Forerunners of Bosk

 

 

 

 

Chapter 1

 

 

“Buck, we have picked up a class three distress on a planet named Neckar,” Asimov said.  It had been five weeks after the capture of Erik Kormand and they were again doing what they had been commissioned to do.  And for the most part, the assignments had been fairly uneventful.  Their searches had yielded a small, but thriving non-humanoid settlement on a world that was ninety percent water, and a planet that had been abandoned sometime in a long distant past after some kind of cataclysmic event.  Dr. Goodfellow had not come out of his lab for five days after they had taken him the data from the study of the latter world.

“Any background on this planet?” Buck asked.

“Yes.  Low technology base, but there is some evidence of advanced technology in the not-so-distant-past.  Could be one of those refugee ships landed there and then the colonists lost or abandoned the technology,” the admiral replied. 

“If they are sending out a distress, then they are familiar with space going people, at least on a limited basis,” Hawk pointed out.  

“Yes, they do a small amount of trade.  Wine,” Asimov said.  “But it’s mostly an agrarian society.  No real spaceports, no space technology of their own, although I hear that there is a small but growing movement to join the Galactic Federation.”  

“Well, at least they won’t toss me and Hawk in a pit, or burn us at the stake when our shuttle lands,” Buck quipped, referring to a planet where the primitive humanoids had attacked them after their landing.  

Wilma smiled.  “And you are assuming you are the primary candidate for this mission?” she asked, feeling the urge to tease Buck a bit, ‘jerk his chain’ as he called it.  

“Of course.  I am the exploration officer, right?” Buck answered matter-of-factly.  “And Hawk and I make an excellent team.”  

“Indeed you do,” Wilma said wryly.  

Buck saw the look on her face and was puzzled for a moment and then he thought about the way his statement might have sounded to her.  “Uh, we all make a good team, but, uh, well….  We don’t know what’s down there….” His voice trailed off as he realized that he was getting in deeper and deeper.  Somehow, he thought there was nothing he could have said that would have changed his predicament.  Wilma had that look on her face that meant that she was ready to nail him, just as she had after his comment about her and the moons of Arcadis.  Better to just suffer through it and then they could all have a good laugh.  

“And I’m a woman, right?”  

“Oh, no, Wilma, I don’t mean that at all,” Buck protested, trying to keep from getting in deeper.  

Hawk stood back, his arms folded across his chest saying absolutely nothing, knowing that Buck was caught in a snare from which he could not easily extricate himself.  

The admiral looked ready to say something but Wilma began again before any of the men could say anything. 

She laughed.  “In this case, you are right.  We were going to send you and Hawk down to check this out.  Just be careful.  Life has dealt us too many surprises lately.”  

“Won’t disagree with you there, Wilma,” Buck said, remembering the incidents on Mendalis.  He and Hawk looked at each other and without saying a word they had decided their next plan of action.  

Getting up, Buck lightly kissed Wilma on the forehead and then turned to leave.  “We’ll be back before our date tonight,” he promised.   

Wilma smiled, but her eyes held vestiges of the previous month in them.  “Just come back.  Both of you.”

“We will,” Buck said.  “We always do.”   

 

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The shuttle bucked slightly as it passed through the upper atmosphere.  Buck studied the instrumentation even as he worked the controls.  The turbulence increased as they descended. 

“Two-two-four degrees starboard, Buck,” Hawk said.  

Buck made the necessary corrections and the ship stabilized, drifting only slightly until they broke from the clouds, then they were caught in cross winds strong enough to make one’s stomach lurch.  Again Hawk gave Buck correctional readings and the necessary adjustments were made.  “Good thing Devlin warned us about these upper atmospheric anomalies.   This would have made one heck of a surprise.”  

“Yes, another good reason for two of us to come on this sortie,” Hawk replied, his reference to a few of Buck’s near disastrous one-man missions quite clear.  

The signal strengthened as the shuttled neared a small clearing in a dense forest close to a small settlement.  The winds calmed and Buck landed the shuttle in the center of the clearing with no trouble.  After doing long range scans, he checked in with the Searcher while Hawk broke out their weapons.  As they stepped out of the shuttle, Buck zipped up his jacket.  His breath puffed in the bitingly cold morning air. Hawk handed him a fully charged laser pistol, which he slipped into its holster.  “It’s that way, north east, a mile and a half,” Buck said pointing.   

“In the settlement?”  

“No, just near it, thank goodness,” the terran said.  He was appreciating countryside assignments more and more of late.  Sometimes the city excursions got a bit hairy.  “Well, let’s go check it out.” 

They followed a narrow path between thick-trunked trees that reminded Buck somewhat of blue spruce, if blue spruce had purple bark and red needles. After about a half hour of brisk walking the two men came upon a cleared and cultivated area, planted with vines on softly rolling hills.   

“Ah, this is what Neckar is famous for,” Buck murmured, blinking in the suddenly bright light.   

Hawk studied the small navigational indicator that he had carried with him.  “Through the vineyard, straight ahead of us,” he said.  

Buck looked ahead and thought he saw the rooftop of an older looking, gabled house ahead of him.  A small dirt road led in the same direction so they followed it, walking up a small rise.  The sky was crystal clear now, a bright blue-green.  They topped a rise and saw before them, halfway up the next hill, a large, mansion-like dwelling, old and mysterious. 

“Looks like something out of a gothic thriller,” Buck murmured.   

“That is where the signal is coming from,” Hawk said, pointing. Buck thought it strange that there had been no sign of any people.  Nothing looked neglected or abandoned, there was just no one there.  “Something strange about all this, but there’s nothing else we can do besides go and check it out,” he said, thinking about their experience with the Hand of the Goral.   

Hawk must have been thinking of the same thing.  “Do you believe there is some kind of alien power here?”  

“I don’t know, Hawk.”  Buck surveyed the area, seeing nothing more mysterious than an old, spooky-looking building.  A few puffy clouds galloped across the sky, adding to the benign view of the area, but there was a feeling of something not quite right.  Nothing that he could put his finger on, though.  “No, let’s check it out.”  

Hawk nodded and they walked side by side along the road that ran between the rows of vines.   A slight noise told Buck that Hawk had checked to make sure his laser pistol was loose in its holster.  The only other noise was that of a few birds in the distance, insects among the vines and the soft footfalls their boots made in the dry dirt of the road.  

At the base of the stairs leading up to a large porch, the two men paused.  The porch was surrounded by a white, wooden railing that appeared to have been forgotten for a few years. Or decades, Buck amended.  It leaned, and the paint was peeling.  In fact, Buck thought, the whole house had the appearance of former opulence that was now on hard times.  A large, oval shaped front door stood open, inviting except for the eeriness of the circumstances.   A dirty throw rug lay haphazardly in front of the door.  Buck almost expected to see a lazy hound dog crawl out from under the porch, stretching, and slowly approaching to check them out.  

“No weapons, nothing that could be termed dangerous,” Hawk reported after checking their scanner.   

“Any life forms?”  

“Yes, one humanoid and a few non-consequential small life forms, undetermined background.”      

“Hmm, probably the local equivalent of mice,” Buck quipped, stepping up on the porch.  He walked into the house, Hawk right behind him, the sensor put away and his pistol at ready.  They walked through something that looked very much like an old-fashioned parlor.  Buck paused and studied the dusty figurine on a small wooden table.  The creature it represented was winged and hideously ugly, like a gargoyle.  He didn’t touch it, and finally moved into a room that Hawk pointed out as the one where the humanoid was.   

In the next room, heavy curtains lined the walls, not all of them covering windows.  It was dark and shadowy and smelled of antiquity and neglect.  In the tiny amount of light that the heavy drapery allowed, Buck saw a spider’s web and there was a heavy layer of dust on everything except a table on the far side of the room.   

Hawk touched his sleeve and pointed.  In a chair next to the table, sat an old woman.  She was human, or at least appeared so, as far as he could tell in the dimness.  Her face seemed like cracked porcelain in a swath of light gray hair.   

She smiled showing a couple of spaces where teeth had once been.  “Welcome.  I bid you hospitality,” she said, her voice almost a cackle.  Buck almost wondered where her cauldron was.  He mentally shook himself of the thoughts of old slasher movies.  

“Who are you?” Hawk asked.   

She laughed.  “I am the last of the Brock’s.  The very last.  Land worked by foreigners, blast them all to hell.  Out of courtesy, they let the old crazy woman stay.” 

Then she stopped so suddenly that Buck felt as though a switch had been flipped.  But as he opened his mouth to speak, she began again.  

“What are you two doing here?”  And before either of them could answer, her eyes grew large and she burst out, “No!  You are here to answer that infernal caller.  That thing has been racing in my mind for over four days now.”  She cocked her head and gazed meaningfully at them, then she stared at a point beyond their shoulders. 

Buck turned and looked in the same direction, but saw nothing.  How could someone hear a sonic subspace distress signal in his or her head, he wondered?   She started talking again, this time about her past.

“This was once a beautiful place.”  She looked around, her eyes gazing at a portrait hanging on the wall on the opposite side of the room.  Buck could barely make out a stern-visaged middle-aged man in a white suit.  “Elaser Brock, my husband’s grandfather, God rest his soul.  He was a hard man, but he was also a hard worker.  He took what his grandfather had bought—twenty units of land and a small house. Worked the land, built this house, made the wine and sold it.  Made a name for himself.  Brock Wines, the best in the world.  Heard before Aherns came in and bought it, that it was known as the best in the quadrant.  Elaser Brock was the first to ship the wine off planet.  A visionary, he was called.  But it’s all gone now.”

Hawk was checking out the distress device.  He looked up and gestured.  Apparently there was nothing to determine where it came from.  

“Ah, Ms Brock,” Buck began, beginning to get a funny feeling about all this.   

“Can you imagine?  Something simple like an insect infestation.  And the Aherns had the means to stop it.  They had the poison that knocked them in their tracks.”

“I’m sorry about your loss, Ms Brock, but we need to know who put this device here?”

“Probably an Ahern.  They would sell their souls to the evil one himself if it put a bit of money in their pockets.  They even took Barney.”  

Buck couldn’t help it, “Barney?” he asked.   

“Best man I had.  Loved Barney.  Think he loved me.  We both cried when they took him off,” Ms Brock said.   

“Took him off?” Buck asked, puzzled.  “Was he your husband?”  

She laughed bitterly.  “No, he wasn’t.  Although at times I cared for him more than I did my own Edward.  I was just his wife.  Wasn’t pretty like Julianna, or Winonily or Breesa.  No, Edward married me because I was an Ahern.  Thought it would make our Brock lines stronger; thought it would keep them from eating us up.  They were strong, even then.  But it didn’t.  They ate us up anyway.  We were nothing more than freedols to them.   Lots and lots of freedols.”  Tears rolled down her cheeks, but she ignored them. “Aherns are worth billions of freedols now.”  She looked up at Buck and sighed.  “You were asking about Barney.   Such a good man.  Would do anything….”  Again she paused and sighed.  “Barney was my servant.  When the blight worms hit and killed the grapes two years in a row, he was sold along with everything else to pay off the money we owed.  And those black-hearted relatives of mine, they swooped in and paid off and took over.  Damn them all.”  

Barney was a slave, apparently, Buck thought in distaste.   But enough of that train of conversation, he admonished himself   “Who brought this machine in?” Buck persisted.  “Did they say anything?”  

“Said they were looking for someone.  Said this wouldn’t be here long.  Wouldn’t take long.  Said it was special and I wasn’t to touch it,” she replied.  Then she snorted.  “As though I would touch something that an Ahern had.  Two men, gray uniforms.  Little gold and red on the sleeves and collar.  Had pistols like you and your feathered friend there.”  She peered at Hawk, who had walked back to stand next to Buck.  His mouth quirked at her description of him.   She smiled at him.  “Not making fun of you, friend.  You don’t look like anything that an Ahern would be able to push around.” 

Hawk nodded in acknowledgement.  Buck suddenly started.  The description of the men’s clothing could have been of the same outfit that Erik Kormand had given him before he was captured by the Titan’s crew.  “Red trim?” he asked.   Then her sudden scream made him jump. 

“You’ve got to go!   You have to get out of here!  They want you; they want you badly!  I feel their hate even now!  Strong, sharp, evil, malevolent.   Go now!   Go while you can!” she screamed.  “Go!!”

   

 

 

Chapter Two
Forerunners of Bosk Prologue
Buck Rogers Contents
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