Phantasy Star Four Point Nine Recurring: Part 2
by teh Exile
*Critical violation! HP degaussing in 60 seconds. Please evacuate.*
Emergency lights flashed on and off all around them, a deep magenta like that of rust, coagulating blood, or the colour your vision goes when you reach less than 5 HP. The mercenary clenched teh's sword and motioned to Azda, teh's young assistant, to stand behind teh, to continue pushing against the door that refused to open despite their best efforts. With their backs against the door, it would stop them being completely surrounded, at least. Azda could hear the clanking of mechanical footsteps, the drone of anti-gravity, the crackle of charged photon weapons. Panels were sliding open in all the corridors, security androids spilling out of hidden rooms. A voice, the mercenary-voice that warned him when a job was going badly, was screaming at him to use Hinas and teleport out, but neither of them would break a contract by running and leaving a client in a life-threatening situation. That was the first step to not being paid and earning a bad reputation in the lawless marketplace of Neo Bortevo. Hunters might be free to lounge around in their comfortable Guilds all day and then desert the whole goddamn solar system, but Rogues had to do things properly.
A mechanical security guard lumbered into the room. The mercenary's sword was unsheathed in less than a second. Teh slashed through its control chip, bringing it to an abrupt and permanent halt. Fire flared a couple of millimetres over away from teh, hitting the robot in the chest and melting its circuitry. Too busy to thank their technique-happy client, the mercenary kicked it aside and cleaved a huge gash in the next robot, decapitating a third on the backslash. A fourth tried to fire a gun at teh, but teh disarmed it and ran it through. Three flying robots buzzed into view. Their attack was cut short when gravity suddenly imploded around them, crushing their metal frames. The mercenary smashed another two with a deadly combination attack, then stopped. There was a beep. Two large green sphere covered in warning signs floated into view.
"Cyanide bombs!" yelled Azda.
"I'll deal with 'em." their client extended an arm, her fingers widely outstretched, and a wall of lightning streamed across the room, hitting the bombs and reducing them to piles of ash instantly.
"What the feeve is that?" swore the mercenary. A silver humanoid robot, twice the size of the mercenary with smooth bear-like arms and at least ten guns walked through the door and shot a flare laser at teh. Teh rolled out of the way, cursing with teh's own brand of blisteringly vehement swear words as the sheer power of the blast knocked teh against the wall and the heat singed teh's desert-brown hair. Familiar battle rage, a mercenary's best friend, filled teh's senses like a fine red mist. Teh growled like a dog and leapt at the robot, severing its vital circuitry with teh's sword. A second identical robot walked in and clouted teh over the head with its fist. Teh tasted blood.
"Azda, get your nasak ass here right now, you son of a gerotlux! I can't hold them!" teh barked at the assistant. He shrugged, drew his slashers and charged into the fray. Their well-rehearsed combination attacks wove a steel-dance of unstoppable death around the robots, destroying the whole wave. Three more Browren security robots and a cyanide bomb replaced them.
"We're feeved!" swore the mercenary, lopping off the detonation wires on the back of the bomb.
"Teleport out of here!' ordered the client. Teh shook teh's head.
"We need the meseta!" teh growled, cutting a flying robot in half.
"You'll be paid! Your assignment now is to warn everyone... before it begins... I'm sorry I realised too late."
*HP degaussing now in operation.* Numbers were scrolling down the screens in red text. The mercenary screamed and dropped to the floor, clutching teh's head and making canine whining noises. Azda grabbed teh.
"RYUKA!" he yelled.
"W-at. W... A... T spells Wat."
"Wat! Wat wat wat wat..."
"Good." the teacher nodded encouragingly, "What comes after Wat?"
The teacher groaned and turned to the hired bodyguard lounging on the chair, both feet resting on her desk. "AZDA! Keep the holo-projector straight!"
He rolled out of the way just as a laser pointer shot past his ear. Giving her a look like a wounded dog, he returned to his chair and his comfortable position. Mentally, he made a note not to accept a job from Piata Academy ever again. Teachers don't need bodyguards, especially not Mrs. homicidal maniac here in the Alys Brangwyn coat. The students needed protecting from her. Poor dumb kids, thought Azda, their old homes destroyed by the Ragol project and their new homes destroyed by the anti-Ragol forces. They were terrified refugees. Even though it was now recognised that they weren't to blame for the False Sequels- they were just gullible customers conned into buying something they really, really shouldn't have bought- they were still forced to change their names to something that was four or less letters long and take compulsory lessons in Algolian Palman. And then there was Savol Diem... Azda shuddered whenever he thought of those nutters.
"After me, students... Giwat."
The teacher's face went a shade of red. "Gi... WAT!" she said emphatically, pointing at Azda. He ducked. A stream of super-cooled air shot over his head, punching a hole in the door and freezing it. The students gasped. Seconds later, the door was physically wrenched from it's hinges by a large, curious Motavian security guard who had come to see what all the noise was about.
"Let's go, Vorn." ordered Azda. Shrugging, the Motavian dropped the door and lumbered down the corridor. The lesson could continue without them, they were going to get some lunch. Vorn pushed him brusquely out of the way and ordered food indiscriminately, three times as much as an ordinary person could eat. Azda knew better than to go near his colleague while he was eating. A slight young woman in a white uniform waved him over to her table. he bought some lunch- Rajago soup and coffee- and sat down beside her. Tia was the academy nurse. She spoke to him every day after work, and Azda hoped she was hitting on to him.
"Don't you think Mags are cute, Azda?" she pointed to a gang of Ragol Returners admiring their pets, sentient flying backpacks that made electronic purring noises when they were maintained properly. They were being fed monomate. "I want to buy a Mag, but if you don't like them, I won't."
"They're nice pets." admitted Azda, "But they eat recovery items. When they evolve, they get fussy about what they'll eat. It can get expensive."
"Oh... I'll have to think of a way to get money." said the nurse, "Oh, there's Vorn. I wonder what he's thinking about."
The mercenary looked around. His friend was probably looking for trouble so he could bash someone over the head. Azda got the impression that Vorn had a little personal quota of people he had to bash over the head each day, and couldn't leave work until he had met the quota. It was hard to tell what Vorn was thinking, because he never talked. He hadn't talked since the False Sequel came. It damaged him somehow, the medics back at Headquarters said, in ways that non-Motavians couldn't understand. Motavians were an older race, and bound more deeply to the cycle of Phantasy Star, the pulses of light and sound and information that the Thray waved into the Algol Solar System from raw strands of necessity. There was no cure yet; it didn't even have a name. Other people suffered from it, too. And then there was the night that Digo...
"What are you thinking about? You look so sad." Tia touched Azda's arm.
"I was just remembering... a colleague. Teh's gone now. It was just a campaign that went wrong."
"I'm sorry about that... HEY! What's that woman doing?" Tia screamed and pointed to a blue-haired woman in a lab-coat. There was a murderous gleam in her eye. She was trying to grab one of the Mags.
"I'll pay you well. I need to dissect something! Anything!" she pleaded in a desperate voice.
An ex-HuMar drew a huge sword and stepped in front of the Mags. In response, the woman lashed out with a scalpel hidden in the sleeve of her lab-coat, catching the man cross the eye. He fell, clutching his face in agony. Before the other Ragol Returners could react, she snatched one of the creatures and ran. As Tia tended the man's wounds, Vorn upturned a table for no reason and pursued the crazed biologist, stick in hand.
Dust and silence were the burial shroud of the basement as it slept in its tomb of abandonment. Books on genetics, molecular biology and guilgenology crumbled on rotting shelves, never to be picked up by academic hands again. Hewn-pattern carpets faded into dust. Thick darkness hid the monsters, things of the forgotten depths whose eyes shone red. All the students were afraid of the monsters in the University basement, with their writhing pink tentacles and razor-sharp teeth, their poisonous spit and acidic blood. It had been a biology experiment gone wrong, a few illicit sources of genetic material. Once, they had almost broke free and overrun the University. Since the Hunters had been hired to exterminate them, they retreated into the unexplored dungeon that was the basement, occasionally making a brave expedition into the younger students' dormitories to eat essays, a staple diet of basement monsters. Or so the younger students said when they hadn't handed their essays in on time.
Humans didn't venture into the dark underground world of the basement. Evolution happened differently down there. But above the basement, in the neat sterilised biology labs, there lived things that even terrified the monsters, beings of pure evil so remorseless that it was totally amoral. No-one knew what they evolved from. One of these things was in the basement, and she had better things to think about than monsters.
"Got to dissect something..." muttered the biologist. She struggled with the wriggling Mag as she ran down the corridor, her normally pristine hair plastered across her face. She was beginning to lose her footing. The desperate urge would not leave her alone, and she had a pounding headache. Thousands of beasts slunk into the shadows, trembling. She was twenty floors down now, far deeper than anyone else even knew the basement extended to. She needed peace, to be alone with her painfully intense curiosity where none could interrupt her. It was a new animal... she hadn't seen it before... she feared it was too much for her fragile hold on her sanity. What was it? Was it flesh and blood, or machine, or a little of both? Or a plant... it might even be a plant... There was only one way to know. DISSECT! IT! NOW!
"Stop that." she tried to bash the Mag against a wall to stop its incessant escape attempts. Small and slippery as it was, it wriggled out of her grasp and knocked her over. She threw her scalpel at it. It hit, gouging a big hole in the plastic outer shell. The Mag beeped rapidly. Synthetic, thought the biologist in disgust. Maybe I should dismantle it anyway and feed the bits to a cat to see what happens to the cat. She made a grab for it. A compartment opened up inside it, and a wave of photon energy shot from it and vaporised the wall behind her. She escaped death by using the technique that all master biologists used to protect themselves- she dislocated her own cells so that the beams just passed through them. The Mag squeaked and flew away.
The biologist picked herself up and wandered into the hole behind her.
The chamber of polished black marble had little to do with the rest of the basement. It was a perfect cube, silent, completely free of any speck of dirt, as if it was a vacuum. The floor sloped steadily inwards to the centre, Motavian hieroglyphs engraved into the marble at various angles to make it look like a natural bend in space, as though the whole thing were some kind of mathematical equation beyond the biologist's scope- she cared only for the practical side of science. In the very centre of the chamber was something that appealed to her tastes more- a huge stone box with a glyph that looked like a variant on the Rever, or resurrection, symbol, with the word 'GRENERIS' written below it. It looked a little like a sarcophagus, and the biologist hoped it might contain a corpse. Carefully, she lifted the lid. It moved away easily under her fingers. She lowered it soundlessly to the ground and peered inside...
WHACK! Just at that moment, a big stick connected soundly with her head. She sank to the ground. Vorn hefted his stick over his shoulder again and admired his work. One Mag rescued and returned to owner, one troublemaker apprehended. Fifteen people bashed over the head today. He only needed five more before he could go home. He looked at the box and scratched his head, worried. Maybe he should put the lid back on... As he bent down to pick the lid up, he saw something that made his twin round ruby eyes open wide.
The interior of the box was filled with machinery- tubes, dials, metal boxes, lights that flashed cyan in time to the signals that were passed around with all the phenomenal speed that a Mac might have if there was such thing as a G56 processor and it had one inside it. Vorn clicked his beak, the Motavian equivalent of whistling. He guessed it was some kind of life-support machine; it looked a bit like the one in the clinic back at Headquarters. The medics at Headquarters had to see this! It was obviously a Motavian work of engineering, because it was so good. Maybe he should take it back to show the rest of his tribe before handing it over to the medics. The technological knowledge would help them survive in the harsh desert conditions, and besides, every Motavian knew that collecting the ancestors' junk and working out the uses for it was fun. Vorn attempted to pull the machinery out of the box. As his fingers brushed against a panel, the long screen in the middle slid away. Behind it was...
Vorn backed away and instinctively fluffed his feathers, startled and embarrassed. A naked girl was wired up to the machinery, in some kind of coma. The wires retracted before his eyes. He ran forward again. Had he killed her? He knew how to do CPR on Motavians but he didn't know if it worked on whatever species she was. She looked like a Palman, but didn't smell like one, and his other sense... the sense that it hurt him to use... said she wasn't a Palman. Vorn decided to take her back to the clinic at Headquarters, they would know what to do with her. The strange machine would have to wait. Vorn slung her across his back and ran back through the basement, whacking monsters with his stick. He ran out into the Landrover park, where his annoying merc partner Azda ran up to him and started yelling at him. Vorn ignored him. He opened the door of the Landrover, threw the girl in the back and drove off. Azda ran after the vehicle, swearing and waving his sword, before collapsing into the sand, defeated and exhausted and in need of a pint of grog.
*** The machines were gone.
She gasped for breath and clung desperately to the last of her HP. Where was her ventilator? Where was her narrative regulator? Where were her cranial defragmentor and her astral firewall? Who had been so cruel as to pull her out of her mechanical womb and leave her to die? She lay in a void of black and white pixels that surged like the heartbeat of the Universe all around her and watched her life's blood drain away.
Then she realised that her HP was stable. Dangerously low, but stable. The machines had let her go because she could survive on her own again. Where was she? The pixels were an endless corridor, suggesting that she was moving. An important rhythm. One of the old rhythms of Phantasy Star. Landrover? Music, too; the pixels had a cyan tinge near her third eye. Scratchy Second Era music, possibly 'Advanced'; it was rotating. There were friendly machines here, inviting her to join their infinite circuits of life and power, to travel with them across the desert and the lonely black and white desert of her own life, to find the core of her own power that was spun from galaxies. The music was beamed directly from the moons of Dezolis and Rykros, furnaces of raw technique-energy. Soon she was a beacon in the Thray otherworld, a focus for several billion kilo-TP's of old magic. She was floating above the floor in the back of the rusty old Landrover, her weak physical shell fractalising in glorious monochrome.
Greneris, she thought.
A loud FFAUGLM! noise made Vorn lose his already questionable control over the steering wheel. He crashed the vehicle into a sand dune. The girl was still asleep, but was now floating, her sandy brown hair rippling in an invisible wind. The feathers above Vorn's eyes creased in a Motavian frown as he inspected his Landrover. He would have to walk. Hoisting the girl over one shoulder and his spare water supply over the other, he set off across the smooth yellow sands of the Motavian desert. It wasn't too bad at night, as long as the sandworms didn't decide to eat them. He wondered momentarily why the girl had been floating, but dismissed the thought. It didn't really matter that much. Vorn was no stranger to the world of technique-users; there were many powerful wizards among the Rogues. They called themselves the Dark Witches and wore dark purple robes and worshipped the moons. They were really a mercenary clan independent of the Rogues, they only worked together out of convenience. Vorn knew that a Wizard was a useful thing to have on your side in a fight.
The sun was just beginning to rise, a watercolour blob of orange and magenta spilling over the inky blue sky, when the Motavian reached Headquarters, exhausted and covered in sand, his feathers sticking out every which way. He hadn't accidentally dropped his companion once, something he was proud of. Vorn banged on the rusty door with his stick.
Rogue Headquarters was a converted Motavian rubbish dump, large enough to house an extensive paramilitary organisation and sturdy enough to survive being wrecked by drunk mercenaries. It was big, ramshackle, chunky and rustier than the plot of Phantasy Star 3. Guards were posted on tall watchtowers and two Motavian engineers were in the Landrover park, repairing the vehicles. Inside, there were four floors: the first floor had a reception area where jobs could be dispensed and a rowdy bar; the second floor was a training room and weapon storage and cleaning area; the third housed the clinic and the kitchen; the fourth was a Motavian-only area for religious observances.
The door opened and a reprogrammed Browren android pointed an enormous Pulse Vulcan at them. Vorn threatened, in sign language, to bash the android over the head if it didn't let them both in. The receptionist android allowed them passage. Vorn carried the girl to the illegal second-era floor teleporter and pressed button three. It was working properly today. He opened the flaps of white cloth that made a huge medical tent in which a team of Motavian field medics in white desert mantles shouted at each other, healed the patients' wounds, dispensed trimate and monitored the jury-rigged life support machines that, despite being made out of pieces of garbage, were the best in the solar system.
"Wounded, Vorn?" bellowed Alsh Line, the head of the medical team and the most enormous Motavian Vorn had ever seen. "Get your useless ass over here and let me see to you!"
Vorn shook his head and pointed to the girl. The old healer scratched his head. Unable to make an immediate diagnosis, he lowered the girl onto one of the beds and poked her with some machines.
"If I didn't know better." began Alsh, "I'd say she had what you've got. But a very, very, very severe case of it."
Azda sat at the bar feeling very sorry for himself. In front of him was a pint of Rajago Ale, named after a particularly vicious breed of giant scorpion because of its bright red colour (presumably achieved using some kind of herb or root) and the fact that it had a sting like a scorpions tail. Rajago Ale was a real mercenary's drink. This was Azda's fifth pint, and he could feel the pain of his bad luck swimming away in a warm pool of drunkenness as he retreated into his private mercenary's world of meseta, shadows and theme tunes.
He still couldn't believe that Vorn, the huge Motavian with the IQ of an ape and none of its social graces, had a girl, when someone like Azda who actually tried hard, never pulled. Was it because he tried too hard? Did girls like Vorn's silent mystery? Did his evolutionarily primitive brain produce more pheromones than a more sophisticated life-form? Or, maybe... Vorn had another side to him, a side he kept hidden from his colleague. The way he swept the girl up in his arms, carried her off into the desert like some romantic dream of the Motavian nomad... he was being really professional about the whole thing. Why had Vorn gone into the basement in the first place, though? It seemed like a weird place to look for a girl. Why didn't the girl have any clothes? And how the grat was Azda supposed to get home now the stupid Motavian had taken his Landrover? He was going to have to sleep the night in the student dorms or something, which would be a pain. There would be students everywhere, and he would have to pay rent. He had a mischievous urge to ask Tia if he could sleep in the medical room.
"Excuse me, sir. Are you a mercenary?"
The Rogue looked around sharply. The other bar patrons had ignored him so far- they were mostly the shady types you would except to find in outer Kadary: Savol Diem members with black flame tattoos, Zio worshippers, Sol-Dew dealers and their customers, and a prostitute. They had their own private business and they left each other alone and didn't ask questions. None of them had the guts to annoy a Rogue, anyway. The new arrival to the bar was standing directly behind Azda, somehow having sneaked up without the seasoned warrior sensing his presence. He was a young man with small build and light blue hair, almost silver. He wore a velvet black tunic that looked like a throwback to the First Era, when planet Palma still existed. His eyes betrayed his impressive skill, although Azda couldn't place his warrior discipline.
"Azda Price." the mercenary introduced himself, "Rogue."
"Ah, so you're an independent mercenary. Good. This is a matter too delicate for the Hunters."
"Sorry, I'm already hired."
"How much are you being paid?"
"200 meseta per day."
"I'll pay you ten thousand, half up front."
"I'm listenin'." Azda leaned on the counter and looked into the man's eyes. He didn't blink.
"Meet me at the Spaceport Entrance. Bring no-one. I recommend you stock up on recovery items first, this is not going to be easy money."
"This machine measures technique energy fields." the big medic waved a box-shaped metal device at Vorn. A broad green line jerked into life like a mad puppet, jagged peaks and troughs reaching from one end of the screen to the other. "We medics use them to find out if someone's had a nasty technique used on them, so we can counteract it. Since the False Sequel, we've found another use for it. People suffering from your condition show up as if there's a Feeve technique on them. Yours is like it was done by a level twenty caster, but this one is at least level fifty six. That's one powerful tech-user."
Vorn answered in merchant sign language with a complicated series of gestures.
"I know Feeve doesn't do anything, you doorknob!" answered Alsh sharply, "In any case, do you really think there are technique-users going around in the middle of the night and casting Feeve on everyone? The Dark Witches could do it, but they don't have enough spare time on their hands. I don't know why it happens, and I don't know the cure. But I'll find out!"
Vorn nodded encouragingly.
"I'm going to fetch Pana. You guard the room until I come back." ordered the doctor before clouting an unfortunate orderly over the head, yelling an encouraging 'Get back to work!" and walking out of the room.
A warm yellow glow washed over Vorn. He loved guarding things. It was what he was born to do. He had the patience, alertness and domineering presence of a natural security guard. He couldn't be bribed, although if he was ever underpaid, his employers would regret it. He forgot everything confidential he ever heard. His complete silence gave him an advantage when he had to fade into the background, ready to pounce. He sat on the end of the bed where the girl lay and watched, watched everything, his feathery blue owl ears sensitive to the slightest noise. He watched the regular biorhythms that pulsed across the HP meters, heard the beeps at various intervals. He watched a small yellow butterfly flitter in through the window. He watched it flitter out again. He heard the faint breathing of the girl, barely audible. An hour passed, and he heard footsteps and voices. They were hesitant. Vorn knew they were up to something. His hand closed over his big stick.
Two Motavians crept into the room, dressed in black mantles with hoods and face scarves, their ears poking out of holes at the top. They moved like shadows from bed to bed, examining the patients and shaking their heads. When they saw the girl, they hesitated. They watched the tiny flickers of movement on her HP meter. One looked at the other and they nodded. In unison, they took their clinical hole punches from their belts and brought them down...
Vorn's stick crushed the skull of one, killing him instantly. The other jumped back onto the next bed along, his red eyes flashing hatred in the darkness. The two Motavians circled each other warily, both trained for combat. Almost too late, Vorn threw himself to the ground and three pixel-thin daggers shot overhead. The assassin jumped on top of him and tried to garrotte him, but Vorn moved first and threw him over his shoulder. He brandished his stick and advanced on the assassin. The assassin drew his hole punch. He showed no sign of being intimidated by the huge security guard. He evaded the first swing easily and tried to hole-punch Vorn between the eyes. Vorn quickly moved his head back and tried to kick the assassin. The unexpected move paid off, and his foot connected with the man's groin. He winced in pain. The red light shrunk to a tiny dot. He flicked his wrist, and out of nowhere, a syringe punctured Vorn's arm. The poison was quick. He dropped to the ground, fire coursing through his lungs, sheer stamina keeping him alive for a few seconds longer than an average human. His vision blanked and suddenly he saw himself in a different place.
He was shuffling despondently through the streets of a city with tall concrete buildings, kicking a half-empty bottle of dimate. The purple liquid mingled with the rain that poured from the sky and settled on the ground before washing down a drain. He was staring at the ground, alone, depressed. But it was comfortable depression. It was his private world, his private right, although everyone in Algol would feel like this at some point. He was mourning Alys' death, tracing her footsteps back to the decisive moment of a cruel plot. Why was it necessary? Couldn't Phantasy Star Four have happened without it? It wasn't just about one woman, it was about the way great warriors were sacrificed in cut scenes without ever having a real chance to prove their worth in combat. Was he going to die like that? Phantasy Star had so many questions, and he was glad he was here so he could ponder them all. He looked down at his reflection in a puddle... and it shattered, like a mirror, into five pieces of glass from a computer screen. A great light was piercing his eyesight, blinding him, burning Algol. No! Not here! Not now! Not ever, but... especially not now! The light turned red with rage and he was angry. So angry...
"PHANTASY STARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!!!!!!!!!!!!" he bellowed at the top of his voice, forcing himself up and raising his arms to the heavens. His fingers closed around his stick and he launched himself into a twenty-point battle sequence so swift and flawless that he couldn't even begin to follow his own movements. His weapon flared red as he swung it again and again, oblivious to pain or fatigue or anything except the rage of an entire solar system.
The assassin lay dead on the floor, every bone in his body broken. Vorn gave the girl a perfunctory check. She was unharmed. Her lips moved.
"Phantasy... Star..." whispered a voice in Vorn's head, "Please... Is... it... four... again?"
Vorn nodded and held up four fingers.
Three hours later, a fresh supply of dimate in his rucksack, Azda walked through the silent automatic doors of the New Paseo Spaceport. It was a gleaming metal building with high ceilings along which maintenance robots could dash from place to place, fixing small construction problems, on their artificial gravity generators (Gra-powered). The floor tiles were polished to the extent that Azda could see his own battle-weary face behind the Rolf-style hair, so dark blue as to almost be black. Like Digo, he always wore black armour. Second-era Muzak played over and over again, the volume just below the range of comfortable hearing. In one corner was the reception area with a smiling secretary who would not have looked out of place in a Second Era data centre, a leather counter and wall-size neon signs that announced the departure and arrival times of the spaceships in a variety of different colours. Motavia to Dezolis, Dezolis to Motavia, Dezolis to Kuran, Kuran to Zelan, Zelan to Motavia, Zelan to Lashiec's Floating Castle, Motavia to Skure, Dezolis to Skure. In the other corner, a customerless Dezolis-style bar. The bartender was a Dezolithian who had his mogic cap on back to front, knew every swear word in the Algolian languages and used them all at once. The tables were plastic and easy to clean, like some institution's canteen, but they were interesting blobby shapes to give it a futuristic look. The drinks consisted of Dezolithian beer or a selection of strange red, blue or green liquids, some of which may or may not bring the dead back to life. The bar also served perolymate. Oh, and that stuff Motavians drank all the time and charged non-Motavians the earth for. What was it called? Began with W. Water. A little further down the corridor was a huge network of escalators and a general store. The mercenary liked spaceports because he was, technically, on no planet. That meant there were laws he could break, which could be fun. The only problem was that spaceports had their own stupid laws against rogue mercenaries.
"Ah, there you are. Punctual. Good."
Azda turned round. His gaze fixed immediately and pointedly on the large leather briefcase in the mans hand.
"Yes, that's your pay." the man said briskly, "Our ship departs soon. Hurry up."
The man walked off, forcing the mercenary to quicken his pace. They went up one of the escalators and through a huge pair of automatic doors. They passed quickly through customs, the man explaining that he needed the briefcase full of money for an important deal with one of Ragol Incorporated's main business rivals that would prevent absolutely certain monopoly and reduce the risk of another False Sequel by at least three hundred and fifty percent, Azda explaining that if the nice security guard didn't let go of his sword, he would insert it into the nice security guard's spine. Five minutes later, they were on board the Mota-Skure spaceship, listening to more Second Era background music.
"FOUR!/ What's Ragol good for?/ Absolutely nothing!" sang Azda.
"Who'd be a Dezolithian/ Who'd be a Dezolithian/ Ga Dote-Mew Banaput/ Glad I'm a Motavian."
"Hey, you're employing me to kill stuff, not to not sing." growled Azda, "Phantasy Star/ Took it too far/ I'm just an option 3/ It's not my fault you see/ Phantasy Star/ Took it too far/ Please don't pull the plug on me now Sekretr."
"That's IT! I'm gonna watch an in-flight movie!" yelled the man, standing up and unbuckling his seat-belt. Azda shrugged. He had never understood why some people didn't like background music. He kept himself amused by attempting to impress passing waitresses with his rendition of Lutz's theme tune, until one of them poured someone's emergency dimate all over his head and the combination of background music and dimate made him feel kind of spaced out. He was really sound-testing it then, riding on waves of crackling cyan, praying to the Dezolithian moon in all its primeval sonic glory. His employer shook him back into the material plane eight hours later when they reached Skure. Azda gasped when he stepped through the airlock and into a fully functional laboratory space station. The man led him through a room full of what looked like huge spinning metal cylinders in a Nagra spell, down several barely-lit corridors, past another experiment with glass domes that showed pictures of the Algol solar system, through the virtual black tiles of a precise simulation of a Second Era combat plane and, finally, into an office. A well-built man of at least fifty years of age (his hair and beard were blue-grey) in a lab-coat greeted them with a broad grin and shook Azda's hand. He had a powerful grip. "I'm Professor Lucero Copyleft, head of TETRIS." he introduced himself, "That's short for the TETralogy Research Institute in Space."
Tia was repairing a broken Mag when she spotted them.
At first, she thought they were a sand storm. She quickly finished filling the hole in the Mag's outer casing with a plastic regeneration spray and bandaged it up, then she ran to the weather protection systems on the top floor. She glanced through the telescope. There was something not quite right. The cloud of black pixels was moving too slowly, too close to the ground. A sandstorm would have risen up into a deadly wall of sand, ripping apart everything that came into contact with it except, theoretically, the University. It would also have slightly erratic behaviour as it was blown about by the wind. The cloud was deliberately heading towards the University, slow but inevitable. Tia zoomed in. She almost fell off the observation ladder, then ran as fast as she physically could out of the University door- one of the side doors of the medical room that nobody else knew was there.
A small army was heading straight for Piata Academy. They didn't look friendly. They wore black leather armour full of spikes, long metal-capped boots and red armbands with the Black Flame insignia. They carried huge laser-axes and waveshot guns and black banners with the words 'Savol Diem Ragol' in a font that would have looked like dripping blood if it was done on a decent word processor that wasn't running on Motherbrain Windows. Some had shaven heads, some held ferocious-looking dogs with spiked collars on leashes. Some had flaming brands. Tia could imagine their rhythmic chanting as their iron footsteps shook the earth.
They were Savol Diem.
Tia continued running until she reached the Student Minibus, broke into it and drove it at full speed across the desert. Sand flew past her in fine sprays, covering the windows and making vision impossible. She careened into a sand dune and thudded into something hard. It roared, furious. The sand erupted underneath her and suddenly she found herself staring down into a mass of slavering jaws. In the darkness, she lost all sense of direction, thrust about in random directions as the sandworm burrowed back into the sand. A million voices were chanting in unison with her beating heart... Savol DIem RAgol...
Suddenly she saw light again, hurled from the sandworm's gullet as it thrashed violently, almost causing a freak sandstorm. It lunged at its attacker, all twenty feet of its body, but the agile Numan leapt out of the way and threw two slicers, which embedded themselves in two of its vulnerable eyes. She cartwheeled, landed on another sand dune and flicked her wrists to bring two Ragol-style daggers into her outstretched hands. They glowed a soft blue. Tia scrabbled out of the sand, sat the right way up and watched as the ex-HuNewEar twirled around on one leg and waved her arms in a graceful but lethal attack combo, lines of photon energy whirling in butterfly patterns.
"Holy Rico, how much HP has this thing got?" swore the Numan.
"A lot!" yelled Tia.
"I'm running for it. You're the cutie who fixed up my Mag, ain't ya? Wanna share a Ryuker?"
"It's called a RYUKA!"
"Thanks for the language lesson, doll-face." the Numan dodged a boulder-sized clump of sand thrown at her by the sandworm, ran over to Tia and cast Ryuka. She folded her arms expectantly. "Nothing's happening!"
"Think about WHERE you want to GO!" screamed Tia, throwing her scalpel at the advancing sandworm, "There are lots of PLACES on a whole PLANET!"
"Hadn't thought of that." admitted the Numan, "Where DO I want to go?"
"You want to go to the ROGUE HEADQUARTERS!"
"Do I really? Well, if you say so... Rogue Headquarters it is!"
The Numan held up her hand and the two women were instantly teleported to the reception area of the rogue mercenary base. The Browren android immediately pointed his gun at the suspicious-looking Ragol Returner.
"State your business!"
"I want to hire some mercenaries! Three! No, four! In fact, make that five! It's an emergency." babbled Tia, "Savol Diem are attacking the University!"
"Our purpose is to find out all we can about the Phantasy Star quartet and the sort of things that can go wrong with it." explained professor Lucero, "Think of us as Phantasy Star's doctors."
Azda indicated his approval. He and the professor sat at a coffee table in the small meeting room, while the other man- who introduced himself as Dern Danvers, the chief security officer- silently guarded the door. Azda found the name vaguely familiar. The mercenary listened to the scientist as he enthusiastically explained his quest for Vergangenheitsbewltigung.
"After Ragol was brought down by Digo and his followers, the population of the Algol Solar System considered the danger to be over. They began to rebuild their homes and return to their old lives. Nobody has given the slightest bit of thought to WHY the False Sequel was allowed to happen. They don't know what a False Sequel is. Nobody does. Grat, we don't even understand the concept of a Phantasy Star. How do we really know it won't happen again? How do we know Phantasy Star is back on its original course? That knowledge is what our scientific institute aims to discover."
"So, why do you need mercs?"
"I apologise for the secrecy in hiring you. I'm afraid we can't let just anyone know of our existence. We're independent of any planetary authorities, and many people are angry at us for many reasons. One reason is that they misunderstand the nature of our work. Some people think that we want to bring back the False Sequel, some people think we want to destroy Phantasy Star Three, some people mistake us for Savol Diem and some people are just plain stupid technophobes, still hung up on the whole Nei_First thing."
"But why do you need soldiers at all? Do you need security guards or what?"
"I need someone to protect me during my next excursion into the Third Era."
Professor Lucero laughed, "Over the past ten years, we've restored many of the original scientific projects of Skure. In addition, we've imported work from the space stations of the exiled scientists during the Ragol years. One of these colonies were working on a machine for travelling into the past. They could only get it working with the Third Era, but we improved it so that it takes us to anywhere. But... ahem... we currently need to go to the Third Era."
"A few years ago, the Espers who fought against Ragol volunteered to share their knowledge of Phantasy Star. Espers of the Silence Temple claim to have seen the final battle with the Plot of the False Sequel. It was destroyed by the Hyperplonk of Phantasy Star Three."
"What's a hyperplonk?"
"A bottleneck ending. You know, the Escapipe trick."
"You're going in THERE? You'll be killed!"
"We just want to explore the Third Era and see if we can find any wreckage from the battle, any clues as to what really happened."
"Why do you need mercs for that? I can't help you out with a Hyperplonk."
"The random monsters, you know. The teleport gauge isn't very accurate, and although we set it for Landen we always end up somewhere in the middle of Terminus where the big monsters are."
"You'll understand when you get there." interrupted Dern, "Remember how much you're being paid. Do you want the assignment or not?"
"Hey, of course I want the assignment! But I'm not going near a Hyperplonk."
"We'll take the utmost care in avoiding it." promised Dern.
"Hey, I remember where I've heard your name before." Azda snapped his fingers, "You were on Digo's quest, right?"
Dern nodded. "You knew teh?"
"I was teh's apprentice. Teh taught me how to fight." Azda winced as the pain of the memory flooded back, "Teh was different back then. Almost an ordinary person."
"I never met teh. Teh was already setting off for Ragol by the time I contacted the spaceship. All I did was activate Motavia's defence system."
"After I finish this assignment for you, I want you to tell me more about that." Azda leaned back in his chair, "I'd be honoured to fight alongside one of Digo's companions."
Vorn sat on the side of the bed, periodically touching the frail girl's hand to make sure she was still alive and wasn't doing any more weird stuff. He felt a little dizzy from the after-effects of the vile antidote administered to him by Alsh, that had felt like it was killing him just as efficiently as the poison itself. The huge doctor was busy cleaning up the mess and muttering oaths to himself. Vials were smashed, weapons were embedded in the walls, one of the machines had been unplugged and a bed thrown out of the window during the fight. The girl lay, imprisoned in her pixellated world, unaware of the battle that had been waged around her. Vorn tapped Alsh on the shoulder and signed angrily.
"Assassins?" Alsh laughed, "Those weren't assassins! Those were my negative restorers! I'm sorry, Vorn. I had no idea they were training new recruits. The stupid rookies must have gone for the wrong patient."
Vorn covered the top of his head with his hands in disbelief. Negative restorers were Motavian medics specially trained to administer euthanasia, which wasn't exactly legal, but then neither were the Rogue Mercenaries, or, for that matter, Motavians. They were trained from birth to the utmost finesse in the instant death technique, and could blend into the night like a ninja and strike from behind should they be attacked. They were the right hand of death, and even the most stalwart Motavian warrior wouldn't stand a chance in a fight against one. He shouldn't have survived that battle, even though it was only trainees he was fighting. He indicated this to Alsh.
"I'm amazed too. That really was a stupid trainee- you were lucky. If they had put the correct dosage in that syringe, you'd be dead." Alsh looked at the security guard curiously, "But you just went berserk and trashed my clinic instead. I've never seen a sword... I mean big stick technique like that before in my life, and I've been on a fair few battlefields. You've got real potential as a guard for my clinic."
Before Vorn could launch into the fast-paced merchant's sign language he used for negotiating deals, the receptionist android burst into the clinic. Alsh yelled at him for a while and then threw him out, his usual reaction to people who interrupted him for non-medical matters. The doctor turned to Vorn again.
"Savol Diem are attacking the University." he explained, "Everyone's been dispatched. Who's gonna pay for it I don't understand. Not that I care. Listen, there won't be many people using the clinic for a while, so I'm going on a short journey. I want you to come."
Vorn's ears pricked straight up.
"Why? Because I'm going to get this condition of yours cured. We're taking the girl with us as well. I know a doctor who can sort this out if anyone can!"
Vorn shook his head sceptically.
"No, really, there is a doctor out there better than me! We have to go through the Wastebasket in order to reach him, though. I'll go and sort out who's in charge in my absence, then we can leave straight away."
The doctor picked up his bag and left to shout at the medics. Vorn looked at the girl for a few minutes, then gathered her up in his arms and followed Alsh out of the door.
Outside the abandoned garbage tip formerly known as Roron, an army of mercenaries was mobilising. Ranks of battle-hardened men and women, each wearing the black armour of the Rogue, but each customised in some small way so that their regular clients could identify their favourites easily, stood in whatever they personally considered an organised unit. Rogues were not the most co-operative people in large groups. The battle would be swift and they would show no quarter; anything longer or more complicated would result in fights breaking out over pay, and who stole whose kill. The Palmans were trained to fight with swords and slashers, the Motavians with axes, tribal swords and the awesome plasma rockets, thu screens and negatis bombs mounted on their Landrovers, the Browren androids on the front line with massive pulse vulcans and photon erasers. A unit of Dark Witches held the rear, their staffs crackling with technique energy. Tia stood behind Caly alongside a unit of Motavian field medics, the terror of any battlefield. She was beginning to wonder if the Rogues weren't as scary as Savol Diem, and maybe she shouldn't have told the receptionist that the principal said he would pay all those mercenaries. A thundering roar whipped the desert sand into the air as the Motavians revved up their vehicles. The rest of the Rogues climbed into the back and they sped off across the desert, their war cries echoing in the relentless heat of the sky. Today the sands would be stained red. The sandworms would have enough food to last them a lifetime.
Meanwhile, Vorn hurried down a damp tunnel in-between a solid wall of metal crates and a pile of black bin bags that extended up to the ceiling. A rat skittered underfoot. Something foul-smelling dripped from the bin bags that made up the ceiling, and Vorn wrapped his cloak further around the girl to protect her. His foot squelched in a puddle with some old documents in it. After a mile or so, the tunnel ended and Alsh pulled him out into a relatively uncluttered area of the dump. The lighting once installed by ambitious Motavians was flickering out, and only the indestructible boxes with the rotating discs that functioned as a primitive but super-effective sound system gave the two travellers any real sense of the direction they were going in. This part of the dump was slowly becoming feral. Nobody had been there for the good part of an Era. The dimensions of the dump couldn't be measured, they were just interesting shapes made by the piles of rubbish that could contain anything. Here a rejected batch of dimate, there an ancient religious scripture. The Motavians even found a whole new operating system for their computers in the dump- they called it Contemesser. It cost twice as much as a Motherbrain computer and was ten thousand times as good, and the computer had a picture of a piece of fruit on it.
"What's that you've found, Vorn?" Alsh grabbed the bundle of papers that Vorn had found inside a broken collator and quickly translated them from ancient Motavian, "Instructions... manual. I don't understand. Must be untranslatable. Throw it away."
Vorn shrugged and did as he was told. They left the clearing through a corridor between two piles of old televisions. A few miles later and they were close to the heart of Wastebasket country- the hidden underground world of the native Motavians. It was a place that no Palman would ever see in their lifetime, a place of rust and wires and dimate. A place where a mans life cost 350 meseta exactly unless they were faulty in which case it cost less. A place that was, in its own way, pure, untainted Phantasy Star, because it never changed. Parts of the walls were still covered in posters that said 'Mercs wanted, send applications to Alis Landale'. The music was a mix of all four eras, depending on when someone could last be bothered to update it. After the False Sequel had devastated civilisation on the surface of Motavia and left only a University, a witches' coven and a few paramilitary organisations standing, the place had taken on the atmosphere of a post-apocalyptic settlement, but the truth was that Motavians had lived like that since the First Era.
Something huge and green dropped from the top of a pile of metal barrels with radiation warnings on them. Both Motavians immediately fell into a combat stance, Vorn crouching and grabbing his big stick in both hands, Alsh whirling around and drawing a clinical magnetic hole punch. A giant frog with bulbous red eyes, sharp teeth, a huge red tongue and moss growing on its slimy skin faced them and hissed. Its tongue darted out, attempting to wrap itself around Vorn's leg. Alsh pulled him back just in time. Vorn bellowed and rushed the frog, swinging his stick above his head and slamming it down on the creature repeatedly. The frog dodged the attack and bit him on the arm. Vorn dropped his stick and made a swearing gesture. Before his eyes, the creature suddenly grew limp and fell to the floor, blood oozing from a deep wound. Alsh crept up behind it while it was distracted and hole-punched it in the back of the head, just at the right spot to kill it instantly.
"Giant frogs are a real problem in the Wastebasket." explained Alsh as he ran his hand over Vorn's wound and channelled energy into a Res technique, "Some of the rubbish is radioactive waste. There's giant newts, too. And mushrooms. This is a good spot to level up."
They continued, Vorn miming the words to the theme tune enthusiastically, the adrenaline of the battle not quite worn off. There were a few more encounters along the way, but nothing the two formidable warriors couldn't handle. Although he was a healer, Alsh was far more deadly in combat than Vorn, a white whirlwind of clinical death. They passed through the danger area depleted but relatively unharmed. Signs of Wastebasket culture were beginning to emerge- large brown scavenger's bags full of useful samples from the garbage tips, small, stocky First-Era-breed Motavians poking things with detectors for all sorts of substances, stacks of batteries in the pockets of their desert mantles. Another gang, larger Fourth Era types in modern armour, danced, swayed trance-like or lay on the floor with their beaks open to the sound of heavy Second Era soundtracks played on custom-built sound machines. Alsh walked straight past them and continued onwards. They passed through a doorway- an actual doorway rather than an opening in the piles of rubbish- and Vorn was stopped by a hand on his shoulder.
"Hey, bio." said a menacing voice, "Wanna join us?"
Alsh growled. With one fluid movement, he bashed the Motavian who was holding Vorn, whirled around and jabbed his hole-punch between the eyes of another Motavian further on, who held a book.
"Try any funny stuff, and the vicar dies."
"We was only askin'." Vorn's assailant shook with terror, nursing his broken arm. The holy man's eyes grew wide and glowed bright red. Vorn looked around and saw that the room, a dumping ground for old computer parts, was full of Motavians in long green overcoats with wires and pieces of machinery attached to various parts of their body. They looked like they had been in the middle of upgrading their cybernetic parts- a religious ceremony- when the two had barged in. The Peripherated Brethren- a cult dedicated to becoming one with machines. They were literally technophiles and had completely different ideas of morals to the rest of Algol- they thought it was perfectly okay to hit someone over the head, drag them off and wire them to the nearest Contemesser computer, because it was for the person's own benefit. They were also nasty business in a real fight.
"Get out of here." ordered the vicar. Then his eyes flickered to Vorn and the girl he was carrying. "And that's our customer."
"What makes you think that?" asked Alsh, surprised. The Peripherated Brethren didn't lie about that sort of thing. They also liked keeping people alive if they found them in need of healing, although their methods differed from Alsh's medics.
"We had her first. I remember her. I saw the Pope wire her to the machine personally."
"Vorn, where did you find that girl again?" demanded the medic. Vorn answered him, "The University basement?"
"The machine in the basement is our most advanced life-support machine!" gasped the vicar, "I demand you stand trial for this!"
"Will you tell me more about the girl if I co-operate?" asked Alsh, ignoring Vorn's protests.
"Well, we'll have to consider the whole story if we're going to have a fair trial, so I guess the answer is yes."
"We'll come quietly." decided Alsh, "Hey, Vorn, don't worry. I won't let these jerks do anything unfair to you or MY customer."
The octagonal chamber stood in the centre of the Lodge of the Peripherated Brethren, a thirty-level colossus of engineering that dominated the heart of the Wastebasket with its square metal walls and masses of wire overflowing like the roots of a giant potato. The air was thick with the leftover veils of light from overuse of Thu spells. Clanks echoed as Landrovers were repaired, all to heartfelt chanting of ancient Technique Latin phrases. The Lodge was a place where technology met religion, and the Great Chamber was the culmination of this tradition. The walls were all thirty levels high, twice as high as the Ladea Tower. Tapestries of fifty-six generations of Contemesser computer and their component parts hung on the walls, along with a beautiful graffiti of a divine being who shone with a brilliant golden light and was wired to the latest iContemesser. Seats ringed the chamber like a coliseum, full of Motavians who chattered enthusiastically, too away with the pixellated fairies to really be excited about the proceedings, but filled with a vague sense that something important was going to happen. In the centre, an octagon had been crudely burned into the floor with an industrial-strength blowtorch, and holy symbols- ones and zeros- had been carved inside it. A high-backed metal chair with leather upholstery floated above the sigils. Alsh and Vorn stood before this chair. They were supposed to be in chains but Vorn couldn't do his sign language without his hands and legs free, and nobody dared touch the medic.
"His Reverence the Pope Jurafaduel Helex Ristophle the Third!" announced the small Motavian in the green hooded mantle that completely obscured his face. The Second Era theme tune 'Never Dream' started up, and the massive, ornately arched double doors creaked open. The Pope was old, at least a hundred years old, his dark blue feathers matted and overgrown (unlike Palman hair, Motavian feathers grew a darker shade of blue with age until they went almost black), but he was almost as tall as Alsh and held himself with the dignity of a true leader. He wore orange robes over a suit of pure Laco-armour and held together with a clasp of Laconia shaped like the Contemesser apple. Black-coated wires covered the back of his head, and he carried a ceremonial round iContemesser mouse in his hand. The aura of holiness he radiated made Vorn want to bow down, but Alsh wasn't impressed.
"Where." demanded Pope Ristophle as he climbed into his floating chair, "Is my customer?"
Vorn showed him the girl wrapped up in his spare cloak. The Pope studied her briefly.
"Those ports are designed for our connections." he said, resting his hands on the side of the chair, "Why did you steal our customer, child? Don't you realise that we were keeping her alive? You could have killed her."
"The machines released her of their own will. All Vorn did was touch the panel." translated Alsh, "I know of no machine that would let you open the release hatch while it was still doing something with whatever was inside the hatch."
"True, our life-support machines cannot be opened until the customer can survive without them." mused the Pope, "But you should not have stolen the customer. She might have wanted us to wire her to a different machine."
"Then she is not a customer in the medical sense of the word." said Alsh immediately, "A medic's duty is to heal their customer, nothing more. If Vorn stole the girl who has medical problems to give to me as a medic so I can heal her, I am not stealing your customer. We are simply offering different services to her."
"You misunderstand me, doctor." the Pope's calm eyes blazed red for a second, "We could have brought Doran out of the coma."
"With machines? I don't believe you." Alsh didn't notice that the Pope had spoken the girl's name, but Vorn processed it straight away.
"Doran's condition is related to the disruption of the Phantasy Star quartet. So what better way to try and cure it than wire her to a Contemesser running a certain series of computer games on emulators?"
Alsh gasped, shocked.
"You don't mean the computer games that tell the stories of the Phantasy Star cycle?"
"They do more than tell the stories, my uneducated friend, they are part of the very source code of the Thray. They ARE Phantasy Star."
"That's not the point! That's the most dangerous and illegal thing you could possibly try and do!"
"As opposed to a rogue mercenary dragging the poor girl off to some dingy paramilitary headquarters, dumping her on a bed in a clinic full of psychopathic field medics and almost accidentally euthanising her?"
Vorn clicked his beak and made tweet-tweet noises that were the Motavian version of laughing. He signed rapidly.
"Vorn says, would exposing her to the games really cure her?"
"That's our best theory."
"Would it cure Vorn as well?"
"Logically, if it can cure one person with that condition, it should cure them all."
Vorn nodded, satisfied. He signed again, a decisive look on his face.
"Are you sure, Vorn?" asked Alsh.
"Vorn will let you test it on him first. If it works, you can try it on the girl. Do you agree?"
The Pope considered this for a while. "Okay. It's not unheard of for a Gradius Grantz to have medical experiments performed on him in the course of his duty."
Vorn looked at Alsh, a question written on his face.
"Gradius Grantz means 'protector for life'. It's an honorary title for those who swear to protect someone someone weaker than themselves. They appeared in many pre-First Era legends." explained the doctor, "Now, noble sir knight, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to see that doctor I was telling you about."
Fuzzy grass and brown leaves crinkled under Azda's feet. The mid-morning sun bathed the meadow in a gentle yellow glow. Rappies chirped. To the mercenary who had been brought up in the harsh environment of the desert, the fields of Terminus, Alisa III, were idyllic to the point of being alien. He knew that the conditions were artificially monitored, because the events of the Third Province took place inside a spaceship full of biospheres that was leaving the Algol star system to escape Palma's explosion. The music was uplifting and cheerful, and the random encounters, armoured goat-headed creatures, were immensely powerful but perfect for levelling up. The only thing that suggested that they had gone back in time was a faint feeling of being enclosed, a tiny glitch in the laws of physics that might have happened anyway on a less than perfectly stable planet. Azda felt his muscles relax in the pleasant warmth.
Professor Lucero held out a machine like a Geiger counter that beeped occasionally and printed out information that the scientist peered at and scribbled notes on before filing neatly in his briefcase. The machine was originally designed to measure trace amounts of Laconia, one of the various money-making schemes of TETRIS. One day Professor Lucero had worked out that the machine was somehow wired to the Thray-verse and beeped at anything remotely Phantasy Star related. The Phantasy Star Detector was one of TETRIS' biggest scientific breakthroughs.
"I detect at least a hundred tiny clusters of positive energy, moving in random directions." he reported.
"What does that mean?" asked Azda.
"Rappies. Lots of Rappies." translated the scientist, "We should follow them. They might be going somewhere important."
"In random directions?" asked Dern sceptically, "They do that when they run away from something. Rappies run away from anything, even each other."
"They're exhibiting unusual behavioural patterns. Although they're moving very rapidly, they stay in a very small area."
"There shouldn't be that many Rappies in one area anyway." said Dern, "Are you sure they're Rappies?"
"A Rappy farm!" said Azda, snapping his fingers. He had heard of someone trying to farm sandworms once in a village called Mile.
"Do you think so? How interesting! I've made up my mind, Dern, Azda, we're going to see the Rappies at once!"
Without further complaint, Dern followed his senior across the field and through a small copse. They didn't have far to go until they found the Rappy farm. It was primitive, a ploughed field separated off by a wooden fence and covered in bird seed. The Rappies- fat yellow birds with flightless stubby wings, big red eyes and two red antennae on spindly stalks- ran in random directions, stretching their wings and scaring each other away from their territory with a warbling cry. Professor Lucero reached over and stroked one. It gave him an indignant look but didn't peck him; Lucero was an expert in Rappy care and knew where they liked to be petted. They continued to a small wooden farm house and knocked on the door. A Dezolithian opened the door and blinked.
"Have you come to see the Chirpers? You can feed them for 20 meseta a bag. Or you can adopt one for 100 meseta. Join the Chirper club!"
"Is a Chirper a Rappy?" asked Azda. The Dezolithian looked surprised. Dern kicked him.
"You're not from PS3." he said.
"No, we're not." agreed Professor Lucero, "But I'd love to adopt a Rappy... I mean Chirper..."
"Hey, what's a Dezolisian doing in Third Era Alisia III?" yelled Azda.
"Dezolian." corrected Dern.
"DEZORIAN!" yelled the Dezolithian.
"Motavians call them Dezolithians." said Professor Lucero.
"You're not answering my question..." Azda reminded him.
"DEZOLIAN!" screamed Dern.
"DE... ZO... RI... AN!" shouted the Dezolithian at the top of his voice.
At that moment, a wave of sheer cataclysmic destruction swept towards them. The world was ripped apart as the force passed over it, the sky darkening, trees uprooted in a demon tornado, earth crumbling into nothingness, screen-lightning tearing through the atmosphere in jagged lances, leaving behind nothing but a vortex of dark fire like a primordial screensaver of pixellated chaos. Azda was on his feet and running for his life in the direction he guessed the time machine to be in. The Dezolithian grabbed his two favourite Rappies and disappeared in a puff of pixels, obviously using some technique beyond the knowledge of ordinary mortals. Dern dragged the stunned Professor away and sprinted through the grass, surrounded by the few panicked Rappies who ran in the right direction.
"Azda! Wait for us! AZDA!" he yelled. The mercenary, frightened out of his wits, ignored him and carried on at his relentless pace. "Azda, you're about to trip over a... AZDAAAAAAAAAAA!"
A Rappy dashed underneath Azda's feet and his legs gave way underneath him, sending him sprawling into the grass. He tried to stand up again, but he couldn't get a hold on the wet undergrowth and his bruised body was beginning to fail him in spite of the adrenaline. Covered in yellow feathers, he closed his eyes and prayed that Digo, whether alive or dead, was watching over him.
Evening prayer had begun in the Lodge of the Peripherated Brethren, and the Motavians gathered around their computers to chant in time to the enormous industrial-size printers as they printed out the sacred litany of Pope Ortavio Ristophle Ristophle the First, the founder of the Way of Peripherates. Outside, the sun was beginning to set over the desert. The sandworms disappeared deep into the sand to rest and not eat people for a few hours. The background music was turned down, softened.
Pope Jurafaduel Helex Ristophle the Third was trying to sort out a problem when Alsh returned. His printer kept making a strange noise. Dismantling it with the manual dexterity of a trained computer game player, he didn't notice his visitors until one sawed all four legs off his table.
"What you doing?" squeaked a high-pitched voice, "Can't see. Too high."
The Pope picked his printer up off the floor and peered at the visitors. One was Alsh Line, one was a young Motavian girl, around five years old, and one was a very old Palman man with a grey beard, a white coat and a benevolent smile. He dressed like something from the Second Era and held a bag like Alsh's that smelled of trimate.
"Why have you brought a Palman to this holy place?" demanded the Pope.
"This is Dr. Elec Farad." explained Alsh, his voice lowered and full of awe and veneration, "The foremost healer in the Algol Star System."
"The foremost human healer." amended the old doctor modestly. The Pope understood the implication- he didn't want to show disrespect to the Ultradailyist Network of the Lodge of the Peripherated Brethren, a collective of medical technology that even gave Gaia a run for Her money.
"I've heard of you by reputation." said the Pope, "But you were alive in the Second Era. How can you be two thousand three hundred and eleven years old? Our best life extension technology only gives us six hundred more years."
"You need a more active lifestyle. Eat more greens."
"I eat lots of green things!"
"I meant plants."
"Me bored. Where customer?" the little girl pulled on Dr. Farad's trouser leg impatiently.
"This is my student, Panacea." introduced Dr. Farad, "Pana for short. She has more natural ability than me. When I've trained her up, she'll perform miracles I could never dream up."
"WHERE CUSTOMER?" squeaked Pana, pecking him on the leg with her beak. Trying his hardest not to laugh, the Pope led them out of the room, across a corridor suspended over twenty floors high and into a machine room. In the middle of the room, the girl floated above the ground in a chair similar to the one in the centre chamber. Some kind of force held her comfortably in place. She wore a long black cloak with white religious symbols (pictures of different cursors) embroidered into it, and the inevitable wires had been inserted in the back of her head and hands. Vorn stood in the background, guarding her, big stick in hand. When he saw the people, he stepped in front of her, but Alsh waved him away. With a loud squeak, Pana ran to the girl and pointed at her.
"Is it really?" Dr. Elec moved closer and examined her, "So it is. It's our friend the Exile. What do you think is wrong with her, Pana?"
Pana looked deep into the girl's eyes. She turned around and pointed to her head. "Gone nuts."
"You think it's psychological?" Dr. Elec turned to Alsh, "Did you say that it started when the False Sequel came to Algol?"
Alsh nodded, "If it's the same condition as all the others, and I believe it is. Vorn suffers from the condition, and he can't speak. Digo also suffered from it, and his personality was altered considerably. But their brain scans show up normally..."
"Psychological problems are not always detectable with your kind of machines." Dr. Elec told him, "Have you tried this?"
Before the Pope could react, Dr. Elec darted over to one of the computers, hacked the mainframe and turned the background music volume up very loud. "Wrong tune." he dug out a floppy from his coat pocket, inserted it into the machine and played a MIDI from it. The Pope felt his stress draining away as the rhythm of the Hydlide beat took him, felt himself leave his body and reunite with the computer spirits all around him, the vigorous passion of his youth returning in a cyan flame of machine life. Ignoring him, the doctor watched with satisfaction as the girl's head began to jerk and her arm began to move.
"See? It's psychological. I'll have to teach you Hydlide therapy one day." the doctor shook his head, "But I can't treat something that serious with just the music. I need to enter Doran's mind. I'll need everyone's help for this. The Exile has a powerful mind, and it's too dangerous to enter alone."
"Me go." said Pana.
"I'll go too." said Alsh, "Vorn says he can't go because he has to stand guard."
"I should stay behind too. I need to check the systems." said the Pope, "I wish you the utmost success. May the computers be with you."
"Thankyou, your reverence."
Dr. Elec stood behind the girl and placed his hands around the front of her head. Pana grabbed one of her hands and motioned for Alsh to do the same with the other. They closed their eyes, and Alsh felt the elderly doctor's technique energy build up, a coruscation of pure healing white that flared around him like the creation of a new galaxy, harnessing reserves of power locked deep within his mind that no other mortal would dare use. Everything became true darkness, the darkness inside a bulk erase machine when your number was up, and then Alsh saw his own form. Gradually, the other two materialised as well.
"We're seeing what Doran sees." explained Dr. Elec, "It's not polite to do it often, which is why I don't teach it to any students but my most disciplined."
"But you taught it to a five-year-old." Alsh pointed out.
"Actually I didn't. Pana found out how to do it on her own. She does it to my cat, drives him crazy." he laughed.
"Wanted to know why kitty not let me paint it white." explained Pana, "Nice colour for cats!"
The doctor put a finger to his lips and pointed to a hill. There were faint flickers of movement and voices. They crept up to it and hid behind it, looking over at the figures that were drifting. They were in a circle, seated on floating chairs like those reserved for important people in the Lodge. Upon closer observation, they were each from very different backgrounds. An aura of raw power attained by good honest levelling up hung over them all. Residues of techniques such as Nathu, Legeon and even Megid hung in the air. For some reason, Alsh could see these things clearly without his instruments. It's the subconscious, he reminded himself, like a dream.
"What do you think?" asked one, a Dezolithian boy.
"I dunno." answered an Esper girl, "Maybe we should ask the admin. He knows everything."
"Or we could ask Exile. That'd be more fun. Her theories are always so crazy." said a Browren android.
"Don't be mean to Exile!"
"But she's nuts! She's totally off her head!" argued the android, "I say we ban her. Ban her, admin, ban her!"
"Stay on topic please." the admin ordered.
"Hey, Exile, what do you think? How do slashers work?"
The girl in the far corner- how a circle can have corners, Asclepius only knows, thought Alsh- was hunched over, huddled in her black robes. She yawned and stared antisocially at the others.
"Huh? I was asleep." she said, "I think we can't know. I mean, Alys used slashers. You know how Alys' death affected the whole of Algol. Anything related to her goes by slightly skewed laws of physics. It's the whole Hegels thing. Why is Alys so similar to the name Alis? Is it a coincidence? Alis represents the whole of Algol. Is Algol... dying?"
"What makes you think think Algol is dying?" asked the Esper.
"Hey, this is no fun..." complained the Dezolithian, but the Exile girl cut him off. The music changed to 'Her Last Breath' a background tune from the Fourth Era.
"The last episode in the Phantasy Star series... is over." said Exile, "There isn't going to be another. It said 'Final'." she told them sadly.
"Final Fantasy says 'Final'." the android pointed out.
"Phantasy Star isn't like that cheap collusively popular crap."
"Exile's right, Phantasy Star is special." said the admin, "But there are plans for a new Phantasy Star. There is plenty of evidence for this. The saga is not over."
"Let's talk about what we think the next one will be like!" said the Esper enthusiastically. Everyone agreed. It was obviously one of their favourite topics of debate.
"It had better be just like Phantasy Star Four!" said Exile fiercely.
"That would make it unoriginal." argued the android.
"We don't need changes. Phantasy Star is perfect. The best thing there could possibly be is more of the same!"
"I don't think it can be the same." said the admin, "Technology is advancing. Phantasy Star Four was made for very old machines, and nowadays people expect better."
"Newer doesn't necessarily mean better."
"But not everyone thinks that."
"Most people are stupid." said Exile.
"There she goes again. Poor little outcast." said the android mockingly, "She gets away with too much because she says she's an exile."
"No flaming!" the admin blew his whistle.
"I hope there's a playable cat again." said the Esper.
"Or a playable hamster." the Dezolithian laughed.
"I'm leaving now." said Exile suddenly, "I'll be back tomorrow."
"Bye." said the admin. The people winked out, and the girl called Exile was left alone, floating in the darkness. She began to talk to herself.
"I don't know what to think... about the idea of a new Phantasy Star." she sighed, "I'm filled with excitement. I was kind of bored with experiencing the same four eras, and this is a new stage in my life. But I have doubts. Terrible doubts. What if it's not like the others? What if it's on a big expensive machine I can't afford? Also, I think it's coming too early. Why would it do that? It's not natural. I don't want Phantasy Star to stand still and not evolve, but I don't want it... not to be Phantasy Star any more. I love Phantasy Star so much it hurts."
The image of the girl faded away, and the healers were left watching emptiness for several minutes. Their patience was rewarded when the images flickered back again.
"My favourite song is 'Laughter'." said a boy in a black cape who obviously thought he was Zio.
"I like 'Tonoe De Pon'. The Motavian national anthem." said Exile.
"I like 'Behind The Circuit'." said the android.
"'Jijy No Rag' for me." said the Dezolithian.
"Of course! You're a Dezolian." the girl said.
"Dezorian." corrected the Dezolithian.
"Dezolisian." said the android.
"Dezolithian!" insisted Exile. Suddenly, the admin flickered into existence, looking very excited about something.
"The new Phantasy Star! It's going to be released! For real! Here are some screenshots."
Their faces caricatures of wonder, delight, disappointment or mirth, they studied the telepathically-projected images carefully. Exile was the first to speak. Her face, normally as emotionally neutral as an android with an autism chip instead of an emotion chip inserted into it on purpose, was ice. Her eyes burned with a cold, dangerous rage that was too fundamental to her being to quench. She did not move. She did not breathe
"That. Is. Not. A. Phantasy. Star."
"Exile..." the admin began, grabbing his ban stick in preparation for a violent assault.
"THAT IS NOT A PHANTASY STAR!!!!!" she roared.
"It is." argued the android, "It says it is."
"Browren..." warned the admin.
Exile jumped down from her chair and turned her back on them. The wind blew, cruelly cold, and the rain lashed at the scientist. The Third Era song 'Megido' began to play in the background.
"I'm going to destroy the False Sequel." she told them, "I will make Phantasy Star whole again. I swear it on my honour. I'm so sorry I didn't realise what was happening to Algol. Please forgive me. I want you to understand that if that's what it takes... I will destroy the whole Universe in the process. Think of this as the end of the world."
"If you do that, I'll ban you." said the admin
"You don't need to." said Exile, "I'm leaving. And I am not coming back until Phantasy Star is four."
"Follow her! She means what she says about ending the world." ordered Dr. Elec. They scrambled to their feet and sprinted across the floor that was now tiled in blue, like the combat plane designed by Motherbrain in the Second Era. It rippled up and down, wind and rain tearing at their clothes, threatening to knock them off their feet and pull them to the floor. Praying to Asclepius, Alsh grabbed Pana and roared. He imagined himself in the thick of a battle, dodging sharp steel and techniques, the scent of blood in the air as he spied the wounded customer. His ears went straight up and he ran. The elements could not touch him. I wish I could do that, thought Dr. Elec as he trudged through a puddle. The huge Motavian medic ran after the retreating dark figure of the girl, her robes flapping, until she came to a tall, sleek tower of white stone. The door opened at her touch. Alsh ran over and threw himself in the doorway to stop it closing again. Eventually, Elec caught up, and they went inside. It was a simple tower, with a spiral staircase of smooth white stone blocks. Runes from the ancient Motavian language were carved into the walls, so old that even Elec didn't know what they said, along with pictures of apples. A small plinth at the foot of the staircase had an apple on it. Pana took the apple and ran up the stairs. The other two healers followed her. Thirty flights later, they came to the top, exhausted. They opened another door and found Doran sitting in another floating chair, intently watching a laptop screen. The room was small and rather spartan, like a prison cell, but the laptop was a top-of-the-range G4 Contemesser Eye Book. She was playing a computer game. Pana crept closer. It was Phantasy Star 3.
"Go, Hyperplonk!" she cried, raising her arms dramatically, "Go and kill the False Sequel! Destroy everything that is not Phantasy Star! EVERYTHING!"
"Doran..." whispered Elec.
She ignored him and grabbed a telephone.
"Hello? I want to hire a mercenary. No, I can only afford one. A good one, please."
"Doran. Look at me, Doran. It's your favourite doctor. I'm here to help you. Doran!"
"Digo? He sounds cute. Did I say cute? I meant... er... good in battle."
Pana stamped her foot and whispered something in Elec's ear. The doctor laughed and removed his coat. Pana folded it up, flattened it out and put the apple on it. Elec sliced it into small chunks with his scalpel and held it out.
"Free samples! Get your yummy free food here!" called the doctor. Doran immediately jumped out of her chair, ran to the food and wolfed it down. She stood up and looked at the doctor as if to say, only one? Where's the rest of the food? Then she recognised him.
"Doctor!" she flung her arms around him. Pana hugged her.
"Doran, do you know where you are?"
She shook her head. "I have to stop the False Sequel..."
"The False Sequel is gone, Doran. Twelve years have passed. Phantasy Star is four."
"Four?" she gasped.
"But if you don't shut down the Hyperplonk again, Phantasy Star will be three. Then it'll be two, and... the instructions you gave it didn't tell it when to stop. It's erasing anything that's remotely un-Phantasy-Star-like."
"Well, there shouldn't be anything un-Phantasy-Star-like in Algol! If someone isn't, its their own fault." she yelled, sounding a little like a Savol Diem speech.
"Do you know why you're ill, Doran?"
"I'm not ill. Algol is ill. I feel its pain and it hurts me too."
"People... feeling the pain of Algol?" gasped Elec, "I thought that was just a story."
"Only outcasts can do it." said Doran, "Ordinary people are too stupid. They don't understand about home because they've never had to leave one."
"If me heal Algol, you better?" asked Pana.
"Pana, we can't heal an entire solar system." sighed Dr. Elec.
"Yes we can." said Pana, "If everyone help."
"We should give it a try." said Alsh, "This might be Pana's miracle. The one you were talking about."
"Me do miracle." agreed Pana, "Teacher, go and bring lots people."
Dr. Elec did as he was told. Pana and Alsh stayed by Doran's side as he returned to the real world. A few minutes later, he came back again with the Pope and a large black chunky laptop.
"That not lots people!" complained Pana, her hands on her hips.
"I may be one man, but..." the Pope rested his laptop on the table next to Doran's sleek white Eye Book, "I control every computer in the lodge. The gods stand among us, child. For them, healing the solar system is a piece of cake!"
The darkness was as deep and clear as midnight, when the Rappies could run straight across the desert without being eaten by any sandworms at all. Under the Ladea Tower, a tall, beautiful symbol of order and balance in magic, on a small, blue-tiled hill, the five people stood in a circle. A cool breeze rippled their hair, refreshing them, as though the world understood what they were about to do and was gently encouraging them. There was quiet, but not the unearthly standstill of complete silence, but the soothing fuzzy background noise that you heard when you turned down the volume completely but could still feel the comforting on-ness of the computer. The air was thick with dark blue pixels, digital flies. Pana intoned a few words, then the Pope switched on the MIDI player on his laptop and the music began.
Doran danced like a thing of nature, her lithe form twirling in a variation of the Mana Shopkeeper's Dance. The three healers joined hands and continued chanting while dancing in a circle. The Pope raised his arms to the heavens, brandishing his laptop aloft. At first nothing happening, but after ten seconds, the screen parted, and white glitch-lightning flowed into the soil with a FFAUGLM noise. The exile's dance became faster, and they saw the computer systems all around them, every computer in Algol, from Doran's small Eye Book to the central climate control up on Kuran Space Station, supporting them all, adding the awesome power of the solar system's heartbeat to their own. They realised that they had the power to do what they had to do.
"Direct the energy into the Exile!" yelled Dr. Farad, pointing to the happily dancing Doran.
"No one person can hold that much energy!" protested the Pope.
"She's not holding it, she's just channelling it! She's the only person who can talk to Phantasy Star! The energy is all being created by her anyway, remember, we're in her mind."
They relented and diverted the flow of the energy into Doran's centre of power, the ghost-being of the Thray. Lightning poured into her brilliantly shining cyan form, ageless and genderless in the Thray otherworld. The hill was ablaze with an inferno of cyan energy, the whole world brought to life, responding with more energy in like. Doran began to understand the raw power of Algol's consciousness, and could see the necessary mental picture of the thing she must heal. She probed it gently, searching out the irregularities, the broken patterns, the faded threads. The series was damaged straight across at an odd angle. She must start from the beginning, she realised.
-Phantasy Star...- she called, trying out the word, seeing what imagery came to her first. She heard the primal call, felt her every sense respond to it. She saw the unfathomable vastness and agelessness of the Thray like a huge tree on a hill, felt the wind of techniques as it caused waves along the plane of matter. She heard the myriad noises of the techniques. She spread her arms out wide like the tree and felt the static crackle of the techniques. Then she explored its boundaries, the division into four, the cycle of Events. She saw the First Era: the quest of Alis; the old magic; playable cats; the desert proper and all its feral beauty; the ancient simplicity of three-thousand-and-twelve-year-old background music; the cleverest and most daunting to walk through dungeons, with the ancient Motavian races' knowledge of dungeon design. She saw the Second Era: the age of wires and rust and the orderly beauty of science; the development of modern Algol with its scientifically analysable 'techniques'; the deadly precision of the first scalpel-fighters; the background music revolution- Second Era music was still played in all the trendy bars. She saw the Third Era; mysterious, on the edge of Phantasy-Star-ness; the twin Forbidden Techniques of life and death, known as true Grantz and Megido; the background music that could inspire you to true faith, unconditional surrender to Phantasy Star, still used in all the best religious rituals; the Armageddon of the Hyperplonk and the perfect Valhalla of Skyhaven. She saw the Fourth Era; the final battle between the Lutz and Protectors on one side and the Profound Darkness on the other; the One Truth of the Universe (at level 99, your stats go Down); the enlightenment of Doran by Le Roof, the information entity...
-Le Roof...- she projected her thoughts outwards, her right fist clenched in determination, -Le Roof, I have the memories of Phantasy Star! Are they true Phantasy Star? I want you to help me find True Phantasy Star!-
Suddenly, the absolute darkness became a vast celestial expanse, as if the roof and the ceiling were made of stars swirling around in a galaxy, and Doran were at the centre.
-Doran.- she felt the infinite, benevolent wisdom of a kindly old teacher in that word, a teacher who wanted nothing more than to share as much information with their students as possible, to arouse their natural desire to learn and ignite an intellectual flame that would burn way after they had their PhD. -Doran, do not try and describe it. You are not being judged. You do not have to prove to Algol or Ragol what the entire Universe instinctively knows. There is no time for a full scientific evaluation now. Algol is dying!-
Understanding instantly, Doran spread out her arms and let Phantasy-Star-ness, the stuff of the Thray, flow from every subatomic particle, every gene, every one and zero in the source code of her being. She did not try to see it, it simply was. Phantasy. Star.
Then she was in contact with Algol.
She worked like a scandisk, virus sweeper and disk defragmentor all in one, running through every last byte of Algol, making sure it was in the right place, healing the damage done by the irregularities, preventing odd patterns from mutating. She worked on each Era at a time, making sure the right information was in the right Era and there was no leftover information from the False Sequel. She went right to the core, strengthening the foundations of Phantasy Star against further attacks. There was no more emotion, just a procedure; she was the healer and Algol was her customer. It took four hours before Le Roof finally declared, -It is done.-
Event chimes rang in her head, and she was whole as Algol was whole.
Five figures lay on the floor of Machine Room 87 in the Lodge of the Peripherated Brethren, mentally and physically exhausted. Vorn lay down his stick and examined Doran, but found that she was breathing and had a pulse. He waited patiently for the healers and the Pope to wake up. To his surprise, Doran was the first to wake up. She blinked, stared at him, and allowed him to help her into the floating chair. In one hand, she held her small white laptop, stroking it lovingly.
"You're the one who protected me, weren't you?"
Vorn nodded, embarrassed.
"Well, after all, I'm your Gradius Grantz." he said.
"Oh yeah?" she laughed, "Who declared you my Gradius Grantz?"
"I could do the ceremony now, if you like."
The two looked around, embarrassed. The Pope was watching them with a big smile on his face.
"I think you two are a perfect match. The warrior and the wizard. Just like old times."
"I'm not just some boring wizard, I'm an exile." she told him, "If you were my Gradius Grantz, you'd have to follow me into exile. Are you sure you can do that, Vorn? It's a lonely life."
"People did terrible things to Phantasy Star." Vorn said bluntly, "Exiles healed it. Which one do you think I'd rather be with?"
"The ceremony will be performed at midnight, under a full moon, in eight day's time." pronounced the Pope, "For no extra charge, you can get married to your laptop."
"Our love is beyond such meaningless formalities!" she declared, clutching the Eye Book tightly to her chest.
"Hey, have we... won?" Alsh yawned and stood up. Pana and Dr. Farad were also just beginning to wake up.
"It wasn't really a competition, but... yes. We succeeded." said the Pope.
"I'm going back to Headquarters now." decided Alsh, "Coming, Vorn?"
"It depends what Doran wants to do." he told Alsh, "Doran, do you want to come and be a mercenary with us? It's a great life. You get to fight. For money."
"I don't know." said the exile, "I might stay here and join the cult and nick that guy's job. Or I might go on a tour of Algol and see how many Forum members are still alive so I can say 'I told you so'. Or..."
Suddenly, Alsh's pager beeped. He shouted into it for a few seconds, then jabbed the 'off' button and began swearing eloquently in several languages at once.
"The Hyperplonk is completely out of control!"
The sun shone brightly as the six companions finally struggled their way through the dungeon-like Wastebasket and ran through Headquarters without even stopping to explain Alsh and Vorn's absence. Many were dead or severely wounded from the battle with Savol Diem. Although they were considerably outnumbered and outlevelled, the quasi-Digo right wing organisation were dedicated to their cause of wiping out every last Ragol Returner and, to tell the truth, the Rogues weren't that concerned about the welfare of a bunch of half-Algolians either; in fact, many of them were bribed into swopping sides during the battle. The University was safe, however, mostly due to the presence of a certain crazy biologist who threatened to dissect everyone who came within five miles of the place, dead or alive. Alsh laughed at this news but pushed past everyone in his way and ran out of the building. They stole a Landrover and drove it at a ridiculously dangerous speed to (or, more accurately, straight through the window of) New Paseo. Alsh ran up to the receptionist.
"When's the next flight to Skure?"
"All flights are cancelled, I'm afraid. There's a mass deportation to Alisia III in progress."
"Mass deportation? What mass..." Alsh looked around and saw Doran leaning on a pillar watching a long line of confused-looking people. Ragol Returners.
"Cheap unprofessional bulk job." she said in a voice like an artist criticising a rival artist's work, "First of all, you're supposed to hand out batteries for everyone's Game Gears. Secondly, you can't fit that many people on a spaceship. Form two queues at once, that's right. Thirdly, you haven't got your paperwork to hand, so it looks arbitrary, which is in clear violation of article..."
"STOP!" yelled Alsh, pushing Doran out of the way and jumping over the barrier, "If we don't get on a spaceship right now, the entire Universe will be destroyed!"
"Shut up." said the android in the black suit who had been shouting at everyone. He threw a clipboard at Alsh's head and knocked him unconscious.
"Now you've broken your clipboard. How can you deport anyone without your clipboard? You're gonna get the sack, clipboard monkey..." taunted Doran.
"Doran, did you say that you programmed the Hyperplonk to destroy everything that is not Phantasy Star?" asked Dr. Farad.
Doran nodded, "And that's another thing, mister bureaucrat..."
"Use Ryuker NOW!" Elec ordered the Ragol Returners, putting a careful accent on the '-er'. Still totally confused as to what was happening, they obeyed and raised their arms in unison, allowing the photon energy which was not of Algol to flow through them.
Several things happened at once. The RRB Android grabbed his gun and pulled the trigger, shooting at the nearest Ragol Returner. Vorn sprung, pulling the young HuNewEarl to the floor. Everything went dark. A gate of blood-red light opened. Vorn and the Returners vanished. The background changed to the fevered intensiveness of the Third Era Dark Force battle as the Motavian was thrust into a spiralling maelstrom of ruin, the debris of entire games spinning and colliding. It was like being swallowed by a De-Rol-Le from the lowest depths of the Game Over Screen. Death and destruction of an impossible magnitude sucked them into its apocalpytic core, the final conclusion of a plot gone supernova. Holy Saint Kevorkian, thought Vorn as the light was slowly extinguished, this is it. I'm going to die.
Vorn flapped his arms to try and control his descent. He saw a black-armoured figure plummet past. Azda. Without thinking, he thrust himself forward and reached to grab his friend. They both fell into the core.
The darkness receded. Vorn shook his head and opened his eyes. He was sitting on a familiar tiled floor, although this wasn't the same place. It was a real place. Azda lay face down, still unconscious. Vorn shrugged and left him where he was while the big Motavian went to explore the strange plane of existence. It was, unlike Doran's subconscious, completely flat. It also had walls and, by extension, rooms. He passed from room to room. They were all empty. The tiles glowed softly with different shades of blue. After the twentieth empty room, Vorn felt slightly bored and wished there were some random monsters to bash over the head with his stick. As soon as he thought of his stick, the blue tiles flashed rapidly and an altar of pure Laconia materialised from the light. Vorn scratched his head.
-If ye be Algol's security guard, put the big stick on the altar.- said a mechanical voice. Vorn decided to obey it, even though it was a stupid-sounding prophecy. There was a 'FFAULGM!' noise (it seemed to go with all important events in the history of Algol) and a black wind of pure deletory energy rose from him, ascending into a double helix around Vorn. All his feathers stuck straight up as the energy touched him to the deepest levels of his DNA. Something that had always been inside him was being unlocked. He felt it surge through him, raising every facet of his strength. He stared at his hands, mystified.
His big stick was now a huge double-handed Laconian big stick, engraved with Ancient Motavian runes. The handle was wrapped in orange cloth that shone with the aura of the vestments of some pre-First Era Motavian saint. He gave it a few practise swings, impressed.
-The Hyperplonk is now deactivated and stored in the Desrona.- said a mechanical voice, -Please use the Desrona wisely.-
Vorn waved goodbye and walked back through the rooms. Azda was awake, but had gone off without him and left him a rather rude note. The Motavian didn't know Ryuka... wherever he was, he would have to walk back home. He opened the last door, and was greeted by a small crowd of Ragol Returners.
"It's with an '-a', right?" asked the HuNewEarl. Vorn nodded.
Vorn reappeared in the Space Port to the sight of Doran standing over a severely damaged RRB android, a clipboard clenched tightly in her hand. Dr. Farad held the still-unconscious Alsh in his arms. The Pope grabbed Doran and motioned for them all to run, very fast. They all ran, including the Ragol Returners, and climbed into their Landrovers and other people's Landrovers too, including a police Landrover after throwing the police officer out. They sped off into the desert, laughing, chased by the police.
"I did it!" yelled Vorn to the exile, who was making faces at the police Landrover behind them and squawking like a Rappy. The others hadn't seen this side of the conservative little Fundamentalist Quartetarian. They understood now why she was called The Exile- if given any opportunity whatsoever, Doran tried to get herself thrown out, preferably off the planet, but if not, at least out of the building.
"Where is the Hyperplonk now?" asked the Pope.
"Inside my weapon."
"You mean its become the Desrona." said Doran, as though the most esoteric mysteries of Algol were totally obvious, "Did any Ragol Returners survive?"
"There's one in our vehicle." reported Dr. Farad. They all turned to look at the HuMar who sat in the back of the Landrover, admiring the view, a mischevious look on his face.
"Not many of us survived." he told them in his strong Third Era Lashute accent, "Only those of us who remembered how to use Algolian techniques... like Ryuka."
"Now that Phantasy Star is whole, you should slowly remember more and more." said Dr. Farad.
"We can finally consider ourselves Phantasy Star." said the HuMar, "The Hyperplonk itself has judged us so."
"You're wrong. Algol wouldn't sentence three quarters of you to death. Even the RRB Office wouldn't do that."
"Actually, Alisia III would be the first place targeted by the Hyperplonk if there was an Apocalypse." Alsh told him, "There's already practically nothing left of it."
"We can rebuild it." said the HuMar, "It would be a good home for us. Phantasy Star 3 was never a real Phantasy Star. We want to start again. No better way to understand Phantasy Star than to build your own, eh?"
"Good idea." agreed Doran, "There's a nice Rappy farm on Alisia III. Hey, Pope?"
"Think there'll be a Phantasy Star Five? A real one, I mean?"
"I'm sure that's a question for a long discussion, child."
"That's it. I'm joining your cult."