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
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.”
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
“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
“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.
“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
“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
“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
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?”
“Was an honor.” He
looked at the three Tane-rapanui dubiously.
and Sky Warrior disguise as recruits along with Maorisu. And Miru and Ruku dress as our returning scientists.”
“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
“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
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
“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
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.
“Getting old, Wilma,” he said seriously.
“You?” she asked incredulous. “You have got to be kidding.”
“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
“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.”
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
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?”
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.
|Buck Rogers Contents|