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In The Name Of The Mother

Part Sixteen


City of Landen, Landen Habitat, Planet Motavia

Algol had never known the violent and bloody spectacles of gladiatorial games more common under other suns.  Nor had the sport of dueling ever caught on among any of the three races.  But it might now.

With a loud roar, the crowd of people that had assembled on the outskirts of town to watch the fight cheered even the simple preparations of the two combatants.  The party of Aeronians was kept firmly separated from the Landen people, but they were of course in attendance as well to watch their lord's glorious victory of the vile Orakian.  Alair was in the front of the Layans, naturally.

On the Orakian side, Thor was attempting to check out his Shot to make sure it wouldn't misfire or otherwise betray him during the fight.  Bran made it a little difficult.

"Do you have any idea what you just got yourself into?" was what he had just finished saying, and it had been the main theme of his dialogue for quite some time.  Except that it was more of a monologue.  Thor didn't seem to feel like answering.

Bran tried it again.  "Look, Thor.  Everybody knows you're the best hunter around.  But you can't fight Lune.  None of us can.  He'll kill you."

"Maybe I'll kill him," Thor said cheerfully, looking up from his weapon.  "Try to look on the bright side."

"Aren't you listening?  You can't fight Lune.  Orakio told me all about him, and I've seen him in action myself.  He wounded Orakio twice and who knows what might have happened if Cille hadn't stopped him.  Don't do this.  We need you too much for you to just go out there and die."

Thor looked right at Bran.  The king of Landen felt a little nervous under the blond warrior's gaze.  "Thanks, Bran," Thor said, quietly.  "I appreciate that.  But I have to do this.  For exactly the same reasons you told me why I shouldn't."

He gripped his weapon, ready for combat.  "No one can beat Lune.  He wounded Orakio twice.  If nobody, not even Orakio, can beat him, then we're all dead.  He's the leader of the Layan forces.  If he can't be killed then he'll walk all over us.  Now, I've never fought him.  Maybe I have a chance.  Maybe I'm better than Orakio.  Maybe I can kill him.  If I can, then we might just be able to win this war."

"And you see, the odds are good for us.  If we win, they lose their general, their invincible leader.  If they win, all we lose is me.  I don't mind it.  I've risked my life more times than I care to remember and if he kills me at least I'll know I died fighting the greatest warrior on Algo, for a good cause.  And I know you'll gain the help of my people even without me.  You're the brains of the operation, Bran.  You can survive without the muscle.  The Layans might not be so lucky."

Bran swallowed.  He'd never seen Thor quite so serious.  And he had a point.  If Thor was willing to make that sacrifice, the Orakians did stand to gain a lot.  This was the kind of decision that he knew was expected of a leader.  It was for this reason that he had never wanted so much responsibility.  But he had it now, and Thor was looking at him expectantly, as if waiting for some last words, or some kind of approval.

Well, what right did he have to make decisions about Thor's life?  He wasn't even Thor's king, although the Technan did seem to regard him as a war leader.  If he forbade him to fight, Thor probably wouldn't listen anyway.

He nodded.  "All right, then.  If you're willing...   Just make sure you win, okay?"

Thor grinned suddenly, the same manic smile that he had greeted Bran with, back in the tower.  He held his gun up.  "Don't worry.  It'll be over before you know it."  And with that, he strode off to meet his challenger.

Lune, who had already had his pep talk with Alair before even deciding to fight, didn't look quite as eager as Thor did, but his sister for one noticed that a lot of tension had gone out of him.  Though this fight was mostly meaningless to her, she could appreciate the help it would be to Lune.  Anything to stop the anger that seemed to have been boiling up in him ever since they'd gone to that new town, Shusoran.  Alec's plans sometimes frustrated Lune, who admired direct action more than subtlety.  She herself did not trust the Palman all that much, but she wanted to give diplomacy another try.  Look what it had accomplished in Mystoke.  Mostly, though, she wanted her brother back.  If it took killing a Palman to do it, well, there were more Palmans. Besides, didn't he have a contingency plan...just in case?

The Dezolisian construct had his slasher out and was practicing with it, not as a thrown weapon, but instead as if it were a curved sword.  He held it at one end and slashed at the air.  It whistled as he whipped it around himself.  Bran was reminded of the hum it made when it was thrown.  He shuddered and wondered if he shouldn't insist the spectators stay indoors.

Kara and Orakio stood at his side, as usual.  It was, as always, impossible to tell what Orakio was thinking.  Kara...  He hoped he'd guessed wrong.  Hoped he was mistaken about what he had thought he had seen back in the council chamber.  But, honestly, it really wasn't any of his business, he supposed.  But you want it to be, a small voice in the back of his head said.

He wrenched his mind back to the fight.  They were both looking at him, as more or less the official in this game.  Bran looked at them, green-haired alien and tall hunter, and then out over the two very separate crowds.  He looked at Orakio, who stared back at him.  He couldn't bring himself, for the moment, to look at Kara.

The king of Landen nodded sharply.  "Fight."

  As if in slow motion, both of the fighters dived off to their right, without attacking.  Bran grinned wryly.  No fools these, to leave themselves open to whoever happened to be the fastest draw.  These were seasoned professionals.

Lune rolled and came up on one knee, snapping his arm forward to throw the slasher.  Thor had also rolled and started to rise, but threw himself off to the side again to dodge the spinning blade.  He fired as he sailed through the air, rapid fire bursts that had little chance of hitting their target, but would be effective at throwing Lune off the offensive. Unfortunately for Thor, the construct was unfazed by the wild fire and instead stood and ran forward, bending slightly to scoop up his slasher as it came back at him.

It seemed like Lune had decided that long-range combat was more to Thor's advantage.  He gripped the slasher as he had before, like a curved sword, and rushed the hunter as he picked himself up off the ground from his hasty dive.  Thor saw Lune almost on top of him and raised his gun.  Firing pulses of energy at Lune, he backed up quickly.  Lune ran sideways, temporarily abandoning his pursuit, and threw the slasher again.   Thor dropped to his knees and let it sail over his head, and fired again.

The Dezolisian sprang into the air, executed a beautiful somersault over the surprised Thor's shots, and caught the slasher as he landed in front of the hunter.  Thor's jaw dropped.  It was an incredible demonstration of skill and agility, and it was enough to distract Thor.  And that distraction was time enough for Lune to bring the edge of his slasher down into Thor's shoulder.

The Technan cried out and brought his gun up again to fire point-blank at Lune, but the green-haired alien had already run off again.  Thor looked around and saw him pushing through the Landen group.  He scrambled to his feet and took off as well.

Bran nodded to himself.  Lune hadn't abandoned the attempt to close in with Thor.  He was simply going about it in a different way.  By changing the playing field.  Thor couldn't shoot at him through the crowd.  And beyond the people was Landen itself.  Streets, houses, corners.  Prime territory for an ambush.  The problem was, the people of Landen weren't about to let him through.  And if Lune felt it was his life on the line, he might just be tempted to carve his way through them.

"Let him through," Bran yelled, waving his arms.  "Let him through!"

The crowd melted away.  Far enough away, in fact, that Thor stopped and whipped his gun up again.  He took careful aim, but Lune seemed to have an almost supernatural gift for knowing when the attack was coming.  He broke left around the crowd and Thor had to give up and chase him again.  By the time he reached the city proper, Lune was nowhere to be seen.

The crowds surged forward to follow the combatants.  "Hold them back," Bran said to Orakio, quickly.  The android moved with the swiftness that had surprised Bran more than once and stood imposingly in front of the masses.  Bran followed, as did Kara, who realized what was going on as soon as Bran did.

"You can't follow them," Bran said.  "It's too dangerous to go in there.  You might get hurt."

This didn't seem to impress the spectators, who were looking to see somebody get hurt, but Kara knew her fellow people and knew that despite the grumbling and disappointment the Landen crowd would settle down.  The Layans, though...  "Lord Orakio, perhaps you could keep an eye on the Layan group?"

Orakio nodded.  "I can do better than that."  Silently and unobtrusively, armed Wrens took up positions nearby.  Their presence quieted both crowds down.

"Of course," Kara said, leaning over to Bran.  "I'm not going to stay here."

"Neither am I," Bran returned.  "This is far too important.  And if Lune tries to pull something...  The council building.  Let's hurry."

"I will follow," Orakio said.

Bran nodded and the three departed, Mieus quickly filling their vacated positions as barricades.

When Thor had entered the city he knew at once that Lune would be waiting for him.  Like Lune he had realized that the construct's only choice was to eliminate Thor's long-range ability.  While the slasher was a fine weapon it was not rapid fire and it had to be recovered.  No matter how good the man was, he couldn't risk himself against the Shot in open territory.

Thor eased himself up against the side of a house.  So how to turn the ambush against the ambusher?  By being where he shouldn't be, of course.  The door was behind him.  It wasn't locked.  All right, so going through the houses instead of around them wasn't exactly fair play.  When had he ever played by the rules?

He smashed a window on the other side of the house and jumped through it, then ran for the intersection, spinning to the right and aiming down the side of the house.  No Lune.  Thor pulled his gun up, wincing from the cut in his shoulder.  No ambush?  Looks like he'd underestimated his opponent again.  The ambush was probably deeper in the city, just so he couldn't pull this kind of trick.

He fired his gun into the air.  "I'm heading for the council building!" he shouted.  "Anybody wants to find me, that's where I'll be!"  That would turn the game back on Lune again.  This time he wanted the Dezo man to take the offensive.  He headed for the council building.

He was only a few yards away when the ambush was sprung.  Despite the fact that the door faced out onto the street Thor was running down, Lune hurled himself out of a second floor window.  Hearing the crash, Thor stopped short, looking up as shards of glass streaked down around him.  And as Lune came crashing down on top of him.

Thor grunted and pushed the big man off.  They squared off with each other.  Thor didn't even consider running.  One way or another, it was going to end here in the streets, hand-to-hand, man-to-man.  Or whatever Lune really was.  No more tricks and winning by advantages.  Just plain skill.

"There's no shame in dying at my hands," Lune said, panting.  "You were born to fail.  It's in your genes."

Thor winced again.  The mistreatment was not helping his shoulder wound, and he was afraid that he'd cut himself on the broken glass, too.

"I'll give it my best shot, anyway, thanks.  That's in my genes, too."

"Like I said before, Palm man, keep up the optimism.  It makes things so much...easier!"

On that word, he sprang, slashing downwards viciously.  Thor brought the Shot up to block it.  But Lune's slasher was laconian, and it cut into the shiny but ordinary metal of Thor's Shot.  Thor surged forwards and Lune went staggering.

"How much easier could it be?" Thor said, grinning, as he brought his weapon to bear on Lune before the construct could recover.  But when he closed his finger on the trigger, he heard only an electronic click.  Lune's slasher seemed to have damaged the gun.

"Only one weapon, and I've got it?  You're right, it can't get any easier."  Lune took a step forward and then sprang at Thor again.  The hunter grimaced and met the swing of the slasher with his Shot again.  But this time when he pushed Lune back he followed, keeping the slasher trapped in the gun and making Lune stumble backwards.  He charged forward and rammed the green-haired alien against the side of another house.

Lune grunted as the air rushed out of him.  "Why...struggle?  Just give in...and die!"  He threw Thor off and tackled him.  Thor went down hard, the gun flying out of his hands.  Lune scrambled over him and kicked the Shot away as Thor reached his hand out for it.  It wouldn't have mattered, anyway.  Thor discovered he couldn't stretch his arm out too far any more.  Lune stood over Thor, his slasher poised.

"It was a good fight, but the odds were against you.  You're only a man, after all.  And so Laya's will prevails again."

"It's not over yet," Thor mumbled.  He spat out blood.  He had bitten through his tongue when his chin smacked into the hard ground.  "I'm not dead yet.  And even if I were, at least I wouldn't be anybody's puppet."

"I'm no puppet," Lune snarled, his eyes suddenly blazing.  Thor's legs suddenly scythed around, pitching Lune forward over Thor's prone body.  But it wouldn't throw him for long, and Thor didn't seem able to get up.

"No!  We've got to do something." Bran said.  The three had made it to the council building safely, and were in prime position to see what looked like the last minutes of Thor's life.

Orakio shook his head.  "You cannot interfere, Bran.  To do so would be to negate the entire contest."

"I can't just let him die!" Bran said, angrily.

"Yes," Orakio said,  "You can."

"Wait a minute.  You...you want him to die!  This is the perfect way out for you, isn't it?  Thor dies and your secrets are safe.  You would have killed him later, anyway."

"Thor knew the risks he was taking.  He considered the fight worth it.  Do you know the worth of his life better than he does?"

"Maybe I do," Bran said.  "Maybe I don't.  All I know is, I can't let him die.  We haven't known each other for very long, but..."

Kara put her hand on his arm.  "I'm sorry, Bran.  I'll miss him, too.  But Lord Orakio is right.  If we interfere with their fight Lune will get even angrier.  There will go our chance for peace."

Bran softened at her touch.  But still, it didn't matter.  "I'm sorry.  I've got to go help him."

Flanked by the reluctant Kara and Orakio, Bran arrived at a dead run, furious.  "It's all over, Lune."  He clenched his fists.  "Gifoi!"  Fire suddenly sprang into being in front of him, a swirling ball of flame.  He stabbed a finger at Lune and the fire shot out at him, knocking him back off of Thor.  However, the flame died out almost immediately, flickering once and then vanishing, Bran's will no longer able to keep it going.  Lune slowly got to his feet.

"Interference.  I won this contest.  His life is mine!"

"Not a chance, Lune," Bran said, drawing his sword.  The laconia flashed in the sunlight.  Lune drew his slasher up in front of him, bracing himself to meet Bran's attack.

"It seems Bran is correct, Lune," Orakio said.  "You will not be killing Thor today."  And with that, there was an almost inaudible electronic whir.  Bran and Lune both looked at Orakio in surprise as Orakio's tunic ripped itself into shreds.  The gleaming metal chest of the android suddenly cracked and split into smaller parts which swung open like a flower uncurling its petals.  Hot light flared forth from the darkness so exposed and slammed into Lune, once again knocking him back and crisping his own clothes.

Lune screamed and threw his slasher blindly as he staggered back under the incandescent attack.  The blade missed, and its return embedded it in the wall behind Lune, missing the construct only because the unforeseen attack had driven him to the ground.  But the light abruptly ended and Orakio's chest plates performed their amazing trick again, in reverse, until only the hanging bits of tunic betrayed what had just happened.

"What was that?" Bran asked, his eyes wild.

"Did you really believe this sword was my only defense," Orakio asked, cocking his head.  "I only wear this so that your people will not attack me without provocation.  I have many other weapons available to me.  My Flare seemed the most appropriate in this instance."

Kara shook her head.  "Amazing."

"Yeah, he's full of surprises," Bran muttered.  "I wish I'd known about your 'other weapons' earlier.  Like back in the tower, for instance."

"My sword was more than sufficient there," Orakio said calmly.

True enough, Bran thought.  "But you saved Thor.  And now we've got Lune prisoner."

Kara leveled her sword at the groaning construct.  "Don't move," she said sternly.  "This fight is over.  And the Orakians win."

"Not hardly," Lune said, his teeth clenched.  "You've just lost."

"What do you mean?" Bran asked.

"This."  Lune reached into his pouch and pulled out a small electronic device of some sort.

"What's that?"

"A communicator," Orakio said.  "What have you done?"

Lune smiled weakly.  "Called for my ship."

Orakio raised his head, gazed off at the sky.  Bran likewise followed his gaze, and, after a second, so did Kara.  They could see a dark dot in the sky slowly moving downwards, slowly but relentlessly.

"It's full...of biologics.  Just a little precaution...I knew you'd cheat.  When it gets here, you're all dead."

"Orakio?" Bran asked.

"We have Mieus and Wrens here to defend the people.  But Landen City itself probably cannot survive another full-scale assault."

"And everybody's clustered together...with the Aeronians!"

Orakio nodded gravely as Lune forced a chuckle.  "A two pronged assault.  Masterful planning, Lune."

"My idea," he said.

"The Layan forces will be in among our people as soon as the ship lands." Orakio noted.

"Then we've got to warn them as quickly as we can," Bran said.  "Kara..."

"Wait."  The android raised a hand.

It is all but impossible to fully and accurately describe the mind of an android.  It is a completely abstract concept, created by the simultaneous running of processors, feeding information to some unseen central collecting point where the decisions are made.  Given that, it is difficult to explain the details of the transmissions from one robot to another.  Suffice it to say that, somehow, two words impressed themselves in that consciousness.  Construction.  Completed.

"I do not think the Camineet will trouble us any more."

And as the five watched, the sky suddenly grew even brighter as a bright shaft of yellow light leapt from the horizon.  It engulfed the black dot and rose higher, disappearing into the sky.  When their eyes and receptors cleared, the sky was peaceful and blank once more.

"The habitat defense system test is quite successful," Orakio said.  "And the Camineet has been neutralized."

"My...ship," Lune croaked.

"Is destroyed."

Bran punched his fist skyward.  "It's gone!  The ship is gone!  No more troops, no war!  It's over Lune.  All over.  For you and your Laya."  He turned to Orakio.  "This is what that order was?"

Orakio inclined his head.  "I told you that the Mother supported us."

"I never thought I'd ever say this, but let's hear it for Mother Brain."

Lune clawed at the ground.  "Impossible...the Mother is dead!"

Kara smiled.  "Thank Orakio and the Mother.  No more war."

"Someone approaches," Orakio said, suddenly.

"What?"

The Landen trio turned.  Thor was in no condition to move.  Neither was Lune.

It was Cille.  She, too, was approaching at a run.  As she drew nearer, Bran saw her clothes were torn and stained.  He ran over to meet her.  "Cille?  What's...what's going on?"

"Bran!"  She looked exhausted, and Bran noticed she was bleeding.  "Layans...an army of Layans from Aerone.  They've...invaded.  My town.  They have it.  Came here to get your help...  But now they're attacking your people.  My guards are fighting them.  But...they're everywhere."

"Divisia has fallen?"

Lune began to chuckle again.  Cille collapsed into Bran's arms.

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