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X LIVES!

By ... Steve Lucky

CHAPTER FOUR : ONLY ONE WAY OUT

TIME : 6:40 P.M. (18:40)
PLACE : The camp

Hank, Linda, Mac, Orn, Neurt, Yung-mai, and Antru each returned to the camp after going their separate ways. A few of them had a couple of minor scuffles on the way back, but nothing they considered to be anything serious. They watched helplessly as the Ruler's troops came closer and closer. Some of them had already entered the camp and were causing major casualties among the Triax soldiers and they represented only about two percent of the total invading army. Unless reinforcements arrived, the battle seemed hopelessly lost.

"I've just received a report that reinforcements are on their way," Yung-mai reported enthusiasticly. "They should arrive in about fifteen minutes."

"By that time, we may all be dead," said Neurt totally discouraged.

The others looked out ahead of them. Fifteen minutes was not going to be enough time. Suddenly, there were cries of joy and excitement Shawn had returned with prove that X would help them.

The others stared blankly at Maylin wondering who she was and how she got there. Shawn tried to sum up what he learned from his conversation with X, but hex didn't understand half the things himself and he couldn't teach what he didn't know. Shawn did explain the part he did know and introduced them to Maylin. Maylin remained quiet not because she was shy, but because talking would reveal too many things about her and she wasn't ready to tell them anything she didn't have to.

Peter, Detrina, and Lisa joined the others just before the bulk of the Ruler's troops did leaving only Doug unaccounted for. They brought further proof of X's doings. Peter even had an infrared laser pistol that X had used before giving it to him.

Antru was lost in thought. He remembered how bravely Quaff had acted when he was killed. He only hoped the he could be as brave. Too many of his friends had died during the war for him to surrender. He would not rest until they had won the war or he was dead.

His thoughts were interrupted when Linda yelled, "Run for cover!" The camp was no longer a place of safety as a barrage of shots filled the air. Soon, the camp was swarming with Altair 7 soldiers and Triax People for the Ruler.

Shawn hid as the Ruler's troops passed over him. He knew hex had only one way out, if X could somehow defeat the Ruler. Until then, all he could do was stay alive and wait.

TIME : 6:50 P.M. (18:50)
PLACE : Inside the Ruler's troops

Doug had been less fortunate than the others. When the group scattered, he went back to the rock hoping X would be there. Instead he found a few of the Ruler's soldiers who also thought that X would show up. They were the best soldiers in the entire army, so Doug didn't stand a chance.

They would have killed him except they saw he was a member of M.W.G.D. and would make a valuable hostage. Shawn and X both cared about the lives of other people and would sometimes give in to their demands when a friend of theirs was on the line.

They brought the hostage to Beng who, in turn, took him to the Ruler. Doug had never met the Ruler face to face before and hoped he never would, but things we're going to be that way. Doug was terrified, but managed to keep his composure as the Ruler looked him over.

"Excellent!" the Ruler declared when he saw Doug controlling his fear though they both knew he didn't mean it as a compliment. "You're just the person I need."

"For what?" Doug managed to stammer.

"For luring X into a death trap," the Ruler gleamed sadisticly. "I'll use you as bait and when he comes for you, we'll have him."

Beng gave Doug a sinister grin. He knew things were going in their favor and if things worked out, he could become the Ruler's new second in command.

"Take him back to the hideout and keep him there until I tell you otherwise," the Ruler snapped expecting his orders to be carried out instantly.

Beng quickly did as he was told. He knew what had happened to people who took their time when the Ruler made clear the job was urgent. The few who survived were in such horrible shape that even breathing was a painful experience.

Doug looked for a way to escape. Things had been going bad for him but he knew he luck had to change soon. He was thrown in the brig of a small ship as he was escorted back to Megaplexx. He knew that somebody would try to rescue him, so he didn't panic. He just hoped that nothing would happen to anybody else.

TIME : 6:55 P.M.
PLACE : The camp

The Triax soldiers were ready to give up. They had lost over a third of their number in the battle and had twice as many casualties as the Ruler's troops did. Maylin was as good with a phaser as X said she was. She had shot down countless enemy soldiers, but they kept on coming, each time slightly more powerful than the last.

Shawn and company had had moderate success. None of them had been injured, but they hadn't exactly sent the Ruler's troops back where they came from. Shawn ordered a strategic retreat doing his best to take charge after Quaff's death.

Just when things looked darkest, the reinforcements Yung-mai so eagerly said would come showed up on the scene. Suddenly, the Ruler's troops were the ones who were outnumbered. They hesitated not knowing whether to continue the attack or withdrawal and regroup. The new arrivals quickly answered their question for them by slowly forcing them back. The Ruler's troops suffered heavy losses, even heavier than those faced by Triax.

As soon as all the Ruler's soldiers had been forced out of the camp, Shawn, Peter, Detrina, and Lisa immediately came to the aid of the wounded as the others pressed on with the counterattack. Eventually, the Ruler's troops saw that they weren't going to win and fled back to where they had come from.

A quiet celebration began throughout the entire camp. They knew that the war was far from over, but their victory in a major battle would help bring the war to an end sooner than they originally predicted. The Ruler was going to be broiling mad at them.

Peter looked with a new alertness as if he knew the battle wasn't over.

"Where's Doug?" he asked.

Shawn glanced at Peter with equal concern. He had forgotten all about Doug in the confusion of the battle and everything else that had happened. When experiencing more than one crisis at the same time, he always handled what he thought was the greater emergency first and ignored the lesser ones until it was solved. For all practical purposes, the battle was over so Shawn could concentrate on other things, like finding Doug.

Shawn had predicted that the only way out was for X to defeat the Ruler. Now, there was still only one way out. Doug had probably been captured by the Ruler or for one reason or another, he was unable to return. In either case, Doug was still alive and X would be the only one capable of rescuing him.

He had considered the possibility that Doug was no longer among the living, but he just couldn't accept it. Doug was fairly careful and wouldn't allow himself to be caught in the middle of a battle. At least that's what he told himself.

Peter listened to the dying sounds of the battle with a sad smile.

"Be careful, Doug," he whispered.

TIME : 9:30 P.M. (21:30)
PLACE : Outside the hideout in Megaplexx

Beng was alone. He had lost the battle even with the Ruler there to supervise. If they had won, the Ruler would have taken all the credit; but since they had lost, Beng was given the blame as if something he did had cost them the battle.

Beng was mad at the Ruler, but he didn't dare tell him so. After all the battles he had won, the Ruler turned on him after his first defeat. He thought about going elsewhere, but he knew too many of the Ruler's secrets. The Ruler would track him down and torture him using him as an example to convince others not to desert him.

He looked up at the stars as if they would give him an answer.

That was when he realized someone was watching him, someone on the other side. The shadow sensed that he had been spotted and swooped down in front of him blocking his way to the hideout.

He tried to run, but his legs refused to move. All he could do was stare at the large white X across the shadows chest and pray that he was in a good mood.

"Beng?" greeted X sounding neither hostile nor friendly.

"Yes," Beng replied.

He wanted to ask him how he knew his name, but didn't want to take the risk of stirring up his anger.

"I want you to take this message to the Ruler," said X handing him the note. "It is very important that he receives it."

Beng wanted to ask a few questions about the message, but X had disappeared from sight. He knew that X was still watching him, so he quickly entered the hideout while he was still able to. Once inside, his curiosity got the best of him and he had to learn what the note said. He knew the Ruler would disapprove, but he read the note anyway.

"You know who I am, so there's no need for chit-chat," he read. Meet me at noon around the Grand Canyon. I'll let you know where I am."

Beng couldn't believe his eyes! X had challenged the Ruler to their long awaited showdown. It was what the Ruler had been waiting for. He knew the Ruler would be pleased when he heard the news. He ran to the Ruler's quarters and gave him the note.

"What does it say?" Beng inquired hiding the fact that he had read the note beforehand.

"X wants me to meet him at the grand canyon tomorrow at noon," the Ruler responded deciding there was no need to hide the information from Beng.

"Isn't it a little bit unwise to meet X on his terms?" Beng cautioned.

"DON'T YOU THINK I ALREADY KNOW THAT!" roared the Ruler sending Beng quaking to the floor. "X will think he has the advantage, but we will make sure we have the greater advantage. Take the prisoner and forty of you best soldiers and accompany me to the Grand Canyon. There I will set up my little trap."

Beng scrambled out of the room and obeyed the Ruler's orders instantly. No matter what happened in the showdown, he would benefit for it. If X won, he would be free from the Ruler and free to do as he pleased; if the Ruler won, he was the one who had arranged things and would probably be rewarded or at least the Ruler would be less angry at him; if the showdown ended in a draw, both X and the Ruler would be worn out allowing him to take control of the situation. Beng was upset at himself for being such a coward, but he knew that soon he would have nothing to fear anymore.

TIME : October 10, 2014 1:00 A.M.
PLACE : Admiral Quaff's tent

Shawn was sound asleep when X gently woke him up. He motioned for Shawn to follow him so they could talk without disturbing the others. Shawn waited a few seconds for his life blood to return to him before following him outside.

A cold wind was blowing outside and Shawn wasn't dressed for such weather, but X had already taken that into consideration and offered Shawn a robe. Shawn fumbled with the robe in the dark before finally managing to put it on. He felt the warmth slowly returning to his body. The two of them stood alone in the blackness of the night. It was so dark that Shawn couldn't tell what color the robe he was wearing was. The only thing he could make out clearly was the bright X on X's chest. Shawn looked at X with silent wonder.

"Things are happening faster than I thought," X began. "The Ruler has Doug and will probably hold him for some sort of ransom. I have challenged the Ruler to a showdown at the Grand Canyon tomorrow at noon and I want you to be there in case the Ruler brings anyone else along which I know he will. It is top priority for you and your friends to stop them from interfering with my showdown with the Ruler. I am counting on you to help me."

"I am here whenever you need me," Shawn declared loyally.

"So am I," X added vaguely just before doing his famous vanishing act.

With his acute senses, Shawn heard the direction X had left in. He knew that X could have left unnoticed, but he trusted Shawn and knew he wasn't going to follow him, especially in the middle of the night when he had gotten up early the day before.

Shawn knew he had a big day ahead of him, but there was nothing he could do in the meantime except get plenty of sleep which was exactly what he did. He removed the robe X had given him finally noticing it was blue and crept back inside the tent to sleep.

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