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Chapter Thirty-Two

Construction and Deconstruction

Development of Nurvus' core began in earnest. Beneath the discretion of Kain and Gillian, the latter much to the distress of the former, scores of people assembled to build their new headquarters above the all important control center buried in the heart of Motavia. The chamber was located over a kilometer underground and they planned to fill the levels of ground between them and it with their new facility. The amount of dirt to be hauled up would be tremendous and near impossible if not for the risk Kain and Gillian agreed to take.

Large miners, great robots with shoveling hands designed by Mother Brain, were pulled from the factories where they lay dormant. David disconnected their AIs and Sharon devised a way to seat a human pilot inside of them. With the refitted miners, construction could at last begin.

Kain just wished Hugh would bother to lend them a hand. Not that the Biolab was terribly important to Nurvus at the moment, but the biologist made it plainly clear that his facility would remain independent. He hadn't even spoken to Kain since that meeting three months ago, which suited Kain just fine. Let the guy get himself in trouble on his own and then he'll realize his mistake. Kain refused to allow the thought that he himself might be wrong as well. After all he fought for, Nurvus was too expensive for lose. And Councillor Turgen was being a regular pain again. Conservative though he was, the councillor had a lot of support from other council members and the populace in general.

Kain continued to muse over his plans as he paced around the living room of his apartment. If he and Hugh shared anything now, it was the sort of quick built housing provided around their facilities. But unlike Hugh, Kain planned to return to Paseo as soon as possible. The biologist still had his apartment in the capital city, but he rarely if ever used it anymore. He was always nosing about his lab these days. He kept his to his own business. Kain, however, had made a priority to regard other people's business as his own, especially when it involved any aspect of the systems to be integrated with Nurvus.

Wren was scheduled to return to Zelan in a couple of months to continue the process of getting the satellite online and establish a link between it and Nurvus. David would be going with him. The tech looked forward to the opportunity to spend several weeks in space, even if his only company would be an android.

At least Sharon would still be around. She could help Kain deal with Gillian, or at least keep him from saying something he might regret. He hated to admit it, but her levity was infectious and he needed that now.

The door to his apartment opened.


Sharon came in. He had given her the key to his apartment in case she ever needed it. Sometimes he would leave something here and need someone to go fetch it. That person became Sharon, his tireless cheerleader at all the meetings he forced himself to attend. He trusted her.

"Hi," he said, cracking a smile.

She tilted her head to one side and returned his look with a genuine grin. "I thought you might be here."

"What's up?"

"Turgen's on the warpath again. He's calling Wren a freak of nature."

"Wren's not even natural to begin with. We made him."

Sharon settled herself on the couch and dropped her hands into her lap. "I think the councillor regards Wren as being partially organic. A cyborg if you will. And that's creating problems. The rumors are flying, ranging from Wren being a friend we turned into a robot to a poor soul we drafted into becoming one. If this gets out of hand it'll be bad for public support."

"Turgen wants a faceless master again?" said Kain.

She pulled her mouth into a pout. "Well, I only designed the stupid face so that he'd look more Palman. If I knew that would cause so much trouble I wouldn't have done it."

"No. You were supposed to." Kain shook his head. "The whole point of having an android was so he would be portable and look like a person you could talk to. I thought that's what people would want."

"Well if you ask me, you're right." Sharon leaned back against the sofa. "It's just if you think of that face as a mass of decomposing flesh that's going to wither away in the next few decades..."

"Wren's face will not wither away in a few-"

"I know! I designed it after all." She sighed. "But that won't stop people from thinking it's organic, even if it's not."

"Maybe we could dress him up in some clothes?"

She laughed, though Kain was completely serious. "Oh that's a good one! Though we'll be hard pressed to find anything in his size. I mean, he's a good two meters tall, and he's got quite a girth." Mirth flashed in her eyes. "But actually that might work. I don't think we'll be able to hide all of his mechanical body, but perhaps just enough that people might be able to look at him as something more alive, yet still friendly, without being horrified upon seeing a face on a mass of metal. I suppose he looks a little too disembodied that way."

"So it's settled then?"

"Wren's new image? Yes. That might make Wren look less an abomination, if not sway Turgen's side altogether. They really have been mean to him you know, the way they speak about him as though he's not around."

"I've heard. I doubt Wren's missed them either, though I don't know what he makes of them.

"At least Wren's feelings can't be hurt. But you..."

Kain flopped down on the couch beside her. "I'd be an idiot if I let them have that kind of control over me. Still, I can't say it doesn't hurt. If I knew I could get away with it I'd give them a good tongue lashing in return. Say what they will, but I bet they can't out-swear me or my name isn't Josh Kain."

Sharon leaned against him, tilting her head on his shoulder. "I know." She smiled. "And I'd love to see their faces if you ever do that."

Kain snorted, but smiled in return.

* * * * *

"Training is going along as planned, Hugh," said Kenneth, entering the biologist's office. "Fifteen of the students are holding up well, and the other six may need a little more help, but Dana's confident she can bring them along. Sorta brings me back to the days as a TA at Kueri."

Hugh nodded. "I can imagine. On the other hand, I can't help wondering if I'm being a monster like some of the admins we had."

"Well, some people are still disturbed by our continued unaffiliation with Nurvus, but they're willing to give you the benefit of a doubt. The people here--they're really yours, you know. You recovered Seed and you've been the driving force behind the Biolab's renovation. By the time we declare ourselves to be open next year we'll have a full force of scientists and staff."

"Yes, but..." Hugh curled a hand into a fist beneath his desk where Kenneth could not see. "The Council's putting pressure on me. I can't say I didn't expect it, but they want to make sure that the Biolab will be ready for all the work they have planned. We should be able to handle it, but if not, I might not be left with a choice about Nurvus."

Kenneth shifted his weight uneasily from one foot to the other. "Well, it's still a long time off. We've got months of training left to go. If it's bothering you, maybe you should just let it go. Either we'll succeed or we won't. And if you leave it that simple and realize that we'll do the best we can regardless of the end result, you might rest a lot easier. You can't do everything, so just worry about your particular part."

Hugh smiled despite himself and propped his head up on the palm of his other hand. "Maybe you should be in charge here. I hate this stuff. I don't know why I'm still here instead of being one of the peons doing research."

"Peons, are we?" Kenneth smirked. "Well, fair enough. But I'm quite happy where I am, thank you. I'm only offering advice as one researcher to another. You may have been my senior in school, but I'm still your senior in life."

That brought back unwelcome thoughts about Amy and Hugh shook his head. "I guess you always will be. Though as the years go by that five year head start you have on me is going to matter less and less."

"We'll see!"

The door to his office flew open again and Dana dashed inside. "Hey guys!" She opened her mouth wide like a drowning fish as she bent over to catch her breath.

Kenneth moved beside his wife and draped an arm about her shoulders, letting her lean against him.

"What is it?" asked Hugh.

Dana sucked in a deep gulp of air and smiled. "Good news, actually. And as soon as the thought occurred to me I knew I had to share it with you guys. One of the students... He found an anomaly in one of the genes for weye grain. It's too early to be sure of course, but there's a possibility that it'll double the nutritional output of the plant." She took in another breath. "You see, the sample he brought to class appears to be a mutant. If we can isolate the gene and determine that it's the cause of the plant's increased growth, we might be able to use it when the Council begins to call on us."

Hugh's mind reeled. They had ideas for projects those far, but nothing concrete, nothing until the lab was officially open and the facilities entirely available. The biologists had little inclination to use the projects Mother Brain had left behind on the chance they could be detrimental in some unforeseen way. That left them with their own ideas to follow. And if this problem was something simple enough that a student could stumble upon it given the appropriate amount of luck...

"Why didn't anyone see this sort of thing before?" he asked.

"That's the beauty of it," she said, pulling herself up as she leaned against her husband. "These new students are able to look with their eyes, not with what Mother Brain gave them. There are no inhibitions, no ingrained mode of operation. This new student has never studied biology in his life, but now he wants to help. And I think he'll be able to do it."

Hugh nodded, a plan forming in his mind. "We can have the students, the whole group of them, work on researching this as a part of their study. It'll give them the feeling of really accomplishing something if we give them real work other than the exercises with what we already know." He cast a glance at Kenneth. "We already know they're capable, or will be shortly, so let's give them the challenge they've been wanting."

* * * * *

Lore was home when Hugh called to let her know about the news. He only had time to tell her the basics, but he promised to stop by her apartment after work to let her know the rest. He wanted her input on the project; to keep him thinking realistically, he said. The sun had already set, but the eager biologist did not differentiate the hours of the day. Lore wished the Biolab her best and returned to her work. She could only hope her own business could be so enthralling, but maintaining the New Zema schools was a task someone had to do, and in this case it was her.

Lore wanted to be a full time historian again. She wanted to bury herself in her own or someone else's chronicles. People shouldn't forget the past, but now the present needed her more. Yes, she would take care of this matter so that people would still be around who could care about the past. A minor sacrifice. Surely the great savior Alis had had to suffer some small setbacks, or tasks she'd rather not do. Lore could do the same.

She paused in her reading of a classroom proposal to chide herself for still acting like a child. She needed to live by her own rules, not by what Alis would have done, or even might have done. It was time to meld the present with the past. Yes, incorporation to make them inseparable in today's issues. Perhaps it was a matter she could attend to in the next rally for the Free Motavia Party. Gillian wanted her to give another speech, and she supposed she could oblige.

A knocked sounded on the door, disturbing her musings. She was surprised to discover Hugh arriving so soon, but when she glanced at the clock she realized she had spent far more time at her desk than she had thought. She flipped the proposal folder shut and went to answer the door.

"Hello?" she said.

The person on the other side was someone she had never met before, and that compounded with the late hour of his arrival puzzled her. New Zema was still largely without power, and outdoor lightning had yet to be installed by the fledgling town. People didn't make trips if they didn't have to, unless they were a certain purple-haired biologist who happened to get too engrossed in his work. Room to room within an apartment complex was one thing, but between buildings was a dangerous prospect without at least a flash. This man carried none.

"Are you Lore Drakon?" he asked, propping the elbow of one lanky arm against the doorframe. A drunken smile crossed his lips.

"Yes," she answered.

"May I come in? There's something I'd like to discuss with you."

She wanted to say no, the man quite literally had an offensive odor about him, but the reason for his visit piqued her curiosity. Wary, she stepped off to the side and gestured. "Have a seat on the sofa."

"Ah, thank you."

She closed the door behind him and followed him over. While he spread his long legs out over the tiled floor she remained standing. The man draped his arms over the back of the sofa and let out a gusty sigh.

"You have no idea how hard it is to walk all the way over here from Maula!"

Lore crossed her arms. Maula. So that explained the stench. Maula was the only suburb within ten kilometers of Roron, Motavia's favorite garbage dump. "Actually I have a pretty good idea," she said. "I walked all the way from Kueri to Paseo, and you'll have to pardon me if I think that is a comparable distance."

The man frowned. "I suppose. I went to Paseo once--back when the teleport stations were working. What I wouldn't give for those again!"

"You may be waiting a long time. Use a telepipe."

"Eh, never bothered to learn how to use one. And as for waiting, it won't be long if my cousin's got anything to do about it. He always was the hard working one of the family, you know. He's been so wrapped up in his work lately that most of us haven't heard from him for a long time. It's always the news that tells us what he's been doing."

Lore relaxed her arms. "What do you mean?"

The man smirked and bowed his head to her. "Allow me to introduce myself, I'm Donald Kain. I'm in the waste disposal business in Roron and Maula. I do believe I'm not incorrect in supposing that this Kain working on some super powerful project for the New Council is one Joshua Kain? Average looking guy, light blue hair, interest in all things computer?"

"That would be him."

"Just checking. I don't suppose he talks about his family much, does he?"

"No." Lore did not tell him that she now suspected the reason why he never told her about them.

"Ah well. Sounds just like him. Look, I don't want to take up much of your time--looks like you're busy here--so I'll just take my leave of you now. I'm glad to know that my cousin and this guy are one and the same, or at least remarkably similar in some odd fashion!" He stood up in one swift motion, as though the pillows propelled him off the sofa. Donald snatched Lore's hand with astonishing ferocity and clasped it tight. "But do tell my cousin ‘hi' for me, will you? Let him know ol' Donald and the family would like to hear from him again sometime. His sisters really miss him, especially little Lily."

Donald's eyes twinkled and he grinned as strode out of the apartment. Lore shut the door and immediately locked it. She hoped she saw the last of him. The whole apartment seemed stuffy all of a sudden. She threw open a window and wondered if she should deliver the message to Kain. Why hadn't Donald just gone to him himself? She paused, a more chilling thought coming to her head. And how had he known where she lived and that she was close to Kain? The papers in Maula shouldn't have mentioned more than a professional relationship.

She leaned on the windowsill, looking out at the stars which seemed so much brighter from lack of city lights. The autumn wind was warm, but strong. Yet still the stench in her apartment remained.

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