Forerunners of Bosk
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
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
“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.
“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
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.”
“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 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
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
“Yes, Wilma,” the quad
said. “So far, without success.
The shuttle would be very easy to dispose of without any clues left
“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
Wilma gazed questioningly at
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?”
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
“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
“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
“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.”
“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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