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by Lord Offler

Paseo burned, its skyscrapers bathed in flames that reached up, far into the night sky. The cries of those caught in the blaze, or killed by means innumerable in the state of chaos, were quite audible to those who listened.

Rolf listened, looking out the window of his room within Central Tower at the destruction all around. His face was a mask of neutrality, but his eyes belied his pain to even the most casual of onlookers. Not that there were any around. The Tower’s interior had been quite silent for days, rapidly running out of personnel as they were killed defending the building and city from rioters, or as they joined the rioters themselves. Only a very few were left, working with the Commander in an attempt to stabilize the situation.

As Rolf watched, a burning building began a slow fall downward, its structure weakened by the inferno to the point of collapse. Rolf looked away as it began to collide with the ground, shutting his mind out to the screams of the dying. He could bear to hear them no longer. A month ago the city had been peaceful, pristine. And now it was...this. And it had been his entire fault.

Rolf sighed, turning from the window, moving to collapse down, face first, onto his small bed. Patches of long, blue hair fell into his face, and he pushed them away with a free hand. Doing so, he happened to glance up at the only decoration in the otherwise barren room: the Neisword, placed in a stand suspended above the bed. He winced, looking away from the weapon. “Maybe this would be easier,” he muttered to no one but himself and the thoughts in his head. “If they didn’t happen to all be dead...”

Indeed, Rolf had been the last man standing after the battle with the Earthmen on the spaceship Noah. He had gutted his final opponent with the Neisword, only to find himself alone, nothing but the bodies of many foes and the occasional friend littered around him. He had been in frenzy in the battle, fueled by a combination of adrenaline and the rush of using Megid, and had been unaware of his allies’ demises. Learning of it afterwards, it had only been the timely intervention of Lutz, teleporting him away to Dezo and calming him, that had kept Rolf from using the sword on himself.

He had spent a week on Dezo, recuperating from what few, but serious, injuries he had suffered. Lutz had praised him incessantly, going on about the new freedom of Algo. Once Rolf had safely recovered, Lutz had been more than happy to send him back to Mota, where he was certain that Rolf would receive a hero’s welcome for saving them all. He was promptly arrested and tossed into prison upon his arrival home, but he had been expecting that somewhat.

A volley of gunfire from outside interrupted the Agent’s reverie. He rolled onto his back, looking up and out the window again. Another round of rioters storming the Tower entrance it would seem, after the food stores and whatever else would be of any value to them. He supposed he should go down and try to assist in the defense, but why bother? His presence would only frenzy them further. After all, he was still a criminal after a fashion. He had destroyed their livelihood.

The first few days in prison were the worst, Rolf decided. The Commander had been away on business, and he was left to rot, waiting to give his report. And in the meantime, he had heard the worst conversations from the guards. Rumors of the planetary maintenance systems going haywire once again, a renewed infestation of biomonsters in the countryside, and a lack of technicians to handle the problem. All of it had made him fear the worst at the time, though after a time he became skeptical of the truth of their words. The guards had been aware of his ‘crime’ of destroying the Mother Brain, and he wondered if they were merely making it all up to aggravate him. He had expected things to be bad, but not as bad as they claimed. In the end, when the Commander did arrive, and Rolf was able to give his report, he learned that things were, in fact, not as bad as the populace believed. They were much worse.

When the Mother Brain had been in control, the Commander had explained, a great deal of the technology had been a mystery to the technicians who worked under it. They had only been trained to deal with minor to moderate problems. Catastrophes on such a scale as the destruction of the overseeing network were not expected, and therefore only a very few, last-ditch plans were placed to deal with them. As such, the biomonsters were indeed back in full force, Climatrol had gone out of control again, and the planet would soon reform back to its original desert state. Rolf took all of this as best he could. So far, it had not been too difficult a pill to swallow.

What was worse, the Commander had continued, was the shutdown of the agri-domes. As they were almost entirely monitored and controlled by elements of the Mother Brain, very few government workers knew how to maintain them in the event of the Mother Brain’s shutdown. Ultimately, they had been shut down completely, and the vast fields of food farmed beneath those domes had begun to rot. The Commander’s face had been very grave and serious at this, more so than before. Rolf had realized why very quickly: the food stores would soon run out, very few people knew how to farm anymore, and the biomonsters were far from edible. The people on Mota would quickly starve. It was the Earthmen’s last laugh, Rolf had realized. If they could not have the planet, then no one could.

The Commander had apparently noticed Rolf’s dread, as he smiled reassuringly, though not very. He had went on to state that those few last-ditch safeguards were being put in place even as he spoke; an auxiliary maintenance system would soon be in place, centered around a pair of disused satellites. It would take care of the immediate problems, and then they could get about to restoring order. Rolf had asked how that was supposed to be done; the Commander had muttered something about a Daughter Project and changed the subject.

Rolf knew now that he should have been more suspicious, especially after what had transpired next. He had asked when he would be able to return home, and the Commander had lost that not-so-reassuring smile. He had explained that Rolf was still a wanted criminal, and even were the charges against him to be dropped, the people would be out for his blood. Irate citizens, hoping to catch him unawares had already torched his house to the ground. To let Rolf roam about, the Commander had said, would be to assure his death. So he would placate the populace, the Commander had said, by issuing a notice of Rolf’s capture and execution. However, Rolf would be unable to leave the Central Tower, for fear of being caught out. He would be provided a room, food for as long as it was available, everything he wished for.

Well, it was a more comfortable prison, but a prison nonetheless, Rolf thought to himself, glancing around the room as best he could without making visual contact with the madness through the window or the sword above his bed. He had not been allowed to leave, and for the most part, contact with the outside world was limited to the odd status update provided by the Commander, the last appearing just a few days ago. Of course, nothing stopped him from leaving now, but looking at the outside world, he was not sure he wanted contact with it. As to the status reports, they confused Rolf. Whether the Commander gave them out of some strange appreciation for Rolf’s actions, or to twist his mind, he was not sure, for they had always conflicted with what he had seen through the window. With every report, the situation was improving. And with every look outside the window, the actions of Paseo’s population grew more and more violent, most likely born from their death sentence of slow starvation.

Coincidentally, he had received the last, most optimistic update around the same time as the riots had begun to intensify. The report, thicker than any of the others, still lay on a nightstand next to his bed. He picked it up, flipping through it again. Only the start of the message had made any sense at first. “Daughter’s prototype nears completion. All will be well soon.” That was the entirety of it. The rest was a great deal of technical specifications. It had taken Rolf some time to sort them out; being an Agent had entailed some technological know-how, but not quite on the level that the report required for reading. When he had finally deciphered what he could of it, he was horrified; a prototype replacement for the Mother Brain, meant to replace the auxiliary satellites as soon as was able.

He sighed, placing the report back in its resting place, looking back out to the burning city as further gunfire signified another attempt to storm the gates. The Commander and he had been at crossed purposes the entire time, and he had never realized it. Where Rolf had sought to defeat the Mother Brain and give the people true freedom, the Commander had sought to replace what he saw as an old, defective system, and upgrade it to a better form.

Rolf did not move for a time, staring out at the result of his efforts through his window. Why had he bothered? The people had not wanted freedom. They could not handle independence. They had been given back their own lives, and they had just not been ready for it. Their own actions were proof of it. They wanted to be taken care of, not to take care of themselves. He resolved, rather sardonically and in the only amount of humor he had had in a long time, that if the people ever needed saving from something again, he would make sure to check with them first as to whether or not it was all right to do so.

The gunfire stopped, suddenly and abruptly, rather than trail off with a final few shots as it had in the past. Rolf perked up, listening intently to the outside for any sign of what was going on. It was sometime before a ragged cheer picked up amongst the masses, and he thumped the back of his head against the wall, the Neisword above him rattling slightly in its stand from the force of the blow. No doubt they had been informed of the auxiliary system‘s activation, and the imminent arrival of Daughter. No doubt after the fires had died down, and Paseo was rebuilt, and the biomonsters were exterminated, things would be back to normal on Mota, and likely the same would happen on Dezo. Nothing changed. Palma had been destroyed, Rudo, Kain, Amy, Shir, Anna, Hugh, and poor, poor Nei...all dead. For nothing.

His head now slumped down in his chest; Rolf wondered what would happen now. No doubt with things restored, people would realize he was not truly dead. Would he be hailed as hero, for rooting out and destroying a defective system, making room for a better one? Or would he be considered a traitor guilty of sabotage, and be truly and finally executed? Well, he decided, rummaging around in his nightstand‘s only drawer, he would not stay around to find out.

Requesting the Sonic Shot had been the only time Rolf had asked for anything of the Commander, and it had been given to him with all haste. He cradled the gun in the palm of his hand, observing its various shapes of design and aesthetics. At the time he had asked for it for defense, as the thought of raising the Neisword again made him feel physically ill. Perhaps the Commander had given it to him in the hope he would do the very thing he was about to do, in the hope that it would spare him the trouble of an execution. If this was the case, Rolf mused, then his wish was about to be fulfilled.

Rolf sighed, placing the barrel of the gun in his mouth. In all his life he had not expected to be doing this. No matter. He would be liberated now, at least, even if he could not do the same for others. He would be truly free of the Commander, the people, and the entire damned Algo system. And so, a twitch of a muscle on the trigger, and he was free.

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