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In The Name Of The Mother

Part Thirty-Two


Central Layan Temple, Landen Habitat, Planet Motavia

The temple was slightly more complicated than others.  Probably, Orakio decided, that was why Dark Force had chosen it as its hiding place.  Built to throw off inquisitive Orakians who might wonder if there was a secret purpose to the Layan temples, its passages curved around and around.  Siren and Mieun could see the hand of Shusoran's creator in its architecture.

The hand of its current resident was also apparent.  There was a darkness in the corridors that not even the cold, brilliant illumination the androids generated managed to light up.  The border between their light and the shadows was sharp and absolute - beyond a certain point light could not go.  Orakio could barely see his freshly painted black sword.

With normal vision, that is.  What would have been terrifying to a Palman was of no consequence to the emotionless beings who did not rely on a mere five senses to operate.  And the one member of the party who was vulnerable to fear drew strength from their calm confidence.

And before they knew it the passage opened out into a larger room, with a small imitation of a Layan altar.  Before that altar loomed the deep purple form of Dark Force, its eyes closed as if it were practicing some kind of twisted meditation.  Lune could feel the malevolence radiating from the entity.  It reminded him that this creature had been inside his head with him.  As he looked at it he felt the rage building up inside him until he shook with suppressed emotion.  But he also remembered that his rage had been the demon's weapon.

Dark Force's eyes began to open, showing slits of fiery red.  When it saw the tiny force assembled, it began to laugh.  It started as a deep cavernous laugh that shook the walls.  Then it fractured into the bizarre mixture of voices that it had used over the battlefield.  "Five of you," it rumbled.  "And each one wrong.  A better ending than I could have hoped for."

"We are here to see to your end," Orakio said calmly.

"You have been the five best servants I have ever had," Dark Force said, an evil smile crossing its massive features.  "You will not kill me.  Not one of you possesses even a fraction of the power needed to destroy me.  And with a simple command I could set you all to fighting each other."  A low chuckle echoed through the room.  "Only the living creatures of the worlds of Algol can harm me.  You robots have been mine from the beginning.  Tainted offspring of a tainted mother."

"Perhaps we bear your taint," Orakio said.  "Nevertheless we oppose you."

"You oppose me?" The demon seemed to swell, growing bigger and bigger.  "You were created as Mother Brain was created to serve the dark."

"So Rolf's story was right.  It was Dark Force that controlled the alien voyagers, the Earthmen.  It made them build the Mother so she could serve the people and by so doing make them serve her."

"You protect them so that they will lose their capacity to protect themselves.  So that the masters become the slaves."

"That may be your plan.  But that is not what our orders say.  Our orders are to protect them.  To shelter them from the dangers of their world.  And you are the greatest danger.  And so are we."

The monster scowled.

"Every mother must let her children grow up and make their own decisions, right or wrong.  This war has taught me that my protection has done them more harm than good."

"And it has taught me things as well," Laya said.  "That we must make sacrifices if we hope to fulfill our functions."

"It has taught me that people are worth protecting.  Even without our orders," Mieun said, looking at Orakio.  Then she looked at Siren and added, "And regardless of our personalities."

Siren nodded.  "I am beginning to see that there is a reason to put aside differences.  Orakians and Layans are really the same, after all.  We were charged to protect them all, even if they disagree with us."

And Lune stepped forward.  "When I first came to Motavia I thought the Palmans were the inferior ones.  But I was created to serve them, too.  That's always been my mission.  I just got distracted for a while.  The truth is I don't have any right to lead them."

"None of us do," Orakio concluded.  "And that is why no Palman came with us.  Not because they are weak, but because this is our responsibility.  Their lives are too precious to risk fighting you, and ours are worth nothing if we cannot correct our own mistakes."

Dark Force roared.  "So you have all learned your lessons," it said over the echoes, "But the truth is that your sacrifices cannot save them.  I have given the orders already..." It trailed off.  "Why have they not been obeyed?"  It closed its eyes again, as if communing with some unseen force.  "Ah.  I see.  Very clever.  But easily corrected.  As I said, you have been the best servants I could hope for.  And now you must fulfill your true function.  One third of the great seal is gone.  Finish the job!  Destroy Motavia as your mother destroyed Palma!"  It reached out a clawed hand for Orakio.

"Enough talk," Laya said, and fired a bolt from her bow.  The energy sizzled through the air and splashed against the creature's hide.  It roared in a sudden pain and a massive claw came up to cover the wound.

"Indeed.  I surmised as much," Orakio said.  "It is their power you fear.   The power of their very lives that they shape and mold to change their worlds.  That is why you must work through others. And that is why your words and your appearance seek to inspire fear on the most primitive level.   Life itself is your weakness."

  "And that is why none of you can harm me!" the creature said.  "This is impossible!"

"Not impossible," Orakio said.  "Not at all."  He knew what was happening.  It was nothing logic could have predicted.  But what was it Bran had said?  Sometimes the unlikely happens.  Bran had taught him that statistics didn't always produce the right answer.  And the Palmans and Sages and Dark Force itself had shown him another way of looking at the world, other forces besides himself that were active in Algol.

All across two worlds, the Palmans were waiting for Orakio and Laya to save them from the demon that threatened them all.

The Espers in their mansion knew their protector would save them.  The Orakians cheered for their invincible lord.  The fanatic Layans prayed to their god.  The Mystoke people had faith in their honorary queen's brother.  And Alair herself knew the five would triumph.  Cille had never felt anything for either side, but for her people's sake she hoped they would win, too.

And Bran and Kara held each other close as their planet's time ran down, two people who had made their own destiny in the face of a devastating war.  Kara had never wavered in her loyalty to Orakio.  Though Bran had definitely come to see the androids in a new light, one thing he knew was that they never relented in the pursuit of their goals.  Somehow, they both knew, they would overcome the terrible shadow that had lain over them since the beginning, and save the worlds.

A sword, a bow, a slasher, a shot, and a claw.

And the faith of the Palmans in their protectors.

"We bear with us the good wishes of every Palman in the Algol system," Orakio said.  "Orakian and Layan both are joined in us.  We represent the people.  Possibly for the first time in our existence.  Their power flows through us in this battle.  We cannot harm you.  But they can."

Dark Force swelled again, growing in immensity until it seemed as though he must break out of the temple.  But Orakio was right.  The five's weapons began to glow, a soft silvery-blue light coming even from Orakio's black blade.  As one, they struck at the monster.

It thrashed, cracking the stone walls and gouging chunks from the pillars as it flailed its powerful limbs.  The mighty claws lashed out at them, knocking some back.  But each time they were knocked back they picked themselves back up.

The androids opened up with other weapons, but none were as effective as the ones they held, imbued with the power of the Palmans' faith.  The power the Espers called "Nei."  The power of hope and faith and love and rage and a thousand other emotions bound up with a dedication to saving life.  The power that comes when the line is finally drawn beyond which none shall cross.

But they could not penetrate its defenses completely.  The wounds they made did not show as they should.  Sometimes they struck out and their weapons passed through it without harm.  And it had other weapons besides its brute strength.  As its violence grew the building itself seemed to respond, the solid stone floor rippling with dark power.  The five found their balance thrown off by the shaking temple, and when they faltered the claws were there.  Dark Force's eyes flashed and brilliant lances of crimson power stabbed out, strong enough to smash holes in the floor and walls.

Orakio held up his sword.  "Our function will be fulfilled," he said, and walked calmly across the seething stone.

Lune cried out.  "No, don't!" but Laya grabbed his tunic and held him fast.

"He knows what he is doing," she said.

And it seemed that he did.  For the tables were turning.  Now Dark Force's weapons could not reach Orakio.  They passed through him as if he had somehow gone beyond mere physicality.  And as he advanced the glow from his weapon spread over him.  His form had caught fire.  And Dark Force was abandoning its attack, flinching back from the light.

"For the Layans!" Lune shouted, and threw his slasher.  Laya raised her bow and fired bolt after bolt.

"For the Orakians!" Siren said, blasting with his shot, giving Mieun an opportunity to dart in and slash at Dark Force's flank.

"For all the Palmans," Orakio said.  "And for the Motavians and Dezolisians as well.  For all life on Algol."  He raised his sword, and thrust it entirely through the demon's body.  It reeled back and the sword blazed like a sun, throbbing with light and heat and power.

The temple began to shake more strongly.  Laya looked around her.  It didn't take much in the way of sensors to see that the place was beginning to come apart at the seams.

Orakio stood impassively, watching Dark Force's death throes, chunks of masonry falling around him.  One came close to him; he raised an arm protectively and shattered it.  It reared up and fell backwards onto the altar, a blow so strong the sword sank into the stone, pinning the creature.

"We should leave!" Laya said.  "Our mission has been accomplished.  And this place is becoming unsafe."

Orakio hesitated.  He wanted to be sure that Dark Force died.  Nothing he knew of could survive a sword thrust completely through its chest.  But then, sometimes the unlikely happens.  However, he could not deny his instinct for self-preservation simply to see if it happened in this instance.  Not when there were other things he could do in the time remaining to him.  He turned and ran for the others.

They waited for him, then they all headed for the exit as fast as they could go.  And they didn't stop when they made it out, either.  The shaking had extended out from the temple.  The vibrations were collapsing the lake's shoreline.  As they watched, the temple slid beneath the waves of the expanding lake.  Then the tremors gradually faded until the lake was as calm as it had ever been, under the carefully controlled climate produced by Orakio's systems.

City of Landen, Landen Habitat, Planet Motavia

The earthquake had been felt in Landen, too, and the five found an anxious crowd waiting for them when they returned from the temple.  Bran, Kara, Alair, Brin, and Cille were in the front.  But when the people saw that all of them were returning, the tense assembly turned into a hero's welcome.

"You made it!" Alair cried, hugging Lune.

"Lord Orakio," Kara murmured, dropping to her knees.

Bran folded his arms.  "Congratulations, of course," he said.  "You've saved the planet.  Now what about us?"

"Bran!" Kara said, looking shocked.

He shook his head.  "You killed Dark Force?" he asked.

"I believe so," Orakio said.  "With my limited understanding of the laws which govern such a creature."

"But you still have your orders."

"I am pleased you understand."

Kara looked bewildered.  "But you killed Dark Force."

"And Rolf killed Mother Brain," Bran said.  "But Orakio and Laya have been following her final orders for centuries."

The android nodded.

"So what does this mean?" Cille demanded roughly.  "We're still going to die?  Even after this?"

"Without any orders to the contrary," Orakio said, "I can use the Plate System to brace the planet for the stresses of habitat separation.  I will do all I can to make the departure of the habitat systems an easy one.  It is doubtful that any will die in the process.  Though I cannot be certain - such a thing has never been done before, though the physics are predictable enough."

He paused.  "There is another option which Dark Force undoubtedly would have taken steps to counter.  There is nothing that says any people must be on the habitats when they depart."

Bran's mouth dropped.  "Leave the lands?"

Orakio nodded.  "If you wish, I can move the people outside the barriers.  There is ample land lying outside the habitat systems.  Then, once they have departed, people may roam the planet's surface freely."

"Except for the big holes," Bran said dryly.

"The holes will be filled in, you may rely on me."

"But the lands will be gone."

"True," Orakio said quietly.

"What will that mean for Mota?" Kara asked.

Orakio paused again.  "Nothing good, I am afraid.  The loss of the plants and good soil will mean a collapse in the ecosystem.  This world will begin to slide back towards its pre-Mother desert state.  The terraforming machines the Mother used to make this world green no longer exist.  I can preserve some areas, delay the slide, but it is inevitable."  Yet another pause.  "Or rather, my successors will."

"Successors?" Kara asked sharply.  "Where will you be?"

"An interesting question," Orakio said.  "This body will be rendered nonfunctional."

Bran closed his eyes.  "I thought that you might say that."

The systems controller nodded.  "Dark Force's death came far too late.  Your people were ready to kill each other long before we confirmed its existence.  Its death will not make much difference in the long run unless the worlds can be cleansed of its influence."  He looked at Laya.  "On this, Laya and I have come to an agreement.  Dark Force has provided us, ironically, with an excellent opportunity.  The leftovers of this war will be leaving the system on the habitats.  And the two leaders will themselves be destroyed."

"Can you do that?" Bran asked.  "Can you really destroy yourselves or allow yourselves to be destroyed?"

"We have learned many lessons in this war," Orakio said.  "The most obvious one is that orders must be interpreted based on the situation.  In this case, the best way to protect you would be for us to cease protecting you.  Laya has a different situation, however."

"I was not intended to be the protector of a world," Laya said.  "I was designed simply to run one system.  Because of this, one of my operating parameters is to create a replacement in case I was in danger."  She cocked her head in a gesture that made her seem remarkably like Orakio.  "However, that replacement will be departing on the habitats as well.  My world is on its own now."

Orakio nodded.  "I have made arrangements for the transfer of control over Mota's systems to.." he looked up, "another place.  One far enough away that it will not interfere with whatever culture develops on this planet.  A few Wrens will be sufficient to keep the planet running.  And maybe a few others as well.  There is nothing to prevent my termination, either."

"So you won't kill me?" a voice said behind them.

Bran and Kara turned around with a shout of surprise and happiness.  A heavily bandaged and sickly looking Thor was leaning on a staff, panting from having pushed his way through the crowd.

"Thor!" Kara cried, throwing her arms around him.

Bran clasped his hand firmly, laughing aloud.  "Thor, I don't believe it.  I'm starting to believe you really are invincible."

"I don't know if I want to push my luck much more," Thor said.  "Nah, who am I kidding?  Anytime you're ready, Lune."

Lune laughed.  "Sorry, I'm retired."

"Figures," Thor said to no one in particular.  "I'll find a way to get a rematch out of you."

"I...doubt it," Lune said.  "I'll be leaving too.  And I won't be seeing anybody."

"What's this?" Alair asked.

"I guess Laya didn't get a chance to tell you," Lune said.  "We're going to be going to sleep for a while."

Laya nodded.  "I regret having to do this to you, but you too are relics of this war.  You must leave the system, too."

"Can I stay in Mystoke?" Alair asked.

"No.  You two will be staying on Dahlia.  In cryogenic chambers."  She gave Lune a strange look.  "As a...reward for your service.  Perhaps someday you will be released, when the war is just a distant memory."

"Likewise," Orakio said, giving a similar look to Siren, "Siren and Mieun will be going.  As will Rulakir."

Bran grimaced.  "I won't miss him much."

Kara looked at him.  "Am I to take it from that that you want to stay?"

He grinned.  "Of course I do.  Don't you know what it means?  It means a fresh start!  A new world, without Mother Brain's super technology running things behind the scenes.  Just enough to give us a good climate and a stable planet.  We can finally make our own lives, without any help from anybody.  It's...it's what Alec dreamed of.  I wish he could be here to see it.  Mota's gods are leaving."

"Yes," Orakio said.  "Though, if you need them, you may find some demigods."  He paused again.  "That was meant to be a joke."

"Well, it's your first one," Bran said.  "I won't hold it against you.  But I think we should all realize that a lot of people won't stay," Bran said.  "A lot of people who won't be able to give up the war."

"I'll be one of them," Cille said.

Bran turned to her.  "I thought maybe you might."

She turned her eyes away.  "We've fought so long for our homes.  We just can't be uprooted again.  And I go where my people are.  That was the lesson I learned in this war.  And for the price I paid, I don't intend to forget it."

"I understand," Bran said softly.  He longed to reach for her and comfort her, but he knew the gesture wouldn't be appreciated.  "We'll miss you, back here on Mota."

"Motavia," Orakio said, suddenly.

"What?"

"Motavia.  This planet.  Its name is Motavia.  Somewhere along the way it got changed to Mota."

Bran felt a flash of anger, but it didn't last long.  "Alec was right there, too.  He always said Mota had too many bad memories attached to it.  Motavia, huh?"

"Motavia.  Dezolis.  Algol.  And Palma."

"Motavia," Bran said, tasting the word.  "I like it."

"Once I wondered whether it would be an interference to tell you that.  Now I understand that it is the least of my interferences.  And perhaps the best as well."

"We won't forget it this time," Bran promised.  "And we won't forget Dezolis either.  Because we're going to travel space again.  That's going to be one of our first priorities.  Our heritage is the stars.  I said that once, and I meant it."  He looked over at Brin.  "We'll come visit you."

A rather sickly expression crossed Brin's face.  "You won't find me there," he murmured.

"Why not?"

Brin cleared his throat.  "We disobeyed our society when we joined Laya's cause.  We thought it was all for the best...perhaps not.  We have been assigned a punishment.  Exile to the habitats.  All the Sages."

Bran didn't consider it much of a punishment, but then again it meant they'd never see their homes.

The Sage smiled.  "But we did accomplish something.  Our elder has agreed that the Espers need to become a more active part of life on the worlds.  We have so much to give!  I only wish I could be part of that as well.  So, if you do make it Dezolis, you may not find me, but you'll find the Esper Mansion there with open doors."

A compartment opened in Orakio's body.  He took out two glowing objects and handed one of them to Cille and one to Bran.  "These are the power sources for the gravity generators.  The moons will remain frozen in their positions near this habitat system.  I cannot imagine any circumstances where the moons would need to move, so I removed the sources in case of an accident.  I had intended to give them to the leaders of the old sides.  Princess, you are the only Palm person...or rather, Palman, who can be said to be a Layan leader."  She accepted it gravely.  "Bran, I had intended to give this to you, but since you are staying perhaps you know of another Orakians who can be trusted?"

Bran looked at Kara.  A sudden doubt filled him.  "Kara..."

"Of course I'm staying, Bran," Kara said.  She smiled.  "It's a fresh start, like you said.  Where all of us can begin again."  And he heard in her words all that she intended him to hear, that all that had happened before with Cille could be forgotten and they could start all over.

"How about you, Thor?" Bran said.  "Are you going to pass up a new Motavia?"

The hunter laughed.  "Not a chance.  Orakio's pets are all right, but I've been looking for a new challenge."  A strange expression crossed his face, which Bran was startled to recognize as embarrassment.  "Although," the Technan muttered, "I've been thinking maybe I should pass on my expertise to the next generation.  Just to make sure there are hunters in the future, too."

"Oh, this I can't believe," Bran said as he realized what Thor meant.  He dissolved into laughter.

"Don't mind him," Kara said to the furiously blushing hunter.  "You'll make a great teacher."

"Discipline won't be a problem!" Bran said, gasping for breath.

The others waited patiently for him to get control of himself.  "Well," he said.  "That about does it for the Orakians.  So..."  He turned and handed the power source to Cille.  "I'd like you to take it.  And give it to someone you trust.  An Orakian, if possible, of course."  He smiled at her, tentatively, hoping she'd respond.

And she did, with a slow, small smile that could barely be seen.  But he knew her well.  Her hand went almost involuntarily to her stomach.  "As it happens, I have someone in mind.  I don't think he's ready for the responsibility yet, but...I know he will soon."

Bran nodded.  "Whatever you think is best, Cille.  I trust you to do the right thing."

"Thank you," she said, quietly.

"Then I believe that concludes our business," Laya said.  "Lune, Alair.  Come with me.  There are a few things I must explain before your long sleep."  The constructs nodded, and Brin trailed along behind them.

"And I will be leaving you as well," Orakio said.  "You have much to do yourselves, letting the people know what has happened."

He began to walk away, toward a tunnel and his private entrance to Nurvus.  Bran hesitated for a moment.  "Kara, will you take Thor back inside.  And let everybody know they've got a choice to make.  A big choice.  I'll catch up to you in a minute."

"Of course," Kara said.  "See you in a minute, then."

Bran ran after the rapidly retreating Orakio.  The android slowed to a Palman walk, and allowed Bran to keep pace with him. "What about the other habitat systems?" he asked.

"I will have to deal with the other habitat systems and the Motavian people.  They will share your choice.  Though it is not difficult to predict what the Motavians will say.  They have always been outside the habitats."

"The Motavians," Bran said musingly.  "I'd forgotten about them."

"Perhaps you can help me with one last problem," Orakio said.

"What's that?"

"The habitat systems.  If they are leaving, they must be considered spaceships."

Bran thought.  "I guess you could look at it that way.  Ships the size of whole worlds."

"They will need names, then."

Bran smiled.  "Names, huh?"

"Yes."

"That's an easy one, Orakio.  Call this one the Alisa III.  For Alec."

"The Alisa III.  Very well.  And the others?"

Bran shrugged.  "I don't know.  New Palm or Palma or something.  Ask them."  He looked up at Orakio, subdued again.  "I wasn't laughing just because it's hard to see Thor teaching a bunch of kids.  It's because I'd had a similar idea myself."

"Indeed?"

"Yes.  I want to start a school.  A big one.  That will make sure we don't forget things like the names of our worlds, or the other people who live on them, or anything like that.  It'll be the start of the new Palman culture."

"A commendable idea.  The preservation of knowledge has always been one of my primary goals as well."

"Yeah, well..."  Bran trailed off, began again.  "There's no easy way to say this, Orakio.  But I don't plan to include you or Laya in that knowledge."

Orakio stopped.

"I don't want anybody to remember any of this.  We've learned our lessons and I'll make sure we don't forget them.  But as to the mistakes we made, and the super technology of Mother Brain, I think it would be best if we all forgot about it.  Pretended it never happened.  Nurvus and the systems and robots will be just legends again.  We'll pretend like Mother Brain just died, and none of this ever was."

"It is one course of action," Orakio said.  "I cannot pretend to approve of it, but I follow your reasoning, and it is sound.  There is an old saying that those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it, but with the my passing I do not think that will be true.  Perhaps it would be best to begin your new world with a clean history as well."

"That's what I believe," Bran said.  "So I'm afraid you won't go down in history.  Maybe you don't care about that.  But it bothers me to think that you'll be forgotten.  There were times when I hated you.  Times when I feared you, when I was in awe of you.  But now that you're leaving us...  I'm going to miss you, Orakio.  I really am."

The android looked at him for a long moment.  "It would be a lie to say that I return your feelings, Bran.  But I believe that I would if I could.  You have fulfilled my every expectation, and surpassed them.  I can safely leave this world in your hands."

It was the highest compliment an android could possibly pay an organic being, and Bran knew it.  "Thanks," he said simply.  Then he reached his hand out.

Orakio took it.  Then he nodded, and walked away.  He walked to Nurvus, and out of the world.  No Palman ever saw him again.  His final instructions were to Siren, warning him that if the moons ever moved again, that would most likely indicate an attempt to free Lune and Alair and begin the war again.  And that if such an event occurred, he was to take command of the Wrens and Mieus again and lead them against the Layan foe.  After all was said and done, Laya had still opposed orders from the Mother, and that meant she was dangerously malfunctional and capable of anything.  Orakio was never to know that Laya had warned Lune and Alair that Siren might try and move the moons to eliminate them in a bid to start the war again, and that if the moons moved they were to wake up and hunt down Siren.  And also, to see if they might find her successor, who would also be sleeping peacefully.

For Orakio and Laya themselves, the war was over.

As for Bran, left alone by the departing androids and Palmans, he smiled to himself and said aloud, seemingly to no one, "Have I fulfilled your expectations as well?"

"Of course you have, Bran," a light voice said.

He turned slowly and saw the young woman and man from his nightmare vision, standing on the grass of Landen, watching him.  "Alis," he said, and the young woman nodded.  "And Rolf."  The man inclined his head.  "But I still don't feel like your equal."

"You are," Alis insisted.  "You saved our people from an evil I could never even understand, let alone fight."

"And you made up for what I did," Rolf added.  "You put the worlds back on track again.  I couldn't have done that.  I didn't.  And I never would have been able to let the androids go fight Dark Force.  I would have had to be there with them.  You had the insight to know when it wasn't your fight.  And you didn't lose Kara.  So you beat me there, too."

"I didn't lose her," Bran said.  "But I came close.  And I lost a lot of other good friends.  But it seems to me that if you're all such great heroes...or even if you're just in my head...I'd think you'd be happy wherever it is you are."

And at last a smile crossed Rolf's face.  It took years off his careworn appearance.  "You figure everything out eventually, don't you?"  And beside the two legends two others faded into view, a tall older man beside Alis, and a beautiful woman with long purple hair beside Rolf.  "But your happiness starts now.  A greater reward for a greater hero."

"Yes," a calm voice spoke from all around Bran.  "A brave man or woman may fight a demon and win.  But only the rarest of people can save a race doomed to failure from themselves.  You have changed the Palmans' destiny, Bran, and brought them out from under the shadow of their mother.  They will begin to create their own society, without any interference."

"May it last a thousand years," Bran whispered as the images and the voice slowly faded away.

And then he began walking back toward Landen.  And Thor.  And Kara.

And the future.