Corridors of Time
A Buck Rogers/Time Tunnel crossover
Buck began reading the entries of the long dead scientist. Apparently the young man had arrived at Project Tic Toc just after Christmas of 1966. " Ď1967! What a wonderful year; a glorious year of discovery and awakening. I canít believe what I have found here. The rumors were pale beside the truth of what the scientists have been doing and what they have discovered. Dr. Phillips is a powerhouseófrightening in his intensity and desire for success, and yet cautious almost beyond endurance to the rest of us. Dr. Newman, at times, is almost ready to take a gun and put Doug out of his misery. Dougís or Tonyís, I canít be sure. Tony has been doing nothing but talk about his new discovery using radiation technology to aide the transfer of living objects through the vortex. I like working with Tony Newman. He wants nothing more than to prove the viability of time travel and is almost frenetic in his experiments, studies, and tests. Doug Phillips is just as driven, but I think he feels the weight of his leadership among the scientists, as well as the government bureaucrats who are footing the bill.í " Here, Buck had to translate the idiom.
He continued reading, getting some clear assessments as to the main players in the building of this complex. The military liaison had been one General Heywood Kirk, someone near retirement, a widower who had come on the project in skepticism, but had quickly become a full-fledged staunch supporter. Seemed to Buck that he had more or less had to, as the only non-scientist at the top. Racking his brains, he tried to think if he had heard of this general, but he finally gave up. The name Kirk was not the least bit familiar.
Besides Dr. Doug Phillips, a genius in quantum physics, electrical engineering, as well as having a degree in history, and Dr. Anthony Newman, a top-notch electro-physics major, with another degree in nuclear engineering, there was Dr. Raymond Swain, a man of not only the background but also the practical experience to be a cool head on the job. According to the journal, it was often Swain, along with the other head scientist, Dr. Ann McGregor, who kept Phillips and Newman from each otherís throats at times. Buck laughed at one entry.
"What is it, Buck?"
"Ricker just wrote that he thought Ann McGregor was in love with Doug Phillips, but couldnít seem to bring herself to say anything to him. He also wrote that Phillips was apparently oblivious to the signs."
"Sounds like a couple of people I know," Huer said dryly.
Wilma and Buck both gazed at him even as they blushed slightly. The latter cleared his throat and continued reading. " ĎToday a senator came calling. Blast those politicians! He was obnoxious from the get-go. Without even doing more than see the Tunnel, he declared his intentions of cutting funding. Couldnít even understand how close we were. Ten years isnít the lifetime in science that it is in politics. It took years for the Curieís to develop their theories; it took years for the development of nuclear energy. You canít rush science.í " Buck looked up and saw Dr. Huer nodding. He looked back down at the journal and continued. " ĎSenator Clark pretty much called Doug and Tonyís bluff. It didnít even help that General Kirk was an old friend of Clarkís. The jackass! What did he expect? Tony goes ahead and sends himself through the Tunnel, letting the computer pick a time and place. I think the computer had a mind of its own because Tony ended up on the Titanic only a scant day before its collision with the iceberg. Of course, idealist that he is, Dr. Newman decided to try and convince the captain to alter course, slow up or something. That had been the debate around here since before I got here. What would happen if one of us did go back and try to alter history? Would we cause something worse? Help one group while condemning another? Obliterate whole civilizations? But when push came to shove, how could you stand aside and watch death and destruction happen even though you already knew the outcome?í "
Buck paused and closed his eyes. How could someone long dead know what was on his mind? Now he was curious about the consequences of Newmanís efforts to change the course of history. As far as he knew, the Titanic had sunk with the loss of many lives. That was history, so Tony Newman must not have succeeded in convincing the captain. Buck found his place and continued reading to himself. Then he remembered his audience and read aloud. Rickerís narrative was intense, with a minimum of detail, but it was enough to have all three of them riveted. Then Jerry Ricker added a direct quote. " ĎCaptain Smith said, My mind will not let me believe you. But I do believe in a God, gentlemen. If what you say is true, and only the fact that you were here will save those that do survive, I would have to consider that a miracle of God's mercy. And Tony replied, In a way, perhaps it is.í " Buck looked up again. He didnít say anything for a moment.
"I heard something about a ship by that name," Wilma said hesitantly. "Something about it being unsinkable."
"Yes, and more than half of the people on board died because no one believed that the ship could sink and so werenít prepared with enough lifeboats," Buck added. "But the idea that these two scientistsí presence might have allowed even that many people to liveÖ."
"If you feel up to it, Buck," Dr. Huer interrupted his reverie after a few minutes of silence. "Could you read more?"
Buck did and continued the narratives into the adventures of the two scientists in various ages and events. Occasionally, Dr. Malcome stopped and listened. At times Drís Phillips and Newman continued to try to help people, including Abraham Lincoln, Marco Polo, King Arthur, Jim Bowie, even Joshua, son of Nun, among others, but at other times it was a matter of survival. Buck lent his more detailed understanding of pre-twentieth century history to the narratives by explaining just who each of these people and each of the events were. Some were more familiar to Wilma and Huer than others.
It was amazing to him that two modern scientific men could find themselves so much at the mercy of those they were visitingóor of the times they were in. What was most tragic, though, as Buck continued reading, was that they couldnít seem to get home. Those at the complex couldnít find a way around that problem either. Others seemed to be able to come and go, but not Tony and Doug. Buck felt the increasing frustration in the words on the page. He felt the heartache, the fatigue and despair in the tired scrawl that some pages ended on. Finally, Buck put a bit of paper in the spot where he finished and sighed. Stretching, he tried to get the kinks out of his back.
Huer sighed, too. "Why donít we go into the food area and get something to eat and drink. Youíve been reading for almost two hours."
"That poor man," Wilma said softly as they walked away from the monstrous ringed conduit.
"Which one?" Buck asked.
"Tony Newman watching his father die."
"At least he found out what happened to them and got to say good-bye," Buck said tersely. He was feeling tense. His idea that the Tunnel might possibly be used to undo what it had been used for so long ago seemed to be mocked by the narrative in his hand and he didnít like the thought one bit.
Wilma gazed meaningfully at him. "Yes, youíre right, he did," she said softly.
Buck wasnít even aware of what he had on his plate until Wilma gently nudged him and said, "You have let your food get cold. Is that journal bothering you? Or is it the complex as a whole?"
Buck sighed and looked down at the somewhat mushed together portions of food. With another sigh, he pushed the plate away. "What is the point in reactivating this thing if it canít be used to undo what it began half a millennia ago? Seems it would be better left dead and no one would be tempted to try to blow up this time zone or a future one," Buck snapped.
"Buck," Dr. Huer said softly, waiting for the younger man to look at him. "When you were explaining some of the historical figures and events to us, they almost seemed mundane, like anyone should know what they were. The problem is, we donít. Oh, we have vague ideas of what happened in the pre-holocaust days, but itís like a fog shrouded expanse to us. Occasionally there are glimmers of knowledge in that fog, but for the most partÖ. For the most part, we know so little about ourselves as a people."
"Maybe you should be thankful," Buck replied tersely, still feeling the pain of what happened five hundred years ago reopening what he thought had healed since his awakening. "After everything that mankind has done to destroy itself."
"No, I want to know the bad and the good." Huer laid a hand on his arm. "If there is a way to change what happened without destroying what we have now, we will. However, if what Dr. Ricker was saying is true, then we should be able to use the Tunnel to observe the past, learn from mistakes made. My friend, letís go forward with this. Even if we simply use the Time Tunnel to observe, not go back."
Buck shook himself out of his black mood. "But the only way they observed the different times was because Newman and Phillips were there."
"If you recall, Jerry Ricker said that they were able to see some times because they had sent back animals. At least briefly. I think we can take what we have learned, work out the problems that stymied those scientists back then and perhaps use a computerized probe instead of a human," Dr. Huer suggested.
"Possible," Buck concurred. "Okay, I guess we should continue with the journal and see what Jerry Ricker can add to what we know."
"I wonder where Tony and Doug ended up?" Wilma mused aloud.
Buck shrugged. "Maybe someplace where they could have some peace. I wonder if they knew what eventually happened?"
"Ricker indicated that he sent secret messages to them, but didnít say where or when," Huer said.
"To keep anyone from figuring it out if they found Rickerís journal," Buck added.
Wilma shook her head. "Either way, itís a very sad ending to their work and dreams."
"Hopefully, they found more happiness in the past than they were finding while they were developing this thing," Buck replied. "Or while they were bouncing from one temporal catastrophe to another."
Wilma looked skeptical, but said nothing. So they continued with the reading, taking turns when Buckís voice gave out, brainstorming what they had read, and trying to glean more clues from the old journal, even as the technicians coaxed information from the old computers.
The third day there, Dr. Malcome almost bounced into the common room where the trio had just finished lunch and were getting ready to read more narrative. They all looked up.
"We did it! We used the notes and figured it out!" Malcome announced.
"Figured what out?" they all asked at the same time.
"We duplicated Dr. Newmanís radiation bath and have been able to send objects into the past and move them around!"
Huer smiled. "That is a very good beginning. Now comes the more complicated partóretrieving whatever has been sent back."
"Including Drís Newman, Phillips, and McGregor?" Wilma asked.
"If they so choose, Wilma," Buck said gently. "And if they are still alive."
"You read the passages yourself, Buck," Dr. Huer reminded him. "Tony and Doug decided to stay in the past. Jerry deleted the computer information that would have allowed the project leaders to find them and force them to spy for them. They settled somewhere in time and tried to live normal lives. Only Jerry and Ann knew where they were and only very sporadically made contact. Only when they knew they werenít watched, or could be traced. Itís a wonder that Ann McGregor waited as long as she did."
"Not surprising to me," Buck mused aloud. "From what Jerry said, that was what General Raylie, Beckerís assistant, expected and suspected and was simply watching and waiting until someone, most likely her, made contact and gave the brass the information they needed. Despite the fact that there had been no success in getting Newman and Phillips back, those two were still their best experts on the subject of time travel. So Ann waits until the heat is off and then bugs out." He paused a moment and then continued thoughtfully. "But such a life, wondering if the big bad wolf was going to blow your tentative house down," Buck murmured. The others gazed at him with puzzled looks. "Big brother syndrome. The paranoid worry that someone who was after you might succeed in finding you. Considering this is a time project, they could spend years in their own time zone and never feel totally safe."
"And you said they might have found happiness," Wilma said sadly.
"After a manner, they might have, Wilma," Buck replied.
"But we have this much and soon I know weíll have more," Malcome assured them.
"I donít doubt it," Buck murmured.
When Malcome left, Huer turned to him. "Whatís bothering you, Buck?"
"Suppose they donít want to be found. Suppose that weíll be to them, just as Raylie, Becker and the others were five hundred years ago. Maybe they have truly acclimatized to their time and situation."
Wilma put her arm around his waist and drew him close. "I doubt that they went far out of their time zone. You have been five hundred years displaced. Have you totally acclimatized?" She shivered slightly and he returned her embrace.
"In many ways, yes, I have, Wilma. In other ways, Iíll always feel the tug of my previous life. But I think I have stopped wishing for what I canít have."
Huer studied the younger man carefully. Had Buck really stopped wishing? Had he truly laid the past to rest? Did he not wish to change the horrible events that had propelled him into a future life? Somehow, the Directorate leader felt this project had stirred up ghosts that seemed determined to possess the young captain. There was a part of him that almost wished he hadnít brought the Buck Rogers into this.
Buck saw the older manís look and sighed. "Donít get me wrong. My brain agrees with the logic of what Iím readingóthere is no way that what we know as the past could be changed anymore than Tony and Doug could it. Or even if there was, I couldnít take the chance of destroying the present." He shook his head. It was so confusing. Then he looked at Wilma, close to his side. This was the present that he didnít want to change. "But my heart wishes that it was possible and it could be done without harming what I have come to know and love about the present." He gazed meaningfully at Wilma and she just hugged him closer.