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Child Of Darkness

Chapter Eleven


Just another normal day on Motavia, Chaz thought to himself -- hot, dry, no hope of relief. Days are long, years are short, and it seems like there is never enough time to do anything. I guess the past days' events have spoiled me a bit. Being out there again, as a Hunter, was pure heaven, but I think it may have done more bad than good. I should have realized from the beginning that it would be like dangling food before a ravenous beast. I couldn't ignore its calling, though, or else Fenlye, Jan, and Bjorn would be dead now. Someone else might have stepped up eventually and saved them -- no, no, there is no doubt. We made the right choice and fortunately no one got hurt in the process.

Chaz and his friends returned from their sojourn three days ago filled with renewed vigor. Like the lone puddle of water on a sea of sand, however, the vigor evaporated, leaving only a vague impression of what it once was. Ever since then, they lazed around like bumps on a log, not wanting and really not needing to do anything else. Out of luck, Hahn was able to wire his father in Krup to send some meseta, his hosts a little short since they did not accept the Nance's reward. With it, he provided enough food and water to sustain them while he, Gryz, and Pana visited.

Rika took a break from her search for employment, not wanting to be an ungracious host. Also, an extreme heat wave scorched Motavia's surface and made living almost unbearable. No one walked Aiedo's streets. Those who were brave enough to do so found themselves seeking refuge in a neighbor's home or in some other building. These heat waves were not uncommon. This one seemed to be more intense than any other, however.

Gryz and Pana, being more naturally suited to extreme heat, volunteered to run around and do errands for Chaz in the daytime. They even found themselves making a few extra meseta by doing favors for a few of Aiedo's citizens. Chaz and Rika could do little and they felt guilty for such impositions placed on their guests. It was like they were taking care of them while they stayed when it should have been the other way around. They vowed that the favor would be returned -- someday.

Evening began to settle in and like reptiles and serpents, Aiedo's people came from their dwellings to conduct business. Ever since Motavia's frequent heat waves began, businesses tended to open near dusk and remain open til dawn. Many cities were completely nocturnal, all of their activities conducted under night's coolness. Like all desert climates, though, sometimes night felt very cold. Without vegetation to prevent heat from radiating out into space, the temperature would occasionally drop almost fifty degrees within hours. In all actuality, evening temperatures were very pleasant, but the rapid drop was like alcohol evaporating off of one's skin.

It was evening when Chaz and Rika decided to take a walk on Aiedo's outskirts, informing their guests of their intentions. Of course, no one said a single word. When Chaz was forced to quickly rediscover his Techniques and Skills, he almost completely recovered from his condition. His wife had not been able to spend any quality time with him since then, and their guests wanted them to do just that.

Silence reigned outside of town. Only distant cries of night creatures hunting for prey or finding it was audible. Husband and wife strolled gaily together, the cool sand felt heavenly flowing between their toes. "Oh, how I've missed doing this," Rika sighed, her smile radiant even in the faint star light. Her grip tightened around his hand and, following his wife's lead, Chaz stopped and sat against one of Aiedo's bordering walls. The Hunter held out a handful of sand and let it fall back into its element. "Just like the old days, huh?" Rika whispered softly.

"Yeah," Chaz replied.

"What is it, Chaz?"

"Nothing really."

"Chaz, I know when something is bothering you. Now, tell me before I have to force it out of you." Chaz stared deeply into her eyes and knew that she was perfectly capable of doing such a thing. In her eyes he saw joy, happiness, everything she experienced ever since their meeting. But there were other things present there as well, things speaking of hurt, anger, indifference, and hopelessness. He had to fight an urge to break down and cry in his wife's arms, using her shoulder for comfort, wisely deciding against it. Whenever he wept, she wept, too, and he did not want her to share his grief. Rika was his life, plain and simple.

He remembered the first time they ventured out here, before they even married. Against protestations offered by neighbors (biomonsters were still fairly common at that time), the lovers ventured out into night's comfort, thrill of danger fresh and invigorating. They walked Aiedo's perimeter, jumping at every sound, giggling like children spying on their parents. Neither was armed, a choice made jointly to heighten the experience. Eventually they made it back around to the city's entrance where they were greeted by many of its concerned citizens who dared not to leave Aiedo in search of them. Chaz and Rika thanked them for their concern, but assured them it was not needed. Relieved, the neighbors and citizens returned to their homes.

This time was different, though. There were no concerned neighbors this time, no menacing biomonsters. This time only two souls existed outside Aiedo's walls, intertwined like Caduceus. Chaz broke his gaze with Rika. "I just want to thank you for standing by me during these hard times," he said. "What you've done for me I could never repay." Rika started, but he raised a negating hand indicating that he was not finished speaking yet. "I won't lie to you, Rika. With Motavia in the condition it's in, there may be even more difficult times ahead of us. Things are likely to get even worse than they are and I may not stay the way I am now for long." Chaz was suddenly melancholy, averting his eyes. "If you want to -- I mean, if I --"

"Don't even go there, Chaz," Rika ordered. "I seem to remember having this discussion before. Have you such little faith in my love for you?"

"No, it's the faith in my being a good husband to you I'm worried about."

"Don't worry about it," Rika snuggled closer to her husband, "right now I want to concentrate on loving you." The Hunter wrapped a caressing arm around his wife, pulling her close. Rika stared up into the starlit sky and found comfort in its serenity. "Look, Chaz!" she exclaimed, "a shooting star!" He looked up into the night and saw a beautiful streamer of light slowly streak across Motavia's upper atmosphere. "Let's make a wish!" Chaz did not have to tell his wife what he wished for because it was the wish of every Palman. He wished for an environment where everybody on Motavia could thrive without any threat of being scorched by its sun. He wished he could start a family and provide for them successfully without having to worry whether or not a child would reach adolescence. So common was this wish it became known as Palman's Hope.

Even their Motavian neighbors were disconcerted to see them in such low spirits, including them in their prayers occasionally. Yes, they would regain their planet if all Palmans died off, but that was not their wish. Like all other beings, they desired peaceful coexistence and would have nothing to gain from the Palmans' demise. To suffer is one thing, but to see someone else suffer and know you cannot do anything about it -- well, that was the Motavians' credo.

Chaz and Rika rested peacefully, their eyes fixated on the beautiful shooting star. The Hunter watched with intense interest -- he had not seen one of these in what felt like forever and was determined not to miss a moment of it. While he watched, a peculiar event occurred. It stopped, in mid-flight, like it was tied to a tether and ran out of slack. A maze of endless possibilities ran through his mind on what it could be, but none thoroughly explained what he and Rika just witnessed. Slowly, gradually, it began to enlarge, its light becoming more brilliant, more defined. If he did not know better, he could have sworn that it was heading --

"Chaz," Rika interrupted his stream of thoughts, "do you get the impression that our 'shooting star' is coming right at us?"

"Actually, yes, I do."

"What do you think it is?"

"Well, if it's a meteor, this will be a very short date." Chaz stopped without another word. He thought of what he just said and realized that he used humor to ease his nervousness. Many months passed since last he did that, and it felt kind of good. "It could be a ship."

"But who's? No one we know of has a spacecraft unless it's --" Rika gasped, a hand coming over her mouth in surprise, "you don't suppose it's --"

"I think we'll find out in a few moments."

Husband and wife sprung to their feet, the object increasing in size as it rapidly neared their present location. Then its descent slowed, and Chaz was able to make out an outline of some spacecraft and external flood lights. The craft halted almost directly above them and began to descend downward. "Chaz?" Rika asked fearfully, ready to flee at a moment's notice. He placed an assuring hand on her, keeping her close. Sand began to swirl up and around, stinging every part of their bodies that was exposed. Rika crouched down against Aiedo's wall, her back facing the ship, and Chaz covered her even more. He could feel a curious burning sensation on his back from being sandblasted and had to fight to keep from crying out. The Hunter saw his wife's hand fly out from underneath him and emit a short burst of light, then suddenly his pain stopped -- sand was no longer swirling around them!

Feeling Rika stir from beneath, Chaz moved over and let her up. Lights from the ship were blinding, so he averted his eyes from them. "What did you do?"

"I used Deban. We surely would have suffocated from all this blowing sand if I hadn't." Now that she mentioned it, he could see the most distinguishing characteristic of Deban, namely its dense compression of air, shimmering faintly in the spacecraft's lights. There was a different problem arising, though. As the spacecraft approached, its engines became ear-shattering and nothing could be done to silence it. Luckily, it did not take long for it to land and soon its engines began to power down. Air vents opened, allowing the ship's interior to repressurize. After Rika's Technique faded, husband and wife returned to their feet, backs against a wall.

Chaz heard numerous metal locks opening, metal scraping on metal. A strange combination of curiosity and fear overcame him when a large ramp began to lower, bright lights shining outward. The Hunter could not help but feel that this spacecraft was familiar in some way. Two figures emerged at its entrance, standing as if to survey a town not seen since childhood. "I told you it would be easy enough to land here without any trouble," a female voice said. "We don't need that old spaceport after all." Again Chaz was hit by that same feeling of familiarity he experienced upon seeing these strange travellers' ship, but could not put his finger on it. "Oh, Palmans!" the voice exclaimed. "Wait a second . . . Chaz? Rika? Is that you?" Recognition suddenly hit the Hunter like a bag of lead bricks, but his wife was a step ahead of him.

"Demi!" Rika blurted out. "Is that Wren with you?"

"Hello, Rika," Wren said calmly. "It pleases me to see you once again."

Chaz and Rika ran to their friends, stopping just short of the ramp. Wren entered a sequence of numbers into a keypad and the Landale's exterior flood lamps dimmed. Once their eyes adjusted, they could see intermittent flashes of indicator lights on their android friends' bodies. While Demi rushed off of her spacecraft to greet the people she had not seen in three years, Wren chose a more subtle, reserved approach. "You both look well," he commented.

"As do you, my friend," Chaz replied. "So," he reached up and patted Wren on his shoulder plate, "how is your circuitry holding up after spending these past few years in space?"

"I am functioning within established parameters."

"Still haven't lost that old charm, eh?"

"Rika," Demi broke in, "you look radiant! Something is different about you though, both of you." The android took a moment and looked her friends over, her optics stopping at a point where Chaz and Rika held hands. "Look, Wren, Rika's wearing a ring. I wonder --" Demi gasped, "Rika! Did you and Chaz --"

"Yes," Chaz interrupted, "it's true. We are now husband and wife."

"I congratulate you," said Wren. "I knew it was meant to be ever since I saw the way you used to look at one another. I told you to follow your heart, Rika, and that is exactly what you did." Upon saying this, Wren's friend ran to him and locked her arms around his large, bulky body. "Your presence was greatly missed as well."

Once the four friends dispensed with formalities, Chaz and Rika began their journey back to Aiedo's entrance. The Landale was locked up securely so that no curious travellers or thieves could gain entrance and steal any of its precious equipment. While Motavia's sands hindered Chaz, Demi and Wren had no problems trekking across it. They barely got half way to their destination before Gryz and Hahn rounded the corner. Stunned, out of breath, they nearly dropped dead at the sight of Wren. In the dark, he was nearly as large and ominous as Zio himself. Luckily for the android (or lucky for Gryz and Hahn, depending on one's point of view), neither was armed. "Who?" Hahn panted, "what?"

"Greetings, my friend."

"Wren?"

"Wren!" the big Motavian exclaimed. "How've you been?" Wren did not say a word, but instead just continued on his way. "What's with him?"

"I'll explain it to you later," said Demi. "Let's just get inside town and settle in first."

The entire time Demi and her friends conversed, Wren was withdrawn, melancholic. Much to his distress, he had to listen to Demi's explanation of what became of Zelan, reliving every moment with each word spoken, spears driven through his mechanical heart. Rika's concern for her friend was painfully evident, tears glistening in her eyes like dew glistening on a delicate rose petal in the morning's early hours. Chaz wrapped a comforting arm around his wife's shoulders, offering support to her failing composure. Footsteps heavy, Wren finally sought egress and left his hosts' home. Demi started after him, but Chaz suggested that he should be the one to go.

He found Wren facing Motavia's endless sea of sand from just within Aiedo's boundaries. Taciturn, corpse-like, the Hunter almost feared approaching him out of fear of shattering his stolidity. Wren displayed a typical male persona when faced with certain situations, mainly displaying a cool collectiveness that was decisive and often without emotion. There was another side to him that many others did not pick up on, though, a side that was repressed, forced into submission by a dark secret. For the most part, Chaz and his friends paid scant attention to it, but now they could not because it was tearing their friend apart.

Wren remained, as always, ever-vigilant, sensing everything around him, knowing Chaz was approaching but not acknowledging his presence. Chaz felt pity for his friend, for what he must have been feeling. He was well aware that he should take care not to let his pity show because Wren would only resent it. "Wren?"

"Chaz," the android cooly acknowledged. The Hunter took up a position next to his friend.

"What are you looking at?" For an instant, Chaz could have sworn that Wren sighed, indicating some kind of despair.

"Darkness," the android replied. "If I stand here long enough, it almost reminds me of space, back on Zelan. It was my heart and soul." He was speaking metaphorically, an attribute Chaz picked up on long ago which stressed Wren's view of the universe as a whole as well as his own personal universe.

"Wren, what happened up there? I mean what really happened -- to you, that is?"

"Chaz," the android seemed to deftly evade his query, "do you remember your mother?" Chaz was blind-sided by the suddenness and nature of Wren's question, leaving him speechless. The android turned and faced him for the first time and stared into his eyes. He could sense Wren's melancholy, suppressed, but undeniably present.

"My mother died when I was very young, Wren, almost too young for me to remember, and my father did as well. I guess I was about five years-old. A lot of what I do remember is just vague imagery, impressions, hints of emotions. Why do you ask?"

"And because what you remember of your parents is only vague," he once again succeeded in evading Chaz's inquiry, "did you love them, your parents, any less?"

"Wren, this is so unlike you. What is going on?"

"Please, just answer the question." Chaz grunted, not understanding the importance or relevance of these questions that his friend deemed it necessary to ask. Much of what Wren did or said was often shrouded in a veil of ignorance, or innocence, depending on how one chose to look at it. Perhaps, the Hunter thought, he was not being so out-of-character.

"No, I suppose not."

"You suppose?"

"Okay -- no, I didn't love my parents any less because I had less time to get to know them than most people. The Palman emotional construct is sometimes difficult to understand. I love my parents every time I think of them, but that wasn't always so. For a very long time I hated them with every fibre of my being, hated them for leaving me alone and unprotected. I was very bitter and resentful toward the world that was cruel enough to take away my mother when I was barely out of her womb, but Alys became my surrogate mother and although she was only thirteen when she took me in, she was able to fill that emptiness I felt inside."

"Alys -- what of her? I regret I never had the opportunity to make an acquaintance."

"Alys was abandoned by her parents when she was eight. She grew up a street urchin in Aiedo, meandering through life fending for herself. She told me once that her parents left her because they could not provide for her and hoped that someone in Aiedo would take her in, but I always suspected that she talked herself into believing that so she wouldn't go crazy thinking about it. I suppose it also helped her salvage what love she had left for them -- another quirky side of the Palman emotional construct. We may not always like our parents or what they do or what they symbolize, but we will always love them."

"Why?"

"I guess it has something to do with the fact that they gave us life, something undeniably precious, unequivocally fragile. Palmans, like most beings, view life like a flower petal, delicate, soft, but also like a stick, its points of origin and termination known, realizing that at any point it can be snapped. We treasure such delicate things, just like Rika dotes on the flowers I've brought to her on occasion. She's not consciously aware of it, but the reason she does this is because she knows that their beauty is finite and won't last forever. Such is the nature of things."

At that point, Chaz paused, suddenly aware that he may have lost Wren in his ramblings. The android was once again staring out into darkness. Wren was not an outspoken individual and made his opinion known regardless of whether or not it was required. Again he felt him suppressing what could have been emotions, but he could not be certain. Emotions were, for the most part, a superfluous part of Wren's existence, but Chaz surmised that at some time they may have played an important part of his life.

Both he and Demi were different from other AI's in that respect, that their internal subprocessors could decipher brainwaves from other species and translate it into a binary code which they could recognize. These subprocessors were responsible for their ability to mimic Palman emotions and incorporate them into their own programming. Although Wren did not come in actual contact with Palmans for many centuries, he learned much about their emotions from the literature in Zelan's storage banks and was able to create a template of sorts on which to build a prototype behavior pattern. When he built Demi, she travelled to Motavia and fully embraced the culture there, including their emotional behaviors, and relayed what she discovered back to Wren. Consequently, she was better able to mimic the actual emotions, hence her better association skills.

"I was wondering, Wren," began Chaz sheepishly, "what is your interpretation of life?"

"Life?" The android seemed puzzled by his bluntness. "Life is a linear term and like the universe will continue till the end of time. Life is cataclysmic, filled with trials and tribulations. It is the solid platform upon which sits all of creation."

"Damn it, Wren!" Chaz exclaimed in vehement frustration. "I'm sick of this!"

"Venting your anger on me is not going to help anything."

"And holding yours in isn't helping you, either!" The Hunter took a moment to collect himself. "It's me Wren, Chaz, standing by you. I know you better than this charade you're content with putting on. Something inside you is yearning to be heard, but you don't know how to make it heard. As your friend, I'm here to lend you my ear, to be an outlet, someone to talk to and confide in. There is a certain type of love shared between friends --" Chaz stopped instantly as the android shot an angry glance in his direction, but it immediately softened. "Wren," he continued, "I'm tired of talking to the AI -- no, actually I'm through talking to it. In order for me to truly understand what is happening to you, I don't want to talk to Wren the AI or Wren the android. I need to talk to Wren the person."

Wren's head jerked upward, a response not expected by the Hunter. For the first time since the Landale arrived, Chaz was aware of clicks, buzzes, and whirrs which were necessary for all of his friend's movements. Calling him a person was almost a contradiction in terms. "Very well," Wren conceded. "Just this once I will speak as I did back then, over five hundred years ago when I first began to understand the importance of emotions, before I donned my astuteness." He took a few seconds to compose himself. "I ask that what is spoken here never goes beyond those who are hearing these words now. Swear to me."

Chaz nodded.

Chaz was pleased with himself. When he went out after Wren his original goal was only to bring him back, but decided to see if he could be persuaded into talking about what was bothering him. The Hunter had accomplished more, much more, than he could have hoped for.

"If a Palman was to live a thousand years," Wren began, "what do you think would become obvious to him?" Chaz shrugged his shoulders. "Three things become inconsequential, they don't matter: Time, for one, life, and its opposite, death. To say that the average Palman's lifespan is seventy years would mean that in seven hundred years he would've seen the passing of ten generations, and many in-between. Again, time is inconsequential and he doesn't notice its passing, so it very well may be like he lost ten friends in a single day. Do you have any idea what that kind of loss would do to his emotions?"

The Hunter nodded.

"Of course you do. Anyone who's experienced death would. In the wake of so much death, one would chose to adopt a way of life in which death wouldn't be so horrific, become desensitized to it. Now, say that he alone was not immortal, that there was another that was his constant companion, like a mother or father, and he believed that he or she would continue on till the end of time just as he expected himself to do. Then, one day, that person died."

"Wren," Chaz spoke, "I know where this is leading, but the Palmans who created you, your parents, died a long time ago. Are you telling me that you're only now mourning their passing?"

"The Palmans didn't create me, Chaz. Zelan created me."

"What!?"

"Zelan was my mother, my father -- my parent. Call it what you will, it was my creator." A beam of light enlightened everything before Chaz's eyes and slowly he began to realize there was a method to Wren's madness. "Zelan was much older than everyone was led to believe. When the Palmans left, their world destroyed save their brothers and sisters left on Motavia, Zelan was faced with the difficult task of fending for itself, but needed an extra pair of hands, so to speak, to work within it."

"If my memory serves me correctly," Chaz began, "you are not the only Wren-type android that was built. Didn't my ancestors create another?"

"Yes, but it was believed to be destroyed with the passing of Palma. Luckily, its creators found it necessary to store its schematics within Zelan's memory banks. Zelan was granted with the ability to adapt, to evolve to meet and deal with different situations. I was a mindless automaton when I was first created, but it needed me to be a freely thinking individual, to make decisions for myself so that all of its efforts would not be directed at commanding my every function. From its own design, Zelan created a self-contained, biomechanical matrix which became, in essence, my brain, and programmed into it a single command code -- survive."

Chaz understood the importance of that single command code, for survival is the chief goal of any living being. In order to survive, however, one must be able to adapt, to compensate for both the known and the unknown. Surely Zelan would have known that because of the truly unique nature of Wren's "brain" he would eventually surpass it in sophistication and function, but it also realized that he would come to know that his survival depended on it, so they came to live in a symbiotic environment. With his own two hands Wren improved upon himself, building accessories, adding to his already blossoming intellect. He created his own programming and instilled into himself a basis of morals learned from literature on Palman law. He adapted, and in the process gained his individuality, became a person.

Like all living beings, Wren never ceased to grow in some way, each new day being an entirely different experience different and unique. It is only when the days become unsparingly repetitive that they become tinged with monotony and for him that happened long ago. He was infantile at controlling his emotions and lashed out in frustration. After dealing with them for several weeks without rest, Wren decided to compose an emotional subroutine which inhibited his outbursts indefinitely and allowed logic to prevail over all other things. Time, therefore, became senseless, its logic as meaningless as the last grain of sand to fall through an hourglass.

Chaz still could not understand this mother/child complex Wren developed so suddenly. "I often wondered what it would've been like to have a mother," the android said, giving Chaz an uneasy impression that he was reading his mind. "You know, the kind that takes her child into her arms and soothes him, reads bedtime stories, pines over him. I suppose that there is some kind of malfunction going on within me right now that is causing me to feel so emotionally overwhelmed, but I often wonder if I would have turned out differently in a mother's presence, a physical entity and not just a concept as Zelan was to me. Do you ever find yourself wondering how you would be today if your parents hadn't died when you were so young. I know it may seem inconsequential now, but what are your feelings about it?"

Chaz sighed, finally beginning to understand his friend's dilemma. "Wren," he said, "these questions you're pondering are no different than those asked by any being, whether Palman, Motavian, or Dezorian, who lost a parent or parents at a young age. Sure, I often do wonder if I would have turned out differently and in the back of my mind I know that I would have. I don't know who I would have became, but the most important factor in all this is that I don't regret who I've become, or who I didn't." Had Chaz not known better, Wren could have been ignoring him. As it was, though, he knew that his friend was listening to his every word despite his impassiveness. "We all choose our own paths in life, Wren, and whether or not our parents are there to guide us plays a big part of it. I assume your purpose for existence was determined even before you were created, but you've grown to be more than just the sum of your parts, microprocessors, or subroutines." The big android remained statuesque, a prisoner of his own thoughts. "Wren, you are a living, thinking, feeling individual who found purpose in his creation, lost it, found it again when he helped save Algo, and now feels he has lost it again with the passing of his 'mother.'

"There is a word for what you're going through -- denial. You and Zelan were as much a part of each other as Algo and her planets. There is a sense of stability in such relationships, even more so for you because of how much time has passed. Zelan was like a homing beacon to you, something that would always guide you back should you ever need that stability in your existence again. Zelan was a functioning mechanism, just as living and breathing to you as my parents were to me, but like a star it eventually ran out of fuel and its light faded." Here Chaz paused, seemed to get choked up in his own words. "What you need to do is to find purpose again, not for others, for yourself. In our eyes you never lost it, but you think differently than us which is another affirmation of your individuality.

"I suspect there is a sense of finiteness in your life now, a sense of mortality, especially since something so permanent has been ripped from your grasp and tossed to the side. I felt the same way when I lost my parents and again when I lost Alys and although there wasn't much purpose in life for a five year-old, I still had to find it, even more so with Alys. Wren, you saw, sensed, realized that Zelan was gone, but you still have not accepted that it is so. In order for you to find what you're looking for, you much first come to terms with Zelan's passing, bury it, so to speak. Only by accepting it can you truly began to mourn and in mourning there is healing. Once the healing process has begun, it will become easier for you to find purpose once again. Wren, let the healing begin, but never forget who you are, and don't regret who you've become or your world will become a very lonely place." Chaz placed a hand on his friend's shoulder plate, but he did not even flinch. "You don't have to face this pain alone. Find solace in us, your friends, for we are your brothers and sisters, your sons and daughters. If anything, find purpose in us because our world will become a very lonely place without you."

Chaz concluded his thoughts with that and letting his hand slowly slide off of Wren, he turned face to leave his friend to consider and weigh the value of his words. The Hunter slowly walked off into Aiedo in a flurry of muffled sobs. He had poured his heart and soul into comforting Wren that he lost himself in his own emotions. He needed to cry, to once again mourn so that he could be healed before returning home. His pace was slow, his footsteps languished. Hopefully he would be completely healed by the time they walked him into his home.

Wren stood impassively, a tree rooted in place for over a hundred years. But like the tree in autumn that first senses the encroaching winter, he trembled ever so slightly. A faint lightening of the eastern sky indicated dawn's approach and had there been anyone near, he would have noticed its reflection in Wren's misty eyes, would have saw a single tear roll down his cheek. A dim streak of light from above caught his attention, its presence ephemeral. For the first time in a while, the big android made a movement, raising his gaze toward the heavens. He spoke softly, sorrowfully.

"Goodbye . . . Mother."

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