Chapter Nine

"Here," Shir said as she handed Kain a cup of stim-juice and took a sip from her own. "We're gonna need it."

She and Kain had returned to the Central Tower with Rudo the day before, after their successful raid on Biosystems Lab. The trouble now was that the three of them had to face what seemed like a hundred Agents, each armed with a hundred questions about the Rebels and their base. She'd been allowed to go home an hour past midnight the night before to get a few hours sleep before what promised to be another day jam-packed with questions.

How many Rebels were there? Did you see their leader? Did you see their armaments cache? Did you see their computers? Were you able to detect any plans for future raids? What is the color scheme of their bathroom, and if it's good, did you get their decorator's Visiphone number?

"Thanks," said Kain, who crashed in Rolf's bed the night before. "But it looks like we're lucky we're civilians."

Shir took a seat next to Kain and glanced across the room into Rudo's office. They couldn't hear anything -- the windows were made out of very thick glass -- but what they saw spoke volumes.

Commander stood to the side, arms folded across his chest, as Rudo sat behind his desk, slowly rocking back and forth in his chair, paying little attention to his surroundings.

Peter stood in front of Rudo's desk, his face the color of Red Dam, shaking a fist up and down. Occasionally, the fist would stop and one finger would extend out, pointed directly at Rudo.

"He better be careful," Shir said, slamming down the rest of her juice. "Rudo's liable to bite that finger off."

"Yeah, he didn't get very much breakfast this morning." Kain finished off his juice and tossed the empty cup into a nearby trash bin. "How many mesetas do I owe you for the juice?"

She shrugged. "I felt the breezes calling."

He nodded, yawned, and stretched. "Can you get any more?"

The Thief stood and smiled. "Oh yeah. I have a feeling the breezes are going to be quite noisy today."

- - - - - - - - - -

"You locate the Rebels' main headquarters and you don't even tell us about it?"

Rudo carefully examined an old food stain on his desk as Peter stood above him, shouting. How did that one get there?

"Are you listening to me, Steiner?" Peter demanded. Rudo paused to wipe a drop of Peter's expectoration from his forehead. "You are no longer a Hunter and you are no longer a civilian. You are a government Agent! You have almost a hundred highly trained individuals at your disposal should the need arise, and you and your buddy Rolf invade the Rebels' main headquarters -- their main headquarters -- with two civilians?"

Peter stopped, turned, and paced two steps. Then he spun on his heels and once again leaned over Rudo's desk. "What in God's name were you two thinking?"

Rudo met Peter's eyes. "Actually, Peter, we were thinking about stopping the Rebels."

"How did you learn the location of the base, if you wouldn't mind telling me?" Peter inquired. "Or dare I even ask?"

"You can ask, but you won't like the answer," Rudo said, desperately trying to hide his excitement at the prospect of revealing he and Rolf's source to Peter. "The information came straight from the second-in-command of the Guardians."

Peter's eyes bulged from his sockets and his jaw landed on Rudo's desk. "The Guardians? The Guardians?" he repeated. "The vigilantes? The criminals? I ask you again, Rudolf Steiner, what in the hell were you two thinking?"

"Agent Peter," Commander spoke up. "I think you both need a moment."

Rudo turned to Commander and smiled. "I'm fine, thanks."

"You both need a moment," Commander repeated sternly. "Now get out of here. Both of you."

Peter laid his hand on one of the chairs in front of Rudo's desk, pushed it aside, and stormed out of the office. Rudo stood and asked, "What's he so upset about? We arrested a third of the Rebels."

"I know, Rudo, and I think you did a great job," Commander said, placing a hand on Rudo's shoulder. "But you have to admit that you and Rolf aren't team players. Me, I don't mind. Rolf's my best Agent and that's why I assigned him to go to Biosystems Lab and retrieve the recorder one year ago. I don't care how he does the job as long as he gets it done. But Peter..." he said, motioning towards the hallway. "Peter wears his uniform buttoned all the way to the top, if you know what I mean."

Rudo grinned. "You mean he acts like he's walking around with pole up his--"

"Yes, that's what I mean," Commander interrupted with a smile. He left the office and Rudo followed him out, then strode across the room to where Shir and Kain stood to meet him.

"I couldn't help but notice you seemed a little oblivious to your surroundings in there," Kain said. "Didn't you hear the laser explosions that were going off in your face?"

Before the three of them could laugh at the joke, several very real laser explosions suddenly cut across Paseo and decimated the Central Tower.

- - - - - - - - - -

One year ago, at the moment that Rolf and his friends destroyed the Mother Brain, all of Mota's Control Towers became useless.

Later, when the rebuilding began, they gained a little use as parts stores for the rebuilding process. If not for that purpose, they would have been demolished long ago. As it was, they were eyesores on the Paseo skyline, unwanted reminders to the people of dark times and their own seduction at the vile hand of Mother Brain.

The only person who found any real use for them was the crazy man who wandered Paseo, looking behind doors and into shop windows, shouting, "Mother Brain? Come home, Mother Brain. Dinner's waiting. Come home." Every morning at dawn he circled each of the four towers four times and begged Mother Brain for forgiveness. The local hospital had tried to help him, but he refused, saying only Mother Brain could help him.

But today, several other people had found a use for the Control Towers. Ricktus Tenbern looked at the Central Tower through one of the window-slits. He didn't understand why D'zkot had wanted him to undertake this mission. "If our goal is supposedly to make Rolf King of Algo, why do we attack his place of employment?" he'd asked his master.

You miserable half-brained idiot, D'zkot had shouted back. Who cares what they think! Our support for a Rolf-headed monarchy is merely an excuse to give us a cause. They'll never give in to the demand, and if they do, a Mota ruled by a lunatic will be that much easier to destroy.

Ricktus didn't understand and didn't try to understand. He simply did as D'zkot told him, or else he died.

He looked at the men working around him. Some were checking out where the heavy laser cannon's legs had been welded to the ground, making sure all was secure. Others were running diagnostics on the cannon itself. The whine of power cells charging created a low buzz throughout the room. Ricktus knew this was going on in the other three Control Towers, as well.

One of the nearby Rebels covered the earpiece of his radio with his hand, then turned to Ricktus. "All units report ready, Ricktus."

"Does that include our operators at the teleportation bunker?" Ricktus asked. The radio-wielding Rebel nodded.

Ricktus nodded back, picked up his own radio, and pushed the talk button. "This is Ricktus," he said calmly. "All units are ready. Fire one."

Suddenly, four laser blasts burst forth, one from each Control Tower, all aimed directly at the Central Tower. Each one hit home. Paseo was rocked by thunderous noise as chunks of the Agents' headquarters exploded out onto the street below.

"Fire two," Ricktus spat into his radio.

Four more incredibly huge laser shots; four more explosions. By this time, flame poured out of the Central Tower at several different places. Glass had been blasted so far that some shards were probably swimming in Odin Lake. One Rebel turned and shouted at Ricktus: "Spotter says their roof just landed in the Central Gardens!"

Ricktus's reply was spoken into his radio. "Fire three."

Another four blasts tore into the Central Tower. The top two floors collapsed down onto the rest of the structure. By this time, terrified civilians and dumbfounded Agents had started running from the main entrance on ground level. Each one of them ran, then stopped dead in their tracks and gasped when they turned around and became witnesses to the destruction.

The roof was indeed gone. The three floors that made up what was now the top of the building had been smashed together, making the structure look like an aluminum can whose crushing had been aborted. The rings that once circled the building were in a million pieces and scattered throughout Paseo.

Ricktus smiled as he assessed the damage from the Control Tower's window slit. The Central Tower, while still standing, was so broken and tattered it looked as if it could drop at any time. "All right, guys and ladies," he called to the Rebels. "Let's not give them a chance to know who hit them." He brought his radio to his mouth and again pressed the talk button. "Base, teleport us in."

- - - - - - - - - -

Rudo, Kain, and Shir picked themselves up off the ground they had just been thrown to and looked around. Three of the room's outside windows had exploded. The lights were gone. Power was out. Rudo wiped a hand across his forehead and brought it down with blood on it. Kain held one arm to his side and winced in pain. There were a few other minor injuries throughout the room and confusion was on the face of everyone.

"What the hell was that, Rudo?" Shir asked. The Agent did not respond.

Agent Price then came running into the room. "What's going on?" he shouted. "Who hit us?" He stood before one of the windows that was still intact and looked outside for any kind of hint.

The sound of four more blasts from heavy laser cannons pierced the air. Rudo pushed Kain and Shir back down to the floor with him, then extended a hand towards Price and shouted, "Get down!" But he was too late. One of the blasts punched through an outer wall of the very room they all stood in. It was enough to destroy the remaining windows. Price, standing in front of one, took the glass explosion head-on, and his body was knocked to the ground, his face and chest a patchwork mess of lacerations. As the laser ripped across the air above their heads, the smell of ozone was unmistakably noticeable, even through their fear.

Rudo raised his head and glanced around. The room was a mess, to say the least. Power cables hung down from the ceiling. Twisted metal stuck out from the walls. Before the smoke of the explosion had even cleared, Rudo saw Kain jump to his feet and run to where Price had fallen.

"Idiot," he heard Shir mutter under her breath, somewhere to his left. Rudo himself didn't move.

"Kain, get down now!" he yelled across the room.

Kain was standing above Price, still holding his arm, a horrified look on his face. "He's dead!" Kain shouted.

Suddenly, Rudo saw that Shir was on her feet, too. "And you're going to be, too," she screamed at Kain. "Get down, Wrecker!"

In a terrible moment of horror, Rudo saw both Shir and Kain standing and heard the sound of four more blasts heading for the Central Tower at the same time.

- - - - - - - - - -

Shir heard them, too. She leaped into the air and blindsided Kain, knocking him to the floor with a tackle. The Thief threw one arm over the back of her neck and then closed her eyes.

She heard one of the blasts strike somewhere below, but the other three definitely hit the Tower's top two levels, above them. The floor shook. She noticed for the first time that a fire had started somewhere across the room.

Then the two floors above them came crashing down.

Upon impact, the glass of the Agents' office windows, including Rudo's, shattered and spewed forth into the room they were all in. Shir gritted her teeth with pain as shards buried themselves in her back and the arm that covered her neck

Out of the corner of her eye she saw that half of the room was now occupied by the room that used to be above them.

- - - - - - - - - -

Rudo, Kain, and Shir, along with the other Agents and civilian government workers in the room, stayed as still as their trembling-with-fear bodies would allow. All sat waiting to hear the whine of more laser blasts. Rudo's mind worked at light speed. He thought about the number of blows that had rocked the Tower so far, where they had hit, and what the probable damage was. It didn't take him long to realize that the Central Tower couldn't take much more punishment before it became the Central Scrapheap.

When his ears detected a noise other than more of the building falling apart, the fires, or the prayers of those around him, he at first braced himself for another volley of laser blasts. It only took a moment to realize, however, that it was the sound of teleportation beams.

Rudo jumped to his feet and strode across the room to where Kain lay on the ground, holding his (probably broken) arm with Shir on top of him, the back of her shirt stained red with blood. "Is it over?" Shir asked him when she saw him approaching.

"No, it's just beginning," he replied. "We're being invaded."

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