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In The Name Of The Mother

Part Twenty-Nine

Western Layan Temple, Aquatica Habitat, Planet Motavia

Bran and Thor searched every inch of the altar.  Mieun and Siren focused every last sensor on it.  They could find no evidence of a trigger anywhere.  It was soon apparent that Kara had vanished by magic.  Even if the five hadn't seen enough of the Sages' otherworldly powers in the past few days to know them when they saw them, it didn't take long for Siren's sensors to pick up traces of the energy used to create spells permeating the altar.  It glowed blue to his cutting-edge sight like the door to Shusoran's prison had glowed red.

But there didn't seem to be any way for them to activate the magic as Kara apparently had.  And time was running out for the Orakians.

Thor was kicking the altar and fuming.  Bran had to admit he didn't have anything much more productive to do himself.  Mieun and Siren stood as impassively as always, ready to defend the organics in their charge but incapable of helping them deal with impossible problems.  There's a lesson there, Bran thought wryly.  But I think I already know where we went wrong.  The problem is, only Orakio can tell me if I'm right.  And if he was right, what did it mean for the Palm people?  He rubbed his temples.

"Maybe we should..." he began, only to be interrupted by Kara's sudden reappearance.  And as a tall silver shape cast its shadow over him he realized she had brought along a friend.  "Orakio!  Perfect timing!"

"You are unharmed, more or less," Orakio noted, his gaze passing across Bran's wound and dismissing it.  "We must return immediately.  Lune and Alair have mobilized."

Bran nodded.  "I guessed as much.  Can we all go to Landen your way?"

"Indeed," Orakio said.

"It's the pendant, Bran," Kara put in, holding it out.  "Remember what Alec said about it being a backup system?  It seems he didn't trust the moons.  If you have a pendant you can teleport from temple to temple."

Bran groaned.  "He thought of everything.  So the gravity trick you were going to pull is pointless."

"So it would seem.  But it has already been done - tonight will be a moonless night."

"It'll be good for morale at least.  But if you brought Orakio here with you, the whole Layan army probably only needs one pendant.  Not that they won't each have one.  If Alec thought things out that well he won't trust anything to chance."

"So what's our army doing," Thor demanded, ignoring Bran's dismay.  "Just sitting there?"

"Hardly.  Rulakir took a detachment to delay Lune and Alair's advance while I sought to organize our allies.  That was when I found out that the tunnels had been sealed.  Rulakir is...distraught."

Bran remembered the hate-filled reincarnation of a Landen warrior he and Kara had both once called friend.  Distraught was probably an understatement, even for Orakio.  Kara saw the look in his eye.  "It gets worse," she said grimly.  "Orakio tells me Rulakir's been spouting all kinds of nonsense since we left.  He wanted to build a flying city and take the battle to the moons."

"It seems Rulakir was a mistake.  The design was badly flawed," Orakio admitted.  "I would correct the error, but I promised him his immortality."

The king of Landen felt a chill, realizing that Orakio meant under ordinary circumstances he would simply have the man killed.  When it's at least partially Orakio's fault he's like that.  But the android was as good as his word.  Like the stories had said, robots couldn't lie.  If they made a promise, they would keep it.  Perhaps, Bran thought, a sudden perception coming to him, that's why he demanded so much of me.  He had been fighting the responsibilities the system controller had placed on him ever since he had agreed to join forces with him, but Orakio knew better than he the weight of duty.  Hadn't he been following Mother Brain's orders for centuries without a word of thanks?  Do you not feel somewhat obligated?

But the thought of Orakio's Mother reminded him of his secret fears.  He had to talk to the android privately.

"One champion left," Thor said slowly.  "And they've still got both of theirs.  Not to mention Gart..."

"Gart is mine," Kara said, a smile creeping over her face.

Thor looked surprised but nodded.  "Plus Alec and Laya herself."

"Laya is here?" Orakio asked.

"Saw her myself," the hunter replied.  "Not bad, if you like robots, but she didn't seem to take to us."

"She is quite immune to your charms," Orakio said.  "And will be a difficult opponent on the battlefield.  I must factor her arrival into my calculations."

"You might want to take care of that before we go," Kara said, pointing at Bran's cut.

"Oh," he said, embarrassed.  The blood had dried, he'd forgotten all about his wound.  He passed his hand over it, remembering the technique Res, good for minor cuts.  To his surprise, nothing happened.  "What's going on here?"

Kara looked at him impatiently.  "The poison, of course...oh.  I forgot.  That's one of their newer tricks.  You wouldn't know about that."  She put her hand over his cut.  Bran felt a sudden warmth - a technique?  Or just her presence?  "They've got a poison now.  I don't really understand how it works.  But it keeps you from healing.  Has to do with the blood.  Technqiues, even a good night's sleep is useless until you get rid of the poison.  There."  She took her hand away and the cut had healed.

"If we're all better now..." Thor said sarcastically, "Maybe we can we go?"

They held hands.  Kara told the tale of Gart's teleport and how the pendant had vanished more slowly than he.  Maybe the magic of the pendant had interfered with Gart's spell, but she thought it more likely that the pendant, swinging free, was not in sufficient contact with him.  The short delay in Orakio's arrival seemed to bear out the idea.

Predictably, Mieun took Bran's left hand.  He looked at her, and she looked back, fearlessly.  Again he marveled at Orakio's artistry in creating the Mieus.  They were beautiful instruments of death.  He felt only her soft gloves but he knew the hand beneath would feel as warm as any Palm person's.  But it was just a covering, like her whole personality, for the robot underneath.  She held his hand - if it had been the other way around he might have hurt himself on her claws.  It was not that she was not a person, but she was not Palm.  That was one of the biggest mistakes he had made.

And Kara slipped her hand into his right, her other hand holding the pendant on its broken chain.  He stood between android person and Palm person.  Wasn't that what everyone was trying to tell me from the beginning?

And then they all disappeared.

City of Landen, Landen Habitat, Planet Motavia

It felt good to be back in the old council room.  He'd say it was fitting, because it had all started here, really, but then again a lot of things had happened here.  It wasn't fate that made them have what would probably be their last meeting here, it was just habit.  But he had been asleep or dead or in prison since his last meeting here, and all of those events seemed to have taken up a lot of time.  It felt good to be back, no matter what the situation.

But he couldn't help but look at the empty chair they'd brought in for Cille.  He hadn't seen her in Shusoran.  He hoped she was all right.  He was still alive, and he knew they hadn't treated her well, so he couldn't bring himself to be angry at his former wife.  He felt only sorrow at the events that had driven them all to these kinds of decisions.  He smiled to himself, sadly.  If she had killed me, I might feel different.

Thor, Kara, and Siren were seated, looking at him patiently, waiting for him to tell them his plan.  Siren and Mieun stood as usual.  Rulakir was also with them.  He demanded to be there, and it was his right as Orakio's champion.  But no one trusted him any more.  He couldn't beat the androids, even with his enhanced abilities.  They would make sure his madness did not rage out of control.  Bran could only shake his head, looking at him.  The stories the others had told him about the way Rulakir behaved sometimes disturbed him. His own encounters with the half-man had not been happy ones, even if they had been during his better moods.

Bran rubbed his eyes.  He was very, very tired.  "The Sages are our number one priority," Bran said.  "Their spell is complete.  The only thing that's keeping any of us alive is that they want to use it when their army is moving.  They'd rather we all drop dead in the same place, apparently.  Then the Layans just pick up the pieces."

He sighed.  "Orakio.  Siren's extra features are amazing.  Do you have any projects along those lines that might help us counter the spell?"

The android shook his head.  "I have begun modifying Wrens with the extra equipment Siren bears, so that they might transform and use technqiues, but I do not possess anything that could negate a spell.  My research into the area has only begun."

"Then we have to eliminate the Sages before they eliminate us.  The only problem is deciding where to meet them."

"Invade Aquatica!" Thor burst out.  "We know that's where they are.  If we strike through the temple we can catch them off guard!"

"Think again," Bran said.  "Once we escaped I'm sure Alec began the invasion.  Or, if he didn't, Laya did.  They'd be stupid to give us time to prepare a counterstrike when everything is on their side as it is.  So the question is, which way are they going to go?  Straight east to Landen?  Or southeast to Aridia to link up with Lune and Alair's group?"

Thor fell silent for a moment, then spoke up again.  "I'd bet on direct to Landen.  They want to crush us between the two armies."

"You would be betting," Kara said.  "Betting everything.  If we pick the wrong way it's all over.  We'd be back on the defensive but cut off from our base."

"I think we should wait here," Bran said.  "And send out scouts to tell us which way they're going.  Either way we'll be ready for them here, but if we can get some advance information, maybe we can cut off one of the divisions."  He didn't voice the opinion that maybe even half the Layan army would be unstoppable.

"That sounds like my job," Thor said, rising.  "And maybe my hunters and I can bring down a few Sages while we're out there."

"If you see Layans, get back here," Bran said.  "We can't afford to lose anybody."

Thor nodded and left.

Kara rose, hesitantly.  "If that's our plan I'd better to see to the rest of our army."

"Good idea," Bran said.  "Take Siren with you."

"Come on," Kara said, tapping Siren on the arm.  "A new mission for you."

"Perhaps I should see to the artificial troops," Orakio said.

"You're not going anywhere."

The android paused.  "No?"

"No."  Bran looked up at him.  "Tell me about this war, Orakio.  Tell me how it got started."

"Laya attacked Landen..."

"Before that.  Why did she attack it?"

Orakio paused again.  "Laya is malfunctioning.  She sent agents here to cause unrest.  We tried to stop those agents and the situation escalated."

"What makes you say she's malfunctioning?"  Bran's questions came quickly.  They were the questions he had realized he should have asked a long time ago.

There was the longest pause yet.  "She believes that I am malfunctioning."

Bran put his head in his hands.  "And why does she believe that?"

"Because of her own malfunction.  There is a flaw in her logic.  She believes Mother Brain is dead.  I know better.  Her logic is impaired and it is impossible to predict what she will do next."

"How do you know Mother Brain is alive?" Bran said, without lifting his head.

"Because of the orders I received from her.  They carried with them codes that identified the sender as Mother Brain."

"Because of a message.  That's why you believe she's alive."


"When all of our stories say she's dead.  When your counterpart says she's dead."


Finally he looked up.  "Didn't it ever occur to you that someone else might have those codes?"

"Of course.  But it is statistically unlikely."


"It is more likely that your Rolf lied when he said he destroyed the Mother.  It is more likely that Laya is wrong.  Given that, I must conclude that the Mother is alive."

Bran stood up suddenly, knocking over his chair.  He leapt across the room, grabbed Orakio's tunic.  "All of this!  All this killing!  All these tragedies!  Because you don't believe it when people tell you she's dead?  Tell me there's a better reason than that!"

Orakio looked at him implacably.  "It is the only answer I can give."

It is the only answer I can give.  The same thing he'd said so long ago.

"Have you seen her?"

"No.  But I never have.  I have recorded images, though, so I would recognize her if I ever did."

"You've never seen her."  Bran hissed.  He let go off Orakio's tunic like it was burning him.  "I had a dream.  Or a vision.  When Cille did whatever it was she did to me.  And everybody came to me.  They all asked me if they were the enemy.  You, Laya, Kara, even Gart, before I ever knew him."

Orakio waited.

"But you know who didn't put on an appearance?  Mother Brain.  I didn't even realize it at the time.  But everybody else who's involved in this thing made  guest appearance in my head.  So why didn't she?  Maybe because she's dead!  Because she's been dead for centuries!"

"Dreams are illogical constructs.  They have no real significance."

"All right, then forget the dream.  Why hasn't Mother Brain taken steps to shut down Laya if she's malfunctioning.  Doesn't she have that ability?"

"Of course."

"Then why isn't she doing anything?"

"It is not my place to question her orders."

And that was the answer.  He'd suspected from the beginning, but Orakio's calm logical ways had convinced him he'd been mistaken.  But logic didn't mean infallibility.  In fact, it could create much bigger mistakes than anything Bran had made.  Mother Brain was dead.  Had been for centuries.  Rolf had killed her.  Bran had met Rolf in his dream, a man crushed by the loss of his love and the awful weight of what he had done.  But Orakio couldn't believe it.  Because it was impossible for him to imagine that for once the low probability had come true.  It was easier for him to believe that the rest of the world was lying or malfunctioning or mistaken.

"She's dead, Orakio.  Dead!  Rolf put his sword through her and chopped her up into pieces.  Someone else sent you those orders.  Someone turned the two of you against each other.  Someone started this war.  I've got to find out who!  No, I've got to stop this first.  Got to talk to Kara.  We'll pull back and let the Layans occupy the town.  Laya is here on Mota.  I'll need to talk to her.  She knows Mother Brain is dead.  Maybe she has some idea who sent the orders."

He started for the door.  But it was blocked by Orakio's black sword.  "I would prefer not to kill you," Orakio said calmly.  "But I cannot allow you to hinder the war effort.  Your speculations are illogical, but I expect that in a Palm person.  Should you attempt to take action on them, however, I must stop you."

"You'd kill me.  Of course you would.  Because everybody else is wrong.  You're the only one who is right."  Bran looked over at Mieun, who had tensed herself, ready to defend him if the attack progressed.  But Orakio looked at her, and she returned to simple watchfulness.  His faithful bodyguard.  Gone in instant, because she had always answered first to a higher power.  There would be no one to save him if the android chose to kill him.

"In the absence of any proof, I must assume that I am right.  If you have proof that the Mother is dead, show it to me." Orakio said.

"I don't have any proof.  But I have a feeling."


"How would you know?  You've never had one.  Listen to me!  This many people can't be wrong!  Don't you understand that?"

"Perhaps you do not understand.  The alternative is to believe that my creator, the one who brought life to this world, was destroyed by a man with a sword."

Orakio had no emotions, Bran thought to himself.  But he sounded afraid.  Was this the electronic equivalent of fear?  Hiding away in the depths of logic, protected by statistics?  Was he afraid to face the truth that even the all-powerful robots and computers could die?

"I'm sorry," he said finally.  "But I won't risk any more lives for the sake of a Mother who died in childbirth."

"Then you will not leave this room."

With a suddenness that surprised him, Bran drew his sword.  Without even thinking about it he moved to block the attack he instinctively knew would be coming.  He might not be able to outmove Orakio's reflexes, but he knew how the android thought.  And he knew he didn't stand a chance.

He was jolted back by the force of Orakio's crosscut.  In the close spaces Orakio couldn't handle his massive sword as well as Bran's laconia-light one.  But it also meant that should Orakio connect even once Bran would be on the floor in pieces.

So he drew his sword back over his head and swung it as hard as he could.  He closed his eyes, not wanting to see the blackness running through his chest.  His only thought was chagrin that the truth would die here as well.  Orakio and Laya would finish the war.  Kara trusted Orakio implicitly, and Thor never bothered himself with abstract ideas like causes.

But what he felt was not cold steel sliding through his body.  WHat he felt was a terrific impact that nearly tore his arms off.  He opened his eyes.

Orakio clutched the big hilt of his sword, holding it horizontally as if to ward off Bran's blow.  But it would never block another blow again.  The blade of the sword lay in shards on the floor.  Bran gaped.  Whatever the black sword had been made of, it wasn't stronger than laconia.  The blue-silver sword, driven by Bran's desperation, had shattered it completely.

"Sometimes," Bran said, then stopped and swallowed because his throat was dry.  "Sometimes the unlikely happens."

Thor put his head in the door.  "Sorry to break it to you like this, but Lune and Alair are here!  And the Sages are probably on their way!  Come on you, two!  We're going to need everybody."

Bran walked out, past an unmoving Orakio.