Forerunners of Bosk

 

 

 

Chapter Thirty-two

 

 

As the tournament was preparing to start, Buck was even more astonished at how many guards, administrative personnel and even some privileged were in attendance.  He had heard of some resentment from prisoners who wanted to play, during morning meals and hoped if all went well, to let the prisoners play as well.  But that was counting chickens before the eggs were even laid, Buck thought ruefully.  

The teams huddled together, discussing strategy, pumping each other up.  If he didn’t know better, Buck might think he was at a Bulls game.  The guards of the different teams had consulted with one another and had come up with various ‘uniforms.’  He grinned.  His particular group had figured out a way to dye their tee shirts a dark red, obviously picking up on his loyalty to the Chicago team of his past.  They had various numbers on their backs.  Another group was wearing white tees and the other two were in black and blue, respectively.  

Buck consulted with a guard who had volunteered to be the scorekeeper and then the two who were serving as referees.  Buck rubbed his hands down his pants, his nerves feeling on edge.  He willed the garox to leave him alone for the next couple of hours, knowing he needed everything he had to pull this off.  Only Barney and one or two other prisoners knew what was going on. 

The head guard came over to him.  “You ready, Coach?” 

“Yeah,” Buck answered.  “Let’s get this started.” 

The guard nodded and then turned away.  Buck had a funny feeling, wondering at the inflection the guard had given to the word “ready.”  Get a hold of yourself, Buck, he admonished himself.  Nerves! 

The game began, the white team and the blue team playing against each other.  Buck watched, alternately sitting quietly and then jumping up and running down the sideline, shouting instructions to the coach of the white team, a younger guard who was still very unsure of himself.  Barney did the same on the other side of the rec room.  By halftime, Buck was tiring quickly and he knew they would have to go through with the plan in the next quarter.  He surreptitiously signaled Barney, who in turn pulled over another privileged.  Buck felt his heart racing in anxiety and he willed himself to calm down. 

The game began once more after a brief intermission, and the players raced up and down the court furiously, Buck doing the same thing along the sideline, continuing to shout advice and encouragement.  Part of him felt lost in the game, playing vicariously with the players, almost forgetting where he was, but a part of his mind kept him alert of his mission.  So much depended on Barney and his handpicked, trusted men.  

The ball, passed from one white team member to another, thrown wild and players scrambled for it, desperate to get control of the ball before it went out of bounds.  In so doing, one of the players careened toward Buck, who acted as though he only noticed at the last second.   When the ‘blindside’ hit actually happened, though, the collision was real and Buck felt as though a Mack Truck had plowed into him.   The dizzy, half-blacked out feeling was real, and Buck felt the hard floor beneath him.  He struggled to sit up, trying to maintain consciousness at the same time. 

“Coach!  Coach!” a voice called out.  It was Barney.  Hands gently checked him over.  The blackness receded somewhat.  He had to get control here, he thought.  This kind of realism wasn’t intended. 

“Coach!” Another voice.  The doctor’s.  

This plan wasn’t going to work if he couldn’t get away from the crowd and get an access card right away.  Buck struggled to sit up and finally succeeded with Barney’s help.  

“Get him to my office,” Burrows said, his voice anxious.  

Someone helped him up, put his arm around their shoulders and began leading him from the rec room.  It had been very quiet, Buck noted in hindsight, but now there was clapping and shouts from the guards for his well-being.   He felt lucidity returning, but not fast enough to suit him.  He was being taken to the doctor’s office.  Maybe that would work out, Buck thought.  By the time he was out of the rec room, everything focused decently.  “I can walk on my own,” he told the privileged who had been half carrying him.  

At the juncture to the corridor leading to Burrow’s office, Buck stopped.  In front of him, a pistol in his hand stood Dr. Beros. 

“This is going to be very convenient.  All the conspirators together, attempting their mutiny,” Beros said. 

Buck said nothing, only stood quietly.  He assumed the laser pistol was not set for stun.   Somehow Beros had found out about the plan.   The sickness of defeat replaced the physical discomfort he had felt when he had been decked.  Buck sagged against Barney in his exhaustion and despair.

 

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Ril stood with the team he was coaching, the black team, and watched the action, most particularly Buck Rogers.  When the player careened into the terran, Ril knew that was the signal, but he also knew the hit was harder than it should have been.  Rogers went down hard and didn’t move for a couple of minutes.  The tall privileged attended to the terran, but he was slow getting up.  Dr. Burrows rushed over and that was when Ril noticed Dr. Beros leaving his seat. After signaling to other guards, including Ril, the administrator went out of the main entrance, the one leading not only to the cell blocks, but to the administrative offices, including the sick bay.  

“Bruce, take over,” Ril said to his assistant coach.  “I should be back before this game is over.”  He noticed a few of the other guards leaving, also answering the administrator’s signal. 

“You will eliminate whoever accompanies the prisoner,” Beros was saying ahead of him.  “Doesn’t matter who it is.” 

“Yessir,” two voices answered. 

Blake and Jes, Ril thought.  He pulled out his small laser pistol and set it on stun.  The administrator was out for blood this time and didn’t care who was killed.  Ril’s thoughts were chaotic, but one thing was sure.  He couldn’t let other guards, prisoners or the doctor be killed because of the director’s vendetta against one man.  Beros was still giving instructions, mainly more embellishment of what he had already told them.  

Ril slipped back into the shadowed part of the corridor, listening for the sound of the group bringing Rogers to the sick bay. There was only the noise of a game temporarily disrupted.   He walked back toward the rec room a short distance and waited for his two compatriots.  The two men turned the corner, their weapons ready, but when they saw him, they visibly relaxed.  Ril didn’t wait for explanations; he fired quickly, not even giving them time to register surprise.  He dragged both men into the shadows and then continued back to where the administrator was waiting in ambush.   

Beros’ pistol was aimed directly at his head until the administrator realized who it was in front of him.  “Are they coming yet?” 

“No, sir,” Ril answered.  “I only saw Blake and Jes.” 

“You wait in the corridor just behind me,” Beros said, pointing.  “I want to take twelve-sixteen myself.  I should have killed him when you brought him back.”  His eyes bored into Ril’s.  “You should have killed him up there in the mountains.” 

“I wasn’t given orders to, sir,” Ril answered, glad that he hadn’t been given such an order, because even then, he wasn’t sure he would have been able to carry it out. 

“Go on.  Only help if I call for you, otherwise I want to burn him myself.”

Ril nodded and moved down the corridor, but he only went far enough to be out of sight of the administrator.  He still had a clear view of most of the corridor where the doctor, Rogers and everyone else would be coming—unarmed.  He waiting in the shadows, listening behind him also, making sure no one came upon him unaware. 

Finally, he heard the sound of approaching people, among them, Rogers, protesting that he was well enough to walk on his own.  Dr. Beros continued to stay out of sight.  

Rogers, with Dr. Burrows, and two privileged prisoners, including the tall one who had been coaching one of the teams, came into view.  They stopped short when the administrator stepped out of the shadows.  

Dr. Beros laughed, obviously realizing the implication of the fact that all of Rogers’ companions were still with him.  The administrator taunted the small group and Dr. Burrows looked surprised.  Ril guessed that the prisoner had not tried to contact the doctor, although why Dr. Beros would feel Rogers would do so was beyond his comprehension.  

“What in the world are you talking about?” Dr. Burrows asked.  

“Don’t play stupid,” Beros snapped.  “I overheard these two plotting,” he added, pointing to Barney and Rogers.  “They were going to mutiny during the game.  I had them watched.  Somehow they got word to you, too, Doctor.” 

Burrows stared hard at Roger, who simply shrugged, then at the tall black man, Barney, who made no move, nor did he say anything. 

Beros smiled.  “Maybe you didn’t know, but I believe you would have aided these troublemakers if you had.” 

“You are paranoid, Administrator,” the doctor said, moving slowly toward Beros.  “Give me the pistol.”  His voice was coaxing and soothing, but it seemed to have scant effect on Beros, who turned the pistol from the terran and toward the doctor.  

The administrator menaced the doctor with his pistol and Ril saw the despairing look on Rogers’ face turned to alarm, tinged with anger.  The prisoner took a step forward and declared in a decisive voice, “I am Captain William Anthony Rogers, United States Air Force, 529043909.  When captured, my primary duty is to escape; my secondary duty is to maintain my honor and integrity, never divulging anything that would give advantage to the enemy.”  

To Ril it sounded like a litany, and the guard wondered fleetingly what a United States Air Force was.  Rogers had told him he was in the Directorate on Earth.  Then Ril saw what Rogers was doing.  Dr. Beros’ pistol turned back toward the prisoner and Rogers leaped to one side, away from his companions.  Then he kicked out with one foot, knocking the administrator’s gun arm up.  The laser scored a dark line along the ceiling and Dr. Beros swore luridly.  Rogers next stepped toward the administrator in an effort to grab the pistol, but the time in prison, plus the garox and the recent incident in the rec room, had taken its toll.  The prisoner managed to get enough grip to throw Beros off balance, causing him to stumble, but that was all.  With a growl, the administrator jerked away from the terran and swung his arm, knocking Rogers away from him.  Beros then shoved the prisoner against the wall.  Barney and the doctor moved forward but stopped when the administrator threatened them with his pistol.  “You have no idea who will be first, but I suspect that if you all came at me, I could burn everyone of you before you got this gun away from me.”  Beros moved to a position where he could keep an eye on the other three people while he dealt with the terran. 

“I should have killed you when you were brought back.  I should have killed you when you were first brought in by Garrott, but I didn’t.”  He paused and motioned Barney and the others back even more.  Then he turned back to Rogers.  “But I am going to kill you now, twelve-sixteen.  And I am going to kill you slowly.” 

Rogers didn’t move, didn’t say anything for a moment.  “Go for it, Beros.  Seems death by laser would be a cleaner death anyway.” 

“Maybe, prisoner, but it will be an agonizing death all the same.  Laser fire is a very painful type of wound, I am told,” Beros said and then he fired.  The laser shot to one side, only grazing the terran’s arm, causing him to cry out in pain and grasp his burned arm.  

“I did say slowly,” Beros laughed and aimed again.  

Ril could not let this happen.  Rogers gazed intently at the administrator, and Ril got the impression of an impending attack.   But he knew that no matter how fast the prisoner moved, he couldn’t move faster than laser fire.  Ril fired his pistol, aiming above the administrator’s head.  

Beros looked shocked, and tried to make out Ril in the shadows.  At that moment, Rogers launched himself at the administrator, hitting Beros at the waist with the weight of his entire body, and propelling him backwards.  Both men hit the ground hard, Beros with a sickening thud.  As Barney and the doctor rushed to the two men on the cave floor, Rogers rolled off the administrator and sat up.  

“Are you all right?” Burrows asked.  

“Yes, except for a raging headache and one helluva burn,” he said, rubbing his forehead.  He looked at Beros still and quiet on the ground.  “His headache is worse, though, I bet.” 

Burrows checked the administrator.  “He’s dead.”  

Ril stepped out of the shadows as the doctor made his pronouncement.  He was stunned.  Looking at the prisoner, though, he could see that Rogers was even more shocked than he was.  

“What?” Buck cried out, incredulous.  Then he saw the growing pool of blood spreading out under Beros’ head.  “I really wasn’t trying to kill him.”  He looked up at Ril and then at Burrows.  Killing was something that Buck had hoped to avoid, wanting only a quick takeover.  

“I know,” Ril said quietly.  “Unlike what he was trying to do to you.” 

Buck gazed again at the guard.  He nodded, paused a moment and then said, “Thanks for saving me, by the way.” 

Burrows finished his examination and then sat back, gazing hard at Buck.  “Was he telling the truth?” 

“Yes, he was, Doc.”  He took a deep breath.  “The day I totally submit to this kind of imprisonment, slavery, whatever you want to call it, is the day I die.  I simply couldn’t live with this and deep down inside, I suspect that most of the rest of the prisoners feel the same way.”  

“What was that you were talking about?  A United States Air Force?” Burrows asked.  

Buck laughed softly.  “Way back when I was a citizen of a now dead country, one of the greatest on Earth, I was in the Air Force, a military organization.  And we were taught that it was our duty to always strive to escape if taken captive.”  Buck gazed intently at Dr. Burrows.  “I forgot a time or two, but I have always considered myself a prisoner of war here.”  He looked at Ril, who offered his outstretched hand.  He took it and Ril helped him up.  “You knew?” 

“About the mutiny?” Ril asked.  At Buck’s nod, he continued.  “Yes, I did.  The administrator took about six of us into his confidence.  For some reason he didn’t suspect me that much.  Maybe he didn’t think the guards could have anti-company sympathies.”  Up until recently, I didn’t think I could either.”  He paused and looked over his shoulder.  “Anyway, he told us about the proposed insurrection during the tournament.  And I would guess that some of those other senior guards are going to start wondering and come investigate soon.” 

Buck felt the throbbing in his arm, but ignored it.  “I know.  Now the real fun begins.” 

Ril nodded, suspecting that Rogers was understating the situation tremendously. 

 

 

Chapter Thirty-three
Forerunners of Bosk Prologue
Buck Rogers Contents
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