Forerunners of Bosk




Chapter Nineteen



They continued walking, almost parallel to the track, stopping to watch as one of the cargo trains rolled by, then ignoring them in their quest to put as much distance as they could from the mines.   When the sun was almost completely overhead, Buck called a halt.  “We are going to cut across these hills,” he said, referring to his crudely drawn map.  

Hawk looked in the direction indicated.  “It looks pretty rugged, Buck.  Will that not slow us down?”

“Maybe, but it will slow them down, too.  Especially if they think we are following the train route.” 

Hawk gazed meaningfully at the terran.  “Buck, I sense you have a plan.”   

Tigerman silently looked at both before shrugging his shoulders and then studying the area around them.  He slipped into the trees, signing that he would catch up to them shortly. 

Smiling, Buck said, “I have several things cooking in my mind, actually, but I am hoping that straightforward sneakiness works best.” 

“And if it does not?” 

“Then we deal with that bridge when it comes time to cross it.” 

Somehow Hawk knew that there was a part of this plan that Buck wasn’t telling him; something that he knew he wouldn’t like.  “Buck….” 

“Trust me, Hawk.” 

And the birdman had to be content with that.  They were free from the mines after all and that was more than he had even hoped for for at least a month and a half. 

Tigerman growled softly to get their attention.  He held a large yellowish fruit in each hand.  “Good for me, good for you, I think,” he said, handing one of them to Buck and the other to Hawk.  

It was obvious to Buck that it must have been good, considering the juices that ran down the felinoid’s chin.   His stomach growled audibly and he broke open the yellow globe, muttering, “What the hell.”    He noticed Hawk doing the same.   Buck sniffed, noticing that the aroma was delicate almost like banana mixed with coconut.  He let a little of the juice dribble into his mouth.  The taste was not unlike the two fruits.  “You do realize, Tigerman, that if this stuff is battery acid, you have to carry us to the spaceport,” Buck quipped. 

Tigerman looked puzzled and then barked a short laugh.  “Draconians, humans eat same things.  This good for Draconians, good for you.”  He gazed at Hawk, who was still examining his fruit.  “Not sure, you.”

Hawk sniffed again and then took a slight taste, testing with all of his senses, much as he figured Tigerman had, to see if the fruit was edible for him.  He detected nothing that was harmful to him and he bit into the flesh of the globe.  “It is nourishment,” he murmured.  

“Almost like a daiquiri,” Buck murmured as he ate his fruit.  “But I think we need to eat as we travel.  No time for dine-in privileges.” 

Hawk nodded, not even delving into Buck’s first statement.  

“Tigerman,” Hawk said as he ate his fruit.  “Can you sense water near?  In that direction?” he asked, indicating the route that Buck had set them on. 

Tigerman sniffed and then nodded.  They walked briskly along an animal trail that led in the general direction in which they needed to go.  Within a few moments Hawk heard, then scented a nearby stream.  Shortly thereafter they all stopped and drank their fill before continuing on.  

Consulting his map about mid-afternoon, Buck nodded in satisfaction.  “See the mountains ahead?” he asked, and then continued without waiting for an answer.  “We are on the right track.”

Hawk again looked dubious.  “Going over those mountains will definitely slow us down.” 

“According to the survey map I got this from, there is a pass through this range,” he replied, setting off again.  “And going this way will shave off miles from the other route.” 

Despite his protests, as they continued along this route, Hawk began to feel a strange sense of excitement that was unrelated to their escape. This was the type of terrain that he loved so well.  While the mountains ahead nowhere matched the craggy heights of Throm, they were still mountains.  He glanced at Tigerman and saw a look on the felinoid’s face that indicated that he, too, was at home in mountain heights.  Hawk could not quite understand Buck’s decision to take this route, at least not yet, but he would enjoy it nonetheless.  

They kept climbing, picking out the sometimes non-existant path as Buck consulted a compass.  Then they came upon a solid rock wall.  “Buck, which way do we go now?”  There was no answer and he turned to his companion.  Buck was gazing back toward the way they had come.  “Buck?” 

Buck turned to him.  “Uh, there is a pass around here somewhere.  Should be near.  We need to look for it.”  He turned to Tigerman.  “You look that way and . . .” 

“I will look this way,” Hawk interjected.  “You rest.  You appear to be a bit winded.  Tigerman and I are very familiar with this type of terrain.”  He paused.  “It is only right, after all.  You are the one instrumental for our escape.”

Buck gazed at his friend, but could not see anything below the surface with his suggestion, certainly nothing to indicate that Hawk was aware of what was going on inside him.  Buck couldn’t explain it; he was feeling an almost physical urge to return to the mines.  He sighed and then nodded, sitting down on a rock to rest.  He was tired.  While he had spent a great deal of time traversing the mine tunnels, he had not slept much and there was a great deal of difference between walking in flat corridors and traipsing around hilly terrain.  He consulted with the map in his hand.  “I think we may be a bit too far south,” he called out to his companions as they searched for the pass.  

The sun was warm on his back, but it also served as notice that they needed to hurry, to get through here before sunset.   

Within a few minutes, Tigerman returned, pointing to the south.   Calling out to Hawk and then following the bodyguard, Buck soon sighted an almost imperceptible animal trail.  So far they had not been bothered by animals, although there had been plenty of evidence of such.  While Buck didn’t want to tempt fate, he knew that the trails were much easier going than trying to make their own paths through the brush.    He nodded and Tigerman led the way, sure-footed and confident.  Buck could only imagine that Tigerman, like Hawk, was a child of the heights.  

The path led into a pass, which took them between two fairly rugged mountains.  Soon they were looking down on a small, but flat plateau and a valley beyond that.  

Buck felt hope stirring once more; despite the exhaustion he had been fighting.  They would make it.  Then he felt his hands trembling.  

“Buck, are you all right?” Hawk asked, his voice filled with concern. 

“Yeah.  Just tired.” 

“Perhaps we should take a moment to rest,” Hawk suggested.  “A misstep here could be disastrous.” 

“No!” he snapped, then he reined in his nervousness.  What the hell is the matter with me? he wondered.  He thought about Hawk’s statement.  Now was the time to reveal the other part of his plan.  The part that he had hoped that wouldn’t be necessary to implement.    “Hawk, Tigerman, how far do you think we have to go?” he asked, pointing to a shining beacon in the valley that indicated the spaceport.  

Tigerman grunted, but said nothing, only looking at him with his dark, golden-flecked eyes.  

“I would say we have gone somewhat more than half of the distance, perhaps close to fourteen or fifteen miles.  But this is a downhill journey from here and should be much quicker,” Hawk said.  

“Except for the climb down from the plateau,” Buck said.  “And it will be dark in a few hours, not enough time to make it to the spaceport before dark.” 

“We can steal a ship under the cover of darkness,” Hawk said. 

“But it will be harder to do that if they are expecting someone,” Buck returned. 

Hawk looked at him sharply.  “What are you suggesting, Buck?” 

“I am beginning to feel, um, a bit strange-- weird.”  He paused and took a deep breath.  The sun now felt almost uncomfortably hot and again, Buck longed to return to the mines, to get the medicine that would alleviate what he was feeling.  And that, too, made him uncomfortable.  How long had it been?  He had taken his last dose before supper, when he had put away his equipment.  Then he had waited over six hours after dinner before initiating the breakout.  A couple hours or more to actually get to the surface and away from the mines, and they had been walking for over fourteen hours.  It had been twenty-four hours since his last dosage.  He sighed, realizing that he was right to have come up with this contingency plan.  “You know about the sickness that affects humans in the mines.  In a few hours I will be a detriment to you two.” 

“We are in this together, Buck,” Hawk said forcefully.  

Buck shook his head.  “Hear me out.” 

“Only if we continue walking,” Hawk insisted.  

“All right,” Buck replied.  “See that river down there?” he asked pointing.  The others nodded.  “There’s a waterfall where it goes over the plateau.  At least that’s what the map said.  That’s where we’re heading.  Let’s go a bit further and I’ll explain what I have in mind.”  At Hawk’s frown, he added with a slight smile.  “We have to go that way, anyway.”  

They set out again and found that it was just as Hawk had said.  It was much easier.  The rocky trail soon gave place to a slightly switch backed dirt track.  Within an hour they had reached the plateau.  The sun sat at the top of the mountains behind them.  Here Buck outlined the rest of his plan.   “At the waterfall, we are going to stage your death, Hawk.” 

Hawk said nothing, only looking incredulous.  

“They know my condition and figure they can pick me up anytime.  I suspect that they figure Tigerman would take to the hills and fend for himself.”  

Tigerman growled softly and nodded.  

“But they would expect you to try to escape off planet.”  

Hawk nodded, conceding that much.  “Go on, Buck.”

“So we stage your death and when I can’t go on any longer, you and Tigerman will continue to the spaceport.  They won’t be expecting either one of you to show up, so the theft of a fighter will be a surprise.” 

“Buck, if you are sick like you were before, I cannot leave you behind.”

Buck turned to face Hawk directly.  “You’ll have to.  Don’t you understand?  Someone has to get word to the Searcher.  They aren’t going to come here unless someone gets word to them,” he pleaded with his friend.  “That someone has to be you.” 

Growling softly, Tigerman finally spoke.  “You are right.” 

Hawk looked at him in despair.   “No, I cannot do that!” he cried out, his voice desperate in his anguish. 

“Hawk, you have to,” Buck repeated.  “I don’t see any other way.”  He was equally fervent.  

They kept walking, the setting sun continuing to beat down on their backs.  Buck felt as though he was in a furnace.  He jerked off the outer jacket, using it to wipe the sweat from his face.  Tigerman went into the surrounding brush and came back with more of the fruit.  They ate as they walked, each man in his own thoughts.  The juicy orb quenched his thirst, but the fruit felt like a stone in his stomach.  Buck turned to Tigerman.  “I know there are animals in the brush.  I’ve heard them.  Do you think you could catch and kill one?”  He paused to let Tigerman answer.  When the felinoid nodded, he continued.  “We need some kind of evidence of Hawk’s death; blood evidence.” 

With a soft growl, Tigerman nodded again and then slipped into the dense brush that grew along the base of the mountains and onto the plateau.  

“How are you feeling?” 

“Hot, tired.  How about you?” 

“Tired, but hopeful,” he replied.  “Do you really feel you cannot make it to the spaceport?” 

Buck sighed.  “You told me you saw that little performance in the rec room.  Tell me honestly that you think I can.”  He paused and took a deep breath.  “As much as I would like to be hopeful, I don’t think I’ll make it past sunset.”  He smiled.  “I’ll do my best, though.” 

“That is all we can do in a situation like this.” 

“Just get back to the Searcher, Hawk.  That’s all I ask,” Buck said. 

“I will, Buck.  By Make-Make, I will!” Hawk declared.  In his heart, though, he continued to hope they would make it off-planet together. 

They continued toward the waterfall, guided more by the dull roaring sound than by the compass and map that Buck still carried with him.  The sun had set by the time they reached the falls.  Tigerman had still not shown up, but Buck knew the bodyguard would have no trouble following them.  He wiped the sweat from his face, wishing it would cool down.   As he had before, he mentally cursed the damnable parasite. 

“There are several places where this death can be staged, Buck,” Hawk said.  

Buck looked but only vaguely registered what Hawk was saying.  The heat was making him sick.  The fruit was still sitting like a stone in his stomach and he was dizzy.  He felt Hawk’s hand on his arm. 

“Buck,” Hawk said gently.  “Buck.”  Again the non-registering.  “Buck, listen to me.”  Hawk wished he had all of Sky Mother’s skills, but hoped what he had learned from her would be enough.  He remembered his own clan’s healers, he remembered Koori’s abilities and he concentrated on his own inherent skills.  He had to get Buck to focus on him.  “Buck, look at me,” he said, repeating his command several times before the human finally looked at him with reasonable clarity. 

“H . . . Hawk?” Buck asked.  His eyes held uncertainty and even a semblance of fear.  

“Buck, I want you to watch me and listen to me carefully.”  Hawk only hoped he could break through whatever barriers this sickness was putting up.  He wondered at this organism that could manifest in so many different ways. 

Buck nodded, gazing intently into Hawk’s eyes. 

Good, Hawk thought.  “Buck, do you remember the trip we made to the healer?  Our journey to the Lamajuna?”  Buck nodded, his eyes still locked onto Hawk’s and the birdman spoke of the horrific journey, concentrating mainly on Buck’s part in that trek.  Then he shifted to the first days on the Searcher and Buck’s attempts to break through the grief and pain Hawk had felt.  Then with only a few words in his own language, he was among the stars, free, soaring, feeling the wings of his spirit catch the currents of space and of freedom.  It exhilarated him and it mesmerized Buck.  Finally, when there was no more to be said, he stopped and studied his friend.  

Buck blinked and gazed at him.  He was still sweating in a heat that was internal but it was not as bad as before.   “How did you do that?” Buck asked, incredulous.




Chapter Twenty
Forerunners of Bosk Prologue
Buck Rogers Contents
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