Freedom's Wings

 

 

 

 

Chapter 16

 

 

 

Sky Mother was the first of the small group to walk into the gathering place and she was heartily greeted by her people.  She felt not only the love of her kinsfolk, but the comfort of her home, of the stone walls, the slight ray of sunshine streaming through the narrow opening above her.

While she had felt welcome on board the humans’ starship, still she had felt isolated and alone.  So comforting was it among her people that she could only stand and let them touch and hug her.  And it seemed that strength flowed back and forth from her to them and from them to her.  The heart and soul of the people filled her.  Sky Mother began to sing the song of her people, a song that depending on the mood of the Tane-rapanui was one of exquisite joy or sorrow or any of the emotions in between.  Now her song was a combination of both emotions.  

She sang and her people sang with her.  She sang and she saw that all of the people were together in the meeting place, those unable to fit into the cavern crowded into the corridors beyond.  She finished singing and gazed around her.  “Come, what I have to say is for all of you.  Let us go to the entrance cavern.  It is large enough for all.”

The people murmured among themselves, their voices holding tones of anticipation and excitement.  Sky Warrior walked beside her, continually gazing at her as though making sure she was all right.  She smiled her reassurance.  Sky Father walked next to her on the other side and Hawk walked behind.  

As everyone gathered, she saw through the illumination of the bright morning sun, Wilma, Tigerman and Buck climbing into the mouth of the cave.  After landing the shuttle in the cavern and letting her, Sky Father and Hawk out, the humans had wisely decided that it would be too crowded for the shuttle if the people were all gathered, so they had landed at the base of the plateau and then climbed up to meet them. 

Sky Mother beckoned to Buck and he moved through the crowd and stood near her.  “My mission was successful, as you can see.” 

Buck felt the touch of several well-wishers and smiled.  

“We not only succeeded in helping our friend, but we have found that more of our people have survived the long journey of our ancestors.”  Sky Mother waited for the surprised murmuring to die down. “They are part of the winged ones.”  This time the murmuring was louder and took a little longer to settle down.  “The human ship that Captain Rogers and his companions live on has agreed to take a delegation of our people to our brothers’ world.” 

The excitement of the Tane-rapanui was palpable; Sky Mother could feel the emotion coming at her in waves buoying her up and giving her strength.  When everyone had settled down again, she told the story of how they had found the winged ones, only leaving out the details of Garo-tura’s death.  Her words mesmerized her people; even the very youngest children were still, open-mouthed in the wonder of a new story.  As she mentioned Tigerman’s part in all of this, eyes turned to him and he folded his arms over his chest and growled softly.  When Sky Mother had finished, the silence continued, everyone taking in the astonishing information that Sky Mother had given them.  

“We would like Sky Warrior and Creel to be part of the delegation,” Sky Father said after a long pause.  

Sky Warrior nodded his acceptance, his face showing his confidence that he was going to be chosen even before the invitation had been offered.  Creel looked shocked for a moment and then his face broke into a great smile of delight.  

“I wish to go as well,” the woman at his side proclaimed. 

“No, Leera,” Creel said.  “It will be dangerous.” 

“As the Sky Father in training, you should know that a future Sky Mother stays with her beloved,” she pointed out.  “Dangerous or not.” 

Wilma, standing next to Buck, lightly poked him in the ribs and gave him a smug look.  Buck just rolled his eyes.  

“Leera….”  Creel looked at Sky Mother for support.  

“I was going to talk with you privately, but if you feel that you can leave Brish, I think that both of you should go,” Sky Mother said.  

“Brish is welcome in my home,” a birdwoman near Leera said. 

“Then it is settled,” Leera said.  

Sky Mother nodded.  “Good.  We will council tonight and decide what good-will gifts we should take.” 

Creel looked helplessly from one birdwoman to another and then he simply sighed in resignation.  

“I know the feeling,” Buck quipped as several people close by chuckled at the birdman’s discomfiture.  

“Where is this sanctuary of Tane-rapanui?” Sky Warrior asked.  

“Rrilling,” Tigerman answered.  “My world.” 

“But our presence could make them vulnerable to intrusion,” Sky Warrior argued.  

“It’s possible, Sky Warrior,” Buck replied, “But we have taken every precaution we possibly can.  Only one person in the Draconian royal family has any inkling as to what we are doing and the only reason for that is two-fold.  First, we had to have Tigerman’s help to find the Tane-rapanui and, second, we had to have permission.  Rrilling is within the boundaries of the Draconian Empire.  Tigerman, who is a personal bodyguard for the royal family, knows where to find the Tane-rapanui.”  

Sky Warrior gazed at Tigerman and then nodded.  “It is good that your people have kept that secret for so long.” 

Tigerman said nothing, only nodding.  

“But it is possible that these people having been able to keep their secret for so long, will not welcome this intrusion, even from their own kinfolk,” Sky Warrior said.  

“That is a great possibility, Sky Warrior,” Sky Mother agreed.  “But it is in my heart that such contact is a good thing.  Our peoples need to know of each other.”  She paused.  “Secrecy has kept our peoples alive, but I believe it is time for the Tane-rapanui to unite.  It is also time for the various races of people to begin to work together.” 

Sky Warrior glanced at Buck and Wilma.  “They are going, too?” he asked pointedly. 

“Yes.  That, too, is as it should be.” 

Sky Warrior looked dubious, but said nothing.  

Sky Father saw his look of concern.  “I think that we should discuss this among the elders and leaders,” he suggested, loudly enough for most of the people in the cavern to hear.  The Tane-rapanui began to filter out of the large area and back into the caves to their homes.  Sky Father looked at Buck, Wilma and Tigerman.  “You, of course, are also included in that meeting.” 

“Thanks,” Buck said. 

“We will rest for a short while,” Sky Mother said.  “And I wish to replenish my supply of medicines and to see my grandchildren.  It has seemed such a long time away from them.” 

Later, as the sun disappeared from the crack in the ceiling of the meeting room, the three leaders, along with others among the Tane-rapanui leadership, as well as Buck, Wilma and Tigerman met.  Leera lit the lamps that sat in a circle in the middle of the room and then sat down next to Creel.  Sky Warrior got right to the point.  “What makes you think the winged kin of ours would welcome any intrusion?”  He gazed directly at Tigerman, who sat next to Buck.  “You share the same planet.  Did you have interaction with the Tane-rapanui on your planet?” 

Tigerman shook his head.  “Only knew of each other.   Met sometimes.  They stay their place.  We stay in ours,” he growled.  

Sky Warrior looked back at Buck and Wilma.  “And we expect them to accept humans?”

“It is possible that they will resent even us,” Hawk said.  “But we at least need to let them know that there are other Tane-rapanui and that we are ready to become one people again.”  He looked at Buck and Wilma before turning back to Sky Warrior and the others.  “And we need to let them know that most humans are no longer enemies of the people.” 

“But they have wings and we don’t,” Creel said.  “How will they accept those who are part but not whole?”  He sighed.  “Before it was legend, now it is real.  Are we legend to them?” 

No one said anything for several moments.  Then Sky Mother cleared her throat.  “I did not tell you everything out there in the cavern,” she said.  “And part of that telling belongs to our human brother, Buck Rogers.  Perhaps that will help you understand why we feel the necessity to find our brethren.”  She turned to Buck.  “Tell them of your journey into the past and into the mind of one of our own.” 

Buck took a deep breath and began his story.  He didn’t feel as awkward as he did the first time he had to relate a story to the Tane-rapanui, but still he felt many of the same emotions.  When he had finished his narrative, sparing nothing, Sky Mother took over telling of her dreams, both on Easter Island and in the mountains of the mainland.  

Everyone sat quietly for a few moments, watching the lamps flickering.  “I had similar dreams,” Hawk said.  “I feel that we must at least let our brethren know they are not alone.”  He paused.  “I know about that kind of loneliness.”  

Again there was silence.   “But why humans?” Sky Warrior insisted.  

“It’s hard to put into words, Sky Warrior,” Buck said.  “Part of it is just as Hawk said.”  He gazed into Sky Warrior’s eyes.  “There can be reconciliation between humans and Tane-rapanui.  Hawk and I and the rest of us on the Searcher prove that.  But part of it is that I feel compelled to go.  It is partly my feelings about Garo-tura’s death.  I owe something to his descendants.”  He paused and then looked down.  “I have to go,” he added, his voice low. 

Sky Mother nodded.  “It will not be easy, but my inner feelings tell me this is truth.”  

“Very well,” Sky Warrior finally acquiesced.  “But I think contact would be much easier if there were no humans in the expedition.”  

Even Buck wasn’t able to argue that point.  “You are probably right, but you know we’re all going to look the same under wraps.” 

Sky Warrior looked puzzled.  

Buck elaborated.  “Tigerman told me that there are only two ways to get into the Valley of the Tane-rapanui.  One would be by shuttle but that is really not an option because apparently your cousins have the technology to shoot aircraft out of the sky.  Tigerman told me he witnessed it once when he was younger.  The only real way in is a mountain trail that goes through high mountain passes.  We’ll have to dress warmly as my friend has said the highest reaches are snow covered almost all year long.”  

“Oh, I see,” Sky Warrior said.  “How do they greet travelers through the pass?” 

“With Tigerman leading, we are hoping they don’t shoot first and ask questions later,” Buck said with a grim smile.  “Tigerman said his people have had limited contact; nothing real friendly, but not hostile either.” 

Sky Warrior and the rest looked thoughtful.  “If they become hostile because of you and your mate, my duty is to protect Sky Mother and Sky Father.” 

“We understand perfectly,” Wilma interjected.  “But to correct a misconception—Buck and I aren’t mates.  I am the second in command on the Searcher and Buck is the executive officer in charge of exploration and defense.” 

Sky Warrior smiled softly.  “I understand perfectly.” 

Somehow Wilma thought Sky Warrior did indeed understand the situation well. 

“And what about our treatment on board your ship?” Sky Warrior asked.  

“Suites have already been arranged for your entire group, however many there will be.  You can mingle with the ship’s crew as much or as little as you desire,” explained Wilma.  “The crew will be cordial as befitting a delegation of diplomats.”  She paused a beat.  “And if any member of the Searcher gets out of line and does or says something to insult any of you, then I will personally deal with it.”  She waited for a reaction.  There was none, except for nods of acceptance.  “I only ask for the same consideration toward our crew.” 

“I will be staying with you and can help you with anything you need while on board,” Hawk added.  

Again Sky Warrior nodded without saying anything. 

“We were very well treated on our journey here,” Sky Father reassured the group.  

Sky Warrior looked a bit dubious, but said nothing.  The next day, a group of ten entered the shuttle and flew to the large ship orbiting Mendalis. 

 

 

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By the time they reached Rrilling, Tigerman felt that Buck, as well as the others were ready enough to tackle the mountain passes.  Buck thought he had been to war.  Several days out from Tigerman’s planet, the felinoid approached him and said, “You teach now.  You promised.”  

“I did, didn’t I?” Buck said with a smile.  “Okay.  Let’s do it then.”  The terran showed Tigerman all of the same moves he had learned in the academy and despite Tigerman’s bulk, the larger man learned them quickly and learned them well.  Creel, Sky Warrior and Keresh, the last Tane-rapanui picked for the journey joined in and they, too, learned quickly.  Wilma was an active participant from the outset and by the time they had reached their destination, the group had even had a few practice bouts.  

At the end of one such contest, Buck lay on the floor gazing up at Tigerman who had just decked him with a close-fisted punch to shoulder.  “I win.  Better fighter,” the felinoid bragged.  

“Never said you weren’t,” Buck responded, catching his breath.  He grinned as Tigerman held out his hand to help him up.  “Now are you happy?” 

Tigerman nodded.  

The next two days were spent preparing for their trek through the mountains.  They would disembark at the regular spaceport and walk in to the valley.  The group, along with Admiral Asimov poured over maps and printouts.   “I don’t like it that you won’t have any communication devices,” the admiral grumbled, for about the hundredth time.   “And no, you don’t have to explain the reasoning again.  I just don’t like it.” 

Personally, Buck didn’t like it either, but there was not much to be done about it.  The winged Tane-rapanui had a high enough level of technology that they could pick up communications.  They could even detect shuttles and fighters if the delegation had opted to land closer to the valley than the spaceport.  There had been several mysterious crashes in the mountains and the Draconians had treated that area much like some people thought of the Bermuda Triangle in his day.  Only the Rrilling ventured into the mountains, and that was only when the young men were proving themselves.  The Tane-rapanui, by virtue of their history, desired isolation.  Buck wasn’t surprised.  He did wonder, however, just how they had gotten the garox out and how they had known what was happening on Earth at that time.  They had not sent it out at the time of the great holocaust, but Wilma had told him that garox had been around for the past couple hundred or so years.  Somehow they must have used the Draconians, but he couldn’t figure out how they could do that without them knowing just where it came from themselves.  Mentally shrugging, Buck just figured it was something that he would have to ask when they got to the valley.   That and the question as to how they knew what was happening on Earth five hundred years ago.  There were no Draconians on Rrilling at that time.

 

 

 

Chapter Seventeen
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