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JETPACK

By ... Steve Lucky

CHAPTER FOUR

"My people will never give you what you want," X cried defiantly.

"Your people will do anything to insure your safety," disagreed the Ruler. "and even if they don't somebody else will. You're too valuable to the alliance against me. You're worth a whole planet to some people."

"Anybody who pays my ransom won't be doing me any favors," insisted X.

"They'll be doing me a favor," snickered the Ruler. "The attack on the Rigel system will be right on schedule. Without you to stop us, things will be much easier and the best thing of all is that the people of the Rigel system unwittingly helped finance our military."

"Is that why you resorted to selling drugs?" questioned Linda.

"It was the easiest way to make money," the Ruler replied. "Frasium is illegal on all planets except the ones I control, therefore we have the greatest supply of frasium in the galaxy. Since the substance is illegal in the Rigel system, we can sell mass quantities of frasium for outrageous prices. The fools are addicted and will pay anything we ask. The first step in taking over a government is to gain economic power. We have accomplished this without the slightest resistance."

"We can bribe the population with drugs. Soon they will do anything I say and if they don't I threaten to take their drug supply away. They will be at my mercy."

Peter noticed that Xancorra and Bortar weren't paying as much attention to him as they had been. He still had the explosive in his hand. Very slowly he moved his hand toward the timer and gave it a gentle twist. A red started flashing and the explosive made a small beeping sound. He threw it at Bortar as fast as he could.

"Deactivate it or we'll all be blown to bits," warned the Ruler.

Bortar and Xancorra were on their hands and knees searching for the explosive. Bortar finally found it and hurried to deactivate it. By that time Peter had grabbed three more explosives and threw one at the Ruler, one at Yot, and one at Xancorra.

"Run!" yelled Peter.

X pushed the Ruler out of the way as the five of them darted toward the stairs. The Ruler didn't like being pushed but he didn't have time to retaliate. A single explosive would be enough to destroy the entire storage room and everything in it, including themselves.

Peter realized that they had to get back to the ship as quickly as possible. He thought Lisa was going to slowly so he grabbed and set his jetpack on maximum speed. At first Lisa didn't know what Peter was doing, then she realized he was trying to help her get away. She held on tight not daring to look down.

X, who was much stronger than Peter, grabbed Hank and Linda and did the same. The ship was still only a tiny speck in the sky, but it was rapidly getting larger.

Inside the ship, Shawn and Ramos took turns watching for X to return. It was Shawn's to watch. He thought he saw something approaching the ship, but he wasn't sure what turn it was.

"I'm going down," he told Ramos. "I believe I see them."

They moved the ship into position to intercept the objects. As they got closer, they saw that the object were indeed Peter, Hank, Linda, Lisa, and X. Peter and Lisa reached the ship first. They both gave a sigh of relief as they entered the airlock.

"How are you feeling?" Shawn asked with some concern as they entered the ship and removed their spacesuits.

"Fine," gasped Lisa. "but I don't ever want to wear that thing again."

As soon as X, Hank, and Linda reached the ship, Shawn turned the ship around and headed for M.W.G.D. Headquarters. As he left the Ruler's hideout, he ordered the place surrounded and told them to make doublely sure the Ruler didn't escape. If they could capture the Ruler, the war would be over before it even began.

"What if the Ruler decides to follow us?" worried Ramos. "We still can't outrun him."

"Instead of outrunning him, we'll out gun him," X assured him. "The Ruler wouldn't dare follow us while I'm on board. He knows how good a shot I am."

"It looks like we brought you along for nothing," Shawn sighed to Ramos. got a chance to identify the drug dealers."

"Maybe not, but we got a good look at them," said Peter. "and I still have one of the bags I took from the storage room."

Peter handed the bag containing the blue powder to Ramos. Ramos stared at the bag in disbelief.

"I've never seen so much refined frasium in the same container," declared Ramos. "That bag alone is worth a small fortune."

"There are thousands of other bags just like it," Peter informed Peter. "The Ruler and his subordinates were selling frasium to raise money to buy explosives. They would have gone to war with you if we hadn't discovered what they were up to."

"They still might," explained grimly. "They have hideouts scattered throughout the Rigel system. We might have captured their main hideout, but the Ruler still has enough drugs and explosives to wage war. Better prepare for the worst."

TIME : 10:35 P.M. (22:35)
PLACE : The Ruler's emergency exit

The Ruler, Yot, Xanacorra, and Bortar had managed to deactivate the bombs before they exploded. The prisoners had escaped and their hideout was being surrounded, but the Ruler wasn't worried.

Making sure they weren't being followed, the Ruler led the others to a secret exit.

"I am always prepared," he roared. "I had a back exit built in case of an emergency."

They entered a small ship that comfortably seated the four of them, but left no room for anyone else. As tothe Ruler launched the ship, a secret tunnel opened leading to the surface. By the time the people from M.W.G.D. detected the Ruler, it was too late to catch him.

"A single ship has escaped out a hidden tunnel," one of them reported. "We believe the Ruler was on board. Other than that everything seems to be going smoothly. The Ruler's troops are surrendering to us, we have most of the drugs and explosives in our possession, and there are no casualties to report."

The Ruler intercepted the report. When the report was finished he turned angrily to Xancorra. Xancorra felt very uncomfortable.

"You let M.W.G.D. discover our hideout," scolded the Ruler. "You were put in charge of the operation and you failed me. I cannot allow failure to go unpunished."

"What are you going to do to her?" inquired Bortar.

"I am going to give her a warning," replied the Ruler.

He pulled out a Rigelian phaser, more powerful than a standard phaser, and pointed it at Xancorra. Xancorra gazed up at him evenly waiting to see what he would do. Bortar watched eagerly hoping he would be put in charge of the operation after Xancorra's death.

The Ruler slowly pulled back on the trigger. Suddenly, he turned toward Bortar and fired. Bortar tried to scream, but his face froze in horror before he could utter a sound. He cellapsed to the floor looking pale and terrified.

The Ruler turned to Xancorra.

"Next time it will be you," warned the Ruler.

Xancorra looked at the Ruler and Yot. They were ignoring her. She wanted to ask them where they were going, but she felt the time wasn't right for her to speak. She stared at what was left of Bortar. Bortar was never one of her favorite people and it was his fault the hideout was discovered, but she still couldn't help feeling sorry for him.

"Better him than me," she thought.

"We are going back to Altair 7," Yot told her after a few minutes of silence. "You will be briefed on our battle plans. In a few days, you will be placed in charge of our attack force on Darius. You will receive your orders directly from the Ruler."

"Serve us well and we will overlook your failure on Relvac. If you don't, it will be best for you not to return. In spite of your recent error you have proven yourself in the past. The future of the Ruler's empire depends on you. Don't fail us again."

"It was Bortar who allowed himself to be followed," she explained. "I'm glad you destroyed him. He was the cause of all my problems. Without him to foul things up, victory will come easily."

"Don't underestimate M.W.G.D.," snapped the Ruler. "It might have been Bortar's fault you were discovered, but it wasn't his fault X was able to rescue the Earthlings. Your paths might cross again in the near future, so you'll have to be ready for them."

"I'll learn all I can about them," Xancorra assured him. "Nobody has ever tricked me twice."

The Ruler looked out at the stars, particularly the stars inside his empire. He controlled a large chunk of the galaxy, but it was still very small compared to the rest of the universe. He wanted to rule everything he saw, but he knew he had to take things one step at a time. His next target was the Rigel system. Soon there would be one more star in his empire. Until then, he would rest and tighten his grip on the systems he already controlled.

"We should arrive on Altair 7 in two hours," reported Yot.

"Maintain radio silence until we reach our destination," ordered the Ruler. "I don't want anybody following us."

The last thing the Ruler wanted was more trouble from M.W.G.D.. They would be the first outside force to help the people of the Rigel system defend themselves. Because of Bortar's carelessness, M.W.G.D. knew he was going to attack the Rigel system, but they didn't know when, where, or how.

He had suffered a heavy setback when Xancorra lost the hideout on Relvac, but he couldn't let it slow down his plans for invading the Rigel system. In fact, he had to speed up his plans. Every minute he waited gave M.W.G.D. another minute to prepare. He wouldn't let them enjoy their victory for long. He would be back stronger than ever.

TIME : February 29, 2012 1:00 P.M. (13:00)
PLACE : The recreation room

Peter, Hank, Linda, and Lisa got a well deserved day off for two special reasons. First, it was Linda's birthday. Linda was one of the unique people born on Earth on February 29th. She was twenty-eight and looking forward to her birthday party which would take place right after a brief ceremony to honor Peter, Hank, Linda, and Lisa for their bravery.

The ceremony was the second reason they were given the day off. At the ceremony, they would each receive the promotion X had promised them along with a new M.W.G.D. badge indicating their rank.

While Linda was being treated royally by everyone she met and Hank and Lisa went looking for a birthday present, Peter returned to the recreation room to continue his training. He told Rextol what had happened and especially about his encounter with Xancorra.

"Looks like you got to practice using a jetpack on a planets surface sooner than I thought," said Rextol. "I'm proud of you. You did a good job."

"I didn't use the jetpack that much," stated Peter. "All I used it for was to go from the ship to the hideout and back."

"But it under stressful circumstances," argued Rextol. "You proved you could handle a jetpack under pressure. You'd be surprised how many people can't do that."

"However, that wasn't all I was referring to when I said you did a good job. You did well against a powerful adversary. Xancorra and I go back a long way. I try to get along or at least coexist peacefully with most people, but Xancorra and I were at each others throats from the very beginning. I knew she'd turn up eventually, I just hoped it wouldn't be so soon."

"She must really hate you," Peter remarked. "She exploded when I mentioned your name. Her thought are filled with getting revenge for what you did to her."

"Next time she surfaces, I'm going to meet her face to face," declared Rextol. "I don't want anybody else getting hurt. Her grudge is with me. I am the one that has to stop her."

"She won't fight fairly," protested Peter. "She'll stop at nothing to get what she wants."

"That's why I have to face her alone," explained Rextol. "As long as I'm in her sight, she'll focus her anger on me and forget about everybody else. She might even make a careless mistake that the rest of you can take advantage of. I know I'll be in danger, but that's a risk I have to take."

Peter didn't reply. He knew Rextol had made up his mind and nothing he could say could possibly make him change it. He hoped the confrontation between Rextol and Xancorra would never come, but he knew it was inevitable.

He remembered how he had humiliated the Ruler and the Ruler was much more powerful than Xancorra. If he wasn't careful, he might become another victim of the Ruler. With his promotion came a greater responsibility. They would be going on missions more frequently and Shawn and X wouldn't always be there to save them. However, he also knew that he was rapidly gaining knowledge and experience. He hoped that someday he wouldn't need Shawn and to help him whenever he got in trouble, but he was glad they were there just in case.

Peter soared to the ceiling and began practicing. He had all day to train.

TIME : 7:00 P.M. (19:00)
PLACE : The auditorium at M.W.G.D. Headquarters

Peter, Hank, Linda, and Lisa received their promotion to Lieutenant Commander to the delight of the entire staff at M.W.G.D. Headquarters. They even had a special guest. Since Ramos had helped them on their mission, he was allowed to watch the ceremony. He was one of the few people outside M.W.G.D. to visit M.W.G.D. Headquarters. He was impressed with their technology and knew that they were more than a match for the Ruler.

X gave each of them their new badge and let them say a few words to the audience. Then, he addressed the crowd. He knew he wouldn't get another chance to speak to his entire staff at the same time in the near future and wanted to take advantage of the opportunity.

"I'm glad you enjoyed the ceremony," X began. "but before you go I'd like you to remember that the Ruler is preparing to attack the Rigel system. The attack could come at any time, so you'll have to be ready for it."

"If the Ruler failing to conquer the Rigel system, it will be a crippling blow for his empire. The Ruler is weakening. He has more systems than he can control. If we can keep the pressure on him his empire will topple."

"I am pleased with the work all of you have done so far, but it is not enough. It will never be enough until the entire galaxy is once again free from the Ruler's control."

There were cheers throughout the crowd. They felt that victory was eminent. Peter liked X's speech, but he seriously doubted that the Ruler's empire was weakening, in spite of their victory on Relvac.

Peter knew he hadn't heard the last of the Ruler.

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