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In The Name Of The Mother

Part One


Nurvus Central Systems Command, Planet Motavia

The room was dark, but that didn't matter to its occupant. He was lost in thought, his eyes closed. Of course, even if they were open, the sophisticated sensors that served in place of human eyes would simply have adjusted to the lightless room and sight would have been restored with a minimum of valuable, productive time lost.

His name was Orakio, and he was contemplating one of his "favorite" puzzles, a problem whose solution eluded him time and time again and to which he turned in times of inactivity. The Palmans who were partially his responsibility continued to refer to their land as "Mota," when the proper name for the planet was "Motavia." Was this a result of normal linguistic shifts over the centuries, or was it because all Motavian information was stored under Mother Brain's four-letter file key, MOTA? In short, was this a problem he should be correcting, or would that be interference with normal Palman development? Without additional information, the question was unresolvable, but it occupied him when no more obvious duties required his presence.

Orakio expanded his awareness to encompass more of Nurvus. He sensed the Wren units bustling from monitor to monitor, and the Mieu units standing silently in their niches, awaiting the day an attack was launched against the underground command center. He was rather proud of them, especially the name, but was a little worried that, as the odds of them ever serving a practical purpose grew lower each day, he would be forced to dismantle them in the name of efficiency.

A gentle chime brought him to full awareness. With a silent command, the lights brightened. An interplanetary message might be from one of the three native races of Algol, and he was required to see to their comforts even during long-distance communication. He remained seated in the chairlike apparatus that linked him with every system on the planet, the command chair that was the heart of Nurvus, the device that made him one with Motavia. A Wren unit silently left its duties to activate the largest monitor and stand silently to one side in case it would be needed for a fast response.

Simultaneously, two other Wrens were issued orders to compensate for the loss of manpower. No productivity would be lost with Orakio in charge. The length of the delay in establishing the picture made it obvious to Orakio that the transmission's origin was the third planet, Dezolis, even though another clue was the fact that the Palma, the first planet, had been destroyed centuries ago when the prison satellite Galia collided with it.

The fuzzy image resolved into a tall blond woman with a serious expression. Orakio knew a Palman would consider her attractive, although it would have done them no good, since she was just as much of an android as he was, even though she had chosen to cover herself with an artificial skin similar to that used by Palmans.  Orakio didn't enjoy the fact that it was time away from duties that had built that skin, and for no purpose. Still, he would be courteous.

"Greetings in the name of the Mother, Laya." he said, his voice still deep and mellow, though it had been decades since he had used it. There was time allotted for personal maintenance. If he didn't function well, neither would the system, in time.

"Greetings in the name of the Mother, Orakio." said Laya smoothly.

"How fares Dezolis Biosystems Control?"

Laya frowned. "Larva is nominal, of course. Have you received alerts to the contrary?"

"No. But non-priority difficulties would not cause an interplanetary alert, yet you might wish my advice in such a situation."

"I called because I want to know what has happened to Motavia."

Orakio split his mind, wondering what Laya could possibly mean. All checklists proved unexpected events on Motavia had not exceeded acceptable tolerance levels. "I'm sorry. I do not understand to what you are referring."

"The partitions of the planet's surface." said Laya. She pushed her hair back in a curiously Palman gesture. Orakio took it as a bad sign. Wrens never bothered with their hair. Neither did Mieus. Their superiors shouldn't, either. It was only non-functional cosmetics.

"You were not advised about the creation of the habitats? I assumed similar orders would have been issued to Dezolis. Of course you are not a general manager, but since the network has not yet completely encompassed Dezolis..."

"It encompasses less every day as the Dezolisians scavenge the Palman towns for metal to build their temples. Control towers are being attacked. I cannot repair them, since I lack your technological resources."

"You can defend them with your biological units. That's a secondary purpose of Biosystems."

"I am fully aware of that, Orakio. However, Dezolisians are adept at killing biologicals, and I am hesitant to throw more of my resources into developing more combat-oriented units. A pity I cannot create anything as durable as your combat Myaus."

"Mieus." said Orakio.

Laya cocked her head to one side, stiffly. It was the most normal expression Orakio had seen her make. "It was my understanding that the combat units were named after the historical figure, the musk cat Myau who paved the way for Mother Brain. Since their weapon of choice is the claw."

"I decided to shift the name, since my Palmans seem to be changing their language."

"Very well. The discussion was on the circular partitions you referred to as habitats."

Orakio decided to extend another courtesy to Laya, since she seemed so out of touch with system affairs. He shrugged his shoulders, a difficult task, since it involved the shifting of a great deal of machinery. "Mother Brain commanded it. Order MOTA 1935252-67. The planet is to be divided into several different habitats, and Palmans are to be divided up and sent to different ones as well. There are aboveground passages linking the habitats, access controlled by Nurvus. The exception is the habitat reserved for Motavians. There is no access to that habitat. They will be able to develop on their own, although I anticipate growth will be slow, given the Motavian resistance to change. They are, after all this time, still a farming and scavenging culture. They lack even their religious impulses of your Dezolisians."

Laya shook her head. "You must be mistaken."

"Perhaps. One can never tell what the future will hold, and limited land is sure to cause some changes. I'm relieved to note that Palmans will be able to travel to all their habitats, which is good considering their deep-seated need for expansion..."

"You misunderstand me. Mother Brain cannot possibly be the source of that order."

Were Orakio a living being, he would have been taken aback, confused by Laya's calm assertion. Since he was a sophisticated android, he considered the possibility that someone else transmitted the order, a possibility with such low odds he had never even bothered to take them into account. Palmans had not developed the technology to build a device that might be able to contact him. Palmans had no idea what the proper codes were, although admittedly the possibility existed that a Palman could issue them. Mother Brain, its remotes, managers, and their creations all communicated with each other in Palmans, since that language was spoken by two of the three races of Algol, Palmans and Motavians. The idea that a Motavian had issued the orders was inconceivable. The whole idea was inconceivable. "Explain."

"Surely you are aware," said Laya, a worried look coming over her face, "that Mother Brain was destroyed centuries ago."

"You refer, of course, to the government agent, Rolf. That was before I came on-line."

"And I as well, but that only proves the point. It was decided that individual system managers were unnecessary since Mother Brain could control all. We were shut down after we completed construction of the systems and were told we would return to functional status only if Mother Brain were unable to complete her duties."

"An order Rolf later credited to the supernatural 'Dark Force.' The idea being that this Dark Force was able to create more havoc more efficiently by taking over a single controlling entity than by taking over system managers."

"That is correct. Rolf and his friends destroyed Mother Brain. We came on-line. We maintain Algol now. You cannot have received instructions from Mother Brain because she is nonfunctional."

Orakio paused. "Yet I have received instructions with the proper access codes, in the proper format."

"It seems we have stumbled upon a high-level difficulty which does not trigger an alert." said Laya, frowning. "It is good that I called."

The Motavian controller thought it over. "It is possible that Rolf rendered Mother Brain temporarily nonfunctional, and now she is restored to her full operating capacity."

"Why then, does she not deactivate us and assume full command?"

"Possibly because of the deterioration of the Dezolisian network. It is no concern of ours. It is our job simply to obey her directives, and to maintain the status quo as best we can. There is no need to question the Mother." That resolved things nicely, Orakio thought. And, he realized as his thoughts raced through his electronic brain, it resolved his other problem, of language shifts. Now that Mother Brain was back, a ruling was sure to be made. It was a bit of a relief, although he realized he would have to find a new problem to occupy him. Perhaps he could improve his remotes' designs. Something heavier than a Mieu, maybe?

Laya spoke her next words carefully. "I think it is possible, Orakio, that the relatively easy job you have on Motavia may be coloring your thought processes somewhat. You do not concern yourself with events too far above you. You let your intelligent remotes do your work for you."

"You have created sentient biologicals."

"Lune and Alair? But they work with me, not for me."

"What is the difference?"

"You have dismissed the possibility that your communication may have come from an agency whose origins lie elsewhere than the Algol system."

Orakio paused again. It was, of course, a possibility, but such an absurd one! "Why should I consider it?"

"Dark Force did not originate within the Algol system, yet it was able to command Mother Brain."

"So said a handful of Palmans, some of them wanted for Palman crimes. I have never believed the story Rolf told. There are too many parts to it that cannot be explained."

"As you know, Rolf was in fact assisted by the few Palmans I watch over. The Espers. The descendants of the telementals."

"Continue." said Orakio.

"They say that Dark Force comes from beyond the stars, a place they refer to only as "The Edge," and possesses powers beyond even our comprehension. Powers that can warp machine and biologic."

"Laya, I am concerned. I cannot accept that without evidence. Yet it is clear you have."

"Dezolis is a different planet than Motavia in many ways. I think I have learned new data that you have not."

There was a long pause. Laya and Orakio stared at each other, unblinking, as the seconds stretched into minutes. Finally Orakio broke the silence. "I will think on what you have told me. But I will also continue to obey the order I have been given. Since it will do little harm to the world, it does not contravene my secondary orders to maintain the planet. I will contact you soon."

"It would be advisable," said Laya coldly, "if you contact me before I contact you. I, too, will consider this puzzle. I will find a way to persuade you that what you are doing is wrong."

"You may try," said Orakio. "But I can think of little besides hard evidence that will sway me."

And for the first time, Laya smiled, a brilliant smile Orakio found deeply troubling. It seemed so out of place. What she said next was even more out of place. "As I said before, Orakio, I have learned new data you have not. If it comes to it, I will share some of it with you. May you do well in the service of the Mother." She stressed the last word slightly.

"May you..." started Orakio, but Laya cut off the transmission. He sat, staring at the blank screen for a few seconds. Then he ordered the Wren which had been standing by the whole time back to work on reinforcing the habitat walls. He had a new puzzle to solve now, and a quick statistical comparison suggested to him that this one would need an answer. The sooner the better.

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