In The Name Of The Mother
Nurvus Central Systems Command, Planet Motavia
It was like being in the tunnels, only infinitely
more so. Everywhere he looked there was the same smooth, cold metal
in dull colors. But where the tunnels had been bridges over a vast
gulf, here on every side there were massive machines. Bran could
only guess at their function, but whatever it was he knew it was vital.
He was looking at the heart of the world from the inside. It was
intimidating, to say the least.
Orakio was perfectly at home here, of course.
This was home, for him. But for once the clothes that helped hide
his alienness from the people of Mota actually made him look stranger.
Palm people didn't belong here. That was obvious. No people
belonged here. This was clearly a place for machines. Just
as in the Climatrol tower, the command center had not been built with an
eye for personal comforts. Passageways twisted around and smaller
rooms stood alone inside bigger ones. For a person, the place was
needlessly complex, but for an android with infinite patience, lost time
was nothing compared to satisfying the arcane needs that the job of running
a planet demanded.
Even Thor was impressed. His eyes had popped
just as much as Bran's when Orakio summoned a platform from the depths
inside a tunnel. For all his experience, this was still something
new and fascinating. They had to be the first people ever to see
this place, Bran thought, looking around him in awe.
The air was still but not uncomfortable. The
lights were soft but sufficient. The eerie thing was the silence.
The Mieus had stood silently at attention, rigid in their ranks as they
passed by Nurvus's latest line of defense, but that was to be expected.
Bran couldn't remember ever hearing a Mieu talk. But the Wrens carried
out their tasks in a complete silence, walking from computer to computer,
adjusting and monitoring things. Bran had no idea what the buttons
they pushed and the levers they pulled did. But you couldn't argue
with the results, as far as he was concerned. This heart was working
Still the silence was downright creepy.
"There are some things I must attend to momentarily,"
Orakio said. "I will rejoin you shortly."
"No problem," Bran said hurriedly. "I understand
Orakio nodded and walked farther on into the center.
Thor and Bran looked around. No seats or anything, Bran thought.
But then again Orakio doesn't entertain very much, does he? The
two sat on the floor, their backs up against the only metal surface that
didn't appear to have any computer equipment attached to it. It was
hard to tell where the computers left off and the walls began.
"Nurvus, huh?" said Thor.
Bran looked at his new ally. He had to be
pretending nonchalance. There was no way this sight couldn't get
to you. "Yeah, so he says," he replied, equally casually.
"So tell me about Kara."
"Kara. You mentioned her back at Climatrol.
Just wondered who she was."
"She's...my advisor. I am a king, you know.
King of Landen. She's one of my advisors, along with Orakio."
"Yeah? I noticed the way he defers to you
all the time."
Bran could recognize sarcasm just as well as the
next man. He bristled. "All right, so he's a little more important
than I am in the scheme of things. But I'm not kidding. He
does serve as my advisor. At least while this war is going on."
He was hoping to change the subject, but Thor carried
on, apparently oblivious. "So she's your advisor. Tell me more."
"What's your interest?"
Bran sighed. "I don't know what to tell you.
We hardly know each other. She's pretty strong-willed. She's
got ideas and she's willing to fight for them, but she knows when to compromise,
too. She's got a strong sense of right and wrong. She helped
bully me into wearing a crown." He laughed. "I hope she's doing
okay. We kind of left her to run Landen while we were gone.
And now that I've seen what Lune is doing to people..."
"You two married?"
"What?" Bran choked. "No.
I told you we barely know each other."
Thor shrugged. "You like her, right?"
"What makes you say that?"
The Technan laughed. "The way you described
her. You still haven't told me one thing about the way she looks."
"That supposed to be some kind of test for love?"
"I didn't say anything about love. You did."
"I can't believe I'm having this conversation,"
said Bran, throwing his arms up. "We're sitting here in Nurvus
and you're trying to trick me into saying... I just can't believe
"There's no tricks. Well, maybe a few.
It's just that you obviously think about her a lot. You say you barely
know each other but you can tell me all about her personality. You
must like her at least a little."
Thor laughed. "Okay, I'll leave you alone.
I'm sorry. It's just my way of dealing with this, I guess.
Think about something else. This place...it really gets to me."
"I could tell," Bran said, nastily.
"All right, back off."
Luckily, Orakio returned before things could get
ugly, or uglier.
"Everything okay?" Bran asked, getting up.
"I have set in motion certain measures which will
be of great assistance to us. Soon the ship, the Camineet,
will be neutralized."
"That's great!" Bran said, excitedly. "Get
rid of the ship, no more biologics."
"Unfortunately, it will take some time for the modifications
to be completed. In the meantime, we must deal with this new development."
Orakio led them deeper into Nurvus, talking all
the way. "Travel between worlds is unfortunately a matter of minutes.
A great many biologics could potentially be delivered in the time it takes
my servants to complete their task."
"And your...order?" said Bran, taking a deep breath.
This was definitely an area he did not want to probe too deeply, but he
had to know. Was Mother Brain really still alive? He hadn't
believed Orakio's claims before, but when the android said he had received
orders from her...that was hard to doubt. "The one from Mother Brain...what
"Her order was to take steps to eliminate the Camineet.
You see," and Orakio swung his gaze around on Bran. "By this order
she has confirmed my suspicion that Laya was malfunctioning. Were
I the problem, she would have ordered my destruction. You need have
no doubts that you are on the right side."
"And how will you accomplish your task?" said Thor,
interested as always in acts of destruction.
"That is classified information at this time.
I cannot reveal the details to you."
"Why not?" Thor asked cheerfully. "You're
planning on killing me anyway."
Bran shuddered. It was hard to believe that
Thor had agreed to the desperate plan to save his life. It was impossible
to believe that anyone, even someone capable of taking down several Mieus,
could really win against Orakio, a relentless android with the resources
of an entire planet to throw into the chase. But Thor seemed to regard
it as just another adventure. Maybe the hunter was a little unstable
Orakio just looked at him. Thor shrugged and
smiled. "So be it."
The three continued on in silence until they approached
an inner room. There was a chair here, or at least it had once been
a chair. So much equipment and so many computers were a part of it
now that it could hardly be referred to by such a simple name. Orakio
eased himself into it. With barely audible whirs and clicks, machinery
rearranged itself around him, presenting him with keyboards, small screens
and other less recognizable bits of technology. He used none of them,
however, but simply settled back as though making himself comfortable.
"Regrettably there are no facilities for your own comfort," Orakio said.
"Or I would offer you a chair. Please turn your attention to the
screens behind you.
The king and the hunter swiveled to see a large
wall of screens blanking out. An image assembled itself on the monitors.
It was a globe, a green-brown ball hanging in midair, that appeared to
be covered by craters or pockmarks. No, the image zoomed towards
the two and details became apparent. They were more like reverse
craters, giant circles of stone...stone walls...Mota! Bran realized
he was seeing Mota as it must look from space. He'd read descriptions
from the travelers of another age. The image squashed itself, rearranged
itself into a flat picture of seven circles, connected by thick lines into
a web or wheel. Each circle contained green, blue, and brown blotches,
except for the lowest one, which was completely white, and each had one
or more flashing points of light.
"This is your world," Orakio said calmly.
One flashing point turned red. "The red light is Landen, Bran.
All the flashing lights are towns. Do you understand this image?"
"I...think I do," said Bran slowly. He reached
out and pointed to a splotch of green to the right of the red dot.
"Is this supposed to be a forest? The forest west of Landen?
It's green like a forest."
"That is correct."
"It's the lands..." He grimaced. "The
habitats, I mean. But it's like you're seeing them from space.
Or maybe like a bird. From the air. From the top, I mean."
He twisted his body around. "That's it, isn't it? It all depends
on how you're looking at it. You really have to think about it to
figure out what things are."
"You are correct again. This is a map.
It is indeed an aerial view of the habitats, based on the magnetic compass
direction you are familiar with. It is good that your people kept
at least that knowledge, or explaining the map would be utterly impossible.
But you will need to familiarize yourself with it, and learn to read it
quickly. The lives of your people may depend upon it."
"A map," said Bran. "All right. I can
see how it would be useful. You wouldn't have to remember directions.
Takes some getting used to, but I'll try my best."
"Excellent. Here are the names of the habitats."
Neat lettering appeared in each circle, colored to stand out. "This
should help you to understand our position better."
Bran was very glad he'd learned to read. Councilors
generally did, but there was no law that said you had to. Not much
point since books were few and far between. This lettering was identical
to the kind that appeared in the book he'd read. Obvious, he guessed.
Both were products, inevitably, of Mother Brain's technology. No
reason they'd be different. For a moment his earlier thoughts about
the apparent return of the omnipotent master machine returned to haunt
him, but he shrugged them off. Mother Brain had to be dead.
Rolf said he had destroyed her. With so much of his life built on
deliberate deceptions, the old stories were rapidly becoming the only things
he had to believe in.
He started from his own habitat and read around
the circle to the right. "Landen, Aquatica, Draconia," he nodded
to Thor, "Terminus, Frigidia, Elysium. And Aridia in the middle."
"Very good, Bran," said Orakio. "Currently,
we know Lune controls Aerone," and one of the two flashing points in Elysium
turned green, "and Mystoke in Frigidia." The single light in Frigidia
turned green as well.
Bran nodded. "I see what you're doing.
This does make things easier. It's like having a mental picture,
but outside of your head. So we have Landen, and also Techna?"
Thor nodded. "Can you light those?"
A light in Draconia turned yellow. "When Thor
has spoken to his people and confirmed their support, I will count Techna.
But not yet. They are still an unknown factor."
"They'll join you. Draconia faces enough threats
per day," Thor said confidently. "We don't need enemies from another
world." Thor had taken the news about the subtle invasion of Mota
from Laya's messengers calmly enough, but Bran could tell the hunter had
filed them firmly under the heading of "enemy." But one man's determination
didn't necessarily mean the town would fall in line behind him...
He couldn't help but think of his own unlikely role as leader. He
hopes Techna would join up. He could certainly use someone else to
share the burden with.
Bran studied the picture some more. "This
depends on how you look at things, too. I mean, they have two cities
and we have one, maybe two, so we're about even if you look at it that
way. But if you think about it, they have one whole habitat and half
another, while we don't even have one whole one."
"What do you think we should do?" Orakio asked.
"You're asking me?"
"Of course, your decision is the final one."
Bran smiled tightly. Not that he'd expected
more. He turned his attention back to the problem. "Left to
myself," he said, tapping the monitor, "I'd go back to Divisia."
"If we can get Divisia's support, we get another
town and prevent the Layans from getting complete control of that habitat.
No matter which way you look at it, that's a worthy goal. It's also
the only town between Aerone and Landen. No, wait." He peered
at the monitor again. "Stupid! They could come at us via Aridia.
Aridia's right in the middle. It connects to all the habitats.
We need Aridia, too. There's no towns there. But there's the
Climatrol tower... I don't know. Can we secure Aridia somehow?
If we could, they'd have to go the long way around, but we could go anywhere
we wanted to."
"An excellent idea. You do indeed have the
makings of a leader of men," Orakio said. Bran felt a little uncomfortable.
Praise now? "Your ideas concur with my own. Aridia is a harsh
land. Any army traveling through it would need to stop at the river
that runs through the middle of it. The blue strip running straight
up and down almost the whole length of Aridia flashed briefly. "And
they would have to pass around it to the north in order to get to the other
side. Forces at the head of the river could prevent passage from
east to west and west to east. And they could use the river as rapid
transport to fight forces to the south."
Bran stared at the small splotch of brown at the
very "top" of Aridia's circle. Then he blinked. "Just a minute.
Use the river as transport? How?"
"By boat, of course."
"What's a boat?" Bran asked, brow furrowed.
Thor stepped in. "It's made of wood.
It floats on water, and you can travel on it. They have them Aquatica.
I guess they don't in Landen, huh?"
"No. We have what we call swimmers."
High time to turn the tables on his tormentor, Bran thought. "Maybe
they don't have those in Draconia?"
"Well, you can't swim Aquatica's lake. It's
too big. They have to use boats to get to the other side of it."
"Indeed," said Orakio. "But we will not need
Aquatica's boats. Aridia is too harsh an environment - it was not
intended that Palm people live there. I think our desert forces need
be a different breed altogether. Forces that can withstand the heat
and provide their own boats. And Thor has provided me with some very
interesting ideas about improving my fighting forces."
"I have?" Thor asked, confused.
"You have indeed. And with certain modifications..."
Orakio turned his head to observe his Wrens going about their tasks with
quiet efficiency. "I believe what we have at hand will do nicely."
Town of Shusoran, Aquatica Habitat, Planet Motavia
The Camineet had certainly earned her keep,
Lune had said, and he was right. Shipload after shipload of troops
had arrived. Although the transport could only carry a few it could
make its trips quickly. But it didn't matter all that much how many
troops. When Alec saw the first load he'd realized that these soldiers
would prove to be far more effective than he'd thought. They had
scared him. But he'd gotten over it. Because he had a will
stronger than laconia. The people of Landen, especially without their
two heroes, would be much less determined. What we have here, he
thought, are terror troops. Fear made an excellent weapon.
He knew that only too well, having felt its bite himself.
He watched the so-called biologics mill around.
They were unorganized, but that was effective too. And it made it
easier for his own people to do their jobs quickly and without being noticed,
while these monsters staggered around wreaking havoc. Lune and Alair,
on the other hand, were dangerously competent. They had quick minds,
and their proficiency with their unique weapons was not something to be
disputed. Hard to believe they were like the half-legendary Nei,
the woman part monster and part person. But he could envision them
as the next generation. The Palm part kept the monster part firmly
in check, but ready to be released when needed. Give me even ten
such warriors, he thought. Provided they were under my command and
not merely "allies." Despite their incredible abilities, Lune and
Alair were still lacking.
But what they lacked he was more than willing to
provide, at least for now. Knowledge and direction. The two
from Dezo seemed hopelessly ill-suited for their task. They had no
idea of what they were up against. They seemed to think they could
persuade people that their cause was right. He didn't have the heart
to tell them he'd tried that long ago, not that he would have anyway.
But the time for talking had been over for quite a while.
Orakio showed him the way. He had to...well
he almost had to give him that. The robot had revealed to him exactly
what he had to do, and then Lune and Alair had given him the means to do
it. Despite his initial reluctance to do things this way, he couldn't
deny that it was all falling into place. And at the perfect time,
too. Shusoran was a new town. He was willing to bet no one
knew it existed. If he hadn't posted watchers on the tunnel to catch
any other robots wandering around Lune and Alair might have passed him
by themselves. No, without anyone knowing of Shusoran's existence,
Landen could only assume that an attack from the east had come from Rysel.
And if reprisals came, as he felt sure they would, they would be directed
at the lake town, a town already weakened by internal strife. Politics
would be the death of them yet, Alec thought.
And Landen would lose a potential ally, while Shusoran
would lose a potential troublemaker. Alec shook his head. Had
to stop thinking of it as Landen versus Shusoran. This conflict was
so much bigger. It was Layans versus Orakians now. But Landen
and Shusoran were the heads of their respective snakes. Cut off the
head, Alec thought. He left the saying uncompleted. That was
all he cared about right now. Cutting off the head would be sufficient
for the moment. This war was just beginning, and it was much bigger
than anybody thought it was, including the principals. And by the
God of Palm...Alec smiled. There were new "gods" now.
He had some ideas along those lines, too.
But by Laya, neither side was going to emerge
from this war a winner. And, if Alec had anything to say about it,
neither side would emerge from it at all.