Freedom's Wings

 

 

 

 

   

Chapter Twenty-seven

  

 

 

Sky Mother was by his side.  “Buck,” she whispered as Ranakatu turned to give orders.  She pulled her hand from a pocket of her robe of authority.  When she opened it, Buck saw a small packet with a vial in it.   

“What?” he asked, incredulous.  He recognized it. 

“I got this from the Earth doctor, Dr. Goodfellow,” she said in terra lingua.  “I knew we were coming among the inventors of the garox.  I wanted this antidote just in case.”  She paused briefly and then finished as Ranakatu turned back to them.  “I will give it to you after the seeing.” 

Buck looked at her in deep gratitude.  “Thank you,” he whispered, the Tane-rapanui woman’s foresight giving him a slight reassurance.   

She put the vial away.  “My dreams led us here and they were not dreams of defeat.  They were dreams of triumph.”  She looked at him as a mother would gaze on a son.  “You can do this, Buck.  You did it before.”   

“I didn’t have anything to lose, then, Sky Mother,” Buck said tonelessly.  

Wilma threw her arms around him and kissed him.  When she drew back there were unshed tears in her eyes.  “Yes, you did, Buck Rogers.  And you still do....” 

Buck gazed at her appreciatively.  “I know.”  His voice was husky with emotion. 

Hawk was also by his side.  “I will be nearby, Buck.  Call me if you need help.”

“You may have to have your own seeing,” Buck replied.  Then he added, “And you might have to fight your way out if this doesn’t work.” 

“I understand.”  

“I have sent for the iniru-mata,” Ranakatu told him, ignoring the fact that they had been conversing in another language.    “It is the most pure form, used only for seeings of this nature.  It will be here in a moment.”   He looked into Buck’s eyes.  “And I sincerely hope there will not be a need to fight your way out of here,” he added in a whisper. 

Buck’s eyes widened in surprise.  “You understood that?” 

“I understand terra lingua, but do not readily speak it,” the elder leader said.  He gazed at the rest of the visitors.  “You must return to your seats.  This seeing has to be accomplished by the applicant alone; the seer must receive no help.”   He turned to the young men at the edge of the pit.  “Burn the stones.”  The boys intoned words that Buck couldn’t quite understand and then carefully tipped the blue stones into the pit.  Another youth brought in a torch and with what sounded like a prayer, he waved the torch side to side and then threw it down on top of the rocks.   The stones immediately sparked and then began belching out thick, bluish smoke.  It was cloying and Buck coughed, unable to stop for a moment.  The rocks in the bottom of the pit glowed with an ethereal fire, like incandescent lava flowing into the shapes of subterranean animals.  

“Are you seeing anything?” Ranakatu asked. 

“No, just the rocks making weird shapes,” Buck said, hoping that he could have said yes.   As the room filled with smoke, he watched with horror the approach of a Tane-rapanui with several vials in his hands.  Willing himself to calm down, Buck kept telling himself that Sky Mother had the antidote and would be giving it to him when he was finished.  Then it occurred to him that he might not even be successful.  That was even more frightening than taking the iniru-mata was.   Buck stood at the railing of the pit watching the smoke curl around his feet and then continue through the room.  He felt light-headed, but he was not seeing anything other than what was in the room.   

Ranakatu addressed the assemblage.  “The terran, Buck Rogers, is about to undergo a seeing to determine his right to join the people.  If there are any who object, let their voices now be heard.” 

Surprising to Ranakatu, there was not one word spoken, not even from Arana.   He wondered about that, but it was too late to stop the ritual in order to investigate.  Then it dawned on him that she and the others truly thought he would fail, being human, and then she would have her way with him and his beloved.  The elder leader pulled out a vial and prepared it for use.  Looking at the human, he asked, “Are you ready?” 

“As ready as I’ll ever be,” Buck answered calmly.  Inside, he was anything but calm. 

Ranakatu saw the human’s hands tremble slightly and understood then that Buck Rogers knew all about the iniru-mata, at least from a human perspective and that brought new questions.  But Ranakatu put that from his mind.  He had to focus on this ritual.  The elder leader intoned a prayer to Make-Make that this be a true seeing, even as he silently willed that all of this would be to the good of the people.  Then he stuck the needle into the human’s arm.   “Let there be a true seeing!” he cried to the assembled council and stepped away from Buck Rogers, who was resigned, waiting.  

For several moments nothing happened, Buck simply stood hanging onto the railing watching the smoke rise into his face and the smoldering rocks speak words of fear into his soul.  Then he was transported to an airstrip in Colorado where he saw a damaged fighter jet desperately trying to make a landing careening toward him.  The landing gear had not deployed and the jet skidded on its belly, sparks flying across the concrete from the tortured metal.   It surged toward him with the speed and terrible power of a tornado.   Buck cried out even as he tried to dodge the inevitable.  Falling to the ground, he choked on the smoke and jet fuel fumes that seemed to saturate every cell in his body.  The heat was almost unbearable and he rolled over trying to get air into his oxygen-deprived lungs.  He saw a mushroom-shaped cloud in the distance and there was even more heat.  Bodies melted around him and he screamed as he witnessed the full horror of the holocaust he had missed before.  Trees wilted and then burst into flame and ash, almost in the same instant.  He saw buildings crumble, people walking dead, burned almost to ash, crying for help that couldn’t come.  Screams, moans, curses; the gut wrenching, metallic smell of blood, burnt flesh and the stench of decimated metal, plastic and cloth.  It assaulted his senses, threatened his sanity.  Buck tried to look away, but he could not.

Then the air cleared and he was looking over a different battlefield.   There were more jets overhead, older ones, maybe World War II, and tanks on the ground, men with bazookas, machine guns and rifles racing across a field toward one another.  With cries of impending doom they clashed, fought, and killed each other.  Blood ran over the ground, churning with mud, mixing with the tears that fell from the sky.  The booming of artillery deafened him and Buck crouched, covering his ears as the screams of dying men and dying machines filled the very fiber of his soul.  His mental eyes flew through scenes of carnage that seemed to get more and more primitive but never lessened in their intensity.  Arrows flew to their targets, into soft flesh that quivered at the mortal violation.  Even as they were dying, some of the warriors were trying to kill those who had killed them.  Bearded men in leather jerkins slashed and stabbed at men in fur coverings.  Screams of hatred vied with screams of agony.  He was seeing a panorama of gore, blood and insanity.   

Men in feathers and cloth chased Tane-rapanui in the dark night.  The bird people easily escaped into the sky, but occasionally a few fell with arrows protruding from their breasts.  Soon the scene of hatred and insanity repeated on the mountains of a distant land.  Bird people dropping rock bombs on their tormentors…children with feathered wings ambushed and taken from their families, held captive and made to mate with those envying them their wings.  He heard the cries of the anguished young ones and Buck felt the tears slick on his cheeks.  He heard the moans of pain and realized they were his.  Crouching on the ground, he willed the seeing to stop, but it wouldn’t. 

“What is all of this he is seeing?” a voice called out of the swirling blue smoke.  “The human is not close enough to the pit for the smoke to have the greatest advantage for us to see.”  

But Ranakatu saw and all who had some vestige of sight saw; the visiting Tane-rapanui saw; the human who was the conduit most definitely saw.   Slowly, the seeing of one human became a seeing of two races and it was in the smoke for all to witness who had eyes to see.   Ranakatu was amazed at the clarity of the seeing, amazed and appalled by what he was seeing. 

Ranakatu saw carnage in the blue mists; he saw the death and destruction of hundreds of thousands of humans.  He saw the death among his own ancestors and the battles fought between his kind and the humans, the exodus from place to place and finally the help of the insect-like benefactors from far away.  Ultimately, there was the flight to the stars and to the promise of peace.  But there was no peace.  In his own mind and then in the smoke of the pit, Ranakatu saw death when their star-going benefactors exacted payment from the Tane-rapanui, mercenary payment which his people were unwilling to give.  He saw the battles in the smoke, the carnage among the stars, the death of more of his people.   Death not at the hands of humans, but from those who had claimed to help them.  Finally, there was the last confrontation when Star Warrior, Mana-araki flew the great ship into an even greater planet.  The stick-like warriors all died, his people who were left fled, hopefully to join those who had fled before the great battle.   Star travel was abandoned, the people hid wherever they were and there was a sad semblance of peace, with the forgetting of the conflagration among the stars.  

Buck cried out as though in great pain.  He lay curled up on the ground, his hands covering his ears. 

Wilma was the closest.  She leaped to Buck’s side, saw his contorted features and through her tears tried to gather him in her arms.  She had seen little of what he was seeing at first, until others, probably Sky Mother and Sky Father, gauging by their closed-eyed concentration, with the ability had augmented the vision and then she had seen the horror of Buck’s ‘sight’ in the swirling blue smoke.   

“No, Wilma, we must let this continue to the conclusion.   Make-Make will decide when that conclusion is,” Sky Mother said quietly.  They helped Buck to the edge of the pit; then Sky Mother pulled Wilma away.  Tears coursed down each woman’s cheeks.  The pictures in the smoke clarified, but the carnage and destruction had vanished already and there was something else to see.  Buck grasped the metal railing as the seeing continued. 

He felt hands on either side of him, soft hands guiding him and then he saw an old woman in a crowded Delhi street giving water to a dying man.  Others like her changed wounds, bathed babies and brought the destitute and orphans into shelter.  Hands gave him something to hold onto and he grasped the lifeline as though it was the only thing that could save him.  He saw a mother with several children, reading to them, then he realized it was his mother.  The wonders of Narnia, the jungles of Africa, the skies of Pern all opened up to him.  He laughed with his brother and sister as they all tried to see how long their Oreo cookies would last in a milk-dunking contest.  The hands of a benevolent but tough coach showed him how to hold a football, a teacher stayed after school for a few minutes to show him how to solve an equation.  Friends and family, Jennifer; times on the beach, times camping, oh, so many times camping; poison oak and mosquitoes, campfires and marshmallows; Buck smiled at the memories.  Then he was in space, among the stars.  He almost couldn’t breathe; it was so wonderful.  

“Stop this!  It is nonsense and changes nothing!” Queen Arana cried out.  “You saw what humans did.  You saw their evil, destructive natures!  You have seen it from a human,” she added, standing up in her rage.  “What more do you need?  They must be destroyed!” 

Buck heard the cries of the queen but he couldn’t understand what she was saying.  It was lost in the seeing of his memories and the wonder that his life had brought him.  The joy was as exquisite as the pain of the previous memories had been and he felt a twinge of annoyance at this tiny interruption.  The stars began shifting, sliding away and he was further annoyed.  

“No, Arana,” Ranakatu said, consciously deleting the honorific, “Only Make-Make decides when this ends and it is not over yet.  The human, as with any Tane-rapanui, must be allowed to complete the journey of the seeing.” 

Buck felt himself carried to Bosk, knew again the anguish of the garox addiction, the pain it brought others.  The smoke swirled thick and cloying as the young Tane-rapanui threw in more of the iniru-mata stones.  Puffs of smoke hit him in the face, filled his lungs and Buck thought he was floating away from the room.  He had wings.  No, he was in the mind of someone with wings.  It was Garo-tura!  The Tane-rapanui scientist got up in the early morning hours and studied his equations.  Buck didn’t remember this from the first time.  The scientist walked into this very room, to the pit and studied the smoldering rocks.  He smiled to himself, seeing the seeds of destruction for the human race in the whispering blue smoke.  The pit told him of conquest and consequent recolonization of Earth.   It told of triumph and sweet victory.   Some of the smoke hit him in the face and he saw the destruction of the humans by their own hands and he was startled, just as he had been when the Elder Leader had told him of the imminent destruction of Earth’s humans.  Would they do for him what he had been working so hard for these past few years to accomplish?  But in so doing, the very planet was being destroyed.  More smoke wafted from the pit.  More visions filled his mind.  Some humans would survive.  So be it.  He would prepare his invention for that eventual future.  It would make it easier to destroy them if there were just a few.   

Garo-tura had used the last extant starship to capture several humans from a remote part of Earth to experiment on.  There would be no more journeys.  The ship had been destroyed; their home was secure from retaliation.  The humans didn’t have the technology to follow anyway.  What?  A few nations sending up limited range space ships?  It was laughable.  They were pitiful.  They were despicable. It would be a pleasure to rid the galaxy of the hated vermin.   He watched as one ship lifted from the sands of a well-lit beach and slid slowly through the skies.  One human doing what all of the people had done centuries before.  And as he watched, he saw that even that endeavor was a failure.  He smiled.  One less human.  The blue smoke showed him no more. 

Suddenly, Garo-tura felt another presence and looked about the room.  No one was there.  He looked back into the pit and felt a quick pain between his eyes.  It was gone in an instant, but it left him feeling slightly weak and nauseated in its intensity.  The smoke drifted away and Garo-tura felt tired.  It was time to return to his personal chambers; time to return to Ava-iki, his beloved.   Slowly, he walked out of the audience chamber and through the corridor to his own home where his beloved lay warm and soft in their nest.  She sighed with delight when he laid one wing over her body.  He sighed his delight as well.  

Later in the morning, he flew with his beloved and discovered that the presence he had felt in the chamber was a presence that had invaded his head.  He wanted to scream with frustration, beat the creature out of his mind, but that wouldn’t be logical.  Instead, he reasoned with it, tried to find out more about it, find out what it was and where it came from.  Most important of all, what it wanted.   His scientific expedition in his own mind turned to horror when he realized what was there.  A human?  NO!!   Everything became bitter, turned to ashes.   The human tried to make him sympathize, but how can you be sympathetic to the insect biting your ankle, to the vermin soiling your food supply?  The human would not, could not leave.  But he would destroy at least one human first hand.   He knew that his experiments were at least partially successful; scientists in future years would see that the rest of his plans would bear fruit.  His descendants would see the total destruction of humankind.   He threw himself off the cliff in fierce determination and only the last minute realization that his beloved saw into his mind during his fall tempered his feeling of victory.  

Buck’s time with Garo-tura was shown in the smoke in startling detail.  There were even things that he had forgotten.  Reliving them was torment.  Reliving them in front of Garo-tura’s people added to his misery.  He crouched at the railing, wracked with the knowledge that he had failed to help his friends, and was unable to change a thing.  And he was not done yet.  The smoke continued to drift around him, showing images that were now disjointed and tenuous.  He tried to crawl away, but couldn’t.  His hands still clung to the edge of the pit as though they had been bolted to the edge; his eyes fastened on the swirling blue flame and smoke that lay below him, around him and above him.  He looked up at the youths still dropping rocks into the pit, willing them to stop.  

Let me go!  LET ME GO! he cried mentally to the rocks, the smoke, the elders.  But he knew that no one could help him.  He breathed in more of the blue smoke that swirled mercilessly from the pit.  And he knew that there was more, much, much more to be seen and he sobbed in his helplessness.    

Arana jumped to her feet, her eyes blazing, cursing the human before her.  He was the one!  HE was the cursed human that had inhabited her hero ancestor.  How, she didn’t know, nor did she care.  He was the killer and he was going to die.  She grabbed a laser pistol from the hands of one of her personal guards and raised it to fire.  Suddenly, inexplicably, the human screamed and jerked to one side, as though pulled by invisible hands.  Her blast hit where he had been crouched by the pit.  Arana aimed again, but Ranakatu grabbed her hand.  At the same time, the human slowly and painfully rose to his feet and the smoke coalesced to new visions. 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-eight
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