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A HEART OF ICE

By ... Steve Lucky

CHAPTER FOUR

TIME : 3:30 P.M. (15:30)
PLACE : About halfway between Frigida and Altair 7

Peter checked the radar once more. Although they still couldn't see it, the radar indicated that the ship they were chasing was not too far away. In another hour, they would be neck and neck with it.

When Peter told the others the news, there was no reaction one way or the other. They were not going to celebrate prematurely, especially when they were headed for the Ruler's home planet.

"Are you still with us?" Shawn asked over the deep space radio.

"We're right behind you," Navillian replied.

As Shawn had predicted, their ships were slightly faster and had been gaining ever so slowly on the big ship over the course of nine hours. They had put Navillian and Kental in another ship so none of them would have to wear those cumbersome Thermal Protection Suits. It was hard enough racing to catch them before they got to Altair 7 without having to worry about any additional burdens.

"Things should be much easier after help arrives," Shawn informed them.

"We're in the middle of a high speed chase," reminded Navillian. "Who could possibly even catch up with us, much less help us out?"

"This is X," stated a newcomer from yet another ship. "I should be within range of your radar in another five minutes. I am here to help you to the best of my ability."

The newcomer was an old timer at handling interstellar threats. X, none of them knew his real name, had been working with M.W.G.D. since the organization was first created in 1970. He had since retired from M.W.G.D., but he still helped them whenever he could.

His ship, the XX2 was the fastest known ship in the galaxy. It could make the journey for Frigida to Altair 7 in less than three hours, over five times their maximum speed. He was the one person in the galaxy that the Ruler was truly afraid of with good reason. No one had ever beaten X in any form of aerial combat. He was the best. Navillan and Kental were impressed with Shawn's help. They had expected a small army that would have even more trouble than they did catching up. Instead it was only one person, but he was a legendary figure all over the galaxy. His very presence gave them confidence.

"My name in Navillian, commander of the Frigida base," explained Navillian.

She had never met X in person before and was glad to get the chance.

"We need someone to go to the Altair system ahead of us," she continued. "and warn them of the menace approaching them. We need them to be prepared if any sabotage attempt is going to work."

"No problem," X declared. "I'm heading for the Altair system right now. I'll be back as soon as I possibly can."

X left as suddenly as he had come. If it were not for his communication with them, they would have never known he was there.

"At least we know we have some help now," sighed Peter.

TIME : 3:45 P.M. (15:45)
PLACE : The Altair system

As soon as X got within range of the Altair system, he sent a message to anyone who could hear him. He knew that if he sent the message to only the Ruler, he would keep the information to himself and learn how to use it to his advantage. However, it was the Ruler in particular that he wanted to talk to. Once he heard the news, the Ruler would want to kill his ex-assistant as much as his ex-assistant wanted to kill him. It would give each of them something to focus their rage on, at least for awhile, which would be beneficial for the rest of the galaxy.

"Attention," X began. "This is X. I am just beyond your solar system and I have a message of grave importance to you. A dangerous criminal from Frigida has developed a new weapon and threatens to destroy Altair 7. The only way we can stop him is if we all work together and prevent him from ever reaching the Altair system."

"You are all in danger! After he destroys Altair 7, there is nothing to stop him from destroying Altair 3 and all the other planets in your system. I repeat, you are in extreme danger. Organize some kind of defense immediately."

The people on planets other than Altair 7 reacted with mixed emotions. They didn't like most people on Altair 7, but they knew that they couldn't simply let the old threat be replaced by a new one. Enough of them were convinced to meet the new foe to insure that they would have some problems. As for Altair 7, there was no doubt in their minds. Even though for some of them X was their enemy, they knew him well enough to know that he wouldn't make something like that up. The threat had to be real.

Only one person remained unconvinced, the Ruler. He believed that X was sincere about the attack, he just didn't want it to look like he was letting X take command of his troops. The result would jeopardize his command of Altair 7 and the rest of his empire.

"How do I know you are telling the truth?" he demanded.

X was pleased to hear the Ruler respond. He didn't think the Ruler would talk to him and was glad he was wrong even if the Ruler was a little suspicious.

"He use to be under your command," X informed him telling the Ruler what Shawn had told him. "He bears a scar that you gave him a long time ago."

X's last sentence sparked something in the Ruler's memory, a name that hadn't been used in years.

"Hyzen," the Ruler muttered. "So he's still alive. Well he shouldn't have come back. This time I will make sure he doesn't live."

"I knew I could count on you," X remarked coldly as he quickly returned to the others.

TIME : 4:00 P M. (16:00)
PLACE: Just behind Hyzen's battleship

The two M.W.G.D. ships were finally within visual range of the battleship. At first, it was only a faint dot, but as time went by it got larger and larger and more and more detail could be seen. Finally, they could see the docking day. Docking would be difficult at that speed, but not impossible.

Shawn was deciding whether or not to risk a docking attempt when X returned.

"All the planets in the Altair system are working together in order to stop him from reaching Altair 7," X explained. "Even the Ruler is helping out. He told me the name of the madman. It's Hyzen."

"I was just about to attempt docking on that ship," Shawn told him wasting no time in explaining what needed to be done. "Perhaps you could help us out."

"I'll do more than that," X replied. "I'll help you destroy the weapon if that's what you intend to do."

After working together for years, Shawn and X had remarkably similar strategies. They could practically tell what the other one was thinking. After they had docked, Shawn was going to tell the others to find Hyzen's ultimate weapon and destroy it. X and saved Shawn the trouble of having to explain that to the others.

"The more the merrier," Lisa cut in.

With X guiding them, Shawn and Navillian were able to dock their ships without any problem. Peter, Hank, Linda, Lisa, and Shawn put on their Thermal Protection Suits as they stepped out onto Hyzen's battleship which was kept at temperatures similar to those found at the South Pole of Frigida.

X came out wearing what he always wore, a hood over his face and a big white X on the center of his chest in contrast with his black clothing. He didn't even seem to notice the cold.

"Aren't you going to wear your Thermal Protection Suit?" wondered Hank.

"I don't need one," X stated as if it were no big deal. "I am much more tolerant to cold than you are. I can live in sub-zero temperatures for a long time."

"I wonder why no one noticed our arrival," Peter observed suspiciously.

"Perhaps they're too busy with other business to pay any attention," suggested Linda.

"Whatever the reason there is no guarantee that they won't come later," Shawn began. "I need two of you to stay by the ships in case of trouble. The rest of us will do some exploring. With X helping us, we should be able to find what we want fairly quickly."

Shawn looked around for volunteers to stay behind and guard the ships.

"If no one else is willing to stay behind, I'll do it," volunteered Peter.

"I'll stay too," added Linda.

"Then it's settled," declared Shawn turning to Peter and Linda. "If we're not back in twenty minutes, I want you to leave us and head for Altair 3. They need all the help they can get. Under no circumstances are you to follow us into the ship. Is that clear?"

"Yes," answered Peter and Linda simultaneously.

With that matter taken care of, Shawn turned his attention to the rest of them. They were all set to go as soon as Shawn gave the word.

"Let's go," Shawn commanded quietly.

Peter and Linda watched the others fade into the darkness until they were out of sight. Peter leaned back and waited for any signs of trouble. He had a feeling that trouble would be inevitable, but there was nothing he could do about it for the time being.

The others were going at a much quicker pace than they did the first time they were there. Kental led the way as he did before. This time, they didn't see anyone watching them and if anyone was there, they had X to protect them.

Gaining confidence with every step they took, they reached the huge metal barrier that had blocked their way the first time. X stared at it for a few seconds. Then, he took out some type of cutting device and proceeded to cut a small hole in the door.

When he was finished, X peered cautiously inside. Even he couldn't believe it when he saw that they had found the weapon. It was so large that it almost filled the entire room which was about the size of a warehouse and so complex that it was hard to tell where to begin sabotaging the equipment.

X knew that one false move could activate all kinds of traps. He would have to work carefully and make sure the others were safely out of the way.

On the far side of the room, X could see what looked like a large gun. Most military ships that size had at least one gun to attack other ships or defend themselves from being attacked. However, this gun was connected to other parts of the weapon. It was only a small piece of a weapon far more powerful. It was also the perfect place to sabotage. The gun was obviously necessary to release all the energy the weapon accumulated. Without it, the resulting explosion would destroy the entire ship. X didn't want to go to that extreme, especially while they were still on board, but there were other things he could do to the gun that would be a little less dangerous. He finally decided to alter its tracking system so it could not lock in on an object properly. It was correctable, but it would put the weapon out of commission for at least an hour. If all went well, by that time the situation would be under control.

The others waited patiently for X to return. They knew that whatever he was doing in there needed his full attention and any unnecessary disturbances would only delay him in accomplishing his task.

All of a sudden they were fired upon by members of Hyzen's crew. Not of their shots hit anybody, but it served as a warning to them. They all scampered for cover before the next volley of shots could begin.

X could hear what was going on from where he was. He knew his friends were in trouble from the sounds they made trying to find shelter. It was time for him to act, fast.

Without a seconds hesitation, X spotted one of the enemy soldiers and shot him. Even at such a long range, he was still as accurate as ever. The rest of them looked at their fellow soldier who had fallen. Before they had time to act, X shot another one. Shawn and. the others began to fire shot of their own and the remaining soldiers surrendered.

They waited for X to put the finishing touches on the weapon. Then, they stunned all the soldiers except for one non-Frigidan who was forced to take them to the blast furnace. They figured heat would be the only way to stop Hyzen from completing his evil plans.

Slowly and cautiously, they continued onwards. They had no guarantee that more soldiers weren't waiting just around the corner.

"What did you do to the weapon?" Hank whispered to X at the first available opportunity.

"Let's just say that the next time Hyzen tries to fire that weapon, he'll be lucky if he comes anywhere near his target," X answered confidently.

The scarred Frigidan, Hyzen, suspected that some of his soldiers had been defeated when he got no reports from them. He had even heard rumors that X himself was on board trying to stop him, yet the still showed no sign of fear. He knew he was going to win.

TIME : 4:10 P.M. (16:10)
PLACE : The docking bay of Hyzen's battleship

Peter and Linda were having troubles of their own. Some of Hyzen's soldiers had begun to search the docking bay for anything suspicious. Fortunately, Linda had spotted them before they had been spotted. She quietly motioned for Peter to get inside the ship.

Once inside they were reasonably safe. The enemy would have to get inside the ship before they could fire at them and they could take off far before that happened. However, the most important advantage was that Peter and Linda could see the soldiers, but the soldiers could not see Peter and Linda. They could attack without warning if they were crazy enough to do so. The only problem with that was that there were at least ten soldiers and only two of them.

"I wonder why they haven't noticed our ship yet?" inquired Peter. "It is a little bit out of place."

"How should I know?" griped Linda. As soon as she finished speaking, she realized that Peter had made a good point and tried to answer the question seriously.

"Maybe they have orders not to go inside our ships?"" Linda added.

"Then way are they here in the first place?" continued Peter.

"I don't know," Linda admitted. "Maybe we'll find out."

The soldiers did get closer to the M.W.G.D. ships and the XX2, but they never tried to enter any of them. Peter and Linda got nervous when some of the soldiers began to circle the ship they were in, but after a few minutes they left without a trace. They were on their way to report back to Hyzen, their master, what they had found.

Peter and Linda knew it was no longer safe to go outside so they stayed in the ship and waited for the soldiers to return.

TIME : 4:15 P.M. (16:15)
PLACE : Within 100 meters of the blast furnace

"I'm getting hot," complained Kental.

"Me too," agreed Navillian.

X looked at them with some concern. He realized that the temperature was just below freezing where they were and it would be well above freezing before they got to the blast furnace. Navillian and Kental could not continue with them on their journey.

"Go back to the ship," X advised them. "When you reunite with Peter and Linda, tell them to go to the Altair system immediately. They need all the help they can get and, whatever you do, be sure to stick together."

Navillian and Kental hurried back to the docking bay glad to be out of the heat. They knew they would have a tough time getting back to the docking bay and they would need every trick they could think of to get there.

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