Forerunners of Bosk

 

 

 

 

Chapter Sixteen

   

 

Prisoner twelve-sixteen seemed to have given up.  There was no more of the subtle touches of defiance, of identity.  Twelve-sixteen was like all of the other prisoners—existing, probably for reasons that even the prisoners were unaware of.  For most it was deep-seated self-preservation instincts that superceded anything else.  Ril suspected that was the only reason most of the prisoners lasted as long as they did.  

But somehow the downfall of this prisoner, only about two and a half months after his arrival, disappointed Ril more than he wanted to admit.  He had seen something there that made him want to root for this prisoner.  Indeed, Ril had felt renewed interest in all of the prisoners lately, and he wondered at that.  Another part of him, though, realized that getting emotionally involved would be disastrous to not only his job but also his own mental health.  

Regardless, Ril felt saddened.  

Pulling on his tunic, the guard just sighed and then left his quarters.  When he woke the forerunner and handed him his depilatory kit, twelve-sixteen nodded, took off his weekly growth of beard and then washed his face.  He frowned as he jerked his slept-in shirt down and then he yawned.  Rogers walked out of the tiny cell and toward the food service area, slowly eating his breakfast before heading toward the equipment area.  

The forerunner did his job during the day with deliberation, but no undo extra effort and without acknowledging him.  At the end of the day, Ril delivered him and several others back to their cells.  But before he sat down to his meager meal, twelve-sixteen turned to him and gave a quick salute.  The eyes, though tired, showed a touch of humor.   Ril didn’t react immediately, but then he returned the salute with a slight smile.

   

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Buck waited a night, making sure that the uniform and extra blankets weren’t missed.  He was anxious, though and it took him a while to get to sleep.  The next day, he had to force himself to act normally.  Normal, that is, for the beaten, depressed man that he had temporarily been.  He used the depilatory, having to resist the urge to double-check his job.  Tonight!!  Tonight was the night he would find Hawk.  He had the layout in his mind as well as on a crudely drawn diagram.  

With effort, Buck forced himself to concentrate on his job.  He blew five areas and was dog tired by the time he went back to his cellblock.  After giving Ril something to think about, then berating himself for that little lack of self-control, Buck sat heavily on his stone slab.  He gazed at his dinner with absolute disinterest.  Same ol’, same ol’ he thought.  But despite its blandness, and sameness, he knew he needed to eat some of it.  He had been too busy to lay in wait for rock lobsters, so he had felt the lack of food keenly at times.  With a sigh, Buck looked up and saw Ril still standing there looking at him.  His eyes were friendly, or at the very least, they showed sympathetic interest.  Wish he were sympathetic enough to give me the keys to the front door, Buck thought.  

“It’s even worse if you let it get cold,” Ril said.  

Buck nodded and picked up his bowl and bread.  Ril moved on when Buck began eating.  He finished and laid the bowl and spoon by the cell door.  Then he lay down to rest, playing mental games to stay awake.  There was no way he wanted to miss this opportunity to find Hawk.  Buck listened to the quiet tapping of the guard’s feet for a while before it became totally quiet.  Soft snores from other prisoners, the slight sound of the air passing through the corridor were the only things breaking the silence and Buck knew that it was late enough to begin this next phase of his tenuous plan.  Silently, he got up and then climbed up to the shelf above.  He returned to his cell with a bundle of blankets, which he formed into the shape of a sleeping man.   Buck felt the need to have something there in case of a cursory check by the guard, especially if it took longer to find Hawk than he expected.   When that was taken care of, he climbed back up with the ease of much practice.  Quickly slipping out of his prison garb, Buck pulled on the guard’s uniform he had confiscated.  The boots he carried in a pack he brought with him.  He padded along the stone pathway until he got to the end of the ledge, then he quickly climbed down and put on his boots and helmet.  The empty pack was shoved into a dark crack in the wall. 

With an air of assurance he didn’t totally feel, Buck strode toward the other probationary cellblock, one that housed most of the non-human inmates. Buck could only assume that Hawk was being given the same privilege of extra probation as he had been.  Thankfully, he had only seen one other guard on his trek, but despite his fear of discovery, Buck had stayed calm, nodding and continuing on his way.  

Reaching the cellblock, he strode up and down twice, not only to locate Hawk, but also to see what the other guard was doing.   Smiling, Buck saw the man sitting at a monitoring console, his chin resting on his chest, snoring softly.  Quickly, Buck walked back down the corridor, stopping in front of Hawk’s cell.  

Suddenly, he wasn’t exactly sure how to awaken his friend without causing undo attention or noise.

 

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Even in his sleep, Hawk felt the eyes of someone on him.  He woke fully and saw a guard standing just outside his cell staring at him.  The helmet was down low over the human’s forehead, further shading his eyes in the dimness of the night cycle-darkened corridors.  Hawk wondered what kind of perverse punishment they were thinking up now?  Then his irritation turned to amazement and joy when the guard flashed a grin at him; a smile he would have known anywhere.  “Buck?” he whispered, his joy almost overcoming his commonsense.  

Buck motioned him to silence and then began signing.  Some of the signs he couldn’t understand, but Hawk felt he understood the gist of what Buck was saying to him.  His friend had figured a way out of his cell and was formulating an escape.  Understatement, considering that Buck is standing out in the corridor, apparently free to go anywhere he chooses. 

‘I can’t stay long,’ Buck signed further.  ‘Scouting an escape route.’ 

Hawk signed his understanding, as well as his happiness in seeing his friend again.  He smiled, feeling hope growing in his heart.  ‘How will you open the door to my cell?’ he signed.  

‘The guard likes to sleep on duty.  Won’t be hard to put him to sleep for a little longer and then get the access cards,’ Buck signed.  ‘I’m going.  It won’t be long.  I promise.’ 

‘I will be waiting,’ Hawk returned.  

Buck gave him the thumbs up signal, another reassuring grin and then sauntered down the corridor, quickly swallowed up in the dimness.  

They would be free.   Finally.  Then Hawk remembered Buck’s illness and wondered how it would affect them in their escape.  But he dismissed it.  They would be free.  They could steal a spacecraft and get Buck the medical attention he needed.  They would be free….

 

Buck went back to a main corridor and then headed toward the area indicated as freight elevators.  He stopped when he saw workers ahead of him.  They were filling transport bins with raw crillite.  To his shock and horror, he saw that some of the workers had shackles on. Apparently this was the duty station for those who were real discipline problems.  There were also those who appeared on their last legs; gaunt and listless, their skin sallow and their eyes sunken.  These were people who had been here way too long. 

What surprised him the most, though, was the presence of someone familiar.  Tigerman!  Nah, can’t be!  But it was.  The longer he looked, the more he was certain that Ardala’s bodyguard was here and he wondered if Tigerman’s presence was due to the fiasco on Ardala’s cruiser so long ago; that day when the Draconian bodyguard had saved him.  Or in his ineffectiveness in stopping him from destroying the orbital weapon. 

The bins were closed after they were loaded and then they were shoved into the elevator shaft where they immediately began their assent to the surface.  Buck didn’t see an easy way to escape here.  But nearby were the passenger and employee elevators, the ones the guard took when they were off duty, and, he supposed, the ones that new prisoners took on their one-way trip to the mines.  Buck decided to take a quick look and then it would be time to go back to his cell.  

Later as he climbed down into his cell, Buck felt a deep sense of satisfaction.  While there was still a great deal that would be left to luck, the way out of this place seemed clear.  He felt with some of that luck, they could be away from here within a week.   As he quickly hid the extra blankets and lay down for a few hours sleep, there were only two niggling points that kept clamoring for his attention.  One was Tigerman.  He wouldn’t leave Tigerman down here when he and Hawk escaped.  Not in good conscience anyway.  Buck could only assume that Tigerman was kept in the same cellblock, as was Hawk.  He’d ask tomorrow when he went to visit his friend.  

The other problem was that of his sickness and his dependency on the medication.  He was going to have to make an attempt to get more of the stuff, but if he couldn’t, then at least Hawk could get to the spaceport and escape, bringing back help.  And if they could commandeer a transport, then all the better.  Regardless, any freedom, even brief freedom, was better than no freedom at all.    He would have to do more research and figure a more concrete plan of total escape from this planet.

   

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Wilma pulled up the records of Hawk’s capture that Buck had filed, seemingly so long ago.  “Flagg,” she muttered, knowing that Buck had mentioned that name before.  And she had been sure it was from his time on Throm.  

When Cordell Ahern had finally, after two days of badgering, cajoling and even a bit of lying, submitted to their questioning and then to limited OEI interrogation, he had given them that name as the spaceman in charge of Buck and Hawk’s capture.  Flagg…. 

Wilma even had his picture to go with it.  She gazed at the report on the computer screen.  Buck’s queries on Throm about Hawk had netted him some visitors.  And the leader had been Flagg.  Buck had laid in wait for them and gotten information from them, but Flagg and his group had then tried to kill Buck later.  If not for some unknown intervention, Buck had conjectured someone called the Llamajuna, Flagg and his men might have very well succeeded. 

She had to go to Throm.  Try and find Flagg and interrogate him.  The admiral had already dispatched a couple of people, including Twiki and Theo to Cronis to interrogate Kormand and his cronies, which, she was loathe to admit, was something of a relief.  She would have had a hard time dealing with her rapist, even now.  

“What have you dug up, Wilma?” the admiral asked. 

Wilma started, not having heard Asimov approach.  “Information on Flagg, the man who kidnapped Buck and Hawk. 

“How useful is it?   The Galactic Council is ready for us to resume normal operations.” 

“Normal operations?” Wilma asked, exasperated.  “How can anything be normal when two of our top men have been kidnapped with no apparent trace?” 

“I understand, Wilma,” Asimov said.  “You know I do.  But this is a very sophisticated and expensive research vessel and they feel that orbiting Neckar for over a month is much longer a time than we can really justify.” Seeing Wilma’s deepening anger and frustration, he hastened to add.  “And they do not mind us continuing to investigate Buck and Hawk’s disappearance, but they want us to head to Taurus quadrant.”  

“The information that I have found so far tells me where Flagg may be headquartered,” Wilma said, deigning not to even go into assignments and missions.  As far as she was concerned, there was only one mission of importance. 

“Where?” Asimov asked, his curiosity piqued.  

“Throm.  And I intend to go and check it out.” 

“Throm?  That’s Hawk’s home world,” the admiral said. 

“Exactly.  Flagg is the man that Buck had dealings with when he was looking for Hawk,” Wilma explained.  “And Flagg is the man who tried to kill Hawk and Buck when they were trying to get help for Koori.”  She paused.  “I thought I had remembered the name when Cordell Ahern gave it to us in the interrogation.  I just had to dig up the particulars.”  She gazed meaningfully at the admiral.  “I do intend to go to Throm.” 

“I concur, Wilma,” Asimov said immediately.  “As soon as possible.  The longer this goes on, the harder it’s going to be to find the clues necessary to locate Buck and Hawk.” 

Wilma blinked, feeling her emotions close to the surface, but forcing herself to keep tight control.  “I can go now.” 

Asimov knew what kind of anxiety his second in command was feeling and he nodded.  “I would like you to take Lt. Corelli with you.”

Wilma smiled softly.  “All right, but I will do the driving.”

Asimov looked puzzled for a moment.  

“The vehicle on Neckar,” Wilma prompted.  

“Oh, yes, I remember you mentioning that.”  Then he smiled.  “Just be careful.  Both of you.  This Flagg appears dangerous and he seems to have even more dangerous characters backing him.” 

“We will, Admiral.” 

It took only a couple of hours to make the necessary preparations and soon the pilots were winging toward Throm. 

“Colonel, remind me not to let you judge a Tortarian wampel race,” Anton said.  He was sitting next to her in the four-seat starfighter, gazing in amusement as she drummed her fingers on the armrest. 

Despite her anxiety, Wilma had to chuckle, then she sighed.  “Is it that obvious?” 

“Colonel, I believe you have acted with a great deal of patience.  I would have been foaming at the mouth and tearing off the bulkheads if it was my fiancé out there,” Anton said.  “But, yes, it’s that obvious.” 

“Lieutenant, first of all, there is no formal engagement and second of all, I have mentally torn off every bulkhead from here to Earth.  But thanks.” 

Anton snorted.  “Begging your pardon, Colonel, but formal, schmormal.  Captain Rogers is bound by some convention I don’t know about but the whole ship has you two engaged, even if he hasn’t asked the proper question.” 

Wilma smiled sadly, remembering the conversation with Buck where they had discussed that very thing.  “You are probably right, but it’s just a matter of time, provided we have it, of course.” 

“Colonel, Captain Rogers and Hawk are tough,” Anton assured her.  “If there is any way possible, they’ll somehow find the means to escape from their kidnappers’ hands.   He paused and then added, a jaunty note to his voice.  “In fact, they may be sitting back on the Searcher waiting by the time we get back.” 

Wilma sighed.  “I certainly hope so.  It’s been two months now.” 

“Somehow, they’ll come out of this okay.  They’re fighters, both of them.”  

“I know, and I hope that’s enough.” 

“And in the meantime, we’ll be able to take care of this character, Flagg.” 

That, Wilma thought, would be a distinct pleasure.

   

 

 

Chapter Seventeen
Forerunners of Bosk Prologue
Buck Rogers Contents
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