Chapter Twenty

"What is it, R'Alyn?" D'zkot asked into his comlink as he strode through the corridors of the New Order's headquarters ship -- a ship that a group of Earthmen had once called Noah.

"Pai'tekkan, the Palmans have left their cell!" R'Alyn's alarmed voice shouted back.

"Of course they have," D'zkot sneered. "I left them their weapons, didn't I?"

"I... uhh... What should we do, Pai'tekkan?" R'Alyn asked, confused.

"Give them free reign throughout the ship. They will follow me. Do not, I repeat, do not attempt to hinder them in any way. I will deal with them personally."

"Very well, sir."

"What is the status of my fighters?" D'zkot asked eagerly.

"The last of them are being loaded with F-5 now, Pai'tekkan," R'Alyn answered. "We shall be ready to launch momentarily, and will await your order."

D'zkot smiled and nodded in approval. "Very good. As soon as the ships are ready, launch them." After R'Alyn acknowledged the order, D'zkot cut off the channel. Then his laughter echoed through the corridors of Noah.

The countdown to the elimination of all life on Mota was no longer a matter of hours, but a matter of minutes.

- - - - - - - - - -

Rolf and Rudo led the way, followed by Anna, Shir, Hugh, and Amy, while Kain and Kip took up the rear. "I don't like this," Anna finally admitted. "This is their main headquarters. Why aren't we being attacked continuously from all angles?"

"I'm telling you, D'zkot is setting a trap for us," Rolf whispered. "He wants us to follow him."

"Why?" Amy asked. "So he can have the pleasure of killing us all to himself?"

Rolf shrugged. "Something like that."

Shir pushed her way past Anna and Rudo to come to Rolf's side. "Rolf, can you track him?"

"Yes," Rolf nodded. "That's how I know he's setting a trap for us. He could very easily shield his mind from me, but he hasn't." He stopped and turned to face Shir and the others, who all stopped with him. "Everyone, listen to me. Because of my new powers, D'zkot wants me. If you want, I can send you all back to Esper Mansion now. I mean, Rudo, Kip, Kain, you guys saw, he already tried to kill you three once already, and Tyler, too -- twice now, in fact. He had an opportunity to kill us all back in the cell block, but he's toying with us. He has something planned for--"

"Rolf," Rudo interrupted. "On behalf of all of us, and with all due respect... shut up." He tossed his friend a smile to show the words meant well. "All eight of us are in this together. We're talking about the future of Mota here." He glanced around at the Thief, the two Guardians, the Doctor, the Biologist, and the Mechanic. Then he looked back at the Esper Agent. "None of us are leaving, and that's final."

Glancing at his friends, Rolf smiled and nodded. "Okay, then," he said, and started moving forward. "D'zkot is somewhere right around this--"

As he started to turn the corner he was referring to, he stopped dead in his tracks and stared forward. The others came forward to gather behind them, and in turn, they each reacted to the sight of the location that D'zkot had led them to.

Kip, the one person present who had never been here before, looked at the room ahead of him and came to a realization. "Excuse me," he began, clearing his throat, "but would this happen to be the room that once housed Mother Brain?"

"Yeah," Kain answered from a scratchy throat. He cleared it, then repeated, "Yeah."

All eight of them stepped into the room. The door on the other end of the room -- the door leading to the Earthmen's old control room, which was now, thanks to Rolf's Megid technique, nothing more than a giant floor jutting out from the rest of the ship -- was closed tight. The face of Mother Brain was carved into the marble of the door. Kip approached it, ran his fingers across it, as the others looked around.

They all stood on a purple carpet which ran the length of the room. The floor along either side of the carpet was made up of circuit boards, as were the walls. But as Rolf looked closer, he realized something was terribly wrong.

"D'zkot, you damn fool," he whispered.

"What?" Hugh asked. He had been the closest and had heard Rolf's comment the clearest. "Rolf, what is it?"

"It's the walls," he said, raising his voice just a bit. He pointed at them: "Look!"

They all noticed and reacted in much the same way as Rolf had; all except Kip, that is. "What's going on?" he asked. "Come on, guys, I know I'm the rookie here, but--"

"These panels were charred black and smoking when we last saw them," Rolf explained. "But look now, Kip. They're brand new. He's repairing Mother Brain!"

Kip's jaw dropped open, but not at what Rolf had showed him. He was still standing in front of the marble door, the door with Mother Brain's face carved into it.

Only now, the eyes on the door were glowing with a yellow light.

"Guys!" Kip yelled, raising his rifle at the door.

Rolf turned his head and saw the yellow glow turn a bright white. "Kip, get back!" he yelled. "Everyone, get back!"

A sheet of metal dropped to the floor behind them, preventing them from leaving the room the way they had come in. Kip jumped back from the marble door and regrouped with the others just as yellow lasers shot forth from the eyes in the door. The whole room went pitch black, and then holographic stars appeared, making it seem as though all eight of them were standing in the middle of space.

Or rather, make that all nine of them. The laser beams from the door converged on a point in the middle of the room, and a humanoid form began to take shape. A moment later, the beams ceased, and standing in the room with Rolf and the others was a holographic representation of Mother Brain.

One year ago, she had appeared in a giant form from the waist-up only, with four arms and a body that changed colors right before their eyes, as well as a blouse with each planet of the Algo star system emblazoned across it.

Now, she was no longer a giant, but of a size equal to that of the others. Her color remained a peachy flesh, and her blouse had Dezo and Mota on it, as well as an asteroid field to represent Palm.

The hologram's lips moved but no sound came out from behind them. Instead, large speakers hidden throughout the room blasted her voice at the group assembled before her.

"Hello, Rolf," she cooed, her eyes meeting those of the Agent. "Welcome back." She looked beyond Rolf at the others. "I see you've brought the whole gang with you. All of your partners-in-crime. Or should I say, partners in genocide?" None of them missed the reference to their battle with the Earthmen.

"Your creators were evil, Mother Brain," Anna yelled.

"But none the less, you destroyed them all," Mother Brain responded.

"I thought we had destroyed you, too," Rudo called out.

In response, Mother Brain grinned. "D'zkot fixed me. My memory files were still intact, and so, almost a year ago, when he came aboard Noah, he repaired me. In gratitude, and since he planned to destroy your miserable dustball world, I gave him the formula for F-5."

"I thought you wanted to take Mota for your own?" Shir yelled. "That's what you and your crazy creators wanted, wasn't it? So why are you helping D'zkot to destroy it now?"

"I wanted Mota to become New Earth," Mother Brain agreed. "But if my creators can't have it, then no one will." She looked back to Rolf and smiled. "You know, Rolf, a moment ago, D'zkot informed me you'd be stopping by. I asked if there was anything I could do for him in regards to you, and he told me that yes, there was."

"What's that?" Rolf asked, addressing her for the first time.

"He said I could thank you," she said, laughing. "Thank you for creating me."

All seven of them looked to Rolf, stunned. "Yes, it's true," Mother Brain went on. "One year ago, you did not destroy me. All you did was put into motion the events that will bring about my birth."

Rolf just stared at her for a long moment. He had only recently, at long last, accepted Nei's death. He had only recently stopped blaming himself for the destruction of Palm. Even a week ago, if Mother Brain would have said this, he would have nodded and replied, "I know," even though Mother Brain had been around since before Rolf was born.

Now, however, he just wanted to tell the Earthmen's Hell-Computer where she could stuff her mind games. When he finally responded, he spat out each of his words individually. "I. Did not. Create. You."

"Ohh, but you did, Rolf, you did! If it weren't for you, the Algo star system would have never known the name Mother Brain." Her mouth twisted into a grin. "Perhaps it's time for a little history lesson."

- - - - - - - - - -

Mother Brain waved an arm, and suddenly, a huge hologram of Dark Force appeared above them, leaning over the assembled heroes and growling at them. "You remember Dark Force, of course," Mother Brain began. "When you opened that container one level below here, you released him. And you fought him. And you defeated him. But you did not kill him. Tell me, Rolf, have you ever wondered who it was that locked Dark Force in that small container?"

"No, actually, I haven't," Rolf replied.

Mother Brain grinned. "I'll get to that. But as I said, you did not kill Dark Force."

The hologram covering the ceiling of the room then changed from Dark Force to the space above Palm -- not the Palman Asteroid Field, but Palm. Four hundred ships were in the process of fleeing the planet, and just as they were all away, the planet exploded. Rolf and Shir had shared their exciting news about the fate of the Palmans with the others, but this was the first time they all got to see the actual evacuation.

"The miserable Palmans all escaped before we could kill them. But no matter. Because after you defeated Dark Force, he hopped aboard one of the ships, and destroyed it. And from there, he traveled to a new ship, and destroyed it. In fact, even as we speak, he is leaping from ship to ship, destroying the so-called 'Palman survivors.'"

Rolf didn't need his powers to know this was distressing his fellow warriors. "No," he said, turning to them, "even if what she says is true, don't worry." He turned back to Mother Brain and added, "A champion will arise to defeat Dark Force. One always has, and one always will."

With a look of contempt, Mother Brain nodded. "Unfortunately, you're right, Rolf. Once Dark Force has destroyed all but two of the ships, he will come to one, called Alisa III, and he will instigate what will be called the Devastation War, dividing the people into followers of Laya, and followers of Orakio."

"Orakio," Rolf smiled. "See? I told you a champion would arise."

Mother Brain continued. "After many months of war, Orakio and Laya will realize they were tricked into their conflict. They will unite, and Laya and Orakio, along with two of his cyborgs, Siren and Miun, and Laya's second-in-command, Lune, will fight and defeat Dark Force. But again, they will not kill him. Orakio and Laya will die in the battle, but they will seal Dark Force within a palace for 1000 years.

"At that time, an imbecile named Aron will come along and pull Orakio's sword from the Sunken Palace, freeing Dark Force to run amok again."

"Don't tell me," Rolf chided. "Aron goes on to defeat Dark Force, doesn't he?"

"Yes. Aron and his father King Nial will celebrate their victory, but Dark Force will not be gone. He will merely sleep aboard Alisa III, regaining strength, and waiting."

Before he could respond, Kain stepped forward. "You're full of crap, you gigabyte witch," the Mechanic yelled. "First you say Rolf created you, and to supposedly prove it, you give him a 'history lesson'? All I've heard you talk about is stuff that's yet to happen. I don't care how powerful you are, you don't know the future!"

"Oh, but I do," Mother Brain sneered. "And I do because it's not the future, it's the past! Everything I have told you so far has already happened! And it will all happen again, as well!"

She looked to the ceiling, on which a hologram appeared of the Alisa III fighting to avoid being sucked into a black hole. "Let me explain. Less than a year after Aron defeats Dark Force, the Alisa III will be pulled into a black hole. It will be thrown across time and space, and when it is finally free of the phenomenon, its systems will not only be completely destroyed, but it will have been thrown over 2300 years into the past."

All of them, even Kain, had been silenced. If this was true...

"What was the name," Shir asked slowly, "of the solar system Alisa III ended up in?"

"It ended up near a moon," Mother Brain grinned, taking obvious pleasure in revealing all of this to the eight of them, "and, with all of its systems dead, crashed on it. That moon belonged to a planet... called Earth."

"Oh my God," Amy whispered. It was now becoming clear to all of them. Mother Brain's outrageous claim that Rolf had created her... maybe wasn't so outrageous after all.

- - - - - - - - - -

"All aboard Alisa III were killed," Mother Brain went on. "The people of Earth, knowing their planet was near death, spent the next fifty years scavenging Alisa III. They not only took its computers, but the entire engine architecture. From it, they built a ship. They built the very ship you are aboard right now. They built the Earth... space ship... Noah."

"And they brought Dark Force with them, didn't they?" Rolf asked.

"Yes," Mother Brain responded, laughing. "Transferring the Alisa III's engines to Noah awakened Dark Force, and after Noah was launched, Dark Force took a fourth of the 1000 Earthmen aside and made himself their god. They then killed the other seven-hundred fifty Earthmen, jettisoned their bodies into space, and went into suspended animation, waiting for their spacecraft to reach the beautiful world they learned about from the Alisa III's computers -- the world called Palm, in the Algo system."

Mother Brain paused, giving Rolf and the others a chance to speak, but they were all in stunned silence.

"When they finally got here, Dark Force planned to merge with the next Dark Force to come forth from the interdimensional gate. In order to assure there would be nothing to stop him, he sent my creators to Dezo, where they searched for a prism Dark Force said was important. But, never finding it, Dark Force gave them a new mission.

"I'm sure you were all excellent history students in school. You all, of course, have heard of your old King Lassic?"

"He was an excellent ruler," Rolf offered, "but in the end, Queen Alis Landale defeated him. He turned evil after a group of alien monks seduced him--" His words stopped short in his throat.

"Alien monks indeed!" Mother Brain chuckled at Rolf's reaction. "That's right, Rolf. It was my creators! They seduced your good king Lassic in order to bring chaos to your world, to distract the people from Dark Force's imminent Great Merge with the new Dark Force!"

Rolf, staring Mother Brain in the eye, made a buzzer noise. "Alis won, Mother Brain. She defeated King Lassic and Dark Force."

"Yes," Mother Brain nodded. "And she even managed to kill the one she fought. After the defeat of the new Dark Force, the Dark Force aboard Noah informed my creators they would have to wait 1000 years before taking Algo. So they went to sleep. But they awoke one-hundred years early and decided to take Algo on their own, without the assistance of Dark Force."

"So they created you," Rolf nodded, understanding.

"Yes. Dark Force eventually awoke, sensing the arrival of another Dark Force through the interdimensional portal -- a Dark Force who was actually a much younger version of himself," Mother Brain went on. "He began to merge with the new Dark Force, and that is when my creators acted on their betrayal. Using the weapons of Nei that Aron used to defeat him, they battled and overcame both Dark Forces, locking them in a container aboard this ship to complete their Great Merge."

"And then we came along," Rolf said, "and we opened the box, and we fought the now fully merged Dark Force, and we defeated him."

Mother Brain threw her head back and laughed. "And then the cycle started all over again! You forced him to jump aboard one of the four-hundred Palman ships, where he remained for over 1000 years before ending up on Earth's moon, where he was then brought back to Algo! And then you defeated him, and then he jumped aboard the ships, and then he crashed on Earth's moon, and then he was brought back to Algo! Isn't it beautiful, Rolf? Do you see now? The Earthmen created me, but it was you that made it all possible for them to do it!"

Rolf gritted his teeth tightly together and stared at Mother Brain, who took a few steps towards Rolf, her eyes filled with evil. "And since you are responsible for my birth, that makes you directly responsible for the destruction of Palm and the death of Nei, doesn't it? Doesn't it, Rolf?"

It was then that Rolf tore the Neisword from its scabbard and brought it up in front of him. "No, it does not!" he yelled at Mother Brain. "You destroyed Palm, you killed Nei! And now it's time for you to finally leave my star system for good!"

He swung the Neisword around as if he were going to swing it at Mother Brain, but as he brought his arm around, he released his grip on the blade. The sword flew through the replication of outer space and came to a sudden stop. The hologram crackled and sputtered long enough for the eight of them to see the blade had buried itself deep into one of the circuit boards lining the walls.

Rolf had tossed the sword gambling that his powers had increased, even a little. The gamble paid off -- he held his hand out and the Neisword returned to it. He gripped the handle with both hands, feeling his power welling up inside of him, and used it to surround he and his friends with a telekinetic shield.

Then he yelled to the others, "Take her down!"

Rudo and Kain aimed their Pulse Vulcans at opposite walls and fired. Amy and Hugh fired their Acidshots while Kip fired his rifle, and the circuit boards throughout the room sizzled and fried.

"No!" Mother Brain screamed in electronic agony. "Not again!"

There was a large explosion. A fireball ripped through the entire room but sailed right over the telekinetic shield Rolf held over his friends. When the smoke cleared, all of the electronics in the room had been wasted, and the hologram of space was gone along with Mother Brain.

Amy and Hugh hugged. Shir and Kain high-fived. Rudo pulled Anna in a tight embrace. But Rolf just stared forward, past the door ahead of him, which had now been opened.

The brightness that had returned to Rolf's eyes only recently had been suddenly and totally extinguished. His face returned to its emotionless mask at the sight he saw before him in the next room. He barely even heard it when, behind him, Shir screamed, "Oh my GOD! Look!" and pointed. He didn't hear the gasps of the others, or realize they had then fallen deathly silent.

He just stared ahead of him, into the ruins of the Earthmen's old control room. In there, D'zkot floated high in the air, arms folded across his chest, ready for his final confrontation with Rolf.

Rolf, however, did not even see him. All he saw was the several hundred Earthmen in the room. They were very much alive, very prepared to fight, and very much ready to claim their revenge.

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