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In The Name Of The Mother

Part Eleven


City of Divisia, Elysium Habitat, Planet Motavia

Cille was coldly formal to them for the remainder of the day.  It was clear that her decision was to stay out of the conflict.  Bran only hoped that she'd be able to.  When she announced the departure of her other 'guest,' Lune, the Aeronians chose to return home as well, and without their presence, the Divisians restored order to their city.  It also helped that Cille had announced Orakio's departure as well, telling Bran it wasn't a lie, simply premature.  Landen's king got the hint.

The last diplomat had responded well to the healer's Gires and doses of monomate, a chemical formula used for healing since the days of Mother Brain.  Orakio approved of the latter.  Although the android was impressed with the techniques the Palmans had developed over the years, Bran and Cille's offhand dismissals of them as mere tricks made him question their efficacy.  At any rate, the diplomat was restored to health, and decided to return home to Landen rather than press on with his lords.

Orakio had agreed to this, mentioning that the situation was now more for warriors than for diplomats.  That only sparked a new argument with Bran, who was getting very uneasy.  He had been away from Landen for a while, and after seeing Divisia, he wanted to reassure himself that his people were doing all right.

"It's just that I don't like the thought of the passengers causing that kind of trouble in Landen," Bran said, as they left Cille's town behind them.

"I understand this," said Orakio.  "However, we have the opportunity to apprehend one of the passengers and we must not lose it."

"Apprehend?  I thought they had to be destroyed."

"They will be.  But if Alair is killed now, Lune ne will undoubtedly fight me with all of his skill and cunning.  He would be a dangerous foe.  Likewise, Alair would attempt to avenge her brother's death with all of her ferocity.  One of them captured alive, however, would provide me with a useful asset."

Bran considered.  The idea of hostages, in a world that was virtually crime-free, and where there had never really been a difference of opinion great enough for one side to use terror as a weapon, was basically unknown, but he could follow Orakio's logic to its ruthless end.

"That's pretty low, don't you think?"

Orakio, of course, did not reply.

After a minute, Bran suddenly realized what Orakio had been saying.  "You think the other passenger is Lune's sister, then?  This Alair person?"

"Of course," the android said, looking at Bran for a moment.  "The princess attempted to conceal her identity, but she misspoke herself on one occasion and referred to the passenger as 'she,' when we had never used that gender before.  But even without that mistake, Alair is the only logical partner for Lune.  However, it is a matter of personal opinion to refer to her as a 'person.'"

Bran frowned.  "What do you mean by that?"

"Lune and Alair are genetic constructs of Dezo's Biosystems.  Laya created them as I might create robots.  They are genetically similar to your people, but they are not entirely the same."

"I'm afraid I don't know what a genetic is."

Orakio strode on for a while in silence.  Bran decided story time was over, but he was wrong.  After a few minutes the robot spoke again.

"You have a story, do you not, of a man named Rolf?"

"Yes!  Rolf!  He was a government agent back when Mota was united.  Back during the days of Mother Brain."  Bran's voice trailed off at the end.

"The days of the Mother have not yet ended.  But according to this Rolf's story, there was a woman named Nei who traveled with him."

"Right,"  Bran nodded eagerly.  "They were in love, but she sacrificed herself to destroy her twin sister, who had gone insane.  They say that Nei and her sister weren't robots, but were somehow extensions of Mother Brain."

"That is a genetic construct.  You may think of them as living robots.  They, too, are created to serve the Mother."

"What are the differences between constructs and Palm people?"

"They are subtle, for the most part.  All you need to know is that they will be superior to you in almost every way, save experience."

"Superior?"

"Yes.  Their skills were not a matter of random chance and practice as yours are.  Theirs were programmed into them long before their birth.  It would be useless to explain the finer details of biology and genetic engineering.  Your people have never developed those sciences, so you lack the foundations necessary for understanding.  Suffice it to say that they can be created however Laya wishes."

Bran nodded slowly.  "I can see how people would think she is a god.  There's not much difference between a god and a systems controller, is there?  You can move the earth, she can create life, you both have incredible knowledge, can't be killed..."  He trailed off again.  "What do you think, Orakio?" he asked, smiling slightly.  "What's your perspective?"

Orakio stopped.  Bran almost tripped over him in surprise.  "What - what is it?"  The android was tall, but he had never seemed to loom over Bran as he did at that moment.

"What do I think?  There is only one higher power in Algo - the Mother.  It is she who controls our fates.  All of my abilities are as nothing next to her, for she commands them and more.  If you think me a god, then what of her?"

The king of Landen's throat was dry.

Dezolis Biosystems, Planet Dezolis

A beam invisible to Palman sight traced a path between Motavia and Dezolis, connecting the two planets for just long enough for Lune's message to be translated.  The Mother would be proud, Laya thought.  If she still existed.  The technology that allowed messages to be transmitted at such speeds across the vast gulf of space between two planets was as old as Mother Brain itself, perhaps, but the compact communications unit aboard the Camineet had been pioneered by Laya.  Though her forte was biological engineering, she was as competent as any robot at her level of authority was at matters such as engineering, and she had been forced to innovate many new devices during her 'war' with the Dezolisians.

She would have raged if she had been an emotional Palman.  As it was she could barely accept it.  Orakio had personally slaughtered two Palmans who were doing nothing more than protecting their town.  And simply walked away.  According to Lune's report, the android wanted to see him dead for interference with the Palman culture.

What interference?  Lune said he had done nothing but deliver the message to Aerone, and attempt to do so in Divisia.  Laya had specifically ordered him to tell the whole story, and Lune had indeed told her everything that had happened, at least from his perspective.  He was embarrassed to admit that he had sent Alair off on another mission, but as this did not violate any orders she had given him, Laya did not consider this a punishable offense.

"Alair will be in danger.  If Orakio attempted to destroy you, he will more than likely come after your sister.  She can defend herself, but the two of you are weakened being apart.  You must reunite."

"Understood, Laya,"  Lune said.  "I know exactly where she is."

Laya nodded.  "I will send you biologics to protect you and fight with you.  You may have need of them.  And you say there was a man of Landen with Orakio?"

"Yes.  A man named Bran.  He called himself the king of Landen."

"Then Orakio has most likely made Landen his base of operations.  That is good to know."  Laya paused.  "For now, continue your mission.  But there will be a change in plans.  If Orakio is headquartered in Landen Habitat, and the people of Elysium Habitat are in agreement with me that Orakio is malfunctioning and must be stopped, then your next area to investigate should be Aquatica Habitat, to the east of Landen."

"So as to surround Orakio," Lune said, nodding.  "I understand.  Is it to be war, then?"

"Not yet.  But we must be prepared for every contingency."

"I am in Aerone at the moment," Lune said.  "Alair is nearby...  Having an army of biologics would probably slow me down more than anything else.  And we don't want to alarm the Aeronians any more than necessary.  Hmmm.  I think this strategy would probably be the best one.  Land the biologics at this point."

A series of coordinates flashed up on Laya's screen.  She absorbed them.  "Easily done.  You plan to collect Alair and meet them there?"

"Yes.  Then we'll all go on to Aquatica."

"Your plan seems sound enough.  It shall be done.  I will fly the Camineet back automatically to Dezolis, load it and send it down to you again."  Laya shook her head.  "Most inefficient.  One ship is obviously not sufficient for this mission.  I shall have to see what I can do in terms of more of them.  Laya out."

Lune deactivated his own communications device.  He sat back in a chair provided for him by the people of Aerone.  He was feeling very strange.  Despite the fact that things were rapidly going downhill, he was actually starting to enjoy himself.  He had almost beaten Orakio!  It had been a close thing, and in the end he might have died if Cille hadn't interfered, but Orakio had taken several wounds from his slasher.  Lune wondered what would happen if they fought again, without Palmans sticking their noses where they didn't belong.  He smiled to himself.  A rematch sounded good.  He got up to leave, feeling restless and ready to move out again, in spite of his tiredness.  He laughed.  No time for rest now!  There was work to do.  It was like a fire had been kindled in his brain.  He burned with the desire for more action.  As he closed the door to his room, he thought, just for a moment, that his laughter was still echoing in the room.

East of Elysium-Aridia Throughway, Aridia Habitat, Planet Motavia

"The desert land?" Bran asked.  "Why do we need to go here?"

"It is the best way to the ice land."

"I didn't know there was an ice land."

The wind picked up, blowing sand at Bran and Orakio as they trudged through the landscape.  Bran had never seen anything so bleak before.  He had never traveled to the desert land, though they odd traveler had mentioned it to him.  He had envisioned a beach.  River sand was the only kind he knew.  Never in his wildest imagination had he thought of this.  A land of orange sand and orange mountains, and no water in sight.

Lucky for him he had eaten well at Cille's table, he thought.  Orakio could be a little forgetful about things like food and water, and rest stops.  To give the android credit, it was not that he actually forgot the limitations of the life he watched over.  He recognized full well that Bran needed food, water, rest, and other things, but what he had difficulty understanding was that the Palman wouldn't be too happy about going for days between meals, even though he was biologically capable of it.

"The ice land is to the south," said the systems controller.  "Its people have little contact with outsiders."

"Except for one particular outsider," Bran said.  "Alair."

"Precisely.  She was not with Lune.  She would not be in Aerone - it is obviously well held and there is no reason for either of them to stay there any more than necessary.  Conclusion - she must be continuing her mission elsewhere.  The obvious place to start looking is Mystoke, the only town in the ice land.  She would have had to at least pass by there on her way somewhere else, and I see no reason why she would not stop to try and convert another town to Laya's side while she was there.  If we cannot locate her there we will simply have to move on."

Bran nodded, keeping his eyes tightly shut against another blast of sand.  "Pity we can't get there through the forest land.  It's much nicer."

"Indeed.  But a slight detour will not hurt too much.  Actually it might..."

Bran opened his eyes in surprise. Ignoring the stinging of the desert winds, he looked up at Orakio, who had come to an abrupt stop.  He'd never known Orakio to break off in the middle of a speech before.  "Something wrong?" he asked.  In a flash he remembered the Wrens would automatically alert Orakio to problems in Landen.  Was he receiving some kind of communication from them?  "Trouble in Landen?"

"The ship...the Camineet.  It has...departed."

"Lune's leaving?  I thought you said he and his sister were pretty close?  Maybe she was in Aerone after all.  Well, good riddance to both of them.  Hope they never come back."

Orakio shook his head.  "This conflicts with my calculations.  Most unexpected."

The android took most things in stride.  Bran had never seen him so..distraught?...before.  He hunted around vainly for something to say.

"The Camineet could have been flown automatically.  Lune might still be here on Mota."

"If he is he would have gone back to his base.  You can't dig him out of Aerone unless you move your army in.  And unless you shrank them I don't think you've got any troops with you."

"No," said Orakio slowly.  "No, but I know where I can pick some up.  And scan for lifeforms at the same time.  This has made my decision for me.  It is now time to end this chase.  The scanners in Climatrol can be adjusted to meet my needs."  He looked back at the king of Landen.  "Are you prepared for further desert travel?"

A grimace.  "Sure.  Why not?  Where are we going now?"

"Climatrol.  It is the system that regulates this planets weather.  I placed it in a tower in this land, along with some other...peripheral systems.  We must go there at once."  Another pause.  "You will have the opportunity to rest and replenish yourself inside."

"Why, Lord Orakio," said Bran sarcastically.  "It almost sounds like you're concerned about my well-being."

Orakio said nothing.  Bran spat out another mouthful of sand.

Motavia Climatrol, Aridia Habitat, Planet Motavia

It was like a single small mountain rising up out of the dunes.  Although it was the same dull orangey red color that characterized all of Aridia, the tower was not constructed out of rock or sandstone.  This mountain would not begin to erode for quite some time.  Bran patted it and found the texture to be consistent with the rocks of the desert, but Orakio explained that this was merely a sheathing.  The Palman wondered if his guide had a secret artistic streak, but Orakio told him that the sheathing had its practical side - camouflage.

The King of Landen had to admit that if he'd been traveling through this inhospitable land, he'd never have guessed that this particular mountain contained Mota's Climate Control System, or Climatrol, as the shorthand went.  And you'd have to be crazy to go around knocking on mountains to see if they had any secret entrances.

Once inside Bran recognized the handiwork of Orakio immediately.  Obviously the same force that created the tunnels between the lands - the force that was big on catwalks made of grating, light strips, and impressive looking gaps between floors - had wrought this tower, too.  But while the tunnels were designed for Palm people, this place didn't seem to have been designed for anyone.  Paths came to dead ends at huge machines with no obvious function, but which Bran was terrified to even think of touching.  Some catwalks simply came to and end.  But it was sturdily constructed, and Bran knew its maker well enough to realize that there would inevitably be a method to the madness.

Orakio, on the other hand, was not pleased by what he saw.  As Bran adjusted to the soft even illumination of the artificial light as opposed to the blazing sun outside, the android was already looking around as if something had gone wrong.

"What is it?"

"There should be Mieus here. Guarding the systems.  I have been unable to contact them at all, and they are not responding to your presence here.  Something has happened to them."

Bran's mind cast up a picture of the beautiful red-haired women standing at attention after the fight in Landen, blood drip-drip-dripping off their glowing claws.  It was hard to imagine 'something happening' to a Mieu.  "Should we check it out?"

"Of course.  Threats to the systems supersede other problems.  The weather control systems are upstairs."  With that, Orakio brought out his black sword, and Bran unsheathed his own Laconian blade.  Strangely enough, Bran felt more relaxed than he had in a while.  After having seen Orakio in action, he knew the nearly invincible warrior would take the brunt of any attack that came their way.  It was like the stories, he thought.  A band of heroes with their weapons out, wandering through towers and caves, fighting evil.

They approached the stairs.  It was Bran's sharp eyes, rather than Orakio's sensor sweeps, that picked up the Mieu near the foot of the steps.  The scan may have failed because this Mieu wasn't giving out any signals of any kind.  Bran rolled the body over with his foot and looked at the slashes in her clothes, the gashes in the soft skin and shining metal beneath it.  Despite their Palman appearance, Mieus didn't bleed any more than Orakio himself did, and Bran found that aspect of the whole affair the most frightening of all.  Without blood, the Mieu looked for all the world as though she had simply fallen asleep.  And cut herself very badly, Bran thought grimly.  Halfway up the stairs to the second floor they found another one, also dead.  No cuts this time, but she was badly burnt.

"Your opinion?" Orakio said softly.

Bran was shaking his head.  Their identical looks gave him the shivers too.  He just knew he was going to jump out of his skin the next time he saw a live one.  He just wasn't used to copies of people.  "What?  Oh.  She looks burned.  Could be a technique.  There are ones dealing with fire and thunder."

Orakio looked confused.  "How could you use thunder in an offensive manner?"

"You throw it at people.  Like when it comes down out of the sky, only you control it."

Orakio nodded and filed yet another language problem away in his banks.

"It doesn't work all that great on Palm people, but maybe it's more powerful against machines.  Rolf had a friend named Kain who supposedly developed techniques to use against machines."

"Your thunder would be quite damaging to artificial life, unless properly prepared."

"Any way you slice it, it either means several people or one really good one."

"Thanks for the compliment.  I know I'm the best, but it never hurts to hear it from an unbiased source."

The Landen two looked up.  At the top of the stairs the intruder awaited them.  His right hand rested on a strange tubular device tucked into his belt, but Bran could see he had a knife, too.  On his left shoulder he was carrying some kind of heavy burden.  He was smirking broadly.

"Who are you?"

"Call me Thor," said the man easily, still smirking.  "I'd say welcome to my home, but I have a feeling that you, my tall friend there, would disagree with me as to just whose tower this is.  You are Orakio, are you not?"

The android nodded while Bran gaped.  This was the first person he'd ever heard who knew of Orakio.

"I am.  And I do indeed dispute your claim to my tower."

"Then we'd better settle this dispute right now."  With that he lifted his burden off his shoulder and threw it down to them.  "Hold this for me, will you?  She's yours anyway, right?"

It was, of course, the broken body of another Mieu.  This one had a series of holes across her chest.   It sailed down the stairs as Orakio and Bran twisted to let it go by without hurting either of them.  Thor drew the metal device.  As he did Bran could just faintly hear a high pitched whine sliding up the scale.  It was a familiar sound, and a little logic told him exactly what was going to happen next.  "Orakio, look out!"

But Orakio could easily recognize the sound of a beam weapon charging, certainly just as well as Bran could, and he had already moved aside as bolts of energy peppered the staircase.  The cannons of old were virtually nothing more than legends.  Compact needlers were the norm now in projectile weapons.  But somehow, someone had managed to find an old Shot-class rifle, and even...was it possible...improve it?  Orakio's processors shelved the impossibility and set to work on the more immediate problem.

"You're fast!  Good!  I figured you would be.  But you can't beat me with speed alone," Thor yelled, laughing.  "Come on up and fight!"  Thor's shot spat another lethal volley down the stairs.

"Time for one of those tactical retreats, in my opinion," Bran said to Orakio.  "Let's pull back - he isn't going anywhere."

"I shall provide cover for you," Orakio replied.

Orakio darted out from the side and went back just in time to escape the firepower from upstairs.  As soon as the spray ended, Bran flung himself headlong down the stairs and crashed into the Mieu.

He swallowed hastily, realizing that Thor's weapon punched holes in Mieus, and would find him even easier prey.  He shook his head, tore his eyes away from the robot's sightless ones, and headed for the door.

"Bran, stop!" came a roar from the staircase.  "I have just received another warning!"

But Bran had skidded to a stop just a fraction of a second before.  The time lag between Nurvus's scanners, and the relay of the information to Orakio was not normally a problem, but when dealing with swift-moving objects it could be, and in this case was, too long.  Before Bran's eyes the doors burst open and a horde of creatures from his worst nightmares poured into the tower.

"The Camineet has returned."

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