Forerunners of Bosk

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-One

   

 

Ril had never done a manhunt on the surface before.  Indeed, he had never done a manhunt before at all here on Bosk.  That anyone could orchestrate and pull off his own escape was amazing, but to also break out two friends was truly in the realm of miraculous.  He couldn’t help but admire the resolve and resourcefulness of prisoner twelve-sixteen, although he kept his feelings to himself.  Dr. Beros had been absolutely livid, making no secret what he had in mind for the three men when they were brought back to the mines. 

And in that, Ril was afraid for the three prisoners. Dr. Beros was a cold and calculating man, but his emotions were generally kept tightly in rein.  However, when the escape had been reported to him, Beros had gone livid and then had screamed epitaphs that had been heard from the administrative offices to the main prisoner cellblock.  The prisoners, even those new ones under edict of silence, had heard of the escape and been heartened, some even becoming unruly.  

Ril couldn’t believe how simple a thing it had been for twelve-sixteen, Buck Rogers, to effect his escape.  That natural ledge had been around when the cells were chiseled out of the rock, but no one had thought that anyone could climb up to it, nor be able to travel along it with impunity.  The terran’s cell had been destroyed as soon as the escape had been discovered, and all others under the upper ledge had been modified to prevent anyone from using that as an avenue of escape again.   

Still, Ril saw great patience on the part of the prisoner and saw, in his mind’s eye, instances of that patience in the past few weeks.  Ril wondered about the other two fugitives.  He knew of the friendship between the terran and the birdman, but wondered about the connection between the two prisoners and the other escapee, a felinoid that had once been a bodyguard in the Draconian capital.   

Regardless, here he was in the middle of his sleep cycle, the middle of the day on the surface, tracking three prisoners.  

At first everyone had thought the escapees had commandeered a cargo carrier, but the vehicle had been found tampered—and empty, at the spaceport.   He and his fellow guards had seen the ruse for exactly what it was, something to throw them off for a while. 

Now he and four other men were backtracking to where they had found the destroyed android.   “Lieutenant, I think I found something,” one of the junior guards called out. 

Ril walked over and saw evidence of a trail into the forest.  “It could be an animal trail,” he murmured. 

“Yes, sir, but it seems to be paralleling the tracks,” the younger man said, pointed.  

Ril nodded.  The prisoners seemed to have set a false trail but were still keeping close to an established transportation route.  Very smart, he thought, in some ways.   They would not get lost, but could duck into the woods if anyone came to check.  

“Should make it easy to find them when the human prisoner misses his dosage.” 

Yes, Ril thought, there is that.  How did Rogers plan on overcoming that?  Was that the purpose of the Rrilling?  Ril knew for a fact that there had been no shortage of the garox, so Rogers hadn’t been able to get any.  That was the first thing Beros checked out, but the medical offices were kept tightly secure; more to keep the guards out than the prisoners.  Garox brought very high prices on the black market.  Ril felt the dosage the doctor had given him in its safety container in his pocket.  He had been explicitly told by the administrator to bring back the terran without giving him his dosage, but realistically, Ril knew that if this search took any time at all, sixteen twelve would have to be given a dose of garox or he wouldn’t make it back to the mines alive.  Pausing, Ril wondered if that would be such a bad thing.   “Macon, you and two men walk the cleared area, watching for any other signs of the prisoners while the rest of us follow this trail.  If you find anything, call out,” Ril ordered.  “And we’ll do the same.” 

“Yes, sir,” the young man replied.  

Ril motioned to the remaining man and they were soon swallowed up in the forest.  While it was not dense, the wooded area was something he was not used to.  The glare of the sun hurt his eyes and he pulled down his sunglasses.  The others followed suit.  “Anything on the sensor, Kraig?” he asked. 

“Hard to tell, sir,” his companion, a first year rookie, replied.  “There’s something faint and I think it’s humanoid, but it could also be something indigenous.” 

“Keep checking.” 

“Yessir.” 

They kept to the trail and, although Ril was untrained in this sort of tracking, he felt like, at times, he was seeing more evidence than that of animals passing by. 

After an hour on the trail that paralleled the cleared cargo track, Ril saw that it made an abrupt turn, going deeper into the forest.  What did the prisoners have in mind? he wondered.  He stopped and consulted his map and then checked his compass.  He studied the rail again.  “They are trying to go overland,” he said out loud.  “Macon!” he called out, not bothering to use his communicator.  

There was a faint answer from the other party and he waited until they caught up with him.  Then they all followed the path that led higher into the mountainous region after the only three people ever to have escaped from the mines.

The sun set while they were still climbing but by then the sonic tracker was definitely picking up evidence of the passage of the three escapees.  Ril called a short halt when the darkness became so complete that walking was dangerous.   “Break out the night equipment.  We’ll continue in a few minutes.” 

“But sir, won’t they be able to see us coming and hide?” 

Ril smiled.  “Perhaps, but when we are that close, the sensors will definitely pick them up.”  He paused.  “And besides, you are the one who pointed out how debilitated the terran will be.”   He consulted his watch.  “It’s been over a day cycle by now.  He ought to be feeling the need for his medication.”

“Yessir.”

“Don’t feel badly, Griff, you do bring out the point that we need to be careful.  If nothing else than to watch for ambush.  The other two are not human and therefore not in need of the garox.” 

“Yessir.” 

They continued onward in the dark, taking only brief stops to rest.  The moon rose making weird shadows but still they pressed on.  Finally when they reached the more rugged mountain pass, the rookie called out, “Sir, I am getting definitive readings of three humanoids on this path.”  

“Good, Kraig.  You do point.  Keep us on the right course.  It would be easy to lose our way in these rocks.” 

The going was slower, but they finally reached the other side of the pass where a plateau stretched out before them.  In the moonlight it seemed enormous, but in actuality, they only had a couple of miles before they reached the embankment to the valley below. 

Ril wondered if Rogers had seen that on the map and if so, why did he think this was the best route?  With a shrug, he motioned the men to continue.  

“Sir,” Kraig said.  “One of them left the trail.” 

“And the other two?” 

“Together on this trail.” 

Ril nodded.  “Macon, you and Rush and Griff follow the new trail.  Kraig and I will continue on this one.”  They walked a bit more slowly, watching more carefully, laser pistols ready.  A short time later they all converged again on the main trail. 

After another hour they began to hear a sorrowful moan, soft at first, then as the sun rose over the eastern stretches of the plain, louder.  Rill pulled off his night lenses and put away his flashlight.  The rest of the group did the same.   Ril led the contingent, carefully watching for anything.  The sound of a waterfall became louder and louder, but he was not expecting the sight that met his eyes when they pushed through the last of the scrub brush.  The Rrilling was bent over the terran moaning mournfully.  The human appeared dead.

 

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Later Buck would gratefully have to admit that he didn’t remember a great deal of the night after Hawk left.  What he did remember was in bits and pieces. 

“Go back now?” Tigerman asked.  

“No,” Buck said.  “We let them come to us.  They have to see that Hawk is dead.”  He was having a slight respite from his illness and his mind seemed clear for the moment.  His only worry, at present, was that someone would investigate the body closely.  If they did that then Buck only hoped that Hawk got to the spaceport quickly and was away before the subterfuge was discovered.  

“Thirsty?” Tigerman asked. 

“Yes, I am,” Buck replied.  

Tigerman went into the brush but was back within minutes.  “Eat fruit,” he said, handing Buck half a globular fruit.  

The outside was hard, like a coconut, but the pulp was soft and mushy like mashed potatoes.  The taste was sweet but nothing he’d write home about.  Buck used two fingers to scoop out the soft meat and then he ate it, knowing that he needed the sustenance even if he didn’t have any appetite.  He handed the empty fruit back to Tigerman.  “This should hold water,” he suggested, then realized that was what the bodyguard had in mind.  His companion nodded and headed to the river.  Soon he was back, both halves of the fruit filled with water. 

“You want some?” Buck asked.  

“Later.” 

Buck quickly drank down one cupful of water and dumped the other over his head.  The cold water soothed his hot face and he sighed in relief.  A slight breeze further cooled him. 

Animals began to call out from the bushes and the scrub forest behind them.  The chirps and buzzing reminded him of his folks’ house in the suburbs, especially in the summer.  “Sounds like home,” he said, getting up and walking a short back and forth path.  He was tired of just sitting.  A soft whiteness to the east told him that this planet had at least one moon.  He gazed at the stars twinkling overhead.  

“Nearby animals harmless,” Tigerman said, misinterpreting what Buck had meant.  

“Those back home were, too.  There were too many people, so there were just insects, frogs and birds.   Had an occasional raccoon but they mainly wanted what the cats left behind in their dishes.” 

Tigerman grunted, but didn’t say anything. 

Buck laughed as he paced back to Tigerman.  “The mosquitoes were the worst things that lived in my parents’ neighborhood, unless you counted Bailey Cranshaw, the neighborhood bully.  That was the old neighborhood.  Down near State.  He really was a dangerous animal.”  Buck felt his chest grow tight and he quit talking, sitting down to catch his breath.  He was just babbling anyway.  Suddenly the heat flared in his body again and he shuddered.  He sat quietly, his back against a boulder and tried to suppress the dizziness that accompanied the heat.  Buck saw the stars waver and then the world went black. 

                   

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When the moon rose, it bathed the river with an ethereal glow.  Dark shadows danced on the ground around him as the limbs of the trees swayed in the light breeze.  Hawk adjusted his night lenses and got up, brushing leaves from his prison clothes.  

He turned back to the dark plateau.  “Make-Make palaianu et elestanu,” he murmured and then turned toward the spaceport.  God go with you, he echoed in his mind.  

Hawk made good time and several hours before sunrise, he was watching the activities of the spaceport with interest.  The rail cargo tracks went right into the huge hangar bay and the crillite containers were loaded into the various spacecraft by androids.  

They did not trust the gems to human pilots, he noted.  That was good, he thought in satisfaction.  That would make commandeering a ship that much easier.  He would still have to be careful.  If they had any inkling that a humanoid had taken a ship, it would cause an investigation that would conceivably lead back to Buck and Tigerman.  He couldn’t allow that to happen.  

The sun came up and Hawk watched, seeing how they loaded the cargo, how many guards there were, how many androids, what type of ships and how many of them.  He got a feel for the schedule and the best way to initiate his planetary escape.  He was anxious to leave quickly, but would not do anything premature that would endanger his chances of success.  

Hawk noted that the least busy time was the same time that he had first arrived, the early hours before dawn.  There were no rail shipments, and only cursory work on waiting ships.  In the afternoon, Hawk took a quick break to go back into the forest and get something to eat and drink.  Then it dawned on him.  He had easily fooled other guards when he was dressed as a guard.  If he could get a uniform he could fool them again.  But Hawk would have to do it without somehow arousing suspicion. 

He waited in the shade until the sun set and then slipped into the outskirts of the little town.  It seemed to be built with the purpose of entertaining off duty guards as well as being a shipping terminus. 

In the dark alleys, Hawk was almost invisible as he flitted silently from building to building.  He passed brothels, but there were too many people and it was too noisy.  He bypassed the taverns and casinos.  Finally as the hours passed, Hawk was drawn back to the brothel nearest the spaceport.  It was quieting down as drunken guards, after having their pleasure, fell into deep sleep, their companions by their sides. 

He had watched from a window as one guard hurriedly undressed, and saw that the human had the same build as himself.  Hawk sat outside in the shadows, waiting until the muted giggles, moans and rustling turned to the deep breathing and snores of heavy sleep.  At the same time the birdman wondered at the use of this planet.  It seemed that it was verdant and abundant in its plant-life, the soil rich and yet the spaceport was the only manifestation of humanoid activity.  That and the horrible life that existed several hundred feet underground.  

The mountains had enough to sustain his village on Throm, while the lowlands could grow crops for cities.  Hawk shook his head unable to figure out the thinking of the inhabitants on this planet.  

Adjusting his night vision goggles, Hawk quickly peered in the open window.  Thankfully, it stayed fairly warm at night and there seemed to be no extra money spent on comforts that humans liked such as temperature controlled air.  All to the advantage of what he needed to do.   With almost no sound, Hawk climbed over the windowsill and slipped inside.  The guard’s pants, shirt and jacket were hanging on a bedpost, the helmet sat on a chair.  Quickly, Hawk grabbed all four items and slipped back out again, staying in the shadows until he was well away from the building.  

Back in the brush, Hawk changed into the guard’s uniform carefully settling the helmet on until all vestiges of his head feathers were hidden.  Scanning the area around the cargo ships, Hawk finally walked out of the brush and through a gate guarded by only one man.  

“What were you doing out there?” the guard demanded.  “It’s after curfew.” 

Hawk hesitated a moment, trying to come up with something plausible to say.

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-two
Forerunners of Bosk Prologue
Buck Rogers Contents
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