Time and Again

 

 

 

 

Chapter Seven

Crash Landing

 

 

Dr. Huer glanced up at Colonel Deering.  “Ah, Buck and Twiki and Dr. Theopolis are on their way home.” 

“Good, I can’t wait to see the holo’s of the floratats.  I think you’ll be very pleased.” 

“I am sure I will.  Buck sent me a report of all he did.  I am very eager to see what you and he were able to arrange with the Lagrithians.”

“I believe I’ll go down to the terminal and greet them,” Wilma said nonchalantly.  But she couldn’t ignore the fact that she had missed her partner, more than she had thought possible.   They had been through quite a bit together in the past year and a half, and as unorthodox as he usually was; Wilma enjoyed working with Buck Rogers and she enjoyed simply being around him.  His offbeat sense of humor and gentle understanding had helped her through many stressful situations.   She felt that now it was her turn to do what she could to help him through his tough times.  Although he had become totally engrossed in the reclamation project, Wilma was still worried about Buck’s recent frame of mind. 

She had barely walked into the military terminal when she received a communication.

“Col. Deering, there seems to be something wrong with Buck’s ship,” Dr. Huer said over her personal communicator. 

Cold dread gripped her.  “What?” 

“We haven’t been able to get through to him on his communicator,” Dr. Huer elaborated.

“Where is he heading?” she asked tersely, her body already tensing for action.

“Buck is heading west, slightly southwest,” Dr. Huer said.  “His ship was flying erratically for a moment, but it straightened out.  I was hoping he would be able to land in the desert and we could pick him up, but he seems to be accelerating.” 

Wilma rushed to the main communications center and after ordering the communications officer out of the way, keyed up a screen to follow Buck’s progress.  She could see what Dr. Huer was talking about, but it didn’t make it any easier to understand what was happening.  “I am going out, Dr. Huer.”

“Wait a moment.  At least until we have a clearer picture of where he’s going,” Dr. Huer replied. 

She hated it when he was right, but Wilma realized that this time he was.  Unless there were signs that the ship was in imminent danger of crashing, it was better to make sure of its ultimate destination.  But it didn’t make the fear for her friend easier to take.   “I am following Buck’s progress from here, Doctor.  And I am ready to take off in a moment’s notice.”  She backed off a bit and watched over the communications officer’s shoulder at the dot representing Buck’s ship.  What is wrong?  Why aren’t you communicating, Buck?   She watched slight deviations in the flight path over western North America and then saw the now straight course over the Pacific Ocean.   No, there was something wrong and she could not just stand here and watch it unfold.  The Directorate could tell her where he ended up landing and she could also get information through her ship’s computer.  She was going to scramble a fighter.  “Rollins, join me.  We are going on a search and rescue,” she called out to the exo on duty in the bay.

He saluted and grabbed his helmet.  Wilma was in her starfighter by the time the younger man had jammed his helmet on his head.    Within two minutes, both ships were streaking out into the post sunset darkness of central North America.  

 

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Hawk pulled out the sleeping bag and laid it near the wing tip of his ship.   Buck had warned him of the temperature changes here on his world and had experienced it for himself the first night.  Now he was more prepared.   The birdman watched the sun as it sat on the shoulders of the western mountains.  The orange heightened the bright gold of the rocks and formations around him and he stood entranced at the sight.  It was beautiful, and he used his vidcamera to record the sight.  This would grace the fourth wall of his apartment on the Searcher when they began their next voyage. 

Suddenly he heard the scream of a starfighter overhead, one flying much lower and faster than it ought, and he watched it streak toward the setting sun.  As it did, it spun and dived and then recovered quickly and rose a bit higher into the sky.   Hawk watched, stunned, as he thought he recognized the maneuver as one he had used in aerial combat.  It was called the ‘revenge’ maneuver, as it was very effective against enemies who thought they had the advantage.   But no, it couldn’t be.  That had to be a fluke, coincidence of a pilot having trouble with his craft.  The ship was soon out of his sight, but not totally out of his mind.  He kept wondering who the pilot might be and hoped he would be able to bring his craft safely to the earth.   The deities watched over fliers and he invoked their care over this one. 

Hawk climbed back into his own star fighter to gather his supper and only vaguely heard the flight of another pair of fighters overhead.  Ah, the pilot is receiving help, he thought in relief. 

Later his night’s sleep was filled with nightmares of crashing ships, Koori and Buck.  They were so jumbled and confused that he couldn’t keep one dream from another.  He only knew that they were extremely disquieting.

 

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Buck studied the terrain of the route ahead of him and then made a quick decision.  He punched the ship into an even faster sub light speed, dangerous for atmospheric flying, but one that would give them a few extra minutes on their pursuers.  Just when he was over the Persian Gulf, he dived sharply, changing his heading to a southwesterly course.  After a short while, he went into a tight spin and then rolled right side up only a hundred feet above the ground.  It was barely above the treetops of a dense rainforest.  Below him was forest stretching to the horizon, with only a bright blue ribbon of a large river breaking the sea of green. 

His maneuver had dropped his speed drastically, but it was necessary to use both hands to retain control of the craft in the lower air currents.  Buck dropped again, until he was barely skimming the treetops.  Suddenly, he throttled back and the engines screamed at the sudden use of the reverse thrusters.  The canopy slapped at the bottom of the ship, the gee forces almost forcing Buck’s stomach into his throat.   “Okay, Twiki, I’m turning control of the reverse thrusters over to you.  I’m going to be busy steering this thing.”

“Right, boss,” Twiki replied.

“Buck, what are you doing?  Surely you aren’t….”

“No, Theo, I’m going to do my best to keep you two in one piece,” Buck said tersely.  “Half reverse, Twiki!”

As the engines protested once more and the ship slowed drastically, Buck saw a narrow opening in the canopy, probably where some forest giant had finally died, taking a few of its neighboring giants with it.  He swung the ship on a side roll and slid between the trees.  “Full reverse!" 

Twiki responded and Buck found himself painfully shoved against the restraints as the ship heeled even more to the left.  Buck barely missed a large trunk.   As taller limbs loomed in front of the front view screen, Buck jerked the ship even and then down.  Metal screamed and human and robots alike heard pieces of the ship ripped away from the hull.  Finally the starfighter hit the forest floor, plowing up debris and soil, and deploying the safety mechanisms inside the ship.  As the craft came to an abrupt stop, the occupants were cushioned from serious injury, but Buck still felt bruised by the battering that the ship had taken.   

Buck shook his head, incredulous that they had come out of this so well.  The air was discharged from the safety bags, and he hit the webbing release button.  “Theo, whatever you need; get it fast because I’m setting the failsafe.  This thing will blow in five minutes.”  He hit the sequencing code that would detonate the engine core and fuel cells, destroying the ship along with a goodly chunk of the forest around it.  He regretted that, but it couldn’t be helped.  “Four and a half minutes,” he said tersely.  Buck grabbed a laser pistol and stuck it in his belt.

“We must go now if we even hope to get away in time,” Theo said, his voice uncharacteristically frantic. Twiki had several components in his hands when Buck helped him down from the crumpled fuselage of the craft.   “Let’s go!”

They ran as fast as they could past foliage that seemed to grab and slap at them as they passed.  Twiki had trouble negotiating the dense root systems and Buck finally picked him up, throwing the drone awkwardly over his shoulder.   When he felt the allotted time had almost passed he threw Twiki face down behind a particularly large tree and fell on top of him.

The explosion of the spacecraft rocked the ground beneath him and sent debris flying from the canopy and the terrace above.  Heat blasted across his back and Buck imagined the forest shuddering in pain.  Distant limbs cracked and fell and then there was silence. 

Finally Twiki beeped and Buck sat up.  “You okay, guys?” he asked.

“Next time, tackle someone else,” Twiki grumbled. 

“Just trying to save your butts,” Buck retorted, brushing himself off.  “Theo?”

“I believe I sustained no damage, although there seems to be a bit of dirt on my optical sensors.” 

Buck wiped the half-decayed leaves from Theo’s faceplate.  “Theo, is there a way for a search party to detect you and Twiki?”

“Yes, Buck, there is.  Our neural impulses can be detected fairly easily.”

“Good.  Let me take off now and when someone finds you, you’ll be able to give them the whole story.”

Theo was silent for a moment.  He knew that what Buck was proposing was logical and probably the best way to contact the Directorate, but he dreaded leaving his friend.  Theo felt that Buck was correct in his assessment of what had happened on the Lagrithian ship.  But the quad also believed that if Buck became sick while alone in the rain forest, he would assuredly die.  Theo sent a subsonic message to Twiki to keep quiet. 

“Buck, Twiki and I have been in close proximity to you.  Not knowing the nature of this contagion, we cannot take any chances.”  Theo realized that any such claim was a real stretch, especially considering the measures built into a quad or drone to prevent such things. 

Buck gazed dubiously at him for a moment. 

“I think I have the parts I need to assemble a crude communicator, Buck.  I can work on that and then send a message to the Directorate.”

“I am not going to argue with you, even though I think your motivations are about as transparent as your faceplate,” Buck said with a sigh.  “And remind me to play poker with you after this is over.  I will clean up.” 

“What?”

“Never mind,” Buck replied.  “So how do we keep you and Twiki from being detected?”

“I can shut myself down.  I will not be detected then.  The same is true for Twiki, but I am not sure how long you can carry him,” Theo said.

“Let me worry about that,” Buck said tersely, aware that the others fighters would be closing fast.  “I know how to reactivate Twiki.  What about you?”

“Twiki can give me an inaudible subsonic signal that will trigger my neural sensors.”

“Okay, guys, do it and let’s hope they don’t have heat sensors to pick me up,” Buck said. 

“I think they would have a harder time with you, Buck.  There is so much foliage and probably many animals that would also register,” Theo said, hopefully.

“One thing that’s going right in all this, but somehow that comment about the animals doesn’t comfort me a great deal, Theo.  Now shut yourselves off.”

As soon as his companions had deactivated themselves, Buck picked up Twiki and once more slung him over his shoulder.  The drone was solid, but thankfully he was not too heavy.  

Buck moved steadily through the jungle watching the semi-distinguishable path before him, stepping high to avoid hidden roots.  He had no idea just which direction would be best, but this animal path, if that was what it truly was, seemed the right way to go.  At this point he had no definite plans, only to get as far away from the crash site as possible before the sickness set in.   He felt a pang of guilt in his deception, in making his friends believe he was dead.  But then, essentially, he was, so perhaps this was better.   

 

 

 

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