Freedom's Wings

 

 

 

 

Chapter Thirty

 

 

Buck woke with a start, his shirt soaked with sweat, his heart beating wildly.  By the time his eyes got used to the dimness, he realized where he was—one of the bedrooms in the guest chamber in the city of the Tane-rapanui.  He thought back to the audience chamber, but his mind kept sliding back to the dream.  Nightmare, he thought.  

He had been on some alien planet, amid the wreckage of a battle.  There were bodies everywhere, the stench of burned flesh made him sick, smoke from burning vehicles rose lazily to the sky. He shook his head; it had been so real, so horrifyingly real.  Like the seeing had been and that made it even more horrible….   

The landscape had seemed surreal and endless, stretching forever.  He was older, how much, Buck couldn’t be sure, but he walked among the dead with the surety of one who knew that the attackers were gone.  He was looking for something . . . or someone.   As he stepped over the dead, it dawned on him—it was Wilma he was looking for.  Fear gnawed inside.  Nothing had come over the communicator but static.  He had led the starfighter squadron, taking out the attacking forces from the air, while Wilma led the ground forces.   Trying to remember just what this operation was for, what caused it, how it had begun was beyond his understanding.  His memories hit a blank.  

Wilma had to be here—she had to be.  He continued looking, occasionally calling her name.  He tried his communicator again, nothing but static.  This went on for hours, the heat of the sun beating down on him, causing the scene of carnage to waver at times.  

Buck rubbed his eyes, trying to focus.  Again he tried the communicator.  Then in the distance, he saw a figure, one shrouded in a white, glowing robe.  As he got closer, Buck recognized the Guardian, the young man they had tried to save on Canovus V.  Dread threatened to engulf him as the Guardian pointed at his feet.  There lay Wilma, crumpled in death, her gray eyes still open in surprise, but seeing nothing.  Falling to his knees, Buck called her name, gathered her in his arms and held her close, as though his body warmth could revive her.  She had always been there for him; she had become the individual that replaced all he had lost in the twentieth century.  Not even Hawk, for all that he was such a close friend, could do that for him.  Even when he had backed out of marriage, she still stayed by him.  Now he saw what it was—she had totally committed herself to him, not asking for anything from him.  And now she was gone.  What the hell had been wrong with him?   

He held her lifeless body close to him and felt the tears runnel down his cheeks.  Sobs began to rack his body, tears that he had not been able to shed when he had first come to this time, flowed, because of what he had lost—because of Wilma.  His anchor.  Even though she stayed close, she had actually cooled the relationship, releasing him with the excuse that she needed to concentrate more on her career, a career somewhat derailed by her resignation from the Defense Directorate leadership.  But she had never pursued that elusive, career enhancing assignment and things had been comfortable.  Comfortable! he thought, feeling self-derision.  He knew what would really make her happy.  He knew it and stayed comfortable.  The excuses had sounded so reasonable then.  Buck didn’t want to tie her down to the stress and worry of his life—the near miss death experiences.  She had worried about making him feel restricted, and finally gave in to a closer, temporary relationship that could be easily broken off.  No commitment, absolutely no commitment and he knew that it saddened her.  

“Did you love her?” the Guardian asked softly. 

Did he love her?  Yes.  Did he love her enough to make her happy, to fulfill her dreams?  Apparently not.   “Yes,” he said between sobbing breaths.  

“Then why didn’t you take that step which would have made her most happy and you most fulfilled?” 

“Me?”  And Buck realized that he had been empty during those years.  Not unhappy, but lonely in a sense.  Unfulfilled, uncommitted, just drifting.  

“Why didn’t you marry her?” the Guardian asked in a more succinct way.  “You had at least made that a formal promise to Jennifer.  Or did you not intend to keep that one, either?” 

That last hurt.  And made Buck wonder.  Would he have kept that promise if he had returned to Earth?  He knew he meant to, but would he?  He had made a similar promise to Wilma, albeit informally, and he didn’t keep the promise.  But he didn’t get that chance with Jennifer.   There was no choice; it had been taken beyond his control and he had been thrust into a maelstrom that at times had almost overwhelmed him.    “I made a promise to Jennifer and then everything went haywire,” he snapped.  He continued to hold Wilma close, not wanting to sever this tie either. 

“You were afraid the same thing would happen to Wilma?  Or to you again?” 

Was he?  Had he been afraid that if he made a similar commitment, his world would be torn apart the same way it had been and Wilma would have been left with empty promises?  Then he decided it must be.  Then he realized that in a sense it had.  Bosk.  Bosk had been a subconscious turning point.  It didn’t matter that things came together in the end; Bosk had served its purpose.  After his promise to Wilma, unofficial as it was, his world had been torn apart.   And from what he had heard, so had hers during that time.  “I . . . guess so.  I don’t know!” he stammered.  “I just didn’t want her to be left with regrets like Jennifer was . . . like I was.” 

“Angry and hurt?  And confused?” 

“Yes!” 

“Do you think that even a brief moment of joy with someone you truly love is not worth anything that may come later?” 

Was it?  Hadn’t he wished so many times for her to be by his side?  Hadn’t he even finally asked her to be his live-in a time or two?  She had refused at first, but then relented.  Neither had felt totally satisfied.  He hadn’t, at any rate and he could see in her eyes that she certainly hadn’t.  She had wanted something stronger, a commitment closer than a bed and a few whispered expressions of endearment.   And yet, she had stayed with him, through the following years—and now she was gone.   Carefully, he lowered her body to the ground, gently closing her eyes and arranging her hair that it almost seemed a halo around her face.  He loved her hair.  He loved everything about this incredible woman.   And now she was gone.  

His thoughts were a maelstrom of emotion, swirling over and over again through his mind, repeating themselves, indicting him.  Looking up at the Guardian, he asked, “Is this a true seeing?” he asked, even as he ran one finger down her cheek.  

“As the Tane-rapanui see the future?” the Guardian asked.  

Buck nodded.  

The Guardian smiled softly.  “Should it matter?  Even if it is a true vision of the future, does it really matter?” 

Buck said nothing, only continuing to gaze at Wilma, wiping a smudge off her cheek, trying to make her look alive.  He couldn’t though, and in resignation, he picked her up and began to carry her back to his ship.  Should it matter? he kept asking himself.  Should it? Should it?  Should it?  

Then like smoke, everything drifted away and Buck woke up alone, gasping for breath.  Alone!!  It was real!  And he cursed his self-centered foolishness.  Then small things filtered in, things that made elements of his experience seem false and Buck finally realized that it had been a dream.  He sobbed in relief.  But where was Wilma?  She wasn’t here.  He felt touches of panic fill his heart and he squelched them.  She was probably taking a break.  How long have I been asleep? he asked himself.  At least all day and part of a night, he surmised groggily.  

He sat up, slowly, due to the aching joints and muscles that seemed to have come with the seeing.  Who would have thought that such physical discomforts could come with something that the mind created?  He rubbed his hands down his legs and noticed that someone had dressed him in the equivalent of Tane-rapanui pajamas.  There was a kind of wrap around robe hanging on a hook nearby.  It was a bit chilly and he grabbed for it, putting it on as he stood up.  Massaging his sore back, Buck made his way to a small balcony off the room.  One moon was hanging directly overhead, a smaller one was just peeking over the horizon.  The air was chilly and he shivered, but still he stood there pondering the incredible events of the past few years.  

A slight sound alerted him of someone’s presence, but before he could say anything, he heard Wilma’s voice softly calling his name.  “Out here,” he replied.  

Pushing aside the curtain, she joined him.  While small, the balcony was large enough to accommodate a winged Tane-rapanui either landing or taking off, so there was plenty of room for the two of them.  “How are you feeling?” she asked, glad to see him awake and seemingly little the worse for wear.  

“Like someone dropped me from the top of the Directorate headquarters building,” he said wryly.  She chuckled softly.   “Really, just a bit stiff and sore,” he added.  “I am assuming the antidote worked this time, right?” 

“Yes.  You had no problems whatsoever getting over this,” replied Wilma.  “Sky Mother seemed to think that this was a different enough form that it didn’t affect you the same way as the garox did.”  

Buck frowned and then looked puzzled.  “I distinctly remember seeing Arana order the new version of the iniru-mata.  Didn’t it work?” 

“It wasn’t that,” Wilma explained.  “The scientist, Telis, didn’t feel it would be a viable scientific way to test the new drug.  So you were given the regular iniru-mata.  Sky Mother seemed to think that it didn’t have the same addictive qualities that the garox had.”  Wilma smiled.  “Apparently she was right.” 

“She’s right about most things,” Buck responded with a smile of his own.  “I will have to personally thank Telis for his scientific intuitions.”  

“I think he was relieved, too, after the seeing.”  

“So they destroyed the stuff?” Buck asked hopefully. 

“Elder Leader ordered them to,” Wilma replied.   “And he assured me that he had personally made sure that it had been.” 

He nodded.  “Good.  Those were some horrible nightmares, or visions, or whatever.”  And he thought of another nightmare and shuddered, but he also felt suddenly shy.   “How long have I been in la-la land?” 

She gazed at him with a puzzled look on her face and then smiled as she understood what he was saying.  “Almost thirty-six hours.  Sky Mother said the seeing had exhausted you.”  

“I guess so,” he said, astonished that he had slept for so long.  He still felt tired.  He gazed at Wilma and saw something almost ethereal and otherworldly in the moonlight.  Her hair glowed in the combined light of the two moons and it almost took his breath away.  Taking a deep breath, he looked out over the mountain landscape.  He turned back to Wilma and saw that she had been studying him.  Then he couldn’t help it.  He couldn’t restrain himself any longer; he pulled her to him and kissed her, a long drawn out kiss that spoke of dreams and desire, love and caring.  When he finally drew back, she blinked in surprise and then sighed in pleasure.  Her eyes held his in a forever gaze, a forging of a kind of link that was steel hard and could never be broken.  He gathered her close and kissed her again.  This time when the kiss ended, he continued to hold her close and he whispered in her ear, “Wilma Deering, will you marry me?”  And to his surprise, there was no fear; there was no hesitancy.  It felt right and he felt good.  

She pulled back and gaped at him in shock.  “What did you say?” 

With a grin of boyish delight—and he suddenly felt young again—he dropped to one knee, took her hand and repeated his question.  

Wilma bit her lip and blinked, but tears still ran down her cheeks.  

Buck continued to hold her hand, waiting for an answer.  Wilma shivered, whether from cold or surprise, he didn’t know.  “Well?” 

“Oh, Buck, that’s such a….” 

“Surprise?  Yeah, well, same here, but I said when the time was right and the time is right,” he replied.  

She gazed at him through tear-filled eyes, happy, but shocked at the same time.  This was something so totally unexpected that she didn’t know how to respond.  Then she remembered his last question.  Well?  Of course, yes.  A thousand times, yes.  Then another thought came to her mind, one somewhat perverse.  Buck Rogers, you take your own sweet time to finally ask me the question I’ve been waiting to hear for so long and you expect an answer in ten seconds?  She wiped her eyes with her free hand and smiled sweetly.  At least she hoped it was a smile with at least a bit of decorum.   “I should think as much time as you needed to feel the rightness of this, I shouldn’t be forced into a quick decision right away,” she said, her voice slightly chiding.  She knew he was cold, but he simply stared at her, still down on one knee, still holding her right hand.   “Let me help you up,” she added nonchalantly, enjoying his discomfiture.   She knew she probably shouldn’t be doing this, but she had learned from a master and the master was going to wait for a bit.  A short bit anyway.  She gripped Buck’s wrist and helped him up from the floor.  He still looked surprised, almost shocked and she couldn’t help it, she laughed.  “I promise, it won’t take me as long as it took you.” 

“You sure?” he asked, hesitantly, his gaze trying to penetrate her mood.  He saw the gleam of amusement and relaxed a bit.  

“I’m sure, Buck.  One of us has to prepare a surprise,” she replied facetiously.   “I thought you were going to prepare some kind of clever proposal like the one your father did.” 

Buck saw this bantering for what it was.  They were going in the direction both wanted to go; they had no doubts about their future together, and now were relaxed enough with their relationship to have fun with each other.   He didn’t remember this happening with Jennifer, but then Wilma and Jennifer were two different personalities.  Wilma had it in her to give him just exactly what he was dishing out.   He thought back to their early relationship and was amazed at how much she had loosened up and how quickly.  Maybe he had, too.  Whatever, he thought, dismissing his thoughts and just wanting to savor this time with Wilma.   He smiled.  “And you are telling me you weren’t surprised?” 

She looked thoughtful, gazed at him and looked at the small moon slowly following the larger one across the sky.  “Well, I guess I was.  I certainly didn’t expect you to propose to me in your pajamas.” 

Buck looked down at his clothes and then burst out laughing.  “Touché.  Not one of my most stellar performances,” he said, putting his arm around her and drawing her closer to him.  “Hey, it’s cold out here.  Let’s go in where it’s warmer.” 

They walked into the little room.  Wilma shut the balcony curtains behind them and sat down on the bed next to Buck.   The small light on one side of the room just barely kept the shadows at bay, but that was fine with her.  “Better?” 

“Yeah, much,” he said, rubbing the sore spot on his back.  

Wilma looked concerned.  “You all right?” 

“Just sore,” he said.  “Nothing serious.” 

“Lay down and let me massage your sore muscles.” 

He did so and she began working her fingers up and down his spine.  He groaned softly in pleasure as she rubbed and massaged.  “Oh, man, you’re good.  I think you’re in the wrong business,” he quipped, his voice slightly muffled.  

Wilma laughed and continued to work her way down to the base of his spine, then on each side.  When she leaned forward to say something to him, she found Buck sound asleep.  With a smile, she pulled the blanket over him and lay down on the space next to him, pondering the wonder of what had just happened.  Soon, she, too, was asleep. 

   

 

 

Chapter Thirty-one
Chapter One
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