Forerunners of Bosk

 

 

 

Chapter Thirty-six 

   

 

Buck appeared tired and worn, but he grinned and said, “Welcome to New United States, Princess.  What brings you all the way out here?”  Ardala couldn’t think of anything to say for a moment. 

For his part, Buck couldn’t believe that he was sitting here talking to Ardala.  He gazed at her closely to see if she had any foreknowledge of his presence here or any ulterior motives, but he could see none.  She had acted totally surprised.  He knew that someone was coming to get Tigerman, but that Ardala would come personally surprised him.  Then again, he thought, nothing that Ardala did surprised him. 

“I am here to demand the return of my slave, Tigerman,” she finally said.   

From behind him, Buck heard the surprised whuff of the Rrilling.  While Tigerman had known that he was going to be liberated, apparently he was just as surprised as Buck that his princess would do so personally.   Buck was about to tell her that he knew her ship was coming but he paused, a sudden idea occurring to him.  “For a moment, Princess, I had begun to wonder if you were here to negotiate a land use deal with our new government.”   

“Land use?”

“Sure.  This mine can’t be the only place where crillite is found.  The geologic surveys give evidence of other deposits.”  Buck could see the wheels turning. 

Ardala thought her father would be very impressed if she came back with a deal for something as precious and costly as crillite.  “I would like to talk further on this matter in person, Captain.”  

“Of course, Princess.  But you do realize that in order to consummate a deal with our government, the Draconian Empire has to recognize our fledgling government.”

She laughed.  “Of course.”  She paused a beat.  “And you haven’t changed much in the past two years, Buck Rogers.  You are still sly and devious.” 

“Thanks,” he replied brightly.  

“Now I would like to see my . . . to see Tigerman.”   

Before anyone could do or say anything, the felinoid was standing behind the terran.  He had been in the same room all along, Ardala realized.  Tigerman appeared eager to see her but there was a wariness she had not seen before.   She hoped his newfound freedom had not gone to his head.  Ardala looked at Buck.  “I wish an audience with both of you.” 

“Of course, Princess.  One hour.  Surface.” 

“How primitive is the surface?”

“Ardala, we are talking about a mining town.  But I had in mind a very nice reception area in the spaceport.” 

“No, aboard my ship,” she said decisively.  It didn’t hurt to let people know who was superior occasionally.   

But Buck shook his head.  “While I would love to meet aboard your yacht, I’m afraid it’s out of the question, Your Highness.  We’re still hammering out details here and I don’t think it would be good for the president of a fledgling country to take off on the third day of office.”  Understatement, Buck thought, thinking of the big blow up that would occur when the Arator Company showed up.  It was imperative that he try to cement a commitment from the eastern continent before they did.  

“Hmm,” Ardala said thoughtfully.  “Very well.  The spaceport in one hour.”  She cut the communications and pondered.  The captain said another ship was apparently on a course for Bosk.  The Arator Company or someone else?  Regardless, it was in the best interest of the Empire to cement come kind of deal.   Turning to the captain, she ordered, “Ready the shuttle.”  As he bowed, she headed toward her quarters to change into something appropriate.  

An hour later, she was sitting in a very nicely furnished office looking across a shiny-topped wooden desk where Buck sat.   He was dressed in something that appeared to be a uniform, although stripped of any kind of ornamentation.  She suspected that it was some kind of modified Arator Company clothing, considering how she suspected he had come to be on this planet.   

“Would you like something to drink, Princess?” he asked.  

Tigerman stood behind the desk.  He was apparently serving as Buck’s bodyguard for the moment.   “Yes, I would, Buck.  Or should I say, Mr. President?”   

Buck grinned as he got up and she felt her breath quicken for a second.  “Let’s stay somewhat informal, Ardala.  It’s only temporary anyway.”  He poured drinks for them both and handed her one of them. 

“All right, Buck, what kind of deal can you offer the Draconian Empire?” 

“Mineral rights on certain parts of New United States.” 

“But not the existing mine?” Ardala ventured. 

“Not ours to give, really.  But you’d have first rights to it if Arator chooses not to negotiate with us.”  Buck smiled.  “Minus the equipment, of course.  That also belongs to Arator and we don’t want anyone saying that we weren’t entirely fair about all this.”  He took a sip of his drink, then put it down.  He gazed hard at her.  “And Princess, please understand, the mine will not be run like a prison or slave labor camp.  The miners will be paid wages and they will be treated humanely.   There is a ready made work force here for the hiring.”  He paused.  “There are many prisoners who have chosen to stay here.  Most, in fact.” 

“Even after their treatment here?   And after they have been freed?” Ardala asked, curious.  

Buck suddenly looked melancholy.  “Yeah, there is nothing for them anywhere else.”  He gulped his drink, and then smiled softly.  He realized that he could be talking about himself, as well as the others.  “One of Arator’s tricks was to use garox to cure a parasitic condition that some miners, mainly forerunners, picked up.” 

Ardala’s eyes widened in surprise.  “The cure is worse than the sickness,” she replied, then she felt the shock of sudden suspicion.  “Were you a forerunner, Buck?” 

He poured a small amount of wine in his glass then he looked up with a smile.  He could kick himself for revealing so much of his inner feelings.  “Ah, Ardala, shall we not keep some semblances of past illusion between us?” 

She returned his smile.  He was right.  She didn’t really want a confirmation of what she was thinking.  “Beside payment for rights, what else does this new empire get from Draconia?” 

“Recognition.  I am sure Cronis will recognize our claim, along with Earth, but if another, very powerful galactic entity, recognizes this continent’s right of sovereignty, then no one else can dispute it.”  

Ardala nodded.  “Done!”  She turned to Tigerman.  “And now that I have chased all over the galaxy for you, don’t tell me you want to stay here.” 

Tigerman looked at Buck, who nodded.  “Sounds to me like the princess rather values your services, my friend.  Decision’s yours.  You’re a free man.” 

Tigerman looked back at Ardala and smiled toothily.  “Go with you.” 

“Everything is settled, we really can get informal,” she said.  “You wouldn’t consider abdicating this position of yours and coming back to Draconia with me, would you?  Or are you mated with that insufferable Colonel Deering?” 

“No, I am not mated.  No, she is not insufferable and no, I wouldn’t consider,” he said quickly.  “But thanks for the offer,” he added with a quick grin to show he harbored no ill feelings. 

“I didn’t think you would.”  

Buck saw slight sadness in Ardala’s eyes, but none of the anger or petulance of before.  She really had changed.  

The communications console beeped and Ril’s face appeared before him.  “Just wanted to let you know that representatives from Earth and the Galactic Council have arrived.  Barney talked them into recognizing our fledgling government, but they are coming to see you to discuss details.” 

“Great!” Buck said.  “Same with the Draconian Empire.  You two get on the horn with the Bosk Free Government and tell them of recent developments.  It’s in their own best interests to back us.  Also, after you contact Korrelian, contact Arator and let them know that I will get a hold of them and advise them of their terms of renewal.” 

“Sure thing, Captain.”  And Ril signed off.  

“Sorry, Ardala. Do you mind company?” 

Ardala smiled and shook her head.  Sipping her drink she then said, “No, I would be interested in seeing how the leader of a brand new empire handles dignitaries he doesn’t know.”  

Buck laughed and refilled her wine glass.  The Arator Company really did supply good vintage, he thought.  

The door slid open and a former prisoner, who was now serving as an aide, stepped in.   “The Earth delegation is here, Captain,” the young man said.  

“Send them in, please,” Buck replied.  He stood near his desk in anticipation, extremely glad that Barney and Ril had taken care of the preliminaries.  It had not surprised him that Ril, like Dr. Burrows, had chosen to stay on Bosk.  To a lesser degree, it had not surprised him that Barney had decided to stay as well.  It really shouldn’t have at all, Buck reflected.  Barney had nothing on Neckar, except slavery.  Here he was useful and important and most of all, free.  Most of the prisoners had opted to stay as well, many for the reason he had hinted to Ardala.  Surprisingly, about half of the guards had opted to make a new life here.  It was the administrative staff that had, almost as a body, put in for transfer off the planet.  Other than Dr. Burrows, only a couple of others had wanted to stay.  Buck brought his mind back to the present when the door slid open.  

In the doorway stood Hawk, a large smile on his face.  “I should have known that you would have done just fine without me,” he quipped.  

Even though he had suspected that the Searcher was the other ship, Buck stood stunned for a moment.  Then he was across the room in an instant, taking his friend in a fierce bear hug that spoke volumes of friendship and relief.  And behind Hawk, tears in her eyes, stood Wilma.  Buck pulled back and as Hawk stood to one side, she flung herself into his arms.  He hugged her tightly, enveloping her in his arms, not wanting to ever let her go.  

“I thought we would never find you,” she murmured.  Neither let go of the other for a moment; then Buck slowly, reluctantly released her.  

“We have a guest,” he said with a soft smile.  It was difficult to contain his emotions.  But one thing he had to do, guest or not.  Leaning forward, Buck soundly kissed Wilma, long and deep, something he had only dreamed about for the past months.  Finally they were together.  Finally.   But for how long, a tiny voice at the back of his mind asked. 

Wilma pulled back with a sigh and then gazed deeply into his eyes.  “Buck Rogers, don’t you ever leave me again,” she said in mock sternness.  

While still holding her hand, Buck suddenly felt the currents of fear.  Fear of the future.  He realized that in some ways, he had already left her.  Not of his own volition, but left her regardless.   He turned to greet Admiral Asimov and Dr. Goodfellow, trying hard to squelch the troubled feeling that seemed to be growing inside. 

 

 

 

“Hello darkness, my old friend…………….”

 

 

               Comments?  Please contact me.

 

Freedom's Wings  (the continuation of Forerunners)
Forerunners of Bosk Prologue
Buck Rogers Contents
Main Page