Forerunners of Bosk

 

 

 

   

Chapter Nine

 

 

“Hey, Forerunner,” the guard said as Buck gathered his breakfast ‘porridge’ from the server. 

He quickly looked at it in disgust before turning his attention to the guard.  Same breakfast, same dinner; nothing in between.  Not that he hadn’t needed to drop a few pounds, but he’d had to tighten his belt several times since he came to this hole.   With a sigh, he looked at the guard, then pointed to himself.  

“Yeah, you.  It’s Recreation Day.” 

Buck’s eyebrow raised in inquiry and puzzlement.  Recreation day?  What the hell is that?  “Uh, what does one do on Recreation Day, if I may ask?” 

“You use the recreation room and exercise, or lay around under a sun lamp,” the guard told him.  “What do you think you would do?”

“I don’t know.  I wasn’t even aware that there was such a thing,” Buck replied a bit sarcastically.  At a dour look from the guard, he shut up.    

“There is and in your case it was for your efforts in saving that injured forerunner last week,” the guard said.  “As soon as you eat your breakfast, a ‘privileged’ will take you.” 

Buck nodded and turned back to his food.  He wondered if Hawk would be there.  Then he wondered if anyone would be and if so would he still be under the same edict of silence that he had been since his arrival.  It had seemed forever, this probation.  Buck knew that he was well beyond the two weeks that Beros had told him probation was, but the only time he had asked, he had almost had a stun pistol shoved down his throat.  Somehow, he couldn’t help but think that he had been singled out for ‘special treatment.’  Or maybe Beros hadn’t cared for his comments when they had first met.  Needless to say, though, his behavior not only effected his treatment, but more importantly, Hawk’s.  So he had been careful since that day in Beros’ office.  Only that time when the blast had gone wrong had he lost his cool and gone dangerously close to a punishment.  

Buck continued to think about Hawk, wondering how he was coping in this vision from some sadist’s most elaborate version of hell.  The spoonful of mush paused halfway to his mouth.  Buck wished that his friend had followed through on his desire to stay with his own people.   Hawk would be free right now.  And if he, himself, had paid more attention when they had returned to their shuttle?   Buck sighed, shoving aside the useless could-have-beens, would-have-beens, might-have-beens and ate, not even tasting the bland mush, and certainly long past gagging over its cloying texture.  It was sustenance, after all.  

Buck began to wonder anew about this ‘Recreation Day’ and could only guess that even the cretins that ran this operation saw the benefit in giving the prisoners some diversion from the torment of endless mining and blasting.  There began to be some small stirrings of anticipation about this Recreation Day.  While still feeling that such a thing must be too good to be true, Buck finished his breakfast quickly.   A ‘privileged,’ an older man, beckoned and Buck tossed his bowl and spoon into the wash bin and followed.  They walked down a corridor that ended in a large cavernous room with bright enough lights to dispel all shadows.   

Buck blinked at the bright light and looked around.   The ceiling was almost cathedral like, partly natural and partly carved out.  There was a tall lip of stone along one side, almost like a natural running track, but he knew that it was just something that was there.  It appeared that it served as a place to allow the electrical conduits.  Dr. Huer would gaze at such a set-up and make a comment on its primitive-ness.  Right now, though, it seemed almost homey until he reminded himself where he was.   Buck continued to gaze around.   The floor had been smoothed enough to lay a hard wooden covering on it.  Around the outsides of the cavern, there were benches, some with individual lamps, presumably the sunlamps that the guard had mentioned.  There were balls of various sizes lying in racks along with other sports implements.   There were various exercise bars and other equipment mounted on the walls.  Buck saw a few men on the opposite side of the room, bare-chested, grappling in what appeared to be something very close to Olympic style wrestling.   It was indeed a recreation room and Buck wondered at the extra expense that had to have gone into this.  

“Enjoy yourself, forerunner,” the privileged said.  “It only happens once in a great while.”

“How long do I have in heaven?” he asked, still staring about him in the wonder of it.

“At least half a day, forerunner,” his guide said with a chuckle.  “But don’t get any ideas about taking some of the equipment and trying to cause a riot or escape.  They monitor this place.”   He pointed to various places on the stone walls and Buck saw devices that looked like video equipment.  

“I’ll remember that,” Buck answered, walking over to one of the benches and looking it over.  

“Someone will be back when your time is up.”  The privileged turned and left.  

With a sigh, Buck lay down and relaxed as the lights bathed him in soft warmth.  He closed his eyes and pretended to be on the beach out on the Cape.  That lasted for only a few minutes.  Nothing could dispel the totality of his imprisonment.  Restless, he got up and walked the perimeter of the cavern.  There was a room off to one side, that when he peered in the doorway, seemed to be a locker room of sorts, complete with showers. Showers!!  Honest to goodness showers!   With a grin, he started in, already feeling the pleasure of warm, clean water on his skin.  

“Forerunner, you aren’t allowed in there,” a voice told him from behind. 

Buck turned and saw a guard approaching him, an irritated expression on his face.  Gazing at the room one more time, he shrugged and turned back to the cavern.  “A guy can hope, I suppose.”  Buck was astonished at how his world had narrowed to desires for simple things like showers, decent meals and warmth.  It made so many other things he had felt important, to absolute and ridiculous insignificance.   Then anger began to supplant the disappointment.   He barely had enough water in his cell to quench his thirst most days, much less bathe.   Some days he went thirsty in order to maintain some tiny semblance of hygiene.   And here were showers, empty and begging for a dirty forerunner to use.  

“I don’t even know why they are letting prisoners in here during our time off,” another guard growled.  

Buck took a deep breath, trying to rein in his growing irritation.  It would do no good to antagonize the guards, knowing that it would most likely curtail his use of this facility.  With a shrug, Buck simply smiled innocently and said, “I guess I was a good boy and Santa Claus gave me my Christmas present early.”  

“Santa Claus?”  The frown deepened.  “Are you trying to be clever with me?” 

“No, when I saw the showers, I was only hoping that I could take a few moments to get clean,” Buck said evenly, still trying to temper his anger.  “That’s all.” 

“This is for the guards.  There are places for prisoners to shower.” 

“Where?” 

“Over there,” the guard said, pointing to the other side of the room. 

“Thanks,” Buck said.  He sauntered over to the other room and saw a much smaller, dim and dank room.  The showers consisted of crude conduits with a faucet-type control under each one.  There were only a few such showers, but Buck wasn’t going to be picky.  He wasn’t going to be picky about the dim light, the rough hewn, damp walls and the slightly slippery, stone floor.  After pulling off his boots, he walked over and turned the faucet, standing under the conduit, clothes and all.  Only once during his sojourn here had he been given a change of clothes and like his body, he had done his best to clean them with the tiny bit of water in his cell.  Here was the opportunity get thoroughly clean. 

However, when the water hit him, he almost cried out in shock.  It was as cold as ice.  His skin crawled and his teeth chattered.  But Buck endured.  It was water and there was plenty of it.  Nearby was a small shelf bolted on the rock wall.  It held a bar of soap and a depilatory.   Even better, he thought, grabbing the items and returning to the Arctic waterfall.  Quickly stripping off his clothes, he bathed, took off his beard and then he washed his clothes.  He turned off the faucet, wrung his clothes out, and put them back on.   With his boots in his hands, Buck quickly dashed across the cavern and lay under one of the sun lamps.  Soon he had stopped shivering and felt the warmth of the heat lamps penetrating the damp clothes.  Rolling over, Buck lay quietly, letting his clothes dry, almost falling asleep before getting back up with a satisfied sigh.  

He wandered toward the other side of the cavern.   Pulling one of the balls out of a rack, he bounced it on the ground.  It had the size and feel of a basketball, and although hoops weren’t exactly his forte, it was something familiar.  Buck remembered the one-on-one games that he and his brother used to play, the friendly and sometimes not so friendly competitions among his fellow Air Force cadets.   The ball had a nice bounce to it and Buck began dribbling it back and forth across the cavern floor.  There were chinning bars attached to the stone wall that were a few feet shy of the right height for regulation basketball hoops and Buck headed toward one, continuing to dribble.  Still have it, he gloated mentally.  Passing the ball back and forth, changing hands, dribbling forward and then backward, as though avoiding a defensive guard.  He continued dribbling across the cavern, pointedly ignoring the few guards who were exercising on the opposite of the rec room.  As he approached the chinning bar, Buck stopped short, pivoted on one foot and then launched his field goal shot.  It sailed over the bar and behind it, bouncing on the ground a couple of times before he scooped it up and began his dribbling again.  

Trying to take his mind off of the past weeks, Buck immersed himself in plays, moves and strategies against imaginary foes.  Then he approached the quasi-goal and tried a slam-dunk.  Leaping up, he shoved the ball behind the chinning bar even as he grabbed it.  With a grin, Buck chinned himself and then let go.   It didn’t matter that the lack of height of the bar was to his advantage in a makeshift game of basketball, it only mattered that this was the first fun he had enjoyed since his capture and subsequent enslavement. 

“What do you call that, forerunner?” someone called out from behind him. 

Buck straightened up from gathering up the ball and faced the approaching guard.  “Basketball.  Big sport from my neck of the woods.”

“Basketball?  Never heard of it.” 

“I don’t doubt it.  But it’s over five hundred years old, regardless.”  Buck grinned.  “It’s a team sport.  Need at least five players on each side for a regulation game, but you can make do with less for informal play.” 

“How do you play?  Doesn’t look that complicated,” the guard said.  He looked familiar to Buck. 

“Well, it would be better if you had a basket instead of the chinning bar, and if it was a few feet higher, but we can make do,” Buck replied.  The other two guards looked a bit dubious.  

“Basket?” the guard asked.  

“Sure, it’s a hoop with a net hanging down.  In the very beginning, the inventor used peach baskets nailed to trees,” Buck said.  Then he grinned.  “It was hell trying to climb up and retrieve balls until someone got the bright idea of cutting a hole in the bottom.”

The guard smiled back and Buck recognized him.  It was the same guard that helped him dig out the injured forerunner.   “Let me show you how to dribble the ball,” he suggested.  

“What is the purpose of doing something like that?” one of the other men asked with a snort when Buck had demonstrated.  

“Wouldn’t be sporting if you could just pick up the ball and run with it,” Buck replied.  “There has to be some challenge.  Now you come after me and try to keep me from making a field goal.  You can’t punch, hit or knock the ball handler around, but there is a certain amount of contact allowed.” 

“Field goal?” the first guard asked.  

“That’s when you shoot the ball toward the basket.  If you get it in, then it’s a goal.  Two points.” 

“Oh.” 

“If you do it from half court, it’s three points.”  Buck showed them how to guard and block and then began dribbling toward the goal, pivoting and moving in another direction when the men began closing on him.  Buck dodged and weaved, slowly moving the ball toward the chinning bar.   The guards began to get into the game, waving their arms, coming close to batting the ball away.  Finally Buck pushed past one guard, stopped, and shot.  The ball sailed over the chinning bar and bounced on the ground.  “That was great blocking,” he puffed.  “And a great workout.” 

“Could we play two on two?” the familiar guard asked. 

“Sure,” Buck replied.  They paired up and played, Buck showing the guards more moves and plays as he remembered them.  

During a short break, Buck’s partner, the familiar guard, leaned against the wall and chuckled.  “I don’t think I have had a better diversion since I began here.” 

Buck looked at him in curiosity.  “How long has that been?” 

“About six years.”  The guard looked at Buck.  In a softer voice, one that only Buck could hear, he said, “I am Ril, by the way.” 

Buck nodded and then frowned.  He felt the beginnings of a headache and wondered if that freezing shower and then the intense workout might have been too much.  But then he dismissed it; he had done far worse in the Air Force Academy.   He took the ball and began playing again, then stopped when he noticed his hands shaking.  “What the….?” he murmured.   Buck stopped and tried to catch his breath.  Apparently, he had done too much.  Just a rest, that was all he needed.  He sat down on one of the smaller benches.  

“Are you all right?” Ril asked.   The other two guards stood back and watched him.  

“Yeah, overdid it, I think,” Buck answered.  “Just need to rest a bit.”  He lay down and tried to get comfortable.  He continued to lie there a while as the others began to play more basketball.  Their laughter floated in and out of his consciousness as he wondered what was wrong with him.  This was more than being out of shape.   And then Buck realized that he had not received his shot earlier in the day.  The one that was supposed to get rid of the parasitic condition.  Apparently not yet.    But I don’t have the same symptoms as before.  However, this place wasn’t exactly a healthy environment, he thought sardonically.   Just have a cold or something, that’s all. 

“You sure you’re all right?” Ril asked.  His concern, unlike the others, seemed genuine. 

“Yeah, I’m all right,” Buck said.  “Just needed a break.”   And to prove his point, he got up and joined in the play.  His headache continued, but the trembling had eased up and he got the ball and began dribbling down the court.  As he made another field goal, he found his lungs laboring to draw in enough air.  Apparently, he was not over his problem with the parasites.  The drug, while quick acting, didn’t eradicate the problem.   And the idea of something growing inside his body continued to disturb him.  

As soon as he caught his breath, Buck began to play again.   But as he was trying to guard one of the men, Buck felt light-headed, his heart thundering in his chest, which was heaving to draw in air.  Suddenly he found himself on the floor, Ril’s face close to his.   “No, not . . . all right.  Parasite.  Not over it.” 

“You have your medicine this morning? Ril asked.  

“No.”

“I think you’ll breathe easier if you are sitting up.  Then I’ll call medical,” he said as he helped Buck to a bench.  

The pain in his head was a throbbing that warred with his struggle for air.  Buck tried to stand up, but fell back on the bench, hacking and choking.   He moaned, saw his hands shaking again, but he wasn’t cold.  On the contrary, he felt the sweat rolling down his face.  He was just miserable.  Miserable as hell.  He sat quietly, concentrating on breathing slowly and deliberately, and finally he began to feel some semblance of relief. 

 

 

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Forerunners of Bosk Prologue
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