannot let you do it.”

Buck cursed under his breath. 

“Even though I believe you are right, there is still hope that their calculations are off.  I cannot let you throw your life away on what we believe will happen,” Theo reasoned, almost pleading. 

“I am Death!” Buck cried, anguished.  “What if these people try again?”

“Did you not say that they were going to wait to see what happened?” Theo asked.  Then he added before he had fully reasoned the facts out.  “We can land somewhere remote but not too far from some kind of habitation.  As soon as we are well away from the ship and we have established a hidden campsite, Twiki and I will walk to the nearest human habitation and contact the Directorate.  Perhaps I can even take enough parts from this craft to fashion a communication device.  With Twiki’s help, of course.  And then we won’t have to separate.”

“When I die, you will have to cremate my body.  I want nothing left of this virus to effect anyone.”

Twiki beeped and then cried out, “You can’t die, Buck!”

“Anyone can die, Twiki.  But no one should have to die like this.  That’s what I am trying to prevent.”  Buck said nothing more for several minutes.  “They scrambled a couple of fighters, my friends, so your plan is going to be the one we follow.  There is no time to land and then outdistance pursuit.”  He smiled grimly.  “Hang on, this is going to be a wild ride.”

“Where are we going to land?” Twiki asked.

“The thickest, wildest place left on earth.  The rainforest in Equatorial Africa.”

Theo and Twiki were silent, realizing the implications of a landing in such a place.

 

 

 

 

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