ogan and his clone now stood at the center of the large room, readying themselves for their sparring match.
"Don't go easy on me, now," Hogan said. "I want to be in top form before I have to go back and refight those matches again."
Bob smirked. "Don't worry, I won't."
Hogan assumed his new preferred fighting stance: arms at his sides, lifted up at an angle to his body. He found it most effective to swing his arms upwards that way, keeping his joints straight while still building some momentum for each attack. Bob took the stance that Hogan had used in the past, the same one that he had just been admonished for using.
"You may begin when you are ready," Ilgaira instructed.
The two of them circled each other, looking for an opening. It was odd for Hogan to be fighting what was tantamount to his own self, even though his clone was slightly older than him. He tried to consider his own tendencies as he studied his opponent, looking for openings along the way. I usually start with a right cross to the head, Hogan thought, so his midsection will be wide open.
Hogan closed in on his opponent, swinging his right arm at Bob's torso, but only at half power. The contact was made, and the force of the impact sent Bob recoiling to the side several feet before he recovered.
"Nice hit there, Hogan." Bob shook off the effects of the attack. "But now it's my turn."
As predicted, Bob countered with a right-handed punch to Hogan's jaw, which was defended by Hogan crossing his arms in front of his face. That resulted in most of the energy from the punch being deflected. Hogan retaliated with a foot sweep that sent Bob to the floor, puncuated with a chop to the ribs which Hogan aborted just prior to his hand making contact so as not to injure his partner.
Bob jumped back up to his feet and they continued sparring. The two of them traded swings; Hogan with his open arms, Bob with clenched fists. Whenever Hogan sensed an opening, he would take his shot but stop short of actually hitting Bob.
"What are you doing?" Bob asked. "Why won't you hit me?"
"I don't want to hurt you, Bob," Hogan replied. "My attacks are a lot more powerful than they were before."
"Is that so," Bob smirked. He then stood up and opened himself up. "Let's see what you got."
"Bob, are you sure?"
"Positive. I want to see how strong you've gotten since you left."
Hogan sighed. "All right..." He got up close to Bob, and straightened out his arms and readied himself for attack. Charging up some energy, he wound up and unleashed an open-handed swing at Bob's torso. When it made impact, Hogan could literally see a bubble of spirit energy originate from the point of contact and burst. Bob flew more than twenty feet away from the recoil, landing on his back. Hogan ran over to his clone. "Are you OK?"
Bob was a bit light-headed, but still conscious. "Wow. You were right - that was a doozy."
Hogan helped Bob back up on his feet. "Ready for round two?"
Bob smiled. "You bet."
They went back at it, spending an entire hour sparring. Having Bob as Hogan's opponent made things a lot more interesting for Hogan; he was actually enjoying the workout that he was getting, and it was obvious that Bob enjoyed the fight just as much. They stopped only a few times to regain their stamina, but on the whole both of them were enduring the fight quite well.
Ilgaira watched in satisfaction as his pupil displayed his new technique with ease. He had set the time limit at six hours for all of Hogan's previous rivals, but it was obvious now that Hogan had progressed enough. "Time!" Ilgaira called. "Well done, Hogan. I know now that you are at a sufficient level of skill with your new fighting methods to bring your training to an end."
Hogan smiled. "Darn. And I was starting to have fun while I was going at it with Bob." He turned back around to Bob. "Well, thanks for helping out, I guess."
"No problem," Bob responded. "Hopefully I'll get to see you later on."
"Same here. Tell Rena I'll be there for Luke as soon as I can."
Bob nodded. "Count on it."
The two of them shook hands, and Bob walked back to the far wall of the room. The hatch opened, and he walked out.
"Well, I guess now the only thing left for us to do is getting me back on that planet," Hogan said.
It was another three days before Karsh returned to the room where Hogan and Ilgaira were waiting. During that time, Hogan continued to practice his fighting, only without a target for his attacks. When Karsh arrived, Hogan demonstrated his talents to the ancient for his approval.
Karsh smiled enthusiastically. "Lookin' good, Hogan. You're going to knock A'nake right on his butt when you fight him this time."
"Thanks. So when do we go back in time?" Hogan asked.
"Actually," Karsh replied, "we already have. I figured we might as well get the easy stuff out of the way. We are now at the point in time just before your match with A'nake was to begin. The hard part will be getting you out of this place and back to Sarlow."
Hogan thought back to what Karsh had told him originally. "That's right - nothing escapes a black hole, right?"
"Well, that's not entirely true. We wouldn't have brought that duplicate of yours here if we didn't have a way of sending him back."
"In order to leave this realm," Ilgaira explained, "you must generate enough force to catapult you out of this place and to your destination. You must travel beyond the speed of light in order to counteract the gravity of the black hole."
"We have a special transporter for sending people back and forth," Karsh added, "but you should be able to do this by yourself."
"By myself?" Hogan asked, confused. "You mean, I'm going to teleport myself out of here?"
"That's right," Karsh replied. "What you've got to do is build up enough energy so that it'll propel you out of here. Thing is, it's going to take a while for you to build up that much energy."
"How long, exactly?"
"I did say this whole ordeal would take two years, didn't I? That was including the trip back."
Hogan's eyes widened in shock, but then he suddenly remembered the timeframe he was initially given. "I was wondering why we were stopping so early... OK, one more thing. How do I avoid my other self?"
"Other self?" Karsh asked, quizzically.
"You know, the other me. When I go back to Sarlow, I'm going to be there already, so that means there's two of us running around."
"Oh, that! Don't worry about it. When you go back, you'll basically be overwriting your past self. In other words, you'll pick up right from where you left off at that time."
"Good luck, Hogan!" Karsh said enthusiastically.
"Thanks. Ilgaira, you know this is the third time we've said goodbye."
"I am aware of that," Ilgaira said. "I also know that it likely will not be the last, now that you know what your destiny holds. The time will indeed come when you shall return to the desolate planet and meet your son. When you do, you're going to be a fantastic father. I shall see you soon, Ki'rath."
"Thanks, Ilgaira, I appre-..." Hogan stopped in mid-sentence. As he realized what Ilgaira had said - and most notably, how he said it - he gave the shaman a wry grin.
"I shall see you soon, Ki'rath." Ilgaira said as he began to walk away.
Both Karsh and Ilgaira made their way out of the room, leaving Hogan alone. The lights suddenly turned off, and Hogan was now standing in total darkness, just as he had been when he had arrived.
Hogan sighed, shaking off the tension in his arms and legs. He knew that he was going to need total concentration to amass enough energy to teleport himself back to Sarlow. If he made a mistake, it was possible he could end up teleporting himself into space and suffocating. He closed his eyes, focusing on the energy in his body. His breaths became slow and deliberate. It was as if he had entered a state of meditiation, and was completely unaware of his surroundings.
Quickly, Hogan lost track of time. Seconds became hours, hours became weeks. His mind continued to center itself on his spirit energy, knowing in the back of his mind that his body would tell him instinctually when to release his energy. Altough he couldn't see it, he felt the energy gather around him, as if he were a magnet or some sort of collecting device for wayward energy.
The feeling came over him more quickly than he had expected, but soon he sensed that he had developed enough spirit energy to teleport. His eyes snapped open, and he released the energy within him.
Suddenly, he found himself in a familiar place: the fighting ring at Sarlow. He looked around for a moment, gazing at the spectators in the stands. He then looked straight across the ring, and saw A'nake and its imprisoned body, staring ruefully at Hogan.
"I'm sure they have a lovely prize for third place, Ki'rath," A'nake repeated.