Forerunners of Bosk
Ril had never done a manhunt
on the surface before. Indeed,
he had never done a manhunt before at all here on Bosk.
That anyone could orchestrate and pull off his own escape was
amazing, but to also break out two friends was truly in the realm of
miraculous. He couldn’t
help but admire the resolve and resourcefulness of prisoner
twelve-sixteen, although he kept his feelings to himself.
Dr. Beros had been absolutely livid, making no secret what he had
in mind for the three men when they were brought back to the mines.
And in that, Ril was afraid
for the three prisoners. Dr. Beros was a cold and calculating man, but his
emotions were generally kept tightly in rein.
However, when the escape had been reported to him, Beros had gone
livid and then had screamed epitaphs that had been heard from the
administrative offices to the main prisoner cellblock.
The prisoners, even those new ones under edict of silence, had
heard of the escape and been heartened, some even becoming unruly.
Ril couldn’t believe how
simple a thing it had been for twelve-sixteen, Buck Rogers, to effect his
escape. That natural ledge had been around when the cells were
chiseled out of the rock, but no one had thought that anyone could climb
up to it, nor be able to travel along it with impunity.
The terran’s cell had been destroyed as soon as the escape had
been discovered, and all others under the upper ledge had been modified to
prevent anyone from using that as an avenue of escape again.
Still, Ril saw great
patience on the part of the prisoner and saw, in his mind’s eye,
instances of that patience in the past few weeks.
Ril wondered about the other two fugitives.
He knew of the friendship between the terran and the birdman, but
wondered about the connection between the two prisoners and the other
escapee, a felinoid that had once been a bodyguard in the Draconian
Regardless, here he was in
the middle of his sleep cycle, the middle of the day on the surface,
tracking three prisoners.
At first everyone had thought the escapees had commandeered a cargo carrier, but the vehicle had been found tampered—and empty, at the spaceport. He and his fellow guards had seen the ruse for exactly what it was, something to throw them off for a while.
Now he and four other men
were backtracking to where they had found the destroyed android.
“Lieutenant, I think I found something,” one of the junior
guards called out.
Ril walked over and saw evidence of a trail into the forest. “It could be an animal trail,” he murmured.
“Yes, sir, but it seems to
be paralleling the tracks,” the younger man said, pointed.
The prisoners seemed to have set a false trail but were still
keeping close to an established transportation route.
Very smart, he thought, in some ways.
They would not get lost, but could duck into the woods if anyone
came to check.
“Should make it easy to
find them when the human prisoner misses his dosage.”
Ril thought, there is that. How
did Rogers plan on overcoming that? Was
that the purpose of the Rrilling? Ril
knew for a fact that there had been no shortage of the garox, so Rogers
hadn’t been able to get any. That
was the first thing Beros checked out, but the medical offices were kept
tightly secure; more to keep the guards out than the prisoners.
Garox brought very high prices on the black market.
Ril felt the dosage the doctor had given him in its safety
container in his pocket. He
had been explicitly told by the administrator to bring back the terran
without giving him his dosage, but realistically, Ril knew that if this
search took any time at all, sixteen twelve would have to be given a dose
of garox or he wouldn’t make it back to the mines alive.
Pausing, Ril wondered if that would be such a bad thing.
“Macon, you and two men walk the cleared area, watching for any
other signs of the prisoners while the rest of us follow this trail.
If you find anything, call out,” Ril ordered.
“And we’ll do the same.”
“Yes, sir,” the young
Ril motioned to the
remaining man and they were soon swallowed up in the forest.
While it was not dense, the wooded area was something he was not
used to. The glare of the sun
hurt his eyes and he pulled down his sunglasses.
The others followed suit. “Anything
on the sensor, Kraig?” he asked.
“Hard to tell, sir,” his
companion, a first year rookie, replied.
“There’s something faint and I think it’s humanoid, but it
could also be something indigenous.”
They kept to the trail and,
although Ril was untrained in this sort of tracking, he felt like, at
times, he was seeing more evidence than that of animals passing by.
After an hour on the trail
that paralleled the cleared cargo track, Ril saw that it made an abrupt
turn, going deeper into the forest. What
did the prisoners have in mind? he wondered.
He stopped and consulted his map and then checked his compass.
He studied the rail again. “They
are trying to go overland,” he said out loud.
“Macon!” he called out, not bothering to use his communicator.
There was a faint answer from the other party and he waited until they caught up with him. Then they all followed the path that led higher into the mountainous region after the only three people ever to have escaped from the mines.
The sun set while they were
still climbing but by then the sonic tracker was definitely picking up
evidence of the passage of the three escapees.
Ril called a short halt when the darkness became so complete that
walking was dangerous. “Break
out the night equipment. We’ll
continue in a few minutes.”
“But sir, won’t they be
able to see us coming and hide?”
Ril smiled. “Perhaps, but when we are that close, the sensors will definitely pick them up.” He paused. “And besides, you are the one who pointed out how debilitated the terran will be.” He consulted his watch. “It’s been over a day cycle by now. He ought to be feeling the need for his medication.”
“Don’t feel badly, Griff,
you do bring out the point that we need to be careful.
If nothing else than to watch for ambush.
The other two are not human and therefore not in need of the
They continued onward in the
dark, taking only brief stops to rest.
The moon rose making weird shadows but still they pressed on.
Finally when they reached the more rugged mountain pass, the rookie
called out, “Sir, I am getting definitive readings of three humanoids on
You do point. Keep us
on the right course. It would
be easy to lose our way in these rocks.”
The going was slower, but they finally reached the other side of the pass where a plateau stretched out before them. In the moonlight it seemed enormous, but in actuality, they only had a couple of miles before they reached the embankment to the valley below.
Ril wondered if Rogers had
seen that on the map and if so, why did he think this was the best route?
With a shrug, he motioned the men to continue.
“Sir,” Kraig said.
“One of them left the trail.”
“And the other two?”
“Together on this
“Macon, you and Rush and Griff follow the new trail.
Kraig and I will continue on this one.”
They walked a bit more slowly, watching more carefully, laser
pistols ready. A short time
later they all converged again on the main trail.
After another hour they
began to hear a sorrowful moan, soft at first, then as the sun rose over
the eastern stretches of the plain, louder.
Rill pulled off his night lenses and put away his flashlight.
The rest of the group did the same.
Ril led the contingent, carefully watching for anything. The sound of a waterfall became louder and louder, but he was
not expecting the sight that met his eyes when they pushed through the
last of the scrub brush. The
Rrilling was bent over the terran moaning mournfully.
The human appeared dead.
Later Buck would gratefully
have to admit that he didn’t remember a great deal of the night after
Hawk left. What he did remember was in bits and pieces.
“Go back now?” Tigerman
“No,” Buck said.
“We let them come to us. They
have to see that Hawk is dead.” He
was having a slight respite from his illness and his mind seemed clear for
the moment. His only worry,
at present, was that someone would investigate the body closely.
If they did that then Buck only hoped that Hawk got to the
spaceport quickly and was away before the subterfuge was discovered.
“Yes, I am,” Buck
Tigerman went into the brush
but was back within minutes. “Eat
fruit,” he said, handing Buck half a globular fruit.
The outside was hard, like a
coconut, but the pulp was soft and mushy like mashed potatoes.
The taste was sweet but nothing he’d write home about. Buck used two fingers to scoop out the soft meat and then he
ate it, knowing that he needed the sustenance even if he didn’t have any
appetite. He handed the empty
fruit back to Tigerman. “This
should hold water,” he suggested, then realized that was what the
bodyguard had in mind. His
companion nodded and headed to the river.
Soon he was back, both halves of the fruit filled with water.
“You want some?” Buck
Buck quickly drank down one cupful of water and dumped the other over his head. The cold water soothed his hot face and he sighed in relief. A slight breeze further cooled him.
Animals began to call out
from the bushes and the scrub forest behind them.
The chirps and buzzing reminded him of his folks’ house in the
suburbs, especially in the summer. “Sounds
like home,” he said, getting up and walking a short back and forth path. He was tired of just sitting.
A soft whiteness to the east told him that this planet had at least
one moon. He gazed at the
stars twinkling overhead.
harmless,” Tigerman said, misinterpreting what Buck had meant.
“Those back home were,
too. There were too many
people, so there were just insects, frogs and birds.
Had an occasional raccoon but they mainly wanted what the cats left
behind in their dishes.”
Tigerman grunted, but
didn’t say anything.
Buck laughed as he paced
back to Tigerman. “The
mosquitoes were the worst things that lived in my parents’ neighborhood,
unless you counted Bailey Cranshaw, the neighborhood bully.
That was the old neighborhood.
Down near State. He
really was a dangerous animal.” Buck
felt his chest grow tight and he quit talking, sitting down to catch his
breath. He was just babbling
anyway. Suddenly the heat
flared in his body again and he shuddered.
He sat quietly, his back against a boulder and tried to suppress
the dizziness that accompanied the heat.
Buck saw the stars waver and then the world went black.
When the moon rose, it
bathed the river with an ethereal glow.
Dark shadows danced on the ground around him as the limbs of the
trees swayed in the light breeze. Hawk
adjusted his night lenses and got up, brushing leaves from his prison
He turned back to the dark
palaianu et elestanu,” he murmured and then turned toward the spaceport.
God go with you, he echoed in his mind.
Hawk made good time and
several hours before sunrise, he was watching the activities of the
spaceport with interest. The
rail cargo tracks went right into the huge hangar bay and the crillite
containers were loaded into the various spacecraft by androids.
They did not trust the gems
to human pilots, he noted. That
was good, he thought in satisfaction.
That would make commandeering a ship that much easier.
He would still have to be careful.
If they had any inkling that a humanoid had taken a ship, it would
cause an investigation that would conceivably lead back to Buck and
Tigerman. He couldn’t allow
that to happen.
The sun came up and Hawk
watched, seeing how they loaded the cargo, how many guards there were, how
many androids, what type of ships and how many of them.
He got a feel for the schedule and the best way to initiate his
planetary escape. He was
anxious to leave quickly, but would not do anything premature that would
endanger his chances of success.
Hawk noted that the least
busy time was the same time that he had first arrived, the early hours
before dawn. There were no rail shipments, and only cursory work on
waiting ships. In the
afternoon, Hawk took a quick break to go back into the forest and get
something to eat and drink. Then
it dawned on him. He had
easily fooled other guards when he was dressed as a guard.
If he could get a uniform he could fool them again.
But Hawk would have to do it without somehow arousing suspicion.
He waited in the shade until
the sun set and then slipped into the outskirts of the little town.
It seemed to be built with the purpose of entertaining off duty
guards as well as being a shipping terminus.
In the dark alleys, Hawk was
almost invisible as he flitted silently from building to building.
He passed brothels, but there were too many people and it was too
noisy. He bypassed the
taverns and casinos. Finally
as the hours passed, Hawk was drawn back to the brothel nearest the
spaceport. It was quieting
down as drunken guards, after having their pleasure, fell into deep sleep,
their companions by their sides.
He had watched from a window
as one guard hurriedly undressed, and saw that the human had the same
build as himself. Hawk sat
outside in the shadows, waiting until the muted giggles, moans and
rustling turned to the deep breathing and snores of heavy sleep. At
the same time the birdman wondered at the use of this planet. It seemed that it was verdant and abundant in its plant-life,
the soil rich and yet the spaceport was the only manifestation of humanoid
activity. That and the
horrible life that existed several hundred feet underground.
The mountains had enough to
sustain his village on Throm, while the lowlands could grow crops for
cities. Hawk shook his head unable to figure out the thinking of the
inhabitants on this planet.
Adjusting his night vision
goggles, Hawk quickly peered in the open window.
Thankfully, it stayed fairly warm at night and there seemed to be
no extra money spent on comforts that humans liked such as temperature
controlled air. All to the advantage of what he needed to do. With
almost no sound, Hawk climbed over the windowsill and slipped inside.
The guard’s pants, shirt and jacket were hanging on a bedpost,
the helmet sat on a chair. Quickly,
Hawk grabbed all four items and slipped back out again, staying in the
shadows until he was well away from the building.
Back in the brush, Hawk
changed into the guard’s uniform carefully settling the helmet on until
all vestiges of his head feathers were hidden.
Scanning the area around the cargo ships, Hawk finally walked out
of the brush and through a gate guarded by only one man.
“What were you doing out
there?” the guard demanded. “It’s
Hawk hesitated a moment, trying to come up with something plausible to say.
|Forerunners of Bosk Prologue|
|Buck Rogers Contents|