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
"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
"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
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
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
"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
"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
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
"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
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
"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.
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
"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