Phantasy Star Four Point Nine Recurring
by teh Exile

I play God because God plays Lemmings. Badly.

'Take me to Landen,
Take me to Tonoe
Do not try Ragol
I will never go
It doesn't matter if you switch it off the first time
It doesn't matter if you throw it in the bin
I won't be there for my finals'
(To the tune of 'Exclaim' from Phantasy Star 2)

* * * *

Across the vast deserts of Motavia rolled the silence, borne along by a wind that was immense, but gentle, slow and patient, like a golem performing surgery. The fine golden sand barely shifted and the owls were far too busy to hoot.

Across it rolled, until it reached a plain that was as flat as a line and extended almost as far as death. The chunky tyre-marks had been overwritten by sand, but everyone knew where they were. The site of the Cybernetic carnival, a yearly event performed at the blackest midnight, when only the Aurora Motavia lit the sky, and every Motavian old enough to reach the steering wheel would grab the largest landrover they could find and speed into the timeless oblivion, propelled by gravity, determination and the occasional twenty-foot sandworm. It was fun, and kept the population down.

Tonight, though, was not one of these nights. The silence rolled onwards, slightly bored, until at last it was interrupted. A flicker of movement, a whispered grumble, the telltale 'CLICK- dzrnn...' of somebody shutting down a machine. I came from over there- upon the steep sandstone hill, amidst the boulders. A moving shadow, darker even than the night sky...

A micro-second later, the sand exploded, thrusting itself upwards until it almost broke a few of the less easily-remembered laws of physics. The silence ran off.

Pixellated sand sprayed across the rocky landscape, moving more or less of its own accord now it had been given a push. Gigantic shapes were erupting from the ground, solid sandstorms with jaws the size of an average Motavian. They completely blotted out the intruders' vision- all teh could sense was sand, grit, pain and the astronomical figures used to measure everything. These numbers... the statistical energy flowed through tehs' body, charging teh with power and exhilaration. This was tehs' moment. The only one like it. It would have to be, because teh didn't think teh could survive another one. In fact, the wondered whether teh would survive this one. Tehs feet flung themselves across the uneven surface, keeping just enough momentum to stay upright and evade the sandworms, who were currently all casing teh.

Suddenly, the world moved upwards at a startling velocity. Teh was flung into the sky like a rag doll, and was met with darkness. The cold, immortal darkness of outer space.

* * * *

"Are you sure this is a good idea?" protested Garl, scratching his chin, "This is a Palman you've found. He could be a spy..."

The reply came abruptly as the big Motavian was bodily thrown out of the clinic. Even as he was, a muscular soldier of the old, traditionalist, northern stock, he couldn't help being afraid of the equally large medic advancing towards him, clutching a dangerously sharp scalpel.

"I couldn't give a feeve." he growled in a low voice, straightening his white coat, "I'm a doctor. if anyone needs healing, I heal them. If they don't, I tell them so. If they ask me to, or they stop me doing my job in peace, I finish them off. Does your tiny brain understand that?"

"Yes, doctor Alsh" sighed Garl, stalking back towards his tent.

The medic returned to work. He and his colleagues had a busy day ahead of them. Checking the readouts of all the machines, he finally looked at the patient, before being distracted by another doctor.

"Crikey, his HP is low."

"Of course" snapped Alsh, "Silly fool was in the Leviathan Run."

His workmate gasped. The Leviathan run was another Motavian game. You tried it when you were a fifteen-year-old lad, to prove you were a real Motavian. The point of this remains unknown, as blue fur, an owl-like face with two pointy ears and a beak are a dead giveaway. Most people only tried it once. You basically had to run from one side to the other of a small area populated by the largest sandworms on Motavia. Even other sandworms wouldn't go near the Leviathan Run, and we are talking about a creature that can swallow a school.

"Will he live?"

"Of course he'll dern live! This is my clinic, and if I say he's going to live, he's dern well going to live!" roared Alsh. In a quiet but determined voice, he added, "Go and get Pana."

* * * *

...The starry infinity...

Teh was floating. Or at least, if teh was moving upwards, teh would be floating.If not, teh guessed teh would be sinking. or suspended in one place. teh appeared to be in the sky, surrounded by stars. Was teh dead? Teh laughed. After all the scientific investigations, all the cryogenic freezing, it would be a laugh if it turned out that people really did float up into the sky and be angels and live on clouds.

Teh didn't really want to die. Of course, it would be a glorious release- the rage and determination that sent teh across the desert, the desperate need to expend at least some energy. The absolute eradication of death .Tehs' last word- it still rang clearly in tehs' head- "FOUR!!!!". But the was not yet finished. Teh knew.

Suddenly, music began to play all around teh. It was the song of the stars- crystal clear, and yet soft and gentle, containing all the power of truth and knowledge and undisputable certainty in he whisper of a breeze. In time to the music, the stars began to swirl into a small galaxy around teh.

*No, you are not dead.*

Teh tried to swing around and draw tehs' sword, but instead tehs' thoughts were purely intellectual. All teh wanted to do was know.

*You have come a long way.*

"Hang on, I know you." teh said in tehs' rough half-growl. "Aren't you Le Roof, the embodiment of all knowledge?"

*Yes. Does it not surprise you that you, a mercenary, and not from Algol, know such a thing?*

"I've been here before. A long time ago. Before anyone even dreamed of a number Five."

*So why are you back again? What are you fighting for?*

"Money." teh said automatically .Then, when teh found teh could move once more, teh slowly walked away, pausing to wave.

"I'm fighting for money from now on."

* * * *

Teh felt soft hands across tehs' chest, a surge of healing energy soothing the pain, breathing life back into tehs; shattered body, tingling like a wave of white water that swept teh onto the shore of life. When teh could finally open tehs' eyes, a tiny blue face peered down at teh. It had a cute yellow bow and two hopeful child's' eyes.

"Good work, Pana." the small girl beamed proudly at the doctors who were crowded into the clinic.

"Who are you, then?" asked the tallest one, Alsh. Their patient blinked once, grimaced and shook tehs' hair out of tehs' eyes. Healers, teh thought. Teh was in a room full of healers, watching teh. That was okay, teh supposed. teh didn't mind healers. At least they were for something. Besides, teh owed tehs' life to them right now.

"Digo." said teh, "I'm a mercenary."

Gasps and murmurs echoed around the severely overcrowded clinic. Alsh took a step backwards and reached for his scalpel. Now, Digo could see the room properly. It was a small white tent, with typical Motavian furnishings of things that looked like they were, and were, dug out of a rubbish dump. Collecting garbage was a favourite Motavian pastime.

"You're a Hunter?" asked Alsh.

"The feeve I am." teh snarled, "As if a treacherous, Five-loving snake like a Hunter would dare travel into the heart of northern Motavia. I'm just a merc. I want someone to hire me. If you aren't going to, leave me be."

"Why in two feeves and a nasak would we need to hire mercenaries?"

"Well you don't need to, you're a flipping invincible medic, you twerp, but you Motavians will need to be preparing to fight Five soon."

"Hmm... you'll need to talk to a fighter about that. I couldn't give a feeve about your petty battles." Alsh indicated toward the door with his scalpel,"One word of warning, though. Whoever you are, you'll need a weapon. I'm afraid you lost yours in the sand. There's no way I'm going back to find it in that suicide place."

* * * *

"Dern and double nasak!" yelled the mercenary, before plunging head-first into a sand dune. The Five-loving sons of gerotluxes had taken over the only other merc bar on Motavia! As soon as teh had mentioned tehs' hatred of hunters, the bouncers had thrown teh out. Teh daren't go near Aiedo- even teh wasn't that foolish, but teh decided to take another risk, almost as deadly. Brushing the sand of tehs' black Compo-Armor, teh left Kadary and travelled south-east. Towards the original Zioist temple.

Nothing else attacked teh. Inbetween fights, Digo had rested, choosing the highest and therefore safest places. Teh had looked out over the ruins of the old towns- Mile, Oputa, Bortevo. All around teh, science was developing, but there was so much desolation everywhere. Remains of lost dreams, banished spirits. Digo realised that there would always be solitude in this desert, and welcomed it as an exile, but the feeve didn't see why it had to be just because of a Four that turned into a Five.

"Dern." teh complained.

In front of teh, finally, was the temple of Zio. Even though it looked the worse for wear, the black stone and harsh spikes of the tower bristled with an aura of negative energy. It wasn't evil. Dark or night couldn't be evil, it was how people used it that could be good or evil. Digo paused for breath and pushed open the heavy stone door. The enchanting scent of incense filled the air.

Candles burned on large plinths around altars. Black-robed figures sung hymns in deep voices. Digo found the stairs and climbed up them. Teh was apprehended by a sinister figure behind the pulpit.

"Halt! I am Wrye Khalemaias, high priest of Zio. For what reason do you trespass upon His domain? Do you wish to join us?" he boomed.

"No, I'm looking for a weapon." Digo replied bluntly.

"Your faith in Zio is your weapon, brother, His strength is your..." when he looked up, the mercenary was gone. Teh was behind the pulpit. Suddenly, the high priest realised what teh was about to do as teh pushed aside the black velvet curtain.

"Now that is a weapon."

As Digo lifted the fragile, ornate blade, a bolt of sheer negative energy lanced through teh and into the ceiling. Teh should have been deleted instantly, but teh seemed to be absorbing the energy, channelling it into tehs' psionic reserves. The cleric could see a flaming aura of darkness form around teh.

"Are you... Zio?" whispered Khalemaias.

"I'm a mercenary." teh said, and walked away without truly answering the question. There was no need for teh to become embroiled in complicated details.

"Wait! The weapon you picked up was the Shadowblade- its touch is death!" yelled the high priest.

"I'm pretty impressed. You lot could put up a fine resistance against Five, with a little help. If you want to hire me, leave a message with the medic android in Bortevo. Got that?"

Pulling back his wispy lilac hair, the young man nodded. He returned to his prayer mat and began to meditate. If he was to be fully prepared to carry out the quest Zio had sent him, he needed to reach the zenith of his powers as a magic-user. Negatis. Diem. Savol. Now he had cleared his mind, he could see what he must do. Zio would have wished it that way. This was the real purpose of the Zioists. The other incident was just a test, to see if evil could lead them astray. Most of the Zioists had fallen for it. Taking a deep breath, Khalemaias rallied together his supporters.

* * * *

The young boy opened his eyes and stretched. Paper crinkled as it was pulled easily away by his fists. After a few false starts that pulled him downwards into a sea of receipts, he found his feet and stood upon them. Light poured through the slot at the very top, where the metal hatch was. Time to go out. He fumbled around for his old, worn rucksack, and packed his belongings: half a box of trimate, a toothbrush, a teddy bear and a small dagger which he insisted was made of Laconia. Stepping onto the filing cabinet for support, he opened the hatch and squirmed through it.

He would miss the waste paper room. It was a comfortable, safe place to sleep, even if he did keep losing things underneath all the mess. These days, he knew, there were no compromises- he would have to keep on moving. Finding new, interesting things to do. Otherwise, five would have beaten him. Like his friends. They all said there were new things to do at Ragol, but they were very expensive, and Dern didn't like the new place at all. He could find lots of interesting things to do without it.

His name was Dern Danvers, son of Tallas. How embarrassing it was to have a name that was an expletive in Dezolithian. It wasn't just his name- Dern knew he was different to other children. He was more determined. He had never let the grown-ups make him change, like them- 'grow up'. There was no reason to. It wasn't fun. And now, all the grown-ups had gone to Ragol, with the men from Five. gone to the new, fantastic homes. Somehow, Dern didn't want to make that change either. So he ran off. Escaped.

Krup was a place he used to go with his father, when the students of Piata were on holiday. They used to feed the ducks, and visit a nice old lady called Saya who gave him cakes.. He was heading back towards Krup, but it would be a long journey. The spaceship that went to Ragol was on the other side of Motavia. This strange place full of waste paper was the fifth place he he had slept in. Shouldering his backpack, he set off into the sun.

After only a few metres, his foot caught on something metal that sent him sprawling head-first into the sand. The place where he landed was not solid, and he plunged downwards, praying to Fal that the drop was not far. Fortunately, it was quite a shallow crater, and he easily recovered. He sat for a moment, waiting for the pain to pass, when a mechanical voice called out to him.

"Are you okay?"

Dern looked up. A small, compact android painted white was peering at him with a detached, clinical curiosity. After a couple of seconds, it was satisfied that nothing was wrong with the boy, and wandered off. He noticed that there were metal edges, protruding from the sand. Brushing away the rest of it, he discovered that he was standing in the entrance area of a building with windows made of dark glass. It must have been quite old, because there were no sounds of human activity, or even the steady hum of scanners and photocopiers. Dern knew that offices were supposed to have these things. Suddenly curious, he pushed open the door, which showed signs of rust, and entered he building.

* * * *

Inside, it was almost as quiet, but there was definitely something happening. Blue strip-lighting flickered, and there was the occasional beep-beep as computers communicated with each other in their theoretical, binary way. There were signs pointing in both directions, mostly words that Dern had never seen before. He noticed that one end was better-lit than the other, so he followed that path. The corridors were still quite clean, the metal smooth, despite their obvious abandonment. Each door he tried led to an uninteresting office full of chairs and very old computers. Nothing for a boy in here. he wanted one that was switched on, so he could find out if there were any games on it. Good ones, that didn't come from Five.

He soon reached the larger room at the end of the corridor. There wee urgent-sounding notices on the door. Within t his room, everything was happening as it would if this was an everyday, busy office: it was fully-lit, with an active air-conditioning system, and all the computers were busy with some unknown operation. The printers weren't on, but printers never work anyway. One of the computers had a flashing blue sign- INSERT DISK. Dern decided it was probably best to obey orders in this odd place, so he rummaged around in his bag and took out a disk. He had just found i somewhere, lying around in the sand.

The disk slipped into the computer with a mechanical sigh. Numbers began to flash on the screen, faster than the boy could follow, and the other computers lining the wall responded in the same way. The screen went blank, and then giant words appeared in red:


One of the walls, the one with no computers but one of those old posters that suggested that a mouse was a big deal, with a handwritten note that said 'Diskpark' with no explanation, slid away to reveal a complex pattern of triangles, which then rearranged themselves to reveal a triangular doorway. Dern walked towards it, then threw himself forwards when he felt the floor crumble beneath him. he realised that the computers were actually on a narrow balcony, beneath which were several machines that he didn't recognise, but which were awesome, full of SP meters and anti-gravity platforms and what he remembered from stories of the Fourth Era to be a full-size positron bolt laser.

A sign on it said 'Do not feed cheese to the mouse'.

Maybe offices weren't all boring.

* * * *

"Dugn? Where are you, Dugn?"

His feet made a metallic clank as he raced along the corridor, almost knocking three food-dispensing machines over in his haste. In the distance, he thought he heard a meow. Straight ahead of him was a ladder, fixed to the wall, so he clambered up it and dashed into the living quarters. A foot tripped him up, sending him sprawling along the floor. Girlish laughter began, and he found himself being hauled to his feet by an amused, blue-haired girl wearing a labcoat. His older sister!

"You did that on purpose!" he complained.

"It was the only way to stop you, charging about like a clumsy ox!' she explained "What are you doing? You know your father needs to see you."

"Dugn is missing. I'll catch you up when I find him."

"Your father needs to see you NOW! We can't proceed without a volunteer."

"WHAT?" he pushed past her, "He's going to experiment on me? Thanks for the warning- I'm off!"

"Come here, you despicable little rat, or I'll dissect you..." she turned her head sharply, suddenly realising that she was talking to herself. Lou was already gone. Neta just didn't understand that kid. He seemed to have no scientific curiosity. He never wanted to contribute to anyones' work. Ah well- maybe she could slip something in his breakfast.

Actually, science was the furthest thing from Lou's mind as he continued down the corridor at his original pace. Where was his cat? usually, when he was missing, Dugn could be found in the food canteen, stretched out on his favourite table with a bowl of laerma milk. If not, Neta had borrowed him, and Lou would have to promise to eat the New Improved Trimate himself if she would just leave his cat alone. Dugn doesn't like trimate anyway.

Now he supposed he would just have to search the entire ring. Dugn couldn't have gone up a level; he was too lazy for that. The space station where he lived was arranged into a sphere of rings, the longest being in the middle. Due to the gravity of the moons of Dezolis and Rykros, the top and bottom few rings were uninhabitable by humans. That was where the bulk of the machinery was. The community centre of the place was directly in the middle, and the rest were places to sleep and labs.

Could Dugn have gone into the laboratories? They were usually locked, primarily to keep people from disturbing important work. Lou couldn't see why Dugn would want anything from there, but he tried all the doors just in case. One was unlocked. He turned the handle. Nobody was there; the owner must have wandered off for some food and forgotten about his work. On one table, next to a rather dramatic display of brightly-coloured chemicals in odd-shaped flasks and beakers, was a small musk cat with blue, silky fur and a completely engrossed expression on its fluffy face. His tail wagged rhythmically.

"Look at the pretty colours." it mentally communicated to him. Musk cats could do that. It sounded just like ordinary talking.

"You're just the person I was looking for." said Lou, "My father has an exciting job for us."

"If that old man is going to perform experiments on you, that is your problem." replied Dugan. Anticipating the move, the cat dodged out of the way as Lou made a grab for him. Unfortunately, he landed right in the arms of another human- a hairy, bearded scientist who smelled strongly of dimate.

"Ah, you two! I'm glad I found you. I have a little job for you."

* * * *

After Lou had picked him up, pressed a scalpel to his throat and calmly threatened to dissect him (a technique he learned from his sister), Dugn was reasonably co-operative. Together with Neta and their father, who was whistling a song about something called 'Laco-Nish', they marched into the Hizzard Laboratory.

In the middle of the circular room, surrounded by display panels and monitored by bored-looking scientists with no other projects, was a floating cube, just big enough for a human to enter through the automatic door. A stepladder led up to it. Doctor Hizzard Mad, the Colonys' most respected scientist, stood proudly by his new invention.

"So this is the top-secret deadly-important project." commented Dugn, sniffing, "A box."

"This, moggie, is the future of the NT-13 Colony!" he replied, raising his arms dramatically, "I call it... the Three Machine!"

"That's a stupid name. There's' only one of it."

"This machine is our only defense against Five!" he banged his fist against the the top of a computer, "When the Ragol government completed their plan to upgrade Algol- improve Algol with this new Fifth Way of theirs, some scientists resisted. They said that a land where wonders were commonplace, where techniques such as Wat and Gelun- with little research gone into them- are used without thought, is not conducive to a good learning environment. Why, we had just begun to popularise the study of the more obscure techniques or the Second Era such as Gaj- and then they say they're going to lay some more techniques off! yes, we resisted- and the Government exiled us to this space-dustbin!"

"With the Three Machine, we have a chance to end Five, even if it results in our own deaths." he finished.

"Um... it's not likely to result in our own deaths, is it?" asked Lou warily.

"We're dealing with dangerous physics here. In a certain point in time, near the beginning of the Third Era... is a Hyperplonk."

Gasps came from the audience of scientists. One persons' face went white, and they dropped their pen on the floor.

"A wot?" asked Dugn, puzzled.

"It quite simply means that probability has been pushed too far. It is past the point of no return. At that moment, there is a one-hundred-percent probability that everything will cease to exist."

"Um... wait... you're not going to ask me to..." Lou stammered.

"Yes, somebody must go back, using the Three machine, and witness that event... cause it to happen. Do you realised what that will mean? The Third Era will never have happened. Therefore, the Fifth Era will also never happened."

Hizzard pulled two objects from the deep pockets of his labcoat: cigar-shaped, cylindrical metal shapes on strings. He tied one around Lous' neck, and gave one to the cat.

"If anything goes wrong, use these Telepipes. They will safely transport you back to the lab."

"Hang on, I'm not sure I want to..." before he could finish his protest, the old physicist snatched the cat off him and threw it in the machine. With a yell, Lou ran forwards to save him.

The door closed behind them.

* * * *

It felt like being in the middle of the business end of an Efess spell. Wild energy seethed like the raging, pixellated core of a bad television picture, making Dugns' fur stand on end. He looked like a porcupine. Lou, however, didn't have time to laugh. His entire essence was being drowned in a tidal wave of television interference. Tandle-lightning crackled across the maelstrom, giving him light. This was what it was liked, going offscreen. In the spaces between realities. This must be the raw material harnessed by so-called 'magic-users'.

Suddenly, something went 'twang', and the world contracted into a white dot.

This is it, thought Lou, despairing. We've been switched off. The end. But, slowly, images began to emerge. Fleeting, tunnel-like pictures- a man with vibrant blue hair, walking into an archaic-style building. It was a shop. He was selling all his weapons and armour. Had he finished fighting? Now he was buying something- an Escapipe. Now he went into a castle... and Lou realised the truth. He almost forgot to breathe. This was no ending- it was a beginning. A terrifying one. The Third Era- just as it had been planned. But different. The Escapipe! If he used that, because of the glitch in the design of the dungeon, he would be trapped in the castle... and the Third Era would never start. This was the Hyperplonk... he had to get away... NOW! Before Rhys could activate his Escapipe, Lou jammed two fingers into the Telepipe and prayed.

* * * *

Meanwhile, Digo had been hired at last. Teh had worked hard, mostly in explaining that 'teh' was a miscellaneous gender form used by people who didn't like men or women. To prove that teh was as useful and versatile as a Motavian, teh had been subjected to all sorts of tests. Most of these included not being swindled and singing the Tonoe de Pon. In the end, Digo charged extra. The didn't have time for this- enlisting the help of he Motavians was only half of the job. Next came the Dezolithians- and on top of that, someone had stolen tehs' medic android. Teh wasn't daft- there was no way on Algol teh would go into battle without a healer or at least a large amount of trimate.

Unknown to teh, someone was watching tehs' progress. Two dainty Esper eyes followed tehs' every movement, and a voice spluttered hysterically at tehs' woof-woof dance. A slight Esper form balanced in the rocky alcove, looking down into the crystal-clear waters of the natural scrying pool only she knew about.

At this time of night, there was nothing left to see. Digo collapsed face-first onto a wooden bunk, and the young Esper relaxed her psionic concentration. On Rykros, the refreshing green of the sky darkened to an emerald. The rocky landscape, also a dusty kind of green with crops of pink algae, became silent.

Except for the wind. Nery Parcal knew the wind, felt it was calling to her, felt she was in her domain. She flipped agilely from rock to rock, unnoticed by her fellow Espers. Not that there were many Espers to hide from any more. Most of them had gone to Ragol. They called themselves FoSpars. Dern scabs, was what grandad Rune called them.

Nery had finished everything she wanted to do in private, and was heading back towards the Tower of Silence for evening meal. Her friends Caly and Domu would be there, along with the twenty-or-so Espers who had refused to depart from Ragol and desert this hallowed place. They were tougher, more weatherbeaten than the original stock- funds for their mansion on Dezolis had been withdrawn, and now they had to brave the storms of Rykros for survival- but at heart, they were still a people of intellect, and had retained their capacity for technique use.

Practising a less severe form of Zan, she sped her journey with a strong gale, almost flying home.

Weather was a problem on Rykros, but Nery was totally unprepared for what happened next. A bolt of lightning, pure white, crackled from the sky. It was large enough to split a mountain in half, but intensive enough to split a quark in half.Espers weren't superstitious; an Esper conversation about magic tended to be along the lines of 'it's broken again, Kyra, get me a screwdriver, see if you can Efess it for me, would you?'. However, that particular lightning bolt probably meant something had happened that didn't often happen.

Nery ran off.

* * * *

She was absolutely sure she had gone the right way. The directions were firmly imprinted upon her mind, and when she double-checked her route mentally, she was beyond doubt that the direction she was supposed to go corresponded to the direction she had actually gone in. But this wasn't the tower of Learning. The marble columns and neatly-engraved green-and-pink walls were too high-class.

There were no badly-sung renditions of the Thray dance, no student banter. Just silence. Silence, and an eerie, glitched power. The power of creating, of editing- more vast and significant than a mere Esper could comprehend (and the Rappies were having a difficult job of it too). In the background, always in the distance, was a calm, welcoming tune that said 'this is my office, I like to keep it nice'. Hm, thought Nery, almost complete probability does not seem to be matching reality any more.

*Ah yes, that was what I was meaning to talk to you about.* said a voice.

She turned around abruptly. Nobody was there. Now she was in the middle of the building, standing upon an intricate pattern of glyphs, normally reserved for healing. There was no longer a room. All around her was a swirling multitude of stars in a surprisingly organised pattern.

* Welcome to the Silence Temple. I am Le Roof, embodiment of knowledge. Every star is a byte of information.*

"G... greetings, blessed one." she replied, stunned by awe, "W... what did you summon me here for?"

*You felt the lightning, did you not?*

"Y... yes. It sounded very... ominous."

*It was the result of an extreme condition of probability. Someone almost unleashed a Hyperplonk upon us all.*

"Um... that sounds... serious..."

*If it had been successful, the world would have ended.*

"Oh." she scratched her head, "Why do I need to know this? I'm not even an apprentice yet. Try Rune."

I probably never will be an apprentice, she didn't add, because I like stealing things.

*Then nobody has told you* said the voice sadly, in perfect surround-sound, *You are the next Lutz*

"You WHAT?"

The stars conglomerated to form the image of a glass ball, about the size of her fist, from which an eldritch glow emanated. Somehow, it seemed familiar.

*When you were a tiny child, your grandfather placed this in your hands. You thought it was a toy, but it dissolved, exposing you to the energies of Lutz- your personal life-force. It contained memories that were not your own, but belonged to you.*

"Oh, so that's what it was." she put her hands on her hips, "So now I suppose you're going to ask ask me to go on some quest or other, and defeat Dark Force."

*Well, normally I would. This time, the threat to Algol is much greater, and we have far less resources. the event that has just happened is a sign. Algol has been pushed far enough. Your quest... is to fight Five."

* * * *

Weary and aching from Dimate withdrawal symptoms, Lou and his cat emerged from the machine. Dugns' fur needed combing- he doubted whether he would ever tease it back into its original shape. As they stumbled down the corridor, they walked straight into Neta. She grabbed Dugn by the scruff of his neck and pulled on Lous' sleeve with salesman-like enthusiasm. He looked at her smiling face.

"No, I do not want to buy a cat." he said dryly.

"Good grief, I wouldn't be so immoral as to sell your own cat to you." she said, "I just wondered which one of you wanted to try my New Improved Monomate!"

"Maybe another time. I'm very busy."

"Me too." added the cat, "A mad scientist put me in a smelly machine, broke all the laws of physics and then tried to end the world, and I really do fell an urge to kill him."

"Father is in the communications room." she replied, jabbing her thumb towards the lift.

"What in Algol is he doing there?"

"I'll tell you if you try my new Monomate."

"No thanks, we'll find out for ourselves."

Neta shrugged and ate the Monomate herself. Satisfied with the results, she ran to catch up with the others. They pressed the button for three floors down- the middle ring- and waited.

With a satisfied 'Bing', the door opened. Quite a few scientists were forming field-orientated social crowds around the communications centre. Rumours buzzed like a Dezolithian Helex Fly. Very rarely was the communications centre used, except when the Ragol government were checking that they were still there, or an emergency was being announced to every floor. It was a spacious, draughty room, rather like a lecture theatre, with a display panel the size of a wall, over which the scientists could view their callers.

Doctor Hizzard stood in front of the screen, his nose twitching nervously. Dugn felt like killing him, but he now had more important things to do, like chasing the mouse he had just spotted. The old scientist walked up to his son and examined him for injuries.

"Listen, maybe I should not have exposed you to such a level of risk. The idea was really for the cat to go in... but enough of that." he pointed towards the view screen, "We may not need to use such desperate measures after all. We have a new ally- we have contact with the android defence system of Motavia!"

* * * *

Lou let out a loud whistle, openly impressed. There were weapons of mass destruction here, enough to destroy the space station. As Doctor Hizzard scrolled the view, rows upon rows of weapons, rooms full of deactivated robots from the lowliest whistle to the mighty Life-deleters, death on two legs. A full-size Positron Bolt ray stood, polished and glistening, in the places' own communications room. An android, at least two minutes tall and wielding a large pulse-vulcan, picked up the microphone.

*What appears to be the problem? A Code Neo warning was issued. This is extremely serious.*

"We need you to help stop Five!" explained Doctor Hizzard. He recounted the vents which led up to their exile- the huge hyperbolic growth of technology after the Fourth Era, until the second century. The businessman who had taken a spaceship to a nearby planet called Ragol, and developed into a wonderland. And sold it. Sold it to the masses, promised that they could leave behind their hard work on Motavia and Dezolis, to live in luxury on Ragol. The Fifth Age had come too early.

"Like children grown up too fast." said the old man, sniffling, "But that's what customers do. They can do that if they want. they'll get bored. But when they suggested that their... salesmans' gimmick... was the real Fifth Age, that such a rapid change was the true destiny of Algol..."

*Then both stability and natural progress could be affected. i understand the implications. I am a wren android. I am able to command the units of Motavias' defence system. Demi, the android next to me, will be in charge of repairing damaged androids. We will strike out against Ragol at the appropriate time.

* * * *

Trouble was waiting for Digo, and teh could smell it as soon as teh arrived at the Dezolis space-port. A space-port was a dangerous place for a merc, even one with a passport. The authorities really didn't like them. Nobody had planted any contraband in tehs' bag- teh only owned the trimate in tehs' pocket, the sword under tehs' belt, and tehs' lunch, which had been eaten long ago. The trouble was somewhere else. Tehs' hand crept to tehs' sword as teh took the shortest route towards the exit.

"Deban!" teh yelled, pushing out tehs' will to throw up a physio-psionic shield Laser bolts bounced off it. Teh unsheathed tehs' sword and approached the five Hunters, armed and armoured, who were attempting to surround and attack teh.

"Alright, we watched you go to Motavia. We know what you're up to. The Agency ordered us to kill you." announced the leader. Technique-user, recognised Digo.

Before he could complete the Seals technique that would stop teh using Deban and remove tehs' shield, tehs' sword struck out with the deadly swiftness of a panthers' claw. It was a light weapon; teh usually had a problem with speed. The sword flashed down, decapitating him. Teh rolled forwards, using the momentum of the blow, and a laser bolt flew over tehs' head. Teh landed behind another Hunter. He swung around and lunged at teh with his own sword, but teh grabbed his wrist at the last second, slashing his ribs with the Shadowblade. His armour was thick, and it was only a scrape, but the saw the man simply switch off, crumple to the ground. A ghostly purple shape formed upon the tip of tehs' sword. Negatis, the rune of death. Suddenly, the Hunters froze, a look of uncertainty on their faces. For all the power of their super-upgraded Ragol weaponry, they were still doomed if that blade went near them, and they knew it.

"COME HERE!" roared the mercenary, leaping over the steps to pursue the fleeing Hunters. Teh had unfinished business. Before the last one could turn around, two of them were on the floor, a quick and painless death. Digo grabbed the last one, lifting him against the wall, and spoke in a slow, deliberate tone.

"Have you stolen my medic android?"

"Your what? I'm afraid we don't have them on..." the terrified Hunter fainted.

Digo let him live. What could he do, a lone Hunter? He wouldn't survive long in Dezolis, not if a Dezolithian found him. Now that the Palmans had messed things up for a third time, they were even more hostile than the Motavians. He wouldn't go back to bring reinforcements. That would mean admitting failure.

Digo briefly wondered how teh was going to survive, tehself. The cold was already bothering teh, Motavia-bound by nature, and those Dezolithians weren't going to react any less hostile to a stupid, wandering mercenary than to a lone, Palman Hunter.

* * * *

After the meeting with Le Roof, Nery returned to the Tower of Learning to speak with Grandad Rune. He knew all about questing. He stocked her up with sol-dew and star-dew, ran through her list of techniques with her, and told her to find a friend to keep her company. Nery knew just the person. She covered her face and travelled south-east, against the wind. There was a steep, narrow path here, inbetween two particularly large mountain ranges. Green Rappies chirped playfully amidst the rocky ledges. Nery could see what used to be the Anger Tower in the distance. It was a pure blue, like a patch of sky in the green clouds of Rykros. Morning worship was almost over for the Lament of Alys, judging by the sound of the solemn. doleful music that was now evaporating into the air. she was in time to speak to her best friend, Mort.

Brother Mort sighed sadly. After their morning worship, he always felt sad.

Actually, he felt sad after every religious service, and his private prayer gave him a sense of peaceful melancholy. Mort rarely felt cheerful. he didn't really want to; if he had a grin on his face, he can't Be thinking to his full capacity. It was comfortable, being sad. That was why, as a boy of ten, he had run away from home to join the Lament of Alys.

The Lament of Alys was one of Algols' least popular and most obscure cults- second only to the Academicians, who required such high qualifications that only eight people were ever eligible to join at a time, and even then they had to spend their entire lives at University. The Lament of Alys, however, were unpopular because they were so depressing. Their lives were dedicated to the mourning of Alys Brangwyn. They mourned her in the day, they mourned her at night. even now, Mort was retiring to his dark blue room, dressed in his dark blue prayer shawl, to contemplate Her death privately.

He sat in a meditative pose and peered at the holy image of Her, rippling in the light of the incense candles. Closing his eyes, he cleared his mind of all other concerns and focussed upon Death, its inevitability, its finality, its merciful touch. Then, suddenly, he felt a presence touch him from beyond the astral plane. His minds' eye flickered open. A blue image formed- it was Alys. She was as beautiful as in life, and was talking to him.

"Hey, you, I need to talk to you." she demanded.

"Lady Alys." he said, his voice quivering, "Your presence must be so strong... we cannot forget you... after so many generations."

"yeah, well, this'll cheer you up." she smiled, "Your friend has come to visit. She's the next Lutz. You're going on a quest together!"

"Is it... really worth it?" Morts' sombre face didn't move an inch, "Questing, fighting... will just get more of us killed. Maybe it's time we rested now, Lady. appreciate what we've got... and contemplate our losses."

"Gee, what a depressing kid!" she snorted, "Why don't you just kill yourself like other teenagers? Why bother me? Go and do what you're told before I think of a technique to zap you with."

Mort nodded and broke out of his trance. Someone was banging loudly on his door. He let them in. It was Nery, his Esper friend.

"I just saw... Alys." he said dreamily. She gave him a look of sympathy, then patted him on the head.

"How d'you fancy a trip to Dezolis?"

* * * *

In all the excitement, they had left Neta behind. She wasn't interested in the proceedings in the slightest- a lab on a space station was the same as a lab on Motavia- but she didn't want to miss out on any fun. Besides, they might need her. even if they did return home, how would they survive without such essential developments as New Improved Trimate?

It wasn't just Trimate that she researched. Stepping into her lab, she felt calmed by the swish of automatic doors. She didn't need security systems- a large sign on the door saying 'Life Sciences', written in a suitably unfriendly font, did much the same job. A computer screen flickered in the background- her useful little program that could simulate any life-form in Algol. Opening one of her carefully-labelled drawers, she pulled out a small, slim, Laconia cylinder. It chimed softly when she tapped it. it was her precious, the jewel in her crown. The New Improved Telepipe.

She packed her equipment: her sharpest scalpel, kept from rust with maruera oil, she tucked under her belt, while her space-station-radio and her trimate supply she stuffed in her bag. Smiling at the beauty of her new invention, she set the co-ordinates for... oh, somewhere interesting... somewhere impressive... like Dezolis.

Digo braced tehself against another chilling blast of ice as the winds changed direction. Tehs' hair was wet, tehs' arms stung and teh was beginning to look forward to being in a nice, warm grave. Only the beauty of the landscape, as the sun sparkled on the snow like a crystal meadow, kept teh reasonably willing to live. There was a warmness in tehs' soul, even if, in the mundane world, the was dying of cold, running out of food and increasingly, undeniably lost. How the heck was teh supposed to find tehs' way when the now swept tehs' footprints away and everywhere looked the same?

The air filled with a living dervish of feathers and screeches. Teh hurled tehself out of the way. The mercenary gritted tehs' teeth and circled the four Dezo owls who were preparing for another strike. Teh considered the situation.

Teh went berserk.

"ATTAAAAAAACK!!" yelled Digo, throwing herself at the first owl and planting the's foot in its face. It cartwheeled away rapidly, losing its momentum, and disappeared into the snow. Digo used the distraction to run away, too desperate to watch where teh was going. The world collapsed into instability like a bad picture on a television, and teh fell directly upside down, slammed into a tree and fell into a snowdrift.

Darkness... No pain... Fal. Simple and beautiful. Think of the beauty. Think like the child you can still be. Fal.


"Hello. You've got yourself into a bit of a fix, haven't you?"

Two hands, small but strong, pulled teh legs-first out of the snow. Teh tried to focus on the face.

"Can... you... heal?" teh asked weakly.

"The name's Neta. Neta Mad." she smiled and shook tehs' hand, "Um.. no, I don't know how to heal. I'm a pretty good surgeon, though."

"Never... mind..." Digo shook tehs' head vigorously, "Just... take me... back to... Motavia."

The mysterious girl retrieved a machine, probably some sort of radio, and switched it on. Digo heard the calm, friendly monotone of a Wren android, then teh fainted from loss of HP.

* * * *

Together, the seventh Lutz and her newly-elected Protector tramped across the snow. As an Esper, Nery could feel emanations of power, and so instinctively knew the right way. she noticed that Mort, lagging behind as usual, was feeling the cold.

"Is my Deban-Nafoi barrier low?" she asked him.

"No, it's just that..." he stared at the ground, "The cold reminds me of Alys."

Nery sighed. So far, every animal, bird, fish, person, sensation, miscellaneous piece of information and unexplained phenomenon that Mort had seen, heard, ate or in any way experienced or known about had reminded him of Alys.

"This way." said Nery, bounding off and leaping into a tree. While she swung from branch to branch, he ambled dejectedly along, watching the floor. Suddenly, he yelled and cast Gra- a vacuum as intense as a small black hole appeared in a space that was suddenly compacted into almost infinite density. Before Nery could leap down to see what was happening, Mort followed the technique by hurling his two slashers with expert precision. He knew quite a few of Alys' own fighting techniques as well- he wasn't just doom and gloom. Nery gawped at him as he caught his weapons on the rebound with effortless ease. A satisfying 'thunk' revealed that he had hit his target.

"Flybiters" said Mort, referring to a particularly ferocious type of giant scorpion, with impenetrable green armour-plating, laco-sharp pincers and a venomous sting.

"HEWN!" yelled Nery, fishing in the pixel soup of her mind for enough raw thaumaturgical matter to throw at the monsters, a catherine-wheel of crackling energy, showering sparks. Already weakened by the Gra technique, the Flybiters were consumed- only grey ashes remained.

"The encounters are becoming steadily more difficult." said Mort "At this rate... we're going to die!"

"No we are NOT! Stop being so dern pessimistic!" she scolded him, "What it means is that we are near the end."

Sure enough, the next pathway led them to their destination- the Gumbious Temple. Although outshadowed by its former magnificence, before it was destroyed during the Fourth Era, there was still a sense of holiness around it, a peace in the turmoil of the weather of Dezolis. It was a small, white-brick building, decorated with many sophisticated arches. Fire was worshipped by the Dezolithians, and even on the outside, two small flames burned upon columns, protected by a glass dome. Mort removed his cap respectfully, and they entered in silence. warmth surrounded their bodies, removing the numbness of their extremities and the stiffness of their joints. They followed the path down the middle, marked out by large metal bowls with fires burning in them, and climbed the steps. This was the Abbots' Private Chamber. the Blessed father Ngangbius, leader of the Dezolithian Church, meditated on a cushion, his eyes peering out through his wrinkled old face at a single candle. he heard the footsteps of his visitors, and welcomed them in.

"May the flame burn forever, Father Ngangbius." said Mort, bowing.

"Thankyou, I don't get many visitors these days." replied the old man in perfect Esper.

"Maybe you should put your church somewhere more accessible." suggested Nery.

"Ah, but it does keep me out of trouble. All this Five business is too much for a one-hundred-and-fifty-year-old."

"Actually, that was what I came to talk to you about." admitted Nery. The old priest listened, raising his eyebrows with interest, to her tale of meeting Le Roof.

"And I saw Alys." added Mort glumly, "But nobody believes me."

"In that case... this is an important matter, if a Lutz has been chosen to deal with it." he nodded his head, "It is my duty to assist you in any way I can, oh seventh one, and I think I have something that may interest you."

* * * *

When he pressed a switch hidden underneath his pillow, a large floor slab slid away with a protesting creak. The old Dezolithian led the Esper and the boy into a damp tunnel, dug right into the earth. The roots of tall Dezolithian conifers held the ceiling together. Apart from a brief encounter with some angry moles, which revealed the the Abbot was an extremely good healer, their journey was uneventful. They emerged in a tall cavern with walls of harsh, spiky blue slate. Water trickled in the distance.

"This is part of Musk Cat territory." explained the Abbot, "On the other side of Mist Vale."

"Cats? Ooh, I love cats!" Nery squealed.

"Cats remind me of Alys." added Mort.

They followed the old man further into the cave system, listening to the calming noises that emerged in the stillness- an underground lake, the calls of moles and Rappies, the clicking of Abbots' staff on the floor, and a faint meowing. "Who are you, meow?" said a suspicious voice. Two small yellow cats, with silky ears and squirrel-like tails, raced towards them, blocking their path. one extended its' claws, t which slender metal blades had been tied as weapons. The other hung a trimate around its neck on a string.

"It is I, Raja of Dezolis." introduced the Abbot, "Friend of the Old Man."

"What do you want, meow?"

"I seek the Moon."

"You'll have to ask the Old Man, meow, it's his."

The cats slinked off into the shadows again, leaving them to proceed up the passageway and around a few more turnings until they came to another wide cavern. Cats were everywhere, curled up on ledges. Kittens played, chasing Helex or attempting to remove tops from bottles. in the middle of the room, dozing peacefully on a plinth, was the largest cat Nery had ever seen. Identical to the others in every way but size, its claws were equipped with weapons of pure silver.

"Greetings, First One Myau." said the Abbot, bowing, "It is I, Raja of Dezolis. I told you all the funny jokes."

"Indeed, meow." the cat had a low, rumbling purr. Like most life-forms, it wasn't too impressed with Dezolithian humour.

"Do you want to hear another one? A Motavian went into a bar..."

"No thanks, meow. What is your business, meow?"

"I seek the Moon."

"Oh, that, meow." he yawned, "You can do what you like with it, meow. We cats don't want to intervene, meow, we've had enough."

The legendary First Era cat wiggled his ears. An azure fire played across the tips of the ears, causing the silky fur to move as if with the current of some sacred wind. With little effort, enough power was released to dispel the force barrier. A section of the wall behind him slid open.

"A cat never exerts himself needlessly. His strength lies in his ability to keep totally calm, no matter what happens. Flow with the winds of fate." explained Raja, "Very different to our methods."

"Anyway." he continued, "I cannot continue beyond this point. Only one whom Algol allows may witness this miracle. You'll have to take care of yourselves from now on- so remember: ice is very nice!"

Nery watched the old man skip away, giggling senilely, before stepping into the new portal. The promise of vast energy, latent in the air, filled her with trepidation. This was one of the mysteries of the Thray itself, the heart of Algol.

* * * *

As she stepped upon the runic pattern carved upon the floor of the hexagonal chamber, she felt a dizzy sensation., like being in a very fast lift. There was an electric tingling, as thought the particles of her body were being set free of their order. A few seconds passed before she was reassembled in a new place. Mort was beside her, too perplexed to be depressed, scratching his head. They were standing in a glass chamber. Nery was unsure as to its dimensions, because each facet reflected several more, causing there to appear more sides.

She felt the edges, tapping them and listening to the chime. Some ethereal substance flowed through her fingers, like liquid technique-points. A cyan glow pulsed for a second, refracted into a ball of pixels in the gem. That was what it seemed to be- a giant crystal.

"I recognise this... somewhere in Lutzs' memory." said Nery.

"Alys..." replied Mort, tapping forlornly on the glass.

The incarnation of Lutz sat down and tried to concentrate, make sense of the structure and its' use. Clearly, she would have to think on a higher level, be one with the nature of Algol; allow her Lutz-persona to take over her mind.

"If it'll be of any help..." whispered Mort, "I know some of the Forbidden Secrets. One day I... was meditating, and saw the Second Coming of Alys, through Re-Faze."

"What?" she snapped.

"Yes, I saw the Forbidden Technique, and heard the Noise of Higher Proceedings." he said, almost confessing.

"Could you reproduce the noise?"

"Yes, it sounded something like this..."

Nery felt a click in some forgotten part of her mind as he made the sound. Once there was part of the puzzle in place, one infinitely significant part of the higher dimensions of Algol, her Lutz-nature was given a place to stand, and she could remember everything of the Quartet that no mortal would ever dare to know.

"This was put here by one of the original Espers, during the First Era, to reflect the light of the moon of Dezolis. All of the power of magic comes from that moon. When Palma was part of the solar system, it had its own moon. The light of the crystal reflected directly onto this moon, allowing the Espers to harness the power. Rykros already naturally orbits the moon, giving Le roof enough potential power to exist there."

"So... if we know how to use it... we could use the extra energy ourselves?" asked Mort.

"Yes. And I do know how to use it. Give me that slasher, I need a conductor."

Obediently, Mort gave her the metal slasher. She took hold of one end of it and told him to copy with his own slasher. The, she tapped the edge of the crystal repeatedly until it rang in a regular manner. She focussed her other self, as if to use a technique or spell. Sparks began to flash, until finally a web of thin lines of pure technique matter flowed into her through the slasher. She glowed green, and briefly noticed that Morts' aura was a dark blue. There was no feeling of elation, as is usual for great statistical increase, rather a sense of cleanliness, as thought the new material inside her was washing away all traces of her non-Lutz life. It was an enlightenment, a new level of editing, rather than a simple statistical gain.

Experience points... levels.. what did they mean, in the long run? Were they worth it?

She wasn't sure why, but she liked her stats the way they were.

* * * *

"You're alive! YES!"

Digo sat bolt upright as someone shouted something extremely loudly in tehs' ear. Teh rubbed tehs' neck. It had taken a lot of effort to lift tehself up- someone had made the bed well. The room was warm and well-ventilated, with a simple blue colour scheme, a cupboard and a mirror. A young woman with blue hair and a serious, business-like face was staring at teh expectantly, like a mother waiting for their child to repeat their first word.

"Well?" she asked, "What did you think of my New Improved Moon Dew?"

Four scientists and a cat burst through the door, after all trying to get through it at once. Then they began to talk all at once, until the woman grabbed a scalpel and started pointing it at them in a manner that suggested she didn't intend to sharpen pencils with it. The scientist with a large amount of hedge-like grey hair approached her and asked about Digos' health.

"My New Improved Moon Dew works." she said proudly.

"Where am I?" asked Digo.

"Oh..." the woman frowned, "This is a spaceship. We're bound for Motavia. Remember me- Neta Mad? You asked me to take you to Motavia."

"Oh, yeah. The mad scientist." teh frowned. Sensing the scalpel hurtling towards teh, teh sprang out of the bed and rolled towards the door.

"You for or against Five?" teh asked the others.

"Against. Definitely against." said Doctor Hizzard, bunching his fists. He explained their situation, which Digo listened to with mild interest.

"Well, I'm a mercenary." declared teh, neither proud nor ashamed, "If you're attacking Five, you'll need mercs."

"Oh, I don't think we're short of an army." said Neta, "Doctor Hizzard here found the entire android security system of Motavia to help us."

"Harumph." answered Digo, already looking for something more interesting to do.

As teh walked down the corridor, the alarm went off. Teh died down a garbage disposal chute to avoid a stampede. Following the noise, teh slid down the chutes, falling out of a waste-paper chute and into a bin in the Communications Room.

"Wots'appenin?" teh asked, removing the bent staples from tehs' hair.

"We've just been attacked!" yelled a boy. A tall android, identified by Digo as a Fourth Era Wren-type model, followed him.

*The attack came from the security forces of a Ragol base. I have traced it to the 'Floating Castle' satellite.*

"I suppose you want me to go and sort them out, yeah?" volunteered Digo. The android printed a fifty-meseta note out of a slot in his armour, then stuffed it into tehs' outstretched hand. Satisfied, teh looked around for the exit.

The boy ran up to teh. He was holding a small, blue Musk Cat.

"Can we come too?" asked Lou. "Can you heal?"

"No, but my cat can. He'll help you if I get to come along too."

"Sure, join the force. But don't nick my trimate."

Together, they found the airlock and prepared to short-ryuka to the satellites' surface. At last, thought Lou, away from all those mad scientists. An errand that doesn't involve testing out any trimate, machines or impossible theories.

* * * *

Before the Upgrade-Wren-G3s knew what was happening, they were a mess of wires and electrical components on the floor. A small and surprisingly sane-looking Dugn emerged from the wreckage, holding a piece of metal proudly between his teeth.

Digo had already gone ahead, judging by the bodies of the guards strewn about the stairway. Tehs' sword wasn't very strong, but it could penetrate mass-produced armour of any grade- you just had to find the stitching. Then, an instant death attack was the last thing a typical Hunter expected (and, in this case, the last thing they ever saw). Most of the guards hadn't even enough time to look worried. Teh was notoriously impossible to wok with, though. Lou had ended up paying teh to cast Deban upon him.

"Can't use up all my TP, y'know." teh had said, "Those things don't last forever. Besides, they're consecutive. Me and the cat'll be wanting another one, just in case."

Teh seemed to treat others as slightly more complicated, and perhaps marginally more useful, chess pieces. All teh felt teh needed to know about them was their statistics, and whether it would be strategically better to place them in the front, middle or rear of the party. Dugn had explained this- most cats thought like that about humans as well.

"Dern! They're all technique-users!" gasped Digo, retreating sharply.

"I'm not fighting an asteroid-full of technique-users." Dugn told them bluntly.

"Say... I remember my father saying that Ragol are laying off some techniques." said Lou, "That means they won't know as many as us scientists. If I can use some techniques they aren't expecting..."

"Great!" Digo snapped tehs' fingers.

" I don't think they know any Fourth-Era special skills either." said Dugn.

"First-Era spells'd have 'em stumped!" yelled Lou.

"Okay... I know First-Era Heal and Cure. If you two idiots get in a real mess, I'll use Bye." said Dugn.

"I can use Wat..." suggested Lou.

"They know Wat! They just call it something different 'cause they're embarrassed to use a real technique." Digo grinned, "I was thinking more of... Sagen."

"Sagen? How do you know..."

"My teacher was a Bovamic. I know more about your kind of exile than I do about me own." teh explained, "Right, back to business. You use Shimb and Sagen Cat, you sick with your First-Era spells. If you're attacked, use Fanbi. I'll be around with the Debans."

With a cry of 'Grantz not Feeve!' (an ancient and bone-chilling battle-cry signifying the unwillingness of students to have to pay anything, and the expectation of some kid of financial support themselves), they charged into the battle. Before the first mage could raise his staff, he was leapt upon by a screeching ball of fluff called Dugn. Four more suddenly felt their body paralysed by a well-placed Shimb, halfway through heir incantations. Digos' sword claimed the life of a FoMarl who crept up behind the student. There are about fifty of them, noted the mercenary with distaste, and they've all got special-super-magic weapons, robes, hats and toothbrushes. Can't people just have a sensible strategy any more? Their strategy seemed to be working, but it was hard to tell. Rushing into a technique-users' camp with only three men was almost suicide. More and more mages appeared through the arched doorways, and the three were running out of technique pints. Where in feeve was their leader?

If Digo could kill him, the others might lose morale and surrender.

A grade-five-super-magic-staff swished past tehs' head, and teh returned to the fight.

"I can't keep this up much longer." warned Dugn, "If you two want to kill yourselves, I won't stop you, but I'm off."

"I think Dugn had a good idea there." agreed Lou.

Digo turned tehs' head, weighing tehs' choices up: on one hand, teh was facing absolutely certain death; on the other, teh was in serious danger of not getting paid. Death was the less embarrassing and most interesting of these options.

Before the could make the life-and-death decision which, as a Res layman, teh was not qualified to do, a solid beam of blue light burst through the wall.

Angry Dezolithians poured through the hole and slaughtered several of the mages, taking particular offence to the FoMarls.

"Hey, there's that merc!" shouted one.

"Good work, merc!" said another.

Three figures suddenly appeared in the room: staff-wielding people in white robes, decorated around the hem, and non-pointy ears. Espers. Now these were better odds.

* * * *

This was Nerys' first demonstration of her new powers- a bridge between themselves and the Floating Castle, an ancient relic of the First Era now populated by Ragol technique-users. She didn't know quite why, but she instinctively felt that she needed to go there. Almost as soon as she had done so, the entire Dezolithian population decided to accompany her, singing 'ice is very nice'. The bridge held, and they had reached the remains of a gothic masterpiece- archways over every door, sinister gargoyles and a dungeon system fit to throw dice in.

The preliminary battle was easy- the Force-types of Ragol had no experience of special skills, and their narrative protection was so weak that a single Efess almost did the job; as for the Dezolithians, they fought like religious fanatics, and their mercenary was performing all sorts of combat manoeuvres to impress the accountant teh claimed to have seen. Nery was left alone after a few rounds, to contemplate her true reason for coming here. Somewhere in the castle, she could feel a force, so unique that it almost communicated to her as an individual personality. It was more like the opposite of a force-something that neutralised a force. An item with power, but no reactive components.

"The Psyko-Wand!" she realised, grabbing Morts' arm, "Come on, we've got to get it!"

"This reminds me of Alys. What if we meet a Black Wave? If only Alys had a Psyko-Wand..." he muttered as he was half-dragged along the passageway. They crossed a bridge into another section of the castle, the section once populated by Lashiec. Next, they descended the stairs and passed through the next corridor. Nery stopped Mort at a closed door.

"It's here." she told him. She pushed the door, and it opened easily into the living-quarters of a garishly-dressed FoNewm. He primped the magenta fake feathers in his hat, and studied the final plans for the technique system of Five. When he saw the intruders, his foolish smile disappeared and he pointed a long metal rod at them. A coruscation of green flashed towards them, patches of every possible green, like a Rykros sunset. Where it spread, the absence of technique energy was tangible. It tasted like metal. Nery realised that he was trying to neutralise her abilities, prevent her fro using her most effective spells. Then he could easily kill her.

"I think I know what to do..." she told Mort, "How did that noise go again?"

Shaking of a wave of melancholy, he repeated the note that would be found on no scale, that could only be heard in the Thray itself. As soon as Nery felt the click, she jumped upwards, grabbed the chandelier, landed behind the FoNewm and swiped the staff. It was a difficult act, but Nery was, after all, a thief. As she held the one-and-a-half metres of pure Laconia, felt the runes, grooves and rings that were made for her hands, she received a prompt. She didn't see it, it was just a flashing cursor. It was just there. She knew the question: my wielder is the true Lutz, and what she is doing is for he good of Algol, yet she is directly contravening the plot. What shall I do?

What plot am I contravening ? asked Nery.

The plot of Five.

Is there really a Five?

Nery felt a hum of power as the Psyko-Wand pondered the question. It was not a thinking person, but it had a Universe-conscience- it was thing of Thray, and it knew the True Meaning of Algol. Suddenly, it rose out of her hands as the neutral force was pushed away from her and directed, in a single beam, towards the FoNewm. He collapsed, clutching at his chest, ninety percent of his overly-boosted stats reft from him in one terrifying moment. seconds later, Morts' slasher whistled through the air and ended his life.

"So... you've finished here?' asked Mort.

"I guess so. I think those Dezolithians are chasing after their mercenary, whoever he is."

"You still look disturbed, though."

He wasn't lying. She was still uneasy about the level at which she was now operating. And another thing, too...

"I didn't go up a single level throughout the entire battle!" she admitted. Mort looked at her thoughtfully.

"Remember that you've gained a lot of strength in a very short time. You may be a much higher level than you realise. These amounts of experience points may simply not be enough."

"Maybe you're right, but..." she shivered, "If that man could use the Psyko-Wand... do you realise what we're fighting? These aren't just idiots in a theme park any more. There's a plot. The future of Algol versus the future of Algol. What happens when parallel universes clash?"

"Nobody can know such things, Nery. No-one except Le Roof. I suggest we go back and visit him."

* * * *

The sun was setting in Southern Motavia, purple streaks of colour painted across the sky. Aiedo was beginning to sleep. Opening hours were over. Hunters, leaning on the walls of heat-proof Mota-Palman houses and the two massive shops that marked Aiedo as the trading capital, argued their shifts. Nobody wanted to be out guarding the city tonight- the atmosphere was a cross between a crypt and the Cybernetic Carnival (which, although fun for Motavians, tended to run right through Palman settlements, often deliberately). They wanted to barricade themselves inside the Hunters' Guild. Why couldn't the management at Ragol give them a proper base, instead of this obsolete dump? The sentries at the city gates were considering lowering them, shutting the city off for the night. Before they could carry out this procedure, they spotted a man walking towards the city. Probably a Hunter, late back from an important assignment: teh was armed, wore full armour, and walked confidently, with no intention of hiding tehself.

"Signin' in for the night?" yelled one of them.

"Let me the feeve in, you gerotlux-for-brains." replied the mysterious figure, pushing past them. Teh could swear like a Motavian field medic.

"Nish!" snarled the guard, "What'cha do, fail your assignment?"

Ignoring them, the dark warrior strode into the city, stopping directly in the middle. The teh bowed tehs' head, concentrating. Finally, teh raised tehs' hand, like some sort of signal. The proceeded towards the Hunters' Guild. Registered, card-holding mercenaries of all kinds were pulling off their armour, preparing for a good nights' sleep. One of them heckled the stranger, who was wearing black, a very unconventional colour for Hunter armour. teh walked straight past them, heading for the reception desk. A smiling secretary appeared.

"Can I help you?"

"I want to speak to the manager." teh growled softly, "Right now."

"If you have a complaint, please fill in a complaints form and..."

"It's urgent."

The secretary looked at teh, who was naturally late for everything and preferred the night shift anyway. In her mind, it must be extremely urgent if it had to be dealt with at this time of night, by some nutcase trimate addict. She opened the door, left her desk and guided teh through the comfortable, well-heated management offices. At the end of the corridor, up another flight of stairs, was a door labelled 'Dilbert Nolbury Ratchet, Guild Manager'. The secretary knocked politely, and was told to come in.

The stranger gawped at the furnishings. Probably from one of those backward towns, like Mile, grumbled the manager, never seen quality before. His office had a big pot plant, a daylight simulation lamp, and a bookshelf full of travel brochures for Torinco. His computer system had recently been upgraded to meet the demands of Five. It still didn't work very well. Dressed in a less-than-formal white fibersuit, he looked like an easy target, but he wore ceramic armour under that. He folded his arms and sat at his desk, challenging the intruder to complain.

"I haven't been paid." teh said, coldly.

The manager jumped to his feet, fighting off a sudden urge to rifle madly through his filing cabinet. The stranger didn't acknowledge this at all.

"I'm sorry... what a blow to the reputation of this guild... there must be a fault in this computer... I've only just upgraded the piece of junk..." he swore.

"Negatis." whispered the stranger. He froze, not daring to breathe, afraid of his immanent death. Quickly, teh pushed the secretary out of the room and locked the door. Teh swung tehs' sword, instantly killing the manager. Finally, teh escaped through the window and into the immortal night.

A moment later, the earth roared like a thousand dragons, and the horizon vanished into a maelstrom of dust. A square shape appeared, moving slowly but unstoppably, and was followed by twenty more. In a matter of minutes, Landrovers ruled Motavia, the entire city of Aiedo destroyed by the relentless rage of the Motavians and their vehicles, built for sheer indestructibility and lack of steering. A few eve had mounted guns. Before the Hunters could climb out of the ruins of their Guild, a team of black-robed Zio-worshippers surrounded them. The priests were outnumbered, but were powerful technique-users with instant death spells as a speciality. This is it, decided Wrye, this is the redemption of Zio.

Nothing of Five would be left intact on Motavia that night.

Next stop, the command centre of Ragol.

* * * *

"The logical option would be to send a small force of androids and robots to disable the security system before attacking directly." explained the Wren android, pointing to a computer simulation of the predicted layout of the Ragol base. "I recommend myself for this operation."

"Right." said Doctor Hizzard, "So, I assume that everyone else will be accompanying us on the main mission?"

"Everyone we can fit into a spaceship." reminded Lou, stroking a sleepy Dugn. "We aint goin' on no dern spaceship!" growled the leader of the Dezolithian forces, "You Palmans crash 'em!"

"True. Anyone else opting out?"

"It would be advisable for the operator of the security systems to remain behind, in preparation for a possible retaliation." said Wren. he was referring to Dern. The boy would not go to Ragol anyway. He had spent so much effort making sure he didn't go, he wasn't about to change his mind.

"I suggest that the Motavians pilot the spaceship." continued the android, ""Although androids are familiar with the controls, the Motavians have already proved their skill in combat with large machines."

"Just think of it as a flying Landrover." translated Hizzard, chuckling.

"Has someone paid the mercenary?" asked Wrye.

"Yes. Dugn did it yesterday." Lou told them. Cats were better accountants than people thought.

"Will one mercenary be enough? I'm sure people usually have more." said Doctor Hizzard. Dugns' ears pricked up at the sound.

"You can pay me if you want." he suggested. Lou pulled his tail.

The mercenary they were discussing was currently slumped in a chair in the canteen, counting tehs' money. All those mental battles with the food replicator must have paid off- persuading Motavians to co-operate with Zio-worshippers was as difficult as persuading a mouse to co-operate with a cat, or, indeed, ordering trimate and chips. A voice interrupted tehs' thoughts.

"Y'wot?" teh mumbled.

"I said, I found your medic android." repeated Neta proudly.

Tehs' face lit up like a childs' at Christmas as teh saw the small figure with the straight green hair, badly-painted white coating and business-like smile. A sensible person at last!

"Thanks! I'll repay you for that..." teh vowed. Teh would have hugged the android, but it would probably assume teh was mad and psychoanalyse teh.

"Well, there's something..." she she looked at teh, "I recently improved the common Alshline, see, and..."

* * * *

The final task began. Lou, Wren and a small but elite force of security robots boarded a slim, aerodynamic scout craft, the Silver Fish, while Digo and the Motavians controlled a massive war-ship, with the combined force of a full-intensity Positron Bolt, renamed by them the Space Landrover. The larger spaceship set off first, rolling of into space with the reckless but destructive handling typical of a Motavian crew. It attracted and successfully held off every enemy craft in the area, a laser thunderstorm, allowing the smaller craft to sneak past relatively unhindered, its needle-sharp beam destroying a few servitor drones.

Gliding to the Ragol base, a large, well-polished space station full of administrative and business offices, the Silver Fish slotted neatly into a diamond-shaped security hatch. Lou close his eyes. Not only were they speeding directly toward the enemy, there was also about three centimetres between them and each wall. The Wren android was an expert pilot, and didn't know the meaning of the word 'fear', but was he really good enough?

He only relaxed when the engines died down and the feeling of claustrophobia went away. He could now hear the hums and beeps of busy computers.

"We're inside the security control section. We need to find the main computer and shut down the mechanisms." said Wren calmly, "Expect resistance."

As they proceeded through the rooms, Wren tampering with every computer he saw, they were attacked by and upgraded version of the Whistle, Mazgamma and Warren systems. Lou discovered that his Second Era techniques Gaj, Conte and Elijiah were quite effective against androids. Wren led the robots from Motavia, his massive Pulse Vulcan punching holes into upgraded metal just as well as it would a rusty old Sonomech.

"I believe this to be the main computer." said Wren, clearing away a pile of old printouts.

"How long do you think it will take you to hack into and reprogram the system?" asked Lou.

"You humans." he said, staring expressionlessly at the green text on the screen, "Make everything so complicated."

Reaching behind the back of the computer, he pulled the plug.

* * * *

With the deactivation of the security systems, no more resistance met the Space Landrover and its crew. The Motavians sighed, disappointed at the end to their excitement, and disembarked from their craft. Digo and tehs' medic android took the lead. There were still human security guards to worry about, probably the most skilled and best-equipped Hunters in all of Ragol. They had to find the Managing Directors' Office before Motavians starting getting killed.

Espers watched the proceedings through a scrying bowl, cheering as Digo feinted with tehs' Shadowblade, then smashed tehs' fist into a Hunters' face. The medic android finished him off with a beam laser. They had little to do but practice their techniques and spy on the resistance forces. The seventh Lutz had locked herself in the Silence Temple, and was meditating to improve her knowledge of the Thray. She now considered herself statistically aware, but there was one truth- maybe the One Truth- that eluded her. Whatever she did, however hard she tried, there was always that most profound knowledge hidden away in a part of her mind she could not access. Mort, meanwhile, was back in his prayer room, contemplating the death of Alys. This time, however, it wasn't just mourning- it was a communion with a higher event of the Thray. He possessed the deeper memory, and therefore the power, of an event of unimaginable cosmological consequences.

Suddenly, an urgent telepathic summons by Nery touched the mind of every Esper, and Mort as well. They instantly combined their powers in a single white light and fed their energy into her mind, to support her.

The plot of Five is here! was the message.

* * * *

At first it was just a glitch that had suddenly appeared, a variable set to a number that didn't quite make sense. When Nery accessed it, tried to locate its Era of origin, the number was '5'. The structure was a complete plot, but had not yet been released information to the higher levels of Thray- it was a plot, but not yet a Phantasy Star. Nery was just about to warn Le Roof, so he could delete the information, when something happened. Her probing had accidentally activated it- in the most basic, editing form of Thray, which is basically just a computer screen with, for some reason, green text and a large, flashing square icon. Open to programming at different levels, teh words 'Run' and 'Five' had been typed, and the Return key pressed.

The scene around her dissolved, and she was floating above an open book that glowed with a cyan nimbus. Every page held all the power of creation. Words came into her mind, unspoken:

Why is it that you, a Lutz, wish to delete the events of a Phantasy Star plot? Surely it is your own destiny you are meddling with. That is unwise.

"You are not my destiny. There is no number Five. There will not be one for another thousand years yet."

That is the old way of things. But business demands change- by the time you have finished this conversation, thousands of copies of this plot will circulate on the market, and the company is even now planning a sequel.

"And people will stop buying it."

What? Five is popular. Vastly popular.

"Business and trade are two different things. To sell things, you need to know how to be a good shopkeeper. The Motavians are experts at this. But they could never sell your product, because they don't like selling new games- they like selling water and spare Landrover parts. Water is always in popular demand in the middle of a desert, by the way. Without good trade, your product will be just one more fad, a sensation while it lasts. Next week, a new product you will never even have heard of will replace it, and your company will be ruined. People may even grow bored of new developments and return to 'Classics'. That is what you call business- the thing that will make you go bankrupt."

For a moment, the pages rippled with uncertainty. Like an expert Motavian merchant, Nery and Mort took this opportunity to strike.

* * * *

Digo and the Motavians had finally penetrated the inner sanctum of the Ragol base- the Management Offices. There was a mysterious lack of noise here, except for the flushing of a distant toilet. All the walls were decorated with white ceramic panels, and the only waste-paper basket was one that slid out with a handle, opening to a chute. They proceeded to a door marked 'Darei Noiman Raastome, Managing Director'.

"Alright, lads, I guess this is the final battle." announced Digo, folding tehs' arms.

"It was a difficult job, keeping everyone alive throughout the onslaught of the senior management." said a Motavian, "But this will be the most difficult battle of all... judging by the way you were saving up your Debans."

A proud smile flashed across tehs' face.

"Deban is not the only technique I know." tehs' voice was not that of a mercenary- teh possessed power beyond their knowledge, somewhere behind that practical exterior. Tehs' face was a picture of scholarly concentration, and tehs' eyes sparkled the serene colour of a lake. The Motavians felt a soul-deep sense of security as tehs' technique washed over their bodies.

"Grantz." teh whispered. Grantz. The way of support. A forbidden technique.

"How do you know such things?" gasped a Motavian.

"Haven't you recognised me? I am the one you know as.. The Exile." teh shook tehs' head sadly, "When I leave, I will wander the desert in peace. One day I may need to buy water from one of your pedlars, or shelter from a sandstorm in one your garbage tips. But I will always be what I am... an outcast. Forgive me."

"Anyway, we'd better be returning to our battle." suggested a large Motavian soldier enthusiastically, polishing his axe.

Digo took a last look at the sign on the door- Managing Director. This wasn't like the quests of the Protectors of Algol. Teh wasn't a hero, slaying the evil dragon. Nobody would welcome teh back with a feast in tehs' honour. Teh was about to destroy the success of a thriving company. And it wasn't even a corrupt company with a huge monopoly that tested its products on animals. The Palmans, consumers born and bred, would probably never forgive teh for ruining their commercial paradise. But teh wasn't fighting for any Palmans. Teh was just a merc, and an angry merc. Tehs' eyes blazed the midnight blue of cold hatred as teh thought of Five.

"It's a QUARTET!" teh roared, and kicked down the corporate door.

* * * *

A small man with Japanese features, a white cardigan and a face with no hint of acquisitiveness, he did not look like the head of a corporate giant. The tall, heavily-armed mercenary with a sword that promised a quick, painless death was scaring him. They eyed each other from opposite sides of the desk. His desk was quite modest- he had no need for material possessions. He just wanted to have a company. The vast profit was a side-effect. This stranger, however, was not a business rival.

"I have been hired to end Five." said Digo calmly. The businessman barely raised an eyebrow.

"I hope you aren't going to kill me." he replied conversationally.

"It isn't good to underestimate your opponent." the mercenary said, bowing. "What's the catch- is your paper-knife poisoned?"

"No, nothing like that. I'm afraid I'm not very well prepared for mercenaries trying to kill me. It doesn't happen very often." he laughed nervously, then grew more serious, "However, I must warn you that attempting to kill me would probably end your life. I'm the dungeonmaster, you see. I don't just sell products. I run the plot. It is a plot designed for big business."

"I see." Digo was unimpressed, "I'm a pretty good amateur dungeonmaster myself."

From tehs' pocket, teh retrieved a battered notebook labelled 'Brick Road Dungeoneering Stationery Products'. Teh took a red pen and pretended to write with it. The man gasped. Frozen in terror at the knowledge of his immanent deletion from the page, he could not prevent the medic android from smashing him over the head with his own filing cabinet.

Digo turned to face the open laptop. It was almost a personal organiser, it was so small, yet it probably held the disk space and processing speed of Daughter, and used up sixty batteries in five minutes.

"Bah. Windows." teh muttered, "When I've done this, maybe someone will download a better operating system onto you."

Teh grabbed the magnet on the front of the managing Directors' clipboard and bulk erased the hard drive....

*No! Production has stopped. You can erase my programming, but you cannot stop what is. I am the plot. The plot says you die!*

Digo recoiled and staggered, a sharp electric pain lancing through tehs' arm. The medic android looked concerned. Teh stared at tehs' statistics- tehs' HP was plummeting rapidly! There wasn't time left. Teh ran...

(...With a loud report from the Escapipe, Rhys left the dungeon and appeared in the throne room. There were royal guards all around him, the same people who had thrown him in the dungeon, but they did not say anything. What could they say?

"...Normally a smart move, but...")

*What are you doing? This is madness!*

"No, trying to create a false Phantasy Star is madness." retorted Nery, "This is a Hyperplonk"

"You have five seconds to live." added Mort.

*You will be destroying yourself! Once there is no plot, there will be no Lutz!*

"I will exist when the real Fifth Era arrives, mark my words. And now, I have an important job. It is to talk to the people of Algol, as their leader... to restore what was once, and will again be, Phantasy Star. Difficult customers, are they? Think I'll have a hard time?"

*But this IS the Fifth Era!*

"Not any more. The Hyperplonk is happening."

("...Now the game cannot be continued, so...")


("...You will have to press Reset and start again.")

Mort watched sadly as the image of a book compressed into a white dot and disappeared forever.

It reminded him of Alys.

* * * *

Nery was stood upon a boulder on Motavia, welcoming the Palmans back to their world. A tall man in a blue carbonsuit with lush brown hair stepped off the ship, to be hugged by his son, Dern.

"...It was quite interesting, but not as exciting as the time I fell down that hole and was rescued by..."

"Chaz Ashley. Yes, I know." the boy yawned.

"You don't believe me, do you? I've got photos and everything."

"A Protector of Algol? Come off it."

Meanwhile, amongst a crowd of fascinated scientists, scribbling on clipboards, a girl and a boy argued furiously.

"I wanna go back to the lab!" yelled Neta, sulking.

"Come on, don't you think it's exciting? So much freedom. The Motavian sunset. The feel of the fresh air on your face..." Lou sighed.

"There's nothing wrong with the air-conditioning in my lab!" she protested.

"Sister..." he groaned. There was no arguing with a Mad. Unless...

"I know^? animals! I bet you've never really seen any of the animals on your computer program, have you? I bet they're much more interesting close up. They probably react differently to the simulations as well- living things are very unpredictable."

"Well... okay, I'm curious now." she admitted, "But I can't live with these people. There are so many of them... and I'm the direct descendant of Doctor Mad. Nobody ever liked me at school... I'm going to get protesters after me. From now on, I want to live in a nice quiet laboratory on top of the Ladea, and research the local wildlife. Just like great-grandad."

"Oh, okay, Neta." Lou shook his head and wandered off to look for his father.

"Want to be my assistant?' Neta asked Dugn, who was curled up on a rock. He yowled and shot away as fast as was possible for a cat.

"SHUT UP, EVERYONE!" bellowed Alsh, pushing through the crowd with his band of field medics. "I've just heard the mercenary has won! They're coming back!"

* * * *

Slowly, each one of them looked towards the skies. The Space landrover would return in approximately five minutes, unless there was an emergency. A minute passed. The faint dot that represented the craft grew larger. Nery jumped with a start. She had been scrying on the Motavians, whose victory celebration involved cheap Gerotlux ale and slightly affected steering (although, considering the ordinary Motavian method of steering, only slightly). For some reason, she had not seen Digo, but she had assumed it was because of tehs' use of powerful shielding techniques. But, just then, she had heard the Voice.

FEEVE, it said, and it was not swearing. It was using the technique. Digo was using the most powerful and well-hidden technique in the Thray. There was no way of naturally learning it. Who is that mercenary? What else did teh know? Could teh answer the one question she had left?

The scientists gasped in amazement as all the laws of physics were simultaneously broken in front of their eyes. A sequence of extremely, nail-bitingly small platforms appeared in the sky. Those perspectives! They couldn't curve at those angles- there weren't enough dimensions available! As they stared, a person appeared. It was Digo- leaping across the platforms as though they were the most ordinary thing in the world. Surely this power was not from within the scope of Algol...

Digo made a final leap into the air and landed beside Alsh. The doctor unceremoniously yelled and pushed people out of the way while he examined the mercenary closely. Teh was holding the medic android, and plopped it down in from him. Neta rushed up to provide assistance.

"There's not a mark on him." remarked Neta.

"The patients' HP is decreasing at a dangerous rate." reported the medic android.

"We have an EMERGENCY!" bellowed Alsh, clouting his orderlies over the head, "Go to the Landrover, grab my bag and get me some decent equipment!"

"I don't think we have that much time." advised the medic android.

"Um... I've got a scalpel." said Neta.

"That'll do. Give it to me."

"I can do it myself, if you'd prefer. I'm a good surgeon."

"Okay, let's see!" he folded his arms. Neta ran towards Digo, who took one look at her and fainted.

"The patients' HP is now 2. Critical." reported the medic android. The absence of '...but stable' was noticeable. "Do you require my assistance, doctor?"

"Oh, shut up, all of you! This is getting ridiculous!" complained Dugn. Netas' scalpel flashed down...

* * * *

A portal of pure restorative white caused the young biologist to drop her scalpel and Alsh to prostrate himself to the floor in veneration. Even the medic android looked confused. Then, slowly, a small image began to materialise in the heavenly corridor. It was a Motavian child, barely seven years old, her face a picture of concern. The same girl who had healed Digo when teh first came to Motavia.

"You again? Naughty. Me heal." declared Pana, her features bathed in white light.

"Who's that?" demanded Neta, "You don't have three-year-olds practising medicine, do you?"

"Patients' HP 1 and dropping." warned the android.

"Ah, so you haven't met Pana." said Alsh.

"Pana? Wasn't she the sister of Gryz, the famous Motavian hero of the Fourth Era?"

"Her full name is Panacea." explained the doctor, "And her healing powers surpass any of our best medics by miles."

"Brother do boxes." added the girl, stroking Dugn.

"Can she resurrect Alys..." Mort was silenced by Alshs' fist, which had forcefully connected with his face.

"GO AWAY, everyone!" roared the doctor, "The situation is under control... Pana has never lost a patient. Motavian life-support technology, by the way, is second to none, even if it is made from things we found on a rubbish dump. We don't know how long it will take us, but your merc will live."

Nery cheered, but there was a sadness surrounding the Motavians who had accompanied Digo to the Ragol base. They knew that they would probably never see teh again, even if teh lived. The Exile would wander off into the desert, never to be seen again. Sadly, they watched Alsh and his assistants carry teh into a white landrover.

"Good luck, Exile, wherever you are." whispered Garl, "And have an excellent quality of life."

* * * *

Nery watched them go. She was sad, but she knew she must return to her studies. Le roof was expecting her. She would benefit from a new angle to her learning- maybe she should go to Mist Vale and study the ways of the cats.

"Hey, wait up!" a woman appeared behind her, wearing a familiar labcoat and holding a familiar scalpel. "You didn't see where that cat went, did you? Oh.. and I have an important message to give to you."

"Really? For me? Go on."

"That merc told me to pass this on to you... the One Truth or something. Are you sure you haven't seen the..."

"Tell me!"

"Oh, okay. Doesn't make any sense to me, but here goes" she continued. "When you reach level 99... your stats go..."