Time and Again
Njobo felt the intrusion of the sky craft about
the same time that he heard it. It
came from the direction of the midmorning sun, screaming like a wounded
eagle. Still holding his
net in his hands, poised on a wide limb twenty feet above the forest
floor, he had been awaiting an okapi.
But with the entrance of the intruder, the small deer was now
long gone. Njobo could see small patches of sky through the canopy, and
for an instant he was able to see the sky sled flying overhead.
“What is that, Father?” his son, Mabosu
asked, his eyes large and round in wonder.
At fourteen, the boy often hunted with him now.
“It is a sky sled,” Njobo said. As he spoke, the BaMbuti heard and felt the rending
destruction of the trees in the ship’s path.
“It is killing some of the forest,” Mabosu
said, matter of factly.
will follow and see how much damage it has done,” Njobo said. They followed the sound of the sky sled’s path, the
cracking limbs, the falling debris, and then, suddenly there was a brief
silence. Silently, Njobo
prayed for healing to the ravaged forest.
Then, a short time later, a huge explosive noise
shattered the relative silence that had begun with the intrusion.
Njobo and Mabosu dropped to their faces in fear.
Now the elder BaMbuti did feel the forest’s pain.
The earth shuddered and the two forest people heard the cracking
of limbs. As silence
descended, an ominous, almost complete silence, Njobo smelled the burnt
wood foliage and he felt sadness.
“Come,” he told his son.
“Let us see if this stranger has dealt to himself what he has
delivered to Mother and Father Forest.’
“I do not see how it could be otherwise,
Njobo simply shrugged and started off through
the jungle, following paths almost invisible to the eye, but engrained
in his heart. He said
nothing to his son. The
gods alone determined who lived and who died.
Right now the forest was giving him messages that told of life
and death. It was
confusing, but he did not think he would find this stranger dead.
He and Mabosu continued running lightly along
the trail, parallel to the passage of the sky sled, blinking at the
bright sunlight pouring through the ravaged canopy.
Then Njobo saw the canopy close up over the path of the sky sled
and he stared in amazement.
“Where is the intruder, Father?” Mabosu
Remembering the sky sled he had seen as a youth,
Njobo marveled at the skill of the intruder.
It must be a very tiny sky sled, he thought, remembering
the destruction of so long ago. But
it hadn’t seemed that small when it passed overhead a while ago. “It is farther, my son.”
They continued, only slowing when they began to find pieces of
the sky sled littering the forest floor, along with broken limbs and
“Father,” Mabosu said softly, holding up a
piece of metal. “Is this
from the sky sled?” It is
not of the forest.”
Njobo didn’t any more than glance at the piece
of the sky sled. “You
are right,” he told his son. They
continued, their high stepping pace slower than before, seeing more and
more debris littering the path before them.
The BaMbuti heard the noise of more sky sleds
overhead. These came quickly, Njobo thought.
It was though this one was the quarry in a hunt.
A good hunt, for one lost?
Or a bad hunt, for one who has done something bad? Suddenly,
the forest opened up, showing the devastation of broken and twisted
trees. The ground was
scorched in an area as large as his village.
It was as though a grand bonfire had burned here.
The pungent odor of smoldering vines and boiled sap assaulted his
nostrils. The sky looked
like an open and raw wound overhead.
The sound of approaching sky sleds came to his ears and Njobo
pulled Mabosu back into the twilight forest.
“Should we make some kind of offering to the
gods to make them happy once more?” Mabosu whispered.
“Yes, but not now,” Njobo replied. “We will skirt around this wounded area and find the trail
the stranger took.”
“Then you believe the one who flew this is yet
“Yes, son, I do.
His presence intrigues me and beckons me.
It is as though the forest brought him here. Do you not feel something different?”
“Something strange, Father.”
Njobo nodded, his dark brow furrowed in thought
even as they trotted around the burned area.
The morning sky darkened and he knew that soon it would rain.
That was good. Rain would be like salve in the wound of the forest.
They found the path on the other side, even as the darkness
deepened and thunder rumbled softly in the distance.
The sky sleds above flew more sporadically overhead, as the rain
began falling. It fell for
some time, drowning out the sound of even occasional sky sleds, but the
pair continued undaunted and unconcerned about the rain or intruders.
When it stopped, the rain continued dripping off the trees, but
even that did not slow them. Mabosu stopped and drank from the reservoir of a large
bowl-shaped leaf. Njobo
The sound of overhead sky sleds continued off
and on through the remainder of the morning and through the afternoon.
Njobo and Mabosu paused to eat lunch of fruit hanging from a tree
next to the path. The saw
signs that the stranger had done the same thing only a short time
before. Mabosu motioned to
him and Njobo watched silently as his son pulled out a poison-tipped
arrow from his pouch and aimed toward a branch above them.
A curious monkey watched, but did not see his danger until Mabosu
drew back and released the arrow.
The monkey screamed as the arrow penetrated its thigh. Its body fell across the limb and the young man climbed
quickly to retrieve it.
Njobo nodded his approval.
“It will taste good tonight,” he said.
Mabosu dressed out the primate and slung it from a cord that he
tied to his pouch. Mabosu
found another reservoir of water and cleaned up, saying a quick prayer
to make the spirit of the dead monkey happy about its sacrifice.
He and Njobo again appeased their thirst and took up the trail of
Njobo was incredulous that this stranger to the
forest seemed to be able to unerringly keep to the tiny trail without
getting lost. He could not
help but feel that the forest gods were mindful of this intruder. They
must have already forgiven him for his destruction of their forest and
were now helping him. Njobo
wondered if this one would be as large as the stranger who had descended
on them during his younger days.
They trotted along, their steps sure along the
path. The sun above them
shone in flecks and spots of light on their backs and arms.
Njobo felt, rather than saw, their quarry ahead of them. He turned to his son, but saw that Mabosu had already
realized the same thing. Grabbing
a vine, Njobo climbed to a wide limb twenty feet above the forest floor.
Mabosu followed him and they trotted nimbly along their new
pathway, leaping from one tree to another as they continued following
Within a short time, they spotted the stranger.
Njobo heard his son gasp behind him and he smiled.
This intruder was taller than the last one but not by much.
He motioned for Mabosu to stop and the let the stranger get ahead
of them. What astonished
him was not the size of the stranger, but the BaMbuti slung over
the tall one’s shoulder. It
seemed to be in some kind of metal clothing and was apparently injured.
The BaMbuti didn’t move or say anything.
Had the stranger taken this unusual forest
person and made him his prisoner? But
no, Njobo didn’t feel that such was the case.
The metal person did not strike him as being a forest person. He seemed even less of a forest person than the stranger.
That the gods had directed him and his son to this pair; he had
no doubt. Why did they
do that, though? Njobo
couldn’t even venture a guess.
Only the gods knew.
“Father, he is so big!
And the BaMbuti on his shoulder!
What kind of person is that?”
“I don’t know, but it appears to be sick.
I want you to go back to Lelo Barazza and bring my dawa
“Do you think the medicines will help one such as that one?” Mabosu asked.
feel strongly that it will be needed.
Hurry, it will take you a day to get there and back.
You may bring Aberi back with you, if he wishes to come.”
Mabosu nodded and untied the dead monkey,
handing it to his father. “You
can eat this for your supper. I
will eat when I get back to our campsite.”
may or may not be able to hunt while you are away.”
Then he grinned. “But
who knows. Maybe the
strangers and I will be cooking a sondu when you return.”
Mabosu grinned in return and then turned away.
Njobo watched for a moment and then turned back to the sky sled
rider and his BaMbuti companion.
Trotting along the tree limb, he soon caught up with the stranger
once more. The man was
slowing down, but he continued along the path, the BaMbuti still
slung over his shoulder. All
through the afternoon, the stranger continued, sometimes stopping,
leaning against a tree to rest. At
times, his breath came in panting gasps and sweat streamed down his
face. It rained again, but the stranger continued, letting the water
drip down his face. By now,
though, his pace was only a slow walk.
The sun returned, lower through the trees and
finally the sky sled rider stopped and gently laid his BaMbuti
companion down. The
stranger looked upward and Njobo stood stock still among the foliage.
He was relieved when the intruder looked beyond Njobo’s
position and toward the sky. Was
he looking for help to come from his fellow sky sled riders?
Or did he want to know if they were still following him. Somehow Njobo thought it was the latter reason.
The face looking upward was light, like the other sky sled rider
he had known, but the hair was darker, closer in color to his own.
The stranger’s countenance was drawn, fatigue etched into the
lines of his pale face.
Suddenly, Njobo realized that Mabosu was getting
his medicine pouch for the stranger, not the BaMbuti lying still
at the big man’s side. But
the stranger looked tired, not sick.
The man slowly stood up and did something to the white clothing
that covered his upper body. It
appeared that he was ripping the clothing apart, for the man’s chest
was suddenly exposed. Personally, Njobo thought that wearing such a thing as
this stranger had on was the height of folly; much too hot.
The stranger gazed around him and found a scoop shaped leaf
containing a small reservoir of water. He drank thirstily and looked for
more. When he had drunk his
fill, the tall sky sled rider gently picked up his lifeless companion
and again slung him over his shoulder, continuing on the path to the
northwest. Finally as the
light of the sun disappeared, the stranger stopped, again gently laying
his companion down. The
darkness descended quickly, but Njobo saw the stranger gaze upward again
and then he reached over and touched the metal BaMbuti against
the side of his neck. Instantly, the companion sat up and began speaking.
A light on the metal clothed man’s chest lit up and Njobo heard
another voice. Two
voices from the same person? Njobo thought. What strange intruders to his world! Truly the gods had a sense of humor sending these two
strangers his way. A giant
that seemed to have some kind of a connection to the Ndura, the
forest, and a BaMbuti that seemed to have no connection with the
forest whatsoever. He would
watch a while longer, see how this intruder fared during the night.
Njobo left to gather fruit and to build a small fire to roast the monkey. As he was doing so, he found a stand of bamboo and cut a good-sized piece for a molimo.
Hawk woke with bright sunshine in his eyes.
He felt sluggish and exhausted, his nightmares having precluded
any semblance of restful sleep. Stowing
the sleeping bag in the seat behind him, Hawk noticed a light blinking
on his communicator. He had deliberately turned it off wanting the
privacy of the past few days. Ah,
Buck is due back from the Lagrithian assignment.
Undoubtedly that is from him, Hawk thought.
He flipped the switch.
“Earth Directorate to Hawk.
Hawk, come in, please.” It
“Yes, Colonel Deering.
This is Hawk,” he answered formally.
“Hawk,” Wilma began and then it was as
though something had caught in her throat.
He sensed something was wrong, but before he could say anything,
she continued. “Hawk, we
lost him. We lost Buck,
Hawk. We lost him.” Her breath caught again, this time in a sob.
Fingers of dread grabbed at Hawk’s soul.
Buck gone? “What did you say, Wilma?”
“I said that we lost Buck.
“What happened?” Hawk asked. “Tell me what happened.”
He could not believe his friend was dead. But the nightmares . . . were those the indication of death?
Could it be true?
“He came from the Lagrithian ship. Everything seemed fine at first, but he didn’t make contact and then his ship went into strange maneuvers and then headed west. The ship was acting strangely, accelerating to dangerous speeds right up to the time he crashed in Africa.”
“You searched for him?”
“Of course, Hawk.
We did it for over eight hours.
We ran every kind of scan conceivable.
The ship exploded, shortly after impact.
There was no way he could have lived through it.
No way any of them would have lived through it.
There was a thirty foot crater, Hawk.”
Wilma’s voice broke.
“Where are you now, Wilma?” Hawk asked
softly, still unable to believe the news.
“Over the Atlantic Ocean heading back to New
Chicago. We looked and
scanned for hours. There
was no sign of Twiki or Theo. None
of Buck. Nothing on the scanners,” she repeated.
Hawk’s immediate desire was to fly to the
crash site, but he needed more information.
“I will meet you in New Chicago,” was all he said.
Sadly, he finished packing his supplies and he took off, his mind on his friend. Was that pilot he saw yesterday Buck? Somehow he felt it was. The ones following must have belonged to Wilma’s search party.