Forerunners of Bosk

 

 

 

 

Chapter Seventeen

 

 

When they landed in Neutralis and began their inquiries, Wilma was amused, as well as gratified to find that Flagg had left a trail that a baby could follow.  He had apparently been paid very, very well and he was enjoying his ill-gotten gains with a vengeance.   She and Anton had worked on a cover before they ever left the Searcher and continued fine-tuning their plans all the way to Neutralis.  They were presenting themselves as civilians, not only looking to have modifications made on their ship, but also to find someone to do a job for them.  Someone who was willing to do something illegal for quick money.   Specifically Flagg.  

As a precaution, all obvious identification had been stripped from the outside.  The pair had worked out their story, trying to make it simple enough to explain without being overly trite.  And so far it had worked.  So now they were waiting in a somewhat disreputable bar where they had been told Flagg had been hanging out recently.  

“There he is,” Anton said softly, pointing.  

Wilma followed his gaze.  There were a couple of other men following Flagg, but not more than she and Anton could handle them.  Wilma pulled at a strand of radically lightened hair and nodded.  “Let’s wait a few minutes and then approach him.  We’ll do it the way we planned.  You approach and I make eye contact.” 

“Sure thing, Colonel,” Anton said conspiratorially.  

“And I’m Lady Durren, not Colonel.” 

“Sorry, habit.” 

“Okay, just don’t forget when we’re talking to him,” Wilma said.  The last thing she wanted was to do something that would cause Flagg’s people to contact whoever had Buck and Hawk, resulting in their death.  She suppressed a shudder.  This had to be done right. 

“Lady, you cut me to the quick,” Anton said in mock solemnity.  

Wilma smiled softly.  When Flagg and his friends seemed to be settled and enjoying themselves, she motioned to Anton.  He got up with easy nonchalance and sauntered over to the bar. 

Anton laid down the local equivalent of terran credits next to Flagg’s hand, and then gazed at the bartender.  “This is for these gentlemen’s drinks.”  The bartender nodded and began to take the money. 

Flagg stopped him.  “I don’t take money from anyone I don’t know,” he growled.  

“That’s not what I heard,” Anton said. 

Flagg looked at him sharply.  “I don’t want to be beholdin’ to the wrong people.”  He paused a beat.  “Why are you paying for our drinks?” 

“My patron wants your undivided attention for a deal.” 

“What kind of a deal?” 

“That’s for the lady to explain,” Anton said, pointing to Wilma.  She raised her glass of wine, her eyes looking seductively over the rim.  “You willing to come over and listen?” he asked. 

“I’m willing to listen to anything, but I make no promises.” 

“Fair enough,” Anton said with a boyish grin.  He laid down some more money.  “To keep your men happy while we chat,” he added, motioning to the three men watching expectantly. 

Flagg nodded and then followed Anton to where Wilma was sitting.  She smiled as he sat down.  

“Who do I have the pleasure of talking to?” 

“Lady Danielle Durren of the house of Dressis,” Wilma said smoothly.  

“Lady Durren.  What is it you would like me to do?” Flagg asked. 

“Kidnap someone for me,” Wilma said simply.  “Someone from a rival house.” 

“Why don’t you have your own spies do that?” Flagg asked.

Wilma smiled sweetly.  “It’s so messy if one of our own is caught doing these things.” 

Flagg sat back and smiled, seemingly entranced by either Wilma’s charms or by the thoughts of a very lucrative deal.  Or maybe both.   

Anton was amused but didn’t show it.  “You and your three men will get paid half in advance and the other half when the job is done,” he said.  

“That’s usual.”  Flagg looked eager.  “Exactly who is it we are supposed to kidnap and how much for the job?” 

“As I said already, someone from a rival house,” Wilma said evenly.  “And the job, if completed, will be one hundred thousand credits.” 

Flagg almost fell out of his chair in shock.  As it was, he choked on his beer.   “Did you say one hundred thousand credits?” 

“Yes, I did.  Do you want more?” Wilma asked, her voice almost a purr.  

“Well, there is sure to be more security,” Flagg said tentatively.  

“I think one hundred thousand credits will help you with security,” she said softly.    Her voice held an edge, though.  “And your three friends seem capable of assisting you.” 

“I have more men,” Flagg began. 

“Suit yourself, but the payment will be the same.  It’s one hundred thousand credits whether you do it alone or do it with a hundred men.” 

Flagg nodded and looked at his cohorts as though doing some quick figuring.  “What are the details of this assignment?”

“Not here,” Wilma said tersely.  “I don’t want this information to have any chance of ending up in anyone else’s intelligence files, most particularly the Galactic Council.”

Flagg nodded.  “Where do you want to meet then?” 

“There is an abandoned settlement in a place called the Valley of Eagles,” Wilma said.  She was pleased when Flagg flinched slightly.  “Do you know where it is?  Or is there a problem with this meeting place?” 

“Oh, no, Lady.  It is certainly remote, though,” he said quickly. 

“Just the way I want it.  Sunrise then,” Wilma said, handing Flagg a pouch that jingled slightly.  “Here are three hundred credits of earnest money.” 

“Sunrise,” Flagg agreed, his hand fondling the pouch.  He sat unmoving for a moment and then when Wilma flicked her fingers in dismissal, he blinked and then got up. “Until tomorrow then, Lady.”  He reached for her hand as though to kiss it, but Wilma pulled it away.  Getting up quickly, Flagg walked over to the bar, motioned to his cronies and left.  

“You think he believes it?” Anton asked. 

“I think the lure of one hundred thousand credits is way too much to ignore.” 

Anton laughed.  “Shall we go, Lady Durren?” 

“No, we wait a while, just in case Flagg is curious enough, or paranoid enough to try and follow us.”  She waved to a waitress.  “Shall we have some of that famous Neutralis brandy,” she asked Anton. 

“Of course, Lady.”

 

                       =============================

 

Buck stood outside Hawk’s cell.   ‘Time,’ he signed and shoved the clothes through the bars of the cell.  ‘Put the uniform on over your prison clothes,’ he added.  Silently, Buck made his way to the guard station where the guard was sitting, chin on his chest, dozing.  The stun stick was sitting on the table and Buck carefully picked it up.  Without a sound, he raised it to the men’s temple and then fired.  The guard slid further down in his chair and then onto the floor.  Buck confiscated the laser pistol and the key card and quickly returned to Hawk’s cell.  The birdman was already changed and the helmet was on his head.  To anything but a very close inspection, Hawk simply looked like another guard.  

With a bit of trepidation, Buck slid the card in the slot and was gratified to hear a slight click.  The door slid open and Hawk walked out into the corridor.  He paused and gazed meaningfully at his friend, who signed—‘Thank you.’  Buck nodded, grinning.  Joy welled up, threatening to overwhelm him.  He couldn’t help it.  Buck grabbed Hawk in a fierce bear hug.  Surprisingly, Hawk reciprocated, his face showing gratitude and relief as well as happiness.  

“Let’s go get Tigerman and blow this joint,” Buck whispered when they had backed away from each other. 

“Tigerman?” 

“Yeah, that big hulking guy.  I know him and I’m not going to leave him here.”

Hawk nodded and motioned for Buck to lead the way.  They walked the corridors with more confidence than they felt, but they were unchallenged by the few guards they met.  

Soon they were at the loading facility where Buck walked up to one of the guards.  “I’ve been told to take the beast into holding.  The company sent us to try some behavior modification on difficult prisoners,” he said. 

The other man laughed.  “Good luck.  You and what assault force are taking him?” 

“Just us and he won’t give us any trouble.” 

The guard shrugged.  “Your bones, not mine.” 

Buck and Hawk walked over to Tigerman.  Buck stood in front of the former royal bodyguard and declared, “You’re coming with us.” 

Tigerman growled his protest and then stopped, staring at Buck. 

“Come on,” Buck said and then in a whisper, he added, “Make it look good, but not too good.  We’re getting out of here.” 

Tigerman growled and reached for him with manacled hands.  

Stepping back and then drawing his pistol, Buck said, “Make this easy, friend, because one way or another, you’re coming with us.  My partner is stronger than he looks and he and I can carry you if need be.”  

With another growl and a shrug, Tigerman nodded.  

“Good.  Let’s go.”  Buck led the way and Hawk followed Tigerman, his stun pistol out and ready.  

They walked down several corridors, occasionally stopping for Buck to orientate himself.  Finally, he motioned to his two companions.  “Back in the shadows while I check out the elevators,” Buck said softly.  Again, with confidence he didn’t feel, Buck sauntered around the corner and checked out the elevators.  He used the guard’s card and was happy to see the door open immediately.   “Come on, guys,” he called over his shoulder.  As he held the door open, Hawk and Tigerman dashed inside.  The door closed and Buck heaved a sigh of relief.  He motioned them to say nothing while he studied the elevator controls.  With a silent prayer that his choice was right, Buck reached for the top button and then pushed it. 

Their elevator began a rapid ascent, one that seemed interminable.  Finally it stopped and the door opened.  Buck was ready with his laser pistol but there was no one near the elevator door.   He could hear voices and he peered out cautiously.  Hawk slipped past him, keeping low, staying behind a crate.  Buck followed and heard the noise of a rollicking good craps game or whatever similar thing they played in this quadrant.  

With a grin, he signed to Hawk, ‘Let’s go.’ 

They slipped away from the game and toward a door haloed in brightness.  The door had a slot and Buck slid the card in.  With a satisfying sigh, their way to freedom slid open and they blinked in early morning sunlight.  No one said anything for a moment and then Tigerman pushed them both out several paces so the door would shut behind them.  

Still, Buck stood as one entranced, watching as the red-gold rays streamed over the distant mountains and touched the verdant growth just beyond the clearing.  

“Oh, God,” Buck breathed in fervent gratitude. “I never thought to see the sun again.”  

“Make-Make has been good to us,” Hawk added.  “Remind me to ask you, after we have truly escaped, just how you did this.”  

Buck brought himself back to the task at hand.  “Yeah, now we have to get to the spaceport.” 

Hawk gazed into the distance.  “How far is it?” 

“About twenty or so miles—thirty-five klicks.”   Buck looked at Tigerman’s manacled hands and ankles.  “We need to take care of those.” 

Tigerman grinned ferociously and then proceeded to pull apart the chains that linked his manacles.   Buck looked incredulous and the felinoid barked his pleasure.  Tigerman sat down and did the same for his leg chains.  When he was done, there only remained the iron manacles around his wrists and ankles.   Buck took the guard’s card and stuck it in the slots in the manacles, releasing them.  Tigerman rubbed his wrists when Buck had finished and then got to his feet.  

Hawk looked slightly amused over the entire incident, then he looked dubiously at the thick foliage.  While it wasn’t a jungle ahead of them, it was fairly thick foliage, with areas of tall trees, interspersed with savannah-like plains.  It stretched upward toward low mountains that appeared about nine miles distant.  “If it is that far to the spaceport, then we need to get started, especially if you have the same problem you had in the recrea….” 

“How do you know about that?” Buck interrupted, gazing intently at his friend. 

“We go,” Tigerman interrupted. 

“Yeah, we can talk as we walk,” Buck said, his euphoric mood damped a bit by Hawk’s reminder.  “I do have a plan.”  Buck led them to the edge of the forest.  They plunged in and walked along the edge of the forest until they reached a set of tracks, which led into a large building.  Several guards were walking around the outside of the building.  “I thought so,” Buck said softly.  “They load up the raw crillite down below,” he said and then looked at Tigerman.  “That’s where I saw you.” 

Tigerman nodded.  “Several days ago.  Felt you.” 

“Felt me?” Buck asked, incredulous.  “Hmm, anyway, they send the canisters up here to the building and load them into the local equivalent of boxcars and send them to the spaceport, probably by android or drone.”  

“So we commandeer one?” Hawk asked. 

“No, but we make them think that we have,” Buck replied.  “Let’s follow the tracks until we are out of sight of this operation.” 

They were able to travel fairly quickly along the edge of the forest for about a quarter of a mile until they were well out of sight of the building and guards.  Then they waited a few minutes until they saw a rectangular wheeled vehicle rumble slowly down the tracks.  An android sat up front.  As the car passed, Buck dashed up and grabbed a handle, stepping up to the cab of the boxcar with very little trouble.  The android looked at him, his face registering puzzlement.  “We are not equipped for passengers,” it said in a monotone.   Buck pulled his laser pistol and fired point blank.  With a sizzle and a pop, the android fell over.  Reaching in, Buck pulled the android out of the cab and tossed him to the ground.  Carefully, he slid along the narrow walkway to the cargo door.  Another shot with his laser and the door slid open with a protesting screech. Three crillite canisters lay inside, secure in their holding cradles.   Satisfied with his false trail, Buck dropped to the ground where he found that his companions had been following his progress. 

 

 

 

Chapter Eighteen
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