Forerunners of Bosk

 

 

 

Chapter Thirty

   

 

“No, no!  Dribble!  Remember to dribble,” Buck called out to the guard with the ball.  “Go show ‘em, Barney,” he instructed the privileged who had taken on the role of assistant coach. While Buck would much prefer teaching football, his favorite game, coaching basketball was almost making his stay in the mines bearable.  He had been working with all the guards who were interested, which was most of them, for the past four days.  There was a small group of privileged prisoners, Barney foremost among them, who had asked to be taught as well.  They had much less time to work out, but Buck did what he could for them.  Barney apparently also had more privileges than the rest so he spent more time in the rec room than any of the others did.  Buck suspected that the prisoner was assigned to keep an eye on him, too.   For someone as tall as Barney was, he had a grace and style that rivaled the greatest basketball stars of his day, college or pro.  Buck could easily see a very interesting game between the guards and privileged prisoners in the future—if Beros allowed it, that is.

This day over twenty guards, either playing or watching, were in the rec room and Buck felt the stirrings of an idea forming in his mind.  After Barney had given instruction, Buck called all the men to the center of the court.  “We’re going to play a scrimmage.”  At the puzzled looks, he explained.  “It’s a practice game to see how much you’ve picked up and how well you all can play together.”  While he was talking a few more guards had entered the cavernous room and were watching with interest.  

Buck split the group in half.  “You are the blue team and you are the red,” he said before thinking. 

“How do we tell each other apart when we begin?” one of the guards asked. 

Buck paused and pondered.  How indeed?  Between guards and prisoners the differentiation was easy, but all guards wore the same outfits, dull gray and black. Jackets!  “One group—red team, leave your jackets on, the rest, take yours off.”  

Soon the two teams were assembled.  “Okay.  Everyone will get to play, but not all at once.”  He looked at Ril.  “You are coach of the red team.  I’ll coach blue team.” 

“Me?” Ril asked.  

“Yeah, you. Do you think I can coach two teams at once?” Buck asked with a wry grin. 

“Well, all right, if you insist,” Ril said and he pulled his ten men to one side.  

Buck motioned his men to the other side of the court and gave them instructions.  “You men know the rules.  You’ve done a hell of a job these past four days.  Remember, though, and I know some of you are guilty of this – no hot-dogging.  This is a team sport.” 

“Hot-dogging?” a guard asked. 

“Uh, you don’t try to do all the scoring on your own.  Share the ball. Pass it to someone else if you are ganged up on.  Pass it to someone who can make a better shot.  In other words, share the glory.  This is a team sport,” Buck explained.  He looked at each one of them.  “Any questions about the rules of play?” 

“No, Coach, let’s play,” a muscular guard, Kris, said.  

Buck grinned in remembrance.  Three days ago, Kris had been the one who had tried his patience the most; hogging the ball, shoving the other guards around, acting like an arrogant jackass.  But the final straw had been when the guard had persisted in calling him ‘Twelve-sixteen,’ despite Buck’s continued insistence that he would not be called by a number during the games.

“Twelve-sixteen!” Kris had called yet again that day.  

Buck was immediately in the guard’s face in his best drill sergeant imitation.  “How badly do you want to play?” he shouted in the man’s face.   Kris had turned a bright shade of red as the rest of the men stopped what they were doing and watched.  Buck knew then, in a tiny corner of his mind, that he was pushing it too far, but he had had enough.  At least on the court, he would be referred to by his name.  

“You are a prisoner, that is your number,” Kris had answered, ignoring Buck’s question.  

“I am the coach during any basketball session, I am not a number!” Buck had responded quickly and loudly enough for the others to hear.  “During a sport’s game, the coach is boss and I will be called by name, not by number.”   

“But prisoners don’t have names,” Kris had insisted.  

“I’ll be damned if I play another minute if I’m going to be called by a number!” Buck had said and turned to walk off.  He had known he was going to catch seven kinds of hell, but he couldn’t help it.   

A voice had called after him.  It was Kris.  “Uh, Coach?”  

Buck turned back in surprise.  “What did you say?”  

“Coach?” Kris asked again.   

He remembered grinning.  ‘Coach’ would do.  From then on he was called ‘Coach.’  And for some reason, he had lived to continue being ‘Coach’ without any repercussions from Beros.   That had surprised him more than the guards’ interaction with him.  

Buck had also been astounded how quickly this game had caught on, too.  It was almost like drowning men catching at a life preserver and it was then that he fully realized how oppressed the guards were, as well.  He looked over the men again.  “Masters, you, Wilkins, Reesis, Ward and Pless will start.  You will play for a period and then five others.  That way, everyone will play for the same amount of time,” he instructed.  “I’ll let you decide your positions.  But don’t argue over who will be forwards; there’s gotta be a few guards.”  A couple of the men grinned fiercely, ready for the competition, but the positions were chosen quickly and the scrimmage began within a few minutes.  A few times Buck had to call time outs for various violations, but all in all he was pleased.  His only problem, something he hadn’t anticipated was not having a referee.  After a quarter of play, Buck called Barney over.  “You have to take my place.  Someone has to be the ref.”

Soon the game began again and Buck was intent on following each play.  By the time another quarter ended, he was training a couple of non-playing guards to be referees.  Taking a quick break for a much-needed drink of water, Buck thought how complicated this game could be, something he hadn’t thought about when he was younger.  Then, someone else was dealing with all the little nuances that went together to make the games work.  But he again noticed what a great diversion it was for the guards and he thought of how it also seemed to affect their outlook when they were on the job.  They seemed a bit more relaxed, more patient, and it pleased him.   Even better, though, Buck was quick to figure the possibilities of such diversion.  By the time the scrimmage had ended, he figured the only guards not in the rec room were the ones on duty in the cellblocks. 

When the game ended, Buck congratulated the men on a job well done.  

“That was fun!” Ril said.  “I don’t believe I’ve ever been so tired in my life, but it’s good tired.  Thanks!”  

“It was fun,” Buck concurred.  “We’re going to have to have an evening game sometime soon where more can watch.  Maybe a real tournament-like series of games.” 

“Well, the room’s big enough,” another guard said.  “I’ll make the suggestion to the boss.”

Buck nodded and headed for the prisoners’ shower room to fulfill his maintenance duties.  Barney joined him.

“This basketball.  It’s a good game.  I liked being a coach, too,” Barney said, haltingly at first, as though shy or unsure of himself.   

“You’re a good one, too,” Buck said.  “You have a talent for this game, Barney.  You’re already better than I could ever hope to be, even if it was something I aspired to, which I never did.  You have a talent for leadership, too.” 

Barney looked embarrassed.  “You are just saying that,” he finally murmured.

“No, I’m serious.  You are an excellent player and a terrific teacher.” 

“Because I’m so tall.  I can reach the basket easier,” Barney argued. 

“Maybe that helps your game, but agility comes with or without height,” Buck replied.  

Barney said nothing.  The only sound was that of his broom, sweeping the dust into a pile. 

“Yeah, and you weren’t treated any different from any other man, either,” Buck added.  

Barney gazed at him briefly before continuing his sweeping.  

“Despite the fact that you’re a prisoner, everyone seems to respect you,” Buck went on.  He scrubbed the walls waiting for a response, well aware that what he was saying now could very well get back to the administrator.  Somehow, though, Buck fully believed that Barney wasn’t giving out any information.  

“I don’t cause any trouble,” Barney finally said, quietly as though someone might be listening.  

Buck couldn’t help it; he began laughing.  “I do have a tendency to get in trouble, don’t I?” 

“Maybe,” Barney said noncommittally.  

“Barney, I know you were, for all practical purposes, a slave on Neckar.”  He paused, watching the black man over his shoulder.  “By the way, I have checked.  Unless their technology is a lot more sophisticated than I’ve seen in other parts of the mine, there aren’t any listening devices here.”  He paused.  “Let’s put it this way, if there had been, I’d have been nailed to the administrator’s wall a long time ago.”  He smiled.  “Walls are great places to vent your anger.  They don’t talk back and they don’t give a hoot in hell who you are.”  

Barney gazed at him again and then he smiled.  “You are right there, Coach.” 

Buck smiled with him.  “You are a coach, too, Barney.  And when we’re alone, just call me Buck.” 

Barney nodded and worked quietly for a few minutes.  “It did feel good, them talking to me like I knew something.  Almost like I was one of them.”  He paused a beat.  “I’ve been a slave all my live.”  He paused again.  “Don’t get me wrong, Miss Brisella was nice, but a slave’s a slave.” 

Buck nodded.  “Yeah and it’s a shame to have been subjugated that long.  You have the makings of a natural born leader.” 

Barney looked surprised.  “Me?” 

“Yes, you.  Do you think they made you a privileged just because you can follow orders?” Buck asked. 

“Well, I guess I did.”

“There are others that have been here longer than you, that don’t have privileged status.  Bet most of them are also good at following orders, too,” Buck said.

“Yes, but….” 

“Part of the reason is because you could be trusted.  The other prisoners respect you.” 

“Do you think so?” 

“I know so,” Buck insisted.  

They finished and went to the guards’ shower room, which by now was almost empty.  They worked side by side for another hour and then went to the mess hall where Buck picked up a bowl of the now cold dinner and his dose of garox.  He took his bowl back to his cell where he sat silently as Barney regretfully snapped on his manacles.   

“It’s okay,” Buck mouthed, giving the sign as well.  Barney smiled and then left.  

 

                   ==========================

   

The stargate was coming up.  Hawk turned to the human.  “Check the figures.  I am not taking us anywhere to cause harm to anyone on board this shuttle.” 

Without taking his hand off Hawk’s arm, Kollin did as suggested, his eyes scanning the coordinates at a glance.  “What are you going to Cronis for?  Some kind of political statement or something?” 

In a move faster than he thought capable, Hawk had the small stun gun against Kollin’s side.  The next motion set the coordinates into the navigational computer.  Within minutes the shuttle passed through the stargate on its way to Cronis. 

“Now that we are on the right course, I can explain what I am doing,” Hawk said.  

“By deviating our course, this ship has been put on a ten quadrant alert.  Other ships will be under orders to capture or disable us.” 

“Even though there are passengers aboard?” Hawk asked. 

“Even though,” Kollin replied.  “And some of these spaceship pilots aren’t that worried about whether anyone lives or dies.  They only care about the reward the company gives.” 

“Then feel glad I am a better pilot than Telor Witt,” Hawk said with a wry smile. 

“Who are you?” 

“I am Hawk.”  It was said with bold declaration. 

“Obviously you are not an employee of Arator Company,” Kollin said.  Somehow when his companion had said he had no intentions of causing harm, he believed him.  It was also becoming clear that this man was a non-human, even though in uniform he easily passed for a human pilot.  The eyes, Kollin determined.  That had to be it. 

“Oh, but technically, I am,” Hawk corrected.  “But not exactly the kind of employee you are thinking of.” 

“Meaning?” 

“I was taken to Bosk against my will. Myself and a friend.” 

Kollin thought of Hawk’s words and the realization began to dawn on him.  “A prisoner?” he asked. 

“A slave,” Hawk replied tersely.  

Kollin stared in disbelief as Hawk entered more information into the navigational computer.  Then his mind took in what Hawk’s actions.  “What are you doing?” 

“Adding something that will keep the course coordinates from being altered.  I have gone too far to be thwarted now.”  He paused a moment.  “My friend is counting on my success,” he added softly. 

“You do realize that I have an obligation to the passengers and ship,” Kollin said.  

“Then it is in your best interest to trust me,” Hawk said.  “But if the company questions your actions, I did pull a weapon on you.” 

“I am going to trust you to keep your word about my ship and these men.  If I have any doubts….” 

“I understand.”  

“Those men back there will suspect nothing for a few hours, but after the next gate, they will,” Kollin said.  

“I will deal with that when it happens,” Hawk responded.  

“They won’t be happy and some may become violent.” 

“Again, that will happen or not happen at a future time,” 

Kollin decided to change tracks.  “I heard of an attempted escape on Bosk.  That related to you?” 

“Yes,” Hawk said simply, deigning not to elaborate.  

They flew on in silence for a half an hour before anyone said anything.  Hawk pondered Kollins’ warning and kept a close watch for other ships.  He also considered the passengers and thought of several options.  He had to get to Cronis.  That was all there was to it.  No choices.  If he could get there, he could contact the Searcher.  Then they could rescue Buck—and Tigerman. 

“Your friend,” Kollin finally said.  “He’s still on Bosk, I gather.” 

“Yes, and his friend.” 

“Arator will not give them up without a hard battle.  They paid a great deal of money….” 

“We were kidnapped!  We were taken against our will and forced into the most depraved and cruel slavery!” Hawk snapped.  

“Regardless, the company will not relinquish anything easily,” Kollin pointed out.   

“They will have no choice in this matter.  My friend was serving as an executive officer on a Galactic Council Earth Directorate research vessel when he and I were kidnapped,” Hawk said.  

Kollin nodded.  “I suspect you will have eventual success but still not without a fight.  Arator Company is a hard nut to crack when they are crossed.” 

The Arator Company does not totally understand who they are dealing with, either.  My people have lived a type of bondage for centuries.  I am harder than any “nut,” as you put it.” 

“Somehow I don’t doubt your word, Hawk,” Kollin said.  “Who are your people?” 

“I am of the bird people,” Hawk declared.  Then his full attention returned to the computer screen.  They would soon be going through the next stargate.   The transaction was smooth and Hawk felt Cronis within his grasp.  Only one more gate and they would be within a few hours of the Galactic government’s headquarters.  Then he saw the ship that had just appeared on the computer read-outs.  It was massive, and fully capable of taking them in tow.  And it was turning toward them.  

“It looks as though we get a real test of your flying abilities,” Kollin murmured.

 

 

Chapter Thirty-one
Forerunners of Bosk Prologue
Buck Rogers Contents
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