Forerunners of Bosk

 

 

 

 

Chapter Five

   

 

After a careful aerial survey of the area where Buck and Hawk had landed, along with the place where the supposed distress signal had originated, Wilma and her wing man set their starfighters down in the same clearing in which the shuttle had landed.   Several days ago she had seen a signal just as everyone else on the bridge of the Searcher had, but now there was nothing unusual at all except the still smoldering remains of a building. 

Wilma popped her canopy and gazed around, her laser in one hand.  Bristol, in the other starfighter, did the same.  It was quiet, a slight early morning breeze causing leaves to rustle.  They would have plenty of time to investigate, try to find out what happened here on the ground.  That didn’t comfort Wilma, though.  A day had passed since Buck and Hawk’s disappearance.   

Wilma pulled the canopy closed and ident-locked it before jumping down and surveying the small clearing.  Her wing-mate, John Bristol, did the same.  He then used his scanner to survey the forest beyond their little clearing, making almost a complete circle before stopping. 

“Individuals.  In that direction,” he said tersely, pointing. 

There was a small path.  “How many?” Wilma asked.  “Can you tell?”  

“It’s hard, but I think there are only a few,” Bristol replied.  “All in the same direction.”

Wilma nodded.  “We’ll go slow and easy,” she said, starting down the path, her laser pistol out and ready.   Carefully, they made their way through the forest until they reached a cleared hillside covered with cultivated vines.  Wilma remembered that this was mainly an agricultural world only beginning to delve into extra-solar commerce.  And alcoholic beverages were their specialty, wines mainly.   “All right, what are your readings saying now?”  

“Ahead of us; over the next rise,” Bristol reported.     

They walked along the utility road, watchful.  Wilma noticed that a few plants were burned and she couldn’t help but think that it appeared to come from laser fire.   She also examined the ground near those damaged plants.  When they topped the rise, Wilma, having hand-signaled Bristol to leave the dirt road, paused, momentarily taken aback.  Before them, on the flat valley floor, lay the smoldering ruins of what appeared to have been a dwelling.  There were several people wandering around, one poking amongst the ruins, the others gazing directly at them.  

“Might as well go down and introduce ourselves, right Colonel?” Bristol said.  “Sure apparent they know we are here.”  

Wilma only nodded, holstering her weapon, but leaving the safety strap undone.  Bristol followed suit.  They calmly walked down the hillside, but all the while, Wilma was looking around her.  She saw outbuildings further down the valley which were untouched.  As they approached the burnt out buildings, Wilma noted evidence of laser burns on part of the only still standing inner wall of the house.  The three watchers walked out to meet them, their faces almost inscrutable, except for their eyes, which were hard and unwelcoming.   

“Colonel Wilma Deering from the exploration ship, Searcher,” Wilma began.  “Two of….”  

“Two of your crewmen did this!” the man in the lead cried out.  “And my great aunt was killed as a result.”  

Wilma was momentarily taken aback, but she quickly composed herself.  “The two who came down here were answering a class two emergency distress signal.”  She paused.  “In case you aren’t aware of it, that’s an intra-space, to-be-answered-by-any-ship-in-the-vicinity signal.”  

“I don’t know about any space distress call.  All I know is my aunt was an old woman living in the family home and two off-world criminals came and set the house on fire, killing her,” the man said tersely. 

Wilma gazed meaningfully at him, her eyes boring into his.  “It looks more like an ambush to me,” Wilma said.  “And I wonder just who ambushed whom?”   She was gratified to see that the man who seemed to be in charge flinched and looked away for a moment.

“What are you insinuating?” the first man asked.   

“I was making an observation,” Wilma answered.  She pointed toward the part of one wall still standing.  “See the laser burns?  They came from outside.  It’s my understanding that you people don’t have laser weaponry.”  

“Your men were outside,” the man argued.   

“Yes, but they went inside,” Wilma replied, showing Buck and Hawk’s footprints that went to the bottom step of the porch.  They were partly obliterated by other’s footprints, but it was still easy to see what Hawk and Buck had done.   “They went in and were ambushed.  There are no prints coming out.”   

“They came out and then flew away.”  

“They and who else?” Wilma asked tersely.  She had moved closer to the three men until they were almost toe-to-toe.  

“Get off this land before I call the law on you!” the man snarled.  “And be lucky we don’t have galactic authorities arrest you all.”  

“Don’t worry.  The Galactic Council will hear about this.  And if you should suddenly remember what really happened, you can contact us through the spaceport authority.  We aren’t going anywhere right away,” Wilma said pointedly.   

“Get out!  Get off our land!” the leader shouted.   

“Of course,” Wilma said with a smile.  She motioned to Bristol and they turned and started back in the same direction they had come.  When they came closer to the shed-like building, Wilma said, “Let’s take a short detour.”   

“They’re watching,” Bristol said.  

“Let them watch.  We are doing what they said, just not the way they said.”  Wilma felt her anger seething.  She had wanted nothing better than to shove her fist into the man’s face.  Liar, she thought.  You are probably the one pulling a trigger out here.  “And I thought I saw evidence of some activity near there.  I just want a closer look.”  

As they approached the small building, Wilma saw that indeed there had been something going on here.  There was the print of Hawk’s distinctive boot soles, his footwear having been made on Throm to his own specifications.   There was another set of footprints, slightly larger that she took to be Buck’s and then smaller prints, shoes, not boots.  A third person?  The great-aunt? she thought.   “Keep looking around where they can see you, Lieutenant,” she ordered.  Going around to the far side of the building, Wilma found a door.  It was locked, but she could have been willing to bet that there was some sort of passage from the house to this shed. 

“Couple of them are coming,” Bristol informed her.  

“That’s okay.  Let’s go,” Wilma said.  “I believe I have found out what I need to know.”  

They walked toward the forest, following the tracks that led from the shed.  Just inside the foliage and out of sight of the Neckarese Wilma stopped.  “Buck, Hawk and someone else, possibly that old woman they were talking about, came from the shed and went into the forest.  The direction appears to be toward the shuttle,” Wilma told her companion.   

“But how did they get from the house…?” Bristol began and then it dawned on him.  “A cellar or tunnel?”  

Wilma nodded.  “Yes, let’s follow the trail as long as we can.”  

The small trail appeared to be a little used one, but it headed unerringly in the direction of the clearing where Buck and Hawk’s shuttle had been.   When they reached the clearing, Wilma gazed more carefully around the area.  Bristol did the same.   

“Colonel, there’s a lot of tracks over here,” Bristol called out.   

Wilma joined him.  “Yes, and near where their shuttle was sitting,” she concurred, pointing to the impressions made by the shuttle’s landing gear.   In fact, even to her untrained eye, it seemed as though a veritable army had been here.  

“Could have been those guys from the vineyard,” Bristol suggested.  

“Could be, and possibly others, too,” Wilma added.  “But I don’t think they were in on the actual kidnapping.  I think they just provided the place of ambush and maybe some firepower.”  She wished she was better at this, but somehow, she thought these were not locals.  Some of the prints had the conformation of space boots. “I’m going to look around the perimeter of this clearing.  You watch our back trail.”  

As she studied the fortuitously soft ground, Wilma noticed the extra set of tracks leading into the forest.  The other person with Hawk and Buck had not gotten on the shuttle with them.  So where is she? she thought, feeling even more that this was the mysterious woman Buck and Hawk had been accused of killing.  

The tracks disappeared among the leaves and debris of the forest. Wilma returned to the clearing where Bristol was waiting for her. “There is nothing else we can do here,” she told him.  

“Did you find anything?” he asked. 

 

“Enough to be even more suspicious.”  Wilma climbed into her starfighter and began preflight checks.  Bristol did the same.  Soon they were winging through the atmosphere toward the Searcher.  

             

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

 

Every morning since his arrival, Buck had managed to mark the passage of each day on the wall of his cell.  On the fourteenth day, he awoke and began gasping for air, coughing and choking, trying to clear the phlegm that seemed to fill his windpipe and lungs.  The last thing on his mind was marking a day.  What most occupied his thoughts was staying alive.  Within minutes a guard was at his door, silently watching, his eyes uncommitted, unsurprised and, for the moment, unresponsive.   Finally, Buck was able to take slow breaths, painful though they were, and get some of the air his lungs craved. 

When he felt a bit better, he gazed meaningfully at the guard. “Don’t think I’m going to be blowing caves today,” he wheezed and then concentrated on his breathing.   His lungs felt as though they were on fire and his body ached.   Sweat trickled down the side of his face, but he felt chilled and only wished he could crawl back under his blanket.   

Finally the guard asked, inanely, Buck thought, “Are you all right, forerunner?”  

Gazing at the guard in the dim light, Buck saw no evidence that the guard was trying to bait him or be sarcastic.  “No, I’m not.   Hard to breathe.”   

“I’ll take you to the med bay,” the guard said, opening the door.  “Follow me.”  

Slowly Buck got up and walked out of his small cell, following behind the guard.  He was almost panting by the time they got to the sick bay.  

“Sit down,” a small, gray-haired, sad-eyed man said, pointing to an exam table.  “Take off your shirt.”  

Saying nothing, Buck did as he was told. 

“How do you feel?” the man whom Buck assumed to be a doctor, asked.   

“Like hell.”  

The doctor raised an eyebrow.  Then he smiled grimly.  “Could you be a bit more specific?”   

“Hard to breathe . . . lungs feel full of junk . . . muscles, joints ache.”  He took a shallow breath and then coughed, loosening up phlegm in his throat.  “Like the winter of seventy-nine.  Kamikaze flu.”  

“I will accept your description and not try to understand what else you said.”  He paused.  “But you have a malady common to those new to the mines, especially forerunners.  Sets up in the lungs and hits pretty fast, although I have not seen a case hit quite so fast as yours.”  He turned and walked to a locked cabinet.  After thumbprint identification, he opened the cabinet, pulled out a small hypodermic vial and returned to Buck’s side.  “Where did you say you were from?” The doctor set the vial down and picked up a small note pad and an old-fashioned pen. 

“Earth.”  

“Ah, terran.  Which city?”  

“Chicago.”  

After taking a few notes, the doctor put down his note pad.  “I am going to give you a shot that will counter the effects of your illness.  You will begin to feel better in a few hours.”  

Buck looked incredulous at the doctor’s claim, but at this point, he was willing to believe the man.  All he wanted to do was lay down and just forget life existed for a few days.   

“You will also feel a bit more energized.”  

Buck just sat silently while the doctor gave him the shot in his shoulder.   

“I need a bit of background.  I’m studying this cave sickness, trying to learn enough about it to possibly come up with a vaccine to prevent it.”  

Buck nodded, thinking that even in his day there were flu vaccines, but they couldn’t figure out a way to prevent this?  

“How old are you?”  

There was no way Buck was going to get into a discussion of his chronological age.  “Thirty-four,” he said simply. 

The doctor checked his pulse, heart rate, and blood pressure.  He took a sample of blood and then he dismissed Buck into the custody of a guard.   Buck was taken to the breakfast room where he was given his morning repast, something that looked like a cross between grape nuts and oatmeal.  This morning, though, he only picked at it listlessly, not feeling very hungry.  He wondered if they truly expected him to blow open caves this morning.  Finally, he laid his head on the table.  A tap on the shoulder took his attention from the now cold breakfast and his misery.  Buck looked up into the not unsympathetic face of a guard.   

“Come with me.  You are going to gather today.”  

Buck sighed, but said nothing, knowing it would do no good.  He sincerely hoped the claims of the doctor were true, because if they weren’t he was going to be carried back to his cell.  Nodding, he slowly got up and followed the guard.  As they walked down a corridor, a trustee handed him a bag.   The satchel was heavy and Buck looked in it, seeing a small shovel and a pick.  That answered his previous question.  He was working, although it was lighter duty, getting the gems the forerunners had blown loose.  

After what seemed an interminable walk, one where he had to stop briefly and rest a couple of times, the guard stopped him.  “Wait.  You will mine the crillite as soon as the forerunner is finished.”   

Buck nodded and waited, leaning against the rough wall, catching his breath.  Surprisingly, though, he seemed to be having a slightly easier time breathing and he did feel a bit less tired.   Soon there was a sharp blast, a rattling of loose stones and then only settling dust.  The forerunner walked out of the corridor, a cannon on his shoulder.  Buck was startled to see that it was Hawk.   

His friend was equally surprised, but he quickly recovered and with his free hand, signed, ‘How are you?’  

‘Sick, but I am getting better,’ Buck replied in sign.  Then he made another quick sign.  ‘Freedom.’  

“Forerunner, on to the next cave,” another guard said to Hawk.  “You inside and gather the crillite,” he said to Buck.  With a last look at Hawk, Buck gathered his satchel and walked into the cave.  Hawk was escorted to his next duty station.

Throughout the rest of the day Buck gathered the crillite, feeling somewhat better as the afternoon progressed.  Within a couple of days, he felt almost back to normal.  He was still surprised that they seemed to be able to make medicine that could work so quickly, and yet not be able to find something to prevent this malady.   The following days added the routine of the medicine to his schedule and he didn’t dare question the whys of such long-term care, familiar as he was with the same types of medical regimens during his younger days.    

He began placing marks on the wall again now that he was feeling better and by his best reckoning, almost three weeks had passed.  Buck began wondering why he bothered, but still he continued accounting for the days.

 

 

 

Chapter Six
Forerunners of Bosk Prologue
Buck Rogers Contents
Main Page