A ferocious battle cry was one of the ways hunters would seize the psychological edge in combat. It revved up the one shouting, and against some enemies could even be disconcerting, emphasizing the shouting one's valor and aggressiveness.

The down side was, it kind of tended to draw attention to oneself.

In truth, Kai had no idea if Gicefalques could hear. They had no discernable ears, or for that matter eyes, a nose, or any other kind of sensory organs, so for all he knew they functioned by some weird kind of psychic radar. But it certainly seemed like they could hear, because as soon as he, Dairon, and Sarisa began their charge it was as if every hostile in the room was drawn to them like a magnet.

They came at the hunters from all sides, leaping and swarming viciously. Kai and the mayor both struck out, slashing or puncturing the first attackers. They'd gotten some experience, now, in fighting the hostiles and had a better idea of their weak spots then when they'd first encountered them. That served them well at first, but soon the hostiles were coming in twos and threes, slashing and cutting. The stunning filaments, too, were in play, and with multiple attackers it was harder to dodge them. Dairon was actually hit by a paralyzing attack and only a timely cure from Sarisa let him shake off the effects in time to skewer another 'falque springing at his head.

It was hard, though, to strike a lethal blow while fighting defensively. Kai and Dairon did what they could to hold them off, but they were taking hits, too, claw-slashes across the back or to the legs. The real problem was that their formation was broken, their advance towards the Guilgenova stalled. Dairon, Kai, and Sarisa were forced away from one another by the onrushing hostiles, like a Reyhound pack deliberately culling a member from a herd. Kai grunted in pain as a 'falque clawed him; he slammed his gunblade down hard on the one in front of him, smashing it twitching to the floor, but was nearly hamstrung as he exposed his back. Only a quick shot from Ogi jarred the hostile enough that its claws raked the side of Kai's leg instead of tearing open the back of his knee.

Too many, he thought, whipping his blade in an arc to try and clear space. There's just too many. A good five or six had clustered around himself and the mayor, while Sarisa seemed to have drawn twice that number. Going after the small and weak, he thought. The Force was actually the most dangerous of them all, with her techniques, but physically speaking she wasn't imposing, and seeing her try to fend for herself against the swarming 'falques brought back memories of other deaths, other friends lost.

Kai winced as another slash across his side, this one getting through to his ribs, reminded him of why he wasn't able to rush to her rescue. He felt the wetness of blood even as he pivoted sharply to fling the hostile into another, the stab of pain as injured muscles were taxed by the movement. But he couldn't tear his attention fully away from the beleaguered newman. She wasn't moving—had she been stunned by the hostiles' electric attack? Two leaped for her; one went down when Ogi shot it, while Kai fired at the second, not having a chance to see if he'd done anything before he was brought down by the weight of two 'falques seizing the opportunity made by the gap in his defenses.

"Yaaaah!"

It was Sarisa who screamed, but not in pain or in terror. It was pure, defiant rage, and it was accompanied by a brilliant flash of light that stung at Kai's eyes. Lightning speared out from her in all directions, chaining from one Gicefalque to the next in a fury of electrically-aspected Photon more reminiscent of Reve than it was of Sarisa. She's been studying, Kai thought numbly as every hostile in range was blown apart by the Razonde, their orb-like bodies popping almost like balloons.

Balloons filled with greenish ichor that sprayed everywhere around themselves.

"Ewwwww!" wailed Sarisa. "This is worse than that octopus's slime! This was my favorite robe and I'm going to have to burn it now!"

Kai groaned, pushing himself upright. He'd gotten a fair number of splatters on his own clothes as well, but he liked it a lot better than he did the alternatives. Then again, Sarisa looked like she'd taken a bath in the stuff, so he could sympathize. Especially given the smell, which was no worse than a rotting Grindle carcass drenched in spoiled cheese and seasoned over a sulfur pit.

"That was an impressive technique, young lady," Dairon said. The mayor looked to have fended off his enemies better than Kai had, mostly seeming uninjured. Kai used a Resta on himself to patch up the worst of his own wounds before he took any serious blood loss.

"Thank you. Reve's been working with me on my Zonde techniques."

"I think I'll let you be the one to congratulate him on the job he's doing," Kai said. "If he finds out he was responsible for you being able to save all our backsides he'll be insufferable for a week."

He swiveled towards the Guilgenova. Stripped of its escort, it no longer looked vicious and threatening, but almost forlorn. The hunters stalked it methodically; it tried to retreat, but its tentacles couldn't move it much faster than a walk. Sarisa's Foie technique and Kai's Earth Bullet Photon Art set it alight, and then Ogi and Kai chipped in with gunfire as the fire chewed away at it. The thing gave off a weird hissing noise like escaping air as its body collapsed in on itself, rapidly dissolving into goop, its structure obviously unstable and dependent on the Photon reactions that allowed it to produce 'falques to keep it intact.

As the body dissolved, the red light that had been illuminating the Central Block since the group's arrival went out and normal white light came on. Apparently security sensors like the ones that operated the hostile containment gates existed in this facility.

Kai let out his breath with a deep sigh.

"I'm so happy that's over. Let's get out of here and get back home."

"You said it," Sarisa agreed. "I think I'm going to be washing until next week before this stink is going to get out!"

"I would like to talk to you later, Mayor, about arranging a proper expedition here. I believe there may be much to learn."

"Hey, what about me?" Jovo spoke up.

"I presume that the mayor promised you your freedom in exchange for your services as his guide?" Ms. Lindow said darkly. Dairon did not meet her eyes.

"Um, that is..."

"I thought so. Nonetheless, a deal is a deal, and it is not your fault that his honor's actions were irresponsible."

"Plus, all those hostiles were a little more than he bargained for, I figure," Kai noted. The grin he gave Jovo was returned with a sour look, but the raider was bright enough to notice when he was ahead and kept his mouth shut. "Good, with that settled, let's get back home before anything else happens."

He was just fishing for a telepipe when the alarms went off.

"I believe there is a human expression about 'famous last words,' Kai?"

"Cute, Ogi."

"But what's going on now?" Jovo howled.

"According to this," Ms. Lindow announced, looking at the computer, "upon detecting the death of the Guilgenova, automatic deployment of an additional unit is being initiated."

"Wait, so it's going to just keep churning out those things?"

"The room we entered from! Quick, we have to stop it before it starts spawning," Kai exclaimed, and suited actions to words. He charged to the staircase, raced up it, and through the door, the rest of the party on his heels. What they found was just about what they expected: lights were flashing on the metal cap of one of the tubes, and the green fluid was steadily draining from around the Guilgenova inside.

"Whatever Jovo did when he activated the machines must have created a loop where the hostiles continue to be deployed," Ogi concluded.

"I didn't know anything like this could happen!"

"Which is why you don't go touching stuff when you don't know what it does!" Kai snapped. The scruffy little man flinched at the whipcrack voice.

"Does this mean we're going to have to kill all of them?" Sarisa moaned.

"It's worse than that," Kai told her. He pointed at the sign on the door reading, "Bioexperiment Incubation Chamber 1."

"If this is Chamber 1, then this facility must also contain a Chamber 2, and possibly a 3, 4, 5, and so on," Ogi followed his logic. "Chambers that could release hostiles without us having any idea where they are, so who knows how many more might spawn?"

"We have to shut down the feedback loop!" Sarisa exclaimed.

"How?" Kai asked. "None of us can operate these computers; you heard what Ogi said before."

"If we cannot stop it with a software-based solution, then we shall have to implement a hardware-based one," the CAST Ranger concluded. He turned on his heel and marched out the door back onto the catwalk, raised his Garland, and fired three quick shots from the compact rifle.

They were stopped cold by a shimmering green field.

"A Photon barrier!" Sarisa said. "It must be security to keep the computer core protected."

In the next moment there was a dull humming and a section of the floor below slid open. Three figures began to rise up, carried on an elevator platform, massive humanoid robots nine feet tall and four or five across with brilliant gold plating and flanges at the joints that made them look more threatening and spiky than they had to be. They lacked any kind of "head" structure, unlike a CAST, and a single large lens like a cannon barrel was mounted in the center of their chests.

"Okay, things officially just got worse," Kai groaned. These things had all the indication of being about as friendly as an Arkzein.

"ENOUGH!"

That someone should roar in frustration and anger in a situation like this wasn't unusual. In fact, fury at the constant stream of bad breaks was a pretty rational response, all things considered. What had Kai, and everyone else, standing there with sagging jaws despite the situation was that it was Ms. Lindow who had said it.

She pushed past the crowd, who stepped aside wordlessly. The intensity of her cry, and the way her every movement seemed to radiate a rigidly controlled and focused determination made everyone give way to her lead.

Well, the gigantic Photon cannon she was suddenly carrying might have had something to do with that, too.

Where it had come from wasn't immediately obvious; some kind of Photon transference technology seemed the only answer. Kai was fairly sure that he'd have noticed the CAST secretary lugging around a twelve-foot-long cannon colored a brilliant white, the barrel so ridiculously outsized that it had a built-in bipod to support its weight.

She swung the cannon around, resting the barrel on the catwalk, pointing directly at the three robots. She squeezed a button on the side, and a crackling, pulsing ball of energy began to take shape at the cannon's tip, swelling with every passing second. Little pulses of blue-green light surged up and down the length of the Tartaros Cannon, stray energy cast off by the building of the gun's Photon Art. The hulking robots began to stir as their platform fixed into position; the ball of gathered Photon was nearly as big as one of them by this point.

Then Ms. Lindow fired.

The blast from the cannon obliterated the three robots. The left and right ones went toppling sideways, large chunks of their bodies suddenly erased. The center one simply ceased to be. The Divine Ray shot on, crashing into the computer core. The Photon barrier held for half a second, then shattered. There wasn't enough power left in the attack to utterly destroy the computer, but the crushed, sparking wreckage left behind did not appear likely to continue as a threat.

Being experienced hunters, Kai, Ogi, and Sarisa didn't stand staring at the aftermath...well, not for more than ten seconds or so...but turned back to the room with the encased Guilgenovas. The fluid was no longer draining from the active cylinder, and the hostile floating half in, half out of the green material seemed completely inert.

"Well, that worked," Kai observed. The red light had gone out again, this time replaced by amber, probably from the lesser emergency of the computer's destruction.

"Can we go home now?" Sarisa asked plaintively. "It's bad enough that there aren't any decontamination showers on the earth; I think this stench is trying to kill me."

"Come to think of it," Dairon murmured, "it might be a good idea to keep a sample for analysis. The chemical properties of 'Ichorslime Y' might prove to be a great boon to—"

"You will proceed directly to the bathhouse upon return to the city, where you will surrender your clothing to me for disposal. I refuse to tolerate any further complaints about the smell of noxious chemicals in the administrative offices! Sir," Ms. Lindow amended.

As has been noted, Dairon was a respected leader known for making wise decisions. He once again displayed that quality.

"Yes, ma'am."

And on that note, Kai's telepipe whisked them home.

~X X X~

"Hey, Sarisa!"

"Oh, hi, Kai!" The newman girl was sipping from a cup of something purplish she'd picked up at a street stall. It had been several months since her arrival on earth, but human society still held a fascination for her. She loved to wander the streets and by-ways, soaking in the bustling atmosphere. "How are you?"

"Fine, you?"

She wrinkled her nose.

"I think I can still smell that ichor, even though it's been nearly a week. But it might just be a hallucination brought on by post-traumatic stress."

Kai leaned over and sniffed at her hair.

"Nope, it's not a hallucination."

She blushed furiously.

"Kidding, kidding!"

"Kai!" She punched him playfully (mostly) on the arm, grinning.

"Oh, yeah, speaking of that, did you see the latest Guild listings? Looks like the mayor and Ogi got the details worked out, because there's a job to escort an expedition team through the Bio-Plant."

They walked along together, the afternoon sun warm on their faces.

"Are you planning to go along?"

Kai rubbed the back of his head.

"Well, it's not really my kind of thing. I'll help out if Ogi asks, but otherwise I'll be glad to have seen the last of that place. And with the main computer shut down, I think Ogi and a team of mid-grade hunters can do the job against any active security robots. And if it gets to be too much, he can always call in Ms. Lindow."

Sarisa laughed.

"That really surprised me! I never knew she could fight."

"I don't think she did, either. Ogi said something about the combat programming being a routine from her body's sub-memory, triggered by her emotional state."

"So her frustration and anger allowed her to tap into additional strength."

"Yep, just like any other woman—ow!"

"Just agreeing with your point, Kai," Sarisa laughed.

Kai rubbed his arm. "Now I know how his honor feels."

The newman giggled, then fell quiet as a somber expression settled over her face.

"What is it?" Kai asked.

"It's the things we learned at the Bio-Plant."

"Like what?"

"The hostiles we fought, the Guilgenova and Gicefalques. Ogi said that they were created by people, not Mother Trinity, as a bioweapon. That means, for warfare, for fighting other people, they created something like that." She shuddered. "Mother Trinity—she tried to destroy all of civilization with the pollution, the Photon Eraser, the hostiles, but even she never turned those monsters loose on the planet."

"And?" he prompted, though he had a pretty good idea where she was going.

"I think...it's because her hostiles were still, basically, natural creatures. They could still fill a niche in the environment. The Gicefalques are completely unnatural, and the way that they spawn...one Guilgenova could produce over a hundred thousand 'falques in a year, monsters designed to do nothing but kill!"

Kai nodded.

"I think I get it."

She turned wide eyes up at him.

"Kai, Mother Trinity was insane, and possessed by Dark Falz besides, and even she wouldn't use those things. The people at the Bio-Plant, they did something worse than Mother Trinity did!"

Kai raised an eyebrow.

"Feeling sorry for her again?"

"Yeah, kind of. I mean, if that's what people were like back then, then..."

He let out a sigh.

"I guess I can sort of see it too. Ogi says that's one reason it's so important to study the past, so we can see the mistakes we once made and not be such numbnuts again."

Sarisa chuckled.

"Ogi did not say 'numbnuts'!"

"No, but it made you smile, and that was the important part." He put his hand on her shoulder, giving it a quick squeeze. "It's like I said before. We may have lost a lot in terms of technology and science and history in the Great Blank, but I think what we've learned since then is a lot more valuable. You ask me, I like living in a world where wide-eyed optimists like you are right about people more often than not. That's something those people who ran the Bio-Plant never had in their lives, you can bet!"

Sarisa's smile widened.

"Yes. Yes, you're right, Kai!" She beamed at him. "You can see it all around us, just like I did when I first came to this city. That's what I want to protect by working alongside everyone as a hunter."

He smiled back.

"Sounds like you're about ready to take on another job."

And they turned their steps towards the white-and-blue tower of the city's administration building once again.

~X X X~

A/N: There, now I can say I've written at least one fic for every Phantasy Star game that I've played! ^_^ Of course, old-school PS players would recognize many of the shout-outs to PSIV that I included, since the Guilgenovas and Gicefalques are monsters from the Bio-Plant, and the three golden security robots are the bosses from the "Silver Soldier" quest where Chaz & co. have to try to shut down the computer, Daughter. (They're about as effective there as they are against Ms. Lindow.)

Kai's remarks on the state of humanity are kind of pithy...even cheesy, but at the same time they represent what has to be the biggest shift between PSOnline and PSZero (it probably won't spoil anyone who read this far when I say that late in Zero's quests the characters learn that their "earth" is actually Coral, the homeworld of the Pioneer expeditions in Online). Online is a depressing game where legendary heroes die; multiple government forces (administration, Lab, military) are jockeying for power, none of whom have the well-being of the citizenry in mind; and hideous bio-experiments are taking place...and it only gets worse in the sequel, Episode III. Basically, it comes as absolutely no shock to learn that the human governments on Coral would engage in the kind of petty bickering and counterproductive power-brokering that caused Mother Trinity to fall into despair and be possessed by Dark Falz, visiting an apocalypse upon the planet.

But Zero is a weirdly optimistic game. It's all about three races of people coming together, joining as one, and kicking evil's backside. Multiple times, if necessary. Even the government is made up of good people trying their hardest, and the mayor's worst vice is a tendency to use government resources to try to follow up on strange rumors of a baldness cure. It's an optimistic setting to the point of naivete, except that the naïve triumph over the cynical and jaded every time. And while I adore Online, seeing Zero get a happy ending (heck, even the obligatory scene where a PS party member sacrifices their life...turns out fine!) is actually pretty darned refreshing after the dystopian grind!