Forerunners of Bosk

 

 

 

 

  Chapter Thirty-One

 

 

Several more scrimmages had only served to whet the guards’ appetites for what Buck called a “real NBA-style” game.   There had been enough interested guards to form four teams and a tournament had been set up.  Buck felt as though he was on a roller coaster racing down to the finish.  While he still worked hard, sometimes not getting dinner until after the other prisoners were already in their cells, at least part of the day was spent coaching the guards on their game.  If Bosk could be said to have a national past time, basketball would be it.  It was as though the game was a seat belt on which many of the guards relied.  It was an attempt at normalcy in an otherwise horrendous and depressing world.   As for himself, it was something that allowed him respite from the unremitting reality of his addiction. 

The only person not happy with the events was the administrator who had begrudgingly allowed a one-night tourney as opposed to several nights of fewer games each.  Buck grinned at the thought that Beros was working for him in this instance.  Even the administrator realized, after requests from almost all the senior guards and many of the junior ones, that the consequences of not having this diversion would be catastrophic.   Beros had finally given in, then harangued Buck for over an hour with a warning and tongue-lashing that almost turned the office walls blue.  

“Barney,” Buck said, during a cleaning session.  “I told you I grew up in pre-holocaust days on Earth, didn’t I?”

“Yes, and it’s still hard to believe you lived that long ago.”

“Yeah, sometimes I think I’m dreaming now, or rather having a nightmare,” Buck said. 

“It is better than it was before,” Barney pointed out.  

“True,” Buck said and then he paused in his mopping and gazed seriously at his companion.  He hoped he had been reading the signals right or he was a dead man.  “I also told you about where I lived, right?”

“Yes, the United States of America.  A place of many freedoms.” 

Buck’s mind had been much on his past, and the freedom that he had enjoyed.  Freedom almost seemed an obsession to him now, something that lay on his mind heavily and constantly.  “Yeah,” he said wistfully.  Then he brought himself back to the present.  “Now don’t get me wrong, Barney, it wasn’t Utopia by any means.  There was even slavery there.” 

“You had slavery on Earth?”  Barney looked incredulous. 

“Yes, a long time before I was born.  And it took a war to end it.”  Buck continued mopping.  “But after the war was over, the different states, uh, parts of my country were united again.”

Barney said nothing, but a glance at the black man showed that he was thinking about what Buck was saying.  

“And the hatred?” 

“Hatred?”  Buck wondered where his friend had picked up on that.  

“Yes, always with slavery, there is hatred.  Hatred for the masters; hatred toward the slaves.  If there were no hatred, there would be no slavery.  Hatred and fear.”  

Buck was stunned, but he saw the wisdom of Barney’s words.  

“Were the slaves in your United States of America black?”

“Yes, ‘fraid so, Barney,” Buck answered.  He knew before he and Hawk had taken the shuttle down to Neckar that the planet had been colonized by Earth refugees, but had not thought of the implications of the dying slave system on the colony and from which source its roots may have arisen. 

“What happened to them after this war?” Barney asked.  

“It took a long time, but eventually blacks and whites shared the same freedoms.  We were still working on it when we tried to blow ourselves up.  Nuclear holocaust kills everyone equally,” Buck said somberly.  

“My country, people were afraid.  Most of us slaves were sold off planet, like me.  Seemed an easy way for folks like the Ahern’s,” Barney said bitterly.  

“I’m sorry, Barney,” Buck said softly. 

“Slavery is a bad thing.” 

“No argument here.  And I didn’t even grow up with it,” Buck agreed. 

“Maybe that is why you have been so . . . angry.  You know freedom.”  Barney sighed. 

“Would you like to know freedom?” Buck asked softly.  

“Yes, but it is impossible for someone like me . . . here,” Barney said just as softly. 

“No, it’s not,” Buck said, his voice barely above a whisper. 

“What are you saying?” Barney asked.  

“How many people are going to be at that tournament?” 

Barney stared at him for a moment.  “Most of the guards,” he answered, realization dawning.  

“Best opportunity to gain our freedom,” Buck said softly.  

“But how can we do this?” Barney asked.  

Buck noted with some satisfaction that Barney had said ‘we’. 

“No, it cannot be done,” Barney suddenly declared with a shake of his head.  

“Barney, do you want to be a slave forever?” Buck asked fervently, his voice still low. 

“No, but….” 

“Then we have to take a chance.”  Buck furiously scrubbed the floor, all the while willing Barney to agree.  He could not do this alone as he had before. 

“But how?” 

“Take ident cards from a couple of guards.  You know, the one that opens cells, lets you in elevators and offices.  We open the cellblocks.  Capture guards.”  

“How do we keep the company from coming and taking it back over?” Barney asked.  

“We contact Cronis and ask for asylum.” 

“I still don’t know how you can be sure this will work, Coach,” Barney said doubtfully, but Buck saw hope in the black man’s eyes.  

“I can’t be totally sure, but I am sure that I will not remain a slave any longer than I have to and this is our best possible chance,” Buck replied.  He was also aware of the fact that Beros was not happy with this state of affairs and was showing signs of a big blow-up.  It was in his eyes.  Dr. Burrows was apparently the only one who was keeping it from happening.  The administrator had as much as told Buck that once the tournament was over, things would go back to normal.  No games, more work, the shackles, the garox, unremitting and endless.  Somehow, Buck felt that the guards wouldn’t like the cessation of games either, but that was a minor point in the totality of things.  Even though he felt that Hawk would eventually get to the Searcher, Buck was not in the least doubtful that the administrator would commit genocide on prisoners when the large ship showed up and demanded that he be turned over.   “And I think you want a taste of freedom as well.” 

Barney was silent for a few minutes.  “Yes, I would like that, I think,” he said softly.  “What do I need to do for this freedom that is so precious to you?”

Buck was momentarily struck by the uninhibited poetry of his fellow prisoner’s way of speaking.   Then he got back to the issue at hand.  “Just watch the administration.  Get an idea of everyone’s habits,” Buck said.  Don’t tell anyone what we’re contemplating, but try to figure out who we can trust.”  Buck paused.  “We have only a few days, but I think that works to our advantage, too.” He paused a beat.  “And I don’t think we’ll get a second chance.” 

Barney nodded and they resumed working.  But they had not been alone.  A pair of eyes had been watching; eyes that were not the least bit sympathetic. 

 

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Beros sat at his desk, fuming.  It was no wonder ‘Human Rights’ wanted Rogers to have special treatment here on Bosk.  No wonder that they wanted the terran broken.  He should never have listened to Burrows.  Rogers was too dangerous in any capacity and had to be eliminated.  The money he was receiving from his outside sources wasn’t worth it.  And now the prisoner was too popular to simply jerk him away from this game business and throw him in a punishment cell.  Rogers had to be caught in the act.  Beros looked over the roster of guards.  Most were caught up in this basketball business, but they were all loyal.  

One thing for which he was very much grateful, Beros thought, and that was the fact that his suspicions of Rogers had led him to plant the monitoring device in the prisoners shower.   Otherwise, he’d have never known of this little mutiny. 

The tournament was three days away.  He would wait two days and then call the veteran employees in.  Rogers and that privileged would have three and a half days to live.  For that matter, the Rrilling might as well be disposed of, too.  He was loyal to the terran pest.  And the good doctor would be totally unaware of what was going on until it was too late. 

 

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Ril stood with five other men, facing the administrator, wondering what was going on. 

“You six men have been here the longest.  You have proven your loyalty,” Beros said.  He paced back and forth in front of the men, stopping in front of Ril.  “You have been in close association with prisoner twelve-sixteen more than anyone else.  How sympathetic are you to him?” At Ril’s puzzled look, he added, “The one called Coach.”

Ril knew exactly who the administrator was talking about.  He also knew of Administrator Beros’ animosity toward Rogers.  He could only wonder that this summons was some kind of test.  “My sympathies are with my job, Administrator, and with the company.” 

Beros nodded, looking satisfied.  “Yes, I was told how you captured that one and kept him in line on the way back to the mines.  Good.” 

No one said a word and Beros paced some more.  “There is going to be an attempt by several prisoners and possibly some guards to take over the mines.”  

There was an audible gasp from the guards.  Ril wondered at the audacity of the prisoner who had named himself several months ago, but was not totally surprised.   But guards?

Ril felt a flaring of anger. Rogers was using the games for his own purposes.  He turned his attention back to the administrator.  

“I realize that several of you are going to be participating in this so-called tournament, but also watch prisoner twelve-sixteen and his privileged assistant.  If they do anything unusual, kill them.  Put the guards not watching this game on alert.  If you feel it is necessary to post more guards during the game, do so, but do not alert the mutineers to what you are doing ahead of time.  I think the six of you, along with myself are more than capable of taking care of a few insurgents, but however you do it, I want this stopped.” 

“Why don’t we just throw them in detention or punishment now, sir?” Ril asked.  Others nodded.  

“No, I want them caught in the act.”

Ril saw the wisdom of that, even as what he was hearing made him ill.  He had seen what had been done to the prisoner in the past.  Nodding along with the rest, making the same promises, Ril still pondered deep inside.  And he continued pondering that night.  Had Rogers planned this all along, from the first moment he picked up one of the balls?  Ril thought back to the time Rogers had taught him and Terrence how to play.  No, that had only been the attempts of a sick and depressed man to cope.  The prisoner had actually escaped using another avenue.  Somehow Ril thought the idea to use the tournament was a recent one.  He remembered how surprised Rogers had been when so many guards and even privileged prisoners had shown up for the scrimmages.  It was then that the idea had been formulated.  Ril was sure of it.  

Again, Ril could not wonder at the prisoner’s attempt.  He tried to put himself in Rogers’ shoes.  No, he would definitely try to do the same thing himself.  And would it be such a bad thing if twelve-sixteen did escape?  No, a tiny voice in his head whispered.  Ril knew that most pets were treated more humanely than these men were in the mines, especially since the most recent administration took over.  Company quotas seemed to go higher and higher, while the number of prisoners seemed to stay constant or even drop from time to time.  He had heard that many prisoners were what were referred to as ‘dumping ground prisoners,’ those sold not because they had committed crimes, but because someone was seeking revenge on an enemy or a rival.  And Rogers was one of them, having made one of the worst enemies in the galaxy.  

But why should I jeopardize what I have for a prisoner? he argued with himself.  Because they are sentient beings, his conscience answered. And what the hell do I have?  An endless round of watching misery, banking useless money and feeling depressed at the depravity around me.  Ril shook his head, a bit irritated not only with himself, but also with his wishy-washy attitude.  Whatever he decided, Ril knew what he was going to do.  He knew for the past six months what was right.  It was just that at the time, Ril didn’t know what to do about it.  Now he had a better idea.

   

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“Madame, please!!” Dr. Goodfellow said in exasperation.  Brisella, while a nice lady, obviously thought him her boyfriend.  All he wanted to do was to run his experiments, try to find out more about the cultures they had found on their journeys so far.  It fascinated him, enthralled him, kept him from remembering a past that, while long and pleasant, at times had been painful.  

Brisella was lonely.  Goodfellow understood that, but he couldn’t give her what she needed or wanted.  He could not give her the flowery antebellum past that her late husband had given her.  Goodfellow was on this ship because it suited him, because he was needed.  He wasn’t the best doctor in the world, but he was a darned good one and he prided himself on his absolute dedication to science.  This ship and her crew were perfect for his twilight years.  It made him feel so much more needed and important than the Earth-side job he had been in for the past decade.  He was most happy when he was alone, studying the specimens that had been brought to him, puzzling out mysteries of dead civilizations.  Bless her, but Brisella, for all that she was a sweet and plucky old woman, was a distinct distraction to him.  

And because of that, she couldn’t supply what he needed either.  She could not take the place of his sweet Alice.  No one could, and he wasn’t interested in her trying.  Perhaps if she had been a scientist like Alice was, but no, she was the former matriarch of a large land holding on a largely agrarian world.  Brisella was an expert in hospitality and genteel living, even though there was something very, very tough about this woman.  He knew that she wouldn’t have survived all these years without that kind of hidden toughness. 

“I’m sorry, Wilfred, I just thought you needed some company,” Brisella said, her voice a bit tremulous.   

Goodfellow knew that part of her sadness was her incredible acting ability that she had perfected over the years in her role as mistress of her family’s domain on Neckar.  “My dear, you are a wonderful, sweet woman, but I am in the middle of an experiment.  It’s crucial that I finish.” 

“That is what you said last night and you never came after you finished.”

“That’s because I’m not finished,” he replied patiently.  “I am unable to predict a timeline for the conclusion of an experiment or an investigation.  That is why I couldn’t promise that I would be at dinner yesterday.” 

That was two days ago,” she pointed out.  

“Oh,” Goodfellow said.  With a sigh, he pointed to a chair.  She sat down and he sat beside her.  “Brisella, you are a wonderful, wonderful woman, and you would make someone very happy.  But that someone isn’t me.  I am a confirmed bachelor.  I am married to my science, my laboratory.   You need to go home, fight the ones who took your holdings and find someone to help you keep them.” 

This time she really did look deflated.  “I can’t go home.  They were desperate enough to try to kill me before, they would do it again.” 

Goodfellow patted her on the hand.  “Then find a new world, one where you can begin again.” 

“At my age?!!” she cried out. 

“Indeed, at your age,” he replied.  “Look at me.  I started over again on this ship and I am happier than I have been since my late wife died.”  He paused.  “I think I might even be able to help you develop some newer strains of fruits that would make very good wines.”

“But who would help me?”

“I am sure the admiral would be able to suggest a good world for you to set up a new Brock enterprise,” the scientist suggested.  

“Do you think so?” 

Goodfellow certainly hoped so.  “Once we find Buck and Hawk, I am sure he will.” 

She smiled.  “But in the meantime, would you at least come by occasionally and let me treat you to dinner?”  

Her mischievous eyes twinkled and Goodfellow wondered what she had in mind for him.  “Gladly, Madame, as long as you don’t try to seduce me!”  

Her laughter was infectious and he laughed with her.

 

 

Chapter Thirty-two
Forerunners of Bosk Prologue
Buck Rogers Contents
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