"Why!" Kain demanded.
"Mr. Kain, please sit down in your seat," said the commander.
Kain grudgingly complied, but that did nothing to quell his anger. He
glared at everyone, but most of all the source of his irritation, with
the intensity of a laser. "Dammit, Hugh! If you had a problem why
couldn't you talk to me about it before?"
The biologist refused to look at Kain, instead remaining rigidly faced
"Your reasons being?" Gillian asked, patently ignoring Kain's outburst
as though it never happened.
"Forging the new Biolab is a complicated process," said Hugh, "and as
you know, we already have a powerful AI in charge of it. I see no need
to place Seed under the direct control of Wren. I would prefer such
interactions be discussed on an equal platform with compromises being
available to both sides. Under the Nurvus system, the Biolab's controls
could largely be overridden by Zelan. I believe that would be unwise,
considering that Zelan knows nothing of the current state of our
planet. For that reason the Biolab needs to be autonomous."
Hugh finished his speech and sat down. Kain forced himself to hold his
tongue through the rest of the meeting and wait until the council
adjourned. When the people began to file from the room, he scooted
quickly around his neighbors and after the fleeing figure of the
biologist. He was not certain, but he had the impression that Hugh was
trying to disappear into the crowd. The hell with that.
Outside the meeting hall, Kain caught up to him. Hugh disappeared
around the broad girth of an engineer, but Kain spotted the tell tale
white of the biologist's lab coat and snatched hold of the sleeve. He
pulled the biologist bodily into a side passage away from the throng and
slammed him again the wall.
"Okay, there aren't any formalities to hide you here!" he growled.
"What the hell did you think you were doing in there?"
Hugh tilted his head down and shifted his eyes away. "I voiced my
opinion. I don't think Wren is the best solution to everything. He's
still too much like having a new Mother Brain."
"You were in favor of Wren, or have you forgotten? Hell, you
even helped us build him!"
"I know. I think he'll be useful... But the more I think about it, the
less certain I am. I don't know if he's the right thing for every
occasion. And I don't think he's the right thing for the Biolab."
"But how come you couldn't tell me about that sooner? Why did it have
to come out in a meeting with a couple hundred people when I haven't a
chance of defending myself? Maybe I could have done something to make
Wren better if you had told me!"
Hugh shook his head. "I didn't tell you because I knew if I did you'd
try to talk me on to your side. You'd try to make Wren fit my plans as
much as possible, and then he wouldn't be Wren, would he? What if no
amount of tinkering you did was enough? You'd complain until you got a
positive answer out of me."
"You bet I would!" Kain licked his lips clean of the thin layer of
froth on them. "But Hugh, I want you to listen to me. When we went to
Noah I thought I saw what was courage come back in your eyes. Now I
know I was wrong. You're still a coward. You can't even believe in
yourself enough to hold up to your beliefs in front of a friend.
Instead you have to hide and wait for a moment when I can do nothing to
contradict you. Yes, Hugh, I would have argued with you until we
reached a comprimise, but isn't that the relationship you wanted between
Wren and Seed?"
He dropped the biologist, and when Hugh collapsed on his knees he did
nothing to help him. "Damn hypocrite. Get your damn act together
before you make a freaking ass out of me again." He left, muttering,
"Friends should be there when it counts, not to shoot them down."
Hugh sat there for a long time, not really moving, just watching the
people pass by in the hallway beside him.
* * * * *
Lore, Kenneth, and Dana were waiting for him when he returned to the
Biolab. Lore hadn't known exactly when he would return, but the three
decided to wait there on the chance he would show. She decided she also
could point out the major parts of the unfinished facilities to her
guests while they were at it. As soon as he passed through the
automated doors, which in reality were not yet automated for lack of a
working electrical system in this area of the lab, she noticed something
All of his motions seemed forced, tense, and his eyes hard. He refused
to leave his gaze in any one place for long, and glanced over Kenneth
and Dana as if they merited the same amount of interest as the new layer
of bulletions posted on the lab's message board.
"Hugh?" said Dana.
He turned back their way with a jerk and nodded slowly. He was
Kenneth moved forward, extending a hand in greeting, which Hugh accepted
after a moment. "Remember us? Kenneth and Dana? Seed called us here
because he selected us to help out with the lab."
Hugh waved him off. "Yeah, I asked him to do that. I remember you
guys. Should have thought of you sooner. We need a lot of help
staffing this place, especially now."
"What happened at the meeting?" asked Lore.
He leaned back against an empty length of wall. "We're not going to
"But that means..."
"I know what it means," he snapped, "but I'm not going to break a
promise, even to a computer." He shook his head. "We'll find a
Lore looked crossly at him. "We need the extra funding joining Nurvus
would have brought us, not just for the lab itself, but for the support
staff that will be living here in New Zema. The lab is not going to be
instantly productive the moment the building is completed. What about
supplies? Salaries? We have to pay these people somehow. Mother Brain
isn't issuing out checks anymore and the offer of room and board will
only last for so long if Nurvus has any say about it."
"But it's not right! If our checks come from Nurvus, how is that
different from when we were beneath Mother Brain? Are we really freeing
ourselves or just building a new master?"
He fidgeted, clenching his fists. Finally, with a jerk of his head he
stormed past Lore and his old friends. He marched down the long hall
away from them as though each deliberately planted step would stomp out
the world's population of antlions beneath him.
"Something happened," said Lore, her anger melting away from her face.
"I haven't seen him this upset in a long time."
"I suppose we weren't supposed to see that," said Kenneth.
"And what's Nurvus?" asked Dana.
Lore gestured for them to follow her. "Let's go to my apartment. Since
you're going to be staff here anyway, and I'm sure Hugh will formalize
that once he has a chance to compose himself, you might as well know.
This information isn't public yet, but it's going to affect a lot of
people once it does."
* * * * *
A horrible person. Perhaps that's what he was. Sometimes he felt it.
Other times he knew it--like the time with Neifirst. He still
remembered the look in her eyes when she died, how she reached for him
with her last breath, how she called him "father" with a whisper he
barely could hear. Hugh set himself behind his office desk with rigid
tenacity. Neifirst had been his design, foiled horribly by Mother
Brain. He would not go so far as to suppose that Wren or Zelan had
ulterior motives, but nonetheless he would not wish to be surprised
during an experiment by either of them rerouting the Biolab's energy
supply or anything of the sort.
Neifirst. She had been what really mattered in the end--started as an
experiment but ended as a daughter. Why did creation have to mingle so
freely with destruction?
Hugh powered up his computer and settled his elbow on his desk. There
was still not much to do as far as research went, but he could at least
take care of his administrative duties. And the first order of business
would be to add Kenneth and Dana to the roster of employees. That is,
if they would still have anything to do with him. He shouldn't have
blown up so badly, but Kain was being ridiculous. Nurvus was not going
to be everything. That's what Mother Brain was. Did it matter whether
it was Earthmen or Palmans at the helm? Perhaps if it was the Palman
populace in general, and not the Council.
Someone had left him a piece of voice mail. He played it.
"Hugh? This is Amy. I was at the meeting, though I don't think you saw
me. I just wanted to say that I was very surprised by what you did. I
won't say whether or not it was for the better, but it was something I
wouldn't have expected of you. I know I've said it before, but you seem
different now, and I guess this new you is here to stay." Silence. "I
guess I'm rambling. I don't know what to say except that I support your
decision. If you want to truly keep the Biolab independant, also
remember that Motavia's hospitals will be counting on you."
Great, more responsibility. He opened up an audio channel to Seed. The
great computer signaled it was listening.
"Seed, to your knowledge has there ever been a scientific definition
applied to emotion?"
"I do not believe there is a proper way to describe it, Dr. Thompson.
Emotion is attributed to having feelings, which have never been truly
quatifiable. These feelings lead to certain behaviors and often stem
from psychological or enviromental cues. But at the same time it is
possible for a person to make him or herself happy or sad by focusing on
"But what is emotion?"
"A state of consciousness. That is the best I can say. Why do you wish
"Neifirst." Hugh laid his head down on his desk. "She took a big part
of mine and changed the fear into anger. That wasn't-"
The computer waited for the rest of Hugh's sentence but it never came.
The biologist guarded his thoughts, refusing to let slip the mention of
his battle on the spaceship Noah. Neifirst. Yes, she turned the fear
to anger, and now he had done the same. That wasn't just the monsters
he fought when he rescued Lore. It was her.
* * * * *
Sunset came to New Zema and Lore and Dana settled themselves on the dry
grass of a hill with a crunch. The thin blades had long withered away
in the dry Motavian weather. Now they served mainly as kindle or even
fodder for what few domesticated animals remained. A small lookout
tower stood a short distance away, just outside of the fledging
community, from which an alarm could be sounded by a sentry should a
brush fire begin to spark. They had learned a lot from the destruction
of the Paseo Archives almost eight months ago, and New Zema had been
built to retard the spread of flames as much as possible, especially now
that it was the height of summer.
"I'm sorry Hugh blew you off," said Lore.
"Not your fault," Dana replied. "You're probably right. He's been
under a lot of stress."
Lore nodded. She tore at a blade of grass, folding it several times
over and watching it crack each time. "So what about you and Ken? Are
you going to hang around?"
Dana laid down, folding her arms under head to keep the majority of her
hair off the pickly ground. "Yeah. I mean, what else is there to do?
There's not much work in Kueri. The university is history I'm afraid.
We can keep on living, but who wants to just live ?"
"A lot of people when I think about it. I hate to admit it, but life
was pretty good under Mother Brain."
Dana sighed. "I suppose. It was like a childhood. But," she added
after a moment, "the children have grown up."
Lore crunched down on the grass beside her. "So why don't you tell me
about you and Ken?"
"Well, whose name did you take? Yours or his?"
The other woman shrugged, as much as she could with her arms pinned
beneath her head. "Well, Ken thought Ra Mira sounded too awkward when
put together with his name, and our families really have the same
status, so we decided to use his. Besides, most of my family was back
on Palm like yours. Goodness knows where they are now. Any prestige my
name would bring is pretty much moot." She let out a deep breath. "So
I'm Dana Mahlay now. It does sound better than Kenneth Ra Mira though,
"I don't know. I rather liked the sound of Dana Ra Mira."
"Well, someone's gotta change."
Dana smiled. "If you and Hugh..."
"Don't even go there. I don't want to think about it."
Lore closed her eyes and thought back as far as she could. Names
without faces, history without witnesses. The Drakon family line was
extensive, carefully recorded and passed down for well over a
millennia. She, like so many others in her family, became interested in
history because of the fact her lineage went back so far. But the
Drakons had never really spread to Motavia. There were a few footholds
here and there, but none that lasted to these modern times. As far as
she knew, with the destruction of Palm, her family here was all that was
She knew Dana's family once had a lot of power on Palm, back in the days
before Mother Brain, as had the Mahlays. In ancient days before Weyes
Landale united the Palman people, the Mahlay family controlled the Baya
peninsula, later the headquarters of the new Palman kingdom and the
Lore mentally sighed. The Palmans had come a long way since those
feudal days, though she didn't know whether to consider that a good or a
bad thing. Certainly the folklore of those olden days was more romantic
than those times actually were, but if she learned anything from
studying history, it was that no matter the recorded accounts of the
era, it was invariably inaccurate somehow. Like putting together a
puzzle without a picture of the finished product, a picture that could
only be see by witnessing the era firsthand.
"Lore, are you falling asleep on me?" asked Dana.
"No," she replied, eyes still closed, "but it sure is nice laying like
this while the air's still warm."
"It won't be cold tonight."
"I know. I doubt I'll ever be cold during a Motavian summer again."
"Come on. Get up."
She opened her eyes. "Why?"
"It'll be dark soon. I don't have a flash with me, so unless we're
going to go stumbling back to your apartment in the dark..."
"Oh all right." Lore stood and picked the strands of grass from her
clothes and hair. "I suppose we should give Hugh a call too. Maybe
he's calmed down by now."