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Chapter One

All Things Must Start at the Beginning

Kain sat in front of a computer terminal in a room walled with electronics. He managed to get this one computer, and one only, working of all those in the building. And it had taken him weeks to accomplish it. It had involved so much rerouting of the networks that it left him dizzy. But at last he managed to separate everything he needed to run this one terminal apart from the rest of the system that had been powered by Mother Brain. However he doubted the poorly contrived batteries he managed to put together would be enough to power this computer for much longer. And without Mother Brain to manufacture new materials for him to use, running out of supplies was an ever-present concern.

He tapped out a few commands, and the computer once again angrily flashed one of many errors messages back at him. Kain huffed. Perhaps he got the thing to turn on, but working with the interface was another matter.

"Maybe you accidentally left something it needed when you separated it from the rest of the system," suggested Hugh.

Kain swiveled around in his chair to look at the lanky purple-haired biologist who leaned against the opposite wall of the narrow room from him. Hugh met Kain's gaze briefly with his green eyes, but then turned away and drank deeply from a glass bottle of fermented melik juice.

"You should stop drinking that stuff!" snapped Kain. "It's probably rotting your brain as well as your liver.

"I bet I know what the problem is," Kain growled. "The computer probably needs its own autonomous operating system, since it doesn't have Mother Brain anymore. It keeps thinking there's another data base it can draw up information from."

Hugh screwed the cap of the bottle back on and set it down on the table in the middle of the room. He brushed his matted hair back from his eyes.

"Look Kain, I don't mean..."

Kain looked darkly at him. "Save it," he sighed. "I think all our nerves are frayed beyond measure. Your apologizing isn't going to help. There's just so much that must be done..."

"I know. But I can't help thinking about that spaceship..." Hugh looked down at his hands and the black armbands that started from his wrists and wound around his lower arms.

Next to Rolf's megid technique... little could match the power of savol. The power to instantly snuff out any living organism's life force proved to be a nearly irresistible temptation in every life and death battle. Certainly if the victim was strong enough, it would be possible to resist the invisible power stealing the life from him. But as the wielder gained experience and wisdom, savol's chances of succeeding invariably became greater.

In his mind's eye, Hugh could recall the faces of hundreds of desperate Earthmen, the sole survivors of their race, who wanted Algo for their new home. He couldn't help but wonder why they hadn't simply asked for sanctuary rather than taking it by force. They were certainly few enough that their presence wouldn't be an unnecessary burden on the three planet star system. But they tried to steal from, to kill an entire civilization. And to stop them... Oh, while megid drained life from one's allies while at the same time releasing its awesome destructive power, savol required nothing of one's self or friends than a small portion of the technique power of its wielder. Nothing but the guilt one was willing to pay for the easy, suffocating death of one's enemies.

And the worst part of it was that in observing the Earthmen, he could see the Algolian people mirrored in their frenzied eyes. In their own deranged way, they had taught him a valuable lesson, and had shown him the ugliness that inevitably came on the heels of opulence.

"Hugh." Kain shook his head. "You can't keep dwelling on the matter."

Gasping cries had filled the air...

"There was nothing you could do."

People had crawled towards him as their organs stopped functioning. Their hands were raised, either in supplication or anger. He didn't know.

"Rolf was out of technique. He couldn't summon up another megid, not after that battle with Mother Brain."

But Hugh's life-affecting techniques were ineffective against Mother Brain. He had lots of strength still available to him.

"You know that as well as I do. And with the odds being a hundred to one against us, there was no better way to even the odds. We probably all would have died against such numbers."

But was there no better way?

"I know," Hugh repeated. "But I never have been a warrior. I just can't take lives that easily." He straightened his fingers, studying his palm, and then clenched his hand into a fist. "I joined Rolf's quest to save lives, not to take them. Killing the biomonsters was understandable enough. But to kill something sentient, something that has its own society, dreams, and desires... It's like killing ourselves. They are not all that unlike us."

Kain frowned. "You're just saying that because they look kinda like us."

"No." Hugh tilted his head back to stare at the ceiling. "It goes deeper than that. They may have judged us harshly as a people, but at heart, could any of their hopes of a better future be any different than ours?"

Kain threw up his hands with a shrug and swiveled back to face the computer monitor. "Hey, I was just trying to make you feel better. I'm not here to get into philosophical arguments with you."

Hugh nodded and pushed himself away from the wall. He crossed the room with two easy steps and peered over Kain's shoulder at the stubborn computer.

"I think I'm going to have to reboot," Kain grumbled, tapping a couple of keys. He rubbed the palm of his hand against his short-cropped blue hair in frustration. "I swear this computer system is going to drive me crazy."

Hugh said nothing, the both of them knowing that the need to recover as much of Mother Brain's technology as possible was essential to the survival of their society.

"When's your friend coming here?" Kain suddenly asked.

"Any time now," Hugh replied. "She finally got released of her duties so she can help us."

"I fail to see how anything can be more important than this. If she can help us, and the star system as a whole, what duty can be more important than that?"

"Family and the home," Hugh said curtly. "She had others to worry about. And sometimes you just can't put those you love to one side, even if it's for the greater good."

Kain sighed. "Yeah, I suppose so. Being that everyone's so depressive now, she'd have a right to that. Damn! It's just so hard to care for the whole when the individual pieces are falling apart!"

Hugh nodded. "That's why we're starting at the beginning, so we can rebuild, piece by separate piece."

"I still don't see how a historian will help us," Kain muttered, resting his head on his open palm. He continued to stare intently at the flashing monitor. "I mean, why do we have to wait for her?"

"The support of the people is crucial in any such project of this undertaking. We have to make them realize that they have to make their future for themselves. No one else is going to do it for them. She knows more about how society works and what has motivated us in the past. With luck, she may even know how we used to do things before Mother Brain came so we don't have to rely on getting the system working right off the bat." Hugh smiled. "Besides, we it's not like we've been lax during these past two months. And she knows a lot about computers. She might be able to help you."

Kain didn't look impressed. "By Alis, she had better!" he grumbled. "I think I'm the only person around here who is even giving a go at this sort of stuff! A little help would be nice."

The two men had hoped that their team of seven that had defeated Mother Brain would continue to work together after her destruction. But the collapse of virtually every electrically powered device in the star system had cause wide-spread panic and injury. The seven had gone their separate ways to each do their best to alleviate what suffering they could. Sometimes they were met with revulsion, having been the ones to force this hard new life upon everyone. And from so preciously few others, they received commendations for their actions. But now nearly all the Palman people merely didn't care. With or without Mother Brain, Algo seemed heading to destruction anyway.

Amy was currently working in Oputa, last either Hugh or Kain had heard from her. There was a recent outbreak of a plague there, and the entire city had been quarantined. Since the Biosystems Lab no longer functioned, developing a proper antibody, or even simply examining the virus itself was out of the question.

Anna had left with Amy, although her purpose was to guard the compound and to prevent unauthorized entry and egress. Though the fearsome guardian preferred fighting a monster she could see and physically damage, she knew that the medics there may need protection from crazed patients and that to allow the sickness to leave Oputa could mean death to the rest of the planet.

Rudo had met up with several of his former biomonster hunting comrades, and the group of them had taken to cleaning Mota up of the erratic robots still wildly functioning throughout the dehydrating landscape.

Shir had simply vanished. Hugh supposed that with the collapse of the meseta monetary system stealing had become a petty thing. A pawned laser knife would not bring any sort of wealth anymore, nor could it be traded to put food on the table.

And Rolf had his hands full dealing with the leftover politicians who still believed they had some claim to power, some reason they should get more food, better housing, than the other people out there. If he wasn't in Paseo, knocking some sense into the local bunch, he was likely elsewhere, getting rid of the would be lords setting up their own feudal system of government.

Hugh clapped Kain on the shoulder. "Hey, just get enough of the system running to power the Biosystems and I'll be grateful. As soon as that's set up I can engineer some real plants and animals that will truly be built to survive on Mota."

The blue-haired Palman shook his head. "Even that bit of the system's gonna take an awful lot of energy. I think we're still a long way from even getting the lights in your old lab working."

"Perhaps. All things start at the beginning, with the basics. But step by step, we're going forward. Since you managed to get this computer working, I'd say we're on our way."

Kain sighed. "If only that..."

A knocking sound reverberated from the thick metal door of the small room. Hugh turned away from the computer and then walked over to the door. He peered through the one-way transparent plastic window and grinned.

"She's here."

Kain smirked. "Better hide your melik juice bottle. If she hasn't seen you since Mother Brain's fall, she probably wouldn't want to know about your drinking problem."

"I don't have a-" Hugh testily began. But he was interrupted by an increasingly louder and insistent knocking.

Hugh frowned and yanked the door open.

An onyx-haired girl dressed in bright red and black greeted their sight. She was taller than most women, being only the width of a couple fingers shorter than Hugh, who while not being the tallest man around, was still a far cry from being vertically challenged. Although she looked young, perhaps just beyond the threshold of adulthood, Kain sensed an aura of experience and maturity around her. Something about how her eyes seemed to take in the whole of the room without so much as a conspicuous glance. Or perhaps it was because of the sword hanging from her belt whereas most women preferred the lighter slashers or knives as weapons.

"Phew! Good to see you got here!" Hugh clasped her by the wrist, hurrying her inside so he could shut the door.

She smiled graciously to Hugh and waved briefly to Kain. "I'm sorry it took so long to reply to your request for help. But once I started going here, the journey itself was fairly easy."

Hugh nodded and promptly dismissed the matter. "It's okay. I understand. Oh, and before I forget my manners..." He turned to Kain and gestured at their visitor. "Kain, may I introduce you to my friend, Lore?"

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