Forerunners of Bosk
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.
background on this planet?” Buck asked.
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.
they are sending out a distress, then they are familiar with space going
people, at least on a limited basis,” Hawk pointed out.
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.”
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.
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
course. I am the exploration
officer, right?” Buck answered matter-of-factly.
“And Hawk and I make an excellent team.”
you do,” Wilma said wryly.
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.
I’m a woman, right?”
no, Wilma, I don’t mean that at all,” Buck protested, trying to keep
from getting in deeper.
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
admiral looked ready to say something but Wilma began again before any of
the men could say anything.
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.”
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
up, Buck lightly kissed Wilma on the forehead and then turned to leave.
“We’ll be back before our date tonight,” he promised.
smiled, but her eyes held vestiges of the previous month in them.
“Just come back. Both
will,” Buck said. “We
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.
degrees starboard, Buck,” Hawk said.
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.”
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
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
“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.”
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.
this is what Neckar is famous for,” Buck murmured, blinking in the
suddenly bright light.
studied the small navigational indicator that he had carried with him. “Through the vineyard, straight ahead of us,” he said.
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.
like something out of a gothic thriller,” Buck murmured.
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.
must have been thinking of the same thing.
“Do you believe there is some kind of alien power here?”
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.”
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
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.
weapons, nothing that could be termed dangerous,” Hawk reported after
checking their scanner.
one humanoid and a few non-consequential small life forms, undetermined
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.
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.
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.
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.
are you?” Hawk asked.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
was checking out the distress device.
He looked up and gestured. Apparently
there was nothing to determine where it came from.
Ms Brock,” Buck began, beginning to get a funny feeling about all this.
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.”
sorry about your loss, Ms Brock, but we need to know who put this device
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.”
couldn’t help it, “Barney?” he asked.
man I had. Loved Barney. Think he loved me. We
both cried when they took him off,” Ms Brock said.
him off?” Buck asked, puzzled. “Was
he your husband?”
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
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?”
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.”
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.
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!!”
|Forerunners of Bosk Prologue|
|Buck Rogers Contents|