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In The Name Of The Mother

Part Nine


West of Divisia, Elysium Habitat, Planet Motavia

It was really amazing how different things were from the world of his ancestors.  Bran breathed in the woodsy scent of the deep forests of the land.  His land was one of plains and grasses, with the occasional forest here and there, a few hills.  Nothing like this one, really.  But on the march toward Divisia, they'd passed a ruin.  A ruin that could easily be all that was left of one of the fantastically high-tech cities of ancient Mota.

Rolf's story, and other tales passed down through the centuries, had said that once all of Mota was a soft carpet of evenly cut grass, with majestic forests and peaceful rivers.  All artificial.  Robots had kept the grass even and built the metal channels that brought the rivers from the sea to the lake that in turn supplied all of Mota with fresh water.  Here and now, the metal had long since disappeared; looted and scavenged by desperate people.  The rivers had cut new courses through the soil, and the grass had gone from neatly trimmed lawn to wild savannah.

It was Orakio, Bran had realized, that had kept things from going completely to pieces.  Mota was not the paradise of his ancestors, but it was a viable planet, and it wasn't due to the hard work of his people, but to the hard work of Orakio's.  Had his people really progressed all that far from the days when everything had been handed to them on a silver platter?

Yes, they had, he told himself firmly.  Perhaps they had some secret assistance in physically surviving the rough times, but they turned themselves from a hopeless and helpless ragtag bunch into a strong people that were moving forward into new areas, understanding the things their ancestors had never bothered to.  When paradise came again, it wouldn't depend on some master machine.

He didn't ask Orakio what the ruin had been.  It didn't really matter.

Besides, Orakio (and Bran was slowly understanding that the android was never, even on a good day, going to be a cheerful, outgoing companion) had somehow, in some unexplainable way, seemed a bit withdrawn.  Bran was used to the silences from the robot, but it was as though Orakio was a little worried about what he was going to find in Aerone.  Something was bothering him, and Bran struggled with himself over whether to offer help.

He gave in.  "Is something wrong, Orakio?"

They were a little ahead of the others, a group of four of the more diplomatic ex-councilors Kara could round up.  Add Bran and you got five, and Orakio said that was a good number.  Bran was king and chief diplomat, but of course it was Orakio who was running the operation.  The other diplomats were chatting casually now as they skirted the edge of the beautiful forests, but they would jump to attention if they thought Orakio needed or wanted something.  Bran spoke softly so as not to get them worried over nothing.

"Of course something is wrong.  We are journeying to correct the problem."

Bran shook his head.  "I don't mean the ship.  I mean you, personally."

"I am functioning at an acceptable rate."

"You seem...distressed?"

Orakio looked at him.  "You know that is not so.  But I believe I see your meaning.  I have been away from my post for too long.  It is my hope that the situation will be corrected as soon as possible, and I can return to my duties swiftly."

"Your Wrens will alert you if there are any emergencies, right?"  Bran said it a little sharply.  When they had departed, the people of Landen had not been happy.  The heroes of the hour were Orakio, Bran, and then Kara, in that order, and Bran and Orakio were leaving.  Orakio had assured them that it was necessary, and the people had quieted down, but they were still unhappy.  To solve the problem, Orakio had posted Wrens to either side of the throne.  Messages given to the Wrens, he'd said, would come to him.  If there were truly problems that Kara couldn't solve, or serious emergencies, he could be notified, and would respond.

No particular mention was made of Bran.  He couldn't help but notice it.  Again, it wasn't that he was jealous of the robot, or arrogant enough to think he could solve any problem, but if he was going to get cut out of the decision-making, what was the point of his new office?

He was just fine playing backup to Orakio in this situation, though.  If he was out of his element as a fledgling king, he was definitely out of it on some mysterious expedition to seize and destroy an alien spacecraft and possibly two aliens as well.  Orakio had advised going around Divisia, and that was definitely sound advice.  Princess Cille would more than likely cause trouble.  No, straight to Aerone, get this mess over with.  Orakio could go back to his underground hideout and Bran could go back to Landen.

"Yes." said Orakio.

Sure.  That didn't mean the android didn't do whatever passed for worry in his electronic mind.  Bran could understand.

"There it is," he said, in some relief.  The light at the end of the tunnel, better known as Aerone, its buildings just visible beyond the bridge.

"Is it normal for there to be guards at the bridge?"

Abruptly, everyone stopped.

"What?" Bran peered ahead.  "I don't see anybody."

"They are attempting to remain concealed."

"Your eyes must be pretty good."

"I have..." Orakio paused.  "I have other types of vision available to me."

Bran shook his head.  How could you have other types of vision?  Even if you had more eyes that didn't mean you could see farther.  "I don't believe it's normal.  What should we do?"

"If they are attempting to remain concealed it is unlikely that they are ceremonial.  They will more than likely challenge our right to enter the town."

"I think you're right.  But the bridge is the only way to cross the river."

"An excellent location for a town.  The access is easily defended."

"I can admire it, but at the moment it's a big problem.  You think this is the result of the ship?"

"That is the logical conclusion."

"Well," Bran said, "Logically speaking, we don't know they're here to stop us.  In fact, they could just as easily have expelled the passengers and are trying to prevent their return.  Am I right?"

"You are correct."

"How many are there?"

"Two."

"All right.  We can take two, even if they are against us.  I say we proceed on.  The longer we stand here, the more trouble that ship is going to cause."

Orakio nodded.  "Let us proceed."

Bran was feeling better about himself than he had since the whole mess began.  The Landen people were looking at him expectantly.  He was the leader, after all.  They might not call him Lord, but they'd follow where he led.

"You'd better let me go first," he said.  Orakio didn't move, so Bran advanced onto the bridge.  As soon as he set foot on it, the two guards emerged from the forest.

"Identify yourself!" called one.

Bran stopped.  "I am Bran, King of Landen.  I am here on a mission of peace, to talk to the people of Aerone."

The guards exchanged glances.  "You may come in, King Bran!" said the speaker.

"Logic," Bran said to Orakio.

The six came down the bridge.  As they drew nearer to the end, the guards suddenly stepped forward onto the bridge.  "Who are your companions?" said one.

Bran pulled up short.  It was pretty obvious what the problem was.  But he wasn't going to make it easy for them.  "These are diplomats from Landen."

"He is not from Landen, is he?"

"Who...?"

Orakio cut him off.  "I am not from Landen, no.  But I too am on a mission of peace to talk to your people.  My name is Orakio."

"Orakio?!"  said the guards, in a unison full of surprise and anger.

"Is there a problem?" Orakio asked.

"You're the problem," hissed the guard on the right.  As one the guards unsheathed their swords.

"Wait!" said Bran, his voice cracking in panic.  "Why...?"

The guard on the left raised his sword high and swung it at the king of Landen.  Orakio whipped his arm forward and around Bran and caught the edge of the sword on it.  It bit into the metal with a brilliant flash of sparks.  The guard, totally unprepared, dropped the sword and flung himself backwards.  The sword slid out of the neat slice in Orakio's arm and clattered on the planks of the bridge.  The other guard stopped short, his eyes a little wild.

Orakio's right arm grabbed Bran by the shoulder and pushed him behind him.  The robot brought up his black sword into a guard position.

"What kind of thing are you?" said the guard who had attacked, picking himself up.  "Nobody can just take a sword like that."

"Why do you wish to destroy me?" Orakio asked evenly.  "Who told you of my existence?"

"The god did," said the guard on the bridge.  "Laya, the God of Palm!  She told us you needed to be stopped!"

God of Palm!  Bran could hardly believe his ears.  What did they mean by that?  His sarcastic reference to Alec as the God of Palm was all he could think of.

Orakio's mind was in almost as much turmoil.  The ship was here, and whoever was on it had done their job better than his worst-case scenarios.  For once he'd gambled and lost.  Laya wanted him destroyed?  She must be seriously malfunctioning if she was trying to persuade Palmans to destroy him.  What had happened to her, on Dezolis?  Somehow, she had gone seriously wrong.  He would have to communicate with her as soon as possible.  Just as soon as he destroyed the ship and the passengers.

The black sword lashed out.  Orakio battered the sword of the guard to his right and ran his own through the Aeronian's left shoulder.  The guard cried out in pain and dropped his sword.  He clutched at the wound with his now unweaponed hand.  Orakio spun the sword around his head and bit deeply into the guard's side.  He sank to his knees, eyes staring wide open, and Orakio lifted the bloody weapon over his head.  Bran turned away as the android swung the sword, burying it in the already dying man's skull.

It was the kind of brutal efficiency Bran should have pictured Orakio using in a fight.  A wound to disarm, a wound to kill, a final blow to put him out of his misery, since the opportunity was there.  The thing was, the guard had never had a chance.  There were no more warriors on Mota.  Certainly none of Orakio's caliber.

Orakio advanced on the unarmed guard.  The man backed up, but his eyes never left Orakio's, and the blazed with hatred.  "Who was on the ship?" Orakio said, his voice as calm as it had ever been.  "Who came to Mota from Dezo?"

"You knew they were from Dezo.  You are the Orakio she told us about.  I won't tell you anything."

"You will tell me," Orakio said.  "The only issue is whether or not you will survive the telling."

"Threats don't scare me."

"That is not a threat.  It is a necessity."

The guard was unaware of Orakio's exceptional reach.  The tip of Orakio's sword flicked out and cut his cheek before he was even aware that the android had made his move.  "Tell me who was on the ship."

"To die in the service of my god is all I ask for." said the guard defiantly.  "The priests say that I will live on forever in another world if that happens."

"It is possible," Orakio nodded.  "I have no evidence that it will not.  You will have the opportunity to find out."

With that, the black sword sheared into the fanatic's neck.  He swayed and toppled to the ground, his eyes wide open and staring into the distance, perhaps into that other world.  Orakio wiped both sides of the sword carefully on the grass, and sheathed it.

"I think it would be unwise for me to proceed further," Orakio said.  "It would seem that somehow, Laya's people have turned the town against me.  However, if we are to find the identities and locations of the passengers, you should investigate."

Bran looked behind him.  The expressions of the other four were varying degrees of sick mixed with grimness.  It was difficult to accept the slaughter that had just been done here.  And while the diplomats seemed to understand that the men had been crazed and determined to kill Orakio, and that it was them or him, Bran was nowhere near as certain.  Orakio couldn't be killed so easily.  And, come to that, they only had his word that he didn't need killing.  What if Aerone was a town that knew the truth about Orakio?

"I don't think we should go on," Bran said slowly.  "The guards are dead.  If they are missed, we'll be blamed.  The guards might even be required to escort visitors.  We could be killed before we even open our mouths."

"True."

"You know the ship is here."  Bran was thinking fast.

Orakio said nothing.

"Can the ship travel around the planet?"

"No.  Such vessels are not programmed for any kind of complicated navigation.  It can return to Dezo, nothing more."

"Then it's not going anywhere.  And the passengers..."

"They are the priority, at this point."

"Wait a minute.  You said you scanned for them when they came down.  Why can't you just do that now?"

"I could from my command center.  I lack long-range scan facilities away from it.  The last scan showed them in Aerone."

"They could have moved on.  I'm starting to think we should go back to Divisia."

"Your reasoning?"

"Divisia is the only other town in this land.  There are three lands that you can reach from this one.  One of them is mine, and if they went there, they would have had to go through or at least near Divisia to get to the tunnel.  The trouble is I don't know anything about the other two lands, or where the tunnels to them are."

"To the south and east.  Both are harsh climates.  One is uninhabited, the other has only one town.  The desert land is uninhabited.  The ice land has a single town, and the climate would more than likely suit the passengers.  Also," he added, "the tunnel to the ice land is on the Aerone side of the river."

"That makes it a pretty good bet, then.  And we can't get there from here now.  Like I said, let's go back to Divisia and rest.  I don't relish the idea of dealing with Cille, but she'll be very interested to know the changes that have taken place down here.  She could give us troops to escort us through Aerone.  Or she might even know the passengers and where they are."

"That assumes," Orakio said, "that Divisia has not already been influenced by the passengers."

City of Divisia, Elysium Habitat, Planet Motavia

He was good. Cille had to admit it.  All her attempts to find out what Lune's actual mission was had been met with cryptic answers that the man pretended to be unable to explain further, or simple looks of confusion.  He played the game well.  Too bad he underestimated his opponent.  Cille didn't buy the innocent act for a minute.

They were having dinner, or attempting to, in the same hall where she had first heard his amazing message and questioned him.  She had discovered that the one subject he didn't have any problem talking about was Dezo itself.  It sounded like a horrible place to her, all snow and ice, but Lune seemed to like it.

"So the Dezo people don't have cities?"

"They had them once, but they don't ned them anymore.  They live in the ruins of the cities the Palm people built."

"The colonists," Cille murmured.  "There are still stories about what happened to them.  Dezo wasn't kind to our people."

Lune nodded.  "It's not an appropriate environment for Palm people."

"And yet you live there."

"I'm not exactly like your people."

Lune wasn't sure if he should explain his unique nature to the people.  Laya hadn't given him any instructions one way or the other.  He hated to lie to these people, who had shown him nothing but hospitality, but telling them the truth would probably only complicate things.

"Do all your people carry devices like that?"  Cille nodded at the slasher tucked into Lune's belt.

"It's a wepaon.  And no, I'm the only one who has one, as far as I know."

"A weapon?  Doesn't look like any sword or staff I've ever seen."

"It's a special weapon."  It was most definitely not a good idea to discuss weapons technology.

Cille wiped her lips with a cloth.  Lune still hadn't actually eaten anything, she noticed.  Was he afraid of it?  You couldn't hurt somebody with food, unless you counted stomach aches if it was badly cooked.  Maybe he really was just used to other kinds of food.

"Lune, I don't want to delay you.  You want to get on with your mission, I know.  I'm sorry Divisia can't join with you, but we like things just fine the way they are."

"You support Orakio, then?  It's just that some of my people have been telling me that some of your people are unhappy with his actions.  I know you are the ruler, but if your subjects want to join our group, shouldn't you?"

Cille narrowed her eyes.  "I know your Aeronians have been trying to convert my people.  Don't play the innocent with me."

"I'm not playing anything.  I don't understand half the things you say.  Are you telling me you're ignoring your people's wishes?"

"I guess if that's how you want to interpret it."

Lune frowned.  "That's not right."

Cille was suddenly aware of something going on outside the door to the hall.  There were loud voices, and the clash of steel on steel.  She rose from her chair.

"What's going on out there?" she called.  Had Lune's people made their move?

She was answered by a series of resounding crashes.  The great door shivered apart into fragments.  Behind the door were the honor guards, slumped over to either side, and three men.  One of them, who was a good head taller than the others, held a massive black sword in a position that suggested the door had been a good warm-up, and he was now ready for any further mayhem that might be needed.

His clothing was ripped in several places, and what she saw under it made her pause and reconsider her assessment of the situation.  He wasn't a man at all.  More visiotrs from another world?  Choking on the dust, the other two men stumbled into the room.  Their clothes were in even worse condition, and their were bloody wounds clearly visible on both of them.

"Nice place you've got here," said one, coughing.  "I'm Bran, King of Landen.  And we're all that's left of a diplomatic entourage on a peaceful mission.  It's a good thing we didn't come here to declare war."

Cille gaped.  Her mind was spinning.  "And who is your friend?" she heard herself ask.

"His name," said Lune, rising slowly, "is Orakio."

"Lune." said Orakio.  "As I surmised.  Where is your sister?"

"You have killed people?" Lune said incredulously.  "These people are your responsibility!"

"It was regrettable, but necessary.  As is your own death.  You cannot be allowed to disrupt this culture any longer."

Lune threw his slasher with stunning speed.  Orakio whipped his arm up in front of himself to catch the spinning blade as he had done with swords, but Lune had been practicing, and he was not aiming directly for Orakio.  The slasher spun off to to the right, then suddenly broke to the left and hurtled directly towards the side of his neck.  The hum of the deadly weapon filled the room.