Forerunners of Bosk

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty

 

 

 

“How did you do that?” Buck asked again, as though not believing what he just went through.  

“It is something that is part of my people, Buck.  But the women, especially healers, are much more proficient with it.  Sky Mother tried to teach me a few of her methods while we were at Mendalis.” 

“Whatever, it worked,” Buck declared, his voice filled with gratitude.  He still felt hot, his hands trembled slightly, but he could focus on what had to be done, not what was going on in his body.  And the dizziness had abated.  

“Let’s get busy staging your death,” Buck declared.  “While there’s still some light.”  

Hawk nodded.  “I will climb down to one of the ledges near the bottom and begin to set this up.” 

“I’ll come and help you.” 

“No, Buck.  You are feeling better, but I think it would still be counterproductive if you were down there, too.  I think you would help better up here.”  He tied the rope securely around a tree and tested it.  Then he tied the other end around his body in the way that he had been taught growing up on Throm. 

Buck sighed.  He knew exactly what Hawk was saying, and he didn’t like it, but he knew it was true.   He felt hope that what his friend had done would be enough to get him to the spaceport, but that hope warred with fearful reality.  “Yeah, I understand, Hawk.” 

“It would make this job go quicker if you were able to lower to me the things necessary to create the illusion of death, especially after Tigerman has returned.”  Hawk looked meaningfully at Buck.  “He will come back, will he not?”   

Buck nodded.  “Yes, he will.” 

Carefully Hawk climbed down, repelling in spots where there were no handholds.  Buck watched, also listening for Tigerman.  As Hawk neared the base of the plateau, the terran looked out over the valley, spotting the spaceport immediately.  It formed along the contours of the river that dropped so majestically below them.   With a sigh, Buck thought it might as well have been across the galaxy.   While he was still hopeful that he could make it, he had to face the fact that he, very likely, would not.  The compulsion to return, the fire that burned within him, although not as intense, was still there.  

“Buck,” Hawk called out.  Buck had to listen carefully over the roar of the river. “Lower some brush that I can use to fill out the guard’s uniform.  And some limbs for the arms and legs.” 

Using the rope, Buck complied, sending down the needed materials until Hawk signed to him to stop.  It was then he heard Tigerman behind him, the felinoid’s grunting cough a warning.  Turning, Buck saw Tigerman with a dead furred creature over one shoulder and a dead feathered creature in his hand.  

“Where is Hawk?” he asked.  

“Down there,” Buck said.  “He’s setting up the tableau.” 

Nodding, Tigerman pulled up the rope, using part of it to tie the animals around his waist, and then he climbed down, hand over hand, repelling with an easy grace that belied his bulk. 

Buck looked over the edge and in the dusk saw Hawk’s setup taking shape.  In the mist of the waterfall and the distance from his position, the ‘body’ looked startlingly real.  As Buck watched, Hawk took the furred animal, and with the knife the terran had confiscated, cut it’s throat, allowing the blood to pool around the fake Hawk, adding horrific realism to the scene.  

Hawk looked up and saw Buck watching.  Signaling to his friend, he then returned to the more distasteful part of his job, that of taking the feathers from the dead bird to add to the dummy at his feet.  His people had never taken life from the creatures of the skies before, only using the feathers of those that died in the wild or those that where molting.  Even though he had not directly taken this feathered one’s life, he nonetheless felt responsible.  

He picked up the knife to begin the task and then felt Tigerman’s hand stop him. The felinoid gazed into his eyes.  “I do,” he said simply, making the motions showing that he understood what Hawk needed to have done.  Nodding gratefully, Hawk handed Tigerman the knife, but then hesitated before handing over the feathered creature.  

He let his hand drift over the creamy white and brown feathers, hovering over the head that had once held at least a spark of avian intelligence.  Forgive me, he thought to the dead creature.  Know that your life has been sacrificed to save many other lives.

As Tigerman took the dead bird, Hawk looked out toward the distant spaceport where lights were appearing in the growing dusk.  Oh, Koori, you said you would be near to give me the strength that I need.  Strengthen and comfort me now, my love. 

The waterfall’s roar continued in his ears.  Hawk felt nothing but the dampness of the falling water.  There was little comfort.  He knew for a surety now that he would have to leave his friend behind and while such forced separation did not cause the same searing pain that Koori’s death had, there was a kind of despair.  He was afraid for Buck, afraid of this sickness that seemed to have such a tight hold on his friend’s body.  Hawk knew how fiercely determined the human was, he had seen it time and time again, but could that determination keep him alive until he was able to get the medicine?  There had simply been too much lately.  Far too much pain and suffering to deal with.

Tigerman brought the feathered skin to him.  Hawk saw no evidence of the carcass, something else for which to be grateful to his companion.  Gently Hawk took the grass-like materials he had gathered and stuffed the skin, shaping it into a reasonable facsimile of his head.  He placed it on the already prepared dummy, sprinkled more blood on it from the other animal and then stood back.  Tigerman took the mammalian body away, presumably to dispose of it.  

The best judgment of this scene’s effectiveness would come from the top of the cliff, where Buck was.   He looked up, but didn’t see the terran.   “We will have to cross the river here, Tigerman,” he said to his companion.  “I will go up and see how this looks and then help Buck down.  It is almost dark and we need to get across the river soon.” 

Without a word, Tigerman grabbed the rope and began climbing up.  

“You can wait here, if you like,” Hawk said. 

“No,” was all the felinoid said, as he continued up the rope.  When he had reached the top, Hawk followed.  Shivering as the cool breeze hit his damp clothes, the threadbare tunic and pants that had been issued to him, Hawk climbed steadily, finally reaching the top.  He saw neither Tigerman nor Buck.  Puzzled, he began looking in the brush, hesitating to call out.  Finally, though, he called softly. 

“Here,” Tigerman replied from the trees to his right.  

Hawk followed the sound of the bodyguard’s voice and found Tigerman restraining Buck, who was struggling ineffectually against him. 

“Let me go back,” Buck cried out, gazing wild-eyed at both men. 

“We will go back,” Tigerman assured Buck, who began to calm down.  

Hawk was appalled.  He laid his hand on his friend’s arm.  “Buck.” 

Buck blinked, wiped the sweat out of his eyes and looked up at him, his gaze more lucid.  He smiled weakly.  “I told you I wouldn’t be able to see this through.”  He sighed in resignation.  “Damn them, I knew it.” 

“Buck, we can help each other,” Hawk protested, even though he knew Buck was right.  “You got us out, we can help you get to the spaceport.  Surely we can get the medication there.” 

Buck shook his head, shuddering as what felt like flaming fire shot up and down his body.  “No, you and Tigerman will be able to get away easily without me in tow.” 

“No, I go with you,” Tigerman declared firmly to him. 

Buck gasped, “What?”  He pulled in a deep breath and wiped his sleeve across his face.  “Why?”  He felt more in control at the moment, but didn’t know how long that would last.  Tigerman’s declaration surprised him, but then, on quick reflection, didn’t surprise him.  Despite the consequences, the bodyguard had remained loyal to Ardala, even though he had laid hands on her to let him go free back on the Draconian battle cruiser. 

“Alone here, you die,” Tigerman explained.  “Hawk get help, we all free.”  He paused a beat.  “You helped me, I help you,” he said with finality. 

“You sure?” 

Tigerman’s face was one that brooked no further argument.  “Sure.” 

With Hawk and Tigerman’s help, Buck stood up.  Buck gazed into the bodyguard’s eyes.  “Thanks, pal,” he murmured, fighting a wave of dizziness.  He turned to Hawk as his friend laid a hand on his arm to steady him.   “Hawk, you need to go now.  They’ve figured this all out by now and there’s no telling how quickly they’ll find me and Tigerman.”  He wiped his face on his sleeve again.  “Wish someone would turn down the heat,” he muttered.   Then he grabbed Hawk’s arm and gazed earnestly into his friend’s eyes.   “Be careful, Hawk.  Get off of this misbegotten planet and back to the Searcher.  He paused a moment.  “Tell Wilma I’m all right.  Don’t tell her about this,” he added, looking at his trembling hand.  “Just tell her I’m all right.” 

Hawk felt helpless, even more helpless than he had when he realized that Buck was a prisoner of Erik Kormand.   He was actually walking away; leaving someone that needed him desperately.   All he could do at first was nod.   Finally he found his voice and said, “I will tell her.  And we will be back for you; for both of you.”  He looked at Tigerman.  “Thank you for what you are doing.  You are truly a brave and honorable warrior.” 

Tigerman growled his thanks.  “Buck Rogers beat me in a fight.  Not fair.   Want another fight.”  He grinned fiercely.  

Even in his misery, Buck recognized what Tigerman had done.  “I can’t believe it,” he said, looking at the felinoid in surprise.  “You, Tigerman, the most deadpan bodyguard in the universe, cracked a joke.” 

“No joke.  You cheated.” 

“Me cheat?” Buck cried out.  “Not me.  Just used what I learned.”   He coughed, feeling the damnable parasite working in his chest.    “When I’m well, I’ll teach you what I know.” 

“Good.”   Tigerman looked smug.  

“You need to go, Hawk,” Buck repeated to his shipmate.  The first stars were beginning to show. 

“Yes, I know,” Hawk said softly.   His hand grasped Buck’s arm in reassurance.  

“I’ll be okay, Hawk.  I promise.” 

Hawk nodded.  “I know, Buck.  And I will be back.” 

“You’d better.  I think I’ve missed about forty dates with Wilma.” 

Hawk smiled softly, then he looked back up at Tigerman.  “Take care of him.” 

The big humanoid nodded, growling softly. 

“When I get to the bottom, toss the rope down to make it look like I fell while repelling,” Hawk instructed. 

Again Tigerman nodded and he followed the birdman to the edge of the precipice.  As Hawk reached for the rope, he turned again to Buck, who had not moved except to grab onto a tree limb.  His tunic stuck to his sweat-dampened body and he was almost panting, whether in a struggle to get enough air into his lungs or because of the heat, Hawk could not tell.   He could only pray that Buck would live long enough for rescue.  His own chest felt tight, but in his case it was from the stress of the moment.  He gave Buck a thumbs up and then began climbing down the seventy-five foot rock face.  It was practically dark now and he lost sight of Tigerman almost immediately.  Mist from the waterfall clung to his face and made the rope slippery and he had to concentrate on the task before him.  

At the base of the cliff, Hawk paused, then tugged on the rope.  It fell limply at his feet and he arranged it around the ‘body.’  He looked back up the cliff, almost reaching for handholds to climb up and rejoin his friends. 

‘Go, Hawk, go now,’ a voice whispered in his ear. 

“Koori?” 

Go now.  If you are to save your friends, you must go now.’  

“I am abandoning them,” Hawk protested even as he prepared to cross the river. 

You are saving them,’ Koori whispered.  

Hawk sighed, knowing the rightness of what he was doing, but feeling like a betrayer all the same.  He jumped into the pool that had formed to one side of the main river channel.  He reached the other side even as the ebony darkness enveloped the last of the dim light of day.  He pulled himself onto the bank and then walked along the river, slowly and carefully, not wanting a foolish misstep to end Buck and Tigerman’s chances.  Finally, though, he had to stop when the way became too treacherous with mist-covered rocks, vines and other vegetation.  As he sat huddled beneath a particularly large tree, Hawk only hoped that this planet had a moon that would help guide his way.

He had a flashlight that Buck had confiscated, as well as night lenses, but he was loathe to use the flashlight for fear guards might be close enough to see the beam.  And for the lenses to be effective there still had to be some moonlight.  So Hawk waited.  He could be patient.  He was part of a very patient people.

 

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Wilma paced in the Admiral’s ready room, feeling frustration so intense she wanted to scream.  

“Wilma, I know you are anxious, but please sit down,” the admiral said.

“We are not much further along than we were before!” Wilma declared.  She stopped pacing, gazing out of the view port, but couldn’t quite bring herself to sit down.

“But I believe we are,” Asimov reassured her.  “This Willis Garrott is a slaver who normally buys and sells in the Rix, Mandras, Hindel and Surrin quadrants.  That has narrowed our search considerably.”  He paused.  “And we have been given specific orders to look into this situation, since it not only entails kidnapping but also slavery, something the council is trying to do away with.” 

Wilma sighed and turned away from the star-filled portal.  “I know, Admiral.  I know and I’m grateful.  But do you know how large those quadrants are?  And there is the delay that we are having to make to Cronis as well.” 

“A very short, but necessary delay,” the admiral reminded her.  “Since it became apparent that Flagg and his men were part of the group that massacred Hawk’s people.  In light of how easily Buck and Hawk were kidnapped, we were asked to personally bring them to Cronis rather than to send them there in a shuttle.” 

“Yes, I know that, too.”  Wilma finally sat down, but it was hard.  Those named quadrants beckoned to her with chains of desperation.  It was over two months now and her mind conjured up images that haunted her both day and night. 

“And as soon as the Council is finished getting what they need from us, then you are free to begin investigating the quadrant of your choice.  The Searcher will position itself centrally among the quadrants.” 

Wilma nodded, knowing this was the best she, the admiral or anyone else could do. 

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-one
Forerunners of Bosk Prologue
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