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Chapter Nine

"Aaaaagh," screamed the tall man. Opening his eyes had proven to be both painful and useless. His entire face was in pain, especially his nose. He could not see where he was or who was around him. He knew that at least one person was near him. His hands had been bound behind his back with rope.

"You have about two minutes to explain why you wanted my husband dead, buster."

The voice was small and ranged in one of the upper octaves. This told him a woman was speaking. The venom in her voice was an indication not to piss her off further.

"Madam," he began, "Your husband murdered my parents. He was sent to trial and managed to escape before being convicted. I am merely here to enforce justice."

The tall man felt himself get yanked to his feet. The strength this woman possessed was amazing. She was less than five and a half feet tall and yet she could lift a man of six feet and two inches with relative ease.

"He never killed anyone he didn't have to. And what gives you the right to dispense justice?"

"Simple. I'm a guardian."

"A what?!"

"He said 'guardian', Rika"

Rika dropped the tall man on his rump and turned to face Chaz.

"What's that?"

"A guardian hunts down hunters that go bad. There have been very few guardians over the past thousand years. The skills they learn rival our own. They are our protectors as well as our executioners."

The tall man rose to his feet. His eyes were still useless. He drew himself up to his full height and stood before his two adversaries.

"My name is Jayce Dazzak. I am here to bring Chaz Ashley to justice. In the eyes of the Guardians he has been found guilty of murder."

Chaz and Rika turned to the Jayce. "SHUT UP!" they both yelled in unison.

Jayce picked that moment to strike. As if by magic his hands were freed and he swung straight for a nerve center in Chaz's shoulder. His sightless aim had hit the mark. Chaz's right arm fell limp. A muffled cry escaped the hunter's lips.

Jayce then spun on one heel and used the other to strike Rika in the head. A loud crack could be heard. Rika fell to the ground. Her limp body lay there like that of a corps.

"Get ready to join your parents, guardian."

Before Chaz could strike Jayce fell to the floor. Chaz stood in shocked silence. Hahn's voice filled the room.

"It is so much easier to put your opponent to sleep than to try and hack his head off."

"So when did you learn RIMIT?"

"I'll tell you later. Right now, we need to take a look at Rika."

* * * * *

Alys had fallen asleep during the trip to Krup. It was the sound of cackling energy that awoke her. She turned to see what had caused the noise. She saw Rune standing in the cockpit's adjoining compartment. A large wooden box was on the floor next to him.

"Is that? . . ."

"Yes," Rune said. He stared at the box. His face was solemn.

"Do you think the body is intact enough for this to work?"

"I know it is. Just moments after she died, I placed a special stasis spell on her. It will last as long as there is a Lutz in existence."

"You knew you were going to do this twenty years ago?"

"No. I had to find an intact lab, manuals, records, and a power supply. I didn't know if any of that stuff had survived the Great Collapse. After searching Dezolis and Motavia for twenty years I finally found everything I need. I even found an android that used to be the Grandma's assistant."

"So, where is the lab?"

"On Dezolis. It's in what used to be called Aukba. It was a Dezolian town that was abandoned after a disease wiped out the population."

Rune made his way to the pilot's seat. He began to punch in the course heading.

"So we're off to Dezolis, Huh?"

"You got it."

The ship began to lift off. Its engines hummed with power. Alys felt herself sink into her seat as the ship accelerated. The inertial dampers had modified the laws of physics so she didn't get slammed into her seat.

Soon the clouds rushing at them were passed and the veil of Motavia's atmosphere gave way to open space. Rune could see the entire Algo System. Dezolis hung in the distance. Its cold, blue color seemed to chill even from over one hundred parsecs. The cold seeped into their bones.

"I wonder how mom and dad are doing?"

"Let's find out."

Rune flipped the communication switch to the 'ON' position. A quick burst of static and then the channel was clear.

"Rune to Landale. Come in."

"Landale here. Wren speaking."

"Hey Wren. Are Chaz and Rika there?"

"Afraid not. Someone tried to kill Chaz last night. We're detaining him until we can get some questions answered."

Alys's heart froze. Wren had never said if Chaz was alright.

"Wren," Alys began, "Is my dad alright?"

"He's fine, Alys. To tell the truth, the attacker got his butt kicked. Orus did a real number on his shoulder. The man's name is Jayce Dazzak. He claims to be a guardian trying to bring Chaz to justice. We'll tell you more when we find out what's what."

"What about Hahn, Niya, and Kyra," Rune asked.

"They are continuing the dig. Demi radioed us about a possible entrance. It's an air duct on the east side of the mountain. They are looking for it now. What is the status of your mission?"

"It's going slow right now," Rune said. "We are currently en route to Dezolis to find help. We may be out of radio contact for a few days after we land."

"There should be a hand-held link in one of the cabinets in the aft compartment. Go ahead and use it to stay in touch. If something comes up, give us a yell and we'll get over there ASAP. Talk to you later. Landale out."

* * * * *

ProFIRE sat in his command chair. His computer brain ran through scenarios. He had studied his targets' pasts and present. He knew them almost as well as they know themselves. He could find no logical reason his plan would fail. But one element that no computer could calculate or even understand slapped him in the face as hard as a missile. His advanced chemical-based brain could understand it. Human spirit.

It was the human spirit that made his calculations unreliable. Human spirit made humans the most unpredictable of creatures. The most dangerous as well.

Ty entered the room. He was carrying a small box in his right hand. The box measured roughly four inches across and two inches high. Ty walked around to the front of the chair and set the box down in front of his master.

"Is this the modified repair mite?"

"Yes, sir. It is now a small, automated weapon. We replaced its micro tools with nerve pain inducers. Once it attacks it will latch to the epidermis of any biological creature making it difficult to remove at best."

"Will it affect non-aligned robotics as well?"

"No. We have a second series for that. We simply rewrote their programming."

"Good. Now all we need is a way to deliver it. Preferably in battle."

"Do you care to inspect the battle mite?"

ProFIRE opened the box. Inside was a small bug looking creature. It measured less than a half inch in length. It had six legs and the pain inducers on its underside. By itself, the device looked harmless. ProFIRE did not plan on using the device by itself.

* * * * *

Hahn, Kyra, and Niya were nearing the air duct that could lead them into the complex below Birth Valley. The morning sun beat down on them without mercy. Lugging their gear along didn't make things any easier.

"How much further," Kyra asked.

Niya glanced at the schematic. "Only a little further."

"Define 'little' for us," Hahn said.

"One hundred fifty meters, straight up."

Hahn groaned. Kyra simply continued climbing.

It took another hour before they reached the duct. The opening was partially blocked. Clearing the entrance took only a few minutes. The duct was large enough for the trio to walk through in a single file.

"Do you think we'll have any problems," Niya asked.

Hahn, who was taking point, drew his knives and said, "It wasn't too easy the first time. Why should round two be different?"

They continued with slow, deliberate caution. Each step was a testing one. It was slow going at best.

Hahn stopped for a moment.

"Does anyone have a light?"

Niya reached into her bag and pulled a chemical light out. She handed the spherical light source to Hahn. Once he activated the chemical agents the passage was filled with an orange glow. Hahn looked down in front of him. A large hole was only a couple of feet in front of him.

"Whoa, another step and you could kiss this old boy good bye."

Kyra, who was at the rear, stretched around Niya to see.

"Well," Kyra began, "looks like we need to break out the climbing gear. Again."

After they had donned their equipment and secured the repelling line, Hahn began his descent. As he lowered himself into the shaft, he noticed the shaft walls were as smooth as glass. The shaft reached down a few hundred meters. Hahn had to secure a second line to continue down.

"Hahn," Niya called.

"It's a long drop. You'll have to switch ropes so be careful. I think I see the bottom. Niya, you go ahead and start down next."

Niya started down next. Just before she began her descent, she heard a faint thud-clack sound.

"Hahn! Hahn, are you alright," Niya called.

"Yeah, I'm fine. I ran out of rope fifteen feet above the ground. I decided to take a chance and just drop. My landing was less then perfect."

Niya and Kyra both let out a small chuckle.

Once they had all reached the bottom of the shaft, the looked around. They saw the tunnel they were now in split off into three separate directions. Niya examined the schematics once again.

"If we take the tunnel to the right, we should end up in the main control room."

The trio headed down the appropriate tunnel. The hair on Kyra's neck stood on end.

"We're not alone down here," Kyra stated.

Hahn and Niya stopped and looked at her.

"Some thing is watching us."

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