Forerunners of Bosk

 

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-Two

 

 

Hawk remembered a story Buck had told him.  “Uh, it was too far to the, uh, head,” he stammered, hoping his hesitation sounded like embarrassment. 

The human laughed.  “Especially after drinking some of that fresh Frimolian beer!” 

Hawk nodded.  

“Well, get back on duty,” the guard ordered. 

“Yessir,” Hawk replied in his best imitation of a human subordinate and walked toward the ships.  There he found sensors calibrated to detect humanoid presence.  That would pose a problem, he thought, but he also saw a checklist of sorts and studying it, realized that he could do the scans and make the proper notations.   For the next hour, Hawk studied the equipment, the ships and the field, including the rail cargo terminus.  He walked from one area to the other, just as he imagined the legitimate guard would.  And indeed, near the perimeter of the spaceport, he saw other guards patrolling.  

Finally, when he determined it was near dawn, Hawk turned on the power to the scanner and began examining each ship.  He was thorough and after each one, made the notation showing that a scan was done without any indication of intruders or unauthorized humanoids.  Then he powered down the machine.  He only hoped that the guard who was supposed to do this job would not be someone of a suspicious nature.  Most he had seen seemed very lax in their duties.  

At the ship nearest the rail terminus, Hawk walked inside and checked out the cargo area.  This one was already loaded and apparently ready to take off after sunrise.  He checked for a good hiding place, one that would allow him quick access to the controls if he were discovered.  Once he began this sequence of events, there would be no turning back. 

Hawk found no particular place that totally satisfied him, but he finally settled on one that was entirely shadowed, allowing him, in his dark uniform, to blend in to the background.  He hunched down and tried to make himself as comfortable as possible.  A cargo canister partially obscured him from the view of not only the hatch, but the android, whenever it showed up.  

He waited patiently and was gratified to see the android coming through the doorway of the cargo ship.  Hawk almost quit breathing, sitting stock-still.  The android closed the hatch and dogged it, then it went to the pilot’s chair and began the preflight sequence.  Soon Hawk felt the engines come on line and the pre-catapult countdown commenced.  With a sudden jerk, the ship shot out of the hanger and into the upper atmosphere.  

They were away.  Still Hawk waited, not wanting to do anything until they were near the stargate.  He only moved enough to keep the circulations in his legs.  After what seemed an interminable time, the android began programming in the numbers for the trip through the first stargate.  Slowly, Hawk stood, watching the pilot intently.  As the craft went through the stargate, Hawk struck, jerking the android’s head in such a way to disable it temporarily.  It slumped limply on the seat, its hands twitching.  Hawk pulled the robotic creature from the chair, dumping it on the floor.  He studied the inner workings and made some adjustments to the android’s programming.  Then he got into the pilot’s chair and took over the controls.  As the ship approached the planet showing in his view screen, Hawk put the controls into manual mode and made a slight deviation.  The radio immediately erupted into terse commands to relinquish control to surface tractor beams, and queries, but he ignored it, sending the craft into a wobbly roll, something indicative of a spaceship out of control.  Then as the red-gold desert appeared in his view screen, he deftly worked the controls, guiding the ship erratically, but surely to a point near the edge of the desert where he could not only get away, but be able to walk to the spaceport before the sun could have any effect on him. 

The ground loomed closer.  The communications were more strident and frantic.  Hawk ignored them, concentrating instead on landing the ship.  The winds were capricious, jerking the ship from side to side and Hawk understood why this port authority had insisted on using a tractor beam landing.  With a horrifying rending of metal, the ship struck the surface, sending sandy soil flying everywhere, and plowing a furrow that no one could miss.  

Finally, the ship shuddered to a stop, its bulkheads dented on one side, torn open on the other.  Hot blasting air reached him and Hawk knew it wasn’t entirely the backwash of the ship’s engines.  Quickly, he located the android that had been flung to one side of the ship.  He had wanted to put him back into the pilot’s chair, but one look at the robot and he decided against it.  One of the cargo bins had been jerked loose from its cradle and had rolled over the hapless creature.  Hawk decided there were no clues that could come from the android now as to what had happened on this ship.  

Knowing that the gem dealers would have recovery efforts underway almost before the ship had crashed, Hawk crawled out of the ship through the torn bulkhead, shading his eyes against the heat and intense sunlight.  He gazed toward the spaceport and, despite the wind and thick dust, saw vehicles already on their way to his position.  There was a rock formation close by and Hawk headed for it, shielding his face from the brunt of the wind.  He would find shelter; wait until nightfall and then sneak into the spaceport, hoping that sometime soon, the wind would ease up.  Within minutes, he found a crevice that sheltered him from the worst of the blowing dust and Hawk squeezed into it.  Not knowing what planet he was on was the most pressing problem he had right now.  That was his first priority when he got to the spaceport.  

The wind caught his head feathers and ruffled them.  Despite his discomfort, Hawk felt a touch of euphoria.  The air was hot and gritty; he was banged up after a less than stellar crash landing, but he was essentially free.  He only needed to get to the town and he could find out what he needed to know, then obtain a ship and chart a course to Cronis, where he could find the whereabouts of the Searcher.  Then Buck, Tigerman and the other prisoners could be rescued from the hell they had been stuck in for the past months. 

Over the howling of the wind, Hawk heard the grinding noise of well-used land vehicles.  Then he heard voices, and listened intently.  They came and went with the flow of the wind, but seemed to indicate that the consensus was android malfunction.  Hawk smiled in satisfaction.  Something was going right for a change.  

As the sun set, the vehicles began heading back to the spaceport with their cargo of crillite gems.  The wind began to die down and Hawk ventured out of his hiding place.  His limbs were cramped and sore and he felt exhausted, but he still went back into the wrecked ship and dug around for anything that might be useful.  There was very little.  After all, what would an android need with food, water or night lenses? 

Hawk did find a laser pistol and, surprisingly he found a couple of crillite gems lying innocently near the android’s body.  Obviously one of the containers had been slightly ruptured and these few gems had been missed in the ‘clean-up.’  Maybe they had planned a more thorough salvage later.   Regardless, Hawk knew these crillite gems, even though rough and uncut, would be valuable to someone.  They would perhaps be his means of bartering for passage on a ship to Cronis or Throm.  He put them in his pocket then looked around for more.  Dragging the android aside, Hawk was surprised to find several more gems.  That many lying around seemed more than coincidental and he examined the android even closer.   The chest compartment was broken open and Hawk saw a pouch hidden inside the cavity.  In the pouch was a king’s ransom in rough-cut crillite gems.  

Hawk realized that despite the safeguards, someone had figured out a way to smuggle crillite off Bosk.  He also realized that whomever these were intended for would want to come and collect their gems at the soonest possible moment.  He would have to leave quickly and cover any evidence of his presence.  The laser, he would keep.  The pouch and android were returned to their original places.   Hawk also kept the two gemstones he had originally found.  Despite the risk, he had to have something he could use for trade.  He only hoped that the confusion of the crash as well as the very nature of this being contraband would prevent anyone from figuring that there should be more gems.  Finding nothing else of use, Hawk left the ship.  He found a long-stemmed bush near the outcropping of rocks and uprooted it, using it to brush away his footprints in case the smugglers showed up before the next wind storm could wipe them out.  

With the lights of the nearby spaceport and city to guide him, Hawk set out.  The air quickly turned chilly and he was glad for the jacket he had confiscated on Bosk.  When he was about halfway to the city, Hawk heard the muted throb of a land vehicle’s engine.  Soon he saw softly gleaming lights and he made his way to another outcropping of rock where he crouched to hide.  The vehicle came closer and closer and then sped on by.  Before it reached the crashed ship, Hawk set out again, sincerely grateful for the moonless night. 

Although walking in the sand was exhausting, the Tane-rapanui still made excellent time and was on the outskirts of the small city several hours before the sun rose.  As before, Hawk surveyed the area, but unlike his time on Bosk, he only did so for a short time.  He couldn’t afford to be out in this desert, in the sun, for very long.  He was already thirsty and it wouldn’t do to get dehydrated. 

It seemed to be a town like the other one, based on the spaceport business plus some other industrial activity he couldn’t determine right now.  There were warehouses, offices and some service oriented businesses.  What few people he saw out at this hour seemed to be a mixed lot of humans and non-humans, the latter more appropriately garbed for the desert setting.  Their garments were lose and flowing with cowled hoods.  Most appropriate, Hawk thought.   He only hoped he could find a set of the desert garb without experiencing much trouble.   He crept through dark alleyways that separated stone or adobe-like houses.  In a section of town he was in, the dwellings were plain, but like those of his own people when they had retreated to life in the mountains, they served the purpose.  Window coverings were cloth or plastic tacked over open holes.  Doorways were simply bigger versions of window with blanket coverings.  No ornamentation, no modern conveniences.  

Hawk scouted several streets but found no shops.  He listened and heard distant notes of a song, one made by electronic equipment or a very raucous band.   Setting off in that direction, not sure he wanted to find out what was there, Hawk nevertheless realized that he wasn’t finding anything here in this part of the spaceport town.  As he got closer to the source of the sound, the huts became even more decrepit, if that was possible.  Suddenly Hawk heard a soft rustling noise nearby and looked down to see an enshrouded form almost at his feet.  He bent down to check out the humanoid and felt the end of a pistol barrel in his ribs.  Kiris aniopilo! (stupid!) he cursed silently.  To have been so negligent after all this. 

“Into the hut,” a high-pitched voice hissed softly.  “Now, or I’ll blow your head off and then rob you.”  With a sigh, Hawk complied. 

 

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Buck felt someone holding his head up, forcing something into his mouth.  Water!  Part of him was eager for the cool drink, eager for anything to quench the fire inside him, but another part of him, his rebellious stomach, wasn’t.  He coughed and choked, almost gagging when the pain threatened to overwhelm him.  Some of the water splashed on his face and that felt much better.  He opened his eyes and saw Ril, the guard, and Tigerman kneeling over him, and he groaned, his disappointment bitter.  He knew he was going to be captured, but knowing and experiencing were two different things. 

“Buck Rogers,” Ril said softly.  “I have a dosage of garox that will alleviate all this, but I wanted to let it be your decision.  If you don’t get the dosage, you will most likely be dead before we get you back to the mines.  You will be free, though.  Free of the caves, of Beros, and free of pain.” 

Buck saw caring in the expressive brown eyes and he was tempted.  But he remembered what Hawk was doing, he saw Wilma’s face in his mind’s eye and he saw Tigerman taking the brunt of the punishment.  Hawk would bring rescue for them all. “The medicine,” he choked out, feeling his world waver once more. 

Ril nodded and pulled out the little vial from his pocket.  He popped the cap and heard the hiss that indicated the vial was ready.  Ril pulled up Rogers’ sleeve and held the vial against the terran’s skin.  He knew the garox had entered the prisoner’s system when the vial changed color.  Rogers’ remained motionless. 

His men milled around, out of hearing range, discussing the capture, the punishment of the prisoners, the wilderness around them.  They speculated on the whereabouts of the third prisoner, often turning and gazing into the dark wilderness for someone lurking just out of sight.  Ril listened to them, but his gaze remained on the prisoner.   He also wondered where the birdman was, thinking that the prisoner would not leave his friends under normal circumstances.  However, Ril would have to wait until the terran came back to full consciousness. 

Buck felt a cessation of the burning heat, a slight easing of the pain.  His mind seemed to be a kaleidoscope of images and sounds.  He saw Hawk sprawled out on a ledge where he had fallen, and Buck cried in his shock and despair.  “HAWK!” 

“Where is Hawk?” Ril asked, hearing the anguish in the prisoner’s voice.  He knew that Rogers was referring to the birdman, even though he had not looked up the prisoner’s name. 

“Cliff . . . fell,” Buck replied with a moan.  Then full memory returned and he shook his head to clear the horrifying realistic seeming vision he had seen.  That had been too vivid, he thought.  But his unreality reaction seemed to serve a greater purpose. 

“Check over the cliff,” Ril ordered.  

A few minutes passed and Buck felt his mental capacities almost back to normal.  He hid his relief at Hawk’s well being from Ril and the others, affecting a mask of grief and anguish.  

“Yessir, there appears to be a body down there,” one of the younger guards said.  “Looks like his rope broke or came loose.” 

“Dead?” Ril asked. 

“Appears that way, sir,” the observer replied.  “You want me to go down and check?” 

Buck felt a surge of panic, but it was Tigerman who actually make the next move.  With various signs he indicated that he had gone down to check, almost slipping himself, as he did so.  

Ril watched carefully, then he turned to his subordinate.  “No, Macon.”  He looked at Buck who was now sitting up and watching him.  “But even a prisoner deserves a burial of some kind.”  

Again Buck felt a surge of fear and he searched his mind for something that would keep these men from investigating and finding out the truth.  Then he remembered some history, especially that of various Indian tribes.   “His people lay the bodies of their dead on slabs of rock in the heights.”  He paused and sighed, hoping he sounded mournful.    “So I suppose he is where he would want to be, anyway.”  Buck paused again.  “He was the last of his people,” he added sadly. 

Ril studied him for a moment and then nodded.  He walked over to the cliff and looked down, pulling his sunshades over his eyes to deflect the worst of the sun’s rays.  Small binoculars in his jacket jabbed him uncomfortably and he pulled them out.  The body came into sharp, close focus and Ril examined it.  Something didn’t seem completely right, so he continued to examine it.  Then it dawned on him.  It was a dummy.  But why?  Then he snorted in self-derision.  So the birdman would be free, that’s why.  He knew little about bird people, but he did know of their loathing of confinement.  Ril turned and looked curiously at the two prisoners.  Somehow, he felt Rogers had figured out during the escape that he would be unable to make it off planet, but they had still set up the birdman’s death and the Rrilling had stayed when the terran became too debilitated to go on.  

But would the birdman be content to simply escape or would he be laying in ambush?  Ril wasn’t sure, so he would take precautions on the way back to the mines.  “Merrick, Griff, get ready to head back to the mines.  You two will walk behind.  Watch for animals.  Somehow they smell sickness and between this prisoner’s illness and the birdman’s death, they could be congregating as we speak.  Be ready to shoot to kill if you hear anything.”  That should give fair warning if the birdman is watching.  “Macon, you will walk alongside prisoner twenty forty-one when the trail allows it and I’ll walking next to this one.” 

Ril held his hand out to Buck.  “We need to get started, if you are ready.   So we can get back before your next dosage is due.” 

Buck took the outstretched hand.  As Ril helped him up, he wondered if the guard suspected their subterfuge.  Somehow, he thought Ril did.  It was just the way he acted, but there was nothing to be done about it now.  “I’m okay to go,” he said, hoping that whatever Ril did or whatever he said when they got back to the mines, Hawk would be well away by that time.

 

 

Chapter Twenty-three
Forerunners of Bosk Prologue
Buck Rogers Contents
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