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Dell
21st Nov 2002, 15:54
As long as we are indulging ourselves in a bit of nostalgia, how about this? This was one heckofva good story we wrote in the beginning....exciting and a big adventure with great characters!

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The Story Thus Far...
Chapter 49
by Arkron
Ax has recovered, and he, Roe, Sarah, and LooLee wait in the clearing for Vashcin to return…at least they hope he has survived the snake creature, and will return. Finally, they decide to go look for him. In the meantime, Vashcin is making his way back to them. After puzzling about his recovery, he discovers that the trophies he took from the snake creature, an eye and a tooth, are magical objects. The four miss making contact with him, and they arrive at the clearing to find the dead creature, see that trophies were taken, and know that Vashcin is alive. In the meantime, he has arrived at their deserted camp.


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Chapter 50
by Dell
Leon admits to Pedro that he is in love with Jannaleen. General Zan makes a tough decision, and asks Jannaleen if the humans will kill King Seth the minute he fully enters the body of the shape shifter because the Raal cannot kill anyone, particularly another Raal, even one so evil as King Seth. The Elder Tree 'hears' all this, and decides that both the Raal and the humans on Isis 17 have bought themselves more time.


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Chapter 51
by Amazeroth
Jack Hunt wakes up in Sarah's house in Mira. He discovers that he no longer hates the Pet Team Two members, but is now determined to exterminate the scientists on Phoenix 3. Pedro brings him lunch, and no confrontation occurs. Serene, the Mira Village Elder proves to be a spy, the commander of Pet Team 3 (Planet Extermination Team), now secretly on Isis. Serene, who is actually Major Vae'ran, meets with the Team 3 members, shows them pictures of Jack and Leon, and orders them to take them into custody and secrete them in the basement of her house in Mira, which will be their headquarters.



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Chapter 52
by Nightstalker
The blockade of Isis 17 by the Kohines is found to be illegal, and orders are given to General Tyran to liberate Isis 17. We discover that Space Admiral Beldon is, in fact, the mother of Ax and Jannaleen. Serena leads part of the PET Team 3 back to Mira and sets them up in the basement of her "Village Elder's" house. Vashcin returns to the clearing where Ax, Jannaleen, Roe, Corenna, and LooLee are with the body of the dragon he killed earlier.


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Chapter 53
by vakusuma
In the basement in Mira, Major Vae'ran (Serena), briefs her party. She reveals that their actual mission is to save the colonists if possible, but mostly to find out about the Raal, getting the information from Jannaleen. They also intend to make Pedro, Jack, and Leon prisoners to keep them from interfering in their activities. General Zan telepathically warns Jannaleen of danger, and she manages to warn Pedro. Jack and Pedro are caught and bound. There is a fierce psychic battle between Jannaleen and the Team 3 psychic, Breschnew, and Jannaleen, using telekinesis, finally knocks him out with a vase. Jack teleports and escapes, but Jannaleen is knocked unconscious after hearing only parts of the conversation between Pet Team 3 members.


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Chapter 54
by Arkron
Alerted by the sound of metal clinking, Leon escapes Byzinski and Makambo who have come to capture him. He follows and sees Jannaleen and Pedro taken into Serene's house. He and Jack meet outside Serene's house and form a kind of alliance, then Leon enters the house. Jack then overhears them speaking, discovers that Serene is actually Major Vae'ran of the Pet 3 Team, and realizes that they have been betrayed.


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Chapter 55
by Amazeroth
Barnes, Summer, and Makambo leave the house to search for Jack. Leon is lurking inside the house, determined to save Jannaleen and Pedro. He bluffs his way into the Pet 3 Team's basement HQ, and confronts Serene and the psionic. There is a stalemate of sorts, and then Leon hears the third man coming down the stairs behind him and realizes he is trapped. Summer, who has split off from the other two, is led into a confrontation with Jack, and he kills her. Meanwhile,
Roe, Ax, Sarah, Corenna, LooLee, and Vashcin are led by the Elder Tree to a cleft in a small mountain to witness something in the lair of mad King Seth's followers.



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Mouze1
21st Nov 2002, 22:44
Now I like this. Really gets the reader back on track of what is happening with the story.

I for one would really like to see MAS1 and MAS2 finish. Ever since I first registered at the old Eidos, these were my favorite posts.
Always looked forward to the next chapter.

Dell
17th Dec 2002, 21:16
At this moment, the final chapter(s) of this story are being written.

It won't be long now...if any of you nice old writers have ideas, please contact Vakusuma or Dell.

vakusuma
24th Dec 2002, 16:42
And as a Christmas present from me... here's Chapter 58 of the Original Multi-Authored Story.

Merry Christmas! :D


Chapter 58

It was perhaps an hour later when the anxious party sat down before a Federation officer, who looked haggard from lack of sleep.

“Commander Ax Beldon of the Planetary Evaluation Team, sir,” Ax had introduced himself. “And these are Science Officer Roe Gordon, Lieutenant-Commander Corenna Jacobson, both of the Planetary Evaluation Team, and Sarah Russale, a Federation colonist.” LooLee and Vaschin were waiting in the woods beyond; their appearance at the Colonial HQ would do more than just raising eyebrows.

“Colonel Leo Chen,” the officer nodded in return. “I was expecting your team earlier, Commander, but I heard that your shuttle had crashed somewhere else on Isis 17.”

“We’ve been betrayed by a Kohine agent,” Ax replied curtly. “But apparently our mission here is no longer necessary. I trust that you know of the problem that plagues this planet, Colonel?”

Colonel Chen snorted. “You mean those sons of tailed *****es above us? Tell me about them!” He touched the screen beside his desk, and the globe of Isis 17 revolved on the screen. It stopped, and upon further touches, a network was shown to envelop the planet. “You know, perhaps, that the Kohines have put a radio net around the planet? We cannot penetrate it, and yet we have reason to believe that the Federation is aware of the situation. It’s probably pretty likely that a fleet is on the way.” The Colonel snorted again. “It’s a goddamned war brewing, Commander, and we’re sodding caught in the middle of it.”

“Tell us more about the blockade,” Corenna asked, unfazed.

“As far as we can determine, the Kohine fleet consisted of two primary frigates, six cruisers, at least sixteen destroyers and a heck lot of lesser vessels. Honestly, the net makes it hard to know for sure, but you can easily detect a vessel as big as a cruiser. The Federation better not send snub fighters,” he growled. “But here’s the catcher; there apparently is a secret Kohine base on this planet somewhere. We’ve been unable to pinpoint the location exactly, but there are definitely transmissions going up from this planet to the fleet up there. We also have reason to believe that the command post of the Kohines is down here instead of up there with the frigates. Several scout teams have been deployed to look for it, but so far the reports had been negative.” The Colonel eyed Ax again. “Tell me, Commander, I’m under the impression that there are more members in PET 2 team than just the three of you. What happened to the others?”

“Psionic Specialist Jannaleen Beldon, Lieutenant-Commander Pedro Cordoba and Medical Officer Jack Hunt are currently in Mira colony,” Ax replied. “As for Milton Freet, well, we are convinced beyond doubt that he is the Kohine agent who sabotaged our ship. He’s a shapechanger, a Kohine mutant.”

“A shapechanger!” Chen exclaimed, and started to swear sulfuriously. “I wonder now just how far the Kohines have penetrated our hierarchy.”

“That’s something for the Federation higher-ups to find out,” Roe said dryly.

Chen got up and started to pace around his desk. “This is not good at all, Commander. We only have a small fleet stationed on Isis 17, and there are too many of them up there. Right now we’re just sitting ducks here, and our only hope of salvation is the Federation fleet. If they come, of course, before those bastards blast us all into oblivion.” The screen beeped and Chen whirled to face it. Quickly he read the words that appeared, and his face turned alarmingly red. He started swearing again and paced faster.

His four guests could also see the words displayed, “We’ve deciphered part of the Kohines’ latest transmission, Colonel. It is an order to wipe out all human colonies, in addition to bombarding a specific mountain, at 2000 Federation Standard Time, and is addressed from Kohine Base on route Cruiser B’yal Dette to Frigate Huger Dream, stationed at the north pole. We are working on the rest of it.”

They looked at each other. “Eight hours,” Sarah said softly.

-------------

“The choices are running out for us,” Zan said sadly. “Seth has gathered his followers together, and any time now he can begin his campaign of terror. It is time for us to take decisive action. It is time for the Raals to march.”

“About damn time,” Jack snorted. “I’ve been wondering when you’d abandon your oh-so-noble pacifist ideas.”

“If you think that we’re going to slaughter Seth and his Raal followers, you’re mistaken,” Zan turned his attention to him.

Jannaleen hesitated before asking, “What good would it be then? You cannot stop Seth if your forces are there only to watch him carry out his plans!”

“Remember the Elder Tree, Jannaleen,” Zan admonished gently. “If we forced a direct confrontation with Seth, even if we can overcome our nature, we will inevitably deal damage to the planet. And I don’t think that would be pleasing to the planet.” He stared at the direction of Seth’s lair. “No, I will be there to make sure that Seth will not make his move. I am going to force a stand-off, so that you can do whatever you have to do to Seth.”

“You think by just being there you can force a stand-off?” Pedro asked disbelievingly.

“I've confronted some of them in the past. Despite their talk of not hesitating to use force against their fellow Raals, our mental probe subjected on them has discovered that the true Raal behavior still ran as strongly in them as it is in us,” Zan’s mental voice seemed to be quivering with mirth. “They cannot raise a hand against us just as we can't against them.”

They thought that suggestion over. “But that wouldn’t stop the Kohines from deploying their forces against the planet and its inhabitants,” Pedro pointed out.

Zan seemed to sigh. “Yes. But that is something that we have to leave to the Federation to handle. Or we may be able to persuade Seth about it. I don’t know the extent of the planet’s power, but I am aware that we are far from the most powerful force in the galaxy. I am not going to risk angering the planet, for nature’s wrath can be terrible indeed.” He looked at each of them in turn. “Our physical bodies right now are in a mountain nearby. I shall order all my Raals to march into the vicinity of Seth’s lair. I shall meet you there, hopefully, for only you can accomplish what we Raals would not dare accomplish.”

They looked at each other before Jannaleen replied, “We will not let you down.”

“Thank you,” the General said solemnly before disappearing from view.

And with that, they prepared themselves to go and face the mad Raal king…

-------------

“So, do we get out now and bust them?” Makambo asked anxiously.

Barnes looked at her. She could not see his eyes behind his sunglasses, but she had a feeling that she wouldn’t like it. “Don’t be a fool,” he finally growled. “You just heard how that… Raal… wiped out Major Vae’ran and the rest of the PET 3, including that idiot Breschnew, with help from that Beldon girl. How much more effort would be required to wipe us out similarly? Right now, I’m glad that our psychic helm shielded our presence.” He turned his attention back to the group, who was preparing to leave.

“What should we do, then?” Makambo asked again.

“We wait, and see,” Barnes firmly said. “And wherever they go, we go. Looks like they’re hunting for this bastard named Seth, who was supposedly the source of all scum in this planet. All we have to do is bag that son of a ***** and ship him into where we can study him. Problem solved, mission accomplished, even though the Major isn’t around to reward us.” He turned to Makambo again. “But for now, we wait.”

-------------

“We are ready to move against the Kohines, Admiral. Just say the word and consider it done,” General Tyran saluted.

“I am still waiting for the scout report, General.” Admiral Beldon’s calm exterior hardly betrayed her nervousness, but Tyran had known his superior long enough to realize that she was on the edge. “I will not risk sending an equal force against a Kohine blockage fleet.”

Tyran sighed. “Admiral, it has been your orders that we carry enough spaceships to neutralize a minor skirmish. As I understand it, the Federation fleet is too thinly spread nowadays with the rapid colonization.” The general’s eyes kept tabs on his ship count on the other screen. “Admiral, it isn’t that I don’t appreciate additional help, but I also don’t want to get you in trouble.”

“Well, I insist,” the Admiral’s voice was hard. “I’ve just obtained the permission from the Federation High Command to deploy additional ships to Isis 17. Apparently the high-ups in the Protectorate have been polite but most insistent that the blockade is in the interest of protecting valid Kohine interest. To be honest, I don’t believe a word of that bull****, and I’m not one to take any chances. And neither are the higher-ups.” The Admiral leaned against her desk. “You’re the tactical expert, General. You have my permission now to command the minimum number of ships necessary to neutralize the blockage, with that said number specified by your tactical wisdom.”

The General’s eyes went wild as he glanced at his number, as well as the data on the known Kohine fleet blocking the planet. With the recent crunch in military spending, the liberty of requesting the strength of one’s own fleet was rarely given, if ever. “Our report indicate that the Kohines have at least as many capital ships as we do now, Admiral, a slightly lesser number of snub fighters, and several unarmed radio ships. To intimidate this force, we must have at least double our current numbers. The Kohines’ ships are superior to ours one on one though…” he did some calculations, “so let’s make it, three times.”

Admiral Beldon was silent as she considered the number. “Done, then,” she said finally. “You shall have your ships. Of course, assembling the reinforcement will take time, since I’m going to have to pull ships out of several fleets that have been deployed elsewhere. So let’s say…” Beldon tapped her pen on the desk as she consulted with her own screen, and then continued, “… 1830 Federation Standard Time at the very latest. They will all arrive at Grendel by then. It shouldn’t take you very long to reach Isis 17 thereafter.”

“Thank you, Admiral,” Tyran saluted. “And trust me, I will do my best to see that your son and daughter do not fall into harm in the hands of the Kohines. Or anyone for that matter.”

“They do know the consequences of being in the PET 2 team, General,” the Admiral said sternly, but a ghost of a smile was hovering on the corner of her lips. “Of course, that would not stop me from getting your hide for the mantelpiece if you do let them come to harm.”

The General smiled thinly. “Consider it done, Admiral.”

--------------

Ax pulled out of his ‘reverie’ just as Chen smiled triumphantly. “We got them. We got those tailed bastards now.”

“I was just communicating with my Psionic Specialist, Colonel, so forgive me if I seemed rather distracted,” Ax apologized. “Please go on, however.”

Chen shot him an unreadable look before he touched the screen again. “First of all, we have determined the origin of the Kohine transmission. We have good reason to believe that it does correspond to the secret Kohine base. Now as you know, Kohines can’t function without their superior. All we have to do now is to send the colonial task force after this base, capture their commander, and that will stop the blockade.”

“How many men do you have available to carry out this mission, Colonel?” Roe asked bluntly.

“We are spread out now, but I can immediately deploy around three hundred men. Or double that, given enough time,” the Colonel said confidently. “That should be enough to eliminate the base.”

Roe exchanged glances with Ax. Before this meeting, they had decided not to reveal the Raals to the Federation officials. But they know the Raal’s power. No number of humans would be enough to stand up to the Raals… and the Kohine base would definitely have Raal protection.

“Too little. What do you think you’re doing, Colonel, intimidating a daycare center?” Roe snorted.

“What do you mean?” the Colonel yelled as he got up from the chair. “Science Officer, we’re not just some wide-eyed recruits. We’re trained, we’re battle-hardened, and we’re prepared to take out any sodding threats in this planet. Do you think that we wouldn’t carry guns with us?”

“Guns!” Roe snorted again. “Stop and think for a moment what you’re up against here, Colonel. A Kohine base! What kind of base would not be heavily guarded? Any commander worth their salt would’ve had constructed their secret base so that they can withstand attacks even from siege artillery. And don’t forget that they still have the ships up there. You’re outnumbered, Colonel. Any mission that you send against the Kohine base would be a suicide mission… and might make the tailed bastards decided that they should wipe us out earlier. So, unless you have a warship hidden somewhere in this base, don’t even begin to think that you can take out that base.”

For a moment everyone was silent. Colonel Chen glowered at the impudent Science Officer, his oriental face getting red, and his fists closing and opening. At last he sighed and sat down heavily. “Hate to admit it, but you’re quite likely right.” Suddenly he brought his fist to the table, hard. The screen clattered. “Damn it! Is there anything we can do?”

“One,” Ax said calmly. “But before I tell you that, is there anything else you wanted to tell us, Colonel?”

The Colonel looked at him now. “As a matter of fact, it almost slipped my mind,” he finally said. He touched his screen again. “My boys have deciphered the rest of the message. But it just doesn’t make sense.”

“What do you mean?” Corenna asked, her interest piqued.

“Well, after the order to bring about the apocalypse, there was some reference on the pi’tha creature, as well as a reference to a well-known Kohine battle story about how a soldier disobeyed his superior and got himself in a bloody fix afterward. For all that I know, it could be a code, but for now it seemed like it’s a personal reminder to the commander of the fleet not to disobey the order.” Chen shrugged. “That’s about all there is to it. Now, what is our plan now?”

Ax stood up. “I’m afraid, ‘our’ in this case doesn’t include you. Or your boys.”

“What do you mean?” Chen demanded as the rest of the team rose with Ax.

“Leave it to us,” he smiled as he started walking to the door. “Just be ready to receive the Federation fleet if they do arrive on time.” He paused just as he reached for the door. “Oh, and try to get some sleep, Colonel. You’re wound tighter than a superconductor wire around the fusion core, and coffee is pretty expensive in this planet.” He concentrated for a moment on the glyphs in his mind.

Several moments later, leaving the peacefully snoring officer behind slumped forward on his desk, Ax led the party out of the office and into the woods where Vaschin and LooLee were waiting. His mind was already filled with the details sent by his sister. The Raals were on the move. The time for the final confrontation was nigh at hand.

Time for PET 2 to meet again. Perhaps for the last time.

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Brigadier General Aslameeni looked at the communications module again. Yes, his message had gone through safely. And the paranoid General Zabdeemia had undoubtedly monitored his transmission. Any suspicious messages and he would not hesitate to reduce his second-in-command into a slimy spot on the floor. Just like what he did to that poor Lieutenant.

But he was still intact. His tail was still attached securely to the rest of his body.

He had known Colonel Tedeenore for a long time. They were somewhat related as well, but family ties didn’t mean much to the Kohines. There was a time, however, when the Colonel and him had exchanged stories with each other.

Aslameeni turned to look at the fleet position on the screen again. The message had gone through to Tedeenore. The description of the pi’tha and the story of Major Yeeranii should be received as well… and it’s up to the Colonel to interpret it…

On screen, several of the snub fighters started to move. As he stared at the fighters, they bunched together and maneuvered themselves… and for a brief moment, he found himself staring at the Kohine glyph ‘jhar’.

‘Deceit’.

He permitted himself a small, satisfied burp as the fighters rearranged themselves back to their former position. Now for the second phase of his plan.

Dell
27th Dec 2002, 04:45
I took my time rereading and absorbing this monumental piece of work, Vakusuma. I am totally awed by the way you managed to reach back and put it all together and bring it to us like like it was only yesterday! Only yesterday . . .

A brilliant tour de force, Vaksuma....and I am supposed to follow this?

Oh Lordy...

Moggraider
27th Dec 2002, 20:26
Quite.

Mouze1
28th Dec 2002, 02:28
Fantastic piece of writing vakusuma. Impressive and exciting. Looking forward to more.

Canyon Wolf
3rd Jan 2003, 04:22
Damn, account died on me. Kept getting a Forbidden, and I had to ram it in the admin's throat to come back.

Well, I'm here...and it looks good. It's not like I don't want to write for this story, but I've been away from it for too long, counting the whole year that I'm missing on it even before the forum, um, technically quietens down. I don't know if I can do it.

But let's not indulge in there. A virtuoso performance, Vak. Like Dell said, you made it sound like only yesterday...

Dell
11th Jan 2003, 22:37
Well, dear friends of MAS 1, it was only yesterday . . . in
fantasy time.

This is Loolee, or as close a picture as I can find:

http://homepage.ntlworld.com/john.murphy33/background/meadowpixie.gif

I herewith present my contribution to this monumental effort that so many different people contributed to over time. Truly a brain child that deserves a proper burial. And so, without further ado . . .

MAS 1, Chapter 59
by Dell

In spite of their disheveled appearance, Ax, Roe, and Corenna kept proper military bearing and step as they left Colonel Chen's office, retraced their steps through the busy hum of activity in Colonial Headquarters, and proceeded to the secluded glen outside of town where Vaschin and LooLee waited. Sarah trailed behind a bit uncertainly, and Ax grinned to himself as he read her confusion. This was, after all, her first actual experience with the PET 2 Team members as these people normally were...a crack, specially trained military unit conducting their business. The team members missing here, Pedro, Jack, and Jannaleen, were waiting for them somewhere back in or near the village of Mira.

Her first experience with Ax was clear in her memory: a man semi-conscious, filthy, and covered with bruises, small cuts, and abrasions from the shuttle crash. She had bathed him and dressed him, fed him and tended him until he reached some kind of normal condition. Certainly this efficient leader and military order-giver bore no resemblance to the Ax she had come to know...and love. Deep inside her, a tiny ripple of unease traced its way, leaving a tiny icicle trail of misgivings behind it. Ax felt it at once, a small mental tug, and his smile changed to a frown, a small 'v' of lines appearing in his forehead as his eyes narrowed. That would never do. He would not have his Sarah uneasy or uncertain about him. He was firm in that resolve.

In the clearing where he waited for their return, Vaschin leaned against the trunk of a tree idly honing his knife on the small black stone he carried in his belt pouch for this purpose. The stone had small rusty-looking bloodstains where it had rubbed against the dragon's tooth, toenail, and scale that shared the pouch with it. These were honorable trophies for had he not single-handedly slain a dragon?

The blade glinted in the dancing dots of sunshine falling through the leaves as though they were doing a small secret ritual dance of their own. As he observed this, his dark-brown features crinkled in a smile, and Vaschin turned the blade so both sides could receive the benefits of this blessing. Indeed, the two suns were gifting his blade with special qualities, no small thing in this world where his knife was both his livelihood and protection.

He sheathed the knife and shifted his bow and quiver as he stood up when the four humans entered the clearing. Strange beings, these humans, he thought, especially that female known as Roe. That one had the black dreams and carried dark secrets. Such good fighters, these humans, such good equipment they had, and so totally out of touch in this natural world that had no mechanical devices...nor needed them. They actually had to depend on him to lead them around from place to place, warn them of danger, and sometimes find them food. Yet, he, Vaschin, had traveled far in this world alone...and slain a dragon without their help. His hand, unnoticed, touched his sheathed blade.

A blur of color and the small humming sound of wings announced Loolee's arrival. She slowed and hovered in front of him, and he caught the message she brought from the Elder Tree. Yes, he thought, he would do that, lead them in a direction at an angle away from Mira Village. He could easily do that without them becoming aware of it. He knew the place he was to take them, so it was an easy thing to do. He smiled an ever-so-small smile, and sat back down with his back against the tree.

After this brief pause in front of Vaschin, Loolee hovered in front of Corenna for a moment, then settled on her shoulder, her favorite human perch. She reached out and clutched Corenna's earlobe, and in that instant was inside Corenna's mind, a place she had come to know very well since the humans had come to this world. She felt very at home here in a mind so straightforward and honest in its feelings and motives. No hidden agendas here. Even the dark and shadowed areas of the killing instinct that rose and dominated sometimes was straightforward and honest...Corenna was a PET 2 member and as such she sometimes had to kill to protect herself or others. But never did she kill from bloodlust. That hateful thing simply was not in her.

Corenna smiled and reached up to gently touch Loolee. That this strange, telepathic, little fairy-like creature was a healer in this world continually amazed her. That she was telepathic Corenna knew, and she welcomed the gently reassuring mind touches she felt from time-to-time. The fact that Loolee had found her injured and lost after the shuttle crash, and tried to help her in her first encounter with a hostile creature was enough to endear her forever in Corenna's heart...Loolee was a trusted friend.

Across the glen, much as Vaschin was doing, Roe squatted with her back against a tree trunk. She had removed her backpack and was using the attached stylus to write on the Instanote she carried there. A dark memory slithered like a small blind eel through her mind, and she forcibly pushed it away as she made notes about their meeting with Colonel Chen. Such an inept flustered man, she thought. She could certainly handle that job better than he appeared to be doing, but she would never be happy behind a desk. She was a Science Officer, a Field Science Officer, and she wanted no other job.

Her thoughts rapidly jumped from topic to topic as she tried to evade the cold touches of the memory eel, still sliding through the secret recesses, nuzzling its way across synapses inside her mind. She put the Instanote pad down beside her and rubbed her temples, then picked it up again.

She very much agreed with Ax...this battle would be resolved on the planet itself, not in some space jockey chess game above it. And the spacemen who seldom set foot on solid earth would never believe that the planet itself would resolve it. Oh no, but it was true. She believed it. She had seen the Elder Tree...and telepathically heard the ultimatum.

She looked across the glade to where Loolee was perched on Corenna's shoulder and noted the contented, almost identical expressions on both of their faces...fairy creature and PET 2 Team member alike. For a moment, such a feeling of envy and wanting filled her that her eyes actually blurred with tears. To have peace? To be able to sleep without nightmares? To smile? Oh how she did want that...it had been so long now, so very many years.

Across the glade, Loolee tensed as she received a message. Far had it traveled, through the tree against which Roe leaned, down the root system that spread out and covered the entire planet, to the Elder Tree itself, then back, back up through the tree against which Corenna leaned, and thence to Loolee.

"Now," was the message. "Now she is ready."

Without hesitation, Loolee left Corenna's shoulder and flew directly to Roe. There she hovered as she and Roe studied each other intently. Then, after the slightest of nods from Roe, Loolee landed on her shoulder, and reached out and touched her ear. She involuntarily recoiled, shuddered, then resolutely tightened her hold on the lobe.

* * *

She was alone, had been alone for a long time. It was cold, bitter cold outside, and she was shivering. Hunger griped through her bowels, gnawing and twisting, driving her mindlessly to the food source. She whimpered. More snow had fallen since the last time, but she remembered where to go. Her feet remembered the way, knew which way to go. It required no thought.

She burrowed under the new fall, felt for and found the cleaver, and hacked a few small frozen pieces from the larger carcass. It was enough for several days. She only made this trip when driven by pain. Nothing else could have forced her there. That she knew but she didn't know why. In time her stomach had shrunk, her system adapted to her state of near hibernation. It required no more to sustain life, so the trips were not so often any more.

She retraced her steps inside to her den. It was a den. She had made it herself from bits and scraps of things she could find and drag to cover the hiding place and keep the warm inside. She knew where it was...underthebed was where it was. She knew that. Her den was underthebed. It was warmer in there. The things gave warm. Sometimes she could remember their names, remembered what they were. She found them right after ... she could not think past there and did not try.

She was in her den. She was warmer now. She pulled covers over her head to hide the light from the warm things, and gnawed on the scraps of meat. Her stomach growled and churned, urging her to hurry. She swallowed. It was good. Afterward, she slept once more.

* * *

Roe screamed, standing upright. The horror on her face was a nightmarish grimace, and Ax, Corenna, and Vaschin immediately sprang to alert battle stance, weapons drawn. Loolee darted to each of them, shaking her head, then went back to Roe's shoulder and resumed her hold on her ear. It was Vaschin who understood first.

"She helps the one with dark dreams. No harm is being done. Soon it will be finished. All is well." He sheathed his weapon and sat down again.

Across the clearing, Roe's knees seemed to give way, and she sank back into a sitting position, her back against the tree, her head now cradled in her hands. Although she did not realize it, waves of calm, soothing energy were flowing both from the tree itself, and Loolee.

After a questioning look at each other, Ax and Corenna also sheathed their weapons and seated themselves. They had known all along that something was amiss with Roe. She carried something inside unspoken, unmentioned, and never exposed. Ax in particular had been feeling the blackness she inadvertently transmitted from time to time, but in the heat of the situations they encountered here, there had been no time. He had made a mental note to refer her to the psychs when they returned to base, but there had been no time for anything more. Apparently, Loolee was doing something and he had to trust that it was good. Loolee spoke for the Elder Tree, and she was a healer. At this stage he doubted the Elder Tree would do anything harmful to them.

And the afterthought struck him with a certainty. Roe had known what Loolee was going to do...and agreed to it. He nodded to Corenna who was looking at him questioningly. So they waited and watched.

Well, now I know, Roe thought. After all these years, I know everything that happened. I know what happened! Tears forced their way under her closed lids, coursing down her cheeks in shiny rivulets, and a tiny sob forced its way from her throat.

Ax and Corenna exchanged looks. Roe crying? The icy calm, controlled Science Officer Roe was crying?

Roe had known only what she had been told, her childhood memories blurred and unclear. Her parents were colonists traveling from one planetary system to another in a resettlement project. Their craft had crashed on the outermost planet of the system they were leaving; it was nearly a year before that fact was discovered, and the remains of the craft located half buried in the snows that shrouded the planet year round. Certain that there were no survivors, it had come as a great shock to discover the seven year old child cowering under a bunk covered with blankets and other debris, with three survival Everlights providing enough warmth to keep her alive in a near hibernation state.

The rescuers could find no one else, and no bodies were found in the wreckage. In the hurry to get the nearly comatose child to an intensive care medical treatment center, it was simply assumed that the parents had left the child with enough food to survive, gone to find help, and never returned. There the official story ended.

But the real story had gone on in her mind all these years, unceasingly trying to force its way into her conscious awareness. Bad dreams, black dreams, screaming nightmares.

She nearly said the words aloud. "I ate my parents." The thought stood there like some evil totem carved and etched with the evidence of her unspeakable crime. "Cannibal," her mind accused.

She moaned, and it was then the calm, gentle, wise and powerful 'voice' entered her mind. "You were a child, Roe, a child in inconceivable circumstances, one filled with the need to survive as are all living things. What else should you have done? Simply given up and died from starvation?"

There was a pause to let her absorb this. "No. There are sins in this universe, great sins, and this was not one of them. Your parents were dead. They did not survive the crash. You were left on your own, a child alone with no food, no warmth, no way to survive...and you did what was necessary and good. You are here. You have accomplished much and contributed much to all human kind and other creatures as well. Your work is good and of benefit. You were right to survive. It is what your parents would have wanted. They loved you."

Again there was a pause, and Roe raised her head, for the first time looking at the others. A half-smile lifted the corners of her mouth, and she unashamedly reached up to wipe the tears from her cheeks. The 'voice' could not be denied. All through her mind, subtle changes were being made, memories sorted and cleared of guilt. It was done without her permission, but she had been in need and asked for help.

The words came again, more distantly now. "Be at peace, Roe child. All is well, and you have a job to do now, a grave responsibility. Much is at stake. Be at peace." The voice drifted away, now dreamlike, fading then gone. Loolee released her ear and with a flash of rainbow colored wings, darted to her regular place on Corenna's shoulder.

* * *

Makambo and Barnes were following Zan and his Raals. They glanced at each other. Aside from being strange looking creatures, the Raals moved in an eerie silence. No orders were given, no audible words were exchanged, yet they kept perfect order and moved at an even, orderly pace.

"Must be telepaths," Makambo whispered to Barnes. "I hate them. I really do. Totally abnormal like so many of these damned alien races we keep running into. It's not bad enough they look like nightmares, they don't speak either. Not normal."

She would have gone on muttering but Barnes glared at her. "For Alaron's sake, shut your face. We don't need anyone to hear us now." His voice was pitched low but his tone was deadly, and Makambo followed his orders and shut her mouth. That she was thinking a nasty retort was clear on her face, and Barnes' glare turned into a vicious scowl before he turned to watch where they were going.

It was hard to stay fairly close but maintain a distance from the three Pet 2 team members and the colonial ranger who were keeping pace some distance to the right of the Raal group. Barnes was not happy but orders were orders, and how he did want to get that shape-shifter. Took a human form it had, masquerading as a proper human being, it did. Called itself a human name too. What was it? Oh yeah. Milton Freet, that was it, Milton Freet.

* * *

Janaleen matched strides with Pedro and Jack. To her right, Leon stayed close to her elbow. Leon. She smiled a small secret smile, the faintest trace of uplifting at the corners of her lips. From their very first meeting in Sarah's cabin, Leon, Sarah's brother, had never been far from her elbow whenever possible. She turned her head to look at him, and as if feeling the touch of her eyes, he turned to look at her. It was momentary, but the amount of love and caring that passed between them spoke of a lifetime commitment before they looked away.

She could feel the waves of determination emanating from all the men as they kept pace with Zan's followers. I believe it, she thought. I think there will be a stand-off between Seth's Raal followers and the followers of Zan. Raal will not be able to kill Raal regardless of urging by Seth...the Seth/Freet entity she corrected herself. That idea filled her with a kind of nameless horror. Each alone was a near-unbeatable enemy and both combined in some kind of nightmare creature was unthinkable.

She wasn't aware she was transmitting until she felt the touch of Ax in her mind.

'We're coming, Janaleen. We'll meet up with you near Mira, I think.'

His touch was welcome and soothing; he usually picked up her transmissions before anyone else. All their lives the twins had been unusually close for fraternal twins, but that feeling had grown a hundredfold since her contact with Zan and the Elder Tree. She was changed. She knew she was changed...and Ax was not. Since their arrival on Isis 17, she had been forced somewhere beyond him, changed in ways even she didn't understand. She sighed, sent him warmth and love, and closed the connection. She didn't want to transmit her misgivings to him. Not now.

It was then she caught the touch of others. There...just there. Off to the right. Two. Oh. The remaining Pet 3 team members. Following. Intentions? She lightly touched the mind of Barnes. Ah. Freet. His interest was Freet, not the Raal or the Pet 2 team members. All right. More help was welcome, even as distractions.

Suddenly she realized that Ax and his group were not on a course for Mira at all. As it felt to her, they were moving fast, and Vaschin was leading them directly to Seth and the Raal followers, the place of final confrontation. She considered, then decided that was all right. No need to tell him. They would all arrive in the area at nearly the same time. All in one place at one time. When she thought of the Seth/Freet entity they would have to face, she shivered.

How could they handle it? She knew there would be no help from the Elder Tree this time. That much was clear. The Ultimatum had been given. Stop all this before any harm or further injury came to the entity that was the planet they had named Isis 17. Stop it or all foreign bodies would die, both on the planet and in the air space above it. So the Elder Tree had said, and so it would be.

She felt a distant touch, a cold and vicious touch bereft of any feeling other than hatred...and something else. Deception? Yes, deception. Reptilian, she thought. What? What was that? She knew the touch of the shape-changer. How could she ever forget that? No, not the shape-changer. An entity unknown to her. In this way, Janaleen made her first contact with the Kohine...the first contact, but not the last.

* * *

Anger, deep, cold, vicious, killing anger and determination. The essence of the reptilian Kohine creature that had called itself Milton Freet lay nearly quiescent, seething inside its own body, chained and bound in its own mind by the Raal entity known as Seth. Never should such a thing have happened. The impossible. The unimaginable. Trapped and held by a mind more powerful than its own, it sought a way out, testing, probing, gently searching for pathways no stranger mind could have discerned.

It would find a way out, a way around the blocks and locks the Raal had imposed. There was a way, it knew it, could feel it. Now it had to find that way before the Raal became aware of what it was doing.

* * *

Arriving within minutes of each other, they came from different directions, those that would take part in this final confrontation with the Seth/Shape-changer entity and its followers. Acting first, General Zan led his group of Raal directly into the clearing, walking proudly up to the figure standing on a small raised platform in the Raal form of Seth. Zan's throat colors were a kaleidoscope of color as his followers spread out behind him to confront those standing in rows behind Seth. For those watching, this display of flashing throat colors between the opposing ranks of Raal was an amazing thing to see, a silent clash of colors with meanings far beyond their understanding. The clearing was awash in psychic energy.

And so it began . . .

Chilled Unit
11th Jan 2003, 22:45
Simply stunning!

The dark pasts, the new loves, the hopes and dreams wrapped in those characters now standing on the threshold of the final battle!

Great stuff indeed.. :)

vakusuma
11th Jan 2003, 22:56
That was a hella piece of work :D

Now, I guess it's my turn again to continue from that awesome chapter... yipe...

vakusuma
12th Jan 2003, 08:43
You don’t understand, Keesha, the General said as he slithered past her. Seth’s influence had been so strong, in fact, that they would stop at nothing at all. Unlike us, they have no qualms of causing irreversible mental damage to their own kind… or extinguishing the mental pattern altogether. I don’t want unnecessary casualties.


“You forget that they are after all Raals,” Zan’s mental voice seemed to be quivering with mirth. “They cannot raise a hand against us just as we can't against them.”

The first one was taken from Chapter 42, and the second from Chapter 58. See the problem yet? :eek:

/me smacks self for contradicting himself

Now I gotta straighten out that mess...

Dell
12th Jan 2003, 15:07
My suggestion?

Delete the pararaph in the prior chapter. We all missed that at the time...and I think even earlier their inability to actually harm each other was discussed in connection with mad Seth. That's why he was held captive in the first place by General Zan instead of exterminated on the spot.

Don't worry, be happy! It will all work out before we get through with it.

And thank you for that lovely E-book. :)

Know who seems to be missing? Mouze...

Mouze1
12th Jan 2003, 21:26
Never fear, the puny little Mouze is here.

That was one exciting blockbuster chapter Dell. This is going to be one magnificent story.

Waiting to see what vak has up his sleeves for the confrontation.

Arkron
12th Jan 2003, 22:28
Wonderful work! Can't wait for the next chapter :)

vakusuma
12th Jan 2003, 23:09
A little edition on the previous chapter...


“I've confronted some of them in the past. Despite their talk of not hesitating to use force against their fellow Raals, our mental probe subjected on them has discovered that the true Raal behavior still ran as strongly in them as it is in us,” Zan’s mental voice seemed to be quivering with mirth. “They cannot raise a hand against us just as we can't against them.”

Chapter 59 is also now up on the website. In addition, I updated the main page. The link to Eidos forum has been updated. A link to Nexus has been established. The current chapters of MAS 4 are available now on the website. And if you do want the eBook version of MAS1, you can also download it from there.

Will start writing as soon as I can find time.

Dell
13th Jan 2003, 19:37
Now that is masterful editing, Vakusuma! Just a few words inserted in one sentence changes the whole thrust and outcome of a battle for a world! Be proud!

Busy little bee...buzzing all over the place cross-pollinating web sites to link the stories. Great idea!

Good work! When you are ready again, just insert yourself in the MAS 3 writing order any time. You know we all welcome you!

Oh, would someone notify Amazeroth about these last chapters we have posted here in MAS 1? I think perhaps he might like to read them as one of the original writers.

Jenova knows, Nightstalker knows, Arkron knows, I know, Vakusuma knows, so that just leaves Amazeroth.

And how about it people? To be fair. Wanton did contribute a chapter...sorta...early on in the story with a lot of assistance from a couple of people, one of whom has remained nameless all this time!

Maybe someone could let him know, too? He might be interested.

vakusuma
27th Jan 2003, 04:15
Bump. Sorry about the extended delay. Just when I was starting to get down to it, my computer crashed and I lost the chapter I'm working on. Now I'm going to have to put up with this stupid computer... at least until I figure out how to fix it....

Gah. I make myself a solemn promise that I'll drop everything I do and start again on MAS1 when I finally fix this computer once and for all.

Dell
27th Jan 2003, 21:25
Considering how very long this sweet little story was "sleeping", a little delay is acceptable...especially when the reason for it us such a good one. Losing one's work is deadly because you can never recreate what you had the first time under the influence of writing inspiration.

Do the best you can, Vakusuma...whatever you write will be excellent!

vakusuma
1st Feb 2003, 21:55
Comp's fully operational.

Now to fulfill a promise.

vakusuma
7th Feb 2003, 06:36
Okay, requesting opinion here.

As I write my chapter, I realize that Chapter 60 is going to be The Mother Of All Chapters(TM) which also means that it's going to be very, very long.

To put it on par with the other chapters, I've been thinking of splitting it.

So, there are three options now:
A. Make it one long chapter.
B. Make it two or three shorter chapters. Name them Chapters 60, 61 (and 62 if applicable)
C. Make it two or three shorter chapters. Name them Chapters 60A, 60B (and 60C if applicable)

Actually, B and C are the same option with minor cosmetic details. Dunno if you guys actually like numbers or letters better :)

So?

Dell
7th Feb 2003, 22:20
My choice? Name them Chapter 60, Chapter 61, and so on as needed.

'Chaptering' at reasonable lengths consistent with the rest of the story is the best idea. Who cares if your name is on all the chapters? Have you noticed how long my chapter was? Sometimes you just have to do it ...

Nightstalker
8th Feb 2003, 15:26
If Vak doesn't finish the story I would like to write a chapter as well. It will stand out if you would compare it to the first chapter I wrote here...

Nightstalker.

vakusuma
9th Feb 2003, 21:52
Oh, I will finish the battle :) I'll leave you guys to clean up the body parts after me :p

What do you have in mind for writing?

Nightstalker
10th Feb 2003, 13:07
First I'll have to reread at least the last 10 - 15 chapters, it sank away a bit. Then I'll have to read your chapter to decide what I'm going to write.

Nightstalker.

Dell
10th Feb 2003, 20:35
I suggest you read my last chapter carefully, too, Nightstalker. If you intend to write about Ax and Sarah, then get them located properly in place. I had hoped Ax will stay with her.

Because no one responded before when Vakusuma asked for ideas and input and no one was interested in answering, he and I spent a lot of time figuring out how the story would end.

Not being selfish, you know you are welcome to write, but I still want my characters (and several others), to end it as Vakusuma and I have decided, without someone throwing in hitches at this late date.

Again, please read the last parts carefully...everything is set up.

Wait until Vakusuma posts the chapter he is working on now! It has a lot of surprises in it that affect everyone!

Dell
18th Feb 2003, 18:02
Bump! And double posting!

Vakusuma? Are you about through with the next chapter(s) ?

I know you have a great part of it written!

Please update us? :)

vakusuma
18th Feb 2003, 23:17
Sorry about that. Exam week is coming so I haven't been able to sneak in some time for work on this chapter :(

By Dell's request, however, I will post the first part of Chapter 60 that I have completed so far.



Chapter 60

Stalemate


“Instinct rules us all, without exception. Khatari, human… even these advanced beings. The instinct to hunt… the instinct to defend one’s pack from another, overpowers all. And when instinct takes over, intelligence flees from its presence,” Vaschin chuckled mirthlessly as they stared at the gathering Raal before them. It was truly an awesome, and terrifying, sight to behold. The tension was palpable as the two groups of the near-immortals stared at each other.

They were at the edge of the clearing, where Zan’s Raal assembled before their rogue brethrens. There were twice as many Raals on Zan’s side as there were on Seth’s side, each indistinguishable from the other, at least to those creatures unaccustomed to Raals. But the numbers seemed insignificant at the moment as Seth stared malignantly at his former general, who stared back with an undecipherable expression.

“It has come to this,” Ax sighed. “I thought that we could devise a way to capture Seth somehow before General Zan’s Raals made it here. I’m afraid that we have come too late to prevent the standoff.”

“It has to happen, you know,” Jannaleen said as she stepped up behind Ax’s little party, followed by Pedro, Leon, and Jack. She made her way to her brother and putting her arms around him, snuggled against the man who had always shared her deepest feelings, secrets… and fears. “Seth’s forces are growing, and they will definitely turn against you if you try anything stupid. Only Zan’s people would be able to distract them sufficiently so that we can do something about that madman.” She noticed briefly that LooLee was again glowing pink with the energy that had been granted to her by the Elder Tree.

… this insanity, Zan’s voice was suddenly in everyone’s mind as the Elder Tree granted the gift of understanding to everyone in the clearing. You have left me with no choice, Your Majesty. I will NOT stand still while you continue with your doomed plan to take over the universe. Remember your heritage. You will doom our people if you carry on.

Seth’s mental voice seemed derisive. You really have no vision, General. The mental voice of the monarch of the Raals, who had wrestled control of Freet’s fluid body, seemed like thunder compared to Zan’s mollifying mental voice. I long ago decided to leave you out of the equation, Zan. My plans are already in motion. Even as we speak, the fleet is already above us, ready to take us to the stars once again. There is really nothing left for you to stop, Zan. You are too late. Traces of contempt marked his voice now. There are only two choices left for all of you. Join me… or die. I have enough to carry out this plan without you anyway!

Die, Your Majesty? I don’t think so. Zan’s mental voice was dry. His voice suddenly resonated across the air as he addressed the Raals behind Seth. Have your loyalties become so skewed that you are willing to abandon your heritage? Are you willing to sacrifice your fellow Raals to satisfy the whims of this power hungry maniac you call your King?

Zan had clearly expected a nervous chatter to break out among the opposing Raals as they were faced with an unexpected choice. Therefore, it came as a terrible surprise to him as the Raals continued to stay calm. Clearly, they had considered that.

King Seth laughed madly. You are so naïve, General. I know - as you do - that they will not agree to that… well, not initially, at least. It was an excellent plan to attempt a standoff between us, but a shame. Such a shame. Then he roared a terrible mental command at his followers. SEAL THEM!

There was a sudden cackling of psychic energy in the air, and one of the Raals next to the General suddenly fell limply to the ground, the color draining with horrible certainty from her neck. Keesha!, the General cried as the Raal hit the ground, and was followed by more falling around her. Zan also felt subjected to sudden mental attacks directed at his own mind.

He had almost forgotten it, but now he remembered with painful clarity once again. He was again looking down at his fallen Majesty, while starfighters loomed menacingly on the horizon in the blood-red evening sky. Seth had been defeated at that time by the psychic seal he had erected on his liege’s mind, effectively rendering him immobile. No, the psychic seal that they had erected. He saw, once again, six of his fellow generals lying around him, the six who had helped him erect the psychic seal around Seth. It had taken him some time to recognize death, a concept so alien to the near-immortal Raals…

For the first time, he could only stare at the falling Raals helplessly. He had long vowed never to put a psychic seal on anyone again, ever, for he had recognized that the mental effort put forth into doing so may very well sap the life energy of the caster. Seth was killing his own people by sealing Zan’s Raals, and he had counted on the Raals not knowing the consequences of putting up a psychic seal. Indeed, that knowledge has died along with the six generals, and now, only he… and Seth… knew.

With that, he steeled himself for what he would have to do. It would not be easy, but his people were being reduced in an alarming rate. He himself was stronger than most Raal, and would need significant effort to seal… but soon, he would be alone, facing the combined might of hundreds of Raal. Not even Seth could face it. And suddenly realization broke within him.

RALLY FORTH! SEAL THE KING! his mental voice barked just as loudly as Seth’s has been. And immediately he felt a great surge of mental energy as hundreds of psychic energy streams were directed at the monarch… only to be met by the energy of the opposing Raals. Recognizing the danger to their liege, they had broken off their engagement and defended Seth instead, while at the same time trying to sneak off mental energy streams at the opposing team and their general.

Zan’s mind was almost curiously detached as the psychic maelstrom raged in the clearing. At this stalemate, chaos reigned. Every pretense of non-violence had been abandoned. Hatred had taken control. Only one thought raged through the infinite mind of each Raal, the most basic of them… seal, or be sealed.

They were surely going mad. All of them.

-------------------------------------

“I don’t know what the hell’s going on, Barnes, but it ain’t good,” Makambo growled as she crouched behind the bush next to her superior. “And ain’t natural,” she added with a slight shudder. Despite their exposure to psionic energies, nothing that they have experienced so far could aptly describe what they were facing. After all, a psychic maelstrom this violent could hardly be described as commonplace.

Barnes seemed to ignore her. Aside from his handgun, he still had his field telescope… antique, but useful equipment nonetheless. At the moment, he was scanning his horizon with that telescope, and Makambo was pretty sure that he was ignoring the shriek that was produced by the maelstrom in his mind.

“So, that’s Seth,” Barnes said calmly, as if the sight of hundreds of Raal in the clearing was commonplace. “He doesn’t look so tough. Now that the Raals are distracted, this is the best chance for us to act.”

“Act how?” Makambo said sarcastically. “With all due respect, Commander, there is a psychic maelstrom around that bastard. Elementary Yuri Equation dictates the presence of electromagnetic flux around a psychic field. Any energy bolt in this particular field would be ripped apart before it could’ve gone very far. And likewise for human flesh, given the presence of iron in our blood. I am a medic, of course, but I am under the impression that elementary school students know that fact by heart.”

Barnes shot her such a cold look that the medical officer flinched. For a moment, he said nothing. And then he gently laid down his rifle and unholstered an archaic-looking handgun. “Perhaps you wonder why I carry this antiquated junk around,” he said as he reached into his pocket. “I do realize that our ordinary weapons won’t work in the presence of a strong electromagnetic field. That’s the basic principle behind tach shield. Therefore, for targets like that, we need projectiles. Of course, any paramagnetic stuff in the projectile would make it useless.” He took out several bullets from his pocket and handed one to Makambo. She noted with surprise, as she turned the bullet on her hands, that the bullet was made from some kind of plastic. “It’s a Neo-Raylar bullet, popular several hundred years ago among assassins who realized that plastic bullets would not be stopped by electromagnetic field. The material is very expensive since it had to perform just as well as synthsteel alloy bullets, but it certainly would be worth it if I can bring down that son of a *****.”

She looked to Seth as Barnes hurriedly loaded his gun with his plastic bullets. “You don’t even know his weak spot.”

“I’ve had xenobiology, Makambo, and I’ve known at least enough to know that all alien creatures cannot survive a well-placed shot in the head.” He cocked his gun. “The body can’t function without a brain. Seth would be no exception.”

“But, I thought you wanted to bring him to base to be studied?” Makambo almost cried as Barnes coolly raised his gun and took aim.

“Nobody said that he has to be alive for that,” Barnes replied with a faint, sardonic smile.

And he fired.


Come to think of it, I can actually make this a complete chapter. Chapters 61 and 62 coming up.

Dell
19th Feb 2003, 23:09
Go! Go! Go! It only gets better and better!

vakusuma
20th Feb 2003, 22:11
Broke the damn block at last.

Here we go, the second part of my three-part final battle installment of MAS1.

Chapter 62 hopefully will be enough for me to end the sequence.

I managed to insert two sentences from Diablo-II. Brownie points if you can find them.


Chapter 61

An Ancient Mind

“That fool,” Jannaleen hissed as she turned sharply at the bush behind which Makambo and Barnes were concealed.

“If you’re saying that your precious General is a fool, I agree,” Jack replied promptly. The assassin was quietly studying the ensuing mental battle before him. “I tried to warn him that Seth won’t be anything but trouble.”

“Not him,” Jannaleen said, slightly more sharply than intended. The resonance of the psychic field before them was perceived as a loud hum on everyone’s mind, but to Jannaleen’s highly attuned mind, the resonance was enough to cause her massive headaches. She gritted her teeth as she tried to repress another wave of psychic resonance. “I sensed the remaining PET 3 team members behind that bush. They were following us from Mira.” It was a wonder that her overwhelmed mind could still pick up a relatively weak signature of the two humans.

Leon sprang to his feet almost immediately. “Why didn’t you tell me earlier, Jannaleen? Let me take care of them!” His tone was vehement, but one could sense his sense of protectiveness.

Jannaleen smiled briefly. “They weren’t intent on harming us. If they were, they would’ve confronted us earlier, wouldn’t they?” She seemed to be concentrating slightly. “Their target seems to be Seth, however, ever since they overheard what’s really going on in this planet. And just now, I detected a sudden tinge of alertness in the commander’s mind. Looks like they’re about to act, somehow, but I don’t…”

Her words were abruptly cut off as a loud sound rang out from nowhere like an explosion. Pedro hissed, “High-caliber manual gun. What the hell…?”

The hum of psychic energy suddenly lessened. Dumbfounded, they finally noticed a big gaping hole where Seth’s face has been, where the bullet has struck. The Raals had ceased their battle, shocked at the suddenness of the attack.

“He did it. That son of a ***** did it,” Corenna breathed.

“No, he didn’t,” Jannaleen’s voice was small, frightened. “Remember that Seth has taken control of the Kohine shapechanger’s body. And what would happen if you shoot a bullet into wet clay? What would happen to the clay?”

As they watched in horrified silence, the Raal King laughed. It was no longer a psychic laugh… it was a low, guttural laughter just below the audible threshold that made one’s hackles rise. Considering that Seth no longer had a face, the sound seemed to come from beyond the grave.

“Foolish humans!” Seth hissed, no longer speaking psionically now. “How can mere mortals like you hoped to kill an advanced being like me?” Like quicksilver, liquid protrusions of… something, began to emerge from the smooth surface of the hole to fill the hollowness. “Oh, but you will learn,” Seth continued as his flesh started to reform his face, “ for not even death can save you from me.” He suddenly roared and a new, malevolent pattern of psychic energy filled the clearing, directed at the bushes where the bullet originated. “SCREAM, MORTALS!”

And the new pattern roared into a savage maelstrom that ravaged at the bushes. Jannaleen sobbed not only because of the renewed headache, but also because of the sudden screams that filled the air. The screams were filled with agony beyond description, as if the maelstrom had came to steal one’s soul. And like puppets, the body of Makambo and Barnes flew from the bushes, hovering above the clearing. Their screams were clearly audible to everyone now, as their senses were assaulted by raw psychic energy.

But, Seth wasn’t satisfied. With a malicious grin, he sent a fresh mental command at the bodies. The screams were positively chilling, and inhuman, as flesh started to contort under the enormous pressure. Blood dripped in little fountains from their pores as Seth literally squeezed the blood from their bodies with his power like one would squeeze an orange.

Sarah was clinging to Ax by now, unwilling to see the mutilation of fellow human beings, however misguided they might be. Ax himself looked down at Sarah instead, stroking her hair while looking like he wished he was somewhere else. Corenna retched and emptied her stomach into the bushes behind them, while Roe went pale, her knuckles white as she clenched them tightly, not caring that her nails dug into her palms. Leon and Pedro averted their eyes, while even the normally uncaring Jack Hunt was quivering with anger… both at the atrocity, and at his impotence. LooLee had disappeared, while Vaschin was murmuring angrily in his native language… either a prayer or a vile oath.

And when the psychic maelstrom finally subsided, what was left of Barnes and Makambo dropped with a sickening thud to the ground in a pool of blood and gore and other unrecognizable things. The empty husks of the former Pet Three members no longer retained anything that resembled humanity…

“This is what awaits those who oppose us!” Seth hissed triumphantly as he turned to his army; his malicious grin faded as he realized that there was no longer any psychic energy around him. “What are you waiting for? Why are you standing there like you have lost your minds?” he screamed at his troops.

The clearing was silent. Every Raal there stared at the remains of the two humans, the colors draining from their necks, whether they were on Seth’s side or on Zan’s side.

You still don’t understand, do you, Your Majesty? Zan spoke quietly, his psionic voice breaking the silence. We are Raals. We do not kill. Sealing might prevent you from actually having to terminate a life, but if you are going to embark on a quest for domination, sooner or later you will encounter something that you just can’t seal. He pointed at the Raals behind Seth. You have seen how cruelly life can be desecrated by your powers. But is this what you want? All for an abstraction?

“SILENCE!” Seth roared. “Zan, you are a shame to our race! Why should we care about these… primitive… human beings? We are perfection… if we have to exterminate the less perfect human beings, so be it!” He turned at his Raals, who were still staring at the remains.

Zan lowered his head. Then you have given me no choice, Seth. Suddenly, a mental blast hit Jannaleen, who was still weeping. She stiffened, her eyes filled with shock. Leon gave a cry of alarm, but Ax firmly clamped his hand on the ranger’s arm to prevent him from rushing to Jannaleen, for he had recognized what happened to her. At almost the same time, the psychic energy started to pick up again as Zan directed the power of his mind at Seth. The mad king roared as he too summoned his powers to hold off the attack.
The two adversaries stared at each other, trying to overwhelm each other, but they seemed to be evenly matched…

“The General was never a match for the king,” Jannaleen said slowly. Her eyes reflected a sudden resolve. “And yet, now they are fighting like equals. It is the General’s belief that Seth was weakening, and that wasn’t because of his long imprisonment, for the stasis essentially only froze his mind… attempted to, anyway. When he…” she faltered, but she continued with even more resolve than before, “… killed… the two humans, Zan detected a faint pattern he had never recognized in Seth before. A definitely alien pattern.”

“And this means…?” Ax said slowly. In that burst of energy, Jannaleen had received the knowledge from Zan, and she was now ready. Whatever that she wanted to do, however, was still a mystery.

“Something is inside Seth’s brain. Probably an alien intelligence… or should I say, a parasite… an alien parasite feeding on his mind, sapping his strength and altering his sanity. It was his thought that if we destroy this… whatever… that plagues Seth’s mind, Seth could return to sanity.”

“Begging your pardon, woman, but you’ve seen what he has done to…” Jack eyed the husks and shuddered, “… them. How the hell do you think we will do that?”

“Me, Jack, not us. The General has given me a way to accomplish just that. That's why he’s battling Seth right now… to occupy his attention so that he will never see me coming.” Jannaleen's tone had become dead calm.

“Sis,” Ax’s eyes widened as a sudden awful realization occurred to him. “No, I will not let you do that!”

She sighed. “Ax, you’ve known for a long time that nothing can stop me once I have resolved to do something,” she chided. “Don’t start trying now. Besides, if you try to weaken me, the more chance there is I will fail. And I simply couldn’t afford to fail.”

“Wha…” Leon gaped as Jannaleen took a deep breath. “Ax, what is happening? What is she going to do?”

“Something incredibly stupid,” Ax muttered, but kept his hand firmly clamped on Leon’s arm. “But probably our only chance. Don’t even think about interfering.”

Jannaleen gave a small smile. “Thank you, Ax. Guard my back, will you?” And she hurled her mind forward…

… and she felt like she had hit a brick wall.

“You have no idea of the power you face!” Seth hissed at her, but her mind was curiously detached as she considered the mental shield that lay before her. Even during his battle with General Zan, Seth had been aware of her. But she definitely detected a weakening on his shield.

Again, her mind slammed into Seth’s shield, and Seth seemed to flinch. Maybe he did, physically. But she was past caring. With another powerful thrust, she pierced her enemy’s shield and hurled herself into the chaos within…

----------------------------------

Jannaleen studied her surrounding with almost a detached interest. This was not the first mind she had gone inside, but it was certainly vastly different. It looked… diseased. As she floated along the various pinkish caverns of the mind, she noticed sickly pale green growth everywhere. The caverns were alien, of course, but the growth stuck out even more so. Some clung to the wall, pulsing with life… and some that grew from the ceiling wall hung down. She resisted her impulse to feel and analyze those growths, for it was unspeakably repulsive even to look at.

How could she ever purge the parasite from Seth’s mind? Everywhere she looked, she couldn’t see any healthy, clean cavern wall. The parasite had had perhaps millions of years to grow, though, so she really shouldn’t be surprised. Perhaps she should’ve looked at the very core of Seth’s mind to understand better what was going on.

She gave a start as the form of General Zan shimmered before her. The General looked exhausted, but he gave her a regal nod. “Excellent work. I knew I could count on you.” His psychic voice seemed to gain resonance in this place, and Jannaleen actually perceived it as audible sound.

“But how… how could you…” Jannaleen gasped.

“Your piercing of the shield has hurt him more than I could imagine,” Zan chuckled. “Seth is practically screaming in unspeakable agony right now. Let me put it in a way you humans can understand: what would you feel if someone had pierced your eyes with a needle?”

Jannaleen shuddered. “It was that painful?”

“Indeed. His temporary agony had allowed me to slip inside his mind,” Zan replied as he looked around. “By the Light, the parasite has ravaged his mind more thoroughly that I had imagined. I’m surprised that I didn't discovered it earlier.” He looked curiously dejected as he started to float away, beckoning at Jannaleen to follow him. “I was hoping that there would be at least some part of Seth that could be saved, but perhaps I am wrong. The disease does explain his unusual genocidal tendencies earlier in his life, however.”

“What are you going to do, then?” Jannaleen asked.

“I was hoping that the parasite hadn’t grown this extensively, so that we could destroy the Prime Spore, where the growths originate, and let Seth clean up the dregs. At this stage, however, the Prime Spore must’ve had embedded itself so deeply that it is now virtually inseparable from Seth. I don’t like the option, but if we destroy this spore, we will destroy Seth as well. I will need to look at the Prime Spore to decide on the best course of action.”

“I take it that this is not the first case of parasite infection you have encountered,” Jannaleen said as they floated along the decaying caverns. The caverns were vast, reflecting the complexity of the mind. The previous minds Jannaleen had been into were markedly smaller and less convoluted.

“No,” Zan confirmed. “Several Raals have been infected in the past, but those were quickly discovered, and so it was not too late to cure them.” He thought for a moment. “I suppose that the battle in which Seth was wounded very badly made his mind very vulnerable. We Raals developed a natural immunity to the mind disease for a long time before that happened, for we learned in time how to shield our minds against such infection. Seth’s injury made it very easy for the parasite to enter his mind and fester. Since he was the King, and also because it had been a long time since any of us has been infected by the parasite, no one had dared to suggest to Seth that he had caught the disease. And now, it’s far too late.”

Jannaleen carefully avoided a particularly large growth that hung from the ceiling in front of her. “How badly is Seth’s mind suffering right now?”

“The parasite works by slowly assimilating into the mind. The process is very slow, and infected shorter-lived species, like humans, typically die long before the effect of the parasite would become noticeable. But this parasite has had a long time to assimilate Seth’s mind. Seth is definitely not himself anymore; his personality has become that of the parasite’s.”

“You’re saying then that if you destroy this mind, you would be destroying the parasite, since Seth was effectively dead a long ago?” Jannaleen pressed.

“Part of this mind is still Seth’s, but he has become extremely dependent on the parasite. Some of his coherent thoughts are still his, but his feelings are gone.”

“The parasite, regardless on how much it has ravaged this mind then, is definitely killing Seth, isn’t it? Wouldn’t killing the parasite and Seth actually be an act of kindness, to release your King from the disease and give him peace?”

Zan fell silent as he considered that. “You are right, in a fashion,” he finally conceded. “Very well, I will not hesitate to destroy this mind if it comes to that.” He pointed with his vestigial arm. “There is the Prime Spore.”

Jannaleen looked at what would’ve been the core of Seth’s mind. Instead of a glowing, vibrant core, she was looking at a huge, pale green pulsing mass, towering over them. The spores had completely covered Seth’s core; feeding on Seth’s mind power seemed to have made them grow to monstrous proportions.

“By the Light,” Zan breathed, “that is the biggest parasite colony I have ever seen in my life.”

“How are we going to destroy this Prime Spore?” Jannaleen asked as she looked with dismay at the huge structure.

“We are the representation of a minute tendril of our mind right now,” Zan said, “so it is possible to focus your entire mental power through yourself to destroy it. That was how we normally did it, but this colony is too big even for both of us to tackle. I don’t think what remained of Seth would try to overcome this. However, there’s the matter of the shapechanger, whose mind and body are occupied by Seth right now.” Zan pointed at a slight white protrusion on the Prime Spore, which was only partially covered. “He is still intact, but very much a prisoner. His mind, being one of the tenants of this place, would definitely be strong enough to help us overcome this parasite.”

“How very nice of you to notice,” suddenly a new voice rang out in the caverns. “It’s about time someone realized what fine mess I’m in right now. So, when are you going to help me out?”

Jannaleen looked angrily at the protrusion, which was the essence of the shapechanger. “For someone who’s in deep trouble, you do have a big mouth,” she retorted. “And for all your efforts in trying to kill me, why should I even bother to let you go free? Why shouldn’t I let you to sink inside that… that… disgusting thing?”

“When I figure out the way to get out, girl, I’ll make you sorry for that remark.” The protrusion pulsed briefly, and Jannaleen suspected that the prisoner was again feeling the lock that had been imposed on him. “It’s only a matter of time.”

“Who are you kidding? You are trapped inside one of the most powerful minds in the universe. How long will it take you to break free, if you don’t get assimilated first?” Jannaleen tapped her foot impatiently… or at least, that was what she would do if she had actual control over her body. “You need our help, and you’re not helping us in return. I have no time to waste on you. We can figure the way out of our problem by ourselves, and you can figure the way out of yours.”

And suddenly, the entire cavern shook… not only the walls, but also the substance that had seemingly supported Jannaleen and Zan. The shapechanger wailed as the two intruders tried to desperately steady themselves.

“Too late!” he moaned. “You should’ve released me when you had the chance! The blasted monster had recovered… and by golly, he’s coming for you! There is no escape for us… we are going to die together!”

vakusuma
20th Feb 2003, 22:18
God, I hate Geocities.

FTP is restricted to paying user. And now their File Manager is completely inaccessible. Can't update the damn website.

Anyone have any suggestion of a good host I can switch to?

vakusuma
22nd Feb 2003, 04:32
Busy week for me. No Chapter 62 until next week, I'm afraid.