TIME : February 26, 2012 6:00 P.M. (18:00)
PLACE : The recreation room at M.W.G.D. Headquarters
Peter had always been fascinated with jetpacks. Unlike a plane or a spaceship, a jetpack allowed one to soar into the air like a bird. It wasn't as fast as a plane or spaceship, but what it lacked in speed it more than made up for in maneuverability. With a jetpack one could stop or change directions in a fraction of a second.
Ever since he first arrived at M.W.G.D. Headquarters, Peter had been learning how to use a jetpack. He said it might come in handy against the Ruler, or at least that was his excuse. The real reason was he wanted to fly through the air, far above the hustle and bustle of everyday life. He needed a chance to relax and do something for his enjoyment, not because he had to.
Rextol his trainer, was impressed with Peter's progress. Peter was lucky to an expert like Rextol to help him. Before he joined M.W.G.D. (Milky Way Galaxy Defense), Rextol had been a member of the Royal Guards of Triax. Like the Secret Service of the United States, the Royal Guards of Triax was an elite group of guards numbering no more than one hundred whose sole duty was to protect the king and queen of Triax from bodily harm, even at the cost of their own lives.
Rextol used his expertise with the jetpack to protect the king and queen from above. Quite often he spotted a sniper and disabled him before he had a chance to shoot. King Jake XXVIII and Queen Lynn I noticed his abilities and rapidly promoted him.
He was happy with his job, but for some reason, shortly after he became the fifth highest ranking guard, he left the Royal Guards of Triax and joined M.W.G.D. He never told anybody why he left the Royal Guards of Triax. All he said was it was for personal reasons.
Peter never persisted in asking questions about Rextol's past. He respected Rextol's right to privacy. Peter had plenty of things in his past that he didn't want other people probing into. Besides, he didn't want to spoil their friendship.
The recreation room was huge compared to a gymnasium, but it was still confining. Peter couldn't operate the jetpack at top speed because his reflexes weren't quick enough to prevent him from crashing into a wall.
"You've mastered the fundamentals," complemented Rextol. "You've adapted much quicker than most people I've taught. I'll let you practice on an actual planet next time we pass by one that's habitable."
That was what Peter had been waiting for, the chance to practice in an unconfined space Peter smiled at the good news. He was about to ask Rextol a few questions about going top speed, when Shawn interrupted his thoughts.
"Will Peter Buckwell please report to my office," he announced over the intercom.
"Sorry, Rextol," stammered Peter. "Got to go."
He left like a kid who had been called to see the principal.
"Maybe they've finally realized your usefulness," smiled Rextol.
"Maybe he simply forgot to tell me something," mumbled Peter.
On his way to Shawn's office, he ran into Hank, Linda, and Lisa. All three of them were headed in the same direction.
"Did Shawn ask you to come to his office?" asked Hank.
"Yes," Peter replied. "It must be another mission, otherwise he wouldn't have sent for all four of us."
"The Ruler must be giving us problems again," speculated Lisa.
"That would be my guess too," agreed Peter. "but we won't know for sure until Shawn tells us."
When they opened the door to Shawn's office they saw X, the leader of M.W.G.D., and realized the problem was even worse than they thought.
"I'm glad you could make it," X began. "If you succeed with this mission I promise each of you will get a promotion."
"What do you want us to do?" inquired Peter.
"Stop the Ruler from taking over the Rigel system," answered X. "The Rigel system is the second most populated system in the galaxy. It has 21 major planets. The five planets that are inhabited have a total population of over a trillion, or 18 percent of the galactic population. If the Ruler gets hold of that system, his power will be more than doubled."
"The local police have reported an increase in the amount of drugs available in the system. They suspect that a new drug lord has been producing mass quantities of the drug Frasium so he can sell as much of it as he can as cheaply as possible. Where he is storing the drug is a complete mystery to them."
"This in itself is bad, but it gets worse. Some of our agents have told me that the drug ring is being funded by th Ruler and the money he gets from the drugs is being used to by weapons. There is no doubt in my mind that the Ruler is going to attack the Rigel system sometime in the next thirty days, unless we can stop him."
"We know the weapons are being delivered to Altair 7, so I have scouts scanning the area just outside the Rigel system in the direction of Altair. As soon as the spot a ship, your job will be to their hideout and find and destroy all traces of drugs and weapons."
"Shawn will be leading you on this mission. If you need me, I'll be on Darius talking to the local police. Of all the planets in the Rigel system, Darius was the hardest hit by the drug lord and will probably be the first planet the Ruler attacks."
"Since there is no way of telling when one of their ships will be spotted, you'll have to be prepared to leave at a moments notice. Let Shawn know where you'll be so he can contact you when they time comes. Shawn knows as much as I do about your mission and will answer any questions you might have. As I said before, the police on Darius are expecting me and I can't keep them waiting."
Without another word, X left the room leaving Shawn in charge.
"How long will it be before an enemy ship is spotted?" asked Linda.
"I'm afraid I have no way of telling," Shawn replied. "It might be in just a few seconds or it might be several days. It all depends on how often trade between their hideous and Altair 7 takes place."
"How much money do you think the Ruler has made selling drugs?" inquired Peter.
"Enough to buy a huge chunk of Darius," answered Shawn. "and all of it will be used to buy weapons."
"Where do you think we'll find their hideout?" wondered Lisa.
"Knowing the Ruler, it's in the last place anybody would ever think of looking," Shawn remarked. "We do know it has to be somewhere in the Rigel system, but other than that it's anybody's guess."
Peter, Hank, Linda, and Lisa continued to ask questions before going their separate ways. Other than having to let Shawn know where they were at all times, everything was back to normal.
TIME : 9:00 P.M. (21:00)
PLACE : The docking bay
Shawn informed the others that a ship had been spotted and hurried to the docking bay only to find himself the last to arrive.
"How did you get here so fast?" inquired Shawn.
"We stayed close to the docking bay," Peter answered. "so we could come as soon as we're needed."
Shawn programed their course into the ship's computer and set the ship in motion. Soon M.W.G.D. Headquarters was far behind them.
"Where are we going?" asked Peter.
"It looks like the planet Relvac," began Shawn. "Relvac is the ninth planet in the Rigel system located between Scerpens, the eighth planet, and Darius, the tenth. Both planets contain life, but Relvac is called the planet of quicksand. Anything touching the surface will sink into but perfect for the Ruler."
Peter looked around the ship. In the back were five spacesuits, each containing a jetpack. He glanced longingly at one of the spacesuits. He wanted to try it out. Unfortunately, they were in the middle of a mission. Fun and games had to be postponed indefinitely.
Lisa kept a close eye on the radar screen in case the pilot of the other ship discover he was being followed and suddenly changed course.
"He's definitely heading for Relvac," Lisa reported. "He should arrive there in about sixty seconds."
All eyes turned toward the radar screen. It was critically important to find out where on Relvac their hideout was. Relvac was a relatively small planet, but its diameter was hundreds of kilometers. If they had to search the entire planet for their hideout, it would take days to find it.
Everything was going smoothly until the ship landed on the surface of Relvac. As soon as the ship reached the surface it disappeared from the radar screen. If that was the location of the Ruler's hideout it should have shown up on radar, but it didn't. There was no indication that anything manmade was on Relvac.
"The ship is no longer visible on normal radar," remarked Lisa as if it was nothing unusual.
"Switch to laser radar," ordered Shawn.
Laser radar was many times more powerful than normal radar. M.W.G.D. was one of the few organizations the used laser radar, so Shawn hoped the Ruler's hideout wouldn't remain invisible, as it had done with normal radar.
Lisa couldn't believe what she saw.
"It must be some sort of malfunction," gasped Lisa.
Shawn looked at the radar screen. He was piloting the ship and couldn't look long, but at first glance he saw what Lisa was talking about. The Ruler's hideout had been spotted one kilometer below the surface. It must have been very expensive and incredibly difficult to build.
"I'm afraid that's not a malfunction," Shawn explained. "The Ruler must not want any visitors. It will be impossible to enter their hideout without being detected."
"Only if we use the ship," exclaimed Peter. "You could fly low enough for us to jump out of the ship and use out jetpacks to guide us to their hideout."
"You're the only one who knows how to use a jetpack," complained Linda. "It's fine for you but what about the rest of us."
"I'll teach you the basics of operating one," said Peter. "It shouldn't take very long, and if you have any trouble I'll be glad to help you out."
"You'll have to start now," Shawn told him. "If we can see them, they most certainly can see us. If we stay here too long they may get suspicious."
The others agreed to Peter's plan. It was similar to sky diving, only instead of a parachute they were using a jetpack. Unfortunately, none of them had ever been sky diving but they had seen people do it on Earth and survive. Compared to some of the things they had done in the past it was quite safe. Besides, the gravity on Relvac was much less than it was on Earth.
Shawn flew slowly over the hideout pretending he was looking for them.
Meanwhile, Peter, Hank, Linda, and Lisa entered the airlock waiting for Shawn to tell them when to jump. Shawn had assured them that they couldn't be detected on normal radar, but they had seen what laser radar could do. They hoped the Ruler wasn't using it.
"Prepare to jump in fifteen seconds," commanded Shawn.
Peter cautiously opened the airlock and looked at the ground below. The red soil and the thin atmosphere reminded him of Mars. Unlike Mars, however, they could not set foot on the surface. They had to find the entrance to the Ruler's hideout.
"Five ... four ... three ... two ... one ... NOW!" counted Shawn.
Peter, Hank, Linda, and Lisa jumped out of the ship and activated their jetpacks. Peter watched them carefully to make sure they weren't having any problems as the four of them glided gently down to the surface.
Peter, remembering the entire surface of Relvac was made of a substance similar to quicksand, hovered about a meter above the surface and looked for a secret entrance. Hank and Linda did the same, but Lisa made the mistake of landing on the surface. There was no impact when she hit the ground, she simply sank right through it. By the time she realized what happened, she was up to her waist in the substance. She was able to get out of it only by putting her jetpack on full power.
Once they saw she was all right, the others laughed at her carelessness. Lisa looked at the mud on her spacesuit with a great deal of embarrasment and tried in vain to wipe it off.
Linda turned their attention to more important matters.
"I see something made of metal up ahead," she told the others. "I'm going to investigate."
The others followed close behind. Soon they could see it too. It was a landing pad too small to hold all but the smallest of ships. Next to it was a staircase descending into the darkness.
Peter, Hank, Linda, and Lisa landed on the staircase greatful to be on solid ground. The staircase was dimly lit by lights places at regular intervals. The stairs twisted endlessly into the darkness.
"There has to be a faster way," grumbled Lisa.
"There is," Peter assured her.
Peter turned on his jetpack and gently glided down the center of the staircase. The others reluctantly followed. Five minutes later they could see the bottom. There appeared to be a door leading into a well lit room.
Peter, who was closest to the bottom, landed beside the door and peeked inside. To his relief, no one was in the room. The room was void of people, but full of row after row of boxes. Some of the boxes were labeled, EXPLOSIVES : HANDLE WITH CARE!
"The coast is clear," Peter called out to the others before disappearing inside.
By the time they caught up with him, Peter had opened up one of the boxes and pulled out a plastic bag containing a blue powder similar to cocaine.
"Frasium," declared Peter. "The room is full of it."
"We'd better tell Shawn what we found," advised Lisa.
"Except for one thing," Peter reminded her. "Shawn is millions of kilometers away. We can't reach him using our jetpacks. We have to find a ship. I'd recommend spitting up. Odds are one of us will escape."
Besides the way they came in, there were two doors leading out of the room.
"Lisa and I will take the door on the right, you and Linda take the door on the left," suggested Hank. "I don't think it's a good idea to stay in their supply room very long."
"You're right," agreed Peter. "Let's go."
The four of them split up, but they failed to notice that Lisa was leaving a trail of mud behind her, a trail that could be very easily followed.
TIME : 9:05 P.M. (21:05)
PLACE : Xancorra's office
"Bortar!" shouted a middle aged woman authoritatively. "You have caused me a great deal of trouble."
"Were the weapons I received defective?" asked Bortar.
"Worse than that," roared Xancorra. "You were followed by a ship from M.W.G.D. It flew directly over us. They might have found our hideout. If that's the case, the Ruler's going to be very angry with me, and likewise I'll be angry with you."
"I'll be more careful in the future," stammered Bortar.
"It may already be too late," Xancorra declared grimly. "Get back to work!"
Bortar left the room greatful that he was still in one piece. Xancorra was much more forgiving than Yot and the Ruler. She had to answer to them and knew how it felt to be pushed around, but she still demanded results He didn't know how she'd react if he failed her a second time, but something told him not to find out.
Xancorra was worried too. Like Rextol, she had once been a member of the Royal Guards of Triax. She had a secure job protecting the king and queen, but for some reason she quit the Royal Guards of Triax and joined forces with the Ruler. The Ruler wasn't use to someone of her status joining him by her own free will, but he was more than willing to accept her.
Her skills proved highly useful to him and she was promoted rapidly. Finally, she was put in charge of the Ruler's secret hideout on Relvac. Her subordinates had been selling drugs for months without any trouble, but the Ruler didn't care about the past. If anything went wrong, no matter whose fault, she would be held responsible.
Fortunately for her, Rigel and Altair were many light years apart. It would take a few minutes for her message to reach the Ruler and a few minutes for his response to come back. If the Ruler wanted to personally remove her, it would take him several hours to get there giving her plenty of time to flee.
She had been working too hard for too long to let anything interfere with her drug selling and weapon gathering. She had warned all pilots to make sure they weren't being followed, but if M.W.G.D. had already found her, her instructions would be useless. She would have to prepare for battle.
TIME : 9:15 P.M. (21:15)
PLACE : Elsewhere in the Ruler's secret hideout
Peter and Linda advanced carefully keeping an eye out for any sign of trouble. Both of them were surprised they hadn't seen anyone. It was as if the place were totally empty.
"I wonder where everyone is?" whispered Linda.
"Maybe the Ruler's throwing us a surprise party," Peter whispered back.
"I'm serious," snapped Linda.
"I don't understand it either," admitted Peter. "It smells like a trap."
A single set of footsteps sounded in the distance. The footsteps were getting closer. Peter and Linda scrambled to find a hiding place. The footsteps stopped momentarily and a shadow appeared at the door. Peter and Linda held their breath as the figure entered the room.
Bortar had seen Peter and Linda through a hidden camera, but he didn't dare tell anybody. He knew they had come from the ship that had followed him, so he didn't want anyone else finding them before he did. It was his plan to capture them single handedly. If he succeeded, he thought Xancorrs might overlook his mistake of letting them find the hideout in the first place.
"Show yourselves!" ordered Bortar. "I know there are two of you hiding in this room."
Peter and Linda stayed perfectly still hoping he would go away. Slightly discouraged, Bortar began searching for them. It didn't take long for him to find Linda. There weren't too many hiding places in the room and Peter had chose the best one. Peter watched helplessly as Bortar pointed his gun directly at Linda.
"Show yourself or I'll kill her," threatened Bortar. "There may be two of you and only one of me, but others are on their way. You can come quietly or suffer the consequences."
Peter came out of hiding with his hands in the air, the universal sign of surrender.
"I'm glad you chose to cooperate," smirked Bortar. "If you'll come with me we'll have a little chat with Xancorra. I'm sure you'll have plenty of things to say to her."
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