Buck gazed surreptitiously at his copilot as she sat, eyes closed, relaxing in her seat. The stars were bright outside the canopy but he ignored them. He marveled at the woman next to him and wondered, as he had before, if she deserved better. It seemed as though recently he had offered her only anxiety, worry and fear. He saw her insistence in going with him on this next mission of his as an indication of his liability in her life. He often was a danger to Wilma. It was of no consequence that most of the danger came from their jobs, it was still there and he was a part of it. And it didn’t ease his conscience any.
Sighing, Buck brought his mind back to the
present, their flight back to Earth.
He checked the numbers he had already punched into the computer,
even while knowing they were correct and then sat back as the ship
approached the next-to-last stargate.
As they slipped through the gate, he felt slender fingers wrap
themselves around his hand. He turned and gazed at Wilma.
“Do you feel better?”
“If by that, do you mean am I more rested?
Yes, I am,” she replied. “If
by that, do you mean I am more at ease, then, sort of.”
“We nailed him, Wilma.
And you nailed Flagg . . . and got Garrott and several of their
goons. And it only took this
hearing. No long drawn out
trials, everything in one fell swoop.”
Buck paused, seeing Wilma’s dubious look.
“Wilma, he can’t hurt you anymore.
He can’t hurt anyone anymore.
You’re free of him, Sreena’s free of him, we’re all free of
him.” He squeezed her hand.
“And you did it.”
“It wasn’t just me,” she said with a soft
smile. “But it’ll
take a while to get over that leering, arrogant grin of his and get over
feeling like I need to look over my shoulder.”
She sighed. “And he
may be in prison, but he still has power, Buck.
He has sown the seeds.”
“The seeds were sown long ago, Wilma, long
before you and I were born,” Buck said softly.
“We just have to work to sow different seeds.”
Smiling, Wilma nodded.
“Maybe that’s why we’re going with Hawk and Sky Mother and
Sky Father. To sow a few of
those new seeds.”
He had walked into that one. He
didn’t have a snappy comeback this time.
And really he didn’t want to get into a ‘discussion’ on the
issue right now anyway. He
“No arguments about it now, either,” she
Sighing again, Buck nodded.
He would have recruited the Admiral to his side, but the Galactic
Council had given Asimov orders to help the bird people in their search
for their kin. Hawk and Sky
Mother would be happy about that, but Buck wasn’t, not entirely anyway.
If he didn’t feel so adamant about finding Garo-tura’s
descendants, he would have stayed behind, too.
Stayed on the Searcher with Wilma—safe.
But what was safe? What was secure and what was absolute? He proved that not even death was an absolute.
Taxes? Mentally he
laughed. Yeah, that was still
around by whatever name it was still called.
And if only Wilma would listen to reason.
She went through hell back on Cronis, even submitting to a private
judicial OEI when Kormand’s lawyers had claimed consensual sex.
Buck had been close by and it had been all he could do to keep from
rushing out into the hearing chamber and beating the crap out of Kormand—actually
he wanted to kill him, but instead he had watched, waited and when Wilma
was done, Buck had gathered her in his arms and let her cry on his
shoulder in a secluded room until she had gained control of herself.
And in the meantime, the judiciary had sentenced Kormand, Garrott,
Flagg, Frolingen and several other Human Rights thugs.
All had received prison sentences.
He was still fuming over that one, even though it had been
explained that death would have given the Human Rights leader martyr
status. Buck understood the reasoning, but wished the incarceration
could have been more like his had been.
Hard labor and deprivation.
He had even made that suggestion, but it had been dismissed, even
while the judiciary had been as sympathetic as they could.
But it was over.
Someone else could find LeeGrand and the rest of the peanut
gallery. No, rogues’
gallery, he corrected himself. All
he wanted to do was help Hawk locate his people and do what he had signed
on the Searcher to do. To
get back to normal chaos.
Looking puzzled, Buck asked, “Me, what?”
“Do you feel better?”
“For the most part,” he said.
“But something still bothers you?” Wilma asked
as Buck rechecked the coordinates for the next stargate. “Something other than what we agreed not to discuss
anymore,” she added with a knowing smile.
“Uh, yeah, something.”
“Have to do with the trial?” she asked.
“Let’s say that Kormand should’ve gotten the
firing squad and I would have volunteered to be on it,” Buck said
“They didn’t want him to become….”
“Yeah, I know, a martyred hero for the cause.
I know, I know.” Neither said anything for several minutes.
“But somehow, it just doesn’t seem like enough.”
“Yes, I know.”
Wilma sighed. “But I
guess we just have to leave it to the system and hope they made the right
They flew on in silence for a short while, neither
totally satisfied with that answer.
“Something else bothering you?” she finally
asked. There was something
she couldn’t put her finger on about Buck, something other than the
trial, other than the fact that he was adamantly against her going on the
expedition to find Garo-tura’s people.
“Mmm,” he said, not elaborating.
“You’ve stayed a bit moody ever since you
broke the garox,” Wilma began, leaving the rest of her thoughts unsaid.
Moody? Buck thought.
Probably true, but he thought of all that had happened and all that
was going to happen and he didn’t wonder.
“If I hadn’t come along would you have married Duke?” he
asked, while wondering where the hell that had come from.
Wilma laughed shortly and then sobered quickly,
feeling that Buck was not being flippant.
He took this very seriously and she supposed that without
consciously acknowledging it, he was frightened of marriage.
She thought back to the two plus, was it almost three years
already?, that they had known each other and realized the truth of it.
And there was also his having to get used to a whole new time,
culture, a world totally different from what he was used to. The small instances of confusion or future shock he had
exhibited had to have been only the tips of the inner icebergs that would
have eventually destroyed the soul of a lesser man.
It was something she continually had to remember about this
complicated individual next to her. She
couldn’t push him and she certainly couldn’t demean his concerns, not
even subconsciously. She
would have to be careful. All
of his recent ordeals had made Buck almost as fragile as he had been when
he had first awakened in this century.
Wilma was well aware that most of the time his cock-eyed humor and
jokes had been a form of coping with a reality that was almost
overwhelming at times. He had even admitted it once.
“At the time you arrived, I think Duke made more
of our relationship than I did,” she began tentatively. “There are many similarities between you and Duke.
Maybe, eventually, we might have married.”
Wilma gazed meaningfully at Buck.
“Why did you think of Duke?”
“Instead of Duvoe?”
“Instead of anybody,” she replied.
“I don’t know.
I’m asking myself why I even asked the question at all,” he
“Buck,” Wilma said, laying her hand on his
arm. “There are reasons why
I chose to become close to these people just as I assume there were
reasons why you chose to become close to some of the people you knew.”
“I know. But
there wasn’t much choice in the breaking up part.”
Wilma felt a slight twinge of something—she
wasn’t sure what it was. Maybe
jealousy? She mentally
shrugged it off. Losing
Jennifer had to have been hard and her being jealous of someone five
hundred years dead wouldn’t help. She
remembered her shock of Duvoe’s revelation and how her mindset had
changed in an instant. But it
was still not the same. Nor
was it easy in either case. She
so wanted this man next to her, but there was no way she was going to
pressure him. “I
know, Buck,” Wilma said softly.
“Not that it would have worked out even if I had
come back on the Ranger,” Buck added hastily.
“Oh, I don’t know.
From what you told me, Jennifer sounded like a wonderful woman,”
“But she didn’t want me in space and after
having been there, I don’t know if I could have been happy on the
ground.” He paused a beat. “Not that there would have been other opportunities—what
with the holocaust and all.”
“I am glad you had a second opportunity,
Buck,” Wilma said after several minutes silence.
“I truly am.”
He smiled. “So
am I.” He punched up the
coordinates for the last stargate and then sat back with a satisfied sigh.
“Well, we’ll soon be back on Earth.”
“Yes, the Searcher will still be there,
too,” Wilma said and then paused and looked toward her companion. “You will be all right on board this time around, won’t
“Yes, I think so.”
“Oh, and Buck?” she began.
“I didn’t develop a closer relationship with
any of the other men in my life because they weren’t right.” Wilma paused a beat. “I
guess I had to wait half a millennium for the right guy to come along.”
“How can you be so sure, Wilma?” he asked.
“How can you?” she countered.
He shook his head.
“I just can’t help thinking that you deserve a whole lot better
than a risk-taking, beat up old rocket jockey like me.”
snorted. “You are not old and even if you were, what difference does it
make? I would still love you
if you were five hundred and fifty years old instead of five hundred and
thirty-six.” She began to
laugh. “Is that what you
called ‘robbing the cradle’?”
“Yeah, I guess so,” he replied and then he added in a serious
“Buck, I want you to be comfortable with all of
this. I want you to be
comfortable with me by your side, with the timing, with everything.”
“I guess when we’re both ready,” he
“Yes,” she agreed, again feeling she was
already at that point.
A short time later they passed through the last
stargate and were almost immediately hailed by the Searcher.
“They don’t waste any time, do they?” Buck
“Well, we didn’t make any contact after we had
left Cronis, you know,” Wilma reminded him.
“You were asleep,” Buck said tersely.
“You are acting like some Stastee monk going to spend a weekend
“Me?” Buck said in surprise. “No, I’m not!”
Wilma just smiled as they docked in the hangar
When they pulled back the canopy and climbed out,
Buck felt as though they were being met by half of the hangar crew.
“Welcome back, Captain Rogers,” one of them
Wilma was acknowledged almost as an afterthought.
“Thanks, Billy,” Buck replied. That went on most of the way to the bridge and it was with a
sigh of relief that Buck watched the doors slide open.
But his relief was short lived. Everyone from Devlin to the admiral slapped him on the back
and greeted him heartily. They
had even arranged a small party in the admiral’s ready room. Buck felt embarrassed by all the attention even as he was
warmed by his shipmates’ thoughtfulness.
“Smile and enjoy it, Buck,” Wilma muttered
under her breath.
That evening when things had returned to normal
and Buck was alone, Twiki and Theo showed up. “Hi, guys,” Buck said as
they entered his room. “What’s
“I have to return to Earth, Buck,” Theo told
“Yes,” the quad replied.
“I’ll miss you.”
“And I, you, Buck,” Theo said in his softly
“You’re staying, though, right Twiki?” he
“Right, boss,” he beeped.
Buck thought briefly.
Hawk and the other bird people would be coming back on board soon
and they would be heading out in search of the other Tane-rapanui.
Not much time to do anything on Earth, but if he took Theo back….
He turned his attention back to the patient quads.
“I’ll take you back, Theo.
I suspect Dr. Carlock wants to check me over anyway.
And I want to say good-bye to Dr. Huer.”
“I would be honored to have you escort me back
to Earth, Captain Rogers,” said Theo formally.
“When do you have to be back?”
“As soon as possible,” Theo replied.
“I’m really too keyed up to sleep right now.
Let’s go now. It’s
morning in New Chicago, right?”
“Yes, but aren’t you tired from your trip back
“It hasn’t hit me yet,” Buck replied. He motioned to Twiki and then walked out of his cabin. Soon they were winging toward the surface, Buck humming the song he had sung on his first re-entry.
|Buck Rogers Contents|