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In The Name Of The Mother

Part Five

Town of Aerone, Elysium Habitat, Planet Motavia

Lune and Alair had little difficulty gathering the people of the town. The citizens had been waiting for the investigators to return. When they didn't return, but two strangers did, they gathered all on their own, ready to defend their homes.

"Who are you?" shouted a voice out of the crowd. "What do you want?" several people yelled.

"My name is Lune, and this is my sister Alair," Lune said. "We just want to talk to you."

"What happened to the men who went looking for you?"

"They attacked us," Alair said. "We defended ourselves. I'm afraid they're dead."

"You killed them?"

The crowd was decidedly more hostile. There were more than a few swords out.

Lune shouted. "We didn't want to kill them. But they wouldn't listen to us. We have a message for you."

The crowd didn't seem to be in a listening mood. Alair pulled on Lune's sleeve. "What should we do? We can't kill all of them."

"We could." Lune said, reassuringly. "But I don't think we'll have to. I'll play the message. Maybe once it starts they'll calm down."

The construct reached into his tunic and pulled out the projector. When he depressed the playback key, the hologram flared to life above the heads of the crowd. They didn't notice it at first, still focusing on building up their bloodlust, but when the recording spoke, it commanded their attention.

Laya's face, larger than life and much more impressive, if somewhat translucent, looked down on the people of Aerone. "People of Aerone. I am Laya."

Holograms, especially ones designed as this one was, to address crowds, were rare even in Rolf's day. Central Tower, the administrative center of Paseo, had a system similar that passed along new orders from Mother Brain, like the no space travel policy. Administrators also had visiphones that projected small holograms just above the surface of the phone for conferences. But details of life like that were omitted from the stories of Rolf's travels and battles. His descendants, even those who remembered his story, had no idea such things existed.

"The walls that surround your lands were created by a being named Orakio. It is my belief that Orakio should not have created them. I think they are wrong. Do you agree, or are you happy with them?"

The recording paused. The crowd remained motionless, staring up at the sky, mouths agape. Then, a man in the second row fell to his knees. "Mighty Laya! We were happy with them, but we were fools! Please forgive us!" There were tears in his eyes as he spoke. "Down on your knees!" he cried, waving his arms. "Don't offend Laya any more than we have!"

"Lune and Alair are my servants. You may trust them. Tell them what you feel, and they will lead you to Orakio. I will speak with you again. End of message to Aerone. Message to Divisia begins."

Lune clicked off the projector. The crowd looked at him with a great deal more respect. Many more had followed the first man's example and were on their knees. The few who were still standing nevertheless looked at him expectantly. "That was Laya's message," Lune said.

"We thank you for bringing us Laya's message," said a kneeling woman. The others murmured their thanks as well.

"Where did she go?" another kneeler asked.

"She wasn't really here," Lune said. "She spoke to you from..." Lune remembered the initial encounter with Palmans and their reaction to Dezo. He winced. "From another world."

The man who had asked for forgiveness bowed his head. "Another world! From Dezo! She must have great power, to talk to us from so far away. And to have survived the accident!"

"Power? Well, yes." Lune was surprised. The others had refused to believe that there were Palmans on Dezo. Were these people simply more intelligent? The hologram seemed to have had a strange effect on them. He tried to explain Laya. "She controls Dezo. She creates biologicals. You'd call them animals, I suppose."

"The ruler of a world! And she creates life?"

"That's right."

"What does she want from us?"

Alair spoke up, feeling a bit left out of the exchange. "If you agree with her about the walls, then she wants you to follow us. If not, we will leave you and move on."

"We will follow you," said a standing man. "Don't leave us, please. We promise to serve Laya, and her servants. Where will you lead us?"

"The one who created the walls is Orakio. Laya believes that Orakio..." Lune searched for words more suitable for the Palman mind than 'malfunction.' "She believes that Orakio will hurt people if he is not stopped. We will go to him, and make him stop."

By now, the last few standing people were on the ground. "We will follow you," they swore, in various ways. "We will stop Orakio."

City of Landen, Landen Habitat, Planet Motavia

Bran's mind was spinning as he saw the familiar houses of Landen up ahead of him. He'd learned so much. Orakio. A robot, incredibly sophisticated, who ruled Motavia's systems on behalf of long dead Mother Brain. And now he'd like to start ruling the people directly. Well, no, not directly. Through Bran. And he fully expected Bran to go along with it. How could anything that powerful and, and amazing be so dense?

Then again, he thought, taking care to walk softly and muffle his lantern, so as not to disturb anyone as he crept through the streets, maybe he'd been a little harsh. Orakio had said there was a good reason for the walls, and had even said his programming wouldn't let him harm the Palm people. He was programmed to help them. Maybe there was a good reason for the walls. Preventing a war, for instance, or spread of a disease. Or maybe even some kind of geological reason. Nobody knew much about what was under the ground. Orakio had mentioned something called 'magma' which implied that there was a whole lot going on under there.

Bran wondered if he could get in touch with the big android again. There were a lot of questions he could ask, even though he felt Orakio wasn't the type who explained things to people just because they asked. One thing he was not doing, under any circumstances, was becoming king. It didn't matter how much good he could do for people, it just wasn't right to tell them what to do.

There was the house. A solid, wooden construction. Right now the last thing Bran wanted to hear about was technology, whether for or against. Because of this, the first thing that went through his mind when he opened the door and saw that his home was full of people waiting for him was a certain relief that they were all wearing swords and not holding guns. The second thing, when he noticed that the only seated man was Alec, a naked sword on the table in front of him, was the sinking realization that he had walked straight into this situation, in more ways than one.

"There he is," said Alec, not bothering to rise to greet the owner of the residence he seemed to be making himself comfortable in. "No wonder he's all for technology. Don't want your big friends busted up for scrap, is that it?"

Bran didn't say a word. It was pretty obvious he'd lost control of this situation the minute the messenger robot had come looking for him.

"You've been consorting with these robots. Agents of Mother Brain."

Bran opened his mouth before realizing that Alec was absolutely right, although not exactly the way he thought.

"They're bringing you messages. Secret meetings in the dead of night. You talk a good line, Bran, about how technology is our friend. But it's just a line, isn't it? Well, your cover's blown now. And we're here to see to it that there's no more traitors to the city."

"How have I betrayed you? I only met Orakio for the first time tonight. And I didn't tell him anything about the city. Not that he would have cared."

"You say you only met him tonight. This Orakio, this robot you seem to be on such good terms with. But how can we believe you? How can we believe you aren't going to open the gates of the city to these robots and let them just march in and take over? We can't."

Bran folded his arms. "So what do you intend to do? Kill me?"

Alec stood up. "Yes."

"You'll never get away with it." Bran was incredulous. "Everyone knows you and I are rivals. Everybody's going to think you did it."

"I don't think so. You were pretty quiet when you came back into town. I don't think anyone saw you. So how are they to know you made it back from your secret meeting? I think that we'll all be very surprised to find you absent from the meeting tomorrow. And I think we'll find your body in the Aridia tunnel. And I think we'll all know that it was your robot pals who killed you. And I think we'll be very sad and very angry with these robots."

"Touching," Bran sneered. "Real touching."

"You should be touched. But don't worry, because we'll take revenge on your killers. We'll tear them to pieces and we'll vote to destroy all high-tech artifacts in and around Landen. These lands will be an example to the rest of Alisa."

"You know in all the excitement I forgot you'd renamed our planet. And now you're leading a holy crusade. Maybe it was your picture in all those churches on Palm. Well, now we know what the God of Palm looks like."

"That's enough," said Alec, purpling.

"Let's get this thing over with. At least I won't be a party to the rule of Alec I, Lord God of all Alisa."

Alec nodded. "You'll get your wish."

Bran remembered Orakio's tough-looking female assistants, and the big black sword at his side. Wasn't it funny how life went. A few minutes ago he could have been king. Now it seemed he was going to die. That sword could have been fighting for him.

"This isn't like you, Alec." Bran said, trying to splay for time.  "You're not a murderer.  I know you're still angry about what happened to your daughter, but killing me won't help you."

"You don't have the right to talk to me about Shusa," Alec said through clenched teeth.  "And I will kill you to stop you from bringing more of those things here, those robots.  I won't allow it."

Alec pointed his own plain silver steel sword at Bran's chest.

"Kill him."

Before anyone could draw a weapon of their own, the door behind Bran was flung open. Crazily, Bran thought Orakio had returned just in the nick of time. The voice told him otherwise. It was firm, but not as deep and mellow. Also the accents clearly said Rysel. He whipped around.

His friend from the riverbank was there, and his right hand was closed tightly around a needler. Behind him were a few others, less than Alec's men, mostly the people Bran also remembered from the riverbank, but the fact that they were armed with needlers, already drawn and at the ready, pretty much neutralized Alec's group.

"I think he's coming with us." the Rysellian said. "You okay, Bran?" His eyes never left Alec, who could barely contain his anger at being thwarted. Bran wondered whether he was angrier about that or about being caught in a politically compromising situation, namely, planning to murder the opposition.

"I was beginning to worry a bit, but I'm used to stress."

The Rysellian grinned. "I guess you're a little more politically innocent here in Landen than we are in Rysel. I had a feeling your best friend here would use this robot incident against you. We watched your house, saw you leave and saw some other watchers take up residence. Pretty obvious what they were up to. But I thought we'd give the man enough rope."

"He had enough to hang me from the first word!" Bran said. "Thanks for the rescue. So you don't think I'm consorting with the enemy?"

"All I know is you've opened up lines of communication with forces we never even knew existed. I'd say you're the most valuable man on the planet right now."

"How do you like that, Alec?" Bran said, tempting fate. "I'm the most valuable man on Mota."

"Kill them all!" Alec roared, and dived across the table.

The Rysellian fired immediately, but talking with Bran had made his aim and concentration waver, and the beams burned a hole in the wall Alec had once been standing in front of. Alec shot across the table and onto the floor, taking a swipe at Bran's legs. He jumped back but felt a sharp pain as Alec's blade cut into his shin. Alec's men drew their swords.

As nice as they looked, Bran's newfound friends were mostly in and behind the doorway, and were unable to fire accurately. "Move!" the leader yelled, shoving Bran through the doorway as the others cleared a path.

Bran, bleeding, stumbled out into the night. The Rysellians scattered as Alec's men charged through the doorway. A few shots were fired, but the thugs closed in for short-range combat. Alec emerged from the door, fury blazing in his eyes. He pointed the bloody sword tip at Bran. "You're mine now."

They were all alone in the middle of what was rapidly turning into a huge free-for-all. The clash of metal on metal had alerted the rest of the town that something was going on. Unfortunately, the picture to the newcomers looked like it was Rysellians versus natives. Alec's men found themselves reinforced. But there were those who came to the aid of the Rysellians, and Bran's rescuers had the superior weaponry.

Unfortunately, he himself had only his sword, and the pain flaring in his wounded leg gave Alec the advantage in the only fight Bran was really concerned with. He tried to back up and away but realized he ran the risk of blundering into the general melee. Alec stalked him determinedly.

"You're not leaving in the middle of things this time, Bran," Alec said. "Stay and hear me out, won't you?"

"Do I have a choice?"

"Not really."

Bran raised his sword. "I will fight you. I should have been fighting you the whole time."

Alec sneered. "Go right ahead. You may fight like a champion in your daydreams, but this is reality. You're not the hero you think you are."

Alec closed the distance rapidly. Bran took a swing at his rival, but Alec stepped back, and as the sword scythed through the air, aimed his own stroke at the blade and beat it further out of line. With Bran's sword across his body, Alec darted in and stabbed the back of Bran's hand. With a cry of pain, Bran dropped his sword and cradled his bleeding hand.

"Killed by a simple sword. I guess we know whose way was the strongest after all, don't we?" Alec said. "I think you were meant to die this way, proving your own stupidity. Now I'll rule Landen."

Alec hefted his sword and prepared for the deathstroke. Bran clenched his eyes shut. Into the silence of the night he sent up a last prayer to the god or gods of Palm and Mota, and hoped desperately that Alec, in his anger, would make it quick. Silence of the night? Suddenly Bran realized that he the fighting around him had stopped. He also realized that he was still alive.

Bran opened his eyes and saw that there were extremely good reasons for all of the above. Every single person except for him and a horrified Alec, was crumpled on the ground. He could only conclude that the black shapes advancing toward him from the shadows, and the larger one that had Alec securely by the throat had been responsible. He decided eyes shut was probably the best plan after all.