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Chapter Twelve


"They are people," Lore told him, "a scared people." But her words had not helped.

Hugh's eyes burned, fighting a pain from within which had been caused by the callousness of those without. No one in the thick, smoky atmosphere of the pub recognized him, and it was just as well. Even he would hate to recognize himself in a place like this. He drank deeply from the glass of liquor in front of him, mind running furiously on an insane treadmi ll.

It was not just Amy; her dumping him. It was not just Lore. The historian moved out last week. He was alone in his apartment. Of all the cursed luck, why did everything have to happen at once? He was ready to lead that mission to Noah! Just when he had built up the courage to go through with it...

His mind focused on the survivors of Palm, something that never should have existed. Where were they for those six agonizing months? Trooping around the star system in a debate on whether the y should abandon Algo or not! In the end some of them did, some of them didn't. But did it matter? Why should those who finally decide to stay be greeted with such a fervor that had not been seen since the days before Mother Brain?

Cast aside li ke a brick , he dourly thought to himself. He shook his glass, his third so far, and watched the cubes of ice rattle against each other in the shallow remains of his drink. All that damn work wasted only for them to show up in their high and prim manner saying oh this goes here and that's what you've been doing wrong. How can the people be so blind as to welcome those who would have abandoned them? They knew of the Dark Force! They knew about their imminent destruction! Nei, they probably kne w about Mother Brain too. And they decided not to tell us. They still haven't told us everything. We're the same little farming colony we were to them centuries ago.

Hugh resisted the urge to hurl his glass across the bar in front of him. He s ipped from it thoughtfully and picked up the bottle beside him. It sloshed slightly at his movement. Half empty. This liquor was a great deal stronger than the fermented melik juice he was used too.

Nonetheless he poured himself a fourth glass. He knew his eyes must be glazing over as he gazed at the mirror on the other side of the counter. A fine mess he must look like. But if he hadn't stalked out of Kain's office when he did... Hugh sighed, convincing himself that despite the scene it may ha ve caused, if he stayed it would have been much worse. He just couldn't accept working beneath one of those Palmans, no matter how friendly and cooperative he was told his superior would be. And then the mission to Noah... After all those darkened tunn els, the recovery of the farming domes, he wanted Motavia's recovery to enlighten the people. Now they had merely exchanged the hand of Mother Brain for the hand of Palm. The easy way out.

Like you're not using it right now , he told himself. He scowled and drained his glass without stopping.

Hugh supposed Kain understood why he suddenly stiffened and marched out of the room, but Kain could not do anything any more than he. Those Palmans acted as though nothing had changed save that Mot her Brain was no longer the one in charge. Hugh morosely regretted ever proposing a way to bring the ships and the planet together. Had the Palmans learned anything during their flight from destruction?

The biologist realized that a few hours must h ave passed since he left the Motavian Command Center. With a jerk he stood up and flagged down the barkeep. He paid his tab and carefully paced his way outside so as not to trip or crash into the doorway.

The dark canopy of the sky hovered over him like a thick blanket, but the light from the stars seared into his eyes, giving him a headache. His face felt flushed as he staggered out from under the beam of a streetlamp. He cursed the brightness and pointed himself back towards his apartment. He w anted to get back home before he got any worse.

Like it matters...

Then the rest of his mind submitted itself to the haze of the alcohol, leaving the mission to go home only to the most basic pattern of memories.

* * * * *

Hugh awoke to the sound of Lore's voice on the phone. Her voice seemed tired, but with a brightness he knew too well to be fooled by.

"Yes, I think he's okay now," she said. "He really wasn't feeling well." She paused. "Yeah, I'm sorry about last night. I know it's important. Why don't you come over in say... an hour and a half? Then we can talk about it."

Hugh listened quietly to her speak and then wondered how he got here. He remembered the pub, and vaguely going home. He ha d been angry, angry at the stars, angry at the streetlamps, angry at the door to his apartment. Hugh rolled over, trying to clear the dull throbbing from his head, and then noticed a blanket and pillow lying on the floor beside his bed.

He peered stu pidly at them, wondering without thinking about their significance.

"Lore," he murmured.

"Oh yes, talk to you later," she said, her brightness now perhaps a little less feigned.

He heard a click as she hung up the visaphone and twisted back ov er to his right so that he could face the door. It hung wide open, exposing the dimly lit hallway beyond. Hugh blinked, vision focusing somewhat as he centered on a painting hanging just past the doorway. It was of a Palman city in summer, with the whi stle trees in full bloom, and wispy clouds scattered high above in the stratosphere. Lore had purchased it at one of the many bazaars each month where people unloaded pieces of their lives in order to build them anew. She had not taken it with her when she moved out.

Hugh let out a breath. Lore must have watched over him during the night, that much became obvious as the minutes ticked by. But he still couldn't recall exactly how he had come to lie in his bed. He grumbled quietly to himself, afrai d to know what he might have done and what Lore may have thought. From the kitchen he heard some movement; first the shuffling of some dishes and then the sudden whir of the refrigerator. Despite the fact the sounds came abnormally loud to his ears, he found the noise comforting, thankful that at least something behaved as normal.

Lore entered the room now, long onyx hair dull and disheveled from her night's vigil. Normally quite presentable even when just out of bed, Lore's eyes were hazed and her face rough. The wide collar of her blouse was pulled all the way to one side, lending an unbalanced appearance to the sleeves, but she made no effort to fix it.

His eyes focused blearily on hers as he waited for her to speak.

She smiled wanly. "Breakfast will be ready in a few minutes if you want it. I thought you might wake up soon."

He nodded slightly, head still half buried in his pillow. Every word she said pounded loudly in his skull.

"You can go ahead and eat after you get dress ed," she continued. "I'll join you in a bit."

Hugh nodded again and forced himself to sit up as she turned to leave. "Lore?" he asked, bringing his legs out from under the covers.

She paused, looking back at him through a partial screen of waywa rd hair.

"When we eat, tell me what happened last night. I want to know."

"All right," she said. And she disappeared down the hallway.

Hugh stood up to make his bed, combing his hair back with a hand. His vision spun and he nearly fell over . He steadied himself and looked around. Now that he was up he could see the disarray of his bed's sheets and realized for the first time that he wore his pajamas. He pondered that fact for a moment, then set about straightening his bed. He meticulous ly lay his blanket over the sheets before fixing the bedspread as his mind wandered from the events of the night before to what he was currently doing. Hugh frowned as he looked at his bed. It seemed ridiculous having this many layers on it. It would h ave been ridiculous when Climatrol worked and kept the planet warm. With the disappearing cloud layer, there would be no chance of that now. The first month of winter was here, and it was cold; not the cold of Dezo, but a thin, dry, cold, one no one ali ve knew would be like.

The biologist picked out a fresh set of clothes and stumbled to the bathroom to wash up. He banged his shoulder into the doorway in his haste to get in and grimaced appropriately. This was not a good way start to a morning. H e feared what Lore might say to him, and with Kain coming in another hour... Hugh shook his head. He turned on the faucet and proceeded to splash water in his face. He needed to start thinking clearly.

Hugh took his shower colder than usual in an a ttempt to focus his thoughts better. The throbbing in his head seemed to lessen and he wondered why in all these years no one had ever developed a technique to cure hangovers. He dressed himself with a little effort then headed out to the living room.

Lore was already sitting at the table when he got there. Her hair was now combed and her appearance less fatigued. She ate quietly, spooning a bowl of steaming fruit stew into her mouth. "Yours is still hot," she said as he sat down. "I got yours o ut a little later than mine when I heard you turn on the shower. There's more in the big pot in the kitchen."

He nodded, looking down at the red syrupy mix in the bowl in front of him. "It's almost like you're still living here. You help yourself t o what you need."

"It's only been two weeks, Hugh. It hasn't been that long."

"It feels like it."

Lore smiled slightly. "Besides, it's not like you're in the shape to make breakfast by yourself right now."

"True." He lifted the bowl to his mouth and sipped from it. Lore wasn't kidding when she said it was hot, but it was good. He swallowed quickly before readying himself for another sip.

Lore nodded approvingly. "Eat up. Then we'll talk."

Hugh wanted to say that she had no right to be so civil to him when he had been such an idiot. He could not. He obediently continued his eating and tried to keep his doubts from gnawing an even greater hole in his hope. The stew did much to clear the fuzziness from his mind and h e felt a great deal more alive when he finally finished it.

He set the bowl down after he drained it and wiped his mouth with a napkin. The desire to run away settled itself sickeningly in his stomach. He steeled himself and looked directly at Lore. She watched him closely with an expression he could not identify She had finished her food before him.

"Well?" he asked hesitantly.

"You were drunk," Lore said simply, breaking her gaze with him. There was no accusation in her voice, only disa ppointment.

"I know," he replied heavily.

"Kain had important news to tell us and asked me to pick you up on the way to his apartment. I found you passed out in front of the door. You were a mess and I had to clean you up after I dragged you int o the apartment." She shook her head. "Why? How long have you been doing this?"

He looked back down at his bowl. "Almost a year now. It was after what happened on Noah. I just couldn't deal with it. I just couldn't-" He abruptly choked on his w ords.

"You couldn't forgive yourself," she finished. She sighed, turning her head to look out the window. "I can't say I don't understand, but that doesn't mean I condone what you've done."

Hugh swallowed tightly. He stood suddenly, leaning ove r the table at her. "I've never been this bad until now." His eyes focused feverishly on her face. "You have to believe me! It's just because of all that's happened lately." He trembled from his effort.

"I want to," she replied, looking back at h im, "but it's hard. You never told me. I lived with you for so many months now and you never told me." She paused. "Would you have?"

He didn't answer, gaze dropping as his shoulders slumped.

"I know it's been hard for you recently," she contin ued, "Amy breaking up with you and you being replaced by Dr. Faulkner, but you have to accept it and move on. It's not easy, I can tell, but you can't dwell on it. Look what's happened."

Hugh clenched his hand as a shudder wracked his body. "I was ready to go to Noah. I was ready!" he repeated fiercely.

"The Council didn't think so. Their cause to take you off the mission wasn't entirely unfounded. I can see that now."

"Lore?" He looked imploringly at her.

"Yes?" she asked after a m oment.

"I... I..." His voice and strength left him. He sank back down into his chair with a sob. "Never mind," he murmured.

Lore's expression softened. "Look, everything will be fine. You'll get through this. You have friends, and we're wil ling to listen."

"Thank you."

He stood and pushed in his chair.

"Go rest," she told him. "I'll clean up the dishes."

Hugh mumbled his gratitude and staggered off to his room. He heard the clank of the plates behind him and tried to shut out the pain in his head, but the feeling there was nothing compared to that in his chest.

When he reached his room he gazed fondly at the wooden shelves, the ivory colored walls. He nodded to himself and walked up to his nightstand. Hugh knelt, pu lling the top drawer open and sifting through it with his other hand. He opened the box at the bottom of the random collection and felt his hand close around something cold and hard. He paused for a moment to reassure himself of his actions, then determ inedly pulled out the object.

Hugh stood, turning back to face the door. There would be no stopping. He close the door and brought the telepipe to his lips. He recalled the sequence of notes he needed and played.

* * * * *

Sometime later the doorbell rang and Lore went to open it. "Hello, Kain," she said after looking through the peep hole and opening the door. "Come on in."

The blue-haired Palman stepped inside and glanced around the room. "Something smells good ," he stated.

"A fruit stew." She smiled nervously, though it was not due to Kain's remark. "My dad liked to make that on weekends while I lived at home."

Kain nodded briskly. "Anyway, let's get to business. I didn't want to talk about this ov er the phone and I need your opinions. Where's Hugh?"

"I sent him to his room, but..." She sighed, shaking her head. "You're not going to like this. I went to his room to check up on him and he wasn't there. I was in the living room the whole tim e up till then so he couldn't have walked out past me."

Kain grimaced. "Telepipe," he said.

"I'm afraid so." Lore glanced unconsciously back toward Hugh's room. "I tried to call you after I found out, but you had already left. He was so upset last night. He really wanted to go to Noah." She turned back to Kain. "He said he was ready. It wasn't fair of him to be removed from the team once he had prepared for it so much."

"He still might get to go." Kain folded his arms across his chest .

She looked incredulously at him. "What?"

"Lore, listen carefully to what I have to say." He placed a hand on her shoulder and locked his eyes on hers. "I found out a lot of information about this Noah mission yesterday, and it isn't good. To start with, even though the New Council is making everything look like Mota's recovering, a lot of the progress has been slow. The irrigation systems have dropped 17% since last December resulting in a similar drop in the food production by the farms. Yeah, computer networking is up 4%, but that's not going to do us any good if we can't eat. Without Climatrol and the Biosystems Lab we're heading down a pretty steep slope without any brakes.

"Those two systems are pretty far above our heads right n ow, but the Council thinks that if we could build an AI to do the work for us..."

Lore broke her gaze with him. "So what are they planning to do? Reprogram Mother Brain?"

"No." He shook his head. "They've been building their own system. This is classified information of course, but I took the liberty of hacking through their files. The Council has been putting together a new system made from the various pieces of equipment they brought with them from Palm. They are tentatively calling her ' Daughter'."

The historian chuckled mirthlessly. "The Daughter of an insane Mother. I see their plan now. That's why they want all the information possible from her. They want Daughter to learn how to run things in her place."

Kain nodded. "I believe that's more or less it. I'm not completely certain, but the Daughter Project does seem to be aimed at that purpose."

"You're not in favor of this," she said as she turned away from him.

"No, I'm not. I don't think the Council should be a llowed to get a hold of what's up there. It'll be hard, but if we can somehow prevent them... The information shouldn't be lost entirely, just kept away from them. If I could get there before anyone else, I know I could download whatever is still avail able on to my portable and wipe out what's left."

"You... want to go there ahead of the mission?"

Kain nodded though she did not face him. "That's the idea. Hugh should come too. If he's willing to face Noah again, then this will be his best ch ance." He sensed the uneasiness in her voice. "Look, I know you're usually in favor of keeping the peace between us and the Council, but now really isn't the time."

Lore moved beside the visaphone and lifted the phone from its cradle. She smiled. "I know. Let's get moving. I think I know where Hugh is and we'll want to pull this off as fast as we can. I'll make the arrangements. Start thinking about what you'll need to bring."

Kain watched speechlessly as Lore punched in the call numbers a nd began to issue requests to Rudo, then Cass, and finally Rolf. She was meticulous, and missed no aspects of preparation that he could see. He began to understand the risks the three of them would be taking and how Lore planned to cover them. How long would this trip take them? A few days, a week, a month? He grinned. When Lore let go, she let go with a vengeance. He found a new respect for the historian.

Lore set down the phone and turned to Kain. "It should all be ready by the time we get H ugh. We'll stop by your place and get what you need. Do you have a telepipe? No? Head back to your apartment then and I'll buy one on the way when I catch up with you."

"Catch up?" he asked.

Lore picked up a duffel bag lying by the couch. "Yo u've told me how dangerous Noah is. Hugh and I are going to need weapons and armor. I'll need to pack his and then stop by my place to get my own. I won't take more than an hour. Hugh's not going anywhere in his state. Oh, and bring your cellular too ."

Kain nodded. "I'll be ready then."

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