Forerunners of Bosk

 

 

 

 

Chapter Eighteen

 

 

“I knew if they had androids manning these things, they would know if anything different happened to their transport vehicles,” Buck explained.  “So when the people at the spaceport check on the status of this car and the people down in the mines realize that we are gone, they will put two and two together and figure that we hopped the train for a free and easy ride to freedom.” 

Hawk nodded.  “They will be waiting for us at the terminus, thinking to recapture us there.” 

“Yes, or stop the train to capture us along the way.” 

“How did you find out about all of this, Buck?” Hawk asked. 

“Relearned a little rock climbing and then I prowled through the administrative offices each night.”  Buck paused.  “Let’s get off the beaten, uh, track and we can continue,” he suggested.  They walked back into the forest and Buck pulled out a crude map and a compass.  “Part of the way, we can travel somewhat parallel to the train route, but there’s a point here where we can save a few miles by cutting across.”  He showed the others the drawing he had made, then looked at both men who were regarding each other with curiosity.  

“Uh, sorry.  I guess formal introductions would be in order,” Buck said, embarrassed.   “Hawk, this is Tigerman, former bodyguard of the Princess Ardala, youngest daughter of Draco, ruler of the Draconian Empire.   Tigerman saved my butt once.”  Buck peered meaningfully at the felinoid.  “Your being here wouldn’t have anything to do with that would it?” 

Tigerman shook his head.   “No.  This time Kane.” 

“But I’m sure you were punished for laying hands on Ardala,” Buck said.  “I’m sorry, Tigerman.  I know we had our differences, but….” 

“Done and now I am free,” Tigerman interrupted.  “Thank you.” 

“You’re welcome.”  Buck pointed to Hawk.  “And this is Hawk, my close friend and co-worker on the Searcher.” 

Hawk nodded an acknowledgement as they continued through the forest.  While they were walking, Buck explained how he was able to get out of his cell and explore the mine corridors and various parts of the mine administration offices. 

A short time later, Hawk said, “Buck, there is something I must ask.” 

Buck had a sneaking feeling he knew what it was.  “Yeah?”

“I knew about the recreation area because Beros brought me into his office that day.  He showed you on a vid screen working out with a couple of guards.  He timed it well; you collapsed shortly after he turned on the screen.” 

“He told me it was a reward and the withholding of medication was a punishment for getting smart-mouthed with a guard,” Buck said tersely.  “Apparently it was also a show for you.  What did he do, coerce your good behavior by threatening to withhold my meds?” 

“Basically, yes, Buck,” Hawk said.  “But he said the treatment was only a respite.  It did not eliminate the parasite.” 

Buck snorted. “Not surprised.  The doctor told me it took a long time to cure.  I wonder how much bull is in those explanations?” 

“I have no reason to doubt what Beros told me in that regard,” Hawk said softly.  “When did you have your last dosage?” 

“Well, thanks to Beros’ little show, I’ve been given my dosage at the evening meal the past few weeks.  I would say I have about sixteen hours, maybe more, maybe less.  I calculated that we should be able to get to the spaceport in that amount of time if all goes well, and even if I can’t pilot, you certainly can.”  He gazed meaningfully at Hawk. “And even if takes longer, there is nothing that can take away this moment of freedom, Hawk.  Absolutely nothing.”   They continued walking in silence.  “I thought I understood freedom.  I thought my background as an American citizen would make freedom something as ingrained in my soul as breathing.  But it isn’t.  When I saw the sun, the forest, the hills and mountains a little while ago, I felt free as I had never felt free before.” 

“I understand, Buck,” Hawk said.  “I totally understand.”

   

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

 

Wilma waited inside the shuttle for Flagg to arrive.  They had come during the night, and under the cover of darkness had set up the ambush.  Anton would be waiting in plain sight, while several other members called in from the Searcher waited in strategic places overlooking the rendezvous site.  Only Flagg’s innate paranoia would cause problems, but Wilma felt that his greed would outstrip his suspicious nature.  She also felt they had chosen well, this being the clearing where Hawk’s village had once stood.  Only the statue of Make Make stood as a mute sentinel over the once vital settlement.   

How fitting, Wilma thought, that they would be meeting where Flagg and his men had reportedly stood with bloody hands and hot lasers over a year ago.  Now she checked her own laser pistol, as there were still things that could go wrong in an operation like this, despite all their careful planning.   And she waited.  It was light outside the rented shuttle, but the sun had not yet shown itself over the craggy peaks.  

Finally, the sun rose and there was still no sign of Flagg.  Wilma had begun to wonder if they had misjudged the mercenary when the whine of a distant shuttle came to her ears.  She smiled and then shuddered.  She would be alone with this slimy weasel.  This time, though, she would be in control.  Yes, she would definitely be under control, she reminded herself more forcefully.  And this was not Erik Kormand. 

Forcing herself into a semblance of calm anticipation, Wilma listened as the shuttle settled nearby.  The door to her own shuttle was open, the outside sunlight augmenting the interior lights, allowing her, as well as her visitor, to see the rich opulence of this rented shuttle.  The bulkheads had been covered with richly ornate gilded wallpaper and the lighting fixtures were a type of crystal and gold that caused the light to sparkle and twinkle like dancers.  The floor was carpeted and the seats were plush, the material a deep, dark rust.  An oval table of simulated wood stood in the middle of the shuttle’s main room.  

Wilma settled with queen-like grace in the main chair as she heard Anton talking with Flagg.  After a brief exchange and then a short silence, during which Wilma concluded that Flagg was quickly checking out the area, the clicking of boot heels told her that her visitors were arriving.   Someone she didn’t recognize came aboard first. 

“Who are you?” she asked, her voice low but filled with authoritarian command. 

“Krint,” the man said.  “Just checking out things for the boss.” 

“Tell Flagg to get in here if he wants to discuss this deal.  Otherwise, I will go back to Neutralis and find someone less . . . shall we say- timid?” 

The man nodded and quickly left.  Flagg entered alone.  Wilma had been counting on the man’s greed; Flagg would not want anyone else to hear the terms of the deal.  Anton and the others could handle Flagg’s men while she would deal with Flagg.  “Sit down,” Wilma said with a smile.  

Glancing around, Flagg sat across from her.  “Exactly what are the terms and details of this job you want me to do?” he asked.  

A small signal buzzed in her ear.  Anton and his men were ready.  “Just this,” Wilma said, raising her hand where she had a tiny laser pistol hidden.  Before Flagg could even register what was happening, she had fired.  As he slumped to the lushly carpeted deck, Wilma heard the sound of other lasers.  

Wilma flitted to the door, using various pieces of furniture as possible shields.  Carefully, she peered out and saw Anton grinning at her.  “Smooth as glass, Colonel,” he said. 

“Yes, I can see that,” she replied with a smile.  “Let’s load them up and get them back to the Searcher.”   She gazed in satisfaction at the five men lying unconscious on the ground.  It had gone smoothly without anyone getting hurt.  Maybe the tide was turning in their favor now.  Maybe they could get the answers that they had been looking for these past weeks.  Maybe they could soon find Buck and Hawk. 

While the men put force restraints on the prisoners and loaded them up in the shuttle, Wilma walked through what remained of Hawk’s home on Throm.  There were very few vestiges of the homes left.  Only a couple of stone foundations remained . . . and the graveyard.  It, too, remained, a horrible reminder of man’s cold and callous depravity.   She remembered when she, Hawk, Goodfellow and Buck had visited last.  Hawk had worked here.  Alone, at his request.  She and Buck had examined the caves with Dr. Goodfellow.   Hawk did not even want them watching.  It was something he had to do by himself he had told them.  Only later had they all visited the cemetery together.  

 Wilma stopped in front of one stone marker.  She reached out and touched the markings that were already beginning to fade.  Koori’s parents, she had been told. At the base of the slate-like stone marker was a black volcanic-type rock.  Wilma wondered if it was what Hawk had used originally.  Picking it up, she traced the fading symbols.  She felt a rightness about what she was doing, a warmth inside, even a feeling of power and Wilma wondered if the symbols were more than just the names of Koori’s parents.  She remembered Hawk saying that the markers were as much a remembrance for any sentient beings that might come to this valley, as they were a tribute to his own dead.   Wilma sincerely hoped that anyone who came here might understand what happened in this place and feel a determination to work toward peace.   It had been a hard time for Hawk, a very hard time and it had taken weeks, even months before he had opened up and talked even a little bit about his feelings. 

The black marks seemed to jump out at her as she traced.  It was uncanny, but she felt the warm glow of someone’s thanks.  When she was finished, Wilma sat back in satisfaction.  Then she saw other stone markers and began tracing the symbols on those as well, feeling even more the warmth of some power at work, a power that she could not at this time understand.   She began to wonder if these people, so cruelly taken from life still had some presence here; if that was what she was feeling.  

“Colonel?” Anton said from behind her.  

“In a minute,” she replied, refusing to let anything keep her from finishing her task.  Wilma only vaguely heard Anton walk away from her while she moved to another stone marker.  When she finished the last, Wilma sat back in satisfaction, seeing the dark, bold symbols against the light-colored stones.  Even though she didn’t know what they meant, she still felt a kind of joy in their renewal.  

Wilma turned and saw Anton watching her from a short distance away.  “All of Hawk’s people are here,” she said.  “Except for Koori."    

He nodded.  “I think Hawk would be pleased.” 

“There’s great power here,” she said, wondering why she said it.  But it was true.  It was as though Hawk’s friends and family were standing by, watching, maybe even helping them.   Even as she thought it, she knew it was true.   She had felt coldness the first time she visited here, almost an animosity; now she felt acceptance. 

“Considering that Flagg might have been part of this massacre do you think they could have been helping?” Anton asked reflectively. 

Wilma smiled and walked toward the shuttle.  “I was wondering the same thing.  But now I don’t doubt it for a minute.  Hawk has mentioned how he has felt the presence of his wife at times.”  She stopped and gazed over the valley.  “Let’s get back to the Searcher and interrogate our prisoners.  They may have more to say than just about Buck and Hawk’s disappearance.” 

“I would say they might, Colonel,” Anton said with a smile.  “After you?” 

They entered the shuttle and saw a slightly groggy, but very angry Flagg cursing the lieutenant standing guard over the six prisoners. 

“What the hell are you doing to me?” he demanded.  

“Why, Mr. Flagg, we are going to take you and your friends to the Searcher, where under the direction of the Galactic Council you will be questioned about the disappearance of Captain Buck Rogers and Hawk.” 

“What?” sputtered Flagg.  

“Oh, and incidentally, you will be questioned about the massacre of these people here in the Valley of Eagles.” 

“That was almost two years ago!” Flagg cried out. 

Wilma smiled sweetly.  Doesn’t really matter, Flagg.” 

Flagg opened his mouth and then shut it again.  He glared at her and finally said, “Who are you?” 

Wilma motioned for Anton to begin pre-flight activities.  The other men left for their own ships.  “Colonel Wilma Deering, second in command of the Searcher and former commander of the Earth Defense Directorate forces.  Any other questions?” she asked tersely before turning back to Anton. 

“Everything’s fine, Colonel,” he said from the cockpit.  “If you just want to keep our guests company, I’ll get us off the ground.” 

“All right, Anton.  It’s all yours.”  Wilma settled herself in one of the plush chairs as Flagg glared at her.  “Cheer up, Flagg.  We do treat our prisoners decently, which, I presume is better than can probably be said for Captain Rogers and Hawk.”

“You’ll be sorry you did this!” Flagg declared.  

Wilma smiled again.  “Oh, no.  I am not in the least sorry.”  The ship’s engines came to full power and then with smooth precision, lifted off.  “Not in the least,” Wilma murmured. 

 

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

 

Ardala stood looking out the view port at the cloud-enshrouded planet Kresis IV, her foot tapping with impatience.  “Captain, I want to speak to Kerok immediately.” 

“Yes, Your Highness.”

Soon the ship’s commander came back to her, bowing low.  “The message I received, Your Highness, was that Kerok is asleep and can be reached in the morning, approximately eight hours from now.”

“What?” she cried.  The captain began to repeat his message.  “Never mind,” she cut him off angrily.  “I am going to my chambers.  Wake me in seven hours.”  With her head held high, Ardala turned on her heel and left. 

Seven and a half hours later she was in a small shuttle heading for the spaceport of Bissen at first light.  Within a short time, Kerok was sitting at his desk looking distinctly annoyed.  “You want to know about what, Princess?  A slave?”

“This slave, Kerok,” she said, showing the merchant a picture.

“Why, if I may ask?” 

“You may not ask.  It is my own business if I wish to inquire about a slave,” Ardala snapped, then reined in her emotions.  Anger was not the way to get what she wanted here.  She had learned that lesson well from the War Witch when she had traveled to Pendar.  “This slave has value to me and he was sold without my permission.  I would like him back.” 

“Very well, Princess Ardala.  I will check, but please be aware that I broker slaves to many markets,” Kerok said.  “You might have to check out several worlds.” 

Ardala paced only once around the room while Kerok looked through the records on his computer. 

“Hmm,” Kerok said to himself.  “Hmm….”

Ardala refrained from saying anything although she wanted to wring the small man’s neck for being so slow. 

“It would seem that your bodyguard was part of a group of slaves that were sold by your father.  I saw no particular need for any of them, so I sold the whole group of them to another slave broker named Mellis.” 

Ardala was ready to scream in frustration.  “And where do I find Mellis?” 

“On Xrix VII, Your Highness.” 

With a sigh, Ardala, simply nodded her thanks to the man and turned and left, her ever-present android bodyguards behind her.  Among her black thoughts was one that told her that someday she was going to get rid of those irritating creatures.

 

 

 

Chapter Nineteen
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