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JETPACK

By ... Steve Lucky

CHAPTER THREE

"Is this all of you?" demanded Xancorra.

"Yes," snickered Peter.

"This time you are telling the truth, but you want me to believe you are lying," accused Xancorra. "I can see it in your eyes."

"If you knew the answer, why did you ask?" complained Peter.

"I just wanted to confirm it," Xancorra replied. "Without your spacesuits, I can see who you are. You are the four from Earth. Where is Shawn?"

"Shawn had enough sense to stay away from this place," stated Lisa.

"Maybe so, but somebody had to bring you here," reasoned Xancorra. "Who?"

"What difference does it make?" snapped Linda.

"I want to know how far up the chain of command your orders go," answered Xancorra. "You have close associations with you fellow Earthling Shawn, second in command at M.W.G.D. Did he order you to come here, or was it X?"

Xancorra had been nice to them the first time they met, but this time she wanted some answers. She was prepared to use force, but only as a last resort. Maybe they would answer her if she approached the topic from a different angle.

"Whose idea was it to come to our hideout using jetpacks?" she questioned.

"Mine," said Peter. "I've been taking lessons from Rextol."

Xancorra's face turned a bright red. She began to tremble with anger.

"Rextol!" she shouted. "You're a friend of Rextol!"

"Yes," Peter declared unprovoked by Xancorra's anger. "We've known each other for a year and a half."

"Rextol and I were both members of the Royal Guards of Triax," Xancorra began. "Both of us advanced rapidly until we got near the top. Only one of us could move on and they chose Rextol because he was much better with the jetpack. I was better than him at everything else, but they didn't care. Rextol's nothing without his jetpack. Any friend of Rextol's is an enemy of mine."

"How do I always manage to rub people the wrong way," Peter muttered to himself.

"Are the rest of you friends of Rextol?" insisted Xancorra.

"We barely know him," Hank explained. "He keeps to himself most of the time."

"If they bring Rextol to me, I will release you," promised Xancorra. "We have an old score to settle."

"This is more than just a battle over a promotion," attacked Peter.

"Why do you say that?" wondered Xancorra.

"I can see it in your eyes," mocked Peter. "You have a personal hatred for Rextol, not his old position."

"Jake XXVIII and Lynn I may be the most powerful people in the galaxy," admitted Xancorra. "but they also have the most enemies. I was recruited by an anonymous organization to lead the king and queen into a trap. Being angry at them for not promoting me, I agreed to do it."

"Unfortunately, Rextol found out and told the king and queen. They were going to put me on trial, but the day before the trial was to begin I discovered a way out. If would give the Ruler my services if he'd move me to a secret location. None of them ever found out what happened to me. They're still looking for me on Triax, but I have enough sense never to return."

"A few days after I escaped, Rextol joined M.W.G.D. Somehow he knew I'd joined forces with the Ruler and he was determined to stop both of us. Now he's training people how to use jetpacks."

"If your trial was as important as you say it was, how come this is the first time we've heard about it?" wondered Peter.

"The king and queen kept the news secret," explained Xancorra. "They didn't want the public to know they had been betrayed by one of their own guards. It would be bad for their image."

Peter believed her story and understood why Rextol preferred to keep his past a secret Someone must have offered a reward for proof of Rextol's death. He had to leave to protect himself and the king and queen.

"I don't think the Ruler would agree with your plan to swap us for Rextol," Lisa reminded her. "You said he was coming to see us."

"You called my bluff," conceded Xancorra. "but I can make your stay a much more pleasant one. The Ruler knows I want Rextol to pay for what he did to me. I'm sure the Ruler will let me have my revenge if it doesn't interfere with his plans."

"X will never agree to put an innocent life at risk," declared Peter.

"Then I'm afraid your stay here will become very uncomfortable," warned Xancorra. "Take them back to their cell!"

Bortar led the guards accompanying Peter, Hank, Linda, and Lisa back to their cell. He wanted to make sure they remembered him and the trouble he had caused them.

"You should have told her what she wanted to know," he scolded. "The Ruler won't like your refusal to cooperate."

"We've met the Ruler before," Peter told him. "Millions of people might beg for mercy when the Ruler gets angry at them, but he won't get any whimpering from us."

"I'm going to tell the Ruler what you just said," said Bortar. "By the time he gets through with you, you'll wish you'd never left Earth."

Peter wanted to respond, but felt it best not to say anything else. No one said a word for the remainder of the trip.

"The Ruler will deal with you shortly," Bortar remarked after locking the cell door.

"You may not be afraid of the Ruler, but I don't want to encounter him again," stated Lisa. "We barely got away with our lives the last time we met."

"That was over five months ago," Peter reminded her. "We're more experienced now. I doubt we'll make the same mistakes twice."

"We'll find new mistakes to make," Lisa cut in.

"We need to start looking for a way out of here," commanded Hank. "If we can escape, we might not have to face the Ruler."

"Let's put our spacesuits back on," suggested Peter. "If we get out of this cell, we're going to have to leave the hideout as fast as we possibly can."

TIME : 10:15 P.M. (22:15)
PLACE : 1500 meters above the surface of Relvac

X, Shawn, and Ramos approached the hideout wondering what had happened to Peter, Hank, Linda, and Lisa. The had received Hank's message, but his message had been stopped before he could tell them what had happened to the others.

"Let me get this strait, did Peter, Hank, Linda, and Lisa jump out of the airlock and use their jetpacks to navigate to the hideout?" asked X.

"Yes," answered Shawn.

"Then that's what I'll do," declared X.

He took the remaining spacesuit and jumped out of the airlock. He started from a higher altitude, but he was more experienced with jetpacks. X zeroed in on the hideout keeping a sharp eye out for any type of defense mechanism.

It didn't take him long to find the entrance. Soon he was at the bottom of the staircase searching for anyone who could tell him where he could find his friends. The storage room didn't interest him for the time being. As soon as he rescued his friends, his people would have the place surrounded and could take anything that was held in storage.

X noticed the trail of mud Lisa had left and decided to follow it. A single guard was about ten meters in front of him. The guard hadn't noticed him, so X crept up behind him. By the time he realized what was going on, it was too late. X had a secure hold on him and his gun was pointed straight at the guard's head.

"Where are my agents?" X demanded.

"They've been taken to a cell," whimpered the guard. "I had nothing to do with it."

"Take me there," ordered X. The guard led the way with X still holding him tightly. They were almost to the cell when they came across a group of guards.

"Help me!" shouted X's hostage.

The guards tried to help them, but they didn't know what to do. X was immune to their phasers. X stunned his former hostage. Then shot the other guards. Some of the guards tried to escape, but X was to quick for them.

Knowing other guards would arrive shortly, X hurried to the cell. Normally X would of had to guess which door to open, but a trail of mud led to one of the doors. X forced the door open.

"Hurry!" commanded X. "We have to get out of here."

"What about the mud?" inquired Linda.

"The mud's dry," Lisa assured her. "I won't leave another trail behind."

The five of them hurried to the exit hoping not to run into any more trouble. Unfortunately, the exit was where trouble awaited them.

TIME : 10:25 P.M. (22:25)
PLACE : 2500 meters above the surface of Relvac

Shawn and Ramos waited for X to return with the others.

"How long do you think it will be before they return?" wondered Ramos.

"It depends on a number of things," Shawn replied. "How many guards they have, how hard they'll be to find, and what condition they'll be in when he finds them."

"You don't think they'll be killed. Do you?" stammered Ramos.

"No," considered Shawn. "They're too valuable, but they might be tortured."

"What is that?" asked Ramos pointing to the radar screen.

A ship was approaching them at a speed beyond the capability of most ships. Shawn knew of only one ship that could travel that fast, the XX1, but X was the only one who knew how to pilot the XX1 and he was inside the hideout.

"Evacuate!" cried Shawn. "We have to leave the area at once before we're in firing range."

"What about X and the others?" protested Ramos. "We can't just leave them there."

"We won't be any good to them dead," declared Shawn. "and that's exactly what we'll be if the Ruler catches us."

"The Ruler's on that ship," gasped Ramos.

"I don't know anybody else besides X capable of building a ship that travels that fast, reasoned Shawn. "He must realize how serious the situation is for him. We'll be able to halt his plans to conquer the Rigel system unless he can stop us."

"What if he decides to come after us?" inquired Ramos. "We can't outrun him."

"Hopefully he'll be too busy trying to reach the hideout to notice us," Shawn told him. "If not, we'll need to alert M.W.G.D. Headquarters and tell them to send else to rescue X, Peter, Hank, Linda, and Lisa before he shoots us down."

As they left Relvac, Ramos kept his eye on the radar screen. Their radar equipment was probably better than the Ruler's, but there was no doubt that the Ruler was now close enough to spot them. The Ruler could either follow them or continue to the hideout. They both held their breath as the Ruler made his decision.

"We're safe!" exclaimed Ramos. "He heading to the hideout."

"It may be good for us, but it's bad for X's rescue mission," stated Shawn. "They don't know it, but things have just become much tougher for them. Let's return to the hideout."

"Are you crazy?" demanded Ramos. "We barely escaped from the Ruler just a few seconds ago. Now you want to go back there? If the Ruler decides to come back out, we're doomed."

"And if we don't go back for the others, they're doomed," Shawn reminded him. "We have to go back! They're depending on us."

As soon as the Ruler's ship touched the landing pad, it was lowered into the underground hideout. A few seconds later, the landing pad returned to the surface without the Ruler's ship.

"Now we know how to enter the hideout," said Shawn. "but we can't enter it all by ourselves. If we did, we'd be surrounded before we ever left the ship."

"Maybe we could enter the hideout after reinforcements arrive," suggested Ramos.

"That's a good idea except for one thing," Shawn explained. "X told us not to call for reinforcements until Peter, Hank, Linda, and Lisa are safely outside the hideout. I've known X long enough to know that X has a plan. He might not have taken the Ruler's arrival into consideration, but he's highly adaptive. If we disobey his orders, in spite of our good intentions, we might cause him more harm than good. As his second in command, I more than anyone have to obey his order. If I don't, why should anyone obey my orders. I do wish there was a way I could warn him, but I have my orders and I have to follow them."

"I'll agree to wait here alone," conceded Ramos. "but I won't like it."

TIME : 1O:28 P.M. (22:28)
PLACE : The storage room

X, Peter, Hank, Linda, and Lisa were almost to the exit. Not too many guards tried to stop them and X stunned the few that did without too much difficulty. They were almost free By the time they reached the storage room, they thought they were going to make it. There were no more guards between them and the exit.

Then they ran into the Ruler and Yot. The Ruler and Yot were just as surprised as they were, but they clearly had the upper hand.

"Leaving so soon?" taunted the Ruler. "The party's just getting started."

"I can't tell which one of you is which," admitted Yot. "but I have a way of finding out. I'll shoot all of you. Whichever of you doesn't fall is X and it will be easy to identify the remaining bodies."

"I am X," announced X. "Let the others go and I will agree to be your hostage."

"Why should I make such a deal with you?" questioned the Ruler. "I have you as a hostage without letting them go. It would be a shame to waste such an opportunity."

Peter made his way toward one and slowly started to pry it open. X saw what he was doing out of the corner of his eye and tried to give Peter the time he needed.

"As the leader of M.W.G.D., I work with governments from all over the galaxy," started X. "I know the strengths and weaknesses of all of them. If you let my friends go, I could tell you how to conquer almost every planet in the galaxy."

"Do you take me for a fool?" demanded the Ruler. "You won't tell me a thing. You would rather see M.W.G.D. totally destroyed than allow me to take over another planet. Besides, I doubt that even you would know all their strengths and all their weaknesses. Why do you want to free the Earthlings so much? If you tell me, I may consider it."

"They're reasons you won't understand," insisted X. "I care about the people under my command and I don't want anything to happen to them. These people come from a planet that's just beginning to become technologically advanced, yet they were able to save their home planet from some of the soldiers you abandoned. They have shown great promise and I am interested in preserving their future."

"What can you offer me in return for their safety?" asked the Ruler. "Make sure it's something you can give me. Don't tell me you'll give away military secrets when we both know you won't."

"I can call off my troops," said X. "I could tell them to leave this hideout alone."

"You'll have to do better than that," snapped the Ruler.

Peter finally opened the box and found that it contained metal devices shaped like eggs. On one end of the device was something that looked like a timer. Peter picked up one of the devices to look at it more closely.

"Don't even think about it!" yelled Bortar.

Peter turned around slowly and saw Bortar standing directly behind him with his gun pointed straight at his heart. A few meters behind him was Xancorra.

"A noble effort," smirked the Ruler. "but I saw what you were up to from the very beginning and alerted Xancorra. Don't feel bad, the five of you will bring me a very large ransom."

Copyright MCMXCII, MCMXCIX