THE SEARCH FOR THE ETERNAL FLAME copyright 2011 Stratomiker Syndicate
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Chapter Three: STOWAWAYS
The three friends gaped in astonishment at the ship from outer space. The streamlined craft rested on several stilt-like legs and, in the center of the side facing them, there was an open hatch and a ramp leading to the ground.
Charlie nudged Rick in the side. He was all like, "How about it, Raider? Do you believe in aliens now?"
Rick could feel his heart pounding with excitement. "Totally. This is insane! Let's get a closer look. We can sneak through the prison ruins."
"You bet," Sally agreed. "Gosh, I wish we had a camera!"
Charlie had whipped out his cell phone. "We do!" And he began snapping pictures as they moved on.
They crept along the edge of the overgrown shrubberies until they were across the gardens from the crumbling walls. Making sure no one was in sight, they dashed through the open area into a doorway. Inside the old structure, the upper floors and most of the roof had fallen in. Sunlight filtered down through hanging rafters and slit-like windows, casting weird shadows all around them.
Sally jumped as a crow croaked up in the rafters.
"Yikes!" She looked up, startled.
"Get a grip," Charlie needled her. "It's just a bird."
"Oh sure. Whatever you say, most fearless one!"
Charlie snorted. "Girls! Everything scares them."
"Will you two knock it off?" Rick hissed. "If any of the aliens are around, they'll be sure to hear us."
They crept through the large room and into the next, crossing the debris-strewn floor to a row of windows on the back wall. The glass had long been gone and the bars had fallen out. They were much closer to the ship now and could see a shadowy corridor just inside the hatch.
Rick scanned the clearing. He frowned. "No one seems to be around."
"They must all be out exploring," Charlie suggested.
"Someone has to be in the craft," Sally reasoned. "They wouldn't leave it unguarded."
Charlie leaned forward out the window. He took a couple more pictures and then pocketed his phone. "Let's sneak aboard and check it out."
Rick grabbed Charlie's arm to hold him back, instantly like, "Chill, dude. That would not be a wise move."
Sally nodded vigorously, grabbing Charlie's other arm. She knew only too well how impulsive he could be. "We might get caught," she whispered. "They might hurt us."
They exchanged glances, each wanting to explore the UFO but knowing it'd be a dangerous and foolhardy thing to do.
Charlie groaned, falling back a little, and Rick and Sally loosened their hold on him. Then he shot forward and flung his foot up on the window ledge.
He looked wild with excitement. He was all, "I'm going! You two can wait here for me."
"Connors, wait!" Rick tried to grab him as Charlie heaved himself out the window. "You can't just go and sneak on that ship!"
But Charlie was already running across the gardens toward the field, and he didn't bother to even look back.
"Darn him!" Rick grunted as he climbed out the window to follow. "Sally, you stay here!"
"Not on your life, Rick Raider!" she tossed back with spirit. "I'm coming too!"
She followed right behind him out the window in pursuit of Charlie, who was now racing across the field to the ship. He paused at the ramp when he turned and saw his friends following.
"I knew you couldn't resist it." Charlie was all grins as they joined him. "Something like this happens only once in a lifetime! It's an actual spaceship from another world!"
"You're totally wack," Rick said, but he was unable to keep his eyes away from the little bit of the ship's interior that could be seen. "We don't know anything about the creatures who own this thing. They could be dangerous."
To which Charlie was all, "Yah, right. Like, since when does danger scare us? Aunt Bea said the space dude was human-like. He looked like Hercules. How bad can it be? Hercules was a cool dude. You know darn right you want to go inside as much as I do!"
"They might be friendly," Sally said hopefully, wanting to explore the ship more than anything. "Maybe all they wanted was the data from the computers at the University and newspaper offices. We can just tell them we live in the neighborhood and happened by. Which is the truth. It's only natural we'd be curious. If we see any of them, that is."
"Right." Charlie looked eagerly up the ramp. "After all, these hills are our territory. They can't just land their ship here and expect us to stay away."
Rick narrowed his eyes, looking up into the corridor of the ship. He had to admit that Charlie was right. He wanted to check the spaceship out just as much as they did, if not more. He knew it'd be risky to enter the craft, but like his friends, he just couldn't say No.
He shook his head. He was like, "What lame excuses. We're just plain crazy. Let's go!"
Feeling his heart thudding in his throat, Rick led the way up the ramp. They entered the ship and crept slowly up the corridor toward the bow. Lining the gray metal walls were control panels with glowing displays and other devices, and along the corridor were several arches containing doors of various bright colors.
"Cool," Charlie whispered. "Looks like the Starship Enterprise. Maybe we'll see Spock or Captain Kirk."
Sally shivered. "Just so we don't see a Klingon!"
"I wonder how these doors open," Rick mused. There were no latches or knobs on them, nor any other visible means for controlling them.
Charlie looked around. "Maybe by electronic eye, like at the grocery store."
Rick stopped in front of one of the doors and tentatively thrust his hand out. Suddenly, with a little swoosh, the door instantly dissolved.
Sally jumped, startled, and Charlie let out a low whistle.
Rick's eyes widened, his hand still in midair. "Majorly awesome! The door is completely gone."
The room ahead was a small one, and it was filled with computer equipment. They stepped inside and the door, with another swoosh, instantly solidified behind them. One entire wall of the room was what appeared to be a massive computer.
A number of large three-dimensional monitors were running displays of data with menus and icons above and below them, and in the center of the unit was a desk that had a large keyboard and similar monitor on it, and a cordless mouse-like device.
"Yo! Look at this stuff!" Charlie was so excited he could barely keep his voice down. "A space-age computer from another world! Man, old Einstein would go bananas over this."
"He'd flip," Sally agreed, looking over all the panels with their numerous dials, buttons, and devices. "Imagine all the data this unit has, information about outer space that we here on Earth can only guess about."
"Hey, check out this language." Rick pointed to one of the big monitors. It was running a banner-like printed message in a hologram field of outer space graphics.
"Looks like Greek to me," Charlie said, watching the strange symbols flash across the screen. "Or maybe Russian. That's definitely not our alphabet being used!"
Rick walked up to the monitor, his brows crunched in thought. "I wonder what the message is saying?"
Below the screen was a round red button. Thinking it would cause the message to repeat, Rick pressed it.
He jumped and was all like, "Whoa!" as an unexpected tingling sensation streaked up his arm and rushed up to his head. For a few seconds it felt like his brain was buzzing.
Sally rushed to his side. "Rick! What happened?"
He shook his head, slightly dazed. "I don't know. It felt like an electric shock, all the way up to my brain!"
Charlie pointed to the monitor. He almost shouted, "Hey! Look! I can read it now."
They stared at the screen in surprise. The scrolling message was now being repeated in a format they could understand.
"Incredible," Rick breathed. "Some of the letters are a little different, but it's English all right. I bet the computer read my brain waves and changed the language to one I can comprehend."
Sally began to read the message aloud as it scrolled across the monitor: "Attention all Olympian explorer ships! War has broken out on the planet Teutron between the Olympians and the Zaxxons. Decades of political strife have culminated in the kidnapping of Olympian Prince Apollo from a villa on the Elysian Fields by Zaxxon soldiers. It is ordered that all ships return to Teutron and Olympus immediately."
Charlie watched the message repeat itself. He was utterly,"Oh, man. Man, oh, man! Talk about science fiction! We're in an explorer ship from the planet Teutron, and a command is being sent for it to return home because of war. Whaddya think of that, dudes?"
"It's totally insane," Rick said, charged with excitement. "Especially that they can transmit a message all the way from Teutron, wherever the heck it is, down here to Earth."
Sally was like, "This is fascinating!" She turned to the boys. "Olympus is the mythical home of the ancient Greek gods. And Apollo is one of the gods, the son of Zeus."
Rick nodded eagerly. "Right. And the man Aunt Bea saw was wearing a tunic and sandals, same as the Greeks wore."
"The Olympians must be a highly advanced civilization similar to the ancient Greeks of Earth," Charlie concluded. "I wonder where the planet Teutron is?"
"There's one way to find out." Rick walked over to the desk in the center of the computer.
He sat down on the chair and studied the keyboard. It was similar to the one on his home computer, but larger with many more keys. The top of the keys contained a substance that looked like liquid crystal, and each had a strange symbol shaped within. Beneath the space bar was a round red button similar to the one on the monitor that was displaying the command message.
"Press that button," Charlie urged. "I bet it's a sensor, like on that monitor. It'll change those symbols to ones we can understand."
Rick punched the button and once again the tingling sensation coursed up his arm and to his head. His spine shivered from the effect. As they had expected, the symbols in the keys rearranged themselves into ones similar to the English language.
Rick grinned in amazement. "Far out! It read my brain waves again."
Charlie smirked, all, "You needed your brains examined, anyway, bud." He pointed to the monitor screen above the keyboard. "Sheez, look at these graphics!"
The graphics and icons on the screen had all changed to ones that made sense to the three friends.
"And we think Windows 2000 is something," Sally said. "This is like Windows twenty-thousand! And all in 3D! It looks like you can stick your arm right into the monitor, it's so real."
"Wouldn't Bill Gates love to get his hands on this technology?" Charlie laughed.
"Microsoft probably has a similar system on the drawing board right now," Rick tossed back. "Just don't let the Apple executives find out about it!"
The three friends laughed eagerly as Rick took hold of the cordless mouse-like device and moved it around. A bright pointed spiral appeared on the screen.
"Click on the weird looking question mark icon," Sally suggested.
Rick moved the spiral up to the colorful icon and clicked with the first of several buttons on the device. A window suddenly appeared center screen with an empty field in it. Lettering in the brightly designed box stated SEARCH ARISTOTLE.
"No way," Charlie said. "This computer from outer space calls it's Google-like search engine 'Aristotle'!"
Sally giggled. "Why not? Everything else here seems to be ancient Greek. And Aristotle was the famous philosopher. Perfect name for a search feature that knows everything!"
Rick typed TEUTRON into the field on the search window and clicked the mouse spiral on the little square that said FLY. With a musical bleep another box appeared below with the information he sought.
"Teutron is the third planet of six in orbit around the star Lexia in the third quadrant of the galaxy Andromeda," he read. "Yo, can you believe that? This spaceship is from another galaxy!"
Charlie was like, "No way! It seems impossible. Other galaxies are so far away! They can only do that kind of space travel in the movies!"
"Ask Aristotle about Olympus," Sally urged Rick, almost breathless in her excitement.
Rick cleared the field and then typed OLYMPUS into it, and clicked the space-age mouse. A moment later he read:
"Olympus is one of two continents on the planet Teutron. A peaceful nation, its seat of government is located in the golden city of Olympia in the mountains of the north sector of the continent. The present ruler is King Pallas, the heirs to the throne, his son Apollo and daughter Athena."
Sally's eyes widened. "Ohmygod! Athena! There's a Greek goddess by that name."
Rick cleared the field again and typed another word into it: ZAXXONS.
A moment later he said, "Listen to this. 'The Zaxxons are a barbarian warlike people who inhabit the continent of Zaxxonia, one of the two continents on the planet Teutron.'"
Charlie leaned over Rick's shoulder to look at the text. "The Zaxxons don't sound too cool, eh? But at least the Olympians are peaceful. They must have come to Earth only to spy, not to invade."
"Say, that gives me an idea, Connors," Rick said. "If the Olympians did steal the data from the two computers here in Lake City and transmitted it into this one, we can find out by asking questions."
"Right. Ask the computer something about Lake City, or NASA."
Sally nudged Rick. "I got it. Ask Aristotle about Charlie Connors. See if this outer space computer can compute that!"
"Real funny," Charlie grunted, squeezing in front of Rick. His fingers hit the keys and he typed CHARLIE CONNORS into the search field, then grabbed the mouse and clicked.
"Yow!" he cried a moment later, stepping back in awe. "This freakin' Aristotle knows all about me!"
Printed in the reply window was Charlie's name, date of birth, address, his current class schedule at Lake University, and a history of his scholastic records from elementary school upward.
"Then it's true," Rick said. "Professor Manning and old Einstein are right. This data is straight out of the University's computer."
"There's no other explanation," Sally agreed. "There's no way they'd know about Charlie on Teutron otherwise."
Charlie swelled out his chest. "Not! I'm well-known throughout the universe, don't you know?"
"Oh, for sure," Sally scoffed. "Famous as a deadly black hole!"
Rick pushed back the chair and stood up. "I guess we solved that mystery! It's the Olympians who caused the malfunctioning of the two computer systems. Now we'd better get off this ship before anyone sees us. When we get back to the prison ruins I'll call InterTell with the encryptive transceiver and fill them in."
"Won't they be surprised?" Charlie asked. "One of these days they'll wise up and put us on the payroll."
"But what will they be able to do about it?" Sally asked. "The Olympians won't fix things right unless we can ask them to do it, and for that we'd have to ..... "
Suddenly, without any kind of warning, the entire room shook and there was a mighty thrust of power that threw all three of them sprawling to the floor.
Charlie hurriedly scrambled back up to his feet. He was all like, "Jeez! What the heck was that?"
There was a tremor in Sally's voice as she looked warily around. "We're moving, boys. Ohmygod! The ship is moving. It must be taking off!"
"Man, let's get outta here!" Rick leaped to his feet and pulled Sally up to his side.
But the ship was already moving upward at a brisk speed, even though it seemed that not even thirty seconds had passed since the initial power thrust. It felt like they were in a room-sized elevator, speeding up to the top of a mighty skyscraper.
They raced to the door, but before they could reach it the upward thrust of the ship increased to such a stupendous velocity that they were again pulled down to the floor, as if by a mighty magnet. They struggled to get up, but the force holding them down was impossible to overcome. It was as if they were glued to the floor!
"I can't move," Sally gasped, her voice weak and hoarse. "Ohmygod! Rick! Charlie! We're going to outer space!"
Charlie let out a low groan. He was all, "And we didn't even have to buy a ticket! The Olympians must have read that command message on another monitor. Now they're heading back to Teutron because of the war!"
"You guessed it, bud." Rick felt totally crushed, as if a heavy weight was pressing down on his entire body. "And with us aboard!"
Struggling against the artificial gravity, he pulled the encryptive transceiver from his jacket pocket. After withdrawing the small device from its leather case, he struggled to maneuver onto his stomach to easier use it.
The transceiver was the ultimate smart phone. It did everything a normal one did, and far more, and it did it all encrypted so that anything sent, whether it be audio, video, text, or voice messages, could only be received and translated by a similar device. They operated via NASA communications satellite networks and worked absolutely anywhere in the world.
Rick wondered if the ship was still within the confines of Earth as he keyed the device for transmission, punching at a couple icons on its screen.
"Rick Raider calling InterTell," he groaned, hardly able to speak. "Do you copy?"
A few seconds later: "Agent KG010 speaking from Lake City City InterTell. I copy, Rick. Where are you? Your transmission isn't very good."
"Dad!" Rick felt his heart begin to hammer at hearing his father's voice. "You're back in the office! I wish you'd been there earlier. Listen up! We found the UFO at Penitentiary Glen in the Kirtland Hills. We came on board to investigate, but now the ship's taken off. I'm afraid we're bound for outer space!"
"Rick! Did I copy correctly?" came the shocked reply. "You boarded the UFO and now it's taken off?"
"Roger, Dad. We learned this ship is responsible for malfunctioning the two computer systems. It's from the planet Teutron which orbits around the star Lexia in the third quadrant of the galaxy Andromeda. We didn't get off in time, Dad. We're on our way to Teutron!"
"Copy not clear, Rick." Mr. Raider's voice was almost drowned out by the crackle of interference. "On ship bound for planet Teutron somewhere in Andromeda galaxy. Is that correct, Rick? ..... Rick? I told you not to board the UFO ...."
His voice sounded like it was a million miles away. Then, the transmission faded. Rick felt a thudding in his heart, an emptiness so vast it shook him to the core. He tried again and again to contact his dad, but there was no response, just dead silence.
"Give it up," Charlie grunted at him. "We're probably flying past Saturn right now. Way out of reach of NASA's satellites."
Rick could scarcely move his head enough to see Charlie and Sally where they were sprawled out alongside him. "This is a deadly mess we're in!" he gasped. "How are we going to get back to Earth?"
But before either of the others could attempt a response, the ship's speed increased to such an intense degree that they were left speechless, flattened to the floor.
Rick knew that astronauts had to wear pressurized suits to withstand the incredible velocities of space entry, and he feared he and his friends would now perish. His head began to swim and he saw stars in front of his eyes. He could scarcely breathe. There was a buzzing in his head and he thought he was going to pass out at any moment. There was no telling how long the torment lasted.
At length, he was able to move a little bit, then a while later sit up. His entire body was trembling, and all he could do was wrap his arms around himself and try to stop shaking. It seemed like an eternity had passed.
"Good night!" he muttered. "Whoever's driving this thing was really putting it to the max. Are you guys all right?"
Charlie slowly pushed himself up into a sitting position. He was like, "Barely! Sheez, and I was the one who wanted to go to outer space! I thought it was all over for us."
"Really," Rick agreed. "I don't know how we survived that. They must have this ship super-pressurized."
Sally managed to sit up, scared and exhausted. "Oh, no! Our parents! They'll be so worried. What are we going to do?"
The ship was now moving almost imperceptibly in a gentle forward motion. Rick slipped the transceiver back in its case and pocketed it. As he looked grimly at Charlie and Sally, he ran his fingers nervously through his dark wavy hair.
"There's only one thing we can do," he said, rising to his feet. "We have to ask the Olympians to take us back to Earth."
Sally looked at him doubtfully. "Do you think they will? What if they won't? What if they make us prisoners?"
Charlie helped her to her feet. "They're peaceful people, remember? Friendly. At least I hope so!"
"It's most likely they won't harm us," Rick agreed. "I just hope they'll agree to take us back ..... " His eyes suddenly widened and riveted to the doorway as a little swoosh cut through the air.
Charlie and Sally followed his gaze. Then, Sally jumped back, her hand to her mouth. Charlie gaped ahead with an astonished expression.
The door to the room had dissolved and now, standing in the archway, was a creature the likes of which they had never seen before!