Never Without Hope
October. Tensions strained and people looked away as the coldest week of the
Motavian year came once again. By now most of the refugees from Palm had
something resembling a personal home, so they could safely hide away if they
wished. Many of them did. But others became curious, creeping out to observe or partake of the festivities around them. The Last Week Celebration had come.
Funding for the event had been difficult with the usual sponsors--namely local government organizations--in disarray about the coming elections, but most Motavia-bred Palmans were more than willing to chip in a few meseta to see that the festivities continued as they had since the first days of Motavia's colonization.
Hugh returned to Paseo for an extended period for the first time in months with the express purpose of spending the celebration period with his friends. Lore found her way back from Arima as well. She had bought a new dress, after a little insistence from Cass, especially for the occasion. Originally she had planned to spend the week in Kueri as she had the previous year, but Kain was adamant. He wanted the whole group together again and this was the time to do it.
Then Cass came up with the marvelous suggestion that Sharon and David should join the four of them so they could go as a group to one of the dances on the Fourth Day of the Last Week. Kain had muttered something negative about what he thought about such frivolities, but mostly kept his thoughts to himself. Cass also invited Sharon to prepare with her and Lore at her apartment for that particular evening. She insinuated that David could do the same with Hugh and Kain at one of theirs. Hugh agreed, which earned him the momentary wrath of Kain after the meeting time and place were settled.
"All set?" called Cass, her voice sounding strangely distorted from where Lore stood, leaning over the counter, in the bathroom.
"Yep!" came Sharon's voice.
Lore grimaced and opened the door. "Almost!" she hollered. She set back to looking at herself in the mirror. Her gown looked fine, it survived the trip from Arima well, and the lavender-tinged silver was a beautiful color. But the historian felt a little uneasy, and she could not understand why. With a sigh she held a comb of white flowers over her head and gently nudged it into place in her bundled onyx hair. That seemed to help a little bit.
"C'mon!" said Sharon. "We're already late to meet the guys!"
Lore resisted saying that Sharon had been the one tying up the bathroom for so long and that she would otherwise be on time. Instead she called out, "We don't need to impress anyone. It's not like we're dating them!" Lore pulled on a pair of long matching gloves of the same silky material as her dress.
"Not yet," came the laughing reply. "You wait and see."
One last thing , Lore told herself. She lifted a gold necklace out of her duffel. Hanging from it was curious pendant shaped like a teardrop. With great care she lifted it above her head and placed it around her neck. Lore smiled to herself, then joined her friends in the living room of Cass's apartment with something of the same teasing humor on her face.
"I don't know," she said, continuing their conversation, "they don't seem like easy fish to catch."
Sharon set her hands on her hips and winked coyly at her. "But we're great bait!"
Cass rolled her eyes. "I'm not so certain I want to be thought of as bait."
"Me either," said Lore with a nod. "Now let's get going. I seem to recall someone saying we're late."
"They'll forgive us," said Sharon brightly. "They don't got other women hanging around them."
Lore smiled drolly. "Remind me to tell them that when we see them."
"Funny how it works out though," said Cass, moving away and opening the front door. "I mean... three of us and three of them. It's almost like a triple date."
The historian made a sour face. "Then why are we heading to this 'become-a-couple' event instead of the 'together for life' dance?"
"Oh Lore," --Sharon smiled-- "are you that cranky about not having a boyfriend?"
The pink-haired robotics specialist patted Lore on the shoulder as though to mollify her. "Don't worry, you look stunning. Plus, we'll have three guys with us. Maybe Hugh will notice you or something. A guy would have to be blind to miss you tonight." Sharon grinned mischievously. "And speaking of tonight, Kain is all mine!"
"Hey!" said Cass, coming back to half push and half drag Sharon out the door to get the three of them moving. "If she gets Hugh and you get Kain, what does that leave me with? David?"
"Well, he is a nice sort." Sharon batted her eyes as she whirled down the hall away from Cass.
"Oh, stop it," said Lore, holding up her hand as she walked past Cass. "Just turn off the lights, shut your door, and let's get moving."
* * * * *
David pulled back the sleeve of his jacket to look at his watch. He checked the time, sighed, and then looked at the door to the outside of Kain's apartment. "They're pretty late," he said, glancing over his shoulder at Hugh and Kain. "They should have been here a while ago. Maybe we should call them."
Kain wrenched himself around, trying to pull on his jacket without tearing something. Then he shrugged in response to David's comment. "Eh, they're probably just taking their sweet time doing whatever it is that women do that takes them so long to get ready for an important occasion."
Hugh sat, nonchalant and dressed in a tuxedo, on the arm of Kain's sofa. For once the biologist looked natural in something other than his casual clothes and his lab coat. "They're probably on their way. If they were any later they would have let us know."
"Hmph." Kain tugged the jacket firmly around his body. "I guess." He lifted his arms and twisted, angling to get a better glimpse of his backside. "So, how do I look?"
Hugh turned his head to see. "Like a gentleman."
Kain scowled. "Don't say that with such a straight face! Sheesh, I might actually believe you." He picked at the lapels of his jacket. "All I want is to not look like some kind of idiot. I don't even know why I'm going to this sort of thing. I never go! This was always my sleep all day time of the Last Week. All there is at this thing is a bunch of dancing couples and desperate women."
David smiled slightly. "I thought that was the point."
Kain turned viciously to face him. "I do not dance!"
"You called us all together for the Last Week," said Hugh mildly.
"This dancing's not the only part of the celebration. There's eating and seeing people, talking and socializing! Heck, there's even the vendor fair and the games. Failing that this is a whole week off! We can sleep or vacation or do whatever we want!"
"Then you can do that while the rest of us dance."
Kain crossed his arms over his chest. "Heh. What we should be doing is enjoying all the free food and discussing what we're going to do about Wren."
Hugh tilted his head slightly in inquiry. "He's not near completion yet?"
Kain snarled. "No! And I'm so damn worried about it my head's gonna explode!"
"Why?" Hugh asked evenly.
David glanced worriedly at Kain and said, "He's worried that Wren's funding may get pulled. He's actually been worrying about this for a few months now. Currently, it looks like the people most likely to win the elections aren't fond of government secrets. Wren isn't exactly public knowledge."
"Neither is Daughter," said Hugh.
"But Daughter is the 'sure' thing. Which is the better project to sell people? A giant sprawling complex of a computer or a single less-than-impressive android? When money is scarce it's the backroom project that's gonna get pulled." David shook his head. "We still have to build the mainframe interface for Wren even after he's activated."
Hugh thought about that for a moment. "Is there anything you can use so you don't have to build one from scratch?"
David sighed. "Not unless there's some planetary maintenance complex out there that Mother Brain hasn't told us about."
"I think there is," said Kain lowly. "We just have to find it."
A knock sounded at the door.
"Ah, that must be them," said David, already moving towards it and breaking the apartment's awkward mood.
Kain sighed, spread his arms forward, palms turned up, and faced Hugh. "Tell me I look all right."
Hugh stood and gripped him on the shoulder. "I told you: You look like a gentleman. Now stop worrying about it."
"Hey, guys!" Sharon exploded into Kain's apartment in a flurry of wavy pink hair and sky blue dress. "Ready to go?"
Kain groaned inwardly. "Yeah, let's party all night."
"Don't worry, she said, grabbing Kain's arm and pulling him towards the door, "it'll be fun!"
He glanced helplessly back at Hugh, who shrugged and smiled, sticking his hands in his pants pockets.
Lore waved to Kain as she stepped inside and out of Sharon's way.
"Out we go," said Sharon, pushing Kain into the hallway where Cass waited. "You too," she tossed back into the apartment.
David chuckled. "Yes, ma'am!"
As David left, Hugh walked up to Lore. He met her eyes briefly then looked away.
"Um... You look nice," he said.
She smiled softly. "Thank you. You do too."
He turned back to her and his gaze lowered slightly, traveling down the length of the golden chain around her neck to theteardrop-shaped pendant hanging from it. The pendant was made of amber, and the color of the drying Motavian lake at sunset.
Distantly, he heard the climax of a verbal spat out in the hall, but he ignored it. "It's good to see you still wear that."
Lore looked down and took the pendant in her hand. She gazed fondly at it. "I wear it a lot actually--just not where everyone can see it. I wasn't sure if I wanted to wear this to the dance, but I decided it's a very nice piece. Amber might not be very valuable, but it's a lovely stone." She glanced up at him. "And it stands for 'hope' after all. I should never be without that."
Hugh smiled in return. He let out a breath. "Well, we better get going before Kain kills Sharon or she drives him insane."
Lore clasped her arm about his. "Of course."
* * * * *
The dance was held in the Pavilion in downtown Paseo, less than a block from the Motavian Command Center and the Paseo Archive. The Pavilion was mostly an empty hall with a stage and vaulted ceilings. But when the citizens desired it could transform into a arena suitable for nearly any community event involving several hundred. Not everyone would come to this particular dance this evening. As Lore pointed out, the dance held here was geared towards unattached singles and those yet to solidify as a couple.
Colorful lanterns of all shapes and sizes hung from the walls and ceiling of the dance hall, gleeful decorated by the committee in charge of the Paseo celebration. They bathed the darkened room below in a soft orange glow. A live band with an accompanying vocalist played on the stage at the far end of the hall, opposite the clear plastic doors of the main entrance. The muffled sounds of their lively music even reached the ears of those just outside the building.
Sharon darted up the wide, shallow steps to the entrance a heartbeat ahead of her companions. "Wow!" she said, pausing by the doors. "Look at all the people inside!"
Kain came up behind her and squinted inside. "Great. I hope there aren't too many people in there or there won't be enough room to walk. Heh. Guess that means we won't have to actually dance. There isn't enough room in there to put your hands in your pockets without bumping someone's elbows."
She opened the door and the music turned up a notch. "Oh, you're just exaggerating! There's plenty of room, especially if we start dancing now before more people arrive!"
"Are you crazy?" Kain shook his head and reluctantly followed her inside.
"Don't worry, boss," said David lowly with a smile. "Just keep her occupied until it does get too crowded."
The doors shut behind the six of them.
"Not a chance!" said Sharon. "I heard that." She clamped her hand around Kain's wrist and despite a new range of protests from him, hauled the wrecker out on to the dance floor.
Cass resisted laughing. She turned towards the rest of the group with an exaggerated twirl of her plum-colored dress. "Maybe we should give them some time to themselves. I'm going to check out the refreshments. Anyone with me?"
Lore shrugged kindly. "Sure."
Hugh and David glanced at each other and followed the two women.
"So," said Hugh, "why don't you explain to me more about your difficulties with Wren? Even if Kain can't be constructive right now there's no reason we can't be."
Cass pulled Lore ahead of the men, who had begun to slow with the advent of their discussion. She leaned close to the historian so that only she could hear. "There's no need to start dancing right away anyway. From over here we can look around at all the unattached guys and see who we might want to dance with."
Lore made a confused face. "But wouldn't all the guys worth asking already be dancing with someone?"
"Then look for someone who's taking a break from dancing!"
Cass halted at a pink clothed covered table laden with several trays of snacks and a punch bowl with some sort of dark colored liquid in it. "Look at all the cookies!" she said, beaming as she made her way over to a particular tray. "I'm amazed they managed to dig up enough flour for this."
The blue-haired librarian delicately picked up a sugar sprinkled biscuit and bit into it. Lore, still wearing her silken gloves, refrained from doing so, but she smiled at her friend's enthusiasm. "Ah, your one weakness."
"Hey, hey! At least I admit it." Cass finished off the cookie and picked up another one. "Besides, this stuff's pretty expensive now."
Lore sighed. "Don't tell me they're thinking about rationing the weye flour."
"You've hit the giant between the eyes--unfortunately."
"Give me a sword and I'll fight off angry giants just like Alis did. But this isn't something I can fight like that." Lore looked around and watched David and Hugh come up to the table a little further down from them. "But I suppose I shouldn't be worrying about stuff like this during the Last Week."
Cass finished a third cookie. "You've got it! Loosen up once in a while. You've been too tense lately and I worry about you."
"Do you? Well, then I'm going to be daring and try some of that mystery drink!" Lore gestured towards the punch bowl with a grin. Little bits of wrinkled fruit floated on its surface. "I figure it can't be poisonous. Maybe it's someone's personal concoction."
Cass smirked. "Then bring me a glass too, why don't you. I could use something to wash this down." She held up another cookie meaningfully.
Lore walked along the table, finding that she very much enjoyed the atmosphere despite the fact nearly every square meter seemed to hold a person or two. The music was a little too loud for her tastes, and current song appeared be about a strange encounter between an item store clerk and a fire ant, but the cheerful melody lightened her mood. She met Hugh and David at the punch bowl and convinced them to try some as well.
None of them could figure out quite what the drink was, but it had a tart, smoky flavor none of them had ever tasted before. David made it a point to figure out who catered the dance before the night ended and filled his glass again before they rejoined Cass, who they found waving into the crowd.
Lore handed the librarian her glass and looked to see who she had flagged down. The historian spied a tall, slender man with dark sea green hair heading towards them. He walked with a confident gait and dressed neatly in a three piece gray suit.
"Who's that?" she asked.
Cass looked at her incredulously. "You don't know?"
"He looks a little familiar," Lore admitted.
But then the man was with them and Cass clasped his hand in greeting. "Councillor Dawson! It's so good to see you here!"
He nodded and smiled. "Of course, Cassandra. Even though being here puts me a little out of favor with the Palm-bred people, I enjoy the Last Week as much as any Motavia-born Palman."
Cass laughed. "Don't worry, sir. I'm certain you'll be reseated on the Council with the election. Being here boosts your favor with the Motavian faction."
Hugh and David's private conversation stopped.
Cass wrapped an arm around Lore. "Oh, before I forget! I should introduce you to my friends." She gestured with the mystery drink to their small group of four. "Everyone, this is Councillor Gillian Dawson of the Free Motavia Party."
David's expression turned slightly incredulous as Cass named his political affiliation.
Cass pointed her glass at the two men. "Councillor Dawson, this is Dr. Hugh Thompson--he's working on the Biosystems you know--and David Campbell."
"We've met," said David tersely.
Hugh held out a hand. "We've never been formally introduced, but you may remember me from some of the Biosystem development meetings."
Gillian shook it and nodded. "I do. I'm glad the venture with Seed turned out well. I admit I was skeptical at first, but we need to keep all possible avenues of knowledge open to us."
"That's good to hear, Councillor."
David rolled his eyes behind Gillian's back.
"And this lady is?" asked Gillian, finally turning to Lore.
Cass gave her friend a one-armed hug. "This is Lore Drakon, the historian I told you about."
Lore flushed slightly and glared at Cass.
Gillian bowed--David catching Hugh's eye as he made a half-hearted mock kick at the councillor's rear. "A pleasure to meet you, Miss Drakon," said Gillian.
"I'm honored, Councillor," Lore politely replied.
Cass released her grip on Lore and edged a little closer to David. "Well, why don't you all get better acquainted. I'd like to go get a breath of fresh air. How about you, David ?" She glanced meaningfully at the AI programmer.
"What?" he said, his expression of bottled anger replaced by one of total confusion.
Cass frowned. "Oh you! Let's just go before you cause any trouble." She grabbed him by the arm and wheeled him out towards the entrance.
Hugh watched them go and thought about how humorous it was that both David and Kain should get forcefully dragged off by the women in their group. He could not imagine Lore doing something like that, though he found the thought amusing that she might cart him on to the dance floor. It was a pleasant thought, if an unlikely one. But they had danced once before.
The music died, signaling the end of another song. On stage, a new singer took the microphone. She held it carefully in her hands, then, gaining confidence, she gestured for the band to begin a new song. They struck up a low, lovely tune and Hugh thought that just maybe if Lore wouldn't ask him, he would-
"Miss Drakon... Lore, may I have this dance?" said Gillian.
She hesitated, then bowed her head. "All right."
Hugh opened his mouth, thought better of it, and closed it. He pretended to look away, but watched out of the corner of his eye as the tall councillor lead Lore among the multitude of couples. Hugh drank from his glass and wondered why he experienced such an anxious feeling in his gut.
Then Lore and Gillian reached the center of the dance floor and the singer's haunting voice began its song. Hugh found the lyrics only worsened the pit in his stomach. He should be dancing out there with Lore. But he was not, and so he resigned himself to watch.
The wind blows crisp and cool
Rustling through leaves like there's nowhere else to go.
It seems so lonesome and gloomy.
And I wait for a sign
Bringing hope that I do not dare believe.
All alone I was lost but then you reached for me,
I could feel my spirits soar.
"So you're the main candidate of the Free Motavia Party?" said Lore, placing a hand on Gillian's shoulder as they danced. "Now that I think about it, it makes sense from what Cass had told me, but I just didn't make the connection before."
"A few others have found it surprising as well," said Gillian. Lore didn't know what to make of that statement, but his silvery eyes seemed serious and steadfast to his words.
"Cass tells me that your party values history, that it won't ignore it like some of the others will."
"That is true. I value knowledge in all its forms." He lead her gracefully,
as a gifted dancer himself. "The person who turns away knowledge is a person
condemned to ignorance. Knowledge can save. Ignorance can destroy. Those
are words I live by."
"Powerful words for a candidate of such a grassroots organization."
Gillian smiled. "They have to be to win a seat in the election. I may not have much experience being on the Council, but I know that I need to be a strong leader."
When I'm with you I don't need to fear anymore,
And even though the bad rises to drown me
With you I know I can fight.
You bring peace again, something that I thought I had lost
And I will not forget even a moment
That you are... the one who saved my soul.
Hugh watched them, sighed, and shoved his hands in his pockets. He let out a breath as he rocked himself on his heels. He supposed he could always ask her to dance later, but for some reason he felt that at this moment he let something slip, something that he shouldn't have, and he would never regain what he had lost.
This song reminded him of too much and foretold too little. Hugh turned and walked towards the main entrance. He needed some fresh air, and perhaps he would find David and Cass. But the lyrics haunted him even as he left.
Rainy days just like these
Invite hope to a heart that needs so much more
Than the simple things life gives me.
And I try one last time
To do the things that I could not do before
It's so hard, but I stand. Maybe I will survive.
Lifting wings, I'll sail with you.
Sharon smiled lightly to Kain. "Stop squirming so much. You might actually enjoy yourself more if you honestly tried."
Kain glowered. "Who says I'm not already trying?"
Her eyes twinkled. "I do." She swung closer and briefly laid her head on his shoulder before the dance steps called her away again. "I've seen you when you're trying something difficult for you before. You give it your best. The difference is here you don't want to try."
"Hey, I did come out here," he said gruffly. "If I was really going to be bad about it, all the biomonsters on Motavia couldn't move me."
"That's true." She laughed and Kain could feel the vibrations of her body as he held her. "Kain, can I ask you something?"
He looked down and met her crystal blue eyes with a curious expression. "What?"
She smiled again, sincerely. "I feel kind of funny always calling you by your family name. I know all your other friends do it, but... Do you think it would be all right if I called you 'Joshua'?"
Kain thought about the implications of such a thing. He discarded nearly all usage of his given name for a reason and once he reminded enough people to simply call him "Kain" the rest followed suit. He recalled his life before discovering Rolf's quest to rid Motavia of biomonsters and knew that the feelings associated with the memories would not heal easily. The separation was long enough, but mended nothing.
"I'm sorry," he told her. "I'm Kain--to everyone, not just you."
"Oh." Disappointed reflected in her eyes.
Kain sighed. "But if it's any comfort to you, I'll at least try dancing--for real."
Now I should have known life would not be so easy to live
But no matter how I try, I need you with me.
Please stay here by my side.
I know I can feel safe when enfolded in your arms.
If only I could be just for a moment
Just a girl... resting by your side.
The music faded like the breath from a whisper. The dancers parted, turned to each other, and bowed or curtsied as was proper. Lore lifted herself and smiled to Gillian. "Thank you for the dance."
"You're welcome. I enjoyed it. And if you don't mind-" Gillian broke off, turning to face a commotion that grew near the entrance of the Pavilion.
Red lights flashed outside the clear plastic doors in a regular sequence. Now that the band was silent, distant, muffled shouts could be heard. Though the building's walls blocked the comprehension of individual words, their tone combined with the lights could mean only one thing.
"Not on a day like this..." said Lore, raising a gloved hand to her chest.
"They're going to need help," said Gillian abruptly. He dashed for the entrance without another word. When he flung open a door the lights grew brighter.
Lore chased after him, catching the door before it could swing shut. People swarmed outside, lining the streets with racing red lights that would have normally been placed into position by Mother Brain's robots. She glanced in the direction the lights indicated and caught site of a huge reddish glow further down the block. Lore cursed her party shoes and scampered down the steps as fast as she could, but Gillian had too much of a lead for her too keep up.
Then she saw a figure run past the councillor and straight towards her. Cass. The librarian's cheeks were flushed and she nearly stumbled. Somewhere she had lost her dress shoes.
Lore covered the distance between them quickly and steadied Cass against her. Her friend panted heavily, barely able to breathe. "Are you all right? What happened?" Lore asked.
Cass coughed, inhaled deeply, and turned a fearful face towards her. "It's
the Paseo Archive. It's on fire."
Lore stood, stunned, for a moment until she heard Kain at her shoulder.
Sharon was with him, her normally bright face now so pale.
"Let's get her to lay down," said Kain. "From the looks of it you might want
to do so too."
Sharon pulled Cass away from Lore and lead her from the crowd spilling from
the Pavilion. Cries rang out for water, but without the fire control droids
Mother Brain would normally command, progress in fighting the fire was
difficult to achieve. Nothing like this had happened before. No one had
thought to plan for it. The buildings Mother Brain built were strong, but
that did not mean their contents were.
Flashes of blue shot out--people using their techs. But no one knew how to
fight a fire this big. Though still far away, Lore could see the flames that
licked from rooftop of the Paseo Archive. And if the reddish hue that eerily
lit the city was any indication of its size nearly the whole building burned.
But if it was only nearly and if the fire was at the top... The paper
archives were stored in the basement.
"Lore..." said Kain.
The historian did not face him. Her eyes focused only on the burning building
less than a block away. Slowly, she clenched a hand tightly into a fist.
"It's not too late," she said. "There's still time."
"What are you-"
Lore ignored him. Without another word she bolted, heedless of Kain's worried
shouts. She lowered her head, pouring all her energy into running as fast as
her costume would let her. Hot tears began to stream from her eyes, blinding
her, but she would not stop. She could still see the outlines of people, of
the flame-wreathed entrance to the library. Closer. She came closer.
There were more people now, all standing around to help with their techs or
with futile sprays of water from tiny hoses. She darted among them, barreling
through along a frenzied path. Some noticed her and shouted questions or
pleas to stop. Someone tried to grab her, but she shook him off.
Closer. If she could just get inside... All that history... All that
A firm hand closed around her wrist, pulling her back. Lore whirled around to
break free, wild-eyed with fear, and saw Hugh. His face was neutral, but in
his eyes she saw the reflection of the fire and destruction behind her.
She saw herself reflected in his eyes--pale and frightened. And deeper within
his green irises, now purple in the light of the fire, she saw something
"Don't go in there, Lore," he said. "You won't make it back. And then we'll
loose something more important than all that history could teach us. Books
can be rewritten. A life cannot."
She hiccuped, but made no move to leave. Lore turned her head back to look at
the burning building and thought of all her work, of all the work of so many
other people. She let out a sob and collapsed against him, wrapping her arms
tightly around him as she cried. She felt his arms gently surround her, and
as she lay her head on his shoulder she tried to take what comfort she