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In The Name Of The Mother

Part Ten

City of Divisia, Elysium Habitat, Planet Motavia

The slasher shot across the room.  Even Orakio's superhuman reflexes couldn't move his arm fast enough to intercept the deadly weapon, but his processors had already come up with alternatives, and he threw himself backwards.  The spinning metal flashed by the space where his neck had been and swept around to Lune, who grabbed it out of the air with a master's precision.

"Stop!"  Cille shouted.

Orakio had returned to a guard position, and looked ready to continue the fight regardless of Cille's outburst, but Lune checked his next throw and stood in readiness himself, watching Orakio angrily.  Bran stumbled forward.  "I think that's a very good idea."

"What is going on here?" Cille demanded.

"That's my line," said Bran, wiping fresh blood from a split lip.  "We were attacked when we came into town.  A mob of your people demanded that Orakio be destroyed.  We were five strong when we came here.  Two of my friends are dead back there.  We came here expecting help, but there are people even in the palace who have it in for Orakio.  I can't explain what happened here, but I can make a few guesses.  This man is from another world, isn't he?"

"That's right," Cille said slowly.  "Lune, from Dezo.  He's on a mission for Laya, the ruler of Dezo."

"I suspected as much," said Orakio.

"And this is Orakio.  He's the ruler of Mota."

Cille frowned.  "What?"

"I'm not sure I believe all of it myself.  But he controls the systems of Mota.  I guess he took over after Mother Brain."

"I am the Mother's faithful servant," said the android.

Lune shook his head.  "I think not.  The people of the habitats are unhappy with your actions.  You are hurting the people.  That is not serving the Mother."

"Habitats?" Cille asked.

Bran shrugged.  "He means us.  If you're going to deal with these people, I suggest you get used to them talking over your head.  I have."

"The Mother knows what is best for the people.  It is not the place of a construct to question the Mother," Orakio continued.

"The Mother is no longer..."

Orakio cut Lune off with a gesture.  "Laya is malfunctioning.  You are spreading dissent among the people.  The vector must be eliminated."

Lune raised his slasher again, but though his enhanced abilities made him superior to Palmans like Bran, his reflexes were no match for machine speed.  Orakio was already in motion.  Lune brought the slasher in front of him for close combat.  Gripping both ends of the weapon, he blocked Orakio's overhead swing and slashed at the android's midsection when the sword rebounded.  It opened up a gash in the metal body.  Orakio chopped downward again, aiming for the construct's arm, but Lune jumped back a step out of harm's way.

Unfortunately this brought him up against the edge of the table.  Orakio closed and slashed diagonally at Laya's servant.  Lune ducked under the table as the robot advanced and saw the black sword shear through the table's edge as if it wasn't even there.  Lune had been hoping the blade would hang up in the table, and seeing the failure of that plan, he scrambled over to the left side of the table, and stood up, throwing his slasher.

There were no fancy tricks this time, and Orakio parried the slasher hard, sending back towards its owner.  But Lune's expertise was in his very cells, and he didn't panic at the sight, but simply put out his hand and snatched it out of the air again.  He threw it again, this time low, straight across the table so it would be impossible to parry.  Orakio twisted to the side to avoid it, but not quite fast enough and took another gash to his left side.   Lune raised his hand to prepare to catch the slasher, but Orakio had shifted his aim and the sword leaped out to bat the slasher down in midair.

The slasher clattered to the floor beside Orakio.  The android kicked it off to his right.  His sword tip was aimed right at Lune, who stood his ground across the table, looking grim.  Orakio didn't take his eyes off the construct.  This wasn't some Palman who'd be helpless without his weaponry.  "Surrender, Lune," he said.

"And be killed?"

Orakio didn't say a word.

"This has gone far enough, I think." said Cille suddenly.  She stabbed the air with her hand.

Orakio locked his legs.  It was like the air around him had suddenly become a heavy blanket, draping over him and dragging him down.  It wasn't too much for him, of course, he simply adjusted for the additional weight, but it was extremely unusual.  Across the table, Lune staggered, a look of surprise on his face, but he, too, coped.  Bran, on the other hand, let out a short hoarse scream, and joined his companion, who had beat him in the race to the floor.

Cille darted off to the side of the room and picked up the fallen slasher.  Orakio tried to cut her off but found that the additional strain was taking a toll on his limbs.  He could move only slowly, and the pressure on the wounds he had taken was impairing his functioning.  Cille stooped to pick up Lune's weapon, and ran over to hand it to him.  At once the pressure lifted.  Orakio staggered as the compensators suddenly found themselves overcompensating.

"Rune, Lune!" Cille said, shaking the confused construct.  "Get out of here!"

Lune blinked and dashed for the back door.

Orakio headed for the door, too, and Cille blocked it.  "You're not going anywhere," she said determinedly.  "Not until I figure out what's going on."

"You are in my way," said the android calmly.  "I have no cause to injure you, but if you do not move I will move you myself."

"Not a chance."

Orakio raised his left hand and pushed her off to the side, not roughly, but with clearly superior force.  Cille slammed into the wall.  Orakio continued through the door, warily, in case of an ambush.

Cille rubbed her arm.  It was beginning to turn all kinds of colors.  Suddenly she remembered Bran.  Running over to his side, she saw semi-closed wounds had broken open again, and he was moaning in pain.  She bit her lip.

Bran cracked his eyes open a little.  "Did you have to do that?" he said weakly.

"I had to stop the fight.  Gra seemed the best way to keep your invincible friend in his place.  But I apologize to you.  I should have realized you couldn't stand the strain of increased gravity in your condition.  You need a healer..."

Bran grabbed her hand.  His grip was surprisingly strong, she noted.  "No...priests," he said.

Cille nodded, blinking.  What few priests were around generally doubled as healers.  They had the time to devote to tricks like healing, and they did, after all, need some sort of job.  They were probably best known for their skill at cleaning blood, one of the most difficult of the healing arts.  But if Bran didn't want a priest there were more than enough secular healers around.

"Fine.  Let me just...I think I remember how Gires goes."

"Don't try it," Bran said, forcing a smile, "if you're not sure what it's going to do.  Foi, at this point, would not be good."

Cille smiled, too.  No, a blazing wall of fire would probably impede the healing process.  "Don't worry so much," she said.  She held her hand out.  Had Orakio been present he would have been able to see what human sight could not, the buildup of energy around Cille, the actual directing of it, forcing it to heal Bran's sounds, rather than the simple attraction of such energy to speed up the natural healing process that he had seen before.  But whether he could see it or not, Bran could definitely feel the power working.  This was a much more welcome technique than Cille's previous one.

He shook his head, but carefully, and sat up.  "What happened?" he said slowly.  "Where did everybody go?"

"Lune ran out the back.  Your Orakio followed him."

"He isn't my Orakio.  If there's one thing you can say about him, it's that he's his own man.  And he's running around in your palace?"  He clutched his head, groaning.

"Don't get too excited.  You're in no condition to go rushing off after him."

"Mmmm," Bran agreed.  "Princess Cille."

She nodded.

"You don't seem to be a howling fanatic."

"I've never seriously considered being one, I suppose."

"Then you're losing your town."

Cille frowned.  "Things are that bad already?"

"So you know what's going on here?"

Her eyes flickered and she smiled briefly.  "How about we trade information?"

"I think we'd better," said Bran, struggling to his feet.  "I think I've been getting a biased view of things."

"Me too.  But we'll trade from your bedside.  You and your friend need more treatment than I can give you."

Bran's slightly recovered good humor faded as he thought of the band that had started out from Landen.  "Yeah."

Cille found a healer in a closet.  Orakio was nowhere to be seen, and the staff members who had run away and hid when the Landen trio, covered in blood, had broken into the palace with drawn swords, were slowly emerging into the corridors again to see the aftermath of the battle.  There was surprisingly little aftermath to be seen, with the exception of the damaged conference room and a handful of dead guards.  Bran looked better than when he'd come in, and his friend, while actually worse than when he came in, was unconscious and looked at peace.

Bran obediently climbed into the bed that was the healer's only recommendation to him, and waited for Cille to come back from hearing the young woman's diagnosis of the other diplomat.  She entered after a short interval and closed the door behind her.  "My advisors, such as they are, are probably in hiding, too.  I don't think we need to bother with them."

"No."  Bran was thinking fast.  That supposes that Divisia has not fallen under the influence of the passengers.  Orakio could be amazingly callous at times, but at other times he put Bran to shame with his selfless dedication to the greater good of the people of Mota.  Cille, on the other hand, he remembered as nothing more than a pompous busybody.  And she had helped this Lune, apparently one of the passengers, to escape.  The way she'd said it showed that she had absolutely no qualms about it whatsoever and didn't expect him to, either.  Under the influence.  In, what, three days since his arrival, Lune had apparently managed to turn two, or at least one-and-a-half towns into a bunch of slavering fanatics dedicated to destroying Orakio, whom Bran hadn't even known existed until about, what, three days ago?  Had Cille fallen under his spell?  Or was there more to the story than what he'd heard from the android?

"Do you know Orakio?  Did you know him before we broke your door?"

Cille shook her head.  "I didn't know him, no.  But I knew of him."

"Of him?"

"Well, Lune told me about him."

Bran sagged and tried not to show it.  So much for that.  That left only two conclusions.  Either she was in league with the passengers, or she was a dupe.  Either way it meant she wasn't going to be too much help.  Bran suddenly found himself wishing Orakio was here.  He had no idea what to do.  He didn't want to tell her too much, in case she turned out to be a fanatic in disguise, but he wanted to get some information on what the passengers were doing here.  Why had they come to Mota?  What did they want?

"Was Lune the"

"Just him."

This was no good.  How was he supposed to tell if she was lying or not?  The other passenger could be right next door, for all he knew, listening in on every word.  It could be the healer, tending to his friend.  Tending to him.  A chill went through him.  "I need to see the one who came with me."

"He'll be fine.  He's getting the best care.  You can see him anytime.  Now is our chance to talk.  So who exactly is Orakio?"

"Who do you think he is?" said Bran desperately, and wished he hadn't.

Cille frowned, then smiled suddenly.  "You don't trust me, do you?"

Bran shrank back.  "Should I?"

"I don't see any reason why not."

Bran mumbled something.

"You know, you are in my power here.  You're already tucked away in a nice safe room.  The healer and I are the only ones who know you're here, right?"

She was smiling, but it didn't relieve Bran any.  The joke could get real nasty at any time.

"But seriously, if I was your enemy, I could have interrogated you when you were dying on my floor, or hauled you off to some jail.  In fact," she continued, "you could say I've saved your life.  Don't you think you owe me something?"

Bran threw off the covers of the bed and sat up.  "No, I don't.  I'm through with that game."  He reached for his boots.  "Next time you can just go ahead and kill me."

He felt her hand on his arm.  "Wait," Cille said softly.  "I didn't mean it like that.  I'm sorry."  She sat down next to him.

"I've had my fill of obligations," he said grimly.  "It's not something I can joke about anymore."

Cille nodded.  "I'm sorry," she said again.  "It's just that I had such high hopes for this 'first meeting between races,' but there are things going on here that I don't have any idea about.  I wanted to get involved in something exciting, but not this exciting."

"I know what you mean."

"So, the king of Landen, huh?  It's nice to meet you."

"My name's Bran, and I was one of Landen's councilors."

"What happened to the council?"

"Maybe you know that there have been problems in the other cities.  Problems about technology.  Well, things might have gone pretty badly in our town if Orakio hadn't come.  I guess they did get pretty bad, the anti-tech faction tried to murder me...but that's nothing, really.  I'm not as important as people seem to think I am.  Anyway, Orakio showed up, helped save me from the other side, and suggested we ought to have a king.  Pretty fast work, huh?"

Cille laughed.  Bran did, too, but only a little.

"Obviously, they picked me."

"Obviously.  And you and Orakio were touring other towns, and got attacked by my people?"

Bran hesitated.  He had been struggling with what to tell Cille, and here she was providing an alibi for him.  It couldn't hurt to let her thing the mission had been a simple diplomatic one.  It wasn't that far from the truth, and there was always time to fill her in later.  "Right.  We were attacked in Aerone, too."

"Makes sense.  That was Lune's first stop."

"Will you tell me about Lune?"

Cille shrugged.  "I wish I could, but I don't really know too much.  He's here at the behest of a woman called Laya.  Lune says she runs the old systems on Dezo."

"That's what Orakio does here on Mota.  He's an android...I guess you could tell."

"I figured it out."

"Laya's a Palm person like us, though?"

"Lune called her artificial life."

"That's a term Orakio's used.  I think it means she's a robot, too."

"Well, she looks more like us than Orakio does.  But there's a third perspective.  Some of my people, probably the ones who attacked you, consider Laya to be the God of Palm come back to us at last."

Again, Bran was shaken.  The God of Palm come back.  It was a powerful thought.  "She's no god," he protested.  "Not if she's a robot."

"You and I know that.  Something tells me it's not going to persuade too many others, though.  Besides, who says a robot can't be a god?"  She tapped her feet on the floor.  "Anyway, I'm not going to be the one to tell that lynch mob their god is a robot.  You see, Laya seems opposed to Orakio, and she said he was a robot, and some of these converts now seem to feel like all robots are trouble."

"Great," Bran said morosely.  "We've got round up Lune and the other passenger before this spreads."

"Wait a minute," said Cille, frowning.  "I'll admit a lot of these people seem to have gone overboard, but Lune has a serious message to deliver.  He says that Orakio is...sick...and needs to be stopped."

"That's crazy," said Bran, shaking his head.  It was almost enough to cheer him up.  "You don't know Orakio.  He's the healthiest, sanest...being, I guess...that I've ever seen.  No, no, I don't buy that story.  Besides, if that were true, Laya wouldn't just send one man with an alien weapon, she'd send in troops and stop him herself.  Orakio's got an army of his own."  He thought for a minute.  "I think she wants him stopped, but for her own reasons.  I'd rather put my money with the man who's been running Mota than the one who claims she's running Dezo.  What would she know about us anyway?"

"I suppose you have a point."

"You disagree?" said Bran with some surprise.

"I don't know Orakio as well as you do.  I guess I really can't make an accurate judgment."

The door cracked open.  Cille looked up with a guilty start.  The healer poked her head in.  "Excuse me, Princess.  There's someone asking for the king."

"Orakio?" said Bran excitedly, jumping up to his feet and regretting it when a spell of dizziness hit him.  He sat down again heavily.

The healer started to nod but was gently moved by a metal hand as Orakio pushed his way in.  He looked none the worse for the chase, but the long tears in his clothes exposed the deep gashes Lune's weapon had inflicted.

"Did you catch Lune?" Bran said, rubbing his temples.

"He eluded me." said Orakio.  "Your health outweighed further pursuit, given the unlikelihood of catching him.  However, you seem in better condition than you were."  Bran thought the big robot sounded almost accusing.

"I don't think we can consider Divisia completely enemy territory.  The Princess was kind enough to heal me with her technique until she could get me to some decent care.  I'm much better.  Much better, in fact, than you seem to be with those cuts."

"No need to worry.  I shall engage my own recover system."  Orakio paused.  Bran forgot his headache as he watched in amazement.  Fine wires stretched themselves across the cuts, sparking briefly here and there, and thin metal plates slid over the wires, sealing the cuts.  It was a spectacle of microscale technology, even for a people who believed robots capable of almost anything.  "The damage is minimal.  Repairs are barely needed, but it is best to run at peak condition."

"Recover, huh?  Sounds like a technique to me, whatever you say."

"As you will."

"A shame you can't do that to your clothes," Cille said smiling.

Orakio looked at her, said nothing.  Bran remembered that the robot hadn't been privy to any of their conversations and filled him in.  Orakio nodded slowly.  "This much I already knew.  And you are correct in your observations.  If I thought Laya was malfunctioning, I would indeed transport my soldiers to Dezo and neutralize her until I could assess the situation.  Her decision to infiltrate agents among the populace means she has some other motive."

"Maybe she doesn't think the same way you do," Cille said.

The android stared at her until she looked away.  Easy enough, Bran supposed, for Orakio.  All the same it was pretty obvious he wasn't warming to her.  "Laya was created as I was by the Mother to serve her purposes in exactly the same way.  It is illogical to assume that she would think in a different way than I do."

"What's our next move?" Bran asked quietly.  "Regroup back in Landen?"

"The only place it is logical for Lune to have fled to would be Aerone.  We have tested its defenses already.  However, we don't know where the other passenger is."

"You don't think he's in Aerone already?"

"It's possible.  However, if the other is at large as Lune is, we may have a chance to capture him or her."

"And if Lune warns them ahead of time, we could be in trouble."

A nod.  "Lune is fully aware of my abilities.  He will indeed be able to cause considerable trouble."

"So what do we do?" Bran asked again.

"We must locate the other passenger.  Hopefully we can capture him or her or failing that, make them retreat to Aerone."

"But Aerone is filled with blood-crazed fanatics.  Or so we thought."

"It doesn't matter to me," Orakio said calmly.  "If we can get Lune and the other passenger in Aerone without them spreading their infection, I will simply send in Mieus to raze the town."

Cille looked at him as if he were mad.  "You can't be serious..."  Bran cut her off.  She hadn't seen Mieus before.

"I understand.  But until then we can't touch Aerone."

"Exactly.  You have perceived the plan, I see."

"They'll think it's their safe haven.  But you said Lune knows your strengths.  Won't he know you have a personal army?"

"That is why we must take on the other passenger before Lune passes on any warnings.  We must strike quickly before they can formulate a new strategy."

"You, too, Bran?" Cille burst out.  "Don't you realize you're talking about leveling an entire town?  Aerone may be just a backwater, but those are people there!"

"The people of Aerone represent a danger to the rest of Mota," Orakio said.  "Their beliefs about robots, and the strength of those beliefs, means that it is improbable I can convince them of the error of their ways.  They must be destroyed before they spread their ideas."

"I won't be a party to this," Cille said defiantly.

"You are not necessary to any of my strategies," Orakio informed her.  "Do as you will.  But you must quell the rebellion in your own city.  Because of your standing in the town, it may be that you can change these people yourself.  If not, I will have to act here, too."

"Wait just a minute, there, Orakio."  Bran protested.  "There's no need for that.  The Princess knows what needs to be done."

"You all seem very expert at deciding what I should do.  But I'm the Princess of Divisia, not either of you.  I'll decide what has to be done here."

Bran winced.  Orakio cocked his head, but he didn't say anything.  Bran was infinitely relieved.  Thins could have gotten really ugly.  "He said you're not a part of the plans," Bran said.  "So there's no need for you to do anything."

"But I know about the other passenger.  I know where he is."

"Really?" said Bran.  "Lune told you about the other?"

"It doesn't matter," said Orakio.  "The other passenger can be located without your assistance."

"Not for a long time.  Long enough for Lune to warn her, anyway.  And you don't even have any idea who he is."

"We do not need your information." said Orakio firmly.  "That is all that can be said on the subject.  Further conversation is pointless."  He turned to Bran.  "Let us continue the mission."

"Yes," said Cille, her mouth tight.  "Why don't you two just leave?"

"Cille," Bran said.  "Don't you think..."

"It's Princess, King of Landen.  And whatever your title is."

"Some call me Lord," said Orakio in a quieter voice.

"Not me," Cille said.  "Not me."

Bran finished his interrupted dressing, and he and Orakio left the room silently.  Cille remained on the bed, staring fixedly at the door as it closed behind them, and thinking of two things.  Her joy, when she heard of the arrival of Lune's ship, and an image of Divisia being reduced to ashes by a legion of robots with black swords.

Town of Aerone, Elysium Habitat, Planet Motavia

"Lord Lune!  How was your mission to Divisia?"

"Not exactly a success," said Lune, sinking gratefully into a chair provided by the servant man.  He hadn't run all the way from Divisia to Aerone, of course, but after losing Orakio in the palace, he had also gone out of his way to leave a false trail outside of the town in case the android continued his pursuit.  That, combined with his attempt to get back to the relative safety of Aerone as quickly as possible, had worn him down.  Also, the fact that Orakio was now involved directly was causing him no small amount of worry.

"Two of our bridge guards were murdered, Lord.  We found their bodies at shift change.  We awaited your return to find the culprits."

"You won't find them here," Lune said flatly.  "The guards were doing their jobs, just failed to do them well enough.  Orakio killed them."

The servant gasped.  "Orakio himself?  He was here?"

"And smart enough not to go any farther.  I'm afraid he knows I'm here now.  Have you heard at all from my sister?"

"Yes, she's doing fine.  She says that Mystoke supports Laya.  Is it not wonderful how many recognize the truth of our cause?"

"Yeah," said Lune.  "But there are plenty who don't.  And Orakio will more than likely be wondering where Alair is right now."

"If your sister is in danger, we can send troops..."

"Don't even think about it.  Sending people from Aerone to Mystoke would give Alair away.  No, this situation calls for something different."

"Such as?"

"I believe it's time I told Laya what's been happening down here.  Perhaps she can give us some assistance."

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