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Chapter Thirty


When the knock sounded on the door it was just another thing for Lore to worry about. The first of the permanent apartment complexes in New Zema just opened and she had happily claimed a unit for herself. Though the building materials were nowhere near as fine as those in Paseo, the complex small and a mere three stories tall, it was a proud accomplishment for the engineers involved. And for Lore it meant an escape from the thin panel floors of her temporary apartment that would rattle with any heavier than normal step she took. When Lore dropped a box of her possessions here, the new floors took it with no more than a low whump on the landing.

She felt ready for her new home. But now, only partially unpacked, she didn't know if she was ready for visitors. She already told the people at work that she was taking a few days off. What emergency could possibly come up that they would need her for?

She decided to open the door. Lore walked around cartons full of clothing, cooking supplies, and furniture, before setting her hand on the door knob. These were among the first doors to use the old handles as a way of opening them. The Palmans found increasing amounts of satisfaction in simplicity. Technology had given them a lot, but working to maintain it was even harder.

"Hello?" said Lore, opening the door.

The people on the other side were not from the school district. A young man and woman, both a few years older than her, stood beyond the doorway. She recognized them, but could find no immediate words to say.

"Guess who?" said the woman, golden eyes sparkling.

"Dana. Kenneth," Lore said at last. "It's been a long time." She smiled. "Four, five years maybe? I've lost track ever since we tried to get on with our lives."

Dana shrugged. "About that. I don't blame you for not keeping in touch. I think all of us were a bunch of nervous wrecks for a while--except Hugh. Dern critter got his doctorate even after all that."

Lore nodded, then, thinking of her guests, gestured inside. "Please. Come in. My apartment's a bit of a mess right now, but at least there's a couch to sit on."

They accepted and she ushered them round the piles of boxes. Lore brought them some juice to drink as they exchanged the initial pleasantries. She learned how the two of them had fared since she had last seen them as students at Kueri University. Dana had been in the final graduating class before Rolf's attack on Mother Brain disabled the institution. She came away with a degree in bioengineering that she wondered if she'd ever be able to use. Kenneth, being a year older than Dana, had already started a career in teaching with his biochemical background, but that swiftly degraded from instruction of university-minded students to the sort of children Lore had taught. They had managed to scrape together enough to live though. Most people in Kueri were of a practical nature and Kenneth was one of the lucky few who owned his very own house. He turned it and the surrounding yard into a vegetable garden when the collapse of Mother Brain arrived. Most people weren't so lucky as to have the space.

He also had an interesting tale to add. A while ago, during the turbulent weeks before Mother Brain's collapse, his friend Hugh came to him with a request. Hugh had hooked up with an agent investigating the biomonster phenomenon, and they needed to get into Climatrol, but the only opening they knew of was at the bottom of the ocean. He knew Kenneth was working on something and...

"You invented the maruera gum?" said Lore.

"That was me," said Kenneth cheerfully. "And if you give me some time there'll be plenty more where that came from!"

Lore laughed in return and related the details of her own life since the fall of Mother Brain. She told of how Kenneth's maruera gum helped her, Hugh, and Kain restore the power to Motavia, of how they had created Wren and reactivated Seed. She did not tell them of Zelan or the trip to Noah, but as much as she felt she could without letting perilous information pass from her lips. Lore wrapped up her story with a summary of the events that had brought her to New Zema.

Kenneth nodded approvingly as she spoke of the town's progress. "It's coming along fine. This apartment ain't bad for being post-Mother Brain either. It's no shantytown, that's for certain."

"Glad you think so," she said, "because I'm probably going to be living here for a while."

"We may be joining you."

"What do you mean?"

Dana leaned forward with a conspiratory grin. "Much as we'd like to say this is purely a social call, it ain't. You see, Ken and I were in town looking for Hugh, but he wasn't around. Your name came up while we were asking around so we decided to pay you a visit. We thought maybe you'd know where he is."

Lore nodded. "I do. He's in Paseo attending a meeting as the acting chair of the Biolab. Why?"

"We each received letters via courier from the Biolab. They were actual computer printouts requesting us to report to Hugh about positions as a part of the lab's staff."

"Really? That's great! Do you know what as?"

Dana shook her head. "But I'm guessing it'll be along the line of our specialties. Ken's innovative applications of biochemistry has always made him sought after. But me? I dunno. I was called too."

"You regard yourself too lowly," chided Kenneth. "People will need you even more now that the health care system is failing as much as it is."

Lore grimly agreed. "I don't know what Hugh's criteria is for the people he wants to work in the lab, but I think we can use all the help we can get."

"I suppose you're right." Dana exhaled loudly. "So, let's move on to a brighter topic! How has Hugh been? He's obviously a very busy man now. Neither of us have heard anything from him since Mother Brain collapsed--though we've certainly heard of him."

Lore shrugged. "Okay, I guess. As you guessed, he's been really busy lately. He doesn't talk to me as much as he used to. When he does it's usually about business. I don't think he likes to admit it, but I think he knows he's taking on a lot of stress and he's afraid to make a mistake. He has the support of everyone currently working on the Biolab and he doesn't want to lose it. This meeting he's attending in Paseo has been bothering him too. I think I know what it's about, but he can't discuss it with me."

"Sorry to hear that," said Dana. "We thought you two were such a close couple."

"What ?"

Dana smiled. "Sure you never did anything romantic together, but you were such good friends we thought if you didn't find anyone else the two of you would get married."

"We're hardly that old, Dana. I'm only twenty-two, and Hugh's just a year older than me."

"So? We're not that much older than you."

"What do you mean?"

Dana lifted a hand and pulled back the long sleeve of her shirt to reveal a close fitting bracelet. Twin strands of gold interwove in simple elegance around her wrist. Engraved in each of them was the double helix formation.

"You got married," said Lore.

Dana nodded, noting Lore's interest in the design. "Our symbol," she said, "since we're both biologists."

* * * * *

The Commander of Motavia pounded his gavel from his position at the head of the large reception chamber. "The Council and the civic department heads vote to deactivate Daughter under the provision that an emergency activation signal to wake her will be integrated with Nurvus in the event that the system should ever fail."

Kain nodded his agreement along with the many others present. The Council sat high in the arena with the Commander below them at a special desk. Kain and the department heads sat low in the area opposite them, a shallow bowl designed to hold an audience of two hundred. It had been three months since he proposed Nurvus, and things were going surprisingly well. Hugh mentioned that the Biolab was getting close to operation and that Seed had sent notices to prospective staff members. The biologist seemed rather distant when he told Kain of his progress, but Kain had enough to worry about. No one should be forced to accept Nurvus, but he needed the cooperation of most of the different departments to make sure it would work. Yes, the Council agreed that Nurvus would replace Daughter, but that did not mean that all the different systems would have to be integrated with it. He wanted to give people the choice.

Kain tried to catch Hugh's eye, since the biologist sat a few chairs to his left, representing the Biolab, but the purple-haired scientist's eyes remained fixated on the Council in front of them. Kain sighed and settled back in his seat. He hated this. Hated every bit of it. He liked helping people, but he liked his freedom too. Where did that go? Since when did he become a big wheel?

He risked a look around at the people in the room with him though, and decided that his thoughts mirrored that of the majority of the people here. Most of them were his age, maybe a little older. They were the future that would define Motavia; young people old enough to lead yet young enough to adapt. Rolf was here, as head of internal security. Rudo and Anna were here, representing the hunters and guardians respectively. Even Amy was here, on behalf of the flagging public health department. Only Shir was missing, though he wouldn't be surprised if she knew about today's happenings as well. He found it almost funny how the seven of them had gone from defeating Mother Brain to becoming ingrained in the very sort of politics that blinded the people to the danger she had been.

"Now that Nurvus will be replacing Daughter, we need the ratification of the departments that will be integrated with it," said the Commander. "This network cannot function as proposed without a majority of the systems, including such vitals as Climatrol and the plate system. Considering the fractured disposition of the public and the current level of independence of many of our departments, the Council has decided that it will not be absolutely necessary for everyone to be included. However, joining is highly encouraged, and may become mandatory in the future should Nurvus prove capable. If there is any dissension, speak now and present your reasons for your department's action. Department names will be read off by Councillor Dawson. Please respond when the department you represent is announced."

Gillian stood, holding a list of names in his hand. "Climatrol."

A red-haired man from behind Kain stood and replied, "Climatrol's staff votes to join Nurvus."

"Shure Engineering Facility," said Gillian.

"Shure's engineers will join with Nurvus."


"Roron will join Nurvus."

Kain listened with a quaking stomach and a bladder that suddenly felt too full. He fidgeted, hoping, almost daring to pray to a god whose existence he doubted, that all parties would agree to integrate with Nurvus. Wren would not be another Mother Brain. The android, Zelan, and Nurvus together could free up Palman hands enough for them to concentrate on the parts of their lives no machines could rebuild. Kain, as Wren's primary creator held no illusions about the limitations of his project. Wren was an intelligent tool, but a tool nonetheless, and only as efficient as the people behind him.

"Dams and irrigation," said Gillian.

"Dams will join."

There were heads present of departments not yet ready to function, but hoped to be off the ground as soon as Nurvus or Daughter presented the opportunity. The dams had still not recovered since the destruction of Mother Brain. Climatrol was an inactive hulk. The plate system rusting for all they knew, but people were assigned to recover and develop them nonetheless.

Kain listened to the list grow. The agricultural department rebelled, citing the need to observe the crops firsthand in order to produce the best yield. Though very new in their knowledge of farming, most had learned quickly out of fear and desperation. He supposed they felt threatened at the thought of sharing power over something they had struggled so hard for.

"Nido Observatory."

"We vote to join Nurvus."

Few departments were left to name. Kain's roving eyes rested on Hugh.

"Biosystems Lab," said Gillian.

Kain watched the biologist stand for what seemed like an eternity. His friend looked like ice when he met the councillor in the eye.

"Opposed," said Hugh.

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