Time and Again
“Somewhere deep in the jungle are living some little men and women. They are our past, and maybe . . . maybe they are our future.” Eric Mouquet/Michel Sanchez. Deep Forest, Celine Music, 1992. CD.
Sunday, June 14, 2493
I just returned from what used to be the old
neighborhood. It amazes me
how much continues to stand. Even
after all this time. I
remember my last visit home, my last real visit.
It seems so real to me. Like
it was yesterday. Sometimes
I look out from the outer platform of the Inner City and I feel I am
looking at a dream world, something that will not be there in the
morning when I wake up. I
think I should be out at Bon Marché buying Christmas presents early
this year and then I laugh because I never bought presents early for
anyone, except maybe Mom, and that was only occasionally. Everything like that was last minute for me.
I think Mom almost fainted the year I gave her a birthday present
on her birthday and not a couple of days later like I usually did.
She cried, for Pete’s sake!
I couldn’t believe that. Remember,
Dad, I told you I wasn’t ever going to do that again.
I was just going to give her a bigger present late next time. That was one of the few times you laughed, really laughed,
then you threw your arm around my shoulder and hugged me. You can’t imagine how much that meant to me.
And just before my launch.
Do you remember standing on that beach watching the moon rise,
listening to the surf crash on the rocks, splash our feet and then
recede? Do you remember
what you said? “William,”
you said, and then you looked at me with that broad smile of yours.
I remember how Mom used to say that I had the same grin.
I also remember how it made you as mad as hell when she said
that. “He does
not!” you would retort. I
don’t think you ever enjoyed being reminded that we were so much
alike. Maybe that was why
we didn’t get along as much as we should have.
Right now, I even miss the squabbles we had.
But that time on the beach, that is so vivid in my mind, so real and so very precious to me. “I guess I am the only one who doesn’t call you Buck, am I?” you said to me. Yeah, you were the only holdout, but that’s okay. I sure didn’t mind. “William, I never wanted you to join the Air Force.” Understatement, Dad. BIG understatement. Let’s be blunt, you were mad enough to chew nails and spit them out. You wanted me to be a lawyer, a doctor, a professor (me, a professor? I can’t believe you even suggested that. Yeah, right, lucky Buck, the scourge of the dorm crap games), a CPA, a banker, anything but a fly-boy. “Get yourself killed in some forsaken desert country fighting camels and pocket dictators,” you told me the day I left for the academy. And then you remembered something else while the sand was forming around our toes…. “And that day we were visiting Marilyn and her family, and you buzzed over her house in Pueblo in that fighter jet,” you said. “I was not only ready to sue the government; I was ready to disown you. I still can’t believe you did that.” Just for the record, Dad, I can’t believe I did that, either. I caught hell from everyone from the CO on down to the line attendant. “But you’ve done good, and I’m proud of you,” you said next. I almost cried right then and there, but an astronaut going up on top of one of the biggest, most powerful rockets in the world can’t cry. Not even in front of his father. But I want you to know just how elated I felt then. Elated? I felt I had died and gone to heaven. You were proud of me. Me! Your black sheep son, the most obstinate kid you had. (By your own admission.) Oh, Dad, that time on the beach can never be taken away from me. Five hundred years didn’t strip that experience from my mind, and nothing ever will. I knew then that you loved me, always had, always would.
There were times, though, when I was young and
foolish -- guess some things never change—(I believe my CO in New
Chicago has told me a few times how foolish I am--), when I wondered. You always seemed upset with me.
But then, I guess I deserved your wrath on occasion.
Like the woofers. I can’t believe you were so upset with my new woofers
that you actually came out to my car and shot out one of them the day I
I guess I was foolish then, too foolish to realize that fathers and sons don’t always get along, or agree, or even like each other. But the good fathers always love their children and you were a good one, Dad.
I look up at the austere walls of my apartment
and sometimes think that I am going to get some paint and paint a window
on a wall, one with a sunset like those we occasionally watched from the
top of the Sears Tower. Maybe
I’ll paint the walls four different colors.
That drove you nuts, didn’t it, Dad, back when I was in high
school? Black on one wall, with stars and the most garish comet ever
dreamed of, another one was white, like an Antarctic landscape, the
third one was a rainforest, and the last wall was red and yellow, like
some weird planet. All the
places I wanted to explore. Well,
Dad, I have visited that weird landscape.
I have flown among the stars, I have been on a frozen world where
everything was white and I have been on a world of steaming jungles.
I have soared beyond my wildest dreams, beyond time, through
space. I have met people
that before only inhabited the over-active imagination of my youth.
One of my best friends is a half man, half bird, another is a
computer quad and another is an ambu-quad drone.
Col. Wilma Deering is human.
And don’t go getting any funny ideas, Mom, we work together and
she is my friend, nothing more.
I have gone so far beyond what I expected of my
life that it sometimes seems surreal, and yet it’s my reality now. I suppose it was my destiny.
That was something else you told me on the beach.
“You were never meant to be bound on Earth, son,” you said.
You looked at me with those eyes filled with pride and love and
added, “I suppose I was just afraid to let you go, William.
But you know, you had already gone there in your dreams a long,
long time ago.” I guess I
had. And I have met that destiny.
I now belong to a world that is the same and yet so different, a
world half a millennium away from what I grew up in.
But I miss you.
I miss you and Mom and Marilyn and Frank.
I miss my nieces and nephews, my friends, my buddies. Sometimes, I think I will walk out of this wondrous city and
walk through the front steps of yours and Mom’s old house, the
brownstone, not the place you bought in the suburbs, and smell her
cookies. She made the best
chocolate chip cookies in the world.
I wish I had one now.
I can’t help but feel guilty at the pain you
must have felt when the news reported the loss of the Ranger. I feel so helpless that all of you thought I was a
traitor. Yeah, I know I
have been told that this was a deep, dark secret, but somehow I know you
knew. You died thinking I had caused the holocaust that eventually
killed you and so many others.
And I am angry that the feelings you had for me before the launch
were wiped out with a single bit of false information.
The shame you must have felt, it is almost too much to bear.
And I was out there oblivious to everything,
feeling absolutely no pain. I’m
fine now. I survived.
But you? All
of you were headed for a conflagration of the most horrible imagining. And I was oblivious.
Dad, I hope you and Mom didn’t suffer too much.
I wish I could have been there with you.
I truly do. I know,
I have been told many times I can’t go back into the past.
I guess I really don’t want to, but I sure wish I could go back
just long enough to let you know that I’m okay and to assure you that
I am no traitor.
I was at the gravesite today. Theo told me that you folks were lucky; most didn’t even
have burials or headstones. Maybe
that was destiny, too. Being
able to visit you and Mom has made this new life of mine more real. I cleared the weeds and left a rose. You know, Mom’s favorite color, Tropicana.
Funny isn’t it? Civilization can go to hell in a hand basket, but they
still have Tropicana roses. Despite
the fact that the neighborhood isn’t the greatest anymore, I plan on
coming out and visiting whenever I can.
But the rest of the time you all will be in my heart.
Dad, I wish there was a way to let you know I
love you. And Mom.
And everyone else. But
then I guess you already know that.
I guess you know what is in my heart.
Thanks, Dad. For everything.
Happy Father’s Day.
Your loving son,
Laying aside the pen, Captain William Anthony
‘Buck’ Rogers leaned back in his chair, stretching his long legs in
front of him. He closed his
eyes and ran his hand through his dark reddish-brown hair.
He wouldn’t mind flying over the Grand Canyon with Hawk right
now, or at least what was left of it, but he had been told of a possible
assignment in the near future, so he opted to stay in New Chicago while
his friend explored the mountains of North America.
A small chime warned him of visitors.
Not that he was really interested in any visitors right now, but
he knew that if it was any of his friends, they would most likely worry
about him if he refused to see anyone right now.
If it was a messenger or casual visitor, it wouldn’t matter
Opening his eyes, he murmured,
small panel next to the door lit up red letters, ‘Dr. Theopolis and
Twiki.’ Leave it to
Theo to come visit him now, Buck thought.
The computer quad was the one that had confiscated a pen from the
museum, studied it and then had a duplicate made, this one with ink.
Paper was slightly easier to find.
Theo had a bit of trouble understanding why he wanted to write
something with primitive utensils, but finally quit asking when Buck
promised a future explanation. Funny
thing was, he couldn’t quite understand it himself.
But it felt right doing this on a piece of paper and not on the
portable hand-held laptops that everyone carried around the Inner City.
“Door’s open,” Buck called out, still in
his relaxed position. He
closed his eyes again, hearing the door swoosh open and the little
drone, Twiki walk into the room.
Was the pen Twiki brought you satisfactory?” Theo asked in his
soft, always pleasantly modulated voice.
“Perfect, Theo,” Buck answered, still not
opening his eyes.
“And you were able to accomplish what you
wanted to do with them?”
Although Buck would have preferred a bit of solitude right now,
he couldn’t help half-baiting the quad, while at the same time
appreciating Theo’s interest in his welfare.
And most of the time, baiting Theo was very easily accomplished
by saying nothing. From the time he had been awakened in this century so far
removed from his own, Theo and Twiki had stood by and supported him.
And believed him. He knew that Theo was concerned about him right now, and
realistically, Buck knew that there was good reason for it.
He had been depressed ever since the war crime trial a couple of
months before. And
now he was back home. Or
what passed as home. He
Buck was almost one hundred percent sure he knew what the drone
had said even before he said it in English.
“Yeah, I’m all right, Twiki.”
“I beg to differ, Captain Rogers.
You are not, as you would say, your old self.”
Buck said nothing for several minutes. Theo also chose to say nothing. The computer, while still not totally understanding this man from the twentieth century, did understand enough to realize that some kind of explanation would be forthcoming eventually. From the beginning, the Computer Councilman had been drawn to this anomaly from the past. He had seen Buck’s confused and bewildering behavior for just the thing it was, the attempt of a displaced man to cope with a culture and society totally foreign to him. Only once had he doubted his estimation of Buck Rogers and that had been quickly rectified. For the more than a year and a half that Buck had been among them, he had appeared to be acclimatizing quite well. At least he had been until the war crime trial, where Buck had been accused of starting the Great Holocaust.
Buck continued to say nothing, still reclining
in what one might assume was a very relaxed position.
Theo doubted that such was the case.
“I am concerned that the recent trial has upset you more than
you would care to admit,” the computer finally ventured.
Sitting up and fixing the drone and the computer
quad with a steady gaze, Buck smiled slightly.
“Anyone tell you that you possess the gift of understatement,
“No, I can’t say that anyone has.”
“Well, I am,” Buck replied and then fell silent for a moment. Twiki was unusually silent right now. Theo must have subsonically warned him to keep quiet. “I would suppose you would like to know what I wanted a pen and paper for.”
“Yes, but with you, I have had to learn to be
patient. You promised an
explanation sometime in the future and you have never broken your
promises to me,” Theo said.
Sitting up, Buck picked up the paper and folded
it in half and then in half again.
He got up and walked over to a small cabinet recessed into one
wall, where he placed the letter inside.
With a push of a button, a panel slid over the opening, hiding
the cabinet from casual view. Turning
to Theo and Twiki, he finally said, “I wrote a letter to my father.”
“I do not understand, Buck.
Your father is dead.”
“That doesn’t make any difference. I just wanted to say some things that I would say if he were
here, and the best way to do that, for me, anyway, was to write it
down,” Buck explained.
“Does it bother you that your relatives might
have known about this accusation before they died?”
Buck frowned, feeling his anger and frustration
build again. “Hell, yes!
And I know they knew. I
know my time well, Theo.”
“But if that was the case, surely they knew
you as well as we know you,” Theo said softly.
Twiki beeped his reassurance. “You’re all right in my book, Buck.”
And yeah, Theo, I would hope so, but then you people weren’t
that sure about me either.” Buck
began to pace.
“Maybe the tribunal wasn’t sure, but I
always was,” Theo said emphatically.
Again Twiki beeped and spoke his wholehearted
support of his friend.
Buck stopped pacing and put his hand on the
drone’s shoulder. “Thanks,
guys. I appreciate that. And this is temporary.
It will pass.”
“I believe you, Buck.
You have always been able to-- what is that phrase you have
used?-- bounce back.”
Buck smiled and then chuckled softly.
“I believe I am corrupting even you, Theo.”
Twiki added his agreement.
“I do not think I am being corrupted, I am only having my experiences enlarged,” Theo corrected his human friend. He was gratified when Buck began to laugh in earnest.
“I received this communiqué from the
Lagrithians. They are
willing to discuss terraforming with us,” Dr. Elias Huer, the leader
of the Earth Directorate told Colonel Wilma Deering and her second in
command, Major Brandon Orlov.
He was an older man, his hair silver gray, but his eyes held the
intensity and strength of youth.
Theo sat on the table, listening. “That is good news, Dr. Huer.
Perhaps with their expertise, we will be able to settle more
tracts of land on the North American continent this year and then
concentrate on rehabilitating the wastelands of Europe next.”
“Yes,” Huer said.
He turned to Wilma. “You
have had much experience lately dealing with alien species. You will
head the group that will meet with and negotiate a suitable deal with
“Where do we meet them, Doctor?” Wilma
asked, not surprised at his request.
Her lithe form was accentuated by her white uniform, her hair
softly cascading to her shoulders.
But the apparent beauty queen softness hid a steel hard
determination that resided inside her soul.
When on the job, she was all business and her business was to
protect her homeland.
“In orbit, not too far outside of our defense
shield,” Huer responded. “Eventually,
they will need to examine those places they will be working on, along
with properties in our atmosphere.”
Wilma felt relieved, but didn’t show it.
At least she wouldn’t be heading into some far off sector of
the galaxy for this job. She
had been ready to return home for a while and wasn’t looking forward
to leaving on another exploration mission for a month or two.
“Did you wish me to pick a team to greet these Lagrithians,
Doctor, or did you have individuals in mind already?” she asked.
“I don’t think there needs to be many people
involved in the initial phase. I
believe that you, Buck, Theo and Twiki will be sufficient.
You four have made a good team in the past,” the doctor said
with a smile. “And
besides, I want Buck to be the one they work with the most.
He has the most experience on what various parts of Earth looked
like in the past.”
We will talk to them, and if we feel they can help us, Buck can
work out the details of the terraforming.”
Turning to the computer councilman, he asked formally, “Dr.
Theopolis, would you be so kind as to relay our request to Captain
“Of course, Dr. Huer, I would be glad to,”
the quad replied. “Twiki?”
With a beep, the drone took the computer counselor and hooked him
back around his neck. Then
the two left the room.
“I am excited about the possibilities of this
venture,” Huer said.
“And it will hopefully make us less dependant on extraterrestrial imports,” Orlov commented. The other two nodded.