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He Believed
by Rune Lai

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 them.

Amy revived, slowly regaining the confidence the Dark Force has stolen from her. She drew quick, shallow breaths and asked, "What was that thing?"

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 group.

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 defensive position.

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 sanity.

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. "Die!"

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 them through.

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