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Chapter Sixteen

Sojourn Into Memory

When Lore and Jade returned to Kepfall they found Hugh, Kain, and another man waiting outside the doctor's home. The newcomer was tall and blond with rugged good looks. He was older than Hugh and Kain by several years and carried a cunning though by no means uncaring look about him. He waved as the women approached.

"Captain Tyler!" Jade breathed. She bobbed her head slightly in respectful greeting.

"Good to see you've been keeping Miss Drakon company," said Tyler as he offered them a grin. "Her friends have been worried about her."

"No Miss Drakon, please," said Lore with slight shake of her head. "Just Lore is fine."

"Where did you go?" Kain asked in a voice that was harsh, but tempered by his concern. "The doctor said you went for a walk but-"

She waved him off with a weak smile. "I've been okay. It's not like I've been by myself the whole time." Though Lore had wandered around a great deal before meeting Jade. She turned her attention back to Tyler. "I understand you're lending us a ship."

Tyler shrugged. "Giving is probably more like it. I doubt you'll be able to return it to me. You do plan on going back to Mota, don't you?"


"Then keep the shuttle. We don't need it. I have my own ship and the town has a couple of spares. Now, if you're ready, I think we should start talking about this Noah business Hugh and Kain told me about."

Lore nodded. "I'm up to it."

"All right. Let's get inside then. We'll see you later, Jade."

The sky tiara trainer offered Tyler a brisk salute, offered her best wishes, and departed. Lore watched her go then entered the doctor's home where the air was much warmer and she could take a load off her legs.

The four gathered in the den, where there were enough seats on chairs and the sofa for all and where they could stay out of the doctor's everyday affairs.

Tyler chewed on the end of a shaft of Dezorian grass. "So, you guys have a ship. Now what do you intend to do? Noah is cloaked, so you tell me. Who's to say it won't shoot you down again? I don't think Noah's inclined to let you get close to it."

Kain folded his arms behind his head as he leaned against a wall. "We don't know yet. It may have even changed course since we last saw it. We were hoping you might have some sort of equipment here that would allow us to find it, maybe even negate its weapon coordinating system."

"Hm." Tyler clasped his hands behind his back as he began to pace. "A cancellation device will get you through the cloak. And a hijammer will knock out the weapon systems, assuming they're anything close to what we Palmans have been using. My own ship's installed with a hijammer, any decent pirate will have one." Tyler smiled slightly. "But as far as the cancellation device is concerned, I don't have one." He held up a hand to silence the group before continuing. "I do know where to get one though."

"Get one?" Hugh echoed.

"Yes, there's an old weapons plant we've recently uncovered here on Dezo. I can only imagine what plans Mother Brain had for it, but I'm pretty sure we can find our device there. I'll send Jade and her wing out to investigate."

Kain shook his head. "This is our affair, we shouldn't drag your people into it any more than we already have. Besides, what if there are hostile AIs there?"

Tyler shrugged. "I wouldn't worry about it. Jade and her team are capable, and it shouldn't be too dangerous, what with the Dezorian power supply down and all. You guys only restored Mota's power, remember? Dezo still does without. Besides, no biohazard's stupid enough to bother a whole flight of sky tiaras. You know I don't want a second Mother Brain, and if sabotaging the mission of those blockheads down on Mota will do it, so be it. Let me and my people do our part."

Kain nodded. "All right."

"I'll send them on their way. Why don't you get some rest, all of you. And start thinking about what you're gonna find on Noah. You've got a whole evening to plan."

* * * * *

Hugh remembered their trip to Noah. He wanted to forget it, but it continued to haunt him even after they finished their plans that night and had gone to bed. He remembered just how the Dark Force dissipated in the light of the Neisword, the scent of wet sulfur left behind.

"What was that thing?" Amy panted.

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. "That thing had no business being here."

Shir 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.

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."

The weary band of seven pressed on. Those who once were uncomfortable wearing armor for long periods of time no longer complained. Their previous lives lurked in the distant past, though that was only a matter of weeks. Amy and Shir once had to take numerous breaks whenever they traveled far by foot. Though tired they now kept up with the party with a new, deeper energy.

The group ascended the stone stairs, the hum of vast amounts of electricity thrummed in the distance. They could feel the vibrations of gargantuan generators fill their chests, creating the unsettling feeling of being part of a greater machine. At that point Hugh almost turned back, bewildered by the magnitude of the unseen future he knew lurked just beyond the next turn in their path. He did not know its identity for certain, but he had no wish to confirm his suspicions. But then he saw Amy, moving along with her quiet sense of determination, and he resolved to stay, to not bring up his wayward fear.

He walked near the rear of the group though, telling himself that he would be near Amy that way and he could protect her from a surprise attack. So greatly had his thoughts turned inward that he nearly walked into Kain when the party stopped moving. Hugh knew he should have been surprised at what they saw but he was not. This fate had awaited them since they set foot on Noah.

The floors and walls of this room were lined with circuitry, and the narrow stone path leading through them ended in a metal wall formed into the face of a woman. The eyes of the stone face glowed, projecting the image of a lovely woman with four arms spread as though to encompass the stars. Though enchanting, the eyes of the woman were hard, without compassion, and she looked down upon the seven with scorn.

Rolf warily took a step back, crowding those behind him as he brought up his sword in a guarded stance. Gasps and murmurs came from the others as they were overcome by the presence that was surely Mother Brain. Hugh felt somewhere in the pit of his stomach that the universe was about to end. The Mother Brain controlled everything! But if they were to free Algo...

Mother Brain laughed loudly as though she sensed their paralysis. "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."

"No!" said Rolf loudly. He stepped forward and pointed the Neisword at the hologram. The enchanted blade shone in the eerie light of the ship.

The hologram grinned devilishly. "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 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!"

"No," Rolf said again, softer this time. "Algo needs to be free."

The hologram's face contorted into in a hideous snarl. "I will show no mercy. Die!"

* * * * *

Hugh did not want to kill anymore. He told himself that as he got up the next morning. He could barely call up the vaguest of memories of the battle that followed Mother Brain's destruction and he did not want to.

The biologist shook Kain awake and after the both of them had dressed, they left the guest bedroom and searched about Tyler's house for their host. He was nowhere to be found, but two men found a note telling them to eat the bread and jam in the pantry and to meet Tyler at the sky tiara paddock outside of town once they finished. Bread toasting via a foi technique was okay so long as they did not burn his house down.

Lore had slept at the doctor's place so the two men decided they may as well follow Tyler's instructions. Kain in particular was famished, and though the food suitable for Palman consumption was poorer on Dezo than Motavia, he ate it with zeal. Hugh poked at his food, chewing and swallowing it without thought. When he finally noticed that they had finished almost half the loaf he prodded Kain on the shoulder and motioned that they should get going.

They cleaned up their dishes and started off for the paddock.

The sun was still low in the sky when they arrived and Tyler and Lore greeted them. The historian seemed much healthier than the day before, and she managed to walk without stumbling. She fervently declared she would be ready to handle herself by the time they reached Noah, though the trio still did not know entirely what to expect. At best they hoped for an empty ship. At worst they feared a graveyard roost of an evil they did not understand.

Not long after Hugh and Kain's arrival, Jade and her wing returned. They brought with them the cancellation device, a modest black box that could be installed beneath the control panels of their shuttle. Tyler thanked Jade gravely and took Kain with him to show him how to connect it. Hugh remained thoughtful and introspective throughout the exchange. Lore in turn watched Hugh carefully, hoping he had no misgivings about coming.

Less than a half hour later, Kain and Tyler returned. Their shuttle was ready. It was a modest vehicle, small in size and barely equipped for handling interplanetary travel, but it suited their purpose. They did not need the extra room for cargo as Tyler's own vessel, the Landale , had.

"Throw your stuff on board and let's get moving," said Tyler.

"You're coming with us?" asked Lore.

The space pirate threw her a roguish smile. "Of course! You're not gonna survive without the Landale's hijammer, and someone's gotta watch your backs while the three of you are running around in there."

"Thanks." Lore nodded gratefully.

"Don't mention it. Besides, I need an excuse to get away from being mayor here for a while."

Kain chuckled. "Sure. We'll be ready in a few. All our stuff's packed at your house. We'll just throw it in the shuttle."

Another hour saw Tyler taking off in the Landale and the other three in the smaller shuttle dubbed by Kain as the Dipwad . The shuttle had previously been used to load and unload passengers from the now empty world ship that still orbited Dezo and its builders lacked the forethought to etch a name into its hull. Kain vehemently insisted that to fly without a name violated protocol. Hugh pointed out the serial number marked in the cockpit in a weak attempt to avoid being caught up in such a conversation, but Tyler agreed with Kain. Lore remained steadfastly indifferent to name choosing and Hugh rolled his eyes. Kain had chosen the first thing that came to mind.

"Dipwad ." Hugh shook his head. "I still can't believe we're flying in a ship with that kind of name."

Kain shrugged as their shuttle left the Dezorian atmosphere. "You had your chance. You won't suggest anything better. And it's an adequate name. If you ask me, succeeding in this trip without getting our hides nailed when we return is a pretty dippy chance."

Lore played idly with her displays. "We're taking it though," she said. "If Cass and Rolf do their job the Council won't be able to nail us as the ones who took the Command Center's shuttle."

"Which also means we'd better hide this one when we return," said Hugh. "If we show up with this shuttle we're going to have a lot of nasty questions to answer."

"True enough. Maybe we can stash this thing in Roron. The Council would never think to look there."

"The Council would never want to look there," Kain corrected. "Truthfully I'd be worried over leaving this shuttle among so many Mota people. Who's to say they won't take it apart and build another jet scooter? Those buggers have no concept of private property."

Lore shrugged. "They lead a different lifestyle than us. Their way of living is much more communal than ours. But yeah, I see your point. How about we hide this at Uzo instead then? I have telepipes so we can teleport back to Paseo when we're done."

"Fine by me."

Hugh nodded as well. Then he changed the subject. "Where are we headed anyway?"

"Roughly where we were earlier," Kain replied. "Tyler's keeping his hijammer warmed up, and the instant either of us sense a weapon system being powered up that baby's going to knock it out."

"Great. I'll put my scanner online in case anything starts to show up."

"Something should. Noah chased after us before. I think if it notices us it'll be in the mood to show itself again."

"Space is a big place. We don't know if it will notice us."

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