Time and Again




Chapter Nineteen

Return Home



Even while Dr. Huer was contemplating the minute, but horrifying bit of information that Buck and Hawk had given him, his mind was rejoicing that Buck was alive.   He did not in the least question Captain Roger’s directives; it was only a matter of how to deal with the tremor effect of what he was about to do.  This kind of activity couldn’t be hidden from the public for too long and a shocked and frightened public would be clamoring for explanations.  However, Buck’s warning would allow the Directorate to contain this virus and keep a disaster of holocaustic proportions from occurring.  Global genocide? he repeated in his mind.  Why?  What were the Lagrithians’ motives?  What did they want?  What in the world would cause someone to unleash bio-hazardous materials on a world with whom they weren’t even at war?

First he had to contact the Directorate’s Bio-Hazard team.  Then he would contact Wilma to find out everyone she had been in contact with since her return from the Lagrithian ship.  She should be home by now.  She had complained of a headache even while they were together just over an hour ago. 

“Headache,” he whispered.  Dr. Huer felt a cold fist gripping his heart.  Global genocide!  And they were using Buck and Wilma as its carriers.   Was a headache the first manifestation of the contagion?  If so, it was an incredibly fast acting virus.  It was a wonder that Buck managed to make a controlled landing.  Or had they made it even more deadly in the days following Buck’s so-called ‘death?’   He opened the link to Wilma’s apartment.  He had to contact her first.  He had to know if she was all right.   There was no response.  The fist of fear gripped harder and his breath caught in his throat.  He called again, but there was still no response. 

He keyed another number, one he had hoped he would never have to use.  The possibility of contagion borne of nuclear mutation was something for which the Directorate had planned for some years ago.  Now he was going to see just how effective it was.  And hope it wasn’t too late for Wilma. 

The moon-faced countenance of Colonel Dirk Millard appeared on the screen.  “Colonel Millard, this is Dr. Huer.”

“Yes, sir,” Millard responded crisply.  “What can I do for you, sir?”  He was a fairly young man, but quite capable, he was told, of handling emergencies and taking charge.  

“Mobilize your bio-hazard units.  We have a confirmed contagion.”  The colonel’s eyes first showed surprise, then fear and then the training kicked in.  Huer continued, “You will first go to Colonel Deering’s apartment and take her to the quarantine unit.  She is already symptomatic and may not be responsive.   Secure her quarters.  Do the same with all persons she says, if she is able to tell you, that she came in contact with today.  I am sending you a partial list of contacts.  You will send a squad here and follow the same procedure.  You must do this quickly and discreetly, Colonel.”  Huer took a deep breath to allow Millard a moment to assimilate all of this.  “Finally, you will direct the starfighter of Searcher crewmember, Hawk, to a landing bay specially designated for this emergency and escort all passengers to the quarantine area.”  As he was giving the verbal instructions, Huer was also sending the contact data.  “Are you clear on your instructions, Colonel?”

“Yes, sir, Dr. Huer.  I assume this is a Class I exercise?”

“Yes, only those being quarantined are to know what is going on.” 

“Yes, sir.”  Reaching for his computer, Huer cut the link.  He began gathering those things that were essential to him in the running of the government.  When the bio-hazard squad arrived, he was ready, submitting to wearing the bulky contamination suit.  Hopefully, most of those in the hallways would think the unit was running a drill.  Thanks to Col. Millard’s diligence, they ran them quite often.  That would offset any questions or panic for a while, anyway.  Thank goodness for small favors, he thought .

When they arrived at the landing bay being set aside by the bio-hazard unit, he asked, “Colonel Deering?”

“She is in the medical bay.  We were unable to get any information from her.  As you suspected, she was unconscious when we got there.  If you like, we can take you to her, since you, well, since you have already….”

“Yes, I know, Colonel and, yes, I want to see Wilma.”  The fear that Huer had forced into the far corner of his mind surged forward.  Surely Buck’s warning had not come too late.  It couldn’t have.  His mind spun trying to think all this through.  Buck was contaminated with the same contagion, but he had survived and without the aid of New Chicago’s doctors.  Wilma could do the same.  Then he paused in mid-thought.  Buck has survived this virus; his cells might be able to provide the clues to develop a serum against it.   “I want to see her before I meet Hawk and . . . and his passenger.”




Wilma heard voices, felt the harshness of the bright lights against her eyelids, but she could not respond.  She could only feel pain, a harsh excruciating agony that seemed to beat against every atom in her body.  If it would only go away, she thought.  Very seldom had she gotten sick, usually she was fit and healthy, but now?  Now she only wanted to die.

What had they said when they came to her apartment.  Put under quarantine?   Why? For a headache?  Something about a contagious virus.  If that was what was causing this, she sincerely wished no one else got it.  No one else should go through this. 

The pain was accompanied with heat.  An unquenchable fire that seemed to be fed by the pain. 

“Wilma.  Wilma,” a voice impinged into her misery.  Buck?  No, Buck is dead.  Dr. Huer.  That’s who it was.


She didn’t open her eyes, but she answered, her voice barely audible.  “Dr. Huer.”

“Yes, my child.  I am here.”  His voice was soft and soothing.

“What’s wrong with me?” she asked.  She felt tears rolling down her cheeks, hot tears of her pain. 

“The Lagrithians infected you with a contagion.”

Even in her misery, Wilma’s mind cried out ‘why?’

Dr. Huer must have anticipated her question.  “They apparently wanted to wipe out the population.   Why, I don’t know.”

“Buck.   That’s why he….”  Her voice failed her and the sentence ended in a moan.

“Yes, that’s why Buck crashed his ship.”

The pain seemed to be increasing, if that was possible. The fire in her soul seemed to be consuming her.  She couldn’t concentrate on Dr. Huer’s words. 

“Wilma, Buck survived this.  You can, too.”

“Buck’s dead,” she whispered.  Blackness began overtaking her.  At least he went quickly in that crash, she thought as she slipped into semi-pain free oblivion.

“No, he’s alive, Wilma.  He’s alive and he’s coming home,” Huer said, but he didn’t know if she heard him or not.  The hand he was holding went limp. 

The med tech attending to Wilma came over and checked her vital signs, shooing him out of the room.




Njobo felt alone, totally, absolutely alone.  Even during the times when he had been in the forest by himself, he had never felt this alone.  He had always had the Forest around him, part of him.  Now he only felt the deadness of the sky sled.  The vibration of the craft did not lull him as it seemed to have done with Buck, it just reminded him of how far behind the forest, his home, his life, was. 

“Perhaps you should sing on your molimo, Njobo,” Theo suggested, his voice soothing. 

Leaning forward, Njobo gazed at the little round box that was Thee-o and nodded.  “You are very wise.  Thank you,” Njobo murmured.  He looked down at the dawa pouch between his knees and saw the molimo, sticking out invitingly.  He reached for the small bamboo trumpet, and although it was very cramped in this space in the back of the sky sled, he was able to pull it out and raise it to his lips.  He began to sing softly, so as to not disturb Hawk as he guided the sled. Njobo sang of the trees, the flowers, the rain and the animals.  He sang so the Forest would not forget him.  He sang to sooth his soul and to keep a piece of his Ndura with him while he was away.  While he sang he felt Buck’s dreams weaving themselves through his mind and he saw stars with a clarity he had never seen before.  Njobo felt he could reach out and touch them. 

But then he realized that he was not looking up at them, he was among them.  Njobo almost dropped the molimo; he was so astonished.  The heavenly lights winked in colors as numerous as the flowers in his own forest.  Plumes of feathery substance flowed around him and seemed to wave in a slow dance of wonder.   Njobo realized, in amazement that Buck did not ride his sky sled just above the canopy only, but also through the heavens, through the dark starlit sky that he had only wondered about.  And that was where these madmen resided as well.  While still confused beyond measure, Njobo understood better than he had before.  The heavens must be Buck and his people’s Ndura, their Forest, that which sustains and makes happy, just as his home sustained and made him and the BaMbuti happy.  But that was not totally true, Njobo realized in the same instant.  It was the heavens and the forest combined that nurtured these people that Buck belonged to.  

As he continued to sing, he saw a huge, monstrous structure in the vaulted ceiling of the heavens, its spires larger than any limb ever put out by his forest.  He went inside this structure and saw people of numerous shapes, sizes and colors.  Then he flew back out again and saw the Ndura, the whole world before him, a huge blue, green, and brown orb, beautiful and stately.  His song began to incorporate the stars and the beautiful world before him.  He immediately saw where his Forest was, but that was not where Buck’s dream self was going. 

They sped over the same land Njobo had seen before, the harsh and barren area that had little or no vegetation growing on it.  They approached something that reminded Njobo of a forest but it was nothing that had grown from the ground.  These were huge huts that had been constructed, put together by men.  They were made from stone and dead trees and things he could not conceive of.

The sky sled went into an area of bright lights where men and women were waiting, most dressed as Buck was dressed, in white garments that covered their bodies.  A woman with earth brown hair smiled, her happiness apparent.  An older man, a mangese, Njobo perceived, also smiled happily.  Njobo realized that these people were able to find happiness in their lives here in this strange habitation.  They gave and received their happiness from each other and not just from the forest, although Njobo felt a portion of the Forest’s influence even in this place.  It had to be the ground.  The ground nurtured these people like Buck.  Njobo stopped pondering and let the music of his Ndura and Buck’s mingle and blend.  It was pleasant and it helped still the fear that separation from his Forest had placed in his heart.  His song softened and then ceased as Njobo dozed in the cramped seat of the sky sled, his molimo lying peacefully on his lap.


Hawk gazed out of the view screen in wonder as the notes of the BaMbuti’s song faded.  He had felt he had been seeing things through another’s eyes and he had been soothed and entranced.  He wished it could have continued, for he had felt the melodies and heard the notes of his own people flowing through his mind and coursing through his blood.  He even thought he had heard the notes from one of Koori’s songs floating in the air.

“How far are we from New Chicago?” Buck asked, interrupting Hawk’s reverie. 

“Close enough to make contact soon, Buck,” Hawk responded.  “How are you doing?”

“Much better than I was a few hours ago.”  He paused.  “Hawk, did Njobo sing into his molimo?”

“Yes, and it was amazing.  Is that what he referred to as sharer of dreams?” Hawk asked.

“Yes.  Except this time I think he was mostly taking my dreams and incorporating them into his song.  I dreamed I was traveling among the stars.”

“And I heard the celebration songs of my people,” Hawk said. 

“It’s incredible what has survived the holocaust or come out of it,” Buck pondered aloud. 

“Your friend seems to consider his forest as some kind of entity.”

“Maybe it is, Hawk.  Who knows?  Through Njobo’s expertise, it has saved me,” Buck said contemplatively. 

Searcher starfighter 227, this is New Chicago.  You are directed to hangar thirty,” an austere voice directed. 

Buck felt a quick surge of joy.  He was coming home. The flowing wasteland didn’t bother him like it had before, he simply ignored it, and he watched eagerly for the spires of New Chicago to come into view.  If not for the Lagrithian threat, his joy would be complete.  

“Home, Sweet, Home,” Twiki said, echoing Buck’s sentiments.  Only when Hawk had landed did Buck touch Njobo on the arm and awaken him.  “Stay close to me,” he told the BaMbuti.  Theo translated and Njobo nodded.  Hawk undogged the hatch and stood up.  Bio-hazard technicians stood nearby, as did Dr. Huer. 

“Buck, let me give you a hand,” Hawk offered. 

“Hey, when I was ‘dead’ before, I walked out of my craft under my own power.  I’m fine.  You help Twiki and Njobo and I will take care of myself,” Buck replied jauntily.  I hope, he thought.  He helped Twiki into Hawk’s waiting hands and did the same for Njobo.  Twiki slid into the arms of a bio-hazard technician, while Njobo stayed by Hawk’s side until the birdman jumped down. 

“Let us see how good your words are, my friend,” Hawk quipped as he helped Njobo to the ground. 

“Yeah.”  Buck felt like a player in a for-stakes poker game.  His bluff had been called and now he had to play the hand.  He grabbed Hawk’s chair and pulled himself up.  But he took no chances on jumping down from the wing of Hawk’s ship; rather he used the recessed steps in the fuselage.  When he was on the ground he turned and accepted Dr. Huer’s outstretched hand. 

“Welcome home, Buck.”  The older man’s eyes were filled with unshed tears of happiness and he was grinning from ear to ear. 

Buck found himself smiling back, happy to be home.  Nearby, the technicians were gaping openly.  “Reports of my death are highly exaggerated,” he laughed, enjoying his homecoming as much as he was enjoying their discomfiture.





Chapter Twenty
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