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"I heard that," called a voice, and then its owner stepped around the bend and into sight. It was Commander Rudo Steiner and his wife, the former Anna Zirski. "You know, Tyler," Rudo continued, "if you're volunteering to take some of my workload off my shoulders..."
"Rudo, you forget," Anna spoke up, her face turning into a grin. "He's too busy with that town of his on Dezo."
"Pfft," Tyler brushed her away with his hand. "Hardly. I'm not ready to sit my butt down anywhere, least of all right on the middle of an ice cube. And besides, I told them not to name the damn thing after me."
Anna shrugged. "At least," she added, "you know you have a fan club waiting when you do decide to settle down."
His mouth a straight line, Tyler replied, "Har-de-har-har." Then, he smiled and shook Anna's hand. "It's good to see you two. I haven't seen you guys since your wedding. You've been hapilly ever after and all that, I presume?"
"When we have time," Rudo sighed. "I've been discovering the three P's of being Commander of Mota: prestige, power... and paperwork."
"And I'm sure the third is worth the first two." With that, Rolf stepped from the shadows and approached Rudo and Anna, two of his very best friends. Just as Tyler hadn't seen the two of them in a while, Rolf, too, had not spoken to Rudo or Anna for several months.
For the first year after returning from the space ship Noah, Rudo had moved into Rolf's house. Rudo's day-to-day presence and support had been invaluable in helping Rolf overcome the trauma of losing Nei and coming to terms with his role as Protector of Algo. Likewise, Anna had helped Rolf, too; one year prior, in order to undo emotional damage brought onto Anna by General D'zkot, Rolf had forced himself to find good in his battle aboard Noah with aliens from the planet Earth -- to find a silver lining in the genocide of the last members of an entire species. Doing so had also helped himself tremendously.
"How has life been aboard the Landale?" Anna asked as she stepped forward and pulled Rolf into a hug.
"It's felt... long overdue." As Anna pulled away, she fixed Rolf with a look, and the former Agent explained. "It's just... I was supposed to see what's outside of Algo twelve years ago, with my parents, on the Outworlder. Instead, Mother Brain killed them. But now, finally, I'm doing what my parents set out to do: I'm seeing what's beyond Algo." With a smile, he pointed to his yellow headband. "I feel like, by exploring surrounding space, I'm honoring their memory a lot more than simply wearing this ever could."
As Rolf shook Rudo's hand, the Commander smiled and nodded. "Your headband's not new, but neither is your outfit here. Since you're still wearing the Agency's uniform, when, may I ask, were you planning on coming back to work for me?" The question was only half-serious.
Rolf's answer, however, was completely so. He shrugged and answered honestly, "As soon as I can find the people of Palm and bring them home."
"Well," Anna said, "Rudo's been making sure someone from the Central Tower goes over to your house once a week. You know, just to tidy up the place and look it over."
"It's one of the perks of being Commander -- even the custodians accept my orders," Rudo confessed slyly.
"Thank you," Rolf nodded. "But this isn't about my house. We're here to see Kain's." With that, he, and the rest of them, turned to face the large metal gates at the end of this tunnel in the cave. At first glance, it appeared that the doors had no business being here in the middle of a cave... but that's before one realized that the cave itself should not exist, either.
Though it looked like a perfectly natural cave, closer inspection revealed it to be completely man-made. Or rather, Earthman-made. Apparently, it had been designed to serve as a tunnel system between Biosystems Lab and the undergound bunker that had been discovered underneath Zema. The bunker, when discovered, had been empty. "Something musta happened to the Earthmen before they could do anything with this place," Kain had sarcastically commented. "Somethin' real tragic. I wonder what that coulda been?" What the Earthmen had been planning on using the underground structure for was anyone's guess -- or nightmare.
Now, it had been moved into for the first time. As the four "tourists" approached its metal doors, Rudo and Tyler pulled them open and held them as Rolf and Anna stepped inside. None of them knew what to expect, but when Tyler asked the question, "So, just what kind of place is this?" Rudo summed things up pretty well when he answered,
"Knowing the Wrecker, it'll be half science lab..." Rudo grinned. "And half semi-contained plasma reaction weapons center."
The massive main doors slammed shut behind them as Rolf, Anna, Rudo, and Tyler began their stroll through the complex Kain had named Birth Valley. This first entrance room of the complex was fairly small -- little more than a foyer, really -- but its sterile metal walls were a sharp contrast to the blasted-out rock of the cave just outside. All this entrance foyer contained was a computer panel on the wall and a transtube entrance on the other side. Upon closer inspection, however, Rolf saw something in the ceiling.
"Hey, what's that?" he asked. "It looks like some sort of--"
Just then, a red flash swept through the room, accompanied by a brief buzzing noise. It's source was the object Rolf correctly guessed was an anti-thoron emitter. However, he was the only one who had took note of the device, and so he was the only one who was not startled by the decontamination flash.
"Geez!" Tyler shouted, reaching for his laser gun.
"What was that?" Anna cried.
"Relax, relax," Rolf reassured. "It was just--"
Before he could finish, he was interrupted by a mechanical -- yet pleasant and friendly -- voice which emminated from the wall's computer panel. "Sterilization treatment completed," the voice announced. "Please follow the line on the floor. Welcome, visitors, to Birth Valley, the Seed of a new life for Mota."
As if on cue, the four visitors looked to their feet. A second later, an illuminated line appeared there, which curved towards the transtube. Sharing amused looks, Rolf, Rudo, Anna, and Tyler smiled and headed where their mechanical guide led them. "Just think, Rolf," Anna said. "Two years ago, you recruited Kain for your journey because he had a knack for busting up robots. Now, he's built this place."
"I think we've all changed in the last two years," Rudo said to his wife. Then, with a grin, he added, "Guardian."
As they stepped into the transtube, Anna slitted her eyes and replied, "I never said we all hadn't. Hunter. I mean, Agent. I mean, politician."
The transtube took them down one level to an area whose walls were identical to those of the entrance foyer. As they stepped out of the transtube, however, the group was met by a new site: two Polezi model robots which stood on either side of the door. The silver mechanical men straighted up in attention, and each saluted the visitors. "Welcome to Birth Valley," one of them announced. "Follow the line on the floor, and enjoy your stay at the Seed of a new life for Mota."
Rolf noticed that the line on the floor did not take them towards another transtube, this one across the room. "Where does that lead to?" he asked one of the Polezis.
"That's elevator W3 to the West Section," a familar Palman voice replied. "Living quarters, food supplies, gymnasium."
"Kip!" Anna called out to her former deputy Guardian leader. "I didn't know you'd be here!"
"I'm usually not, Boss," Kip explained. "Usually, I run things back at HQ and I leave three Guardians here. You know, ever since that attack on Hugh nine months ago. But today, since I knew all of you were coming, I made sure I stopped by."
"It's good to see you, Kip," Rolf said as they shook hands. "Do you think we'll get to see this 'West Section' on the tour?"
"I am sure Master Kain will show it to you," one of the Polezi piped in. "He did, after all, classify the four of you as honored guests."
Rolf glanced at Rudo, saw him raise his blonde eyebrows and mouth the words, "Master Kain?"
Holding in his laughter, Rolf then turned back to the Polezis said, "Thanks." The group, now with Kip in tow, then continued their tour straight into another transtube. The pleasant mechanical voice that had greeted them in the entrance foyer made sure they were aware they were now in Elevator E3, and once the transtube disposed the four visitors and one security guard into what the mechanical voice called the Central Block, it wished them a welcome to Birth Valley,
"The Seed of a new life for Mota," Tyler said along with it. "Yeah, yeah. You know, I think Kain missed his calling. He could have been some sort of salesman, easily."
Now, proceeding through the Central Block, another three Polezis stepped seemingly from nowhere and formed an honor guard of sorts around the visitors. Rolf, Anna, Rudo, and Tyler shared amused looks as they proceeded down corridors and around turns, until finally, the Polezis stopped and motioned them through a door and into a room slightly cooler than the rest of the complex and lit only by the soft glow of computer screens.
And "screens" was definitely plural. There were seven of them total, lined high across the rear wall of the room, and they were quite large. Each glowed a soft blue-green as white numbers and figures zoomed across. In fact, the sight was so overwhelming that it took a moment for the group to even realize that standing underneath the screens at a small monitor -- exactly like its seven large companions except smaller -- was Kain and Hugh. After a moment, they both turned around and smiled.
"Hey, guys," Kain said. "Welcome to Birth Valley." There was no mistaking the pride in his voice.
The complex's two creators approached the group for handshakes. Kain wore his standard red overalls, ran his hand through his close-cropped light purple hair, and reached the group quickly, but Hugh, who wore a white lab coat over green pants and tunic, walked with a distinct limp and required the aid of a cane. "It's good to have you here," Kain said as he reached the visitors.
"It's good to be here," Rolf responded, again looking over the computer screens. "I can't believe you put all this together."
"Not 'I,'" Kain corrected with a motion behind his back towards Hugh, who was still walking towards his friends. "'We.' I couldn't'a done it without Hugh."
Rolf smiled and met the Biologist halfway. "How are you doing?" he asked. The last time he'd seen Hugh was when he visited Mota for Rudo and Anna's wedding. Hugh, however, had been unable to make it to the ceremony; he'd been in physical therapy at Paseo Memorial Hospital, recovering from the brutal attack he'd sustained in the midst of a robbery here at Birth Valley. We still don't know who did that, either... Rolf realized.
"I'm doing much better," Hugh replied. "I'm still pretty sick, though." Off Rolf's look, Hugh smiled weakly and added, "Sick of using this cane."
"It won't be long," Rolf smiled back, placing a hand on Hugh's shoulder. "Just keep those muscles moving."
"So, what is this place, Wrecker?" Anna asked. "And probably first of all, what is this?"
"This," Kain started, motioning towards the computer screens behind him, "is Seed. I gave him that name because he will be the Seed of a--"
"New life on Mota," Tyler finished. "We heard."
"He?" Rudo asked. He exchanged a glance with Anna, licked his lips, and then continued slowly, "Kain, do you mean you actually pulled off the creation of your first artificial intelligence?"
"Ask him yerself," Kain grinned. Then, he raised his voice and called out, "Seed!"
A matrix above the center computer screen lit up as the same pleasant mechanical voice they had heard in the entrance foyer and the transtube boomed throughout the room. "Yes, Master Kain?"
"Say hello to our visitors. This is former Agent Rolf Hansen, Space Pirate Tyler Jorran, Commander of Mota Rudo Steiner, and his wife and Agent trainer extraordinare, Anna Steiner."
"I am pleased to meet all of you," the computer replied. "I am Seed."
"My God..." Rudo whispered.
"Seed," Hugh addressed, turning around and starting his painful walk back towards the small monitor, "our guests are here to see what you can do. Especially Commander Steiner -- ultimately, he'll have to report back to the Paseo Council as to what Mota should do with you. So it's up to you to make a good impression. Do you feel up to it?"
"Of course, Master Hugh," Seed answered. "Welcome, visitors, to Birth Valley. As you know, after the destruction of Mother Brain, the people of Mota were eventually able to bring the various environmental systems back online. However, without Mother Brain acting as a central controller of the systems" -- Seed's central screen switched from blue-green to a line graph which showed a yellow line arcing high across before falling sharply and leveling off near the bottom of the graph -- "efficiency has plumetted." Seed paused. "I am the solution to that problem."
Drawing gasps of wonder from the assembled guests, each of Seed's screens started to light up with a different image. The center screen returned to its neutral blue-green, but to its left appeared an image of the orbitting satellite Zelan, and to its right, the oribitting satellite Kuran. New images were also quickly brought up on the remaining four screens -- to the left of Zelan, the group saw the Machine Center and Nurvus, and to Kuran's right, Climatrol and the Plate Center.
"The oribitting satellite Zelan currently is at the top of the chain of command, issuing orders to Nurvus power station and the repaired Climatrol center," Seed continued. "However, Zelan only has authority over those facilities directly related to Mota's environment. The Machine Center, the Plate Center, and the agricultural farms, for example, are out of its jurisdiction."
"And so you will have authority over those two systems, and the farming domes," Rudo asked, "while Zelan will continue to handle Climatrol and Nurvus?"
"Negative, Commander Steiner," Seed replied. "I will coordinate the efforts of Climatrol, Nurvus, the Machine Center, the Plate Center, the agricultural domes, and Zelan and Kuran. All functions and orders will be routed through my systems, and acting as coordinator with the various system controllers, efficiency" -- Again, a graph appeared on Seed's center screen. This time, however, its yellow line started as a flat streak across the bottom before shooting up and off the scale of the graph -- "will become close to its original levels."
"System controllers?" Rolf asked. "I thought you just said you would be controlling the systems."
"I will function as controller and system operator of the Plate Center and the Agricultural Dome Network, and I will be able to take control, if neccessary, of the Machine Center. But my only role in all other systems with be as coordinator of the various system operators, not controller. Climatrol will remain the operation of the current operators of Zelan and Nurvus as well as myself."
"Speaking of those system controllers, let's bring them in on this," Kain said. "Seed, establish comlink with Zelan and Nurvus, and display on screens B and C."
Within seconds, the image of Kuran disappeared, replaced by an image of Byren, sitting in the Nurvus Control Room. A moment later, Zelan disappeared, and the group saw Wren seated in his command chair on Zelan. "Greetings," Byren nodded.
"Toasterhead!" Tyler exclaimed. "How does it feel to be sitting on top of a sixteen level mega-sized plasma-cooled fusion reactor?"
"Tyler..." Byren began hesitantly, "the actual power generator that Nurvus monitors and operates is located much deeper into the ground. I am actually seated in a normal chair, not on a--"
A loud sigh from Tyler cut Byren off. "You mean to tell me," he began, "that you pick that stupid name, and you still can't understand a joke?"
"I was not aware my name was... 'stupid,'" he replied. Tyler simply buried his face in his hands and shook his head.
"Wren, at Zelan," Seed continued, "is currently in charge of Mota's environmental systems, but if I am brought online and networked with the other systems, all of Zelan's environmental commands, as I alluded to earlier, will be routed through me and through Nurvus."
"Why?" Anna asked. "I mean, Kain, why not just have Seed run Climatrol directly?"
Kain glanced at Rolf before answering softly, "Because we don't want Mota to ever be subjected to another artificial drought. We don't want one person, or one machine, to be able to take over Climatrol and hold back all the planet's rain, or God knows what all else."
"You don't want another Neifirst," Rolf added.
"Exactly," Kain replied. "If all of Mota's climate functions are initiated by Wren on Zelan, and then transmitted to Seed for his approval, then they already have gone through two individuals before they've even reached Byren at Nurvus, who ultimately has to decide what system gets what ammount of power."
"A triple redundant failsafe," Rolf summed up. "Excellent, Kain. Excellent."
"Not all of us think so," a voice called out. The vistors jumped, not having realized they were not alone with Kain and Hugh. Rolf turned, and from the shadows near the door stepped a tall, lanky man with a mop of thick, green hair atop his head. He wore a blue tunic and a lab coat of his own over matching blue pants, and as he strode towards the small computer screen where Hugh stood, he looked back at Birth Valley's guests.
Rolf immediately realized he didn't like the man.
"I am Professor Jarkin from Vahal Fort," the man introduced himself. "You, Commander Steiner, are no doubt aware of what that is."
"Indeed," Rudo nodded. Rolf, too, knew, due to his high security clearance as an Agent, but Rudo explained it for Anna and Tyler as Rolf kept his eyes on Jarkin. "Vahal Fort is a top secret scientific research facility here on Mota, under the direct authority of the Motavian Army. It's off to the east of Arima, almost halfway between Shure and the Tower of Nido. You all know I'm a soldier, not a scientist, so I've never actually been there, but I hear we have Vahal Fort to thank for some of Algo's most advanced weapons. Isn't that right, Professor?"
Professor Jarkin, who had by this time reached the same small console underneath Seed's main screen that Hugh stood at, turned and nodded without a smile. "That's right. Most recently, Vahal Fort is where the Positron Bolt Unit was developed, a weapon we designed just in case any other alien space fortresses ever try to conquer Algo. A ten second blast from Positron Bolt, and a ship the size of the Earthmens' will be blown to smitherines. But frankly, Commander, I'm not here to talk about weapons. I'm here to talk about the Daughter Project."
Jarkin pushed a few buttons on the control panel near the small screen, and Seed's center screen above him lit up with an exterior picture of Vahal Fort. The fortress, surrounded by trees and patrolled by Browren486 robots, looked incredibly secure. "Just as Mother Brain directed genetic research at the Biosystems Lab," Jarkin began, stepping towards Rolf, Anna, Rudo, Tyler, and Kip, but focusing his attention on the Commander, "it also directed technological research at Vahal Fort. One of the projects it left uncompleted at the time of its destruction was Daughter. It is a sentient computer networking system, not unlike this 'Seed' that Mister Kain and Mister Thompson have created.
"Of course, based on its name," Jarkin finished, "I'm sure you have already realized that, as well as what the system's original function was to be."
Rolf had not taken his eyes off of Jarkin, but now, he lowered his eyebrows and fixed the professor with what was almost a glare. "I take it," Rudo answered, his own eyes on the image of Vahal Fort, "Daughter was what Mother Brain had in mind for a back-up system."
"That is correct," Jarkin nodded before spinning on his heels and pacing back away from the group. "Obviously, with Mother Brain now non-existent, it has little use for a back-up system. However, I, as the head of the Daughter Project, have directed my team over the last two years to spend as much time as possible seeing if Daughter might be... adapted in some way."
"What do you mean, 'adapted'?" Rolf asked slowly, ennunciating every word.
Jarkin turned and glanced at him briefly, then returned his attention to Rudo. "We believe Daughter can act as much more than just a back-up," Jarkin explained. "We believe she can, in essence, become a new Mother Brain."
Anna quickly glanced at Rolf, then lowered her face into her hands and whispered, "Wrong words."
"You idiot!" Rolf hissed, taking a step forward towards Jarkin. Rudo's arm shot out to hold him back, and though he did indeed stop, and though everyone knew that Rolf certainly wasn't the type to attack the scientist, Tyler still moved into position behind Rolf, ready to grab him if need be.
"My team certainly understands the dangers," Jarkin continued, facing Rudo but obviously speaking to Rolf, "but we believe the flaw in Mother Brain was not the fact that it controlled all aspects of Algo, but that it was controlled and built by mad alien conquerers."
"And Daughter was built by Mother Brain," Rolf spoke up again, "so just who do you think would have called it 'Granddaughter,' hmm?"
"Daughter was built by my team of scientists--" Jarkin began.
"Working from Mother Brain's plans, under the direction of Mother Brain herself!" interrupted Rolf, and before Rolf could say anymore, Jarkin finally addressed him head-on.
"Yes, Agent, yes," Jarkin replied sharply, his voice raising to match Rolf's own, "but why should we damn the whole project just because of the source of the original idea? My scientists have modified the initial design. Daughter will not be a mad computer that will conquer Algo. What Daughter will do is control -- not just coordinate, as Seed here would do, but control -- Algo's systems. You were impressed with the projected efficiency reports presented by Kain and Thompson, and rightfully so, but here are Seed's efficiency estimates" -- Jarkin tapped on the control panel, and Seed's center screen returned to the line graph will the yellow bar -- "and here are Daughter's."
A red line superimposed itself on the graph. According to the estimates, Daughter would not only be much more efficient than Seed, but it would also return systems to prior Mother Brain-era efficiency levels -- something Seed, as a mere coordiantor, simply could not do.
"So what?" Rolf asked. "You know what our people were like under Mother Brain. We were a lethargic society. There's no reason we shouldn't have some help from environmental systems to keep Mota a world of green, but there's also no reason we should again have everything handed to us. We tried utopia with Mother Brain, Professor. It didn't work. What makes you think--"
"Algoians will be in charge this time, Agent," Jarkin interrupted with a sigh. "Not aliens."
"Look, both of you, please," Rudo spoke up. Then, he turned to his hosts. "Kain, Hugh, you've made a remarkable presentation today. To be perfectly honest, it has impressed me a great deal. But, before I make my decision--"
"Before you...." Rolf interrupted, his eyes quickly fixing on Rudo as his face fell into a slouch of disbelief. "What?" he whispered.
Rudo looked his friend in the eye. "Rolf, I'll be happy to discuss your concerns with you lat--"
He wasn't allowed to finish. Rolf spun on his heels and stormed out of the room. Rudo watched him go, then looked to his wife. Anna nodded and went out after him. Then, Rudo returned to Kain and Hugh. "Before I make my decision on what to recommend to the Paseo Council, I'd like to tour Vahal Fort and give Professor Jarkin and his team the same opportunity you were given today."
"We understand," Hugh nodded.
"Of course, Professor," Rudo addressed Jarkin, "I will let Hugh and Kain come along on the Vahal Fort tour, as well, so that just as you have voiced your opinions on Seed here today, they can voice their opinions on Daughter. Okay?"
"That would be acceptable, Commander," Jarkin nodded, and the look on his face could be read plain enough: Let them bring a team of Seed supporters. I'll win you over to Daughter without a problem.
Rudo turned on his heels and headed for the door Rolf and his wife had left through. "Vahal Fort is an army base, so I'm sure they have my Visiphone number there somehwere," he called over his shoulder. "Call my office and arrange a tour."
Behind him, Rolf heard the door to Seed's room slide open and then close again. "Rolf!" Anna called out. Then, he heard her quickly half-walk and half-run towards him. "Rolf, wait!"
Rolf spun around and faced Anna. "How can he even consider implementing that... thing?" he demanded.
"He has to get all the information he can," Anna answered as she reached Rolf, "so that he can report back to the Paseo Council. He's just doing his job."
"No," Rolf replied, "he's not. His job is to lead Mota, not to let it slide straight to hell."
"What?" Anna asked incredulously. "Rolf, we're talking about Rudo here. Rudo. You know, the Hunter who helped you destroy Mother Brain? Your friend?"
"Oh, come on, Anna," Rolf sighed. "I know that. But when I heard him say that in there... I mean, has he forgotten?"
Down the hall, the door slid open once again. "Has he forgotten what?" Anna asked.
"Have I forgotten what?" Rudo asked as he casually stepped down the hall towards his wife and Rolf. "At least, I assume you're talking about me."
"Rudo," Rolf began, "do you remember that space ship we were on, and that big hologram that fired laser beams at us?"
Rolf saw Rudo stop abruptly, tighten his jaw, pause, and then roll back his right sleeve, holding up for Rolf's view a round scar on either side of his wrist. "You mean the one that nearly shot off my hand?" Rudo asked quietly. "Because you know, if Amy hadn't been there, I would indeed have a prosthetic right now." Another pause. Then, Rudo lowered his hand and said just as quietly, "Give me a break, Rolf. Of course I remember."
"Well you sure didn't act like it in there," Rolf rebutted. "Rudo, Kain and Hugh just showed us an incredible new plan for Mota's future. And you're standing there saying you still might choose to implement the Professor's toy in Vahal Fort. Rudo, that thing is Mother Brain's daughter. Her daughter, for goodness sake."
"So that means we shouldn't reprogram it and use it?" Anna stepped in to ask.
"Yes," Rolf replied quickly.
"Well then," Anna threw up her arms, "someone had better get on a Visiphone and recall Byren from Nurvus and Wren from Zelan, because those two stations were built by Mother Brain, too, and we can't use the things Mother Brain left behind."
"The Machine Center and Climatrol, either," Rudo added. "Nor the Plate Center. And let's shut down the domed farms, too. Maybe we can live off of grass and Biomonster meat."
"Honey," Anna threw in, turning to Rudo, "you forget, Mother Brain created the Biomonsters."
Rudo slapped his knee. "That's right! And now that I think about it, the only reason there's grass on Mota is because of her, too. My goodness, what are we going to eat, then? Sand?"
"I guess it's nothing but cactus for us from now on," Anna nodded.
"You two are being obnoxious," Rolf threw up his arms. "You both know what I mean."
"Yes, we know, but listen, Rolf," Rudo said, taking a step closer to his friend. "I understand your concerns, and I will keep them in mind when I give the Paseo Council my suggestion on this issue. But you have to trust me, my friend. I may be the Commander and not a Hunter anymore, but I'm still the man who lost his wife and baby daughter to that damn computer. Remember that?"
Rolf stared at Rudo for a moment, then nodded.
"I'm not going to let Mota fall victim to another Mother Brain, Rolf," Rudo continued. "I promise you that."
After letting out another sigh, Rolf offered Rudo his hand. "I'm sorry. I probably overreacted," he conceeded. "But -- and you said you'd listen to my concerns."
"I did," Rudo nodded.
"You know I don't want public attention. But if it looks like the Paseo Council is going to implement Daughter, I will go public with my opposition. And I think you know I could rally quite a bit of support."
"Rolf--" Anna started.
"No, don't get me wrong, I'm not making a threat," Rolf clarified to her. He then returned his eyes to Rudo. "I just want to make it clear how adamantly opposed to using this 'Mother Brain back-up' I am."
The Commander of Mota looked over Rolf's face, then nodded and placed his hand on Rolf's shoulder. "I understand. Rolf, you may not be with the government anymore, but nonetheless, I consider you my top advisor."
"Hey!" Anna scolded him, delivering a playful punch to Rudo's shoulder. "I thought that was my job."
Rudo looked to Anna, then looked back to Rolf, his mouth a straight line. "It looks like you'll have to settle for number two," he shrugged before flashing a big smile.
Rolf laughed and clapped his friend on the back. "I can live with that."
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