Forerunners of Bosk

 

 

 

Chapter Thirty-four

 

   

The small crowd followed Buck to the other section of the caves.  “Ril,” he called out on the communicator.  “The gas dissipated enough for us to come in?” 

“Yes, Captain,” came the answer. 

Buck turned to the group behind him.  “We are going to put some of the less reputable guards in cells along with anyone who wants a private war or a bit of revenge on their tormentors.  There are some guards and administrative personnel in the other cellblock who are helping us, but don’t assume that any awake guard is a friendly.  All I can tell you is to be careful.  Make sure you keep any weapons on stun.  We don’t want any bloodshed if we can help it.” 

Buck keyed the door open and they entered the main cellblock.   He, Tigerman, Ril and Barney split up the group from cell block two and oversaw them as the drugged guards in Cell Block One were checked.  They unlocked the doors of those prisoners that Ril and Barney felt were good risks.  Buck smiled when he thought of the surprise that awaited most of those he had worked and suffered side by side with for the past horribly long months.  

When they entered the recreation room, they found a sleeping crowd of huge proportions.  Buck had known that there were a great number of people in the large cavern when the game began, but with them sprawled all over the floors and seats, it seemed as though they were dealing with a crowd large enough to fill Wrigley Stadium.  “Okay, gang, we have a lot of people to check and only a little time in which to do it.   We’d better get cracking.   Take any weapons, even the smallest pen knife and lay them in the middle of the cavern.  If there is anyone known to cause trouble, take him to a cell to cool off.”   

Quickly the men went from guard to guard.  Buck was pleased to note that very few of the participants and spectators had weapons on them.  As the first of the players stirred, Buck was relieved and surprised at how smoothly everything had gone thus far.  But it was far from over, he thought.  He, Ril and Barney, along with others they felt could be trusted from both cellblocks, waited strategically for everyone to come to full wakefulness.  Once the process began, it didn’t take long for everyone to wake up.  The players and other guards, and administrators who had been watching, looked around in puzzlement.  Unarmed, Buck walked to the middle of the court.  Ril and Barney stood at his back.  They both had several laser pistols.  Dr. Burrows stood at his side and Tigerman was a few paces away, looking menacing.  

“For those who don’t know me, I’m Captain Buck Rogers, Earth Directorate, executive officer on board the exploratory ship, Searcher.  Some of you have known me by number, others have known me as Coach.”  He smiled softly.  “Right now, with the help of my colleagues here, I am the man in charge.”  

There were angry shouts and muttering.  

“Now, I am going to give you all some ground rules.  If you abide by them, we’ll all get along quite well together.”  He didn’t wait to hear what those watching him were saying.  “First of all, everyone will treat everyone else with respect, prisoner and staff alike.  No revenge, no harassment.  If you have a beef with anyone, come to any one of us that you trust and we’ll see about working it out.  We have a chance to start over again, a chance for freedom.  Let’s make the most of it.”  He paused for effect.  “Anyone who wants to go to the surface and try their luck living off the land can do so immediately.  Any staff members who want to stay in the employ of the Arator Company are welcome to do so.  There will be ships to take you out of here in about three or four days.”  Again Buck smiled.  “I figure that’s about how long it will take them to figure out what happened here,” he said. “All gems already mined belong to the Arator Company.  Anything picked up in the mines belongs to the finder, but there will be no crillite used to blow more gems, at least not for a while.  For those who wish to stay, there will be a provisional government formed within a day or two.  All suggestions will be considered.”  He paused and gazed at all the watchers.  

“Where’s the administrator?” the guard, Kris, demanded.  

“Unfortunately….” Buck began, but didn’t get to finish.

“Unfortunately, he fell and hit his head,” Burrow said.  “I declared him dead two hours ago.” 

“You killed him!” another guard shouted at Buck.  Tigerman snarled, his hands balling into fists.  

Buck thought about his answer.  It really didn’t matter what he said, someone would argue it and there would be anger and chaos.  He gestured to Ril, who handed him a laser.  Buck held it casually, point down, but still letting everyone know of his determination.  “When all is said and done, those who wish to investigate the administrator’s death may do so.  Right now, for those who long for a new life, for independence, we need to concentrate on that.”  He paused.  “And those who hinder that effort will be put in cells until they can be shipped off world.”  The last was said decisively, in a tone that would brook no argument.  He turned so he could look at everyone in the room.  “In other words, there is no way in hell that I will let anyone put me back in chains ever again.”  There were several cheers at that pronouncement.  “All weapons have been confiscated and storage areas secure.  In a short time any of you will be free to go to your own rooms, to the surface, or almost anywhere in the mines provided that you do not interfere with the new operation of this settlement.” 

He turned to his companions.  “I hate to put this on you, but I think these men need to be kept here until we can make sure none of them can communicate with the company,” Buck said.  “We need to change the ident locks on the communications equipment.”  He paused in quick thought.  “And I need to do a general announcement for the whole mine.  I believe there may be some prisoners wondering what’s going on.” 

“I agree with you,” Ril said.  “But don’t go alone this time.”  

Smiling, Buck nodded.  “Yes, but we have more muscle now.” 

Ril looked puzzled for a moment then he, too, smiled.  “Barney, Tigerman, a few other prisoners.” He shook his head.  “Ex-prisoners, rather.  Probably you need to take Dr. Burrows, too.” 

 

One day later, Buck was pleased to see most of the prisoners and staff eating breakfast together at makeshift tables in the rec room.  There had been several fights, some potentially severe, between guards and prisoners, some between just prisoners, but swift and decisive action prevented more than the little bit of bloodshed that had occurred.  Tigerman had knocked a few heads together and the combatants had spent enough time in cells to cool their ardor.  Some still had to be carefully watched and a few were still in cells.  About two- dozen prisoners had opted to go to the surface, wanting to spend their first night of freedom in the forest.  Buck had gladly let them take whatever they needed, short of laser pistols, to set up their own camps.  He had only hoped that there were no vicious animals out there.  The surveys had shown nothing very aggressive, only those predators that kept the local herbivorous population down, shy, elusive creatures, but he and Dr. Burrows had given each of the would-be settlers a warning, anyway.  You never could tell.  About half of the guards had put in for off-planet transfers, but had promised to wait patiently until the spaceport was available.  Only a few of the guards had refused to make such a commitment and had to be confined. 

Volunteers had spent the day loading the cargo containers with already gathered rough-cut gems.  After they had finished, there appeared to be just about enough for another day’s shipment.  Some former forerunners volunteered to go back into the mines to gather more.  The longer they could hold off the Arator Company, the better, and most of the prisoners and sympathetic guards realized that fact.  

Buck sat back with his coffee substitute and sighed.  “Barney, you take care of operations,” Buck instructed.  “I need to go through Dr. Beros’ papers and see if there is anything there that will help us.”  Seeing Barney’s hesitation, his almost panicked expression, he added, “You will do fine, but I need Ril part of the time to help make sense of the administrator’s office.  Get Doctor Burrows to help you if need to.  And delegate.  There’s some good men here.”  Barney sighed and nodded as Buck got up to leave.  Buck grinned and gave the former slave a thumb’s up. 

Buck headed directly toward Beros’ office, which had remained sealed since the takeover.  He sent Ril to communications for anything that might have come from the company or any other off-planet source in the past day.  Using Beros’ access card, Buck went into the office, cringing at the memories of his visits to this place.  Then he shrugged off the memories, took everything in at a glance and then began looking through files.  After a short while, it became apparent to the terran that graft was a very big part of the acquisition of prisoners.  About half were actual sentenced criminals, convicted of crimes ranging from petty theft to murder.  But the other half were pretty much political prisoners, many who had been on the losing end of a large scale struggle or, like he and Hawk, those who had made powerful enemies with very long memories and excellently filled pocket books.  Some, like Barney and Tigerman, were simply sales of slaves who had outlived their usefulness to their owners.  

According to memos that had been placed in the administrator’s file, the company had only been paid the minimal amount to take him and Hawk.  However, Beros had been getting payments for each of them for as long as they both remained alive.  Hawk’s stipends to the mine had ended over a month previously.  Buck looked at more notes and ground his teeth together in anger.  Beros was also getting a payment to make his life even more miserable than it had already been.  And the Human Rights organization was behind it.  LeeGrand and his buddies, probably with Kormand pulling the strings from his cell on Cronis.   Buck looked over some other memos that were lying on Beros’ desk and felt his curiosity increasing.  There were lots of references to the eastern continent, mostly complaints.  He dug into the former administrator’s computer files, thankful once more that Beros had left his password in “remember” mode.  He read and then realized the implications of the communiqués.  Smiling as the full revelation hit him, Buck read on.  Then he began to laugh.  He was still laughing when Ril walked into the office a short time later.

 

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Hawk stared at the screen in frustration and then reached for the ship’s auxiliary power cell controls.  

“I’m getting complaints from the passengers,” Kollin said.  “And being trained guards they could feasibly take over.   I would really like to avoid bloodshed if possible.” 

“As would I,” Hawk responded.  “But they will be too busy hanging on to their seats to try to take over.”  He paused.  “Tell them that.” 

Kollin nodded and spoke into his communicator.  Then he checked his safety harness when he saw Hawk reaching for the artificial gravity controls.  He couldn’t help but admire the tenacity of the birdman.  

Hawk put the craft into a roll and then fired the auxiliary engines.  The communicator blinked a signal from the huge ship that was now pursuing them.  

“Do you want me to see what they have to say?” Kollin asked.  

“You may do whatever you wish with the communicator.  But I will not give up,” Hawk replied evenly but firmly.  

Kollin pressed a switch.  “….you have been identified as a hijacked vessel.  Surrender or face damage from our tractor beams.  By order of the Galactic Council, you must surrender.”  

Hawk paused a moment.  This was a Galactic Council vessel?  Fortune couldn’t be tendering him such good luck.  “Ask for identification,” he ordered the human.  

Kollin did so.  “Vessel 22409, this is the Earth Directorate Galactic Council vessel, Searcher.”  

Hawk almost sagged in relief.   Now he even recognized the voice.  It was Devlin.  He reached for the communications toggle switch on his side of the cockpit.  Searcher, this is Hawk.” 

There was a stunned silence on the other ship.  “Hawk?” a voice asked.  It was the admiral.  “Hawk?  Is that really you?” 

“Yes, Admiral, it is I, Hawk.  I would be most grateful if you would take care of this vessel and its passengers after I have landed in the bay.” 

“Of course.”  There was a pause and then the inevitable and painful question.  “Is Buck with you?” 

“No, Admiral,” he said, his voice soft.  “Buck made my escape possible, but he was unable to come with me.  I promised to find you and then rescue him and those with him.” 

“Yes.  Come aboard immediately, Hawk,” Asimov said, the happiness in his voice palpable.   “We can use the tractor beam and bring you in if you would like.  I’m sure you are tired.” 

Hawk thought for the briefest of seconds.  Although quite proud of his piloting skills, the Admiral was right.  He was tired.  “That would be good, Admiral.  Thank you.”  He sighed in relief, relaxing for the first time in what seemed an eternity.  

Kollin gazed at him in awe.  “How did you do that?” 

“What?” Hawk asked as he felt the jerk and tug of the larger ship’s tractor beam. 

“Manage to find your own ship?” 

“It was so willed by Make-Make,” Hawk said and then smiled.  “And perhaps by the human’s God as well.” 

“And what a ship!” Kollin added fervently.  “How did you manage a spot on that one?” 

“A long and difficult story,” Hawk answered without elaborating.  Kollin didn’t ask any more and Hawk was glad.  He only wished to be back aboard the Searcher, change into his clothing of rank and arrange for Buck’s rescue. 

 

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Wilma reached for the communications panel at almost the same instant that she and Peter flew through the stargate.  Her excitement was almost more than she could contain.  They had narrowed down Buck and Hawk’s whereabouts to three possible planets, probably one, if their two colleagues had been sent to the worst possible hellhole imaginable.  

As soon as they had cleared the stargate, Wilma began speaking, “Searcher, this is Red Dog.  Come in, Searcher.” 

The admiral answered.  “Welcome back, Wilma.  Good to have you back home.” 

“Good to be back, Admiral,” she replied.  “And we have good news.” 

“So do we.  Come on board.” 

Wilma was a bit puzzled, but still too happy to ponder the admiral’s news.  She and Peter eased into the hangar bay, sliding past an unknown shuttle.  The symbols seemed a bit familiar though.  

“Arator Company,” Peter said from beside her.  His voice held a note of concern. 

Wilma simply stared; too stunned to say anything.  What could it mean, she wondered.  Had they brought back Hawk and Buck?   Had they brought news?  Good or bad.  Then she mentally shook herself.  Very unlikely considering what she knew of the mining company.  

As they reached the hangar door, though, Wilma stopped short.  Walking toward her was Hawk.  It was almost as though he had never been gone.  He was pulling on his gauntlets as he always did before a mission, his face serious and focused on whatever was ahead.  A sudden insight told Wilma that the focus was probably her.  He looked up, saw her staring at him and smiled softly, reassuringly.  

Buck! she thought.  Buck was not with him.    Then Wilma felt ashamed of herself.   Here was Hawk, returned after who knows what kind of horrifying experience and all she could think about was Buck.  “Oh, Hawk, I . . . I’m….”  She could say no more; she threw her arms around him and hugged him fiercely.  “I was so worried about you.” 

Hawk held her for a moment and then he stepped back to look closely into her eyes.  “Buck is not with me.” 

Fear squeezed her heart and threatened to close her throat.  “He isn’t….?”  She couldn’t say it. 

“Buck was alive when I left him.  He enabled me to escape, but was not able to get all the way to the spaceport.”  Hawk took a deep breath.  “Humans in the mines have a tendency to pick up a parasite.  Buck was too ill to complete the journey, but I have every assurance that he was treated after recapture.”  He paused.  “After all, the more workers there are, the more crillite the company is able to get,” he added sarcastically. 

Wilma couldn’t tell if she should be relieved or even more anxious.  He was still alive when Hawk had left.  All they needed to do was go and rescue him.  “Where, Hawk?” she whispered.  

“Bosk,” he replied.  “And he had a message.”  He paused a moment.  “He said he was fine and would be waiting for your arrival.”  Hawk smiled.  “The admiral is changing course and we are going to Bosk even as we speak.”  

“Thank you, Hawk,” she said gratefully, answering his smile with a soft one of her own.  That was something she would expect Buck to say. 

“Buck also told me to hurry.  He had already missed about forty dates with you.” 

Now that really did sound like Buck, Wilma thought with a smile.

 

 

Chapter Thirty-five
Forerunners of Bosk Prologue
Buck Rogers Contents
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