In the four hundredth year after the Eastern Unification, the Black Cancer was unleashed against the world of Palma. The entire technological military might of the Calreid-Arm was thrown against it in an attempt to halt its spread into their heartlands.
They failed. Those few who survived became slaves to the Cancer and its twisted doctrine. Civilisation was destroyed, history lost, and the Cancer died by itself for reasons I do not know, but can suspect.
One thousand years later, the Dark Force began its war of extermination against the Espers, pushing them from their native soil of Palma. The three planets united against the threat, beating it back by a narrow margin. Thousands died and we Espers were destroyed almost to extinction. Again, history and culture were shattered and lost.
In Space Century 342, the Dark Force corrupted King Lassic, causing him to thrust Palma into a new and darker age of chaos. No armies were raised, no people united. Lassic's grip was complete and largely unquestioned.
Alis Landale, Odin, Myau and myself took up the fight alone. We killed Lassic and went on to confront Dark Force. One by one, we fell, until Alis stood before the beast alone.
Injured, tired, weak, she fought a hopeless fight, but where armies had fallen in past millenniums, Alis Landale won.
It is understandable, then, that such extreme acts were taken to eliminate her line.
It is coincidence only that her name was Alis. It was a common name right up until the Great Collapse, at which point the name and most of the history linked to it was lost, leaving only vague stories of a distant heroine.
Alis. Alis Demerant.
She was short and well muscled, with orange hair held back with a headband and reaching only as far as her shoulders. I never saw her in life, but I have seen a picture.
A few years later, she may have become a hunter, but in the year AW 1277, there were no biohazards, no Nei First, no climate problems. For someone with her skills and the burn to use them, there was only the Agency. Agents used guns mostly, but those skilled enough with other weapons were permitted them.
Her application into the Agency was processed in the fourth month of AW 1277, and her training took a year. She did not know that her every step was being carefully monitored.
It would be wrong to say that Mother Brain sat in the centre of the filament and radiation network of the Algol system like a spider in a web. Perhaps, if the spider was not only attuned to its web but part of it; perhaps if each taut strand was a direct extension of its nervous system; perhaps if the web was invisible and ephemeral and stretched over an entire star system – then, perhaps, the analogy would hold.
And Mother Brain was a slave to Darkness.
I assume that she gathered and read the records in the Gothic Senate and in the universities to backtrack through the generations and find Alis' descendants. A mighty task, for after forty generations, Alis Landale's descendants numbered in the thousands. Far too many to kill without suspicion, but they were watched. Those of the blood who found jobs in the bureaucracy, or started a shop, or became scholars – they were left alone.
Those, like Alis Demerant, who found their ways into the combat professions, were eliminated by Mother Brain before they could become a threat.
By AW 1277, the pattern was clear to us, but we lacked Mother Brain's files and processing power. Try as we might, we only ever found seven of the bloodline, and of those, only Alis Demerant was threatened by her enrolment into the Agency. We tried to warn her, taking the risk of sending an Esper to Motavia to do so, but she chose not to believe, and there was little we could do.
Alis Demerant and her partner Davi Herald were both killed in the seventh month of AW 1279. The details we have on the deaths are sketchy, but I have learnt from the thief, Shir Gold, that Mother Brain used Wren and Mieu androids to perform such deeds, modified to pass as normal Palmans.
I do not wish to speculate how many other children of Alis Landale died at the remote and soulless hands of Mother Brain.
More carefully watched by both the Espers and Mother Brain was the direct line of firstborns. For myself, it was curiosity and a kind of parental interest. I was godfather to Alis and Kurt's first son, but for me he was only alive for a year, each month of mine translating into ten years for him. It was not enough for me, and so I continued in my role for successive generations, although few of the first born line ever knew me, and only four knew exactly who I was.
For Mother Brain, her interest was murderous.
In AW 1274, there were two direct descendants alive. The first was Lesy Tono, an actress who shared those qualities I, in my old and cynical ways, see in most women of the stage. She was, to quote myself from another occasion, far too beautiful, but not nearly pretty enough. She had a sculptured, flawless look, but no character or expression. She was a cold beauty. She could've been Mother Brain herself.
She was married to a news archivist named Dean Wallbear, and it was to him that she bore the second of the direct descendants alive in AW 1274 – Rolf Landale. At least, that is the name I will always think of him as bearing. He had three names in his life. Tono, to start, passed on from his mother. Landale at the last, after I told him of his heritage, and for the ten years between, he was called Atheling.
He was the last, but the truest son of Alis Landale, and Dark Force's paranoia – I am reluctant to attribute fear to such an alien and evil beast – was so great that he risked discovery of Mother Brain's collusion to kill Rolf when he was just ten years old.
I was asleep at the time.
I sometimes find myself amazed at my own telemental powers, but at the time there was no time for wonder. There was barely enough time to react. My waking was by a scream, my own name – and I mean my real name rather than the now meaningless honorific I currently go by – injected into my mind with an urgency and fear I have never known for myself.
And I was awake, my whole body tight, and beating with adrenaline. More surprising to me was that I was outside my cryochamber, and that ice was steaming from my naked body. Normally, my awakening takes a quarter of an hour and must be done carefully. My subconscious apparently knew better and responded to the strident call by teleporting me out, stripping away the ice from within my body and shocking my mind into wakefulness at the same time. It was not a perfect awakening, however. My brain felt like ice was being dragged from it through my forehead, and my limbs, never really under my control since I was paralysed in the fight with Dark Force, shivered violently.
The surprise of my sudden return to warm life in such a violent fashion shocked me. I couldn't think, let alone bring forth the concentration required to stay upright with my magic. I fell, and the cool tiled floor nevertheless felt like fire to the skin of my cheek.
The call came again, lashing through my mind. It was Alis, I then knew, and something terrible was happening. With that, the second call, all discomfort was forgotten and urgency was everything. In fact, I recall the next few minutes as events only. If I had any emotions or thoughts apart from the drive imparted to me by Alis, I don't know them.
I teleported again, leaving, I expect, a dissipating smear of cold steam, and appeared upright in the vault. With a thought I called Elsydeon to me, and it spun out of the hands of Alis' statue and through the air. I ripped the scabbard off as it came, and pulled my own arm up with my mind to touch it. With the brush of connection, Alis flooded into my mind, taking just an instant to explain everything. Her fear, her desperate pleading and helpless fear was like a blade into my heart.
Again, I teleported, taking the sword with me. Looking back, I am amazed how clearly I was thinking, despite the fact I can remember no process to my thoughts, just results. The things I must do, but with no reasons.
I arrived in the Grand Vestibule, causing, I have little doubt, quite a stir as only a naked steaming hero gripping a sword can. I didn't notice. I just pointed at the most senior Esper I could see.
"You!" I barked. "You are my anchor."
I teleported again, just as the man began to bow.
Some explanation is probably required here. Technique users, Espers, and even Telementals can only teleport to a place with which they are familiar – a place that they can bring clearly to mind. Some Espers and all Telementals have an advantage, however, in that they can draw on the experience of another magic-user by reading their mind – making them an anchor of sorts.
Normally, I would not need an anchor to the vestibule or to any other place within the Esper mansion, but having an anchor makes teleportation easier. Less concentration and time is required, and interruptions are less dangerous. I could just pluck an accurate and up-to-date image from the receptive Esper. In a desperate and chaotic situation, an anchor is always the best way out.
As I said, even Telementals have this restriction, which would normally make it impossible to go where I had to go at all, since not only had I never been there, but also if I had, it would now be unrecognisable.
But I had Elsydeon, and within that blade was the soul of Alis and a connection to her stricken descendant. She was my anchor to the falling ship, the Wayfarer and to Rolf.
The Wayfarer was, I found out later, an exploratory ship headed for a nearby star system. The expedition was strictly scientific, but many believed it could be a precursor to colonisation. The project would take three years, and Dean Wallbear was on board to document the expedition. Also on board were his wife, Lesy, and their son, Rolf.
The ship was redirected to aid in the evacuation of Dezoris in the wake of a major gas leak in the laconia mine. It was not a rushed evacuation, as the gas was reported to be a slow carcinogenic and not immediately dangerous, but the Wayfarer was a large ship and close at hand. The detour to Dezoris and then back to Palma would only take two weeks.
I understand that the Wayfarer, on entering the atmosphere, clipped one of the freighters taking people out, losing a wing and two atmospheric flight engines. This would not be a problem in space, but it was already in the upper atmosphere.
A staggering set of coincidences. Of course, it was nothing of the sort. To kill the descendant of his enemy, the Dark Force, through Mother Brain, poisoned an entire planet and tried to kill hundreds of people on the Wayfarer.
All that I found out later, though.
My teleport ended on the angled floor of the Wayfarer's passenger section. It looked, to my brief and confused glance, like the interior of a Palma to Motavia shuttle. Just lines of seats, and no amenities or living areas at all. Again, I now know that the passengers must be in this area, all together and strapped in, for landings and take-offs.
It was chaos. The whole ship was screaming and every window was lit like the door to a furnace. The atmosphere outside was thin still, but the blaze of its friction was stripping the hull quickly none the less.
People were screaming and flight crew members were struggling against the lean of the floor and the panic around them, headed for their own seats. Some were huddled on the floor, their white hands gripping the metal bracing of the seats. I have one memory that somehow stands from the searing chaos, of a white face, looking at me, naked still, sword in hand and perhaps still steaming ice from my skin. There I saw fear, hope and resignation all at once. I think the woman thought me some herald of a god, an angel of death.
Just as I had acquired my bearings, they swung around me in a one-twenty degree roll. People screamed louder and the crew were scattered across the ceiling. Hair and clothes dangled, and somewhere distant, metal tore loudly. Only I was unaffected, hovering in the centre of the aisle by my magic.
I couldn't see Rolf, but my mission had already changed. I could not rescue one and leave the rest. Indeed, the thought never occurred to me or, I believe, to Alis.
I spread my arms like wings, and then thrust out down them both with my mind, seizing the stricken ship. I could feel it shred in the fiery air. I could feel the terrific juddering of its out of control flight. I could feel the other wing as it broke away and whirled into the maelstrom.
I pushed. Never have I felt such pain, but I had an unquestionable advantage. Elsydeon was still in my hand and the souls of the dead within pushed with me. I opened my mind to another maelstrom, one that lies dammed up behind the will of every Esper, only released completely in the rarest and most dangerous of magics.
But this was not the destructive surge of Megid, but a focussed effort that ground the plates of my skull together to try. My nose and ears trickled blood, and I believe I screamed. Fate and the actions of the pilot were with me. He, too, was trying to turn the ship back and between our efforts, the ship turned back against the shaking tunnel of air. Plates of ceramic broke free from the stress and whirled away. The ship groaned in its bones, and then something in the bones tore.
I let it go. I had to, and only remained conscious because Alis, dear Alis, would not let me faint.
I summoned the power again, and turned it downwards to the vestibule and my anchor.
It is said that wormhole generators such as those used to teleport people on Motavia and Palma require the power of a city to run. Then, at that moment, I knew it to be true.
But a portal did open. Against the throb and burning of my head, it opened, a shimmering doorway to safety below.
There was a crowd of Espers there, curious, no doubt, about my earlier appearance. I will always be grateful and somewhat proud – even though I have nothing to do with their training – that they saw my straits immediately and reacted perfectly. Willing minds cushioned my own, taking some of my burden away and supplying some of their own power. Juniors were dispatched for healers and the remaining Espers moved forward, into the hell and chaos around me.
Portal magic is strictly Telemental. Although it may be possible for an Esper portal spell to be constructed, the strain, the energy required, is far too much. In truth, I believe it was far too much for me as well. Elsydeon assisted at the start, and the Espers supported me then onwards. I say this because in being a legend, the acts of those supporting me are often forgotten. My part in the defeat of the Dark Force was forgotten because the people wanted Alis to be a hero. Similarly, the portal was attributed to me alone, even though I could not have done it by myself. Here, at least, the record will stand true.
At this point in the rescue, my eyes were squeezed shut against the strain, for even with the aid of the Espers back in the mansion, the portal was difficult to keep open. What follows, therefore, was not witnessed by me but gathered from the accounts of the Espers who came through. Everything I experienced was just strident bedlam in my ears and the terrible pressure that threatened to split my skull from within.
Shields shimmering around them, the Espers moved through the people, unbuckling them and sending them to my portal and then through. The passengers began to get the idea and moved themselves as the floor tilted further into the vertical. They slipped, slid and fell, sometimes screaming, arms over their faces, into my portal, their momentum translating into a spinning skid across the vestibule floor. The panic and pushing must have been great in the narrow walkway between the seat rows, but the tilt of the ship was with us. Footing was hard to keep, and sliding people were quick to pass through.
How long it took, however, no one can say with much conviction. I know we didn't have enough time to save them all. Their lives ended in fire as the back end of the ship sheared itself away into the boiling sky. The Espers teleported away even as the remaining people were flashing into flames. My control slipped at that point, perhaps from a jolt of fear, or perhaps from a lash of heat across my face – I do not recall, but I know I was blasted backwards, and even as the portal fell inwards to a point, it accepted me through and dropped me, smoking and blackened on the vestibule floor.
I was not the only one to be burnt. Many of the Espers who were on the ship were seared worse than I in spite of their shields, and one died as a result of his wounds before he could be healed. Some passengers, too, were burnt. Most Espers, in leaving, grabbed one of them to take with him or her.
Rolf was among those saved, although only I knew he was the purpose of the whole exercise. As such, no one particularly noticed him after the rescue, nor how he reacted to the events he had just been through. I would have liked to have known. In the longer term, at least, he sealed the memories away where they could do him little harm. I did not expect him to recognise me when he came back ten years later, but I had thought he would have recognised the mansion itself.
I myself was unconscious in the healing wing for three weeks. Dezoran priests helped the Esper healers tend us, as their magic was far more powerful in such areas. I have pleasant and happy memories of old comradeship from my time of healing, for someone had left Elsydeon with me, laying by my side in its scabbard, my hand resting lightly on the scroll-work.
I am grateful to that person, whoever it was.
Upon awakening, I found Rolf and his father, who had also survived. It took me a long time to decide what to do with the pair even though there was only one real course of action. Rolf had to be in the centre of things to – and I find it odd for me to say this – to manifest his destiny, but to send his father with him would tell Mother Brain exactly who Rolf was. In fact, none of the refugees could be allowed home. Their survival would hint to Mother Brain of Rolf's true fate, and she would search him out and make another attempt to kill him.
So they stayed, Rolf's father included, something that he saw must be done but hurt him badly. He and the others took up residence in the Esper Mansion and helped support us as we helped support them. There was also, I was pleased to find ten years later when I woke again, an Esper in the group.
Rolf was returned to Motavia, where I had him placed in the foster care of the Atheling family. I never found out what happened to them. Rolf was with me too short a time.
He, as is more well known, died on the Noah with the other Protectors, but they destroyed the insidious 'Earthmen' and their insane creation Mother Brain, freeing Algol for another thousand years. The Dark Force escaped the Noah and struck grievously at the refugee ships fleeing Palma. My Espers pursued it and, I hope, killed it on the last Worldship. That ship survived, certainly. I wish it luck. Perhaps it is better that it flies outwards rather than returning. I fear the Dark Force's aim has always been what it has now succeeded in – the destruction of a planet. I do not know what might happen now that it has succeeded.
I have not the will to see another thousand years pass without touching me. I will not be here then, but I will be followed by the worthy.
But the direct bloodline of the Landale family is dead. Rolf was the last and now will always be.
Let them rest, say I. They have done enough for one family.
- The First Generation Lutz