In The Name Of The Mother
City of Landen, Landen Habitat, Planet Motavia
All thoughts of his fight with Orakio fled his mind. Everywhere
he looked, Bran saw monster fighting robot, fanatic battling soldier and
hunter. Lune and Alair's army had to be the bulk of the Layan forces. If
it isn't, we're doomed. As always, only the skill of the Orakians kept
them from being overwhelmed. The Layans fought blindly. But somewhere out
there, Bran knew, there were two who would not. Two supreme warriors who
would soon rein their vicious troops in and take charge. This was just
to shake the Orakians up and weaken them.
How had it come to this? Someone had started it.
Someone who knew Mother Brain's codes and had deliberately sent nonsensical
orders to provoke a war that would destroy a world. And if it was going
to end, Lune and Alair were going to have to die. He was very tired of
killing. And now that he knew everyone had been manipulated, he could no
longer hate Lune as he had. It felt ridiculous, like Siren and Rulakir's
preprogrammed hate. Without a reason, it was more devastating to the hater
than the hated. And he had never wanted to hurt Alair. She had never done
anything to him except to attack him in the middle of another battle. He
remembered their faces, almost twins with their long emerald hair, but
Lune's wide face contrasted with Alair's small one. They were just two
people following their orders as he had followed his, believing firmly
that they were on the right side. But as Alec had said, the time for talk
was long gone.
It was too late to sit down and try to convince
the Layans that they had been set up. He would never be believed now. He
hadn't even been able to convince Orakio, anyway. He wondered what the
big robot was doing. Bran hoped he'd been able to find another weapon to
replace his shattered black sword. They needed every fighter they could
get. Somewhere out there, too, Thor and Kara were fighting for their lives.
He'd never told her that he loved her. She could be dead now. And Cille
would be there. Are you feeling the agony I feel? Do you care that you
have to fight your old friends? How far will you go for your people? He
couldn't blame her. Look how far he had gone for his people. Look how far
Orakio and Laya had gone for their people.
This was not his planet.
He bowed his head, tears filling his eyes. Did any
Palm person ever run his own life? Was everybody just a slave of others'
decisions? At the very least they were slaves to the super technology that
had ruled their lives since the beginning of Algo history. This is not
your planet. Better that they had all died with Palm.
His head snapped up as he heard a hoarse scream.
From the seething mass of fighting before him a robed man staggered towards
him. An elderly man, bleeding from several cuts. He collapsed
on the dirt in front of Bran. I know this face, he thought.
Corm. The Layan archpriest who had come to the parley that
had become a blood duel. The only ones who ever die are Palm people.
Well, it was time to change that. His sword was already out.
No time like the present to find Lune.
He stalked through the two sides as if no world-shattering
war could touch him. He strode through the ranks, striking out when
anyone came near him, scanning the crowds for a flash of deepest green.
But it was blue that attracted his attention. The searing blue bolts
from Alair's unique weapon. It suddenly reminded him of the last
fight he'd had with Alair. Or, more accurately, the last fight Mieun
had had with Alair. He looked around, but his red shadow was nowhere
to be seen. Had Orakio stripped him of his protector as payback for
his humiliation? Or had his last command to stay put remained in
Well, that didn't matter either. Better that
he should fight these two on his own. Dimly, he was aware that his
"plan" was ludicrous. He had no hope of beating even one of these
perfect warriors. But he could think of no better plan. His
only thought was to finish what Alec had started. Death.
The sea surged around him. He saw her now,
wearing the same black dress she had before and again using her gun like
a short club when attackers came near. He screamed something and
lunged at her. Coolly, she blocked his wild swing and kicked him
in the stomach. He staggered back, coughing, and stumbled against
a smooth metal surface. He looked up and back to see Siren.
"She's mine!" Bran screamed at him. "Go away!"
"The risk is unnecessary. I will deal with
Blue sizzled overhead and smashed into an brilliant
white circle that suddenly manifested before Siren. Some sort of
shield, Bran guessed, then realized with a sick feeling that Siren was
probably draining his energy to protect himself. Again the robots
fed off the Palm people. "Stop it!" he yelled again.
Siren grabbed him and effortlessly tossed him aside,
closed in with Alair. He could not use his long rifle at all in such
a battle, but his metal skin made him difficult to damage in addition to
lending a frightening strength to his fists. Bran, momentarily out
of breath, found himself amazed at the reversal of the usual. Siren
fought with implacable strength, but Alair's skill kept him at bay.
She was like a tornado, whirling from position to
position so Siren could not bring his strength fully to bear. And
though many of her blows connected, the android was unfaltering.
But Alair dropped to the ground and scythed her legs out to trip the Orakian
champion. Bran shook his head. He'd seen that before.
Siren didn't have Mieun's speed. He was a long-range fighter, like
any other Wren. And he knew Siren wouldn't be able to avoid the follow-up
- no, wait a minute. Alair stamped her booted foot downward at his
face but instead of rolling out of the way Siren simply raised his arm
and caught her leg. He heaved her backwards and rose to his feet.
Well, Bran had seen something similar to that, too. But Alair was
surprised this time and didn't react with her customary grace. She
landed flat on her back.
It was the opening Siren needed. In one fluid
movement he reached over his shoulder, retrieved his Shot and lowered it
until it pointed directly at Alair. She was struggling to rise.
Bran knew she'd never make it. She was off balance and SIren's blast
would rip through her body and one half of the threat would be gone.
And Bran acted. He couldn't say just what
it was. Was it the thought he 'd had before, that Alair was possibly
the most innocent one in the whole mess? Was it even earlier thoughts,
that if one of the siblings died the other would be unstoppable in their
rage? Or was it something else? Whatever it was, he moved.
He struck at Siren's Shot, not wanting either to injure his comrade.
The SHot was made of laconia, too, and resisted the blow, but it was jolted
off line. The burst of fire hit the ground near Alair.
Siren's reaction was instinctive. His fist
lashed out and knocked Bran, the interference down. But it was time
enough for Alair to spring at him. His hands full of Shot, he was
unable to fend off her sudden wild attack, and he went down. Alair straddled
him and grabbed the rifle out of his hands...and threw it into the crowd.
Then she went over to Bran and knelt down by him.
"Are you all right?"
He swallowed. His side was pounding pain all
through the rest of his body.
And Alair's eyes widened and she pitched forward,
full length on the ground. Siren rose above her, his fist poised
for another blow, just in case.
"Your strategy was peculiar," Siren said, "But successful."
"No," Bran whispered. "You shouldn't have
He heard another scream. Alair's name.
Screamed out by her brother. Were the two so close they could feel
each other's pain? Apparently.
He backed off, ran through the crowds. Everything
he did was wrong. Even trying to save lives he just made things worse.
He knew Lune would be looking for him. He could almost hear the hum
of the slasher. But there was something in the air. When
he heard it all hope left him entirely. It was the alarm cry.
The Sages had arrived.
He slowed to a walk. Essentially, it was all
over. With the Sages here, the spell would be cast. The slim
hope of the Orakians had been that they would defeat Lune and Alair's army
before the Sages could get there with the reinforcements. But the
army had been too big and teleporting had shortened the Sages' journey.
What did it matter where he died? One place was as good as another.
He couldn't see the fighting anymore. It all
When Thor heard the scream he too knew what it meant.
"Finally!" he muttered, and finished off the two monsters who had him pinned
down. Then he looked for the source of the sound.
He didn't have to look far. In the middle
of the melee there was a widening circle of people united in their attempt
to escape. Lune had seemingly gone berserk. He was swinging
his slasher, not throwing it, but with such crazed force it sang its deadly
song anyway. Thor pushed his way past the escapees to confront
the man who had beaten him once before.
"Looking for somebody to fight?"
"You!" Lune hissed. "I should have known!"
Thor fired a burst from his own Shot, and drew his
knife. Not for the first time he regretted never learning to handle
a sword and never learning how to do techniques. But he'd never lost
a fight yet, even if it had been close last time.
Lune didn't dodge but caught the pulses on his slasher,
held horizontally in front of him. The weapon glowed and Thor shuddered.
He hadn't known it could block shots like that, but even if it could it
must surely be too hot now to handle. But Lune advanced on.
Thor hefted his shot and held it like a club, knife in his other hand held
Kara was looking for Gart. Unaware that Alec
had beaten her to him, she, like Thor, was looking for revenge. Like
Bran, she fled from Lune's undiscriminating slaughter, but she didn't know
what had made him so crazy. But when she heard the call for the Sages
she knew where she'd find Gart.
Bran found himself on the edge of the battle.
Blue was beginning to cover his perception of the fight as the Sages advanced
into the fray. And then he was shaken violently and spun around.
He blinked rapidly, and looked into Alec's face. Alec pushed him
back and thrust his sword out at him.
Alec! The sight of him went through
him like thunder. He swung his sword down and trapped the blade on
"Alec!" he said. "Stop it!"
"You wouldn't listen!" Alec yelled. "You never
listened to a word I said! You never understood!"
"No. I told you I figured out what you were
doing. And now...now I know why. You were trying to help."
"Yes! No thanks to you!"
"You were trying to turn them against each other,
so they could destroy each other. And you were trying to keep Palm
people out of it."
Alec sagged. "That's right."
"How did it happen?"
"I knew they'd returned to rule us. I tried
to tell you that when Orakio sent his flunky. But you wouldn't listen.
So I left with my people and founded a new city. We were going to
oppose him. But then I heard about Laya. And they actually
came to me asking for help. They didn't know anything about us -
they needed advice. So I agreed. I made their strategy for
them. I set it up so people would see them for who they are.
So you would see it. If words wouldn't convince you, maybe acts would."
Alec smiled sadly. "I'm sure you know that.
You're the chosen one, Bran. Everything and everybody in this whole
situation has centered around you. I know my history as well as you
do. But you didn't learn from it. You refused to take a stand.
You just blindly followed every order he gave you. You had the power
to change all that. You could have led the people against Orakio
and Laya. You could have freed our world."
"It's not our world."
Alec shook his head. "That's what everybody
says. But it's the first time I've heard it from you. You see
what they've done to you? Like I said, it's too late. You can't
stop it now. I tried to. But I don't have the power.
And you wouldn't hear me out."
"I never heard anything anybody said. I knew
something was strange about the Mother from the very beginning, but I believed
"It's not entirely your fault. Palm people
have always trusted androids, even while they were serving them."
"No, it is my fault. There were clues everywhere.
I always thought you were an archconservative. But you weren't.
Your daughter's name has five letters in it. You didn't want to return
to simpler times, you wanted to rid Mota of the last of the old super technology
so we could create our own. And your daughter's death didn't have
anything to do with it."
"It did. It got me to thinking about how few
of us understand even the technology that we can use. It leads to
all kinds of problems. If you understood more about robots you would
have understood that they can be completely logical and completely wrong."
"But I always thought you were just angry with the
world because of the accident."
"I was angry for a while. Especially since
my wife had died, too. But I found peace in helping to create a new
"Well, it's just a name," Alec said, clearing his
throat. "I'm open to other suggestions."
"And Cille was your spy."
Alec laughed. "Testing me? I'm also
sure you know that's not true. There were many spies, none of them
Cille. You assumed all my people had left with me but it was easy
enough to tell a few to remain behind and keep me updated on what you were
doing. You never made a secret of your plans." He paused.
"But it was my idea to have Cille try to kill you. Again I thought
it would buy some time, convince the Layans I was on their side, and maybe
help you to understand things. To understand what Laya is capable
of. What these robots do to people. I knew she wouldn't succeed.
She loves you too much. She won't admit it. She never will.
She hates herself for what she did, so she pretends you don't matter to
her. But you do. You should know that she's safe. She
and all her people. They have a new town now, and they're not involved
in this battle."
"That is good to know. I never thought she
was really a traitor. And I'm happy that she's safe. But I'll
never see her again."
"I killed Gart. I was trying to buy some more
time. I still had hopes. But he wasn't the leader of the Sages,
just a deputy. Their real leader came down from the moons.
Which, by the way, I see you managed to get rid of. But anyway, with
Brin here, the spell will be cast soon. There's nothing any of us
can do. But I won't kill you, Bran. Let them do it."
A faint hope dawned. "What if we got to this
"It...it might delay things."
"Then let's do it! Together!"
"An alliance between Orakian and Layan?"
"No. Between two Palm people."
"When you put it like that..." Alec said, "Agreed."
They dropped their swords and clasped hands, both
smiling. In the hearts perhaps they knew it was futile. But
the understanding had at last come, even if far too late.
"So you were a traitor after all," a strident voice
Alec and Bran looked around. They both knew
that voice. Lune.
He had carved a bloody path through the crowd
to get to them. Orakian and Layan dead littered the ground.
His chest was heaving and his breath came in short gasps from his exertions.
His slasher and his outfit were spattered with the gruesome results of
"Your god won't help you now!" Lune shrieked and
swung his slasher.
Alec had no weapon. And no chance.
The slasher passed cleanly through his body.
A look of utter surprise crossed his face. He staggered back as Lune
ripped his weapon free. "Too late," he said, and sank to his knees.
"Sorry. Have to..."
"Alec!" Bran said, horrified. "No!"
He grabbed the falling man. Alec struggled to say something.
"One thing," Bran aid urgently. "The codes. The codes you used
to send your orders. Tell them to me. We can still stop things."
"Find your codes together!" Lune yelled again
and slashed at Bran.
He jumped back. Alec fell, stiffly.
He was safe for the moment, but Lune was taking
him farther away from his sword. Bran wondered if he had the guts
to block a swing with his arm. No, it was sharper than anything he'd
ever seen before. It would probably take his arm off.
"Need a hand?"
The advisor slid in front of him. "I was looking
for Gart," she explained. "But I never liked Lune much anyway."
"Out of the way!" Lune said.
Bran noticed he wasn't quite so wild as he had been
a few moments ago.
"Not a chance, Lune," Kara said, and raised her
"No!" Lune yelled. "Not her!"
It happened so fast, and yet it happened so slowly.
Lune lunged forward as Kara slashed across. Her blade never reached
its target. She was, in the end, as Palm as any other, unable to
compete with the warriors from another world. Mieun would have dodged
it. Siren wouldn't have felt it. Perhaps Thor would have anticipated
it. But Kara was not a soldier, just a woman who had spoken up for
what she believed in. And as such, it was the bravest sacrifice at
Bran saw Lune's face, saw the horror and cruelty
on it. But Kara's back was to him. He couldn't see what expression
crossed her face as the slasher bit into her flesh. He could only
see a sudden arc of blood as it tore free, and her fall.
The wound was high and probably not fatal.
But it was enough, with the strains of the past few days, to send her into
shock and unconsciousness, and there was little chance of a healer magically
appearing. She was fading, she was falling. Time stretched
into infinity as he watched her, helplessly, chestnut hair flowing out
behind her as if to cushion her in her final resting place.
And then she hit the ground, and her cloak settled
around her, and time returned to normal. Two men stared at each other
across her fallen body, each incredulous at what had just happened.
And something in Bran snapped.
He threw back his head and let loose his own scream
of anger and fear and despair and frustration and a host of other emotions.
And he reached for the power to stop it all.
And that power responded.
Light burst forth all over his body and surged outward
in waves, raced across the battlefield. Where it touched the fighters
they reeled, stunned, their minds blasted by the power that Bran had summoned,
the power his emotions had granted him.
Two in particular.
And a righteous anger.
The Espers called it Megid. The ultimate
magic. The power that comes when there is no other alternative, when
love and rage fills someone to the breaking point, but they refuse to break.
In the instant that Kara fell unconscious to the ground, Bran made a decision.
As of this moment, it is our planet.
There will be no more killing.
Megid smashed its way through the ranks, bringing
the battle to a sudden and spectacular end. It did not affect Bran.
It did not affect Lune, who stood in another world of his own. And
it had not yet reached the Sages.
And before it could, they finished. With a
last gesture, Brin and the Sages concluded the overspell they had promised
Laya. The one that would rid Laya of her foes for all time.
Not even Megid could stop that now.
Dark clouds gathered above Landen. Stupefied
as they were by power, all the people, robots and monsters raised their
heads, knowing that another power was at work. Bran's Megid faltered,
its greater purpose accomplished, its lesser now a moot one. He too
lifted his head.
On Motavia, Orakio controls the weather with his
CLimatrol. He regulates the rain and the storms and sees to it that
each habitat gets the proper amount of rain for the proper duration at
the proper time. The Palmans could have set their clocks by his weather
if they'd had clocks. An unscheduled storm was far more ominous than
it would be to others.
The Sage spell engaged, the force of death itself
spreading its wings across the sky and seeking its targets.
And violet flame burned around Lune, and he screamed,
dropping his slasher, clutching his head and falling to his knees.
The gray sky darkened to black, and stars twinkled
as if the sun had been blasted to cinders by Sage power. But Bran
knew this was not the night sky. He had seen this once before.
He saw it again. The violet fire blazed higher
and then vanished, and a great shape took form in the sky. A monstrous
form out of nightmares and dark legends. Huge jaws full of curving,
flashing white fangs. Scarlet eyes that burned like fire and made
the blood run cold. Purple skin so deep it was like an afterimage,
like a great light had shone and had then suddenly been extinguished forever.
Great clawed hands that could rip a habitat to pieces. It roared
and the ground shook, and when it spoke it was in an insane chorus of thousands
"Your spells are useless cantrips. Your wars
are the playing of children in the streets. Your loves are mere amusements."
It roared laughter across the heavens. "Kill yourselves for my pleasure.
Your master commands it."
No one could answer the beast. It laughed
again and again with its mixture of voices.
Bran looked down at Kara. He knelt down beside
her and lifted her head, brushing loose strands of hair away from her face.
And he looked up at the monstrous figure. "You are no longer our
master. I know you. You are the Dark Force. The cause
of all our problems."
"I?" The voice rang out. "I only wanted
to build a wall. The rest you did yourselves!"
"It's true," Bran said. "But we're not going
to hide from the truth any more. We're through with masters.
No matter how well-meaning. We're going to make our own world now.
Mota is our world."
"Very well. But you see, I do not need you
to serve me. I have servants far more powerful than you. And
they will never desert me. They cannot. And in a very short
time, they will destroy your planet. Enjoy your ownership of it while
you may. Orakio!"
Bran looked across the field and saw the slow-moving
shape of the systems controller.
"I am Orakio," he said calmly.
The figure reached out with a purple claw.
It seemed to pass right through Orakio. The robot stiffened.
"Codes accepted," he said calmly. "What are your orders, Mother?"
"Engage the separation systems," Dark Force said.
"As you command." Orakio bowed.
"I leave you now. Know that my servant will
now rip this planet to pieces for my pleasure. I want you to realize
how little life you have left. How futile your struggles have been.
Your terror will be brief but enjoyable."
The hideous image melted and ran like purple wax
and streaked across the sky to the southwest.
ORakio walked through the paralyzed people to reach
"What have you done?" the king of Landen whispered.
"Each habitat is utterly self-contained," the android
explained. "I have been ordered to engage the Engine Systems in each
system that will free them from the crust of Mota and send them as separate
units into space."
In his mind's eye Bran saw the terrible sight of
the lands breaking away form the planet, of Mota tearing itself apart.
Of a yellow orb smashing into a thousand pieces.
"You'll destroy everything."
"So it would seem."
Before he succumbed entirely to his weariness and
his despair he had the presence of mind to call for healers.