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In The Name Of The Mother

Part Four


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, at least.

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 come from?"

"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 spaceship?"

"That's right!" said Lune, eagerly. "We've come from Dezolis..."

"Not Dezolis," Alair hissed. "Dezo! It's Dezo to these people."

"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 by Palmans."

"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 were.

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."

"Yes."

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.

"Mother Brain."

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 the plates."

"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 us again."

"If you will not work with me, you may go now. You will have an opportunity to change your mind. I prefer willing cooperation, though."

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.