Forerunners of Bosk

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Two

 

   

“A trap!” Hawk spat out, jerking his pistol out of its holster, even as he turned to reconnoiter.  Laser fire blasted several windows at the same time, and Buck leaped toward the old woman, pulling her from her chair and to the ground.  

She cried out indignantly, but the only thing she said before covering her head was, “You should just let an old woman die.”  

“Stay down,” Buck ordered, ignoring her protests.  He crawled to the second doorway, one that hadn’t been touched by laser fire.  “Hawk, I think they expect an escape attempt here.”  

“We really have no choice, though, do we?” Hawk said loudly as knick-knacks and pictures fell from the walls and crashed to the floor. 

“No, wait,” the old woman said.  “A cellar.  There’s an entrance to the cellar there.”  She pointed to another door, then she cackled.  “Told everyone over the years it was just a closet.  For coats on infernally cold days like today.”  

Still on his stomach, Buck pulled open the door a crack, seeing that it indeed looked like a closet. 

“In the back.  There’s a narrow door. Move the coats,” the old woman said, pointing. 

Hawk dashed over, crouched low, even as laser fire blasted over their heads, raking the walls with bright splashes of searing light.  

“Come on, Mrs. Brock,” Buck said, reaching out to help her.  She looked at him appreciatively, but scuttled to the cellar entrance on her own.   

“Surrender!” a voice called from outside, during a slight pause in laser fire.  “Surrender and you will not be hurt.”  

“Nuts!” Buck called back, emulating a long dead war hero, even as he was going into the closet.  Laser fire erupted again and some of the walls began to blaze.  The room crackled with the heat of burning curtains and Buck felt the air being consumed by the fires.  As he followed Hawk and Mrs. Brock down the ladder into the cellar, he heard the crashing of the large front door and the voices of men calling out for their surrender.  He wondered only briefly as to what was going on, and then he reached the cellar floor.  Above him he heard shouts and curses, the crashing of furniture and the roaring of the fire.   

Buck turned to the old woman.  “How do you get out of here?”   She pointed toward a dark hallway.  Only the vaguest bit of light could be seen and that was from tiny cracks in the floor above.  He knew the floor would give way before too long and they would be no better off than they were before.  “Hawk,” he called out softly.  Hawk was by his side in an instant.  “If we can get beyond our attackers, we can assault them from the rear.”  

“My thoughts exactly.” 

Buck turned to Mrs. Brock.  “We’re going to try and get past our trigger happy friends out there.  Hang on to my arm until I tell you to wait.”   

She chuckled.  “Been running through this tunnel in the dark long before you were born, young man.”  

Buck smiled quickly.  Things were too serious right now to even comment on that statement.   

She took his hand and led them through the dark tunnel to a set of crude wooden stairs, bypassing several rooms where the smell of vintage wine, musty earth and fermenting juice wafted toward them.  Finally she stopped.  “Here.  This leads to a small storage shed in the middle of the vineyard.” 

“Paranoid group, aren’t you?” Buck quipped. 

“Very competitive business.  Has been for years,” she said, “But Aherns finally got it and all they care about is off-world profits.”  

“Yeah, even when those profits come from assassins, right?” Buck asked sardonically.  

“Most likely.  Although you two don’t look like you’re important enough for a big operation like this.”

“We have a few enemies….”  

“We are behind their line, I believe,” Hawk interjected, after checking the shed.   

“Good.  Let’s give them a bit of what they’ve been dishing out,” Buck replied getting his mind back to business.  Turning to the old woman, he said, “You stay here.”  

“I may look it, but I really am not crazy,” she murmured. 

“I know,” Buck replied, smiling grimly and then he followed Hawk up the stairs and into a roomy shed.   He crouched next to his friend and they both peered out through the cracked door.    He signed to Hawk, ‘you cover me.’ 

Hawk nodded and opened the door enough for Buck to slip out. Hawk followed, laser pistol ready.  He was able to count a dozen men near the now decimated house.    

Buck signed again and then sprinted down a row of vines toward their attackers, ruing the fact that this was not a cornfield rather than a vineyard.  Hawk went down another row parallel to Buck’s row.  The attackers were so intent on the house and its presumed contents that they had no idea that danger was behind them until it was too late.  With lasers on stun, Buck and Hawk took out a half dozen before any of the enemy realized they were being attacked.  With a grin, Buck shot another and then ducked even more as a laser bolt flashed over his head.   

Hawk shot and suddenly all who could be seen were unconscious.  “There are probably more.  On the other side,” Hawk said softly.   

Buck nodded and sprinted toward the smoking ruins.  Quickly, he bent down and examined one of the men, but there was nothing to identify him.  Another sprawled nearby and Buck checked him, too.  He gasped softly when he turned him over.  Despite the non-descript gray jumpsuit, Buck recognized this man.  He had been in Kormand’s compound.  A minor lieutenant, Landry, he thought. 

“You know him?”  

“Yes.  Let’s get the woman and get out of here,” Buck said tersely.    “Not only was this an ambush, but Kormand’s organization is still alive and well.  The Searcher could be in danger.”  

“Seems more like a revenge mission to me, Buck,” Hawk said.  “Just as the raid on my people was to kill and destroy, this mission was to kill us.”  

“Or to capture us,” Buck added, remembering the men who had demanded their surrender.  “Regardless, we don’t need to stick around and we need to get Mrs. Brock to safety.”  

“It does not surprise me that these people would have such disregard for someone so helpless,” Hawk said.  All during this time they were making their way back to the shed, watching for more of Kormand’s men.   

Buck opened the door and had to duck as the old woman swung a shovel at his head.  “It’s just me, Mrs. Brock,” Buck said quickly.   He glanced at Hawk, “Did you say something about helpless?”  

“Did you get them?” she asked.  

“We got a bunch of them, but there are probably more going through the house.”  He paused.  “We need to get out of here and get you to safety.”  

“But I have nowhere to go.  This is my place, my home!” she protested.   

“Your place is almost a smoldering heap now.  We can take you with us to our ship and then find a safe place for you,” Hawk said.  

“I’ll walk with you to your ship, but I am not going to get on it,” she declared stoutly. 

Buck shrugged and then nodded.  At least they would be going away from here and they could talk her into going to the Searcher with them when they got to the shuttle.  Surprisingly, she was very agile for someone as frail looking as she appeared.  And she talked incessantly.   As she told of her past, Buck got the impression of a sort of modern antebellum society with a quasi-sort of slavery.   

“If Barney had been here, those evil men wouldn’t have even begun to blow my house apart.”

Buck didn’t say anything; only let her continue to talk as they retraced their steps back to the shuttle.   

“Barney was a wonderful servant.  A wise man for all that he was not in the upper social strata.  He was big and strong, bigger than anybody I’d ever seen.”   

They moved through the forest, only slowing when they came to the clearing where the shuttle sat quietly, awaiting their return.  Buck turned to try and talk the old woman into coming with them and found her gone.   

“Damn!” Buck said.  “Let me see if I can find her, Hawk.”  

“Buck,” Hawk said, feeling a sense of urgency.  “While I agree that she would be better off on the Searcher, I do not believe she wanted to leave here, despite what happened to her house.” 

“She’s an old woman, Hawk,” Buck protested.  “She has no place to go.”  He plunged back into the forest, looking but not calling, unaware if they might have been followed or not.  

Hawk followed.  “I think she is more capable than she looked.  Did you notice we didn’t have to stop to let her rest?”  There was something about this place, some kind of eerie feeling that the ambush, indeed, that the whole planet was giving him.  He felt they needed to leave.

Buck continued his search, saying nothing.  After another ten minutes, Hawk touched his arm.   

“And there is also the possibility that she might have been part of the ambush,” he pointed out.  

“Her?” Buck asked incredulous.  “You’ve got to be kidding!”

“While I believe that she is not, we cannot dismiss that idea and we cannot continue to look for her.  For whatever reason, she does not want to be found,” Hawk said. “We must get this information to the Searcher and the Galactic Council.”

Buck sighed, realizing that Hawk was right.  “All right, let’s get back to the ship.”   

The late afternoon sun glared off the shuttle, causing him to blink. Hawk pressed his hand against the keypad and the door slid open.  Buck paused and turned back to the forest.  He heard a muffled call from inside and turned back to the doorway.  “What did you say, Hawk?”  Ducking through the doorway, Buck immediately felt a hand at his throat, but before he could even struggle, he was shoved against the shuttle’s bulkhead.  A fist in his gut left him gasping and Buck was only barely aware of who his attackers were.  Familiar!  They were familiar.  Another fist in the pit of his stomach bent him over, gasping for air and a foot in his ribs sent him to his knees, knife sharp pain running up and down his side.  When his vision had cleared a bit, he saw Hawk struggling on the other side of the shuttle, but several men had him effectively pinned. 

“Boss, didn’t they say they wanted him intact?” a voice asked.  

“Yes, I suppose we had better discontinue our fun.”  There was a pause.  “Get him up.  I want Rogers to see who has the upper hand this time.”  

Hands grabbed him under the arms and Buck was hoisted upright to face—“Flagg!”

“That’s right, Rogers, except this time, I win and there’s no magical old man to help you and your bird buddy.”   

Buck drew in a breath and then stopped when sharp pain speared through his chest.  Bruised ribs?  “Who financed your little revenge mission, Flagg?”  

The other man grabbed him around the throat again and squeezed lightly.  “The same people whose boss you put in jail, Rogers.”  

“Kormand’s conviction is air tight, Flagg,” Buck wheezed.  “He’s going to prison, whether I’m there or not.”  

“Maybe, maybe not.  But the organization don’t like people who interfere.  They have long memories, too.” 

“Boss, you want Schafer to head out?”

“In a minute.”  Flagg turned back to Buck.  “Now you’re going to make a call to your ship.”  

“Fat chance, Flagg.”

“You don’t understand, Rogers,” Flagg gloated.  “While the boss wants both of you alive, he’s not quite as picky about the condition of the birdman.”  He looked meaningfully at Hawk who was shaking his head at Buck.  “If he ends up at the rendezvous dead, I can live with it, even if my bonus will be a bit less.”

Buck’s eyes blazed in indignation, but his heart felt fear.  He knew that Flagg would not hesitate to follow through on his threats.  Only the fact that someone else was holding the end of Flagg’s leash kept him alive, Buck thought ruefully.  

Flagg nodded to his men and one of them pulled out a knife and approached Hawk.  Although he struggled, Hawk couldn’t overcome the three men holding him down.   

“Why don’t you shave off those pretty feathers, Rick,” Flagg said with a laugh.   

Buck watched in horror as the man grabbed Hawk’s feathers and jerked his head back.  The knife suddenly slid a light line across Hawk’s jaw and then hovered above the birdman’s eyes.   

“What do you want me to say, Flagg?” Buck asked hastily, even as he watched the blood welling on Hawk’s face.  His friend was still shaking his head, but in resignation now.   

“You are simply going to tell your ship that you are following another ship, one that holds the answers to the distress signal you followed here.  You will do it quickly and without embellishment.  You will also do it close enough to the stargate to make a reply unfeasible.” 

“That in and of itself will make them suspicious,” Buck replied.

“Now, Captain, you are an executive officer.  And I believe an unorthodox one at that,” Flagg said, his face close to Buck’s.  “Make it convincing, or your friend dies.”  

“Buck, no,” Hawk said, almost inaudibly.  One of the men holding him down twisted his arm painfully, but Hawk didn’t flinch.   

“Tell Schafer to go now.”  Flagg turned to another man.  “Get this ship powered up.”  

“We didn’t have time to get past the ident-lock,” the man said.  

“Open her up, Rogers.  And nothing funny.”

 

Slowly, Buck stood up under the watchful eye of Flagg.  His captor shoved him and Buck began to pivot to grab him.   

Flagg pointed to Hawk and the knife resting against his friend’s neck.  “Uh uh, Rogers.  Nothing funny at all.”

Buck sighed in resignation and sat down in the co-pilot’s chair.  He unlocked the controls and then put his hands in his lap.  He felt bitter thoughts of recrimination rising in his heart, sharing space with anger and fear.   If only he’d kept his mind on the job, on their mission.   “How do I know that you won’t go ahead and kill us after I do what you say?”

Flagg laughed derisively.  “Rogers, you don’t.  But a bit of comfort is the fact that I had a list of desirable captures and I get five thousand credits apiece.  If the prisoner is alive, that is.”  

Buck couldn’t help it, he laughed sarcastically.  “Whoever this boss is seems like a cheapskate to only give ten thousand for both of us.”   

“Oh, you misunderstand. I get a five thousand credit bonus if I bring you in alive.  And a two thousand credit bonus for bringing in the bird.  The bonuses add up.” 

“Schafer is in the air, sir,” the man next to him said.   

“Good, take her up, fast and hard,” Flagg ordered.  He sat down in one of the extra seats.  “Hang on, Ross.  And don’t let the birdman do anything except breath.”   

The pilot lifted the shuttled about ten meters off the ground and then punched in the sublight engines.  With a violent surge and roar of the engine, the ship shot into the upper atmosphere.   

Searcher to Scout One.  Report.”

“Let them wait a moment, then answer,” Flagg ordered. “Britt, take the most direct course after Schafer.”  

Searcher to Scout One.  Buck, Hawk, report.  What’s going on?”  That time it was Wilma.

“Answer.  No vid,” Flagg told him.  “But remember if you value your friend’s life…”  

With great reluctance, Buck flipped the communications switch and began speaking.  “We’re following those jokers.  Roughed up some of the natives, massive damage and we heard they had valuable info on the Human Rights organization.  We’ll check in on the other side of the stargate.  Rogers out.”  

“Be careful, Buck, Hawk,” Wilma said. 

“We will.”

Flagg reached over and flipped the switch.  “She sounded convinced.  Very good, Captain.”

“Now what?” Buck asked. 

“Just this….”  

And Buck saw a flash in his peripheral vision and then felt darkness descend.

 

 

Chapter Three
Forerunners of Bosk Prologue
Buck Rogers Contents
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