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"Come on, Janet, give my book back!" exclaimed Peter.
"Come and get it," was the lively response from his blue-eyed sister.
A cool, gentle breeze swept across the small clearing where Peter and Janet had enjoyed a picnic lunch under Axin's hot sun. Peter was now lying on the grass, looking up at his sister, who held out his book with a teasing gleam in her eyes. Closing his eyes, he pretended to relax. Experience had taught him not to take whatever bait his sister dangled in front of him.
"What are you doing with the Book of El anyway?" Janet asked, disappointment showing in her voice. "You're not an Eler."
"I know, but the book has a lot of interesting things to say. Besides, it's small enough to carry with me."
“You could carry a thousand books on your Tphone!”
“I know, but there is something special about a real book.”
Janet tossed the book at him, "Get out the Flying Disc."
Picking the book off his chest, Peter commented, "I've just eaten enough to fill a Centaur, and you want me to go hopping all over the place playing catch? Have a heart!”
"You're only a year younger than I am, so quit acting like you're fifty. Get the disc, play like a seventeen-year-old should, and I'll whip you."
"That'll be the day!" laughed Peter jumping up. He slid the Book of El into his back pocket. "Get ready for the fastest game you've ever played."
After fifteen minutes of intense racing, jumping, and catching, they collapsed on the soft, bluish-green grass. In a few minutes, their laughter died down. They lay panting and soaking up the sun. Rolling over, Peter dug two water bottles out of the picnic basket. Tossing one to Janet, he took a few gulps of his own. Janet sat up to take a couple of swigs of her water; then, she tightened up her blond ponytail, which had loosened with their strenuous game.
Soon faint voices reached their ears. As the voices grew steadily closer, they realized the people were on a path which would take them right through the clearing. Although they didn't like the idea of having their picnic disturbed, they paid no attention to the sounds. Peter nibbled on his unfinished lettuce, tomato and onion sandwich. Janet absent-mindedly plucked a weed from beside their picnic blanket.
The buzz of conversation from the approaching group floated on the breeze. Suddenly, Peter sat up, a look of terror spreading across his face. He had clearly heard one phrase in the conversation: "This must be the biggest thing the U.R.'s have done in a long time."
“What is it?” asked Janet, confused by his reaction.
“U.R’s,” he hissed.
Then she understood as fears lanced her own heart. The U.R. was the largest criminal organization in the known universe. They were infamous for their ruthlessness. They would not hesitate to kill anyone who might be in their way. Every law enforcement agency, from local police to the gigantic U.A.F. Starships, always kept a sharp eye out for any of their activities.
Scrambling up, Peter yanked Janet to her feet. The picnic forgotten, they raced for the cover of the trees on the far side of the clearing. Hiding was their only chance of escape. But it was too late. The U.R.'s walked into the clearing before they reached the edge of the woods. Two of the U.R.’s were carrying an unconscious man. Instantly, they spotted Peter and Janet fleeing.
"Grab those kids!” rang out a commanding voice, “Smith may have a use for them later; if not, we can always use them to show the Captain we mean business."
Two stun beams shot out from the intruders and struck Peter and Janet. The teenagers tumbled to the ground unconscious.
It was hours later before they began to stir. Janet was the first one to open her eyes partially. She squinted because of the bright light and slowly moved her head to take in her surroundings. She was lying on a bunk in a prison cell. It had three white walls, at least, they were supposed to be white, but the walls were so stained with mud, dirt and possibly blood that they seemed black and brown. A man was sitting on the bunk across the small room from her. The fourth wall was - presumably - an invisible force field. As her eyes adjusted, she opened them completely. Slowly she swung her legs over the side of the bunk to sit up. It was then she saw Peter lying on the floor at her feet. There were grass stains and minor cuts on his face from where he had hit the ground. She winced as she considered that she probably looked the same.
As she knelt beside him, Peter groaned. She helped him as he struggled to sit up. He began rubbing the back of his head. The first thing he noticed was the man sitting on the far bunk watching them. He appeared to be about forty. The top of his head was bald, but brown hair, with a few traces of gray, semi-circled the rest of it. He was wearing a bright blue pull-on shirt which identified him as a member of the U.A.F. White letters printed on his left breast pocket read: CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER.
Janet followed Peter’s gaze up to the man. They knew that U.A.F stood for United Alpha Fleet and that a U.A.F starship patrolled and protected planets, like Axin, on the outskirts of population centers. They had even been onboard the U.A.F. Daring starship when it had been in orbit a couple of years ago. Their parents had taken them to visit a couple of the entertainment decks. It had been an enjoyable, leisurely family day, and they had returned home in the evening.
Smiling, the man stood up, "Praise El, the U.R.'s didn't kill you."
Puzzled, Peter and Janet stood up as well. Crossing over the few feet between them, the man extended his hand.
"Hello, I'm Dr. Kana of the starship, Courage."
As they shook hands, Peter said, ”I’m Peter, and this is my sister, Janet."
The terror they had felt a few hours ago had subsided into the “pit of stomach” fear that gnaws at your insides when you are confused and don’t know what is about to happen.
"I wonder why the U.R.'s kidnapped you?" asked Dr. Kana, more to himself than to them.
Janet spoke up a little too quickly, trying to hide the fear within her heart, "They probably thought we heard more about their plans than we did. Why they kidnapped us instead of killing us, I don't know."
"El must not have wanted them to."
Janet ignored that comment and began pacing the small cell. "What I would like to know is where we are now. What are they going to do with us?”
"We're onboard one of their spaceships for sure." Dr. Kana shrugged his shoulders, "But that's all I know. I woke up in here, too.”
Peter sat down on the stained bunk Janet had woken up on. He rubbed his head again as he concentrated intensely, trying to understand their situation. He looked at Dr. Kana and said slowly, "You're the real reason we’re here. They took us because they thought we were in their way of escaping with you. So, the important thing is why they kidnapped you."
Shaking his head slowly, Dr. Kana sat down on the bunk opposite Peter. "You're right, Peter, but I haven't the slightest idea why they kidnapped me. All I know is that I had just finished a meal at The Taste of Home with Captain Caspian, Rev. Flynn, and a few others and decided to go for a walk. I was hardly outside the cafe before they grabbed me. I yelled. When the others tried to come to my rescue, they were pinned down by fire from across the street. I think a Security Elite guard was killed. That’s the last I remember until I woke up here.” He paused, then commented, “I guess it's all in El's hands now."
"How can you say that?" exclaimed Janet irritably, “El - even if He exists - is not here; he doesn't know..."
Dr. Kana spoke softly. He did not want to upset Janet further as he explained, "El is everywhere. He’s not seen, not always felt, but He's always there." A chuckle escaped from his lips. He tried to hold it back, but the way Janet had just glanced around the small cell made it impossible. "No, He's not a spook either."
"Even here, you're spreading your Elniyn lies," laughed a man from the other side of the force field.
All three turned to look at the speaker in surprise. They had been so involved in their conversation that they had not heard anyone approaching. He was a middle-aged man with a hawk-like nose and big bushy eyebrows. He was dressed in a purple silk shirt with a low V showing some of his chest hair, a wide black belt and crimson pants. He had a low-slung gun strapped to his right leg. Something about the man, something unexplainable, radiated a feeling of evil.
“Your Elniyn can't help you now," the man continued mocking, "You're in my hands… the hands of The Boss."
Dr. Kana gave a short snort at this remark, but The Boss paid no attention and went on, "I want to welcome you aboard my spaceship.” He flashed a grin as he gave a bow from the waist. “We named it the United Raider Death."
“U.R. Death,” muttered Janet, "cheerful name.”
"You two Axinians are an unexpected bonus, but you should consider yourselves lucky."
"What do you mean?" asked Peter. Somehow he hadn't quite seen how being kidnapped by U.R's was ‘lucky.'
"He means we're lucky he didn't kill us,” said Janet dryly.
"What?" responded The Boss, his eyes growing wide in mock surprise, "Kill two perfect specimens of a past civilization?"
"Just because Axin hasn't taken an interest in some modern things other people and planets have is no reason to call us a past civilization," said Janet, her patriotic temper flaring.
"I didn't mean it that way, although it's true. Since your people generally haven't left your planet and moved about the universe, you two are about to become part of a rare species." A wicked grin spread over his face.
Even though they weren't exactly sure what The Boss was getting at, a feeling of horror crept over the three prisoners.
"That's right," said The Boss, watching their faces and enjoying every minute, "in an hour, I will destroy the planet Axin."
"No one is that..." Janet couldn't think of a word to describe it, but looking at The Boss's scornful expression, she knew she was wrong.
"When you're caught, you will be put to death,” predicted Dr. Kana.
“I would already be on death row if I got caught,” sneered The Boss. “They can’t execute you more than once, and the reward is great.”
"What is your 'reward?'" asked Dr. Kana.
With a casual wave of his hand, The Boss bragged, "Fifty million Wefors and a place in the Inner Circle."
"That's not much considering what you're doing," commented Dr. Kana. He doubted someone as flamboyant as The Boss would ever be invited into the U.R.’s Inner Circle. They hadn’t remained hidden this long by being colourful and drawing attention to themselves. The most popular theory among law enforcement was that they were low-key business people or government officials who blended in with their surroundings. That certainly could not be said about The Boss. “I don’t understand how you will get even that by blowing up a planet?"
"That's not for you to know… yet." The Boss turned and, with a laugh, disappeared down the hall.
Go to Chapter Two.