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In The Name Of The Mother

Part Thirteen


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 just fine.

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 completely."

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."

"Huh?"

"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?"

"Purely academic."

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 this."

"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."

"I guess."

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 about that?"

"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 after all.

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?"

"Yes."

"Of course, your decision is the final one."

"Of course."

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."

"Why?"

"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.

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