Forerunners of Bosk

 

 

 

Chapter Three

 

 

Buck awoke to laughter, harsh laughter.  His head pounded and his mouth felt like stale cotton.  Slightly opening his eyes, Buck saw several men standing over him. 

“Well, well, the sleeping prince awakes,” a somewhat familiar voice said.  “You see, Garrott, I told you I had brought you live ones.”   

Buck sat up quickly, instantly regretting that move as the pounding increased to almost unbearable proportions. He rubbed his temples briefly to try and ease the pain.  Seeing Hawk unconscious on the ground near him, he gazed up at his captors. With Flagg was someone else he recognized.  “Getting to be old home week, I see,” he muttered.  “What rock did you crawl out from under, Leegrand?”

“Make your jokes, Rogers.  Soon, however, you won’t be in the mood to make wisecracks.  You’ll be too busy staying alive,” Leegrand said.  He then pointedly ignored Buck and turned to another man, one the terran didn’t recognize.   

Buck began to stand up, but at a motion from Leegrand a guard pointed his pistol and fired, again sending Buck into unconsciousness.  

Leegrand smiled in satisfaction.  “So satisfying,” he murmured.  Turning his attention back to the other man, he said.  “Are your facilities ready for these two?”  

“Absolutely, as my contacts have always been ready for anyone who doesn’t fit into society,” Garrott said with a short laugh.  “I have been wondering why your boss hasn’t utilized our services before now.”  

“Because he preferred more permanent and quicker solutions to getting rid of enemies.   I think he would like this touch, though, especially for these two,” Leegrand explained.   

“Never dealt with a birdman either,” Garrott said.  “For that matter, my contact only has a limited number of non-humans.  Most of them recent.   It will be interesting how well this birdman does.”

“Well enough to suit both of us,” Leegrand replied.   “Of course, if someone comes snooping there will be no evidence of either, correct?”

“They have not had any repercussions to their ‘re-education’ efforts thus far.   You needn’t worry.”

“You don’t know these vermins’ friends.  They are very determined,” Leegrand said tersely.  

“You make sure of your back trail, because if the terran’s friends make it here it will be because you and your men slipped up, not me.”  

“Just get them to Bosk and I’ll feel ever so much better,” Leegrand growled.  Then he began to smile.  “You have no idea, Rogers, none whatsoever.”  He turned back to Garrott.  “I want to accompany you.  I want to see them when they wake up.”  

Garrott just nodded and smiled in return.  These two were prime and would give several decent years of service.  They had better; he had spent a great many credits on them already.  Surreptitiously, he glanced at Erik Kormand’s deputy.  Leegrand had not told him how his boss had ended up in a prison cell in Cronis, nor had he even acknowledged the fact, but rumors like that had a way of getting around and Garrott had heard it from several sources.  He didn’t doubt that somehow these two had some responsibility in Kormand’s capture.   No matter, he thought, they would still work—or die.   Now he smiled.  Actually it was ‘they will work and then die.’  They would never leave Bosk alive.

 

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Hawk felt the cold uneven floor beneath him and he knew, even before he had fully awakened, that he was in a cave.  And within seconds of his first revelation, he knew he had been stripped of his hard outer clothing, his kiripani, or armor of rank.  He felt the shock of that violation to his person no less than he would have a high voltage electric current.   

It was all he could do to keep from jerking up, finding out who had done this unthinkable deed and demand the return of his honor garb.  But instead, he barely opened his eyes, studying his surroundings as surreptitiously as he could.   

It was a cave, almost the size of the Searcher’s recreation room.  It was lit by electrical power, but there the amenities ended.  The walls were rough hewn, the ceilings only tall enough to keep a tall person from hitting his head.  In some places there were fissures and cracks, but the darkness hid how far upward they extended.  The floor, of course, was uncovered, bare stone that held no heat.  A few feet away, Hawk saw Buck sprawled on the cave floor, unconscious.  His flight suit had been changed into something of a non-descript nature, light gray pants and a light gray shirt.  Only his boots had been left on him.  Hawk had no doubt that he was dressed similarly.   

A foot nudged his side.  “I know you’re awake, birdman.  Get up,” a voice commanded.  “And don’t try anything, or you’ll find yourself eating that cave floor.”

Before making any kind of escape attempt, Hawk knew he had to learn more, and he also had to find out Buck’s condition.  Slowly, he got to his feet, his eyes assessing his total surroundings as discreetly as he could.  “Where are we?” he asked.  

A cold-eyed human stood in front of him, a laser pistol precluding any kind of overt movement.  “Birdman, learn something now.”  

“I am Hawk.”  The declaration was as much for himself as for this human.  He was Hawk, Sky Warrior, Star Warrior of the Tane-rapanui.  It was something he had to say even as he knew where he was and what this human was about to say.  He was in a prison, something he had vowed would never happen.  It seemed unbelievable that their captors had been so easily able to get into their shuttle and overpower them.  

“You are nothing, birdman.  You have no name here.” The human spat out.  “You answer to whatever name you are called, even if it’s slug dung.”  The man stared intently into his eyes.  

Hawk merely gazed back, expressionless.  He would not give him the benefit of any kind of satisfaction over his capture and imprisonment.  “How is my friend?”  

“He will live, not that it is of any concern to you now.”  The man continued to stare at him.  Looking for some kind of chink in his armor.   

Hawk turned to check Buck for himself.    

“Don’t think about it, vermin, unless you want to join him.”

Hawk stood tall and again said nothing.  

“Understand this, birdman.  Your life is mine.  Your only hope to leave here alive is to work.  You work hard and produce for the company, you might get to leave a bit sooner.” 

He is lying, Hawk thought.    

“You cause trouble or slack and you will live a short, miserable life.  Production adds points.  Points earned mean freedom.”

Again Hawk said nothing, sensing that the only way out of here was either through death or escape.  He would seek for the latter.   

“Do you understand what I am saying?”  

Hawk said nothing, only giving a slight imperceptible nod.    

“And once you leave this room you will say nothing.  Newcomers are not allowed to communicate until their period of probation is past.  You do exactly what you are told and we will get along fine.”  He gazed again at Hawk, waiting for some response, but as before there wasn’t anything more than a nod.   Seemingly uncomfortable under the birdman’s scrutiny, the human turned to one of the guards.  “Wake him up,” he ordered, pointing to Buck.  “And get this one out of here,” referring to Hawk.

“But Dr. Beros, it would be easier to orient them together,” the guard pointed out.

“Don’t argue with me.  These two are better off being kept separate,” Beros said, glancing over at his other guest, Erik Kormand’s lieutenant, Leegrand.  The man seemed to agree with his assessment.  The birdman turned and gazed deeply into his eyes even as he was being shoved out the door.  Again, Beros felt distinctly uncomfortable and he was glad when the alien was gone.  As the door slid closed behind the birdman, the guard was kneeling, using the sonic prod to rouse the terran.   

First Rogers groaned, then in a move that both surprised and alarmed Beros, the terran grabbed the guard’s hand, jerking the controller from his grasp, then raising up enough to grasp the guard’s collar.  Rogers yanked his tormentor toward him.  “You use that cattle prod on me again and I’ll shove it down your throat.” 

Leegrand had his laser pistol out, but Beros motioned him to wait.  “I would suggest that you release my guard, Rogers.  It’s very obvious that you have no chance of escape.”   

Rogers smiled grimly.  “I was only making my point,” he said, shoving the guard away from him and getting to his feet. He tossed the sonic prod into a far corner.

Beros could only assume that Rogers had been partially conscious during his conversation with the birdman, but he wouldn’t inquire into that.  It was of little consequence whether he was or not.  The only consequence was that Rogers and his friend work enough to pay back the price for which they were sold to him.  And enough to make the deal profitable for him.  The man in front of him appeared to be very healthy and, if the little demonstration was any indication, strong.  The other thing that was of consequence was that Rogers understand who was in charge here on Bosk.   Despite his little display of insolence and independence, Rogers would learn to obey and to obey quickly.  And he would work.  The worth of any slave here in the mines was how much crillite he could harvest before he died.    “Let me make my point, prisoner,” Beros said, staring directly into Rogers’ eyes.   

“Prisoner?  What was my crime?”  

Beros smiled.  “You figure it out, forerunner. In the meantime, listen to me and listen well.”  Beros paused and smiled slightly when he saw that he had the terran’s attention.  “You are here.  You will work.  If you work hard, do exactly what you are told, you will earn points toward your eventual release.”  

“That, warden, is a bunch of BS and you know it as well as I do.  The only way I suspect anyone gets released from here is in a body bag.”  

Beros now thought he understood a bit of Leegrand’s eagerness for this enemy of Kormand’s to be brought here.  But regardless….   Beros, without warning, slammed one fist into Rogers’ stomach and the other to the side of the prisoner’s head.  Rogers found himself sitting on the hard ground, groggily shaking his head.    

“The first thing you will learn is that you don’t talk back to your superiors,” Beros said evenly, even as he rubbed his knuckles.   “And everyone here is your superior, forerunner.”

Buck gazed up at the man he assumed was the head of this operation and refrained from making any comments about who was superior.  At this point, the man and his guards were superior insofar as the condition of his body was concerned.  He rubbed his jaw where the warden’s fist had connected.   “Mind if I get up, warden?  It’s kind of cold down here.”  

“Yes, I do mind.  You sit there and listen.”

Buck said nothing.  

“Perhaps you are right.  One such as you will not earn points necessary to be released.  But the harder you work, the more obedient you are, the longer you live.”  Beros paused and looked meaningfully at the man on the floor.  “And the longer your bird friend lives,” he added meaningfully.  When he saw Rogers’ eyes narrow, Beros knew he had hit upon the right means of controlling this man.  It was not his usual method, but whatever would get the most work out of his prisoners, insofar as it was feasible, he would do it.  He continued, “You, like all new prisoners, will be under probationary solitary for the first fourteen days.  There will be no communication.  You will not speak unless spoken to by a guard or a privileged or myself.  Do you understand?”  

Buck paused a moment, weighing his options.  There were none, except to see where this train was going to take him and hope to get off at an appropriate time.  “Sure, warden,” he finally said.  “What’s a forerunner?” he asked, picking up on what the man said earlier.   Even while he tried to put up a noble front, Buck was seething inside, a cauldron of anger, guilt and despair.  He pushed the despair out of his mind.  While he was in one piece there was always hope that something would turn the tide of this situation.  The anger, he forced to a tolerable level.   The recriminations were useless as well.   Somehow, Buck felt that he would need to save all of his energy to survive and escape.  

“That will be explained to you later, prisoner,” Beros said tersely, ready to send Rogers on to indoctrination.  “Get up now and don’t try anything you’ll regret.”  

Buck looked at the well-armed guards, noticed Leegrand standing in the corner, pleased with what was going on, and then brought his attention back to the warden.  He would have to go along with all this for now, look for any opportunities to turn this to his favor.  Hawk was still alive, no thanks to him and his inattentiveness, Buck thought bitterly.  However, they were both still alive and while they were alive, there was hope for escape as well as for help from the Searcher.  Although Leegrand had planned well, there was no such thing as a perfect crime.  Somewhere, sometime, Wilma and the admiral were going to find a clue.   In the meantime….   “I want to thank you for your warm welcome to this particularly lovely spot in Paradise, Warden,” Buck quipped with a smile.  This time, he found that the small act, his words, insignificant as they were, made him feel a bit better.   

Beros frowned.  “I am Dr. Beros, the administrator.  Not warden, as you call it.”  

“Thanks, Doc.  Old Earth term, but it means the same thing,” Buck replied.  He looked over at Leegrand, even as a guard pushed him in the ribs with his laser rifle.  “Oh, and Leegrand, give Erik my regards when you go visit him on Cronis.”  

Leegrand felt his hand moving toward his pistol, but didn’t follow through.  “We’ll see how much joking you’re doing in a month, Rogers.  And rest assured, Erik Kormand won’t remain on Cronis very long.”

Buck gave him a knowing grin even as he was led out of the room.  The smile faded.  Was Leegrand bluffing, or did he know something?  But he had no way of finding out other than watching for an opportunity to escape. He was led into a larger room, one with rows of benches.  This, too, was built into the rock of the cave system, three of the walls a dark granite-like material, the fourth raw metal.  There were no windows, of course.  A group of prisoners was being escorted out, about ten people, all dressed alike.  Buck was startled to note that one was Hawk.  A briefest glance and a few quick signals in sign language and his friend was gone.  Buck didn’t even have time to respond before Hawk was gone.   

Just as Hawk had taught him some of his ancestral language, so also had Buck begun teaching Hawk American Sign Language.  Hawk had made a very succinct statement with only a few motions of his fingers.   He had signed his own name, a sure declaration of identity in this place where there was none and then he had said, ‘we will be free!’  

“Sit down, prisoner,” a guard ordered.  “It may be a while.”  

“Why?” Buck asked.  

Immediately, he felt the hard sting of the sonic prod, and gave an involuntary cry. 

“You were told to only speak when told to.  Otherwise you are to remain silent at all times,” the guard said, wisely standing just out of Buck’s reach.  It was the same guard that Buck had taken the prod from earlier. 

Buck glanced at the sonic prod and nodded. 

“Good,” the guard said and sauntered off to the other side of the room where he sat down in a chair facing Buck.   

An extremely tall, black man entered through the door on the opposite side of the room.  He was so tall that he had to duck through the doorway.  He didn’t sit down next to him, but he only stood by the door watching him.  The tall man had no weapon or communication device and he was wearing the same non-descript gray outfit that he was wearing, so Buck assumed the newcomer was something akin to a trustee.   

A short squatty man entered through the same door he had come through and looked at Buck in disgust.  “Why in the world you couldn’t have been indoctrinated with the others, I’ll never know,” he said.   

Buck just shrugged, seeing the indolent, yet watchful gaze of the guard.   

“You have been assigned to be a forerunner.  It is your job to lay the charges and clear the new tunnels for the miners to dig the crillite that your charges dislodge.  It’s strenuous, but you get more points for the duty.”

It’s dangerous, period, Buck mused.  His thoughts must have shown on his face, because the black man gave a knowing smirk. 

“You will be using a rock cannon and cellenite charges. The cannon will find or create the fissures that the charges will be placed in.  You will be trained in packing and setting the cellenite, the programming of the detonators and all other aspects of being a forerunner.  And do not think of using your charges to make an escape.  There is a remote detonator that blows any escape-minded forerunner into so many little atoms.”  

Buck saw the guard watching him carefully and raised his hand, feeling much like a recalcitrant schoolboy.   

The lecturer frowned.  “What?”

“Cellenite is as dangerous as hell.  What safeguards do you employ?”  

“Enough to keep you alive if you use your brains, forerunner.”  He glanced at the black man.  “Prisoner two-thirty-nine will personally train you.  He nodded to the guard and then turned and left.   Prisoner two-thirty-nine beckoned and Buck got up and followed, the guard watching as he went through the door behind the tall prisoner.

 

 

 

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Forerunners of Bosk Prologue
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