Freedom's Wings

 

 

 

 

Chapter Thirty-one 

 

 

Ranakatu sighed and then studied those in front of him. “I think you ask too much, too soon,” he said to Sky Father.  “While I understand that you want to have free visitation among the people, such would also bring others to our city.  It would be inevitable.”  He saw Sky Mother’s disappointed look and continued.  “I do not think our people are ready.  I do not trust the Draconians, nor do I totally trust humans.”  He looked up when more visitors entered the small audience chamber.  “Present company excluded.”   He looked back at the Tane-rapanui visitors and asked, “Please tell me, Sky Father.  Have your people welcomed humans on your planet to your sanctuary with open arms?” 

Sky Father shook his head sadly.  “The humans on Mendalis were well indoctrinated in hate and prejudice and not just toward the people.  It will take time,” he said.  “We do allow any whom our adopted members trust to visit us, however, and welcome any and all of the Tane-rapanui.” 

“Yes.  You understand our position,” Ranakatu said.  He turned back to Buck and Wilma.  “How are you feeling, Captain Rogers?” 

“Much better, Elder Leader,” Buck replied with a slight smile.  “Sorry we’re late for the meeting.  No one woke us.” 

“It is fine.  We only began talking a few minutes ago, but I am glad you are here.  I have a request to make of you and your . . . beloved.” 

“Anything within my power, I’ll do it,” replied Buck.  The other elders sat in a row on either side of Ranakatu.  They seemed more willing to listen this time around.  An attendant brought chairs for Buck and Wilma.  

“We need to have a promise that you will not tell anyone of us or the position of our city,” Elder Leader said, his voice earnest. 

“We cannot keep that promise, Elder Leader,” Wilma said.  The other elders tensed.  “What I am saying is that there are already a few who know why we are here, but these are only a few and they can be trusted.  To all others, including the Draconians, this was just a scientific expedition.  Buck was even able to get permission to come here from the Draconian royal family without giving an exact reason why.” 

“And you can guarantee our people and city’s sanctity?” he asked. 

“As much as it’s possible to,” Wilma said. 

“That will have to be enough, then,” Elder Leader said.  “We will welcome any of the people who come as you did, overland and in peace, but for now, we would prefer to keep our secret.  Until we are ready and until we feel others are ready.” 

“We understand,” Wilma agreed. 

“Elder Leader, there is another matter we wish to discuss with you,” Sky Mother began. 

He looked at her expectantly and waited for her to continue. 

“We would like to extend an invitation for any miru-moruku who want to leave your city to come with us,” she said. 

Elder Leader frowned and sat in ominous stillness for several minutes.  There was a flaring of anger inside, but he worked at hiding it from those watching.  Sadly, he understood the reasoning behind the request and hoped the future would change that. Ranakatu saw Miru with the group, standing near the birdman from Throm and suddenly realized one of the other reasons for the request.  

“I am sure that any of the Tane-rapanui who leave will keep the secret of this city,” Sky Mother assured him. 

Ranakatu sighed.  “I fully understand the royal heir’s reasons for wanting to leave.  I would have hoped it would be otherwise.” 

“Elder Leader, may I speak?” Miru asked.  

“Of course,” Ranakatu said. 

“Even though you call me the royal heir, I do not feel like royalty.  I know the people would not accept me as their leader even if I did,” Miru said. “Most of my life I have been treated as one less than the winged ones.  Among our visitors, even the humans, I feel special.” 

“I cannot dispute that, my child,” Ranakatu said sadly.  “I only hope that when you return to visit, you will see something different.” 

“With you as leader….”  Then Miru stopped.  “I can leave?” 

“Yes, Miru, you are free to go,” Elder Leader said.  “And any others who wish to go with you, what few miru-moruku are left.”  He smiled, but it was not a happy smile.  “And thank you for your confidence.”  Miru leaned over and took his hand in hers, and with tears in her eyes, held the older birdman’s hand against her cheek.  He laid his free hand on her head, blinking to hold back the tears.   He saw destiny in this young Tane-rapanui woman, but it was destiny far from his people.   And that saddened him, even as he rejoiced for this young miru-moruku whose spirit was unconquerable.   “I only hope that when you,” and he looked at the entire group, “return, you will find a people much more at peace with themselves.” 

“Elder Leader,” Wilma began.  At his nod, she continued.  “We have one on board our ship, who is very interested in history and in other cultures.  He has been fascinated with Hawk and the history of the Tane-rapanui and had already surmised many things before we even met any others of the people.  If we could take some blood samples of some of your people, along with mineral samples from your city, perhaps he can help find the reason for the miscarriages and the mutations.”   She held her breath, not knowing how her offer of Dr. Goodfellow’s help would be taken.  With certainty, she knew how he would feel.  The old doctor would be ecstatic.  

Ranakatu sat quietly, pondering.  “He is one of the trustworthy ones you were talking about?” 

“Yes,” Wilma replied.  “A very dedicated scientist.  And very trustworthy.   This would go no further than his lab and to you, if you so choose.” 

“Our scientists are beginning their research, but I think it would be good for this doctor to work on the problem as well.  We would be grateful,” Ranakatu said slowly, as though deciding as he spoke. 

Four days later, the group left, their numbers greater by three.  Ranakatu had made sure they were well provisioned and while the passes were still cold and covered with several feet of packed snow, the group encountered no storms.  

At the camp of Tigerman’s people, they rested for a couple of days and planned their strategy for getting three more out of the Draconian spaceport than had arrived.  

“Aren’t your people sometimes recruited for service in the Draconian capital?” Buck asked.  “That’s how you said you ended up in the service of Princess Ardala, isn’t it?” 

Tigerman nodded.  “Was an honor.”  He looked at the three Tane-rapanui dubiously.  “Too small.” 

“Simple.  Creel and Sky Warrior disguise as recruits along with Maorisu.  And Miru and Ruku dress as our returning scientists.” 

Tigerman grunted.  “Head feathers.” 

“Let them wear those parka-like things I’ve seen some of your people wear.  We can paint on stripes if we need to,” Buck continued.  

Wilma just sat and listened in amusement.  The three people being discussed looked somewhat confused.  On the way down from the Tane-rapanui city, the group had been teaching Miru and her companions terra lingua, but while they were learning quickly, they were far from mastering the language.  

“It’ll be just like Halloween,” Buck added with a wry smile. 

“Halloween?” Miru asked. 

“Old Earth holiday,” Buck replied in a mixture of terra lingua and Tane-rapanui.  “October the thirty-first.  You wore costumes, went out trick or treating, uh, going from house to house, got enough candy to make you sick and then went home to watch spooky movies and eat the treats.”  

“And the purpose of this holiday?” Ruku asked. 

“It had a deeper purpose a long time ago, but when I was a kid, it was mainly to have fun.” 

“Oh,” the three said together, still confused, but humoring the human. 

Sky Warrior was frowning.  “You are saying I must allow myself to be painted with stripes?” he asked dourly. 

“Only the part that shows,” Buck said.  “You disguised yourself in the spaceport when we came.” 

“Only by wearing a garment to cover my features.” 

“Well, almost the same thing,” replied Buck. 

“I cannot think of another plan unless your people will let us bring a shuttle here,” Hawk said to Tigerman. 

Buck just gaped at his friend.  “It’s so simple,” he finally murmured, embarrassed that he hadn’t thought of something so uncomplicated.  They all looked at Tigerman.  

“Will ask Father,” he said, and got up and walked to the family cave.

 

 

                      ============================

 

 

When the shuttle landed in the near empty valley of Tigerman’s people, Miru and the other two miru-moruku huddled close to the other bird people.  Even though she had been excited about this new life, she was still frightened and it was only the presence of Hawk and the dreams of Koori that kept her from running back into the mountains and to the city from which she had thought to flee. 

“It’s all right,” Sky Mother soothed her and the others, too.   “It will seem strange at first, my children, but everything will be fine.” 

“Yeah, the pilot doesn’t eat anything that doesn’t try to eat him first,” Buck joked, trying to ease the three young bird people’s tension.  He saw the girl’s puzzled gaze and added, “Just kidding.  It will be all right.  I promise.  Everyone on the Searcher is pretty nice.” 

“Except for a certain captain who likes to see how far he can go bending the rules at times,” Wilma replied sardonically. 

Miru was relieved.  If Captain Rogers were the least nice person on this ship of humans then perhaps all would be well after all.  Then, studying the two humans and Hawk’s reactions to their comments, she wondered if it had only been more of this ‘kidding’ that humans seemed to be so fond of.  Anyway, it didn’t really matter.  She knew her destiny and of that she wasn’t afraid. 

The human pilot stepped out of the shuttle and perused the group standing near the small stream.  “You weren’t fooling when you said it was small, Colonel,” the young man said, studying the caves nearby.  “And I’m glad you cleared this with the Draconians.  They squawked but they didn’t given any real hassle.” 

“They squawked at us, too, Lucas,” Wilma said.  “But personally, I think it was just because they lost revenue.” 

“Well, shall we go?” the pilot asked.  “They were telling me a storm is threatening in the mountains and heading this way.”  He paused and then looked at Wilma.  “Did you want to take us out, Colonel?” 

“No, Lucas, you take us up,” she said.  Wilma motioned to the others to board the shuttle and soon they were underway.  It was a bit cramped but the trip was short and soon they were easing into the landing bay. 

As had been requested, there were no other people in the hangar, and the Tane-rapanui and two humans and one Rrilling walked toward the guest quarters without incident.  Sky Mother and the others from Mendalis were well used to the large ship by now, but the three from the planet below gazed raptly at everything in awe.  

“Do you think the Ancestors had something like this?” Roku asked.  

“Possibly,” Buck answered.  He tried to stifle a yawn.  It had been a fast hike from the Rrilling camp to the spaceport and back, and he was ready for a nice night in his own warm bed.  

Wilma linked her arm in his, smiling.  “Tired already?” 

“Getting old, Wilma,” he said seriously.  

“You?” she asked incredulous.  “You have got to be kidding.” 

He chuckled.  “Of course, I don’t feel old when you’re by my side.”  He pulled her close and gave her a quick hug.  All the while, though, he wondered when she was going to accept his proposal.  She had said absolutely nothing during their trip out of the mountains and when he had dropped hints, she had only smiled sweetly and said ‘when she was ready.’  Although he felt slight doubts at times, Buck was sure that he knew Wilma enough that she would eventually say ‘yes.’  But why hadn’t she done so yet?  He mentally sighed and then reminded himself that Wilma was simply getting tit for tat. He guessed it was only fair.  Or perhaps she just wanted the right moment, too.  At any rate, this waiting was hell.  He dismissed the thoughts, though, grinned and hugged her again.  

The two humans got the group to their quarters and then headed to the bridge to check in with the admiral.  Even though it was well past his normal watch, Asimov was still on the bridge.  His eyes told of his relief when they walked through the doors.  

“About time you two made it back,” he growled good-naturedly.  The two lieutenants looked up from their posts and grinned.  “I’m getting tired of pulling late shifts.” 

“I think we’re back for a while this time, Admiral,” Wilma assured him with a smile.  “When did you want the debriefing?” 

Rubbing his chin, Asimov quickly pondered.  “Any problems needing immediate attention before we break orbit?” 

“No, Admiral,” Wilma answered.  

“Then we’ll meet tomorrow morning,” he said.  “Oh seven thirty.  Hawk, too.”  He yawned.  “I’ve been here for fourteen hours.  I am going to get some sleep, if there’s nothing else.” 

“Go ahead, Admiral,” Buck said.  “One of us will hold down the fort until….”  He glanced at the read-out.  “Uh, until Devlin gets here.” 

Asimov nodded.  He gazed at both of them for a moment and his demeanor became serious.  “I was damned worried about all of you.  I’m glad you came back safely.” 

“It was a bit iffy, but everyone worked together and we made it,” Wilma said.  

“And with three to spare,” Buck added.  

“Mmm, yes, I will have to meet them tomorrow.  If they are comfortable with that.”  He yawned and then turned to go.  “You have the watch.” 

“Good night, Admiral,” Wilma and Buck said together.  

Wilma paced the deck, giving a cursory glance at the readouts, gazing at the view screen.  She looked at Buck.  “It’s good to be back.” 

“Yeah,” he agreed.  

“I am wide awake,” she said.  “You go on to bed.”  He started to protest.  “You said you were the old man around here.”  She smiled.  “Go on.” 

Buck returned the smile.  “Not that old!  But if you don’t mind, I think I’ll take you up on your generous offer.” 

She walked over to him, noticed the bridge crew watching and stopped right in front of him.  “Good night, Buck,” she said, kissing him lightly on the cheek.  

“Night,” he replied with a knowing smile.  “Tomorrow evening, right?” 

She nodded. 

He gave a thumbs up and left. It was not long before he was in his cabin and most importantly, in his own bed.  Sleep came quickly.

 

 

 

Chapter Thirty-two
Chapter One
Buck Rogers Contents
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