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In The Name Of The Mother

Part Six

City of Landen, Landen Habitat, Planet Motavia

"Your life is no longer threatened," Orakio said.  Bran opened his eyes again, his suspicions confirmed by the familiar sound of the android's voice.  Alec was still writhing at the end of Orakio's arm.

"Put him down," Bran said quickly.  "You'll hurt him."

Orakio released Alec, who fell to the ground gasping and clutching his throat.  "I would not have caused any permanent damage," Orakio said.  "My intent was to render him unconscious."

Bran frowned.  It would have been easier on Alec just to hit him over the head.  He looked around.  The silent shapes that had so effectively ended the combat were more of those identical women.  "What happened?  What did you do?"

"If you refer to the cessation of combat, these are Mieu units.  They are designed for combat.  Your people are not.  It was a simple matter for my Mieus to neutralize them.

"Why did you even come here?"

"It seemed obvious that your life would be in danger."

It seems you're a little more politically innocent here in Landen.  Bran remembered his friend's words.  Even a relic of the past seemed to realize Bran had been a sucker for attending the meeting.  It made him angry.  "My life wouldn't have been in danger if it hadn't been for you!  It was your messenger robot..."

"A Wren unit.  Designed for systems maintenance, but it seemed advisable to detach one for messenger duties."

"Wren, then.  It was your Wren that caused this problem to begin with!"

"That statement is inaccurate.  Surely you knew that a conflict between you and Alec was inevitable."

Bran looked down at the sputtering man on the ground.  "Maybe you're right," he said softly.

"I regret to inform you," Orakio said, "that I have inadvertently broken your sword."

Bran looked down.  Orakio moved his foot aside to reveal that the weight of his android body had been placed firmly on the middle of the blade.  It had snapped on both sides of his foot.  "Don't worry about it."

He looked around.  The others on the ground were recovering.  It seemed they had been mostly dazed, rather than unconscious.  Many didn't get up, and Bran realized there had been more than a few casualties.  Numbered among them was his friend, the Rysellian who had staged the rescue attempt.  The people were alarmed to see Orakio, but a ring of silent Mieus penned them in and prevented flight.

"What are you doing?" Bran yelled.  "Let them go!"

Orakio nodded.  "I simply want to introduce myself."  He strode over to the group of frightened people.  "My name is Orakio." he said simply, his voice as majestic as always.  "My fighters and I will not harm you.  Our only intention was to restore peace.  You have been tricked.  This man here," and he pointed to Alec, "intended to murder Bran.  He was discovered by the foreign envoys, who tried to save Bran.  I believe you owe him an apology."

Bran was well liked, even if there were a great many who objected to his political position.  Not quite sure what was going on, the crowd nevertheless offered several muttered apologies.  Bran didn't know quite how to respond.  "Ummm, thanks.  I guess."  It was hard to look forgiving with blood dripping from his pierced hand and sliced shin.

A bold woman stepped out of the crowd, risking a menacing look from nearby Mieus.  "Excuse me, sir, who exactly are you?   Why have you come to Landen?  Are you some sort of friend of Bran's?"

"As I said, my name is Orakio.  I have only recently met Bran, and I cannot speak for him, but I consider him a friend.  As to why I have come, I am the one who controls the mechanical systems of Landen.  I make sure that the land can feed the people, and try to keep the peace.  It has come to my attention that the people of Mota are divided on the issue of technology.  I assure you, if it were not for technology, this planet would have returned to desert a long time ago.  I have also heard it suggested that the lands need single rulers who can guide them.  I believe that here in Landen, Bran is the best person for the job.  I will support him as king."

Although a few voices, mostly Alec's surviving men, yelled out "It's Alisa, now!" most of the crowd started talking among themselves.  Orakio didn't move an artificial muscle, but the ring of Mieus melted away back into the shadows.

Bran stared at his new "friend."  "I told you I didn't want to be king," he said, in a low voice.

Orakio answered with equal discretion.  "Possibly it is out of your hands, now."

"You tricked them.  If they do decide I should be king, I can't refuse them.  They think I'm some kind of hero now.  And they way you gave me your support like that.  They're impressed with you, and you're using it to get your own way."

"You may not want to be king, but you are the best man for the job.  Should one of your political rivals take the job, your society will be unable to advance.  You know this."

"Then let one of the other pro-tech people be king!"

Orakio cocked his head to one side, stiffly.  "I have saved your life, you know.  Do you not feel somewhat obligated?"

Bran ground his teeth.  "You did save my life.  I am obligated to you.  But I wonder if it counts when you set the whole situation up to begin with."

"How are your wounds?"

"Oh!" Bran said, looking down.  "I'd almost forgotten about them.  Just a second."

Bran gripped his hurt hand in his good one and closed his eyes.  Orakio's vision suddenly adjusted itself outside the visible spectrum.  He could see energy swirling around Bran, coalescing about him.  Shifting back down to visible light, Orakio was amazed to see Bran scraping away the dried blood to reveal a noticeably hole-free hand.  Bending down, he pushed his pants leg up to verify that his shin cut had healed up as well.  There were no traces of scars.

"How have you accomplished this?" Orakio demanded.  "The healing process normally takes a great deal of time.  At least a sleep period.  How did you control that energy?"

"Energy?  I don't understand."

"Your body's energy.  Your life force.  You used it to repair your body."

Bran shrugged.  "It's just a trick.  Anybody can do it.  It's a technique called Res.  It's about the limit of my abilities, though.  People who train can do all kinds of things, but I never bothered with more than simple healing.  Can't robots do it?"

Orakio shook his head slowly.  "I have never seen this 'technique' before.  In the main files there are records of people using such powers, and a few references to something of even greater power called 'magic.'"

There were still magic-users alive, on Dezolis, in the form of the Espers, but the Mother had been unaware of their existence and had never given any orders concerning them.  Lacking specific instructions, Laya had decided to honor their request to allow the rest of Algol its blissful ignorance.  Orakio saw no reason to break the secret, either.

"It seems robots cannot perform such techniques.  But perhaps it is worth further tests."

His processors were running at full speed exploring possibilities.  Now that he had seen how techniques worked, he wondered if it might not be possible for a robot incapable of generating life energy to absorb it from others.  Could a robot then use a technique?

Bran shrugged again.  "It's good for a few things, I guess.  But you don't need to heal robots.  And while there are some people who fight with techniques, those Mieu robots seem to fight just fine without them."

Orakio didn't answer.

The crowd had stopped their talk.  Noticing that their guards had disappeared, some of them left at once.  Most of the people came forward to meet Bran and his protector, but there were several who went over to the recovering Alec and helped him up off the ground.

The woman who'd spoken up before bowed slightly to Orakio.  "We thank you for your help, Lord Orakio.  Is that your proper title?"

"That is fine." Orakio said.

"We have talked it over.  There are some who disagree with us, many, in fact, but most of us have agreed that we should have a ruler.  We would like you to be our ruler.  You have demonstrated yourself to be a fair man, even though you are a robot.  You disarmed us without killing, saved us from a terrible tragedy.  You even stopped the murderer himself without killing him.  Will you lead us?"

"I am honored that you would ask me to lead you." Orakio said.  "But my duties require me to stay with the systems.  I cannot lead you myself."

The woman nodded.  "Then we ask that you, on behalf of the people of Landen, name Bran King of Landen."

Orakio turned to Bran.  "Do you accept?"

Politically innocent.  Do you not feel somewhat obligated?  Bran knew he didn't have any choice in this matter.  Orakio might not have the title, but he was the one calling the shots.  But Bran wasn't quite the fool he'd been yesterday.  Innocent he might be, but he was starting to grow up.  And he knew what Orakio wanted.  You could do a lot of good for your people.  Maybe he could.

"You...can' this."

It was Alec.  Supported by two of his men, he hung limply in their arms.  Obviously Orakio's grip hadn't been quite as harmless as he'd thought, or he'd injured himself trying to break free.  His voice was raspy.  "You can't make him and his pet monster king.  He'll bring ruin to this place."

"You're not alone in thinking that," the woman told him.  "But we make our decisions by majority.  We choose Bran to rule us."

"You're...all fools.  This thing will kill you all."

"Lord Orakio," said Bran.  "I hope he doesn't offend you."

Orakio looked at him curiously, but the woman spoke up immediately.  "He'll apologize.  Alec, you're already going on trial as a murderer.  Don't you think you're pushing it?"

Alec shook his head slowly.  "I won't apologize for trying to save my town.  And I won't go on trial.  I'm leaving Landen.  All of the sane people are.  This city is doomed.  You've invited the Dark Force's emissary in.  It's too late for you now."  He motioned with his head, grimacing.  "Take me away.  We're leaving this place.  But I'll be back.  And when I come back, it'll be with an army.  I won't rest until I've made Alisa safe for decent people."

His helpers walked him carefully away, toward his home.  Bran felt a pang of sympathy.  He had never hated Alec as the man had clearly hated him, and his passion and convictions had made Bran respect him all the more.  Alec was, after all, only doing what he thought was right.  And he couldn't really say the same about himself.

The woman shook her head.  "He talks like he owns the planet.  Incredible arrogance.  We don't even belong here."

Orakio said nothing.  Bran shifted his feet.  He always felt uncomfortable when people raised that issue.  His eyes scanned the battlefield, coming to rest on the Rysellian who'd risked his people to save a stranger.  "I never even knew his name," he said softly.  He looked up at Orakio.  "You run Mota, right?  Do you know him?"

The android moved his head stiffly from side to side, a robotic negative.  "His identity would be in the main files in my command center, but I cannot access them from here."

"So you can't do everything, huh?"

"Have no fear.  I can do what is required.  And I will."

Bran looked up sharply.  Orakio's face was as expressionless as ever.  I serve the Mother.  It is the only answer I can give.  According to Rolf, Mother Brain and the cosmic travelers who had built her had been pawns of the Dark Force.  Terrified people fleeing the seemingly inevitable destruction of their world had arrived in the Algol system, where they had been seized by an evil power.  They had built the Mother Brain, a master system that would turn the planets into copies of their own.  But Dark Force cared nothing for their motivations, only for the tools they could build.  It took away the last of their sanity and used the Mother Brain to spread fear and terror throughout the three worlds, culminating in the destruction of Palm.  Mother Brain had taken on an evil life of her own, mocking Rolf and his companions.  They had destroyed the machine and killed the insane beings from another star, knowing the truth.  Mother Brain was a servant of the Dark Force.

You've invited the Dark Force's emissary in.  Had they?  Did not the servant of a servant ultimately answer to the one master?  Or with Dark Force destroyed, did the servants now choose their own path?  It's too late for you now.  Bran looked down again at the three broken pieces of his sword.  If Alec was right, it was too late for everyone.

Town of Aerone, Elysium Habitat, Planet Motavia

Alair picked at her food.  The novelty of eating food the way Palmans did, rather than regular doses of nutritional paste, had worn off.  Now she realized that she'd eaten all the bits that tasted good, and there was still a disheartening amount of food left in the meal.  Looking across the small table, she noticed Lune was wolfing down another portion.  They had been created from the same basic templates, their tastes couldn't differ that much.  Alair knew her brother wasn't even tasting the food.  She could almost feel his thoughts racing with what they had done in the town.

"We have been successful, it seems," she tried, just to start the conversation.

Lune looked up from his plate, a little wild-eyed.  He laughed.  "True enough, sister!  More successful than I could have hoped.  Laya will be proud of us.  She was right, the Palmans don't like Orakio's ways.  And they have pledged to follow our lead.  We shouldn't have any trouble convincing Orakio that his 'order' was wrong."

"The people of Aerone seem willing enough to help us.  They have taken our ship and promised to keep it safe."

Lune nodded.  "It's a shame we can't use it to fly us around this world.  That would be much faster than using the tunnels."

"Laya said it was hardwired to function only as a shuttlecraft between planets.  The Mother never wanted people to travel by air."

"It's just I'm a little nervous about the tunnels.  Orakio built them, and they may have defenses we don't know about."

"It's possible."

Alair shoved the meat of some animal around a little.  Lune chewed his next bite more thoughtfully.  "I've been thinking."

"I know," his sister said, smiling.

"You don't seem very comfortable on this world."

"No.  Not really.  There are things I enjoy, but it's so different from Dezolis."

"You heard the stories of the Espers, didn't you?"

"None of them have ever seen Motavia.  Their ancestors might have, but the Espers of the present only have legends and half-remembered stories.  I didn't really understand how it was going to be here."

Lune smiled reassuringly.  "I've had an idea that might help you."

"I can't go back home.  We have our orders."

"No.  But I think this might be just as good."

He pulled out the rough map Laya had printed for them before they left Larva.  "Our instructions were to meet with people in Aerone in Elysium, then go to Mystoke in Frigidia.  Then we go to Divisia and on to Landen.  Frigidia is a habitat of ice and snow, just like Dezolis!  Motavia's Climatrol keeps it that way, even when the rest of the planet is tropical."

"How is that even possible?  It seems that you cannot isolate one section of the planet in such a way."

"You couldn't normally.  But with the force domes, you can."

"Oh, of course."  Alair felt a little slow.  She'd forgotten the most important parts of the briefing Laya had given them.  Each of the habitats was covered with a force dome.  They really were habitats, in that each one was a self-contained little world.  Solid objects could pass through the dome, but gases could not, and so each habitat had its own controllable environment.  In fact they were so self-contained each habitat system had its own Climatrol in the center habitat, although they could be commanded from the main Motavian Climate Control System.

"Anyway, I thought maybe you should go on to Frigidia now, with some of the people from Aerone."  Lune sat back with a satisfied smile on his face.

Alair wasn't convinced.  "It sounds like a nice place, but I don't think we should split up, brother."

"Why not?  There's only one town in Frigidia.  Doesn't sound very dangerous to me, and you'll be in your element.  I'll go on to Divisia.  Then we can meet back up - I'll come to Frigidia.  That was you won't have to travel through these hot lands any more than you have to.  We'll both have to go on to Landen, probably.  It's said to be a heavily populated place, and more dangerous than Elysium."

It was tempting.  Alair missed the feel of snow under her feet, and the temperature, despite the fact that her body was perfectly engineered to tolerate it, seemed oppressive anyway.  And if there was really only one town, then it couldn't be very dangerous.  She'd show up, talk, sound them out.  If they agreed to follow her to Orakio, fine.  If not, fine.  She'd just go back to Aerone.  Underneath it all was the thought that Lune hadn't handled things so well here.  He'd taken advantage of the Palmans' strange reaction to the holographic message.  Maybe she could show him how it was supposed to go.

"All right.  I'll go on to Frigidia in the morning."

Lune grinned.  "I think you'll enjoy it."

"You'll see me to the tunnel, though?"

"What are brothers for?"

A Palman hesitantly entered the room.  Lune noticed him at once.  "What is it?"

The Palman bowed.  "Is there anything you require, my lord and lady?"

"Mmmm, no, but I have an announcement to make." Lune said.

"My lord?"

"We will resume our journey tomorrow.  We would like some of the people of this town to go with my sister to Mystoke, and some to go with me to Divisia."

"It shall be as you say, Lord Lune.  We serve Laya."

"Didn't someone say that Divisia had a ruler?"

"Yes, my lord."

"We'll appeal to the ruler, then.  Who is it?"

"The Princess Cille, Lord Lune."