The One, Part Two
After the balloon disappeared, Wilma asked, “Why did you call it Fluffy?”
With a sigh, Ari sat down on the bed beside her. “I do it to annoy One. I gave the individual energy creatures names. They are all a little different. It is rather like me naming your thumb Fred and holding conversations with it.” He grinned mischievously. “It is very annoying.”
“It would be. Is it going to kill me?”
“No! It would never do that, but it refuses to free you. It intends to try again to find me a wife.”
“There are no suitable females of your people within range.”
“If not, it will try something else. Something horrible. One came up with this idea while probing your mind. It touched your memory and found your childhood.”
“What does that mean?”
“It cannot do this with you. You are unreachable to it now because it tried contact and failed. It burnt you out. It plans to capture someone else and force mental age regression to a pliable mental age. It will create instant communicators without waiting for an infant to age.”
“I’ve seen that done in hypnosis. Returning your memory to your fifth birthday and then going back to normal. It does no harm.”
“One will destroy the adult personality in the attempt. It would be murder of the memory, experience, and maturity.”
Wilma shuddered. Such an invasion would be the worst rape imaginable, a rape and murder of the soul and memory. Death would not touch the inviolate soul. This act of possession would. “What can we do to stop it?”
“I can control One a little. I refuse to talk when it does something I disapprove of. Usually, that works unless it is really determined. Sometimes it forces communication on me. It has nearly killed me like that several times. I tried ostracism. I even told it that you and I would give it children. No luck.”
Wilma laughed. “That would be an enormous sacrifice on your part.”
The boy blushed. “You are a very beautiful human female. I like you, but I could not mate with you. It would be wrong. I once overhead my father say that any children born of my race and yours would be born deformed or defective.”
“I think you are a handsome man of your people. You are right, though. It would be wrong to do that to children. Why did you offer to give One children?”
“I stall for time. What does One know? It could not tell whether we were or were not trying to have children.”
“True. What do we do now?”
“Do you understand communications equipment?”
“The equipment in my parents’ ship is broken. If I brought it to you, could you fix it? It is portable.”
“I guess so. If it can be fixed. I’ll go with you.”
“No. It will be faster if I go alone. You will not have the strength for several days. I can be back in that time. I may even talk Fluffy or Glow into transporting me there. That would save time. I dare not ask them to bring me back here with the equipment. One is not stupid. With the equipment repaired, we can send out a warning to others. It is all that I can think of doing.”
“Where the blazes can she be?” Buck Rogers muttered to himself and stared out of his fighter at the infinite star field. Another search pattern finished, and still no sign of Wilma.
His communication’s equipment sputtered, and Hawk’s voice echoed around him, “What did you say, Buck? Your transmission was garbled.”
“Sorry, Hawk. I was talking to myself. I was wondering where Wilma is. I can’t figure it. We’ve searched beyond the range of her fighter. No debris, no nothing.”
“We cannot give up hope. We will keep looking. Planet search teams have not finished yet. She probably had mechanical problems and landed somewhere.”
“I hope and pray. If it’s not that, she’s been grabbed by someone who left no trail and no clues. I’m switching from ship-to-ship to Searcher’s frequency. I’ll see if they’ve heard anything. Back to you in a bit, Rogers out.”
Buck spoke with the Admiral, then switched back to ship-to-ship. “Hawk, Rogers back. No luck on planetary searches. All unsuccessful. She’s on none of the planets.
“I want to try a wider search pattern next. What do you think?”
Buck waited for an answer but heard only static. “Can you hear me, Hawk? Hawk? Hawk, are you there?”
By the afternoon of the next day, Wilma felt strong enough to explore Ari's house and the area around it. Finally, she settled down on the ground by the small, trickling stream that irrigated the vegetable garden near the stone house. No other greenery was in sight except for a few scraggly desert trees and bushes among the scattered rocks beyond.
It was the most abysmally drab world she’d ever seen. Nothing but gray dirt, rocks, sand, and a dirty brown sky as far as the eye could see. Even the flaccid green plants looked beautiful in comparison.
She could almost forgive One for kidnapping her. Even a deaf and silent human would be a vast improvement over this landscape.
The boy was incredibly strong to have survived emotionally in this sterile, empty world. Most people would go mad within a month.
If she had to be marooned for the rest of her life on a desolate dying boulder like this, she could do a lot worse for companionship than Ari who was so starved for family love.
Every time she saw those sad brown eyes of his she wanted to hug him and act disgustingly maternal. He was more of a child than a teenager, and she couldn’t really see them raising kids together. He needed to be raised first.
A few wistful thoughts of the other person she wouldn’t mind sharing this exile with drifted by, then she laughed. Buck would be bored in a few hours.
A hum and twitter began and grew louder behind her. Her head twinged like an old wound.
One was materializing in the house behind her. More than one of the balloons from the noise being made. Something about the sound seemed triumphant.
Wilma scrunched her eyes and listened harder, but nothing but that emotional resonance was understandable. Why triumphant?
A sick fear at several possible reasons forced her to her feet and into the house.
The twittering and humming of the energy creatures was fading away as she reached her bedroom. Hawk sprawled unconscious on the bed.
Slamming her fist against the door frame, Wilma swore. She’d hoped that Searcher would be out of One’s range by now, but knowing the Admiral, they’d stay however long it took and do whatever needed to be done to get her back. Damn and bless them.
She sat down on the bed by Hawk, checked his vital signs, then straightened him into a more comfortable position, removed the energy pistol and communicator she’d hoped to find, and tucked them into her own uniform out of sight.
So far, so good. The Admiral was following protocol for possibly kidnapped crew. Hawk should have a transponder embedded under his skin with a signal which might be strong enough to reach Searcher. That is if One hadn’t removed it.
She turned on the communicator and hailed the ship, but silence answered her. They were definitely out of range. With a shrug, she set the communicator on emergency beacon and tucked it back out of sight in her uniform.
If nothing else, this second beacon would tell the ship that at least one of them was alive and had some freedom of movement. That would keep Buck from arriving with blazing guns.
If One didn’t have a way to stop communications and if the Searcher circled close enough to read either signal, Buck would come for them, and knowing Buck, not even an all powerful collection of energy balloons would stop him from getting them off this planet.
Yeah right, and soon the whole crew of the Searcher would be sharing this dismal world with her. One didn’t seem like the type of creature to see reason or to be patient.
Maybe, unwilling to wait for a baby, the damned creature had already ripped away the avian’s adult memory.
Hawk moaned deeply and opened his eyes.
She bent over him. “Do you know who I am?”
He blinked with surprise. “You are Colonel Wilma Deering. Where are we?”
When he started to sit up, Wilma pushed him back down. “Don’t get up, or your head will feel like it’s falling off. Let me get you something for your headache.”
She picked up the clay jar Ari had left by the bed and handed it to Hawk. “The liquid tastes disgusting, but it helps.”
Hawk gulped the contents then grimaced and handed the jar back to her. “Why are we here?”
“You’re to be the blushing bride of a very lonely young man. Don’t look so shocked. I’m not insane.” Wilma told him about One and Ari. She paused frequently to wipe off Hawk’s pale, sweat-drenched face. She wondered if, upon waking, she had looked that bad the day before.
“Apparently, One’s physical presence is enough to give us these headaches and the weakness,” Wilma added. “I don’t think it probed your mind. I guess it’s waiting for later when you’re rested and Ari’s back.”
“Describe Ari to me, please.” His voice was matter-of-fact, but his eyes and face glowed with joy like he’d been adrift for years and had finally spotted land.
Wilma gave a complete physical description then added, “He looks nothing like you. Maybe there’s a tribe of your people in this region. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?” When Hawk didn’t reply, she asked, “How’s Buck?”
“He is worried about you. If we can be found, he will find us.” Hawk turned his face away. “I do not feel well. Would you please leave.”
“Certainly. The vile concoction will make you sleepy. Don’t fight it. Sleep is part of the cure. I’ll be in the living room if you need me.”
Hawk slept the evening away so Wilma settled down on the living room floor for the night.
A little after dawn, One’s hum and twitter filled the house like the roar of a hive of great bees. Considerably more than one balloon had materialized.
Groaning with pain, she placed her hands over her ears, stood up, and walked toward Hawk’s bedroom.
It was filled with energy balloons.
“No, stop, don’t do this. It’s wrong.” she screamed and tried to force her way through the balloons. A wave of nausea and dizziness hit her, she fell to her knees, and the room went black.
Hours later, bright daylight shining through the window on her, she regained consciousness. She lurched to her feet and staggered to Hawk who lay much as he’d been earlier. His breathing was natural, and, resting her ear against his chest, she could hear the steady thump of his heart.
At least the damn things hadn’t killed him in the process.
She sipped some of the herbal concoction then stretched out on the bed beside him, rested her head against his chest so she’d feel any movement, and let herself drift into sleep.
Whimpering with pain, Hawk wiggled.
Wilma jerked awake with a start and sat up.
Tears streaked his cheeks. “Adrian, my head hurts.”
“Oh, Hawk.” She lifted his shoulders, her arm beneath his head, and put a cup of the headache remedy to his lips. “Here, drink this. It will make you feel better.”
He drank the liquid, then buried his face into her shoulder. “I am afraid, Adrian. Where is my father?” The sobs started again, and he clutched her. “I want my father.”
“It’s all right, Hawk. I’m here.” Tears streaking her own cheeks at the loss of her adult friend and his past, Wilma held him rocking and crooning to comfort him.