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Restoration

Chapter Eleven


Reaching of the Heart

Hugh spied Lore sitting at the dining table with a sheaf of lily papyrus scattered in front of her as he came in from the hallway. The powder blue sky of morning shone through the three massive windows behind the table, shadowing her face while bathing her outline in a white glow. Lore deeply perused a long column of notes made by her own hand and meticulously paused now and again to circle a particular clump of words. A plate wi th a half-eaten sandmelon cake sat a little to her left. She picked up the pastry with a hand, took a small bite of it, than placed it back down. She paid no notice to Hugh's entrance.

Lore had been unusually quiet since the highly classified meetin g of the night before. She had cleaned up all the dishes, wrappers from presents and everything before before Hugh arrived back home. When he walked in that night the apartment was dark. She had already gone to bed.

Hugh blinked to adjust his eyes to the brighter light of the living room before walking up to her. "What are you looking at?" he asked.

"Apartment ads," she replied. "I copied them out of the weekly newsletter at the library."

"Apartments?" he echoed, giving her a curious look . He tugged on the sleeves of his coat to straighten them as he peered over her shoulder. The Motavian winter would arrive in a couple of weeks and the atmosphere was already colder than it had ever been since Mother Brain introduced Climatrol.

She took another bite of her cake, chewed it, and swallowed. "Where are you going?" she asked.

"I'm taking Amy out to lunch."

"You didn't talk much last night?"

"We did. Sorta. I walked her back to the hotel she's staying at. She's agreed to s ee me again today."

Lore nodded. "I see."

"What does this have to do with apartments?"

Lore paused, turning slightly to face him. "Nothing really. It's nothing personal, I like living with you. But it's strange to other people since we're not married or anything. This was only supposed to be a temporary measure anyway. I don't want to intrude. And I know through Rolf that the Council doesn't approve of this, though they haven't had the gall to tell us yet."

Hugh glowered. "The Cou ncil doesn't approve of most things we do, or at least they make it seem that way." He patted her shoulder. "You should be able to stay. If you were a guy they wouldn't care. We're friends and you're not intruding. You've been paying half the rent so you're perfectly welcome to stay here."

"Still," --she turned to look out the window-- "I've been meaning to get my own place once it became reasonable."

Hugh sighed, leaving her as he walked towards the door from his apartment. He tenta tively laid a hand on the knob. "Well, if that's what you want..."

"It's okay. I've been crashing here long enough."

Lore heard the door open and shut and knew that he had left. She wondered if she had been right in what she told him. It was t rue the Council did not approve, but their feelings were far from her thoughts now. If she said she worried over his personal space with Amy, what would he have done? Lore shook her head, knowing he would have insisted on her staying because they were j ust friends, and he likely would tell Amy the same thing. But how would she take it? Lore knew things might not be any different between Hugh and herself if she was a man. But she was not and would never be.

She rose from her chair and stepped up t o the window, looking out over the central lake of Motavia and Hugh's inspiration. She fingered the teardrop pendant hanging from around her neck; her birthday present from Hugh. "You called this hope," she murmured. "What hope do you keep?"

* * * * *

Hugh arrived at the cafe early. He had dressed up in a suit for the occasion, a rarity for him to do of his own initiative. The dress code of this place was not extremely formal, but neither was it casually inclined. He wan ted to have a quiet, cultured place in which to talk with Amy.

They had parted abruptly after their return to Motavia and he had not been in much shape to speak directly after Noah. The Neisword returned them to the Esper Mansion, but the group had n ot remained there long. They had to see the fruits of their labor.

Amy wanted to look to her patients in Oputa. Every person dependent on the hospitals for survival would have been hit the hardest by Mother Brain's destruction. She needed to save a s many as she could before they passed beyond her reach. Hugh offered to assist her, but she refused. She told him he could be of better use elsewhere. Hugh did not begrudge her that she was right, but he wanted to be of use to her. The scientific nee d to discover would not be nearly as useful in the days to come where preserving would be the hardest thing to do.

Hugh lifted himself from his thoughts as he spied the red-haired doctor coming down the street. Amy walked slowly, gaze lowered and ina ttentive. He did not know if she was just thinking or if it was something else.

"Amy, are you all right?" he asked once she reached speaking distance. He came beside her.

She looked up and inadvertently met his eyes. She gasped softly and glanc ed away. "I'm sorry, you startled me."

He smiled. "Not hard to do the way you were walking. Something on your mind?" He gestured to the cafe. "Come on inside. Let's get something to eat."

She nodded hesitantly and let him guide her in.

T he two entered the cafe and were promptly seated out on the terrace, which afforded one of the better views of the neighborhood. Their waiter left them with drinks and hurried off to fulfill their orders. Hugh tried to settle himself comfortably in his chair, but he sensed Amy's uneasiness, and that in turn disturbed him.

"Has your practice in Oputa gone well?" he asked, stirring his iced tea with a straw.

She sighed. "As well as could be expected. The city's a skeleton of what it used to be. I treated as many as I could, but what can you do against a plague that literally takes months of desiccation and incapacitation to die of?" She propped her head on her hand and looked steadily at Hugh. "The disease was a type of viral infection. With out the biosystems up there was no way to isolate the phage while it was alive and still in the bloodstream. I had to wait until someone managed defeat the virus on her own. Then I used the antibodies in her blood to make a vaccine.

"So few people s urvived. For many, the vaccine came too late." Amy lifted her glass to take a sip of water then set it back down again. "Hopefully this will not happen again. Everyone in and around Oputa is now either inoculated or dead."

Hugh nodded, turning his head to look over the terrace railing. "I think that's why I couldn't become a medical doctor. I didn't want to see my patients die. As a researcher I could afford to be more distant, but still helpful."

"I know." Amy's voice drew his gaze back t o her. "You were getting your doctorate when you charted one of the paths carcenogenics take when mutating fetal DNA. It won you your degree and propelled you into the biological elite." A wistful note sounded in her voice. "I had barely started my me dical training back then. It was big news."

Hugh waited for her to say more, but she instead stared reflectively into her glass. "And?" he prompted.

Amy glanced up at him and spoke hesitantly. "Hugh, you were nineteen when we first stepped onto Noah. You were a man, but in many ways still a boy. You knew so much yet at the same time knew so little." She sighed, shaking her head. She folded her hands together on the table and did not look at him. "Intelligence does not make up for innocence , and I'm sorry you're learning this the hard way."

"Amy..."

"Hugh, let me finish; because you wouldn't let me do so last night. That's the only reason I'm here now."

He gave a resigned nod and averted his eyes.

She shook her head ruefull y. "I wish I had said something sooner. I thought you understood when we parted last April, but I guess you didn't. Hugh, I thought a lot about you while we prepared to return to Mota after the battle with the Earthmen, while you were locked in your ni ghtmare. I realized that I wasn't what you needed, and you weren't what I expected. All I can say is that I'm sorry, but I don't think we're right for each other."

"I don't understand."

"Because you don't want to," she amended for him. "You're a genius, Hugh, but knowledge is not the same as wisdom, and you're making yourself blind." She looked intently at him. "Don't you see? That is why I don't think we should pursue anything romantic between us. You're younger than me. Three years doesn 't sound like much, but at our age it can make a difference, and it has. You know your science, but though I'm not as brilliant as you, I understand more about the world beyond it. I need that same experience in someone I love."

Hugh glanced at her, meeting her eyes before looking away again. "I don't know what to say."

"We can still be friends, Hugh." She reached out and clasped his hand. "You are a good person with good intentions, but you aren't what I'm looking for. Am I who you really w anted? Or did you just like me because I was your best friend during our journey?"

"I don't know anymore," he said truthfully.

"Did you ever?"

* * * * *

Hugh left the cafe with mixed feelings. They had eaten their lunch in relative silence, speaking only when necessary. Hugh offered to treat her, especially since he dragged her out there, but she insisted on paying her half. Now with her out of sight he was left only with his thoughts. He trusted Amy's opinions in the past, but to hear himself evaluated like he did was unsettling at the very least. He did not know whether to believe her or not; whether he even wanted to believe her. They were both professionals, accomplished in their respective fields; he in DNA and gene manipulation and she in preventive medicine. Lore never said anything about him being immature, which he decided was at the heart of Amy's roundabout message. But then Lore was even younger than him. Did anyone else discount his maturity alon g with his age? Most of Motavia's biologists once did, but he had brought them around with the results of his experiments. Now they respected him as an equal. An equal in the field, he sadly realized, not in life.

He trudged back to his apartment, uncertain of what to tell Lore. He needed to talk, that was for certain, and he hoped she'd listen. Kain would tell him to get his head on straight and lay off the melik juice. Lore would not. At least he hoped not. She still had not found the melik juice stored in his room in any case. He would need it now.

When Hugh opened the door to his apartment several minutes later, he did not find Lore there. The sheaf of apartment notes was gone as well. He walked over to the refrigerator and found a note from her explaining that she had gone apartment hunting with Cass. The two of them would not return until sunset.

Hugh sighed, lamenting his luck. He walked into his bedroom and opened his closet. He had to dig through it for a moment or two b efore he came up with a bottle of the fermented juice. Hugh paused for a moment before heading back to the kitchen to consider the chances of Lore returning earlier than expected. He glanced around again and listened, half expecting her to jump out of h iding, but there was no sign of her. He quietly pulled a glass out of the cabinet, filled it with ice from the refrigerator, and poured in the melik juice.

Hugh waited a minute for it to cool, stirring it lightly as he did. Then he drank.

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