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Cat's Cradle

by

Sue Kite

 

 

Chapter 1

 

 

Dream Weaver

I have just closed my eyes again
Climbed aboard the Dream Weaver train
Driver take away my worries of today
And leave tomorrow behind...

Dream Weaver... I believe you can get me through the night
Dream Weaver... I believe we can reach the morning light.

Fly me high through the starry skies
Or maybe to an astral plane
Cross the highways of fantasy
Help me to forget today's pain...

Dream Weaver... I believe you can get me through the night
Dream Weaver... I believe we can reach the morning light.

Though the dawn may be coming soon
There still may be some time
Fly me away to the bright side of the moon
And meet me on the other side...

Dream Weaver... I believe you can get me through the night
Dream Weaver... I believe we can reach the morning light.

Copyright©1975 MCA Music Publishing, a division of Universal Studios, Inc.

 

 

 

Hawk eased his starfighter, the Warhawk, into the landing bay of the Searcher and then into the berth assigned to him.  Wilma and Lt. Mendleson had already arrived.  Only Buck was still down on the planet below, checking out some readings for Doctor Goodfellow.   The anomalies were just a bit too much for the old scientist to ignore and he had requested that an additional survey be conducted.   A preliminary survey had been done because the planet, named Worrel after the one who had first landed there, seemed promising for colonization.  The additional surveys would either continue to show the planet suitable for habitation or show cause for more detailed exploration.

Hawk shut down his engines and opened the hatch, reaching back for the container that held samples he had gathered.  Between what he had found and what the others probably had brought in, Dr. Goodfellow would most likely be happy for the next month. 

There was something, though, that made him uneasy.  It was nothing he could pinpoint, and absolutely nothing on the initial surveys that would indicate anything dangerous.  However, that had been the case on several planets since he had come on board the Searcher.   Some of the places they had been to harbored secrets no sensor could pick up. 

Hawk had found nothing when he had been on the surface that would play out his suspicions and there had been nothing more dangerous than a local life form that previous explorers had called brixtels, after some death deity on a different planet in the same quadrant.  They were vicious animals that mostly stayed solitary, but could form into packs for hunting.  And when they did….   Hawk had videographs of one of their concerted efforts to bring down an herbivore that was at least four times the size of one of these brixtels.  The scene had showed some slight intelligence, but the colonization scientists would have to figure just how much.  Hawk was just grateful that he had not been the object of that hunt. 

“Welcome back,” Wilma said jauntily, approaching as he climbed down from his fighter. 

“Thank you,” he replied.  “I have much to make Dr. Goodfellow happy.”

“We did, too.”  She paused a moment.  “Heard from Buck?”

“No, he has not contacted me for the past six hours.  I had assumed that he had checked in with Devlin or the admiral.”

Wilma frowned, her previous good mood suddenly muted.  “No, he hasn’t.  He’s not only overdue with an audio communication, but late coming back on board.”

The niggling of worry grew in Hawk’s mind.  “How many hours overdue?”

“A couple.  The admiral is waiting another hour and then he’ll send someone down to look for Buck.”

Hawk nodded.  “And we know who that will be.”

Wilma nodded soberly.  She felt the worry gnawing at her and wished she could go look for Buck right now.  Looking at Hawk, she figured he did, too.  “Indeed we do.”

 

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

 

Captain Buck Rogers woke with a headache that seemed to rise to the heights of Mount Everest, topped by Denali, topped by half the peaks in the Andes mountain chain.  The sun shone brightly, making him feel miserably hot.  When he moved, he realized that it wasn’t just his head that ached, every part of his body hurt; so much so that things felt out of joint, inside out and totally out of kilter.  He tried to remember what had happened, but couldn’t remember a thing beyond the beginning of his assignment.  It had been given to him that morning, if it was still the same day, he thought wryly, wondering how long he had been unconscious. 

Buck opened his eyes and then blinked.  The world was in varying shades of bright, sparkling greens and blues and browns of an almost metallic hue, everything somewhat translucent in nature, at least around the edges.  What the hell kind of world is this? he thought, reaching up with hands that seemed oddly jointed all of a sudden, to rub his eyes.  He cried out when the ‘hand’ that came to his view showed as a mottled green and brown extremity, like a paw, ending in claw tips that suddenly extended in his agitation.  The cry was equally distressing, being not that of a human voice, but a deep and deadly hissing like that of a hunting cat from his days back before the holocaust.  

Rolling over and looking at his body as best he could; he saw through alien eyes, something that seemed a cross between a mountain lion and a Chinese dragon.  All limbs, short mottled fur, very short, with muscles playing beneath the skin, and a tail that seemed to have a life of its own.  Long whiskers splayed out from his face and when he reached up to feel his head with one paw, he felt a slightly heavier thatch that seemed like a short and perverted Mohawk.  Ears were short and rounded.   He realized that this must be one of those brixtels he was warned about in his briefing.  Very short-tempered and ferocious animals.  Well, if he was going to be something other than himself, he began thinking, then cut himself short.  There had to be an explanation; there simply had to be.  Otherwise he was going crazy.

Slowly, he got to his feet, wobbling with the effort to stand in a position unlike what he was used to.  What in the world has happened to me?  He took a step and fell flat on his face.  He got up gingerly again and waited until he felt steadier before he tried another step.  He moved a leg, trying not to work against this creature’s natural form.  This time, Buck didn’t fall, but still it was strange and awkward.  He took several more steps and as it became easier, he began looking around.  As he continued getting used to this form he was in, Buck tried to think, wracking his brain to figure out all of this.  It was like some kind of perverted nightmare, something so absurd that he would surely wake up from it, laugh and then go about his business.   No matter how much he tried, he couldn’t think of anything beyond his flight to do more detailed surveys of Worrel.  And he couldn’t wake up, he realized somberly.  He was already awake.  After he got beyond standing upright on all fours and slowly walking around, Buck looked around.   The sun was shining down into a small clearing, one ringed on almost all sides by spindly-trunked trees topped by compact branches covered with small, round leaves.  There was a mound of boulders on one end of the clearing where the brush had been cleared away, or burned away, he thought in passing, glancing at the charred and withered brush at the base of the largest boulder.   There was the gaping maw of a natural cave in the solitary rock outcropping.  He felt like he should remember something about it, but try as he might, he couldn’t.

Then he saw something nearby that almost had him screaming again.  Himself.  His body, lying unconscious (or dead?) about ten feet away.  Fear pulsed through his body, paralyzing him.  No!  He couldn’t be dead.  If he were dead, then he would be stuck….   Suddenly, Buck exhaled breath he didn’t realize he had been holding.  He couldn’t be dead, he repeated in his mind.  But for several more minutes, he was too afraid to check and make sure.  His body was so still, crumpled in a way that would be expected with death.   Stop it! he rebuked himself.  There was only one way to find out and standing here like some kind of frightened child wasn’t the way to do it.

Slowly, Buck made his way over to his . . . he corrected himself before he began to get morbid . . . himself and leaned down.  He nudged his arm, then laid his brixtel head on his chest.  Relief flooded through his body.  There was a heartbeat, but when he nudged harder, he realized that the unconsciousness was very deep.   More like a coma than plain sleep.   There were no obvious wounds, but something had definitely affected them both.  Then another thought struck him.  What about the emotions, thought processes, instincts of the creature whose body he seemed to be inhabiting?   Was this like some perverted fantasy sci fi movie, where the minds of various creatures were supplanted into the bodies of other creatures?  Was the mind of this brixtel inside his mind?   Buck sat back, stunned.  What the hell is going on? Buck asked again.  He looked around for something that might make sense of all this, his starfighter, or some inhabitant that might be responsible for all this. 

But there weren’t supposed to be inhabitants.  There weren’t supposed to be on the planet of the old Guardian, either, he reminded himself.  Regardless, he had to get his bearings, try and remember what had happened to him and get help somehow.  Nothing difficult, he thought sarcastically.  First the bearings….    Slowly, Buck stretched, getting used to the muscles that seemed like springs, tight, hard and very responsive.   Eat your heart out, Tigerman!   Sobering quickly, Buck wondered what would happen when his physical self awoke, especially if the mind of the brixtel was in his body.  He sighed and was disconcerted when the sound came out like the soft hissing of steam.

Pondering his options, Buck figured his body was safe enough for him to check his surroundings. If his starfighter was nearby, maybe perhaps he could figure out a way to send a signal to the Searcher.   Getting up, he stretched, got his brixtel legs working in concert and padded to the edge of the clearing.  He was assaulted by scents from all sides and he tried to make sense of them.  Most of the smells were earthy, as though someone had concentrated forest smells into some kind of bizarre, highly scented candle.  Buck tried to make sense of it, then attempted to ignore what he could.  He felt another headache coming on, and he tried to take a deep breath through his mouth, but apparently there were scent receptors in his mouth, too. Again, the assault on his senses. 

Shaking his head, Buck looked up into a tree and figured he would see more of the country that way.  He was in the body of some sort of cat, after all.  He looked down at his feet, paws, he corrected himself and tried to figure out how to make the claws come out.  Open sesame!   Apparently there was something in the mind of this creature that triggered the claw response, but it was nothing conscious.  Buck reached up and tried to climb up the trunk, but there was nothing to hang on with and he slid back down.  Frustrated, he tried again, making a leap this time. 

Finally, sitting down on his haunches, Buck gazed upward, frustrated.  How in the hell did those claws work before?   How did Wolverine do it?  He tried again, to will the appendages to work, but his mind was too cluttered to focus.  He had to find out where he was and had to take a chance on leaving his body in the clearing for a while.  Again, Buck mentally cringed at the term ‘body.’  He got up and padded through the brush, trying to discern where the more metallic scents were coming from. 

The sun seemed to be burning his skin and then he remembered that brixtels were more nocturnal.  According to the last survey, Buck recalled, brixtels had been coming out more during the day because of a change in the weather pattern, which had changed the ecology of their hunting grounds.  In other words, the creatures were hungry and had to hunt during the day to keep from starving.  As if it was listening, his stomach growled, but he ignored it.  Finally getting a bit of a handle on the scent signals, Buck trotted off in what he believed was the direction of his starfighter.

The trees thinned and became brush, then the brush thinned and in another clearing stood his starfighter.  With an exclamation of joy, which didn’t sound the least bit joyful coming from his borrowed body’s throat, he ran to the star craft and leaped onto the wing.  Looking back, Buck was amazed at the power in this smaller body.  Even though his mind was housed in the cat/dragon that was the size of a mountain lion, he had to have leaped close to twenty feet from a standing position. 

It was a relief to Buck to be getting used to the way this creature moved.  Not only was falling all over these feet more than embarrassing, it was dangerous to be in such a precarious position in such a wild area.  He reached over and tried to push the button that would open the canopy, but nothing happened.  He tried again, pushing harder with one stubby digit.   Still nothing.  Buck sat back and considered, then berated himself for his stupidity.  The ident plate would only recognize his fingerprints.  Paws didn’t count.  And what could he expect to do if he was able to get into his starfighter and try to send a communication?  He sat back on his haunches and considered this latest predicament. 

 

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

 

Hawk and Wilma stood side-by-side, resolute in their desire to return to Worrel.  The admiral gazed at them, the concern showing in his eyes.  Finally he nodded.   “I am hoping we’re only dealing with a mechanical malfunction or something similar.  But in case it’s something more serious, I don’t want the search to take a long time.”  He paused briefly.  “Wilma, I want you to take the south quadrant of Buck’s sector and Hawk, the north.  Keep communications open- here and with each other.  Whoever finds him first, call immediately.”  He paused again and paced a few steps before realizing what he was doing and then took a deep breath.  “And good luck.”

“Thank you, Admiral,” Hawk said, pulling on his gauntlets.  “We’ll find him.”

“Yes.”  As irritating as Buck Rogers could be at times, Asimov felt an affinity to the young man and was more worried than he cared to admit. 

Wilma and Hawk walked quickly down the corridor toward the launch bay.  Miru was waiting for them at the elevator that went to the hangar.  Her eyes were filled with fear and she reached out to touch Hawk on the arm.  “Be careful, please,” she said, then she looked at Wilma.  “Both of you.  I feel there is something down there.  Something very powerful.  Something that has enveloped….”   Miru couldn’t continue for a moment.  “Something very fearful.” 

“We will, Miru,” Hawk said softly, his gauntleted hand covering hers for a moment.  Then he and Wilma continued to the elevator, his demeanor communicating as much assurance as he possibly could.  When they arrived at their respective ships, berthed side by side, the pair looked at each other, their eyes showing much more than any words could. Hawk gazed deeply into Wilma’s eyes, knowing how she felt about Buck.  “He’s all right.  We’ll find him.”  Wilma said nothing and Hawk finally gave her a thumb’s up signal.  She smiled softly and returned the signal that Buck had taught them both.

 

 

Chapter 2
Buck Rogers Contents
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