Rolf cut a smooth arc through the murk with the light of the Neisword,
and the darkness vanished altogether. Freedom. He dropped to one knee,
exhausted, but relieved all the same. This one had been their most
trying battle yet, but he was proud of his group, proud of his friends
as they shook off the lingering effects of the evil that had possessed
Amy revived, slowly regaining the confidence the Dark Force has stolen
from her. She drew quick, shallow breaths and asked, "What was
Beside her, Hugh could only offer a shrug. "Whatever it was, it wasn't
anything alive as we know it."
"Fear, greed, and all sorts of malicious things," said Anna. She made a
look of disgust as she poured a trimate over her wounds. "It was all
those and something more."
Rolf nodded grimly as he looked towards the empty space where the
innocuous red box had been. The chest, looking so much like a hidden
treasure, had been irresistible to open. Not to mention that the box
had been set squarely in their way. Looking back, that had all the
earmarks of a trap, but he and the others had been drawn to it, like
mindless insects to food. He swiped his sword, freeing the last of the
dark mist that stuck to it before sheathing his blade. The mist faded
from the air.
"That thing had no business being here," he said.
Shir seemed inclined to agree, but she shifted her gaze uneasily. "Was
it what Lutz meant by those who watch us from outside Algo?"
"One entity, no matter how unnatural it may be, is hardly cause to use
the plural," said Hugh. Even shook up by a major battle, the biologist
continued to cling to his logic with a tenacity that amazed Rolf.
Kain shrugged. "Slip of the tongue?"
Rolf shook his head. "No, I think there's something more. Lutz didn't
just send us here to get rid of that thing." He looked at the open area
that had been blocked by the box. "It was trying to hide something from
us, and we've got to find out what. Look, we haven't finished exploring
this ship; it can't be much farther now."
Whatever "it" was. None of them had ever expected their battle to carry
them this far.
Rolf pointed his sword towards a staircase to the right of where the
Dark Force had blocked them. "Up there. That way."
He lead them, feeling their draining confidence every step of the way.
They were tired, sick, and almost to the breaking point. He had every
confidence in his companions, but they were still human beings with
finite ability. None of them expected that what should have been a
straightforward investigation would have lead them to this! Hardly
anyone complained about the rigors of battle anymore. Maybe they were
too tired to.
Lutz had hinted that the end was near, and for good or ill, it would
have to be. Rolf only hoped he could fulfill the faith that Lutz and
his friends had placed in him. It was difficult to believe that he was
descended from Alis, the heroine of old, and even more difficult to live
with the pressure that mantel gave him. But to stand by and attempt
nothing at all would be unacceptable. Nei had shown him that with the
last breath she drew.
They climbed up the stairs, feeling the hum of electricity course
beneath their feet. Something about this entire ship of stone felt
alien, felt wrong. A ship of stone set in a shell of steel. Hugh
lagged behind and Rolf felt obligated to call him forward, but the words
did not leave his mouth. The biologist seemed to hear Rolf's thoughts
though, or something of his own, because he hurried keep up with the
Rolf turned back to the way he lead the party. When they rounded a
corner and the corridor gave way to a massive room of circuitry and
lightning, he could feel in his gut that this was near the end. There
was only so much spaceship left to explore, and blocking it was the face
of a woman carved into a wall at the end of the chamber. Rolf set foot
on the slender path to take them to it. The sensation was that of
entering a dragon's maw. All that circuitry close--too close.
The eyes of the face glowed, projecting the frightening image of a woman
with four arms. She spread them wide as though to encompass the stars
and regarded them with an expression delirious with power.
So this was the Mother Brain who controlled all of Algo. Rolf was
overcome by her presence, dwarfed by the awesome power of this brilliant
apparition. He felt his resolve melt not by an immortal power such as
the Dark Force, but his own human weakness. Too much. This was
madness! This was Mother Brain! They could not fight her. Rolf fell
back a step, crowding against his friends as he moved his sword into a
The Mother Brain laughed loudly and said, "Just as I thought, you cannot
harm me. I am like a mother protecting her child. And now I will take
my child, Algo, by the hand and lead it down the path of destruction.
On your way, then, because there is nothing you can do."
"No!" said Rolf.
A flash of purple against purple. A cry that lasted an eternity. Laser
claws met a laser sword, and their ferocious clash near shattered his
The Mother Brain began to grin. "You are such fools. If you damage me,
the world will be thrown into a panic. Without me, the people of Algo
are helpless. They have become too soft and used to comfort. If I
were to malfunction, the people would die cursing their fate. If that
is your aim, disable me! If not return now!"
She had died, but not in vain. Never in vain. Nei had not been afraid
to try. Ever valiant, she accepted her lot in life, even above the
cries of the hunters who would slay her without a second thought. Nei.
She was with him even now.
Rolf raised the Neisword. "No," he said again in a voice soft with
memory but strong in conviction. "Algo needs to be free."
The projection's face curled into a hideous snarl, piercing lights
flashing in her eyes. "I will show no mercy." Lights flashed all
around, then plunged them in darkness where she alone they could see.
But the agent from Paseo, the now insignificant city on a planet only a
speck of light away, felt no fear. In the darkness he saw her--not the
vision of madness and evil before him--but Nei. She flitted out of the
corners of his eyes, never fully there but always nearby, and in being
so, gave him the strength to carry on. He did not know what horror or
pleasure the final days would bring, but he would do his best to see