Time and Again
Buck’s temperature varied only slightly as the
twilight deepened into full night.
Despite that, Theo was hopeful, knowing what Buck had told him of
the Lagrithian’s expectations.
Njobo silently prepared the medicines that his
brother had brought, pounding the roots of the fever plant into a type
of mush that would dissolve in water.
He turned to Twiki. “Twee-kee/Thee-o,
do you think you could build a fire like the one you started last
Theo decided it was time to try and introduce
the BaMbuti to the concept of his and Twiki’s separate
identities. While Twiki
gathered wood and laid it in a pile similar to what Buck had done, he
began, “I know this is hard to explain, but Twiki is one entity and I
am another. We are two
Njobo studied the metal BaMbuti.
“There are two of you? How
do you both reside under the metal garments?”
“I do not reside under the metal garments.
I am a….” Here
Theo hesitated, trying to figure out how to explain what he was.
He just used the word. “I am a quad.
I reside in the box around Twiki’s neck.”
Twiki laid the last stick of wood for the fire
and sat back. Njobo reached over and touched Theo’s case, watching the
lights blink. “Thee-o?”
“How do you reside in this . . . box?” he
“You called Twiki and I a dawa man,
referring to magic. Let us
just leave it at that. It
is rather magical.”
Njobo nodded, not totally understanding, but
feeling that the forest gods did. He
would trust the Forest and trust these dawa men.
“And Twee-kee, is he a BaMbuti?”
“No, he is a quad, too.
An ambu-quad is also known as a drone and they can move about on
Njobo didn’t understand Thee-o’s words at
all this time, except for the part about Twee-kee not being a BaMbuti.
That, Njobo thought, would explain why there seemed to be no
connection between the metal man and the forest.
Twiki aimed the laser pistol at the wood and
soon had a fire going just outside the entrance of the hut.
Njobo took a branched stick and cut it so that it would hold his
leaf cup. He held it above
the fire, low enough to heat, but not so low as to burn the container.
Njobo continually checked the mixture and smiled his approval
when he felt it ready. He
took the medicine and went into the hut where he saw Buck watching him.
The hazel eyes were bright with fever, but there
was awareness. “That the
good stuff, or the nasty?” he asked, his voice almost a whisper, as
though too tired to even speak.
Njobo shook his head not understanding.
“Why is it you seem to understand me, but I cannot understand
Buck also shook his head.
It was too hard to think. “I
don’t know.” Theo
translated what he said, but it sounded exactly like what he said the
first time. Buck shook his
head again, thoroughly confused. He
felt like hell. He didn’t
recall ever feeling this bad in his life. “How long have I been
sick?” he murmured.
“I can only guess, Buck.
I would say a little over twelve hours,” Theo replied.
“They said death would be quick,” he moaned.
“Buck, you have held up well. Njobo is giving you medicine.
Surely the fever will break soon.”
Buck said nothing, only closed his eyes and
sighed. Njobo lifted his
head and held the cup to his lips.
“It tastes bad, but the medicine is good, Buck Sky Sled Rider,
Sharer of Dreams,” Njobo whispered.
Buck understood and swallowed, even though his stomach protested.
When he finished Njobo’s medicine, he took several deep
breaths, closed his eyes and muttered, “I’d better get well, because
death is better than this stuff.”
“Here is the better tasting medicine,” Njobo
said with a grin after Theo had translated Buck’s comments. Like before, this drink went down much easier.
When he had finished, Njobo gently let Buck’s head rest back on
the pillow of grasses.
“Did Theo tell you that you were going to get this?” Buck asked softly.
Njobo turned to Theo, who translated; then the BaMbuti
turned back to Buck. “Yes,
he told me. But all things
are as Father and Mother Forest wish.”
Buck felt the aching, persistent pain subside
somewhat and he sighed. “I’m
sorry, Njobo. I am truly
Again, Theo translated.
“Buck, the Forest has brought you here for
some purpose. All things
will work for good and then the Forest will be happy along with all of
her children. You are now
one of the Forest’s children. You
and Thee-o and Twee-kee.”
Slowly Buck raised his hand and laid it on
tired, he thought. “Njobo,
I . . . I thank you.”
Theo repeated his words and Buck frowned.
This was an irritant to him, this constant translating, and yet,
he felt that he should know why it was necessary.
“Theo, why can’t Njobo understand me?
I can understand him.”
Buck blinked, trying to focus on the quad.
He was having trouble staying awake.
“Buck, you still have your translator on,” Theo said simply, and then he said something about magic to Njobo.
“Oh,” he mumbled, yawning. He closed his
eyes and slept.
Throughout the night, Buck’s temperature
fluctuated and the high fever brought convulsive chills and an aching
pain that made him moan and thrash weakly on his makeshift bed.
Theo, Twiki and Njobo alternated the medicine
with water baths. Finally
toward dawn, Njobo put his molimo to his lips and began to sing a
soft melodious tune. The
notes seemed to hang in the air and blend together, creating a harmony
that included all aspects of the forest, past and present.
Buck stopped shivering and his breathing slowed.
As the morning sun turned dark shadows into
distinct shapes, Theo checked Buck’s vital signs and moaned softly. He had so much hoped that they could pull Buck through this.
Now, despite the fact that Theo was supposed to be an objective,
emotionless creation, he felt an overwhelming sadness.
“Buck has slipped into a coma,” he told Twiki, translating
for Njobo. The BaMbuti
only stopped his singing long enough to say, “He still has a journey
to make.” Njobo continued
to play softly. Theo did
not understand to what the BaMbuti was referring.
He could only watch and monitor his friend’s vitals.
“Twiki, there is still a chance that the
Directorate is looking for Buck. You
must shut down. I will
awaken you subsonically if I need you.
I will keep my sensors on low power, just enough to monitor
Buck’s condition.” Twiki beeped sadly and then deactivated himself.
Buck felt and heard the soft music and it
soothed the aching pain that had settled in his joints and muscles. Then the cobwebs cleared from his mind and he felt more alert
than he had since the beginning of this sickness. Well, he thought in wry amusement, Njobo’s rat
poison must work after all. Sitting
up, he looked around the hut. Twiki
and Theo seemed oblivious to his movements; even though the latter
appeared to be activated. Njobo
continued to play his instrument, eyes tightly closed in concentration. Bright sunlight shone around the edges of the leaf thatching
and beckoned him. Buck
crawled out of the hut and stood up, stretching.
The aches and pains were gone, he noted with deep gratitude.
The forest seemed clean and bright, almost
surreal, very much like the Appalachian Mountains after a hard summer
rain. Mist lay like soft
wispy clouds on the ground. He
looked up and saw canopy thick and seemingly impenetrable above him, but
it was still bright, almost like pure sunlight.
A soft breeze blew strands of hair from his forehead and he
absently ran his hand through his hair, smiling when it flopped back.
The breeze held the fragrance of fresh flowers with no hint of
Buck gazed around him, but could see no paths
and nothing to give him a sense of where to go.
Shrugging, he just began walking, reveling in the simple pleasure
of feeling good. He
continued through the forest, seeing several monkeys in the trees along
with birds of various colors and sizes.
They joined in the melody that Buck had heard and continued to
hear softly wafting in the air. A jungle cat peered at him without fear
from atop a limb. Somehow,
Buck didn’t feel any fear, either and walked underneath the limb
without a second glance. Soon
he came to a clearing, one that surrounded a shimmering lake.
Lilies floated serenely in the placid waters, birds waded
sedately, seemingly not interested in the fish that swam near the
surface. The mist did not
extend into the clearing and when he gazed toward the far side of the
pond, Buck’s jaw dropped. There,
sitting on a wooden bench, were his parents.
He continued staring and his mother smiled and beckoned.
Still not believing what he was seeing, Buck
slowly walked around the pond. Then
as his mother got up and moved toward him, he trotted toward her, a grin
spreading across his face. “Mom!”
he called out. They are
alive! Then he
stopped. The trial for treason! Even
though she seemed happy to see him, was she really?
His father remained seated, his face devoid of any emotion that
Buck could discern. Buck
stood quietly as his mother approached him.
What is going on? Why?
He had known going back was impossible, but now he was here,
he was actually seeing his parents, and able to talk to them, explain,
apologize. Buck found that
he was suddenly very afraid and he didn’t understand that either.
Oh, son, it’s so good to see you again.”
She stood back and looked him up and down.
Buck imagined he was a sight after slogging through the jungle,
but when he also looked down, he saw that his uniform was clean and
neat, as though he had just put it on.
He looked back into his mother’s eyes.
She was smiling and her eyes had a mischievous glint in them.
“You don’t look a day over one hundred.” Buck heard that one often enough since his awakening, but
from his mother? He gaped.
She reached out and lightly touched his sleeve,
then took his hand, enfolding it in her own. “Oh, Buck, you look
wonderful. Your new life
has been good to you.” And
she reached out and grabbed him, and pulled him to her, hugging him
tightly. He felt her
warmth; it was real. He
reciprocated, wrapping his arms around her. This is no dream, he thought. He smelled the faint scent of hyacinth, his mother’s
favorite fragrance. He felt her arms, her comforting, strong but gentle
arms and everything that had been ripped from his soul when his ship had
malfunctioned came rushing back.
Buck thought about what she had said.
He drew back, but still held onto her.
“You know?” he asked inanely.
“Of course, Buck.
Do you think I wouldn’t be interested in what you are doing,
and wouldn’t occasionally check up on you?”
She smiled. “That
was the only way I knew how you were doing after you joined the Air
Buck let the standing ‘why don’t you call me
occasionally’ reminder pass. There
was something he had to hear. “But
the holocaust, the charges,” he stammered.
Her face clouded.
“That was a hard time, son.
Government agents went through your things that were still stored
at the house, they went through our things.
They questioned us; they questioned other family members.
We kept it to ourselves, but there were a few of our friends who
were questioned, too, and they were not kind.”
She paused when she saw Buck’s face.
Horror alternated with sadness, guilt and anger.
“I knew it. I knew
the CIA or some agency would harass you over that.
I knew it,” Buck murmured, his emotions mixing in a cauldron
beyond anything a witch could conjure up.
His mother continued.
“But despite everything, I couldn’t quite believe it.
You are my son and I raised you to be honorable,” Edna Rogers
said, reaching up and touching his face.
“But it was hard.”
“I’m sorry,” he cried and hugged her
again. “I’m so sorry
you had to go through that.”
“Why, son?” You were only doing what you
were asked to do in order to save our country.
To try and save our world. How
could anyone know that half truths would be brought to light to defame
He could not let go of his mother. Emotion welled to overflowing.
Everything that he had tried to suppress refused to be suppressed
any longer. Buck thought of
all his parents had gone through on his account, and that and the stress
of trying to fit into a new culture, time and place overwhelmed him.
He began to cry on his mother’s shoulder. He had not cried since he was a little boy, but he could not
stop. Tears flowed freely
and sobs racked him.
“It’s all right, son,” his mother murmured
in his ear. “It’s all
right. I am so proud of you. So
proud of the man you became and the man you are now. No mother could be prouder.
She continued to hold him tight.
Finally, she pulled away from him again when he had calmed enough
to regain control. “And how many mothers can say that her son has
saved the Earth.”
She smiled and Buck smiled in return. He wiped
his eyes on his sleeve. “I’m
too old for this,” he said softly, but he didn’t feel too sorry.
He was only relieved that he had done this in front of his mother
and not his friends.
“Too old for what, Buck?
A hug from your mother?” she quipped.
Buck smiled again, reveling in her bantering
cheerfulness. There was
only one more thing to make this complete.
“You have any cookies?” he asked.
“No, not now, unfortunately.”
Buck looked up and saw his father standing just
behind his mother.
“Dad,” he said, stepping toward the elder
His father handed him a handkerchief and then
just stared at him for a moment. Finally,
he spoke in a voice so low Buck had to strain to hear him. “That’s a
fine uniform, son. You’ve worn it well, with honor. Just as you did
your Air Force uniform.”
Emotion welled up again, but this time, Buck had
no trouble controlling it. “Thanks,
Dad,” he said with a smile. “But
sometimes I miss wearing the old one.”
“No, son, don’t miss it.
What you are doing now is so much more important.”
He paused and looked toward the ground.
“You know, I’m afraid I didn’t have the same kind of faith
your mother had in you. I
was angry, I was hurt and I felt shame.”
“I’m sure you did.
The evidence was pretty convincing.”
His heart wrenched with the same feelings of guilt and anger that
he had been dealing with for the past couple of months. “And I don’t blame you for a minute. I was even doubting myself, Dad.”
“But you are my son!
I should have had the faith in you that your mother had.
I should have known! Forgive
His father was asking his forgiveness?
“William . . . Buck, when the bomb hit
Chicago, in the brief seconds before death came, I felt what your mother
held in her heart during that time of shame and finger-pointing.
I knew then that you were no traitor.
And now the truth has finally come to light for everyone to know.
You are no traitor. You
never could have been.”
“A very close friend told me you would
know.” Buck stepped
forward and gave his father a bear hug.
“There’s nothing to forgive, Dad.
His parents led him to the bench on which they
had been sitting. They sat
down together; Buck between his parents, and watched the pond in
comfortable, peaceful silence for several minutes.
Buck wondered about this place.
“You mentioned your death. Where are we, Dad?
This forest looks familiar, but it seems dreamlike, too.”
He gave his father a bemused look and then his eyes widened in
shock. “Am I dead?” he
whispered. “Is this
“It’s dreamlike because you are not really
here, son,” the elder Rogers said.
“And we are sort of between heaven and Earth.”
“Son, you are not dead, but you are close to
it,” his mother added, gazing deeply into his eyes.
“Buck, you have what no one else has had the opportunity to
experience.” She paused
and took a deep breath. “You
have had the opportunity to make a difference in two times, two
different worlds. There was
a reason you were preserved for this time, and as much as you have
already accomplished, I believe there is much more for you to
Buck said nothing for a moment. “Why am I here with you now?
If it’s not my time to join you, why am I here at all?
I mean, it’s not that I’m not happy to see you and . . .
but….” he stammered.
father laid his hand on Buck’s arm.
It felt as strong as it had ever felt when he was a boy.
“William, you are living in the twenty-fifth century, but you
are still tied to your past. You
cannot totally let it go.”