Chapter Eight

Amy switched off her instrument's beam and turned to face Rolf. The Doctor and the Agent were the only two in the room besides Lutz, who slept as Amy finished tending to his broken arm.

She nodded at Rolf. "He'll be okay." But Rolf did not nod back. He simply stared at Lutz's sleeping form, his chest rising up and down, up and down, as if to say "I wish I could be as sure as you are."

They left Lutz's bedroom and closed the door behind them. "Okay, what's on your mind?" Amy asked as they began to stroll down the hall away from the bedroom.

Rolf shrugged, not quite knowing where to start. "I know he'll be okay physically," Rolf assured, "but I don't know about mentally. All through his life -- and he's lived for close to a thousand years now, remember -- he's thought that he was the best telemental that ever lived, besides Noah. Now this guy comes along, this D'zkot, and..."

Rolf shook his head. "Amy, on the way back to the mansion, I went into Lutz's head and saw their confrontation. This wasn't the first time those two had met."

Amy's brow furrowed in puzzlement. "What? Lutz never mentioned a Dezorian telemental before this incident."

"That's because he didn't know. D'zkot told him that, apparently sometime in the last year, Lutz came to him and tried to kill him. Apparently, D'zkot stopped him and wiped all memory of the incident from Lutz's mind." Amy took a sharp intake of breath. "That is what I'm afraid of. Lutz's world has been shattered--"

"If what D'zkot said is true," Amy quickly offered.

"If what D'zkot said is true, yes," Rolf nodded. "But Lutz didn't detect any deception from him, either." The Agent released a deep breath. "Anyway, what I'm worried about is, one, Lutz's confidence is shot, and two--"

He didn't have to finish. Amy stopped walking and faced him. "Two, there's someone out there who's more powerful than Lutz."

Rolf nodded. "Yeah. I'm afraid of that, too."

They stood in the hallway, each looking at the floor and at each other with their private thoughts and fears running circles throughout their minds. "Well," Amy said at last, patting Rolf on the back, "we both need some sleep. In the morning, Lutz will be a little better and Hugh will be done analyzing the F-5."

- - - - - - - - - -

The mood at the Tekkan-kinsai was one of apprehension. The cause of K'Cren's death was as yet undetermined, mostly because there wasn't much left of him to perform an autopsy on. However, it had been determined that his head had been smashed like an egg up in his office, before he took the eighty-story plunge to the ground. Therefore, assassination speculation was the hot topic of conversation amongst the crowd, and the two main suspects were about to fight to the death in the middle of the Dezorian capital, Aukba.

Ran'tekkan K'Clanne and Sinc'tekkan D'zkot faced each other in town square. They were surrounded by a large crowd made up of several waves of different classes of Dezorians. The first wave consisted of high-ranking military and government officials, the kind of Dezorians who would speak Pennzat. Behind the first wave of the crowd came the upper class nobles, and behind them the middle class and so on, down to the poorest allowed to attend. People from all over the planet had journeyed to Aukba for the Tekkan-kinsai; the teleport stations had been jam packed. Everyone wanted to see who Dezo's new leader would be: the planet's second-in-command or the old leader's eldest son.

In the middle of the circle of Dezorians, both combatants stood facing each other. They were both without their kem'pallahs. Each one held a weapon of choice; K'Clanne held a sword ready, while D'zkot held the end of a chain in his left hand, with the portion between left and right hands pulled tight. He calmly spun the slack beyond his right hand in a circle out in front of him.

The Kinsai Zasrr stood on a hover platform high above the two opponents. At this point, he spoke into a microphone that echoed his voice across the entire city. "People of Dezoris," he called, beginning the old ritual ceremony ritual speech, "we have gathered in Aukba today to witness the 335th Tekkan-kinsai in the current government's history."

D'zkot grinned internally. And since the current government is about to end, it's also the last.

As the applause died down, the Kinsai Zasrr spoke again. "Today, Sinc'tekkan D'zkot and Ran'tekkan K'Clanne will face each other to the death. The survivor will become Pai'tekkan of Dezo. Questions, Sinc'tekkan?" Silence. "Questions, Ran'tekkan?"

"No," K'Clanne spat out far below the Kinsai Zasrr.

"Very well." A beat, then: "Begin."

The crowd fell to total silence. K'Clanne raised his sword to a ready position, while D'zkot simply continued to twirl his chain. K'Clanne, who wore a mask of contempt as he stared at D'zkot, and who was sure that his opponent had murdered his father, was about the same height as D'zkot but not nearly as physically fit as the telemental Sinc'tekkan. K'Cren's son charged at D'zkot, sword raised high. Probing K'Clanne's mind, D'zkot saw what the Ran'tekkan planned to do, and prepared himself accordingly. With one flick of his wrist, D'zkot had looped his chain around K'Clanne's sword until he had a solid lock on it. Then, pulling the blade down and out of the way, he used his left hand to deliver a chop to K'Clanne's throat that crushed the young Ran'tekkan's windpipe.

The crowd gasped as K'Clanne let go of his sword and D'zkot loosened the chain, tossing the blade aside. As K'Clanne fell slightly forward, clutching at his throat and trying desperately to bring air down it, D'zkot, fast as lightning, was behind him and was pulling him back up by wrapping the chain around his throat and tugging back hard.

/Hello, K'Clanne. This is D'zkot, and I'm in your head.\ K'Clanne's thoughts were wild ones; thoughts of panic, survival, confusion. /You're right. I killed your father. I'm a telemental, you know. Mind blasted him until his whole damn head exploded. Neat trick, eh?\

K'Clanne would have made gurgling sounds if they could have gotten out of his throat.

At that time, K'Clanne passed out. D'zkot released the chain and let K'Clanne fall to his feet, dead. With his windpipe caved in, there would be no hope of regaining consciousness.

It was the fastest Tekkan-kinsai in history. Some had gone on for days. Some had lasted five minutes. But never had any other Tekkan-kinsai come close to being the twelve second massacre today's crowd had witnessed.

"People of Dezoris," D'zkot announced to the crowd, as was the tradition, "K'Clanne is dead. I am victorious. I am your new Pai'tekkan."

K'Clanne, sprawled out on the ground, never heard the Kinsai Zasrr announce, "People of Dezoris, I present to you... Pai'tekkan D'zkot," to the still stunned-into-silence crowd. However, in his head he kept on hearing D'zkot's words.

"K'Clanne is dead."

"K'Clanne is dead."

"K'Clanne is dead."

No, I'm not, thought K'Clanne.

- - - - - - - - - -

"Where did you say you got this?" Biologist Hugh Thompson snapped at Rolf just as he walked into the door of the Esper Mansion lab. He motioned at the F-5 as he said it. Amy looked at Hugh for a moment, then turned around to face Rolf, who was still in the doorway.

"The Rebel base in old Biosystems Lab on Mota," Rolf replied, looking at Hugh. "Why?"

Hugh simply stared at Rolf for a moment. Tyler was already in the lab, and the look on his face was one of dead seriousness. "You better sit down, Rolf," the Space Pirate said.

"Why?" Rolf asked again, sharper this time.

"Because," Hugh answered, "this stuff can kill all Palman life on Mota within a matter of minutes."

There was a pause. A long pause. "I better sit down," Rolf said as he closed the lab's door behind him and reached for a stool.

"Okay," Hugh began, taking a breath and running a hand through his hair. "By itself, this chemical, this F-5, is pretty much safe if controlled properly. Actually, it would be very useful as a bacteria killer, but if inhaled or taken internally in any way, it's very toxic to Palmans; much like chlorine, but chlorine is a natural element and F-5 is man-made."

"How can it kill all life on Mota?" Rolf asked eagerly. He knew he could not carry around on his shoulders the deaths of all the people of another planet. He had to know how F-5 worked so that he could make sure it never, ever killed a single Palman on Mota. "And in layman's terms, please."

"Not all life, but all oxygen-dependent beings. And with oxygen breathers gone, carbon dioxide-dependents soon follow." Hugh took a deep breath. "Okay," he said, as if starting over. "One of my tests when running an analysis on strange new substances is to see what it will react with. F-5 doesn't react with much. About all it reacts with are some gasses found high in Mota's atmosphere -- way high, like, in the first layers of air you reach upon re-entry from space."

"And what is the product of this reaction?" Rolf probed.

"A new gas."

"And this gas is deadly to life and kills everyone on Mota?"

"Not exactly," Hugh shook his head. "But... this gas is heavier than oxygen."

Slowly, it hit Rolf. This new gas, a mixture of F-5 and gasses in Mota's atmosphere, replaced the oxygen on the surface of Mota. "I take it," Rolf began carefully, "this new gas isn't breathable."

"No," Hugh confirmed. "But the thing is, F-5 only turns deadly when it's in gas form, and for that to happen, it has to be launched onto Mota from space."

"Why?" This time the question was Tyler's. "Why does it have to be launched from space?"

"Because F-5's boiling point is extremely high. Only the heat of planetary re-entry is hot enough to boil F-5 into a gas."

"After the air returns," Amy said, "and the whole thing's over, what if more F-5 is launched?"

"Well, we wouldn't know, because we'd all be dead," Hugh replied. "But the gasses F-5 reacts with are limited in Mota's atmosphere. In fact, they're not even natural. They were dumped into Mota's atmosphere by Mother Brain as part of the terraforming process to turn Mota from a desert planet to a green one. So, eventually, those gasses would be all used up, and, with Mother Brain not around to supply more of the gas, there would no longer be anything left for the F-5 to react with."

Rolf was silent. Something else was beginning to dawn on him. "Are you sure, Hugh?" he asked. "Are you sure that the only things F-5 can react with are gasses put into Mota's atmosphere by Mother Brain?"

"Yes, I'm sure."

Another beat of silence. "Then," Rolf said, "I think what we have here is..."

"What?" Amy prodded after Rolf drifted off.

Rolf composed himself and started again. "The Earthmen's mission was to claim Mota for their own, right? To make it New Earth?" Amy and Hugh nodded. Tyler just stared. He, too, was starting to realize what they were dealing with. "Question: how were they planning on getting rid of us Palmans living on Mota?"

Silence. "Oh my God," Amy finally whispered.

Hugh shook his head. "You don't know that--"

"No," Rolf interrupted. "I don't know for sure. But it makes sense, doesn't it? Answer me something, Hugh. If F-5 was Mother Brain's invention, where would she have it manufactured?"

"I don't know," Hugh began, running through his answer fast so as to get back to his own arguments. "Noah or Biosystems Lab, probably, but--" He stopped in the middle of his sentence.

"Where's the Rebels' base, Hugh?" Rolf asked. The Biologist paused, the truth hitting him. He nodded in agreement with Rolf's supposition.

There was a long silence in the room as they all realized that F-5 was what Mother Brain had in store for Mota. With all of the Palmans living there suffocated to death, along with all of the native Motavians, all the Earthmen would have had to do was clear away the bodies and use Climatrol, Mother Brain's weather control center, to restore oxygen to the planet. Then Mota would have been theirs.

Hugh had more questions. "But all the gasses that F-5 reacts with -- the ones that keep Mota grassy instead of sandy -- would be used up in launching the F-5 to kill the planet. They wanted a green planet though, and that's why they changed it in the first place. It just doesn't make--"

"They had Climatrol, Hugh." Amy offered. "And they were the ones that manufactured the gasses that kept Mota green, right? All they'd have to do would be to pump some more of them into the atmosphere from Climatrol. They'd probably been doing it for years in smaller amounts, to accommodate for gasses naturally leaving the atmosphere."

"Wait," Tyler said. "Amy, you're right. But, going off the subject for a moment, this is something that just hit me. With Climatrol gone, those gasses above Mota now that are keeping it green aren't going to be replenished when, a century or so down the road, they've all totally escaped into space." He looked at Rolf. "Your planet's going to be a desert world again."

Rolf nodded. Tyler was right. But now wasn't the time to ponder that.

"We've got to get back to Paseo," Rolf told Tyler. "I've got to tell the Agents about this and help them confiscate all the F-5, and find out where the hell the Rebels got a sample or got the formula or whatever." He stopped for a minute and shook his head. "There was a whole warehouse full of this stuff at Biosystems. They had so much, they must be planning on using it. Why, though, or how--" He stopped suddenly. "The Dezorians have ships, don't they?"

"The one that attacked you on the way here was Dezorian, yes," Tyler said.

"Dezorian ship... not necessarily with a Dezorian pilot, though. You said it was not launched from Dezo, right?" Tyler nodded. "Could it have been launched from Mota? Could the Rebels have stolen ships from the Dezorians -- don't ask me how -- and could they be planning on using them to eliminate all life on Mota?"

"I don't know," Tyler shrugged. "But as to your first question, about where your attacker launched his ship from, I'd have to check my logs and use the computers back on the Hell Runner before I could even begin to answer."

"Fine, then. Let's go," Rolf called over his shoulder to Tyler. The Agent was already down the hallway outside the lab.

- - - - - - - - - -

Straight ahead of Rolf and Tyler was the stairway that led up out of the Crevice and into the snow-covered permafrost ground of Dezo. As they reached the top of the stairs, Tyler took his comlink from its holster on his left sleeve and opened a channel. "Lock on and teleport us up, Toasterhead," the Pirate commanded his android.

"Standby," L-479's voice came filtered through the communicator. "Transport in three, two--"

"Wait," Rolf said, almost a whisper.

"Halt transport, standby," Tyler barked quickly before looking at Rolf. The Agent was standing there, clutching the handle of the Neisword so tightly his knuckles were white. His head was back, as if he were asleep where he stood, and his eyes were closed. "Telepathy," Tyler grumbled under his breath.

- - - - - - - - - -

[rolf.... rolf....] came the weak call.

{Lutz? Lutz, what is it?} He took a second to tell Tyler, "Wait." His mind was on other things, talking to other people. The word came out extremely weakly. Rolf didn't care at the moment.

[visit palma. you must go to palma, rolf.]

{Palm? Why? How?}

[you must go there.]

{Lutz, Palm is destroyed.} This he knew all too well.

[palma you must you must go to palma, rolf. you must.]

Rolf's thoughts were blank for a beat of thought-speed. {I understand} he called back to Lutz, but Lutz had already broken the telepathic link.

He opened his eyes and looked at Tyler. "Lutz?" the Pirate asked.

"Yes," Rolf replied. He didn't have a clue as to what Lutz meant, but visiting Palm would be awfully hard considering it had been destroyed over a year ago. Most would say Mother Brain had performed the deed, but if you asked Rolf, he'd reply that he'd done it himself. "I'm ready. Let's go."

A few seconds later, there was the split-second flash of a transport beam and Rolf and Tyler were instantly far, far above Dezo, inside the Hell Runner.

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