Chapter Twelve

As he materialized in the space ship's cockpit bridge, Lutz suddenly realized he had never been aboard Tyler's ship before.

For a moment, upon coming to this realization, Lutz blinked his eyes in puzzlement. He shouldn't be able to teleport anywhere he hadn't seen before, so surely, he must have been aboard the Landale before... at least once?

Probing into his own memory, Lutz slowly solved the puzzle. True, he had never been aboard the Landale before this moment... but Tyler's affectionate, lengthy, and incredibly accurate descriptions of his beloved vessel – not to mention seeing the ship itself in Tyler's mind's eye as he gave his speeches – had given Lutz more than enough of a mental image with which to teleport. For once, it would seem, Lutz thought, Tyler's near-obsession with his ship has come in very, very useful.

Lutz brought his left hand under the wrapped bundle he held in his right, feeling the bundle's contents through the fabric to ensure that everything was in place. Satisfied, he then stepped towards the rear of the cockpit bridge, searching the door with his eyes for its handle. Upon approach, Lutz jumped in slight alarm as the door slid open. He momentarily feared discovery, for someone on the other side of the door must have found the door's handle... and then, Lutz's knowledge of the modern technological world came back to him. Though there might not be a single handle-less door in the entire Esper Mansion, automatic sliding doors were quite common through the rest of Algo, and they had been for centuries, even before Mother Brain.

I truly am a relic, the master Esper thought to himself. The thought made him smile thinly.

Stepping into the Landale's main corridor, Lutz approached the first door on his left. Like the cockpit's door, it slid open automatically upon his approach. It was not the room he was looking for, however; it was Tyler's cabin, and the extra pillows piled on the bed, as well as the basic medical equipment laid out on a nearby bedside table, were enough to tell Lutz that Rolf and Tyler and Amy were ready to bring Shir aboard for the trip back to Motavia. He had to hurry.

Two large strides across to the opposite side of the hallway and another automatic door slid open for Lutz. Glancing inside at the expansive (for a room on a spacecraft...) room and the storage crates stacked within in, Lu tz knew he had found what he was looking for. He stepped inside, and took in his surroundings. Storage crates of all sizes almost exclusively occupied the room's floor space. Against the far left wall of the room (left from Lutz's point-of-view, at least – aft in ship lingo), a teleport pad sat silently. Lutz knew it was in perfect working order, too, because there were no storage crates piled on its base.

Thanks to the crates, there was but a narrow walkway through the room. Lutz followed it carefully, telepathically holding the flowing robes of his Frad Mantle close to his body so that they would not get caught on any of t he bins surrounding his path. Once he was near the far corner of the room, Lutz examined a stack of thick metal bins in the corner of the room – water supplies, he guessed, in tall, round canisters. A stack of four were pushed into the room's corner, with two more stacked upon two of those. Glancing behind him, Lutz found he could no longer see the door back into the ship's main corridor; crates were in the way. With a nod, Lutz decided he had found his hiding place.

The power of Lutz's mind gripped the two canisters on top and lifted them high into the air, followed by the canister buried into the corner of the room. With three of the water-filled canisters simply floating in place, L utz released his physical grip on the bundle in his right hand and took a mental grip on it instead, guiding it across the room and then down into the corner, where the three canisters still on the ground surrounded it. Finally, lowering the three canisters he held floating in the air back down on top of the others, Lutz inspected his work. The bundle was thoroughly hidden, and another glance behind his back towards the door confirmed that no one would even notice the canisters were stacked differently until one weaved his way through the room's maze of crates.

With the bundle well hidden and his work finished, Lutz should have immediately teleported back to Esper Mansion, before Rolf teleported from the mansion to the ship. But something kept Lutz back. He supposed it was a combination of the tension he felt in his neck and shoulders at the obvious impending attack, combined with the privacy and solitude of the empty spacecraft. For whatever reasons, though time was of the essence, Lutz carefully lowered himself down onto his knees. He rested his elbows on the nearest crate, bowed his head until his chin touched his chest, closed his eyes, and exhaled a deep breath.

"God of Algo, my exalted savior," he began his prayer, "I know I have asked for so much throughout these long years, and you have always granted my wishes, but now I come to you with my most urgent prayer yet.

"In the past two years, we have been through so much. We weathered the demon's return, and we defeated the devil's trap. We stopped the aliens, and we stopped the abomi– we stopped D'zkot when he tried to act upon their unfinished plans. And now, we face a new threat. The demon has returned, almost a full cycle too early. Or maybe not. We know not whom the threat is we currently face.

"God of Algo, I have felt incredible strain and stress these last days, since it became apparent that this threat exists. I have meditated on the matter, and I understand that the cause of my stress is... We defeated the demon, and the devil's trap, and the aliens, and the mad Dezorian, but God of Algo, I fear that we won't always win. I fear that someday, I'll make a mistake, or I won't be strong enough, and we won't win. And that has caused me such fear and anxiety...

"What I have come to realize," Lutz said aloud, opening his eyes and staring up towards the ceiling, "is that we don't have to win. If the enemy strikes us down, all of us, Rolf, myself, Amy, Rudo, Joshua, and all the others, then our time has arrived, and we will take our place amongst Elsydeon's guardian souls. What has to happen, God of Algo, what must happen, is the system must prevail. Somehow, with or without us, Algo must survive.

He again closed his eyes, and bowed his head. "And that is my prayer at this hour, God of Algo. Let the system prevail. My faith leaves the means in your powerful, capable hands. Just please... by all I hold dear... let the system prevail."

A small smile creased Lutz's lips. He stood then, released another deep breath, and then filled his mind with images of his private study chambers, sanctuaried beneath the walls of the mansion proper. There rested his Tel epathy Ball, and it was to that sacred item that he now planned to journey, to renew its contents with the knowledge and experience he had attained since his last session with the mystical orb. After that, he would prepare for the attack that he knew was to come.

But he would no longer do so in fear.

- - - - - - - - - -

Rolf's eyes danced around Esper Mansion's clinic, taking in the immediate surroundings of Shir's bed. All of the baggage had been transported to the Landale, as had all of the equipment Amy would be taking with her, save her medkit. The medkit would be coming along, of course, but as it almost never left Amy's side, it was classified as carry-on luggage. Therefore... "I think we're just about ready," Rolf said to the gathered group.

He got silent nods in response from Tyler and Lance. Shir, however, shook her head. "No, we can't leave yet," she told Rolf. "Not without wishing Lutz good-bye."

"Oh I'd like to wish Lutz bye, all right," Amy mumbled under her breath, almost too quietly for anyone to hear her, "but I can't say it would be a good one."

Rolf understood her frustrations, and he didn't blame Amy, for they came out of concern for her patient. He also didn't intend to argue her side one bit to Lutz, because he (and he alone) knew Lutz's reasons for ordering S hir be taken back to Mota. And he knew that because he wouldn't argue her side, some of Amy's anger was devoted to him, too.

Tyler, however, knew none of this. And so he opened his big mouth.

"Wow," he said, looking upon Amy with a slight frown, "what Swarm flew up and bit your rear end?"

If she had possessed the Megid technique, Rolf suspected Amy would have used it right then and there on Tyler. Even though she didn't, the glare in her eyes was almost as effective. Before she could use her extensive know ledge of Palman anatomy to rip Tyler new bodily orifices, however, Rolf sensed a presence in the hallway outside the clinic. "Hey, Amy," he called to the doctor, "you said you wanted to speak to Lutz?" He finished his sentence by merely motioning towards the door, sending a mental transmission to the man outside it as he did.

Lutz stepped into the room with a confused look on his face. He looked towards Rolf and said, "'Cast the Deban technique'? What in creation are you talking about?"

"With all due respect, Lutz," Amy began, forgetting all about Tyler's comment, "I can not begin to tell you how opposed to this I am. I don't even want my patient leaving this room, let alone this planet!"

"I understand your concerns, and I share them," Lutz responded. Off of the look Amy gave him, the look that said she had a very hard time believing that, he quickly added, "But you must trust me when I say that Shir nor her child should be here when the mansion comes under attack."

"You just had a vision," Amy pointed out. "You don't know the mans–"

"I know," Lutz interrupted her. "I may not know the who's or the how's or the why's, but I know the what's and the where's, and the when is 'very soon.'"

Amy lowered her head slightly, but kept her eyes focused on Lutz, still slightly icy. Rolf could tell, even without his powers, that Amy felt rebuked and talked down to thanks to the slightly authoritative tone Lutz had taken on with his last words. Lutz sensed it, too, and he placed a reassuring hand on Amy's shoulder. "Amy, it's been two years since I've been in cold-sleep. I assure you, my heart is not a block of ice." The joke generated a slight smile on Amy's lips. "I know that transporting Shir back to Motavia is dangerous, and I do care about her and her child," – a glance towards Rolf so brief he would have missed it had he blinked – "Brandon. That is why I would never have ordered this had I not felt it completely necessary."

Doctor Sage folded her arms across her chest. Her anger was gone, leaving only a grudged acceptance of the task at hand. "I understand," she nodded.

His hand still on her shoulder, Lutz smiled and squeezed. "Take care of them for me." Amy nodded with a smile, then stepped aside to gather a final set of items into her medkit.

Rolf fell into step behind Lutz as the master Esper approached Shir's bedside. Lance stood as he did so. "Master Lutz," he said, "I volunteer my services in helping to defend the mansion one last time."

"And one last time, I respectfully deny your offer," Lutz replied. "You don't belong here, Lance, not right now. You belong at your beloved's side, awaiting the birth of your son."

"Yes, master," Lance nodded. He and Lutz exchanged slight bows of their heads towards one another. Rolf was suddenly reminded that he'd seen that gesture hundreds of times, and had even performed it himself, yet he'd alwa ys forgotten to ask Lutz what its origin was. He shrugged to himself. Now wasn't exactly the time to ask, either.

"Take care, Shir," Lutz addressed Rolf's best friend. "I have faith that all will be well."

"Hopefully we'll be back soon, with the baby," Shir said. "He'll need your blessing."

"And your teaching," Lance added, "in order to make him the great Esper we know he'll be."

Lutz smiled, flashed Rolf another barely noticeable glance. "Believe me," he told Shir and Lance sincerely, "your son will one day know everything I know." He squeezed Shir's hand one more time. "Tyler, is the Landale ready to fly?"

"She's always ready, Lutz," Tyler replied. "And don't worry about Shir. Just over a year ago, El and myself managed to acquire," – he glanced at each of the others in turn – "and notice I do not use the word 'bought,' a B uraceVan stabilizer array graded at a top SAR capacity of 57 durys. Believe me, that kinda SAR is practically unheard of out in the space lanes."

"I'm sure," Amy said, a glare accompanying her words. So, Rolf realized with an amused grin, she hadn't forgotten Tyler's sarcastic remark after all.

"Is there a point to this one, Tyler?" Shir asked bluntly.

Tyler made a face at Shir. "There is always a point to my stories, Shir, my dear," Tyler replied. "And the point of this one, Lutz, is that I assure you Shir will have the smoothest ride back to Mota she's ever had. Her chariot awaits, Lutz, and that chariot is named... the Landale."

Rolf shook his head and smiled; a glance at Lutz saw the Esper leader wore a similar expression. "Have I ever told you how happy I am that you renamed your ship the Landale, Tyler?"

"Actually," Tyler shrugged, "since I changed the name here, I always figured you and your head-powers had a role in me choosing that name."

"No, I assure you," Lutz replied, "I had no influence on you whatsoever. If I had, I would have suggested you name it the Myau."

"Why's that?" Rolf asked, suddenly intrigued. "Why not the Noah, or the Odin?"

Lutz shrugged, a rare gesture for him. "I've met all the others," Lutz replied. "But I've never met Myau."

Rolf supposed that was Lutz's way of saying he envied him, for having met the Musk Cat earlier that day. In all honesty, however, he was the one who should be feeling envy. Rolf may have met Alis and Myau, but Lutz had met three of Algo's greatest heroes.

[That is incorrect,] Lutz's voice came into his head. [I've met many more than three. I've met Queen Landale, and Master Noah, and Odin, and I've also met Rudo, and Anna, Amy, Shir, Hugh, Joshua, and you.]

{I'll see you soon, my friend,} Rolf replied.

[And I you.]

"Are we all ready?" Rolf asked the group. Everyone nodded, as Lance and Amy came around to Shir's bedside to help her stand. It would only be for a moment; Rolf was going to teleport them directly to the Landale's main corridor, from which it would be two steps for Shir to Tyler's cabin, where she could rest comfortably for the rest of the journey. When the thief with the sea-green hair nodded to Rolf that she was ready, the former Agent nodded one final goodbye to Lutz, and then his mind went through the mental exercises for Ryuka teleport.

- - - - - - - - - -

Wren eased back on his shuttle's acceleration as the ship approached the coordinates within the Palman Asteroid Field where he had lost contact with his probe. His sensors were adjusted to perform mid-range scans in order to detect approaching asteroids, but the android still managed to have a long-range detector in place, as well.

Near the beginning of his journey from Zelan, he had boosted the gain on the shuttle's antenna to maximum. With sensitivity for input that high, he immediately started receiving civilian transmissions from Mota, such as ne wsbeams, and he thought he'd even picked up some dataline static that was indicative of visiphone transmissions. Using the shuttle's computer to filter out all of the noise – and with the antenna boosted to max, there was plenty of that – he was left, essentially, with an antenna serving as a microphone for the space around him. Ludicrous, under most circumstances, but a prudent gesture, considering the current situation.

His logic algorithms were still adamant that there was no sound in space, but he knew what he had heard – had played it back from his memory banks at least two hundred times. That's why, when he heard it again, this time from his ship's speakers, and not from his memory, he knew he was near the source of the probe's destruction.

A few quick commands of the computer and he had isolated the direction the antenna had picked up the sound from, and had altered course to intercept. Further, he keyed for a quick diagnostic on the ship's main drive and na vigational systems. As his shuttle was equipped with no weapons, if whatever it was that had destroyed the probe decided to destroy him, as well, he would have to escape, fast.

The diagnostics returned normal, and Wren focused his complete attention outside the shuttle's front viewport. He blinked, momentarily startled by what he saw ahead of him in the asteroid field. At first, he thought it wa s a comet, but this object was a bright orange, almost a glowing orange, and comets were made of ice. A falling meteor was out of the question, of course, in the vacuum of space, but for all intents and purposes, a falling meteor is what the object most closely resembled.

Wren keyed his boards for a visual scan to focus on the distant (but gaining) object. He did so, and got a clear look.

As he could not believe what his screen showed him, he again looked out the viewport for himself. The object – no... the creature – was much closer now, and though his eyes could not give him the detailed, up close shot the optic sensors had (at least... not until it got closer still), there was no doubt that the visual scan was completely functional, and accurate.

"Whe mi vise kennon rel..." Wren whispered to the empty cockpit, the logical, deductive portions of his mind speaking in the old Palman tongue of science, though his words – "What I see can not be real" – were anything but scientific.

The creature that had made the sound in space, the creature that had destroyed his probe, the creature that even now was headed straight for his shuttle, was a massive, living, fire breathing, Gold Dragon.

It flew through the asteroid field with ease, its flapping wings simply brushing aside any asteroids that were in its way, such was the enormity of the beast. Bigger chunks of the former Palma were simply kicked aside by t he dragon's massive hind legs. A fairly large asteroid directly in its path was simply disintegrated into pebbles by a single blast of flame from the dragon's mouth.

Wren immediately understood his current danger. Being defenseless, he had not intended to get too close to the mysterious probe-destroying object, once he had located it. The unbelievable speed of the dragon, howev er, made all of Wren's caution for naught. Grabbing the shuttle's controls, he took the craft into an immediate, steep dive and roll, but even the u-turn could not keep his ship out of the dragon's range. Obviously sensing its prey's intended escape, the dragon opened its mouth and roared, a roar that loudly reverberated through Wren's cockpit speakers thanks to his boosted-gain antenna. The roar itself did not last long, however, as it soon turned into a blast of flame. The inferno the dragon unleashed from its mouth was almost as long as the dragon itself, and Wren found his shuttle immersed in the very center of it.

As alarms and warnings started to chime all over the inside of the cockpit, Wren could see nothing but orange flame outside all of his viewports. The blaze lasted only a few moments longer, then it ceased, allowing Wren a chance to raise the shuttle's planetary reentry shields. They would protect against the dragon's flame, at least a little, but most of the damage had already been done. The antenna was now useless – probably melted away – and with that, all comm systems save for emergency functions were now gone, as well.

Paying little attention to it all, Wren simply gunned the shuttle's acceleration as fast as it would go, keeping one eye out his front viewport to dodge asteroids, and one eye on his aft view screen, to dodge gigantic dragons that shouldn't even be found in Algo anymore, let alone found out in space. He almost flinched as behind him, the dragon opened its mouth and unleashed another blowtorch blast. More indicator lights blinked to red all across Wren's cockpit – systems were damaged, the engine's temperature was getting dangerously high, and the hull couldn't handle much more heat, even with the planetary reentry shields up. Wren knew his shuttle couldn't take too many more of the dragon's intense flame baths, so his only option was a hasty retreat.

It had come down to a race, pure and simple. Was Wren's ship fast enough to outrun the dragon and escape the asteroid belt before the dragon melted it into scrap metal? He would soon see.

The edge of the asteroid field was now within his visual range, but only barely. It was still a long distance ahead. The dragon also obviously realized this, as it launched another blast of flame. Only the tip of this blast engulfed Wren's ship, however, and after only a second or two of exposure, his ship managed to pull ahead, out of the flame altogether.

Before Wren could congratulate himself, the sound of whirling wind filled his cockpit. He turned around to see some kind of spatial disturbance, right there on his ship. A black hole had appeared, floating right in the air, and it expanded outwards until three red points became visible, pushing outward from the blackness. In a moment, the three red objects were free, and the black hole behind them disappeared.

The objects were swords – glowing red swords that simply floated in the air, their tips pointed downward, their presence accompanied by a soft, steady hum. Much more than mere "objects," however, the swords were unholy min ions, referred to by their fellow unholy minions as Lungs. They were intelligent and brutal, and like any other sword in all of Algo, they were very, very sharp.

One of the Lungs suddenly titled on its axis, its blade no longer pointed downwards but straight towards Wren. The sound of its hum increased with each movement. Standing out of his seat with android-fast reflexes, Wren b raced himself as the Lung suddenly dashed across the air towards him -- hhmmmmmm -- its brethren also tilting to attack.

As it was upon him, the Lung swung itself around to the side for a swipe at the android. Wren parried the blow with a forearm, hoping to knock the Lung across the cockpit. Instead, it was only knocked away slightly, the s teadiness of its hum momentarily silenced, and came right back for another attack...

At which point, both of the other Lungs were upon him, as well. The second Lung tried the same attack as the first, except from his left rather than his right. Another forearm shot parried the blow, but did not knock the Lung away. Almost simultaneously, Wren aimed his right forearm towards the third Lung, who was also swinging in for a blow. He managed to keep it at bay, but the first Lung was again ready to attack. Wren swatted towards it with his open right hand, but the Lung was almost as quick as the android and it turned on its axis, defending itself against the blow by turning its blade towards its attacker.

Wren did not have time to pull his attack back. His hand struck the Lung's blade at full force, ripping off all four of the hand's fingers and a good chunk of the top of the palm.

The tide of the battle had suddenly turned. The second Lung slashed through the air and cut deeply into the thick metal band at Wren's neck, producing an ear-wrenching squeal and a shower of metal-on-metal sparks. Meanwhile, the third Lung attacked from the other side, hacking through the accessories mounted on the right side of his face and actually striking some of the inner workings of his head. Even more indicator lights blinked from green to red, but this time, they weren't in the ship, they were in his own internal systems.

True to form, Wren analyzed the situation quickly, and he knew there was only one thing he could do. He spun around to face the shuttle's control panels again. Just as he did, the dragon – whom he'd almost forgotten about under the more immediate threat of the Lungs – ignited the ship with another mouth-inferno. More ship's systems melted away and became useless, but the one Wren was reaching for – the SOS distress signal – was internal, and would survive as long as the ship did.

Which might not be long, if the dragon had its way.

Wren dived across his board, aiming his fingerless right hand towards the distress signal's activation button. Just as his hand hovered above it, one of the Lungs twisted in the air, pulled backwards, and then lunged itsel f downwards, towards the center of Wren's back.

Every system in his artificial body felt the jolt as the Lung stabbed through his exterior skin and sliced right through the internal systems in his chest. Three explosions of sparks shot from Wren's back like napalm, one after the other. Electricity coursed all around Wren's body and up and around the Lung, who seemed unaffected by it all. Green lubricant fluid splurted across the walls of the cockpit, and across the main viewport.

Wren – mechanical eyes wide open in shock – emitted an audible grunt as the Lung continued its stab downward and right out the front of his body, gashing through the bright red circle on the front of his armor and cutting into the shuttle's control panel itself, more green fluid oozing out of the exit wound. The Lung did not stop until its hilt caught on Wren's back, its entire blade impaling him tightly to the front of the shuttle, as his extremities started to twitch uncontrollably.

Never since he had been activated had Wren known such pain. He knew that he was finished, knew there was no way of fighting back, knew that he would survive only with the quick aid of Byren, and knew there was no guarantee Byren would ever see him again, either alive, or permanently malfunctioned – even one more roasting from the Gold Dragon could completely incinerate his shuttle and see to that nicely.

He turned his head slightly (which was all he could do, anyway), trying to see if he could see the other two Lungs out of the corner of his eyes. It was hard to see anything, actually. His eyes were working fine, he guessed, but considering his main power generator had been ground zero of the Lung's stab, his vision was getting power only sporadically. Finally, he spotted them, barely, and kept his eye on them as he fought, internally, to reroute just one last burst of power to his right arm.

...But it was no use. Somewhere in the twisted mess of power conduit wires that made up part of Wren's android "circulatory system," there must have been a fatal disconnection preventing his arm from receiving any power. It was simply frozen in place where it had last been.

Then, somewhere in the back of Wren's power-deprived (and slowly fading) computer mind, three words appeared: servo release mechanisms.

Simple switches activated the "locks" that kept his arm in place; they were not electrical in any way. Hoping that some kind of dataline within his body could still reach his arm, Wren sent the internal command to release the servos. After a series of five clicks, his right arm simply fell off of his torso...

And what was left of the palm on his right hand simply dropped down onto the shuttle's control panel – right onto the distress signal activator.

The cockpit was suddenly bathed in red light, sparks of electricity from Wren's open wounds sparkling like lightning every few seconds. "Distress Call Transmitting" appeared on the shuttle's control screen, and a computerized voice announced the words, and repeated the announcement again and again. It could have been his hazy vision, but Wren could have sworn the Lungs that hovered behind him started glowing a brighter red.

With asteroids bouncing off of his shuttle's hull as it wildly continued on its way outside the asteroid field, the last thing Wren saw was the space outside his ship light up with another of the dragon's inferno bursts, while the two remaining Lungs dived in towards his head. Fast.

- - - - - - - - - -

When Rolf first received Lance's telepathic call to come back to Tyler's cabin, his gut instincts told him what the source of the urgency in the message was, but he was hesitant to believe it.

When he stepped into the cabin and saw Shir breathing quickly and heavily as she lay back on the bed, with Amy standing over her taking her pulse and blood pressure, he knew it was true.

And then he swore.

"I thought you said it would be at least a week," Rolf barked out at Amy. He didn't mean for his words to come out as harsh as they did, and he immediately regretted the tone. It was just that this was absolutely, positively the most inopportune time for Shir to go into labor.

"No," Amy answered him, taking her eyes off of her patient only long enough to shoot him a glare colder than Dezo's permafrost. "I said it could be as much as a week or as little as an hour. I knew Brandon could decide at any moment to enter the world; that's exactly why I didn't want her traveling."

"What's done is done," Lance spoke up. He held one of his wife's hands tightly in his own, while his green eyes bounced between Rolf and Amy. "And let's remember that this is neither Rolf's fault" – his eyes moved to Rolf – "nor is it Amy's. It was Lutz who asked us to leave for Mota, and if I recall, we all agreed that that would be for the best."

"I know," Rolf nodded, ran a hand through his blue hair. "I'm sorry. Is there anything I can do?"

"Just make sure," Amy responded, "that Tyler gets us to Mota as fast as possible."

"Of course." His eyes met those of his best friend, her breathing steady but heavy, as she looked upon him with nervous eyes. "Are you okay?"

Shir's response was a nod and a smile. "I'll be fine." Then, a wince, as a new wave of contractions moved over her.

Just then, from the direction of Tyler in the cockpit, Rolf picked up another burst of sudden emotion. Much like what he had picked up here from the cabin before, Rolf sensed a flash of disbelief, followed by frustration. Before he could even leave the room, the ship's intercom came alive. "Rolf!" Tyler's voice came filtered through the speakers. "Get up here!"

Doing as asked, Rolf emerged seconds later on the Landale's cockpit bridge. "What's wrong, Tyler?"

Tyler craned his neck around and followed Rolf as the former Agent stepped towards the co-pilot's seat. "We just picked up a distress call," the space pirate informed him. "It's from Wren's shuttle."

"Wren?" Rolf blinked in surprise. "Where is he?"

"The signal's coming from the Palman Asteroid Field." Tyler's hands punched new commands into his control boards. Out the front viewport, Rolf saw the stars shift, as the ship maneuvered towards its new course. "He won't last very long in the asteroid field in a disabled ship."

"Tyler..." Rolf started. "Tyler, Shir just went into labor."

Rolf learned an interesting new curse word thanks to Tyler's response. "We'll have to hurry then."

"Can't..." Rolf began again. "Isn't there anyone else who can get to Wren?"

"There's only one other ship in Algo, Rolf, and that's the Agents' Paseo. Even though it's technically closer, at least at the moment, we're faster. We can get there first. And besides, no offense to any of the Agents, but I doubt any of them have experience in flying through an asteroid field, yet alone pulling of a rescue in one."

"Point taken," Rolf conceded. "But we have to hurry."

"That's my idea," Tyler nodded. "Just keep Amy from attacking me when you give her the news, will you?"

Despite the seriousness and urgency of the situations at hand, Rolf smiled and chuckled. One thing he could always counton Tyler for was a laugh. Another two were a great ship and great piloting skills.

Right now, Wren – and Shir – needed both of them.

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