Freedom's Wings

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Thirteen

 

 

Buck gazed surreptitiously at his copilot as she sat, eyes closed, relaxing in her seat.  The stars were bright outside the canopy but he ignored them.  He marveled at the woman next to him and wondered, as he had before, if she deserved better. It seemed as though recently he had offered her only anxiety, worry and fear.   He saw her insistence in going with him on this next mission of his as an indication of his liability in her life.  He often was a danger to Wilma.  It was of no consequence that most of the danger came from their jobs, it was still there and he was a part of it.  And it didn’t ease his conscience any. 

Sighing, Buck brought his mind back to the present, their flight back to Earth.  He checked the numbers he had already punched into the computer, even while knowing they were correct and then sat back as the ship approached the next-to-last stargate.  As they slipped through the gate, he felt slender fingers wrap themselves around his hand.  He turned and gazed at Wilma.  “Do you feel better?” 

“If by that, do you mean am I more rested?  Yes, I am,” she replied.  “If by that, do you mean I am more at ease, then, sort of.” 

“We nailed him, Wilma.  And you nailed Flagg . . . and got Garrott and several of their goons.  And it only took this hearing.  No long drawn out trials, everything in one fell swoop.”  Buck paused, seeing Wilma’s dubious look.  “Wilma, he can’t hurt you anymore.  He can’t hurt anyone anymore.  You’re free of him, Sreena’s free of him, we’re all free of him.”  He squeezed her hand.  “And you did it.” 

“It wasn’t just me,” she said with a soft smile.   “But it’ll take a while to get over that leering, arrogant grin of his and get over feeling like I need to look over my shoulder.”  She sighed.  “And he may be in prison, but he still has power, Buck.  He has sown the seeds.”

“The seeds were sown long ago, Wilma, long before you and I were born,” Buck said softly.  “We just have to work to sow different seeds.” 

Smiling, Wilma nodded.  “Maybe that’s why we’re going with Hawk and Sky Mother and Sky Father.  To sow a few of those new seeds.”  

Buck frowned.  He had walked into that one.  He didn’t have a snappy comeback this time.  And really he didn’t want to get into a ‘discussion’ on the issue right now anyway.  He just sighed.  

“No arguments about it now, either,” she reminded him. 

Sighing again, Buck nodded.  He would have recruited the Admiral to his side, but the Galactic Council had given Asimov orders to help the bird people in their search for their kin.  Hawk and Sky Mother would be happy about that, but Buck wasn’t, not entirely anyway.   If he didn’t feel so adamant about finding Garo-tura’s descendants, he would have stayed behind, too.  Stayed on the Searcher with Wilma—safe.  But what was safe?  What was secure and what was absolute?  He proved that not even death was an absolute.  Taxes?  Mentally he laughed.  Yeah, that was still around by whatever name it was still called.  

And if only Wilma would listen to reason.  She went through hell back on Cronis, even submitting to a private judicial OEI when Kormand’s lawyers had claimed consensual sex.  Buck had been close by and it had been all he could do to keep from rushing out into the hearing chamber and beating the crap out of Kormand—actually he wanted to kill him, but instead he had watched, waited and when Wilma was done, Buck had gathered her in his arms and let her cry on his shoulder in a secluded room until she had gained control of herself.  And in the meantime, the judiciary had sentenced Kormand, Garrott, Flagg, Frolingen and several other Human Rights thugs.  All had received prison sentences.   He was still fuming over that one, even though it had been explained that death would have given the Human Rights leader martyr status.  Buck understood the reasoning, but wished the incarceration could have been more like his had been.  Hard labor and deprivation.   He had even made that suggestion, but it had been dismissed, even while the judiciary had been as sympathetic as they could.

But it was over.  Someone else could find LeeGrand and the rest of the peanut gallery.  No, rogues’ gallery, he corrected himself.  All he wanted to do was help Hawk locate his people and do what he had signed on the Searcher to do.  To get back to normal chaos.  

“And you?” 

Looking puzzled, Buck asked, “Me, what?” 

“Do you feel better?” 

“For the most part,” he said. 

“But something still bothers you?” Wilma asked as Buck rechecked the coordinates for the next stargate.  “Something other than what we agreed not to discuss anymore,” she added with a knowing smile. 

“Uh, yeah, something.”  

“Have to do with the trial?” she asked.  

“Let’s say that Kormand should’ve gotten the firing squad and I would have volunteered to be on it,” Buck said tersely.  

“They didn’t want him to become….” 

“Yeah, I know, a martyred hero for the cause.  I know, I know.”  Neither said anything for several minutes.   “But somehow, it just doesn’t seem like enough.”  

“Yes, I know.”  Wilma sighed.  “But I guess we just have to leave it to the system and hope they made the right decision.” 

They flew on in silence for a short while, neither totally satisfied with that answer.  

“Something else bothering you?” she finally asked.  There was something she couldn’t put her finger on about Buck, something other than the trial, other than the fact that he was adamantly against her going on the expedition to find Garo-tura’s people. 

“Mmm,” he said, not elaborating.

“You’ve stayed a bit moody ever since you broke the garox,” Wilma began, leaving the rest of her thoughts unsaid.  

Moody? Buck thought.  Probably true, but he thought of all that had happened and all that was going to happen and he didn’t wonder.  “If I hadn’t come along would you have married Duke?” he asked, while wondering where the hell that had come from.  

Wilma laughed shortly and then sobered quickly, feeling that Buck was not being flippant.  He took this very seriously and she supposed that without consciously acknowledging it, he was frightened of marriage.  She thought back to the two plus, was it almost three years already?, that they had known each other and realized the truth of it.  And there was also his having to get used to a whole new time, culture, a world totally different from what he was used to.  The small instances of confusion or future shock he had exhibited had to have been only the tips of the inner icebergs that would have eventually destroyed the soul of a lesser man.   It was something she continually had to remember about this complicated individual next to her.  She couldn’t push him and she certainly couldn’t demean his concerns, not even subconsciously.  She would have to be careful.  All of his recent ordeals had made Buck almost as fragile as he had been when he had first awakened in this century.  Wilma was well aware that most of the time his cock-eyed humor and jokes had been a form of coping with a reality that was almost overwhelming at times.   He had even admitted it once. 

“At the time you arrived, I think Duke made more of our relationship than I did,” she began tentatively.   “There are many similarities between you and Duke.  Maybe, eventually, we might have married.”  Wilma gazed meaningfully at Buck.  “Why did you think of Duke?” 

“Instead of Duvoe?” 

“Instead of anybody,” she replied. 

“I don’t know.  I’m asking myself why I even asked the question at all,” he muttered.  

“Buck,” Wilma said, laying her hand on his arm.  “There are reasons why I chose to become close to these people just as I assume there were reasons why you chose to become close to some of the people you knew.”  She paused.  

“I know.  But there wasn’t much choice in the breaking up part.” 

Wilma felt a slight twinge of something—she wasn’t sure what it was.  Maybe jealousy?  She mentally shrugged it off.  Losing Jennifer had to have been hard and her being jealous of someone five hundred years dead wouldn’t help.  She remembered her shock of Duvoe’s revelation and how her mindset had changed in an instant.  But it was still not the same.  Nor was it easy in either case.  She so wanted this man next to her, but there was no way she was going to pressure him.   “I know, Buck,” Wilma said softly. 

“Not that it would have worked out even if I had come back on the Ranger,” Buck added hastily. 

“Oh, I don’t know.  From what you told me, Jennifer sounded like a wonderful woman,” Wilma replied.  

“But she didn’t want me in space and after having been there, I don’t know if I could have been happy on the ground.”  He paused a beat.  “Not that there would have been other opportunities—what with the holocaust and all.” 

“I am glad you had a second opportunity, Buck,” Wilma said after several minutes silence.  “I truly am.” 

He smiled.  “So am I.”  He punched up the coordinates for the last stargate and then sat back with a satisfied sigh.  “Well, we’ll soon be back on Earth.”  

“Yes, the Searcher will still be there, too,” Wilma said and then paused and looked toward her companion.  “You will be all right on board this time around, won’t you?” 

“Yes, I think so.” 

“Oh, and Buck?” she began. 

“Yeah?” 

“I didn’t develop a closer relationship with any of the other men in my life because they weren’t right.”  Wilma paused a beat.  “I guess I had to wait half a millennium for the right guy to come along.”  

“How can you be so sure, Wilma?” he asked. 

“How can you?” she countered.  

He shook his head.  “I just can’t help thinking that you deserve a whole lot better than a risk-taking, beat up old rocket jockey like me.” 

“Old?”  Wilma snorted. “You are not old and even if you were, what difference does it make?  I would still love you if you were five hundred and fifty years old instead of five hundred and thirty-six.”  She began to laugh.  “Is that what you called ‘robbing the cradle’?” 

Buck chuckled.  “Yeah, I guess so,” he replied and then he added in a serious voice, “Thanks.” 

“Buck, I want you to be comfortable with all of this.  I want you to be comfortable with me by your side, with the timing, with everything.” 

“I guess when we’re both ready,” he murmured.  

“Yes,” she agreed, again feeling she was already at that point. 

A short time later they passed through the last stargate and were almost immediately hailed by the Searcher. 

“They don’t waste any time, do they?” Buck asked.  

“Well, we didn’t make any contact after we had left Cronis, you know,” Wilma reminded him. 

“You were asleep,” Buck said tersely.  

Wilma laughed.  “You are acting like some Stastee monk going to spend a weekend on Sinaloa.” 

“Me?” Buck said in surprise.  “No, I’m not!” 

Wilma just smiled as they docked in the hangar bay.  

When they pulled back the canopy and climbed out, Buck felt as though they were being met by half of the hangar crew.  

“Welcome back, Captain Rogers,” one of them said.  “Colonel.”  Wilma was acknowledged almost as an afterthought.  

“Thanks, Billy,” Buck replied.  That went on most of the way to the bridge and it was with a sigh of relief that Buck watched the doors slide open.  

But his relief was short lived.  Everyone from Devlin to the admiral slapped him on the back and greeted him heartily.  They had even arranged a small party in the admiral’s ready room.  Buck felt embarrassed by all the attention even as he was warmed by his shipmates’ thoughtfulness.  

“Smile and enjoy it, Buck,” Wilma muttered under her breath.  

That evening when things had returned to normal and Buck was alone, Twiki and Theo showed up. “Hi, guys,” Buck said as they entered his room.  “What’s up?” 

“I have to return to Earth, Buck,” Theo told him.  

“Computer council?” 

“Yes,” the quad replied. 

“I’ll miss you.”  

“And I, you, Buck,” Theo said in his softly modulated voice.  

“You’re staying, though, right Twiki?” he asked.  

“Right, boss,” he beeped.

Buck thought briefly.  Hawk and the other bird people would be coming back on board soon and they would be heading out in search of the other Tane-rapanui.  Not much time to do anything on Earth, but if he took Theo back….  He turned his attention back to the patient quads.  “I’ll take you back, Theo.  I suspect Dr. Carlock wants to check me over anyway.  And I want to say good-bye to Dr. Huer.” 

“I would be honored to have you escort me back to Earth, Captain Rogers,” said Theo formally. 

“When do you have to be back?” 

“As soon as possible,” Theo replied.  

“I’m really too keyed up to sleep right now. Let’s go now.  It’s morning in New Chicago, right?” 

“Yes, but aren’t you tired from your trip back from Cronis?” 

“It hasn’t hit me yet,” Buck replied.  He motioned to Twiki and then walked out of his cabin.   Soon they were winging toward the surface, Buck humming the song he had sung on his first re-entry. 

 

 

Chapter Fourteen
Chapter One
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