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In The Name Of The Mother

Part Twelve


Motavia Climatrol, Aridia Habitat, Planet Motavia

The hideous shapes poured in through the open door.  Bio-hazards, he realized.  The Bio-hazards are back!  Why not?  All the other legends of the past seemed to have found themselves quiet homes in the modern age.  But although Bran had gotten used to androids, the thought of the living monstrosities that had terrorized Mota in Rolf's day shook him to the core.  He raised his sword, knowing it was futile.  He might be able to hold his own against casual Palm warriors, but these beings seemed designed to fight.

They were the dark counterpoints to the Mieus, he realized.  While they made death into a lovely but lethal art form, the blood on their claws matching the red of their hair, these appearance of these creatures - all clashing teeth, growls and snarls, wicked talons - made it clear that they would be the only ones appreciating the kill.  And with Orakio tied up fighting Thor, there wasn't going to be any last minute reprieve this time.

In fact his mentor might already be dead, or whatever passed for it in robots.  An attempt to warn Bran of the imminent danger was probably all the distraction Thor needed.  He remembered falling on the dead Mieu, a line of neat holes across her chest.  Orakio had been nothing but trouble to him, and had gotten him nearly killed several times, but that wasn't the kind of fate the android deserved.  And who would control Mota's systems if Orakio was dead?

No sense thinking about it now.  In a minute all his worries would be over.  He braced himself to receive the charge.  Strangely enough, in spite of his efforts to clear his mind and prepare himself for death, he kept seeing Kara's face before him.  He'd really let her down, hadn't he?  She risked everything to give him a chance, and now he was going to die out here where no one would ever find him.  She'd think he ran away.

And then with a loud cry a shape came blazing past him.  For a minute he thought Orakio had won his fight, but this one, though tall, was too short to be the systems controller.  This was Thor.  Bran gaped.  The man who just a few minutes ago was sniping at him with a powerful new gun was now turning his firepower on Bran's enemies.  The Bio-hazards fell in their tracks.  When they leaped or swooped at him he smashed them with his gun to drive them back and shot them again.  But though his gun was strong it could only hit one at a time, and Bran realized that the warrior would be overwhelmed shortly.  He bounded in to rescue his rescuer, wondering what exactly he thought he was doing.

"Now this is a fight!" Thor said jubilantly as he saw Bran hacking away at the monsters.  "Reminds me of home, before it got tame!"

The king of Landen wondered where 'home' was, and hoped desperately he could avoid it for the rest of his life.

And then a third fighter entered the fray as the tall shape of Orakio loomed before them.  The tide definitely turned.  The Bio-hazards through themselves at Orakio's armor and speared themselves on the point of his black blade, which seemed to be everywhere at once.  Thor's weapon killed Bio-Hazard after Bio-hazard, and kept them off Orakio so his sword could do its bloody work.  Bran did his share, protecting Thor from those monsters bright enough to realize the support team had to be neutralized first.

Abruptly, the fight was over.  The corpses lay in small piled around Orakio, who had come to rest at the end of his deadly dance with sword upraised, ready to strike at any waiting for him to relax his guard.  But the attack did not come, and he lowered his blade, turning to face Thor.  The warrior had already put his gun away.

Bran sheathed his sword as well.  He hadn't expected a rescue like this, but he knew what was required of him now.  "Thanks," he said, nodding to Thor.  "You saved my life.  But considering you first tried to take it, don't even think about me being obligated to you."

Thor laughed and ran a hand through his blond hair.  "Don't worry.  I should thank you.  For breaking the stalemate and providing me with a little more sport.  These guys aren't the same as Orakio's little toys, but they're still a workout."

"They're Bio-hazards, aren't they?"

Thor nodded, but Orakio had a different opinion.  "Bio-hazard is the name given to biologics created by accident, ones that throw off the balance of the environment by being roaming predators of all other life.  These are not such as that.  They are warriors, created by Laya for the purpose of eliminating threats to the systems.  Call them biologics, for they do have their place in the ecosystem, monstrous as they may appear to you."

"Bio-hazard, biologic, it's all the same.  They want to kill us, and there's only one way to protect yourself from someone who wants to kill you.  Kill them first."

"How do you know so much about it, Thor?" Bran asked.  "Bio-hazards and biologics are legends where I come from.  And how come you know so much about Orakio?"

"I, too, am interested in the source of your information," Orakio said.

"Don't know much about him," said Thor.  "Let's just say I've seen the name.  I'm from a little place called Techna."

"Ah," said Orakio.  "That explains much."

"Not to me," said Bran, folding his arms.  "Where's Techna?"

"Southeast," said Thor, shrugging.  "In Draconia Habitat."

"Habitat?  So you understand all this talk about habitats?"

Thor looked at Orakio, who folded his arms and stared back.

"Look..."

"Bran."

"Bran.  How big do you think the world is?"

The king of Landen looked confused.  "Pretty big, I guess.  It's a world."

"It's a lot smaller than you think it is."

"I get plenty of riddles from Orakio.  Talk straight."

"All right.  The world you know is actually about a third the size of Mota.  Maybe less.  You can't tell because of the walls, of course.  There are seven lands, each one with a different environment.  He created them all.  And there are two other sets of seven lands, too, each with their own environment.  But you can't get to them from here.  Each set of lands, each system of habitats, is isolated from the other two.  The whole world, big as it is, isn't even half the full size of the actual planet."

Bran was incredulous.  "That's unbelievable.  So the walls aren't just barriers between each land...they're..."

"They're prisons, my friend."

Bran looked up in shock at Orakio.  "Is this true?" he demanded.

"Prison is not an accurate term.  But it is true that you can journey only to the seven lands that comprise this system of habitats.  Travel to the other fourteen habitats is impossible."

"I never knew... When the walls are all around you...and the tunnels let you travel from one land to another...you just never think about the directions you can't go.  Northwest of Landen...surely it's the edge of the world."

"I'm sorry, Bran," Thor said with sympathy.  "It was pretty overwhelming for me, too.  But our people, Palm people, we just aren't travelers.  Never have been.  We don't like to think about what lies outside our cities, what lies over the walls.  The legacy of Palm is fear.  Has been since the days of Lassic.  This isn't even our own planet, you know."

"I know that!" Bran yelled.  "Stop saying that!  Every place I go I find out that more and more of my life is just a lie!  Have we ever achieved anything on our own?  Everything I take pride in either doesn't exist or was handed to us by somebody - Mother Brain or Orakio.  And our real home blew up hundreds of years ago!"  His voice grew quiet.  "Talk about dispossessed.  Sometimes it seems like we all died with Palm, and we're just ghosts, maintained by machines.  Don't bother with anything, they say.  We'll take care of you.  I'm so tired of it all.  I just want to go back home and go back to being ignorant.  I was so much happier back there.  Just go back home...see Kara again," he mumbled.

The other two remained silent.  After a few long minutes, Bran visibly pulled himself together.  "All right.  Enough of this.  You still haven't told me how you know what you know."

Thor cleared his throat.  "Like I said, each habitat has a different environment.  I've been to them all.  Elysium is forests, Aquatica has a giant lake, Frigidia is all ice..."

"The lands have names?  Elysium is where Divisia is?"

"Right."

"What's my land called?"

"Landen."

"Oh that's creative."

"The town was established after the habitat was created," Orakio said flatly.  "And creativity was not the basis on which the names were created.  They are descriptive; that is enough."

"Fine.  And yours is Draconia?  What does that mean?"

"It's a reference to a mythical biologic," Orakio answered.  "It, too, is descriptive of the land."

"Biologics still live in Draconia.  It's a dangerous place," Thor clarified.  "And I help make it safe.  I'm a hunter."

"A hunter!  Of course."  Bran shook his head.  Hunters were practically mythical biologics themselves these days.  In the old days they had fought biologics that preyed on people.  They were a necessary part of of the struggle for life back then.  Even in the days of Mother Brain, hunters had acted as the people's champions.  But as Bran struggled to recollect stories of hunters, he remembered that hunters had been known to turn against the people.  Some thought they had the power to do what they felt like.  Others broke under the strain of their stressful life, became obsessed with fighting or proving their skill.  The latter sounded a lot like the man he was listening to.  And while hunters might still exist in primitive places like Draconia, so far he hadn't heard of any guardians, the people whose job it was to hunt down rogue hunters.  New worries.

"I'm one of the best," Thor continued.  "And a while back, I stumbled onto some very interesting things hidden away underground.  Machines.  What was that?"

In an instant, Thor had his gun out.  He scanned the still-open tower doors.  He shook his head.  "Sorry.  Thought I heard something.  Guess I'm still on edge.  Takes a while to wind down after a fight like that.  Where was I?"

"Systems."

"Right.  I checked them out.  I don't know much about machines, but I picked up some things.  LIke the habitats, and Orakio."

"You got past the defenses all by yourself?"

Thor nodded.  Orakio spoke up.  "Because of Draconia's nature, the systems there are not as well defended as perhaps they should be.  I had assumed that natural defenses might take the place of mechanical ones.  I see now that was a mistake."

"So you know the truth about Mota."  Bran looked up at Orakio.  "Does this mean he dies?  You can't have this information public, can you?  Not when you're out to make yourself the people's hero."

"You are letting your emotions control you again, Bran.  What the people think of me is irrelevant.  I do not intend to be a hero, I simply want to eliminate the threat from Laya and to assure the people that machines function on their behalf to help them survive.  They may hate me as much as they wish, provided they do not attempt to damage the systems or their creations."  Orakio paused.  "However, your statement was essentially correct.  He must be neutralized before he can disseminate his biased view of the situation."

"That's what I thought," said Thor grimly.  "That's why I came out shooting.  I thought, when I realized you had one of my people with you, that maybe I was overreacting.  So I came to help.  Looks like I was wrong."

"Yes," said Orakio, and raised his sword.

Thor leapt back, but Bran stepped in between them, his arms stretched out.

"Stop!  You can't kill him!"

"Move aside, Bran.  I have no wish to damage you."

"You can't kill him," Bran repeated.  "He's too important."

"How so?"

"Because he's a famous hunter from Techna.  Don't you see?  These monsters.  It's war, Orakio.  Plain and simple.  I don't know what the causes are, I don't know who's right and who's wrong.  But like I said before, I'm backing you.  Because like it or not, you are our leader.  You run this world, and it's wrong for some other android to march in and take over.  And maybe I can persuade you that some of the things you've done were wrong.  But none of that matters if Laya's army conquers Mota!  If we're going to win this war we've got to get to people before Lune does.  Every place he's gone he's turned people to Laya's side.  Now we've got a chance to make some allies of our own.  Thor can bring us Draconia.  That'll be two habitats out of six on our side.  And Elysium is still undecided because Cille wants to remain neutral.  We need friends, Orakio.  Not more corpses."

Orakio lowered his sword, slowly.  Thor remained tense.  He was too seasoned a fighter not to relax simply because his opponent did - or appeared to.

"You have a point, Bran.  Yet I have a conflicting duty.  I must neutralize him to protect the greater good."

"Think of it like this," Bran said, hoping Thor wouldn't react badly.  "The most immediate problem is Laya.  He can be of use to you in the war.  When it's over...well, then, things will be different."

Orakio considered, nodded.  "You indeed have a point.  Very well.  Thor, your life is safe, for now.  You can be of great assistance to your people.  For that, you must live."

"Thanks," said Thor, his eyebrows raising.  "I guess.  What is going on with the two of you?  You said there's some kind of war going on?"

"It's a long story," said Bran.  "But I'm glad you don't know.  At least in some places life is normal."

"You must explain the current situation to him, Bran.  You will have time on the trip to Nurvus."

"Nurvus?"

"My command center," Orakio paused.  "You had expressed a wish to journey there."

"And we're going there now?"

"Assuredly.  I have received new orders.  I must implement them at once."

"New orders?" Bran frowned.  "From whom?"

"From the Mother, of course."

And as Bran stared at the android in horror and confusion, Orakio was already reflecting on how the Mother's new orders fit in so well with the events that had so recently transpired.  By following the orders, Orakio would make Motavia well protected from any more shuttleloads of troops.  The Mother had made her decision on the issue between Orakio and Laya, and it seemed to be in favor of Orakio...as he knew it would be.

Somewhere East of Rysel, Aquatica Habitat, Planet Motavia

Lune and Alair were decidedly uncomfortable.  Soldiers made them uneasy.  And while Lune had had his one-on-one talk with Cille, the circumstances of this little discussion were very different.  Before, he was simply asking for information.  Now things were different.

Thor's ears were sharper than he believed.  Lune and Alair had almost walked in on the discussion between him and Bran.  Seeing the Camineet parked outside the Climatrol tower, they had assumed everything was on schedule.  When they saw their troops lying on the floor dead, they knew better.  Things were not going to plan.  Not at all.  So the mission to Aquatica became even more important.

Alair was scared to death.  This was a sharp contrast to Mystoke.  The people had welcomed her with open arms.  Nobody was welcoming here.  She hoped Lune would be as persuasive as he had been in Aerone.   They needed help so desperately, now that Orakio was clearly dangerously malfunctioning.

"What worries me," came the smooth voice of the chief from his high chair, "is this alliance between Orakio and this Landen man...what was his name?"

"Bran," Lune supplied.

"Yes, Bran.  It bothers me that one of our people would betray us like that."

"Orakio can be pretty persuasive, I'd imagine."

"Yes.  Well, it seems we have a crisis on our hands.  A very grave crisis."

"That's why we've come here for help.  As close neighbors to Landen, you can help us to contain and eventually destroy this threat."

The chief nodded.  "I understand your reasoning.  But we are few in number.  Orakio has many on his side, from all you've said.  I do not think we will be much help."

"Laya can send us troops.  She can create warriors to help you fight.  You would provide the strategy and ground to strike from.  We can provide the manpower."

"Excellent.  In that case, you can count on the support of this town.  And may I suggest that our first attack be against the weak link in the enemy's defense: Landen!  Destroy Landen, and this...Bran, and Orakio will have to rethink his strategy."

"That sounds like a fine plan to me," Lune said firmly.  "I will contact Laya, and have her send troops here in our shuttlecraft, the Camineet.  We can implement your plan quite soon."

"Oh, and I have many more where that came from.  This Orakio sounds like a monster.  He must be eliminated before he can cause harm.  A pity about Bran, though."  The chief got up and crossed over to Lune.  He reached out his hand for Lune to take.  The construct grasped it firmly.

"You can count on the support of the city of Shusoran," Alec said, a broad smile on his face as he shook Lune's hand.  "A pity about Bran, though."

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