In his father's day, reflected Prince Ayn of Cille (not Prince Ann of Silly), the passage
between the worlds of Aquatica and Aridia had been a different place indeed. Years of long disuse had
left it open to become a nesting ground for a variety of creatures, some small and harmless and some
ferocious monsters. None of them was in evidence now, though; they'd been exterminated or driven into
hiding by the robotic hordes that now inhabited the passage.
These cyborgs were not unlike the legions that had descended upon Ayn's homeland and its neighbor.
The cities of Cille and Shusoran had been decimated by the robotic armies, their people forced to flee
for their lives. Rumor said that they had gone to Aridia, ahead of Ayn, but the prince had no idea if
he would find his parents safe among the refugees, or if they had merely fled from one group of
attackers into the clawed metal hands of another.
It was lucky that thus far Ayn and his companions, the androids Wren and Mieu, had been attacked
only by small, roving squads of cyborgs rather than organized armies. Four or five of the little
green-and-yellow spider-mechs were little threat, even backed by a converted agricultural bot or two.
Forty would have been a different story, even for skilled combatants like the three travelers.
Thank Laya for that, Ayn thought. Or perhaps it should be "thank Orakio"? The product of a
marriage between a prince of one people and a princess of the other, he supposed he was entitled to
call upon both. After all, he possessed the strange powers Layans called "techniques," but yet as a
blood descendant of Orakio, Mieu and Wren served him as they had Orakio himself a thousand years ago.
"How far is it now?" he asked out loud.
"We are approximately two-thirds of the way through," Wren replied in his emotionless voice. "That
is, presuming that the route is as it was eighteen years ago when we came this way with your father.
Structural damage may have accrued, or obstructions been erected."
"I don't think we needed the disclaimer, Wren," Mieu groused. Unlike her companion, the red-haired
female cyborg possessed a fully developed personality with a complete range of emotions, which
occasionally included exasperation at Wren's inability to keep up with social niceties.
"I merely sought to provide accurate information," Wren said. If he'd had emotions, he would have
"We'll have to discuss it later. Here comes another one!" Ayn cut in.
This new robot was roughly human-sized, but its shape was well out of proportion. A barrel-shaped
torso with a flat head that sprouted from the upper body without an intervening neck supported long
legs and short arms made of flexible coils. The arms ended in handlike grips apparently designed for
grappling. Ayn took a defensive position, his fine-quality steel sword held with the point low in a
two-handed grip. A quick attack, he'd learned, was often a recipe for disaster against an opponent of
unknown capabilities. He waited for it to make its move, so he could react and strike out.
The robot's advance stopped about ten feet away from Ayn.
Then, it wiggled its arms up and down. The only thing the prince could compare it to was a bad
imitation of someone dancing.
"Get down, Ayn!" Mieu shouted, even as she was diving at him, grabbing his cape and trying to pull
him to the ground. Trusting her judgment, he let her, and so as a result the stream of fire from the
Foi weapon that popped out of the robot's belly passed harmlessly overhead.
Wren's gun rocked the enemy back in the next instant, and Mieu sprang up and finished ripping it
"Thanks for saving me," Ayn said, getting to his feet. "What was that thing, though, and...um,
what was that bit with the arms?"
"It is called a Seeker," Wren explained. "They were used during the Devastation War by the armies
"Their movements are designed to play upon human psychological weaknesses," Mieu said.
"Their behavior, apparently pointless, is designed to induce confusion--or if you're not into
Wren-speak, it's supposed to leave their enemies scratching their heads asking what the heck it's
doing. Then they attack once their foe's guard is down."
Ayn blushed, remembering how completely he'd fallen for it.
"And here I thought it just looked Cille...er, silly."