Forerunners of Bosk
After several days of
fruitless checking of stargates and spaceports, Wilma found herself back
to the same conclusion. The
clues they needed were back on Neckar.
And she came back to the fact that the old woman the Neckarese had
so hypocritically mourned had to hold the key they needed to narrow their
search. She had been alive up
to the time Buck and Hawk had taken off.
Where was she now? She had to have seen something, anything that
would help them find Buck and Hawk.
It was worth a try.
Anything was worth a try.
announced. “I am going to
go back down to Neckar and try and find that old woman.
I think she may have some information that will help us.”
The admiral only nodded.
He had been expecting this and to be honest, he agreed with his
second in command. Crichton
had recently told him that for each stargate coordinate leading away from
Neckar, there were about twenty more leading from stargates beyond that
first stargate. Then the
insufferable robot began giving him endless extrapolations and figures.
“Take Twiki and Dr. Theopolis.
They might be able to search computer databases, even as primitive
as they are, while you inquire.”
“Thank you, Admiral,”
Wilma said, grateful for his understanding.
She realistically knew that a ship such as the Searcher could not
suspend its activities in a search and rescue of this magnitude forever.
It was totally unfeasible that they would find Buck and Hawk by
checking out all the stargate possibilities.
Stargates, for all that they were marvelous inventions, were also
great equalizers. If a person
was being chased, they could hide with virtual impunity once they had
reached a stargate.
Wilma sighed as she strode
down the corridor. If she
could only narrow the search, find some kind of clue that would help her
find Buck. Anything at all! She
found Twiki in Buck’s cabin. “Quit
moping, we have work to do,” she said tersely, while still understanding
the quad’s feelings. Feelings,
she thought, astonished. Yes,
Twiki definitely was a thinking, feeling entity and she wondered about
that phenomenon. She knew
that Buck had done some tinkering on Twiki, but it was still as though
there had been an evolution of sorts.
And then Wilma determined that there had been an evolution for all
of them. So much had happened in the past two plus years.
So very much.
“What’s up, Wilma?”
“We’re going to get Dr.
Theopolis and go back down to Neckar,” she said.
“A bit of investigative research.”
“About time,” Twiki
Soon the trio was flying
down toward the planet’s surface. “What
is it you are hoping to find, Wilma?” Theo asked.
“The men in the vineyard
mentioned an old woman, a relative of theirs.
There were the tracks of three people leading toward the
shuttle’s landing spot. I want to find out who owns that property, and who this old
woman is and where she’s at now.”
“If we are allowed into
their data bases, that shouldn’t be difficult,” Theo told her.
“But they don’t have
more than a primitive computerized record system,” Wilma said, as much
to remind herself as to inform the others.
“But a vineyard is a
business and any good business keeps records,” Theo said.
“Land transactions, deeds, newspapers….”
seem to remember Buck mentioning something like that,” Wilma mused,
feeling the twang of anxiety that she always experienced whenever she
thought of Buck’s disappearance.
“Yes,” Theo explained.
“A daily periodical printed on sheets of paper.
And yes, Buck was the one who told me about them, too.”
Would they keep those kinds of records?”
“One would hope so.
At least for a few years.” Theo
blinked. “Buck said that
they did on Earth in his day, even though most periodicals were beginning
to be stored on computers by the time of his mission.
And remember, Dr. Junius has found printed material that has
survived since the holocaust.”
They landed at a small
space/airport and after securing Wilma’s starfighter, took a land
shuttle into the middle of a small city, the one nearest to the vineyard
where Buck and Hawk had landed.
In the downtown stood several larger buildings, one or two exuding
age, none over three stories tall.
They were met with curious
and not a few cold stares. “What
do you want?” a clerk asked tersely when they went into a local
“We want to access land
records and the local newspapers,” Wilma answered.
“For what purpose?”
“Two of our crewmen were
kidnapped on some property near here and I want to know who owns the
“I was told your crewman
destroyed some valuable property out there.
The old Brock mansion.” Then
the clerk stopped suddenly, as though he had said too much.
Wilma smiled sweetly.
“Thank you for your information.”
She paused. “Funny
thing. When I went out there,
they didn’t seem that concerned about the house.
But they, like you, seemed awfully anxious to get rid of me.” She paused again. “I
have heard that your planetary governments have applied to join the
Galactic Council. This
certainly isn’t going to look good on the application.”
Wilma looked up, tapping her chin with one finger.
“Disappearance of two Earth Directorate members, obstruction of
an investigation. No, not
look good at all.”
The man glared at her for a
few seconds. “Personally, I
don’t give a brishel of grapes for off-planetary affiliations.
And if your people did what I have heard they did, then maybe we
don’t need to be part of this Galactic Council.”
“Knowing my men the way I
do, I can tell you that they did not do what I have heard they did.
They were ambushed,” Wilma said tersely.
“And I want to know who did it and where my people are.”
“And I don’t want to be
accused of anything by our government,” the man retorted.
“You don’t need to see the records.
The Ahern family owns the land you’re talking about.”
“What about the Brocks?”
“They used to own the
land, but when old man Brock died, the Aherns paid the past due tariffs
and took over the land.”
“There was an old
woman,” Wilma prompted.
“Brisella Ahern Brock,”
the clerk said. “Joses
Ahern allowed her to keep living in the old house.”
“Where is she now?”
The man shrugged.
“I don’t know,” he said.
“I heard a rumor that your men killed her when they burnt down
the mansion, but I don’t really know.”
He saw Wilma bristling and hastened to add, “They probably dumped
her in an old folks home somewhere.”
Wilma gazed at him for another moment or two and then smiled softly. “Thanks for your information.” She turned to leave, motioning to Twiki.
After they had left the building, Theo said, “Very well done, Wilma.” Twiki beeped his agreement.
“We still haven’t found
Brisella Brock,” she said.
“And do you think that
could be a problem?” Theo asked.
Maybe impossible if the Aherns or those that hired them think she
knows too much,” Wilma said tersely.
“They would kill her? An old woman?” Theo was appalled, but when he checked his historical circuits, he realized that Wilma was right. “Where do you propose to look first, the newspaper office?”
“Yes, and then find out
where these old folks homes are,” Wilma said.
At the newspaper office she
was met with more curiosity than hostility.
“You from that big ship that’s been orbiting Neckar the past
few days?” the older man at the desk asked when she had inquired about
Brisella Brock. He was
balding, only a fringe of gray hair from above one ear around the back of
his head to the other ear. Slightly
pudgy, the man was far from fat. His blue eyes studied her carefully even as he seemed to be
paying close attention to what she might say.
Inquisitive, isn’t he?
Wilma thought. “Yes,”
she answered simply.
“Same ship the two
pyrotechnic experts were from?” The
man wasn’t smiling now, but his eyes still seemed friendly, or maybe
“If by that, you mean
Captain Rogers and Hawk, your information is highly questionable,” Theo
said, his voice even to anyone but Wilma, who knew the quad well.
She noted a touch of testiness.
“By all indications, our comrades were ambushed and not the other
The man’s eyes grew large
and he leaned over his desk to stare at Twiki and Theo.
“Well, I’ll be,” he murmured.
Wilma decided to give the
man the benefit of the doubt. “I
am Colonel Wilma Deering and this is Dr. Theopolis and Twiki,” she said
“Which is which?” the
“I am a computer
councilman from Earth,” Theo answered.
“Twiki is an ambu-quad and serves as my means of transportation.
Twiki held out his hand.
“Glad to meetcha,” he said.
The man took it gingerly and
shook hands. “I’m Leon
Habris,” he said to all three. He
sat back down and gazed at them for a moment.
“Depending on which story you listen to, your men burned down the
Brock mansion, killed Brisella Brock or kidnapped her.”
“I am simply trying to
find B . . . Captain Rogers and Hawk,” Wilma said.
“I know these men and I know they wouldn’t have done any one of
“They aren’t on your
ship? The Aherns claim to
have chased them off.”
“No, I’m afraid, from
what little I’ve been able to find out, that they were kidnapped,”
“Kind of thought the
Aherns were blowing smoke rings. Ever
since they began to prosper with off-world trade, they’ve been getting
more and more arrogant and obnoxious.”
Habris pointed toward a couple of chairs.
“Have a seat and tell me your side of the story.”
He smiled. “I am
inclination, I suppose.”
“Not much to tell,”
Wilma said, feeling that this was a man she could trust.
“When we came into this quadrant we received a Class I emergency
distress signal.” Seeing
his puzzled look, she explained, “That’s a signal that is powerful
enough to be picked up outside of the solar system of origin and is also
one deemed of dire emergency. Usually
natural disaster or some kind of cataclysmic man-made accident.
To not respond to one is tantamount to criminal disregard. So Buck, uh, Captain Rogers, and Hawk flew down in a shuttle
to access the situation and let us know what help was needed.
While they were down there, we noted that there were no natural
disasters, no attacks, and no wrecked ships.
There was also some kind of interference, natural, we thought at
the time, that prevented us from communicating with them.
Before we could act on this information our two men took off after
a starfighter.” She paused
to see if Habris understood what she was saying.
When she saw that he was, Wilma continued, telling him of her
investigations thus far. And
even as she spoke of the past days, she felt the renewed tension of
inactivity, the despair of helplessness building in her mind.
With a shake of her head, Wilma tried to rid herself of the
feelings that had been with her constantly since Buck and Hawk’s
When she had finished,
Habris leaned back, deep in thought.
Then he sighed. “I
knew the Aherns were ruthless, but….”
“Do you have a picture of
She was quite the lady when her husband was alive.
Always doing charity work and holding social events.”
Then he got up. “Follow me.”
They went to a back room
filled along one wall with metal cabinets.
Habris opened a drawer and pulled out a small box.
“This contains film disk copies of the gazette from about five
years ago. The year Mrs.
Brock’s husband died. The
year the Aherns paid the tariffs and took over the Brock properties.”
He paused. “I think
it will be enlightening.” He
put a small round disk in a machine, which he turned on.
Almost immediately, Wilma saw a picture of a very elegant looking,
white-haired woman, an older, but tall and straight man next to her.
“That’s Brisella Brock
and her husband, Edward. You
can put her name into the search and the projector will pull up everything
about her. Just let me know
where you’re done,” Habris said.
“Thank you,” Wilma said,
sitting down in front of the small screen.
She carefully read and looked at everything the machine brought up,
as did Twiki and Theo. When
they were finished, she leaned back and sighed.
“A very interesting
woman,” Theo said.
“Yes,” Wilma concurred.
“And an interesting society.”
A society where slavery had only been abandoned a scarce twenty
years before, about the time that modern technology began to make headway.
“She took all of these
trials very hard,” Wilma added after a slight pause.
“I wonder what she looks like now.”
She got up and turned the machine off, stretching cramped muscles.
“If she is still alive.”
“She didn’t allow any
pictures after her husband died, or very few anyway,” Habris said from
the doorway. He came in and pulled the disk out of the machine.
Then he added softly, “But if she is still alive, the Aherns have
probably put her in a home in the city, certainly not here.
Someplace where she’s not known.”
“The city nearest here?”
Habris shook his head.
“Most likely the capital city, Dubros.
More anonymity there. But
if she is in a home, your nosing around could very likely cause an early
death, especially if she saw and heard things the Aherns would rather
leave unsaid.” He rubbed
his chin. “I can’t help
but wonder, though, what the Aherns had against your two men.
Why this device? What
possible reason would Joses and his brood have for enticing a couple of
off-world pilots to their land? And
what about that other ship you mentioned.
If that was the reason for the distress call, it didn’t seem to
be in distress if it took off.” He
gazed meaningfully at Wilma.
“I have been wondering
that myself and can only think of one thing,” Wilma said and then
paused, wondering just how much to tell this man.
“The Aherns were just the
agents for someone else,” Habris supplied.
Wilma looked at him in
surprise, then she nodded. “That
was my thought, in fact that is the only explanation.”
“I just wish there was a
way to interrogate one of the Aherns, but we are walking a fine tightrope
just as your planetary governments are,” Theo interjected.
“We have to do this as discreetly as we can, because if our
suspicions are correct, then this is not a planetary scale scheme, this is
the action of one small group of people going for revenge.
And we would not wish to endanger the negotiations that are going
on between your planet and the Galactic Council.”
“Your crewmates must have made some particularly nasty
Negotiations be damned, Wilma
thought, but she left her feelings unsaid.
She felt trapped. Whoever
had done this had planned well and executed even better.
They had picked their place and time with utmost care.
And it was going to be very hard to unravel this plot.
“I don’t want to endanger Brisella Brock, but she is the only
connection that we have right now. How
can I find her?” Wilma asked plaintively, desperately pushing back the
despair she was feeling. “How
can I find my crewmates?” She
gazed intently at Habris. “One
of them is my fiancé,” she added softly.
Habris paused a moment, then
sighed. “Give me a couple
of days. I might be able to
find somebody who can tell me something.
Come back for an interview. Readers
would be interested in hearing about your, uh, friends here.”
Wilma smiled. “Thank you, Mr. Habris.”
|Forerunners of Bosk Prologue|
|Buck Rogers Contents|