And life went on... though sometimes, Josh Kain found it ironic that the motto he and Hugh had picked for Birth Valley was, "The Seed of a new life for Mota." While circumstances had certainly prevented Seed from entering into the lives of everyone on the planet, as had been he and Hugh's dream, Seed was now, most definitely, the start of a new life for him.
But what, exactly, was that new life to be?
Kain had been trying to answer that question ever since he and Hugh had headed back home. He knew how fortunate he was to even have a home, just weeks after the disaster, but even still, Kain had no idea what to do here. Previously, all of he and Hugh's efforts had been towards preparing Seed to be hooked up to the system. Now, with that as an impossibility, what was he to do?
The only decision he'd come to was that his decision was not going to be made in a single day. He stepped through the corridors of Birth Valley, pausing occasionally as, in the distance, yet another aftershock rocked the landscape. Part of him considered the possibility of traveling out to the Plate Center, to attempt to stabilize things. However, he knew that Wren at Zelan and Byren at Nurvus were frantically attempting to address the issue. And as he'd already decided, this was to be his home.
He found Hugh in one of the bio-labs. In fact, he realized, he'd found him in the bio-lab, the one where the whole mess had started some nine months earlier -- the lab in which one of Lassic's Xe-A-Thouls had attacked Hugh. "Hey," he called to the Biologist.
"Hey," Hugh called back over his shoulder. He was several feet away from Kain, standing in the archives section of the lab, the place where massive storage compartments were lined with the genetic samples they'd retrieved from Biosystems Lab, and it looked like he was inspecting a pair of those samples.
"What are ya up to?" Kain asked.
"Just thinking," Hugh shrugged. "I have this entire facility to myself, and I can't even decide what to do with it. Or even if I really do want to stay here."
"Believe me," Kain exhaled, leaning against one of the tables in the lab side of the room, "I know exactly how you feel."
Hugh turned to him. "Part of me wants to head out to Biosystems Lab, to see if there's anything left out there. Part of me thinks I should go back to Oputa, and take over my parents' shop for them. In honor of them, and their memory. Something like that."
"I honestly don't see you in the grocery business, Hugh," Kain told him honestly. "Actually, I don't see much of a grocery business anytime soon, period."
The Biologist nodded. "But no matter what I think I might want to do, I keep coming back" -- he held up the two genetic samples in his hand -- "to these."
"What are they?" Kain asked. "Or rather, who are they?"
"They're back-up copies of the samples that started everything. Musk Cat, and this 'Alex Ossale.'"
Kain's eyes grew suspicious. "What are you thinking about, Hugh?"
"I'm just thinking that Rolf can't lead forever. And even if he could, well, he's going to be teleporting around to the various cities, and leading them in their searches for water and stable land, and... Well, it would help, wouldn't it, if he weren't alone? If there were other leaders to help him?"
"The first time those two samples were combined," Kain pointed out, "we got Neifirst. The second time, we got Neithird. Neither is what I would consider the textbook definition of a leader."
"Yes, but after Neifirst, we also got Nei."
"Thanks to some kind of miracle!" Kain exclaimed. "You're the smartest scientist I know, Hugh, and you still haven't figured out how she just -- POP -- appeared one day, have ya?"
"No," Hugh replied calmly. "But we have something no one else has ever had, Kain. We have Seed. Before we even touch these samples here in the lab, and long before we ever even think about hooking up one of the birthing chambers in storage, we can have Seed run computer models. We can tweak the DNA combinations. We can take genetic engineering a whole generation beyond determining a child's eye or hair color. We can make this creation a technique prodigy, we could--"
"In other words," Kain interrupted, "you're saying that heroes don't just have to be born. They can be made."
"Kain, I know how it sounds," Hugh said softly, limping closer to him. "And don't think that I've forgotten that Nei's last words made it very clear that she didn't want anyone to repeat the mistake they'd made with her. But I think the mistake with Neifirst had a little to do with scientists who took things way too fast, as well as a lot to do with a certain alien computer that figured very prominently into our lives back then. Those were the mistakes with Neifirst, Kain. And we won't repeat them."
The mechanic exhaled and ran a hand through his close-cropped purple hair. "You've made up your mind, haven't you?" he asked.
"Yeah," Hugh agreed. "I think I have. I want to stay here, and I want to work with Seed on perfecting the genetic structure that brought about Nei. This might take decades, Kain. To be perfectly honest, we might never see its completion. Seed may have to continue on, alone, after we're gone. But this is what I want to do."
Kain steepled his fingers in front of his mouth and paced the lab for a moment, considering. He'd spent the whole day trying to figure out what to do with his life from this point forward. He hadn't been very successful. And now, here was this crazy idea of creating another creature like the ones who had killed their friends Nei, Rudo, and Lutz. Kain suddenly had a vision of another one of these long-eared monsters bursting forth from a birthing chamber, and biting out he and Hugh's throats as a way of saying "Thank you, fathers."
But then he thought of one of those friends who had been killed -- Nei -- and how she had been one of the sweetest, nicest persons he'd known...
"What the hell," Kain finally answered Hugh. "Is there anything a mechanic can do for ya in this crazy endeavor?"
And life went on... and Tyler Jorran was somewhat surprised to find that it wasn't all that bad, either, being "settled down."
His first months at Tyler were spent almost exclusively in his hangar, where he spent nearly all the hours of his days repairing the Landale. He was hindered by one problem, the same problem that prevented Hugh and Kain from ever making Seed a part of the system: parts. He no longer had access to the space-faring cultures in systems outside of Algo. He no longer even had access to the Central Tower.
Tyler made due with what he had, but a few times, it became necessary for him to take excursions to the various Mother Brain-created centers on Dezo. They were few in number, and distant from the village of Tyler, and so each one was a long and dangerous journey. On the third one, Tyler had been attacked and nearly killed by a Dezo Elephant. He had barely made it back to the village alive.
His recovery meant several months went by before he could return to his work on the Landale. During those months away, however, his interest in local village issues increased exponentially. The Landale always remained a hobby of his, but after the attack, it no longer became his passion -- instead, his passion became the village.
Under Tyler's leadership, the small village managed to survive its difficult early years. And though Tyler did indeed become Village Chief not just in title, but in his heart, as well, he never completely stopped working on the Landale. Well before he died, he managed to return it to perfect working order... though he never did manage to get the cloaking device to work quite properly ever again.
When he died, the village buried him in his hangar's caves, and then, feeling it the greatest tribute they could give their leader, they made sure the Landale would be perfectly preserved for thousands of years. For if Tyler himself couldn't live forever, perhaps his space ship could.
And life went on... including artificial life. Byren stayed on Mota, stationed at Nurvus, after using the power facility's shuttle to take Wren to the Zelan space station. Wren, like Byren, had suffered massive memory failure. However, while Byren still retained handfuls of technical knowledge he'd gained prior to the disaster, as a result of the attack he'd sustained, Wren's memory had been erased completely. Byren had to re-teach him everything he needed to know to run Zelan.
If Byren had been teaching a Palman, the sessions would have lasted months. For the two androids, the lessons were over in a little more than an hour, and Algo's two caretakers were back at work.
It took them a century of nonstop work just to first get the Plate System back into working order and then for the Plate System to get the planet's shifting under control. By that time, however, Mota had sustained around one hundred groundshakes per year for over one hundred years. Motavia's geography had been radically changed. The once mighty city of Paseo, for example, was slowly sinking completely underwater. And beyond that, Mota itself was slowly reverting back to its natural state: a desert.
That change was inevitable. They no longer had a system as powerful as Mother Brain, nor did the people want such a system any longer. Byren and Wren, however, could slow the process as much as possible, and doing so became the focus of their lives. Wren continued on without fail for thousands of years, but Byren had started out as a Polezi model android. He simply wasn't meant to last as long, though he outlived his age expectancy by over triple what any Polezi before him had.
Byren himself began building his replacement. He consulted with Wren when he had to, but for the most part, the android he built was truly his own. There was even one very special feature of the android that he kept from Wren for as long as possible. "I plan to give her emotional capabilities," he told Wren at last.
"But the few efficiency logs you still have from before your emonet was destroyed prove that the two of us work much better without emotion getting in the way," Wren countered. "Why would you wish to impede your replacement's proficiency with such unnecessary systems?"
"Because I have come to see that they are not unnecessary," Byren replied. "I wish mine were still functional. I remember when I first recovered from my catastrophic failure, a man came to see me, a man whom said he once knew me. He doesn't know I saw this, but when I left the room, he wept. I was, apparently, a very good friend of his. I have no idea how that man felt about me, because I have no way of knowing. I do not want Demi to be so restricted."
"Demi?" Wren asked.
"That will be her name."
After Byren activated her, he lived in Nurvus with her and trained her for six years before his systems suffered complete failure. Demi cried when her father died, and then she took over for him, running the Nurvus power facility.
And life went on... deep in a mansion on a snow-covered plateau on Dezoris. Before they returned to Esper Mansion, Rolf sat down with Lance and Shir and had a heated discussion with them. He urged them not to reveal Lutz's death to the residents of the mansion, and instead asked them to report that he was helping with the relief efforts on Mota. "This is such a critical time," he reasoned. "All of you just recently had your powers restored. To find out now that Lutz is dead... I just feel such a revelation would be catastrophic.
"And besides, in a way, he's not dead. He'll be back one day..."
They abided by Rolf's wishes, and even came to see the wisdom in what he said, for Lance watched as he and his fellow Espers grew in power, all of them eager to show off their progress to Master Lutz one day in the future when he would return. The Moonseers, of course, were the only two in the mansion who knew the exact date of that return. When their son Kyle turned eighteen years old, they played for him the datacard Lutz had left behind when he was just a newborn infant. Kyle had become a musical prodigy, and his parents were awestruck with the ability their son had to play the piano, but he confessed to them after viewing the datacard that he'd always felt something was missing.
Rolf himself actually made it to Esper Mansion the day Kyle Moonseer went to the Telepathy Ball. When he emerged from the secret chamber where the precious item was stored, he looked at his parents. "Do not worry, Mother, Father. I am fine." He then looked at Rolf whom he had just met for the first time moments before. A handshake quickly became a hug, and when Kyle held Rolf at arm's length he said, "And hello to you, old friend. It is so very good to see you again."
And life went on... even for those who were already dead.
One moment Lassic had been unable to breathe, his vision slowly drifting away as his eyeballs melted from their sockets. He screamed and felt searing pain all throughout his body as the flames went down his throat, engulfing his lungs. Finally collapsing in a heap, he suddenly found himself standing before his throne. The room was no longer on fire, and out the window, he could see that asteroids once again surrounded the castle.
Looking over himself, he found that not only was he not burned, but also his body had been completely rebuilt. He had more muscle and bulk to him than he had ever had in his lifetime before. His armor had apparently been reforged to fit his new body, but his helmet -- his crown of office -- was still in place atop his head.
And glancing across his throne room, he saw that his three Xe-A-Thouls were back, as well, quietly watching him, waiting.
It was then that Lassic realized his gift of immortality was a curse. The Profound Darkness had lived up to its end of the bargain. He would never, ever die. So long as he existed, he would return, over and over and over, always sent to do his bidding.
Lassic swallowed. For one torturous moment, he actually wished for death -- real, permanent death -- to take him. But then he closed his eyes, exhaled, and sat down on his throne. "What are we to do?" he quietly asked the Xe-A-Thouls.
"There is a church on the ice world," Xanon started to explain, "that houses a torch sacred to the Dezorians."
And life went on... but to Rolf, sometimes it felt like life had finally begun.
He and his team led the people of Mota across the planet in search of fresh water and stable land. The nomadic life was hard, especially for a people so used to living in high-tech cities, but Rolf always reminded them that he didn't promise an easy life, but a free one. With the weather controls no longer functioning, they baked in the sun during the days and huddled under blankets at night, but it did not take long before new cities were built, many with man-made waterways. The people of Motavia were taking their lives into their own hands.
Rolf never forgot one day when one of the tribes his team was with marched across the landscape not far from the Desan temple where his friend Rudo had died. Seeing the temple atop the distant plateau, a child had asked him about the place. "That's a very special place," Rolf answered him. "A very brave man died there once. He gave his life to help protect us all."
"He was a hero?" the little boy asked.
"Yes," Rolf nodded. "Though if you would have asked him, he would have said he was just a simple soldier." The temple soon came to be commonly known as Soldier's Temple, and Rolf let the name stick. It was fitting.
So much information was lost in the aftermath of the Great Collapse, as the disaster came to be known, and one bit of that lost information pertained to the fate of Rolf. It was commonly remembered that he traveled all over Mota helping people find new homes for at least ten years, but after that, nothing is known for sure. The scholars say that he ended up in the village of Termi, one of the few towns that was not widely damaged in the Collapse, where he lived a quiet life with family. When he died, his children buried him next to his wife in an inconspicuous grave after a private family ceremony.
But others say that when Rolf died, people from all over Mota came to honor him, and that he was laid to rest on a piece of land that has long since sunk to the bottom of the ocean but that once sat just north of Paseo. They said that his sister was buried there long before, and it was only fitting that the two heroes lay side by side in eternal rest.
Who are we to question such legends?
I've never been good at dealing with soldiers. They're all such total morons. You can never reason with them.
|Please send all comments and feedback to mike at ripplinger dot us|