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Chapter Twenty-One

Whispers from the Metal Cavern

Kain felt like whistling as he walked down the street. He stuffed his hands in his pockets and held a brilliant gaze in his eyes. Algo shone brightly on this cloudless day, highlighting the deepest blue in the sky. Though the days were often cloudless as Motavia continued to revert towards its native desert state, this particular one was beautiful, and the temperature of this late winter day was brisk without being overly cold. Spring was just around the corner.

A pair of children ran by, laughing and shouting in some sort of game, and Kain smiled. One could almost forget that Motavia was a broken world. But he could not. Despite his good mood, today he would have to talk about the uncertain future. His steps carried him at an even pace towards a small cafe further down the way.

The quaint establishment was situated in a prime location not far from the Motavian Command Center and had become known for its proficiency in producing what now passed for excellent food in the days since Mother Brain's destruction. Despite the ailing farm centers, the Grove rarely failed to cook up a good meal at a reasonable price. It was nice to be able to eat something other than poorly prepared home-cooked food every now and then--especially since Kain had discovered that cooking was not his forte.

He spied the roped off area designating the patio section of the Grove and glanced about eagerly for his friends. There were few outdoor tables occupied at this time, the bulk of the customers likely inhabiting the indoors of the cafe where it was warmer. But he hoped his friends would be outside where there was better air circulation. Besides, even if it was a bit nippy, it was still a nice day. He privately admitted he also did not want to have to search inside where it would undoubtedly be crowded--this being lunchtime and all.

Kain pulled his jacket a little more tightly around himself as a strong gust of wind went by, eliciting shouts from the children further down the street and whipping through his short cropped hair. He paused, wondering where the wind had come from, but the air was still once more. He hoped that with Seed's help Climatrol could be made to function again and the Palmans could better understand why the weather worked the way it did. So much seemed unexplainable now, and the funny thing was: much of it was already unexplainable to them to begin with.

He caught a glimpse of a wave and turned his head in that direction. Hugh and Lore were sitting at a corner table of the patio in an area that had luckily been sheltered from the wind by a neighboring building. It was Lore who motioned for him to come and she called out his name as if to confirm her saw her.

Kain shouted back a greeting and trotted up to the circular table, which already sported two platters of food, two drinks, and three plates on it.

"Sorry we didn't wait for you," said Hugh as Kain walked up. He smiled apologetically.

"I'm not late or anything am I?" Kain asked half-jokingly as he sat down.

"Nah. Lore just got hungry."

"I have a very busy schedule today and I missed breakfast," she said pertly as she scooped a large spoonful of spiced vegetables from one of the platters on to her plate. She mixed the vegetables with the puffy grains from the other platter on her plate with her fork and ate the mixture ravenously. "In fact I'm just barely squeezing you guys in here. I've got to see Cass in a little while to get more of my records transferred to electronic format."

Lore swallowed deeply, downing a much bigger gulp of food than she should have, and gestured at the two dishes. "Go on. Have some," she said to Kain. "Just 'cause I'm hungry doesn't mean you can't have any."

Hugh added, "And the waiter should be around soon if you're not feeling like jensa is your thing right now."

Kain shrugged. "Jensa is fine. But I was kinda hoping there'd be some meat in it. I mean--practically everything is vegetarian now!"

"Hardly any livestock," said Hugh. "Nearly all of the food animals have died by now."

"I know that!" Kain scooped the grains from one of the dishes on to his plate and then liberally spread the vegetables and their thick, sticky sauce over the grains from the other. "You can't stop me from wishing though. We'd better hope that we get the Biosystems up soon. That way we can eat like real people again!"

"I was never much of a meat eater, but I'd have to agree that even with a place like this," --Lore indicated the cafe around them with her fork-- "we could use some more variety. We only have--what, seven species of green vegetables and two types of grain left?"

"And three species of fruiting plants," added Hugh. "The fourth one finally expired last month."

"Sucks," said Kain.

"We've got plenty of salt though." Hugh lifted up a shaker. "At least our food won't go down bland."

"But the water's starting to suck too. And that's not good for salty stuff. I think something's wrong down at the purification plant."

Lore grimaced. "So it's not just because of the weather? Cold water isn't as refreshing when the air's cold too."

They were briefly interrupted by the return of their waiter and Kain placed an order for a warm mug of sano and a bowl of fruit chips. The food arrived quickly, neither the sano nor the fruit chips requiring much in the way of special order preparation time. Kain thanked the waiter and drank deeply from his mug. Steam rose lazily from his cup, making Lore slightly regret having ordered an iced tea.

Hugh sighed, picking up one of the fruit chips. He chewed on it reflectively. "Everyday something else seems to go wrong. Before coming here today I heard that Red Dam got jammed and it's not working anymore. Barely a trickle can get through."

"Well, there's a possible reason for the water problem right there."

Kain shook his head. "No, I think it's something else. I've been noticing the change in water for a while now."

"The Grove's supply is still good."

"Not the water in my apartment though. Or the last public fountain I drank out of for that matter."

Hugh nodded thoughtfully. "Perhaps the chemical supplies in the purification plant are running low. I don't think any of the chemical plants have been restored yet. It's just been the factories for the bare necessities."

"Like those preprocessed health bars that are supposed to give us a meal's nutrition in a dinky package?" Lore remarked dryly.

Kain made a face. "Those wouldn't be so bad if only they tasted like something other than gravel and didn't have the consistency of a rubber tire."

Hugh shook his head good-naturedly. "Like them or not, they may become a necessary supplement of our diet if the crops continue to fail."

"And if the factories run out of material to make that junk out of?"


"Let's not get too pessimistic here," said Lore. "We're trying to do something about this after all. That's why you called us here, right, Kain?"

He nodded. "Actually Hugh already knows about it. It has to do with that meeting with the Council we went to a couple days ago. Well, we did our bit of arguing against their stiff necks-"

"Yurik's isn't stiff."

"Yeah, true, but the rest of them are so reluctant to move he can't do anything extremely contrary to them anyway. Remember he's not really part of the Council. And in any case, they still want to go with the Daughter plan. But," --Kain emphasized the word-- "we got permission to try and revive Seed."

"Seriously? Isn't it a bit early for something like that?"

"Kain's hoping that if Seed functions he may be able to counterbalance Daughter," said Hugh.

"And the Council approved this?"

He nodded. "It'll be Kain, you, and me, plus a couple people in the control room beneath Climatrol if we decide that it's worth turning the power on to the Biosystems. They probably won't ever be physically with us. You know how we've pretty much been doing these things as a group on our own. There's no reason to stop now."

Lore sipped her tea through her straw. "I don't know. How do you expect me to help? This won't be like the first time when you needed a relay person in Climatrol. Wouldn't someone better trained in hardware be a better choice?"

"Humor me," said Kain. "I know you're busy with all your recording work, but you do know more about computers than Hugh does. And," --he shifted his eyes towards Hugh-- "in case anything ugly happens between us and Seed it might be best to keep the matter private."

The historian held up her hands. "Fine. You have me. When do you want to do this?"

"As soon as possible, preferably. Our schedules are pretty flexible."

"I can meet you guys there at noon tomorrow after my classes. How's that?"

"Fine with me," said Hugh with a nod.

"Yeah," agreed Kain.

Lore polished off the rest of the spiced vegetables and ate another fruit chip. This one was particularly sweet and tangy inside.

"Okay. Well, I'd better be going," she said. "Cass will be waiting for me if I don't leave soon."

She plunked down a few meseta to cover her share of the bill. Lore lifted her glass and quickly sucked up the rest of her tea, the straw echoing a slurping sound as it reached the bottom of her glass.

"We'll see you tomorrow," said Hugh.

She nodded as she stood to leave.

"Lore," said Kain. "Have you thought about doing something other than teaching kids? I know you're recording history on the side, but otherwise it seems like that's becoming the only thing you do. I know it's an important job, but it's the politicians who need the lecturing the most now. The kids will inherit this place soon enough, but if you're just waiting for the Council to kick off... Well, I know the health care is going down the proverbial sewer, but the Councilors aren't that old or sick yet. They'll just die sooner than they would've before."

Kain's voice was surprisingly fierce to Lore's ears and she flinched. "Kain," she said warningly. She looked at him and bit back venomous words. Then she turned and walked away.

The tone of her voice was not lost on Kain. He turned to look at Hugh, a look of surprise glossing over his face. "What... What's with that? She doesn't really like them much better than us."

"You struck a sore nerve," said Hugh, looking after the dwindling black-haired figure of the historian. "But I shouldn't be the one to tell you what it is. She'll be okay tomorrow though. Lore bounces back fast."

"She'll still come after that? She looked pretty mad."

"She will. She already said she would."

* * * * *

The historian met them on time at the entrance to the Biosystems Lab the next day. As Hugh predicted, her mood had improved considerably and she smiled in greeting as though nothing had happened the day before. None of them mentioned yesterday and Hugh took the lead to guide them to the physical location of Seed.

As Hugh explained, the actual computer that was Seed was kept in a classified chamber on a second basement level. Access to the second basement level was restricted to only the highest rank scientists. Hugh himself had only visited there once, and that was under the supervision of another biologist.

However, because Seed was invaluable to research, he could be access via several terminals throughout the Lab. It was via one of those terminals that Hugh had worked with Seed on the Nei project.

The terminals were useless now, but if the three of them used their techniques to break into the second basement level they could look at Seed himself to determine if he may still be functional.

The initial destruction of the lab left only some elevators operational and the only convenient ways to the first basement level sealed off save the broad shaft for the now nonexistant main lift. When Rolf, Nei, Amy, and Rudo came here on their mission to retrieve the Biosystems' recorder, they had to repel from the third floor all the way to the basement using leftover cables from the lift.

But now the elevators were completely nonfunctional and getting to the third floor via them was impossible.

"Now that I think about it, Mother Brain never put any stairs in the government-owned buildings," said Kain. He swept his flashlight's beam through the darkness as if to confirm his statement. "That wouldn't make any sense except that she never broke down so the power was always on. There was never a time one couldn't use the elevators to go from floor to floor."

Hugh nodded as he continued walking. "Which is why we're going to have to break a little public property."

Kain shrugged and let out a chuckle. "Not any worse than all the dynamite Rolf used in here."

Lore leaned her head over in Kain's direction. "Are you serious about that?"

"Oh yeah. Rolf found some dynamite around here and blew in the maintenance hatch to the main lift on the third floor. That's how they got down to the basement. But there aren't any hatches on the first floor, so we're just going to have to try punching directly through the Lab walls ourselves!"

"True, but let's try not to break anything we might need--like cables and stuff."

Hugh brought them up short in front of a large blank wall of metal. "Okay, the main lift shaft should be just behind this wall. You guys ready?"

Lore and Kain nodded as one.

"All right. One. Two. Three!"

Warmth filled each of them, flowing from their hearts to their limbs. Hugh raised his right hand at the wall and ignited the air before it with the gifoi technique. Lore sent a bolt of electricity beside Hugh's flames, loosening the bonds that held the metal in its solid state even further. Finally, Kain created a vacuum beside the wall, drawing the slagging metal away from it and pulling wide the hole they had begun.

Gradually the metal oozed to the ground beneath the force of the three techniques. It bubbled, even frothed, but nonetheless left an opening through over a foot of steel infrastructure. The wall on their side of the complex was melted cleanly, as was the section leading into the main shaft. Between the two slabs of the wall was a brief gap of darkness.

"Did we hit anything important?" asked Kain, dropping the effort needed to maintain the gizan-induced vacuum.

Hugh poked his head through the meter wide hole to take a look after he and Lore also cancelled their techniques. He glanced in all directions, shining his flashlight into the gap within, but shook his head.

"Not that I can see," he said. "There aren't any cables going through this section of wall."

Kain breathed a sigh of relief. "Thank goodness. I'd hate to repair something just because we had the luck to break it while trying to fix everything else."

"Hugh, can you see any of the lift cables from where you are?" asked Lore.

"Lemme check." The biologist crept into the crawl space within the wall and shone his flash into the blackness beyond. "I see them. They're about four meters to the left of us."

"Ouch," Kain muttered. "Wouldn't want to try jumping that one." He raised his voice so that Hugh could hear. "So what now? Burn another hole?"

"I guess," Hugh said, climbing back out of the gap in the wall. "Come on."

* * * * *

Algo had begun to wane in the sky judging by the time on Kain's watch when the three of them had finally reached the second basement level and stood before the massive computer system known as Seed. Algo would set long before they finished.

Kain admitted he did not really know where to start, so the three had taken apart numerous panels and opened cabinets of hardware at random in a tedious search to see if everything appeared intact. The three dusted and cleaned the areas that appeared to need it, but it was more of a superficial gesture made in fear of overlooking something. Nothing appeared to have been breached or broken. The power surge that destroyed most of the lab left Seed virtually untouched, and that disturbed them. They knew they could not possibly check everything without knowing what to look for, so there could be some hidden damages, but if Seed really was intact...

Hugh speculated that Mother Brain may have intended to use Seed after the destruction of the Algolian races. Kain did not find that thought heartening in the least. But he could not deny that the room had not been disturbed before their arrival, save for the settling of dust. There were no signs of biomonsters having ever entered, nor of circuits being fried beyond recognition.

As the hour grew later, Lore finally concluded that unless they found something that appeared to be obviously wrong they should go ahead and ask the Council for the power to be turned back on. Reluctantly Kain agreed.

"At least," he said, "if something goes wrong and breaks we'll know where it is if not what it is."

They agreed to stay for two more hours and after that head for home. Lore then announced that she was going to take a short break and go outside for a fresh breath of air. She was getting sleepy and the night air would be just what she'd need to wake up.

Hearing no protests from the men, she climbed back up to the first basement level and then up one of the lift cords to the second hole they had created. She felt warm from the exertion, contrary to the coldness that pervaded the rooms of the second basement level. All of the Biosystems as cold and lifeless except for them. It was an eerie feeling.

Lore stepped outside and took a deep breath. Behind her the steel walls of the Biosystems Lab rose like the hulking form of some great monster. She lowered her head thoughtfully as a breeze swept through her hair. Lore thought back to yesterday and wondered if Kain might be right. Perhaps she was not working in the right place. But what more could she do? She did not want to be a simple teacher of kids no matter how good it was to know they looked up to her. She wanted to help the grander scheme of things.

Lore sat down on the grass, once a lawn in front of the Biosystems, and felt that the earth was still warm beneath her. That and the thoughts weighing on her mind reminded her of her days at Kueri University--days spent studying, socializing, and romanticizing. A degree in history meant little to nothing now, but back then her fascination with days of yore was accepted, even lauded--except that she was a little too interested in the pre-Mother Brain era for the comfort of some of her professors. She wanted so much to become the absolute best authority on the era that Mother Brain wanted everyone to forget. She didn't want to forget, and she didn't want anyone else to either.

She wrote some damn good essays on the subject too while in school. If Mother Brain had not gone kaput, if she had not seen her life change so rapidly before her eyes, she might have become a professor herself like she originally envisioned. She liked the position as an associate historian she had at the university before Mother Brain's collapse had caused it to shut down. But now... She taught children, and she kept her historian profession only by her single-handed attempts to record every event of the past year so that future generations would know of their ancestors troubles.

It was an overwhelming task, but she comforted herself in the fact she did it. As far as she knew she was the only person on Motavia doing that, and as with the days of Alis, Lassic, and Dark Falz, she did not want the Palman people to forget them.

Lore fancied she heard voices behind her and lifted her head curiously. She turned to see if they were Hugh and Kain, returning from inside. Could they be ready to go already? But voices died; just whispers in the wind, brought about by the dark metal mouth of the building behind her.

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