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Using a finger, he flipped on the secured channel and saw Ricktus's face come onto the screen. He was alone in a Land Rover, and his green hair was under the helmet he wore.
"Yes, Ricktus?" D'zkot said in the Mota tongue.
"Umm, D'zkot. Hi. Uhh, what's that word? Palah?" As usual, he pronounced it wrong, and Commander D'zkot hid his contempt with anger.
"What did you do now?" he demanded angrily.
"Umm, me? I didn't do anything. It was the Agent."
D'zkot's face visibly registered a look of shock. "Rolf?" Ricktus nodded. "Damn it!"
"He and his friends broke into the Lab. I don't have a clue as to how he figured it out -- maybe a tracer was planted on one of our men at the Central Gardens battle a few days ago." D'zkot only stared. Ricktus continued. "Anyway, most of us got away in the Rovers. We weren't followed. Right now we're at the teleport base near Kueri." The base was hidden in the forest.
"How many men were killed?" the Dezorian asked without emotion.
"None killed. About a third of the Rebels were taken captive and are prisoners in the Central Tower. Most of us escaped to the base here."
D'zkot leaned forward, taking a breath. "All right," he began, "here's what I want you to do. Remember the important mission I spoke of a while back? This is it. Part of it I will handle here. The other part you must do." He gave Ricktus a look as if he were addressing a child. "You can handle this, right, Ricktus?"
Ricktus nodded quickly.
"Good," D'zkot smiled. "We might as well assume that Rolf has found the F-5 and is taking it for analysis now," D'zkot began. He went on to give Ricktus the specifics and then cut the channel. After that, he called up a schematic of space within a light-year radius of Dezo. The information did not come from Dezo's sensor nets, but rather from D'zkot's own personal information retrieval satellites. He believed in being fully prepared before you take on a big project -- a project as big as, ohh, say, taking over a planet by killing it's leader.
D'zkot studied what he saw on the screen. The Paseo had just been launched from Mota. Rolf was going at quarter-sublight, which meant he would arrive at Dezo in about an hour. The Agent was in no rush.
Before casually finishing his work, D'zkot made a call to his own private men. He used the Visiphone to key in a private comlink, audio only, to his men's hidden communications center, deep in the bowels of Skure. "Send a message to the Outpost," he began. "Kill it."
Then he killed the channel. His men would take it from there.
Rolf glanced at the ETA readout on the auto-pilot's status screen; one of many screens in front of him. After the initial launch, he set the Star Cruiser Paseo to auto-pilot and sat back. ETA to Dezo was now thirty-seven minutes and fourteen seconds. Briefly, he toyed with the idea of going to an even slower speed (he was already well below cruising); Not so much as to enjoy the scenery, but more to stay away from Mota for awhile. Everything there just reminded him so much of the past...
Or maybe it was a bit of selfishness. Right now, he was in Algo's only space ship. Gaira had exploded -- Rolf knew about that all too well -- and the only other one was the Paseo here, used for Agent emergencies. There was one other one ship that occasionally travelled through the Algo Star System, but that one didn't really count.
Palm and Mota were once working on a fleet of ships, in order to begin full-scale interstellar exploration, but that idea had exploded along with Palm. The Paseo was all that was left, and he had it.
Monitors on the dash in front of him sprang to life. Almost reflexively, Rolf reached into the seat behind him for his Sonic Gun. Lotta good that'd do him here in space.
There was a strong flash on his auto-pilot monitor, recommending that he leave auto-pilot. Rolf nodded to the screen. "You bet I'm leaving auto-pilot," he muttered as his hands flew across the board. What he saw on his visual displays, sensor read-outs, and with his own eyes through the canopy was something he was just debating over, and that couldn't exist.
But what was in front of him was another ship. It was a fighter, though a bit larger than Rolf's and obviously of a different model. It looked to Rolf like it was equipped with blasters and torpedoes. All the Paseo had was a puny laser. Not like they ever figured on it needing anything more...
With a few switches flipped, Rolf had given power to the shields. "Terrific!" he griped when he saw that the last time the shields had been turned on was five years ago, and so they were not up now, simply "charging."
"I don't suppose they're here peacefully..." the Agent mused as his first wave of sensor scans on the ship came in. One life form on board, and his hull was strong enough so that Rolf's lasers couldn't hurt him even with his shields down. Guess that's why he hasn't raised them yet, Rolf correctly assumed.
The Agent figured his only chance was in escape. He gave an equal balance of power to the shields and the engines as he gunned the sub-lights on a course that turned the Paseo about 30 degrees port and into a dive that flung him under the attacking ship.
Once below the ship, he made a quick turn 60 degrees starboard. Thinking quickly, he shut the shields off completely, and put full power into the engines, pushing the limit of the sub-lights. At this speed, he'd make it to Dezo in about two minutes. Rolf punched the engines further, until he was as close to his top speed as he was going to get. Even if he had lightspeed capability, it wouldn't do any good this close to the planet, so Rolf assured himself he was doing the best he could.
Not good enough. As he sped away, the attacking ship didn't move. Its swivel blaster, however, did.
Fortunately, at Rolf's speed, he'd be hard to hit.
Unfortunately, the swivel was at full power, and was already locked on. It fired.
The hit wasn't enough to take out the whole ship, but for all purposes it might as well have had. The Paseo had lost all engines, and was in a spin back towards Mota with stabilizers worse than off-line: destroyed. All the attacker had to do was fire at will.
And all Rolf could do was kiss his butt good-bye. Realizing this, he took another look over the sensor readings that he had received on the ship, and as a final effort, Rolf was trying to send them to the Central Tower. That way they'd know that there were more ships out here and investigate. But considering their one ship was about to be destroyed... What the hell he thought. The attempt was futile anyway. The power generators had been hit along with the engines. Emergency cells ran the cockpit area only, and the transmitter antenna was in the aft portion of the ship and destroyed with most of the rest of that area..
Then, Rolf caught a glimpse of something on his read-out. An energy distortion, between the Paseo and it's attacker. The Agent recognized the distortion as the same type that signaled his attacker's arrival. Great, he thought, send one more to take me out?
The answer was "no." Once the new ship had fully de-cloaked, Rolf got read outs on it. He was mildly surprised to see that it was transmitting a transponder code. Hmm, strange, Rolf thought, he must be sending that for my sake. I doubt he's gone respectable.
The ship was Space Pirate Tyler Jorann's Hell Runner.
Apparently, Tyler had torpedoes armed and ready before de-cloaking, because the second the cloakers were fully down, a torpedo was fired from each of the Hell Runner's torpedo bays.
The attacking ship didn't have a chance to even register Tyler's transponder, let alone raise its shields.
Before Rolf realized it, the stars around him had stabilized as Tyler's tractor beam had a hold of him. The Agent looked over his read-outs. The engines were shot to hell and back, and they took the shields with them. Pretty much everything in the aft section of the ship was either badly damaged or destroyed.
Good thing, Rolf thought, the F-5 is here in the back seat. Before he could think or do anything else, a flash came from his comm board. Smiling, Rolf opened the channel. Tyler's smirking face came onto his screen. "Heya, Rolf," the Space Pirate grinned. "Get in any trouble lately?"
"Tyler," Rolf laughed. "Just teleport me aboard your ship, buddy."
The room that appeared around Rolf was a standard ship cargo bay. He stood alone on the teleportation pad, with his cargo of F-5 by his feet and his Sonic Gun holstered at his side.
Standing in front of him was something the Agent did not expect. It was a Polezi, a type of robot the Palm Government used. Robots were not new to Algo. But, like the space fleet, their origins began on Palm, and Mota had yet to see many, save for the hordes that invaded the planet after Rolf and his party defeated Neifirst and returned Climatrol to Government control.
The Polezi fixed him with a mechanical stare. He was android in nature; a "man" made of silver metal with glowing red eyes and a weapon of some kind mounted on the left shoulder. "I am L-479, captured and reprogrammed by the Guardians of Mota. Welcome to Captain Jorran's Hell Runner, Agent Rolf."
Rolf left his cargo on the pad and walked to the android. I'll have some questions for Tyler about THIS one, he thought. As if L-479 were a real person, Rolf extended his hand. "A pleasure meeting you," he smiled.
"A pleasure," the robot confirmed as he took Rolf's hand. His metal grip was the strongest Rolf had ever felt. "This way, sir." L-479 began to walk out of the small cargo bay area and into a hallway. Behind them, the hall led to a lounge area and small living quarters. Ahead of them was the cockpit.
"Better ship," Rolf commented as he entered the cockpit. Tyler stood and turned. The Agent had to smile. The man still looked the same.
Tyler fixed Rolf with a grin. His blond hair was still cut fairly short, though not as short as Rudo's, with a line of bangs hanging across the forehead -- much smaller than the bangs that fell across Rolf's head, nearly covering his eyes. The scar that went from the left side of his head, just above the temple, to his mid-forehead was still there as well.
"Damn straight it's better," Tyler laughed. "Times two lightspeed, Danzimm shields and cloakers, jammers, a good comm board, a better computer, and the best weapons you can get."
Rolf let out a soft whistle. "Quite a bit for such a small ship."
"Well, she's worth it. The old one was no bigger than your clunker out there--"
"Mota Government's clunker," Rolf corrected.
"Mota Government's clunker out there. This one has a bigger cockpit -- which is expected. Mine's a freighter, yours is a fighter. Plus, I have a lounge, quarters, and a small, but efficient, cargo bay. Plus it keeps all the maneuverability and speed of any good fighter."
"Where'd you get it?"
"Stoi'ra. It's the moon of Stoi'la IV, a few systems away. You really ought to explore space."
Rolf was silent for a moment, his thoughts drifting to the freedom he felt on the trip to Dezo, before the attack. "I know," he said quietly. Quickly, he regained himself. "How much?" he asked casually.
"Nuttin'. Stole it," was Tyler's just-as-casual reply.
Rolf gave him a stare, a faint grin coming across his lips. "You stole it?"
"I stole it." Rolf began to chuckle. "No, really, you see, this fellow Pirate owed me a lot of money, and he was drunk in this bar on Trask, when he mumbled something about a new ship he was getting at Stoi'ra the following morning. Well he was drunk on Kinson whiskey so it was fairly easy to get the information out of him."
A wave towards the seat where L-479 was piloting the Hell Runner towards the Paseo. "Ol' Toasterhead and I just made our way over to Stoi'ra and posed as my 'friend' and we left with the Hell Runner."
"Speaking of 'Ol' Toasterhead'," Rolf began in a whisper, "how'd you happen to get your hands on that little piece of Algo technology?"
"Good question." Tyler began to walk back to the lounge area, and Rolf stepped into place beside him. "I went through Algo here a few months ago. Sorry I couldn't visit, but I was kind of here secretly. Anna needed something for the Guardians. I considered it a favor for a friend, but she supplied me with a co-pilot as payment."
Rolf nodded and made a mental note to ask Anna about what other robots she might have tucked away in the Guardian headquarters. "So," he said, flopping into a chair in the lounge area (kitchen area would be more like it), "what did you get on my little friend before he went ka-boom?"
Tyler sat across from him, quickly going into "serious mode." He tapped a comm panel on the side of the table the Agent and Pirate sat at, and with a whine, a channel opened between the lounge and the cockpit. "Toasterhead," Tyler began, "transfer everything we got on Rolf's attacker to the station back here, will ya?"
"Sure thing," came the reply. Rolf could tell he had not only been re-programmed as to loyalties and knowledge, but to attitude as well. He was now an individual, not a robot slave.
The screen on the wall near the table came to life with a schematic of the ship that attacked Rolf. The Agent's eyes went to slits of puzzlement as he saw the name of the ship. "I can't read it, but I recognize the language," Rolf said quietly, barely a whisper.
Tyler nodded. "You were attacked by Dezorians."
The Agent shook his head, brushing blue hair out of his eyes. "That's impossible. The Dezorians don't have that kind of stuff."
"Are you sure?"
. Rolf's silence was the answer.
"Rolf..." Tyler began, wondering how to explain, "you guys really don't know much about Dezo, let alone the Dezorians, do you?" Rolf shook his head. "For a while now -- since before we met, even -- there have been Dezorians out there." He cocked a thumb towards the rear of the ship. "Outside of Algo."
The blue eyes looked back at him in surprise. "How long?"
Tyler sighed, thinking. "A while. I know what you're thinking: why haven't other aliens come to Algo then? The answer is Mother Brain."
Rolf's eyes became slits and focused on Tyler's face at the mention of his old enemy's name. "Explain."
"Well, the word isn't yet out that Mother Brain is gone. But the galaxy heard that it was running two planets of this system, and they all thought you all were a little bonkers. But then, they heard that this computer -- a computer -- destroyed an entire planet. Since then, everyone has been even more quick to stay away, thank you very much.
"Anyway... it was Dezorians. One of their shuttle fighters." Tyler's eyes went to the screen. "Equipped with cloakers. It wasn't launched from Dezo, though. That much I can tell." Eyes back to Rolf. "You know any Dezorians?"
Rolf shook his head, then remembered his trip to Dezo on his quest to destroy Mother Brain. "Wait," he uttered. "We did meet one. He wasn't a full-blooded Dezorian though."
He told Tyler of the Dezorian they met who told his party of the Espers, and Esper Mansion on Dezo. Noah, the great Esper who fought alongside Queen Alis, was training, in the city of Skure, a group of young Espers when the Dezorians launched the massacre on Esper Mansion that killed almost all there. Noah drew the energies from the young Espers in an awesome display of Esper magic that completely leveled the city. All of the young Espers save one had lost all their magic, but to this day, their descendants lived in the Esper Mansion with the last Esper, Lutz, the student whose powers Noah didn't destroy. One of the young Espers left the mansion to pursue a normal life, and mated with a Dezorian. The Dezorian that had talked with Rolf and the others was a descendant of that powerless Esper.
"Good story," Tyler said, rubbing his chin, "but I don't think it helps us. What were you heading to Dezo for anyway?"
Just then, L-479 came over the comlink. "Now in standard orbit around planet Dezo, Captain. The tractor beam has a secure lock on the Paseo but I'd like to go out and secure some cables, just to be safe."
"Okay, Toasterhead, thanks," Tyler called as L-479 cut the channel.
"Now that we're here you can come with me," Rolf said, standing.
"Where?" the Pirate asked again.
The teleport coordinates were right-on. Rolf and Tyler materialized in the middle of a field of white. It looked like there was nothing in sight for miles and miles except snow. The Pirate cursed below his breath and tightened his scarf around his face. "What now? There's nothing in sight."
"Exactly," Rolf said quietly as he took a step forward. With another step, he was going down. His body was slowly sinking into the ground, yet going forward at the same time. "Nothing in sight," he threw to Tyler over his shoulder, "but the stairway entrance to the Crevice is right here."
. Cautiously, Tyler stepped forward. After the first few steps he eased into it, and soon enough, it was easy. They were below the hologram, and the torch-lit hallways of the Crevice allowed the Pirate to see the stairway.
They took the short but dark trip through the Crevice in silence. Lutz had cleared all of the wild Dezo beasts out of the tunnels and installed the hologram system for security instead. Not like many people wanted in, anyway.
After only a few minutes, Rolf led Tyler to another stairway. Coming up through another hologram, the Pirate sucked in a breath of awe. He had smuggled and traded through Algo for most of his life, so of course he'd heard the legends, but he'd never seen the actual thing.
The snow on the ground of the Alplatin plateau was a light blue. This was caused by light reflecting off the shimmering blue magical shield that kept unwanted people away from the plateau. (Crevice was the only way in or out, not counting mystical means. The field was also highly magnetic, preventing all means of teleportation save magical.)
And in the distance, slightly lit, stood a huge, round two-story building.
As they approached the doors of the mansion, Tyler asked how they told the people inside they were here. "No doorchimes that I can see, and knocking doesn't always echo through mansions of this size."
"Actually," Rolf began with a hint of a smile, "we don't tell them we're here. They already know."
Indeed, when they reached the doors, they opened automatically. Behind each door stood a yellow-robed person. Half-Espers, they were called. Descendants of the Espers whose powers were burnt out by Noah in the destruction of Skure. Right now, Lutz was working day and night in the mansion to try and figure out a way to restore their power and give the Espers a new era of greatness. Helping him were two of Rolf's friends: the biologist Hugh Thompson and the doctor Amy Sage.
"Hello, Agent Rolf! Hello, Pirate Tyler!" one of the men exclaimed. Tyler was noticing what Rolf did on his own first trip to the mansion: there was a blizzard on Dezo before they entered the Crevice, and through the shield he could see it now, yet there was no snow falling inside the Alplatin plateau. But still there was snow on the ground of the Alplatin plateau.
The other Half-Esper smiled. "Ahh, yes, you would think that on the first visit, Tyler." How did he know what he was thinking? "But Lutz's magic is very powerful. He is the second most powerful Esper ever. Only his teacher, the great Noah, was stronger."
Suddenly the Pirate forgot about his thoughts being read. "A student of Noah's? How old is this Lutz?"
[I was born over a millennium ago,] a voice chimed in his mind. Rolf looked across the huge entry room/throne room at the currently empty throne that sat in the middle, at the end of a carpet. [Yet I have slept for many, many years, awaiting my time.]
Then he made his appearance. While the Half-Espers closed the doors over again, Rolf and Tyler watched as a man clad in light-blue robes, to match the shade of his long, straight hair, came out from a stairway behind his throne.
This time when Lutz addressed Rolf and Tyler, he spoke with his voice instead of his mind.
"And as for your previous question, and it's answer, I picked the stray thought floating in the air about your mind. The Half-Espers are all in a tight telepathic link with myself." And with Rolf as well. Ever since landing on Dezo, the tight, almost brotherly, mental bond between he and Lutz had been re-established.
1,000 years ago, Alis, Noah, Odin, and Myau were the keys to Algo's destiny. Now, the system's destiny was in the hands of Lutz and Rolf. Lutz could handle it; he had been raised to do the job, in hibernation for centuries. As for Rolf -- it was nearly driving him insane. Lutz had his job cut out for him: try and keep Rolf together while at the same time begin to tell him all that still remained secret.
Algo's last telemental smiled. "Welcome to Esper Mansion, Tyler. Welcome back, Rolf."
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