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“Gotcha! Gotcha! Gotcha!” each boy heard as a vine wrapped around each boys forearms.
“My-my, what have we here. Three humans I believe. I hope you know I save your life. And I am sorry Garthon – that is what you are called, right?” said the voice.
“Yes, I’m Garthon,” replied Garthon, “You’re the vine?”
“Yes, you can call me vine. I’m the only one that grows here. Pretty lonely in ways but I’m all over the forest and I do have other friends. I guess I should have warned you but some of the plants in here are not so nice and if I hadn’t caught you, you would have been a meal for Tds – she’s a huge spider. Generally, nice but anything that falls down her trapdoor is a meal first.”
“Thanks, for saving us,” responded Trender.
“Hmmm. You are Trender. You're sort of like Garthon – nice. But you,” said vine as it jiggled Zaron up and down gently, “You are – different – mmm huh – yes very different not like your friends.”
There was a few moments of silence.
“Do you think you could get us out of here?” asked Garthon politely.
“I’m working on it,” said vine to Garthon.
Zaron had yet to speak. He knew that vine meant him not harm as his force field had not been activated. The vine seemed to know something about him. He thought maybe it could tell him more than he knew.
“I only know that you are different and because you have the Xenarian crystal you are allowed to be here and will not be harmed by most although there are a few of the less intelligent plants and animals that would delight in making you their next meal, but then the crystal would protect you,” said the vine.
“But Trender and Garthon are not so protected. I shall have to look after them to ensure their safety. You know the portal is not open at the moment and won’t be for three days. Garthon and Trender, you should come back then if your goal is to get to Queststar-3 with Zaron,” said the vine.
“I shall give you two a zenar stones. It will open the rock portal and allow you to travel back and forth. Come back on the third day – no sooner – no later,” said the vine, “As for you there are tests you need to pass before you can get to the portal. If you pass you will meet your friends in three days provided they return. If you do not pass I will sadly not allow them to enter the forest.”
Vine released its hold on Zaron and he fell silently into the darkness below.
Trender screamed in horror, “Nooooooo!”
In less than a minute the two remaining boys were put down by the vine just outside the forest. It dropped two zenar stones beside them. “Do not loose the stones – they can not be replaced. Trender I know you are shocked by what happened to your friend. Have faith that he will survive. I do. He is very special. Don’t remain here too long. The stones don’t work in the dark.” With that said the vine withdrew and could not be distinguished from the rest of the forest.
“You okay?” asked Garthon.
“Yeah, he landed in some kind of netting he told me. He said the crystal will protect him and not to worry. I’m not worried. I miss him,” replied Trender.
Five minutes later they walked out of the library where they were immediately spotted, transported back to the academy and escorted to the Commodore’s office where they sat facing Commodore Feder, Commander Nucomb and Commander Targus.
“Relax guys,” said the Commodore.
The two relaxed a bit. Trender was the first to speak, “We don’t know where Zaron is exactly. We met him at the library because he needed to find something.”
“And what was that?” asked the Commodore.
Trender looked at Garthon who then spoke, “A portal which he found. We all walked through the portal which was activated by the Xenarian crystal. We ended up outside the Forest of Esquelon and we entered it but got trapped.”
Trender added, “The ground we were standing on gave way and we fell until the vine caught us. It mind talked to us. Zaron is not like us. He’s a clone but I think a very special clone from what the vine was implying.”
“He has to return to QuestStar-3, his home. There he will get his memory fully restored because it was stored there before he was placed in the stasis chamber and then into the space capsule,” spoke Trender and then he paused, “Did you know that Garthon?”
“By the stars, I do! But how? Zaron never told me,” said a surprised Garthon.
“He never told me other than his memory is returning but you were there when he said he’s not the heir apparent,” voice Trender to Garthon.
“He’s not?” questioned the Commodore.
“No, sir. He’s a genetically engineered clone. He was the 501st clone. There was never an heir apparent,” said Garthon.
“Where are the other 500 clones?” asked the Commodore.
“We don’t know. But to return to the portal to Queststar-3 Zaron has to pass some tests,” commented Trender, “You see Elron and the scientists knew that Zaron would have to return to Queststar and so they set things up so that only someone like Zaron could actually reach the portal. If Trender or I had gone with him we’d probably never make it, but Zaron has his force field.”
“The vine also let us know that if we, Garthon and I, are to go with Zaron to Queststar we need to return three days from today. The vine is sworn to protect us. Me because he knows that Zaron and I are together and Garthon because Garthon is its friend.”
“I’m sorry, boys this is out of the question. You’re cadets,” interjected Commander Nucomb.
“So, you want to let Zaron to go on his own?” asked Garthon.
“Well, no. We can send two security personnel,” said Commander Targus.
“Won’t work, sir. You’ll be sending them to their death. The vine would probably fed them to the tds,” said Garthon.
“TDS?” asked Commander Targus.
“It means trap door spider,” said Garthon.
“I got a mental image picture of it from Zaron. It’s no ordinary spider. To the spider Zaron would be a small snack. Luckily, it’s highly intelligent.”
The Commodore’s commlink beep, “Yes?” said the Commodore.
“Sir, the guests have arrived.”
“Have them shown to their quarters but have Senator Redellious brought here without the others knowing,” replied the Commodore.
“My father?” asked Garthon.
“Yes, that’s the good news. The bad news is several other council members are also here that are not particularly friendly towards the RP due to the fact that well are standing in their way and blocking negotiations to do trade with the Hellion Empire,” said the Commodore.
“What!” exclaimed Garthon.
“That’s insane!” exclaimed Trender.
“I agree Trender,” said the Commodore, “They were coming here to question Zaron and to verify that he does exist. We leaked word that the heir apparent was found. The fact that Elron’s heir exists it enough to gain support to block these negotiations. That’s why Zaron was separated from you to as much as possible. There are those that would assassinate him in the blink of an eye and even try to get to him through you two – possibly killing all three of you. Garthon, your father loves you very much he insisted that we keep you separated.”
“We had to make it look like he was separated from the cadets and under close security. We unfortunately didn’t expect he could get away unnoticed. That was a serious error on our part and a brilliant execution on his part,” said Commander Targus.
“Yeah, well perhaps if you hadn’t separated he’d still be here,” said a disgruntled Trender.
“No, we would be on Queststar-3,” said Garthon.
Trender couldn’t argue with that.
Shortly after Senator Redellious entered the room the Commodore broke the bad news to him about the missing Zaron Queststar.
“This is definitely a setback,” said the Senator, “The opposition will use this against us and say that this was merely a hoax to gain support to oppose negotiations with the Hellions.”
Trender who had been silent suddenly spoke up, “You could say that the mission to Queststar-3 was more important to Zaron than meeting with the council. That Garthon and I have gone on the mission to Queststar.”
“Ah, no! My son is not going anywhere near that forest. It’s far too dangerous.”
“But!” Garthon started to object.
“No buts Garthon, you are not going anywhere near that forest. The fact that you escaped from it once unscathed was just luck.”
Garthon knew better than to try and argue. “Yes, sir.”
“Your father’s right,” said Trender which surprised Garthon, “I love Zaron but there is no certainty that the vine wouldn’t lead us into another trap.”
“Senator Redellious, perhaps if we showed you and the other senators the portal entrance to the Forest of Esquelon you could document that it does exist. Wouldn’t that somewhat prove that Zaron is on a higher quest? It will open again in three days,” said Trender.
“Yes, Cadet Nucomb, I think that might be a good idea.”
“You could record Garthon and I showing you where Zaron’s portal to the Forest of Esquelon is and when your are standing ten feet in front of it you can see the wall shimmering behind us as the portal opens. I think it would be a great shot to catch Garthon and I walking through the portal followed by the senators following us and finally the documentor with the pictocorder.”
“Yes, yes, now that I could agree to. What do you think gentlemen?” Senator Redellious said to the adults in the room.
Their agreement was given.
“Son, I’d like to have a word with you in private,” said Senator Redellious.
“Yes sir,” replied Garthon as his father led him to his quarters.
After ensuring that the room was indeed safe to converse in Garthon’s father began, “I met someone a week ago. He seemed like a nice person, but people can always seem nice. I was hoping that young Zaron would be here to meet him to determine his honesty. He has given me a lot of information about Senator Vroft and the Hellion Commander. It was very valuable information. As I predicted their plan was not to kidnap Zaron but to kidnap you or Cadet Nucomb.”
Garthon was about to interrupt. “Before you interrupt Trender is under close surveillance as are you from this point on. Anyway the person who alerted me to all this gave me this note for you. I have not read it. Currently he is under protective custody in our residence. Whether you answer it or not depends on how you feel,” said Senator Redellious as he handed the sealed note to Garthon.
Garthon knew who it was from.
Three days later in the archive room of the town’s library stood the senators, Commodore Feder, Commander Nucomb, Commander Targus, two documentors with pictocorders, Trender and Garthon.
“That wall looks very solid and nothing like what I imagine a portal to be,” said Senator Vroft.
“Yes sir, it is solid. Go ahead go push on it,” said Garthon, “It is not open yet.”
The senators and officers of the academy checked that the wall was indeed a solid wall as the documenters recorded the happenings.
“How long before it opens?” asked Senator Redellious.
“Any minute now,” said Trender as he stood next to Garthon. The two moved forwards a bit towards the wall, “If you could step back a little we’d like to see if we can feel the vibrations that happens a few minutes before it opens.”
The two boys approached the wall as the others moved back. When they were less than a foot from the wall the two knew that the zenar stones had opened the portal. They heard the gasps of surprise from behind them.
“Now!” shouted Trender and the two boys jump forward and through the portal which closed once they arrive on the other side.