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In The Name Of The Mother

Part Twenty-Five


City of Landen, Landen Habitat, Planet Motavia

In spite of what he said, he looked like Kale, though there were some noticeable differences.  The difficulty was that Bran remembered Kale only dimly.  Although every Palman in Landen pulled together to provide food for the city, social occasions, when one could really get to know another, were rare.  Mother Brain had encouraged isolation, in spite of her city-to-city teleportation system, and Lassic before her had done the same.  You knew your neighbors, and your friends.  But maybe not those who lived across town, even if the town wasn't that big.

The man called Rulakir looked a lot like the man called Kale, though.  But Bran couldn't shake his memory of the dream...vision...whatever.  Just because you don't know someone, or even if you do know them, it doesn't mean they aren't an enemy.

"You look like a man I knew," Bran said, determined not to be embarrassed.

"I was Kale," Rulakir said, his face twisting again into a scowl.  "Now I am Rulakir.  I am Orakio's second champion."

Bran remembered Orakio calling Siren his champion, and referring to brothers.  "It's a honor to meet you," he said, confused and put off by Kale/Rulakir's obvious disdain for him, and trying to put him at his ease.

Rulakir didn't seem to have any.  "I can't say the same.  Do you know how long you have been useless to us?  And how long will you remain bound to your bed even now?  You are not fit to be our leader.  Siren may tolerate you because he is incapable of acting otherwise, but I am still Palm.  Why Orakio has made you the leader I can never understand."

Kara, still pale, turned to Bran.  "He always acts like this.  Don't get offended, he treats everyone like they were dirt."

Rulakir frowned at her, but she didn't look at him.  "I have no time for this nonsense," he said, and walked off, as stiffly as he had come.

Kara breathed a sigh of relief.  "There isn't much that frightens me.  But he does.  Worse than anything else, I think.  Lune may be a Layan, but he has at least a drop of honor in him, and he doesn't seem to hate us, only our views.  Rulakir hates everybody."

"He mentioned that he was Kale.  And you were starting to say you knew him before.  What did you mean by that.  Who is Rulakir?"

"You guessed.  Kale.  He was wounded in the fighting at Rysel.  He was dying, in fact.  I helped supervise the wounded when we came back.  While you caught up on your sleep."

Bran flushed, but Kara shook her head.  "I didn't mean it like that.  You fought the battle.  I just covered your retreat.  We all have to do our share in this, Bran.  Don't try to do it all yourself.  But," she resumed her explanation, "Lord Orakio took him out of the hospital, and went somewhere.  He did something to Kale, made him better.  At least, made his body better.  I asked Lord Orakio about it - Rulakir won't answer any questions, of course, just sneers at you - and he said that he'd grown new," she swallowed, "parts for him, and replaced with metal what he couldn't do anything else for."

She looked uncomfortable, and Bran knew why.  He was a little sickened by the thought himself.  In a world where medicine is simply the acceleration of natural healing, combined with some herbal remedies and the like, the idea of transplants is a little shocking.  Never mind that Bran and Kara's ancestors, centuries ago in the time of Mother Brain, had like everyone else made good use of the relatively inexpensive cloning facilities that were standard fixtures in most towns.  This was something happening today.

"And Kale, excuse me, Rulakir, is unhappy about that?"

Kara shrugged.  "Lord Orakio changed his personality as well, though he wouldn't say exactly how or why, or what he hoped to get out of it, but I think he went too far. Lord Orakio thinks so too.  Not many people would see that, but I can see it when he talks about him.  I think the process is new or experimental, and something went wrong, or maybe too well.  I can tell that Lord Orakio sees him as a failure or mistake."

Bran crossed his hands behind his head.  He was feeling much better than he had when he first came to.  "Orakio never seemed to me to be the type to keep mistakes hanging around."

Again a shrug.  "I don't question Lord Orakio.  But I know he can't just murder people.  There has to be a good reason for him to act."

Do I fight for you? Bran remembered.  "I wonder who determines 'a good reason.'"

Kara said nothing.

After a few minutes, Bran sighed.  "I'd like to see everybody in here.  Our war council, I mean.  There are some things that need to be done."

The adviser laughed.  "Not back in the world of the living two hours, I'd guess, and already you're going to lead us on another charge."

Bran smiled, too.  "No more charges, Kara.  Not for us, anyway.  I...learned something from all this."  He looked at the note, left on his corpse by the wife who killed him.  "Something important.  I think I understand things a little better now."  She looked at him, seriously, and he continued.  "Sometimes it takes a shock to make you break out of the old way of thinking.  Sometimes death can make you see things a little clearly.  The death of a loved one...  The death of a loved one..."  He frowned, suddenly, in concentration.  "The death of a loved one.  I wonder..."

Kara grinned wryly.  "I don't know what you're talking about.  But I'm just the adviser.  I'll go get everybody.  Try to relax, okay?  You still need rest."

But Bran didn't even hear her.  The death of a loved one.  He'd thought they were talking about him, in a sarcastic sort of way.  But what if they weren't?  How did that change the picture?  As if it didn't change every five minutes anyway.  But this new speculation only firmed his determination to proceed.

It wasn't too long before they assembled in the room.  Thor was the only one they had to wait on, but a few days later they were all there.  Mieun was already there, of course, a 'red shadow' Bran hardly noticed, but to which he was eternally grateful.  Orakio and Siren had been elsewhere, but Kara contacted them through Wrens, and they came in with Rulakir, who had avoided Bran during his convalescence.  And Kara at last brought Thor.  He nodded when he saw Bran, but there was tension in his face.  The easygoing attitude was absent.

"You have been restored to health, then," Orakio said.  "Kara told us you were well."

"I don't know about well," Bran said.  "But at least I'm alive.  And don't say I told you so, Thor."

The joke was meant to relieve some of the hunter's tension, but instead it made him angry.  "I don't blame anyone but me for this, Bran.  I should have accused her sooner."

"Her note says she wasn't a traitor until we turned on her."

"If you believe the note.  But there's very little I'll believe from now on.  You can't trust Layans."

Siren and Rulakir seemed in complete agreement, each in their own ways.

"Forget about what Cille did.  Everybody."

"She tried to kill you!"

"So did you, if you remember."

That, at least, brought back a small smile.  "Well, that was different."

Kara cleared her throat.  "Well, what do we do?"

Bran lifted the monitor.  "Tell me where our enemies are."

"Alair is in Frigidia, sitting on her throne in Mystoke," Thor said.  "I've just come from there."

"Lune controls Divisia, in Elysium," Kara noted.  "The Sages appear to be based there as well, although thanks to the moons, Azura and Dahlia, they can strike anywhere they choose."

"I imagine the moons have changed our strategy."

"Actually, not as much as you might think," Thor said.  "They can land anywhere, but we can see them coming, and since we control Aridia we can get to the trouble spots pretty quickly.  They do damage, but provided we have the right forces, we can stop them."

"Orakio, you mentioned you had some ideas for dealing with the moons," Bran said.  "Can you deal with them?"

"It should be possible," Orakio said, glancing at Siren, who nodded, "to utilize Mota's systems against it."

"I thought the guns couldn't penetrate their defenses."

"The shields can stop the habitat defense systems, yes.  But the HDS is not our only weapon.  I control every aspect of Mota.  Climatrol is the weapon we need."

"The weather?  They're too high," Bran protested.  "We can't touch them there."

"Climatrol also contains banks of gravity generators," Orakio said.  "Your techniques utilize gravity to paralyze opponents.  We can do much the same to the moons, but in a slightly different manner.  We can generate our own gravity field rather than increasing an existing one.  Such a field could push the moons away.  Not any great distance from the planet, I must add, but we can push them to opposite sides of the planet.  Far enough away that they will not trouble these habitats any longer.  Siren and I have been working on that project."  Each robot lifted what appeared to be a glittering gem.  "The keys are prepared, the fields can be produced."

Bran nodded.  "Excellent.  But let's keep that in reserve right now."  He lifted Cille's note again.  "I assume as many of you as can read this."  Nods.  "What about Alec?  Where is he right now?"

Orakio shrugged.  So did Thor and Kara.  "I don't know if you can trust that," Thor said.  "Didn't you say Alec was dead?"

"I never saw him die.  And I've got a feeling we can't assume he's dead.  Cille has no real reason to lie to us.  Especially not with a story like that.  It doesn't point us in the wrong direction.  It doesn't point us in any direction.  If she was trying to feed us disinformation she'd have said he was in Terminus somewhere or something and let us charge off after him.  But all she did was say he was the one behind it all.  And I'm inclined to agree.  I've said as much before, that it felt like him."

"He tried to kill you, too," Kara murmured.

"So," Bran said briskly, "We don't know where Alec is.  And we still don't know how that Rysel ambush and the Landen invasion were pulled.  We know they have a base somewhere east of Rysel.  But Draconia's ours."

Thor slapped his head.  "I forgot about that.  It's been straight fights since the moons appeared, but the Landen invasion - from the east, yeah.  So what you're saying is..."

"What I'm saying," Bran broke in grimly, "is that we have a missing man and a missing city.  And I'm betting we'll find them both here."  He stabbed his finger at a set of islands in the eastern part of Aquatica's lake.  "East of Rysel."

They nodded.  "And what do we do?" asked Siren.  "Invade?"

Bran clicked the monitor off.  "No."

"I'm willing to bet you're right," Thor said.  "Let's move out.  Why not?  Can't be worse than sitting here."

"Of course it can," Kara said.  "That's always how they get us.  We take our army somewhere and they attack us while we're gone.  We've never won any battles on the offensive."

"That's the trouble," Bran admitted.  "I don't know what we can do.  I was kind of hoping one of you would have an idea."

They looked around the room at each other.  "I'll take them all on," Thor said.  "I'll distract them by attacking Lune."  They laughed.

"Sorry, Thor," Bran said.  "Besides, honestly, we all know you're tough, but you can't take Lune on with one good arm."  Before it was out of his mouth he regretted saying it.  He wasn't sure Thor had told everyone yet.

"One good arm?" Thor asked, frowning.  "What is that, some kind of insult?"

Now it was Bran's turn to look confused.  "Your arm - you can't use it, can you?"

"Sure I can."

"I thought Lune stabbed you in the shoulder."

"He did.  But I got over it.  I told you at the time."

"But you said they wanted you to let it heal slowly...then you came back from Techna with it in bandages...I just assumed..."

"What can I say?" Thor said.  "Be careful what you assume."

And then it hit him.  The dream, or whatever, had been one hundred percent right so far.  Why not trust it a little farther.  Five of us.

"Five?" Kara asked.

He hadn't realized he'd said it out loud.  "Yes.  Five of us.  Me and four others.  We're going to go find that base.  Not the army.  And Orakio can't go.  You'll have to fight the war for us while we're gone.  You know best how to use robot troops, and those are our best right now.  Thor's hunters can assist where they're needed, of course."

"Only five?" Siren asked.  "Illogical."

Rulakir simply snorted.  His brother continued.  "Taking an army might not be enough.  Five alone is foolhardy in the extreme.  You would be going into the enemy's most secret and well-defended base."

"Be careful what you assume," Bran said.  "Secrecy is defense enough for an enemy that has to spend huge numbers of troops to fight ours.  I'm willing to bet that Alec's base is only lightly defended, though we'll have to watch for traps besides walls and guards.  Things are beginning to take shape.  I think Alec is the one of the keys to this whole thing.  Find him, and we'll go a long way towards ending this war."

"Yeah, by ending him," Thor said.  "Count me in."

"You know I'm one of the five," Kara said firmly.  "I won't let you risk your life again."

"You will take no step without me by your side," said Mieun suddenly.  "I cannot allow you to risk your life either.  I have failed once already.  It will not happen again."

"That makes four," Orakio said.  "If I may not go, at least take one of my champions with you.  They are great fighters as well as commanders.  Though Mieun is the best of her kind, you may need greater protection."

Bran looked the two champions, Siren and Rulakir up and down.  A Palm person would be nice, but Rulakir didn't really count any more.  There was something horrible about him, more than just the rude way he acted.  He seemed unnatural.  Siren's hatred of Layans was great, and Bran didn't want him to compromise the mission, but Rulakir was an even greater risk.  "I'll take Siren, then," he said.

The flame-crowned android bowed shortly.  "An honor."

"Then let us begin."

West of Landen City, Landen Habitat, Planet Motavia

"So he's not dead," Alec said, tonelessly.

"I can't say I'm sorry," said Cille, a hand to her hair to keep it from blowing in her face.  The town was clearly visible, and the five setting out were easily identified.  "But you know that."

"You dare say such things to me?" Alec's voice was amused, condescending.  "Don't you think that's pretty close to treachery for a Layan to say something like that?"

"I'll do what you say, and I am a Layan, but nothing you say can make me hate Bran, or wish him dead or any reason.  That's something you'll have to get used to."

"You're quite the loyal wife for someone whose marriage has to be the shortest on record," Alec said.  "But then again, your marriage has had many consequences."  He turned from his view of the band of five and looked straight at Cille.

She flushed, and put a hand to her stomach.  "Is it...is it really that obvious already?" she asked, falteringly.

He laughed.  It sounded very strange to her, until she realized it was an actual friendly laugh.  She'd never heard much out of Alec but sarcastic and often apparently bitter remarks during her time as a Layan.  "No, not to most people, I'm sure.  But you have a look to you.  My wife looked the same way before..."

Alec broke off, and shaded his eyes with his hands, looking back towards Landen.  Cille brushed her hair back.  "You were married, then?"

"I was, once.  She died."

"And..."

"Her, too."

"I'm sorry."

He looked at her.  "I am, too."

It was an awkward moment, but she had to say it before the time passed.  She had to know.  "If you're thinking about using..."

He turned on her then, suddenly and savagely.  "I'll use anybody I have to.  And in any way I need to.  Do you understand me?"  And he grabbed her wrists, closing in on her.

She didn't struggle, but she turned her head.  "I know that.  Don't you think I knew that when I came to you?"

He looked at her for a moment, and she turned her head and stared back at him.  He dropped her hands like they were burning him.  "You disgust me," he said.  "Get out of my sight."  She sagged to her knees, as if he had been holding her up.

"We had a deal, Alec," she said.  "You guaranteed the safety of my people in exchange for my service.  My service alone.  No one else's."

"The deal holds," he said.  He had resumed his distant tone.  "In fact we have a new and very safe place for them to live now."

"The island north of Shusoran?  I know about it.  Quite safe, if you like prisons."

"Now, now.  There's a land bridge."

"Don't try to lie to me, Alec," she said.  "I overheard you and Gart talking.  There's a spell on that bridge."

"The land bridge is perfectly safe.  But it will only appear to those who have the key.  Whether you consider a prison or a refuge is no business of mine.  You'll have your people, and a new city.  Call it New Divisia.  They'll be happy."

"I'll call it Cille," she said.  "I want them to remember who did this to them.  May those who come after me remember my mistakes."

Again he turned on her angrily.  "Don't play the martyr with me!  You have had more chances that anyone else on this world and you haven't even tried to understand.  You still think this is just some kind of story!  Well it's not going to have a happy ending.  Not for you or your former husband."

"What did he do to you to make you hate him so much?" she asked.  "You tried to kill him so many times - what did he ever do?"

"I don't hate him," Alec said.  "I'm afraid of him.  It's not what he did - it's what he can do.  Bran is the most dangerous man in Algo.  If he doesn't understand, then he's got to die.  And if he does understand, well...  We may all die anyway."

She stared at him blankly.

"Never mind," he said, sighing.  "You had your chance, as I did, and you failed.  It's up to him now.  But we can still do our best.  Get up."  He reached a hand out to her.  "We have to get back to Shusoran.  We have a guest waiting for us.  One we don't want to disappoint."

"Gart?" she guessed.  "Or Lune?"

"Gart?  No, I wouldn't let him into Shusoran.  I trust him even less now that I know you overheard us talking.  He was supposed to seal off our talks so no one could eavesdrop.  He let you hear that.  No, it's not Gart."

"Then who is it?"

"Someone you've never met.  But someone you already know."

There was, of course, only one person who really fit that description.  But she couldn't quite bring herself to believe that it was true.

"Can't you guess?" Alec asked mockingly.

"Laya."

"Who else?"

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