Chapter Eighteen

L-479's body still crackled with blue energy here and there, the outward sign that he had been hit with a massive ionization blast. His robotic body, limp and dead, floated as if he were standing in place, only he was in the air a few feet off of the Hell Runner's deck.

If his CPU were still active, it would not have been able to pick up anything from his optical sensors, as they had been shorted out. He would not have heard anything, either, as his sound receivers still crackled with ionization. All of his motor units had frozen up, and so even if his CPU were active, he would not have been able to move his body.

But his CPU was not active. His brain was, effectively, turned off. In fact, only one small part of L-479's massive mechanical body was still running.

Deep in his chest, buried between two panels of memory circuits and the control chip for his central hydraulics system, a small chip flashed its ready signal and gave off a soft hum. A blinking green light on the chip slowly began blinking more and more, faster and faster, until it was no longer a blinking green light but a blinking yellow light. By the time it turned red, it wasn't blinking anymore, it was continuously lit.

Other lights all over the small chip, which was L-479's ionization sensor, came to life. It was the only mechanical portion of his body that still worked because its own power supply constantly generated a small anti-ionization field around it. Even while the rest of his mechanical body was dead, this chip was scanning the body for ionization levels and, sensing massive amounts, snapped into action.

Realizing that the Hell Runner would frequently be hit by ion cannons, Tyler had installed the chip to reactivate L-479 if he ever should be affected by them. The chip started work by generating its own field of particles charged opposite to those shutting down his systems. It began with his hydraulics system, which is why it was located right next to that system's control chip.

Once the hydraulics system was cleaned and reactivated, the anti-ion chip used its own limited power source to pump hydraulic fluids throughout his body, while at the same time, the anti-ion chip dumped its oppositely charged particles into the hydraulic fluid. In effect, the anti-ionization chip was pouring its medicine directly into L-479's blood stream, which was then carrying it throughout his body and restoring each of his systems one by one.

L-479 began to move his arms. Then his eyes flashed to life. Finally, he moved his legs, then reactivated his "magnetic boots." With two loud clangs, he had refastened himself to the deck of the Hell Runner.

"Nice try, guys," he said, thinking of the New Order fighters that had attacked them. He stepped to the manual depressurization release lever, buried in the bulkhead next to the cockpit door, pulled it, and stepped into the cockpit.

Tyler was floating above the Hell Runner's main pilot's console, his face a shade of light blue. L-479 quickly took the emergency supply kit from its hiding place underneath the console and removed a breathing mask and oxygen supply. As he did this, he casually looked out the front viewport, but he could not see the New Order fighters anywhere.

Deactivating the magnetic systems that held him to the deck, he floated up to become level with Tyler. He slipped the breathing mask onto the Space Pirate's face, but, after going over Tyler with a quick sensor scan, he determined that the Pirate had stopped breathing.

Holding Tyler with his left arm, and bracing his body with his knees, L-479 pulled aside Tyler's shirt and placed his metallic fingers on the skin just above his heart. He then blasted his captain and friend with electricity.

Tyler immediately lurched in his arms and began sucking huge gulps of air from his breathing mask's oxygen supply, but L-479 had no time to waste. Leaving Tyler, he took a small sheet of metal and a welding torch from the emergency kit, and floated to the hull breach, which he had spotted in the cockpit's ceiling. He quickly sealed the breach before returning to the emergency kit for a few tools and ripping an access panel from the wall. As he began repairing the cockpit's life support systems, Tyler spoke behind him.

"What..." He trailed off, took a few more gulps of sweet, beautiful air. "What happened?"

L-479 concentrated on his work and did not turn to face him. "We were attacked by three of D'zkot's fighters. They breached the hull and you fell unconscious. Then they shot the ship up with ionization and shut me down, as well."

Tyler raised his eyebrows at the Polezi. "You mean that anti-ionization chip I implanted in you actually worked?"

L-479 turned to face his captain. "Yes, it worked perfectly."

After considering this for a moment, Tyler shrugged his shoulders. "Wow."

Intrigued, L-479 alternated his glance between his work and Tyler. "You mean you didn't think it would work?"

"I didn't think it had a prayer."

"Then why did you install it inside me?"

Again, Tyler shrugged his shoulders. "I was bored one day."

Shaking his head, L-479 made a few more adjustments to the circuit boards he worked on before the cockpit's red emergency lights were replaced by normal lighting. Tyler closed his eyes and let out a sigh of relief as he heard the life support vents come back on-line.

He looked over to L-479, who just stared at him. If he could smile, Tyler thought, the one he'd be wearing right now would be enormous.

"Thanks, Toasterhead," he nodded, "for saving my life." In response, L-479 just nodded. "Now do you think you could get the gravity nets working again? I hate floating around."

- - - - - - - - - -

Rudo, Kip, and Kain continued to hold their weapons right out in front of them, but so far, the ship they were on seemed to be almost deserted. The Hunter turned Agent knew things were far too quiet for everything to be okay, but he had no choice except to continue to search for Anna.

He winced in pain as he relived the moment back in the Central Tower when she had been teleported away with Ricktus and the other Rebels. Why did it happen just at the time when she was starting to seem open to giving their relationship another try?

Without wanting them to, Rudo's thoughts drifted back to the day he'd returned home to find the door of he and Liz's forest cabin in splinters. He'd rushed into his living room only to find Liz's bloody body on the floor, and to the sound of his baby girl, Jennifer, crying and wailing.

He made it to Jennifer's room in time to see a hideous, repulsive Biomonster -- a Locust -- standing next to Jennifer's crib, leaning in over the bars and ripping the innocent infant apart with its claws. Rudo killed the beast, but not before it had killed the two most important people in his life first.

That day Rudo swore he would never love again. He resigned from the Army and became a Biomonster Hunter, bravely venturing into the wilderness he knew so well to destroy any of Mother Brain's sick creations that were unlucky enough to find him. Several months later, during a trip into Arima, he heard an Agent in Paseo was going off in search of the source of the Biomonsters and the rest was history.

But during that journey, he'd met Anna. And she changed everything.

At first they'd been at each others' throats constantly. She was a Guardian, and her sworn enemies were the Hunters. (Later, he learned that an old boyfriend of hers had been killed by a reckless Hunter in the earliest days of Mota's Biomonster infestation.) During the course of their journey with Rolf, however, things started to change. Anna began to see that all Hunters were not like the one that had killed her boyfriend. And Rudo began to see that maybe -- just maybe -- he could learn to love again.

Now, as he stormed through the corridors of D'zkot's New Order flagship with Kip and Kain in tow, he realized that somewhere along the way he had learned to love again. And his teacher was currently being held by an insane Dezorian bent on the genocide of the people of Mota.

Kip and Kain pushed themselves up against the sides of the corridor as they reached a small door. Rudo aimed his Pulse Vulcan out in front of him, then took a step forward, the door opening for him automatically.

Nothing was behind it except more corridor.

"Well," Kain said as the three of them stepped through, the door closing behind them, "this ship sure does have great hallways."

They took a few steps forward, eyes focused on the door ahead of them. It looked the same as the one they had just stepped through. Determined to get on with the search and find something, they started pacing a little faster.

They found something real quick.

Rudo came to a halt and gawked at an object in space out the viewport to his right. Kain and Kip came around to either side of him and saw the same thing. "Do you recognize that, Kain?" Rudo asked softly.

"Of course I do," Kain replied. The words sounded sarcastic, but they came out in a flat monotone.

"It looks like some kind of space craft," Kip said, puzzled. "But it looks like one whole room of it has been blown away." He looked to Rudo and Kain. "What is it?"

Keeping his eyes focused on the space ship Noah, Rudo said to Kip, "Did Anna ever tell you about our fight with the creators of the Mother Brain?"

Kip's jaw dropped. "Oh my God..." Besides the seven of them who were actually there during the battle with the Earthmen, Kip had become the first Palman to see the space ship that had housed the Mother Brain.

As he and Rudo continued to look at it, Kain looked around the corridor they stood in, then back at the viewport, and then he reached down to place his hand on the deck below them. "Guys," he finally announced. "I'm no expert... but I'd say that's where this ship is headed."

That's when the door ahead of them opened.

Three Dezorians stepped through into the corridor. One, the leader, defiantly strode towards the invading Palmans as the other two lagged behind, walking slowly, as if drugged. Rudo and Kain brought their Pulse Vulcans up to bear, while Kip did the same with the rifle he pulled from his long coat. As he looked over the man -- who was unarmed -- Rudo realized he looked familiar somehow. A moment later, sudden realization hit him when he remembered where he had seen the Dezorian before. Or, more accurately, where he had heard of him.

The Dezorian approaching he, Kip, and Kain perfectly matched the description Rolf had given him of D'zkot.

Rudo aimed his Pulse Vulcan squarely at D'zkot's head, but at the last moment, moved it centimeters down and to the right. He couldn't kill D'zkot just yet; he had to learn where Anna was first. Kip and Kain took the cue from him and they aimed their own weapons as well, but D'zkot did not stop his forward movement. In fact, he didn't even flinch.

Kain opened fire first, followed quickly by Rudo and Kip. All three of them were stunned to see their energy blasts absorbed by some kind of invisible force field that seemed to move forward along with D'zkot. They continued to fire, forgetting that they didn't want to kill the New Order's leader just yet. Rudo aimed for D'zkot's head, while Kip and Kain aimed for his chest, but the results were the same. Every shot they fired hit a force field mere millimeters in front of D'zkot's face.

Finally, D'zkot was only a meter or two in front of them. Rudo, Kip, and Kain each stopped firing their weapons and stared at the mad Dezorian, who gazed back at the Palmans with a grin of amusement pasted across his face.

"Allow me to introduce myself," he said at last. "I am General D'zkot, Pai'tekkan of Dezo. Welcome to my New Order's flagship."

"Where is she?" Rudo demanded. He was not afraid. He stared D'zkot right in the eyes.

D'zkot returned the stare and widened his grin. "You speak of the Guardian leader, Anna, of course. I don't need my telemental abilities to realize that," he began. After a beat, he continued. "She has been transferred to a holding cell on my headquarters ship, which you have just seen outside that viewport." His eyes drifted to Kain. "And yes, Mechanic of Roron, that is indeed where we are headed."

"When we get there," Rudo pressed on, "you're going to hand over Anna. Or else you're going to die."

D'zkot threw his head back and laughed. In response, Rudo pulled his arm back, intending to punch the mad Dezorian across the mouth. His fist lunged forward, but in mid-punch, D'zkot stopped laughing and stared straight at Rudo.

Some kind of invisible fist then smacked Rudo across the jaw, and the big Agent went down.

As Kain and Kip helped him climb back to his feet, D'zkot stared in his eyes, which Rudo could see barely held back the fury contained behind them. But he still refused to be afraid of D'zkot.

"Oh, you will come to fear me, Rudolf Steiner," D'zkot said softly, his arrogance and cocksuredness replaced by a slow-boiling anger. "Just as Anna came to fear me."

"What did you do to her?" Kip demanded.

A trace of a smile returned to D'zkot's thin mouth. "Ahh, such loyalty for your leader. I admire that." His gaze returned to Rudo. "As I said, Anna is in a holding cell on my headquarters ship. But she is catatonic. She just lays curled up, shaking day and night. Usually, she moans. Every once in a while, she screams."

Rudo repeated Kip's question through gritted teeth and his own boiling anger. "What did you do to her, D'zkot?"

"I pulled from her mind all of her worst memories; her living nightmares, so to speak." He spoke in a tone which showed he took great pride in his work. "And then I forced her to relive them all at once. You might call what I did mind rape. I prefer to say I gave Anna a new definition of the term, 'living hell.'"

Rudo charged forward, but Kain and Kip grabbed him, holding him back, knowing all he would do is hit another telekinetic force field. It was no easy task. As Rudo struggled to break free from them and lunge at D'zkot, the mad telemental stepped aside, revealing for the first time the other two Dezorians who had entered the corridor with him.

When he saw them, Rudo stopped struggling. Both Dezorians stood in front of him, eyes opened, facing forward, but Rudo immediately noticed something strange about them. It was their eyes. Their eyes had no light in them. It was mad, but Rudo thought they looked like... corpses.

When he heard Kain gasp, he saw the rest of the picture. The first corpse-like Dezorian's neck was puffy and colored a deep-bruise purple. It looked as if he had been strangled. The other one had a large blaster wound in his chest, filled with dried, caked blood.

"Allow me to introduce you to two of the latest additions to my New Order," D'zkot began. "The one with the crushed windpipe is K'Clanne. Or maybe I should say, was K'Clanne. He was the Ran'tekkan, the son of my predecessor Pai'tekkan, K'Cren. I fought him in yesterday's Tekkan-kinsai and strangled him to death to become Dezo's new leader.

"The other is named A'Jole. If you can believe it, he's my elder brother. I never knew him, though, because my family left me to die out in the blizzards of Dezo just after I was born."

"Best decision they ever made," Rudo snorted.

D'zkot ignored him and continued. "A'Jole tried to reach Esper Mansion, to warn Lutz about me, but my men reached him first and brought him to the s'dkin Menobe." He leaned forward and spoke into A'Jole's dead ear. "You would have lived, too, if you hadn't forced my guards to shoot you by trying to escape."

The Pai'tekkan then turned his attention back to Rudo, Kip, and Kain. "As you can tell, both men are dead, yet thanks to my power, they live." He began to chuckle softly. "And now we've reached the part where the three of you battle K'Clanne and A'Jole to the death. Except, they're already dead! They have nothing to lose.

"And all the three of you have to lose are your pitiful and meaningless lives."

D'zkot stepped behind K'Clanne and A'Jole as their bodies, animated by D'zkot's perverted telemental abilities, began to attack Rudo, Kip, and Kain. He watched the Palmans fight for their lives, and laughed his twisted laugh as he did so.

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