Forerunners of Bosk

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-seven 

 

 

The next morning two guards delivered twelve-sixteen to his office.  The man stood quietly, manacled and flanked by two guards.  “You can wait outside,” Dr. Burrows told them. 

“At least one guard has to be within visual contact of the prisoner at all times, Doctor,” one of the guards stated.  “The administrator’s orders.” 

Irritation flared.  “And this is doctor’s orders, gentlemen.”  He paused.  “Wait outside!  The man is not going anywhere.”  He pointed to the manacles.  “There is only one way out of my office.  You wait outside, lasers drawn, if need be,” he ordered.  The two men hesitated. “I have authority in this matter,” Burrows added, his irritation growing.  “And I have the right to conduct an exam in private.”  Still they hesitated.  His patience was growing thin.  “And I am the only person in these mines who can supercede the orders of the administrator.  Now get out!” 

They got. 

Burrows studied the prisoner a moment before pointing to the exam bed.   

“Might be a bit difficult with the manacles, Doc.” 

Burrows eyed him carefully before answering.  “You load canisters all day in those things, surely a short hop on an exam table….” 

The prisoner smiled and walk/shuffled to the table.  “Touché, Doc.”  With only slight difficulty he got up on the table.  “Actually, it’s good to take a load off for a few.”  He paused a beat.  “What am I in here for?” 

Burrows smiled softly.  “Just what I told the guards . . . an exam. I didn’t like what I saw down in your cellblock.” 

Buck snorted.  “Only what I would expect.” 

“Twenty-four hour confinement in chains, sharing a cell only big enough for one prisoner, with another one. Inadequate food.” 

“Oh, but I get the garox regularly,” Buck retorted, his voice bitter.  

“I’m sorry.” 

“Yeah, me, too.” 

Burrows examined twelve-sixteen’s ankles and wrists and found them abraded, and in spots, with open wounds.  He took a blood sample but was sure he knew what the results would be.  “Have you had your dose yet?” 

“No.” 

Burrows nodded and pulled a vial of garox out of his cabinet. 

“You can’t imagine how much I loathe letting you do this,” Buck said. 

Burrows paused and gazed meaningfully at the prisoner.  “You can’t imagine how much I detest having to do it.” 

Buck studied the doctor intently before saying anything.  “I believe you do,” he replied, his voice subdued. 

Burrows gave twelve-sixteen his dosage and then studied the results of the blood test.  “I am pulling you off full-time cargo and putting you on maintenance.  I am also putting you in a cell of your own.” 

“Maintenance?”  Buck looked puzzled.  “What for?” 

“I need to keep a closer eye on you.  Your blood count is low, you are deficient in several important minerals, among other things, and you have several infected wounds.” 

Buck looked down at his ankles and then looked back up at the doctor.  “I don’t get it,” he said suspiciously.   

“Don’t worry about it.  Your change in assignment will benefit the morale of more than yourself.” 

Buck decided not to question his bettering fortune and shrugged.  If he was being set up for some kind of fall, he would still enjoy this brief respite while he had it.  “Whatever.  But what about Tigerman?” 

“Tigerman?” the doctor asked.  “Or do you mean your cell mate, the Rrilling?” 

“Yes.” 

“I am recommending a bit more nutritious meal and I’ll examine him, too.” 

“But what if the administration likes to see its enemies die slowly?” Buck asked sarcastically. 

“Beros is already getting that with the garox inflicted prisoners,” Burrows said bluntly.  “I don’t think he is as interested in the non-humans like the Rrilling.”  

“Maybe, but I think he likes his sadism in big chunks.” 

Burrows blinked in astonishment, then he looked a bit anxious.  Finally with a hint of a smile, he said softly.  “I think you’d be better off keeping such thoughts to yourself, prisoner.” 

“I am Captain Buck Rogers, and how the hell more trouble could I be in?” he asked indignantly, holding his shackled hands up for emphasis.  “I have no future, the present stinks.  So if I irritate anyone here, I’m dead.  Is that such a bad deal?”   His eyes were earnest. 

Burrows sighed.  “I suppose not,” he admitted.  “But you seem more fighter than quitter, even under these circumstances.” 

“I don’t know.  I kind of blew my gasket there for a couple of days,” Buck replied.  He was beginning to feel somewhat comfortable with the doctor, much as he did around Ril.  Then he wondered if it was Ril that not only gave him and Tigerman the blankets but put a bug in the doctor’s ear.  

“I am Doctor Cole Burrows, by the way,” the doctor said, breaking Buck’s reverie.  “I don’t know if I can do anything about the restraints other than to treat the abrasions, but I can help with the other.  I have a bit of say in certain matters.”  

“Until you’re replaced,” Buck said meaningfully.  “Be careful, Doc.” 

Burrows just nodded as he began treating Buck’s abrasions. 

The next day, Buck was in the recreation room, cleaning.  He gazed at the privileged, who was instructing him.  “I go through four years of college for this?” he muttered, holding the stale-smelling mop at arm’s length.  

The privileged, the one that had introduced himself to Buck so long ago, answered, “Worse than loading cargo canisters?” 

“I see your point,” Buck admitted.  

Beros came by during one of his cleaning sessions and watched.   

Buck made sure he put on a hangdog, disgruntled act, knowing it would please the administrator.  The manacles made it quite easy to give such a performance. Realistically, Buck knew that if the director thought he was more discomfited than usual, Beros mostly likely wouldn’t be using his time trying to make life even more miserable for him.  

Buck wondered why the administrator didn’t just kill him outright.  It seemed to him that Beros had seriously wanted to when he had been recaptured, but had restrained himself.  He wondered if there was more to his kidnapping than a simple snatch and slam-dunk into a prison.  He certainly wasn’t doing anything that couldn’t be done by any half-starved prisoner.   Could there be someone else pulling strings, someone else with a vested interest in his prolonged incarceration?  Erik Kormand?  He had heard of inmates with a great deal of clout, even from a prison cell.  Or one of Kormand’s key flunkies.  

And Buck realistically knew that he didn’t have to act his down-and-out demeanor for the administrator that much.  The border between optimism and depression was extremely thin now.  And it didn’t help that Beros brought him into his office almost daily to gloat over him.  There were times when Buck had caught himself contemplating suicide, something that would have been abhorrent to him before his time on Bosk.  

 

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Despite Hawk’s optimistic assumptions, there were no opportunities to get aboard an outbound pleasure ship for two weeks.  None of the desert dwellers were hired, security was tightened and Hawk found himself watching over his shoulder for Arator guardsmen.  

Finally, restrictions were lifted somewhat and the desert dwellers were again hired, though in lesser quantities, mainly to load the cargo that had stocked up during the curtailing of outbound flights. The workers were watched constantly.  

“It would seem that someone in the Arator Company was trying to make a private fortune,” Dreesis said during dinner one night. 

“That does not help my situation,” Hawk replied. 

“No.  But in all situations, whether it is of off-world origin or the land itself, we have learned patience.”

“I do not know if my friends can proscribe by that philosophy for much longer,” Hawk said tersely.  

“If they are as resourceful as you are, they will be dealing with their lot patiently as well,” Dreesis said.  

Hawk took a deep breath.  “Yes, I am sure you are right.”  But such thoughts did not give him much comfort.  He had felt some of the administrator’s ire when he had been on Bosk and he knew that Buck had to be bearing the brunt of Beros’ anger.   “Perhaps the next best way would be to pose as a guard on a pleasure trip and simply hijack the shuttle.” 

“It entails much more risk,” Dreesis said. 

“Mainly for you.  I noticed that there are fewer guards being allowed off-planet pleasure furloughs recently.  The shuttles appear to have fewer passengers.” 

“I heard the rumor of something happening on Bosk.  I have heard alternately that there is insurrection there, someone was caught smuggling, or that the government on the other hemisphere is doing something.  Perhaps a combination of several things.” 

“Oh?”  Hawk felt the prickling of alarm.

“I also heard a rumor that the guards were demanding more privileges, but that has happened before without these results,” Dreesis added.   “It has been much harder to get information.”  

“These are all the more reasons to do something soon,” Hawk said determinedly.  

“Perhaps we will find out more if we also find work in some of the eating and drinking establishments that the guards and pilots frequent,” Dreesis’ mate, Loris, suggested.  

Hawk nodded.  “An excellent idea.” 

So for several days and nights, the group haunted not only the spaceport workstations, but also the inner town businesses.  Finally, Hawk felt he could wait no more.   “I have heard of a new group of pilots for the shuttles.  Apparently that was one of the hold-ups in flights.   Not enough pilots for some reason.  There were several rumors in that matter, as well.”  He paused when Loris served him breakfast.   “I will go into the town tonight in my guard uniform.  I will check the new pilots.  I will substitute myself for the one that seems closest to my size and build.”  

“We will keep watch, wherever you go,” Dreesis said.  “When you have chosen, we will guard the human until after you have taken off.” 

“You will keep watch over him, but do not let him see any of you,” Hawk cautioned.  “I would not want there to be recriminations against your people.” 

The desert people nodded.  

That night Hawk walked into the tavern most popular with the pilots, as well as the guards.  It was one where he had worked with Dreesis, washing dishes the day before.  None of the servers recognized him in his Bosk guard’s uniform and they were eager to wait on him.  The two weeks of slow business had hurt all of the local residents.   He spotted several men possessing about his same general build but none were pilots.  He sat nursing a small drink while he waited for more customers to arrive.  The night was still early.  Several pilots walked in and Hawk studied them carefully, walking to a table near where they were sitting so he could listen to their conversation.  Another walked in, a pilot of the same general build as his and sat alone.  After a while, when the man did not join his fellow pilots, Hawk ordered a drink to be taken to the lone pilot.  When the human looked over at him, Hawk smiled and raised his own glass, one that was still virtually untouched.  

The pilot smiled and acknowledged the gift.  Within a few minutes the man had finished his drink and Hawk paid for another, having the waitress extend an invitation for the pilot to join him.  As Hawk hoped, the pilot was quick to do so.  

“What’s the occasion, friend?” the human asked, taking a swallow of Hawk’s gift. 

“My birthday and you looked like good company,” Hawk replied, affecting a smile he didn’t feel.  

“For your birthday, I’ll be excellent company,” the pilot said.  He took another swallow from his glass.  “Just the thought of getting away from this hot, dry hell-hole of a planet is enough to make me happy, too.” 

And for the free drinks, as well, Hawk thought wryly to himself.  He noted that the human was quickly mellowing.

“Where’d you come from?  I don’t recognize you.  From Bosk?” 

“Yes,” Hawk said truthfully.  

“They tell me there’s problems in the mines.  That true?” the human asked, leaning forward conspiratorially. 

“Nothing that cannot be handled,” Hawk replied noncommittally. 

“What happened?” 

Hawk smiled inwardly.  This one was a blatantly curious human.  He decided to take a chance. “Several prisoners escaped.” 

The man’s eyes widened.  “I had heard such rumors, but didn’t know if there was any truth to them.” 

“Yes, there is.  But two of them were recaptured.  The third died.”  Hawk paused for effect.  “It caused some unrest among prisoners and guards.” 

“Some?  Considering that no one has ever escaped from the mines, successfully or not, I can imagine that would cause a stir.”  He took another swallow of this drink.  “And when you consider the eastern continent is amending their constitution to allow them to more easily join the Galactic Council….”  The pilot laughed.  “I hear the company is in a real uproar about that.” 

Hawk just nodded, but that last revelation piqued his interest.  “They do not tell us anything.  What is going on—this amendment?”

“Hear that the eastern continent, Sirilan, is getting a bit crowded. They have their eye on settling the western continent, but up to now the contract with the company has kept anyone off the land.” 

“But the contract is up for renewal,” Hawk guessed. 

The pilot chuckled.  “For someone who’s been kept in the dark, you are pretty sharp.  Yes, and the easterners are in the process of amending their constitution to allow right of settlement.” 

Hawk looked puzzled.  “You mean anyone who wants to settle the land?” 

“Anyone who improves it.”

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-eight
Forerunners of Bosk Prologue
Buck Rogers Contents
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