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THE RULER RETURNS

By ... Steve Lucky

CHAPTER TWO

Soon, the downward motion stopped and a second door opened in the back of the cave. Two men in black uniforms stood at either side of the door to greet them. Their uniforms were remarkably similar to what the Ruler's troops had worn back on Altair 7.

"I've brought some new recruits," Orn said before anyone did anything to blow their cover.

"Very good," sneered the older of the two men. "You will all have to be questioned, but I am sure you will make an excellent addition to Triax People for the Ruler. Come with me."

He walked off in the appropriate direction. The others had no choice but to follow him. The younger man followed close behind to make sure they didn't scatter into any restricted hallways.

No one said a word as the small group slowly walked down to the end of the hallway. It was as if each knew the other was hiding something and the results of speaking too soon could be fatal.

When the older man got to the door at the end of the hallway, he turned around and pointed strait at Hank who was the first in line.

"You! Come with me," he glared acidicly.

Hank followed the older man into the room for questioning as the others turned and faced the younger man expecting an answer to their unspoken question.

"Your friend is being questioned," the younger man replied. "Each of you will be asked a few basic questions. If everything works out you will be approved for Triax People for the Ruler and told where to go to await further instructions."

A few minutes later, Hank returned. He looked shaken and exhausted, but no harm had come to him. The others gave a sigh of relief as Hank noded indicating that he had been accepted.

"Next!" shouted the older man.

Peter decided he might as well get things over with, so he followed the older man into the room as the others stayed behind and watched. The room was empty except for a desk on the opposite side with two chairs; one in front of the desk and one behind it.

Peter sat down in the chair in front of the desk assuming that was what he was supposed to do. A bald man came in through a room on the right that Peter had failed to notice before and sat down in the chair remaining. He opened the desk and took out a sheet of paper with a bunch of questions on it and handed it to Peter.

"I want you to answer these questions to the best of your ability," the man explained handing Peter a pencil. "We will try to verify your answers later."

Peter took the pencil and began reading the questions. Most of the questions asked about his background and experience in various fields. A few of the questions asked how he had heard about Triax People for the Ruler and what made him decide to join.

Peter was surprised by how easy the questions were. It was nothing like the interrogation he had expected. He also wondered why no one had bothered to check them for weapons. After a few seconds thought on these matters, he suspected that they needed as many people as possible and didn't have time to be picky.

Orn had told Peter what to say before they left the place. He was a computer repairman who had been injustly convicted for murdering one of his clients. With the help of his friends, he had managed to escape from jail and wanted revenge on the society that had put him there.

It was highly likely that they would question his innocence, but would not question his desire to team up with the Ruler. Peter knew that he had passed the first test.

The bald man skimmed over his answers and then shook hands with him. He thanked him and then exited the room and Lisa entered.

"How did it go?" asked Hank after Peter had finished wiping the sweat off his forehead.

"Pretty good," admitted Peter. "How about you?"

"Fine," answered Hank.

"I told you it was nothing to worry about," Orn stated with a smug expression in his voice.

"What do we do after we're all questioned?" Linda wondered as she waited her turn.

"They said they'd give us further instructions," Peter replied.

By the time Lisa returned, the others were happily chatting away almost as if the younger man wasn't even there. Linda smiled at her as she entered the room for questioning. It was almost over.

TIME : 1:00 P.M. (13:00)
PLACE : The main conference room inside the secret hideout

After they had all been questioned, they were allowed to go just about anywhere they wanted to go. Only a few rooms had been declared off limits. Peter was quick to take advantage of having free access to the place and began to make a mental map of all the pathways and passages that would be necessary to use in case they were discovered.

Lunch was a typical tray of cafeteria food. It seemed like nothing out of the ordinary was going to happen.

Just when they were about to give up hope, an announcement was made that everyone was to go to the conference room in half an hour for an emergency meeting. The Ruler was going to personally adress them and give them their new orders.

Orn told them to sit in the middle so they wouldn't arouse as much suspicion as they would if they sat in the front or the back. They all walked in at the same time and sat together in almost the very center of the room. Lisa was the first to sit down, followed by Linda, Hank, Orn, and finally Peter on the far right.

Soon the room was overflowing with people. Peter was amazed by the crowds. He didn't think the hideout was big enough to hold so many people, but then again he hadn't seen the entire hideout.

Hank watched the front of the room intently. This was what they had all been waiting for, a chance to actually see the Ruler and confirm the fact that he had returned. M.W.G.D. would take immediate action upon hearing the Ruler was back in business, but they needed proof.

Shawn might be the leader of M.W.G.D., but even he couldn't take authoritive action without something to prove there was a real danger to the public. All he could do was wait and hope that the others somehow managed to succeed with their mission.

"Shhh! They're starting," said a voice behind them.

The room suddenly grew quiet as the older man they had met when they first entered the hideout stepped out to the microphone at the front of the room.

"Attention!" he announced. "I am proud to present the Ruler himself. He has come all the way from Altair 7 to give you his personal instructions."

The crowd began to cheer as he stepped down and another man and another man took his place. He was dressed in a black uniform like the others only he was wearing a large, tinted visor over his face and black gloves covering his hands. He stood by the microphone and waited for the applause to die down.

"That is the Ruler," Peter whispered to Orn.

"I know," Orn whispered back. He too had seen the Ruler and knew a phony when he spotted one.

While the phony ruler was waiting, a map of Triax was placed behind him with seven black dots on it indicating the seven locations for Triax People for the Ruler. The biggest dot was allocated where they were so they knew that they were in the main office.

"Three years ago from today, we lost our biggest battle to date when Altair 3 and a few other planets joined forces with the kings troops and nearly wiped us out of existence," the man addressing them began. "Now is the time for revenge!"

Peter knew that the Ruler's biggest defeat had occurred around the white dwarf of Alpha-Centauri about ten months ago when he was believed to have been killed, so the man speaking was obviously more concerned with Triax than he was with the rest of the galaxy.

"Our first goal will be to assassinate the king and queen, so I can become king of Triax," the man declared. "Our recruits in Capitol City are arranging for their deaths at this very moment."

Suddenly, Peter realized where he had heard that voice before. It was the bald man that had questioned him. He knew who the man was, but he hadn't even begun to figure out why he was impersonating the Ruler.

"The first thing I'll do as king," the man continued. "will be to declare war on Altair 3. They will be made to pay for all our suffering. They will be made an example of to worn all the other planets that Triax is to powerful to be defeated!"

The crowd cheered as this last statement was made. The Ruler might not have been speaking, but Peter was sure the Ruler had given the orders. Altair 3 was his nemesis, the one planet he could not defeat no matter how hard he tried. It would be just like him to give such an order.

TIME : 1:33 P.M. (13:33)
PLACE : Just outside the main conference room

The rest of the meeting was boring. No new plans were added and no significant details were mentioned, just the endless repetition of the same two plans. The only excitement was at the very end the man asked if there were any questions.

"What about the people on Triax that don't want to go to war with Altair 3? Won't they give us trouble?" asked Lisa.

It was a question that would arouse suspicion, but one that had to be asked.

"I am sure that they will cooperate," the man declared with the faintest hint that he was holding something back from the others.

When the conference was over, Peter, Hank, Linda, Lisa, and Orn gathered outside the conference room. Many people saw them gather, but no one seemed particularly interested in what they were doing.

Even so, Orn still didn't feel it was safe to talk freely.

"Follow me," Orn commanded as he headed back to the elevator. As they walked, Peter compared his mental map of the place he had made earlier to what was actually there. His map was almost one hundred percent accurate, something he felt extremely proud of.

Nobody said a word until they had reached the elevator. Then, only after checking to make sure no one was there, Orn began to speak.

"One of us will have to leave this place in order to warn the king," Orn explained.

"Not to mention M.W.G.D.," added Linda.

"Anyway one of us has to do it," Orn stated commandingly. "It will be very dangerous. As soon as you start the elevator, they will know that someone has used the elevator without permission. Their search parties are some of the best on Triax and they have other exits besides the elevator, so you will have to keep a constant watch for anything out of the ordinary."

"I'll go," Peter volunteered.

"No, I'll go," argued Lisa pointing to herself until everyone had acknowledged her thumb's presence.

Peter knew that Lisa didn't ask for much, but when she did it was almost impossible to stop her from having her way. The only reason he had decided to go was because he was use to having the solo assignments.

"It's all yours," acknowledged Peter pointing to the elevator.

"Wait!" Orn shouted as Lisa was about to press the elevator button. "Wait until the rest of us have had time to clear the area. The first thing they'll do is go to the elevator. We'll be dead for sure. Now I want you to wait two minutes before pressing that button, understood."

Lisa noded.

"Good. Now the rest of us will have to split up. Two of you will go to the cafeteria and look for suspicious activity, the other one will come with me into some of the restricted areas."

"I'll come with you," Peter volunteered again.

Hank looked for the men in black uniforms. None of them were in the area.

"Well, we'd better get started," he said.

Lisa watched the four of them start off down the hallway. Just before they disappeared from sight, she had time to see Peter turn around and silently mouth, "Good luck, Lisa."

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