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In The Name Of The Mother

Part Twenty-Eight


City of Shusoran, Aquatica Habitat, Planet Motavia

For a moment Bran was paralyzed with fear and despair that their escape attempt seemed so likely to end before it had even begun.  Thor, on the other hand, reacted with the speed he had come to depend upon in his dangerous vocation.  But before even he could fire, the Sage gave a loud cry and sank to the floor, the Shusoran guard's blade in his side.

The guard smiled grimly at the Orakians' look of shock.  "What's going on?" Bran asked, not sure whether or not he even wanted an answer.

"It's the moons," the man said in a quiet voice.  "They brought them here."  He nodded at the deceased Sage.  "And there's a lot of us who want them to go back and take the moons, too."

"Are you...letting us go?"

The guard nodded.  "I won't help you to escape, but I won't give you away either.  They'll find him later, and assume you killed him.  I'll vouch for it, too."

Bran clasped the man's hand.  "Thank you.  For whatever reason you're doing it."

"Go.  Before another patrol finds you."

Bran and Thor took his advice to heart, and continued on. Mieun had recovered quickly from her blow, but seeing that the situation had changed from combat to diplomacy, had refrained from tearing the Layan's throat out.  Though she watched the guard warily, she followed the two Palmans away.  Bran looked back over his shoulder to see a last glimpse of the guard, leaning against a wall, watching them in return.

After they were out of sight, the guard dug around in his pockets to find a small communicator, much the same style as the one Lune used to communicate with Laya an entire planet away.  This one, though, merely had to penetrate a few stone walls.

"Report."

"They're out."

"Good."

"There's...been a casualty."

Silence.  "I'm sure it was necessary.  I'll handle it."

"Thank you, sir."  The guard sounded relieved.

The other chuckled.  "It's all for the cause, soldier.  All for the cause."

"Yes, sir."

"Bring the body to me.  I'll take care of everything."

While Bran and Thor searched, more carefully and quietly this time, for a stone, Kara was trying to figure out what to do with Siren.  The android seemed to have become utterly nonfunctional, and Kara had no idea how to bring him back.  That a robot could die was a concept as foreign to the Palman mind as the concept of moons.  But Palmans were learning a lot of new things these days.

Were there tools you could use?  Perhaps you could fix a robot like you'd fix a plow.  But that didn't seem likely.  Siren's skin was all one piece now, though she had several times seen it split apart into many sections.

The delay could mean Bran's life.  Gart had said he was already captured.  And while Alec might want to spare his old enemy's life for his own purposes, she was positive Gart was more realistic.  The escapees would certainly be killed if he had anything to say about it.  Not to mention the fact that Gart would surely send reinforcements to the room he had just disappeared from.  She'd dragged Siren into the next room over on the hope that the rooms closest by would have the lowest priority in the search but the only real effect of that strategy had been to convince her she could never carry Siren out of here.  The android was lighter than he looked but still too heavy for one woman to carry out of a hostile fortress.

She looked for the thousandth time at the broken pendant she'd snatched from Gart's neck.  Alec had called it a backup system.  She could only hope it wasn't a backup system for the prison.  It could well be some kind of magical spy.  She'd seen stranger things since the Sages came to Mota.  But the Orakians needed all the information they could get, including the information the pendant might reveal.  Even if it meant temporarily harboring a spy.

Back to Siren.  Her mind darted from problem to problem - Bran, Siren, Lord Orakio.  All her friends were in trouble.  But Siren was the immediate concern.  If he were Palm, she thought, I could try a healing technique.  But they don't work on robotsThen again...  She remembered how Siren had used a water technique to smash the prison door down.  And how he insisted he was the pinnacle of Wren technology.  He drains energy from those around him and uses it for himself.  It's worth a try.

She pressed her hand against his chest and focused her mind.  Rever.  The technique that should bring those on the brink of death back.  The technique that had failed on Bran.  But she put that out of her mind, and tried it again.

She didn't possess Orakio's special vision, nor the understanding of the Sages.  But she imagined it, the energy swirling around her, sinking into Siren, filling him with the life he'd possessed.  She imagined his systems coming alive and taking control, using the energy she was giving him to repair whatever damage Gart had done to him.  She closed her eyes, filling her mind with the image of Siren sitting up under her touch and accusing of her of being illogical.  That almost made her lose control.

But when she opened her eyes, it had worked.  She could feel a slight vibration under her palm.  And Siren's blank metal 'eyes' seemed no longer dark and dull but somehow warm and alive.  She stood up, drew back, and watched eagerly as Siren climbed to his feet.

"Nominal," Siren murmured, apparently to no one.  Then he looked at Kara.  "What has happened?"

Kara shook her head.  "Gart attacked us - he did something to you."  She held out her fist, the pendant clutched in it.  "I got his pendant."

Siren absorbed the information, nodded.  "Then we must find the others and make our escape.  Staying here longer than necessary will result in our deaths.  Gart will have spread the word by now."

"Bran and Thor have been captured," she said.  "Gart's got them."

SIren paused.  "Then we must leave at once."

"What?  No, we must rescue them at once."

Siren looked at her.  "I regret the loss of Bran and Thor.  They are quite able.  But you must realize that even if Gart has not killed them yet, he will either do so upon his return or simply use them as a trap for us.  Either way attempting their rescue would imperil the mission far more than can be tolerated."

"Able?"  Kara shook her head.  "We have to save them.  They'd do the same for us."

"I do not think so.  I think they would appreciate the dangers involved.  We have the pendant.  We know the location of the Layan base and we know that the deathspell is ready for use.  It is paramount that we return to Orakio."

"Wait, wait!  You can speak to Lord Orakio.  You can tell him that the spell is ready."

"I have done so.  He is preparing his greatest weapons to fight the Layans.  But if we cannot get the keystones to him, he will be unable to leave Landen.  And unable to even attempt to neutralize the Sages' overspell.  And whatever the pendant's purpose is, he must know that, too.  The Orakian cause must come first."

"But..."  What Siren said made sense.  It complemented her earlier thoughts.  It was probably too late the moment Gart had faded from sight.  If not before then.   But she just couldn't give up without a fight.  A fight.  Of course!  Siren wasn't Lord Orakio.  He had his weakness.  And Kara knew what it was.

"Siren, you may be right.  But consider this - Gart was critically wounded when he left here.  No matter how good these Sages are, he can't have patched himself up so quickly.  He's got to be weak.  It may be too late to save Bran and Thor, but it's not too late to strike a blow for the Orakian cause ourselves.  They took Bran and Thor.  Let's take Gart and Alec."

"You are forgetting Laya."

"If we meet Laya, we'll deal with her.  But this is too good an opportunity to pass up."

"We must bring the pendant.."

"We will," she interrupted, "but after we've crippled their command team."

As Kara had perceived, Orakio wouldn't have had any trouble with the decision at all.  But by infusing his champion with a fierce hatred of Layans to complement the hatred of Orakians he believed gave Lune his ferocity, Orakio had by necessity introduced a small amount of illogical behavior into Siren's otherwise logical personality.  And it was to that irrational anger that Kara was appealing.  The android struggled, but in the end, it was the cold logic that won out.

"No," Siren said, finally.  "We will leave."

"You leave," Kara said.  "I'll stay here."

"No," said Siren again, and this time he made it even more forceful by pointing his advanced Shot at her.  "We are leaving.  I cannot allow you to get captured.  You will come with me or I will render you useless to the enemy."

Kara gaped.  "You wouldn't shoot me.  I just saved your life!"

"Gratitude is a Palm emotion."

"But you serve us!"

"I serve Orakio and the Mother.  All else is secondary."  His hand closed around her wrist, firmly, just about to the point of pain, and she found herself walking very quickly through the halls of Shusoran's palace as Siren traced the route he had memorized from the prison cells to the hidden fountain entrance.  All Kara could think was that without Siren, Bran and Thor would never be able to leave the island.  He was the only boat they had.

"I'm lost," Bran said.  "And Mieun, I don't care if you do know every step we've taken.  I'm lost, and that makes me nervous."

"There is no need for alarm," Mieun said.  "Every step we take adds more to my map."

"What makes me nervous is trusting that guy," Thor said.  "Shouldn't we be hot-footing it out of this dump?"

"Not without a stone," Bran said.  "Or we'll never leave the habitat.  And not without Kara and Siren."

"Shusoran," Thor said.

"What?"

"Shusoran.  It's the name of this place.  Didn't you hear him?"

"Oh."

"Funny name for a town."

"Well," Bran said.  He looked in another room, opened a few drawers.  Nothing.  "It's named for his daughter.  Shusa.  There was an accident when she was really young.  With a gun.  She died."

Thor nodded.  "It happens sometimes in Techna.  We've got a lot of guns.  Kids just don't understand."

"Well, it doesn't happen very often in Landen.  Ever since then, Alec's been really anti-tech.  It doesn't really surprise me that he's a Layan.  But something just doesn't add up, all the same.  I can't see him standing by some of the things the Layans do.  Like the moons.  He's so conservative he thinks we ought to rename the planet 'Alisa.'  You wouldn't think he'd like the idea of Azura and Dahlia."

Thor frowned.  "You're right, it doesn't make sense."

"About the moons?  Yeah, I know.  It's been bothering me.  There's a lot of things that have been bothering me about this whole mess."

"No, no.  Not the moons.  Shusa."

"The girl?"  Bran stopped and looked at his friend.  "What do you mean?"

"Well, think about it, man."  Thor counted on his fingers.  "S-H-U-S-A, right?  That's five letters."

Bran stared.

Thor shrugged.  "Just thought that was strange, that's all.  If he's so conservative, why does his daughter's name have five letters in it?"

"I-I never thought about it.  I mean people do - there's some people in Landen who have three or five-letter names - there's Cille - it's not as strange as it used to be.  But it just doesn't make any sense with Alec.  I can't believe I never realized that."

"It takes an outsider to see things like that sometimes."

"Yeah."

"But," Thor hurried on, "it's not necessarily significant.  I mean, maybe the mother named her.  But it's interesting to know that the man cared so much about his kids that it would tear him so much when she died.  He didn't strike me as the caring type.  But I guess all parents care about their kids like that."

And it was like a light suddenly illuminated the dark corners of the mysteries Bran had been churning over.  "Yes.  Yes they do.  That's been the biggest mystery of all.  And not one of us saw it."

"Now what?"

The mission was forgotten.  Bran stood still, all the pieces of the puzzle finally sliding into place.  "The mother.  The Mother.  Mother Brain, right?  But she's more than that.  She's the Mother.  We never understood what that meant."

"She acted like a mother toward us.  That's what it means."

"Right.  To us.  But not to Orakio and Laya and the other robots.  She is their mother.  She created them."

"Okay."

"No, you don't get it.  She's their mother.  She created both of them.  And she acts like a mother toward us.  So much so that she tried to protect us from everything.  So why hasn't she settled this thing?  Why hasn't she ended the war?"

"Orakio said she's supporting him."

"That's not good enough.  She created Laya."  If there is a higher power, it is her.  "Why hasn't she fixed Laya?  Or if she couldn't, surely she could shut her down or deny her access to her systems - something.  But she hasn't done anything except to give Orakio permission to use bigger and better weapons."

"But that's support.  Maybe she wants to stay out of it."

"Stay out of it?  And let her children fight it out?  That doesn't make any sense.  She built both of them.  She'd want to save them."

"Now wait just a second.  That's an emotional argument.  Mother Brain and her robots don't have emotions."

"No, but they have efficiency.  It would be wasteful to have them fight it out when she could end things quickly."

Thor shrugged.  "Okay, so it doesn't make sense that she'd do something like that."

But Bran was on a roll.  "And besides, we've always believed Rolf destroyed her.  Until Orakio showed up claiming she's still alive.  So here's the thing - suppose he's wrong?"

"Orakio?  Wrong?  Better not let Kara here you say that."

"I'm serious.  Suppose he's wrong.  What does that mean for us?"

"I don't know."

"I don't either.  But I've got to hear his explanation.  I think it could be more important than anything else."

"Well, then may I suggest we get out of here and get back to Orakio?  You can ask him all you want, then."

"Right."

Gart looked at the bodies.  His hand kept straying to the wound Kara had given him.  His magic had healed the wound more quickly than Kara would have believed.  But still the memory of the pain and weakness haunted him.  "One of each," he said calmly.  "A guard and a Sage.  And they tried to kill me."

He looked at Alec.  "I don't care what you had planned for them.  I'm alerting the forces we have here.  They're to be killed on sight.  You'll agree?"  He said it as though a negative would be useless anyway.

"I agree," said Alec.  "I don't appreciate the death of my people any more than you do for yours.  Their usefulness is at an end.  Kill them."

The ex-Esper nodded.  He closed his eyes briefly.  "They'll be found soon.  And then it'll be time for the spell."

Alec sighed.  "I thought we were going to coordinate it with our final attack."

  "I decide how the Sages are to be used.  Not you, and not Laya.  They all die now.  Then you can attack."

"You don't want to do it like that, Gart," Alec said.  "Trust me.  Wait for my signal.  Don't you need to gather your people together, anyway?"

"No," Gart replied.  "They'll feel my power and know that the time has come.  Then it's just a matter of time."

"At least rest.  You're not up to casting any spells right now."

Gart blinked.  "It's not like you to care.  You know that kind of delay isn't going to matter, don't you?  I can begin the spell from my bed."

Alec put his hands up.  "Just trying to do you a favor."

"I'll be in my quarters, then."

"The ones down the hall?" Alec pointed.

Gart squinted suspiciously at him.  "I doubt they've moved."

"Just checking.  I like to know where you people are.  Makes me feel better."

"Oh, well, whatever makes you happy," the Sage said ironically.

"Wait, I'll walk you there."  Before leaving, Alec's eyes strayed back to the dead guard.  "All for the cause," he mumbled to himself.

The two Layan leaders passed a force of guards rushing down the halls, responding to the Gart's mental commands.  Later a group of Sages did the same.  Outside his room, Gart paused.  "Now what is it?"

"What do you mean?"

"Enough games.  You obviously wanted to talk to me about something.  What's so private you don't even trust your own throne room?"

"Your death!" Alec hissed, and shoved Gart back into the room.

The Sage stumbled back, so surprised he didn't even think to raise any defenses.  And before he could regain his equilibrium, Alec's knife was in him.  For the second time that day, he felt the life draining out of him.  But there was no escape this time.  Teleporting would only bring him back to the place where he had last slept - and that was this very room.  Alec shut the door, quietly.

"I dislike killing," he said, watching Gart gasping on the floor.  "Even vicious people like you.  But you made me have to kill one of my own people - and even then you insisted on disrupting my plans.  Now you've crossed the line.  Your replacement should be easier to handle.  And even if he isn't, the delay in his arrival should be all the time I need."

"I knew you'd betray us," Gart said, so faintly it was hard to hear.  "So you were an Orakian the whole time."

"Hardly.  And to prove it, I'm going to see to it that Bran and his friends die here, just like I told you.  But I'm afraid you won't be in any position to appreciate my loyalty.  Just know that you will be avenged on your murderers."

Gart tried to say something else, but his voice had already deserted him.

Alec tucked his dagger away and, drawing his sword, stepped out into the hallway.

"Find them!" he roared at the next pair of guards that rushed by, and joined up with them.

Bran, Thor, and Mieun had already found out that the situation had changed.  Bran was bleeding from a good cut on his sword arm where a sudden attack had beaten Mieun's reflexes.  With a general search being made, they knew they had to abandon the mission.  Bran could only hope that Kara and Siren were also evacuating.  He also hoped they had been luckier in their search for a key to unlock the tunnel seals.

Mieun had to be in front.  She was the only one who knew the way out.  But that meant Bran and Thor had to deal with the pursuing guards or Sages without the help of her skills.  Periodically Thor turned and fired down the passageways, hoping to pick off the enemy before they got too close.  But he couldn't spare much attention - Mieun was obediently setting a fast pace.

When they got to the fountain entrance there was no sign of either Siren or Kara.

"Do we wait?" Thor asked, panting.

Bran shook his head angrily.  "We can't.  I'm surprised they didn't send any guards here immediately - but then there might be other exits they're guarding.  But this is the worst place to be right now.  We have to get up and out of here."

The three explored the walls for the hidden lever or button or whatever that allowed escape from the inside.  Thor found a suspiciously loose stone and pressed it hard, summoning the fountain floor platform.

The Palmans blinked in the bright light of the surface.  Once again they stood in the false city that concealed the Layan base.  And, regrettably, they once again stood in captivity.

Shusoran guards and blue-robed Sages were standing by each fountain, waiting to capture any who emerged.  Alec had picked the wrong fountain, but he had come over to the right one once the basin had descended into the depths.

"A good try, Bran," he said.  "But you know we can't let you leave here.  And since you'll just find another way to escape, we'll have to make your removal more permanent."

"Wait!" Bran shouted.  "Let me talk to you alone."

Alec shook his head.  "No."

"It's about Shusa."

The Layan drew back, an incredulous look coming over his face.  "Shusa?  Bran, she died years ago."

"I know what you're doing."

And at once the incredulous look vanished, replaced by one of cold certainty.  "I'm sorry it took you so long.  But if you know that much, then know this - it's too late.  Things are now out of control."

"I know that, too." Bran said.

"Then let me finish what I started," Alec said, and pointed his sword at Bran just as he had that night when Orakio first appeared.

And just like then, Bran's life was saved by a robot.  Siren's Flare attack lanced out and smashed Alec's sword.  He cried out and dropped the useless hilt as shards dropped to the grass.  The Layans swung around to meet the newcomers.  Yellow brilliance burst from Siren's chest again and again to burn smoking holes in the guards and Kara hefted Siren's Shot to send the Sages running for cover.

"Come on!" she shouted.

Bran and Thor snapped out of their amazement and ran to their friends, Mieun adding her part to the confusion.  Alec had already disappeared,  Bran realized.  Probably retreating back down a fountain.

"What happened?" Bran shouted.  "We hoped you'd gone on."

"We almost did," Kara replied, shouldering the Shot and leading them on.  "Siren marched me out at gunpoint.  A long story."

"Siren?" Bran asked, looking at the android.

"Yeah.  But the gunpoint thing only works as long as you've got a gun.  When he converted into a boat I told him to take me back or I'd sink him."

"You shouldn't have come back for us," Bran said.  "You risked your lives - and we don't have a key."

"No?  That's too bad.  We don't either.  But you should know by now that I'll come back for you.  It's always me that has to save your neck."

"Thanks a lot," Bran said wryly.  "I do appreciate it, believe me."

They reached the shore and Siren transformed into a boat for the trip back.  "We will travel more swiftly than boats that must be rowed," Siren said.  "Add that to the chaos we have created and there will be time for us to regroup on the other shore.  But I suggest that you think of a plan quickly."

"Right.  Where can we get a key?"

"You could go back to Shusoran," Thor suggested.

"No."

"Some other Layan town, then," Kara said.  "But there aren't any others here.  There's just Shusoran and Rysel.  And Rysel wouldn't have any."

Bran snapped his fingers.  "No, but there's a temple!  Remember, that's where they ambushed us.  There must be some stones there."

Siren steered a course directly to the west.  It wasn't long before the squat shape of a Layan temple loomed up before the five.  Bran shuddered remembering how the temple entrance had poured forth a horde of Layans to send the Orakian army running for safety.  Today it just might help the Orakians in their greatest need.

The place was as deserted as the fake Shusoran.  But there wasn't that much to it, anyway.  Bran wondered how they'd manage to pack so many Layans into it.  It was nothing more than a wide corridor leading to an altar.  There weren't even any seats.  Bran hoped devotions didn't last too long.

But that was all there was to the temple.  No closets or cupboards or any storage areas where stone might be kept.

"That's it," Thor said grimly.  "So much for that plan.  But there is one good thing.  This place is pretty defensible.  We can hold off Alec's people for a while here."

"Maybe one of them will have a stone," Bran said, hopefully.  "We could snatch it, make a break for it."

"Maybe," Kara said.  "But we can't just give up.  Maybe there's a hidden panel in the altar."  She walked over to check - and vanished.