Forerunners of Bosk

 

 

 

 

Chapter Seven

 

 

Wilma paced the confines of the admiral’s ready room.     Her nervous energy and anxiety could not be constrained even while Crichton droned on. 

“Each stargate has a destination possibility factor of from twenty to thirty places of exit, depending on the coordinates given before entrance into said stargate.  And that is for just the known destinations.  I cannot verify it, but there is the distinct possibility of other exit points that we do not even know about.  After all, that is how the existing stargate coordinates came into being,” the robot explained.  “Be that as it may, all of the known first stage destination coordinates have been checked.  No Searcher shuttlecraft landed during the time frame that was indicated on any of the stargate destination planets.   Several most likely destination coordinates were checked from those twenty-three destinations and there has been nothing viable in any of the searches thus far.”

The admiral held up his hand.  They had gone through this before.  He didn’t need the robot talking to him like some obstinate schoolboy to get the picture.   “In other words, we cannot feasibly continue to search in this manner unless we have some clue, some kind of hint that will narrow the search down.” 

“Yes, Admiral,” Crichton said stuffily, apparently miffed by the interruption in his explanation. 

“Then it’s just as I thought.  Our only recourse is to continue to gather information on Neckar,” Wilma said, stopping and facing the admiral. 

“I believe so,” Asimov said. 

“I have someone on the planet trying to find something for me.  He said to give him a couple of days.  It’s been a few days,” Wilma said.  “I think it’s time to see if he has found anything.” 

“I agree, Wilma, but I want you to be careful.  I think we’re working with more than greedy businessmen here.  I agree with your assessment that there is some off-world connection,” the admiral admitted.  “I don’t think it’s unfeasible for us to consider all of Buck’s and Hawk’s enemies and see if there is a connection, something we can work with here.” 

“I will be careful, Admiral,” Wilma said with a strained smile.  “And I’ll have Dr. Theopolis and Twiki with me.” 

The admiral only nodded.  

“I am going to go planet side now and meet my contact, with your permission, Admiral.” 

“Yes, by all means.  I want to resolve this.   I want to find Buck and Hawk quickly.”  To know that they are safe.  With a sigh, he got up.  Dr. Goodfellow and Lt. Michael Freeman, the temporary exo in charge of defense and exploration, followed suit.  Twiki, with Dr. Theopolis around his neck, followed Wilma out the door.

 

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“May I look inside one of your spacecraft?” Habris asked.  At Wilma’s skeptical look, he added, “Our readers will really enjoy it and it might predispose them to your favor.”   He leaned back and smiled.  “There are still folks out there passing around all the sensational stories that have come out of this.” 

Before Wilma could say anything, Theo said, “I do not see why that would be a problem.”   The quad sat on the desk, facing Habris.  Twiki had been left to watch the shuttle. 

Then it dawned on Wilma what Habris might possibly be getting doing here.  She nodded, “All right, let’s go now.” 

Habris nodded and called over his shoulder to a young clerk in the other room.  “Take over, Marc.” 

The Neckarese man ordered a transport similar to what Wilma and Theo had ridden in to see Habris.  He asked basic general question all the way to the small spaceport, all of which Wilma or Theo answered as best they could.  Not once did Habris mention Mrs. Brock, nor did they ask him about her.   Wilma now understood the reason and was willing to wait until they got to her shuttle.  

She showed him aboard the craft after giving Twiki the ident codes.  “Anybody come snooping around?” she asked. 

“Yup, a couple of people.  I got their pictures on a security vid,” Twiki answered with a knowing beep.  “One tried out the door to see if it would open, but he left when it didn’t.” 

“You and Dr. Theopolis check to see if there were any devices left behind,” Wilma ordered.  She was beginning to feel an added touch of paranoia, but she was determined to overcome it, and to continue this investigation that would lead to Buck and Hawk’s rescue.  She took Habris around the inside of the craft, showing him the various compartments, telling him of their mission aboard the Searcher until Twiki and Theo returned.  

“All clear, Wilma,” Twiki said as he stumped up the ramp and back into the shuttle.  He punched a button and the door shut behind him, effectively closing them off from listening ears. 

Habris turned off his recording device and said, “I have found out where Brisella Brock is.” 

“Where?” 

“First of all, I am glad you were able to pick up on my subterfuge.  Since I saw you last and especially since I have begun making inquiries, as well as comments regarding my feelings about the Ahern family, I have seen evidence that I am being watched.  I don’t know if that extends to my office being planted with spying devices or not, but I chose to take no chances.”  

“I hope this doesn’t put you in danger, Mr. Habris,” Wilma said in alarm.  Having dealt with Erik Kormand and his organization in the recent past, she knew what power some people could wield and as much as she loved Buck and wanted him back, she didn’t want anyone else to come to harm.  

“No, I am not worried about myself.  I am only worried about the truth.  And I feel that the truth is being buried under greed and avaristic activities.  The reactions of the Aherns to my investigations just served to verify that,” Habris said.  “But the person I am most concerned about is Brisella Brock.” 

“I know.  I remember what you said earlier and I am well aware of what could happen to her,” Wilma replied with a sigh.  

“It seems that the Aherns are very eager to keep her whereabouts a secret.”  He paused and rubbed the back of his neck.  “I am very curious.  You people able to tell if another of your ships is nearby?” 

“Normally, yes, but there are various methods to disguise small craft.”  Wilma paused.  “And when we first got here we weren’t looking for anything other than evidence of some kind of disaster.  If you did your homework you will know that we sent a communiqué of inquiry to your government at the same time that Buck and Hawk landed.”  

“But if the attackers, as well as the kidnappers, were from off-world, they would have been here before the distress signal was set up,” Theo said.  “This was very well planned.” 

“Mr. Habris,” Wilma said, interrupting Theo.  Her paranoia began kicking in again. “How do we know that you haven’t had contact with off-worlder’s?”  

“You don’t, really.  I assure you I haven’t, but I’m confident that Joses Ahern has.  And the local hotel had a no vacancy sign out for the first time in years just before all this happened.”  He smiled.  “And there was increased activity at this spaceport.  The official story was that they were export specialists from off world interested in our wines.  And they acted the part.” 

Wilma leaned against the inner bulkhead of the shuttle’s main cargo bay.  They had done all the checking they were able to do on Leon Habris and had found no evidence whatsoever that he had done more than make planetary contacts.  Of course, if he had really wanted to, he could have contacted anyone on planet, including those who had something to do with Buck and Hawk’s disappearance.   But deep down, Wilma knew that Habris was exactly who he said he was, a newspaperman who was curious and who believed their story.   And did they really have a choice but to trust this man?  How long had Buck and Hawk been gone?  A week now?  A week of desperate searching through seemingly endless stargates.  Wilma had never realized how many possibilities there were, how far humanoids had explored, colonized and developed the star systems in the galaxy.  Crichton was still tallying possible destinations and she, Twiki and Theo were trying to find clues here.  Sucking in a deep breath, Wilma realized that although this was highly organized, there had to be a mistake somewhere.  A chink in that wall of impenetrability.   There had to be!  And she also felt that Habris could be trusted.  There was something about him that appealed to her in a fatherly way.  

“Colonel Deering,” Habris said, his hand resting lightly on her sleeve.  “I am not unsympathetic to your plight, but somehow we need to go slowly on this.  A woman’s life may depend on it.” 

“What about Buck’s life?  Hawk’s?” Wilma retorted, her frustration bubbling to the surface.   “Going slow may be the very thing that will cause their deaths!” 

“It would seem to me that if they wanted your fiancé and his friend dead, you’d have found their bodies by their shuttle a week ago,” Habris pointed out. 

“The shuttle!” Wilma cried out.  “Dr. Theopolis, are our operatives working on that angle?” 

“Yes, Wilma,” the quad said.  “So far, without success.  The shuttle would be very easy to dispose of without any clues left behind.” 

“I know, but I am glad that someone’s mind is still at work.” 

“You have done quite well, Colonel Deering, in trying to find clues where it is nearly impossible to do so.  Please do not berate yourself,” Theo assured her.  

“I agree,” Habris said.  “You’ve gotten me asking some questions that have made a few people uncomfortable.” 

Wilma gazed questioningly at him.  

“The Aherns.  I believe they are into more than the export of wine and brandy.  I believe that the disappearance of many of the Brock’s former slaves and employees is their doing, too.”  

“They have killed them?” Wilma asked. 

Habris rubbed his chin and sighed.  “I don’t know.  I don’t think so.  But I did hear an ugly rumor from someone of the sale of former slaves to markets on other planets.” 

“I will leave you to investigate that one,” Wilma said.  “Although I can tell you that there are such markets in the galaxy, unfortunately.”  She paused for only a few seconds.  “How do I talk to Brisella Brock?  I can’t help but think that she is our link to finding out where Buck and Hawk are.”  

“Why not take a lesson from your crewmembers’ kidnappers?  Use discretion.  Change your appearance a little; get a room at a hotel near where Brisella lives.  Leave your friends here on your ship.” 

“What?!” squawked Twiki. 

“You stand out,” Habris told the ambu-quad.  

“Which city?” Wilma asked. 

“The Aherns have actually made things a bit easier for us,” Habris said with a slight chuckle.  “As I had supposed, they have Mrs. Brock in a large old folks’ home in the capital.”  

Wilma smiled.  “Okay, what would you suggest, besides spending a few days in Dubros acting like a tourist.” 

“Actually not a tourist, a job seeker.   Get a job at the center where Mrs. Brock is staying.  Take a day or so to figure out the routine, get to know Mrs. ‘Bartin.’  That’s Brisela Brock’s name there.  Then, with some of your shipmates, get her out of there.” 

For a minute, Wilma could only stare in shock.  Then, “What?  Get her out?  I only want to talk with her.”

“Brisella Ahern Brock is an old woman.  I heard from the only family member that still talks to me, that she is getting somewhat demented.   If she’ll open up and talk to you about what happened, then she will most likely tell anyone who asks that she talked to you.”  He paused.  “I met her a few years ago.  About a year after the death of her husband.  She’s a grand and gracious old lady.  I would hate for anything to happen to her.”  Habris looked at Wilma meaningfully.  “She is the last of the old-fashioned family matriarchs, but somehow, I don’t think the Aherns would be above having her killed if they thought it would protect their operations, whatever they all are.” 

“I understand,” Wilma told him, even while trying to figure how this could be accomplished without creating a huge incident.  “I will try to be as discreet as possible but I still hope to be able to do this without resorting to kidnapping.”  She paced away from Habris and then turned and faced him again.  “Any suggestions as to the best way to get this job at the old folks home?” she asked.  

Habris smiled again.  “I know someone in the capital with pull.  It will not be a problem.  You show up with a predetermined name and they’ll hire you.” 

“This seems so unreal,” Wilma murmured.  “As though we have all the time in the world.” 

“This is actually very quick,” Habris said.  “It would really be better if the Aherns believed Mrs. Brock dead, but that can’t be helped.” 

Wilma simply nodded, deep in thought.   Perhaps if they did this right, they could make it look like the old woman was dead.  And perhaps if this worked, they could also ‘kidnap’ an Ahern and get information from him.   Wilma kept these thoughts to herself, not wanting to count on things that were certainly not sure. 

 

 

 

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