[an error occurred while processing this directive]

Chapter Six

Tyler looked at Rolf and Lutz in puzzlement. They were simply staring at each other, not saying a word, but Rolf still kept gesturing towards the crate of the strange F-5 under his arm.

Then it hit him: the telepathy again.

He was correct. Though he couldn't hear it -- not even the Half-Espers could, it was tightly shielded by Lutz to stay between just he and Rolf -- the Esper and the Agent were in telepathic conversation.

[You found the Rebel headquarters?]

Yes, it was in the old Biosystems Lab. And I found this in a still active laboratory. Why does that fear you?

[I have not been able to see the future of Rebel activities, nor did I know that the Rebels' base was the Biosystems Lab.]

I thought you knew everything about Algo.

[As did I. All Rebel activities have been... blocked... from me somehow. Never mind it.] A pause. [I mean it, friend, it is nothing. Do not dwell on it.]

All... All right... Anyway, I need Amy and Hugh to analyze this.

[I shall take you to them at once. I must know of this as well.]

The whole conversation took only a few seconds. Suddenly they had broken off and Rolf was following Lutz to the side of the room, towards a door.

[By all means follow, Mr. Jorran.]

He did as he was telepathically told.

[Yes, I understand you have many questions. The Espers are telementals. We have a reputation for being magicians, but all of our "magic" comes from our mind.] Lutz picked up something from one of the Half-Espers. [Ahh, yes, good point. One of the Half-Espers reminds me that, at the moment, only my magic comes from my mind. The other Espers' magics do not work at all... for the moment.]

Rolf has told me about it, Tyler thought, wondering if thinking what he wanted to say would work.

[Yes, I saw that in his mind. Thank you for reminding me. And as you can see, it did work.]

Lutz must have told them telepathically they were coming, because after climbing a circular stairway and walking a few feet down a hall on Esper Mansion's massive second floor, the doctor Amy Sage came running out of a door and down the hallway towards Rolf, embracing the Agent in a hug. "Rolf!" she cried out. "How have you been?"

"I've been great, Amy." As she pulled away, she looked to Lutz, and her eyes got that vaguely lost look that Tyler had already correctly deduced meant telepathic conversation with the last telemental.

"Where'd you get it?" she asked Rolf. With a glance back towards the silent Lutz, she had her answer. "Bring it in. Hugh and I together should be able to figure out what it is."

The lab was a huge room filled with the latest technology from all over Algo. Rolf doubted there was a better lab anywhere in the system -- that there was ever a better lab. "Hey, Rolf, Tyler," Hugh called over his shoulder as he intensely examined a test tube of some kind. "Just getting this tube ready to examine your little... what was it? F-5?"

"Hi, Hugh. And yes, it's called F-5," Rolf muttered, and handed the case to Amy. It was heavy for her, but she managed to carry it over to where Hugh worked. The biologist turned and faced them for the first time.

He glanced at the case, then back to Lutz, Rolf, and Tyler. "With all luck, we can have this thing broken down and cracked...," Hugh looked to the ceiling with a look of thought, running a hand through his purple hair. "...within an hour."

Rolf nodded. "Good, that'll be good. One hour."

"In the meantime," Lutz said to them all, "I have some business to discuss with Rolf." He turned to Tyler. "Mr. Jorran, if you could do me a favor?"

Tyler glanced at the chronometer on his wrist. "Sure, I've got some time I can kill. What do you need?"

"Only someone to take our Ice Digger into Aukba and pick up a few things."

"I'd do it, but as you can tell, I'm a little busy," Hugh confessed.

"Sure," Tyler shrugged, "I'm up for it."

"Good," Lutz smiled. "The Ice Digger is outside, in the cave. A Half-Esper will lead you to it." Indeed, the thought had already been given into the Half-Esper telepathy network.

[In the meantime, Rolf, a word with you?]

Rolf looked at Lutz with a but of puzzlement. The telepathic sentence came on their private channel, and through the same channel Rolf could tell that Lutz was beginning to close off his mind from the minds of the others in the mansion, save Rolf.

Sure... Rolf thought, perplexed, but why all the shielding?

[You shall see soon enough. Follow.]

- - - - - - - - - -

Once Lutz and Rolf were alone together in a private room, far from the civilization of the mansion, Rolf brushed hair out of his eyes. Lutz had been in here earlier to start a fire in the fireplace, as this room, apparently a large study, was unheated.

They began an intricate conversation in a mixture of telepathy and regular speak.

What's this all about, Lutz?

[Answers.]

To what?

[Questions you have yet to ask. Rolf, as you know, I know the entire history of Algo and I can forsee what the future holds as well--]

That's why you had no indication there was any kind of Rebel movement on Mota? Lutz looked at Rolf with a look of shock. He'd let on that he knew about the movement, but nothing specific. It was a lie. The thought was sub-conscious; it leaked. Explain this.

[All right... you are correct... And I should have known better. Telementals such as myself should hold no secrets from those we communicate with mentally. Yes, I knew nothing of the Rebel movement. And yes, it frightens me. I know everything about Algo, everything, and I did not know about this. That is why I believe we have reached the second part in your... training. It is time for you to get answers and learn truths.]

How can you answer questions I have yet to ask?

[You shall see...] "Let us begin," Lutz said aloud, and turned to the room's sole window. It had an old, dusty brown curtain over it, and Lutz pulled it aside with his hand and gazed out at the Alplatin Plateau.

[First, a question you have already asked, subconsciously. What is this room? It was my teacher's study.]

Noah's study...

[Yes. One-thousand years ago lived Noah, and Queen Alis, and Odin, and Myau. They saved Algo by defeating the Dark Force, a demon much like the one you fought one-thousand years later.]

Yes, I know the legends well. But what does this have to do with me?

"Patience." [I have told you that you are the direct descendant of Queen Alis, correct?]

Yes.

[But I have told you nothing more of your bloodline?]

No, you have not.

He turned to Rolf and spoke. Things spoken aloud in the middle of a telepathic conversation were said to create emphasis. "Why are you and I able to have such a tight telepathic link?"

Rolf stared at him. A question I have yet to ask, but have asked.

[Yes, subconsciously you have. You must learn to see your own subconscious as well as others'.]

Rolf nodded, then returned the conversation to the question at hand. Why?

[Why do we have such a tight link? That is easy, Rolf. Somewhere in the past, one of your ancestors married an Esper.]

But... But all of the Espers live here, ever since Noah founded Esper Mansion.

[No, not all. When Noah united the Espers, I was living with my parents on Palm. Some of the Espers we knew there wished to stay, despite the fact that they were still not looked upon fondly anywhere save Camineet, and there only due to Queen Alis's friendly views towards the Espers.]

They were silent for some time -- only emotions coming through their private channel. Until Rolf had it.

So some of them stayed. And eventually, they joined the rest of the Palmans.

[Yes. The first children between the Espers and the Palmans were, obviously, half Esper (though not the same kind of Half-Esper as the ones below us, mind you) and they had limited use of their mental powers.]

So the Esper blood was passed through Alis's descendants until it faded away? Half Esper to fourth Esper to eighth Esper to sixteenth Esper to thirty second-Esper and so on through a thousand years until it was nothing?

[Almost. The Esper blood is a strange lot, especially when mixed with Non-Esper. Generally, the first offspring, the half Esper, half other, has Esper power and then it fades... but always stays in the blood line.]

How did you research this?

[No matter... Rolf, what technique did you use on Noah to destroy the ship?]

You said it was called Megid, and that it was the most powerful technique in Algo.

[And did it ever occur to you why you could use the technique?]

Rolf stared at Lutz and thought for what seemed like a long moment before thinking:

I think I see what you are trying to say...

[Yes, Rolf, you have it! The Megid technique was not a magical spell that took life force from people around you and then used it as anti-life against Mother Brain. No, the Megid takes pure thoughts -- telemental energy -- from others and uses a form of telekinesis to shape it into terrible, destructive bolts of energy.] "You used an Esper mind technique on the star ship, and you did it because--"

"I am an Esper," Rolf finished.

And deep down, he knew it was true.

- - - - - - - - - -

Tyler was getting the feel for the Ice Digger only minutes after he stepped into it for the first time. It was a simple thing to drive. The dash consisted of steering wheel, heater controls, door and window mechanisms and locks, lights, and the drills. The drills were mounted on the front of the ancient vehicle, drills that spun at high speeds to push through most ice on the planet Dezo.

The lever that controlled speed was between the driver and passenger seat. Right now it was halfway past the neutral section, which translated to forward movement at a thirty mile per hour velocity.

The heater, on the other hand, was cranked all the way to maximum. Tyler was bundled up in snow gear, and it was still cold. The Pirate shivered and confirmed for the tenth time that the heater was cranked to maximum, but he tried to force the lever up higher still.

Sighing, he flipped on the lights. They weren't head lights, as the drills took up the front of the vehicle, but instead, flood lights mounted on the top of the car flared to life with a flash, lighting the way in front of him.

And with that, Tyler reached frantically for the velocity control and slammed the lever to full speed reverse, hitting the brake button on the side of the lever at the same time. It was the digger's emergency brake, and the rover responded by shutting down all engines immediately, with spikes coming out of holes in the treads that held the Digger to the ground.

Directly in front of him was a huge sheet of ice, and one that looked pretty thick, to boot. Tyler eased on the acceleration and kicked in the drills, and soon small chunks of ice were bouncing off his windshield as the Digger went ahead.

- - - - - - - - - -

He was now about half-way to Aukba. Something caught his eye as he looked outside the Digger at the white landscape of Dezo. It was a small patch of green. Life. But not plant life.

It was a Dezorian. And it looked dead.

Tyler took the vehicle to a complete stop and flipped the hatch. Before he leaped out, he pressed a hand to the holster at his side, as if to confirm that his blaster hadn't grown feet and ran away. He approached the fallen Dezorian with caution -- what little Dezorians he had met out in space were slightly less than friendly, to say the least.

The man was flat out on his face. His kem'pallah was a few feet in front of his head, which showed that he had fallen, and not just laid down. Other than that, he simply looked... asleep.

But as the Space Pirate neared, the fallen Dezorian suddenly sprang to life -- raising his head and groping for a blaster. "Drop it," Tyler said in Basic, the standard language of the space-faring universe.

Tyler got a look of confusion from the man, but the Pirate's intentions got across just fine. The Dezorian eased his hands away and put them in front of his head, staying on the ground.

Seeing the look, though, Tyler understood that this was not a space-faring Dezorian, as he didn't understand Basic. Hopefully, Tyler thought, he'll understand the Mota tongue. Otherwise, unless I learn Dezo REAL fast, this interrogation is going to be a tad difficult. "Keep your hands there," Tyler said, this time in Mota.

"I'm not going to hurt you," the man said, also in Mota. "I thought you were a Dezorian."

He still hadn't earned Tyler's trust. The Pirate leaned in and grabbed the Dezorian's weapon, then stepped back. "Stand up," Tyler instructed him. "What's your name?"

"A'Jole," the Dezorian responded. As he stood, Tyler noticed a gash on his forehead. "Who are you? Where are you from? We don't get many non-Dezorians here."

"Nasty cut there," Tyler muttered, ignoring the questions. "I think I have a medpac of some kind in the Digger over there." He holstered his weapon, but still kept A'Jole's. As he turned to the Ice Digger, he asked, "What are you doing out here, A'Jole? Aukba is the nearest town, so I hear, and that's a ways away."

"I'm running from people who wish to kill me," A'Jole said matter-of-factly. "You don't trust me."

"I trust you," Tyler half-lied. "Not completely, but for now. If I didn't--" He found the medpac by leaning over the Ice Digger's passenger seat and reaching for the compartment in front of the passenger seat, turned from the vehicle to face A'Jole again. "--I'd have never turned my back to you."

A'Jole simply stared. His face asked his questions again. Tyler read it. "The name's Tyler Jorran," he revealed as he passed over the medpac. "I'm from the Vendai system. The language I used first was Basic. I have a few friends here in Algo. Coming through on a visit, I encountered a friend of mine's ship leaving Mota and being attacked by friends of yours." Apparently, A'Jole didn't understand the sarcasm. "Other Dezorians, I mean. Cloaking device and everything. Nasty, nasty."

Tyler wondered if blabbing all this information was the right thing to be doing. Oh well. The dice had already been thrown.

A'Jole's eyes had widened to a look of surprise. "Rolf?"

Tyler's eyes met his immediately. So much for keeping secrets... "How did you know?"

"He's the only one on Mota with both a ship and a reason to come to Dezo." Pointing to the Digger, "Did you get that from Esper Mansion?"

"Yeah, wh--"

"Take me there!"

"Hold it a sec, buddy, I need a few more answers first--"

"They are going to kill me!" A'Jole explained frantically.

"Who's 'they'?"

"No time now... I must see Lutz!"

How do you know so much about the Espers? Tyler wondered. "Why?"

"Let's go!" A'Jole ran for the digger.

Tyler aimed the blaster he'd confiscated from A'Jole. "Why? Now."

A'Jole swallowed hard, sighed. "Because 'they' are men who work for a Dezorian that wants me dead. I found out too much. Lutz must be warned or he could be killed. If Lutz dies, Rolf is as good as dead, too."

"What's this secret?"

"If I told you, you would be hunted, as well."

"I'm used to being hunted."

Another swallow and sigh from A'Jole. "Very well... the secret is this. There is another Esper."

"What?"

"Lutz is an Esper, and I'm sure he knows Rolf is as well, but there is another, and this Esper is using his power for evil. He is an Esper half-breed and the power has corrupted him body and soul."

Rolf an Esper. An evil half-breed Esper. Does it ever end? Do people remember how to just TALK and not mind-speak? "Let's go," Tyler exclaimed, and turned back to the Digger.

And that's when he saw the troop of Dezorians.

There were four of them, and they each had a rifle pointed at Tyler and A'Jole.

"A stupid, stupid move, A'Jole," one of the troops said in Dezorian. The same one looked to Tyler and spoke in Basic. "Captain Jorran. A pleasure meeting the legend in person."

"You know me?" Tyler said in Basic, his hand still on A'Jole's blaster at his side.

"Of course. As I'm sure A'Jole will tell you -- since he's told so much so far -- we are not from the Dezorian government. We are from the New Order. The New Order has ventured into space, though the Old Government has not."

"Whatever."

"Do you realize that there are a total of 46,356 galactic standard credits worth of bounties out on your head? About 20,000 of them are wanted dead or alive, so when we deliver your corpse, we shall have no trouble in claiming the prize money."

"Good for you."

"Drop the weapon," the second guard chimed in. Tyler did. Two guards ran up and detained Tyler and A'Jole, taking Tyler's own blaster as well, while the first guard stayed put, and the fourth guard ran for their own vehicle.

"You shall be taken to Menobe, one of the finest s'dkini on Dezo," he said in Basic. A'Jole understood perfectly just by the words "Menobe" and "s'dkini." "You, too, A'Jole." This last was in Dezorian.

"I just love the welcoming committee here on Dezo," Tyler muttered in the Mota tongue.

This time, A'Jole did get the sarcasm. "It gets worse."

With his hands bound behind his back by Plasma Rings, Tyler couldn't move his hands around very much. But what he needed was in his back pocket, and luckily, the guards didn't take it -- or couldn't feel it -- when he and A'Jole were frisked.

It was time for one more gamble. A big one. It sounded like that first guard was bluffing about the bounties-on-his-corpse thing but if not... Tyler turned to A'Jole. "A'Jole, their weapons, do they have multiple settings?" he said, in Mota.

"Yes, from stun to full blast."

"What are they at now?"

"Stun, most probably."

"Most probably?" The question was unanswered. "Oldest trick in the book. Hope they've never heard of it before."

And with a breath, Tyler yelled, "Hey! Behind you! What's that?"

. Two of the guards turned, but the first kept his weapon on Tyler. "We have heard of it, Jorran."

Rats, the Pirate thought. He was watching me and listening to me the whole time. Didn't give me a chance... This might not be blown yet, though.

Unexpectedly, Tyler spun on his ankles and broke into a run. If their weapons aren't on stun, then I am dee-ee-ay-dee DEAD!

"You crazy--!" A'Jole shouted, going back to Dezorian without thinking.

"Only wound him!" the first guard yelled in Dezorian to the others.

The three guards fired. One shot hit Tyler in the back, another in the arm, and the third in the leg. The Pirate went down, rolled a few times in the snow, and came to a standstill with his face buried in white. During the course of his rolls, he'd managed to take the small object from his hand and drop it in the snow. If all went well, the Dezorian guards wouldn't find it.

"Get him up," the first guard ordered the others in Dezorian. The two walked to Tyler and pulled him to his feet, each of them holding one of his arms while the first guard stood in front of him, right in his face.

A hand flew from nowhere and delivered a hard smack to Tyler's face. He immediately felt the coppery taste of blood in his mouth. "I've received a call from our comrade fetching the vehicle," he said in Basic. "It seems he made a standard report call to Base when he reached our Ice Rover, and our Master wants you alive, Captain Jorran. Otherwise you would be dead now."

Tyler said nothing. No use fighting now. He'd been dealt his cards and he'd played his hand, and if the Dezorians still had winning cards...?

If that was so, it was the end of Space Pirate Tyler Jorran. And Tyler knew it.

- - - - - - - - - -

K'Cren was sitting at his desk when the door flew open without warning.

"What the--?" he blabbed in Dezorian. When he saw it was D'zkot he continued on in Pennzat. "What is the meaning of this, Commander?" D'zkot said nothing, merely stared at him with his large black eyes while he strode across the office towards the Pai'tekkan's desk. "Answer me, D'zkot!" D'zkot was still silent. "Sinc'tekkan, if you wish to continue to hold that office you will halt, bow, and answer me immediately. I am General K'Cren, Pai'tekkan of Dezo! Now--"

He was abruptly cut off. His mouth was still open, frozen in place. D'zkot stood in front of K'Cren's desk, hands on the eloquent wood, leaning towards K'Cren's speechless face. I can't speak! D'zkot's insane! Why can't I talk?

And what happened next nearly knocked K'Cren right out of his chair in shock. D'zkot spoke to him, but not with words. He was speaking to him, in the Pennzat language, right in K'Cren's mind.

/No, you cannot speak because I have put your mouth under my control. And, really, Pai'tekkan, if I am insane then you should have never appointed me Sinc'tekkan.\

What's going on? K'Cren thought.

/I am a telemental,\ D'zkot's voice continued in his head. /A mix of Esper and Dezorian blood. With my power I can get anything I want. Right now, my Rebels are in the process of putting Mota in my hands. Soon, I will be Pai'tekkan, and Dezo will be mine as well. I will then control Algo. From there I will go into space. Out there, when one man controls an entire system, he is feared. When a man has a power like mine, he is feared. When these are combined, that man rules. I will own the galaxy. What do you have to say about that, Pai'tekkan?\

K'Cren's looked as if he were about to break into tears. "You're mad, D'zkot..." The Sinc'tekkan allowed K'Cren to say the words in a low whisper.

/Do my actions look like those of a madman? Well, to you I'm sure they do, but no, they are not. I seek to make the Dezorians the most feared race in the galaxy. This has been my plan all along. Until now, I have been able to carry it out from the position of Sinc'tekkan. But I can do this no longer. Now, I require the office of Pai'tekkan.\

"No, my son, K'Clanne, is the heir," K'Cren pleaded in the same soft whisper.

/Wrong again. Dezorian rule says that when the Pai'tekkan dies, the dictatorship goes to either the Sinc'tekkan or the Ran'tekkan. If both are alive and both fit the credentials, the Tekkan-kinsai decides the winner. With my power, K'Clanne will be no match for me.\

No! K'Cren screamed. D'zkot confined it to his head.

The Sinc'tekkan kept mental contact with K'Cren, keeping a tight clamp on his brain that prevented the Pai'tekkan from doing much besides breathe and listen. The Dezorian Commander and Leader of the New Order strolled to K'Cren's huge window behind his desk. /I will tell you this since it will do much less than comfort you. No one knows I'm in this room except for you, Pai'tekkan. Anyone else who saw me has already forgotten the memory. And should I ever come to Amprilani for your murder, my mental powers can easily win a complete drop of charges.\ D'zkot paused in his mental speech. /Yes, your thoughts are the usual thoughts of a man who knows death is approaching. Trust me, I have read them several times. One of my favorite ways to kill is to wipe all automaton functions from the brain and then control them myself. The thoughts of people begging for mercy... Incredible, to say the least. Then I let them go. Their hearts and lungs just stop, and after a few moments, there is no longer a mind to touch. It's like... trying to talk to this window here.\ He paused, feeling the window pane with his hand. Knocking on it...

D'zkot spun on his heels and walked in front of K'Cren's desk. He gave the formal bow that the Sinc'tekkan customarily gives to his Pai'tekkan, and spoke for the first time since entering the office. "My last bow to you, General, with you as Pai'tekkan and myself as the Sinc counterpart of that most coveted position."

And he turned to leave. He walked towards the door, and released all hold he had on K'Cren. Quickly, frantically, K'Cren recovered and reached for the Visiphone. The proper access code necessary to use the phone was punched in and a channel was almost open when he was hit.

K'Cren never saw D'zkot spin on his heels to face the Pai'tekkan again. The Dezorian telemental's jaw was slightly clenched, his brow slightly furrowed, and his eyes the thinnest of slits. He concentrated on the mind of K'Cren, the mind of his most superior officer, and, with fists clenched, launched one of the most vicious mental blast attacks any telemental had ever delivered.

K'Cren's hands flew to his head. Blood flowed from his nose, ears, and mouth. His eyes bulged so far out of their sockets that for a moment, D'zkot thought they'd fly out completely. He began to grin. The first blast was a single-shot. He flipped his mind to rapid-fire mode and aimed his mental bullets at K'Cren once again.

The General was on his feet now -- blood still dripping from his face -- with his hands to the side of his head. "Ohh god... feels like head... spilt in half..." He was rambling on in Dezo.

K'Cren was temporarily blinded due to the searing pain tearing through his head, but he got the vague impression that D'zkot was staring at him... grinning.

"D... D'zkot... D'zkot, please!"

Then D'zkot pulled the trigger.

The mental blast came like a continuous beam. It reached out and made contact with the other mind. This alone was enough to draw another scream from K'Cren. Once the link was made, the stream of fire came. The blood flow from the General's head increased. His scream went up an octave and increased volume. This time the Pai'tekkan's eyes did burst from their sockets in a stream of black eye liquid and blood.

In the same split-second -- thought-speed -- D'zkot took in a deep breath. He eased off -- but did not discontinue -- the mental attack beam for just a nanosecond, preparing another attack. As he let out his deep breath, he cut the continuous-blast and prepared another one-bullet, piercing attack. Reaching out with this attack, he shot out a fist of telekinesis at the same time. The result was K'Cren being knocked back to the window -- both by the telekinesis and the complete loss of all equilibrium -- and shattering it upon impact. Along with impact and the exploding window, K'Cren's head exploded, too, bathing the front of D'zkot's uniform with blood.

Perhaps the best, kindest leader that had ever ruled Dezo fell all eighty stories to the ground, a corpse already dead.

D'zkot didn't move. He simply stood in the same place he stood to kill K'Cren. He glanced at his uniform. A piece of K'Cren's brain was smeared across the front. The Sinc'tekkan truly laughed when he noticed the tissue was charred black and was actually smoking just a little bit.

At that time he got a call over his private comlink. It was one of the men he had sent out for A'Jole. And, what luck! They had captured Space Pirate Tyler Jorran at the same time.

- - - - - - - - - -

You know, Rolf was thinking as Lutz read his thoughts, this comes at just the right time. I mean it's not like I'm on the verge of insanity or anything...

[You sound like the people who talk of you.]

Of course, because they're right. I mean... I went through so much in my travels all over Mota and Dezo more than a year ago -- and in the time since then, too. No one has ever given me a chance to unwind, to sort out my thoughts.

[Do it now, then. You don't have to go back to Mota. Stay on Dezo -- stay here in the Mansion -- for awhile. Think the things you need to. You'll sort everything out and be back on your feet in no time.]

I just may do that... I don't know.

[You could even attend to your training as an Esper at the same time.]

I don't know if that would be wise. I mean, I'd need to focus...

[The training would help you focus. It would be your cure, Rolf. Don't you see? The old Rolf who, quite literally, saved the world, will return once again, but in a much more glorious form. He will return in the form of an Esper. This time for you, Rolf, is like a state of metamorphosis. It is the time that you slowly grow from one stage of your life to a new stage -- the Esper stage.]

You talk like you've seen this coming and like you know what's next. You probably do, too, don't you?

[Yes, it's an Esper ability both Noah and I mastered to its finest point.]

But the Rebels... they have blocked you.

[Yes. We will find out why, I'm sure.] Lutz broke off for a moment, thinking. [Tyler has not returned yet.]

He left two hours ago.

[So I am aware.]

He's probably just unfamiliar with the planet. He'll be here.

[Would I be worrying if that were true? I can see the future, remember? I am all-knowing. Except in the case of--]

The Rebels? You feel they're involved?

[They must be. I cannot locate Tyler. That means I am being blocked. And that means the Rebels must be involved.]

Maybe he went back to his ship.

[No. It is the Rebels, or if not the Rebels, whoever has been blocking me. Come, I can still read the psychic patterns he would have left behind -- unless they, too, are being blocked.]

All right. Are we headed for the armory first?

[No, my quarters. All we need is there.]

Snow gear?

[You already have yours on.]

Yours, I meant.

[None needed. There are Esper warming techniques.]

Ohh, of course there are.

- - - - - - - - - -

When they reached Lutz's large bedroom, Rolf was taken aback by the large, canopied bed and what was apparently a meditation nook in the corner. Rolf merely stood at the entrance, looking around, while Lutz walked straight to a cabinet resting against a wall and, with a mental command, opened it.

The psychic outcries were too much for Rolf to ignore. Slowly, he turned his head. Lutz had taken something out of the cabinet and then re-closed it.

Rolf stared at the glimmering object in his hand and gasped slightly. It was a weapon that Noah had constructed centuries ago in order to defend Esper Mansion. It was also the only one the Dezorians did not steal when they did finally attack. Rolf and his friends had taken the rest of the weapons from the Dezorians' palaces, but they had all been destroyed in their battle with the Earthmen. Only the one in Lutz's hand now remained.

It was the Neisword, named after Nei, the half-human half-Biomonster Rolf had loved and lost. Or so Rolf thought.

[What does the word "Nei" mean, Rolf?]

"The human who was not a human."

[That is the new definition.] "But in the time of Alis, Odin, Noah, and Myau," Lutz spoke, "'Nei' meant 'power.' What I hold in my hands -- what is rightfully yours -- is one of the most powerful weapons Algo has ever seen."

Rolf's thoughts doubted that he could handle it. But then he realized that, yes, he could, that it was the first step. He would never accept that Nei was gone, but if he carried the sword that bared her name, even if it was given to the blade for a different reason...

I can... feel this sword, Lutz. I...

Rolf collapsed to the ground. And then they hit him. Minds.

Nearly forty minds all at once -- everyone who was in the mansion. They weren't coming from Rolf's channel with Lutz, though, they were coming from his own. He was reading thoughts.

{Lutz... am I doing what I think I'm doing?}

[You tell me.]

{Yes... I am.}

He tightened the grip on his Neisword and looked right at Lutz. He was now standing, after mental aid from Lutz had helped him to raise mental shields to block the onslaught of minds. Now, he was ready to take on whoever Tyler had run into.

There were now two Espers against the Rebels.

[an error occurred while processing this directive]