The Dreaming – chapter 1

Carpe Diem

Deep in the middle of a thick, dense forest, Captain William "Buck" Rogers was struggling to free himself from the snake-like vines that attacked him. The first blow had knocked him flat on his back. Before he could stand up, however, others had followed; reaching out and wrapping around his body; to trap the space captain in a deadly cocoon of green tentacles. The rope-like tendrils were incredibly strong, cutting through his clothing and into his flesh. Escape was impossible, the more he struggled, the tighter the grasp. He tried to reach his sidearm but it was pinned down against his sides. Suddenly a large ivy shaped leaf swung up, hovered in mid air for a moment then swiftly pressed against his chest. Buck felt a sting as the sharp thorn penetrated his flesh. He felt his limbs starting to go numb as the venom flooded through his veins.

"Hawk!" He gasped, but he could no longer see his friend through the dense fog that had descended all around them.

"Buck! Buck! Wake up, you're dreaming!" A female voice drifted across the void of time and space until it connected with Buck's unconscious mind, jolting him out of his dream and into the waking world. He opened his eyes to find his friend, Colonel Wilma Deering, leaning over him, concern reflected in her blue-grey eyes.

It took him several seconds to realise that he was lying on his own couch rather than the forest floor. He quickly re-acquainted himself with the familiar décor of his quarters. "Oh!" he groaned, as he rolled to a sitting position and scrubbed his hands over his face. "I must have dozed off. God I had the weirdest dream." He looked thoughtful for a moment then straightened up and turned to face her. "Sorry Wilma. Did you want me for anything in particular?" he asked.

She smiled and sat down on the edge of the sofa. "I was passing by when I heard you calling out for help. I was worried so I got Twiki to override the access panel." She paused, turned to face him, one hand playing absent-mindedly with her chestnut hair, and continued, "I guess you were having a bad dream. Is anything worrying you? How was your mission?"

"No – I'm fine Wilma honest," he replied. "Nothing to report really, was just miles of forests. No real sign of life apart from a load of bugs." Buck realised that he had little recollection of events on the planet. He must have been tired and gone straight to sleep after the journey home. "I hope the next planet we find is a nice tropical world with palm trees and sandy beaches."

"Buck if we find one of those I think the entire ship will wanna go!" she giggled, "I will at any rate."

"Great," he replied. "You bring the hammock and I'll make the cocktails."

"Er... what's a hammock?" Wilma looked perplexed. "Is that some kind of fancy food dish?"

"Well," he replied with a wicked grin, "if we find this fantasy world, I'll just show you – if you promise to share it with me."

Wilma had no idea what a hammock was. If Buck had referred to it as a suspended temporary sleeping unit, she might have guessed. "Um – OK!" she replied enthusiastically, then rolled her eyes when she saw him smirk. "Why do I get the feeling I'm going to regret agreeing to that?"

"I promise you won't regret it Colonel!" he whispered with a twinkle in his eye. Then he jumped up suddenly and slapped his hands on his thighs and enquired, "what time is it?" It was a rhetorical question as a quick glance at his watch confirmed the answer. "Quarter to midnight – only fifteen minutes to go."

Wilma raised her eyebrows and said, "fifteen minutes to go for what?"

"It's – New Year's Eve," he replied. "Can't believe a year has gone by already, doesn't seem two minutes since the last one," he added as an afterthought.

"Oh really," she said brightly. "Well, why don't we go down to the observation deck – it'll be nice to look out into the universe as the year begins – especially considering the Searcher's mission."

He shrugged and said, "OK I guess that sounds like a good idea." He took her lead and followed her across the room towards the doorway. It was just as well that he did because to Buck's surprise, when they reached the usually quiet observation deck, a small crowd of people were already gathered there including Dr Goodfellow, Hawk, Twiki, and Admiral Asimov. They turned to greet the approaching couple as though they had been expecting them to arrive.

"Oh there you are," said the admiral, "I was worried you were going to miss the party!"

Buck stared at them, his gaze switching from the admiral to Dr Goodfellow and the rest of the crowd. "What Party? No-one told me about any party." Then, as they all grinned at him, the penny dropped and he turned to Wilma incredulously. "Was this idea yours by any chance? He asked"

She grinned, flashing pearly white teeth, "I had a little to do with it, yes –and Twiki, he was the one who actually remembered the date."

"Aw thanks Twiki."

The little drone beeped away happily in response. "No problem bub."

"I thought you guys didn't celebrate the tradition of New Year's Eve anymore."

"Well we don't my boy," said Dr Goodfellow. "But Colonel Deering told me all about it and I'm a great believer in traditions as you know, especially when they involve a celebration."

"Well thanks for turning up." Buck laughed, "I didn't think anyone would be interested or I'd have arranged something myself."

"Oh look," the scientist rolled up his cardigan sleeve slightly and pointed to his watch. "It's almost time everyone. I do believe this is where we start the celebrations."

Buck started off the countdown to midnight, encouraging the others to join in. He heard the sound of a cork popping and then he was handed a glass of sparkling vinol. The synthetic alcohol tasted absolutely nothing like champagne, it was the best, however, that the crew of an exploration vessel, in the middle of a journey across the solar system could conjure up at short notice. He was very grateful for the gesture.

"Happy New Year everyone," he said as he raised his glass in a toast, trying not to wince at the over-sweet taste of the mock champagne, "here's to a great year ahead and a successful mission."

Admiral Elfram Asimov raised his glass and chinked it with Buck's. "I'll drink to that Captain Rogers."

One by one the others made the same gesture. Buck felt quite touched at the effort of his friends. He knew that the tradition of bringing in the New Year had been buried at some point in the last five hundred years, whilst the human race fought for survival after the terrible holocaust which had devastated Earth. The people of this time period paid little heed to the annual turning of the Earth. It was just another day, be it on Earth or in deep space – it was all the same. Tonight, though the usual peace and tranquillity of the observation deck was disturbed by the sound of glass clinking upon glass and people making merry.

He felt someone touch his arm and looked down to find it was Wilma. He slipped his arm around her waist and kissed her briefly, leaving her slightly flushed. "Happy New Year Wilma," he said softly. "And – thanks!"

She blushed and gave him a dazzling smile, "It's a pleasure Captain Rogers and at least we didn't put the whole of Earth on red alert this time." She then moved away from him slightly, and turned to gaze out of the viewing portal.

She was referring to the curious riddle of Hieronymus Fox, fellow survivor of Buck's era who had sent a timely gesture of good will in the form of a puzzle exactly one year ago. Unfortunately having been mistaken for a threat this had the leaders of the Defence Directorate fearing an attack from some unknown enemy. Luckily just in time, Buck's logical mind had solved the riddle and Buck, Wilma, Twiki and Dr Huer had celebrated the end of 2491 with style.

From somewhere on the ship, a soft, melodic sound came floating through the walls. Wilma put down her drink on one of the ledges and approached Buck smiling. "Buck would you – like to dance?"

He returned her smile and placed his glass down next to hers, allowing her to take his hand. "I guess we may as well – carpe diem Colonel!" he whispered.

"What does that mean?"

Buck drew her closer to him and placed his hands around her slim waist and whispered in her ear. "it's Latin, it means 'seize the moment'."

"Oh! OK!" she replied and the high ranking, disciplined officer seemed happy for once, to give up control, and let someone else take charge as they moved to the rhythm. Then the music changed to something much slower and they both moved even closer to each other.

The background and all the people in it melted away into a world which contained only the two of them. The song seemed to last for ages and Buck could feel the warmth of her body as they swayed to the lilting melody. He hadn't felt so relaxed and happy for a long time. He smiled to himself as he pressed his cheek against hers, losing track of when one song ended and another began, neither of them caring about the other occupants in the room

"Thanks for this," he whispered into her hair.

She gazed up at him, "You know I'll do anything to make you happy, I love you," she murmured and kissed him. He responded, enfolding her in his arms. If it was out of character for Wilma to make such a bold admission then he didn't notice. Instead, he felt only a warm glow in his heart accompanied by a feeling of total contentment.

But events which had taken place on the planet's surface only a few hours earlier had actually turned much more sinister than Buck was aware of.....and on a nearby planet, amongst rotting leaves and moss lay the unconscious form of Captain William 'Buck' Rogers.

To be continued...

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