BOTH SIDES OF THE COIN
Standing at the control console of the Searcher, Hawk stared impassively at the static-filled observation screen in front of him. Only the clinch and relaxation of his left fist as he rolled a gold coin within marred his serene pose.
Wilma wandered back from one of many trips to check auxiliary instrument panels already adequately manned by bridge personnel and stopped at his side. Her own eyes drawn to the obscured screen, she assured him as if assuring herself, "Buck's all right. He'll communicate soon. He's only been out of contact for ten minutes."
Hawk glared at the screen and willed it to function correctly so he could fly the ship. "He may be dead, his ship holed a few feet from our bow, and we would never know it."
"You're forgetting that famous Buck Rogers' luck of his. If anyone can find his way through an asteroid belt in an ion storm, he can."
"I should have gone. I am the better pilot. I could have led Searcher through with my fighter."
From his own vantage point of the view screen, the Admiral insisted, "We needed one of you to pilot the Searcher. You both couldn't go."
"I should have gone," Hawk insisted, more to himself than to the others.
"You flipped a coin,” Wilma countered. “He lost and had to go."
"Buck and his lucky coin." Hawk clinched the coin harder. "He left it with me because it is not so lucky. He always loses with it. He said it was my lucky coin now because I always win with it."
"Maybe for him losing is winning. I think he enjoys these suicide missions because he can scare us to death then come back triumphant and unharmed. He says his dumb stunts are his way of exercising his inalienable right to do something incredibly stupid on occasion."
Hawk's deep, short laugh sounded more of pain than humor. Speculatively, he rubbed the coin between his thumb and forefinger. "Buck exercises that right with great frequency. He has gone on every dangerous solo mission since I joined the Searcher two months ago."
Wilma shifted uneasily. "So?"
With two fingers, Hawk held the coin up to Wilma. "Both sides are heads. Buck cheated. I should have gone today. He cheated and died in my place. If he thought he was coming back, he would have kept the coin. He knew he was to die."
"He can't be dead. An ion storm and an asteroid belt can't stop him !"
"We are equals, yet always he shields me. He thinks I care nothing for my life after losing Koori. He thinks I will choose death rather than life."
Wilma's gaze caught his, and she asked cooly, "Won't you?"
He met her hard appraisal with eyes open to his soul. "No, not anymore. Not if it means his life or the life of someone who matters to him. I swore to guard Buck's back as he swore to guard mine. Even my personal desire to follow Koori will not break that vow of friendship."
Wilma rested her hand against his shoulder. "I'm glad, Hawk."
Flustered by the answering warmth within from a human's friendly gesture, Hawk retreated back into anger. "I am his comrade, his equal, and yet he treats me like a... a... breeding female. I will not be pampered and protected from danger. He has cheated me of my right as his comrade." Hawk slammed the coin onto the console surface.
Straining to hear Buck's call, the bridge crew jumped at the noise.
Wilma picked up the coin. "You're wrong about the reason Buck gave you this coin. It wasn't because he thought he was going to die. He must have thought the time had come to trust your will to live. This coin was his way of telling you no more tricks were needed."
A smile traced Hawk's lips and disappeared. "Buck has a human fondness for such sloppily sentimental gestures."
He spun toward the door.
"Where are you going?"
"Anyone can pilot the Searcher. I am taking my ship out to find Buck." Hawk glared at her and awaited her protest.
With a serene smile, she handed him his coin. "Be careful."
Sensing he'd received the coin and the trust it implied a second time, Hawk nodded and smiled with his eyes, but his voice still shook with anger at being cheated, "If Buck calls, give him this message -- First I will save you, then I will kill you."
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The character Hawk and the Buck Rogers series are under exclusive copyright by Leisure Concepts, Inc., and Universal City Studios.