Freedom's Wings

 

 

 

 

Chapter Two

 

 

Buck felt the first gnawings of the garox craving and cursed silently.   It seemed to come earlier, hit more intensely and leave him less time to feel normal.  Damn Beros.  Damn Bosk!  Damn Kormand, Garrett, LeeGrand and Flagg.  Damn them all!  He couldn’t tell Wilma.  For the last two days, she had been asking when he was returning to the Searcher.   For six days, he had been trying to figure out how he was going to tell her what his plans were.  All he knew was that he couldn’t tell her she was in love with a raving addict.  He had tried; several times during their communications after she had left he had tried.  He could never bring himself to say the words; ‘I am addicted to garox.’  Gazing at the stone walls that were his apartment, he felt he was still in a prison, even though the door was open.   He was free, Wilma had told him.  He could leave any time and return to the Searcher.   She had no idea how repugnant that idea was to him right now.   Hey, Dr. Goodfellow, got any garox hanging around.  I need some.   “Dammit!” he cried out to the gray stone.   He didn’t know what to do.   

“What is it, Buck?” Hawk asked from the doorway.  

Buck jumped, startled by the silent approach.   He was going to have to learn to shut the door when he was throwing a pity party in the future.   

“I am sorry if I startled you, but you sound upset.”  Hawk continued to study him from the doorway. 

“No kidding.”  He gazed at the open doorway, trying to get the nerve to shut the door. 

“You want me to close it?” Hawk asked. 

“No, but I want privacy right now.” 

“With me in or out,” Hawk asked with a slight smile.   He had a good idea what was bothering the terran, but it was up to Buck to divulge his problems to him.  He would not push his friend.

“In, Hawk,” Buck said and then he sighed.  “I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean to sound like you were unwelcome.”

“Buck, there are times when even the closest friends may be unwelcome to one another.  There is nothing wrong with that feeling.” 

“Yeah, I know, but I think part of my problem is that I have made everyone unwelcome--all the time,” Buck replied softly. 

“Has this to do with Wilma?”

Buck gazed intently at his friend.  “For someone who once professed to hate humans, you’re a pretty good judge of them,” he said with a humorless smile.

“I am a pretty good judge of you, Buck.   We have both been through the equivalent of what you would call Hell and back, especially you.  Nothing can be the same again.  At least for a very long time.” 

“Yeah, it has to do with Wilma,” Buck murmured.  He paced the small apartment and then sat down on his bed, indicating the chair for Hawk.  He gazed intently at the birdman.  “I can’t tell her, Hawk.  I tried, just like you and Dr. Burrows have suggested, but I simply can’t tell her.” 

This was a conversation that he and Buck had played out several times.  He didn’t have an answer to Buck’s concerns, because although he knew Wilma Deering fairly well, Hawk was sure that the garox would affect all aspects of their relationship.  But he had kept that to himself.  “You doubt she would understand?” 

“Maybe.  No.  Yes!  But I don’t think I could stand her solicitude, her pity.”  He leaned back against the cold wall.  “And there is no way I could ever strap her with an addicted husband.” 

Hawk said nothing for a moment.  “What do you intend to do?” 

Sighing, Buck looked at the rough ceiling.  “I don’t know.  I do know that I can’t live this way.”

Hawk’s dark eyes showed profound concern.  He recognized the signs of deep depression.  He had dealt with such things himself.  He wondered if Buck, like he had after Koori’s death, was contemplating suicide.  “I understand that there are ways to adapt to the garox,” he offered hopefully, knowing at the same time that his friend would probably never get used to this. 

Buck laughed bitterly.  “Adapt?  I don’t think I could ever adapt.” 

“But no one has ever broken the addiction, Buck.” 

 “There has to be a way, Hawk!  There simply has to be.” 

“No one even knows who invented garox,” Hawk added, wishing he could give some hope to his friend. 

“Someone who hated humans,” the terran answered dryly.  

Hawk gazed at Buck. It made simple sense.  Only humans seemed to become addicted to it.   “You are probably right.  Do you think the doctors would be able to help you on Cronis or on Earth?” 

Buck shook his head.    “No, not on Cronis.  I don’t know about Earth.  No, they couldn’t either.” 

“I do think you underestimate Wilma and her capacity to understand.” 

Frowning, Buck stood up and began pacing.  His hands were trembling.  Hells bells!   “I don’t care how understanding she is, I don’t want her to know.”  He paced a bit and then stopped, his head bowed.  “It’s me, Hawk.  Not her.  I can’t live with myself like this.  How can I ask her to understand what I can’t tolerate?  She thinks I’m going to saunter on back to the Searcher and life will be normal again.  It won’t ever be normal!  I don’t want to go to the Searcher and have everyone look at me like some in-the-gutter bum.  The garox addicted exo.”  He laughed bitterly.  “That will set well with everyone from the admiral to the directorate to Cronis.”

“I still think you underestimate everyone’s capacity to understand, Buck.”

“It’s not just understanding, Hawk.  It’s ability to do the job.  I can’t do the job.  Not the way garox affects my body, my mind.  I can’t do my job, I can’t live my life.”

Hawk felt Buck’s helplessness and he felt his own.  He wished he could do something to help.  He remembered his horror at Buck’s condition when they had made their escape attempt and that was before he realized the totality of the situation.  “What can I do to help?” 

“There’s nothing you can do to help,” Buck snapped.  He stopped pacing and gazed at Hawk.  “I’m sorry, Hawk.  I didn’t mean to bite your head off.  It’s just that I don’t know.  I have to think,” Buck said after he had paced a bit more.   

“I understand.  But do not stay alone for long.  Wilma will be worried,” he said.  “She has worried a great deal lately.” 

“That’s another reason I don’t want to tell her.” 

“She contacted me a little while ago asking for you.  Apparently you haven’t answered her communications for the past half day.”  

“I know.  If she calls again before I get back with her, tell her I’m busy.”  Buck smiled.  “It won’t be a lie.  I am busy—busy wallowing in self-pity.”  

Hawk nodded as he turned to leave.  Before he left, he laid his hand on Buck’s arm.  Neither of them said anything for a moment.  There was only the unspoken communication of friendship.  

“Leave the door open, please, Hawk.” 

“Of course.” 

Once Hawk had left, Buck began pacing again.  He couldn’t stay cloistered here.  In that Hawk was right.  He couldn’t bring himself to go back to the Searcher, though.   Nor did he want to go to Cronis.   The pacing continued.   Would Dr. Huer have any clues as to how to break this?   Buck knew that he would at least try.  And that was the important thing.  Trying.  If necessary, Buck would die trying.  He certainly couldn’t live with the reality of ‘now.’  And resolve grew.  With a grim smile, Buck strode out of his apartment and to the dispensary where the doctor had his dose ready.  Hating himself, even as he eagerly anticipated the fix, he let the medic give him the garox.  Rolling down his sleeve, Buck smiled softly.  “Thanks, doc.  If I find a cure for this, I will happily put you out of business.” 

“And I will happily let you,” Burrows replied.   “So you are leaving us?” 

“Yeah, Doc.  You and Barney and Ril can handle this place.  I am just the figurehead.  I have to try to kick this thing.” 

“Any ideas where you’re going?” 

“Yes, but I haven’t made a final decision,” Buck said.  He really did have a pretty definite idea of his destination, but if he kept it to himself, he wouldn’t have Wilma and Hawk and others following him, watching him go through withdrawals.  

Burrows looked at him with understanding eyes.  “And if anyone can do it, I imagine it’ll be you.” 

“Thanks.” 

“Good luck, Mr. President.” 

“Thanks, Cole,” Buck said, shaking his head.  He couldn’t get used to being called that.  Well, it wouldn’t matter that much.  Barney would have that job within the hour.

Buck strode to the elevators and rode them to the warehouse turned hangar.  A starfighter stood ready and waiting.  He walked up to it and checked it out.   It had been fueled and was ready to go. 

“Hey, Buck!” 

Again, Buck was startled.  This time it was Twiki.  He turned and greeted the quad.  “Hi, guys,” he said, seeing Theo around Twiki’s neck.   “I thought you were on the Searcher. 

“Hello, Mr. President,” Theo said, his lights blinking merrily at the chance meeting.  He had been getting frustrated trying to arrange a time to see his friend while in the capacity of his job as the leader of this fledgling nation.   

“Now don’t you start that, Theo,” Buck said with a slight grin.  “That is a temporary title and you know it.” 

“Very well, Captain.   But in answer to your question, we were asked to gather facts about the operation of this mine so that the Galactic Government could decide whether to bring charges against the Arator Company or not.” 

“Good.  I hope you two have found what you are looking for.” 

“Indeed we have.  Even without what we have found out today, there is sufficient evidence of misconduct in several operations of this mining facility.   Are you planning on returning to the Searcher now?” Theo asked, changing the subject.  

“No.  Do you two want to accompany me on a bit of a longer trip?  Or do you need to stay and find more facts?” 

“I want to go, Buck!” Twiki said exuberantly.  

“As I said, we have found ample information for the Galactic Council to work with.  Where did you have in mind to go, Captain?” Theo asked.  

“I’ll tell you when we’re space borne.” 

Theo sensed something important, but he trusted Buck and knew the terran wouldn’t do anything deliberate that would put them in harm’s way.   “Very well, Buck.  I would like to go, too.” 

“Good.  Let’s go, gentlemen.” 

“Right now?” Theo asked. 

“Yes, now.   You coming or not?” 

“I am,” Twiki piped up.  

Buck bent down and lifted the quad to the wing of the starfighter.   Twiki toddled over to the cockpit and climbed down into the back seat as Buck got up on the wing.  

“Headed for a ride, Mr. President?” a technician asked.  

“Yes, I am.  Been a while.” 

“Have fun, sir.” 

Soon they were speeding out into depths of the Bosk system toward the stargate.  Buck lay in the coordinates that he knew would take him to Earth.  It would take several jumps, but that would give him time to think.  

“Now can you tell us where you are going?” Theo asked.  

“In a minute,” he answered tersely. 

The stargate loomed in front of them, flashed brightly and they were through.  It hardly bothered him now, Buck thought as he remembered that first time he had gone through one with Wilma.   “We’re going to Earth.” 

“Earth?” Twiki and Theo echoed. 

“Yeah.  I want to see Dr. Huer.” 

“Oh.” Twiki replied, as though he understood everything.  He didn’t.  

Neither did Theo.  “Why, Buck?  If I may ask, that is.” 

“Of course you may ask, Theo.  I dragged you along, after all.” 

“We both came willingly, Captain.  We trust you implicitly.”  Twiki echoed Dr. Theopolis’ sentiment. 

“Thanks, guys,” Buck said and did some more calculations that would ready them for the next stargate.  Then he sat back.  “You two familiar with garox?” 

“Oh, yes, Buck.  It is a highly addictive and ultimately deadly substance for humans.  We included Arator Company’s use of it in the mines in one of our reports.” 

“Good.  And you have described it in a nutshell.”  He paused and took a deep breath.  This wasn’t easy to admit even to quads.   But then these weren’t ordinary quads, they were his friends, too.  He plunged on.   “I took my last dose a couple of hours ago.” 

For once, Theo and Twiki both were stunned into total and absolute silence. 

 

 

 

Chapter Three

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