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Chapter Seventeen

The day after the encounter with Doctor Mad, Alis, Odin and Noah had built graves for all the fallen Musk Cats, with the help of the town citizens. Myau had been absent the whole time, roaming the wilderness outside of the city. There had been concern as to his whereabouts, but Odin assured everyone that he would come back when he was ready.

And so at dawn of their third day in Abion, he returned. He spoke little, and seemed to want to leave the town as soon as possible. The heroes left that morning, beginning their long journey back to Bortevo.

Myau resisted conversation the entire trip, speaking only when called for in battle. His attacks were swift and deadly, and he carried them out with a calm reserve that worried even Odin. How he would continue to deal with his grief in the coming days was unknown to them all.

Finally, days later, after stopping in Loar again, they made it to Bortevo. As before, no one was in sight, not even the mad stranger who they had met the last time. They moved on to the house that held Hapsby, and Alis took out the Polymeteral as the electronic finder beeped away.

"Be careful, only use a little at a time... we may need every drop," Noah warned. Slowly, Alis began to pour the liquid over the junk pile. Each drop fizzled and smoked immediately upon contact with the metal. In seconds, holes of erosion formed; the metal was indeed being dissolved. She continued to pour, and soon a shape began to reveal itself, immune to the corrosive action of the Polymeteral. When all the non-Laconic metal had been consumed, the robot Hapsby stood before them.

It was exactly two feet high, with an elongated, slightly bulbous head and two glowing sensors mimicking eyes. It's thin arms bent at the elbows and wrists, while a complex array of tines and prods formed the hands. It had no legs; rather, it traveled upon two wide treads, useful for navigating all types of terrain. No one here had ever seen anything like it.

Alis, for lack of a better greeting, spoke. "Hapsby, I presume?" A quiet whirr came from inside the robot, and it titled its head upward to face them, servos turning away.

"Affirmative. I am the robot Hapsby, Model 01, designed by one Doctor Luveno. How may I be of assistance?" Its voice was surprisingly smooth, though it could never pass for a Palman.

Up until this point, the whole thing had been easy enough for Alis and company to swallow. But now, hearing this artificial intelligence speak to them... it was overwhelming!

Alis stammered a response. "Pleased to meet you, Hapsby... my name is Alis, and this is Odin, Noah, and Myau... we've been sent by Doctor Luveno to rescue you..."

"Query: I have no outstanding task assigned; therefore there is nothing that I am prevented from doing. How can I be rescued?" Its logic was curt, if not amusing.

"Well, Doctor Luveno needs you now... to fly a spaceship for us. Would that be an 'assigned task', to you?"

"Affirmative. You have now rescued me. Thank you. Come, Doctor Luveno awaits." With another beep and a whirr, Hapsby was rolling past them, headed towards the door. Smiling, Alis followed, as did the others.

They were already outside of the settlement when Alis caught up to him and spoke again. "Hapsby, can you contact Doctor Luveno now, and tell him we're coming back to Gothic?" Without slowing its motion, the robot answered.

"Negative. My communications circuits were damaged when I was separated from Doctor Luveno. Once Doctor Luveno completes my repairs, I can contact him."

"How... nice..." Conversing with this robot would be a delicate task, Alis thought.

- - - - - - - - - -

Perhaps strengthened by newfound enthusiasm, the group made the return trip to Gothic in far less time that it had taken to leave. As they came to the village gate, Luveno, who had been standing outside of his home, spotted them.

"Hapsby!" he shouted as he ran to them. "You've found him! Hapsby, lad, how have you been? It's been weeks since I last saw you!"

"All of my functions excepting comm are in working order, Doctor Luveno. I estimate only minor repairs to restore me to full capacity."

"He's quite the traveling companion, Doctor," said Odin with a smile.

"Of course, of course! He's the finest work of art on the planet, all modesty aside!"

"How goes the spaceship, Doctor?" asked Noah.

"Fine, fine! It's ready to go! My assistant and I had no trouble flying it back here from the mountains. But you must forgive me, I'm so happy to see Hapsby back! Come, we shall all have a feast at my home! Come!" Luveno placed his hand on Hapsby's head as they moved down the lane. An odder father-son combination had never been seen.

Dinner that night was filled with discussion of the heroes next moves: how to utilize Hapsby and the ship, where to travel, what precautions to take. Half of the time the Doctor spent scarfing down food (a wonderful respite from the Loar dishes, Alis thought) and the other half making repairs to Hapsby, right at the dinner table, a fork in one hand and a soldering iron in the other.

It was decided that their first jaunt would be to Motavia, to the small town of Uzo. It was one of the few places where they could land the ship safely, and without alerting Lassic's men at the Paseo spaceport. Although fairly independent from the PGC, Uzo was known to be a friend to the Espers; Noah believed they could get weapons and supplies there for good prices. From there, if possible, they would make the journey to nearby Casba. The Amber Eye was there, as was a most valuable piece of equipment: a Landrover. This vehicle, sold at a high price in Casba, would free them from moving around on foot: it could quickly transport them nearly anywhere on any planet, and it would be ideal for protection against various monsters.

All of these tasks were merely preparation, of course, for the true goal: to find the Aero-Prism on Dezoris. Noah remained adamant that it was necessary to confront Lassic, and they'd need all the help they could get to find it. Travel through the Dezorian blizzards was instant death to any not ready to face its lethal climate and powerful monsters.

- - - - - - - - - -

They boarded the ship, which was stationed just near Gothic, the next morning. It was only about fifty feet long and thirty feet wide, but it had a large cargo area that would be perfect for storing whatever was needed. Hapsby himself sat (or rather, stood) in front of the control board, interfaced with wires and links. As the four strapped themselves in, Luveno offered some last words of advice.

"The ship has its own force field, which you can have Hapsby activate whenever you leave, for protection. But don't use it too long, as it takes power directly from the main core... Hapsby will keep you informed of all resources, so you'll have to bring the ship back here to recharge if you run out."

"Of course, Doctor," Odin countered, "have no fear! We will take good care of this machine!"

"I'm sure you will, but it's difficult to have them both taken away..." The Doctor walked over to Hapsby and fell to one knee. "Hapsby, dear boy, take good care of yourself, and these people too. They are my friends... I'm losing you again, just after regaining you..." He was almost crying.

"I will not fail my programming, Doctor Luveno."

"Of course you won't, old friend, I know that. Just take care..." Luveno rose and moved to the hatch. "Fare well, all!" he exclaimed.

"Farewell, Doctor Luveno..." replied Noah. The hatch closed, and, a few seconds later, the hum of the engines was evident. Far quieter than the common space-transport engines that Alis had heard for the first time so many weeks ago, this craft purred softly as she felt it inch forward and upward. In seconds, the blast came, rocketing the ship to high speed and pressing her against her seat. The pressure held for about a minute, before the engines cut. They were shooting through space, blissfully unaware of the cosmos around them. Destination: Motavia.

- - - - - - - - - -

"Noah!" the stout man yelled. "It's been a long time! How have you been, my friend?"

At the entrance to Uzo, Derrin, the town's leader, met them. "I'm well, Derrin, as I hope you are... the town never changes, does it?" he said as he smiled.

"Ah, stability is the rock of progress, m'boy! But come, what brings you here out of the blue... and who are your friends here?"

"This is Alis, Odin, and Myau. They come from Palma, members of the resistance."

"The resistance? Against Lassic?" Derrin asked. "You don't see many of those here on Motavia, eh? I trust then that this is not a friendly visit?"

Alis stepped forward. "No, sir. We are on a mission to destroy Lassic personally. We come here looking for aid; Noah told us that you would be sympathetic to our quest." Derrin's tone lost its jovial edge.

"Yes, ma'am, we here in Uzo, though far removed from his direct influence, cannot stomach the tyrant's evil ways. Any friend of Noah's is a friend of ours; we will aid you in any way we can."

"Thank you, Derrin. We are looking for weapons... powerful weapons... what have your shops to offer these days?" Noah asked.

"You've come at the right time, my friend. We have recently acquired a small batch of Light Sabers... truly amazing pieces of work..." Odin's eyes lit up.

"Light Sabers?" he questioned.

"Yes," came the response. "Swords whose blades are composed of pure energy and plasma, generated at the hilt. They are quite devastating..."

"We shall definitely examine them, Derrin... and of course we have the meseta to buy them from you. We also wish to visit your Item shop, for we are running low on essentials," Noah explained.

"Yes, yes, that is fine. But first, you will be honored guests at my dinner table tonight, eh? Uzo is known the world over for its hospitality, is it not?" Smiling again, Derrin led them to the center of town.

"It is truly a harrowing path that you have set yourselves upon, Noah," said Mayela, Derrin's wife, later that evening. "I fear for your safety in confronting the dark lord."

Noah was finishing a mug of ale. "We all walk in the tyrant's shadow, Mayela. I fear inaction far more than confrontation."

"What of your friend, there, Noah," laughed Derrin as he motioned to Myau, "why is he so silent? Cat got his tongue, haha!" Silence, as Alis eyed Noah nervously.

Noah's reply was soft and low. "No, Derrin. Recently, many of his people, the Musk Cats, were murdered on Palma by one of Lassic's henchmen." More silence.

"I'm... sorry," Derrin began. "I didn't know... please forgive me, sir..." Derrin bowed his head, looking Myau in his eyes. After a pause, Myau nodded, but said nothing.

There was little talk after that. Later, Derrin escorted everyone to their rooms for the night. Lying in bed, Alis again wondered what any of them could do to help Myau. She drifted off to sleep without finding an answer.

In his own room, Myau dreamed as all Musk Cats do, of open fields, blowing winds, and crystal skies. It wasn't real, though. His freedom from guilt, and pain, and grief was only that: a dream.

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