Central Tower in downtown Paseo was the seat of government on the planet Motavia. It was where Commander-Governor Neil O'Conner carried out the directives of the Algol planetary system's Mother Brain, the vast network system that controlled everything in Algol. The human side of the government was situated on the first planet, Palma, the shining jewel of the Algol, the former home of Algol's royalty and now home to the great scholars and leaders of the star system. Motavia, the second planet, was once a desert, but a few centuries ago the Mother Brain network built sophisticated facilities on the planet and transformed it into the agricultural hub of Algol. As Motavia prospered, its population boomed, creating urban areas among the landscape, and now it rivaled Palma in wealth and production. To Commander O'Conner's great dismay, all of his planet's prosperity was unraveling before his eyes, and the burden of responsibility weighed heavily on him.
Central Tower was a striking building, one of the tallest in Paseo and grand in its design, with its gleaming, stainless steel veneer, adorned by silver rings representing the orbits of Palma and Motavia. They gracefully encircled the sinuous, glistening tower. It was conceived to inspire peace and confidence among the citizens, to radiate the beauty found in their star system, but as O'Conner paced his office on one of the top floors, it felt like he was locked away in a fortress, unable to do anything meaningful to stop the fall of his fair planet and home.
Commander O'Conner looked out the panoramic plate-glass wall of his office and scanned Paseo's skyline, lost in deep thought over the recent chain reaction of catastrophic events Motavia was suffering through. The capital was safe from the biomonsters that roamed the countryside, but it didn't put him at ease. Forcing citizens to exist only within the protective boundaries of the more populated areas was no real solution. He didn't care what the orders were from Palma; Motavia was his responsibility and he could not fail the people of his planet. It would be easy to pretend everything was fine and would remain that way, he thought as he looked at the great city through the late morning light; superficially everything seemed perfectly normal, but at what point would the Mother Brain network finally intervene? Would biomonsters have to infiltrate the cities for that to happen? That was far too late in the commander's mind.
The whoosh of the office's titanium doors opening ended the commander's rumination, and he turned towards the front of the room, seeing the familiar figure of his expected guest, Agent Rolf Landale. The young lad was one of his finest agents, one he had his eye on for succession someday.
"Agent Landale," O'Conner heartily greeted Rolf, gesturing for the young man to join him in viewing the city. "Punctual as ever. Very good." He nodded approvingly and clapped a hand on the agent's back as Rolf stood beside his superior next to the floor-to-ceiling windows. The commander appeared older than ever to Rolf; his gray hair seemed to shine white from the light pouring through the window, which also revealed every line and age spot on the man's face. Though Commander O'Conner remained fit and healthy, there was no hiding from time, and the commander was marching ever closer to his sixties.
Rolf could tell the commander's enthusiastic greeting was only a show. O'Conner stood tall but unnaturally stiff; he brought his hands together behind his back and fidgeted slightly. Rolf knew that the commander's job was more strenuous than it ever had been, that Commander O'Conner was deeply troubled by the rampant biomonster infestations, insurgent activity in the eastern sector and Motavia's sudden and severe climate shift, and how most of it had continued on for more than two years, with the Mother Brain network and Palman leadership only executing ineffective patch jobs for solutions. It must have been frustrating the point of infuriating for the commander, but what could he do while he and all of Motavia were at the mercy of the network?
"Rolf," the commander looked the young man over, addressing him less formally, in an almost paternal manner. "Normally I wouldn't interrupt you while you're on detail, but there's something I'd like to run by you."
Rolf didn't quite understand. "Is this about my Lake Motavia reports?" he asked worriedly. "Sir, I promise to have those completed by the end of..."
"No, no," the commander waved in dismissal. "You're doing fine, Rolf." He then proceeded to look furtively at the open office door. He called for his assistant, a portly older woman with dark green hair and wearing a tidy, conservative navy pantsuit. She waddled into the office and after a few mumbles between boss and assistant, she turned to leave. As the doors slid shut, the power suddenly went out. Rolf jumped back slightly, but the commander seemed unmoved.
Commander O'Conner offered no explanation for the cut power and went right back to his conversation. "You've been with Central Command for two years now, right?"
"Almost, Sir," Rolf nodded.
The commander chuckled. "Sometimes I forget you're still something of a 'new' agent. I've known you since you were a boy..." he mentioned with a touch of nostalgia, looking momentarily at Rolf then clearing his throat before continuing. "Never mind. What I've called you here for today will be your most important assignment to date. I've chosen you, because I trust you." He looked up at the defunct cameras in his office, his eyes shifting nervously.
Realization started to sink in for Rolf. His commander was bypassing the network. Rolf squirmed slightly but tried to play it off as merely adjusting his posture. He had faith in Mother Brain, but he had more faith in Commander O'Conner. He waited patiently for more details.
"I've handed over your investigation of Lake Motavia to others, but you will continue to charge your time to that project. Rolf," he put a hand on the agent's shoulder and looked him in the eyes, "I'm not getting the help I need from Palma regarding the biomonsters. They keep claiming it's a temporary problem and the longer Biosystems Laboratories remains shut down, the sooner we'll see these monsters disappear." He turned back to the window and gazed up at the sky. "It's not happening," he complained. "It's getting worse, in fact, and they won't listen to me. I've had it. There's no good reason why my requests for assistance have gone unheeded, so I have to assume the worst, that the system has malfunctioned."
Rolf's heart rate accelerated as he listened to his commander. There was something wrong with Mother Brain? That was bad news for the entire star system!
"This isn't just a covert operation. This is completely off the records," said the commander. "You will have an unlimited expense account, but all business-related transactions will be handled through my own personal account. Anything you need, any assistance you require, you have my authorization to use, but everything must remain as totally non-operational. Rolf..." O'Conner paused, giving Rolf a concerned expression.
The young agent waited anxiously to hear what his mission would be. He was fairly certain what it was, but it wouldn't seem real until he heard it from the commander. Rolf was overwhelmed by his anticipation, and without realizing it, had begun to lean towards the commander.
"I want you to go to Biosystems and retrieve the data recorder."
It was exactly as Rolf expected, but he still had to suppress a gasp. This was definitely the most dangerous job he had ever been given, and all of the secrecy surrounding it would make it that much more difficult to carry out. There would be so much to consider, to be mindful of. He was completely taken aback that the commander had chosen him for this mission, and he had to force himself to concentrate on the rest of his commander's plans.
"If we can get that recorder, we'll be able to analyze the data and hopefully discover the root of the biomonster outbreak. Central Tower's library will be at your disposal, and I've assigned a specific researcher to assist you, should you need to retrieve any information on the network and other Algolian systems. Please see me for special equipment, and if at all possible, I'd like for you to take up small, private hunting jobs while on duty as an extra means of concealment of your activities and movements."
"Yes, Sir!" Rolf said with more youthful enthusiasm than he was comfortable showing, and immediately cringed at himself. The commander smiled warmly in return.
"I know you're the right agent for this job," Commander O'Conner said in relief. His comfort quickly faded as he once again caught sight of a camera. He rubbed his brow and slowly moved to his desk. "I'll have to find a good excuse for this power failure, but that's nothing compared to what I've tasked you with." He sank into his chair wearily. "I'm sorry to lay this burden on you, Rolf."
"Oh, but I want this assignment, Sir! I'll do whatever it takes," Rolf replied to the commander's woes, taking a few steps towards his desk.
"I know you will," said the commander simply, tapping a communication pin tucked under his uniform's collar. "Ms. Liston, we're done," he spoke into the pin. Less than a second later the lights turned on and electronic devices hummed back to life; the network's outage alert blared throughout the office and waiting room. Commander O'Conner's right index finger hovered over the 'respond' scanner embedded into his desk. "Good luck, Agent Landale," he told Rolf before hitting the scanner and waiting to hear the clamor from the government heads on Palma.
"Thank you, Sir," Rolf said with a respectful nod as he turned to leave the office. The commander was already occupied, receiving an earful of distraught complaints from his superiors. On his way out, Ms. Liston handed the young agent several devices the commander had already set aside for him. Among the items were security keycards, system override keypads, databooks, and a bank link card under the name 'Banaput Abanchino.' It was easily the weirdest name Rolf had ever seen. So this was Neil's 'personal' account? At least the commander had a sense of humor through all of this. Rolf collected all of the items in his back pack and was told by Ms. Liston he had received the rest of the day off to prepare for the mission ahead. He thanked her quickly as he headed towards the elevators, anxious to start his journey. He would have started right away if it weren't for Nei. What would he tell her?
It was only a little after noon, so Nei was surprised Rolf was back at home so soon. She greeted him as he entered their home, as she always did, but this time more apprehensively. She could already sense tension in him, and she began to worry.
"What happened, Rolf? Why are you here?" she asked him with wide, fearful eyes. "Have you been fired?"
Rolf almost laughed. "What? No, of course not." He walked past Nei and moved to his bedroom. Nei followed him closely; Rolf looked over his shoulder and asked, "Are you really that worried about me? It's nothing. I've been given some new orders and I have to spend the day organizing and preparing for this mission. That's all. We'll talk about this more later, okay?"
Nei didn't like being dismissed so easily. "I don't believe you," she complained, crossing her arms and leaning on Rolf's bedroom door frame.
"Believe what?" Rolf asked, slightly bothered, as he set his bag on the bed and opened dresser drawers, rifling through his clothing and picking out a few items. Nei never answered his query and instead grew even more concerned as she watched him set aside clothing. When he finally turned to look at her, she was staring intently at the many piles Rolf had made on his bed.
Nei looked hurt. "Why do you need all these things?" she nearly cried.
Rolf was sorry he had been short with her initially. "Nei," he spoke softly, moving to her and putting his hands on her shoulders, "I'm going to be gone for a while." His words were more distressing to her than he had originally calculated. Her expression was nearly the same as when he first met her, after rescuing her from certain death at the hands of an evil hunter named Darum.
Nei first appeared on Motavia shortly after the influx of unusual biomonsters. Her slightly inhuman looks: her long, pointy ears, blood-red irises and lithe movements, combined with her mysterious origins, caused a society rattled by biomonsters to shun and despise her. She was an outcast at best and prey for the emerging force of biomonster hunters at worst. Rolf had taken her under his wing after her encounter with Darum. She looked like a little girl back then, just over half a year ago, but now she had aged physically to her late teens.
He really had no clue if anything he told her now would abate her growing anguish, but he tried. "You can take care of yourself now, right?" Nei only stared back at Rolf. "Look," he continued, "you know how to access my account. You'll have the whole house to yourself, I'll make sure you have plenty of money and I'll arrange for groceries to be delivered every week. My mission could be very dangerous, and I don't want to put you in harm's way." As Rolf spoke he realized just how close to Nei he had grown over the last year. "I care about you as if you were my sister," he told her with loving sincerity.
Rolf gave her time to mull over what she had been told as he continued to pack his bag. He decided he would spend the rest of the afternoon conducting preliminary research at Central Tower's library and then teleporting to Oputa to set up operations closer to the Biosystems Laboratories. Nei continued to shadow Rolf as he secured his belongings and headed towards the front of his home. At one point she clung to his left arm, giving it a strong tug.
"Rolf, I don't want to stay here alone! Please, let me come with you!" she desperately implored. "I'd do anything for you!" Rolf didn't want to see the look on her face, knowing it would make his farewell to her even harder. Rolf stared at the ground as he pulled away from her and pushed the sensor along the wall to open the front door. Nei immediately pushed past him and blocked his exit. Rolf, startled by her brazen actions, picked his head up and met her penetrating gaze. Her eyes positively glowed with her desire in joining him. She would not budge.
"Nei," Rolf tried wedging himself around her, "please. I'm serious; you need to..." Every movement he made to get past Nei was met with one of her desperate parries. He had never seen her this adamant. Figuring it might be easier to let her come along with him to the library, he reluctantly conceded. Just for now, he told himself as he finally moved away from the door. As he nodded for Nei to follow him, she beamed.
"Just... keep quiet in the library, and if anyone asks, you're my sister," he instructed her as the two left Rolf's house and headed towards the transit station. This plan already sounded horrible to the young agent, but he believed Nei would grow bored quickly from their time in research and ask to go home for the remainder of his mission. At the moment, however, she couldn't have been more overjoyed. She squealed with delight, jumping up and down as she threw her arms around Rolf.
"Thank you! Thank you! Oh, I love you for taking me with you!" she cried out in rapture as she bounced and hugged him at the same time. Several passersby turned their heads inquisitively at the strange pair making their way down the sidewalk in each other's arms. Rolf turned every shade of red as he attempted to loosen Nei from her grip.
"Um, all right. That's great," he coughed nervously as he straightened his uniform and readjusted his gear. He took in a deep breath, looked far down the walk ahead and pondered his mission. He was doing this for the commander, but part of him couldn't help but wonder if this would provide the answers he was looking for regarding Nei as well. Thankfully, as clandestine as this operation was, at least it was straightforward. Go to Oputa, travel to Biosystems and gather the data recorder. Simple enough, Rolf thought confidently.
Author's Note: The commander's name (O'Conner, not Neil), as well as the mentions of him knowing Rolf as a boy and choosing him as his successor, are taken from Eusis's Adventure, the Japanese Sega Meganet game released in the early 1990s.