Time and Again
Good News, Bad News
Buck woke up from a dream, nightmare, he
thought, of being run through a gauntlet, beaten with sticks and clubs. He reached up to wipe the sweat from his face and found that
part of his dream was true. His
joints protested any movement and his muscles ached abominably.
Slowly he sat up, groaning at the effort.
He saw Njobo by the fire pit, asleep, and Twiki and Theo at the
edge of the little clearing, working.
At his movement, the drone turned to him, beeping happily.
Again Buck guessed what Twiki was saying.
“Headache’s gone, not dizzy, not cold but I feel like I went
nine rounds with Tigerman.” He
finally managed to sit up and lean against the backrest that he vaguely
remembered Njobo making for him. Even
that little effort tired him out and he leaned back to rest.
“Buck, Njobo left water for you nearby,”
Theo told him.
Feeling the tendrils of alarm, Buck asked,
“He said he was tired, Buck.”
Not sick?” Buck asked.
As far as I know, Njobo has not slept since he began taking care
of you,” Theo explained.
“Thank God,” Buck breathed fervently.
“And I am happy to say that your fever has
finally broken, Buck,” Theo added.
Buck said nothing, concentrating instead on
getting his fingers around the bamboo cup at his side.
He was dismayed at how weak and stiff his hand was.
This is nuts! he thought as he finally got his fingers to
“It would seem that this virus manifests
itself with more than just a fever.
I had noticed before that you were in pain, but was more
concerned about the high fever than about anything else,” Theo
“Yeah, it would seem,” Buck said
sardonically, finishing what was in the cup.
He laid it down and flexed his fingers.
“This is just something else I’m going to take up with the
Lagrithians when I get back,” he growled.
“Keep trying to increase the power, Twiki,”
Twiki beeped indignantly.
“I’m doing the best I can!”
“I know you are, Twiki.
And you have done a very fine job with the materials at hand,”
Theo said soothingly.
“Communicator problems?” Buck asked.
“We can only make a communication device that
will signal a nearby starfighter, Buck,” Theo explained.
“We cannot make anything that will receive signals and we
don’t have vocal capabilities.”
“Just do the best you can.”
“Of course, Buck.
I cannot doubt that eventually a survey craft will come this way.
Probably New Chicago will send out a recovery team to gather all
they can of your starfighter.”
“I know I should have dropped you two off in
Australia,” he murmured, laying his head back and closing his eyes.
Twiki and I could never abandon you.”
“Thanks, guys,” Buck mumbled. He dozed off, waking up several hours later to see Njobo
squatting by his side, a cup of stew in his hands.
Flexing his fingers, Buck took the small cup and
drank the savory broth, realizing for the first time in days, just how
hungry he was. “That’s
good, Njobo,” he said appreciatively.
“You have pain, Buck?” Njobo asked.
“Some, but not as much as I did before.
I’m mostly stiff,” he answered with a yawn.
“And I’m tired all the time.
All I want to do is sleep.”
Njobo handed him another cup of stew, this time it contained small chunks of meat. “You need to eat more stew. The meat is from the sondu. It will give you strength.”
Buck drank the broth and pulled out the chunks
of meat with his fingers, chewing each piece slowly to savor the
succulent taste. “What’s
a sondu?” he asked when he had finished.
Buck didn’t think he had eaten anything so delicious in his
“It is a large antelope.
I will roast a piece over the fire for you for the next meal.
It, too, will give you strength."
“Hmm, can you make that a Porterhouse
steak?” Buck joked. He
handed the cup back and stifled yet another yawn.
Njobo looked puzzled even after Theo’s
translation. “Never mind,
Njobo. I made a joke,”
“Ah,” Njobo replied, nodding. “Jokes are good.
It means you are getting better.”
Except for translating, Theo had kept quiet
during the exchange. Twiki
was in the forest gathering wood for the night’s fire.
Njobo left the hut and worked by the fire pit.
Buck couldn’t see what the BaMbuti was doing, but he had
no doubt that he was mixing some other concoction to help make him well.
He remembered that in his day, many of the world’s ecologists
had talked about the amount of medicines that had come from the
rainforest plants. Now he knew what they were talking about.
He wondered if they could be synthesized if the Lagrithians still
managed to introduce this damnable virus to Earth.
“Buck,” Theo began.
“Show me your hands.”
Puzzled, Buck did so, palms up.
“No, Buck, the other way.
Buck did as he was told.
“What’s on your mind, Theo?”
The quad didn’t sound terribly happy.
For several seconds, Theo was quiet, only the
blinking lights showing that he was thinking.
“Buck, it would seem that the virus works by attacking the
victim’s red blood cells. The
fever was really symptomatic, the manifestation of your body’s intense
fight against the virus. The
high fever probably also gave you the pain that you have had, but the
weakness and lethargy indicates a low red blood count.”
Sighing, Buck looked at his fingernails and saw
what Theo had noticed. “Peachy.
So the reason I feel like something the cat beat up and then
dragged in is because I’m anemic.”
Theo had learned to understand his human
friend’s sometimes strange sense of humor and antiquated phraseology
fairly well. “Yes, Buck.
And Njobo has the right idea.
You need to eat plenty of the meat he prepares as it is your best
source of iron right now.”
“Okay,” Buck said. “I think I can handle that. Always did like a good broiled steak.”
Njobo returned and handed him the cup again.
“This will help you to regain strength.
I am thinking there will be much ahead and we will all need to be
Buck paused before he drank what Njobo had given
him. He had felt
something different about this man even while he was too sick to care
about anything, and now he wondered what it was about the BaMbuti
that suggested something mysterious and mystical.
“Njobo, are you some kind of shaman or something?” he asked.
Njobo paused after Theo’s translation.
“I have been designated the doctor of my clan, mainly because I
understand the forest much better than my relatives and my friends.
Always it is that way. The
one who understands the forest is the healer in our clans.”
He gazed at Buck meaningfully.
“Before I ever met you and your companions, I felt something
different about you.”
“Uh, that’s how I feel about you, too,
“I feel that the Forest wanted us to meet for
some reason. I do not know
what it is right now, but we will know when the time is right,” Njobo
said solemnly. “Now you
eat what is in the cup.”
Buck did so, frowning at the slight taste that
reminded him of his least favorite food when he was a boy.
He finished it and lay back to rest.
He was tired, but not ready to sleep.
There was something else that he needed to know.
“Njobo, are you feeling all right?”
“Yes, I only had a bit of pain in my head
yesterday. It is gone
“Theo, why didn’t Njobo catch this?”
Then a thought came to his mind.
“It has to do with genetic make up, doesn’t it?”
Theo blinked for a few seconds, a manifestation
of his thought processes. “Yes,
Buck, I believe you may be on the right track.
They used samples from you and Wilma, mainly Wilma, if what you
are saying is correct. Your
genetic material and Wilma’s is different from other races of humans,
although those differences are slight.
I would venture to say that even your microbiological material is
slightly different. Maybe
that is a tiny factor in your survival.
I cannot say for sure in that case.”
“So, in other words, those of different racial
backgrounds would be immune to this sickness,” Buck said, his voice
“Maybe not immune, but at least a great deal
less susceptible,” Theo replied.
Njobo handed Buck the cup again, this time
filled with some kind of juice. Buck
looked down at the contents and then back up at his companions.
He thought of this latest development as he drank.
The more he thought, the funnier the irony seemed to him.
Finally, he couldn’t help it; he started laughing.
He laughed until tears rolled down his cheeks.
Njobo looked happy, but at the same time
puzzled. Theo blinked and
Twiki beeped. “Buck, is
something the matter?” Theo asked.
“Are you all right?” The
quad wondered if Buck’s illness might have caused some mental
“Oh, no, Theo,” Buck said, wiping his eyes
with his sleeve. “Something
is very right for a change.”
Theo said nothing to Buck, but translated the
proceedings to Njobo as best he could.
“Don’t you see, Theo?” Buck began. “Those arrogant jackasses up there are hell bent to destroy
the human race, but they made their contagion too specific to accomplish
“It is a good joke, Buck,” Njobo added,
“Against your enemies.”
Buck sobered. “We still have to warn Dr. Huer, though, or the Lagrithians will succeed in destroying a good portion of Earth’s people. And I don’t doubt that they will try again.”
“Tonight, Buck, we will try to boost the power
of the communication device,” Theo assured his friend.
Buck flexed his fingers and made a fist.
It was a bit easier than it had been earlier.
“And I will begin to exercise a bit and loosen these
“Do not overdo it, Buck,” Theo said.
Buck sighed and listened to the pattering of
rain on the leaf roof of his hut, a hut he was sincerely getting tired
of. “Theo, if we do get
back to New Chicago, what are the odds of me still being contagious? Back when I was a kid, if you had some kind of disease, say
chicken pox, you were usually immune to it after the first exposure.”
“I would guess that the same would be true in
this case, but we cannot be sure. This
is not a natural illness. You
would most likely have to be quarantined and tests run, to determine
your condition, in so far as the virus is concerned.”
“Fair enough,” Buck murmured, feeling a
desperate helpless frustration replace the humor he had previously
experienced. He felt sleepy
again, and cursed his weakness and the Lagrithians even as he fell
Njobo sat on a limb and watched his brother who
sat on the other end. “I
thank you, my brother. I
could not have saved the sky sled rider without your help.”
“He is still sick, but you are not,” Aberi
“I had only a slight pain in my head.
I do not know exactly why, even though Thee-o has tried to
explain it to me. I only
understood that we are different from Buck.”
“You told me of the madmen.
You also told me that Buck thinks the madmen will try to make the
people of the whole Ndura sick again.”
“Yes,” Njobo said.
“What are your thoughts, brother,” Aberi
asked, concerned over all of this that he didn’t understand.
“It was the medicines that helped Buck get
“Of course. The
Forest is kind to its children, even those from far away.”
“In my dreams I see myself going with my new friends and helping them fight these madmen,” Njobo said softly. “I see no other way.”
Sucking in his breath, Aberi said, “Brother, Mangese,
that will be a hard thing. Surely
someone who rides in a sled like the one that destroyed part of the
forest cannot come from a place that is as comforting and nurturing as
our Ndura is.” Mabosu
slipped down a vine and sat next to his uncle.
His eyes were large and fearful.
“I think this is what is needful and the
Forest wants it. When the
time comes, I will know for sure.”
Aberi nodded as Njobo slid down the trunk and
walked back to the camp where the sick man and the two strange dawa