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Chapter Thirty-One

Don't Know

"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 towards Gillian.

"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 was wrong.

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 listening.

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 join Nurvus."

"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 way."

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 those thoughts."

"But what is emotion?"

"A state of consciousness. That is the best I can say. Why do you wish to know?"

"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?"

"Like what?"

"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, doesn't it?"

"I don't know. I rather liked the sound of Dana Ra Mira."

"Well, someone's gotta change."

"I know."

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 left.

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 tyrant Lassic.

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."

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