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SURVIVAL ON MARS

By ... Steve Lucky

CHAPTER 6 : TRICKS OF THE MIND

The guards could see the explosion from where they stood and knew their work was done. Shawn had been destroyed. All that was left for them to do was to take Gary back to Kobie for interrogation. They had done their duty.

They would not be so confident if they had seen a tiny escape pod being jettisoned seconds before the explosion. Inside it were all five passengers.

"Whew!" exclaimed Hank. "That was a close one."

"I told you I knew what I was doing," bragged Shawn. "Notice how quickly things change. One minute we're about to be destroyed and the next we're safe and sound."

"I don't want to notice," griped Lisa. "I want to go home."

"We all do," sympathized Hank. "but all the fussing in the world isn't gonna' help any."

"I'm not fussing!" fussed Lisa.

"Of course not," Peter laughed.

"Somehow, we need to land undetected and find a way to rescue Gary," explained Shawn. "Our survival depends on it."

They landed on the other side of the gold castle near the series of tunnels. They remembered where the cave was and thought that was where Gary would be taken. As long as they were believed to be dead, it would be fairly easy to rescue Gary. However, they would have to make sure they weren't discovered by the aliens or the green dog.

TIME : 9:30 P.M. (21:30)
PLACE : The Control Room

Gary was not taken to the cave. He was taken directly to Kobie instead. Kobie gave Gary an electric shock to speed up his recovery. At last, Gary regained consciousness. He looked around the room wondering where he was. His eyes rested on Kobie.

"What do you want with me?" he demanded.

"Your friends had a nasty accident," began Kobie unsympathetically. "leaving you as the sole survivor. You are the only one I have left to work with."

"You'll get no deals from me!" shouted Gary defiantly.

"You're wrong," continued Kobie. "I know you will want to make a deal with me in order to save the Earth."

"What are you going to do to the Earth?" Gary snapped.

"I can't tell you if you're not in agreement with me," answered Kobie. "and if you were in agreement with me, there would be no need to destroy the Earth and no need to tell you. All I'll say if the fate of the Earth hangs on you decision."

"What do you want me to do?" asked Gary feeling discouraged and defeated.

"Tell me all you know about M.W.G.D.,'" insisted Kobie. "My battle is with them, not with you."

Gary knew hundreds of planets would suffer if he told Kobie what he knew, but he had never been to those planets. The planet he cared about most was about to be destroyed unless he told Kobie what he wanted to know. The choice was clear. For the safety of the Earth, he had to tell Kobie what he knew about M.W.G.D. He didn't know very much about M.W.G.D. anyway and figured what little he did know wouldn't make any difference.

He started at the beginning, when he first landed on Mars and met the mysterious X.

TIME : 10:00 P.M. (22:00)
PLACE : The escape pod

Peter looked around at the others. They were still recovering from their recent ordeal with the missile and trying to come up with a decent plan to rescue Gary. The odds were better than before. Each of the had a phaser instead of just Shawn and Gary, but they were still outnumbered. The slightest mistake might cause the destruction of not only themselves, but the entire Earth as well.

Peter stared at the gold castle in the distance. There seemed to be no logical reason why it was there, but it was there never the less. Peter felt that the gold castle contained the answers to many of the questions about the aliens.

"How about exploring the gold castle again?" suggested Peter. "We didn't have much luck the first time, but that was before we met Shawn. With Shawn's help, I'm sure we'll be able to discover plenty of hidden secrets."

"I thought you said the gold castle was a trap," Lisa reminded him.

"I still think it's dangerous," confessed Peter. "but no less dangerous than any other place on Mars. Besides, we need to recover the spacesuit you lost in the wardrobe room."

Suddenly, there was a loud rumble.

"They've discovered we're still alive!" Shawn shouted over the rumbling noise.

"Where are they?" asked Peter.

Before anyone could answer him, there was a blinding flash of light. The glare forced Peter to close his eyes. Even with his eyes closed, the light was still too bright for him. Then, the glare mercifully ceased as suddenly as it had begun.

After a few seconds, Peter opened his eyes and looked around. The surroundings were the same, but Hank, Linda, Lisa, Shawn, and the escape pod had all disappeared.

"Lisa! Hank! Linda! Shawn!" yelled Peter.

There was no reply.

All of the sudden, Peter noticed something he hadn't noticed before, a path leading up to the gold castle. They were expecting him. Peter walked down the path singing quietly to himself forgetting all about the others and the dangerous obstacles awaiting him.

TIME : 10:01 P.M. (22:01)
PLACE : Beside the escape pod

Hank was looking around for the enemy when he was blinded by the same glare that blinded Peter. Unlike Peter, Hank kept his eyes open and tried to locate the source of the bright light, but the more he tried, the harder it became to keep his eyes open. The light seemed to come from all directions forcing him to look down at his feet, and even that he could only do by squinting. At last, the light faded allowing Hank to look at his new surroundings.

His friends and the escape pod had completely disappeared. Even the gold castle had vanished without a trace. The only thing left, other than the Martian landscape, was a large, muscular guardd that looked like he had come straight from the days of the Roman Empire.

The guard had a large whip which he waved at Hank in a threatening manner.

"You!" he ordered cracking his whip. "Get to work!"

"What's going on around here?" demanded Hank.

The guard let the whip come flying down on Hank's right shoulder. Hank rubbed his shoulder in pain. Illusion or not, the pain was real enough.

"No time for sight seeing! Get to work!" bellowed the guard.

Hank started moving in the direction the guard wanted him to go. The guard stayed right behind him cracking his whip every once in a while to remind Hank that he was in control.

"What kind of work am I going to be doing?" Hank asked after a long silence.

He was answered abruptly by another crack of the whip.

"Move!" commanded the guard.

It was obvious that Hank wasn't going to get any answers out of him. To his right, Hank could see the gold castle. It was as if it had never disappeared. Hank kept moving while he tried to come up with a way to escape.

He too forgot about the others and the fact that he was stranded on Mars. All he wanted to do was get away from the guard, and that wouldn't be easy.

TIME : 10:02 P.M. (22:02)
PLACE : Elsewhere on Mars

When Linda recovered, she found herself in the middle of a huge forest. The trees completely surrounded her partially blocking her view of the sun. Things looked just like they did on Earth in the few places still void of humans. Linda neither knew where she was, nor cared to stay long enough to find out. She picked the direction in which the trees were a little bit less tall and started off in that direction. She figured that if she kept in a straight line, eventually she would reach the edge of the forest.

After a while, Linda came to a large pond. She was tired and thirsty and wanted to stop for a drink. She was about to take a sip of water when she saw something strange on the other side of the pond. It was a castle that appeared to be made out of gold with jewels sparkling all around it. She wondered what it was doing in the middle of the forest.

The more she thought about it, the more she knew she would have to go over there and investigate. She thought that whoever lived there would provide her with fresh food and water. She hurried around the pond to the gold castle hoping its inhabitants were home and that they were friendly.

As with Peter and Hank before her, she had forgotten all about what had happened the first time she had entered the gold castle. As far as she was concerned, she was a lost traveler looking for shelter and had finally found it.

TIME : 10:03 P.M. (22:03)
PLACE : Near the escape pod

When Shawn saw the bright flash of light, he suddenly became very sleepy. Shawn did his best to resist the temptation of lying down and taken a short nap. If he went to sleep, it would all be over. Kobie could easily kill him while he slept.

Shawn looked around him. He was in the middle of some sort of desert without any food or water. At first, Shawn started to panic, but he quickly remembered where he was.

"This is only an illusion!" cried Shawn rubbing his eyes.

The desert began to blur and was soon replaced by his true surroundings. He was still next to the escape pod the had used to narrowly escape Kobie's missile. However, Peter, Hank, and Linda had taken off in different directions and Lisa had passed out by his feet. She had failed to resist the urge to sleep.

Shawn tried to wake her, but it was no use. Lisa had not fallen asleep naturally.

Shawn looked up and saw Gary approaching him.

"Gary!" he exclaimed. "You escaped!"

Gary, however, didn't share Shawn's happiness.

"Don't try to stop Kobie," warned Gary pointing a phaser threateningly in his direction. "He has promised to help us defeat the Ruler, but first he needs us for his experiments."

Shawn stared into Gary's eyes. They were dull and lifeless. His will was no longer his own. Shawn desperately searched for a part of Gary that Kobie did not control.

"Why have you turned against us?" gasped Shawn.

"I haven't turned against you," insisted Gary. "I am only trying to do what is best for the Earth."

Gary's answer sounded sincere. Shawn guessed that it was the real Gary speaking.

"Kobie doesn't care about the Earth," argued Shawn. "and the only reason he wants to defeat the Ruler is so he can take his place."

"He will be overthrown," agreed Gary. "but in the meantime I have to do what he says in order to protect the Earth."

"Kobie has some kind of mental control over you," explained Shawn. isn't letting you see the truth."

Gary lowered his phaser and thought about what Shawn had said. With a great effort, Gary was able to temporarily overcome Kobie's conditioning.

"The Earth must be spared," murmured Gary fearfully.

"It will be," Shawn assured him. "but we will need your help."

Shawn took a step toward Gary extending his hand in friendship. At that same moment, Gary gave up the struggle for his own identity. He pulled out his phaser and fired. Shawn was taken completely by surprise. He stared up at Gary in disbelief before slumping over right beside Lisa.

Gary took the phasers away from Shawn and Lisa and carried Lisa's body where Kobie would be waiting for them. A small part of Gary regretted what Shawn had been his friend for years and wasn't someone he wanted to shoot. However, the rest of him drowned out the small part that rebelled by reminding him that what he did was for the safety of the Earth. No matter what his personal objections were, he had to serve the greater cause.

TIME : 10:04 P.M. (22:04)
PLACE : Somewhere near the gold castle

The guard continued to crack his whip and yell at Hank to keep moving. As far as Hank could tell, there was no end in sight. The guard would have him march forever and whip him if he ever dared to stop. Hank looked at the guard and figured that, even though the guard was clearly stronger than he was, he would be lighter and faster. All he needed was a good head start.

"Stop!" commanded the guard when they reached an innocent looking pile of rocks.

Hank had no objections. He was glad to have a chance to rest. However, he eyed the rocks suspiciously knowing he wouldn't be able to rest for very long.

The guard pulled out a small wagon that had been hidden on the other side of the pile of rocks.

"I want you to carry these rocks up the road to the castle," explained the guard. "Now get to work, SLAVE!"

"I'm not your slave," objected Hank.

The guard raised his whip and prepared to strike, but before he could, Hank shoved the wagon into him and ran as fast as he could toward the gold castle. The guard was knocked the ground, but he recovered even sooner than Hank had expected and started after him.

Further up the road, Peter was walking along at a casual pace. The illusion still prevented him from seeing or hearing Hank, even though he was approaching rapidly. Hank was also unaware that Peter was directly in front of him until he ran him over.

Hank was the first to recover from their collision. He expected the guard to be right on top of him, but the guard had vanished, and so had his injuries from the whip. Hank looked at Peter, who was still in a daze, and remembered where he was. The illusion was gone.

"Peter?" said Hank gently reviving him.

"I forgot all about you," Peter told him. "I was in the middle of one of Kobie's illusions."

"The same thing happened to me," added Hank. "I hope the others are alright."

"I think I see Linda," stated Peter.

"Where?" asked Hank.

Peter pointed to a small speck in the distance coming toward them. By the way the speck moved, it was clear that it had to be a human being, but from that distance it could be anybody.

"What makes you think it's Linda?" inquired Hank.

"It's not Lisa, Shawn, or Gary," answered Peter. "and how many other people would be wondering alone around here."

"If it is Linda, then we'd better help her out," advised Hank.

Hank and Peter ran in the direction of the speck calling out to her every few seconds. As they got closer, the speck became a figure confirming their hunch that it was Linda. By the way she was moving about, they guessed that she was in the middle of another one of Kobie's illusions.

"Kobie's preventing Linda from hearing us no matter how loud we scream," Peter realized.

"Then we'll have to bump into her the same way I bumped into you," replied Hank.

Linda was wondering around the pond toward the gold castle not knowing that Peter and Hank were in the middle of what she thought was the pond. Suddenly, she heard a wild animal approaching. It sounded quite nasty. Linda wanted nothing to do with it, so she turned and ran away from the pond as fast as she could go.

She was in such a hurry to get away from whatever it was that she forgot to look where she was going and tripped over what she thought was a tree root. The creature was directly on top of her, however, its voice was surprisingly familiar.

"Linda," Peter called out urgently. "What you are experiencing right now is only an illusion. Close your eyes and think about our trip to Mars. Remember what happened to us."

Linda took a deep breath and opened her eyes. The illusion was gone.

"Am I ever glad to see you," she sighed.

"The feeling is mutual," agreed Peter. "Do you have any idea where they are?"

"My guess would be back at the escape pod," suggested Linda. "That's as good a place as any."

The three of them walked slowly in the direction of the escape pod. They had had an exhausting day.

TIME : 10:15 P.M. (22:15)
PLACE : Inside the gold castle

Gary entered the castle still carrying Lisa and handed her over to Kobie and the other aliens. He watched as Kobie and the others examined her to make sure she wasn't damaged.

"You have done well," Kobie declared. "The Earth will be spared, as long as the others don't get in our way."

"That won't be a problem," Gary stated confidently. "On my way to get Lisa, I ran into Shawn. He tried to stop me, but I stunned him."

"Stunned him!" screamed Kobie. "You were supposed to kill him."

"I didn't think that would be necessary," stammered Gary.

"You didn't think it would be necessary," mocked Kobie. "You are supposed to obey my orders, not make judgements about what is and what isn't necessary. Which is more important, one life or billions of lives."

"Billions of lives," replied Gary.

"That's right," snapped Kobie. "and by not killing Shawn, you have endangered the Earth." "Please give me another chance," begged Gary.

"I will give you another chance," conceded Kobie. "but my patience is wearing thin. You are to kill Shawn at the first possible opportunity. No second guessing my orders. Is that clear?"

"Yes," said Gary. "but what about Peter, Hank, and Linda."

"They are unimportant," explained Kobie. "If they cause you any trouble, kill them! If not, let them be. It might be interesting to see how they react to Lisa's conditioning. I want you to leave now and do not return until Shawn is dead."

"It will be done," predicted Gary.

He left to carry out his duty leaving Lisa in her helpless condition with the aliens.

"Put her in the master bedroom," ordered Kobie. "Let her wake up to pleasant surroundings."

TIME : 10:20 P.M. (22:20)
PLACE : The escape pod

As soon as they saw Shawn lying face down next to the escape pod, Peter, Hank, and Linda came running to his aid. Although they weren't familiar with the way phasers worked, they could tell that Shawn had been the victim of one.

"Heartbeat and breathing normal," reported Hank. "He must have been stunned."

The three of them tried to wake Shawn up, but it was too soon after he had been hit. He needed some time to recover. Seeing they couldn't wake him, they carried him inside the escape pod where at least he could rest in comfort.

"It's about time we got some sleep," advised Peter. "We've had a long day. We'll take turns keeping watch. I'll go first."

"What about Lisa and Gary?" wondered Linda.

"We won't be able to help them if we're not at our best," reasoned Peter. "We need our rest. They'll still be there in the morning. I don't think Kobie will do anything drastic any time soon."

"Sounds like you want to get some rest more than we do," remarked Linda. "I'll tell you want, I'll take the first watch."

"Thank you," yawned Peter. "Let us know if anything out of the ordinary occurs."

"Don't worry, I will," Linda assured them.

TIME : 10:30 P.M. (22:30)
PLACE : The master bedroom

Lisa awoke and found herself in a strange, but since it was so large and luxurious, she didn't mind that she didn't know where she was. She stared up at the ceiling admiring its design. She was just about to get up when the door opened and in walked three people she had never seen before. The first one was a tall, young man who looked like some type of servant. The second was a young woman who also appeared to be a servant of some sort. The third was considerably older and looked like he was the man in charge.

"That's the one," he said pointing to Lisa.

"I didn't do anything. Honest!" cried Lisa. "I passed out and when I woke up, I found myself here."

"You're not in any kind of trouble," smiled the old man. "You have been chosen to be our new queen."

"In that case, I accept, gladly," Lisa told them breathing a sigh of relief.

"Your coranation will be first thing in the morning," the old man continued. "In the meantime, I'd advise you to get some rest. Tomorrow will be a big day for you. If you need anything, just yell. My servants will attend to your every need. Pleasant dreams."

Lisa watched them leave. She was still in shock that they wanted her to be their queen. She got up and looked around the room to see if there was anything that could tell her where she was. There wasn't, just the bed, a small closet, and an old chest of drawers.

Lisa decided to check the closet first. Inside she found her old clothes that she had left on Earth plus some of the clothes she had wanted from the wardrobe room, but she didn't find it the slightest bit unusual. She had already forgotten about the others and her adventures on Mars. The more she explored, the more she forgot.

She came across an old treasure chest containing an assorted collection of jewels in various shapes and sizes. Each of them was worth a small fortune and, after she became queer they would all be hers.

TIME : 10:35 P.M. (22:35)
PLACE : Outside the escape pod

Gary reached the spot where he had stunned Shawn only to find that someone had beaten to him. He eyed the escape pod suspiciously. They couldn't have gone very far and that was their only source of food and water, so they were either inside or would return shortly.

Linda was keeping watch as promised and saw Gary coming to greet them.

"It's Gary," she announced. "He's here."

Neither Peter nor Hank had been able to go to sleep. They were wide awake when she made her announcement. They got up fairly quickly in order to see Gary for themselves.

"Great!" exclaimed Peter. "Now the only person we have left to find is Lisa."

Gary came up to the door and knocked.

"Can I come in?" asked Gary.

"Certainly," said Linda walking over to open the door.

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