In The Name Of The Mother
West of Aerone, Elysium Habitat, Planet Motavia
It had been a bit of a bumpy ride, but the two didn't
really realize it. Even as recently as the epic battle between Rolf and
Mother Brain, space travel was simple and effortless, but that had been
with spaceships and spaceports in perfect condition. The Camineet had definitely
seen better days, and a spaceport moved bodily from the depths of a chasm
to the surface of Dezolis didn't make the ideal launching pad.
But Lune and Alair, having no idea of what space
travel could be like, simply assumed it was always like this. On the whole,
they'd decided they preferred the ground. Not that they'd ever encountered
ground like this, either.
Motavia was everything Alair had been afraid it
was. Stifling hot, with a notable lack of caves to shelter from the blazing
light of Algol. It wasn't anything like Dezolis. Still, she thought, looking
around, there were certain advantages. The grass was soft underfoot, sort
of like snow, and the trees were quite pretty. Dezolis had a few trees,
mostly the hardy laerma, and Alair rather liked them. To see them all around,
and with beautiful green leaves free of ice, well, it was interesting,
Lune could care less, she thought. They'd landed,
and when he saw how shook up she was by everything, had decided that they'd
camp out in the shuttle. If no one from the town (which wasn't that far
away, just barely out of sight) came to investigate, they could get a good
night's sleep and start the mission proper tomorrow. He was out practicing
with his new weapon. She could hear the soft whine it made as it whipped
out and back.
And then, abruptly, the repeated whine stopped.
Alair looked around. Something must have happened. She jumped down from
where she'd been sitting in the open hatchway (the foldout stairs that
normally assisted entry and exit from the shuttle had torn off during the
moving process) and saw her brother, slicer in hand, awaiting the approach
of two people coming from the direction of Aerone. She smoothed her hair
back and ran over to meet her first real Palmans.
City of Landen, Landen Habitat, Planet Motavia
Bran had failed to notice the Whistle-type low- level
security robot concealed in the river, but this was a different sort of
situation entirely. Nobody could fail to notice the Wren walking the streets
of Landen City. At first, people shouted at it, telling it to wait. It
continued relentlessly on its mission, though, and soon the people who
had caught sight of it were running in and out of the houses telling people
to come out and watch.
It was the sort of situation where one might expect
kids to run out in front of the robot and trip it or block its path to
see what it would do. But people who expect that sort of thing underestimate
the intelligence of children. Nobody wanted to interfere with the Wren's
progress. Everybody felt that interference would not be taken well.
The Wren came to a halt at last outside the closed
doors of the Council building. It paused briefly, and although its expression
never changed, people who were close to it swore that it was hesitating
as though it had never seen a door before. Soon enough, though, it raised
its metal hand and did what was necessary to cause the door to swing inward.
Had it been a second later, the townspeople would
have found out what happens when someone blocks a Wren. As it was, the
people who had been about to go through the door to see what everyone outside
was talking about were able to leap back from the imposing figure suddenly
filling the doorway.
Bran was in the back, but the Wren strode unerringly
towards him. People melted away from its path, and Bran attempted to, but
the Wren caught up to him effortlessly.
"I have a message for you." said the Wren, in a
perfectly normal voice, speaking unaccented Palman. "The others may leave."
They did leave, right away. Alec was already talking
to the others in a low but intense voice. It was hard to tell if anyone
was paying attention, since the rest of the people in the room were trying
to walk out while looking back over their shoulders at a being straight
out of legends.
"You're - you're a robot, right?" said Bran, shakily.
This had been a week to remember, he felt. Robots rounded things out nicely.
"Nobody's seen your kind for...centuries, I guess."
"I am a Wren-type systems technician class robot."
said the Wren, in the same perfectly natural voice. "My message is as follows:
Come to the tunnel to the desert land tonight. Message ends."
The Wren turned on its heel and prepared to exit
the building. Bran licked his lips. "Wait!" he shouted. The Wren paused.
"Is clarification required?" it inquired, with just the barest rise at
the end to indicate a question.
"No, no, I understand the message, I just don't
understand you! Who...what are you? Who is the message from? Where do you
"I am only authorized to clarify the message." said
the Wren, and left.
West of Aerone, Elysium Habitat, Planet Motavia
"We saw the light coming down out of the sky," a very
uncomfortable Palman said. "Thought we'd investigate. That some kind of
"That's right!" said Lune, eagerly. "We've come
"Not Dezolis," Alair hissed. "Dezo! It's Dezo to
"From Dezo, I mean," Lune said hastily. "And we're
here to talk to whoever's in charge. Take us to your leader."
The two Palmans exchanged glances. "Well," said
one, after clearing his throat. "We're from Aerone, and we sort of take
care of things ourselves. Divisia's to the east, though, and they've got
themselves a Princess. Maybe she's the one you want?"
Alair smoothed her hair back. "Our instructions
were to go to Aerone first. If you don't have a leader, perhaps someone
could call a gathering? We're here to learn about your people."
"Well, we've been talking over what to do as soon
as we saw it was people in a ship and not a meteor."
"What did you decide?" said Lune.
"I'm afraid we can't let you go anywhere. You see,
in Aerone we know about ships. We've got one of our own. Rolf's ship. It's
on display in the town. We know all about the planets, too, and we know
there aren't any Palm people on Dezo. They all died in an accident. So
whoever you are, wherever you're really from, you're trouble. So I really
don't think we can call a gathering for you."
With that, the two from Aerone unsheathed their
swords. Before they could take a step, Lune threw his slicer, and a horizontal
line of red suddenly appeared on one Palman's tunic. As he sagged to the
ground, blood spilling out from the terrible wound, Alair reached behind
her and pulled the bow out of the rear belt holster and fired. A spear
of blue light burned a hole through the other swordsman's chest, and he
crumpled beside his friend, equally dead.
Alair reholstered her bow, and Lune wiped his slicer
carefully on her victim's clothing, as his target's clothes were too bloody.
"It's a shame we had to kill them," Lune said solemnly. "But now I see
Laya was right to give us these weapons. She said we might be attacked
"A shame," Alair murmured. "I wonder if there wasn't
a better way. Maybe we could have persuaded them we were good people."
"Listen." said Lune, taking his sister's hands.
"I know they look like us, and like our friends on Dezolis. But you have
to remember that they're not really like us or the Espers. They're more
like the Dezolisians. They need a watcher to make sure they respect the
rules. Just like we have to kill Dezolisians when they start damaging Laya's
equipment, we may have to kill Palmans when they interfere with her mission."
Alair nodded. "Let's just go on to Aerone."
Landen-Aridia Throughway, Planet Motavia
Bran entered the cheerful artificial lighting of the
tunnel with some relief. Mota was safe enough, but fear of the night and
the wild was so deeply ingrained in the Palman soul it would probably never
be fully eliminated. Then, too, was the thought that the message was some
kind of trap. He didn't give that idea too much credence, simply because
the messenger had been so alien. A robot! After all these years! Nobody
would waste something like that to close a trap about an ineffective, third-rate
councilor. If somebody honestly wanted him dead, it could be done a lot
easier. Again, however, suspicion and fear were too much a part of the
Palman soul to let such logical arguments hold sway.
Also, Bran enjoyed being in the tunnels. They were
so different from the land on the surface. Metal walkways above pits, never
a danger because of their more than comfortable width, curving walls mostly
out of sight, but which came into view as the walkways twisted around.
The light, coming from a strip suspended from the ceiling and running all
along the length of the tunnel, never varied, never too bright or too dim.
The temperature was quite comfortable, no matter what surface conditions
So few people wondered about the tunnels! They never
ceased to amaze Bran. Who had built them? Obviously the same forces which
had created the walls around the lands. Why put up barriers and then passages
through them? Seemed simpler to do without the walls. Especially since
they hadn't been there in Rolf's time. His world had been partitioned by
canals, not by smooth cliff faces. But they were a part of Bran's world,
and deep down he knew why so few wondered about them. The walls had been
there for a long time, and few bothered with the stories of Rolf, except
to point to them and either wish to be in a land of ease and plenty like
his, or use the contrast between that time and now to show why a life of
ease was bad.
Bran suddenly became aware of a higher pitched humming.
He was used to the low hum that permeated the tunnels, but this was something
entirely new. He looked around to find its cause and with a start, noticed
that he could see something through the grillwork of the walkway.
It was a piece of walkway, traveling vertically
from the depths. A cylinder supported it, and it just kept getting longer.
That in itself was amazing, but when at last it stopped a short distance
away from Bran, he saw what was riding on it, and that was unbelievable.
Two robots, identical to the one he'd seen in the
Council building on the left side. Two identical young women, with beautiful
long red hair, on the right side. In the middle...in the middle was someone,
something, that made the rest seem small and insignificant. It was tall,
taller than any man Bran had ever seen. It was dressed like a Palman, but
the head gave that the lie. Like the messenger, it had a Palman face, but
metal covered the cheeks, and Bran was willing to bet that underneath the
clothes the big figure was just like the smaller messenger. There were
only two details that really stood out on him: the shock of dark red hair
and the black sword that was strapped to his side without a sheath.
"You sent the message," said Bran, trying to sound
calm. The exit was behind him. He figured he could still make a break for
it if it became necessary. "I'm here."
The voice was mellow and deep, sounding just as
Palman as Bran himself. As the voice continued, Bran noticed it lacked
any accent. Too perfect to be real, he thought grimly. But he paid attention
to the words.
"My name is Orakio."
There was a pause. Bran didn't know what to do,
Orakio seemed to be waiting for something. He nodded.
"Do you know the Mother?"
"Mother? Which mother?"
"There is only one Mother."
Bran cast about desperately. He couldn't think of
any significant mothers, although there were a few recent ones in the city.
Then it suddenly dawned on him. Of course there was only one mother. One
Mother. These were robots, after all.
Orakio nodded sharply. "I am her servant. I protect
this world, and I control its environment so that your people may thrive."
"Control the environment...then you are the one
who made the walls?" Bran gasped.
"If you refer to the barriers around the habitats,
you are correct. I created them, through the mechanism of the Plate System.
I forced the tectonic plates to collide, and push up the rock walls, and
I brought up more magma from the center of the planet to solidify and reinforce
"Why?" Bran exploded. "Why did you do this?"
"I serve the Mother."
"That's not an answer."
"It is the only answer I can give."
There was a long pause. Orakio spoke again.
"I came here to discuss a serious matter. Will you hear me?"
Bran stared. "I don't understand you, but I'll listen."
"A ship has come to this planet from the world called
Dezo. The ship and whatever it carries must be found and destroyed. The
individual whose duties are to care for Dezo as I care for Mota has become
erratic. I fear the ship and its contents are a danger to Mota."
"If you control the systems, and you have these
robots, you should be able to find it and destroy it easily."
"I can. But I have observed that many of your people
have a fear of technology. It's time to correct that problem before it
develops farther. I ask you to be my aide, to help your people understand
that I am trying to help them. In return I will make you king of Landen."
"Why does everyone want me to be king of Landen?"
Bran said angrily. "I don't want to be king!"
"But you want to help your people. You want to end
the strife among them. If you agree to follow me, I will see to it that
you have the power to end the conflict."
"You want me to be some sort of puppet king, is
that it? I'm the one that sits on the throne but you give the orders?"
Orakio looked confused. "Do you object to this arrangement,
when our goals coincide?"
"Sure I object to it! You put these walls up around
our lands because a machine destroyed centuries ago told you to? That's
crazy! Who knows what you'll do next?"
"What I did was for the good of your people. The
Mother is here to help Algo."
Bran shook his head. "I'm leaving now. Don't bother
"If you will not work with me, you may go now. You
will have an opportunity to change your mind. I prefer willing cooperation,
Bran was already walking to the stairs to ground
level, but at that last statement, he stopped and turned. "What do you
mean by that?"
Orakio and the others were gone.