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Chapter Three


"Ah, glad to see you're ready!" Kain said with a grin. He grunted as he heaved a second large waterproof sack up on to the jet scooter.

The trio assembled on the beach north of Paseo, just east of the Green Dam Aqueduct. Fortunately the jet scooter was solar powered, and so it still functioned while the rest of Mota's technology didn't.

"It's surprising how much better one sleeps without the use of electricity," Hugh said with a bright-eyed grin. "You know, it's been proven in studies that people who live without electricity sleep better and longer."

Kain snorted. "Well, that's obvious. Without any light there's absolutely no point in staying up late. So you actually do rise with sun."

"That may be true, but I still feel a bit weary." Lore punctuated her sentence with a yawn.

"Not surprising," Kain said, momentarily pointing a wrench at her before turning back to his work, "considering you trekked all the way over to Paseo from..." Kain's brows furrowed in thought. "Say, where do you come from?"

"Kueri," Hugh said for her. "I met her in Kueri while she was a biology student at the university there."


Lore beamed. "Yes, even though my work here is as a historian, biology is one of my greatest loves."

"You should have become my research assistant," Hugh interrupted with a smirk.

But Lore continued speaking, as if oblivious to his remark. "But I'm afraid I just don't have what it takes to become a full-fledged biologist. I think reading and learning about the past is easier for me. However, I don't think I've forgotten too much of my biology..."

Hugh turned to face her, as he stepped a few inches into the water nearer to the floating jet scooter. "All right then," he said, still smiling. "Pop quiz! Where in the human cell are ribosomes located?"

Lore paused for only a split second before replying. "They're located on the inside of the endoplasmic reticulum!"

Hugh nodded approvingly. "Good." She beamed. "At least you remember your basic training."

The onyx-haired girl's countenance collapsed. "Hey! Well, why don't you ask me something that's not basic then?"

"You'd better not," grumbled Kain, finishing his task of fastening down their cargo. "You already lost me with that endoplasmic whatever. I think I'll loose my sanity if you guys get any more technical than that."

"It's not that bad when you think about it," said Hugh as he climbed aboard the scooter.

"I don't want to think about it."

"Ah, well that's where your problem is!"

"Great. So I'm stuck with a bunch of nature-loving queers. Just give me a good old machine any day. Always logical, always dependable..."

"Like that one dinky terminal you actually managed to get up after two months?"

Kain waved his wrench in mock anger at Hugh. "Don't push your luck, bio freak! Or you'll find yourself pushed off of this scooter!"

Hugh chuckled, balancing himself on the rocking Motavian contraption. "You know, maybe we should consider hiring some of those Mota people. After all, they're pretty good at tinkering with things."

"And walking off with them went they're done," Kain growled. "Those little buggers have no concept of private property. It's no wonder Mother Brain didn't bother with them. Roron was as good as place as any for them to live in. Stinkin' garbage dump..."

Kain looped his wrench to the belt of tools he wore around his waist. He ran his eyes over the two sacks of equipment, visually double checking his handiwork.

"Ready?" Lore asked.

She stepped into the shallow water and hopped on to the jet scooter, which bobbed beneath her landing. Lore steadied herself to keep from falling off, and then scrabbled over into the passenger dome.

Hugh offered Kain a hand up, and then the two men joined her inside. Kain dropped himself into the pilot's seat and turned on the power. The clear plastic windshield descended around them, locking itself into place from its previous upright position.

Lore glowed with obvious excitement as Kain started the scooter on its journey. She stared outside the window as if she had never seen the vastness of the ocean before. Her eyes locked on to the great white rifts the scooter made as it parted through the waters.

Hugh smiled. Of course, a majority of the younger Palmans hadn't seen the ocean from anything other than the shore or the occasional video tape. Mother Brain had banned all terrestrial vehicular travel when she halted interplanetary travel. Only the ever inquisitive Motavians, who had never obeyed Mother Brain, much less heard of her, could have come up with something like the jet scooter. He counted himself lucky that his participation in Rolf's quest had allowed him to see so much more than any other Algolian had since the days of Alis.

But then he had forced himself to do things that he would have not ordinarily done, seen things that perhaps he shouldn't have seen; the tortured mutant creatures living in Skure, that dreaded being that called itself Dark Force, and the Earthmen. Oh, the Dark Force he could fight. Mother Brain he could fight. The Earthmen... No! he shouted to himself. No more thinking about that! That was in the past. And there is so much to look forward to. Try to remember that...

Hugh turned his head to look out the right side of the scooter, opposite of the direction Lore was facing from her seat behind Kain. He could see the whiteness forming and spreading from the first agitated tips formed by the scooter's bow. Much like anything, the whiteness started at one simple point and grew until all around it was covered in its froth. But after a time, the turmoil would pass. And the waters would be calm as before the trouble ever came. Hugh wasn't very fond of religion. But he prayed that Algo would recover as well.

* * * * *

"Here we are," announced Kain, popping the windshield open.

The water over them barely even rippled except where the jet scooter touched it. Without Climatrol's interference, it was as though the atmosphere had gone dead around them. Indeed, with only the blue water as far as the eye could see, the rest of the world might have been dead as well.

Kain handed Hugh and Lore each a stick of maruera gum before scooting outside and over to where he fastened the watertight bags. He yanked out his wrench and immediately began unscrewing the nuts holding the straps in place. Hugh sat on the edge of the scooter, legs already dangling in the water as he waited for Kain to finish.

When the blue-haired Palman at last slipped his wrench back on to his belt, he easily shoved the two sacks in to the water. Lore could see them slowly sinking down towards a dull gray structure far below the surface.

"Well, last one down is a rotten amoeba!" cheered Kain, tossing a stick of maruera gum into his mouth.

He dove into the water, even as Lore finally climbed out of the passenger dome with a loud "Hey!"

Hugh shrugged, giving her a small smile. Then he stuffed his own gum into his mouth and slid into the water.

"I sure hope I know what I'm doing," she grumbled. She slipped the gum into her mouth, trying to ignore its bitter taste and rubbery texture. As she had been told, she could feel the chemical reaction taking place in her mouth as the special properties of the maruera gum interacted with her saliva to produce the life-giving oxygen she would need.

She warned herself that she'd better not waste it and to remember everything Hugh and Kain told her about their first experiences. It wouldn't do to wind up with a lung full of water after this. And she jumped into the water.

Once below she could see that Hugh and Kain had almost caught up with the sacks. Her eyes smarted from the salt water, and she reminded herself to breath. Suck in the air from the mouth and release the waste carbon dioxide through the nose. Lore almost sneezed, if that was possible underwater. She never liked being underwater for long due to her annoying tendency to accidentally sniff water up her nose.

Hugh waved to her as he and Kain had gathered the waterproof bags together not far from the gray structure she had seen from above. She noted several muted discolorations of the coral reef between them and the entrance to Climatrol. That didn't look promising. Undersea pollution wouldn't be as readily absorbed by the environment as that in the air.

Lore kicked harder, propelling herself towards them that much faster. Kain nodded to her as she drifted to a halt alongside them. He motioned for her to help him with his sack, and she snatched hold of one of its straps.

Then the three swam forward, pulling their loads after them.

Hugh was careful to point out all the hazardous areas where chemical spills had occurred and still polluted the ocean floor. Lore found herself pretty good at evading them without Hugh's help. But the talented biologist steered them clear of a few more dangerous areas that neither she nor Kain would have found on their own. However, avoiding the toxins by swimming above or around them didn't completely protect the three from the chemical gradient, and Lore felt her eyes water from more than the salt.

But soon the metal stairs leading inside the metal structure that lead to the Climatrol proper loomed into their murky view. Kain swam faster, feeling the oxygen bubbling less from the warm bitter gum in his mouth. Lore quickened her pace to match Kain's so that he wasn't pulling all the weight of their sack.

Hugh let them speed ahead. The three of them couldn't make it up the stairs at once, and if Kain needed air, then he might as well go first. Personally, the biologist had yet to suffer from oxygen deprivation. His usage of the oxygen generated by the gum had been easy and measured. Of course, he and Lore both weighed less than Kain, and thus theoretically would require less oxygen to maintain the same level of bodily function. Or, Kain might simply have gotten out of shape these past couple of months.

Kain stumbled up the narrow steps as Lore let go of the sack. He yanked it up with him as he broke through the surface. Kain gasped mightily as he looked around at the water tank around him. He was almost to the first floor. This was a special holding room designed to compensate for the water pressure of the ocean floor and prevent it from getting to the upper levels of Climatrol. Kain waded forward along the metal floor, dragging the sack with him.

The water level went up to his chest. And the waterproof sack dragged along behind him. He didn't feel too bad right now, but he knew as soon as he reached the ladder that would take him out of the tank he would feel the effect of being waterlogged so far underwater.

Lore's head burst through the water's surface. She sucked in a deep breath, and let out a whoop rather then a sigh of relief. Lore brushed the water from her eyes, blinking rapidly as she waded after Kain. Her long onyx hair was plastered against her head and spilled down in front of her shoulders, part of it still waving beneath the surface.

Hugh emerged, bringing up the second sack with him. He brushed his purple bangs out of his eyes, unsuccessfully trying to get them to stick with the rest of his hair.

"Lore, why don't you go up first?" suggested Kain. "That way we don't accidentally drop these bags on you while we climb."

"How gentlemanly," Lore commented. And Kain wasn't sure whether or not there was any sarcasm in her voice.

The historian grabbed hold of the first rung above her head and then pulled herself out of the water with a combination of a thrashing hop. She felt for the next pair of rungs under her and began hauling herself up. The weight of her waterlogged clothes and body seemed incredible for her weakened knees to support. A head full of soaked long hair wasn't helping matters either. And the guys were carrying up those sacks with them? Granted they weren't much larger than two rolled sleeping bags slapped side by side, those sacks contained their weapons and Kain's electronic equipment!

Once Lore was sufficiently far enough ahead of him, Kain clambered after her. And when they both had almost reached the top, Hugh followed them up. With that they climbed up the final staircase and up to the first actual floor of Climatrol.

* * * * *

"This is the spot," said Kain, gesturing to a grate in the floor not far from the stairs to the second level. According to Kain, after traveling down that long corridor that made up most of the first floor, they had moved from below the ocean floor to below the great lake in the center of the continent.

Lore had difficulty believing that. But then there were always those rumors that Climatrol's walls held properties not completely unlike that of a ryuka technique. And if that was actually true, then she could understand. Besides, she had no other explanation. And if Hugh and Kain would believe it, them both being scientifically inclined, then she supposed she should be able to accept the phenomena as well.

Kain offered Hugh his wrench, which the biologist mutely took. Hugh began loosening the bolts holding down the grate as Kain opened up the first of the two sacks. Lore grabbed hold of the other and began pulling off the airtight plastic seal that had been placed around its opening.

Kain first pulled out a towel to wipe himself off before setting up a small terminal that resembled a laptop computer. He hadn't been able to figure out what entirely wrong with this computer either. The only function that would work was the database. However, that was about all he needed of it right now. He could afford to worry about the rest later.

"All right. You guys ready?" Kain asked.

Hugh and Lore nodded. They had retrieved their equipment from the other sack. And now each carried a flashlight and their weapons, just in case they should find any rogue machines still roaming free. In addition to that, Hugh also carried the Neishield, part of the enchanted collection of arms that Rolf and his friends had found on the frozen planet of Dezo.

"Okay, then," said Kain. "Here's another stick of maruera gum for each of you. I don't know how far up the flooding went, so you may need it. I'm sure at least Hugh will. Of course this means we're going to have a time limit on us. But we should have more than enough time to get the job done."

Kain punched up a layout of the tunnel structure below them on to the screen of his terminal. He swiveled the computer to face them. "You see this? The tunnel continues horizontally for about a hundred meters before heading straight down to the energy reservoir's control room. Lore, you're to follow Hugh down to about thirty meters after the turn. That will be as far as our communicators will let us keep in contact. You should still be able to hear Hugh at that distance.

"And remember, the two of you might both be underwater so speech will be difficult."

"No kidding," muttered Hugh.

"So here are your improvised communicators." Kain smirked, heading the two each a headset and an object resembling a can with a large rubbery rim. The "cans" had long straps dangling from them. "I pretty sure you know what to do with the headsets. They'll work even underwater. As for the cylinder things, I've attached waterproof microphones on the insides of them. Strap them around your mouths before you enter the water. That way you'll have an air medium to speak in. It's not the easiest way to talk, but it was the best I could come up with for now. The rubber should be able to form an air-tight seal around your mouth and prevent the water from getting in. Try to breath out your nose when you're not speaking, just like we did outside of Climatrol. That will lessen the build up of air pressure in there, and lessen the likelihood of any water seeping in."

Hugh nodded and slipped the headset over his head. The headset had only one speaker, which fit over his right speaker, leaving his left free to hear other sounds. Then he lowered himself into the narrow shaft and began half walking, half crawling in Kain's indicated direction. Lore shrugged and likewise put on her headset. She dropped in place behind Hugh and scrambled a couple seconds to catch up with him.

The tunnel was far too narrow to accommodate any sort of upright walking, and there were only inches between their bodies and the cold metals walls. Only Hugh had his flashlight on right now. Lore stumbled along behind him, using what light glared past his hunched form.

The passage dragged on, and it felt like they have traveled thousands of meters rather than hundred when they finally reached the drop in the passageway. Hugh shone his flashlight down, and a glare bounced back up to him.

"Lore," he whispered, although there was really no need to be quiet. "I think that water's just about where Kain wants you to stay."

Lore nodded, holding up the can and relaying the information to Kain.

"He says 'Don't worry about it. Keep going.'"

"Easy for him to say!"

Hugh shuffled around and backed himself down the steel ladder of the tunnel. "Okay! I'm going down!"

Lore smirked. "Hey, I'm not leaving you just yet."

She scuffled down after him, trying not to grasp the freezing rungs too tightly.

Hugh paused for her a few meters above the waterline. They were roughly thirty meters down. He nodded to her before chewing his stick of maruera gum. Better than those old oxygen tanks, he thought to himself. Then he strapped the can-like muzzle over his mouth and waved good-bye to Lore.

"Take care of yourself, Hugh," she said into her communicator so that she would be sure he would hear her.

He nodded and then plunged into the water.

Lore sighed, hooking her legs around the ladder's rungs as she turned on her flashlight. If she sat here long enough, the metal would be bound to warm up beneath her. "Kain, Hugh's gone in," she relayed.

"All right," came the reply.

* * * * *

Hugh's descent into the tunnel was made easier by the water-filled shaft. He simply let himself sink to the bottom. When his feet touched the bottom, he found a thick steel door with an electronic combination lock.

He glanced around, but this appeared to be the only way in. And it just had to be shut. Hugh sent a question to Lore, asking to see if Kain knew how to get in. For a while he heard nothing, and then a muffled reply asking how many keys there were on the combination panel and if they were color coded.

Hugh shone his flashlight directly at the panel. "The panel is five by five keys. They have colors, but they don't appear to be in any particular order." He thought a moment. "But I don't see what good figuring out the combination will do. All the power's been cut."

There was another pause, and then, "Oh yeah. Kain says don't bother with it then."

Hugh chuckled despite himself. "Wouldn't that be fun? Pushing in buttons and waiting for something to happen. I think we'll have to wait until we get into the control room before anything of the sort is going to happen." He eyed the door carefully. "But we still have to get inside somehow. Ask Kain how thick this door is."

"He says it's about six inches."

Hugh nodded although he knew she couldn't see him. "I think I can get in. We don't really need a steel door do we?"

"What? What do you mean?"

"No one's gonna be mad if we lose the door to this control room."

"Well... I suppose not. But I fail to-"

Hugh concentrated, drawing strength from the nexus of power within him. The warmth spread from his chest, through his shoulders, and down his right arm. He raised his hand, palm facing the door, and focused his thoughts. Hugh could feel the pressure building within him. His eyes locked on the door, already envisioning his result.

The steel door quivered, buckling, crumpling towards the vacuum Hugh had created before it. Just a couple more seconds and it should give in completely to the suction. Suddenly the door popped free of its frame, curling in upon itself.

Before the door could even sink to the floor, free of the vacuum's pull, the darkness beyond, devoid of the water pressure in the tunnel, sucked in all the water, and Hugh along with it, inside the blackness of the control room.

"Hugh! Hugh! What is it?" Lore demanded into his ear. "I heard you shout. And the water level just dropped about twenty blasted meters!"

He groaned, looking at his surroundings from where he lay in his back. A dull pain throbbed in his right shin where he had banged the sinking door as the suction pulled him inside. His flashlight lay some few feet from him on the floor. He must have dropped it. But at least it still worked, illuminating what Hugh guessed to be about half of the room. And the half he could see was the half he needed.

The wall to the right of his entrance was lined with gauges and panels on an inclined desk-like shape. The remainder of the wall above it appeared to be a window. But without any power to the outside lights, the window appeared to be merely a sheet of opaque blackness.

"Lore, I'm all right," he said. "The control room apparently wasn't flooded. So when I used my gizan technique to open the door all the water rushed in."

He heard a sigh of relief at the other end, and then news of his well being relayed to Kain. That was soon followed by a set of instructions now that he was inside.

Hugh quickly absorbed his orders and staggered up to the controls. He leaned over them, searching for the ones Kain had indirectly indicated to him.

"I found the gauges you wanted," he said. "I'm not sure if they're working though. They're all the way to the left, as if it's utterly empty."

"They should be working, Hugh," Lore replied. "Kain says they're powered by a hydraulic system. No electricity is required."

"Well, then the energy reservoir is empty."

"Are you sure you're looking at the right set of gauges?"

"Is that you doubting me, or Kain?"

"Both of us."

"Look, I'm positive these are the right gauges. They're located right where Kain told me they would be. And they're the appropriate size as well."

"Kain says that something else must have gone wrong then. Somehow none of the energy has gotten into the reservoir. Have you checked if the the central aqueduct is open?"

"No. Kain hasn't told me where to look."

"All right. I'll ask him."

Hugh muttered a response as he stared down at all the controls. Then something caught his eye in the reflection of the window above him. Small intense bright lights whirled peered out from the darkness behind him. And a darker form was behind it, approaching him; just like in the battle with Dark Force, when its glinting eyes had been able to instantly corrupt him; just like Mother Brain's glow before she blasted the living daylights out of him and his friends; just like the pleading gaze of the doomed Earthmen.

No... Not this pain again... He needed to focus!

"Hugh," Lore's voice crackled over the speaker, "Kain says to..."

But Hugh wasn't listening. He couldn't turn around. He couldn't move, trapped as he was within the brilliant lights of the danger behind him. Only when the shadow behind him opened fire could he at last scream.

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