TIME DIAL
A Novel for Young Readers

 ©Ross R. Olney

An exciting science fiction novel for younger readers, with a scuba diving background. The young boy and girl heroes seem trapped underwater off Catalina by not  unfriendly aliens, and must try to get  home - although escape seems impossible.

             (Note; Copies of this book may be purchased at the bookstore at      www.I-Proclaim.com)

 

This book is dedicated to Ernest H. Price, MD, brilliant physician and a good friend for many years

Chapter One

   "What's wrong, Scott?"
   Lisa's voice had the nasal, odd sound a diving mask produces. But her concern was evident. Her brown eyes, sparkling through the water-dotted face plate, held the same worry.
   A wave splashed into my mouth just as I opened to answer, so for another moment we treaded water. My mouthpiece was hanging by its strap around my neck. Finally I clearned the salt taste from my throat and worked up a smile through my own tight mask.
   "Nothing's wrong...why...?" I asked.
   "You seemed in such a hurry to come up, I thought you were in trouble," Lisa answered. She was panting with the effort of being on the surface.
   Another small wave splashed across my mask, but I was ready for this one. I closed my mouth and waited, using the time to spot the dive boat. It was still there, about a hundred yards away. Hooded black heads bobbed around it in pairs. An occasional bright flash of sunlight glinted from a face plate. We were furthest away. It was a beautiful day, but I had my mind on something other than the weather.
   "Didn't you see it...?" I finally sputtered back it Lisa.
   "See what...?"
   Lisa was getting her impatient look, her 'let's get back underwater' look. She'd turned into a real diver since I taught her a year ago. And a good one, too.
   "That line in the coral," I panted, ducking another splash, "...that straight, smooth line. It looked almost like an old ship's planks...or an opening of some kind..."  Lisa and I both knew that nature never makes a perfectly straight line in coral.
   She put her face back in the water and studied the bottom through her mask. Then she looked back at me. "I don't see anything," she said. Her arms were waving gently out from her sides.
   "I'm going back down for a closer look," I said, pressing my mask more firmly on my face. My dive time compter was dangling out on one side, my fourth stage regulator, which I had partially secured, on the other.
   "OK," agreed Lisa, settling her own mask, "but remember one thing. We're at Farnsworth Bank. We're probably no less than the millionth diver to dive at this exact spot. If there was a ship down there, it would've been spotted long ago.
   I had to agree, and I nodded, yet...
   "That's Catalina, remember...?" Lisa went on, tilting her head at the long, jagged island less than a mile away, "the sacred ground for skin divers around the world." She grinned.
   "OK, OK," I said, grinning back. "But I still saw something funny down there and I'm going down for another look."
   "Whatever you say, Teach, so let's go," she said, reaching for her mouthpiece.
   "It's only forty feet straight down," I pointed out. "You can see almost all the way. Down...a quick look around...and up again. You stay right with me. I don't have enough air to mess around down there."
   Again I glanced down. The warm water appeared clear through my mask, with only a slight haze just above the bottom. Then I looked over at the boat. It was closer than before. The wind and current were in our favor. But we were also drifting slowly away from my discovery.
   I had to decide quickly.
   "We won't get into any trouble," I promised. "Let's go." I jammed my mouthpiece into my mouth and sucked on it, waiting for Lisa to do the same.
   "Scott...you know..." Lisa said, but by then my head was underwater. I didn't hear her finish.
   She was right, of course. With my air suppply low according to my computer, and her's the same, we had to be very careful. I knew that as I curved down through the clear, pleasant water. I had to see the line again.
   That's how it all started. That's how I, Scott Hunter, a reasonably sharp high school freshman with some great football years ahead of me, should've known better. That's how I can sit here in the middle of the night, in my own home, in my own bedroom, and watch myself sleeping. That's right, watch me sleeping.
   And know that Lisa is somewhere between now and then, waiting for me to straighten out the mess I've made of things.
   I won't wake myself, though. I could if I wanted to, but I don't. I can even change things, stop my other self from doing something I know, by looking ahead, would be a mistake.Only in this time sphere, along this light wave, of course. And I won't wake myself up because that would bring the two of us face to face...and things are already confused beyond any understanding.
   If only I had it to do over again.
   As things stand, I'll still go through the week as I did before. I'll still ask Lisa about diving on Saturday morning, and she'll still accept. I'll still spot the line on the ocean floor, and we'll still dive to check it out. Only this time I'll be watching myself...and knowing.
   After that...? There'll be none of me, or three of me, or...who knows, except maybe Premier Ar?
   All I know is I've played fast and loose with a friend's trust, and I've wrecked my life, and probably Lisa's, too. I'd never have believed I could get iinto this much trouble this quickly.
   I've lost the Time Dial, the key to getting myself back where I belong. I betrayed Jon's trust. More than once. The crazy thing is, I thought it would all be fun.
   It's amazing the things you think will be good, or fun, or will do good for somebody...or at least will do no harm. The things you think you can get away with! Then you get a chance to make everyting right again and you continue to stall...just for fun.
   Then, all of a sudden, it's too late.
   Now, unless something happens, I'll have to go thorugh the grief of my mother and dad at my own funeral. And I may never see Lisa again.
   Any of the plans we might have had together are gone now. Jon will be more important to her, seeing how things have worked out. Lost in the ocean, they'll say. "Bodies never recovered."
   I rememer looking back up at Lisa's long legs and gorgeous body as she arched over to follow me down, her flippers working evenly. I didn't have to see her face to know she was worried. We were both low on air and breaking a hard and fast rule of diving.
   At thirty feet the water cooed off suddenly, but I pushed on down through the thermocline and kicked toward the bottom. Feeling a slight pressure, I cleared my ears with a puff into my mask. They quickly felt better. Whatever it was I had seen was no longer directly below us. Jagged coral stretched away in all directions across the top of Farnsworth Bank; red coral, blue coral and, as the depth dropped away rapidly to my right, dark, colorless coral. Bubbles boiled up from our mouthpieces and we could hear the hiss of air as we breathed.
   I kicked foward slowly with Lisa following, skimming the tops of the sharp coral. We looked one way then the other. We couldn't have drifted far. The unusual line I had seen was nearby, I was certain.
   Once my dive computer buzzed at me with a warning about my air supply, nothing could have kept me at the bottom. I'm not that stupid!
   Then I saw it! Ahead, in the mist of water, the line reappeared. I pointed it out to Lisa, and we both moved slowly toward it. It was the same line, yet not quite the same. Now it appeared deeper, set more into the coral. I was probably approaching it from a different angle, or at a different depth. The line seemed to be the outline of an entrance, a cave in the coral. It was calm underwater with no surge at all, and the water felt cool as I slowly coasted up to the opening.
   Lisa paused, then moved forward with me. What she had said on the surface was true. Thousands of divers had been there before us. They'd covered this same bottom along the same path we were swimming, and every other path criss-crossing this one. If a cave existed there in the coral, every diver up and down the coast would be aware of it. It couldn't be a cave.
   Still, as we drew nearer, the cave-mouth shape became obvious. It didn't look like an underwater cave opening, though. It was more like an arched door...cleanly cut into the coral.  The opening was at a forty-five degree angle in some sloping coral.
   Air was still hissing thorugh my regulator smoothly. Then I felt Lisa's hand on my arm. She seemed to be warning me. But I knew where we were and which direction we'd taken. No problem. We could go back up any time. We could surface, swim to the boat, get full air tanks, and come back and check out this unusual opening in the coral. But not yet. Not until my air supply was gone.
   I mean, how dumb can you get?
   Stopping about five yards away from the opening and direclty in front of it, I arched my body into a standing position. My fins pawed at the coral below, puffing out small clouds of sand. Lisa pulled up beside me. Her eyes looked concerned through her face plate as she stared first at me, then at the opening in the coral.There was no doubt at all. Wherever the opening led, it was not a natural formation on the ocean floor. Somebody had put it there, or dug it there, or something.
   Maybe it had to do with oceanograhic research and the cave held scientific instruments. I considered this as our air bubbled to the surface forty feet over our heads. If this was a scientific project, the scientists wouldn't appreciate any disturbance by a couple of inquistivive high school kids. Or maybe I'd stumbled across a security gadget and was violating some government regulation by just being there. It made sense. What better place for a submarine detecting device than off the seaward side of California's Catalina Island?
   In the middle of one of the world's most popular skin diving areas? Not likely. Yet...
   I was concentrating so hard I almost didn't notice the quiet little "buzz" from my dive compter. About five minutes of air left at that depth, I figured. Maybe a little less. It was suddenly colder.Any diver with any sense at all would have surfaced. Lisa knew it and so did I. She tugged at my arm as she indicated her own dive computer. She was about out of air, too. It was time to surface.
   Then I saw the movement!
   It was dark and murky inside the opening, but farther back it looked a little brighter. There was a cloudy haze that made it hard to see, but the motion was visible. Something light in color had moved. The movement was back deep in the cave, beyond the haziness.
   I wish I'd stopped to think about what I was doing, but there was no way I wasn't going to take a closer look. I did still have a reasonable amount of air for a quick look. I didn't plan to spend any time inside the cave.
   First I motioned to Lisa to wait, then I turned back to the opening. Slowly I moved forward. It had probably been nothing more than a fish. The water was warmer closer to the cave mouth.
   As I glided foward, the mist betwen me and the area just inside the mouth cleared. I could see a few feet into the opening. I wasn't aware that Lisa was following me until I felt her bump into me in the semi-darkness. The walls, like the opening itself, were smooth. They appeared to be man made. I poked my head and shoulders into the door-sized opening and looked around. Back, well back inside, I saw the motion again. This time I could positively identify it.
   It was a person. He was waving at us!
   That, at least, gave me an ace in the hole if we got into trouble about air. If worst came to worst, and I didn't plan for things to go that far, Lisa and I could always breathe from the second stage regulator of the other guy's equipment until we got back to the surface. That's another cardinal rule of diving. Every diver has a second stage regulator hanging off to one side, and no diver will refuse you air from his tank if you're in trouble.. I was sure this diver was from our own boat and had discovered the cave just before us. We were in no real danger. Chances are he or she was from our own freshman class back at Santa Monica High.
   I flippered slowly and carefully into the tunnel, guiding myself by sliding my hand along the smooth wall. Lisa was once again beside me and I didn't have enough time or air to argue with her. We'd be fine, I knew. It occurred to me later that there wasn't a trace of sea life clinging to the wall. If I'd paid attention to that, I might have been more careful.
   But I didn't pay attention, so we weren't very careful.
   Gradually it began to get brighter. From feeling my way along in a semi-dark mist, bumping against Lisa, I could begin to clearly see the walls of the tunnel. The water was pleasantly warm. Ahead I could see the other diver clearly. Though he still wasn't close enough to identify, I was catching up to him. One last time, Lisa grabbed my arm and attempted to pull me back. but I shook her off.
   Divers have nightmares about what happened next. We teach others never to allow it to happen..and yet it was suddely happening to me. Take a drinking glass, press it to your face around your mouthj, then hold your nose and try to breathe. You'll get the same sensation. A little air comes, not nearly enough, then it feels as if you're trying to pull a breath of air out of a solid rock. It is a desperate feeling.
   I was closed in, trapped, far from the cave entrance and with no idea what was ahead. And I was with a buddy diver who also had practically no air.
   There'd be two, maybe three half-hearted breaths of air left.Then each breath would have less and less air. In a few seconds, I'd be fighting for air. Finally, a big fist would close around my lungs and squeeze the air from them. Fighting a feeling of panic, I turned to Lisa, and the full force of our situation hit me. She, too, was fighting for air from her mouthpiece. Her eyes were wide open. She looked scared to death!
   I waved at the diver ahead, then held out my mouthpiece. He'd understand the quick slash of my finger across my throat. He'd know we were out of air and he'd hurry back to us.If he moved fast enough, he'd get to us in time.
   The fist was closing. I was beginning to hurt!
   Why hadn't I listened to Lisa?
   What was happening to her? Was she dying alongside me? I had to control myself! The diver would soon be at our side, giving us his spare mouthpiece and sweet air.
   He wasn't coming! He was swimming away from us, down the tunnel, toward the light.
   I had to catch him. With all the strength I had left I drove my flippers up and down, propelling myself onward on the last of the air in my lungs. I'd catch him, get air, then come back for Lisa. I was as close to panic as I'd ever been. My lungs were aching. My body was screaming for air. I had only a few seconds left before I passed out. The fist closed tighter and tighter around my throat and chest, harder and harder, choking me. I had  to have air!
   Ahead, the other diver had vanished.
   The big fist crushed down solid on my chest. It was like my mouth and nose were squeezed shut. My lungs struggled to expand, but the tank on my back was empty. I began to breathe water...anything...to open my lungs. Ahead, in the mist, the light was bright.   
   Overhead I could see the mirror of the surface. Lisa was gone. No, Lisa wouldn't be there...she was back down the tunnel.
   The mirror drifted slowly downard until I could see myself in it. I looked odd, like a black blob of rubber floating carefully upward into a sheet of glass. My mouthpiece floated in the water just in front of my nose. I could see it, but I didn't care.
   Waht was it doing there, anyhow...?  It should be back on the shelf in the garage...or back in the dive shop. Haze filled my world and confused me...I knew I was dying, but it didn't hurt anymore.

CHAPTER TWO

     I'm not sure how long I floated there on the surface.  I know my wet suit must have supported me. I was still dazed, confused by the bright light and dizzy from the lack of oxygen in my brain.  It had been a close call, very close.  The most important thing in the world to me was to suck in as much air as possible.
     I breathed deeply.  I inhaled long and full until my lungs seemed ready to explode.  Then I inhaled more.  The air in my body felt great.  Gradually, as the cobwebs in my brain began to fade, I looked around.
     LISA!!  I jerked my head around and up and down, searching for a sight of her under the water or anywhere nearby.  My God, she was gone!
     Gone!
     My heart felt cold.  Could she have made her way back to the end of the tunnel?  My only hope was that since she wasn't there, in sight in the clear water back to where I'd left her, she could have made it out.
At first I didn't see the one watching me.  My thoughts were on Lisa. Or maybe it was because of the glare of light from the roof of the room.
     I was floating in a giant swimming pool made of a smooth, shiny metal.  It was larger than an Olympic-sized pool, about half the size of a football field.  It was pleasantly warm.  Overhead was a domed metal roof.  The light seemed to be coming from strange strips of brightness in the roof.  A smell of electricity and what seemed almost like old leather filled the air.
     As I turned slowly in the water, I spotted a ladder at the far end of the pool.  The lower end came up from the water to the pool deck three or four feet above the surface.  Then the ladder went on up the back wall to an opening where the roof of the great room began to slope inward.  There was a small balcony with low rails where the ladder ended.
     There, I saw him. 
     On the balcony stood a guy about my age.  Even at that distance, I could see the fear in his eyes.  It dulled what might have been a friendly, pleasant face.  When he saw me look up at him, he backed quickly through the opening in the wall and was gone.
     Thanks a lot, buddy.
     I thought about my what was happening to me. Going back was no good, even if I wanted to go back...which I didn't.  I took one more look underwater for Lisa, knowing that I wouldn't see her...hoping by then that I wouldn't see her.  She was good in the water.  If she'd gone the other way, back down the tunnel, she may have made it all the way.
     Maybe I should go that way, the way I hoped she'd gone?  I'm an above average swimmer.  But I knew, floating there, that I couldn't make it back down that long, dark tunnel.  Not without air in my tank.  Even in the warm pool my time was running out. My legs were getting tired from treading water.
     For the moment I tried to push thoughts of Lisa from my mind. She must have made it.  She had to have made it.  The ladder at the end of the pool would have to be my next step whether I liked it or not.  Drifting slowly in that direction, the empty diving tank, moments ago my enemy, became my friend.  I ducked out of the harness and pushed it along ahead of me, resting part of my weight on it.
     Scared?  Yeah, I was scared.  But I was certain there was a logical explanation for what was going on.  I approached the metal ladder carefully.  It could be electrically charged.  In fact, the smell of electricity suddenly seemed stronger than the smell of old leather.  It wasn't as pleasant as before, either.
     I studied the ladder.  It led directly up from the pool to the deck, then on to the metal platform where the other diver had been standing.  There was no insulation between the water, the ladder and the platform.  Well, I couldn't stay in the pool forever.
     Grabbing the bottom rung, I pulled myself out of the water.  Three rungs later I stepped over to the pool deck, then I pulled my tank up behind me by its straps.  Although it looked cold, the metal deck was as warm and pleasant as the water had been.  I sagged down beside my tank to rest for a minute.
     Wherever she was, Lisa would know that I was out of air.   I couldn't allow the thought in my mind that she was...dead.
     Coming up out of the water I felt like I'd just played four quarters in a losing game.  But I tend to bounce back fast.  I couldn't just sit there forever, waiting for something to happen.  I'd already decided I couldn't go back without air in my tank.  There was only one way left.  That was up the ladder to the platform and the opening in the high wall.
     Leaving my tank on the deck, I started up the ladder rung by rung, very carefully and very slowly.  I wanted to be ready if anyone showed up, but I felt very unprotected on the ladder.
     If anything was going to happen, it would probably happen soon.  After all, they did know I was there. The other diver had seen me.
     At last my hand touched the metal platform. Cautiously I raised my head over and stared through the opening in the wall.  I was looking down a hallway.  It was wide, well-lighted and dry.  I hauled myself up on the platform and stepped through the opening.
      They were hiding on the other side of the doorway, three of them.  They were on me without warning!
I fought them but, tired as I was, it didn't do much good.  They pinned my arms behind me and shoved me forward down the hall.
     "What's going on?  Who are you guys?" I demanded.    They answered with another shove forward.
     "Come on, no need to get tough..." I protested. "You will remain silent," one of them snapped.
     That was a slight relief, I admitted to myself.  At least they could speak my language.  They weren't terrorists...or worse.  On the other hand, why shouldn't they speak my language?  Who did I think they were?  My imagination was running away with me.
     It had to be the odd look of them.
    All three of them were dressed exactly alike.  Each wore a tight, metallic jump suit gleaming in iridescent colors.  Each had an ID patch in the shape of a star on his arm.  I couldn't help thinking what a hit I'd be if I wore one of their suits on my next boat trip.  If there was to be a next boat trip for me, that is.
     OK, Hunter, I said softly, enough of that kind of thinking.  There had to be a perfectly logical explanation for all that was happening.  I could be having a dream.  The  next thought sent a cold chill through me. I could be dead.
     No, I wasn't dreaming or dead.  It was all happening.
     As they herded me along the hallway, I looked them over more carefully.  They didn't seem very tough.  They weren't mean or hard-looking. They didn't even seem to have a very bad attitude.  They were holding me just enough to control me, and that was all.  They apparently had a job to do, and they were doing it.  But they seemed to have nothing against me, personally.  I caught them looking at me with real interest out of the corners of their eyes.
     It was possible for me to see small differences in their faces, but they looked alike.  They had to be brothers, maybe even triplets.
      Each one was blonde and all three had short, neatly combed hair.  Each had a pleasant face with blue eyes that seemed a little too large. Their eyes made them look almost gentle, like basketball players.
     But they could also handle themselves.  They weren't giving an inch to my struggles.  They were strong and they were healthy in spite of their pale skin.  When I thought about it they looked very much like the diver on the platform earlier. 
     Meanwhile, with them guiding me along, we rounded a corner and headed down a shorter hall.  We turned another corner and they guided me into a room.  It was a room about the size of one at home, but the walls, floor and ceiling were the same shiny metal I'd noticed before.
     Across one side of the room was a low conference table.  Behind this table sat three men. The one in the middle had a white star covering the chest of his jumpsuit.  If he was a brigadier general, he wanted everybody to know it.  With his graying hair and distinguished manner, he looked like the boss.  The other two men looked more like my three guards, but a little older.
     "You are Scott Hunter," the man in the middle said in a calm, strong voice.  It wasn't a question, it was a statement.  His voice was pleasant, but he spoke with authority.  I could tell he was in charge.  "You are a student of the United States," he continued, "...fifteen years old...and you have made a serious mistake."
     I'd never considered myself a student of the whole United States; just of Santa Monica High.  Then the weight of his last words hit me.
     "M...mistake...sir?"  I added the last word just in case, but I tried to sound confident.
     "You should not have come here."
     His tone wasn't irritating, but his words were.  Besides, I was still angry and worried about Lisa.  "Come here?" I shot back.  "Are you kidding?  We were...we were lured here!"
     Aha! I'd hit a soft spot.  The best defense might, for me, be a good offense.  Besides, what did I have to lose?  They were either scientists, and somehow that idea had started to dim, or they were something else.  I didn't want to think about that.  I decided to come on strong.  "And who are you?" I demanded, with as much confidence as I could muster.
     The man in charge smiled.  "There is no reason for you to be frightened, or difficult," he said pleasantly.  "I am Premier Ar of Anak, but you wouldn't understand about our world yet."
     Words failed me momentarily, then came in a rush.       "You must be kidding!" I exclaimed.  It was all I could think of to say.
     His smile broadened, and so did the smiles of the other men at the table.  Rather than grin back, I forced my mind to dart around the world quickly.  I probed the little middle eastern countries who were always digging at each other and the islands of the Arctic and Antarctic.  I tried to visualize the Commonwealth the Soviet Union had become, and the lands of the Far East.  I found myself wishing I'd paid more attention in Geography II.  It was no use.
     Nowhere in the world could I recall a country by the name of "Anak."  Not even one of the several smaller emerging nations.
     "We understand your confusion," the man who'd called himself "Premier" said, "but you needn't be afraid.  No harm will come to you if you do as we tell you." 
     That was the kind of conversation I wanted to hear.  I waited for him to continue.
     "I am the leader of this...expedition," Premier Ar went on.  "We are here in peace and neither want, expect, nor anticipate trouble.  Our mission is purely scientific.  In case you suspect us, we do not plan to 'take over' your world.  As a matter of fact, we rather dislike it as a place to live now that we have determined that the superior species live on land and not in the water, as we had originally suspected.  We look forward to the day we conclude our work and studies here, and return home.  Does that allay your fears?"
     As the calm-voiced man explained, I listened, then it hit me. They had tried to drown us.
     "Yes, but you tried to drown us!" I accused.  "Would you mind telling me where Lisa is?  Then we can worry about Anak, if there is such a place."
     Premier Ar held up one hand.  "Please...one question at a time. First, your recent experience in the water distresses us, but nobody has been harmed. It was a  combination of errors and I sincerely apologize.  Believe me, it will not happen again...to anyone else.  Now about Anak."  The Premier paused, and as he seemed to search for words I would understand, I felt a flood of relief about Lisa.  He could have been lying, but I wanted to believe him.
     "Anak is another world," he continued. "I must ask you to broaden your own mind.  Do not allow it to close to include only the beliefs and facts now at your disposal.  Other worlds do exist...many of them.  We are from such a world."
     Lisa was OK and that was the most important thing.  But I couldn't believe my ears about the other thing.              "Wh...where...?" I finally stuttered.
     "Perhaps you are familiar with the constellation your world knows as Lyra?"
     I nodded.  I've dabbled in astronomy.
     "In this constellation or, rather, light years beyond it but appearing to be in it, is a system you know as the 'ring nebula.' Your own scientists of the stars, astronomers you call them, have never been certain about this system.  Is it, they ask themselves, a true nebula?  That is, an expanding mass in space.  Or is it another galaxy similar to your own Milky Way.  Do you understand this?"
     I was still with him, but I had a feeling he was going to lose me soon.  "Yes," I said, nodding again.
       "Let me assure you," the Premier continued, smiling slightly at the man to his right, "that it is another galaxy. In this system is a star, Dena, similar to your own sun but somewhat smaller and hotter.  Our world,
Anak, is a part of the Denian system.  It is the ninth planet in a Denian system of sixteen."
     OK, that was enough foolishness.  I decided to pin him down.  "Do you mean to tell me that you guys are from...from OUTER SPACE?"
     "That is quite correct," he answered seriously. "But...but you can't be!  I mean, you look just me.  You...you don't look like you come from another planet."  This all began as a simple Saturday morning diving trip to Catalina.  I'd made dozens before.  This was crazy!  They were trying to trick me!  And if Lisa was OK, where was she?
     "What should we look like...to have come from another planet?" the Premier countered pleasantly, breaking into my thoughts.  "I asked you to broaden your mind.  Here on your planet you have fleas...and flowers...and even huge animals you call 'elephants.'  Who is to say...that is, how do you know they are not visitors from another world?  You have never been able to communicate with them, nor they with you.  So you try to eradicate the first, cultivate and enjoy the second, and merely be interested in observing the third.  You wouldn't even consider trying to talk to them, to communicate with them.  So what should a visitor from outer space look like?  You have been visited by interested inhabitants from other worlds for centuries and very few of you are even aware of it."
     He had me there.  I'd never been off Earth in my life.  But fleas...and flowers...and elephants...?
     "I'm telling you the truth, Scott Hunter," he said.
     "Wait till I tell mom and dad...and Lisa," I sighed, gazing around the strange room   If all this happened to be true, it was better than a moon flight.
     Ar's smile faded.  "That will not be possible," he said softly.
     I was afraid there might be a catch, and there it was.       The Premier's voice had a positive ring to it.  He'd said it softly and without anger, but the way he said it sounded final.
     Premier Ar looked like a pleasant person.  But what he was saying was impossible, it seemed to me.  They'd said I wouldn't be harmed, but that could be a smoke screen to calm me down.  I'd been aware for several minutes that this wouldn't all end with me just being sent home.  No, maybe they wouldn't "harm" me, but they weren't going to turn me loose, either.
   Lisa?  Here or there, she was apparently OK.  The time had come to take the bull by the horns.
     I jerked away from the surprised men who had been casually holding me and bolted for the door.  I didn't know where I was going but I did know that as long as they had me cornered, with my arms pinned, I had no chance at all.
     For the third time in the last few minutes I had a fleeting glimpse of the boy who had lured us down the tunnel.  This time it happened an instant before I crashed into him.  He was entering the room just at the moment I decided to leave it...and he had Lisa with him.
     He was tougher than he looked.  I'd hit guys easier than that on a football field and they were slower getting up.  This guy just bounced back to his feet, a mixture of embarrassment and anger on his face.  I rebounded off the edge of the door and instantly the three guards pinned me again.  They turned me back to the table where Premier Ar was waiting.
     I looked over my shoulder.  "Boy am I glad to see you," I said to Lisa.
     "Me too, Scott," she answered, "but Mom and Dad are gonna kill me if I don't check in soon."
     Premier Ar was still smiling pleasantly. "I must warn you, Scott Hunter, that even if you did escape from this room, there is no place to go in the station.  Certainly there are many rooms and corridors, each of more or less importance.  But only one passage leads back to the surface and to your world, and you have seen the impossibility of that."
     He didn't seem angry at me for trying, nor did he seem worried that we might escape.  Then, as he turned to the boy standing beside me, his eyes hardened.  After a long look, he turned to the other two men and indicated that they should write on the papers before them. Whatever he had to say, he didn't want us to hear.
     I winked at Lisa with a confidence I didn't really feel, then began to study the diver I'd followed down the tunnel.  He was about my height, five nine or ten, and only a little thinner in build.  He, too, looked a little soft, again like a basketball player instead of a football player. But he carried himself with strength and confidence.  At the moment, though, he looked worried.       I watched him as he nervously brushed his hand through his short, blonde hair.  It seemed to me that everybody had hair about like my own.  Then he glanced at me with a "we're both in for it now" look.
What had happened, had happened.  Maybe he was their prisoner, too, though I didn't recognize him from school.  I didn't understand it all yet, but somehow I knew that he could be in as deep as we were. I threw him a slight grin.
     He flashed back a quick smile, then turned again to the table and Premier Ar and his associates.  Apparently they were finished with their silent conference.  They crumpled their notes.  Then the older man spoke.
     "Jonawararal Di," Premier Ar said with an accusing tone to his voice, "you turned off the visi-

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