ogan's hand was clinging tightly to the talisman. The thin chain he used to hang it around his neck dangled under his fist. "You're telling me you know something about my father that will supposedly leave me unable to react. And you know what? I believe you."
A'nake seemed quite satisfied with the situation. "So you have made your choice."
"Yes, I have." Hogan stretched out his right arm, the talisman still in his hand. With a quick motion, he turned his wrist up, showing A'nake his thumb and middle finger. "Plim takai."
A'nake's aural senses burned. He thought for sure that Hogan would take the bait. "Very well. You'd rather stay in the dark about your past than give me even a fraction of your talisman. You must be very proud of yourself."
"I will find out about my past when I'm ready for it," Hogan scowled. "But I'll never let you have the satisfaction of getting the better of me, physically or emotionally."
"That's what you think," A'nake growled in response. "I shall see you in five weeks. You may want to bring a witness with you to watch your destruction at my hands. We shall meet in this place again, at sundown, at the end of the fifth week. I bid you good day, Ki'rath."
With a flash, A'nake was gone.
Hogan stood silently for a moment, reattaching the chain around his neck. For once, he let logic trump his gut instinct; he secretly hoped that wasn't a mistake. After a moment, he leapt back into the air and flew back to the rock formation where Rena sat.
"What was that all about?" Rena asked.
"Listen, Rena," Hogan said. "We've got five weeks to prepare for something big. Dr. Sconder and A'nake are teaming up, and they're using my clone to fight against me."
"Your... your clone?" Rena asked.
"I don't know how they did it. But yeah, they managed to make a duplicate of me. And if A'nake's going to be using that body, then you can bet this clone'll be twice as powerful as I am."
"So what are we going to do?"
"I... I don't know. I'm just about as strong as I can get without another ceremony. If we're going to beat A'nake, we're going to have to do it with our brains."
"It's getting late," Rena said. "I think we'd better head back to the hideout."
Hogan looked at the sky, seeing the sun that was already halfway gone. "Well, we didn't have a whole lot of success today, but I guess it'll do for now. Let's go."
The moon - just slightly darkened and starting to wane - was rising over the horizon when the two of them returned from their day of hunting. Their quarry was meager, but adequate. Hogan pushed aside the boulder leading to the entrance, dumped their catches below, then hopped in themselves. When they came in, the kids huddled around them.
"What'd you get?" one of the smaller kids asked.
"Just enough to last us a couple more days," Rena replied. "But it looks like we've got trouble."
"Trouble?" the crowd gasped. "What is it? What's wrong? Did Varzen survive?"
"No, it's not Varzen," Hogan answered. "It's actually something a lot worse than that. In about five weeks, Dr. Sconder is going to send a clone of me out here. And A'nake is going to be in that body to fight me. I need all your help to defeat this clone or else the talisman is going to end up with them."
"Us?" the kids asked. "You need our help?"
"We have to come up with some sort of plan," Rena explained. "If Hogan goes out there alone, he'll be toast. We need to band together and help him fight this A'nake guy off."
"No, Rena," Hogan said. "That's not what I mean. I have to fight A'nake by myself."
"But... but you said you aren't strong enough to defeat A'nake."
"I know. And I also said we need to come up with a plan. Preferably one that doesn't put all of you in danger."
"Hogan, please... you might get killed out there."
"I'm not going to let all you guys get massacred!" Hogan shouted. "I promised Liarna I'd protect you guys. I'm not going to go back on my word." Hogan sighed, and started to walk to the room once inhabited by Liarna. "I need be alone for a while."
He shut the door behind him and flopped onto the bed. "What am I going to do?" he asked himself. "A'nake's got me right where it wants me. And I won't have any way to fight back."
Hogan's train of thought was interrupted by a small knock on the door. "Who is it?"
"Hogan, it's me, Rena."
Hogan looked up at the ceiling, sighing again in frustration. "Come in."
The door creaked open as Rena walked into the room. She sat down on the corner of the bed.
"What's wrong?" Rena asked.
"Take a guess."
"Well, I said we'd help, but then you told us not to."
"Rena, you don't understand. This isn't Varzen we're talking about here. We're talking about a being that doesn't even have a body. That's why it has to steal one. The only way to beat it is with spirit energy. But if he's using my clone, he'll have way too much energy for me to even scratch him."
"I don't care." There was an obvious distress in Rena's voice. "I want to help. Please."
"Don't you get it?" Hogan snapped. "Any person who goes out there is going to get slaughtered. At least you guys will have some time to find another hideout before A'nake comes this way."
"I know." A couple tears started welling up in Rena's eyes. "But... I..." she paused.
"I... I love you."
Hogan nearly became nauseous. A myriad of emotions played across his face as he watched Rena start to cry. Anger, confusion, fear, pride, they were all coexisting somehow within him. "You... what?"
"I love you, Hogan. I'm sorry. I know you have a girlfriend on Earth and everything, but..." Rena tried to find the words to explain herself, but she couldn't. She started to sob, unable to contain herself any longer.
Hogan sat up, taking her into his chest, putting her head on his shoulder. "It's OK," he said quietly. "I'm sorry I yelled at you. Don't cry."
"I'm sorry, Hogan," Rena managed to say between wails. "I already lost my mom and dad, and then I lost Liarna. I don't want to lose you too."
"You won't lose me, I promise." Hogan felt a new sense of determination grow inside of him. "We'll figure out some way to beat him... together."
Rena looked into Hogan's eyes, her own eyes red from her outpouring of emotion. She saw a soft smile across his face; she smiled back. Hogan found himself being pulled towards Rena. Suddenly, he felt his lips pressed against hers in a kiss. When it broke, they looked into each other's eyes once more.
"I got an idea," Hogan declared. "But we'll need someone who's good with tools."
Rena smiled. "That would be me."
"How old is he now?" A'nake asked.
"About two days," Dr. Sconder replied. "But physically, he's the equivalent of a three-year-old boy."
"Any signs that this child has the same powers Hogan has now?"
"It's hard to tell. He looks normal, although that doesn't mean much."
A'nake giggled smugly. "Hard to believe that less than five weeks from now, I'll be sending the Ki'rath to his doom with the same powers that he uses against me. And I can only imagine what it will be like when I steal that talisman from him - and unleash all of its power against this planet, and any other planet that stands in my way!"
Dr. Sconder joined in the laugh. "I can see it now - millions upon millions of people begging us for mercy. We'll enslave this universe and make it ours!"
"'Us'?" A'nake asked, its voice implying insult. "'We'? 'Ours'? Since when did you think you would be involved in any of this?"
"Wait just a second," Dr. Sconder protested. "This clone is my creation! I deserve at least a part of the spoils!"
"Your arrogance is wearing on my patience," A'nake said sternly. "In fact, I see no reason for your further participation - your purpose has already been served." A'nake's aura began to glow brighter.
"But... but this isn't fair!" Dr. Sconder shouted. "I always do the work only for someone else to take the credit!"
"That's only because you don't have the power to do anything about that." With its ethereal hand, A'nake grabbed Dr. Sconder by the throat, lifting him in the air.
"P- Put me down!" Dr. Sconder choked. "I didn't mean it! Please! Let me go!"
"Please?" A'nake asked sarcastically. "If I didn't know any better, I'd say you were begging for mercy." A'nake flung Dr. Sconder across the lab, instantly sending him into a countertop crowded with glass beakers and test tubes. Dr. Sconder slumped against the wall, lifeless.
"Such a waste," A'nake sighed. "If he weren't so conceited I might've found some other use for him. No matter; I still have all the necessary tools to complete my plan. All I have to do now is just wait things out."
From behind the glass of the mirror, the small child managed to catch a glimpse of the what was happening in the lab. When Dr. Sconder was thrown into the laboratory wall, the boy put his hand up against the glass.
For a brief moment, his hands dimly glowed.
Next week: The five weeks come to an end, and Hogan comes face to face with his double.