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In The Name Of The Mother

Part Twenty

Somewhere Beyond the Habitats, Planet Motavia

Once again, the darkness surrounded Orakio.  It was almost a relief to operate at optimum efficiency, after being forced to deal with the organic beings in his care.  Protecting at a distance was much more Orakio's style.  It meant he could work unimpeded by Palman pestering and limitations.  Far better to work here in the darkness, saving the system's power by using his own nearly inexhaustible reserves.  He listened for a moment.  The humming of machinery was far from a distraction.  Rather, it was a comfort to know that the weapons factories of this place were hard at work, constructing Wrens and Mieus for use in the war effort.

Orakio was as proud of this place as an android could be.  It was not precisely a system, though only those who had access to a system could possibly gain access to the well defended fortress that was Valhalla.  Orakio had first created the facility, code named VHAL, when it became apparent that the limited number of production lines at the Vehicle Depot he had switched over from transport to android were terribly inefficient.  Dedicated lines built especially for the task of churning out what would become Orakio's work force were much better and allowed the Vehicle Depot to return to its primary function.

He imagined Laya must have had to change her organic production lines when she decided to begin using biologics for altering the natural order of things rather than simply maintaining a balance.  And now that she had begun using her creatures as soldiers, did Valhalla have a Dezolisian equivalent?  Whether it did or not, the facility would certainly justify its construction time and effort now.

For Orakio had realized that Laya would inevitably win a war of attrition.  His robot troops were more than a match for a dozen of Laya's finest, but there would be dozens.  Dozens of dozens.  And more.  It was far easier to create biological weapons than inorganic soldiers.  Raw materials she had in plenty, while he would inevitably run short.  And he could not hope to match the flow from Dezolis's Biosystem, LRVA.  Destroying the transport shuttle had been a good step, but Laya would not long be deterred by that.  So he had to come up with some way to tip the scales back in his favor.

He had found his answer.  He had found it in the enemy's champions, Lune and Alair.  And in the unseen foe who stood with if not behind them, the one who could predict so accurately and take advantage of so devastatingly the Orakians' moves.  They were the current threat.  And if he could not kill them directly, he would have to kill them indirectly.  By creating his own champions.

Not the Palmans he had been fighting alongside.  Bran was not strong enough, Thor too unreliable.  Cille he did not trust, Kara was too necessary where she was.  Better to operate at a higher level entirely, with a brand-new champion he could be sure was strong and loyal.  That one was almost ready now.  Just a few more hours of work.  And as for the other...he had some thoughts along that line.  He didn't want to use his obvious resource...the ears would be a giveaway.  That was the whole idea.  But the alternatives were limited.  There were ways of artificially boosting a Palman's abilities to the necessary level, but they were problematic at best.  Perhaps the next battle would provide a volunteer.

The first champion was almost ready.  Orakio hesitated for a moment, before giving the Wrens final orders for the personality programming.  Was it truly necessary?  It would guarantee loyalty and dedication beyond simple programming.  But the personality was almost sure to disagree with logical decisions.  It would be driven more by...well, call it emotion for lack of a better word, than rational thought.  Orakio reminded himself that it was precisely that effect that he was trying to create.

A hatred to match Lune's.

And a superior one, at that.  For this hatred would be reinforced, absolute.  Not like Lune's, wavering because of such ridiculous notions as honor and respect.  This champion would be perfect.

Yet Orakio hesitated.  Slowly, very slowly, he turned to one of his Wrens, clearly visible in the spectrum to which Orakio's optic sensors were currently attuned.  It was brand-new, straight off the production lines of Valhalla.  It looked up at him patiently, awaiting the order that would activate the being that hung lifeless beyond the glass wall.

"What do you think?" Orakio asked.  It was very close to being an utterly illogical question, for Wrens, while independent, had been programmed by Orakio to be extensions of himself.  There was little doubt that the Wren would disagree with his master, his parent, his creator.  But for the statistically small chance that the Wren would offer him a way out of his peculiar quandary, he asked it its opinion.

"Death to all Layans," the Wren said, calmly and without feeling.  "Destroy them all."

Orakio nodded sharply, transmitting the final orders.  The program executed.  Power surged.  Orakio could not turn away, but his optic sensors tuned themselves back to the spectrum of ordinarily visible light.  So he would not have to perceive directly his ultimate creation's awakening.

It made no difference.  He could see its glowing red eyes, like distant fires.  They were the color of its hair.  The color of blood.  But Orakio felt nothing.  It was impossible for him.

And the newly created champion itself?  How did it feel as it awoke into its war-torn world?

Siren felt like laughing.

City of Divisia, Elysium Habitat, Planet Motavia

"They are going to attack Rysel," Alec reported.  "I have confirmation from a reliable source."

Lune grunted.  "So your ruse was a success.  I'll admit I'm impressed.  But I had hoped they would try to strike here."

Alec shook his head.  "I did, too, but it seems the Orakians are past that kind of simple trick.  We'll just have to make do with what we can get."

"So we just let them waste their time?  Or move in on Landen?"

"Neither.  We'll meet them at Rysel."

Lune sat back, frowning.  "I don't get it.  What was the point of leading them to believe Rysel was the source of the raid on Landen?  If we're going to be there we should have just taken the city to begin with.  Then we'd have a more defensible position."

"Lune, Lune," Alec said.  "You're making the same mistake the Orakians are making.  You think this is a war that's fought by two sides shooting and hacking at each other.  That's why you'll never win."

"Fighting is simple," Lune said.  "It's your plans that make things so complicated.  I thought you would help me with battle strategy but you're just making things difficult."

Alec shrugged.  "If you want to defeat Orakio permanently, you're going to have to fight him with superior tactics.  With his troops, you can't hope to win a simple war of attrition.  He can take everything you can throw at him."

Alair sighed.  "If you two don't stop fighting, I'm going back to Mystoke.  People there are quiet."

"Sorry, Alair," Lune said.  "Let's just let him do his work and we'll get out of here for a while."

The two of them went outside.  Alair whirled on her brother.  "I was serious back there.  We can't afford to sit around and fight with our allies.  We're not doing well on our mission."

"Don't worry," Lune said.  "I have good news.  Laya has come up with a way to support us.  And she has a new weapon for us as well.  I'm not going to tell Alec about it.  I think it's time we went our separate ways.  Shusoran can stay our ally, but we should find a new place to stay.  I was thinking...Mystoke?"

Alair smiled.  "Oh, Lune, really?"

"Sure.  Why not?  Let's go ahead and visit the other habitats.  Mystoke isn't that far from the pass to Terminus.  Let's go do some more exploring and let Alec worry about the fighting."

"That would be wonderful!  I really want to go back and see them.  You can see my castle!  And we can go on to Terminus, and then..."

Her face fell.  "What?" Lune asked.  "What's wrong?"

"And then Draconia."

"Well, I guess so.  That would be the next one in line."

"Yes.  Where Techna is.  Where that hunter, Thor, is from.  And where he's going back to."

"Is it?"  He tried to sound convincing.

Alair slapped him.  Hard.  "You want to go find him and get your revenge, don't you?  Stop it!  You were never like this before!  What's gotten into you?  You're acting like a Palman.  Always trying to solve your problems by killing some great evil enemy.  Well he's just a Palman.  And you're supposed to be above that."

Lune rubbed his cheek.  His eyes flashed.  "You don't understand.  It's my right to kill him.  I won the duel.  Now I'm going to finish the job."

"I can't believe this.  I can't believe what you've become.  I don't even know you anymore.  Where's my brother?"

"I'll show you who I am."  Lune raised his fist as if to strike her.  She stood, unflinching, before him.  Suddenly he staggered, clutching his head.  "Alair?  I'd never hurt you.  I'm sorry.  I get so angry...  I'm sorry!"  He stumbled back away from her, ran off.

Alair stood a few moments, staring, then ran after him, tears in her eyes.

Alec saw the whole thing from the window.  He frowned.  This was...unexpected.  What did it mean?  Probably that the constructs' minds were falling apart under the strain of living with real people.  They'd never understand the way things worked.  They'd never understand that this war wasn't about guns and swords.  It wasn't about walls or robots.  It was about the past and the future.  And to see the past dead was the only way Alec could think of to insure the future.

When the two armies met at Rysel, there wouldn't be much left of the town.  And the Rysellians would be pretty unhappy about that.  They wouldn't care much for either side.  Just as it should be.  The temples were coming along just fine.  A shame they would be destroyed so soon.  But then that was their purpose, wasn't it?

Lune was right about one thing.  When killing started, it had to run its course.

South of Landen, Landen Habitat, Planet Motavia

And so Bran and Cille were married.  Their people were united.  Something like that.

Bran smiled to himself as he slashed at the air.  He would be the first to admit that he wasn't Mota's greatest swordsman.  Almost everyone he had fought so far had been, in fact, much better than he, and it was only by miraculous intervention that he had lived this long.  That being said, it was time to start practicing more often.  The fading sunlight shone on the blue silver of the sword Orakio had given him, throwing rays of light everywhere as it was reflected back.  He reflected back as well.

The ceremony had actually gone fairly well.  The people had been very supportive of his marriage to Cille.  They had seemed to understand that the marriage meant more would join the battle against the Layans.  Of course they didn't know the whole story.

The wedding ceremony was perhaps the last holdover from the long-gone days of Alis, Algol's greatest heroine.  Back then, the God of Palm was worshipped in every town.  Now, every town had a priest or two, but hardly any worshippers.  Given the current situation, the priest had chosen to ask not the blessing of the God of Palm, but rather, Lord Orakio's blessing, which was a much more popular choice.  Bran thought it reinforced the idea that this was more than just a man and woman getting married, it was the joining together of two Orakian cities.  But he worried that the people might just decide Orakio was the real God of Palm.

Cille had looked ravishing in her wedding dress.  The tailors and seamstresses of Landen had pulled together and done their finest work for the bride of their king.  Since the rest of Cille's clothes were back with her own tailors and seamstresses in fallen Divisia, Bran had joked that she would wind up wearing the dress into battle.  Cille didn't seem to think that was very funny.

And Kara had participated in the ceremony as well, taking a place of well-earned honor.  She had wished the two of them well, saying that she hoped he would be happy with Cille.  She seemed to have meant it.  Bran sighed, thrust his blade through an imaginary heart.  In the time that had passed since then he had not been able to stop seeing Kara when he closed his eyes.  But her words signified to him that she had moved on with her life and he would have to do the same.

At least time had done wonders for his perception of Cille.  No longer did he see her as an outsider who had turned his life upside down.  He had come to appreciate her sharp mind, so valuable in these times of crisis.  She had been instrumental in the planning of the counter invasion of Rysel.  Bran had wanted to send scouts to get an accurate picture of the situation in Rysel, but Cille had reminded him that the place was likely to be a death trap for anyone Palm.  She had probably saved a few lives right there.  And since they had to work from guesses and old information, her knowledge of the port city, gained from royal visits, had been extremely helpful.  Without her the invasion wouldn't have had a chance of success.

And he had come to appreciate her in more personal ways as well.  Her moods were quick to change.  She could be playful or serious, carefree or concerned, passionate or distant.  But she was always serious when it came to her people.  She had never been concerned much with them before, but now that she had lost them, had failed them, she found inside herself a love for her forest city that had surprised her.  More than anything she wanted its safety.  That was why it hurt Bran so much to keep telling her that they could not yet go there.  Their talks about Divisia had shown another side of Cille - fire.

But tonight she was calm, sitting by the riverbank in a plain white dress, alternating between watching her new husband practice his swordsmanship, and simply enjoying the beautiful day.  Moments like this, Bran thought, lunging, were rare indeed.  And although Cille might be able to enjoy the sunshine, he could not.  The invasion of Rysel was planned for tomorrow.  Most were resting but he had been unable to, and so he had gone to work off his energy in something useful.  And Cille had gone with him, because she supported him in everything.

Did he love her?  If he did, it wasn't in the same way he loved Kara.  But he cared for her, and she had become a part of his life, and to lose her now would be to lose a part of himself.

"We should probably be getting back," Cille said, quietly.  "Don't wear yourself out before Rysel."

Bran spun around, dropping low to slash at the enemy's knees.  "We've got some more time."  He was only kidding himself.  The stars were already coming out.

  She didn't reply.  Bran straightened, brought his blade flashing up to his head in a salute.  "All right."

She stood up and took his hand.  They were going to be the two leaders in the battle.  Kara would stay in Landen with a mixed force of Palm people and robots to defend the city against any surprise attacks.  Bran and Cille would lead the main party in the invasion.  Bran wished Thor could be there to fight alongside them, but the Technan hunter had already returned to his home.  Bran had every confidence in the man, though, and Kara had even had the idea of sending a Wren along with him.  Remembering that the Wrens beside the Landen throne had been able to communicate with Orakio at need over long distances, she had thought that Thor might be able to utilize one for a similar purpose.

However, a new warrior would join the battle.  Bran's 'red shadow,' Mieun.  Bran had almost gotten to the point where he could forget about her.  But wherever he went, there she was.  She was with them now, standing a little ways apart, but not far enough away that she couldn't leap to Bran's defense.

Bran remembered when Mieun had calmly informed him that she would guard his sleep from inside his bedroom.  Cille had discussed this decision with Mieun.  He wasn't sure exactly what the two had said, but Mieun had changed her mind and now stood watchfully just outside the door.  He rather liked Mieun.  Unlike Wrens, which shared Orakio's rather detached attitude, Mieun had more of a personality.  He knew she didn't really have emotions, but her voice made it seem like she did.

"Look up at the stars, Bran," Cille said.  "I always watch the stars.  Too bad my viewer is back in Divisia."

Bran smiled.  He liked to see her happy like this.

"One of those points of light is Dezo.  Where Lune came from."

"Where trouble comes from," he said pointedly.  "If only we had a ship.  Then we could take the war to them."

Cille shook her head.  "I hate them for what they've done here on Mota.  But I've always wanted to travel to Dezo.  To see what's there.  To meet a Dezo person."

"You met Lune."

A shrug.  "He doesn't really count.  He's not a Dezo person.  He's not really much of anything, to tell you the truth.  I mean, I know he's this great warrior.  I saw him fight.  But I also saw him try to eat.  It's like he doesn't know the first thing about how people are really supposed to behave.  All he can do is fight well."

"Well, that fits well with our theory that there's somebody secretly helping them.  Some traitor in our own ranks."

"Well," Cille said, "I don't know about that.  It's hard to believe anybody would help them.  I'd never trust Lune.  And I don't like his sister much, either."

"Alair?  She seems okay.  She held him back.  I think we might want to talk to her if negotiations ever come around again."

Cille smiled.  "It might work better than picking fights with Lune."  Thor had told her a highly exaggerated (in Bran's opinion) account of the events in the throne room.  Despite his tendency to gesture, Bran couldn't help but notice he still seemed to be having trouble with his arm.  The others didn't seem to be aware of it, though.

She sighed.  "It's just hard for me to think of the stars as the cause of our troubles.  They're so beautiful."

Bran drew her close.  "It's up to us to make sure that those who come after us will find them beautiful, too.  Let's finish this war.  Put it all behind us and dream about the stars again.  Maybe, when we're at peace again, we can go to Dezo.  I'm sure Orakio has ships somewhere, or maybe we can take some Layan ones."

"That would be wonderful," Cille whispered, looking up at him.  Her arms went around his neck and they kissed.

Bran was wrong.  Tonight she would be fire.

Neither of them noticed that among the sparkling jewels in the sky, two new points of light shone with a clear, unblinking light.

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