[an error occurred while processing this directive]

Chapter 6

There were organics between themselves and their target. That was all that registered in the minds of the Wrens. Then, from their careful programming and training, each in turn generated a response.

Kill.

As one, they raised their blasters to fire.

Lightning, fire and ice merged into a single rain of magical force as the Espers standing between the Wrens and the city of Termi unleashed their might. Holes were torn in the ranks of the invaders by the force of the Esper's attack. Within moments, the battle was over. And as quickly as they had come, the Espers had gone once more.

* * *

How long Rika knelt with Lant on the floor of that shuttle, she didn't know. Her mind and body were no longer one, and she noticed everything that was going on around her, in a detached, clinical way.

Daughter was silent, and she looked, of all things, confused. Tamgren had moved closer to Chaz and now they were talking. Tamgren looked distinctly uncomfortable - even afraid.

Rika started as she realized she had no tears left to shed - her chest felt empty and hollow, but her entire body had gone numb. Lant, still locked in her desperate embrace, continued to wail. She looked up at Daughter.

"What else?" she asked quietly.

Daughter started and looked at Rika as if seeing her for the first time. "The Alisa III continued to progress deeper into the solar system, and as it passed within range of Dezolis and Motavia, it began transporting down a sizable invasion force, consisting of Wren type Androids outfitted with weapons configuration A1C. This configuration includes…"

"Just go on," Rika insisted.

Daughter paused, then continued. "That is all. The Wren Androids are steadily overcoming Algo. I was sent by Wren and Demi to retrieve you and possibly your mother, then take you to Zelan."

"Where is mom?" Lant fell silent and lifted his head from her shoulder, turning to face Daughter. His eyes were wide with sudden fear.

"I do not know. I could not get close enough to Aiedo to detect her."

"Why not? Why couldn't you get close to Aiedo?"

"It is under siege by the invaders."

Lant gasped, Rika rose to her feet. "We have to go to her!"

"I am afraid that is impossible. There is no place to land this shuttlecraft, and I shall not deviate from my mission parameters." Daughter turned back to the controls. "I am setting a course for Zelan."

"Rika," Tamgren whispered to her, kneeling. "I think there's something wrong with Chaz - he…"

"There is something wrong with all of us today, Tamgren." Rika gently disengaged Lant from her shoulders. "You have to be strong, Lant. We all do. When this is over - then we mourn."

Lant bit his lower lip. His face was reddened from crying and his eyes were full of tears. "I'll try, Rika."

Rika felt hot tears of anger and sadness filled her eyes. She dashed them away angrily with the back of her hand, shoving her emotions down into the pit of her stomach, and locked them away. Now was the time for action. She would avenge her father. "You'd better buckle in, Lant."

There were no seats other then the pilot's and copilot's seat. Rika had no desire to sit anywhere near the Daughter, so she guided Lant over to one of two benches set against the walls. Chaz occupied the other, so Tamgren slid into the copilot's seat next to Daughter.

"Perhaps," Daughter began. Tamgren glared at her.

"Don't even talk to me. I can't wait to get to Zelan and away from you."

"What have I done to offend you?" Daughter was genuinely baffled. "I am…sorry. I have no grounds upon which to base my experiences with organic life. Perhaps I have been…" she groped for the proper word, "Tactless?"

"Among other things," Tamgren sighed explosively. "How long have you been an Android?"

"No more then a day. My body was finished quickly by myself and Wren, and then dispatched immediately. I had no chance to review human nature. You must forgive my shortcomings."

Tamgren's gaze softened. "I don't honestly know if I can. I'd be surprised if Chaz and Rika and Lant do - but I can try."

Daughter said nothing, concentrating instead on navigating the shuttle towards Zelan.

* * *

"This is most odd. Zelan appears to be sealed."

The shuttlecraft hung suspended in the space a short distance from Zelan. It's shields were still holding against the attack of the Alisa III.

Lant had fallen asleep with his head on Rika's shoulder - and Chaz had been unconscious since they had learned about their father. Rika bit down the horror welling in her chest. She made it to about midnight.

"What do you mean, sealed?" Tamgren interjected. "We can get inside, right?"

Daughter shook her head. "It appears not. No one is answering my communications to Zelan. It appears to have been abandoned. We shall have to make for Kuran."

Fingers dancing across the controls, Daughter turned the ship towards her satellite.

"Gods!" Rika gasped. "What was that?"

"What?"

"Just to the right - I caught a glimpse when we turned. It's huge!" Lant sat straight up, craning his neck and trying to see what his sister had. Chaz was sitting up, rubbing his eyes.

"What are you yelling about?" he groaned.

Time, for Rika, began to crawl, like the most horrible nightmare you can't awaken from.

"I cannot get a positive lock on Kuran's location."

"I see it! Wow, it's gigantic!"

"What's gigantic?"

"They have detected us. They are firing."

Rika felt the heat from the blast as it tore a hole in the center of the shuttle, ripping it in two. She tightened her grip on Lant as all the air was sucked from her lungs, but her hands weren't strong enough - Lant slipped free and the last thing she saw before the world went dark was her little brother being sucked into the darkness of space, her last thought, knowing that she would not be far behind him.

* * *

Demi and Wren shimmered into existence on a plain somewhere on the Alisa III. To the north and west towered massive, sheer mountain ranges. To the west of them sprawled a crystalline ocean.

The jury rigged transporter wasn't gentle - Demi was literally tossed from the rift in space it created. She landed roughly, rolling to a halt just as Wren was flung from the shimmering black sheet in the air. A moment later, the rift slid shut.

"Here we are," Demi said. "Where are we?"

Wren rose, brushed himself off, and delved into a pouch hanging at his side. He pulled a small, metal box out and placed it on the ground. "This holocube contains schematics of the Alisa III, including average climate for each biodome. Judging by the temperature, weather and the geography, which we shall discover as we go, we can estimate our location. This schematic also shows the various passageways and to which domes they lead. All that remains is to decide just where we are going."

"Well," Demi said thoughtfully. "Those towers are alien construction, right? Maybe the best place to start would be the large one in the central dome."

"Aridia," Wren told her. "It is a dry, desert land - quite inhospitable for human life, yet the central tower does seem to be the largest and most complex of the new constructs. Perhaps you are right. Now we must deduce exactly where is the Alisa III we have come out."

"How do we start?"

Wren stooped and picked up the holocube. He glanced around, shrugged, and pointed off towards to mountains. "We go that way."

* * *

Reshel.

Kyra stood on a rise overlooking the city, watching the Wren invaders close in. In one hand, she held the Psycho-Wand, the other clutched the diamond sphere of the Eclipse Torch. Off in the darkness of the Dezolis night she could see the sun staining the mountains crimson. She prepared to make her move.

A sudden prickling invaded her senses, an almost familiar sensation she knew she should recognize, one that made her blood run cold. She extended her mind out in all directions, feeling for the source of the sensation.

She gasped and withdrew her mind quickly. They had an Esper among them! In the brief glimpse of the woman's mind Kyra had seen that she was not a prisoner - she served them wholeheartedly. Yet - this being couldn't be an Esper - the Psycho-Wand should have detected an Esper with it's glow and buzz. Her gaze drifted to the Wand. She wasn't restraining it's abilities - instead, she was devoting her own power to the Wand to heighten them. So why wasn't it reacting to the Esper? There was no way to mask it, as far as Kyra knew, and Kyra knew quite a bit…

The staff was giving off a faint red glow - muted and flickering, as if it half-realized that an Esper had slipped within it's range, but it was not reacting to the presence of the Esper the way it should. It was almost as if the woman with the Wrens was alien to it. She swore under her breath. She would have to strike fast - she didn't have any idea of this Esper's potential, and didn't want to re-enter her mind and risk detection to find out. Raising the Eclipse Torch, she called upon it's power.

Pale blue fire erupted from the ground beneath the Wrens, streaming upwards in columns of flame that stretched to the heavens. She reached out briefly and touched the Esper's mind, feeling her register surprise and shock. The woman's defenses were quite strong - she wasn't really harmed by the attack, but her escort was eradicated. Taking the woman's brief distraction in stride, Kyra delved into her mind.

She drew away after a moment, confused. Her thoughts and memories had been lain naked to the probe, yet never in her past, or in her present, had she ever considered herself 'Esper'. She didn't even know what the word meant. There was a word predominant in her mind, though - Layan. She thought of herself as something called a Layan.

That word made bells ring in Kyra's head, and she knew that the name should mean something to her, but there was no time for that. Quickly, she propelled herself through space to a point right in front of the woman.

Not bothering with magic, Kyra swung the Psycho-Wand and slammed it into the Layan's face, sending her reeling. Then Kyra hurled the full force of her mind against the woman, tossing her to the ground. Quickly, Kyra had magically immobilized her. She grabbed the Layan's shoulders and pulled her up to face her.

"Tell me everything," Kyra hissed.

Too late she realized what the Layan was doing - broadcasting Kyra's face and power to many other minds, all over Algo - a warning. Quickly, Kyra moved to quell the thought-transmission, but too late. Kyra felt an enormous force slam against her mind, and she staggered backwards. The Layan's eyes rolled back in her head and she slumped to the ground, dead.

She killed herself, Kyra realized. There had been a lot of minds at the other end of that thought - Kyra hadn't been able to count exactly how many, but most of them were much more powerful then the woman who had just died.

All that remained was just what a Layan was.

Narrel, Kyra projected her thoughts across space to the Speaker.

Most Reverent?

Divide your forces, Narrel and send some to Dezolis, I have to return to the mansion. I may not be able to contact you for quite some time.

Yes, Lutz. He didn't question her. Kyra liked that - a refreshing break from Tarik.

Also, be warned. The invaders have Espers among them - they call themselves 'Layans'. Be careful, Narrel.

* * *

The slight upwards and downwards movement of the Telepathy Ball had always soothed Kyra - it was steady, and predictable, and calming. It also intensified the speed of her thoughts - near the source of the memories she had to comb through, the recollections came to her much clearer - she could almost live them.

Kyra slumped in the simple chair in Lutz's room, deep within the Esper Mansion. Before her was a marble table inlaid with gold. Set upon the table was the Telepathy Ball, a simple golden stand above which hovered the last remnants of the first Lutz, buoyed above the table by magical means.

Layan. The word meant something to her, but she wasn't sure just what. It obviously hadn't been important to whichever Generation Lutz had heard it. It put her in mind of a name.

Laya. That was it. A Parmanian youth - arrogant, cold and quick to anger. A member of the ruling family. The Landales. Now she was getting somewhere. Laya Landale. Kyra grinned - how's that for redundant?

The woman - no, girl - called Laya had had siblings - yes, he remembered now. Orakio was her twin - he wasn't quite as aloof as she was. Then there was Breiyani, their younger sister - she had had an imperious way about her, the way of someone used to being obeyed. And young Rulakir had always had a shadow about him - Lutz had known he was destined for dark things. Laya had been training…to become an Esper.

But the last of the Landale's had perished in the Great Collapse. That had been unfortunate, Lutz knew, despite the failings of their children. None of them could have been half the ruler Alis had been. Alis had been a nice enough woman - if a little gloomy.

Kyra shook her head furiously, snapping herself free of her trance like state. The memories were to strong here, and it was becoming to easy to draw them out of her mind, even to become locked into them - trapped in a dream world. Kyra had begun to merge with previous Lutz's, possessing not only their memories but their very essences - she had even started to think of herself as male!

That had always been the greatest danger of Lutz - to be one being, yet somehow remain two.

Her little expedition into her mind hadn't helped her much. Still, there were many things to consider. Laya had been training to become an Esper - she had, Kyra recalled, been quite good at magic. And the Layan woman had used Esper magic, albeit her methods had been much more primal - more an act of emotion then skill. That would explain why the Psycho-Wand hadn't warned Kyra - in the truest sense, the Layan had not wielded Esper magic.

This was - she quoted an old friend, long dead - starting to get interesting.

* * *

"They actually stopped for the night?" Lars smirked. "Do Androids need sleep?"

Alys sighed. "Not in the strictest sense of the word, no, they don't need sleep. What Androids do is more like a trance - rebuilding destroyed equipment and reactivating their internal weaponry. It's very similar to sleep, though."

"Good," Lars replied. "That means they can't press their advantage." Lars' arm was in a cast - the Wren had broken his shoulder - and his jaw bore a large, purple bruise.

The infirmary in the Guild was surprisingly empty - Lars and about a dozen others were it's only occupants, and that wasn't really a good sign. Broken bones mend in time - but no infirmary can heal death. And the invaders shot to kill.

"What are your plans, Alys?"

Alys started out of her reverie. "Oh…Some of the Hunters managed to get hold of the Wren's blasters during the skirmish - I'm instructing them in their use. Otherwise our only plan is to survive."

"We will, Alys. This planet's suffered worse." Lars smiled reassuringly. Alys wondered for a moment who he was trying to reassure. The smile didn't touch his eyes. Then, "Let's be honest, Alys. How long can we hold out?"

"As long as we have to, Lars. As long as we have to."

"You're evading my question."

"Yes, I am. Get some rest, Lars. You need it - and so do I." She rose. "See you in the morning."

"I certainly hope so."

* * *

"According to my schematics," Wren said, pocketing the holocube, "we are in the dome called Terminus. This is slightly unfortunate, as the route to the central biodome, Aridia, will be rather long. The only passage out of Terminus leads to Frigidia, a cold, icy biodome. From there, we will travel to Aerone, in the dome of Elysium. According to my records, Aerone will have a large shuttleport which we may use to travel to the town of Divisia, also in Elsysium. Then, we shall take a passageway to the dome called Landen, then a final passage to Aridia."

"What are these passages?" Demi asked, looking about her. She would never have known she was in a space ship if she hadn't seen it from the outside. There appeared to be no sun - which might mean it was constantly daytime in Alisa III. But the sky was blue and scudded here and there with clouds. It was actually rather pleasant. So far, they had seen no sign of life, human or otherwise. It was the 'otherwise' and what it might entail that bothered Demi.

"The biodomes are all connected by tunnels that run below the surface of the domes themselves. There purpose is to allow commerce and travel between the domes. The passage out of Terminus is to the west of here, around that large bay and to the south. Let us proceed."

* * *

"Looks like riders on the hill, Wren," Demi told him, returning her eyesight to normal magnification. "Six of them - they appear to be Parmanian. Armed, and coming our way. We've been spotted."

"Perhaps their intentions are not hostile," Wren replied, but nonetheless, he raised his blaster.

"Possibly…We can overtake six humans anyway, Wren. Let's see what they want."

Within several moments the riders had closed to a fair distance from the Androids, both of whom had raised their blasters to point at them. Their leader made a scything gesture with one hand, and they slowed their horses to a walk. They fanned out as they approached Demi and Wren, surrounding them.

"Cy's, by the look of 'em, Takk," one of the men commented to the leader. "Must've slipped a circuit. Stupid zombies."

"What are your designations, Cyborgs?" The leader, Takk, asked them. "Where are your masters?"

Wren's brow furrowed. "I am not a 'Cyborg'," the unfamiliar name rolled clumsily from his tongue. "I am a Wren-type Android, designation Control-A, and this is my companion, a Demi-type, designation Systems-C."

The leader gave Wren a look of absolute bafflement.

"Crazy Cy's slipped it's motherboard," one man commented.

"It would appear so," Takk replied, not giving the man a look. "Cyborgs, I demand to know your numeric designation, and the location of your masters. Do not force me to take you to the Outpost for processing."

Demi stepped forward. "I'm sorry," she said, "but we don't understand…"

The man, Takk, sighed. "Runaways." He wheeled his horse and moved closer to his men. "Subdue them and take them to the Outpost. I'm heading back."

The men grinned. "Crazy Cies," one man said. "Always slipping something. Yah!" He quickly spurred his horse forward, pulling a long steel rod from his belt as he did so. Quickly, the other men drove their heels to their horse's flanks and charged.

Demi fired once before the men were upon them, unhorsing one of the riders and throwing him to the ground. She and Wren were swept apart as the men rode between them.

Wren grasped a rider by the lapels and hoisted him into the air. Before he could do anything else, the man drove his rod into the Android's chest. A shock ran through Wren's systems and he convulsed, dropping the man. Quickly, two others stabbed at Wren with their rods, sending electrical charges through his body. He collapsed.

Demi's short height was no use to her against riders, and she quickly found herself being mercilessly attacked by the rods. On her knees, she struggled to activate her internal weaponry, anything to end the awful spears of pain shooting through her, but her body would not respond. Within moments she too, was unconscious.

* * *

"…And these two were just brought in this morning, Commander Aryal. Their programming appears to be infected with some sort of virus. They were violent and had to be subdued." Takk.

Demi opened her eyes slowly, quickly running a diagnostic on her systems, making sure everything was functional. Aside from an incredible stiffness all over her body, the electrical rods seemed to have had no damaging effects. She sat up.

"Ah," a new voice replied. "One of them is awake. I don't recognize the model." Demi looked at the speaker. A woman, she was head and shoulders taller then Takk and would come to Wren's neck - no small feat. Her mass of brown hair tumbled down her back.

But she was Parmanian. There was no doubt in Demi's mind. It appeared Wren's theory had been wrong. They were not being invaded by alien life forms. The only enemies they had were themselves.

"Neither do I, Commander. No doubt one of the new Cyborgs designed for the war." Takk sighed and shook his head. "Waste of good parts."

"That's treason, you know, Takk." They both laughed.

"Why have I been brought here?" Demi asked, rising. Aryal and Takk spun to look at her.

"That's no business of a Cy," Aryal replied stiffly. Then, to Takk, "must be an unfinished prototype to still have some mental abilities left. Has anyone come to claim them?"

"No," Takk responded. "You think they might be government property?"

Aryal shook her head. "I don't know. But I don't recognize that," she pointed at Demi, "and the Wren's specifications don't match any existing on file. If no one comes in twenty-four hours, ship them to the Central Tower. The government has better claim to these then anything." Quickly, Takk and Aryal turned and walked off down the hallway. Demi took the moment to survey her surroundings.

The cell she was in was bare - a simple cube carved into a wall, and the doorway was empty, but lit with the faint crackling of an energy barrier. Otherwise, the cell was devoid of furnishings.

This is, Demi reflected, leaning against the wall, the strangest predicament I've ever been in.

* * *

"At last!" Gaideen Tarm exulted. "Out of that blasted cave!" The sun was just rising over the mountains, painting the sky red. Behind him, many of the refugees sighed in relief.

The column was all the non-Hunter citizen's of Aiedo - only fools trusted the Hunters enough to stay with them, and Tarm was no fool. That Alys, though, was quite a woman, considering her age. Maybe in another life…

One of the refugees yelled and pointed. Tarm, snapped out of his reverie, and his attention was drawn to a shimmering distortion in the air before him. Out of that distortion a human body formed, clothed in the unearthly armor and blue mantle that Tarm had never seen, but knew from stories.

"Esper!"

"Yes," the man inclined his head briefly. "I am Speaker Narrel of Esper Mansion. You are Gaideen Tarm, mayor of Aiedo. You are a fool."

Tarm turned red. "Who are you to tell me-"

"Are you aware that my Espers and I just destroyed a sizable party of Wren Androids converging on your location? Androids that would have seen no difficulty in destroying you and your followers?"

Tarm blinked. "Wren what?"

Narrel gaped at him. "Invaders! Do you have any idea what is going on, Gaideen Tarm of Aiedo? No place is safe in all Algo. Only Aiedo is holding out against the invaders - we must work to save those villages that cannot fight." Narrel shot Tarm a quizzical look. "You are mayor of Aiedo. Why do you not know these things? Why are you not in your city?"

"We…we fled…"

"Fools. The Hunters are the only warriors on all of Algo holding out. Make for Kadary - we recently lifted a siege there, and it should not be attacked once more for at least twelve hours. Go! And quickly - there is little time for fools, and less time to indulge them." Narrel's body was again consumed by shimmering, and then he was gone.

[an error occurred while processing this directive]