Forerunners of Bosk
The small crowd followed
Buck to the other section of the caves.
“Ril,” he called out on the communicator.
“The gas dissipated enough for us to come in?”
“Yes, Captain,” came the
Buck turned to the group
behind him. “We are going
to put some of the less reputable guards in cells along with anyone who
wants a private war or a bit of revenge on their tormentors.
There are some guards and administrative personnel in the other
cellblock who are helping us, but don’t assume that any awake guard is a
friendly. All I can tell you is to be careful. Make sure you keep any weapons on stun. We don’t want any bloodshed if we can help it.”
Buck keyed the door open and
they entered the main cellblock.
He, Tigerman, Ril and Barney split up the group from cell block two
and oversaw them as the drugged guards in Cell Block One were checked.
They unlocked the doors of those prisoners that Ril and Barney felt
were good risks. Buck smiled
when he thought of the surprise that awaited most of those he had worked
and suffered side by side with for the past horribly long months.
When they entered the
recreation room, they found a sleeping crowd of huge proportions.
Buck had known that there were a great number of people in the
large cavern when the game began, but with them sprawled all over the
floors and seats, it seemed as though they were dealing with a crowd large
enough to fill Wrigley Stadium. “Okay,
gang, we have a lot of people to check and only a little time in which to
do it. We’d better
get cracking. Take any
weapons, even the smallest pen knife and lay them in the middle of the
cavern. If there is anyone known to cause trouble, take him to a cell
to cool off.”
Quickly the men went from
guard to guard. Buck was
pleased to note that very few of the participants and spectators had
weapons on them. As the first of the players stirred, Buck was relieved and
surprised at how smoothly everything had gone thus far.
But it was far from over, he thought.
He, Ril and Barney, along with others they felt could be trusted
from both cellblocks, waited strategically for everyone to come to full
wakefulness. Once the process
began, it didn’t take long for everyone to wake up.
The players and other guards, and administrators who had been
watching, looked around in puzzlement.
Unarmed, Buck walked to the middle of the court.
Ril and Barney stood at his back.
They both had several laser pistols.
Dr. Burrows stood at his side and Tigerman was a few paces away,
“For those who don’t
know me, I’m Captain Buck Rogers, Earth Directorate, executive officer
on board the exploratory ship, Searcher.
Some of you have known me by number, others have known me as
Coach.” He smiled softly.
“Right now, with the help of my colleagues here, I am the man in
There were angry shouts and
“Now, I am going to give
you all some ground rules. If
you abide by them, we’ll all get along quite well together.”
He didn’t wait to hear what those watching him were saying.
“First of all, everyone will treat everyone else with respect,
prisoner and staff alike. No
revenge, no harassment. If
you have a beef with anyone, come to any one of us that you trust and
we’ll see about working it out. We
have a chance to start over again, a chance for freedom.
Let’s make the most of it.”
He paused for effect. “Anyone
who wants to go to the surface and try their luck living off the land can
do so immediately. Any staff
members who want to stay in the employ of the Arator Company are welcome
to do so. There will be ships to take you out of here in about three or
four days.” Again Buck
smiled. “I figure that’s
about how long it will take them to figure out what happened here,” he
said. “All gems already mined belong to the Arator Company.
Anything picked up in the mines belongs to the finder, but there
will be no crillite used to blow more gems, at least not for a while.
For those who wish to stay, there will be a provisional government
formed within a day or two. All
suggestions will be considered.” He
paused and gazed at all the watchers.
administrator?” the guard, Kris, demanded.
began, but didn’t get to finish.
“Unfortunately, he fell
and hit his head,” Burrow said. “I
declared him dead two hours ago.”
“You killed him!”
another guard shouted at Buck. Tigerman
snarled, his hands balling into fists.
Buck thought about his
answer. It really didn’t matter what he said, someone would argue
it and there would be anger and chaos.
He gestured to Ril, who handed him a laser.
Buck held it casually, point down, but still letting everyone know
of his determination. “When
all is said and done, those who wish to investigate the administrator’s
death may do so. Right now,
for those who long for a new life, for independence, we need to
concentrate on that.” He
paused. “And those who
hinder that effort will be put in cells until they can be shipped off
world.” The last was said
decisively, in a tone that would brook no argument. He turned so he could look at everyone in the room.
“In other words, there is no way in hell that I will let anyone
put me back in chains ever again.”
There were several cheers at that pronouncement.
“All weapons have been confiscated and storage areas secure.
In a short time any of you will be free to go to your own rooms, to
the surface, or almost anywhere in the mines provided that you do not
interfere with the new operation of this settlement.”
He turned to his companions.
“I hate to put this on you, but I think these men need to be
kept here until we can make sure none of them can communicate with the
company,” Buck said. “We
need to change the ident locks on the communications equipment.”
He paused in quick thought. “And
I need to do a general announcement for the whole mine.
I believe there may be some prisoners wondering what’s going
“I agree with you,” Ril
said. “But don’t go alone this time.”
Smiling, Buck nodded.
“Yes, but we have more muscle now.”
Ril looked puzzled for a
moment then he, too, smiled. “Barney,
Tigerman, a few other prisoners.” He shook his head.
“Ex-prisoners, rather. Probably
you need to take Dr. Burrows, too.”
One day later, Buck was pleased to see most of the prisoners and staff eating breakfast together at makeshift tables in the rec room. There had been several fights, some potentially severe, between guards and prisoners, some between just prisoners, but swift and decisive action prevented more than the little bit of bloodshed that had occurred. Tigerman had knocked a few heads together and the combatants had spent enough time in cells to cool their ardor. Some still had to be carefully watched and a few were still in cells. About two- dozen prisoners had opted to go to the surface, wanting to spend their first night of freedom in the forest. Buck had gladly let them take whatever they needed, short of laser pistols, to set up their own camps. He had only hoped that there were no vicious animals out there. The surveys had shown nothing very aggressive, only those predators that kept the local herbivorous population down, shy, elusive creatures, but he and Dr. Burrows had given each of the would-be settlers a warning, anyway. You never could tell. About half of the guards had put in for off-planet transfers, but had promised to wait patiently until the spaceport was available. Only a few of the guards had refused to make such a commitment and had to be confined.
Volunteers had spent the day
loading the cargo containers with already gathered rough-cut gems.
After they had finished, there appeared to be just about enough for
another day’s shipment. Some
former forerunners volunteered to go back into the mines to gather more.
The longer they could hold off the Arator Company, the better, and
most of the prisoners and sympathetic guards realized that fact.
Buck sat back with his
coffee substitute and sighed. “Barney,
you take care of operations,” Buck instructed.
“I need to go through Dr. Beros’ papers and see if there is
anything there that will help us.”
Seeing Barney’s hesitation, his almost panicked expression, he
added, “You will do fine, but I need Ril part of the time to help make
sense of the administrator’s office.
Get Doctor Burrows to help you if need to.
And delegate. There’s some good men here.”
Barney sighed and nodded as Buck got up to leave.
Buck grinned and gave the former slave a thumb’s up.
Buck headed directly toward
Beros’ office, which had remained sealed since the takeover.
He sent Ril to communications for anything that might have come
from the company or any other off-planet source in the past day. Using Beros’ access card, Buck went into the office,
cringing at the memories of his visits to this place.
Then he shrugged off the memories, took everything in at a glance
and then began looking through files.
After a short while, it became apparent to the terran that graft
was a very big part of the acquisition of prisoners.
About half were actual sentenced criminals, convicted of crimes
ranging from petty theft to murder. But
the other half were pretty much political prisoners, many who had been on
the losing end of a large scale struggle or, like he and Hawk, those who
had made powerful enemies with very long memories and excellently filled
pocket books. Some, like
Barney and Tigerman, were simply sales of slaves who had outlived their
usefulness to their owners.
According to memos that had been placed in the administrator’s file, the company had only been paid the minimal amount to take him and Hawk. However, Beros had been getting payments for each of them for as long as they both remained alive. Hawk’s stipends to the mine had ended over a month previously. Buck looked at more notes and ground his teeth together in anger. Beros was also getting a payment to make his life even more miserable than it had already been. And the Human Rights organization was behind it. LeeGrand and his buddies, probably with Kormand pulling the strings from his cell on Cronis. Buck looked over some other memos that were lying on Beros’ desk and felt his curiosity increasing. There were lots of references to the eastern continent, mostly complaints. He dug into the former administrator’s computer files, thankful once more that Beros had left his password in “remember” mode. He read and then realized the implications of the communiqués. Smiling as the full revelation hit him, Buck read on. Then he began to laugh. He was still laughing when Ril walked into the office a short time later.
Hawk stared at the screen in
frustration and then reached for the ship’s auxiliary power cell
“I’m getting complaints
from the passengers,” Kollin said.
“And being trained guards they could feasibly take over.
I would really like to avoid bloodshed if possible.”
“As would I,” Hawk
responded. “But they will be too busy hanging on to their seats to try
to take over.” He paused.
“Tell them that.”
Kollin nodded and spoke into
his communicator. Then he
checked his safety harness when he saw Hawk reaching for the artificial
gravity controls. He
couldn’t help but admire the tenacity of the birdman.
Hawk put the craft into a
roll and then fired the auxiliary engines.
The communicator blinked a signal from the huge ship that was now
“Do you want me to see
what they have to say?” Kollin asked.
“You may do whatever you
wish with the communicator. But
I will not give up,” Hawk replied evenly but firmly.
Kollin pressed a switch.
“….you have been identified as a hijacked vessel.
Surrender or face damage from our tractor beams.
By order of the Galactic Council, you must surrender.”
Hawk paused a moment.
This was a Galactic Council vessel?
Fortune couldn’t be tendering him such good luck.
“Ask for identification,” he ordered the human.
Kollin did so.
“Vessel 22409, this is the Earth Directorate Galactic Council
Hawk almost sagged in
relief. Now he even recognized the voice. It was Devlin. He
reached for the communications toggle switch on his side of the cockpit.
“Searcher, this is Hawk.”
There was a stunned silence
on the other ship. “Hawk?”
a voice asked. It was the
Is that really you?”
“Yes, Admiral, it is I,
Hawk. I would be most grateful if you would take care of this
vessel and its passengers after I have landed in the bay.”
There was a pause and then the inevitable and painful question.
“Is Buck with you?”
“No, Admiral,” he said,
his voice soft. “Buck made
my escape possible, but he was unable to come with me.
I promised to find you and then rescue him and those with him.”
Come aboard immediately, Hawk,” Asimov said, the happiness in his
voice palpable. “We
can use the tractor beam and bring you in if you would like.
I’m sure you are tired.”
Hawk thought for the
briefest of seconds. Although
quite proud of his piloting skills, the Admiral was right.
He was tired. “That
would be good, Admiral. Thank
you.” He sighed in relief,
relaxing for the first time in what seemed an eternity.
Kollin gazed at him in awe.
“How did you do that?”
“What?” Hawk asked as he
felt the jerk and tug of the larger ship’s tractor beam.
“Manage to find your own
“It was so willed by
Make-Make,” Hawk said and then smiled.
“And perhaps by the human’s God as well.”
“And what a ship!”
Kollin added fervently. “How
did you manage a spot on that one?”
“A long and difficult
story,” Hawk answered without elaborating.
Kollin didn’t ask any more and Hawk was glad.
He only wished to be back aboard the Searcher, change into
his clothing of rank and arrange for Buck’s rescue.
Wilma reached for the
communications panel at almost the same instant that she and Peter flew
through the stargate. Her
excitement was almost more than she could contain.
They had narrowed down Buck and Hawk’s whereabouts to three
possible planets, probably one, if their two colleagues had been sent to
the worst possible hellhole imaginable.
As soon as they had cleared
the stargate, Wilma began speaking, “Searcher, this is Red Dog.
Come in, Searcher.”
The admiral answered.
“Welcome back, Wilma. Good
to have you back home.”
“Good to be back,
Admiral,” she replied. “And
we have good news.”
“So do we.
Come on board.”
Wilma was a bit puzzled, but
still too happy to ponder the admiral’s news.
She and Peter eased into the hangar bay, sliding past an unknown
shuttle. The symbols seemed a bit familiar though.
“Arator Company,” Peter
said from beside her. His
voice held a note of concern.
Wilma simply stared; too
stunned to say anything. What
could it mean, she wondered. Had
they brought back Hawk and Buck?
Had they brought news? Good
or bad. Then she mentally shook herself.
Very unlikely considering what she knew of the mining company.
As they reached the hangar
door, though, Wilma stopped short. Walking
toward her was Hawk. It was
almost as though he had never been gone.
He was pulling on his gauntlets as he always did before a mission,
his face serious and focused on whatever was ahead.
A sudden insight told Wilma that the focus was probably her.
He looked up, saw her staring at him and smiled softly,
thought. Buck was not with
him. Then Wilma
felt ashamed of herself. Here
was Hawk, returned after who knows what kind of horrifying experience and
all she could think about was Buck. “Oh,
Hawk, I . . . I’m….” She
could say no more; she threw her arms around him and hugged him fiercely.
“I was so worried about you.”
Hawk held her for a moment and then he stepped back to look closely into her eyes. “Buck is not with me.”
Fear squeezed her heart and
threatened to close her throat. “He
couldn’t say it.
“Buck was alive when I
left him. He enabled me to escape, but was not able to get all the way
to the spaceport.” Hawk
took a deep breath. “Humans
in the mines have a tendency to pick up a parasite.
Buck was too ill to complete the journey, but I have every
assurance that he was treated after recapture.”
He paused. “After
all, the more workers there are, the more crillite the company is able to
get,” he added sarcastically.
Wilma couldn’t tell if she
should be relieved or even more anxious.
He was still alive when Hawk had left.
All they needed to do was go and rescue him.
“Where, Hawk?” she whispered.
“Bosk,” he replied.
“And he had a message.” He
paused a moment. “He said
he was fine and would be waiting for your arrival.”
Hawk smiled. “The
admiral is changing course and we are going to Bosk even as we speak.”
“Thank you, Hawk,” she
said gratefully, answering his smile with a soft one of her own.
That was something she would expect Buck to say.
“Buck also told me to
hurry. He had already missed about forty dates with you.”
Now that really did sound like Buck, Wilma thought with a smile.
|Forerunners of Bosk Prologue|
|Buck Rogers Contents|