Thank you for reading my work. Also, a huge thank you for the wonderful notes some of you have sent me. I really appreciate hearing that someone actually reads what I've written.
I wish to express my thanks to Xion and Martin for calling it in to me, but at this point in the story I think it is time to step away from their narrating for a while, so we can get some more background on what's going on. I promise they will be back to tell you how it goes with Martin's imprisonment at some point.
So buckle up, and let's move our self approximately 35 years back in time…
"John? Are you home?"
John hurried to the window to answer his friend who was standing outside, shouting for him. "Hi, Tom, do you want to come in?" he asked.
"Yes, but I can't stay long. We're leaving for our Moon trip this afternoon," his friend answered.
John hurried down the stairs to open the door for his friend. Tom and John had been best friends since Tom's family moved into the neighborhood where John lived five years earlier. Tom was almost a year younger than John, who had just celebrated his twelfth birthday. John could not imagine how his life would be without his best friend. They shared everything. They had the same interests, the same hobbies, and the same friends. On the weekends and when school was out, they slept over at each other's house more often than not.
They ran together up the stairs, to get to John's room. John's father walked by and gave them a disapproving look for running on the stairs, but the boys just shouted a "sorry" over their shoulders and headed into John's room.
"Do you want to play on the PS45?" John asked his friend.
"Oh yes, could we try the new space adventure game you got for your birthday?" Tom was eager to try the game that he hadn't had a chance to play yet.
John loaded up the game on the console, and the boys assumed their favorite playing position. They lay next to each other on top of John's bed, with the VR glasses on their heads and the controllers in their hands. They usually spent a few hours like that each week, playing together in the virtual worlds.
A couple of hours later, John's father came into the room and announced, "Tom, your parents called for you. You are leaving for the Moon trip in an hour, so you need to go home to get ready."
"Okay, thank you, Mr. Veiler," Tom answered, while he took off his VR glasses. John put them away with his own and the controllers, and turned off the console.
John was envious. Tom and his family were going to spend the weekend on the Moon, visiting the mall there. John had only been to the Moon Mall once; his parents had brought Tom and him there once as a birthday present, when he was ten. The boys had loved it there. All the great stores, the restaurants and the aliens who visited there, made it a very exciting place for the young boys. They had spent a few hours just looking at all the great space ships in the docks. Some of the larger ones had even given tours aboard. It had been a very popular place to go ever since it had opened a few years earlier. But it was quite expensive to take the shuttle there, so John's family had only been there the one time.
"I wish I could go with you," John pouted, knowing that he was sounding a bit younger than he really was.
"Yeah, me too," agreed Tom. They had tried badgering their parents to get them to let John come on the trip, but they had persistently said 'not this time', and that was that.
As Tom left, John sat looking out his window at his friend heading home. He had to smile when Tom turned and waved good bye to him. 'Oh, come on,' John thought while waving back, 'he'll be back in just a few days, why do I miss him already?' He let out a sigh and heard someone standing behind him. It was his father.
"I'm sorry you couldn't go with them," John's father said, "but it was just not possible this time."
"I know," John answered, still feeling a bit down.
"Hey, why don't we two go for a ride together? Do you think that could cheer you up a bit?" John's father suggested.
"Okay," John smiled. He had always loved the trips he and his father took together, and it was always the best cure if he was in a bad mood. They would just drive around in his car and look at all the sights. Sometimes they would talk, yet other times, they could just cruise the roads in silence, just being there together, for each other.
This time the trip started in silence. They just drove around like they used to do. Finally, John's father broke the silence and said, "Perhaps, we could go to the Moon sometime. Why don't we start looking in the travel magazines to see if we can find a good offer? Would that help you feel better?"
"I guess," John answered, looking down.
John's father did not understand. He had thought John would lighten up at once with the prospect of getting a trip to the Moon himself. Wasn't this what all this was about?
"Could Tom come with us as well?" John asked and looked at his father for the first time on the trip.
His father suddenly realized what it was. It wasn't that he didn't get to go, but that Tom went without him.
"I suppose so. We could talk to his parents and ask when they come back."
"Okay, that would be great!" John smiled.
"So, even if he gets to go without you, you still want to have him with us when we go?" John's father teased.
John just looked strangely at his dad. He didn't understand anything. Typical grown up. "Of course!" he said. "It's much more fun to be with Tom than to miss him."
"Do you miss him now?"
"Yeah – a lot," John confessed.
"But, it has just been an hour since you last saw him?" John's father did not understand.
"I know. I don't know why I feel this way." John said. "I just feel so lonely when he's not there."
They continued driving in silence for a while. John's father seemed to be lost in thought after the short conversation they had. Finally, when they were getting close to home again, he said, "I'm sure we can bring Tom when we go. And remember, they are only going for the weekend, you'll see him Monday."
"I know." John sighed. "I just don't know why I feel so lost when he's gone."
They reached the house, and John's father parked the car, walked out and waved John over to him. He embraced his son and said "remember, son, you can always come to daddy when you feel low. You'll never get too old for a hug from me."
John pressed himself into his dad's body and wiped a tear away on his shirt. It still felt like the safest place in the world, and he did not want to let go.
John felt the body of his father tense. He looked up and followed his father's eyes to the entrance of their house. There, his mom was standing with tears in her eyes.
"What's wrong, Mom?" John asked, as he let go of his father.
"It's… I don't know how… It was…" she stuttered.
"What is it, dear?" her husband asked.
"You had better come in and sit down." She managed to say.
John and his father followed her into the house, and they all sat down around the kitchen table. John was really worried now. He could see that his mother had something really bad to tell them.
"Mom, please, tell what it is," he begged.
"John, I just don't know how to say it," she began, "Its Tom and his family."
"WHAT?" John shouted. "What about Tom?" he demanded to know
"They're gone," she said.
"How?" John's father asked.
"It's all over the news," she explained, "the shuttle they were taking to the moon just disappeared. There is no sign of it."
"How can that be possible?" John's father asked.
"I don't know–apparently something similar happened a couple of hundred years ago, and they never found the ship that was lost then."
"NOOOO!!!" John shouted, and ran up to his room. He threw himself on his bed and cried. "This can't be. It can't be true. Not Tom!!!" He cried.
His father entered the room and sat down next to him.
"I'm so sorry, son," he said. "I don't know what to say. We can only hope that they will find them, but I'm afraid it doesn't look good."
"It's not fair!" John exclaimed.
"I know, son," his father tried to console him, but it didn't help much. He kept on patting his son's back and letting him know that he was there, but it wasn't much he could say.
Three months later, the shuttle was still missing and all on board were presumed dead. John's parents were worried about their son. He seemed to have shut himself completely in his grief, and they could not reach him. He did go to school and soccer practice, but he just didn't seem to care any longer. He hadn't touched his gaming consoles since Tom last visited. They had taken him to a therapist, but they still couldn't see any progress.
John's father sat down on the edge of his bed one day and asked him, "John, is there anything we can do to help you? It's been three months now, and although I understand you need to grieve over your loss, the way you have locked yourself in is not healthy. You need to get on with your life. Do you think Tom would have wanted you to stay like this?"
"But, it still hurts so much," John cried. "I miss him so bad. Why did he leave me, dad?"
"You know that's not what happened. It was an accident. Maybe someday, we will know what happened. But you know it wasn't Tom's wish to leave you, John."
"I know," John conceded, "but some days it feels that way, those days I'm just mad at Tom for leaving me."
"How does it feel the other days, then?" his father wondered.
"Some days it's just so sad. Other days I'm mad at everything, at the universe for stealing him from me."
"John, I'm really happy that you are talking to me about how you feel, now. You know you can always come to me with this. I promise you I will listen," his father said, while patting John on his back.
"Thank you, Dad. It actually feels good to talk about it. I'm sorry if I have been a lousy son, lately."
"Don't be," John's father started, "don't be sorry for how you feel. But it is important that you let me or your mother know. We do love you, and when we see how much pain you're in, it hurts us really bad. And even more when you're shutting us out like you've done lately."
"I know. I love you too, Dad, and Mom as well. But I've just been so sad and so angry."
"We know. We know you really loved Tom as well, and you're allowed to grieve for him. But you need to move on with your own life as well."
John didn't answer. He just sat up in bed and allowed his father to embrace him. He hugged him back for the first time since Tom disappeared, and cried on his shoulder until he fell asleep. His father laid him down and tucked him in before turning off the lights and leaving the room.
Laura stormed through the corridors. I would not have liked to get in her way now. She was so angry you could almost see the steam coming from her ears.
"Those bastards!!!" she screamed.
I didn't blame her. I wanted to scream myself, but it wasn't my style. "Laura, I need you to calm down a little," I told her, "we need to think clearly to solve this as soon as possible."
"I know. I'm sorry, Xion," she began, "I'm just so mad. But you're right. We need to focus."
All of a sudden, Laura looked a little confused, before she reached into her pocket, pulled out and opened her vibrating communicator.
"Carlson," she answered. Then she listened for a while, not looking particularly happy. I heard a couple of "But, sir …" and a "Alright. I will," before she closed the communicator and put it back in the pocket.
"That was my boss," she explained, "the head of Social Services on the Moon. He has received complaints from the military about us."
"What did he say?"
"Well, he didn't sound too happy about it, but I think perhaps he is more angry with them than with us. He wants to meet with us at once, so we need to go to his office."
"Can he help us?" I wondered. If he couldn't, I wasn't sure I wanted to waste any time handling bureaucrats, while Martin still was in the hands Mr. Veiler and his people.
"I think he can," Laura said, "he does have a large contact network, so if we can get him on our side, he might be able to help us to get Martin out of there."
Again, I was following Laura through the different corridors and elevators of the Moon Mall and Terminal building. We ended up in a waiting room with a front desk. The receptionist waved us right through, "they're waiting for you, Mrs. Carlson," she said.
Inside the office, two men and a woman were sitting at a conference table.
"Ah, Mrs. Carlson, and you must be Xion. Please take a seat," one of the men offered and pointed us to the chairs on the empty side of the table.
"I am Xion," I introduced myself. "I am an environmental observer from The Council, and was the one who found Martin on his ship," I explained.
"Thank you, Mr. Xion. I am Stig Gundersen, head of the Social Services Department on the Moon. This is Horacio Belgari from the governor's office, and our military attaché, Liv Webster," he said, as he pointed out the two guests.
"We are here to discuss the case of a Martin Ruud," Mr. Gundersen started. "Mrs. Webster, could you please tell us why he presently is in the care of the military?"
"I am not at liberty to say much here," she started, "this is not a case for social services. It is a military situation."
"When kids are involved, it's always our case!" Laura exclaimed with a murderous look towards the other woman.
"Calm down, ladies," Mr. Gundersen sighed, "Let's not make this a turf war, try to be productive, please?"
The women stopped talking, but the tension was still in the air. I could see how they looked at each other with eyes full of hate. This was not good.
"I suggest we let things calm down a little," the governor's representative said. "Why don't we all work up some case papers, and then sit down together tomorrow at noon and work through it. I am sure we will be able to come up with the best solution."
"Tomorrow?!" I asked. "We can't let them keep Martin overnight! He's just a scared boy who just lost everyone and everything, and you're going to allow them to keep him locked up all night?"
"I am sorry," Mr. Gundersen said, "but I am afraid that there isn't much more we can do. There have been some very serious charges placed against him, and they need to be resolved at the highest levels before they will let him out."
"What charges?" Laura and I asked in unison.
"That's classified." Mrs. Webster said, looking pleased that we were so upset.
I sat there in thought for a while. Finally, I decided to concede a little. Hopefully, Martin wouldn't be harmed by staying a day in their care. "Can you promise me that he will be decently treated, and not put to any harm?" I asked.
"Of course, what do you think of us? We're not that a primitive world!" Mrs. Webster said, seemingly offended by my question. She obviously shared Mr. Veiler's view on the off-world people.
"Alright, I will report this to The Council, and we will meet again tomorrow. If any harm comes to the boy, I will report it to all proper authorities, and they will ensure that those responsible will get what they deserve." I said while sending Mrs. Webster a look meaning that I included her in my threats.
"Don't worry, Mr. Xion," Mr. Gunderson started, "I'm sure they will take good care of him. But know this, Mrs. Webster, you are not allowed to do any interrogation on the boy without a representative from Mrs. Carlson's office present. Is that clear?"
"No. It isn't. We do not answer to you," she burst out.
"He's right, Liv," Mr. Belgari said, "you do need to follow the law, and he is a minor, so the Child Protection Unit has to be present."
"Alright, I will let them know," she said with a somewhat beaten look.
At least we had this one victory.
I returned to my ship, filled with anger and frustration. I had agreed to wait one day, but I would not agree to another day. I felt so sorry for Martin. I trusted that they would treat him right, after all, they did have civilized laws in this system, and kids were usually well protected. That knowledge kept me from bursting in and removing him with force. But I was not completely reassured. Even though the laws were protecting Martin, I did not entirely trust the military personnel I had met so far.
I filed a lengthy report with The Council and went to bed. I would expect an answer the next day. The Council could ask me to remove him with force, but I doubted they would do that. It would force me to give away my real status, and would probably jeopardize my secret mission.
I just froze as the door shut behind me. For the longest time, I couldn't move. How could this happen? Why? Why did these people think I had had anything to do with the accident? Why did that man hate Xion so much?
I couldn't take it anymore. I collapsed on the floor and the tears were flowing again.
At some point, I must have fallen asleep lying on the floor.
Who are you?
Where are you?
What happened to you?
How can I help you, Tom?
I don't know how long I slept, but I was awakened by a guard who placed a tray with some food on the bed.
"Here you go, you need to eat before the interrogations start," he said. I could almost sense that there was some pity in his look.
I did look bad though. Having cried myself to sleep on the floor in the cell. I dragged myself up onto the bed, and tried the food. It was just some cold soup and a bit of bread. It didn't taste particularly good, but neither was it very bad.
As soon as I had finished my food, the door opened again and the same guard entered.
"Alright, it's time to go. Now, you should be a good boy and answer all questions you are asked," the guard said, while dragging me up to a standing position and locking my hands in some kind of handcuffs.
I didn't say anything; I just gave in and followed where he led me. We ended up back in the same room we were in the night before, and I was pushed down into a chair.
I must have been left alone there for ten minutes, if not more. There were no clocks in there, and I didn't have any good grasp of time as I sat there and awaited my doom. But finally, the same investigator I had met before, entered. He sent me a spiteful look. He really didn't like me. Why? What had I done that would make him hate me so much? It wasn't my fault that I was here. It wasn't my fault that all those people died. It certainly wasn't my fault that my mother was dead!
"Let's begin." He said, and switched on what I supposed was a recording device.
"This is the official interrogation of suspect Martin Ruud. Present is head investigator John Veiler."
Then he began the questioning and accusations.
"Mr. Ruud, you have been charged on 24 counts of murder. Why don't we start with a motive? Why did you kill all those people, Martin?"
"I didn't do it," I said calmly. I still couldn't believe that he thought I was behind the deaths of all those people. I didn't even have a clue about what had happened.
Mr. Veiler turned off the recording device and shouted "Silence! I know you did it. You were the only one alive on the ship; no one else could have done it!"
"But I didn't do it, I didn't do anything," I exclaimed.
Mr. Veier stood up from his chair, walked calmly around the desk and stopped right in front of me.
"Why did you do it?" he asked again.
"What? I didn't do anything. Please, just let me go, let me get back to Xion!" I begged.
As soon as the words had left my mouth, I felt the pain. His open hand had connected to the side of my head in a full force slap. I didn't see it coming, and I fell to the floor and screamed.
"Enough!" he said. "I don't want to hear another word about this alien unless you tell me that he had something to do with it."
"He didn't. I didn't do it, and neither did he!" I shouted. This just made him angrier.
"Shut up!" he shouted. This time I saw his boot coming, but it was too late. It hit me in my head, and I lost consciousness.
You know that the Cliff Hanger Police are going to hunt you down and incarcerate you for the rest of your life, unless you repent and mend your ways and let Xion save Martin.
And who is this Tom person and what does he have to do with all this?
Hurry up and give us the next chapter you bad, bad, evil author in waiting.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher
I didn't tell him to do it this way. Honest. I'd have done two flashbacks and not even returned to the story at all in this chapter. Now The Phone has some answering to do, if he's not too busy.
There are some great twists and turns in this chapter, I love it. Now I have to wait for Chapter Five. Sigh.
Str8mayb AKA Evil Author and Master of Misdirection