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A Friend In Need

Part V


The guard at Armory 7 looked a bit surprised that Elenor wanted to get inside but as her authorization was in order he waved her past without comment. Inside the sealed chamber, Elenor was thunderstruck.

*elenor-happy-findfriend* Bhirava chirped.

*Yes,* she told it, *with this, maybe we do have a chance to find him.*

Pioneer 2 hadn't brought as many weapons as the initial mission. Unlike Pioneer 1, which had needed to be ready for anything on a new planet, the Council had anticipated that they'd find a peaceful world, already colonized in part. This hadn't stopped the scientists from developing new, more powerful weapon designs, though, an area of research which had become highlighted even more following the arrival on Ragol and the appearance of monsters.

The fruits of at least some of those experiments were kept in Armory 7.

Elenor was trained as a Ranger, to be skilled in long-range combat, so she ignored the Photon-bladed sabers and swords of various lengths. A couple of rifles looked promising, higher-powered versions of her normal gun, but then a whole new weapon caught her eye.

It was designed on the same basic frame as a rifle, a long body housing a more powerful Photon driver than a handgun could manage and a pistol grip without a stock. The size was a bit heavier and bulkier than a rifle, but the real difference was in the barrel. Instead of one, it had three, set on a rotating disk. Curious, Elenor called up the design specifications. It was called a Falcon DN-Zero mechcannon, and had been designed to combine the rate of fire of a mechgun with the power of a rifle.

Unfortunately, it appeared from the experimental notes that there was a serious drawback with the Zero. No conventional Photon driver could produce the amount of energy needed by the gun; without an external source of power it could not maintain more than the rate of fire of a standard rifle, and without the pinpoint accuracy. One power source that had been successfully used in tests was a Mag; the tiny creatures charged Photon energy during the course of battles and stored it to be used as powerful Photon Blast attacks. The mechcannon could draw on that stored power instead to increase its fire rate. Tests, though, suggested that the weapon required the Photon charging of not one Mag, but two.

Unfortunately, the Mag-to-hunter relationship was one-on-one; no one could equip two at a time.

*Would you work with another Mag, Bhirava?*

*bhirava-help-elenor*

*But, a friend of mine is in trouble. I need to help him.*

*only-bhirava!*

*Please? I need the help of two Mags! This gun won't work without two, and I need a weapon that's this powerful to save Master Olo!*

*WILL...HELP*

*?* Elenor's Bhirava chirped. Elenor's own reaction was much the same. It had not been the fairy-wing Mag's "voice."

*Who's there? Who said that?*

*WANT...HELP...SAVE*

The voice was strong and very powerful. Elenor looked around the armory and soon found its source: a Mag in a tall case. At first she thought it was a Some, two flat disks with descending spikes, but on second glance she realized that the spikes were set along the back edge and the disks curved, almost like ornate shoulder guards for a cape.

*Who are you?*

*SONATA*

*elenor-want-sonata-notwant-bhirava?* her own Mag told her sadly, feeling Elenor's excitement at this new discovery.

*No!* she protested instantly. *You'll always be my Mag, Bhirava. We can't do this ourselves, though. If you and I try alone, we'll just be killed, and so will Dr. Olo. I need both you and Sonata to work with me, or else...*

Indecision pulsed from the Mags.

*bhirava-notwant-elenor-nothappy*

*SONATA...WANT...COMPANION*

*willhelp*

Elenor lifted the Zero down from its rack and checked that the weapon was ready for use.

*Then let's go save Master Olo.*

*     *     *      *     *

"I don't know why you bothered to bring this young fool with us," Dr. Benton groused.

"He managed to trap you rather neatly," Mujo observed. "I would not be so quick to disparage him if I were you. It reflects badly on your own reputation."

They were in a small chamber in the depths of the caves under Ragol. Its walls were still rough-hewn, but the cave's entrance had been blocked by a steel-shuttered security door that had obviously been installed by the missing colonists of Pioneer 1. Olo had examined data from Ragol many times, but this was his first trip to the planet's surface. He'd have preferred to see it under less hostile circumstances.

He had to admit, though, that the hideout was a good one. The packs of wandering monsters that roamed the caves were a major deterrent to hunters who might come looking for the criminals. What's more, since access to Ragol was restricted, milipol agents couldn't follow the criminals down to their lair to arrest them.

It made Olo wonder, though, just how it was that Mujo had access to Ragol's surface. Who in the government had smoothed the way for the black-haired "trader"? Then again, there might be an easier explanation. The Ranger, Doronbo, might be part of the Hunter's Guild, who would have access to the surface as well as the right to take down a "client."

Mujo looked thoughtfully at his captive.

"It made me wonder if Dr. Montague had perhaps thrown his lot in with our enemies, but the ease with which we foiled their little trap negates that theory. Montague would be more clever."

Benton's lips tightened at the mention of his hated rival.

"That fop! How could he pose a threat to you? He probably did set this up, but forgot he did it halfway to the end."

Doronbo chortled at the joke, but his master simply frowned.

"You underestimate your opposition, Doctor. That is a bad mistake to make at any time, but certainly so under the current circumstances. It makes me wonder if we made the proper choice in selecting you as our agent."

Benton went pale at the calm malice in the trader's voice. Olo could easily see how people could have believed that "Black Paper" was a nickname for Mujo rather than an entire organization. The man fit his reputation to perfection.

"I think, however," he continued, "we have spent much too much time on trivialities when there is work to be done, namely, to learn what precisely you know about us, Dr. Olo, and whom else you may have told. The experience will not be a pleasant one for you, but I can promise that the length and intensity of your suffering will be minimized if and only if you give us the full and exact truth.

*     *     *      *     *

The Zero did not just fire; it roared. Unlike the members of Black Paper, who probably knew all manner of shortcuts through the caves to minimize their danger, Elenor could only follow Dr. Olo's bio-signal. Twice she'd fought her way through to dead ends, each one a waste of time. The massive weapon sent three-round burst after three-round burst into multi-eyed, fanged beasts that looked like nothing so much as bipedal sharks with blades for hands, into giant, twisted flowers that spewed toxic fluids, into insects twice Elenor's height and dragons which could breathe forth searing gouts of energy. All of the monsters fell, and yet they came on, undaunted by the deaths of their fellows, as if driven only by an unreasoning need to hurt and kill despite the danger.

It bothered Elenor to destroy these living creatures, even twisted as they were, but she buried those concerns and fought on towards her goal. What did her squeamishness matter, compared to the life of her friend?

I can't let Master Olo become "missing"! Especially not when he was helping me!

The last monster in the room fell. The security sensors, detecting that no hostile creatures were present, unsealed the exit door, red lights changing to green. Elenor charged through, gun at the ready, that much closer to her friend.

*     *     *      *     *

"So what's it going to be?" Olo asked bravely. "Torture? Is that all you people are good for?"

"Indeed, no," Mujo said. "The difficulty with torture is that while it can be exceptionally effective at eliciting the answers the torturer wants to hear--say, a confession--it does little to force truth, instead of deception, from an unwilling tongue. We prefer to extend the interrogation beyond simple pain."

Doronbo opened up a case in the corner and removed various implements.

"Please understand that I am telling you this to illustrate to you how futile it will be to try and resist, an exercise which will only serve to cost me in time and you in pain. Those devices which Doronbo is attaching to your temples and wrists are biosystem and brainwave monitors. While not infallible, they will help us to determine whether you are telling the truth. Likewise, the drug vials he is removing from the small steel case contain compounds which will heighten the sensitivity of your nerve receptors, causing you to feel pain more intensely, as well as unfocusing and clouding your mind, making it a more difficult chore to maintain your concentration and willpower."

Mujo tapped his fingertips together.

"Any person can be broken, Dr. Olo, given sufficient physical, psychological, and chemical inducements. I have the utmost respect for your accomplishments thus far. It would be a pity if I was forced to break you."

*     *     *      *     *

The last of the shark-monsters fell before the mechcannon's hail of fire, and Elenor waited anxiously for the last door between herself and Olo to open.

But it didn't. The security indicator remained stubbornly red.

Frustrated, Elenor checked the map her radar gear had made of the area. She hadn't missed a switch anywhere, or a transporter warp. There were no more lurking monsters to be defeated in this room. The only explanation was that the door switch was on the other side. That may have made it a perfect hideout, but it stymied Elenor's efforts.

Frustrated, she raised the Zero and unleashed a raging storm of fire into the door, hammering at it with what seemed like a solid bar of Photon energy. The whole purpose of security doors was to be able to withstand such attacks, though. Nothing short of an artillery assault would take it down.

*elenor-nothappy?*

*WHY...ELENOR...ANGRY?*

"Because Master Olo is right on the other side of this door, and I can't get through it to save him!" she cried aloud.

*SONATA...BHIRAVA...HELP*

There was a surge of golden light. Bhirava extended and pivoted slightly, as if the wings were spreading. Sonata, meanwhile, raised up above Elenor's shoulders, framing them. The android could feel the rush of Photon energy pulsing through them and herself.

*What's going on? A Photon Blast? But, you shouldn't be able to do that with the Zero draining your Photon charge!*

*SONATA...STRONG...MAG*

The experimental Mag, Elenor realized, charged more than an ordinary one, leaving it with leftover energy to build for a Photon Blast. Apparently, it had even borne some of Bhirava's share, giving the second Mag a chance to act as well.

The explosion of energy was deafening.

*     *     *      *     *

To Benton and the members of Black Paper, she must have looked like an avenging angel, striding through the hole in the wrecked door, two Mags hovering around her, the huge mechcannon gripped in both hands. To Simons Olo, though, the apparition of Elenor spelled salvation.

She's alive! he exulted mentally, feeling no inconsistency in using the term for a mechanical being which had never truly been alive in the literal sense.

"Let Dr. Olo go!"

"Get her!" Mujo shouted. He suited actions to words, thrusting his hands out, summoning up the power for another technique. Doronbo snatched his rifle, swinging it up into firing position. Benton fumbled with a handgun.

The massive weapon in Elenor's hands screamed for a moment, and then all was still.

*     *     *      *     *

"I killed them," Elenor murmured. She and Olo sat next to one another in hard, uncomfortable seats beneath a brilliant green-tinted light. On the far side of the room was a table; behind it sat a uniformed colonel, an Internal Security representative, and Dr. Montague.

"I must make a note to tell Dr. Croehl that her Zero appears to be highly compatible with Elenor's special facility for communicating with Mags. There might be a distinct potential there for further research."

"Please, Dr. Montague," the I-Sec agent said, pinching the bridge of her nose to stave off an impending headache, "this is hardly the time for scientific analysis."

It was at least the fourth time he'd made a similar sort of observation, and each had come right at an intense moment in the questioning, completely derailing the mood.

"You saved my life," Olo told Elenor earnestly. "I'll always be in your debt."

"But I killed them. People, not monsters, including a senior laboratory official."

"You had no choice. They'd have killed us both--they'd already tried to destroy you once, Elenor."

"She has a point," the army colonel said gruffly. "Dr. Benton, despite being involved in criminal activity, was a high-ranking scientist at the lab. A laboratory android shouldn't have been able to shoot him, even in self-defense."

Montague sniffed, his manner indicating that he was deeply affronted.

"Really, Colonel, do you think that I programmed Elenor with such an inferior personality that she would blindly obey orders from a criminal who was threatening her life as well as that of Dr. Olo? Do you have no respect at all for my abilities as a scientist?"

"She gunned down a laboratory official."

"And what would you do, Colonel," Dr. Olo cut in, "if your superior officer was tracking in stolen top-secret data and was about to kill the only witnesses to his crime, including yourself?"

The military officer's jaw sagged, then snapped shut without another word. The I-Sec agent, though, wasn't so easily stymied.

"Dr. Olo, what the Colonel would do or what you or I would do isn't the issue here. Android YN-0117 is supposed to obey the orders of--"

"Well that's just a perfect example of your entire problem," Dr. Montague interrupted. "Android YN-0117, indeed! Her name is Elenor Camuel, and perhaps if you started thinking of her that way you might overcome this odd misconception you seem to have that she is some kind of robot slave blindly following preprogrammed courses of action." He shook his head. "Really, and they call me absent-minded."

She looked at the genius scientist with exasperation.

"Dr. Montague, are you telling me that this android is supposed to have an independent personality?"

"Why not? The concept is hardly revolutionary. Wander over to the Hunter's Guild and you'll meet dozens."

"Dr. Montague, there are forms to be filled out, authorizations to obtain, proper procedure to--"

"Tish-tosh, Agent. Would you really hold back the progress of science for the sake of bureaucracy?"

The Colonel cleared his throat loudly, cutting in.

"Look, Doctor, if you say she didn't malfunction, that's good enough for me. You two can argue about what lab rules did or did not get broken when you made her. As for the rest of it, we recovered the disks with the top-secret data. Benton, Mujo, and Doronbo are dead, which saves on the cost of a trial and a lot of bad publicity for the government. Dr. Olo, you say that you don't know anyone else who is involved with this Black Paper?"

He shook his head.

"No one. Our only link to them died with Mujo."

"So unless Mujo's associates try something very foolish such as seeking revenge against the two of you," Montague remarked, "they are completely safe for now."

"Unfortunate, but at least it clears things up neatly," the army man concluded. "I say we put it down to the dangers of Ragol in the official record and leave it at that."

"An excellent idea, Colonel. It lacks that sterling quality of truth, but we are of course government employees so that concern should hardly enter our analysis. I heartily concur with your findings."

The I-Sec agent sighed.

"I'd complain, but what would be the point? All these two did was to plug a security leak and fight in self-defense. There's no one left alive to prosecute, so there's no need to insist the case be filed as a crime. We put it down your way and everyone saves face. Plus, it cuts down on the paperwork."

"Then this hearing is concluded," summed up the colonel. "Dr. Olo, Android--er, Miss Camuel, thank you for your assistance in helping us come to understand this tragic accident."

Elenor looked at Simons Olo and smiled. She didn't know if she'd be able to come to terms with what she'd done, but she was glad of one thing, at least. This time, instead of someone coming to her rescue, she'd been able to offer help. Friendship, as she understood it, should never be all one way.

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