Forerunners of Bosk

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-six

 

 

Hawk pondered Dreesis’ statement for a few seconds before answering.  “I assumed as much.”  Again, he pondered.  “Which ships are the least heavily guarded?” 

“Those taking workers to pleasure planets.”

“Passenger shuttles?” 

“Yes,” Dreesis replied. 

“I have a uniform.  Would it be possible to simply be a guard on leave?” Hawk asked. 

“The guards are watched closely, too.” 

“I should think with careful timing I could take a real guard’s place.”  

“Perhaps, but how would you proceed when you reach Loris or Zanon?” Dreesis asked. 

Hawk thought some more.  “How are these pleasure ships piloted?  Androids?” 

“No, usually the pilots are older, retired cargo ship operators,” Dreesis replied. 

“Then I hijack a pleasure shuttle.” 

“There is usually a co-pilot,” Dreesis pointed out. 

Hawk frowned.  “I would think a disillusioned pilot may not be as hard to persuade as one might think,” Hawk said thoughtfully. 

“Perhaps that is the best way.  I do know that cargo ships are very carefully guarded as they contain partially prepared gem stones,” Dreesis said.   

“Does Grallion get shipments from planets other than Bosk?” Hawk asked. 

“Yes, shipments come from several planets in this and the next quadrant.  The various gems and ores are sorted and then sent on to the buyers in other quadrants, usually brokerage house for gems and precious ores,” Dreesis explained.  

Hawk realized just how fortunate he had been to not be caught.  “I believe you are right. Stealing a passenger shuttle is the best way.  Unless some better opportunity comes along.” 

“I think today we will work near the passenger terminal,” Dreesis said with a smile.  

“Then you do not have permanent employment?” 

“No, most of us report in the mornings and if we are picked we work; if we aren’t, we don’t,” Dreesis said matter-of-factly.

Hawk, Dreesis, Willen and Tris walked sandy paths to the spaceport, their hoods low over their faces to protect them from winds that were already kicking up.  They were selected for the work pool and as he worked, Hawk watched.  He saw and heard guards from Bosk.  They were still talking about the ‘great escape.’  It didn’t matter to them that the administrator considered the attempt to be a failure; it had happened and if it happened once, it could happen again. 

He watched loading and launch procedures, he watched the pilots, who indeed, did seem to be older men for the most part.  Plans began forming in his head.  The second day, Hawk was sure he could successfully hijack a shuttle and that night, he outlined his plan to Dreesis.  

“Pilots are carefully identified before every flight,” the desert dweller pointed out.  “And they are rotated often, so you might not get the chance to learn the habits of your selected pilot.” 

“But the identification process is performed only at the terminal, and that is just cursorily done, depending simply on a show of the identification card.   There did not seem to be any checks done on board the shuttle.  It should not be a difficult thing to make a switch with the pilot before the launch,” Hawk said.

“Especially if there is a diversion.”  Dreesis smiled.  “There is still risk, but I think your idea will succeed.” 

“Yes, I think that perhaps one more day to check out the final details will be enough,” Hawk said.

   

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Buck came to awareness staring at a canister in his still manacled hands.  

“Get moving prisoner,” a guard growled, prodding him with an un-activated stun stick.  

He didn’t remember getting here; didn’t remember anything beyond Beros’ revelation.  But here he was in the loading area, with a canister filled with crillite in his hands.  In the cargo area, in the mines on Bosk, on garox.  He sucked in a tremulous breath and followed the prisoner in front of him.  What happened?  How long has it been since Beros’ office? Buck wondered.   He played back the harsh revelation and pondered it as he loaded the canister into a transport bin that would be sent up the cargo elevator.  What had Beros said?  No cure for the addiction?  That couldn’t be right!  Buck had no doubt it would be tough and that it would take time, but no cure at all?  That was hard to believe.   This was the twenty-fifth century, for crying out loud! 

At a direction from a guard, Buck shuffled back to the line of canisters and picked up another.  A soft grunt to his left caused him to look up, where he saw Tigerman gazing at him.  He nodded to the felinoid and then continued with the task at hand.  Buck noticed that Tigerman was shackled as well.  Made working a real pain, he thought, but there was nothing to be done about it.  Not now, anyway.  

This continued for some time until the guards prodded he and Tigerman out of line and toward the cellblock.  At one only slightly bigger cell than what he had lived in before, Buck was ordered in.  To his surprise, Tigerman followed.  The terran was indignant, but his partner laid a hand on his arm and shook his head slightly.  Buck took a deep breath and forced himself to calm down.  Their cell seemed to be a little distance away from the rest of the inhabitants of the cellblock, so perhaps he could get an explanation from Tigerman later.  A privileged brought two bowls and a drink of water and shoved them under the bars.  Tigerman picked the bowls up and handed one to Buck.  It was the same stuff he had eaten from almost the first day here, but this meal didn’t even have any bread with it. He glanced at Tigerman and saw him fishing out the few chunks of vegetables with his fingers.  Buck drank some of the juice before doing the same thing. 

Too soon the meal was done and Buck leaned back against the cold stone wall.  Tigerman tapped him on the shoulder and motioned for him to lie down.  Buck suspected that for however long he had been out of it, Tigerman had let him use the bench bed.  He shook his head and got up, inviting the Rrilling to have bed privileges this night.  Tigerman looked at him steadily for a moment and then grinned toothily at him.  He promptly lay down, arranging his manacles to allow for a semi-comfortable position, and then quickly went to sleep.  Buck laid his head against the wall and tried to think of something a bit optimistic about this whole situation.  There wasn’t much.  But at least Hawk had escaped and Buck knew that eventually his friend would bring help.  Surely Dr. Goodfellow would be able to find something to break him out of this garox addiction.  The old doctor had reversed the satyr effect.  

A slight noise caused him to look up.  In the shadows Buck saw Ril.  The guard smiled softly, nodded and then walked off.  Buck wondered about Ril, wondered how someone who obviously cared about the prisoners could continue to work in a place like this.  With a slight shrug, Buck quit worrying about it.  He was tired.  With a sigh, he tried to get comfortable, but the manacles, the hard floor and the cold kept him from fully sleeping.  He dozed fitfully, often waking, shivering, from dreams where garox took on demonic form.  One time when he awoke, he found a blanket at his feet and he looked at Tigerman, who still slept soundly, his soft snores occasionally punctuated by deep sighing breaths.  There was a blanket at the foot of his bench and Buck wondered who their mysterious benefactor might be.  Ril?   Whoever it was, Buck was grateful. 

He got up, feeling stiff and sore and unfolded the blanket, trying to keep the clinking of his chains to a minimum.  He covered Tigerman and then turned back to his own spot in the cell.  A hand stopped him and he turned back to see Tigerman regarding him steadily. 

“Someone left us some blankets,” he whispered. 

Tigerman nodded.  “You are awake,” he murmured. 

“Yeah, floor’s cold,” Buck said with a slight grin. 

“No, awake,” Tigerman said, this time reaching out and touching Buck on the forehead with one finger.  

Understanding, Buck sighed and said, “How long?” 

Tigerman held up two fingers.  

Buck grimaced.  “Two days?”  He sighed.  “Thanks for taking care of me, pal.  I owe you another one.” 

Tigerman nodded, grinned and then lay back down, pulling the blanket around him.  Soon he was softly snoring once more.  

Buck settled himself on the floor, again trying to get as comfortable as possible.  He drew the blanket around his body.  Soon, he too, was dozing off, his exhaustion overcoming his discomfort. 

   

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Kane heard the report from his androids and smiled.  Her Royal Highness was having no success.  As with every other venture she had undertaken of late, this one was also showing signs of failure.  Soon she would be coming back, defeated by the mazelike nuances of interstellar slave business and then she would be wed to him.  

Kane smiled.  Ah, and this would not be like what they had planned for Buck Rogers’ wedding.  No collar, no consort status.  Draco, himself, had ordered this wedding.  He, Kane, once of Earth, would be second only to Emperor Draco in power.  

Reading the report again, Kane noted that Ardala was in the Krexis quadrant.  Good, she should get no leads there.  Small quadrant, not too large a slave terminus.   Smiling again, Kane gazed at the wedding outfit hanging in his closet.  Marriage into the royal family.  It was something for which he had been dreaming for a long time.  After an appropriate time, he would begin the process of ascension into the emperorship.  After he was emperor, he would conquer Earth.  Then he would deal with Huer, Deering and yes—Buck Rogers.

   

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Ril tried to remember what Rogers had taught him.  He had the dribbling down pretty good, he could make the ‘basket’ shots into the goals he had installed on each end of the recreation room, based on what the prisoner had told him, but he had trouble with the competition part.  Ril simply couldn’t remember the blocking and passing rules and consequently couldn’t give the information to his fellow guards.  The games ended up as free-for-alls that frustrated everyone. 

Finally Ril went to see the doctor.  “Is there anyway to get prisoner twelve-sixteen out of cargo and in an assignment that would allow him to teach us this game?” 

The doctor looked in his records and then shook his head.  “There is no way I can talk the administrator to agree to change the assignment.  Not for this one.”  

Ril lowered his voice.  “Dr. Burrows, any medical reason?”  He knew he was taking a chance, but he had come to trust the doctor.  Ril believed that the doctor even felt the same way he did on many of the things that went on in the mines.  

The doctor studied Ril for a moment, and then he nodded.  “I’ll see.” 

“Thanks, the guys really want something that will take their minds away from the job occasionally, and I think they would like this game.  Someone even suggested having matches with prisoners, although I think a blind Vegan pelatine would have a better chance of negotiating the mines than that happening.  But we need something, Doctor.”  Ril lowered his voice even lower.  “Did you know that some of the men even bet on the three prisoners to make good on their escape?  They are unhappy, Doctor.  If I didn’t half believe the rumors about what happens to those who quit, I would have been out of here a year ago.” 

Burrows remembered something else he had been told just that morning.  At the time he had been told, it had irritated him greatly.  An occurrence like that was not something to be ignored.  “It was my understanding that the prisoner in question seemed to have suffered some sort of nervous breakdown.”  

“Or something like that, but last night, he acknowledged me and seemed very much aware of his surroundings,” Ril said.  

“That’s good,” the doctor said.  Perhaps this report he had received would be just the excuse he needed to help Ril and the other guards.  And the prisoner, as well.  He sighed.  It was like walking a tightrope, feeling compassion for anyone in a place like this, and yet, that was what he was trained to do.  Care for people.  He sighed again.  “You know, it’s so much easier when you can shut out what’s going on around you.  Safer for your peace of mind.” 

“You talking about the prisoner or us, Doctor?” Ril asked.  

Burrows just sighed again, but didn’t answer.  

Ril smiled softly, but there was no humor there.  “I know what you are talking about.  But we can’t shut things out forever.” 

“I know,” Burrows said softly.  He had been in the mines only slightly longer than the guard had been.  After Ril Mentua left, Burrows worked on a strategy to get twelve-sixteen in his office.   Just calling him in, regardless of the fact that the man had suffered a temporary mental breakdown of sorts, might still be suspect, but it was almost time for prison board inspections.  The mandated inspections were company policy, but mostly they were considered frills and fluff to make the reports look good for the company big shots, local authorities and the quadrant prison officials.   He made the inspections, made recommendations and was generally ignored.  

Burrows typed the information into his computer and found that it was, indeed, time for the inspections.  He would begin early the next morning.  It would take several days, but eventually he would see the prisoner that so interested Ril.   In so doing, maybe he would be able to avert a disaster that the doctor felt had been brewing for the past few years.  

On the second day, when the prisoners in the loading bay were just finishing their shifts and being escorted to their dinner and cells, Burrows showed up for his inspection.  He knew he would have to come back to finish the next day, but he wanted to see if what Ril had told him was accurate.   Burrows saw twelve-sixteen escorted to a cell, his manacles rattling mournfully.  Then to his astonishment, another prisoner was escorted in with him.  The cell had only one bench and only a tiny bit more space than a normal cell.  A privileged brought their dinner, a bowl of soup for each man, shoving it under the bars.  

Burrows was appalled, but he said nothing.  He took notes for his report, and then gazed at the two prisoners again.  Obviously, the Rrilling was the one who escaped with twelve-sixteen.  The human was watching him, ignoring the pitiful repast in his hands.  Nodding, Burrows took a few more notes and then left.  He felt he had enough to affect the terran’s release from this part of the mine.  At the very least, he could take care of the atrocity of two men in a cell that was only five and a half feet by seven feet.  

He continued through the mine, taking notes, asking a few questions and then he went back to his office.  Burrows could not help but wonder if there was more to the terran and Rrilling’s punishments than the foiled escape attempt.  He had noticed the prolonged probationary restrictions and was taken aback.  Well over three months and still on restrictions?  And this was decided before the attempted escape.   Burrows dug some more through the notes, totally forgetting his own dinner, forgetting his fatigue.

 

 

Chapter Twenty-seven
Forerunners of Bosk Prologue
Buck Rogers Contents
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