All the random short stories combined to one.

Chapter 1: Hand that feeds you


“Where is she at

“Where is she at?” Mateo asked as he stepped into a brightly-lit mechanic’s shop on the east side of Paseo. He looked about as he did so. The walls were lined with cannons, Vulcan’s, bars and other typically android weapons. A Polezi stood motionless; its head slumped forward, in the rear right-hand corner of the shop. It had no positronic brain. Mateo would have called it dead.

Ermit Kain locked the shop’s front door behind him; it was after closing time. Then he stepped beside Mateo and waved to a knob less metal door opposite the inoperative Polezi. “She’s back there.” Ermit stepped in front of the blue-haired official and unlocked the door by pressing his thumb against it. “Be careful, Agent…”

“Call me Mateo,” Mateo said.

Ermit smiled, but his heart wasn’t in it. The left corner of his mouth jerked nervously. He looked like one of his own creations, a lemon of an AI with a serious glitch in its facial expressions subroutine.

“Okay, then…Mateo,” the mechanic said as the door slid open. “She’s all yours.”

The room inside was dim and had a feeling of uncleanness. It smelled of rubber and Petrolane and other products (and byproducts) associated with robots and androids and A.I.’s of all kinds. The head of a Siren-model Wren android lay rusting on a stool in the corner, its red hair looking very old and matted, all the life gone from the narrow eyes.

The android Mateo had come to inspect sat on another stool. Its legs lay sprawled before it. The creature’s head was tipped back. Still eyes, open mouth, and long and ratted, filthy green hair had fallen over its shoulders and bizarre metal face. But the most striking feature of all was that the android had no arms.

“She’s a Natasha-Type android, designation Salek,” Ermit said.

Mateo whistled. “I haven’t seen one of these babies in ages.”

“I’m not surprised,” Ermit said. He stood beside the Salek and rested a hand marked with liver spots on a mechanical, armless shoulder. “There are only a handful of Natasha-types left on Motavian. Used to be right common, but most of them were recalled to Palm and reprogrammed just shortly before the ban. Only a few were able to come back before the accident ten years ago.”

Mateo nodded. He knew all about the accident. The lifeless eyes of the Salek locked him in their stare.

“She was one of them,” Ermit continued. He flicked the Salek’ head with his forefinger. A clang was heard. It echoed.

“Why is she here?” Mateo asked.

“The Agriculture Department back in Camineet had her assigned to work in the Nido Farm Domes east of here. All was going fine until two weeks ago.”

Mateo cocked an eyebrow. “And what, exactly, happened two weeks ago…? My details remain sketchy.”

“Salek here had been having problems with her left arm for months. She was scheduled to come in and see me as soon as I got the Polezi out there running again. The Agency has been hounding me about it for weeks. Anyway, I was afraid she might have a virus or terminal malfunction in the arm, so I advised the folks down at Nido to temporarily remove it. The Salek made it clear she didn’t like the idea, but of course, she allowed it. But she complained of phantom nerve pain afterwards. It’s rare for an android to suffer so, but it has happened. Malfunction in sensory units and whatnot.

“Anyway, two weeks ago, she was in an awful accident. Had something to do with a malfunctioning Agribot… She lost her other arm…” Ermit ran his finger across his throat and made a slicing sound. “… and nearly lost her head along with it.”

Mateo studied from a distance the hideous gash on the android’s throat. Wires and tubing and circuit boards were clearly visible beneath the gray- green “skin” of the Salek. It was an unnerving sight.

“I’m afraid this drove her quite safely over the edge,” Ermit continued. “Have you ever seen a hysterical android, Agent…Mateo?”

Mateo shuddered and shook his head. “No, and I don’t think I’d ever want to.”

Ermit laughed. “Smart guy… The fellow who had been assigned to work on her was found a few hours later. Dead… Salek here was the prime suspect.”

Mateo gasped. He hadn’t been assigned to the Nido case until that very afternoon and knew little about the attack itself. The revelation that one of the farming dome workers had actually been murdered by an android was more than just a shock.

“I’m assuming she kicked him to death,” Mateo said. The Natasha-Type androids – Salekes, Mortes, and Fatales – had originally been designed to exterminate pirates stationed on Motavian and Dezian. Their martial arts fighting techniques, which consisted primarily of kicks, were legendary.

Ermit laughed. “That’s just it. He was choked. Died of asphyxiation…”

Mateo blinked and took his eyes off of the Salek for the first time. They fell upon Ermit. “How could an armless android choke a man?”

Ermit smiled. “That’s why you’re here.” He stepped over to the door that led back to the shop’s main room. “I’ll be outside. She’s made it clear she won’t talk if I’m around. Don’t be afraid of her. Her legs are restrained by some plasma rings the Agency was kind enough to send down, so she can’t move. Maybe you can get some facts out of her. Remember, I’m here if you need me.” Ermit stepped through the door and closed it after him. The closing of the door caused a loud thud that echoed and re-echoed throughout the small chamber. Mateo looked back to the Salek, and then caught a glimpse of the severed Siren head out of the corner of his eye. He shuddered, placed the head on the floor, took the stool it had rested on, and then set the stool before the Salek. Mateo sat down and waited for the green-haired AI to come around.

After a few seconds, a scratchy, mechanical groan poured from the Salek’ throat. Her eyes flickered bright yellow a few times and then lit. Such cold and mechanical eyes they were; a far cry from the unmistakably Palman eyes of the newer androids which had spread throughout The Nemesis System in years prior. But her eyes were without pupils, like the eyes of a Dezian.

The Salek’ head came up and shook back and forth a few times. Green hair, knotted and smelling of oil, hung about the creature’s face and shoulders. A few large clumps of it fell to the floor. Its yellow eyes drilled into Mateo. The exposed innards of the machine visible through the wound in the neck and holes where the arms should be pulsed with sudden life…

The Salek examined Mateo for a moment. It seemed to smirk, briefly, but then went expressionless, as if it had fallen into a coma.

“Who are you?” Mateo asked calmly.

“I am an agriculture-specialist android, designation Natasha-type, Salek model. I am assigned to Nido Dome Three east of Tupao.” The Salek’ voice was not smooth and womanly, like the voices of normal Natasha androids. The damage done to the machine’s throat had rendered its voice alien and cold, like a monotone voice heard over a walkie-talkie or tin can radio.

Mateo shivered inwardly, his body very cold, and nodded. “Why are you here?”

“I was involved in an accident involving a malfunctioning Agribot. I have been sent here to be repaired.”

“Are you aware that the man originally assigned to repair you was murdered?”

The Salek cocked its head to one side. “I am.”

“Do you know what happened to him?”

“He was murdered!” The android laughed.

Mateo sighed. His voice shook. “Do you know how, why, or by whom he was murdered?”

The Salek shook its head. “No.”

Mateo leaned in closer. “Are you sure?”

The Salek also leaned in closer, although its movement was restricted by the plasma rings. “Yep…”

It was unusual for an android with such low AI to speak in such a way. It was clear that its laws and inhibitor subroutines had been offset by the physical trauma. There was probably mental damage as well. Mateo knew that the Salek’ positronic brain was sure to be removed and destroyed, meaning that the “individual” inhabiting the Salek’ body was doomed. Mateo wondered if the Salek knew this as well.

“Your left arm was removed so that it could be repaired. Is it here?”

The Salek nodded. “Yeah… Over there.” She nodded to Mateo’s right. Mateo looked over to where the Siren’s head lay on the floor. There was a long, short brown box beside it. Mateo walked over to the box and opened it. A Salek’ arm which appeared to be perfectly fine met his eyes.

Mateo took a scanner out of his pocket. There was a small screen on the upper part of the scanner’s front side. Mateo pressed the thumb of the Salek’ arm against the screen, giving him the android equivalent of a fingerprint. That done, he walked over to the doorway and stepped out into the main room of the shop…

“How’d it go?” Ermit asked.

Mateo just shook his head. “I don’t know yet. I’m going to Central Tower to run a test on this fingerprint. See if it matches those found on the victim’s neck. Maybe the victim was able to attach the arm before being strangled, and then the Salek itself removed the arm so as not to be a suspect. Androids are docile when obedient but ingenious when insane. I’ll be back in an hour.”

Ermit waved good bye and Mateo disappeared down the street.

Mateo came back less than forty minutes later. The door to the shop was still unlocked.

“Mr. Kain…,” Mateo called as he walked in. Bells over the door rang, but there were no other sounds. “Turns out the arm were never reattached… It needed replacement parts from Roron that haven’t even arrived yet, so reattaching either arm would have been impossible. Besides, the one is defective and the other was destroyed, so…”

There was still no answer.

“Mr. Kain…? Fearing the worst, Mateo walked over to the door of the back room. He stepped inside and said, “Lights.” The rookie agent gasped when saw the proprietor of the shop lying dead on the floor. Froth had formed at the corner of his mouth. The skin of his neck was red and raw.

And the Salek sat, motionless and armless yet very much awake, on the other end of the room.

“What happened?” Mateo bellowed. “Who did this?”

The Salek smirked but said nothing.

“Who are your accomplices?” Mateo continued. “I know it wasn’t you. It couldn’t have been. Your arms were never reattached. And yet, the fingerprints matched. This means someone else used the arm to commit the crime. It would be possible to animate the arm with a remote power source. I’ve seen it done.”

Still the Salek did not react.

“Who’s helping you, damn it?” Mateo screamed at the thing. “You’ve got two men’s blood on your hands. Don’t you realize you could be disassembled for this? I know Natasha-types are empathic-capable. You have to be worried about this. Damn it, talk!”

The Salek neither moved nor spoke, yet Mateo felt a presence in the room. At first he thought it to be behind him. He spun on his heels. There was no one in the outer room, or in the small chamber he and the Salek and the late Mr. Ermit Kain and the dismantled Siren android occupied.

Mateo felt something cold on his throat. Panels, ten groups of three, made of cold, cold metal, bending, shaping them to fit around Mateo’s neck. Next came two large, flat surfaces. Mateo screamed as he realized he was feeling the weight of ten fingers and two palms digging into his throat.

He was being strangled, and yet, there were no hands there.

He looked down at the Salek as his face grew red and his head grew light. It was looking up at him smiling.

Mateo’s face went white as he remembered something Mr. Kain had said, something about phantom nerve pain. If Salek had been suffering from phantom nerve pain, must not there then also be…?

No. It was impossible. But what else could it be?

Mateo quit struggling to pry off the hands which weren’t really there. Instead he reached for the sonic gun at his waist. It took all of his remaining (and quickly vanishing) strength to raise the barrel and fire a single audio bullet into the android’s positronic brain.

A steady plume of smoke accompanied by a short rain of sparks poured from the hole in the defunct Salek’ head. The eyes lost their glow and the entire head fell backwards. The neck snapped in two, the tear beginning at the gaping wound caused by the Agribot and not ending until the rest of the creature’s throat had broken away. The Salek’ head and the top part of its neck rang against the cement floor like a bell.

And the phantom hands on the agent’s throat melted away.

Mateo sheathed his sonic gun and rubbed his neck. He looked at the dead mechanic beside him, and then at the headless and armless form of the Salek. He sighed. Destroying government property was going to be hard to explain. But that explanation would be small compared to others.

Fin.


Chapter 2: I choose free will


I Choose Free Will

I Choose Free Will

“Emerald? Are you listening? You must learn the proper etiquette.”

“Why?” asked Emerald. “It’s not like I’ll need it for anything. I don’t even understand why my parents hired you to teach me. It’s a waste of money.”

“How dare you, you . . . you . . . spoiled little brat! My services are a waste of money? How dare you! You . . . where are you going? We’re not finished here!”

“Screw it,” said Emerald. “If I mess up at that dinner this Friday, that’ll be one more of my parents’ plans down the drain. Maybe then they’ll let me make my own plans.”

Emerald was angry. Worse yet, she was depressed and jaded. This Friday’s dinner would be another attempt by her parents to start a planned courtship with someone she didn’t know, just one more in a long line that started three years ago, when she’d turned 14. Her parents had been controlling her life even farther back, almost since it began. Everything in her life was already planned out for her. And she absolutely hated it.

Emerald’s long walk from the dining hall ended at her room. She walked into her sanctuary, amid nearly every modern convenience money could buy, all of it state-of-the-art. The relaxed on her soft queen-sized bed and reached over the a masterfully crafted marble nightstand to pick up her diary, a top-of-the-line digital notepad.

“August 8, 1241 AW

Dear Diary,

I just can’t stand it anymore. My parents still run my life like dictators, planning my life for me, forcing me through useless lessons, deciding which men I date, and even planning my dates for me! I would give up everything just for a day where I didn’t have a pre-planned agenda. I’d give anything to be free to do whatever I want, and I think I have a plan to do just that. . . ”

Two nights later, she put her plan in motion. Just before midnight, she crept from her room, only bearing the clothes she was wearing, a backpack with three more outfits and 9000 meseta (her last three allowances), and her diary. She stealthily traversed the hallways so familiar to her, and made her way to the kitchen. She knew that the cook usually leaves a few hours after sunset, and that the door in the kitchen wasn’t watched. She calmly walked to the back door. She tried to open it, but hit a slight snag: it was locked.

Emerald searched for anything to pry the door open with. She eventually settles on a knife, slightly worn, but with a thin enough blade to slip between the crack between the door and the frame. as she’d seen before on television, she slipped the blade into the crack and slid it down past the lock. It worked! The door popped open slightly, and Emerald slipped out into the night, still bearing the knife.

As dawn approached, Emerald reached Piata, the nearest city. Stopping near one of the control towers she decided to rest. She slept through the day, exhausted by her treck. She awoke the next morning.

“August 11, 1241 AW

Dear Diary,

Today, I’m finally free. Granted I had to sleep under the control tower, but I’m free. And I think I know what I wanna do. Breaking out of my house was fun, and I’d like to try something like it. I’ll try breaking into the local armor store. I’ll try it tonight, when they close. I’d best scout it out first. Wouldn’t want any surprises spoiling my fun.”

After she’d had breakfast, Emerald casually wandered to the armor shop, wearing an outfit similar to those of weapon store owners, though with a longer jacket. “Welcome to the armor shop,” said the clerk. “Would you care to buy anything?”

“No,” said Emerald, “just browsing.”

The clerk wandered off to handle another customer. Emerald walks through the shelves of equipment, much of which was rather expensive. However, she caught a glimpse of a door carefully hidden between armor cases. Why wait until tonight, she thought. I’ll just see what’s available for taking now.

Emerald could feel her heart pounding at the thought. She quietly bypassed the lock as she did the one in her kitchen and slips through the door. She was disappointed to find only cheap boots and carbonsuits. Well, take what you can find, she thought as she quietly shut the door, its lock snapping back into place. She quickly changed out of her clothes and into the armor, then put her clothes on over it. she discarded her shoes in favor of the sturdier boots.

Piece of cake she thought, smiling. Just then, she heard footsteps headed towards the door. Her heart leapt into her throat as she frantically searched for a way out. She found one, a window just large enough to slip through. She deftly unlocked it as she heard a key turning in the door’s lock. When the clerk entered to drop off old equipment, he found only an open window and that he was missing a pair of boots and a carbonsuit. he had been robbed.

The rest is history. Emerald enjoyed theft so much that she made a career of it. Years layer, she crossed paths with an agent named Mateo. . .


Chapter 3: Lost in your eyes


“So, do you think I’ve got a chance with her?”

Albrecht Grade, security guard at a Global Envirotech research facility, looked at his partner in disbelief.

“Sam, don’t be stupid. She’s one of Dr. Marne’s top assistants. What makes you think Lily’s going to have eyes for you?”

Sam shrugged.

“Hey, some smart, classy girls like them big and dumb.”

Al looked at his partner, wondering if the man’s headgear was on too tight or something. It was difficult to choose from the wide variety of possible snide replies that presented themselves.

“Well, by saying that, you certainly qualify. What, you want to be some chick’s meat puppet? That’s like one step up from being a flipping street thrill, only you don’t get paid.”

“Hey, Lily’s hot enough to cook my-”

“Don’t go there. Please, don’t go there,” Al groaned. “Besides, as long as you’re dreaming, why not set your sights on the project director? She’s twice the babe Lily is.”

“Are you nuts?” Sam yelped. “That witch is scary! If she said she wanted me for my body, I wouldn’t know if she meant in bed or on a dissection table! I don’t know how she managed to get some guy to give her a kid.”

A hissing whisper cut through the conversation to catch both men’s attention. They spun, raising their Inverness combat shotguns, facing down the hall. The installation’s corridors were narrow; nothing could escape the concentrated spray of flechettes the two guns could fire down them.

But there was nothing there.

“You heard that too, didn’t you?” Sam asked.

“Yeah…”

“P-probably just one of the water pipes, right? I mean, even the best buildings like this can have squeaky plumbing, right?”

Al’s eyes narrowed.

“Maybe, but I didn’t think it sounded like the plumbing.”

“Come on, it’s gotta be something like that. What else…what else could it be?”

“The spirit of one who suffered at your hands, torturers…!”

The grill covering the air vent above cannoned down with tremendous force, smashing into the side of Sam’s head and knocking the guard over. Al spun and watched in horror as a creature dropped from a shaft that was too narrow for a Palman to pass through.

The thing was basically humanoid, with thin, spindly limbs and torso. Its sexless form was covered head to toe with blue fur, and membranous wings linked arms, legs, and body. Its head was monstrous, like a giant bat’s, with huge ears, a pushed-in snout of a nose, and a fanged maw. Each finger and toe ended in a hooked, saber-like claw.

It was fast, too, faster than the guard could have believed. Even as Al’s finger was closing on the trigger, one of the monster’s clawed hands seized the shotgun barrel, wrenching the gun out of his grip. Its other hand reached up and coolly ripped out the guard’s throat.

The monster then turned to Sam, grabbing his head between its hands. Still dazed, he could only look up, pleadingly, before it drove its thumb talons through his eyes and into his brain.

It was always the eyes, Ghost thought, green and shining like poison. They haunted her at night, came to her every time she heard Global Envirotech mentioned on the news or when she saw one of their ads. She couldn’t drive them out, no matter how hard she tried. They were why she was so eager to work any job that took on G-Tech, gave her any excuse to brutalize its corporate bottom line and the soulless employees that took its tainted money.

The fixers that gave her those jobs soon learned of her hatred for Palm’s leading biotech corp. They always kept an ear open and an eye out for personal rivalries, because they could twist them to their financial advantage. The fixers knew that because of her hunger for revenge, she would take on Global for less than the going market rate.

Ghost didn’t mind. All it meant was that more jobs against G-Tech would come her way, because the clients could get them done more cheaply by her than by a hunter of equal ability who didn’t have an axe to grind. Good for the customer and good for her.

“Look, Carmen, how about you cut to the chase?” Ghost prompted her current fixer, who seemed lost behind a wall of small talk. “At this rate, New Year’s will come and it’ll be 1265 before you’re done.”

Carmen sighed and tossed her mane of shining, silver-highlight sapphire hair.

“Oh, very well… You’re no fun at all… Ghost, whenever someone mentions Global Envirotech.”

“Forgive me for being business-oriented.”

Carmen laughed.

“Business…? No way, Ghost. When it comes to G-Tech, you’re more like a rabid dog in a butcher shop. With these people, it isn’t business; it’s a damned holy war.” She looked around herself, turning her head. Ghost got a hint of Carmen’s reflection in some of the store windows. Some fixers liked to meet in bars, others in restaurants, some on-line, and at least one in a private limousine. Carmen met on the open streets, among the anonymity of the masses.

Rain hissed and pooled on the sidewalk, little circles spreading from the impact of each drop into the water already there.

“Well,” Carmen allowed, “it really isn’t business weather.”

“So what,” Ghost insisted, “is the job?”

Carmen’s exotic spike-heeled boots made tiny splashes as they walked along.

“My client is a research scientist who was somewhat summarily dismissed following a discussion with management about his personal expense reports. He feels that he was wrongfully treated, as his knowledge of their current project is irreplaceable. Of course, the corporation’s position was that the results of his labors are theirs by right, as he was their employee. He disagrees.”

“So what do you want from me?”

Ghost’s palms were beginning to itch. That was not a good sign. It was the phrase “research scientist” that had done it, started her thinking about that one.

“It’s not working!”

“Clearly, we aren’t stimulating her cells sufficiently.”

That inhumanly assessing voice…

“Doctor, any more…she could die!”

Those eyes, blank pools of green, no iris, no pupil, just twin ovals of lambent emerald, fixed on her own.

“There’s hardly a point to doing this at all if we’re unwilling to initiate the process, is there?”

Still, those eyes held her, as the world dissolved in pain.

Ghost panted for breath, her naked body slicked with sweat from the stress of the transformation. She reached for the corpse of the second guard she’d killed, since the first one’s blood was all over the front of his uniform. That was useless to her.

She stripped the carbon suit from the man, noting as she did so that it was a Global uniform. Most of G-Tech’s facilities were guarded by Argus Protective Services; the corp. didn’t spend much on building up in-house security. That they didn’t want to risk letting outsiders in on the potential secrets of the place marked it as important.

There had been Global Envirotech guards at Nuala-VI, too.

The silent shot’s paralysis bolt only grazed her hip, but it was enough. She lost control of her voluntary movements in mislead, crashing to the ground.

“We got her,” said the guard, relief in his voice.

Those eyes looked down at her.

“Good,” the doctor replied. “Make a note that Subject C1-L’s adrenaline levels are to be kept within the parameters outlined in my previous memorandum on the subject. Find out who was responsible for the error and dismiss them.”

She could only stare helplessly, could not even close her eyes to shut the green orbs out.

“Take her back to containment. Subject C1-L requires retraining.”

“My client,” Carmen explained, “wants to make a clear and direct statement to corporate management of their errors. I have here a data chip containing a virus program that will purge all of his contributions to the project, including any backup information they try to upload. I find that it has a certain poetic justice.”

“It sounds like a grid rider’s job,” Ghost said. Her boots were becoming slicked by the falling rain.

“Not in this case. The project’s mainframe is kept offline, isolated from the databnet due to security concerns.”

“Then…this is important to Global.” Ghost couldn’t keep the eagerness out of her voice.

“Apparently so… You will need to penetrate the research facility’s security, access the computer, and upload the virus.”

A sudden tremor passed through her.

“You want me to get inside the lab?”

“Yes,” Carmen said, a bit petulantly. “That is the point of the whole job, Ghost.”

“It’s…it’s not Nuala, is it?”

“What?”

“The lab… It’s not Nuala-VI, is it?” The tremors were running through her entire body now.

Carmen turned to her, flexed her knees so she could bend down and looks into Ghost’s down turned face.

“Hey, are you all right?” Her face was worried as their gazes met. Ghost couldn’t help it. She jerked her head away, breaking the eye contact. Heaven knew what Carmen thought of her, probably that she was high on something.

“It’s not anywhere near Nuala,” the fixer said soothingly. “It’s Eppi-II, just outside the city. Not even forty miles from where we’re standing.”

Relief was like a tidal wave cascading through her.

The clawed thing that had been her hand twitched. She arched her back; tugging at the restraints as if she could somehow pull away from it, leave the thing behind.

“That is a good beginning, but you must not hesitate. Look at me.”

She whimpered in protest.

“Look at me!” That voice, so cold and insistent… She could not resist, turning her head until their eyes met. They filled her world, did those hypnotic green pools.

“Now, focus. You must bring the change on quickly and efficiently.”

It hurts!

“There can be no hesitation! Do it now, completely.”

She screamed.

The uniform didn’t fit Ghost properly, but she hadn’t expected it to. Luckily, the utilitarian outfits weren’t precisely tailored in any case, so that with a little divine mercy, no one would notice. Ghost didn’t expect it to stand up to close examination, anyway. She didn’t have the necessary false identification to make it through a security checkpoint by subterfuge, anyway.

No, the uniform was camouflage, to get her to where she needed to go.

It worked well, too. She quickly moved through the halls and corridors of the G-Tech facility, passing more than one white-coated scientist who either ignored her completely or nodded in passing. In less than two minutes, she stood at her goal, the broad security door of the auxiliary computer center.

As expected, it required a key tube to bypass security. That was standard for Global Envirotech, which was why nearly a year ago Ghost had expended a share of her meager savings to obtain a master key, a tube which acted as a passkey on all but the most complex locks. She wore it on a chain around her neck, so she could bring it with her even in her transformed state, which gave her strength, power, and agility that was more than a match for an ordinary person’s.

The gifts that one had given her… All it had cost was months of painful torture, needles piercing, current run through her body, chemicals that felt like acid in her blood, and slavery to a heartless will.

Ghost had no memory of her previous life. She might have been anyone. In her worst moments, she awoke trembling in the night, her mind filled by a vision of brilliant green eyes and her heart wracked by the fear that she wasn’t a person at all but a test subject grown from nothing in the depths of Global Envirotech’s Climacapes lab in Nuala.

She slipped the chain over her head and slotted the tube in the door. There was a soft hum as the access port and the passkey’s electronics talked to one another, and then the door slid open with a hiss.

Ghost retrieved her passkey, slipped it back over her head, and stepped through the door. There was a beep, and the steel-and-titan plate slid back shut with the unmistakable clunk of locking bars engaging. From every possible place of concealment, armed guards rose, equipped with silent shots. She sprang at one, but without the change there was no way she could defeat them all. Ghost spun one into the path of a second’s shot, letting him feel the effects of the neural paralysis, and then crashed an elbow into the bridge of a third man’s nose, drawing blood. Then she was hit, and hit again, frozen in place. Hurriedly, the guards secured her in plasma rings, bands that not only inhibited movement but suppressed the power to call upon techniques.

“This is Rushton,” a guard spoke into a comm link. “We have the target secured.”

Not more than a minute later, the door slid open.

There was no mistaking it. It was her. White lab coat, brilliant green hair, and those matching green eyes. The eyes of a woman so obsessed with scientific knowledge that she would experiment even on herself.

“Ah, yes, C1-L,” she said, surveying Ghost. “You look healthy enough. That’s good; I’m very interested in some of the details of your life these past two years. It could yield data which would make my dragon viable.”

She rubbed her temple.

“Take her to Lab Complex A and put her in a specimen cell.” Her eyes fastened on Ghost’s, holding her gaze pinned like a snake stalking a bird. “We have a great deal of work ahead of us.”

PROJECT FILE: “Were”/SUBJECT: C1-L/ENTRY#0378/10.26.64

The strategy indicated in the previous entry to this file has resulted in the recapture of Subject C1-L. As noted, subject’s intense resentment towards Global Envirotech had resulted in the attention of our corporate intelligence division being drawn to her and a routine check of possible motives for her disenchantment. Discovering that subject did not possess an imagined or disproportionate grudge but was in fact valuable corporate property prompted the planting of a false job with a reputable “fixer” known to associate with the subject for the purposes of luring subject onto corporate property.

cc to Security Division, Captain TrentUse of corporate resources adjuster Herron in further Eppi-based recruitment is misadvised due to the potential that the false story resulting in the capture of Subject C1-L may cause distrust among the hunter community. End cc

Subject C1-L has apparently prospered over two years spent outside of laboratory conditions, suggesting that preliminary data concerning the stability of subject’s spontaneous genetic alteration capacity was accurate. Success in inducing transformation designate “was bat” represents the highest level of achievement thus far.

Full medical analysis in both transformed and base states of being are recommended, with the results to be designated as a field test. As previously noted, the purpose of this project is to create a bio-engineered soldier through genetic alteration therapy. The conditions of operating as a “hunter” for two years are sufficiently analogous to military operations for test results to possess a high level of validity. Link appended: Security Division profile of hunter designated “Ghost”/identification with Subject C1-L now confirmed

It is hoped that finalization of subject’s testing will yield new breakthroughs in the Spontaneous Genetic Alteration program which will permit the creation of a functional prototype in the E-series (“Dragon”) subject line. Furthermore, it is also my hope that the test results on the interface between C1-L’s natural and induced genetic states will produce a viable method of accelerating the adaptation of artificially introduced stable genetic material into a subject’s overall biology, with particular reference to the Neo-Esper project. file reference: “Laya”

ENTRY LOGGED BY DOCTOR MARLENA LE CILLE


Chapter 4: Maddness


Madness And The Machine

Madness And The Machine

“I’m not really a religious man. But I pray to God, any god, and give thanks that he kept us all alive to see this day. This day. To see the sun dawn, at last, after an eternity of sleep and wake, sleep and wake, that alone would be enough to make me give thanks, but to know that this sun shines on a world at peace…”

Such optimism. Well, now we know better, don’t we? My name is Ward Halifax, Dr. Halifax, really, and those were my words, when we first arrived at this cursed system. We had such high hopes for this place and what it could do for us. And all our hopes are ahes now. There are those who say we brought this evil with us. But I know for certain that it was here waiting for us all along. We’re nothing more than slaves to it now.

I don’t know for how much longer I can remain sane. These lucid moments are a blessing after each dip into the madness that grips us all. It feels like…I don’t know, as if a great light shines on us after an eternity in a profound darkness. I have seized this moment of clearheadedness to record what I know will more than likely be my last words. May they guide those who follow us onto a path away from this place, this Algian. Or as we have come to think of it, Hell.

My colleagues and I came here on a gigantic spacecraft we call Noah. Just as Noah built his ark to save life from the flood, to restart the world anew, so did we come here in our space ark, fleeing a dying world called Earth that was being consumed by its own wars. That planet is more than likely destroyed now, ripped apart as its people were. I hope it is. I have come to realize that Noah and his ark acted with God’s blessing. We, on the other hand, have not. Mankind must have been meant to perish this time, and our punishment for defying the divine will is this place.

It seemed like a haven when we arrived after long years of travel. To our surprise, we found three worlds, three planets in the vast emptiness of the universe. One of them, just like our own Earth in environment, the other two could be terraformed easily. We expected much greater struggles with space. If only we’d known!

The planets were inhabited. Three planets, three races. The Earth-like planet, Palma, was populated by humanity’s cousins. These Palmans were almost genetically identical to us. Motavia, a desert world, had a simple farming culture whose people were a strange mix of owl and bear with even more alien features thrown in. But they meant no one harm. They were a peaceful people! And Dezian, or Dezoris, as it is known to the Palmans, filled with a green-skinned race of aliens who were a close second to the high-tech Palmans.

It seemed like paradise. Intelligent life, with high levels of technology. We could live with these people in peace, forget about the wars of Earth. They were so like us, or rather, like the best of us, for their world bore no signs of war and destruction. Even the name – Algian. There is a star called Algian that can be seen from Earth, though this is no binary system, and could not possibly be the Algian we know, even if one accepts the astronomical coincidence that the natives’ name for their star is the same as ours. Yet to the romantics on board, it seemed like common ground. Here, we all decided, we could have our fresh start, in a place just like home. We conferred. It seemed best to have something to present tot these people, a gift to show to them that we could offer them so much in exchange for so little. We looked at the worlds and saw our opportunity.

Palmans wanted to colonize Motavia. There was more than enough room – the Gaiaoss are few in number. But the Palmans found living in the desert difficult. We could help them! Our terraforming gear, prepared to help us carve out a home in the most lethal of planets, could easily bring green to the brown world. It seemed like such a good idea at the time. Helping each other, working in mutual harmony…what a grand dream! Why did this have to happen? We should have known better right from the start. I looked it up, you see. Algian, Earth’s Algian, was once called the Demon Star. They might as well have been looking at this Algian. It is the most fitting name of all for this evil place. But I cannot place all the blame for what has happened on the stars.

We built it. I built it. I cannot escape this responsibility. It was I who designed the thing. I who programmed it. I who gave it its first breath of life. In a way, I am thankful for the insanity. Were I a sane man, I would undoubtedly have ended my own life long ago, to atone for the crimes I am a part of. We called it Xenaz.

It was the heart of all of the terraforming systems. An intelligent computer programmed with the Palmans’ best interests in mind. It would be our gift to Palma. With it, and the networks we would build on the three planets, they could control the environment. The blizzards of Dezian, the stifling heat of Motavia, they could all be tamed with Xenaz. It could monitor everything automatically, balance ecosystems, create life, do whatever was necessary. It would indeed be their mother, heltering them and protecting them.

That, of course, is where it all started to go wrong. Someone decided we should test it first, before we presented it. Seemed reasonable enough. We would be in serious trouble if our “gift” exploded in our faces. Palma had many unsettled areas. Noah and Xenaz had the ability to fabricate robot servitors. We sent them down to an isolated area, installed systems and built the first part of the network. Xenaz worked just fine.

But still, it wasn’t enough. We expanded the networks. Palmans had robots, too, you see. Ours could be made to look like theirs, and so they were. We built the network all over Palma, without anyone being the wiser. That was when we activated Xenaz. But not as a gift.

Somehow, our thoughts and beliefs about the Palmans had changed. We didn’t seem them as equals anymore. We were no longer the wanderers begging for helter that we had been. They were our inferiors now. Or so we believed. They were primitives who needed our assistance. We remained in control of Xenaz. Yet we were still helping them, were we not?

The joke, the bitter joke that conspires with the forces that have us in their grip to render us mindless, gibbering lunatics is that without these people, the same people we have remade into slaves but one step removed from our own sick fate, we might never have come here. Everyone knows that Noah was created with parts salvaged from an alien spacecraft that crahed into our moon long ago. We even bear some of the relics pried from that ship, like the elegant sword that under a coating of black was wrought of a metal unknown to Earth, a metal that shines a silvery blue. I have that sword here with me – my sanity returned to me as I was carrying it to a storage facility.

I found hope in it, myself, for it survived the wreck, hed its black coat and it traveled on to new worlds, shining brightly. I hoped we could survive the wreck of our world, hed the black coat its wars had forced on us, and travel to new worlds free of the stain of our former life. I would be lying if I said I did not want to believe when we arrived in Algian, we had arrived at the sword-maker’s home. It would have been truly fitting to be able to restore it to its people. If Algian is where it belongs, we owe these people a debt of gratitude for making it possible to leave our dying home. And this is how we repay them!

I find no hope in the sword now, only despair. It reminds me that we have fallen far short of those who made it. Their death was a clean and simple one that endangered no one but themselves. Our death is slow and lingering, and I know it will consume the three worlds that spin around us. The sword will endure where we are not sufficient to the task. But I must continue my story.

We no longer had any desire to leave Noah. It was like fires were burning in our heads. The fires burned away everything except the project that we had envisioned, the project which had become ever so slightly twisted askew. Nothing else mattered but improving the system.

I have seen myself in mirrors every now and then. It is not a pretty sight. The fires that drive us have no time for insignificant things like personal maintenance. We went for long periods of time without eating or drinking or sleeping. Then we would suddenly remember what we were missing, when some of us dropped in our tracks.

Over time, the network covered Palma and spread to Motavia. The planet did become green. The whole planet. In our fevered frenzy to ‘help’ the Palmans, we had no time to spare for what we were doing to the Gaiaoss. I weep at the thought of what we did to them. They were puhed and shoved around their world without compunction. Most of them died, I imagine. And their culture is just as ruined as the Palmans.

You see, no longer did Xenaz simply help the people. Now he did everything for them. Farming, mining, any sort of hard labor was all taken care of by machines. The Palmans were becoming a race of puppets. That was when I noticed the differences.

Perhaps the fire in my own brain had died down. Perhaps the time had passed for computer specialists such as myself. Whatever it was, I realized that Xenaz was violating the directives I had given her. He was damaging the culture rather than assisting it. I ruhed over to the computers around her and issued the order to stop. He refused me.

I could not believe it. But it was true. Xenaz had taken on a life of her own. He was no longer constrained by the limitations I had set on her. He could do whatever he wanted. And as I stared at the machine in horror, I heard it for the very first time. The sound of laughter. The sound of cruel, mocking laughter, in a thousand voices. I knew it was mocking me, laughing at me for being such a fool. There was a dark force on board Noah, and it had never in its wildest imaginings dreamt of such a plan for causing misery as the one I had given it. Xenaz controlled the lives of the people of Algian from dawn to dusk to dawn again. At her whim the people would live or die.

And I knew that many of my friends did not care. What were these people, after all, but aliens? They needed a master to look after them. Maybe we all secretly thought they were beneath us, even as we created our first plans. The loudest voice of all in the multitude of voices was my own. I stumbled out of the room in a blind panic as the laughter crahed over me in waves. It did no good. I can hear it still. It is loudest in Xenaz’s chamber, but it is with us always.

That was when the madness came on us in truth. Xenaz revealed her true colors. He spawned monsters now, instead of the tame animals that balanced the ecosystem. The rivers were dammed, the people denied natural water and forced to drink rations dispensed by Xenaz. The Gaiaoss scavenged ruins and garbage dumps to survive. Worst of all is the fact that the people have simply accepted it. The Palman government and its agents are simply arms of Xenaz’s will. They enforce her directives for her. Robots are no longer needed to keep peace except in extreme situations. And there is more to come.

We labor now to expand the network to Dezian. There have been some complications there, but in the end, the last world of Algian will be ours as well. Ours to do with as our dark master commands us. Sometimes I think I can see it. In the deepest of shadows is a greater darkness. It hurts to look at, but if you can catch it out of the corner of your eye you can get an impression of a deep purple and an infinite black, with curving fangs and red eyes. I do not know how it got here. I do not know for how long it will keep us alive here, amusements for it to toy with. As I said, we are nothing more than its slaves. Most likely what I have recorded here I will destroy for its pleasure later. But I must take the chance.

I’m not really a religious man. But I pray to God, any god, and hope that we all die before we see another day. Before we bring any more harm to the people below us. I ask for forgiveness for making these worlds just like home. It wanted a tool to break these worlds and we have given it that tool. But I know my prayers are swallowed by the blackness that crouches within this machine I have built. There can be no forgiveness for me, no release from this misery. For, to my eternal sorrow, I am the man who built Xenaz.


Chapter 5: Requiem


Requiem for Emerald

Requiem for Emerald

“Please Mateo don’t let them ever make the same mistake they made when they made me. I hope everyone in Algian will find happiness in their new life” -Emerald’s last words

Emerald died at the hands of Xenaz only a week ago. It was a loss I’ll never get over. The others are taking it hard as well, but they’d only known her a few weeks, maybe a month or two at most. I’d lived with her for what feels like a lifetime. It just isn’t the same, living without her.

I’ve been alone in this room since her funeral, letting the reality of her loss sink in. I’ve refused all comfort, even locking the door to keep the others away. I just want to be alone.

Suddenly, my door opens, though only a crack. “Mateo?” said a cautious, youthful voice, perhaps Lunaqua or Rena. “Do you want to talk?”

“I thought I’d locked that door,” I replied coldly. “How did you get in?”

“Rena has a way with locks,” said the voice as its owner entered. It was Lunaqua, dressed in her usual white Clothes.” It may have cost a pretty penny, but perhaps it’ll be worth it.”

“Listen, I just want to be alone, okay!” I snapped, angered by her intrusion. She winced, seemingly startled. She started to back out of the room.” Wait,” I said with a brief, apologetic sigh. “Sorry about that I’m just not . . . in a personable mood right now…”

“I understand,” said Lunaqua as she took a seat across from my bed, “but it’s not healthy to just lock yourself in here, not letting the wound from Emerald’s death heal.”

“You don’t understand!” I nearly yelled, irrational anger getting the best of me. “You have no clue! Do you have any idea how close we were? Do you?”

“We all miss Emerald, Mateo,” replied Lunaqua calmly, a perfect contrast to my irrationality, “But you’re taking this too hard. She was a good friend to all of us, and… . ”

“Good friend?” I replied scathingly. “You barely knew her! She was like a sister to me, and now. . And now . . .”

I finally cracked. My brief flash of anger finally burned itself out. I started to cry, first a steady stream, then a torrent of tears. Then the sobbing began. I don’t know how long I sat there, letting my pain flow freely. I do know, however, that Lunaqua stayed with me, even put her arm around my, trying to comfort me. Eventually, the sobbing died down. “She’s gone,” I said quietly, “And I’ll never see her again. What should I do now? Why should I go on? I don’t see why I should do anything but remember the times Emerald and I had.”

“Mateo,” said Lunaqua, “What kind of person was Emerald?”

“She was kind, shy, curious, compassionate,” I replied. “She had a heart of gold. Despite the way others treated her, she never had a cross word for anyone. She was like a child, my little sister”

“She was a good person,” Lunaqua said, sighing lightly, perhaps reminiscing. “And she cared about everyone. Would she want you to be like this?”

“No,” I replied, “she hated seeing me depressed. She would want me to cheer up, to smile.”

“Is that all she’d want you to do?” continued Lunaqua, implying that it wasn’t. She was right.

“No,” I replied with a sigh, “she would expect me to keep helping people. She would have wanted me to open the dams to save towns like this one and Zema. And she would have never let me sit around while innocent people are in danger. So, perhaps, in her memory, I should devote myself to protecting the people of Algian. Emerald would have wanted it that way. And Lunaqua…?”

“Yes, Mateo?” asked Lunaqua.

“Promise me that you’ll never let me forget this.” I said solemnly.

“Of course, I promise,” replied Lunaqua. “Now come on, Mateo… The rest of us want you back”

She smiled, and for the first time in a week, I smiled. We got up together and returned to my comrades, my friends. It felt good to have a purpose again, a reason to live. Thank you, Emerald. Even in death, you enrich my life, making it worth living.


Chapter 6: Shards of a Broken Blade


Mateo knelt, darting the Emerald sword back and forth to protect himself from the larger parts of the flying debris. Behind him, Zane held the Emerald shield high to shelter himself, Christine and Lunaqua. Abruptly the explosion stopped – and Xenaz was, in a manner of speaking… dead. The agent, using the sword to steady himself, slowly rose to his feet. The sound of movement suggested that his friends were doing the same.

“So… I guess that’s it. We won!”

“Yup…” Zane strode up to the spot where the giant computer had stood, examining the great heap of scrap metal. “Gaiaos’s free. We did it!”

“If only Emerald was here to see it…” Mateo whispered to himself. He hadn’t meant the others to hear, but his whisper was too loud for them not to.

“Hey, Mateo…!” Christine said, “I’m sure she IS watching us. She wouldn’t miss this.”

“Yeah… thanks.”

They turned away from the irreparably broken computer and –

-There is still someone in the ship- thundered the telepathic voice of Zalea in their heads. -You cannot return again-

“What?” Lunaqua asked. “Others – where -”

“There’s a door here.” Zane pointed to the wall. “Behind that panel… It’s been well hidden, but the explosion revealed it… and seems to have destroyed the hinges. I think it’s worth checking… Mateo…?”

“Yes… Let’s have a look.”

The hunter dug his gloved fingers into a crack in the door, put a foot to the wall, and pulled. The door protested loudly, but opened an inch or so. Zane pulled again, the metal yielded – he found himself lying on the floor with the door on top of him. He had pulled it from its hinges. Taking the lead, Mateo led his friends through the hole – and was facing hundreds of Ravens… or were they? They didn’t look quite like humanoids; almost, close enough to fool most people, but not exactly. Who are these people…?

“Welcome to the Satellite Shirk,” one of the men, the one who appeared to be their leader, greeted the four.

“Who… who are you?” Mateo asked them. The man took a step forwards, making an inviting gesture. Mateo walked closer, not seeing the men who placed themselves in front of the door, blocking the exit.

“I don’t like your tone of voice,” the man said. “Are you here because you think we are enemies?” Mateo and the others exchanged glances. The agent cleared his throat, embarrassed.

“Um, well… I don’t know. I hope not.”

“Thanks to the Xenaz, which we created, Gaiaos prospered.”

“So you are the creators of the Xenaz!” Christine exclaimed. “You are hardly what we expected!”

“We are not people of Gaiaos. We are from a place called Earth. Our planet was green and lovely, and we had a highly advanced civilization. We are the last of our race.”

“The last…?” Lunaqua whispered, visibly shocked.

“Yes. Our planet was destroyed. Do you want to know why?”

“Yes,” Lunaqua breathed.

“We were a weaker people then,” the Earthman said. “Even though we knew about the evil inside us, we didn’t suppress it. We took joy inn controlling nature; we didn’t realize we were destroying ourselves… until it was too late.

“The death rattle of our planet alerted us to our failure. With the time remaining to us, we built a spaceship to wander among the stars. Then we found Gaiaos. We found the people here living in simple happiness.

“We decided we want this planet. And do you think you can stop us, we who destroyed Raven? You will die!”

The man smiled an evil grin, and Mateo blinked, trying to comprehend what he had just heard. Suddenly a bright light flared to his left, and took the forms of three human beings – three beings he knew well: Ceilious, Dias and Maria.

“Very clever,” the Earthman snarled. “But it is only a matter of time before Gaiaos is destroyed!”

“Silence…!” Mateo roared. “Be quiet!” As the man proceeded to draw a weapon, the agent swung his Emerald sword, separating the Imperial Demon’s head from his body. “Ho, Mateo!” said Ceilious, a bewildered look on his face. “What’s happening?”

“Death, by the looks of it,” Mateo told him. “This is for all of Gaiaos – they are the source of all the trouble! Nail them and we are done with this!”

“Final battle is it?” asked Maria. “That’s good – I’m getting sick of killing.”

“Don’t be so sure it’s over, Maria! We still got to deal with those -yeouch!”

A metallic bullet struck Mateo’s shoulder, spinning him around, almost making him fall, but was deflected his Laconia armor. A surprised man to their right lowered an old-fashioned firearm, staring at Mateo as if the agent was a ghost.

“Here they come!” shouted Lunaqua. “Ready!”

And hell broke loose.

Zalea sat alone in his room, still shivering after the long cold-sleep. But it was only his body that existed on Dezian – his mind was floating above and looking down at the battle at Satellite Shirk, so he knew well what was happening; he also knew what was going to happen. “Retreat…! They are too many!” Mateo shouted as loud as he could. Looking at the odds, it was a small miracle that they were still alive, all of them, but that could change – and change fast – if they stayed longer. “Maria!” he yelled. “Get Ceilious and Dias out of here! I can only transport four at a time!”

The green-haired girl nodded and sheathed her knife, then laid her hands on Ceilious’s and Dais’s shoulders.

“Teleport!” she commanded.

Nothing happened. The thief, looking slightly annoyed, tried again:

“Teleport…!”

There was a puff of thin smoke, and they were gone, leaving three rapidly fading green afterimages. Mateo wasted no time as he gathered Christine, Zane and Lunaqua around him. Calling out for the three to hold hands, he grabbed Zane’s arm and shouted, “Teleport!”

Again, there was a puff of smoke – and Mateo found himself staring at one of the space ship’s walls. They were still in space!

“What happened?” asked Maria. The thief stood behind him, a slightly puzzled look on her face. Somehow, they had at least managed to teleport to the same place. “Why didn’t it work?”

“Zalea…” Mateo frowned. “There’s probably some kind of barrier… and he’s the only one who could do that. Maria!”

“What- Yes, Mateo…?”

“Stay here! Make a stand with the others – I’ll try and find the control room for the ship! Maybe I can make it land on Dezian.”

“Be careful, Mateo! At least take this with you…” Maria handed over a small glass vial the size of Mateo’s hand. A dark greenish blue fluid that Mateo recognized as Stardust swirled in the bottle. “Stardust,” she confirmed. “It’s the last one I have – I… um, got it from a merchant in Ramia… guess I forgot I had it. Use it wisely!”

“Thank you, Maria.” He clasped her hand for an instant, then let go. “Teleport…!”

And he was gone. Yeah, be careful, Maria thought as the green light faded. Be as careful as to return in one piece. Damn you, agent! She turned around, flipping her knife up into the air and catching it again. Damn him indeed! But she could buy him some time, at least.

Zalea frowned.

“What? This could not happen! The ship and its contents could not get back to Dezian… It would have to be destroyed…”

“No controls, damn!”

This was the fifth room he had teleported to, but he hadn’t found anything useful – though he had found several Imperial Demons. He had won the fights, but was very tired now. Mateo muttered “Teleport!” under his breath, and the room faded.

And suddenly, he stood in the control room! Great!

“Kill him!” an armored man shouted, pulling a gun from a holster and aiming it at Mateo.

There were Earthmen as well.

Mateo gripped the hilt of his sword, and prepared to die fighting.

“Maria!” yelled Dias. “They are way too many! What are we going to do?!”

“Stay,” the thief commanded. “Stay and fight! Like Mateo told us…” She pointed her dagger at one of the onrushing humans and cast: “Lightning Storm!” The man – along with over a dozen of his comrades – fell, crushed by the sudden increase of gravity brought by the technique – but they were not alone. More Earthmen came…

Mateo was surprised to be alive – but that was nothing, compared to what he felt when he saw what had happened to the men he faced – “surprise” just wasn’t enough. One of them had hit him with a strange kind of firearm. Then what? Oh, yes… the bullet struck his hip… his pocket. And crushed the bottle of Stardust Maria had given him… The mist had been released, he had breathed it and it had healed him.

It had not, however, healed his enemies. As Mateo looked around, he saw that most of the bodies around him were unmarked. That meant… Stardust must be poisonous to them! How strange…! Wasting no more time, the agent turned his attention to the controls. There were flashing lights, and buttons, and… Well, he didn’t know how to fly a space ship, but he’d observed the controls in their own shuttle and thought he knew enough to take the ship down. How complicated could it be? He sat down in the pilot’s chair – after first picking the dead pilot out of it – and started to change the station’s orbit. One lands on Dezian, coming up… or rather coming down. All the same, they were going back.

“It… Moved…!” Christine whispered as she fell down beside Lunaqua, who was using a fallen Earthman warrior as a shield as she attacked the ones still alive with the fallen one’s gun.

“What? Christine, speak louder!” she asked, but then saw the large wound in Christine’s leg. “Damn! Be still, I’ll fix this…”

“The… ship… It’s… moved. I felt it…”

The doctor placed her hands on the wounded warrior’s forehead. “Please live…!” Bright purple light flared, almost blinding her. Christine gasped as the immense power of healing flowed through her body, then sat up, narrowly avoiding a stray bullet that ricocheted of a wall. “It moves! Don’t you feel it?!”

“I feel it too!” yelled Ceilious, ducking behind the Emerald shield. “He did it!”

Indeed, Satellite Shirk was moving – but not in the way Mateo wanted it to move. He was struggling at the control board, but the ship’s orbit became more and more unstable. That was of course the reason he did this at all… but at this course, they wouldn’t just land – they would crash land, in Zema! Pounding his fist on the instrument board, Mateo tried to calm down. It wasn’t working! He couldn’t control the ship very well from the start – but now, it didn’t even respond to controls. No good!

“Damn you, Zalea!”

Calm! Be calm, you fool! He told himself. But it was hopeless – they were all going to die, and it was his fault – his… and Zalea’s! He had to get back to his friends – they had the right to know. But could he manage to teleport there?

“Teleport…!”

Miraculously, he could.

“So you’re saying… we are crashing? Again…?” Zane sighed, recalling the crash of Raven.

“Yes.” Mateo shut his eyes wearily, and was just barely saved from another bullet as Maria flung her weapon at his head, knocking him backwards.

“Don’t die…!” she shouted. “We’ll fight! If we win, maybe Zalea will bring us back!”

Mateo doubted that. Zalea had turned from and betrayed them for some reason; hoping for help from him was futile. And this time, no one was going to come and rescue them.

“Maybe…” he said.”We will fight, then.”

Zema…? Zalea frowned. No, he decided, not in Zema – that could destroy Dezian as easily as Raven was destroyed by the crash of Raven.

Whispering ancient words of spells – magic, not techniques – long forgotten to all but the Angels, this particular Angel called an asteroid from its orbit and aimed it at the crashing ship. Gaiaos had to be protected, at all costs. Even if that cost was the lives of its Protectors.

Maria crawled out from the heap of dead Earthmen she had been lying under. How she’d gotten there, she did not know… But what had happened? There was no fighting…

“Mateo?” she called. There was no answer. She got to her feet… and stared in utter horror at the scene in front of her. All around, there were Earthmen – all dead. But among the dead bodies, she spotted six shapes she knew.

“No!”

Scrabbling over corpses, almost blinded by tears, she almost fell down by Lunaqua’s side. The doctor was utterly pale, and most of her covered in blood. There was no sign of movement.

“Lunaqua…!”

Maria tried to wake her friend, but her efforts were wasted. Slowly, it dawned on her…

Lunaqua was dead. And so were the others. She was alone – alone on a crashing space ship. Maria tried to rise, but was too shocked to move. That was when she felt the absence of weight on her shoulders… Strangely, Maria was distracted by this fact. How? She had been wearing the Emerald cape, she knew that…

There was a movement in the air, a tone felt rather than heard. And then there was another tone, blending with the first in perfect harmony. As Maria looked around, she saw the various items of Emerald start to glow – and for each new item there was a new tone; tones that seemed to play a tune, almost but not utterly perfect. Something was missing, but the thief couldn’t even begin to understand what. Nor did she care. The glow deepened into a brilliant white, and the items of Emerald started to disintegrate. Leaving only a tingling sensation in its wake, the Emerald Mel disappeared from Maria’s left arm. Around Lunaqua’s head, the Emerald crown burned brightly, then faded and left tiny sparkling motes in her red hair. In the hands of Christine and Zane, the Emeralds lasher and Emerald shot blinked out of existence, adding new tones to the wholeness. Seconds later, Zane’s armor disappeared too, creating yet another tone. Dias and Ceilious both seemed to shimmer as the Emerald shield left Ceilious’s arm and the helmet suddenly disappeared from the wrecker’s head. Maria shifted uneasily – but froze as she saw Lunaqua’s hand stir a little.

“Lunaqua…? Lunaqua…!”

“…Maria. Where are we?”

“You live! I was so…”

Suddenly speechless, Maria could but watch as four of the other still shapes started to breathe and live again. Either Gaiaos protected itself or it was just a parting gift from Emerald. They had been healed… All but one… “Mateo…?”

The agent had not moved, nor did his sword show any signs of disappearing. The only item of Emerald he had been carrying was the sword; the only item of Emerald that had not disappeared was the sword.

“No… This… can’t be! Lunaqua, do something!” Maria pleaded. The doctor didn’t need that encouragement; she was already preparing to cast the healing technique that would bring Mateo back to them. Placing her hands on his chest, she muttered the name of Rever, and bright sparks danced around her hands… And vanished… Lunaqua slumped forwards, barely catching herself in time, as the restoring magic failed her.

“…can’t! …I haven’t… can’t… summon enough… power!” she gasped. The try had almost knocked her out.

“No! Mateo…!”

But Mateo was silent – silent as death itself.

And outside, unseen by the grieving Protectors, a meteorite was rapidly closing on the ship.

“You were going to let them die!”

Zalea jumped to his feet, startled – no one was allowed to come into this room; he’d seen to that. At his fingertips, sparks of long magic long unused crackled.

“You can cast all spells you want, Zalea! It will do you no good!”

Suddenly, a semi-transparent image of a beautiful girl with long, green hair, starlight emerald eyes the color of the sky, and long, pointed ears, was standing in the middle of the room. She stared defiantly at the several-hundred-years-old Angel. “You were going to let them all die!” she repeated. “You… Oooh! Never reveal the origin of Syria, is it?” When she saw the look of terror on

Zalea’s face, the girl smiled coldly. “Oh, yes, I see! We can’t let people know the truth, can we? It’s just that! You are afraid! I was willing to sacrifice my life for this victory, yet you can’t give up your pride and sense of security? You should be ashamed! If people don’t trust the Angels when they find out you cannot defeat Darkness, then so be it! At least they tried, and that should make even you worship the very ground they tread on! Now bring them back!”

“But…” Zalea tried, “People might panic if they know… how easily we might all be destroyed! Think of it, Emerald!”

“I have!” she snapped. “And I have seen!”People’ are stronger than you think, Zalea – they will make it, even if they get to know! Redirect the asteroid, and let the ship land safely!”

“…no. I am afraid I can not do that.” Zalea sighed deeply. “I am sorry for this – you know I am. But the truth of Syria must never be told.”

“Have it your way, then!” she whispered. “I will do it myself!”

And as suddenly as she appeared, she was gone again.

“What… what is that noise?” Zane asked, a question only meant for him. He managed to tear his gaze away from Mateo’s still shape and look through one of the small thick-glassed windows set in the craft’s outer wall. “No!”

“What is it?” Christine asked silently.

“Look for yourself,” the hunter whispered. “Now… we may join him sooner than we thought.”

Christine, putting a hand on Dais’s shoulder for support, rose slowly and made way to the window. She paled as she saw the great fireball speeding towards them.

“Yes…” she breathed.”I think you are right this time.”

Rising to look through the window, the companions left Mateo. They didn’t see the first flash of power ignite deep within the Emerald sword, but they did hear the final note – the tone that, at last, made the melody perfectly whole and completed the circle. Turning slowly, they saw the blade start to crack – not disintegrate, as had the other items, but fall to pieces. The hilt, still in Mateo’s hand, remained solid, but the shards of steel started to break down into smaller parts, all emitting a bluish glow. They didn’t fall to the ground, though, but spun around Mateo, creating a sphere of what looked like bright blue snow. As the companions drew nearer their fallen leader, the sphere widened to encompass them as well.

Seconds later, the meteorite struck the ship.

Shielded inside the cocoon of sparks, they saw the ship’s walls turn into fire, heard the metal melt and crack – but it all seemed to happen a long way off. Suddenly, they were falling through space – and then, there was just darkness.

He was dreaming – he had to be dreaming! Emerald was there, as were his parents – and they were dead… or were they? Emerald smiled – but as he tried to approach, she shook her head. Instead of advancing towards Emerald, Mateo stood still as she took the few steps separating them.

“Emerald… I-”

“Hush… Not yet, Mateo, it is not yet your time.”

“But I want to be with you -”

“It is not your time. Not yet. As time passes, you will join me soon enough – but not until the day your time is up. Mateo, live… for me… Live. Please…?”

“Live…” he repeated, slowly.”Live.” Looking straight into Emerald’s bright eyes, Mateo smiled. “Yes – I will live!”

“Farewell, then… for now,” she said softly, returning the smile, then reached out to touch his hand.

At the moment when her fingers brushed his, Mateo woke up – seeing not Emerald, but the sword named after her in his hand. The hilt of it, rather – only about half an inch of the blade remained – and only for a little while, as it soon disappeared in a bright flash.

He sat up. He recognized his surroundings, but couldn’t place them at first… Paseo! That was it, he was right outside Paseo; a Paseo that was dark and silent, now without electricity…

Mateo looked around and saw his friends lying beside him, all in various states of waking up.

“Hey!” he said, “What – how did this happen?”

“I don’t know…” Zane confessed, pulling himself up. “It might be better not to know, though… I was with my… family…” He trailed off.

“And I saw Emerald!” Mateo whispered. “We did it! We really won this time!”

“Did ya really think so?” asked Dias, yawning. “I sure hope year right.”

“As do I,” smiled the agent. “As do I…”

But the words of Emerald rang in his ears, and somehow, he knew. It was over at last. As Maria and Ceilious, the last ones, started to open their eyes, Mateo smiled, and, for the first time since Emerald died, felt hope. In his chamber, Zalea regarded the hilt of a sword with some distaste.

“I told you!” a voice emitting from the sword said.

Zalea stared at the remains of the Emerald sword, not knowing if he had indeed heard that.

“I told you,” the voice repeated, followed by a girlish giggle. “I told you I’d do it!”

Then she was gone again. Rising unsteadily, Zalea walked over to one of the walls in the chamber and touched it gently. The wall swung open, revealing a passageway. With a faint smile, Zalea entered.

It was a short walk. One level below Angel Mansion, he reached the Room of Heroes – Emeraldsan’ grave, and the Place of the Sacred Sword. The ancient Angel looked with sad remembrance at the statue of a woman, Emeraldsan Landale, the Protector – a woman he had known and traveled together with. Emeraldsan herself had demanded to be buried here, so that her spirit could guard and guide the Protectors of Gaiaos. Still, thinking of her made Zalea’s heart ache. A thousand years, but even though he was not the first to wear the name Zalea, the sorrow brought by her death had not left his memory.

But that was a burden he had accepted along with the power Zalea commanded, and so the third Angel Lord gently placed the remains of the Emerald sword in the statue’s hands.

“You need a new name,” he told the sword, another rare smile – or possibly the same smile, lingering – on his lips. “A new name… well, how does ‘Excalibur’ sound?”

The sword, what was left of it, sparkled in response, as if accepting its new name. As the Angel turned his back to it, he failed, like the Zalea: before him, to see the small but clearly visible smile on the statues faced. Over the years, the shards of the broken blade would gather here, rebuilding the sword, so that when it was once more needed, the Emerald sword – the Excalibur – would be ready.

As it had always been…


Chapter 7: Tageic endng


He stood there, his arms out, showing the world he was ready to defend what he loved in the world. Staring boldly into the unknown abyss of the blue energy, the man felt a since of sorrow and misfortune as the energy ball slowly descended towards him; To his left and right laid the ruin and waste of a highly built city. People from all around were battle scarred from the flying debris of the battle, hiding behind the rubble that used to stand as their home. The man wore a torn t-shirt that was covered in burn stains and stains of scars he received with blows from a sword. His pants were half torn off from an attack that almost claimed his life. Blood dried up on what was left of his pants, barely covering his tremendous wounds. Slung on his back was a small, yet long sword.

“No…” Lunaqua shouted, hiding behind a destroyed car.

“He won’t survive this attack…” Zane gasped, holding the wound he had in his left arm.

“Why is he standing out there like that?” Lunaqua asked, slamming her fists on the car.

“He’s doing what he think’s is best…” Zane answered, with a sense of precaution that Lunaqua was about to run to him.

“Loosing his life like this isn’t best! We need him!” Lunaqua shouted.

A gust of wind exploded from the hurling energy orb falling from the heavens, throwing what was left of the debris around the man towards the outer radius of the battle. Lunaqua, grabbing Zane, flew towards the wind as hard as she could; also not trying not to accept she was fighting a loosing battle. Barely able to see what was in front of her, she caught glimpse of a hurling fragment of a building rushing towards her. With what was left of her strength, Lunaqua darted upwards, loosing her grip on Zane. She felt a large jerk from Zane’s arms, barely missing the hurling building. As the wind died down again, Lunaqua lowered herself to land. Feeling a sharp pain thrust into her right wing, she landed hard on her feet. Almost immediately after she landed on the ground, she looked at her hands to see a layer of Zane’s clothing. She looked back, glaring at the crushed building almost a mile away. Her eyes tore with sorrow as a tear leaked from her eye.

“No… Zane…” Lunaqua cried, turning back to the man.

“Lunaqua, Look out!” The man shouted, jumping into her midsection.

All of a sudden, a crisp, clean light struck from the sky, throwing the two tumbling over the distort ground. Stopping after a few seconds of tumbling, Lunaqua opened her glossy eyes to find herself underneath the man’s arm. With all her might, she pushed the arm off of her and rose to her knees. Puzzled, she rolled the man over onto his back to see the large wound pierced straight through his midsection. Blood was pouring everywhere, almost throwing Lunaqua into a frantic. She rubbed the man’s face in pure terror. Seeing a terror in a woman’s eyes that are so beautiful would bake the world crack in half.

“Mateo…” Lunaqua shrieked, holding him close in her arms.

Blood drenched her white outfit as she watched the hurling orb fall form the heavens. She lightly laid Mateo onto the ground, soaking her face with her own tears. Lightly laying her hand upon his chest, she closed her eyes, feeling the pain of her lost lover. Shockingly, she left a cold, wet hand lay onto of her hand. In surprise, she looked boldly into Mateo’s battle scared face. Looking deep into her emerald-light eyes, he slightly managed to crack a grin with his busted, bloody lips.

“Stop… Him…” Mateo coughed, struggling to keep his eyes open.

With this said, Mateo slowly relaxed in Lunaqua’s arms. Gasping from the horror, she jumped to her feet and reached for Mateo’s sword. Sliding the sword from the sheath sent a cold, shivering chill down her spine. Now wielding the sword that Mateo used to slain Syra and Xenaz, she jumped into the air and floated above Mateo’s corpse one last time. Another tear dripped off her dirty, stained face. As it fell towards Mateo’s body, it seemed to shine all the times Lunaqua and Mateo shared. At the same time, Lunaqua dashed like lightning towards the hurling orb. With the sword wielded tightly by her side, she swung the sword with all her might. Light shined immediately as the sword laid contact with the orb.

A faint cry was heard at the moment of the bright light. Lunaqua’s body burned the color of light as she thrust the shining blade through the orb. Crumbling her spirit, along with the surroundings, the orb began to dissipate. With what was left of the orb, she shot like a torpedo towards the dark shadow in the sky. From the distance, all you could see was a shooting star, followed by a loud and tremendous explosion. Hurling outside the atmosphere, pressure began to crush what was left of her body as she entered a dark rift that was tormenting the planet. As she was enveloped into the rift, the rift shined a bright light. The light was so intense; it scorched part of the surface of the planet they were protecting.

Three years later, a girl that left Mateo’s group lived proudly in the rebuilt city. She lived a small distance from where the final battle took place. Even to this day, the ground around the final battle lay empty. In the middle, was a shrine built to remind those of who saved their world. One day, on a mid evening, it was raining. Maria, now 21 years old, walked outside of her house without an umbrella, allowing the rain to soak into her clothes and wash away her sorrow. As she approached the shrine, she felt a sharp, cold liquid swelling in her heart.

“The old battle…” Maria sighed to herself, clenching her chest.

The rain seemed to amplify, yet sooth, her beating heart as it continued to freeze with sorrow and pain. Now standing in front of the shrine, she fell to her knees and brought her hands together in a prayer. Closing her eyes, she began to pray.

“For all my friends that sacrificed themselves to save us all… I can’t tell you how much I miss you guys… especially you, Mateo… The one who kept us from insanity… Your ultimate sacrificed showed the world how we take things for granted… and not to use power for the wrong things… Thank you Lunaqua, your niceness and gracefulness kept us all from withering away… Zane… you… you protected me… And I let you down… I am so sorry that I left… I couldn’t handle it anymore…” Maria began to cry.

When her heart finally leaking, her eyes let out tears that flowed like a river, allowing her to collapse onto the shrine; with every tear that flowed down the shrine, rain splashed onto the sorrowful girl. Her blue hair became soaked, weighing down her head. As the rain continued to fall, the sun slowly peeked through the clouds, casting sunshine upon the stoned statue. Maria slowly rose up; grasping her hair with both hands and ringing it out like a towel.

“I should leave…” Maria sighed, standing up.

With water dripping off her clothes, she left the shrine. The rain let up, allowing a rainbow begin from the shrine. For many years, the shrine stood proud and tall, and eventually life returned to the planet, such as trees, grass, flowers, and the animals and birds. Through the years, the same area became a sanctuary for tourists and outsiders from different planets to praise on the saviors of the Algian system.

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~ by Mateo the Wonderer on January 10, 2015.

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