Jason and his friends are abducted from their schoolyard in broad daylight and whisked to a frozen planet, where they learn that another powerful talisman has been discovered. It’s in the Utharani Sector, a part of the galaxy normally off-limits — and deadly — to humans, but the inhabitants have demanded that humans come and remove it. Oruq, the Thothian leader, is on his way to do exactly that. If he succeeds, he will start a war that will consume the galaxy, and Earth will be his first target!
Jason must get to the talisman first, but this time he can’t claim it. Instead, he has to do something much more dangerous.
He’s going to steal it!
THE HAND OF OSIRIS
Children of Hathor – Book II
The snowball would have hit Jason Hunter squarely in the back of his head, had he not instinctively dodged to the side at the last second. His friends weren’t so lucky. A second missile splattered against Amelia Reis’s backpack, while a third knocked Kevin Hayashi’s glasses into the snow. Jason spun around to see Wade Cooper and his two assistant morons, Ryan and Trevor, coming up from behind.
“Hey, losers!” Wade yelled. “Seen any little green men lately?” The other two snickered.
Amelia glared at them. “Get lost, you jerks.”
“Just ignore them,” Jason said. Kevin was squinting at the ground, trying to see where his glasses had fallen. Jason dug them out of the snow, shook them off, and handed them to his friend. “You all right?”
Kevin nodded. He tried to blow the last bits of ice off his glasses, but his breath only caused them to mist over. When he put them back on, his eyes disappeared behind the fog.
Wade stopped about ten feet away, with Ryan on one side and Trevor on the other. Ryan was short and wiry, with close-cut blond hair and a permanent smirk. Trevor was as big as Wade and, as far as Jason was concerned, twice as stupid. And that was saying something.
Wade was compacting another snowball in his gloved hands. His winter jacket made him look even thicker around the middle than he already was. “Hey, why don’t you call your Martian friends and ask them to take us for a ride in their flying saucer?”
“Yeah, on your special Martian phone!” Trevor chimed in. He laughed out loud, showing the large gap between his front teeth.
Jason sighed in disgust. It had been like this ever since he and his friends returned to Earth. None of them had intended to tell the truth about their ordeal, but they never really had a choice. Jason’s parents had been forced to describe their abduction and rescue. The story had been all over the news.
And, of course, no one believed a word of it. Even Amelia’s photos of aliens and spaceships didn’t make a difference. Everyone assumed they were fake.
Things had been especially bad at school. The three of them were harassed relentlessly by Wade and his goons and shunned by most others. Kevin was used to that kind of treatment, but it was hard on Jason and Amelia. Jason tried to tell himself that a bunch of kids teasing him was nothing compared to being marooned on a deadly planet or facing a pack of ravenous carnivores, but at times he still found himself getting angry.
Wade had compressed the snow in his hands into a ball of ice. With no warning, he threw it hard at Jason’s head. Jason thrust out his palm. The iceball exploded into a cloud of fine powder. No one but Jason noticed it had never actually touched his hand. “Back off,” Jason said.
“Or what, space boy? You gonna make me?”
“Yeah,” Ryan said, “maybe Kevin will use his geek ray against us!”
“Oh, snap!” Trevor said, and the three roared with laughter.
Jason turned to go. “Come on,” he said to his friends.
“I thought you said to ignore them,” Amelia complained.
“Watch out for aliens, doofus!” Wade called after them. The three laughed again.
Jason shrugged. “I’m ignoring them now, aren’t I?”
A moment later, they reached the edge of the school grounds, where they had to split up. Amelia and Kevin had been grounded for a month after their return and had been permanently forbidden to associate with Jason. The only opportunity they had to see each other was at school, and then only for a few minutes at a time. That often made these goodbyes difficult. Today, for some reason, Amelia seemed especially reluctant to part company. She adjusted her Red Sox cap and pushed a strand of hair out of her face.
“What?” Jason asked.
Her face reddened and she looked away. “Nothing. See you tomorrow, okay?”
“Yeah, ’course.” He jammed his hands in his pockets and started walking, lost in thought. He wished he’d remembered to bring his gloves. Even though spring was supposed to have started today, New Hampshire hadn’t gotten the message.
Not long ago, he’d thought his life couldn’t get any better. Sure, on Earth he was a nobody, but just about everywhere else he was famous. He’d claimed the most powerful of the twelve ancient talismans that kept peace in the galaxy, and he’d stopped the Thothian leader, Oruq, from enslaving the Earth. Shalan, the beautiful Elamen woman who had helped him, was going to be his tutor, instructing him on his role as Heir of Elam. And someday (“after college, maybe” his mother had insisted), he would sit on the Council that governed all civilizations. How cool was that going to be!
But then he had returned to Earth, and everything had gone wrong. If only Shalan would come back! It had been almost six months and there had been no sign of her, not even a message. And where did that leave him? Going to a school where everyone thought he was crazy, or a liar, or both, and where his only two friends weren’t allowed to have anything to do with him! He kicked viciously at a rock and sent it flying down the road.
He didn’t think things could get any worse. Then he turned onto his street and saw the police cars parked in front of his house.
It wasn’t entirely accurate to say that no one believed the Hunters. They were deluged by requests for interviews from so-called “UFO researchers.” On one of the first days after the story broke, Jason’s mom answered the doorbell to find a neatly groomed, bespectacled man wearing a dark blue suit and red tie. There was a briefcase in his hand and a wide smile on his face.
“Good morning, Ma’am,” he said, extending his free hand. “I’m Stan Burkowitz, from the Center for UFO Studies. May I speak with you for a moment?”
Relieved that at least someone was willing to believe them, Jason’s parents let the man in. The interview went well for the first few minutes. Burkowitz asked questions like, “Can you describe the spacecraft’s interior for me?” and “What did the aliens look like?” Jason sat on the sofa between his mom and dad, happy to let them do most of the talking.
Things went sour when Burkowitz asked Jason, “Did the aliens use you for any medical experiments?” Before he could even answer this disturbing question, the man pulled a metal wand out of his briefcase and waved it over Jason’s head, explaining that it would “detect alien essences.”
That was enough for Jason’s dad, who grabbed Burkowitz by the collar and threw him, his briefcase, and his wand out of the house.
After that, Jason’s parents were much more selective about interview requests. Jason realized that many of these UFO fanatics would believe anything he told them. If he said he’d made friends with a fairy feather king and the fairy spaceship was waiting just behind the moon, they’d set up their telescopes and start wearing feather hats.
A couple of days after the Burkowitz episode, a crowd of people gathered in front of Jason’s house. When he rolled into his yard, on his way home from school, they rushed to touch him, claiming that doing so would “cure” them. Even though his Guide seemed to prevent anyone from actually harming him, all those hands grasping at him was like being attacked by insects.
Other people camped on the weedy lawn across the street, in front of the burned-out house that the Elamen agents, Londro and Shalan, had used as their headquarters. They traipsed through the woods behind Jason’s house, treating the meadow where he had discovered the Elamen spaceship as a shrine, until the police chased them all out of the neighborhood.
And then there were the threats. Jason picked up the phone one day and a deep voice on the other end said, “We won’t let you get away with it.”
“You’re plotting with the aliens to confiscate our guns! That’s what background checks are all about, aren’t they? Gun confiscation, so the aliens can take over!”
Jason hung up.
Another caller accused the Hunters of worshiping “devil aliens” and said they’d be purged by fire.
So when he saw the three police cars, he thought the worst. He ran the rest of the way, pausing only for a moment to trade glances with a sullen, handcuffed man in the back of one of the cruisers. As soon as he pushed open the front door, his mom jumped up from the couch and pulled him into a hug. She had been seated next to his dad, who was talking to a police officer. The policeman was in a chair, taking notes. Two other officers were standing nearby, but the looks on their faces made it clear they didn’t want to be there.
Jason’s mom put a finger to her lips to stop him.
“It’s not my place to say it, Mr. Hunter,” the note-taking policeman said, as he stood and stuck the pen in his shirt pocket, “but you might want to consider moving. As long as these guys know where you live, you can expect this kind of thing to happen.”
“Right,” his dad said. “Well, thank you, officer.”
The man nodded and led the rest of the policemen out the door.
Before Jason could ask, his mom said, “Someone broke in. He pointed a gun at us and demanded we take him to our spaceship.”
Jason’s heart skipped a beat. A million thoughts ran through his head, a million different outcomes and “what ifs,” none of them good. He pushed them away. His parents were alive. That’s all that mattered. “How…how did you—?”
His dad let out a long, slow breath, as though finally accepting the crisis was over. “When I heard the back door get kicked in,” he said, “I hit 911 on my cell. Then I set it down behind that picture of you and your mom.” He pointed at a table covered with framed photographs.
“He was so calm,” his mom added, “mentioning the gun several times, loud enough so the 911 operator could hear.”
His dad hesitated before speaking. “Jason, what the policeman said, about us moving…we have to think about that.”
Jason pulled away from his mom. He was afraid it would come to this.
“It’s not just this incident,” his dad went on, “or even all the other crazies we’ve had to deal with. The fact is, we just can’t afford to stay any longer. No one around here will hire us. I’ve talked to people in my old office back in San Diego, and there’s an opening. Hardly anyone there has heard of this business. We’ll be able to get back to our normal lives.”
“But we can’t leave,” Jason said. “How will Shalan find me?”
“Jason,” his mom began, “it’s been almost six months.”
“I know how long it’s been!”
“Something may have happened to her,” his dad said gently. “Your mom and I…we just don’t think she’s coming back.”
The same thought had been nagging at Jason. Not consciously, maybe, but in a deep part of him that worried about it while the rest of him pretended not to. To hear it aloud, though, was like being punched in the gut. “No, you’re wrong,” he said. “She’s coming back! I know she is!” He ran up the stairs to his room and shut the door, harder than he had intended.
How could they understand? She promised to return. She promised! He threw himself on his bed and stared at the ceiling. Over and over he had imagined what it would be like. Would she take him to Elam to study? Or would she train him here? He could teach her how to surf! With her ship, they could go anywhere in the world: Hawaii, Costa Rica, Fiji! All the best waves, and just the two of them on the beach. His heart skipped a beat just thinking about it.
She was a lot older than he was, but that didn’t matter, did it? He was the Holder of a Talic! That had to count for something. And in just a few years, he’d be an adult, too.
He reached under his shirt and pulled out the Guide that hung around his neck. It seemed like yesterday, on a planet trillions of miles away, that Ardemesius had given him this ancient, teardrop-shaped artifact. The moment the old man placed it in Jason’s hand, it felt like it was part of him, a part that had somehow been missing his entire life. It had led him to the Amulon Talic, just as Ardemesius had promised.
The Guide had been silent since then. At first, he thought he could use it to contact Shalan, but his every attempt had failed. What if something had happened to her? No! He wouldn’t believe it! He wouldn’t even let himself think it!
He tucked the Guide back under his shirt. He was not going to leave here, no matter what. Not until Shalan returned.
Amelia’s father used to be Jason’s favorite teacher. He was strict about his lessons, but somehow he found a way to make English fun. Jason used to despise writing essays. Teachers always wanted you to write about stuff that was boring, and when he wrote instead about something that was interesting to him, like surfing, his teachers could never seem to get it. “How did you feel about that?” they’d ask, or “Can you add more details?” But how can you describe catching a huge wave, except to say it was awesome and exciting? And how much wetter or saltier can the water get?
Mr. Reis, though, had a way of making writing interesting. He made it challenging, too, but in a good way. “Make it funny,” he told the class once. “Make it crazy!” And the next day, when they read their work aloud, everyone was laughing. They even laughed at Jason’s essay about spiders, even though he didn’t think it was particularly funny.
Mr. Reis would also joke around in class. He had a collection of foam balls that he would throw at kids who weren’t listening or who were talking when they weren’t supposed to, but the cool thing was, he didn’t mind when the kids threw them back. On one occasion, he even let the whole class have a foam ball fight.
All that changed after Jason and the others returned. Mr. Reis didn’t joke around anymore. The foam balls were put away for good. Actually, others in the class said all that happened right after Amelia disappeared. The big difference after Jason came back to school was that Mr. Reis suddenly and actively disliked him.
Since they had landed so late, Jason’s parents suggested Kevin and Amelia stay at their house for the night and go home the next morning. That turned out to be a mistake. When neighbors saw lights go on in the Hunter house, they called the police, who came and arrested Jason’s mom and dad. Because the Hunters had disappeared at the same time as Kevin and Amelia, everyone assumed Jason’s parents had kidnapped them. It certainly didn’t look good that Kevin and Amelia were in the house when the police arrived.
The police didn’t believe the story about abduction, but the lack of evidence and Amelia’s and Kevin’s insistence that the Hunters were innocent meant Jason’s mom and dad had to be released. Kevin’s and Amelia’s parents, though, remained convinced the Hunters were to blame. The day Jason returned to school, Mr. Reis held him after class.
“I want you to stay away from my daughter,” he said.
Jason started to reply that Amelia was his friend, and that they had saved each other’s lives, but Mr. Reis cut him off.
“Don’t start that with me!”
Jason looked at his feet and tried to control his rising anger. There was nothing worse than being called a liar when you knew you were telling the truth. If it happened one more time, Jason felt like he’d explode. So he said nothing more.
“I’m not such a small person that I will let this business affect how I treat you as a student,” Mr. Reis went on. “You’ll get the same treatment as everyone else.” Still, Jason couldn’t help noticing that his grades afterward were lower than they had been before.
All these thoughts ran through Jason’s head when he heard Mr. Reis shout across the schoolyard the following day. The three friends had joined up to walk to the end of the school grounds again.
“Amelia!” The anger in the voice was only too clear.
Amelia rolled her eyes. “Oh boy. I forgot his meeting was canceled. Now I’m in for it.”
“Just tell him it’s my fault,” Jason said. “He can’t hate me any more than he already does.”
“He already knows it’s your fault! As far as he and my mom are concerned, everything is your fault!”
“Amelia!” The voice was louder and angrier this time.
“I’m going to ignore him,” she said, her face getting red.
“Won’t you get grounded again?” Kevin said.
Jason stopped walking. “Look, I don’t want you to get into even more trouble.”
“So what! What difference would it make? I only have two friends now, and I’m not even allowed to be with one of them! I’m tired of it!” She lifted her head and squared her shoulders. “Let’s keep walking. He can come get me if he wants!”
“Well,” Kevin said, “that’s what he’s doing.”
Jason looked back. Mr. Reis was marching across the school grounds, scowling and swinging his arms. Wade, Ryan, and Justin had been sneaking up behind them again, but now they quietly dropped their snowballs and turned away, smirking over their shoulders.
“Amelia!” Mr. Reis said as he drew near. “I do not appreciate being ignored! You know my rule regarding Mr. Hunter!”
Amelia spun around. “I don’t care about your rule anymore! Jason is my friend, and I’m not going to stop seeing—” She stopped short. “What? What’s the matter?”
Mr. Reis was staring over her head, his eyes wide. In fact, everyone on the school grounds was looking the same way, with the same expression. Wade’s mouth was hanging open.
Jason turned to follow their gaze. A stone’s throw away, a silvery, saucer-shaped spacecraft was quietly settling to the ground on four sturdy legs.
A thousand thoughts flooded Jason’s brain. Now no one would call him a liar anymore, or think he was crazy! His parents would get their jobs and their lives back. Everyone would understand what he and the others had done to save the Earth, and they’d get some respect. He could be with Kevin and Amelia without hiding it. But one thought stood out from all the others: Shalan is back!
And his very next thought was: In broad daylight? With everyone watching? That didn’t seem right. Well, she must have a good reason, he decided. All that mattered was she had returned, as promised!
A panel slid open on the underside of the ship and a ramp lowered itself to the ground. Jason began running toward it but stopped as soon as he saw a pair of legs emerge. They were way too thin, and they were silver. Long, thin arms followed, with impossibly long and dainty fingers. One hand held a small, gray, oblong object. Then the head appeared, bald and too big for the body, with oversized black eyes, a tiny nose, a thin mouth, and no visible ears.
“Holy smokes,” Kevin said behind him, “Joormilians.”
The galaxy’s surveyors, the ones who kept tabs on how civilizations treated their environments. What were they doing here?
Two others followed the first one out of the ship, and all three began walking toward Jason. He backed up. Someone called his name. It was a strange, high-pitched voice. Not quite human. He glanced around, searching for the source. Then it came again and he realized it was in his head.
“There is no need to fear us,” the voice said.
He stared at the aliens, who had stopped advancing and stood about fifteen feet away. They blinked, but their faces were otherwise expressionless. Their mouths had not moved.
“Why…why are you here?” he stammered.
Nearby kids snapped their heads in his direction. Jason realized he had spoken Joormilian. He had never removed the translator that Ardemesius affixed to the left side of his head. To hear Jason speaking an alien language must have been almost as shocking as seeing the aliens themselves.
“You and your…companions…are required to accompany us,” the alien replied.
Jason’s stomach tightened. “Why? Where to? Who sent you? How can I hear you when you aren’t talking?”
“We do not require…vocalization…to communicate.”
“Telepathy,” Kevin said behind him.
“You hear him, too?”
“So do I,” Amelia said.
“Councilor Orlanean requires your presence. It is urgent.”
De Orlanean! The Réian Councilor! What was so important that she would have Joormilians land in broad daylight, in front of everyone?
“All of you must enter our vessel immediately.”
Jason tried to marshal his thoughts, but it was hard with that creepy, disembodied voice in his head. It felt like the Joormilian was actually inside his skull. Could he tell what Jason was thinking? “What about Shalan? Where’s Shalan?”
The lead Joormilian blinked. Jason sensed confusion.
“We are unaware of a Shalan. Our task is to retrieve you. It is urgent.”
“Well, I can’t just go. I need to tell my parents.” And he seriously doubted they would agree to this.
“No. The urgency is too great. We must depart immediately. Delay is not acceptable.”
“What are you saying to them?” a voice behind Jason demanded, overlapping the Joormilian’s telepathic statement. He was confused for a moment, until he realized Mr. Reis had spoken. The man grabbed Jason’s arm. “What’s going on? Who are they? What do they want?”
“Further discussion is not useful.” The Joormilian standing in front raised his hand and pointed the oblong object at Mr. Reis, who grunted and collapsed.
“Dad!” screamed Amelia. She dropped to her knees and cradled his head in her hands.
“He is unharmed,” said the voice in Jason’s head. Then all three Joormilians aimed their devices at him and his friends.
He fell to the ground, suddenly paralyzed. He couldn’t even speak. A beam of orange light shot out of the device, and Jason floated off the ground. His backpack hung loosely from his shoulders. Someone nearby screamed. The Joormilians began walking back to their ship, with Jason floating behind them. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Kevin and Amelia pulled along in the same way.
Sirens sounded in the distance, drawing rapidly closer. A police car rounded the corner a few blocks away, raced down the street, and screeched to a stop in front of the school. Two policemen jumped out and pulled their guns, looks of confusion and fear on their faces. The Joormilian dropped Jason to the ground and aimed his device at the policemen. Both of them collapsed on the pavement, then Jason felt himself lifted again. Another cruiser rounded the corner and sped toward the school, but he lost sight of it as the Joormilian pulled him up the ramp and into the saucer. He heard shots and the clang of bullets hitting the side of the ship. Then the door closed and there was silence.