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In The Name Of The Mother

Part Eighteen


City of Landen, Landen Habitat, Planet Motavia

Bran looked at Kara.  Marrying her...  The people of Landen would approve of that far more than a marriage to some faraway princess.  And it was what he wanted.  The marriage of King and Advisor would create a united Landen ready to face the threat of the Layan invasion.

I'm sorry, he thought.  It's not enough.

     But it might well mean that the alliance of Divisia and Landen would never happen.  Even though Cille was princess in name only, a ruler without a town, she was famous in more towns than had ever heard of Bran.  She could bring more to their side.  And if they could free Divisia they would double the number of Orakians at one stroke.  But to turn her down would mean embarrassing her, possibly driving her away.  Dooming her people.  He couldn't be responsible for that.  Any of it.

"I will marry Cille," he said.

He tried to sound confident, but it was difficult with a dry throat.

And Thor, it seemed, was having trouble looking at him.  But Orakio nodded, pleased as much as an emotionless android could be.  And Cille was smiling.

"Our people will be joined together," Bran said.

"And maybe, through that alliance, our marriage will bring peace to all," Cille said.  "Thank you, Bran.  I know it's not right to force this kind of decision on you like this, but..."  She smiled wryly.  "These are very strange times we live in."

"I've noticed."

"I will leave now, as I told you I must ,"  Orakio said, abruptly.  "But first I must have words with you alone."

Bran went a few paces away, numbly.  His head was still spinning with the shock of recent events.  You'd think I'd be used to them by now, he thought.

"What is it?  Some more good news?"

"Perhaps for you.  Not for others."

Bran frowned before he remembered sarcasm was wasted on the big robot.  "And you don't want me to tell anybody."

"Not yet."

"So what is it?"

"You must not attempt to retake Divisia."

"But...why not?"

"It would be...unwise."

Bran shook his head incredulously.  "Maybe you don't understand, Orakio.  I just...I just married the princess of Divisia!  I have..."  He swallowed.  Do you not feel somewhat obligated?  "She'll want me to free her people.  And as my wife she'll have a say in things, too."

"You are the king.  And as she will be living in your town she will be one of your subjects."

"It isn't that easy."

"You have a higher duty to your people and to your new wife.  You have accepted the position as a champion of your people.  You must do what is right no matter what people ask you to do.  There have been times when I have had to cause suffering for some for the good of the many."

"Yeah," Bran said humorlessly.  "Once you started a war."

"Indeed.  And I will win this war to save your people.  I am the Mother's true servant."

"Don't you ever imagine we might be able to save ourselves?  When are you going to let us grow up?  Maybe I was wrong about Mother Brain being dead, but I do know a few things.  I know that we can take care of ourselves, even if you weren't here to hold our hands."

And abruptly Bran was conscious of the fact that Orakio was much bigger than he was, and much stronger.  He remembered how Orakio had lifted Alec off the ground and held them there casually, simply to insure that Bran wouldn't get hurt.  He remembered how Orakio had warned him that Lune was too powerful for anyone to defeat, and how he had not hesitated to challenge the construct himself.

"Take care of yourselves without my help?  I think not.  I will protect you as I have been programmed to.  I have been here since long before your birth, and I will be here long after your death."  Bran shrank, a little.  "This is not, after all, your planet."

Bran didn't say anything, but he felt inside him a rage, slowly building up.  So what if it isn't our planet, he thought.  Why can't we take make it ours?  But he knew the answer.  He knew whose planet each of the Algolian worlds was.  Mother Brain's.  They were the Mother's worlds.  No one else's.

Orakio was unaware of Bran's angry thoughts.  He continued with his explanations.  "Each time we have been distracted the Layans have been swift to attack our strongholds.  First we left and Landen was attacked.  Then during Thor's duel with Lune Divisia was sacked.  The obvious move would be to rush out and attack Divisia.  But I believe this is precisely what the Layans wish us to do."

"I see," said Bran, his anger momentarily forgotten as he concentrated on the idea.  "It's a trap.  We rush out to attack Divisia, and they grab Landen while we're gone."

"Precisely.  And our weary, weakened people will be destroyed at Divisia, with their retreat cut off.  Or perhaps they will even allow us to take Divisia back.  A useless victory, with our headquarters gone."

"You were right about Lune.  He's intelligent as well as powerful.  Seems like he can read us like a book."

"Perhaps.  And perhaps the enemy has more faces than we know."

"What do you mean?" Bran asked.

"I mean that Lune may not be the sole commander of the Layan forces," Orakio explained.  "I agree with Kara's appraisal of Lune's motives for engaging in the duel.  I wonder if perhaps another Layan commander took advantage of the situation."

"But if it wasn't planned, if it was spontaneous, well, then how could anyone know to take advantage of it?"

"Perhaps someone who knows both Palm people and Lune well enough to predict its occurrence."

"Someone collaborating with the Layans?"  Bran was shocked.  "I can't believe that.  All of the people on the Layan side we've met so far have been religious fanatics.  Not people capable of coming up with plans like that."

"Agreed.  But someone with such intelligence and foresight on their side would be a formidable ally for them...and a serious foe for us."

"It reminds me of Alec, to tell you the truth.  It's the same sort of thing that happened that night.  I went off to see you and he set up a trap for me when I got back.  Because he knew I was the sort of person who wouldn't be afraid of you, and would want to know more about you."

Silence.

"Well, I know why you didn't want to tell Cille,"  Bran said.  "She'd never listen."

Orakio nodded.  "Her emotional attachment to her people is strong.  That is good, but here it is also a tactical liability."

"But how am I supposed to break it to her?"

"You will think of something."

Bran buried his face in his hands.  "Great," he said in a slightly muffled voice.  "She'll kill me before we can even get to an altar.  On the other hand, maybe that's a good thing.  The way things have been going I wouldn't be surprised to see Laya's face above the altar.  I don't really know that she'd bless the marriage anyway."  He looked up suddenly.  "Wait a minute.  Speaking of retreats and things, how about what we talked about before.  About a station in Aridia so we can get to emergencies more quickly and cut off their direct route to the other habitats.  Are you still working on that?"

"Yes.  Part of my mission elsewhere is to supervise the final touches on the outpost at the head of the river.  I will also be supervising the construction of a new weapon that may assist us with our current manpower difficulties."

"Well, maybe I can tell her that."

"If it eases your task, you may so inform her."

Orakio turned to go.  "Be ready to defend Landen.  The Layans may stage their assault anyway, believing you to be in Elysium.  Or they may believe the people tired and defenseless.  Mieun and the other robotic troops should protect you until my return."

Bran waved ironically.  "I guess we'll just have to struggle on without you for a while."

"Indeed."

And with that, Orakio left the king he had created.  The king in question left to deal with the latest set of crises.  As he returned to the little group that served as the leaders of what was becoming in truth the Orakian army, Cille pushed her way past Thor and Kara to stand beside him.

"We were wondering if Orakio had given you any final instructions," Cille asked.  She gestured to the others.  "They were telling me that you two pretty much decide everything."

"Yeah, well,"  Thor said, massaging his shoulder, "Perhaps it's the three of you now."

Bran looked at Thor, pleading silently to him to keep quiet.  It was for my people!  A free man like you doesn't understand.  Do you not feel somewhat obligated?

Almost as if he sensed Bran's mood, Thor adopted a sly expression, his pale face unfortunately making it a shadow of previous ones.  "Or maybe it's the four of you?"

"Four?"  Bran asked.

Thor pointed.  "Your red shadow there."

Bran turned.  Mieun was standing a few paces behind him.  "Mieun!  What are you doing?"

"Protecting you,"  Mieun replied calmly.  "It is my function."

"I know, but...all the time?"

"Yes," she said, simply.

Bran threw his hands up in the air.  "All I need now is a perpetual bodyguard."

Thor shrugged.  "Take it from me, you never know when you'll need the protection."

Cille nudged Bran.  "Orakio?  What did he say to you?"

Bran shrugged.  "Nothing important.  Just wanted to tell me to be prepared for a serious Layan incursion."

"Not surprised," Thor grunted.  "They know our capital is Landen.  If they've got spare armies you can be sure one's coming our way."

"I don't think they'll be having any spare armies for a while," Bran commented.  "Not now that the shuttle is so much space junk."

Cille frowned.  "Wasn't it said that Mother Brain outlawed space travel?"

"That's right!" Bran said, slapping his head.  "And I'm supposed to be the one with the old stories on the brain.  Just another sign, I guess, that the Mother is on our side."

"The Mother?" Cille asked.

"Sorry.  Now I'm talking like Orakio.  I mean Mother Brain.  She created Orakio and Laya.  So she's 'the Mother.'  Get it?"

"But..."  Cille said, a worried expression crossing her face, "Lune told me that the Mother gave Laya orders.  He implied this whole thing was her orders."

Bran and Thor exchanged glances.  "Don't look at me," Thor said.  "I always thought Rolf destroyed Mother Brain."

"Me too," Bran said.

They pondered the new twist in the continuing mystery of why exactly this war had started in the first place.

Cille shook her head.  "It doesn't really matter who's giving the orders.  What matters is that our people are getting hurt, dying.  We have to do something."

Bran took a deep breath.  "Right.  And our first move should be..."

"Rysel, right?"  Thor said, quickly.

Bran looked at him.  Had he overheard the conversation?  Hunters probably did develop sharp ears.  "Yeah.  Rysel."

"What about Divisia?"  Cille demanded.

"I'm sorry, Cille," Bran said.  He tried to make his voice gentle.  "We can't go there just yet.  Other people are suffering under the Layans.  Not just your people."

She didn't look too happy.  But then she sighed.  "I guess I understand.  But we'll talk about this later."

Thor laughed.  "You kids."  Then he took a more serious tone.  "But I'm afraid I'll have to sit this one out, too.  Maybe I'll go link up with Orakio or something, eh?"

"What's the matter,"  Bran asked, smiling.  "It's not like you to pass up a good fight."

The Technan shrugged.  "Sorry.  The healers think I need to take it easy for a while, until my arm gets better.  It's a little stiff right now."

Bran suddenly realized he hadn't seen Thor use his arm since the fight.  He hoped he was wrong about this.  But even if he wasn't, he wasn't going to announce it to everyone if Thor didn't want to.  "We'll just have to do your share of fighting as well."

"I thought I'd go ahead and embark on my mission of diplomacy since I won't be fighting for a while.  I'll go and bring you some Technans."

"Thanks, Thor.  We'll be counting on you.  We need more people."

The hunter turned away.  Bran watched him go.  Have to talk to the healers when he got a chance, he thought.  He was so intent on Thor's problem he was surprised when Cille stepped in close to him, putting her arms around him.  "I know you're having some problems with this idea," she murmured.  "After all, we barely know each other.  But we are in the middle of a war between worlds.  My town has already fallen.  Landen could be next.  I think we have to find happiness while we can.  And I think we can find happiness together."  She looked at him.  "Bran, if you don't think this was a good idea, just say so.  I want to be with you, but not if you don't want to be with me."

He looked at her.  She was beautiful, spirited, regal.  Why wouldn't he want to marry her?  And what she had said about them barely knowing each other...that was true, but, how well did he know Kara.  Just a little bit better.  Maybe, when he got to know Cille, he'd realize that he loved her.  And it was the right choice for his people.  The alliance would save them.

Bran suddenly realized that Kara hadn't said a word since he'd made his decision.  But she had been there the whole time.  He had simply been unable to look her in the eyes.  He looked up, just in time to see a flash of chestnut hair as she disappeared into another room.  As he felt the touch of Cille's lips against his.

Maybe happiness would come, with time.

City of Divisia, Elysium Habitat, Planet Motavia

"So what is all this," Lune demanded.  "More of your plans?"

Alec smiled.  "I told you to leave the planning to me, Lune.  You're not cut out for this sort of thing."

"I met the woman who was in charge of this place," the Dezolisian raged.  "She wasn't involved in this!  Now you've brought her into it."

"Lune, you fool."  Alec snarled.  "You don't understand anything.  Bran was here, too.  You told me yourself.  And he and Orakio got to talk to her after you left.  If we didn't take this place over, then they would.  So we simply moved in first."

"And you're holding the people prisoner."

"You wanted me to stop the killing," Alec said, suddenly happy again.  "Hardly anyone died.  What more do you want from me?  I can't just win the war with a snap of my fingers."

"I think what he wants," Alair said, "is for you to leave the innocents out of this.  We came here to ask a few questions.  And we didn't intend to get the answers at swordpoint."

"You can't have everything," Alec said.  "If Orakio is going to keep attacking you, you're going to need a stronger base than Aerone.  Now you are in control of this whole land.  It's your safe place where Orakio can't harm you."

"You're overstepping your authority," Lune said.  "I asked you to help me, not to order me around.  It's my opinion that counts around here.  If I think you're betraying me,"  and there was a slick sound as he pulled his slasher free, "then it will be time to sever our alliance.  Permanently."

"Save your threats for the Orakians," Alec said calmly.  "You need me."

"My sister doesn't like you, Alec," Lune continued.  "And we don't need you that badly.  That's two marks against you.  Go behind my back again and we're through."

Abruptly, Alec smiled.  "I'm sorry, Lune, Alair.  I didn't realize you were that serious.  I apologize for not telling you and asking permission.  It won't happen again.  As a token, allow me to inform you that not only are we rebuilding the town, but we are even erecting new structures in the countryside."

"New buildings?  You want another town in Elysium?  You'll need more people first."

"Not a town.  A...well, call it a temple."

"Temple?" Alair frowned.  "Your people haven't built temples in centuries."

"I know," Alec laughed.  "And we probably have everything wrong.  But still, temples will live again."

Lune was either more insightful or more suspicious.  "A temple for your God of Palm?  Or someone else?"

"A temple for our God, of course.  For Laya!"

Lune fell back in surprise.  He'd never suspected that Alec would take up the nonsense of Laya's godhood.  He'd given the man more credit than that.  But again he was reminded that it wasn't his place to criticize Palman culture.  Such as it was.  If they wanted to make Laya a god, that was their business.

"All right.  At least you're keeping the people busy."  One of the banes of Lune's Motavian life was trying to figure out what to do with the crowd of fanatics that wanted to follow him apparently everywhere.  This would keep them out of his hair.

Alec fidgeted.  "Has there been any word from Laya?  Anything about the shuttle problems?"

Lune shook his head.  "I'm afraid not. I contacted her, told her about the duel."  Alec nodded, noting again in amazement how well Lune looked.  You couldn't tell the wounds he'd suffered.  He had walked into the town under his own power, attempting to pass through on his way to Aerone, not realizing that the Layans now owned all the towns in Elysium.  But he had still had serious injuries, and was pale and drawn.  Now he looked just as healthy as ever, and with his clothes fixed, scars, if there were any, weren't visible.  Frankly, Alec expected that there weren't any.  The construct had unbelievable  regenerative powers.

"Anyway, she expressed her approval that I was still alive, and told me that she was working on the transport difficulties.  She has a solution, but it will take some time to see any results.  I don't think we can count on any support from Dezo for a while."

Alec winced.  "Dezo.  No.  We don't call it Dezo, in Shusoran."

"What do you call it?"

"Alisa II."

Lune shrugged  "Alisa II, then.  It doesn't matter what you call it."

"Yes.  It does.  But I wouldn't expect you to understand that."

Lune looked at him, blankly.

Alec waved his hand.  "So.  No support.  Well, that's all right.  We have sufficient troops to hold Divisia.  And I think that no matter what they decide, the Orakians will have their hands full.  This means a slight change in plans, but nothing serious."

"More plans."

"May I remind you that we are currently winning?  If you want to keep it that way, let me do my job."

Lune clenched his fist, then relaxed.  "Fine.  Just keep me informed."

"If we can return to the current topic, can you call her again and ask for more details?"

A frown.  "No, actually, I can't at the moment."

"Out of range?"

"Out of town."

"Don't tell me Laya's taking a vacation!"  Alec laughed.  "She hasn't even done any fighting yet!"

Lune shook his head.  "No.  Not a vacation.  At least not exactly."

"Where did she go?"

"To a...well, to another place."

"Where, Lune?  Don't make this a guessing game.  I don't know Alisa II's hot spots."

"It's called Esper Mansion."

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