Over breakfast, Rolf told Rudo, Kain, and Kip (who had arrived at sunrise) about everything that happened on Dezo. "So if you three really are going to search for Anna," Rolf said, "then you must destroy every last drop of F-5 that you find."
"Aren't you coming along?" Kip asked.
"I wish I could, Kip. Anna is a very close friend. But the future of the entire planet is at stake here. While you guys destroy the last of the F-5, Lutz and I have to figure out a way to stop D'zkot."
"You think he's involved with the Rebels?" Kain questioned.
"I know he's involved with the Rebels. I just don't know how or why."
Rolf, fully geared-up, stood to leave. Rudo followed him to the door.
"I don't know, Rolf," he started. "When you find out one of your closest friends is an Esper, what's the appropriate response? Congratulations on coming from a good gene pool?" They both laughed. "Seriously, though. You're going to be a great Esper. I know you'll make me proud."
"Thank you, Rudo," Rolf smiled. "That really does mean a lot."
"I don't pretend to know a thing about all this telemental business," Rudo continued. "But I do know that it was always comforting that the most powerful one was on our side." He paused a moment. "But now, with your powers only budding and Lutz apparently defeated, that might not be the case anymore."
"Don't worry about D'zkot, Rudo," Rolf reassured his friend, all the while wishing he himself wasn't worried. "Lutz and I will stop him. But I can't begin to stress to you the importance of getting rid all of the F-5."
Rudo nodded. "I know. You don't have to remind me that Biosystems Lab was full of the stuff."
"Then that's where you're headed?" Rolf asked.
"Yes, to find Anna," Rudo confirmed. "We'll stop there first and destroy the F-5, and if Anna's not there... I'm prepared to scour the planet for her. I won't leave a single stone unturned. I'll swim out to Climatrol, if I have to."
"I don't need these," he pointed to his head, "or this," he pointed to the Neisword, "to see that you care about her a great deal."
Rudo nodded slowly. "I do, my friend. I do."
Rolf clapped a hand onto Rudo's massive shoulder. "And you'll find her. I promise."
"Wake up!" Ricktus spat down at Anna as he kicked her in the ribs.
Anna opened her eyes and fixed Ricktus with a glare. She started to climb to her feet, but it was hard with Plasma Rings around your wrists and ankles. On top of that, her limbs had fallen fast asleep, being unable to move as she slept.
Ricktus reached down, grabbed her hair, and used it to yank her the rest of the way up. Anna gritted her teeth against the pain, but there was no way in all of Algo she would give the Rebels the satisfaction of hearing her scream.
Her vision blurred (even a few hours' sleep hadn't completely removed the effects of the blow she'd taken to her head) but she idetified Ricktus and three other Rebels in the room. She grinned to herself. Even with my head swimming and with my wrists and ankles tied up in Plasma Rings, I'm still enough of a threat that it takes four Rebels to guard me.
"What's so funny?" Ricktus asked upon seeing her grin.
"I was just thinking," Anna answered. "When I traveled with Rolf last year I saw a lot of Biomonsters, and let me tell you, some of them were awfully ugly. But your face just, quite simply, has to be the ugliest thing I've ever seen in my life." Ricktus thanked her for the compliment by smacking her across her mouth.
Her head snapped backwards, but she quickly brought it back to give Ricktus an indomitable glare, even as she licked blood from her cut lip.
"Let's go," Ricktus said, and then the guards began leading her out of her cell and down the hall.
They lead her on what seemed like a trip across Biosystems Lab, which is where Anna figured out she was. Any time she didn't go fast enough, she received a push from one of the Rebels behind her.
Eventually they reached a room with a teleport platform. Ricktus stopped before it, but the guards behind Anna pushed her forward. She continued forward until Ricktus extended his leg, tripping Anna and forcing her to land face-first on the platform. The guards behind her laughed. Ricktus looked at them and joined in.
Anna merely rolled over, sat up, and fixed Ricktus with a glare of pure ice. "Where are you sending me?" she asked. And will I live? was the question she didn't say out loud. This would be a very easy way to kill her. They could teleport her a mile deep into the ground and let her die instantly, or, if that was too quick, they could teleport her a mile high into the air and laugh as she fell to her death.
"The boss wants to see you," Ricktus responded. This warranted a new look from Anna, this one a look of puzzlement. The boss? she thought. I thought you were the boss, Ricktus.
With that, Ricktus pressed the button to initiate teleport, and she was gone.
She rematerialized on another teleport platform. She was still in a sitting position, and she sat facing a wall. The design of the wall was unknown to her, and she leaned in closer, trying to figure out where she was. Before she could, two pairs of green hands grabbed her under the arms and lifted her to her feet, spinning her around in the process.
It was then that she saw two Dezorians were marching her down the corridor of what appeared to be some kind of space craft.
"Dezorians?" she muttered in shock. "You're Ricktus's boss?" The Dezorians did not utter a word from the thin black lines that were their mouths. They just stared forward and brought her along with them.
The Dezorians control the Rebels? Why? They've never had any interest in affairs on our world.
They reached a TransTube and stepped in. Still, they said nothing. They simply pressed the button for their destination and rode the TransTube in silence. About a minute later, they stepped out of the Tube and entered a corridor with several doors on either side.
Why do they want Rolf to become King of Algo? It doesn't make any sense...
As they began passing the doors, Anna noticed they were made out of reinforced metal, that each one had an intricate control panel next to it, and that each one had a red light above the door.
The Dezorians quickly stopped at one of the doors, catching Anna before she fell on her face at the sudden cessation of movement. One continued to hold her as the other punched a code sequence into the door's panel. The light above the door turned green and then the door itself opened.
"Hey, what am I doing here?" Anna asked quickly. Before she could even think about getting an answer, the Dezorians had pushed her into the cell, which shut with a clang of metal and the deep ominous sound of heavy locks latching the door tightly shut.
She sat there for what seemed like an hour, but was probably only fifteen minutes. Then, the cell's door opened, and a single Dezorian stood in the doorway smiling at her.
"Hello, Anna," he said. "My name is General D'zkot, and I am Pai'tekkan of Dezo."
Anna knew enough about Dezorian culture to know that the Pai'tekkan was the ruler of the entire planet. She also knew enough about current events to believe that K'Cren should rightfully hold the title this D'zkot claimed as his own.
"What happened to K'Cren?" she asked.
"Oh, him." D'zkot dismissed the question with a wave. "I killed him."
If Dezo had a new leader, the first of her questions had been answered. She remembered thinking on her way to her cell that the Dezorians had no interest in Mota's affairs. But perhaps this new leader had interests previous ones did not.
"Yes, that's exactly the case," D'zkot nodded at her. "K'Cren didn't care about anything except Dezo. When Palm exploded, he shrugged his shoulders and moved on. My interests, however, are more varied... as well as much more visionary."
Before Anna could even begin to wonder how he had read her mind, he looked at the cell's viewport, which was covered, and reached out with his mind, pushing the shade back into its resting place in the bulkhead. "I want to show you where we're going," D'zkot said. "Go ahead, take a look."
Anna hobbled to the viewport and caught her breath in her throat. What was it that made her recognize it? Perhaps it was the fact that a large portion of the ship had been totally blown away, completely exposing one large room to space. No, she'd never seen it from the outside before, but the ship she saw in the distance had to be the space ship Noah.
Stunned, she turned to D'zkot. "I thought you might like to see that." He glanced at the Plasma Rings that bound her wrists and ankles, and then waved a hand at them. "Those are no longer neccessary." They snapped apart and fell to the floor.
Anna took advantage of D'zkot's grievous error. She jumped to her feet and charged at him, then leaped into the air, intending to deliver a jump kick right across where his nose should be.
Briefly, she wondered why D'zkot was not so much as flinching. Then, she hit an invisible wall and fell painfully to the floor.
D'zkot, oblivious to her attack, examined a fingernail. After a long moment, he crouched down next to her and looked her closely in the eyes. His mouth was a straight line. "That was a very foolish move, Anna."
Anna, still on the floor, looked up at him. "Why did Ricktus say he was sending me to his boss?" she demanded.
A smile spread out across D'zkot's face, and he stood. "Because I control the Rebels, not him. He is merely one of my pawns. You were with your friend Rolf when he found the F-5, weren't you? Did he tell you what will happen after my fleet dumps it onto your planet?"
Anna just stared at D'zkot. She blinked her eyes and when she opened them, she was no longer laying on metal, she was laying on grass. And she was no longer staring at D'zkot, she was staring at Mota's sky on a cloudless, sunny day.
Slowly, she climbed to her feet. D'zkot stood a little behind her, also staring at the sky. I'm in the Central Gardens, Anna thought. How did I get here?
"No, you're not," D'zkot said without taking his eyes off of the sky. "We're inside your head. I am a telemental, young lady, and soon I will be the ruler of a solar system, as well." He pointed upwards. "Do you see it?"
Anna used a hand to shield her eyes from the sun. She didn't see anything. "There they go!" D'zkot cheered. "My fighter ships are launching their torpeoes right now. But they're not standard torpedoes, no, no. They are equipped with a chemical I learned about from the aliens' computers. See?"
Anna did see something now: thousands of explosions high in Mota's atmosphere. From this distance, they looked like little more than pin-pricks.
"Now the torpedoes are exploding and Mota's gravity is pulling the liquid F-5 towards the ground. But wait! The friction is heating up the liquid. My, my, it's a gas now, isn't it? And... what's that? Is it introducing itself to the other gasses up there?"
She spun on him and glared. "What does this have to do with anything?"
D'zkot just continued to watch the sky. "Oh, they've come together, how nice. They're such good friends. All the gasses up there have given up a little bit of themselves to make a new gas. And here it comes!"
Anna returned her gaze to the sky... and gasped. The sky was no longer blue; far in the distance, it was now a bright crimson, and the giant blood stain in the sky seemed to be getting bigger and bigger, and closer and closer.
"Here it comes!" D'zkot shouted again, before his words broke into chuckles. "Don't hold your breath, Anna. It will be the last one you take."
By this time, the air all around them had turned red. D'zkot turned his attention to the Gardens and for the first time Anna noticed they were full of people, much as it was three days earlier before the Rebels bombed the barton courts.
Then she noticed something else. She noticed she couldn't breathe.
Her lungs inhaled air, but nothing happened. Again, and again. Nothing. With fear-stricken eyes she looked at D'zkot, who seemed to be fine and very capable of breathing, as he took in the scenery around him.
The children who had been on the playground equipment now convulsed on the ground. Two teenagers who moments earlier were tossing a ball back and forth gripped at their chests. Mothers tried desperately to burp their babies, trying to make them breathe, all the while unable to breathe themselves.
And through it all, D'zkot laughed hysterically.
Anna tried to turn on him and scream his name, but she could get no air in her lungs. People were beginning to stop moving. Though she couldn't do it physically, in her mind, Anna screamed.
Help me! Somebody help me!
Suddenly, D'zkot stopped laughing. He met eyes with Anna and said, "You want to leave? Well let's go."
In another eyeblink, Anna was not only in another place, but in another body. She looked down at herself and saw she was ten-years-old and wearing a blue bathing suit. "D'zkot?" she said, and jumped when she heard her voice was ten-years-old, too.
She looked around, but D'zkot was nowhere to be found. He was quickly forgotten, however, when she saw that she stood on a boat, and that she was surrounded by water. Somewhere in the distance, she could see a small sliver of land.
I'm off of Uzo Island! she realized. When she was ten, her family had vacationed there. One day they'd rented a big boat and took it out onto the water. Her ten-year-old mouth smiled at the memory. She'd sat at the front of the boat, feeling the water splashing up towards her. The day was one of the most fun she'd ever had.
Then her stomach fell down to her bare ten-year-old feet as she remembered what else had happened that day. She turned around to look at the rest of the boat. Where was her father? Where was her mother? No! she thought with alarm. They're down below deck. It's about to happen!
And then it did. Her twelve-year-old brother jumped out from nowhere and screamed, "BOO!" Then he placed his hands on Anna's shoulders and pushed.
Just like the first time it happened, it happened in slow motion. Her body fell backwards. Her arms flailed out, stretching and reaching towards the bar at the front of the boat, but it seemed it was a mile away. She saw her brother laughing at the trick he'd played on his little sister. She remembered that, in a few minutes, he'd be balling his head off as their father took him across his knee and spanked him, but for now, he was enjoying the funniest joke in the world.
She felt the water on her back first, heard the splash, and then she was underwater.
And she couldn't swim.
Her arms and legs kicked and thrashed like there was no tomorrow, and indeed, if someone didn't help her right away, there wouldn't be.
NO! Anna -- the Anna that was no longer ten-years-old -- cried in her mind. This is not real. This is D'zkot's work. It is NOT REAL.
Suddenly, she wasn't in the water anymore. Now she was in a dark alley at night. She was being pinned against the wall by a man as his friends (and fellow criminals) beat the life out of her best friend. She watched the beating in horror. Three men punching and kicking an innocent teenage girl, and all because she didn't have any money to give them.
"No, Anna," D'zkot said, and she realized he was the man holding her against the wall. "This is real. It is happening. It happened once and that's all that's needed to make it happen forever in your memory."
An eyeblink later, and she was walking through the woods with her boyfriend. They were holding hands and quietly talking. She was so happy; a few minutes before he had read her a poem he'd written just for her. But a few steps and one laser blast later, her boyfriend lay on the ground with a smoking hole in his head above his right eyebrow, dead. Another few seconds and the Hunter that had accidentially shot him came into the clearing, glanced at the body and at the girl who cried over it, and then left, oblivious, still in pursuit of the Biomonster that was his real target. It was the incident that convinced her to join the Guardians.
No. That was before. It's not happening now.
She blinked her eyes and she and two other Guardians were chasing a group of Scoundrels through the town of Arima. One of the Scoundrels turned, pushed a button on a box, and a dynamite bomb went off in directly in their path. Before Anna fell unconcious, she saw that her two companions were dead.
It's not real. It's not real.
The smoke from the bomb cleared and she was standing before the demon named Dark Force. He opened his mouth and roared (his breath reeked of death itself) and pulled his giant claws back before hurling evil energy straight at her.
No no no no no!
She was standing before Mother Brain
and then she was in the room with the Earthmen and they were all fighting for their lives and
Back in her cell, Anna finally leaned her head back and screamed. She screamed as loud as she could and as long as she could and when she was finally out of air, she took a gulp in and screamed again. D'zkot watched her, cowering on the floor in fear, and laughed.
And Anna screamed, and D'zkot laughed.
Within a few minutes, her screaming had stopped, and Anna remained on the floor of her cell, rolled into a ball, trembling and shaking. She moaned softly, and every once in a while, another scream would escape her lips. Her eyes were open as wide as could be, but they did not see a single thing except the terrors she had just relived.
D'zkot walked out of Anna's cell and locked the door behind him. That went much better than planned, he thought. He had intended to go into the cell and terrorize Anna until she lay catatonic on the floor. Mission accomplished.
But as an added bonus, he had also pulled several tidbits of information from Anna's head. He now knew what had happened on the space ship Noah one year before. He also knew how Rolf had reacted to it.
And, armed with this knowledge, he knew how to ultimately defeat Rolf, as well.
Do you really wish to kill an old man?
|Please send all comments and feedback to mike at ripplinger dot us