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In The Name Of The Mother

Part Seventeen


Dezolis Biosystems, Planet Dezolis

The scene replayed again.  The even green surface of Motavia, marred by the dark brown circles of the habitat walls, came rushing up to meet the camera.  Then, suddenly, a pale yellow twinkle from the ground, a flash of pale yellow that enveloped the whole screen, then nothing but static on the monitor.

To a viewer with more emotions, the most horrifying aspect of it all was its simplicity.  There was no spectacular fiery death, no long slow crash that might provide time for passengers to escape.  There would be no wreckage on the surface to comb through and perhaps salvage.  It was obliteration, plain and simple.  The beam weapon had fired, and the Camineet was no more.

But this watcher, like all of her kin, possessed no emotions at all.  Logic, however, Laya had in abundance.  As she turned away from yet another replay of the destruction of her one and only transport shuttle, she considered the grave implications of what she had witnessed.

It meant that Orakio was not unwilling to employ his vastly superior technology against her.  She was only a system operator, trying to do the job of a planetary manager in the absence of a real one.  He was a manager in truth, able to send the resources of an entire planet against her, to fabricate whatever weapons and troops he deemed necessary.  The only thing she could do was create organic life with her own Biosystem, LRVA.  Orakio could do that and much more.

Her only chance had been that Orakio would meet her troops with his troops and she could use battle tactics to succeed.  But with weapons like this, tactics meant little.  She could send wave after wave of her genetically superior troops against Motavia, and they would die in their ranks.  No organic defense could stop the power of focused energy.

Never mind the fate of her troops.  SHe had no way to even get them there.  The Camineet was gone.  Oh, there might be more shuttles moldering in the depths of old Skure, and Rolf's old shuttle in Aerone might be put back in service.  But what would be the point?  As soon as the shuttle left the atmosphere and entered the gulf of space between the worlds, it would be blasted into atoms.  Admittedly, weapons like that were unsuited to close range firing, which in planetary terms meant orbit or within the atmosphere, but that didn't matter in this situation.  No shuttle could ever reach close range.

And speaking of ranges...  Laya addressed the main computer banks.  "Larva, judging from the measurements the Camineet's sensors recorded, can the energy weapon on Motavia reach to Dezolis?"

The image from the Camineet's cameras vanished and was replaced by a smooth black screen which filled itself with text.  Negative.  Planet Dezolis currently out of range given intensity of beam.

A small relief, but at least it meant Orakio did not intend to blow her planet apart.  That would have meant the end of everything.  And yet perhaps his attack would be subtler.  She had no way of preparing such an offensive defense.  Perhaps, having made his own planet secure, he meant to mount an attack on hers.  There might be shuttles on Motavia...but then again he could make his own.  He had a vehicle plant, she had none.

So she had to find a way to tip the balance back in her favor.  Go on the offensive again before he could prepare his overwhelming forces to attack.  Could she possibly shield the ships?

Shielding systems she had.  Designed by an alien race that had never known peace but had known all too well the horrors of war, the systems were protected from orbital bombardment by powerful shielding systems.  It had always seemed redundant and useless to Laya, for no race in Algol had ever developed the technology to attack from space, and had never developed energy weapons larger than pistols.  And once Mother Brain had taken over, she had seen to it that technology was solely in her hands.  Now she doubted if any of the races could build a cart on their own, much less a warship.

However, the shields were useless to her.  They were far too bulky and too power intensive to put on a shuttle.  Could she extend the protection of the shields to give the shuttles more exit cover?  No.  The gap between worlds was simply too large.  It was impossible.  If she could move the planet closer, then she might have something.  The shields could protect it until it got, say, into orbit.  Then the shuttles could be launched safely, below the minimum firing range for the weapon.  Except of course, that the conflicting gravities would most likely destroy both worlds.  And of course she was unable and most certainly unauthorized to move the planet.  That wouldn't do either.

And yet...  Now there was an idea.  To call it daring was to seriously understate the situation.  She punched up some figures on the computer.  It would require all the resources she could muster.  She'd have to strip the planet clean.  Destroy the noncritical sections of the network.  Plunder Skure for everything it had.  The work she had been doing, protecting the failing network from the Dezolisians, she would overturn herself.

But wasn't it worth it?  Sacrifice some of what she was programmed to protect in order to save the rest?  Yes.  It was allowable, in these extreme circumstances.  She input the necessary orders.  Elsewhere, worker biologics would abandon their efforts of repair and turn into scavengers.  The biosystem's genetic plants would begin the mass production of warriors.  It would be done.  No turning back.

SO that left the matter of Orakio's superior troops.  But she had some ideas there, too.  If Orakio would employ all the resources of Motavia against her, she would counter them with the resources of Dezolis.  And Dezolis had one resource that Motavia was utterly helpless against.  One resource that would not merely tip the balance in her favor, but overturn the scales entirely.  If she could manage to harness it.  She made some more notes to herself.

Only one last thing stuck in her mind, something she was helpless to do anything but wonder about.  The launching of the Camineet meant that Lune had lost his duel with the Palman.  What did it mean?  Was he dead?

If only she'd made him stronger.

City of Landen, Landen Habitat, Planet Motavia

Still chuckling, Lune rose slowly to his feet.  Kara gaped.  Despite the beating he'd taken from Bran's Gifoi technique and Orakio's incredible Flare, he was still alive and far from defeated.  In fact, he seemed to be gaining strength with every passing moment.  She looked to Orakio.  The android, his tunic hanging in tatters from his shoulders, nodded.

"It is simple matter to create an a vastly accelerated healing process.  You may expect Lune and Alair to recover quickly from nonfatal wounds."

Kara shook her head, amazed at yet another example of how the two from Dezo were more than a match for the strongest Palm warriors.  But her sword never wavered from where it was, poised ready to deliver what would more than likely have to be a fatal wound if Lune tried to escape.  But the construct didn't seem to be interested in making a getaway.  He probably realized that his rescue team was on the way, Kara thought.

Bran was occupied with Cille, who seemed to have fainted from exhaustion.  She and her guard must have fled from Divisia with no preparation.  They would have traveled without rest or food, maybe even harried by Layans to get here.  And she had succeeded, delivered her message of warning that Lune's mission of diplomacy had once again proven to deadly to the Palm people.

Bending over her, he sighed.  "The whole thing was probably staged.  Deliberate provocation, so something like this would happen to distract us."

Kara, overhearing, shook her head.  "I don't believe it.  Lune seemed pretty sincere to me."

Lune bared his teeth in a grin.  "I was more than sincere.  And if you hadn't interfered..."

"Thor!"  Bran said, suddenly remembering his fallen friend.  He laid Cille down, gently, on the ground and rushed over to the Technan's side.

"How...how are you?"  he asked quietly.

"Fine,"  Thor said, sarcastically.  "Actually, I'll be fine.  I'm just sorry about the windows."

Bran had to smile.  It was true that the windows he and Lune had smashed in their duel were irreplaceable.  One of the many skills the Palm people had discovered they had never actually known when Mother Brain was destroyed was the art of glassmaking.  But the shattered glass was nothing to Bran beside his friend's injuries.  The empty space could be filled with wooden bars like many other windows in Landen.  Not much could take the place of the hunter.

"The weapon of a guardian,"  Thor said, sitting up cautiously.  "You probably don't know it, but that's what he's got there."

Bran stared at Lune's angular weapon.  "A...a slicer."

"Slicer, slasher, something like that.  I think it's slasher.  But it's the weapon of a guardian.  I know its appearance."

"So you consider yourself a guardian, huh, Lune."  Bran said tightly.  "Guardians don't pick fights with people.  Not to mention they don't spearhead invasions of other worlds."

Lune took a deep breath.  He looked a lot better than he had.  And he seemed unconcerned with Kara's sword.  "We don't want to kill you.  We just want to rule you."

Bran nodded.  "Oh, well, sorry.  That's okay, then."

Orakio turned.  "Alair approaches."

Lune smiled.  "I believe it's time for me to go.  But I'm sure we'll see each other again.  Soon.  Say, in Divisia?"

"You can count on it.  And look for me in Rysel, too."

The construct laughed.  "Oh, yes, Rysel.  I'd almost forgotten.  Well, I don't know if I can make it, but you can start without me."

Bright blue beams flashed around the Landen group.  Kara and Bran threw themselves flat on the ground as Alair and a few Aeronians ran up to them.

"Lune, are you all right?" Alair asked, breathlessly.  Her bow swiveled from Orakio, who was still standing impassively, to cover Bran and Kara, who were on the ground, afraid to move.  Bran remembered what he'd thought before.  Hurt one of the pair, and you might just push the other over the edge, past all restraint.  And the full fury of these specially bred warriors was something he did not want to witness.  And yet...here they were together.

And Orakio was no less aware of that fact than Bran was.  His tunic was ripped apart completely as once again the smooth metal of his chest began to slide around and change its shape.  But this time additional panels moved around.  Parts of his shoulder and what would be his collarbone opened up to reveal dark wells and metal honeycombs.

"Move!"  Lune shouted, throwing himself at Alair and knocking her away from Orakio's new attack.

From his vantage point on the ground, Bran was unable to see exactly what happened.  All he knew was that Orakio emitted a bright flash just as Lune crashed into his sister, and then the ground where the two had been standing erupted in a devastating explosion of fire and earth.  The explosions raged around in the area in front of the android.

But Lune's reflexes had saved his sister's life and his own.  The bursts of rock and flame missed them entirely.

Bran and Kara were momentarily stunned, but they were quick to pick themselves up.  Bran lifted his shining sword, ready to seize the opportunity and recapture their valuable prisoner.  But Kara didn't move.  "What's wrong, Kara?"  Bran demanded.  "Attack!"

Kara just shook her head, mutely.  Lune looked up from where he lay on the ground, sheltering Alair.  The two slowly got to their feet.  Both wore expressions of people determined to fight to the death.  Lune had pulled his slasher out and Alair held her bow up and at the ready.  But neither seemed inclined to attack.

Orakio was motionless.  Kara's sword was at her side.  Looking around, Bran lowered his sword as well, not quite sure what was going on.

Lune, too, seemed surprised.  But he smiled wryly.  "I guess we have a standoff, don't we?"  He thrust his slasher in his belt.  "Come on, Alair.  Let's get out of here."  He nodded, almost politely, to the Orakian three, and left with Alair, running away from the faint sounds of battle, even now dying away, to the other side of town.

Bran sheathed his sword.  "Sorry, Kara.  It's a good thing one of us keeps a clear head.  I would have charged them and probably have just gotten killed.  It's hard to believe how tough those two are."

"I can believe it," Kara said.  "It's in their eyes."

"But I thought Orakio would attack them.  Something wrong?"

Orakio shrugged.  "Regretfully, my long-range weapons require certain expenditures of energy.  And my supply was limited after my last attack.  I must rest and replenish my supply if I am to use the weapons again.  As for my sword," and he lifted his black blade, "Advisor Kara has already justified my lack of action in that arena."

Bran frowned while he worked that all out.  "Right."

A groan caught their attention.  Cille was waking up, coming out of her faint.  Bran knelt down beside her, propped her head up.  "Are you all right?" he asked softly.  "We need a healer.  For Cille and Thor."  He looked up at Orakio.  "Several, I'd say."

Orakio nodded.  "I will get one.  My Mieus have the battle under control.  It will be over soon."

"Good."

Cille was looking up at Bran, smiling faintly.  "I think we've done this before, haven't we?"

Bran grinned.  He could hardly forget his own near death experience in Cille's own meeting room.  "It's not as much fun on that side of things is it?"

She shook her head, her long blond hair, now matted and crusted with dirt and blood, swinging limply from side to side.  "No fun at all."  She closed her eyes, and remained still until Orakio returned with a Mieu and a few Landen people.  They seemed tired and concerned for their leaders, but when Bran questioned them said that the Mieus had stopped the battle before there were too many injuries.  And there were no fatalities among the Orakians.

They put the wounded on the long tables in the council room and the healers started their work, using their strange "technique" to accelerate the natural healing process at an incredible rate to close up wounds and refresh tired bodies.  Orakio took careful recordings of the entire process.  Bran, meanwhile, was talking quietly with Cille, who, in turned out, was more tired than anything else.  She was sitting near one of the windows, looking out on Landen, speaking of the attack on her former city.

"They came suddenly, didn't even try to talk.  They just rampaged through the place.  The Palm people marched straight to the palace and took over.  My guards and I just barely managed to escape."  She bowed her head.  "I've...failed my people.  I should have listened to you.  Should have chosen sides.  You were right."

Bran looked uncomfortable.  "There's nothing wrong with preferring peace to war.  I hoped the war wouldn't touch you, too."

Cille looked up.  "Did you?"

He nodded.  "But I found out too late that you were in serious trouble.  Orakio and I were discussing battle strategies.  It was pretty obvious that they'd try to attack Divisia.  That would give them control of your whole habitat."

"Habitat?"

"I'll tell you later.  It's kind of a long story.  And I don't think you'll believe half of it.  But maybe I'm getting ahead of myself.  You..."  He swallowed.  "You do plan on joining us, right?  Being an Orakian?"

Cille sighed and leaned her head against the wall.  Bran looked at her with some concern.  "I'm sorry again.  You probably don't want to talk about this now.  We can wait until you've recovered some more."

"I'd appreciate it.  Because I don't know.  I just want my people to be safe.  If I become an Orakian...they might be hurt.  I don't want to be responsible for the deaths of my people.  You understand, don't you?"

Bran nodded, although he was feeling some very conflicting emotions.  "I understand.  I don't know what I'd do in your situation, either."

Kara touched him on the shoulder, and he turned.  Cille closed her eyes again.  "Sorry to interrupt.  But Lord Orakio wants to talk to you."

Bran walked over to the big android.  He had not had time to repair his tunic and there were none at hand large enough to fit him well.  Bran was struck by his appearance.  With the time they had spent together, and the peculiar trust and comradeship that had grown up between them, Bran was almost able to forget that he was an android.  But now, with the thin facade ripped away, it was all too obvious what his true nature was.  Now the artificial flesh of his face looked like a mockery of life.

"What is it?" he asked, a little more coldly than he'd wanted to.

Orakio looked down at him.  "I must leave you for a time."

"What?"

"I must return to Nurvus.  I have some projects to complete that may well be necessary to the war effort.  They will undoubtedly take some time to complete."

"But...but..."  Bran cast around for something to say.  "We need you."

"You will be able to handle the situation.  You will have command of the troops, although they will not obey certain commands.  Like attacking the systems.  When I return I will resume command."

"But we're Orakians now!  We follow you and now you're abandoning us!"

"I am but an advisor.  You are the king.  Have I not seen to that?"

Bran balled his fists.  "You know what you are.  You may fool everyone else but you don't fool me."

"You cannot prevent me from leaving.  Do not attempt to do so."

"Stop it, both of you!"  Kara yelled.  "Lord Orakio has a job to do that comes before us!  And you are the king, Bran.  I fought for you.  Don't throw it all away now.  Let him go."

Slowly Bran's anger began to subside.  "Then go," he snarled.  "Go."

Orakio nodded.  "Allow me to give you a small gift before I leave."  A Mieu stepped forward.  Bran could never tell one Mieu from another, except by their claws.  This one had silvery blue claws that reminded him of his sword.  "This is one one of the abler Mieus, an N-type.  She will be your bodyguard."

The Mieu bowed.  "I will serve you well," she said, in a warm clear voice.

Bran was startled.  It was the first time he had ever heard a Mieu speak.  "Uh...thanks."  He wondered how he was ever going to remember which one was his, especially in the heat of battle.  They all had the same long red hair, full lips, and red and white outfit.  "I don't suppose you have a name?"

"I am Mieu.  We are all Mieu."

"Well what I need is a more specific name."

"I possess none.  I am Mieu (N), manufacturing number..."  and she rattled off a series of numbers and letters Bran could never hope to remember or repeat.

"Ah...um...we'll just call you Mieun.  Get it?  Mieu N.  It's a joke."

"I will answer to the name Mieun."

Bran abandoned his efforts at jocularity.  "Fine."

"Now I must go," Orakio said.

"Wait just a minute!"  The shout came from the window.  Cille hopped down off the table and strode over to the little group.  "I've made my decision.  And I think you'll want to witness it."

"Will you join us, Cille?" Bran asked, hoping that the answer would be yes.

SHe looked at him.  "If I am to join you, I want your assurances that we will free Divisia.  And I want a place with you as a leader of the Orakians."

"Of course!  I have a lot of respect for you, Cille.  You'd be a valuable member of our team."

"There's one other thing."

"What's that?"

She took a deep breath.  "I have a lot of respect for you, too.  And I think we should seal our alliance in a more permanent way.  I..."  She looked away, then looked directly at Bran, a sudden fire in her eyes.  "Why not marry me, Bran?"

Bran was stunned.  "M-marry you?"

"Think about it."  There was an eagerness in her voice.  "The King of Landen and the Princess of Divisia.  We could rule both together."

"I...I don't really think about things like that."

"I told you I had a lot of respect for you.  You're intelligent and brave...don't you like me?"

"Well, of course I do, but...I mean, marriage.  It's..."

"I know it's a lot to ask, and it's pretty sudden."

Bran shook his head.  That was an understatement if he'd ever heard one.  He looked at his friends.  "What do you think?"

Thor laughed weakly.  "Bran, don't you think you're the one who ought to decide this kind of thing?"

Orakio shook his head.  "He is right to ask.  He is the king of Landen and the leader of the Orakians.  He is obligated to think of his people before himself.  He cannot think only of himself any more."

"Then what do you think?"

Thor shook his head.  "She'll join us without the marriage.  She knows the Layans can't be trusted.  And I think your heart's not in this marriage, is it?"

"Your heart means little, Bran," Orakio said.  "A marriage to the Princess would seal the alliance and help to unite the Palm people.  With this war splitting your people up, unity is a precious commodity.  Do not reject this opportunity."

"And...Kara?"  Bran asked, hesitantly.  "What do you think about all this?"

Kara took a deep breath.  "I don't like it.  You barely know her.  And...besides...you could marry me."

"What?"  Bran was shocked.  "I thought...I didn't know."

Kara smiled, a little wryly.  "Well I didn't think it would happen like this.  But I think I'd better speak up before I lose my chance."

He could barely believe he was in this kind of situation.  It all seemed so sudden.  He'd beaten Lune and now two women wanted to marry him.  And yet it didn't seem so crazy.  He remembered meeting Cille in the meeting room, where she stopped both Lune and Orakio from killing each other.  She wanted peace and the safety of her people more than anything else, but she wasn't afraid to step in and take action when it was necessary.  And he remembered the touch of her hand when they had sat together and talked of how much things had changed, of how their lives had been thrown into turmoil.  They had a great deal in common.

And he thought of Kara, how she had stood by him and helped him every step of the way.  He thought of how she had protected Landen in his absence, had led hopeless charges into victory.  He thought of her stopping him from futilely attacking Lune.  And he thought of the feelings he knew he had for her.  He didn't have those kind of feelings for Cille, in spite of everything.

But wasn't Orakio right?  Didn't he have more to consider than himself?  The most important man on Mota.  Do you not feel somewhat obligated?  Could he afford to follow his heart when a marriage to Cille might be what was best for his people?  And he might grow to love her as he...  As he loved Kara.  Thor had been right all along.  He really did love Kara.  But was that enough?

He had to make a decision.  Both women were look at him - Cille, expectantly, Kara, trying not to let her emotions show on her face.  The words pounded through his head, over and over again.

I will marry Cille.
I will marry Kara.

He made his choice.

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