ogan and his three A'nakite allies were in the basement of the palace, facing one of the few video communication devices that existed on the planet. It was barely the size of an average television, and even this modest appliance was considered an extravagant luxury to the rest of the population.
"I find it surprising that A'nake had enough time to make this communication and send it here before we ever arrived," I'kali noted. "He can't be too far away."
"I wouldn't bet on it," Hogan retorted. "Knowing A'nake, he probably already made this thing before last night." He took the cube from the emperor's hand and placed it in the base of the communicator. Within moments, the cube began to glow.
The screen flickered a bit, and suddenly the face of a bald, scowling Du'imite. The A'nakites in the room shuddered for a moment as they recognized the face.
"Hello, everybody," the Du'imite announced, gleaming with a wicked grin. His voice was exactly the same as A'nake's. "As you can see, I'm back in my humble little abode, and surprise surprise - it's in the exact same condition I left it. And I just had to bring someone over to show him around the place."
The camera pulled back, and standing behind A'nake was the Du'imite emperor, unconscious and in chains.
A'nake chuckled cruelly. "Poor emperor. I told him I would win this war for him - I guess I never mentioned that I wasn't going to do it for free."
"What do you want?" Hogan shouted at the screen.
"He can't hear you, you know," I'theki remarked.
Hogan shrugged meekly. "I knew that."
A'nake's video continued. "I know what the Ki'rath is thinking right now. 'What do I want?' he's probably asking."
Hogan crossed his arms and gave a smug look at I'theki.
"Well, it's quite simple. I want the Ki'rath to take a little tour of my workshop as well. I'm sure he could appreciate the amenities I have here. Especially since I have the one thing he came to this planet for." A'nake reached into his pocket and brandished the talisman. "You are to come alone. Bring any of those animals along with you, and I will see to it that this so-called Emperor fully understands the folly of doing business with someone like myself.
"You have until nightfall to get here. I have left my co-ordinates at the end of this message. Have a nice day, Ki'rath." The video signal blanked out, and a few seconds later a series of numbers flashed up on the screen.
I'kali furrowed his brow. "Well, whaddaya know - he is in the southwestern desert."
Hogan nodded. "All right. Let's go, shall we?" He turned around and started for the exit.
"Hogan, wait!" Emperor I'taina called out. "You don't know what you're getting into!"
"Sure I do," Hogan replied as he turned back around. "I've beaten A'nake once already without a talisman. I can do it again."
"I wouldn't bet on it," I'theki warned. "I don't know what the circumstances were the last time you fought, but believe me - A'nake is at least twice as powerful now that he's in his own body. Remember how he managed to get himself into the position to become emperor in the first place. You're not going to be able to storm into his stronghold and just beat him up again."
"I'm not planning on just storming in," Hogan retorted. "We're all gonna go in there and show him who's boss."
"Didn't you hear what he said?" I'kali asked frantically. "He wants you to go alone. If he senses any of us around there, Emperor O'bire will be dead. Or worse."
"I heard him just fine," Hogan replied. "And he's bluffing. What did he tell me earlier? Even with all the talismans I've absorbed, I have no way to sense when A'nake's around. I have a feeling that the same is true for him."
"How can you be so sure?"
"Spirit power is internal," Hogan explained. "It comes from inside the body. The only time you can see it outside its body is if I bring it out, like this." He charged up his hands as an example. "And since none of you can do that sort of thing, there's no way he can tell that you're around."
"I hope you're right," I'taina said softly. "Because if not, then Du'im will fall under A'nake's power once again - and this time, for good."
Hogan shook his head in frustration. "Listen to yourselves! You all sound like you've already lost! It was your race that overthrew A'nake to begin with, wasn't it? If your ancestors could hear you whining right now, they'd be rolling in their graves!"
"The only way we managed to defeat A'nake before was by outsmarting him," I'kali said. "A'nake's not going to fall for the same trick twice."
"I never said he would, but if we're going to beat this guy once and for all, you need to stop sulking and start coming up with some sort of plan."
I'theki nodded. "You're right. This is our one chance to finally rid this world of A'nake, and we need to seize it."
"Let's go back to the throne room," I'taina directed. "We can formulate our plan there."
In the hours of daylight that they had left, Hogan and the three A'nakites made their preparations for their battle in A'nake's lair. The sun was beginning to dip into the horizon from the throne room's lone window when they were ready to leave. I'taina agreed to stay behind, in case the other three failed in their mission.
"I wish you all the best of luck," I'taina said. "The fate of both races is on your shoulders."
"I understand," Hogan replied. "We won't let you down. Right, I'kali?"
I'kali gave a thumbs up. "Right. But before we go, Hogan, I do need to ask you of one little favor."
"What's that?" Hogan asked, curious.
"Remember back at the base, when I referred to a life companion?"
Hogan thought back to his interrogation sessions. "Yeah, I remember that."
"Well, to be honest, I never had one myself. I was wondering if you'd like to become my companion."
"Um…" Hogan pondered the connotations of the term. "What does that entail?"
"A life companionship is a vow of loyalty," I'theki replied. "It simply means that the two of you will be willing to sacrifice anything - even your life - for the benefit of the other." He looked at Hogan. "Don't worry, it's simply tantamount to being someone's best friend. Nothing beyond that. We merely devised it for our own survival at the start of the war."
"Well…" Hogan still felt a bit uncomfortable with the concept, but relented. "I don't see why not. I get to keep my girlfriend, right?"
I'kali smirked. "Of course. What do you think I meant by that term?"
"Well, on Earth, there are a few-… Oh, never mind."
"It's settled, then." I'kali smiled. "We'd better get going. We need to find that laboratory before night falls."
Once again, Hogan carried the other A'nakites with him as they flew towards the co-ordinates given to them by the video that A'nake had sent. The sun had almost completely set, and two moons - one full, the other in a crescent - were entering the sky when the three of them came across a series of unusually-shaped sand dunes.
"That must be the place," Hogan said as they closed in. He slowly descended onto the sand, inspecting the outside area. "Now we just need to find the way in."
"There has to be an entrance somewhere," I'kali thought aloud as he scouted the area, looking for some sort of hole or opening among the mounds of sand.
"I have a feeling that he made it a little harder to find than just having a door in the middle of nowhere," Hogan said as he looked along the ground. "If his lab was so hard to find, there has to be a reason why."
I'theki began to dig through the sand in an attempt to find a way inside. As he rummaged through one of the dunes, he felt his hand make contact with something hard. "Hey, guys!" he called softly to the others. "I think I found it!" Hogan and I'kali rushed over to him, and helped him displace the hill of sand. Sure enough, located in the middle of the largest dune was what looked to be a large, clear plastic tube leading downward, an opening in the side large enough for someone to climb in.
"Time to pay our host a little visit," Hogan said as he neared the tube opening. "I want the two of you to wait here for a while. If I'm not back in two hours, come in after me."
I'kali nodded. "Got it."
I'theki also gave his acknowledgement. "All right. Good luck, Hogan."
Hogan made his way into the tube and began to crawl down into the ground.