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Child Of Darkness

Chapter Nine


A jolt of power and suddenly Demi's optical relays were reactivated.

Demi felt power once again coursing through her circuitry, its very presence like warm blood which revitalized and replenished. She felt every part of herself being reactivated, from microcircuit implants to larger modules and actuators. Finally, her CPU was fully reactivated, and she became aware of her surroundings.

She sat up, discovering herself on the floor beside her bed. Wires were attached to her head, energy still being pumped in from an unknown source. Demi could literally feel her insides warming, becoming more motile, like she was activated for the first time in a hundred years. Her auditory sensors began picking up a faint voice calling out to her, a familiar voice. "Wrn . . . Wrn ss tat ou?" she tried to ask, but her words came out all a jumble.

"Do not attempt to speak yet," Wren instructed, "your speech synthesizers have not been restored to normal as of yet." Demi turned and saw her master hovering above her, wires leading from his cranial implants into hers. "I told you to control your emotional outbursts. This last one you had totally overloaded your neural implants and shut down your CPU." She remembered how it came about, venting her anger on the metal bed. Looking over her shoulder, she saw it still cracked, chunks lay scattered all over. It did not take much for Wren to figure out what happened to her.

While she was recovering, Demi took a moment and scanned her surroundings. The first thing she noticed was that there were no lights -- only an eerie phosphorescence illuminated the area along with a single beam of light. Her lamp was inoperative as were the control panels. She suddenly became aware of cold, a bitter cold which activated her sub-dermal temperature receptors, making her uncomfortable. Demi noticed that Wren carried a hand light unit and was puzzled by it, looking to her master for an explanation. Wren saw her question as plainly as if it had been written across her forehead. "Yes, Demi," the android said to his companion, "Zelan is gone. Two days ago, its systems suffered a complete shutdown, one I could not correct." Demi's eyes widened in surprise and tried to speak, but Wren already knew what she was going to say. "When we had our confrontation three days ago, I decided to leave you alone to contemplate your thoughts. Thirteen hours later, Zelan began to exhibit signs of malfunction and I called for your assistance, but you did not answer. When I switched on a monitor just outside your quarters, I saw a figure dash away and figured it was you and maybe the communication systems were not functioning. You did not show up here so I assumed you went to another part of the satellite to make repairs.

"Just an hour later, Zelan suffered a complete systems failure, and I was unable to reactivate it. Concerned for your well-being, I left the control center in search of you, being that I thought you had left your quarters. I searched down every corridor and access tunnel calling your name, but you did not answer. For two days I searched, scouring every corner, plotting my path to make sure I was not back-tracking. I could not detect any of your vitals, so I knew you were either collapsed somewhere, or something happened which rendered you inoperable. In desperation, I returned to your quarters and found you collapsed here. I quickly ran a diagnostic on your systems and discovered what had happened and effected repairs."

"Wha . . . did ou see?" Demi managed to ask, struggling with her words.

"I do not know. Something is on Zelan, and I have a feeling it is not here for a friendly visit. So far it has failed to reveal itself; I do not know if that is good or bad. It was my hope that you would join me in search for it." Wren looked uneasily over his shoulder unit. "One thing is for sure -- whatever it is, it is not a biological life form. Zelan's life-support system shut down when the rest of it did. If there was anything organic here, it would have either died from lack of air or froze to death."

Demi nodded, agreeing with her master. She began to wonder if everything happened as she remembered it. Wren was obviously correct in his interpretation of what happened, but he said that he saw something dashing away from her quarters. What was it there for? Had it went there to dispose of her and found her nonfunctional? What was its intentions?

Wren and Demi found their way to Zelan's weapon storage area. There, they procured two assault weapons, the Sonic Buster for Demi, the Photon Eraser for Wren. Both were extremely powerful and only an android possessed strength enough to wield them. Demi's weapon used a short, intense burst of sound capable of shattering a ten-foot thick slab of stone and completely rearrange the molecular structure of any metal to its wielder's advantage. Any biological organism unfortunate enough to be caught in its wake would find itself completely blown apart. Wren's weapon used photons, the quanta of light travelling at the speed of light, to split the nucleus of any atom it came in contact with, separating proton from neutron. The result was an explosion of nuclear proportions and nothing escaped its power. In essence, it was a portable atom-smasher.

Both androids mounted light units to their shoulders, not able to carry a unit and use their weapons effectively. Together, each with internal sensors set for maximum scan, they embarked on a hunt, one that would pit them against the unknown.

On their very own grounds.

That was what terrified Demi the most. Whatever Wren saw managed to board Zelan undetected despite the fact that there were numerous security systems which were never turned off. Either she or Wren was always in Zelan's control center, constantly monitoring all activity in, on, and around the satellite. Statistically speaking, it was virtually impossible for anything to set a single toe in their home without being detected. Demi thought that maybe what Wren saw was merely a trick of light caused by his weariness, but quickly discounted that. Wren may have been over a thousand years-old, but he still functioned like he was two hundred.

Now, here they were, prisoners in their own home. Not only that, but they were prisoners trapped with something running around inside of it that could be capable of annihilating them both. Nervous tension grew like mushrooms on a decaying log, Wren ever ready, always on the look out. What bothered him the most was that he could not detect this thing even when he was searching for Demi. Maybe it was because my sensors were set to only detect AI life signs, Wren thought to himself. That cannot be it because they are set to detect signs of both organic and mechanical life. Besides, if it was organic, it would be dead by now. However, that would explain why we are not finding it now. No, no . . . I cannot afford to be second-guessing myself right now. Something is here -- I feel it as if it were a part of my circuitry. For some reason I get the impression that it knows we are searching for it.

Wren and Demi very carefully walked down each corridor within Zelan, checking every nook and cranny for any signs of what they were stalking or, conversely, what was stalking them. Demi found herself walking closer and closer to her master, very much aware of her fear. Just because she was an android did not make her exempt from feelings and emotions Palmans experienced -- and Wren, too, for that matter, though he was not as good at expressing them as she was. She had no doubt that he felt fear gripping him just like she did, not fear of confrontation, but the same fear every living being felt when facing the unknown.

The androids made their way to Zelan's control center without incident. There, they determined whether or not any of its systems could be reactivated, quickly discovering otherwise. Nothing had been touched here ever since Wren left looking for his companion, and he was beginning to wonder if their intruder had anything to do with Zelan's systems failure. If that was in fact the case, then perhaps he and Demi could be successful in repairing it. That would require disposing of their guest first, however.

As Wren and Demi continued their search, they suddenly became aware of subtle indications that they were not alone. First came tapping noises emanating from conduits which ran through the length of Zelan. They were very faint and could have been made from anywhere inside the satellite. Next, there were hints of movement within the shadows. Just as they became comfortable that a room or corridor was clear, something would move just out of their peripheral vision, giving an impression that they were seeing things which were really not there. Then came brief flashes of light from areas just out of their reach, but also rooms which contained unnatural darkness which was not normal even for space. They entered one room and shined their lights into it, but the beams seemed to end a few feet before their optical sensors. Wren shot a Flare into it, but the burst just died and went out. Not wanting to stay and find out exactly what it was, they moved on.

Demi realized she had not felt this kind of fear since they battled the Profound Darkness. Perhaps that was the key -- maybe it somehow escaped from its banishment and was manifesting itself on Zelan, determined to take revenge on those who were responsible for its downfall. It seemed a logical explanation and was even more plausible considering the fact that she and Wren were the most isolated. Out in space, they were easy targets.

Out in space, no one could hear their pleas.

But something was different, something she could not put her finger on. When in the Profound Darkness' presence, she could feel evil seething from it like magma from a volcanic fissure. This time, however, she could not. She did not know exactly what she sensed, but it was something neither she nor Wren ever encountered before. Even Wren felt static surges in his neural matrix, the Palman equivalent of the creeps.

Perhaps subconsciously, Demi fell into stride behind her master, turning to face whatever may have been behind them. She was determined not to be caught from behind and was ever-alert, not letting a single object pass her scrutiny. Wren approached an access panel and pressed a button, but nothing happened. "I keep forgetting that there is no power," he said. Using his remarkable strength, he pried his fingers between the doors and forced them apart, revealing a dark room behind. Wren nonchalantly entered while Demi stood guard at the door.

The room served no other purpose than for storage, but since Zelan's only two inhabitants had nothing to store, it remained empty. Wren walked to each corner, carefully searching for any abnormalities, but finding none. "So, doctor," Demi called out, "give me the news. Is it bad?"

"Worse than we thought," was Wren's reply, "there is absolutely nothing here."

"Well, I guess we can scratch this room off of our list. How many more do we have? Five hundred or so?"

"Five hundred and fourteen."

"Thanks for reminding me." Demi shined her light into the room to evaluate it for herself. Wren stopped for a moment in thought. "You know," she said to her master, "at this rate it could take us several days to search every room and corridor in Zelan." Wren agreed with her, moving back toward his companion. Demi watched as he approached, watched his shadow dance around in the luminescence. He eventually walked out of her light, but something caught her eye -- his shadow still remained on the wall!

Demi shut her eyes and shook her head as if to shake off a bad dream. She took a second look, but what she saw frightened her even more. Wren's shadow, or whatever was posing as his shadow, turned and looked directly at her!

Abhorred, frightened beyond comprehension, Demi raised the Sonic Buster and shrieked while she fired a burst into the storage room. The steel walls appeared to open up as a wave of sound passed through its molecular structure, then flowed back into its original state, almost like a stone cast into a still pond. Wren veered around and took aim with his Photon Eraser, but did not see anything. "Demi!" he exclaimed, "what were you firing at?"

"I don't know what!" she tried to explain. "When you walked out of my light beam, it seemed your shadow remained on the wall. I think -- I think there is something here, near us, or at least following us."

"Check your optical relays. Are you sure there was not some sort of anomaly in them?"

"No, Wren, I wasn't seeing things. Besides, our optics were specifically programmed to filter out tricks of light and our minds don't conjure up false images to satisfy our fears."

"Exactly -- that's what worries me." Demi nodded, confirming what he already knew was in her mind. What she saw was not an illusion; what it was they did not have a clue as of yet. Demi was completely correct in her observation and Wren had no reason to doubt her. Whatever was cohabiting Zelan with them could apparently follow their every move, travelling in the shadows to escape detection. It could have kept on that way and very easily eluded Demi's scrutiny, but for some reason chose to make its presence known. That was what frightened her the most.

"Come, Demi," Wren spoke, "let us find and dispose of our 'guest.' Since it has not given indication otherwise, we must assume it is not here for a friendly visit."

Together, the two androids exited the storage room and continued their search. Demi's fear was as palpable as Zelan was vast, and though her master gave no signs, she was sure he was feeling it as well. Wren was always even-minded, his demeanor cool, calculating. He was always the last to panic and always accepted logic as the most dependable trait any being could exhibit. There were times when his logic failed, but he was able to accept it. He adjusted his claim, stating that logic was one of the most dependable traits.

Wren and Demi walked back-to-back, Wren facing ahead, Demi walking in a backward pace behind him. She always felt sort of awkward when right next to him, being that he was a full head and shoulders taller than she. Wren never intimidated her about it, saying that big things come in small packages. "Wren," she said softly, "just in case we don't make it off of Zelan, I want you to know that what you've done for me -- I mean, you know, giving me life and all. Well, I don't know if I've ever said this before, but thank you. I don't know if I could ever repay you for such a thing."

"I thought you would have figured it out by now," Wren responded. "My sole purpose behind your creation was to merely keep me company in my seemingly endless lifetime. You have become more, much more, than I could have ever hoped. As your creator, it fills me with a pride I have never experienced to see that you have surpassed even my own programming in different ways. Watching your accomplishments, along with the time we have spent together, is all the payment I will ever require. Consider it your payment in-full."

His words were spoken matter-of-factly, lacking any emotion or vigor, but Demi realized that it was probably the closest he had ever been to making a sentimental statement. It was not easy for Wren to express himself in the manner his counterpart did. He considered showing emotion a female characteristic and chose to have no part of it. Demi saw, though, in subtle ways, Wren had his own ways of letting his emotions known.

Demi grew tired of walking backward and turned to face forward once again. She took up a position behind her master, falling into stride with him. Because of her short stature and equally short legs, she began to fall behind, not noticing due to her thoughts which were concentrated elsewhere. Suddenly, the android felt a cool draft blow at her back and turned to investigate, but before she could, several tentacle-like arms closed over her, one preventing her from calling for help. They held her like a vise and she felt pain in their icy grasp. Raising her Sonic Buster, Demi prepared to fire, but another tentacle shot out from the darkness and seized it from her. Slowly, the android was drawn back into the void from which the tentacles came, energy rapidly being drawn from her.

Even though his attention was fully on searching for Zelan's invader, Wren noticed the erratic movements of Demi's light unit and instantly became aware of something in their presence. "Demi," he called out to his companion, but did not get a response. Quickly, he turned to see what had become of his companion. "Demi!"

To his horror, Wren saw Demi being pulled back away from him, arms flailing, pleading. He adjusted his light unit to a wide flood setting and saw what had a hold of her -- nothing! Actually, from what he could discern, it was a black void which occupied the corridor from top to bottom, its tentacle-like arms detaining his counterpart. Fearing for her life, Wren raised his Photon Eraser and took aim. "Release her!" he roared, firing a burst at the void. There was a flash, then an immense explosion which filled the corridor with bluish-white light. When the light died, Wren saw that nothing had changed and fired again, only achieving the same results.

"Demi!" Wren became frantic and rushed forward in an attempt to free her. Another tentacle emerged from the void and struck, knocking the massive android backward. A panel opened up in Wren's chest plate and a single flare shot out, but had the same effect as his weapon.

"No!"

Wren returned to his feet and rushed to Demi's aid again, seizing one of the tentacles that held her. Instantly, he felt his energy seep from his body and released his grip. "So, that is it!" Wren positioned himself before the void, cocked his arm back, and inserted his hand into it. "You want energy! Have a taste of this!"

Wren discharged a Spark, an electrical shock capable of instantly destroying an entire mechanism. He was not sure how it would work on this life form, but hoped that the overload of energy would give it indigestion. Sure enough, his plan worked like a charm and the tentacles drew away from Demi, releasing her body. Just before it retreated, the void let out a hideous, ear-piercing scream, then disappeared.

Demi lay convulsing. She was in shock; similarly, a Palman or Motavian who suffered a large amount of blood loss would experience the same symptoms. Whatever that void was, it infused a large amount of Demi's energy into it in a short time. Wren must have severed its link with her just in time for if it had held her for much longer, she surely would have perished.

Wren quickly went to his friend, kneeling next to her. He opened a panel located on her left shoulder which exposed a keypad. With a few finger strokes, he accessed the control port where Demi could plug into an energy source and recharge which happened to be on the back of her head, just above the nape of her neck. Quickly, Wren flipped back the tips of his fingers, revealing plug-ends. He inserted his fingers into her port, therefore infusing his own energy into her.

Feeling a wave of dizziness passing over him, Wren fought back an urge to pull away, determined to bring Demi out of shock before her circuitry became damaged beyond repair. Slowly, her body stopped convulsing, and he pulled back, letting her return to normal. Demi rolled over and sat up, confused, dazed. "Wha . . ." she stuttered, "what happened?" She looked to her master who was in the process of collapsing against a wall. "Wren?" Instantly, she was beside him. "Wren, what happened? The last thing I remember is being grabbed from behind. Everything else is a blank."

"That thing --" Wren replied weakly, "whatever it was had a hold of you and was draining your energy. I had to infuse some of mine into you or you would have spontaneously deactivated and I would not have been able to reactivate your circuits. The thing fled back down that corridor." Wren pointed out its direction of travel.

"Then quick, Recover yourself. We have to track it down before it tracks us down."

Wren closed his eyes and activated his self-recovery system. Demi watched as rings of energy travelled down his body from head to toe, repairing damaged circuits, replenishing lost strength. In no time at all, he was back on his feet, ready to take on anything. Retrieving their lost weapons, the androids left in pursuit of their enemy.

Wren and Demi came upon the same storage room they investigated just a short time ago and discovered its doors pulled closed. Wren pried them apart, Demi rushing in before he could get a word in edgewise. "Demi?" he heard a voice from within. "Demi, is that you?" It was a familiar voice, one neither he nor Demi had heard in over three years. Rushing in, he saw Demi standing at one end of the room, and at the other end stood --

"Chaz?" Demi asked inquisitively.

Chaz Ashley, or what appeared to be Chaz Ashley, stood opposite of Demi, arms extended in a warm welcome. Wren immediately sensed something suspicious. "Chaz," Demi said, "it's so good to see you again." She took a step forward to welcome him, but Wren lay a restraining hand on her shoulder plate.

"Wait," he ordered, "trust in logic, Demi. Zelan's life support systems are not functional. Chaz Ashley would not be able to survive here without them." Wren's logic hit her like a ton of lead bricks. Of course he's right, she thought, he's almost always right. This person standing in front of me is no more Chaz than Zelan is still functional. But what is it?

Before she could get an answer, it disappeared before her eyes, without a trace. "Where did it go?" Wren questioned, moving in to investigate. Demi followed her master, instinctively observing the floor for anything out of the ordinary. The instant she saw movement, she thrust Wren away from her, separating them. She forgot her own strength sometimes; consequently, Wren was hurled to the room's opposite end.

A few seconds later, a column of blackness sprouted upward toward the ceiling. It writhed like a serpent, twisting frighteningly, threateningly. Then, as if out of some nightmarish dream, round protrusions began to form on its surface, each taking an identity of its own. The entire room became filled with screams and moans, pleas for help and salvation. Each of its seven round protrusions took on the countenances of those who were closest to the androids --

Their friends!

They were all there: Chaz, Rika, Gryz, Hahn, Rune, Raja, and Kyra! Their faces were torn and battered, torment evident in every expression. The screams were theirs, calling out to their friends, pleading for deliverance. As each face revolved around the black column, its eyes found Wren and Demi's, staring directly into their mechanical souls, penetrating their very being.

Appalled by what had taken form before them, Wren and Demi raised their weapons and fired several times. When they finished, the thing still remained, writhing, screaming. It seemed nothing could silence the heinous litany of their friends' tortured screams. "What is it!" Wren called out.

"I think it's a Metamorph!" Demi shouted back.

"A what?"

"Access your database! Keywords: Shape Shifters!" Wren did as Demi instructed, accessing the knowledge imparted to him by his creators, memories gained by experience. He instantly retrieved every last iota of information on shape shifters, determining for himself the logic of his counterpart's evaluation.

"Yes! I understand now!" he announced. "According to my database, however, these Metamorphs were wiped out by the Hunters on Motavia half a century ago!"

"Well, apparently this one begs to differ!" came Demi's sarcastic remark. "This one is different somehow! In all the years I lived on the surface, I never heard of a Metamorph capable of stealing energy! This one must be some kind of energy leach as well! I don't understand how it's surviving in the absence of an atmosphere, though!"

Suddenly, the Metamorph began to change its form, its bodily composition a viscous fluid flowing like a gel. Wren took the opportunity to rejoin his companion at the room's opposite end, near the exit. Together, they watched in bewilderment as it began to take form once again. This time, it became a creature only seen by heroes of two millennia past, and to those who travelled into a parallel dimension known only as "The Edge."

Prophallus.

A hideous creature the size of a small space craft, Prophallus was the embodiment of evil which Alis battled to save Algo, though this one was a facsimile. Its thick, scaly skin was a dark tinge of blue, seemingly impenetrable. It had no legs, but instead floated like a spectre. Rippling muscles bulged but was only a hint of its true strength. Its eyes were strangely opalescent, the pupils an eerie glowing yellow.

The Metamorph lowered its jaw and a stream of energy shot out at the androids. "Look out!" Wren shouted. He put his arm around Demi and together they dove to the floor, barely escaping its initial attack. Demi rolled over and saw the Metamorph closing in on them, its ghastly fingers grasping, reaching for them. She shrieked, and as a self-defense mechanism, her body reacted, responding defensively to the threat to her life. Demi's shoulder plates opened up, revealing a starburst arrangement of sound-intensifying crystals, and the Phonomezer fired, delivering a continuous stream of bone-shattering soundwaves. In essence, Phonomezer was Demi's Sonic Buster, but instead of firing a single, intense soundwave, it increased the intensity of the soundwaves logarithmically. The result was a burst emitted at five-second intervals which dwarfed Demi's Sonic Buster by a thousand times. The Metamorph/Prophallus entity retreated in agonizing pain, and Demi found herself being pulled to her feet. "Come on," said Wren, "let us flee from here."

Wren and Demi fled the storage room. Soon after, Prophallus crashed through a wall and was in hot pursuit. "Where are we going?" Demi asked of her master.

"To the cargo bay," he replied.

"I don't understand. How is this Metamorph able to change itself into forms that are linked directly to our lives? The forms it takes should be completely random."

"I might surmise that while it had a hold of you, it not only drained your strength, but accessed your memory circuits as well."

"Then why couldn't it defend itself against my Phonomezer?"

"I believe," Wren offered, "it was because the weapon is not part of your original programming -- an accessory, if you will. Either that, or it was because it did not have an opportunity to learn of it before I rescued you."

Prophallus fired another stream at the androids, narrowly missing their heads. It exploded, lighting the entire corridor. Sensing imminent danger, Demi raised a clenched fist and aimed it at their attacker. A flash, and suddenly free-floating ions present in their surroundings came together, forming an Energy Barrier. Prophallus attacked once more and the Barrier effectively absorbed most of it, but its pure brutishness was enough to penetrate Demi's defense and sent them sliding on their anterior sides. "Get up!" Wren ordered, but his counterpart's eyes were strangely fixated on their encroaching slaughterer.

"We need an advantage," she replied, calmness in her voice. Prophallus continued to close in, its movements ghostly in their grace.

"Demi, NOW!" Wren roared, already on his feet.

"Just a few more nanoseconds . . . ." a chest plate opened up and a small turret emerged, "firing Stasis Beam!" In the blink of an eye, Demi's Stasis Beam shot forth, instantly halting all molecular motion within Prophallus, or rather, the Metamorph. Its ghastly form hung over the androids like a statue, arms and fingers outstretched, mouth agape. "Now, we can go!"

Again Wren and Demi fled, hoping to put enough space between them and Prophallus to give them an advantage. On average, Demi's Stasis Beam lasted about twenty seconds to allow an attack or to flee. She was unsure how long it would last on this life form, but prayed that her effort was not in vain.

As soon as they rounded a corner at the end of a long corridor, Wren heard an explosion and witnessed a bright flash from behind, followed by a hideous bellow. It was obvious to both that the beam wore off, but it served its purpose by putting an adequate distance the androids and their pursuer. They ran swiftly, feet barely touching the floor, but they were still aware of Prophallus gliding effortlessly behind. Demi began to feel every joint, every servomechanism within her straining. She was beginning to tire, but had to keep on. Under normal circumstances, both she and Wren could run for literally hundreds of miles without tiring, but they both tapped into energy reserves to battle this beast, and it was starting to have a profound effect on them. They were nearing their destination, however, and like it or not they would have to make their final stand there.

Having reached Zelan's one and only cargo bay, Wren found the doors closed and immediately began to open them. Once open, he and Demi rushed inside and the massive android pulled the doors closed behind them. "Quick, Demi!" he spoke with authority, "access the emergency generators and prepare to open the bay doors, but keep the bay itself pressurized." Demi did as her master said, moving quickly to bypass Zelan's main power systems and tap into reserve power. While she did this, Wren was busy with a task of his own. With his left hand, he entered a command into a keypad located on his right shoulder. "I am now reactivating all of my weapons systems, although I doubt I will be able to use the Positron-Bolt Emitter without destroying all of us." A few more keystrokes brought out a wrist-mounted torch which he used to weld the two halves of the door together.

A massive jolt of movement shook the cargo bay and Zelan's external doors began to slowly slide apart. A stasis field kept the bay from depressurizing, or else the androids would have been sucked into space. Demi remained at the controls and waited for Wren's next order, but he was preoccupied with sealing them inside. Another jolt of movement shook them, but this one came from outside the bay, originating from the corridor they just left. A third shock left dents in the cargo bay's ten-inch think solid steel doors, forcing Wren to leave his job half done. "Wren?" Demi asked nervously. Wren merely raised a silencing hand. Two more dents appeared, followed by a long bellow which slowly diminished. Prophallus' vocalization became more and more distant until it could no longer be heard. "Wren," Demi spoke in a hushed voice, "Wren, is it gone?" But her master silenced her words, not convinced their foe was gone for good. He waited, tensing, his finger half depressing the trigger on his weapon. Demi was tense as well, a quivering finger hovered over a button which would depressurize the bay while the other held her Sonic Buster ready.

Silently, the pair waited, the functions required to maintain their internal systems providing a tremendous annoyance. As the seconds ticked by, their tension eased, eventually dissipating totally. Wren lowered his gun. "I believe we are safe for now," he announced, "but I also believe it is not far away and is waiting for us to move."

"Then we'll stay here?" inquired Demi.

"Yes."

"These energy reserves are only good for another hour or so. When they're gone, we're going to have to close the bay doors or risk being sucked out into space. We will have to come up with another plan of action." As he did sometimes, Wren did not see any need to respond to the obvious. Instead, he began to formulate another way to dispose of their unwelcome guest.

Demi left her position at the bay door controls, walking to inspect the extent of the damage Prophallus inflicted. She ran her finger over Wren's impromptu welding job, then down to where it ended. "Wren," she said, "maybe you should finish this --"

"Demi!" her master hollered. "Get away from that door!"

But it was too late, for Prophallus' hands reached in through the unwelded portion, barely missing her legs. She reached for her weapon, realizing too late that she left it someplace else. Prophallus' arms drew back for a moment, giving Demi time to rush over and retrieve her weapon. Only a few seconds later, the Metamorph burst through the cracked doors, wildly discharging streams of volatile energy from its gaping maw. "Launching Burst Rockets!" Wren's shoulder plates underwent a transformation, changing into dual mortar-like launching mechanisms, firing two plasma bursts from each. The bursts exploded in mid-flight and rained down on their target, engulfing Prophallus in a fiery blaze. It was not damaged, however, and came at Wren with outstretched hands. "Demi!" Wren panicked, "attack it with everything you have!"

Demi heeded her master's words, bringing her Sonic Buster around and firing a single shot. It struck with incredible accuracy, diverting her foe's attention from Wren. "Phonomezer, activate!" Her shoulder plates blossomed open, emitting deadly soundwaves in the Metamorph's direction. Demi completed her double-fisted attack by continuing to fire her weapon. She saw it had some effect, but she desperately needed assistance with this one.

From behind Prophallus, Demi saw Burst Rockets fly, raining an inferno down upon it. She also heard the unmistakable sound of Wren's Photon Eraser as he fired round upon round, creating explosions that would confuse the eye in their brilliance. The Metamorph was bombarded with unceasing attacks from two sides and it kept turning to face the greater threat, but could not determine which one was. It became confused, and its enemies' unrelenting attacks were wearing its strength down, but it was not the only one with fading strength.

"Wren!" Demi called out. "Wren, I can't keep this up for much longer!"

"Then disengage!" her master shouted back. "I will hold it off while you depressurize the cargo bay! Blow it out into space!"

"But mast --"

"Do not call me that, Demi! Do as I say!"

"But you'll be blown --"

"DO IT!"

Against her wishes, Demi complied with her master's orders. She ceased her attack and left Wren to deal with Prophallus on his own, rushing to the bay controls. Without Demi's added distraction, the Metamorph closed its ranks on Wren. Demi knew what was transpiring, but still hesitated to flip the switch that would suck their foe out into a neverending void, for her master, her friend, would suffer the same fate.

"Demi!" Prophallus inched its way closer to its target.

I can't, she thought, I won't do it!

The Metamorph finally reached Wren, seizing him in its icy grasp. "DEMI!"

I will not forget! I will not forget! No matter what happens, I will not forget you, Wren!

Bracing herself, Demi flipped a switch, deactivating the stasis field that kept Zelan's cargo bay pressurized. Like a vortex, the vacuum of space sucked the Metamorph and Wren into its cold emptiness. Demi also felt herself being pulled and a sudden jerk caused her hand to accidently brush up against some switches, instantaneously reestablishing the stasis field. The Metamorph fell and fortunately for Wren, released its grip on him.

"Wren!" Demi shrieked. "Grab hold of something!"

Instantly, he was on his feet and wrapped an arm around a steel girder. Demi flipped the switch one more time and Prophallus was drawn out into space, but hung tenaciously to the edge of the cargo bay. Wren took aim and fired a single shot, sending the Metamorph tumbling into the neverending void of outer space.

Demi struggled to reach the switch that would prevent any more air from escaping the bay. She could, of course, just wait for the pressure to equalize, but by that time both she and Wren could be floating outside like satellites in orbit. Her joints ached from straining to move about in a vacuum, yet it was up to her to save them both. With her last ounce of strength, Demi somehow managed to flip the switch, activating both the stasis field and the mechanisms to close the bay doors. Air rushed back in and their environment's pressure was equalized.

With their strength sapped, both androids lay still, almost lifeless. Backup systems kicked in, triggering Recover, instantly renewing their strengths. Demi was first to get up, shocked into reality by what just occurred. She frantically searched for her Sonic Buster, not aware of the Metamorph's demise, finding it behind the bay's controls. She quickly took aim, noticing that Wren was nowhere to be seen.

"Get away!" Demi screamed while turning around to face whatever just touched her shoulder. Luckily for Wren he was quick enough to catch her weapon before she crowned him with it. He held her gaze, reading confusion and panic in her eyes as plainly as he would read a monitor. Then, without warning, she released the Sonic Buster and wrapped her arms around him in an embrace. Metal clanked against metal, yet there was tenderness in this scene.

"Please, Demi," Wren pleaded, "this is highly irrational. You are leaking lubricant all over me."

"Wren -- shut up . Just enjoy the moment."

Unaccustomed to this type of emotional outburst, Wren had no idea of what to do. Slowly, he wrapped an arm about Demi's head, caressing it gently, while the other arm went around her back. The stern, almost unfeeling android suddenly felt relief surge through him and he tightened his embrace around his friend. Being Wren's first encounter with such an emotional outburst, it felt awkward; this may have been the only one would ever experience. But like Demi said, he enjoyed the moment.

He managed it pretty well.

* * * * *

"You're what!"

Wren was familiar with his counterpart's objections and paid scant attention to them. Demi had just finished packing up her personal belongings and was ready to board the Landale and depart when he announced a change in plans. "Would you care to repeat that, please," she requested.

"I said I'm staying here."

"Why! Zelan is dead and cannot be repaired." Wren stood up from his terminal in the control center and busily flipped switches.

"That is where I believe you are wrong," the android said while moving from one point to another. "I believe that Metamorph had something to do with Zelan's malfunctions in which case they can probably be repaired. I estimate a one in two hundred chance that it can be reactivated."

"Yes, but I estimate there's a one in five chance that your neural pathways aren't functioning correctly. You speak so much about logic and then you go off and do the most illogical things. Can't you just accept the fact that Zelan is gone and no one, not even you, can repair it? Wren, I hold you in highest regards, but frankly your judgement has been nothing short of foolish lately. I am devoted to you; I owe you my very existence. But damn it, Wren, I want to make something of my life and I can't do that if I stay here and perish with you. And believe me, you will perish if you stay. I think you know that. Please, Wren, for Algo's sake, come with me to Motavia. I'm not sure I want to go to Dezoris while those storms are still raging, but that's beside the point. Please, don't make me leave you here."

Wren said not a single word, continuing with his work. Though she did not show it outwardly, Demi was secretly fuming on the inside. She could not believe how incorrigible her master was being. Anyone who saw him just a few hours earlier would have thought he was an extremely feeling AI, but what a change a few hours could make. Turning on her heal, she walked toward the door. "Demi," Wren spoke, "do not leave." Demi stopped to listen to him. She would at least give him that. "Please stay. Together we may be able to bring Zelan back to life. I do not know if I can do it by myself."

"What you're doing," Demi replied, not bothering to face him, "is deluding yourself. I will not have any part of it. Goodbye, Wren." She stormed out of the control center without even a glance back.

Why? Why? she asked herself over and over again. If Wren was not her creator, she would have ripped out every last wire in his body by now. He must be getting old, she thought. He is pretty advanced in years; not every AI lives to be over a thousand. She could not help but feel guilty, however. Wren had no idea that his counterpart would ever abandon him like this and it was probably a shock.. Demi realized that was not her problem now and just wished to get off of Zelan.

Demi went to the docking port where the Landale was docked and boarded it immediately. She did not want to waste any time at all with farewells or anything, so she activated all of its systems and prepared for departure. Landale's engines fired up after its pilot made sure everything was working properly and closed the hatch. Soon after, it was soaring through space toward Motavia.

Demi placed the controls on auto, returning to her thoughts of abandonment. She, herself, still could not believe she did it. Circumstances were dire and she acted accordingly.

While the android was busy mulling through her thoughts, her comm link began to beep. Reaching over to the console, she opened a channel. "Demi," Wren's voice rang out through a speaker, "come back --"

"Sorry," she replied, "I will not go back there just to see the both of us die." Demi closed the channel and sat back in her seat. The comm link beeped again, but this time she chose to ignore it. It continued to emit annoying beeps and she knew how stubborn Wren truly was, so she decided to answer it again. "What do you want!"

"Demi, please, come back and get me. You were right, I am deluding myself. I would like to go to Motavia with you."

Demi was taken aback. She could not believe what her auditory units just heard. Had he actually yielded to her requests? Demi almost considered asking to repeat what he just said, but saying anything further to him may have caused him to change his mind. Taking the controls off of autopilot, she brought the ship about and headed back to Zelan.

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