The words echoed in the mind of King Ayn. Satellite was under heavy attack and would not survive long. Anyone who remained upon it would die when the end finally came. But although King Ayn and his beloved Thea had already decided to perish with their moon, they had not planned for their subjects to do the same.
A soldier was kneeling before the king. It was he who had brought the bad news to Ayn's ears. Ayn motioned for the young man to stand and he asked, "How many must stay behind?"
"We are just one shuttle short, Majesty," the soldier replied. "Five will have to stay."
Ayn sat upon his throne. He looked to his right hand, where Thea stood, as always. "The Queen and I have chosen to stay," Ayn said.
Thea grabbed Ayn's hand and squeezed it. "Thank Laya and Orakio we sent Sean away when we did," she whispered.
Ayn looked to his left, where his aging parents, Lord Rhys and Lady Maia, stood solemnly. The two of them looked at each other, and then both nodded to Ayn.
"And we shall stay as well," Rhys said to the soldier.
The soldier took a deep breath. "That makes four," he said. "And I volunteer to be the last to remain."
"There is no need for that," said a voice. A middle-aged nobleman in a flowing yellow robe stepped forward. Everyone knew him; his name was Frey and he had been at the court of Cille-Shusoran since Ayn was a child. "I will stay in your place," Frey said to the young man.
"You must go now," King Ayn told the soldier. "For the second time in a generation our people have lost their homeland. If we are to survive we will need many brave men such as you."
The soldier nodded. He made to leave but then turned back and saluted. "I will tell the others of your noble sacrifice," he said. And then he was gone.
Frey watched the man leave, and then he faced the royal family, which was huddled tightly around Ayn's throne. They were all embracing one another and whispering their final good-byes. Frey shook his head and said, "There is no time for that."
Ayn regarded him angrily. "What do you mean?" the king asked. "We appreciate your selflessness, Lord Frey, but do not begrudge my family our farewells!"
Frey smiled. "You misunderstand me, King Ayn. What I mean is that we must hurry if we are to escape in time."
"What do you mean?" Thea asked. She was frowning and her brow was deeply furrowed.
Frey bowed and said, "Highnesses, I have something I must reveal to you. I am neither Layan nor Orakian." Frey removed his robe, revealing a standard nobleman's tunic underneath. But then the buckle on Frey's belt swirled; a distinct 'click' was heard. And then the buckle actually sank deep into Frey's torso, revealing a recess that looked like a very large keyhole.
Maia gasped. Frey held up a hand, and he spoke very quickly as he said, "Do not be alarmed. I am a cyborg, one loyal to the crown of Cille-Shusoran. As you know, Wren-type cyborgs are able to transform into a variety of vehicles. And so am I." Frey produced a small box from a pocket in his tunic. He inserted it into the opening in his torso, and the box appeared to be a perfect fit. "I have just installed my Astro Parts. They allow me to become a small shuttlecraft capable of carrying four people. Now come, so that we might all escape!"
"A cyborg...?" Ayn asked. "But...how...?"
Frey smiled. "Why, Your Majesty, it was Wren and Mieu themselves who created me...."
Mieu and Wren stood over the cradle of Ayn, the newborn Prince of Cille. He was only days old, small and soft, with a few long wisps of silver-blue hair just like his mother's. His cradle was made from the finest wood of the Cille Forest, and he was wrapped in blankets made from the softest warbler down. The baby looked up into the eyes of Mieu, who tickled the child and made funny faces and talked to him in baby speak. Ayn smiled and giggled. His tiny, delicate body bounced and swayed under Mieu's gentle fingertips.
Wren stood at her side; he was still, with his back straight and his hands behind him. His stance was impassive, but there was nonetheless a warm smile on his face.
"You never play with the baby," Mieu said. "Why is that? I know that you are not equipped for elaborate displays of emotion, Wren, but I know you well enough to know how much you love this child."
Wren stiffened. "I apologize if I my behavior bothers you, Mieu," he said. "I have never known quite how to act around babies."
Mieu shook her head. "That's not it," she said. "What troubles you? I can tell when something is on your mind."
Wren took a moment to think, and then he said, "Rhys is indeed the One. Orakio told me that if the plan he and Laya set out upon failed, I would have to wait for the arrival of the One who would return the moons and unseal the domes. At first I doubted that Rhys was the One, even when I saw you in his company. But now there can be no doubt."
Mieu turned from Ayn to look at Wren. "But we've known that for months. Why the sudden change in your mood, just now?"
"Orakio told me -- us -- that if the plan failed, and Orakio and Laya's team could not be reassembled, it would be a member of the One's family who would finally pierce Dark Force's heart." Wren sighed; it was not something he normally did. And then he said, "Only now am I realizing how daunting our task is. Mieu, Orakio's command was to aid and protect the One and his family at all costs. But look how quickly the family is growing."
Mieu nodded. "Lyle is even now preparing to marry the daughter of that wealthy merchant from Endora. Soon they shall begin having children of their own. Must our protection extend to them as well?"
"Surely it must," Wren said. "They are a part of the One's family. What if they should have numerous children? What if Ayn should have many brothers and sisters? How can we possibly protect them all?"
Mieu caressed Ayn's face and said to Wren, "I would rather not be separated from you, but perhaps one of us should reside at Shusoran."
Wren thought about that for a moment. "That might be sufficient under ordinary conditions. But Mieu, consider this -- if Rhys had to go away tomorrow, both of us, because of Orakio's unbreakable directives, would have to go with him."
Mieu bit her lip. "The family would be left defenseless."
Wren nodded. "Exactly. And that is unacceptable, for if they are lost, the future is lost. I cannot help but wonder how Orakio failed to foresee this situation...."
There was a pause. And then Mieu said, "We are shorthanded. If there was only a third android to help shoulder this responsibility--"
Mieu and Wren locked eyes.
Wren knew he had an early life that was beyond his memory. He wasn't quite sure how he knew, though. It was like a shadow, a half-memory. But although Wren never quite understood it, he knew it was there nonetheless.
Had something catastrophic happened to Wren to warrant the wiping out of his early memories? Perhaps his first positronic brain had been unstable, and he had committed a horrible offense as a result. Or maybe he had simply needed reprogramming in order to be prepared for the War. Wren often wondered about it, but no matter the cause, his first experiences were lost to him forever.
And so, Wren's earliest memory was of coming to after his memory was wiped. He remembered his eyelids opening, and his optics shrinking back in the face of a light that seemed blinding. And as Wren's vision came to him, the first thing he saw was the face of a young Palman man, with fair skin and black hair and some oil smeared on his cheek. The young man beamed, and with both hands he reached down to touch Wren's face.
Wren, like all sophisticated androids, was born with a vast array of knowledge and a complete mastery of all standard Algoian languages. However, his mind was not yet clear. He could hardly move and speech was even more difficult. But even so, one word managed to make its way to Wren's clumsy lips. It was the only word that mattered to him. It was a question.
The royal family had made their way from the quaking throne room to the humble spaceport of the Satellite. Fortunately, the runway and airlocks had not yet been damaged by the barrage from Alisa III. Still, everyone knew that only moments remained before Satellite would crumple and fall from the sky.
Frey's Astro Parts were rapidly readying themselves; in just moments, Frey would be able to change form and fly the royal party to the safety of Sari's Landen.
"You are ready?" the cyborg asked Rhys and Maia.
Rhys held his wife tightly even as he balanced himself on his walking stick. "We are ready, Frey," the old king said.
Maia's eyes were wide in fear but she said, "Thank you so much for this, Frey. Thank you so much."
"It will only be a moment now," Frey said. He looked to Ayn and Thea. "You are ready?" he asked.
Ayn and Thea looked to one another, and then Ayn looked to Frey. "No," he said. "Thea and I will stay."
"Ayn--!" Maia began.
Ayn just shook his head. "No, Mother. Thea and I cannot bear to leave Satellite. This moon has been our home. We cannot abandon it, even now."
"Do you think it was easy for us to leave Cille and Shusoran behind?" Rhys asked angrily. "I assure you, it was not! But we did it because we had to!"
Frey held up both of his hands, one toward Ayn and the other toward Rhys. Once both kings were quiet, Frey addressed Ayn.
"Highness," he said, "I understand your reluctance to leave this place. This was our sanctuary in our time of greatest need. You fought valiantly to find it for us, to secure it for us, and to make it our new home. But although this Satellite is going to die, King Ayn and Queen Thea, Cille-Shusoran is not. Think of our people. Will they not still need your leadership? And think of young Sean! True, he is no longer a child, but he is still just a boy! Do you not think he will need the love and guidance of his mother and father, especially in this time of terrible hardship?"
Thea began to cry, but Ayn remained stony.
Frey shook his head. "King Ayn.... Please tell me that you do not underestimate the importance of fathers."
Ayn and Rhys stared at each other.
"I assure you," Frey went on, "that they are most important...."
There was silence for a moment more, as Ayn and Rhys looked into each other's eyes.
Then, at last, Frey said, "It is time." As the others watched in amazement, his body folded and unfolded in ways beyond their understanding. A small spaceship was suddenly sitting on the spot where a man had stood only seconds before.
"Come quickly now!" Frey's voice called from inside the craft. "There is no more time!"
Rhys and Maia gave their son one last wistful glance, and then they hurried aboard.
Frey's rockets flared. "This is your last chance," he said to Ayn and Thea. "Please...."
The king and queen looked lovingly at their home one final time. They kissed, and then they climbed into the shuttle.
It was all rather like he remembered it. Wren stood beside a cold metal slab upon which rested a small, half-finished android body. It was little more than a skeleton, really. The intricate exoform, which was what gave androids their Palman-like appearance, would not be finished until a later time. On that day, all Mieu and Wren wanted to know was if they had succeeded in their initial task. They wanted to know if their creation was alive.
Mieu had already chosen a name. "Frey," she'd said. "He was a god worshipped on Palm in the pre-Messianic era. They worshipped him in the north; I believe he was a son of the god Odin, and he ruled over all that was peaceful and prosperous. What do you think?" she'd asked. And Wren had agreed it was a very good name.
Now was the time to see if their planning had been for naught. Mieu went to a nearby computer terminal to monitor Frey's positronic activity. It was Wren who stayed at Frey's bedside, to be there if the new android gained consciousness.
Mieu pulled a lever and pushed myriad buttons. Power surged and energy currents swelled.
Frey's face consisted of two expressionless optical sensors and a small, square speaker where his mouth would eventually be. And as Wren watched, the two round, white optics flared into brilliant life. They lit up like light bulbs and turned in Wren's direction.
The new android's thin, frail arms twitched and reached towards the first thing they sensed. Wren knew that his creation could not yet speak; it didn't have the necessary hardware. But he also knew its mind; he knew the one question that Frey was asking.
Wren gently reached down and cupped the android's face in his hands. He smiled and said, in a quiet voice, "Yes, I am."