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X LIVES!

By ... Steve Lucky

CHAPTER TWO : PIECES IN THE PUZZLE

"I assume you know why I asked you to come here," Shawn stated ready to take charge of the situation as always. He didn't even bother to wait for a response going straight to work tracing the edge of the carved letters with an electronic pencil.

"What are you doing?" asked Doug. He had been with M.W.G.D. slightly over a year, after X had disappeared, but he had heard the legends and knew why it was so important to find him.

"I'm examining the message to see who wrote it," Shawn told him. He thought that would be enough, but when he saw that Doug still didn't understand he added, "Just like a signature, this message was made by a person, not a machine. Therefore, it has a certain style to it. When I trace the letters with the electronic pencil, it sends a signal to a computer elsewhere on Triax which compared the message to handwriting samples of all the members of M.W.G.D. who have ever lived. If X indeed wrote this, we shall soon know it."

Antru was impressed with how prepared the M.W.G.D. officers had been. Shawn, the leader of the party, was checking the handwriting to see if he could find out who wrote it, Mac, Peter, and Linda had each picked a direction and were investigating to see if there were any other signs of the phaser battle in the vicinity, Lisa was checking the moss to see why it wouldn't grow where the message was, and Doug and Detrina were busy examining the message itself to learn what kind of device was used to write it. Antru, Yung-mai, and Neurt just watched. They felt rather useless, but they knew that the next thing Shawn would do would be to ask them what they had witnessed and that would give them more information than all their tests combined.

Shawn hadn't even finished tracing the exclamation point at the end when the electronic pencil started being a message in Morse code. Shawn made a mental note it and continued tracing the message obviously diappointed. When he finished tracing the message, Shawn called them all together and introduced himself properly.

"My name is Shawn Cobalt, the leader of the Milky Way Galaxy Defense and these are my associates; Lisa, Doug, Detrina, Linda, Mac, and Peter," he said as formally as possible pointing to each one of them respectively.

"There is one more, Hank, but he is busy finding a place to park my ship."

"If he's trying to park in this part of Triax, he won't come back for several days," Antru remarked trying to make a joke about the traffic problems in that area and failing miserably.

When he saw no one was laughing, he returned to Shawn's formality.

"My name is Antru, a First Centurion of the Triax Royal Military Force and these are my associates; Neurt and Yung-mai," he informed them. "Did you find out who wrote the message?"

Shawn was caught off guard. He forgot to tell them what he had learned, or didn't learn.

"The message wasn't written by X," Shawn replied sadly, but then his voice picked up again. "In fact, it didn't come from a member of M.W.G.D. or a citizen of Triax."

Peter looked up with interest. Even if it wasn't X who wrote the message, someone of unknown origin wanted to convince them that X was nearby. It didn't take much to convince Peter of that. He had never believed X was dead when he mysteriously disappeared back on May 20, 2013. His only question was why he had taken so long to resurface.

"That doesn't give us much help," commented Doug not understanding the importance of the information.

Shawn realized that Doug was young and inexperienced, but the only way he could learn is if somebody taught himself and Shawn felt that teaching him was his responsibility. After all, Doug knew that the Ruler was still alive months before he reappeared publicly. Maybe he could find the same information about X.

"Don't try to figure out who it is directly," Shawn ordered as politely as an order could be given. "Try to figure out who it is not and work by the process of elimination. Think of setbacks as pieces in the puzzle. Alone, each piece looks confusing and out of place, but together they created a picture. The hard part is putting the pieces together."

Antru was looking at Shawn as if he had something to say. Shawn and Doug turned to him and motioned for him to speak.

"Speaking of pieces in the puzzle," he began. "I thought it would be helpful if I told you what we witnessed when the message first appeared."

Shawn agreed and Antru began to tell his story like he had wanted to do when they first arrived. The others listened eagerly paying particularly close attention to the detailed account of what the phaser battle sounded like and the vivid description of how the six Altair 7 soldiers were stunned and tied to the rock completely unaware of what had happened to them.

He went on to explain what happened after that when the enemy soldiers were taken back to camp and questioned. None of them saw who had beaten them so easily, but they were all convinced it was X. They didn't know anybody else who could beat them single-handedly.

"Where are the soldiers now?" Shawn inquired.

"They're still at camp," Antru replied. "I can take you to them if you want me to."

Shawn decided that they had learned all that they could about the message, at least for the time being, and felt it was time to move on. Antru led the way proud to be the center of attention once again. They took the long way back to camp making sure they avoided all contact with the Ruler's troops. They weren't prepared to fight them directly unless X was keeping an eye on them and, as far as they knew, that was totally possible.

TIME : 7:00 A.M.
PLACE : The secret hideout for Triax People for the Ruler in Megaplexx

Not everyone on Triax was against the Ruler. Some of them supported him. Triax People for the Ruler was created for almost exactly the opposite reason M.W.G.D. was created. The later was created to protect the galaxy, the former had the sole purpose of overthrowing King Jake XXVIII and Queen Lynn I and establishing the Ruler as the Ruler of Triax and eventually the Ruler of the Universe. Each member had a different motive, but they had put their differences aside because they knew that they could only succeed if they were organized, even if some of them did not recognize the value of teamwork. Their bases were scattered all over Triax, but the one at Megaplex was the one all eyes turned to because the Ruler himself was there. No one had ever seen the Ruler sleeping. In fact, some people wondered if he ever slept at all. (Ironicly, the same thing was said about X.) Sure enough when Beng entered the Ruler's quarters, he was wide awake staring him straight in the eyes.

Although Beng could not see the Ruler's eyes behind the dark purple visor he always wore, he knew that the Ruler was staring him down wondering if his unannouced visit was worth his time. Beng was the leader of the Megaplex branch of Triax People for the Ruler and his troops had gotten the best results during the war, but recently hex had been having some problems with an unexpected guest who had captured forty-one of his men. Beng knew that it only be X and notified the Ruler immediately. The Ruler knew that there was only one way that X could be stopped. He had to personally confront him and kill him, this time making sure hex was dead by cremating the body. Though hex wouldn't admit it to anyone else, X was the one person hex feared and until he had absolute proof that X was dead, his plans to take over Triax were in serious jeopardy.

"Report!" the Ruler snapped gruffly after making Beng shake with fear.

"A reliable source has told me that Shawn has come to investigate the mysterious happenings," Beng reported as ordered. "We must stop Shawn and X from getting together. The results could be disastrous."

The Ruler was annoyed at several things, but he could only yell at him for one thing at a time.

"Who told you this?" demanded the Ruler. The Ruler required people to indentify their sources of information. If they refused to tell him, he would kill them.

"The prisoners at the Triax camp to the north of here bribed their jailer to give me the information I needed," Beng declared proudly. "He is going to let them out sometime tonight."

"Do they understand what needs to be done?" inquired the Ruler referring to the prisoners after they're set free.

"Yes," Beng answered coldly. "They are to kill Shawn at the first opportunity."

"And if Shawn and X do meet, which you would consider a total disaster, I can kill them both at the same time," the Ruler gloated to no one in particular.

"I will see to that immediately," Beng whimpered looking for an excuse to leave.

The Ruler saw the fear in him and smiled. Then, he pointed to the door as forcefully as he possibly could. Beng staggered out the door and the Ruler laughed at his cowardice. X might delay him a few days, but the Ruler was as sure as ever that he would win the war.

TIME : 7:01 A.M.
PLACE : Megaplexx Docking Bay #47

Hank had had more trouble parking the ship than he thought hex would. He figured the best place to hide Shawn's specially marked M.W.G.D. ship was with a bunch of ordinary ships. The master thieves wouldn't think of looking in there and the minor thieves would be stopped by the ship's security system. However, Hank had never been to Megaplex and didn't know how bad the traffic really was. He had heard stories about it, but he thought they were just wild exaggeration. Now, hex knew the truth. The stories were exaggerations, but not by much and in some cases it was even worse!

To his credit, Hank was persistent. He had survived much worse and rode out the storm until he was finally able to park safely. The ship was hidden where no one could find it, or so he thought. To his surprise, a ship docked in the empty space next to him just after he landed and out of it stepped a familiar face.

"Orn?" Hank gasped in disbelief. "What are you doing here?"

"The king told me you were coming and I wanted to help. I've never seen X before and I'd like to meet him," Orn explained as briefly as possible.

"How did you find me?" questioned Hank.

"I simply followed you here. I've been right behind you for the last twenty-five kilometers," Orn confessed. "I am an expert tracker."

There was no doubt about that in Hank's mind. He was sure the ship was safe only a few seconds ago, but now he was worried.

"Does anybody else know where we are?" wondered Hank.

"No," Orn assured him. "Only the two of us. I know where the Triax soldiers camp is and can get you there in less than fifteen minutes."

After Hank was finally sure nobody would steal Shawn's ship, he agreed to let Orn take him to the camp. He felt that anyone who could get 150 km out of Megaplex in fifteen minutes for free was offering a very good deal.

TIME : 7:15 A.M.
PLACE : The Triax soldiers' camp

Hank and Orn got to the camp at almost exactly the same time as the others did. With all the reunions they had had recently, Peter, Linda, and Lisa weren't the least bit surprised to see Orn again, but Shawn was. Up until that point, Shawn had arranged all the meetings, when they would occur, where they would be held, and who would show up. Now, Orn had come and Shawn wasn't expecting him at all, but he could never have too many friends. Shawn quickly introduced everyone and brought Hank and Orn up to date with what they had discovered. Hank reluctantly explained where he had hidden the ship and how Orn had followed him there. Shawn suppressed a grin.

"I should have warned you about the traffic," Shawn admitted. "but I didn't expect you to go to Megaplex."

Peter looked around the camp. There was tents as far as the eye could see in nice, even rows. Every once in a while there a gap to allow the soldiers to get from one row to another and a marker telling whose tents were in that particular segment. Peter estimated that there were about five hundred people there. At the end of the first row was a tent larger than the others, that was the commanders tent and the spot where they were headed.

When they finally got there, Antru called out that he was coming in with the party from M.W.G.D. and a few others. After the commander shouted his approval, they all came in until they were literally standing shoulder to shoulder. Other than all the people, the room was practically empty except for a small desk on the far side of the room which proudly displayed the symbol of the Triax Royal Military Force and the name, Admiral Quaff Hrackens.

"It looks like we're going to have to talk some place else," said Quaff noting how crowded things were. "I believe we have room in the mess hall."

"That reminds me I haven't had breakfast yet," Lisa mentioned. Actually, they did have breakfast on the way to Triax, but it wasn't a very big one so Lisa didn't bother to count it. She wanted a real breakfast.

Quaff looked around at all the hungry people and decided that they could talk after breakfast. The others thanked him and hurriedly rush to the mess hall before all the good food was gone. All except Shawn who stayed with Quaff. The two of them talked about battle plans and the ability of the Ruler's troops as they slowly caught up with the others.

TIME : 7:30 A.M.
PLACE : The camp prison

The six Altair 7 prisoners who were currently in the camp prison were surprisingly unconcerned with their predicament. In fact, if their jailer hadn't been bribed, he would have told Quaff that he suspected something was up. However, he had become one of the key factors in their escape plan and wouldn't risk calling any attention to himself, not until the Ruler's troops made a surprise attack on the camp.

The jailer looked around to make sure no one was in the area other than himself and the prisoners. The he told them the information they had requested.

"Shawn is here," he whispered still fearful that he would get caught. "He is going to be here all day, so we have plenty of time to prepare. The Ruler himself will lead an attack on the camp shortly after sundown. In the confusion, I will be able to free you and you will take them completely by surprise. Beng has assured me that we will all be rewarded greatly if you bring back prove of Shawn's death."

"What if X shows up again?" protested one of the prisoners.

"The Ruler has a plan to kill X," the jailer replied. "I don't know what it is, but I'm sure that X will have his hands full."

The prisoners remembered what had happened in the last showdown between X and the Ruler. The fight ended in a draw with both of them mysteriously disappearing. The Ruler didn't shown himself for almost ten months and X still hadn't shown himself. Only a few subtle hint let them know X had returned, like the fact that they were in jail. Back then, they had fought on even terms, but this time they knew that the Ruler would make sure he had an unfair advantage. Perhaps Shawn's death was all the Ruler needed to swing the balance in his favor in which case they had a very important job indeed.

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