Time and Again

 

 

 

 

Chapter Eight

BaMbuti

 

 

Njobo felt the intrusion of the sky craft about the same time that he heard it.  It came from the direction of the midmorning sun, screaming like a wounded eagle.  Still holding his net in his hands, poised on a wide limb twenty feet above the forest floor, he had been awaiting an okapi.  But with the entrance of the intruder, the small deer was now long gone. Njobo could see small patches of sky through the canopy, and for an instant he was able to see the sky sled flying overhead.  

“What is that, Father?” his son, Mabosu asked, his eyes large and round in wonder.  At fourteen, the boy often hunted with him now. 

“It is a sky sled,” Njobo said.  As he spoke, the BaMbuti heard and felt the rending destruction of the trees in the ship’s path. 

“It is killing some of the forest,” Mabosu said, matter of factly.

“Yes.  We will follow and see how much damage it has done,” Njobo said.  They followed the sound of the sky sled’s path, the cracking limbs, the falling debris, and then, suddenly there was a brief silence.  Silently, Njobo prayed for healing to the ravaged forest.

Then, a short time later, a huge explosive noise shattered the relative silence that had begun with the intrusion.  Njobo and Mabosu dropped to their faces in fear.    Now the elder BaMbuti did feel the forest’s pain.  The earth shuddered and the two forest people heard the cracking of limbs.  As silence descended, an ominous, almost complete silence, Njobo smelled the burnt wood foliage and he felt sadness. 

“Come,” he told his son.  “Let us see if this stranger has dealt to himself what he has delivered to Mother and Father Forest.’ 

“I do not see how it could be otherwise, Father,”

Njobo simply shrugged and started off through the jungle, following paths almost invisible to the eye, but engrained in his heart.  He said nothing to his son.  The gods alone determined who lived and who died.   Right now the forest was giving him messages that told of life and death.  It was confusing, but he did not think he would find this stranger dead. 

He and Mabosu continued running lightly along the trail, parallel to the passage of the sky sled, blinking at the bright sunlight pouring through the ravaged canopy.  Then Njobo saw the canopy close up over the path of the sky sled and he stared in amazement.  

“Where is the intruder, Father?” Mabosu asked, puzzled. 

Remembering the sky sled he had seen as a youth, Njobo marveled at the skill of the intruder.  It must be a very tiny sky sled, he thought, remembering the destruction of so long ago.  But it hadn’t seemed that small when it passed overhead a while ago.  “It is farther, my son.”   They continued, only slowing when they began to find pieces of the sky sled littering the forest floor, along with broken limbs and torn foliage. 

“Father,” Mabosu said softly, holding up a piece of metal.  “Is this from the sky sled?”  It is not of the forest.” 

Njobo didn’t any more than glance at the piece of the sky sled.   “You are right,” he told his son.  They continued, their high stepping pace slower than before, seeing more and more debris littering the path before them. 

The BaMbuti heard the noise of more sky sleds overhead. These came quickly, Njobo thought.    It was though this one was the quarry in a hunt.  A good hunt, for one lost?  Or a bad hunt, for one who has done something bad?   Suddenly, the forest opened up, showing the devastation of broken and twisted trees.  The ground was scorched in an area as large as his village.  It was as though a grand bonfire had burned here.  The pungent odor of smoldering vines and boiled sap assaulted his nostrils.  The sky looked like an open and raw wound overhead.  The sound of approaching sky sleds came to his ears and Njobo pulled Mabosu back into the twilight forest. 

“Should we make some kind of offering to the gods to make them happy once more?” Mabosu whispered. 

“Yes, but not now,” Njobo replied.  “We will skirt around this wounded area and find the trail the stranger took.”

“Then you believe the one who flew this is yet alive?”

“Yes, son, I do.  His presence intrigues me and beckons me.  It is as though the forest brought him here.  Do you not feel something different?”

“Something strange, Father.”

Njobo nodded, his dark brow furrowed in thought even as they trotted around the burned area.  The morning sky darkened and he knew that soon it would rain.  That was good.  Rain would be like salve in the wound of the forest.   They found the path on the other side, even as the darkness deepened and thunder rumbled softly in the distance.  The sky sleds above flew more sporadically overhead, as the rain began falling.  It fell for some time, drowning out the sound of even occasional sky sleds, but the pair continued undaunted and unconcerned about the rain or intruders.  When it stopped, the rain continued dripping off the trees, but even that did not slow them.  Mabosu stopped and drank from the reservoir of a large bowl-shaped leaf.  Njobo followed suit. 

The sound of overhead sky sleds continued off and on through the remainder of the morning and through the afternoon.  Njobo and Mabosu paused to eat lunch of fruit hanging from a tree next to the path.  The saw signs that the stranger had done the same thing only a short time before.  Mabosu motioned to him and Njobo watched silently as his son pulled out a poison-tipped arrow from his pouch and aimed toward a branch above them.  A curious monkey watched, but did not see his danger until Mabosu drew back and released the arrow.   The monkey screamed as the arrow penetrated its thigh.  Its body fell across the limb and the young man climbed quickly to retrieve it. 

Njobo nodded his approval.  “It will taste good tonight,” he said.  Mabosu dressed out the primate and slung it from a cord that he tied to his pouch.  Mabosu found another reservoir of water and cleaned up, saying a quick prayer to make the spirit of the dead monkey happy about its sacrifice.  He and Njobo again appeased their thirst and took up the trail of the intruder. 

Njobo was incredulous that this stranger to the forest seemed to be able to unerringly keep to the tiny trail without getting lost.  He could not help but feel that the forest gods were mindful of this intruder. They must have already forgiven him for his destruction of their forest and were now helping him.  Njobo wondered if this one would be as large as the stranger who had descended on them during his younger days. 

They trotted along, their steps sure along the path.  The sun above them shone in flecks and spots of light on their backs and arms.  Njobo felt, rather than saw, their quarry ahead of them.  He turned to his son, but saw that Mabosu had already realized the same thing.  Grabbing a vine, Njobo climbed to a wide limb twenty feet above the forest floor.  Mabosu followed him and they trotted nimbly along their new pathway, leaping from one tree to another as they continued following the intruder. 

Within a short time, they spotted the stranger.  Njobo heard his son gasp behind him and he smiled.  This intruder was taller than the last one but not by much.  He motioned for Mabosu to stop and the let the stranger get ahead of them.  What astonished him was not the size of the stranger, but the BaMbuti slung over the tall one’s shoulder.   It seemed to be in some kind of metal clothing and was apparently injured.  The BaMbuti didn’t move or say anything. 

Had the stranger taken this unusual forest person and made him his prisoner?  But no, Njobo didn’t feel that such was the case.  The metal person did not strike him as being a forest person.  He seemed even less of a forest person than the stranger.  That the gods had directed him and his son to this pair; he had no doubt.  Why did they do that, though?  Njobo couldn’t even venture a guess.   Only the gods knew. 

“Father, he is so big!  And the BaMbuti on his shoulder!  What kind of person is that?” 

“I don’t know, but it appears to be sick.  I want you to go back to Lelo Barazza and bring my dawa pouch.”

“Do you think the medicines will help one such as that one?” Mabosu asked.

“Yes.  I feel strongly that it will be needed.  Hurry, it will take you a day to get there and back.  You may bring Aberi back with you, if he wishes to come.”

Mabosu nodded and untied the dead monkey, handing it to his father.  “You can eat this for your supper.  I will eat when I get back to our campsite.”

“Good.  I may or may not be able to hunt while you are away.”  Then he grinned.  “But who knows.  Maybe the strangers and I will be cooking a sondu when you return.”

Mabosu grinned in return and then turned away.  Njobo watched for a moment and then turned back to the sky sled rider and his BaMbuti companion.  Trotting along the tree limb, he soon caught up with the stranger once more.  The man was slowing down, but he continued along the path, the BaMbuti still slung over his shoulder.  All through the afternoon, the stranger continued, sometimes stopping, leaning against a tree to rest.  At times, his breath came in panting gasps and sweat streamed down his face. It rained again, but the stranger continued, letting the water drip down his face.  By now, though, his pace was only a slow walk. 

The sun returned, lower through the trees and finally the sky sled rider stopped and gently laid his BaMbuti companion down.  The stranger looked upward and Njobo stood stock still among the foliage.  He was relieved when the intruder looked beyond Njobo’s position and toward the sky.  Was he looking for help to come from his fellow sky sled riders?  Or did he want to know if they were still following him.  Somehow Njobo thought it was the latter reason.  The face looking upward was light, like the other sky sled rider he had known, but the hair was darker, closer in color to his own.   The stranger’s countenance was drawn, fatigue etched into the lines of his pale face. 

Suddenly, Njobo realized that Mabosu was getting his medicine pouch for the stranger, not the BaMbuti lying still at the big man’s side.  But the stranger looked tired, not sick.   The man slowly stood up and did something to the white clothing that covered his upper body.  It appeared that he was ripping the clothing apart, for the man’s chest was suddenly exposed.   Personally, Njobo thought that wearing such a thing as this stranger had on was the height of folly; much too hot.  The stranger gazed around him and found a scoop shaped leaf containing a small reservoir of water. He drank thirstily and looked for more.  When he had drunk his fill, the tall sky sled rider gently picked up his lifeless companion and again slung him over his shoulder, continuing on the path to the northwest.  Finally as the light of the sun disappeared, the stranger stopped, again gently laying his companion down.  The darkness descended quickly, but Njobo saw the stranger gaze upward again and then he reached over and touched the metal BaMbuti against the side of his neck.  Instantly, the companion sat up and began speaking.  A light on the metal clothed man’s chest lit up and Njobo heard another voice.  Two voices from the same person? Njobo thought.  What strange intruders to his world!  Truly the gods had a sense of humor sending these two strangers his way.  A giant that seemed to have some kind of a connection to the Ndura, the forest, and a BaMbuti that seemed to have no connection with the forest whatsoever.  He would watch a while longer, see how this intruder fared during the night. 

Njobo left to gather fruit and to build a small fire to roast the monkey.  As he was doing so, he found a stand of bamboo and cut a good-sized piece for a molimo.

 

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Hawk woke with bright sunshine in his eyes.  He felt sluggish and exhausted, his nightmares having precluded any semblance of restful sleep.  Stowing the sleeping bag in the seat behind him, Hawk noticed a light blinking on his communicator. He had deliberately turned it off wanting the privacy of the past few days.  Ah, Buck is due back from the Lagrithian assignment.  Undoubtedly that is from him, Hawk thought. 

He flipped the switch.  “Earth Directorate to Hawk.  Hawk, come in, please.”  It was Wilma. 

“Yes, Colonel Deering.  This is Hawk,” he answered formally.

“Hawk,” Wilma began and then it was as though something had caught in her throat.   He sensed something was wrong, but before he could say anything, she continued.  “Hawk, we lost him.  We lost Buck, Hawk.  We lost him.”  Her breath caught again, this time in a sob. 

Fingers of dread grabbed at Hawk’s soul.  Buck gone?  “What did you say, Wilma?”

“I said that we lost Buck.  He’s dead.”

“What happened?” Hawk asked.  “Tell me what happened.”  He could not believe his friend was dead.  But the nightmares . . . were those the indication of death?  Could it be true? 

“He came from the Lagrithian ship.  Everything seemed fine at first, but he didn’t make contact and then his ship went into strange maneuvers and then headed west.  The ship was acting strangely, accelerating to dangerous speeds right up to the time he crashed in Africa.”

“You searched for him?”

“Of course, Hawk.  We did it for over eight hours.  We ran every kind of scan conceivable.  The ship exploded, shortly after impact.  There was no way he could have lived through it.  No way any of them would have lived through it.  There was a thirty foot crater, Hawk.”  Wilma’s voice broke. 

“Where are you now, Wilma?” Hawk asked softly, still unable to believe the news.

“Over the Atlantic Ocean heading back to New Chicago.  We looked and scanned for hours.  There was no sign of Twiki or Theo.  None of Buck.  Nothing on the scanners,” she repeated. 

Hawk’s immediate desire was to fly to the crash site, but he needed more information.  “I will meet you in New Chicago,” was all he said. 

Sadly, he finished packing his supplies and he took off, his mind on his friend.  Was that pilot he saw yesterday Buck?  Somehow he felt it was.  The ones following must have belonged to Wilma’s search party. 

 

 

 

 

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