Freedom's Wings

 

 

 

Chapter Three

 

 

Wilma gathered the small carryall that contained change of clothing and her personal items and walked out of her cabin.  She turned and looked back, wondering when she would return.  Then with a shrug, she walked out of the room, her slender fingers brushing the light switch.  The lights dimmed with a finality that was sad, but she had no intention of staying on this ship when she was needed elsewhere.  Wherever Buck chose to stay, there she would stay also.  As long as she was with him.  

Seeing a lower ranking tech, she stopped him.  “Take this to my starfighter, please.”  He nodded and took her carryall.  Wilma continued to the bridge.  When she walked through the sliding doors, she received a couple of surprised looks as it was still several hours before the beginning of her shift.  “Admiral, may I see you privately, please?” 

He paused a moment before nodding. Getting up, he preceded Wilma to his ready room, where he motioned her to sit down.  

Shaking her head, Wilma got right to the point.  “I am requesting an extended leave of absence.” 

The admiral didn’t look very surprised. “Can I assume it has to do with Buck?” 

“Yes, sir.  I know why he seemed so changed and why he was uncomfortable on board the Searcher. 

“Well, I don’t, but I did get this just before you came on the bridge.”  Asimov tossed a printout onto the table.  

Wilma picked it up and read it.  There wasn’t much to read.  It was Buck’s resignation.  She sighed and laid it back down.  “I’m not surprised.” 

I am, Wilma,” he said tersely.  “We spend all this time looking for him and Hawk and he resigns?  What the hell is going on?” 

“Admiral, Buck didn’t want us to know the underlying reason for all of this, but I figured it out.  I won’t betray his confidence by telling you, but I suspect that Dr. Goodfellow will deduce the reason in a very short time.”  She looked down at the decking, suddenly overcome by emotion.  When she looked back up, she had to blink back the tears.  “All I can say is that I need to be with him.” 

With a sigh, Asimov nodded.  “Take all the time you need.  And if you can, get him to come back with you.  He’s too good an officer to lose.”  He held up Buck’s resignation.  “And I am not going to act on this until I hear something from you.” 

“Thanks, Admiral, for understanding,” she said.  “I will let you know what’s going on as soon as I can.” 

“Wilma,” he said as she started to leave.  “Please tell Buck we miss him.” 

“I will.” 

“And I at least expect to see both of you at the trial,” he added. 

Wilma had forgotten Erik Kormand’s trial but she nodded.  She suspected that Buck had forgotten as well.

 

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Dr. Huer gazed at the incoming information with deep interest.  The last communiqué he had received from Wilma had said that Buck had been found and the former mining colony where he had been incarcerated was now recognized as an autonomous country.   Now he was getting a direct request from Buck for landing privileges in the directorate hanger?    Curiosity overwhelmed him.  He knew, from his informant’s messages, that this had been the foulest prison/mining business in the known galaxy and he was eager to hear from Buck, himself, what it had been like.  Somehow, though, he suspected that the young man’s reasoning for coming to Earth had to be more than to sit and chat with him. 

He punched a button.  “Direct communication with Captain Rogers, please,” he ordered.   The vid-link was quickly established.  “Hello, Buck.  This is surely a pleasant surprise.  Of course you can land in the directorate hanger and you will come and see me immediately, won’t you?  For dinner, of course, and drinks.” 

Buck had a sardonic expression for a moment, then he smiled.  “Of course, Doc.  I wanted to specifically see you anyway.” 

Although he wanted badly to ask questions, Huer knew that Buck would give him the reason for the visit in the privacy of his apartment.  He punched another button and ordered some synthahol replication of a wine that Buck called Chardonnay.   It was something he had worked on and been able to somewhat duplicate on Buck’s last visit to Earth.  At least Buck had been pleased then.  Hopefully, it would still be pleasant for him now.  

Then he left his office, wanting to be home in time to properly greet Buck.   He missed the young man fiercely at times, just as he missed Wilma.  They had become more than close co-workers, they were like family and their departure on the Searcher had left a large void in his life . . . and in his heart.  

Huer ordered up a dish that he thought Buck would like, picked up a few things he had left laying around his apartment when he had gone to his office that morning and then sat and waited.   He had not seen Buck or Wilma since the attempted Lagrithian plague and had only heard from others’ communiqués what had been happening to them since that time.   Some of those communications had disturbed him.   The vid-link had shown him someone who appeared much more careworn.  Someone sad.   Despite that, though, it would be good to see Buck and it would be good to talk with him.  

Within a few minutes, the door sounded Buck’s arrival.   “Enter,” Huer called out.  The door swished open and Buck strode in, Twiki with Dr. Theopolis on his neck right behind him.  He stood up and shook Buck’s hand, then enveloped him in a fatherly embrace.  He pulled back and smiled.   “Good to see you again, Buck,” he said exuberantly.   “But you didn’t bring Wilma.  I surely expected you two to be coming with something exciting to announce.” 

A quick frown passed across Buck’s features and Huer wondered if something had happened between the two.  “Not this time, Doc,” Buck finally said, his voice somewhat monotone.  

“Uh, I wasn’t trying to be presumptuous,” Huer said awkwardly.  The silence that followed was uncomfortable.  Finally, he turned to Twiki and Theo.  “I didn’t know you two were coming, as well.”  

“Captain Rogers invited us to accompany him on his visit,” Theo answered.  Twiki was uncharacteristically quiet.   

“Glad you could all make it,” Huer replied.   He rubbed his hands together, nervous and feeling that there was something Buck was waiting to tell him.  Usually the younger man was quick and to the point, but what he had on his mind now was obviously something that made him uncomfortable.  “Well, why don’t we talk over dinner?   It should be ready now.” 

“Sounds like a plan, Doc.” 

Huer invited Buck to sit at his dining table while he pulled the dinners out of the servo compartment.  Then he brought the glasses and syntha-wine.   “Would you pour the drinks, Buck?” 

“Sure, Doc,” he said, opening the bottle and pouring a liberal amount in each glass.  He raised his glass.   “Here’s to the end of slavery, drug trafficking and bigotry,” he said.  

“Amen,” Huer answered and took a drink.  The two men ate in silence for a bit, savoring the flavor of the foods, colorfully arrayed on the two plates.  

Finally, Huer could stand it no more.  “Buck, if I said anything out of line about you and Wilma, I apologize.” 

“Me and Wilma?”  Buck looked puzzled, then comprehension dawned.   “Oh, I see.  No, you didn’t say anything out of line.” 

“But I feel there is something wrong,” Huer said, his voice tight.  The feeling of anxiety seemed to grow in his chest.  There was something wrong. 

“I assume you have received communiqués from the Searcher,” Buck questioned.  

“Yes, periodically, but nothing of a personal nature.”  He paused a beat.  “I do know that both you and Wilma went through a horrendous experience on Mendalis, and I was informed of yours and Hawk’s kidnapping.   Did you come here for some relaxation?” 

Buck laughed shortly and drank his glass of syntha-wine.  He gazed at the glass for a moment. “Your synthahol makers are getting better,” he said, avoiding the question for the moment.   He poured another one and drank it in two gulps.   Then he sighed, his demeanor deadly serious.  “If you are wondering if there is something wrong between me and Wilma, there is.  But it’s not what you think.”  He poured another glass and wished it were the real thing.  He could use a belt of fortitude or forgetfulness, either one or both.  “The feelings are still there; it’s just the circumstances that have changed.” 

“What do you mean, Buck?”  Huer suddenly remembered his own son’s pain when he was trying to deal with a crisis in his life.  It had been hard for Chris to open up and explain how he felt.  And the doctor realized that his feelings for Buck were much the same as his feelings for his own children.  His concern grew. 

“I wish to hell I was here for relaxation,” Buck suddenly burst out bitterly.  He got up, the remainder of his meal forgotten, and began to pace.  He stopped in front of an ivory-textured sculpture and gently touched its softly glowing surface.  “I . . . uh, Doc….” 

“What is it, Buck?” Huer asked, joining the younger man.  His hand rested reassuringly on Buck’s shoulder.  At his touch, Buck sucked in a sobbing breath, continuing to stroke the sculpture.   The doctor was alarmed to see tears tracking down Buck’s cheeks.  “Please, Buck, what is the matter?  What can I do to help?” 

Buck knew then that he had come back to Earth to die.  There was no known cure for his addiction, nothing that could save him.  He only wanted to die with as much dignity as he could and that included Wilma not being here with him.  He sucked in a deep breath.   “I don’t want you to tell Wilma that I am here.” 

“Why not?”  

“Because I don’t want her to watch me die.” 

“What?  What are you talking about?” Huer asked.  His hand still rested on Buck’s arm, firm and reassuring.  He forced calm into his heart.   “I think you had better tell me the whole story.  Please, come sit down.” 

Buck nodded and followed the older man to a bright blue couch.  He sat down, but didn’t say anything.  

“What happened on Bosk, Buck?” 

Sucking in a shuddering breath, Buck began, leaving out little.  When he finished, he gazed meaningfully at the Directorate leader.  “Now do you know why I wanted to come here alone?” 

“Yes, I do,” Huer answered softly, his heart breaking at Buck’s news.  “But we need to try to do something.  The Directorate has some of the best scientists and doctors in the galaxy.  Several have been working on various addictive substances lately with very promising results.” 

“I’m not taking anymore garox,” Buck insisted.  He gazed at his hands.  They were trembling slightly, but it was more from nerves than the garox.  Now. 

“Before you totally decide that, will you talk to them?” 

There was a slight bit of hesitation.  “Yes.” 

“And Buck?” 

The young man looked at him, the eyes filled with deep sadness.  “Yes?” 

“Thank you.” 

Now the sadness changed to puzzlement.  “What for?” 

“For coming to me with this.   I know it had to be very difficult.” 

Buck heaved a sigh.  “I thought that if anyone could help, it would be you.”  He paused.  “And something inside said you would understand.”   He got up and poured himself another drink.  While his back was turned, he added, “You are a closest thing I have to a father now.  And in some ways, I feel even closer to you than I did my own father.”  

Huer had to blink to keep his own tears in check.  This was not the time for raw emotion.   “You don’t know how much that means to me, Buck, because I have considered you more like a son than a colleague for quite a while.” 

Buck turned and smiled, raising his glass, “To fathers,” he said softly. 

Huer raised his and said, “To sons.”  They both finished their drinks. 

 

 

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Hawk went topside, pondering, wishing he had a solution for his friend.  He had not felt this helpless since Koori’s death.  Gazing toward the distant mountains, he felt their pull and he began walking.  Hawk walked the same path he and Buck and Tigerman had walked two months ago.  A high-pitched whine caused him to look up and Hawk saw a starfighter passing overhead across his limited, leaf filtered field of vision.  

Near the mountains, Hawk stopped, still thinking and just watching the sky.  He smelled the freshness of the mountain air, the sharp tang of the verdant vegetation.  Even the rocks had a sharp metallic sun-heated smell.  The blue-green-steel colored sky stretched like a bowl overhead.  

A cooler breeze ruffled Hawk’s head feathers.  It was the precursor of a wind that blew down from the peaks above to the valley that spread before him.  Feeling the urge to follow the cool breeze to its source, he began climbing, his gauntleted fingers finding hand-holds with the surety of much practice.  It was almost like being back on Throm, back before the destruction of his people and the death of Koori.  

Koori!  His thoughts started and he felt that familiar biting feeling of loss.  Hawk continued climbing and finally reached the peak.  He sat quietly, feeling the almost fierce wind pluck at him, first one way and then another.  He tried to feel Koori but was unable to.  The plateau where he and Buck and Tigerman had separated lay below him and he remembered that horrible time.  Hawk also remembered how Buck had had temporary respite from the withdrawals when he had used some of the techniques Sky Mother had taught him.   

Could Sky Mother help Buck?  Would she come to Bosk?  That her skills in healing and focusing were so much better than his was an understatement.  And he was sure he could talk her into coming to Bosk.  Or better yet, perhaps Buck would go to Mendalis.  Hawk began to feel hope.  He saw a raptor winging above him and wished he had quasi-wings to fly back down to the valley.  They would all fly from this peak when Buck was cured, just as they had before.  

Hope continued to grow and Hawk started back down the path he had taken up the mountains. Carefully he stepped down the rock ledges until he reached the path that led to the wooded valley.  Eager to tell Buck his plan, Hawk quickened his pace.  Then he remembered the starfighter he had caught a glimpse of earlier in the day.  Most interstellar flights were from the spaceport.  Only one man had a starfighter here.  Buck.  Wilma had left it here for him for when he decided to go back to the Searcher.   There had barely been room for it in the warehouse building.  Workers were in the process of building a landing field, but it was some weeks off.  So when he had come, even Hawk had come to the mine in a sub-atmospheric shuttlecraft.  

 

 

 

Chapter Four
Chapter One
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